The Art of Dying by Ambrose Parry.

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

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

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

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

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

Meet The Authors

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

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

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

Life in Pieces by Dawn O’Porter

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

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

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

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

Meet The Author

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

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

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

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

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins

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

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

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

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

Rachel Hawkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scrapbooking on my authentic self

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

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

Completed collages

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My Ramblings on the Reading Year 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Winterkill by Ragnar Jonasson (Dark Iceland Book 6).

Publisher: Orenda Books (21 Jan. 2021)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet The Author

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

Beneath Cornish Skies by Kate Ryder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet The Author

Kate Ryder

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

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

Keep in touch with Kate:
Instagram: @kateryder_author

Books I’m Looking Forward To In 2021 Part 2

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslion Charles. John Murray Press 9th Feb 2021.


I’ve had a particular interest in WW2 fiction more recently, because it’s a subject I’m using for my MA portfolio in Writing and Well-being. PARIS, 1939
Odile Souchet is obsessed with books, and her new job at the American Library in Paris – with its thriving community of students, writers and book lovers – is a dream come true. When war is declared, the Library is determined to remain open. But then the Nazis invade Paris, and everything changes. In Occupied Paris, choices as black and white as the words on a page become a murky shade of grey – choices that will put many on the wrong side of history, and the consequences of which will echo for decades to come.

Lily is a lonely teenage desperate to escape small-town Montana. She grows close to her neighbour Odile, discovering they share the same love of language, the same longings. But as Lily uncovers more about Odile’s mysterious past, she discovers a dark secret, closely guarded and long hidden. Based on the true Second World War story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris, this is an unforgettable novel of romance, friendship, family, and of heroism found in the quietest of places. I have my pre-order in already! Watch out for my review in February.

Daughters of Night by Laura Shepherd-Robinson. Pan Macmillan. 18th February 2021.

Murder awaits in the illuminated night of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens …

I love reading about the seedy underbelly of society, or different groups in society that aren’t usually represented in historical fiction. I love the work of Sarah Waters and one of my favourite books ever is Michael Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White, where we follow the prostitute Sugar into an underclass of women trying to survive in a man’s world. These books change our one dimensional perceptions of a particular society or historical period. From an award-winning new star of historical fiction, Daughters of Night reveals the dangerous underbelly of Georgian London – giving a voice to the female victims history so often forgets, and the women who remembered them. Set in London, 1782. Caro Corsham finds a woman mortally wounded in the bowers of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. When the constables discover that the deceased woman was a high-society lady of the night, they stop searching for her killer – and it’s up to Caro to seek justice. But the hidden corners of Georgian society are filled with artifice, deception and secrets, and finding the killer will be harder, and more treacherous, than she can know … I’ve been lucky enough to have an ARC of this one and you won’t be disappointed.

Greenwich Park by Katherine Faulkner. Bloomsbury Publishing. 15th April 2021.

This novel is coming in early spring and I’m so looking forward to getting lost in the psyche of these two characters, Rachel and Helen. It fascinates me to see how the author has constructed these difficult selves and how they interact with each other. The overuse of the word ‘perfect’ in the blurb tells me that all in Helen’s world is maybe not as good as it appears.

Helen has it all… Daniel is the perfect husband. Rory is the perfect brother. Serena is the perfect sister-in-law. And Rachel? Rachel is the perfect nightmare. When Helen, finally pregnant after years of tragedy, attends her first antenatal class, she is expecting her loving architect husband to arrive soon after, along with her confident, charming brother Rory and his pregnant wife, the effortlessly beautiful Serena. What she is not expecting is Rachel. Extroverted, brash, unsettling single mother-to-be Rachel, who just wants to be Helen’s friend. Who just wants to get know Helen and her friends and her family. Who just wants to know everything about them. Every little secret… I can tell already that this is the book I won’t be able to put me down.

The Silk House by Katye Nunn. Orion. 21st January 2021.

This is a book I’m going to find myself completely immersed in. It has that combination of an old house filled with a weight of secrets, and a present day resident feeling the weight of that past, sucked into the mystery. An enchanting mystery kept hidden for hundreds of years…

1700s Rowan Caswell leaves her village to work at the home of an English silk merchant. Very soon, she finds herself thrust into a dangerous world, where her talent for herbs and healing starts to attract unwanted attention. Mary-LouiseStephenson dreams of becoming a silk designer, a path that has remained largely forbidden to women. A length of fabric she weaves with a pattern of deadly flowers will have shocking consequences for all who dwell at the Silk House. In the Present Day, Thea Rust arrives at an exclusive boarding school in the British countryside to look after the first intake of girls in its history. She is to stay with them in the Silk House, a converted silk factory from the 18th century, where the shadows hide secrets waiting to be discovered… I can’t wait to discover them with her.

The Summer Job by Lizzy Dent. Viking. 15th April 2021

Have you ever imagined running away from your life?

Well Birdy Finch didn’t just imagine it. She did it. Which might’ve been an error. And the life she’s run into? Her best friend, Heather’s. The only problem is, she hasn’t told Heather. Actually there are a few other problems… Can Birdy carry off a summer at a luxury Scottish hotel pretending to be her best friend (who incidentally is a world-class wine expert)? And can she stop herself from falling for the first man she’s ever actually liked (but who thinks she’s someone else)?


‘Fresh, funny and oh so relatable – the perfect tonic’ — ABBIE GREAVES

‘Fun with a capital F . . . If you’ve ever felt you’re getting left behind in life, or don’t have everything worked out quite yet, this is the book for you’ — SOPHIE COUSENS

‘I fell for Birdy on the very first page and inhaled the rest of her story . . . A brilliantly original plot paired with fabulously funny writing – a pure joy to read!’ — HELLY ACTON

I’ve been lucky enough to receive a proof of this, with my very own lobster bookmark! When I watched a documentary on Helen Fielding and the phenomenon of Bridget Jones’s Diary I was thinking about how ready we are for a new heroine to fall in love with. This is going to be an indulgent weekend read for me, and I’m sure I will fall in love with Birdy too.

The World at my Feet by Catherine Isaac. Simon and Schuster U.K. Publication Date TBC

The dazzling new novel from Richard & Judy book club author Catherine Isaac, The World at my Feet is a story about the transforming power of love, as one woman journeys to uncover the past and reshape her future.

1990. Harriet is a journalist. Her job takes her to dangerous places, where she asks questions and tries to make a difference. But when she is sent to Romania, to the state orphanages the world is only just learning about, she is forced to rethink her most important rule. 2018. Ellie is a gardener. Her garden is her sanctuary, her pride and joy. But, though she spends long days outdoors, she hasn’t set foot beyond her gate for far too long. Now someone enters her life who could finally be the reason she needs to overcome her fears. From post-revolution Romania to the idyllic English countryside, The World at My Feet is the story of two women, two worlds, and a journey of self-discovery that spans a lifetime. I wanted to read this because I was a teenager when the news of the Romanian orphanages first came to light. I was deeply affected by the pictures of babies and toddlers, in rows of cots, rocking to comfort themselves. It was the silence that scared me most, the fact that they knew it was pointless to cry because no one would come. It was my first sense of wanting to do something, to get involved in some way and help. I am looking forward to reading about someone who was there on the ground and did just that.

The Last One At The Party by Bethany Clift. Hodder and Stoughton. 4th Feb 2021


It’s December 2023 and the world as we know it has ended. I’m not sure how I feel about reading this book at this height of this second wave, but I know that I’m intrigued by the premise. The human race has been wiped out by a virus called 6DM (‘Six Days Maximum’ – the longest you’ve got before your body destroys itself). But somehow, in London, one woman is still alive. A woman who has spent her whole life compromising what she wants, hiding how she feels and desperately trying to fit in. A woman who is entirely unprepared to face a future on her own. Now, with only an abandoned golden retriever for company, she must travel through burning cities, avoiding rotting corpses and ravenous rats on a final journey to discover if she really is the last surviving person on earth. And with no one else to live for, who will she become now that she’s completely alone? I’m prepared for a few nightmares when I delve into this next week.

Tall Bones by Anna Bailey. Random House U.K. 1st April 2021.

I know that when I start this book, it’s going to be one of those I can’t put down! When I’m like that I tell my other half to clear the weekend. I’ve been known to be still awake at 3am because I can’t stop. The blurb is so enticing. When seventeen-year-old Emma leaves her best friend Abi at a party in the woods, she believes, like most girls her age, that their lives are just beginning. Many things will happen that night, but Emma will never see her friend again. Abi’s disappearance cracks open the façade of the small town of Whistling Ridge, its intimate history of long-held grudges and resentment. Even within Abi’s family, there are questions to be asked – of Noah, the older brother whom Abi betrayed, of Jude, the shining younger sibling who hides his battle scars, of Dolly, her mother and Samuel, her father – both in thrall to the fire and brimstone preacher who holds the entire town in his grasp. Then there is Rat, the outsider, whose presence in the town both unsettles and excites those around him. Anything could happen in Whistling Ridge, this tinder box of small-town rage, and all it will take is just one spark – the truth of what really happened that night out at the Tall Bones….

The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell. Raven Books. 21st Jan 2021

Wicked deeds require the cover of darkness…

Victorian Gothic novels are like cat nip to me and Laura Purcell has become one of my go-to authors. That means she’s one of the privileged few writers whose books I will buy without reading a single review, Silhouette artist Agnes is struggling to keep her business afloat. Still recovering from a serious illness herself, making enough money to support her elderly mother and her orphaned nephew Cedric has never been easy, but then one of her clients is murdered shortly after sitting for Agnes, and then another, and another… Desperately seeking an answer, Agnes approaches Pearl, a child spirit medium lodging in Bath with her older half-sister and her ailing father, hoping that if Pearl can make contact with those who died, they might reveal who killed them. But Agnes and Pearl quickly discover that instead they may have opened the door to something that they can never put back…

What secrets lie hidden in the darkness? I can’t wait to find out.

Books I’m Looking Forward To In 2021 Part 1

The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex. Pan Macmillan. 4th March 2021

They say we’ll never know what happened to those men. They say the sea keeps its secrets . . .

Cornwall, 1972. Three keepers vanish from a remote lighthouse, miles from the shore. The entrance door is locked from the inside. The clocks have stopped. The Principal Keeper’s weather log describes a mighty storm, but the skies have been clear all week. What happened to those three men, out on the tower? The heavy sea whispers their names. The tide shifts beneath the swell, drowning ghosts. Can their secrets ever be recovered from the waves? Twenty years later, the women they left behind are still struggling to move on. Helen, Jenny and Michelle should have been united by the tragedy, but instead it drove them apart. And then a writer approaches them. He wants to give them a chance to tell their side of the story. But only in confronting their darkest fears can the truth begin to surface. Inspired by real events, The Lamplighters is an intoxicating and suspenseful mystery, an unforgettable story of love and grief that explores the way our fears blur the line between the real and the imagined.

See my full review of The Lamplighters here:

Madam by Phoebe Wynne. Quercus. 18th Feb 2021.

For 150 years, Caldonbrae Hall has loomed high above the Scottish cliffs as a beacon of excellence in the ancestral castle of Lord William Hope. A boarding school for girls, it promises that its pupils will emerge ‘resilient and ready to serve society’.
Into its illustrious midst steps Rose Christie, a 26-year-old Classics teacher and new head of department. Rose is overwhelmed by the institution: its arcane traditions, unrivalled prestige, and terrifyingly cool, vindictive students. Her classroom becomes her haven, where the stories of fearless women from ancient Greek and Roman history ignite the curiosity of the girls she teaches and, unknowingly, the suspicions of the powers that be.
But as Rose uncovers the darkness that beats at the very heart of Caldonbrae, the lines between myth and reality grow ever more blurred. It will be up to Rose – and the fierce young women she has come to love – to find a way to escape the fate the school has in store for them, before it is too late.

See my full review of Madam here:

The Split by Laura Kaye. Quercus. 18th March 2021.

Brutally dumped by her girlfriend, Ally is homeless, friendless and jobless… but at least she has Malcolm. Wounded and betrayed, Ally has made off with the one thing she thinks might soothe the pain: Emily’s cat. 

After a long train journey she arrives home to her dad in Sheffield, ready to fold herself up in her duvet and remain on the sofa for the foreseeable. Her dad has other ideas. A phone call later, and Ally is reunited with her first ever beard and friend of old, Jeremy. He too is broken-hearted and living at home again. In an inspired effort to hold each other up, the pair decide to sign up for the local half marathon in a bid to impress their exes with their commitment and athleticism. Given neither of them can run, they enlist the support of athletic, not to mention beautiful, Jo. But will she have them running for the hills… or will their ridiculous plan pay off…? I’ve seen this described as ‘humour, kindness, cake and a cat’ – sounds like the perfect day to me. My full review will be out soon.

Everything Happens For A Reason by Katie Allen. Orenda Books. 10th June 2021.

Mum-to-be Rachel did everything right, but it all went wrong. Her son, Luke, was stillborn and she finds herself on maternity leave without a baby, trying to make sense of her loss. When a misguided well-wisher tells her that ‘everything happens for a reason’, she becomes obsessed with finding that reason, driven by grief and convinced that she is somehow to blame. She remembers that on the day she discovered her pregnancy, she’d stopped a man from jumping in front of a train, and she s now certain that saving his life cost her the life of her son. Desperate to find him, she enlists an unlikely ally in Lola, an Underground worker, and Lola’s seven-year-old daughter, Josephine, and eventually tracks him down, with completely unexpected results… Both a heart-wrenchingly poignant portrait of grief and a gloriously uplifting and disarmingly funny story of a young woman’s determination, Everything Happens for a Reasonis a bittersweet, life- affirming read and, quite simply, unforgettable.

While Paris Slept by Ruth Druart. Headline. 4th March 2021.

On a platform in occupied Paris, a mother whispers goodbye.
It is the end.
But also the beginning.

Paris 1944
A young woman’s future is torn away in a heartbeat. Herded on to a train bound for Auschwitz, in an act of desperation she entrusts her most precious possession to a stranger. All she has left now is hope.

Santa Cruz 1953
Jean-Luc thought he had left it all behind. The scar on his face a small price to pay for surviving the horrors of Nazi Occupation. Now, he has a new life in California, a family. He never expected the past to come knocking on his door. On a darkened platform, two destinies become entangled. Their choice will change the future in ways neither could have imagined.

Unwell Women by Elinor Cleghorn. Weidenfeld and Nicholson. 10th June 2021.

See my very personal preview of this exciting book here:

The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward. Serpent’s Tail/Viper. 18th March 2021.

I have been excited about this book for months now and was so excited to receive an ARC on NetGalley! It’s now at the top of my TBR pile and I’m looking forward to getting started this week. Why so excited? When I read that Stephen King had said ‘I haven’t read anything this exciting since Gone Girl’ I started to take notice. Another favourite author of mine, Joanne Harris, agreed that ‘Books like this don’t come around too often’ . This is the story of a murderer. A stolen child. Revenge. This is the story of Ted, who lives with his daughter Lauren and his cat Olivia in an ordinary house at the end of an ordinary street. All these things are true. And yet some of them are lies. You think you know what’s inside the last house on Needless Street. You think you’ve read this story before. In the dark forest at the end of Needless Street, something lies buried. But it’s not what you think… Based on the reviews I’ve read, I would pre- order now ( I’ve already got my hardback on order because this is one of those ARC’s I need a real copy of). Review coming soon.

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin. Doubleday/ Random House UK. 18th Feb 2021.

Everything I’ve read about this novel tells me it’s made for me. I’ve had a pending request for it on NetGalley for a while, but not long to wait until I can pop to the local bookshop for it. We all need something to keep our hopes alive, especially at the moment and this book seems to uplift people. It’s about an extraordinary friendship. A lifetime of stories. Their last one begins here. Life is short – no one knows that better than seventeen year-old Lenni Petterssen. On the Terminal Ward, the nurses are offering their condolences already, but Lenni still has plenty of living to do. When she meets 83-year-old Margot Macrae, a fellow patient offering new friendship and enviable artistic skills, Lenni’s life begins to soar in ways she’d never imagined. As their bond deepens, a world of stories opens up: of wartime love and loss, of misunderstanding and reconciliation, of courage, kindness and joy. Stories that have led Lenni and Margot to the end of their days.

The One Hundred Years is a celebration of life, hope and kindness. The perfect read to shine a light on dark days.

The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley. Bloomsbury. 27th May 2021.

Such are the problems of a book bloggers world – I’ve had this proof for a couple of months but have such a pile of proofs I need to wait till we’re a bit closer to publication. It’s calling to me though, because I became a die-hard fan of Natasha Pulley’s writing in 2016 when I fell in love with a clockwork octopus and a lonely Japanese watchmaker. This promises to be another imaginative mash-up of history and fantasy.

Come home, if you remember.

The postcard has been held at the sorting office for ninety-one years, waiting to be delivered to Joe Tournier. On the front is a lighthouse – Eilean Mor, in the Outer Hebrides. Joe has never left England, never even left London. He is a British slave, one of thousands throughout the French Empire. He has a job, a wife, a baby daughter. But he also has flashes of a life he cannot remember and of a world that never existed – a world where English is spoken in England, and not French. And now he has a postcard of a lighthouse built just six months ago, that was first written nearly one hundred years ago, by a stranger who seems to know him very well. Joe’s journey to unravel the truth will take him from French-occupied London to a remote Scottish island, and back through time itself as he battles for his life – and for a very different future.

These are just a few of the releases I’m looking forward to in the first part of this year. Look out for part 2 later in the week, but be prepared for your wish list to grow even longer. Happy Reading!

The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex.

Published: 4th March 2021 Pan Macmillan (Picador)

I loved this book so much that I went to bed early two nights running so I could finish it uninterrupted. I was so drawn in by the isolation of this lighthouse, that it was just standing directly in the sea and no one could come on or off until the relief boat came. Inspired by true events, the story is set in two time frames. In one we learn that a writer is researching a book on a famous disappearance of three lighthouse keepers. In 1972, miles off the coast of Cornwall a relief boat arrives at the Maiden, to find the door locked from the inside, the clocks stopped and no sign of the Principle Keeper or his two assistants. He contacts the women left behind by these men: Helen, wife of the Principle Keeper, Arthur; Jenny, wife of Bill his deputy; Michelle, girlfriend of the new recruit Vince. They have all received money from Trident, the company who employ the keepers, but with that came a directive, not to talk about the events surrounding the mystery. At the time, Vince came under the most suspicion. New to the area and with a criminal past, he seems the likely candidate to have harmed the others. Yet, why would Arthur write of a huge storm in the log, when seas had been calm all week? What became of the small boat rumoured to have sailed near the Maiden? There were also whispers about a mechanic sent to carry out repairs at the Principle Keeper’s request. It’s hard, years later, to distinguish between rumour and truth. Will any of the women speak to the writer and will they finally solve the mystery of what happened to the men?

This felt like an intriguing mix of mystery and love story, with a hint of the supernatural. There was a real difference between the sections on land and those at sea. As we meet the women, there is a grounded reality about their stories and their lives. Whereas the sections out in the sea are surprising, although there’s routine in the keeping of a lighthouse, it still feels like an escape, cut off from the real world. As they look out surrounded by waves they could be in any time and the struggles of the world can’t reach them. The sea narrative has a disjointed feel at times, they shift and turn, we’re sometimes unsure what is reality and what is fantasy. The women’s recollections feel more based in fact, they’re relating their own history whereas the keepers seem firmly in their present- only reacting and dealing with what is in front of them. This shows the huge disparity in how these couples were living their lives back in 1972. I could really imagine that jolt of having the person you spend your life with leave for several weeks, then just as you’re used to their absence they return again. It made me think of military marriages that often flounder because of this. Just as the home has a routine, it’s disrupted by someone returning again, changing the dynamic and wanted to do things differently. I felt particularly for Jenny, who has children to cope with in this remote area with little support and I could see how resentment might build.

These have not been easy relationships and living with the uncertainty of what happened to their men has affected them differently. Helen has experienced so much loss, losing Arthur after losing her only child who drowned when he was a toddler. The sea has claimed everything she loved and while she is matter of fact in stating the men must be dead, her certainty is brittle and she hasn’t fully let go of the events at Maiden. Helen feels that even when Arthur was home, he wasn’t fully present. Something of him always stays out on the sea – in fact perhaps, it’s the only place he truly makes sense. The Maiden is always there, towering between them like a mistress. Arthur does love to be out there, but for reasons Helen hasn’t realised. There is a sense that this couple have stopped talking and just below the surface there are secrets, some that perhaps explain Jenny’s animosity toward her. Jenny can’t seem to accept that her husband Bill has gone and welcomes someone trying to find out the truth. There is a hatred of Helen that runs deep, but it takes some time to find out whether she has reason to resent her so much. Michelle has moved on and is now married with children. She is very pragmatic about her life choices, she knows she doesn’t love her husband as she loved Vince but it can work and they have a family. Although there were so many rumours, Michelle is adamant in her defence of her first love. Yes, he had committed a crime and had often mixed with the wrong people. She could believe the rumour of the mechanic, despite Trident claiming they didn’t send anyone. Perhaps this was Vince’s past catching up with him, dressed in a mechanic’s overalls?

I loved the descriptions of the sea, and how it was a character in its own right. Sometimes calm, deceptively so, until a sudden swell could catch you by surprise. There are storms where waves batter the tower almost all the way up to the light itself. The sea is capricious, relentless and must be respected. The little touches of the supernatural add to the puzzle and intrigue the reader. Arthur’s sighting of something glinting silver in the sea or the little sail boat that passes by. Bill’s strange story of seeing the same man twice as he’s driving along and has to stop for him to cross – somehow he knows this isn’t a lookalike, it is exactly the same man. Is there a link between this strange story and the mechanic who turns up and seems to know all about them? This is where I started to wonder what was real? I wasn’t sure whether one of the keepers was having a mental health crisis and we were privy to his inner thoughts and delusions. Bill also has a strange attachment to Helen and I wasn’t sure whether his affections were returned or whether he was obsessed. Just enough little creaks, bangs and noises about the place are also making Vince jumpy. Could the isolation have proved too much for him?

The author weaves an unsettling tale and I wasn’t sure we would ever know what really happened. I was surprised, but incredibly satisfied by the ending. I thought the depiction of complicated grief in all the women felt real and honest. The glimmer of hope for their future was very welcome. I was left though, with an eerie feeling and a sense that the lighthouse might still be holding some secrets. That perhaps if you sailed nearby on a clear day you might see a father and his small boy looking out to sea, together forever in this one place outside of time.

Meet The Author

Emma Stonex is a novelist who has written several books under a pseudonym. THE LAMPLIGHTERS is her debut under her own name and has been translated into more than twenty languages. Before becoming a writer, she worked as an editor at a major publishing house. She lives in the Southwest with her family.