Under the Italian Sun by Sue Moorcroft

Under the Italian Sun by Sue Moorcroft

Zia-Lucia Costa Chalmers is now all alone in the world following the death of her last surviving family members, her grandparents. Never having known who her father was, or why she had such an unusual name, she heads to Italy on an emotional quest to try to discover the truth about her past.

The first few chapters of Under the Italian Sun are fairly slow as we are introduced to a large cast of characters and a complicated family situation. But bear with it and soon you will be fully immersed in the sights, sounds, tastes and aromas of the beautiful Umbrian countryside. The author clearly knows and loves this part of Italy, and the evocative descriptions are a large part of what makes this book so memorable.

The characters are fully rounded and believable, flaws and all, though I got a bit exasperated with Zia always answering calls from her manipulative ex, Brendon; she did not always make the best decisions where he was concerned. I particularly enjoyed reading about Harry, her mother’s old friend, and the unconventional life they had lived.  

In the multi-layered plot, Sue Moorcroft skillfully weaves together the various strands into a fascinating tale of secrets and lies, hopes and dreams, and the importance of family. Zia’s relationship with Piero does not run smoothly as he veers between fulfilling his family obligations and following his dreams.  With an attractive cover and a heartwarming ending, Under the Italian Sun is the perfect antidote to the restrictions we are currently living under.

Thanks to Avon and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

The Black Art of Killing by Matthew Hall

The Black Art of Killing by Matthew Hall

In The Black Art of Killing, Leo Black has quit the SAS to forge a new career in academia, but is finding it hard to gain acceptance at Worcester College, Oxford. When his former colleague and friend, Ryan Finn, is murdered in Paris, Leo is dragged back into a world he thought he had left behind forever. He no longer wants to kill but, unfortunately, people with his skills are often the only solution.

This intelligent thriller, with its flawed and conflicted main character, will set your pulse racing as well as make you think. Leo Black is an unusual combination of the physical and the cerebral, but this is exactly what makes him so dangerous. The Black Art of Killing is well written and fast paced, with several unexpected twists that I did not anticipate, and an impressive finale where Leo closes in on the bad guys deep in the Venezuelan jungle, though some suspension of disbelief is necessary.

I thought The Black Art of Killing had a cinematic quality, could imagine it being made into a film or TV series, and then discovered why; the author is a well-known screenwriter responsible for the likes of Keeping Faith and The Coroner. I don’t know if Matthew Hall intends to write more books featuring Leo Black, the ending is inconclusive, but I would definitely be interested in reading them if he does.

Dog Rose Dirt by Jen Williams

Dog Rose Dirt by Jen Williams

Heather has come back to her childhood home following the death of her mother, Colleen, who committed suicide and left a very ambiguous note. Heather had left home at sixteen and had had little contact with her mother since then. While searching for clues about her mother’s past, she finds a bundle of letters from a convicted serial killer.

In the news, a serial killer is again at large and his methods are remarkably similar, but how is this possible? Heather takes the letters to the police and gets permission to visit Michael Reave in prison. What gradually comes to light is a horrific story involving child abuse, grooming and weird goings-on at a hippy commune in Lancashire.  

Dog Rose Dirt is well written and very disturbing, but the plot does not quite work for me. Some of the characters, especially DI Ben Parker, were not developed enough; they just seemed to be there to move the plot along. There were so many references to fairy tales, wolves, feathers and dead birds thrown in that it all became a bit confusing and cliched. Heather was quite difficult to empathise with, especially as she made some seriously stupid, reckless decisions. Just when I thought I had figured out what was going on, the ending completely took me by surprise.

I read a lot of mystery thrillers, but Dog Rose Dirt veered slightly too far into the horror genre for my liking. I had to stop reading it before I went to sleep as I found the atmosphere very creepy.

Thanks to Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

Lost Children by Willa Bergman

Lost Children by Willa Bergman

Lost Children is the story of the search for a historically important painting that disappeared from a French chateau many years before. The first section of the book is fairly slow as the author sets the scene and introduces us to the main character, Elle, who works for a well-known auction house in London. In her role as private buyer, she enjoys privileged access to works of art hidden away in private collections that she would never normally see.

The Private Sales department is restructured, to make it more profitable, and Elle is put in charge, much to her surprise and delight. A new client asks her to find Portrait of the Lost Child by Albert Polignac; she tries to put him off, but he is insistent. Judging by her extreme reaction, Elle obviously knows a lot more about this painting than she is letting on.

Lost Children is told entirely from Elle’s point of view, and we gradually learn the history of the painting, and why it went missing, as well as her own backstory. She is an obviously troubled character, ill at ease most of the time, and always seems to be looking over her shoulder. Elle travels to New York in pursuit of the painting, realises she is not the only one on its trail, and has to use her wits to get the better of her ruthless adversaries.  The pace picks up as she rushes to meet the deadline she has been given before it is too late.

Many years ago I studied art history so Lost Children was of obvious interest to me. It is well written and thoroughly researched, and I enjoyed the insights into the world of art sales and auction houses, such as how you determine the monetary value of a piece of art. Split between London, New York and a chateau in the French countryside, this unusual thriller will keep you on the edge of your seat until you get to the very last page.

Thank you to the author for a digital copy that I review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT

And Now You're Back by Jill Mansell

And Now You re Back by Jill Mansell

Set in fictional Elliscombe in the Cotswolds, And Now You’re Back tells the story of Didi and Shay who were in a relationship until Shay just upped and left without saying goodbye. Thirteen years have passed and Didi is now the manager of a boutique hotel, and engaged to Aaron. Shay has come back because his father, Red, is dying and wants to spend his last days in the old family home. They were both happily getting on with their lives, but find the spark is still there between them no matter how much they try to ignore it.

The focus is not solely on the relationship between Didi and Shay. And Now You’re Back features a cast of colourful, well-rounded characters with believable backstories that add depth to the narrative. We can guess the outcome, but it’s fun reading how it comes about.

Every year, in January, a new Jill Mansell novel arrives, and we readers can look forward to spending many enjoyable hours losing ourselves in the world she has created.  I have read all of her books and they rarely disappoint. In And Now You’re Back there are secrets to uncover and misunderstandings to sort out, but it is at heart about the possibility of second chances.