The Last Sister by Kendra Elliott

Yesterday I was unlucky enough – or should that be lucky enough – to be unwell (not at death’s door I hasten to add) so I took the opportunity of a day off work to read this book in almost one go. I only put it down to nap. Wow what a read! What started out as a routine murder-suicide became something very sinister and terrifying in small town ‘Bartonville’, Oregon. Not exactly the murder capital of the US.

The Bartons live in a crumbling mansion. Two sisters Emily and Madison and three eccentric aunts who always wear the same colour jumpers as each other on a given day. There were three sisters but twenty years ago their father was found murdered and hanged from a tree. 10 year old Emily saw him swinging from the tree and also saw older sister Tara running away. Tara swore she was at a friend’s all night and wasn’t there. A few days later their mother committed suicide and sister Tara disappeared. They never heard from her again. The killer was caught and brought to justice.

Back to today. Emily’s family own the diner in the town where everyone meets and eats. On this fateful morning waitress Lyndsay fails to turn up for work so Emily goes to check she’s OK. What she finds is a gruesome discovery. Lyndsay has been stabbed to death and her husband Sean is hanging from a tree outside. For Emily the shock of another hanging is overwhelming.

Enter Zander and Ava from the FBI. And that’s all I’m going to say about the plot! Why the FBI you ask? Well that’s for me to know and you to find out. Utterly compelling, this is an intricately woven tale of murder, secrets, race, hatred and romance. I just loved it.

Thanks to NetGalley for my copy in exchange for an honest review.

Killing Beauties by Peter Langman

Ten years from now if someone asks me if I have read this book I may not remember the characters or the plot or who did what but I’ll be able to say, ‘Oh that’s the book where she-intelligencer Diana Jennings pees into an ale mug under her skirts in the inn.’ I think it will live with me forever. Of course that was at the beginning. There are more references to urinating in public places, from very un-private privies to alleyways and buckets. For someone of my genteel sensitivities this shocked me more than the beheading of the king. What no Andrex?

But I digress. What a fantastic read. This is a period of history I know a little about but not much and I had never heard of she-intelligencers. I had never heard of John Thurloe either, the Spymaster and Postmaster, the latter meaning that he and his cronies opened everyone’s letters looking for secret messages and information. Not to mention torture by burning matches under the fingernails if suspected. Ouch. Basically Thurloe is a supporter of Oliver Cromwell and they are seeking out those who wish to overthrow his government and bring back the exiled Charles Stuart (Charles II) and install him on the throne. No history lesson intended. Thurloe was a real person as were most of the characters so it’s no good thinking ‘I hope the so-and-so gets his comeuppance at the hands (or daggers) of whoever,’ because a bit of research on Google will be full of spoilers as to who does and who doesn’t. The three main female protagonists – the aforementioned Diana, Susan Hyde and Molly – are strong women with a just cause (republicans may disagree here). Men’s chauvinism and misogyny went in the women’s favour because the men just could not believe women capable of such deeds. Little did they know.

There are lots of things to please spy fans – letter locking (Google it – it’s fascinating stuff), invisible ink, women dressed as men – very Shakespearean – and such like.

It is at times a bit confusing. There is so much background to absorb that it does get a little convoluted in the middle, but if you love historical fiction – and even if you don’t – this is a thrilling ride by anyone’s standards.

Congratulations to Peter Langman for giving us such an entertaining read and to the Pigeonhole, Peter and my fellow Pigeons for their wonderful comments and involvement.

Right Behind You by Rachel Abbott

I first discovered Rachel Abbott (and DCI Tom Douglas) a couple of years ago. Right Behind You is my sixth of her novels and in my humble opinion the best and most exciting. We have been following Tom for a long time now and his backstory has moved forwards a lot. His teenage daughter lives with him and Louisa – the latter of whom is heavily pregnant. His ex-wife Kate (a right cow) is about to marry someone she met five minutes ago and drag them all off to Australia. And then there’s brother Jack. We all thought he was dead for ages (including Tom). In fact he’s in hiding with his family because of his involvement in tracking down a criminal gang though his involvement was a bit dodgy – and illegal. I missed the book where this happens so don’t know much more.

But now to the main story. Jo is happily at home with wonderful, perfect doctor husband Ash (the love of her life) and beloved daughter Molly. All is tickety-boo until there is a knock at the door. Ash is arrested by two police officers and taken away in handcuffs for abusing his step-daughter. Forgot to mention he’s not her real father. Then a man and a woman arrive and say they are from Social Services and need to take Molly to a place of safety to question her about the abuse. Jo can’t go with them. Suspicious I hear you say. They will bring her back very soon but of course they don’t and the nightmare begins. Jo goes to the police and Tom and sidekick Becky become involved. In the meantime a gang boss is murdered in prison. Is there a connection? Jo starts to doubt her perfect husband. In the words of the just departed Terry Jones of Monty Python fame Ash ‘…is not the Messiah – (in fact) he’s a very naughty boy’. (Sorry couldn’t resist – RIP Terry.) But does that make Ash an abuser? No spoilers here. Just read it. I read it in two sittings. I just couldn’t put it down. You can read it as a standalone as Rachel explains bits of the background as we go along but it’s obviously better if you have read some of the others at least.

Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau

I just loved this book. It’s 1911 and Peggy Battenberg works in the Moonrise Bookstore in New York. But Peggy is no ordinary shop girl. She’s an heiress belonging to one of the countries richest Jewish families. Then one day, while making martinis for an eminent – if rather salacious author – and his agent, Peggy is dragged away by her Uncle David to spend the summer in New York’s illustrious and hedonistic Coney Island with her extended family. But this will be far from a jolly holiday. They will be accompanied by her younger sister Lydia’s betrothed – Henry Taul – and his mother so they can all ‘bond’. And so the mystery and murder begin. Peggy meets and falls for impoverished artist Stefan, who shows his Futurist paintings at a tiny Gallery inside Dreamland. Stefan is Serbian and therefore hated by everyone who believes him to be an anarchist and trouble-maker. Dreamland is one of three funfairs on Coney Island and probably the most famous. It really existed. Look it up. I read about it first in Alice Hoffman’s The Museum of Extraordinary Things. Peggy is the most wonderful hero. Naive to the point of simplicity, her eyes are opened during this ‘holiday’ to just how unfair life can be when you are not rich or entitled. Let alone an ‘alien’. I don’t think she realises that even though her family are fabulously wealthy that they will always be persona non grata amongst old money because they are Jewish. I enjoyed The Blue – my first book by Nancy Bilyeau – but this one was way more exciting and the character of Peggy will stay with me forever.
Many thanks to The Pigeonhole for giving me the opportunity to read along with my fellow Pigeons.

The Secret Sister by K.A. Clarke and A.J. Brittan

I’m not sure why a number of people have said this was an ‘easy read’. I found it heartbreaking and so sad at times. Poor Colleen being given up at birth and then losing her little sister Bryony. No wonder her life is so messed up. Poor Celia having lost her baby daughter. Poor Anna having given up her baby. I could go on. Poor everyone! But this was a well crafted and superbly written book. So many red herrings we started to suspect all sorts of people. I know it was written by two different authors writing in different ‘voices’ for Ella and Colleen but after a while I didn’t really notice. I was worried it might interrupt the flow but it never did. I had a couple of reservations but I can’t say more due to spoilers. Just curl up with a hot chocolate and read into the night. Fabulous.
Many thanks to The Pigeonhole for allowing me to read along with the other Pigeons and the authors.

Happy Ever After by C.C. MacDonald

I feel so mixed about this book even though towards the end I couldn’t wait to find out what happened. The problem for me is that both main protagonists are unlikable. Bit like Gone Girl. Charlie is a total prat but I couldn’t help but feel a bit sorry for him when Naomi was upset because they couldn’t afford the 5-bedroom house by the sea she’d told all her posh London friends she was buying. You’re in your thirties with one child! Most people of your age are lucky to get on the housing ladder. She’s greedy and needy and is putting too much pressure on him. They’ve bought a stupid house that needs too much renovation. She doesn’t seem to do anything to help apart from moan about the pigeons. She can’t even spend a day with her daughter without getting in a tizz. Get real Naomi. I almost gave up half way through but then the plot got really clever and twisty and the second half of the book was brilliant. I think the annoying slow start may put people off but stick with it. It’s edge of the seat stuff at the end.
Many thanks to The Pigeonhole for allowing me to read along with the other Pigeons and the author.