Posted in Random Things Tours

The Other Daughter by Caroline Bishop.

You only get one life – but what if it isn’t the one you were meant to live?

‘When it finally arrived I was shocked to see it; to read the words Mum wrote about these women fighting for rights I know I take for granted. Mum was here. And while she was, something happened that changed the entire course of my life. Perhaps, if I can summon the courage, the next eight weeks will help me finally figure out what that was . . .’

When Jessica discovers a shocking secret about her birth, it affects every area of her life. Her grief leaves her struggling at work and home, and sadly affects her feelings about being a mother. She takes advice from her godmother to take a break and she leaves her London home to travel to Switzerland in search of answers. There she takes a job as a nanny while researching her mother. She knows her journalist mother spent time in the country forty years earlier, reporting on the Swiss women’s liberation movement. What she doesn’t know, is what happened to her while she was there. Can Jess summon the courage to face the truth about her family, or will her search only hurt herself and those around her even more?

The story is told across two timelines. Jess in 2016 is just separated from her husband and taking a sabbatical from work. She has discovered a secret about her birth and wants more information. She knows her mother travelled to Switzerland in 1976 to research their fight for women’s rights. Women only gained the right to vote in 1971 after a referendum and I have always found this surprising. Sylvie travels there on hard won expenses trip. Her boss fails to see the value in an article on women’s rights, but she wins him round. I understood Sylvie’s journalistic interest in how late this date was, so I was interested as she convinced her editor to send her out to Switzerland in pursuit of the story around women’s suffrage in the country.

There was a slow beginning to the book, and it took me a while to gel with the characters. I was so glad I stuck with it though, because this was a slow burner and I became really involved with this family’s story. I know from working as a therapist, how difficult it can be for people to cope with secrets from the past, or an absence of knowledge about where they’re from. It’s this knowledge that Jess is looking for, in order to feel grounded. However, I also know that revelations about our history and background can leave us feeling adrift. We build a narrative about who we are and where we’re from; if that is shattered our sense of self can be too. The author really shows psychological insight, weaving these personal histories into a historical narrative – how Switzerland has treated women, including their legal right to participate in the democratic process and even their rights over their own bodies. I think Jess is so well rounded. There are so many layers to her character, and the deeper historical background mean she felt so real to me. I felt so invested in her story.

The revelations that come through Jess’s digging, but also through Sylvia’s narrative, take us down a path towards the truth. However, truth and written history are often two very different things. I feel that the author is clearly making a point about how a country’s history is written with an agenda. Often minorities and their experiences are erased from history and we need to move beyond the official version of events. I was worried that the truth Jess so desperately needed might not be real and she would be shattered again. The author has so much skill at creating a sense of place, both at the Swiss end and in London. She slowly drew me in and I became so involved in these character’s lives. There were times when they brought a lump to my throat, my emotions were so invested. This is an incredible debut and I look forward to more from this talented writer.

Meet The Author

Caroline is a British freelance writer currently living in Switzerland.

​In the past 15 years or so she has written about travel, food and theatre for newspapers, magazines and websites including The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent, BBC Travel, Adventure Travel, France magazine and others. She was also the editor of anglophone Swiss news site for two years, during which time she became fascinated with aspects of Swiss history and culture, particularly the evolution of women’s rights, which forms the backdrop to The Other Daughter, her debut novel. 

Visit Caroline’s website at or follow her on Twitter @calbish and Instagram/Facebook @carolinebishopauthor

Posted in Random Things Tours

Smoke Screen by Jorn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger

It’s Oslo, New Year’s Eve and crowds are gathering for the annual fireworks display in the city square, when a huge explosion rocks the area and Oslo is put on terrorist alert. News and crime blogger, Emma Ramm, was down there hoping for some space from her boyfriend. Unfortunately Casper followed her, and was caught up in the explosion with fatal consequences. Instead of stopping and grieving, Emma becomes intrigued with another of the fatalities. Mrs Semplass is blown into the water off the quay and has suffered dreadful injuries. Police officer Alexander Blixx has rushed to help, and he brings Patricia out of the water but it is too late to save her. Ramm and Blixx have a past that will always connect them. He is something of a father figure to Ramm and his concern for her is touching, especially since she gets in his way so much. He also admires Ramm for what she can uncover and her tenacity when following the evidence, however much she treads on his toes. Yet she’s reckless at times and puts herself in dangerous situations which worries him. They both set out to investigate, not just the explosion but the coincidence.

They have come across Semplass before, her daughter Patricia was abducted many years ago, when she was only two years old. The crime remained unsolved and they never found Patricia, something that haunts Blixx to this day. Now that Ruth-Christine is dead, it is the last time Blixx may be able to look at this case again. When another familiar name comes up in the bombing investigation, Blixx suspects this is more than a coincidence and starts to dig. Blixx and Ramm begin parallel investigations in alternate chapters to each other; one hoping to find her boyfriend Casper’s killer, the other hoping to finally break a case that haunted him. They cross paths so many times, reaching the same conclusions, but using different methods. This is a very dark and complex case that will affect all of those concerned.

The characterisation was fantastic, each character was so immediately believable and whole. Emma is a dogged investigator, determined to find the truth whatever the cost to herself and unable to focus on the loss of Casper. She’d had doubts about the relationship before the explosion so she feels awkward. This is confused further when his parents try to look after her and take her back home with them for the funeral. When she finally agrees to stay with them she only manages 24 hours before wanting to be free, chasing her latest clue. It’s as if she’s unable to stand still or accept support from anyone, she prefers to stand alone. I loved how the author made even small characters sympathetic and interesting. A cleaner at the hotel where the bomber stayed really drew me in, first as she kept finding a ‘do not disturb’ sign on his hotel room door, but then in a tense scene as she walks home. She thinks she knows the missing man by his shoe laces, the pace intensifies as she hears someone behind her, the pace quickens and by the time she’s face to face with her pursuer my heart was racing!

The short chapters added to the pace and any switches between writer were seamless, as was the translation. The earlier chapters slowly set the story up and let us try and piece together the clues. The pace picked up considerably towards the end and I ended up reading very late at night to finish it. I’d made some correct guesses about what happened to Patricia Semplass, but I hadn’t fully worked out this complicated plot that neatly ties up all the loose ends. It was the perfect Scandi Noir novel: atmospheric, complex, dark and surprising. I finished the book with an immense sense of satisfaction and another series of novels to collect for my bookshelves.

Meet The Authors

Thomas Enger is a former journalist. He made his debut with the crime novel Burned (Skinndød) in 2010, which became an international sensation before publication. Burned is the first in a series of five books about the journalist Henning Juul, which delves into the depths of Oslo s underbelly, skewering the corridors of dirty politics and nailing the fast-moving world of 24-hour news. Rights to the series have been sold to 28 countries to date. In 2013 Enger published his first book for young adults, a dark fantasy thriller called The Evil Legacy, for which he won the U-prize (best book Young Adult). Killer Instinct, another Young Adult suspense novel, was published in Norway in 2017. Rights have been sold to Germany and Iceland. Enger also composes music, and he lives in Oslo.

Jørn Lier Horst is one of Norway’s most experienced police investigators, but also one of Scandinavia’s most successful crime writers. He writes engaging and intelligent crime novels that offer an uncommonly detailed and realistic insight into the way serious crimes are investigated, as well as how both police and press work. His literary awards include the Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize, the Riverton Prize (Golden Revolver), the Scandinavian Glass Key and the prestigious Martin Beck Award.

Posted in Random Things Tours

Space Hopper by Helen Fisher.

I first read this book last year, but then the release date changed. When I was asked onto the blog tour, I was excited to read it again. I remember being so intrigued by the premise – I always get strangely giddy when an author does something unexpected or genre bending! On the second read I still had me the same sense of delight and wonder as Faye gets into her space hopper box and careers back into the 1970s.

This is a story about taking a leap of faith

And believing the unbelievable

They say those we love never truly leave us, and I’ve found that to be true. But not in the way you might expect. In fact, none of this is what you’d expect.

I’ve been visiting my mother who died when I was eight.

And I’m talking about flesh and blood, tea-and-biscuits-on-the-table visiting here.

Right now, you probably think I’m going mad.

Let me explain…

Although Faye is happy with her life, the loss of her mother as a child weighs on her mind even more now that she is a mother herself. So she is amazed when, in an extraordinary turn of events, she finds herself back in her childhood home in the 1970s. Faced with the chance to finally seek answers to her questions – but away from her own family – how much is she willing to give up for another moment with her mother?

This truly is a unique and original debut novel that mixes a heartfelt story about mothers and daughters, time travel, and the 1970s. I’m a child of the 1970s and though I never owned a space-hopper they were an instantly recognisable symbol of my childhood. The author takes these elements and brings us moments of intense delight – I was smiling to myself as Faye climbs into the ratty and tattered space-hopper box in the attic – but also a poignant and heart rending sense of loss. Faye has a photo of herself in the box, it was taken when she was six and it must have been taken by her mother, Jeanie. Although her Mum isn’t in this photo, everything about it tells her how much she was loved and how much was taken away from her. It’s Christmas and Faye remembers the decorations, the presents and can see the sense of wonder in her little face. She can also see the love, the trust and the sense that her Mum is her absolute world. Her presence in the photograph is so strong, even though we can’t see her. This photo is like a talisman for Faye, and the reader feels the strong emotional pull too.

Yet she doesn’t know her mum. There’s a moment, when adult Faye has hidden herself in the garden shed, and watches her mum open the back door and look down the garden.

‘hands on hips looking straight down the short, narrow garden, straight at me in fact, and took in a long deep breath of cold air. She closed her eyes and smiled. She looked so content and I realised I knew nothing about this woman.’

It questions whether we can ever truly know our mother, even though the emotional bond is so incredibly strong. Faye wonders if, through time travel, she can get to know her mother on an adult-adult level, especially if her mother doesn’t know who she is. Although in a philosophical chat with her friends, they point out that Faye would always know she was Jeanie’s daughter and can only relate to her in that role. The question is, can she tell them what has happened to her? There are pros and cons to having this portal to her past. When she’s with her mother, she worries whether she’ll be able to get back to her husband Eddie and her own daughters Esther and Evie. She wants to be there for her daughters, so they don’t have the very same experience of loss that she had. Eddie is training to be a vicar, so he has a belief in God and the afterlife. Faye has no belief, and worries about where she’ll fit as a vicar’s wife without faith. Now can she ask Eddie to belief she’s found a portal back to her childhood in a ratty, space-hopper box that’s hiding in the attic? Every character is so loving and supportive of Faye, but I have to mention her friend Louis who happens to be blind. I liked the sense in which he takes a leap every single day into a world he can’t see and doesn’t always understand in the same way we do. He makes the point that his inner world is very different from the sighted person’s world, although sighted people always think he sees like they do. If you’ve never seen a cat, you can only go on the way it feels. There’s a brilliant example where he’s asked to draw a bus and he draws one vertical line, followed by three smaller horizontal lines.

His experience of the bus is the vertical handle he holds to get on and three horizontal steps he climbs. Maybe Louis would understand the sense of different worlds?

When working in my day job, I sometimes counsel people who are bereaved. We talk about grief in many different ways, but one of the most popular metaphors is the sea. It tends to come in and out in waves. On anniversaries it sweeps in and then recedes again. There are times when it stays far out of sight and others when it comes in so fast and strong it’s like a grief tsunami! If Faye returns, having got to know her Mum as Jeanie, will she grieve for her all over again? If she’s stuck back there, she will grieve for her family and friends in the present. I was deeply touched by a section where she talks about her childhood grief and needing to ask questions about her mother.

‘ I searched my memory like it was a messy drawer, trying to find an image, some mental recording of a conversation, something to explain exactly why I’d felt so alone in dealing with losing my mum, when Em and Henry had been so supportive, so caring, in every other way. I could see Henry’s face in a memory so coated with dust I could barely picture it. It was his face with a worried look, glancing over at Em as I asked her a question or said something about my mother. What would it have been? ‘I miss my mother. I want to see my mother again. Do you think my mother was happy?’ I had seen those looks of his, and I’d filed them away. I hadn’t thought about it, but I realised what they were: he didn’t want me to upset his wife Em.’

So, in order to avoid upsetting Em she’d kept her questions and her grief to herself. My heart broke for this little girl so alone in her loss. However, despite being deep and poignant, the author has found a way of making the novel fantastical, quirky and even humorous. It’s suffused with love and joy. I’m so impressed with this magical debut, it absolutely charmed me from beginning to end.

Meet The Author

Helen Fisher spent her early life in America, but grew up mainly in Suffolk where she now lives with her two children. She studied Psychology at Westminster University and Ergonomics at UCL and worked as a senior evaluator in research at the RNIB. She is now a full-time author.Space Hopper is her first novel. She is currently working on her second novel.

Posted in Random Things Tours

The Last Snow by Stina Jackson.

What secrets are hidden within the walls of a desolate farmhouse in a forgotten corner of Lapland?

I was chilled by this novel from the first page, as a young girl flits through the woods, only visible in flashes of a pale, frosty moon. She is making her way towards an all-night garage and truck stop, one of those places that feel weirdly outside of time. I could already sense the isolation of this part of Sweden, so far north it’s in the region of Lapland. I could also imagine the boredom and recklessness this teenage girl feels, then I worried about the home she is from.

Then we jump to the present day. Early spring has its icy grip on Ödesmark, a small village in northernmost Sweden, abandoned by many of its inhabitants. But Liv Björnlund never left. She lives in a derelict house together with her teenage son, Simon, and her ageing father, Vidar. They make for a peculiar family, and Liv knows that they are cause for gossip among their few remaining neighbours.

Just why has Liv stayed by her domineering father’s side all these years? And is it true that Vidar is sitting on a small fortune? His questionable business decisions have made him many enemies over the years, and in Ödesmark everyone knows everyone, and no one ever forgets.

Now someone wants back what is rightfully theirs. And they will stop at nothing to get it, no matter who stands in their way…

Usually when writing about a thriller I’m talking about the build up of tension, the breakneck pace of the writing as we reach each reveal. Here Stina Jackson has done completely the opposite and it’s so effective. The pace is glacial, quiet and even contemplative. The result is that you become so lost in the pages that you forget you’re supposed to be breathing. The dreamlike quality of those first lines stays as you are introduced to Liv, working her job in a filling station. There’s a sense that time has stood still. As her father draws up in his old car to pick her up, she could still be a teenager at her Saturday job. Then we find out she has a teenage son and realise she’s older, but very little has changed for Liv. I felt that sense of suffocation, as they return to the house that’s barely standing, with no neighbours in sight, and her father ruling the roost. There’s inertia here; Liv hates being here but can’t summon up the energy to leave. She’s beaten down mentally by privation and the harshness of her father and the landscape. This isn’t a formulaic crime novel, this is also about families and all the emotions encompassed in these relationships. There’s jealousy here, hate and resentment, but also love. Yet over all of that there’s that suffocating sense of paralysis. As if nothing will ever change here.

Liv does have an escape. It’s a tried and tested escape she’s used since she was a teenager. At night she makes her way to an old cabin on their land, takes off her clothes and climbs into bed with the tenant. There’s a calm and matter of fact feel to her liaison, she’s clearly been here many times before. Maybe this is the closest she can get to a relationship. It’s a step up from her midnight travels to the truck stop and the cab of any trucker she can find. At least now she’s a woman, her father Vidar doesn’t track her down and drag her home. Vidar is harsh, cold, mean and according to local gossip, sitting on a fortune. They needn’t live the way they do. Our other perspective in the novel is that of local drug dealer, Liam and his brother Gabriel. Liam feels like Liv’s counterpoint in the novel. He wants to change his life, but is controlled by his brother who has heard of Vidar’s supposed fortune. These two families will come together in a violent and brutal way. All of these characters are so well drawn and they come to the reader in the same way people do in life. Some are open from the beginning, like Vidar who doesn’t hide his cruelty and unpleasantness. Others are more quiet and sly, we have to work to get to know them. Between all of these characters though, there’s a volatile mix of bad blood, greed and so much suppressed rage. When this spills over we are left thinking we know who’s to blame, but we don’t.

The story does slip back and forth in time from the opening scenes in 1998 to a later point as the past informs the future and vice versa. It’s important to concentrate in the past sections, because it really does inform people’s motivations and character. It’s a slow burn, but still kept me gripped throughout. Then the ending comes and while it was shocking, it made sense. This felt like some of the best Scandi Noir series I’ve watched – heavy on atmosphere and character, but takes it time unfolding the narrative and showing us where everyone fits, till the final revealing scene.

Meet The Author

Stina Jackson (b. 1983) hails from the northern town of Skellefteå in Sweden. Just over a decade ago she relocated to Denver, Colorado, where she penned her debut novel, the acclaimed The Silver Road. A runaway bestseller, the novel established Jackson as a rising new star within Nordic suspense.

Posted in Random Things Tours

Gold Light Shining by Bebe Ashley.

I would describe Bebe Ashley’s collection as a poetic collage. It ranges across subjects as diverse as fashion, fandom, and families. Ashley elevates the internet into a poetic subject, puncturing the enduring snobbery of high and low culture. She shows us that the internet and some of its subjects are not the cultural wasteland people fear. Rather it is a window on whatever we choose to view from celebrity culture, to youthful yearnings, obsession, awakening sexuality and Harry Styles. The internet can be the cultural rainbow that lights up our grey lives. The focus may well be on our journey into adulthood, but there is another, wiser, voice too. The voice that knows some of this is momentary and that it is in building connections and communities that we find meaning. She also never forgets the meaning in our own families.

I grew up in the eighties, and we had to drive five or six miles to another village to the newsagent who reserved my copy of Look-In magazine, and then Smash Hits. This was my little window into the world and more specifically Adam Ant. My life might have been very different had I been able to access information and my fingertips. I loved the poem ‘Give Pop Music, Give Peace a Chance.’ It’s a grandmother, standing on a hill with her grandchildren reminiscing about this place, the seasons and her awakening to music and celebrity. As she sits in a sunken garden amongst the bluebells a young ranger starts to point out the beauty of the place. She knows. She knew it was beautiful before he was even born. She remembers that age of listening to music and feeling full of potential:

‘’a telegram from John and Yoko/ The thrill of running coloured chalk through the ends of her hair/She remembers sticking her thumb pad against the pin back/of a badge that served as her first concert ticket.’

She includes notes and allusions to Harry Styles, suggesting listening to his music while reading the poetry here. She starts the book with a quote of what looks like song lyrics, where he talks directly to his fans saying that he doesn’t understand or feel exactly what they do, but that he does ‘see’ each and every one of them. This assures the fans that they are noticed, that he appreciates them and this state of ‘fandom’ which is such a strong feeling as a teenage girl. In her poem The Boy Who the narrator gives a brilliant depiction of the chaos of a teenage party. She meets a boy in a Jesus T-shirt who is hiding in the bathroom to get away from people, but to enjoy the music. She lays in the bath and she listens to a tale of finding a friend ‘who he met in a gay club that he definitely didn’t know was a gay club’ and how this friend offered him their couch to sleep on while things were difficult at home.

Although these are longer poems than haiku, it feels like the poet is trying to do the same thing. All of these are brief moments in time, beautifully observed, and structured. The Boy Who is written as a long stream of consciousness with no punctuation or breaths. It’s like a story you’d quickly tell a friend about the party you attended the other night and where you disappeared to. In the final poem she imagines the object of her fandom in Japan, wearing an embroidered hoody and curls that are in need of a cut. The last two lines describe one such moment:

This is the one I’d most like to meet /Of all the moonstruck moments

This is a beautiful collection of poetry that imagines that rush of teenage hormones, burgeoning sexual feelings and the perfect pop star as an object of affection. There is a reverence and respect to how she describes Harry Styles here that I found really endearing. I loved though how the poet describes he importance of music and how we use it to complement or change our emotions. In Breakdown she brilliantly pinpoints the way we might use songs for heartbreak and it reminded me of my friend who was heartbroken and kept playing Coldplay’s The Scientist over and over in the car until me and her other friend stole the CD to break her mood. We were worried that the repetitive playing of it, was hampering her recovery. Here Ashley writes:

‘There was something serendipitous/ About being heartbroken during the release/ Of a heartbreak album, with the postman/ already tired of square sleeved parcels/ And the neighbours already sick of hearing/ Heartbreaker’s twelve songs on repeat.’

Music does affect and influence our emotions profoundly. If I hear certain Snow Patrol songs I’m reminded of a bereavement I had. If I hear ‘Yes’ by McAlmont and Butler it reminds me of feeling positive, hopeful and full of excitement for a new start in my life. Like most of us I even have mood playlists on Spotify for when I need cheering up, motivating or having a good cry. Ashley captures that feeling as well as teenage fandom and the inspiration she gets from Harry Styles’s lyrics. It’s a very readable and relatable collection, that I can tell I’m going to enjoy with further readings.

Meet The Author

Bebe Ashley lives in Belfast. She is a AHRC – funded PhD candidate at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry. Her work can be found in Poetry Birmingham Library Journal, Poetry Ireland Review and others. When procrastinating from her PhD she takes British Sign Language and Braille classes, and writes pop culture articles for United by Pop, specialising in Harry Styles.

Posted in Random Things Tours

The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell.

I must admit to being a bit of a fan girl when it comes to Laura Purcell. The mix of historical and gothic fiction is probably my favourite genre, so I had been impatiently awaiting the publication of her latest novel anyway. I jumped at the chance to join the blog tour, because she’s one of my favourites – in fact I had already pre-ordered a signed edition of this two months ago. So I came to it full of anticipation. I was hooked by the end of the first chapter and didn’t put it down. Our narrator is Miss Agnes Darken, living in Bath with her invalid mother and nephew Cedric. Agnes earns her money cutting silhouettes or ‘shades’ for people, but her art is put under threat not just by newer inventions, but by a mysterious killer stalking the people who have sat for her. Desperate for answers, Agnes visits a spirit medium – an albino child named Pearl who lives with her sister Miss Myrtle West, and an invalid father. Agnes and Pearl try to conjure the spirit of one of her murdered sitters, so they can find the killer. Unfortunately, they have underestimated the power of what they have unleashed.

The story is full of little twists and turns that unsettled me and kept me guessing. When Agnes finds the shade she cut of her first sitter with a squashed face, she ends up with the police on her doorstep. She was his last appointment before he was killed and the murder weapon was a mallet, in fact his face is quite ruined. Agnes is shocked, but could perhaps write this off as a coincidence. Maybe she simply caught the silhouette as she closed the book? I thought the awkward relationship with Simon, who is there when the police come, was really interesting. He is Agnes’s friend, but also a doctor and was married to her sister Constance. Yet it is Agnes and her mother who have Cedric, her sister’s son, living with them. I kept wondering how this had happened and it was these awkward relationships and the whiff of scandal that really caught my attention just as much as the supernatural element. Simon is deeply protective of Agnes and her health since she’d had pneumonia a few years previously. Yet there’s another concern underneath, her mental health and whether certain things are ‘too much’ for her delicate nerves.

The horror in Pearl’s household comes from poverty and working in dangerous environments as much as it does the supernatural. Pearl’s father has worked in a match factory and has succumbed to the horrific disease of ‘phossy jaw’ where the phosphorus used for the match heads, eats into the mouth and slowly poisons the victim. The descriptions of being able to see the workings of his jaw and of Simon trying to clean the area and burst abscesses on the gums is visceral and left me far more horrified than the seances held by Pearl and her half-sister Myrtle. Myrtle has named Pearl The White Sylph, which only adds to the air of mystery created by her snowy white hair and skin and the wispy glow of ectoplasm that can be seen emanating from her body when the lights are off. Pearl is exhausted and drained afterwards, and her fear of the spirits who take control of her is obvious. She fears them sitting in her body or speaking through her mouth. It seems her gift is involuntary and all the more genuine for that. When Agnes visits they have no idea what they may summon up together, whether in terms of the spirits or a plan that may prove even more deadly.

Agnes is haunted by her sister whether she visits Pearl or not, but the pair do have something in common; sisters who try to control their lives. Agnes’s sister Constance has wronged her sister terribly in life, but continues to be there in death. I love the tiniest details that are placed by the author to echo the relationship:

‘Agnes scrubs at her eyes with the handkerchief. She has gone through so many of them lately that she’s been forced to use Constance’s old ones; she has picked the initials out but the ghost of the letter C still marks the corner’.

I saw an echo of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca in this, they way her initials are all over the house, marking everything the new wife has to touch. Here it is a way for Constance to be ever present for Agnes. Constance is like Agnes’s shadow, and just like Myrtle and Pearl there is a yin and yang to these sisterhoods. One sister the innocent and other the dominant, rule breaking force. It’s as if they’re two halves making a whole. I enjoyed the description of Constance’s wardrobe towards the end of the book and the bright colours of her gowns contrast strongly with Agnes’s jet black, almost Puritan style of dress. Agnes is giving off that sense of grief and this uniform of mourning can mask who someone is as effectively as a disguise.

I also loved the period detail in the book, not just the clothing, but the etiquette and position of women. Although Agnes struggles financially she does have some measure of freedom and runs her own household. She has Simon, her brother in law, as her protector and because he is a doctor and a widower there is no impropriety in this. However, she does need him for certain things such as talking to the police and dealing with other men, who simply don’t consider a woman as an equal. I also loved the descriptions of Agnes’s craft, the cutting machine that she barely uses in order to keep cutting by hand alive. There is an alchemy in the descriptions of her work, the magical way she’s able put a person’s character into what seems like a very flat, characterless medium. There is a great description of a session with a young man, who admits he would prefer the new- fangled photograph, but his mother prefers the old ways. Photography is a threat to Agnes’s business, and there’s an interesting thought process around the belief that too many photographs could diminish you as each photograph takes a bit of your soul.

‘Part of your soul would remain forever imprisoned in the glass lens. Sit for too many and you might be depleted. More alive in the photograph than in real life.’

I thought that could be my thought process when I’m worrying about my niece or stepdaughter’s ‘addiction’ to social media. I like to take breaks from social media, but I sometimes worry that they’re so obsessed with their online personas that they miss out on what’s actually happening in real life. Social media is an edited or even purposely cultivated idea of who we are, not our real selves. It’s good to hear that each generations worries about the same things.

This is an excellent gothic mystery, that grabbed me from the start and didn’t let go. I thought the characters were well developed and fascinating – even the ones who are no longer there! I liked that were transgressive females who had their own agency and independence. I enjoyed the author’s sense of place, the evil portents like the magpies and the build up of tension. I also liked the contrast between those living in poverty and those with a more middle class lifestyle. The supernatural elements are always spooky with Purcell, so the seances and visitations are unsettling, but so are the real life people. As the mystery deepens you won’t be able to stop reading, because you’ll have to know what’s going on. There’s a saying we use about timid people – afraid of your own shadow – and that’s what this book does, it makes us afraid of what others might see in us, and who we can become in the dark. An utterly brilliant addition to Laura Purcell’s work.

Why not check out some of the reviews of my fellow bloggers?

Meet The Author

Laura Purcell is a former bookseller. She now lives in Colchester with her husband and their pet guinea pigs. Her first novel for Raven Books, The Silent Companions was a Radio 2 and Zoe Ball ITV book club choice. It was also the winner of the Thumping Good Read award. Her next novels The Corset and Bone China have cemented her reputation as the queen of the spooky but sophisticated page turner.

Posted in Netgalley, Random Things Tours

The Art of Dying by Ambrose Parry.

Today, I’m happy to be on the closing day of this blog tour for The Art of Dying. This interesting mix of murder mystery, historical/ medical drama and romance, creeps up on you slowly, until you’re determined to keep reading and see whether a killer is stalking the sick of Edinburgh. In fact at what point I couldn’t decide what I wanted to know more: would the killer face justice, would Raven reconcile with the woman he loved, who was stealing money from the surgery, would Sarah live and what the hell was Quinton up to? It’s hard to sleep with all that going round in your brain! I hadn’t read the first novel featuring Dr. Wilberforce Raven, but it was easy to catch up with this instalment set in Edinburgh in 1849. We really do hit the ground running as Raven is attacked in an alley way in Prague. In the dark and confusion one of the attackers draws a gun, Raven draws his knife and a shot rings out ricocheting off the narrow brick walls. Raven slashes his knife in the air from left to right. He thinks he made contact with an attackers throat, but he doesn’t know if he struck a fatal blow and doesn’t know who is shot.

This chaotic existence seems to be the way Raven lives, but will it follow him back to the streets of Edinburgh. He’s been offered a place under the prestigious obstetrician Dr. Simpson, who he trained under at medical school. He’s looking forward to being back in Edinburgh and in the hospitable, but slightly chaotic, family household. He’s also looking forward to getting away from the guilt that he may well have killed a man in Prague. The only downside involves women. He will be leaving Gabrielle behind – the woman he’s been seeing in Prague – but they’ve both known it was a short term relationship. More pressing than that, he’s wondering whether Sarah is still part of Dr. Simpson’s household. Sarah was originally the Simpson’s housemaid, but did assist the doctor in clinic at times. Raven was attracted to her intelligence and determination. They seemed drawn together by an invisible bond and the closer he gets to his old city, he can feel that bond tugging again. They way they’d been in the past, Sarah might have confidently expected a proposal and had it just been about love, Raven would have had no qualms. However, as a young doctor starting out in a profession where reputation is everything, could he risk marrying a house maid? What would Edinburgh society think and would he be risking his career?

I can’t say I warmed to Raven as a character. I found him arrogant and apt to jump to conclusions, especially where it would benefit him. More importantly, I found him cowardly. Especially in his dealings with Sarah. I had such a moment of satisfaction when he enquired after Sarah when arriving, using her maiden name. When the new house maid explains she is now Mrs Sarah Banks, I actually smiled. To find out that her new husband, Archie Banks, is also a doctor and has a comfortable lifestyle, is a huge life lesson for Raven. Here was a man with strength of his convictions. He had loved Sarah and married her, with no regard to his position or social standing. Of course, we find out later on, that Archie has a reason for not caring about such things but he’s still a man of honour. Sarah is an intelligent, but also perceptive woman, and this is her advantage as she and Raven come together to restore Dr Simpson’s reputation. During a difficult delivery, Simpson is rumoured to have missed a haemorrhage and the dead woman’s mattress was said to be so soaked with blood it had to be disposed of. Simpson expressly asks Raven not to look into the matter and certainly not to bother the grieving widower in his defence. Raven even has the odd worry about Simpson himself, especially his potential overuse of chloroform – Raven is served a drink laced with it on his first evening. Sarah, however, feels that Simpson is a good doctor and that there is something else underlying this need to discredit him.

This is not the only investigation going on in the household. A new employee, Mr. Quinton, is there to look after the admin and keep the books for the practice. Unofficially, he is trying to find the culprit for money going missing in the house. He wants to book drugs in and out too, and research patterns in the practice’s spending. There’s something about his persnickety nature and constant presence that’s very off putting. He doesn’t work in harmony with the house, but rather against it. He isn’t at the Uriah Heap level of obsequiousness, but that’s who I kept thinking of when he came into the story. I liked how the author brought in all these levels of surveillance. Quinton watches the household and practice, but he’s been under the steely eye of the butler since he arrived. Sarah is watching both Dr. Simpson, but also stumbles into another investigation while trying to clear his name. Raven is being watched, but is also watching others with Sarah. Their focus is split though: Sarah thinks Simpson’s name can be cleared and as the deaths pile up, the same name keeps cropping up, a nurse called Mary who has cared for people who seem to have lost their lives in suspicious circumstances. A sudden illness that involves seizures, unconsciousness, fatigue and weakness appears out of the blue, killing people in a matter of hours. Could this Angel of Mercy be an Angel of Death? Or could there be a rare new disease for Raven to discover? He daydreams about the acclaim it could bring if he has uncovered an unidentified disease. With the title Raven’s Malady running through his head, the two are on the look out for different things, but who will be proved right? More importantly will the investigators themselves be safe, as they trail all over Edinburgh to find answers?

If we add to this: a moneylender with a giant as his right hand man and some unexpected debtors on his books; a pregnancy; a bereavement; and a breakneck race to save someone’s life. The book is definitely jam packed with incident and tension, whether that be the tension of the race to find our culprit or the more ‘slow burn’ tension between Raven and Sarah. Our writers leave us with enough answers to feel satisfied and enough cliffhangers to look forward to the next book. This isn’t an easy balance to strike and I felt it was well – judged here. I was intrigued by the period detail when it came to surgery and obstetrics. I found myself won over by most of the characters. Sarah leapt off the page and when I read Mary’s chapters I was drawn into her upbringing and the terrible effect this had on her psychologically. This is a series I will look forward to revisiting and maybe even Raven might win me over next time.

Meet The Authors

This book is the second in the series featuring Dr Raven. This one is published by Canongate (Blackthorn) and will be available on March 2nd 2021. Ambrose Parry is a pseudonym for a collaboration between Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman. The couple are married and live in Glasgow.

Chris Brookmyre is the international bestselling and multi-award-winning author of over twenty novels, including Black Widow, winner of both the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year and the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year.

Dr Marisa Haetzman is a consultant anaesthetist of twenty years’ experience, whose research for her Master’s Degree in the History of Medicine uncovered the material upon which The Way of All Flesh was based.

Posted in Random Things Tours

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins

Publication: St.Martins Press (5th Jan 2021) ISBN: 1250245494

Jane Eyre is my favourite classic novel, and coming very close is Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier – a retelling of the Jane Eyre themes relocated to Monte Carlo and large stately home in Cornwall in the 1930s. Over the years I’ve seen plays and ballets of the book, the inevitable film and tv adaptations ( Michael Fassbender as Mr Rochester – be still my beating heart). I love Jean Rhys’s novel Wide Sargasso Sea which is written as a prequel to Jane Eyre, telling the story of Rochester and Antoinette ‘Bertha’ Mason and their whirlwind marriage in the West Indies. The book has something new to say to every generation it seems and it is remarkable successful in most incarnations. So I jumped at the chance to read Rachel Hawkin’s novel The Wife Upstairs, where the author relocates Jane to the southern states of America and updates it to the present day. It’s clear that the author loves the original novel and knows it well. Here she has created an ambitious retelling which is Jane Eyre as a compelling murder-mystery, via ‘The Real Housewives of Alabama’.

Jane lives in the bad end of a Southern town, with slimy landlord John who despite being youth worker at his local church, isn’t above spying, leering and even a touch of blackmail. Jane’s background is chequered, but we know she aged out of the care system and has been going it alone with no family since. She ended up lodging with John out of desperation when she finds herself with nowhere to go. She creates a job walking the dogs of the wealthy residents of nearby Thornfield Estates – a gated community where the wives are far too busy with their beauty regimen, lunches and charity work to walk their own dogs. Jane envies their well-kept hair, their nails, their stunning homes and enviable lifestyles. What would she look like, if she had nothing to do all day but go the gym and spa?

It’s on one of her dog walks that she meets the widowed Mr Rochester. He is a self- made millionaire, with his own building contracting business, but it is his wife’s money that has really helped him climb to the status of his neighbours. Bea Rochester, was the creator and director of interiors catalogue business Southern Manors – a play on the famed hospitality and etiquette of the Southern states. Bea died just over a year ago in a boating accident with her best friend Blanche. Her way with interiors can be seen in the marital home, but also in most fashionable homes on the estate. Jane is surprised at how well she and Ed get along, and when he buys his own setter puppy for her to walk she takes it as a sign he wants her around. Very quickly, their easy chit chats over coffee become more. Jane describes herself as normal and ordinary, even plain, whereas Bea was a beauty – why would he want to go out with her? They keep their fledgling romance a secret and for a while Jane enjoys listening to the neighbourhood women wondering if Ed is dating, and who the mystery woman is. Just occasionally though, she gets the odd hint that everything wasn’t what it seemed with Bea and her friend Blanche who died with her. Together since college, to hear most of the women talk the two were like two happy peas in a pod. It’s only Eddie, and sometimes Blanche’s husband (drowning himself in drink) that hint otherwise – one suggestion being that Bea owes all she knows to Blanche and that a rivalry existed between them.

Rachel Hawkins

As Jane and Ed’s relationship becomes more serious and goes public, each one is keeping their own secrets. Jane doesn’t want Ed to know about where she’s lived with John so has left all her belongings behind. It turns out that John once shared a foster home with Jane and he knows a little more about her than she would like. Blanche’s husband Tripp seems devastated by his wife’s death, often disheveled and definitely drinking so much that Jane is on edge around him. Yet Ed doesn’t really talk about his late wife at all, and Jane can’t understand why. She’s seen pictures and they look like the perfect couple; Blanche was so beautiful and such a great businesswoman. I was starting to suspect that, just as her business was all about appearances, so was their marriage. Plus her body has never been found, Jane ponders over this and thinks that must surely disturb him? She sometimes has the crazy thought that Blanche isn’t really dead. When Ed secretly follows Jane back to her former flat and meets John, she is sure their relationship will be over. However, Ed seems unfazed by the grotty surroundings and knows just what to do to deal with John. It’s almost as if he’s more at home with Jane and the type of background she’s struggling to get away from. Maybe Jane is a better fit for for Ed, than his first wife was? Yet she doesn’t feel fully secure – even though she has access to the money, lives in the house and no longer walks dogs. Now the women who employed her to walk their dogs are having to get used to her in their social circle. They have been very gracious, but they do keep asking whether Ed will put a ring on it.

Further on, besides the main narrative where Ed does put a ring on it, we get a first person narrative from Bea with all the intricacies of her college life including meeting Blanche. This brought even more questions into my mind. If this was more of a ‘frenemy’ situation then is there more to their deaths than meets the eye? Bea reads like someone with a personality disorder, without a core sense of self and attaching herself to people she admires in order to emulate them. This reveal reminded me of Gone Girl, and from here the story really does twist and turn. The author plotted this well and really built the tension. It’s as if Jane has unknowingly stepped into a trap that is slowly and inexorably closing around her, until there’s no escape. The closer she gets to the truth of all the relationships here, the more danger she finds herself in. By this point I was constantly reading to see how this would end. Was Bea murdered and by whom? What was Blanche’s part in this tragedy? Will Ed’s secrets finally be revealed and what will he do to keep them hidden? This is a fast addictive read that will keep you guessing to the very end.

Posted in Random Things Tours

The Art of Creativity: Seven Powerful Habits to Unlock Your True Potential by Susie Pearl.

I was so excited to be offered a copy of this book to review because, when I’m not blogging, I’m a counsellor and writing therapist. Trying to unblock people’s potential is exactly what I do. I’m in the middle of an MA in Creative Writing and Well-being, so I’m also discovering the blocks to my own creativity too. I was looking forward to getting stuck into some of the exercises in Susie’s book and I was delighted to find they were more in depth and helpful than expected. They don’t just delve into the psyche, but give solid, practical advice too. This works like a one stop guide to taking risks, ignoring critics, releasing blocks and forming daily creative habits. It looks after the artist physically, mentally and even spiritually. I had expected a simple gift book, but it soon proved this was much more than that.

One exercise involved confronting fear and I decided to try this out because I have a lot of fears around the creative process – mainly lack of confidence in my writing ability, fear of revealing too much, offending someone or just embarrassing myself. Being an artist exposes us, not just to criticism, but to being really seen as we are – good and bad bits. It was interesting to write about things I fear – I have a terrible fear of clowns thanks to Stephen King – but in writing about it I realised it’s not the clown, but the disguise that’s the problem. Any sort of mask, face make-up or disguise had a similar effect. It’s a fear of people not being authentic, not showing me their true selves. So, the very thing I fear in other people, is what I fear in my writing. I had to ask if maybe I was the one wearing the disguise. I was then asked to use a journal to answer questions about the creative process and what scares me about it, and what my inner voice was like. I remembered trying a different handwriting when I was at primary school, only to have my work held up as an example of what not to do with our work. By trying something different I had ruined my work and needed to return to my usual writing. I remembered being so embarrassed. The same teacher used to make us do Mastermind every Friday morning where we would sit in a black chair at the front of the class and he would fire times tables sums at us on the clock. I used to dread Friday mornings and wanted to be ill so I didn’t have to take part. To move forward I need to work out my negative core beliefs about my creativity and then challenge them with positive affirmations.

Since encouraging people to journal is a major part of the work I do – in fact I’ve been teaching journaling and scrapbooking for mental health for eight years now – I was pleased to see it here as a cornerstone for creativity. I loved this explanation of why it works:

Allowing ideas and words to flow naturally from your brain to the page, without editing, helps the unconscious mind to swim to the surface and become seen and heard.’

It allows us to explore unfettered, not only the contents of our day and how we’re feeling, but in a creative context to explore what stops us creating. Surely if we can journal, we can write? The author suggests we use lists to determine what creative activity we want to do, list everything we think stops us from carrying this out, whether it’s an internal or external block. Then we can work out and suggest solutions for these blocks – I often find it helps to imagine to blocks and issues belong to someone else because that gives us the right mindset to solve them. If solving our own issues, we can have unconscious blocks that follow us even into our journal. In fact the author herself suggests it can help to imagine we are trying to help a friend rather than answering our own problems.

Scrapbooking on my authentic self

For me, the most useful section on a practical level is the section on mind maps. I am currently writing a series of pieces for my MA that explore my experiences nursing my late husband, but also the dynamics within his family and their flight from Poland during WW2. I hope that this will become a novel, because I have always wanted to be a writer. The author suggests a mind map and I use my scrapbook for these so I can use colour and collage and make it a piece of art in its own right. I want it to inspire me when I’m struggling, so aim to use family photos and pictures of the places I need to research or visit. She suggests using meditation for 15 minutes before starting, something I do in writing workshops because it stops chatter, calms the room and lets people focus on their own intentions. Usefully, she suggests key questions to ask yourself such as key themes, chapters and intention. However, she also suggests including questions about yourself such as – what are my unique credentials for writing this book? Why does it need to be written? What has inspired me to write this book? These are really positive questions because they get us to think positively about our skills and knowledge and can be used as encouragement when we’re feeling like we don’t have the skills, knowledge, or talent to do this! Something all writers feel at times.

At the back there’s a brilliant section on references and further reading that I know are really helpful because they’re all in my reference library at home. I think this is a really useful little book, great to fit in a bag to carry with you and will be useful for the future, not just as you work through it the first time. I’m looking forward to using it alongside my upcoming work, but also adding it to the libraries of other potential creators I know. It delivers much more than it promises as first glance. The most important concept it introduces is that of the ‘flow-state’ – ‘the mental state of being completely immersed in a task’. This stage isn’t just important for people creating a specific piece of work, because it links to that other buzz word for mental well-being- mindfulness. When we become so immersed in a task we lose track of time, we are practising mindfulness because we’re focused on only one thing at a time. We’re not checking the time, or social media and becoming distracted by everyday cares. We are simply being. This is something that everyone can benefit from.

Completed collages

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Posted in Random Things Tours

Winterkill by Ragnar Jonasson (Dark Iceland Book 6).

Publisher: Orenda Books (21 Jan. 2021)


When given the opportunity to read an Orenda book I rarely pass it up. My only misgiving with this one, was that it was the sixth in a series I didn’t know whether I’d ever be able to catch up and fully understand what was going on. Once I’d done my research and read a few reviews of the Dark Iceland series, I was in! Described as ‘creepy, chilling and perceptive’ by Ian Rankin and full of ‘poetic beauty’ by Peter James, this instalment comes highly recommended. The New York Times review blew me away and made this a must read.

Jónasson’s true gift is for describing the daunting beauty of the fierce setting, lashed by blinding snowstorms that smother the village in a thick, white darkness that is strangely comforting’ New York Times

That image of the setting grabbed me because I’ve lived in some isolated locations here in the U.K. and have written myself about that strange sense of safety a huge snow fall brings. All falls quiet and you are safe, sheltered and warm. The world becomes muffled as you are slowly cut off from civilisation, under a think blanket. I knew I would connect with the setting at least. Of course, I shouldn’t have worried, because this was a great read in its own right and I managed perfectly well without the reading the others first – obviously as soon as I finished this one I ordered them all since so I could have an Orenda Christmas!

The hero of the Dark Iceland series is Ari Thor Arason, the police inspector of a small town in Iceland called Siglufjörður. He is recently separated from his girlfriend, who now lives in Sweden with their three year old son. As Easter approaches Ari Thor is looking forward to spending some time with them both when they come to stay for the weekend. However his plans are thrown into disarray when the body of a young girl turns up to claim his attention. A nineteen year old girl appears to have jumped from the balcony of a building, but seems to have no connection to anyone who lives there. Why would she travel to this particular building to commit suicide? Ari can’t help wondering and his wondering leads him to dig a little deeper and find out whether she was pushed. His suspicions are aroused further when an old flame, now working in a local nursing home, gives him a call because she’s concerned about an elderly resident. She shows Ari the old man’s room, and he’s shocked to see the words ‘she was murdered’ written over and over again. As a huge storm heads towards Siglufjörður, Ari is left pondering whether these two events are connected and also whether he can salvage his family or even reconcile any sort of private life with his job.

Ari Thor isn’t an ‘action man’ type hero, he’s thoughtful, perceptive and investigates gently. The awkwardness of his Easter plans are really painful; he books his ex-partner and son in at the hotel, but is excited when they want to stay at the house. Ari misunderstands and thinks they might all stay together, but he ends up in the hotel. He feels excluded, but also awkward as other guests and staff know him well (this is a small remote town after all). He wonders what they will be thinking about their local detective. He knows that the job he loves has to command all his attention, when an important case comes in and so does his estranged partner. However, there is a large gap between knowing this and the reality of living it. Can he ever promise his family what they need? This conflict becomes ever clearer over the weekend when he is pulled from one place to another as new evidence comes to light.

I loved the atmosphere of this small town, where everyone knows each other. Yet there’s also the uneasy thought that many residents could be in this remote place to disappear and keep secrets. There’s so much going on under that polite layer of familiarity, even where Ari thinks he knows someone well. In one sense Siglufjörður has changed enormously, new road links have made it more accessible so even tourists have started to visit for ski-ing and to stay in new luxury holiday chalets. However, once the blizzard descends it becomes bleak, remote and strangely more beautiful. Ari’s investigation takes him into the even more rural area of Siglunes, where two men live in a small wood cabin inaccessible by road. I found Siglunes quite sinister, but Siglufjörður feels remote too and even claustrophobic as the weather pulls in. The author skilfully ratchets the tension up a notch, just at the same time as the community becomes more isolated. Yet we never feel rushed, Ari Thor does not panic or hurry the investigation- every move is well thought out and measured and he shows great compassion to the bereaved and those involved.

I thought it was so clever that, without knowing it at first, Ari is slowly uncovering more than one crime. We are forced to learn the lesson that people are not always what they seem, as the manager of the nursing home is called on for questioning. Ari Thor would say he knows him, likes him even and there has been no indication that he has been doing anything but noble, humanitarian work for the elderly of the town. However, just under the surface are financial worries, difficulties gaining government funding and enough residents to make the venture pay. If you’re looking for high octane action, or the endless twists and turns of a convoluted plot then this is the wrong book for you. The pace is gentle, the motive uncomplicated, and our detective is a contemplative sort rather than an action hero. What compels here (as it should) is the human tragedy – the loss of a girl on the brink of adult life and full of promise, for her family and the whole town. There is even an element of humanity and complex, conflicting, motives within our criminals too, when they are unmasked. This doesn’t take away from the chilling nature of their crimes though – in fact I find the thought that killers walk among us, with the same worries and preoccupations that we have, even more disturbing than some of the more obvious monsters we see in crime fiction. I would recommend this book and the whole series, as a fabulous introduction to Nordic Noir, and I could easily imagine sitting with my feet up, a glass of whiskey in hand, being compelled by these stories on BBC4. This book was beautifully written, has an evocative setting and a detective I truly enjoyed spending my Christmas with.

Meet The Author

Ragnar Jónasson was born in Reykjavík, Iceland, where he works as a writer and a lawyer and teaches copyright law at Reykjavík University. He has previously worked on radio and television, including as a TV news reporter for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service, and, from the age of seventeen, has translated fourteen of Agatha Christie’s novels. He is an international Number One bestseller