Helen Grant

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British Books Challenge 2016 – The Round Up

Published January 1, 2017 by bibliobeth

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2016 was my fourth year of participating in the British Books Challenge. I love doing this every year and think it’s important to support our authors here in the UK, old and new. Here’s what I’ve managed to review this year in British Books!

Frost Hollow Hall – Emma Carroll

The Horse Dancer – Jojo Moyes

We Were Just Driving Around – Jon McGregor

Bella Broomstick – Lou Kuenzler

The Chamois – Daphne du Maurier

Silent Saturday – Helen Grant

The Demons Of Ghent – Helen Grant

Urban Legends – Helen Grant

The Demon Headmaster – Gillian Cross

Under The Pylon – Graham Joyce

The Versions Of Us – Laura Barnett

The Quality Of Silence – Rosamund Lupton

In A Dark, Dark Wood – Ruth Ware

Duet – Kate Mosse

Carrie’s War – Nina Bawden

The Coral Strand – Ravinder Randhawa

Defender Of The Realm (Defender Of The Realm #1) – Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler

Strange Girls And Ordinary Women – Morgan McCarthy

The Samaritan (Carter Blake #2) – Mason Cross

Moving – Jenny Eclair

Enough Of This Shit Already – Tony Black

The Boy In The Dress – David Walliams

Jamaica Inn – Daphne du Maurier

Create Your Own Spy Mission – Andrew and Chris Judge

Charm For A Friend With A Lump – Helen Simpson

A Year Of Marvellous Ways – Sarah Winman

Noble Conflict – Malorie Blackman

The Girl On The Train – Paula Hawkins

The Inventory: Iron Fist (The Inventory #1) – Andy Briggs

Alfie Bloom And The Secrets Of Hexbridge Castle (Alfie Bloom #1) – Gabrielle Kent

Alfie Bloom And The Talisman Thief (Alfie Bloom #2) – Gabrielle Kent

Notes From The House Spirits – Lucy Wood

Our Endless Numbered Days – Claire Fuller

How I Finally Lost My Heart – Doris Lessing

The Bones Of You – Debbie Howells

According To Yes – Dawn French

The Borrowers – Mary Norton

Random Acts Of Unkindness – Jacqueline Ward

The Adventure Of The Speckled Band – Arthur Conan Doyle

Maggot Moon – Sally Gardner

Sweet Caress – William Boyd

The Girls – Lisa Jewell

The Oasis Of Time – Carolyn Waugh

Author Requests – Off Key by Mark Robertson, Piano From A 4th Storey Window by Jenny Morton Potts and The Death Of Danny Daggers by Haydn Wilks

The Love Song Of Miss Queenie Hennessy – Rachel Joyce

A Dictionary Of Mutual Understanding – Jackie Copleton

Garlic And Gauloises – Hemmie Martin

Looking For JJ (Jennifer Jones #1) – Anne Cassidy

If It Keeps On Raining – Jon McGregor

Reasons To Stay Alive – Matt Haig

Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense Of The Twentieth Century – John Higgs

The Lordly Ones – Daphne du Maurier

Roseblood – Paul Doherty

The Last Act Of Love – Cathy Rentzenbrink

Tiger Moth – Graham Joyce

The Widow – Fiona Barton

The Wolves Of Willoughby Chase – Joan Aiken

The Puppet Master – Abigail Osborne

Under My Skin – James Dawson

Red Letter Day – Kate Mosse

Missing, Presumed – Susie Steiner

Getting It Wrong – Ramsey Campbell

Disclaimer – Renée Knight

Ballet Shoes – Noel Streatfeild

Among Others – Jo Walton

Chinese Whispers – Ben Chu

The Last Leaves Falling – Fox Benwell

Hogmanay Homicide – Edward Marston

 The Loving Husband – Christobel Kent

The Boy Who Sailed The Ocean In An Armchair

So if I’ve calculated correctly, that makes it 72 books for the British Books Challenge this year. It isn’t as much as last year but I’ve still made the target of 12 books a year which I’m very happy with, especially as I haven’t had a great blogging year with a lot of illness. 😦

Highlights from this year include Disclaimer by Renee Knight which I will treasure as not only is it a fantastic book but I also managed to meet the lady herself at Crime At The Court (hosted by Goldsboro Books, London) with my blogger buddy Cleopatra Loves Books. She’s lovely and so very talented and I will probably read anything she ever writes! The Last Act Of Love was also a hugely important and emotional book for me and I loved reviewing it with my sister, Chrissi Reads in our little “Talking About” feature which we do on occasion. Other honourable mentions go to Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig, Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller, Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier, the Forbidden Spaces Trilogy by Helen Grant and the fabulous Emma Carroll who wrote the beautiful Frost Hollow Hall. I could go on and on. I’m certainly looking forward to reading some more “best of British” books in 2017! Look out for my sign up post coming soon.

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Author Interview – Helen Grant on her Forbidden Spaces YA trilogy

Published January 20, 2016 by bibliobeth

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HELEN GRANT – A BIOGRAPHY

Helen Grant was born in London. She read Classics at St.Hugh’s College, Oxford, and then worked in Marketing for ten years in order to fund her love of travelling. In 2001 she and her family moved to Bad Münstereifel in Germany, and it was exploring the legends of this beautiful town that inspired her to write her first novel, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden. She then moved to Brussels for three years, and now lives in Scotland with her husband, two children and two cats. Her most recent published novel is Urban Legends, an urbex-themed thriller set in Flanders.

Click on the books to get to the link to GoodReads!

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For my review of Silent Saturday, please click HERE.

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For my review of Demons Of Ghent, please click HERE.

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For my review of Urban Legends, please click HERE.

Why not check out some of Helen’s back catalogue too? Here are the next two on my must read list:

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Helen’s debut novel The Vanishing of Katharina Linden was published in April 2009 and was short-listed for both the Booktrust Teenage Prize and the CILIP Carnegie Medal.

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Helen’s second novel, The Glass Demon was published in May 2010 and short-listed for the ITW Awards Best Paperback Original category.

INTERVIEW WITH HELEN GRANT

I’d like to welcome Helen to bibliobeth today and thank her for her time in giving this interview.

1.) Your Forbidden Spaces novels are set in the beautiful country of Belgium. What inspired you so much about this country to use it as a setting for your trilogy?

We actually lived in Flanders in Belgium for three years, and much of the trilogy is inspired by things I experienced there (not the serial killing bit though, I’m glad to say!). When we moved to Belgium I was still working on my third book set in Germany (where we lived before that) but I was looking around for ideas for whatever I would write next. The area we had moved to was Dutch speaking so I started Dutch evening classes, and the teacher used to tell us snippets of local culture and traditions. Apparently in Flanders the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is called “Silent Saturday” because none of the church bells ring that day. Children are told that this is because the bells have flown away to Rome to collect Easter eggs from the Pope! When I heard this story, the first thing I thought was that if I had been a little Flemish kid I would have been dying to get into the church bell tower on Silent Saturday and see if the bells really had flown away! And that was what inspired the very first scene of the first book in the trilogy. The heroine, Veerle, who is only seven years old at the time, climbs the tower of the village church with her friend Kris. They are a bit disgusted to discover that the bells are still there, i.e. the grown ups have lied to them. Then they look out of the window and see something terrible happening in the village below. That crime reverberates through the entire trilogy.

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The author, Helen Grant in Tervuren, the town where Veerle goes to school in the first novel, Silent Saturday.

Photo courtesy of author

The locations in the books – Tervuren park, the Gravensteen castle and Saint Baaf’s cathedral in Ghent, the abandoned factory, the Brussels sewers – are all real ones and I visited most of them for my book research. I really enjoyed visiting the sewers! Sewer systems are one of the most dangerous urban exploration environments of all – there are flash floods, posionous gases, the risk of getting lost and never getting out, not to mention rats and creepy crawlies. It’s all there. A very inspiring setting if you are writing a gritty thriller!

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The Brussels sewer system – the perfect place for a show-down!

Photo courtesy of author

2.) In Silent Saturday, we are introduced to one of the most frightening villains that I think I’ve ever read about. Did you find it difficult to get inside the head of someone so innately wicked?

Does it sound weird if I say no? I actually enjoyed writing the scenes with De Jager (the villain) in them. That’s not because I like the things he does. He’s a monster. It’s more that I wanted to take the gloves off and create a really horrific villain. Someone extreme. In my earlier books, it tends to be all about the nasty discoveries after the crime has taken place; this time I wanted to create a real feeling of direct threat. My other villains also tended to have their reasons for killing, even if they were very twisted ones, but De Jager just enjoys hunting down other people. He doesn’t want to relate to his victims as human beings with feelings and motives at all, and one of the things I relished was his dismay when he is forced to start thinking about Veerle and Kris and what they may do.

3.) Our heroine Veerle loves taking risks and in the second novel, Demons of Ghent we see her exploring the rooftops of the city. How much of yourself do you see in our main character?

Ha! Quite a lot. I’m more law-abiding than she is, and I definitely don’t have her head for heights(!), but I totally “get” her interest in urban exploration. I enjoyed writing the Forbidden Spaces trilogy more than anything else I’ve ever worked on. It was partly because I loved doing the research trips but also because I think Veerle’s life is incredibly cool, even with the problems she has.
The other thing is Veerle’s relationship with her mother. I based Claudine on my own grandmother, who also suffered very badly from anxiety. It’s very tough supporting someone who has those kind of issues. You can love them to death but still be exhausted with trying to support them. I really empathise with Veerle’s struggle to do the right thing for everyone including herself.

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The beautiful St Baaf’s Cathedral in Ghent seen from the Belfort Tower, both of which feature in the opening scene of the second novel, Demons Of Ghent.

Photo courtesy of author

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Gravensteen Castle, Ghent where Veerle and Bram spend a night, also in the second novel, Demons Of Ghent.

Photo courtesy of author

4.) In the final book of the trilogy, Urban Legends, old ghosts return to haunt Veerle and her family is put under the spotlight like never before. Was it important for you to write about family dynamics in a real and honest way? Do you see a happy future for Veerle?

Yes, it was very important to me. I think a huge part of writing a successful thriller is to make the characters come alive. You have to care about them and believe in them for the story to be exciting and convincing. Plus the plot of the book wouldn’t happen in a vacuum – everyone has family or relationship stuff going on in their lives.
I do see a happy future for Veerle. She has had to be self sufficient at a very early stage in her life and she can be quite spiky and also impulsive. But she is brave too and she is actually a very caring person in spite of her impetuous side. There’s a moment in Demons of Ghent where she is asked to do a favour for someone she doesn’t like, who is in desperate straits, and Veerle does it even though she knows it is going to get her in a lot of trouble. I think she deserves some happiness, and I think she is going to get it in the future – I think bravery and empathy are a great combination.

5.) Are you working on anything at the moment and can you tell us a little bit about it?

Yes, I’m working on a new book unrelated to the Forbidden Spaces books. It’s set in Scotland, where I live now. I’m actually doing a lot of planning and thinking at the moment about where I want the story to go. I think it’s safe to say that it is a mystery and it has some Gothic elements to it. The part of Scotland where I live, Perthshire, is just crying out to have stories written about it. The countryside is full of history – ancient castles, ruined churches, mysterious standing stones. I want to try to make the most of that!

Now for some quick fire questions!

E book or real book?

Real book. I read in the bath! An eReader would be wrecked the first time I dropped it.

Series or stand alone?

Hmmm. Both. The one thing I don’t like though, is a series which is one story hacked into chunks. I like each book to have a satisfying conclusion.

Fiction or non-fiction?

Fiction.

Online shopping or bookshop trawling?

Both, but mainly online – not because I don’t want to support bookshops but because the nearest one is about 17 miles away!

Bookmarking or dog-earing?

Mostly dog-earing, except for old or rare books.

Once again, a HUGE thank you to the lovely Helen Grant for giving up her time to do this interview (and for the fab photographs!). I’m very excited now to explore some of her back catalogue and will probably start with her debut novel, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden. Look out for a review of this and her second novel, The Glass Demon on bibliobeth soon.

Urban Legends completes The Forbidden Spaces trilogy and was published by Corgi on 26th March 2015. This series and of course Helen’s other novels, are available to buy from all good book retailers now!

Urban Legends (Forbidden Spaces Trilogy #3) – Helen Grant

Published January 19, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

A group of story-tellers are disappearing one by one.

A young woman is haunted by her past.

A serial killer has one target he is desperate to hunt down.

Veerle is trying to lie low, to live as ‘normal’ a life as she possibly can. But when you’ve thwarted a serial killer, it’s hard to do this. Especially when he wants revenge . . .

What did I think?:

Urban Legends is the third and final volume in Helen Grant’s Forbidden Spaces trilogy and after the brilliance of the previous two novels, I had high expectations for this one. Well, it did not disappoint! Our heroine Veerle De Keyser is back in her home town after staying with her father and his girlfriend didn’t exactly work out, to put it mildly. Veerle is now eighteen and has matured considerably after her past traumatic experiences. Her only goal is to get her head down, repeat her last year of school and perhaps work out some more normal issues that teenage girls have. Like figuring out how she really feels about her current boyfriend Bram (whom she met while staying in Ghent) while the spectre of her first real relationship with Kris looms over her.

Each book in the series has explored a different and rather murky mystery, typically involving innocent people being killed. In this novel the author develops another compelling narrative which kicks off right from the opening chapter. It involves a group of young people who enjoy meeting up in abandoned buildings, much like the Koekoeken group Veerle joins in the first book. The purpose of their meetings is to swap gruesome urban legends with each other, in competition to become the master storyteller at the end of the night. I absolutely loved the chapters that featured the storytellers as I used to do a similar thing with friends at school and with some of the legends, it was an interesting trip down memory lane where I remembered stories I had previously forgotten (and those that still had the potential to send shivers down my spine, thanks Helen!) 🙂

So as you might have guessed, story-time isn’t exactly fun-time in this novel. Someone is picking off the storytellers one by one and brutally murdering them so when they meet again, there are less of them there to tell the stories. Strangely enough, this is connected back to an old adversary of Veerle’s we first meet in Silent Saturday and he returns darker and definitely more disturbed than before. We are also treated to chapters told from his perspective and believe me, they might make you want to check you locked the doors before you go to bed at night! Even though Veerle is not meant to see her old flame Kris they team up to try and investigate what is going on. They don’t have much time however, as the killer is determined not to be thwarted by anyone – let alone these two and will remove any that dare to stand in his path.

Helen Grant has an undeniable talent for writing thrilling novels and Urban Legends is no exception, providing an action-packed, tense and suspense-filled plot that does not shy away from the darker side of society. By the third book, I felt as if I knew these characters personally and, as a reader, it seemed like I had gone through everything with them. By the dramatic finale, I was literally on the edge of my seat, unable to put down the book for a second until everything had been resolved one way or another. This is such a fantastic series that I believe everyone, no matter what your age who loves a good thriller should read as soon as possible. I’m certainly glad I read it and am very excited to read more by Helen Grant, in fact – I pronounce her the Queen of YA thrillers!

Come back tomorrow when I’ll be featuring an interview with the author of The Forbidden Spaces trilogy, Helen Grant!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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The Demons Of Ghent (Forbidden Spaces Trilogy #2) – Helen Grant

Published January 18, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Veerle has moved to Ghent to start a new life with her father and his girlfriend, she’s isolated and alone. But not as alone as she had thought . . .

Veerle recognises a familiar face in the crowds one day, a face connected to a past that she has been fighting to get over, a past that involved murder.

A spate of deaths hit the city but has Death followed Veerle to Ghent or is this something new?

What did I think?:

Demons of Ghent is the second book in Helen Grant’s fabulous Forbidden Spaces trilogy and one I knew I had to read as soon as possible after finishing the first, Silent Saturday. There’s always a worry with the second book in a series that it may suffer from “second book syndrome,” where it does not live up to the glory of the previous novel. I’m happy to say, this was most definitely not the case with Demons of Ghent – in fact, I think I enjoyed it even more. There’s something very comforting coming to a book where we are familiar with the characters back story, personality etc but are still very keen to discover new secrets and the author comes up with some real treasures in this second offering.

I was slightly surprised to discover that the story does not pick up directly where Silent Saturday ended but in a way, it made it more intriguing as a reader to think about exactly what may have occurred. I’m not going to give anything away for anyone who hasn’t read the first book in the series but to say Veerle De Keyser’s life has changed dramatically would be an understatement. She has been through hell and back again and when the story opens, she has moved to Ghent to live with her father and his pregnant girlfriend, Anneke. As you may be able to guess, Anneke isn’t exactly thrilled that she is having to play step-mother to her boyfriend’s daughter, especially when she is trying to cement her own new family and she views Veerle as a typical teenage delinquent who has put her father under enough strain already with her “antics” in the last novel. Never mind the trauma that Veerle has gone through, eh?

Veerle is feeling isolated enough as it is, coming to a new town and having to make new friends and when she is told that she categorically cannot see her boyfriend, Kris again she feels even more alone. It doesn’t seem to matter however, as Kris appears to have dropped off the radar completely and isn’t even answering her calls, adding to her misery. Things get stranger still when she appears to spot a girl called Hommel (who also happens to be Kris’s ex-girlfriend by the way) alive and apparently well in Ghent. The fact is, she’s supposed to be dead. All of this combined means Veerle is in desperate need of a friend. Enter Bram, a student at Ghent University and a breath of fresh air for our heroine. He is funny, kind, sensitive, a great shoulder to cry on and introduces Veerle to something connected to one of her great passions, climbing. More specifically, he clambers around the roof-tops of Ghent at night and reminds Veerle that life can be fun again, something she seriously needs.

But, you guessed it…. the fun can only last so long until Death once again rears his ugly head. There is an ancient legend in Ghent that involves demons on the rooftops and in this narrative is connected to The Ghent Altarpiece, a large piece of 15th century art that depicts the Annunciation of Mary, portraits of Christ, John the Baptist and Adam and Eve (amongst others), with the central panel showing the adoration of The Lamb of God overseen by The Holy Spirit. Veerle and Bram stumble upon the horror of people apparently being thrown off the rooftops of Ghent – but is it the work of a demonic entity or just a demonic individual?

I don’t want to say any more about the plot but I just loved the direction in which Helen Grant took this story! There are so many exciting and quite honestly, jaw-dropping moments that I could hardly keep still until I had finished the entire book and even then, she leaves us with such a beauty of a cliffhanger that it immediately had me eagerly anticipating the final book in the trilogy, Urban Legends. The perfect combination of the supernatural with authentic art history made this narrative so thrilling (and educational I might add) that I immediately had to go and research The Ghent Altarpiece after I had finished the novel. Although I needn’t have bothered, the author’s descriptive prose is so vivid, you could almost imagine you were standing in front of the piece without any previous knowledge of it.

The characterisation once again is superb, we see a different, more mature Veerle from Silent Saturday as she struggles to overcome her previous traumas while still dealing with a number of personal/family issues. I did enjoy the lighter side that Bram brought to the narrative and thought he was a fantastic antidote for what Veerle had gone through and a means for her to smile again. For those missing the intensity of Mr Kris Verstraeten however, never fear readers, he does return but things are slightly different for him and Veerle. Say no more! I finished The Demons of Ghent completely in love with this series and hugely excited for the final chapter in the trilogy. Does it HAVE to end though?

Come back tomorrow where I will be reviewing the last book, Urban Legends!

For my review of Silent Saturday, the first book in the series, please click HERE.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Silent Saturday (Forbidden Spaces Trilogy #1) – Helen Grant

Published January 17, 2016 by bibliobeth

16110931What’s it all about?:

Seventeen-year-old Veerle is frustrated with life in suburban Brussels. But a chance encounter with a hidden society, whose members illegally break into unoccupied buildings around the city, soon opens up a whole new world of excitement – and danger.

When one of the society’s founding members disappears, Veerle suspects foul play. But nothing can prepare her for the horror that is about to unfold when an old foe emerges from the shadows… No one is safe, and The Hunter will strike again…

What did I think?:

I’m really excited to introduce everyone to an author new to me and one I’m ever so glad I discovered – Helen Grant. For the next few days I shall be reviewing her Forbidden Spaces trilogy which begins with Silent Saturday, followed on by The Demons of Ghent and finishing with Urban Legends. The day after that I shall be featuring an interview with the lady herself and hopefully by that time I will have persuaded anyone who hasn’t read her before that this is an author well worth trying!

The series is set in Belgium, a beautiful country which Helen has actually lived in herself so I was confident about the authenticity of the setting and was certain I was in safe hands with the narrative as I began to read a gripping and incredibly thrilling story that will both terrify and excite you in equal measure. The descriptions of Brussels and the surrounding area are so intricate that you leave the book feeling like you know the country inside out and I love it when I can picture a setting with such clarity.

Our heroine is seventeen year old Veerle de Keyser who when we meet her is struggling in her relationship with her mother. Claudine is extremely over-protective, relies on Veerle a great deal both emotionally and practically and is beyond paranoid about many issues, but particularly the security of herself and her daughter. Veerle loves her mother a great deal but gets very frustrated with many aspects of her behaviour so, as an outlet, she loves to visit the local climbing wall and becomes very adept at clambering around in tight positions.

As with all aspects of mental illness, there are reasons behind Claudine’s fears and one event in particular greatly affected her relationship with her daughter. It involves something terrifying that Veerle witnessed when she was younger with her childhood friend, Kris Verstraeten, that we will see in this trilogy, returns to haunt her. Kris returns to Veerle’s life after about a ten year hiatus where the two have barely spoken and introduces her to a fascinating new prospect that she cannot resist. The group is the Koekoeken (meaning Cuckoos) and they are a group of people that explore abandoned or uninhabited buildings, for example – residents who have gone on holiday, millionaire’s mansions where the owner is out of the country and a rather spooky and crumbling old castle. It’s not all law-breaking and vandalism however, the group have an unwritten rule that they do something for the house before they leave i.e. a bit of maintenance as a thank you for the use of the building.

Both Veerle and Kris thoroughly enjoy exploring various establishments together and perhaps as expected, develop feelings for each other. However, their world is about to be unbelievably rocked when one of the group is brutally murdered. When certain other members of the Koekoeken seem to be targeted by a ruthless killer with a thirst for violence, Veerle and Kris are terrified that they could be next. Can they go to the police though when they themselves have been technically breaking the law by breaking and entering several properties? The killer appears to have them right where he wants them… and he shows no sign of stopping.

On first reading the premise of this book, I have to say I was beyond excited. I loved the idea of a group exploring empty buildings but doing something nice for the owners on the way out. However, I was not prepared for just how thrilling this novel would be. We get a little insight into the killer – De Jager, or The Hunter and oh my goodness, he is one of the most dark and disturbing villains I have ever read about. I knew beforehand that this was a young adult trilogy but don’t let the genre put you off the author does not skimp on the darkness or the horror of certain situations. In that way, I probably wouldn’t recommend this series to the faint-hearted or much younger readers but then again, if you can handle a bit of heart stopping terror – go ahead, it’s perfect! Silent Saturday is a wonderful start to what I’m certain will be a brilliant trilogy. Try it…. if you dare?

Come back tomorrow where I’ll be reviewing the second book in the series, Demons of Ghent!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0