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Posted in Random Things Tours

The Girl in the Photo by Heidi Amsinck

As many of you know, I’m a big fan of Scandi and Nordic Noir whether it’s on television or in book form. I was also drawn in by the beautiful covers of these books, in fact I’d like a pair to frame and put on the wall. Sometimes books don’t live up to their covers, but I throughly enjoyed the first book following the investigative reporter known only as Jensen. My Name is Jensen set up the main characters beautifully so it was good to be back in the company of both Jensen and her ex-lover, DI Henrik Jungerson. In this second novel both our main characters are in a state of transition. Jensen is no longer working for newspaper Dagbladet and is working freelance, in a style that becomes a mix of private investigator and reporter. She has the help of a young man called Gustav, the nephew of her editor at the newspaper. Jensen knows he has been in trouble at his school, but not the extent of his problems. As they try and get used to each other’s style of working, Jensen is also adjusting to a new apartment with a difficult landlord. The first crime seems to be a burglary gone wrong, with an elderly woman brutally murdered and an incredibly expensive diamond necklace missing. Henrik is the officer on the case, but Jensen is hired by the woman’s rather unpleasant daughter to find the necklace. More murders follow, but what Henrik notices at each crime scene is a photo of the same young girl. They’re not obvious, just placed somewhere in the room, but Henrik doesn’t like coincidences and wants to connect the investigations. His superiors are unconvinced, especially as Henrik’s issues at home and with drink are starting to get out of control. Working the same case means he will cross paths with the one woman in Copenhagen he wants to avoid, Jensen.

This was an interesting case, told by Jensen and Henrik in turn, from their own perspective and with their individual ideas on what the victims have in common. They are remarkably alike in the way they think and are drawn together both by the threads of the case and what feels like a gravitational force. Nobody thinks like Jensen, except for Henrik. She knows he is only a step behind her. Nobody on the force thinks like Henrik and he almost craves her presence, not necessarily in an emotional way, more than that he wants someone to keep up with him and to bounce ideas off. Jensen has the freedom of being freelance, to work when she wants and makes choices on how she investigates that a police officer couldn’t. Breaking into a client’s summer cabin is risky, but it gets her further forward in the case. Henrik couldn’t do this, because he’s hemmed in by police rules and regulations. Yet there are perks to being an officer, such as the ability to look at official records, that Jensen wishes she had. He can also command respect and get families to cooperate in a way she can’t and this can really hamper her investigation. Despite these differences, no one else has worked out the significance of the photograph, in fact he’s pretty much been told that this is a simple case and he should stop complicating matters. Yet he can’t leave it alone. He knows it’s the key. Really they’re a perfect team, pushing each other on and keeping up with each other intellectually.

I enjoyed Jensen’s working relationship with Gustav. She soon realises he’s a bit of a maverick and that he’s been expelled from school for something much more significant than Margarethe is letting on. The mystery itself is an interesting one, not as clear cut as it first appears and with some deeply unpleasant characters too. The pacing is excellent too. Each character coming at the mystery from their own starting point and working towards each other. The author adds to the information we have in every chapter, just enough to keep the reader engaged, but tantalised and eager to read the next section. As for their personal relationship I found it hard to empathise with Henrik’s perspective. He seems to see her as a temptation that he’s unable to shake off; once in her orbit, he’s inexorably pulled towards her. If he piles all the guilt onto Jensen and avoids seeing her, he avoids facing the fact that he made a choice to cheat on his wife. Then, when he realises that Jensen’s landlord is interested in her, he becomes the jealous spurned lover. As if he didn’t choose to stay with his wife. The author manages to convey these complicated psychological aspects of her characters, so even though we might not agree with their perspective, we can understand their emotions. I was left feeling that we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to these two characters and I’m interested to see where we go next.

Meet The Author

Heidi Amsinck is a writer and journalist who was born in Copenhagen and now lives in London. She was London Correspondent for the
Danish daily Jyllands-Posten. She has written many stories
of BBC Radio 4, all read by Tim McInnerny. She was previously shortlisted for the VS Pritchett Memorial Prize. My Name is Jensen, her first thriller, was published to critical acclaim in 2021 and has also been translated into Danish and German.

Posted in Fiction Preview 2022

Sunday Spotlight! Autumn Fiction: Series and Favourite Authors.

It’s seems hardly possible that summer is well underway and we are only a matter of weeks away from autumn. It’s been an absolutely book filled summer and I’ve been lucky enough to read and review some of the best. In fact it’s been so busy that a couple of my choices here are published in August, but I won’t get to them until long afterwards. There’s just so much to look forward to though, including new novels from four of my favourite authors: Maggie O’Farrell, Kate Atkinson, Emma Donoghue and Jodi Picoult. As well as this we have the next instalments of three of my favourite crime and mystery series.

Favourite Authors

I look forward to the publication of these authors every time they come around. These are the authors I pre-order without reading reviews, blurb or hype. I already know I want to read them.

Emma Donoghue’s last novel The Pull of the Stars blew me away with it’s medical and historical detail. It gave me a glimpse into the realities of being a woman and a mother in WW1 Ireland, where birth control is a sin and the so-called Spanish flu is ripping through the hospital wards. Haven takes us back even further to the Ireland of the 7th Century and three men vow to leave the world behind them and start anew. Artt is a priest and a scholar, when he has a dream telling him to leave the sinful world behind he takes it literally . So, taking two monks – young Trian and old Cormac – he travels down the river Shannon in search of an isolated spot on which to found a monastery. As they drift out into the Atlantic, the men find an impossibly steep, bare island inhabited by tens of thousands of birds, and claim it for God. They call their extraordinary landing spot Skellig Michael. But in such a place, far from all other humanity, what will survival mean?

‘Haunting, moving and vividly told, Haven displays Emma Donoghue’s trademark world-building and psychological intensity – but this tale is like nothing she has ever written before’ says the blurb. With Maggie O’Farrell commenting that Donoghue is at ‘her strange, unsettling, best’ I know I’m in for a great read.

Maggie O’Farrell has her own book coming on 30th August and I’ve planned a quiet September to read it and restart my MA study. Hamnet was one of the best books of the last five years, possibly even longer, so I’ve been eager to see what she does next. Her new novel is called The Marriage Portrait and takes us back to the Italian Renaissance, Winter, 1561. Our main character is Lucrezia, thr Duchess of Ferrara, who is taken on an unexpected visit to a country villa by her husband, Alfonso. As they sit down to dinner it occurs to Lucrezia that Alfonso has a sinister purpose in bringing her here. He intends to kill her. Lucrezia is only sixteen years old, and has led a sheltered life locked away within the walls of Florence’s grandest palazzo. Now, in this remote villa, she is entirely at the mercy of her increasingly erratic husband.

What is Lucrezia to do with this sudden knowledge? What chance does she have against Alfonso, ruler of a province, and a trained soldier? How can she ensure her survival? With buzz from authors like Marian Keyes, I know I’m going to want this book, but I know there will be gorgeous special editions and I’m still deciding which to go for.

Headlined as compelling and challenging, Jodi Picoult’s new book looks at how well we really know the people we love. Olivia left her abusive marriage to return to her hometown and take over the family beekeeping business when her son Asher was only six. Now, impossibly, her baby is six feet tall and in his last year of high school. He’s a kind, good-looking, popular ice hockey star with a tiny sprite of a new girlfriend. Lily also knows what it feels like to start over – when she and her mother relocated to New Hampshire it was all about a fresh start. She and Asher couldn’t help falling for each other, and Lily feels happy for the first time. But can she trust him completely?

Then Olivia gets a phone call – Lily is dead, and Asher is arrested on a charge of murder. As the case against him unfolds, she realises he has hidden more than he’s shared with her. Olivia knows firsthand that the secrets we keep, hide a past we want to leave behind.

Finally there’s Kate Atkinson and her new novel Shrines of Gaiety. I love Kate Atkinson’s writing, from Behind the Scenes at the Museum, through the Jackson Brodie series and into Life After Life and it’s sequel, I have never been disappointed with her novels. I’ve been challenged and surprised though, so I can’t wait to see what this novel will bring.

It’s 1926, and in a country still recovering from the Great War, London has become the focus for a delirious new nightlife. In the clubs of Soho, peers of the realm rub shoulders with starlets, foreign dignitaries with gangsters, and girls sell dances for a shilling a time. The notorious queen of this glittering world is Nellie Coker, ruthless but also ambitious to advance her six children, including the enigmatic eldest, Niven whose character has been forged in the crucible of the Somme. But success breeds enemies, and Nellie’s empire faces threats from without and within. For beneath the dazzle of Soho’s gaiety, there is a dark underbelly, a world in which it is all too easy to become lost. With her unique Dickensian flair, Kate Atkinson brings together a glittering cast of characters in a truly mesmeric novel that captures the uncertainty and mutability of life; of a world in which nothing is quite as it seems. With a blurb like that it’s not surprising that I’ve engineered a quiet few weeks so that when it arrives I can hopefully dive straight in.

The Next in the Series

There’s always a slightly bittersweet moment when I receive the next book in a much loved series. I’m excited to have new adventures with my favourite characters, but always worry that it may be the last. We’ve all seen those series, in book form or TV, where they’ve run out of ideas. For me a sure sign a series should be over is the dreaded musical episode! So, I’m looking forward to these books with a side order of trepidation.

I bang on about The Skelfs series so much on Twitter that it’s possible even Doug Johnstone is fed up of hearing it! With Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books we coined the term #SkelfaholicsAnonymous and have agreed that when the series ends we will commiserate and celebrate the series with a great bottle of whiskey at an observatory or a funeral home, depending on who is more accommodating. This is the fourth, and possibly the penultimate, book following the Skelf women, three generations of an Edinburgh family who run a funeral home and a private investigation business. Grandmother Dorothy is in her 70’s and still actively involved in both businesses, as well as teaching drums in her spare time. She also has a police detective lover twenty years her junior. Jenny is the mum, struggling mentally after killing her ex-husband in self-defence. Hannah is the daughter, now married to Indy, doing her PhD, and startled to find she has a stalker. New and unusual cases come to the door, such as a widower convinced his wife’s spirit is attacking him in the night. Meanwhile, old demons still emerge, with Jenny’s psycho ex-husband (Hannah’s father) still haunting their lives from beyond the grave. Johnstone meanders through these events whilst pondering on the meaning of life through spiritual avenues, but also through astrophysics and ancient philosophy. Utterly brilliant!

As some of you will know, Cormoran Strike is my literary crush. It’s the dark, brooding and damaged hero thing. He’s vulnerable, but prickly. Despite all of that I know I would feel completely safe with him. Anyway, enough of my literary fantasies, I genuinely think it’s the incredible chemistry between Strike and his business partner Robin that helps to sell this series and her last instalment left us on the edge. Could something happen between them? Of course the other winning component is the case they’re working on. There are always those bread and butter cases: watching someone’s partner, because of a suspicion of infidelity; finding birth parents; locating people who owe money. The author usually throws in a humorous case too, last time it was discovering a businessman paying to dress as a baby! However, the main case is always meaty and full of twists. This time our damsel in distress is Edie Ledwell who appears in the office begging to speak to Robin, who doesn’t know quite what to make of the situation. Edie is co-creator of a popular cartoon, The Ink Black Heart, and is being persecuted by a mysterious online figure who goes by the pseudonym of Anomie. Edie wants to uncover Anomie’s true identity. Robin decides the agency can’t help with this – and thinks nothing more of it until a few days later, when she reads the shocking news that Edie has been tasered and then murdered in Highgate Cemetery, the location of The Ink Black Heart. Now, Robin and her business partner Cormoran Strike become drawn into the quest to uncover Anomie’s true identity. But with a complex web of online aliases, business interests and family conflicts to navigate, Strike and Robin find themselves embroiled in a case that stretches their powers of deduction to the limits – and which threatens them in new and horrifying ways. I’ve pre-ordered this one so I’ll be receiving this on publication day and I won’t be available for 48 hours.

A couple of years ago I had the great fortune of coming across one of Peter James’s Roy Grace books in a holiday cottage. I then had one of those blissful moments when I realised, not only had I found a new author I really enjoyed, there was a whole back catalogue to get through! I was greedy and read them in a week back to back so now I wait for each new instalment and grab it, devour it in a day and wish I’d taken my time. I’m now watching the TV series with great interest to see what how they interpret the books and who plays the characters.

In this latest novel we meet Harry and Freya, an ordinary couple, who dreamed for years of finding something priceless buried amongst the tat in a car boot sale. It was a dream they knew in their hearts would never come true – until the day it did. They buy a drab portrait for a few pounds, for its beautiful frame, planning to cut the painting out. Then studying it back at home there seems to be another picture beneath, of a stunning landscape. Could it be a long-lost masterpiece from 1770? If genuine, it could be worth millions. One collector is certain it is genuine. Someone who uses any method he can to get want he wants and will stop at nothing. So, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace finds himself plunged into an unfamiliar and rarefied world of fine art. Outwardly it appears respectable, gentlemanly, and above reproach. But beneath the veneer, Roy rapidly finds that greed, deception and violence walk hand-in-hand. Harry and Freya Kipling are about to discover that their dream is turning into their worst nightmare.

Next Sunday I’ll be looking at fantasy and historical fiction.

Posted in Netgalley, Publisher Proof

Beyond a Broken Sky by Suzanne Fortin

Beyond A Broken Sky by Suzanne Fortin

I’m a big fan of historical fiction and Suzanne Fortin cemented her place as an author to look out for when I read her debut novel The Forgotten Life of Arthur Pettinger. Her combination of time-slip narrative, history and romance is irresistible. I’m interested in the stories people don’t tell us about themselves and the years spent at war often feel like a parallel dimension where people and stories were lost. People died, became displaced, or were simply too traumatised to relive the events of those years. For many, their ordinary every day lives stopped in 1939 and they lived a completely different life away from friends and family, with a new occupation and a changing sense of self. They could act completely out of character in the high pressure of combat or became worn down by the difficulties of being a civilian in a bombed city, living on rations and making new friendships with the unlikeliest people.To then return and pack everything that’s happened neatly away to restart where you left off seems impossible, but many people did. How often do we hear people say that their father or grandfather never talked about the war? My own father-in-law had been sent to a Russian work camp in Siberia, because his father was in the military. His brother didn’t survive, but he and his Mum escaped and lived in a forest camp with the Polish resistance, gradually walking their way down through the Middle East, across Northern Africa and into Europe and eventually England. I would never have known this incredible story if I hadn’t seen a photo of him as a boy, standing in front of the pyramids. My mother-in-law was a child in the Warsaw Ghetto who escaped through the sewer system. Yet neither dwelled on that life, preferring to look forward where life was less painful. Suzanne’s novels fill that gap, that silence where someone’s experience is perhaps too painful to share. She writes these stories that are often complex and present something new about the war, and about people, that I hand’s thought of before.

It just happened that I’d read Ruth Druart’s The Last Hours in Paris and Joanna Quinn’s The Whalebone Theatre very recently, both of which included characters who were enemy prisoners of war, brought to English camps, but often released into the community to help out farmers or do other work that helped the Allied war effort. Some of these men waited up to three years after the war ended to be returned to their homeland and working within communities led to friendships and relationships with some British people. In Fortin’s latest novel we are taken to Somerset in 2022. Telton Hall is the home of Jack Hartwell, a farmer in his eighties, trying to come to terms with the compulsory purchase of his land and home. Rhoda Campbell is a stained glass expert and restorer, visiting to look at a stained glass window designed by POW Paulo Sartori. She works for a museum that conserves old historic buildings and they hope to move the whole chapel and window to their site. However she finds Jack blocking the driveway in his tractor, in the hope of delaying a little bit longer. It takes Rhoda’s charm and the arrival of his son Nate to get things moving again. As the three of them look at the chapel, Jack’s terrier disappears down a gap between flagstones. Rhoda lays on her front to see where he’s gone and makes a terrible discovery, human bones buried underneath the flagstones. This puts in place a chain of events that reaches all the way back to WW2 and has an effect on Rhoda whose own brother is a missing person.

The story alternates between 2022 with Rhoda’s urge to investigate the mystery she’s uncovered and back to the end of WWII when a young woman called Alice Renshaw finds herself pregnant to an American airman, Brett. As she prepares to marry Brett at the village church, Alice is so happy even though it’s an uncertain future she faces, possibly over in America. However, Brett doesn’t turn up at the church and thanks to his father’s connections he is transferred out of the country immediately. Alice is heartbroken. A few weeks later she’s at Telton Hall, where Louise Hartwell takes on young girls ‘in trouble’ and finds homes for their babies with couples who can’t have children. Louise is also still running the farm, with the help of Jack who is ten, his step-brother Billy, who needs to walk with a stick after being wounded. There are also two Italian POW’s helping with the produce gardens, one of whom is Paolo Sartori. Every time the book delves into the past we hear a little more about the story of Telton Hall, the diverse characters staying there and the connections they form with each other. Each time we go back to WW2, we’re getting closer to the answers and the tension builds, while in the present those that would like Rhoda silenced, come ever closer.

I was gripped by the drama of Telton Hall in the 1930’s and desperate for the hateful Billy to get his just desserts before he can permanently hurt anyone. In the present I was convinced I wouldn’t like the answers to the mystery. I was worried that it would have an impact on characters I’d become attached to, who might have only acted badly due to the extreme circumstances. The ending was a surprise and gave me the answers, as well as putting a smile on my face knowing that there was a happy ending for some. I loved Alice’s ability to trust and love after her experience with Brett. I felt the author really captured that sense of displacement and dislocation that many felt during the war, their separation from ‘normal’ life and the way their actions within that time had repercussions for years to come. Ultimately, the story shows us the amazing ability we humans have to heal, our incredible resilience and capacity to love. This could manifest in holding on to a love that won’t die or in finding we have an endless capacity of love, even when our experiences have shown us a depth of loss that seems insurmountable. For Rhoda it means the possibility of letting love in, despite having no blue print of family life from her own childhood. This book is heartfelt and moving, showing us that like Rhoda’s stained glass we are made up of many parts, each experience and influence adding together to make something uniquely beautiful.

Published on 22nd July by Aria

Meet the Author

Suzanne writes historical fiction, predominantly dual timeline and set in France. Her books feature courageous women in extraordinary circumstances with love and family at the heart of all the stories. 

Suzanne also writes mystery and suspense as Sue Fortin where she is a USA Today bestseller and Amazon UK #1 and Amazon US #3 bestseller. She has sold over a million copies of her books and been translated into multiple languages.

Posted in Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday! The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes.

I love Jojo Moyes. Like many people I was introduced to her writing with the novel Me Before You. I became immediately attached to Louisa Clark, mainly because I felt that Moyes had created her character by stepping inside my head! My husband was paralysed due to MS and when I fell in love with him he was in a similar wheelchair to Will, with the same interests and charismatic spirit. Sadly, I lost him in 2007 and I have read Moyes’ follow up novels and found her depiction of grief and moving forward intelligent, moving and real.

The Giver of Stars is a different type of novel, more historical fiction than romance. It’s setting is the Depression era and a small town in rural Kentucky where the Van Cleeve family own the mines where most people work. Levels of rural poverty are high, African-Americans are still subject to segregation and while middle class women are expected to stay home and know their place, women in poorer families are working hard while trying their best to feed and look after ever-growing families. Into this setting comes Alice, the English bride of the heir to this mining fortune. Bennet Van Cleeve is handsome and considerate, and their marriage seems to start well but once they reach the family home things change. Bennet lives with his father and the death of his mother still hangs heavy over the house, with everything still being run to her exacting standards. Alice finds she has little to do and the house is full of her late mother-in-law’s ornaments and china dolls. She daren’t change anything because Mr Van Cleeve doesn’t like anything to be out of it’s normal place. More worrying is the change in Bennet now they are home, despite showing some desire at the beginning, the proximity to his father seems to be affecting their sex life. Several months down the line their marriage is still unconsummated and Mr Van Cleeve keeps hinting about grandchildren, adding to the pressure she feels.

When a town meeting is called to discuss President Roosevelt’s initiative to get the rural poor reading, Alice senses an opportunity and an outlet for her unspent energy. Margery O’Hare will head up the initiative. She is an outspoken and self-sufficient women who doesn’t listen to the opinion of anyone else, particularly men. She opens a door for Alice to escape the claustrophobic Van Cleeve household, into the wild forests of Kentucky. Alice learns to ride a mule, and along with Margery and two other local women she sets out as a librarian for the Packhorse Library. At first, rural locals are suspicious of an Englishwoman coming to the door offering them books, but soon Alice finds a way in and starts to be trusted. She also finds she likes the open air, the smells of the forest and singing of the birds. She enjoys the freedom of more casual clothes and the camaraderie she is building up with her fellow librarians. She is close to Margery and when she confides about her marriage, Margery loans her a book she has been sneaking out with the novels and recipes. It is an instruction book on married love and Margery has been loaning it to poor women on her rounds who are inundated with children and need educating about sex. Alice takes the book home and a series of events are set in motion that change not only the Van Cleeve household, but the whole town.

Old Mr Van Cleeve is determined to deal with Margery O’Hare and vows to destroy the Packhorse Library altogether. Margery is shrewd and is sure that a devastating flood had more behind it than high rainfall and suspects the mines. However, she has left herself vulnerable with what Van Cleeve sees as evidence of transgressive behaviour: she is exposed as having a relationship out of wedlock, she has hired an African-American woman who used to run the coloured library and she is encouraging townswomen to take control of their own lives. She seems impervious to other people’s disapproval so what lengths will he have to go to in order to stop her? Meanwhile, Alice starts to fall into a friendship with Frank who helps out at the library by chopping wood, putting up shelves and being a general handyman. They bond over poetry and spend hours talking and working side by side in the library building. The other librarians have seen what’s happening, but Alice doesn’t seem to realise this man is falling in love with her.

I loved this book and writing about it again has made me want to reread it. I was on holiday the first time and I stayed in my holiday cottage for two days to read it cover to cover. As always with Moyes, it is beautifully written and researched, with characters I fell in love with. She writes about relationships with so much insight and emotional intelligence. She captures the tensions of the Depression perfectly, depicting the rural poverty where work is scarcer and poor women really take the brunt of the economic conditions. Stuck at home with ever growing families they must have felt desperate for a break. They had land to grow vegetables and keep livestock, but there was still worry over where the next meal was coming from and hoping and praying that there are no more mouths to feed. Just as in the recent pandemic, money worries and pressure meant more domestic abuse. Margery is determined to educate these women to keep themselves safe and prevent their families growing. The town hasn’t kept up with the national shift in women’s attitudes and opportunities. Moyes shows that feminine power is on the rise and the new attitudes towards feminism, as well as marriage and sex, could end up battling against old money and old values. For the women, the poorer families and those residents who are African-American losing the power struggle could be disastrous, and some characters might pay a high price. I was braced for tragedy, but found myself desperate for the progressive characters and attitudes to prevail. It was this struggle that built the tension and kept me reading till 2am! Moyes achieved something real, romantic and historically significant with this novel, but most of all it is simply great storytelling. This book is an absolute must read and I still think it is probably her best novel to date.

Posted in Publisher Proof

The Blackbird by Tim Weaver

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 media dubbed their case ‘The Mystery of Gatton Hill’ as they disappeared there, travelling from their home in Twickenham to have dinner. 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. Cate’s work isn’t of the portrait or wedding variety and David is quite blown away by her talent as he looks for clues in her work. For Cate, photography is an art form and she’s had several successful exhibitions with enigmatic titles. 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. However, they also find an impossible scenario, when trying to recover Cate and Aiden’s bodies; they’re no longer in the car. The Mystery of Gatton Hill remains unsolved two and a half years later.

Cate’s parents, Martin and Sue Clark, hire Raker because they find themselves unable to live with the unknown aspects of their daughter’s disappearance and feeling their emotional distress he does what he shouldn’t, he promises them he will get to the truth. However, he has no idea just how dangerous, macabre, and twisted the case will turn out to be, as he delves into Cate and Aiden’s lives. His first port of call is to interview 2 witnesses, Audrey Calvert and Zoe Simmons, who came upon the site of the burning car almost immediately. He gets help accessing the police files and photographs on the incident from a Met source, Ewan Trasker, and works his way through the couple’s phone records that he gets from Spike, the hacker. He never expected to be forced to go on the run as he follows the leads that point to Northumberland, and a 30 year old unsolved case of 3 murdered women, a case worked by DI Makayla Jennings. Three is merely 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. Could Cate’s artistic interest in the beach where the bodies were found have been the catalyst for her murder? Is it something else altogether? Could Cate and Aiden still be alive? I found Raker a remarkably tenacious and determined investigator, even when the pressures and dangers threaten to derail the case, and he has the added complications of trying to keep Colm Healy safe. 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. Many thanks to the publisher for an ARC.

Published by Michael Joseph 9th June 2022

Meet The Author

Tim Weaver is the Sunday Times bestselling author of twelve thrillers, including You Were Gone and No One Home. He has been nominated for a National Book Award, twice selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club, and shortlisted for the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger. He is the host and producer of the chart-topping Missing podcast and is currently developing an original TV series with the team behind Line of Duty. A former journalist and magazine editor, he lives near Bath with his wife and daughter.

Posted in Netgalley

The Blackhouse by Carole Johnstone

I loved this dark thriller from acclaimed author of Mirrorland 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 in the village 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.

Kilmery is sat across a causeway from Lewis and Harris, and the author makes this incredible place a real character of it’s own. It’s isolated position reinforces the feeling of loneliness that surrounds Maggie. She roams around the island, often alone and there were times she felt like an easy target, especially to someone who knows the terrain better than she does. Shipwrecks litter the coast and the author’s description of a ship coming to harm one stormy night enhances that feeling of danger.

‘It wasn’t the screams he remembered the most, although they crashed to shore inside the howling, furious wind and ricocheted around the high cliffs above the beach for hours. It wasn’t the storm or the roaring, foaming waves that carved great snaking wounds through the wet sand and stole its shape from under his feet.’

For Maggie, the island is changeable and I felt the way it was viewed echoed the journey she’s on through this dark, dangerous investigation to the hint of a possible brighter future. The wind, fog, and storms lashing against the rocks are unnerving, but there are places that Maggie finds peace. At the Oir na Tir standing stones, even with the wind and rain driving against them, Maggie senses their permanence. This is something that won’t be moved and stands like a sentinel, weathering every storm that’s passed over them. This is the kind of permanence Maggie wants in her own mind, a sense of peace that stays despite what life throws at her. Then there’s the meadow, shown to her by Will, one of the locals she befriends.

‘At the bottom of the hill is a vast green meadow stretching as far as the eye can see. It’s gorgeous, dotted with silver-still lochans, gold winter heather, and boulders covered in moss and orange lichen. It opens something inside my chest, precarious and fragile; a sense of longing that I suppose is awe or wonder. At this uncannily beautiful place full of a light and colour so at odds with the bronze desolation of those inland bens and glens […] I can feel the sting of ludicrous tears, and blink them away.’

This is machair, a type of dune grassland formed by sand and broken shells blown over from the beach. In opens up a sense of wonder in Maggie, like the childhood awe we have for Christmas and it’s magic. It’s almost as if this piece of the landscape connects her to the child she was before all of this happened. Can she trust it though?

I loved the link to the supernatural and Norse folklore, particularly the idea of ‘thin places’, something I’ve had a feeling about before. As an avid reader of the Outlander series, this ability to move into a different time or experience a haunting feels synonymous with Scotland. Old fisherman Charlie, who decides to talk to Maggie about the past, describes a thin place as where the space between this and other worlds is the shortest. The chance of seeing, knowing or feeling something from another world is high. There’s superstition within the fishermen, who never say a prayer aboard a boat, but douse it in whiskey and salt or even use burning rags to cleanse every corner of the boat, rather like smudging using sage twigs. It’s the ‘Vándr-varði’ that feel really disturbing, left anonymously outside The Blackhouse, where Maggie is staying. They’re mummified crows, old Norse talismans to guard against evil, but Maggie doesn’t know whether they’ve been left to protect her or whether she’s the evil that needs to be kept at bay. All of this superstition adds to the mystery Maggie is trying to solve, but she wonders whether it’s meant to spook her and warn her off the truth. The tension keeps building and by the time Maggie has a midnight visitor, my heart was racing.

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 will be buying a finished copy of this book for my collection.

Published 4th August by Harper Collins UK

Meet the Author

Scottish writer Carole Johnstone’s debut novel, Mirrorland, will be published in spring 2021 by Borough Press/HarperCollins in the UK and Commonwealth and by Scribner/Simon & Schuster in North America. 

Her award-winning short fiction has been reprinted in many annual ‘Best Of’ anthologies in the UK and the US. She has been published by Titan Books, Tor Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and PS Publishing, and has written Sherlock Holmes stories for Constable & Robinson and Running Press.

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books of the Month! July 2022.

Well it’s been an up and down month here, so thank goodness I had some uplifting and light books to get me through. Firstly I had to get through the horrendous 40 degree days and I’m sorry to put the image in your head but I spent two days mostly naked, laid on my new doggy cooling blanket (the dog sniffed it and walked off) with a fan on the ceiling and another trained on my face! Then I had two days of shivering cold, not that it was really cold, there’d just been a 20 degree drop in 24 hours. I had a jumper on in July! So my MS was all over the place and never really settled. The reading has been fabulous though. I felt absolutely spoiled by the choice of books I’ve had this month. I read eleven books this month and these were my favourites.

Lizzy Dent has another bestseller on her hands here as we follow Mara while Mara follows her destiny. According to a fortune teller in Prague the love of her life is about to walk in and then he does. A handsome, enigmatic musician called Josef, due to play in London in a few weeks time. Mara tells him his destiny is in her home town, on the south coast of the U.K. Will he come? This is not just about romance though, it’s about Mara’s growth – as a lover, a daughter, a colleague and a friend. She wants to save her workplace, the Art Deco lido on the sea front. She wants to improve her friendship with best friend Charlie who’s just had a baby. She wants to renovate her flat with new flatmate Ash. Most of all she wants to regain the confidence she lost at film school when her boyfriend stole her final film idea. I was rooting for her throughout and couldn’t rest till I’d read the ending.

This was a difficult read, but beautifully written and really packed an emotional punch. I was glad I stayed with it, because of the truth it shows about the effects of trauma. They are life long. It felt like reading a client’s journal work, there was something prurient about reading Ruby’s story, because it was so intimate and harrowing who could gain pleasure from reading it? Perhaps this is exactly the effect that Phoebe Wynne was hoping to evoke in the reader? Not all reading is pleasurable, sometimes it has a different purpose. To educate, to shock, to show people they are not alone in their experience. Unfolding slowly over a hot summer in France, we see how men manipulate and use their power to get what they want. The author uses a later narrative to look back to that summer and shows the strength and resilience of one woman who survived that experience. Hard hitting, psychologically astute and a very brave book.

This was one of those books where it only took a couple of pages for me to be ‘in’ the author’s world and completely convinced by her main character. Meredith hasn’t left her house for more than a thousand days, but her inner world is so rich and full. She was absolutely real to me and I could easily imagine having a coffee and a catch up with her. We meet her at a crossroads in life. She’s trying to make changes. Her daily life is quite full, she works from home as a writer and between work she bakes, exercises by running up and down the stairs, reads and fills in jigsaws of amazing places from all over the world. The jigsaws are the key. Meredith doesn’t stay inside from choice, just standing outside her front door gives her a wave of rising panic. Meredith feels a terrible fear, her heart starts hammering out of her chest, her throat begins to close and she feels like she’s going to die. However, as she looks at yet another jigsaw of something she’d love to travel and see in person, she becomes determined to live a fuller life. Meredith has sessions with an online counsellor and a new addition to her weekly calendar is a visit from Tom, who is a volunteer with a befriending society. With this support and that of her long time best friend Sadie, can Meredith overcome her fear and come to terms with the events behind her phobia? This is such an emotionally intelligent read, sad in parts but so uplifting. This is definitely up there as one of my reads of the year.

In 2022 we meet Rhoda Sullivan who works as a stained glass expert, called in by museums to oversee and conserve important works in glass. She’s tasked to go to Telton Hall and assess a stained glass window that dates to WW2 and was designed by an Italian POW. There she end up at an impasse when the gates are blocked by an elderly man in a tractor, Jack Hartwell is the hall’s last inhabitant and he’s lived there all his life. He’s making a final protest about the development at the hall, but his son Nate arrives to help Rhoda gain access. With Nate, Rhoda makes a terrible discovery – a body under the chapel’s flagstones. It has a huge effect on Rhoda who imagines someone missing this person, just as she still misses her twin brother who disappeared before their 18th birthday. A decade on she still looks for him. In 1945 we are taken to Somerset and a young woman called Alice Renshaw. Alice is alone and pregnant. Shes been sent to a farm in Somerset where Louise Hartwell is running things with the help of POW’s. As well as the farm work, Louise helps young pregnant women. Alice soon starts to make friends, but not everyone at the hall is happy about this. As peace is declared, the war at Telton Hall is just beginning. This is a great story, full of historical detail and with a central mystery that grabs your attention.

This is the third in a great series by this Icelandic author, following Elma, a young woman who has returned to her home town of Arkanes to be a detective. The small community is devastated when a young man dies in a mysterious house fire. So, when Elma discovers the fire was arson, they become embroiled in an increasingly perplexing case involving multiple suspects. What’s more, the dead man’s final online search raises fears that they could be investigating not one murder, but two. A few months before the fire, a young Dutch woman takes a job as an au pair in Iceland, desperate to make a new life for herself after the death of her father. But the seemingly perfect family who employs her turns out to have problems of its own and she soon discovers she is running out of people to turn to. As the police begin to home in on the truth, Elma, already struggling to come to terms with a life-changing event, finds herself in mortal danger as it becomes clear that someone has secrets they’ll do anything to hide. This is a riveting mystery, that twists and turns but never loses sight of the emotional impact of the crime. There are also a couple of scenes that really freeze the blood! This is turning out to be an outstanding series, with great insight into our heroine’s life as well as the crimes she investigates.

This is one of those books you devour in a day. Emma is an academic, married to Leo and mum to three year old Ruby. Her field of study is the creatures that are brought in by the tide and then swept out again, her claim to fame was finding a new mutation of a Japanese crab. This took her through her masters and eventually resulted in a TV series. Leo adores Emma and the feeling is mutual, but things have been tough lately as Emma has had cancer. Leo is an obituary writer at a newspaper and because Emma was a TV personality the department was writing a ‘stock’ – an obituary they keep on file just in case. Leo asks if he can add some notes that he’d been writing and it’s here that Leo notices something wrong. Emma didn’t graduate from the university she said she did. It’s a minor thing, but along with a lot of messages from very odd male fans and her ‘disappearing times’ when she takes herself away to get her head straight, Leo’s mind is running through hundreds of scenarios. He can’t believe Emma would have an affair, but it’s the simplest explanation. He keeps digging and will have to confront her with what he’s found. Emma is becoming anxious, especially when he starts asking questions. How can she convince him that the life they’ve had together and the love she has for him is true? When everything else has been a lie. Rosie Walsh is one of those authors who creates characters you become emotionally involved with, but then pulls the rug right from under you. She’s packed her book full of twists and turns, but with so much tenderness and love it never fully veers into domestic noir. I came away feeling that we never truly know another person’s journey, but we can empathise and try to understand. Emma’s mistake was thinking Leo wouldn’t love her if he knew the truth, but maybe she has underestimated the depth of his love. Devoured in a day!

All About Evie is the second book in Matson Taylor’s Evie Epworth series and is simply sunshine in book form. Our previous book ended as Evie is being waved off to an adventurous new life in London, alongside mentor Caroline, the unconventional and glamorous daughter of Evie’s lifelong neighbour and baking partner Mrs Scott-Pym. All About Eviestarts ten years later in 1970’s London, where Evie is working in a junior role on BBC Radio Four’s Women’s Hour. Previously, we met Evie at time of great change and this novel is no different. Thanks to a terrible incident with a visiting Princess Anne and the misuse of a mug Evie is sacked from the BBC. Does this mean her life in her little London flat is in jeopardy? Evie finds herself a job at Right On magazine, a culture magazine with review and listings of events in London. Evie peppers the listings section with her own inimitable brand of magic, with the help of new friend Lolo (cultured, funny, homosexual) from BBC3. Yet underneath the humour, there’s so much more going on. A beautifully poignant thread running through the novel is that of motherhood. There are memories of Evie’s mum of course, but also mother figures and Evie’s own role supporting Genevieve, a young fashion hopeful. It was lovely to see Evie in this life stage, being the mentor and feeling so confident. As much as I love London, it was also nice to see her at home on the farm with old friends reunited and new ones being introduced, plus a very exciting finale which gives us a nod towards what Evie might do next.

I’m looking forward to a quieter August, with fewer book tours and more choice. My NetGalley list could do with some attention too. Below is what I hope to read in August. Have a great reading month! ❤️❤️📚

August TBR

Posted in Netgalley, Publisher Proof

Meredith Alone by Claire Alexander.

This was one of those books where it only took a couple of pages for me to be ‘in’ the author’s world and completely convinced by her main character. Meredith hasn’t left her house for more than a thousand days, but her inner world is so rich and full. She was absolutely real to me and I could easily imagine having a coffee and a catch up with her. We meet her at a crossroads in life. She’s trying to make changes. Her daily life is quite full, she works from home as a writer and between work she bakes, exercises by running up and down the stairs, reads and fills in jigsaws of amazing places from all over the world. The jigsaws are the key. Meredith doesn’t stay inside from choice, just standing outside her front door gives her a wave of rising panic. Meredith feels a terrible fear, her heart starts hammering out of her chest, her throat begins to close and she feels like she’s going to die. However, as she looks at yet another jigsaw of something she’d love to travel and see in person, she becomes determined to live a fuller life. Meredith has sessions with an online counsellor and a new addition to her weekly calendar is a visit from Tom, who is a volunteer with a befriending society. With this support and that of her long time best friend Sadie, can Meredith overcome her fear and come to terms with the events behind her phobia?

The author tells Meredith’s story on a day by day basis, with the amount of days she’s spent indoors at the beginning of each chapter. There are also flashbacks that take us to Meredith’s childhood, living at home with her mum and sharing a room with big sister Fi. Underpinning her childhood is such a well-constructed tale of psychological dysfunction. Of course all families are dysfunctional in their own way, but Meredith’s broke my heart. Her mother is inconsistent in the way she treats her daughter, as Fi later says, their mother was horrible to both of them, but saved her fiercest venom for Meredith. She would insult her youngest daughter’s dark hair and withheld medical attention when Meredith developed eczema. She tells her itchy, uncomfortable child that she has faulty genes and it takes Fi to engineer a visit to the GP without their mother knowing. Meredith can remember happy times or at least times where she felt safe, such as a memory of being freshly bathed and drying off in front of the fire with hot chocolate. Fi and Meredith lie in bed at night conjuring up a future where they leave home and get a flat together, finally leaving their Mum to her bitterness and the alcohol. If it’s true that our self image is made up of those rules our parents tell us about ourselves and life, then Meredith is left with low self-esteem, no sense of security and the sense that she is strange or tainted in some way. It’s a recipe for mental ill health and it’s amazing that Meredith grows into such an intelligent and kind-hearted woman. It’s even more amazing that it’s Meredith who has the strength to leave.

I truly enjoyed the friends Meredith manages to make along the way and the resourceful way she tries to make herself part of the outside world from her living room. She chats in a forum of people struggling with their mental health and Celeste becomes a particular friend, even going as far as visiting Meredith and cementing their friendship in person. I loved how her befriending visits with Tom develop, because at first Meredith is slightly suspicious of his motives and keeps the extremities of her condition to herself. They have a drink together and stay in the kitchen doing one of her jigsaws, but soon they’re baking together and the relationship is becoming more of a two way street. Less befriending and more of an actual friendship. They share and Meredith realises that other people around her struggle too in their own ways. She even strikes up a friendship with a little boy who comes to ask if she wants her car washed. The upsurge of positivity in her current life is exhilarating to read, but it’s also necessary because I knew that I was also getting closer to finding out what had brought Meredith home one day, close her door and not go out again. Claire Alexander balances this beautifully and where many authors might have gone for the schmaltzy ending, she doesn’t. She keeps it realistic and in doing so made me aware of everything that Meredith has had going for her all along. She’s so self-aware, independent and knows who she is. Above all, even as she starts to overcome her demons she’s determined to do it on her own two feet. She appreciates support, but gives it as well. She doesn’t want to become dependent on an emotional crutch. Meredith is perfectly ok. Alone.

Published by Penguin 9th June 2022

Meet the Author

Claire Alexander lives on the west coast of Scotland with her husband and children. She has written for The Washington Post, The Independent, The Huffington Post and Glamour. In 2019, one of her essays was published in the award-winning literary anthology We Got This: Solo Mom Stories of Grit, Heart, and Humor. When she’s not writing or parenting, she’s on her paddle board, thinking about her next book.

Posted in Publisher Proof

The Setup by Lizzy Dent.

Lizzy’s last novel was a great modern romantic comedy that, thanks to it’s main character, managed to avoid being too schmaltzy and sentimental. It also contained a healthy dose of self-discovery and self-love for a young woman who was low in confidence and used to drifting in life. In The SetUp she’s done it again. Mara is just the sort of quirky and unsure girl that readers fall in love with and I did. Being in my late forties, Mara reminded me of a time I wasn’t sure of myself and I mostly wanted to give her some hope and a big motherly hug. We meet Mara as she’s leaving for a weekend in Prague with her best friend Charlie. This is going to be real quality time for them, something that’s been difficult to get organise since her friend became a Mum. Everything in her friend’s life has changed and while Mara is pleased for her, she can’t help but feel pushed out. Charlie’s going through a whole raft of life experiences that Mara simply can’t identify with or share. The holiday is an attempt to get their friendship back on track so she’s terribly disappointed when Charlie cancels at the last minute. So Mara is in Prague alone and while wandering one day she sees a sign for palmistry and fortune telling. Mara is astrology mad, often reading her daily horoscope first thing in the morning. So on a whim she decides to have her fortune told. There is a change on the horizon, the fortune teller explains, a tall and dark man will literally walk into her life imminently. This is everything Mara has wanted to hear and she’s still digesting the news when the fortune teller explains she has to run, even leaving the keys for Mara to lock up. Within seconds the door opens and in walks a tall, dark and handsome musician called Josef, all set to play cello in the nearby concert hall. He asks for his fortune and who is Mara to object? She wants to get to know him better, because this might be her ‘one’. So she gives him a very specific fortune – when he comes to play in England later that year he will meet a woman called Mara in the pub on the seafront at Broadgate and she is his destiny.

Mara has been drifting through life. After knowing what she wanted to do from an early age and doggedly followed her dream of going to film school. She now has an encyclopaedic knowledge of classic cinema and rom-coms too of course. She even has a little card index of all the films she’s seen, because she loves nothing better than showing one of them to someone who’s never seen it before. She completed almost three years of her degree course, when a lack of confidence and blind love and trust for someone proved to be a toxic combination. She thought that he was the one. He thought he knew more about film than Mara, because he had the more serious taste, for art house cinema. As they worked on their final project together, Mara was envisioning them being a great team and she was proud of her script about a taxi driver falling in love with a passenger. All was well until Mara heard what her boyfriend really thought, both of her and her work. Then to add to her broken heart, he stole her film. Unable to stick up for herself and claim the work as her own, instead she packed her bags and left university for good. Now living in sunny Broadgate, on the south coast, Mara is trying to make friends with her work colleagues at the town’s 1930’s lido. Directly on the sea front, the lido is a great example of Art Deco architecture but isn’t used nearly enough by the people of the town. Mara is full of ideas, but it’s whether her boss will agree to them. Every idea she puts forward seems to be blocked or put on the back burner to think about at a later date. Mara senses there is more to this than mere apathy and starts investigating. To improve her finances she advertises for a new roommate and is gratified to find Ash, a local handyman/ builder who is keen to make friends, but also help her revamp the flat. Finally and to add to her new found enthusiasm for work, she decides on a bold new look at the hair salon too. When Josef arrives in the autumn every aspect of her life is going to be perfect.

I’m guessing that Lizzy Dent is placed within ‘women’s fiction’ or categorised as modern romance, two descriptors that critics can be sniffy and superior about. I think this book is the very best of it’s genre and isn’t simply a romance, at least not the conventional sort. What I enjoyed most about this book was the transformation of Mara, from her new look and the confidence it brings, to the inner growth that becomes wisdom and really transforms her outlook on life. As Mara works on the big anniversary project for the lido she starts to appreciate her new home town and the history of the incredible Art Deco building where she works. The excitement about her work brings her closer to her colleagues and they start to really bond as friends, in fact it is Samira from work who recommends a hairdresser to give Mara’s look an overhaul. She starts to appreciate their quirks and their work skills. In turn they are impressed by Mara’s ideas and enthusiasm and their appreciation gives her confidence professionally. The negative voice that was once a constant narrator in her mind, becomes quieter, allowing a stronger, more nurturing voice to develop. I was desperate for this little team to triumph and save such a unique landmark for their community.

Romantically, Mara isn’t remotely self-aware. She believes in fate, destiny and ‘the one’ – a viewpoint that her new roommate Ash finds hilarious. He doesn’t believe there’s a ‘one’ or a specific destiny awaiting him. I loved his common sense approach to life and love. He tries to get Mara to see that Josef is merely a fantasy and the likelihood of him turning up is very slim. He wants Mara to grab hold of life and to make choices for herself: pursue things that make her happy; wear things that make her confident and comfortable; improve her relationship with the family she seems to have cut out of her life. The author keeps us guessing over what will come next for Mara and I wanted to carry on reading straight through in one sitting to find out. I became so invested in her as a character and Ash is so loveable too, the sort of man I just know gives the best hugs. The depiction of female friendships is so positive and true to life. I haven’t had children and only became a stepmum at the age of 46, so I felt that distance when my friends became mums like Charlie. I had to learn how much they needed new friends who were going through the same thing, but they needed their old friends to hang in there just as much. I loved the last minute twist to the tale that forces Mara to make a choice, between the destiny and romantic fantasy of the old Mara and the more confident and certain Mara, able to make her own choices with conviction rather than leaving the universe to decide on her behalf.

Published by Viking 9th June 2022

Meet The Author

Lizzy Dent (mis)spent her early twenties working in a hotel not unlike the one in her first novel, The Summer Job. Soon to be a TV series! She somehow ended up in a glamorous job travelling the world creating content for various TV companies, including MTV, Channel 4, Cartoon Network, the BBC and ITV. She writes about women who don’t always know where they’re going in life, but who always have fun doing it. The Setup is her second novel.

Posted in Netgalley

The Three Dahlias by Katy Watson

Dahlia Lively is the redoubtable heroine of a long series of books by crime author Lettuce Davenport. Over the years she has been portrayed on the big and small screen by two actresses Rosalind and Caro, both of whom were well loved. Our novel takes place at a Dahlia Lively convention, held at a stately home called Aldemere, the home of the Davenport family for generations. In fact, Lettuce wrote some of her novels in the study. Now it is home to her nephew Hugh Davenport, his wife Isobel and his stepdaughter Juliette. This is the first time the convention has taken place at Aldemere and VIP attendees have paid to stay in the house for the weekend. In an amazing coup for the convention, organiser Marcus has secured all the Dahlias including Hollywood actress Posy Starling who is about to start filming a 21st Century version of the books. Posy was a child star who became the enfant terrible of the tabloids as she grew up in the glare of publicity. With addiction and criminal convictions behind her, she wouldn’t be everyone’s choice for Dahlia – rather like casting Lindsey Lohan in a young Miss Marple series. Posy is hoping this movie will erase her previous bad girl status and industry insiders will start to take her seriously. With Aldemere House needing repair and money running out, Posy isn’t the only person depending on this film. The Davenport family are getting desperate and are selling heirlooms to stay afloat as Aldemere starts to look a little threadbare. Staying at Lettuce Davenport’s home is an immersive experience, so when murder becomes part of their eleven course dinner many people aren’t surprised, but this is no act and that means one of them is a murderer.

There are so many secrets flying around at Aldemere, you’d need a Dahlia Lively to keep track. Luckily we have three. I enjoyed all three characters and we see the action in three separate sections through their eyes. I felt for Posy who has really been thrown in at the deep end this weekend. Dahlia fans are obsessive and know every detail about their favourite literary character and her creator. Posy is coming into this completely blind and has only just starting reading the books. The film makers have given this adaptation a reboot, casting Posy against type and casting Kit, a young Black British actor, as her police sidekick Johnnie. Traditionalist are complaining, but Rosalind and Caro can see that perhaps each generation needs it’s own Dahlia. Besides, keeping the character in the limelight keeps the royalties coming in for them. I thought Posy really thrived as these two strong women believed in her and almost became Dahlia in front of their eyes as the women embark on some amateur sleuthing of their own. Each woman has also received a blackmail note, because each woman has their own secrets. Rosalind was older and wiser than the other two, really able to sit back and sift through the evidence in her mind until a solution presents itself. Rosalind also has the strongest links with the Davenport family, having dated Hugh before he married Isobel. I felt Rosalind’s sadness and loneliness, but also her confusion that he chose to marry someone else after what they felt for each other. It’s a question she’s never been able to ask, but now she might have to. She regrets staying quiet and wishes she’d been more like Caro who set fire to her ex-husband’s tie – while he was still wearing it. Caro is the firecracker and the driving force behind the Dahlia’s investigative efforts. She likes the centre of attention and relishes the role of interrogator so that she can take centre stage at the end and unmasks a murderer. I did feel like she was playing a role though, and aside from knowing she was married to Annie I didn’t feel we got fully under her skin.

The mystery itself is clever and labyrinthine, at times I started to lose my way with who was where and when. That possibly says more about my brain than the plot. There wasn’t just the murder to solve but lots of smaller mysteries like who the blackmailer was, who had stolen Lettuce’s jewelled loupe from the study and who was making the creepy little dolls left behind to signal the next victim. I loved the dolls, but other than that I never felt this was a creepy or violent murder mystery. It’s more of a cosy puzzle and potentially good Sunday evening viewing on TV. I loved the odd couple who had come to the convention for their 25th wedding anniversary and knew everything there was to know about Dahlia. There was something sweet, but slightly obsessive about them that was fun. I loved the quirky elements of the house too – such as Posy’s room, named the ‘China Room’ for it’s very famous blue and white patterned wall paper that featured in one of the books. We never find out exactly what the wall paper does, but that makes it more scary. I also thought the Murder Spiral was incredible, a garden planted with poisonous specimens featured in Lettuce’s writings and giving her the title ‘Princess of Poison’. It feels wrong to say a murder mystery is fun, but this one was. With nostalgia, vintage fashion, a quirky old house and three formidable heroines this was a clever and well-constructed read with an affectionate nod to the golden age of detective fiction.

Published by Constable on 21st July 2022

Meet the Author

Growing up in a family of murder mystery addicts, Katy learned early to look for means, motive and opportunity.

After studying English Literature – with a sideline in crime fiction – at Lancaster University, she set about teaching herself to write her own stories, while also experiencing enough of the world to have things to write about.

Two careers, a lot of airmiles, one husband, two children, three houses and forty five published books for children and adults later, lockdown finally gave her the means, motive and opportunity to create her own murder mystery – with the aid of her scientist husband’s worryingly thorough knowledge of poisons.

The Three Dahlias is the result.