Posted in Fiction Preview 2023

Never Ever by Colleen Hoover and Tarryn Fisher. First Chapter Preview.

Charlie Wynwood and Silas Nash have been best friends since they could walk. They’ve been in love since the age of fourteen. But as of this morning… they are complete strangers. Their first kiss, their first fight, the moment they fell in love… every memory has vanished. Now Charlie and Silas must work together to uncover the truth about what happened to them and why. But the more they learn about the couple they used to be… the more they question why they were ever together to begin with.

Forgetting is terrifying but remembering may be worse…

The Number One Sunday Times bestselling author of It Ends with Us joins forces with the New York Times bestselling author of The Wives for a gripping, twisty, romantic mystery unlike any other.

1 Charlie


A crash. Books fall to the speckled linoleum floor. They skid a few feet, whirling in circles, and stop near feet. My feet. I don’t recognize the black sandals, or the red toenails, but they move when I tell them to, so they must be mine. Right?
A bell rings. Shrill.
I jump, my heart racing. My eyes move left to right as I scope out my environment, trying not to give myself away.
What kind of bell was that? Where am I?
Kids with backpacks walk briskly into the room, talking and laughing. A school bell. They slide into desks, their voices competing in volume. I see movement at my feet and jerk in surprise. Someone is bent over, gathering up books on the floor; a red-faced girl with glasses. Before she stands up, she looks at me with something like fear and then scurries off. People are laughing. When I look around I think they’re laughing at me, but it’s the girl with glasses they’re looking at.
“Charlie!” someone calls. “Didn’t you see that?” And then, “Charlie…what’s your problem…hello…?” My heart is beating fast, so fast.
Where is this? Why can’t I remember? “Charlie!” someone hisses. I look around. Who is Charlie? Which one is Charlie?
There are so many kids; blond hair, ratty hair, brown hair, glasses, no glasses…
A man walks in carrying a briefcase. He sets it on the desk.
The teacher. I am in a classroom, and that is the teacher. High school or college? I wonder. I stand up suddenly. I’m in the wrong place. Everyone is sitting, but I’m standing…walking.
“Where are you going, Miss Wynwood?” The teacher is looking at me over the rim of his glasses as he riffles through a pile of papers. He slaps them down hard on the desk and I jump. I must be Miss Wynwood.
“She has cramps!” someone calls out. People snicker. I feel a chill creep up my back and crawl across the tops of my arms. They’re laughing at me, except I don’t know who these people are.
I hear a girl’s voice say, “Shut up, Michael.”
“I don’t know,” I say, hearing my voice for the first time. It’s too high. I clear my throat and try again. “I don’t know. I’m not supposed to be here.”
There is more laughing. I glance around at the posters on the wall, the faces of presidents animated with dates beneath them. History class? High school.
The man—the teacher—tilts his head to the side like I’ve said the dumbest thing. “And where else are you supposed to be on test day?”
“I… I don’t know.”

“Sit down,” he says. I don’t know where I’d go if I left. I turn around to go back. The girl with the glasses glances up at me as I pass her. She looks away almost as quickly.
As soon as I’m sitting, the teacher starts handing out
papers. He walks between desks, his voice a flat drone as he tells us what percentage of our final grade the test will be. When he reaches my desk he pauses, a deep crease between his eyebrows. “I don’t know what you’re trying to pull.” He presses the tip of a fat pointer finger on my desk.
“Whatever it is, I’m sick of it. One more stunt and I’m sending you to the principal’s office.” He slaps the test down in front of me and moves down the line.
I don’t nod, I don’t do anything. I’m trying to decide what to do. Announce to the whole room that I have no idea who and where I am—or pull him aside and tell him quietly. He said no more stunts. My eyes move to the paper in front of me. People are already bent over their tests, pencils scratching.
Fourth Period History
Mr. Dulcott
There is a space for a name. I’m supposed to write my name, but I don’t know what my name is. Miss Wynwood, he called me.
Why don’t I recognize my own name? Or where I am? Or what I am?
Every head is bent over their papers except mine. So I sit and stare, straight ahead. Mr. Dulcott glares at me from his desk. The longer I sit, the redder his face becomes.
Time passes and yet my world has stopped. Eventually, Mr. Dulcott stands up, his mouth open to say something to me when the bell rings. “Put your papers on my desk on the way out,” he says, his eyes still on my face. Everyone is filing out of the door. I stand up and follow them because I don’t know what else to do. I keep my eyes on the floor, but I can feel his rage. I don’t understand why he’s so angry with me. I am in a hallway now, lined on either side by blue lockers.
“Charlie!” someone calls. “Charlie, wait up!” A second later, an arm loops through mine. I expect it to be the girl with the glasses; I don’t know why. It’s not. But, I know now that I am Charlie. Charlie Wynwood. “You forgot your bag,” she says, handing over a white backpack. I take it from her, wondering if there’s a wallet with a driver’s license inside. She keeps her arm looped through mine as we walk. She’s shorter than me, with long, dark hair and dewy brown eyes that take up half her face. She is startling and beautiful.
“Why were you acting so weird in there?” she asks. “You knocked the shrimp’s books on the floor and then spaced out.”
I can smell her perfume; it’s familiar and too sweet, like a million flowers competing for attention. I think of the girl with the glasses, the look on her face as she bent to scoop up her books. If I did that, why don’t I remember?
“I—”

“It’s lunch, why are you walking that way?” She pulls me down a different corridor, past more students. They all look at me…little glances. I wonder if they know me, and why I don’t know me. I don’t know why I don’t tell her, tell Mr. Dulcott, grab someone random and tell them that I don’t know who or where I am. By the time I’m seriously entertaining the idea, we’re through a set of double doors in the cafeteria. Noise and color; bodies that all have a unique smell, bright fluorescent lights that make everything look ugly. Oh, God. I clutch at my shirt.
The girl on my arm is babbling. Andrew this, Marcy that. She likes Andrew and hates Marcy. I don’t know who either of them is. She corrals me to the food line. We get salad and Diet Cokes. Then we are sliding our trays on a table. There are already people sitting there: four boys, two girls. I realize we are completing a group with even numbers. All the girls are matched with a guy. Everyone looks up at me expectantly, like I’m supposed to say something, do something. The only place left to sit is next to a guy with dark hair. I sit slowly, both hands flat on the table. His eyes dart toward me and then he bends over his tray of food. I can see the finest beads of sweat on his forehead, just below his hairline.
“You two are so awkward sometimes,” says a new girl, blonde, across from me. She’s looking from me to the guy I’m sitting next to. He looks up from his macaroni and I realize he’s just moving things around on his plate. He hasn’t taken a bite, despite how busy he looks. He looks at me and I look at him, then we both look back at the blonde girl.
“Did something happen that we should know about?” she asks. “No,” we say in unison.
He’s my boyfriend. I know by the way they’re treating us. He suddenly smiles at me with his brilliantly white teeth and reaches to put an arm around my shoulders.
“We’re all good,” he says, squeezing my arm. I automatically stiffen, but when I see the six sets of eyes on my face, I lean in and play along. It’s frightening not knowing who you are—even more frightening thinking you’ll get it wrong. I’m scared now, really scared. It’s gone too far. If I say something now I’ll look…crazy. His affection seems to make everyone relax. Everyone except…him. They go back to talking, but all the words blend together: football, a party, more football. The guy sitting next to me laughs and joins in with their conversation, his arm never straying from my shoulders. They call him Silas. They call me Charlie. The dark-haired girl with the big eyes is Annika. I forget everyone else’s names in the noise.
Lunch is finally over and we all get up. I walk next to Silas, or rather he walks next to me. I have no idea where I’m going. Annika flanks my free side, winding her arms through mine and chatting about cheerleading practice. She’s making me feel claustrophobic. When we reach an annex in the hallway, I lean over and speak to her so only she can hear. “Can you walk me to my next class?” Her face becomes serious. She breaks away to say something to her boyfriend, and then our arms are looped again.
I turn to Silas. “Annika is going to walk me to my next class.”
“Okay,” he says. He looks relieved. “I’ll see you…later.” He heads off in the opposite direction. Annika turns to me as soon as he’s out of sight. “Where’s he going?”
I shrug. “To class.”
She shakes her head like she’s confused. “I don’t get you guys. One day you’re all over each other, the next you’re acting like you can’t stand to be in the same room. You really need to make a decision about him, Charlie.”

She stops outside a doorway.
“This is me…” I say, to see if she’ll protest. She doesn’t. “Call me later,” she says. “I want to know about last night.”
I nod. When she disappears into the sea of faces, I step into the classroom. I don’t know where to sit, so I wander to the back row and slide into a seat by the window. I’m early, so I open my backpack. There’s a wallet wedged between a couple of notebooks and a makeup bag. I pull it out and flip it open to reveal a driver’s license with a picture of a beaming, dark-haired girl. Me.
Charlize Margaret Wynwood 2417 Holcourt Way New Orleans, LA
I’m seventeen. My birthday is March twenty-first. I live in Louisiana. I study the picture in the top left corner and I don’t recognize the face. It’s my face, but I’ve never seen it. I’m…pretty. I only have twenty-eight dollars.
The seats are filling up. The one beside me stays empty, almost like everyone is too afraid to sit there. I’m in Spanish class. The teacher is pretty and young; her name is Mrs. Cardona. She doesn’t look at me like she hates me, like so many other people are looking at me. We start with tenses.
I have no past. I have no past.
Five minutes into class the door opens. Silas walks in, his eyes downcast. I think he’s here to tell me something, or to bring me something. I brace myself, ready to pretend, but Mrs. Cardona comments jokingly about his lateness. He takes the only available seat next to me and stares straight ahead. I stare at him. I don’t stop staring at him until finally, he turns his head to look at me. A line of sweat rolls down the side of his face.
His eyes are wide. Wide…just like mine.

Published 28th February by HQ

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

My Favourite Reads Jan 2023

Welcome to 2023 at The Lotus Readers! It’s already looking like a busy one and if January is anything to go by there are going to to be some hot contenders for my round-up in twelve months time. I’m going to be spoiled for choice. There are going to be some new and developing projects this year that I’m excited about and I’m already planning into June. I’m doing a lot more work with the Squad Pod Collective this year and I’m very excited at some of the books and read alongs we have scheduled. On a more personal level I’m hoping to be a better planner this year, with the hope of clearing some of my NetGalley backlog and keeping on top of publisher’s proofs. I want to develop my Instagram account and start work on TikTok too. I have various themes planned throughout the year and new spotlights to bring to you, with poetry and classics featuring more prominently. I’ve also realised I need to tell you all a little bit about me and I must get used to seeing to showing you my face a little bit. Finally I’m hoping to update the website with new photos and a better layout so I’m easier to find. So to kick off this new year, here are my first books of the month for January.

House of Fortune by Jessie Burton

To say I’m a fan of Jessie Burton is an understatement. I am in awe of her writing abilities and love every one of her books, but there’s a soft spot in my heart for her debut novel The Miniaturist. I was transported straight back to 16th Century Amsterdam and whenever I think about the town house where Nella goes to live with her new husband Johannes and his sister Marin, I have an almost synaesthesic response because I can smell it. It’s a mixture of wood panelling and beeswax. Considering how attached I am to this extraordinary tale, there was a certain amount of trepidation in reading her follow up House of Fortune. I’d saved it for the end of the year and it came to me in two special editions, one with spredges in a green pattern and one with a yellow pineapple print. It’s been eighteen years since the events of the first book and Thea’s birthday approaches. As her father Otto is let go by his employer the household is in decline, almost down to the last treasures it can sell to stay afloat. Maybe their only hope for the future is Thea and the family are forced to launch her on Amsterdam society with the hope of finding her a husband with the fortune to keep them afloat. Otto wants Thea to have a choice and with new friend Caspar he has planned to farm Thea’s childhood home, Assendelft, by growing a crop of pineapples. However, Thea has her own plans and when small packages start appearing on the doorstep it’s clear a period of change is on the way. Could this be the miniaturist, up to her old tricks?

I was sucked straight back into Nella’s world as mistress of this extraordinary house. I loved that Burton took us to Nella’s childhood, with the walls of Assendelft full of memories, good and bad. Over the eighteen years since Johannes’s death she has become a force to be reckoned with and this reminds us of how naïve and young she was at the beginning. I felt sad that she had almost written herself off, pinning all their hopes for the future on Marin’s daughter Thea and not even considering that she could be the one pursued by potential husbands. Wealthy widows can be very attractive in the marriage market and nobody knows what Johannes’s arrangements were for his wife. I felt that Nella didn’t want marriage though, having been free for eighteen years it would certainly be hard to adjust to the more conventional woman’s role a husband might expect. I also really enjoyed being taken into the world of the theatre, where Thea is transfixed by the stories being told on stage. Her fear that someone has seen her hanging around backstage, especially since spending time with scene painter Walter, really came across strongly. I felt for her and I wanted Thea to remember what it felt like to be a teenager without her whole family’s fortunes weighing heavy on her shoulders. I was compelled to keep reading, completely caught up in the world of this strange family of outsiders, but also wondering if this time the miniaturist would be unmasked and her purpose revealed. I throughly enjoyed being back in Nella’s world and it renewed my desire to go to Amsterdam to see the original cabinet house that fired up Jessie’s imagination.

We All Want Impossible Things by

This book was a joy. That’s going to seem odd when I explain what it’s about, but it is joyful and full of life. Even though at it’s centre there’s a death. Ash and Edi have been friends forever, since childhood in fact. They’ve gone through adolescence together: survived school; other girls; discovering boys and even that awkward phase of starting adult life, when one went to college and the other stayed behind. They’ve both married and been each other’s maids of honour and become mothers. Instead of any of these things pulling them apart they’ve remained platonic partners in life. However, now Edi is unwell and decisions need to be made. After years of struggle with being, treatment, remission and recurrence, Edi now has to decide how she’ll be dying. With all the hospices locally being full, Ash makes an offer – if Edi comes to a hospice near Ash, she can devote time to being with her and Edi’s husband can get on with every day life for her son Dash. There’s a hospice near Ash that’s like a home from home, with everything that’s needed medically, but the informality and personal touch of a family. Now Ash and Edi have to negotiate that strange contradiction; learning how to live, while dying.

Ash’s home and family life is so enviable I wanted to be part of it. Her estranged husband Honey is an incredible chef and her daughter seems to have picked up the talent. The author’s descriptions of their meals really did make the mouth water and are their way of contributing and supporting Ash. All of these people are so nurturing, in Honey’s case this is despite he and Ash being separated. Before you think this sounds schmaltzy and sentimental I can assure you that these characters are not perfect. Each has their flaws and their ways of coping, some of which are destructive and possibly difficult for others to understand. Ash particularly has a novel approach to grief, but I understood it. If we look beneath the surface, it’s a way of forging connection with others on the same journey and expressing their love for Edi. It’s also a distraction, a way of leaving all the paraphernalia of death behind and affirming life. That doesn’t mean her behaviour isn’t confusing, especially to her teenage daughter who supplies whip smart commentary, eye rolls and remarkable wisdom. The men in this friendship group seem to understand that their grief is secondary, because Edi is the love of Ash’s life. I enjoyed the little addition of Edi’s other friend – the college friend – who Ash has concerns about. Does Edi like her more than Ash? Do they have a special bond? The author provides us with this loving picture but then undermines it slightly, so it isn’t perfect. We are imperfect beings and no one knows how they will react in a time like this, until we’re there. Catherine Newman shows this with realism, charm, humour and buckets of compassion.

The Curious Case of The Alperton Angels by Janice Hallett.

I was enthralled, addicted and so desperate to find out what actually did happen on the night when the police found a strange cult massacre in a deserted warehouse. Open the safe deposit box. Inside you will find research material for a true crime book. You must read the documents, then make a decision. Will you destroy them? Or will you take them to the police? Everyone knows the sad story of the Alperton Angels: the cult who brainwashed a teenage girl and convinced her that her newborn baby was the anti-Christ. Believing they had a divine mission to kill the infant, they were only stopped when the girl came to her senses and called the police. The Angels committed suicide rather than stand trial, while mother and baby disappeared into the care system. Nearly two decades later, true-crime author Amanda Bailey is writing a book on the Angels. The Alperton baby has turned eighteen and can finally be interviewed; if Amanda can find them, it will be the true-crime scoop of the year, and will save her flagging career. But rival author Oliver Menzies is just as smart, better connected, and is also on the baby’s trail. As Amanda and Oliver are forced to collaborate, they realise that what everyone thinks they know about the Angels is wrong. The truth is something much darker and stranger than they’d ever imagined. And the story of the Alperton Angels is far from over.. After all, the devil is in the detail…

It was hard to review when I didn’t want to let slip any signal or clue, so I won’t comment on the storyline. It’s drip fed to you in the different communications and I loved how we were presented with other people’s opinions and thoughts on the discoveries being made. Who to trust and who to ignore wasn’t always clear and the red herrings, including the involvement of the Royal Family, were incredible. I felt that true crime author Amanda had an agenda, that possibly had nothing to do with the story at hand and was more about a personal grudge. Janice Hallet’s research is impeccable and here she has to cover the early 1990’s and 2003, as well as the workings of the police, special forces and the social services – some of which is less than flattering and even corrupt. I found delving into the True Crime genre fascinating considering how popular it is these days, something I’m personally very conflicted about. This has all the aspects of a sensational True Crime investigation with a more nuanced perspective from other characters to balance things out. I was gripped to the end and the end didn’t disappoint.

River Sing Me Home by Eleanor Shearer.

This incredible debut novel grabbed hold of my mind and heart, never letting go until the final paragraph. I shed tears at several points in Rachel’s journey and she’s a character I won’t forget. We meet her working on a plantation in Barbados, at that strange point after slavery when plantations were instructed to free slaves, but their sense of freedom was short-lived as masters were able to keep slaves for a further six years as apprentices. So, despite being freed the day afterwards started just the same, at the crack of dawn and walking to the cane fields for a day of back breaking work. Having nothing meant that most had no other choice. Rachel is thinking of her children, several lost before they had a chance to live but others scattered to the four winds. Her boys Micah and Thomas Augustus and her girls Cherry Jane, Mary Grace and Mercy all taken from her in different ways. Only Cherry Jane spends a few years nearby as a house slave, but in her superior position she doesn’t acknowledge Rachel who is merely a field hand. One day she decides that she must find her children, she mustknow where they are and what happened to them, even if the news is that devastating final loss. Rachel says that as a slave she plants cane but nothing of her own. However her children came about, Rachel feels that they anchor her in this world and she can’t rest until she finds them. So she runs and with our hearts pounding we follow her.

Shearer uses incredibly evocative detail to bring nature to life in this book and underscore Rachel’s sense of freedom. A river takes them deep into the forest and a community of freed slaves and indigenous tribespeople where one of her sons may be. It also sweeps them along, back to freedom after searching Grenadian plantation for daughter Mary Grace. The whole journey is littered with joys and terrible grief, but Rachel knows she must keep going. She meets others who have started to build a new life, placing the past firmly behind them and never pining for it. They live firmly in the here and now with questions left unanswered and people left behind. For Rachel that isn’t enough. Her children are like the scattered pieces of a broken vase. She doesn’t expect her family to be perfect and knows that there will be cracks and missing pieces. Rachel is putting her broken vase back together and she will pour a substance into the cracks, bringing the pieces together until her past is whole again. The binding substance used in Japanese Kintsugi pottery is usually gold, each crack making the piece more valuable and beautiful. In Rachel’s case the binding substance is love. Love for those here, those found but far away and those gone forever. An all encompassing love symbolised by the bond between a mother and her children.

Amazing Grace Adams by Fran Littlewood.

It’s possibly way too early to start picking candidates for favourite books of 2023 – I’m still deliberating over 2022 – but I think this book is certainly going to be in contention. Grace is one of those characters that you fantasise about having cocktails with and you already know you’d have the best time. Grace is stuck in traffic, it’s a boiling hot day and she’s melting. All she wants to do is get to the bakery and pick up the cake for her daughter’s birthday. This is one hell of a birthday cake, not only is it a Love Island cake; it has to say that Grace cares, that she’s sorry, that will show Lotte she loves her and hasn’t given up on their relationship. It’s shaping up to be the day from hell and as Grace sits in a tin can on boiling hot tarmac, something snaps. She decides to get out of the car and walk, leaving her vehicle stranded and pissing off everyone now blocked by a car parked in the middle of a busy road. So, despite the fact her trainers aren’t broken in, she sets off walking towards the bakery and a reunion with Lotte. There are just a few obstacles in the way, but Grace can see the cake and Lotte’s face when she opens the box. As she walks she recounts everything that has happened to bring her to where she is now.

When we first meet Grace she’s living alone, estranged from husband Ben and even from her teenage daughter Lotte. She’s peri-menopausal, wearing trainers her daughter thinks she shouldn’t be wearing at her age and she’s had enough. There’s that sense of the Michael Douglas film Falling Down except when the meltdown comes all she has is a water pistol filled with river water, an embarrassingly tiny Love Island cake and a blister on her heel. Then in flashbacks we can follow Grace all the way back to the start, to when she and Ben met at a competition for polyglots. The truth when it comes is devastating, but feels weirdly like something you’ve known all along. Those interspersed chapters from happier times are a countdown to this moment, a before and after that runs like a fault line through everything that’s happened since. As Grace closes in on Lotte’s party, sweaty, dirty and brandishing her tiny squashed cake, it doesn’t seem enough to overturn everything that’s happened, but of course it isn’t about the cake. This is about everything Grace has done to be here, including the illegal bits. In a day that’s highlighted to Grace how much she has changed what will happen to her relationship to the people she loves most?

All of these books are out now and you can potter along to your local book shop for them. Happy Reading! ❤️📚

Posted in Netgalley

The Only Suspect by Louise Candlish

Alex lives in one of a row of cottages, once intended for workmen, now homes for middle class Londoners looking for more space in the suburbs. He lives with wife Beth and their dog Olive, enjoying quite a settled and peaceful existence. Even Alex’s job as an auditor has a certain amount of quiet respectability about it – some might even say boring respectability. However, when Beth’s pregnant friend Zara ends up without a roof over her head, she becomes a catalyst for change in the house and in Alex and Beth’s marriage. She becomes a third party in the relationship, staying much longer than expected and even worse, she and Alex don’t get on. They start to butt heads over his indifference to Beth’s interests, such as trying to get the pathway opposite them opened up and turned into a community nature trail. As Zara and Alex continue to clash, Beth notices things – for example his indifference to Zara’s pregnancy, especially considering they’ve been told they can’t have children – and this starts to bother her. He has no social media presence, won’t have his photo taken and is very threatened by Zara’s questions about his past. When he explodes, after Beth buys him an Ancestry DNA kit for his birthday she seriously starts to wonder. What is her husband so scared about?

The author sets this uneasy dynamic in the present day, but interweaves it with another timeline, around twenty years in the past. A young man called Richard narrates his own love story with a temp girl he meets in the foyer of their offices. She has just started to eat lunch in the foyer because there’s a new frozen yoghurt machine. After a few lunchtimes chatting in the building, they start meeting for lunch, either sitting outside or taking strolls into St. James’s Park. As they get to know each other, Richard is starting to fall for Marina, but their time together is so rationed. He can never take her out after work, she goes straight home. She can never stay the night, except for Thursdays, but even then she arrives later in the evening and disappears early next morning. They never go to Marina’s flat. In fact he’s surprised when she agrees to come to his birthday party, organised by new flatmate Rollo. Rollo is sure he knows what’s going on and can’t believe Richard is so naïve- Marina is hiding something, or perhaps someone.

Louise Candlish really is clever when it comes to twists and turns and this novel has a couple of whoppers. Some I didn’t see coming at all, both in the past and the present. There are a couple of red herrings too, just to make the story more interesting and send the reader down a few blind alleys. The characters are nuanced and full of faults, making it harder to work out which ones have the normal human flaws and which are just downright evil. I found Beth’s friend Zara so annoying, she’s inquisitive and inserts herself into private conversations and really does seem to have a bee in her bonnet about Alex. She’s manipulative too, using Beth’s grief at being unable to have a child to get comfortable in their home. It felt like she had no intention of leaving, involving Beth more and more in the pregnancy and actively baiting Alex in front of his wife. It could be that she just thinks Alex treats her friend badly, but it could be that she wants Beth and the house to herself. In our past section I felt some sympathy with Richard because he was just so trusting and is let down badly. As the events in the past start to escalate the book becomes so tense. I was addicted, reading the last half in one long session. Alex is as tense as we are and his desperation to stay in the background of Beth’s community venture starts to look very suspicious. Beth is angry because he’s being unsupportive, but it’s possibly much more than that. I could see that he was experiencing real fear, but what does he think will be discovered and what is the link to the nature trail? It’s a labyrinthine plot but I didn’t miss a thing, totally focused on the outcome of this mystery. Candlish has an incredible knack for creating these middle class communities that look the height of respectability from the outside and turn out to be anything but. Thankfully, I didn’t get attached to any of the characters so I could take a twisted sense of pleasure in watching this particular house of cards come tumbling down. This book is addictive, intense and as always, an absolute treat.

Published 2nd February 2023 by Simon and Schuster UK

Meet The Author

Louise Candlish is the Sunday Times bestselling author of fourteen novels. Our House, a #1 bestseller, won the Crime & Thriller Book of the Year at the 2019 British Book Awards, was longlisted for the 2019 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, and was shortlisted for the Goldsboro Books Glass Bell Award. It is soon to be a major ITV drama made by Death in Paradise producers Red Planet Pictures. Louise lives in London with her husband and daughter. Visit her at LouiseCandlish.com or connect with her on Twitter @Louise_Candlish.

Posted in Personal Purchase

The House of Fortune by Jessie Burton

I have to admit to being a HUGE Jessie Burton fan. I picked up The Miniaturist in our tiny bookstore just on the strength of the cover and I wasn’t disappointed. It followed the story of Nella, who has just become married to wealthy Amsterdam merchant Johannes Brandt and has been uprooted from the country to a large home in the city. As a wedding present, Johannes has commissioned a cabinet house based on his incredible home. This is a home of secrets, from Johannes to his rigid sister Marin and even the servants, all have their hidden lives. It’s when Nella commissions pieces from an unseen miniaturist that clues start to emerge. What is the miniaturist trying to tell her and will she see it before it’s too late? I met Jessie at a book event in Lincoln where she read from the book and took questions from the audience. She told us that Nella’s cabinet house was based on an example in the Rijksmusem in Amsterdam, something I’d love to go and look at one day. Someone asked about the mystery at the centre of her debut novel; we never see more than a glimpse of the miniaturist, we don’t know what she wants from Nella or why she sends the tiny figures. Burton said she didn’t want to pin it down or have a big reveal, so there was a suggestion from the audience that she was leaving it open for a sequel. When I found out about House of Fortune, I was excited but also scared. What if it didn’t match up to the debut that I loved?

As soon as I started to read I was right back there in Amsterdam. Jessie is a master at creating atmosphere and her opening is so evocative. The house feels almost claustrophobic and I could imagine the smell of polish and Cordelia’s cooking wafting from the kitchen. This is still a secretive house, where the previous generation’s actions are impacting on the next. We are eighteen years on from the terrible events of Nella’s first year of marriage – Johannes’s horrifying death at the hands of the state and the revelation of his sister Marin’s affair with Otto, their black servant. Her pregnancy was concealed for months under severe layers of black clothing and resulted in the birth of daughter Thea and Marin’s death. Thea is now 18 and Nella is trying to weigh up whether her darker skin might count against her in the marriage market, or whether the Brandt name keeps her just on the side of respectability? She certainly receives her share of gossip and sideways glances, but as they rarely socialise it’s never mattered before. However, things are changing in the Brandt household and Thea may be the only way the family survives. Things are moving behind the scenes, in the same way the scenery moves in the plays Thea loves at the theatre, but who is doing the moving and arranging? Both Nella and Thea have sensed a little frisson, a sense of being watched, followed by the hairs standing up on the back of their necks. When brown paper parcels start to appear on the townhouse steps Cordelia wonders if the miniaturist is back and what is her purpose?

Even now, this strange mysterious figure remains in the shadows, a flash of blonde hair under a hood is all we get and that could be anyone. There are two sets of figures in play here- the ones made for Nella 18 years ago that have been hidden away in a trunk full of Marin’s things in the attic. Then there are new ones, the first being a carving of Walter who is the scenery painter at the theatre Thea frequents every week. He’s completely anatomically correct, possibly because the maker is alluding to how Thea feels about him. Could this perfectly rendered man be an allusion to Thea having knowledge of a man she shouldn’t have? Is her carving a commentary on something that’s already happened or a course of action that could still be avoided? The second gift is a house, a tiny mansion edged in gold that Thea has never seen before, followed by a perfect pineapple. Thea really isn’t aware that their relatively respectable life in the city’s greatest townhouse is built on a house of cards. This unusual family are at a crossroads, no longer able to sustain themselves. They are down to their last painting, Otto has lost his job and there are three mouths to feed plus an historic house to maintain. Nella can see only one option – they must accept some of the social invitations that comes their way and use them to find Thea a rich husband. Otto is less enamoured of Nella’s plan for his daughter. He would like her to have the freedom of love. He has a different plan, involving a botanist called Caspar and Nella’s derelict country home of Assendelft. What neither of them know is that Thea is conducting a private life of her own, one that come crashing down on all of their plans.

I loved that Burton took us to Nella’s childhood, with the walls of Assendelft full of memories, good and bad. Over the eighteen years since Johannes’s death she has become a force to be reckoned with and this reminds us of how naïve and young she was at the beginning. I felt sad that she had almost written herself off, pinning all their hopes for the future on Thea and not even considering that she could be the one pursued by potential husbands. Wealthy widows can be very attractive in the marriage market and nobody knows what Johannes’s arrangements were for his wife. I felt that Nella didn’t want marriage, having been free for eighteen years it would certainly be hard to adjust to a more conventional woman’s role. I also really enjoyed being taken into the world of the theatre, where Thea is transfixed by the stories being told on stage. Her fear that someone has seen her hanging around backstage, especially since spending time with Walter really came across strongly. I felt for her and I wanted Thea to remember what it felt like to be a teenager with her whole family’s fortunes weighing heavy on her shoulders. Otto was a benevolent father, but had no others ideas as to how they could survive without selling the Brandt house. I was compelled to keep reading, completely caught up in the world of this strange family of outsiders, but also wondering if this time the miniaturist would be unmasked and her purpose revealed. I throughly enjoyed being back in Nella’s world and it renewed my desire to go to Amsterdam to see the original cabinet house that fired up Jessie’s imagination.

Meet the Author

Jessie Burton is the author of the Sunday Times bestselling novels The Miniaturist, The Muse, and The Confession, and of the children’s book The Restless Girls. Her novels have been translated into 38 languages, and she is a regular essay writer for newspapers and magazines.

Posted in Netgalley, Publisher Proof

The Dazzle of the Light by Georgina Clarke

Just a couple of weeks ago I was waxing lyrical about Kate Atkinson’s novel Shrines of Gaiety and then another novel passes my way covering the same territory and the same time period. While I loved Atkinson’s novel on it’s own merits, this one feels more urgent and alive. I felt immediately in the story and fascinated by the two main female characters. Ruby is one of a female gang known as the Forty Thieves (the Forties) who commit crimes from pick-pocketing for the young members to shoplifting and even jewellery theft for those more experienced members. Ruby has been one of the Forties for years and due to her looks doesn’t always attract suspicion in the fancier stores. In fact, she’s on a joint job with her lover Billy from the Elephant Boys, when she first runs into Harriet Littlemore. Harriet is the real deal, a young woman from a very good family, engaged to an up and coming member of parliament. Harriet has ambitions beyond being an MP’s wife, she wants to be a journalist and her father permitted her to ask for a job with the evening paper. She’s been hired to write pieces for the woman at home, such as ways to wear the new style of hat, but Harriet has ambitions for so much more, thinking she might write a piece about the young thief she’s seen. However, her fascination with Ruby seems to be much more than journalistic interest.

The story follows these two women as they each pursue their ambitions. Ruby wants to do more work with the Elephant Boys. She wants to take on bigger jobs and wear beautiful clothes and jewellery. When she meets Harriet again, on a shoplifting run in a department store, she cheekily suggests she should update her style. Perhaps she should cut her hair in the new shingled way that’s the height of fashion, Ruby tells her, then she could wear the new style of hat she’s considering. Like a woman in a trance, Harriet goes to a French hairdresser and has her long hair cut short. She’s amazed by how much it suits her and hopes to see Ruby with her new fashionable look, even if it does cause a stir at home, particularly with her traditional mother. She’s furious when the story about the jewellery heist she witnessed is written by one of the male reporters at the paper. So she decides to write a piece on Ruby, the Jewel of the Borough, and gets one of the artists to draw a sketch from her description. In a way, Harriet admires Ruby. She sees Ruby’s freedom, her nerve and confidence, and contrasts it with her own restrictions. She has no idea what her article will truly mean for Ruby. We see what Harriet can’t, because we’ve met the rest of the Forties and Ruby’s other mentor Solly, who runs a jewellery business. The women of the Forties are in a hierarchy, with Annie ? At the top. Many have been thieving since they were children, looked after by the Forties in return for their tiny hands making their way into pockets. The ones that are married are struggling to feed their kids and to avoid their husband’s fists. Most have done time in Holloway and without the Forties, they and their families would be cold and hungry. From Ruby’s perspective, money is freedom and Harriet certainly has plenty of that.

I loved the way the author showed, that despite their differences in class and means, Ruby and Harriet are still second class citizens due to their gender. Although Ruby has earned some equality thanks to her sleight of hand and is chosen by leader Annie, to do jobs with the Elephant Boys, her personal life is very different. Solly is a father figure to her and always keeps a room for above the jewellers, but when it comes to her lover Billy she has no real power. She has confidence in her allure, but when she’s forced to lie low for a while Billy soon moves on to the next warm body. She often has to give up her body to seal a deal, whether it’s a little extra for the man who fences the more risky pieces of jewellery she’s stolen or romancing someone to get information out of them for Peter who runs the nightclub. This work gives her a rather glamorous roof over her head when she really needs it, but she definitely earns her money. Peter has a big job coming up with the Elephants, something that involves men of money and influence. Ruby has no clue how respectable these men are, or their standing in society. It seems to her that all men will use women, no matter how respectable they may seem. Harriet is completely powerless when it comes to the men in her life. She has a life set up for her as Ralph’s wife and her parents can’t understand why she isn’t satisfied with her lot. She has money, beautiful clothes and a handsome fiancé who is going to be a man of great influence. They can’t understand that she wants something for herself, something she has earned on her own merits. I couldn’t put the book down because I wanted both of these women to break out of the prison they are in, choose a different life and perhaps become close. I didn’t want the system to win.

The setting for this fascinating story is beautifully built by the author. We’re post-WW1, a period of huge shifts in the class system and changes for both men and women. The author shows how the class system and expectations of women have changed through Harriet’s relationship with her parents. They still have pre-war attitudes and are expecting Harriet to fall in line. Even the changes she makes to her appearance show that shift from the restrictions of Edwardian dress and the relative freedom of the 1920’s fashions with shorter skirts, no restrictive undergarments and shorter hair. These fashions suit women who are busier and don’t have hours to dress in the morning. Financial changes mean only the very wealthy can afford the help of a ladies maid every morning. Ruby can wear the latest fashions to please herself, when she can afford them. She loves the glamour of the clothes she wears to the club, where she needs to attract the more discerning gentleman.

For the men, those who were in the trenches found them democratising. Bullets and shells don’t care about the class you’re from and although there was still a hierarchy, they died in the mud together. This led to some strange allegiances back in the post-war world. It’s clear to Ruby that there’s a big job on the cards, Billy has hinted as much and her time at the club throws her close to the planning. There are men involved who would never normally give the Elephant Boys the time of day, so they must need them to do the dirty work. These are men from the highest class, who usually drink at their club or the Savoy, but don’t mind slumming it at the club if it makes them money or the company of a woman like Ruby. I desperately wanted some of them to get their come uppance, knowing that’s not always the way of the world. The real winners though are those that can move between worlds, like Peter Lazenby. Though the polish and charm of all these men hides something more brutal. Despite her misdemeanours I was as charmed by Ruby as Harriet was and I wanted her to find a middle ground where she survives comfortably. As for Harriet I wanted her to break out of her parent’s upper class restrictions. I wanted her to have a love affair with someone unsuitable and a friendship with Ruby, if not a full on passionate affair. This was a fantastic book, full of characters, historical detail and that verve and energy that seems synonymous with 1920.

Published by Verve Books 17th November 2023

Meet The Author

Georgina Clarke has always been passionate about stories and history. The Lizzie Hardwicke novels give her the opportunity to bring to life her love of the eighteenth century and her determination that a strong, intelligent and unconventional woman should get to solve the crimes – rather than be cast in the role of the side-kick. Georgina was born in Wolverhampton, has degrees from Oxford, Cambridge and London, but now lives in Worcester with her husband and son and two lively cats.

Her first two novels, Death and the Harlot and The Corpse Played Dead, are published by Canelo. She is currently cooking up plots for the next novels in the series. 

If you would like to visit her website, you can find her at: 

http://www.georginaclarkeauthor.com

She is also to be found tweeting (probably far too often than is good for her) at: 

@clarkegeorgina1

Posted in Netgalley

The Creeper by A.M. Shine

I was terrified by A.M. Shine’s first horror novel The Watchers last year and I have been looking forward to his new novel The Creeper. It has such an interesting premise. Academic 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 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. 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?

As the pair start to interview villagers, they get the sense they’re being fed stock answers. There is something very wrong here, but no one is willing to talk about it, except for one little girl who repeats a piece of folklore:

Three times you see him. Each night he comes closer…

As darkness starts to fall and the villagers start itching to close themselves away for the night, Ben and Chloe realise they will not be able to get back to the car before nightfall. So they set up camp in the driest grass field they can find. As they organise themselves and darkness falls, Ben gets the sense they are not alone. Towards the back of the field, there’s a shape in the darkness. Could it be a person or something worse? This is The Creeper, kept alive by the villager’s superstitions and stories, he is the nameless fear in the night and tomorrow night, he’ll be even closer.

A.M. Shine is a horror genius. His clash of old Irish folklore and modern life is irresistible. I had only read Ben and Chloe’s first day at the village when I had a nightmare! I’m very suggestible. He’s brilliant at creating a sense of foreboding in the reader and here it’s heightened by never fully describing The Creeper till part way through the book. The author knows that our own imaginations are adequate enough to scare us and there’s nothing worse than not knowing or fully seeing the thing you fear. On the first night it’s so far away, covered in raggedy clothing, that we never see it’s face. The villager’s deformed appearances also feed the imagination, leaving the suggestion that the Creeper may be even more disfigured. The doctor’s preparations are also ominous, suggesting that the Creeper isn’t just restricted to the village, but can appear anywhere. We can explain away a superstition held by an isolated settlement, who still live like it’s the Dark Ages! However, if a respected academic who lives in the ‘normal’ world is scared, then we should be too. The author also drops little clues that are easy to dismiss at first, such as the unearthly cry Ben hears as they approach the village. Is it just a child crying out or something much much worse?

The whole atmosphere of this novel is dark, damp and dreary. The waterlogged fields that surround the village create mist. So it feels like everything is obscured and shrouded in mystery. The weather is constantly damp and miserable, so Ben and Chloe’s quest feels grounded and based in reality. Their discomfort as they set up camp for the night is something I remember well from my camping days, that awful feeling that you’ll never be dry again. The contrast between what is familiar and what is very, very wrong, adds to the horror of the situation. The author leaves us suspicious about everyone; I doubted the doctor’s motives in giving the academics this mission and I doubted the villagers too. I found them furtive and secretive, I wondered what they were withholding and whether they were really as downtrodden as they seemed to be. There was the hint that previous academics had come this way and if they had, where were they and where was their research? By the time something terrifying happened my nerves were as taught as bow strings. The final confrontations and the horrifying conclusion were both expected and at the same time shocking. I kept thinking about the author and asking myself ‘he’s not really going to do this is he?’ He really did. I won’t be divulging any of the final chapters, but it really was heart-stopping. This book cemented the feeling I had after reading his first novel The Watchers, Shine has become one of the best horror writers around.

Published by Head of Zeus 15th September 2022

Meet The Author

A. M. Shine is an author of Literary Horror from the west of Ireland. It was there that at a young age he discovered a passion for classic horror stories, and where he received his Masters in history, before ultimately sharpening his quill to pursue a life devoted to all things literary and macabre. His writing is inspired by the trinity of horror, history, and superstition, and he has tormented, toyed with, and tortured more characters than he will ever confess to.

Owing to a fascination with the works of Edgar Allan Poe and his ilk, A. M. Shine’s earlier writings were Gothic in their style and imagination. When his focus turned to novels he refined his craft as an author of Irish horror – stories influenced by his country’s culture, landscape, and language, but which draw their dark atmosphere and eloquence from the Gothic canon of his past.

Posted in Paranormal Reads

Halloween Reads! Books That Gave Me Nightmares.

When thinking about reads for Halloween I started thinking about books that genuinely scared me. The ones I couldn’t stop thinking about and made me look over my shoulder as I popped to the loo in the middle of the night. I blame the Brontë’s for my love of the gothic, from the terrible creature who visits Jane Eyre’s room in the night and tears her wedding veil, to the icy cold hand of a child that reaches into Mr Lockwood’s bedroom window in Wuthering Heights. I even studied gothic literature at university, that’s how much I love the genre. What scares us doesn’t always mean the traditional ghosts, vampires and witches we’re used to. It can be a really tense thriller, a mystery or even novels that defy genre. Here are a few books that genuinely gave me the creeps!

A.M.Shine was a completely new writer to me when I picked up this novel, so I had no expectations. Since reading this I’ve been so creeped out by his second novel, The Creeper, I had to stop reading it! The Watchers was an incredible read and such an unnatural situation for the characters to be in. Lost in a deep forest in rural Ireland, Mina feels unnerved, when 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, when suddenly she sees a woman beckoning her and urging her to hurry. Mina decides it’s better than staying out here to be found by whatever made that terrible noise. As the door slams shut behind them, the screams grow in intensity and volume, almost as if they were right on her heels. They’re in a concrete bunker and as Mina’s 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. A younger man and woman are huddled together, 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? I have to say that just when I thought my nerves were calm, this author found a way to leave me with a creeping sense of dread.

The Beresford is my favourite Will Carver novel, because it really does get under your skin without a single ghost in sight!

Abe Schwartz lives in a one-bed furnished flat. An apartment building called The Beresford. The bell rings and he’s the one opening the front door to a stranger. Before that, he’s dragging a dead body into his room, mopping up blood and asking himself, What the hell just happened?

The Beresford is an apartment building with a difference. It has a certain atmosphere and it’s not long before you dread the door bell ringing. Mrs May is the landlady, an incredibly sweet old lady who has a daily routine from her eggs and cold coffee first thing, to her rose pruning every afternoon. As anyone who has watched The Ladykillers knows, little old ladies should not be underestimated. Does she know more about what’s going on in her building than we think? Even worse, this is only one side of the building, and what’s going on next door is even more unsettling. I’ve been waiting for Carver to elaborate on the other side of the Beresford and I’m told I will only have to wait till next summer. I know one thing for sure – I’m definitely going to be reading it in the daylight.

This is the copy of William Blatty’s book that I would sneak off the bookshelves when my parents went out. I would read as much as possible, then as soon as I heard the gravel crunching on the drive, I’d pop it back and wonder how I was going to sleep that night. When I was about 13, this book had the combination of being both terrifying and taboo – a teenage bibliophile’s holy grail. My parents had joined an evangelical church and became very restrictive in my teens, so the fact this book was even on our shelves felt transgressive. The book works because of atmosphere and tension the author creates. This is a child, so that innocence contrasts sharply with the creature Regan becomes. At first her mother Chris thinks Regan is ill. While Chris has been shooting a movie in Georgetown, there has been poltergeist activity in their rented house, but as time goes on Regan has been refusing to eat, unable to sleep and aggressive in her behaviour. Could it be psychological? The deterioration in Regan is horrific and the sense of horror that starts to come over Chris as she prepares to enter her daughter’s room can be felt. The icy cold, the smell and the violent expletives really hit home and when even a priest is struggling to contain the evil inside the girl, it’s power is still terrifying over fifty years later.

When people ask me if I believe in ghosts I always say no, not in the traditional sense of apparitions, but I do believe in energy and how a building’s past can be felt within it’s walls. Events leave an imprint behind, the emotional equivalent of muscle memory, and perhaps sensitive people can tap into those emotions. That’s the feel of this novel from Diane Setterfield and for me it conjures up dark winter afternoons and the warm fireside but outside of that cozy circle there may be something lurking and waiting to surprise you with it’s presence. Angelfield House stands abandoned and forgotten, but is full of atmosphere. It was once home to the March family: fascinating, manipulative Isabelle; brutal, dangerous Charlie; and the wild, untamed twins, Emmeline and Adeline. But the house hides a chilling secret which strikes at the very heart of each of them, tearing their lives apart…

Now Margaret Lea is investigating Angelfield’s past, and its mysterious connection to the enigmatic writer Vida Winter. Vida’s history is mesmering – a tale of ghosts, governesses, and gothic strangeness. But as Margaret succumbs to the power of her storytelling, two parallel stories begin to unfold…What has Angelfield been hiding? What is the secret that strikes at the heart of Margaret’s own, troubled life? And can both women ever confront the ghosts that haunt them…? Prepare to read this with a sense of unease, but a need to unravel the story.

Laura Purcell’s debut was so good it made her my ‘go to’ author immediately! It taps directly into those Brontë themes of atmospheric houses with creepy nighttime visitations. It builds beautifully, from a young woman who is bereaved and pregnant to the huge ancestral home, this is one of those tales that slowly and imperceptibly creates unease in the reader. When newly married Elsie Bainbridge finds herself a widow. and pregnant she is dependent on the kindness of his family. Once she reaches her husband’s family estate, she is disappointed, because far from being awed by the house, the villagers fear it and believe the Bainbridge family are cursed. Elsie pays no mind to servants talk, but maid Sarah seems intent on scouring the creepy house. in order to learn more of her family history. Then strange sounds disturb their sleep, leading Elsie and Sarah to discover a life size wooden figure. It’s like the prop for a play, but yet it has an uncanny similarity to Elsie. They decide to move it to the Great Hall, rather than leaving it hidden in the attic. They’ve also found two notebooks which turn out to be the diaries of Anne Bainbridge beginning in 1635.

Anne has written about her hope to charm King Charles I and his Queen on a forthcoming visit and support her husband, Josiah who wants to make connections. The royal couple’s daughter Henrietta Maria was supposedly conceived using white magic. Anne writes about a shop of curiosities and the Dutch heritage of the ‘silent companions’ she purchased ahead of their visit, subsequently discovered in the attic by Sarah. The figures slowly started to resemble their real life counterparts. Elsie starts to fear she is losing her mind as more figures appear and the mystifying question of what’s going starts to consumer her. This is such an original idea and much like Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist, anything that starts to magically resemble it’s owner is downright creepy! I love Purcell’s ability to create an eerie atmosphere and a very uneasy reader.

Melmoth the Witness is a figure from mythology, or is she? Known as one of the woman who witnessed the tomb on the morning that Christ resurrected, she is now an eternal traveller. Wandering the centuries she lures people into following her, whereupon they too become damned to an eternity of itinerant, solitary wandering. Set in the beautifully, atmospheric city of Prague we meet a woman called Helen and her friend Karel on the street. Agitated and enthralled, he tells her he has come into possession of a mysterious old manuscript, filled with personal testimonies taken from 17th-century England to wartime Czechoslovakia, the tropical streets of Manila, and 1920s Turkey. All of them tell of being followed by a tall, silent woman in black, bearing an unforgettable message. Helen reads its contents with intrigue and some scepticism, but everything in her life is about to change. We follow Helen’s story, but within it are all the other stories and lives, creating a Russian doll style tale, but where each incarnation has the same sense of menace and impending doom.

I think what scared me would have scared any ‘listener’. It’s the toll witnessing takes on a person. This book takes in the breadth of the horrors experienced in Prague throughout the 20th Century. It made me imagine being present to witness the trenches of WW1, the Holocaust, and so many other atrocities and personal tragedies. I’ve worked in mental health for twenty years and I’m taking a break at the moment to study. I know the emotional toll that listening to people’s stories can take on the listener or observer. For Melmoth, this would be so much worse because she has to sit back and witness all of humanity’s horrors. Even worse, she has no power to change anything, but is doomed merely to witness. No wonder she wants other souls to witness with her, she must feel the weight of the horrors yet to come. By the end of this novel so did I.

Posted in Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday! The Lost Ones by Anita Frank

I’m always a real sucker for historical, gothic novels with strong female characters and this is up there with the best. The Lost Ones centres on Miss Stella Marcham and her new lady’s maid Annie Burrows. Stella is still in mourning for her fiancé Gerald who she lost in World War One. She keeps the locket he gave her close to her chest still. When she is invited to stay with her pregnant sister Madeline at her in-laws family home, Greyswick, she looks forward to a change of scenery. She sets out with Annie, who is a new addition to the household staff. Stella is unsure of Annie, but her family’s loyalty to the Burrows is long held and she resolves to get to know the unusual young woman.

Greyswick is a country estate, with formal gardens and ostentatious decor. Madeline is married to the heir of Greyswick, Hector Brightwood, who is away on business in London. At home are his mother Lady Brightwood and her companion Miss Scott, plus their staff, housekeeper Mrs Henge and ‘Cook’ whose name no one uses. However, Stella soon learns that they are not the only residents of her sister’s new home. Madeline confides that she can hear crying in the night and soon Stella finds a toy soldier in her bed. It’s not long before Stella is woken by the crying and follows the sound up the nursery stairs. On the stairs is a vivid portrait of a little boy with a hoop and in the background Stella sees a pile of toy soldiers. The portrait is of Lucien Brightwell, the original heir from Lord Brightwood’s first marriage, who died in a fall down the nursery stairs. This is only one of many secrets being kept by the Brightwood family and Stella senses a mystery to be solved. The creaks, bumps and cries in the night are her only clues.


This book sits in a long tradition and I had thought of Marian from Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White even before Anita Frank mentions the book, as a reading recommendation from one character to another. When Hector returns home, bringing with him Mr Shears, I could sense tension between that old Victorian ideal of men who are ruled by reason and the women who use emotion, instinct and intuition even more. Frank’s book is set post-WW1 and the tensions of this changeable time are apparent. Women’s roles have evolved and Stella represents this change. She expected to be a married woman by now, but has instead chalked up experience nursing wounded soldiers and like most of the country is mourning a terrible loss. She is intelligent and restless after moving back into her ‘normal’ middle class role. She has also undergone psychiatric treatment following her bereavement, complicated by the fact that her severely wounded fiancé was brought to her hospital and care. She fears being thought of as mad or hysterical, so feels a constant pressure to be measured and rational.
Other women in the novel are equally complex and class is another tension. Stella’s family are indebted to the Burrows family after Annie’s father died trying to save the younger sister, Lydia, from a house fire. Annie is acting as lady’s maid, a job beyond her experience, but is also trying to remain under the radar due to her own incredible gift that could mark her out as mad. Since the family lost their main bread winner Annie needs the job and doesn’t want to draw attention to herself, but Stella has her concerns. She has seen Annie talking to empty rooms and knows she saw something on the nursery stairs. Lady Brightwood’s companion Miss Scott lives in a very precarious position too, living with the family but being from a lower class than them. She was once a servant in the house, so how did she become so close to her mistress and does her devotion go beyond that of a companion? Also, what is her relationship with Mrs Henge and why is their contact so secretive?

Finally, the paranormal elements of the book are genuinely scary. The tension ratchets up from small events like the nighttime crying or the marble rolling across the room, both things that could possibly be explained away. Mr Shears tries to find a rational explanation for all of it and I did find myself thinking Annie’s presence was a potential cause. Then slowly, as people start to identify the poltergeist, the ante is upped and more characters experience events that seem impossible. The atmosphere is creepy and unsettling, reminiscent of Susan Hill or Laura Purcell. It also works as a female led detective story and builds to a denouement that doesn’t disappoint. Anyone who loves historical or gothic fiction will enjoy this novel. It’s a great Halloween read that sits beautifully in a genre the Victorians called sensation fiction. Perfectly pitched, beautifully written and full of interesting and complex female characters.

Meet The Author

Born in Shropshire, Anita studied English and American History at the University of East Anglia. She now lives in Berkshire with her husband and three children. Since The Lost Ones Anita has written a second novel, based during and after WW2. Her third novel The Good Liars is another work of historical fiction due out 8th June 2023.

Posted in Publisher Proof

Blue Water by Leonora Nattrass

Death came aboard with the cormorant. It arrived on the seventh day of our voyage…

This is the secret report of disgraced former Foreign Office clerk Laurence Jago, written on the mail ship Tankerville en route to Philadelphia. His mission is to aid the civil servant charged with carrying a vital treaty to Congress that will prevent the Americans from joining with the French in their war against Britain.

When the civil servant meets an unfortunate ‘accidental’ end, Laurence becomes the one person standing between Britain and disaster. It is his great chance to redeem himself at Whitehall – except that his predecessor has taken the secret of the treaty’s hiding place to his watery grave.

As the ship is searched, Laurence quickly discovers that his fellow passengers – among them fugitive French aristocrats, an American plantation owner, an Irish actress and her performing bear – all have their own motives to find the treaty for themselves. And as a second death follows the first, Laurence must turn sleuth in order to find the killer before he has an ‘accident’ of his own.

I loved that atmospheric opening. The cormorant sitting there on the bow of the ship, nonchalantly drying it’s wings in the wind and oblivious to the superstitions it’s arousing in the crew. If you ever wanted to know what it was like to take a voyage from Falmouth to Philadelphia in the 18th Century then look no further than this novel from Leonora Nattrass. It is so detailed and grabs the reader immediately, within a couple of pages the ship was as real to me as the cat sitting on my lap. Everything from the period appropriate language to the workings of the ship come together to entice you back into the 1790s. I felt like all my senses were engaged from the feel of cold sea spray to the sound of a passenger throwing up over the stern rail. The discomfort and claustrophobia of being stuck on the ship, at one point for three days near the French coast thanks to the prevailing winds, is very apparent. I loved the little details like the full ‘piss-pot’ sliding up and down the deck, the cacophony of the dog barking incessantly at the turkeys they are transporting, and the bear cub that turned out to have ‘tolerable table manners’. The author also emphasises how cramped the cabins are, with Jago almost able to reach out and touch both walls. At least its his own space though and somewhere he can relax, which he does with a drop or two of laudanum to combat the stress he’s feeling from all the subterfuge.

I hadn’t read Black Drop, the first outing with Laurence Jago, but I think this stands well alone. It’s a clever idea to take your characters and put them into a totally different situation. Laurence is a likeable fellow, a disgraced foreign office clerk, with a few downfalls in his character. Not only does he like a drop of laudanum, he’s a little bit gullible when it comes to a pretty face. He is tasked with helping a civil servant who’s carrying an important treaty to the Americans, to prevent them joining the French in their war against the British. When they come up against a French warship in the channel the treaty needs to be hidden, so when a death occurs on board not only is the treaty lost, but there might be a murderer on board. There’s such a cast of characters on board: two French aristocrats escaping the changes in the run up to the revolution; an Irish actress; a man who is possibly a freed slave; a plantation owner; and a dancing bear! Most of them have a vested interest in the treaty and all of which could be a murderer. Of course Jago can’t rule out one of the crew being involved, perhaps hiding the treaty for financial gain. As for the murder, they are investigating a locked room mystery, it’s just that this room is a cabin.

I loved how the tension built as Jago tries to find the treaty and solve the murder, especially as the stakes grow ever higher and Jago himself could become a target for the murderer. I became more attached to him as the story progressed because I felt he was a bit of an innocent, totally out of his depth and with poor judgement, such as with Lizzie. He’s perpetually confused, which isn’t surprising considering his shipmates and their antics. One of the aristocrats holds a seance, the crew mates are full of maritime stories and superstitions, including the usual giant sea creatures, plus they’re eating slop and feel exhausted. I wasn’t surprised Jago’s brain was muddled!. Aside from the subterfuge and untrustworthy passengers, there’s the constant underlying tension of being unable to get off the boat and knowing that whoever committed the murder is still there too. Once they’ve left the sight of land, these misfits are stuck together for weeks. Oh, and I forgot about the pirates. This is a fabulous adventure, a murder mystery some full on comedy here and there. I’m now looking forward to going back and reading Jago’s first adventure.

Posted in Personal Purchase

The Ink Black Heart by Robert Galbraith

I have loved the characters of Cormoran Strike and his business partner Robin Ellacott for a long time, after seeing one of Robert Galbraith’s books in a charity shop and deciding to give it a go. I’ve bought every book in the series since and Strike has become one of my literary crushes – the troubled, wounded, war hero with a rescuer complex and rugged good looks is right up my street. Then there’s Robin, the country girl from Yorkshire who has bags of Northern common sense and is also brave, intelligent and caring. Their friendship works due to respect; he respects her intelligence and investigative abilities, whereas she respects his experience and never pushes beyond his boundaries. Their ‘will they/won’t they’ romance has had me on tenterhooks. I had heard this might be their last outing, so I was expecting their relationship to be resolved in some way. I also expected the main case to grab me immediately, just as their previous investigations did. This combination that has always kept the Strike books instantly readable, no matter if they do weigh the same as a house brick. The leading character’s issues aside, the cases have always been complex and multi-layered, with enough drama to keep me on the edge of my seat as I move towards the conclusion.

This time the agency is delving into two different worlds – the art world and the world of online gaming. Edie Ledwell and Josh Blay are artists who met while training and created a cult cartoon called The Ink Black Heart, set in Highfield Cemetery and peopled by odd little characters such as a talking human heart and a pale wispy ghost. The fans of this cartoon are real super fans, with two of them creating an online game for players to create a character and complete challenges around the graveyard. There was also a facility to meet other fans and talk on private channels during the game. However, fame is never straightforward and when Edie and Josh are found in Highfield Cemetery, attacked with a knife, rumours abound. With Edie dead at the scene and Josh paralysed in hospital, Strike and Robin are tasked to find out who had a grudge against the pair. Edie particularly, was bombarded with online abuse from misogynistic trolls, but it’s a character from the online game that Robin and Strike need to unmask. Anomie is a cloaked, faceless character, j one of the moderators and possibly even the creator of the game. The question is, how do they find someone, whose presence in the real and virtual world is a mystery?

It felt to me as if Robin really stepped up in this novel and took the primary role. Strike struggles physically this time, because years of not looking after himself have started to take their toll. His stump becomes inflamed and unable to take his prosthetic leg or bear his weight. Despite this Strike continues as long as he can, until even he has to accept medical help and enforced rest. So Robin’s detective skills come to the fore, as she infiltrates the art centre and commune, as well as the online game. I really enjoyed her undercover work on this case, firstly becoming Jessica a young woman who works in marketing and finance, but always wanted to explore her artistic side. She signs up to an art class at the centre to improve her skills and meet those who rubbed shoulders with Edie and Josh. She then visits comic-con as a journalist to interview someone they believe is very active in the game – Strike’s disguise amused me greatly here. I’ve always enjoyed Robin’s inner world and here I loved how much confidence her investigative role gives her. Her personal life has given her confidence a battering, especially now that her husband and the woman he was cheating with have a baby together. She has avoided her home town for a while, knowing they’ll be parading their offspring. Robin has worked out that it was the rape she went through at university that led to her settling with ex-husband Matthew. He was there and knew what had happened, it was infinitely easier than having to share this part of her past with someone new.Her feelings for Strike became more obvious when he turned up at her wedding and she left the celebrations to speak to him, much to husband Matthew’s disgust.

Strike is her best friend and she doesn’t want to lose that, but in this story other concerns also come to the fore. She feels inexperienced and unsophisticated in comparison to other woman she has seen with Strike, such as his ex-girlfriend Charlotte and his current girl Madeleine. Robin has no idea how beautiful she is, but Strike is very aware of the effect she has on men when she enters a room. What she doesn’t know is that Strike is currently comparing her with Madeleine, and his girlfriend is not doing well by comparison. Madeleine is well-groomed and always fully made up, plus she’s part of the same sophisticated London set as Charlotte. Strike has noticed the clean smell of Robin’s just washed hair and admires her simplicity. There are no games with Robin, she is always honest and says what she feels. Yet when Strike does weaken and try to kiss her when they go for birthday drinks, she looks so surprised that he interprets it as revulsion, but I think it’s fear. They are both frustrating, but the tension has to continue. The alternative is unthinkable, because people of my vintage remember Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd in Moonlighting and the disaster it became when their characters consummated years of flirting. If Strike and Robin ever did get together, I have no doubt it would have to be the end of the series.

It was within the case that I started to have some issues with the book. This is a long novel and the case concerned a wide range of people both real and virtual. Trying to remember where each character fit in the story was one thing, but when I realised they were possibly in the game with a user name too, it became much more complicated. I found it hard to follow the clues that pointed towards who Anomie was. There were also long sections written in private channels within the game. This felt awkward, although it wasn’t so bad when just two people were chatting, it became impenetrable to me when several channels were open at once with the same characters talking to different people at the same time. Although it gave an insight into how these characters communicated and talked behind each other’s backs, it was hard to keep track. The issues of misogyny and trolling felt like they’d come from the writer’s personal life and the type of trolling she’s been experiencing lately. Studies show that women who game online are exposed to misogynistic abuse and often use male avatars to avoid this type of trolling. So it was true to the story, but often felt she was trying to make a point, especially when we started skirting around subjects like trigger warnings and cancel culture. The sections that bothered me most were those around disability, particularly invisible disabilities and chronic illness. Strike is a hero, because of the war injury he sustained. He’s in that section of ‘acceptable’ disability that includes those who’ve acquired a disability in combat or try to ‘overcome’ their disability such as a Paralympian or other disability athlete. However, there are two characters in the book who have chronic illness, most notably ME or come under scrutiny from Strike and Robin as possible suspects in the case. Inigo uses a wheelchair and has an adapted home, character wise he is shown to have little patience, yelling at his children and wanting his environment just so. There’s an inference that his disability shouldn’t rule him out as the killer, as he could be playing on his symptoms. The second ME sufferer is a young girl who Strike goes to interview, but as he arrives at the house, she has fled out of the back door. This sudden movement immediately has him wondering whether she is also putting on her symptoms. However, Strike himself uses a flash of his disability to get into the family home – who would refuse a chair to a man with a prosthetic leg?

In the same breath the author does include articles about the Ink Black cartoon being ‘ableist’, showing an awareness of how problematic representations of disability can be. She also quotes the ‘spoonies’ blog, which refers to limited units of energy as spoons and exploring the difficulty of using more spoons than you have. I have always praised Galbraith’s depictions of Strike’s disability. Yes, he’s portrayed as a hero, but he’s not invincible as this novel’s physical difficulties shows. Where representation does become problematic here is that Strike is portrayed as wounded, but also a ‘hero’. He comes under the disability theory heading of a ‘supercripple’ – always able to perform beyond his abilities particularly when tasked with rescuing Robin. He’s also depicted as a sexual being, desirable to women still and clearly able to perform in the bedroom. Yet the character of Inigo, an ME patient, is not seen as sexual. In fact, again he’s under suspicion – aspersions are cast on his marriage, their sex life, and his character. I think this is possibly an attempt to show the reader how suspicious people are of those with invisible disabilities. It’s something I’ve experienced in my own life. However, there’s just something I’m uneasy about in these depictions. I was reminded of Ricky Gervais’s clever depictions of disability in The Office, where David Brent tries, in his own inimitable way, to educate his workers on how to approach a co-worker in a wheelchair. We’re supposed to be laughing at Brent, who’s so tone deaf he never asks how his colleague feels about being the subject of this impromptu lecture on disability awareness. He insults her as he tries his best not to, and that is the joke. Uneasily though, I wondered how many tone deaf people were laughing at what they complain is political correctness or at the wheelchair user who looks uncomfortable and embarrassed. This knife edge type of writing can go either way and I wondered how many people with ME would be comfortable with Galbraith’s representations of their disability. Since coming under scrutiny in the previous Strike novel for the depiction of a notorious serial killer dressing as a woman to lull the women he approached into a false sense of security. I would have thought it best to avoid controversial representations altogether. I have to take into account my own invisible disability, which may have prejudiced my feelings on the subject.

In all, this is another solid read from Galbraith, in terms of storyline and character development. It’s both entertaining and dramatic, with some complex and eccentric characters along the way. I love that we saw an even more vulnerable side to both characters, especially Strike. It was also great to see his dealings with ex-girlfriend, and trouble-maker, Charlotte taking a more realistic line. Maybe this clears the way for a different approach to matters of the heart for Strike and it’s this hope that will keep me looking out for the next instalment.

Holliday Grainger as Robin Ellacott and Tom Burke as Cormoran Strike in the BBC series.

Meet The Author.

Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike series is classic contemporary crime fiction from a master story-teller, rich in plot, characterisation and detail. Galbraith’s debut into crime fiction garnered acclaim amongst critics and crime fans alike. The first three novels The Cuckoo’s Calling (2013), The Silkworm (2014) and Career of Evil (2015) all topped the national and international bestseller lists and have been adapted for television, produced by Brontë Film and Television. The fourth in the series, Lethal White (2018), is out now.

Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym of J.K. Rowling, bestselling author of the Harry Potter series and The Casual Vacancy, a novel for adults. After Harry Potter, the author chose crime fiction for her next books, a genre she has always loved as a reader. She wanted to write a contemporary whodunit, with a credible back story. 

J.K. Rowling’s original intention for writing as Robert Galbraith was for the books to be judged on their own merit, and to establish Galbraith as a well-regarded name in crime in its own right. 

Now Robert Galbraith’s true identity is widely known, J.K. Rowling continues to write the crime series under the Galbraith pseudonym to keep the distinction from her other writing and so people will know what to expect from a Cormoran Strike novel.