Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books of the Month! October 2022

Jacqueline in Paris by Ann Mah

I truly enjoyed this beautiful piece of historical fiction, focused on one of the most iconic women of the 20th Century. I’ve read biographies on Jackie and watched many documentaries about the Kennedy family with my mum who is fascinated with the theories about the assassination of JFK. I’ve always had a picture in my head of a woman who didn’t fulfil her potential and had so much more to give than being a First Lady, supporting her husband. I’d most recently read a book focused on her life with Aristotle Onassis and his mistress Maria Callas. I always wondered why she married Onassis but felt it could have been a response to the assassination and a desire to be protected and live out of the spotlight. This book focuses on a single year in the life of Jacqueline Bouvier as she travels to Paris for the junior year of her degree course. She has a fascination with France and was interested in researching her family tree. Ann Mah shows us a girl torn between the life she wants and the life her family wants or needs her to have. Her mother has planned for Jacqui to marry someone in the political classes, preferably with family money behind them. This feels like her last year of freedom, in a Paris still recovering from the occupation of WW2 and with politics that are very different from the US. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about a new side to this fascinating woman.

Where I End by Sophie White

This was an extraordinarily powerful book, that I’m still thinking about several weeks later. On a remote island somewhere in the Irish Sea, an arts centre is being built to attract tourists, because the island is barren and without attractions. The first resident artist is Rachel, who arrives with her baby Seamus and while swimming on the beach meets local girl Aoileann. Aoileann is a strange girl, not used to strangers and fascinated with the way Rachel mothers her baby. Aoileen’s odd manner is due to her home life, where in a house with the front door and windows blocked up, she shares a caring role with her grandmother. The ‘bed thing’ needs round the clock care, with a Heath Robinson system of ropes and pulleys they haul her out of bed and into the bathroom. She does not move for herself, except the wearing away of her fingers, now bloody stumps. The line that sent a nasty shiver down my spine and changed the whole book for me, revealed the one finger where the bone protrudes from the skin. It’s this bone that the bed thing uses to scratch out messages on the floor. This is a disturbingly horrific book that shows the drudgery of caring, the effect of remote and superstitious communities, and the terrible power of secrets in a family. The author explores motherhood in such a clever way, contrasting Rachel’s love for Seamus with the neglect Aoileann has thought was the norm. This book isn’t for the faint-hearted, but it is utterly devastating in it’s effect.

The Ink Black Heart by Robert Galbraith.

This instalment of the Cormoran Strike series is an absolute monster of a book. I had to give up reading the physical copy because it was like holding a brick! So I purchased the kindle copy so I could finish without breaking my thumbs. I’m a huge fan of Cormoran Strike, so although this wasn’t my favourite book of the series, it’s still up there as one of my favourites. This time Strike and Robin are drawn into the worlds of community arts and gaming. Two talented young artists from a community art centre create a cartoon called The Ink Black Heart, set in Highgate Cemetery and featuring unusual characters, one a wisp of a ghost and another that’s a human heart. An anonymous group of fans created an online game, where participants meet in Highgate Cemetery and complete challenges. Yet where there is success there are always people ready to tear it down and a person with the code name Anomie seems keen to do that. When the two creators are lured to the cemetery and attacked, things become serious. We’re privy to personal chats within the game and with Robin infiltrating the chat secrets will out. There are more complications in Cormoran’s love life as he dates a friend from ex-girlfriend Charlotte’s circle – can he shake off his feelings for good? Then there are those growing feelings between him and Robin, are they brave enough to follow those emotions or not?

The Pain Tourist by Paul Cleave.

I can’t stay too much about this thriller, because I’ve got a full review coming in a couple of days. This is such a fast paced thriller and it has such a tense opening! A family is woken in the night by masked men who are asking for the whereabouts of the safe. James is desperately trying to find a way to get his sleeping sister to safety. As she runs into the night, James watches the men shoot his mum and dad before he takes a bullet to the head. There is no safe. Nine years later, James wakes from a coma and his sister Hazel is soon by his side. The strange thing is James has been living all these years, in a different reality to this one and he is determined to capture it in writing. So he asks for nine notebooks, one for each year and begins to write his Coma World journal. Detective Rebecca Kent is assigned to his case and she has the help of Tate, the original detective who is now a private investigator. She is already chasing a meticulous serial killer called Copy Joe who likes to reproduce other killer’s crime scenes. What she doesn’t know is that James is recording events that happened in the real world in his journals, such as the books Hazel was reading to him or details of the weather. What else might he know? Rebecca is about to realise there’s more than one serial killer in town.

The Ghost Woods by C.J. Cooke

This is an intensely creepy novel from the beginning as we follow two young girls dealing with the consequences of becoming pregnant out of wedlock in the mid- Twentieth Century. Both choose to have their baby at Lichen Hall where the Whitlock family have been looking after young girls in trouble for several years. Mabel is the first, scared by her situation she doesn’t remember doing anything that might have led to pregnancy and concludes she must be having a ghost baby. The hall is strange, with Mr Whitlock who collects parasitic fungus and is often confused and in a state of undress. Wulfric, the Whitlock’s son, has unusual behaviour and becomes easily overwhelmed and angry. Mrs Whitlock is erratic, one moment she seems kind, but can also be snappish and dismissive. Only a few years later Pearl arrives, but the house is declining with the entire east wing seemingly overtaken by mould and fungus. Pearl has so many questions about this strange place, being a nurse she has more confidence and knowledge about having a baby. It seems strange that the Whitlock’s don’t have outside help for the girls giving birth. She wonders who the babies go to eventually and whether it’s legal. Who is the small boy she’s seen? Within a few chapter I was screaming at them to get out. They’re not restrained so it can only be the shame around their condition that holds them there. Each girl is infested by this destructive emotion and in one girl’s case, shame has made her put a lot of her experiences into a little box in her mind, under lock and key. Shame causes the denial of truths so scary, they could overwhelm us. It’s so sad that these girl’s shame creates an opening for others to exploit and exert power over them, but will they succumb? Or will they find strength from somewhere to resist and discover the truth about this mouldy house and family who live there.

Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan

This is a return to the legal case format of earlier novels by Picoult and the addition of Jennifer Finney Boylan to make a writing team has led to this interesting look at transgender rights in America. Olivia fled her marriage with her young son Asher after her abusive husband directed his violence towards their son instead of her. Now Asher is getting ready to go away to college and has his first girlfriend Lily. Lily is a lovely girl and Olivia took her out to meet her honey bees. Olivia is impressed by the way Lily works with the hives and knows that the bees are a good judge of character. Asher is so in love with Lily, so Olivia is shocked when she takes a call to say Asher has been arrested and Lily is dead. Picoult introduces a familiar character from her earlier novels as Olivia calls her brother Josh to defend her son. It really does keep you on tenterhooks as you try to work out what went wrong at Lily’s house. There are twists and turns, right to the very end. You may have seen trigger warnings about this novel, but I didn’t agree with some of them. Yes, there is a transgender character and Picoult does explore some of the negative aspects of being trans. However, this is only done to highlight how hard it can be to transition and the prejudice faced by people who are transgender. While there were prejudice characters, there were also well-meaning but ignorant characters. I never doubted that these writers were trying to portray a true representation of the experience, especially the sections written by Jennifer Finney Boylan who is one of the most famous transgender writers in the USA. This is a great book club choice, because there’s so much to talk about.

Good Taste by Caroline Scott

Caroline Scott enjoys writing about the period just after WW1 where Britain is in flux and people are going through huge changes within class, gender and the expected ‘family’ unit. England is struggling through a depression and our heroine Stella has had something of a life change. It’s 1932 and she is facing the first Christmas without her mother. With memories of her mother’s frailty last Christmas and the fear of that obvious empty chair, Stella has moved back from London to a small cottage in the West Riding of Yorkshire in order to be near her father. Money is tight, since her first book The Marvellous Mrs Raffald hasn’t done as well as she’d hoped. Celandine Cottage is rather shabby and Stella is surviving on the money she’s paid by a women’s magazine for writing a weekly article with five new recipes. When she’s summoned to London by her publisher, she’s half expecting her novel to be pulped and although she wants to write a biography of 18th Century cookery writer Hannah Glasse, she’s rather gloomy about her prospects. She’s shocked when he tasks her with a new idea – a history of English food. He wants a book that will inspire English housewives and remind English men of a nostalgic past. Although as Stella starts to think about her research, she realises that a lot of food people consider to be quintessentially English, is actually from elsewhere. Caroline has a wonderful way of balancing period detail, charming characters, and a touch of humour, while also showing us the grittier underbelly of life in a depression. There are also moments of grief for her mother, which are so beautifully rendered. Caroline makes this look incredibly easy when in reality it’s such a complex juggling act, one that she pulls off beautifully.

So, that wraps up October and since all my blog tours are read for November, i now have until the end of the year to catch up on NetGalley ARCs and publisher proofs I haven’t got to yet. Most exciting to me is that I get to choose which ones I read, so it feels like free reading all the way to January. I’m really excited for this! I might need that long to do my Books of the Year list.

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books of the Month! September 2022.

What an excellent reading month it’s been and a good mix of independent publishers as well as the majors. As part of the Squad Pod Collective, this month we’ve been reading Sandstone Press novels as part of our Sandtember feature. Next month will be Orentober – a celebration of Orenda Books, two of which feature here. I’ve been a lot busier and had so much more clarity this month, possibly something to do with us moving into the cooler months of autumn which are my favourite of the year, possibly due to it being Halloween, my birthday, Bonfire Night and the run up to Christmas. Plus Strictly is back on the telly. Here we have mainly thrillers and crime fiction, but very different from each other. I think some of this month’s books may easily reach my Books of the Year list in December. Hope you all have a great October!

This is an October review, but I read it as soon as it was delivered to my Kindle. I loved her first in the series so I was eager to see what Āróra was up to now. I won’t tell you too much, just a quick outline of what to expect from this excellent thriller. When entrepreneur Flosi arrives home for dinner one night, he discovers that his house has been ransacked, and his wife Gudrun missing. A letter on the kitchen table confirms that she has been kidnapped. If Flosi doesn’t agree to pay an enormous ransom, Gudrun will be killed. Forbidden from contacting the police, he gets in touch with Áróra, who specialises in finding hidden assets, and she, alongside her detective friend Daniel, try to get to the bottom of the case without anyone catching on.

Meanwhile, Áróra and Daniel continue the puzzling, devastating search for Áróra’s sister Ísafold, who disappeared without trace. As fog descends, in a cold and rainy Icelandic autumn, the investigation becomes increasingly dangerous, and confusing. Chilling, twisty and unbearably tense, Red as Blood is the second instalment in the riveting, addictive An Áróra Investigation series, and everything is at stake…

Out 13th October from Orenda Books

I thoroughly enjoyed this twisty thriller from an author I read automatically these days, knowing I’m going to get a quality thriller. Here we’re brought into the arty, bohemian world of the Churcher and Lally families and their adjoining houses on the edge of the heath. Frank Churcher and his friend Lal have been friends since the 1970s when they shared drugs, alcohol, women and ideas. Frank has called everyone together to celebrate the 50th Anniversary edition of his book The Golden Bones. This could be one reunion that tears the family apart…

Nell has come home at her family’s insistence to celebrate an anniversary. Fifty years ago, her father wrote The Golden Bones. Part picture book, part treasure hunt, Sir Frank Churcher created a fairy story about Elinore, a murdered woman whose skeleton was scattered all over England. Clues and puzzles in the pages of The Golden Bones led readers to seven sites where jewels were buried – gold and precious stones, each a different part of a skeleton. One by one, the tiny golden bones were dug up until only Elinore’s pelvis remained hidden.
The book was a sensation. A community of treasure hunters called the Bonehunters formed, in frenzied competition, obsessed to a dangerous degree. People sold their homes to travel to England and search for Elinore. Marriages broke down as the quest consumed people. A man died. The book made Frank a rich man. Stalked by fans who could not tell fantasy from reality, his daughter, Nell, became a recluse. But now the Churchers must be reunited. The book is being reissued along with a new treasure hunt and a documentary crew are charting everything that follows. Nell is appalled, and terrified. During the filming, Frank is set to reveal the whereabouts of the missing golden bone, but as one of his grandchildren climbs the tree for the treasure all hell is going to break loose. This was an addictive thriller, with complicated family dynamics and a brilliant final chapter.

Orenda Books must get so fed up with me banging on about the genius of Doug Johnstone and his wonderful creations; the Skelf women. Set in Edinburgh, Grandmother Dorothy, daughter Jenny and granddaughter Hannah live in the shadow of death every day. Jenny and Dorothy live literally above a morgue, as the family’s funeral business is run from the ground floor. They also run a private investigation business from their kitchen table. But now their own grief interwines with that of their clients, as they are left reeling by shocking past events. As usual there’s a shocking opening, with a fist-fight by an open grave. This leads Dorothy to investigate the possibility of a faked death, while a young woman’s obsession with Hannah threatens her relationship with Indy and puts them both in mortal danger. An elderly man claims he’s being abused by the ghost of his late wife, while ghosts of another kind come back to haunt Jenny from the grave … pushing her to breaking point.

As the Skelfs struggle with increasingly unnerving cases and chilling danger lurks close to home, it becomes clear that grief, in all its forms, can be deadly… you can look for my full review of this in my Sept 2022 archive, but it really is a cracker.

This was one of those blog tours I was asked to do and I went in blind. I knew nothing about the author or the book, but straight away I was intrigued. You are invited to cast your eye over the comfortable north London home of a family of high ideals, radical politics and compassionate feelings. Julia, Paul and their two daughters, Olivia and Sophie, look to a better society, one they can effect through ORGAN:EYES, the campaigning group they fundraise for and march with, supporting various good causes. But is it all too good to be true? When the surface has been scratched and Paul’s identity comes under the scrutiny of the press, a journey into the heart of the family begins. Who are these characters really? Are any of them the ‘real’ them at all? Every Trick in the Book is a genre-deconstructing novel that explodes the police procedural and undercover-cop story with nouveau romanish glee. Hood overturns the stone of our surveillance society to show what really lies beneath. Be prepared to never take anything at face value again.

Now I’d been waiting all year for this one. It’s been up there with Jessie Burtons House of Fortune as the ones I’ve most been looking forward to this year. I wasn’t disappointed. Kate Atkinson has written a crime novel that lays bare a decade in flux, a London that’s drowning in decadence and a generation determined to leave loss and grief behind them.

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. At the heart of this glittering world is notorious 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. I loved the historical background to this fascinating story and my only complaint was that I wanted to spend more time with some of her characters. See my September archive for the full review, but I was dazzled and drawn deeply into Atkinson’s world.

Tuva Moodyson is another character I’m always banging on about on Twitter. I think she’s an incredible woman and I love the representation of her disability too. Here Tuva is back at work after the shooting of her girlfriend, police officer Noora. Noora survived but now exists in a persistent vegetative state, in bed and cared for round the clock by her mother. In the circumstances, Noora’s parents understood that Tuva needed to go back to work. Dean takes us straight into the action, as Tuva finds an armoured hunting dog wounded by the side of the road. In the course of taking the dog to the vet, Tuva leans of a farm further down the road where a group of survivalists live. It’s not long before she hears that a girl’s gone missing from Rose Farm, and while the police will be investigating, Tuva wants to find her story. There are two businesses on the farm, a café and spa, so Tuva visits to get to know a couple of the residents up there. Andreas, who patrols the compound with his dogs, shows Tuva the security system and training they have in place for their members, including underground bunkers if necessary. Are these people simply ‘preppers’, getting ready for the end of the world, or is something more sinister going on? Who is the mysterious Abraham? What was missing girl Elsa Nyberg to do with the preppers and is she still alive? As usual, Tuva throws herself in and soon her own life is in danger.

This was an interesting and addictive book from Lucy Banks and I loved it. The public think Ava is a monster. Ava doesn’t think she’s to blame. She’s spent twenty five years in prison and now it’s time to start a new life. With a changed identity, her name is now Robin, she has a roof over her head and she hopes for the quiet life she’s always wanted. However, her idea of quiet is an uninhabited island off the coast of Scotland, just her and the seabirds. This reminds her of the places they lived when she was small, when her father was working for a bird protection charity. He would teach her to catch and tag the puffins. There’s no hope for a quiet life, as probation officer Margot pops in unexpectedly pushing her to apply for jobs because ‘the state can’t keep you forever’. There’s Bill next door, who likes a chat and flirt over the garden hedge, not to mention his daughter Amber who really isn’t sure of their new neighbour. Finally there’s her unwanted visitor; the strange person in black who lurks and watches; the person who sent the poison pen letter; the person who throws a brick through the window. We see everything through Robin’s mind and a slow unease starts to creep in here and there. Is she the murderer she’s been painted as or is she misunderstood? I went from feeling sorry for Robin, to being terrified of her. Absolutely brilliant!

So that’s this month. I’m having a week’s break from blog tours to read Robert Galbraith’s The Ink Black Heart, which has been staring at me from the TBR shelf for past fortnight. Here are some of next month’s reads.

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books of the Month! August 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in 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 Monthly Wrap Up

Books of the Month! June 2022

This month I’ve spent a lot of time out in the garden reading some really great books. I have a new bright pink parasol to relax under so I can stay out of the sun. One of the drugs I take for my MS causes photosensitivity so I have to be a little careful. I love sitting in the garden though, with the insects buzzing about and no interruptions or distractions. However, I’m still struggling with nystagmus in my eyes – where the pupil keeps moving left to right constantly – so I’ve missed or posted late on blog tours which I really hate. I did have a couple of wobbly days where I thought of giving up blogging for a while, but I get so much joy from it and sharing my thoughts with other bookish people, particularly my Squad Pod ladies, that I couldn’t do it. So I’ll keep plodding on and hopefully plenty of rest and recuperation in my garden will help. From Regency romance to a dystopian future London, I’m time travelling this month as well as cruising across the Atlantic and sitting in an empty Tokyo apartment for one night only. These are the books I’ve enjoyed most in June and I hope you will too. 📚❤️

This bright and breezy Regency romance followed the fortunes of Kitty Talbot, the eldest in a family of daughters who have lost their parents. Kitty’s engagement is called off and she realises that it is up to her to save the fortunes of the family by making a prudent marriage. To place herself in the way of suitable men she undertakes a mission in London, to make her way into high society with the help of her Aunt Dorothy. I felt the author had the balance just right between humour and frivolity and the darker sides of the story. It gallops along at a jolly pace and it’s very easy to keep on reading well into the night. The novel’s excitement peaks one evening as two very different rescue missions are undertaken; one to save a reputation and the other to save a fortune. These missions are taken at a breakneck pace and it’s impossible to put the book down once you’ve reached this point – you will be compelled to keep reading to the end. The author has written a wonderfully satirical and deceptively light novel, with plenty of intrigue and some darker undertones. I enjoyed the Talbot sisters and wondered whether we’d be seeing more of them in the future, if so they’ll definitely be on my wishlist.

This was an unusual, very spare and quiet novel set over one night and mainly in one empty apartment. It showed me that we don’t always need very much to convey a story and engage the reader. So short that I read it in one afternoon, this is a story of two people moving out of a flat and agreeing to spend their final night of the tenancy together. Aiko and Hiro are our only characters and their relationship has broken down since taking a trip together, trekking in the mountains of northern Japan. During the trek their mountain guide died inexplicably and both believe the other to be a murderer. This night is their last chance to get a confession and finally learn the truth. Who is the murderer and what actually happened on the mountain? A quiet battle of wills is taking place and the shocking events leading up to this night will finally be revealed. This is a really unique psychological thriller, it seems sparse, but actually has so much depth and richness. I found myself completely immersed in this couple’s story, both the visible and the invisible. They play with memory, delving into their childhoods, trying to work out what makes each other tick and discover how they ended up here. One has more memories of their childhood than the other, but can we trust what we remember? Even the things we use to jog our memory can be misleading, such as photographs. Hiro muses on how we’re pushed into smiling for photos, to look like we’re enjoying ourselves and love the people we’re with. If we believe our photo albums, the picture we have of the past is distorted. There are so many things going on behind the scenes that are never captured – we may only see the truth momentarily, such as catching a glimpse of fish swimming in dappled sunlight.

Wow! This book was really evocative both through the island’s landscape and the way of life followed by it’s inhabitants. It felt oppressive, bleak and strangely mystical. On an isolated island with no access to the ‘Otherlands’ beyond, a religious community observes a strict regime policed by male Keepers and female Eldermothers under the guidance of Father Jessop. There were real shades of The Handmaid’s Tale in this community, that polices it’s borders and it’s women. Women must not go near the water, lest they be pulled into the wicked ways of the Seawomen, a species of Mermaids that can breed rebellion in the women and cause bad luck for the islanders. Any woman could be singled out by the Eldermothers, so they must learn to keep their heads down and stay away from the water. Any bad luck – crop failure, poor fishing quotas, storms, pregnancy loss – all can be blamed on disobedient or disloyal women, influenced by the water. Each girl will have their husband picked out for them and once married, the Eldermothers will assign her a year to become a mother. If the woman doesn’t conceive she is considered to be cursed and is put through the ordeal of ‘untethering’ – a ceremonial drowning where she is tethered to the bottom of a boat. Esta is a young girl who lives with her super religious grandmother and has never known her own mother. Her grandmother insists she sees a darkness in Esta and is constantly praying and fasting so that Esta doesn’t go the same way as her mother. The sea does call to Esta and she goes to the beach with her terrified friend Mull, to feel the water. There they see something in the waves, something semi-human, not a seawoman, but a boy. Will Esta submit to what her community has planned for her or will she continue to commune with the water? If I had to pick one book to recommend from this month’s reading, it would be this one.

This lovely novel was a dual timeline story about one of society’s ‘Bright Young Things’. In 1938 Nancy Mitford was one of the six sparkling Mitford sisters, known for her stinging quips, stylish dress, and bright green eyes. But Nancy Mitford’s seemingly dazzling life was really one of turmoil: with a perpetually unfaithful and broke husband, two Nazi sympathizer sisters, and her hopes of motherhood dashed forever. With war imminent, Nancy finds respite by taking a job at the Heywood Hill Bookshop in Mayfair, hoping just to make ends meet, but discovering a new life. In the present day, Mitford fan Lucy St. Clair uses Heywood Hill Bookshop as a base after landing a book curator’s role. She’s hoping that coming to England will start the healing process from the loss of her mother, but it’s a dream come true to set foot in the legendary store. Doubly exciting: she brings with her a first edition of Nancy’s work, one with a somewhat mysterious inscription from the author. Soon, she discovers her life and Nancy’s are intertwined, and it all comes back to the little London bookshop—a place that changes the lives of two women from different eras in the most surprising ways. I loved this insight into the Mitford’s lives as I’ve also had a fascination for both the era and this extraordinary family. This covered some serious topics, but was framed by this almost idyllic job that Lucy has purchasing books for wealthy people’s libraries. I loved her foray into the library of Chatsworth House – a long held fantasy of mine. Mainly though it was the relationships between Nancy and her family that held my attention, plus her exploits during the London Blitz. This was a great story for fans of historical fiction but also for bookworms who love books about books.

Lastly this month, was a new novel from one of my favourite local writers, Louise Beech. In it we follow Heather, a pianist who teaches and plays in local bars, then relaxes in her harbour front flat looking out to the Humber Estuary and the North Sea. Heather has a quiet life and quite a solitary one too with no family, but strong connections with friends. In fact it is one of them that encourages her to try out for a job on a cruise ship, something she would never have imagined doing. She would be scheduled to play in different bars on the ship through the day, but as her friend says, she can enjoy the facilities and gets to travel. This particular cruise is stopping in New York then on to the Caribbean before doing it all again in reverse. Heather has grown up in the care system, after her parents were killed in a car crash. Prior to that music was the girl’s escape, from the terrible domestic violence in their family home. Heather and her sister Harriet had an aptitude for music, but for Heather its been her salvation, the only place she could fully express her emotions. After their removal to the Children’s Home, Harriet was taken to see the staff in the office one morning and Heather never saw her again. She could only hope that a kind family had adopted Harriet, but for some reason hadn’t been able to take her too. When the girls had needed to express themselves they would play a duet they had composed called Nothing Else and it was this piece that stayed with Heather all her life, instantly taking her back to the piano and her little sister. We read from Heather’s perspective about how her time working on the cruise ship will change her life. This was a moving novel, with a sensitive portrayal of a difficult subjects moving depiction of trauma’s long lasting effects.

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books of the Month! May 2022

It’s been an odd month here, because I went into the month full of energy and looking forward to a busy blog month. Then I felt very unwell and sadly had to let blog tour organisers and publishers which I hate. Thankfully I’d written this ahead of time as I read each novel, so all I had to do was write this little intro. My favourite books this month were mainly dual narrative novels, a structure I really enjoy especially when it’s done as well as these authors. I hope you all have a lovely Jubilee weekend, whether you are a royalist or are just looking forward to a long weekend off work. My carer and other half are helping me with a stall at our village jubilee celebrations. I’m at our book exchange with a box full of old proofs to swap, book suggestions and a tombola with books from the Jubilee Big Read as prizes. All the books are from Commonwealth writers so I’m looking forward to introducing people to a different perspective on our Queen’s long reign. Photos to follow!

I enjoyed this book much more than I’d expected to. It’s not that there was anything wrong with the blurb or the cover, but I thought it might be just another ‘stately home + mystery’ novel with no huge surprises. However, the depth of characterisation and complexity of the story drew me in and kept me reading for two straight days. Ellie is our present day narrator and she’s having to take leave from work as an investigative journalist after trying to expose an important businessman ended badly. So she returns to her family home in County Kerry, Ireland to spend time with her mother. Trying to keep a low profile is a lost cause in a small Irish village. It’s only because she’s desperate for reading material that she braves the charity shop to collect a box of books that have come from the large stately home nearby, Blackwater Hall. Ellie is grateful to see a few Agatha Christie novels on the top and takes the whole box. Inside is a mysterious letter, addressed only to ‘T’ but clearly belonging to the Rathmore family. It ignites a spark in Ellie and she tries to do the right thing and return it, but is bitten by the mystery surrounding the family. Charlotte Rathmore disappeared during the early part of WWII leaving a broken string of pearls by the lake. The official version is that Charlotte killed herself, but Ellie senses a story and starts to seek out other remaining members of the family. Can she solve the mystery of Charlotte’s disappearance and what changes will the truth bring to Blackwater Hall and the Rathmore family? Despite wanting all the answers, I didn’t want this book to end and there’s no better compliment than that.

Another dual timeline novel here, with another mysterious set of letters. This was our Squad Pod read for May and as usual my review is late, but it’s no secret that I LOVED this book. I even made Chocolate Mojito cupcakes to celebrate the fact. I was unsure where this book was going to go, considering the rather modern looking cocktail cover. However, it’s story was deeper and more moving than I expected. In the 1970’s Ava Winters lives in a New York apartment with her mother and a father who seems to wander in and out. Her mother shows signs of mental illness and seems haunted by something in her past. With both parents AWOL Ava is lonely and becomes fascinated by a box sent to her apartment addressed to a woman called Gillian. It’s from Paris and holds letters as well as a butterfly necklace and a photo with LIAR scrawled across it. In the same apartment, but twenty years earlier, teachers Dovie and Gillian are roommates. However, they’re very private and guard their home lives fiercely until one unguarded moment exposes the wrong person to the truth. This novel showed me a side of life I knew nothing about. A time where ‘unnatural activities’ and desires could lead to a loss of everything from your job to your liberty. I will save the rest for my review, but don’t miss this one. It’s an incredible debut from a very talented writer.

This beautiful novel covers the early Twentieth Century in the lives of one family, from WWI to WWII. This book feels like an epic. A whale washes up on the beach of the Chilcombe Estate and is claimed for the Seagrave family by Cristabel who is the orphan cousin and doesn’t really fit anywhere. She loves adventure, activity, and endeavours, conquering the Seagrave estate rather than being the lady her stepmother would expect. The Seagrave children are an odd bunch, brought up by staff and each other, while their parents stay in bed late, are never without houseguests and like to drink as early as it is socially acceptable to do so. This is the story of the heir and the spare. Jasper Seagrave brings his new wife home to the Chilcombe Estate and Rosalind is thrown into being mistress of the house and stepmother to his daughter Cristabel. Rosalind is happy to have bagged an aristocratic husband, considering they’re in very short supply since the war. That is until the ‘spare’ arrives. Willoughby is everything his elder brother isn’t; a dashing war hero fascinated by speed whether it’s a new car or learning to fly. There’s an immediate attraction, deepening when Rosalind is on bed rest in the last stages of pregnancy and Willoughby keeps her company. Is the Chilcombe estate about to lapse into scandal and what will become of Cristabel? As the family grows to include a half-sister and brother for Cristabel we follow them towards WWII. The author shows what a toll both wars took on people and the rapid changes they forced on society. I won’t reveal whether any of our characters survive, but Cristabel remembers a saying, that war can bring out the best in people. There are those who shine through difficult days and in their own ways I think the Seagrave children all stepped up to the mark. This is a beautiful piece of historical fiction and I would happily read it all over again.

This book is my only thriller this month and it’s a cracker. This is perfect summer holiday reading whether you’re somewhere exotic or lounging in your own back garden. Hot in every sense of the world and set in picturesque Italy with a sense of growing menace all the way through. I read this one in the garden, with a Pimms in hand and with every chapter became more convinced of the old saying; the grass is never greener on the other side. Laura and Nick have been through a lot. Back in London they were struggling with infertility and Laura hadn’t felt like herself for a long time, the fertility drugs pumping her full of hormones and the grief of miscarriage left her feeling broken. When she discovers a betrayal, after Nick accidentally leaves his phone at home, she’s angry and resentful too. In his eagerness to make it up to her, Nick suggests they do what Laura has always wanted, move to Italy and create a holiday hideaway for couples. They discovered Luna Rossa on a visit to Italy several months ago, after which Laura suffered a third miscarriage. It is in the Marche region, a largely unknown area of Italy next to Tuscany but less expensive. Luna Rossa is isolated, includes a pool, a small cottage and beautiful grounds that fall away steeply gifting the house with incredible views across the countryside. Only a few months later they are preparing to welcome their first couple for a three week stay. It seems idyllic, but they’re taking a risk in welcoming complete strangers into their home. Laura has stalked her guest Madison on social media and she seems very outgoing and glamorous. Laura and Nick could be underestimating how disruptive it can be to have strangers living in your home, especially these strangers…. This is a real sizzler of a novel! My full review is coming next week.

This book is a beautiful example of writing back in history to give a voice to someone who was silenced. Celestine Babbington is recorded for history in a silent form, photographed wearing clothes he didn’t choose and posing with a man whose relationship to him is very problematic. The man, Richard Babbington, is a rich explorer who has a love for Africa and a large mansion house in England. Yet by 1907, Celestine is being kept in the attic of the house, only allowed out to work as a domestic slave. Years later, a young girl called Lowra is suffering the same fate. Locked in the attic as punishment for any transgression, when her fate has been left in the hands of her resentful stepmother. While locked in the attic she finds an unusual necklace with clawed hands, unlike anything she’s seen before. There’s also an old-fashioned porcelain doll and a sentence on the wall, written in an unfamiliar language. These are her only comfort, because she feels as if the person that owned them is with her in some way. As an adult, her stepmother’s abuse still affects her and she’s conflicted when she inherits Babbington’s house. People seem to think she’s lucky and the town is proud of this intrepid explorer. Looking into the house’s history leads her to an exhibition of Babbington’s life, where she sees photographs of Babbington and a young black boy wearing an African wrap and what looks like her necklace, the one from the attic. However, the thing that keeps Lowra transfixed, is the young boy’s eyes. Lowra sees someone filled with sorrow, a fellow sufferer of the darkness inside that house. His name is Celestine Babbington. Lowra wants to find out more about this boy, how he came to be in England and what happened to him after Babbington’s death. This book was moving and had me in it’s grip straight away. It takes me back full circle to the beginning of my post and hearing voices from the Commonwealth countries and from Black British writers. I’ll be taking a copy of this book to my stall at the weekend and I’m looking forward to sharing it with new readers.

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books Of The Month! April 2022.

It’s been another bumper book month at The Lotus Readers and it looks like 2022 is going to be an amazing reading year, in fact I’m already worrying about how I’m going to choose between these books when it comes to my end of year list. Can I really do 22 books this year? It’s also a year of fantastic debuts with another four debut novels being top of my list this month. There’s been a few tears shed over some of the stories and characters within these pages, but I’ve been uplifted too by these stories of overcoming. Surviving trauma and recovering through the support of others, particularly where women are supporting women, has been a theme here too. Its been the first month where I’ve been able to sit in the garden with a book, so most of these have accompanied me outside and onto my recliner, usually ending with me falling asleep under a dog and a cat! So here are some shortened reviews, to whet your appetite for these wonderful novels,

Reminiscent of those stylish novels of the great Agatha Christie, this was a brilliant mystery with a glamorous location, wealthy passengers and sumptuous clothes and jewellery. The period detail is spot on whether it’s the latest bathing suit or 1930’s politics. It’s not just a whodunnit either, because woven within are themes of identity, belonging, family and class division. It’s gripping without being showy or depending on shocks, or endless twists and turns. It’s elegant and allows it’s secrets to unfurl slowly. Lena is a sympathetic character, who has sacrificed starting her career to care for her father Alfie who has recently died. To pay the bills Lena has been singing in a club band, but she has always wanted to work on the West End or Broadway. Her chance comes in the aftermath of a death at the club. A favour from a an old friend of her father. She’s found by theatre producer’s assistant, Charlie Bacon, whose boss is offering Lena the chance of a lifetime, a part on Broadway in a new musical. As they set off across the Atlantic in their first class accommodation, they make the acquaintance of a very wealthy family with an ailing patriarch. What follows is intrigue, murder, mayhem and the realities of being a black performer. Lena is now caught up in a murder plot, and doesn’t know if she’ll be the next suspect, or victim.

Incredibly strong women, three generations of a Memphis family, are the focus of this amazing debut by Tara Stringfellow that made me angry, made me cry and somehow helped me feel uplifted all at the same time. Grandma Hazel is the first resident of the house in Memphis, a house her sweetheart Myron builds for their family. When he is lynched by his own police squad, Hazel is nine months pregnant and left heartbroken, angry and scared. Her daughters, Miriam and August, then call this place home and it also becomes August’s place of work. When Miriam leaves home, travelling with her husband Jax who is in the military, August turns the back of the house into a hair salon for a community of black women who gather there to laugh, to support each other and to plan activism. When Miriam returns with her own daughters, Joan and Myra, she has mixed feelings. She needs a roof over her head, she loves where she grew up, but something happened here that daughter Joan can’t quite remember. Yet she feels I’ll, deep down. There’s fear and shame in this place, but she doesn’t know why and we follow her quest to process and heal from this hidden trauma. With a backdrop of the biggest events of the 20th Century from the Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations to 9/11, this is a story of what it means to be a black woman in 20th Century America. Simply outstanding.

Ethan Joella’s novel was perfect for this moment in life. Set in an idyllic Connecticut town over the course of a year, our story follows the intertwining lives of a dozen neighbours as they confront everyday desires and fears: an illness, a road not taken, a broken heart, a betrayal. Freddie and Greg Tyler seem to have it all: a comfortable home at the edge of the woods, a beautiful young daughter, a bond that feels unbreakable. But when Greg is diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer, the sense of certainty they once knew evaporates overnight. Meanwhile, Darcy Crowley is still coming to terms with the loss of her husband as she worries over her struggling adult son, Luke. Elsewhere, Ginger Lord returns home longing for a lost relationship; Ahmed Ghannam wonders if he’ll ever find true love; and Greg’s boss, Alex Lionel, grapples with a secret of his own. We are all familiar with the hashtag #BeKind and through these stories, what seems like a platitude, is brought home to the reader. Our characters touch on each other’s lives, sometimes without knowing what each other are coping with just under the surface. Despite taking us through every experience from infidelity to loss, the book never feels overwhelming or melancholy. Yes I wanted to shed tears from time to time, but somehow there is always a ray of hope. It reminded me that things like community, friendship, shared experiences and compassion can change everything. The author doesn’t hold back on how difficult and painful life can be, but yet always finds some element of joy that reminds us what a gift it is too. This book is poetic, achingly beautiful and full of empathy for the human condition.

I knew this book would be one I enjoyed, after all it encompasses some of my favourite things: History between the World Wars; the Vienna Secession and Gustav Klimt; Art Nouveau; a feminist narrative. However, I didn’t expect it would grab hold of me in the way it did! I sat down with it in the garden one Sunday afternoon and read two thirds straight away. When duty and blog tours called that week I had to set it aside, but I kept glancing over at it like a lost lover all week. Haydock takes four of Egon Schiele’s portraits and explores the women depicted – society sisters Adele and Edith, artists model Wally and his younger sister Gertie. Schiele’s portraits are not life-like reproductions of his model and while they might shed light on aspects of their characters, they can only ever be the artist’s view of that woman with all the prejudices and biases of his time. Haydock is challenging Schiele’s representation of these women and here we get to hear the women’s stories, how they see themselves and their relationship with Schiele. Some of his life choices felt like betrayals to those women who risked everything by literally laying themselves bare before him and the world, for his sake and for the sake of art. I thought Haydock beautifully captured this sacrifice and it’s consequences, something she picks up beautifully in the short interludes from the 1960’s where an elderly woman searches for a painting she’s glimpsed of someone she loved. Desperate to give an apology she never heard in life. Haydock beautifully captures a rapidly changing Vienna between two World Wars where barriers of class and gender are breaking down. She also captures the complexities of the barriers for women and those who have the pioneering spirit to break them. She gives a voice to their silent gaze. This is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year and I read it greedily in just two sessions. I’m already looking forward to entering Haydock’s world and savouring these wonderful women again.ok”

My interest in 19th Century freak shows, Sarah Baartman (the Hottentot Venus), disability and difference, made Lianne Dillsworth’s debut novel a perfect fit for me. Our setting is a theatre and a performing troupe including singers, magicians and dancers who perform a variety show under the watchful eye of Mr Crillick. His current headline act is Amazonia – a true African tribeswoman, dressed in furs and armed with a shield and spear, her native dancing brings down the house in Crillick’s show. The audience watch, transfixed with fear and fascination, never realising that she is a ‘fagged’ act. Zillah has never set foot in Africa and is in fact of mixed race heritage, born in East London. She is making her money by pretending to be what the, largely white, audience wants to see. It doesn’t sit well with Zillah, but she is alone in the world and does need to make money. Besides it’s better than the other options for a young woman who finds herself in poverty. She’s used to slipping between worlds on stage and in her private life, renting a room in the rough St Giles area of the city, but regularly making her way to a more salubrious area and the bed of a Viscount by night. However, when Crillick brings a new exhibit to his London home, dubbed the Leopard Lady, Zillah’s eyes are opened to the politics and misogyny of displaying difference. A meeting with an activist forces her to think about her own performance, but also the danger that Crillick’s new exhibit might be in, especially his ‘private’ audiences complete with medical equipment. Can Zillah help this woman and what does her own future hold, because in good conscience she can no longer perform? This is a brilliant novel, doing for race and disability, what Sarah Water’s novels did for the representation of sexuality in the 19th Century.

I’d never read a novel by Dolen Perkins-Valdez and she pulled me into her story from the very first page, with Civil seeming real almost immediately. I’ve been interested in eugenics since I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on disability and 20th Century literature. I knew a lot about the movement in the U.K., US and Germany in the lead up to WW2, but this book shocked me because I had no idea that forced sterilisations were still happening in the 1960s and 70s. I knew this had happened in earlier in the century with Native American communities, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that it was still happening to African American women, especially where the woman had a disability too. The writer shows how our biases and emotions feed into the work we do within the caring professions. Having worked in mental health and disability as a support worker, advocate and counsellor, I did identify strongly with Civil and the way she became involved with the Williams family. The Williams girls are her very first patients and she is sent out on a home visit to give them a Depo Provera injection, a long term method of contraception. When she notices that India is only 11 years old her brain immediately starts questioning, who put this little girl on this injection, has anyone asked if she has a boyfriend or worse, is she being preyed upon? Is this an assumption that young African-American women are promiscuous or that African- American men can’t be trusted, even within their own families? The judgement that bringing a child into this family would be disastrous comes from a lack of knowledge around India Williams’s learning disability, but is also an assumption about race too. The fall out from Civil’s discoveries is huge and life-changing, not just for the Williams family but for Civil too. This book sheds light on an important hidden history and took me through a rollercoaster of emotions.

I fell utterly in love with Dot Watson, a rather abrupt and persnickety member of the staff at London Transport’s lost property office. It took me about five pages to be drawn into Dot Watson’s quirky world and her love for the lost property office where honest people bring their found items. Dot is like the backbone of the office and the other workers would be lost without her. A lover of proper procedure and organisation, Dot is the ‘go to’ employee for anyone starting work with the team, or just to answer a question about an item. Dot thinks lost things are very important, almost like an extension of that person. Their lost item can tell her a lot about the person they are and she fills the lost luggage tags with as much detail as possible so that they have the greatest chance of locating it. Dot believes that when we lose a person, their possessions can take us right back to the moment they were with us. When Mr Appleby arrives at the office to find his lost leather hold-all it is what the case contains that moves Dot. Inside is a tiny lavender coloured purse that belonged to his late wife and he carries it everywhere. Something inside Dot breaks for this lonely man and she is determined she will find his hold-all. Her search becomes both the driving force of Dot’s story and the key to unlocking her own memories. I loved our journey into Dot’s past, her relationship with her father and the trauma that she’s tried to lock away for so long. This book has difficult emotions, but also glimpses of humour and is ultimately an uplifting journey with an unforgettable woman.

A teenage girl wanders out of the woods. She’s striking, with flame-red hair and a pale complexion. She’s also covered in blood. She appears in the pub’s beer garden as Jonah is enjoying a beer after a walk with his baby son. Detective Jonah Sheens quickly discovers that Keely and her sister, Nina, disappeared from a children’s home a week ago. Now, Keely is here – but Nina’s still missing. Keely knows where her sister is – but before she tells, but first she wants Jonah’s full attention. Is she killer, witness, or victim? The opening scene is absolutely brilliant, vivid and shocking at the same time. As the girl’s history starts to unfold, they hear about several failed placements and a long stay in a children’s home. The girls made complaints about two of their homes, but were thought to be troublemakers. Jonah and his excellent team have to tread a very fine line. Keeley comes across as cold and calculating one moment, but then like a broken little girl the next. Which is an act? There are some very dark stories here and they could be distressing for people who’ve gone through a similar experience, but it’s that darkness that keeps the reader wanting the truth and to see those responsible punished. If Keeley has planned how to elicit sympathy from the police, she certainly knows what she’s doing. As readers we are pulled along with Jonah, from distress and empathy to disbelief and a sense that something is very, very wrong either with Keeley or the system. This is a great mystery, with huge twists in store and a police team I enjoyed getting to know. Now I’m looking forward to going back to the first novel in this series and filling in the gaps in my knowledge, while enjoying even more of this talented writer’s incredibly creative plots and dark, brooding atmosphere.

So these were my favourite reads in a very busy reading month. I read seventeen books which surprised even me! Next month I’m looking forward to a slightly quieter month with some great thrillers to read, some historical fiction from another of my favourite historical periods – the beginnings of the Tudor dynasty, and hopefully a few choices from NetGalley too so I can keep on beating that backlog. I hope you enjoy these choices as much as I did and i’ll see you again next month.

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books Of The Month! March 2022.

Wow! What a reading month I’ve had. It’s been a tough month, but I’ve been kept going by my bookish friends and being able to escape into the very different worlds of these books. I’ve been to China, America, Italy, Scotland, New Zealand, Russia, Australia and London! It’s been a great distraction. I lost my familiar and reading buddy this month, very suddenly. I’d had my cat Baggins since he was one and rescued as feral from a scrapyard. Slowly we became inseparable and now I feel genuinely lost without him. I’ve included some of his pictures at the end of the post, where he’s using me as a cat bed while I read.

Remember Me by Charity Norman

I love Charity Norman’s books. She takes big sensitive and divisive issues and brings them to an everyday human level. She’s written the story of two grandparents, who are the guardians of their grandchildren and fighting the request for visitation from their father, the man who killed their daughter. She wrote about Luke, a middle aged father and husband who has the bravery to come out as transgender. Last time she wrote about a shooting in a local coffee shop and the interesting people held hostage together. This time we follow Emily, a children’s illustrator from London, who grew up in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. She’s telephoned by her father’s neighbour Raewynn, because he’s had an accident and it’s clear his dementia is deteriorating. As Emily tries to look after her father she realises he’s still very distressed by the disappearance of Raewynn’s daughter, which happened twenty years before. Her father had been the local doctor and spent a lot of time supporting Raewynn who’s husband had Huntington’s Disease. Emily was the last person to see the missing young woman alive, and her father was the first person to take a group up to the mountains to search for her. Is there more to his distress than meets the eye? The more he deteriorates, the more secrets he unwittingly lets slip. This story was heart breaking and incredibly moving. Norman writes about long term health conditions with such honesty and reminds patients are always a human being first.

I fell in love with this story on the first page as the author describes a nightmare baby shower where Yinka’s Nigerian mum and aunties all pray out loud,for her to soon find a ‘huzband’. Look at her baby sister Kemi! She already has a husband and a baby on the way. This is about the pressure that a young woman gets from her British Nigerian family. Despite having a degree from Oxford and a great job with an investment bank, they worry that Yinka is in her thirties and might get left on the shelf. I loved the comic potential in these scenes with her family and all the ‘aunties’ in her community. They are always trying to match her with some young man at church and I recognised this type of pressure because it seems common in evangelical churches. I’ve been through it myself. The book poses some great questions about identity and self-worth. Should Yinka’s worth be measured by having a man, having a career or how she looks? Yinka has cut her hair, keeping it short and natural, but is pressured to use wigs or have a weave in order to look more feminine. One potential suitor is very judgemental, surprised she doesn’t speak Yoruba and doesn’t cook proper Nigerian food. What sort of wife will she be? This is a funny and moving book about authenticity, self-worth, finding someone to be with (if you want that) and learning it’s okay to be a single woman.

If counsellor Avery Chambers can’t fix you in ten sessions, she won’t take you on as a client. She helps people overcome everything, from domineering parents to assault. Her successes almost help her absorb the emptiness she feels since her husband’s death. Marissa and Mathew Bishop seem like the golden couple, until Marissa cheats. She wants to repair things, both because she loves her husband and for the sake of their 8-year-old son. After a friend forwards an article about Avery, Marissa takes a chance on this maverick therapist, who lost her license due to controversial methods. When the Bishops glide through Avery’s door and Marissa reveals her infidelity, all three are set on a collision course. Because the biggest secrets in the room are still hidden, and it’s no longer simply a marriage that’s in danger. This is an absolutely cracking read, compulsive and clever. All counsellors feel restrained by their governing body at times, so it was interesting to see the idea of a therapist working openly and unapologetically outside that. Avery has interesting methods that seem to position her between counsellor and private investigator! It’s very confrontational and it’s impossible for the client to hide or or tell half truths. Meanwhile, in the background, there’s another case lurking, the result of Avery’s lack of boundaries with a client who was struggling over whether to be a whistleblower. There’s plenty of action and intrigue here, the pace never lets up and you will want to keep reading just a bit more before bed so get ready for some late nights.

This book is an absolute ray of sunshine, which might seem strange considering it’s a book about grief. Katy has just lost her Mum and is devastated. The loss has her questioning everything in her life, including her marriage to Eric. At the wake, Katy tells him she isn’t sure if they should be married anymore. Her Mum Carol was her absolute world, there for everything from a recipe, to a night out, for shopping and for what to do when something went wrong. She was just so sure of everything and Katy isn’t. How could she have left her so ill equipped to deal with life? Katy had booked a trip for both of them to the Italian town where Carol spent time before she was married. Carol spent a summer in Positano, a picturesque town on the Amalfi coast. Maybe if Katy still takes the trip she will be able to recapture something of her mother and get some space from the burning questions about her marriage? The author’s descriptions of Italy are so vivid you will feel the sun and sea spray on your face. The food sounds utterly mouthwatering and the hotel’s balcony view is to die for. For Katy it feels as if her mother’s spirit has been caught up in this place. Yet it’s still a surprise when she sees a familiar young woman bringing her post to the hotel to be sent out. Katy is overcome and collapses, but when she comes round the woman is leaning over her, ready to help. There’s no mistaking her, it’s Carol, but from her Italian summer. She has no idea how her mother has stepped into the present, but Katy isn’t going to pass up the chance to spend time with her and be shown round the Positano her mother loved. This is a magical story, full of wisdom and with a bit of romance thrown in too. You will want to book a holiday to Italy immediately.

This is another book set in a far flung place, this time it’s Tasmania, 1886. The Brightwell family has sailed from England to make their new home in Western Australia. Ten-year-old Eliza knows little of what awaits them in Bannin Bay beyond stories of shimmering pearls and shells the size of soup plates – the very things her father has promised will make their fortune. Ten years later, as the pearling ships return after months at sea, Eliza waits impatiently for her father to return with them. When his lugger finally arrives however, Charles Brightwell, master pearler, is declared missing. Whispers from the townsfolk point to mutiny or murder, but Eliza knows her father and, convinced there is more to the story, sets out to uncover the truth. She soon learns that in a town teeming with corruption, prejudice and blackmail, answers can cost more than pearls, and must decide just how much she is willing to pay, and how far she is willing to go, to find them. Lizzie Pook creates this place, making it so vivid it’s a complete assault on the sense. It’s like an alien landscape, so different from Victorian England, and it changes Eliza. Her sense of adventure takes over as she tries to negotiate the town’s seedy underbelly of corruption, the terrible way the English treat the aboriginal people and finally jumps on a boat with an unlikely crew and sets about finding her father herself. If you like feminist heroines then you’ll love this brilliant debut novel.

Vanda Symon is a brilliant storyteller and this latest novel is typical of her minimalist style. She lets her three main characters tell the story for her, a young street girl called Billy and a hardened homeless veteran called Max. Ever since Billy stumbled into the same doorway one cold night, she and Max have had a connection. He showed her how to use cardboard boxes to keep warm and where to find the best thrown out food. They have a pact to take care of each other and wherever they go in the day, they always make their way back to the same adjoining doorways at night. So, when Billy doesn’t appear one night, Max knows something is wrong. He needs to find her, but where to start in a city of this size and will anyone take him seriously? The problem is that Billy has stumbled into someone having a very bad day indeed. Bradley is exhausted. Over-mortgaged, overworked and under appreciated, he is reaching the end of his tether. Having neglected his family all weekend to work, Bradley has been in the doghouse with his wife Angie. Yet it’s not enough for his boss who doesn’t seem to appreciate that five people used to do the same job Bradley is now doing alone. Bradley sees the prostitutes on their usual patch as he drives home and knows he wouldn’t have the nerve to approach them. Then he sees a young, tomboyish girl standing a little way from the others. She’s not a regular and he is less intimidated by her. When their interaction goes wrong and he hits her, Bradley is surprised by how much it calms his stress. So, he ties her up with cable ties and takes her to an empty building he owns. He might come back tomorrow. Max needs someone to take him seriously, but will he have the nerve to approach the police and what’s stopping him? This is another thriller to devour with characters you will develop real empathy for. Absolutely brilliant.

This novel is so beautiful, inside and out. This is a story of inter-generational trauma, set in three sections, each one from the point of view of a family’s next generation. We start in China around the time of WW2 when Meilin and her son Renshu are having to flee their home due to the advancing Japanese army. The descriptions of this terrible journey are so vivid and have extra resonance after watching streams of Ukrainian people fleeing their homes at a moment’s notice. Renshu is distressed by the noise of incoming bombers, but also hates going into the underground shelters. There are too many people and not enough air, with the endless bombing above drowning out his thoughts. To keep her son calm on these journeys they have to make from city to city, and eventually to Taiwan, she tells him folktales. One being of Peach Blossom Spring, where a fisherman climbs through an opening in a cave and finds a beautiful valley with an orchard of blossoming peach trees. There is only once catch to this beautiful Eden he has found, if he chooses to stay he can never go home, but if he chooses to go home he will never be able to find this place again. I love how this story becomes a metaphor for life, as Meilin’s sacrifices for her son get him all the way to university in Taiwan, then for post-graduate study in America. For Renshu, or Henry as he now wants to be known, America holds so much promise. It is where he meets his wife Rachel and the birthplace of his daughter Lily, but he worries about his mother and thinks a lot about where he has come from. The scars of a childhood spent at war are all too evident and he misses his mother. Meilin, in her patient and wise way, tells him to grow an orchard. A thoroughly beautiful book from this talented debut author.

Baggins resting while I begin next month’s reading.
Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books of the Month! February 2022

It’s been another excellent reading month at the Lotus Readers blog. My plan of taking one or two less blog tours has given me plenty of room to read some personal choices from the backlog on my shelves. So, these choices are a mix of blog tour books, NetGalley backlog and the latest in one of my favourite crime series. Hope you’ve all had a great reading month and now I must rush headlong into a rather overcommitted March! See you next time.

The Marsh House by Zoë Somerville

This excellent book is part of my NetGalley backlog, but I’ve just been asked to join the blog tour next month so I will whet your appetite for my full review in March. I simply loved this book. In fact, a finished copy arrived through the post and I started browsing the first page then couldn’t stop reading. So I read it straight through, only finishing at 2am. It’s a split timeline story, beginning with Malorie and her daughter deciding to spend Christmas in a cottage on the Norfolk coast after an argument with her boyfriend. Malorie feels like a bad mother and wants to get one thing right – an idyllic holiday cottage Christmas for her daughter. This is no ordinary cottage though, set right on the Marsh and shrouded with sea fog there is a definite atmosphere of foreboding. The house holds so much of the past in it’s art, the attic of belongings and the journals filled with the story of a 1930’s girl. Soon Malorie is feeling haunted by this place and it’s past. I loved the author’s look into the complicated, emotional experience of becoming a mother. There is a special skill in weaving real historical events with fiction and this author is so talented and creative. She brings Norfolk to life and makes the reader want to visit and search it out for themselves. The atmosphere was so evocative I spent two days with a ‘book hangover’ – unable to start another book because my emotions and senses were so embedded in Malorie’s story. I loved this so much I could have happily gone back to the first page and read it over again.

Flamingo by Rachel Elliot

In split time frames and across the characters of Eve and Daniel we hear the story of two families who live next door to each other. Eve and Daniel move in next door to Leslie and Sherry who have two daughters Rae and Pauline, and some ornamental flamingoes on their front lawn. Eve isn’t used to making friends as she and her son Daniel move around a lot, but there’s something about Sherry. So Eve goes to a specialist off-licence to find just the right bottle of Sherry to take to her new neighbour. Sherry is delighted and immediately welcomes the wandering pair into her home. That summer is the happiest summer mother and son have ever had, as they are enveloped by this wild, eccentric and loud family – Eve uses the word rambunctious. Then Eve and Daniel leave. All the colours seem to bleach out of the world. We then meet Daniel as an adult, wandering and broken. Deeply affected by some kind words and affection from a woman in the library, he decides to return to where he was happiest. He turns up at Sherry’s door and it feels like coming home, but where is Eve and what is the story underneath the one Daniel knows. It’s so hard to express how much I loved this book. This is a slow burn novel, told in fragments like half forgotten memories and with such beauty it could be a poem. The writer conveys beautifully how certain people can heal wounds and hold space for each other. In light of recent times it’s important to remember that to live fully we must connect with each other. It shows humans in their best light and at their most powerful, when showing love and accepting others for who they are. Just like the flamingo is pink through his diet, we too are shaped by what is put into us. Through Daniel, and Rae to an extent, there’s an acknowledgment of how painful life can be, but that healing and change is possible. I was enchanted by this story and it will keep a special place in my heart.

The Locked Room by Elly Griffiths

There are several mysteries in this latest book in Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway series, both professional and personal. Ruth is called in to excavate human remains discovered by a roadworks crew, in the evocatively named Tombland area of Norwich. This alerts her to Augustine Seward’s House, close to the cathedral and rumoured home of the Grey Lady – a young girl locked into the house during the plague with her sick parents in order to stop them spreading the virus. Another grim discovery is the death of an older woman, found by her cleaner after taking an overdose in her bedroom. A prior case had caught DI Nelson’s eye because he couldn’t understand why someone suicidal, would put their ready meal in the microwave first. This latest death adds to Nelson’s suspicions, because the cleaner is convinced she had to unlock the room, from the outside. There is also a personal mystery for Ruth, who is clearing out her mother’s things. She finds a box of photographs and is shocked to find a picture of her own cottage – a place her mother never really warmed to. Written on the back is Dawn, 1963, a full four years before Ruth was born. Why would her mother have kept this and why did she never share that she’d been there? Griffiths weaves the pandemic into this novel so beautifully, with each character responding in their own unique way. The spiritual and ghostly space of Tombland is truly spooky, thanks to the Grey Lady who wanders the house with a lit candle, but also walks through walls – where there used to be doors. It’s no surprise that Cathbad has also seen her in this area and the legend adds to the confusion of the final moments as the crime is solved. The crime is an interesting one due to the elements of coercive control and our team have to ask questions about how and if they can prosecute. However, my mind was also occupied with those characters catching COVID and their loved ones and I was on tenterhooks with that aspect of the book. I’d set aside two days to read this novel on publication and I only needed one because I had to know all my characters are safe and the cliffhanger ending has me already waiting for the next one.

Off Target by Eve Smith

I loved Eve Smith’s last dystopian novel The Waiting Rooms, read during the first days of lockdown number one which exacerbated it’s strange feeling of being our world, but not quite. The author manages this feat again in Off Target, a dystopian thriller set in the not too distant future. Everything about this world is perfectly recognisable as ours, except for that one area that the author focuses on. Ever since Frankenstein there has been a tradition of horror writing around pregnancy and motherhood, showing just how far these fears are embedded in the human psyche. Monstrous births are part of the gothic and grotesque tradition and I think the author plays into that here, with her tale of meddling with babies in utero. Susan fears she will never become pregnant and this is killing her relationship with her husband. A drunken one night stand with a colleague is a world away from the sex she’s been having, which sometimes feels like a means to an end rather than something to enjoy and express love. Once she finds out she’s pregnant, there’s no question of her not keeping the baby. She can’t imagine terminating the pregnancy she’s waited so long for, but her husband looks very different to her colleague. He has very tanned skin and dark eyes, so what if her baby looks the same? She won’t be able to hide her indiscretion then. Susan confides in her best friend who suggests genetic engineering. Already approved in the UK for ruling out possible illnesses and disabilities, but what her friend is suggesting means swapping out the biological father’s DNA for the preferred father’s. Offered in clinics in Eastern Europe, these more extreme modifications are not approved in the UK but just one weekend in Kiev could see Susan’s infidelity covered up for good. Susan’s only concerns are the reported ‘off target’ effects of this extensive genetic engineering. There are underground reports of children suffering depression, becoming aggressive, or even committing suicide, but the urge to keep her infidelity quiet, might overcome her concerns about what could go wrong. The fall out is spectacular. A brilliant look at motherhood, genetics and a future we might already be engineering.

Theatre of Marvels by Lianne Dillsworth.

Our setting for this novel is a Victorian variety show produced under the watchful eye of Mr Crillick. His current headline act is Amazonia – a true African tribeswoman, dressed in furs and armed with a shield and spear, her native dancing brings down the house in show’s finale. The audience watch, transfixed with fear and fascination, never realising that she is a ‘fagged’ act. Zillah has never set foot in Africa and is in fact of mixed race heritage, born in East London. She’s used to slipping between worlds on stage and in her private life, renting a room in the rough St Giles area of the city, but regularly making her way to a more salubrious area and the bed of a Viscount by night. Everything changes as Zillah’s consciousness is raised in several ways. First, she realises that Vincent will never admit to their relationship in public. Secondly, she meets a young black man called Lucien, who places a question in her mind that she can’t shake off. How does it feel to earn money misrepresenting her ancestors? Finally, she sees Crillick parade a terrified women he’s called the ‘Leopard Lady’ at a party. With strange white patches all over her dark skin, the men are fascinated, drawing near and touching her and even roughly scratching to see if it comes off. Zillah notices medical implements laid out on a tray, the horror of what might happen to this woman overwhelms her. She must rescue the Leopard Lady from Crillick’s clutches. Exciting and fascinating, with elements of the thriller and a central character who is resilient and brave in her quest, this is a must read. I found the settings brought vividly to life and the author has clearly used solid research into freak shows, Victorian society and women’s live. She beautifully presents the realities of being bi-racial with the struggles of identity and belonging. I also enjoyed the theme of ‘otherness’ and how outsiders survive in society; the complexities of display and exploitation are weighed against poverty and deprivation. Can freak shows be acceptable if individuals can make a choice to exhibit themselves? Or is any exhibition of ‘different’ bodies unacceptable; a question that still needs debate today. I really enjoyed Zillah‘s quest and her own personal journey too. I read this so quickly and will be putting a copy on my bookshelves, because I know it’s one I’ll want to read again.

What a fantastic month of books! Next month is a crazy one, but here are just some of the novels I hope to read next month. thankfully I’ve read some early. See you soon.

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books of the Month! January 2022

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

The Maid by Nita Prose

Published by Harper Collins 20th Jan 2022.

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

Demon by Matt Wesolowski.

Published by Orenda Books 20th January 2022

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

The Unravelling by Polly Crosby

Published by HQ 6th Jan 2022

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

Insomnia by Sarah Pinborough

Published by Harper Collins 30th March 2022

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

The Book of Magic by Alice Hoffman

Published by Scribner U.K. 6th Jan 2022

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

The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont

Published by Mantle 20th Jan 2022

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

The Impulse Purchase by Veronica Henry

Published by Orion 3rd Feb 2022.

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

Other books I read this month…

The Second Woman by Louise Mey

Bitter Flowers by Gunnar Staalesen

Cut Out by Michèle Roberts

The Secret by Debbie Howells

The Family by Naomi Krupitsky

Daughter of the Sea by Elizabeth J. Hobbes