Monday, 30 March 2015

Wake by Elizabeth Knox

By Elizabeth Knox
Published by Little Brown (5 March 2015)
ISBN: 978-1472117533

Publisher's description
When police officer Theresa Grey is called to the New Zealand town of Kahukura on Tasman Bay, she drives straight into a horror story. The locals have been overwhelmed by a sudden collective madness, causing them to kill themselves and each other in trull gruesome ways. First, Theresa tries to help; then, she is forced to run for her life. An hour later, she emerges to a scene of carnage.

There are thirteen other survivors. Slowly, they find one another and face their new reality: trapped in the town by some kind of invisible force-field, cut off from the world outside.

What begins as a story of horror becomes a story of survival. Together, they must bury the dead, become a community, face their own fears and weaknesses. Ultimately, they must fight for their lives - because whatever caused the insanity is still at large. And it hasn't finished.

Rich with atmosphere, alive to character and emotion. Wake is a riveting tour-de-force. A book about extreme events, ordinary people, heroic compassion - and invisible monsters.

My verdict
To begin with, Wake reads like an episode of The Walking Dead, of which I am a great fan. The initial scene is fast-paced horror, and I expected the book to continue like this all the way through.

However, after this, the pace changed. This book isn't a horror story, and some readers may be disappointed if this is what they are expecting. It becomes a book of survival, and the story reminded me of Stephen King's Under the Dome.

The initial scene is an gruesome event. The town's population goes completely crazy, before killing themselves and each other with zombie-like hunger. The town itself is completely cut off from the outside world by a 'no go' zone, and it seems that there is an invisible monster feeding off the insanity. There are 14 survivors, most of whom begin as strangers. They have to find food, shelter and an organised way to live together, whilst hoping that someone in the outside world will rescue them. But the monster is still out there.

Wake is a bizarre but highly visual story - nothing like I have read before. It reminded me of the TV series Lost, which was also intriguing and completely unbelievable. The middle third of the book was a little slow and dragged in places. But as Wake progressed, I couldn't bear to put it down. I wanted an explanation for the events, even though the story became more ludicrous.

I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

The Death House by Sarah Pinborough

The Death House
By Sarah Pinborough
Published by Gollancz (26 February 2015)
ISBN: 978-1473202320

Publisher's description
Toby's life was perfectly normal ... until it was unravelled by something as simple as a blood test.

Taken from his family, Toby now lives in the Death House, an out-of-time existence far from the modern world, where he, and the others who live there, are studied by Matron and her team of nurses. They're looking for any signs of sickness. Any signs of their wards changing. Any sign that it's time to take them to the sanitorium.

No one returns from the sanitorium.

Withdrawn from his house-mates and living in his memories of the past, Toby spends his days fighting his fear. But then a new arrival in the house shatters the fragile peace, and everything changes.

Because everybody dies. It's how you choose to live that counts.

My verdict
I couldn't wait to read this book, after reading the blurb on the back cover, and I was certainly not disappointed.

The Death House is set in the not-too-distant future, when blood tests determine whether or not children and teenagers are afflicted by an incurable disease. The disease has no name, no definitive symptoms. But if the children have markers of the disease in their blood, they are certain to die. The unknowns are when and what the symptoms will be.

As soon as a blood test is positive, all afflicted children are taken away from their families to a secluded house, which is nicknamed The Death House. The children there are monitored carefully by cold, emotionless nursing staff and teachers. When a child develops symptoms, they become an outcast and others distance themselves. Then when a child dies, they are taken in the dead of night to the sanatorium and the nursing staff remove all traces of the child's possessions, as if they were never there.

The Death House is a sensitive beautifully-written story. Whilst it focuses on relationships between teenagers, it's certainly no teen romance novel. It's a heartbreaking look at how children and teenagers cope when they know they have no future.

Most of the young occupants simply exist in the 'here and now', ignoring the past and what the future holds. Toby, however, finds it hard to let go. During the day, he tries to distance himself from the other occupants, whilst holding onto his memories of a normal adolescence. At night, he doesn't take his 'vitamins' from the nurses and, whilst everyone sleeps, he explores the house, in search of its secrets. When new girl Clara arrives, the dynamics within the house change. She shows Toby how to live life to the full while he still can, whatever the future holds.

The Death House is an amazing book, with a fascinating underlying story. And I was left thinking about it long after the final page.

I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Plague Land by SD Sykes

Plague Land
By S.D. Sykes
Published by Hodder & Stoughton (Hardback - 25 September 2014, Paperback - 21 May 2015)
ISBN: 978-1-444-78577-7

Publisher's description
Oswald de Lacy was never meant to be the Lord of Somerhill Manor.

Despatched to a monastery at the age of seven, sent back at seventeen when his father and two older brothers are killed by the Plague, Oswald has no experience of running an estate. He finds the years of pestilence and neglect have changed the old place dramatically, not to mention the attitude of the surviving peasants.

Yet some things never change. Oswald's mother remains the powerful matriarch of the family, and his sister Clemence simmers in the background, dangerous and unmarried. Before he can do anything, Oswald is confronted by the shocking death of a young women, Alison Starvecrow. The ambitious village priest claims that Alison was killed by a band of demonic dog-headed men.

Oswald is certain this is nonsense, but proving it - by finding the real murderer - is quite a different matter. Every step he takes seem to lead Oswald deeper into the dark maze of political intrigue, family secrets and violent strife.

And then the body of another girl is found.

My verdict
Plague Land kept me hooked from the first page. It's a very well-written historical crime novel, set just after The Black Death.

Oswald has been living at a monastery for 10 years since the age of seven. But following the death of his father and older brothers, he unexpectedly becomes Lord of Somerhill Manor. Returning home, he struggles with his new role in life, as local politics and family matters weigh heavy on his young shoulders. Then a murder on his estate leads him to the darker side of Somerhill Manor. With a local priest spreading rumours of witchcraft and supernatural beings, he realises that it's up to him to find the killer before they strike again.

Many novels set in this time period use modern-day language or try to use old English, which makes it difficult to follow the story. However, the narration in Plague Land made the characters very believable and true to the 14th century, whilst being very readable. The vivid descriptions enabled me to picture the scenes in my mind and I warmed to the characters easily. The plot flowed smoothly, with plenty of twists and turns to keep me guessing.

Plague Land is ideal for fans of CJ Sansom. I hope there's another one in the pipeline.

I received a copy of the book through Lovereading's Reviewer Panel ( in exchange for an honest review.

Black Wood by SJI Holliday - BLOG TOUR

I am delighted to be today's stop on the BLOG TOUR for SJI Holliday's Black Wood, which was published in paperback on 19 March 2015 by Black & White Publishing.

Black Wood
By SJI Holliday
Published by Black & White Publishing (Kindle edition - 24 February 2015; Paperback - 19 March 2015)
ISBN: 978-1-84502-953-1

Publisher's description
Something happened to Claire and Jo in Black Wood: something that left Claire paralysed and Jo with deep mental scars. But with Claire suffering memory loss and no evidence to be found, nobody believes Jo's story.

Twenty-three years later, a familiar face walks into the bookshop where Jo works, dredging up painful memories and rekindling her desire for vengeance. And at the same time, Sergeant Davie Gray is investigating a balaclava-clad man who is attacking women on a disused railway, shocking the sleepy village of Banktoun. But what is the connection between Jo's visitor and the masked man?

To catch an assailant, and to give Jo her long-awaited justice, Gray must unravel a tangled web of past secrets, broken friendships and tainted love. But can he crack the case before Jo finds herself with blood on her hands?

My verdict
Black Wood is set in a small sleepy village not far from Edinburgh. This is an ideal setting for a psychological thriller with dark secrets at its root. SJI Holliday has captured village life beautifully, with astute observations of the village inhabitants and graphic descriptions of the local surroundings. Everyone wants to know each other's business, especially the town busybody, yet the villagers still have secrets to hide. Strangers get noticed and treated with suspicion, but they are not always the ones to watch.

The story centres around what happened to Jo and Claire in Black Wood all those years ago. A vicious attack by two boys left both of their lives in tatters. Jo is a complex character, shaped by both her childhood and the events on that fateful day - she is confused, distrustful and psychologically damaged. Claire was left paralysed, but tries desperately to get on with her life. She is unable to remember what happened in Black Wood and prefers to leave it that way.

SJI Holliday has written an atmospheric thriller with intriguing characters. She cleverly weaves past and present together to gradually expose chilling secrets. This is a well-written tale of discovery, revenge and deception. Various twists and turns lead the reader off track, resulting in stunning revelations at the end.

SJI Holliday is one to watch - this is an excellent debut.

I received this from the publisher as an Advance Reader Copy in exchange for an honest review.

Follow the tour

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Monday, 23 March 2015

His Other Life by Beth Thomas

His Other Life
By Beth Thomas
Published by Avon Books (12 March 2015)
ISBN: 978-0007544837

Publisher's description
He was hiding a terrible secret…

Grace's new husband Adam seems like the perfect package. Good looking, great job, completely charming - almost too good to be true …

So when Adam suddenly disappear from Grace's life, she is left bewildered and heartbroken. And with a lot of unanswered questions.

As she tries desperately to find him, Grace opens a Pandora's Box of secrets and lies - and starts to learn that Adam wasn't so perfect after all.

What shameful secrets was her husband hiding? Is Grace in danger? And can she survive the truth? However terrible it may be...

My verdict
Reading the synopsis of His Other Life, I was expecting a psychological thriller. But this book is actually more chick lit (as suggested by the eye-catching cover) than a serious read.

When her husband Adam disappears on their first wedding anniversary, Grace realises that she has been viewing him through rose-tinted glasses. Her marriage hasn't been as perfect as she thought and she actually knows nothing about Adam's past. You would expect Grace to be suspicious about Adam's secretive behaviour, but she is incredibly naive and immature. When Adam disappears, she doesn't act like a worried or grieving wife, but tries to continue with life as normal (including visits down the pub). She starts to search for her missing husband with the help of a childhood friend, although the police are also conducting an investigation.

Overall, the book is well written and entertaining, although it's a little predictable. The author has made astute observations in her writing, making people and places come alive.

His Other Life isn't a novel to take seriously and the synopsis may be a little misleading. If you love dark psychological thrillers, then this probably won't be a book for you. But if you enjoy something light and fluffy with some romance and suspense thrown in, then this would make an ideal summer holiday read.

I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig

The Fire Sermon
By Francesca Haig
Published by Harper Collins UK (26 February 2015)
ISBN: 978-0007563050

Publisher's description
Born as twins. Raised as enemies. One strong Alpha twin and one mutated Omega; the only thing they share is the moment of their death.

The Omegas live in segregation, cast out by their families as soon as their mutation becomes clear. Forced to live apart they are ruthlessly oppressed by their Alpha counterparts.

The Alphas are the elite. Once their weaker twin has been cast aside, they're free to live in privilege and safety, their Omega twin far from their thoughts.

Cass and Zach are both perfect on the outside: no missing limbs, no visible Omega mutation. But Cass has a secret: one that Zach will stop at nothing to expose.

The potential to change the world lies in both their hands. One will have to defeat the other to see their vision of the future come to pass, but if they're not careful both will die in the struggle for power.

My verdict
The Fire Sermon is a fascinating concept. A world where radiation has caused all births to result in twins - one boy and one girl, one of whom is mutated. People are persecuted for their disability. The mutated twin (the Omega) is cast out by the family as soon as the mutation is identified - this could be a missing limb or psychic abilities, for example. The twins have an invisible bond; when one dies, the other dies too. This is why the Omegas can't be killed and, when their twin is an important Alpha, they can become a target.

This dystopian young adult novel started off a bit too slowly for me. It was well written and there were some good twists, but I felt that it needed more action early on. The characters weren't as well developed as they could have been. The relationship between Cass and Zach wasn't explored deeply enough and I didn't find that the romance element of the story was believable.

Overall, however, The Fire Sermon was an enjoyable read and I can see it appealing to the young adult market. The ending left many unanswered questions and felt a bit abrupt, which leads me to assume that there is a sequel on its way.

I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

A Most Desirable Marriage by Hilary Boyd

A Most Desirable Marriage
By Hilary Boyd
Published by Quercus Books (9 October 2014)
ISBN: 978-1782067924

Publisher's description

Lawrence and Jo have enjoyed a strong marriage, the envy of their friends. Even after thirty years they have lots to say to each other, many interests in common and, until recently, a good sex life.

But Lawrence seems wary and restless. Something's wrong. Just how wrong, Jo is about to discover…

Can they use their years of history - all the things they've shared - to overcome a devastating betrayal?

My verdict
A Most Desirable Marriage is a slow burning story about a husband who has an affair. Not only is this totally out of character for him, but the person with whom he has the affair is a complete shock for his wife and children. The couple are in their 60s, having been married for over 30 years, making it even more unexpected.

The story was a bit too slow for me and cliched. I found it difficult to feel anything for the characters. In particular, I found Jo and Lawrence's children to be very needy. I would also have liked Jo to have had more backbone, as I found the ending to be unsatisfying.

I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

By Jill Alexander Essbaum
Published by Random House (26 March 2015)
ISBN: 978-1447280798

Publisher's description
Anna Benz, an American in her late thirties, lives with her Swiss husband Bruno and their three young children in a postcard-perfect suburb of Zurich. Though she leads a comfortable well-appointed life, Anna is falling apart inside. Adrift and increasingly unable to connect with the emotionally unavailable Bruno, even with her own thoughts and feelings, Anna tries to rouse herself with new experiences: German language classes, Jungian analysis, and a series of sexual affairs she enters into with an ease that surprises even her. Tensions escalate, and her lies start to spin out of the control. Having crosses a moral threshold, Anna will discover where a woman goes when there's no doing back.

My verdict
Not many books leave my head spinning, overloaded with thoughts and emotions. Hausfrau is certainly one of those books. It is the story of an intelligent married American woman who feels bored, alone and unhappy in Zurich. Her Swiss husband works long hours and gives her little attention. Although she clearly loves her children, she is just as happy to spend her days roaming around the shops, and embarks on several affairs to help pass the time.

I felt like I should despise Anna, who made little effort to learn the language and make friends, yet all I could feel for her was pity. All her materialistic needs were being met, but she was clearly craving physical closeness and attention, turning to men for comfort. There was no love or affection involved in these affairs, just sex and desire.

The book grabbed my attention from the first line: 'Anna was a good wife, mostly.' The words had a poetic rhythm that sang as I read. The language was timeless and indulgent. The clever use of German grammar moves the story along. I wanted to keep reading, yet at the same time I didn't want the book to end.

Hausfrau is about people not places - there are no vivid descriptions of Switzerland, for example. It's Anna's emotions and feelings that take prominence, as she spirals out of control both morally and psychologically. This is certainly not light reading or a book with any humour. But it is a fascinating, highly addictive, story.

Thanks to the publisher for an Advance Reader Copy in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Prayer for the Dead by James Oswald

Prayer for the Dead
By James Oswald
Published by Michael Joseph (12 February 2015)
ISBN: 978-0718180195

Publisher's description
A body is found at the scene of a carefully staged murder. In a sealed chamber deep in the heart of Gilmerton Cove, the victim has undergone a macabre ritual of purification.

Inspector Tony McLean knew the dead man, and can't shake the suspicion that there is more to this case than meets the eye. The lack of forensics at the crime scene is not the only thing that McLean will find beyond belief.

Teamed with the most unlikely and unwelcome of allies, McLean must track down a killer with the darkest compulsions, who answers only to a higher power...

My verdict
This is my first James Oswald book, but is the fifth in the Inspector McClean series. Despite some references to previous books, this didn't affect my enjoyment of Prayer for the Dead.

Prayer for the Dead is a police procedural with some supernatural aspects. This was a welcome change from some of the other (equally as enjoyable) crime books I have read recently. There was plenty of forensic information and descriptions of the police investigations, as well as some interesting characters.

The book begins when McClean is asked to investigate the disappearance of a journalist, whose body is then found in an obscure location - dark caves underneath the Edinburgh and only accessible through underground passages. When another body is found, again with little forensic evidence to provide any clues, it's clear that there is a twisted killer on the loose.

I didn't learn much about McLean in this book and would have liked to know more - this may have been covered in previous books, but I noticed that some other reviews suggest he is a fairly mysterious character.

I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

You Belong to Me (Samantha Hayes) - BLOG TOUR

I am delighted to be today's stop on the BLOG TOUR for Samantha Hayes' You Belong to Me, which is being published tomorrow (12 March 2015) by Century.

I would like to welcome Samantha Hayes, who has some excellent advice for aspiring authors.

My Top 10 Writing Tips by Samantha Hayes

I know what it feels like to have a story or novel burning away inside you, yet somehow it just won’t come out onto the page the way you want, let alone turn into a full-length novel. So I thought I’d compose a list of tips to help aspiring writers along their journey. I’ve done all of these things myself, so it’s proof they work! Some may be obvious, but they’re still really, really important – and they’re in no particular order. Happy writing!

1) You're going to need support on the long journey to publication, so it's a great idea to join a writing group or club. You'll meet like-minded people who understand your frustrations, and who will also congratulate you on your successes. This may be online or 'in real life', but either way, it will help keep the focus.

2) Read the type of books you want to write. These should be books that inspire you, excite you, throw fuel on your literary fire. Don't copy or emulate, but innovate. And all the while read, read, read in your chosen genre.

3) Following on from above, don't write what you know, rather write what you love. There's a difference. If you're excited by your writing, it will shine through and your readers will stick with you to the end.

4) Write every day. If you want to be a published author, you need to start treating it like a profession. It's hard work, and you need to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, every day. Set a word target or a time limit, and stick to it. Even if you only write a paragraph or two, it's better than nothing. I firmly believe writing is like a muscle. The more you do it, the stronger and better it gets.

5) Give as good as you get… in terms of feedback, that is. Offer your opinion and constructive criticism to members of your writing group. It will help you immensely in identifying what may be wrong with your work. Critiquing a piece of writing will shine a light on your own.

6) Get to know the business. Go to writing festivals, literary events, author talks, 'meet the agent' pitches, public book launches… Whatever you can find, go and mingle with people who also love books. Don't shove your 600-page manuscript under every editor or agent's nose, but use the experience to learn about how the business works.  Be professional now, and those in the business will remember you when your work arrives on their desk. A quick 'google' will bring up many events to attend.

7) Another obvious one - but make sure you have a cracking story to tell! You need a hook, something to grab the reader's attention from page one, and keep them turning the pages. Try to sum up your idea in a sentence or two. For example, You Belong to Me is about a woman who fled her stalker, but is forced to return home when her parents are killed. She thinks she's safe, but her nightmare is about to begin again.

8) Never give up! I knew I wanted to be an author aged around 11 or 12. My first thriller was published when I was 40. During that time, I was always writing, practicing, getting better, developing and doing all the other points in this list. Stick at it!

9) Edit your work. Know the value of this process, because in many ways, it's almost more important than the writing itself. Once your work is finished, I'd advise not looking at it for a month. When you come back to it with fresh eyes, make notes to yourself where the story doesn't work. And fix it! If that means cutting a character, or your favourite scene, or even adding in another point of view to make it work, then do it. Take your time. This is the most important stage and will pay dividends.

10) Finally, enjoy your writing! If you don't, no one else will. You are creating a piece of entertainment - what could be better? So find yourself a quiet space, make a cuppa, turn off your phone, and write your novel. I absolutely loved writing You Belong to Me (though I scared myself a few times!) and I really hope you love reading it.

You Belong to Me by Samantha Hayes,
published by Century, at £12.99

My verdict: This brilliant psychological thriller is an amazing read. This is Samantha Hayes at her best.

Read my full review

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Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Fragile Lies by Laura Elliot

Fragile Lies
By Laura Elliot
Published by Bookouture (13 February 2015)
ISBN: 978-1909490796

Publisher's description
His name is Michael Carmody. He is a writer and a father. His son is lying in a coma, fighting for his life.

Her name is Lorraine Cheevers. She is an artist and mother. An illicit affair has destroyed her marriage.

Michael is desperate to find the couple who left his son for dead, a victim of a hit and run.

Lorraine is desperate to start a new life for her and her daughter.

Michael and Lorraine are about to cross paths - damaged souls, drawn to one another.

They don't know that their lives are already connected.

They don't know the web of lies surrounding them.

They are each searching for the truth. But when they find it, it could destroy them both.

My verdict
Fragile Lies is a complex story of relationships, betrayal and deception with tragic consequences.

The book begins with an illicit liaison that ends in a hit and run accident. We are then introduced to Lorraine, who is setting up a new life with her daughter, following the breakdown of her marriage. And also to Michael, who is the father of the hit and run victim and is determined to discover who did this to his child.

Fragile Lies didn't grab my attention straight away. I found the flashbacks and switching between characters to be disjointed, and I was confused in places. The chapters from the viewpoint of Killian, the hit-and-run victim, were too short and didn't really add anything to the story early on. Later, they became more significant and more relevant to the story.

Laura Elliot has created two totally unlikeable characters in Virginia and Adrian, which I assume was her intention. Virginia is a nasty piece of work - prepared to step on anyone, including her husband and best friend. Adrian is weak and totally besotted with Virginia, to the detriment of his marriage and relationship with his daughter. Lorraine and Michael's characters seemed a little flat and I found it hard to sympathise with either of them until the second half of the book.

I am pleased that I persisted, however, as the pace picked up at around 43%. From this moment, the plot flowed more smoothly and it became obvious where the story was heading. I assume that the author intended for the readers to figure everything out at around this stage.

Overall, I give Fragile Lies a 3.5 star rating. With more careful editing, I would give it 4 stars, but it doesn't quite reach that for me.

I received an Advanced Reader Copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Another Person's Poison by Matthew Smith

Another Person's Poison: A History of Food Allergy
By Matthew Smith
Published by Columbia University Press (2 June 2015)
ISBN: 978-0231164849

Publisher's description
To some, food allergies seem like fabricated cries for attention. For others, they pose a dangerous health threat. Food allergies are bound up with so many personal and ideological concerns that it is difficult to determine what is medical and what is myth. This book parses the political, economic, cultural, and genuine health factors of a phenomenon that now dominates our interactions with others and our understanding of ourselves. Surveying the history of food allergy from ancient times to the present, Another Person's Poison also gives readers a clear grasp of new medical findings on allergies and what they say about our environment, our immune system, and the nature of the food we consume.

For most of the twentieth century, food allergies were considered a fad or junk science. While many physicians and clinicians argue that certain foods could cause a range of chronic problems, from asthma and eczema to migraines and hyperactivity, others believed that allergies were psychosomatic. Another Person's Poison traces the trajectory of this debate and its effect on public-health policy and the production, manufacture, and consumption of food. Are rising allergy rates purely the result of effective lobbying and a booming industry built on self-diagnosis and expensive remedies? Or should physicians become more flexible in their approach to food allergies and more careful in their diagnoses? Exploring the issue from scientific, political, economic, social and patient-centered perspectives, this book is the first to engage fully with the history of what is now a major modern affliction, illuminating society's troubled relationship with food, disease and the creation of medical knowledge.

My verdict
I wanted to review this book from three perspectives: firstly, as a health journalist who writes articles for pharmacists and consumers about allergies; secondly, as the author of a consumer book on children's allergies; thirdly, as the mother of a child with nut allergy.

Another Person's Poison is essentially a historical textbook, examining the history of food allergies using medical writing, literature, case studies, research studies and anecdotal evidence. It covers attitudes towards food allergies and their place in society, as well as controversies surrounding the research into a range of allergy topics (e.g. the links between food allergies and migraine, asthma, eczema and behaviour).

The book is well researched and well written. But it was not necessarily what I was expecting. From the description, I expected more coverage of why allergies are on the increase in modern society.

I found chapter six the most interesting. This chapter looked mainly at the consumption of peanuts in society and the resulting rise in peanut allergy and anaphylactic reactions, using case studies, research references and media reports. There was also a mention of whether peanut allergy should be considered  to be a public health concern and the development of nut-free zones in schools. However, theories about the rise in peanut allergy cases over the last few decades were only touched upon very briefly.

In his conclusion, Matthew Smith writes that his book 'does not attempt to resolve the debates about food allergy or, even more foolishly, explain why allergies to foods such as peanuts are on the increase.' As a historian, he says that this is not what he is trained to do. However, I did feel that this is a bit of a cop out, as the hypotheses over why allergies are on the rise are a significantly important part of food allergy history.

If you are looking for an in-depth look at doctors' diagnoses and viewpoints of food allergies through the centuries, then this is the book for you. But if you are looking for a book that explores why food allergies have become more common, you will need to look elsewhere.

I received an Advanced Reader Copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

What Burns Away by Melissa Falcon Field

What Burns Away
By Melissa Falcon Field
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark (6 January 2015)
ISBN: 978-1492604563

Publisher's description
Good wife, good mother. That's all Claire Spruce is trying to be, but the never-ending snow in this new town and her workaholic husband are making her crazy. Even the sweet face of her toddler son can't pull her out of the dark places in her head.

Feeling overwhelmed and alone, she reconnects with her long-lost high school boyfriend, Dean, who offers an intoxicating, reckless escape. But Dean's reappearance is not a coincidence. He wants something from Claire - and she soon finds that the cost of repaying an old favour may lead to the destruction of her entire life.

What Burns Away is a story of loyalty, family, and the consequences of the past's inevitable collision with our future.

My verdict
My first reaction to What Burns Away, before I read anything other than the title, was that I loved the bright eye-catching cover. It certainly caught my attention.

What Burns Away is the compelling story of Claire's emotional and tragic teenage years and how they have shaped her adulthood - her mother's infidelity and abandonment of the family home, her father's despair and struggle to cope and her growing relationship with an older boy, Dean.

Now married with a young son and workaholic husband, Claire is lonely and in desperate need of attention. Claire's husband clearly loves her, but is so obsessed with his work that she feels neglected while he spends long hours at the office. Having given up her own work before the pregnancy and now moving to a new town, she feels that she is slowly losing her identity. 

In an attempt to discover herself, she thinks back to the excitement of her youth and searches on Facebook for old friends and memories. She re-discovers Dean, her high school boyfriend. He has clearly never stopped loving her and has bought the house to which her mother fled all those years ago as it reminds him of Claire. But he is struggling financially and now wants Claire's help. On meeting Dean again after all these years, Claire starts believing that escaping her own marriage could be her salvation.

I loved the darkness underlying Claire's story, as she weaves together events from her adolescence and adulthood. Melissa Falcon Field has a wonderful way with words, as she describes Claire's emotions bubbling to the surface and events of the past.

After reading the last page of What Burns Away, I felt emotionally exhausted. The book left me thinking about ambitions and achievements in life. Should we be satisfied with what we have or always search for something more? Is it realistic to expect our childhood and adolescent ambitions to continue as we reach adulthood, even as our circumstances change?

I received an Advanced Reader Copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 6 March 2015

You Belong to Me by Samantha Hayes

You Belong to Me
By Samantha Hayes
Published by Century, part of Penguin Random House (12 March 2015)
ISBN: 978-1473507319

Publisher's description
The compelling new psychological suspense novel featuring DI Lorraine Fisher, from the author of Until You're Mine and Before You Die. Perfect for fans of S J Watson and Sophie Hannah.

Fleeing the terrors of her former life, Isabel has left England, and at last is beginning to feel safe.
Then a letter shatters her world, and she returns home determined not to let fear rule her life any more.
But she's unable to shake off the feeling that someone who knows her better than she knows herself may be following her.
Watching. Waiting.
Ready to step back into her life and take control all over again.

My verdict
This brilliant psychological thriller is an amazing read. This is Samantha Hayes at her best.

You Belong to Me kept me guessing right to the end. Just as I thought I had it sussed, there was yet another twist or turn.

The dramatic prologue, with an assault on a young woman, Alex, leads us to Isabel, who is hiding out in India. She is paranoid, suspicious and scared, disturbed by a previous relationship. Then distressing news leads her to reluctantly head back home to England.

Although Isabel is on edge, she starts to feel more relaxed once she sees for herself that the source of all her paranoia is lying in a coma. But then when she realises someone has been into her flat, it's clear that something sinister is going on.

Samantha Hayes has developed the plotline brilliantly, with tension and intrigue, and has also created some believable characters. I was suspicious of Owen from the start - right place, right time and overly friendly, letting Isabel move into his basement and giving her a job. I was surprised she was so trusting after her past experience. But my views on him changed after a particular incident (no spoilers) and then changed again further into the book.

The book also follows DI Lorraine Fisher. Lorraine is trying to investigate the deaths of Alexandra and Melanie, but isn't being taken seriously when she voices her opinion that the murders are linked. Stress, resulting in ill-health, leads her to take some time off work and investigate on her own. You know her life will collide with Isabel's at some point, but it's a question of when and how.

Around three-quarters of the way through, You Belong to Me gets even creepier, and Isabel starts questioning her own sanity. Is someone playing with her mind, or is her mind playing with her?

My heart was thumping for the last half of the book and I couldn't put bear to put it down. Great ending - I certainly didn't see that coming and all I could think was 'wow'. 

I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Join me on Samantha Hayes' Blog Tour on 11th March.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

The Girl in the Photograph by Kate Riordan

The Girl in the Photograph
By Kate Riordan
Published by Penguin Books UK (15 January 2015)
ISBN: 978-1405917421

Publisher's description
In the summer of 1933, Alice Eveleigh has arrived at Fiercombe Manor in disgrace. The beautiful house becomes her sanctuary, a place to hide her shame from society in the care of the housekeeper, Mrs Jelphs. But the manor also becomes a place of suspicion, one of secrecy.

Something isn't right.

Someone is watching.

There are secrets that the manor house seems determined to keep. Tragedy haunts the empty rooms and foreboding hangs heavy in the stifling heat. Traces of the previous occupant, Elizabeth Stanton, are everywhere and soon Alice discovers Elizabeth's life eerily mirrors the path she herself is on.

The past is set to repeat its sorrows, with devastating consequences.

My verdict
The Girl in the Photograph is the tale of two women, both pregnant, in different time periods. Both women feel very isolated with no friends around to support them. Alice, who is pregnant out of wedlock, has been sent to the country by her mother. Elizabeth is desperate for a second child, but has experienced pregnancy and post-natal complications in the past.

Unusually for a time lapse book, this is based in the 1930s and 1898, rather than having one of the women living in the present day. This definitely makes the story particularly fascinating and a bonus, as it is like reading two historical fiction novels in one! Even though Alice and Elizabeth are living over 30 years apart, they share many similarities - they both feel stifled by others and unable to decide their own future.

The Girl in the Photograph was a lovely easy read, with beautiful descriptions of the Gloucestershire countryside that stimulate all the senses. Not only could I see the surroundings in my mind, but I could hear them and smell them too.

I enjoyed the mystery surrounding Fiercombe Manor and Stanton House, and what happened to Elizabeth and her family, and it kept me guessing until the end. I couldn't put the book down for the final 20 percent, as everything tied together with a few surprise revelations.

I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

The Exit by Helen FitzGerald

The Exit
By Helen FitzGerald
Published by Faber & Faber (5 February 2015)
ISBN: 978-0571287895

Publisher's description
23-year-old Catherine is mainly interested in Facebook and flirting, but she reluctantly takes a job at a local care home after her mother puts her foot down - and soon discovers that her new workplace contains many secrets.

One of the residents at the home, 82-year-old Rose, is convinced that something sinister is going on in Room 7 and that her own life is under threat. But Rose has dementia - so what does she actually know, and who would believe her anyway?

As Catherine starts investigating Rose's allegations, terrible revelations surface about everyone involved. Can Catherine find out what's really going on before it's too late?

My verdict
I loved this book and read it in a couple of hours in just one sitting.

The Exit is an unusual story and very well written. It begins as a fairly straightforward easy read, but then develops into a brilliant sick and twisted plot, as the layers build up and more characters are introduced.

I took an instant dislike to Catherine, who is incredibly immature at the beginning and, as described by Rose, is rather dull. However, my views gradually changed throughout the course of the book; her personality grows with the story as circumstances force her to take on more responsibility in her life.

Rose was a brilliant character - a spunky 82 year old with plenty of attitude who doesn't stand for any nonsense. She drifts between moments of total lucidity and moments of regression back to her 10-year-old self. Sadly, due to her dementia, no one believes most of what she has to say - yet she actually holds the key to what is going on in Dear Green nursing home.

The Exit is very creepy, with humour and horror thrown into the mix. Helen FitzGerald is a very talented author.

I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

The Abrupt Physics of Dying by Paul E. Hardisty

The Abrupt Physics of Dying
By Paul E. Hardisty
Published by Orenda Books (Kindle Edition - 15 December 2014; Paperback - 8 March 2015)
ISBN: 978-1910663052

Publisher's description
Claymore Straker is trying to forget a violent past. Working as an oil company engineer in the wilds of Yemen, he is hijacked at gunpoint by Islamic terrorists. Clay has a choice: help uncover the cause of a mysterious sickness afflicting the village of Al Urush, close to the company's oil-processing facility, or watch Abdulkader, his driver and close friend, die.

As the country descends into civil war and village children start dying, Clay finds himself caught up in a ruthless struggle between opposing armies, controllers of the country's oil wealth, Yemen's shadowy secret service, and rival terrorist factions.

As Clay scrambles to keep his friend alive, he meets Rania, a troubled journalist. Together, they try to uncover the truth about Al Urush. But nothing in this ancient, unforgiving place is what it seems. Accused of a murder he did not commit, put on the CIA's most-wanted list, Clay must come to terms with his past and confront the powerful forces that want him dead.

Gritty, gripping and shocking, The Abrupt Physics of Dying will not only open your eyes, but keep them glued to the page until the final, stunning denouement is reached.

My verdict
The Abrupt Physics of Dying is an eco-thriller with immense detail and a fascinating background story.  The well-written almost-poetic vivid descriptions are unusual in a book of this genre, showing how the author Paul E. Hardisty has a gift for detailed but fast-paced writing.

The book was a pleasure to read. There's a bit of everything in here - conspiracy theories, history, politics, a love interest and, of course, a strong action hero. You can tell the author cares deeply for his subject, with the historical and political detail weaved within the thrilling plot.

When you read the author's bio, you realise that the subject matter is one of his many passions. Paul E. Hardisty has worked as an engineer, hydrologist and environmental scientist and survived a bomb blast in a cafe in Sana'a, the capital of Yemen, in 1993. He's also an action man himself - sailor, private pilot, keen outdoorsman and conservation volunteer.

This is an excellent debut novel for both the author and the publisher and I am looking forward to reading the sequel, The Evolution of Fear, which is being published next year.

I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, 2 March 2015

The A - Z of You and Me by James Hannah

The A - Z of You and Me
By James Hannah
Published by Doubleday/Transworld (12 March 2015)

Publisher's description
I'm lying here in a bed, my head full of regret, with only a little bird flitting through a tree to comfort me.

Friends want to visit, but I refuse them. So my carer Sheila has given me a task to keep me occupied.

An A-Z list. Think of a part of my body for each letter. Tell a little tale about it.

When I reach H for Heart, what will I say?

How we loved to string crocheted hearts in trees? How our hearts steadily unravelled?

So I begin with A. Adam's apple.

Will you be there to catch me when I fall?

My verdict
Books about terminal illness are a current trend. But unlike most of these, The A - Z of You and Me isn't overly sentimental. There are no sob stories and no final messages to loved ones. It's not bogged down with details of death and illness, but is an uplifting yet sad story of misspent youth, bad life choices and the repercussions of self-destruction.

James Hannah has produced an original honest look at a life with plenty of regrets. This emotional journey made me laugh and cry, with wry humour on one page and sad revelations on the next.

To begin with, all you know is that Ivo is dying in a hospice, refusing any visitors. His nurse Sheila suggests a game to pass the time - go through the alphabet from A to Z, find a part of your body for each letter and think of a story or memory relating to it.

The A - Z of You and Me carries a whole host of emotions - love, guilt, blame, hopelessness, loneliness, shame and grief. I expected the book to be disjointed - literally just an A to Z list  - but it is so creative and well written that it flows seamlessly from beginning to end, each entry linking to the next. As the story unravels, Ivo's journey to the hospice is revealed, alongside snapshots from his past.

The A - Z of You and Me covers a difficult topic, but I found it to be an easy read with a perfect pace throughout. The ending, in particular, is beautifully written and well-deserved.

I received an Advance Reader Copy from NetGalley and Doubleday in exchange for an honest review.