<![CDATA[Portable Magic - Reviews]]>Sun, 21 Jan 2018 03:13:37 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Gillian McAllister: Anything You Do Say]]>Tue, 16 Jan 2018 10:54:27 GMThttp://portablemagic.net/reviews/gillian-mcallister-anything-you-do-sayPicture
Rating: ★★★★

This review is written with thanks to Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin UK, and Netgalley for my copy of Anything You Do Say.
Joanna is walking home after a night out with her best friend, Laura. She hears someone behind her, and believes they are following her. Acting in self defence, she pushes him, and he falls down some steps. She sees that he is not moving. Should she conceal and walk away or call an ambulance and reveal?
In Anything You Do Say, McAllister shows the reader the consequences of both "concealing" and "revealing" in alternate chapters. I was slightly apprehensive when I realised this, as I have read other books with the same style and found the narrative difficult to follow. However, this is not the case with this novel and it works brilliantly. The shorter chapters and the breaks in the plot as it switches between "conceal" and "reveal" build the tension, and I really wanted to know what happened, in both scenarios.
The strength of Anything You Do Say lies in the fact that Joanna's situation, although not an enviable one, is something that could happen to anyone. As I was reading, I was constantly thinking about how I would have responded,  and this gave the novel an extra thrilling edge for me.
McAllister has constructed the characters in Anything You Do Say, especially Joanna and Reuben, incredibly well, and I found them very easy to relate to. I found it fascinating that the personalities of each character differed between the "conceal" and "reveal" chapters (I liked "reveal" Joanna more) and I began to really care about what happened to them and how their relationship was affected by the incident.
Anything You Do Say is a novel that will stay with me for a long time to come.
You can purchase Anything You Do Say ​from Amazon.

<![CDATA[Sarah Vaughan: Anatomy Of A Scandal]]>Sun, 14 Jan 2018 08:00:00 GMThttp://portablemagic.net/reviews/sarah-vaughan-anatomy-of-a-scandalPicture
Rating: ★★★★

James Whitehouse is an MP: a well respected public figure and family man. That is, until news breaks of a scandal and he is arrested on suspicion of a terrible crime. His wife, Sophie, is determined to stand by him, whereas the lawyer prosecuting him, Kate, is convinced of his guilt. What will the result of the trial be, and how will it affect their lives from this point onwards?
The Bloggersphere has been waxing lyrical about Anatomy Of A Scandal for weeks now, and I was disappointed not to be able to read this novel in advance of Thursday's publication date. However, I can assure you it was worth the wait! Anatomy Of A Scandal is different to many other crime novels, in that it focuses on the trial, rather than the initial police investigation. I enjoyed this, as it helped me to learn more about the judicial process, and the relationships between the prosecutors, defenders, judges and defendants. I felt that Vaughan pitched these relationships perfectly, and this helped her to build the tension in the courtroom scenes. As I reached the verdict, I was swiping my Kindle furiously to find out what happened!
The narrative style of Anatomy Of A Scandal - with each chapter written from the viewpoint of a different character - allowed me to consider what had happened in more depth, as I became more aware of each character's thoughts, feelings and secrets. I did change my mind a few times about what the verdict should be, and there were times when I wished I could dive into the pages and shake some of the characters, but by the conclusion of the novel, I felt that the characters were people about whom I could really care.
There were times as I was reading that I had to suspend my disbelief a little, and I did see some of the twists coming, but overall, Anatomy Of A Scandal is a well researched, cleverly structured novel that maintained my intrigue until the very end.
Anatomy Of A Scandal is available from Amazon.

<![CDATA[Rosie Fiore: What She Left]]>Sat, 13 Jan 2018 08:00:00 GMThttp://portablemagic.net/reviews/rosie-fiore-what-she-leftPicture
​Rating:  ★★★★
I’m excited to be sharing my review today  for What She Left, to accompany my Q&A with Rosie Fiore, as part of the blog tour. It is written with thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me on the tour and for my copy of the book.
Sam and Helen appear to have the perfect lives. Sam has a good job and Helen keeps their beautiful house perfectly organised whilst caring for Sam’s young daughters, Miranda and Marguerite. Sam could not wish for any more, until one day Helen goes missing without trace. The police eventually find her safe and well, but they tell Sam that she does not wish to contact him. What made Helen leave? The questions keep plaguing Sam, and he sees Helen everywhere he looks, before realising it isn’t her at all. Will Sam find Helen, and if he does, will she give him the answers he needs?
What She Left is told from several different perspectives, including those of Sam, Helen and Miranda. I enjoyed this aspect of the novel , as it gave me small glimpses into why Helen might have left, as the different characters pick up on different issues within the family. Fiore creates a unique voice for each of the characters, and this helped me to understand their mindset and connect with them more easily. It worked particularly well for Miranda, who does not always come across in a good light in the chapters that are not written from her perspective, but shares the reasons for her thoughts and behaviour in her own chapters, where we see that she is actually very astute.
As the novel develops, we learn more about Helen’s life before she met Sam, and it is in these parts of the novel that Fiore explores a range of themes that will resonate with the reader, such as identity, relationships and domestic violence. I appreciated the way that Fiore introduces these ideas slowly, as I found this approach had more impact, which allowed me to consider how I relate to them in more detail.
I found the ending of What She Left to be very emotional, and it will stay with me for some time to come.
What She Left is available from Amazon.

<![CDATA[Joanna Cannon: Three Things About Elsie]]>Thu, 11 Jan 2018 08:30:00 GMThttp://portablemagic.net/reviews/joanna-cannon-three-things-about-elsiePicture
Rating: ★★★★★

This review is written with thanks to Harper Collins UK and Netgalley for my copy of Three Things About Elsie.
Florence Claybourne lives at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. When a new resident arrives at Cherry Tree, Florence recognises him as someone from her past. But Ronnie Butler died in 1953, didn't he?
Cannon's debut novel, The Trouble With Goats And Sheep featured in my Top Ten Reads Of 2016 , so I was unbelievably excited when I was given the chance to read Three Things About Elsie through Netgalley. I was slightly apprehensive that it might not reach the same heights, but I shouldn't have worried! In Three Things About Elsie, Cannon introduces us to a very colourful cast of characters: not just the residents, but the staff, especially Handy Simon and Miss Ambrose, too. Although the characters are all quite different to me, I found that Cannon's descriptions, particularly of their thoughts, feelings and memories, made the abstract concepts recognisable to me so that each character was easy to relate to.
The majority of Three Things About Elsie is narrated by Florence, who has fallen in her flat and is waiting for someone to find her. Florence's voice is so authentic that the novel took me on a rollercoaster of emotions. Florence's matter-of-fact tone made me laugh, but there was often a sadness behind the humour that makes the novel a poignant one, and the novel often made me cry too.
Cannon is the mistress of the cosy mystery story. Whilst, at first glance, Three Things About Elsie, is a gentle novel about life in a retirement home, it actually has much darker undertones as Florence and her friends try to solve the mystery of Ronnie Butler. I was intrigued by this element, and I wanted to keep reading to find out what really happened. There are also a few surprises along the way, which made it even more interesting for me.
Three Things About Elsie ​is available from Amazon.

<![CDATA[Graham Swift: Mothering Sunday]]>Sat, 06 Jan 2018 20:56:01 GMThttp://portablemagic.net/reviews/graham-swift-mothering-sundayPicture
Rating: ★★★

It is March 1924 - Mothering Sunday. Jane Fairchild works as a housemaid and has been given the day off, as is customary, so that servants can visit their mothers. However, as Jane is an orphan, she has nobody to visit. How will she spend the day, and how will the events of the day shape her future?
Mothering Sunday is this month's book at my local book group, and as a result, it isn't the type of book I would usually read. The novel centres around the love affair between Jane Fairchild and Paul Sheringham, and through this, the reader is given insight into Jane's self-consciousness and her attitude towards sex and her body. The language in the novel is beautifully descriptive, and reflects the period in which the novel is set, but I felt that at times, the poetic nature of the language detracted from the plot, which does not really gather pace until around the half way mark.
As a book lover myself, I found Jane an easy character to relate to. I was fascinated by her approach to the literature she reads, and her assertion that different people hold their own versions of the truth.
Jane's affair with Paul Sheringham has an impact on the whole of her life, and I found Swift's exploration of how one decision can have a much greater impact on a person's life than they realise to be very interesting.
Mothering Sunday ​is available from Amazon.

<![CDATA[Susi Holliday: The Deaths Of December]]>Sat, 30 Dec 2017 10:01:57 GMThttp://portablemagic.net/reviews/susi-holliday-the-deaths-of-decemberPicture
Rating: ★★★★

This review is written with thanks to Mulholland Books, an imprint of Hodder and Stoughton, for my copy of The Deaths Of December.
When Detective Constable (DC) Becky Greene opens the post in the mail room at the police station, she finds an advent calendar. But this is no ordinary advent calendar: it has the picture of a crime scene behind every door. Convinced this is more than just a prank, Becky and her partner, Detective Sergeant (DS) Eddie Carmine set about discovering more about the crime scenes,  the earliest of which is from a murder that took place twenty years ago. Can Becky and Eddie find the perpetrator before he claims another victim?
I came across Holliday's writing when I read her short story in this year's Crime Writer's Association anthology. I vowed then that I would read her work again soon, and I was delighted to be given the opportunity to read The Deaths Of December. The writing style in this novel is more informal than I would usually expect from a police procedural, but I enjoyed this aspect of it, as it helped me to learn more about the "human" side of Becky and Eddie, and become more invested in their characters.
The premise of The Deaths Of December is one I found very interesting. The unusual methods of the perpetrator drew me into this novel, and I could not stop reading until they had been brought to justice. As Holliday also includes chapters told from the murderer's point of view, this gave me more insight into their mindset, which made me even more determined to see Becky and Eddie succeed. Allowing the reader to know the perpetrator's thoughts and movements ahead of the investigating police officers increases the tension, and as the novel reaches its climax, there is a particularly hair raising scene that pinned me to the edge of my seat!
​I am not sure if Holliday has a sequel to The Deaths Of December planned, but I would like to see Becky and Eddie's partnership develop and I believe there is sufficient opening in the ending for this to happen.
The Deaths Of December ​is available from Amazon.

<![CDATA[Alastair Gunn: Cold Christmas]]>Wed, 27 Dec 2017 13:57:06 GMThttp://portablemagic.net/reviews/alastair-gunn-cold-christmasPicture
Rating: ​★★★

This review is written with thanks to Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin UK, and Netgalley for my copy of Cold Christmas.
Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Antonia Hawkins is looking forward to her day off when she is called to an unusual crime scene. The flat in London is where three dead bodies have been found, and they appear to have been there for some time. However, the pathologist is unable to find an obvious cause of death. As she investigates, Hawkins is directed to Cold Christmas Church, an old building which many believe to be haunted. Can Hawkins catch the dangerous killer?
Set in the weeks leading up to Christmas, the winter weather makes Cold Christmas a very atmospheric novel. This is enhanced by the descriptions of the haunted church. Although the setting and the spiritualist theme are unusual, I enjoyed the tension they created as I wanted to discover who was responsible for the deaths and what their motive could be. The spiritualist element did seem slightly far fetched at times, but I felt that the practices and beliefs of the victims and the use of symbolism and rituals was very well researched, and I enjoyed learning about them throughout the course of the novel.
I had not realised prior to reading that Cold Christmas is the fourth novel featuring DCI Antonia Hawkins. Although, for the most part, I was able to relate to her, I felt that I may have benefitted from reading the previous instalments, as at times Gunn referred to prior incidents and relationships, and knowledge of these aspects of her life would have helped me to become more familiar with her character and thus more invested in the storyline. Hawkins also works with a dedicated team. I was disappointed that Cold Christmas did not reveal more about them, although the background information surrounding them may have been shared in a previous novel.
I did not guess who the perpetrator was, although I had a hunch that there would be a twist towards the end. Although I did not find the twist spectacular, the race to catch the killer was thrilling and kept me on the edge of my seat until it reached its conclusion.
Cold Christmas is available from Amazon.

<![CDATA[Top 10 (ish) Reads Of 2017.]]>Sat, 23 Dec 2017 14:33:58 GMThttp://portablemagic.net/reviews/top-10-ish-reads-of-2017Like last year, many bloggers seem to have beaten me to it with their top ten reads of the year. Having read over one hundred books this year, it has been difficult to pick just ten stand out books, especially as I have a tendency to be very strict with my ratings, and 5* reviews are very rare. (I will be changing my ratings system to make the star ratings slightly more generous from January). The books are listed in the order I read them. Picture
Carol Wyer: DI Robyn Carter series
I've cheated a little bit, in that I've read quite a few series this year, and it was difficult not to include all four of the Robyn Carter series in my top ten. I read Little Girl Lost in January, and DI Robyn Carter quickly became one of my favourite fictional detectives. The series continued with Secrets Of The Dead, The Missing Girls and The Silent Children.

KL Slater: Blink
Blink is KL Slater's second novel, which I read in February. I enjoyed the tension throughout the novel, and was left open-mouthed by the final twist. You can read my review here.

Amy Engel: The Roanoke Girls
Drawn in by the beautiful cover, I read The Roanoke Girls in March. However, the cover is deceptive, lulling the reader into a false sense of security as they immerse themselves in the lives of a family plagued by secrets and lies. My full review is here.

Robert Bryndza: Last Breath/Cold Blood
The DCI Erika Foster series continued in April with Last Breathfollowed in September by Cold Blood. I love Erika Foster's no nonsense attitude to solving the crimes with which she is faced, and Bryndza's atmospheric writing makes this series stand out for me.

Lucy Atkins: The Night Visitor.
In May, I was captivated by the mystery surrounding protagonists Olivia and Vivian in The Night Visitor. ​My review can be found here.

MJ Arlidge: Hide And Seek.
I've followed the DI Helen Grace series since it began with Eeny Meeny, before my blogging days in 2014. The best book in the series so far, in my opinion, is Hide And Seek, which I read and reviewed in May here

Rowan Coleman: The Summer Of Impossible Things.
In August, I stepped outside my comfort zone to read The Summer Of Impossible Things. I am very glad I did, as I was enchanted by Luna and Pia, and their journey to discover the circumstances surrounding their mother's death. You can read my review in full here.

Stephen Edger: Dead To Me/Dying Day
The DI Kate Matthews series began in August with Dead To Me and continued with Dying Day in November. Although the series is relatively new, I have enjoyed getting to know Kate Matthews through these novels which are full of tension. 

Nick Louth: The Body In The Marsh
I was lucky enough to be invited to take part in the blog tour for The Body In The Marsh in October. The complex, intriguing investigation had me gripped from the outset. You can read my review in full here.

Sarah Millican: How To Be Champion
Sarah Millican's autobiography is very easy to read, and features a range of anecdotes which are relayed with her trademark humour. I reviewed it in October, here.

This top ten is written with thanks to all the authors and publishers who allowed me to review their books, often in advance, this year. I would also like to thank all the wonderful blog tour organisers who have given me the opportunity to participate in their tours, and the lovely blogging community for all their support. I look forward to bringing you more reviews in 2018.

<![CDATA[Tracy Bloom: No-One Ever Has Sex On Christmas Day]]>Thu, 21 Dec 2017 19:22:07 GMThttp://portablemagic.net/reviews/tracy-bloom-no-one-ever-has-sex-on-christmas-dayPicture
Rating: ★★

This review is written with thanks to Bookouture and Netgalley for my copy of No-One Ever Has Sex On Christmas Day.
Katy and Ben are getting ready for Christmas. Katy is busy with her job at an advertising agency, and preparing for the visit of her mum and her boyfriend, while Ben has been tasked with organising the nativity at the school where he works. Now that Katy and Ben have their own home, they are keen to give daughter Millie a brother or sister, but when Katy is offered a promotion in Australia, will they be forced to put their plans on hold?
No-One Ever Has Sex On Christmas Day is billed, as you can see from the cover, as a "hilarious romantic comedy." The humour in this novel comes from the way a varied cast of characters come together in unlikely circumstances to celebrate Christmas. I found the majority of the characters relatable, and this is ultimately why I continued reading, as I wanted to know what happened to them. At times, I found some of the comedic moments a little too slapstick for my taste and this lessened the impact of this novel for me.
As I live in Leeds, I was excited by the prospect of a novel where I would be able to recognise locations and picture the settings as events took place. However, I was disappointed that very few areas of Leeds or prominent buildings or landmarks in the city were named. In choosing not to be more specific, I felt that Bloom missed out on the opportunity to give the novel a more homely feel with a stronger sense of place.
The plot of No-One Ever Has Sex On Christmas Day ultimately conveys a slightly different, but no less valid Christmas message. Whilst I commend Bloom for her more holistic portrayal of Christmas, I found that the message was delivered at the expense of a Christmassy feel to the novel. I have read several Christmas themed novels this year, and enjoyed the way they made me feel festive as I read. Unfortunately, this novel did not give me that feeling. and I was left slightly underwhelmed. At times, the narrative also felt a little busy, with several different subplots with different characters involved running alongside each other. This prevented me from immersing myself fully in the plot.
You can purchase No-One Ever Has Sex On Christmas Day ​from Amazon.

<![CDATA[Darcie Boleyn: Christmas At Conwenna Cove]]>Mon, 18 Dec 2017 22:14:51 GMThttp://portablemagic.net/reviews/darcie-boleyn-christmas-at-conwenna-covePicture
Rating: ★★★

This review is written with thanks to Canelo and Netgalley for my copy of Christmas At Conwenna Cove.
Grace Phillips is in Conwenna Cove, visiting her parents, Simon and Louise, who have recently moved to the area, for Christmas. One of the first people she meets during her stay is Oli Davenport, the local vet, whose wife died two years ago. Whilst at first, Grace finds him a little standoffish, she soon gets to know him, and his two children, Amy and Tom, better. Can the magic of Conwenna Cove at Christmas time bring them together?
As I participated in the blog tour for the prequel to this novel, Summer At Conwenna CoveI was eager to see how Boleyn would build on the previous book, and how the beautiful summer landscapes she described would take on a more wintery feel. The descriptions in Christmas At Conwenna Cove are still beautiful, and whilst Grace is sceptical when she hears people talk of the magic of Conwenna Cove, I was completely taken in by it. The scenes that Boleyn creates really capture the Christmas spirit, and I enjoyed curling up on cold winter nights to become fully immersed in life at Conwenna Cove.
Christmas At Conwenna Cove can be read as a standalone novel; however, I enjoyed the reappearances of the central characters from the prequel. I would have perhaps liked more interaction between Grace and Eve and their families, although the inclusion of the previous characters highlights the strong sense of community at Conwenna Cove.
As I admitted when I read Summer At Conwenna Cove, these novels belong to a genre I do not usually read. ​Once again, Christmas At Conwenna Cove has everything you would expect from chick lit, and this makes the plot a little too predictable in places. However, there is a sense of tragedy for both Grace and Oli, and this gives the plot an extra layer and adds depth to the characters. Amy and Tom are also adorable children, and I was rooting for the whole family throughout the novel.
Overall, Christmas At Conwenna Cove is a heartwarming story, and I couldn't help but feel more Christmassy at the end!
You can purchase Christmas At Conwenna Cove ​from Amazon.