<![CDATA[Portable Magic - Book reviews]]>Mon, 20 Nov 2017 05:46:20 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Stephen Edger: Dying Day]]>Sat, 18 Nov 2017 10:01:17 GMThttp://portablemagic.net/book-reviews/stephen-edger-dying-dayPicture
Rating: ★★★★

This review is written with thanks to Bookouture and Netgalley for my copy of Dying Day.
It is a year since Detective Constable Amy Spencer was killed whilst working undercover in DI Kate Matthews' team. Kate was forced to relocate as a result of what happened, and has never forgiven herself for the circumstances in which Amy died. When Amy's case is reopened, Kate finds it impossible to stay away, despite instructions, especially when more bodies are found. Will Kate find the person who killed Amy and bring them to justice?
In the first scene, the reader is treated to high speed car chase, and from this point onwards, the action in Dying Day is never relenting. From beginning to end, I was on the edge of my seat, as Kate found herself in more and more dangerous situations, putting her job and her life on the line.
I'm thrilled that DI Kate Matthews is back. In Dead To Me (which I recommend you read first - as Edger alludes to the previous instalment throughout this novel), the reader is given some insight into why Kate was relocated, but as the case is reopened, the reader is able to learn more about this in Dying Day. The feisty, no-nonsense detective who thinks outside the box is still there, but I enjoyed seeing more of her vulnerable side and learning more about her demons.
The main plot is interspersed with chapters narrated by Amy in the days leading up to her death. Throughout these chapters, I struggled to like Amy: I found her slightly fake and incredibly naive; however, knowing that she was well respected by her team helped me to root for Kate in finding her killer.
I am not sure how I was unable to see the twist at the end coming, but I didn't, and it left me reeling and eager for more from DI Kate Matthews!
Dying Day is available from Amazon.

<![CDATA[Sam Carrington: Bad Sister]]>Thu, 16 Nov 2017 08:30:00 GMThttp://portablemagic.net/book-reviews/sam-carrington-bad-sisterPicture
Rating: ★★★★

This review is written with thanks to Avon Books and Netgalley for my copy of Bad Sister.
Connie Summers is a counselling psychologist. One of her clients, Steph Cousins, has been given a new identity as part of a police protection order, and Connie faces the task of helping her to come to terms with the events of her past. But Connie has secrets of her own, and when a mutilated body is dumped on the grounds of the local prison, with her name written on the victim's skin, it is clear that these secrets may be about to come out. What does this mean for Connie?
I reviewed Saving Sophie last year and loved it, so I was slightly apprehensive on reading Bad Sister that Carrington  would suffer "second book" syndrome. I couldn't have been more wrong. When the first two scenes are a house fire and the discovery of a dead body respectively, you know that you're in for a hairy ride, and this is what Carrington delivers. Bad Sister is full of tension, and the short chapters give the reader the short, sharp shocks they need to stay on the edge of their seat from beginning to end.
Bad Sister can be read as a standalone novel, but if you read Saving Sophie first, your reading experience will be enhanced. Carrington gives the police officers from Saving Sophie, Detective Inspector Wade and Detective Sergeant Mack, a reprise, and she makes frequent reference to the previous case. I enjoyed learning more about Wade and Mack, which was helped by some of the chapters being told from their perspective, so I had more insight not only into their personal lives but also their progress with the case.
There are several twists as the novel builds to a climax, and I did find that as the two strands of the plot came together, it was occasionally a little confusing, but there is an even bigger twist at the very end, and I enjoyed this a lot. I didn't see it coming and it blew all the theories I thought I'd worked out out of the water.
Bad Sister is available from Amazon.

<![CDATA[Catherine Burns: The Visitors]]>Sun, 12 Nov 2017 17:49:50 GMThttp://portablemagic.net/book-reviews/catherine-burns-the-visitorsPicture
Rating: ★★★

This review is written with thanks to Legend Press and Netgalley for my copy of The Visitors.
Marion Zetland is a woman in her fifties, living in her childhood home with her brother, John. John is manipulative towards Marion, and forbids her to visit the cellar, where he is hiding a horrifying secret. But one day, when John is admitted to hospital, he asks Marion to go down to the cellar, and she must confront her fears. What will she discover there?
There is tension in the atmosphere from the beginning of The Visitors, and whilst the horror of what is happening in the Zetland's house is always there, making the reader feel uncomfortable, it's never in your face. Even the more violent parts are not particularly gory, and the reader is often left to use their imagination, especially at the start. I liked this approach, as it made the tension almost unbearable and gave the novel a very sinister tone, which runs all the way through.
Although Marion is in her fifties, she has never had a job or a serious romantic relationship. She still sleeps with cuddly toys. This makes her character very childlike, and as such, I found her very difficult to relate to. Although she is clearly subjected to emotional abuse by John, it was difficult for me to sympathise with her, as I did not believe that a mature woman such as Marion could be so naive. As such, I was never fully invested in her narrative, and this affected my overall enjoyment of the novel.
As The Visitors built to a climax, I was expecting an explosive ending, as the tension builds steadily throughout the novel. However, this did not happen, and as such, I finished The Visitors feeling slightly underwhelmed.
The Visitors ​is available from Amazon.

<![CDATA[Ragnar Jonasson: Whiteout]]>Fri, 03 Nov 2017 07:30:00 GMThttp://portablemagic.net/book-reviews/ragnar-jonasson-whiteoutPicture
Rating:  ★★★★
I’m pleased to be taking part in the blog tour for Whiteout. You can read my Q&A with Ragnar Jonasson on 10th November, but for now, here is my review of the book.
Asta is a young woman who returns to her family home for Christmas. When she is found dead, her family’s employers assume that she committed suicide, like her mother and sister before her. However when the police become involved, they realise that the home is shrouded in secrets and everyone has something to hide. What really happened to Asta?
Whiteout is the fifth novel in the Dark Iceland series – a series in which Jonasson presents to the reader a more sinister perspective on a country known for its breathtaking views and beautiful landscapes. His descriptions of the setting are indeed beautiful, and I was immediately captivated by them. Jonasson also creates a sense of mystery around the setting, and this gives the reader the impression that it holds many secrets. There is a perfect balance between beauty and mystery and this creates an intriguing atmosphere against which the story can be told.
My first taste of the Dark Iceland series was listening and reviewing the audiobooK of Rupture in July, and I was pleased to see Ari Thor return to investigate this case. I felt that Whiteout gave me more insight into Ari Thor’s personal life and methods of working, and I look forward to seeing how this develops in future instalments.
It is clear from the outset of Whiteout that the reader has been introduced to a family with many secrets that they have kept hidden for a very long time. I read this novel in one day, and this is testament to the sense of intrigue that runs throughout the novel: I just had to know what had happened to Asta and the secrets behind her family history. There are fewer strands to Whiteout than Rupture, but that doesn’t make it any less mysterious, and there are several revelations towards the end that make Whiteout a fascinating read.
I have come to this series late, and whilst Whiteout can be read as a standalone novel, I am interested to read the previous instalments of the series.
Whiteout is available from Amazon.

<![CDATA[Caroline Mitchell: Murder Game]]>Mon, 30 Oct 2017 20:47:25 GMThttp://portablemagic.net/book-reviews/caroline-mitchell-murder-gamePicture
Rating: ★★★★

This review is written with thanks to Bookouture and Netgalley for my copy of Murder Game.
Detective Sergeant (DS) Ruby Preston is back with her team. She is called to an incident where a victim has been murdered, her ring finger has been removed and photographs of her, first alive, then tortured, then dead have been sent to her husband. Ruby must find the killer before any more women are killed. As the investigation deepens, Ruby learns about a murderer dubbed the "Lonely Hearts Killer", Mason Gatley, who was convicted ten years ago. The murders follow a similar pattern, so Ruby is compelled to speak to Mason to find out what he knows. Does he hold the key to solving the murders, or is he stringing Ruby along?
Murder Game is the third instalment in the Ruby Preston series, and I was looking forward to seeing her character develop even further with this novel. I was surprised that Ruby's relationship with Nathan Crosby, frowned upon by her colleagues as Nathan has a chequered criminal history, appeared to take a back seat this time, but I was pleased to see Ruby begin to build bridges with daughter, Cathy. The lighter focus on Ruby's personal life allowed her to get her teeth into the investigation, and this helped me to see the more professional side of Ruby, both in terms of her determination to catch the killer and her friendships with her colleagues, particularly Luddy. Mitchell's background as a police officer gives the procedural element of  Murder Game more authenticity than other series of a similar nature.
The "murder game" in which Ruby is embroiled in this novel is fascinating. Mitchell takes the reader to exclusive hotels and golf clubs, and this created an extra layer of intrigue for me as it is not an environment with which I am familiar. It also takes Ruby out of her comfort zone and it was interesting for me to see her reactions in different situations. The investigation is fast paced, as the race against time to find the killer heats up, and there are many unexpected situations before the crimes are solved. All the way through, I was rooting for Ruby and her team, and was gripped by thoughts of what would happen next.
I hope this is not the last we have seen of DS Ruby Preston.
Murder Game is available from Amazon.

<![CDATA[Kathryn Croft: Silent Lies]]>Sat, 28 Oct 2017 20:43:58 GMThttp://portablemagic.net/book-reviews/kathryn-croft-silent-liesPicture
Rating: ★★★★

This review is written with thanks to Bookouture and Netgalley for my copy of Silent Lies.
Mia Hamilton is practising as a counsellor. Five years ago, her husband, Zach, a university lecturer, committed suicide on the same day that one of his students, Josie Carpenter, went missing. One day, Mia meets a new client, Alison, who tells her that Zach did not kill himself and begs for her help in exposing the truth. Although Mia cannot be sure that Alison is trustworthy, she needs to find out what really happened on that night five years ago.
Croft's previous novel, While You Were Sleeping earned a place in my Top 10 Reads of 2016 , so I was very excited when Silent Lies arrived on Netgalley. It has all the ingredients you need for a great psychological thriller: unreliable narrators, suspense and plenty of twists to keep the reader gripped until the very end. As with any book with the word "lies" in the title, it is impossible from the outset of the novel to know which characters to believe. However, the atmosphere Croft creates around each character means that I didn't have to rely on the title to put me on my guard. All the characters are brilliantly flawed, and I admire Croft's ability to write characters that, whilst they were mostly unlikeable, had the capacity to grip me and make me want to find out more about them. I must admit to a little soft spot for Josie, who in spite of all her issues, showed tenacity and vulnerability throughout the novel that really made me warm to her.
Silent Lies is narrated alternately by Josie five years ago and Mia in the present day. This structure allowed Croft to develop both narratives gradually, building up tension that made me desperate to discover how each situation would play out. There are several moments of danger along the way that caused me to hold my breath and shake my Kindle in frustration at some of the characters' disregard for their own safety, and there are lots of smaller twists before the main twist which forms the novel's ending, which all had me on the edge of my seat as I was reading.
I didn't see the ending coming, although in hindsight, I feel like perhaps I should have done. When I reached the ending, it felt a little rushed and I did have to suspend my belief in places, so it was not as hard hitting as I was expecting. It is, however, a fairly open ending, and this means that I have questions that will keep Silent Lies in my mind for a while to come.
You can purchase Silent Lies ​from Amazon.

<![CDATA[Margaret Atwood: Hag-Seed]]>Tue, 24 Oct 2017 21:37:25 GMThttp://portablemagic.net/book-reviews/margaret-atwood-hag-seedPicture
Rating: ★★★★

Hag-Seed is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, which places popular Shakespeare plays within a more modern context. This novel uses The Tempest as its base text, and tells the story of Felix, an artistic director who is grieving the death of his wife and daughter, and finds himself dismissed from his job at Makeshiweg Theatre. In an attempt to lie low, he moves away from Makeshiweg, and begins working in a prison, teaching Shakespeare to the inmates. His latest project is a production of The Tempest, which he sees as an opportunity to seek revenge on those who wronged him in Makeshiweg. Will Felix's revenge be sweet?
I enjoyed Atwood's portrayal of the main character, Felix. Whilst his anger, jealousy and need for revenge mean that he is not a particularly likeable character, his sense of grief and loss, and his relationship with the prisoners who form the cast of The Tempest make him easy to relate to. Atwood uses an informal style in this novel, and this made it easier for me to appreciate the viewpoints of both Felix and the prisoners. The style also added humour to the novel, which made it more engaging as it progressed.
In reworking The Tempest for Hag-Seed, Atwood has used poetry and music to make the play more contemporary, both for her readers and the prisoners who struggle to see the relevance of Shakespeare's work to their own situation. She has included additions to the original script in her own text, and put forward alternative interpretations of the play through the prisoners' discussions. I enjoyed these aspects of the novel, as they demonstrate Atwood's creativity and allowed me to see the play from a less traditional viewpoint. I did read The Tempest at university, but should have perhaps read a summary as a refresher prior to reading this novel!
Atwood includes elements of the supernatural in Hag-Seed. Whilst I appreciate that this is in keeping with the themes in The Tempest, these elements did not quite work for me as I was required to suspend my belief at various points in the novel, just as I was beginning to connect with the characters!
Hag-Seed is available from Amazon.

<![CDATA[Patricia Gibney: The Lost Child]]>Sun, 22 Oct 2017 20:46:51 GMThttp://portablemagic.net/book-reviews/patricia-gibney-the-lost-childPicture
Rating: ★★★★

This review is written with thanks to Bookouture and Netgalley for my copy of The Lost Child.
Detective Inspector (DI) Lottie Parker and her team are back! In the third novel in the series, they are called to the house of an elderly woman who has been brutally murdered. The woman's daughter is also missing, and this gives Lottie reason to believe that her granddaughter, Emma, may also be in danger.
Meanwhile, a nearby house goes up in flames and Lottie believes the fire is connected to the murder. As she begins to dig deeper, she discovers some shocking truths that suggest the investigation could be linked to her own family history. Can Lottie and her team find the truth before the death count rises?
I am pleased that Lottie has returned for a third instalment of the series. She continues to battle with alcohol and prescription drugs and struggles to maintain a healthy work/life balance, making time for her three teenage children and baby grandson. Whilst this means that Lottie is often an infuriating character (and I felt that these aspects of her personality came across more in The Lost Child than in previous novels), her flaws make her human, and this guides her work and makes her relatable to the reader.
Some of the descriptions in The Lost Child are very gruesome - more so than in earlier instalments - and at one point I could feel my stomach churning in disgust. I appreciated that the novel was not sanitised in any way, as this helped me to understand the danger that threatened the victims and made me root for Lottie to find the perpetrator before the situation became worse.
Interspersed between the main chapters of The Lost Child are accounts written from the perspective of a young child in the 1970s. These sections added intrigue to the novel as they added an extra layer to the investigation: Who is the child? Where are they now? What do they know about the current investigation? The link between these accounts and the main body of the novel does become clear as it progresses, but I found some of the relationships between the characters a little difficult to follow at times.
The cover in the above picture warns the reader of a heart-stopping twist. I often make light of these claims, but the twist at the end of The Lost Child doesn't disappoint. I tried to fathom it out as I went along, but I did not see this coming! I cannot wait to see how the fall out from the twist carries forward into the fourth novel in the series.
The Lost Child ​is available from Amazon.

<![CDATA[Sarah Millican: How To Be Champion]]>Thu, 19 Oct 2017 07:52:27 GMThttp://portablemagic.net/book-reviews/sarah-millican-how-to-be-championPicture
Rating: ★★★★★

How To Be Champion is Sarah Millican's debut book. It is, for the most part, her autobiography, with tales about her childhood in South Shields, the various jobs she took on before she made her career in comedy, and the way she copes with life as a recognisable figure. It also casts some light on some of the darker times in Millican's life, giving readers advice from her own experience about how to "be champion" - that is, how to get along just fine - in a world that's obsessed with appearance and social media.
First things first, How To Be Champion is hysterically funny. It's rare that a book compels me to literally laugh out loud, but Millican had me snorting and everything, to the point where I had to read bits aloud to my partner so he knew that I wasn't just going slightly mad. I went to Millican's reading of this book in Leeds, where she told us she had been given advice to read parts of the book out loud to make sure that it sounded like her, that it was "her voice." This trick clearly worked a treat, as I could often picture Millican sitting beside me reading the book to me herself. Her voice shines through and brings the words on the page to life, giving the humour an extra dimension.
How To Be Champion, however, is more than just a funny autobiography. There are moments of seriousness too, where Millican writes about her divorce, her struggles with anxiety and depression, and her opinions on body image and being famous. I loved these parts of the book,  as I could really relate to the way she feels about being a woman in modern society. The book never has a whingy tone to it though, and Millican does share with readers how she made it through the other side. At the end of each chapter, there are tips on  "how to be champion", some of which are more genuine than others, and some of which I will endeavour to take heed of myself.
I loved the lists in How To Be Champion, which cover a whole range of topics, from dates Millican has been on to things that make her dad a hero to things she was bullied for at school. Some are funny and some are more serious, but they break the book up nicely and provide a contrast to the longer, more detailed chapters, making it a very easy and enjoyable book to read.
If you enjoy Sarah Millican's work, this book is a must read for you!
How To Be Champion is available from Amazon.

<![CDATA[Barbara Copperthwaite: Her Last Secret]]>Sat, 14 Oct 2017 07:30:00 GMThttp://portablemagic.net/book-reviews/barbara-copperthwaite-her-last-secretPicture
Rating: ★★★

This review is written with thanks to Bookouture and Netgalley for my copy of Her Last Secret.
On Christmas Day, two shots are heard ringing through the Thomas household. When police arrive at the scene, they find several lifeless bodies. As they try to find out what happened to the family - dad Benjamin, mum Dominique, and daughters, Ruby and Amber, they discover Ruby's diary, and realise that each member of the family was hiding their own secret. What happened inside the Thomas' house?
Although it is clear from the outset that the novel ends in disaster, it remains a mystery until the end how the disaster occurred. Copperthwaite takes us back to the days prior to the incident to give the reader some insight into the family's lives. She plants many suggestions in the reader's mind, and as she does so, we see that the Thomas family are a family who are drowning in their own secrets. This means I was intrigued by the events that had torn the family apart. However, ultimately, having heard good things about Copperthwaite, I wanted to like this book more than I actually did. It is described as a psychrlogical thriller, but I found that the plot developed a little too slowly, focusing slightly too much on the relationships within the family, and this meant that the tension within the novel did not build as much as I would have liked.
In Her Last Secret, Copperthwaite introduces the reader to a group of characters who, although members of the same family, have significantly different characteristics. As such, Copperthwaite was able to explore several interesting themes, such as cyber bullying, self harm and disability. However, I found it difficult to warm to most of the main characters. Both Benjamin and Dominique are judgemental, and I found myself wanting to pick up my Kindle and shake it in response to their characters' views on Ruby's boyfriend, Harry a mixed race boy whose family lives on benefits. Whilst I appreciate that these views are unlikely to reflect those of the author, my irritation with the characters prevented me from enjoying the novel as much as I might have.
Her Last Secret is available from Amazon.