Beneath a Burning Sky by Jenny Ashcroft


When twenty-two-year-old Olivia is coerced into marriage by the cruel Alistair Sheldon she leaves England for Egypt, his home and the land of her own childhood. Reluctant as she is to go with Alistair, it’s in her new home that she finds happiness in surprising places: she is reunited with her long-estranged sister, Clara, and falls – impossibly and illicitly – in love with her husband’s boarder, Captain Edward Bertram.

Then Clara is abducted from one of the busiest streets in the city. Olivia is told it’s thieves after ransom money, but she’s convinced there’s more to it. As she sets out to discover what’s happened to the sister she’s only just begun to know, she falls deeper into the shadowy underworld of Alexandria, putting her own life, and her chance at a future with Edward, the only man she’s ever loved, at risk. Because, determined as Olivia is to find Clara, there are others who will stop at nothing to conceal what’s become of her . . .


I enjoy a good thriller and I also like well-written romantic fiction especially historical so Beneath a Burning Sky ticks all the boxes for me. There is mystery, intrigue, illicit romance, abduction, lies, betrayal, murder. The story takes place in 1890s Alexandria when Egypt was still under British occupation and begins with an abduction then takes us back to a few months earlier.

22 year old Olivia has been brought to Alexandria by her husband Alistair who, you find out very quickly, is a thoroughly nasty, controlling, cruel character. Olivia is very unhappy but is unable to tell anyone. So, I thought to myself, it’s a bit of a melodrama; maybe a bit of a cliché.

I’m happy to say I was wrong. It’s better than that and I really enjoyed the story.

Years earlier, Olivia and her sister Clara had been forced to leave their childhood home of Cairo after the death of their parents and return to England to their grandmother. However their grandmother, a bitter, nasty woman, had kept them apart and had allowed no communication between the sisters. The grandmother also had a hand in leaving Olivia no choice but to marry Alistair, colluding with him to virtually blackmail Olivia into marriage. On a happier note, it turns out her older sister Clara is married to Alistair’s business partner and has been living in Alexandria with her husband and children.

The story is quite complex, there are several threads and quite a lot of characters, and yet I didn’t find it too complicated. It is well written with a good balance of description, dialogue and background information so it’s not difficult to read. The romantic parts are not overly mushy but they are part of the story. I didn’t try too hard to work out the connections between some of the characters; I just let myself enjoy the story and the plot twists and wait for the connections to be revealed in time.

You hope there will be a happy ending but you can’t be entirely sure given the way the story unfolds. You just have to read it and find out for yourself!

Beneath a Burning Sky is Jenny Ashcroft’s debut novel in the UK. It was published in paperback on 29 June 2017 by Sphere. It is also available for Kindle.

[My thanks to NetGalley and Sphere for providing a digital copy]


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Standard Deviation – Katherine Heiny



A rueful, funny examination of love, marriage, infidelity, and origami. Simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking, this sensational debut will appeal to fans of David Nicholls, Nick Hornby, Nora Ephron and Lorrie Moore

Graham Cavanaugh’s second wife, Audra, is everything his first wife was not. She considers herself privileged to live in the age of the hair towel, talks non-stop through her epidural, labour and delivery, invites the doorman to move in and the eccentric members of their son’s Origami Club to Thanksgiving.

She is charming and spontaneous and fun but life with her can be exhausting. In the midst of the day-to-day difficulties and delights of marriage and raising a child with Asperger’s, his first wife, Elspeth, reenters Graham’s life. Former spouses are hard to categorize – are they friends, enemies, old flames, or just people who know you really, really well?

Graham starts to wonder: How can anyone love two such different women? Did he make the right choice? Is there a right choice?


Although Katherine Heiny’s short stories have previously appeared in various publications, I believe Standard Deviation is her first full length novel and what a delight!

I really wasn’t sure what to expect but it is very funny; full of joy and love, but with just a few heartbreaking moments.

It’s a family story based around Graham, his second wife Audra and their 10 year old son, Matthew. ‘Standard Deviation’ is a reference to their son’s scores in various assessment tests which had led to a diagnosis of Aspergers.

Graham is a bit older and fairly quiet. His first wife, Elspeth was very cool, calm, collected and in control. Audra is the complete opposite. She never stops talking – about anyone and anything – the just opens her mouth and keeps going. Says what she thinks. She comes out with the most inappropriate things at the most awkward moments. If she doesn’t know the whole story she just makes things up. She thinks everyone should be a friend: talks to everyone, invites random characters to come for a meal or even stay with them, which leads to some great storytelling. She just has no filter. Volunteers for things, kind of meddles in things, even wants to become involved in the life of Graham’s first wife. At the same time, I really liked her. She’s not a bad person. In fact she’s a wonderful character but as I was reading I kept thinking, “Oh no. Don’t say that! Oh please!”

They worry about Matthew and want the best for him. Audra latches on to any interest Matthew might have and runs with it. He gets interested in origami so she finds an origami ‘club’ for him. We encounter more eccentric but wonderful characters and hilarious escapades.

It’s not all fun and laughter. There are a few thoughtful moments and some poignant episodes. It’s not all plain sailing but you just hope that things will work out well for everyone in the end.

I really enjoyed the book. It’s a well written, entertaining novel with interesting characters and good dialogue. It made me laugh out loud a few times. I certainly wouldn’t mind if there was a sequel. In fact I would be delighted!

Standard Deviation is due to be published in hardcover on 1 June 2017

[My thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for an advance copy]

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Want You Gone by Chris Brookmyre

#BlogTour : I’m so excited to be reviewing this book on publication day and would like to thank Grace Vincent of Little, Brown UK for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.  It’s two firsts for me –  it’s the first time I’ve been part of a blog tour and I’m the first stop. 

#WantYouGone @cbrookmyre @LittleBrownUK



What if all your secrets were put online? Sam Morpeth is growing up way too fast, left to fend for a younger sister with learning difficulties when their mother goes to prison and watching her dreams of university evaporate. But Sam learns what it is to be truly powerless when a stranger begins to blackmail her online, drawing her into a trap she may not escape alive. Who would you turn to? Meanwhile, reporter Jack Parlabane has finally got his career back on track, but his success has left him indebted to a volatile source on the wrong side of the law. Now that debt is being called in, and it could cost him everything. What would you be capable of? Thrown together by a common enemy, Sam and Jack are about to discover they have more in common than they realise – and might be each other’s only hope.


Want You Gone is another wonderfully entertaining thriller from Chris Brookmyre, in the Jack Parlabane series.  Chris is a brilliant writer and this time we are led into the world of hackers, cyber crime, fraud and corporate espionage.

The book starts with what looks like two separate stories (or three if you count the cyber attack on the bank), one told by Sam Morpeth, a teenage girl who is becoming overwhelmed with the responsibility of looking after her younger sister with learning difficulties. Things get worse when she’s told she can’t claim benefits because she is in full time education. No one seems to be listening. In the evenings when her sister is asleep she spends her time in online chat rooms to escape her harsh reality.

In the ‘second’ story, investigative reporter Jack Parlabane is in London having been invited there for an interview with Broadwave, an online news site. Could this be an opportunity to get his career back on track? While he’s there, there is a major cyber attack on RSGN Bank. Parlabane recognises the trademark of a group of hackers called Uninvited and contacts a hacker who goes by the name Buzzkill with whom he has had dealings in the past, in the hope of getting some inside information on the hack for a story. Jack has no idea who Buzzkill is, he’s never discovered his real identity nor actually spoken to him and he doesn’t particularly want to owe him any favour but he gets some quotes and writes a piece for Broadwave.

Sam’s situation then suddenly deteriorates further when she is hacked by a blackmailer who seems to know everything about her and is threatening to reveal things from her past that could lead to her going to jail. The blackmailer is demanding that she steal a prototype device from company. Having read Jack Parlabane’s story about the attack on the Bank she attempts to contact him to seek his help.

The two soon find themselves involved in the dark world of cyber-crime: hacking, breaching security systems, corporate espionage, all the while trying to identify the blackmailer who calls himself Zodiac. They also find themselves having to ‘disappear’ after a body is found on premises where Jack had gained entry having previously hacked the software that controlled access.

Despite some of the things Sam has done, she comes across as a good character and I had a lot of sympathy for her. I also like Jack Parlabane despite his, at times, rather dubious past when his actions in pursuit of the truth of a story sometimes led to him stepping over the line. The two characters worked well together. I also got the feeling there was another connection between Jack and Sam waiting to be revealed.

The first part of the book moves along at steady pace but is never boring. It’s not long before the action really starts and then the pace really ramps up until the conclusion. Sam tells her story in first person voice. Jack’s story is narrated in the third person. The dialogue is good and there is an exciting immediacy. As I read I could see the story playing out in my head and I got very engrossed.  There are a few surprising twists. For me, it quickly became a real page turner.   Wonderful stuff!

Publication date:  20 April 2017

Author’s website:


[My thanks to NetGalley and Little Brown UK for an ARC and to Grace Vincent of Little Brown UK for inviting me to take part in the blog tour]

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Before The Rains – Dinah Jefferies


1930, Rajputana, India. Since her husband’s death, 28-year-old photojournalist Eliza’s only companion has been her camera. When the British Government send her to an Indian princely state to photograph the royal family, she’s determined to make a name for herself.

But when Eliza arrives at the palace she meets Jay, the Prince’s handsome, brooding brother. While Eliza awakens Jay to the poverty of his people, he awakens her to the injustices of British rule. Soon Jay and Eliza find they have more in common than they think. But their families – and society – think otherwise. Eventually they will have to make a choice between doing what’s expected, or following their hearts. . .


I’ve really enjoyed Dinah Jefferies’ previous novels.  Before The Rains is her fourth one and they just seem to get better and better.  I just like her style of writing.

I loved this story of Eliza, a young widow trying to make a name for herself as a photojournalist, in 1930s India, and who has just been given a commission to spend a year living in the palace of Prince Anish, photographing the royal family and life in the princely state of Juraipore for a new archive.

Not everyone in the castle welcomes her presence. She was sent there by the British government, and some think she may be spying for the British, but she does seem to get along with the younger son, Jayant.

Right from the start you get a real sense of the contrasts: the heat and dust and poverty Eliza sees surrounding the castle, and the scents, colour and opulence of the interior.  This is something I find the author does very well – her wonderful descriptions seem almost effortless but you get a great sense of time and place.  It’s easy to imagine you are there as the story unfolds although you couldn’t possibly have been there (in my case I’m too young – I wasn’t born until the 1950s!)  Dinah is an excellent storyteller.  I suppose you could say it is historical romantic fiction (historical in the sense of recent history) but it has depth.  It is a time of growing political unrest, the Indian population is governed by the British.  Eliza is an interesting character who doesn’t really fit the mould of a young English woman in India.    The plot moves at a good pace and the various threads of the story are woven expertly.

It’s a story of love, friendship, secrets, deceit, sacrifice, betrayal. There are a couple of twists although they weren’t entirely unexpected. Overall, a very satisfying read.

Author’s website:  here

Before The Rains was published by Penguin on 23 February 2017.

[My thanks to NetGalley and Penguin for an ARC]

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Everything but the Truth – Gillian McAllister



It all started with the email. It came through to her boyfriend’s iPad in the middle of the night. Rachel didn’t even mean to look. She loves Jack, and she’s pregnant with their child. She trusts him. But now she’s seen it, she can’t undo that moment, or the chain of events it has set in motion. Why has Jack been lying about his past? Just what exactly is he hiding? And doesn’t Rachel have a right to know the truth at any cost?


I loved Everything but the Truth . It gently sucked me in and then ….. wow! Secrets, lies, suspicion, obsession, truth(?)

Rachel is expecting Jack’s baby. She’s three months pregnant. She hasn’t known him long but she loves him. He’s a travel writer for a magazine. They don’t live together (yet). Jack lives with his cat in a house his parents had bought for him. Although they have been together seven months Rachel has still never met any of his friends.

It’s a lovely start to the story. Rachel is the narrator and tells us about Jack. You can tell she loves him. He sounds like a nice guy, a gentle soul with a few endearing traits.

And then she saw that email on Jack’s iPad in the middle of the night – just the notification, just enough to nudge her curiosity. Saw him dismiss the notification and when she casually mentioned that she thought he might have received an email he said ‘No, no,’ and changed the subject.

Then when she finally gets to meet his friends in Oban. she’s confused that they call him JD when his name is Jack Ross. She asks Jack why and he gives an explanation but she also notices a change in his demeanour and sees him making a “shut up” gesture to his friends that she obviously is not meant to see. The more she thinks about it, the more she realises that she knows very little about the father of her unborn child.

That is just the beginning of her suspicions, triggered by awkward silences, looks, words. We are fed little snippets of information that build up tension and suspicion. Rachel asking questions; watching Jack’s face for any changes. Getting plausible answers. There is definitely a sense of paranoia, starting small but increasing. Is it Rachel’s imagination? Or is she right to seek explanations. It’s possible that Rachel already has trust issues. After all apparently she and her long term boyfriend had broken up because of her unfounded accusations that he was cheating, just a month before she met Jack.

Finding out the ‘truth’ starts to become a bit of an obsession. Her family and friends warn her not to obsess but you just know she will. Using social media, she searches for him and any information available but there is very little. While visiting at his parents in Oban a letter arrives addressed to a J Douglas; she does the unthinkable and opens it then seals it up again. When later she ‘innocently’ asks him about it he tells her uses two names for his writing. Of course it then starts again, taking her phone into the bathroom or kitchen and searching for anything on J Douglas.

When she doesn’t find anything, she becomes even more suspicious. What lengths will Rachel go to to satisfy herself that she knows everything? Invasion of someone’s privacy is a very serious matter. Is it ever justified?

I think I’ve said enough. I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone. It’s quite a complex multi-layered tale that is well written and easy to read. The characters are strong but no one is spotless and squeaky clean (in my opinion). As I read on, doubts crept in. Are things really as Rachel tells us? As her paranoia increases we get snippets about her past including the death of her mother and the circumstances leading up to her career change.

Initially I did consider what Jack may be hiding but I soon realised I was way off. I simply accepted the twists and turns and just enjoyed the story. A very satisfying page turner and a great debut.

[My thanks to NetGalley and Penguin UK – Michael Joseph for providing a review copy]

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Blue Light Yokohama – Nicolás Obregón



Setagaya ward, Tokyo
Inspector Kosuke Iwata, newly transferred to Tokyo’s homicide department, is assigned a new partner and a secondhand case.

Blunt, hard as nails and shunned by her colleagues, Assistant Inspector Noriko Sakai is a partner Iwata decides it would be unwise to cross.

A case that’s complicated – a family of four murdered in their own home by a killer who then ate ice cream, surfed the web and painted a hideous black sun on the bedroom ceiling before he left in broad daylight. A case that so haunted the original investigator that he threw himself off the city’s famous Rainbow Bridge.

Carrying his own secret torment, Iwata is no stranger to pain. He senses the trauma behind the killer’s brutal actions. Yet his progress is thwarted in the unlikeliest of places.

Fearing corruption among his fellow officers, tracking a killer he’s sure is only just beginning and trying to put his own shattered life back together, Iwata knows time is running out before he’s taken off the case or there are more killings . . .


I’m not sure if it is coincidence or whether I am subconsciously travelling the world via new titles but recently I have read novels set in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and now Japan (and the next one on my reading list is set in India!)

I heard about Blue Light Yokohama via an email and the description intrigued me, especially since the book was inspired by true events.

Inspector Kosuke Iwata had been signed off work for a while and on his return is transferred to Tokyo’s Homicide Department. He is allocated a new partner, Noriko Sakai, and given a secondhand case where a Korean family of four had been murdered in their own home, complicated by the fact that the original investigator had committed suicide a few days earlier.

It soon becomes clear that both Iwata and Sakai have their own issues. Snippets of Iwata’s troubled, painful, past are slowly revealed. Sakai comes across as hard but efficient. She doesn’t mix with her colleagues and some of them try to give her a hard time.

When they start investigating the brutal murders it looks like there could have been a ritualistic element to them but no real clues.

When more cases turn up, Iwata thinks they may have a serial killer, but they get little support from the bosses. Apart from the Korean family, there just doesn’t seem to be anything linking the victims. As they investigate further Iwata deals with bullying, corruption, incompetence and his own demons. It also appears that someone is out to destroy his career.

Nicolás Obregón sets a wonderful scene and although I have never been to Tokyo, I felt a sense of being there, even the bleak places.

It’s quite a complex story because of the references to Iwata’s recent past, and also his childhood/adolescence, as well as the present, but I found I was able to follow it. Initially I had some trouble with the unfamiliar Japanese names and places but you get used to that. I liked the ending and for me it was a real page-turner.

Is it different to any other police procedural/crime thriller set somewhere else? Yes, I believe it is. I felt I got a glimpse of some aspect of Japanese life. Whether it is an accurate portrayal, I don’t know, but it makes for a good debut novel.

Author’s webpage is here.

My thanks to NetGalley and the UK publishers Penguin UK – Michael Joseph for an advance copy.

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The Trapped Girl by Robert Dugoni


When a woman’s body is discovered submerged in a crab pot in the chilly waters of Puget Sound, Detective Tracy Crosswhite finds herself with a tough case to untangle. Before they can identify the killer, Tracy and her colleagues on the Seattle PD’s Violent Crimes Section must figure out who the victim is. Her autopsy, however, reveals she may have gone to great lengths to conceal her identity. So who was she running from?

After evidence surfaces that their Jane Doe may be a woman who suspiciously disappeared months earlier, Tracy is once again haunted by the memory of her sister’s unsolved murder. Dredging up details from the woman’s past leads to conflicting clues that only seem to muddy the investigation. As Tracy begins to uncover a twisted tale of brutal betrayal and desperate greed, she’ll find herself risking everything to confront a killer who won’t go down without a deadly fight.


I’m a fan of Robert Dugoni’s books, having discovered him through NetGalley.

I like his writing style. His books seem to have a bit of substance – a good balance of scene setting, characters, dialogue and importantly, as far as I am concerned, a well-written, entertaining story. This one is no exception.

The Trapped Girl is the fourth book in the Tracy Crosswhite series. Tracy is a strong character, a homicide detective in the Seattle Police Department and she leads a good team. In the previous books, she’s had problems with her boss, Captain Johnny Nolasco. They really don’t like each other and in the past he has made life difficult for Tracy but this time round, we see a slightly softer, more mature side to Tracy and while she is still disagreeing with her boss, she’s trying a different approach. Her personal life also seems more settled.

Tracy and her colleague Kins are called out to a body found near Cormorant Cove, not far from Tracy’s home. A high school student who is out crabbing illegally in Puget Sound caught more than he bargained for when he pulled up a crab pot with a young woman’s body in it. It turned out the victim had facial implants of the kind to change her appearance and by tracing the serial numbers to the manufacturer, eventually got a name from the plastic surgeon who had carried out the procedure – but little else. Lynn Hoff had paid in cash, and had requested that she be given all the photographs taken.

Further investigation leads them to believe Lynn Hoff did not want to be found and had never been reported as missing. No history, a fake social security number, no employment, no phone, nothing.

But then the story takes another twist. Tracy obtains Lynn Hoff’s drivers licence and the photo is passed around. She is contacted by a ranger based in Mount Rainier National Park. He believes the woman is someone who went missing, presumed dead, in unusual circumstances on the mountain, except he says her name is Andrea Strickland.

Just as Tracy’s team are starting to get somewhere, they are ordered to hand the case over to Pierce County who had investigated Andrea Strickland’s disappearance from Mount Rainier. Tracy wasn’t happy about this particularly since she considered their detective, Stan Fields, had carried out a pretty sloppy investigation into the circumstances surrounding Andrea Strickland’s disappearance. So of course Tracy being Tracy, she carries on investigating (just a little) after complying with the order to hand over the case.

Some of the chapters in the book are in the voice of Andrea Strickland (in journal form) so you get a lot of background as to what was happening with her work, her marriage, her husband, her friends, a few months earlier, all adding to the mystery and throwing up possible suspects.

It’s a complex plot but written so well that it is not difficult to follow. There are great twists and turns. I thought I had sussed it out, but I didn’t get it quite right. For a while it looked like I was going to be close, but then there was another twist. Wonderful stuff. Definitely a page-turner.

Although The Trapped Girl is fourth in a series, it can be read as a stand-alone.

My thanks to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for providing an ARC.

Author’s website:

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