I enjoyed this fascinating novel that fictionalises the famous disappearance of Agatha Christie. On December 3rd 1926, after an argument with her husband Archie, Agatha Christie disappeared. Although there is still some mystery around her movements, it seems she crashed her car while driving down to London. Thousands of police officers and volunteers scoured the countryside near the crash site for Christie, but she was nowhere to be found. It was a huge news story with Arthur Conan Doyle becoming involved and famously hiring a spirit medium to find her whereabouts. She stayed missing for eleven days until she was found in a spa hotel in Harrogate, signed in under the surname of Archie’s lover. Contemporary theories were that this was a publicity stunt, even though Christie appeared to have been in a fugue state. She may have suffered a nervous breakdown after hearing the news that Archie was leaving her. Nina de Gramont weaves a complex tale around this incident, told through the eyes of Nan – Archie Christie’s mistress – an Irish woman whose pursuit of Archie had been so successful he decided to leave Agatha and divorce her, in order to marry Nan. This is only one part of the jigsaw that makes up the full story the author is telling, ranging back and forth and touching on various viewpoints, with the central figure never quite clear and the importance of peripheral figures more vital than I first realised.
We travel back to WW1 and it’s terrible effects on the years that follow. A time when the nation didn’t yet know that the peace they’d achieved was a mere interval of respite where recovery was barely possible. Nan is born of an Irish family, living in London, but is sent back to visit relatives in County Cork in summer since childhood. There she forms a friendship with Finnbarr, a dark Irish boy who has an affinity with animals, particularly his sheepdog Alby. Over the years their friendship grows into love and she is sure they will marry. A chance meeting on Armistice Day is a passionate interlude which leads to Nan being pregnant. Believing their marriage to be only a formality, Nan steals some money, laid aside by her Mum in case one of her daughters gets herself into trouble, and travels to Ireland and the farm. There she finds that Finn is delirious with fever from the Spanish Influenza brought back by returning soldiers. Denied by his family and with Finn thought to be at death’s door, she ends up in a Catholic Home for unmarried mothers. This place is really the genus of the story, because this isn’t Agatha’s tale, despite her being famous and the one who disappeared.
Meanwhile years later, as the Christie’s marriage implodes and Agatha disappears, we’re taken to a hotel in Yorkshire where Nan goes to stay and take a break before the transition of living with Archie. It’s a spa hotel with healing springs, two sets of newly wed couples and an Inspector Chiltern who has been sent to search for Mrs Christie. From these two time frames, the author cleverly weaves her story with the past gradually catching up with the present. I loved the historical detail of the story as the author uses everything from the decor to the women’s clothes to evoke the 1920s setting. There’s a sumptuousness to these descriptions that contrasts strongly with the earlier poverty, with the Magdalene Laundry section being particularly harrowing. I loved how playful the structure was, not quite revealing it’s genre. Is it a love story, an autobiography, or a detective novel? I also loved going back and forth in time, slowly picking up new threads of the story. I had no idea how they would all come together, but loved the way they did.
Meet The Author
Nina de Gramont’s latest novel, The Christie Affair, will be available In February, 2022. She is the author of a collection of short stories, Of Cats and Men, as well as the novels Gossip of the Starlings and The Last September. She has written several YA novels (Every Little Thing in the World, Meet Me at the River, The Boy I Love, and — under the pen name Marina Gessner — The Distance From Me to You). Nina teaches creative writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She lives in coastal North Carolina with her daughter and her husband, the writer David Gessner.
I’m an absolute sucker for books where the narrator addresses the reader directly. I loved Molly the Maid from the first page and the book was an absolute delight from start to finish. Molly works as a maid at the Regency Grand Hotel and she is very proud of her skills as a cleaner, skills she learned from her grandmother who died a few months ago. Many of her colleagues find Molly a little bit odd – in fact she knows they call her Roomba after a robot hoover – but she thinks they call her Rumba after the dance on Strictly although she doesn’t know why. Molly likes things to follow a routine, things must be in their place and there are ways to clean everything. In fact her Gran said that cleanliness was next to Godliness. Even at home they had a cleaning schedule, something different each night before dinner, and Molly has carried that into her work. She does have some friends, Mr Preston who works on the door, Juan who washes dishes in the kitchens and Rodney who works behind the bar. Her friends are very important to her and if it does good, it’s occasionally okay to bend the rules. So, when Rodney takes her out for a meal and asks for a favour she’s only too happy to help.
Juan has lost his work visa and needs a place to stay, so could she slip him a key each day to an unoccupied room? Rodney gives her a bag, she doesn’t check, but assumes they are Juan’s things and deposits them in the chosen room on her rounds. Her last friend is Giselle, the glamorous second wife of Mr Black, who stays in a suite at the hotel so regularly that Giselle and Molly have interacted a lot. She has all those qualities that Molly values in a person – she acknowledges the little people, she’s polite and treats Molly like a real human being, rather than looking past her. The story begins as one day Molly doubles back on her normal route to clean the Black’s bathroom. She’s done the rest of the suite, but Giselle was in the shower. Molly makes her way through the suite, noticing that cushions are disturbed, the safe is open and Mr Black is taking a nap on the bed. Yet when she looks closer, perhaps he isn’t sleeping? Maybe he’s dead?
This was a clever way of merging a thriller, with a genuinely uplifting story about someone who has gone through an enormous change in her life. I truly felt gripped by the thriller aspects of the story, but also touched by the personal journey that Molly is facing. She has lost someone close to her and is learning to negotiate life as a fully fledged adult. She doesn’t have that ability to read people’s moods and motivations so she’s perhaps an easy mark for people who want to exploit her. I thought the author had a very difficult line to tread with the tone of the novel. We know that Molly thinks in an individual way and there are times when we do understand more than she does about what’s going on at the hotel. Molly refers to this with a jigsaw analogy – she knows she has all the pieces, but hasn’t put them in the right order yet. This could have been disastrous if the reader was superior to Molly, but we never are. The author keeps us firmly with our heroine, even while other characters treat her badly and underestimate her intelligence. The story was gripping and I wanted to know what was really going on at the hotel, and which of Molly’s friends were truly fighting her corner. Molly is a heroine who will stay with me a long time. Even though the goings on at the hotel are sleazy and dangerous, her personal story is touching, charming and ultimately joyful.
Meet The Author.
NITA PROSE is a long-time editor, serving many bestselling authors and their books. She lives in Toronto, Canada, in a house that is only moderately clean.
Just look at the colour and variety of my first anticipated reads collection. Aren’t they beautiful? I’ll be posting a few of these over the next couple of weeks because there are just so many great novels coming in the New Year. These are the books on my wish list and my NetGalley planner for next year. I still can’t believe how lucky I am to get early access to books and every year I say I’m not going to read, or buy, as much. Yet I always do. Enjoy the recommendations and I apologise in advance if your TBR list gets longer. ❤️📚
Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter by Lily Pook.
I was lucky enough to be sent a beautiful proof copy of this book so I’m looking forward to reading this before it’s debut in March. Set in 1886, at Bannin Bay, we meet the Brightwell family who have sailed from England to make their new home in Western Australia. Ten-year-old Eliza knows little of what awaits them on these shores beyond shining pearls and shells like soup plates – the things her father has promised will make their fortune. Ten years later and Charles Brightwell, now the bay’s most prolific pearler, goes missing from his ship while out at sea. Whispers from the townsfolk suggest mutiny and murder, but headstrong Eliza, convinced there is more to the story, refuses to believe her father is dead, and it falls to her to ask the questions no one else dares consider. But in a town teeming with corruption, prejudice and blackmail, Eliza soon learns that the truth can cost more than pearls, and she must decide just how much she is willing to pay – and how far she is willing to go – to find it. I love reading about women who step beyond the expectations of their society so Eliza sounds like my sort of character. The early reviews promise adventure and ambition, but also grief and loss. Sometimes, personal tragedy is a huge motivator and Eliza sounds both determined and willing to put herself in danger to discover the truth. There’s also that fascinating backdrop of empire and whether British settlers are pioneers or invaders.
Coming in March 2022 from Mantle.
Notes on an Execution by Dayna Kukafka.
Ansel Packer is scheduled to die in twelve hours. He knows what he’s done, and now awaits the same fate he forced on those girls, years ago. Ansel doesn’t want to die; he wants to be celebrated, understood.
But this is not his story.
As the clock ticks down, three women uncover the history of a tragedy and the long shadow it casts. Lavender, Ansel’s mother, is a seventeen-year-old girl pushed to desperation. Hazel, twin sister to his wife, is forced to watch helplessly as the relationship threatens to devour them all. And Saffy, the detective hot on his trail, is devoted to bringing bad men to justice but struggling to see her own life clearly. This is the story of the women left behind. Blending breathtaking suspense with astonishing empathy, Notes On An Execution presents a chilling portrait of womanhood as it unravels the familiar narrative of the American serial killer, interrogating our cultural obsession with crime stories, and asking readers to consider the false promise of looking for meaning in the minds of violent men. I am interested in this concept, because it is the driving force behind why we are fascinated with true crime stories and dramas about serial killers. The question in all of our minds is ‘why’ and often crime fiction helps us with those questions – maybe it’s soothing to have that narrative played out in a world where the killer is always stopped, whether by capture or being killed himself. It helps us make sense of murder, when in real life we often never find out why and the crime seems so pointless.
Published in March by Phoenix Publishing.
The Exhibitionist by Charlotte Mendelson.
The longer the marriage, the harder truth becomes . . .
When a book has glowing reviews from novelists like Marian Keyes and Sarah Waters you have to take notice and this looks like a cracker. Meet the Hanrahan family, gathering for a momentous weekend as famous artist and notorious egoist Ray Hanrahan prepares for a new exhibition of his art – the first in many decades – and one he is sure will burnish his reputation for good. His three children will be there: beautiful Leah, always her father’s biggest champion; sensitive Patrick, who has finally decided to strike out on his own; and insecure Jess, the youngest, who has her own momentous decision to make. And what of Lucia, Ray’s steadfast and selfless wife? She is an artist, too, but has always had to put her roles as wife and mother first. What will happen if she decides to change? For Lucia is hiding secrets of her own, and as the weekend unfolds and the exhibition approaches, she must finally make a choice. The Exhibitionist is the extraordinary fifth novel from Charlotte Mendelson, a dazzling exploration of art, sacrifice, toxic family politics, queer desire, and personal freedom. This sounds like a must read to me, since the relationship dynamics in families are fascinating from a counsellor’s perspective. I’ve just been granted early access to this title from NetGalley so keep an eye out for my review coming soon.
Published 17th March by Mantle.
Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson.
‘We can’t go to the island, Bryon. We don’t really know what we’re getting into . . .’
Eleanor Bennett won’t let her own death get in the way of the truth. So when her estranged children – Byron and Benny – reunite for her funeral in California, they discover a puzzling inheritance. This debut novel already has the backing of Oprah Winfrey who is turning it into a series right now. First, comes a voice recording in which everything Byron and Benny ever knew about their family is upended. Their mother narrates a tumultuous story about a headstrong young woman who escapes her island home under suspicion of murder, a story which cuts right to the heart of the rift that’s separated Byron and Benny. Second, a traditional Caribbean black cake made from a family recipe with a long history that Eleanor hopes will heal the wounds of the past. Can Byron and Benny fulfil their mother’s final request to ‘share the black cake when the time is right’? Will Eleanor’s revelations bring them back together or leave them feeling more lost than ever? I’m looking forward to introducing this book to my own book group and making a black cake to try when we meet again.
Published Penguin 3rd Feb 2022
Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
I had to share a huge photo of this stunning cover art for Dolen Perkins-Valdez’s novel Take My Hand. I had my request in for a review copy very early on this one, before the cover was available. A nurse at the Family Planning Clinic in Montgomery Alabama, Civil Townsend is passionate about putting choice into women’s hands. She brings the option of birth control to their doorsteps, and with it the right to determine their own destinies. Or so she believes. When she is assigned to administer birth control to two school-age Black girls, the Williams sisters, who live off an old unpaved road in a shack without running water, Civil can’t help but feel uneasy. She grows close to the family and becomes fiercely invested in their well-being. And then she makes a shocking discovery: the girls have been involuntarily sterilized. Civil is horrified that such a terrible mistake could have taken place, and vows to get to the bottom of it. She soon learns that this is no isolated event but a pattern, far more serious than she could ever have imagined, targeting poor Black women. Could her clinic be responsible? Had she and her fellow Black nurses been complicit? No matter how ugly, Civil is determined for the truth to be brought to light. Based on true events, Take My Hand brims with hope, compassion, and the burning pursuit of justice. I picked this so early because, for those who don’t know, I have a disability and have researched the eugenics movement for both my undergraduate and now my masters degree. This movement, with its origins in the late Victorian period, gathered pace in the early twentieth century both in Europe and the USA. It developed fully into the horrors of the Holocaust, but very few people know of it’s extent in this country and the USA, as a reason to institutionalise and sterilise people with disabilities and those from minority ethnic backgrounds. Literature that explores this dark moment in history is very important to me and I’ll be begging people to read this over the next few months.
Published by Phoenix May 2022.
Again Rachel by Marian Keyes.
Every blogger I know loves Marian Keyes and the Walsh family are clearly characters who thousands of readers have taken to their hearts.
Back in the long ago nineties, Rachel Walsh was a mess. But a spell in rehab transformed everything. Life became very good, very quickly. These days, Rachel has love, family, a great job as an addiction counsellor, she even gardens. Her only bad habit is a fondness for expensive trainers.But with the sudden reappearance of a man she’d once loved, her life wobbles.She’d thought she was settled. Fixed forever. Is she about to discover that no matter what our age, everything can change? Is it time to think again, Rachel? What I love about Marian Keyes is her ability to write what seems like a light, humorous book, that’s actually full of meaning and true life experience. Yes, the Walsh family are witty and fun to be around, but their relationships with each other are deep, complex and full of love. It takes an incredible writer to have this lightness of touch coupled with an incredible understanding of human nature. Keyes writes with such emotional intelligence that I pre-order all her books these days. This one is close to my heart, because after leaving an abusive relationship I spent six years as a single woman. I did counselling, meditation and felt settled and sorted in life when someone came along and convinced me to make big changes for love. We’ve now been together for three years and I’m stepmom to two girls I love with all my heart. Life doesn’t stand still for long and it sounds like I might really resonate with Rachel’s place in life. Can’t wait!
Published Michael Joseph Feb 2022.
Reputation by Sarah Vaughan.
Reputation: it takes a lifetime to build and just one moment to destroy.
I devour thrillers, especially if I’m struggling with my multiple sclerosis and end up laid in bed or on the chaise langue in the living room. I find them easy to read and incredible addictive and I’ve been known to read two and start a third in one weekend. I’ve read Vaughan before so had an eye on this coming out months ago. Emma Webster is a respectable MP. Emma Webster is a devoted mother. Emma Webster is innocent of the murder of a tabloid journalist. Emma Webster is a liar. The early buzz on this one is great, as you can see below, and it’s already been optioned for a Netflix series so I’m going to make sure I read it before that airs.
#Reputation: The story you tell about yourself. And the lies others choose to believe…
‘A terrifically entertaining legal drama and an unsettling cautionary tale for any woman considering entering politics’ Louise Candlish
‘Tense. Gripping. And bang up to date. This is a rollercoaster of a book’ Imran Mahmood
The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang.
‘A gorgeous and gripping literary mystery. . . reflecting themes of family, betrayal, passion, race, culture and the American Dream. . . A masterpiece’ JEAN KWOK
I have to say again that I love the cover of this book. It looks like something from the 1930’s and has all the cute appeal of a Mabel Lucy Atwell print which often featured dogs. For years, the residents of Lake Haven, Wisconsin ignored the whispered troubles about the Chao family, if only to keep eating at the best restaurant in town. But when tyrannical patriarch Big Chao is found frozen to death in the family’s meat freezer, scandalous events force the community to turn its attention to the three Chao sons.Dagou is the presupposed heir to the business, did he want to inherit sooner rather than later? Ming is an accomplished city lawyer, determined to sever ties with Haven’s Asian community once and for all. For years, the residents of Lake Haven, Wisconsin ignored the whispered troubles about the Chao family, if only to keep eating at the best restaurant in town. But when tyrannical patriarch Big Chao is found frozen to death in the family’s meat freezer, scandalous events force the community to turn its attention to the three Chao sons.Dagou is the presupposed heir to the business, did he want to inherit sooner rather than later? Ming is an accomplished city lawyer, was he determined to sever ties with Haven’s Asian community once and for all? James is the young, naive college student, who is only just learning of his family’s past, surely he can’t be to blame? When the family’s dog mysteriously disappears, and Dagou ‘Dog Eater’ Chao is held on trial for his father’s murder, the Chaos’ turbulent history spills into the public eye, while a small town looks on in disbelief. This is an inventive comic mystery about the undercurrents of an unfortunate death and a timeless tale of distrust, judgement and condemnation.I have a wickedly dark sense of humour and love reading about dysfunctional families so this novel caught my eye for more reasons than the cover, but I will admit that I love it so much I’d frame it and put it on the wall.
Published by One, Feb 2022.
A Terrible Kindness by Joe Browning Wroe.
When we go through something impossible, someone, or something, will help us, if we let them . . .
When Joanna Cannon, Sophie Hannah and Marian Keyes are telling you to read a book, it’s at least worth a look. I’m lucky and have a proof of this to read over the next few weeks so look out for my review. I didn’t know a lot about the Aberfan disaster, because it happened before I was born. It was one of the first huge news stories that my mum remembers taking notice of when she was 13. My understanding of what happened came from The Crown where we saw the children heading off to school like any other morning, only to end up buried beneath a massive landslide from the coal mine that employed most of them heir fathers. It was utilised to show the Queen’s inability to feel empathy. Her reaction was contrasted with that of Princess Margaret’s husband Lord Snowden, who was moved to go straight to Aberfan and help, much like our main character in the novel. It is October 1966 and William Lavery is having the night of his life at his first black-tie do. But, as the evening unfolds, news hits of a landslide at a coal mine. It has buried a school: Aberfan. William decides he must act, so he stands and volunteers to attend. It will be his first job as an embalmer, and it will be one he never forgets. His work that night will force him to think about the little boy he was, and the losses he has worked so hard to forget. But compassion can have surprising consequences, because – as William discovers – giving so much to others can sometimes help us heal ourselves. I absolutely love the sound of this book and personal journey this character must go on as he attends to those who have died, mostly children. It won’t be an easy read, but is apparently very hopeful and uplifting too.
Published by Faber and Faber Jan 2022.
Look out for Part 2 of my preview list on Thursday.
There are just so many books coming out next year that I’m really looking forward to reading, with some really gorgeous cover designs too. I. Lucky enough to have early access to all of these bar two, so I’ll be reading and reviewing in the coming weeks. Keep your eyes peeled and get some of these crackers on your TBR list.
House of Fortune by Jessie Burton.
I fell in love with Burton’s debut novel The Miniaturist at first page and I am in awe of her imagination and skill. As other readers of the novel will know, many questions remained unanswered at the end of the story, and while I don’t mind books having loose ends, when I heard a sequel was coming I let out a little squeal. We are still in the golden city of Amsterdam, but now it is 1705. Thea Brandt is turning eighteen, and she is ready to welcome adulthood with open arms. At the city’s theatre, Walter, the love of her life, awaits her, but at home in the house on the Herengracht, all is not well – her father Otto and Aunt Nella argue endlessly, and the Brandt family are selling their furniture in order to eat. On Thea’s birthday, also the day that her mother Marin died, the secrets from the past begin to overwhelm the present.
Nella is desperate to save the family and maintain appearances, to find Thea a husband who will guarantee her future, and when they receive an invitation to Amsterdam’s most exclusive ball, she is overjoyed – perhaps this will set their fortunes straight. And indeed, the ball does set things spinning: new figures enter their life, promising new futures. But their fates are still unclear, and when Nella feels a strange prickling sensation on the back of her neck, she remembers the miniaturist who entered her life and toyed with her fortunes eighteen years ago. Perhaps, now, she has returned for her . . . I can’t tell you how excited I am to find out how Nella is getting on. Maybe the mystery of who the miniaturist is, and what they want, might be solved?
Published by Picador 7th July 2022
Sundial by Catriona Ward
When writers like Alex Michaelides and Emma Stonex are giving rave reviews of a book, it’s always worth a look. Last year’s novel, The Last House on Needless Street, was incredibly unusual and original. That alone would make me want to look at Ward’s second novel.
You can’t escape the desert. You can’t escape Sundial.
Rob fears for her daughters. For Callie, who collects tiny bones and whispers to imaginary friends. For Annie, because she fears what Callie might do to her. Rob sees a darkness in Callie, one that reminds her of the family she left behind. She decides to take Callie back to her childhood home, to Sundial, deep in the Mojave Desert. And there she will have to make a terrible choice.
Callie is afraid of her mother. Rob has begun to look at her strangely. To tell her secrets about her past that both disturb and excite her. And Callie is beginning to wonder if only one of them will leave Sundial alive…
Published by Viper 10th March 2022.
Insomnia by Sarah Pinborough.
In the dead of night, madness lies…
Emma can’t sleep. CHECK THE WINDOWS. It’s been like this since her big 4-0 started getting closer. LOCK THE DOORS. Her mother stopped sleeping just before her 40th birthday too. She went mad and did the unthinkable because of it. LOOK IN ON THE CHILDREN. Is that what’s happening to Emma?
WHY CAN’T SHE SLEEP?
This is an absolutely brilliant domestic noir that keeps you on the edge of your seat to the very end.
Published by Harper Collins March 31st 2022.
Absynthe by Brendan P. BelleCourt.
The Great War has been over for years, and a brave new world forged. Technology has delivered the future promised at the turn of the century: automata provide, monorail trains flash between mega-cities, medicine is nothing short of magical.
Liam grew up poor, but now working for one of the richest families in Chicago, he reaps the benefits of his friendship with the family’s son and heir. That’s why he’s at Club Artemis. It’s a palace of art-deco delights and debauchery, filled to bursting with the rich and beautiful – and tonight they’re all drinking one thing. Absynthe. The green liquor rumoured to cause hallucinations, madness, even death.
While the gilded youth sip the viridescent liquid, their brave new world is crumbling beneath its perfect surface. Their absynthe is no mere folly. Some it kills, others it transforms. But in Liam something different has taken place. A veil has lifted and he can see the world without its illusion – and it isn’t the perfect world the government want the people to believe. As soon as I read the premise of this novel I was hooked and I’ve just been accepted on NetGalley I’m itching to get to it.
Published – Head of Zeus 9th Dec 2021
Outside by Ragnar Jónasson.
Four friends. One night. Not everyone will come out alive . . .
In the swirling snow of a deadly Icelandic storm, four friends seek shelter in a small abandoned hunting lodge. Miles from help, and knowing they will die outside in the cold, they break open the lock and make their way inside, hoping to wait out the storm until morning.
But nothing can prepare them for what they find behind the door . . .
Inside the cabin lurks a dangerous presence that chills them to their core. Outside, certain death from exposure awaits. So with no other option, they find themselves forced to spend a long, terrifying night in the cabin, watching as intently and silently as they are being watched themselves.But as the evening darkens, old secrets are beginning to find their way to the light. And as the tension escalates between the four friends, it soon becomes clear that the danger they discovered lurking in the cabin is far from the only mystery that will be uncovered tonight. Nor the only thing to be afraid of . . .
I love Nordic Noir and this author builds his literary worlds so carefully and his characters are multi-dimensional, complex and real. Once I’m a few chapters in it feels so real to me that I’m utterly immersed. This appeals to my psychologist brain. I’m dying to dissect these characters and their dynamic as they are trapped together.
Published by Michael Joseph 28th April 2022.
Miss Aldridge Regrets by Louise Hare.
I’ve been waiting to see what Louise Hare would write next after loving her novel The Lovely City. This looks like a fantastic second novel and I adore that cover too. Opening in London in 1936, Lena Aldridge is wondering if life has passed her by. The dazzling theatre career she hoped for hasn’t worked out. Instead, she’s stuck singing in a sticky-floored basement club in Soho and her married lover has just left her. She has nothing to look forward to until a stranger offers her the chance of a lifetime: a starring role on Broadway and a first-class ticket on the Queen Mary bound for New York. After a murder at the club, the timing couldn’t be better and Lena jumps at the chance to escape England. Until death follows her onto the ship and she realises that her greatest performance has already begun. Because someone is making manoeuvres behind the scenes, and there’s only one thing on their mind…Murder.
Miss Aldridge Regrets is the exquisite new novel from Louise Hare, the author of This Lovely City. A brilliant murder mystery, it also explores class, race and pre-WWII politics, and will leave readers reeling from the beauty and power of it.It’s next on my TBR so I’ll be reviewing soon.
Published by HQ 28th April 2022.
The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley.
Welcome to No. 12 Rue des Amants. This book has been popping up all over #BookTwitter and I feel very privileged to have an early copy. I love a good thriller, it tends to be the genre I go to when I’m very busy with my MA or just have a lot on at home. For some reason, that I’m not prepared to look at too closely, I find thrillers relaxing. This one is set in a beautiful old apartment block, far from the glittering lights of the Eiffel Tower and the bustling banks of the Seine. Where nothing goes unseen. And everyone has a story to unlock. Our characters are the watchful concierge, the scorned lover, the prying journalist and the naïve student. But there’s also an unwanted guest. Something terrible happened here last night. A mystery lies behind the door of apartment three.Only you – and the killer – hold the key . . . I’m sure I’m going to be bleary eyed one morning from reading this till 2am.
Published by Harper Collins 3rd March 2022.
Saint Death’s Daughter by C.S.E Cooney
Nothing complicates life like Death. I noticed this book about two months ago and begged the publisher for a proof! Sometimes I have no shame. As soon as I read the short blurb I knew I wanted to read it and I’m excited at the thought that this is only the first in a new series. Lanie Stones, the daughter of the Royal Assassin and Chief Executioner of Liriat, has never led a normal life. Born with a gift for necromancy and a literal allergy to violence, she was raised in isolation in the family’s crumbling mansion by her oldest friend, the ancient revenant Goody Graves. When her parents are murdered, it falls on Lanie and her cheerfully psychotic sister Nita to settle their extensive debts or lose their ancestral home―and Goody with it. Appeals to Liriat’s ruler to protect them fall on indifferent ears… until she, too, is murdered, throwing the nation’s future into doubt. Hunted by Liriat’s enemies, hounded by her family’s creditors and terrorised by the ghost of her great-grandfather, Lanie will need more than luck to get through the next few months―but when the goddess of Death is on your side, anything is possible. I am always surprised by the amount of fantasy I read and while I don’t consider myself an expert on the genre, out of the books I love, a good third are fantasy novels. I’m hoping this one might join them.
Published by Solaris 14th April 2022.
The Unravelling by Polly Crosby.
This one is coming very soon, in early January in fact, since the publication date was pushed back from this year. I fell completely in love with her writing when I finally read The Illustrated Child a few months ago. The only reason it didn’t make my books of the year was because I was so late reading it; it was published in 2020. My anticipation for this one has been building and I hope to get to read it over the Christmas holidays. Also when the author of The Binding gives a book a great review, I know I’m going to love it.
’Like a surreal cabinet of curiosities – haunting, eerie, evocative’ Bridget Collins, Sunday Times bestselling author of The Binding
When Tartelin Brown accepts a job with the reclusive Marianne Stourbridge, she finds herself on a wild island with a mysterious history. Tartelin is tasked with hunting butterflies for Marianne’s research. But she quickly uncovers something far more intriguing than the curious creatures that inhabit the landscape. Because the island and Marianne share a remarkable history, and what happened all those years ago has left its scars, and some terrible secrets.As Tartelin pieces together Marianne’s connection to the island, she must confront her own reasons for being there. Can the two women finally face up to the painful memories that bind them so tightly to the past?
Published by HQ 6th Jan 2022.
The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont.
I’m currently writing a review for this interesting novel and I can honestly say it’s a cracker. I loved the mix of factual events and fictional story, as well as the way the novel veered from historical, to romance and to murder mystery. You won’t want to put it down.
In 1926, Agatha Christie disappeared for 11 days. Only I know the truth of her disappearance. I’m no Hercule Poirot. I’m her husband’s mistress.
Agatha Christie’s world is one of glamorous society parties, country house weekends, and growing literary fame. Nan O’Dea’s world is something very different. Her attempts to escape a tough London upbringing during the Great War led to a life in Ireland marred by a hidden tragedy. After fighting her way back to England, she’s set her sights on Agatha. Because Agatha Christie has something Nan wants. And it’s not just her husband. Despite their differences, the two women will become the most unlikely of allies. And during the mysterious eleven days that Agatha goes missing, they will unravel a dark secret that only Nan holds the key to . . .The Christie Affair is a stunning novel which reimagines the unexplained eleven-day disappearance of Agatha Christie in 1926 that captivated the world.
Published by Mantle, 20th Jan 2022.
Peach Blossom Spring by Melissa Fu.
I have to say that the cover of this beautiful proof sung out to me when it dropped through my letterbox. This is one of those novels where I’ve already pre-ordered the finished copy even though I have this one. It’s quite simply stunning.
With every misfortune there is a blessing and within every blessing, the seeds of misfortune, and so it goes, until the end of time.
It is 1938 in China, and the Japanese are advancing. A young mother, Meilin, is forced to flee her burning city with her four-year-old son, Renshu, and embark on an epic journey across China. For comfort, they turn to their most treasured possession – a beautifully illustrated hand scroll. Its ancient fables offer solace and wisdom as they travel through their ravaged country, seeking refuge. Years later, Renshu has settled in America as Henry Dao. His daughter is desperate to understand her heritage, but he refuses to talk about his childhood. How can he keep his family safe in this new land when the weight of his history threatens to drag them down? Spanning continents and generations, Peach Blossom Spring is a bold and moving look at the history of modern China, told through the story of one family. It’s about the power of our past, the hope for a better future, and the search for a place to call home.
Published by Wildfire 17th March 2022.
The Book of Magic by Alice Hoffman.
This is my current read and it’s not surprising that I’m enjoying it, since Hoffman is one of my favourite authors. The Owens family started their literary lives in Practical Magic as we followed orphaned sisters Sally and Gillian as they are sent to live with their eccentric aunts Jet and Franny. There are rumours about the aunts. They live in a crooked house on the edge of town, with a well-stocked herb garden and a light above the door that alerts local women to when they are available for consultation. This might be for women’s health problems, but more often for reasons of love. This is ironic since the Owens women are born in a genetic line that’s cursed in the pursuit of love. Every woman in the family has tried a way round the curse, but if ever love is found, it can just as easily be lost. In this fourth and final book in the series we move forward, after two prequel novels, to Jet and Franny’s old age. When the deathwatch beetle starts clicking in the family home, one of the Owens women knows that their time is up. As the generations gather, Sally’s daughters have to face the truth of the family curse. So a quest begins to change this generation’s luck in love, but do the girls have the power within them or will they venture into darker magic?
Published by Scribner 6th January 2022.
The Key in the Lock by Beth Underdown.
I was a little bit giddy to open my book mail a couple of days ago and find an unexpected copy of this book. I’ve been talking about it since Halloween so it’s definitely time I read it.
I still dream, every night, of Polneath on fire. Smoke unravelling from an upper window, and the terrace bathed in a hectic orange light . . . Now I see that the decision I made at Polneath was the only decision of my life. Everything marred in that one dark minute.
By day, Ivy Boscawen mourns the loss of her son Tim in the Great War. But by night she mourns another boy – one whose death decades ago haunts her still. For Ivy is sure that there is more to what happened all those years ago: the fire at the Great House, and the terrible events that came after. A truth she must uncover, if she is ever to be free. But once you open a door to the past, can you ever truly close it again?From the award-winning author of The Witchfinder’s Sister comes a captivating story of burning secrets and buried shame, and of the loyalty and love that rises from the ashes.
Published by Viking 13th January 2022.
A Lady’s Guide to Fortune Hunting by Sophie Irwin.
This novel has quite recently appeared on the radar but looks like a really enjoyable read. I’ve just had NetGalley approval and it’s taking all my willpower to read my January blog tours first! The season is about to begin and there’s not a second to lose. Kitty Talbot needs a fortune. Or rather, she needs a husband who has a fortune. This is 1818 after all, and only men have the privilege of seeking their own riches. With only twelve weeks until the bailiffs call, launching herself into London society is the only avenue open to her, and Kitty must use every ounce of cunning and ingenuity she possesses to climb the ranks. The only one to see through her plans is the worldly Lord Radcliffe and he is determined to thwart her at any cost, especially when it comes to his own brother falling for her charms. Can Kitty secure a fortune and save her sisters from poverty? There is not a day to lose and no one – not even a lord – will stand in her way…
Published by Harper Collins 12th May 2022
Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow.
Joan can’t change her family’s past. But she can create her future.
Joan was only a child the last time she visited Memphis. She doesn’t remember the bustle of Beale Street on a summer’s night. She doesn’t know she’s as likely to hear a gunshot ring out as the sound of children playing. How the smell of honeysuckle is almost overwhelming as she climbs the porch steps to the house where her mother grew up. But when the front door opens, she does remember Derek. This house full of history is home to the women of the North family. They are no strangers to adversity; resilience runs in their blood. Fifty years ago, Hazel’s husband was lynched by his all-white police squad, yet she made a life for herself and her daughters in the majestic house he built for them. August lives there still, running a salon where the neighbourhood women gather. And now this house is the only place Joan has left. It is in sketching portraits of the women in her life, her aunt and her mother, the women who come to have their hair done, the women who come to chat and gossip, that Joan begins laughing again, begins living. Memphis is a celebration of the enduring strength of female bonds, of what we pass down, from mother to daughter. Epic in scope yet intimate in detail, it is a vivid portrait of three generations of a Southern black family, as well as an ode to the city they call home.
This has been a difficult reading month and I haven’t read as much as usual, but these were my favourite reads. Two members of the family have had surgery this month so a lot of the usual routine has been a bit upside down. The last week, while winter has started to bite a little, I’ve had a lot more pain and stiffness, as well as being plagued by MS symptoms of vertigo and fatigue. Some days I’ve felt like I only open my eyes when someone wakes me to have a meal. The countdown to Christmas also started in earnest, so I’ve been ordering early to avoid disappointment. I do the majority of my shopping online these days so it’s really a pleasure rather than feeling sweaty and unwell in a shop packed with other people. I did venture out with my stepdaughter last weekend to buy new decorations for our Christmas tree. It’s a tradition I set up to get to know them better and now it’s annual mission. Since it’s our first Christmas in the new house and our living room colour scheme has changed we decided to go pink and blue. We did well and how have an eccentric collection of tigers, monkeys, tiny pink Minis and VW Beetles with Christmas trees on the roof, slices of cake and topless unicorns wearing just a tutu! Mainly though, with my lowered immune system I’m trying to avoid large groups of people. Thankfully my booster is now booked, but it’s not until the end of December so I’m keeping to my strict bubble again until we know more about the new variant. So, that’s me. Out of the books I’ve read there have been some brilliant reads and don’t forget to check last Sunday’s Spotlight post which featured the books I’m buying as gifts this year.
The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayers
We open in Kerrigan Falls with Lara on the eve of her wedding as she starts to enchant her wedding dress to make it perfect. However, in the morning the groom has disappeared, mysteriously leaving his car behind at the scene where another young man disappeared thirty years before. Both men have links to Lara and her family. In her search for answers, Lara finds her great- grandmother’s diaries and reads the tale of a circus so secret it can’t be seen. The circus is the perfect antidote to the sweetness of Kerrigan Falls. I won’t ruin your discovery of this world, but it is truly fascinating, macabre, beautiful, magical and horrifying all at the same time. I was hooked by the scene the author was describing and fascinated by Lara’s family history. The small details, such as the circus only appearing to those with a personal invitation which bled if it was torn, were quite disturbing. The magic practiced there had parallels with Lara’s skills – simple tabby cats turned into ferocious big cats. There were surprises I hadn’t expected and Cecile’s final diaries are the vital first hand account of the circus’s history, as well as her own love story. I was immersed in this magical tale and didn’t really want it to end.
Before My Actual Heart Breaks by Tish Delaney
Oh my goodness, my heart did break for the intelligent, spirited and strangely beautiful Mary Rattigan. She is a character who will stay with me, especially the childhood Mary and her battles with Mammy – a woman who I hated so strongly it was as if she was a real person! The Rattigan’s life on her parent’s farm is at odds with her romantic and wild nature. She wants to fly. She will not be satisfied until she flies out of her dirty and dangerous surroundings, leaving ‘The Troubles’ behind her. She doesn’t care where she goes, as long as she’s free and lives happily ever after. However, life has a way of grounding us and Mary is no exception. In a life punctuated by marriage, five children, bombings, a long peace process and endless cups of tea Mary learns that a ten minute decision can change a whole life. These lessons are hard won and she’s missed a hundred chances to make a change. Can she ever find the courage to ask for the love she deserves, but has never had? I am probably a similar age to Delaney so I felt an affinity with Mary and understood her. Mary’s need to be loved is so raw she can’t even articulate it. How can she understand or recognise love when she’s never felt it? She has been told she’s nothing, so nothing is what she deserves. Delaney writes about love and the realities of marriage with such wisdom and tenderness that I was rooting for Mary Rattigan till the very last page.
Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult
Diana and her boyfriend Finn live in New York City, he is a doctor and she works at an auction house for fine art, on the verge of promotion to become an Art Specialist at Sotheby’s. She’s trying to acquire a Toulouse Lautrec painting that hangs in the bedroom of a Japanese artist -loosely based on Yoko Ono. Then, everything changes. Finn and Diana have a very set life plan and part of that was an upcoming visit to the Galápagos Islands. However there are rumours flying around in the medical community of a strange new virus in Wuhan, China. It seems like SARS in that it affects breathing, because it causes pneumonia and requires huge amounts of resources to keep patients alive. Diana’s boyfriend feels torn, as a doctor he’s worried and thinks they should be preparing but the president is on TV telling everyone it’s no worse than flu. What’s the truth? When Finn’s hospital announces all leave is cancelled they know the virus is coming. Diana asks what they should do with the Galapagos holiday and he tells her to go without him. So she arrives on the last boat just as everything shuts down and she has to take the kind offer of an apartment from a cleaner at the hotel called Abuela. This is just the start of an amazing and uplifting adventure for Diana, in a paradise separate from the COVID-19 nightmare happening in New York. The joy of this book is that it takes the reader in several different directions, some of them very surprising indeed. This is my first full on pandemic novel and it was tough but surprisingly uplifting too. A real return to form from Picoult who I absolutely love.
On the Edge by Jane Jesmond
I was thoroughly gripped by this tense thriller set in Cornwall and concerning Jenifry Shaw – an experienced free climber who is in rehabilitation at the start of the novel. She hasn’t finished her voluntary fortnight stay when she’s itching for an excuse to get away and she finds one when her brother Kit calls and asks her to go home. Sure that she has the addiction under control, she drives her Aston down to her home village and since she isn’t expected, chooses to stay at the hotel rather than go straight to her family home. Feeling restless, she decides to try one of her distraction activities and go for a bracing walk along the cliffs. Much later she wakes to darkness. She’s being lashed by wind and rain, seemingly hanging from somewhere on the cliff by a very fragile rope. Every gust of wind buffets her against the surface causing cuts and grazes. She gets her bearings and realises she’s hanging from the viewing platform of the lighthouse. Normally she could climb herself out of this, most natural surfaces have small imperfections and places to grab onto, but this man made structure is completely smooth. Her only chance is to use the rapidly fraying rope to climb back to the platform and pull herself over. She’s only got one go at this though, one jerk and her weight will probably snap the rope – the only thing keeping her from a certain death dashed on the rocks below. She has no choice. She has to try. I was already breathless and this was just the opening! What follows is a thrilling debut that is so incredibly addictive you’ll want to read it in one go.
The Watchers by A.M. Shine
This is a disturbing and beautifully written horror novel about Mina, a young woman living alone in urban Ireland. She is largely a loner, except for her friend Peter who is a collectibles dealer and often pays Mina cash to travel and deliver his client’s purchases. On this occasion she’s to take a golden parrot to a remote part of Galway, but the day trip becomes something she lives to regret. Having broken down on the edge of a forest, Mina realises that the likelihood of anyone passing by and helping are probably minimal. So, with the parrot in tow, she sets off walking in the hope of finding a remote farmhouse. She feels unnerved, although she can’t say why, then she hears a scream that isn’t human, but isn’t like any animal she’s ever heard either. As the shadows gather she is beginning to panic, but sees a woman with a lamp standing by a concrete bunker and although that seems odd they hurry inside. As the door slams behind them, the screams grow in intensity and volume, almost as if they were right on her heels. As her eyes adjust to the light she finds herself in a room with a bright overhead light. One wall is made entirely of glass, but Mina can’t see beyond it and into the forest because it is now pitch dark. Yet she has the creeping sensation of being watched through the glass, almost like she is the parrot in a glass cage. A younger man and woman are huddled together in one space, so there are now four people in this room, captive and watched by many eyes. Their keepers are the Watchers, dreadful creatures that live in burrows by day, but come out at night to hunt and to watch these captive humans. If caught out after dark, the door will be locked, and you will be the Watcher’s unlucky prey. Who are these creatures and why do they keep watching? This really is terrifying and you won’t be able to stop reading until the very unnerving end.
Insomnia by Sarah Pinborough
This is a sneak preview of a release for next year and one I couldn’t resist reading on NetGalley as soon as I was approved. This book hooked me straight away, which isn’t surprising considering this author’s talent in creating nerve-tingling domestic noir. Emma has survived childhood trauma to make a success of her life and is now a well-respected solicitor with a lovely family and beautiful home. The only thing is she can’t sleep. As her fortieth approaches her insomnia gets worse and she is terrified, what if this is just the start of the breakdown her mother suffered at the same age? She always said that Emma had the ‘bad blood’ and as her symptoms increase Emma is coming apart. I read this in two sittings, engrossed by Emma’s story and trying to work out whether she is being set up and if so, who by? Look out for this one at the end of March 2022.
When I was asked if I’d like to join the blog tour for a book about a suffragette I thought I pretty much knew what to expect. When I received my copy and I read the blurb on the inside cover I was really excited. First of all she was a Northerner like me and even better, she threw a black pudding at an MP. That’s about as Northern as it gets. Everything we’re taught about the movement focuses on the Pankhurst’s and the rallies based in London. What this author does is reframe the movement to the North West, where Edith Rigby founded the Preston branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union. In doing this, the author reminds us that this was a nationwide movement, but also introduces us to a fascinating woman who was ahead of her time.
This is a well written and well researched autobiography about a fascinating woman who wouldn’t be told what her place was. Born to a lower middle class family in Preston, Lancashire, they lived in a dual purpose house which was part home and part doctor’s surgery where her father was doctor to the local mill working community. I enjoyed learning about how Edith grew up, because it was possibly this stable and happy environment that influenced her thirst for knowledge, individuality and equality. She saw how gender, and particularly class, affected children’s future circumstances and because she was so caring she went out of her way to help – even saving up her pennies to give gifts to local children on Christmas morning. While her actions within the Suffragette movement were fascinating reading, I really found the other aspects of her life interesting too. She was the first woman in her area to ride a bicycle and persisted in riding it, despite being heckled and pelted with vegetables, and even preached against by the local vicar. She liked the freedom her own transport gave her. Luckily, she found a man who enjoyed her vivacious and free spirit because she set out her stall from the wedding day. She was also adamant she was keeping her Christian name, so that instead of being named Dr and Mrs Charles Rigby they became Dr Charles and Mrs Edith Rigby. Having kept my own surname when married I felt a kinship with Edith and I also share her love of North Wales. Her determination to live by her principles was inspiring and it’s clearly this that informed her work with the school for young women that she founded. It also inspired the lengths she went to for the suffragette cause including arson, planning a bombing in Liverpool and going on hunger strike in prison. I applaud the author for bringing this incredibly strong woman to our attention and I recommend the book highly.
I come from a place where breath, eyes and memory are one, a place from which you carry your past like the hair on your head.
I was first introduced to Danticat’s writing by the tutor of my American Literature module at university. This was her debut novel and it sparked a fascination with Haiti, somewhere that always seemed tragic, but also strangely magical. This book took those childhood impressions and put flesh on their bones. It showed the human cost of such a chequered history, particularly for women and it’s characters have stayed with me for a long time. I think it’s also a wonderful depiction of generational trauma, emotional healing and counselling’s place in that difficult process.
We follow a young woman called Sophie Caco, who lives in Haiti as a child with her Tante Attie. Then at the age of twelve is relocated to New York to live with her mother, with whom she needs to forge a relationship. Sophie doesn’t want to go, but has no choice. Up till this point Tante Attie has been the only mother she knows. Her mother left Haiti long ago with the ghosts of the past at her heels. Sophie doesn’t know what life will be like when she gets there, but she is anxious about the journey, immigration and what it will be like going to school with children who speak a different language. Sophie will need to think on her feet and adapt to the new way of life quickly. What she finds though, is that it’s hard to escape Haiti. It does not let go of its daughters and her mother suffers mood swings and nightmares linked to her past there. Generational pain and trauma are played out in this relationship until Sophie realises they must face Haiti together -aunts, mothers and daughters – if they are ever to break the cycle .
I loved Danticat’s way of comparing these two very different places and their contrast with what’s going on deep inside these characters. Haiti is a place of deep sadness, particularly for Sophie’s mum. For those who don’t know it’s political and social history, Haiti covers half of the island it shares with the Dominican Republic. For many years both countries were colonised by the Spanish, but in 1697 after disputing territory the Western side of the island was ceded to the French. However, unlike the Dominican, Haiti was stripped of all it’s natural resources, even down to the island’s trees which were cut down for logging and to make way for planting sugar cane, leaving the island prone to landslides and unprotected against tropical storms. All this left a rather bare country, peopled by slaves, harvesting the cane that would ship to Britain as the final part of the ‘slave triangle’. During the French Revolution, the slaves revolted under the leadership of Toussaint Louverture, and freed themselves. They were the first of the colonies to successfully liberate themselves and become a state on 1st January 1804. Whilst it was always politically turbulent, Haiti entered a reign of terror in 1956 under the autocratic government of Papa ‘Doc’ Duvalier and then his son until 1986; the period was characterized by state-sanctioned violence against the opposition and civilians, corruption, and economic stagnation. After 1986, Haiti began attempting to establish a more democratic political system. Yet the violence of the past thirty years left a legacy of pain in the people of Haiti, especially it’s women, for whom a history of sexual violence carried out by Papa Doc’s henchmen the ‘tonton macoutes’ had left them controlled and terrified.
Such a history leaves a legacy of rage and deep, deep sadness in the people. Yet Danticat depicts a vibrant culture filled colour, music, and incredible food. Tante Attie is an absolute rock of a woman. She’s a storyteller, passing down women’s stories and history to other woman. When we are without power, education and means we have to find other ways of recording our history – in the clothes we wear, the food we cook and the songs we sing. Attie is the keeper of her family’s history, but there are secrets she has kept, only because it is not her story to tell. It takes a departure from all that she knows for Sophie to truly know her family history and a practice past down through the generations which is horrifying to read. When women are mere commodities, to be owned by men, there are certain things that affect their value. Controlling the ways women behave is always set out by men, but often policed by other women.
True healing can only begin when we stop running from our past, instead we must confront it and begin to process any trauma we have experienced. Sophie’s mum must return to Haiti to do this. Meanwhile Sophie’s demons come calling when she gives birth to her daughter and actively chooses change. She must confide in her husband and seeks therapy to come to terms with her trauma. Only then can mother and daughter truly get to know one another. Despite it’s difficult subject matter I always feel that it’s a hopeful book. It seems to explore a psychological outlook I have held for a long time; anyone can create change in their life. Think how powerful and freeing that statement is. It’s up to us. This is a powerful look at a country that’s often seen as unlucky. Here we can see why and how that history has been constructed, largely by men and colonisers. Through this family of women we see a different Haiti. The violence and pain are real, but so is the beauty, the healing and the love.
There is always a place where, if you listen closely in the night, you will hear a mother telling a story and at the end of the tale she will ask you this question: “Ou libéré? Are you free my daughter?” My grandmother quickly pressed her fingers over my lips, “Now” she said “you will know how to answer.”
Meet The Author.
Edwidge Danticat is the author of several books, including Breath, Eyes, Memory, an Oprah Book Club selection, Krik? Krak!, a National Book Award finalist, The Farming of Bones, The Dew Breaker, Create Dangerously, Claire of the Sea Light, and Everything Inside. She is also the editor of The Butterfly’s Way: Voices from the Haitian Dyaspora in the United States, Best American Essays 2011, Haiti Noir and Haiti Noir 2. She has written seven books for children and young adults, Anacaona, Behind the Mountains, Eight Days, The Last Mapou, Mama’s Nightingale, Untwine,MyMommy Medicine, as well as a travel narrative, After the Dance. Her memoir, Brother, I’m Dying, was a 2007 finalist for the National Book Award and a 2008 winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography. She is a 2009 MacArthur fellow, a 2018 Ford Foundation “The Art of Change” fellow, and the winner of the 2018 Neustadt International Prize and the 2019 St. Louis Literary Award.
I was drawn to this novel by Sharon Gosling as soon as I read the blurb on NetGalley. I enjoy novels where a character has the bravery to start over, especially if the ‘before’ meant overcoming some sort of adversity. For Anna, a talented chef who decides to move to a tiny village on the coast of Scotland, it’s overcoming years of psychological abuse from her boss and partner, Jeff. They met at catering college and ever since Anna has been working under him in London, helping him to earn several Michelin stars over the years. However, Anna has never really acknowledged or even felt entitled to that success, because Jeff has always told her she needs a strong leader, she’s best in a supporting role; she hasn’t the talent to survive on her own. So, after their split, she moves to the other end of the country and to a bothy in a tiny fishing village on the Moray Firth. Crovie is a village that survives despite everything the sea can throw at it. Under a huge cliff, it has survived storms and landslides in the past. It has the remoteness that Anna is looking for, but as she first sets foot in her new home ‘Fishergirl’s Luck’ she wonders if she can really live in a place like this? However, whether it’s the sea air, the villagers or a blessing from a previous single woman who lived there, Anna soon feels inspired. Could this be the perfect place for a foodie to start a new venture?
The setting was so beautifully rendered throughout the novel. There’s something forbidding about the position of the village, wedged between the cliff and the roaring sea. It’s so vividly portrayed I could almost feel the salt spray on my cheeks and the wind whipping my hair around. Anna’s connection with nature is unexpected and deeply inspiring. She clambers over the rocks, goes out on the boat to see dolphins and collects purslane and razor clams. The sea is both friend and foe, bringer of food and providing work for the fishermen, but also the force that batters the cliffs and erodes the very soil under Crovie. Then in complete contrast we have ‘The Fishergirl’s Luck’ and the way it feels so inhospitable at first, way too small to live in, let alone cook in. Yet, as soon as Anna starts to clean and turn it into a home, something warm and cozy emerges from the dust and grime. Just like the village seems almost pitted against nature, Anna has had to pit herself against the bothy. Now it feels like a shelter, somewhere that will keep her safe.
When she finds previous tenant Brenda’s recipe book and makes her hazelnut and raspberry shortbread, something connects the two women across time. This aspect was interesting because it seems as if Brenda used to receive the similar treatment from the local fishermen, that Anna has received from Jeff. Especially from the irascible Doug McKean who seems to think he was cheated out of the bothy by Brenda and intends to keep the grudge going through Anna’s time there. Brenda wanted to fish in her own right, something the men found ridiculous. She found and fished her own boat, maintained the cottage and named it. Something of Bren’s spirit gets into Anna and it’s like nothing can hold her back – even Jeff turning up all the way to life-changing surprises, she takes them in her stride. She also takes strength from wonderful neighbours like Pat and John, local potter Rhona, fisherman Liam and both young and old Robbie. She meets Liam while looking for fresh fish in hope of reviving her a lunch she’s planning. He brings her a table and bench for the garden that sparks an idea – what if she started a lunch club outside for the summer? Although she thought she’d bought the cottage from an elderly man, Auld Robbie, he turns out to be younger than she expected and a widower with an adorable son. Young Robbie is obsessed with a pod of dolphins in the bay and their welfare is all important to him. Every day he checks them, and asks Anna to join them.
I loved watching her circle widen and her confidence beginning to return. Bren’s notebook is the re-birth of Anna’s love of food and it is her food. Away from any other influence she is now free to experiment and do things her way. I really enjoyed the foraging for ingredients and descriptions of her dishes, which sound delicious rather than fussy or refined. However, I was interested to find out whether she kept her confidence, particularly when old pressures and influences surfaced? There are a lot of books around where a woman makes a new start and often they’re too saccharin or unbelievable. This had it’s predictable moments, but every so often there was enough of a curve ball to to make it feel fresh. The author wasn’t above giving her heroine some mountains to climb here and there, both positive and negative. Anna is a brave woman though and not above taking risks – she’s bought a house without viewing it, started a lunch club in the open air in Scotland, taken on the local misanthrope and accepted the more unexpected surprises life has thrown at her. As a big summer storm approached I wondered whether the luck of the cottage would hold? If not, would Anna take the easy option and leave Crovie or will she keep fighting for what she wants? Blessed with charming locals, stunning scenery and an interesting history, Crovie was a lovely place to spend a few hours.
Meet The Author.
Sharon Gosling lives with her husband in a very remote village in northern Cumbia, where they moved to run a second-hand bookshop, Withnail Books in Penrith. She began her career in entertainment journalism, writing for magazines in the science fiction and fantasy genre, before moving on to write tie-in books for TV shows such as Stargate and the ‘re-imagined’ Battlestar Galactica. She has also written, produced, and directed audio dramas based in the same genre. When she’s not writing, she creates beautiful linocut artwork and is the author of multiple children’s books. The House Beneath the Cliffs is her first adult novel. Follow her at @sharongosling.
True crime podcaster Elle Castillo has long been obsessed with The Countdown Killer.
Twenty years ago, he went on a killing spree. Each new victim was a year younger than the last.
Now, he’s back.
Elle must stop the deadly countdown before the killer can claim his next victim.
Girl 11 is the perfect read for fans of True Crime, whether they’re addicted to Netflix series or listen to podcasts. True crime podcasts have played a part in two other books I’ve read in the past six months, so their popularity has come to the attention of authors wanting to keep their crime fiction as up to the minute as possible. Here, Elle is a podcaster turned sleuth and she is determined she has what it takes to catch the Countdown Killer. We’ve all sat and watched documentaries – I admit an addiction to Forensics: The Real CSI – and considered the evidence, only to find ourselves screaming at the the detectives on screen to go back and look at x or y that didn’t make sense or a witness who seemed a little too interested in the details of the crime. I imagine what it must be like to psychologically profile a suspect, or to come up against them in interview.
Elle takes armchair detecting one step further by carrying out her own investigation into crimes, often involving children. The structure of the book is clever, as a transcript of her podcast is placed between each chapter. This divides the book quite neatly into the detail of Elle’s past research into the crime, and the present day action that drives the story forward. This latest podcast on The Countdown Killer details crimes from twenty-four years ago. The killer abducted and murdered young women according to their age, starting at twenty, but then threatening to count down from there, reducing each victim’s age by one year each time. Then the killer stopped abruptly, leaving most crime enthusiasts thinking he was dead, but Elle isn’t so sure, especially when another child goes missing. When asked by the police to consult on the new case she considers whether it might be the same killer, but her colleagues start to question her judgement. Is she too fixated on the Countdown Killer? Also, is it wrong that every time I read that name I imagined a killer rampaging through the C4 Countdown studio?
I thought the set up of the book was excellent and the first half really grabbed my attention and pulled me into the story. I thought the ritual nature of the original murders and the whole of the cold case, was fascinating and if it was a real podcast I could imagine a lot of people enjoying the content. Yet, having set a brilliant scene and pace, I thought the second half of the book slowed down and didn’t keep me as engaged. I knew what was coming a little too much, and I waited patiently to be disproved or for a huge twist that didn’t come. Having read the Six Stories series of Matt Wesolowski, which also follows a cold case podcast, I felt this wasn’t as inventive as it could have been. I did really enjoy Elle though. She was an interesting and intelligent woman, very good at her job and almost forensic in the detail she brings to her podcasts. I felt there was more than just prurient interest in the crimes she details, she truly wants to solve these cases and get justice for the victims. I enjoyed the interviews she carries out with experts too. I thought her private life could have done with some fleshing out, because I felt I only knew Elle through her work, rather than feeling she was a fully rounded character. This was an interesting debut, and I think the format of the podcasts could work very well as a series going forward and I think there’s much more to come from this author in the future.
Published 26th April 2021 by Pushkin Vertigo.
Meet The Author
Amy Suiter Clarke is the author of GIRL, 11 and is a writer and communications specialist. Originally from a small town in Minnesota, she completed an undergraduate in theater in the Twin Cities. She then moved to London and earned an MFA in Creative Writing with Publishing at Kingston University. She currently works for a university library in Melbourne, Australia.
Wow! June has been quite a month when it comes to fiction releases and I’ve had an absolute blast reading them. I think this is the biggest number of five star reads I’ve had in one month – usually I might include a couple of four star books here and there on the list, but not this month. There was a point when I’d read four, 5 ⭐️ novels in a row and was scared to pick up another in case I was disappointed! This is going to be a bumper year and I may have to do a ‘21 of 2021’ to accommodate everything I want to include in December. I’m hoping that my reading luck continues into July. Happy summer reading everyone!
I must give special mention to Karen at Orenda Books who said to me back in March that I needed to read the Jubilant June books they were publishing, particularly Everything Happens For A Reason. She said I would cry and I cried buckets, but I absolutely loved it too. Rachel is struggling to cope with the grief, after her baby son, Luke, is stillborn. Using the type of platitude many people resort to in the face of such terrible loss, she is told that ‘everything happens for a reason’. Unable to cope with the idea that Luke’s death is senseless, Rachel latches on to the idea. She thinks about saving the man who wanted to throw himself onto the train tracks and wonders if it is a coincidence that this was the very same day she found out she was pregnant? Rachel looks for the man she saved, in order to find the meaning in her experience. This is a stunning story of love, loss and hope.
In One Last Time we meet Anne, long term carer for her husband Gustav after a series of strokes. Not long after Gustav is transferred to a nursing home, Anne is diagnosed with cancer. This novel is an exploration of living, while dying. However, it’s also about motherhood and the relationship Anne has with her daughter, which was complicated by her caring role. Daughter Sigrid believes she was neglected by Anne, who chose Gustav’s needs over those of her children, but we also see Sigrid’s mothering skills and how they are interpreted by her daughter. This is a novel about the things we want to say to those we love, how they are meant and how they are received. Brilliantly perceptive, moving, honest and real.
Finally from Orenda is This Is What It Means To Be Human. Veronica lives in Hull with her adult son Sebastian. Sebastian is on the autistic spectrum and in a lot of ways acts the same way he did when he was small, even continuing to attend his childhood swimming club. However, there is one new interest in his life; Sebastian wants to have sex and although he is quite humorous in the way he expresses this, it is a natural urge. Usually Veronica helps with his hobbies, but she doesn’t know what to do with this one. After fruitless visits to their GP and a sexual health clinics, Veronica considers an escort. Could this be the answer to Sebastian’s prayers? This is a brilliantly ground breaking book that shows disabled people do have sex. You will laugh and cry at Sebastian’s quest to find a partner and Veronica’s realisation that her son is becoming a man. This really is am incredible novel from a writer at the peak of her skills.
This is a truly exceptional novel, one I’m sure I’ll read again and again. Ruth is struggling for direction in life and thinks she has chosen a path with Alex – a married man who left his wife and children to live with her in her tiny flat. Yet it doesn’t feel like the right fit. Can Ruth end the relationship knowing the havoc caused to Alex’s family? Yet she can’t remain, knowing this wasn’t what she expected. She takes a drastic decision, to leave London and work in a whale sanctuary in New Zealand. However, during her flight the unthinkable happens, Europe is wiped out in some sort of nuclear event that is also on its way down under. Ruth tries to find her destination and ends up on a beach, with a dying stranded whale and a man called Nik. Miraculously saved by climbing inside the whale, Ruth knows they are possibly the last people on earth. This book is extraordinary, not just the post-apocalypse survival story but the examination of love. Is it flowery exclamations or simply working together every day, them waking up one day with the realisation you’re a team and you couldn’t live without each other. It’s also about our definition of ‘self’ and who we are when everything we know and love is stripped away. I absolutely love this stunning novel and expect it to feature in my best books of 2021.
After my love of Elizabeth Buchan’s previous novel The Museum of Broken Promises, I was really excited about reading this on NetGalley. It follows two British women, living and working in Rome; one in the 1970’s as Italy is struggling out of fascism and one in the present day. Lottie has moved to Rome to live with her husband and work at the Archivo Espatriati. Her first job is to catalogue the papers of a woman called Nina Lawrence who worked in Rome in the 1970s as a garden designer, redesigning some of the gardens ruined by war. However, it seems that Nina is a woman of secrets and once Lottie starts to unravel her life and murder, she finds she may be in danger herself, attracting the attention of spies and the Catholic Church alike. The descriptions of Italy, and it’s incredible food, are vividly brought to life by the author and it’s a great chance to enjoy the Eternal City, However, the novel also asks serious questions, about where we belong, whether we drift through life or whether we make decisions based on a deep sense of duty to our religion, our family and our country. I think this novel cements Elizabeth Buchan as a ‘go to’ author for her sense of place, interesting and complicated women, and her wonderful historical detail.
I was absolutely enthralled by this great thriller from one of my favourite authors Lisa Jewell. In fact I read it in a weekend as a treat. Sophie and Shaun haven’t been together very long, but when he gets a teaching job at the exclusive private school Maypole House she decides to move out to the country with him. As a crime writer she can work anywhere, but she soon sniffs out a real-life mystery on her new doorstep. One year ago, in the woods behind their new house, Sophie learns that a young couple disappeared after a party. When she finds a buried box in her garden with the invitation to ‘Dig Here’, she can’t resist and unearths an engagement ring. Now she’s determined to find out what happened to young couple Tallulah and Zach, destined for a night in the pub, only to end up at a party at Dark Place – an historic house, situated in the woods. How did they end up with Scarlett Jacques and her friends when neither of them knew her. Mum Kim knows Tallulah would never have voluntarily left her baby, and neither would Noah. Yet neither of them have ever been found. Rumours abound about secret tunnels in the woods and they’re not the only twists and turns in this great thriller, along with a few red herrings and a totally unexpected ending. This book is ‘stay up till 3am’ sort of addictive.
An excellent thriller, filled with childhood trauma, psychological problems and the dynamics between people damaged in this way. Over two timelines we follow Nell in her final year of foster care and in a group home run by foster mum Meagan Flack, then one year later, living on the street in London. There’s a secret, deep down, that Nell can’t share or talk about, but it was the catalyst for her move to London with Joe. However Joe hasn’t weathered a winter on the streets as well as Nell, and when she discovers him entering a house with a blonde woman, she wants to know where he’s been, Nell observes Starling Villas from the coffee shop across the road. She doesn’t see Joe, but notices a young woman leaving the house and heading for a coffee. Thinking on her feet, Nell pretends to be in recruitment and when the girl opens up about the job at the house she concocts a story. Telling the girl her would- be employer is known to sexually harass his staff, she then poses as a potential employee and meets Robin, owner of the house. Now starts a game of cat and mouse, but who is the real predator? This is a great thriller, trying to solve two mysteries – what happened back in Wales a year ago and where are Joe and the blonde woman? Fragile is complex and atmospheric, exploring what happens when psychologically damaged people come together.
This was a book I’d been waiting to read – historical fiction with a focus on the treatment of women and those with mental health issues. Eugénie is the daughter in a middle class Parisian family, who has a very strong affinity with her grandmother. However, Eugénie has been keeping a secret from her whole family; since adolescence she has seen and been able to communicate with the dead. Trusting her grandmother, she confides in her about the presence of her grandfather who wishes to communicate with his wife. Despite seeming calm about Eugénie’s gift, the very next day her father takes her out in the carriage alongside her brother Theo, This is no ordinary outing. As the infamous Saltpétrière Asylum looms into view, she realises her grandmother has betrayed her and that the two men she should be able to trust most in the world are committing her to an asylum. Saltpétrière is run by Dr Charcot who has enthralled Paris society with his use of mesmerism on the women in his care. Coming up is the highlight of Paris’s season – the MadWomen’s Ball – where patients are given costumes to appear in for the amusement and fascination of the Paris elite. This is a book about women and the barbaric ways they could be treated and displayed, at the behest of the men in their family who have found them either mad, too intelligent, too excitable or struck with melancholy. I loved the strong female characters in the asylum, and the complicated relationship between Eugénie and Geneviéve. The novel’s strength is in these fascinating women and the way they defy the rules.
It’s been a very busy reading month with thirteen other books read over the last four weeks! Here are just a few of the books on my TBR in July. I’m hoping to have a quieter August and September so I can catch up on my NetGalley list and some great proof copies sent in the last few weeks. See you in July. Hayley xx