Saturday, 30 December 2017

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

What a glorious story. 

Eleanor is odd there is no denying,  and it would do the book a disservice to try to distil this wondrous character into a Review, but as this story develops and  reluctantly secrets are divulged, it becomes apparent that despite the most extreme of pressure points ,Ms Oliphant is more resilient, brave and wonderful than one could have imagined.

Wryly funny, acerbic and dry, but also heart wrenchingly sad, this book took me on a journey through modern mundanity with two wonderfully drawn misfits.

It is a gentle tale set against harsh realities where grief has built walls and horrific events deeply scarred, both figuratively and physically. A human island joins the world and what a beautifully realised journey it is.

What I loved most was watching a tender friendship grow.Never forced, always organic; my tender heart is filled with joy that Eleanor has Raymond in her life.  I think I am a little bit in love with him now.  Not dashing or heroic in a showy way, but a steady,kind and joyful soul in a average guy shell. 

Do I hope that their friendship  blossoms beyond the pages of this book? Of course!  The strength of this story though is the companionship and support will be enough, that it enriches without needing to be a romance.  In my mind’s eye there will be more cheese scones in their future though!

What a lovely book to while away a winter evening with. If you like your characters to be a little bit  off centre and enjoy Fredrik Backman , you will love this!

Sunday, 10 December 2017

The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

The Cottingley Secret is such a marvellous amalgam of true historical events and a delightful modern day book of magical realism that I am not sure that any review I write will really do it justice, but one can but try!

I think most people in my age bracket will remember the revelation that the Cottingley Fairies photos  had been faked by two cousins from the Yorkshire town some several  decades previously.  As a child  I actually remember Seeing the story on Arthur C Clarke’s programme about the supernatural. Those pictures had divided the nation, sceptics and believers alike had staked their reputations on their theories.

This book takes that story and the mysticism it always evoked and focuses the reader on the perspective  of the younger of the girls, Frances and links it to the destiny of a modern woman Olivia whose familial connection to the Cottingley affair is revealed gradually as she tries to engage her Grandmother who is sinking further and further into Dementia.

Olivia herself, a believer in the fairy Folk as a child, begins a journey of discovery and attempts to open herself up to magic again after a terrible loss, an acceptance of a bitter truth and a chance inheritance with the potential to change her life entirely as a result.

The two timelines are interwoven so skilfully through the device of a undiscovered personal account ‘Notes on a Fairy Tale, by Frances Griffith. This story of a lost and lonely young  girl forced to move to England from South Africa to live with family she had never met, to a wild and unfamiliar landscape had strong echoes for me of  “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodson Burnett. It draws you into the tale,in much  the same way, the evident discovery of joy in the untamed nature of The North, the sheer  magic of the place giving comfort to a lonely child, the kinship of Elsie and Frances, echoes that of Mary and Dickon.

 Such a feeling of intense enjoyment was evoked by the account of the unchecked escalation of the notoriety of the photos , a young girl’s fear for a father at war and the revelation that for Frances at least, the belief in  and encounter of fairies was real.

The photos may have been fabricated, but here the magic that prompted their creation is realised in the undergrowth of that infamous beck.

Olivia’s strand of the book is just as beautiful.  Grief, loss, rebirth and renewal all feature as her unexpected 
inheritance of her Grandfather’s used book store allows for a searching of her soul, and an  acceptance of a lethargy in spirit that has led her to accept a man wholly unsuited to her whimsical spirit . The story of the Yorkshire Fairies offers an opportunity via her ailing Grandmother’s connection to the Cottingley Incident to learn about and remember the joyous and vivacious soul her Grandmother had been, as Dementia  now ravages her mind and physical health.

The moments between Martha and Olivia left me near tears, it is the honesty of the descriptions of the effects of the disease and the sheer thievery of it’s symptoms that ground the narrative in reality, providing a foil  so that the lighter more joyful and magical elements can be shown in such vivid relief. The addition of friendly family friends and a grieving widower and his delicate daughter are liberal  seasonings of sugar and spice to what is an utterly delicious and delightful whole.

I loved this book,  I know it will invigorate interest in the Cottingley Photos  and start the debate over the fifth photo and it’s authenticity, but for my part I can wholeheartedly say I BELIEVE IN FAIRIES!

Friday, 8 December 2017

Festive Treats: The Christmas Bargain by Shanna Hatfield

Rather like the chocolate tubs so prevalent at this time of year, this book is just sweet enough and the perfect little festive pick me up. Squeaky clean, no clunky sex scenes here!  A young woman saved from a drunken and abusive Father, confirmed batchelor Banker with a penchant for the outdoors. Saving Face and virtue, a speedy marriage ensues and then the process of growing from strangers,through friendship and fellowship and into partners and helpmates.

This is not a story of high drama, don’t expect huge calamity or high peril, it is a gentle tale of  friendships ( the neighbours who take them and their tentative courtship,under their stewardship are delightful!) of feelings unexpressed, but deeply felt and of parental scrutiny and acceptance as the arrival of the In-Laws throws their comfortable coexistence into disarray and catalyses the rather lovely final steps into marriage.

As delicious as a bite size mince pie and just as satisfying!

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Festive Treats: No Holly for Miss Quinn by Miss Read

I try to get at least one Miss Read Book into my reading year since I discovered her last December when trying to find Christmas Stories on audible  that were a little less sappy romance and a little more substance. That is not to say that I am adverse to said sappy romance which I still gorge on at Yuletide both in book and film form if my Christmas 24 viewing figures is anything to go by!

“No Holly for Miss Quinn” is pretty much perfect for the more traditional Christmas Reveller, set somewhere in the sixties or early seventies, this audiobook  version of the story, read by the delightfully plummy Gwen Watford, a stalwart of the Hickson Miss Marple years, is delightful.

This is a traditional Christmas tale hammering home the ideas of being grateful for family, of the melancholy and loneliness that Christmas brings for some and the  remembrance that the glorious joy that a simple Christmas by the hearth whilst the weather rages outside,is something we modern Folks used to the razzmatazz of laser light shows, LED trees and 24hour Tv seem to have forgotten and are much the poorer for.

It is filled with paper chains, homemade mince pies, Children in joyful anticipation of Santa’s coming , walks after dinner in the bracing chill air and such beautiful descriptions of the Norfolk countryside (even referencing my own Home town of St Neots in Cambridgeshire) that you cannot fail to be swept away.

Truly wonderful.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Plague Pits and Riverbones - Detective Lavender Mysteries by Karen Charlton

One of the things I hate the most about being a reviewer is when I find a fabulous book and it is mid-series. This is most appropriate in the case(if you forgive the pun) of  The Detective Lavender Series. I was immediately drawn  into the story and it’s wider setting.. It is written with a real flair for the sensory details that make the placement of the action in the time of London’s Bow Street Runners so realistic. The scent of the river, the warmth of a hearth, the flavour of Pies, the cityscape itself all add to this utterly immersive read.

Detective Lavender is besieged with a number of cases, his trusty Sergeant Ned is needed elsewhere and so he is flitting from staking out a disgruntled Liverpudlian with a grudge against the Home Office, dealing with a spate of robberies of the Rich on the Highways and Byways of the suburbs of the Capital and then there are the skeletal remains that just keep being unearthed at the Thames and closer to home in the very confines of Bow Street Station itself!

The plot is an expertly crafted group of threads that like the tapestries of old are eventually woven into a piece of such beautiful creativity. The story development never seems contrived and each piece of the puzzle is reached in a very organic way with different people gradually adding to the whole. Science, rumour, hard graft and luck all play their parts.

It is a real shame that my ignorance of the series has meant I missed the development of the characters in the three previous books ( something I am to rectify very quickly) as I am now a devoted fan of all. Karen Charlton has crafted such a lovable band here, from the highest echelons of society down to the  lowliest copper and his ragtag brood and there uniting both these disparate worlds is Lavender  himself and his exotic and stunning bride. He believes she has married beneath her, but they are perfectly matched, he clever, handsome and vital, she vivacious, bright and sophisticated.

This is a book that has extremely wide appeal, not as pompous as Holmes, this is a book of humour and warmth despite the grimness of the poverty depicted.  Fans of  the BBC hit “Ripper Street “who miss the show but need something a little less brutal to settle down with,will find this near perfect and the similarities with another beloved detective, Murdoch of Toronto are undeniable, but more than that, this is a book of such attention to detail, so evocative that it could not fail to make huge fans out of all who delve inside.

The fact that Lavender, Magistrate Read and the other lead Officers were realife “Runners” just adds a frisson to the whole book and even more reason for me to seek out the previous books to gorge on as winter approaches.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Strange Weather by Joe Hill.

Anyone who has known me for any length of time will know that one of the highlights of me reading life was meeting Joe Hill at a reading at the wonderful Foyles store in London, so to say I am a fan is a bit of an understatement, so my anticipation for this collection of short novels, (or really long short stories as it might be better to describe them) was high.

I was not disappointed, Joe Hill has an incredible skill with language, it is rich in it’s descriptors so a scene is vivid and sensual and yet also has an inate ability to make even coarse language flow so it remains authentic to the speaker so it does not jar.

Snapshot is the eerie tale of a Polaroid camera that takes away memories rather than creating them. The more photos it takes, the more it destroys and deletes. A possessed camera not withstanding and a violent psychopath wielding it  and the spookiness of the images captured are by no means the most troubling part of this story for me.  The portrayal of  the memory loss, worry and confusion that dementia brings about. The agonies loved ones endure, the flashes of cognition that cause more pain in their fleetingness.  I have seen other reviewers say this is the weakest of the four, but for me it was the most personally upsetting.  Good stories evoke an emotional reaction and this certainly affected me.

Loaded is a story of the moment. Densely packed with issues that affect every single person in America today, whatever side of the political, social or religious divides you sit, this story will evoke strong feelings. From the “accidental” death of a near squeaky clean black teen by a white cop with poor risk assessment skills, the story ratchets up the tension using every fear in American hearts, rights of every kind are offered up for scrutiny. Freedom of the press, Right to Arms, racism, sexism and even assisted suicide all become part of this harrowing and ultimately desolate story of guns and Gung Ho , machismo ridden man whose fall into madness is all the more frightening against the backdrop of the reality of the Gun problem in America.

Aloft is a good old fashioned science fiction story with a foundation in the idea of loneliness being a transferable emotion. Our hero feels disillusioned and insular in his group of closest friends but is then thrust into true solitude as a cloudlike alien entity breaks his fall out of a plane in a skydive  attempt to impress his unrequited love. What follows is a intriguing battle of wills and a marvellously weird reveal that reminded me of a couple of episodes of Dr Who - Always a bonus!

Rain  was a straight out environmental post apocalyptic disaster. Spunky heroine survives crystalline shards from the sky, created in the clouds. A terrorist weapon of Mass Destruction. Part Mad Max with crazed religious cults wallowing in the end of Days and in the closing paragraphs a wonderful twist and a searing judgement on the kind of escalation that can occur through misinformation a trigger finger just a little too itchy on those cursed red buttons... Mr Trump had best steer clear of this story just in case it gives him ideas!

A collection that has resonated in every part of my mind, clever storytelling and a inordinate amount of food for thought on the plight of humanity. Mr Hill you have done it again. A Triumph.

36 Question’s that changed my mind about you by Vicki Grant


This YA book is deceptively simple in it’s structure. Two complete strangers are paired up by sexual orientation and then have to answer thirty six predetermined questions in a bid to orchestrate a relational connection.

 Enter somewhat annoyingly neurotic  Hildey and the more laid back, laconic and seemingly mercenary Paul. To maintain anonymity they are to address each other as Bob and Betty. They begin face to face, but after an emotional outburst continue via Messenger. Somehow freed by the structure of the questions they begin to examine ideas and notions that perhaps they had never consciously considered.

The inevitable oil and water mix of grammar policing high flyer with the “Just Scrapes by”  high school drop out is a great foundation for this story. A clinical chore becomes a mutual reliance from both participants . We gradually peel away the layers and reveal vulnerabilities and qualities that intrigue and entice. By sharing the pasts, presents and worrying futures they eventually both learn as much about themselves as they do about each other. 

The deep dark secrets they harbour are excised, and an attachment (based on understanding the minutiae  of each other’s lives rather than appearance or the posturing so common even by the most genuine people on social media) is formed.

Throw in (quite literally, in fact) an expensive tropical fish, a gay best friend, parental traumas and a  romantic dash through a blizzard and you have a throughly entertaining story and I defy you not to start making a note of the questions to try out on your nearest and dearest.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

The Pets Of Primrose Cottage - A Place to Hide by Sheila Norton

It seems that the serialised novel is making a resurgence, the work that Dickens and later Stephen King did to make the art of waiting for the next bite size advance in the plot  so tantalising is being used now to introduce new works to an ever hungry audience.

This tale of disgraced media darling who returns from the glamour of New York to a less than enthusiastic family in Loughton. The invasion of privacy or her parents and twin sister galvanises a move to a small town on the edges of Dartmoor to escape scrutiny by the ravenous paparazzi.

Unfortunately in Crickleford, everyone has a nose in everyone else’s business, this coupled with a disturbing propensity to lie fluently to the kindly family who takes her in as a lodger and then an ever increasing circle of kindly locals makes for humorous reading. 

The tangled web she weaves leaves the near broke Emma with a new burgeoning career in pet sitting. Fearful German Shepherds, a local crime spree and physical fitness not withstanding,Emma starts to imagine her New Start might just work, that is until the handsome local Hack Matt Sorrentino  becomes intrigued by the newest crime fighter in town.

Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris

Midnight Crossroad by Charmaine Harris.

I seem to be one of a horde of readers who felt the last Sookie Sackhouse novels were a aberration. I therefore had  somehow missed the Midnight series when they were released. 

I watched the new TV series based on the book and it piqued my interest enough to risk disappointment again and honestly I have to say that Midnight Crossing was a mixed bag. It seems to meander a little too gently, there is not a lot of narrative  thrust at work here. The central crime is a little too self contained within the midst of what is really a introductory piece for the characters.

They are an interesting bunch,Manfred the Great is a great fellow explorer to meet the people of Midnight (which I always hear with a Texas twang in my head) his skills are barely ever realised in this first outing and I think that is a shame as the medium/ psychic is a characteristic  we do not see so often in this age of the Vampire.

Slightly dishevelled Witch Figi and Lemuel the life force leeching vampire are the only characters even remotely delved in regards their powers and personality. The creepiness Of Lem is a very welcome change from the God’s Gift to man and woman personas of Ms Harris’ previous vampiric characters.

 Figi is feisty but not as sassy as the witchy folk of Bon Temps. I did find it a little odd that she did not utilised her proven ability to freeze folk when she fell into peril, but that is minor

The talking Ginger Tom is genius. Mr Snuggles made the book for me.

The book was a great example of  how strangers can become a family and whilst it was low on thrills, it was a book I sank into and would definitely look to reading the second and third volumes to round off the stories of this disparate group of Texan outsiders.

The Secret Of Orchard Cottage By Alex Brown

The Secret Of Orchard Cottage
Cosy Fiction

This is a gentle story that I would normally peg in the Cosy Romance stable but I found myself really personally affected by the depiction of the dementia symptoms in Aunt Edie. The mixing of old and new memories in her mind, the emotional vulnerability that often resulted in tearfulness, these things all hit home hard when looking at my own ninety odd year young Grandmother. 

The tiny little acts of forgetfulness that add up to a larger problem really did resonate.This darker thread really does add another dimension to what was a truly wonderful book.

A glorious country setting, sickly horses, friendly locals, even a whimsical and Romantic Gypsy caravan. To really tickle my fancy there is lots of emphasis on handicrafts, particularly knitting and it made my simple heart sing.

The depiction of our bereaved heroine April was tastefully handled and truthfully rendered, putting on a brave face but still avoiding and wallowing in equal measure. Gradually as the orchard reawakens under her stewardship and care so does her zest for life and I warmed to her and her brood of step children immediately.

A gently unfurling romance and the befriending of  a troubled teen all add nuance to this simple tale of a woman finding a place for herself again after her bereavement. She is reinvigorated when trying to find out the Wartime secret that left two sisters apart for most of their  lives, with Edie experiencing a gaping hole in her life where her sister had been. Left behind; living in the shadow of local gossip painting her beloved sister as a scarlet woman, a seducer of married men and an unmarried Mother,Edie cogitates on her sister as her infirmity increases.

When revealed, the reason for this void in Edie’s life leaves the reader with a warm glow and I am not too proud to say I teared up when Edie gets her resolution after so many years. 

Do not be surprised at a hankering for apples, pears and maybe even a sneaky snowball or two after the final page is read

Monday, 6 November 2017

Blog Tour - The Good Samaritan by John Marrs

Goodreads|Amazon US|Amazon UK
Release date: December 1, 2017

Do you ever get the feeling that the people with the nicest, kindly looking faces have the darkest most twisted minds? You would be forgiven for thinking this very same thing when you see any author publicity by John Marrs. Mr Marrs, writer of immensely popular “The One “ looks like a fun person you would share a cuppa or a pint with. His mind however has some very deep recesses methinks!

I am thus pleased as punch to be  joining   On  the Blog Tour for The Good Samaritan, another book with a plethora of taut thrills, from this intensely talented writer .

The Good Samaritan had me hooked and left me reeling at it’s close. It also left me pondering and cogitating on the power that counsellors or therapists actually wield if they use their intimacy with society’s most vulnerable for anything other than healing and expression. It makes one shudder.

From the chilling opening prologue,we are drawn almost reluctantly into the mind of a woman who has a singular drive and commitment for her particular passion.  She has a knack  and propensity for bringing people at their lowest ebb to the ultimate action of self destruction.  She is the primary voice in this multiple point of view tale that centres on the catastrophic effect that depression and suicidal thoughts can have on family and friends.

Manipulations and retaliations ricochet around likes squash balls here, making for a very uneasy read.

Her initial machinations create a ripple effect that radiates outwards, infecting and tainting the lives of an ever increasing circle of people. Taken at face value  she is a monstrous creature , she erodes the confidence of her victims and gradually takes away every avenue for turning back from the precipice. She is the more chilling because her outward persona is that of a generous and giving maternal figure.

Delve below this seeming heartlessness and this story becomes an examination of nature versus nurture.  Do the  horrific and traumatising events she experienced as a child ,excuse her actions as an adult? She is an expertly crafted character for whom we feel pity whilst still abhorring her actions and connivances, never trusting, but always willing to follow her into deeper and deeper acts, miring herslf evermore in darkness.

The tension is ratcheted up gradually and painfully with twists and false dawns in the narrative that always leave the reader feeling a little unsure of where things might go next. I think (as with his previous book The One ) John Marr  exhibits a particular skill at showcasing those thorny social issues and making you ponder the minutiae of the matter, here the issues of depressive illness and the morality of assisting suicide or perhaps catalysing is a better term, coercing and manipulating those at the height of fragility.

In this case the act might even be termed assisted Homicide, not a death  in a clinic under medical supervision, but in a darker more visceral way where she and later others are voyeur and observer. Here he presents us with people of warped morality and says "Make of them what you will" without actually telling you how to respond to that seed of darkness.

This was a thoroughly engaging, if very disturbing ride. It does not leave you quickly after you read the last page. I would highly recommend it for anyone who likes their stories tauter than cling film and morally challenging!


The events of The Good Samaritan are an exceptionally well crafted fiction, but feelings of isolation and helplessness are all too real for some people, many putting on a brave face, living an artifice to be socially acceptable in a world that stills sees mental health and emotional vulnerability as taboo and embarrassing  so I am using this final few words of the  post to champion some of the great folk who aim to help those in turmoil.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Review: Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King

I am a Stephen King fan. Let me just get that out of the way. I also enjoy Owen King’s writing too, it is (at least based on the small sample I have sampled thus far) very different  stylistically so whilst excited to read the next in the Stevie King Canon, I was  also intrigued as to how this collaboration between Father and Son might come to bear in this new novel penned by them both. I am happy to say I could not see any rips in the seams here.

I think SK excels at writing ordinary folk in extraordinary circumstances and this book is no exception. There are the basically good folk with dark hidden recesses, there are the truly pure souls whose fate is not always happy reading and there are the out and out bad apples whom you silently curse. Several times in the reading of this characteristically lengthy tome I called one or two people some very unladylike names... I hid my expletives because ladies do not act that way

Therein lies the vital themic hook of this slow building but satisfying book. Femininity, grit and strength combine in every woman I think and it seems the King boys agree.

The plague that hits only the  Global female population is the turning point here and the premise allows for examinations of many of the issues afflicting the world, but particularly the USA today.

Conservatively inclined men want women to be mother maternal, comforters , appeasers  and whilst ever present not to vocalise or exhibit the other attributes that are traditionally attributed to men.  They are expected to be gentle and beautiful. The gossamer web that grows from within each woman is such a clever device. This is not a punishment inflicted upon them forcibly but in fact a matter of choice - do they submit to slumber  or fight to remain who they are physically?

It is the simple and yet horrifyingly vivid imagery of masking both the face and blurring the image of the feminine body that makes this so awful. A pathogen from within that grows from a woman’s very being and obscures her individuality making all women to all intents and purposes personality devoid blobs.

Encased in their cocoons without a physical voice, it is left to the men to advocate and strike out for the future, divisions soon appear, those who want to protect them in their vulnerability, those that use their absence and the confusion it causes for self enrichment  and even  more troubling those that suddenly feel vindicated to act out the impulses of the misogyny and hate for women that has always been bubbling beneath the service but held in check by social moré or good face. The cynic in me sees many correlations in the way that the current government has allowed a permissiveness of rhetoric to allow Nationalism to rear it’s head in the USA.

Immolation Of cocoons vividly juxtapositions the increasing regularity in the real world where men hurl violent and sexually explicit abuse at women using twitter handles and photos to hide identity. Here victims cannot see their attacker so weaker men are able to act out things they would never do if an open eyed,living breathing woman were before them.

Whilst seemingly helpless,those woken by menfolk trying to remove the cocoon  suddenly become enraged, unstoppable killing machines ...the biggest fear of all, physical strength that matches and in some cases exceeds that of men. No wonder some act in fear. The clever use of the women's Penitentiary as the place of the final stand and the pool from which most characters are harvested allows for women to be able to act against type, be the aggressor rather than the damsel and some of the best action comes from some of the loopiest ladies in town!

The story becomes one of choices. The sleeping women are given another choice to literally start again  in “Our Place” with the help of the enigmatic (and frankly terror inducing) figure of the moth spewing and aptly named Evie Who is at the epicentre of this cosmic gender reset.

Dare the women stay in a world with no men, where a child born might, just might be programmed to see women as capable and strong? Even the heroes of the piece begin the story making decisions to 
shield and protect. Despite Lila being at the top of the ladder in a male dominated career. Clint hides 
the darker aspects of his formative years from her leading to anger and recriminations which might 
have been avoided and setting up a divide that could be the lynchpin of what might happen when 
freedom from men is offered to her in a place where she is respected and needed beyond the role of Wife and Mother

Women are given power and space, but still at the mercy of the actions of men back “home”
The men soon result to violence and brute force to try to return things to their normality, this reversion to type seems to be the note of caution here. The women are forced again to be conciliatory and generous despite the obvious benefits of their situation.

Overall I found the supernatural elements to be interesting and visually arresting in my mind’s eyeandthe characterisation was of the high level I expect from a King book, be that Senior or Junior. There was The was the inevitable final confrontation of Good versus Bad and the indescrimant death from both camps were again par for the course, but more so than in any of his novels, the Kings have allowed their social conscience to permeate the story making it more than a gripping yarn, something meatier and somehow worthier.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Book Review : The Place We Met by Isabelle Broom

This is my third book by Ms Broom and the level of writing has not dipped! An ARC copy gifted by the marvellous folk at netgalley and Penguin UK/Michael Joseph

The cover art is beautiful and gives the reader a bit of a travellers pang before we even get into this story about two damaged women and the post Christmas holiday period one very fateful year that brings them into a collision.

Lucy and Taggie are more similar than they might like to accept and not because of the links that are gradually and skilfully revealed as this story unfolds. I had cottoned onto the intertwined storylines before they were unfurled but this did not detract from the skilful way Isabelle leads us down the path to revelation.

I like the way Isabelle Broom makes all the characters human. Sometimes you want to beat them, sometimes you want to give them a cuddle, but mostly you want them to communicate with each other! As is often the way the trauma of the plot is really about fear of judgement and a lack of clarity of thought, and expression. Love is a complicated knot to untangle when things begin to fray.

The lake setting is just glorious and you can taste that spicy hot wine, smell the tang of the lake and feel the cold of a traditional Italian New Year. The dark sexy Italian love interest could have become the biggest of clichés for a book of this kind, but shhhhh,  don’t tell anyone, as it might destroy my image of a sister in feminist solidarity - Marco was my favourite character, a point of peace and serenity in the midst of the maelstrom of emotions at play here.

With a very satisfying but realistic ending for all concerned that left me with a happy smile , this is another book from Ms Broom that I can wholeheartedly and honestly recommend mend for anyone who enjoys some grit in their romances, some local colour in their dramatic fiction and some quirky minor characters to complete the deal.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Seasonal Reads : Afterglow by Bruce Ashkenas


Novella for Children or Adults

This little parable is one of those stories that truly is suitable for kids of any age, even cynical old codgers like me! This is actually quite densely packed with ideas for it’s length. A little amuse bouche about an innocent Catholic boy wanting to do something to honour the Mother Mary. 

A rash  act of childlike faith creates a snowball effect that touches the lives of the locals young and old, reinvigorating faiths long lapsed and opening adolescent eyes to the folly of youthful rebellion and peer pressure. Reinforcing the value of Family, Friendship and random kindness in the hearts and minds of the Bronx neighbourhood where the glory of the MiraculousMadonna draws Crowds and emotions long buried in equal measure. 

It is sweet without being cloying and balances whimsy with an honest betrayal of inner city life and the struggles of maintaining faith in the face of poverty and unrest. It would make a perfect bedtime book in the week before Christmas or indeed in Hanukkah.

It left me with a warm glow of my own. Highly recommended.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Book Review : Miss Seeton Quilts the Village by Hamilton Crane

Book Review
Mystery/ Light Fiction
Published by Farrago.

Miss Seeton is just as delightful in this book as she was in the first three books I reviewed earlier in the year. Still present are the lovable villagers  and Police officers we have grown fond of  all still perplexed ,bewildered or enamoured by Miss Emily’s particular propensity to become embroiled in the local calamity caused by criminal interlopers from “Outside”. Her sketches are still eerily prophetic and her innocent wish to be helpful is still the thing that keeps big gruff men coming to her parlour to try to interpret her drawings and solve the mystery.

This outing for  our umbrella wielding spinster involves competitive handicrafts and the pervasive shadow of Nazi German  sympathisers and that in a nutshell encompasses the true allure of this series, it is such a mixture of the faintly ludicrous and the darker more ominous reality of nasty folk taking advantage of the vulnerable ,but melded together in a wry and knowingly humorous way that is immensely satisfying.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

The Girl Who Shot First by Angel Lawson

Book One in the Death Field Series

Genre: Post Apocalyptic/ Dystopian Fiction

I enjoyed the book on the whole, although I found the back and forth between Before and Now a little grating in it’s regularity, after a while it began to interfere with the narrative flow. It was good stuff and no not filler, but it marred my enjoyment a tad.

The Zombie infection set in a familiar present times is well thought out and the perils come thick and fast.  There is emotional impact and enough gore and guts to keep the most ardent Zombiephile reader satisfied. I enjoyed the light romantic elements, none of it seemed shoe -horned in  just to suit a YA audience. I was gratified that (at least in this first book) there was no immediate Love Triangle to muddy the plot. I liked the fact that we like our heroine never really knows whom to trust entirely and whilst the final big reveal had been signposted, it sets up an intriguing dynamic for the coming books.

Look out for

The Girl who Punched Back

And the colourfully titled The Girl Who Kicked Ass.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Vanguard Legacy: Foretold By Joanne Kershaw

This YA fantasy fiction  by UK author Joanne Kershaw has much to get your teeth into, and I was swept away but it’s similarity to some other genre series might grate for the die hard fans of those tattooed teens.It is unfortunate that  every time the word Divergent was used, comparisons with the similar storyline of genetically modified teens being catergorised by skillset swims into the mind’s eye.

That being said, there are enough fresh ideas here to create a feasible setting for this battle between the forces of Light versus Dark. There is a spunky heroine, the loyal and devoted best friend and the inevitable expansion of the friendship group that creates tension and jealousy as they adjust to new feelings, new powers and new dynamics.

This is a tale of fighters, biters and spirit guides with enough teen angst and fledgling love, unrequited crushes and parental overbearance to keep YA readers engaged.

The framing of the story in the period where all recruits to to the Vanguard come into their full powers helps to provide some delineation between the various “types” in this story, we learn their various strengths and weaknesses at a time when they themselves are exploring their limitations.

A very promising start.

Monday, 18 September 2017

The Skeleton Draws a Picture (A Family Skeleton Mystery) by Leigh Perry.

A Cosy Mystery with a difference!

I am really annoyed. Annoyed that I have only come upon this series at Book Four, the lovely people at Netgalley have remedied my total ignorance of  the books, but I will now have to read them out of order!

Travelling English Professor Georgia is rootless and listless as she does not hold tenure so as a kind of Literary minstrel she brings better grammar to the students of an mid-range art school. Used to a full house filled with parents (fellow scholars) and her teenage daughter, she is a little lonely and bored, enter Sid, the family Skeleton of the title!

Literally an ambulatory and autonomous bag of bones,Sid is able to assemble and disassemble at will,  this state often affected by his own emotional state of being . Despite his lack of body, he inhabits the story perfectly.He is an unlikely sleuth, but with a gift for researching the Internet and an inquisitiveness second to none, Sid's arrival heralds another suspicious death in what appears to be a line of precedent of murder wherever she and Sid roam.

In this story, a body in the snow begins a chain of events where friendly rivalries for a tenure spot turn into more ominous underhanded acts in a bid to bury more than the deceased.

I warmed to Georgia immediately, she is kind of ageless despite her progeny so I suspect most readers will enjoy her too. Sid is a really fun character and the ingenious ways that Ms Perry finds ways to incorporate body parts into expletives and humourous asides just raises the story above the norm. With  just enough peril to keep this thrilling, this is a near perfect light mystery.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Blackberry Picking at Jasmine Cottage by Zara Stonely

This is the second in a Cosy Romance series - The Little Village on the Green.

The summer is over and the escape from the city to Langtry Meadows that was so necessary for  school teacher Lucy Jacobs has become a return to her true home. The people are friendly and her job filled with brushes with the animal kingdom, so thank Heaven's the local vet is hook line and sinker in Love with her.

The only problem is the ever present shadow of the chance that Charlie might lose custody of his beloved daughter Maisie who may not even be his.The potential for very messy divorce proceedings might just be a a obstacle too high for even these sweet lovers.

Throw into the mix a few other burgeoning romances, some puppies, a guinea pig and a long hidden secret and you have a  framework for what is a rather marvellous confection.

The story is written with a warmth and affection for the rural way of life and unlike many similar Cosy stories of this type,the characters are not hackneyed or stereotypical, no they are perfectly formed people set in village that I think all of us would like to spend a little time in.  The school setting allows for plenty of chuckles in between the angst and the central relationship is as satisfying to the casual reader dipping their toe into a lighter genre of reading as it is to the devotee of the form.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

The Miss Seeton Omnibus 1-3 by Heron Carvic

Picture Miss Seeton
Book 1  Just superb.

This is Marple mixed with the dry wit of Jack Dee.  A village setting with (in this the first of a reissued series) a dark underbelly of violence, extortion and even a wee bit of Heroin thrown in.

I guffawed often and fell in love with more than just Miss Seeton as the Local Quack and Yard Detectives also wormed their way into my heart!

Miss Seeton Draws A Line.
Book 2

These books are such fun! The crimes are deceptively dark but wrapped in  in  such a gloriously tongue in cheek humour that the frisson of discomfort is soon abated by another laugh

MIss Seeton and her Umbrella get involved in a spate of bank robberies that the Good folk at The Yard have linked to some terrible  child murders in Plummergen and the surrounding areas, so Miss Seeton's skill for drawing emotions and feelings  are called upon again.

Witch Miss Seeton
Book 3

This third in a collection of books reissued on kindle format by Farrago Books and graciously gifted to me via netgalley for review is somewhat shorter (or it seems that way, maybe I am just more attuned to the cadences of the style now) than the first two.

All the favourites are still in there in the wake of this calamitous woman, whose very belongings become weapons with minds of their own. Here cults, satanism and capitalism collide. The body count is not so high, but the humour is just as virulent.

Very enjoyable!

Thursday, 31 August 2017

The Lost Girl by Carol Drinkwater

The Lost Girl by Carol Drinkwater

I am so glad that I decided to read this particular novel by a writer who has become so precious in my reading life this last twelve months as a accomplished biography writer.

Read in isolation this would have been a wonderfully dynamic and emotionally arresting novel set in  Post War Paris and the Cote D’Azure  and in Paris in the modern day, intertwining the lives of two women who at first glance could not seem more different. who meet on one traumatic and historically resonant night in Paris in 2015.

Kurtis is in a state of emotional flux, the sudden loss of her teenage daughter as a runaway has impacted every day since, fracturing a marriage which was already showing cracks and fissures and for better or worse allowing an alluring American to capture her passions and emotions, further muddying her marital tension.

 After a reconciliation of sorts in search of a common goal, she sits in a bar in Paris awaiting word from her fading Actor  Husband Oliver on whether he was able to find and bring her daughter to her for a reunion she has been dreaming of since her daughter’s disappearance.

Here she meets Marguerite and elderly film star of regal bearing who becomes her saviour and eventually confidante after it becomes apparent Lizzie and Oliver have been caught up in the Bataclan Terrorist incident of November 2015.

Here Carol Drinkwater crafts a complex  story with a constantly moving narrative where the gentle romance of two post war young people is interwoven with the modern day travails of Kurtis and Oliver.

Charlie and Marguerite are outsiders whose chance meeting and shared adventure bring them to love.She is seeking solace in the glamour of the movie making haven of Cannes and it’s environs and, He seeking anonymity in a long dreamed for  rural idyll. By seeking to be come part of the agricultural fabric of the Riviera ,growing glorious scented blooms for a local perfumery,Charlie makes an attempt to escape from the bitter memories and traumas of the War.

It is brave and difficult to set a large portion of a book in the real events of a very recent terrorist atrocity, readers will have their memories of that awful night, but Carol’s descriptions of those first traumatic, confusing and manic hours is tightly described and sensitively handled.

What elevates the book to something quite extraordinary is the authenticity of the description of the French and Middle Eastern settings in flashback, the fragrances, the flavours and colourful snapshots of the flora and fauna of the area. The Rose harvest in the book echoes strongly of the issues the Carole and her beloved husband  Michel had with their olive harvests and her love for the people and the area is evident and boosts this part of the story immensely.

Carol’s personal experience as an olive farmer, beekeeper and adventurer on the ancient routes of the Olive informs and enriches the story, giving it a depth that is rare in stories of a similar type. 

I loved the story, was swept away by Marguerite and Charlie , felt the pain of Kurtis in the uncertainly of that night and the the confusion and frustrations at the  gradual unraveling of her marriage after their own whirlwind romance and the palpable , if not final loss of a child. The uncertainty is a bar to all but a cursory existence rather than a rich and fulfilling life, something Marguerite has managed despite personal tragedy.

 I liked the juxtaposition of the two central women, seeking personal fulfilment outside the domestic confines.

I left this story with a warm glow. The final chapters are a wonderful reward, more than that I cannot divulge.