Monday, 19 November 2018

Nobody's Sweetheart Now: The First Lady Adelaide Mystery by Maggie Robinson

"Once upon a time, Lady Adelaide Mary Merrill, daughter of the Marquess of Broughton, was married to Major Rupert Charles Cressleigh Compton, hero of the Somme. It was not a happy union..."

A delightful English cozy series begins in August 1924. Lady Adelaide Compton has recently (and satisfactorily) interred her husband, Major Rupert Charles Cressleigh Compton, hero of the Somme, in the family vault in the village churchyard.

Rupert died by smashing his Hispano-Suiza on a Cotswold country road while carrying a French mademoiselle in the passenger seat. With the house now Addie's, needed improvements in hand, and a weekend house party underway, how inconvenient of Rupert to turn up! Not in the flesh, but in - actually, as a - spirit. Rupert has to perform a few good deeds before becoming welcomed to heaven - or, more likely, thinks Addie, to hell.

Before Addie can convince herself she's not completely lost her mind, a murder disrupts her careful seating arrangement. Which of her twelve house guests is a killer? Her mother, the formidable Dowager Marchioness of Broughton? Her sister Cecilia, the born-again vegetarian? Her childhood friend and potential lover, Lord Lucas Waring? Rupert has a solid alibi as a ghost and an urge to detect.

Enter Inspector Devenand Hunter from the Yard, an Anglo-Indian who is not going to let some barmy society beauty, witnessed talking to herself, derail his investigation. Something very peculiar is afoot at Compton Court and he's going to get to the bottom of it - or go as mad as its mistress trying.

I have recently read two books which were quite heavy going so decided to treat myself to a little light reading entertainment. The stylish cover of this book suggested just that and it was such a good choice as it was exactly what I needed. It was fun, humorous and has a cozy, non-graphic murder mystery to boot.

I am delighted that this is going to be the first in a series. As far as I am aware, the second book has not yet been published but I am certainly looking forward to when it is. If you are looking for a nice cosy read in the run up to the festivities, then this book will be perfect for you. It would also make a great gift to slip under the tree for any reader who enjoys some fun mixed in with their murder mysteries. If this sounds like an oxymoron, trust me, it works in the very capable hands of Maggie Robinson.

Both Addie and Dev were very likable characters and the attraction between them was delightful to read. However, the conversations between Addie and the ghostly Rupert, bordered on comic genius.

I have looked through Ms. Robinson's back list and she seems to primarily be a writer of historical romances and the covers suggest some eroticism. They are not really my cup of tea and Nobody's Sweetheart Now appears to be a departure from her usual genre. In my opinion that was a good move and I look forward to reading more in this series.

ISBN: 978 1464210723

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

About the Author:

Maggie Robinson is a former teacher, library clerk and mother of four who woke up in the middle of the night, absolutely compelled to create the perfect man and use as many adverbs as possible doing so. A transplanted New Yorker, she lives with her not-quite perfect husband in Maine, where the cold winters are ideal for staying inside and writing hot historical romances and her latest venture, the Lady Adelaide Mysteries. Her books have been translated into nine languages. 

She also wrote two erotic historical romances as Margaret Rowe.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

"Darren Matthews set his Stetson on the edge of the witness stand, brim down, the way his uncles had taught him."

Southern fables usually go the other way around. A white woman is killed or harmed in some way, real or imagined, and then, like the moon follows the sun, a black man ends up dead.

But when it comes to law and order, East Texas plays by its own rules - a fact that Darren Matthews, a black Texas Ranger working the backwoods towns of Highway 59, knows all too well. He tried to get as far away from Texas as he could, until duty called him back.

Trying to escape troubles at home, Darren is drawn to a case in the small town of Lark. where two dead bodies washed up in the bayou. First a black lawyer from Chicago and then, three days later, a local white woman. He must solve the crimes - and save himself in the process - before Lark's ever-widening racial fault lines tear the community apart.

I enjoyed this book very much. My knowledge of Texas comes solely from watching episodes of Dallas back in the 80's so I was enthralled by the setting of this book as I had lots to learn. Without a single reference to JR and oil fields I really enjoyed this very different take on the State of Texas. Coupled with excellent atmospheric writing I loved the setting of this book.

I was intrigued by Darren's role as a Texas ranger within the law enforcement system. I do not think we have an equivalent here in Britian so I felt that this was a 'different' read from my usual mystery fare. This was an excellent thriller written with skill and an ability to highlight the existence of racial tensions in the modern day world.

This is a very satisfying novel. It has a great plot, an atmospheric setting and wonderful characters. In fact, I think I am a little bit in love with Darren. He is a man of strong integrity, principled and compassionate and a memorable character to boot. It is a thought-provoking book which is well-grounded in contemporary society.

This is the first book that I have read by this author and I am keen to read more of her books. Have you read this or any of her other works? Which one do you think I should read next?

ISBN: 978 1781257685

Publisher:  Serpent's Tail

About the Author:

Attica Locke is the author of Pleasantville, which won the 2016 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction and was short-listed for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction; Black Water Rising, which was nominated for an Edgar Award and an NAACP Image Award; and The Cutting Season, a national bestseller and winner of the Ernest Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. Attica is also a screenwriter and has written for Paramount, Warner Bros, Twentieth Century Fox, HBO and Dreamworks. Most recently, she was a writer and producer on the Fox drama, Empire. 

A native of Houston, Texas, Attica lives in Los Angeles, California, with her husband and daughter.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Tara Lynn Masih - Guest Post - My Real Name is Hanna

I am honoured to be hosting Tara Lynn Masih on the blog today. Tara is the author of the fantastic novel My Real Name is Hanna and I can honestly say that it has been one of my favourite reads this year. My review of the book can be found here. Without further ado, over to you Tara.

"When I began writing My Real Name Is Hanna five years ago, I had no idea where my plot was going. I had just seen the powerful documentary No Place on Earth about the Stermer family, who hid in Ukrainian underground caves to avoid being found by Nazis during the Holocaust. Within twenty-four hours of viewing the film, I started writing what would become my first completed novel. At the beginning of the process, all I knew was that some version of their story had to be told in fiction, and I felt driven to be the one to do it. Toni Morrison once wisely said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

I very much wanted to read this book, and I very much wanted to have young readers be inspired by the story as well.

I was lucky to awaken the morning after I saw the film with the voice of Hanna in my head, her name, and the first few lines. From there, a very rough outline grew. Within thirty days, I had scaffolding, but little else. There was no good foundation to make the book sturdy and liveable. And I needed to find a way to reveal the horror that was the Holocaust as clearly and as accurately as it needed to be revealed, without using the pain of others to advance a story.

Until I came to realize that this book would not be about the Holocaust as much as it would be about the Holocaust’s devastating effect on community and family and tradition and culture. And that it would be about how one family managed to find a way to survive not just physically, but emotionally. We tend to concentrate more on physical survival during traumatic events, but emotional survival is more complex and, I think, even more important.

Besides the obvious strong family bonds and deep faith the Stermer family had, they had stories. What else can you take with you into the dark? For centuries humankind has been staving off the darkness with myths, fairy-tales, and folklore, both fantastical and ordinary. I love what writing coach Lisa Cron says about storytelling: “Before there were books, we read each other.” Around campfires and kitchen stoves, beside beds and on pulpits.

So my novel became one overarching story of one woman reading herself. Then as I continued to do research and fill in the flooring and hang the support beams, I heard other voices, other stories. “Story” in My Real Name Is Hanna becomes a replacement for community, even for food during times of starvation. It bonds the hideaways in shared history and educates them about their past. They “read” each other to survive, just as Hanna reads her treasured Joan of Arc story, as told by Mark Twain. Hanna clings to Twain’s iconic crusader story through the voice of Joan, as a way to hold on to her own self.

My hope is that this novel will be the kind of book that will allow you to better read yourself and your neighbours, and that what you find during your “reading” will help you build up your community, not tear it down and divide it once again.

A portion of the author’s royalties will be donated to the Unites States Holocaust Memorial Museum in memory of Esther Stermer."

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Guest Post Tomorrow - Tara Lynn Masih

I am very excited to let you all know that the lovely, Tara Lynn Masih, will be a guest on my blog tomorrow. Tara is the author of the amazing novel My Name is Hannah, which is published in the UK this week.

I adored this book when I read it and reviewed it here on the blog. Just click on the book title below to read my review.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

A Gathering of Ghosts by Karen Maitland #Tuesday Teaser

From the Blurb

1316. On the wilds of Dartmoor stands the isolated Priory of St Mary, home to the Sisters of the Knights of St John. People journey from afar in search of healing at the holy well that lies beneath its chapel.

But the locals believe Dartmoor was theirs long before Christianity came to the land. And not all who visit seek miracles. When three strangers reach the moor, fear begins to stir as the well's waters run with blood.

What witchcraft have the young woman, the Knight of St John and the blind child brought with them?

The Sisters will need to fight for everything they hold dear as the ghosts of the Old World gather in their midst.

First Page

Chapter 1

Hospitallers' Priory of St Mary, Dartmoor
Eve of May Day and Feast of Beltane, 1316

That night, of all nights, Sister Fina was late. If she had arrived on time to close the holy well beneath the chapel, perhaps she might have averted all that came after, but she hadn't. And it was Sister Clarice who was to blame. Never let that woman start talking if you're in a hurry.

"Could I beg a moment of your time, Sister Fina?" she'd say.

But it never was just a moment.

Sister Basilia, who wouldn't hear a bad word said about any soul, not even if they'd murdered every child in Widecombe, once told her fellow Hospitallers they should be thankful for Clarice's gift of words, as it pleased her to call it, for she said the pedlars and merchants were so battered down by them they gave her what she wanted at half the price just to get away. The other sisters had rolled their eyes, for Basilia was cheerfully determined to see God's blessing in everything, even a burned bun, which vexed them even more than Clarice's nagging.

ISBN: 978 1472235886

Publisher: Headline Review

Friday, 7 September 2018

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell - Book Review

"Those months, the months before she disappeared, were the best months. Really. Just the best. Every moment presented itself to her like a gift and said, "Here I am, another perfect moment, just look at me, can you believe how lovely I am?"

She was fifteen, her mother's golden girl. She had her whole life ahead of her. And then, in the blinnk of an eye, Ellie was gone.

Ten years on, Laurel has never given up hope of finding Ellie. And then she meets a charming and charismatic stranger who sweeps her off her feet.

But what really takes her breath away is when she meets his nine-year-old daughter. Because his daughter is the image of Ellie.

Now all those unanswered questions that have haunted Laurel come flooding back. What really happened to Ellie? And who still has secrets to hide?

It is every parent's worst nightmare that their child might go missing. From newborn to adult the pain must be intolerable and the sense of despair overwhelming. Lisa Jewell has created this scenario around her main character, Laurel, and she has executed this brilliantly.

This is an author that people have been recommending to me for ages and I have only just gotten around to reading one of her books. I enjoyed it enormously for the tension and psychological suspense that she creates.

The bulk of the novel is set a decade after Ellie's disappearance and I am not giving anything away by saying that we do find out what happens to Ellie part way through the narrative. The novel moves seamlessly back and forth in time and the change in voice is easy to follow.

Ms. Jewell is an excellent storyteller and she kept up the pace and suspense through the whole novel. There was an eeriness throughout which kept me turning those pages as I was completely gripped by the story. I read this in two sittings and I rarely do that with a book.

There is a great sense of characterisation in this novel and even the minor characters made a significant impact on the plot. They were all totally believable and easy to comprehend.

Novels about children going missing are never wholly comfortable to read. I think that, at the back of every readers mind, whether you are a parent or not, dwells the question, how would I ever react if I were in that situation? It allows us to probe our own psyche in a safe and controlled manner whilst we hope and pray that we will never have to experience anything so horrifying.

This may have been my first novel by this author but it most definitely will not be my last. From what others have told me the quality of this novel can be expected in her other works. Based on this book Ms. Jewell has the potential to become one of my favourite authors.

ISBN: 978 1784756253

Publisher: Arrow Books

About the Author:

Lisa was born in London in 1968. Her mother was a secretary and her father was a textile agent and she was brought up in the northernmost reaches of London with her two younger sisters. She was educated at a Catholic Girls’ Grammar school in Finchley. After leaving school at sixteen she spent two years at Barnet College doing an arts foundation course and then two years at Epsom School of Art & Design studying Fashion Illustration and Communication.

She worked for the fashion chain, Warehouse, for three years as a PR Assistant and then for Thomas Pink, the Jermyn Street shirt company, for four years as a receptionist and PA. She started her first novel, Ralph’s Party, for a bet in 1996. She finished it in 1997 and it was published by Penguin books in May 1998. It went on to become the best-selling debut novel of that year.

She has since written a further nine novels, and is currently at work on her eleventh.

She now lives in an innermost part of north London with her husband Jascha, an IT consultant, her daughters, Amelie and Evie and her silver tabbies, Jack and Milly.

(biographical information courtesy of Goodreads)

Monday, 3 September 2018

The Woman in the Shadows by Carol McGrath - Book Review and Blog Tour

Branches of rosemary slid from Tom Williams' funeral bier, scattering around the mourners feet to be trampled into the tiles of the church nave, releasing the scent of remembrance.

Next time if there is a marriage, it will be one of my own choosing.

When beautiful cloth merchant's daughter, Elizabeth Williams, is widowed at the age of twenty-two, she is determined to make herself a success in the business she has learned from her father. But there are those who oppose a woman making her own way in the world, and soon Elizabeth realises she may have some powerful enemies - who know the truth about her late husband.

Security - and happiness - comes when Elizabeth is introduced to the kind and ambitious merchant, Thomas Cromwell. Their marriage is one based on mutual love and respect, but it isn't always easy being the wife of an influential, headstrong man in Henry VIII's London.

The city is filled with ruthless people and strange delights - and Elizabeth realises she must adjust to the life she has chosen, or risk losing everything.

If there is one type of book that I really enjoy reading, whether it is fiction or non-fiction, it is those that are about the women who were behind powerful men. This is one such book and had everything I need in a historical novel.

The period detail is precise and clearly well researched, as evidenced in the bibliography in the back of the book. I felt thoroughly immersed in Tudor England with all the details of attitudes to daily life. Our views of birth, marriage and death and the ritual around those events in particular, have come a long way since the sixteenth century when the book is set.

Written in the first person narrative we get to know Elizabeth's character very well. She takes us through the past and present of her life in a non-chronological order. However, each section is dated and there is no confusion as we hop back and forth through this narrative.

Even though I knew a reasonable amount about Thomas Cromwell (and in case you are wondering, this book is nothing like Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall) this was a really interesting take on the people that surrounded him. Mostly, they are based on actual people but the author does not try to pretend that the stories that she has written about them are anything but fictional. However, she makes great usage of the facts that are available to weave them into believable and engaging characters.

Although set in the past the book still feels very current. The issues that Elizabeth confronts in her daily life still have some resonance to the modern reader.

Anyone who enjoys historical fiction, especially the Tudor period will enjoy reading this book. I highly recommend it.

ISBN: 978 1786152299

Publisher: Accent Press

About the Author:

Carol McGrath taught History and English for many years. When left teaching to work on an MA in Creative Writing from Queens University, Belfast, then an MPhil in English at Royal Holloway, London, where she developed her exprtise on the Middle Ages.

Her debut novel, The Handfasted Wife was published by Accent Press in May 2013. The Swan Daughter and The Betrothed Sister followed in 2014 and 2015.

Friday, 31 August 2018

Monday Blog Tour - THE WOMAN IN THE SHADOWS by Carol McGrath

Monday will be my stop on the Blog Tour for The Woman in the Shadows by Carol McGrath. 

I will be reviewing this book and sharing my thoughts with you so keep an eye open for my blog posting on Monday. 

Have a great weekend everybody.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver - Book Review

Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened.

Told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. This is the story of one family's tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in post-colonial Africa.

A modern classic, The Poisonwood Bible has been read and adored by millions worldwide.

I have never read a novel by Barbara Kingsolver that I did not think was brilliant. Her novels are all beautifully written and this book was no exceptions. This is another outstanding work that I loved from the very first page.

There are five very distinct voices in this novel and each one sang with individuality. Four daughters and a mother - as different as chalk and cheese and Ms. Kingsolver allows the reader to develop a close acquaintance with each of them.

I cannot remember reading a book set in the Belgian Congo before so there was much new information for me to glean here. The author captured the atmosphere, as felt by the individual characters, extremely well. She depicted the severity of their living conditions superbly. I was utterly convinced by their surroundings and circumstances.

My one small criticism of this book is that it was slightly too long and I felt it could have been wrapped up quite neatly at an earlier point. Have you read this? Do you agree?

ISBN:  978 0571298846

Publisher: Faber and Faber

About the Author:

Barbara Kingsolver's work has been translated into more than twenty languages and has earned a devoted readership. In 2010 she won the Orange Prize for The Lacuna, and her 2012 novel Flight Behaviour was shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction. Before she made her living as a writer, Kingsolver earned degrees in biology and worked as a scientist. She now lives with her family on a farm in southern Appalachia.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Library Lowdown

I had a great trip to the library and came away with four exciting titles; two of which are in the longlist for this years Man Booker Prize Award. 

Everything Under by Daisy Johnson

Words have always mattered to Gretel. As a child, she lived on a canal boat with her mother, and together they invented a language that was just their own. She hasn't seen her mother since the age of sixteen though - almost a lifetime ago - and those memories have faded. Now Gretel works as a lexicographer, updating dictionary entries, which suits her solitary nature.

A phone call from the hospital interrupts Gretel's isolation and throws up questions from long ago. She begins to remember the private vocabulary of her childhood. She remembers other things too: the wild years spent on the river; the strange, lonely boy who came to stay on the boat one winter; and the creature in the water - a canal thief? - swimming upstream, getting ever closer. In the end there will be nothing for Gretel to do but go back.

Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize Award 2018, Daisy Johnson's debut novel turns classical myth on its head and takes readers to a modern-day England unfamiliar to most. As daring as it is moving, Everything Under is a story of family and identity, of fate, language, love and belonging that leaves you unsettled and unstrung.

Milkman by Anna Burns

In this unnamed city, to be interesting is dangerous. Middle sister, our protagonist, is buy attempting to keep her mother from discovering her maybe-boyfriend and to keep everyone in the dark about her encounter with Milkman. But when first brother-in-law sniffs out her trouble and rumours start to swell, middle sister becomes 'interesting'. The last thing she ever wanted to be. To be interesting is to be noticed and to be noticed is dangerous.

Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize Award 2018, Milkman is a tale of gossip and hearsay, silence and deliberate deafness. It is the story of inaction with enormous consequences.

The Hoarder by Jess Kidd

Maud Drennan - an underpaid carer and unintentional psychic - is the latest in a long line of dogsbodies for the ancient, belligerent Cathal Flood. Yet despite her best efforts, Maud finds herself drawn into the mysteries concealed in his filthy, once-grand home. She realises that something is changing: Cathal, and the junk-filled rooms, are opening up to her.

With only her agoraphobic landlandy and a troop of sarcastic ghostly saints to help, Maud must uncover what lies beneath Cathal's decades-old hostility, and the strange activities of the house itself. And if someone has hidden a secret there, how far will they go to ensure it remains buried?

Our House by Louise Candlish

When Fi Lawson arrives home to find strangers moving into her house, she is plunged into terror and confusion. She and her husband, Bram, have owned their home on Trinity Avenue for years and have no intention of selling. How can this other family possibly think the house is theirs? And why has Bram disappeard when she needs him most?

Bram has made a catastrophic mistake and now he is paying. Unable to see his wife, his children or his home, he has nothing left but to settle scores. As the nightmare takes grip, both Bram and Fi try to make sense of the events that led to a devastating crime. What has he hidden from her - and what has she hidden from him? And will either survive the chilling truth - that there are far worse things you can lost than your house?

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Shavlan by Eunice E. Blecker - Tuesday Teaser

Welcome to the first of my regular Tuesday Teaser slot where I will be providing you with some basic information and the first page of a book that I think you might like to know more about. 

Todays book is Shavlan by Eunice E. Blecker. Does this book appeal to you based on the first page? Has it whet your appetite to read more? I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

From the Blurb 

Shavlan - A Woman's Journey to Independence

Sarah Taube cowers in the bakery cellar clutching her three children, listening to the sounds of shooting and shouting by the White Cossacks during a pogrom. In order to survive, she enters into a bargain with the ruthless Commissar, Dimitri, an orthodox Jew transformed by tragedy into a high-ranking Bolshevik. Will Dimitri be able to protect Sarah Taube and her family? Will Sarah Taube be reunited with her wanderlust husband who leaves for South Africa to seek his fortune and find himself, and will she realize her life long dream to go to America?

Little does Sarah Taube realize as she stands at the train tracks with her children, how much her life is going to change.

This family saga is based on true events in the life of the author's maternal grandmother spanning three continents and five decades. It tells of a woman's journey to independence while living through World War I, deportation from her village in Lithuania, the Russian Revolution, the Civil War and Lithuanian Independence.

First Page

Chapter 1 - Cossacks

May 1919 - Ekaterinoslav, Ukraine, Soviet Russia

Sarah Taube lay frightened in the dimly lit cellar surrounded by her three precious children. Thank goodness they were asleep, she thought. Her daughter Chaya was well aware of what was happening, but the two younger children were still so very innocent and untouched by the cruel realities of war.

The sound of galloping horses, troops marching, the firing of rifles, and the piercing cries of men, women and children could be heard nearby.

"How could this be happening?" she asked herself.

Where was Dimitri who promised to be there for her and the children if she ever needed him? She was again isolated and alone, with only her wits to help her think calmly and clearly.

It seemed to her as if a curse had been placed upon nearly all of the males in her life.

It first began with her father who was killed during a pogrom, attempting to save the life of a woman he did not even know. Then there was her husband, stuck in a faraway land unable to rescue her in her time of need. Losing her sweet, innocent young son Avram so tragically still overpowered her with sorrow. And the thought of not knowing whether her eldest son Yankel was alive or dead overwhelmed her with grief. So why shouldn't she think a curse had been placed on those males so closely connected to her? Why indeed.

She was determined to be strong for her children's sake, though there were times when she felt the strain of it was too much for her to bear. But somehow she would always find the strength to carry on, regardless of all the obstacles she had to face.

ISBN: 978 1546966166

Publisher: Newbridge Press

Friday, 17 August 2018

Some Exciting News!

I love writing my blog and sharing all the books that I read with you. Amazingly, I have been doing this since 2013 and the time has flown by but then we all know the old adage about how time flies when we are having fun. 

And it really has been fun to do. I love the interaction I have with you all via social media, email and comments and I listen to your  feedback very carefully. So, with that in mind, I am going to be making some exciting changes to the blog. Overall,the format will remain the same with the majority of posts being my reviews along with the occasional guest post.  However, I am also introducing some regular postings beginning with Tuesday Teaser next week which will go live next ........well on Tuesday - I'm sure you had already worked that out :)

The Tuesday Teaser slot will introduce the first page of a book that I think you all might like, along with some details about the book and the author. I hope that you will enjoy reading it as much as I am having fun selecting suitable books.

I have some other ideas in development too and please feel free to make any further suggestions regarding what you would like to see on the blog.

Thank you all for reading my blog. Words cannot express how much I enjoy sharing my reading with you and I am grateful to you all for being there.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Bone Deep by Sandra Ireland - Guest Post - Blog Tour

I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Bone Deep by Sandra Ireland. Sandra is a guest on the blog today and is talking about her novel and what inspired her to write it.

The Cruel Sister, a Border Ballad
Around the fire in the not-so distant past, you might have settled down to listen to a song of love and heartache, of sibling rivalry, betrayal and murder. All the ingredients, you might think, for a first- class soap, a Hollywood blockbuster or even a page-turning novel. This is the ballad of The Cruel Sister, often known as the Twa Sisters, which has inspired not only my second novel Bone Deep, but also work by countless other writers and artists from Alfred Lord Tennyson to Bob Dylan.

The ballad was first formally documented by Sir Walter Scott in his 1802 collection, The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, but this macabre tale has crossed borders, oceans, and cultures, with more than 531 versions of the ballad currently recorded in countries all around the world, according to the Roud Folk Song Index, which catalogues traditional songs.

The challenge for me was how to incorporate this fascinating tale into a contemporary thriller. After all, I’m not an historical novelist and I like creating modern characters in very 21st century situations. However, the past is never far away. In Bone Deep, my protagonist Lucie is helping Mac, a rather eccentric academic, to organise her work. Mac is collecting old folktales and ballads, and I wondered what would happen if Lucie began to see herself in the tale of the Two Sisters…

The premise of the ancient ballad is simple but deadly. Two sisters go down to a body of water, sometimes a river, or the sea, but often, as in BoneDeep, a mill pond. The older sister pushes the younger one into the water and refuses to pull her out. At the last minute she realises what she’s done and tries to grasp her hand, but mostly it’s a case of murder most foul…

The motive is always jealousy. In some variants, the sisters are being two-timed by a suitor; in others, the elder sister's affections are not returned by the young man, and he proposes marriage to the younger girl. Invariably, the suitor arranges to marry the surviving sibling.

The body of the younger girl is recovered downstream by a very dodgy miller. If you want to know more, pick up a copy of Bone Deep!

ISBN:  978 1846974183

Publisher: Polygon Books

Monday, 13 August 2018

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah - Book Review

"A woman has to be tough as steel up here. You can't count on anyone to save you and your children. You have to be willing to save yourselves. And you have to learn fast. In Alaska you can make one mistake. One. The second one will kill you."

Alaska, 1974. Untamed. Unpredictable. A story of a family in crisis struggling to survive at the edge of the world. It is also a story of young and enduring love.

Cora Allbright and her husband, Ernt - a recently returned Vietnam veteran scarred by the war - uproot their thirteen-year-old daughter, Leni, to start a new life in Alaska. Utterly unprepared for the weather and the isolation, but welcomed by the close-knit community, they fight to build a home in this harsh, beautiful wilderness.

At once an epic story of human survival and love, and an intimate portrait of a family tested beyond endurance, The Great Alone offers a glimpse into a vanishing way of life in America. With her trademark combination of elegant prose and deeply drawn characters, Kristin Hannah has delivered an enormously powerful story that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the remarkable and enduring strength of women. It is the finest example of Hannah's ability to weave together the deeply personal with the universal.

This novel is about the setting as much as plot or character. The cold and hardships of living in Alaska are excellently portrayed in this book. The author has brought the environment completely alive, from the long dark winters to the long days of spring and summer. Despite my reading this during a heatwave here in England (very rare) there were times I reached for my wrap such was her ability to draw the reader into the book. Her research has come from her own experience of her fathers love for adventure and their own residence in the location in which the book is set.

The characters are carefully drawn and easy to become involved with. There are some truly wonderful characters in this book. I found myself rooting for Leni, Cora and Matthew throughout and I would challenge anyone not to love Large Marge. Ms. Hannah is extremely skilled at developing her characters and bringing them vividly to life.

Combined with a plot which is advanced in an easy to read narrative, these three factors all come together to form a totally gripping novel.

My only small criticism was that some of the story was a little too sugary and ultimately predictable for my taste, but that is entirely personal. I continue to love this author's writing and I have read and reviewed The Nightingale (in fact I have read this twice and was one of my top ten favourite books of 2016) and Night Road - you can read my reviews by clicking on the title. One thing that makes me very happy is that the author has a long back list which I am looking forward to reading in the future.

Do you have a favourite book written by Kristin Hannah? I would love to hear about it.

ISBN: 978 1250193773

Publisher: Macmillan USA

About the Author:

Kristin Hannah is a New York Times bestselling author. She is a lawyer-turned-writer and is the mother of one son. She and her husband live in the Pacific Northwest near Seattle and Hawaii. Her first novel published in the UK, Night Road, was one of eight books selected for the 2011 TV Book Club Summer Read and The Nightingale was a New York Times number one bestseller, selling almost three million copies worldwide.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

"A bottle of wine. A family-sized packet of Nacho Cheese Flavoured Tortilla Chips and a jar of hot salsa dip. A packet of cigarettes on the side (I know, I know). The rain hammering against the windows. And a book. What could have been lovelier?"

Crime writer Alan Conway has been a bestselling author for years. Readers love his detective, Atticus Pund, a celebrated solver of crimes in the sleepy English villages of the 1950s.

But Conway's latest tale of murder at Pye Hall is not quite what it seems. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but hidden in the pages of the manuscript lies another story: a tale written between the very words on the page, telling of a real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition and murder.

There is nothing that I enjoy more than a book about a book. Within this novel we get to read the fictional manuscript of a murder mystery whilst the publishing editor reads it and forms the suspicion that there is a real life mystery going on around her. This dual aspect is highly effective and lifted this novel into something rather special.

I was completely gripped by both stories and Mr Horowitz has created a novel which is both clever and entertaining. It was a joy to read and anyone who likes murder mysteries will thoroughly enjoy this novel.

The author moved seamlessly between the period of the manuscript, which was set during the heyday of British crime fiction, to the modern day editorial and captured both eloquently. His writing style is easy to read and he set the pace of this book appropriately to the two time periods depicted in the book.

I have never read an adult book by Mr Horowitz but used to read his books for children with my sons when they were younger. Indeed, we were lucky enough to meet him when he did a book signing and reading in a children's book shop in Lewes several years ago. My son's were big fans of his and the opportunity to meet him was the icing on the cake for them.

He is clearly as skilled at writing for adults as he is for children but as he is such an established and accomplished screen-writer that should come as no surprise. I would certainly read more by this author and hope that you will enjoy this book as much as I have.

ISBN:  978 1409158387

Publisher: Orion

About the Author:

Anthony Horowitz is one of the UK's most prolific and successful writers. His novels The House of Silk and Moriarty were Sunday Times Top 10 Bestsellers and sold in more than thirty-five countries around the world. He is also the author of a James Bond novel, Trigger Mortis. His bestselling Alex Rider series for children has sold more than nineteen million copies worldwide.

As a TV screenwriter he created both Midsomer Murders and the BAFTA-winning Foyle's War; other TV work includes Poirot and the widely acclaimed mini-series Collision and Injustice, and most recently New Blood for the BBC. Anthony sits on the board of the Old Vic and regularly contributes to a wide variety of national newspapers and magazines. In January 2014 he was awarded an OBE for services to literature.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

The Second Footman by Jasper Barry

"Just as a pretty parlour maid may be considered a perquisite by the master of the house, so some of our ladies are not immune to the charms of a handsome footman."

A glorious novel full of complex and beguiling characters. It is a tale of ambition, unexpected passion and the frailty of human nature.

Nineteen year old Max is the duchess de Claireville's second footman, but he doesn't intend to endure the indignities of service for long. He has a plan - to find an aristocratic patron to become his unwitting accomplice in an audacious fraud.

Packed with rich period detail, the lavish 19th century French setting reflects the grand but suffocating restrictions of aristocratic society - contrasting the lives of the rich and of those who must serve them.

Recommended by the Historical Novel Society, this book is the first in a trilogy.

ISBN: 978 1780883656

Publisher: Matador

Friday, 20 July 2018

The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna van Praag

Tucked away on a winding Cambridge street, Etta's tiny dress store appears quite ordinary to passers-by, but the colourfully vibrant racks of beaded silks and jewel-toned velvets hold bewitching secrets: with just a few stitches from Etta's needle, these gorgeous gowns have the power to free a woman's deepest desires. Etta's granddaughter, Cora Sparks, has spent her life hidden away in the safety of the little shop and her university lab, ever since her parents' mysterious deaths many years ago.

Cora's studious, unromantic eye has overlooked Walt, the shy bookseller who has been in love with her for years. Determined not to let Cora miss her chance at happiness, Etta sets in motion a series of astonishing events that will transform Cora's life in extraordinary and unexpected ways.

This has been a delightful read although was not the book I was expecting. As a needlewoman, I am always attracted to fiction that involves dressmaking and I was instantly drawn to the cover on this book as it suggested the light read I was looking for. On one hand, that was exactly what this book provided along with a little magical realism. However, there is a darker and more gripping thread (pardon the pun) running through this which elevated this to a higher level of storytelling and made the story much more involved.

The characters are well drawn and I enjoyed reading about Cora, Walt and Etta. All are enchanting personalities in their own way.

There is a lovely blend of mystery, romance and magical realism in this book and they come together to provide an entertaining novel. It defies being categorised into one particular genre although I think the marketing of the cover and the blurb has attempted to do so.

I am definitely keen to read more by this author and I think she will appeal to many readers. Have you read any of her books? I would love to hear your thoughts on which I should read next.

About the Author:

In her own words:

"I’ve worked as a reader for BBC Films & TV and as a script editor for a number of independent production companies. I still work as a freelance script editor/consultant. I self-published my novella, Men, Money and Chocolate. Nine months later I sold it to Hay House and today it’s been translated into 26 languages – so far. The sequel, Happier Than She's Ever Been, followed a year later.

The House at the End of Hope Street was published by Penguin in 2013. Random House published The Dress Shop of Dreams (Jan, 2015) and will publish The Witches of Cambridge (Feb, 2016). Allison & Busby have published all three novels in the UK. I’m currently working on my new novel, The Three Acts of Aubrey H. Gagné."

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht - #BookReview

"Look for your sister after each dive. Never forget. If you see her, you are safe."

Hana and her little sister, Emi, are part of an island community of haenyeo, women who make their living from diving deep into the sea off the southernmost tip of Korea.

One day Hana sees a Japanese soldier heading for where Emi is guarding the day's catch on the beach. Her mother has told her again and again never to be caught alone with one. Terrified for her sister, Hana swims as hard as she can for the shore.

So begins the story of two sisters suddenly and violently separated by war. Switching between Hana in 1943 and Emi as an old woman today, White Chrysanthemum takes us into a dark and devastating corner of history. But pulling us back into the light are two women whose love for one another is strong enough to triumph over the evils of war.

This is one of the best books I have ever read; praise which I do not give lightly. Rarely has a book simultaneously shocked, affected and impressed me as this one has. In fact, I borrowed this from the library and having read it I have pre-ordered a copy of the paperback from a book retailer, which is due to be released on the 30th of August, here in the UK, as I am certain that I will want to re-read this book.

I have read some excellent debut novels this year and I am confident in saying that this one stands head and shoulders above the rest. The writing is beautiful and tells the story of the little known history of Korea's women during the Japanese invasion of Korea during World War Two. Ms. Bract is to be applauded for bringing this to the attention of modern readers. I, for one, had no knowledge of this devastating aspect of twentieth-century history.

If ever fictional characters deserve to be fallen in love with, it is Hana and Emi. The author portrays her characters so fully that I really felt that I knew them and cried for the horrors that they were forced to endure. It is hard to leave this book behind.

The authors research has been thorough and she conveys this information with intelligence and understanding. By the time I had finished this book I was deeply affected and inspired by the bravery and strength of the women being portrayed and, therefore, their real life counterparts.

Bravo, to Ms. Bract for bringing this horrendous period of history to the fore and I strongly recommend this book to you all.

ISBN: 978 1784741440

Publisher: Chatto and Windus

About the Author:

Mary Lynn Bracht is an American author of Korean descent who now lives in London. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck, University of London.

She grew up in a large ex-pat community of women who came of age in post-war South Korea. In 2002 Bracht visited her mother's childhood village, and it was during this trip she first learned of the 'comfort women' captured and set up in brothels for the Japanese military.

White Chrysanthemum is her first novel.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Testament by Kim Sherwood - #BlogTour

A prize-winning literary timeslip novel about what happens after you survive. A young woman uncovers the truth about her family's past as Hungarian Jews who came to Britain in 1945.

 * * * * * * 

The letter was in the Blue Room - her grandfather's painting studio, where Eva spent the happier days of her childhood. After his death, she is the one responsible for his legacy - a legacy threatened by the letter she finds. It is from the Jewish Museum in Berlin.

They have found the testimony her grandfather gave after surviving the labour camps in Austria. And, since he was one of Britain's greatest twentieth century artists, they want to exhibit it. But Joseph Silk - leaving behind József Zyyad - remade himself long ago.

As Eva begins to uncover the truth, she understands the trauma, and the lies, that have haunted her family. She will unravel what happened to József and his brother, who came to England as refugees. One never spoke of his past - the other couldn't let it go.

Their story - and that of the woman they both loved - is in her hands. Revealing it would change her grandfather's hard-won identity. But it could also change the tide of history. This testament can lend words to wordless grief, and teach her how to live.

Kim Sherwood's extraordinary first novel is a powerful statement of intent. Beautifully written, moving and hopeful, it crosses the tidemark where the third generation meets the first, finding a new language to express love, loss and our place within history.

This is an extremely ambitious debut novel. Its scope is huge and I think the author has accomplished this through writing with skill, intelligence and compassion.

Bearing in mind the difficult subject matter, the language is beautiful and each word has meaning. Nothing is superfluous to the construction of this novel and at times I was so caught up in the lyricism of Ms. Sherwood's writing that I had to slow my reading down and re-read occasional sentences of this novel just to luxuriate in it.

There are many Holocaust novels on the shelves of bookshops but this one has a slightly different perspective to some of the others. It looks closely at self-identity and what can happen to the relationships of those who survived and also, the impact that has had on the future generations of survivors.

Evidently well researched the author has brought a myriad of facts to the novel and turned them into an amazingly accomplished and powerful first novel and I look forward to seeing what she will realize in her future writing.

ISBN: 978 1786488671

Publisher: Riverrun

About the Author:

Kim Sherwood was born in Camden, London in 1989. She studied on the Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia, going on to teach creative writing at UEA and the University of Sussex. Kim's stories and articles have appeared in numerous journals, including Mslexia, Lighthouse and Going Down Swinging. The manuscript of her debut novel, Testament, won the Bath Novel Award in 2016.

Kim began writing Testament in 2011 after her grandfather, the actor George Baker, passed away. In the same year, Kim's grandmother began to talk about her experiences as a Holocaust Survivor for the first time. These events provided seeds for a story that grew as Kim undertook research into the events of the Holocaust in Hungary, and as extremism rose again across Europe.

Kim lives in Bath. She is s Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of the West of England. Testament is her first novel.

Friday, 13 July 2018

How to be a Heroine (Or, What I've Learned From Reading Too Much) by Samantha Ellis - Book Review

"A couple of summers ago, I was on the Yorkshire moors, arguing (over the wuthering) with my best friend about whether we'd rather be Jane Eyre or Cathy Earnshaw. I thought Cathy, Obviously Cathy."

On a pilgrimage to Wuthering heights, Samantha Ellis found herself arguing with her best friend about which heroine was best: Jane Eyre or Cathy Earnshaw. She was all for wild, free, passionate Cathy, but her friend found Cathy silly, a snob who betrays Heathcliff for Edgar and makes them all unhappy - while courageous Jane makes her own way.

And that's when Samantha realsied that all her life she'd been trying to be Cathy when she should have been trying to be Jane.

So she decided to look again at her heroines - the girls, women, books that had shaped her ideas of the world and how to live. Some of them stood up to the scrutiny (she will always love Lizzy Bennett); some of them decidedly did not (turns our Katy Carr from What Katy Did isn't a carefree rebel, she's a drip). There were revelations (the real heroine of Gone With the Wind? It's Melanie), joyous reunions (Anne of Green Gables), poignant memories (Sylvia Plath) and tearful goodbyes (Lucy Honeychurch). And then there was Jilly Cooper......

How To Be A Heroine is a funny, touching, inspiring exploration of the role of heroines, and our favourite books, in all our lives - and how they change over time, for better or worse, just as we do.

This was such a fun book to read that I could not put it down. The author takes us on a romp through the heroines of books that she has read throughout her life, how she has internalised some of those behaviours and the effect that they have had on her life.

Her chapter headings are:

1.   The Little Mermaid
2.   Anne of Green Gables
3.   Lizzy Bennett
4.   Scarlett O'Hara
5.   Franny Glass
6.   Esther Greenwood
7.   Lucy Honeychurch
8.   The Dolls (from the Valley)
9.   Cathy Earnshaw
10. Flora Poste
11. Scheherazade

However, these are not essays solely on each of these characters. Throughout each chapter Ms. Ellis draws on many other fictional characters who have crossed her reading path and thus this book becomes a multi-coloured ramble through the flowers and thorns she has encountered in her reading.

This is also part-memoir and we learn much about the authors Iraqi-Jewish upbringing and culture and the expectations that were put on her as part of this community.

Although, written from a femininist perspective I felt that both women and men would appreciate the message that Ms Ellis is conveying in this book. In her final chapter she writes:

"No writer is writing me a better journey. No writer is guiding me through my misunderstandings and muddles and wrong turns to reach my happy ending. And then I realise I am the writer. I don't mean because I write. I mean because we all write our own lives."

I liked this conclusion to her book. This is a light read with an important message within. None of us have to settle for another person's plan for our lives. Life itself can give us the inner strength to be the person who we want to be.

In the postscript of this book the author provides her mother's recipe for masafan, an Iraqi-Jewish type of marzipan that she mentions in the book. I had a go at making this the other day and judging by how quickly my grandchildren packed them away they were a resounding success and I encourage you to give them a try. 

Within the covers of this book Ms Ellis has given us insight into books, reading, culture and a recipe for gorgeously sweet biscuits. A marvellous combination. 

ISBN: 978 0099575566

Publisher: Vintage

About the Author:

Samantha Ellis is a playwright and journalist. The daughter of Iraqi-Jewish refugees, she grew up thinking her family had travelled everywhere by magic carpet. From an early age she knew she didn't want their version of a happy ending - marriage to a nice Iraqi-Jewish boy- so she read books to find out what she did want. Her plays include Patching Havoc, Sugar and Snow and Cling to Me Like Ivy, and she is a founding member of women's theatre company Agent 160. She lives in London.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara - #BookReview

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel painter pursuing fame in the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity.

Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented lawyer yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by a degree of trauma that he fears he will not only be unable to overcome - but that will define his life forever.

In a novel of extraordinary intelligence and heart, Yanagihara has fashioned a masterful depiction of heartbreak, and a dark and haunting examination of the tyranny of experience and memory.

Some people are put off reading long books. Personally, I quite like them as I see it as a book that I can really get my teeth into. That said, by the time I am drawing towards the denouement I am usually looking forward to getting on with something new. Which is why I was surprised that when I came to the end of this totally engrossing book I was sad that it had come to an end. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that I feel slightly bereft that this cast of characters are now out of my life.

Within the unassuming cover of this book lies a novel of exquisite intensity. Bearing in mind that I finished reading this a couple of weeks ago and that I have read a couple of other books since, the fact that I am still mulling this book over in my mind speaks volumes concerning what a fantastic novel it actually is.

Each of the characters are flawed but are written with such absolute honesty that they are very easy to engage with. Although this book is about the four college classmates it focuses on Jude, whose previous life is a mystery to his friends and everyone that he knows. His life is gradually explained to the reader and the author presents us with some extremely difficult themes. However, she deals with Jude with such sensitivity and compassion that, as readers, we are able to bear these revelations.

This is an intelligent character driven novel which looks at the true meaning of love and friendship. Written with tenderness, care and compassion, the author has ensured that this a book I will never forget reading.

As always, there are not any spoilers within this review. What I will say, is that I cannot decide whether I think that the conclusion of this book was the perfect one or whether I really hated it. Have you read this? What are your thoughts?

ISBN:  978 1447294832

Publisher: Picador

About the Author:

A Little Life is Hanya Yanagihara's second book and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2015 and was a finalist for the National Book Award in the same year.

She is an American novelist, editor and travel writer. She grew up in Hawaii and now lives in New York.