Under the Cherry Tree by Lilac Mills

Under the Cherry TreeJenni owns a dog grooming parlour – Telling Tails – and would dearly love to expand her business to include dog behaviour and agility classes, but for this she would need larger premises. She can afford it but would have to spend her share of the compensation money she received following her dad’s fatal accident, something she is reluctant to do. Until one day her mum brings her a brochure for the perfect property – Cherry Tree Farm – and she just has to take a look…

The main character in this story is really Jenni’s dog, a Westie called Millie; she is a great judge of character, spotting the true nature of the men Jenni gets involved with long before she does.   

This light-hearted romantic comedy is well written with a believable range of supporting characters and would be a very enjoyable way to pass the time, especially if you love dogs.

Thanks to the author for a free copy that I review as part of Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Brothers in Blood by Amer Anwar

Brothers in BloodThis award-winning debut novel from Amer Anwar had me hooked from the start. It tells the tale of Zaq’s search for his boss’s daughter who has run away to escape an arranged marriage. Not a trained investigator, Zaq seems an unlikely choice for this task. He is the only Muslim working for a family of Sikhs and not long out of prison, so Mr Brar threatens to frame him for theft and send him back to prison if he does not comply.

Right from the start he is hampered by not having all the facts. It gradually emerges that this is about much more than a runaway daughter – drugs, kidnapping and armed robbery combine to put Zaq’s life in serious danger. Every time he thinks he is making progress in the investigation, a new twist sends him off in a completely different direction. Zaq is subjected to several brutal beatings but gives as good as he gets, having learned to take care of himself in prison. The violence never seems gratuitous but part of the world he is now involved in.  

The relationship between Zaq and his friend Jags is a joy to behold; their support of each other and humorous banter provides light relief from the dark conspiracy they are being drawn into. By the time we find out why Zaq went to prison, we have already seen his true nature and are on his side.

The characters are well written and the dialogue is convincingly realistic. The sense of place in the sights, sounds and smells of this area of South London is very vividly evoked. This would be great as a film or TV series, making a refreshing change from the many formulaic programmes currently on our screens. It is hard to believe that this is his first novel as it seems so assured.

Thanks to the author for providing a free copy of his book that I review as part of Rosie’s Book Review Team.

The Infirmary by LJ Ross

The InfirmaryThe Infirmary is clearly advertised as the prequel to Holy Island, and, even though we know the outcome, it is worth reading to understand the depths of Ryan’s suffering when we first meet him on Lindisfarne.

We knew the bare facts about The Hacker; these gruesome descriptions of his crimes emphasise just how devious and twisted an adversary Ryan was up against.

It was also interesting to get an insight into the early days of the team working together. It made me want to start at the beginning and read them all again.

Zenka by Alison Brodie

ZenkaI had not read anything by Alison before so (being a fellow Scot) thought I’d give it a try. I was very impressed. The title character is a Hungarian pole-dancer who was promised a good job in London but had actually been sold into the sex trade by Romanian gangsters. She is saved from a fate worse than death by Jack Murray, ‘top gang boss’ in London and owner of the club where she now works. Jack is ruthless but a big softie where women are concerned.

He finds out that he has a son by someone he knew at school but is too frightened to make contact in case his enemies harm the young man in retaliation. Without giving too much away, what follows is a hilarious attempt to help his son anonymously and toughen him up (Zenka thinks he is a bit of a wimp) before he feels it is safe to introduce himself.

The plot is hilarious, full of dark humour with many twists and turns that you don’t see coming. The characters are well written and believable; you care what happens to them. There is also a cinematic quality to the story that would make a very entertaining film; a combination of black comedy, crime thriller and love story.

Thanks to Alison Brodie for the ARC of this novel that I review as part of Rosie’s Book Review Team.

You, Me and the Movies by Fiona Collins

You Me and the MoviesI had not come across any books by Fiona Collins before, but liked her idea of using films to drive the plot along, so decided to give You, Me and the Movies a try. Told in the first person, this is the story of Arden Hall. Quite by chance, when visiting a friend in hospital, she meets an old boyfriend from her student days who has been recently injured in a car accident. He recognises her, but is unable to say very much so whispers cryptic clues to films they watched together, and triggers flashbacks to a time when she had her whole life ahead of her.

The story alternates between present day and her time as a student at Warwick University. We gradually piece together the details of her relationship with Mac through the list of ten films that they watched together. I had seen all the films (though quite some time ago) which helped me make sense of the references; I’m not sure it would work so well if you were unfamiliar with them, and it was a trip down memory lane – I’m definitely going to watch them all again now.

This is not a light-hearted romantic comedy; it deals with some fairly serious issues like coercive control, infidelity, guilt, grief and lack of parental love. I found the first half of the book quite slow and depressing, and Arden a fairly unlikeable character, but gradually I began to see light at the end of the tunnel. It made me smile and made me sad, but despite the sadness I really loved the ending. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for an honest review.