Posted in Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday! The Missing One by Lucy Atkins.

This was the book that first started my love affair with Lucy Atkins’s writing. I remember when I first read this novel for my book club, I was so impatient to find out what happened back in the 1970s to Elena and Susannah. A terrifying and traumatic event has linked these two women for over 30 years and it can’t stay a secret for ever. In the present is Elena’s daughter Kali, who has just lost her mother to breast cancer, a mother she could never make sense of or bond with as she wanted. In the aftermath of Elena’s death, Kali is trying to make sense of that difficult relationship when she finds a hidden pile of postcards from a woman called Susannah in her mother’s things. Thinking she has found the clue to her mother’s past she pursues this woman to find out about events leading up to her birth and a family history that has resolutely stayed hidden.

Driven forward by grief, and the constant worry that her husband is having an affair, Kali takes her son Finn on an odyssey to unearth her mother’s secrets and to find herself. She has many theories about what she might find: maybe her father had an affair; could Susannah have been his lover or her mother’s? Yet, what she finds is something she never suspected. Set against the backdrop of wild North America and Canada we learn about a woman’s quest to understand the Orca. Distressed by witnessing the killer whales at Seaworld in California while doing her PhD, a young Elena leaves everything to record killer whale pods in the, ocean. The Seaworld orca gave birth to a calf that was so disorientated by his tiny tank he kept banging himself against the glass trying to navigate through echolocation. His desperate mother keeps pushing him away from the sides to protect him from damage, but in her efforts to protect she forgets to nurture and the calf dies because she has forgotten to feed him. Kali was similarly starved of nurturing by her mother because she was so intent instead on protecting her from this awful secret.


The novel is an incredible insight into relations between mothers and daughters. Kali’s sister Alice has a great relationship with her mother that seems easy, whereas Kali and Elena clash over everything. Kali sees that her mother finds her hard to nurture and believes it is her fault. It takes putting herself in danger to find out why and in finding out she also discovers that essential piece of the jigsaw that tells her who she is and grounds her in a history. The novel shows how when you become a mother it becomes more importantu cc than ever to know where you are from and how you belong. It also shows how the secrets of one generation have a huge impact on the next, even if the secret is kept with the best of intentions. The book cleverly shows the difference between generations since we have now moved into a world where we put our own lives on show for fun. In a world where counselling and therapy are becoming the norm it is no longer seen as acceptable to keep such huge secrets and we know as post-Freudians what effect those early years of parenting have on the adult we become.


Aside from the complex human relationships are the family ties within the Orca families. We see how there are resident pods and transient pods with different feeding habits and rules to abide by. It is also clear that parallels can be drawn between the whale relationships and the human ones. Elena is so moved by their mothering instincts and the possibilities to map their language and understand their emotions. She gives up everything to spend as much time with them as she possibly can even going to sleep on her floathouse with the sounds of whales drifting up from a microphone in the water. I learned so much about these incredible creatures without losing the majesty of them and the awe a human being feels when a huge tail rises up out of the water next to their boat.


The book reads as a dissection of family relationships, a thriller, a study of whales and a study of grief. Grief causes Elena to suffer with depression throughout her life, grief traumatises Susannah to the extent that she is unbalanced by the things she has witnessed and it is grief that compels Kali to jump on a plane to Vancouver with nothing but a few postcards and the internet to go on. I struggled to put the novel down because of the thriller element. Like a good crime novel, you desperately want to know the truth of who- dunnit. Yet it is those final chapters I like best, after everything is resolved and each character is living in the aftermath of exposed secrets and recovery from physical and mental injury. The novel could have ended there and I am glad that it went further, back into Elena’s past so that we can see her happy on her floathouse making coffee and then hearing those whales come to greet her.


She would go back to that throughout her life, right to the very end. But the last time, when the world had shrunken to the contours of her skin and she leaned over the railings, it wasn’t the whales that she saw in the water. And so she jumped.

Meet The Author

Lucy Atkins is an award-winning British author and journalist. Her most recent novel, Magpie Lane, is a literary thriller set in an Oxford college. Her other novels are The Night Visitor (which has been optioned for TV), The Missing One, and The Other Child. 

Lucy is a book critic for The Sunday Times and has written features for UK newspapers including The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Times, and many magazines. She was a Costa Novel Award judge in 2017, and teaches creative writing to Masters students at Oxford University. 

She is mother of three and has also written several non-fiction books including the Amazon #1 parenting guide, First Time Parent (Collins). She has lived in Philadelphia, Boston and Seattle and now lives in Oxford, UK. 

For news, events and offers see http://www.lucyatkins.com

Follow Lucy on Twitter @lucyatkins

Posted in Personal Purchase

A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins

I’m a big fan of this author’s previous novels Into The Water and The Girl on the Train. Incidentally, I didn’t like the latter’s film relocation to upstate New York, because I didn’t feel it had the necessary grit of the book’s London location and lost something in translation. I’ve been looking forward to her new novel and I spent the weekend on my chaise longue reading it with a bar of Green and Blacks Sea Salt. Pure bliss! The novel is set in London, on a stretch of the Regent’s Canal between Bethnal Green and Islington. We open with a body being found on one of the canals, the deceased is a young man his neighbour only knows as Daniel. When she boards his boat and finds his body covered in blood she knows she must ring the police. However, in typical Hawkins fashion, the author wishes to unsettle the reader and leave them unsure of who to trust. So, although his neighbour Miriam looks like a run of the mill, middle aged and overweight woman, used to being ignored, she does something unexpected. She notices a key next to the body, and as it doesn’t belong to the boat she picks it up and pockets it.

Our other characters are members of Daniel’s family, who live within walking distance of each other in this area. Daniel’s mother Angela is an alcoholic, in a very strained relationship with her only child until his death. Then there’s his Aunty Carla and Uncle Theo who live near the boat. Daniel appears to have a closer relationship with his Aunty Carla, than he did with his mother, but is it really what it seems? Miriam has noticed some odd comings and goings from the boat next door. This is a family with secrets, both old ones and current ones. Miriam noticed that the girl who works in the local launderette, Laura, was with Daniel on the night in question and they had a row. Laura could have killed him, but Miriam doesn’t think so. Then there’s Irene, an elderly lady who lives next door to Angela and has also noticed some strange behaviour next door too. She knows the family well although Angela has often been too distracted by her own life to form a friendship. Irene does have a soft spot for Laura who helps her out from time to time, by going shopping or running errands. Like Miriam, Irene is also wondering if everything is what it seems with this murder. Lonely people observe a lot and although the family won’t realise this, she’s in possession of a lot of information. Something seismic happened to this family years before, something that changed the lives of everyone involved. Might that have a bearing on their current loss? Could that be the small flame, burning slowly for many years, before erupting into life and destroying everything?

I absolutely fell in love with Laura. She has a disability that affects her mobility and, along with many other symptoms, she has problems keeping her temper. Her hot-headed temperament has led to a list of dealings with the police. This isn’t her normal character though, this rage seems to come from the accident she had as a child. She was knocked down by a car on a country road while riding her bike and broke her legs, as well as sustaining a head injury which has affected her ability to regulate her emotions. Further psychological trauma was caused when she found out the man who hit her, was not just driving along a country round, but driving quickly away from an illicit encounter. Who told him to drive away and why? Laura feels very betrayed and now when she feels threatened, or let down, that rage bubbles to the surface. She’s her own worst enemy, unable to stop her mouth running away with her, even with the police. She has a heart of gold, but very light fingers. She’s shown deftly whipping a tote bag from the hallway of Angela’s house, but in the next moment trying to help Irene when she can’t get out. I found myself rooting for her, probably because she’s an underdog, like Miriam. Miriam feels that because of her age, looks and influence she is completely invisible. She has been passed over in life so many times, it’s become the norm. However, there is one thing she is still angry about. She wrote a memoir several years ago and showed it to a writer; she believes he stole her story for his next book and she can’t let that go.

I love how the author writes her characters and how we learn a little bit different about them, depending on who they’re interacting with. They’re all interlinked in some way, and their relationships become more complex with time. As with her huge hit The Girl on the Train, the author plays with our perceptions and biases. She doesn’t just plump for one unreliable narrator, every character is flawed in some way and every character is misunderstood. We see that Miriam is not the stereotypical middle-aged woman others might think she is, as soon as she pockets that piece of evidence at the crime scene. Others take longer to unmask themselves, but when they do there’s something strangely satisfying about it. We even slip into the past to deepen our understanding of this complicated group of people, letting us into all their dirty little secrets, even those of our victim Daniel. When I’m counselling, something I’m aware of is that I’m only hearing one person’s perspective of an event. Sometimes, that’s all it needs, some good listening skills and letting the client hear it themselves. Yet, it is only one part of a much bigger story. Occasionally, I do get an inkling of what the other person in the story might have felt and I might ask ‘do you think your wife heard it like that or like this?’ If I say ‘if my partner did or said what you did, I might feel….’ it makes the client think and asks that they communicate more in their relationship. Sometimes the intention behind what we say becomes lost in the telling. That’s how it was reading this book, because we do hear nearly every perspective on an event, but also how each event or interaction affects the others. The tension rises and it was another late night as I had to keep reading to the end. Paula Hawkins has become one of those authors whose book I would pre-order unseen, knowing I’m going to enjoy it. In my eyes this book cements her position as the Duchess of Domestic Noir.

Meet The Author.

PAULA HAWKINS worked as a journalist for fifteen years before turning her hand to fiction. Born and brought up in Zimbabwe, Paula moved to London in 1989 and has lived there ever since. Her first thriller, The Girl on the Train, has been a global phenomenon, selling 23 million copies worldwide. Published in over forty languages, it has been a No.1 bestseller around the world and was a No.1 box office hit film starring Emily Blunt.

Into the Water, her second stand-alone thriller, has also been a global No.1 bestseller, spending twenty weeks in the Sunday Times hardback fiction Top 10 bestseller list, and six weeks at No.1.

A Slow Fire Burning was published on 31st August by Doubleday.

Posted in Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday! Fingersmith by Sarah Waters.

Sarah Waters is one of my favourite writers. Anything she writes is a pre-order in my house, so there may be some bias in my next statement. For me, she is one of the best writers of the 20th Century with, hopefully, more to come. More recently, she has dabbled into the early 20th Century and even WW2 for her novels The Night Watch and The Little Stranger, but she started back in the 19th Century and this is my favourite from that series. Amazon calls her genre Lesbian Victoriana, which made me giggle a little, but I think Waters is doing more than that; she is chronicling women’s experience. She includes lesbian encounters and women falling in love with women, but in this book that’s an aside rather than the main focus of the plot. I think to term these novels as lesbian novels is reductive and has a sense of prurience. I remember the fuss and excitement when Tipping the Velvet was serialised at the BBC, and male journalists practically salivating over Rachel Stirling and Keeley Hawes. I think they’re intended to be read as women’s experiences of living in Victorian England, with the women’s sexual relationships as part of an unspoken subculture only just emerging into the open. She is using the device of ‘writing back’ to the historical period and bringing a group into the limelight who were hidden at the time and never portrayed in fiction. It’s about seeing the Victorian era and women’s lives in totally new eyes, and accepting that the literary canon only shows us a small part of a vibrant and varied world. As with history being written by the victor, literature of the early to mid 19th Century tends to be written by white, straight, middle-class males. Waters is trying to redress the balance and give us a minority viewpoint which I love.

Orphan, Sue Trinder, lives in a family of petty thieves and is trained to become a ‘Fingersmith’. Based in London, the den is run by a motherly woman who has a hard and ruthless side. All the thieves congregate and bring their wares to ready them for sale, while a baby farm is run on the side. It is here that a man called ‘Gentleman’ recruits Sue for a scam to defraud a wealthy heiress. We also meet a young woman called Maud Lily, she’s an orphan too, but with a home in a gloomy mansion as the ward of an odd Uncle. She has a very comfortable life, helping him with his work as some sort of secretary, but his subject matter might raise an eyebrow or two. He is an avid collector of Victorian pornography. This makes Maud very uncomfortable, but it seems an unspoken agreement that her help is in return for his protection. This strange upbringing makes Maud very sheltered and naïve in one respect, but also strangely knowing in others. Gentleman has devised a long con that starts when Sue is placed within the mansion as Maud’s lady’s maid. She will then encounter the Gentleman who will try to court Maud. They hope, that with Sue’s encouragement, Lily will fall for his charms. His long term aim is to marry her, because according to 19th Century marriage law, all of her fortune will then become his property. Then it’s a simple case of claiming she’s mad, and as long as a doctor agrees, a man could sign his wife into an asylum leaving him free to use her money. If she helps, Sue will be entitled to some of the ‘shine’.

As always with Sarah Waters books, the depth of research is obvious and this feels so real. The sense of place is so strong, in the filthy detail of the London terrace streets and the silent unease in the mansion. These two places feel entirely opposite. Where Sue grew up there’s constant noise, people running in and out, babies wailing upstairs and other people’s belongings being appraised and sold on. There’s squalor and poverty, so for her, the change to being a lady’s maid is a massive leap. By contrast the mansion is quiet with the sound of ticking clocks, days without seeing another soul. There’s a feeling of being imprisoned somehow, it’s stifling and the scene where she works in the library with her Uncle feel so uncomfortable. The tension as the con slowly starts to work is terrible. Then, in what is probably my favourite twist in fiction, the pace picks up and the reader is left reeling as everything changes.

In the second section of the book we go back in time a little to Maud’s story, some of this overlaps with the first part and some of it is her history and how she ended up closed away with only a perverted Uncle for company. We follow Sue’s journey as Maud’s lady’s maid and see how a friendship develops between the two young women. Maud is living like a prisoner and has experienced years of coercive control leaving her timid and unsure. The con would only work if Sue stays focused and doesn’t get involved with her new mistress, but their friendship is deepening and Sue is starting to have doubts about the plan. There is an attraction between the two women that was unexpected, but is there anyway to back out of the plan or is it too late? There is something hypnotic about this book. It is a long read, but unlike the Victorian novels it emulates, it didn’t feel long-winded or become boring. I was engaged at every point of the story, absolutely fascinated with the twists and turns of the plot and never quite sure who is telling the truth. I was desperate to find out who has really been conned in the end. This is one book where BBC adaptation is very good too, with great casting and a definite feel of the book.

However, the novel is perfection. It’s a historical thriller, told through unexpected heroines and delving into the more deviant side of Victorian life: pornography, pick-pocketing, theft, fraud, confidence tricksters, and baby selling. Not to mention the lesbian aspects of the storyline that would have been unthinkable in fiction of the time. In fact I clearly remember a tutor at university telling me that all the focus on deviant sexual behaviour was focused on gay men and prostitution – intimating that the thought of two women having a relationship was so taboo that it didn’t even exist in most Victorian minds. I loved that we were seeing a totally different section of Victorian society and it had a voice. There is a feel of Dickens in the poverty and living conditions, and of course he had his own wife detained in an asylum. However, there’s none of that Victorian moralising that comes with fiction of the period. This is the underclass speaking for itself and the character of Maud’s Uncle hits home the idea that even the middle classes were not necessarily as respectable and God-fearing as they seemed. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys Victorian fiction whether in the form of historical novels or of the period. It’s also a great thriller with enough double-crossing and revelations to keep any reader satisfied. This really is Sarah Waters at the height of her writing powers and should be on your TBR list immediately.

Meet The Author.

Sarah Waters OBE, was born in Wales. She is the author of six novels, Tipping the Velvet, Affinity, Fingersmith, The Night Watch and The Little Stranger, which have been adapted for stage, television and feature film in the UK and US. Her novels have been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Women’s Prize for Fiction and she has won the Betty Trask Award; the Somerset Maugham Award; The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award; the South Bank Show Award for Literature and the CWA Historical Dagger. Sarah has been named Author of the Year four times: by the British Book Awards, the Booksellers’ Association, Waterstones Booksellers; Stonewall’s Writer of the Decade in 2015; Diva Magazine Author of the Year Award and The Sunday Times Award for Literary Excellence in 2017, which is given in recognition of a writer’s entire body of work. Sarah was awarded an OBE in 2019 for services to literature in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. Sarah Waters lives in London.

Posted in Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday! Wake by Anna Hope.

She misses him. Fraser. Here in the shrunken hours of the night. She misses him still so much. Who is there to share her thoughts with? They wither inside her. She cannot even write them to him as she used to, can’t take a cup of tea back to bed and sit with a candle in the blackoutand think of him, trying to imagine where he is, what he sees. She cannot imagine where he is, because he is nowhere, he is nothing. All of the many tiny things that he was – the way he turned his head towards her, the slow breaking of his smile, the laughter in him, the roll of his voice; the way that he eased her, eased her – these are all gone. These are all dead.

Last year I couldn’t move on Twitter without seeing that someone was reviewing and reading Anna Hope’s Expectation. I’ve had such a ridiculous TBR that my copy is still languishing on the pile, but I wasn’t surprised to see the book become a runaway hit. I’d already fallen in love with her writing in 2014, when I read her novel covering the aftermath of WW1. Wake is a brilliant piece of historical fiction based around the real historical event, the creation of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. As he is taken from the fields of France, on his journey towards London, three women are linked by a mystery that is starting to unravel. As the Unknown Soldier is meant to provide closure to the war for the British people, these three women can’t look into the future while they are still inextricably linked to the past. Hetty’s wounded brother won’t speak, Evelyn grieves for her lost lover and Ada waits for confirmation of her son’s death, every day that she doesn’t get a telegram is another day he feels alive. We follow these three women over five days, while the selection of the Unknown Soldier is made and his journey towards Westminster Abbey begins. Slowly, a tragic tale of war’s aftermath emerges and links them all.

Hetty lives with her mother still, and her mute, shell-shocked brother. He can no longer work so Hetty has taken a job as a dance instructor at the Palais. It is there she meets an educated, wealthy, man who she quickly falls for. Every indication she has, makes her think he feels the same. However, there’s something she can’t put her finger on, a distance or sense of being unreachable that he has. Where does he go in his mind, when he seems distracted? Evelyn comes from a wealthier background, but feels equally lost. She’s working at the Pensions Exchange, where men returning from the front pass through, claiming benefit for their physical or mental wounds. Evelyn’s own loss is still raw and she feels detached from her parents who can’t understand her experience. She starts to become closer to her brother instead, because he is of her generation, also altered forever by his experience at the front. Ada is haunted by visions of the son she’s lost. She still sees him on the street and for a few moments she’s convinced he is alive. She also feels like she’s struggling alone, because her husband is grieving in his own way, becoming increasingly withdrawn. A door to door salesman attracts her attention and it’s so clear he has suffered from his war experiences and has struggled to find work. He exhibits some worrying symptoms but Ada recognises shell-shock. During one of his disturbed episodes he says the name of Ada’s son. Can she find out what happened to him? The tension really builds as the public spectacle comes closer, the ceremonial internment of this unknown young man can be a catalyst, allowing people to grieve for those whose bodies are lost forever on the fields of France or Belgium.

This is a very interesting part of history for me, because of the tumultuous social change that took place, especially for women. This period is where we saw huge adjustments and change within the aristocratic class. Some families had lost two generations, father and son or the ‘heir and spare’. This led to an estate crippled by death duties and having to be sold, or the new heir forced into reducing costs and servants, or searching for a more advantageous match – marrying American heiresses was sometimes the answer. These changes often brought less formality to the family. Women had worked throughout the war, in jobs usually done by men. There was tension on their return to the workforce, some women didn’t want to return to the home and men who couldn’t find work were reduced to begging or selling door to door. Crime was on the up and families were coming apart at the seams. There was a sense of the old order being overturned and old values like manners, morality and knowing your place being lost.

Finally I loved the significance of the title ‘Wake’ and it’s several meanings: to rouse from sleep; a ritual for the dead; the consequence or aftermath. All of these meanings are apt to the women in the book and their circumstances. This is the moment that the 20th Century finally dawned on people, and society woke from the Victorian era. Victoria’s reign had been so long that some people had never known another monarch, now there would be change from that Victorian order. The ritual refers to the Unknown Soldier, a representative of every man lost, but also representative of that death of the old order, and it’s sensibilities. The consequences of WWI were seismic, we had just fought the first mechanised war and it was hell on earth. Society did not know how to cope with the wounded who returned, whether the ranks of the physically disabled using wooden legs or metal masks to cover burns, or the shell-shocked, constantly trembling and lashing out when feeling threatened. Many ended up in institutions, because they were constant reminders of something younger people wanted to forget. The following few generations would be changed, with the war hanging over them like a giant monolith casting a long shadow. Why couldn’t people be allowed to forget? As the Unknown Soldier passes by someone comments ‘is this supposed to make it all okay?’ This is such a moving read and captures it’s era so perfectly it felt like being there, which isn’t an easy thing to achieve. I felt for each woman, but Evelyn particularly moved me. This is an exceptional piece of writing and a great introduction to this author’s work.

‘I’ll remember you he thinks, and as the gun carriage with it’s coffin and it’s dented helmet passes him by, he closes his eyes. Nothing will bring them back. Not the words of comfortable men. Not the words of politicians. Or the platitudes of paid poets.’

Meet The Author.

ANNA HOPE studied at Oxford University and RADA. She is the internationally prizewinning and bestselling author of Wake and The Ballroom. Her contemporary fiction debut, Expectation, explores themes of love, lust, motherhood, and feminism, while asking the greater question of what defines a generation. She lives in Sussex with her husband and young daughter.

Posted in Personal Purchase

Troubled Blood (Strike No 5) by Robert Galbraith.

While I’ve been taking time to deal with some family issues, I’ve been reading my own personal choices rather than to a schedule. This has given me the chance to pick up this rather weighty hardback from J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith. In fact this book was so weighty that my chiropractor had to put my thumb back into place this afternoon. I’d resorted to nestling the book into a soft cushion on my lap so I could finish it. My partner has never seen me so quiet, as I shunned TV and conversation because I was totally engrossed in this novel. Troubled Blood is the fifth book in the Cormoran Strike series and 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?

Robin is happy to pick up some of Strike’s workload in London, such as the staff rota and catch up meetings. However, she does struggle to get one of the new staff members to take her seriously as an equal partner in the agency. She’s balancing this problem, her increasingly contentious divorce, important news about ex-husband Matthew, and supporting Strike as much as she can. This means pulling long shifts of surveillance after a day in the office. She loves her job as much as she did at the beginning but she is struggling with panic attacks related to an incident at university and a case where she was attacked with a knife. Anyone trying to push their way into her space, whether by sending inappropriate pictures or brushing up against her in the office, will come off worst from the encounter. She is doing a lot of soul searching in this instalment of the series, as her friendship with Strike deepens she asks herself a lot of questions.

The main case was very satisfying, with lots of clues, red herrings and bizarre twists and turns. The investigating officer at the time of Margaret’s disappearance appears to have had an obsession with Aleister Crowley and astrology. His notebook is a very odd mix of drawings, notes on the main people suspected and the record of a gradual descent into madness. He was sectioned after seeing a horned goat demon. Robin finds more meaning in it than Strike, and it does yield some clues, but it’s clear the original investigation was inadequate. By chance, a serial killer was prowling the very same area and the police’s official line is that she was possibly taken by him but it can’t be proved. I found the case mentally challenging and full of fascinating characters too. The psychological aspects of the interviews was really intriguing, showing that even in a small 1960s doctors surgery there can be a lot of secrets buried. It was interesting to see more of Robin working on her own and how far she’s come since the first book. As the case gathered momentum I found myself gripped and I kept wanting to pick the book up again to read more, even though it was looking likely that the author was going to keep the case unresolved.

Make no mistake, this book was huge. I always reserve the right to DNF a book if I’m not feeling it by a certain point in the story. Like Bradley Cooper’s character in Silver Linings Playbook, I’ll happily throw a book out of the window if it’s not grabbing me or is overlong. I never felt that with this novel, besides I wouldn’t have dared throw this out of the window for fear of killing someone! I never felt a lull in the story, so it kept me engaged all the way through. This wasn’t just down to the cases, in fact I’d worked out one of them almost immediately – men visiting a woman’s house for a period of time where there are large deliveries of nappies – for which I blame a misspent youth watching every fetish going on C4’s Eurotrash. It was the themes running through the novel that kept me reading too. Absent parents loomed large: for their client Anna who having lost her Mum, had to watch her Dad marry the nanny; for Strike whose half-siblings are pestering him moook for a catch up with their rock star Dad, much to his disgust; even Robin feels dislocated from her family, who can’t understand her choice of career brought into stark relief as her ex-husband is about to become a father. We can see what a beautiful, but absent mother has done to Strike as he keeps Robin as his very best friend and struggles to keep ex-girlfriend Charlotte at a distance. Charlotte is the beautiful damsel in distress who will always pull him towards her when she’s vulnerable, only to withdraw as soon as she is back on her feet. It will take Strike to cut their line of communication but will he be able to do it. The stress of losing his aunt, Charlotte’s pestering and his father applying pressure, results in Strike choosing to drink too much and pushing those who love him most away.

I also enjoyed the ongoing development of Robin and the themes around female power and agency. Being Strike’s partner and his absences in Cornwall, mean she’s the boss. Trying to get all of their staff to accept that is difficult for one of their contractors who tries flirting and sexting, goes around her to get Strike’s approval and doesn’t take her seriously at all. She has to really assert her authority, it isn’t comfortable for her but she’s scared of enough in life without having to be wary at work. When she fights back and Strike finds out the true extent of the matter, his instinct is to physically defend her, but Robin doesn’t want to be rescued. She knows logically that her size and strength leave her slightly vulnerable while working in the same environment as the men. However, in terms of management and investigation skills she really does want to be Strike’s equal. I loved the way these themes were echoed in the case, with the missing woman being assertive, well-informed and educated around women’s rights and health. Some of the possible suspects are in the frame, because she was seen to interfere, to get mixed up in domestic violence cases or unwanted pregnancies and find solutions for those women.

I’m aware of there being controversy around the representation of a possible transgender character. I think this aspect of the book could have been handled better. An emergency patient turned up at the surgery just as Margaret was going to leave, and she agreed to see her. In all the accounts of witnesses they describe a woman with some very masculine characteristics and jump to the conclusion that it’s a man dressed as a woman. This then becomes confused with the passing serial killer who is thought to dress as a woman when approaching victims so they are less wary. One character even makes a comment about other serial killers who liked to dress in women’s clothing. I felt this was quite sloppily done and seems to be saying there’s a link between criminality, violence and men who wear women’s clothes or who are transgender. There should have been more emphasis placed on the fact that these men are not transgender, but are dressing as women for the purpose of disarming victims and luring them into a van or an alleyway. It’s purely a disguise for the purposes of murder, rather than a sign that transgender people are all deviant. This is something editors should be more aware of in the 21st Century and it was a shame to see it in a book I otherwise loved.

This latest instalment in the Strike series is a cracking read and keeps you gripped, despite the fact it’s huge! Every case is interesting, but the main story is such a puzzle and each time there’s a revelation it’s like peeling another layer off an onion. I never suspected the person responsible and that says a lot about my prejudices and bias, as well as societal expectations. There’s a real streak of social justice running through this novel with certain characters and from my work within the mental health system I did recognise the worry that people are falling through the net and being let down as government funding is withdrawn due to austerity. I recognised the practice of ‘cuckooing’ where a vulnerable person’s home is taken over for criminal purposes such as storing stolen goods, dealing drugs, or hiding body parts. I find it amazing that the author can bring so many strands together, while fully occupying her characters and showing us their inner worlds. I loved my time with Strike and Robin, and I thought the ending was lovely. This was a gripping, multi-layered and intelligent thriller with a simmering attraction between our two main characters that will have you rooting for them.

Posted in Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday! I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. That is, my feet are in it. The rest of me is on the draining board, which I have padded with our dog’s blanket and the tea-cosy.”

I’m going a long way back in time for Throwback Thursday this week. I read this book in my early teens, but still hold it close to my heart. I’d read 101 Dalmations much earlier and hadn’t realised that the author had written anything other than children’s books. The truth is I’d been waiting my whole life for a heroine like Cassandra Mortmain. There are a lot of different influences to blame for turning me into the adolescent I was. Years trawling round stately homes had given me a yearning for a house I could hide in. We lived in a 1960’s bungalow with just enough rooms to live in, but I longed to hear lines like ‘ Hayley? No I haven’t seen her since breakfast. Could she be in the pink drawing room?’ Period dramas, particularly 1970s productions of D.H. Lawrence novels and L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between , both loved by my mum, had left me hankering after a wardrobe of full, floaty skirts and the sort of accessories that looked out of place. Like tramping down to the village shop wearing a feather boa, ten layers of petticoats, whilst dragging a grumpy spaniel. I would constantly imagine I was in a book or a film, walking the poor dog’s legs off while hoping to meet a man who looked like Mr. Rochester and lived in a Gothic mansion, minus the mad wife.

I also developed a fascination with Edith Holden thanks to the TV series of Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady and I even wrote off for a pack about the series. We already had the book, so I bought a sketchbook and some watercolour pencils with my pocket money. My brother and I would go out early, him with his fishing gear, and me with my books and paints. There was an old track down to the woods with a drainage dyke running alongside. About halfway down there were two willow trees that had bent so far over the water it was possible to climb up and lay down along the trunk. My brother would fish from his tree, and in mine I would paint flowers and butterflies and read my book. It was the closest thing I had to room of my own. So, in finding Cassandra Mortmain I felt like I’d found exactly who I was supposed to be. I wasn’t meant to be Hayley Baxter, lives in a sixties bungalow, with a working class family and no money. I was meant to be the broken down castle, bohemian sort of poor. Where parents were trying to make money from art, roof leaks dripped into buckets instead of being fixed and they were invited to tea by the landed gentry or their new American millionaire estate owners.

I loved Cassandra Mortmain’s confidence. She was determined she was going to be a writer and nobody told her she couldn’t be, so she was always curled up in some unlikely place, writing in her journal. If I said I wanted to write novels, my close family were supportive – my mum had always wanted to write. Wider family and friends would say ‘well, as long as you do well at school and have something to fall back on.’ There were aunts and uncles who would have been bemused if I walked constantly around with a journal and pen. Writing was seen as something you had to do – you wrote a letter, or a postcard – but not something pleasurable that you devote time to. That came much later, when I had my own home and my own wardrobe of floaty skirts. When I first read her story I was much like Cassandra herself, there were parts of life that she was recording without really knowing their importance or meaning. Although she narrates her own story, as an older reader there were things I understood that Cassandra didn’t as yet. This is a story of growing up and leaving some of that innocence of youth behind.

I thought on first reading that her sister Rose was incredibly beautiful, but grumpy and not very nice to be around. However, reading her years later I could see that because Rose was older, she understood more about the realities of life. For her, the broken roof and the lack of income were not romantic, but a real problem that needed fixing. Their father’s only published book can’t keep them forever and his writer’s block makes him a very difficult man to live with. Rather comically the women lock him in his study, in the hope that inspiration will strike when he’s forced to stare at his typewriter. It’s very clear to Rose that they are in dire financial straits. This is where the book takes on some Austen-like romantic tropes, as the Cotton family come to visit the estate where they are the rightful heirs and the Mortmains are their tenants. Mrs Cotton brings her two sons, the eldest Simon being the rightful heir, and Neil, the younger son. Simon is ‘detestably bearded’ but the most eligible and able to rescue the Mortmains from their current circumstances. Cassandra’s father and stepmother Topaz are seen as delightfully eccentric by the Cottons and the whole family are invited for dinner. This is where the romantic problems begin, as Simon is besotted with the beautiful Rose, and as Cassandra develops a crush on Simon, she is in turn adored by the Mortmain’s servant and helper, Stephen. Stephen is incredible handsome, but the Mortmain girls are about to find out that the heart is an unruly organ and wants what it wants. Despite this, it isn’t long before Rose announces her engagement to Simon. This solves so many of the Mortmain’s problems – it’s as if one of the Bennett sisters actually accepted Mr Collins. As the preparations for the wedding gather pace, Rose and Cassandra spend more time with the Cotton brothers.

Simon finds that he gets on well with Cassandra. He is the more cerebral of the brothers and while Rose is beautiful, she is not blessed with brains. Yet, Cassandra is too young for romance, and a very touching friendship starts to develop. The younger brother, Neil, is more stereotypically American, loud, brash and very active. He and Rose are usually swimming or messing around in boats, with Neil often play fighting or indulging in horse play. Cassandra has never seen her sister so lively, actually forgetting to be lady like and being in the moment. Everyone is touched to see Rose so happy, and assume it is her approaching wedding. To an adult reader the attraction between these two beautiful people is obvious, but Cassandra is stunned to find out they have run away together. If we hark back to Austen, her sister has turned out to be more of a Lydia than a Jane. How can the Mortmain’s fortunes be improved by their daughter’s marriage to the second son?

This is a novel drenched in charm and nostalgia. Interestingly, it was written by Smith when she was living in America, and that may explain it’s rose-spectacled view of England. There is something slightly melancholy in that we’re watching a young girl lose the charming innocence that makes her narration a delight to read. She falls in love, but not with the person who adores her and sees the devastation that can be caused by betrayal and jealousy. We realise, as Cassandra grows up in front of us, the chaos of a household run by adults who have no money and no rules, the embarrassment of having a stepmother who will happily walk around in the nude and that moment when you find your own sister inexplicable, because you understand storybook romance, but not adult desire. Cassandra is mostly in love with life. One character describes her as ‘the insidious type–Jane Eyre with of touch of Becky Sharp. A thoroughly dangerous girl.” Her narration makes even minor characters jump off the page and straight into your heart. Finally, I loved how Cassandra leaves us with an open ending. We shouldn’t be surprised that some loose ends are left dangling, because she has told us how much she hates ‘a brick wall happy ending.’ I think it’s true to say that in me, she found a reader as romantic about life as she is. This is one of those books I’ll re-read again and again, so I’m on the look-out for a very special copy to put on my forever shelves.

Posted in Netgalley, Personal Purchase

The Illustrated Child by Polly Crosby.

This beautiful and original book hit me straight in the heart and I was reading the last few pages with a massive lump in my throat. Romilly Kemp lives in the run down Bräer House with her father Tobias, an artist who is both inventive and eccentric in equal measure. This situation reminded me of a classic favourite I Capture the Castle, but Romilly’s story is much more than a coming of age tale. Romilly and her father live alone and are struggling for money, when Tobias has an idea for a children’s book based on his daughter. Featuring his original illustrations, the books follow Romilly and her Siamese cat Monty through a series of adventures at the circus, in a windmill and at Christmas. She is preserved forever as a 9 year old in her patchwork dress and her red hair flying behind her. Romilly loves looking for the tiny little additions to his main illustrations – a tiny mouse holding a forget-me- not, two miniature hares boxing, and sometimes Romilly herself being chased by a animal. The public fall in love with the books and the idea grows that there is some sort of treasure hunt contained in the pages leading to trespassers at Bräer and some horrible encounters with reporters and photographers.

Romilly can see secrets of a different kind in the pages her father has drawn, but she’s used to secrets. She hasn’t seen her mum for so long she’s largely forgotten her and they have no other family. Where does her friend Stacey go when she is missing for weeks? Who is the beautiful, pink costumed circus lady she meets who knows her father? She notices differences in the way she’s drawn in the book and also a very faintly painted lady in the background often with her head in her hands. Her dad gives her a puzzle box he’s made, which starts to tick when it’s her birthday releasing a memento or object that’s important to her – Monty’s silver bell, a pink feather. When her dad’s memory starts to fail, Romilly wonders if all these clues are for her, or are they triggers for her dad’s memory? More importantly, I was starting to wonder who would look after Romilly and what had torn this close family apart?

is meant to be home schooled, but has no real curriculum or structure. There are times when heat and food are scarce, and set mealtimes never seem to happen unless someone is visiting. As Tobias declines, Romilly is having to cope alone with no family to help. I wanted to swoop in and look after her and Monty. There’s no doubt that she’s independent, resourceful and intelligent, but is that innate or something she’s had to develop having been left to fend for herself so often? There’s a deep understanding of the psychology of a child in this position underlying Romilly’s story. Even her name means ‘strength’ and she has so much, using it to defend her tiny family and her home.

Underlying all of this is an understanding of trauma and how grief can tear apart the strongest families. In one part of the book Tobias explains to his daughter that people grieve in different ways and sometimes that means doing it apart. I know grief well, and at different stages in my journey I’ve done things differently, avoided certain places and people. At first I struggled to talk to anyone who was as shattered by my husband’s death as I was. I couldn’t deal with anyone else’s needs, only my own. I was very angry with people who turned out for the funeral claiming a relationship with my husband, who I had never met in the seven years we’d been married, the last four of I’d been caring for him 24/7. Later I wanted to seek out people who grieved as strongly as I did because we could reminisce and understand each other’s profound sadness. When reading the book I found myself both very angry with Romilly’s mother because I felt she was selfish, but I also sympathised and understood her decision that she shouldn’t be a parent. There were parts of the novel where I felt nobody understood or fully cared how much their decisions impacted on this little girl. I was so profoundly sad for her and at that point where she realised she needed help, she allowed herself to be vulnerable which must have been so difficult for her.

This is a beautiful book: it’s invocation of childhood and play; the magical atmosphere of Bräer and it’s surroundings; the stunning artworks done by Tobias and the complex history he’s trying to convey. I loved how the author showed objects sparking memories, for Romilly, but also for Tobias who, befuddled by dementia, recognises his daughter through Monty’s silver bell. I hadn’t unravelled the mystery so I could sit back and enjoy it as it played out and when the truth was finally revealed everything made sense, even if I did think Tobias could have handled it so differently. I have a particular affinity with hares, so his drawing under the book’s dust jacket of the two hares was particularly moving. What I loved most was the way the author showed a difficult childhood still being magical and full of memories. I think we can probably all look back and remember times that feel golden to us, but might be very different from our parent’s perspective. Romilly’s freedom, her ability to invent and imagine, to follow her own interests when mixed in with the magical circus, the panther stalking the area round the village and buried treasure seem magical. How much of this would she be willing to trade for security, routine and someone to care for her? This book will stay with me for a long time and is a definite candidate for my ‘forever shelves’.

Meet The Author


Polly Crosby grew up on the Suffolk coast, and now lives with her husband and son in the heart of Norfolk.

Her debut novel, The Illustrated Child (The Book of Hidden Wonders in the US and Australia) is out now.

In 2018, Polly won Curtis Brown Creative’s Yesterday Scholarship, which enabled her to finish her novel. Later the same year, The Illustrated Child was awarded runner-up in the Bridport Prize’s Peggy Chapman Andrews Award for a First Novel. Polly received the Annabel Abbs Creative Writing Scholarship at the University of East Anglia, and is currently working on her second novel.

Twitter: @WriterPolly
Instagram: @polly_crosby
Website: pollycrosby.com

Posted in Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday! A God In Ruins by Kate Atkinson.

Following on from last week, I wanted to feature this novel which is one of my favourites from the last twenty years and shows that Kate Atkinson is truly one of our best British novelists. It follows another wonderful novel about the Todd family, Life after Life, which focused on the many possible lives of Ted’s older sister Ursula. This is written as a standalone novel, rather than a sequel and has the honour of being one of the few books that genuinely made me cry towards the end. We meet Ted as he’s a pensioner, living in York, and dealing with living his life alone after the death of his wife. However, we don’t stay there, because as with Life After Life, Atkinson mixes past, present and future with great impact. The novel is also told from Teddy’s point of view, although he does seem slightly omniscient at times, knowing things he wasn’t present for. It is such a poignant history of a man who has lived through a world war, and it feels so authentic. In true Atkinson style, it cleverly manages to be a book about fiction itself.

In Life After Life when the focus was on Ursula, Teddy seemed to be set on course to marry childhood sweetheart Nancy and their life was portrayed as idyllic. Yet in this novel we see that their relationship was far from perfect. Despite this we do follow the lives of their daughter and granddaughter too, to great effect, because it opens up all the changes Ted has seen over his long life. Teddy’s mind often wanders back to his time as part of Bomber Command – something I’ve grown up with because I live in Lincolnshire which is known as Bomber County. In fact in the course of his work as a land drainage engineer, my Dad has accidentally dug up a whole Lancaster Bomber, probably trying to limp home to RAF Blyton, only a mile and a half away. Here the bomber raids were described so authentically, they were harrowing in parts and I could imagine the anxiety of waiting back at base to count the planes back in, knowing some would be missing.

Atkinson manages to combine the personal story of Teddy’s family, with societal shifts that occurred between the wartime generation and those who came of age in the second half of the 20th Century. Teddy is an old school gentleman, often showing acts of kindness and chivalry that make him very loveable. His values are challenged by his daughter Viola, the voice of her generation, who is always looking for the next cause to adopt. She campaigned for nuclear disarmament and supported the women protesting at Greenham Common. She’s a feminist and a vegan, something very unusual until fairly recently in the 21st Century. We are shown how the generation gap creates arguments in a family, where one generation fought in a war and later generations don’t appreciate or fully comprehend the sacrifices that were made for them. Viola could be seen as an unsympathetic character, especially when compared with Teddy’s service. However I wondered if her character developed as a reaction against Teddy’s courage and heroism. Such perfection is hard to live up to. In fact, when Viola tries to reconnect with friends from her travelling days she finds one of them has died and one works in finance – far from the ideals they held before. Unlike Teddy’s generation they have had a chance to regret behaviour and change outlook. Teddy’s friends will always be the same age.

I enjoyed the interesting structure of the novel where we float back and forth in time, between characters and settings. At times Atkinson lets slip a future plot, while still in the past. All of this felt very Virginia Woolf-esque and it suited the narrative. She is such a skilled writer that this never feels overtly literary or highbrow, it remains a light easy read. There is a huge twist at the end that has a bearing on everything you’ve read so far, but it’s not there just for the sake of it. Yes, it’s an excellent example of the post-modern novel, in a similar vein to Ian McEwan’s Atonement, but that’s not all. It’s impact of the twist was devastating to me and this is where tears emerged. This unexpected direction is truly a tribute to the men of Bomber Command, especially those who didn’t come home, like the men in the Lancaster my Dad dug up who were only a couple of miles from safety. This novel is simply one way Teddy’s life could have played out and it’s all the more powerful for it. This was an intelligent, well-researched and poignant novel that I think should be viewed as a modern classic.

Meet The Author

Kate Atkinson won the Whitbread (now Costa) Book of the Year prize with her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum.

Her four bestselling novels featuring former detective Jackson Brodie became the BBC television series Case Histories, starring Jason Isaacs.Her 2013 novel Life After Life won the South Bank Sky Arts Literature Prize, was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize, and voted Book of the Year for the independent booksellers associations on both sides of the Atlantic. It also won the Costa Novel Award, as did her subsequent novel A God in Ruins (2015).

Posted in Personal Purchase

Woman of a Certain Rage by Georgie Hall.

Recently life had a started to get on top of me a little bit. I felt overwhelmed; with my partner being unwell, my MS not coping with the heat, and several things in the house going wrong. The dishwasher flooded the kitchen, then two weeks later the washing machine did the same, but lifted the entire floor too. Finally, I emptied my bath water and came downstairs to find it had christened the kitchen island and we had a lovely new hole in the ceiling. I’m immune-compromised so I’m still avoiding crowds and wearing masks. Finally, there’s the effect of the menopause when dealing with all those things. I’m far more likely to burst into tears these days. Masks mean I sweat more – not just a little glow, I can look like I’ve just got out of the shower in ‘tropical moments’. Then my reading glasses steam up, but I can’t take them off because I can’t read anything. I’ve taken a short break from blog tours and deadlines to deal with some of this and spending some time reading exactly what I want. So, I’m on the couch, a cold flannel on my neck, with two fans pointing at me, as few clothes as I dare to wear, and an ice cold can of coke in my hand. I was browsing my NetGalley shelf when this title jumped out at me. It could not have been more apt.

Eliza feels like she’s going crazy. She’s emotional, keeps forgetting things, feels angry and she’s hot, oh so hot.

This is a smart and funny novel about love, life and a second shot at freedom for rebellious women of a certain age. Late for work and dodging traffic, Eliza is still reeling from the latest row with husband Paddy. Twenty-something years ago, their eyes met over the class divide in oh-so-cool Britpop London, but while Paddy now seems content filling his downtime with canal boats and cricket, Eliza craves the freedom and excitement of her youth. Fifty sounds dangerously close to pensionable: her woke children want to cancel her, a male motorist has just called her a ‘mad old bat’ and to cap it all her hormones are on the run. Who knew menopause was puberty’s evil older sister? But then a moment of heroism draws an unexpected admirer, and Eliza sets out to discover whether the second half of life can be a glass half full after all. She might suffer mental fog and night sweats – and have temporarily mislaid her waist – but this is her renaissance.

I bonded with Eliza immediately and not just because of the menopause. We’re a similar age, so I could identify with growing up in the Britpop era – I fell totally in love with Damon Albarn, a love which has lasted a lifetime. All of our references points were the same, and having inherited two beautiful stepdaughters in their tweens and teens I could really appreciate Eliza’s relationship with her daughter. I also have a strong relationship with an elderly dog. Menopause is causing tension in Eliza’s marriage, particularly annoying for her is the loss of libido. That deep connection she and Paddy once had seems to have gone, lost in the logistics of family life and life stresses around their finances. Eliza’s realisation that she’s becoming invisible has extended into her working life too. She has always wanted to be a stage actress, but her career has never really taken off. Now she’s getting less and less work, and aside from one Japanese tourist who thinks she’s Emma Thompson, she feels very under appreciated. She’s doing voice work, reading audiobooks mainly, plus has a side job showing people around properties for a local estate agent. All of the everyday stresses in her life – marriage, family tensions mixed with financial concerns, having ‘woke’ children, her youngest son who is on the spectrum – leave her feeling exhausted. Into this low point steps a handsome Italian restauranteur, who happens to have taken over her family’s favourite bistro from his uncle. Exuding charm from every pore, he flatters Eliza and makes her feel desirable when of late she’s felt men’s eyes pass over her and to her teenage daughter. It’s like one big ‘hormotional’ perfect storm and I wondered whether anyone would come out of it unscathed.

It’s easy to love Eliza; she’s loving, caring, vivacious and witty. However, her husband Paddy grew on me too and I felt a great deal of empathy for his own middle aged struggles. There is growing evidence of male menopause, despite society being largely dismissive and calling it a ‘midlife crisis’. Jokes about middle-aged men trying to recapture their youth with hair transplants, sports cars and unwise affairs with younger women are still commonplace. Yet the NHS recognises a group of symptoms similar to those experienced by women – irritability, insomnia, weight gain, loss of muscle mass, erectile dysfunction, loss of libido and memory problems. Some doctors have questioned whether these are symptoms of a loss of testosterone, but the NHS classify it as a psychological syndrome characterised by increased levels of depression and raised anxiety amongst men in their late forties and fifties. Paddy is definitely going through something like this, but he has had a lot to contend with. His father’s death and the loss of the narrow boat they worked on together hit him hard. Eliza’s family bought the boat so he could still work on it, but that brings its own guilt and shame because Paddy could not afford to do this himself and run it. His wife earns more than he does and she’s starting acting like a crazy person. He thinks her loss of libido is down to him being a failure as a man. This book hinges on the fact that problems occur when couples stop communicating.

The author really pitched this book perfectly, balanced between the serious issues and the comic moments. Her other characters were well rounded, with interesting quirks to their personalities or hidden depths. I thought her sister was an infuriating superwoman who could juggle everything perfectly, but when she cooked Sunday dinner she was in a complaining, sweaty, heap like I am on Sundays! Her mum had depths of hidden wisdom and despite never seeming to ask, had a pretty accurate idea of what was going on. I found Eliza’s daughter infuriating though. She was very preachy and deeply committed to social justice and women’s rights. Despite agreeing with her in some cases I found her speeches annoying and the long Shakespeare quotes pretentious. I think this is how the author intended her though. She was an exaggeration of my stepdaughter’s generation and I could see a lot of our 15 year old in Summer’s causes and the way she spoke. I think the youngest son’s autism was handled well too. When she found out the real reason he wouldn’t use his allocated transport to get to school I was heartbroken for him. All anyone wants is for someone to understand them and listen to how it feels, rather than dismissing them with a lazy stereotype or the ableism on show here. The final adventure was both funny and poignant, and I left the book feeling like I’d been seen and acknowledged. I also had a huge smile on my face, because it had really lifted my spirits, so much so that I would really love another instalment of Eliza and her family in the future.

Posted in Personal Purchase

The Hollows by Mark Edwards.

Mark Edwards has become one of my favourite authors over the last few years. His books are fascinating, addictive thrillers where an ordinary domestic situation is subverted or even blown wide open. There’s maybe a new person brought into the situation who upsets the dynamic or a massive life change that makes a character question their life. This was a slightly different premise, but still based around a modern family, with more than a nod to another of my favourite authors – Stephen King. The title reminded me of the wooded area where the kids would meet in King’s novel It, there are allusions to burying a live cat that brought to mind Pet Semetary, the backwater town has the feel of Salem’s Lot and the passing drunk who helps Tom at the end has the feel of the janitor at the Overlook Hotel. As soon as Tom arrived at the cabins it reminded me of the secluded cabin in Bag of Bones. This gave me the sense we might be getting a supernatural element to this thriller and there’s definitely a pagan or Wiccan aspect to the tale.

With his marriage over and his career in freefall, journalist Tom decides to reconnect with his fourteen-year-old daughter, Frankie. Desperate to spend precious time together now that they live an ocean apart, he brings her to Hollow Falls, a cabin resort deep in the woods of Maine.

From the outset there’s something a little eerie about the place—strange whispers in the trees, windchimes echoing through the forest—but when Tom meets true-crime podcasters David and Connie, he receives a chilling warning. Hollow Falls has a gruesome history: twenty years ago this week, a double slaying shut down the resort. The crime was never solved, and now the woods are overrun with murder-obsessed tourists looking to mark the grim anniversary.

It’s clear that there’s something deeply disturbing going on at Hollow Falls. And as Tom’s dream trip turns into a nightmare, he and Frankie are faced with a choice: uncover the truth, or get out while they still can. There were times in the book when I was screaming at Tom to just pack the car up and leave without looking back! The killing from twenty years ago is a heavy influence on the story. Two teachers on a field trip with their students, sneak away at night to a clearing in the forest and start an illicit affair. Both are married and it is a double shock to their spouses to find out they’ve been cheating and murdered. The bodies are posed in a symbolic way with Wiccan symbols painted in their blood. The suspect is a local teenager with an interest in death metal and all things pagan. He disappeared at the same time as the murders, and Tom’s daughter Frankie is spooked by tales of him still living wild in the woods to this day. She forms a friendship with Ryan, son of the true crime enthusiasts David and Connie. They take a walk into the local town, Penance, which is a real backwater with locals who are openly hostile to those at the holiday village. The teenagers run into some other kids, but they’re not friendly. The way the author describes brother and sister duo Buddy and Darlene, standing together, arms by their sides and completely motionless – is creepy and reminiscent of the twin girls from The Shining. Ryan takes pictures and lampoons the locals on Instagram using hashtags they’re going to find, putting himself and Frankie in danger.

The author really ramps up the tension to great effect. Little creepy incidents like a dead rabbit at the cabin door, Tom thinking he’s seen a horned goat man, as well as Connie’s hints about a big surprise for her true crime followers on barbecue night, keep camp residents on edge. Then more serious incidents start to occur – Frankie and Ryan are pelted with rocks, an unlucky guest with a heart condition sees what she thinks is Satan. The stakes are getting higher, building towards the Saturday event. Tom makes friends with local bookshop owner Nikki, there’s an instant charge between them, but can he trust her? As he starts to look into the murders and myths surrounding the Hollows, using his investigative skills, he realises that Nikki was about the same age as suspected murderer Everett. Everybody seems to know each other in such a small town so did she know him? Suspicions reach boiling point, and when Frankie and Ryan go missing in the midst of the party preparations Tom has no idea who to trust and how to find his daughter.

Mark Edwards never lets me down. His thrillers are always well thought out, psychologically unsettling and paced beautifully. I didn’t work out the whole mystery, and the eventual reveal developed in an unexpected and rather grisly way. There was something slightly comical, as well as horrifying, about people wandering the woods in animal masks – particularly when the horned goat happens upon a very religious woman with a very weak heart. I must admit to a rather dark sense of humour because that made me laugh. I enjoyed the friction between locals and holiday makers, because it’s true of many beautiful places. The locals need tourists, but it’s an uneasy partnership. The pagan backstory to the forest being sacred ground, that should remain wild, linked in to this and felt very apt in a time when humans have ruined their habitat. I think the prurience of true crime fans was also timely with many of my friends glued to crime documentaries on Netflix. I’m also a Stephen King fan so I enjoyed the nods to his creations and the whole ‘townie versus country locals’ vibe that permeates a lot of his work. I devoured this so quickly that I’m already thinking about thr next book from this ‘must buy’ author.

Meet The Author

Mark Edwards writes psychological thrillers in which scary things happen to ordinary people.

He loves hearing from readers and always responds. Mark can be contacted in the following ways:
Email: mark@markedwardsauthor.com
Twitter @mredwards
Facebook/Instagram: @markedwardsauthor

You can download a free box set of ‘Short Sharp Shockers’ by visiting http://www.markedwardsauthor.com/free

Mark has sold over 3.5 million books since his first solo novel, The Magpies, was published in 2013 and has topped the bestseller lists numerous times. His other novels include Follow You Home, Here To Stay and The House Guest. He has also published six books co-authored with Louise Voss. His latest book is The Hollows, published in July 2021.

Mark lives in the West Midlands, England, with his wife, their three children and two cats.