My Book Reviews for June 2024 (Part Two)

My Book Reviews for June 2024 (Part One)

My Book Reviews for June 2024 (Part One)

My Book Reviews for June 2024 (Part One) include: a fast-paced crime novel;  a Young Adult suspense story with an unusual premise; a rollicking crime caper; and several advance copies from NetGalley I had the privilege of reading.

Crossfire by R.D. Nixon

This is a complex story about the hunt for stolen jewels, and for a long time I didn’t know what was going on. With chapters from multiple viewpoints – including crime bosses, hit men, thieves, corrupt coppers – I didn’t know who to trust. But I wasn’t put off because the excellent writing kept me hooked. Also, I fell in love with two of the narrators: English tourists Charis and her young lad, Jamie, on a camping trip to the Scottish Highlands to get away from difficulties at home. These two are the innocents caught in the crossfire of the title, who don’t take their unexpected predicament lying down. Mother and son won me over with their feisty resilience.

For these reasons, I felt confident I was in the hands of an expert storyteller and was happy to go with the flow until everything became clear. This plan paid off as all was revealed at exactly the right moments. The whole story had good pace which cranked up superbly in the second half when things got desperate for both heroes and villains.

By the end, I knew exactly who the good guys were and felt I’d been on a journey to discover facets of their personalities. I grew fond of them as they battled with their personal tragedies and against bad guys coming at them from all angles. I’m glad this is the first in a series so I can come back soon to read book 2 and get reacquainted with these well-drawn and ultimately very likeable characters.

 

Your Time Is Up by Sarah Naughton

Back in the 1980s, I scored a grade A in my A-level maths. I can honestly say that since the moment I put my pen down at the end of the second and final paper, I have never again needed calculus or trigonometry. And it really is a case of use it or lose it as these days I can barely add up, never mind deploy the cosine rule. But, for the eighteen-year-old me, getting my A levels was the meaning of my entire life.

And it’s the same for Zaina, the narrator in Sarah Naughton’s new Young Adult thriller Your Time Is Up. The sixth former has been engaged in extreme revision for several months, distancing herself from best friends Poppy and Nero, obsessing over academic rivalries with Ylsa and Chanelle, and ignoring the love and concern of her mother. She enters the final exam – the last of three Advanced Mathematics papers – focussed only on beating the others to the school maths prize. When Chanelle doesn’t turn up to the exam, Zaina gleefully concludes that one of her competitors is out of the race.

But Nero has also noticed Chanelle’s absence and tries to get Zaina’s attention to enlist her help in a search of the school, but Zaina ploughs on through the paper.  Although she ignores him as best she can, his antics trigger memories of a party the whole group attended a month earlier. Flashbacks to the party weave around chapters in the exam.

At first Zaina comes across as an unlikeable swot, convinced of her own academic superiority and paranoid that Nero and the others are out to make her fail. However, the flashbacks shed light on the reasons behind Zaina’s motivation for studying to the exclusion of everything else and for not trusting her friends. The character gradually evokes our sympathy and we come to root for her both in the exam and beyond.

As the exam progresses, we see the odd behaviour of the other candidates – Nero’s fidgeting, Ylsa’s sobbing, Poppy’s ill health – and a sense of unease mounts. It dawns on Zaina – and the reader – that something is seriously wrong. Although I didn’t know what or why, my suspicions about who turned out to be right. But I was never completely sure because the author did a great job of laying false trails and planting red herrings.

One of my favourite reads is Sarah J. Naughton’s The Mothers, a sexy, speedy, fabulous thriller written for an adult audience, so I was interested to see how Sarah would write for a younger audience. It turns out she’s brilliant at YA writing, too. She completely captured the atmosphere and process of the A-level exam and the emotional carnage of the teenage house party – I base these judgements not only on recollections of my own prehistoric teenage years, but also on observations of the recent experiences of my teenage children.

This authentic YA thriller is a welcome addition to the genre shelf occupied by Karen M. McManus and Holly Jackson.  And an extract from You Better Watch Out printed at the end of Your Time Is Up shows that there are other YA goodies in Sarah Naughton’s back catalogue.

With thanks to the author and publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an independent review.

(And I have more to say about A levels in this blog post.)

 

The Bride’s Trail by A.A. Abbott

I grabbed this book when it was a free offer for a few days. Because it was a ‘grab’, I didn’t read the blurb and just assumed with the word ‘Bride’ in the title it would be a run-of-the-mill domestic suspense story. However, this turned out to be a rollickingly good crime caper.

Told from multiple viewpoints, it was reminiscent of a Richard Curtis film – like Love Actually but more crime-com than rom-com, and with much closer connections between vignettes/chapters and characters.

Amy works in the city in an admin job arranged by Deidre, the girlfriend of her father, Charles. Unbeknown to Amy, Charles has been called in to carry out an IT audit of the firm.

Amy’s flatmate in Fitzrovia is Kaz who works as a croupier. Kaz has a side-line being the bride in scam marriages arranged by up-and-coming criminal, Jeb.

More established criminal, Shaun, uses Jeb as his enforcer. When he opens an illegal casino, he employs Jeb and Kaz, unaware of the marriage scam. He’s in love with Kaz and wants to please her by stocking her favourite vodka in the bar. He contacts the main supplier, Marty, in Birmingham.

Marty is mentor to a science researcher called, Erik, who has a connection to Kaz.

Ross, a casino punter, also takes a shine to Kaz. Ross works in the same City firm as Amy and may be implicated in an IT fraud that Charles uncovers.

When some of Shaun’s ill-gotten gains go missing, Kaz disappears. Amy, Shaun, Jeb and Ross try to track her down and find all leads point to Marty and Erik in Birmingham.

Yes, it’s a complex plot with lots of interconnecting subplots. Nevertheless, it is an easy read. The reader is in safe hands with this accomplished writer and never feels lost. The writing is smooth to the point of invisibility such that there’s not a single flowery sentence to trip on.  This leaves the reader free to enjoy the adventure.

And the best thing about this exuberant and fast-paced book is that it’s the first in a series of Trail titles. I look forward to meeting this great cast of characters in book two very soon.

 

The following are books I had the privilege of reading as NetGalley advance copies. With thanks to the authors, publishers and NetGalley for the opportunity to read early copies in exchange for independent reviews:

The Chamber by Will Dean

A locked room mystery in the unusual setting of a diving bell. After the first death, the other divers must remain in the confines of their chamber for six days to decompress before surfacing. Is there a killer among them who hasn’t yet finished killing? Ideal for readers who like mysteries with lots of character backstory and technical information, in this case about diving.

 

Guilty by Ruby Speechley

A straightforward, easy-to-read psychological thriller with an unusual starting point: Heather’s farewell party where she will reveal not only her terminal diagnosis but also the secrets of a twenty-five-year-old murder. Ideal for fans of domestic suspense.

 

Going Home by Tom Lamont

Think Three Men and a Baby, but told in a literary, almost stream-of-conscious style from the viewpoints of three men left to bring up a little boy after his mother commits suicide. We also hear from the local rabbi, keeping an eye on the care they’re giving. The challenges facing the four characters become existential as they ponder their own past actions, grief, relationships and places in the world.

 

Knife River by Justine Champine

Ideal for fans of slow-burn mysteries and character study told in a distinctive voice.

From the blurb: A young woman returns home to the small, claustrophobic town of Knife River. When Jess was thirteen, her mother went for a walk and did not return – now, fifteen years later, bones have been discovered in the woods nearby.

 

So those are My Book Reviews for June 2024 (Part One). I’ll be back later this month with Part Two and I’ve already read some goodies I’ll be writing about then.

Her Charming Man

The second title in my Gloucestershire Crime Series has been out a month now and I’m pleased with the response from readers. Here are what some lovely reviewers have said:

‘…it’s a nail-biting and fast-paced thriller that will keep you wanting more. I certainly can’t wait for book 3’ – Monika Reads

‘Bring on book 3!’ – Donna Morfett

‘Good red herrings kept me guessing in this cleverly written police procedural’ – Lynda Checkley

‘This is the best book I have read in a while. So many twists and turns that keep you guessing who the culprit is. I’ve not read any of the series before, so I’m off to track down the other books.’ – Linda Fallows

‘Full marks to the author for such a good book and I look forward to the next one in the series’ – Kaz Loves Books.

‘Her Charming Man is a fantastic police procedural and I’m already eagerly awaiting the next installment’ – Rachel Sargeant (Yes, this reviewer has the same name as the author, but they are not related!)

‘A great British police procedural, perfect for dedicated crime fiction fans and I’d happily recommend the series and the author’ – Miriam Smith, A Mother’s Musings

 

Crime Readers Association

If, like me, you’re a fan of crime fiction and thrillers, it’s worth signing up to the newsletters from the Crime Readers’ Association. Get the lowdown on newly published gems.

Subscribers receive a bi-monthly edition of the online magazine, Case Files, along with features and articles from Crime Writers’ Association authors. They also get the monthly CRA & Debuts Newsletter containing updates of special events, crime reading (and writing) opportunities, book launches, author insider news, competitions and giveaways.

By Rachel Sargeant

Rachel Sargeant is a British author. She writes the Gloucestershire Crime Series, published by Hobeck Books. The first title is Her Deadly Friend, and the second is Her Charming Man. Her titles with HarperCollins are: The Roommates, a psychological thriller set in a university during freshers' week; The Good Teacher, a detective mystery, featuring DC Pippa “Agatha” Adams, and The Perfect Neighbours, a psychological thriller set in Germany. Rachel studied at Aberystwyth University, spent several years living in Germany and now lives in Gloucestershire with her family. She holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham.

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