Friday 29 December 2023

My Top Reads of 2023 #AmReading #TopReads2023 #FavouriteBooks2023


My Top Reads of 2023

It's been another very mixed year here in the Cater household. Things will never be the same without my lovely Mum, and I don't think the world has recovered, or ever will do, from the pandemic. We are surrounded by war and disaster, with constant newsfeeds full of the most awful things. 

Sickness has plagued us both again this year, but we are keeping everything crossed that health wise, we will improve soon. 

We have been lucky enough to have some amazing holidays this year, in between bouts of sickness. We visited  Fuerteventura, Kefalonia, our amazing bucket list trip to Canada and then a cheeky four night break in Cyprus.  We managed to get to some literary festivals;  Harrogate, St Hilda's in Oxford and Newcastler Noir. These were certainly highlights of the year.

I have continued to read and shout about the books that I love. I have been able to grow my Blog Tour organising business and once again, I have been fortunate enough to work with some truly amazing books, authors, publishers and fellow bloggers. 

As always, I rarely finish a book that I'm not enjoying, so to pick my top books out of so many that I've really enjoyed has, once more, been very difficult. 

As always, my list is split into three sections; I start with some of the 2023 books that I read in 2022. I mentioned them last year and hoped that they would be huge.

The second part is my list of  Top Books of 2023

Finally, I'll give a mention to some 2024 publications that I've read early.

I really think that 2024 is going to be another fabulous book year!


2023 books that I predicted would do well

At the end of last year, I'd read these 2023 books pre-publication, and predicted that they would do well. I'm still recommending them, twelve months later.  (click on the title for my full review).

The Binding Room by Nadine Matheson -  Paperback 5 January from HQ

So Pretty by Ronnie Turner - 19 January from Orenda Books 

Promise Me by Jill Mansell - 19 January from Headline

When I First Held You by Anstey Harris - 24 January from Lake Union 

Someone Else's Shoes by Jojo Moyes - 2 February from Michael Joseph

Mrs Van Gogh by Caroline Cauchi - 2 February from One More Chapter

In The Blink of an Eye by Jo Callaghan - 19 January from Simon & Schuster

The Daughter In Law by Fanny Blake - 16 February from Simon & Schuster

Those People Next Door by Kia Abdullah - 19 January from HQ

My Top Reads of 2023

My Top Reads of the year are listed in order of reading. The list contains some favourite authors who pop up year after year, and also some debuts. I think it's a great list, with something for everyone. 

I heartily recommend all of these books.  (click on the title for my full review)

Other Women by Emma Flint (Picador 23 Feb) - A novel that raises so many questions, populated by colourful and beautifully constructed characters. It is utterly brilliant. Twisting and full of tension.

River Sing Me Home by Eleanor Shearer (Headline 19 Jan) - This is one of the most powerful, compassionate and compelling novels that I've read for many a year. The language is glorious, the characters are so skilfully created and the sense of place is intoxicating. 

The Forcing by Paul E Hardisty (Orenda 16 Feb) -The Forcing is an incredibly important novel. I got a real Atwood vibe from it. It is incredible, so moving, so frightening, action packed but full of humility and intelligence. Highly recommended.

The Silence Project by Carole Hailey (Corvus 9 Feb) -At times shocking, and always eye-opening, this would be the perfect book group read. There is so much to discuss within the pages. It's a book that I will not forget in a hurry. Recommended by me. 

One Moment by Becky Hunter (Corvus 2 March) -The depiction of the myriad of emotions felt by those who are grieving is wonderfully done and the impact of a life-long friendship is stunning.

The Venice Secret by Anita Chapman (Independently published 1 March) -  A story to relish and to treasure. I was totally captivated by both the plot and the writing style and can only look forward to seeing what this talented author writes next. Highly recommended. 

Arrested Song by Irena Karafilly (Legend Press 28 March) -A novel steeped in not so distant history, entwined with the themes of social justice and women's rights, this is a stunning read. Highly recommended by me.

Go As A River by Shelley Read (Doubleday 13 April) -A true love story, and especially one that details the strength of the mother/child relationship and how memories can guide and steer a life, regardless of the horrors that are inflicted upon it.  This is powerful, stunning writing with a lead character that readers will love.

Fragments of a Woman by Emma Venables (Aderyn Press 1 June) - This is a masterful, important, richly detailed novel that will stay with me for a very long time. I applaud the author for her decision to cast off the stereotypes and to detail such horrors and pain. It is a difficult read in parts, but it is also filled with beautiful, spare prose that cannot fail to impress. Highly recommended. 

The Fascination by Essie Fox (Orenda 22 June) -There's a real magical feel to this story, with hints of sorcery and lots of superstition, suspicion and twisted minds. It's a story to savour. A wonderful, evocative read. Highly recommended

All Of Us Are Broken by Fiona Cummins (Pan Macmillan 20 July) -There's no exploitation of the reader, nothing is gratuitous, every single beautifully written sentence adds a depth to this polished and gripping story. There is no doubt that Fiona Cummins is one of our finest crime fiction authors at the moment. Highly recommended. 

Black Thorn by Sarah Hilary (Pan Macmillan 13 July) - A crime novel. A psychological thriller; this is both of those, expertly woven and always beautifully prepared. Hilary's use of descriptive prose when talking about the forest that surrounds both the Ashes and the park is second to none and her character creation is sublime and exquisite.

One by Eve Smith (Orenda 20 July) - A powerful, masterful and incredibly important novel that should be read by everyone. Packed with characters that you can empathise with, even if you don't actually like them.  Eve Smith is a visionary story teller, her book is addictive and chilling. Highly recommended by me. 

The Bay by Julia Rampen (Saraband 10 Aug) -The Bay is an absolutely beautiful read, the language is tender and compassionate and the themes are relevant and handled with sensitivity, whilst still exposing the horrors faced by so many.  One of my favourite books of the year so far. Highly recommended. 

Someone Like Her by Awais Khan (Orenda 17 Aug) -This is a very important book, it is a book that I feel that everyone should read, and learn from and gain some understanding about how deeply entrenched in violence this culture is. There is also a glimmer of hope as we discover those people who are working hard to stop such things happening, and running throughout it is a story of love that gradually emerges.

The Opposite of Lonely by Doug Johnstone (Orenda 14 Sept) -Packed with colourful and perfectly created characters. There are those who the reader will love, and others who are devilishly despicable. There are scenes of violence and moments that will shock, but all are done so well, adding layers of depth to the story. 

The Unpicking by Donna Moore (Fly on the Wall Press 27 Oct) - These are some of the best characters that I have met in a novel, alongside the alluring, descriptive writing and remarkable sense of place.  A truly wonderful novel. Highly recommended by me. 

The Rituals by Rebecca Roberts (Honno Press 28 Sept) -It's a story of hope and about humankind and friendship and community. It's a novel of lasting love, about being betrayed and about loss. Wonderful, and highly recommended by me. 

The Leftover Woman by Jean Kwok (Viper Books 2 Nov) -An impressive, beautiful and atmospheric story, with a couple of twists that will shock the reader.

Joe Nuthin's Guide to Life by Helen Fisher (Simon & Schuster 9 Nov) -This is a heart warming, uplifting story that is an utter joy to read. Joe is a beautifully created character and is supported by a colourful cast. A story that deals with being different, and how to be a friend. Really magical from an author who writes with humour and compassion.  

The Unspeakable Acts of Zina Pavlou by Eleni Kyriacau (Aries 9 Nov) - This is a powerful, emotional story of a crime, and a fragmented family. With such a sense of place and time. It is another magical novel from a wonderful author. 

His Favourite Graves by Paul Cleave (Orenda 9 Nov) - The darkness, the intense sense of dread just gets more and more overwhelming as the reader gets to the stunning and totally unexpected ending. Another amazing book from an author who is so talented. 

Yellowface by Rebecca F Kuang (Borough Press 25 May) -Yellowface would be the perfect book for group discussion. It raises so many questions and can alter existing view points a great deal. There's tension, and some dark, dry humour. I loved it. I was engrossed by it. I know other people will disagree, that's fine. 

Swimming For Beginners by Nicola Gill (Bedford Square 14 Sept) -Sometimes a book comes along that just grabs you and give you the biggest and most welcome of surprises.A touching, wonderful story that should be treasured and remembered. 

Books to look out for in 2024 ....

I've already made a start on the 2024 books, and if the ones that I've read already are anything to go by, we are in for another outstanding book year.
Here are a few tips; books that I think will be huge next year. 

Some of these reviews have not  been published yet but I can assure you that I enjoyed every one of them. 

The Storm We Made by Vanessa Chan - 4 January from Hodder

The Wedding of the Year by Jill Mansell - 18 January from Headline

The List of Suspicious Things by Jennie Godfrey - 15 February from Hutchinson Heinemann

The Antique Hunter's Guide to Murder by C L Miller - 29 February from Pan Macmillan

The Dancer by Óskar Gudmundsson - 1 February from Corylus Books

The Woman on the Ledge by Ruth Mancini - 4 January from Century

That's 2023 over and done with!

I've enjoyed my book year very much, some of the other stuff this year is best forgotten! 

I want to wish everyone the VERY BEST for next year and I really hope to see lots of lovely book friends soon.

In the meantime, thank you to everyone who reads my reviews and puts up with my book shouting.

Thursday 28 December 2023

The List of Suspicious Things by Jennie Godfrey #TheListofSuspiciousThings @jennieg_author @HutchHeinemann #BookReview


Yorkshire, 1979

Maggie Thatcher is prime minister, drainpipe jeans are in, and Miv is convinced that her dad wants to move their family Down South.

Because of the murders.

Leaving Yorkshire and her best friend Sharon simply isn't an option, no matter the dangers lurking round their way; or the strangeness at home that started the day Miv's mum stopped talking.

Perhaps if she could solve the case of the disappearing women, they could stay after all?

So, Miv and Sharon decide to make a list: a list of all the suspicious people and things down their street. People they know. People they don't.

But their search for the truth reveals more secrets in their neighbourhood, within their families - and between each other - than they ever thought possible.

What if the real mystery Miv needs to solve is the one that lies much closer to home?

The List of Suspicious Things by Jennie Godfrey is published on 15 February 2024 by Hutchinson Heinemann. My thanks to the publisher who supplied my copy for review. 

I was introduced to Jennie Godfrey at the Theakston's Crime Fiction Festival in Harrogate in July of this year. I have had my proof copy ever since then. I will admit that I read it within a couple of weeks of receiving it but it just felt far too early to share my review. At last, I'm here to shout to the world about this wonderful story. It is full of hope, and nostalgia, featuring characters that will steal your heart. It's also a study in family and community life, taking in serious issues including mental health battles, racism, domestic violence and suicide.  

It's 1979 in Yorkshire and for me this felt like taking a trip back to my own childhood. I'm a little older than the lead character Miv, and would have been a young teenager then whilst she is pre-teen in the story. I lived on the Yorkshire border, not far from where the story takes place and very similar in place and language. 

Margaret Thatcher has been voted in, she's the first female Prime Minister in the UK. Miv's Aunty Jean has plenty to say about her. Aunty Jean has plenty to say about a lot of things to be fair. Aunty Jean lives with Miv and her parents. She stays in the spare room, she does the cooking and the housework as Miv's own Mum is ill and spends much of her time in bed, she never speaks either. Miv looks back to the days when her Mum was chatty, and sang around the house ... she wonders if that Mum will ever return. 

The main talking point at the moment are the murders and the man named the Yorkshire Ripper. Headlines scream out from newsagents windows, the radio and television news is awash with the latest killing. As the number of dead women increase, the community gets more afraid and Miv's Dad is considering moving from the area. Miv decides that if SHE can solve the mystery of the Ripper's identity, then they will stay and it is then that she and her friend Sharon begin to compile their list of suspicious things. 

The story goes on to include multiple characters and explores various themes. There are blossoming young romances, there are inappropriate relationships, there's the difficulties that come when you are different from your neighbours, be it because of your skin colour, or your domestic circumstances. There is tragedy and there is pain. It is a coming of age story that delves deep into everyday human life and does so with compassion and a tender humour throughout. 

I cannot really put into words just how much I enjoyed this wonderful debut from an author who writes like a dream and has created characters that can be cherished. It's so tenderly done, even when dealing with difficult and dark subject matter. It's a joy to read and to discover. Highly recommended by me. 

Jennie Godfrey was raised in West Yorkshire and her debut novel, The List of Suspicious Things, is inspired by her childhood there in the 1970s. 
Jennie is from a mill-working family, but as the first of the generation born after the mills closed, she went to university and built a career in the corporate world. 
In 2020 she left and began to write. 
She is now a writer and part-time Waterstones bookseller and lives in the Somerset

X/Twitter @jennieg_author

Wednesday 20 December 2023

The Trials of Majorie Crowe by C S Robertson #TheTrialsofMajorieCrowe @CraigRobertson_ @HodderBooks @lararosetamara #BookReview


How do you solve a murder when everyone thinks you're guilty?

Marjorie Crowe lives in Kilgoyne, Scotland. The locals put her age at somewhere between 55 and 70. They think she's divorced or a lifelong spinster; that she used to be a librarian, a pharmacist, or a witch. They think she's lonely, or ill, or maybe just plain rude. For the most part, they leave her be.

But one day, everything changes.

Local teenager Charlie McKee is found hanging in the woods, and Marjorie is the first one to see his body. When what she saw turns out to be impossible, the police have their doubts. And when another young person goes missing, the tide of suspicion turns on her.

Is Marjorie the monster, or the victim? And how far will she go to fight for her name?

The Trials of Majorie Crowe by C S Robertson is published on 18 January 2024 by Hodder. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review. 

C S Robertson's previous novel; The Undiscovered Deaths of Grace McGill which I read and reviewed around a year ago was such a brilliantly satisfying read so I had very high hopes for The Trials of Majorie Crowe.

Once again, this talented and very clever author has created a lead character that the reader cannot help but empathise with, Majorie is certainly one of a kind, she's flawed but she's honest and determined and is certainly put through many trials in this novel. 

It's a crime novel, there are crimes, it's a mystery novel, there are plenty of those too, but it's also a poetic and sensitively written ode to Scotland; the landscape, the people and the myths and fables. It is a tale of witchcraft and suspicion, of healing plants and forgotten cures. It's a deep, sometimes dark look into communities, that of the small village in which it is set, and also the communities that have evolved via Social Media; the Twitter pile-ons, the trolls, the people who latch on to scandal, and who keep it going, regardless if they are connected to it.  Robertson also looks at grief and how the mind deals with tragic instances for many years in the future, how unscrupulous people can use the tragedies of others to their gain, and how human beings can hurt and be hurt. 

Despite the fact that Majorie has lived in the village for over two decades, she is still often seen as an outsider. She's different to the other people there, she has her rituals, and one of these is that she takes a walk, twice per day at exactly the same time, on exactly the same route. 

It is during one of these walks that Majorie discovers something that will turn her world upside down. A young boy, hanging from a tree. Shocked and frightened, Majorie tells nobody, but it is not long before the police come to her door and she immediately becomes the main suspect in the tragic death. This is not the first tragic event to happen to a young person in the village, and it soon becomes clear that it won't be the last. 

There are some people in the village, those who seem to be in charge and are looked up to that Majorie both fears and suspects and despite the vitriol and hate that is spewed out towards her, both from her own community and the wider world of Twitter, she is determined to uncover just what has been happening, and try her best to prevent it from happening again. 

I was totally consumed by this story, finding any excuse to pick up the book and read another chapter. I was transfixed by Majorie's tales and witchcraft, going back through the centuries and despite her strangeness and that fact that at times, she did nothing to help herself, I had her back, all of the way through. 

A multi layered and intricately structured story of the old and the new, with an incredible sense of place and populated by masterfully created characters. Some of whom you will despise, others you will wonder about, and a few that you will love. 

Perfection in a book. Highly recommended. 

A former journalist, Craig Robertson had a 20-year career with a Scottish Sunday
newspaper before becoming a full-time author. He interviewed three Prime Ministers, reported on major stories including 9/11, Dunblane, the Omagh bombing and the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. He was pilloried on breakfast television, beat Oprah Winfrey to a major scoop, spent time on Death Row in the USA and dispensed polio drops in the backstreets of India.

His first novel, Random, was shortlisted for the 2010 CWA New Blood Dagger, longlisted for the 2011 Crime Novel of the Year and was a Sunday Times bestseller. He has been both longlisted and shortlisted for writing prizes.

He now shares his time between Scotland and California and can usually be found on a plane somewhere over the Atlantic.

X / Twitter @CraigRobertson_

Tuesday 19 December 2023

Sunny by Colin O'Sullivan BLOG TOUR #Sunny #ColinOSullivan @Harper360UK @RandomTTours #BookExtract


In near-future Japan, Susie Sakamoto is mourning the loss of her husband and son to a plane crash. Alone in her big modern house, which feels like more of a prison, Susie spends her days drinking heavily and taking her anger out at the only “sentient” thing left in her life: Sunny, the annoying home robot her husband designed. Susie despises Sunny, and sometimes even gets a sinking feeling that Sunny is out to hurt her.

To escape her paranoia and depression, Susie frequents the seedy, drug-fueled bars of the city, where she hears rumors of The Dark Manual, a set of guidelines that allow you to reprogram your robot for nefarious purposes. In the hopes of finding a way to turn off Sunny for good, Susie begins to search for the manual, only to learn it’s too late: the machines are becoming more sentient and dangerous. Thrust into the center of a dark, corporate war, Susie realizes there’s someone behind the code, pulling the strings. And they want her dead.

With a darkly humorous yet propulsive and lyrical voice, O’Sullivan presents us with an unsettling look at a future that feels all too real. Gripping and thought-provoking, Sunny is a haunting character study of an anxious woman teetering in an anxious time. 

Sunny by Colin O'Sullivan was published on 7 December 2023 by Mariner Books / Harper360UK. I am delighted to share an extract from the book with you today as part of this #RandomThingsTours Blog Tour.

Extract from Sunny by Colin O'Sullivan

Two red orbs from the black. Sometimes this is all you get. At night, if all the lights are off, this is all you get, glaring back: two red orbs from deep black. 

These are its eyes. Scarlet, but bloodless. It makes them strange. Eyes with no blood, no whites, are strange. No irises, no change, strange. 

And they do not blink. Homebots have no need to blink. Specks of dust in their eyes won't bother them. No sties. And they do not cry. There are no tear ducts, and anyway, what would they have to cry about?

At night. Lights off. Two red orbs from the black. 

Robots have yet to become sentient beings, though they may be on their way. Susie Sakamoto doesn't think too much about this. Instead what she thinks about is her husband and son, who are most probably dead, and these days she wants to be quite dead herself.  She spends most evenings balled-up on the couch, dishevelled, angry, hurting, hungry without really ever wanting to eat, pondering the best way to go about putting an end to it all. A final solution. Is there? Is there really any way out of this?

The silver, one-metre-tall homebot (Model SH.XL8) is hoovering the living room floor, sucking up dust through the soles of its feet, almost silently, hovering like it is weightless, like it has no body at all and is not a compact, complex mass of wires and circuits encased in plastics, chrome, metals, whatever the hard actual stuff of it is called - Susie does not know the names of such materials, nor does she particularly care; she has enough to be dealing with.

The dirt gets collected in filters in its lower section and gets compressed, and those filters can be later removed, emptied out into the rubbish bin by the 'bot itself. That's right. It is able to remove its own filters. It knows what to do. It can clean itself without any apparent fuss. It can go about its business without any discernible hitch. All menial tasks are done in this way. Fuss-less. Homebots have become rather adept. 

Colin O'Sullivan was born in Killarney, Ireland, in 1974. He is the author of Killarney
Blues, Winner of the Prix Mystère de la critique, a prestigious crime fiction award in France.
His other works of fiction include The Starved Lover Sings, which was published in Russian to great acclaim (under the title "Black Sakura").
His third novel The Dark Manual is to be made into a TV series called "Sunny" by Apple TV.
In 2019 Betimes Books continued his run of provocative novels with the much-lauded 1980s-set novel, My Perfect Cousin.

In 2020 he gave us Marshmallows, a tense noirish tale of crime and revenge set at Christmastime which focuses on the world of the theatre.
And his latest offering is The True Story of Binderella and Other Secret Siblings. A funny take on fairytales for discerning readers of all ages! Available now in both paperback and Kindle formats.

Colin lives and works in Aomori, north Japan.

Thursday 14 December 2023

Calico by Lee Goldberg #Calico @LeeGoldberg @severnhouse @angelaontour #BookReview


There's a saying in Barstow, California, a decaying city in the scorching Mojave desert . . .

The Interstate here only goes in one direction: Away.

But it's the only place where ex-LAPD detective Beth McDade, after a staggering fall from grace, could get another badge . . . and a shot at redemption.

Over a century ago, and just a few miles further into the bleak landscape, a desperate stranger ended up in Calico, a struggling mining town, also hoping for a second chance.

His fate, all those years ago, and hers today are linked when Beth investigates an old skeleton dug up in a shallow, sandy grave . . . and also tries to identity a vagrant run-over by a distracted motorhome driver during a lightning storm.

Every disturbing clue she finds, every shocking discovery she makes, force Beth to confront her own troubled past . . . and a past that's not her own . . . until it all smashes together in a revelation that could change the world.

Calico by Lee Goldberg was published on 7 November 2023 in hardback, by Severn House. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review. 

Oh. My. Goodness! I have never read this author before, and when I looked him up on Fantastic Fiction, I found that he has a HUGE back catalogue. Lots of series and some stand alone novels. So, not really knowing what I was going to get, I went straight in, and my head hardly left the pages for days afterwards.

This is what is described by Harlan Coben on the cover quote as 'genre-bending', and I think that's the perfect description. The reader starts out with a police procedural story set in the Mojave desert in February 2019. It's a strange case for Beth McDade; an ex LAPD detective whose past behaviours have found her working in the ex-mining town of Calico. A man is killed in an accident with a motor home, yet despite the fact that this is a very small town, where everyone knows everyone else, nobody can identify the victim. Things get stranger when his body and clothes are examined. His jeans and boots date back over 100 years, he is filthy, with bad teeth and an array of diseases that haven't been seen for many years.  Beth is really going to be put to the test with this one. And then, a well known YouTube chef goes missing, and then, an old coffin is discovered when a nearby site is being prepared for development. A very old coffin, containing very old bones ... but with the remains of dental implants still in the jaw bone. It just gets stranger and stranger. 

The reader then finds themselves in Calico in the 1880s; the town is fairly new, with just one street, a couple of places to eat, a store and lots and lots of men looking to find their fortune. How do we arrive there? That's for you to find out, and not for me to disclose. I can say, however, that it's extremely clever, if a little 'out there', but I was gripped. Totally and utterly hooked and totally invested in the characters. 

What I loved most was the author's description of this nineteenth century working town. We've all seen the old Western movies, with small towns, dust and working girls. What I've never really thought about before was how terrible those places must have been and the character who suddenly finds themselves there is appalled by the stench, and the dirt and the total lack of hygiene. There's no spare water, there's no sewage system. People don't wash, or clean their teeth. Their waste is disposed in an open gully on the main street. I really was transported to a land of utter filth. 

The story flicks back and forth, we follow Beth as she carries on investigating the modern day mysteries, often bending the rules and more than once, putting herself into danger. We see our 1880s characters develop and grow, we watch them create a life for themselves in what is really an alien place to them, but also use their knowledge of future events wisely.

The pace really quickens towards the end of the story, involving secret Government projects and official people who are determined to silence Beth. It's action packed for sure. A totally gripping and enjoyable read ..... oh, and the ending reveal made me gasp out loud. Highly recommended. 

Lee Goldberg is a two-time Edgar Award and two-time Shamus Award nominee and the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty novels, including Lost Hills, the Ian Ludlow trilogy, fifteen Monk mysteries, and five internationally bestselling Fox & O'Hare books co-written with Janet Evanovich. He has also written and/or produced many TV shows, including Diagnosis Murder, SeaQuest, and Monk, and is the co-creator of the hit Hallmark movie series Mystery 101.

As an international television consultant, he has advised networks and studios in Canada, France, Germany, Spain, China, Sweden, and the Netherlands on the creation, writing, and production of episodic television series. He is also co-founder of the publishing company Brash Books.

X / Twitter @LeeGoldberg

Tuesday 12 December 2023

Dead Sweet by Katrín Júlísdóttir BLOG TOUR #DeadSweet @katrinjul @OrendaBooks #Iceland #BookReview


A murder is just the beginning…

When Óttar Karlsson, a wealthy and respected government official and businessman, is found murdered, after failing to turn up at his own surprise birthday party, the police are at a loss. It isn't until young police officer Sigurdís finds a well-hidden safe in his impersonal luxury apartment that clues start emerging.

As Óttar's shady business dealings become clear, a second, unexpected line of enquiry emerges, when Sigurdís finds a US phone number in the safe, along with papers showing regular money transfers to an American account. Following the trail to Minnesota, trauma rooted in Sigurdís's own childhood threatens to resurface and the investigation strikes chillingly close to home…

Atmospheric, deeply unsettling and full of breakneck twists and turns, Dead Sweet is a startling debut thriller that uncovers a terrifying world of financial crime, sinister cults and disturbing secret lives, and kicks off an addictive, mind-blowing new series.

Dead Sweet by Katrín Júlíusdóttir was published on 7 December 2023 by Orenda Books and is translated by Quentin Bates. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review as part of this Blog Tour. 

Debut Novel ✔
Female Author ✔
Crime Fiction ✔
New Series ✔
Icelandic Setting ✔
Orenda Books ✔

Dead Sweet by Katrín Júlísdóttir ticks all of my book-boxes. The start of a new crime series, set in Iceland, by a female debut author, and published by Orenda Books. Absolute perfection!

Óttar Karlsson is found dead, on a beach, not long after he failed to turn up for his 50th birthday party. Karlsson is a well known figure in Iceland, loved by the people for his investigations into the corrupt financial institutions that almost brought the country down. His death comes as a huge shock as it is clear that this is a murder case. Young police officer Sigurdís has recently returned to work after a short suspension from duty. Assaulting a member of the public is not a good move for a police officer, and Sigurdís is determined to make her boss Garðar realise just how committed she is. 

Garðar's seniority and his attempts to restrict Sigurdís to desk duties, she proves that she has that special something; the ability to spot things that other officers may miss, and it is her discovery in Óttar's bathroom that turns this investigation around. 

This is a tense and multi-layered crime thriller that incorporates politics and finance, as well as introducing the reader to a perfectly created cast of characters, headed up by the enigmatic Sigurdís. Whilst she may be a fairly junior member of the police team, she's certainly the leader of this story. 

There are some dark and troubling incidents within the story, the reader is more aware of Óttar's true nature than any of the police officers, or his colleagues and adoring public and the narrative takes a turn to the even darker side as we learn about his younger years spent in America.  Interwoven throughout the text, we are given short passages told by an unknown narrator, this adds a sense of unease and tension that builds slowly throughout. The story is ably translated by Quentin Bates, I'm a huge fan of his translation work. 

The murder case is intriguing, with so many possible suspects, it is so well detailed and intricately balanced. I especially enjoyed getting to know the characters; learning more about Sigurdís and what makes her the woman that she is. Watching her growing relationship with colleague Unnar, and discovering just why Garðar invest so much into his mentorship of her. 

Whilst this is, in no doubt, a crime fiction story, it also incorporates so much more. The author's cleverly woven back stories for her main characters enable the reader to realise that early years can affect our adult life. Not everyone who experiences trauma will react in the same way, and Óttar and Sigurdís certainly have chosen different paths in life. 

One of the most outstanding features of the novel is the impact of action on others. It is not just the victim of a crime who is affected by it, the victim's family, and indeed, the criminal's family and close friends' lives can change so much when visited by trauma. This is a novel of many layers and each one is a delicious as the last. 

Sigurdís is a very welcome new character to the Iceland Noir scene, I'm looking forward to her next case. Highly recommended. 

Katrín received the Blackbird Award, an Icelandic crime-writing prize, for her first novel, Dead Sweet in 2020. 
Her debut novel was reviewed well by critics and hit the best-seller lists in the first weeks after publication. 
Katrín has a political background and was a member of Parliament from 2003 until 2016. 
Before she was elected to Parliament, Katrín was an advisor and project manager at a tech company and a senior buyer and CEO in the retail sector, as well as the Managing Director of a student union during her uni years. 
She worked from a young age in the fishing industry, as a store clerk and took night time shifts at a pizza place. 
She studied Anthropology and has an MBA from Reykjavík University. 
She was raised in Kópavogur, about 15 minutes' drive from downtown Reykjavík. 
She now lives in the neighbouring town of Garðabær with her family. 
She is married to author Bjarni M. Bjarnason, who encouraged her to start writing. 
They have four boys.

Quentin Bates escaped English suburbia as a teenager, jumping at the chance of a gap year working in Iceland. 
For a variety of reasons, the gap year stretched to become a gap decade, during which time he went native in the north of Iceland, acquiring a new language a new profession as a seaman and a family, before decamping en masse for England. He worked as a truck driver, teacher, netmaker and trawlerman at various times before falling into journalism, largely by accident. 
He is the author of a series of crime novels set in present-day Iceland (Frozen Out, Cold Steal, Chilled to the Bone, Winterlude, Cold Comfort and Thin Ice which have been published worldwide. 
He has translated all of Ragnar Jónasson’s Dark Iceland series.