It’s been a funny old month reading wise and at least two of my choices are books I should have read last year. MS affects my concentration so much and I think that inability to concentrate has definitely affected what I’ve chosen and what I’ve finished. There have been a few DNF’s this month, because I simply couldn’t get into the story or it didn’t hold my interest. I know these are books I’ll try again in a few months and possibly enjoy them so they’re never discarded, unless they’re the sort I’d rather throw out of the window, like Bradley Cooper in The Silver Linings Playbook. It’s no surprise to me that I’ve chosen a couple of books that are the latest in well loved series. I think we often turn to comfort reads when we feel unwell or low and being back with familiar characters was definitely soothing, even when they are crime thrillers. I also think it’s telling that all the books this month are thrillers, possibly because of the way they’re written and edited to pull you straight into the story and keep you turning the pages. There’s an addictive quality to a good thriller that seems to make it past my sluggish brain cells. Here’s to spring and hopefully some lighter nights and the garden coming alive will give us all a recharge. See you next month.
This was a proof I was sent last year and seemed to fall by the wayside, but I’m so glad I finally got the chance to pick it up! Set by the author in a community of foster homes in Scotland, this story was both compelling to read and fascinating psychologically. The author’s mother spent time in a real life version of a village just like this, something that piqued the author’s interest. It’s the perfect setting for a thriller precisely because this is a community set up to nurture children whose parents can’t take care of them and the thought that someone is stalking these vulnerable young women is terrible. In each cottage is a foster mother and father with several children, underpinned by a strict religious teaching from the church on site. They also have their own school, although our protagonist Lesley takes the bus early each morning and attends the nearby grammar school. Lesley is sharp and very good with patterns and numbers, emotionally she is most attached to her best friend Jonesey who has been in care alongside Lesley for as long as they can both remember. When a young woman is found murdered at the Homes it brings outside scrutiny, but also breeds fear and suspicion amongst the girls. As the police start their investigation, Lesley and Jonesey start one of their own and it soon becomes clear that not everything is as it seems in this community and in Lesley’s home. The intrigue and horror of the case is balanced nicely with getting to know Lesley’s story and how being placed in care affects children psychologically.
This is the latest in Elly Griffiths’s series based around archaeologist Dr. Ruth Galloway, who as well as teaching at the University of North Norfolk helps the police date and identify human remains. This story follows the pandemic and although some things have gone back to normal, there are lingering after effects from feeling anxious in close proximity to others to our favourite Druid Cathbad who is suffering long term symptoms of COVID. Ruth’s whole department is under threat from budget cuts and it’s while she’s waiting to hear the results of a review that she’s called to look at remains found in a café behind a wall. The café used to be The Green Man and it’s been closed for several years, but current renovations have unearthed a skeleton behind a wall. The remains are not ancient, so become the preserve of DI Nelson who opens an investigation. The bones belong to student Emily Pickering from Lincoln, who went missing approximately twenty years ago. She was a student of archaeology under professor Leo Ballard, so the team need to build a picture of others on the course and who she socialised with. Many threads take them back to a camping trip one evening near some ancient mine shafts. Everyone remembers some sort of ritual being performed and the sudden appearance of a horned creature from the woods, who terrified everyone. Other than the students and Leo Ballard, there was a familiar person present. Where rituals are being performed Cathbad is often close by, but when he goes missing too he becomes a missing person and a suspect. Personally, Ruth is at an intellectual and emotional crossroads. Still living on the salt marshes with daughter Kate and cat Flint, she is avoiding Nelson who is the father of Kate. His wife has left him, breaking the deadlock the three of them have been in and Nelson can often be found at the cottage overnight and on Saturdays when he drops by with pizza. She senses the big question coming ever closer, are they going to define their relationship and make it permanent? Or are Ruth’s other opportunities going to take her away from Norfolk?
This book was recommended to me by a fellow blogger and Squad Pod member Clare – The Fallen Librarian. It’s very hard to define, but combines elements of a thriller, fantasy and love story. Writer and bookseller Lily Albrecht has done more selling since her husband Abe was struck down by a mystery neurological illness that has seen him needing round the clock care. At a book fair in NYC she and friend Lucas are told about a secret client looking for a 17th Century book that’s supposed to be transformative for anyone who follows it’s advice. The Book of the Most Precious Substance is reported to be magical, if the reader anoints the book’s magical symbol with various signs of arousal a magical reaction occurs. Completing the steps can give the reader the thing they most desire. Lily and Lucas obtain the magical symbol and begin a geographical search for the book and the collector who is willing to pay millions for it. It’s a journey of five star hotels, strange eccentric millionaires and sexual discovery, but will either of them get what they want most? This is a brilliant page turner, with magical elements and real emotional depth.
I only reviewed this a couple of days ago, so I won’t give a full review here just a quick blurb. DS Grace is mourning the loss of his son Leo in a traffic accident, but the cases don’t stop coming and when a cold case links to a new incident Roy takes the case. Harry and Freya Kipling find a painting at a car boot sale that’s horrible, but Harry loves the frame. However when they discover a different painting underneath they decide to take it to the Antiques Roadshow. As soon as the show airs things start to happen, because in a chance of a lifetime it turns out that the painting could be a Fragonard, the missing Spring in his series on the four seasons. The couple are broken into but nothing is taken and when a body turns up outside a renowned forger’s house Roy believes the two things are linked. It’s surprising how far collectors will go to complete their collections, even as far as murder. This is an interesting and heart-stopping addition to the brilliant Grace series.
So that’s all for February. It’s a really busy March with lots of fantastic new releases and blog tours. Below is my TBR for the coming month. See you then. ❤️📚
Welcome to 2023 at The Lotus Readers! It’s already looking like a busy one and if January is anything to go by there are going to to be some hot contenders for my round-up in twelve months time. I’m going to be spoiled for choice. There are going to be some new and developing projects this year that I’m excited about and I’m already planning into June. I’m doing a lot more work with the Squad Pod Collective this year and I’m very excited at some of the books and read alongs we have scheduled. On a more personal level I’m hoping to be a better planner this year, with the hope of clearing some of my NetGalley backlog and keeping on top of publisher’s proofs. I want to develop my Instagram account and start work on TikTok too. I have various themes planned throughout the year and new spotlights to bring to you, with poetry and classics featuring more prominently. I’ve also realised I need to tell you all a little bit about me and I must get used to seeing to showing you my face a little bit. Finally I’m hoping to update the website with new photos and a better layout so I’m easier to find. So to kick off this new year, here are my first books of the month for January.
House of Fortune by Jessie Burton
To say I’m a fan of Jessie Burton is an understatement. I am in awe of her writing abilities and love every one of her books, but there’s a soft spot in my heart for her debut novel The Miniaturist. I was transported straight back to 16th Century Amsterdam and whenever I think about the town house where Nella goes to live with her new husband Johannes and his sister Marin, I have an almost synaesthesic response because I can smell it. It’s a mixture of wood panelling and beeswax. Considering how attached I am to this extraordinary tale, there was a certain amount of trepidation in reading her follow up House of Fortune. I’d saved it for the end of the year and it came to me in two special editions, one with spredges in a green pattern and one with a yellow pineapple print. It’s been eighteen years since the events of the first book and Thea’s birthday approaches. As her father Otto is let go by his employer the household is in decline, almost down to the last treasures it can sell to stay afloat. Maybe their only hope for the future is Thea and the family are forced to launch her on Amsterdam society with the hope of finding her a husband with the fortune to keep them afloat. Otto wants Thea to have a choice and with new friend Caspar he has planned to farm Thea’s childhood home, Assendelft, by growing a crop of pineapples. However, Thea has her own plans and when small packages start appearing on the doorstep it’s clear a period of change is on the way. Could this be the miniaturist, up to her old tricks?
I was sucked straight back into Nella’s world as mistress of this extraordinary house. I loved that Burton took us to Nella’s childhood, with the walls of Assendelft full of memories, good and bad. Over the eighteen years since Johannes’s death she has become a force to be reckoned with and this reminds us of how naïve and young she was at the beginning. I felt sad that she had almost written herself off, pinning all their hopes for the future on Marin’s daughter Thea and not even considering that she could be the one pursued by potential husbands. Wealthy widows can be very attractive in the marriage market and nobody knows what Johannes’s arrangements were for his wife. I felt that Nella didn’t want marriage though, having been free for eighteen years it would certainly be hard to adjust to the more conventional woman’s role a husband might expect. I also really enjoyed being taken into the world of the theatre, where Thea is transfixed by the stories being told on stage. Her fear that someone has seen her hanging around backstage, especially since spending time with scene painter Walter, really came across strongly. I felt for her and I wanted Thea to remember what it felt like to be a teenager without her whole family’s fortunes weighing heavy on her shoulders. I was compelled to keep reading, completely caught up in the world of this strange family of outsiders, but also wondering if this time the miniaturist would be unmasked and her purpose revealed. I throughly enjoyed being back in Nella’s world and it renewed my desire to go to Amsterdam to see the original cabinet house that fired up Jessie’s imagination.
We All Want Impossible Things by
This book was a joy. That’s going to seem odd when I explain what it’s about, but it is joyful and full of life. Even though at it’s centre there’s a death. Ash and Edi have been friends forever, since childhood in fact. They’ve gone through adolescence together: survived school; other girls; discovering boys and even that awkward phase of starting adult life, when one went to college and the other stayed behind. They’ve both married and been each other’s maids of honour and become mothers. Instead of any of these things pulling them apart they’ve remained platonic partners in life. However, now Edi is unwell and decisions need to be made. After years of struggle with being, treatment, remission and recurrence, Edi now has to decide how she’ll be dying. With all the hospices locally being full, Ash makes an offer – if Edi comes to a hospice near Ash, she can devote time to being with her and Edi’s husband can get on with every day life for her son Dash. There’s a hospice near Ash that’s like a home from home, with everything that’s needed medically, but the informality and personal touch of a family. Now Ash and Edi have to negotiate that strange contradiction; learning how to live, while dying.
Ash’s home and family life is so enviable I wanted to be part of it. Her estranged husband Honey is an incredible chef and her daughter seems to have picked up the talent. The author’s descriptions of their meals really did make the mouth water and are their way of contributing and supporting Ash. All of these people are so nurturing, in Honey’s case this is despite he and Ash being separated. Before you think this sounds schmaltzy and sentimental I can assure you that these characters are not perfect. Each has their flaws and their ways of coping, some of which are destructive and possibly difficult for others to understand. Ash particularly has a novel approach to grief, but I understood it. If we look beneath the surface, it’s a way of forging connection with others on the same journey and expressing their love for Edi. It’s also a distraction, a way of leaving all the paraphernalia of death behind and affirming life. That doesn’t mean her behaviour isn’t confusing, especially to her teenage daughter who supplies whip smart commentary, eye rolls and remarkable wisdom. The men in this friendship group seem to understand that their grief is secondary, because Edi is the love of Ash’s life. I enjoyed the little addition of Edi’s other friend – the college friend – who Ash has concerns about. Does Edi like her more than Ash? Do they have a special bond? The author provides us with this loving picture but then undermines it slightly, so it isn’t perfect. We are imperfect beings and no one knows how they will react in a time like this, until we’re there. Catherine Newman shows this with realism, charm, humour and buckets of compassion.
The Curious Case of The Alperton Angels by Janice Hallett.
I was enthralled, addicted and so desperate to find out what actually did happen on the night when the police found a strange cult massacre in a deserted warehouse. Open the safe deposit box. Inside you will find research material for a true crime book. You must read the documents, then make a decision. Will you destroy them? Or will you take them to the police? Everyone knows the sad story of the Alperton Angels: the cult who brainwashed a teenage girl and convinced her that her newborn baby was the anti-Christ. Believing they had a divine mission to kill the infant, they were only stopped when the girl came to her senses and called the police. The Angels committed suicide rather than stand trial, while mother and baby disappeared into the care system. Nearly two decades later, true-crime author Amanda Bailey is writing a book on the Angels. The Alperton baby has turned eighteen and can finally be interviewed; if Amanda can find them, it will be the true-crime scoop of the year, and will save her flagging career. But rival author Oliver Menzies is just as smart, better connected, and is also on the baby’s trail. As Amanda and Oliver are forced to collaborate, they realise that what everyone thinks they know about the Angels is wrong. The truth is something much darker and stranger than they’d ever imagined. And the story of the Alperton Angels is far from over.. After all, the devil is in the detail…
It was hard to review when I didn’t want to let slip any signal or clue, so I won’t comment on the storyline. It’s drip fed to you in the different communications and I loved how we were presented with other people’s opinions and thoughts on the discoveries being made. Who to trust and who to ignore wasn’t always clear and the red herrings, including the involvement of the Royal Family, were incredible. I felt that true crime author Amanda had an agenda, that possibly had nothing to do with the story at hand and was more about a personal grudge. Janice Hallet’s research is impeccable and here she has to cover the early 1990’s and 2003, as well as the workings of the police, special forces and the social services – some of which is less than flattering and even corrupt. I found delving into the True Crime genre fascinating considering how popular it is these days, something I’m personally very conflicted about. This has all the aspects of a sensational True Crime investigation with a more nuanced perspective from other characters to balance things out. I was gripped to the end and the end didn’t disappoint.
River Sing Me Home by Eleanor Shearer.
This incredible debut novel grabbed hold of my mind and heart, never letting go until the final paragraph. I shed tears at several points in Rachel’s journey and she’s a character I won’t forget. We meet her working on a plantation in Barbados, at that strange point after slavery when plantations were instructed to free slaves, but their sense of freedom was short-lived as masters were able to keep slaves for a further six years as apprentices. So, despite being freed the day afterwards started just the same, at the crack of dawn and walking to the cane fields for a day of back breaking work. Having nothing meant that most had no other choice. Rachel is thinking of her children, several lost before they had a chance to live but others scattered to the four winds. Her boys Micah and Thomas Augustus and her girls Cherry Jane, Mary Grace and Mercy all taken from her in different ways. Only Cherry Jane spends a few years nearby as a house slave, but in her superior position she doesn’t acknowledge Rachel who is merely a field hand. One day she decides that she must find her children, she mustknow where they are and what happened to them, even if the news is that devastating final loss. Rachel says that as a slave she plants cane but nothing of her own. However her children came about, Rachel feels that they anchor her in this world and she can’t rest until she finds them. So she runs and with our hearts pounding we follow her.
Shearer uses incredibly evocative detail to bring nature to life in this book and underscore Rachel’s sense of freedom. A river takes them deep into the forest and a community of freed slaves and indigenous tribespeople where one of her sons may be. It also sweeps them along, back to freedom after searching Grenadian plantation for daughter Mary Grace. The whole journey is littered with joys and terrible grief, but Rachel knows she must keep going. She meets others who have started to build a new life, placing the past firmly behind them and never pining for it. They live firmly in the here and now with questions left unanswered and people left behind. For Rachel that isn’t enough. Her children are like the scattered pieces of a broken vase. She doesn’t expect her family to be perfect and knows that there will be cracks and missing pieces. Rachel is putting her broken vase back together and she will pour a substance into the cracks, bringing the pieces together until her past is whole again. The binding substance used in Japanese Kintsugi pottery is usually gold, each crack making the piece more valuable and beautiful. In Rachel’s case the binding substance is love. Love for those here, those found but far away and those gone forever. An all encompassing love symbolised by the bond between a mother and her children.
Amazing Grace Adams by Fran Littlewood.
It’s possibly way too early to start picking candidates for favourite books of 2023 – I’m still deliberating over 2022 – but I think this book is certainly going to be in contention. Grace is one of those characters that you fantasise about having cocktails with and you already know you’d have the best time. Grace is stuck in traffic, it’s a boiling hot day and she’s melting. All she wants to do is get to the bakery and pick up the cake for her daughter’s birthday. This is one hell of a birthday cake, not only is it a Love Island cake; it has to say that Grace cares, that she’s sorry, that will show Lotte she loves her and hasn’t given up on their relationship. It’s shaping up to be the day from hell and as Grace sits in a tin can on boiling hot tarmac, something snaps. She decides to get out of the car and walk, leaving her vehicle stranded and pissing off everyone now blocked by a car parked in the middle of a busy road. So, despite the fact her trainers aren’t broken in, she sets off walking towards the bakery and a reunion with Lotte. There are just a few obstacles in the way, but Grace can see the cake and Lotte’s face when she opens the box. As she walks she recounts everything that has happened to bring her to where she is now.
When we first meet Grace she’s living alone, estranged from husband Ben and even from her teenage daughter Lotte. She’s peri-menopausal, wearing trainers her daughter thinks she shouldn’t be wearing at her age and she’s had enough. There’s that sense of the Michael Douglas film Falling Down except when the meltdown comes all she has is a water pistol filled with river water, an embarrassingly tiny Love Island cake and a blister on her heel. Then in flashbacks we can follow Grace all the way back to the start, to when she and Ben met at a competition for polyglots. The truth when it comes is devastating, but feels weirdly like something you’ve known all along. Those interspersed chapters from happier times are a countdown to this moment, a before and after that runs like a fault line through everything that’s happened since. As Grace closes in on Lotte’s party, sweaty, dirty and brandishing her tiny squashed cake, it doesn’t seem enough to overturn everything that’s happened, but of course it isn’t about the cake. This is about everything Grace has done to be here, including the illegal bits. In a day that’s highlighted to Grace how much she has changed what will happen to her relationship to the people she loves most?
All of these books are out now and you can potter along to your local book shop for them. Happy Reading! ❤️📚
It’s been an unusual month, because I’ve cut my blog tours right down for the end of the year so I’ve made more personal choices about what to read and when. I’m still working through an endless TBR, but I’m reading them in the order I fancy – this feels like blissful freedom to a book blogger, even through I can see a teetering pile of proofs out of the corner of my eye. Not to mention the virtual teetering pile on Netgalley that I’m slowly working through. It’s a month that seems to disappear for me, as Christmas shopping starts in earnest and I end up so focused on December that November seems to pass me by. I’m also having my living room decorated, so that it’s all dry and we can put the Christmas tree up this weekend. I’ll be rearranging my reading corner too, now that it’s a more restful colour rather than the hectic stripes of the previous owner. So, it’s now a headline rush toward Christmas with lots of advent and Christmassy content to come.
This month’s photo collage is in honour of this new book from Jodi Picoult and her writing partner Jenny Finney Boylan. It’s seen as a controversial novel and I’ve been surprised by the many trigger warnings applied to it in reviews and read alongs. Some of these have misrepresented the novel or even ruined it by disclosing parts of the plot. What you need to know about this book is that it’s a straightforward Picoult novel based around a crime and a legal case. Bearing this in mind, I think most people know by now that one of the characters in the novel is transgender. For some people this makes the book problematic, but I am reassured by the fact that Jennifer Finney Boylan is a celebrated trans writer and activist. So this isn’t a cisgender writer trying to write about transgender experience. This is a writer who is using her own experience to communicate that character’s experience with authenticity. Yes, there are characters in the book who are ignorant or even show prejudice, but that’s necessary to fully represent what it’s like to be transgender. Our storyline follows Olivia and her son Asher and the life they’ve built since fleeing domestic violence when Asher was a toddler. Olivia settled in her father’s home and gradually took over his role as a beekeeper. Asher is now a teenager and has his first girlfriend, Lily. Lily is lovely and has been given the vote of confidence by the bees, helping Olivia remove the honeycomb like a pro. Olivia’s whole existence has been devoted to keeping Asher safe, so when she gets a phone call from the local sheriff to say Lily is dead and Asher has been arrested for her murder. Could Asher have inherited some of his father’s characteristics? This is an interesting novel that is also about domestic violence, trauma, jealousy and the difficulties of being a single parent. It’s a great read and I highly recommend it.
This is an interesting addition because I re- read the book while writing about the work of Sarah Waters. I was interested in the parallels between this and her novel Affinity. I loved this when it I first read it last year and it was great to read it again. I loved the strong female characters here and the author’s clever use of liminal spaces to introduce relationships that would have been frowned upon in the 19th Century. Viola has been brought up by her clergyman father alongside a young boy he took into his care. Jonah and Viola have an incredible friendship and it’s really no surprise when they get married, although it does come immediately after their father’s death. Viola loves photography and is asked by a bereaved family if she would take a picture of their dead child. However, when Viola develops the pictures there is another child in the photographs – a child who wasn’t there. This potential spirit photography brings her to the attention of Henriette, a medium who’s been through a lot before she meets Viola and helps her to become a spirit photographer. The two women become close and Viola starts to worry about the intensity of her feelings for this new friend. Jonah, meanwhile, has secrets of his own left back in India where he was posted with his regiment. All three of these characters are so well observed and have such convincing inner lives so when they’re added to some evocative settings you’re immediately transported back in time. Loved it.
The Marmalade Diaries by Ben Aitken.
This was another unusual read for this time of year, but I was simply charmed by the relationship between Ben and the formidable old lady he’s tasked with living with. Ben is at a low ebb when a local charity matches him up to help a pensioner. Winnie is 85 years old and needs help from someone who can live with her and Ben needs a roof over his head. Winnie has an attic flat so he imagines only some of his time will be needed – for tasks such as putting the bins out, changing light bulbs and support with hospital treatment. However, once they are alone Winnie’s first words are along on the lines of ‘so what’s for tea’ and he realises he’s going to be at her beck and call a lot more. I found Winnie so funny, but sometimes she shows cunning and an ability to exploit her situation that was as hilarious to read as it must have been infuriating to live with. The stand-off with the coal man over unloading her delivery was epic – leaving Ben to receive the delivery, she feigns surprise that there was an extra charge to bring the coal onto the property and tip it into the bunker. Winnie has only paid to have dropped on the boundary, then claims that she knew nothing about the charge. Ben wonders if this is an oversight, or a sign of forgetfulness but the coal man comments that it’s an oversight that’s happened the last three times they’ve delivered. It’s beautiful to watch a friendship develop between these two unlikely house-mates and I was sorry to leave their company.
Last year A.M.Shine’s The Watchers scared the living daylights out of me and I was introduced to a new horror writer who writes stories I want to read. Yes, there are creatures and theyre terrifying, but there isn’t a lot of violence until the group start to venture about. I love that these are old fashioned stories in a sense, theres a slow creeping dread that builds, until you find yourself shutting your curtains at even the hint of sunset. Dr. Alec Sparling lives a very regimented existence in a remote Manor House in Ireland. His house is set back, covered and disguised with vegetation. There are shutters for the windows and and bolts for the doors. What is he hiding from? He has advertised for two academics to undertake field research and chooses Ben and Chloe. She is an archaeologist and he is an historical researcher with a wealth of experience in interviewing people. They must hike out to a remote Irish village and interview the residents about their life and their minimal contact with the outside world. This is a forgotten place, wary of strangers and as they stumble through a forest, tripwires attached to church style bells ring out their presence, giving the villagers plenty of warning. As Chloe and Ben finally meet the people they are shocked by their physical appearance. Poverty and hardship has marked their faces, but it’s the lack of new residents that explains the deformities they observe, years of in-breeding has clearly had it’s effect. These people are not pleased to see them and like Dr Sparling, they are nervous about dusk creeping up on them and Chloe observes the shutters at their windows, less high tech than the wealthy doctor’s, but for exactly the same purpose. Are they to stop people looking out after dark, or are they to stop someone looking in? The pair are told, if theDeeply unsettling and brilliantly written.
This beautiful book had been sat all year waiting to be read and I read this, then it’s sequel Heart of the Sun Warrior for our November Squad Pod book club. I don’t read a lot of fantasy, but weirdly when I’m doing my yearly round up, quite a lot of my favourites have a fantasy or magic realism element. The first book in the duology introduces us to Xingyin who lives on the moon with her mother Chang’e. Her peaceful life is interrupted and she is forced to live incognito as a servant in the Celestial Palace, hoping all the time to free her mother from exile. In a stroke of luck she is chosen to train as a warrior alongside the Emperor’s son. This is a great story of a girl growing into a woman and also into her destiny as a great warrior. The settings are incredible, the mythology is full of monsters, an incredible atmosphere and so much colour. To top everything there’s also a love triangle between two warriors, one who is a loyal friend and the other brings pure chemistry. In the sequel, we see another disturbance in the peaceful realm in the sky meaning Xingyin must once again draw on her skills as a warrior. She has a to face a betrayal from one of her suitors and decide whether she can ever trust him again. What I loved most about the books were the luscious layers of description the author uses to build her world in the clouds, but also that Xingyin is always the centre of the tale as a strong, warrior woman.
My final book of the month is The Dazzle of the Light, which leapt straight into my top books of the year. It was possibly overshadowed by Kate Atkinson’s new release which covered the same period of history, but although I loved Atkinson’s book, I enjoyed this one more. The author told a story of two ambitious women, both from very different parts of society. Ruby is part of the notorious Forty Thieves gang. Women of all ages commit crimes ranging from pick-pocketing to jewellery heists and Ruby has her sights set on these more glamorous jobs where she can team up with one of the Elephant Boys. It’s on one of these robberies, where Ruby is seen by Harriet Littlemore. Harriet comes from a wealthy, upper class family and is engaged to a young politician. This isn’t enough though, Harriet wants something for herself and is excited to get a small role writing women’s interest features for the local newspaper. Ruby inspires her to research and write a piece about the robbery she’s witnessed and the Forty Thieves in general. When it appears, her words are accompanied by by an artists’s impression of Ruby, whose Harriet has called ‘The Jewel of the Borough’. It’s clear that Harriet hasn’t thought about what this article might mean for Ruby and her place in the Forty Thieves, or even where Ruby has come from before the gang. I loved how the author brought this post WW1 London to life, from the upper echelons of Parliament to the seedy club of Soho. She presents beautifully the issues of this strange period of adjustment after the war and the women’s fascination with each other is electric. A brilliant read and way up the list in my books of the year.
So, these were my favourites from the past month. In December the blog is always a little quieter, but I will check in from time to time. Currently I’m reading Russ Thomas’s DS Adam Tyler series, based in nearby Sheffield. I’ll be sharing my favourite reads of the year and my own bookish Christmas List too. Hoping you all have a lovely December.
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.
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.
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.
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! ❤️❤️📚
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.
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.
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.