Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books Of The Month! April 2022.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books Of The Month! March 2022.

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

Remember Me by Charity Norman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books of the Month! February 2022

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

The Marsh House by Zoë Somerville

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

Flamingo by Rachel Elliot

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

The Locked Room by Elly Griffiths

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

Off Target by Eve Smith

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

Theatre of Marvels by Lianne Dillsworth.

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

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

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books of the Month! January 2022

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

The Maid by Nita Prose

Published by Harper Collins 20th Jan 2022.

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

Demon by Matt Wesolowski.

Published by Orenda Books 20th January 2022

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

The Unravelling by Polly Crosby

Published by HQ 6th Jan 2022

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

Insomnia by Sarah Pinborough

Published by Harper Collins 30th March 2022

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

The Book of Magic by Alice Hoffman

Published by Scribner U.K. 6th Jan 2022

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

The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont

Published by Mantle 20th Jan 2022

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

The Impulse Purchase by Veronica Henry

Published by Orion 3rd Feb 2022.

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

Other books I read this month…

The Second Woman by Louise Mey

Bitter Flowers by Gunnar Staalesen

Cut Out by Michèle Roberts

The Secret by Debbie Howells

The Family by Naomi Krupitsky

Daughter of the Sea by Elizabeth J. Hobbes

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books of the Month! November 2021

This has been a difficult reading month and I haven’t read as much as usual, but these were my favourite reads. Two members of the family have had surgery this month so a lot of the usual routine has been a bit upside down. The last week, while winter has started to bite a little, I’ve had a lot more pain and stiffness, as well as being plagued by MS symptoms of vertigo and fatigue. Some days I’ve felt like I only open my eyes when someone wakes me to have a meal. The countdown to Christmas also started in earnest, so I’ve been ordering early to avoid disappointment. I do the majority of my shopping online these days so it’s really a pleasure rather than feeling sweaty and unwell in a shop packed with other people. I did venture out with my stepdaughter last weekend to buy new decorations for our Christmas tree. It’s a tradition I set up to get to know them better and now it’s annual mission. Since it’s our first Christmas in the new house and our living room colour scheme has changed we decided to go pink and blue. We did well and how have an eccentric collection of tigers, monkeys, tiny pink Minis and VW Beetles with Christmas trees on the roof, slices of cake and topless unicorns wearing just a tutu! Mainly though, with my lowered immune system I’m trying to avoid large groups of people. Thankfully my booster is now booked, but it’s not until the end of December so I’m keeping to my strict bubble again until we know more about the new variant. So, that’s me. Out of the books I’ve read there have been some brilliant reads and don’t forget to check last Sunday’s Spotlight post which featured the books I’m buying as gifts this year.

The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayers

We open in Kerrigan Falls with Lara on the eve of her wedding as she starts to enchant her wedding dress to make it perfect. However, in the morning the groom has disappeared, mysteriously leaving his car behind at the scene where another young man disappeared thirty years before. Both men have links to Lara and her family. In her search for answers, Lara finds her great- grandmother’s diaries and reads the tale of a circus so secret it can’t be seen. The circus is the perfect antidote to the sweetness of Kerrigan Falls. I won’t ruin your discovery of this world, but it is truly fascinating, macabre, beautiful, magical and horrifying all at the same time. I was hooked by the scene the author was describing and fascinated by Lara’s family history. The small details, such as the circus only appearing to those with a personal invitation which bled if it was torn, were quite disturbing. The magic practiced there had parallels with Lara’s skills – simple tabby cats turned into ferocious big cats. There were surprises I hadn’t expected and Cecile’s final diaries are the vital first hand account of the circus’s history, as well as her own love story. I was immersed in this magical tale and didn’t really want it to end.

Before My Actual Heart Breaks by Tish Delaney

Oh my goodness, my heart did break for the intelligent, spirited and strangely beautiful Mary Rattigan. She is a character who will stay with me, especially the childhood Mary and her battles with Mammy – a woman who I hated so strongly it was as if she was a real person! The Rattigan’s life on her parent’s farm is at odds with her romantic and wild nature. She wants to fly. She will not be satisfied until she flies out of her dirty and dangerous surroundings, leaving ‘The Troubles’ behind her. She doesn’t care where she goes, as long as she’s free and lives happily ever after. However, life has a way of grounding us and Mary is no exception. In a life punctuated by marriage, five children, bombings, a long peace process and endless cups of tea Mary learns that a ten minute decision can change a whole life. These lessons are hard won and she’s missed a hundred chances to make a change. Can she ever find the courage to ask for the love she deserves, but has never had? I am probably a similar age to Delaney so I felt an affinity with Mary and understood her. Mary’s need to be loved is so raw she can’t even articulate it. How can she understand or recognise love when she’s never felt it? She has been told she’s nothing, so nothing is what she deserves. Delaney writes about love and the realities of marriage with such wisdom and tenderness that I was rooting for Mary Rattigan till the very last page.

Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult

Diana and her boyfriend Finn live in New York City, he is a doctor and she works at an auction house for fine art, on the verge of promotion to become an Art Specialist at Sotheby’s. She’s trying to acquire a Toulouse Lautrec painting that hangs in the bedroom of a Japanese artist -loosely based on Yoko Ono. Then, everything changes. Finn and Diana have a very set life plan and part of that was an upcoming visit to the Galápagos Islands. However there are rumours flying around in the medical community of a strange new virus in Wuhan, China. It seems like SARS in that it affects breathing, because it causes pneumonia and requires huge amounts of resources to keep patients alive. Diana’s boyfriend feels torn, as a doctor he’s worried and thinks they should be preparing but the president is on TV telling everyone it’s no worse than flu. What’s the truth? When Finn’s hospital announces all leave is cancelled they know the virus is coming. Diana asks what they should do with the Galapagos holiday and he tells her to go without him. So she arrives on the last boat just as everything shuts down and she has to take the kind offer of an apartment from a cleaner at the hotel called Abuela. This is just the start of an amazing and uplifting adventure for Diana, in a paradise separate from the COVID-19 nightmare happening in New York. The joy of this book is that it takes the reader in several different directions, some of them very surprising indeed. This is my first full on pandemic novel and it was tough but surprisingly uplifting too. A real return to form from Picoult who I absolutely love.

On the Edge by Jane Jesmond

I was thoroughly gripped by this tense thriller set in Cornwall and concerning Jenifry Shaw – an experienced free climber who is in rehabilitation at the start of the novel. She hasn’t finished her voluntary fortnight stay when she’s itching for an excuse to get away and she finds one when her brother Kit calls and asks her to go home. Sure that she has the addiction under control, she drives her Aston down to her home village and since she isn’t expected, chooses to stay at the hotel rather than go straight to her family home. Feeling restless, she decides to try one of her distraction activities and go for a bracing walk along the cliffs. Much later she wakes to darkness. She’s being lashed by wind and rain, seemingly hanging from somewhere on the cliff by a very fragile rope. Every gust of wind buffets her against the surface causing cuts and grazes. She gets her bearings and realises she’s hanging from the viewing platform of the lighthouse. Normally she could climb herself out of this, most natural surfaces have small imperfections and places to grab onto, but this man made structure is completely smooth. Her only chance is to use the rapidly fraying rope to climb back to the platform and pull herself over. She’s only got one go at this though, one jerk and her weight will probably snap the rope – the only thing keeping her from a certain death dashed on the rocks below. She has no choice. She has to try. I was already breathless and this was just the opening! What follows is a thrilling debut that is so incredibly addictive you’ll want to read it in one go.

The Watchers by A.M. Shine

This is a disturbing and beautifully written horror novel about Mina, a young woman living alone in urban Ireland. She is largely a loner, except for her friend Peter who is a collectibles dealer and often pays Mina cash to travel and deliver his client’s purchases. On this occasion she’s to take a golden parrot to a remote part of Galway, but the day trip becomes something she lives to regret. Having broken down on the edge of a forest, Mina realises that the likelihood of anyone passing by and helping are probably minimal. So, with the parrot in tow, she sets off walking in the hope of finding a remote farmhouse. She feels unnerved, although she can’t say why, then she hears a scream that isn’t human, but isn’t like any animal she’s ever heard either. As the shadows gather she is beginning to panic, but sees a woman with a lamp standing by a concrete bunker and although that seems odd they hurry inside. As the door slams behind them, the screams grow in intensity and volume, almost as if they were right on her heels. As her eyes adjust to the light she finds herself in a room with a bright overhead light. One wall is made entirely of glass, but Mina can’t see beyond it and into the forest because it is now pitch dark. Yet she has the creeping sensation of being watched through the glass, almost like she is the parrot in a glass cage. A younger man and woman are huddled together in one space, so there are now four people in this room, captive and watched by many eyes. Their keepers are the Watchers, dreadful creatures that live in burrows by day, but come out at night to hunt and to watch these captive humans. If caught out after dark, the door will be locked, and you will be the Watcher’s unlucky prey. Who are these creatures and why do they keep watching? This really is terrifying and you won’t be able to stop reading until the very unnerving end.

Insomnia by Sarah Pinborough

This is a sneak preview of a release for next year and one I couldn’t resist reading on NetGalley as soon as I was approved. This book hooked me straight away, which isn’t surprising considering this author’s talent in creating nerve-tingling domestic noir. Emma has survived childhood trauma to make a success of her life and is now a well-respected solicitor with a lovely family and beautiful home. The only thing is she can’t sleep. As her fortieth approaches her insomnia gets worse and she is terrified, what if this is just the start of the breakdown her mother suffered at the same age? She always said that Emma had the ‘bad blood’ and as her symptoms increase Emma is coming apart. I read this in two sittings, engrossed by Emma’s story and trying to work out whether she is being set up and if so, who by? Look out for this one at the end of March 2022.

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books of the Month! October 2021.

When I looked back over my list of book’s read in October I couldn’t believe what an incredible month it’s been. I’ve been very lucky to read some incredible books. With blog tours whittled down to a minimum, I’ve been able to read from the shelves based on mood alone. I’ve also picked from my NetGalley list which, if it was a stack of books, would have fallen over and buried me by now. I’ve read within my favourite genres really, from the gothic to the historical with a brief sojourn into crime. Then I’ve topped it all off with a lovely, uplifting book that I absolutely adored. Some of my reading occurred on holiday in Wales by a roaring log fire, some of it has been in bed while I tried to control an epic bout of vertigo. It’s been my birthday month too, so finally I’m sharing my brilliant book pressies with you all.

I was gripped by this brilliant thriller from the get go and really was unable to put it down, choosing to read above anything else until I finished. I was hooked and my partner claims I barely spoke to him for two days straight because I was so absorbed in Poppy’s world. Tess is starting a new life in a garden flat with her daughter Poppy, after a divorce from husband Jason. Having a background as a child of divorce, Tess has been determined that Poppy is their number one priority. No matter how much animosity and hurt they feel, their interaction with each other must be civil and they prioritise time with each parent. Yet, every time Poppy’s belongings are put in a bag to transfer from one house to the other, Tess hopes she understands what is happening to her. Tess has started seeing a man called Aidan recently and she’s optimistic about their relationship so far. One Saturday, Poppy returns from an overnight at her father’s and displays signs of distress. These were classic symptoms, that any counsellor like me, would be concerned by. She’s clingy, she wets the bed and seems to be having nightmares. Over a week these symptoms worsen: she bites a girl at school, uses foul language to her teacher, and her mother is terrified for her. She has her attention drawn to a picture Poppy has drawn, all in black crayon which is a huge contrast from her normal rainbow creations. The picture shows a tower and a woman falling from the top to the ground below. ‘He killed her’ she tells her Mum ‘and killed and killed and killed’.

Tess is scared for her daughter, but what can she actually do without traumatising her further? Jason insists it’s just a drawing and probably doesn’t mean anything. No one seemed as alarmed as Tess so who can she go to? My suspicions were first sent in one direction, then another, leaving me suspecting every character at different points in the novel, I was also wondering whether it was Tess. Was she an over concerned mother affected by her divorce and her ex-husband’s sudden remarriage? The tension is almost unbearable towards our final revelation and it wasn’t the ending I was expecting at all. It makes you think about how far you would go to protect your children. This was a fascinating, addictive read with a menacing atmosphere throughout. Be prepared to lose a couple of days if you pick up this book, you won’t regret it.

I’d anticipated this book for a couple of months having been told by my Squad Pod ladies that it was going to be a fantastic read. It certainly was, and even more than that, it was surprising too. Our setting is the city of Belfast, the Titanic sinking is still fresh in everyone’s minds. It’s especially fresh at Professor William Crawford’s house since his brother-in-law Arthur was on the ship. Crawford is our narrator and he introduces us to his happy, but chaotic household as the novel opens. He is a man of science, working at an institute both furthering scientific enquiry and teaching the next generation of engineers. He’s a sceptic, so when he finds out that his wife is visiting a medium and has been trying to contact her brother Arthur, he’s shocked and angry. There’s no question that this girl is a fraud, stringing his wife along with a show put on with the help of her shady family. Yet, the couple have lost their son Robert and Crawford’s grief is overwhelming. So when he hears Robert’s voice calling to him alongside an angry, vengeful Arthur who blames Crawford for his death, a small crack grows in his scepticism. What if he were to apply his scientific rigour to to this girl medium’s powers? If he could prove a link exists between this world and the next he could make a name for himself, not just in Ireland but all over the world. What I loved more than anything was the author’s ability to surprise, because as we neared the end I had no idea how the book and Crawford’s investigations would conclude. The theme of dishonesty is there right from the start, in Arthur’s reasons for being on Titanic, to the hidden note from their old maid who left in a hurry, and Elizabeth’s absence at weekly church meetings. By the end I felt triple bluffed, but couldn’t help smiling at how clever the author had been. As many of our characters find out, when it comes to being dishonest, the person we deceive most often is ourselves.

Wow! Will Dean does like to put his heroine in some terrifying situations. There is so much about this series that I love, then a good 20% that makes me feel a bit sick or unsettled. In the last book it was snakes that had me a bit on edge. This time? Well it’s saying something when a severed head is the most comfortable thing about Tuva’s investigation.We’re back in Gavrik, deep in the northern most part of Sweden and Tuva is back at the local newspaper, but has a more senior role and a new colleague to oversee in the shape of eager young newbie Sebastian. In fact, things are pretty good in Tuva’s world. This book picks you up and takes you on a fascinating and thrilling ride that builds in tension to a terrifying ending that I didn’t see coming at all. I had to stop reading at one point, because I realised I was so tense I was gritting my teeth! I’m sure the author has a hotline to my fears and this ending tapped into them perfectly. Needless to say, if I was Tuva, I’d be packing up the Hilux and leaving the hill folk to murder each other! I think the way the author depicts Tuva’s deafness is interesting. Usually Tuva uses it to her own advantage – taking her hearing aids out when she’s writing a piece means she can focus and taking them out at home means she can’t hear next door. However, it can also leave her vulnerable and the author uses it to intensify the horror element of the book, particularly towards the finale. There’s something about another person touching her hearing aids that feels so personal and also like a violation, depending on who it is. Every time I know a Tuva Moodyson book is coming, the excitement starts to build. By the time it’s in my hands I’m ready to drop all my other reading to dive in. Of course when something is so anticipated there’s also a fear about whether the book will live up to expectations. Bad Apples did not disappoint and is a fabulous addition to this excellent series.

This novel is exceptional. It’s beautiful, moving and speaks about women’s experience in such a unique, but brutally honest way. The author has written an incredible piece of auto-fiction, which is half memoir and half novel but all poetry. While I can’t claim to be anything like the writer, I know this is the way I’m currently writing at the moment – as close to poetry as prose can get. I have always referred to it in my notes as a patchwork quilt of different images stitched together to make the whole. Our narrator is a mother of three small children and she has a fascination with the Irish poem ‘Caoineadh Airt Ui Laoghaire’ where an Irish noblewoman laments the death of the her murdered husband. Such is her passionate grief, that on finding his body, she drinks handfuls of his blood and then composes this extraordinary poem. For our narrator, the poem has echoed down the centuries and is her constant companion. As she reads it aloud the poet’s voice comes to life. The author writes her own life to its rhythms and wants to discover the truth of the poem’s story. I loved how her recording of 21st Century motherhood is treated as an epic. I loved consciousness running through the book. As if her words join hundreds and thousands of others in a never ending stream of female consciousness. This isn’t just about putting your experience into the world, it’s about having a source of female wisdom to draw from whenever you need it. This is a female text and in it’s search for the meaning of women’s lives it is reassuring, it lets us know we’re not alone, but it also inspires us all to create meaning. To add our voice to the women’s wisdom, expanding that collective consciousness and making our mark.

I slowly became more and more intrigued by Elizabeth Gifford’s new novel. Even the title whetted my appetite for more of the same beautiful writing that made The Lost Lights of St Kilda such a memorable book. We’re still in Scotland, this is the late 1940’s and our heroine Caro lives with her husband Alasdair and baby Felicity in the Laundry Cottage situated in the grounds of his ancestral home. They met at Cambridge University and married less than six months later much to his mother Martha’s surprise. She was expecting him to marry someone of their class, maybe even their family friend Diana who’s valuing heirlooms at the family’s castle. Caro’s mother-in-law wanted her and Alasdair to live at the castle with her, but Caro wanted a little bit of privacy and distance. At Laundry Cottage she can still be in her dressing down at lunchtime or having a sleep while baby Felicity has a nap. Yet, the past is about to make it’s way into the present both physically and mentally. Caro is asked to research the family archives for a mysterious, missing member of the family. A great-grandmother seems to have been scrubbed from the archives, along with a missing diary from her husband Oliver’s trip to the Arctic. When the Laundry Cottage floods suddenly and workers inspect the Victorian drainage system they find a body of a woman. Could this be the missing bride? There is just so much to love about this novel: the well written characters; the intriguing mystery of the unnamed woman; the depth of research into the two time periods especially into societal changes, class difference and the lives of women. I heartily recommend it to all lovers of historical fiction, women’s lives and family secrets. This is one of those books that I loved so much, I will be buying a finished copy, despite having the proof. It’s so atmospheric, romantic, and deeply poignant.

I don’t know how many of you are Strictly Come Dancing fans, but I hope there are a few out there. Last night we watched the third episode this series and the professional dancers did one of their group numbers at the top of the show. Johannes was a handsome Prince and a ball was being held in his honour. As he entered the ballroom he saw the couples dancing on the floor, but seemed isolated and alone. Until a male dancer, Kai, stepped forward and asked him to dance. As they started to move round the floor his face lit up and so did mine. The other couples on the floor reformed until the ballroom was full of same sex couples. The books sits perfectly next to this Strictly dance, not just because of the subject matter but because both are simply little parcels of joy! I felt uplifted every time I sat to read a few pages. There’s a little link to Strictly too, as Albert reminisces about a trip to Blackpool when he was a young man with his friend George. They visit the iconic tower ballroom and George is taken with the dancers whirling round the floor. He asks Albert to think of a world where they could take a turn round the floor like every other couple there. George exclaims how romantic it is and Albert agrees. It would be romantic, but it’s inconceivable for two men to partner up and take to the floor. In fact it seems so taboo that Arthur imagines there’s a written rule against it. The author reminds the reader that there are years of prejudice behind stories like Albert’s. The tears of emotion behind Strictly’s same sex dance routine are there because what’s now accepted enough to be on family television prime time on Saturday night, used to elicit abuse, rejection and even criminal charges. So I found this book moving and I really did fall utterly in love with Albert. The story was heartfelt and uplifting. I would really recommend it to anyone looking for beautiful characters to engage with and story full of human emotion.

I’ve been very lucky to receive a pile of books for my birthday and some of them very special indeed. My partner and stepdaughters bought me Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land, Miriam Margoyle’s This Much Is True and Liane Moriarty’s Apples Never Fall. Friends brought me some Moomin notebooks as well as The Haunting Season and a signed city of Billy Connolly’s new autobiography Windswept and Interesting which is signed on the spredges.

Added to this I had an anonymous present of a beautiful paper cut copy of Sense and Sensibility. I also had some Bert’s Books vouchers from my wonderful Squad Pod ladies so my beribboned purchases can be see on the pile, mainly paperback copies of books I’ve missed, because I can’t read every book. I’m so thoroughly spoiled that I feel very lucky.

Next month I’m hoping to catch up on some spooky reads and I have an Orenda blog tour that I’m really looking forward to. Mostly I’m just looking for some extra time to do some more mood reading and work on my own writing for a while. See you next month.

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books Of The Month! September 2021.

I don’t know if it’s the same for everyone else, but September has flown by this year. I took a short break from blog tours and other obligations because we had so much going on at home. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to read what I want and although there are still three blog tour books, every single one of these I enjoyed immensely. Autumn always feels very celebratory to me because I have my birthday, Halloween, Bonfire Night then into December. I always have an MS relapse in September as the change of seasons begins. The fluctuation of temperature from one day to the next seems to irritate my central nervous system so I’m currently struggling with vertigo, blurred vision and nerve pain. I’ve shared my reading couch with my followers on Instagram and I’ve popped a pic at the bottom of this round-up so you can imagine me reclining with my dog and reading some of next months promising new releases. Happy Autumn everyone 🎃 🍁

The Shadowing by Rhiannon Ward.

In Southwell, just up the road from where I live, is a restored workhouse owned by the National Trust. I have been meaning to visit for a long time and I think this book will be the thing that pushes me into making the time. This is a delicious slice of Gothic/Historical fiction with an interesting female heroine. Hester is from a Quaker family in Bristol, with a tyrannical father who is rather extreme in his beliefs. He doesn’t allow colour or music in his home, and despite having a stroke he can still catch Hester with a slap here and there. Her mother Ruth receives a letter from Southwell Union Workhouse informing the family of the death of Hester’s sister Mercy. Mercy disappeared with the youngest boy’s tutor a short while ago, despite being engaged to the son of family friends. It was a scandal and their father has forbidden them to talk about Mercy ever since. It seems Hester was abandoned by her suitor and now her parents would like Hester to travel to Southwell, to find out what happened to Mercy and where she is buried. This is the furthest Hester has travelled alone and she anxiously wonders what she will find. Her quest is complicated by a gift she can’t control. Hester has a ‘shadowing’, meaning she can see and feel spirits. This gift may prove useful especially as she can feel Mercy by her side already. This is a fabulous book, with a Gothic atmosphere, a plucky and likeable heroine and that hint of the supernatural.

The Spirit Engineer by A.J.West.

This is my current read. I’m halfway through and I’m enjoying it so much it has already become a favourite . Set in Belfast, just two years after the Titanic sank, this is a society with a growing interest in spiritualism and seances to contact their lost loved ones. Professor William Crawford has always been a man of science and reason, but when he finds his wife has secretly been sitting in a circle he follows her one evening. However, instead of exposing the medium as a sham he hears voices – possibly from the other side? This intrigues him, but would spirits really make contact through him or is this a parlour trick? This is actually based on a true story and features real people in William Crawford and medium Kathleen Goligher. It also involves Arthur Conan Doyle who was fascinated with mesmerism and other supernatural happenings, and Harry Houdini, famous escapologist and magician. I was pulled into William’s world immediately, and I’m really enjoying the humour as well as the spooky goings on. A fantastic read so far and my review will follow in a couple of days.

The Lighthouse Witches by C. J. Cooke.

This is a fascinating tale from the writer of last year’s The Nesting. Set on a remote Scottish Island, with a hint of The Wicker Man about it, Liv and her three daughters arrive at a lighthouse named The Longing. We’re not sure what they’re driving away from but Liv jumped at an opportunity to paint a mural in the lighthouse for an eccentric millionaire who wants to use it as a writing retreat. The girls set up home in the bothy next door, but then some unusual happenings leave them wondering exactly what’s going on in this lonely place. There are some really unsettling scares for the family: a baby floating in flood water that turns out to be a doll; a child’s skinny arm creeping out from behind Liv’s paint supplies; a near naked and very dirty little boy appearing at the bothy, with no one on the island interested when he disappears again. Liv wonders why the lighthouse is named The Longing and finds a whole history involving the island’s women and the 16th – 17th Century witch hunts sanctioned by King James IV. This is a brilliant combination of the supernatural and the historical. I enjoyed it immensely.

Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith.

Despite it’s incredible size, there wasn’t a second of this fifth book in the Cormoran Strike series that I didn’t enjoy. From the moment Strike meets his new client I was engrossed in the story. I must admit to being a little in love with the tall, dark, private investigator. I love the author’s slightly shabby descriptions of him with his unkempt curly hair, awkward gait from his prosthetic leg and his broken nose. However. I’m also incredibly fond of his business partner Robin and the obvious love that flows between them, despite both of them denying it, even to themselves. We meet the pair with Strike’s agency in a good place – there’s a waiting list for clients, three new members of staff and Robin is now a full partner in the business. Some things stay the same though -Robin still drives the Land Rover, Strike is still smoking and living in the attic above the office, and there is still that unresolved tension around how Robin and Strike really feel about each other. Strike is in Cornwall, visiting his aunt and uncle, the closest people he has to parents. Strike’s father is Johnny Rokeby, rock musician and tabloid fodder. Strike’s mother was a beautiful, bohemian groupie who never had an idea of how to be a mum and abandoned Strike to his Aunt Joan in his primary school years. Joan is possibly, after Robin, the most important person in his world and she’s had a diagnosis of terminal cancer. While drinking with best mate Davey at the local pub, Strike is approached by two women. Anna tells Strike the story of her mother’s disappearance over forty years ago. She was working as a GP in London and saw a last minute patient, before leaving to meet a friend in a nearby pub. She never arrived. Despite extensive investigations she appears to have vanished into thin air. They make an agreement with Strike that he will look into it for a year. With several investigations ongoing and a long waiting list, this looks like the busiest the agency has ever been, but how will Strike manage his workload and spend time with Joan when he needs to? The case is a labyrinth of twists and turns, and the GP sounds like a fascinating woman. There are a few side cases that create extra interest and even humour. This is the most personal of the Strike novels as we watch him deal with losing the woman who has been a mother to him. The personal and the private investigations are balanced well and I was drawn in by both.

Freckles by Cecilia Aherne

This book by Cecilia Aherne was a complete surprise, considering I’ve never enjoyed her books before. Something about the blurb on NetGalley caught my eye and before I knew it I’d succumbed to her latest character. Allegra Bird’s arms are scattered with freckles, a gift from her beloved father. But despite her nickname, Freckles has never been able to join all the dots. So when a stranger tells her that everyone is the average of the five people they spend the most time with, it opens up something deep inside. The trouble is, Freckles doesn’t know if she has five people. And if not, what does that say about her? She’s left her unconventional father and her friends behind for a bold new life in Dublin, but she’s still an outsider. Now, in a quest to understand, she must find not one but five people who shape her – and who will determine her future. I truly fell in love with Allegra’s view of the world and how she copes within the confusing levels of human emotion she encounters. I found nearly all the characters in the novel endearing, Allegra’s daily routine was set in stone, but people seem hellbent on disrupting that! This wouldn’t be a Cecilia Ahern book without being heartwarming and full of humour, but this story is more complex than that. There are darker characters, parts that are more painful or remain unresolved, that show a real maturity and development. It’s about being proud of where you’re from, but also finding your authentic self – a journey that sometimes needs some distance from where we grew up. I loved the contrast between the city streets of Dublin and the wild Atlantic island Allegra calls home. In a way this is the decision she has to make. Where is home? Which place truly suits the person she is instead of the woman she thought she had to be in order to be accepted. Does she know that when we are our authentic selves, we attract people to us anyway. Our true five perhaps? All through the novel I found myself responding emotionally to the story, but Allegra’s character simply made me smile and perspective on her world made me smile inside. Not that she needs it, because I know millions love her writing, but if Ahern keeps writing characters like Freckles, she has found herself a brand new fan.

Blasted Things by Lesley Glaister

This is the first novel I’ve ever read by Lesley Glaister and when I finished, I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of her before. Set in one of my favourite historical periods, during and after WW1, this novel was evocative and moving. The author clearly has a deep understanding of the period and the rapidly shifting society her characters are living in. Her characters are fully rounded, with depths to get lost in and the effects of trauma to unravel and understand. This is an exploration of the effects of war and loss on our two main characters, Vincent and Clementine. The scars are both physical and mental, halting their progress as they try to move forward and making it very difficult to be who they truly are. When they, quite literally, bump into each other a strange relationship emerges that will have a haunting resolution. I could see these two people in my mind’s eye and I found myself thinking about them, even when the book was closed. Clem is working as a nurse at the front when she meets Powell, a doctor in the Red Cross hospital but also her soulmate. However, he died in a freak accident and Clem is seriously injured. When she recovers she has to cope with her grief and the matter of her fiancé from before she ‘ran away to war’. Her reaction is to opt for safety, so married to a GP and a mum, we meet Clem again. She is a shadow of the woman she was. So when she’s in an accident with a man who reminds her of Powell what will she do? Haunting, historical tale that will make you think about the consequences of war.

The Hidden Child by Louise Fein.

Set pre- WW2 like her previous novel People Like Us this is set in England instead of Germany and looks at the eugenics movement through the experiences of one family. We meet sisters, Eleanor and Rose, whose parents died young, and as a result of supporting each other from then on, have been inseparable. The book opens as Eleanor and her daughter Mabel set off on their pony and cart to meet Rose at the railway station. She is returning from a period of time in Paris, to live with Eleanor and her husband Edward. However, before Rose arrives something very strange happens to Mabel, as she sits quietly on the grass outside the station. One of the train guards notices first and alerts Eleanor, who rushes over to sit by her daughter. Mabel is making repetitive jerky movements, her eyes have rolled back and she is oblivious to Eleanor’s attempts to rouse her. Once it’s passed, Mabel seems exhausted and she travels back to the house, wrapped in a blanket and looking very sleepy. Eleanor’s concern is twofold: firstly, will Mabel be ok? Secondly, how will husband Edward respond if it happens again, considering he’s one of the leading lights of the eugenicist movement? I felt so much for Mabel in this story, unable to control her own body or what happens to her as her parents disagree over the best way to keep her safe. I felt the story was also about Eleanor’s journey, from obedient and traditional wife to realising she must change her relationship with Edward if she’s to save her daughter. This is a fascinating insight into eugenics and it’s effect on the lives of those deemed ‘undesirables’ in society. I loved its focus on the English and American atrocities committed in it’s name, showing it wasn’t solely the Nazis who believed in a master race. A brilliant piece of historical fiction.

Next month is so exciting. Here are just some of the books on my tbr for October

And the return of one of my all-time favourite heroines Tuva Moodyson in Will Dean’s Bad Apples.

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books of the Month! August 2021.

This month’s reading has been less frenetic than the last two months. There are a couple of reasons for this: I consciously wanted to take on less blog tours; I was expecting to have a procedure on my spine this week. Then crashing into this came my father’s illness flaring up and I’m still supporting my husband who has been struggling with PTSD. There’s always a lot going on in life, but this was just too much. I couldn’t think clearly, so reading anything that I hadn’t chosen was a chore. So aside from books I’d already read and had scheduled, I decided to spend the rest of the month reading exactly what I wanted. I’ve enjoyed just browsing the (overstuffed) shelves and picking something out purely because it suited mood. After a literature degree and half way through an MA, I’ve learned to read things I’m not enjoying or find challenging, but this month life was challenging enough. I didn’t have my procedure in the end, but I know it will happen soon. Things have settled but I am continuing to choose blog tours carefully and instead get through my proofs and the NetGalley checklist for the next couple of months. These were my favourite reads for August.

Cecily was a fascinating read about a woman I didn’t know well, but who turned out to be an ancestor of mine. Her grandmother was Katherine Swynford who was the mistress then the wife of John of Gaunt, Earl of Lancaster. She lived in Lincolnshire at Kettlethorpe Hall which is about seven miles from me. She’s now buried at Lincoln Cathedral with her eldest daughter Joan, who happens to be Cecily’s mother and my great-great-great (x infinity) grandmother too. It was fascinating to meet this strong, principled woman who has much more political sway than I imagined. Beginning with her front row seat at the execution of Joan of Arc, we see Cecily’s resolve in her determination to witness the event, to not look away. We then delve into the court of Henry VI and see the beginnings of the cousin’s war, with Cecily firmly on the white rose side of Yorkshire. She gives birth to two kings of England, lived to see her granddaughter marry Henry VII combining the houses of York and Lancaster, and was great-grandmother to Henry VIII. There is so much more to her story, this is just background, so if you love strong heroines and the intrigues of the Royal court this is the one for you.

I’m sure regular readers are totally fed up of me banging on about how wonderful the Skelfs are, but I’m never going to stop. There are more feisty women here, in fact a whole family of them. Dorothy is the grandmother and she runs the family funeral business from her home in Edinburgh. Daughter Jenny also lives above the business, but she concentrates on the private investigation business. Granddaughter Hannah lives with her girlfriend Indy, and is just starting her PhD in the astrophysics department. The book starts with a curious find, when the Skelf’s dog fetches a human foot in the park! This sets Dorothy on a mission to find out where it came from and what had been chewing it. Hannah is investigating for her supervisor, because he’s had a reply to one of his messages sent into outer space. Aliens have never contacted us before – the Great Silence of the title – so why now and who could it be really? Finally, Jenny is investigating an elderly lady who appears to have an a Italian gigolo. Yet, her ex- husband Craig still looms large. Could he have escaped prison and gone into hiding somewhere close to home? Doug Johnstone is a magician who holds the threads of these stories and combines them in perfect harmony. His women are real and quirky – pensioner Dorothy teaches drumming, goes to clubs, has a younger lover and thinks nothing of stepping into danger when necessary. I love the calm, quiet Indy too. Gritty, feminist, philosophical and a great crime novel.

Tammy Cohen was a new author for me, so I was pleased to have the time to try her novel The Wedding Party. Lucy and Jade are getting married in Kefalonia, and thanks to her eye for detail everything is going to be perfect. It’s close family and friends only, so the only wild card should be her sister Jess who has never really played by anyone else’s rules. There are a couple of last minute hitches – Jess pulls a double whammy by wearing a psychedelic dress instead of the dusky pink they agreed for the matron of honour and brings a random stranger she met the day before. Jase’s mum could have caused another row by turning up in a white dress – ‘it’s called bone darling’. Lucy manages to overlook these setbacks, she’s more worried about the costs that have really added up alarmingly. Wedding planner Nina is asking for the next instalment, but she’s got her own problems involving money lenders. In-between the wedding weekend chapters, there are transcripts of police interviews so we know there’s an incident to come. The writer sets each character up so we can see their secrets, but which ones will be exposed? We also get to know a character through their therapy journal, with a terrible upbringing and so much trauma to process, what chaos will she bring to the wedding? More to the point, who is she? Also, who is the old lady they see washing her breasts in the airport toilets and why is she hanging around them in worryingly immodest swimwear? This is a great thriller, and is appallingly addictive. I read it in four hours straight one Sunday. It also left a lasting impression with regards to not judging others and being kind. This was like opening a big bar of chocolate in my house; dangerous, delicious and you know everyone will love it.

This is an incredible story of one girl’s fight to be who she is and make her own decisions about her life. Awais Khan has written a compelling story around the issue of honour killings in Pakistan. There are thought to be around 1000 of these killings every year in the country, and these are just the ones that the authorities get to know about. In an interview with EasternEye.com Khan said he’d chosen fiction to tell this story instead of non-fiction or journalism, because it has room for imagination, but also creativity and it’s his creation of this wonderful character Abida, that brings to life the real horror of how women can be treated in Pakistan. Through falling in love with her spirit and determination, we feel connected and emotional about what she goes through. Some scenes are tough to read, but they need to be. I will hold up my hand and say I didn’t fully understand the moral code that allows a man to feel honour at killing one of their own. However, in such a deeply patriarchal society a woman loses her honour through immodesty – dressing in a Western way, staying out late, meeting with a man, sexual activity before marriage, refusing an arranged marriage. A man’s honour is based on his masculinity and that means being the head of his house, but by ignoring an immodest woman in the family their honour is lost. What’s most moving though, is Abida’s father Jamil and his quest to find his daughter. That one man is willing to stand up for his daughter, rather than obey an outdated code of masculinity, means so much. Their relationship is like an oasis within what she goes through. Hard hitting, but ultimately very uplifting.

I’ve waited a little while to read this one, through lack of time and too many blog tours. It was a wonderful surprise with its depth of characterisation and psychological insight. Connie and Stella are strangers. They live thousands of miles apart, but two traumatic events bring the two of them together and they begin to talk. When they come together, it’s in a way nobody would expect. Connie lives in Dubai with her husband and children, struggling to get used to being an ex-pat, not working, and the social injustice she sees. Stella is sole carer for her mother, a smothering narcissist who is now struggling with dementia. As Stella recovers from her trauma she finds it hard to talk about it, but feels like she’s talking to Connie in her head, so it’s easier. I really enjoyed this exploration of identity and how we construct our ‘self’. The characters tell the story and I felt completely drawn into their world. I thought the author really explained what happens when there’s a gap between who we are and who we present to the world. Very different to her debut novel, but showed the author’s range and skill. Will linger long after you’ve read the final page.

This was another novel I’d been wanting to read for a long time and in one of my favourite genres – Scandi Noir. This is the first in the author’s Island Murders trilogy, which is already a hit in the author’s native Sweden. We follow detective Hannah Duncker as she returns to her home town, a place where she’s renowned for being the murderer Lars Duncker’s daughter. Needless to say not everyone is happy to have her back in town. Her first case brings another blast from the past when she realises that the victim is the son of her best school friend Rebecka. It’s well known that Rebecka’s ex-husband Axel was violent towards her, so they need to talk to him, but he seems antagonised by the police and Hannah in particular. Could he have killed his own son? Told in dual timelines, we follow Hannah and the investigation as well as the 24 hours before Joel’s death, told entirely from his perspective. The reason I originally started to read and watch Scandi Noir, was because it depicted how violent crime affected the families and friends involved. Instead of an action-packed macho thriller, this book used a more feminine gaze, choosing to show the devastation caused emotionally instead. From Joel’s nuclear family and slowly tracking outwards to friends, teachers, neighbours we see all the victims of a murder. As each narrative came closer to revealing the answers, the tension started to build. I thought the story dealt with a very timely issue and all aspects of the case felt well resolved. However, when it came to Hanna’s own story, there were enough loose ends left to explore in more detail over the next couple of books. I would recommend this to all crime lovers, but particularly those who enjoy an intelligent, complex and emotional crime novel that focuses on the victims rather than fetishising the killer.

A Look Ahead to September

So, with less to read for blog tours I will be concentrating on proofs and NetGalley this coming month. Here are some of the books I’m hoping to read next month, some of which have a slightly autumnal feel and look forward to Halloween.

Happy Reading ❤️📚

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books Of The Month! July 2021.

This month has been something of a break from writing, since a perfect storm seems to have hit our household. The opening up from restrictions hasn’t felt much like a reprieve to us, despite being double vaccinated. This may be because we know someone hospitalised with COVID-19 despite their vaccinations, and I still have an underlying condition that makes me vulnerable. The house had its obligatory ‘three things go wrong at once’ – the most spectacular being the afternoon I pulled the bath plug out, but instead of the water draining in the usual way it poured through a hole in the kitchen ceiling onto our island and hob. So when my partner suddenly became unwell a couple of weeks ago, I knew I had to take a break. It was just in time, because since then my multiple sclerosis has flared back up – probably due to stress and the weird jumps in temperature we’ve been having. So, instead of reading for blog tours, I’ve read what I wanted and I’m taking my time writing it up. I had enough drafts written to keep the blog ticking over, but not anything as organised as usual. We bloggers are a conscientious bunch, especially my fellow #SquadPod members, so having to let people down in this way really does hurt. Even when we know it’s for our own good. So I’ve been a bit frustrated, but despite this I have really enjoyed my reading picks this month and here are my favourites.

This Shining Life is one of those novels that I enjoyed so much and had such a beautiful cover that I splurged and bought the Goldsboro Books edition. I took this photograph to show people that bloggers do buy finished copies of books, even when they have a physical proof. I keep them all in a special cabinet in my dining room. This is a very special book about love and loss. Rich is a life and soul of the party type of man. So when he dies it’s very hard for his family to make sense of the huge Rich-shaped hole in their lives, especially for his son Ollie who is on the autistic spectrum. What the author shows brilliantly, is that when we face a huge upheaval or loss in our lives, we experience it through our own filter. Made up of our own experiences, the emotions we find it easy or difficult to express, our own bias or prejudice. The author has written such an authentic story of loss by exploring each character’s filters, their earlier life experiences and the unique relationship they had with Rich. We each grieve in a unique way because the way we connected with that person is unique. In dying, Rich has given them all the secret of the meaning of life. Ollie thinks the gifts Rich has left for them hold the secret. Rich has bought each person something he thinks will remind them of him, in the context of the relationship they had. Knowing each person will miss him in a different way. I thought the book was emotionally intelligent, full of complex and interesting characters and explored beautifully what happens when such a big personality is taken from a family. A final mention must go to that beautiful cover, with Ollie using his binoculars to focus on the beautiful variety of life in the world. Simply stunning.

Next up is Deborah Moggach’s latest, The Black Dress. I loved her novel The Carer from last year so hoped this would be just as good. Actually this was better, probably her best novel to date. Pru’s husband has walked out and has set up home in their little holiday cottage by the sea. Her only consolation is her friend Azra, always a little too wild and boho for Pru’s husband’s taste, but a great solace as she contemplates living the rest of her life without her other spoon. To be honest with herself, it’s not really him that she misses. She misses their life together – the past memories of playing on the beach with the children, always having someone next to her in bed, and those in-jokes that they would only get together. Now the bed feels huge and Pru feels numb and bewildered. In something of a daze, she has to attend the funeral of an old friend, but at the church she notices that something’s not quite right. There are people she expected to see, who aren’t here. The eulogy doesn’t sound like the friend she knew. Then the penny drops – she’s at the wrong funeral. Yet somehow she gets swept along with it and finds she has a good time, conversation, a few drinks and banter with some of the other guests. So when she sees the black dress hanging in a charity shop, she allows herself to wonder why not? Maybe she will meet a nice widower to bring some excitement into her life. With this in mind she starts to buy the paper and circle the obituaries in the funeral section. Despite covering themes of infidelity, coercive control, death and grief it’s also warm and witty. I thoroughly enjoyed the black humour. The author does an excellent job of lampooning middle class morés, like a 21st Century Austen, then in the next breath she pulls off an incredible reveal, worthy of any thriller and I really hadn’t seen it coming. Pru is a central character you can’t help but fall in love with. She’s far from perfect, in fact at times she’s conniving, manipulative and full of revenge, but she’s also warm, caring, funny and at her best she’s full of zest for life. Yet underneath it all, she’s lonely and very vulnerable. I loved being able to read about a woman of a certain age, still having an exciting life, when often women over 50 are dismissed as uninteresting. Pru enjoys socialising, dressing up and having sex too. Despite her faults, I was hanging on till the last page hoping that Pru battled through – even if her methods were … unexpected. This wonderful book cemented the author’s reputation with me, as a writer whose next book I would buy without hesitation

This was my very first Will Carver novel and I came away wondering where he’d been my whole life. This novel had such a darkly, delicious opening that I kept smiling to myself. The Beresford is an old forbidding looking building in the city. In my imagination this conjured up the Gothic looking Dakota Building, where John Lennon lived and was killed back in 1981. Inside The Beresford are a number of apartments, bigger and better appointed than you would expect for the money. They even have large roll top baths. The perfect size to dismember and dissolve a body. Resident Abe finds that as soon as one tenant ‘leaves’ another will ring the doorbell in sixty seconds. The building is presided over by a lovely old lady called Mrs May, who starts every day the same way. By brewing a coffee while the taps run, then enjoying a bath with bubbles, followed by eggs with her cold coffee. She has a routine, and is found at the same time every day pruning the roses in the front garden. As any fan of the film The Ladykiller’s knows, you should never underestimate sweet looking, little old ladies. She knows everything that happens at the Beresford because the same thing happens over again – some people leave and some people just disappear. Occasionally they stay. For a price. I loved the dark humour, the unexpected murders and the characters who pass through – sometimes in seconds! Maybe one day the author will venture further into the other side of The Beresford? The side Abe calls ‘the bad side’. If so, I’ll be waiting – but I’ll probably stick to reading in the daylight hours.

Rob Parker is another author I’ve never read before and I was told I would enjoy his writing. I jumped at the opportunity to read this and truly enjoyed it. I loved that this novel was partially set in my family’s stomping ground around Liverpool. The fact that I knew every setting as the story unfolded added to the gritty reality of this brilliant crime novel. DI Foley’s life becomes very complicated when a trench containing 27 bodies, in various states of decomposition, turns up in woodland on his Warrington patch. It encroaches on family life immediately as he has to leave his son’s own christening to attend and his wife Mim has to hold the fort. However, things become even more complicated, and terrible, for his family, when one of the 27 turns out to be Brendan’s nephew Connor. Criminality isn’t that far away when it comes to the male members of Brendan’s family, the most sinister being his father. What this novel shows is that whether you are a criminal or police officer, when your family are on the line, it’s surprising how blurred the lines between good and bad really get. There’s no holding back on how bloody and terrible these crimes can be, and it was slightly disorientating to see so much violence in a place I visit for fun. Even with something we imagine is very black and white, like the law, there are always shades of grey. It’s simply a case of how much compromise we can live with and how far the apple really does fall from the tree.

Helene Flood has written a fascinating thriller about a therapist, set in Oslo. It’s complexity of character and their motivations probably comes from the fact that the author is a psychologist. Straightaway, I was invested and really excited me to get inside the character’s minds. On a normal Friday when Sara is getting ready to see her three clients, her husband Sigurd is on a boy’s weekend. He has even called her by lunchtime to tell her he arrived safely. The truth is that Sigurd never arrived at all. The author keeps us brilliantly on edge with red herrings and reveals galore. We see the police through Sara’s eyes, which might explain why they seem curiously non-committal about everything. We never truly know how they feel about Sara or where the investigation is going. Obviously she is a possible suspect. However, there are points in the investigation, when Sara is sure there is an intruder at the house, where they seem indifferent to her worries and her safety. I was never quite sure whether Sara was the ultimate unreliable narrator and would turn out to be implicated in her husband’s disappearance. She seemed detached from the reality of it, even within the context that their relationship has deteriorated over time. The ending was a surprise and the double reveal was beautifully done, and very satisfying. I stayed up late to finish the last few chapters, because I was so hooked on the story. This was a psychological thriller I would definitely recommend.

So that’s this months recommendations. I’m not sure what August will bring, except for an Orenda blog tour so I have a lot of choice. Here’s my tentative TBR for August.

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books Of The Month! June 2021.

Wow! June has been quite a month when it comes to fiction releases and I’ve had an absolute blast reading them. I think this is the biggest number of five star reads I’ve had in one month – usually I might include a couple of four star books here and there on the list, but not this month. There was a point when I’d read four, 5 ⭐️ novels in a row and was scared to pick up another in case I was disappointed! This is going to be a bumper year and I may have to do a ‘21 of 2021’ to accommodate everything I want to include in December. I’m hoping that my reading luck continues into July. Happy summer reading everyone!

I must give special mention to Karen at Orenda Books who said to me back in March that I needed to read the Jubilant June books they were publishing, particularly Everything Happens For A Reason. She said I would cry and I cried buckets, but I absolutely loved it too. Rachel is struggling to cope with the grief, after her baby son, Luke, is stillborn. Using the type of platitude many people resort to in the face of such terrible loss, she is told that ‘everything happens for a reason’. Unable to cope with the idea that Luke’s death is senseless, Rachel latches on to the idea. She thinks about saving the man who wanted to throw himself onto the train tracks and wonders if it is a coincidence that this was the very same day she found out she was pregnant? Rachel looks for the man she saved, in order to find the meaning in her experience. This is a stunning story of love, loss and hope.

In One Last Time we meet Anne, long term carer for her husband Gustav after a series of strokes. Not long after Gustav is transferred to a nursing home, Anne is diagnosed with cancer. This novel is an exploration of living, while dying. However, it’s also about motherhood and the relationship Anne has with her daughter, which was complicated by her caring role. Daughter Sigrid believes she was neglected by Anne, who chose Gustav’s needs over those of her children, but we also see Sigrid’s mothering skills and how they are interpreted by her daughter. This is a novel about the things we want to say to those we love, how they are meant and how they are received. Brilliantly perceptive, moving, honest and real.

Finally from Orenda is This Is What It Means To Be Human. Veronica lives in Hull with her adult son Sebastian. Sebastian is on the autistic spectrum and in a lot of ways acts the same way he did when he was small, even continuing to attend his childhood swimming club. However, there is one new interest in his life; Sebastian wants to have sex and although he is quite humorous in the way he expresses this, it is a natural urge. Usually Veronica helps with his hobbies, but she doesn’t know what to do with this one. After fruitless visits to their GP and a sexual health clinics, Veronica considers an escort. Could this be the answer to Sebastian’s prayers? This is a brilliantly ground breaking book that shows disabled people do have sex. You will laugh and cry at Sebastian’s quest to find a partner and Veronica’s realisation that her son is becoming a man. This really is am incredible novel from a writer at the peak of her skills.

This is a truly exceptional novel, one I’m sure I’ll read again and again. Ruth is struggling for direction in life and thinks she has chosen a path with Alex – a married man who left his wife and children to live with her in her tiny flat. Yet it doesn’t feel like the right fit. Can Ruth end the relationship knowing the havoc caused to Alex’s family? Yet she can’t remain, knowing this wasn’t what she expected. She takes a drastic decision, to leave London and work in a whale sanctuary in New Zealand. However, during her flight the unthinkable happens, Europe is wiped out in some sort of nuclear event that is also on its way down under. Ruth tries to find her destination and ends up on a beach, with a dying stranded whale and a man called Nik. Miraculously saved by climbing inside the whale, Ruth knows they are possibly the last people on earth. This book is extraordinary, not just the post-apocalypse survival story but the examination of love. Is it flowery exclamations or simply working together every day, them waking up one day with the realisation you’re a team and you couldn’t live without each other. It’s also about our definition of ‘self’ and who we are when everything we know and love is stripped away. I absolutely love this stunning novel and expect it to feature in my best books of 2021.

After my love of Elizabeth Buchan’s previous novel The Museum of Broken Promises, I was really excited about reading this on NetGalley. It follows two British women, living and working in Rome; one in the 1970’s as Italy is struggling out of fascism and one in the present day. Lottie has moved to Rome to live with her husband and work at the Archivo Espatriati. Her first job is to catalogue the papers of a woman called Nina Lawrence who worked in Rome in the 1970s as a garden designer, redesigning some of the gardens ruined by war. However, it seems that Nina is a woman of secrets and once Lottie starts to unravel her life and murder, she finds she may be in danger herself, attracting the attention of spies and the Catholic Church alike. The descriptions of Italy, and it’s incredible food, are vividly brought to life by the author and it’s a great chance to enjoy the Eternal City, However, the novel also asks serious questions, about where we belong, whether we drift through life or whether we make decisions based on a deep sense of duty to our religion, our family and our country. I think this novel cements Elizabeth Buchan as a ‘go to’ author for her sense of place, interesting and complicated women, and her wonderful historical detail.

I was absolutely enthralled by this great thriller from one of my favourite authors Lisa Jewell. In fact I read it in a weekend as a treat. Sophie and Shaun haven’t been together very long, but when he gets a teaching job at the exclusive private school Maypole House she decides to move out to the country with him. As a crime writer she can work anywhere, but she soon sniffs out a real-life mystery on her new doorstep. One year ago, in the woods behind their new house, Sophie learns that a young couple disappeared after a party. When she finds a buried box in her garden with the invitation to ‘Dig Here’, she can’t resist and unearths an engagement ring. Now she’s determined to find out what happened to young couple Tallulah and Zach, destined for a night in the pub, only to end up at a party at Dark Place – an historic house, situated in the woods. How did they end up with Scarlett Jacques and her friends when neither of them knew her. Mum Kim knows Tallulah would never have voluntarily left her baby, and neither would Noah. Yet neither of them have ever been found. Rumours abound about secret tunnels in the woods and they’re not the only twists and turns in this great thriller, along with a few red herrings and a totally unexpected ending. This book is ‘stay up till 3am’ sort of addictive.

An excellent thriller, filled with childhood trauma, psychological problems and the dynamics between people damaged in this way. Over two timelines we follow Nell in her final year of foster care and in a group home run by foster mum Meagan Flack, then one year later, living on the street in London. There’s a secret, deep down, that Nell can’t share or talk about, but it was the catalyst for her move to London with Joe. However Joe hasn’t weathered a winter on the streets as well as Nell, and when she discovers him entering a house with a blonde woman, she wants to know where he’s been, Nell observes Starling Villas from the coffee shop across the road. She doesn’t see Joe, but notices a young woman leaving the house and heading for a coffee. Thinking on her feet, Nell pretends to be in recruitment and when the girl opens up about the job at the house she concocts a story. Telling the girl her would- be employer is known to sexually harass his staff, she then poses as a potential employee and meets Robin, owner of the house. Now starts a game of cat and mouse, but who is the real predator? This is a great thriller, trying to solve two mysteries – what happened back in Wales a year ago and where are Joe and the blonde woman? Fragile is complex and atmospheric, exploring what happens when psychologically damaged people come together.

This was a book I’d been waiting to read – historical fiction with a focus on the treatment of women and those with mental health issues. Eugénie is the daughter in a middle class Parisian family, who has a very strong affinity with her grandmother. However, Eugénie has been keeping a secret from her whole family; since adolescence she has seen and been able to communicate with the dead. Trusting her grandmother, she confides in her about the presence of her grandfather who wishes to communicate with his wife. Despite seeming calm about Eugénie’s gift, the very next day her father takes her out in the carriage alongside her brother Theo, This is no ordinary outing. As the infamous Saltpétrière Asylum looms into view, she realises her grandmother has betrayed her and that the two men she should be able to trust most in the world are committing her to an asylum. Saltpétrière is run by Dr Charcot who has enthralled Paris society with his use of mesmerism on the women in his care. Coming up is the highlight of Paris’s season – the MadWomen’s Ball – where patients are given costumes to appear in for the amusement and fascination of the Paris elite. This is a book about women and the barbaric ways they could be treated and displayed, at the behest of the men in their family who have found them either mad, too intelligent, too excitable or struck with melancholy. I loved the strong female characters in the asylum, and the complicated relationship between Eugénie and Geneviéve. The novel’s strength is in these fascinating women and the way they defy the rules.

It’s been a very busy reading month with thirteen other books read over the last four weeks! Here are just a few of the books on my TBR in July. I’m hoping to have a quieter August and September so I can catch up on my NetGalley list and some great proof copies sent in the last few weeks. See you in July. Hayley xx