Posted in Random Things Tours

The City of Tears (The Burning Chambers 2) by Kate Mosse.

I’ve been reading Kate Mosse since Labyrinth all those years ago and I’m always impressed by the level of detail and knowledge of French history she weaves into her books. Every detail is considered and you have the impression straight away that you’re in safe hands. In The City of Tears she combines her fictional narrative with fascinating real events focusing on the Catholic and Huguenot conflicts of the 16th Century. This is the second book in the Burning Chambers series and I did choose to go back and read the first book. However, due to Mosse’s ability to immerse you in her world, I think this could be read as a stand alone novel. It continues the adventures of Minou Reydon-Joubert and Piet Reydon, characters caught up in a period beset by complicated religious and political wars. Mosse walks the tightrope between these warring factions carefully, illustrating that there is honour and corruption on both sides, but keeping the focus on the family at the centre of these conflicts.

We return to the Languedoc region of France and the wars have now raged for ten years. It’s May 1572 and Minou and Piet travel with their two children, Marta and Jean Jacques, to Paris for the royal wedding of Charles IX’s sister, Catholic Marguerite de Valois, and Protestant Henry III of Navarre. This wedding has the political and religious benefits of uniting both Catholic and Protestant factions, so could mark the start of peace, but it’s a fragile accord. Piet’s old acquaintance Cardinal Valentin (Vidal) is in Paris too, but he’s now an enemy, unbeknownst to Piet he has a plan to kill all important Huguenots during the celebrations. The terrible violence that follows was known as the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre and thousands of Huguenots were murdered. Seven year old Marta is separated from her parents in the chaos and goes missing. It’s a parent’s worst fear, but unable to find her, Minou and Piet have to flee the city without her. The pair are devastated as they cross the border and make their way to safety in Amsterdam. I loved the way Mosse depicted the strain this decision places on the couple’s relationship. They have managed to ensure the safety of their two year old son, but are filled with guilt for leaving their daughter behind.

Minou and Piet only return to France twelve years later after hearing of a woman who bears a resemblance to Minou. Could it be Marta? They have to take a chance and search for their daughter, but danger is still everywhere. They don’t know that family enemy Vidal is there, with his collection of fake relics, that he intends to use with the ambition of gaining power and position. He believes Piet is in possession of a stolen relic and is driven by bitterness and revenge. His evil nature and conviction he is carrying out God’s work, is beautifully offset by Minou who is a strong willed and opinionated woman doing the best for her family rather than a religion. Piet is also more logical and open-minded, he’s a Huguenot by religion, but doesn’t believe there is only one way to God, particularly when religious difference is used as an excuse to oppress and murder. The couple’s return has raised the tension and jeopardy for all their friends and family, and Mosse delivers some suspense filled twists and turns where the hunted and hunter just miss each other.

I felt like I was in the hands of a master storyteller here. Mosse is able to bring historical fiction to life, and really makes the reader care about the lives of people long gone. She delivers the drama at such a pace, her characters barely have time to draw breath. The depth of her research is truly impressive, even if sometimes I found myself having to read very carefully so I didn’t become confused – but that’s my failing, not hers. The family are so well drawn I truly cared about their outcome and the dynamics between them are written with emotional intelligence. The character’s emotions feel so real and add depth to an already absorbing story. My heart broke for Minou at the loss of her daughter, and I was so invested in her grief that I couldn’t see how she would adjust to living without her. The strain they were under and the constant danger they’re in added an intensity to Minou and Piet’s relationship that was so romantic. Mosse’s incredible skill is to make the reader care about and feel a connection with people who lived in the 16th Century. They are so different to us in dress, daily life and beliefs but the themes of family, parenthood and loss are so universal that they cross the centuries. It will be interesting to see where these fascinating characters go next.

Check out the other reviews from these great bloggers:

Meet The Author

Kate Mosse is a number one international bestselling novelist, playwright and non-fiction writer. The author of eightnovels and short story collections –including the multimillion-selling Languedoc Trilogy (Labyrinth, Sepulchreand Citadel) and Gothic fiction The Winter Ghosts and The Taxidermist’s Daughter, which she is adapting for the stage –her books have been translated into thirty-eightlanguages and published in more than forty countries. She is the Founder Director of the Women’s Prize for Fiction and a regular interviewer for theatre & fiction events. Kate divides her time between Chichester in West Sussex and Carcassonnen in south-west France.

Posted in Random Things Tours

The Impulse Purchase by Veronica Henry

I spent a lovely escapist couple of days reading about this interesting family of women all at a crossroads in life. Julia, great-grandmother and owner of the beautiful Wisteria House in the village of Rushbrook, has died. She has left behind four generations of women: grandmother Cherry who was a model in the 1960’s; mother Maggie, the redoubtable owner of a food PR company; daughter Rose who is a new mum and volunteers at the local homeless charity; finally there’s Gertie, three years old and the apple of everyone’s eye. Aside from great-grandmother Julia’s death and Gertie’s birth, this is a family facing a lot of change. Maggie is still mourning the death of the love of her life, husband Frank. It’s been a couple of years now, but both Maggie and Rose miss him every day. Maggie also faces change at work, as her apprentice has absconded taking some of the business with her. Rose has struggled with grief, but her job is giving her more confidence even though she cares and gets involved more than she should. Cherry is organising a party to celebrate her husband’s retirement, something she’s very good at. Mike is an artist and photographer, retiring from teaching and looking forward to spending more time travelling with Cherry. They just need to finish the sale of Cherry’s childhood home at Wisteria House, but Cherry sees something at the party that changes her mind and sets in place a new plan for all the women of the family.

The Swan is Rushbrook’s public house and has been a family haunt for as long as they can remember, from Cherry’s teens to recent family celebrations with her mother. In fact, even though they live in Avonminster, this village is very important to the women. Rose was particularly close with her great-grandmother and when she’s feeling anxious closes her eyes and imagines the smells of the roses in her garden. In fact Gertie is even named after two of her favourite roses from the garden at Wisteria House. The Swan has become run down since the landlord’s wife has been ill and on an impromptu visit he tells Cherry he’s going to sell The Swan. Cherry has just completed on Wisteria House and partly because of Mike’s party, but also because she wants to take on a project for herself, she buys the pub on impulse. She knows she can make it work, but what will Mike think? Also, how will she do this on her own? With both Maggie and Rose at a crossroads too, they decide to help and all three women uproot themselves and move to the boathouse behind the pub. Soon all three are busy: Cherry with the refurb; Maggie in the kitchens; Rose in the gardens. Can this team of women make The Swan a success?

I found this book a delight from start to finish, so uplifting and full of formidable female characters. Cherry is a ray of sunshine and I enjoyed going back to the 1960’s to her meeting with Mike. They’re a lovely couple who have been devoted to each other for years, but as they both face changes and keep secrets from one another, they might be looking at a different relationship going forward. Maggie is a force of nature, hard working and full of ideas for the menu. She’s also coping with complicated feelings, that pull between missing the person you’ve lost while also becoming excited about moving forward with your life. She’s attractive and dynamic so isn’t short of attention from men, but finds dipping her toe in the water more complicated than she expected. I loved Rose, she has such a big heart and is stronger than she imagines. Her move to Rushbrook is something of an escape from overstepping the boundaries with a homeless client. Rose’s story arc is uplifting and joyful, especially her struggles to understand anxiety and live with her negative inner voice. She also has a tiny hint of romance for good measure.

One of the most powerful aspects of this novel is the inter generational relationships, so it was interesting to read this alongside my Mum. These women are wonderfully open with each other, they give each other support both emotionally and to succeed in life. Their support for Rose as she becomes a young single mum is crucial to Gertie being the carefree little soul she is. I know this because my parents, especially my Mum, did the same for my brother as he became a father at 17. I know that the way my mum helped bring up my niece and nephew, has been the inspiration and example for my niece now that she’s an incredible mum to two small boys. People think it’s instinctive, but I can see both my parents in the way she plays with her boys and encourages their development. We are in the lucky position of having four generation of family and I love seeing my dad playing football with his great-grandsons.

I have a similar, very open relationship with my mum and now I’m older we really are friends. People are often surprised when I say my parents would be the first names I’d put on any party list and my mum comes to my book club, workshops and we go to meditation together. Then I sit back and watch how she nurtures the younger members of these groups, particularly those who struggle with depression or social anxieties. In the same way, I enjoyed reading about the effects these women have on the residents of the village, particularly the lovely Chloe. They provide work for some, start unexpected friendships with others and give the inspiration for some to make changes of their own. They really are a force for good and I was hoping they could make the pub a success, that it would become a community hub for the village and that Cherry and Mike would find a way to assimilate The Swan into their relationship. These relationships are underpinned by an incredibly picturesque village, wonderful descriptions of interior designs and stunning gardens that feed all the senses. This is a gem of a book, full of hope and with a great sense of fun. I loved reading and discussing it with my mum too. I found myself smiling all the way through and at the end I felt like I’d been on a lovely weekend away.

Meet The Author

Veronica Henry has worked as a scriptwriter for
The Archers, Heartbeat and Holby City amongst many others, before turning to fiction. She won the 2014 RNA Novel of the Year Award for A Night on the Orient Express and is a Sunday Times bestselling author of over twenty books. Veronica lives with her family in a village in north Devon and can often be found
cooking up the perfect seaside feast.
Find out more at or follow her on social media:
@veronica_henry @veronicahenryauthor @veronicahenryauthor

Posted in Random Things Tours

We Are Not In The World by Connor O’Callaghan.

‘The cargo door opens. It opens incrementally. It falls forward, away from us, into foreign day. There are men down there, stevedores in hi-viz and hardhats shouting to one another. I rotate the ignition to halfway, to check for evidence of light. The instrument panel flashes and falls still. There are chains. There is shrieking of iron like gates of hell. Then this fluorescence gradually floods the floor between rows and creeps towards us and feels warm.’

As soon as I read these lines, following Paddy as he and his lorry emerges from the ferry and out into the light, I knew the writing was going to be spectacular and that this was a poet’s novel. Paddy is travelling from England to France, with his stowaway daughter in tow. It’s hard to explain, but this is a book that manages to be both bitter and beautiful. There’s a bleakness to Paddy’s existence, but such a richness in the language used to describe it. It feels bang up to date too, despite the fact no pandemic is mentioned, the author captures a sense of unreality that is all too commonplace these days. The feeling that the world we know and understand has gone, and we are plunged into something other, like Alice down her rabbit hole. We Are Not In The World is an apt title indeed. We follow Paddy on his mundane journey, punctuated by graphic brief encounters and interactions with his daughter Kitty. However, we are also taken into Paddy’s memories of the past and into his relationships, which are largely disastrous. This is an intelligent rendering of psychological damage wrought within families. His marriage is broken, his brother is more successful than he is and there is a complex, almost Oedipal, relationship between him and his mother – also named Kitty. His daughter is wild and rebellious, and in another nod to Paddy’s mother, she wears her gran’s mink coat at all times.

This is not an easy read, but the right readers will love it. Having searched out some of the author’s poetry, it’s clear that the novel touches on some of the same themes. Family and sibling rivalry are represented in Paddy’s relationship with his brother. There’s a jealousy of his apparent successes, but Paddy has still made him the godfather of his daughter. There’s a sense that family is inevitable and no matter how much we wish to escape it we can’t. Separation is explored too – separateness from the land where he grew up, from family and even from his own self. There’s a sense of wanting to be home, but not being able to and the feeling of homesickness that pervades Paddy’s daily existence. He describes it as like a ‘low level virus’ that he permanently lives with. To me it felt like a low-level depression, one that would drop under the radar of most GP’s charts, but is debilitating nonetheless. There’s a numbness in Paddy. He’s on auto-pilot in his daily life, only living in his head until an interaction jolts him out of his memories. The separateness he describes is something I’ve felt when depressed or going through grief. I was physically in the world, but felt no connection to my surroundings or other people. It was like looking at the world through glass.

The only thing Paddy seems to look forward to is some sort of homecoming. He looks at the family home of Tír na nÓg as both a rose-tinted past and a future redemption. Situated on a shingle beach in Ireland, it feels like his chance of happiness or at least a respite from the homesickness that plagues him. Can it be a place of things coming full circle? A completion of this endless mental push and pull between past and future. It feels like a pipe dream, far removed from the reality he’s in and the way he thinks about certain family events, referred to by him and Kitty as ‘the thing we never mention.’ There are times when I wondered if Kitty was real, or whether her birth from the hiding place of his bunk behind the cab was purely metaphorical. I had moments of confusion, moments of being unsure how these fragmented memories and feelings fit together. I was even unsure of what was real and what was imagined occasionally. However, I loved the feelings it induced in me and the sheer beauty of the prose. There’s a haunting quality to the novel that will stay with me. It was a reading experience that I let wash over me, rather like listening to an opera or viewing a beautiful painting. This is for those readers who like their novels to be strange, and bleak, but beautiful at the same time.

Published by Doubleday 18th February 2022

Meet The Author

Conor O’Callaghan is originally from Dundalk, and now divides his time between Dublin and the North of England. His critically acclaimed first novel Nothing on Earth was published by Doubleday Ireland in 2016.

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books of the Month! January 2022

It’s been a busy month in book world and I’ve found my resolution to read more of my own choices and say no to blog tours severely tested. The emails land in my inbox like a siren song and I have to force myself to swipe them into the bin! I’m always scared that I’ll miss a fantastic read, perhaps a book from an small Indie publisher that I haven’t heard about before. I want to be careful I’m not just reading those books that have a huge publicity campaign behind them. It’s lovely to be able to read books that people haven’t heard about and really sing their praises. From everything I’ve read this month these were my favourite reads, some of which I’ve reviewed and some I’ll be reviewing next month, but want to start shouting about now.

The Maid by Nita Prose

Published by Harper Collins 20th Jan 2022.

I loved The Maid and I think it’s an incredible debut for Nita Prose. It’s a thriller novel, but with a huge heart. Molly is such a loveable character and as the novel begins she is truly alone in the world, after the death of her grandmother. Molly is a maid in the Regency Grand Hotel, someone completely invisible as far as the guests are concerned, but vital to the smooth running of the hotel. When she finds regular guest Mr Black dead in his suite, she becomes embroiled in a murder case. Yet, maybe she has a super power when it comes to investigating crime. When no one notices you and you clear away everyone’s mess, what might you notice that no one else does? I loved Molly as a narrator and her unique way of seeing the world. It’s rare for a thriller to leave you with a warm, fuzzy feeling, but The Maid is definitely the most uplifting thriller I’ve come across.

Demon by Matt Wesolowski.

Published by Orenda Books 20th January 2022

Demon is my favourite so far of Matt Wesolowski’s Six Stories series, where Scott King creates a podcast covering an historical crime. This may be an unsolved cold case, a crime where there are unanswered questions or a case so controversial it can still stir up public opinion. This case is the latter, the murder of a young boy called Sidney Parsons by two boys his own age in the village of Usslethwaite in the 1990’s. As with all his podcasts, King gathers six people either related to the crime or who have a new and distinct perspective on the case. The story has parallels with the James Bulger case, something that had huge resonance for me because of my family connections to Liverpool, but also because I was an older teenager in the 1990’s so I remember it vividly. Wesolowski covers some of the same controversies: the brutality of the crime; the age of the perpetrators; balancing justice and rehabilitation. Added to this is the haunting atmosphere of the village, the caves that loom in the landscape and over the crime scene; the first hand accounts of supernatural events around the time of the crime. I found the different perspectives fascinating and the horror elements unnerving, especially when reading late at night. This was a brilliant horror/crime combination.

The Unravelling by Polly Crosby

Published by HQ 6th Jan 2022

On the island of Dohallund, Miss Marianne Stourbridge is from a long line of island guardians and lives alone in the family home ardently studying her collections. When she advertises for help in her endeavours she encounters Tartelin Brown and offers her a job hunting butterflies for her research. However, as she travels around the island she discovers something more interesting. There’s the island’s history as a place annexed by the military and uninhabited until recently. There’s the mystery of what happened to the Stourbridge family and how Marianne came to be a wheelchair user. There’s the strange run down or unfinished follies dotted around. Most importantly, there are the strange encounters with the islands fauna, which are not always what they seem. In a dual timeline we explore the island of Marianne’s teenage years, as well as the strange present day, to answer the many questions the reader starts to have about the Stourbridge family and past events. I found this story magical, mysterious and ultimately very moving. Polly Crosby is fast becoming one of my favourite writers.

Insomnia by Sarah Pinborough

Published by Harper Collins 30th March 2022

This is an early heads up about a novel being published at the end of March. As Emma approaches her fortieth birthday she can’t sleep. She finds herself lured into obsessive behaviours, a steady nightly routine of checking the children, checking the doors and windows, standing in darkness observing the garden outside for movement. She opens the under stairs cupboard, looking for goodness knows what. Her uneasy behaviour is being noticed by her husband and her children. What keeps going round and round in her mind is that her own mother descended into mental illness just before she was forty. Is the same thing happening to her? I read this over the Christmas and New Year break and it was impossible to put down. It really is a master class in thriller writing. Look out for my review just before publication next month.

The Book of Magic by Alice Hoffman

Published by Scribner U.K. 6th Jan 2022

I’m sure regular readers will feel like I’ve been banging on about this book for months, mainly because I love Alice Hoffman but also because I had such early access to the novel. Originally pencilled in for publication last autumn, I’d read the book and reviewed it for October only for publication to be moved to early 2022. No matter, because this is a book worth talking about, especially if you love the Practical Magic novels. I have always maintained that Jet is the most interesting of the Owens women and she features prominently in this final novel of the series. Set after the events of Practical Magic we meet three generations of Owens from Jet and Franny, the elderly aunts, to Gillian and Sally, and down to Sally’s daughters. The focus is on the Owens curse, brought to bear on the family by Maria Owens who had been deceived and heart broken. It states that no member of the family can be in love without grave consequences befalling them. Each woman has tried to circumvent the curse in their own way. Sally embraced love but lost her husband only a few years later and is scarred by the experience. Gillian is married, but doesn’t live with her husband. Jet meets her lover in a hotel for interludes and never looks for more. Kylie’s best friend is the most important person in her life, but they have never used the word love. Until now. The curse strikes and as Kylie lies in a hospital bed, deep in a coma, the women and Uncle Vincent must find a way to end the curse for future generations. As Jet hears the death watch beetle ticking away in the timbers of the house, she also knows that time is running out. A fitting and magical end to this much loved series.

The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont

Published by Mantle 20th Jan 2022

I absolutely loved this novel based around the disappearance of the crime novelist Agatha Christie in 1926. She disappeared for eleven days and nobody knew her whereabouts. Here the author weaves a tale narrated by Nan, the mistress of Agatha’s husband. There is a showdown between husband and wife as he explains he is leaving her for Nan. Then Christie’s car is found abandoned by the side of the road, but there is no sign of Agatha. The author takes us back from Nan’s growing up in Ireland, to her meeting the Christies. Her life has been one of hardships and heartbreak until now and we begin to realise that Nan wants more from Agatha than just her husband. Meanwhile, Agatha is resting at a spa hotel in Harrogate under an assumed name, when a murder occurs. She doesn’t know it, but detectives have been sent out to look for her and one of them may be closer than she thinks. This was a stylish and genre defying novel, being part love story, part crime novel, and historical fiction all at once. It definitely felt like a story of incredible, resilient and resourceful women.

The Impulse Purchase by Veronica Henry

Published by Orion 3rd Feb 2022.

This book was an absolute ray of sunshine and pure escapism at the end of the month after some heavy reads. My full review will appear as part of the blog tour in February but I can tell you a little bit about the story. The author gives us four generations of interesting and intelligent women. Just before her great-grandmother dies, Rose brings a fourth generation into the world. Gertie is the centre of her family’s world and mother Rose is trying to move into work by volunteering at a local charity helping people who are homeless. Maggie is Rose’s mother, she is feisty and intelligent and loves running her food PR business. Grandmother Cherry is a warm and nurturing woman, trying to process the death of her mother and the selling of the large family home that holds so many memories. The village she grew up in is dear to her heart, so when she hears that local pub The Swan is going to be closed down she makes a huge impulse purchase. Another catalyst in this decision was seeing husband Mike’s indiscretion with a beautiful young painter, at the retirement party Cherry meticulously planned for him. Now she’s going to grab something for herself and The Swan is the ultimate project. So three generations of women tackle the pub and settle into village life in a boathouse at the back of the pub. Has this purchase been an expensive folly, or can these women pull off the ideal country pub? This is an uplifting family drama, packed full of wonderful descriptions of decor and food.

Other books I read this month…

The Second Woman by Louise Mey

Bitter Flowers by Gunnar Staalesen

Cut Out by Michèle Roberts

The Secret by Debbie Howells

The Family by Naomi Krupitsky

Daughter of the Sea by Elizabeth J. Hobbes