Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books of the Month! June 2022

This month I’ve spent a lot of time out in the garden reading some really great books. I have a new bright pink parasol to relax under so I can stay out of the sun. One of the drugs I take for my MS causes photosensitivity so I have to be a little careful. I love sitting in the garden though, with the insects buzzing about and no interruptions or distractions. However, I’m still struggling with nystagmus in my eyes – where the pupil keeps moving left to right constantly – so I’ve missed or posted late on blog tours which I really hate. I did have a couple of wobbly days where I thought of giving up blogging for a while, but I get so much joy from it and sharing my thoughts with other bookish people, particularly my Squad Pod ladies, that I couldn’t do it. So I’ll keep plodding on and hopefully plenty of rest and recuperation in my garden will help. From Regency romance to a dystopian future London, I’m time travelling this month as well as cruising across the Atlantic and sitting in an empty Tokyo apartment for one night only. These are the books I’ve enjoyed most in June and I hope you will too. 📚❤️

This bright and breezy Regency romance followed the fortunes of Kitty Talbot, the eldest in a family of daughters who have lost their parents. Kitty’s engagement is called off and she realises that it is up to her to save the fortunes of the family by making a prudent marriage. To place herself in the way of suitable men she undertakes a mission in London, to make her way into high society with the help of her Aunt Dorothy. I felt the author had the balance just right between humour and frivolity and the darker sides of the story. It gallops along at a jolly pace and it’s very easy to keep on reading well into the night. The novel’s excitement peaks one evening as two very different rescue missions are undertaken; one to save a reputation and the other to save a fortune. These missions are taken at a breakneck pace and it’s impossible to put the book down once you’ve reached this point – you will be compelled to keep reading to the end. The author has written a wonderfully satirical and deceptively light novel, with plenty of intrigue and some darker undertones. I enjoyed the Talbot sisters and wondered whether we’d be seeing more of them in the future, if so they’ll definitely be on my wishlist.

This was an unusual, very spare and quiet novel set over one night and mainly in one empty apartment. It showed me that we don’t always need very much to convey a story and engage the reader. So short that I read it in one afternoon, this is a story of two people moving out of a flat and agreeing to spend their final night of the tenancy together. Aiko and Hiro are our only characters and their relationship has broken down since taking a trip together, trekking in the mountains of northern Japan. During the trek their mountain guide died inexplicably and both believe the other to be a murderer. This night is their last chance to get a confession and finally learn the truth. Who is the murderer and what actually happened on the mountain? A quiet battle of wills is taking place and the shocking events leading up to this night will finally be revealed. This is a really unique psychological thriller, it seems sparse, but actually has so much depth and richness. I found myself completely immersed in this couple’s story, both the visible and the invisible. They play with memory, delving into their childhoods, trying to work out what makes each other tick and discover how they ended up here. One has more memories of their childhood than the other, but can we trust what we remember? Even the things we use to jog our memory can be misleading, such as photographs. Hiro muses on how we’re pushed into smiling for photos, to look like we’re enjoying ourselves and love the people we’re with. If we believe our photo albums, the picture we have of the past is distorted. There are so many things going on behind the scenes that are never captured – we may only see the truth momentarily, such as catching a glimpse of fish swimming in dappled sunlight.

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

This lovely novel was a dual timeline story about one of society’s ‘Bright Young Things’. In 1938 Nancy Mitford was one of the six sparkling Mitford sisters, known for her stinging quips, stylish dress, and bright green eyes. But Nancy Mitford’s seemingly dazzling life was really one of turmoil: with a perpetually unfaithful and broke husband, two Nazi sympathizer sisters, and her hopes of motherhood dashed forever. With war imminent, Nancy finds respite by taking a job at the Heywood Hill Bookshop in Mayfair, hoping just to make ends meet, but discovering a new life. In the present day, Mitford fan Lucy St. Clair uses Heywood Hill Bookshop as a base after landing a book curator’s role. She’s hoping that coming to England will start the healing process from the loss of her mother, but it’s a dream come true to set foot in the legendary store. Doubly exciting: she brings with her a first edition of Nancy’s work, one with a somewhat mysterious inscription from the author. Soon, she discovers her life and Nancy’s are intertwined, and it all comes back to the little London bookshop—a place that changes the lives of two women from different eras in the most surprising ways. I loved this insight into the Mitford’s lives as I’ve also had a fascination for both the era and this extraordinary family. This covered some serious topics, but was framed by this almost idyllic job that Lucy has purchasing books for wealthy people’s libraries. I loved her foray into the library of Chatsworth House – a long held fantasy of mine. Mainly though it was the relationships between Nancy and her family that held my attention, plus her exploits during the London Blitz. This was a great story for fans of historical fiction but also for bookworms who love books about books.

Lastly this month, was a new novel from one of my favourite local writers, Louise Beech. In it we follow Heather, a pianist who teaches and plays in local bars, then relaxes in her harbour front flat looking out to the Humber Estuary and the North Sea. Heather has a quiet life and quite a solitary one too with no family, but strong connections with friends. In fact it is one of them that encourages her to try out for a job on a cruise ship, something she would never have imagined doing. She would be scheduled to play in different bars on the ship through the day, but as her friend says, she can enjoy the facilities and gets to travel. This particular cruise is stopping in New York then on to the Caribbean before doing it all again in reverse. Heather has grown up in the care system, after her parents were killed in a car crash. Prior to that music was the girl’s escape, from the terrible domestic violence in their family home. Heather and her sister Harriet had an aptitude for music, but for Heather its been her salvation, the only place she could fully express her emotions. After their removal to the Children’s Home, Harriet was taken to see the staff in the office one morning and Heather never saw her again. She could only hope that a kind family had adopted Harriet, but for some reason hadn’t been able to take her too. When the girls had needed to express themselves they would play a duet they had composed called Nothing Else and it was this piece that stayed with Heather all her life, instantly taking her back to the piano and her little sister. We read from Heather’s perspective about how her time working on the cruise ship will change her life. This was a moving novel, with a sensitive portrayal of a difficult subjects moving depiction of trauma’s long lasting effects.

Posted in Queen’s Platinum Jubilee

Commonwealth Authors for the Platinum Jubilee.

India. Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee –

When Jasmine is suddenly widowed at 17, she seems fated to a life of quiet isolation in the small Indian village where she was born. But the force of Jasmine’s desires propels her explosively into a larger, more dangerous, and ultimately more life-giving world. In just a few years, Jasmine becomes Jane Ripplemeyer, happily pregnant by a middle-aged Iowa banker and the adoptive mother of a Vietnamese refugee. Jasmine’s metamorphosis, with its shocking upheavals and its slow evolutionary steps, illuminates the making of an American mind; but even more powerfully, her story depicts the shifting contours of an America being transformed by her and others like her – our new neighbors, friends, and lovers. In Jasmine, Bharati Mukherjee has created a heroine as exotic and unexpected as the many worlds in which she lives. For me this was an incredible eye-opener into the immigrant experience and how identity is formed and changed, both by the British culture imposed on India, and the cultures Jasmine encounters on her travels.

Award-winning Indian-born American author Bharati Mukherjee was born in Calcutta (now called Kolkata) in 1940, the second of three daughters born to Bengali-speaking, Hindu Brahmin parents. She lived in a house crowded with 40 or 50 relatives until she was eight, when her father’s career brought the family to live in London for several years. Mukherjee is best known for her novels “The Tiger’s Daughter” (1971); “Wife” (1975); “Jasmine” (1989); “The Holder of the World” (1993); “Leave It to Me” (1997); “Desirable Daughters” (2002); “The Tree Bride” (2004); and “Miss New India” (2011). Her short story collections and memoirs include “Darkness” (1985); “The Middleman and Other Stories” (1988); and “A Father”. Non Fiction works include: “Days and Nights in Calcutta”; and “The Sorrow and the Terror.”

Nigeria. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe – One of the BBC’s ‘100 Novels That Shaped Our World’

A worldwide bestseller and the first part of Achebe’s African Trilogy, Things Fall Apart is the compelling story of one man’s battle to protect his community against the forces of change. Okonkwo is the greatest wrestler and warrior alive, and his fame spreads throughout West Africa like a bush-fire in the harmattan. But when he accidentally kills a clansman, things begin to fall apart. Then Okonkwo returns from exile to find missionaries and colonial governors have arrived in the village. With his world thrown radically off-balance he can only hurtle towards tragedy. First published in 1958, Chinua Achebe’s stark, coolly ironic novel reshaped both African and world literature, and has sold over ten million copies in forty-five languages. This arresting parable of a proud but powerless man witnessing the ruin of his people begins Achebe’s landmark trilogy of works chronicling the fate of one African community, continued in Arrow of God and No Longer at Ease. This is a deeply moving look at how empire changed people’s lives and took apart their communities.

Chinua Achebe was a Nigerian novelist, poet, professor, and critic. His first novel Things Fall Apart (1958) was considered his magnum opus, and is the most widely read book in modern African literature. Raised by his parents in the Igbo town of Ogidi in South-Eastern Nigeria A titled Igbo chieftain himself, Achebe’s novels focus on the traditions of Igbo society, the effect of Christian influences, and the clash of Western and traditional African values during and after the colonial era. His style relies heavily on the Igbo oral tradition, and combines straightforward narration with representations of folk stories, proverbs, and oratory. He also published a number of short stories, children’s books, and essay collections.

Also Chimimanda Ngozie Adichie

Australia: Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter by Lizzie Pook

It is 1886 and the Brightwell family has sailed from England to make their new home in Western Australia. Ten-year-old Eliza knows little of what awaits them in Bannin Bay beyond stories of shimmering pearls and shells the size of soup plates – the very things her father has promised will make their fortune. Ten years later, as the pearling ships return after months at sea, Eliza waits impatiently for her father to return with them. When his lugger finally arrives however, Charles Brightwell, master pearler, is declared missing. Whispers from the townsfolk point to mutiny or murder, but Eliza knows her father and, convinced there is more to the story, sets out to uncover the truth. She soon learns that in a town teeming with corruption, prejudice and blackmail, answers can cost more than pearls, and must decide just how much she is willing to pay, and how far she is willing to go, to find them.

This incredible debut is richly atmospheric from the get go, throwing us straight into the strangeness of 19th Century Western Australia as if it is an alien landscape. In fact that’s exactly what it is for the Brightwell family, particularly Eliza whose childhood eyes we see it through for the the first time

Lizzie is an award-winning writer and journalist. She is the author of Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter, a STYLIST and WOMAN & HOME ‘Best Books of 2022’ pick.

Lizzie began her career in women’s magazines, covering everything from feminist motorcycle gangs to conspiracy theorists, before moving into travel writing. Her assignments have taken her to some of the most remote parts of the world, from the uninhabited east coast of Greenland in search of polar bears, to the trans-Himalayas to track snow leopards. She was inspired to write Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter, her debut, after taking a road trip through Australia with her twin sister after the death of their father. A chance visit to the Maritime Museum in Fremantle led her to an exhibition about a family of British settlers involved in the early pearl diving industry. Thus began an obsession and a research journey that would take Lizzie from the corridors of the British Library to isolated pearl farms in the farthest reaches of northwest Australia.

New Zealand: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

It is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men, who have met in secret to discuss a series of unsolved crimes. A wealthy man has vanished, a whore has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely patterned as the night sky. The Luminaries is an extraordinary piece of fiction. It is full of narrative, linguistic and psychological pleasures, and has a fiendishly clever and original structuring device. Written in pitch-perfect historical register, richly evoking a mid-19th century world of shipping and banking and goldrush boom and bust, it is also a ghost story, and a gripping mystery. I loved this epic tale of mystery and adventure, with a spooky edge. This has recently been adapted for television and is worth a watch.

Eleanor Catton MNZM (born 24 September 1985) is a Canadian-born New Zealand author. Her second novel, The Luminaries, won the 2013 Man Booker Prize. In January 2015, she created a short-lived media storm in New Zealand when she made comments in an interview in India in which she was critical of “neo-liberal, profit-obsessed, very shallow, very money-hungry politicians who do not care about culture.”

Also Janet Frame

Jamaica and Dominica. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

I first read this novel while at uni, as a post-colonial response to Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. Rhys was fascinated by Bertha Mason, Mr Rochester’s wife and the original ‘Madwoman in the Attic’. Born into the oppressive, colonialist society of 1930s Jamaica, white Creole heiress Antoinette Cosway meets a young Englishman who is drawn to her innocent beauty and sensuality. After their marriage, however, disturbing rumours begin to circulate which poison her husband against her. Caught between his demands and her own precarious sense of belonging, Antoinette is inexorably driven towards madness, and her husband into the arms of another novel’s heroine. This classic study of betrayal, a seminal work of postcolonial literature, is Jean Rhys’s brief, beautiful masterpiece. I loved how Rhys breathed life and a complex identity into a character seen as a Gothic monster, trying to burn her husband in his bed and stabbing her own brother. It raises questions about identity and colonialism, women’s identity and sexual desire. It also shows a great modernist contrast to the original novel.

Jean Rhys was born in Dominica in 1894. After arriving in England aged sixteen, she became a chorus girl and drifted between different jobs before moving to Paris, where she started to write in the late 1920s. She published a story collection and four novels, after which she disappeared from view and lived reclusively for many years. In 1966 she made a sensational comeback with her masterpiece, Wide Sargasso Sea, written in difficult circumstances over a long period. Rhys died in 1979.

Recent and Favourite Reads from Black British Writers

Louise Hare – This Lovely City. The experiences of the Windrush generation in 1950’s London, combining crime fiction and a love story.

Lizzie Damilola Blackburn – Yinka, Where Is Your Huzband? Nigerian-British young women negotiating courtship, identity, marriage and motherhood. Yinka is single and is constantly reminded of this by her mum and aunties. Funny, but touching too. You’ll fall in love with Yinka!

Bernadine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other. Stories exploring black womanhood from Newcastle to Cornwall. A series of stories looking at identity, race and motherhood in modern Britain. Winner of the Booker Prize.

Okechukwu Nzelu -The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney. Set in Manchester, this is the story of Nnenna Maloney through her journey of trying to connect with Igbo-Nigerian culture as she reaches adulthood.

Paul Mendez – Rainbow Milk. This queer literary debut follows Norman, a Jamaican immigrant in 1950s Black Country battling racism, disability and personal conflict, as he rebels against his religious upbringing.

Leanne Dillsworth – Theatre of Marvels. Black British actress Zillah performs as a tribeswoman in a variety show. Looking at spectacle, identity and exploitation in Victorian London.

Andrea Levy – Small Island. WWII and the Windrush in London. Exploring expectations against reality for Jamaican settlers in the U.K. Looking at loss and the aftermath of war, but also mixed race relationships and identity.

BBC Arts and The Reading Agency have announced the titles for the Big Jubilee Read, a reading for pleasure campaign celebrating great reads from celebrated authors from across the Commonwealth to coincide with Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. The full list can be found by following the link below. The seventy titles consist of ten books from each decade of Her Majesty The Queen’s reign, offering a brilliant selection of beautiful and thrilling writing produced by authors from a wide range of Commonwealth countries.

The campaign enables readers to engage in the discovery and celebration of great books and shines a spotlight on lesser-known books and authors that deserve recognition.The books were chosen by an expert panel of librarians, booksellers and literature specialists from a “readers’ choice” longlist. Delivered with public libraries, reading groups, publishers, bookshops, and authors, the Big Jubilee Read campaign will use the proven power of reading to unite the public around the shared stories that define our social and cultural heritage.

Follow the latest developments on social media:
@ReadingAgency @BBCArts @ACE_National
#BigJubileeRead

You can find the list of 70 books and resources for your own reading group or book club via the link below

https://readinggroups.org/big-jubilee-read

Posted in Sunday Spotlight

Summer 2022. My Books To Look Out For.

When I look at the covers above and realise these are just the summer releases I’m excited about I’m startled by what a great year this is for books so far. Some of them I’ve already read thanks to NetGalley and some very kind publishers, some are still on my TBR (I’ll be honest and admit I’m always behind) and others are pre-ordered and I’ll be reading them at the same time as everyone else. I also pre-order some when I’ve had a proof or NetGalley book, because some books are for keeps. Yes, I know I have a book problem. I’m going to give you a little taster of each one and why I’m so excited about it. If it means adding books to your TBR or wishlist I can’t apologise because I enjoy sharing the book love!

I really can vouch for this book because I’ve already experienced how tense and gripping it is. Nick and Laura have fulfilled their dream, owning an Italian villa as a holiday destination and trying to paper over the cracks in their marriage. When their first guests Madison and Bastian arrive, neither is who they claim to be. As the heat rises, the tension is unbearable. Could there be a betrayal before the summer ends? Just like her previous novel, this is full of atmosphere, secrets and a sizzling sexual tension. The perfect holiday read.

Out now from Penguin Michael Joseph

Oh my goodness I’ve been waiting for this. I am a huge fan of Jessie Burton and The Miniaturist is one of my all time favourite novels. I went to see Jessie at a Q and A in Lincoln and she was asked about the unanswered questions of the novel – mainly who was the Miniaturist and what was her purpose? What we do know is we are returning to Amsterdam and the same house, where Thea Brandt is reaching her 18th birthday. The family’s fortunes are in decline, with her father Otto and Aunt Nella arguing and struggling to pay the bills. When an invite arrives for a society ball, might their fortunes be turning or, as Nella wonders, could it be the miniaturist isn’t finished with her yet? I truly can’t wait.

Out7th July from Picador

I was recently sent the cover reveal for this new book from Freya Sampson and it looks like another feel-good novel to look forward to. Libby Nicholls reaches London, broken-hearted and with life in tatters. Elderly pensioner Frank is the first man she meets on the bus. He tells her that in 1962 he met a red-haired girl on the number 88 bus. They planned a date at the National Gallery, but Frank lost the ticket with her number written on it. For sixty years, he’s ridden the same bus trying to find her. Libby gains the help of an unlikely companion and makes it her mission to help Frank’s search. As she begins to open her guarded heart to new connections, Libby’s tightly controlled world expands. But with Frank’s dementia progressing quickly, their chance of finding the girl on the number 88 bus is slipping away. Libby wants Frank to see his love one last time and her quest is teaching her to embrace life and love before it’s too late. I just know tears will be jerked and I will be uplifted by this lovely story.

Out 9th June from Zaffre Books

I truly loved Jane’s first novel MixTape so was given the chance to read this one early and what a thoughtful, emotional and compassionate read it is. As someone who can’t have children it really touched me personally. Chrissie has always wanted to be a mother. After months of trying to adopt, she and her husband Stuart finally get the news that a little girl named Sunshine is waiting for them.

Abandoned at a young age, the child comes to them without a family history, and it feels like a fresh start for all of them. But when fragments from Sunshine’s previous life start to intrude on her new one, the little girl’s mysterious past quickly becomes Chrissie’s greatest fear…

Published by 21st July 2022 by Bantam Press

1628. Embarking on a journey in search of her father, a young girl called Mayken boards the Batavia, the most impressive sea vessel of the age. During the long voyage, this curious and resourceful child must find her place in the ship’s busy world, and she soon uncovers shadowy secrets above and below deck. As tensions spiral, the fate of the ship and all on board becomes increasingly uncertain. 1989. Gil, a boy mourning the death of his mother, is placed in the care of his irritable and reclusive grandfather. Their home is a shack on a tiny fishing island off the Australian coast, notable only for its reefs and wrecked boats. This is no place for a child struggling with a dark past and Gil’s actions soon get him noticed by the wrong people. The Night Ship is an enthralling tale of human brutality, providence and friendship, and of two children, hundreds of years apart, whose fates are inextricably bound together.

Published by Canongate Books 4th August.

Meredith Maggs hasn’t left her house in 1,214 days.But she insists she isn’t alone.

She has her cat, Fred. Her friend Sadie visits when she can. There’s her online support group, StrengthInNumbers. She has her jigsaws, favourite recipes, her beloved Emily Dickinson, the internet, the Tesco delivery man and her treacherous memories for company.

But something’s about to change.

First, new friends Tom and Celeste burst into her life, followed by an estranged sister she hasn’t spoken to in years, and suddenly her carefully curated home is no longer a safe place to hide.

Whether Meredith likes it or not, the world is coming to her door. This sounds like an emotional but uplifting and hopeful read.

The Aylward women are mad about each other, but you wouldn’t always think it. You’d have to know them to know – in spite of what the neighbours might say about raised voices and dramatic scenes – that their house is a place of peace, filled with love, a refuge from the sadness and cruelty of the world. 

Their story begins at an end and ends at a beginning. It’s a story of terrible betrayals and fierce loyalties, of isolation and togetherness, of transgression, forgiveness, desire, and love. About all the things family can be and all the things it sometimes isn’t. More than anything, it is an uplifting celebration of fierce, loyal love and the powerful stories that last generations. This grabbed me with its gorgeous cover and the description of this family that sounds so much like my own.

From their very first date, Jamie and Lucy know they’ve met THE ONE. They’re as different as night and day. Jamie’s a home bird, while Lucy’s happiest on holiday. He has a place for everything – she can never find her keys.

Yet, somehow, they make each other happier than they ever thought possible.
So why does their story start with them saying ‘goodbye’?
And does this really have to be the end. . . ?
Relatable, romantic and heartbreakingly real, HELLO, STRANGER proves that the best love stories often have the most unexpected endings. I love this author’s relatable characters and subtle humour about life. Published by Michael Joseph 18th August

Paris 1944. Elise Chevalier knows what it is to love…and to hate. Her fiancé, a young French soldier, was killed by the German army at the Maginot Line. Living amongst the enemy Elise must keep her rage buried deep within. Sebastian Kleinhaus no longer recognises himself. After four years spent fighting a war he doesn’t believe in, wearing a uniform he despises, he longs for a way out. For something, someone, to be his salvation.

Brittany 1963. Reaching for the suitcase under her mother’s bed, eighteen-year-old Josephine Chevalier uncovers a secret that shakes her to the core. Determined to find the truth, she travels to Paris where she discovers the story of a dangerous love that grew as a city fought for its freedom. Of the last stolen hours before the first light of liberation. And of a betrayal so deep that it would irrevocably change the course of two young lives life for ever.

Published 7th July by Headline Review

This is a warning for all our guests at the wellness retreat.

A woman’s body has been found at the bottom of the cliff beneath the yoga pavilion. We believe her death was a tragic accident, though DS Elin Warner has arrived on the island to investigate. A storm has been forecast, but do not panic. Stick together and please ignore any rumours you might have heard about the island and its history. As soon as the weather clears, we will arrange boats to take you back to the mainland.

In the meantime, we hope you enjoy your stay.

Published 21st July by Bantam Press
___________________________________

Rebels. Pirates. Women.

Caribbean, 1720. Two extraordinary women are on the run – from their pasts, from the British Navy and the threat of execution, and from the destiny that fate has written for them. Plantation owner’s daughter, runaway wife, pirate – Anne Bonny has forged her own story in a man’s world. But when she is involved in the capture of a British merchant ship, she is amazed to find another woman amongst the crew, with a history as unconventional as her own. Dressed as a boy from childhood, Mary Read has been a soldier, a sailor, a widow – but never a woman in charge of her own destiny.
As their exhilarating, tumultuous exploits find fame, the ballad of Bonny and Read is sung from shore to shore – but when you swim against the tide of history, freedom is a dangerous thing…

Published 3rd August by Hodder & Stoughton.



A young man walks into the woods on the worst morning of his life and finds something there that will change everything.

It’s a tale that might seem familiar. But how it speaks to you will depend on how you’ve lived until now.

Sometimes, to get out of the woods, you have to go into them. Isaac and the Egg is one of the most hopeful, honest and wildly imaginative novels you will ever read.

Published 18th August by Macmillan Review.


Ten years on from the events of The Miseducation of Evie Epworth, Evie is settled in London and working as a production assistant for the BBC. She has everything she ever dreamed of (a career, a leatherette briefcase, an Ossie Clark poncho) but, following an unfortunate incident involving a Hornsea Pottery mug and Princess Anne, she finds herself having to rethink her future. What can she do? Is she too old to do it? And will it involve cork-soled sandals?

As if this isn’t complicated enough, her disastrous love life leaves her worrying that she may be destined for eternal spinsterdom, concerned, as she is, that ‘even Paul had married Linda by the time he was 26’. Through it all, Evie is left wondering whether a 60s miseducation really is the best preparation to glide into womanhood and face the new challenges (strikes, power cuts, Edward Heath’s teeth) thrown up by the growing pains of the 70s.

With the help of friends, both old and new, she might just find a way through her messy 20s and finally discover who exactly she is meant to be…

Published by Scribner U.K. 21st July.

There are two men in my life. But this is not a love triangle.

Mara Williams reads her horoscope every day – but she wasn’t expecting to be in a whole other country when destiny finally found her. Just as a fortune teller reveals that her true love is about to arrive, a gorgeous stranger literally walks into her life. And now Mara is determined to bring them together again . . . Surely even fate needs a nudge in the right direction sometimes?

But while Mara is getting ready for ‘the one’, the universe intervenes. Her new flatmate Ash is funny, and kind, and sexy as hell . . . There was no predicting this: it’s as if her destiny just arrived on her doorstep.

So will Mara put her destiny in fate’s hands – or finally trust herself to reach for the stars?

Published by Penguin 7th June

2022. Stained-glass expert Rhoda Sullivan is called to Telton Hall to examine a window designed by an Italian prisoner of war during WW2. It should be a quick job but when she and the owner’s son, Nate Hartwell, discover a body underneath one of the flagstones in the chapel, Rhoda cannot let the mystery go. She knows what it’s like to miss someone who is missing – her twin brother disappeared just before their eighteenth birthday, and she has been looking for him for nearly a decade. But when the threats start, it’s clear someone doesn’t want the secrets of Telton Hall to come to light.

1945. Alice Renshaw is in trouble. Pregnant and alone she is sent away to hide her shame and taken in by Louise Hartwell who has a farm in Somerset worked by prisoners of war. As the weeks pass, Alice finds solace in new friendships, but not everyone at Telton Hall is happy about it. And even though peace has been declared in Europe, the war at home is only just beginning…

Published by Aria 21st July

Esta has known nothing but Eden’s Isle her whole life. After a fire left her orphaned and badly scarred, Esta was raised by her grandmother in a deeply religious society who cut itself off from the mainland in the name of salvation. Here, fear rules: fear of damnation, fear of the outside world and fear of what lurks beneath the water – a corrupting evil the islanders call the Seawomen. But Esta wants more than a life where touching the water risks corruption, where her every move is watched and women are controlled in every aspect of their lives. Married off, the women of the island must conceive a child within their appointed motheryear or be marked as cursed and cast into the sea as a sacrifice in an act called the Untethering.

When Esta witnesses a woman Untethered she sees a future to fear. Her fate awaits, a loveless marriage, her motheryear declared. And after a brief taste of freedom, the insular world Esta knows begins to unravel…
I’m currently reading this and finding it deeply unsettling.

Published by Hodder Studio 14th June.


Maudie, why are all the best characters men?’
Maudie closes the book with a clllump. ‘We haven’t read all the books yet, Miss Cristabel. I can’t believe that every story is the same’


Cristabel Seagrave has always wanted her life to be a story, but there are no girls in the books in her dusty family library. For an unwanted orphan who grows into an unmarriageable young woman, there is no place at all for her in a traditional English manor.But from the day that a whale washes up on the beach at the Chilcombe estate in Dorset, and twelve-year-old Cristabel plants her flag and claims it as her own, she is determined to do things differently.

With her step-parents blithely distracted by their endless party guests, Cristabel and her siblings, Flossie and Digby, scratch together an education from the plays they read in their freezing attic, drunken conversations eavesdropped through oak-panelled doors, and the esoteric lessons of Maudie their maid. But as the children grow to adulthood and war approaches, jolting their lives on to very different tracks, it becomes clear that the roles they are expected to play are no longer those they want. As they find themselves drawn into the conflict, they must each find a way to write their own story…

Published by Fig Tree 9th June 2022.


I have held you every night for ten years and I didn’t even know your name. We have a child together. A dog, a house.

Who are you?


Emma loves her husband Leo and their young daughter Ruby: she’d do anything for them. But almost everything she’s told them about herself is a lie.

And she might just have got away with it, if it weren’t for her husband’s job. Leo is an obituary writer and Emma is a well-known marine biologist, so, when she suffers a serious illness, Leo copes by doing what he knows best – reading and writing about her life. But as he starts to unravel her past, he discovers the woman he loves doesn’t really exist. Even her name is fictitious.

When the very darkest moments of Emma’s past life finally emerge, she must somehow prove to Leo that she really is the woman he always thought she was . . .

But first, she must tell him about the love of her other life.

Published by Mantle 23rd June 2022.

I’m so happy to have such an exciting and full summer of reading ahead of me, and this is just the books I’ve been expecting. I’m sure there will be many more that grab me by surprise. I’m hoping to avoid the siren call of blog tours so I have some free reading time. I’ve treated myself to a brand new garden parasol in hot pink so I’m imagining myself lounging around outdoors a lot, whiling away my staycation in the best way I know how. Happy Summer Reading! ❤️📚

Posted in World Book Day

World Book Day! The Books That Shaped Me.

Oh how I wish dressing up for World Book Day had been a ‘thing’ when I was still at primary school. I would have wanted to be a Moomin or Little My with her triangular dress, furious eyebrows and little topknot. The best book related thing that’s happened to me so far this year was last weekend when my stepdaughters arrived for a few days and both of them had one of the books we’d bought them for their birthdays and spent part of their weekend reading. It made me tear up a little to see them popping their books on top of my tbr pile in the living room. There are things about the books we read as children that stay with us and I read furiously. I went to the library every Saturday and I’d always read everything by the next week. I’ve written before about how I was reading Classics by the age of ten when I’d read everything in the reading scheme. Jane Eyre was my first and I believe it gave me a love of all things Gothic and now a love of writers like Stacey Halls, Laura Purcell and Sarah Waters. However I started thinking about those first books we read as children, even as far back as when our parents read them to us. These are also our formative books and I started to think about how they’ve shaped my reading choices, and whether they’d shaped my character or life. So here are some well and lesser known books that I think shaped me a little.

The Tiger Who Came To Tea by Judith Kerr

This beautiful book was bought for me when I was very small, because I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t there. I know I’d started going for tea myself with my mum and dad. I must have been younger than four years old because my brother wasn’t born yet. On Sundays my parents would take me on an outing to the museum, Normanby Country Park to see the peacocks and the pet cemetery (which I weirdly loved) or we would go to the cinema followed by tea at a Greek restaurant next door. I remember feeling grown up and very posh indeed. Somehow that book has a similar feeling associated with it and I have always loved going for afternoon tea ever since. I loved the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party but this was even more exciting. A very posh seeming tiger wants some tea, so much so that he guzzled it straight from the teapot. Sophie and her mum are very polite but he is a naughty tiger and eats everything they have. I do have a lifelong love of things that are naughty and mischievous and I think this lovely book helped that blossom, as well as my next choice.

No Kiss For Mother by Tomi Ungerer.

When I mention this brilliant book to people there are a surprising amount who’ve never heard of it. It’s a shame because it really is an odd little gem and I think it fuelled my dark sense of humour, but also my fondness for grumpy, abrupt people. There is nothing that teenage cat Piper Paw hates more than having to kiss his long suffering mother. In fact this is a teenager’s manual – he hates being seen with or fussed by his parents, hates getting up in the morning, loathes fish and wants to be out with his naughty cat friends. The problem is that Piper has probably the most long suffering and doting mother in literature. The author has his cat’s teenage antics spot on and the family dynamics are brilliant. I loved the very dark illustrations, such as Piper’s alarm clock with all it’s insides hanging out after he attacked it with a tin opener. There are also inexplicable ones, such as Mrs Paw taking the scales off a fish with a comb! Me and my brother would laugh so hard at this naughty cat’s antics and we longed to name a cat Piper Paw. I remember when this was out of print, my mum went to great lengths to find a copy for her grandchildren and now the great grandchildren, ensuring mischief for the next few generations.

The Moomins Series by Tove Janssen

For a grown woman it’s quite ridiculous how much I love Moomins. This obsession is evident in my house where there is Moomin art, mugs, shadow frames, T-shirts, jewellery and soft toys. Rather like some people believe the Winnie the Pooh characters represent certain personality archetypes, I believe that most people can be summed up by likening them to a Moomin character. The most obvious one in my family is my brother, who is loving and loyal, but needs a lot of his own space and needs nothing more than a leisurely smoke in the open air with one or two fishing rods in the river. He is, quite obviously, a Snufkin (who I carry on my key ring as a reminder). I am soft, romantic, slightly round and worry a little about my weight like the Snork Maiden, but wish I was more feisty, bitey and intelligent like Little My. My late husband was rather studious and enjoyed calm and quiet like a Hemulen ( although I am at pains to point out he didn’t wear a dress). As a child my imagination was fired by all these wonderful creative creatures and this amazing house that looked like Rapunzel’s tower but painted blue. I loved that Moomintroll had these wonderfully loving parents who never ran out of food and would take in a stranger at a moment’s notice. There’s never any judgement so whether you wear a dress, like your own space or bite a little bit, you were welcome. Like all the best children’s books there has to be a little darkness in the background and there are disasters along the way – I’ve never forgotten the creepy hobgoblin, or the weird little hattifatteners who look like glow sticks and sting like nettles. I love the humour of these little hippo-like creatures and since I’m a Northener, one of my favourites is our toothbrush mug which depicts Moominpappa rowing a boat and saying ‘it’s a little warmer, do you think we’re nearing the South’ and Moominmamma replying ‘I’m afraid so dear.’

The Bagthorpe Saga by Helen Cresswell.

I wanted to live in the home of this rather rambunctious and eccentric middle-class family, possibly because they were quite different from us. The Bagthorpes are rather arty, with both parents being writers – although dad, Henry Bagthorpe, would disagree with that classification. His wife is an Agony Aunt in a national newspaper, whereas he is a ‘real’ writer. It seems that real writing is torturous and involves long hours locked in his office, but can anyone remember the last time one of his scripts was commissioned. His wife suspects it’s a way of avoiding the family and writing complaint letters to commissioning editors. The four children are encouraged to try new projects and hobbies (‘strings to their bows’). All apart from Jack, who doesn’t have one except for spending time with his dog Zero. William has drums and is a radio ham – involving long conversations about conspiracy theories with Anonymous from Grimsby. Tess plays music and is currently translating her own edition of Voltaire’s works. Even the baby of the family Rosie has some musical ability. The agents of most of the chaos are the Unholy Alliance formed by Grandma – who lives with them along with a malevolent ginger cat – and toddler Daisy, the Bagthorpe’s cousin. Aunt Celia is either naturally has her head in the clouds or is on prescribed medication and thinks Daisy is a creative who should be allowed free rein. Uncle Parker is a little more savvy about his daughter’s exploits, but doesn’t believe in punishing his daughter. He drives a red sports car and likes to needle his brother-in-law, on one memorable occasion writing a script in his ‘spare time’. Every book ends with a complete disaster of the flood and fire variety, and various rooms are in different stages of repair throughout the series. They are comical books and wry satirical look at a liberal, middle class family.

The What Katy Did Series by Susan Coolidge

Both this choice and my other American girl’s book, Pollyanna are really 19th Century moral plays, designed to instruct young girls on good behaviour, but also to guide them into making the transition into (an acceptable version of) womanhood. As a grown-up I looked at them again in light of my own disability and saw an even more sinister agenda lurking between the pages. On the face of it, What Katy Did was an enjoyable story of a young girl in a big family coping after the death of their mother. Katy Carr is the eldest sibling and is at heart a bit of a tomboy, still climbing up on the roof and running round the yard like her younger siblings. Their father is a doctor and he decides it would be better for his children to have a woman in the house, especially as he works long hours. So he brings his sister Aunt Izzie to live with them and restore order. Izzie is quite severe, very religious and disgusted at the way the children behave especially the oldest girls, Katy and her sister Clover. Yet Aunt Izzie’s methods don’t always get the desired effect. The person most likely to calm and restore order is Cousin Helen, who is a wheelchair user and uses her disability for good. When Aunt Izzie bans Katy from the swing in the yard without explanation, Katy defies her, but the swing breaks and Katy is seriously injured with some sort of spinal injury. Katy returns home from hospital in a wheelchair and now has to learn how to be a respectable young woman – quiet, gentle and obedient. It’s a harsh lesson and one that resonated in my own life when I had a spinal injury aged 11. I did buy some of life lessons in the this book, probably because we were church goers too, but I can see how damaging the premise is and it isn’t just used in this book.

Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter

There are a lot of similarities between Pollyanna and the Katie novels and not just the covers. Pollyanna is also being looked after by an aunt, after her missionary parents die leaving her an orphan. Aunt Polly is rather austere and certainly expects her new charge to be seen and not heard, but thankfully one of the staff called Nancy takes the orphan under her wing. Pollyanna is a character designed to teach children Christian values. She has a game she tries to teach everyone in their small town – no matter what happens, you have to find something to be glad about. When explaining to Nancy she talks about getting her Christmas presents from missionary barrels and how one year there was nothing inside, but a pair of crutches. Nancy can’t imagine what she found to be glad about, but Pollyanna got there in the end – she was glad she didn’t need them. However, this feels like a bad omen when Pollyanna has her own accident, like Katy she has a fall and injures her back. The local doctor organises for her to have an operation in the city, but can’t guarantee she’ll walk again. But before they leave, Pollyanna is visited by everyone in the city that she’s touched in some way, mainly by being her chatty, sunny, self. Both of these books are charming on the surface, but have a much darker and disturbing message beneath. It teaches young women that they should start to grow up, become young ladies and become quieter, ladylike, less free. I imagine the popularity of them has waned since I was an adolescent, at least I hope so, because I felt like quite a failure when I wasn’t as good or tame as these young ladies after my accident.

The Mary Plain Series by Gwynedd Rae

It was a Blue Peter ‘Bring and Buy’ sale that brought this book series into my life and I fell in love at once with this gorgeous little bear. So much so that I had to have my own cuddly toy bear who I named Mary Plain (and still have somewhere with my Snoopy and my ET). Written in the 1930’s in the U.K, the series features Mary, a very real juvenile bear, who lives with her family at the zoo in Bern, Switzerland. We meet her family, including a beautifully named Aunt Friske, but the book mainly concerns Mary’s adventures with her human ‘godfather’. Called The Owl Man by Mary, because he wears glasses, he seems able to converse with her, and takes her out on a special ‘svisit’ – the result of teaching Mary that if you’re talking about more than one visit you add an ‘s’. Mary doesn’t wear clothes, but occasionally likes a hat, and in the illustrations has an endearing little pot belly. She’s not always confident of how she looks and although she enjoys rubbing her belly, she does wonder if it’s a little big. Mary is well behaved, for a bear, and never intends to get into scrapes, but they do tend to happen anyway. I used to love reading about her picnics, going for tea, meeting important people and mostly just enjoying sitting in The Owl Man’s car with the top down and the wind in her ears. I still think these books are delightful and they must have been great reading for children back in the 1930’s.

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books of the Month! January 2022

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

The Maid by Nita Prose

Published by Harper Collins 20th Jan 2022.

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

Demon by Matt Wesolowski.

Published by Orenda Books 20th January 2022

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

The Unravelling by Polly Crosby

Published by HQ 6th Jan 2022

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

Insomnia by Sarah Pinborough

Published by Harper Collins 30th March 2022

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

The Book of Magic by Alice Hoffman

Published by Scribner U.K. 6th Jan 2022

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

The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont

Published by Mantle 20th Jan 2022

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

The Impulse Purchase by Veronica Henry

Published by Orion 3rd Feb 2022.

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

Other books I read this month…

The Second Woman by Louise Mey

Bitter Flowers by Gunnar Staalesen

Cut Out by Michèle Roberts

The Secret by Debbie Howells

The Family by Naomi Krupitsky

Daughter of the Sea by Elizabeth J. Hobbes

Posted in Fiction Preview 2022

New Books 2022! Part Four.

Waiting for Sunshine by Jane Sanderson.

I was offered this proof just before Christmas, probably because I loved Sanderson’s novel Mix Tape. I loved it’s combination of love story, the gritty Sheffield setting and sense what might have been.

‘Who would name a child Sunshine, then give her away?’

Chrissie has always wanted to be a mother. After months of trying to adopt, she and her husband Stuart finally get the news that a little girl named Sunshine is waiting for them. The child comes to them without a history, and it feels like a fresh start for all of them. But when fragments from Sunshine’s previous life start to intrude on her new one, the little girl’s mysterious past quickly becomes Chrissie’s greatest fear ..

Beautiful and compelling, this is a story of hope and love, about finding the perfect family and fighting to keep it, perfect for fans of Dawn French and Ruth Jones.

Published by Bantam Press 9th June 2022.

Mother’s Boy by Patrick Gale.

I can’t explain how much I love Patrick Gale’s writing. I started reading his work when his novel, Notes from an Exhibition, was published. I was impressed by his understanding of mental illness and the effect it has on a family, as well as his beautiful descriptions of Cornwall. I wrote earlier this year about how moving I found his novel A Place Called Winter and I’m always eagerly anticipating more. In this new novel, Laura, an impoverished Cornish girl, meets her husband when they are both in service in Teignmouth in 1916. They have a baby, Charles, but Laura’s husband returns home from the trenches a damaged man, already ill with the tuberculosis that will soon leave her a widow. In a small, class-obsessed town she raises her boy alone, working as a laundress, and gradually becomes aware that he is some kind of genius. As an intensely private young man, Charles signs up for the navy with the new rank of coder. His escape from the tight, gossipy confines of Launceston to the colour and violence of war sees him blossom as he experiences not only the possibility of death, but the constant danger of a love that is as clandestine as his work. MOTHER’S BOY is the story of a man who is among, yet apart from his fellows, in thrall to, yet at a distance from his own mother; a man being shaped for a long, remarkable and revered life spent hiding in plain sight. But it is equally the story of the dauntless mother who will continue to shield him long after the dangers of war are past.

Published by Tinder Press 1st March 2022

The Gifts by Liz Hyder.

When a book is recommended by the likes of Stacey Halls and Elizabeth MacNeal I sit up and take notice. This is Hyder’s first adult novel, having had success in the YA market.

The luminous debut adult novel from the Waterstones Prize Winner, perfect for fans of The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, The Essex Serpent and The Doll Factory

In an age defined by men, it will take something extraordinary to show four women who they truly are. October 1840. A young woman staggers alone through a forest in Shropshire as a huge pair of impossible wings rip themselves from her shoulders. Meanwhile, when rumours of a ‘fallen angel’ cause a frenzy across London, a surgeon desperate for fame and fortune finds himself in the grips of a dangerous obsession, one that will place the women he seeks in the most terrible danger. THE GIFTS is the astonishing debut adult novel from the lauded author Liz Hyder. A gripping and ambitious book told through five different perspectives and set against the luminous backdrop of nineteenth century London, it explores science, nature and religion, enlightenment, the role of women in society and the dark danger of ambition.

Published by Manilla Press 17th Feb 2022.

I must admit that I was charmed by the stunning cover of this debut novel and who wouldn’t be? This is a captivating debut fantasy inspired by the legend of the Chinese moon goddess. A young woman’s quest to free her mother pits her against the most powerful immortal in the realm, setting her on a dangerous path where those she loves are not the only ones at risk. Growing up on the moon, Xingyin is accustomed to solitude, unaware that she is being hidden from the powerful Celestial Emperor who exiled her mother for stealing his elixir of immortality. But when her magic flares and her existence is discovered, Xingyin is forced to flee her home, leaving her mother behind.Alone, powerless, and afraid, she makes her way to the Celestial Kingdom, a land of wonder and secrets. Disguising her identity, she seizes an opportunity to train in the Crown Prince’s service, learning to master archery and magic, despite the passion which flames between her and the emperor’s son. To save her mother, Xingyin embarks on a perilous quest, confronting legendary creatures and vicious enemies, across the earth and skies. But when treachery looms and forbidden magic threatens the kingdom, she must challenge the ruthless Celestial Emperor for her dream —striking a dangerous bargain, where she is torn between losing all she loves or plunging the realm into chaos.

Daughter of the Moon Goddess begins an enchanting, romantic duology which weaves ancient Chinese mythology into a sweeping adventure of immortals and magic, of loss and sacrifice — where love vies with honour, dreams are fraught with betrayal, and hope emerges triumphant.

Published by Harper Voyager 20th January 2022

The Vanished Days by Susanna Kearsley.

I am very fond of the Outlander series and I could see some parallels between this and Diana Gabaldon’s books. I’m a huge reader of historical fiction so when I was asked to help with the cover reveal I jumped at the chance. There are many who believe they know what happened, but they do not know the whole of it. The rumours spread, and grow, and take their hold, and so to end them I have been persuaded now to take my pen in hand and tell the story as it should be told…

Autumn, 1707. Old enemies from the Highlands to the Borders are finding common ground as they join to protest the new Union with England, the French are preparing to launch an invasion to carry the young exiled Jacobite king back to Scotland to reclaim his throne, and in Edinburgh the streets are filled with discontent and danger. Queen Anne’s commissioners, seeking to calm the situation, have begun settling the losses and wages owed to those Scots who took part in the disastrous Darien expedition eight years earlier. When Lily, the young widow of a Darien sailor, comes forward to collect her husband’s wages, her claim is challenged, and one of the men who’s assigned to examine her has only days to decide if she’s honest, or if his own feelings are making him blind to the truth, and if he’s being used as a pawn in an even more treacherous game. A story of intrigue, adventure, endurance, romance…and the courage to hope.

Published by Simon and Schuster U.K. 28th April 2022.

The Embroidered Book by Kate Heartfield.

‘Power is not something you are given. Power is something you take. When you are a woman, it is a little more difficult, that’s all’

1768. Charlotte, daughter of the Habsburg Empress, arrives in Naples to marry a man she has never met. Her sister Antoine is sent to France, and in the mirrored corridors of Versailles they rename her Marie Antoinette. The sisters are alone, but they are not powerless. When they were only children, they discovered a book of spells – spells that work, with dark and unpredictable consequences.In a time of vicious court politics, of discovery and dizzying change, they use the book to take control of their lives. But every spell requires a sacrifice. And as love between the sisters turns to rivalry, they will send Europe spiralling into revolution. I have this on my NetGalley shelf and I’m very excited to start reading it.

Published by Harper Voyager 17th Feb 2022.

The Seawomen by Chloe Timms.

Just look at that stunning cover! This one sounds like an incredible read and it isn’t published till the summer, so I’ll be hunting an ARC in the New Year. Esta has known nothing but Eden’s Isle her whole life. Raised by her grandmother, after a fire claimed her parents and scarred her face as a child, Esta faces a life of piety and dread, bound to a religious society who cut themselves off from the mainland in the name of salvation. The island is governed by a fear of the outside world and the corrupting evil, lurking deep in the water known as the Seawomen. They fear the water, and the only way to remain virtuous is never to enter the sea, to follow God’s word, but curious Esta longs for more.

Women on the island are controlled, married off and must conceive a child within the twelve months of their appointed motheryear. If she doesn’t bear a child in that year, she is marked as cursed, and cast back into the sea as a sacrifice, in an act called the Untethering.When Esta witnesses a woman Untethered before her eyes she sees a future to fear. Her fate awaits, a loveless marriage, her motheryear declared. But before long, Esta gets a taste of freedom and the insular world she knows begins to unravel.

Published by Hodder & Stoughton 14th June 2022.

Meredith, Alone by Claire Alexander.

This really is the hot debut of the summer, already gathering lots of attention on BookTwitter and Bookstagram and giving off Eleanor Oliphant vibes.

All that stands between Meredith and the world is her own front door . . . but what will it take for her to open it? 
________

Meredith Maggs hasn’t left her house in 1,214 days. But she insists she isn’t alone.She has her cat Fred. Her friend Sadie visits when she can. There’s her online support group, StrengthInNumbers. She has her jigsaws, favourite recipes, her beloved Emily Dickinson, the internet, the Tesco delivery man and her treacherous memories for company.But something’s about to change. Whether Meredith likes it or not, the world is coming to her door . . . Does she have the courage to overcome what’s been keeping her inside all this time?

Published by Penguin 9th June 2022.

The Undiscovered Deaths of Grace McGill by C.S. Robertson.

Everybody who follows me knows how much I love Doug Johnstone and his Skelf family series of novels, so when he’s recommending a read, I’m listening.

‘A brilliantly original thriller, dark and brooding, with a real emotional punch’ DOUG JOHNSTONE

Death is not the end. For Grace McGill, it’s only the beginning.

When people die alone and undiscovered, it’s her job to clean up what’s left behind – whether it’s clutter, bodily remains or dark secrets. When an old man lies undetected in his flat for months, it seems an unremarkable life and an unnoticed death. But Grace knows that everyone has a story and that all deaths mean something more.

A STAND-OUT NOVEL WITH A UNIQUE NARRATIVE VOICE AND AN UNGUESSABLE MYSTERY, YOU ARE GUARANTEED TO REMEMBER GRACE McGILL.

Reader praise for The Undiscovered Deaths of Grace McGill:

‘A twisted story of undiscovered deaths and twisted minds, of people of little or no morality and Grace right in the thick of it, setting records straight and doing good in her own inimitable way

‘Wow! What an absolute stunner of a book. This was so different to a lot of the books out there at the moment. Totally gripping and thrilling and I couldn’t stop reading it although I really didn’t want to finish it!’

‘A premise that, gratifyingly, delivers the goods in spades and does so with a superbly well drawn cast of characters and a rather unique, well written, often dark narrative. Compelling and wholly engaging reading. Top notch

Published by Hodder & Stoughton 20th Jan 2022.

Posted in Sunday Spotlight

Books I’m Gifting This Christmas.

****SPOILER ALERT****

If you are someone who receives a present from me at Christmas, don’t read on! I don’t want anyone to ruin their surprise. I love giving and receiving books at Christmas. We have a rule in our house, that apart from the authors I LOVE and pre-order, I’m not allowed to buy books after October so that my wish list is up to date and can be used. My family know how much I appreciate their bookish gifts but they also know that we’re rapidly running out of book shelves and might have to adopt a ‘one in – one out’ policy for a while. Of course my ARC shelf gets fuller by the week, but I do like to have final copies and support the author, especially those published by small indie publishers. I always say to my stepdaughters, when they ask me what I want for Christmas ‘a book and some chocolate’ and they’re now used to Sundays where I’m in pyjamas, snuggled up on the chaise langue with Baggins the cat on my knee, chocolate at my side and a book on the go. If you give me a book at Christmas, it means so much because you’re giving me a doorway into another world. I stay home a lot, especially in recent times, due to being susceptible to viruses and my MS and back injury getting progressively worse. I feel less alone when I have a great book I can get into and I love to share my finds at Christmas. I also love to find that one book that suits someone perfectly and when we catch up and they tell me all about reading it, I am always so happy. Here are some of the books I’m gifting this year.

The Christmas Poems by Carol Ann Duffy.

I loved Carol Ann Duffy’s Rapture and gifted it a few times to different friends. I often avoid ‘themed’ books at this time of year but this is a beauty. For her last ten years as Poet Laureate, Duffy has produced an annual Christmas poem taking us to places as diverse as the famous 1914 Christmas Day truce where German and British soldiers played a game of football together, to a lesser known 17th Century festival held on the frozen River Thames. There are ten poems in all, each one beautifully illustrated by artists like Lara Hawthorne and my personal favourite Rob Ryan. I’ll be buying this for people who like poetry and art, but also in bundles of homemade goodies like iced gingerbread and chocolate pudding truffles that we make a couple of days before Christmas. This is a lovely family book to keep and look at whenever you need a hit of Christmas.

Carol Ann Duffy Christmas Poems Published on 25th November by Picador.

Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce.

This is a total change of pace. A fantastically adventurous story about one woman’s quest for a golden beetle, but also about female friendship, finding the confidence to place importance on your own dreams and ultimately carving out your own space to be a woman who’s truly herself. I love Rachel Joyce’s work so I had high hopes for this novel and it didn’t disappoint. We follow Margery Benson who has a devastating moment of clarity in 1950, leaves her dead-end job and advertises for an assistant to accompany her on an expedition. She is going to travel to the other side of the world to search for a beetle that may or may not exist. Enid Pretty, in her unlikely pink travel suit, is not the companion Margery had in mind. And yet together they will be drawn into an adventure that will exceed every expectation. They will risk everything, break all the rules, and at the top of a red mountain, discover their best selves. I’m going to buy this for my feminist friends who will fall in love with Margery and her courage. I’m also going to buy it for my friends stuck in rut after lockdown and needing some inspiration. I know it worked for me!

Published in paperback on 21st April 2021 by Black Swan.

The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayers.

Those two words on the front cover of this novel were enough to whet my appetite and I know exactly which friends will be as drawn to it as I was. ‘Decadent and macabre’ is a good summary of this novel which I wasn’t sure of at first, but came to appreciate as we travelled back in time to Belle Epoch Paris and a secret circus who perform by invitation only. Just to give you a taste of what to expect, the special invite is alive so if you tear it, it will bleed. Lara’s boyfriend Todd disappears on the eve of their wedding, never to be seen again. His disappearance echoes that of another young man thirty years before. Lara has spent the past year trying to find out what happened, alongside Todd’s best friend Ben who is the sheriff of Kerrigan Falls. However, Lara isn’t an ordinary girl, something we see as she enchants her own wedding dress. There are powers that seem to be hereditary, as Lara discovers when her investigating uncovers one of her great-grandmother’s journals. As she reads, she learns of a secret circus, one that appears to the person with a ticket. What will she find there and will it bring her fiancé back? Just as she starts to develop feelings for another. This is a perfect book for those who love fantasy and magical. Give to fans of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth MacNeal and A Girl Made of Air by Nydia Hetherington.

Constance Sayers

Midnight in Everwood by M.A. Kuzniar.

This is the perfect Christmas book because there are some beautiful special editions lurking at high street and indie book stores. This is one of those novels that splurging on a signed and special edition is absolutely worth it, especially for someone important to you. This is historical fiction, set in turn of the 20th Century Nottingham. It’s also a retelling of a Christmas story that most of us will know through Tchaikovsky’s beautiful music and grunge to the ballet. The author takes The Nutcracker and tells us a story of a young woman being confined by her class – Marietta Stelle wants to pursue her love of dancing and become a ballerina. However, Christmas is approaching and she must finish her Christmas Eve performance and take up her expected place in society. When a neighbouring townhouse is taken by Dr Drosselmeier, a mysterious toy maker, he becomes involved in the sets for the production. However, his work contains magic, very dark magic that transports Marietta to a sugar palace in an enchanted woodland. Will she ever get home again or is she trapped in Everwood for ever?

Published by HQ 28th October 2021

The Apollo Murders by Chris Hadfield.

I watched an interview with Chris Hadfield and knew this would be a great read for some of the men on my Christmas List. Chris was a test pilot in the Air Force when he was selected for astronaut training. He’s been up to the space station twice and in the interview he talked about doing a space walk to make repairs outside the station. In this thriller he takes us back to the Cold War and one final mission to the moon. Cleverly, this is history, but an alternate history. Three astronauts are trapped together in the lunar module, a quarter of a million miles from home. They’re also a quarter of a million miles from help. The political stakes are high for this mission and NASA are under pressure. There’s a rival Russian crew making for the moon at the same time, both hoping to retrieve an important bounty from the moon’s surface. Controller Kaz Zemekis must keep his crew on track, while feeling the pressure of the Russians hot on their heels. The Houston control room is close to breaking point. What they don’t know is not everyone on Apollo 18 is who they appear to be. I was lucky enough to have an ARC of this tense and fascinating novel, so I can vouch for it’s quality. Of course the technical know-how and experience the author has, bring this novel to life. It feels like you’re there and it really helps orientate you round this alien scene. I find it strangely freeing to imagine floating round in space, but here it’s incredibly claustrophobic too. This has a great write up from director James Cameron and Andy Weir, the author of The Martian. I agree with them that this is fascinating, heart-stopping and relentless.

Published by Quercus 12th October 2021.

Tenderness by Alison MacLeod.

I’m lucky enough to have a Mum who absolutely loved literature and without that I don’t think I’d be blogging and writing my own novel. Her favourite author was D.H. Lawrence and I remember being taken to see his house when I was little, and how happy that made her. We watched all the film adaptations together too. So this huge doorstep of a book is the obvious choice. Lady Chatterley’s Lover was always on our bookshelves, but it took me all the way to my late twenties before I read it for myself. What I was most stunned by was that this wasn’t a dirty book, it was so many things: an exploration of the aftermath of WW1; the disintegration of class boundaries, particularly the reduction of the aristocracy; disability and it’s effect on a person’s identity and their marriage; mechanisation and it’s effect on warfare, as well as positioning it opposite nature. Most of all it’s a story of love. I re-read it regularly and think it’s so complex, fascinating and tender. That’s where Alison McLeod’s book is pitched – is this a book that should be banned as obscene or is it a picture of tenderness? We jump the decades from Lawrence’s death bed where he takes account of his life, a betrayal committed in the war years and an image of red-headed woman in an Italian courtyard. Then we meet Jacqueline, travelling with her husband when she slips into a NYC court where a book is on trial. In a library, a young man and woman meet and make love. These stories are bound together by that one question; is it obscenity or is it tenderness? This is a moving book, beautifully written and a treatise on the power of fiction. This is wrapped ready for my Mum on Christmas Day.

Published on Bloomsbury Publishing 12th September 2021.

The Waiting Rooms by Eve Smith.

As my Dad gets older and his health has been getting worse, he’s had to do a lot of rest and recuperation and he has started reading more. I’ve learned a lot about what he enjoys reading and it turns out we both enjoy dystopian fiction. I bought him The Girl With All The Gifts one year and we got to have our first book conversation. This year I’m buying him another of my favourites, The Waiting Rooms. This is a tough read in a pandemic, but interesting, chilling and strangely prescient. In a not too distant future, a government ruling states that those over seventy-five years of age can’t have access to new antibiotics. Years of overuse have led to drug resistance so something as simple as a cat scratch can kill. Drastic action was needed to ensure that younger people have access to a small supply of newly created antibiotics. If an elderly person gets a scratch or infection it’s a death sentence. They have two choices, either wait to die a painful death in a state run hospital known as The Waiting Rooms. Alternatively you can visit a clinic where a doctor administers a lethal dose of medication, in a glass of whiskey should you choose. Kate works at such a clinic by day, but by night has been searching for her birth mother. However, her birth mother may hold many secrets about the crisis and Kate might not be the only one looking for her. I felt completely immersed in this world whether it was a version of our future or a pre-crisis South Africa which appears beautifully vivid against the bleak future. Haunting, tense and eerily recognisable, this book was one of my top 20 of 2020.

Published by Orenda Books April 2020

SAS Sea King Down by Mark ‘Splash’ Aston and Stuart Tootal.

This is another choice for my Dad, who served in the Royal Engineers and may have been selected for SAS training (he won’t confirm it, but certain things he says suggest this). He loves reading these series, even if he does grumble a bit about people revealing their experiences. Mark ‘Splash’ Aston joined the SAS in 1979 as part of D Squadron, SAS. This left him in prime position for deployment to the Falklands in 1982. They were at the frontline of taking back the islands, facing twin enemies of extreme weather and determined Argentinian troops. It was during one skirmish that the Sea King helicopter they were travelling in crashed into the freezing South Atlantic. Only nine survived and Splash was one of them, rescued and sent to a hospital ship nearby. Suspected of having a broken bones in his neck, he defied orders and hospital advice to return to his Squadron and finish what he’d started. Written with an experienced author, Stuart Tootal, the book gives us an insider view of an SAS unit and a war that was fought in my lifetime, in fact my cousin served out there in the RAF. I felt the tension and the hardship of serving in the SAS and I felt I was reading a truly authentic experience.

Published 13th May 2021 by Michael Joseph

The Snow Song by Sally Gardner.

This is a stunningly beautiful book that has always been appreciated wherever I’ve gifted it. It’s a feminist fable, and a love story with a touch of magic realism. We’re taken to a land perched on a mountain, covered by forests, and to one tribal village. The village elders are all men and tradition is all, including marital tradition. Our heroine Edith has fallen in love with a shepherd who took a trip away, promising he would return to her. The elders want her to marry the local butcher, and start to apply pressure, but Edith turns mute just as the snow starts to fall. The elders agree that if the shepherd returns when the snow melts she can have her wish, but if not she must marry the butcher. She will not speak until her love returns and this enchantment has far-reaching consequences for the villagers as well as her. Her stand starts to inspire other women in the village. This is a fable about the power of speech, and of silence. When everyone around you is shouting, silence can be the best way to be heard.

Published 12th Nov 2020 by HQ.

Medusa: Girl Behind The Myth by Jessie Burton.

Finally, we have this little gem from one of my favourite writers. Jessie Burton has taken one of Greek myth’s most well-known monsters and given her a feminist retelling, one I’m dying to share with my oldest stepdaughter. The gods have exiled Medusa to a far-flung island and turned her beautiful hair into living snakes. They are the only company she has until one day a boat comes to shore with the most beautiful boy on board. Perseus arrives full of charm and has the luck of the gods with him. He disrupts Medusa’s lonely existence and brings with him a future full of desire and betrayal. I have purchased signed editions of this beautiful book for friends and family who I know will love it. The illustrations by Olivia Lomenech Gill are gorgeous and the foil front of the special edition is stunning.

Published 28th October 2021 by Bloomsbury YA.

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books Of The Month: April 2021!

What an incredible mix of reading I’ve had in April. First of all I reached a milestone of over 20 books read in a month. Something I haven’t managed since my university days. I’m thinking it needs to calm down a little in the weeks ahead. I’ve travelled from Ireland, to Orkney via Kenya, and from the 1940s to the present day and from a feminist manifesto to charming, uplifting reads. There’s is a thread through all of them though – strong female characters and an understanding of how life’s events, including trauma, affect women mentally.

The Imposter by Anna Wharton

Publisher: Mantle 1st April 2021

Chloe lives a quiet life. Working as a newspaper archivist in the day and taking care of her nan in the evening, she’s happy simply to read about the lives of others as she files the news clippings from the safety of her desk. But there’s one story that she can’t stop thinking about. The case of Angie Kyle a girl, Chloe’s age, who went missing as a child. A girl whose parents never gave up hope. When Chloe’s nan is moved into care, leaving Chloe on the brink of homelessness, she takes a desperate step: answering an ad to be a lodger in the missing girl’s family home. It could be the perfect opportunity to get closer to the story she’s read so much about. But it’s not long until she realizes this couple isn’t all they seem. In a house where everyone has something to hide, is it possible to get too close?

The Source by Sarah Sultoon

Publisher Orenda Books 15th April 2021

One last chance to reveal the truth…

1996. Essex. Thirteen-year-old schoolgirl Carly lives in a disenfranchised town dominated by a military base, struggling to care for her baby sister while her mum sleeps off another binge. When her squaddie brother brings food and treats, and offers an exclusive invitation to army parties, things start to look a little less bleak…

2006. London. Junior TV newsroom journalist Marie has spent six months exposing a gang of sex traffickers, but everything is derailed when New Scotland Yard announces the re-opening of Operation Andromeda, the notorious investigation into allegations of sex abuse at an army base a decade earlier…

As the lives of these two characters intertwine around a single, defining event, a series of utterly chilling experiences is revealed, sparking a nail-biting race to find the truth … and justice.

Madame Burova by Ruth Hogan.

Publisher Two Roads, 1st April 2021

Imelda Burova has spent a lifetime keeping other people’s secrets and her silence has come at a price. She has seen the lovers and the liars, the angels and the devils, the dreamers and the fools. Her cards had unmasked them all and her cards never lied. But Madame Burova is weary of other people’s lives, their ghosts from the past and other people’s secrets, she needs rest and a little piece of life for herself. Before that, however, she has to fulfill a promise made a long time ago. She holds two brown envelopes in her hand, and she has to deliver them.

In London, it is time for another woman to make a fresh start. Billie has lost her university job, her marriage, and her place in the world when she discovers something that leaves her very identity in question. Determined to find answers, she must follow a trail which might just lead right to Madame Burova’s door.

In a story spanning over fifty years, Ruth Hogan conjures a magical world of 1970s holiday camps and seaside entertainers, eccentrics, heroes and villains, the lost and the found. Young people, with their lives before them, make choices which echo down the years. And a wall of death rider is part of a love story which will last through time.

The Metal Heart by Caroline Lea.

Publisher Michael Joseph, 29th April 2021

Orkney, 1940.

Five hundred Italian prisoners-of-war arrive to fortify these remote and windswept islands. Resentful islanders are fearful of the enemy in their midst, but not orphaned twin sisters Dorothy and Constance. Already outcasts, they volunteer to nurse all prisoners who are injured or fall sick. Soon Dorothy befriends Cesare, an artist swept up by the machine of war and almost broken by the horrors he has witnessed. She is entranced by his plan to build an Italian chapel from war scrap and sea debris, and something beautiful begins to blossom.

But Con, scarred from a betrayal in her past, is afraid for her sister; she knows that people are not always what they seem. Soon, trust frays between the islanders and outsiders, and between the sisters – their hearts torn by rival claims of duty and desire. A storm is coming . . .

Charity by Madeleine Dewhurst.

Publisher Lightning Books, 26th April 2021

Edith, an elderly widow with a large house in an Islington garden square, needs a carer. Lauren, a nail technician born in the East End, needs somewhere to live. A rent-free room in lieu of pay seems the obvious solution, even though the pair have nothing in common.

Or do they? Why is Lauren so fascinated by Edith’s childhood in colonial Kenya? Is Paul, the handsome lodger in the basement, the honest broker he appears? And how does Charity, a Kenyan girl brutally tortured during the Mau Mau rebellion, fit into the equation?

Capturing the spirited interplay between two women divided by class, generation and a deeper gulf from the past, and offering vivid flashbacks to 1950s East Africa, Madeline Dewhurst’s captivating debut spins a web of secrets and deceit where it’s not always obvious who is the spider and who is the fly.

The Seven Necessary Sins of Women and Girls by Mona Eltahawy

Publisher Tramp Press 26th April 2021

The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls identifies seven sins women and girls are socialised to avoid anger, attention, profanity, ambition, power, violence and lust. With essays on each, Mona Eltahawy creates a stunning manifesto encouraging women worldwide to defy, disobey and disrupt the patriarchy. Drawing on her own life and the work of intersectional activists from around the world, #MeToo and the Arab Spring, Eltahawy’s work defines what it is to be a feminist now.

Special Mention – The Miseducation of Evie Epworth by Matson Taylor.

I have to mention this absolute joy of a book, now out in paperback from Simon and Schuster. Evie takes us all the way back to the 1960s and a Yorkshire village where her Dad runs a dairy farm. This summer Evie is waiting for her exam results, but Chrissie – her dad’s new girlfriend – doesn’t want her just laying round the house and reading. Chrissie is busy upgrading the farmhouse from all that wood and bringing in some modern Formica. Evie wants her Dad to see what Chrissie is truly like, but isn’t sure how. This teenage diary is hilarious, poignant and uplifting. It’s an absolute joy of a read.

Yellow Limited Edition Paperbacks available at Independent bookshops.

So that’s my monthly picks. Here are some other good picks from this month.

Posted in Reading Life

A Different Look at Love

This year Valentine’s Day is going to be a little different. I keep hearing it everywhere, especially on adverts trying to sell us goodies for a ‘stay at home’ Valentine’s Day. I have a strange relationship with holidays that expect us to do certain things (I refer to New Years Eve as ‘enforced jollity’) and Valentine’s Day is no different. At the very least I like my loved one to have a card on the day, somewhere I can write how much I love my partner in my own words. Other than that I’d rather we bought each other something we love – a book will be much more appreciated than a cliched gift, or we try and get something that’s more about our relationship and the in-jokes we have. He’s always called me ‘Wonder Woman’ because of what I manage despite my MS, so I have some lovely Wonder Woman Converse trainers and he has a Lego Wonder Woman who sits on his bedside table. Often we wait for a cheaper week to buy flowers and I really don’t do red roses. This year will be stranger than most because it’s the week we’re moving house. This year he has a framed print for the new house – two bumble bees, with tiny suitcases moving into their new home. I’m getting flowers when we’ve moved in so I can really enjoy them.

This year, what’s on my mind is that many people might be spending the day alone. When social media is full of people showing their cards and flowers, how hard must it be for those living alone or those recently separated or bereaved. I think the message of Valentine’s Day-to love each other- needs broadening to include other relationships. Love between friends, family, even the bond we have with our pets, all are very important to appreciate and not just because we’re in lockdown. We should appreciate this love all of the time. It might be nice this year to drop a card in the postbox to an elderly grandparent, a friend whose shielding or an Aunty whose just been divorced – they all need it. My life has been quite motivated by love and I was surprised to find my reading is too. I checked my Goodreads for last year, and I was so surprised to see how many were categorised as romance. Today though, in line with my thinking about Valentine’s Day – I thought I’d feature some books that are a bit unusual and are less of a conventional romance.

This book is the latest from a favourite writer of mine, Elizabeth Haynes. It’s probably the most conventional romance in my list, but it’s not just about two people. A love story between Rachel, who has run away from life, and Fraser who is hiding from his past. Yet, for me, the biggest character -that both people fall in love with-is the rugged landscape of the Isle of Must. At first Rachel wonders if she’s made a huge mistake, the island is bleak and rough. However, as the spring comes, it spreads its magic. Rachel falls in love with the island’s beauty; body and soul. I love that although this is a love story, it’s so much more than that. It’s a woman’s awakening into what her soul needs and who she really is at this point in her life. Fraser is an embodiment of the landscape, rugged and forbidding, until he too starts to reconcile with himself. Simply beautiful.

I absolutely loved this beautiful novel and I was totally wrong footed by it as well, because this is one book that really pushes the philosophy that there are many different types of love. Dannie has a very strict five year plan and goes after what she wants. With this focus she is now in the perfect apartment in the right part of Manhattan. She has secured the job she always wanted, and is engaged to the perfect man. So she’s shocked by a dream she has, that in five years time she is with a different man, in a loft apartment in a more ‘up and coming’ area. She’s also wearing a different engagement ring. She shakes off the dream, but it’s there in the back of her mind. Then, four and a half years later, she goes for a meal with her best friend Bella. Bella is Dannie’s polar opposite, but despite this they’ve been friends for a long time. Bella would never have a life plan. In fact Dannie has sometimes worried that she’s a bit flakey. She’s a bohemian, go with the flow, sort of girl and has been resolutely single for years. Now she’s bringing someone important to meet Dannie, but to Dannie’s horror Bella’s dinner guest is the man from her dream. How can she avoid the destiny that seems to have been planned out for her? I adored this book. It’s a beautiful love story, but was far from the one I was expecting as I read. It made me think about soul mates and how that doesn’t necessarily mean our romantic partner. Love comes from many different places and isn’t necessarily what or who we expect. Heart rending and beautiful.

Don Tillman has decided it’s time for him to find a wife, and being a professor of genetics he decides to take a scientific approach. Surely if he comes up with a questionnaire, designed to eliminate women with the qualities he dislikes, he should find the one? However, one thing he knows for sure. It will definitely not be Rosie. Don believes Rosie is an applicant for his questionnaire, but she would fail on several counts. She smokes and drinks, is a vegetarian and can’t be punctual. Thankfully she’s there to ask for his help in finding her real father. To say Don is a bit socially challenged would be an understatement and this really is a laugh out loud funny book. Watching him struggle through meeting women is brilliant. He hasn’t realised that love has a language all of its own.

I do enjoy a bit of magic realism and that’s exactly what we get here from the incredible storyteller Patrick Ness. George Duncan is an honest, decent and good man. He lives by himself and could be said to have a lonely life. One night, he is disturbed by a noise outside and wakes up. When he looks outside there is a large crane in his garden, shot through the wing by an arrow. George is very moved by the bird’s plight and goes outside to help. When the bird flies away he feels a loss, not knowing that his life is about to be transformed. The next day, while working in his shop, he meets a customer he’s never seen before; mysterious, but kind woman, called Kumiko. A tentative friendship begins, then blossoms as Kumiko takes George on a journey through art and storytelling. They fall in love and together create beautiful pieces of art, stretching George’s ordinary life into something rare and fantastical. However, there’s a part of Kumiko he feels he hasn’t reached and he wonders whether this enigmatic woman has secrets. His need to know the the occasional secret side of her, may be his undoing. Can we love someone, knowing they are never just one set thing? Ness creates a beautiful fable here, but also a deep meditation on life itself.

“Love who you love while you have them. That’s all you can do. Let them go when you must. If you know how to love, you’ll never run out’.

Daniel has ‘the memory’, an ability to recall past lives and loves. It is both a blessing and a curse. Daniel has spent many lifetimes falling in love with Sophia across continents, dynasties and centuries. Each time they find each other, despite different names and appearances, and Daniel remembers every lifetime. Yet it is a love that’s always too short. For every time they come together, they are painfully torn apart again. In the present day, under the guise of Lucy. Sophia is awakening to the lover’s shared past, but just as she understands their strong attraction and familiarity they may be torn apart again. How can they confront what always pulls them apart and finally change their ending?

Douglas Kennedy has a real aptitude for writing about relationships and I’ve been a fan since his debut A Special Relationship. Here we meet Harry Ricks, down on his luck and running away from life. His career is in pieces after his boss slept with Harry’s wife then conspired to ruin him. He has a poor relationship with his daughter, who despises him. He takes a rash decision and flies off to Paris, where he books into a hotel and burns through any savings. He’s close to destitution when he gets a job as a night security guard. He’s guarding warehouses for a bunch of gangsters, but turns a blind eye to what happens inside. Just as life seems at its worst he meets Margit and is immediately enchanted by her. She’s a handsome woman rather than pretty, but incredible sensual and oozes sexual energy. She challenges his morals and the guilt he feels. Margit becomes his muse. He starts writing his novel in earnest – 1000 words a day – and he feels his masculinity being restored. She controls when he sees her, which only makes him want her all the more. People who have been looming over Harry’s life start to have nasty ‘accidents’. However, as with all seemingly perfectly arrangements, perhaps Margit isn’t all she seems to be. Atmospheric, addictive and an exceptional twist at the end.

Emma Donohue’s latest novel is an incredible piece of historical fiction, but is also a love story. Set in Ireland, just after WW1, Nurse Julia Powers works in a maternity unit. On the day in question she has been placed in charge of an isolation ward where expectant mums have ‘Spanish’ Flu. Julia is usually assisting a senior nurse, but today staff are so stretched that she’s in charge, with only volunteer helper Bridie Sweeney. Bridie says she’s had the flu and would be only too happy to help. What follows is a difficult, visceral and heart rending depiction of child birth in Ireland 100 years ago. So many bleak elements make up this story from the details of difficult births, to women from the Magdalene laundries, and exhausted women on their twelfth birth. This isn’t an easy read. Yet there is love: between the women supporting each other, the overwhelming love of a mother for a child (even where the child’s conception has been violent and traumatic) but there’s also romantic love too. The women work together and grow together, their feelings developing throughout the day towards a gloriously tender moment. These book shows us the consequences of love and the sacrifices women are prepared to make in love’s name.

Set in New York, this is a story of people losing and finding each other. Fourteen-year-old Alma Singer is trying to find a cure for her mother’s loneliness. Believing she might discover it in an old book her mother is lovingly translating, she sets out in search of its author. Across New York an old man called Leo Gursky is trying to survive a little bit longer. He spends his days dreaming of the love lost that sixty years ago in Poland inspired him to write a book. And although he doesn’t know it yet, that book also survived: crossing oceans and generations, and changing lives. . . We have a brilliant depiction of old age in Leo, and his recollections of his boyhood in Poland are wonderful. There are several narrative strands woven together by the author, all based around the book ‘The History of Love’ but it is Leo’s story of his childhood love from the years before the Nazis came that stayed with me. Written beautifully, in such poetic prose, this is as much about the power of stories as it is about the power of love. It seems that it’s those who have lost so much in love, who value it most highly.

This novel is probably my most conventional choice and one of my favourites from last year. It quite literally broke me when I finished it in the middle of the night. Jennifer Jones’ life began when her little sister, Kerry, was born. So when her sister dies in a tragic accident, nothing seems to make sense any more. Despite the support of her husband, Ed, and their wonderful children, Jen can’t comprehend why she is still here, while bright, spirited Kerry is not.When Jen starts to lose herself in her memories of her sister, she doesn’t realise that the closer she feels to Kerry, the further she gets from her family. This is a wonderful depiction of married love, but also of familial love. Jennifer is torn between her love for her sister, her love for Ed and a mother’s love for her children. The way Ed supports Jen, and believes her when she says she can see Kerry, is a wonderful depiction of love and loyalty. I was so lost in this novel that I cried at the end.

Finally I want to give special mention to a book that spoke to me personally when I most needed it. It prompted me to do something that helped me through grief, when I lost the person I most loved in the world. I lost my husband in 2007, after a long illness, and I was utterly lost. Due to my caring role, I’d had no time for me or my own interests for a couple of years. I’d given up work and struggled to see friends. Jez couldn’t eat, drink, or even breathe without someone there 24/7. So after his funeral, I woke up one morning with all this time to fill and nothing to fill it with. I had lots of support but at the end of the day, when the door closed at night I was so alone. It wasn’t just me and Jez, but all the carers, Marie Curie nurses, and hospice staff who were with us all through the day – and four nights a week. I decided after a couple of months to get a dog and I found my cockapoo Rafferty a few weeks later. I collected him on New Years Eve and it was just in time. Suddenly that night I fell into a black pit of despair. I couldn’t bear entering a year where Jez didn’t exist. As the night wore on I felt so black that I had I not had my little bundle of fur next to me I might have taken drastic action. I started to write a memoir a couple of years later and that was when mum gave me this book.

This is powerful memoir which mixes honest, personal revelation with literature, history, and inspirational self-help, Bel Mooney tells the story of her rescue dog, Bonnie, who in turn rescued Bel when her world fell apart with the all-too public break-up of her 35-year marriage. It really is a story of survival, and also one of love. This is an account of six years in Bel’s life, from when she first acquired Bonnie from a rescue home, through Bel’s years of personal heartbreak and disappointment, and on to the happiness which she has now found in a new marriage and a new life, with the Maltese at her side all the way. This is a book about transformation and change, about picking yourself up and attacking life in the way that a small dog will go for the postman’s trousers – and about celebrating life, much as your canine companion will always celebrate your return, even from the shortest trip. This is engaging, entertaining, full of personal anecdotes and deeply It takes you on an inspirational walk with one very small but very remarkable dog – a dog who represents all that is best about dogs, and about we humans too. I know that the love I have for my dog is one of the strongest feelings I’ve had. I have thoroughly enjoyed watching my partner and my stepdaughters fall in love with him over the last couple of years. He’s now a family dog and he’s bonded us in a way that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. I hope whatever loving relationships you choose to celebrate tomorrow, you have a lovely day. Valentine’s Day isn’t just for romantic love and we need all the celebrations we can get.

Me and Rafferty