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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

To Be Taught, If Fortunate: A Novella by Becky Chambers

Listened July 2019. Audio Book released 8th August 2019 by Hodder and Stoughton.

At the turn of the 22nd Century, there was a scientific breakthrough that made long-distance space travel a realistic possibility for the first time.

The main obstacle to human spaceflight had always been that it was almost impossible to design a ship that could protect its human occupants from the hostile environment of space, for the length of time it would take to get to planets that were many light years from our own.

In the end, the breakthrough came by coming at the problem from a completely different angle. It was discovered that human bodies themselves could not only be adapted to counteract these effects, but they could also be endowed with different abilities to allow astronauts to be ideally suited to the environments they may find on other planets. This process was called somaforming.

Humans were, at last able to explore the heavens and search for the evidence of life on other planets, rather than just speculating from afar!

Ariadne and her three fellow astronauts are on a research mission to explore four exoplanets fifteen light-years from Earth. It has taken them 28 years to reach their first destination, and while they have slept, the somaforming process has done its work, keeping them safe and also developing special attributes for their mission. Between each new planet, the astronauts will be transformed while they sleep, so they will wake up in the form best adapted to the conditions they will find on the surface of their new destination.

As the mission progresses, Ariadne records their experiences and details of the different life-forms they encounter. All their recorded data is sent off to Earth, even though it will take many years to reach there. This is a mission that will take many years and by the time they have completed it, the Earth will be a very different place to the one they have left behind.

Indeed, the World they have left is changing more than they thought possible. Does anyone at home still remember they are out here? Is anyone still listening?


This is the first time I have been introduced to the work of Becky Chambers and I am very impressed.
There is a lot going on in this novella, despite the fact that it is only 160 pages long (4hrs 47 mins in audio book format, narrated very convincingly by Patricia Rodriguez), and it leaves you with many things to ponder when you have finished - plus a listening experience that has you with your heart in your mouth most of the time! You will find yourself alongside the astronauts and experiencing everything they see and feel - right from the moment they wake-up at each new planet.

Right from the start, you are aware that these characters are "ordinary people", despite having the most extraordinary job. Their mission has taken them a long way from home, both in time and distance, and there are many things they miss from Earth - not least the families they will not see again.

The overwhelming thing that struck me about this story is the dedication of the astronauts to their mission of discovery. They are fully aware that they are only in Space by the grace of all the people who have contributed to the space programme - since this is now funded by public donation, rather than government backing. This inspires them to do a good job for the benefit of all humanity. They are very aware that they are here to discover, without harming the environments they find themselves in and do their best to follow this protocol at all times - although there are certainly some hiccups along the way.

It is clear from this book that the idea that being in space for a prolonged period is likely to affect the mental state of the astronauts, as well as their physical condition. Although lots of thought seems to have been put into protecting them from and adapting them to the rigours of space travel, their psychological well-being has not been considered as thoroughly. Yes, they have the comfort of routine and protocol to follow, but look what happens when things do not go to plan? It is admirable however, that whatever their adventures throw at them, the astronauts are able to fall back on the very idea that humanity knows best about the reason they are actually on this mission in the first place and they are ultimately able to rely on each other to pull through. Don't get me wrong, they are not on this mission simply out of  sense of duty, as they want to be here on the cutting edge of space discovery and are enthusiastic about their work - but they never lose sight of  why they are there.

I love space travel stories and am fascinated by them. The idea that other lifeforms may exist somewhere out there is a compelling one, but I have no wish to leave the safety of our little blue planet myself - the thought of being isolated from everything I know and love, and possibly being unable to get back home, terrifies me. Therefore, I found the very nature of this story incredibly chilling, but it is intensely thrilling at the same time.

Also, being a fan of an obscure book title, I was intrigued by the fact that this one is called To Be Taught, If Fortunate. What does this actually mean? Well, dear readers, it is part of a quote which was recorded by Kurt Waldheim, Secretary General of the United Nations 1972-1981, the full text of which was on the Golden Records placed aboard the Voyager probes from 1972. The full text is below, and it serves to explain the meaning behind this novella. It is very thought provoking.

As the Secretary General of the United Nations, an organization of the 147 member states who represent almost all of the human inhabitants of the planet Earth. I send greetings on behalf of the people of our planet. We step out of our solar system into the universe seeking only peace and friendship, to teach if we are called upon, to be taught if we are fortunate. We know full well that our planet and all its inhabitants are but a small part of the immense universe that surrounds us and it is with humility and hope that we take this step.

This book offers the very best of science fiction writing: the story is absorbing, there is plenty of imagination,  and there is an abundance of scientific detail, but it also has the necessary elements to make this a thought provoking piece of work. Good science fiction should make you ask the question "What If?" and this novella does that in spades.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Possession by Michael Rutger

Read July 2019. Published 25th July 2019 by Zaffre Books.

Nolan Moore is the host of a YouTube show called The Anomaly Files. He and his team - Ken the producer, Molly the fixer and Pierre the cameraman - travel around looking into unsolved mysteries that might make good TV for their show. Sometimes these mysteries prove to lead them into dangerous situations....

The team have arrived in the small, remote town of Birchlake, Northern California to investigate some ancient stone walls. No one knows who built these walls; what their purpose was supposed to be; or why they were often built in strange patterns. Walls are supposed to enclose something, but these walls seem to have no logical purpose.

Co-incidentally, Nolan's journalist ex-wife Kristy is also in Birchlake. to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. Events in her own past compel her to find out why the girl has vanished, but no one seems keen to talk to her about what may have happened. The townsfolk are not keen on the appearance of Nolan and his team either and they have been treated with suspicion and hostility since they have arrived.

Things are very wrong in the town of Birchlake and it soon becomes clear that the disappearance of the girl is connected to the mysterious walls in some way. Lines become blurred between reality and imagination, and they soon realise that the walls are not intended to keep something in, but instead are to keep something out......


The Possession is the second book in the Anomaly Files series and it has everything I love in a horror/psychological thriller book, all tied up with a blood-red ribbon.

Book one, The Anomaly introduced us to Nolan and the team and was a total thrill ride - if you have not read it, why not??? Go and buy it now...I'll wait.....Now that's done, let's continue...

The Possession can be read as a stand-alone, but I would really recommend that you read book one first, as there will be major spoilers if you read them in the wrong order. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the events of the first book are only hinted at, so if you have not read it you will be missing out big time.

This is quite a different adventure to the one the team experienced in the first book, but is equally as scary - albeit in a demonic possession and witchy sort of way this time. The small-town claustrophobia adds to the impending sense of doom in this book and the looming presence of the mysterious walls hangs heavily in the air. The team are about to get themselves into trouble again...

It is wonderful to be back with Nolan, Ken, Molly and Pierre in their second adventure and it is just like meeting up with old friends. They are such great characters and their relationship with each other is so natural - Ken is actually my favourite, probably because of his liberal use of "wanker" and "twat" when referring to the pain in his back-side that is Nolan (although they love each other really).

Since this is a spoiler-free review, I am not going to give away any clues about what happens in these pages. It is safe to say that, if you enjoy a good Stephen King horror that scares the bejesus out of you, crossed with the best of  a well-researched Michael Crichton thriller, then you will definitely enjoy both of The Anomlay Files books.

I am certainly looking forward to more of the gang's adventures.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Bone Deep by

Audio book. Listened to July 2019. Released by Audible Studios 19th March 2019.
Book published 5th July 2018 by Polygon.

Lucie is a young girl who has fallen in love with the wrong man - her sister's boyfriend.
They have been carrying on an affair behind her sister's back, but their romance is discovered by her mother and she is sent packing from the house.

With nowhere to go, Lucie has accepted a job as an assistant to a retired academic, who lives in the remote Scottish countryside, in the grounds of an old water mill. She is resigned to taking her bruised heart well away from her family, to try to forget about Reuben as best she can.

'Mac', now retired from her academic career is writing another book - this time based on the folktales of the local area. She has been struggling with failing health and the approaching deadline of her manuscript, so is persuaded by her son Arthur to hire an assistant. She does not know what to make of Lucie, the quiet girl she has hired, although there does seem to be a lot going on under the surface. 

As time passes, Lucie and Mac get into a kind of rhythm. Mac is becoming obsessed with the story of the "Cruel Sister" - a tale of sibling rivalry, with links to the old mill and nearby castle - but she seems to be struggling to focus and is losing her grip on reality. Lucie finds herself being drawn into the tale too, as it resonates with her own situation, and is desperate to find out what happens in the story.

As the love triangle between Lucie, her sister and Reuben becomes even more complicated, Lucie is feeling the pressure of her guilt and is in fear of her sister discovering the truth. She has already confided in the kindly Arthur and finds herself developing feelings for him.

Mac has started to suspect Lucie's secret and wants to protect Arthur from this young Jezebel if she can. She has her own skeletons in the cupboard to hide and the the weight of what she has done is fueling her erratic behaviour.

Sometimes the past will not stay buried.....


Bone Deep is a delicious slow burner of a story, and it works really well as an audio book.

The narration is split between Lucie and Mac all the way through, and the story develops as you go backwards and forwards between their descriptions of past events, their feelings and what they think they know about what is going on.  These parts are beautifully read by Una Mcdade and Emma Hartley-Miller in all their Scottish glory.

Although Lucie is a mystery to Mac, she seems to be an open book to the reader from very early on,  as you are aware of her affair with Reuben almost from the start, but she is hiding a huge secret that will not become apparent until near the very end of the book.

Mac on the other hand, is a bit of an unknown and her character and secrets are revealed over the course of the story - and she has some pretty heavy secrets at that. As she is writing her book, Lucie's romantic affairs and the events in the Cruel Sister stir up a the past for Mac, and a kind of madness descends upon her. Although both Arthur and Lucie notice Mac's peculiar behaviour, especially her fixation with a woman called Anna Madigan, they put this down to eccentricity and old age. Little do they suspect the truth.

I loved the way that they pace of the story increases as you get to the climax, and I found myself being drawn further and further into the yarn. Both Mac and Lucie's narratives become more desperate as they entwine with the chilling direction of the Cruel Sister and the brooding presence of the water mill. What starts out as a Scottish domestic drama, becomes something much more menacing and dangerous, tied up with the rich history of Scotland, as the themes of love and betrayal dominate.

I thoroughly enjoyed this Audible production and am very keen to read, and listen, to more of Sandra Ireland's work. In fact The Unmaking of Ellie Rook is now firmly in my sights!


Blurb for Bone Deep:

What happens when you fall in love with the wrong person?

The consequences threaten to be far-reaching and potentially deadly.

Bone Deep is a contemporary novel of sibling rivalry, love, betryal and murder. It is dual narrative, told in alternate chapters by Mac, a woman bent on keeping the secrets of the past from her only son, and Lucie, whose own past is something of a closed book. Their story is underpinned by the creaking presence of an abandoned water mill and haunted by the local legend of the long-dead sisters, themselves rivals in love and ready to point an accusing finger from the pages of history.

Buy The Bone Deep Audio Book Here

Author info:

Sandra Ireland was born in Yorkshire, lived for many years in Limerick, and is now based in Carnoustie. She began her writing career as a correspondent on a local newspaper but quickly realised that fiction is much more intriguing than fact. In 2013 Sandra was awarded a Carnegie-Cameron scholarship to study for an MLitt in Writing Practice and Study at the University of Dundee, graduating with a distinction in 2014. Her work has appeared in various publications and women's magazines. She is the author of Beneath the Skin (Polygon, 2016) and The Unmaking of Ellie Rook (2019).

Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie

Read July 2019. Published 25th July 2019 by HQ.

Nightingale Point, named for the pioneering nurse Florence Nightingale, is one of a group of three high-rise dwellings on the Morpeth Estate, London. Its residents are people with normal lives and everyday worries. Some are are friends, some are isolated and lonely, but new residents or old, Nightingale Point is their home.

Some of the residents we will get to know intimately:

Malachi, the architecture student. He has had to grow up quickly to look after his younger brother, Tristan, as their mother was not able to cope. They now live on their own, trying to get by the best they can, but it it a heavy burden for Malachi to carry - especially as he is struggling to get over the break-up with his girlfriend, Pamela. He feels guilty that he did not stand up to her over-protective father or do enough to show her how he really felt.

Tristan, Malachi's fifteen-year-old younger brother. Tristan is drifting through life and mixing with the wrong crowd now Malachi is distracted by his failed romance. He is desperate to make a mark, but he knows deep inside that smoking weed and trying to impress the estate's resident "bad guys" is not something his family would be proud of. He misses Malachi and the close relationship they used to have before he became involved with Pamela...although she did make Malachi happy.

Mary, the nurse, who came to London as a young bride from the Philippines many years ago. She has raised her twins in the flat at Nightingale Point and now looks forward to the visits of her grandchildren. Mary keeps a watchful eye on Malachi and Tristan, and sees them as more her own children than her biological flesh and blood. However, Mary is hiding a secret life and the guilt she feels about her absent husband is eating away at her.

Pamela, still a school-girl and brokenhearted at her break-up with Malachi. She is now back at Nightingale Point living with her over-protective father again, after having been sent away for weeks when their relationship was discovered. Her father will no loner trust her to even leave the flat on her own and she craves the freedom she used to feel when running in the open air. If only she could speak to Malachi and tell him she is back and still loves him. If only her father had not locked her in...

Elvis, trying to settle into life in his new "perfect" flat, with his "perfect" possessions around him. Elvis has been living in sheltered housing until now and he finds life away from the full-time support he used to receive confusing - even with the help of his support worker George and carer Lina. He is a kindly soul, but has not been treated well by some of his fellow residents, and their cruel taunts are upsetting. But Elvis has an inner strength that will shine through and forge a connection with someone unexpected.

One fateful Saturday in 1996, life for the residents of Nightingale Point takes a horrific turn. Will our cast of players survive this day and what will their lives be like after their experiences?


I absolutely adored this book and it is one of my favourite reads this year. Each of the characters is so beautifully written that they come alive for us in these pages and we really feel that we know them: their hopes and dreams; their guilty thoughts and deeds; their loves and their hates; their most intimate desires - they are all laid bare for us to see. Some of these characters we will come to love in turn, others we will certainly loathe with a passion, and righteous indignation will rear its ugly head at more than one point.

The wonderful thing about this book is that it takes you from the domestic concerns of the Nightingale Point residents to the lives of ordinary folk trying to come to terms with the most horrendous loss of home and loved ones - via the gripping detail of a disaster tale. Your attachment to the characters makes the events of the actual plane crash very difficult to deal with, especially those connected with Pamela. These events inevitably bring out the very best and worst of human nature and you cannot fail to read about them without having your heart in your mouth and tears in your eyes.

Emotion runs very high as our cast of characters try to come to terms with what has happened to them physically and mentally. There is a surprising amount of guilt felt by the survivors of the tragedy, about things that are really not their fault and it is tough being with them while they try to cope with this.

It is fair to say that you will shed some tears along with them, as well as wanting to shake some of them, and punch one of them to Kingdom Come! Bureaucracy will lead to frustration; lessons will be learned; hearts will be broken; new bonds of deep friendship will be made; and most will recover to some degree, but the scars will always remain.

Yes, there is a lot of deep-felt sadness in this book, but life finds a way in the end and I am not going to give away any spoilers.

Nightingale Point is the debut novel of high-rise heartbreak from the Costa Short Story Award winner Luan Goldie. It is based upon real life events that took place in 1992, when a cargo plane crashed into a block of flats in Holland. The aftermath of the plane hitting Nightingale Point will inevitably also bring to mind the terrifying fire at Grenfell Tower, which is so clear in the memories of all of us, so this book serves as a tribute to both the survivors of the 1992 plane crash and those of Grenfell....and a fitting tribute it is too.

I guarantee that Nightingale Point is going to be one of the biggest books of 2019, and it deserves all the praise that will be heaped upon it, so don't miss out!

To get you started, click the following link for a chance to read the first chapter of Nightingale Point: Nightingale Point: Extract

From the cover of Nightingale Point:

Nightingale Point is best described as In Our Mad and Furious City meets White Teeth, and explores what happens to the people living on a council estate in East London when a cargo plane loses control and crashes into their homes. It's inspired by a true story - the Bijlmer air disaster in Holland - as well as Luan's own upbringing of growing up in Hackney's Pembury council estate. The result is an important, brilliantly written novel that explores themes of race, working class politics, mental health and the divisions we create in our own backyard. 

On an ordinary Saturday morning in 1996, the residents of Nightingale Point wake up to their normal lives and worries.

Mary has a secret life that no one knows about, not even Malachi and Tristan, the brothers she vowed to look after.
Malachi had to grow up too quickly. Between looking after Tristan and nursing a broken heart, he feels older than his twenty-one years.
Tristan wishes Malachi would stop pining for Pamela. No wonder he's falling in with the wrong crowd, without Malachi to keep him straight.
Elvis is trying hard to remember to the instructions his care worker gave him, but sometimes he gets confused and forgets things.
Pamela wants to run back to Malachi but her overprotective father has locked her in and there's no way out.

It's a day like any other, until something extraordinary happens. When the sun sets, Nightingale Point is irrevocably changed and somehow, through the darkness, the residents must find a way back to lightness, and back to each other.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The Spider Dance by Nick Setchfield

Read July 2019. Published 16th July 2019 by Titan Books.

It is 1965 and ex-British Intelligence operative Christopher Winter is trying to establish himself in a new career - as a London gangster.

Winter finds it ironic to now be on the other side of the law, but is making a name for himself in the Jack Creadley gang, and his past contacts have been useful in acquiring a certain valuable item for their latest shady deal.

Unfortunately, the valuable item in question - the heart of an ancient vampire - proves to be more of a hot commodity than they realised, and the deal has dire consequences for the other members of Jack Creadley's gang.

Winter finds himself re-claimed by the Secret Service after being aided by a young spy called Libby Cracknell, who is eager to make a name for herself as a rare female agent in the male-dominated world of espionage. Winter is needed for a new mission after an alluring succubus is apparently desperate to defect to the West, bringing her secrets with her, and she has demanded that Tobias Hart - Winter's old identity - be the man to come and get her.

This mission will involve Winter in the web of secrecy surrounding the Shadowless - a criminal organisation much older and far more deadly than the Mafia - as he tries to fathom what his real mission is and who he is actually working for.

Along the way he will uncover the forgotten truth about his alter-ego Tobias Hart and must decide if he is ready to once more embrace the dark magic he used to be able to master.


This book brings a whole new meaning to the term Cold War!

Winter is a spy who believes he has escaped the world of British Intelligence, but it is patently clear from almost the very beginning of this story that he is not going to be allowed to walk away as easily as he thought.

Although Winter cannot remember much of his life as Tobias Hart, or the details of the supernatural intrigue surrounding Operation Paragon he was involved in during World War Two, the legacy of his past is about to come back and - quite literally - bite him!

Winter is a competent and well-trained spy, but he is so much more - if only he could remember - and this scares him. It takes the alluring succubus, Alessandra, who remembers Tobias Hart as the powerful and dangerous mage he was, to get Winter to confront the darkness at the heart of his being and reawaken the magic that still lives within him. This is a very interesting development in the life of Winter and leads to some pretty exciting confrontations with the bad guys!

I also very much enjoyed that it was Winter's somewhat rocky relationship with the eager Libby that forces him to take control of his own darkness and start to become the man he is destined to be - not the Tobias Hart of old, but someone new....someone with integrity, who will not be a slave to his past.

I absolutely loved this genre-busting Cold War horror tale. The idea that the real cold war is actually being fought on the borders of the world, beyond the comprehension of the general population is a tantalising and compelling one.

There are all sorts of influences that can be seen in these pages - hints can be found of great spies like James Bond, but with the dry humourous delivery of a Harry Palmer in all his glorious, behind-the-iron-curtain adventures; mixed up with the tense truth-questing feel of a bit of Frederick Forsyth, or Robert Ludlum in their post-WWII stories; and the chill of an Ira Levin or James Herbert - with a bit of added Indiana Jones. This gives this novel a real sense that it is a classic, right from the off.

I must admit that I have not read anything quite like this book before, which I find enormously refreshing. It has all the best features of a Cold War spy story, with a delicious undercurrent of a supernatural horror tale. Why settle for single genre novels when you can have it all?

I did not realise that this was actually the second book in the Christopher Winter series when I started reading it, but I had not read much before I knew I would have to go back and read the first book to fill in the back story - so book one, The War In The Dark, now has pride of place on one of my many bookshelves and I will be getting to this one soon.

What a great read! I am looking forward to more from Nick Setchfield.

Monday, July 22, 2019

The Woman In The White Kimono by Ana Johns

Read July 2019. Published 15th July 2019.

1957, Japan: The time has come for seventeen year old Naoko's family to organise a tradition, arranged marriage for their daughter. Naoko has agreed to meet their preferred suitor - the son of one of her father's business associates - on the condition that they will also consider her choice of partner too. The only problem is that they do not know the man she loves is a sailor in the American Navy - a gaiijin (foreigner).

As soon as Naoko's sailor comes to her house to meet her family, they are appalled by the thought of a marriage that could bring shame upon them. Little do they know that Naoko already carries her American lover's child. She is forced to flee her family home for a chance to marry for love and her choice will change the course of her life.

Present day, America: Tori Kovac is caring for her dying father and finds a letter that changes everything she thought she knew about him. This letter takes her half-way across the world on a quest to find out the truth behind her father's stories about when he was stationed in Japan in the 1950's. What she finds there will make her reassess what kind of man her father really was. The real story of his time in Japan will break her heart.


This book will take you back in time to a Japan which is trying to get back on its feet after the Second World War. The American occupation of Japan had come to an end, but American sailors were still everywhere and many Japanese girls were tempted into romantic entanglements with them.

Naoko is a young Japanese girl who falls in love with a man that her family, and countrymen, sadly cannot bring themselves to accept. She desperately wants to settle down with her blue-eyed sailor, and the reality of such a relationship at this time cannot change her mind. A marriage to a gaiijin is unthinkable and would bring great shame in the minds of her family, stuck as they are in the past.

Such relationships were looked upon as taboo and the girls were often ostracised by their families, especially if they became pregnant. The mixed-race babies born of such romances were not accepted by the Japanese population in general - many were abandoned in orphanages, or in the worst cases, simply left to die. There are horrific tales to tell about these girls and their babies, and this book touches upon their sad stories.

The lucky girls who managed to marry their American suitors and make it to America at least had a chance to live a happy life, even if the American population were not welcoming. It was often hard to get permission to bring a Japanese bride home to America though, and many girls were abandoned to their fate in Japan.

This book is beautifully written and the story weaves back and forth in time, following the threads of Naoko's story, in between Tori's quest for the truth - but the full heartbreaking reality of what happened as a result of the forbidden romance between Tori's father and Naoko only becomes clear at the very end of the book.

This is the kind of book that you will find yourself thinking about for quite a while after you have finished it. It is so incredibly sad, but told with such mesmerising skill that you can't help racing through the pages - even if you know your heart is going to break.

I should also mention that the book cover is one of the most beautiful I have seen for a long time.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Under Currents by Nora Roberts

Read July 2019. Published 9th July 2019.

To outside eyes, the Bigelow family of Lakeview Terrace seem to be the perfect family. Graham Bigelow is a handsome,  esteemed surgeon and his wife Eliza is a well-groomed, upstanding member of committees and the PTA. They even have two lovely children - a son called Zane, and his younger sister Britt. They are pillars of the community. The perfect family, in the perfect home...

But appearances can be deceptive. Graham rules his family with a rod of iron...and his fists. His cold, dysfunctional wife is his usual target, but perversely she enjoys the abuse and is even excited by it. Graham and Eliza are bound together in some twisted facsimile of a marriage and their children are simply accessories.

The children have learned to try not to antagonise Graham, but his temper will not be contained, and as the years go by Zane becomes more of a target of his father's abuse - so far Britt has mostly escaped his attention, but how long with this last? It is clear that Graham and Eliza have no love for their children.

No one must know what really happens behind the doors of the beautiful house in Lakeview Terrace - but who would believe it anyway? Even their own grandparents and aunt do not know what goes on in this house.

Zane vows that he and Britt will escape this nightmare one day. For now, he must bide his time, get stronger, protect his sister and make a record of the truth in his diaries.

One fateful day, Zane can take no more when Graham's temper is again beyond control - this time he must take on his father to protect Britt from more than the usual slaps that head in her direction. The violence spirals out of control and Zane and Britt are forced to escape - with the help of their aunt Emily, who saves them, takes them in as her own and helps them to heal.

Years later, Zane is now a lawyer and has returned home to Lakeview to settle down. Britt has remained in their home town and works as a counsellor helping abused women and children. Their beloved aunt is the mainstay of the loving family which surrounds them. But can they ever truly escape the under currents of the past?

Zane is looking forward to a quiet time now he has returned to Lakeview. However, his peace is disturbed by the new landscape gardener in town - one Darby McCray. Darby has under currents in her own past, that she is trying to escape. She hopes that setting up her new business in Lakeview will help her recover from her own experiences. She certainly didn't reckon on meeting Zane, but meeting each other is just what they need.


You can't go wrong with a Nora Roberts. She generally writes romances, but I prefer her romance/thriller books, as they offer the perfect mix of an exciting story, with some lovey-dovey thrown in - easy reads with great characters, a story you can get your teeth into and a happy ending. They always offer a selection of good upstanding people who are happy to fight for what's right against the total scoundrels trying to have their way! I love them!

This latest offering, actually is pretty complex for a Nora Roberts thriller/romance, as there is more than one thread associated with domestic violence in this book. I originally though that Zane and Britt's childhood would be the main story-line here, but there are two other threads that contribute nicely to the overall story - the one associated with Darby's past, and one connected to another couple in Lakeview - these all rounded out the book nicely.

I have read a few Nora Roberts' books over the years, and thoroughly enjoyed them all and Under Currents is another winner. I polished it off in two days and then immediately bought a few more to store on my Kindle, so I always have one waiting!

If you are looking to give Nora Roberts a go, then Under Currents is a great place to start, and it will give you a good taste of what to expect from her writing. Some of my other favourites by Nora Roberts are Come Sundown, The Obsession, Black Hills and Chasing Fire, so I recommend that you check these out too.

I think I should also mention that Nora Roberts has recently had a foray into the apocalypse genre too, with her Chronicles of the One series. I have read books one and two of these - Year One and Of Blood And Bone - and they are pretty good (especially book one). Book three - The Rise Of Magicks is out in November and I am looking forward to seeing how the series ends.

Incidentally, she has also written books under a couple of other names (in fact her real name is Eleanor Marie Robertson), but her most famous other series is the In Death books, which she writes as J.D. Robb. These are dystopian style crime thrillers and I keep meaning to read them, as they sound just my thing, but alas, I have not got around to them...yet.

I loved this book and can assure you that you definitely need a bit of Nora Roberts in your reading life. Go on....give it a try!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Expectation by Anna Hope

Read July 2019. Published 11th July 2019.

Hannah, Cate and Lissa are three young friends in their twenties. Hannah and Cate have known each other since school, and Hannah met Lissa when they were both at university in Manchester - while Cate successfully made it to Oxford.
They now live together in an elegant, crumbling, Victorian house on the edge of London Fields, in East London.

The friends' lives are full of  parties, fun, art and romance and they see themselves as activists - worrying about the future of the world. They are young and full of promise. Their lives lay open before them.

Ten years later, none of them are where they hoped to be in life.

Hannah seems to have the perfect marriage, job and lifestyle, but she is desperate to conceive a child, and IVF has not been the answer she thought it would be. Lissa's acting career has never quite taken off and is now on a downward spiral. Cate finds herself living in Kent with a husband and baby - she is exhausted and not sure if she has made the right choices.

Each of them yearns for something that one of their friends has - something they think would make their lives perfect.


I was really looking forward to reading this book, as it has had excellent reviews and there has been a lot of buzz about it.

It is interesting to think back to all the expectations you had of your own life when you were as young as Hannah, Cate and Lissa. What would your young self think about where you are now?

The young women in this story are not happy with where the find themselves ten years later. They are all trying to negotiate the twists and turns life has thrown at them: trying to work out their places in the world. This is not where they saw their lives heading.

This story is well written and full of emotion. It covers the highs and lows of friendship over the years, though I have to say there are some pretty low 'lows', and I am not sure these are all that representative of female friendships in general - at least I hope not!

Hannah is consumed with the need to become a mother and the misery of her failed IVF treatments is all too palpable. Luckily, I cannot claim to know how this feels, as I have never been through this ordeal, but I can certainly empathise with the position she finds herself in. Hannah needs her friends to be there for her, but finds it difficult to get across how she is really feeling, especially since Cate already has the baby she longs for.

Cate is struggling with marriage and motherhood. she has married quickly and is not sure whether she has made the right choice. She loves her young son, but is clearly suffering with post-natal depression. She also needs her friends, but she has been persuaded to move away from London - away from her friends. Can she really rely on them anyway - how much would they understand about the pressures of new motherhood - especially since Hannah is so desperate for a child?

Lissa seems to have grown away from both Hannah and Cate. Her life has little in common with either of her old friends. She has chosen not to become a mother herself and has struggled to find a partner she can rely on. What can they understand about her own frustrations with her 'going nowhere' career and the difficult relationship she has with her mother?

I enjoyed reading this book and certainly had no trouble racing through the pages, but I confess that I am a bit disappointed with it. I think the main problem was that I did not really care for Hannah, Cate or Lissa.

Sadly, they come across as three young women who have not been able to live up to the expectations they have placed on themselves - rather than those placed on them by society. This makes them come across as rather selfish women who are miserable because they cannot have it all. Their friendship does not seem to be helping them through the rough patches, and they seem to be jealous of each other instead.

This is a shame, because Hannah and Cate at least have genuine reasons to be be finding their lives difficult. Sadly, Lissa just seems miserable because she has not made it as an actress - as far as I am concerned this does not give her licence to want her friend's husband (whether or not she knew them first).

 They spend so much time focusing on what they don't have, that they can't seem to appreciate what they actually do have and everyone around them is a casualty to their misery. This impression rather spoilt the book for me.

The ending was also a little silly. Happy families picnic time was probably a little premature after the short length of time that elapsed since a major falling out between the friends, I thought.

From reading other reviews, I can see that this book has made a big impression on a lot of readers, but it simply did not do it for me. I think I am a little old to be the target audience here, and maybe that was the problem.  It would be interesting to discuss the issues thrown up by this book with someone who has a younger perspective. Perhaps I will get my daughter to read it sometime and see what she thinks?

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Woman In The Photograph by Stephanie Butland

Read July 2019. Published 11th July 2019.

The year is 1968. Veronica (Vee) Moon is a junior photographer for a local newspaper, but she is frustrated by the type of jobs considered suitable for a woman, in this male dominated environment. There are only so many church fairs and Mothers' Union meetings you can photograph before you go mad. Vee yearns to be part of a bigger story.

Vee does not know a lot about feminism, but she knows she wants more than to be the little wife of her fiance, Barry: tied to domestic servitude and motherhood, with a sweet martini and lemonade on a Saturday.

Vee decides to take a trip to see the on-going protest of the Ford Dagenham machinists, who are striking for equal pay, and to take some photographs while she is there. This is where she meets the fierce Leonie.

Leonie takes Vee under her wing and undertakes to be her mentor in the feminist cause. Vee's life starts to change from this day onwards. Leonie offers her the chance of a free and exciting life - one she has never even thought possible - at the heart of the rising tide of the fight for women's equality.


Fifty years later, Vee lives the life of a recluse. Leonie has gone and the circumstances surrounding her death brought an end to Vee's ground-breaking career as a famous photographer.

One of Vee's final photographs - her most controversial one - of her friend Leonie, is now the focus of a new feminist exhibition being curated by Leonie's niece, Erica. Vee has been persuaded out of her home to help Erica with the exhibition, and buried memories of the past are resurfacing. What really happened on the day Leonie died? Is it time to let go of the pain of the past and step back into the light?


What a wonderful book! It has been an absolute pleasure to read.
There is an fabulous "light bulb" moment in this book too, which I thoroughly loved!

The story alternates between two different timelines - significant moments in the past for Vee and Leonie; and moments from the present day for Vee and Erica, as preparations for the exhibition progress.

Through the years, Leonie becomes increasing bitter that the direction of feminism has not gone the way she would have liked. Her ambition to become a successful published author has been thwarted at every turn, by her projects being just behind those published by the famous guiding lights of the feminist cause - although her "Dear John" column has been a success, even this has a sell by date in the end.

Meanwhile, Vee's career has gone from strength to strength and she has become a role model for women who want to forge ahead in the previously male-dominated areas. Leonie considers Vee to have "sold out", but Vee is actually benefiting from the changes initiated by women like Leonie and doing the best to make all the progress she can.

Leonie is a pretty tough character and she is not easy to like, especially as she gets older and her experiences seem to weigh her down. However, it is important to remember that the uncompromising  women like Leonie, at the coal-face of the feminist movement, are the very ones we owe thanks to for initiating the very changes we benefit from today. Leonie is exactly the kind of character we need her to be in this story - one who can be a suitable mentor to the naive Vee - and she is a perfect vehicle to explain what feminism was hoping to achieve from the beginning. By explaining things to Vee, she is also explaining to the reader.

Vee is the softer face of feminism and she has more in common with the majority of women who "just wanted more" - the right to have freedom over their own bodies, make their own decisions, and control their own finances, without reference to a man.

Erica is the face of modern feminism - she has a lot more freedom that the women of Vee and Leonie's generation, but she sees the progress as more of leading to a right to decide how to live your life as a woman. Erica, as some of Leonie's friends from the past, show that it is important to include men in the fight for equality, rather than seeing them all as the enemy.

Interestingly, Vee takes on the role of staunch feminist herself, when she first starts to work with Erica and is disappointed that their struggles from the past have not led to women today having the equality she and her sisters hoped they would. In effect, Vee becomes the mentor to Erica., as their relatonship develops.

I think some of the younger readers of this book may be surprised by how much women were still controlled by the patriarchy in the later half of the twentieth century - for example, needing the permission of a male member of their family to apply for a mortgage, or even open a bank account/hold a cheque book. It is shocking to think that domestic violence within marriage was not even a crime until 1976!

I was born in 1967: the year that The Pill became available to unmarried women (only available from 1961 to married women) and that The Abortion Act became law. This has always given them a personal significance to me, especially since they made such a difference to the lives of women at the time, because this has all been within my own lifetime. For the first time, all women could choose whether to become mothers and the spectre of the back-street abortion was finally being laid to rest (more on this later).

The events covered in this book are therefore, all within the span of my own life, and women have made significant progress in the fight for equality during this time, following on from the work of the second wave feminist pioneers - albeit perhaps, not as much as was hoped.
Of course, I am too young to recall the Dagenham women's fight for equality or the protests at the 1970 Miss World competition first-hand, but I do remember pretty much every other milestone in this book - it was very helpful that each part of the book listed other memorable events, such as books, movies etc too. This makes it much easier to place the events in time.

There are a lot of books exploring feminism and the fight for equality among characters in their twenties/thirties recently, and although I enjoy reading them, they are more relevant to my children than myself. This book really spoke to me a much deeper level, as it has so much more to say about women of all ages.

Reading this book has made me think about whether the women of my own generation have actually done enough. Yes, things have been much better for us than for our own mothers, but will our daughters continue reap the same benefits? Have we sat back on our laurels and not continued to fight with the passion necessary to improve things even more for our own daughters?

It seems clear by the need for campaigns such as the recent #Metoo movement that there is still a lot of work to be done, but worse than that, the current political climate is leading to backward change - take the recent alterations in the law on abortion that are happening in some of the states of the USA.  It is more important now, than ever, that we stand up against this trend - a return to the horror of the back-street abortion cannot be allowed to happen.

This is a fabulous book and I applaud Stephanie Butland for being brave enough to write it.  I have found it to be something of a wake-up call and stirring to the soul, and will be recommending it widely.

Continue the fight Sisters....and remember to bring the men along too!

Fixed Odds (Robbie Munro Book Five) by William McIntyre

Read July 2019. Published 4th July 2019 by Sandstone Press.

Serial housebreaker and junkie, George 'Genghis' McCann has got himself int a spot of bother, after it all started with a dog....
He has broken into the 'wrong' house and taken an assortment of someone else's property, which has led to him being arrested and held on remand.

After a drunken plea from Shannon, Genghis' junkie girlfriend, Scottish defence lawyer Robbie Munro finds himself mixed up in a case surrounding a missing masterpiece - part of the loot Genghis liberated from the break-in.

 Robbie soon discovers that this is no ordinary case of housebreaking, especially when Genghis is released without charge, after the owner of the property tells the police that nothing is missing.
When Genghis is mysteriously found murdered and Shannon is arrested, Robbie is forced to try to locate the "missing" property and he is shocked when he finds out how much part of the haul may actually be worth.
Someone desperately wants the painting back - enough to start killing for it.

Meanwhile, Robbie has been talked into taking on the case of the arrogant, professional snooker player Oscar 'The Showman' Bowman, by his  ex-footballer brother Malky. Bowman, a devout Morman, has been charged with betting fraud, but is not very forthcoming when it comes to building a defence case. Robbie is forced to be creative in an attempt to win the case, particularly when he learns Malky has signed him up on a no-win-no-fee basis.

Robbie could really do with the rewards promised by finding the lost masterpiece and winning the Bowman case. His coffers have not exactly been running over lately and with a second baby on the way, he is as keen as can be to make sure the odds are running in his favour.


This is my first Robbie Munro book, but it is easy to read as a stand-alone and is a lot of fun.

It offers a fine mix of investigative thriller and courtroom drama, with plenty of dark humour thrown in - especially when it comes to Robbie's domestic affairs. There are some great characters in his close-knit family and his secretary Grace Mary takes none of his nonsense!

I really enjoyed he way that the courtroom element of the book runs alongside the twisty thriller part, with the family drama always in the background. This shows Robbie off as a more complex character than a simple thriller would do, and offers a lot more depth to the story. There is a kind of grittiness and humour about it that reminds me of the older style cops and robbers dramas, which I found very appealing.

Robbie gets himself in some terrible fixes, which he has to employ some trickery and underhand dealing to extricate himself from, but his heart is very much in the right place, and he makes good in the end. This makes him very endearing - who want a goody-two-shoes after all!

I thoroughly enjoyed my first taste of Robbie Munro and am quite keen to go back and read the earlier books in the series, to fill in some back-story.


Author Bio:
William McIntyre is a partner in Scotland’s oldest law firm Russel + Aitken, specialising in criminal defence. He has been instructed in many interesting and high-profile cases over the years and now turns fact into fiction with his Robbie Munro legal thrillers. He is married with four sons.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Carer by Deborah Moggach.

Read March 2019. Publication date 9th July 2019.

Phoebe and her brother, Robert, have been looking for a suitable carer for their frail, widowed father for sometime. After a couple of false starts, the capable Mandy arrives, and with her rubber gloves and orange teapot, she takes charge and frees them to get on with their lives.

Phoebe and Robert are middle-aged now, but are carrying many hang-ups from their childhood. They both feel a sense of abandonment in relation to their father, James, as he was a brilliant particle physicist and frequently absent as they were growing up. They have found it hard to move on and, frankly, they are living pretty miserable lives, as a result.

As Mandy becomes the mainstay of James' existence, he begins to change and becomes more distant from Phoebe and Robert. The brother and sister struggle with the conflicting need for Mandy and their jealousy of her closeness to James, and their suspicion that she is up to something.

However, Phoebe and Robert will discover that they have a connection with Mandy that they never dreamed of, and her influence will help them to change their lives for the better.

I was lucky enough to receive a copy of this book by The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel author, Deborah Moggach, prior to its July release, courtesy of Tinder Press.

This is a surprisingly touching and funny book about coping with aging, sibling rivalry and the need to cast off resentments from the past and grow up.

I loved that Phobe and Robert learn to regain the closeness they had with each other in childhood, eventhough this starts out as a shared envy and mistrust of the capable Mandy.
They are both shocked when Mandy dares to point out that they are both living miserable lives, that they should get over feelings about their childhood at their age, and give their father a break. They both learn that their father has secrets of his own, which will ultimately bring the three of them to an understanding.

This is such a lovely book, which did not go in the direction I thought it would, but has a satisfying, if bitter-sweet ending, that tugs on the heart strings.

Monday, July 8, 2019

L.A. Woman by Eve Babitz

Read July 2019. Published in paperback by Canongate 4th July 2019. Originally published 1982.

This is a book about what it means to be a true LA Woman.

Sophie is a twenty-something young woman in the sex, drugs and rock and roll era LA, part-time photographer and groupie/lover of Jim Morrison.
She has always been the wayward daughter of her German immigrant parents, brought up in a bohemian, musical household and determined to go her own way. She lives and breathes the Hollywood lifestyle and has been unable to keep away from its pink sunsets and palm trees.

Lola is a German immigrant, who settled in Hollywood and who has seen the changes over the years, while appreciating its eternal soul. She is a friend and contemporary of Sophie's parents and she see that Sophie is a kindred spirit.

Both live out their decadent and dazzling lives - the embodiment of the LA Woman - Sophie with the fullness of youth, and Lola full of stories and nostalgia.


This book was originally written in 1982, by the cult writer and embodiment of the LA Woman, Eve Babitz. It is being republished as part of the new Canongate Canons collection of books which are total cult classics.

It is essentially a coming of age story, told by the young Sophie, about her upbringing and experiences that have led her to where she is in 1970's LA.
She is the embodiment of the free-thinking and sexually liberated LA female, whose life revolves around the party/movie/rock and roll scene.

Her story chimes well with the current vein of 1970's nostalgia novels, such as Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins-Reid, whilst offering much more depth in relation to the history of Hollywood and its women-folk.

The depth comes from Sophie's relationship with Lola.
They are share the same emotional intensity and outlook, and understand each other perfectly, despite the wide disparity in their ages.
Sophie likes nothing better that to listen to Lola reminisce about her wild past and browse Lola's collection of photographs. In this way Sophie learns about the history of the city she loves, as well as the past of her own family and their friends.

Both Lola and Sophie's stories will take you back to two very different times in LA - the glittering hey-day of the movie glamour era and the hip rock and roll scene of many years later - whilst still being about the same archetypal woman.

This is a novel of the most wonderful prose, that glides off the page and it is very compelling. It deserves its place as a cult classic about strong women, who are not afraid to live the lives they want, and I hope the re-issue will bring it to the attention of a whole new generation of readers.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

A Killing Sin by K.H. Irvine

Read July 2019. Published 4th July 2019.

This is post-Brexit London, in the very near future.
To live in Britain now means that you are profiled and your every move is tracked by the authorities.
Racial tension is at a high and parts of London have become no-go areas, where Sharia law reigns.

Amala Hackeem,  lapsed Muslim, tech genius and controversial comedian finds herself reluctantly donning a burqa and heading to meet a women's group in the Sharia ruled Tower Hamlets - out of loyalty to her younger brother Aafa. She should have listened to the warnings in her head.

Millie Stephenson, university professor and expert on radicalisation, is heading to Downing Street to brief the Prime Minister and Home Secretary. Millie is about to be involved in a terrorist incident of epic proportions - one that will get personal.

Ella Russell, investigative journalist, is onto a big story about corruption at the highest levels of British politics. She is about to learn the true cost of the war on terror.

Three friends, who have been like sisters since their university days in Edinburgh, whose lives are about to change forever.


Wow, what a book! I devoured it in a single day and can honestly say it is one of the best political thrillers I have ever read.

This is set in a near-dystopian future so close to real that you can almost taste it. The current political climate is leading exactly where this book dares to go and it is terrifying.

This is a thrilling debut novel that explores some controversial issues - terrorism, radicalisation, security, religious freedom, persecution, civil liberties, isolated communities, capitalism, human rights, political corruption.... if it has been in the headlines in recent years, you will find it examined here in these pages.

I am not going to give away any spoilers about the plot - other to say that it has one of the best twists of recent times - because this is a book you simply have to read. If this is not one of the biggest books of this summer, I will be very surprised.

I love the fact that K.H. Irvine wrote this book as a 50th birthday to herself, and I am mightily grateful that she did.

This book will pick you up by the scruff of the neck, knock you about and then kick you in the gut for a final flourish!

Buy it now - you will not be sorry!

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Hudson's Kill (Lawless New York book 2) by Paddy Hirsch.

Read March 2019. To be published 4th July 2019.

New York, in 1803, is a city filled with tension, as black and Irish gangs fight for control on the streets. Violence is never far away.
When a young girl is found murdered in an alleyway, Marshal Justice Flanagan undertakes the difficult search for the killer, before the mob takes the law into their own hands.

Kerry O'Toole, Justy's friend and ally, was the one who found the murdered girl. The killing haunts her and she decides to look into the murder herself to find out the truth behind why a young girl was left butchered in the mud.

Justy and Kelly's inquiries will lead them to a shadowy community living on the edges of the city, but there is more at stake than the search for the killer of a young girl. They are about to find themselves involved in a web of deceit that runs deep into both the political and criminal hierarchies.

Justy and Kerry must fight to save the city and for their own survival.


I cannot tell you how much I loved, loved, loved this book!

This book is the second in the Lawless New York series - historical thrillers set in the steaming cauldron of the early days of New York city, around the turn of the 19th century.
The days when the black and Irish gangs ran the seedy side of the over-crowded city, while the "nobs" concerned themselves with money and high living. Tension abounds and violence is always close to the surface, as the few Marshals try to impose some sort of law and order.

Justy is desperate to do the right thing, for the good of the city, but has just the right amount of disregard for procedure necessary to get to the truth. He is a good man in a city of brigands, but has enough contacts on both sides of the law to get the job done, and is not afraid to make enemies along the way.

Kerry is living a more or less respectable life, but her past on the wrong side of the law, and relations in the criminal underworld are very helpful sometimes. She too has a passion for doing what is right, even if she finds this hard to admit to others. She makes a good partner for Justy, but they need to trust each other more - their simmering, but unspoken love for each other gets in the way at times, but all works out well in the end.

There are some great supporting characters in this book too, such as Justy's friend Lars, and I particularly enjoyed the part played by Hardluck, the slave carriage driver.

Great villains abound, who you will love to hate and long for them to get their comeuppance.

As someone who has devoured the entire Richard Sharpe series, I can detect echoes of Bernard Cornwall in this book - which is a very fine thing indeed. Paddy Hirsch has clearly done his homework on the origins of New York here and this tells.

If you are looking for a fine historical thriller, with good guys you can get behind, and bad guys you can detest, then this is exactly the book you are looking for.

I adored it and devoured it in practically one whole sitting, while on a flight back from Cyprus. In fact, I liked it so much that I bought and read Book One, The Devil's Half Mile, to fill in the back stories of Justy, Kelly and co!

See my review of The Devil's Half Mile here: The Devil's Half Mile by Paddy Hirsch Reviewl

Both books are absolutely to behold too, and are fit to grace any self-respecting book shelf!

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

My Past Is A Foreign Country by Zeba Talkhani

Read July 2019. Non-Fiction. Published 27th June 2019.

Zeba Talkhani is a 27 year old Indian woman, who grew up in the ex-pat community of Saudi Arabia.

This book is her brutally honest memoir of her journey to find freedom as a feminist Muslim woman, through her experiences in India, Saudi Arabia, Germany and the UK.

This is a book about a young Muslim woman trying to establish her own feminist identity within the patriarchy of her religion and family.
She starts by using her earliest memories of her relationship with her mother to explain her confusion at the behaviour of the women close to her.

Zeba then goes on to detail her experiences at school; her fight to be allowed to study at university, particularly since this meant living away from home; her studies in Germany; her studies in England; and finally working and trying to meet a suitable husband.

Zeba's home life was further complicated by the fact that she suffered from alopecia, which her mother found extremely difficult to handle. In a community where marriageability is judged primarily on appearance, Zeba's hair loss placed a great strain on her close family's relationship with their friends and neighbours and rumours about her condition led to some, quite frankly, appalling behaviour on the part of her extended family.

All through this book, Zeba explains how she has had to fight against the expectations placed upon her by the patriarchal dictates of the Muslim community, to establish herself as a self-reliant young woman.
Her different experiences have led her to educate herself about living a feminist life within Islam, which has not been a very easy thing to do! Considering she is still a very young woman, I have to admire how far she has come at such a young age.

Although, she has been privileged in some ways, by having a family who have learnt to respect her wishes, she tells of the experiences of her less fortunate young women friends and relatives and this makes for grim reading.

One of the things, I found most interesting is that Zeba explains that in Saudi Arabia she felt too dark-skinned and a foreigner unable to speak Arabic; whilst, in India, she still felt an outsider, as a minority Muslim, so she felt a foreigner there too. However, she does consider Saudi Arabia to be her home and she has much love for this country - despite the assumption from many people believing she must have hated her time under the strict regime imposed upon Muslims in that country. It was very interesting to read about the different experiences Zeba had in Saudi Arabia, compared to the Saudi women, as an ex-pat resident - albeit still a Muslim.

Zeba has done a lot of thinking about her place in life for such a young woman. She has reached some very mature conclusions about why Muslim women living under a strict patriarchy allow the restrictions placed upon them to continue - after all, many of the most unpleasant consequences of being a young Muslim woman are perpetuated by older women.

I find this situation very difficult to come to terms with, and having a daughter myself, only want her to have everything good in her life and to protect her from the bad. It is particularly shocking that the things Zeba has fought for are things which I would consider to be basic freedoms - for example, the freedom to have your personal space respected; the freedom to choose what you study at school; the freedom to choose if you get married and, if so, to whom.

Zeba has formulated that older Muslim women are in fact traumatized by their own experiences as young women and are therefore, too afraid to stand up to the patriarchy. She reasons that her own mother struggled with the expectations placed on her to behave in a particular way as a wife and mother, which made it impossible for her to behave as she would have wished.
I think there is some truth in this, but I wonder if she will be quite as philosophical about it when she has her own children - especially if she has daughters.

This book is absolutely fascinating. I have not read anything quite like it before and could not put it down. In short, this is a book which should be read by everyone - especially young women.

Zeba has suffered from some pretty traumatic experiences in her young life and the arrogant behaviour she has been exposed to is very difficult to read about. However, she has been very lucky as a young Muslim woman in a lot of ways and she has been able to get to a place where she is happy with her own identity and able to live the life she wants to lead. She is a fine role model.

This is an important and brutally honest book from an interesting perspective.
I understand that her honesty has not gone down well with some members of her family - not surprising considering the way some of them have behaved in the past.
I admire Zeba's stance that she has only detailed the parts of her life she remembers quite clearly as affecting her deeply, without speculating on the intentions of those involved, but in many cases you can assume that their intentions were far from good. This is something they will have to come to terms with themselves and I can imagine they are not happy about having their own shortcomings made public.
I can only say that they should use this memoir as a basis from improving their own hurtful behaviour (and writing scathing comments in a review of this book on Amazon, will hardly gain them any sympathy from someone who has read the contents of these pages).

I have been pleasantly surprised about the crop of excellent books by young Muslim women being published at the moment, and this is definitely one of them. Long may this continue.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Murder By The Minster by Helen Cox

Read June 2019. Published 1st July 2019.

Meet Katherine Hartley - Kitt to her friends - Librarian in charge of the Women's Studies section of Vale of York University Library. A librarian with a penchant for a trilby and a cup of Lady Grey tea, who is not inclined to take any nonsense.

One perfectly normal day, Kitt's morning is interrupted by the arrival of the intriguing Detective Inspector Malcolm Halloran at her desk, to tell her that her best friend Evie has been arrested on suspicion of the murder of her ex-boyfriend, Owen.

Kitt is horrified, as she knows Evie cannot be guilty - especially since she and Evie were together at the time of the murder. However, all evidence points to Evie and the police are convinced that the brutal way Owen broke up with her is enough of a motive to want her to get her revenge. In fact, they suspect Kitt of being involved in the murder too.

Unable to convince the police that Evie would never murder anyone, Kitt sets out to investigate the murder herself with the help of her Internet savvy library assistant, Grace and the not-so-psychic talents of the pensioner Ruby. After all, she has gathered a vast knowledge of detective stories over the years. How hard can it be?

Kitt is determined to prove the police wrong, but is finding her developing feelings for Detective Halloran confusing - she is not sure she is ready for another romantic entanglement, after her break-up with Theo, even though it was ten years ago.

Kitt's actions find her drawn into the danger lurking in the narrow streets of York, as she follows the leads she unearths, for the murderer is watching her every move - and they have not finished with their bloody crusade just yet.

Can she save Evie and resist the charms of the handsome Detective Halloran at the same time?


I loved this first book in the new Kitt Hartley Yorkshire Mysteries series.

As an ex-librarian myself, I warmed to Kitt's uncompromising librarian ways from page one. I really enjoyed her habit of dropping literary references into her conversations and sympathised with her annoyance when these were not automatically picked up by the less well-read around her!

Kitt has understandably, been damaged by her past experience with Theo and this makes her reluctant to form close attachments, for fear of being hurt again, but she is fierce in her defence of Evie, which is really touching. Evie is her best friend and Kitt is convinced that the police are mistaken in their belief that she has killed Owen, even if all the evidence indicates otherwise.

As it happens, Kitt is a good friend to have, because she has a real knack of uncovering the truth - with the help of her little band of side-kicks - and her skills are soon acknowledged by Detective Inspector Halloran, even if he is not convinced about Evie's innocence.

Of course, Halloran has a past of his own, which makes him keen to want to find the murderer as quickly as possible - it also gives him a vulnerable side that you yearn for Kitt to break through. The developing romance between the two of them was lovely, and the "bridge scene" (no spoilers!) was beautifully steamy!

I thoroughly enjoyed this cosy mystery - especially after my disappointing foray into the Aurora Teagarden mysteries by Charlaine Harris. The Kitt Hartley books promise to fill the space currently in my reading heart for a little band of lovable erstwhile detectives, led by a feisty librarian, and I look forward to many more books in this series.

The Heart Of Stone by Ben Galley

Read June 2019. Published March 2017.

Task. That is his name.
He was built for war and doomed to be a weapon for his master.
For Task is a golem. Crafted out of wind-cut stone by the masters of the Old Magic, he is the finest of his kind and has been created to serve blindly, but he is unusual for a golem - he questions the purpose of his existence; he reasons; he feels. Surely he is broken in some way?

Task has lived for more than four hundred years and is now the last of the Wind-Cut golems. He has been passed from master to master over his long life-span and the violence he has been expected to wreak upon humankind has only served to teach him that they are all the same....all just "skinbags".
He aches for an end to his misery, but the magic that made him also binds him irrevocably to each new warlord.

Task now has a new home - a boy king in the distant land of Hartlund, has need of his services.
His new master is the cruel and arrogant General Huff, in the boy king's army, and Task's mission is to break the deadlock in the civil war that has been dragging on for years, by bringing victory for the Truehard banner over the Last Fading rebels.

Task seems destined to repeat the cycle of warfare for ever, but this time something is different. He meets the expected response of grim fascination and horror from his comrades, but  he also finds friendship among the dregs of the army - and the fierce stable-girl Lesky. Friendship is something Task has not known for a very long time and it did not end well the last time he was close to a human.  He has learned to bury his feelings deep inside, but they are breaking free.
Task finds himself unexpectedly drawn to the fate of the people of Hartlund and once he discovers the truth behind the civil war, he finds sympathy for the ordinary folk whose lives have been torn apart by the endless conflict - the people on both sides of the fight.

Can Task break the pull of the magic that binds him to perpetual violence and find a way to help Hartlund find peace? Is he really broken or are the very feelings that make him special the route to his redemption?


I was given the chance to read this book as part of the Ultimate Blog Tour to celebrate the work of the fantasy author, Ben Galley. I have not previously come across any of Ben's books, so this was a great chance to introduce myself to his work and I have been very impressed.

The Heart of Stone seemed like a logical place to start for me, as it is a stand-alone novel - rare amongst Ben's works, as his other books are all part of a series.
It is much more of a challenge to create a fully-drawn and believable fantasy world in a single book, so I thought it would be a good test of his writing, and I am pleased to say that Ben managed this with aplomb.
 I found myself immersed in the land of Hartlund pretty quickly and very much enjoyed the way the history of the civil war between the Truehard and Last Fading gradually became clear over the course of the book. It is a hard task to drop a reader in the middle of an on-going conflict, with no background, and make a success of this. Well done, Sir!

I have read a lot of fanstasy books over the years, as it is one of my favourite genres and although I have come across golems before, this is the first book I have read where the golem is the main protagonist.
Task is however, no ordinary golem - he is a golem with heart! His long life has made him philosophical about the futility of war and he longs for some peace. There are times in this story when you will find yourself getting quite angry at the treatment Task receives, even though he is made of stone, because he is written so well.  Task's conviction that war brings no good for either side is certainly very compelling. It is easy to be sympathetic to his cause and he finds humans quite frustrating - don't we all!

The friendship that Task forges with the dregs of the army, and little Lesky, is really touching. Having buried his feelings for so long, Task even has rare moments of happiness in the chaos that surrounds them all. The special bond he has with Lesky is particularly heart-warming and when he opens up to her about feeling he is broken, her response is wonderful...

"I feel sorry for you, Task.’
‘Don’t bother.’
‘No, not because you’ve suffered, or you’re cursed, but because you don’t realise.’
He threw her a quizzical look.
Lesky reached out a hand and placed it on his stone. He tensed, but felt nothing, just the warmth of her skin.
‘You don’t realise how human you are. All of us. Alabast, Ellia, me, Huff, even you, with a mind made out of stone. We all walk around pretendin’ we’re not broken in some way. Most spend their lives hiding it. But we are broken. And you know what? That’s fine. In fact, it’s perfect because it’s imperfect. Each crack, each blemish, each scar, whether of the skin or in the mind, they make us whole. We’re made through livin’, not by bein’ born. What we learn is what shapes us. Some choose a friendly shape, others somethin’ more jagged and sharp. That is what it means to be human, Task. We can choose. You say your master made a mistake? Made you broken? I think he made the finest golem there is. One who’s more than stone, not just some mindless machine. One who can make actually make a choice for himself. One who’s got a conscience. A heart." 

It was very enjoyable that there were "baddies" galore in this book. General Huff is an obvious choice to pick out as hateful, and he has no discernible saving graces, but he plays well against Task's innate goodness. The more "human" of the pair is definitely the one made of stone!

Baroness Freyne/Lady Augur is however, the most interesting  of the cast of evil characters here. She is thoroughly despicable and runs amok through the pages - playing each side for her own vengeful ends - but, and there is a but, her desire for revenge is rooted in deep emotion, despite her portrayal as a Machiavellian monster. For Freyne/Augur the end certainly justifies the means and she is willing to sacrifice everyone in the pursuit of vengeance, but the reason for her scheming is one that evokes sympathy of sorts. I like a complex villain!

If I have one criticism of this book, it lies with the ending. I don't really want to give any spoilers away here, but it is inevitable, and pretty obvious from early on in the story, that Task will not make it to a happy retirement. He has a purpose to fulfill if he is to achieve his aim of bringing peace to those he cares about. His dreams of endless rushing water are an omen, and do foreshadow the part he must play. I do not have a problem with this at all - the end is quite fitting.
However, I would have liked to know how Task achieved his final goal, using the last of his old magic. I think Task deserved to go out in a blaze of glory here and it was a little anti-climactic that he got to save the day off-screen (so to speak).
I guess this is actually a compliment to Ben Galley that I wanted more!

I found The Heart of Stone a very enjoyable adventure. It is gutsy, surprising and full of heart (if you will pardon the pun). As an introduction to the work of a new author it has been a great success for me, and I am very keen to see that Ben Galley can offer me in a dark fantasy series.

Buy a copy of The Heart of Stone here.


Ben Galley is an author of dark and epic fantasy books, who currently hails from Victoria, Canada.
Since publishing his debut The Written in 2010, Ben has released a range of award-winning fantasy novels, including the weird western Bloodrush and the epic stand-alone The Heart of Stone. He is also the author of the brand new Chasing Graves trilogy.

Find Ben on Twitter at @BenGalley