Review | The Festival Murders (Francis Meadowes 1) by Mark McCrum

A good start to a new mystery series. 4/5 stars.

The Festival Murders by Mark McCrum

Thank you to Black Thorn for providing me with an e-copy of this book via NetGalley.

The blurb:

At the start of one of the English summer’s highlights, the annual literary festival in the pretty little country town of Mold-on-Wold, famous critic Bryce Peabody is found dead in his bed at the White Hart Hotel. At first it seems as if fifty-something Bryce might have succumbed to a heart attack, but the forensics team soon uncover evidence of something more sinister.

Bryce had made many enemies in the past, with his scandalous private life and scathing reviews. Could it be that one of the many writers he insulted in print has taken a bitter revenge? Or perhaps there’s a more personal reason? Unable to help himself, crime writer Francis Meadowes, who is also staying at the White Hart, is drawn into a role he knows only from his own fiction, that of amateur detective.

My take:

This is an entertaining whodunnit. Francis Meadowes gradually becoming the centre of the story, in the role of crime-writer-turned-sleuth, worked well because it gave him a plausible reason to know the details of police procedure. When pondering the circumstances of the murders he tries to imagine they are in one of his plots, particularly when it comes to drawing up a list of suspects. This reminded me slightly of Castle – if any of you are familiar with that TV series – although Francis is far more low key and self-effacing than Richard Castle!

Continue reading…

Recipe | White chocolate and peppermint Christmas bark

White chocolate and peppermint Christmas bark: a festive treat which also makes a great gift

White chocolate Christmas bark recipe uk with mint candy canes

You don’t really need a recipe to make chocolate bark because it’s as straightforward as you might think. Melt chocolate, pour it out, sprinkle with the toppings of your choice, leave to set and that’s it!

This festive version features white chocolate with mint and strawberry candy canes. Add any other festive sprinkles or chocolates you like.

Ingredients Continue reading…

Review | This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Strange and beautiful. 5 stars.

This is how you lose the time war by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone book cover

I got a copy from my local library. Please use your library as much as you can!

The blurb:

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.

And thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more.

Except discovery of their bond would be death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?

My take:

This book contains so many elements which appeal to me: it’s essentially an epistolary novel while also a sci-fi tale of time travel multidimensional malarkey and an improbable romance struggling to survive against the odds.

The result of this genre mash-up is beautiful, poetic, epic… I run out of adjectives! And this short but perfectly formed book is a particularly staggering achievement given that it’s a collaboration between two authors, one that is completely seemless.

Continue reading…

Recipe | Christmas tree chocolate brownies

A simple festive bake: easy chocolate brownies + fun decorations = cute edible Christmas trees!

Quick and easy Christmas baking recipe uk Christmas tree brownies

I was searching online of easy Christmas bakes and kept seeing pictures of triangular brownies made into cute Christmas trees by adding some green icing and sprinkles. I decided to give it a try using one of my own chocolate brownie recipes.

Ingredients (makes 12-16 Christmas tree brownies)

Continue reading…

Review | Gone (Dr Bloom #1) by Leona Deakin

A promising series opener which sadly faded towards the finish. 3/5 stars.

Gone by Leona Deakin book cover

Thank you to Random House and Transworld for providing me with an e-copy of this book via NetGalley.

The blurb:

Four strangers are missing. Left at their last-known locations are birthday cards that read:

YOUR GIFT IS THE GAME.
DARE TO PLAY?

The police aren’t worried – it’s just a game. But the families are frantic. As psychologist and private detective Dr Augusta Bloom delves into the lives of the missing people, she finds something that binds them all.

And that something makes them very dangerous indeed.

As more disappearances are reported and new birthday cards uncovered, Dr Bloom races to unravel the mystery and find the missing people.

But what if, this time, they are the ones she should fear?

My take:

Gone is the opening installment of a new series which features an intriguing heroine. And Dr. Augusta Bloom comes as a breath of fresh air if you feel you’ve read about enough brilliant detectives with apparently obligatory issues with drink, drugs or family. The good doctor is instead a PhD psychologist, specialising in psychopathy, who collaborates with the police and, all in all, appears to be a fairly together individual who is still good at her job!

Continue reading…

Review | The Family by Louise Jensen

Another suspense-packed page turner from Louise Jensen. 4/5 stars.

The Family by Louise Jensen book cover

Thank you to HQ for providing me with an e-copy of this book via NetGalley.

The blurb:

ONCE YOU’RE IN, THEY’LL NEVER LET YOU LEAVE.

Laura is grieving after the sudden death of her husband. Struggling to cope emotionally and financially, Laura is grateful when a local community, Oak Leaf Organics, offer her and her 17-year-old daughter Tilly a home.
 
But as Laura and Tilly settle into life with their new ‘family’, sinister things begin to happen. When one of the community dies in suspicious circumstances Laura wants to leave but Tilly, enthralled by the charismatic leader, Alex, refuses to go.
 
Desperately searching for a way to save her daughter, Laura uncovers a horrifying secret but Alex and his family aren’t the only ones with something to hide. Just as Laura has been digging into their past, they’ve been digging into hers and she discovers the terrifying reason they invited her and Tilly in, and why they’ll never let them leave…

My take:

I’ve read and reviewed all of Louise’s previous books (The Sister, The Surrogate, The Gift and The Date) and I’m very pleased to say that in The Family she has produced yet another page-turner. In fact, trying to find something original to say has proved almost impossible as this book is more of her winning formula. Safe to say: if you have enjoyed all/any of her previous psychological thrillers, you should put The Family on your Christmas list!

Continue reading…

Recipe | Halloween chocolate brownie and colourful sponge layer cake

A decadent mix of chocolate brownie and layers of colourful sponge perfect for any Halloween party

Halloween chocolate brownie and sponge layer cake orange and green with chocolate recipe uk party ideas

This was my attempt to make a large version of my Halloween brownie cupcakes. It’s a bit more effort than a straightforward cake, but still quite easy to bake and assemble.

Ingredients (serves about 10 – 12)

Continue reading for the rest of the recipe and more pics!

Recipe | Cappuccino swirl layer cake with caramel buttercream

A beautiful swirl of coffee and vanilla sandwiched together with caramel buttercream.

Cappuccino swirl layer cake with caramel buttercream and chocolate shaving

When I was reading the proofs of my debut romance novel, Art and Soul, I was dismayed to find mentions of cakes I hadn’t made yet! I wanted to correct this serious oversight as quickly as I could. You can find all the recipes for the other cakes mentioned in the novel in Sweet’s Cakes. And if you enjoy reading uplifting contemporary romance, you can get a copy of Art and Soul on Amazon.

One of those cakes was a cappuccino swirl cake. When I wrote that, I just made it up. However, I’m pleased to say the recipe I came up with to make it real turned out fantastically well.

I got the original recipe for the cappuccino / coffee element of the sponge from the BBC Good Food site.

I am not the greatest fan of coffee or coffee cake, but this one is absolutely delicious. Probably because the sweeter elements take the edge off the bitterness of the coffee.

Ingredients (serves 10 – 12 or more or less, depending on how big you cut your slices!)

Continue reading for the rest of the recipe and more pics!

Review | Bone China by Laura Purcell

Another creepy dose of gothic madness and melancholia. 4/5 stars.

Bone China by Laura Purcell book cover image

Thank you to Bloomsbury Publishing for providing me with an e-copy of this book via NetGalley.

The blurb:

Consumption has ravaged Louise Pinecroft’s family, leaving her and her father alone and heartbroken. But Dr Pinecroft has plans for a revolutionary experiment: convinced that sea air will prove to be the cure his wife and children needed, he arranges to house a group of prisoners suffering from the same disease in the cliffs beneath his new Cornish home. While he devotes himself to his controversial medical trials, Louise finds herself increasingly discomfited by the strange tales her new maid tells of the fairies that hunt the land, searching for those they can steal away to their realm.

Forty years later, Hester Why arrives at Morvoren House to take up a position as nurse to the now partially paralysed and almost entirely mute Miss Pinecroft. Hester has fled to Cornwall to try and escape her past, but surrounded by superstitious staff enacting bizarre rituals, she soon discovers that her new home may be just as dangerous as her last…

My take:

I’ve read and enjoyed Purcell’s previous two books. The Silent Companions is a masterclass in creating an oppressive atmosphere and a big spooky house for characters to rattle around in. I didn’t feel The Corset was quite as successful, but it was another entertaining story with plenty of twists and turns. Continue reading…

Recipe | Rainbow sponge layer cake with white buttercream icing

This rainbow sponge layer cake looks good before you slice it, but wait til you see inside!

I’ve wanted to make a rainbow layer sponge cake for ages. My birthday gave me a reason to make the effort, and it was a trial run for the one I want to make my son later in the year. I was really pleased with how it turned out.

The recipe is just basic sponge cake mix. The difficulty is in all the dividing out, colouring, etc. This certainly isn’t low on the washing up: you’ll probably use most of your bowls. But I think the finished product is worth the effort.

Ingredients (serves 10 – 12 or more or less, depending on how big you cut your slices!)

Continue reading for the rest of the recipe and more pics!