Posted in Netgalley

Windmill Hill by Lucy Atkins

One night in a remote hunting lodge with a Hollywood director causes an international scandal that wrecks Astrid’s glittering stage career, and her marriage. Her ex-husband, the charismatic Scottish actor Magnus Fellowes, goes on to find global fame, while Astrid retreats to a disintegrating Sussex windmill.

Now 82, she lives there still, with a troupe of dachshunds and her long-suffering friend, Mrs Baker, who came to clean twenty years ago and never left. But the past is catching up with them. There has been an ‘Awful Incident’ at the windmill; the women are in shock. Then Astrid hears that Magnus, now on his death bed, is writing a tell-all memoir. Outraged, she sets off for Scotland, determined to stop him.

Windmill Hill is the story of two very different women, both with painful pasts, and their eccentric friendship – deep, enduring, and loyal to the last.

I’m a big fan of Lucy Atkins and I love the multi-faceted female characters she creates and Windmill Hill is no exception. Astrid is in her eighties and shares her rather unique home with her friend Mrs Baker and several dachshund’s named after brands of gin. They live in a cottage attached to a windmill which has a quite a history but is now derelict and badly in need of renovation. We find the women in the aftermath of a terrible incident, something that is referred to but not explicit. A young writer is on her way to talk to Astrid about her ex-husband’s memoir. Nina has been hired by Magnus’s son Dessie and it’s Dessie who is shaping his father’s story and perhaps censoring the less palatable aspects of his life. Nina’s visit is about a party that took place in an old Tudor Lodge, where one thing happened between Magnus, the director Rohls and an aspiring young actress called Sally. Astrid was present and was blamed by the tabloids for the whole thing, it ruined her reputation, her career and her marriage. Dessie wants Nina to stick to the ‘official’ story, but Nina knows it’s not the truth and would like to hear it from Astrid. There’s also the fact that Magnus is dying and he would like to see Astrid one final time. Will she travel all the way to Scotland to confront him?

The more recent ‘incident’ that took place only a few months ago is only hinted at and involves Mrs Baker. She has always been mysterious, coming to the cottage as a cleaner, with no family or friends to speak of, then staying. I was immediately intrigued by her past, what was she escaping from? There are hints of a man called Alan, possibly a violent ex and I wondered whether her past had finally caught up with her. We’re seeing this through Astrid’s eyes and having it all replayed through Astrid’s memory. It didn’t take long for me to wonder whether Astrid’s memory was reliable. There’s an opacity to her recollection and the information comes in fits and starts. At one point I wondered if we were delving into magic realism, because she almost seems to slip back into the past like a time traveller. I think it was the intensity of the memories that drew her back. Some of these memories she avoided for a long time, popping them in a lockable box and tucking them to the back of her mind. So, once she did open the box it was like reliving the memory all over again. By dropping these little nuggets of information, the author kept me reading and wanting to know more too. However, Astrid also learns what can happen when these locked memories are addressed and let into the open. Lucy has a brilliant grasp of psychology and complicated relationship dynamics. We often see our ‘self’ as the constant, never changing core of us, but Lucy has been so clever here by showing us how fragmented, fleeting and changeable the self can be. There are maybe some core traits, but our sense as self can be eroded, altered by experience and through these women she shows that life has seasons.

The women’s relationship is the real strength of this novel and I loved that these two women lived together and are each other’s significant person. They’re not in a sexual relationship, but they are each other’s support, strength and companionship. These qualities are seriously underrated and when I look back in my own life it’s women who have kept me standing and helped me survive some of life’s hardest experiences. Some of the happiest times in my life have also been with my women friends. There’s also the fact that both women are survivors and that has created a strong bond between them. What better way to live your later years than with your best friend? Soul mates don’t have to be lovers. Men don’t come across well in this novel, although age and perspective have mellowed some of them and allowed them to be vulnerable and honest. Nina is a lovely character who I really warmed to soon after her arrival. The fact that she’s giving Astrid a right to reply speaks well of her, because she could have taken the money and written the book Dessie wanted. She’s more honest than that and is risking her contract by travelling to the windmill and asking awkward questions. She’s also open to friendship with these eccentric older women and their various dogs in wooly jumpers. A lot of people overlook friendship with people older than them, but they can be the richest relationships and I’ve learned so much from friendships with older men and women. Nina also wants to help the women with the windmill, a character in it’s own right. Through letters that Astrid finds in the windmill she’s let into the world of Lady Constance Battiscombe who owned the windmill in the 1920’s. I loved her antics and how they scandalised the village. It felt like the windmill also had a life of many seasons from the terrible story of the little girl killed by one of the sails, to Lady Constance’s bohemian scandals. Now, with the help of Nina, the windmill will shelter Mrs Baker, Astrid, the dogs and Tony Blair the taxidermy stoat, but will last beyond them too into another season. Full of wit, warmth and fabulous characters this is a great addition to Lucy’s body of work.

Meet the Author

Lucy Atkins is an award-winning British author and journalist. Her latest novel, MAGPIE LANE, was picked as a ‘best book of 2020’ by BBC Radio 4’s Open Book, the GUARDIAN, the TELEGRAPH and GOOD HOUSEKEEPING MAGAZINE. Her other novels are: THE NIGHT VISITOR (which has been optioned for TV), THE MISSING ONE and THE OTHER CHILD. Lucy is book critic for The Sunday Times and has written for publications including the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Times, and many magazines. She teaches on the creative writing Masters degree at the University of Oxford. 

She has written several non-fiction books including the Amazon #1 parenting guide, FIRST TIME PARENT (Collins). 

For news, events and offers see

Follow Lucy on Twitter @lucyatkins Instagram @lucyatkinswriter

Posted in Netgalley

The Seawomen by Chloe Timms

The memory of that day is a part of me now, tough like hardened skin. You never forget your first. You hope and pray it will be the last you ever see. You already know. Deep down. It’ll happen again and you will have to watch. The screaming, the waiting, watching her body tied down, the boat rocking and shunting, capsizing. Drowning. The point where you can see with your own eyes what it means to be a woman.

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

The book opens with a description of an untethering ceremony, throwing us directly into the brutality of the Keepers and the terror of the drowning woman. It’s a visceral opening and cleverly leaves the reader very aware of the fate our heroine could face. I felt this really added to the atmosphere of the book, raising the tension and our trepidation for this bold and intelligent young woman. We don’t want to see her life mapped out for her with all the restrictions it implies, but we equally don’t want to see her become the next victim of this barbaric, patriarchal society. I also felt strangely unmoored by the setting. I saw in my mind’s eye, a rugged and weather beaten Scottish isle, miles from it’s neighbours, yet I couldn’t pinpoint it’s place in history. The clothing and the attitudes are strangely old-fashioned. The religion is very puritan in tone: a personal relationship with God is encouraged, along with modesty, industry, male domination and of course obedience. Having been brought up in an evangelical church I can honestly say these attitudes and expectations, especially the pressure on young women, is still alive and well in those types of communities. So we could be in the 19th Century or it could be yesterday. Father Jessop’s preaching is that that Otherlands are toxic, their land contaminated and their ability to produce wholesome food curtailed by their inability to listen to their God. This gave me the sense of a dystopian future, where perhaps global warming has decimated most of the planet and only these remote outposts survive. Adding to this sense of disorientation are the islander’s names, more like surnames than forenames the men have names like Morley or Ingram whereas the women have names like Seren and Mull. I felt genuinely uneasy about the island and felt something evil lurked under the piety and the fatherly control, something far uglier, that a rebel like Esta might awaken.

Esta’s questing mind is what drives the story forward. There are too many secrets in her background. She knows that the burn scarring on one side of her face happened when she was a baby and the house burned down killing her mother and whoever else was inside. Only Esta survived and her grandmother’s negativity surrounding her only daughter is excessive and this doesn’t allow Esta to ask questions or hear about a different side to her mother. She knows that there’s more to her history than she’s been told. Another conundrum is her grandmother’s cousin Barrett, a fisherman who lives by the harbour, as close to the water as he could be. He lives alone after the death of his wife and is possibly the only islander to have come across a Seawoman up close and was injured in the process. However, he doesn’t talk about his wife or where he went in the sea after her death. There are too many questions for a girl who’s already unsure whether she believes in the dark myths of the Seawomen, or the darkness she is potentially harbouring at her centre. Despite her upbringing there is a part of Esta that does question, that challenges and most importantly can accept that those in authority might be wrong. It’s a self belief and confidence that will stand her in good stead for what’s to come.

I had so many suspicions and theories of my own as the story unfolded, not just about Esta’s past, but about the patriarchal society itself. The last third of the book really did pick up the pace and we see the iron will of Father Jessop and the cruelty he is prepared to inflict in order to stay in control. I was so deeply pulled in by Esta’s will and her instinct to get away, that I felt anxious. I wanted her to have something in life that most of us take for granted, another person who truly cares for her and loves her. This feeling intensified as she is promised in marriage and goes to live with her husband’s family; a family who have a very low opinion of her and a husband who loves someone else. The way the author opens up the truth of the island is by using one of the older women who has some of the answers and also shows Esta that there are others who think the way she does, they just fly under the radar so they remain safe. To Esta this is unthinkable, to know the truth but continue to live under the false tyranny imposed on them feels cowardly to her. What will happen when the Esta’s story reaches its conclusion, when she might face the very ceremony she feared so much at the beginning? Will these free thinking individuals stand up for her? Even more important to me, was whether or not Esta reaches the Otherlands and the freedom she longs for, or whether she is fated to be forever one with the sea.

Published 14th June 2022 by Hodder Studio

Meet The Author

Chloe Timms is a writer from the Kent coast. After a career in teaching, Chloe studied for an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Kent and won a scholarship for the Faber Academy where she completed their six-month novel writing course. Chloe is passionate about disability rights, having been diagnosed with the condition Spinal Muscular Atrophy at 18 months old, and has campaigned on a number of crucial issues. The Seawomen is her first novel.

Posted in Netgalley

Death of a Bookseller by Alice Slater

From listening to blogger’s conversations over the last couple of weeks I’ve learned a lot about reactions to this book and it seems to have completely divided readers. Maybe all bookworms can be divided into Lauras and Roaches – I certainly found a few clues about which on I was, so that made me smile at my own ridiculousness!

“I knew she was a bookseller as soon as I saw her. She wore a green beret, the colour of fresh pine needles, and a camel raincoat like a private detective in a film noir. Over one shoulder, the grubby straps of a shabby tote bag. It was decorated with a quote in a typewriter font, and although I couldn’t quite read it, I knew what it would say: Though she be but little, she is fierce, or Curiouser and curiouser, or Beware for I am fearless and therefore powerful.”

Brogan Roach works at a small London branch of Spines – the ubiquitous high street bookshop. She pretty much runs her own workday, keeping a close eye on her precious true crime section and sneakily reserving books, but secreting them in the staff room to read later. Things are about to change though, when a new team move in to pick up sales and improve the store. They’re like bookshop troubleshooters. Sharona is the manager and her team Laura and Eli are very experienced booksellers, eager to help the public and make sure the pyramid displays are perfect. Laura Bunting is just one of those people born to work with the public. She has an easy manner, quick to smile and engage customers in conversation, magically able to sell the book of the month. People warm to her immediately, but she hasn’t warmed to Roach.

“Laura Bunting. Her name was garden parties, and Wimbledon, and royal weddings. It was chintzy tea rooms, Blitz spirit, and bric-a-brac for sale in bright church halls. It was coconut shies and bake sales and guess-the-weight-of-the-fucking-cake.”

Laura and Roach are incredibly different characters anyway, but the rot sets in on a poetry evening. All the staff go, but Laura is performing. Her poetry takes the killer out of the murder narrative. She performs found poetry created from serial killer narratives, but telling the story of the women instead. Roach seems to miss the point though and as Laura comes off stage she greets her with excitement as if she’s a fellow true crime enthusiast. She wants to engage Laura in a debate over whether adding the violence she’s omitted might make the poems more exciting, or appeal to a larger audience. This would be fine if they were both enthusiasts, but they’re really not. For Laura, this is personal. Years before, Laura’s mother was the victim of Leo Steele, a prolific strangler. Laura hates true crime because it always tells the killer’s story. The whole point of her poetry is to right that wrong so she becomes furious when Roach misses the point. Other than that the pair just don’t click, not everyone does. Laura is the type of bookworm I know and love – she has the tote bag with the literary quote and all the book paraphernalia that signals to others she’s a bookworm. Roach sneers at this, she loves her genre but she seems to be reading exactly the same book throughout. It’s unforgivable when Roach re-inserts the violence and torture into Laura’s poetry, especially when it ends up published online. She has no concept of how much pain this will cause Laura, both personally and professionally. Laura’s full of memories of her mum that have nothing to do with her death or her killer and she thinks of her every time she walks to work.

“I think about the rhythm of my feet on the cracked path and about Patti Smith in New York, and of Joan Didion in Sacramento, and how each footstep is another connection between me and my neighbourhood, the streets on which I learned to ride a bike, where I walked hand in hand with my mother, and that despite all the pain, and the loss, and the grief, I’m tethered to Walthamstow because she still exists in the fabric of it, a ghost imprinted on every familiar sight. She knew these streets, these trees, these bricks, these bollards. These paving stones remember the bounce of her running shoes. I still can’t quite bring myself to walk past her old shop, even though it’s changed.”

Laura takes opportunities to dig at Roach and the genre she holds dear, but on Roach’s end there are sinister acts of sabotage. I found them disturbing, targeting Laura’s very sense of self. Both women are vulnerable in their own way with binge drinking and destructive sexual encounters shown as symptoms of low self-esteem. Laura’s encounters with Eli are particularly painful and indicative of relationships we settle for when we’re young and unsure of ourselves. Roach seems to have the confidence to embrace who she is, but is constructing her entire identity around her true crime fandom. There’s clearly either a jealousy or deep obsession where Laura is concerned. Is it Laura’s charm, her easy way with customers, her talent? Or is this much darker, an obsession with Laura’s proximity to a real life true crime story? Instead of seeing Laura’s work as an inspiration and a starting point for her own creative path, she decides to steal it. She even reasons that it isn’t theft, because many writers use other works in their own process. I was gripped, waiting to see if this would go further. I was unsure whether Roach even had her own identity, an idea of her authentic self, or whether this was another aspect of Laura she was willing to steal.

The book is fast paced and so addictive I read it in two short bursts over a Friday night and into Saturday morning. I was bleary eyed, but had to know. The title alludes to a death and I needed to know who would die and whether it was murder. Ironically, I found myself intrigued by the potential killers, just like any true crime fan. I loved the author’s sarcastic jibes about the book world and couldn’t help but laugh, even when I recognised myself. I thought she captured the loneliness of living and working in London as a young woman, especially in a relatively low paid job and the poor housing they find affordable. Locked in a solitary, damp flat with only books for company is a breeding ground for mental health issues, with heavy drinking used to self-medicate. It was tense towards an ending that could only be devastating for someone, but who? This was a brilliant debut thriller, that kept me rapt throughout.

Posted in Netgalley, Publisher Proof

In A Thousand Different Ways by Cecilia Ahern

Cecilia Ahern gets better and better. I loved Freckles, which I’d tried despite hating her early books (especially P.S. I Love You, a book I hated with such a passion I wanted to throw it on the fire). This was such a profound book and touched me deeply. It was no stretch to believe in our heroine Alice and her ability to see people’s emotions as colours. I could also empathise with how difficult it is for her to cope with. I identified with our heroine so strongly, both physically and mentally. To explain, ever since I was diagnosed with MS I get strange crossed wires with my senses, especially around sight and taste. If I see a beautiful display of daffodils, I suddenly taste delightfully sour sherbet lemons and my mouth waters to the point of pain. Every so often, if I’m anxious, the smell and taste of Mum’s cottage pie drifts in and I can actually experience it as a physical sense. It’s obviously something that’s comforting to me. These experiences are as vivid and real as if what I smell and taste is directly in front of me. I think this ability to make strange connections and perceive senses in different ways also stretches to other people’s emotions. There are times when someone walks into a room when I can feel their emotion as strongly as my own. It goes beyond a knowledge of body language, I can actually feel their anger, confusion, grief or joy in my own body. As you can imagine this has been incredibly useful in my counselling work, but it’s also completely exhausting, especially when a lot of people are around.

Alice is from a dysfunctional family and we’re thrown directly into their daily life, where elder brother Hugh and Alice are desperately trying to keep their family together. Alice has to get her younger brother up and ready for school, trying so hard not to wake their mother Lily and incur her wrath. Sometimes when they return Lily still hasn’t surfaced, but if she has it’s still best to remain under the radar because she’s usually irritable, lethargic and unable to connect with her children. Other days they may come home and find Lily up, dressed and full of energy. She may be frantically cooking pancakes, multiples of them, while working out the overheads of running a mobile pancake van. This tendency to flit between extremes is spoken of in whispers between the children, quick warnings to brace themselves or expect the worst. One day after school Alice comes home and finds Lily still in bed, even worse there’s an eerie blue mist emanating from the bed and filling the room. Alice fears the worst and rings an ambulance, then runs into her room and hides. It’s only when she hears her mother screaming and swearing at the paramedics that she realises Lily is alive. What’s baffling to Alice is that no one else seems to see the blue colour emanating from her mum.

I absolutely loved the way the author described Alice’s adjustment to having this vivid colour display wherever there are people. In the school environment it’s a nightmare for her, everyone gives off a different mix of colours, moving and flashing at her eyes until she starts to suffer migraines. Her insistence on wearing sunglasses to school brings her to the teacher’s attention and they think she’s playing up and being insolent. Hugh knows though and seems to realise instinctively that it’s part of Alice’s hyper-sensitivity; the colours are simply a physical manifestation of her ability to feel other’s emotions. Alice is what might be called an empath, she has a highly tuned radar for the moods and sensitivities of people in close proximity to her. As a child she sees the negatives in her situation, mainly because she doesn’t have autonomy. If Lily is blue, red, or at worst black, there’s nothing Alice can do to avoid it. She can get out of the house if Lily hasn’t seen her, but that’s not always possible, leaving her at the mercy of her mother’s mood. The author brilliantly conveys Alice’s feeling of powerlessness and the fear she feels as she comes home, unsure of what will happen when she goes inside. Scenes where Lily is at her most angry, in one scene towards Hugh and his plans to go to university, the furious and messy black colour Alice can see is really menacing. Yet they go on hiding Lily’s condition, because the alternative is social services and possibly having to split the family up.

I found myself really worried for Alice, because in the swirl of colours and emotions that assail her every hour of the day how can she ever find peace? Between that and the terrible situation at home there’s never a moment for her to develop herself. We only know who Alice is in relation to everyone around her. She becomes subsumed by their emotions, needs and wants to such an extent that her own don’t get a look in. I was devastated by her choice to stay at home after leaving school with Lily and her little brother, who’s rapidly becoming a violent criminal. His antagonism towards Alice comes from being the baby of the family and not yet being able to view his mum objectively. Lily has the ability to threaten and manipulate quietly, deliberately under the radar of her youngest son. So he only sees Alice’s attempts to stick up for herself, which cause such a furore that in his eyes Alice is the problem. I was worried that she would never be able to leave home, follow a career or get married and have her own children. She has become so emotionally literate though and still worries about her family members, even the ones who treat her badly. I was worried she wouldn’t be able to discover her authentic self and develop the life she wants without leaving. One catalyst for change is the man she happens to see on his way to work. He stands out instantly because he isn’t giving off any colours and Alice is so fascinated that she follows him. Andy is a strange mix of both restful and mysterious. Alice has never had to work so hard on getting to know someone, it’s both scary and intoxicating to peel back the layers. However, when they’re just ‘being’ – taking a walk or watching a movie – Alice can relax fully, because she can’t sense all the colours lurking underneath the surface. I was intrigued to know whether this could mean he is Alice’s ‘one’, but also whether there were other colourless people in the world.

From the perspective of this reader with a disability it was so interesting to watch someone negotiate the world with a difference like this. I’d probably call it an ability rather than a disability. I loved discovering whether Alice grows to cope with her colours or moves beyond the difficulties of her childhood. As we moved through her life I forgot she wasn’t a real person, that’s how well-rounded a character she is. I felt like I was having a conversation with one of my counselling clients because of the depth the author goes to and the richness of her inner world. It was a surprise to see how her age and experience changes her relationships with other characters. I found the final sections of the novel, deeply moving and strangely comforting. I felt privileged to have moved through life with this extraordinary woman.

Meet the Author

After completing a degree in Journalism and Media Communications, Cecelia wrote her first novel at 21 years old. Her debut novel, PS I Love You was published in January 2004, and was followed by Where Rainbows End (aka Love, Rosie) in November 2004. Both novels were adapted to films; PS I Love You starred Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler, and Love, Rosie starred Lily Collins and Sam Claflin.

Cecelia has published a novel every year since then and to date has published 15 novels; If You Could See Me Now, A Place Called Here, Thanks for the Memories, The Gift, The Book of Tomorrow, The Time of My Life, One Hundred Names, How To Fall in Love, The Year I Met You, The Marble Collector, Flawed, Perfect and Lyrebird. To date, Cecelia’s books have sold 25 million copies internationally, are published in over 40 countries, in 30 languages.

Cecilia Ahern writes on her Amazon author page that the thread linking her work is in capturing that transitional period in people’s lives. She is drawn to writing about loss, to characters that have fallen and who feel powerless in their lives. She is “fascinated and inspired by the human spirit, by the fact that no matter how hopeless we feel and how dark life can be, we do have the courage, strength and bravery to push through our challenging moments. We are the greatest warriors in our own stories. I like to catch my characters as they fall, and bring them from low to high. My characters push through and as a result evolve, become stronger and better equipped for the next challenge that life brings. I like to mix dark with light, sadness with humour, always keeping a balance, and always bringing the story to a place of hope.”

Posted in Netgalley, Publisher Proof

One For My Enemy by Olivie Blake

After being slowly enticed by the glowing reviews of Olivie Blake’s Atlas Six series, I finally decided to take the plunge with this one. I’m a huge fan of Alice Hoffman so magic, romance and witchery are right up my street. However, this was the same themes but with some added NYC grit and sass.

In New York City, two rival witch families fight for the upper hand.

The Antonova sisters are beautiful, cunning and ruthless, and their mother – known only as Baba Yaga – is the elusive supplier of premium intoxicants. Their adversaries, the influential Fedorov brothers, serve their crime boss father. Named Koschei the Deathless, his enterprise dominates the shadows of magical Manhattan.

For twelve years, the families have maintained a fraught stalemate. Then everything is thrown into disarray. Bad blood carries them to the brink of disaster, even as fate draws together a brother and sister from either side. Yet the siblings still struggle for power, and internal conflicts could destroy each family from within. That is, if the enmity between empires doesn’t destroy both sides first.

I found myself hurled straight into this vivid world. It is earth but harbours a secret; witch families are vying to supply humans with magical pharmaceuticals. I loved the idea that there might be another realm within our own, hiding in plain sight. Baba Yaga has a shop – like Lush but with extra ingredients – whereas the Federovs sell on the streets and in the bars and clubs of the city. The rivalry and language of their industry was very ‘gangster’, with specific territories and penalties for stepping out of line. The patriarchal Federovs and the the matriarchal Antonova sisters. The sisters, although doing the bidding of Baba Yaga, are kept in line by eldest daughter Marya, also known as Masha. The scene that grabbed me was Masha simply walking into the Federovs lair and demanding to see second brother Dima. There has been an issue with territory and Masha believes it is Dima’s fault, so she carries out a terrifying enchantment that leaves Dima totally incapacitated. I was fascinated that youngest brother Lev tries to stop her, but is held back by his brother. Is there an honour code between the families? Even more intriguing is the obvious and immediate chemistry between Dima and Masha. The atmosphere was electric, the air charged with feelings and I was drying to know what had happened before and if these two had historic feelings for each other. If so, Masha is ruthless when it comes to business, but must have been full of hidden emotion. Would she be just as ruthless when protecting her family?

This scene showed me that Masha was confident in her power and very likely the successor to her mother. Masha is overseeing the expansion of their business. I found the idea of pharmaceutical drugs touched by magic fascinating too, I wanted to know more about their effects and whether they were largely benign. Did the customers truly know the power of what they were buying? I wondered about the family’s ethics with regards to black or white magic and was intrigued by how both families used their magic differently. Lev is sent to check out the clubs and see if he can work out the Antonov family’s next move, but he is distracted from his job by a young beautiful woman being hassled by a college student. As soon as he sees her he wants to help her, but already his attraction to her is obvious. She is very assertive and assures him she can look after herself and as Lev follows them out of the club she breaks the student’s nose. Intrigued by her confidence and the way she handled the situation, Lev offers to walk her home. Every block she tells him she can manage, but Lev has fallen in too deep already and the attraction is mutual. They have a passionate encounter down a side street. What Lev doesn’t know is that this young woman is Sasha, youngest of the Antonova sisters. As the pair fall in love, Lev confides the task he’s been given by his brothers. I wondered how she would react and whether she’s think his feelings were genuine or entrapment. Lev’s feelings are genuine and I was already wondering whether this was a repeat of Masha and Dima’s story. More importantly, if it comes to a showdown between the two families, which side would Lev choose?

Considering the amount of characters, they do have depth and feel very real. I think their back stories helped and the Russian folklore woven into their backgrounds seemed to ground them. Koshchei the Deathless is a male protagonist in Russian folklore, usually cast as an evil father figure who imprisons the male hero’s lover. He is called the immortal because he keeps his soul hidden within inanimate objects. Often he would hide his soul inside a tiny object then place it inside another object, perhaps an animal, like a rather grotesque set of Russian dolls. Baba Yaga was originally a supernatural being who hides within the disguise of a grotesque old woman. In a bizarre version of her story, which I love, she lived in a kettle with chicken’s legs – rather like the archetypal witch we all know from fairy tales. She would often take a maternal role and use that to hinder a character from the story. How these archetypes work within this story I’ll leave for you to find out. Then there’s the Romeo and Juliet parallel which certainly gives us the basic plot line of two rival families, where the youngest members of each family are falling in love with each other. That’s really where the comparisons end, because this is a loose retelling so don’t expect specific characters or even the same plot lines. This is a tragedy and it’s genuinely heartbreaking, but with gritty, real violence and it’s bloody consequences, just don’t expect the same victims. I loved that the rivalries are decades old and I think there’s definitely scope for more novels in this setting.

Although I loved Blake’s descriptive prose and enjoyed her characters, I did feel that the central love story lacked a bit of depth. I could tell these characters were in lust because their scenes were hot, but I didn’t feel the love at first. Perhaps that’s because I’m an older reader though and why I was interested in the oldest sister’s story. Also there were so many twists towards the end I had to go back and re-read sections to keep up with what was going on. However, for such a big book, it really fly by and the heady mix of love, power, magic, revenge and tragedy is a winner for sure. The art both inside and on the cover is absolutely beautiful. I feel that I could easily come back to these rival families in the future and it has certainly made me want to check out the author’s previous novels. If you like your love stories dark and laced with magic, violent tragedy and witches this is the book for you. It was definitely the book for me.

Published on 20th April by Tor (Pan Macmillan)

Meet The Author

Olivie Blake is the pseudonym of Alexene Farol Follmuth, a lover and writer of stories, many of which involve the fantastic, the paranormal, or the supernatural, but not always. More often, her works revolve around what it means to be human (or not), and the endlessly interesting complexities of life and love.

​Olivie has penned several indie SFF projects, including the webtoon Clara and the Devil with illustrator Little Chmura and the viral Atlas series. As Follmuth, her young adult rom-com My Mechanical Romance releases May 2022.

Olivie lives in Los Angeles with her husband and baby, where she is generally tolerated by her rescue pit bull. More on Olivie can be found at

Posted in Netgalley

The Company by J.M. Varese

I once began a masters in Victorian Studies and did a lot of work around literature, art and visual culture. Through it I developed a lifelong love of the Pre-Raphaelites and the design of the Arts and Crafts period, so the scandal of Victorian wallpaper poisonings was something I’d researched and written about before. I was very keen to see how the author had used this moment in history to inspire a Gothic story and I was utterly seduced by that divine green cover. As the 19th century progressed, more intricate and vibrant wallpapers were the fashion, in much the shame way that they’re having a moment now. In the early part of the century a rich, vibrant green named Scheele’s Green had pemerged. The colour was so incredibly popular that by the 1850’s it was being used in the production of household items from wallpapers, paints, and candles, to clothes and children’s toys. A vibrant green called Schiele’s Green emerged in the 1850’s, but was manufactured using large amounts of copper arsenite. Arsenic had a completely unique property that enhanced colour pigments and stopped them from fading, perfect for items like wallpaper that would be affected by sunlight over time. Manufacturers knew that arsenic was toxic, but chose to promote the line that it was only harmful if ingested – a dangerous lie that lasted decades. As wallpaper became ever more popular, reports began of people suffering slow and agonising deaths. Damp homes amplified the problem because of toxic fumes released by moisture on the walls. Rooms with large fires created the same problem meaning that many Victorian homes were veritable death traps. Alison Matthews David, who wrote about the problem in ‘Fashion Victims: The Dangers Of Dress Past And Present’, explains that “arsenic didn’t fade and looked bright under lights. It was stunning and became hugely popular in clothes. A ball gown would contain enough arsenic to kill 200 people and a hair wreath 50. The amounts used were lethal.’ This background knowledge had me champing at the bit for some horrifying deaths and characters terrified by intricate, poisonous wallpaper.

Examples of Victorian wallpaper patterns using Scheile’s Green

Braithwaite and Company are a Victorian wallpaper company caught up in the arsenic scandal and murky work practices at their copper mines in Devon, where the family are from. When our heroine Lucy Braithwaite, along with her brothers Tom and John were young and living at the family’s country home there was an accident in the copper mine. There were small children from the village sent into the most remote and claustrophobic points of the mine, because only they could fit. They were all killed. Mr Braithwaite died soon after and the family chose to move to their London home, nearer to the company’s offices. The company ran under the management of long running manager Mr Luckhurst, who had worked closely with Mr Braithwaite for many years. Mrs Braithwaite concentrated on the home front, filling their home with the latest wallpaper patterns from the company. Apart from Being I love oLucy who chose to have her room painted in the palest blush pink to be a calm and quiet space in contrast to the rest of the house. Yet the family’s luck was still on a downward turn after the death of Tom, who seemingly declined while being tortured by terrible hallucinations. Were these visions from within or without?

Their luck seems set to change completely when Lucy is a young woman and a new, young and dynamic manager takes over after the death of old retainer Mr Luckhurst. Mr Rivers is young, handsome, gallant and personable, immediately charming Lucy’s mother and brother John. John is the obvious successor to the company, but he has become frail since moving to London. Lucy decided to move his bedroom down to their father’s old study so he doesn’t have to contend with stairs. His room is a combination of workplace and bedroom, the desk enabling to go through company papers and keep abreast of matters. He and Mr Rivers hit it off immediately and it’s soon common for them to retire to John’s bedroom after dinner and talk about the company. Lucy finds it strange that despite coming from Devon and apparently working under Mr Luckhurst for years, she has never met Rivers before. However, his knowledge of the company and it’s history is entirely accurate. I found Rivers suspicious straight away and I loved how the author creates this uneasiness in the description of his expressions, his speech and the sense that he’s saying all the right things, but is he just saying what the family want to hear? His name in a Victorian novel seemed significant, because my brain went immediately to Jane Eyre and St.John Rivers. The author’s description of Rivers and his gleaming eyes reminded me of the Jane Eyre character whose own eyes betrayed his fanaticism, of a religious kind in his case. Jane didn’t accept his proposal because there was no love there, but also due to this steeliness and determination, which meant he would pursue his aims to the end. I sensed this same determination in Rivers here but his aim seemed more dangerous and liable to bring harm to the family.

I loved the tension the author heightened towards the end and as I was reading on NetGalley I didn’t expect it to stop where it did. It felt rather sudden. Rivers assures Lucy and her mother that the recipe for the wallpaper colours is not being altered and isn’t causing any harm. However, his endless industrious meetings with brother John would suggest some sort of changes were being made. Also, John’s health is in serious decline. Lucy is called to his room in the night by screams of terror, apparently he sees phantoms but are they caused by his green wallpaper and it’s writhing botanical pattern? He insists on how much Rivers means to him and I started to wonder if there was more than a working connection. Was the attachment one that was considered unnatural? I felt like Rivers was trying to romance every member of the Braithwaite family, using whatever weakness he could find. I found Lucy intelligent, perceptive and able to think differently from her mother. Mrs Braithwaite really did want someone to sweep in and look after everything for her, whereas Lucy has been actively looking for evidence, befriending the boy Rivers uses as a lookout and appealing to those in their circle that they can still trust. Is there a chink in her armour? It’s perhaps likely that Rivers expects the archetypal Victorian heroine who might swoon at a mention of romance, but I was desperately hoping he was wrong. As the reckoning approaches would she be able to remain clear headed and courageous enough to form a plan? I found the final part of the book perplexing. It was exciting and nail-biting, but still with a shroud of mystery over certain details. I came away wondering and I still find myself thinking about it three or four days later. I know sooner or later I will have to pick it up and read it again. Another novel that left me with this feeling was The Turn of the Screw by Henry James; it’s scary and unsettling but difficult to pinpoint exactly what happens. I think this author wanted to wrap the reader in those toxic fumes till we were unsure which parts are real and where the supernatural creeps in, rather like Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper. It doesn’t ruin the book, in fact it enhances that sense of the uncanny that always terrifies. Mysterious, gothic and brimming with historical detail I definitely recommend it, but don’t expect a mystery where every loose end is neatly tied.

Published by Baskerville 16th March 2023

Meet the Author

Jon Michael Varese (J.M. Varese) is an American novelist and literary historian whose first novel, The Spirit Photographer (2018), was published to critical acclaim. He has also written widely on Victorian literature and culture, and has served in various capacities, most recently as Director of Outreach, for The Dickens Project at the University of California for over two decades.

Posted in Netgalley, Publisher Proof

Every Happy Family by Sarah Stovell

‘All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in it’s own way’. Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy

I’ve been wanting to try a Sarah Stovell novel for the last couple of years, because it’s a name that’s come up with other bloggers as someone I would enjoy. This story had me gripped to the very last page. This is the history of a family, but told like a thriller. We know that one central incident is the lynchpin of the whole story, explaining the family’s geography, personalities and dynamics with each other. Yet the incident isn’t laid bare for the reader. We must go back and forth in time, with the truth only revealed in short bursts and from different family member’s perspectives. Minnie is an academic, a professor of sociology and women’s studies and is married to Bert, another academic. Minnie is also the matriarch of the Plenderleith family: Owen, his wife Sophie and daughter Layla; Lizzie who lives in a platonic partnership with Tamsin and has a daughter, Ruby; then there’s baby Jessie and her wife Anna who have had two babies in quick succession. For the first time, Minnie will have her entire family under one roof for Christmas. This is a rare occasion because Owen lives in Australia and everyone leads very busy lives. Plus there is a tension at the centre of this family, something they never talk about, which has led to misunderstanding, distance and fear. Fear that if the incident is brought into the open and talked about, the family might implode. However, Owen hasn’t brought his wife to England and his teenage girlfriend Nora is in the village, sorting out her father’s house after his death. Could Nora be the catalyst that for an explosive Christmas?

The depth of characterisation in these family members is brilliant. I found myself understanding each family member as I read their section of the narrative. Even where their point of view clashed completely with someone else, or where they’re acting from a complete misunderstanding, I could empathise with their position. I fell in love with Lizzie, probably because I am overweight, nearing middle age and have an abusive relationship behind me. There was an instant understanding of her emotional need for calm, quiet and meditation. I also understood her medication, whether it was food or a prescription from the GP. Lizzie left a physically abusive relationship when her daughter Ruby was 16, with her self-esteem and sense of self eroded almost beyond repair. Lizzie is the jolly, overweight sister who jokes about her love of cake and seems outwardly confident, someone who owns her choices. Underneath though, is a animal that stays curled into a ball waiting for the next kick. Perhaps unable to trust men, or even trust her own judgement, she has found solace in a platonic family unit with friend Tamsin and although they perhaps don’t fully understand it, the family accepts it as a life choice and Tamsin is very much part of the family. Twenty years earlier, when Owen started dating Nora, Lizzie made friends with this unusual girl. Nora is the opposite of Lizzie, she looks like a fragile waif that you would want to feed and look after. Having lost her mother at a young age, Nora only had her father and it wasn’t an ideal relationship, so when Owen started bringing her home, his family became Nora’s family too. Minnie is impressed with her son’s choice, because she’s not into fashion or anything superficial, she’s bright, idealistic and wants to change the world. She’s going to spend summers working on conservation projects in different parts of the world and she follows through on her dreams. She might seem frail, but she’s determined and not scared of stepping out into the world alone. She’s so different to Owen but they have a connection that’s natural, deep and all encompassing.

I really did understand Minnie, a woman with so much education, intelligence and personal experience. She is the centre of the incident and takes so much of the blame for what happened, even though her point of view isn’t unreasonable. Minnie is on her second marriage, her first was to Owen and Lizzie’s father who was a drunk. Minnie was trying to hold down an academic position, run a household and two children, but always on tenterhooks for the next crisis to hit. Would she come home from work and find their father had hurt himself, given away the family car or worse? When he died, it was more of a relief than anything but Minnie was burned out. I could see immediately that Minnie was one of life’s ‘copers’. She’s used to picking up the pieces of whatever disaster her family members bring home, always without complaint and assuring them it will be ok. Holding the anxiety and responsibility for everyone creates burn out and resentment. When is it someone else’s turn to hold it together? She just wants one opportunity to fall apart. So when the big incident happened Minnie decided this was one mess she would not be clearing up. The fall out from this decision will last twenty years, compounded by miscommunication, layers of regret and grief, and the blame never apportioned out loud.

When trauma isn’t processed and discussed it grows and can come out in the most unexpected ways. Like on Christmas Day, when at least three generations of the family bring the trauma into the present. I loved how the author brought all those strands together to create this tension filled and momentous day. There’s all the usual stuff; prepping the veg, opening the presents and playing games. Between the celebrations, we’re told parts of the story by those who were there and those who are living in the aftermath. Even the grandchildren are affected, because things that are never spoken about can be misunderstood and blown out of proportion. The sections become shorter and faster towards the end, driving then tension and compelling you to keep reading. This is a brilliant, emotional and addictive read that’s a must read for this spring and would make a great TV thriller.

Published by HQ 30th March 2023

Meet the Author

Sarah lives in Northumberland, England, with her family. She teaches creative writing at Lincoln University. During the Covid pandemic, she was unable to write because her children kept interrupting her, so she started baking instead. She now spends her time writing, teaching, hanging out with her kids, baking fine patisserie and trying to believe her luck.

Posted in Netgalley

Magpie Lane by Lucy Atkins

One of my April reads is Lucy Atkins’s new novel Windmill Hill, so I thought it was a good opportunity to talk about one of her previous novels. I have been a fan since her very first novel The Missing One and we read it as a book club choice. I have enjoyed all Lucy Atkins other novels and it seems they get better and better. I enjoyed the character of Dee and became drawn in by her straight away. There’s a sense that she doesn’t really belong anywhere, but she is curiously at ease with who she is. Something of an outsider in Oxford, she doesn’t belong to any of the colleges but is one of those invisible people who provide services to those who do belong. Dee is a nanny and makes a very disturbing observation about the academics who use her services – when desperate, people will let a near stranger look after their child. The new master and his wife, Nick and Mariah, hire her after a chance meeting on a bridge early one morning and one hasty conversation. They do not ask for references or do a police check. If they had, they would have found that Dee has a criminal record. It is no coincidence that Mariah restores old wallpaper. She is adept at papering over cracks. She tells Dee that Felicity is selectively mute, that she met Nick after his wife died from a longstanding illness and that they both did everything to get Felicity talking again. There us a stifling atmosphere in the lodgings and the author carefully links the house with the people in it – with both there is a long history being erased and retold through renovation or retelling. Is the start of this couple’s relationship as simple as they portray? Mariah’s chirpy and wholesome exterior might, just like the new decor, hint at a darker, more murky interior world. The house’s history is slowly being unearthed by Linklater, a social historian hired by Nick. It shows how out of step these two characters might really be. Nick wants to disturb and discover the chequered past of their new home, while Mariah is whitewashing it. Linklater discovers family dramas, haunted occupants and a possible answer for the ‘priest’s hole’ in Felicity’s bedroom that may be even more malign than the original poisonous Victorian wallpaper.

Felicity isn’t just mute. She is a very distressed child, seemingly obedient but full of simmering anger and confusion. She roams the house while still asleep, makes patterns on the floor with her collection of bones and artefacts, and seems to be drawn by the ‘priest’s hole’ in the middle of the night. She slowly starts to speak to Dee, but also makes a surprising connection to Linklater when the three of them start to take tea together after school. They are a group of misfits, finding each other and developing trust. There seems to be a distinction made between those who appear genuinely themselves, however odd they may seem, and those who are putting on an act; a natural family forming where there is a forced family unit at home. It has to be significant that the one person Felicity never speaks to at all is Mariah. Dee becomes more than a passing childcare worker, she is deeply involved with this little girl. I like the way the author foreshadows this relationship as Dee sees Felicity for the first time and notices her curls, just like those of another child she once knew. Is this another nanny’s role or is she giving hints of a past we don’t know about? If Dee once had a family what happened to them? This is where we come to discussing Dee’s role as narrator and whether she is not as candid with us as she seems. I kept waiting for a terrible secret to emerge and for Dee’s reaction to being exposed. The tension is ratcheted up when we learn that Felicity has gone missing and the narrative passes back and forth between the present day and what has happened in these character’s pasts.

I enjoyed the ending, although I raced there a little too quickly. I was desperately hoping for a happy ending for both Felicity and Dee. Watching Mariah and Nick’s ‘perfect’ life completely implode was oddly satisfying. With her perfectly calm exterior ravaged by the birth of her first child, Mariah struggles to function normally and seems haunted by Felicity’s mother Ana. She starts to spend days in pyjamas while coping with a colicky baby and this break in her usually ordered world threatens to break her. I was left feeling that Nick and Mariah didn’t deserve Felicity, but was that what the narrator wanted me to feel. I was left wondering whether I’d been manipulated all along. As the police wondered and questioned, the reader does the same. Is Felicity as disturbed as Dee would have us believe? Or was Nick right in his assessment that it was Dee’s presence, her inability to sleep, her encouragement in discovering something supernatural and the constant buckets left in the kitchen to bleach animal skulls that are to blame? Finally, I liked the way maths was used as a theme in their interactions; Dee’s proof is an example of how something seemingly factual and definite can still be manipulated. A maths problem can have two correct answers. It simply has to be worked out differently. Which version do we trust? This is an intelligent, psychological, thriller that keeps you guessing long after reading, Lucy Atkins has done it again! A great read.

Meet the Author

Lucy Atkins is an award-winning British author and journalist. Her latest novel, MAGPIE LANE, was picked as a ‘best book of 2020’ by BBC Radio 4’s Open Book, the GUARDIAN, the TELEGRAPH and GOOD HOUSEKEEPING MAGAZINE. Her other novels are: THE NIGHT VISITOR (which has been optioned for TV), THE MISSING ONE and THE OTHER CHILD. Lucy is book critic for The Sunday Times and has written for publications including the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Times, and many magazines. She teaches on the creative writing Masters degree at the University of Oxford. 

She has written several non-fiction books including the Amazon #1 parenting guide, FIRST TIME PARENT (Collins). 

For news, events and offers see

Follow Lucy on Twitter @lucyatkins Instagram @lucyatkinswriter

Posted in Netgalley, Publisher Proof

Strange Sally Diamond by Liz Nugent

The first thing I have to say is ‘Wow! What an opening.’ I read the first page then went to find my other half so I could read it to him. He’s one of those people who say ‘just chuck me in a bin bag’ so I thought he’d love it too. Of course it’s horrifying, but I also found it blackly comic and with Irish ancestors myself I can honestly say it’s an Irish trait. We laugh at the story of Mother – my great-grandmother – putting her head in the oven and wondering why it was taking too long. Slowly realising it was an electric oven. Tragic, horrifying, but hilarious at the same time. I felt this all the way through the story of Sally Diamond, a young woman having to negotiate a new life after the death of her incredibly protective father. He was an academic doctor and it turns out Sally was his subject. He leaves Sally letters to read after his death to give her all the information about what to do next. However, Sally can be very literal and by carrying out his verbal wishes to be in a bin bag, it turns out she may have committed a crime. Luckily family friend and GP Angela comes to the rescue, explaining to the police that Sally is ‘different’ she’s been sheltered and her childhood before her adoption was very traumatic. In fact her father left specific instructions in his letters, but as Sally points out he should have labelled the envelope ‘open this as soon as I’ve died’. Sally learns that she was born in terrible circumstances and it’s only chance that saved her. How will Sally cope with the detailed news about her past and how will she integrate into the community and learn how to manage by herself?

I found Sally rather endearing, despite her tendency to ask personal questions and disappearing to play the piano when things get too much. Sally knows that her mother died, in fact she committed suicide after their escape. Sally was born Mary Norton, in a locked extension attached to the home of Connor Geary and his son. Sally’s mother was abducted by Geary and brought back to the specially built annex where he chained her to the radiator. Denise Norton was subjected to all forms of abuse and violence and gave birth to her daughter in captivity. They were only found when a burglar broke into the house and Denise shouted to him ‘I am Denise Norton’ over and over, in the hope he’d tell the authorities. Sally doesn’t remember anything about her earliest years, but when she’s sent a grubby, old teddy in the post she knows instinctively that he’s hers. Sally was adopted by the husband and wife psychologist team who were treating her and her mother after they left hospital. After a short space of time, it became clear that Denise would not recover well and it was decided that in order for her to develop, Mary must be removed from her mother. Tragically, as soon as this happened, Denise committed suicide. Ever since, and with the new name Sally, she has lived an isolated rural life in Ireland. Sally has her quirks: she asks deeply personal questions; she would tear out her hair if upset; she could be extremely violent. As we followed Sally’s journey it started to feel really uplifting and I was so happy for her, finding the ability to live a fuller life would be a real happy ending to the story.

Then the book changes and we’re listening to a boy called Peter from New Zealand, having emigrated from Ireland. I found Peter’s father terrifying, he is a misogynist and incredibly controlling to the extent of telling his son he has a rare disease that means he can’t touch other people. This lie will have terrible consequences, when Peter tries to make connections with others. Slowly a terrifying story emerges about their home in Ireland and the ghost who lived through the wall. Sometimes he’d hear the shrieks and moans from that room. When Peter was left to be looked after by the ghost, something terrible happened and the trauma has stayed with him for life. I felt so moved by Peter’s story, but terrified by what he could become. I felt as if the loss of his friend Rangi that was the turning point. Peter can also be extremely violent and even though he is assailed by guilt afterwards, the damage is done. I hoped and hoped for a point of redemption for him. When his father starts to build a barn and look for another victim he has no choice but to be complicit. If something happened to his father, would he able to come clean and let them victim go? Does he ever wonder about what happened to his mother’s family in Ireland?

I was hoping that these two damaged people would get to meet each other. Both of them need family and a sense of where they’re from, even when the truth is awful to comprehend. The author has such a talent for playing with the reader’s emotions, letting us feel for a character then finding out they’ve done something terrible or making us feel sorry for a character we dislike, because of something they’ve experienced. Her characters are always complicated and flawed, but this was the next level. I loved watching Sally start to thrive with the support of those around her. She uses the money she inherits to renovate a cottage closer to the village. She starts to build relationships with her dad’s sister Aunt Christine and her Uncle Mark too. The high point is a lovely party at Sally’s cottage with a bouncy castle for the kids, which she is even persuaded to try herself. Then a stranger from New Zealand turns up at her door and I was riveted to the story from then on to see how this will affect Sally. Can two damaged people console and support each other, or will they drag each other down? We are about to witness the difference of growing up on opposite sides of the wall. This was a fascinating novel, especially if you love psychological thrillers and studying how someone’s start in life contributes to the person they are. I was also fascinated with the idea that those who heal can also hurt. When your adopted child is also your subject, your academic reputation and possibly even your funding, lines become blurred. I desperately wanted a happy ending for Sally because she’d made so much progress but can so much trauma ever be left behind? The author created a character that I was so emotionally invested in, she will definitely stay with me. She’s so complex and nuanced that she felt completely real to me. The book is incredible and is up there with my top reads of this year, it’s one of those that will keep coming back to me until eventually I grab it from the shelf and read it again.

Meet the Author

Liz was born in Dublin in 1967, where she now lives. She has written successfully for soap opera, radio drama, television plays, short stories and animation for children.

Liz’s first novel Unravelling Oliver was published to critical and popular acclaim in March 2014. It quickly became a firm favourite with book clubs and reader’s groups. In November of that year, it went on to win the Ireland AM Crime Novel of the Year at the Bord Gais Energy Book Awards and was long listed for the International Dublin Literature Prize 2016. She was also the winner of the inaugural Jack Harte Bursary provided by the Irish Writers Centre and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Dec 2014. Her second novel, Lying in Wait, was published in July 2016 and went straight to number 1 where it remained for seven weeks. Liz won the Monaco Bursary from the Ireland Funds and was Writer in Residence at the Princess Grace Irish Library in Monaco in Sept/Oct 2016. In Nov 2016, Lying in Wait won the prestigious RTE Ryan Tubridy Listener’s Choice prize at the Irish Book Awards.

Aside from writing, Liz has led workshops in writing drama for broadcast, she has produced and managed literary salons and curated literary strands of Arts Festivals. She regularly does public interviews and panel discussions on all aspects of her writing.

Posted in Netgalley

Thirty Days in Paris by Veronica Henry.

Because Paris is always a good idea…

Years ago, Juliet left a little piece of her heart in Paris – and now, separated from her husband and with her children flying the nest, it’s time to get it back! So she puts on her best red lipstick, books a cosy attic apartment near Notre-Dame and takes the next train out of London.

Arriving at the Gare du Nord, the memories come flooding back: bustling street cafés, cheap wine in candlelit bars and a handsome boy with glittering eyes. But Juliet has also been keeping a secret for over two decades – and she begins to realise it’s impossible to move forwards without first looking back.

Something tells her that the next thirty days might just change everything…

I hadn’t read any of Veronica Henry’s novels until I did a blog tour for her novel The Impulse Purchase. I found it delightfully escapist and optimistic while exploring female relationships, especially familial ones, in an interesting way. In her new novel we’re more focused on one woman; Juliet is a middle-aged, ghost-writer who’s at a huge crossroads in life. She and her husband have taken the very brave decision to separate as their last child leaves home for university. Most of their friends think they’re crazy, because the couple still get along, they’re probably the best of friends in fact. However, they feel they’ve drifted into two different paths. As her husband has embraced all things cycling – including the Lycra and the diet – Juliet isn’t enamoured and would rather curl up with a good book or go to the theatre. They’ve each become comfortable in their own routines and as the time to sell their large family home has come around, they can’t see the point of trying to meld their differing lifestyles into another joint home. So each will take half of the house sale and do their own thing and Juliet would like to take a trip into her past. Years ago, when she was still a teenager, Juliet went to work as an au pair in Paris, but returned in shame and sadness only a few month later. She has rented an apartment for a month to reacquaint herself with the city and spend some time writing her own story. However, revisiting the past is never easy and Juliet finds there are experiences she still needs to process and come to terms with.

I found reading this book a little lie watching Sex and the City or perhaps more aptly, Emily in Paris which I binge-watched over the Christmas period. Everything about Juliet’s time in Paris is simply gorgeous from the description of the patisseries near her apartment, to the clothes worn by her friend ….. and the work Juliet starts on her book project. Thanks to the two series mentioned, along with a teenage diet of Judith Krantz novels, I find Paris ridiculously romantic and imagine it full of quirky shops, artists, vintage bookshops and incredibly elegant women. Every walk she takes I was imagining the decorative shop windows, acres of pastel coloured macarons and fairy lit trees, not to mention the incredible bridges, cathedrals and art galleries. I’m also a sucker for transformation shows like the old Gok Wan and those wedding shows where people choose their dress and I also had that vibe too. This might seem like I’m making the book sound trivial or all about appearances, but it’s far from that. This isn’t just about visual transformation. The author takes what can be a difficult period in a woman’s life: empty nest syndrome; menopause; relationship breakdown and that sense of having lost who you are. Veronica Henry takes us into that process of grieving and growth and I kept reading in the hope Juliet would come to that place of finding herself – the person she is now and the way she wants the rest of her life to be. Before she can do that she needs to face what happened all those years ago when she was such a young girl and just starting out in life.

I really felt for the younger Juliet and these sections leapt off the page. I loved how brave she was in leaving her cozy home and family to do something completely different. That sense of being a fish out of water really comes across as she tries to settle into the apartment of the French family she’ll be living with. Her French is minimal and I could feel the nerves as she tries to fit in, especially when the children’s mother is quite volatile and erratic in mood. However, the father seems kind and tries to make Juliet feel at home by taking her out for Sunday lunch with the children. Juliet comes across as a kind young girl, good with the children and concerned about their mother whose moods fluctuate between treating Juliet like a little sister and angry, tearful outbursts. I warmed to Juliet because she doesn’t become angry or resentful, but is worried that her employer is struggling as a working mum of three children and perhaps needs extra support. I had concerns about the way the children’s father acted around Juliet early on and couldn’t decide whether he was trying to make her feel like family, or whether the late nights, sharing a bottle of wine, might lead to more. Juliet’s affections are completely engaged by Luke as soon as they meet. Her friend calls it a ‘coup de foudre’ or love at first sight and it does seem to be an immediate connection, as if their souls know each other before they even speak the same language. In the present day sections, Juliet hints at a disastrous ending to her time in Paris and a separation from Luke that leaves unfinished business. I wondered whether she would feel the urge to reconnect and explain what happened all those years before.

If you’re looking for an enjoyable, escapist read this winter/spring then this is definitely the book for you. Juliet is interesting and her earlier years in Paris really help us understand her character’s choices later on. I wondered how much her stable, but safe, marriage was a response to these early romantic mistakes and terrible heartbreak. I would say that her return to Paris, especially her rekindled friendship with Nathalie, brings out her spontaneous and playful side. Nathalie takes risks, from visiting less salubrious parts of the city, to accepting random invitations and wearing some quirky outfits. Their friendship picks up where they left off and I would definitely be the demographic buying Nathalie’s memoir and cookbook. I loved the way Juliet tackled what happened in the past and it showed the difference in attitudes between then and now; where once Juliet took on a lot of the blame, she can now see other people’s part in what happened and how they took advantage of her naivety. While I wasn’t necessarily rooting for a romantic ending to the story I was rooting for Juliet to build a totally new life for herself where she’s with the people who inspire her. I enjoyed the ending and felt it worked well for the character, especially when a call from home dangles her old safe life in front of her. I wanted her to continue growing and trying new things, because just reading about it felt like taking a holiday.

Meet The Author

I was so interested in reading Veronica’s author section on Amazon because it’s so personal. So I’ve reproduced part of it below.

‘People often ask me what kind of books I write and it’s a very difficult question to answer in one sentence. Primarily, I love to take my readers somewhere they might like to be, whether a gorgeous house in the countryside or on a seaside clifftop. There, my characters go through the trials and tribulation of everyday life, embroiled in situations and dilemmas we can all relate to. Love is at the heart of it, but all kinds of love, not just romantic: the love of friends and family, or a place, or a passion for what you enjoy (food, wine and books, in my case . . .)

I have a background in writing television drama (Heartbeat, Holby City) so that has been an influence – creating lots of characters whose lives impact on each other. Working on The Archers I was taught ‘Make ’em laugh; make ’em cry; but above all, make ’em wait’!

I hope my books are beautifully written, uplifting and a little bit escapist. I’d love to know what you think, so do leave a review. Or you can contact me via Twitter @veronica_henry, or on Facebook or Instagram @veronicahenryauthor

A little bit about me: I live by the sea and head to the beach every day with my dog Zelda. I love cooking and discovering new restaurants on city breaks, with a bit of yoga to offset the calories – and I’ve just bought an e-bike. My biggest writing influences are HE Bates, Nancy Mitford, Jilly Cooper and any book that has a big rambling house and an eccentric family.’ From