Posted in Netgalley

The Metal Heart by Caroline Lea.

The sky is clear, star-stamped and silvered by the waxing gibbous moon.

No planes have flown over the islands tonight; no bombs have fallen for over a year.


Orkney, 1940.

Five hundred Italian prisoners-of-war arrive to fortify these remote and windswept islands. Resentful islanders are fearful of the enemy in their midst, but not orphaned twin sisters Dorothy and Constance. Already outcasts, they volunteer to nurse all prisoners who are injured or fall sick. Soon Dorothy befriends Cesare, an artist swept up by the machine of war and almost broken by the horrors he has witnessed. She is entranced by his plan to build an Italian chapel from war scrap and sea debris, and something beautiful begins to blossom. But Con, scarred from a betrayal in her past, is afraid for her sister; she knows that people are not always what they seem.

Soon, trust frays between the islanders and outsiders, and between the sisters – their hearts torn by rival claims of duty and desire.

A storm is coming . . .

In the tradition of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, The Metal Heart is a hauntingly rich Second World War love story about courage, freedom and the essence of what makes us human during the darkest of times.

This book is stunningly beautiful, so much so that I had to sit and think in the quiet when I’d finished it. It’s so rich in folklore, historical detail, the trauma of war and bereavement that I know I could pick it up to read again and still find something new. I immediately ordered a signed copy for my forever shelf, because it is so special. What did I love about it? The Scottish folklore, the incredible landscape, the community, the dignity of people facing the hardest times of their lives. Then amidst the chaos, violence and confinement, beauty emerges in the shape of a deep, immediate, connection and growing love between two people who can’t even speak the same language. The counterpart to this human story is the Italian Chapel, built out of the scraps of metal huts and concrete the prisoners are allowed. Yet from these humble materials a building of true beauty emerges, that still stands today. It made me emotional to think about the lovers, but also the patience and faith of these incredible men who needed a place to worship, a piece of home.

Dorothy and Constance live on Selkie Holm, a small island close to Orkney. They are isolated outcasts, strange simply because of their doubling, but also because they’re thought to have bad luck. There are myths about the island and the selkie women that might lure a man into the water. People go missing there and the old fishermen who gather in the tavern love to swap old stories about the strange shapes seen in the water. It’s said that if you live there you might go mad. Besides, the girls have had bad luck enough with the drowning of their parents as they tried to row to Kirkwall hospital in a storm. People mutter that it isn’t right for two young girls to live there alone. Surely they must need other people? Yet, that’s exactly what Con doesn’t need. They live in the bothy because of a traumatic event that happened in Kirkwall and now she’s frightened of people, particularly men. So when it’s announced at a town meeting that Italian prisoners will be housed on Selkie Holm, Con is terrified. Their protests fall on deaf ears, since the sinking of the Royal Elm, Churchill has decided barriers must be built to prevent invasion. The prisoners will build the barricades and soon there are huts and barbed wire and men with boots all in Con’s place of safety. Worst of all, Angus McLeod has been given a job as a guard on the island and the girls want to avoid him most of all.

This is a story about freedom for all three main characters. Of course Cesare is the one literally behind a wire fence, but Dot and Con’s bothy is a prison of their own making. Watching each of them try to inch towards freedom in their own ways is moving and upholds my belief as a therapist that everyone is capable of change and even in the most straitened circumstances we still have choices. Cesare finds freedom in the infirmary where he is cared for, in the Major’s office helping with correspondence, in the building of the beautiful chapel and the first time he sets eyes on Dorothy or Dorotea in Italian. His utter joy at finding something so precious amongst the dirt, the heavy labour, the biting wind and the regular beatings, is hopeful and bittersweet. Just like the unexpectedly beautiful chapel, treasures are often found in the dirt.

‘Up on the hill, the chapel gleams in the sun. I imagine the light pouring in through the window. The pictures on the walls will gleam with life. And, on the ceiling above the altar, a white dove soars through a bright blue sky. How does something so beautiful come from such darkness? The tears are flowing freely now, as I turn back to the people watching me and I force myself to say, ‘Thank you.’

‘‘Up on the hill, the chapel gleams in the sun. I imagine the light pouring in through the window. The pictures on the walls will gleam with life. And, on the ceiling above the altar, a white dove soars through a bright blue sky. How does something so beautiful come from such darkness? The tears are flowing freely now, as I turn back to the people watching me and I force myself to say, ‘Thank you.’Up on the hill, the chapel gleams in the sun. I imagine the light pouring in through the window. The pictures on the walls will gleam with life. And, on the ceiling above the altar, a white dove soars through a bright blue sky. How does something so beautiful come from such darkness? The tears are flowing freely now, as I turn back to the people watching me and I force myself to say, ‘Thank you.’

Dot finds her instant love for Cesare overwhelming, but she never questions or doubts her feelings or his. Con often reminds her what men are capable of, that she can’t trust someone she doesn’t know. Yet, for the first time, Dot places a boundary between herself and her sister, simply saying ‘I am not you’. This isn’t a criticism of her twin, but just an assertion that she is different, separate, and so is her life. She also makes a point of going to work in the infirmary, leaving Dot at the bothy. This is the first time where Con can see Dot moving into a life beyond her, their psychic or spiritual link can never be broken, but to wake up and live without her physical presence must be terrifying.

For Dot freedom means the ability to live a life separate from her sister’s, but also beyond the shadow of Angus McLeod. Dot’s trauma affected both girls and when she couldn’t go out, neither girl did. They have spent every day and night together since. This wasn’t Dot’s trauma, but she stopped living just the same. Now she dreams of sitting in the warmth of Italy, with Cesare and his family eating wonderful food. The image is a mile away from the dark, cold and stormy reality. Con sees the changes in Dot, and recognises she’s drifting away from her. Fiercely protective of her twin, it takes her a while to realise that in Cesare, Dot has found a man who is gentle and won’t hurt her. She knows she can’t hold her back, but it’s a huge wrench, like giving away part of herself when so much has been taken from her already. Watching Con’s realisations about her trauma and the potential for healing was one of the most moving parts of the novel.

The historical detail in the novel is incredible. Caroline Lea writes in her acknowledgments:

‘I wanted the love affair between my characters to be constrained by time and intensified by the precipitous and perilous nature of war, so I took many liberties with timings and action. This was a very conscious decision: I’m painfully aware of the difficulties in fictionalizing real historical events and people and selling them as ‘fact’, especially when this involves taking on the voices of ‘real’ people: I was very certain that I didn’t want to do that.’

This explains her decision to change certain things: some of the history and geography is changed; the construction of the barriers was started by Irish workers; the sinking of a ship by German u-boat features the Royal Elm, not the Royal Oak. Yet the chapel, situated on Lamb Holm, is still standing and can be visited. Even the metal heart truly exists, created by metal worker Giuseppe Palumbi for an Orcadian woman he fell in love with. He had to return home to his wife and family in Italy and left the heart behind. By doing this she has made sure that no one’s real life experiences are encroached upon. This is definitely a work of fiction, although the amount of research and love for her subject is clear to see. The descriptions of the islands are simply stunning and the relentless sea is mercurial; one moment soothing and the next a punishing, vengeful god. The inhabitants of the islands intrigued me too, in the way they slowly integrated with these prisoners of war. Even the two girls, shrouded in grief and superstition, are gently supported by this generous community. Now the chapel is part of this community’s history, with the metal heart at its centre. It shows us that light can shine into the darkest corners and choosing to love, despite the pain and grief, can be the bravest stand we can take.

‘All across Europe, bodies are falling from the sky or into the sea, or are being blown high into the air. Every explosion is a name. Every lost life is carved on someone else’s heart. Every death takes more than a single life. It takes memories and longing and hope. But not the love. The love remains’.

Published by Penguin, 29th April 2021.

Meet The Author

Caroline Lea grew up in Jersey and gained a First in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Warwick, where she now teaches on the Creative Writing degree. Her fiction and poetry have been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, the Fish Short Story Competition and various flash fiction prizes. She currently lives in Warwick with her two young children and is writing her next novel. Her work often explores the pressure of small communities and fractured relationships, as well as the way our history shapes our beliefs and behaviour.

Posted in Red Dog Press

Roses for the Dead by Chris MacDonald

What will I do without Erika Piper? This is the last of three novels featuring the detective and each one had me hooked at page one!



Rockstar Johnny Mayhem sits on his bed, holding a bloody baseball bat. On the floor, clutching a lavender rose in her fist, is his wife, Amanda, who he has just beaten to death. Erika Piper knows this because she is one of the first on the scene. Mayhem is arrested and led away, screaming that they’ve got the wrong man. But the evidence is irrefutable and when Mayhem is sentenced to life in prison, no one is surprised.


Thanks to new evidence, Johnny Mayhem is a now free man. During a television interview, he issues a thinly veiled threat to those involved in the original case before seemingly disappearing off the face of the Earth. When the body of Mayhem’s dealer is found, Erika Piper is pulled from the safety of her desk job and thrown into the hunt for the Rockstar. Can she find Mayhem before he can enact his revenge on everyone involved, including Erika? Or, has he been telling the truth all along? Did the police really get the wrong man?

Our novel begins just as Erika is returning to work after maternity leave. She’s taken a back seat for her return role, providing admin support and for the first time doing a 9-5 desk job. This was a decision made by Erika and her partner, because now they have a baby it seemed safer to leave the stressful, late hours behind. Erika already has one thing getting her up in the night, so agonising about cases too, might be too much. I sensed that she was resigned to the decision rather than enthusiastic. I was surprised at how well Erika had taken to being a Mum, but she was always going to be a Mum with a difference. Within hours of starting her desk job, Erika is summoned upstairs by her new boss, who wants to know why someone with her skills isn’t doing the job she was trained for. She dangles a carrot in front of Erika by saying it can be for just this one this case if she wants, to see how it works for her, especially since she was there at the beginning. Erika is surprised to hear herself accepting the role, not because she doesn’t want it, but because she has jumped in with both feet before talking to Tom even. The logistics of childcare and breaking the news to Tom, came second and third behind how hungry she was to be back out there.

Our case is an old one for Erika. Rock star Johnny Mayhem was arrested by Erika for the murder of his wife, Amanda. It was an open and shut case, with Johnny clutching the bloody baseball bat. He has always protested his innocence and now, 7 years later, he is out, thanks to the testimony of a witness. A documentary maker who visited him in prison caught him making a clear and precise threat to the witness, for waiting 7 years to bring forward this information that could have freed him sooner. So, when the witness is found dead, clutching a lavender rose, Erika is on the case. This was a great mystery because it seemed such a cut and dried case, I couldn’t imagine it being anyone else but Johnny. Then the author starts throwing some red herrings into the case and even Erika keeps questioning; if Johnny did want to get his revenge, would he do it in such a public way and recreate the lavender rose calling card? Surely it would have made more sense to wait a while after returning from prison, to mix up the murder weapon and not draw attention with calling cards. Slowly, even though she was his original arresting officer, Erika starts to wonder whether Johnny is behind this at all.

I really enjoyed being in Erika’s company again and at this interesting crossroads of becoming a working Mum. I was so relieved when she threw aside the desk job and plunged straight into the investigation. The mystery is full of twists and turns, and I love the way the author has taken, what looks like an open and shut case, and turned it into anything but. The killer is very unexpected and I wasn’t sure the case would be solved at all. Finally, I am sorry that this is the final novel in the Erika Piper series. She’s a great, feisty and intelligent woman and makes a brilliant detective. I love that she’s so competent at work, and while not perfect, she’s more than coping at home too. Most importantly, she’s a woman I could imagine having as a friend and I would happily enjoy her company for a night out. I think she has more adventures left in her so I’m very sorry to see her go.

Meet The Author

Chris McDonald grew up in Northern Ireland before settling in Manchester via Lancaster and London. 

He is the author A Wash of Black, the first in the DI Erika Piper series, as well as the forthcoming second – Whispers In The Dark. He has also recently dabbled in writing cosy crimes, as a remedy for the darkness. The first in the Stonebridge Mysteries will be released in early 2021. 

He is a full time teacher, husband, father to two beautiful girls and a regular voice on The Blood Brothers Podcast. He is a fan of 5-a-side football, heavy metal and dogs.

Posted in Publisher Proof

Let In The Light by Gerard Nugent.

I truly enjoyed this story based around the music scene in Glasgow, most specifically Hope Street where Richie Carlisle works in a music shop. We first meet him after he’s had his big musical break and is now back in his home town. Despite working all day alongside musical instruments he doesn’t play much these days, so it’s only when Ally comes into the shop with an idea for a community music group using the local pub as a venue that he thinks of picking up the guitar again. Richie has settled into his life, where he lives alone,but has his son Finn on weekends and has Sunday dinner round at his mums. He knows everyone on Hope Street by name and it feels as if Richie has a little community around him.

It’s a far cry from a few years before when one night playing in the local pub’s Friday Night Jukey! changes the course of his life. A handful of musicians would come ready to play and the audience would shout out requests – always starting with the Proclaimers o”f course. On this night Richie notices a beautiful woman and when she asks for Crowded House he decides to go for a more obscure track, w.hich gets them talking afterwards. There’s something special about her. On the same night he is approached by a manager in the music industry looking for a vocalist for Karl King’s band. He thinks Richie might fit the bill, despite having a complicated past with Karl. Here are two chances in one night: to start a relationship with Penny and see where it goes, or to head down to London and the possibility of music stardom. He tries a compromise and promises to give it five months, and if the band hasn’t taken off he will come back to Glasgow. Penny agrees to a long distance relationship and when his song Let in the Light is recorded both of them think this is it, they are bound for the charts. However, that isn’t what fate has in store for them.

Richie is such a likeable character, in the present day it’s clear he cares about his family and his much older boss at the music shop. He still cares about Penny, even though they’ve broken up and their son Finn ( the Finn brothers from Crowded House) is his absolute world. He’s a little melancholic and stuck in a routine, so the music group could be good to take him out of that head space. It may also shake off his fear of performing, performing in front of others causes huge anxiety ever since he seize up on stage years before at a festival. It’s like he can feeling his throat closing and he can’t even gasp for breath, never mind get out a tune. Ally’s group seems to bring him out of himself and as he closes his eyes to sing he feels at one with performing again. He’s noticed Ally, giving out a bit of encouragement here and listening to another person’s problems there. Whenever she pops into the shops she’s a little ray of sunshine and I started to get the feeling she might be very good for Richie. Yet, he still can’t get Penny out of his mind. When she suddenly announces that she might return down under to her home country of New Zealand Richie can’t believe that she would take Finn away with her.

Everything is changing. The pub may be closing. His old music manager is back in the picture with news about Karl King. Penny puts the house up for rent. He’s at his most vulnerable when he’s asked to perform one final gig at the pub in Hope Street. Can he do it? This might seem a light story, and the writing certainly is. It’s funny in parts too. Yet it has a central message about being true to who you are, and where you’re from. It’s very positive about mental health and how it’s possible to find ways to manage these emotions when they get out of proportion. It suggests looking to our communities for help and support too, many other people have the same struggles and can have the best tips. I really wanted Richie and Finn to succeed. However, I did find myself a bit irked with Penny. So much so I was hoping he’d end up with Ally. When Penny decides to move back home, it’s like she hasn’t even thought of how devastating this will be, not just for Richie, but for the wider family. Finn belongs to all of them and needs them all in his life. The story of Karl King, tells us that we need roots and ways of belonging to get by in life. None of us can stand alone. This is a great novel, with moving, realistic characters and an enjoyable musical plot. Now I need to go and create a Spotify playlist of the songs featured and inspired by reading this book.

Meet The Author

Gerard was born and raised in Edinburgh, Scotland. He moved to England in his 20s and worked in various northern towns before settling in beautiful Yorkshire with his family and two guinea pigs. He has written three albums (two of which will never be released!) In 2019, he attended a writing class to help him generate ideas for further songwriting, but, instead, started writing a novel.

And this is where it’s ended up. Stay tuned.

Posted in Throwback Thursday, Uncategorized

Throwback Thursday! Engleby by Sebastian Faulks.

‘My name is Mike Engleby and I’m in my second year at an ancient university’.

In this book Faulks creates one of the best unreliable narrators in fiction. His voice is mesmerising, intelligent and strangely compelling. I found myself strangely drawn in by him. In fact he’s very funny, in a darkly humorous way. We’re restricted to his first person narrative and his tale of a working class upbringing, affected by poverty and physically abusive treatment from his stepfather. Despite his disadvantages, he wins a place at a Cambridge college. Although he’s intellectually capable of fitting in, socially he’s a misfit, struggling on the edges of college society. Then he sees a girl in the tearoom of the University Library and an obsession starts. He observes Jennifer to a degree that’s detailed and creepy.

‘She was smoking a cigarette and trying not to laugh, but her eyes looked concerned and vulnerable as Robin’s low voice went urgently on. She is alive, Godammit she is alive. She looks so poised, with that womanly concern, beginning to override the girlish humour. I will always remember that balanced woman/girl expression on her face.’

This is the detail of someone who is watching constantly. He seems to have very little empathy for others, apart from Jennifer. So when she disappears, we are left in conflict. Where should our sympathies lie? Has Engleby lost someone he truly cared for or is something more sinister going on? Now I can’t claim that Faulks created the unreliable narrator, but this is the first time I truly had the rug swept from under me by a book. It’s not so much a twist, as a seismic shift that makes me question absolutely everything I’d read up to this point. The next books that surprised me this much was Atonement and We Need To Talk About Kevin so the book is in great company.

The build up is very slow, but the tension soon becomes unbearable. We’re waiting for something to snap! I felt myself weirdly torn between compassion and contempt for this boy who has been subjected to cruelty and possibly developed this faux intellectual and pretentious personality to survive. Or, has simply been lying to us all along? Faulks is questioning the way writers construct identity on the page and the reader’s tendency to believe the person presented to them, often without question. Is identity as fluid as he presents, or are some of our characteristics set in a permanent ‘self’ as most of us would like to believe. It’s an uncomfortable read, not just because we might feel confused with our own fixed and fluid selves, but because we feel complicit with a narrator we’ve enjoyed. Even more uncomfortable, could it be because there might be a little bit of Engleby in all of us.

Meet the Author

Sebastian Faulks was born in April 1953. Before becoming a full-time writer in 1991, he worked as a journalist. Sebastian Faulks’s books include A Possible Life, Human Traces, On Green Dolphin Street, Engleby, Birdsong, A Week in December and Where My Heart Used to Beat.

Posted in Netgalley

Madame Burova by Ruth Hogan.

I absolutely love Ruth Hogan’s novels, because they have interesting, quirky characters that I always want to know more about and stories that are ultimately uplifting. I was immediately fascinated by Imelda Burova, with her Russian-Romany background and her gorgeous borzoi Dasha. Imelda has inherited her mother’s fortune telling booth on the seafront in Brighton. Not that Shunty-Mae has gone anywhere. She comes to help when the booth is busy in the summer season and has a disconcerting habit of sitting behind the curtain at the back then interjecting the odd comment when least expected! Imelda is invited to read for people as part of the entertainment staff at the holiday park and this introduces her to a whole new group of people. There’s the three mermaid sisters, a contortionist, Jeanie who has the voice of an angel and the dark, handsome wall of death rider Cillian. Imelda feels an immediate spark with Cillian, but Jeannie’s femme fatale friend Vivien makes it clear that Cillian is off limits. Book ending this tale of 1970s Brighton is our other heroine Billie, who is in a vulnerable place having lost her university job, her marriage and her mum. She receives some life changing news from her Dad, that sends her on a trip to Brighton to meet a mysterious woman who holds two brown envelopes. These will give Billie some clues to a mystery that has spanned forty years, and a love story that has lasted through time.

I really felt for Billie, who has reached a point in life where everything is changing, but she’s willing to take on the challenges she faces. She finds her seventy year old benefactress inspiring and starts to be drawn into the world of Brighton. She meets a family named after precious stones who run the cafe next door to the fortune tellers booth. She has help getting a new project off the ground with a lovely man called Treasure. Then there’s a man she meets on the train who travels all the way to St Pancras once a week just to play the piano. Plus a man who seems to be just a passing eccentric, using his elastic bands to send colour messages to the CIA or MI5, but who witnesses a crucial event that answers so many questions. In the time she spends in Brighton, Billy starts to feel at home. What could fate have in store for her here and is she brave enough to follow the path?

The earlier sections, told by Madame Burova with a heavy dose of hindsight, are so evocative of the 1970s. There’s an incredible bohemian feel to the interiors, such as the decor of the booth, the stunning gypsy caravan that sits in the garden for occasional sleepovers, not to mention Madame Burova’s wardrobe. Lush fabrics and vintage clothes float my boat so I was in heaven here. The central love story is brief, but all encompassing. Cillian is the perfect hero – I was thinking Peaky Blinders as I was reading him so it was hilarious to find ‘Cillian Murphy’ left on a page in the NetGalley copy! It shows that Ruth Hogan and I are on the same page when it comes to passionate love interests. He and Imelda are clearly made for each other, so watching Vivien try to come between them is infuriating. Not that Cillian helps, his taciturn nature and avoidance of fuss can lead to misunderstandings. Imelda isn’t sure whether he’s playing the field, but his eyes are firmly trained on her all the time. I was transfixed by the love story and hoping against hope that Imelda wouldn’t have her heart broken.

This is such a charming and whimsical novel, with a a huge side helping of nostalgia for the time of the seaside holiday heyday. A time when people did take their families to a holiday park and take part in all the entertainments on offer. I love the way Brighton fits Billy perfectly, with her vintage style, bowler hat and the opportunity she gets to potentially bring that retro vibe to the seafront seems perfect. Will she take the chance? More importantly, will the quest that brought her to Brighton and to meet Madame Burova, come to a happy end? I was satisfied with the end, despite the heartache along the way and came away with a real feeling of joy. Along with the apple blossom coming in and birds nesting in the garden, this book has been like a little breath of spring.

Meet The Author

A car accident led to Ruth Hogan taking her wish to be a writer more seriously and the result was THE KEEPER OF LOST THINGS – a Richard and Judy Book Club pick. Since then she has had two further novels published, THE WISDOM OF SALLY RED SHOES and QUEENIE MALONE’S PARADISE HOTEL and for her fourth, MADAME BUROVA, she learned to read Tarot cards and developed a hankering for a traditional vardo and pony.

‘I live in a chaotic Victorian house with an assortment of rescue dogs and my long-suffering husband. I am a magpie; always collecting treasures (or ‘junk’ depending on your point of view), a huge John Betjeman fan and I would very much like a full-size galloping horses carousel in my back garden. As a full-time author I am living the dream, and I’m so grateful to all my readers for making that possible. I love hearing from you, so please feel free to drop me a line on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.’ From Ruth’s author page on

Posted in Netgalley, Random Things Tours

The Lost Hours by Susan Lewis.

The latest Susan Lewis is a little different, in that it has all the usual family drama, but with the added element of a police procedural. The Crayce family live down in the south west of the country, on the moors in Devon and come across as a very privileged family. The land they own encompasses three houses, two lots of stables, a farm, a ménage and a shooting school. The family businesses allow eldest brother David and his wife Annabelle to send their children to private school, holiday abroad every year and be the envy of the locals. David and his brother Henry grew up in the main house, and were the basis of a local social group ‘The Moorauders’. Good looking and well off, this pair were the catch of the county. It raised eyebrows, and tempers, when David married an outsider, Annabelle- known as Annie. However, she is now part of the furniture and an irreplaceable part of the family’s business empire looking after the admin for the shooting school, farm and Julia’s horse and donkey sanctuary. Julia is Henry’s second wife and is probably Annie’s best friend, often popping across for coffee or to ‘cocktail me up’ at the end of a hard day. From a distance this family has it all, but is everything as perfect as it seems? When David and Annie’s daughter Sienna is picked up by the police for shoplifting a teddy bear, an ugly truth at the centre of the Crayce family comes to the fore.

Twenty years before, when David was engaged to Annie, the two brothers and their father went on an alcohol fuelled bender that ended in a party at the farmhouse. A few weeks later, local teenager Karen Lomax is found dead in an old railway carriage. A precocious teenager, who displayed a wild streak, died of a blow to the head and her murderer has never been found. Now that police have Sienna’s DNA sample, they are shocked to find a link to this old, unsolved case. One of the Crayce men left a trace of themselves behind, a sample of semen from Karen’s clothing shows a familial match to the Crayce’s. This puts David, Henry, and their father Dickie in the spotlight as suspects. Until their DNA is compared to the sample, the family will have to wait and in those two weeks, secrets and lies are revealed.

I found the novel a little slow at first, and having little patience with the champagne and pearls set, I found it hard to warm to the characters or their situation. So it really is down to the skill of this writer that I started to warm to Annie. I felt like she had gone through an awful lot with David, especially in the early years before the children. There were hints of psychological issues linked to David’s military service, which would have been around the time of the Balkan War. Annie describes sudden mood changes, a tendency to drink too much, nightmares and rages. While he had never physically hit her, she did worry about being in the wrong place when he had a nightmare. These episodes were the lost hours of the novel’s title. She had also struggled with his behaviour when drunk and there were even hints of his infidelity on these occasions. At the time of the farmhouse party they were very close to getting married, and there was a consensus in both families that if he messed up again she would call off the wedding. I felt like Annie was very used to listening to others, and making sure their needs were met, from the children and family to friends. Even her relationship with sister-in-law Julia is based very much on her arriving to have a drink and have her problems with Henry listened to. I kept waiting for her to have an epiphany and recognise her own needs in this nightmare, especially when the police’s focus starts to narrow.

My main concern was the voice that felt absent from the tale and I felt that was a deliberate choice on the part of the author. Murder victims don’t get to have a voice anymore and that’s what Lewis was trying to portray. The one person who had all the answers, couldn’t give them and had to rely on doctors and forensic experts to let us know what happened and at whose hands. However, we would never have her account or thought process and I really felt that absence, especially when old wine bar customers are saying she dressed provocatively or had fantasies that weren’t appropriate. Yet, there isn’t the same disapproval of the much older men who recognised and took advantage of her open nature and strong sex drive. There’s a deeply sad moment when her father says that they still loved her anyway, despite her wild side. I wanted to take him aside and say ‘of course you did and you shouldn’t have to apologise for that’. There was an obvious comparison between Annie and David’s daughter who was a similar age to Karen when she made her shoplifting mistake. The local police allowed Sienna to apologise to the shopkeeper and make financial recompense. Her family connections seemed to let her off lightly. Would Karen have been offered the same way out, if she had made a similar mistake? Karen paid for her teenage mistakes with her life. I think Lewis was pointing out the gender differences and the class differences in these areas. David and Henry, and to some extent their father, were living a teenage life full of parties, alcohol and risky sex, but they weren’t censured by those around them. Their women tended to forgive them and they didn’t lose their social or financial standing locally. It isn’t just a question of gender, but highlights the difference between land and property owners, and those who live in the suburbs or the council estates.

Our other ‘outsider’ is DS Natalie Rundle, new to the area and having to hit the ground running with this unexpected cold case, suddenly becoming red hot. She isn’t local so she doesn’t have the same preconceptions or the same loyalties. Without her, this case might never be solved, because she asks the difficult questions and never rules anyone out. In fact I didn’t expect the outcome, so the author was able to surprise me. Though when I thought about the themes I’d pulled out of the narrative, such as class, difference and wanting to belong, it did seem to fit. I found this novel successful because it was the usual ‘Aga saga’ we expect from Lewis, but with some edge. It questions whether these perfect lifestyles can ever be that perfect behind the scenes. It shows that where there is an ‘in’ crowd, there are those longing to join or feeling they just don’t make the cut. She also identifies an exploitation of young women from outside the posh clique. I think this is why the chapters beyond the murderer being unmasked are so important. They’re about different elements in this community coming together, creating equality and for a teenager like Sienna to remember and honour a young girl who went before her. Yes, these conversations are uncomfortable, but there’s an element of owning past behaviour and trying to make amends. Forcing themselves to be uncomfortable is the only way change will happen. This element of justice having to be served in the community as well as court, was an interesting one and really gave this novel the edge for me.

Meet The Author

Susan Lewis is the internationally bestselling author of over forty books across the genres of family drama, thriller, suspense and crime. She is also the author of Just One More Day and One Day at a Time, the moving memoirs of her childhood in Bristol during the 1960s. Following periods of living in Los Angeles and the South of France, she currently lives in Gloucestershire with her husband, James and mischievous dogs, Coco and Lulu.
To find out more about Susan Lewis:

Posted in Netgalley

The Imposter by Anna Wharton.

Publisher: Mantle

Published: 1st April 2021

ISBN: 978-1529037395

Chloe hasn’t had an easy life. As a child growing up in care she has had her fair share of being pulled from one place to another, never really knowing where home was. At least now she lives with her Nan, but she is struggling with the constant demands of Nan’s dementia. Sometimes she is torn between being at home for Nan and going to work. We meet her as they take a visit to the graveyard to leave flowers for Chloe’s mother. Chloe has to leave Nan by the grave to clean out the container for flowers. She is only gone a few moments, but when she gets back Nan is nowhere to be seen. Chloe frantically searches the cemetery, the copse behind the graves but she knows in the pit of her stomach this is it. If she calls the police because she has lost Nan they will alert social services. Nan’s social worker is pleased that Chloe wants to look after her Nan, but feels that the job is proving too much for someone working full time. She has been pushing for Nan to move into a home and Nan’s disappearance has made the argument for this even more compelling. While working she finds the story of a young girl who went missing from a playground and becomes fascinated with the case. Angela Kyle was at the park and disappeared while her father was distracted. Now she would be the same age as Chloe. As Nan is found and social services intervene, Chloe finds that the home they have recently shared will be sold for care fees. She then loses her job for taking the Kyle archive off the premises. Feeling totally adrift, Chloe wonders if she could be of help to the Kyle family. Maybe with her research she could help them find Angie.

Chloe work in the archives seems to take place at a similar time to when I was working for my local newspaper. A time when old-fashioned jobs like those who worked the printing press were being made redundant. I remember the warm, print smell in the afternoons and the smell of our archive, complete with a severe looking librarian who spent all day painstakingly cutting out and filing stories, and lending them out begrudgingly, as if she was lending her children! I remember our printing press being shut down. I remember the archive becoming digital. I used to sell advertising space then sit and design the advert on A4 requests with invoice slips attached. A man would collect them once a day and physically drive them to our art department who would magically turn them into adverts that appeared in features. Then it all became digital. I guess this gave me a way into the story, and a sense of what Chloe did and how it feels when your job is defunct. However, for Chloe it’s her whole purpose gone at once since she’s no longer her Nan’s carer. She visits the home, but Nan is only there sometimes and often protests she doesn’t have a granddaughter. I could feel Chloe’s sense of being adrift, without anything to anchor her.

She visits the fenland village where Maureen and Patrick Kyle now live. It is in the middle of nowhere, and their house is even outside the tiny hamlet set down a long drive. I live in Lincolnshire and can appreciate the endless flat fields and open sky, being able to see for miles and at night a huge expense of stars. By coincidence she sees an ad in the village shop for a lodger in the Kyle’s home. What better way to get to know the Kyles and try to solve the mystery? She can also solve the problem of losing her home. So she moves in with Maureen and Patrick and starts to get to know them, being honest about her past in care and her Nan, but not letting on that she knows about their daughter. She pretends to work in insurance and takes the bus every day into town, sometimes visiting Nan and other times visiting the playground where Angie went missing. However, lies are often found out and Chloe hasn’t fully thought through the implications of finding out the truth.

It was very hard to get to know Chloe and find out who she truly was, despite being party to her thoughts and feelings. I wondered if she was suffering borderline personality disorder, often categorised as a lack of cohesive self. She certainly fits the pattern and came from the type of disordered background that can lead to this type of mental illness. She was certainly exhibiting impulsive behaviour that she hadn’t fully thought through and formed intense but unstable relationships with others. Her friend Hollie, who had also gone through the care system, seemed like the only constant in her life. Although at times even she struggled to understand Chloe’s motivations and behaviour. I felt that the author treated Chloe’s behaviour sensitively and honestly. As Maureen started to behave in a motherly way towards Chloe, she responded like a daughter, possibly because this was the type of maternal affection that had always been missing from her life. This meant that she humoured the use of a special ‘Bunnikins’ plate and small cutlery for her at teatimes, where maybe someone else might have asked for something different. The pair bond very quickly, but she doesn’t cultivate the same bond with Patrick who seems to ask a lot of questions or Maureen’s friend Josie who seems suspicious of her presence. Chloe listens out for clues and finds Patrick slightly overbearing with his wife. They do have rows which she tries to listen to, but they also have a padlocked room that has no explanation.

The tension ratchets up slowly, starting as Patrick asks questions about where she works and Chloe getting a glimpse of what is hidden in the locked room. As she edges closer to the truth, she is in danger of being expelled from her new home or if someone in the house is responsible for Angie’s disappearance, could she be in serious danger? The need to know what had happened all those years before became addictive and I read the last chapters quickly and greedily! I was also fascinated by the dynamic building between Chloe and Maureen, who starts to suspect that Chloe might be her daughter. All the love and longing this mother has had for her missing girl starts to be lavished on Chloe and what’s so sad is that this is exactly what she has needed her whole life. There’s a point where the scales start tipping and I wondered if Chloe was starting to believe there could be some truth in it. She doesn’t remember her earliest years, so could she be Angie? Patrick goes along with this fiction, he doesn’t want to see his wife grieving another ‘daughter’ but he is uncomfortable and I started to wonder if he knew more than he was letting on. The ending when it comes is not sensational, but is sad, human and utterly tragic. However, there is another revelation coming that blew my mind a little. It was a bit like seeing The Sixth Sense then wanting to watch it again immediately with your new found knowledge. I thought the title was very apt, because Chloe is an imposter. She has no idea who she is, so becomes what other people need her to be. I truly hoped for a happier future for the character and her sense of isolation touched me. This was a great read, both as a mystery, but also has an exploration of what happens when we have no roots or anchor in life.

Meet The Author

Anna Wharton has been a print and broadcast journalist for more than twenty years, writing for newspapers including The Times, Guardian, Sunday Times Magazine, Grazia and Red. She was formally an executive editor at The Daily Mail. Anna has ghostwritten four memoirs including the Sunday Times Bestseller Somebody I Used To Know and Orwell Prize longlisted CUT: One Woman’s Fight Against FGM in Britain Today. The Imposter is her first novel.

Posted in Personal Purchase

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner.

With crackling suspense, unforgettable characters and searing insight, The Lost Apothecary is a subversive and intoxicating debut novel of secrets, vengeance and the remarkable ways women can save each other despite the barrier of time.

Hidden in the depths of eighteenth-century London, a secret apothecary shop caters to an unusual kind of clientele. Women across the city whisper of a mysterious figure named Nella who sells well-disguised poisons to use against the oppressive men in their lives. But the apothecary’s fate is jeopardized when her newest patron, a precocious twelve-year-old, makes a fatal mistake, sparking a string of consequences that echo through the centuries.

Meanwhile in present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, running from her own demons. When she stumbles upon a clue to the unsolved apothecary murders that haunted London two hundred years ago, her life collides with the apothecary’s in a stunning twist of fate―and not everyone will survive.

2021’s Most Highly Anticipated New Books Newsweek
Most Anticipated Books of 2021 Popsugar

Nearing her ten-year anniversary, Caroline stumbles on a secret that changes everything, and is now exploring London alone on a holiday booked to celebrate with her husband. There is an element of numbness in her response, as she reflects on the life she’d expected to have here in the U.K. Caroline is English and had plans to for a post-graduate career, when she met her husband who had a great job, back home in the States. She chose to follow her heart and is reflecting on all she gave up for the relationship, when she stumbles across a man who takes tourists out mudlarking. When she joins them, she finds wandering the shoreline looking for objects in the mud, strangely relaxing. She follows their guide’s advice that she shouldn’t look for an object, but look at patterns in the mud for an absence of something. Not long after she finds her bottle, an apothecary bottle, with a crude etching of a bear.

The object sends us back to the 18th Century and our second narrator, Eliza. Eliza is only twelve years old, but wise beyond her years in some ways. She is working as a lady’s maid, for a mistress whose husband has a wandering eye and even more worrying wandering hands. These don’t just extend to his mistress, but sometimes to Eliza, who wakes up one day having been drugged with no recollection of what has happened to her. Unable to stomach his infidelity, Eliza’s mistress sends her to a mysterious apothecary who resides in Bear Alley. There she will enter the shop front, and as instructed, leave her mistresses’s instructions in a barrel. The apothecary will make up a tincture or poison for the buyer’s purpose and it will be ready to collect the next day. Nella, the mysterious apothecary, creates a poison for the purpose of killing the husband. However, they are at crossed purposes, because Eliza’s mistress intends the poison for their dinner guest, her husband’s lover. The consequences of this mix-up will be life changing, for Eliza and Nella.

This was a brilliant eye-opener to women’s lives in 18th Century London, and an interesting comparison to 21st Century women too. Despite our usual thinking that females lives were quite restricted, here in Nelly and Eliza, we have two women who are acting quite independently. It showed me how we can be mislead in our perceptions of a time period and the people in it, highlighting how important academic research is. We tend to think of the late 18th Century and Regency periods in terms of Jane Austen – all polite, restrained, conversation and bonnets. However, that is only highlighting one class of women and here we see that there were women living on the margins, independent of the marriage market and making their own living. Eliza’s mistress is wholly dependent on her husband, so the fear around his relationship with another woman is not emotional, but financial and based on what others will think. If set aside, she would potentially lose her home, her comfortable living and her place in polite society. Nella lives a poorer life with no status in society, but she’s dependent on no one. Her shop and her trade are hers alone. She’s also a woman focused on helping the sisterhood, her potions and poisons are only sold for the healing or help of women. In fact when she finds out the poison Eliza seeks for her mistress is to harm another woman, she wants to destroy it.

In contrast, we imagine that a 21st Century woman would be in a better position than Eliza’s mistress, but is Caroline truly as independent as Nella? She had dreams and plans for her life, that were set aside when she met her husband because his career was established back in the USA. She then changed continents, leaving behind her dreams, her family and friends. She’s then dependent upon her husband financially and for his social circle, there’s no support network for her and she finally admits to herself that she’s been unhappy in the relationship for some time. When she takes the vial she’s found to Gaynor at the British Library a whole world opens up in front of her. She is enthusiastic, full of life and starts to gain back some agency in her own life. So when her husband unexpectedly arrives to join her, how will she feel about his desire to save their relationship? Caroline has to learn to be her own woman again and relish that sense of independence that Nella loved and protected two hundred years earlier.

I thought the author conveyed both 18th and 21st Century London really well. I could imagine myself there with all the sights and smells she conjured up. I loved the description of the apothecary shop, back in its heyday and as it was when Caroline rediscovered it. That she would find the very book where Nella recorded women who would otherwise be forgotten, was an amazing thought. These were women who wouldn’t be recorded in history largely written by men. When I first studied 18th Century literature I realised how narrow my knowledge of the period was, focussed on battles and adventure rather than the domestic. I remember Moll Flanders being a bawdy, unexpected eye opener of how one woman uses what she can to survive in life. Sometimes, we apply 21st Century standards to women living in an entirely different world and I loved that the author turned that on its head and asked whether we’re any more free? Even if the choices she made to get there were entirely her own, Caroline has still been living in a gilded cage. The ending of Nella and Eliza’s story was unexpected, but showed the strength of female friendship and solidarity. I found myself hoping that Caroline would do the same – to choose an unexpected and unknown future of her own making. This was a brilliant read, historical fiction at its best and an incredible debut from an author I’ll be watching in the future.

Meet The Author

Sarah Penner is the New York Times bestselling author of THE LOST APOTHECARY (Park Row Books/HarperCollins), available now wherever books are sold. THE LOST APOTHECARY will be translated into two dozen languages worldwide. Sarah and her husband live in St. Petersburg, Florida with their miniature dachshund, Zoe. To learn more, visit

Posted in Netgalley

Nighthawking by Russ Thomas

Sheffield’s beautiful Botanical Gardens – an oasis of peace in a world filled with sorrow, confusion and pain. And then, one morning, a body is found in the Gardens. A young woman, dead from a stab wound, buried in a quiet corner. Police quickly determine that the body’s been there for months. It would have gone undiscovered for years – but someone just sneaked into the Gardens and dug it up.

Who is the victim? Who killed her and hid her body? Who dug her up? And who left a macabre marker on the body?

In his quest to find her murderer, DS Adam Tyler will find himself drawn into the secretive world of nighthawkers: treasure-hunters who operate under cover of darkness, seeking the lost and valuable . . . and willing to kill to keep what they find.

I live not too far from Sheffield and it’s a great city. As a family we’ve often popped on the train for a theatre matinee at The Crucible or The Lyceum. It’s my main gig venue too and in my younger days the City Hall and The Leadmill were regular haunts. I like the buzz of the city, the friendliness of the people and the chance to grab a bit of culture so close to home. So, when I was offered a proof of Russ Thomas’s new novel Nighthawking I jumped at the chance to read crime fiction based in the city. I hadn’t read his first Adam Tyler novel, so wasn’t sure what to expect, but I loved being shown this darker, criminal, underbelly of one of my favourite cities. There was a familiarity to the term ‘nighthawking’ too, because I’d recently read Elly Griffith’s latest Ruth Galloway novel The Nighthawks. The term refers to the practice of stealing archaeological artefacts, usually found by metal detector, under the cover of night. As someone who lives in a very rural area, I must admit I was a little creeped out by the concept of groups of men stumbling about in muddy fields in the dark. The archaeological aspect is at the centre of DS Tyler’s latest murder case. As the lead of the CCRU team, he selects cold cases for investigation. However, this case is reopened because the body of a young Chinese student is found buried within the Botanical Gardens. Curiously, she is found with two Roman coins over her eyes. Once she is identified as missing Sheffield University student Li Qiang – known as Chi- DS Taylor is tasked with finding her killer by reviewing the original missing person’s case closed months ago, just two weeks after her disappearance. At his side is DC Mina Rabbanni, a one woman powerhouse of intuition and initiative, but not above taking risks when it might lead to the truth.

In the background are a fascinating mix of possible suspects, from Chi’s own family, to other workers at the gardens, to university contacts and whoever had access to the very rare Roman coins found with her body. Interestingly, one man is both a volunteer at the gardens, but is also part of an amateur metal detecting group. The group’s leader encourages the detectorists in good practice, but a small group have been out detecting late at night and have stumbled on the find of a lifetime. A cache of gold Roman coins, potentially worth six figures if they could sell them on. However, usual practice is for the find to be declared, then the landowner would be due a share of any profits. The men decide to sell, but where would they find someone with the right contacts, knowledge of the black market, and who they could trust? The men split the coins for safekeeping, until they can find a way forward, so how did two of them end up buried with Chi. The team’s digging into Chi’s life uncovers some interesting potential leads. Her sister Juju lives in the city, with a new baby and her fiancé Rob. Ju is grief stricken by her death when they visit to inform her, but her fiancé had been in a relationship with Chi too, suggesting some animosity or tension between the sisters. I was keeping my eye on the fiancé too, because he seemed to pop up far too often and wasn’t always giving the full story. Chi had a complicated love life, including several sexual relationships, but no permanent partner. Also far from the model student, she seemed to be struggling at the university in her study of orchids, but yet religiously volunteered with the Botanic Gardens, suggesting a keen interest. Add to this a father who’s a Chinese diplomat and the pressures start to build.

I enjoyed that Tyler also had a lot going on in his personal life and seemed distracted, much to the concern of DI Jordan, his superior. CCRU is under scrutiny by Chief Constable Stevens – known as the Eel behind his back – and is in the firing line as cutbacks threaten the force. Tyler is still quietly investigating the apparent suicide of his father, and wonders if a local gangster might hold the key. There’s also his own brother’s disappearance weighing heavy on his mind. He’s stuffing up his relationship with Paul, who feels he simply can’t get his attention, even to tell him their relationship is over. Added to this Tyler takes a homeless teenager under his wing and goes out of his way to help him get a roof over his head. Tyler keeps his emotions and worries to himself and isn’t really one to share, but with everything bottled up is his eye on the case as much as it should be? Mina is the stand out character for me, so full of life and enthusiasm for her job, she leaps off the page. With her superior officer often AWOL, she gets her teeth into this case and won’t let go. Her intuition is telling her there’s something wrong with the original missing person’s case. There are barely any notes in the file, normal checks weren’t carried out and many people were not even interviewed. The original investigating officer is on long-term sick leave, but Mina has to ask the question; why was it assumed Chi had run off with a secret boyfriend and with what evidence? It looks like they simply didn’t care, but Mina suspects there may be more to this than a single officer not doing her job.

Somehow, Thomas weaves all these disparate threads and characters together beautifully. Drip feeding the reader information a little at a time and dropping the odd red herring along the way. The pace was perfect, even the minor characters felt interesting and fully rounded ( the new pathologist, Emma, is a real highlight) I would never have guessed what was going on or who was behind the murder, so it was a surprise. I thought Thomas was so clever in keeping those longer narratives bubbling along underneath the surface of the primary case. Tyler’s unexpected meeting with an old gangster – the Ronnie Kray of 1960’s Sheffield – moves the story of his father’s death along a little, ready for the next book. The hints at Mina’s background and it’s possible clash with her work as a police officer is touched upon, but I would be interested to see how that develops. I would also love to see more of her double act with Emma the pathologist. Then there’s the politics of policing, the potential fireworks over Mina’s findings and CCRU’s future going forward. Thomas took me to familiar places but placed them in a completely different light. He showed me the difference between a city as I would see it and as a police officer sees it, and that gap in perception is often what makes personal relationships so difficult. I’m really looking forward to getting to know Tyler better and to enjoying more of such well-paced crime fiction; rich in character, setting and storyline.

Published by Simon and Schuster 29th April 2021.

Meet The Author

RUSS THOMAS was born in Essex, raised in Berkshire and now lives in Sheffield. After a few ‘proper’ jobs (among them: pot-washer, optician’s receptionist, supermarket warehouse operative, call-centre telephonist, and storage salesman) he discovered the joys of bookselling, where he could talk to people about books all day. Firewatching is his debut novel.

Posted in Personal Purchase

Throwback Thursday! The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Armin.

This is such an apt novel for the time of year, but I’ve found myself thinking about it recently for two other reasons. Of course spring is on it’s way, but this year is something of a personal renaissance. I’ve been shielding since the second lockdown, because I have multiple sclerosis and it means I have a few issues with swallowing and breathing. This was a personal choice, but thank goodness I did, because I did receive a government letter four weeks ago telling me I should have been shielding. A brilliant bit of irony. So now I can have friends come and join me for a dog walk or sit in my garden for a cuppa together. I can’t explain how joyful this makes me feel. I will feel connected to the world again – well, as much as I ever want to be. I can also have my hair coloured silver blonde with lilac dip-dye! Hairdressers here I come.

The other reason is that four weeks ago I moved to my new home. It’s an 18th Century cottage in a really happy village, and I feel like the real me is re-emerging. We’d been living in the city, on a relatively new estate and I had no idea how much of an effect this as having on my mental health. I was sitting on my reading couch at the weekend with the sun coming in, next door have an apple tree and the branches hang over the fence, so I can smell the blossom when I have the window open. On Sunday afternoon we had a pot of tea and our Easter cake outside in the garden, where an enormous jasmine hangs heavily on the wall wafting a heady scent over the whole garden. I started planning what I’d like in the garden across the seasons and that always feels like a corner has been turned. It’s as if we went into hibernation in winter 2019 and we’re only just coming out and that feeling reminded me of the characters in this novel.

The premise of the book is that a discreet advertisement appears in The Times, addressed ‘To Those who Appreciate Wisteria and Sunshine’. On offer is a small medieval castle for rent, above a bay on the Italian Riviera. Four very different women – the dishevelled and downtrodden Mrs Wilkins, the sad, sweet-faced Mrs Arbuthnot, the formidable widow Mrs Fisher and the ravishing socialite Lady Caroline Dester – are drawn to the shores of the Mediterranean that April. As each, in turn, blossoms in the warmth of the Italian spring and finds their spirits stirring, quite unexpected changes occur. These characters drive the novel, as it is their responses to each other and to Italy that take centre stage. Mrs Wilkins and Mrs Arbuthnot are the first to respond, both ladies living resignedly, but quietly, in unhappy marriages. They are joined by Lady Caroline, a younger, beautiful woman who has found that her looks can be more of a burden than a blessing. Finally, there’s Mrs Fisher. A formidable woman who has a very strong will, which she tries to impose on the other women. The author is so perceptive when it comes to human foibles and how personalities rub against each other when living side by side. Tiny little acts of pettiness and selfishness can take on huge importance in these situations. However, what the author also shows is that one person’s character failing can have a transformative effect on someone else. One woman’s need to be in charge, inspires assertiveness in a quieter, more timid member of the party. The early chapters are a comedy of errors and miscommunication as the women try and often fail to understand each other.

The author deliberately creates an opening that feels like being under a rain cloud. The weather is miserable and cold, each woman feels unhappy or have lost themselves in some way. Then as they’re thrown together for this month in the castle we wonder if they’ll ever get along and if Italy will work its magic on them. The second half of the book feels like entering spring, the sun is shining and the surroundings start to work on each woman, even Mrs Fisher. The characters and the surroundings come into bloom. There are vivid descriptions of the castle and its gardens so the reader can really visualise the setting. It feels like a literary painting. Slowly, each woman begins their transformation. In the case of the married ladies, they invite their husbands to join them in Italy. Could this special place transform their marriages, relight a spark or remind them of the deeper love they once shared?

The movie version of the novel.

The novel is charming and light, without falling into whimsy or sentimentality, showing extraordinary skill in the writer. Despite barely having a plot, the book can be read as a satire on class and society post WW1. It could be read as a travel novel or just a study in how a different culture, characters and nature can soften and change us for the better. There isn’t a single character here who isn’t changed by the magic of Italy, and that’s the final reason I love this book. I was meant to get married last spring and go to Venice for my honeymoon. I picked the perfect hotel room with a double aspect and a balcony over one of the smaller canals. It would have been my third trip to Venice, but I don’t think I’ll ever tire of it. The first time I visited we arrived at night and took a water taxi in the dark across the lagoon. We arrived at a small jetty and it was so quiet, just the sound of water lapping against the buildings. The lamplight was reflected in the ripples on the surface, as well as tiny lanterns as we stepped up into a small garden. We walked through a courtyard with pots, pergolas with hanging plants and the tiny points of light hanging within. It was such a surprise because gardens are rare in Venice, but there it was. I did feel changed by my visit. I felt amazed that such a beautiful place actually existed and that I could go there whenever I wanted. It improved my confidence, my creativity and taught me to go a bit slower. If I never go abroad again in my life, I’ll be happy because I went to Venice. This book captures some of that transformative feeling; its a witty and delightful depiction of what it is like to rediscover joy.

Elizabeth von Arnim (1866-1941) was an Australian-born British novelist who was married to a Prussian aristocrat. Her most famous works include Elizabeth and Her German Garden and The Enchanted April