Monday, 18 June 2018

Library Lowdown - 16th June 2018

I got three books from the library this week and they are all titles that I have wanted to read for some time. Have you read any of them?

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

An intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing examines the power and limitations of family bonds. Rich with Ward's distinctive lyrical language, it brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first-century America.

The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey 

Outside a London theatre, a throng of people wait expectantly for the last performance of a popular musical.

But as the door open at last, something spoils all thought of entertainment: a man in the queue is found murdered by the deadly thrust of a stiletto....

A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh

Wealthy Sir Hubert Handesley's original and lively weekend house-parties were deservedly famous, but the one planned for this weekend was to prove unique.

To amuse his guests, Sir Hubert had devised a new form of the fashionable Murder Game. A guest was secretly selected to commit a 'murder', the victim to be of his own choosing. At an appropriate moment he would tap the victim on the shoulder, say 'You're the corpse,' the lights would go out, a gong would boom, and everyone would assemble to figure out who did it.

But when the lights went up this time there was a real corpse, with a real dagger in the back, all seven suspects had had time to concoct skilful alibis - and it was Chief Detective-Inspector Roderick Alleyn who had to try and figure out the murderer.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

An Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

Sophie's husband, James, is a loving father and a successful public figure. Yet he stands accused of a terrible crime. Sophie is convinced he is innocent and desperate to protect her precious family from the lies that threaten to engulf him. She's kept his darkest secret ever since they were first lovers, at Oxford. And if she stood by him then, she can do it now.

Kate is the barrister prosecuting his case. She is certain that James is guilty and determined he should pay. No stranger to suffering herself, she doesn't flinch from posing the questions few want to hear. About what happens between a man and a woman when they're alone: alone in bed, alone in an embrace, alone in a lift....

Is James the victim of an unfortunate misunderstanding or the perpetrator of something sinister? This scandal - which forces Sophie to appraise her marriage and Kate her demons - will have far-reaching consequences for them all.

Part courtroom drama; part a portrait of a marriage; part an exploration of the extent to which our memories still haunt us, Anatomy of a Scandal is a disarming and provocative psychological thriller.

This was a gripping read which I read very quickly as I was keen to see the way in which the plot would develop. It has a very current feel to it and I think it portrayed very well a view of parliament and the upper classes that ordinary people like myself have of these institutions.

It is a character driven book and told from the perspectives of the three main characters, Kate, Sophie and James. This made it very easy to engage with them even whilst not necessarily liking them. In addition to these three perspectives the book also moves between past and present which allows the reader to understand the background of these three characters and, therefore, how they have evolved into the people they are in the present day narrative.

A thoughtful, sensitive and engrossing read that kept me up way past my bedtime. This is the first book I have read by Sarah Vaughan and I really enjoyed it. It has been a while since I read a courtroom drama and it has made me want to read more. Do you have any suggestions?

ISBN: 978 1471164996

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

About the Author:

Anatomy of a Scandal combines Sarah Vaughan's experiences as a news reporter and a political correspondent with her time as a student reading English at a historic Oxford college in the mid Nineties. She is married with two children and lives just outside Cambridge.

Monday, 11 June 2018

The Brondesbury Tapestry by Helen Harris

"Telling your life story is not just wallowing in nostaligia ... It gives people the opportunity to pass on the version of their life they want. It gives them a chance to right wrongs, to set down burdens they've been carrying around for years: secrets, horrisble things ....."

Six women and one man gather in a rundown community centre in North London for a life writing class run by Dorothy, their uniquely unqualified teacher. They have urgent stories to tell and, as they recount them, they discover they are connected in unexpected ways.

Illustrated with sharp line drawings by illustrator Beatrice Baumgartner-Cohen, The Brondesbury Tapestry is a quirky, perceptive look at a group of people who feel the modern world has left them behind but who have decided that they will still have the last word.

Confession time - I had never heard of Helen Harris before I read this book but I have every intention of becoming more familiar with her work as this is a book that is very well worth reading. Initially, I was attracted by the cover with its very pretty needlework design, as well as the word 'tapestry' in it's title. As a needlewoman myself, I am sure you can appreciate my original interest and surprise, as when I started reading I realised that both of these descriptors are the perfect metaphor for this story as they represent the coming together of stories that the characters in this book bring to the narrative.

And what a wonderful cast of characters they are. Each a little quirky in their own way and all entirely different personalities which make this book thoroughly enjoyable to read. It is very clear that the author has a keen eye for what goes on around her and, therefore, she creates her characters with a realism that makes them all very easy to engage with. Even those who were not so nice she deals with sensitively and arouses empathy in her readers for the individual characters.

It is the voices of the characters that really make this book something special. Each very different from the next and as they read their writing to one another it is very clear who we are hearing even without the character's name as the chapter title. For instance, I loved the way spelling mistakes were included in the writing of one of the women as it provided a real sense of authenticity to her voice. I think it is a very skilled author indeed, who is able to adapt her writing so well to the individual nuances of her characters.

Additionally, one of the ladies tells her story through drawings which are also included throughout . 

Essentially, this is about how we view ourselves and others and the persona that we each present to the world. I absolutely loved this book and encourage you to discover this delightful novel for yourself. 

ISBN: 978 905556609

Publisher: Halban Publishers

About the Author:

Helen Harris is the prize-winning author of five novels and many short stories, published in a wide range of magazines and anthologies. She teaches creative writing at Birkbeck College at the University of London.

I was gifted a copy of this book by the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

My Real Name is Hanna by Tara Lynn Masih

“I am beginning to realize that freedom means you can be who you are meant to be, whatever that is. . . . That breathing without any thought to it is a gift. Now, I think about breathing all the time. What is it like to take your last breath? What if the sound of it gave you away?”

Hanna Slivka is on the cusp of fourteen when Hitler's army crosses the border into Soviet-occupied Ukraine. Soon, the Gestapo closes in, determined to make the shtetele she lives in "free of Jews." Until the German occupation, Hanna spent her time exploring Kwasova with her younger siblings, admiring the drawings of the handsome Leon Stadnick, and helping her neighbor dyes decorative pysanky eggs. But now she, Leon, and their families are forced to flee and hide in the forest outside their shtetele--and then in the dark caves beneath the rolling meadows, rumored to harbor evil spirits. 

Underground, they battle sickness and starvation, while the hunt continues above. When Hanna's father disappears, suddenly it's up to Hanna to find him - and to find a way to keep the rest of her family, and friends, alive. 

Sparse, resonant, and lyrical, weaving in tales of Jewish and Ukrainian folklore, My Real Name Is Hanna celebrates the sustaining bonds of family, the beauty of a helping hand, and the tenacity of the human spirit.

Generally speaking, once I have read a book I usually get straight on with the review while it is still fresh in my mind. However, every now and again I read a book that affects me so profoundly that I have to take a day or two to process what I have read. This was one such book and it completely took my breath away.

I have heard it said that the world really does not need anymore Holocaust/World War II stories but I would have to disagree. When writing is of this standard it is a welcome addition to the canon and I would strongly encourage you to read this book as it really does have something to add. The author's ability as a storyteller is unquestionable and although the story is about difficult issues, it is ultimately one of survival and hope, and as such, is inspiraring to read.

Aimed at a young adults, it would be a huge loss to literature if this superb book were to be confined to this audience only. Having said that, this book is very well written and I could see it fitting quite neatly within the academic syllabus as there is so much to be gained from reading it.

Ms. Masih writes with sensitivity and empathy and, thus, evokes the thoughts and feelings of her characters extremely well. I could sense the darkness and feelings of claustrophobia experienced by the characters hiding in the caves which the author has depicted so well.

It is rare for me to say that I felt privileged to read a book but as I turned the last page in this book I did indeed feel that way. I had not realised until I read the author's Afterword that she had based this book on true events; those of Esther Stermer and her extended family who survived the war. I have the utmost respect for the bravery of this family, and other survivors like them, that endured and survived these horrific circumstances. Also, for an exceptional author who brought  her fictional characters so vividly to life in order to impart their story.

Due to be published in September 2018, I would strongly encourage you to pre-order this book. As a debut novel it is outstanding and I really hope that Ms. Masih will be writing many more novels.

ISBN:  978 19422134510

Publisher: Mandel Vilar Press

About the Author:

Tara Lynn Masih is editor of the Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction (a ForeWord Book of the Year), The Chalk Circle: Intercultural Prizewinning Essays (winner of a Skipping Stones Honor Award; a New England Book Festival award; a Benjamin Franklin silver medal award; and a ForeWord Book of the Year Award), and author of Where the Dog Star Never Glows, a National Best Books Award finalist in the short story category. She is the founding series editor of The Best Small Fictions, and My Real Name Is Hanna, her debut novel for young readers and adults set in WW II Ukraine, is due out Sept. 2018.

Tara received an MA in Writing and Publishing from Emerson College, and has published fiction, poetry, and essays in numerous anthologies and literary magazines, and her essays have been read on NPR and translated to dance. Several limited edition illustrated chapbooks featuring her flash fiction, along with poet's farthing cards, have been published by The Feral Press.

Awards for her work include first place in The Ledge Magazine’s fiction contest, a finalist fiction grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, The Lou P. Bunce Creative Writing Award, multiple Pushcart Prize nominations, and Best New American Voices and Best of the Web nominations. 

Tara was the assistant editor for STORIES literary magazine, and a regular contributor to The Indian-American and Masala magazines. She divides her time between Andover, MA, and St. Augustine, FL.

I was gifted a copy of this book by the author in return for an unbiased review.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Library Low Down - 26th May 2018

I found three lovely books at the library this week. Now, I just have to decide which to read first. Any suggestions?

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

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 Along 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.

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

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 1950's.

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 real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition and murder.

March Violets by Philip Kerr

Bernard Gunther is a private eye, specializing in missing persons. And in Hitler's Berlin, he's never short of work....

Winter, 1936. A man and his wife have been shot dead in their bed. The woman's father, a millionaire industrialist, wants justice - and the priceless diamonds that disappeared along with his daughter's life. As Bernie follows the trail into the cesspit that is Nazi Germany, he's forced to confront a horrifying conspiracy. One that takes him to the very heart of government, and eventually, to Dachau...

The first in the iconic Berlin Noir series, March Violets takes readers to the rotten heart of Nazi Berlin, and introduces a private eye in the great tradition of Hammett and Chandler.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Silent Scream by Angela Marsons

Five figures gather round a shallow grave. They had all taken turns to dig. An adult-sized hole would have taken longer....

Years later, a headmistress is found brutally strangled, the first in a spate of gruesome murders which shock the Black Country.

But when human remains are discovered at a former children's home, disturbing secrets are also unearthed. D.I. Kim Stone fast realises she's on the hunt for a twisted individual whose killing spree spans decades.

As the body count rises, Kim needs to stop the murderer before they strike again. But to catch the killer, can Kim confront the demons of her own past before it's too late?

I love it when I read and enjoy the first book in a series as I have the excitement of knowing that there are more books about a particular set of characters to read.

This is a real page-turner of a book. Reading this was one of those occasions when I felt slightly cross at real life interfering with my reading pleasure.

The characters are very easy to engage with. Kim Stone is a detective with issues of her own to contend with and it was interesting to see the impact that those issues had upon how she carried out her day to day life as a police detective. She is efficient, strong-willed and driven and does not mind bending some of the rules if she feels the end justifies the means.

The rest of the characters are equally well fleshed out and Ms. Marsons has created a very believable and interesting set of characters that I can hardly wait to learn more about in the next book in this series, Evil Games

We are also given glimpses of the killer in the form of occasional chapters in the voice of the murderer. I found myself re-reading these particular chapters to try and guess who the killer was which, incidentally, I did not manage to do. I had my pet theory as to who was responsible only to be very surprised when the culprit was eventually revealed.

The plot is fast paced with plenty of twists and turns to ensure that I was up way past my bedtime reading 'just one more chapter'. A situation with which, I am sure, we are all familiar with.

If you enjoy a good crime novel then you will really enjoy this book and I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

ISBN: 978 1785770524

Publisher: Zaffre

About the Author:

Angela discovered her love of writing at Primary School when a short piece on the rocks and the sea gained her the only merit point she ever got. She wrote the stories that burned inside and then stored them safely in a desk drawer.

After much urging from her partner she began to enter short story competitions in Writer’s News resulting in a win and three short listed entries. She self-published two of her earlier works before concentrating on her true passion – Crime.

After many, many submissions she signed an 8 book deal with Bookouture as their first crime author.

She lives in the Black Country with her partner, bouncy Labrador and potty-mouthed parrot.  

Friday, 18 May 2018

Jerusalem Stone by Susan Sofayov

On September 15, 2008, Julie Wasserman’s life collapsed. In the morning, she lost her job at Lehman Brothers. That afternoon, she lost her twin brother, Jack, in a car crash. 

A year and a half later, she returns home to Pittsburgh to start a new job and live up to a pledge to visit her brother’s grave every day. With six weeks to wait before the start of the new job, she steps out of character and purchases a plane ticket to Thailand, the one place her brother dreamed of visiting.

She arrives in Thailand, focused on trying to figure out how she is going to live in the world without her twin brother and best friend. But an interruption in the form of a sexy Israeli, Avi, distracts her from this goal. As he tries to make her see that their meeting was beshert, meant to be, she insists that she must return home to live up to her promise to Jack.

Feeling responsible for Jack’s death, Julie believes that he wouldn’t want her to be happy, but would expect her to mourn for the rest of her life. Can Avi find a way to convince her they are bashert and Jack wouldn’t want her to stop living, or is Julie doomed to a life of guilt and unhappiness unless a higher power steps in?

With the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle taking place tomorrow I fancied a bit of romance in my reading. Jerusalem Stone falls perfectly into that category and overall was a good read.

The thing I really liked about this book was the atmospheric descriptions of place. The story takes place in Thailand and Israel, neither places I have been fortunate enough to visit as yet, but I certainly want to now. Ms. Soayov's evocation of the travels of the two characters are extremely well done and she brought the places to life upon the page. The heat, smells and noises were palpable. In fact, the title takes it's name from the type of stone used on the buildings in Jerusalem and her descriptions were so elegantly drawn that I almost felt as though I was there.

If I am honest, it took me a little while to engage with the main characters in this book. Avi seemed too good to be true and Julie was so emotional that I could not imagine than any man would not run a mile when confronted by her tears on virtually every occasion that they met. Of course, she has been through some very difficult times and, therefore, it was not surprising that tears were always just below the surface. However, I think that was exactly the point that the author was trying to make. Avi is not an average man but someone whose understanding of Julie's pain was indeed quite remarkable.

Their relationship was about far more than two like-minded people meeting and falling in love whilst on holiday. Rather, there was something spiritual in their meeting and their love for one another was not confined to earthly reasoning but was determined by a higher power. Whilst the characters in this book are Jewish it is not a religious story. Whether you call it  destiny, fate or God it is about a kind of love that was meant to be.

Without giving anything away I loved the way this story was wrapped up so neatly at the end. I dare not say more as I would hate to spoil your enjoyment of this very satisfying story.

ISBN: 978 16269448556

Publisher: Black Opal Books

About the Author:

Susan Sofayov is a Pittsburgh based writer. She’s married to a wonderful, but completely unsupportive husband who feels she should focus less on writing and more time on her “real job” running the family real estate management company. She has three out-of-the-nest children and an aging small white dog.
She has a BA in English Literature and Political Science from the University of Pittsburgh and an MA in Teaching from Chatham University.
Her debut novel Defective chronicles a young woman’s battle to live an ordinary life while struggling with undiagnosed bipolar 2 disorder. Her second novel, The Kiddush Ladies explores friendship, forgiveness and self-destruction. It was released by Black Opal Books in December 2016. Her newest work, Jerusalem Stone was released on January 27, 2018.  It takes the reader from Thailand to Israel while focusing issues such as grief, survivor guilt, love and accepting a higher power.
She loves meeting new people by attending book group meetings. Offer her a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and she’ll be happy to talk about her books with your Pittsburgh area group. If your group is outside of Pittsburgh, she’ll pour her own cup of coffee and meet you via Skype. You can reach her at
Finally, Susan suffers from an acute fear of commas and is dependent on a cadre of writing friends to help her put them in their proper place. None of those friends previewed this blog—forgive the comma errors.
Susan kindly gifted me a proof edition of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Autumn by Ali Smith

Autumn. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. That's what it felt like for Keats in 1819.

How about Autumn 2016?

Daniel is a century old. Elisabeth, born in 1984, has her eye on the future. The United Kingdom is in pieces, divided by a historic once-in-a-generation summer.

Love is won, love is lost. Hope is hand in hand with hopelessness. The seasons roll round, as ever.

Ali Smith's new novel is a meditation on a world growing ever more bordered and exclusive, on what richness and worth are, on what harvest means. This first in a seasonal quartet casts an eye over our own time. Who are we? What are we made of? Shakespearean jeu de'esprit, Keatsian melancholy, the sheer bright energy of 1960's Pop art: the centuries cast their eyes over our own history-making.

Here's where we're living. Here's time at its most contemporaneous and its most cyclic.

From the imagination of the peerless Ali Smith comes a shape-shifting series, wide-ranging in timescale and light-footed through histories, and a story about ageing and time and love and stories themselves.

Here comes Autumn.

I found this absolutely beautiful to read and I am excited that this is the first in a seasonal quartet. The language is poetic and lyrical and I loved every word.

The narrative moves seamlessly through time - moving back and forth from Elisabeth's present to her time as a child and considers her friendship with Daniel. We do see things from Daniel's perspective periodically, which did not always seem to make sense but this is a book that it is best to just go with the flow. Simply to immerse myself in the beauty of this book was a delightful experience akin to wallowing in the waves of a calm sea.

This is a novel which is extremely current. It is set in the UK following the Brexit referendum and the author has her ear very much to the ground in that she expresses how many of us feel. However, it is not a political book but one that considers issues of the present day.

If I had to pick one thing that I liked above all else in this book it would be the humour that is interwoven through the text. Ms. Shaw has a marvellous way of depicting bureaucracy to  demonstrate what nonsense it so often is. Elisabeth's experience in the post office was extremely amusing and her frustration was palpable.

It has been some years since I picked up one of Ali Smith's books but I will not be leaving it so long this time. I am very keen to read Winter, the next book in the quartet, and plan to do so very soon.

Have you read any novels by this author? I would love to hear your thoughts.

ISBN: 978-0241973318

Publisher:  Penguin

About the Author:

Ali Smith is a writer, born in Inverness, Scotland, to working-class parents. She was raised in a council house in Inverness and now lives in Cambridge. She studied at Aberdeen, and then at Cambridge, for a Ph.D. that was never finished. In a 2004 interview with writing magazine Mslexia, she talked briefly about the difficulty of becoming ill with chronic fatigue syndrome for a year and how it forced her to give up her job as a lecturer at University of Strathclyde to focus on what she really wanted to do: writing. She has been with her partner, Sarah Wood, for 17 years and dedicates all her books to her.

Monday, 14 May 2018

A Book a Day for #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek - My Top Seven Books

Today is the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Week. According to the charity Mind UK, approximately one in four of us will suffer from some degree of mental health problem each year. Many of us are touched by mental health issues in some way - either ourselves or in supporting others.

I wanted to highlight a few of the books that I have read which deal with this very important subject and have contributed to my understanding of this issue.

So here is my top seven books to consider reading and you can read my reviews by clicking on the book title. One per day for mental health awareness week.

A Horse Walks Into Bar by David Grossman

Forever Yours by Daniel Glattauer

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman

Tales from the Underworld by Hans Fallada

Friday, 11 May 2018

The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths

Dr Ruth Galloway is flattered when she receives a letter from Italian archaeologist Dr Angelo Morelli, asking for her help. He's discovered a group of bones in a tiny hilltop village but doesn't know what to make of them. It's years since Ruth has had a holiday, and even a working holiday to Italy is very welcome!
So Ruth travels to Fontana Liri, accompanied by her daughter Kate and friend Shona. In the town she finds a medieval shrine and a dark secret involving the war years and the Resistance. To her amazement she also finds Harry Nelson, who is enduring a terrible holiday at a resort nearby. But there is no time to overcome their mutual shock - the ancient bones spark a modern murder, and Ruth must discover what secrets there are in Fontana Liri that someone would kill to protect.
I think I may have said before that this is one of my favourite series. Well, I was wrong, this is absolutely my favourite and without any shadow of a doubt. Whilst there are other series that I am enjoying reading, none of them are even coming close to knocking this one off its perch. 
This is book is number ten in the Dr Ruth Galloway series and it would have been very easy for them to become somewhat similar. This is absolutely not the case  and each one has a brand new plot and provides new insights into the characters.

I have read all ten of them and have reviewed The Janus Stone (#2)Ruth's First Christmas Tree (#4.5 - a novella)Dying Fall (#5) and The Woman in Blue (#8). You can read my reviews of these super books by clicking on the title links.

Although Ruth Galloway is the main character in the books, all the other characters are well developed too. In fact, each of the books builds on what we already know of them. Despite the fact that the books are so character led it is still possible to read any of them as a standalone. Personally though, I have enjoyed watching this character development by reading them in order.

I also love the way that Ms. Griffiths describes Norfolk where the books are largely set. I have been to Norfolk a few times and her portrayal of the area really is spot on.

The next book in this series, The Stone Circle, is due to be published in the UK early next year and I can't wait.

ISBN:  978 1784296667

Publisher: Quercus

About the author:

Elly Griffiths' Ruth Galloway novels take for their inspiration Elly's husband, who gave up a city job to train as an archaeologist, and her aunt who lives on the Norfolk coast and who filled her niece's head with the myths and legends of that area.

She has two children and lives near Brighton.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

The Chalk Man by C. J. Tudor

None of us ever agreed on the exact beginning.

Was it when we started drawing the chalk figures or when they started to appear on their own?

Was it a terrible accident?

Or when they found the first body?

We have just had a wonderfully sunny May Bank Holiday and it was the perfect excuse to sit in the garden and read. This was the perfect book for that as it is an easy to engage with crime novel that I got through in a couple of sittings.

The story is told from the perspective of the main character, Ed, who is now middle aged and looks back to a time leading up to an event when he was young. The narrative switches back and forth between the past and present and I liked the fact that it is easy to tell the difference in voice between the young and mature Ed.

The plot was well handled and the characters fully fleshed and, therefore, totally believable on both counts. There was a distinct creepiness throughout which kept me turning the pages. I did not anticipate the outcome and there was a twist right at the very end which sent a little shiver down my spine and which was a marvellous note to finish on.

As a debut novel this was fantastic and Ms. Tudor is very much an author to watch and has a clear gift for story telling. I look forward to reading more from her in the future.

ISBN: 978 0718187439

Publisher: Michael Joseph

About the Author:

C. J. Tudor was born in Salisbury and grew up in Nottingham, where she still lives with her partner and young daughter.

Her love of writing, especially the dark and macabre, started young. When her peers were reading Judy Blume, she was devouring Stephen King and James Herbert. Over the years she has had a variety of jobs, including trainee reporter, dog walker, radio scriptwriter, voiceover artist, television presenter, copywriter and, now, author. The Chalk Man is her first novel.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Library Low Down - 5th May 2018

I had another lovely visit to the library this weekend and found some great books. I am looking forward to reading these beauties.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

The story begins in 1962. Somewhere on a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out over the incandescent water of the Ligurian Sea and views an apparition: a beautiful woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an American starlet, he soon learns, and she is dying.

And the story begins again today, half a world away in Hollywood, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio's back lot searching for the woman he last saw at his hotel fifty years before.

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

She was fifteen, her mother's golden girl. She had her whole life ahead of her. And then, in the blink 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 she is the image of Ellie.

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

Beloved Poison by E. S. Thomson

Ramshakle and crumbling, trapped in the past and resisting the future, St. Saviour's Infirmary awaits demolition. Within its stinking wards and cramped corridors, the doctors bicker and fight. Ambition, jealousy and hatred seethe beneath the veneer of professional courtesy. Always an outsider, and with a secret of her own to hide, apothecary Jem Flockhart observes everything, but says nothing.

And then six tiny coffins are uncovered, inside each a handful of dried flowers and a bundle of mouldering rags. When Jem comes across these strange relics hidden inside the infirmary's old chapel, her quest to understand their meaning prises open a long forgotten past - with fatal consequences.

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

At fourteen, Turtle Alveston knows the use of every gun on her wall; that chaos is coming and only the strong will survive it; that her daddy loves her more than anything else in this world. And he'll do whatever it takes to keep her with him.

She doesn't know why she feels to different from the other girls at school; why the line between love and pain can be so hard to see; why making a friend may be the bravest and most terrifying thing she has ever done; and what her daddy will do when he finds out....

Friday, 4 May 2018

All That Remains: A Life in Death by Sue Black

Sue Black confronts death every day. As Professor of Anatomy and Forensic Anthropology, she focuses on mortal remains in her lab, at burial sites, at scenes of violence, murder and criminal dismemberment, and when investigating mass fatalities due to war, accident or natural disaster. In All that Remains she reveals the many faces of death she has come to know, using key cases to explore how forensic science has developed, and what her work has taught her.
Do we expect a book about death to be sad? Macabre? Sue’s book is neither. There is tragedy, but there is also humour in stories as gripping as the best crime novel. Our own death will remain a great unknown. But as an expert witness from the final frontier, Sue Black is the wisest, most reassuring, most compelling of guides.

Sue Black first came to my attention when I saw her on television. She presents as an exciting person to watch and  listen to so when I saw this book I had no hesitation about reading it despite its potentially macabre and depressing topic. 

However, nothing could be further from the truth. For those of you who have not seen her on television she is a red-headed Scot who is full of enthusiasm for her subject and who brings the subject of forensic anthropology to life in her own unique way. As an anatomist she has much to say on the subject of death. However, her very down to earth manner ensures that this book is uplifting and positive to read. I was absolutely gripped by her writing and finished this book within a couple of days.

It is true that there are some difficult subjects to consider in this book. The author has worked in areas of mass fatalities such as Kosovo, Thailand following the tsunami in 2004 and also London following the bombings on the 7th July 2005. All horrendous situations but she talks about her work with compassion, sensitivity and knowledge.

Sprinkled amongst all this is evidence of Sue's infectious humour. However, I do not in any way want to suggest that she is light hearted about death, identification of the dead or those who bequeath their bodies to science. Rather she demonstrates tremendous respect for the dead and those left behind but she writes about this in a way that enables the reader to understand the science, medicine and challenges behind what she does in a way that makes it fascinating to read about.

I highly recommend this book. It will appeal to anyone who is interested in science as well as those who enjoy crime fiction. The author works closely with Val McDermid and other crime writers and her influence on books of this genre can be seen in this book. 

Do let me know your thoughts on this fascinating book when you read it.

ISBN: 9780857524928

Publisher: Random House UK

About the Author:

Sue Black is Professor of Anatomy and Anthropology at the University of Dundee. She graduated from the University of Aberdeen and later studied for her PhD there. 

She was awarded an OBE in 2001 for her services to forensic anthropology in Kosovo. In 2016 she was listed in the Queen's Birthday Honors for her continued services to forensic anthropology.

She lives in Scotland with her husband and three daughters.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

How many lifetimes does it take to learn how to live?

Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41 year old history teacher, but he's been alive for centuries. From Elizabethan England to Jazz-Age Paris, from New York to the South Seas, Tom has seen it all. As long as he keeps changing his identity he can stay one step ahead of his past - and stay alive.

The only thing he must not do is fall in love.

'I often think of what Hendrich said to me, over a century ago, in his New York apartment. "The first rule is that you don't fall in love," he said. "There are other rules too, but that is the main one. No falling in love. No staying in love. No daydreaming of love. If you stick to this you will just about be okay." I stared through the curving smoke of his cigar, out over Central Park where trees lay uprooted from the hurricane. "I doubt I will ever love again," I said. Hendrich smiled, like the devil he could be. "Good. You are, of course, allowed to love food and music and champagne and rare sunny afternoons in October. You can love the sight of waterfalls and the smell of old books, but the love of people is off limits. Do you hear me? Don't attach yourself to people, and try to feel as little as you possibly can for those you do meet. Because otherwise you will slowly lose your mind..."

This wonderful introduction to this book indicates that this is a romance with a difference. However, it is much more than that and is very difficult to place in a particular genre. Definitely, there is romance, but it is also part fantasy and part science fiction. If, like me, you are not a great fan of science fiction or fantasy, please do not let that put you off reading this very entertaining and accessible book.

The narrative switches between past and present and even though there is no particular order to this it was not difficult to follow. I actually thought that this enhanced the book as it demonstrated how the past affects the present.

The subject of music is significant in this book and demonstrates how its universality can cross the divides of time. This is the one constant throughout the protagonists long life. Indeed, we have all heard music that has the ability to immediately transport us back to a particular time and place and Mr. Haig has used this very effectively in his novel.

This is the first book I have read by Matt Haig and I intend to read more by him. I like the confusion of genres and the challenge that it presents in confining his novel to a particular genre. Novels of this type have a lot to offer and I recommend this one.

ISBN: 978 1782118640

Publisher: Canongate

About the Author:

In his own words: "I am a writer. The stuff I’ve written includes novels, screenplays, children’s novels and journalism. My novels have now been translated in 29 languages.
My first novel, The Last Family in England (2004) was a UK bestseller. It was an honour when one of my favourite writers, Jeanette Winterson, called it ‘among the great animal books.’ It was a Daily Mail Book Club selection, and the film rights have been sold to Brad Pitt’s production company. The very talented New Zealand film-maker Taika Waititi has written a brilliant screenplay and plans to direct the film.
Since that book I’ve written The Dead Fathers Club (2006) and The Possession of Mr Cave (2008), which have been translated into ten languages. The last one is still the darkest thing I’ve ever written, by quite a long way. Again, an excellent screenplay for that has been written by Brock Norman Brock.
The Radleys, won an ALA Alex Award in America, has been shortlisted for the Portico prize and nominated for the Carnegie Medal, and has been translated into 29 languages most recently Lithuania. It won the TV Book Club Summer Read. I have written the screenplay with the help of the (now chopped) UK Film Council, which is being produced into a film by Alfonso Cuaron and BBC Films. It was written as an adult novel, but in addition to the Canongate edition there is a young adult edition available in the UK published by Walker Books.
However, I have written some children’s books. My first, Shadow Forest,won the Nestle/Smarties Prize, the Blue Peter Book of the Year Award (2009) and eight regional awards. Both Shadow Forest and it’s sequel The Runaway Troll are being re-packaged and re-published for release in the UK in 2013. This will coincide with the launch of the paperback edition of my new kids book, To Be a Cat.
I was born in Sheffield, Yorkshire in 1975. Since then I have lived in Nottinghamshire, Ibiza and London. I studied English and History at Hull University and then did an MA at Leeds. I live in Brighton with the writer Andrea Semple and our children Lucas and Pearl. And in 2009, I won the Yorkshire Young Achievers ‘Achievement in the Arts’ Award."
(author information is taken from Matt's website

Monday, 30 April 2018

Library Low Down - 30th April 2018

Most Saturday's, I visit my local library and come away with a few books that I had not 'planned' to read. I love the library in my town. For a medium sized town it is really well stocked, the staff are friendly and helpful and it is just a very nice place to be.

It worries me that so many libraries are being closed down in my county. East Sussex now has only 17 libraries, which for an area that has 550,000 (2016) is fairly few. Also, the mobile library service has been cut to the villages which have no library.

I understand that we live in a digital age and that the electronic library that East Sussex County Council have in place is very good. Without moving from the armchair I can download library books to my tablet or phone and funds are being invested in this aspect of the library service.

However, not everyone has access to a tablet or chooses to use this method of borrowing books and I really hope the day never comes when we are all expected to read and borrow our books this way. I do read e-books but I still prefer a physical copy. I love the feel and smell of a book in my hands and e-books simply do not provide me with the same experience.

I also think that there is a social aspect to visiting the library. Thankfully, the days of having to be silent in a library are long gone and children are free to play and learn amongst the books. And for some, the elderly or, perhaps, the lonely, a visit to the library might be the only social interaction they have so I sincerely hope that public libraries are globally given the attention and funding that they so richly deserve.

When I began this blog post I had intended just to tell you about the books that I borrowed but the above paragraphs just poured themselves out. I guess it is a subject very close to my heart.

I borrowed four books yesterday - all quite different and I am really looking forward to getting stuck into them. Have you read any of these? I would love to hear your thoughts. Which do you think I should begin with?

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 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 parens' 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.

Every Dead Thing by John Connolly

The Travelling Man is on the move.

Few will survive the journey.

Former New York detective Charlie Parker is a man shattered by the brutal killings of his wife and child.

The Travelling Man is an artist of death, making human bodies his canvas and taking faces as his prize.

Now another girl is missing.....

Silent Scream by Angel Marsons

Five figures gather round a shallow grave. They had all taken turns to dig. An adult sized hole would have taken longer...

Years later, a headmistress is found brutally strangled, the first in a spate of gruesome murders which shock the Black Country.

But when human remains are discovered at a former children's home, disturbing secrets are also unearthed. D.I. Kim Stone fast realises she's on the hunt for a twisted individual whose killing spree spans decades.

As the body count rises, Kim needs to stop the murderer before they strike again. But to catch the killer, can Kim confront the demons of her own past before it's too late?

The Nest by Cynthis D'Aprix Sweeney

When black sheep Leo has a costly car accident, the Plumb siblings' much-anticipated inheritance is suddenly wiped out. His brother and sisters come together and form a plan to get back what is owed them - each grappling with their own financial and emotional turmoil from the fallout. As 'the nest' fades further from view, they must decide whether they will build their lives anew, or fight to regain the futures they had planned.

Ferociously astute, warm and funny, The Nest is a brilliant debut chronicling the hilarity and savagery of family life.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Blog Tour - All Rivers Run Free - Natasha Carthew on Writing Outdoors

I am delighted to be taking part today in the Blog Tour for All Rivers Run Free by Natasha Carthew. It is an amazing book which I am greatly enjoying reading and will be sharing my thoughts on this book with you very soon. In the meantime, in her own words, Natasha is going to tell us how she loves to write outdoors and the inspiration it gives her.


Fiction is the best way to deal with some of the social and environmental issues of our times.The natural world draws writers for comfort and inspiration, and for a wealth of narratives. Even if we don’t write about nature, nature generates the stories we tell. This is because everything we know about creating, we know intuitively from the natural world. One can set the stage for creation by following these three steps: consciously naming the information gathered by the senses, describing the sensory details of one particular thing, and interacting with the energy system of the earth.
As writers we must strive to make this kind of connection between the everyday and the hidden, noting the beauty all around us to develop a rich relationship with wildness inside and out.
When I write I’m drawn to the outside countryside around me out of necessity. It’s a way to clear my head and immerse myself fully with the world that my characters inhabit.

Why do we write outside?
We spend our lives looking at the world through screens; TV’s, computers, windows in houses and cars and buses and through these screens it’s like we are bystanders, watching the world go by. I think it makes us better writers to be a part of that world.
The first reason is FREEDOM. As a young writer I was drawn to writing outside because of the freedom it gave me, there were no distractions no other voices but mine and I could escape to whichever world I wanted. Writing outside also helped to clear my head and become focused.
The second reason for writing outside is INSPIRATION. I was lucky enough to have grown up by the sea on the south coast of Cornwall and anyone who knows the ocean knows it is a great metaphor for all that teenage angst. Saying that, you can get inspiration from a million different outside locations and a million different things to stimulate your senses and free your wild mind.

Where to start?
Stuff a notebook and pencil into your pocket and get out there. Whether your wild world is in the woods or in your local park, being outside in the open air and all the elements thrown your way is the first step on your wild writing journey, and the other is letting go. To be submerged in your outside environment is to know inspiration is close; have faith, you are now ready to be lost in the moment.
Writing outside, especially if writing a book set mostly in the wild, might seem a challenge to some writers but it is recommended -even taking a walk before writing brings you closer to your creative self and opens your mind to all the possibilities available to you.
Top tips for writing outside are firstly to dress weather-wise; sitting outside is going to be way colder than a stroll in the woods. Sit some place sheltered so you don’t get wet or sunstroke or have your notebook ripped from your hand by howling gales. Bring a pencil in case the air is damp. Views are good, even in a park or on the roof of a block of flats. The more perspective you have the more you see (you are an artist), and don’t forget the detail that exists in everything.
Nothing coaxes jumbled thoughts into coherent sentences like sitting by a river on a summer’s day or under a tree in a rainstorm; either way I know I’ll produce my best work.
As a wild writer, landscape is more than just scenery: it is the interaction between people and place; the bedrock upon which our society is built and as a writer it is everything.To be submerged in your outside environment means you are ready to be lost in the moment.
We all know writing takes time and sitting outside watching the world go by helps in this process. Even if you are not writing, you are observing, things come to you and pass you by and this world is beyond your control. It is fluid and that fluidity is exciting, you no longer think about writing but merely start to write.

Natasha Carthew