Anne Goodwin: Underneath

Underneath Cover

I received a free digital copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

He never intended to be a jailer …

After years of travelling, responsible to no-one but himself, Steve has resolved to settle down. He gets a job, buys a house and persuades Liesel to move in with him.

Life’s perfect, until Liesel delivers her ultimatum: if he won’t agree to start a family, she’ll have to leave. He can’t bear to lose her, but how can he face the prospect of fatherhood when he has no idea what being a father means? If he could somehow make her stay, he wouldn’t have to choose … and it would be a shame not to make use of the cellar.

Will this be the solution to his problems, or the catalyst for his own unravelling?


Underneath is a literary, psychological suspense that closely inspects the life of Steve and the issues he has surrounding family. Coming into a relationship with Liesel, a woman who did not want a child and eventually changes her mind, Steve cannot comprehend the thought of fatherhood and losing everything good that they have together. With Liesel’s final ultimatum, Steve must find a way to keep her by his side in a desperate attempt not to lose the one thing he holds dear to himself.

I had extremely high hopes for this novel. You always hear stories of people who keep families or people locked up in their basements with neighbours, close friends, and the authorities none the wiser. I was interested in finding out why he locked someone up in his cellar and how the novel itself was resolved. However, I was immediately thrown into a narrative that felt like it had no direction and was forced.

Liesel and Steve meet at lunchtime during a break in Steve’s shift at the hospital. From that moment Liesel integrates herself into his life by helping Steve to view properties following his lottery win. I felt like their was no build up to their relationship and the way that it developed. Within pages they were in a loving relationship having sex in every room available and living together in the house that Steve brought. For the majority of the novel I couldn’t see any evident direction that could suggest the cellar becoming a prison for another character but found myself reading about trivial, mundane events where Liesel and Steve had arguments and then after hours of them both stewing over their emotions they would make up with sex. Their relationship felt strained and there was a lot of push and pull, especially on Liesel’s part which made sense considering their both had familial issues with both missing a parent from their younger years – which seemed to be the major theme of this novel.

There was a lot of confusion on my part with this novel regarding dialogue and movements. I couldn’t get to grips with the characters train of thought and how they managed to get from one scene to another and I frequently found myself getting bored at these moments. Furthermore, there were scenes interspersed throughout the novel that portrayed events, presumably, from Steve’s childhood which I also couldn’t comprehend. I couldn’t see any clear connection to the events taking place and the names and events just confused me all the more. When the novel did finally get to the imprisonment within the cellar, there was also that confusion due to scenes such as this and it felt like Steve was living in a dream or was high or something as different scenarios, presumably in his head, merged together.

I can see where Goodwin was getting with this novel and why Steve did what he did. I just felt like the build up and actually getting to that moment was too mundane, boring, and slow in pace. I would have been far more interested if the writing itself was more coherent and straight forward in its lineage of events from the present and if the relationship between Liesel and Steve had had some time to build up and become more believable and genuine.

L. F. Robertson: Two Lost Boys

Lost Boys Cover

I received a free physical copy of this book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Janet Moodie has spent years as a death row appeals attorney. Overworked and recently widowed, she’s had her fill of hopeless cases, and is determined that this will be her last. Her client is Marion ‘Andy’ Hardy, convicted along with his brother Emory of the rape and murder of two women. But Emory received a life sentence while Andy got the death penalty, labeled the ringleader despite his low IQ and Emory’s dominant personality.

Convinced that Andy’s previous lawyers missed mitigating evidence that would have kept him off death row, Janet investigates Andy’s past. She discovers a sordid and damaged upbringing, a series of errors on the part of his previous counsel, and most worrying of all, the possibility that there is far more to the murders than was first thought. Andy may be guilty, but does he deserve to die?


Two Lost Boys is the debut novel of L. F. Robertson: a gripping, legal thriller that follows Janet Moodie as she attempts to see justice in the sentencing of Andy Hardy. With the help of colleagues, professionals, and those that knew Andy, Janet hopes to overturn the death penalty signed off on Andy’s life believing that there is more to Andy and his part in the murders than meets the eye.

Two Lost Boys is unique, and different, in that I have never really read a legal thriller where the lawyers are intent on overturning a ruling previously made. The death penalty is a big deal and, you would think, that there wouldn’t be much reasoning for trying to change the outcome. However, as you begin to progress through the novel and learn about Andy – the upbringing that he has had, the damaged past, the low IQ alongside some form of possible mental disability – you begin to feel sympathy towards Andy and understand his plight. Andy comes across as someone quite quiet, someone who is meticulous and orderly, and considerate of those around him. Not once did I, personally, believe that Andy was a man capable of having killed those women but, and this is the point that Moodie and her team are attempting to highlight, I could see him being coerced into it.

Robertson does a brilliant job at transferring emotions onto certain characters, causing the reader to really understand who is and isn’t at fault. As the evidence builds up, it becomes hard not to see the signs and, with the help of Moodie and her team, you begin to see how this information can be used to help Andy and his case. The legal jargon used within the novel is simplified and easily understandable thanks to Robertson’s writing. The characters frequently come across side-characters who, like me, may not understand the American justice system and how Moodie and her team gathering this information could help Andy. Through these explanations it becomes easy to see how complicated the system is and how, from Andy’s previous case, evidence can be twisted to suit the needs of the court and the case they are proceeding with.

It was clear to see that this was Robertson’s first novel, with a couple of simple errors in the writing style where words or phrases were repeated. However, that in know way affected the way that I read, or rated, the novel as the narrative, the terminology, and the characters were all brilliantly written. There was a lot of depth to the characters, especially Andy, as I could clearly see the angle that they were going for in his retrial and, from the get-go, it was obvious that he was slower and had some sort of mental disability that affected him. I connected really well with all of the characters, and even felt distanced and aloof with the characters that Moodie similarly felt towards. I loved the direction that Two Lost Boys took and the different threads of the investigation, narrative, and the Hardy family’s lives. There is a lot going on in this novel, and a lot of backstory that is rehashed in order to understand Andy and his cause and Robertson brings this into the novel in a way that doesn’t bog you down or feel like you’re floundering around in too much information.

Two Lost Boys is a brilliantly, unique legal thriller and is one I would recommend for anyone looking for something with emotion and a lot of different paths leading to the present day.

K. S. Villoso: The Agartes Epilogues

*Potential for spoilers due to this being a full series review.

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I received free digital copies of these books from the author in exchange for an honest review on the series.

Jaeth's Eye Cover

It has been years since his brother’s accident. Kefier was only just beginning to live a normal life–at least, as normal as it could get for a mercenary from a run-down town. And then an errand goes wrong and he finds himself holding his friend’s bloody corpse. Already once branded a murderer, he is pursued by men he once considered friends and stumbles into the midst of a war between two mages. One bears a name long forgotten in legend; the other is young, arrogant Ylir, who takes special interest in making sure Kefier is not killed by his associates. The apex of their rivalry: a terrible creature with one eye, cast from the womb of a witch, with powers so immense whoever possesses it holds the power to bring the continent to its knees. Now begins a tale with roots reaching beyond the end of another. Here, a father swears vengeance for his slain children; there, a peasant girl struggles to feed her family. A wayward prince finds his way home and a continent is about to be torn asunder. And Kefier is only beginning to understand how it all began the moment he stood on that cliff and watched his brother fall…

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Enosh, apprentice to one of the richest merchants in the Kag, is secretly heir to a broken line of mages. Because of The Empire of Dageis’ quest for sources of the agan–the life-source that mages use for power–his people have been reduced to scavengers, his culture diminished to a speck in the wind. For more than ten years, he has helped raise a conjured beast to use as a weapon against the Dageians. But Enosh’s plans are falling apart. A powerful enemy has escaped and Enosh needs to capture him before he reaches Dageis. His quest is further complicated after he finds himself used as a pawn by Gasparian nobles.

On the other end of the continent, Sume, daughter to a Jin-Sayeng hero, must return to her roots to save her country and bring honour to her father’s name. To do this, she must befriend a prince and understand the terrible, corrupting nature of power and the reason her father was driven to walk away from it all those years ago…

Meanwhile, Kefier, Enosh’s agan-blind brother, is forced back into a life of violence. As he struggles with the notion that hands, once bloodied, never stay clean for long, he finds himself occupied with an unexpected burden: his own brother’s daughter.

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The battle at Shi-uin has left scars. The rise of Gorrhen yn Garr to power seems unstoppable. As nations fall, the lines between love and duty become blurred and Kefier, Sume, and Enosh must learn to live with the choices they have made.


The Agartes Epilogues is an epic fantasy series that focuses on the minor characters as opposed to your typical heroes, villains, princes, myths and legends. Set in a world full of culture, The Agartes Epilogues follows a series of characters as they attempt to rid their world of a magical creature who is being used by one man for his own personal vengeance. In amongst all of this danger, heroism, and adventure is a story that touches upon love, family, loyalty, right, wrong, guilt, revenge, and so much more!

I really enjoy character-driven fantasy series so I was immediately intrigued when Villoso contacted me about this epic fantasy. Sometimes when you’re reading a fantasy, you start to question who those minor characters are and their past but you never get to see it as the novel focuses on the heroes out to save the day. In The Agartes Epilogues we follow a series of characters who are lowly as opposed to well-off. The characters are very well fleshed out and are all PoC, perfect for those looking for a diverse fantasy series as Villoso takes inspiration from European and Asian cultures not just in his characters, but in their cultures and their way of life. However, though these characters are minor with little ranking in the world, they play a big part in protecting their world and, over the course of the series, see themselves rise to be heroes – even if it is only known to themselves and those directly around them.

I found with this series that the general plot, character development, and writing got progressively better with each novel. In Jaeth’s Eye, I found myself a bit confused as to the direction of the story finding their adventures to be more about spontaneity as opposed to having any clear path forward. Towards the end of the first novel, it became clear where each character’s journey was heading and how they were likely to be interacting with each other as we learnt more and more about each individual. With that being said, the plot itself was definitely intriguing and I loved the concepts involved alongside the magic system used for those adept at magic. It is easy to understand and well-thought out making the task of understanding dialogue and action regarding the magic system a lot easier to get a grasp of.

The characters themselves were just perfect and made the whole series for me! Taking inspiration from a variety of cultures helps to provide an array of different characters with eccentric personalities. We had witty characters, bold and brave characters, emotional characters, ruthless characters… There was no end to the different types of people that you meed within The Agartes Epilogue and I thoroughly enjoyed each one. I particularly became attached to Enosh and his quick-witted humour and backchat and the dialogue between him and various characters, in particular Kefier, Sume, and Sapphire. I loved each character in their own little way as they all truly contributed to the progression of the novel and the overall feel of each scene. They were well thought and fleshed out, and all too human!

It’s hard to say a lot about a whole series without giving a lot away. If you’re interested in action, magic, adventure, humour, romance, scandal, revenge – it’s all in this series. It’s a very character driven series that likes to zone in on the characters thoughts and feelings and how events around them are affecting their lives, how they wish they could change pasts or done something differently. There is so much going on you can’t help but become embroiled in all the mess created by specific characters and you find yourself smiling along, especially with Enosh’s witticisms. I really enjoyed this series, and I hope that there may be more to come(?), or even some spin-off novels. There are varying characters that I would love to know more about, as well as characters that are no longer alive and I would love to know about their lives more thoroughly and how the world came to be how it is in the present day.

Jane Isaac: The Lies Within

Relevant posts: Beneath The Ashes

The Lies Within Cover

I received a free physical copy of this book from the publishers as part of their Legend 100 Club in exchange for an honest review.

Grace Daniels is distraught after her daughter’s body is found in a Leicestershire country lane. With her family falling apart and the investigation going nowhere, Grace’s only solace is the re-emergence of Faye, an old friend who seems to understand her loss.

DI Will Jackman delves into the case, until a family tragedy and a figure from his past threaten to derail him.

When the police discover another victim, the spotlight falls on Grace. Can Jackman find the killer, before she is convicted of a crime she didn’t commit?


*With this being part of a series, please be aware that there may be mention of scenes or information from previous books.

The Lies Within is the next installment in the DI Jackman series, following on from Beneath The Ashes. A detective, crime, thriller series we follow closely on the heels of Jackman as he attempts to figure out the truth and the motive behind Jo Lamborne’s untimely death. With similarities to crimes that happened many years ago, is this a copycat killer or does this go far deeper?

Having read Beneath The Ashes late last year, I still had a lot of the book fresh in my mind. Reading The Lies Within, I could clearly see the developments in both the characters and Isaac’s writing. I felt that this novel was written better and was definitely more thrilling to me as the novel unravelled. With everything going on within this novel and the numerous threads within the investigation, I found myself questioning many people and their motives hitting the nail on the end way before the investigation was ended. Isaac sets the clues in place with a subtlety that could be hard to miss for some people but I could immediately smell something fishy at the right moments!

In my Beneath The Ashes review, I described Jackman as being a man who is ‘dedicated to finding out the truth, with a passion for his job that gives the impression of someone as a workaholic’, and this impression is still evident in The Lies Within. From previous events in BTA, Jackman has been told that he must take things a bit easier as he recovers from injuries sustained but it is goes without saying that Jackman goes full throttle into this investigation in a bid to find out the truth. You can’t help but admire the man as he uses all the resources readily available to him whilst also battling his own personal issues with his wife Alice. I love that Isaac implements these more domestic scenes with Jackman’s family to show the more relaxed, familial, caring side. It totally contrasts with the persona that comes across when he is working on the case and has put all other thoughts aside, coming across as someone ruthless and almost brooding. Think Jack Reacher-esque!

Isaac is definitely going strong with this series and I am truly dedicated. The Lies Within was a far stronger novel than Beneath The Ashes and I loved the different threads, the unexpected twists and turns, and the theme surrounding secrets and lies that can be hidden far beneath the surface. The Lies Within was a surprisingly, thrilling and gripping novel that I found hard to put down.

Michel Bussi: Don’t Let Go

Relevant posts: Black Water Lilies

Don't Let Go Cover

I received a free digital copy of this book from the publishers through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Picture the scene – an idyllic resort on the island of Réunion. Martial and Liane Bellion are enjoying the perfect moment with their six-year-old daughter. Turquoise skies, clear water, palm trees, a warm breeze…

Then Liane Bellion disappears. She went up to her hotel room between 3 and 4pm and never came back. When the room is opened, it is empty, but there is blood everywhere. An employee of the hotel claims to have seen Martial in the corridor during that crucial hour.

Then Martial also disappears, along with his daughter. An all-out manhunt is declared across the island. But is Martial really his wife’s killer? And if he isn’t, why does he appear to be so guilty?


Don’t Let Go is a mystery, thriller that sees an investigation take many twists and turns amongst the island of Réunion. On what is an almost perfect day, Liane Bellion disappears from her hotel room leaving behind a questionable scene that sees a room covered in blood, devoid of any of Liane’s clothes, and her husband Martial Bellion the prime suspect. As things begin to heat up, Martial – and his daughter Sopha – also disappear leading to the whole of Réunion’s police departments on the hunt for these missing person. The question is, did Martial kill his wife?

I’ve read a couple of Michel Bussi’s novels now and he is definitely an author I am following. Bussi really knows how to bring together a brilliant mystery, thriller novel that leaves you suspecting everyone, questioning motives and actions, and sends you in so many different directions you question your own thought processes. Don’t Let Go is no different; with new information coming to light at key points within the novel and multiple perspectives leading you through the events, it’s hard not to point the finger.

Our main characters are those of Martial, Aja, Christos, and Sopha – all directly involved in the investigation taking place. We get to understand these characters a lot, especially those of Martial and Sopha as we are provided with background information through stories and flashbacks. With an already questionable past, Martial has a lot to prove and makes matters worse by disappearing with his daughter. All the information we are provided with does not play out in his favour but, as the novel progresses, we also begin to understand why his questionable actions are being fulfilled. Alongside this we also have Sopha’s childlike perspective that also leaves a lot to be questioned as she provides details on their father-daughter relationship and how she feels during each moment – going from scared, upset, to happy and understanding. Sopha, given her age, is actually quite mature in her forward thinking and helps to provide a lot of insight.

I seriously could not put this novel down. It was gripping, mind-boggling, though-provoking, and full of mystery. I found myself trying to understand Martial’s motives, coming up with my own scenarios to try and better grasp the situation at hand. Your mind runs wild with all these different endgame potentials and, it is only when you start to get into the final stretch of the novel (the last 100 pages or so) that it all begins to make perfect sense. All of the characters are well fleshed out and full of emotion allowing you to grow deeply attached, and the characters of Aja and Christos fall full throttle into the game of cat and mouse that ensues. I found Christos to be an endearing character, more so towards the end as he develops and begins to understand his role more fully following certain events.

 

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Anne O’Brien: The Shadow Queen

The Shadow Queen Cover

I received a free digital copy of this book from the publishers through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The untold story of Joan of Kent, the mastermind behind the reign of child-King Richard II. A tale of treachery, power-hungry families and legal subterfuges.

‘What would enhance the pattern of my life further? One word slid into my mind. A seductive word. A dangerous word, perhaps, for a woman. Power.’

From her first clandestine marriage Joan of Kent’s reputation is one of beauty, scandal and rumour.

Her royal blood makes her a desirable bride. Her ambition and passion make her a threat.

Joan knows what she has to do to survive. The games to play, the men to marry – even if one man will always have her heart.

A remarkable story of love and loyalty and of the cost of personal ambition. The story of the woman who would ultimately wield power as the mother to 10 year old King Richard II, from the shadows of the throne.


The Shadow Queen tells the story of Joan of Kent, a royal relation to King Edward during the 1300s. We follow Joan as she takes matters into her own hands in regards to her ambitions and desires regardless of whether her position as a Plantagenet royal will be scorned. We watch as her life follows many twists and turns, with many happy and sad moments that shape her into the person that she becomes. The Shadow Queen is a tale of political intrigue, scandal, love, passion, and ambition.

I love a good historical fiction novel, especially ones like this where a historical figure is fictionalised whilst telling their true story. I feel like it really helps to understand history better instead of reading factual texts that just drone on and on about the stuff that, though is actually quite interesting, becomes boring. Anne O’Brien is a brilliant writer, submerging me into Joan of Kent’s life from the opening of the novel. We start during her young teenage years when her whole life has been changed by an act of her own making, putting her position in jeopardy. O’Brien knows how to bring emotion into this novel as you truly sympathise with Joan and her situation. Not only that, but there were quite a few times where I may have shed a tear as O’Brien brought Joan’s life – well, to life! I felt like I was there alongside Joan as she courted men, put daggers in places and people, and generally pushed herself forward into roles that wouldn’t usually be open to her.

An aspect I truly enjoyed was how O’Brien allowed Joan to have her own voice. Not knowing Joan of Kent, I would assume that it would be hard to understand her internal thoughts and some of her ambitions and fears; O’Brien brings all of this into the novel which helps to flesh Joan out and make her alive as opposed to some two-dimensional figure that you are just learning about. It helped in understanding why Joan does what she does and to understand her position and the vulnerabilities that she must face.

Though we don’t see a lot of Joan outside of England unless she directly travelled or it affected her, O’Brien has clearly researched events of the time with the inclusion of wars, celebrations, crusades and more. There are a lot of side characters who are mentioned that you very rarely see but must understand how their position affects Joan and her family. This isn’t just a story of Joan in this respect, but also of King Edward and her husband Ned, his son. From Joan’s position in court we are able to see how King Edward chose to live his life as King and the decisions he made making this novel not purely about Joan.

The Shadow Queen was an enjoyable novel that really appealed to my love of historical fiction. I’d love to read anymore work by O’Brien that is of a similar style and context as I do find it hard to find historical fiction that falls into this style that appeals to me. Absolutely brilliant!

Syd Moore: Strange Magic

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I received a free physical copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Meet Rosie Strange, the unlikely inheritor of the Essex Witch Museum. When someone asks her for help tracking down the bones of the long-since-dead witch Ursula Cadence, it isn’t long before Rosie is drawn into a dangerous world, far outside her comfort zone, where strange magic might just have been unleashed.


Having recently inherited the Essex Witch Museum from her late grandfather, Septimus Strange, Rosie is intent on selling on this burden in order to make a quick buck. With her mind set in her ways, Rosie doesn’t expect to be dragged into a witch-hunt, tracking down the remains of Ursula Cadence following the possession of a young boy by Ursula’s son. As Rosie embarks upon this adventure with the museum’s curator, Sam, Rosie begins to see that she has a knack for this sort of situation and finds herself enjoying the ride, and the company.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from this novel. I’d given it a passing glance as it sat on my shelf for a few months waiting for the right time to read it for it’s publication today. However, having read the book I found it to be a mixture of haunting, thrilling, humorous, and sarcastically witty. All of this comes together thanks to the description and atmosphere brought to the novel by Moore as well as the strength of personality in each of our main characters.

Syd Moore is really good at describing haunting, disturbing scenes that gets your heartbeat racing and your hackles standing on end. Many a time the characters are put into a situation that they just cannot explain and it is these moments that bring these emotions forward and make you realise just how good a writer Moore is. These scenes always appear in the more mundane settings such as hotel rooms, times when you’re more at ease and more likely to hear noises and voices which is what really got to me. I’m one of those people who, when alone in my flat at night and I hear a noise, will freak out and start contemplating the many different scenarios that could play out, and these scenes really latched onto that thought process.

In terms of humour and witticisms, these all come from the interactions between Sam and Rosie as they are forced into a situation where they must make conversation and work together as a team, bringing to the job their own relevant skill sets. With Rosie having worked in benefit fraud, she is used to handling tough characters and putting pressure on those who do not comply. On the other hand, Sam has both worked in, and studied, witchcraft for many years providing the brains and knowledge needed to understand the job at hand and the events taking place. It is clear that there is some sort of connection between the two characters, clearly one that both do not wish to fully acknowledge. Their quick banter and witty, snappish comments back up this point as Rosie’s thoughts frequently comment on Sam’s looks and the various ways in which he annoys her, but you know she secretly likes.

Much of their adventure provides Moore with ample opportunity to provide reams of information regarding Ursula as well as the witch hunts that happened during that time period. It becomes clear that a lot of research has taken place which helps to present Sam as a knowledgeable character with a deep-seated interest in witchcraft. I found all of this knowledge fascinating and it helped that the information wasn’t all provided by one character but a multitude who all held some form of expertise on this subject matter. However, some of the scenes did seem a bit out of it and far-fetched, though this did add to the general humour of the novel thanks again to Rosie and Sam.

Strange Magic was definitely a fantastical novel alongside all of these elements, playing on the various elements of witchcraft and providing a lot of background information on the topic itself. It was a light-hearted read in some places, but deep and haunting in others. I enjoyed the way in which the relationship between Rosie and Sam progressed throughout the novel and the ways that they overcame any obstacles that got in their way – and there was a lot of them! This isn’t a novel I would ordinarily have picked up but it was one I enjoyed.