Latest Reviews

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Karen Byrom

I love to write and I love to read, so writing book reviews is the best job in the world for me!

 

What got me into journalism? After studying Latin and history at St Andrews university, I returned to my home town of Dundee, where DCT Media has been a proud presence for over 100 years.

 

I worked there in magazine journalism for over 30 years, honing my skills at My Weekly and The People’s Friend. I’ve now retired from the 9-5, but still write book reviews for My Weekly and for NFOP’s in-house magazine, along with all the reviews you’ll find here.

 

My tastes are eclectic – I love all genres from romance to detective, fantasy to thriller noir, young adult to literary fiction. Hilary Mantel, Neil Gaiman, Lisa Gardner, Milly Johnson – I’ve too many favourite authors to mention … just check out my reviews to discover more!

Bookish Blog

It's the time of years for festive reading with so many seasonal stories to choose from! Check out my recommendations for four of the best, from Anne Booth, Sue Moorcroft, Emma Heatherington and Sarah Morgan, and do keep checking my blog as I add to it over November and December.

Having read #MoonlightandthePearlersDaughter by @lizziepook I was looking forward to #MaudeHortonsGloriousRevenge. And glorious it is! It's 1850 and Constance and Maude Horton are sisters, as unalike as could be. While Maude is happy at home with her apothecary grandfather, Constance craves excitement and runs away to sea disguised as a cabin boy, Jack, to join the hunt for Franklin's ship and crew, lost five years before in the Arctic. Constance never returns - instead Maude is handed her possessions and informed she died in a tragic accident. But then she receives "Jack's" logbook, discovers the truth, and lays plans to avenge her sister.
This was a very atmospheric and exciting read, quite gruesome and grim in places, as Constance's adventures and Maude's subsequent thirst for revenge take us into the world of dark men, murderers and the underbelly of society - both on board ship and back in the UK. There are beatings and hangings and near-murderous accidents.
But there is love, too, in Maude's affection for her sibling, lost to her forever.
A plot-driven narrative on its top level, this story also has multi-layers in its exploration of grief, revenge, justice and redemption, and two really cracking characters in Maude and Constance. Historical fiction at its best. #bookrecommendations #bookstagram #bookworm #lovereading #lovebooks #historicalfiction #historicalfictionfan #hangings #franklinexpedition #vengeance @picadorbooks
My heart is full and breaking. What a brilliant novel #TheListOfSuspiciousThings by @jennie.godfrey is.
Twelve-year-old Miv and her story of growing up in times of trouble, when the Yorkshire Ripper was at large, terrorising the area, while her home life was imploding under the weight of her mum's nervous breakdown, will stay with me for ever. It's a story of growing up, of falling in love, of family and of friendship - Miv's friend Sharon is a glorious study of character and strength.
As the narrative progesses, and Miv makes her list of suspicious things which she hopes will help her and Sharon track down the Ripper, the story shows how life goes on for people in a community where awful things are happening, as they tackle their own life issues of loneliness, racism domestic violence and sorrow and in their various ways.
Problems big and small - twelve year old Miv can't sort them all, but she does her best in a scary world.
This book is peopled with honest-to-goodness true to life characters, whose lives will resonate with you. You'll laugh and cry for them all, but it's Miv who will steal the lion's share of your heart.
A superb plot, a cracking narrative and people you'll grow to love makes for a book that is difficult to put down, and a story that will stay with you forever. @penguinrandomhouse #bookrecommendations #familystory #youngheroine #laughterandtears #lovereading #lovebooks #debutnovel #masterstoryteller
The Happiest Ever After by @themillyjohnson is a five-star read for me. You’ve got to love this author for the exuberance of her writing, her humour, her strong female characters, her unfailing grasp of life with all its joys and challenge, and the sheer entertainment of her books. Her latest novel falls in Milly's finest tradition, introducing us to 35-year-old Polly, who escapes her unhappy relationship and awful bosses by creating a fictional world with a feisty heroine. But what happens when fantasy meets reality? Will Polly find the courage and strength of her alter-ego Sabrina to change her life? Maybe with the help of new friends, the wonderfully named Mad Cows group of old ladies, fiery restaurateur Teddy and his cousin Flick, she can become the person she longs to be - and help them with their problems in the process. With Milly's trademark excerpts from the hapless #DailyTrumpet, this is a laugh-out-loud read - Polly's family are a on the whole a villanous bunch you'll love to hate, while her new friends will capture your heart with their kindness and humour. But of course, there is lots of emotion here, too, and the very real message that with belief in yourself and support from your friends, you can become what you want to be. A wonderful and uplifting page-turner. #respectromfic @simonschusteruk @netgalley #bookrecommendations #lovereading #lovebooks #bookwormsofinstagram🐛 #bookworms
I'm still thrilled at having recently discovered the joy of #audiobooks! #TellingTales by #AnnCleeves (narrated by Janine Birkett) was great!
Though I'm a #verastanhope fan, I came late to the party and hadn't read the early books. So I was pleased to get the chance to listen to this one via @netgalley
 An excellent story, as usual, though I felt it took some time to get going with the introductory narrative concentrating on the background information on the cold-case murder enquiry of a young girl, and the various parties involved, before Vera put in an appearance and came to the fore in her usual brusque yet kindly way. 
Then, the story came to life as she probed and explored each and everyone's version of events. The excitement ratcheted up with the discovery of another body, and I was fully engrossed.
All the characters were believable, some more sympathetic than others, and there was plenty about all of them to keep you guessing about the murderer.
I felt the two victims didn't quite get the attention they deserved, but I suppose this story is about the living, not the dead.
At first I wasn't keen on the narrator's voice, but when she introduced Vera, and took on the expected Geordie tones, I found myself believing that Vera was speaking to me, revealing her thoughts on the crime, and her own insecurities.
A good solid murder mystery with Vera at its centre - what more could I want? #murderymystery #audiobooks #sundaytimesbestseller #anncleevesnovels #anncleevesfans
Please join the #blogtour and travel with me to the small Greek island of Lefkada and the fictional bay of Apokeri, where recent graduate Anna Jenkinson has finished her island hopping tour. She wants time to reflect on what to do next in her life. Should she move with her partner John to London, return to her home town of Newcastle, or spread her wings further in the world? As Anna settles into island life, under the benign patronage of artist Kristina Nilssen, she finds her place in the community, making friends with locals and expats alike. Only Daniel, a local business owner with ties to Kristina, is immune to her charms. But his employee Filip is smitten – and it seems Anna returns the favour. The pair are soon in a relationship, as Daniel glowers on.
But how will it all end?
This is not a typical holiday romance. While you can enjoy exploring Apokeri bay in all its Greek beauty and getting to know the mostly charming residents of the small but vibrant community, and thrilling to the will they/won’t they excitement of the Anna/Filip/Daniel triangle, you’re also challenged by some of the themes in the book.
For even the brightest Greek island has its dark side, and this is explored in the story of Filip’s family, especially his sister, Stefania. Family tensions are also to the fore in Anna’s own fractured relationship with her family back in England’s north-east.
There’s plenty drama, some danger and many dilemmas for Anna as the narrative progresses. At times she seems to act out of character, and not at all as a romantic heroine should, but the narrative allows the reader to see her grow.
Tantalisingly this book is the first of a proposed trilogy and though it wraps up with a strong resolution, there is more to come – for Anna, and for the reader. I await the next chapter with interest. #apokeribay #jackiewatson @randomthingtours #greekescape #bookrecommendations
Please join me on the #blogtour for#DeadlyAnimals by #MarieTierney. Ava is no ordinary teenage girl. Growing up in Rubery, a deprived area of Birmingham, she has a keen interest in anatomy and collects the corpses of roadkill to study their decomposition. Then she stumbles across the gruesome remains of one of her classmates, Mickey.
Her anonymous call to the police gets DSI Seth Delahaye involved. As he conducts his own investigation, Ava and her faithful sidekick John work in the shadows to help him.
But as another body of a young boy is discovered, and reports of a strange creature roaming the area come in, it becomes clear they are dealing with a monster. A monster who may or may not be human.
With its many-layered plotline, this story worked on every single level for me. The plot of a police investigation into a serial killer was well-executed, convincing, chilling and thrilling. The suggestion of a non-human monster lurking in the shadows added to the already tense atmosphere. Delahaye is a warm and sympathetic character.
But it was Ava who made the story really shine. She is a beautifully drawn character – young, clever, vulnerable, a good daughter despite her mother’s failings, a stalwart big sister, and a faithful friend. Her keen sense of justice won’t allow her to avoid danger. 
In many ways the story reminds me of Stephen King’s writing. He too, has an affinity with children, making them the heroes of very adult stories, exploiting their fearlessness and strong sense of right and wrong to bring villains and monsters to justice.
I finished this book with my heart racing, and so many questions about the nature of monsters in human form. At one point Ava says, “We are our bones.” But we are also our emotions, our fears, our hopes and dreams, and Marie Tierney skilfully explores all this in a story that works on every single level. @bonnierbooks_uk @zaffrebooks #bookrecommendations #thrillerfiction #serialkillerfiction #crimefiction #comingofage #monstersinhumanform #booklovers #lovebooks #loverreading
Brilliant luck landing the #blogtour date of #ValentinesDay for #Token by #BeverleyKendall. An explosive romance set against themes of racism, classicism, white privilege and misogyny, this story is an enthralling and page-turning read.
Main character Kennedy is a great character, and empathetic, I think, to women of all ages and colour. White readers may never have experienced the covert and overt racism she encounters in the workplace, but her strong refusal to be a victim can resonate with all of us.
The title Token works on so many levels. Kennedy is a “token” black woman. Her relationship with ex-boyfriend Nate could be seen as “token” to a cynical outside world.
But Kennedy is also a token of hope that the world is changing thanks to people like her proving that “you’re no better than anyone else and no-one is better than you”.
She’s that rare find – a heroine with confidence, who owns her talent, owns her sexuality and owns her own place in the world, while retaining a vulnerability that makes her instantly sympathetic to the reader. 
As the story progresses and tensions rise, she becomes ever more her own woman, until a shocking revelation sees her questioning all her achievements.
Well-paced, beautifully-plotted, written with humour and passion and strength, this story works as a romance and as a social commentary on the prides and prejudices of our modern world. @simonschusteruk @bookminxsjv #bookrecommendations #respectromfic #romanticfiction #racism #misogyny #classism #aspiration #ambition #bookblogger #lovereading #lovebooks #bookworms
Welcome to my latest #blogtour and my review of #TheDancersPromise by #OliviaHorrox. Set in 1936, this story follows the fortunes of Clementine Harrington, who at 17 is close to her dream of joining the Vic-Sadler ballet company. But there are obstacles in her way. Her mother, a reclusive widow, disapproves of her dancing and refuses to fund it.
Could Clementine find salvation in the shape of August Draper, their rich new neighbour, who is in search of a wife? Sadly, August is more interested in Clementine’s older sister, Grace. Can either sister really marry for money, not love? Is there any other way to escape their mother’s malign influence? As the narrative progresses, tensions rise, and Clementine’s dreams remain tantalisingly out of reach …
I do love a ballet story – I grew up on a diet of Noel Streatfeild’s books. The Dancer’s Promise is Ballet Shoes for grown-ups and is equally enthralling as you enter into the world of block shoes, endless exercise bars, dancers’ rivalries and leading roles.
Along with themes of ambition, romance and sacrifice, this story also perfectly explores the strong bonds of sisterhood, with Clem and Grace sparking off each other and uniting against their mother. 
I liked the way the title The Dancer’s Promise worked. Clementine has promise but she has also made a promise, to herself and her teachers and her late father, and she stays true to it throughout the story.
An enjoyable and entertaining read to curl up with on these winter nights. @emblabooks #bookrecommendations #bookbloggers #balletstory #historicalromance #lovereading #lovebooks #loveballet
I wondered what SJ Bennett @sophiabennett_writer would do with her royal detective series after Her Majesty passed on. I thought Princess Anne might take on her mother's mantle, but wisely with #ADeathInDiamonds the author has gone back to the early years of Elizabeth II's reign, to 1957 when a young Queen and her new assistant private secretary Joan set out to discover who is trying to sabotage the Queen's overseas' tours, along with covertly assisting the police in the murder of a call girl and her client, who may have something to do with the wider picture. A clever detective story in its own right, with its usual chutzpah of lese royalty, this latest story also has a poignant side, exploring the vulnerabilities of a young Queen devoted to her country, while also worrying about her family and wondering if the rumours about her handsome husband might have some ring of truth about them ...
At a time when women could be called "tarts" with impunity, and entitled men could philander at will, this story has a real sense of time and place without ever being old-fashioned. Good characters, a great setting and a gripping plot all combine to make it a super read #bookrecommendations #bookbloggers @netgalleyreviews @netgalley #royaldetective #detectivefiction #queenelizabethii #tartsandtiaras @bonnierbooks_uk
Did someone say Christmas 2024? @heidi_swain is teasing us with this lovely cover reveal! Suddenly I'm wishing my life away to October 10, when it will hit the shelves. Will it be as good as #ThatFestiveFeeling ? Well it's @heidi_swain so I'm calling the answer as yes! #lovereading #lovechristmas #christmasreading #christmas2024 #christmasromance @simonschusteruk @bookminxsjv
Please joim me on the #blogtour for #ThePhilosophyOfLove, my first Rebecca Ryan book but definitely not my last – I’ve added her to my top fun romantic fiction writers along with #BellaOsborne and #millyjohnson .
Unlucky in love Alice rashly places a £500 bet with old classmate Luke that love is based on more than biological reactions in the body, and that she can fall in love again in six months. And so she begins a dating quest that brings her into contact with muscle-bound Dwaine, political activist Andy and computer nerd Shaun.
But are any of them right for her? And can she trust Luke to play the dating game?
In amongst all this quest for romance is the serious issues of the coercive control Alice has suffered at the hands of her ex, Charles, which has left her vulnerable.
I really raced through this story. As the six months rolls along, we’re treated to a succession of incidents and events that are laugh-out-loud funny, while never losing sight of the emotional turmoil that Alice is going through.
And the characters are so relatable. They’re fun, funny, but never overdrawn, and instantly recognisable. When she describes Alice’s mum as having discovered jeggings and rollnecks in middle-age, I had to check I don’t have a daughter called Alice – it’s just so spot on!
I can guarantee you’ll laugh lots, cry a little and make whole bunch of new friends as you read this story. You won’t want to say goodbye to any of them – but you’ll be so glad that you met them all, especially Alice and Luke. @simonschusteruk @bookminxsjv #romanticread #romance #popularfiction #romanticfiction #bookrecommendations #lovereading #lovebooks #bookworm
Selina and Zora are identical twins, so alike they’re nicknamed Selzora. As they grow up together in 60s and 70s Britain, they endure the casual and overt racism of that generation, knowing they are different for more than their twinship, but proud of who they are. But as they mature, Zora begins to pull away from Selina, becoming closer to their friend, “bad” girl Lydia. 
Now in her 70s, Selina is gradually forgetting details from the past. What caused her and Zora to fall out with Lydia? What happened to their brother, Cal? Where is Zora now?
Determined to fill in the gaps in her memory, she makes contact with Lydia, who is as bright and brittle and manipulative as ever. And gradually, a truth emerges that may destroy their new-found friendship all over again.
The story is told in a series of flashbacks to the past from both Selina and Zora’s point of view. It’s a wonderful exploration of the power of memory and how important past events are in shaping the person we become. It’s also a very thoughtful insight into how dementia affects the mind, and how frightening it must be to live in that twilight world.
The other important issue in this book is that of racism, which underpins the twins’ experiences and the tragedy that both divided and united them. Author Jacqueline Roy has a sure touch in bringing it to the forefront, exploring what it is like to be judged for your colour, without every turning her characters into powerless victims. 
I loved this story on so many levels. The plot is excellent, well-paced and dramatic. The structure is exactly what is needed to absorb the reader into the story with Selina.
Selina and Zora’s story will make you laugh, cry and rant at the injustice of a world where racism is still an issue 50 years on. @simonschusteruk @randomthingstours #bookrecommendation #bookblogger #lovereading #lovebooks #racism #twinship #familybonds #dementia
Please join me on the #blogtour for #TheWeddingoftheYear by @JillMansell. I love this author's books! She breathes life into her characters so that they leap from the pager fully formed, and ready to be made friends with. But who’d be my bestie?. Freya, whose wedding to Cameron doesn’t go as planned when someone interrupts the ceremony? That someone is Ruby, the vicar’s wife, who has been told by her friend Iris that her husband has been having a long-term affair. Iris has sworn off men, until she finds herself falling for one who is younger, sexy, and only ever meant to be a brief fling. Meanwhile, Lottie, one of the guests at the wedding is astonished to find herself face to face with her teenage crush, Max. Theirs is a star-crossed story of love – can they ever get together in the face of family disapproval on both sides? 
The story follows the four women over the next few months, as they face the challenges that lie ahead. Freya needs to set a new date for the wedding – but how can she tell Cameron she no longer wants to marry him? Ruby quickly decides she is well shot of her philandering husband – but the revenge she takes leaves her with more problems. Iris lies to her boyfriend, Drew, about what she wants from life – but she can’t keep lying to herself. Lottie doesn’t want to hurt her parents – but for how long can she hold off Max’s advances?
Every page of this story is filled with laughter, tears, friendship and love as the women’s various adventures bring them closer to the realisation of what they each need and want from life. They support each other through all their trials and tribulations in the way that women should.
And the cast of supporting characters are great, too. From handsome, oh-so-sure of himself Max, to saintly Cameron to sexy Drew and caring Richard, the men in the story each bring their own emotional strength to the story.
I raced through this story, savouring every bit of the romance and fun, while enjoying the emotional depth and true insight into people’s lives that is Jill Mansell’s trademark. You just know when you pick up one of her books that you’ll be getting a fabulous read. #bookrecommendations #romance @randomthingstours
Please join me on the #blogtour for #TheGuests by #AgnesRavatn.
Karin should be happy that she’s bagged a free week in a luxury cabin by the sea in exchange for her husband Kai doing some carpentry work. But she hates being beholden to Iris, her schoolgirl Nemesis, who owns the cabin.
The couple arrive to discover their nearest neighbours are Per and Hildra, successful writers. In an effort to impress, she and Kai pretend to own the cabin. But will their lies catch them out? And are there truths to be uncovered about Per and Hildra, or indeed more deception surrounding Iris, Kai and Karin themselves?
This is a slow-burning but beautifully written story, but it is what lies in-between the narrative, unspoken but plain, that adds to the strength of the plot and the realism of the characters.
None are particularly likeable at first. Karin, in particular, seems to carry a giant chip on her shoulder, despite having a lovely husband and home, a good job, and two healthy, happy young boys. Why is she so jealous of Iris? But what I do admire about her is her unflinching honesty. She admits her envy, her jealousy, her desire to be something better than she is. And she isn’t fooled by others’ fame and fortune, seeing through the vanity and pretensions of Per and Hildra.
As the veneers of the four main players are scraped away, the reader is treated to an honest view of them and their relationships, for good and bad.
The story is complemented by descriptive scenic prose as Karin and Kai, Per and Hildra, play out their week againt the stark and beautiful seascape in which they’re living, “surrounded by wind and water and rock.” Norway is a beautiful country, and the author paints this side of it with heart and passion.
There is no sudden thrilling moment here, no hugely unexpected plot list, but if you like books that unflinchingly explore the human psyche, then this is for you. @orendabooks @randomthingstours #bookrecommendations #lovereading #lovebooks
It's out today! Catch up with everyone;s favourite killer Sweetpea with #ThornInMySide, the latest book from @ceejayismeeejay.
Can it really be true that everyone's favourite serial killer, Sweetpea, is on the wagon? It's been 831 days since her last kill and she's determined to be the woman that her sweet fiance Raf thinks she is. But then wife abuser Edo starts making trouble for Raf's sister, and Rhiannon, aka Sweetpea, aka Ophelia is on the warpath. As things escalate, will she be able to keep her past life as a vigilante killer of sex offenders hidden from Raf? Or even evade the justice that constantly tails her in the form of dogged detective Gericault? Life's just murder!
I was blown away by the first Sweetpea book, and this fourth one in the series is equally as good. It's funny, fast-paced and thrilling, and Rhiannon is as foul-mouthed and forthright as ever, but she is growing, too, as a person. CJ Skuse's genius as a writer makes her a believable and vulnerable character, and never more so than in this book where she has finally found love and a family, and is in danger of losing it all.
The story is not for the easily offended - there's lots of sex, swearing and violence in the narrative - but it is definitely for any reader who likes a book with a thrilling plot, an emotive pull to the main character, and a completely different take on the crime fiction genre.
That's me - I love Sweetpea and I always will. I'd give this more than five stars if I could. Roll on the next book in the series. #Sweetpea #serialkillerfiction #funnyandthrillingstories #lovereading #lovebooks @hqstories
The perfect birthday gift for me! #birthdaygirl #decemberbirthday #lovereading #lovebooks #cushionsofinstagram #timetochill
Christmas postie has brought another great present! Looking forward to reading #ThePhilosophyOfLove by @becsryanauthor and reviewing it when my #blogtour turn comes in January. thanks @simonschusteruk @bookminxsjv #lovereading #respectromfic #romancereader #romancenovels #lovebooks📚 #bookbloggersuk #bookbloggerslife #bookrecommendations
My pre-Christmas treat #thatfestivefeeling @heidi_swain @socially_distanced_bookclub @simonschusteruk #christmasreading #nightingalesquare #festiveromance #lovereading #lovebooks📚 #lovechristmas
Time to boast about my first attempt at sugar glass cookies from a recipe in @my_weekly_magazine. Quite proud of the results #christmascookies #christmasbaking #christmastreecookies #sugarglasscookie 🎄🎄🎄
As a proud Scot, I just had to apply for a place on the blogtour for #TheScotsman even before I knew what the book was about. Was I about to be treated to a kilted hero, laird of a lonely castle, in search of a bride?
As if! Although that trope is briefly and humorously explored in #RobMcClure's thrilling story of DI Chic Cowan of Glasgow, who flies to Washington DC in search of justice for his late daughter, Catriona, murdered in a random acot of violence. McClure suspects there is more to the story, and he sets out to track down everyone involved in her life.
As he pieces together a life very different from the one he thought student Catriona was living, he becomes embroiled in a shady world of lascivious college professors, part-time sex workers and the scandalous side of US politics.
With so much going on, this is a fast-paced, exciting and unpredictable read. But let’s stop a minute to admire the character of Cowan. I can’t say he’s particularly likable, but he is a man who catches and holds your attention with his terse dark, dry Glasgow humour and his often brutal frankness.
He’s mean and dangerous to the people who cross him, but he has a softer side too, in his unquestionable paternal love for Catriona. And he’s not averse to romantic love.
A bit of a James Bond in fact. I could see him being played by the late great Sean Connery.
Every DI needs a sidekick, and in the US, he has the perfect foil in Deyon, Catriona’s gay best friend, whose wily charms complement Cowan’s more forthright methods in accessing the places and people he needs to help put Catriona’s story together.
Tartan noir comes to thr US shores – but is the States ready for it?
They’d better be – because Cowan isn’t leaving till he gets answers. @randomthingstours @blackspringpressgroup #thrillerreads #tartannoir #bookrecommendations #lovereading