Posted in Personal Purchase

Throwback Thursday! The Crimson Petal and The White by Michael Faber.

Today is my first Throwback Thursday post where I tell you about a book that’s already in my collection. It can’t always be about brand new books. Especially at a time when people are struggling financially. All of my Thursday books should be available in your local library or might be found in a second hand book or charity shop. Hope you discover something new, but old at the same time 😊😊

Publisher: Canongate Books, 2014 – Paperback Edition

ISBN: 978-1782114413

Watch your step. Keep your wits about you; you will need them. This city I am bringing you to is vast and intricate, and you have not been here before. You may imagine, from other stories you’ve read, that you know it well, but those stories flattered you, welcoming you as a friend, treating you as if you belonged. The truth is that you are an alien from another time and place altogether.

This is a new feature for 2021 where I look back at a book that I’ve already read, possibly years ago, and bring it to reader’s attention. I was more than a little daunted by this brick of a novel by Michael Faber, but such is his incredible characterisation and ability to wrong foot you at every turn, that you’re left wishing you could stay in his world a little longer. This incredible work is the novel Dickens could gave written had not been constrained by the conventions and sensibilities of his age. In fact, this novel portrays a Victorian London slightly after Dickens time, where omnibuses take middle-class ladies to shop for fripperies, such as the soaps our hero William Rackham makes in the family factory. However, despite the period, it is not Rackham who occupies us or draws our attention. It’s the women in this novel who really hold the power. From poor Agnes, the long suffering wife of Rackham diagnosed with hysteria and confined to bed, to the alluring Sugar, a prostitute with a strange skin condition. I think it is Sugar who draws us into this tale, in much the same way she draws a man, the narrator beguilingly addresses us directly – perhaps in a parody of Jane Eyre’s ‘Reader I married him’. She makes it very clear that we may think we know London, we’ve read about it from other authors after all, but what she’s showing us is a London that was always there, but hidden from our eyes.

Sugar is just 19 years old, put on the game at a tender age, she is pale, and not even a beauty really. However, she has a reputation of mythic proportions, praised highly in More Sprees – the catalogue of London whores for those who are keen customers of brothels. Whilst the oft quoted estimate of a police magistrate was 50,000 prostitutes working in London in 1791, it’s likely this figure included unmarried women living with a partner, which was quite common in the working class communities. The British Library suggests a more accurate figure of 20,000, so for Sugar to be one of the best and even well-known is quite an achievement. Her entry in the book suggests that are acts she will perform that others don’t. William Rackham searches her out along with two friends who have the guide, although William seems more interested in drinking. Disillusioned with his job and married life, William has always wanted to be a writer, scribbling away at his desk in the big house, but has never finished anything publishable so his father drafts him in to to run the family business Rackham’s Soaps. His wife, Agnes, is rapidly turning into an invalid – spending much of her time in bed and only visited by the family doctor, convinced that the rest cure and his ‘treatments’ to correct potential hysteria will help. She doesn’t even remember she has a child.

When William does find Sugar, he is enamoured of her paleness, her compliance, and her keen brain. She is like no woman he’s ever met. He can talk about his business and she understands; perhaps the only woman who has truly understood him. However, there is one fly in the ointment. Agnes is still largely in bed, often distressed and resistant to the doctor’s visits, and unaware she is a mother. Their daughter needs to be kept quiet so that she doesn’t disturb her mother or William when he is working. As time goes on and keeping Sugar starts to become expensive, he has an idea. What if he were to move Sugar into the house as his daughter’s governess? There would be an answer to the problems posed by his child, and there would be no barrier to he and Sugar being together – even if he only has a short amount of time to spare. Anyone can see this is a disastrous idea, but ideas have never been William’s strong point. What will happen when every aspect of his life is under one roof?

These characters are so well drawn and our setting so painstakingly rendered with incredible detail, every time you pick up the novel it feels like you are there – with every smell and ribald comment of Sugar’s world. The lynch pin of the novel are the two women; Sugar and Agnes. With the two under one roof, William has the ideal situation for a man with a Madonna/Whore complex – one class of women for marrying and another for sex. Sugar has every sympathy for Agnes and soon has a shrewd idea of what is going on in this outwardly respectable home. Agnes is entirely an innocent, so much so she believes that demons ‘bleed’ her monthly. When she is subjected to sexual assault in the guise of examination by the doctor, Agnes is simply dosed with laudanum to keep her quiet. Every so often, even William visits his wife bed, taking what he can even when his wife is so drugged she can’t possibly consent or participate. For a young woman like Sugar who is used to women of bawdy conversation, who douche with vinegar next to each other and understand the mechanics of sex, Agnes is a complete innocent. In fact when she does see Sugar she thinks she is her Guardian Angel, something that Sugar is happy to cultivate. As William’s interest in Sugar wanes, she becomes furious and plots how she can help Agnes and Sophie. I also love that although William considers himself the literary figure, both women are writing daily. Sugar writes an erotic and bloody revenge novel on the men who have used and abused her. Meanwhile, Agnes keeps a daily diary, explaining what is happening to her and descending further into her ideas of angels and demons. Both women have a strength that William can only dream of.

I won’t ruin the end, because I recommend that you read it, especially those of you who love historical fiction. It’s really a race to find out whether our women will come out on top and how. If you’re used to historical fiction, you might expect things to be tied up neatly with a bow, but since this is a postmodern novel you won’t get that. In fact we !leave these people as abruptly as we came in with our all seeing narrator:

An abrupt parting I know but that’s the way it always is isn’t it?’

BBC Series The Crimson Petal and The White

The BBC series The Crimson Petal and the White was just as intriguing as the book and with an excellent cast. Romola Garai played Sugar, Gillian Anderson played her brothel madam and mother, and Chris O’Dowd took on his first drama role as William Rackham. The settings were authentic,the language of Sugar’s world and the lack of modesty in it’s women incredibly authentic. The series stayed very true to the book, was beautiful in terms of costume and sets, and even brought interest to lesser characters in the novel. Aside from the excellent main characters, Shirley Henderson memorably portrayed the religious reformer of prostitutes, Emmeline Fox. I always remember her tiny, hoarse voice and difficulties breathing which were a huge contrast to the conviction and fire within her. This was an excellent series, well worth searching out on DVD.

Posted in Netgalley, Random Things Tours

The Art of Dying by Ambrose Parry.

Today, I’m happy to be on the closing day of this blog tour for The Art of Dying. This interesting mix of murder mystery, historical/ medical drama and romance, creeps up on you slowly, until you’re determined to keep reading and see whether a killer is stalking the sick of Edinburgh. In fact at what point I couldn’t decide what I wanted to know more: would the killer face justice, would Raven reconcile with the woman he loved, who was stealing money from the surgery, would Sarah live and what the hell was Quinton up to? It’s hard to sleep with all that going round in your brain! I hadn’t read the first novel featuring Dr. Wilberforce Raven, but it was easy to catch up with this instalment set in Edinburgh in 1849. We really do hit the ground running as Raven is attacked in an alley way in Prague. In the dark and confusion one of the attackers draws a gun, Raven draws his knife and a shot rings out ricocheting off the narrow brick walls. Raven slashes his knife in the air from left to right. He thinks he made contact with an attackers throat, but he doesn’t know if he struck a fatal blow and doesn’t know who is shot.

This chaotic existence seems to be the way Raven lives, but will it follow him back to the streets of Edinburgh. He’s been offered a place under the prestigious obstetrician Dr. Simpson, who he trained under at medical school. He’s looking forward to being back in Edinburgh and in the hospitable, but slightly chaotic, family household. He’s also looking forward to getting away from the guilt that he may well have killed a man in Prague. The only downside involves women. He will be leaving Gabrielle behind – the woman he’s been seeing in Prague – but they’ve both known it was a short term relationship. More pressing than that, he’s wondering whether Sarah is still part of Dr. Simpson’s household. Sarah was originally the Simpson’s housemaid, but did assist the doctor in clinic at times. Raven was attracted to her intelligence and determination. They seemed drawn together by an invisible bond and the closer he gets to his old city, he can feel that bond tugging again. They way they’d been in the past, Sarah might have confidently expected a proposal and had it just been about love, Raven would have had no qualms. However, as a young doctor starting out in a profession where reputation is everything, could he risk marrying a house maid? What would Edinburgh society think and would he be risking his career?

I can’t say I warmed to Raven as a character. I found him arrogant and apt to jump to conclusions, especially where it would benefit him. More importantly, I found him cowardly. Especially in his dealings with Sarah. I had such a moment of satisfaction when he enquired after Sarah when arriving, using her maiden name. When the new house maid explains she is now Mrs Sarah Banks, I actually smiled. To find out that her new husband, Archie Banks, is also a doctor and has a comfortable lifestyle, is a huge life lesson for Raven. Here was a man with strength of his convictions. He had loved Sarah and married her, with no regard to his position or social standing. Of course, we find out later on, that Archie has a reason for not caring about such things but he’s still a man of honour. Sarah is an intelligent, but also perceptive woman, and this is her advantage as she and Raven come together to restore Dr Simpson’s reputation. During a difficult delivery, Simpson is rumoured to have missed a haemorrhage and the dead woman’s mattress was said to be so soaked with blood it had to be disposed of. Simpson expressly asks Raven not to look into the matter and certainly not to bother the grieving widower in his defence. Raven even has the odd worry about Simpson himself, especially his potential overuse of chloroform – Raven is served a drink laced with it on his first evening. Sarah, however, feels that Simpson is a good doctor and that there is something else underlying this need to discredit him.

This is not the only investigation going on in the household. A new employee, Mr. Quinton, is there to look after the admin and keep the books for the practice. Unofficially, he is trying to find the culprit for money going missing in the house. He wants to book drugs in and out too, and research patterns in the practice’s spending. There’s something about his persnickety nature and constant presence that’s very off putting. He doesn’t work in harmony with the house, but rather against it. He isn’t at the Uriah Heap level of obsequiousness, but that’s who I kept thinking of when he came into the story. I liked how the author brought in all these levels of surveillance. Quinton watches the household and practice, but he’s been under the steely eye of the butler since he arrived. Sarah is watching both Dr. Simpson, but also stumbles into another investigation while trying to clear his name. Raven is being watched, but is also watching others with Sarah. Their focus is split though: Sarah thinks Simpson’s name can be cleared and as the deaths pile up, the same name keeps cropping up, a nurse called Mary who has cared for people who seem to have lost their lives in suspicious circumstances. A sudden illness that involves seizures, unconsciousness, fatigue and weakness appears out of the blue, killing people in a matter of hours. Could this Angel of Mercy be an Angel of Death? Or could there be a rare new disease for Raven to discover? He daydreams about the acclaim it could bring if he has uncovered an unidentified disease. With the title Raven’s Malady running through his head, the two are on the look out for different things, but who will be proved right? More importantly will the investigators themselves be safe, as they trail all over Edinburgh to find answers?

If we add to this: a moneylender with a giant as his right hand man and some unexpected debtors on his books; a pregnancy; a bereavement; and a breakneck race to save someone’s life. The book is definitely jam packed with incident and tension, whether that be the tension of the race to find our culprit or the more ‘slow burn’ tension between Raven and Sarah. Our writers leave us with enough answers to feel satisfied and enough cliffhangers to look forward to the next book. This isn’t an easy balance to strike and I felt it was well – judged here. I was intrigued by the period detail when it came to surgery and obstetrics. I found myself won over by most of the characters. Sarah leapt off the page and when I read Mary’s chapters I was drawn into her upbringing and the terrible effect this had on her psychologically. This is a series I will look forward to revisiting and maybe even Raven might win me over next time.

Meet The Authors

This book is the second in the series featuring Dr Raven. This one is published by Canongate (Blackthorn) and will be available on March 2nd 2021. Ambrose Parry is a pseudonym for a collaboration between Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman. The couple are married and live in Glasgow.

Chris Brookmyre is the international bestselling and multi-award-winning author of over twenty novels, including Black Widow, winner of both the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year and the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year.

Dr Marisa Haetzman is a consultant anaesthetist of twenty years’ experience, whose research for her Master’s Degree in the History of Medicine uncovered the material upon which The Way of All Flesh was based.

Posted in Uncategorized

Life in Pieces by Dawn O’Porter

Over New Year I gave myself a short break from fiction because my concentration was poor and I couldn’t take in long, involved storytelling. This was due to a combination of events: I was affected by a mistake with my prescription medication; I was getting ready for Christmas with plans constantly changing; I had two chatty and excited stepdaughters in the house; we’d cancelled our wedding; and we’re mid – moving house. There were days that felt like nothing went right and I simply had no room in my brain or energy in my body. It felt like the ‘perfect storm’ of circumstances. This is the position that writer and broadcaster Dawn O’Porter found herself in last spring – only on a much more devastating scale. Just before the country went into lockdown Dawn received the news that her best friend, the super-talented and funny Caroline Flack, had taken her own life. She received this news out in LA where she now lives with her husband Chris O’Dowd and their two small boys. Shortly afterwards LA went into lockdown, followed by riots protesting the killing of George Floyd. Through all of this she was finding it difficult to write and like many of us decided to write a small blog each week – in Dawn’s case for Patreon subscribers. This book is the result of those blogs.

I love books like this, because they give me short sections to read that don’t require a lot of brain power. Reading like a diary, Dawn goes through the mundane, funny and terribly painful aspects of each day. Determined to keep her grief from her children, and unable to travel until the funeral date was definite, meant having to find ways of coping. Of crying in private, but being able to be mummy at a moment’s notice. She withdrew from social media and, once the funeral had taken place, the home became her whole world. It wasn’t that she could put the loss to one side, she felt Caroline in her head every moment every day. Having been very critical of celebrities who shared Caroline’s last messages after her death, the author manages to tread a fine line by joyfully reminiscing about her friend while not talking about her death and the circumstances surrounding it. This is not a book about Caroline, it is very firmly a book about Dawn and her own experience of the past year. It isn’t just about grief either, it’s about suddenly being a full-time Mum while trying to find space to create, how it feels to be British living in LA, and the huge social upheaval on their doorstep during the riots. Each section is the equivalent of a Polaroid snapshot of this extraordinary time.

Dawn has a such a definite and accessible narrative voice – she is brutally honest about her experiences whether they be physical or whether she’s relaying her complex interior monologue. I had the feeling nothing was censored and I could identify with those chaotic ‘family in lockdown’ moments even if the children in my house are more teenage than toddler. Those dilemmas of whether we bother to dress and groom or not, do we keep a set routine or do as we please, keeping up with exercise and eating well or just eating like it’s Christmas. Sadly, I think I largely failed in these challenges! I understood Dawn’s sense of only dealing with what’s in front of us – even if what’s in front of us is a shitstorm of tearful children, shitting animals, followed by puking animals and the inability to find a food delivery slot anywhere! These are common to everyone’s experience of the year. We’ve spent time with the same people every day, potentially doing the same things over and over. This heightens everything – tensions, emotions, worries. If we’re struggling with difficult emotions it forces us to face them, there’s no escape.

Between stories of disasters with the boys, food adventures and concerns about lockdown drinking, come global concerns. Dawn talks about her wardrobe and since we share a love of vintage this is something I really enjoyed, but it was interesting to think about in terms of the environmental impact of fashion – something I’ve been concerned about for a few years now. Her exploration of the riots in her neighbourhood stood out particularly to me. Again, her worries are at family level. Rioters are directly outside their home, the bins are set alight and she talks of keeping an emergency bag in case they have to leave in a hurry. Yet she is hugely sympathetic to the cause, profoundly moved by the terrible footage of a man begging for his life, and both she and Chris join the protests where they can. She writes eloquently about our white privilege, and how her black friends keep her on track when she’s not understanding something – if more of us admitted not knowing, a better dialogue would emerge. I went from laughing about a household mishap to grab a pen and note down some reading she recommended about white fragility. I think this is what I enjoy most about being in Dawn’s company – there’s room for silliness, raw honesty and emotion, then profound reflections on the bigger problems our society faces. It’s like a long evening with your best friends. My favourite anecdote involved a very famous red haired actress and our British humour about ‘gingers’ really not translating! This was a great read and I was sorry when it ended.

Meet The Author

DAWN O’PORTER lives in Los Angeles with her husband Chris, her two boys Art and Valentine, and her cat Lilu and dog Potato.

Dawn started out in TV production but quickly landed in front of the camera, making numerous documentaries that included immersive investigations of Polygamy, Size Zero, Childbirth, Free Love, Breast Cancer and the movie Dirty Dancing. Further TV work included This Old Thing, a prime-time Channel 4 show celebrating the wonders of vintage clothing. 

Dawn’s journalism has appeared in multiple publications and she was the monthly columnist for Glamour magazine. She is now a full-time writer of six books – although she would probably have written sixteen if it weren’t for her addiction to Instagram Stories. 

Most recently, Dawn has written the script for Especially for You, a jukebox musical using the infamous Stock Aitken and Waterman back catalogue. The show will open with a national tour in early 2020.

Posted in Random Things Tours

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins

Publication: St.Martins Press (5th Jan 2021) ISBN: 1250245494

Jane Eyre is my favourite classic novel, and coming very close is Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier – a retelling of the Jane Eyre themes relocated to Monte Carlo and large stately home in Cornwall in the 1930s. Over the years I’ve seen plays and ballets of the book, the inevitable film and tv adaptations ( Michael Fassbender as Mr Rochester – be still my beating heart). I love Jean Rhys’s novel Wide Sargasso Sea which is written as a prequel to Jane Eyre, telling the story of Rochester and Antoinette ‘Bertha’ Mason and their whirlwind marriage in the West Indies. The book has something new to say to every generation it seems and it is remarkable successful in most incarnations. So I jumped at the chance to read Rachel Hawkin’s novel The Wife Upstairs, where the author relocates Jane to the southern states of America and updates it to the present day. It’s clear that the author loves the original novel and knows it well. Here she has created an ambitious retelling which is Jane Eyre as a compelling murder-mystery, via ‘The Real Housewives of Alabama’.

Jane lives in the bad end of a Southern town, with slimy landlord John who despite being youth worker at his local church, isn’t above spying, leering and even a touch of blackmail. Jane’s background is chequered, but we know she aged out of the care system and has been going it alone with no family since. She ended up lodging with John out of desperation when she finds herself with nowhere to go. She creates a job walking the dogs of the wealthy residents of nearby Thornfield Estates – a gated community where the wives are far too busy with their beauty regimen, lunches and charity work to walk their own dogs. Jane envies their well-kept hair, their nails, their stunning homes and enviable lifestyles. What would she look like, if she had nothing to do all day but go the gym and spa?

It’s on one of her dog walks that she meets the widowed Mr Rochester. He is a self- made millionaire, with his own building contracting business, but it is his wife’s money that has really helped him climb to the status of his neighbours. Bea Rochester, was the creator and director of interiors catalogue business Southern Manors – a play on the famed hospitality and etiquette of the Southern states. Bea died just over a year ago in a boating accident with her best friend Blanche. Her way with interiors can be seen in the marital home, but also in most fashionable homes on the estate. Jane is surprised at how well she and Ed get along, and when he buys his own setter puppy for her to walk she takes it as a sign he wants her around. Very quickly, their easy chit chats over coffee become more. Jane describes herself as normal and ordinary, even plain, whereas Bea was a beauty – why would he want to go out with her? They keep their fledgling romance a secret and for a while Jane enjoys listening to the neighbourhood women wondering if Ed is dating, and who the mystery woman is. Just occasionally though, she gets the odd hint that everything wasn’t what it seemed with Bea and her friend Blanche who died with her. Together since college, to hear most of the women talk the two were like two happy peas in a pod. It’s only Eddie, and sometimes Blanche’s husband (drowning himself in drink) that hint otherwise – one suggestion being that Bea owes all she knows to Blanche and that a rivalry existed between them.

Rachel Hawkins

As Jane and Ed’s relationship becomes more serious and goes public, each one is keeping their own secrets. Jane doesn’t want Ed to know about where she’s lived with John so has left all her belongings behind. It turns out that John once shared a foster home with Jane and he knows a little more about her than she would like. Blanche’s husband Tripp seems devastated by his wife’s death, often disheveled and definitely drinking so much that Jane is on edge around him. Yet Ed doesn’t really talk about his late wife at all, and Jane can’t understand why. She’s seen pictures and they look like the perfect couple; Blanche was so beautiful and such a great businesswoman. I was starting to suspect that, just as her business was all about appearances, so was their marriage. Plus her body has never been found, Jane ponders over this and thinks that must surely disturb him? She sometimes has the crazy thought that Blanche isn’t really dead. When Ed secretly follows Jane back to her former flat and meets John, she is sure their relationship will be over. However, Ed seems unfazed by the grotty surroundings and knows just what to do to deal with John. It’s almost as if he’s more at home with Jane and the type of background she’s struggling to get away from. Maybe Jane is a better fit for for Ed, than his first wife was? Yet she doesn’t feel fully secure – even though she has access to the money, lives in the house and no longer walks dogs. Now the women who employed her to walk their dogs are having to get used to her in their social circle. They have been very gracious, but they do keep asking whether Ed will put a ring on it.

Further on, besides the main narrative where Ed does put a ring on it, we get a first person narrative from Bea with all the intricacies of her college life including meeting Blanche. This brought even more questions into my mind. If this was more of a ‘frenemy’ situation then is there more to their deaths than meets the eye? Bea reads like someone with a personality disorder, without a core sense of self and attaching herself to people she admires in order to emulate them. This reveal reminded me of Gone Girl, and from here the story really does twist and turn. The author plotted this well and really built the tension. It’s as if Jane has unknowingly stepped into a trap that is slowly and inexorably closing around her, until there’s no escape. The closer she gets to the truth of all the relationships here, the more danger she finds herself in. By this point I was constantly reading to see how this would end. Was Bea murdered and by whom? What was Blanche’s part in this tragedy? Will Ed’s secrets finally be revealed and what will he do to keep them hidden? This is a fast addictive read that will keep you guessing to the very end.

Posted in Random Things Tours

The Art of Creativity: Seven Powerful Habits to Unlock Your True Potential by Susie Pearl.

I was so excited to be offered a copy of this book to review because, when I’m not blogging, I’m a counsellor and writing therapist. Trying to unblock people’s potential is exactly what I do. I’m in the middle of an MA in Creative Writing and Well-being, so I’m also discovering the blocks to my own creativity too. I was looking forward to getting stuck into some of the exercises in Susie’s book and I was delighted to find they were more in depth and helpful than expected. They don’t just delve into the psyche, but give solid, practical advice too. This works like a one stop guide to taking risks, ignoring critics, releasing blocks and forming daily creative habits. It looks after the artist physically, mentally and even spiritually. I had expected a simple gift book, but it soon proved this was much more than that.

One exercise involved confronting fear and I decided to try this out because I have a lot of fears around the creative process – mainly lack of confidence in my writing ability, fear of revealing too much, offending someone or just embarrassing myself. Being an artist exposes us, not just to criticism, but to being really seen as we are – good and bad bits. It was interesting to write about things I fear – I have a terrible fear of clowns thanks to Stephen King – but in writing about it I realised it’s not the clown, but the disguise that’s the problem. Any sort of mask, face make-up or disguise had a similar effect. It’s a fear of people not being authentic, not showing me their true selves. So, the very thing I fear in other people, is what I fear in my writing. I had to ask if maybe I was the one wearing the disguise. I was then asked to use a journal to answer questions about the creative process and what scares me about it, and what my inner voice was like. I remembered trying a different handwriting when I was at primary school, only to have my work held up as an example of what not to do with our work. By trying something different I had ruined my work and needed to return to my usual writing. I remembered being so embarrassed. The same teacher used to make us do Mastermind every Friday morning where we would sit in a black chair at the front of the class and he would fire times tables sums at us on the clock. I used to dread Friday mornings and wanted to be ill so I didn’t have to take part. To move forward I need to work out my negative core beliefs about my creativity and then challenge them with positive affirmations.

Since encouraging people to journal is a major part of the work I do – in fact I’ve been teaching journaling and scrapbooking for mental health for eight years now – I was pleased to see it here as a cornerstone for creativity. I loved this explanation of why it works:

Allowing ideas and words to flow naturally from your brain to the page, without editing, helps the unconscious mind to swim to the surface and become seen and heard.’

It allows us to explore unfettered, not only the contents of our day and how we’re feeling, but in a creative context to explore what stops us creating. Surely if we can journal, we can write? The author suggests we use lists to determine what creative activity we want to do, list everything we think stops us from carrying this out, whether it’s an internal or external block. Then we can work out and suggest solutions for these blocks – I often find it helps to imagine to blocks and issues belong to someone else because that gives us the right mindset to solve them. If solving our own issues, we can have unconscious blocks that follow us even into our journal. In fact the author herself suggests it can help to imagine we are trying to help a friend rather than answering our own problems.

Scrapbooking on my authentic self

For me, the most useful section on a practical level is the section on mind maps. I am currently writing a series of pieces for my MA that explore my experiences nursing my late husband, but also the dynamics within his family and their flight from Poland during WW2. I hope that this will become a novel, because I have always wanted to be a writer. The author suggests a mind map and I use my scrapbook for these so I can use colour and collage and make it a piece of art in its own right. I want it to inspire me when I’m struggling, so aim to use family photos and pictures of the places I need to research or visit. She suggests using meditation for 15 minutes before starting, something I do in writing workshops because it stops chatter, calms the room and lets people focus on their own intentions. Usefully, she suggests key questions to ask yourself such as key themes, chapters and intention. However, she also suggests including questions about yourself such as – what are my unique credentials for writing this book? Why does it need to be written? What has inspired me to write this book? These are really positive questions because they get us to think positively about our skills and knowledge and can be used as encouragement when we’re feeling like we don’t have the skills, knowledge, or talent to do this! Something all writers feel at times.

At the back there’s a brilliant section on references and further reading that I know are really helpful because they’re all in my reference library at home. I think this is a really useful little book, great to fit in a bag to carry with you and will be useful for the future, not just as you work through it the first time. I’m looking forward to using it alongside my upcoming work, but also adding it to the libraries of other potential creators I know. It delivers much more than it promises as first glance. The most important concept it introduces is that of the ‘flow-state’ – ‘the mental state of being completely immersed in a task’. This stage isn’t just important for people creating a specific piece of work, because it links to that other buzz word for mental well-being- mindfulness. When we become so immersed in a task we lose track of time, we are practising mindfulness because we’re focused on only one thing at a time. We’re not checking the time, or social media and becoming distracted by everyday cares. We are simply being. This is something that everyone can benefit from.

Completed collages

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Posted in Personal Purchase

Throwback Thursday! A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale.

Patrick Gale is one of those novelists I have so much confidence in, that I’ll buy their latest book straight away. I don’t need a review or blurb to tell me how good it is, if it’s Patrick Gale I’m going to enjoy it. In all his work there is such a warmth and empathy for his fellow humans. There’s an emotional intelligence in his work that makes him stand out and it was so evident in this novel based in the Edwardian period. Harry Cane is an upstanding member of society, living in a beautiful home with his wife and child. Many would think he has it all and he’s certainly followed a conventional path. He’s a quiet and shy man, who loves his child, but he also has a secret. He’s having an affair. Someone though, knows about his habits and has been watching him. He is offered a choice by his brother-in-law. If he leaves the country, avoiding the shame this could bring on their family, and starts again somewhere else, his wife and child will never know. If he stays, the shameful truth will emerge. Harry has been having an affair with a man.

The novel follows Harry on his way to Canada where he secures a ‘claim’ in a place called Winter. On his journey there he meets a man, villainous yet strangely magnetic, who will prove important in this new life. Leading to acts of cruelty, but also leading to his eventual happiness within a very unconventional family. I found my heart was inextricably bound up with Harry from an early stage of the novel. His relationship with his wife wasn’t passionate, but it was loving. I wondered if he’d spoken to her sooner, explained his true feelings, she might have listened. He married his best friend’s sister, so when he is discovered and threatened by his brother-in- law, there is an anger about their lost friendship too. I was gutted by him losing his daughter more than anything. In Canada, life is bleak and hard. For a man who has never worked hard or excelled at anything I wondered if he would be able to succeed. The work is back breaking, but Harry finds reserves of strength he didn’t know he had. He can cope with adversity, loneliness, war and even the brink of madness. I loved the arc of his self-knowledge; he leaves England believing himself a monster, but finds that he’s willing to fight to be loved. He knows he deserves it.

The historical context and sense of place are beautifully observed. We even see how the Cree are affected by the pioneers and the development of open prairie into farms. The love story is touching and I was rooting for them to find a way to be together, however unconventional. Patrick Gale always writes from a place of empathy and compassion for his characters and this book is no exception. This is a geographical journey, but also one of self-discovery. The title refers directly to a place, but also to a place where we live in isolation, without that one person who can mitigate the harshness of life. I felt like I lived alongside Harry, for every part of his journey. At the end I felt sad, but also like I’d experienced something real. That Harry’s life was like all human lives a combination of happiness, contentment, cruelty and loss. The author has written a novel here, that captures what it means to be human.

Meet The Author

Patrick Gale was born on the Isle of Wight in 1962. He spent his infancy at Wandsworth Prison, which his father governed, then grew up in Winchester. He now lives on a farm near Land’s End. He’s a passionate gardener, cook, and cellist and chairs the North Cornwall Book Festival each October. His sixteen novels include the Costa-shortlisted A Place Called Winter, A Perfectly Good Man and Notes From an Exhibition – both of which were Richard and Judy Bookclub selections – The Whole Day Through and Rough Music. His latest, Take Nothing With You is a tale of teenage obsession, sexuality, betrayal and music-making. You can find out more on his website

Posted in Personal Purchase

My Ramblings on the Reading Year 2021

Hello Subscribers and Visitors. This is me. The person behind The Lotus Readers. This is last August, on the beach at Beadnell with my dog Rafferty, during a brief relaxation of lockdown rules. This first year of my blog has been a tough one and this space, where I write about books is an oasis from the worries and concerns of the world out there. I’m lucky that I’ve not been touched by COVID personally. I have barely left the house since this shot was taken and it was my first time outside home since February 2020. I have multiple sclerosis, but I was having recurring problems with my breathing prior to the virus. I was waiting for an asthma assessment, then lockdown happened and of course there are more urgent priorities. This has made me more careful than perhaps I would have been, about who comes in and out of my space. I’m also lucky to have my partner and stepdaughters here, but I do spend a lot of time alone. I can’t do my job as a counsellor for MS patients inside my home because I’m at risk and many clients are too vulnerable to come out anyway. I quietly set my work aside last summer, hoping I will be able to start up again in the future. So, now I study from home, and last year I decided to start talking about books again – something I’d started and failed to keep up a few years ago. I truly believe that this blog, you readers, as well as the wonderful people I meet on book Twitter and other social media, have kept me going mentally. It’s been a huge positive in my life. So, in this first week of a new year and only weeks until my first blog birthday, what do I feel about book blogging in 2021?

I’ve seen many pronouncements on book Twitter over the last few days, about how people want to approach their new reading year. There’s been a lot of re-evaluation over several months on how we live our lives in general and I guess that’s bound to filter through to how we read. The added push of New Year marketing towards change and resolutions also affects us. It seems a few people want to scale back their reading – perhaps turning it back into something they do purely for pleasure and at their own pace. Going hand in hand with this has been talk of giving up blog tours. I know I’m not the only reader who has overcommitted at times, or felt the strain of a deadline and a book we simply haven’t clicked with. I can understand this approach, and I think it’s a genuine response to the pandemic. As our day to day choices are reduced by the government, it can feel too much to be obligated to read. We want to have choice in our personal activities and it’s natural to want to sit back and read solely for pleasure, especially for those who are still battling on in full time work or child care. My illness means I’m not working and I’m lucky that my stepdaughters are brilliant with helping out around the home. My time does have limits – my eyesight can be affected, fatigue and pain can prevent me from being active – but I do have a lot of time to devote to my love of books.

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. If we think about it logically: the house is full of Christmas food and indulgent gifts; it’s usually cold and miserable outside; we’re all skint after Christmas shopping; we’re trudging back to work. It really is the most inhospitable environment for making changes, especially if those changes are to reduce, give up and take away things we enjoy. When we add a pandemic to the mix, it’s likely that we’re even more reliant on our indulgences just to get through – of course we know that drinking and eating have gone up since the first lockdown. The more natural times to start anew are spring and autumn. Spring aligns us with nature, everything is growing and bursting into life. We feel more optimistic as nights become lighter and we can be outdoors more. The other more obvious time is autumn and this is a learned feeling from our school days and the new academic year. Remember that first day back at school in new uniform, squeaky new shoes and looking forward to seeing friends again? Often adults still feel that tingle of excitement as days are crisper and signal the year is coming to an end. If you’re one of these people then this is a great time to make changes. My partner laughs because I’ve been really cranky towards companies telling me I’m obese exactly 24 hours after their advertising has been telling me to indulge!

My vices are books (and shoes) and I’ve spent a small fortune on mail orders to several different bookshops this year. It’s been those packages coming from time to time that have made my day. It’s been lovely to get unexpected ARCs or gifts from authors too, they lift me up. A great comment from an author or publisher on your review can mean everything on a day when you’ve seen no one, you’re still in yesterday’s pyjamas and you’re worried. I’m worried about my stepdaughter’s GCSE’s, my best friend having to shield again, being in the midst of buying and selling a house and my niece who’s having a baby amongst all of this. There are massive changes happening all around us and often it’s hard enough to take one day at a time and face what’s in front of me. I can’t make restrictive changes now and I’m not going to. Why restrain something that keeps me motivated and sane. Of course not all books on blog tours turn out to be my cup of tea, but I’m glad I stretch myself by reading them. Also, it helps out my bookish friends who are blog tour organisers. In turn some of the best books I read last year were on blog tours. I’m not going to restrict my amount of reading either; reading is my escape to different worlds, my travel, my meeting new people and my favourite way of passing time.

So what do I think about this new reading year? I’d like to remain part of a welcoming online community who’ve given me a home and help me with the technological stuff I’m not so good with. I think I could be better organised with a reading planner so that tours don’t spring up and surprise me. I’d like to add to my usual blogs with a ‘Throwback Thursday’ feature where I write about a book from my existing collection. Sometimes I can feel the pressure to get the latest ARC, and while that’s exciting, I’d like to focus once a week on the brilliant collection of books I have – maybe some that have passed others by. I’d also like to share my favourite writers with you in feature posts where I can explore and compare their work as well as looking at their life. Finally, I’d like to give back to all of you and my supportive fellow bloggers. So I’ll be hosting more book giveaways this year as I reach new milestones. As for my fellow bloggers, I want to make them feel their hard work is important. It’s all too easy to quickly like a post on Twitter or Instagram, and while likes are good, I have sometimes felt I’m writing into a void. Does anyone read this? Or the even less confident ‘ who would want to read this?’ We all have doubts about our blogging abilities so I’m going to make more effort to read my fellow bloggers work and leave more comments on the actual blog rather than on social media. It shows you’ve engaged with the piece of work someone has sweated over at 4am. It can spark conversation, but more importantly it lets the writer know you’re reading and enjoying what they have to say. So I look forward to spending 2021 with you all and wish you all a Happy Reading Year!

Posted in Random Things Tours

Winterkill by Ragnar Jonasson (Dark Iceland Book 6).

Publisher: Orenda Books (21 Jan. 2021)


When given the opportunity to read an Orenda book I rarely pass it up. My only misgiving with this one, was that it was the sixth in a series I didn’t know whether I’d ever be able to catch up and fully understand what was going on. Once I’d done my research and read a few reviews of the Dark Iceland series, I was in! Described as ‘creepy, chilling and perceptive’ by Ian Rankin and full of ‘poetic beauty’ by Peter James, this instalment comes highly recommended. The New York Times review blew me away and made this a must read.

Jónasson’s true gift is for describing the daunting beauty of the fierce setting, lashed by blinding snowstorms that smother the village in a thick, white darkness that is strangely comforting’ New York Times

That image of the setting grabbed me because I’ve lived in some isolated locations here in the U.K. and have written myself about that strange sense of safety a huge snow fall brings. All falls quiet and you are safe, sheltered and warm. The world becomes muffled as you are slowly cut off from civilisation, under a think blanket. I knew I would connect with the setting at least. Of course, I shouldn’t have worried, because this was a great read in its own right and I managed perfectly well without the reading the others first – obviously as soon as I finished this one I ordered them all since so I could have an Orenda Christmas!

The hero of the Dark Iceland series is Ari Thor Arason, the police inspector of a small town in Iceland called Siglufjörður. He is recently separated from his girlfriend, who now lives in Sweden with their three year old son. As Easter approaches Ari Thor is looking forward to spending some time with them both when they come to stay for the weekend. However his plans are thrown into disarray when the body of a young girl turns up to claim his attention. A nineteen year old girl appears to have jumped from the balcony of a building, but seems to have no connection to anyone who lives there. Why would she travel to this particular building to commit suicide? Ari can’t help wondering and his wondering leads him to dig a little deeper and find out whether she was pushed. His suspicions are aroused further when an old flame, now working in a local nursing home, gives him a call because she’s concerned about an elderly resident. She shows Ari the old man’s room, and he’s shocked to see the words ‘she was murdered’ written over and over again. As a huge storm heads towards Siglufjörður, Ari is left pondering whether these two events are connected and also whether he can salvage his family or even reconcile any sort of private life with his job.

Ari Thor isn’t an ‘action man’ type hero, he’s thoughtful, perceptive and investigates gently. The awkwardness of his Easter plans are really painful; he books his ex-partner and son in at the hotel, but is excited when they want to stay at the house. Ari misunderstands and thinks they might all stay together, but he ends up in the hotel. He feels excluded, but also awkward as other guests and staff know him well (this is a small remote town after all). He wonders what they will be thinking about their local detective. He knows that the job he loves has to command all his attention, when an important case comes in and so does his estranged partner. However, there is a large gap between knowing this and the reality of living it. Can he ever promise his family what they need? This conflict becomes ever clearer over the weekend when he is pulled from one place to another as new evidence comes to light.

I loved the atmosphere of this small town, where everyone knows each other. Yet there’s also the uneasy thought that many residents could be in this remote place to disappear and keep secrets. There’s so much going on under that polite layer of familiarity, even where Ari thinks he knows someone well. In one sense Siglufjörður has changed enormously, new road links have made it more accessible so even tourists have started to visit for ski-ing and to stay in new luxury holiday chalets. However, once the blizzard descends it becomes bleak, remote and strangely more beautiful. Ari’s investigation takes him into the even more rural area of Siglunes, where two men live in a small wood cabin inaccessible by road. I found Siglunes quite sinister, but Siglufjörður feels remote too and even claustrophobic as the weather pulls in. The author skilfully ratchets the tension up a notch, just at the same time as the community becomes more isolated. Yet we never feel rushed, Ari Thor does not panic or hurry the investigation- every move is well thought out and measured and he shows great compassion to the bereaved and those involved.

I thought it was so clever that, without knowing it at first, Ari is slowly uncovering more than one crime. We are forced to learn the lesson that people are not always what they seem, as the manager of the nursing home is called on for questioning. Ari Thor would say he knows him, likes him even and there has been no indication that he has been doing anything but noble, humanitarian work for the elderly of the town. However, just under the surface are financial worries, difficulties gaining government funding and enough residents to make the venture pay. If you’re looking for high octane action, or the endless twists and turns of a convoluted plot then this is the wrong book for you. The pace is gentle, the motive uncomplicated, and our detective is a contemplative sort rather than an action hero. What compels here (as it should) is the human tragedy – the loss of a girl on the brink of adult life and full of promise, for her family and the whole town. There is even an element of humanity and complex, conflicting, motives within our criminals too, when they are unmasked. This doesn’t take away from the chilling nature of their crimes though – in fact I find the thought that killers walk among us, with the same worries and preoccupations that we have, even more disturbing than some of the more obvious monsters we see in crime fiction. I would recommend this book and the whole series, as a fabulous introduction to Nordic Noir, and I could easily imagine sitting with my feet up, a glass of whiskey in hand, being compelled by these stories on BBC4. This book was beautifully written, has an evocative setting and a detective I truly enjoyed spending my Christmas with.

Meet The Author

Ragnar Jónasson was born in Reykjavík, Iceland, where he works as a writer and a lawyer and teaches copyright law at Reykjavík University. He has previously worked on radio and television, including as a TV news reporter for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service, and, from the age of seventeen, has translated fourteen of Agatha Christie’s novels. He is an international Number One bestseller

Posted in Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday! Blue Diary by Alice Hoffman.

When Ethan Ford fails to show up for work on a brilliant summer morning, none of his neighbors would guess that for more than thirteen years, he has been running from his past. His true nature has been locked away, as hidden as his real identity. But sometimes locks spring open, and the devastating truths of Ethan Ford’s history shatter the small-town peace of Monroe, affecting family and friends alike.

As regular readers know, Alice Hoffman is one of my favourite authors and while Blue Diary isn’t the first of her books I read, it’s definitely one of the best. Ethan and Jorie are one of those golden couples that probably annoy the hell out of everyone around them. They are a beautiful pair, with a lovely son, Collie. Jorie is the girl next door, the girl you’d ring if you needed advice or a shoulder to cry on, and the parent to ring if you need muffins baking for the school’s Christmas fair. Ethan is the neighbour you ring if you need help putting up a shelf, or if you wake up in the night and think someone is prowling in your garden. They are the cornerstone of this community.

Now, the police are at the door. Ethan Ford’s life as an irreproachable family man and heroic volunteer fireman has come to an end—and Jorie Ford’s life is coming apart. Some of the residents of Monroe are rallying behind Ethan. But others, including his wife and son, are wondering what remains true when so much is shown to be false—and how capable we really are of change.

Hoffman writes small towns and the dynamics of the people in them, so well. If Jorie and Ethan were in the Instagram age every photo would have #relationshipgoals in the replies underneath. Jorie’s world falls apart when Ethan is arrested and she is sure it must be a mistake. She knows this man, down to his bones. Surely she would know if he was hiding a dark secret? The novel invites us to ask the question: how well can we really know the person who’s head is on the pillow next to ours at night? Another thing that occurred to me as I was re-reading the novel, was how much the internet has changed our daily lives, into something we use like a daily diary. Originally published in 2001, when many people I knew didn’t have an internet connection in their home, my re-read of the book made me think about cancel culture and how much of people’s lives are now documented for all to see. Now, a long forgotten tasteless joke, inappropriate comment, or photographed drunken escapade, can be found years after the fact and be commented upon and criticised by millions. Applying the standards of today’s society, no matter how important and hard won they may be, to yesterday’s behaviour can be devastating for the individual involved. Even if their own views have now changed for the better, an individual can lose their livelihood, relationships, and potentially their whole life over one incident. It is an incredible power we hold in our hands when joining an internet ‘pile-on’.

Jorie only experiences this on a small town scale, but it’s effect is no less devastating. As it becomes known that Ethan has been arrested, to be interviewed on charges of the rape and murder of a young girl, neighbours and friends are shocked, but have to consider their response. Obviously the first question on everyone’s lips is whether Ethan is guilty or not, but beyond that: did Jorie know about this? Is she guilty by association? Is this his only crime? Can they still be friends with Jorie? Jorie has so many questions for Ethan, but other issues are swirling around in her mind. How will they cope financially? Will she lose her support network? Most importantly she wonders how to protect Collie from knowing about the accusations. This doesn’t just affect her and Ethan, this could blight Collie’s whole life too. With all this in mind, as well as needing to hear the truth, Jorie is wondering whether her marriage can survive this? Should it? When Ethan confesses to the crime, her world and her trust in her husband is shattered.

Ethan’s only defence is that he had no intention to rape or kill the young girl. His claim is that during consensual sex, he accidentally choked her and then decided to run, worrying that no one would believe his innocence. I wasn’t sure I did. He packed up and set up a new life for himself in Massachusetts where he met Jorie. Even if we believe his story, the injustice that he could choose to rebuild his life while his victim couldn’t really stayed with me. He had covered his tracks very well, until Collie’s 13 year old friend Kat, sees an e-fit of a suspect on television and rings the hotline to turn Ethan in. On one hand she feels it’s the right thing to do, but is sad about the effect this will have on Collie. I found it very surprising how many townsfolk were still willing to support and help Ethan, even after his confession. Jorie becomes more and more conflicted, then makes a decision to gain more information in an attempt to make peace with what has happened. She asks the victim’s brother if she can visit with him in Maryland. She needs to hear the context of the crime and the impact it had on the family involved.

There, Jorie gets a feel for the town and how this terrible act of violence was felt by all the residents. The victim’s name is Rachael and James takes Jorie up to Rachael’s room which has never been changed since her death. With Jorie the reader takes in the cuddly toys, the posters, and the framed photos of Rachael riding and with friends. This is a little girl’s room and when James talks about trying to scrub the bloodstain from the wall behind the bed, Ethan’s crime really comes home to the reader and to Jorie. The break also gives her some much needed breathing space, away from the pressure of the court case and the well-meaning supporters of Ethan, but also from Ethan himself. When she’s near him the love she has felt for him this past 13 years threatens to overwhelm her and the reality of Ethan’s crime. Here she has time to think clearly about what it is she has to forgive, before deciding whether she can. It isn’t just the crime itself, but the years of lies, as well as committing his life to her and starting a family knowing this was lurking in his past. He chose to have Collie with her, knowing that, if exposed, his crime would alter Collie’s life irreparably and leave him without a father. I found myself seeing a selfishness in these acts, but also in accepting help from the town seeking his acquittal and expecting Jorie to stand by him. Could the same selfishness, the wanting something and simply taking it, signal the real motive for his crime?

This is not a book about Ethan, nor is it a crime novel in the sense that we’re waiting for a murderer to be unmasked. This is more about the aftermath of violent crime for the family of the victim and the perpetrator. I think Hoffman does this very well. Her use of the victim’s diary as our way into her character is clever. We feel, alongside Jorie, for this sensitive girl falling in love for the first time. Her innocence in how she thinks of a relationship with Ethan is heartbreaking since we know the outcome. I loved the way Hoffman aligns her innocence with nature and gives us layers of description using flowers, trees, seasons and food to help us understand these characters and embed them within a place. We root for these people, drawn into a web of lies that is still being spun to protect Ethan. When we finally reach the section where the rape and murder takes place, it has a huge impact and made me cry on first reading, for all the victims of this crime. Ultimately, our ending hinges on Jorie’s ability to forgive and even if does, does forgiving mean we have to forget?

Meet The Author

Alice Hoffman is the author of thirty works of fiction, including Practical Magic, The Red Garden, The Dovekeepers and, most recently,The Museum of Extraordinary Things. She lives in Boston. Her latest novel The Book of Magic will be the fourth in the Practical Magic series abs will be released on 5th October 2021. Visit her website:

Posted in Netgalley

Beneath Cornish Skies by Kate Ryder.

Published: 7th Jan 2021 Aria and Aries ISBN: 978-1800245983

I felt like I’d stepped into a little oasis when I picked up this ARC. I had been reading a very bloody crime novel just before so this was like a balm for the soul! Cassandra appears to have everything she could want in life. She lives in an incredible refurbished farmhouse on the South Downs with attached stables. Her long term partner, David, is a successful businessman who just happens to be charming and good looking. They have money and she can spend her time schooling horses then dressing for dinner from her beautiful walk-in wardrobe. David calls her Sandie and they’ve been together over ten years – in fact ever since she was involved in a car crash that killed both of her parents. David was first on scene and helped her out of the wreckage. They’ve never been apart since. He was attentive in the days following the accident, there for her therapies and as she was wheeled out of the hospital it seemed only sensible to stay with him – there being nowhere else to go. So why is she feeling dissatisfied and as if she’s drifting?

He catalyst comes as she’s out riding one morning and stops for a breather in one of the top fields behind the house. As she looks down to the farmhouse she sees David, who is working from home, and their cleaner Melanie coming to sit outside with a cup of coffee. She wonders to herself about the last time David paused his day to have a moment with her. Then she sees Melanie rest her hand on his arm, in a familiar way and she starts to sense that there’s more going on she realised. The incident brings to the forefront of her mind many things about her life that she’s unhappy with. David is all about appearances, so the house must be kept tidy at all times. She’s almost trained to wash a cup or plate immediately after she’s used it. He likes to come in and find the house immaculate. He calls her Sandie or Sandra when her full name is Cassandra and he likes her to dress well especially if they’re going to a party or function for work. Even then she can’t let loose, no dancing or drinking excessively, nothing that might show him or the business in a bad light. Yet, that very evening at a barbecue, she sees him exiting a private bit of the house, again with Melanie in tow. When she finds an earring in their bedroom, she can’t ignore things any longer. It’s not just the obvious infidelity. She needs something different.

On impulse she picks up The Lady magazine, drawn in by the cover photo of a man walking from a tunnel of trees. The man is a writer, Hunter Harcourt, and his article about ancient byways and the magic they possess. Within the adverts though she finds an advert that catches her eye; a family in a Manor House in Cornwall need help with the stable yard and a growing family for six months. This might be just the breathing space she needs. With David seemingly unrepentant about his affair, Cassandra finally asks him the one thing she has always wanted to know – will he ever be willing to have the children she has always wanted? David is adamant, children are not in his future. So, early one morning Cass hitches the horse box to her Range Rover and takes a leap of faith. She drives to Cornwall, only stopping at Melanie’s home to return the earring. What she finds in Cornwall is space enough to think, but activity enough not to dwell on what has happened. She falls in with the Kinsman family and their gorgeous children very easily. The Manor House and grounds are beautiful and Caspian soon finds his feet with the other horses. Cass finds solace in the rugged Atlantic coastline and the time spent with the children. She is shocked when, on her day off, she is looking for something to fill the hours when she happens on a talk on local history by a local author, Hunter Harcourt, otherwise known as Luke. Their meeting begins a friendship that seems so natural, almost as if they’d met before.

There was so much to like about this book. I love Cornwall and I felt as though I was there, with the descriptions of the villages, the beaches and those ancient places that seem to hold magic. I loved watching Cass unfurl in her new environment as she fits in so beautifully with the Kinsman family, the landscape and the new friends she makes such as surfer Robin. This is about someone awakening and finding their authentic self, something she’s never been able to do before, having been so busy fitting around David’s standards and timetable. Cass went straight from her parent’s household to David’s with no gap between. This is the first time she has stood on her own two feet and her confidence grows. The relationship with Luke seems so predestined that it was a huge disappointment to find out he’s married to the feisty Amanda. We soon see the cracks in their marriage though, not just her infidelity, but their differing views on where to live seem insurmountable. The natural way Luke and Cass seem to fit together seems to be pre-ordained – this is where I felt more could have been made of the supernatural aspect of the story.

Soon after arriving Cass finds that the manor is haunted by several ghosts, but the one she seems to see most is the young girl who had fallen in love with the gamekeeper. Cass feels that, just like the ancient byways, there are spaces within the fabric of time at the manor, where ghosts may appear. Cass has an affinity with the the young woman in her peacock blue dress, but could it be more than that. It felt like the author was flirting with the idea of Cass and Luke being a reincarnation of the couple – the references to her gypsy soul, the sense they have of meeting before, the apparition Cass sees and hears. I think this could have been explored even more than it was. Cass clearly has some psychic ability; she experiences the ghost of a maid, has vivid dreams about places and people from another time, and at one point hears a ghost ship. I found myself wanting more of this and would have loved to know more about the daughter of the house and the gamekeeper, possibly in another time frame. Luke is a dream of a man, gentle, intelligent, loves the outdoors and animals and seems to know himself very well. His marriage seems to be one made when young, when differences in outlook seem to matter less and we think love can overcome anything. Sadly, Luke finds as he gets older, the more he needs the pace of life in the country whereas Amanda is a city girl who needs the bustle and the noise.

Of course I wanted David to get some sort of comeuppance for his awful behaviour. Even in absence he tries to push Cass’s buttons by ordering her home, then pleading that he loves and misses her while mentioning someone he’s having casual sex with in the next breath. He is arrogant, fussy and I couldn’t think of a single reason Cass should return to him at the end – other than habit and conditioning. I won’t ruin the end, but it does keep you hooked to the final pages when a terrible secret emerges. This was a gentle romance, set in a beautiful part of the world and is as much about Cass falling back in love with herself as it is anyone else. It’s a voyage of self-discovery, where slowly she heals and finds her authentic self. I found it thoroughly enjoyable and a little oasis of calm in a busy month.

Meet The Author

Kate Ryder

Kate Ryder is an Amazon Kindle international best seller who writes timeslip and romantic suspense in a ‘true to life’ narrative. On leaving school she studied drama but soon discovered her preference for writing rather than performing. Since then, she has worked in the publishing, tour operating and property industries, and has travelled widely.

A member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and The Society of Authors, in 2017 Kate signed a 4-book contract with Aria (digital imprint of award-winning independent publisher, Head of Zeus). Originally from the South East of England, today Kate lives on the Cornish side of the beautiful Tamar Valley with her husband and a collection of animals.

Keep in touch with Kate:
Instagram: @kateryder_author