Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books of the Month! November 2022

It’s been an unusual month, because I’ve cut my blog tours right down for the end of the year so I’ve made more personal choices about what to read and when. I’m still working through an endless TBR, but I’m reading them in the order I fancy – this feels like blissful freedom to a book blogger, even through I can see a teetering pile of proofs out of the corner of my eye. Not to mention the virtual teetering pile on Netgalley that I’m slowly working through. It’s a month that seems to disappear for me, as Christmas shopping starts in earnest and I end up so focused on December that November seems to pass me by. I’m also having my living room decorated, so that it’s all dry and we can put the Christmas tree up this weekend. I’ll be rearranging my reading corner too, now that it’s a more restful colour rather than the hectic stripes of the previous owner. So, it’s now a headline rush toward Christmas with lots of advent and Christmassy content to come.

This month’s photo collage is in honour of this new book from Jodi Picoult and her writing partner Jenny Finney Boylan. It’s seen as a controversial novel and I’ve been surprised by the many trigger warnings applied to it in reviews and read alongs. Some of these have misrepresented the novel or even ruined it by disclosing parts of the plot. What you need to know about this book is that it’s a straightforward Picoult novel based around a crime and a legal case. Bearing this in mind, I think most people know by now that one of the characters in the novel is transgender. For some people this makes the book problematic, but I am reassured by the fact that Jennifer Finney Boylan is a celebrated trans writer and activist. So this isn’t a cisgender writer trying to write about transgender experience. This is a writer who is using her own experience to communicate that character’s experience with authenticity. Yes, there are characters in the book who are ignorant or even show prejudice, but that’s necessary to fully represent what it’s like to be transgender. Our storyline follows Olivia and her son Asher and the life they’ve built since fleeing domestic violence when Asher was a toddler. Olivia settled in her father’s home and gradually took over his role as a beekeeper. Asher is now a teenager and has his first girlfriend, Lily. Lily is lovely and has been given the vote of confidence by the bees, helping Olivia remove the honeycomb like a pro. Olivia’s whole existence has been devoted to keeping Asher safe, so when she gets a phone call from the local sheriff to say Lily is dead and Asher has been arrested for her murder. Could Asher have inherited some of his father’s characteristics? This is an interesting novel that is also about domestic violence, trauma, jealousy and the difficulties of being a single parent. It’s a great read and I highly recommend it.

This is an interesting addition because I re- read the book while writing about the work of Sarah Waters. I was interested in the parallels between this and her novel Affinity. I loved this when it I first read it last year and it was great to read it again. I loved the strong female characters here and the author’s clever use of liminal spaces to introduce relationships that would have been frowned upon in the 19th Century. Viola has been brought up by her clergyman father alongside a young boy he took into his care. Jonah and Viola have an incredible friendship and it’s really no surprise when they get married, although it does come immediately after their father’s death. Viola loves photography and is asked by a bereaved family if she would take a picture of their dead child. However, when Viola develops the pictures there is another child in the photographs – a child who wasn’t there. This potential spirit photography brings her to the attention of Henriette, a medium who’s been through a lot before she meets Viola and helps her to become a spirit photographer. The two women become close and Viola starts to worry about the intensity of her feelings for this new friend. Jonah, meanwhile, has secrets of his own left back in India where he was posted with his regiment. All three of these characters are so well observed and have such convincing inner lives so when they’re added to some evocative settings you’re immediately transported back in time. Loved it.

The Marmalade Diaries by Ben Aitken.

This was another unusual read for this time of year, but I was simply charmed by the relationship between Ben and the formidable old lady he’s tasked with living with. Ben is at a low ebb when a local charity matches him up to help a pensioner. Winnie is 85 years old and needs help from someone who can live with her and Ben needs a roof over his head. Winnie has an attic flat so he imagines only some of his time will be needed – for tasks such as putting the bins out, changing light bulbs and support with hospital treatment. However, once they are alone Winnie’s first words are along on the lines of ‘so what’s for tea’ and he realises he’s going to be at her beck and call a lot more. I found Winnie so funny, but sometimes she shows cunning and an ability to exploit her situation that was as hilarious to read as it must have been infuriating to live with. The stand-off with the coal man over unloading her delivery was epic – leaving Ben to receive the delivery, she feigns surprise that there was an extra charge to bring the coal onto the property and tip it into the bunker. Winnie has only paid to have dropped on the boundary, then claims that she knew nothing about the charge. Ben wonders if this is an oversight, or a sign of forgetfulness but the coal man comments that it’s an oversight that’s happened the last three times they’ve delivered. It’s beautiful to watch a friendship develop between these two unlikely house-mates and I was sorry to leave their company.

Last year A.M.Shine’s The Watchers scared the living daylights out of me and I was introduced to a new horror writer who writes stories I want to read. Yes, there are creatures and theyre terrifying, but there isn’t a lot of violence until the group start to venture about. I love that these are old fashioned stories in a sense, theres a slow creeping dread that builds, until you find yourself shutting your curtains at even the hint of sunset. Dr. Alec Sparling lives a very regimented existence in a remote Manor House in Ireland. His house is set back, covered and disguised with vegetation. There are shutters for the windows and and bolts for the doors. What is he hiding from? He has advertised for two academics to undertake field research and chooses Ben and Chloe. She is an archaeologist and he is an historical researcher with a wealth of experience in interviewing people. They must hike out to a remote Irish village and interview the residents about their life and their minimal contact with the outside world. This is a forgotten place, wary of strangers and as they stumble through a forest, tripwires attached to church style bells ring out their presence, giving the villagers plenty of warning. As Chloe and Ben finally meet the people they are shocked by their physical appearance. Poverty and hardship has marked their faces, but it’s the lack of new residents that explains the deformities they observe, years of in-breeding has clearly had it’s effect. These people are not pleased to see them and like Dr Sparling, they are nervous about dusk creeping up on them and Chloe observes the shutters at their windows, less high tech than the wealthy doctor’s, but for exactly the same purpose. Are they to stop people looking out after dark, or are they to stop someone looking in? The pair are told, if theDeeply unsettling and brilliantly written.

This beautiful book had been sat all year waiting to be read and I read this, then it’s sequel Heart of the Sun Warrior for our November Squad Pod book club. I don’t read a lot of fantasy, but weirdly when I’m doing my yearly round up, quite a lot of my favourites have a fantasy or magic realism element. The first book in the duology introduces us to Xingyin who lives on the moon with her mother Chang’e. Her peaceful life is interrupted and she is forced to live incognito as a servant in the Celestial Palace, hoping all the time to free her mother from exile. In a stroke of luck she is chosen to train as a warrior alongside the Emperor’s son. This is a great story of a girl growing into a woman and also into her destiny as a great warrior. The settings are incredible, the mythology is full of monsters, an incredible atmosphere and so much colour. To top everything there’s also a love triangle between two warriors, one who is a loyal friend and the other brings pure chemistry. In the sequel, we see another disturbance in the peaceful realm in the sky meaning Xingyin must once again draw on her skills as a warrior. She has a to face a betrayal from one of her suitors and decide whether she can ever trust him again. What I loved most about the books were the luscious layers of description the author uses to build her world in the clouds, but also that Xingyin is always the centre of the tale as a strong, warrior woman.

My final book of the month is The Dazzle of the Light, which leapt straight into my top books of the year. It was possibly overshadowed by Kate Atkinson’s new release which covered the same period of history, but although I loved Atkinson’s book, I enjoyed this one more. The author told a story of two ambitious women, both from very different parts of society. Ruby is part of the notorious Forty Thieves gang. Women of all ages commit crimes ranging from pick-pocketing to jewellery heists and Ruby has her sights set on these more glamorous jobs where she can team up with one of the Elephant Boys. It’s on one of these robberies, where Ruby is seen by Harriet Littlemore. Harriet comes from a wealthy, upper class family and is engaged to a young politician. This isn’t enough though, Harriet wants something for herself and is excited to get a small role writing women’s interest features for the local newspaper. Ruby inspires her to research and write a piece about the robbery she’s witnessed and the Forty Thieves in general. When it appears, her words are accompanied by by an artists’s impression of Ruby, whose Harriet has called ‘The Jewel of the Borough’. It’s clear that Harriet hasn’t thought about what this article might mean for Ruby and her place in the Forty Thieves, or even where Ruby has come from before the gang. I loved how the author brought this post WW1 London to life, from the upper echelons of Parliament to the seedy club of Soho. She presents beautifully the issues of this strange period of adjustment after the war and the women’s fascination with each other is electric. A brilliant read and way up the list in my books of the year.

So, these were my favourites from the past month. In December the blog is always a little quieter, but I will check in from time to time. Currently I’m reading Russ Thomas’s DS Adam Tyler series, based in nearby Sheffield. I’ll be sharing my favourite reads of the year and my own bookish Christmas List too. Hoping you all have a lovely December.

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books of the Month! October 2022

Jacqueline in Paris by Ann Mah

I truly enjoyed this beautiful piece of historical fiction, focused on one of the most iconic women of the 20th Century. I’ve read biographies on Jackie and watched many documentaries about the Kennedy family with my mum who is fascinated with the theories about the assassination of JFK. I’ve always had a picture in my head of a woman who didn’t fulfil her potential and had so much more to give than being a First Lady, supporting her husband. I’d most recently read a book focused on her life with Aristotle Onassis and his mistress Maria Callas. I always wondered why she married Onassis but felt it could have been a response to the assassination and a desire to be protected and live out of the spotlight. This book focuses on a single year in the life of Jacqueline Bouvier as she travels to Paris for the junior year of her degree course. She has a fascination with France and was interested in researching her family tree. Ann Mah shows us a girl torn between the life she wants and the life her family wants or needs her to have. Her mother has planned for Jacqui to marry someone in the political classes, preferably with family money behind them. This feels like her last year of freedom, in a Paris still recovering from the occupation of WW2 and with politics that are very different from the US. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about a new side to this fascinating woman.

Where I End by Sophie White

This was an extraordinarily powerful book, that I’m still thinking about several weeks later. On a remote island somewhere in the Irish Sea, an arts centre is being built to attract tourists, because the island is barren and without attractions. The first resident artist is Rachel, who arrives with her baby Seamus and while swimming on the beach meets local girl Aoileann. Aoileann is a strange girl, not used to strangers and fascinated with the way Rachel mothers her baby. Aoileen’s odd manner is due to her home life, where in a house with the front door and windows blocked up, she shares a caring role with her grandmother. The ‘bed thing’ needs round the clock care, with a Heath Robinson system of ropes and pulleys they haul her out of bed and into the bathroom. She does not move for herself, except the wearing away of her fingers, now bloody stumps. The line that sent a nasty shiver down my spine and changed the whole book for me, revealed the one finger where the bone protrudes from the skin. It’s this bone that the bed thing uses to scratch out messages on the floor. This is a disturbingly horrific book that shows the drudgery of caring, the effect of remote and superstitious communities, and the terrible power of secrets in a family. The author explores motherhood in such a clever way, contrasting Rachel’s love for Seamus with the neglect Aoileann has thought was the norm. This book isn’t for the faint-hearted, but it is utterly devastating in it’s effect.

The Ink Black Heart by Robert Galbraith.

This instalment of the Cormoran Strike series is an absolute monster of a book. I had to give up reading the physical copy because it was like holding a brick! So I purchased the kindle copy so I could finish without breaking my thumbs. I’m a huge fan of Cormoran Strike, so although this wasn’t my favourite book of the series, it’s still up there as one of my favourites. This time Strike and Robin are drawn into the worlds of community arts and gaming. Two talented young artists from a community art centre create a cartoon called The Ink Black Heart, set in Highgate Cemetery and featuring unusual characters, one a wisp of a ghost and another that’s a human heart. An anonymous group of fans created an online game, where participants meet in Highgate Cemetery and complete challenges. Yet where there is success there are always people ready to tear it down and a person with the code name Anomie seems keen to do that. When the two creators are lured to the cemetery and attacked, things become serious. We’re privy to personal chats within the game and with Robin infiltrating the chat secrets will out. There are more complications in Cormoran’s love life as he dates a friend from ex-girlfriend Charlotte’s circle – can he shake off his feelings for good? Then there are those growing feelings between him and Robin, are they brave enough to follow those emotions or not?

The Pain Tourist by Paul Cleave.

I can’t stay too much about this thriller, because I’ve got a full review coming in a couple of days. This is such a fast paced thriller and it has such a tense opening! A family is woken in the night by masked men who are asking for the whereabouts of the safe. James is desperately trying to find a way to get his sleeping sister to safety. As she runs into the night, James watches the men shoot his mum and dad before he takes a bullet to the head. There is no safe. Nine years later, James wakes from a coma and his sister Hazel is soon by his side. The strange thing is James has been living all these years, in a different reality to this one and he is determined to capture it in writing. So he asks for nine notebooks, one for each year and begins to write his Coma World journal. Detective Rebecca Kent is assigned to his case and she has the help of Tate, the original detective who is now a private investigator. She is already chasing a meticulous serial killer called Copy Joe who likes to reproduce other killer’s crime scenes. What she doesn’t know is that James is recording events that happened in the real world in his journals, such as the books Hazel was reading to him or details of the weather. What else might he know? Rebecca is about to realise there’s more than one serial killer in town.

The Ghost Woods by C.J. Cooke

This is an intensely creepy novel from the beginning as we follow two young girls dealing with the consequences of becoming pregnant out of wedlock in the mid- Twentieth Century. Both choose to have their baby at Lichen Hall where the Whitlock family have been looking after young girls in trouble for several years. Mabel is the first, scared by her situation she doesn’t remember doing anything that might have led to pregnancy and concludes she must be having a ghost baby. The hall is strange, with Mr Whitlock who collects parasitic fungus and is often confused and in a state of undress. Wulfric, the Whitlock’s son, has unusual behaviour and becomes easily overwhelmed and angry. Mrs Whitlock is erratic, one moment she seems kind, but can also be snappish and dismissive. Only a few years later Pearl arrives, but the house is declining with the entire east wing seemingly overtaken by mould and fungus. Pearl has so many questions about this strange place, being a nurse she has more confidence and knowledge about having a baby. It seems strange that the Whitlock’s don’t have outside help for the girls giving birth. She wonders who the babies go to eventually and whether it’s legal. Who is the small boy she’s seen? Within a few chapter I was screaming at them to get out. They’re not restrained so it can only be the shame around their condition that holds them there. Each girl is infested by this destructive emotion and in one girl’s case, shame has made her put a lot of her experiences into a little box in her mind, under lock and key. Shame causes the denial of truths so scary, they could overwhelm us. It’s so sad that these girl’s shame creates an opening for others to exploit and exert power over them, but will they succumb? Or will they find strength from somewhere to resist and discover the truth about this mouldy house and family who live there.

Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan

This is a return to the legal case format of earlier novels by Picoult and the addition of Jennifer Finney Boylan to make a writing team has led to this interesting look at transgender rights in America. Olivia fled her marriage with her young son Asher after her abusive husband directed his violence towards their son instead of her. Now Asher is getting ready to go away to college and has his first girlfriend Lily. Lily is a lovely girl and Olivia took her out to meet her honey bees. Olivia is impressed by the way Lily works with the hives and knows that the bees are a good judge of character. Asher is so in love with Lily, so Olivia is shocked when she takes a call to say Asher has been arrested and Lily is dead. Picoult introduces a familiar character from her earlier novels as Olivia calls her brother Josh to defend her son. It really does keep you on tenterhooks as you try to work out what went wrong at Lily’s house. There are twists and turns, right to the very end. You may have seen trigger warnings about this novel, but I didn’t agree with some of them. Yes, there is a transgender character and Picoult does explore some of the negative aspects of being trans. However, this is only done to highlight how hard it can be to transition and the prejudice faced by people who are transgender. While there were prejudice characters, there were also well-meaning but ignorant characters. I never doubted that these writers were trying to portray a true representation of the experience, especially the sections written by Jennifer Finney Boylan who is one of the most famous transgender writers in the USA. This is a great book club choice, because there’s so much to talk about.

Good Taste by Caroline Scott

Caroline Scott enjoys writing about the period just after WW1 where Britain is in flux and people are going through huge changes within class, gender and the expected ‘family’ unit. England is struggling through a depression and our heroine Stella has had something of a life change. It’s 1932 and she is facing the first Christmas without her mother. With memories of her mother’s frailty last Christmas and the fear of that obvious empty chair, Stella has moved back from London to a small cottage in the West Riding of Yorkshire in order to be near her father. Money is tight, since her first book The Marvellous Mrs Raffald hasn’t done as well as she’d hoped. Celandine Cottage is rather shabby and Stella is surviving on the money she’s paid by a women’s magazine for writing a weekly article with five new recipes. When she’s summoned to London by her publisher, she’s half expecting her novel to be pulped and although she wants to write a biography of 18th Century cookery writer Hannah Glasse, she’s rather gloomy about her prospects. She’s shocked when he tasks her with a new idea – a history of English food. He wants a book that will inspire English housewives and remind English men of a nostalgic past. Although as Stella starts to think about her research, she realises that a lot of food people consider to be quintessentially English, is actually from elsewhere. Caroline has a wonderful way of balancing period detail, charming characters, and a touch of humour, while also showing us the grittier underbelly of life in a depression. There are also moments of grief for her mother, which are so beautifully rendered. Caroline makes this look incredibly easy when in reality it’s such a complex juggling act, one that she pulls off beautifully.

So, that wraps up October and since all my blog tours are read for November, i now have until the end of the year to catch up on NetGalley ARCs and publisher proofs I haven’t got to yet. Most exciting to me is that I get to choose which ones I read, so it feels like free reading all the way to January. I’m really excited for this! I might need that long to do my Books of the Year list.

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books of the Month! August 2022

It’s been a quieter month in August, at least it is where books are concerned. Personally it’s been the busiest month of the year so far. It’s full on as far as home is concerned because it’s the month where we do trips away my stepdaughters. With their Mum working and me at home, we can easily help each other. We’ve also had their cousins here demo Scotland so theres been a lot of squealing and absolutely no room in the bathroom. They’ve been to Alton Towers, Nottingham’s Kitty Cafe, Yorkshire Wildlife Park and Chatsworth House. Between this I’ve had a back operation that I’ve been waiting for three years now. I’ve had a neurotomy at four sites so have had to spend some time in bed recovering. So I’ve had chance to get ahead with some September reading, because this month I’ve got my MA to restart! We don’t do things by halves in this house. Wishing you all a great September and I hope you enjoy these favourite reads.

Halfway through my binge read of this fantastic new thriller from Helen Fields, I had to look it up and check that it really was a stand-alone novel. Sadie Levesque is a compelling central character: brave, resourceful, determined, intelligent and ever so slightly impulsive. I could easily imagine her as the backbone of a great crime series. Sadie is a private investigator based in Canada where she’s about to be the birth partner for her sister. She has time to fit in one last job, which takes her to Scotland and the atmospheric island of Mull. The Clark family recently moved to Mull from the United States to start a new life, but their new life has been derailed by the disappearance of their seventeen year old daughter Adriana. With her American accent and dark Latino looks, Adriana caused a stir among the teenagers of Mull. Her desperate parents feel the local police force are doing very little to look for their daughter, possibly because they are outsiders. When Sadie finds the girl’s body while searching local teen hang outs, the police become hostile. Adriana has been drowned. The killer has sexually assaulted her, adorned her with a seaweed crown and filled her mouth and throat full of sand. Sadie’s immediate thought is she’s been silenced. Without police cooperation, Sadie must find the killer and is drawn into local folklore, witches, a misogynistic priest and a community that looks after it’s own. Will Adriana be the last girl to die? Fields turns the island into a powerful character in it’s own right, weaving the landscape, history and folklore of Mull into her story. There are some twists to the final stages that came as a huge shock. I love to be surprised and I really was here, with my heart sat in my throat at times. Could the truth be more prosaic than the legends? That men kill and could use the excuse of ancient folklore and witchcraft to cover their tracks. I was torn between this more logical explanation and the sense of an ancient evil at play on this remote and wild island. If anyone knows, the island does.

I’ve been struggling with menopausal symptoms for the last six years so I was really up for reading a book about women who are moving towards middle age. Women become more interesting as they get older, more confident and full of wisdom and experience. I certainly found that in the characters of this book who I fell immediately in love with. They are definitely meant to be a trio.

Nessa: The Seeker
Jo: The Protector
Harriett: The Punisher

Each woman finds herself bestowed with incredible powers. When Nessa is widowed and her daughters leave for college, she’s left alone in her house near the ocean and has time and quiet hours to hear the voices belonging to the dead – who will only speak to her. They’ve always been there, but she’s been too busy with her family’s needs to hear them. Harriett is almost fifty, her marriage and career have imploded, and she hasn’t left her house in months. Her house was the envy of the neighbourhood and graced the cover of magazines, but now it’s overgrown with incredible plants. However, Harriett realises that her life is far from over – in fact, she’s undergone a stunning metamorphosis. Jo has spent thirty years at war with her body. The rage that arrived with menopause felt like the last straw – until she discovers she’s able to channel it, but needs to control it too. The trio are guided by the voices only Nessa can hear and discover the abandoned body of a teenage girl. The police have already written off the victim. But these women have not. Their own investigations lead them to more bodies and a world of wealth where the rules don’t apply and the laws are designed to protect villains, not the vulnerable. So it’s up to these three women to avenge the innocent, and punish the guilty. I really loved the clever way the author took apart the concept of serial killer stories while writing one. She talked about the popularity of crime thrillers and true crime podcasts and how they appeal to men. They’re written as if the victims are expendable and the killers get special nicknames as if they are comic book villains. The author really got this message across, but without losing any of the power in her story, or the tension that rises as we hope to see the killer caught. Finally, I have to say something about magic realism and being a huge fan of Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Alice Hoffman, I’ve been reading some of the best writers in the genre. Miller’s story is so strong and the characters so well constructed, that I never felt a sense of disbelief. I have quite a collection of magic realism starting with a teenage love for Fay Weldon and Angela Carter. This book can easily sit next to my favourites. It is that good.

I had never come across Tim Weaver’s novels before so I was very lucky to be offered this by the publisher, especially in such a special edition too. When I learned it was the tenth in his David Raker series, I approached it with some trepidation. Would I be able to keep up or would it even make sense? Now that I’ve finished the novel I can honestly say that within the first few pages, I forgot this was one in a series and just got stuck in! Such was the strength of the story and his characters that I was drawn in and captivated to the end.

David Raker is a Missing Person’s Investigator and a widower with one daughter. The missing people in this story are Cate and Aidan Gascoigne, a devoted couple who have been married for five years and together for nine. The newspapers dubbed their case ‘The Mystery of Gatton Hill’ as they disappeared on their way to have dinner from their home in Twickenham. Catherine ‘Cate’ and Aiden Gascoigne were both 37 years old and worked in creative roles; Aiden was a Creative Director for a Soho web design company and Cate was a full time photographer. As they drove to dinner in Reigate, the couple could be seen on CCTV recording laughing together, just before their car plunged down a 90 foot ravine. Their car burst into flames and even though a fire crew arrived soon after the accident the fire was impossible to stop. They then discover an impossible scenario, when trying to recover Cate and Aiden’s bodies, they find they’re no longer in the car. This turns out to be merely the the tip of the iceberg in a chilling and menacing narrative that goes on to reveal a staggering number of murders over the years, and a extraordinarily intelligent serial killer who has no intention of getting caught. Raker is a remarkably tenacious and determined investigator, even when the pressures and dangers threaten to derail the case. This is a wonderfully complex, riveting and engaging read that kept me glued to the pages from beginning to end with its sky high levels of suspense and tension. This will appeal to crime and mystery readers who love truly twisty. thrilling and superior crime fiction, and I think that this can reasonably be read as a standalone if you have not read any of the series before. Highly recommended

I loved this dark thriller from Carol Johnstone, with its bleak setting, mysterious deaths and Norse folklore. Maggie Mackay is a successful investigative journalist, but has always been held back by a negative inner voice and terrible nightmares. She’s been haunted by the idea that there’s something wrong with her and she can see or sense darkness. She thinks this feeling is linked to her childhood and a small village in the Outer Hebrides called Blairmore. Maggie stayed there with her mother when she was very young and caused a furore when, out of nowhere, she claimed that someone in the village had murdered a man. She left the community in uproar, saying she was really a man called Andrew MacNeil who had lived on the island of Kilmery. Her mother believed and encouraged her claims, but when they returned to the mainland this strange interlude wasn’t referred to again. Now 25, Maggie returns to the island, in search of answers. Mainly, she wants to find out if her claims could possibly have been true, but with her history on the island, Maggie may struggle to get people to talk to her. However, this is an island with few inhabitants, but a wealth of secrets and if Maggie gets too close to the truth she may be in serious danger.

The central mystery is fascinating and makes the book very difficult to put down. Charlie feels like the designated spokesperson for the islanders, he approaches Maggie with an apology for the way they treated her when she was a child and there’s a fatherly feel to the way he talks to her. On one hand I felt he was on Maggie’s side, but I also wondered whether he was a decoy – someone sent to give her just enough information, perhaps to deflect her from the reaching the truth. Other people greet her with outright hostility and I had a lot of admiration for Maggie’s tenacity considering how vulnerable she must feel, staying on the island as a lone woman. Maggie also has a bipolar diagnosis and I thought this was well portrayed by the author, even though it adds another layer of uncertainty – can we trust what Maggie is experiencing? I found Maggie’s narration more compelling than the male narrator, but overall loved the pace and the different perspectives that give us an insight into events back in the 1970’s. There were twists I didn’t expect and the final revelations about the mystery felt satisfying. I love how this author likes to wrong-foot her reader and although this was more gothic than horror, there were parts that were very unsettling and left me listening out for creaks in the dead of night. I came away from it with an uneasy feeling, not about the supernatural aspects, but more about what humans are capable of doing and how isolated communities like this one have the perfect environment in which to plot and keep secrets, in some cases for decades. This cements Carol Johnstone in my mind as an author to look out for and i’ll be buying a finished copy for my collection.

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books of the Month! July 2022.

Well it’s been an up and down month here, so thank goodness I had some uplifting and light books to get me through. Firstly I had to get through the horrendous 40 degree days and I’m sorry to put the image in your head but I spent two days mostly naked, laid on my new doggy cooling blanket (the dog sniffed it and walked off) with a fan on the ceiling and another trained on my face! Then I had two days of shivering cold, not that it was really cold, there’d just been a 20 degree drop in 24 hours. I had a jumper on in July! So my MS was all over the place and never really settled. The reading has been fabulous though. I felt absolutely spoiled by the choice of books I’ve had this month. I read eleven books this month and these were my favourites.

Lizzy Dent has another bestseller on her hands here as we follow Mara while Mara follows her destiny. According to a fortune teller in Prague the love of her life is about to walk in and then he does. A handsome, enigmatic musician called Josef, due to play in London in a few weeks time. Mara tells him his destiny is in her home town, on the south coast of the U.K. Will he come? This is not just about romance though, it’s about Mara’s growth – as a lover, a daughter, a colleague and a friend. She wants to save her workplace, the Art Deco lido on the sea front. She wants to improve her friendship with best friend Charlie who’s just had a baby. She wants to renovate her flat with new flatmate Ash. Most of all she wants to regain the confidence she lost at film school when her boyfriend stole her final film idea. I was rooting for her throughout and couldn’t rest till I’d read the ending.

This was a difficult read, but beautifully written and really packed an emotional punch. I was glad I stayed with it, because of the truth it shows about the effects of trauma. They are life long. It felt like reading a client’s journal work, there was something prurient about reading Ruby’s story, because it was so intimate and harrowing who could gain pleasure from reading it? Perhaps this is exactly the effect that Phoebe Wynne was hoping to evoke in the reader? Not all reading is pleasurable, sometimes it has a different purpose. To educate, to shock, to show people they are not alone in their experience. Unfolding slowly over a hot summer in France, we see how men manipulate and use their power to get what they want. The author uses a later narrative to look back to that summer and shows the strength and resilience of one woman who survived that experience. Hard hitting, psychologically astute and a very brave book.

This was one of those books where it only took a couple of pages for me to be ‘in’ the author’s world and completely convinced by her main character. Meredith hasn’t left her house for more than a thousand days, but her inner world is so rich and full. She was absolutely real to me and I could easily imagine having a coffee and a catch up with her. We meet her at a crossroads in life. She’s trying to make changes. Her daily life is quite full, she works from home as a writer and between work she bakes, exercises by running up and down the stairs, reads and fills in jigsaws of amazing places from all over the world. The jigsaws are the key. Meredith doesn’t stay inside from choice, just standing outside her front door gives her a wave of rising panic. Meredith feels a terrible fear, her heart starts hammering out of her chest, her throat begins to close and she feels like she’s going to die. However, as she looks at yet another jigsaw of something she’d love to travel and see in person, she becomes determined to live a fuller life. Meredith has sessions with an online counsellor and a new addition to her weekly calendar is a visit from Tom, who is a volunteer with a befriending society. With this support and that of her long time best friend Sadie, can Meredith overcome her fear and come to terms with the events behind her phobia? This is such an emotionally intelligent read, sad in parts but so uplifting. This is definitely up there as one of my reads of the year.

In 2022 we meet Rhoda Sullivan who works as a stained glass expert, called in by museums to oversee and conserve important works in glass. She’s tasked to go to Telton Hall and assess a stained glass window that dates to WW2 and was designed by an Italian POW. There she end up at an impasse when the gates are blocked by an elderly man in a tractor, Jack Hartwell is the hall’s last inhabitant and he’s lived there all his life. He’s making a final protest about the development at the hall, but his son Nate arrives to help Rhoda gain access. With Nate, Rhoda makes a terrible discovery – a body under the chapel’s flagstones. It has a huge effect on Rhoda who imagines someone missing this person, just as she still misses her twin brother who disappeared before their 18th birthday. A decade on she still looks for him. In 1945 we are taken to Somerset and a young woman called Alice Renshaw. Alice is alone and pregnant. Shes been sent to a farm in Somerset where Louise Hartwell is running things with the help of POW’s. As well as the farm work, Louise helps young pregnant women. Alice soon starts to make friends, but not everyone at the hall is happy about this. As peace is declared, the war at Telton Hall is just beginning. This is a great story, full of historical detail and with a central mystery that grabs your attention.

This is the third in a great series by this Icelandic author, following Elma, a young woman who has returned to her home town of Arkanes to be a detective. The small community is devastated when a young man dies in a mysterious house fire. So, when Elma discovers the fire was arson, they become embroiled in an increasingly perplexing case involving multiple suspects. What’s more, the dead man’s final online search raises fears that they could be investigating not one murder, but two. A few months before the fire, a young Dutch woman takes a job as an au pair in Iceland, desperate to make a new life for herself after the death of her father. But the seemingly perfect family who employs her turns out to have problems of its own and she soon discovers she is running out of people to turn to. As the police begin to home in on the truth, Elma, already struggling to come to terms with a life-changing event, finds herself in mortal danger as it becomes clear that someone has secrets they’ll do anything to hide. This is a riveting mystery, that twists and turns but never loses sight of the emotional impact of the crime. There are also a couple of scenes that really freeze the blood! This is turning out to be an outstanding series, with great insight into our heroine’s life as well as the crimes she investigates.

This is one of those books you devour in a day. Emma is an academic, married to Leo and mum to three year old Ruby. Her field of study is the creatures that are brought in by the tide and then swept out again, her claim to fame was finding a new mutation of a Japanese crab. This took her through her masters and eventually resulted in a TV series. Leo adores Emma and the feeling is mutual, but things have been tough lately as Emma has had cancer. Leo is an obituary writer at a newspaper and because Emma was a TV personality the department was writing a ‘stock’ – an obituary they keep on file just in case. Leo asks if he can add some notes that he’d been writing and it’s here that Leo notices something wrong. Emma didn’t graduate from the university she said she did. It’s a minor thing, but along with a lot of messages from very odd male fans and her ‘disappearing times’ when she takes herself away to get her head straight, Leo’s mind is running through hundreds of scenarios. He can’t believe Emma would have an affair, but it’s the simplest explanation. He keeps digging and will have to confront her with what he’s found. Emma is becoming anxious, especially when he starts asking questions. How can she convince him that the life they’ve had together and the love she has for him is true? When everything else has been a lie. Rosie Walsh is one of those authors who creates characters you become emotionally involved with, but then pulls the rug right from under you. She’s packed her book full of twists and turns, but with so much tenderness and love it never fully veers into domestic noir. I came away feeling that we never truly know another person’s journey, but we can empathise and try to understand. Emma’s mistake was thinking Leo wouldn’t love her if he knew the truth, but maybe she has underestimated the depth of his love. Devoured in a day!

All About Evie is the second book in Matson Taylor’s Evie Epworth series and is simply sunshine in book form. Our previous book ended as Evie is being waved off to an adventurous new life in London, alongside mentor Caroline, the unconventional and glamorous daughter of Evie’s lifelong neighbour and baking partner Mrs Scott-Pym. All About Eviestarts ten years later in 1970’s London, where Evie is working in a junior role on BBC Radio Four’s Women’s Hour. Previously, we met Evie at time of great change and this novel is no different. Thanks to a terrible incident with a visiting Princess Anne and the misuse of a mug Evie is sacked from the BBC. Does this mean her life in her little London flat is in jeopardy? Evie finds herself a job at Right On magazine, a culture magazine with review and listings of events in London. Evie peppers the listings section with her own inimitable brand of magic, with the help of new friend Lolo (cultured, funny, homosexual) from BBC3. Yet underneath the humour, there’s so much more going on. A beautifully poignant thread running through the novel is that of motherhood. There are memories of Evie’s mum of course, but also mother figures and Evie’s own role supporting Genevieve, a young fashion hopeful. It was lovely to see Evie in this life stage, being the mentor and feeling so confident. As much as I love London, it was also nice to see her at home on the farm with old friends reunited and new ones being introduced, plus a very exciting finale which gives us a nod towards what Evie might do next.

I’m looking forward to a quieter August, with fewer book tours and more choice. My NetGalley list could do with some attention too. Below is what I hope to read in August. Have a great reading month! ❤️❤️📚

August TBR

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 Monthly Wrap Up

Books of the Month! May 2022

It’s been an odd month here, because I went into the month full of energy and looking forward to a busy blog month. Then I felt very unwell and sadly had to let blog tour organisers and publishers which I hate. Thankfully I’d written this ahead of time as I read each novel, so all I had to do was write this little intro. My favourite books this month were mainly dual narrative novels, a structure I really enjoy especially when it’s done as well as these authors. I hope you all have a lovely Jubilee weekend, whether you are a royalist or are just looking forward to a long weekend off work. My carer and other half are helping me with a stall at our village jubilee celebrations. I’m at our book exchange with a box full of old proofs to swap, book suggestions and a tombola with books from the Jubilee Big Read as prizes. All the books are from Commonwealth writers so I’m looking forward to introducing people to a different perspective on our Queen’s long reign. Photos to follow!

I enjoyed this book much more than I’d expected to. It’s not that there was anything wrong with the blurb or the cover, but I thought it might be just another ‘stately home + mystery’ novel with no huge surprises. However, the depth of characterisation and complexity of the story drew me in and kept me reading for two straight days. Ellie is our present day narrator and she’s having to take leave from work as an investigative journalist after trying to expose an important businessman ended badly. So she returns to her family home in County Kerry, Ireland to spend time with her mother. Trying to keep a low profile is a lost cause in a small Irish village. It’s only because she’s desperate for reading material that she braves the charity shop to collect a box of books that have come from the large stately home nearby, Blackwater Hall. Ellie is grateful to see a few Agatha Christie novels on the top and takes the whole box. Inside is a mysterious letter, addressed only to ‘T’ but clearly belonging to the Rathmore family. It ignites a spark in Ellie and she tries to do the right thing and return it, but is bitten by the mystery surrounding the family. Charlotte Rathmore disappeared during the early part of WWII leaving a broken string of pearls by the lake. The official version is that Charlotte killed herself, but Ellie senses a story and starts to seek out other remaining members of the family. Can she solve the mystery of Charlotte’s disappearance and what changes will the truth bring to Blackwater Hall and the Rathmore family? Despite wanting all the answers, I didn’t want this book to end and there’s no better compliment than that.

Another dual timeline novel here, with another mysterious set of letters. This was our Squad Pod read for May and as usual my review is late, but it’s no secret that I LOVED this book. I even made Chocolate Mojito cupcakes to celebrate the fact. I was unsure where this book was going to go, considering the rather modern looking cocktail cover. However, it’s story was deeper and more moving than I expected. In the 1970’s Ava Winters lives in a New York apartment with her mother and a father who seems to wander in and out. Her mother shows signs of mental illness and seems haunted by something in her past. With both parents AWOL Ava is lonely and becomes fascinated by a box sent to her apartment addressed to a woman called Gillian. It’s from Paris and holds letters as well as a butterfly necklace and a photo with LIAR scrawled across it. In the same apartment, but twenty years earlier, teachers Dovie and Gillian are roommates. However, they’re very private and guard their home lives fiercely until one unguarded moment exposes the wrong person to the truth. This novel showed me a side of life I knew nothing about. A time where ‘unnatural activities’ and desires could lead to a loss of everything from your job to your liberty. I will save the rest for my review, but don’t miss this one. It’s an incredible debut from a very talented writer.

This beautiful novel covers the early Twentieth Century in the lives of one family, from WWI to WWII. This book feels like an epic. A whale washes up on the beach of the Chilcombe Estate and is claimed for the Seagrave family by Cristabel who is the orphan cousin and doesn’t really fit anywhere. She loves adventure, activity, and endeavours, conquering the Seagrave estate rather than being the lady her stepmother would expect. The Seagrave children are an odd bunch, brought up by staff and each other, while their parents stay in bed late, are never without houseguests and like to drink as early as it is socially acceptable to do so. This is the story of the heir and the spare. Jasper Seagrave brings his new wife home to the Chilcombe Estate and Rosalind is thrown into being mistress of the house and stepmother to his daughter Cristabel. Rosalind is happy to have bagged an aristocratic husband, considering they’re in very short supply since the war. That is until the ‘spare’ arrives. Willoughby is everything his elder brother isn’t; a dashing war hero fascinated by speed whether it’s a new car or learning to fly. There’s an immediate attraction, deepening when Rosalind is on bed rest in the last stages of pregnancy and Willoughby keeps her company. Is the Chilcombe estate about to lapse into scandal and what will become of Cristabel? As the family grows to include a half-sister and brother for Cristabel we follow them towards WWII. The author shows what a toll both wars took on people and the rapid changes they forced on society. I won’t reveal whether any of our characters survive, but Cristabel remembers a saying, that war can bring out the best in people. There are those who shine through difficult days and in their own ways I think the Seagrave children all stepped up to the mark. This is a beautiful piece of historical fiction and I would happily read it all over again.

This book is my only thriller this month and it’s a cracker. This is perfect summer holiday reading whether you’re somewhere exotic or lounging in your own back garden. Hot in every sense of the world and set in picturesque Italy with a sense of growing menace all the way through. I read this one in the garden, with a Pimms in hand and with every chapter became more convinced of the old saying; the grass is never greener on the other side. Laura and Nick have been through a lot. Back in London they were struggling with infertility and Laura hadn’t felt like herself for a long time, the fertility drugs pumping her full of hormones and the grief of miscarriage left her feeling broken. When she discovers a betrayal, after Nick accidentally leaves his phone at home, she’s angry and resentful too. In his eagerness to make it up to her, Nick suggests they do what Laura has always wanted, move to Italy and create a holiday hideaway for couples. They discovered Luna Rossa on a visit to Italy several months ago, after which Laura suffered a third miscarriage. It is in the Marche region, a largely unknown area of Italy next to Tuscany but less expensive. Luna Rossa is isolated, includes a pool, a small cottage and beautiful grounds that fall away steeply gifting the house with incredible views across the countryside. Only a few months later they are preparing to welcome their first couple for a three week stay. It seems idyllic, but they’re taking a risk in welcoming complete strangers into their home. Laura has stalked her guest Madison on social media and she seems very outgoing and glamorous. Laura and Nick could be underestimating how disruptive it can be to have strangers living in your home, especially these strangers…. This is a real sizzler of a novel! My full review is coming next week.

This book is a beautiful example of writing back in history to give a voice to someone who was silenced. Celestine Babbington is recorded for history in a silent form, photographed wearing clothes he didn’t choose and posing with a man whose relationship to him is very problematic. The man, Richard Babbington, is a rich explorer who has a love for Africa and a large mansion house in England. Yet by 1907, Celestine is being kept in the attic of the house, only allowed out to work as a domestic slave. Years later, a young girl called Lowra is suffering the same fate. Locked in the attic as punishment for any transgression, when her fate has been left in the hands of her resentful stepmother. While locked in the attic she finds an unusual necklace with clawed hands, unlike anything she’s seen before. There’s also an old-fashioned porcelain doll and a sentence on the wall, written in an unfamiliar language. These are her only comfort, because she feels as if the person that owned them is with her in some way. As an adult, her stepmother’s abuse still affects her and she’s conflicted when she inherits Babbington’s house. People seem to think she’s lucky and the town is proud of this intrepid explorer. Looking into the house’s history leads her to an exhibition of Babbington’s life, where she sees photographs of Babbington and a young black boy wearing an African wrap and what looks like her necklace, the one from the attic. However, the thing that keeps Lowra transfixed, is the young boy’s eyes. Lowra sees someone filled with sorrow, a fellow sufferer of the darkness inside that house. His name is Celestine Babbington. Lowra wants to find out more about this boy, how he came to be in England and what happened to him after Babbington’s death. This book was moving and had me in it’s grip straight away. It takes me back full circle to the beginning of my post and hearing voices from the Commonwealth countries and from Black British writers. I’ll be taking a copy of this book to my stall at the weekend and I’m looking forward to sharing it with new readers.

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books Of The Month! March 2022.

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

Remember Me by Charity Norman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books of the Month! February 2022

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

The Marsh House by Zoë Somerville

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

Flamingo by Rachel Elliot

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

The Locked Room by Elly Griffiths

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

Off Target by Eve Smith

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

Theatre of Marvels by Lianne Dillsworth.

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

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

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books of the Month! October 2021.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books Of The Month! July 2021.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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