Posted in Netgalley

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

There’s probably a word in another language that properly describes the weird combination of trepidation and excitement a bookworm feels when they see a second book coming. You see they loved the first one. It was different. With an incredible twist that no one saw coming! It was like seeing The Sixth Sense for the first time, being blown away, then wondering what M. Night Shymalan could possibly do to follow it? If this is what it likes for the reader, imagine the writer’s fear in following such a smash hit as Alex Michaelides’s The Silent Patient. It must have been incredible. So I approached The Maidens as if it was a piñata filled with bees!

The premise sounded interesting. Psychologist Mariana Andros is summoned to Cambridge University by her niece Zoe. It’s a place filled with memories for Mariana, because it’s where she met her late husband Sebastian. For Zoe it is now the place where her best friend Tara has been murdered. Zoe is very special to her aunt, because they are each other’s only family. They have been closer since the death of Sebastian, who drowned on a romantic holiday in the Greek Islands only a year ago. Mariana knows how desperate Zoe must feel, so cancels her group therapy clients and sets off to meet her in Cambridge, where she stays in university lodgings. Here she meets the charismatic and Byronic Professor Fosca who teaches Classical Philology. Mariana is disturbed by him and his habit of gathering together ‘special scholars’ who receive group tuition from him. They are called The Maidens – although whether this is Fosca’s invention or the girls we are never sure and, of course, each one of them is incredibly beautiful, including their missing member, Tara.

Zoe is convinced Fosca is behind the murder, but with no evidence except a strange feeling and dislike of his odd circle of academic groupies, nothing can be done. I had the feeling that this tutor was perhaps a genius in his field, but was socially awkward and unaware of societal norms. Did he think his maidens gave him an air of eccentricity perhaps? However, he was too obvious to be the real villain of the piece. Yet, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t guess the answer. Thankfully the book had a great pace and once it had it me hooked, I just couldn’t leave it alone. I read it in my car on the way to our holiday cottage, in the bath, and in the park. However, I still couldn’t possibly have guessed at the incredibly tense showdown at the end.

For me there were some negatives. I had difficulty connecting to the characters emotionally, especially Mariana who never fully came to life for me. The Greek tragedy element was clever, as quotes on postcards sent to the victims felt like clues to the killer’s identity. However, I was taught classics at school so these references were familiar to me and I wondered how this whole theme would be received for someone without any knowledge of Greek myths. I also felt that how Mariana inserted herself into the investigation was highly unlikely. However, I did enjoy the academic setting and I felt the author captured that sense of importance academics can have about their subject area. I thought the he represented academia well, like being in a bubble, living and breathing your passion. The murders punctured their way through this protective layer, bringing the real world into a rarefied way of life. The passing connection to The Silent Patient wasn’t needed, but did add an interesting aspect to the ending; I now have my own epilogue running in my head, following certain characters into that other fictional world.

I was disturbed by the visitation of a swan, described as having black eyes that bored right through Mariana. I wondered what this represented and thought of the famous Greek myth of Leda and the swan – where Zeus disguises himself as a swan in order to rape/seduce Leda who has no knowledge of the swan’s true identity. For me this conjured up ideas around love or infatuation being blind, loving and trusting someone who isn’t what they seem. What I loved most of all though, was perhaps linked to the swan. The author has created a therapist with all the skills of perception and understanding in her toolbox, but an inability to apply them in her own life. She loves those closest to her blindly, never seeing their true nature just as Leda only sees a swan. Swans are also our analogy for someone very serene on the surface, but masking anxiety or the great effort it takes to be present. Swans look beautifully calm and composed above the water and this reminded me of Mariana; the calm and stability is only skin deep. I thought the novel was part psychological suspense, part crime fiction, and part gothic novel, but it was definitely all thriller.

Meet The Author.


Alex Michaelides was born and raised in Cyprus. He has a MA in English Literature from Trinity College, Cambridge University, and a MA in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. The Silent Patient was his first novel. It spent over a year on the New York Times bestseller list and sold in a record-breaking 49 countries. He lives in London.

Posted in Netgalley

For The Wolf by Hannah Whitten.

The first daughter is for the throne. The second is for the Wolf.

Every so often I venture into reading fantasy and have been enchanted by some of the books I’ve stumbled upon, often because of their stunning covers in the first instance. When I think of my favourite books – The Night Circus, Ten Thousand Doors of January, Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic series and Jonathon Strange and Mr Norrell – all come up very high on the list. Yet I certainly don’t think of myself as solely a fantasy blogger, I don’t have enough knowledge of the genre. I love that sense of total escape and I often read with a smile on my face because I’m so charmed by the audacity of these writers and how they bend the rules of our world with some magic realism or create a beautiful wild new world for the reader to explore. I was drawn to this book by a very beautiful cover and the thought that someone would be playing with the boundaries of a well known fairy tale.

Redarys has always known her fate. As the kingdom’s second daughter, she is doomed to become a sacrifice to the wolf who keeps Wilderwood’s gods captive in the forest. Red seems to have acquiesced to this fate and her mother’s cool and distant attitude tells Red that she too has prepared herself for this moment, by never becoming close with her daughter. Red’s sister Neve wants to rage against the kingdom and tempts Red to run away that night, as far as she can. She has even spoken to the man who loves Red and sets up a secret moment where he can declare his plans to help her run away. He is promised to Neve, but vows to help Red escape her fate. But does she want to? Red has a hidden power deep within that scares her, and she never wants to hurt someone she loves again. She feels the woods luring her and her power is exactly what they need. The stories she’s been told from childhood are not the full truth. The spirits have weakened. The wolf is just a man, as pushed into his fate as she is. Can Red use her power for good and set them all free?

From the very first pages I was drawn into this other world by the author’s use of detailed imagery. She builds an incredible new world, from words: the sumptuous clothing and the meaning behind their colours, the rooms of the castle and even the dark woods beyond are all rendered beautifully. As guests gather for a celebration on the eve of the sacrifice, Red has chosen a blood red dress contrasting strongly with her mother and sister’s choices and making it very clear who she is. There’s a certain pride in her, of who she is and the role she’s decided to accept. I enjoyed the sisterly love between Red and Neve. We do have sections narrated by Neve to give some contrast from Red’s point of view. Although they’re quite different Neve and Red are incredibly close, they have each other’s backs and in a difficult situation I have no doubt each would fight for the other. I liked both characters, but Red is definitely the more dominant sister despite their opposing fates. Her bravery in accepting her fate and her sense of duty to the kingdom were very admirable. She has some attitude too and I loved that feistiness in her. She’s also a voracious reader and the magnificent library was like something out of my dreams.

There is romance too, a slow burning attraction between Red and her unusual beau. I liked that it wasn’t overdone or flowery, and that Red didn’t lose any of her feistiness in the relationship. She wants to be loved for the person she is, not to change. I won’t reveal her love interest, but it’s their feeling of being trapped into a life they didn’t choose that brings them together. They are bound by blood and sacrifice. He’s a proper Gothic hero too, just as strong and fierce as Red but with an edge. He’s definitely the boyfriend you wouldn’t take home to Mum. It’s a complete awakening once Red enters the wood and she learns that the myths she’s been told about the world are far from the truth. I really enjoyed my foray into the world of fantasy. We all need a brooding love interest, with dark woods and crumbling castles. This isn’t all romance though, it’s more reminiscent of the original blood thirsty fairy tales where women are willing to saw off their own toes to fit a glass slipper or where an enchantment forces them to dance every night till their feet are bleeding. There is blood, so if you’re thinking of sweet, fluffy, fairy tales it might be better to imagine Disney meets Game of Thrones. This is a well written Gothic fairy tale, with a heroine who can not only save herself, but the world as well.

Meet The Author

Hannah Whitten has been writing to amuse herself since she could hold a pen, and sometime in high school, she figured out that what amused her might also amuse others. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, making music, or attempting to bake. She lives in Tennessee with her husband and children in a house ruled by a temperamental cat.

Posted in Netgalley

Two Women in Rome by Elizabeth Buchan.

Regular readers may remember how much I loved Elizabeth Buchan’s last novel The Museum of Broken Promises, in fact it was one of my top twenty of the year. So, I was very excited to be approved to read this via NetGalley. The story is split into two timelines and follows the lives of two British women who spend some time living in Rome. Lottie Archer arrives at the Eternal City as a new wife and with a new job as an archivist at the Archivo Espatriati. Her very first task is to archive the papers and journal of a woman called Nina Lawrence who worked as a gardener in Rome in the late 1970s. This was a difficult time for the country socially and politically, known as the ‘Years of Lead’ – a period which stretched from the 1960s to the 1980s and resulted in many incidents of far right and far left terrorism. Nina’s task was to redesign gardens that still lay devastated by WW2, something she was passionate about and very talented. Within her papers, is a large leather journal, rather worse for wear and full of drawings and pressed plants. However, Lottie also finds a painting of the Annunciation – the moment where the Virgin Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel to tell her she will be the mother of Jesus, the son of God. Lottie thinks it may be medieval, due to the colours used and the iconography. This piques her interest and she is disturbed to learn that Nina was murdered in Rome, and that very few people attended her funeral in the Protestant cemetery. Interestingly though, one mourner was a Catholic priest, which strokes Lottie as very unusual. She wants to find out more about the painting, but she also finds herself sucked into the mystery of what happened to Nina, who murdered her and why did she seem so friendless in this beautiful city?

I found the novel a little slow at first. I didn’t click with Lottie straight away, the detail and discussion of medieval art was quite dense (or I was) and the complexity of the political situation wasn’t always easy to follow. I also thought the intricacies and machinations of the Catholic Church might be a little difficult to penetrate for those who don’t know much about Catholicism – luckily I am one, with convent teaching under my belt, so this was not so difficult for me. However, I did like that the author didn’t simplify these areas of the book because in a way they added to the mystery of a city that has an incredibly complicated history. I was drawn in most by the story of Nina, just like Lottie is. I could understand why her story would get under your skin as someone interested in the past and trying to make sense of it. There is a kinship between the two women, even though they can never meet. Lottie is unsure of her position in Rome for several reasons. Firstly, when she arrives to work at the archive, her new role hasn’t quite been vacated. She moves into the apartment that her husband Tom shared with his previous partner Clare, and all around her are memories that don’t belong to her (including an ugly lamp, that should be kept because it works perfectly well, according to their formidable housekeeper). All of this is compounded by an underlying sense of abandonment, formed because she was left by her birth mother. There’s something lost about Nina that she latches onto and the more she finds out, the more she wonders whether Nina was more than a gardener?

Nina is a rather fascinating woman, who shares Lottie’s sense of rootlessness and lack of ties. There is definitely a deeply woven reason for Nina’s death, involving politics, security services, the church and a rather unwise, but beautiful love affair that unfolds in her journal. It is this aspect of her character that really humanises her for me, she becomes a real, living and breathing person and it is then even more tragic when the end comes. One thing both narratives capture beautifully is the city itself. Just like the narrative structure of the book, we get a sense of Rome as place where the past is very closely layered under the present. I thought about the tunnels and cave structures that run under the city’s streets, some still populated with WW2 vehicles, as an embodiment of this feeling. The present is full of tourists, rushing around on their itineraries getting a sense of the past and present city, but not necessarily the world underneath their feet. The author evokes the sights and smells beautifully: describing the less followed paths, the street fountains carved with dolphins and maidens, the detail of the plants so precious to Nina, the smells and sight of the deli counters full of salami, olives and beautifully ripe tomatoes. I found myself craving a trip to Italy all the time while reading!

However, she also shows its impenetrability to outsiders who know nothing of Catholicism, Roman etiquette or it’s slightly corrupt ways of getting business done. This is captured most beautifully in Lottie’s burgeoning relationship with their housekeeper. I also enjoyed her friendship with the book binder, who she asks to authenticate the painting she finds without understanding his significance. The background on medieval painting is vital here, not just to understand the symbolism within the traditional aspects, but to identify those that are far more transgressive and intensely personal. This is a complicated mystery/thriller, mixed with a travelogue of Rome and an intense love story. It asks questions about where we belong and whether our final destinations have been reached by choice, accident or a deep sense of duty to our family, our religion and our country. By the end I realised I’d become so enthralled, I was very sad to leave Rome behind.

Thank you to Atlantic Books for my digital copy via NetGalley.

Posted in Netgalley

The Stranding by Kate Sawyer.

I know that a book is extraordinary when I finish it and feel changed in some way. I’m never sure what has happened, but there’s a tiny, imperceptible change, to the air around me, how I feel and even the way I perceive the world. The Stranding left me feeling calm, thoughtful and as if a lot of the small things worrying me didn’t really matter in the big scheme of things. I cared deeply for the characters and their grief, and strangely proud of them for what they managed to achieve. The author created an incredible sense of New Zealand and the whale that becomes Ruth’s saviour, and mother – birthing her and Nik into their new world and sustaining them. Her detailed descriptions left me fully immersed in this world, so much so that when I finished reading, it took a while to adjust back to being in Ruth’s ‘before’ and my 21st Century world.

Ruth is an endearing character and someone I could relate to enormously, especially when thinking back to my younger self. She makes mistakes and doesn’t fully know herself yet. She’s a primary school teacher and serial monogamist living in London. She has a best friend called Fran and really supportive parents who live a train journey away. However, her love life is complicated with even Fran saying that she needs to spend some time alone between relationships. So, Ruth has kept her current relationship under wraps. She loves Alex, and she’s sure the way she feels is different from her previous relationships, but he comes with complications. He’s married, with two small children. There’s a restlessness about Ruth, something she thinks will disappear if Alex makes a commitment. Then he does and he’s there in her small flat all the time, she’s a ready made step mum and as time goes on, she wonders whether she really wants this version of her life? She struggles to cope with someone so physically close to her, sharing her space.

‘Ruth had noticed a new loo brush beside the toilet. She reddened to realise that Alex had felt the necessity to purchase such an item, and her cheeks burnt even more when she wondered whether it was her or him who had made that requirement apparent. It wasn’t the only scatological matter that raised the colour in Ruth’s cheeks. Alex was opposed to the use of any chemical or aerosol-propelled household products. Over the past week, on several occasions, Ruth had found herself wafting pungent air out of the window and running the tap to foam soap in the hope of masking the smell of her natural functions. Though it was worse when she had walked in and been greeted with air almost warm with the memory of Alex’s recent visit’.

The book is split into before and after – it’s not explicit exactly what has created this apocalyptic world Ruth eventually finds herself in, but it is catastrophic, wiping out Europe before it reaches where she has travelled in New Zealand. The placement of these sections is incredibly clever. Before takes us back to the world as we know it and follows Ruth to the beach and the stranded whale. After starts at the stranded whale and tells the story into the future. So we are brought full circle and can marvel at the change in Ruth and discover whether she has finally found satisfaction in a life stripped of everything. Nik is, quite literally, the last man on earth. The difference in their characters is shown in the way they cope with the stranded whale. Ruth is immediately desperate to do something. To do anything. She rips through her rucksack for a container to hold water, then pours it over the huge creature. She must know rationally that this tiny amount of water will make no difference. She has been interested in whales since being a small girl so she must know this is a losing battle, but the activity is not for the whale. Ruth chooses activity because she can’t accept the inevitable. Nik is straightforward. He reminds her that her efforts are futile. They can’t save the whale, all they can do is be there in it’s final moments. They are forced into an intimacy that Ruth would normally avoid. Every day they choose to be a team, to use their individual skills to support each other and stay alive. Her father once advised her that love, real lasting love, is quiet and surprising. It’s not Anna Karenina or Wuthering Heights. It’s not drama and heartbreak and flowery exclamations. He tells her that it’s just going about your day and having a realisation that you can’t live without the other person. There’s telling someone you love them, and there’s showing them.

I loved how the author emphasised the importance of stories in the afterward sections. She realises that children in this new world will never know what it was truly like to live in the before. This wild world of survival is their normal. She tells them stories of how she survived the end of the world. She knows they will never know her joy of reading and she thinks of all the children’s classics she could be reading to them:

‘She watches Frankie exploring every stone and shell she comes across and feels a physical ache in her heart that she will never read a book: the words that constructed the worlds Ruth’s imagination inhabited as a child. Instead Ruth tells her those stories herself. She tells her of the Lion and the Witch that lived through the Wardrobe, and great adventures of princesses and princes. Without the books to restrict her, she often switches the genders of the protagonists, waking sleeping princes from their slumbers and sending young women on adventures in mythical lands. Nik watches as Ruth talks softly to the child on her lap in the light of the fire, retelling the stories they know so well; he raises an eyebrow and forms his crooked smile as he hears her adaptations.’

This is a return to oral storytelling, where the story can change according to the storyteller. I also loved Ruth’s changing of the narratives, creating a more feminist type of fairy tale and shaping girls to be powerful, confident and be the ones doing the rescuing.

I was blown away by the author’s own storytelling, from the beautiful and detailed, such as her incredible description of the skin of the whale.

‘The hide of the animal looks like cracked, varnished wood. Like an old piano. A giant grand piano from the ballroom of a wrecked ocean-liner, washed up on the shore. The long white underside of its belly is ridged, like bricks of pale plasticine. The shell-like white, beige, cream skin is flecked with grey, black, coral-orange markings. Around its mouth and eyes the same orange spreads like rust: clumsy make-up that has smudged in the water.’

Yet, it can also be brutal, such as when she’s describing Ruth’s skin in the first few days afterwards. It made me think about the extremes of the world she’s living in, from the quietness and the gradual return of nature to the brutality of the wild dogs and the animalistic aspects of birth. What I was left with though, was something I’ve been thinking about during the pandemic where I’ve been shielding – only seeing my partner and step-daughters. With the pause button pressed on my life, I was able to think about it more clearly. I realised we needed to move house and we are now out in the country, with a garden I can sit in easily and chat to the neighbours over the fence. It made me realise who was important in my life and who wasn’t. I re-evaluated what I wanted to do with my time and decided that now is my time to write. It also made me realise who I am, without people to bounce off, or rushing to different places, or having endless mental stimulation through social media. I was able to apply something I have previously taught in art and writing therapy workshops – the art of being myself. This is Ruth’s journey. With everything removed from her, who exactly is she? There is a time in her life where she would avoid self-examination by jumping to the next thing, the next entertainment, scrolling social media, the next outing, the next man. Afterwards, she is forced to contemplate and to be with the only other person who survived. It is fascinating to watch whether she copes in this situation and whether she can find a way to be happy that eluded her before. This book was incredible, moving, disturbing and deeply philosophical. This is an extraordinary debut and I loved it.

The Stranding is published by Coronet on 24th June 2021

Posted in Netgalley, Random Things Tours

Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone

This is an extraordinary debut by Carole Johnstone full of psychological suspense, supernatural and imaginary worlds, and sibling rivalries. Cat and El are identical twins to most people who see them, but actually they’re mirror twins. This means that not only are they the same sex and blood type, they have identical, but asymmetric physical features. For example, if one is left handed the other is right handed. Yet they’ve spent twelve years definitively apart. On separate continents. Cat has been living and working in L.A. In the meantime El has been married to their childhood friend Ross and is even living in the girl’s childhood home. No 36 Westeryk Road is a large Gothic house that becomes a central character in the story. When Cat gets the news that El has gone missing while out sailing, she travels back to Edinburgh; towards her past.

The facts are that El has gone missing and there have been no sightings of her or her boat. Ross, who is now a psychologist, meets Cat and takes her back to the house. She’s shocked to find that a lot of the original furniture is still at Westeryk Road, and she’s been put in a guest room instead of their childhood room. It takes a while for her to get her bearings because in their childhood world all the rooms had names: Clown Cafe, The Kakadu Jungle, The Donkshop. The clown cafe was a candy stripe American diner. The Kakadu Jungle was richly wallpapered with a rainforest. The only room without a name was Bedroom 3. There is an old-fashioned servants bell pull with a bell for each room, but Cat doesn’t want to investigate when the bell rings from No 3. The world of imagination doesn’t end there, because tucked away under the pantry was another world called Mirrorland populated by clowns, witches and pirates. My therapist’s mind was whirling round at this point – why would someone want to live exactly as they had when they were children? Are these real or imaginary spaces? Is the imagery of mirrors significant? Which sister is a reflection of the other?

Back in the real world we meet DI Kate Rafik and DS Logan who are heading up the search for El, and seem confused by Cat’s reaction to her disappearance. Cat doesn’t trust her sister, she thinks she’s alive and possibly playing a game with them. It seems that the sisters have a symbiotic but unhealthy relationship, where El could be spiteful and play tricks on her sister. There’s also the relationship with Ross – Cat loved him first, but El couldn’t stand to be left out, taking drastic measures to be noticed. Underneath this tale I had to keep reminding myself that this was Cat’s version of events. Was she an unreliable narrator? There’s also the issue of notes being left for El just before her disappearance, but the sender hasn’t been uncovered. It doesn’t take long before Cat starts to receive similar emails, but are they from El? If so are they real warnings or a game? Or could someone else know what’s really going on at Westeryk Road?

I did find the combination of real life and flights of fancy a little difficult at times, it was as if my head was being bombarded with different information: visual, aural, imaginary, factual. I was in sensory overload a lot of time and struggled to take in the detail that might unravel this strange mystery. I also didn’t like or connect with any of the characters, so couldn’t get behind any of them. I instantly felt suspicious of Ross, because I’m used to psychologists being untrustworthy characters in fiction. This being said, the skill it has taken to create these worlds – imaginary and real – is incredible. The way Johnstone creates such a strong sense of place is by layering so much detail and I became drawn in by real life details like their grandfather having the football results on so loud everyone in the house knew who’d won. Probably because I used to check off Grandad’s pools result with him every Saturday. These pieces of the twins early life ground them in reality, just when you think everything at No 36 is imaginary. Cat describes the house as a mausoleum, a preservation of something long buried. Yet the house is alive. The description of the kitchen where there are still wonky units, but a sapphire blue Smeg fridge tells us things have changed. Time has passed here, but is that just superficial?

This book is an epic reading experience from a masterful writer, and I defy anyone to have guessed what’s really going on. I had to stop myself reading it at night because it kept my brain whirring so much I’d struggle to sleep. It wasn’t that I was scared, I was just intrigued as to what would happen next. Well, that and I don’t trust clowns much either! This was a fascinating mix of mystery, magic realism and psychological theory. You have to read it to the very end for it all to make sense, and once you do you’ll want to go back and find the clues you missed. I’ll need something restful to read next because this one well and truly worked my grey cells and my imagination to the limit.

Meet The Author

Scottish writer Carole Johnstone’s debut novel, Mirrorland, will be published in spring 2021 by Borough Press/HarperCollins in the UK and Commonwealth and by Scribner/Simon & Schuster in North America. Her award-winning short fiction has been reprinted in many annual ‘Best Of’ anthologies in the UK and the US. She has been published by Titan Books, Tor Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and PS Publishing, and has written Sherlock Holmes stories for Constable & Robinson and Running Press. Carole is represented by Hellie Ogden at Janklow & Nesbit UK and Allison Hunter at Janklow & Nesbit (US).

More information on the author can be found at carolejohnstone.com

Posted in Netgalley

Left You Dead by Peter James.

I have long been a fan of Peter James’s Roy Grace series so I felt very lucky to get a sneak peek at his latest. I discovered the books when in hospital around six years ago and I spent a great ten days whipping through the novels one after another. Then came that horrible moment of regret that every bookworm experiences after a binge on one author – reaching the latest in the series then having to wait for them to come out! Luckily, we’re now getting the TV adaptation with the wonderful John Simm as Grace so I can dive into those now I’m up to date again.

We meet Grace at a settled point in life. He and Cleo living out in the country together with their son Noah and Grace’s son Bruno, dog Humphrey and even some chickens. That’s not to say there isn’t the usual everyday dramas, at work and at home. The novel opens as Grace has passed on evidence of police corruption to his friend and colleague from the MET, Alison Vosper. The evidence, if it checks out, should be enough to have his hated boss arrested, never to return. If it doesn’t check out, he will have trusted the word of a criminal to topple a man who isn’t shy about showing his animosity towards Grace. This could end his career in the Sussex force. On the home front Noah is entering the ‘terrible twos’ and both Grace and Cleo are juggling home life with two very demanding jobs. Grace’s most pressing worry though is his older son, who doesn’t seem to be settling and is morbidly curious about such things as Egyptian death rituals. Bruno is his son from his first marriage to Sandy, who disappeared without a trace several years ago leaving Grace facing a possible murder charge. She was hiding out in Munich, after living in several cults and having concealed the fact she’d had a son after leaving him. It’s no surprise that Bruno is mixed-up, but what is the best way to support him?

Our case is equally puzzling. Niall Paternoster reports his wife missing, claiming not to have seen her since the day before when he dropped her at Tesco to buy cat litter. On their way back from visiting a stately home, Eden had reminded him he’d forgotten the previous day. They bickered their way back to Brighton, but finding the car part overrun she suggested he stay in the car and she would pop in. However, she never returned and as the store closed a search failed to find her. Knowing that his wife had stayed with friends after an argument in the past, he hadn’t been worried until 24 hours later. Yet, the usual police enquiries fail to find Eden, she’s not captured on CCTV and in fact there’s no proof she was alive after the Thursday before their stately home day trip. Has Roy Grace found himself landed with the trickiest type of crime to investigate and prosecute – a so called ‘no-body murder’?

One of Peter James’s greatest strengths in this whole series is being able to write about the personal as well as the professional, whether it’s the minutiae of daily living or the deepest tragedies we can face. It’s quite shock when it happens in this novel and the author handles it beautifully, capturing that bewildering mix of emotions from shock, to the rawness of grief as well as the regrets and fears. As always Grace faces this with a copper’s brain – his first response is to think, rather than feel. He questions everything about the circumstances, how it could have happened, then the inevitable why and could he have changed anything? He also deals with it by throwing himself into his work. His grief is so enormous he can’t sit in it for too long, he needs a distraction and luckily Cleo understands this behaviour and lets him cope the way he knows best.

The case becomes more and more intriguing, as surveillance picks up a possible extra-marital relationship on the part of the husband. As well they discover a shallow grave with blood stained clothing and the neighbours describing a terrible argument between the couple. However, something just doesn’t smell right for Grace as they identify the woman having an affair with Eden’s husband is her boss. There’s also the matter of an easily discovered knife, seemingly left in haste. Is this one of those infamous small mistakes that catch a killer or is someone trying to set Niall up? The characters in this triangle are hard to like. Niall is mercenary, abusive and seemingly finds women with money who can support him. Eden’s boss is cold and unfeeling at best, but appears increasingly manipulative and suspicious. We don’t know Eden well, until a staggering twist part way through gives us more background on her character. Luckily we don’t need them to be likeable to be fascinated and compelled by Eden’s disappearance. It felt like being caught in a spider’s web, but not knowing who is the spider.

As always, it’s Grace who is the beating heart of this novel and it’s conscience. If the difficulties he’s facing just coping with his grief aren’t enough, there’s the constant tension surrounding his relationship with the Chief Constable. There are the petty everyday differences they have over the investigation (the CC would have scaled it back) and resources (taking away his surveillance team at a critical point in the investigation). Then, underlying it all, what if Grace has taken the word of a criminal to unmask the CC’s corruption, to find he’s been lied to? Every day that goes by with no news, Grace can see his career disappearing. Once he uncovers some vital paperwork that throws a new light on the Paternoster case, Grace is all business. The build up of tension towards the end of the novel is almost unbearable. The author puts his hero in terrible danger, as on a stormy night in a remote place the whole mystery is uncovered and the real mastermind is revealed. By this point I noticed I was holding my breath! It takes a great writer to make the reader feel real emotions alongside a character. Whether it’s the professional or the personal, I find myself willing him on and hoping that, not only does he solve the case, but that he gets home to Noah and Cleo safe and sound. I felt this, so deeply in this novel, especially as Grace himself ponders how he would cope if he lost anyone else important to him. I raced to the end of the novel, not just to see the case solved, but to see him safely home. Roy Grace is one of those rare characters who has burrowed his way into my heart. I look forward to whatever comes next for him.

Published 13th May 2021.

Meet The Author

Known for his fast-paced and gripping stories that thrust regular people into extraordinary situations, Peter James has proven himself to be one of the world’s most successful writers, delivering number one bestsellers time and time again. His Superintendent Roy Grace books have been translated into 37 languages with worldwide sales of over 21 million copies and 17 number one Sunday Times Bestsellers. His latest Roy Grace novel, Find Them Dead spent seven weeks at number one in 2020. The first two novels in the Roy Grace series, Dead Simple and Looking Good Dead, have been adapted for television by Endeavour’s Russell Lewis and the first episode aired on 14th March 2021.

Posted in Netgalley

Until Next Weekend by Rachel Marks.

I love that when I pick up a Rachel Marks book, I’m straight into someone’s life and character. It’s an immediate feeling of kinship with our main character, we trust them and the story they’re telling us. In this case, our storyteller is Noah, a primary school teacher in this thirties, divorced with two small boys he sees every other weekend. Noah loves his job, loves his boys and is still in love with ex-wife Kate. Kate now lives with Jerry and Noah can’t believe that she’s in love with this ordinary, boring bloke. Kate and Noah were together forever, from friends to a very young husband and wife, then parents. So what went wrong? Kate probably knows Noah better than anyone and still loves and cares for him, but felt she had to save herself and leave the relationship. The truth is there are times when Noah checks out, he would need to take a break or sometimes disappear with no indication of when he was coming back. Just as Noah is concerned with giving children a good start in life, as a father and a teacher, he knows that his own start in life plays a large part in who he is and how he behaves. Can he continue to be a good teacher, father and partner without confronting that past and coming to terms with it?

As in her last novel, Rachel Marks has a good grasp of how our minds work and how we often self-medicate the pain of trauma. For Noah, this is often alcohol just as it was for his mother all those years ago. He is often propping up the bar of his local, chatting up women and indulging in a few one night stands, watched with some frustration by barmaid Mimi. His journey is mirrored in the experiences of one of his pupils, Harvey. Harvey’s having problems with his behaviour at school, often lashing out or unable to stop himself interrupting with excitement. He says his Mum sleeps a lot, but the reasons for that are unclear at first. It takes something drastic for Noah to see the extent of what is going on in Harvey’s world, but it also awakens a trauma from long ago. Noah is a character who knows all the reasons for the way he is, but doesn’t know the next step – to free himself from the past. He is full of confusion and does some really stupid things, but he is always loveable and I found myself rooting for him. Mimi was also a great character, sassy and whip smart, she can see through Noah’s bullshit but also genuinely cares about him. She tries to teach him that we all have our ‘stuff’ to come to terms with, we just have to find our way of doing it.

I loved his relationship with Kate too. She knows him inside out and I could sense the great regret and frustration within her that she had to break up their family. She knows Jerry isn’t going to be full of excitement and surprises, but that’s exactly why they’re together. She wants that stability for herself and for her boys. She’s still full of sadness and thinks she wasn’t enough for Noah, but the truth is that no one would have been able to cope with his behaviour and a young family. She wanted her love to heal the scars of the past, but only Noah can do that. The wonderful way she respects him as the father of her children, holds parties for him and still has family outings is the very model of what we hope our blended families could be like. Sadly, I think it’s very rare for ex-husbands and wives to be able to work together as well as this. Noah doesn’t really see the love that Kate has for Jerry, but it’s definitely there. There’s the sense of exhaustion I get from her life with Noah, and the way that Jerry conducts himself with grace and dignity and it’s clear what a strong and equal relationship they have.

This is a gorgeous, uplifting book, that has its hard moments but is ultimately full of love. I loved the children in the book, their personalities so perfectly evoked and full of humour. There are difficult memories and moments, but Noah is surrounded by love to call on once he can admit what’s wrong. I loved how Marks shows that there may often be reasons behind a character’s behaviour – Noah struggles to get along with his sister-in-law Claudia, but Mimi immediately sees that there’s a lack of confidence underneath the polished exterior and perfectionism. It made me come away thinking about how to appreciate those around me more, even if we do clash or have different ways of living. The book had the message to love and be kind all the way through it, like a stick of well-being rock.

Out 29th April 2021 from Penguin Books

Meet The Author

Rachel lives in Gloucestershire with her husband and two young sons. When she’s not writing, she loves travelling, snowboarding and photography.
If you would like updates on upcoming books, offers etc you can follow me on Twitter @Rache1Marks and Instagram rachelmarksauthor.

Posted in Netgalley

Madame Burova by Ruth Hogan.

I absolutely love Ruth Hogan’s novels, because they have interesting, quirky characters that I always want to know more about and stories that are ultimately uplifting. I was immediately fascinated by Imelda Burova, with her Russian-Romany background and her gorgeous borzoi Dasha. Imelda has inherited her mother’s fortune telling booth on the seafront in Brighton. Not that Shunty-Mae has gone anywhere. She comes to help when the booth is busy in the summer season and has a disconcerting habit of sitting behind the curtain at the back then interjecting the odd comment when least expected! Imelda is invited to read for people as part of the entertainment staff at the holiday park and this introduces her to a whole new group of people. There’s the three mermaid sisters, a contortionist, Jeanie who has the voice of an angel and the dark, handsome wall of death rider Cillian. Imelda feels an immediate spark with Cillian, but Jeannie’s femme fatale friend Vivien makes it clear that Cillian is off limits. Book ending this tale of 1970s Brighton is our other heroine Billie, who is in a vulnerable place having lost her university job, her marriage and her mum. She receives some life changing news from her Dad, that sends her on a trip to Brighton to meet a mysterious woman who holds two brown envelopes. These will give Billie some clues to a mystery that has spanned forty years, and a love story that has lasted through time.

I really felt for Billie, who has reached a point in life where everything is changing, but she’s willing to take on the challenges she faces. She finds her seventy year old benefactress inspiring and starts to be drawn into the world of Brighton. She meets a family named after precious stones who run the cafe next door to the fortune tellers booth. She has help getting a new project off the ground with a lovely man called Treasure. Then there’s a man she meets on the train who travels all the way to St Pancras once a week just to play the piano. Plus a man who seems to be just a passing eccentric, using his elastic bands to send colour messages to the CIA or MI5, but who witnesses a crucial event that answers so many questions. In the time she spends in Brighton, Billy starts to feel at home. What could fate have in store for her here and is she brave enough to follow the path?

The earlier sections, told by Madame Burova with a heavy dose of hindsight, are so evocative of the 1970s. There’s an incredible bohemian feel to the interiors, such as the decor of the booth, the stunning gypsy caravan that sits in the garden for occasional sleepovers, not to mention Madame Burova’s wardrobe. Lush fabrics and vintage clothes float my boat so I was in heaven here. The central love story is brief, but all encompassing. Cillian is the perfect hero – I was thinking Peaky Blinders as I was reading him so it was hilarious to find ‘Cillian Murphy’ left on a page in the NetGalley copy! It shows that Ruth Hogan and I are on the same page when it comes to passionate love interests. He and Imelda are clearly made for each other, so watching Vivien try to come between them is infuriating. Not that Cillian helps, his taciturn nature and avoidance of fuss can lead to misunderstandings. Imelda isn’t sure whether he’s playing the field, but his eyes are firmly trained on her all the time. I was transfixed by the love story and hoping against hope that Imelda wouldn’t have her heart broken.

This is such a charming and whimsical novel, with a a huge side helping of nostalgia for the time of the seaside holiday heyday. A time when people did take their families to a holiday park and take part in all the entertainments on offer. I love the way Brighton fits Billy perfectly, with her vintage style, bowler hat and the opportunity she gets to potentially bring that retro vibe to the seafront seems perfect. Will she take the chance? More importantly, will the quest that brought her to Brighton and to meet Madame Burova, come to a happy end? I was satisfied with the end, despite the heartache along the way and came away with a real feeling of joy. Along with the apple blossom coming in and birds nesting in the garden, this book has been like a little breath of spring.

Meet The Author

A car accident led to Ruth Hogan taking her wish to be a writer more seriously and the result was THE KEEPER OF LOST THINGS – a Richard and Judy Book Club pick. Since then she has had two further novels published, THE WISDOM OF SALLY RED SHOES and QUEENIE MALONE’S PARADISE HOTEL and for her fourth, MADAME BUROVA, she learned to read Tarot cards and developed a hankering for a traditional vardo and pony.

‘I live in a chaotic Victorian house with an assortment of rescue dogs and my long-suffering husband. I am a magpie; always collecting treasures (or ‘junk’ depending on your point of view), a huge John Betjeman fan and I would very much like a full-size galloping horses carousel in my back garden. As a full-time author I am living the dream, and I’m so grateful to all my readers for making that possible. I love hearing from you, so please feel free to drop me a line on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.’ From Ruth’s author page on Amazon.com

Posted in Netgalley

The Butterfly House by Katrine Engberg

In the coronary care unit at one of Copenhagen’s leading medical centres, a nurse fills a syringe with an overdose of heart medication and stealthily enters the room of an older male patient.

Six days earlier, a paperboy on his route in the centre of the city stumbles upon a macabre find: the body of a dead woman, lying in a fountain, her arms marked with small incisions. Cause of death? Exsanguination – the draining of all the blood in her body. Clearly, this is no ordinary murder.

Jeppe Kørner, recovering from a painful divorce and in the throes of a new relationship, takes on the investigation. His partner, Anette Werner, now on leave after an unexpected pregnancy, is restless at home. While Jeppe leads the official search, Anette can’t stop herself from doing a little detective work as well. But operating on her own exposes her to dangers she can’t even begin to realise.

As the investigation ventures into dark and dangerous corners, it uncovers an ambition and greed festering beneath the surface of caregiving institutions, all leading back to the mysterious Butterfly House . . .

I hadn’t come across the first novel in this series, but was intrigued by this pair of detectives. They seemed to bring something different to the role and life of a detective. The murders in the novel are particularly disturbing given that they take place within a hospital – usually a place of healing. An elderly patient in the coronary unit is killed by a syringe drawn up with an overdose of his heart medication. Six days earlier, a boy on his paper round found a dead woman in a fountain in the town centre. She died due to exsanguination, blood letting from thousands of tiny cuts, and her final moments must have been excruciating. Are the two cases linked and will Detectives Korner and Werner be able to find the killer?

I loved that Werner was home on maternity leave, bored and itching to join in on the investigation. I think, very realistically, she’s struggling with feeling powerless and dealing with the fact her pregnancy was unplanned. She didn’t expect it and can’t stop herself doing some detective work from home. However the problem with snooping alone is that she’s exposed to dangers she wouldn’t normally have to consider. Will she put herself in in harms way? Her partner, Korner, is coping with the aftermath of a painful divorce and now a new relationship. Will his mind be on the job? Together, this investigation will lead them into a dark corner of public institutions – their equivalent in this country would be social services and the NHS. Corruption and exploitation within these institutions seems likely as they continue their investigations.

The characterisation is brilliant. I really connected with Werner. Her husband has adapted well to unexpected fatherhood and can’t really relate to her struggle. Werner is 44 and feels the body she’s been connected to all her life, doesn’t belong to her anymore. The baby cries endlessly and she feels complete indifference. Her head’s still at work and she feels exhausted. Intrigued by what’s happening in her absence, she has a police scanner and makes fake runs for nappies in order to keep up with the case. The strength of her partnership with Jeppe shows in how much he’s missing her presence in the investigation, even for the qualities that really irritated him usually. I warmed to him too as he struggles on with a partner he can’t connect with and who can’t keep up with him. These people felt so real to me and the authors description of their worlds is just as immersive. I could imagine myself in this city, in the autumn air that the author describes. I found the medical histories of the victims fascinating and became really involved with the mental health and psychiatric aspects. The pace of the narrative was just right, fast enough to keep me reading while providing enough detail to pull me into the case. Often with thrillers I can feel short changed or rushed into a conclusion, but here the twists felt real and the conclusion was satisfying. This novel had everything I enjoy about the Nordic Noir genre and I will be following this series with great interest.

Published 14th Jan 2021 by Hodder and Stoughton.

Meet The Author

A former dancer and choreographer with a background in television and theater, Katrine Engberg launched a groundbreaking career as a novelist with the publication of her fiction debut, The Tenant. She is now one of the most widely read and beloved crime authors in Denmark, and her work has been sold in over twenty-five countries. She lives with her family in Copenhagen.

Posted in Netgalley

People Like Us by Louise Fein.

I was deeply affected by this novel about the rise of the Nazi Party in 1930s Germany, told from the perspective of a young girl living in Leipzig. The story opens as a young Herta is rescued from drowning by her brother Karl’s friend, Walter. It’s a powerful opener and a metaphor for the coming years, as Herta is slowly drowned by the tidal wave of nationalism, and fascism that overwhelms her country and changes her life altogether. Fein was inspired to write the novel after researching her family’s Jewish roots and eventual flight to London. During her research, she started to wonder how a country and it’s people could go from being a reasonable and tolerant society, to committing such atrocities against their fellow human beings. So, to explore that idea, she decided to write her novel from the perspective of an ordinary German child, slowly becoming brainwashed by the evil ideology. It’s the childhood innocence of Herta that makes this book work so well and allows us to have empathy, despite her allegiances.

Herta’s father has recently taken control of the city newspaper and his reward is their beautiful new family home, their servants and improved status in Leipzig society. He came from humble beginnings to marry Herta’s elegant French mother, but is now quickly rising through the SS ranks. Her elder brother Karl is in the Hitler-Jugend and she really wants to do her bit to make for Vati and Mutti proud of her too. So she pledges her life to the Fuhrer, to serve him and his purpose, totally unaware of its evil extent. Fein slowly shows us his plans, and along with some of our characters we’re like the proverbial frog in tepid water. Without our luxury of hindsight, we too wouldn’t have recognised how much danger we were in, until it was far too late and we boiled to death. There are those characters who truly embrace Hitler’s philosophy and purpose like Herta’s Vati, and below that are various levels of denial, collaboration and fear. Even Vati, has a jumbled mix of motivations: feelings of inferiority from his background and in his marriage; relishing the status and power; a certain amount of brainwashing.

Hitler’s propaganda machine was in full swing within Germany, aided by the country’s financial struggle since the Great War. The Weimar Republic, the post WWI government, signed the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. The treaty stated that Germany would take responsibility for the war, relinquish parts of its territory and pay reparations to the Allies. These policies caused huge social and economic hardship, a situation that the Nazis blamed on Jewish people and communists. A myth was even started that blamed the Jews for the signing of the treaty. Called the ‘stab-in-the-back’ legend, this story blamed Jewish infiltrators in government for the difficulties the German people were facing, despite the fact that many German Jews had served faithfully in the war. Now, the German people were worn down by hardship and poverty and were looking for someone to blame. Hitler exploited these conditions to devastating effect and ordinary Germans were taken in by it. So, when Jewish neighbours and friends started being restricted or sent to work camps, only very rare, brave individuals stood up for them.

The scene when Herta first realises something is very wrong is at school, and her teachers call on Jewish children to stand up in assembly. The shock is seeing her brother’s childhood friend Walter, singled out for abuse and ridicule. Walter can’t be a Jew. He’s the Aryan ideal, blonde and blue-eyed. Besides which, when she was very small Walter saved her from drowning. He had been a constant presence at the house when they were younger. Now here he was being called terrible names and sneered at by their new teacher. Herta is terribly confused, she has been told that Jews look a certain way, and act in a different way to her, but she feels that she and Walter are both the same. Bravely, she runs after him when he is expelled from school and triggers a friendship of her own. A friendship that as she grows-up, develops into love. What possible future can this relationship have under Nazi rule? Then, as it becomes ever clearer that Hitler will not rest until Germany is cleared of Jews, both Herta and Walter will have to make sacrifices and the legacy of these decisions will last until they are both very old.

I don’t want to say any more for fear of ruining the story, but there were many points where I was moved to tears by the situation these childhood friends and young lovers, found themselves in. The displacement of families during WW2 was extensive and with no way of tracing each other, there would have been people who never saw each other again. I married into a Polish family, my husband died several years ago and my father and brother-in-law more recently. My mother-in-law got out of Warsaw as a little girl, escaping through the sewers. Her mother stayed. Her father ended up in America. The family never reunited fully, with Hana finding out her father had ended up in the Boston area of the USA. He had searched but never found either of them. He assumed they had died and later remarried, never knowing that his wife and child did survive and were now in England together. Luckily when Hana found her other family, she embraced them and they in turn remained close to their English family. I felt that the author had really done her background research, possibly with families like mine. I believed in her world and characters immediately.

The background of Leipzig felt homely and friendly, but then developed into this menacing place where you didn’t speak or even spat at the old couple across the street. The night where Herta looks for Walter, knowing that violent confrontations will be taking place in the Jewish quarter, is so frightening and made me feel physically sick. It’s where the threats and rhetoric become real and deadly. Herta is only ever truly free in nature, walking her dog on a Sunday morning and sometimes seeing Walter. It’s harder for someone to conceal anything themselves in open fields and usually Herta can walk freely, enjoying the air and the birdsong. This place represents normality whereas the city is madness, chaos and murder. The ending broke my heart, as we contemplate with Herta on what the world will be like to a new generation. Will it be peaceful with the effects of war far behind, or will the ripples of this hatred and violence be felt for several generations more? I was so moved by this and the epilogue. Some books stay with you for life and I think this will be one of mine.

Published by Head of Zeus 7th May 2020.