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Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Trouble With Goats And Sheep (Audio Book) by Joanna Cannon

Audio book listened to August 2019. Released 28th January 2016 by Harper Collins.

It is the long hot summer of 1976, when it seemed that it would never rain again.

Mrs Creasy has gone missing from The Avenue and rumours abound.
Why did she leave?
Where has she gone?
Has she been murdered?

Ten year-olds Grace and Tilly decide to become amateur detectives to try to find out what happened to Mrs Creasy and become convinced that if they can find God on The Avenue then all will be well. Can they separate out the goats from the sheep?

As their search gets underway, Grace and Tilly uncover the deep, dark secrets of the residents of The Avenue.....all the secrets that Mrs Creasy knew....


Joanna Cannon's The Trouble With Goats And Sheep is quite simply marvellous!

The audio book is beautifully read by the actress Paula Wilcox, showing off some pretty nifty voice skills with a good range of accents - she is totally convincing.

What I thought was going to be a story of the domestic dramas behind the doors of The Avenue, as glimpsed by two ten year-old girls, turned out to be something all together darker and more sinister than I was expecting.

How I love a story of secrets and lies in a small community! It turns out that The Avenue has plenty of dark secrets behind its front doors, which Joanna Cannon slowly reveals over the course of the story, and the many truths which are uncovered will leave you reeling. These are heavy truths indeed. Every resident has a story to tell and many have something they desperately want to hide - some you will certainly sympatise with and others will totally horrify you. You will not truly know any of the characters you meet in the course of the story until the very end.

The light relief is mostly provided by the antics of Grace and Tilly in their search for God among their neighbours. Many a truth is spoken out of the mouths of babes and their simple way of looking at the goings on of the adults around them is often hilarious - it is often a stab in the heart too.

I well remember the long, hot summer of 1976, when I was just a tad younger than Grace and Tilly, so it was very nostalgic looking at things through their eyes. I think that you can only truly appreciate this story if you remember the heady days of the 1970's too - when collecting Whimsies was a preoccupation and the Kays catalogue, with its weekly installment plans, was the retail outlet for many a home. I remember them both so well! I wonder what happened to all those Whimsies? I was never convinced that my mum prized them as much as I did, although she did try to look happy when I saved up enough pocket money to present her with another one!

I cannot recommend this one highly enough and I wonder how I managed to miss this when it first came out. No spoliers, but once you start this one you will be unable to stop until the truth in all its gut-wrenching, heart-stopping detail has been revealed. Outstanding!

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Rewind by Catherine Ryan Howard

Read August 2019. Published 22nd August 2019 by Corvus Books.

Instagram star Natalie believes her husband is having an affair, but as soon as she arrives at the holiday cottages in remote Shanamore, Cork, where she believes the lovers' tryst took place, she wishes she had stayed at home in Dublin.
There is something very creepy about the manager of the cottages and she is sure he is lying about what he knows, but she cannot leave until she knows the truth.

Andrew, the manager of the Shanamore Cottages has plenty to hide. At night he watches his guests on cameras hidden in the bedrooms, until the one night when a shadowy figure appears on the video feed and kills one of his patrons. Andrew must keep the crime secret, or risk losing it all.

Audrey is a journalist looking into the disappearance of Natalie and has traced her movements to the remote Shanamore, where she unknowingly books into the same cottage where Natalie stayed. Can she solve the mystery of Natalie's disappearance?


Rewind is a highly original and compelling story about a murder caught on camera. It plays heavily on the concept of secret recordings and splits the story into different timelines using the appropriate terminology - REWIND for Natalie's story; FAST FORWARD and PLAY for the present; and PAUSE for the "other woman" - with a final STOP at the conclusion. This works brilliantly well and means you can never forget that this revolves around the recording of a murder.

There are wonderful echoes of Psycho about this book, with enough of the Lolitas to turn your stomach too, and it will totally creep you out!

The story builds the tension gradually and I loved how it unfolds by jumping between the different timelines. I did think the end was a little rushed and would have liked to see the conclusion played out a little longer (pardon the pun), but maybe this is because I did not want it to end and is actually a compliment to the writing skills of Catherine Ryan Howard!

It is hard to say very much about the story without giving away spoliers, which I am not going to do, but suffice to say that this is absolutely gripping and it will terrify you every time you have to stay in a hotel or holiday let in the future.....and will make you think again about what you post on Instagram!!!

Frankenstein: A Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Re-read August 2019. First published 1st January 1818.

The young and brilliant Victor Frankenstein finds a way to bring inanimate flesh to life and decides to play God by creating his own living being. He becomes so obsessed with his work that he does not stop to think about whether he should be undertaking such a task and his ambition compels him to work tirelessly until his dream is achieved.

He toils to produce what he imagines will be a perfect and beautiful being, an angel if you will, but when his creation lives and breathes, he realises that he has, in fact, produced a deformed and terrifying facsimile of a man instead.

Horrified by what he has done, he abandons his creation to an unknown fate, wishing it away from him, and vows to ensure that the knowledge he possess will go with him to the grave.

The abandoned creature is left to himself to learn about the world around him and with comprehension comes the understanding that he is the only one of his kind and is for ever doomed to a life of loneliness and exile.

The creature seeks out his maker and begs him to make a female creature like himself, so he may have a companion, but Victor finds himself unable to inflict such another aberration on the world and refuses.

The creature takes his revenge upon Victor's family and friends and what follows in a terrible pursuit between creator and creation, in the icy wastes of the North, that will only end in the death of them both.


I first read Mary Shelley's Gothic masterpiece many years go, in my teens, without knowing anything about its author. In fact, all I did know was that it was a very famous book, with a monster in it, and had been made into a number of pretty dodgy movies.

What really struck me abut my first reading of the book was that Victor Frankenstein treats his creature in a very shabby way. The creature has no choice in its creation and does not deserve to be shunned by its creator at its birth, once Victor realises he has not produced the perfect being as intended. The unfortunate creature is then left to find out the harsh realities of its existence all alone - poor thing.

I have always thought it interesting that, in the majority of cases, movies about Frankenstein and his monster do not portray the creature as a victim of its creation - rather he is shown as a violent monster from birth - even though his descent into degradation, violence and revenge only comes about from the treatment inflicted upon him, and this is pretty central to Mary Shelley's novel.

The only movie I have seen which attempted to portray the monster with any sympathy has been Kenneth Branagh's Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, in which Robert De Niro played the monster, although I wil admit that my viewing has not been exhaustive! However, any idea that Kenneth Branagh's version is actually the same story that Mary Shelley wrote (as suggested by the title) is laughable - if you have seen this one you will know exactly what I mean (gallons of amniotic fluid sloshing about, blanket stitch and head catching on fire on badly placed candle....anyone?).
I actually lost hope of watching a good adaptation after this one, but I can see that there have been a few more versions since this terrible effort, so perhaps I will revisit...

Over the years, I have read quite a bit about the fascinating life of Mary Shelley herself, but it is not until recently reading Alex Nye's excellent book Arguing With The Dead, that I really understood the influence of Mary's own experiences on the development of her novel - a novel which she amazingly produced at the astonishingly young and tender age of nineteen years old!

This seemed an excellent time to re-visit the Frankenstein book itself, in all its Gothic splendour, so I actually made some time to read it again. I have a most beautiful cloth-bound Penguin Classic version, which was an absolute pleasure to read too.

 I am very glad that I gave Frankenstein another look, because there is so much in this book that I had forgotten and I am now even more amazed that Mary Shelley wrote this book at such a young age, especially given that this was in the early 19th Century.

I am still as struck as before by the situation of the poor unfortunate creature, but Alex Nye's book has also made me look at Frankenstein with new eyes, appreciating how the events in Mary's own life affected the plot of her novel. Reading it again with these thoughts in mind was a bit of a revelation. Suffice to say that I am now even more in awe of the genius of Mary Shelley and wish that more people were aware of the life of the woman behind the famous novel.

If you have never read Frankenstein I heartily recommend that you give it some attention - it certainly deserves its place among the lists of books you should read before you die. Yes, the language is archaic, but it is also glorious. For those of you that feel this may be a bit much, there are some excellent unabridged audio book adaptations - in fact I alternated between the text and an Audible audio book this time around for when those pesky chores got in the way. Incidentally, audio books are a particuarly excellent way to rediscover the classics - or indeed, to experience them for the first time.

I would also recommend that you spend some time looking into the unusual life of Mary Shelley herself, as it is pretty extraordinary, and it will definitely enhance your enjoyment of Frankenstein. Alex Nye's book would be an excellent place to start and you can see my review of Arguing With The Dead here: Arguing With The Dead by Alex Nye Review

Monday, August 26, 2019

A Tapestry of Treason by Anne O'Brien

Read August 2019. Published by HQ/Harper Collins UK 22nd August 2019.

1399: Constance of York, Lady Dispenser, granddaughter of Edward III proves herself more than just an observer in the political manoeuvring of her gloriously dysfuctional family - The House of York.

Constance is surrounded by power-hungry men, in the form of her brothers and husband, who are hell-bent on ensuring that they remain powerful figures behind the throne - whichever of their cousins happen to be on the throne at the time.

When we first meet Constance, her cousin Richard II (son of Edward The Black Prince, Edward III's eldest son) is on the throne. Richard II is the rightful heir in the eyes of the law, but he has made powerful enemies during his reign - especially his cousin Henry (son of John of Gaunt, Edward III's third son), who has been exiled by Richard.

When Richard II goes off to quell unrest in Ireland, Henry takes his chance to seize power. Richard's delay in returning to England, whether by accident or design, leads to him being taken prisoner by Henry's forces and a peace is brokered by Constance's father, Edmund, Duke of York, which ushers in a new ruler.

Richard is persuaded to abdicate in favour of his cousin Henry and a new king - Henry IV takes power.

Although Constance's father has helped bring in the new reign, her family were firm favourites with Richard II and they are concerned about the looming prospect of loss of the power and titles they have gained. While her elder brother Edward does his best to inveigle himself into Henry's good graces, peace and harmony are only a facade. They are unhappy about the way Richard has been deposed and treason lies in their hearts.

The execution of their conspiracies will place them all in danger and Constance is at the very heart of their treason, even though her plans may endanger her own happiness. Constance is a woman ahead of her time, fighting for recognition in a world ruled by men.

This is a story of treason, tragedy, heartbreak and betrayal...


I love, love, love historical fiction and cannot believe that I have not read one of Anne O'Brien's books before now! I was completely transported back in time by this splendid book and found it utterly absorbing.

A Tapestry of Treason will introduce you to the very beginning of the rivalry between the Houses of York and Lancaster - Constance's own father was made the first Duke of York, and Henry IV's father John of Gaunt was similarly the first Duke of Lancaster - both created by their own father, Edward III. And so began a conflict that led to discord and bloodshed through the years, until the House of Tudor was finally established by Henry VII in 1485.

This book will give you a sumptuous and finely woven glimpse into the political machinations that defined this period of history - a tapestry of treason, inter-worked with the golden threads of ambition, secret plotting and murder!
 What makes this book so special is that it is told from the point of view of a very unusual woman, in the form of Constance of York.

This is a time when well-born women are used as pawns in the game of power - married against their will to a husband who offers the most advantageous political alliance, or financial gain, to their own family.

Constance is at the very heart of the treasonous plans of her brother and husband, but she is confined to the role of daughter, sister, wife and mother by a society that holds women as mere chattels of their menfolk, and she does not sit well in this role - indeed it could be said that she has more brains and guile than all the men of her family put together! Constance certainly has more loyalty to the course of action they all set in motion, to her desperate cost.

Constance is certainly a difficult character to love - she has been brought up without feeling affection from either of her parents, or the husband she was married to at the age of four. She views things dispassionately and it is difficult to warm to her, at first. History certainly paints a very dark picture of her character, but this book will cause you to reassess how she has been portrayed, especially in the latter parts of her story.

Anne O'Brien skillfully catches you up in Constance's life and you soon begin to feel empathy with a woman whose fortunes are at the whim of the men surrounding her. She firmly believes she is doing what is best for her family, even if this means precipitating some very dark deeds.

There are some heartbreaking storms ahead for Constance to weather and I became quite angry and upset at the betrayals she experiences from not only the King she feels has gone against God's ordinance, but her own family, and the man she loves too. These were not easy times to be a woman and Constance is poorly used by the men she is close to in their complicated games of power.

I thoroughly enjoyed my look into the life of Constance of York and learnt a lot about the events surrounding the origins of the great rivalry between the Houses of York and Lancaster. Anne O'Brien has brought the past to life in A Tapestry of Treason by cleverly entwining the personal story of Constance with the political events of the time and this is a cracking historical novel.


About Anne O'Brien: 

Sunday Times' bestselling author Anne O'Brien was born in West Yorkshire. After gaining a BA Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Master's in Education at hull, she lived in East Yorkshire for many years as a teacher of history.

Today she has sold over 250,000 copies of her books in the UK and lives with her husband in an eighteenth-century cottage in the depths of the Welsh Marches in Herefordshire. The area provides endless inspiration for her novels about the forgotten women of history.

Find more about Anne O'Brien here:
Twitter: @anne_obrien

Monday, August 19, 2019

What Happens Now? by Sophia Money-Coutts

Read August 2019. Published 22nd August 2019 by HQ.

After breaking up with her boyfriend of eight years - the boyfriend that was supposed to be "The One" - teacher Lil Bailey finds herself unexpectedly back on the dating scene.

How to even begin? Well, a dating App seems appropriate for the times, after all, everyone lives their lives using Apps these days, don't they? One swipe right later, Lil ends up on a date with the unbelievably handsome mountaineer, Max.

They hit it off straight-away and as first dates go, this one is a huge success. After a very pleasant evening, with the wine and conversation flowing easily, it seems oh so natural to accept Max's invitation back to his place, even though Lil is nervous about having sex with a new "someone". Lil is on the Pill after all..what could go wrong?

The passion flows as easily as the wine and conversation, and Lil is surprised by how much she enjoys herself with the very fit Max, but he is worryingly absent when the morning comes and he proceeds to ignore all her messages after their date. Oh well, onwards and upwards....

What follows next is not exactly how Lil envisaged her future. One positive pregnancy test later, Lil has some serious decisions to make. She is single, thirty-one and living in the spare room of the tiny Brixton flat of a sexually athletic Australian couple, so not exactly the happily-ever-after she was hoping for.

When Lil decides she is ready to do the baby thing on her own, it seems she has to tell Max about his impending fatherhood. The Max that it turns out is the celebrity son of Lord and Lady Rushbrooke....the Max that is currently trekking up a dangerous mountain in Pakistan....maybe he wasn't ignoring her after all?


I absolutely loved Sophia Money-Coutts' debut rom-com The Plus One, so I when I got the chance to read What Happens Next? before publication, I was very excited indeed!

I just love Sophia's style of writing - the words simply roll off the page and once you start you cannot help but lap them all up until you get to the delicious end. Her characters are adorable (except the ones you are clearly allowed to hate), her wit flows freely, and there is enough emotion to require the nearness of a handkerchief at all times. She also has a way of writing about "posh people" that gives you a real glimpse into their lives - whether it be highlighting tragedy or eccentricity - that shows they can be just as normal as the rest of us (or not!). I have, yet again, laughed and cried my way through another of Sophia's books, and loved every minute.

Yes, this is a wonderful romantic comedy, with plenty of heart and soul, but it also poses an interesting question. What do you do if you find yourself pregnant after a one-night stand?

Well, it seems that the answer really boils down to "might this be your only realistic chance of motherhood?". Lil reasons that had she been in her twenties when this happened, her immediate response would probably have been abortion. Being in her thirties however, casts a different light on her predicament - how many real chances would she have of having another baby if she chooses not to go ahead with this pregnancy?

The stark way in which Sophia Money-Coutts outlines the probability of someone Lil's age being able to get pregnant again is pretty harrowing - it comes down to a numbers game that is probably not going to be in Lil's favour at her age, especially since she is single. Lil's only realistic chance to be a mother is the one she has been given right now, and it seems obvious to her that she has to grab it with both hands - even if she faces the prospect of being a single-parent.

When, and if, to be a mother is a dilemma for the modern age - one that has come with the advent of birth control (although accidents to occur, as Lil discovers!) -  but the influence of "Old Father Time" on biology does have a part to play in our choices. What do you do if you are single and want to be a mother, but the clock is running down? Food for thought....

Second books can be tricky, especially when your debut has been such a huge hit, but let me say right off that this one is going to be a real winner too!
I am a firm fan of Sophia Money-Coutts and cannot wait to see more please!

PS. I right in detecting that Miss Montague has a little secret of her own?


About Sophia Money-Coutts

Sophia Money-Coutts is a journalist and author who spent five years studying the British aristocracy while working as Features Director at Tatler. Prior to that she worked as a writer and an editor at the Evening Standard and the Daily Mail, in London, and The National in Abu Dhabi.

She writes a column for The Sunday Telegraph called Modern Manners and often appears on radio and television channels talking about important topics such as Prince Harry's wedding and the etiquette of the threesome!

What Happens Now? is her second novel, following her debut, The Plus One, published in August 2018.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Hidden (The Badge and the Pen Book Three) by Roger A. Price

Read August 2019. Published 1st June 2019 by Endeavour Media.

Vinnie Palmer and Christine Jones' Mallorcan holiday did not go as planned...

Instead of a week of relaxation, they found themselves mixed up in a case involving violence and people trafficking among the the local Roma gang members, and had to cut their much needed holiday short.

Back home in the UK, Vinnie and Christine go back to their day jobs - Vinnie as a Detective Inspector, based in Manchester, but on secondment to Preston, and Christine as an investigative journalist and TV reporter.

Vinnie now finds himself involved in a case concerning human trafficking on his own doorstep, as a brothel in Preston is found to be full of unfortunate girls from Eastern Europe, who have been tricked into coming to the UK with the offer of jobs and money, only to find themselves trapped in a life of prostitution and drugs. 
Another brothel is about to be busted, but the investigation is off to a bad start when the brothel madam is murdered right in front of Vinnie's eyes. Were the bad guys tipped off? Is there a traitor in their midst?

Christine, inspired by their experiences in Mallorca and after a "scoop", starts to look into cases of human trafficking in the UK - two Romanian girls have just been rescued from a life of modern slavery in her own area and this seems an ideal place to start.

Little do they know that their separate investigations are linked and they are about to uncover a network of human trafficking that spans across the whole of Europe. Who knew that this hidden trade was so widespread? Who is the mastermind behind this vast and secret network?


This is a slick and fast-paced  police procedural, that keeps you guessing. There are plenty of thrilling moments that will have you worrying for the safety of both Vinnie and Christine, as you urge them along in their endeavour. This is definitely one to appeal to fans of the brilliant crop of police dramas that have graced our screens in recent years.

I really liked that this series is called "Badge and Pen",  because this completely sums up how well Vinnie and Christine work together - one as a member of the Police and one a journalist - both are adept at investigating and rooting out the truth, but their different skill sets make them a formidable partnership. There is a great male-female mix of strong characters here, so this makes for an exciting crime thriller with wide appeal.

It was easy to get caught up in the story, which is pretty compelling and successfully shines a light on the mostly hidden issue of human trafficking. How much do we really know about what goes on behind closed doors in our local area? Food for thought...

You can tell from the writing that Roger A. Price has a lot of experience working within the Police Force. If I have one criticism of the book though, it is that there are a lot of acronyms littered throughout the book, and this is a little confusing for those of us who have not worked in law enforcement. It would be nice to see an appendix that lists the acronyms used and their meaning, for easy reference. Having said that, I was completely unaware of the existence of many of these procedures, especially those that affect convicted felons - yes, we often hear of suspects co-operating with the police and making deals for lighter sentences, but to actually having the mechanism of how this process works was intriguing.

This is my first Badge and Pen novel (in fact, my first Roger A. Price book), although it is actually book three in the series. Have no fear, this can be read as a stand-alone, although I am intrigued by the back-story of Vinnie and Christine, as they seem to have had some pretty exciting adventures judging by the mentions of their previous goings-on! I foresee an investigation of my own into the previous two installments, very soon! 

From the book cover of Hidden:

Vinnie’s romantic holiday did not go as planned. There was an assault, his companion was threatened and the police asked them to leave.

And when Vinnie returns to his police job in Manchester, things don’t get much better, as he finds himself at the heart of an investigation that stretches from Manchester to all corners of Europe. Women are being trafficked into the UK and forced into prostitution, and while the police are diligent in their enquiries, they seem to have a rogue in their midst.

As events unravel, the lines between good and bad, police and criminals, seem to become more and more blurred... and the stakes for all involved are getting higher.

Hidden is Book 3 in Roger Price’s the badge and the pen series, but it can equally be read as a novel in its own right. Existing fans of Vinnie and Christine are bound to love it, but Hidden is also perfect for crime and police fiction lovers, and anybody who loves a fast-paced, gripping story.

Hidden is available now from your favourite book retailer!

A word from Roger A. Price:

I've spent over thirty years in the police retiring as a detective inspector in charge of a covert unit. I can't write about those experiences, but I can base my fiction on them.

Please check out my website:

And if you join my Readers' Club Mailing List you will receive a FREE short story and the odd newsletter, thanks, Roger.

See more about Roger and Endeavour Media on Twitter too!
@RAPriceAuthor @Endeavour_Media

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Read August 2019. Published in hardback 26th February 2019 and paperback 7th March 2019 by One World Publications.
Audio book released on Audible 6th February 2018.

Newly-weds Celestial and Roy are embarking in the American Dream. Roy is a young business man and Celestial is a promising artist. They have everything to look forward to.

Until one day, when visiting Roy's parents in Louisiana, Roy finds himself accused of a crime he did not commit. Roy is a black man in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and despite his innocence and Celestial's assurances that he was with her when the crime was committed, he finds himself sentenced to twelve years.

Such a devastating blow, so early in their marriage, leaves Celestial at a loss and she finds it difficult to hold onto the love she felt for Roy. Instead, she finds comfort in the arms of Andre, their closest friend.

Roy understandably struggles with his loss of freedom and the developing distance between him and Celestial. When his conviction is eventually overturned, after five years of incarceration, he hopes he can return home and resume his life - but how does the land lie with Celestial, who he has not seen for two years?


This is the book that won Tayari Jones the coveted Women's Prize for Fiction 2019. It is a powerful piece of writing and has received praise in many quarters - not least from Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey - as the moving portrayal of a the effects of a wrongful conviction on a young African-American couple.

The story is told in first person, switching between the narratives of Roy, Celestial and Andre, so you get to see into the hearts and minds of three characters bound together by love and friendship, trying to deal with a separation that has been forced upon them by tragic events beyond their control.

It actually took me quite a while to get through this one - alternating between the book and audio book - because this is pretty heavy, emotional stuff. I kept picking it up and putting it down, but found that I was compelled to find out what happens between Celestial, Roy and Andre, so had to reach the end of their story.

There is no doubt in my mind that this book deserves all the praise it has received, but I am not sure I actually found this an enjoyable experience. This is not a book to read if you are looking for some light relief! It evokes a visceral feeling of pain in response to the emotional turmoil of Celestial, Roy and Andre and is a very uncomfortable read in parts.

Is this really the state of marriage between African-American couples in the USA? I have no idea, but I am not sure Celestial and Roy's relationship would have survived, even if their marriage had not been so brutally ripped apart by the injustice visited upon them. Roy's admitted adultery, even before his imprisonment, played heavily upon my mind, and when added to his obvious arrogance, I found that I could not like his character - even though he was treated so unfairly. I was rooting for Celestial to break free all the way spoilers from me though!

I am not sorry to have read this book - especially since it is beautifully written and has had such a high profile - but this is not going to be for everyone, and I would only recommend it with care.  It certainly is not my favourite of the books that were shortlisted for the Women's Prize this year, which remains Anna Burns' Milkman (although I admit I have not read them all yet), but it is a worthy piece of literary fiction - maybe that sums up the root of my problem with is just sooo worthy!

Friday, August 9, 2019

Arguing With The Dead by Alex Nye

Read August 2019. Published 25th July 2019 by Fledgling Press.

Mary Shelly (1797-1851) is the author of one of the most famous Gothic horror novels of all time - Frankenstein: A Modern Prometheus.
She was the daughter of the celebrated proto-feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft and the political philosopher William Godwin. Her mother's book, A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792), argued for that men and women were naturally equal, but women were being subjugated by the lack of education: she believed that women should be free to live how they wished and indeed, and she lived a most unorthodox and bohemian lifestyle herself - one which gained her much notoriety.

Although Mary Shelley's mother died when she was a tiny baby, her legacy was a huge influence on Mary. Mary's father, Godwin, allowed her a great deal of freedom, letting her read freely from his library, and impressed upon her from a very young age that her mother's ideology was something to be admired. Not surprisingly, Mary was the most unorthodox child herself and her life was one of extraordinary experiences for the early 19th Century.

At the beginning of this account of Mary's life by Alex Nye, the year is 1839 and Mary finds herself living alone in a tiny, damp cottage by the river Thames. She spends her waking hours trying to piece together a living for herself and her son, by sorting through and editing the papers of her late husband, the infamous Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, for publication.

While doing so, she looks back on her life, telling of her travels through Europe, her stormy relationship with her husband, and the consequences of her upbringing.

This is her story...


This is not the first book I have read about the life of Mary Shelly, although it is my favourite, by a country mile!

Whenever I read something about Mary Shelley, I am constantly amazed that most people know so little about her amazing life when she is the author of such a famous novel as Frankenstein! This woman was a pioneer of feminism, taking up the torch left by her mother, but while the mother is now remembered for her landmark book, it was a hard cross to bear for the daughter.

The struggle Mary faced, living in the shadow of her mother, comes across so clearly in this book - yes, she shared many of her mother's principles (she had no choice, given her education), but she comes to learn that there can be uncomfortable consequences when choosing to live an unconventional life.

Mary could never forget that, although her mother's ideology was so lauded by Godwin, when it came down to the practicalities, he was a hypocrite and happy to secretly perpetuate the patriarchy. However admirable the principles advocated by his late wife, her life was eclipsed by the destruction of her reputation.

From the very beginning, Mary Shelley was enamoured of the liberal and romantic philosophy of her parents. She knew no other way of thinking. When her father remarried, therefore, and their way of living changed so completely, the sparks were always going to fly.
Mary was not brought up to live a conventional life and it should have been no surprise that she was attracted to the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley when they met. In fact, it seems hard to believe that Godwin was so blind as to the disposition of his daughter, although he had moulded her this way. For all the protestations by the men in Mary's life that women should be free, in the end, they want their women to be in thrall of them and under their control.

In any case, it was inevitable that, at sixteen, Mary would fall in love with Percy and think nothing of running away with him, even though he was married to another woman. Perhaps, she did not anticipate that her step-sister would want to tag along too, but Percy's charms were clearly infectious. And so Mary stepped onto a treadmill that it proved impossible to escape from. 

The most delicious thing about this book is the way Alex Nye has so skillfully crafted Mary's life into the quintessential Gothic novel. I have not seen this done before and am amazed at how well this works. Mary is, in fact, the perfect Gothic heroine - here is a young girl, with modern ideas, eager to escape the suffocating atmosphere of her home-life;  she meets a dashing and mysterious man who offers her passion and wild adventure, among haunted, ruined villas in exotic locations; but she finds, to her cost, that not is all as it seems, and jealousy, betrayal, death and destruction await. It seems so obvious!

At the same time, Alex Nye weaves the development of Mary's Frankenstein so cleverly into the fabric of her experiences. The wondrous landscapes Mary sees spark something within her and she is compelled to write the kind of story that has not been seen before - something incredible from the mind of such a young woman. Remember that Mary was only 19 years old when she wrote her masterpiece!

I was very impressed by the way Alex Nye reflects the changing relationship between Mary and Percy in Mary's attitude towards Victor Frankenstein and his creation. Mary conceives Frankenstein to be eager to do right and follow his dreams at first, but later on, she realises that it is in fact the Monster who deserves sympathy, as he is rejected by his creator and doomed to solitude. 

This works so well with her own feelings about Percy - at first she was so in love and keen to be the person Percy thought she was, but as time goes by, she feels rejected and is worn down by Percy's betrayals: Mary sees she has become a "monster" in the eyes of the man she loves, but is powerless to do anything about her situation. Mary has been mercilessly taken advantage of by Percy and finds herself the victim of the loss of her reputation, in much the same way as her mother. 

This is classy writing! What a fine interpretation of the development of the story of Frankenstein! Although I suspect that Percy never felt dragged down by guilt in the way Victor so clearly does.

This is historical fiction at its finest. Alex Nye has manged to tell the story of Mary Shelley in a compelling and very readable way, whilst also offering us something new and refreshing. It has really made me think differently about Mary Shelley and has increased my admiration of her - something I did not think was actually possible!

I am now re-reading Frankenstein (also listening to the audio book) and looking at it with new eyes - not bad for a novel that has been around for over 200 hundred years! 
My compliments to Alex Nye!


From the cover of the book:

The year is 1839, and Mary Shelley - the woman who wrote Frankenstein - is living alone in a tiny cottage on the banks of the river Thames in Putney. As she sorts through the snowstorm of her husband's scattered papers she is reminded of their past: the half-ruined villas in Italy, the stormy relationship with Shelley and her stepsister Claire, the loss of her children, the attempted kidnapping of Claire's daughter Allegra from a prison-like convent in Florence. And finally, her husband's drowning on the Gulf of Spezia as they stayed in a grim-looking fortress overlooking the sea. What she has never confided in anyone is that she has always been haunted by Shelley's drowned first wife, Harriet, who would come to visit her in the night as she slept with her two tiny children in a vast abandoned villa while Shelley was away litigating with lawyers. Did Mary pay the ultimate price for loving Shelley? Who will Harriet come for next?

Arguing With The Dead is available now from your favourite book retailer!

Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Man Who Didn't Call by Rosie Walsh

Read August 2019. Published in paperback 25th July 2019 by Pan Macmillan/Mantle Press. Audio book released 14th June 2018.

Nineteen years ago, Sarah fled The Cotswolds after a terrible car accident, to start again in California. She barely recognises the person she was then, but she is now facing divorce from her American husband - albeit an amicable one - and this has given her pause for thought.

Sarah has come back home to see her parents and revisit the site of the accident that changed the course of her life, all those years ago. Near the site of the accident, she runs into a man having a very serious conversation with a sheep. Something about him unexpectedly attracts her. The man is called Eddie...

Over the course of the next seven days, Sarah and Eddie are inseparable. Sarah knows she has fallen in love and believes that it is mutual. She has never been more sure of anything in her life. They have even talked about making a long distance relationship work.

So, when Eddie goes off on a surfing holiday, at the end of the seven days, Sarah has no reason to doubt that Eddie will call her from the airport when he returns, so they can plan their future together.

But he doesn't call....

Sarah's friends think she is mad at her insistence that something terrible must have happened to Eddie. No mater how hard they try to persuade her that this was clearly just a fling on his part, she knows deep inside that this was the real thing. Why hasn't he called? What is the reason for his silence?

But there is a reason - and that reason is the one thing about their past that they did not share with each other...the truth about why they were in the same place, at the same time.


This book is absolutely fantastic - one of my favourites of the year. I loved that it was narrated from both Sarah and Eddie's points of view, so you get into both of their heads, as this makes it a very emotional experience indeed. You know that both of them feel the same about each other, but the burden of the past seems impossible to negate.

I actually alternated between the paperback book and the audio book of this gem, so I could keep going with the story when my hands were occupied! The audio book is narrated by Katherine Press with such feeling that it really brings the story to life, so even if you have read this beauty, go and get the audio book too - you will not be sorry.

It is very difficult to review this one without giving away spoilers, because there is the most fabulous twist in this book that completely floored me. Rosie Walsh very cleverly leads you in a direction that seems obvious, so when you learn the truth, it comes as a complete shock. Bravo Rosie Walsh, this is a very difficult thing to achieve and you pulled it off beautifully!

But, wait, the surprises do not stop there. What happens later had me totally gripped, until I could breathe again. The tension was terrible (in a good way, of course), and I sobbed my eyes out at the ending.

This book is awesome. I cannot give it enough superlatives....just go an buy it now and immerse yourself in Sarah and Eddie's world.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Beneath The Surface by Fiona Neill

Read August 2019. Published 11th July 2019 by Penguin UK - Michael Joseph.

Grace Vermuyden is desperate to be a good mother. She has married a man she thinks will make a stable husband - one who will stick around and provide for his children. The weight of her chaotic childhood is heavy upon her and she will do everything within her power to make sure her own daughters never experience the horror she has had to hide. For Grace has secrets...ones she has kept hidden, even from her husband, Patrick.

Grace intends that her own daughters will fulfill the dreams that were denied to her by the events of her childhood.
Lilly, popular and clever, has never been a worry to her parents and at seventeen, she looks sure to have a golden future.
Ten year-old Mia, is the little oddball of the family - for ever in trouble and misunderstood, but with a loving heart - she is the one that Grace worries about.

Then Lilly mysteriously collapses one day in class and Grace's carefully ordered world comes crashing down. When she uncovers clues about Lilly's secret teenage life and heartbreak, Grace becomes consumed with paranoia and cannot settle until she knows the truth. Who is Cormack? How can she have let this happen? Has she failed as a mother after all?

As Grace's mania takes over, Mia is left to her own devices and starts to develop some quirky theories of her own about Lilly's illness, related to the Saxon burial site nearby. Her attempts to put everything right for those she loves, will have unforeseen and devastating consequences.


This is a story about what happens when the burden of keeping secrets becomes too much: when people get caught in the undercurrents caused by these secrets, especially children trying to come to terms with what they have found out by accident - or what they think they have found out.

So many characters in this book are keeping secrets from one another and it soon becomes clear that trying to keep these hidden is slowly tearing them up inside and having a terrible effect on their relationships with each other. Can you ever know the whole truth about someone? Are they really the person you think they are?

This was such a delicious and emotional book to read. The title Beneath The Surface is so fitting and works on more than one level - as the story unfolds, you can see that the thread of secrets being hidden under the surface is reflected so beautifully in events tied to the waterways of the Fens and the archaeological dig taking place near-by. The hidden secrets and dangers under the water and the earth, must eventually come to the surface - as must the human secrets too.

This is a very interesting portrayal of the relationship between mothers and daughters. It explores Grace's desperation to be a good mother, unlike her own, but also shows that she has no idea how to do this. Her frantic efforts to succeed take her way beyond what is proportional and she often ends up alienating those she loves by doing this. Grace is damaged by her childhood, and by hiding her experiences away, she has not healed from them at all. They have always been there, eating away at her heart and warping her thoughts.

The characters of Lilly and Mia are also beautifully drawn. Lilly's angst, her feelings of first love, infatuation, hurt at being rejected, trying find her on place in the imperfect world around her....these are all so palpable and they will take you back to those awful, heartbreaking teenage years so clearly. She is struggling and so badly needs a hug and some understanding, but is unable to find this in Grace, because of the pressure Grace unwittingly puts upon her.
Mia is such a caring little soul. She does not understand the ways of the world at all, and is actually outrageously funny, sometimes without meaning to be, because to the uncompromising way she looks at the world. Yes, she is frustrating and is determined to go her own way, but she cares so deeply for the few people she loves that she will do anything to make things right, if she can. I loved her.

I have to say that the men in this story do not come out of it well. Patrick is an excellent example of how not to be a husband! He has his own secrets, which he must realise will eventually be impossible to hide from Grace and he does not ever seem to have made an effort to really get to know his wife - everything with him is on the surface and he is happy to keep it this way.
As for Cormack, well he is the epitomy of everything you do not want for your teenage daughter - vain, selfish, manipulative and caring only for himself. Typical bad boy material, that you can only hope your daughter will eventually see through. God, those teenage years are tough!

As the emotional turmoil of the story builds to a climax, the tension is reflected in the weather, as a massive storm unleashes itself on the Fens. Harsh truths must be confronted as our characters battle against the weather, and like the quiet that comes after the storm, they can only start to move on once their secrets have been laid bare - however, painful this is.

This is an all-consuming tale of family, which I found hard to put down and I absolutely sobbed at the end. You will not be sorry that you gave Fiona Neill's Beneath The Surface your time.