Posted in Sunday Spotlight

Sunday Spotlight! Memoirs and Other Non-Fiction Lifesavers

I’ve been struggling over the last couple of weeks, probably since the procedure on my back and short term increase of medication, I’ve struggled to connect fully with a book and to remember all the plot points in those twisty – turny thrillers I usually love. Often when I’m like this I find the best thing to read is non-fiction, which in my case usually means history or memoirs. So for the next few Sundays I’m going to feature some of the non-fiction books I’ve enjoyed and those that have changed my life.

An Evil Cradling by Brian Keenan

I wouldn’t have read this amazing piece of writing, had it not been set for my Autobiography class at university. It is an absolutely stunning book, for it’s story, it’s language and how Keenan tries to hold on to his sense of self when everything that normally defines us is stripped away. The Irish writer was teaching in Beirut in the 1980’s, when he was taken hostage by Shi’ite Militia Men, he was held for four years, much of his time with the British writer John McCarthy. What Keenan manages to do is convey the fear, the indignities, the atrocities and the endless hours of waiting. He muses on what it is that makes us ‘us’. Usually when we are asked what makes us who we are we tend to list the foods, music, sport or pastimes we love. I might feel defined as a rock music fan, who loves Italian food, Woody Allen films and reading novels. However, if we imagine all those things taken away, who do we become? While keeping us abreast of day to day events, Keenan goes inside himself to ask who he is when he isn’t observed or compared to another. He has to consider whether it is easier to let his psyche split into many different pieces that may be impossible to assemble should he survive? Or should he try to keep his sense of a cohesive self, if indeed there is one, and if he reminds himself daily of who he is will it help him survive. It’s hard to imagine the situation Keenan is in and how deprived he is of sensory information, so much so that just seeing an orange inspires this passage:

‘I want to bow before it. Loving that blazing, roaring, orange colour … Everything meeting in a moment of colour and form, my rapture no longer abstract euphoria. It is there in that tiny bowl, the world recreated in that broken bowl. I feel the smell of each fruit leaping into me and lifting me and carrying me away. I am drunk with something that I understand but cannot explain. I am filled with a sense of love. I am filled and satiated by it. What I have waited and longed for has without my knowing come to me, and taken all of me.’

Three Things You Need to Know About Rockets by Jessica A Fox

This was one of those books I simply fell upon while on holiday in Northumberland as I was browsing in Cogito Books at Hexham. For some reason this appealed to me as a holiday read because it felt light and had an escapist quality. Fox is living a life I can’t imagine, in a sublet house that has a lovely garden for meditation and she has a job working as a story teller, at NASA of all places. When she’s hit with redundancy she feels a need for a change of direction and Googles ‘second hand bookshops in Scotland’, dreaming of a quiet bookish retreat. She finds a bookshop in Wigtown where there is a book festival in the summer and they want voluntary help, with accommodation included. She fires off an email which starts an incredible journey geographically and emotionally.

She arrives in Scotland and is welcomed into the home and shop of Euan, where she’s due to spend a month. It’s not long before it’s clear there are feelings between these two book lovers, but they are very different people. Jessica’s is enthusiastic and wears her heart on her sleeve whereas Euan is all reserve and doesn’t want to define or commit to the relationship. When she returns to Scotland for a second time, she makes it clear that she needs to know he is as committed to this as she is and sets an ultimatum. She will return to the US and if he wants a relationship with her he must come out to get her before a certain date. Heartbroken, she returns to her parents house and tries to put her life back together again, thinking that she must move forward in case he doesn’t come. This isn’t soppy or sentimental, as Jessica relates a good amount of personal growth too. She learns to slow down, after living in a city where everything is available at any time of day, and has to accept that in Wigtown going for a walk or seeing some Highland Cattle is quite enough incident in one day. I truly enjoyed this and look forward to reading Euan’s story, under his real name Shaun Bythell.

Small Dogs Can Save Your Life by Bel Mooney

Although this is now packaged in a cutesy pink way, it’s quite a powerful memoir about loss and finding one’s identity against, written by journalist Bel Mooney and relating some of the most painful times in her life. Married for thirty-five years, Bel recounts the life shattering experience of her husband coming home and telling her he was in love with someone else. He had met an opera singer through his work and it had been an instant understanding between them. Through her pain, Bel could recognise this as love and he left the family home. While still in shock and starting to negotiate the terms of their divorce, Mooney rescued a small Maltese dog called Bonnie. Her story recounts the growth of her bond with this little rescue dog and how the simple act of looking after an animal can aid the process of recovery. The small steps it required to look after her small dog were the first tentative steps towards finding a new life, when she couldn’t even imagine what it might look like. When her husband’s new partner was suddenly diagnosed with terminal cancer, she even finds the strength to be loving and compassionate despite her own pain.

I know the power of a dog to heal. After the death of my husband I’d managed to do no more than put one foot in front of the other for about six months, when I bought a tiny cockapoo puppy. I collected him on New Year’s Eve and we settled in to a night in front of the fire with the TV on. I was watching the film Finding Neverland and the sequence where the boy’s mother slowly slips away while they perform a play for her really hit a nerve with me. The weight of the past six months seemed to suddenly become unbearable and for the first time in my life I actually considered what a relief it might be to not be here anymore. I knew I had enough medication in the house to do the job. The thing that stopped me was the bundle of fur I’d brought home that afternoon. In the battle going on inside my head I kept coming back to how scared and bewildered he would be. His first night away from his litter I couldn’t do that to him. Rafferty has been by my side ever since and on those days where I couldn’t face coming out from under the duvet, having to get up and let him out in the morning forced me to keep going. He’s now fifteen and his health is failing, but I’m still there each day supporting him like he’s supported me. Without him, I wouldn’t be here. So it seems that books and small dogs can save your life.

Posted in Personal Purchase

Wolf Pack by Will Dean.

Yay! Tuva is back!! My current favourite literary heroine is back investigating another story in the remote and slightly quirky surroundings of the town of Gavrik, in Northern Sweden. We left Tuva at the end of Bad Apples on a cliffhanger, but Will Dean throws us straight into the action and the frozen forest. As Tuva is driving she finds a hunting dog at the side of the road, armoured but still injured. It’s owner isn’t far away and he blames wolves. As she rushes the dog and his owner to the vet, Tuva wonders if there are such wolf packs roaming the land close to Gavrik? She doesn’t know it yet, but there’s more than one type of wolf close by.

And when there’s a pack on the hunt no one’s safe….

Rose Farm is a closed community, home to a group of survivalists and completely cut off from the outside world. Until now.
When a young woman goes missing within the perimeter of the farm compound Tuva must try to talk her way inside the tight-knit group to find her story.

In a frantic search, Tuva attempts to unmask the culprit and gains unique access to the residents. But soon she finds herself in danger of the pack turning against her – will she make her way back to safety so she can expose the truth?

At first, Tuva seems somewhat settled into everyday life, but sadly we soon find all is not well in her world. Her lover Noora, a Gavrik police officer, was shot in the last novel. She didn’t die, but nor did she recover. Noora now lies in a persistent vegetative state, uncommunicative and requiring round the clock care. Tuva’s emotions are complicated, she’s grieving for someone who is not here, but who hasn’t left either. It is Noora’s mother who has stepped in to care for her daughter. With incredible care and compassion, she has suggested that Tuva return to her work and life in Gavrik, while still accepting her as a vitally important part of Noora’s life.

The story of the missing girl is an intriguing one and perhaps less fast paced than the last novel. Elsa Nyberg was reported missing by her father and was last seen around the Rose Farm complex. Tuva takes a look at the heavily guarded compound, surrounded by high perimeter fencing, ditches, barbed wire and a military trained security man, always seen with a large dog by his side. It’s a bit of a contradiction, as two businesses run from the farm and are open to the public; a shop and café, plus a spa. There are definitely public and private faces in this community. On the quiet this community is nicknamed the ‘Wolf Pack’, a group trained to military standards, armed to the teeth and ready for the apocalypse. Or maybe they’re simply a benign group of ‘preppers’ with an underground bunker and a pantry full of tinned food? The central figure is a slightly reclusive figure called Abraham, a painter and philosopher who is ready for the end times. Tuva senses a story, especially when she finds out that a few decades before the resident farmer went berserk and almost killed his whole family before killing himself. The only survivor was a baby, just a few months old. Tuva wonders if history is repeating itself.

I am always amazed with Tuva’s tenacity, but also her audacity when investigating her stories. She is always brave, often to the point of recklessness. She certainly puts herself at the centre of things, driving onto the public part of the compound and engaging with those community members who work in the cafe and spa. At some points she even finds her way onto the private areas of the estate, even inside the main house where she finds some disturbing evidence of Elsa’s presence. I wasn’t as terrified for her life as I was in Bad Apples, but there was one section where security guard Andreas invites her to try the Wolf Pack’s underground obstacle test – if a potential member doesn’t complete the course they are not tough enough to join. The narrow underground chamber and tunnel fill with water, so that the tunneller must hold their breath and dive through and under small submerged areas. I couldn’t believe it when Tuva took up the challenge and disappeared underground, the tension ratcheting up by the second. This scene really tapped into my claustrophobia and left me a bit breathless! It reminded me how badass Tuva really is.

The murder is gripping and I was interested to know if any of the residents at Rose Farm were involved in it’s past tragedy. I was interested in how Tuva infiltrated online survivalist forums to get the low down on community members and to gauge what their beliefs and aims might be. Although any group has it’s weaker links and I started to wonder whether Abraham was who he seemed or was it an alias for someone else? In a complete contrast to the last book, this time people are not covering who they are with masks. Here we have wolves masquerading as everyday people. When Elsa’s body is found there is an ancient symbol tattooed in white ink on the back of her neck. It’s not anything that Tuva’s seen before, but does suggest an element of the occult or perhaps another part of the group’s initiation ritual. We’re used to quirks in Tuva’s investigations and all of the quirks from previous books are still here, such as the Troll sisters and the comically awful toppings offered at the pizza restaurant. There’s always a question of whether the remoteness breeds eccentricity, or whether eccentric people choose to pursue their way of life in an out of the way place. There are certainly more than the average share of murderers and Tuva is determined to find the truth, even if it places her in danger.

However, I do think this was a more subdued, thoughtful Tuva than in previous books. She’s valuing the people around her more, such as Lena and Tammy. She makes time to eat with Tammy out at the food truck and at home and even pursues the bond she’s made with the boy next door. I found it very touching that after a tough day she went to her neighbour and ask if she could read him a bedtime story, gaining comfort from the ritual. It’s a habit she’s started with Noora too, reading to her over FaceTime in the evening. She muses on her apartment, more as a home rather than just a place to crash when she’s exhausted. She wonders whether her memories of Noora in the apartment are too traumatic, but decides that she gains comfort from knowing they spent time together there. I was incredibly moved by the time she spends with Noora and the powerful feeling of belonging she gets simply by lying next to her. They don’t have to speak or hear in order to communicate. In fact, Tuva doesn’t have to struggle to communicate, which she often does, especially if her hearing aids are damaged or lost. With Noora she can take her hearing aids out and just ‘be’ and there is peace in that.

Published by Point Blank 8th September 2022

Meet The Author

Will Dean grew up in the East Midlands, living in nine different villages before the age of eighteen. After studying law at the LSE, and working many varied jobs in London, he settled in rural Sweden with his wife. He built a wooden house in a boggy forest clearing and it’s from this base that he compulsively reads and writes.

Posted in Netgalley

Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney

This was a deliciously clever and fiendish tale from an author I’m starting to trust when looking for a thrilling read. This was so difficult to put down and was eerily reminiscent of one of Agatha Christie’s novels that I made a note of it, then I saw it mentioned in the finale, so I won’t ruin it by saying which one. As the tide comes in, the Darker family are congregating at the family seat for the matriarch’s birthday. Seaglass is a large house on an island with only a causeway linking it to Cornwall, so at high tide it is completely cut off from the rest of the world. The book’s action all takes place in the space of one high tide and the final Darkers are rushing across the causeway to get there on time. Gathered at Seaglass are a motley crew of Darkers across four generations from Gran down to her great-granddaughter Beatrice known as Trixie. In between are the son ?? a famous, but not wealthy conductor, his ex-wife Nancy and their three daughters Rose, Lily and Daisy. Not forgetting Popper the family dog. One latecomer is a young man called Connor, an unofficial family member who turned up on Seaglass’s beach one morning when the Darker sisters were small. Gran noticed that Connor was bruised and neglected, so from that moment she took him and his alcoholic father under her wing. One second is all it took for every Darker woman to fall in love with this lonely boy who has lost his mother.

Now Connor has arrived the games can begin and it’s soon clear that if any of the Darker family survive till low tide in the morning, they’ll be very lucky indeed. I loved how the author built the atmosphere. Seaglass is a labyrinthine house, but each downstairs room is arranged around a central hall and are linked by doors, so that when the girls were little they could open the space up and Lily would roller skate in circuits around the house. I really wanted their grandmother’s study: filled with books and art supplies that produced her beloved children’s books. Her first book was Daisy Darker and was inspired by her youngest granddaughter, who was found to have a heart defect when she was a child. I loved the family’s eccentricities and traditions, such as the clocking in machine at the front door where every family member has a card to punch in and out. There’s a blackboard wall in the kitchen, for impromptu poetry, and at the kitchen table there are individual chairs, painted for each family member – of course one is covered in daisies, just like Daisy’s converse trainers. We get a sense of the family’s longevity in their collections and special treasures, such as the bone and seaglass Scrabble set, bought by Gran’s agent and set to play a special part in the night’s proceedings.

Published by Macmillan 18th August 2022

Meet the Author


Alice Feeney is a New York Times million-copy bestselling author. Her books have been translated into over twenty-five languages, and have been optioned for major screen adaptations. Including Rock Paper Scissors, which is being made into a TV series by the producer of The Crown. Alice was a BBC journalist for fifteen years, and now lives in Devon with her family. Daisy Darker is her fifth novel. 

You can follow Alice on Instagram/Twitter: @alicewriterland

To find out more visit: http://www.alicefeeney.com

Posted in Netgalley

The Good Servant by Fern Britton

I wrote this review a fortnight ago, before the events of the last week. I’m always torn at times when there’s huge royal news, because I’m caught up between my ideals and the sheer spectacle of the event. It’s a trick that Kings and Queens have used throughout history, knowing that they are unpopular with some elements of society, they use the pomp and ceremony to charm and overwhelm them. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard someone interviewed this week and they’ve said ‘I’m not really a Royalist, but the Queen’s done a great job, or has been a constant presence in my life.’ In a time of recession and a cost of living crisis, I have still seen people subjected to a ‘pile on’ on social media if they’ve dared to suggest that the state funeral will be costing a fortune. Heaven forbid they mention the problematic aspects of Queen Elizabeth’s reign from imperialism to her steadfast support of her son Andrew. I think when someone has lived as long as Queen Elizabeth, there will always be societal changes that cast earlier choices in a bad light. However, I do have a complex relationship with the Royal Family, from really loving Princess Diana when I was a little girl, to learning more about the aspects I find worrying, such as the denial of the Queen’s two Bowes-Lyon cousins who had multiple disabilities and were placed in an institution, but declared as dead. I hate the way Diana and now the Duchess of Suffolk were treated and how the love lives of Princess Margaret and even the now King, Charles III, were meddled with by older family members. I was shocked to realise that Prince Phillip’s sisters were married to members of the Nazi Party. The goings on behind the scenes are always fascinating though. The shadowy men in grey suits who actually run the show, schooled in the constitution and making sure that what comes first is the crown above all. It was this behind the scenes fascination that brought this book to my attention. I’ll admit that I’m usually a bit of a snob when it comes to celebrity books. Comedians and journalists are writing all the time, but when someone’s a presenter I never know what I’m going to get from a novel. I gave this a go because of how interested I am in the history of the Royal Family and I should admit to being an avid watcher of The Crown. I thought the story might be diverting at least, but I was actually pleasantly surprised to find myself truly involved with the story of Crawfie.

Fern Britton’s novel takes us back to London between the wars, a rather turbulent time of constant change; socially, economically and culturally. We travel back and forth between 1932 and 1936. In 1932 Marion Crawford is looking forward to a career as a teacher, when an opportunity presents itself. Unexpectedly, she is offered the role of governess to two Princesses. Elizabeth and Margaret are the granddaughters of George V from his second son, the Duke of York and his wife Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (our Queen Mum). Just four years later and a huge change rocks the royal household, George V’s death paves the way for his eldest son David to succeed him as King. Choosing the regnal name Edward VIII, he is a rather controversial figure amongst the establishment, often disregarding court protocol and conventions and sometimes appearing too political. Edward causes concerns in his choice of companion too, the twice divorced American Wallis Simpson. His abdication, to marry the woman he loves changes the course of history and everyday life for the princesses and their governess. This unexpected constitutional crisis means Crawfie’s life will change forever. It has already been an adjustment to become part of a royal household and now she finds herself in this new position with new responsibilities – governess to the future Queen. The author really does portray this change well, always relating back to how this feels for our heroine, an ordinary young girl given extraordinary responsibility. Marion Crawford is our representative in this novel; the ordinary person living in the extraordinary. As a result we see familiar events from history made immediate and brought vividly to life, with the same sense of wonder and bewilderment that Crawfie feels.

I felt I was in the hands of an expert storyteller as this novel unfolded and I did feel Crawfie’s trepidation at the changes this brought to her life. It was so refreshing to see a well documented part of history told from the angle of a worker in the household, but someone who is neither upstairs or downstairs, but in that liminal role of governess. She is respectable, but not royal. She works for the family, but isn’t a servant. It’s a unique position, but sometimes a lonely one too. She is at the very heart and the future of the Royal Family, but will never be one of them. The author really brought this home to me, the individual working with the Royals must be available whenever they’re needed, no matter how lowly the position. It’s her future and position in this household that Crawfie must consider when she falls in love with George. He may be the love of her life, but can she choose him over her life with the princesses? I loved the sense of loyalty she feels, both to the Crown and her young charges. If she chooses them, their lives will become her life and they will be her children. Would this loyalty be repaid?

I won’t spoil the book by talking about the reality of Marion Crawford’s decision at this time and how her life played out, but she was torn between George and the royals her entire life. The author has told a story that’s an incredible glimpse into the Royal Family at this turbulent time. I felt like I was there as a fly on the wall! I ended up whipping through the story so quickly, possibly because it flows beautifully. There is no doubt about the extensive research that’s gone into the novel, but it wears this research lightly and never lapses into telling us what happened rather than showing us. This is both charming and thought provoking, giving us a glimpse of what it means to have a sense of duty, whether as a Queen or her governess. This was made all the more poignant this week, when most people who were asked what they admired about our Queen said it was her incredible sense of duty. Of course that duty can be eased by the riches and privilege of being a head of state. It must be so much harder to have such a strong sense of duty and loyalty without those benefits or the companionship of a family. Fern Britton has really brought a minor player in the history of our Royal Family to life with this novel and it would draw me to her writing in the future.

Published by Harper Collins 9th June 2022.

Meet The Author

Fern Britton is an English television presenter and journalist who has worked in current affairs and Newsrooms since 1980. In the 1990’s she hosted Ready Steady Cook for the BBC and through the 2000’s presented ITV’s flagship daytime magazine This Morning. Since then she has discovered the joy of writing novels and The Good Servant is her tenth. It is a breakaway from her usual theme of Cornish village life by the sea. The Good Servant focuses on a real woman who spent her twenties and thirties devoted to Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret as children. Fern lives in Cornwall with her four children and three cats.

Posted in Rachels Random Resources

The Lost Notebook by Louise Douglas.

A notebook full of secrets, two untimely deaths – something sinister is stirring in the perfect seaside town of Morranez…

It’s summer and holidaymakers are flocking to the idyllic Brittany coast. But when first an old traveller woman dies in suspicious circumstances, and then a campaign of hate seemingly drives another victim to take his own life, events take a very dark turn. Mila Shepherd has come to France to look after her niece, Ani, following the accident in which both Ani’s parents were lost at sea. Mila has moved into their family holiday home, as well as taken her sister Sophie’s place in an agency which specialises in tracking down missing people, until new recruit Carter Jackson starts.

It’s clear that malevolent forces are at work in Morranez, but the local police are choosing to look the other way. Only Mila and Carter can uncover the truth about what’s really going on in this beautiful, but mysterious place before anyone else suffers. But someone is desperate to protect a terrible truth, at any cost…

Louise Douglas’s latest novel has a slow start, but then drew me in as it delved into the past and the Balkan War. We are in a small seaside town in Brittany where Mila and her cousin Sophie grew up. Now Mila is back with her life turned upside down. In London she was starting to write her novel and enjoying her relationship with boyfriend Luke, in fact they have even talked about marriage. Then across the channel something terrible happens. Sophie and her husband are lost at sea, leaving their teenage daughter Ani an orphan. Mila’s aunt asks her to travel over to Brittany, to help with their business and bring some comfort to Ani. Mia and Ani have been living in the sea house for a few months now and Mila has so many mixed feelings about looking after her niece. She loves Ani, but isn’t sure she’s very good at being a parent. She finds it hard to have the tough conversations and thinks that Ani will be much better off when she flies out to the Swiss boarding school she’s enrolled at for the new term. Mila is sure they’ll be better trained to deal with a bereaved teenage girl than she is. When Ani disappears one afternoon, Mila finds her at an old camper van in a nearby field where an elderly lady appears to be living. Gosia looks like shes been living on the road for a long time and Mila is concerned about her, but first needs to get Ani home. However, the very next morning she notices smoke rising up from the field where Harriet’s camper van was parked. By the time she gets there Gosia has died.

Gosia’s death is the first in a series of disturbing events for Mila. Mila’s aunt continues to run the investigations business she set up with Sophie, and in the short term Mila has been helping out. However, for the long term her aunt has hired someone from the girl’s past and as soon as Mila hears Carter Jackson’s bike roaring into town she knows there’s unfinished business. Mila had complicated feelings for Carter, made even more painful by the fact he was so clearly in love with Sophie. Mila isn’t happy with him being back in the area, doesn’t know if she can trust him and hates those painful adolescent feelings he reawakens. Close to the sea house, there is an archaeological dig taking place at a series of dolmans or ancient dwelling places. The wife of the dig’s professor has been in to the agency to ask if they will follow her husband, because she has suspicions about him being involved with someone on the dig. Mila thinks it’s just the sort of PI work the company doesn’t get involved with, but with Carter happy to take the assignment and the money needed by the business they go ahead. When photographs turn up showing the professor meeting a young girl, local tensions start to build. Especially when someone blows up the image and fly-posts them around town with the title ‘Professor Pervert’. When the professor goes missing Mila starts to wonder if they’ve been paid to frame an innocent man. Then he turns up dead, an apparent suicide that Carter and Mila think may be staged. What does the professor know and is there a link between him and Gosia?

I found Mila a bit frustrating if I’m honest. It’s clear that all Ani needs is someone to show they love her and that they want to be with her. Mila feels constantly between things and her niece is actually very wise when she points out that Mila is constantly saying she needs to get back to her life, as if what she’s doing now isn’t living. What has happened in Morrannez to change Mila? Is it the slowed own pace of life, or that feeling of being home? Is she actually enjoying the parenthood she feels has been thrust upon her? She says she wants to be with Luke, but only ever calls him to ask for his police perspective on the case. She can write wherever she is so does she even want the life she had in the UK any more? I knew what I wanted to happen, mainly for Ani’s sake more than anything as she’s already been left by two parents. The case really gelled for me as Mila comes across clues such as Gosia’s scrapbook/ journal and the video clip she watches from the Bosnian war. This piece of film is such a moment of horror amongst the lighter tone of the book so far, that it has a huge impact. The politics and complexities of the Balkan War are well researched and it was so interesting I wished it had been introduced earlier in the novel, perhaps as a separate time strand. I felt as if I was really gripped by the mystery for the first time, but it didn’t seem long before the e-book ended. This might not seem so jarring when reading a physical copy as we get more sense of where we are in a novel when we’re turning the pages. I truly enjoyed the way the threads of the case linked back in history and I also liked the short trip back to Sophie and Mila’s teenage years to get a flavour of their friendship. The relationship between Ani and Mila tugged at my heartstrings though and kept reading in the hope that Mila would find a way of being with Ani and perhaps staying in France where I felt she belonged.

You can buy the book here – https://amzn.to/3HNYxqV

Meet the Author

Author Bio – 

Louise Douglas is the bestselling and brilliantly reviewed author and an RNA award winner. The Secrets Between Uswas a Richard and Judy Book Club pick. She lives in the West Country.

You can find out more about Louise using the following links.

Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/Louise-Douglas-Author-340228039335215/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/louisedouglas3

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/LouiseDouglas3/

Newsletter Sign Up: https://bit.ly/LouiseDouglas

Bookbub profile: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/louise-douglas

Posted in Orenda, Random Things Tours

Black Hearts by Doug Johnstone

As all subscribers and Twitter followers must know by now, I am a huge fan of The Skelf series. I’m a Skelfaholic and I’m in a strange cycle of waiting for the next book to be published, devouring it overnight, then longing for the next one again. It’s even worse this time because I have it on good authority that this could be the penultimate book in the series. So one more book and no more Skelfing! I’m going to be like a weasel with a sore head when I have to go cold turkey. It has been wonderful to be back in Edinburgh with this family of three: part private investigators, part undertakers and all round incredible women. For those who haven’t met them yet, the Skelfs are three generations of women. Grandmother Dorothy is in her seventies, but is still active in both the investigative and the funeral parts of the business. In her spare time she still drums like a badass and has a lover almost twenty years her junior. Daughter Jenny is back home, living above the business and struggling with memories of psychopath ex- husband Craig. She’s drowning her pain with alcohol and sex.

Jenny’s daughter Hannah is now a PhD student, working in the astrophysics department, but still finding time to help out in the family business. She’s now married to girlfriend Indy, is feeling settled and might be slowly moving past what happened to her father. Each novel begins with a memorable opening scene and here we kick off with a fist fight at a funeral. The women are also brought diverse and unusual cases, both for funerals and their PI work. A gentleman approaches Dorothy after his wife’s funeral, to ask if they can help him deal with a nighttime visitor. He believes his wife’s spirit is punishing him and he has the bruises to prove it. Hannah is approached by Laura at university, the young woman claims to know her, but Hannah has absolutely no recollection of her. When Laura starts to turn up wherever Hannah goes, she starts to suspect mental health problems, but nothing dangerous. She stops being harmless the closer she gets to the family, especially when Hannah drops into the funeral parlour and finds Laura talking to Indy. Laura wants them to do her mother’s funeral, but Hannah thinks it’s unwise. How can she let this fragile girl down gently?

Aside from their cases Johnstone also picks up those storylines that weave throughout the novels. In the main we are drawn back to Craig, Jenny’s ex-husband and Hannah’s father, who is still haunting the family. Jenny is the most visibly affected by her interactions with Craig’s family, most notably his sister, who seems to have inherited his ability to manipulate and turn to violence to get what she wants. Will Craig ever leave them alone and will Jenny be able to tread the line between her own pain as his ex and Hannah’s pain as his daughter. Both tend to overlook the grief that Dorothy still feels at the loss of her own husband Jim, complicated now by her relationship with police detective Thomas. Indy’s grief is also overlooked a lot, especially since she’s just gone through disinterring her parents in order to give them the cremation in line with their faith. Hannah and Jenny bring the drama and it’s Jenny I was particularly worried about. She’s getting messy, day drinking and embarking on a highly controversial sexual relationship with the wrong person. She never wakes up feeling better, but in the moment she has to drown out the constant pictures in her head. It’s clearly PTSD and she’s in danger of drawing others into her drama, especially Archie who works for the funeral business. Can she rein her behaviour, when professional help seems doomed to failure at this point?

Aside from these incredible women, and the lovely Indy of course, the things I most love about these books is Doug Johnstone’s love for Edinburgh and the way he weaves incredible ideas, philosophy and physics into his novels. I’ve not been to Edinburgh since I was in my twenties, but the way he describes the city makes me want to go back. He doesn’t sugar coat the city either, there’s good and bad here, but as a whole these books are a poem to a place that’s in his soul. Dorothy muses on her home town a lot in this novel and considering she was born in America, this place is her heart’s homeland. She ponders on the people this city produces, including her husband and child, the history, and the architecture almost as if she’s taking stock. She concludes that she’s a person who always looks forward to where life’s going, but grief and loss are like the waves and there’s no telling when it will wash ashore again. Jenny tends to frequent the less salubrious areas of the city. She’s stuck. Her past has quite literally washed ashore and the problem with losing someone is you’re not the only one grieving and everyone grieves differently. She’s not mourning Craig as he truly was. She’s grieving the loss of all that hope; the hope they both had for the future on their wedding day and when Hannah was born. Similarly Craig’s mum and sister aren’t missing the Craig who committed all those terrible crimes. Violet misses the little boy she had and the life she wanted for him and his sister just misses her baby brother.

I loved the elements of Japanese spirituality and having read Messina’s novel The Phonebox at the Edge of the World, I loved the concept of the wind phone. I’ve always thought that a good way of letting go of the past, especially when you’re struggling emotionally, is to make a physical gesture or step in the direction you want to go. That might mean taking off a wedding ring when you’re getting divorced, or moving house to somewhere that isn’t filled with old memories. I found talking to my late husband in my head a bit strange and it only made me miss him more. So I wrote to him in my journal instead. To have a phonebox dedicated to speaking with those who have died seems a very effective way of keeping them in the present with you, but in a controlled and deliberate way. I was reminded of the Samuel Beckett quote:

“Memories are killing. So you must not think of certain things, of those that are dear to you, or rather you must think of them, for if you don’t there is the danger of finding them, in your mind, little by little.”

Hannah seems to be the person who’s most accepting of her losses. She always seems older than she is and with Indy alongside her she has all the support she needs. There’s so much wisdom in these two young women, honed from a combination of Indy’s spirituality, years of working with grieving families and Hannah’s physics knowledge, especially where it tries to explain the universe. The supermassive black holes that are thought to be at heart of every galaxy are mysterious. We know that they have a huge power that acts like a magnet, drawing in items from across the universe into the void. Each of the Skelf women have their own grief to bear, a black hole at the centre of their heart. Each must find their own way to remember a little, to prevent becoming overwhelmed by their memories. To prevent that black hole from drawing in every part of them. Only by reconciling this, can they live in the present moment and make plans for their altered future, a future I can’t wait to read about.

Meet the Author

Doug Johnstone is the author of twelve novels, most recently The Great Silence, described as ‘A novel [that] underlines just how accomplished Johnstone has become’ by the Daily Mail. He has been shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year three times, and the Capital Crime Best Independent Voice one; The Big Chill was longlisted for Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. He’s taught creative writing and been writer in residence at various institutions, and has been an arts journalist for twenty years. Doug is a songwriter and musician with five albums and three EPs released, and he plays drums for the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, a band of crime writers. He’s also player-manager of the Scotland Writers Football Club. He lives in Edinburgh.

Posted in Sunday Spotlight

Sunday Spotlight! Self-Improvement Month.

I drive my family and friends crazy every January, complaining about New Year’s Resolutions and explaining why they rarely work. It’s a combination of: the proximity to Christmas – just the week before we’re being told to stuff our faces and fill our shopping trolleys to overflowing; the post-Christmas blues when everyone returns to life as normal; the cold weather and dark nights; the financial squeeze post- Christmas. We’re already dealing with so much this time of year, why would we decide this was the optimum time to start that boot camp or stringent diet? To start denying ourselves? I always say to clients that if they must make resolutions at all, make them positive resolutions. The only one I’ve ever kept was to go to the cinema once a week and that lasted several years, because it was adding something to my life rather than taking it away. I don’t know whether it’s years and years of conditioning as a child, but I always have more get up and go in the autumn. I had a childhood love of new stationery that has never left me, so it’s almost in my DNA that I organise myself at this time of year. The summer is so tough for people with MS, especially when the temperatures are creeping ever higher, so I feel a physical as well as a mental lift in September. It just so happens that September is ‘self-improvement month’ so I thought I’d share with you some of the books that have helped with my self-growth over the years and ones I recommend again and again to clients and friends.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

This book brings back fabulous memories for me because I bought it in the gift shop of New York Public Library on my 40th birthday trip. That week was the start of new patterns in my life anyway, because I was recovering from widowhood swiftly followed by a disastrous abusive relationship. I’d bought my own home for the first time and I was looking for ways to work on my self. I had some counselling, started a weekly meditation class and was looking for a calmer, happier life. Gretchen Rubin’s original career was in law, but when she became an author she started the happiness project, inspired by a moment on a city bus when she looked out at the rainy day and thought ‘the days are long but the years are short’. She started by casting around for the latest research, theories, activities and programs that claimed to boost happiness. Taking us all the way back to ancient wisdom through to lessons in popular culture, she tries everything and reports back candidly on what worked for her and what didn’t. Some of the advice is practical – she looks into the catharsis of getting rid of belongings, the latest wisdom on organising life to reduce stress, and whether money really is the root of evil. In fact Rubin is very honest about this and admits that yes, having enough money to be comfortable does help in lifting mood. However, happiness doesn’t continue to rise the richer we get. The secret is to have just enough. Ultimately we would all gain from carrying out our own project, but the most universal advice for happiness Rubin found was novelty and challenge. We should never settle for routine or stop challenging ourselves, two things that also stop us from growing old mentally. The latest edition of this book has an interview with the author, an insight into other people’s happiness journeys, plus and a guide and free resources to plan your own happiness journey.

Harper Paperbacks, Anniversary Edition. 30th October 2018

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown.

What is it that stops us from taking risks and being vulnerable in life? Usually it is the fear of failure. The fear of falling flat on our faces in from of the world. We strive to appear perfect. I love all of Brené Brown’s work, but as someone who is trying to find the confidence to write, it’s this book that’s closest to my heart at the moment. Brown’s work is rooted in social science and while she’s an academic and rigorous researcher, she has a way of expressing her ideas that feels as if you’re talking to a friend over a coffee. It seems that all we do in this age of social media, is list our imperfections. Usually that means those on the outside, as we try to accept our bodies while looking at photographs that are edited and filtered until they bear no resemblance to the person to a human being. When it comes to our intelligence, fear of failure can actually impede our learning. Studies have shown that girls in their first couple of years at secondary school, a very vulnerable time of their development, are so self-conscious in front of their male classmates that they stop participating in school discussions. Even as adults we avoid trying new things because we don’t want to fail. Starting my blog was partly to get used to writing daily. I’d always wanted to write a book, but was so scared of finding out I wasn’t good enough. I had to build up confidence slowly, but it constantly plagues me that I might fail miserably, even though I tell my stepdaughters that they haven’t failed if they keep trying. Brené Brown’s book was a huge influence on my thinking, because she talks about those times where there’s risk and we are vulnerable. We tend to avoid vulnerability, because we see it as a weakness, almost as a negative feeling. She argues that vulnerability is actually a strength, because we’re vulnerable when doing something new or making a change. We can’t grow and learn, unless we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. When we hide ourselves, we’re actually shutting ourselves off from finding those true connections and the things that bring true meaning to our lives.

Published by Penguin 17th January 2013. Now on Netflix as The Call to Courage.

The Unexpected Joy of the Ordinary by Catherine Gray.

Something in society shifted during lockdown. It was probably the first time that adults of my age (mid-late 40’s) faced an international crisis. For weeks we were thrown back on our own resources, unable to socialise or go outside for entertainment. I felt I had a head start here because having had a disability for most of my life I already have to rely on myself for reassurance, comfort and entertainment. I’ve spent long periods in hospital or convalescing at home since I was about 11 years old so I can honestly say that through lockdown I was never bored or disenchanted with day to day life. I think I learned a long time ago to find happiness in the small stuff. So I was interested in this book that aims to teach people why they feel dissatisfied with everyday life and how to find happiness in ordinary existence.

The author claims it’s not us being brats. There are two deeply inconvenient psychological phenomenons that conspire against our satisfaction. We have ‘negatively-biased’ brains, which zoom in on what’s wrong with our day, rather than what’s right. Of course back in the mists of time, this negative bias kept us alert and stopped us being ambushed by the wildlife that used to eat us, but now it just makes us anxious. She also cites something called the ‘hedonic treadmill’ a drive we all have that keeps us questing for better, faster, more, like someone stuck on a dystopian, never-ending treadmill. Thankfully, there are scientifically-proven ways to train our brains to be more positive and to take a rest from this tireless pursuit. Catherine Gray knits together illuminating science and hilarious storytelling, unveiling captivating research that shows big bucks don’t mean big happiness, extraordinary experiences have a ‘comedown’ and budget weddings predict a lower chance of divorce. She reminds us what an average body actually is, reveals that exercising for weight loss means we do less exercise, and explores the modern tendency to not just try to keep up with the neighbours, but also the social media elite. I found this gave me the background to something I already knew in my heart, but for others this could be a life changing read.

Published by Aster 26th December 2019.

Living Well With Pain and Illness by Vidyamala Burch.

I’ve had chronic pain since I was eleven years old and I broke bones in my spine doing a somersault in school. Since then I’ve been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. At the age of 40 I’d pretty much been round the block when it came to treatments and I was very wary of anything that promised to help or cure my condition. I was especially suspicious of anything that claimed to work on my physical condition through the mind. Any sort of faith healing or therapy that claimed to help me ‘think myself better’ was guaranteed to raise my blood pressure a few notches. So when I came across this woman I probably wasn’t the most receptive reader. However, Vidyamala Burch has suffered with chronic pain for over 30 years due to congenital weakness, a car accident and unsuccessful surgery. That made me sit up and listen. Knowing she is now a wheelchair user reassured me that she wasn’t trying to claim a cure or even that mindfulness would reduce my physical pain, only that mindfulness could reduce my instinct to fight with the pain. Burch identifies that it is our resistance to pain which causes it to be so distressing and miserable. We don’t want it to be happening to us, and we wish we weren’t experiencing it. Instead she suggests we accept it.

LIVING WELL WITH PAIN AND ILLNESS is her practical guide to living with and managing chronic pain through the principles of mindfulness. We must develop a calm awareness of our bodies and the pain we’re in. If we let go of the frustration and suffering that we associate with the pain, our perception of that pain will reduce.Vidyamala Burch uses easy-to follow breathing techniques and powerful mindfulness meditations to teach us how to live in the present moment. LIVING WELL WITH PAIN AND ILLNESS includes helpful illustrations, offers effective ways of managing chronic pain and is a must-read for all sufferers. I found it life changing, not because my pain went away, but because I stopped fighting and resenting it. I learned to meditate on my pain, to learn how it varies over a period of time and how much I can cope with.

Published by Piatkus 3rd March 2011. Vidyamala Burch is the founder of the Breathworks centre.

How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran.

I came across Caitlin Moran’s book at exactly the right time. I was hitting 40, coming out of an abusive relationship and buying a house to live by myself for the first time. I knew I needed to heal and along with the more practical and spiritual reads this one was much needed. It was honest, feisty and funny. Caitlin Moran is a breath of fresh air. I understood her background and that wildly romantic teenage fantasy life she had from her reading. I used to trudge the countryside in my wellies hoping to meet my very own Heathcliff. We had no money, untruly animals and a Labrador I could whisper all my secrets too. This book taught me that it was ok to do what I wanted and I could bypass all the rubbish that comes with the modern ideal of womanhood. I could spend time on looking nice, but not to take on the botoxed, contoured, epilated, pouting and filtered norm. I started to prefer photos that showed who I am inside. I took away from this book that it was okay to wear Dr Martens all the time, that maybe I needed to curb my spending and to accept my body as it is – it might never be better than this. In places, her honesty taught me to be brave about making decisions for my life and not to romanticise my love life. Instead, when I was ready, I would hope to meet a best friend; someone kind, caring and could make me laugh so much I nearly wet myself. This book takes us back to a feminism I could get on board with after twenty years of Spice Girls ‘girl power’ bullshit. She takes on the adolescent horror that comes with periods, a perfectly normal biological function, but overlaid with secrecy and shame. She also discusses body hair, the porn industry, childbirth and abortion. You might not agree with everything she says and does, but every woman can take something away from this book. I buy it for every young woman in my life too, when they reach an appropriate age to relate to those adolescent experiences.

Published by Ebury, 1st March 2012.

I think it’s best to take Self-Improvement Month as an opportunity for self-care. Self-care can be many things, but it’s not all afternoons at a spa – especially now that we’re in this cost of living crisis. It’s not necessarily about treating ourselves, but is more about creating time to take stock of life so far. Which areas of your life need work and how can you add time for self-reflection and recharging into daily life? I try to find time for a short journal entry every day. I still try to see a new film once a week. Since I recently had a back procedure I’m setting aside time to walk with the dog once a day, however far I can manage it. Again these all add to my life, instead of taking something away. Maybe the best thing we can do is accept ourselves as we are and learn to enjoy the small things in life. Be kind to yourself ❤️

Posted in Publisher Proof

Blackstone Fell by Martin Edwards

Rachel Savernake investigates a bizarre locked-room puzzle in this delicious Gothic mystery from the winner of the CWA Diamond Dagger.

1930. Nell Fagan is a journalist on the trail of a intriguing and bizarre mystery: in 1606, a man vanished from a locked gatehouse in a remote Yorkshire village, and 300 years later, it happened again. Nell confides in the best sleuth she knows, judge’s daughter Rachel Savernake. Thank goodness she did, because barely a week later Nell disappears, and Rachel is left to put together the pieces of the puzzle. Looking for answers, Rachel travels to lonely Blackstone Fell in Yorkshire, with its eerie moor and sinister tower. With help from her friend Jacob Flint – who’s determined to expose a fraudulent clairvoyant – Rachel will risk her life to bring an end to the disappearances and bring the truth to light.

A dazzling mystery peopled by clerics and medics; journalists and judges, Blackstone Fell explores the shadowy borderlands between spiritual and scientific; between sanity and madness; and between virtue and deadly sin.

It was the female characters that drew me into this interesting mystery that travels from London to the village of Blackstone Fell. Three particular women caught my eye and my imagination throughout the novel: Cornelia ‘Nell’ Fagan, Rachel Savernake, and the minor character of Ottilie Curle. All three women are very different from the usual heroines of Gothic Literature and a world away from their own Victorian mothers. In fact when I compared them with other women in the novel they don’t conform to the average respectable middle class lady one bit. Nell drew me into the story first, perhaps because she’s best described as ‘a bit of a character’. Everyone in Fleet Street knows her and she’s a regular in all the hang outs including the pub. Nell smokes cheroots, drinks like a fish, earns a living as a journalist, is a bit loose with the truth and loves to tell a story. Recently she’s lost her steady job and has been scouting around for stories that might enable her to start freelance work. She stumbles on the mystery of Blackstone Fell and there’s nothing better than a locked room puzzle to get the cogs turning. She bravely decides to undertake research on the ground and where better to stay than the very gatehouse where two men disappeared 300 years apart. She soon gets the message that there are people still living in the village who don’t want this story investigated. Realising it’s more than she can manage alone she begrudgingly asks for the help of Rachel Savernake. Can they solve the mystery together?

Rachel is another independent woman, financially independent and fiercely intelligent. She loves to solve mysteries especially those involving murders. She’s incredibly observant and perceptive, knowing immediately when Nell is spinning a yarn or lying by omission. She has certain standards for those who work alongside her, expecting loyalty and complete honesty. When these standards aren’t met she is ruthless in her decision to dispense with people. There’s a ruthlessness about her investigation technique too. When she finds information or solves a mystery, she doesn’t just hand over what she knows to the police. Sometimes that’s the right thing to do, sometimes she knows of a better way to dispense justice, whatever form that might take. One character suggests she plays God and there is an element of that in her personality; a certain arrogance that she’s right, combined with the self-belief that only she knows the best way for someone to pay for their actions. I was also fascinated by Tilly, the medium first consulted by Nell who reappears in the story. She’s from a background of poverty, using the only gift she has to make a living. I was interested in the way her appearance is depicted. Like Martha, who looks after Rachel, Tilly is a marked woman. Martha has a scarred face from a burn, whereas Tilly has a scarred neck from a thyroid condition. Marked women have quite a history in Victorian fiction and they are often used to make a point, like Rosa Dartle in Dickens’s David Copperfield. Martha’s scars are a contrast, enhancing the beauty of the rest of her face. Tilly’s scars and her obesity are used more like a smoke screen. People’s prejudices around women who are marked or deemed unattractive, can throw them off the truth about a person. The fact that her servant is a ‘Moor’, is another aspect that’s unconventional. I realised that Tilly might be all too aware of how people see her and has used that knowledge to hide behind their assumptions.

I loved the novel’s setting. Blackstone Fell couldn’t be more gothic. Not only does the village have a creepy gate lodge where two men have disappeared: there’s a tower that looks more like a folly rather than a practical home; the river with it’s beautiful, but dangerous fall, where one wrong step could mean being dragged into the water and dashed to death on the rocks below; the endless fog and boggy ground of the moor has it’s own dangers for those who’ve become lost or disoriented. Then there’s the sanatorium, with it’s isolated location, mysterious residents and methods. Finally there’s the vicarage, where the fire and brimstone vicar seems to have a disintegrating relationship with his much younger and highly strung wife. Phew! It was a lot to keep straight in my head at times.

The historical background is fascinating too. We’re between two world wars where so much change has occurred both for individuals and society. The social order has shifted, with more upward mobility, more freedom and improved rights for women. I loved the power dynamics at play here and the sense that these years are an in between space. The vicar and his wife illustrate the old Victorian, traditional idea of a women’s lot in life. It seems archaic when compared to the independent paths that Rachel, Nell and even Tilly have carved out for themselves. Tilly’s success as a medium echoes a societal trend, fuelled by the loss of loved ones, both in WW1 and due to Spanish Influenza. Through the medical men in the story, the author touches on the rise of Eugenics Theory at this time; the idea that there were weaker or lesser races and hereditary disabilities that needed to be eradicated. This could be used as a way to rid oneself of an unstable or inconvenient wife or an old uncle with dementia standing between someone and their inheritance. However, when applied to society at large it became the gateway to Mosley’s ‘BlackShirts’ and Hitler’s Final Solution. The plot itself is an interesting puzzle, although at times I did flounder a bit to remember all the aspects or keep characters in order. I’m willing to accept this might be my brain at fault, so I really welcomed the clue finder at the end of the book that helpfully showed me where to find clues for every thread. There were twists right up to the final page so I defy anyone to work it all out, before Rachel explains her reasoning and unmasks the villains. This was an intelligent mystery, with solid female characters, all set within a period of history that provides an unsettling backdrop to the action.

Meet The Author

Martin Edwards has received the CWA Diamond Dagger, the highest honour in British crime writing, given for the sustained excellence of his contribution to the genre. His recent novels include Mortmain Hall and Gallows Court, which was nominated for two awards including the CWA Historical Dagger. British librarians awarded him the CWA Dagger in the Library in 2018 in recognition of his body of work. His eight and latest Lake District Mystery is The Crooked Shore and earlier books in the series include The Coffin Trail, short-listed for the Theakston’s prize for best British crime novel. Seven books in his first series, featuring Liverpool lawyer Harry Devlin, starting with the CWA John Creasey Dagger-nominated All the Lonely People, have been reissued by Acorn in new editions with introductions by leading writers including Ann Cleeves and Val McDermid.

Martin is a well-known crime fiction critic, and series consultant to the British Library’s Crime Classics. His ground-breaking study of the genre between the wars, The Golden Age of Murder won the Edgar, Agatha, H.R.F. Keating and Macavity awards. The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books won the Macavity and was nominated for four other awards, while Howdunit, a masterclass in crime writing by members of the Detection Club, won the H.R.F. Keating prize and was nominated for five other awards. His long-awaited history of the genre, The Life of Crime, will be published in May 2022. In addition Martin has written a stand-alone novel of psychological suspense, Take My Breath Away, and a much acclaimed novel featuring Dr Crippen, Dancing for the Hangman. He also completed Bill Knox’s last book, The Lazarus Widow. He has published many short stories, including the ebooks The New Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes and Acknowledgments and other stories. ‘The Bookbinder’s Apprentice‘ won the CWA Short Story Dagger, for which he has been nominated for three other stories. He has edited over 40 anthologies and published diverse non-fiction books, including a study of homicide investigation, Urge to Kill. An expert on crime fiction history, he is archivist of both the Crime Writers’ Association and the Detection Club. He was elected eighth President of the Detection Club in 2015, spent two years as Chair of the CWA, and posts regularly to his blog.

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books of the Month! August 2022

It’s been a quieter month in August, at least it is where books are concerned. Personally it’s been the busiest month of the year so far. It’s full on as far as home is concerned because it’s the month where we do trips away my stepdaughters. With their Mum working and me at home, we can easily help each other. We’ve also had their cousins here demo Scotland so theres been a lot of squealing and absolutely no room in the bathroom. They’ve been to Alton Towers, Nottingham’s Kitty Cafe, Yorkshire Wildlife Park and Chatsworth House. Between this I’ve had a back operation that I’ve been waiting for three years now. I’ve had a neurotomy at four sites so have had to spend some time in bed recovering. So I’ve had chance to get ahead with some September reading, because this month I’ve got my MA to restart! We don’t do things by halves in this house. Wishing you all a great September and I hope you enjoy these favourite reads.

Halfway through my binge read of this fantastic new thriller from Helen Fields, I had to look it up and check that it really was a stand-alone novel. Sadie Levesque is a compelling central character: brave, resourceful, determined, intelligent and ever so slightly impulsive. I could easily imagine her as the backbone of a great crime series. Sadie is a private investigator based in Canada where she’s about to be the birth partner for her sister. She has time to fit in one last job, which takes her to Scotland and the atmospheric island of Mull. The Clark family recently moved to Mull from the United States to start a new life, but their new life has been derailed by the disappearance of their seventeen year old daughter Adriana. With her American accent and dark Latino looks, Adriana caused a stir among the teenagers of Mull. Her desperate parents feel the local police force are doing very little to look for their daughter, possibly because they are outsiders. When Sadie finds the girl’s body while searching local teen hang outs, the police become hostile. Adriana has been drowned. The killer has sexually assaulted her, adorned her with a seaweed crown and filled her mouth and throat full of sand. Sadie’s immediate thought is she’s been silenced. Without police cooperation, Sadie must find the killer and is drawn into local folklore, witches, a misogynistic priest and a community that looks after it’s own. Will Adriana be the last girl to die? Fields turns the island into a powerful character in it’s own right, weaving the landscape, history and folklore of Mull into her story. There are some twists to the final stages that came as a huge shock. I love to be surprised and I really was here, with my heart sat in my throat at times. Could the truth be more prosaic than the legends? That men kill and could use the excuse of ancient folklore and witchcraft to cover their tracks. I was torn between this more logical explanation and the sense of an ancient evil at play on this remote and wild island. If anyone knows, the island does.

I’ve been struggling with menopausal symptoms for the last six years so I was really up for reading a book about women who are moving towards middle age. Women become more interesting as they get older, more confident and full of wisdom and experience. I certainly found that in the characters of this book who I fell immediately in love with. They are definitely meant to be a trio.

Nessa: The Seeker
Jo: The Protector
Harriett: The Punisher

Each woman finds herself bestowed with incredible powers. When Nessa is widowed and her daughters leave for college, she’s left alone in her house near the ocean and has time and quiet hours to hear the voices belonging to the dead – who will only speak to her. They’ve always been there, but she’s been too busy with her family’s needs to hear them. Harriett is almost fifty, her marriage and career have imploded, and she hasn’t left her house in months. Her house was the envy of the neighbourhood and graced the cover of magazines, but now it’s overgrown with incredible plants. However, Harriett realises that her life is far from over – in fact, she’s undergone a stunning metamorphosis. Jo has spent thirty years at war with her body. The rage that arrived with menopause felt like the last straw – until she discovers she’s able to channel it, but needs to control it too. The trio are guided by the voices only Nessa can hear and discover the abandoned body of a teenage girl. The police have already written off the victim. But these women have not. Their own investigations lead them to more bodies and a world of wealth where the rules don’t apply and the laws are designed to protect villains, not the vulnerable. So it’s up to these three women to avenge the innocent, and punish the guilty. I really loved the clever way the author took apart the concept of serial killer stories while writing one. She talked about the popularity of crime thrillers and true crime podcasts and how they appeal to men. They’re written as if the victims are expendable and the killers get special nicknames as if they are comic book villains. The author really got this message across, but without losing any of the power in her story, or the tension that rises as we hope to see the killer caught. Finally, I have to say something about magic realism and being a huge fan of Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Alice Hoffman, I’ve been reading some of the best writers in the genre. Miller’s story is so strong and the characters so well constructed, that I never felt a sense of disbelief. I have quite a collection of magic realism starting with a teenage love for Fay Weldon and Angela Carter. This book can easily sit next to my favourites. It is that good.

I had never come across Tim Weaver’s novels before so I was very lucky to be offered this by the publisher, especially in such a special edition too. When I learned it was the tenth in his David Raker series, I approached it with some trepidation. Would I be able to keep up or would it even make sense? Now that I’ve finished the novel I can honestly say that within the first few pages, I forgot this was one in a series and just got stuck in! Such was the strength of the story and his characters that I was drawn in and captivated to the end.

David Raker is a Missing Person’s Investigator and a widower with one daughter. The missing people in this story are Cate and Aidan Gascoigne, a devoted couple who have been married for five years and together for nine. The newspapers dubbed their case ‘The Mystery of Gatton Hill’ as they disappeared on their way to have dinner from their home in Twickenham. Catherine ‘Cate’ and Aiden Gascoigne were both 37 years old and worked in creative roles; Aiden was a Creative Director for a Soho web design company and Cate was a full time photographer. As they drove to dinner in Reigate, the couple could be seen on CCTV recording laughing together, just before their car plunged down a 90 foot ravine. Their car burst into flames and even though a fire crew arrived soon after the accident the fire was impossible to stop. They then discover an impossible scenario, when trying to recover Cate and Aiden’s bodies, they find they’re no longer in the car. This turns out to be merely the the tip of the iceberg in a chilling and menacing narrative that goes on to reveal a staggering number of murders over the years, and a extraordinarily intelligent serial killer who has no intention of getting caught. Raker is a remarkably tenacious and determined investigator, even when the pressures and dangers threaten to derail the case. This is a wonderfully complex, riveting and engaging read that kept me glued to the pages from beginning to end with its sky high levels of suspense and tension. This will appeal to crime and mystery readers who love truly twisty. thrilling and superior crime fiction, and I think that this can reasonably be read as a standalone if you have not read any of the series before. Highly recommended

I loved this dark thriller from Carol Johnstone, with its bleak setting, mysterious deaths and Norse folklore. Maggie Mackay is a successful investigative journalist, but has always been held back by a negative inner voice and terrible nightmares. She’s been haunted by the idea that there’s something wrong with her and she can see or sense darkness. She thinks this feeling is linked to her childhood and a small village in the Outer Hebrides called Blairmore. Maggie stayed there with her mother when she was very young and caused a furore when, out of nowhere, she claimed that someone in the village had murdered a man. She left the community in uproar, saying she was really a man called Andrew MacNeil who had lived on the island of Kilmery. Her mother believed and encouraged her claims, but when they returned to the mainland this strange interlude wasn’t referred to again. Now 25, Maggie returns to the island, in search of answers. Mainly, she wants to find out if her claims could possibly have been true, but with her history on the island, Maggie may struggle to get people to talk to her. However, this is an island with few inhabitants, but a wealth of secrets and if Maggie gets too close to the truth she may be in serious danger.

The central mystery is fascinating and makes the book very difficult to put down. Charlie feels like the designated spokesperson for the islanders, he approaches Maggie with an apology for the way they treated her when she was a child and there’s a fatherly feel to the way he talks to her. On one hand I felt he was on Maggie’s side, but I also wondered whether he was a decoy – someone sent to give her just enough information, perhaps to deflect her from the reaching the truth. Other people greet her with outright hostility and I had a lot of admiration for Maggie’s tenacity considering how vulnerable she must feel, staying on the island as a lone woman. Maggie also has a bipolar diagnosis and I thought this was well portrayed by the author, even though it adds another layer of uncertainty – can we trust what Maggie is experiencing? I found Maggie’s narration more compelling than the male narrator, but overall loved the pace and the different perspectives that give us an insight into events back in the 1970’s. There were twists I didn’t expect and the final revelations about the mystery felt satisfying. I love how this author likes to wrong-foot her reader and although this was more gothic than horror, there were parts that were very unsettling and left me listening out for creaks in the dead of night. I came away from it with an uneasy feeling, not about the supernatural aspects, but more about what humans are capable of doing and how isolated communities like this one have the perfect environment in which to plot and keep secrets, in some cases for decades. This cements Carol Johnstone in my mind as an author to look out for and i’ll be buying a finished copy for my collection.

Posted in Fiction Preview 2022

Sunday Spotlight! Autumn Fiction: Historical Fiction and Romance.

I simply love Historical Fiction and have a large section of my library dedicated to it. My favourite periods of history include the Wars of the Roses, The Tudors, Victorian England, and post-WW1. I’m interested in the Early Twentieth Century too: that shift from the 19th Century brings with it as huge change in women’s fashion, the Arts and Crafts movement, Art Nouveau, WW1 and social change. I love it all. These choices range from the 18th Century onwards all the way up to the present day.

Here it was that the ships sailed to San Francisco and further north.
Here the Yoeme prisoners would have disembarked.
Here the singer may have stood.
Here she stands.

She should never have come.

Anna Hope’s latest novel is wildly ambitious with characters from across the centuries but in the same geographical space. The White Rock stands, ancient and sacred, off the Pacific coast of Mexico. Four people, across four centuries, each navigating ruptures to the world they know, are irresistibly drawn to it.

2020: A British writer travels with her husband to give thanks for the birth of their child.
1969: An American rock star runs from the law in the final act of his self-destruction.
1907: A Yoeme girl is torn from her homeland and taken by force to the coast. 
1775: A Spanish naval officer prepares to set sail to continue the conquest of the Pacific coast. 

As the White Rock bears witness to the truth that they are not the first to face days of reckoning, is there still a chance they might not be the last?

Published by Penguin Fig Tree on 20th August 2022

Another author whose last book I loved is Francis Quinn and this looks to be brilliant too. So much so that I have pre-ordered a very special copy. She creates such living and breathing characters that I feel they exist outside the novel! This one has such a great name too. It’s usual, they say, for a young person coming to London for the first time to arrive with a head full of dreams. Well, Endurance Proudfoot did not. When she stepped off the coach from Sussex, on a warm and sticky afternoon in the summer of 1757, it never occurred to her that the city would be the place where she’d make her fortune; she was just very annoyed to be arriving there at all.

Meet Endurance Proudfoot, the bonesetter’s daughter: clumsy as a carthorse, with a tactless tongue and a face she’s sure only a mother could love. Durie only wants one thing in life – to follow her father and grandfather into the family business of bonesetting. It’s a physically demanding job, requiring strength, nerves of steel and discretion – and not the job for a woman. But Durie isn’t like other women. She’s strong and stubborn and determined to get her own way. And she finds that she has a talent at bonesetting – her big hands and lack of grace have finally found their natural calling.

So, when she is banished to London with her sister, who is pretty, delicate and exactly the opposite to Durie in every way, Durie will not let it stop her realising her dreams. And while her sister will become one of the first ever Georgian celebrities, Durie will become England’s first and most celebrated female bonesetter. But what goes up must come down, and Durie’s elevated status may well become her undoing. I love that the author’s main characters represent difference. Her hero in The Smallest Man, Nat Davey the Queen’s dwarf. Endurance isn’t the delicate, feminine woman we expect in the 18th Century. She’s big in body and personality. More heroines like this please!

Published by Simon and Schuster U.K. 5th October 2022

William Boyd’s incredible novel Any Human Heart is one of my favourite books of all time. So I’m always looking out for a new novel. I haven’t yet read The Romantic but I’m looking forward to it as there’s a comparison to be made with one of my other favourite novels, Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life.

Soldier. Farmer. Felon. Writer. Father. Lover.
One man, many lives.

From one of Britain’s best-loved and bestselling writers comes an intimate yet panoramic novel set across the nineteenth century. Born in 1799, Cashel Greville Ross experiences myriad lives: joyous and devastating, years of luck and unexpected loss. Moving from County Cork to London, from Waterloo to Zanzibar, Cashel seeks his fortune across continents in war and in peace. He faces a terrible moral choice in a village in Sri Lanka as part of the East Indian Army. He enters the world of the Romantic Poets in Pisa. In Ravenna he meets a woman who will live in his heart for the rest of his days. As he travels the world as a soldier, a farmer, a felon, a writer, a father, a lover, he experiences all the vicissitudes of life and, through the accelerating turbulence of the nineteenth century, he discovers who he truly is. This is the romance of life itself, and the beating heart of The Romantic.

Published by Penguin- Fig Tree 6th October 2022.

For as long as Signa Farrow has been alive, the people in her life have fallen like stars . . .

Described as ‘a deliciously deadly Gothic romance’ by Stephanie Garber, this book feels like a guilty pleasure. Nineteen-year-old Signa, orphaned as a baby, has been raised by a string of guardians, each more interested in her wealth than her wellbeing – and each has met an untimely end. Her remaining relatives are the elusive Hawthornes, an eccentric family living at Thorn Grove, an estate both glittering and gloomy. It’s patriarch mourns his late wife through wild parties, while his son grapples for control of the family’s waning reputation and his daughter suffers from a mysterious illness. But when their mother’s restless spirit appears claiming she was poisoned, Signa realizes that the family she depends on could be in grave danger, and enlists the help of a surly stable boy to hunt down the killer. Signa’s best chance of uncovering the murderer, though, is an alliance with Death himself, a fascinating, dangerous shadow who has never been far from her side. Though he’s made her life a living hell, Death shows Signa that their growing connection may be more powerful – and more irresistible – than she ever dared imagine. This sounds delicious, with all the themes I love – gothic fiction, love, romance, desire and betrayal.

Published by Hodder & Stoughton 30th August 2022.

Back to the 21st Century for this new novel from Rachel Marks. I love her novels because they are so well observed and feel real. I feel like I could go to the local supermarket and bump into one of her characters. Her books are a great combination of romance and characters with real human flaws. Our couple this time are Jamie and Lucy, and from their very first date, they know they’ve met THE ONE. They’re as different as night and day. Jamie’s a home bird, while Lucy’s happiest on holiday. He has a place for everything – she can never find her keys. Yet, somehow, they make each other happier than they ever thought possible. So why does their story start with them saying ‘goodbye’? And does this really have to be the end . . . ? Described as relatable, romantic and heartbreakingly real, HELLO, STRANGER proves that the best love stories often have the most unexpected endings. What I love most about her books is the work her characters do on themselves, whether that’s having therapy, visiting AA or just asking someone else for help. She leaves the reader with a sense of hope, that we can change for the better. This is so uplifting and inspiring.

Published by Penguin- Michael Joseph on August 18th 2022.