Today’s Sunday Spotlight is a little bit different because I want to bring a collective of authors to the reader’s attention and not just one. The most important thing about Christmas, especially this year, is being together. So in that spirit, I was very happy to be approached by the Christmas Collective with their beautiful collaborative work More Than Mistletoe.
Cosy up for Christmas with 12 very different tales of love with all the festive feels!
More than Mistletoe, the debut anthology from The Christmas Collective, is an eclectic and inclusive mix of stories, with swoon-worthy characters, second chances and happy endings.
Between the pages, you will discover classic romance, festive thrillers, LGBTQ+ love stories, hilarious romcoms and historical settings, these stories really do span the whole spectrum of festive fiction.
Featuring twelve up and coming new authors, this refreshing, diverse and romantic read, is a must-have for Christmas 2021 that will leave you reaching for your Christmas jumper, gingerbread cookies and a mug of hot chocolate!
• Lumikinos by Lucy Alexander
• The Ghost of Christmas Past by Michelle Harris
• Christmas for Two by Marianne Calver
• August in December by Joe Burkett
• Under the Christmas Tree by Cici Maxwell
• Killing Christmas Eve by Jake Godfrey
• Christmas and Cocktails by Jenny Bromham
• Christmas at The Little Blu Bookshop by Sarah Shard
• Not Today, Santa by Martha May Little
• Sealed with a Christmas Kiss by Bláithín O’Reilly Murphy
• Love Forever by Donna Gowland
• The Last Christmas by S.L.Robinson
I felt very lucky to be sent a preview of this short story collection, along with a festive box of goodies – a lovely little treat to enjoy. The thoughtfulness of this little parcel gave me a preview of the care and attention given to this enjoyable collection of short stories. Although I’ve had the collection a little while, I hadn’t had chance to read them until last week and I think I timed them perfectly. As we’re now in the early stages of the run up till Christmas, I could imagine someone coming home after a fraught afternoon Christmas shopping and reading this with a warming hot chocolate in front of a roaring fire. That’s exactly what I did. I made some hot chocolate with Cointreau and settled on my chaise langue with my kindle and my cat Baggins for a few hours. I think these would be perfect to pop into people’s rooms if you’re having family to stay this Christmas or if you have adopted the Icelandic tradition of Jolabokaflod, where books are given and read on Christmas Eve ( I mention this an annoying amount, because I’d love to do it ).
I tend to gravitate towards two different types of stories at Christmas; slightly spooky tales and cosy love stories. I’ve been reading a lot of thrillers and spooky tales this month, so the love stories in this collection were a very welcome change of pace for me. I’m a sucker for a Christmassy rom-com so these fitted the bill perfectly, but there were also one or two stories that were hard to categorise into genre, which I love! There really is something for every reader here, although I have to say I’ll be buying it for female rather than male friends. These were perfectly chosen to work as a collection, so there was an overall cosy and uplifting feel, although Killing Christmas Eve by Jake Godfrey was a great change of pace in the middle. It’s so hard to pick a favourite, because I liked each story for different reasons, but I think S.L Robinson’s The Last Christmas was the one that moved me most, in a deeply personal way.
I’ve been writing since I was a little girl, but have only just had the courage to let people know that I write. In fact I started my blog to gain confidence in sharing my writing and to get into the discipline of writing every day. I’ve been working on my MA in Creative Writing and Well-being and, although I’ve been running writing therapy groups for several years, there’s something very different and daunting about sharing your work with fellow writers. In my head, they are always way more experienced, talented and disciplined than me. However, sharing some of my writing in the workshop environment every week, has helped enormously. Taking criticism and ideas from other writers has been invaluable. My writing has grown along with my confidence. So, I loved the story of this talented group meeting at a writing group and working collaboratively to create this collection. I’m sure it’s been a brilliant experience for the authors involved and will prove helpful for those who’ve taken their story from a longer work in progress. It has certainly whetted my appetite for those completed novels some time in the future. I love it when authors work together this way, and it seemed strangely apt that the collective approached my fellow bloggers in the Squad Pod Collective to review their work. A really lovely background story for collection that felt like a hug in book form.
A secret from the past can change your life for ever. The Moment is a heart-breaking love story set in Cold War Berlin by the author of The Pursuit of Happiness and Five Days.
Thomas Nesbitt is a divorced American writer living a very private life in Maine. Until, one wintry morning, his solitude is disrupted by the arrival of a package postmarked Berlin.
But what is more unsettling is the name accompanying the return address on the package: Petra Dussmann. For she is the woman with whom Thomas had an intense love affair twenty-five years before in a divided Berlin, where people lived fearfully under the shadows of the Cold War.
And so Thomas is forced to grapple with a past he has always kept hidden. For Petra Dussman was a refugee from the police state of East Germany. And her tragic secrets were to re-write both their destinies.
I found myself strangely captivated by this tale of lost love in a divided Germany. I worked my way through all of Douglas Kennedy’s books around five years ago after enjoying A Special Relationship and while they’re all great reads something about this one stayed with me. Perhaps because I’ve lost someone I loved. Or because I once had a short, intense love affair that, given different timing, could have blossomed into a something beautiful. We have probably all had similar experiences, where the timing was just wrong. However, when added to this restrictive Cold War environment, love becomes so precious by contrast. Like a flower blooming through the cracks in a pavement.
This story unfolds like a set of Russian dolls. When the package arrives with Petra’s return address it sends Thomas back to the account he wrote of his time in West Germany. We read his narrative and are drawn into this impossible love story that left him with so many unanswered questions. When he opens the package, he finds Petra’s account of that time and we are lost in the same story, but from a different viewpoint. What he discovers is shocking and illuminating, but will it answer his questions? More importantly, will it confirm and deepen the love he felt for Petra and how will that change his life moving forward? There are so many things I love about Kennedy’s writing and this book showcases them beautifully. The historical research and detail feel genuine. He takes a period of history beyond the facts, to show how this world affected the people who lived through it’s events – not just physically, but emotionally too. The stark, grey, concrete world of East Germany and it’s citizen’s fear of the Stasi, become real through Petra’s story. There is so little to look forward to and an absence of joy here. I remembered back to my younger years and the pictures on the news as the Berlin Wall came down. Now I understood their euphoria and their need to physically take hold of this symbol of oppression and dash it to the ground with their bare hands.
Kennedy also has the uncanny ability to write convincingly from the viewpoint of both men and women. This was a skill first seen in his novel A Special Relationship, where he wrote from the viewpoint of a new mother whose husband thought she was suffering from post-natal depression. Here again he writes from the viewpoint of a woman and mother, torn between romantic and motherly love. Even, as we wonder which of these loves will win out in the end, we realise neither choice can ever truly fulfil Petra without the other. There are no winners, whichever choice is made. The only outcome here is betrayal.
As we come back to Thomas’s current circumstances, further enlightened by the stories we have experienced, we see how the psychological damage of childhood and our youth can colour the rest of our lives. It seems we spend the latter part of our adult lives trying to untangle, then heal these wounds, as we recognise how much damage these traumatic experiences have had on our choices – in Thomas’s case, during his failed relationship with his wife. I also think Kennedy is telling us something very important about stories. Thomas’s story would have made a novel all on it’s own, but by adding Petra’s version we start to see something of the ‘whole’ story. Our version of events, even factual ones, are just that; our version. It’s just one piece of a patchwork quilt of perspectives. Even our own version can change as we get older, gain experience and develop new ways of understanding. This novel is unusual, because it’s a love story for people who don’t read love stories. Or a novel about Cold War Germany, for people who understand the importance of love. For me, it’s that unusual, niche, mixture that made it stay with me.
Meet The Author
Douglas Kennedy is the author of ten novels, including the international bestseller Leaving the World and The Moment. His work has been translated into 22 languages, and in 2007 he received the French decoration of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Born in Manhattan, he now has homes in London, Paris, and Maine, and has two children.
I was thoroughly gripped by this tense thriller set in Cornwall and concerning Jenifry Shaw – an experienced free climber who is in rehabilitation at the start of the novel. She hasn’t finished her voluntary fortnight stay when she’s itching for an excuse to get away and she finds one when her brother Kit calls and asks her to go home. Sure that she has the addiction under control, she drives her Aston down to her home village and since she isn’t expected, chooses to stay at the hotel rather than go straight to her family home. Feeling restless, she decides to try one of her distraction activities and go for a bracing walk along the cliffs. Much later she wakes to darkness. She’s being lashed by wind and rain, seemingly hanging from somewhere on the cliff by a very fragile rope. Every gust of wind buffets her against the surface causing cuts and grazes. She gets her bearings and realises she’s hanging from the viewing platform of the lighthouse. Normally she could climb herself out of this, most natural surfaces have small imperfections and places to grab onto, but this man made structure is completely smooth. Her only chance is to use the rapidly fraying rope to climb back to the platform and pull herself over. She’s only got one go at this though, one jerk and her weight will probably snap the rope – the only thing keeping her from a certain death dashed on the rocks below. She has no choice. She has to try.
I don’t know about you, but my heart was racing and this was just the opening! I thoroughly enjoyed this intense thriller, so much in fact, I read it in one sitting. This was too good to put down. Jen can trust no one, as she tries to investigate her own attempted murder. The dark, taciturn, Nick Crawford has to be dodgy. He’s not from the village and claims to be a carpenter, but Jen has her suspicions that his business is a cover. After all, she should know, she has been dealing with drug dealers her whole life. Could it be him who drugged her, then left her for dead at the lighthouse not knowing about her past; the talent for climbing she inherited from her father and the buzz she’d get from free climbing the seemingly impossible. Even man made structures were no match for her and the rush was incredible, hanging out with other adrenaline junkies – the base jumpers, the parkour and free running enthusiasts. The way the author wrote about this world was fascinating and very beguiling. I’m fond of saying to clients in workshops that as adults we forget to play, I now fulfil that by crafting, sewing and writing stories. My early readers will know that I broke my back when I was 11 doing somersaults in the playground when I should have been high jumping. The author truly made me think of a time before my accident when I was largely free to do as I liked. My brother and I would climb a pair of willow trees, bent so far over one of rural Lincolnshire’s many drainage dykes, that a child could lie full length in them. He would be fishing. I would take a sketchbook or journal and spend the day scribbling or sketching flowers. In the descriptions of Jen’s climbing days I remembered the freedom of a body that was loose and easy to use. The body that took me up Snowdon and other mountains, or went wild swimming and could take on any challenge without fear of pain or exhaustion. Times where it’s just you and nature. Jen promised her brother Kit that she would give up free climbing after a terrible accident left one of their friends paralysed. I understood giving up something that’s such a huge part of who you are and the need to replace that adrenaline rush with something, to self-medicate.
The sense of place was incredible. The author conjured up my Cornwall almost immediately with her descriptions of the tin mine, the crashing sea on the cliffs and fog on the moors. I recognised the sea mist that seems to coat your car and your windows. The weather was hugely important, with storms amping up the tension in the opening chapters and the fog of the final chapters adding to the mystery. Will we find out who is behind the strange and dangerous events Jen has uncovered or will it remain obscured? Cornwall is the perfect place to hide criminal activity, hence the history of smuggling and piracy, so why would it be any different today? Has the cargo changed? I loved that the author wove modern events and concerns into the story, because it helped the story feel current and real. The concerns around development and tourism are all too real for a county, dependent on the money tourism brings, but trying to find a balance where it doesn’t erode the Cornish culture. Local young people are priced out of the property market and we get a sense of that here with Kelly who left to become a dancer until a knee injury forced her home to live with her brother Talan. Kit and Jen both left in order to make their way in life, setting up a climbing business that Jen managed. Yet they are in financial dire straits after Kit and his wife try to renovate the family home into a well-being centre. Jen and Kit’s home, Their house is more of a stately home, but not an attractive one – Jen refers to it as a grey block or brick with none of the embellishments expected of a historic building. Their mum says Kit has renovated the soul from the house, and since the family spend most of their time in the unrenovated kitchen I was inclined to agree. However, without the new business opening and attracting tourists they’ll be ruined. It’s a constant love hate relationship between Cornishman and incomer.
The final chapters, as Jen discovers what’s going on in her home village, is absolutely nail-biting. I was also holding my breath in parts. I won’t give anything away but the revelations are startling and no one is who they seem. I was surprised by most of the twists and it made for a fantastic conclusion. As I usually do with a author thats new to me, I didn’t read any of the promo stuff until I’d finished the book. When I’d recovered from holding my breath, I looked the author up because I was keen to read her back catalogue. Surprisingly, this is her first novel. I’d be incredibly proud of it. It’s well-paced, exciting, and has a great central character who doesn’t need a rescuer. She can save herself. I loved the way the author built atmosphere and that simmering tension that grabs you at the outset and doesn’t let up. I’m not surprised this was picked out of a pile of submissions; it stands out. If this is what Jane Jesmond is opening with, I can’t wait to see what she’s doing next.
Meet the Author
On The Edge is JANE JESMOND’s debut novel and the first in a series featuring dynamic, daredevil protagonist Jen Shaw. Although she was born in Newcastle Upon Tyne, raised in Liverpool and considers herself northern through and through, Jane’s family comes from Cornwall. Her lifelong love of the Cornish landscape and culture inspired the setting of On The Edge. Jane has spent the last thirty years living and working in France. She began writing steadily six or seven years ago and writes every morning in between staring out at the sea and making cups of tea. She also enjoys reading, walking and amateur dramatics and, unlike her daredevil protagonist, is terrified of heights!
Why not check out some more reviews from these lovely bloggers.
Today I’m sharing some thoughts on a book about friendship, love, and following your dreams.
Autumn is stuck in a rut and desperate to escape the fears that bind her to the life she’s outgrown. Back home and living with her parents after university, with a degree that seems to count for nothing, she knows something has to change. After a chance meeting with a stranger at the beach, she makes the spontaneous decision to move to Dublin and chase her dreams. However, what Autumn doesn’t realise is that she has just made the decision that will lead to her death. But does a short life have to mean an unsuccessful life? Will she be able to make it count?
Red Roses is a great book for grabbing a cuppa or a glass of wine (tea and chocolate for me) and settling in for an afternoon read. It’s a simple story of a young woman called Autumn who wants a different life for herself and has the bravery to up sticks and move to another country to make her life goals happen. I felt that the most successful parts of the novel were based around female friendship, especially with Amelia who is also travelling to Dublin before going around the world. I also loved Maggie, an older lady who Autumn meets on the beach, where Maggie is throwing rose petals out to sea in memory of her late husband. There was so much more that I wanted to know about Maggie and I felt she could be a rich and wise source of advice for the younger woman.
Red Roses is an uplifting story that shows the beauty of life, love and friendship.
Katie Ward always knew she wanted to write for a living. However, she was told by her careers advisor that “it might be more appropriate for you to work in a shop”. When Katie didn’t get the grades she needed to get into college, she negotiated a three month trial. After successfully completing the course she secured a place at her first choice university to study Journalism.
After realising she wanted to be an author, Katie moved to Dublin where she worked her way up from receptionist to Executive Assistant at Merrill Lynch. Katie continued to write in her spare time, submitting her short story into the “Do the Write Thing” competition being run by Irish TV show ‘Seoigeand O’Shea’. This story was originally written when Katie was 14 after she was inspired by an article in her favourite teen magazine. Katie was the only non-Irish author selected to have her story published in an anthology of the same name which reached 19 in the Irish Best sellers List. Katie was also shortlisted for a competition judged by MAN Booker Prize winning author Roddy Doyle which was run by Metro Eireann newspaper.
Katie currently lives in Devon with her cat (aka ‘Her Royal Fluffiness’) where she sings in a community choir and has recently taken up Archery. Katie’s favourite author has been Roald Dahl since she was a child as she loves the dark edge he brings to his books. On the flip side though, Katie loves Disney, magic, unicorns and a good rom com film at the cinema with her friends.
Whenever I go to literature festival or author events through my local bookshop, people always ask where the writer gets their ideas from. In the case of crime writers we really want to know, because we’re thinking: is this what real life crime is like? Are there people who commit these terrible (and usually highly creative) crimes? How does the writer know this much about the crimes they depict? We want to know if they have ever been tempted to commit a crime and if anybody could commit the perfect crime, surely it’s people who’ve been writing and researching it for years? They know the pitfalls and have the forensic know-how to get away with it. So,could a crime writer commit the perfect crime? This is the corner that Cam and Lisa Murdoch find themselves in, when their son Zach goes missing one night. As a crime writing duo the two are well known, but live a quiet family life with their son in Christchurch, NZ. In a meltdown the night before, Zach has told his father he wants to run away and in an exasperated moment Cam tells him to go ahead. Could he really have climbed out of the window and gone? Cam and Lisa don’t think so, then when a footprint is found outside his bedroom window their fears are confirmed – this must be an abduction. Yet everyone knows, in child disappearances, the first suspects are always the parents. But will they be the last?
This is my first Paul Cleave novel, and I was drawn in by the premise. We read the story through the narration of Cam and one of the investigating officers DI Rebecca Kent. The chapters are short and alternate between the two perspectives, creating an interesting narrative where one moment I was on the Murdoch’s side and the next moment I could understand the police’s outlook. The first half of the book was really slow, with a drip feed of information. The second half was like a car with no brakes, careering towards an inevitable explosion. I thought DI Kent was a decent, honest officer, with great instincts and a lot of compassion for the Murdochs. I loved being inside her professional mindset, seeing how she kept a polite demeanour with suspects, while questioning or even disbelieving everything they’re telling her. The author shows how every action can have multiple interpretations. Early on in the book, when Zach is playing on a bouncy castle, Cam’s attention wanders for a moment and he can’t see his son anywhere. Frantically looking for him, he goes onto the bouncy castle looking for him, accidentally knocking a girl over in his hurry. He then grabs hold of another boy and tries to show him a picture of Zach on his phone, an actions that’s completely misinterpreted by the boy’s father. Is Cam just an anxious, frantic parent who isn’t thinking clearly or is he a deliberate abuser of children? It depends on who you are in the scenario. Kent keeps an open mind – suspect everyone, expect anything and don’t take one person’s word. She’s always calculating in her head, checking and balancing actions and behaviour.
Cam is an interesting character who goes through an enormous amount of change in the novel. We see how his son’s disappearance slowly alters his personality and he’s hard to root for. It’s as if he’s woken up inside one of his own books, fully experiencing what he might put one of his characters through. He depends on Lisa, his writing mate and wife, but are they going to be made stronger by this tragedy or does it have the power to tear them apart? They certainly have different temperaments, with Lisa being the calmer one, but I was fascinated to see how she would respond when Cam tells her about Zach’s threat to leave and his answer. The author creates such a tense atmosphere building both inside and outside their home. He depicts the frenzied attention around the case of a missing child, that reminded me of the public’s interest in the Madeleine McCann or the Shannon Matthew’s cases. It was horrible to see how the general public congregated outside the family’s homes, shouting for justice and piling pressure on the family and police alike. This chaos was so well depicted in the novel and ended up spawning one of the most explosive and memorable scenes.
This was a compulsive page turner, especially once you reach the half way point. The short, snappy chapters help with this, there’s always that temptation of just one more. There were also brilliant cliff hangers, places where it felt the book was about to end, but didn’t, and then took things in another direction entirely. I loathed the journalist Lockwood who starts out with a vendetta against the Murdochs for apparently stealing a book idea from him. Could he be taking the ultimate revenge? Could the Murdochs really be the villains after all? The truth, when it is finally laid bare, is a massive shock for the reader. I couldn’t have suspected and even DI Kent is completely taken by surprise. This is the sort of case that would never leave the investigating officer and I felt that so much about her would change from this point. I loved the way that Cleave showed the influence of the press and social media on cases that catch the public imagination. No one is innocent until proven guilty any more. Worryingly, it felt like there was no privacy either with devices like mobiles, spy cameras and our addiction to social media placing so much of our private sphere into the world. It also makes things more difficult for Cam and Lisa, who have been recorded at festivals and on TV for a number of years. It’s so easy to watch them and to discredit the couple with a well chosen statement taken totally out of context. It’s also scary to see the influence and tragic consequences that the media circus can have. Although, I did laugh at the pyramid of nuns and priests that turn up in the mob, it’s the image from the book that will stay with me. This was a fascinating thriller, with a complex investigation at it’s centre. Prepare for a twisty tale, full of red herrings and tiny clues, where you’ll struggle to trust anyone.
Meet The Author
Paul Cleave is currently dividing his time between his home city of Christchurch, New Zealand, where all of his novels are set, and Europe, where none of his novels are set. His eight novels have so far been translated into over a dozen languages and nearly 20 territories. He has won the Saint-Maur book festival’s crime novel of the year in France, has been shortlisted for the Ned Kelly award, the Edgar Award, the Barry Award, and has won the Ngaio Marsh award for NZ crime fiction three times.
When I looked back over my list of book’s read in October I couldn’t believe what an incredible month it’s been. I’ve been very lucky to read some incredible books. With blog tours whittled down to a minimum, I’ve been able to read from the shelves based on mood alone. I’ve also picked from my NetGalley list which, if it was a stack of books, would have fallen over and buried me by now. I’ve read within my favourite genres really, from the gothic to the historical with a brief sojourn into crime. Then I’ve topped it all off with a lovely, uplifting book that I absolutely adored. Some of my reading occurred on holiday in Wales by a roaring log fire, some of it has been in bed while I tried to control an epic bout of vertigo. It’s been my birthday month too, so finally I’m sharing my brilliant book pressies with you all.
I was gripped by this brilliant thriller from the get go and really was unable to put it down, choosing to read above anything else until I finished. I was hooked and my partner claims I barely spoke to him for two days straight because I was so absorbed in Poppy’s world. Tess is starting a new life in a garden flat with her daughter Poppy, after a divorce from husband Jason. Having a background as a child of divorce, Tess has been determined that Poppy is their number one priority. No matter how much animosity and hurt they feel, their interaction with each other must be civil and they prioritise time with each parent. Yet, every time Poppy’s belongings are put in a bag to transfer from one house to the other, Tess hopes she understands what is happening to her. Tess has started seeing a man called Aidan recently and she’s optimistic about their relationship so far. One Saturday, Poppy returns from an overnight at her father’s and displays signs of distress. These were classic symptoms, that any counsellor like me, would be concerned by. She’s clingy, she wets the bed and seems to be having nightmares. Over a week these symptoms worsen: she bites a girl at school, uses foul language to her teacher, and her mother is terrified for her. She has her attention drawn to a picture Poppy has drawn, all in black crayon which is a huge contrast from her normal rainbow creations. The picture shows a tower and a woman falling from the top to the ground below. ‘He killed her’ she tells her Mum ‘and killed and killed and killed’.
Tess is scared for her daughter, but what can she actually do without traumatising her further? Jason insists it’s just a drawing and probably doesn’t mean anything. No one seemed as alarmed as Tess so who can she go to? My suspicions were first sent in one direction, then another, leaving me suspecting every character at different points in the novel, I was also wondering whether it was Tess. Was she an over concerned mother affected by her divorce and her ex-husband’s sudden remarriage? The tension is almost unbearable towards our final revelation and it wasn’t the ending I was expecting at all. It makes you think about how far you would go to protect your children. This was a fascinating, addictive read with a menacing atmosphere throughout. Be prepared to lose a couple of days if you pick up this book, you won’t regret it.
I’d anticipated this book for a couple of months having been told by my Squad Pod ladies that it was going to be a fantastic read. It certainly was, and even more than that, it was surprising too. Our setting is the city of Belfast, the Titanic sinking is still fresh in everyone’s minds. It’s especially fresh at Professor William Crawford’s house since his brother-in-law Arthur was on the ship. Crawford is our narrator and he introduces us to his happy, but chaotic household as the novel opens. He is a man of science, working at an institute both furthering scientific enquiry and teaching the next generation of engineers. He’s a sceptic, so when he finds out that his wife is visiting a medium and has been trying to contact her brother Arthur, he’s shocked and angry. There’s no question that this girl is a fraud, stringing his wife along with a show put on with the help of her shady family. Yet, the couple have lost their son Robert and Crawford’s grief is overwhelming. So when he hears Robert’s voice calling to him alongside an angry, vengeful Arthur who blames Crawford for his death, a small crack grows in his scepticism. What if he were to apply his scientific rigour to to this girl medium’s powers? If he could prove a link exists between this world and the next he could make a name for himself, not just in Ireland but all over the world. What I loved more than anything was the author’s ability to surprise, because as we neared the end I had no idea how the book and Crawford’s investigations would conclude. The theme of dishonesty is there right from the start, in Arthur’s reasons for being on Titanic, to the hidden note from their old maid who left in a hurry, and Elizabeth’s absence at weekly church meetings. By the end I felt triple bluffed, but couldn’t help smiling at how clever the author had been. As many of our characters find out, when it comes to being dishonest, the person we deceive most often is ourselves.
Wow! Will Dean does like to put his heroine in some terrifying situations. There is so much about this series that I love, then a good 20% that makes me feel a bit sick or unsettled. In the last book it was snakes that had me a bit on edge. This time? Well it’s saying something when a severed head is the most comfortable thing about Tuva’s investigation.We’re back in Gavrik, deep in the northern most part of Sweden and Tuva is back at the local newspaper, but has a more senior role and a new colleague to oversee in the shape of eager young newbie Sebastian. In fact, things are pretty good in Tuva’s world. This book picks you up and takes you on a fascinating and thrilling ride that builds in tension to a terrifying ending that I didn’t see coming at all. I had to stop reading at one point, because I realised I was so tense I was gritting my teeth! I’m sure the author has a hotline to my fears and this ending tapped into them perfectly. Needless to say, if I was Tuva, I’d be packing up the Hilux and leaving the hill folk to murder each other! I think the way the author depicts Tuva’s deafness is interesting. Usually Tuva uses it to her own advantage – taking her hearing aids out when she’s writing a piece means she can focus and taking them out at home means she can’t hear next door. However, it can also leave her vulnerable and the author uses it to intensify the horror element of the book, particularly towards the finale. There’s something about another person touching her hearing aids that feels so personal and also like a violation, depending on who it is. Every time I know a Tuva Moodyson book is coming, the excitement starts to build. By the time it’s in my hands I’m ready to drop all my other reading to dive in. Of course when something is so anticipated there’s also a fear about whether the book will live up to expectations. Bad Apples did not disappoint and is a fabulous addition to this excellent series.
This novel is exceptional. It’s beautiful, moving and speaks about women’s experience in such a unique, but brutally honest way. The author has written an incredible piece of auto-fiction, which is half memoir and half novel but all poetry. While I can’t claim to be anything like the writer, I know this is the way I’m currently writing at the moment – as close to poetry as prose can get. I have always referred to it in my notes as a patchwork quilt of different images stitched together to make the whole. Our narrator is a mother of three small children and she has a fascination with the Irish poem ‘Caoineadh Airt Ui Laoghaire’ where an Irish noblewoman laments the death of the her murdered husband. Such is her passionate grief, that on finding his body, she drinks handfuls of his blood and then composes this extraordinary poem. For our narrator, the poem has echoed down the centuries and is her constant companion. As she reads it aloud the poet’s voice comes to life. The author writes her own life to its rhythms and wants to discover the truth of the poem’s story. I loved how her recording of 21st Century motherhood is treated as an epic. I loved consciousness running through the book. As if her words join hundreds and thousands of others in a never ending stream of female consciousness. This isn’t just about putting your experience into the world, it’s about having a source of female wisdom to draw from whenever you need it. This is a female text and in it’s search for the meaning of women’s lives it is reassuring, it lets us know we’re not alone, but it also inspires us all to create meaning. To add our voice to the women’s wisdom, expanding that collective consciousness and making our mark.
I slowly became more and more intrigued by Elizabeth Gifford’s new novel. Even the title whetted my appetite for more of the same beautiful writing that made The Lost Lights of St Kilda such a memorable book. We’re still in Scotland, this is the late 1940’s and our heroine Caro lives with her husband Alasdair and baby Felicity in the Laundry Cottage situated in the grounds of his ancestral home. They met at Cambridge University and married less than six months later much to his mother Martha’s surprise. She was expecting him to marry someone of their class, maybe even their family friend Diana who’s valuing heirlooms at the family’s castle. Caro’s mother-in-law wanted her and Alasdair to live at the castle with her, but Caro wanted a little bit of privacy and distance. At Laundry Cottage she can still be in her dressing down at lunchtime or having a sleep while baby Felicity has a nap. Yet, the past is about to make it’s way into the present both physically and mentally. Caro is asked to research the family archives for a mysterious, missing member of the family. A great-grandmother seems to have been scrubbed from the archives, along with a missing diary from her husband Oliver’s trip to the Arctic. When the Laundry Cottage floods suddenly and workers inspect the Victorian drainage system they find a body of a woman. Could this be the missing bride? There is just so much to love about this novel: the well written characters; the intriguing mystery of the unnamed woman; the depth of research into the two time periods especially into societal changes, class difference and the lives of women. I heartily recommend it to all lovers of historical fiction, women’s lives and family secrets. This is one of those books that I loved so much, I will be buying a finished copy, despite having the proof. It’s so atmospheric, romantic, and deeply poignant.
I don’t know how many of you are Strictly Come Dancing fans, but I hope there are a few out there. Last night we watched the third episode this series and the professional dancers did one of their group numbers at the top of the show. Johannes was a handsome Prince and a ball was being held in his honour. As he entered the ballroom he saw the couples dancing on the floor, but seemed isolated and alone. Until a male dancer, Kai, stepped forward and asked him to dance. As they started to move round the floor his face lit up and so did mine. The other couples on the floor reformed until the ballroom was full of same sex couples. The books sits perfectly next to this Strictly dance, not just because of the subject matter but because both are simply little parcels of joy! I felt uplifted every time I sat to read a few pages. There’s a little link to Strictly too, as Albert reminisces about a trip to Blackpool when he was a young man with his friend George. They visit the iconic tower ballroom and George is taken with the dancers whirling round the floor. He asks Albert to think of a world where they could take a turn round the floor like every other couple there. George exclaims how romantic it is and Albert agrees. It would be romantic, but it’s inconceivable for two men to partner up and take to the floor. In fact it seems so taboo that Arthur imagines there’s a written rule against it. The author reminds the reader that there are years of prejudice behind stories like Albert’s. The tears of emotion behind Strictly’s same sex dance routine are there because what’s now accepted enough to be on family television prime time on Saturday night, used to elicit abuse, rejection and even criminal charges. So I found this book moving and I really did fall utterly in love with Albert. The story was heartfelt and uplifting. I would really recommend it to anyone looking for beautiful characters to engage with and story full of human emotion.
I’ve been very lucky to receive a pile of books for my birthday and some of them very special indeed. My partner and stepdaughters bought me Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land, Miriam Margoyle’s This Much Is True and Liane Moriarty’s Apples Never Fall. Friends brought me some Moomin notebooks as well as The Haunting Season and a signed city of Billy Connolly’s new autobiography Windswept and Interesting which is signed on the spredges.
Added to this I had an anonymous present of a beautiful paper cut copy of Sense and Sensibility. I also had some Bert’s Books vouchers from my wonderful Squad Pod ladies so my beribboned purchases can be see on the pile, mainly paperback copies of books I’ve missed, because I can’t read every book. I’m so thoroughly spoiled that I feel very lucky.
Next month I’m hoping to catch up on some spooky reads and I have an Orenda blog tour that I’m really looking forward to. Mostly I’m just looking for some extra time to do some more mood reading and work on my own writing for a while. See you next month.