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Friday, February 28, 2020

The Dragon Lady by Louisa Treger

The Dragon Lady by Louisa Treger.
Published 20th February 2020 in paperback. Also available in hardback, ebook and audio formats.
Read February 2020.

This is the story of the beautiful, exotic, socialite Lady Virginia 'Ginie' Courtauld - nicknamed The Dragon Lady for the unusual tattoo of a snake decorating the length of her leg.

We follow Ginie from her youth on the Italian Riviera before World War I, to England and the stylish Art Deco Eltham Palace, to the wilds of Scotland, and finally to her shooting at La Rochelle in Rhodesia of the 1950s - through two marriages, her many homes and the enormous social changes that took place during her unconventional life.

Virginia and Stephen Courtauld were at the cutting edge of fashion, art and design which did not always make them comfortable bedfellows with the staid strictures of society of the time - especially since Ginie was a foreign divorcée. Although their company was often sought at the time of Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson's affair, and their glamourous Eltham Palace parties were well attended by the celebrities of the day, their star soon dimmed after Edward's abdication.

 Drawn by the beauty of Africa, they decided to settle in far off Rhodesia, where their liberal ideals made them fierce campaigners for equality and an end to segregation, but this caused them much trouble among the other white settlers and led to Ginie becoming a target for violence. Who disliked her enough to pull the trigger?


The Dragon Lady is a triumph of historical fiction! Louisa Treger skillfully blends fact and fiction into an enthralling tale about the extraordinary life of a woman before her time. One who lived life to the full in an era of significant social and cultural change.

Having previously only heard about the Ginie and Stephen Courtauld in connection with their beautiful house at Eltham Palace, which is now looked after by English Heritage, there was a lot in these pages that I found fascinating.

Louisa Treger really brings to life how Ginie Courtauld, a woman who craved acceptance and acknowledgement, struggled with being able to fit in, whether it be in Italy, England or Rhodesia. The very qualities that made her special, also made her at odds with the strict bounds of rigid society.

Adored by men for her beauty and beguiling ways, she was often seen as a threat by the very womenfolk she wanted to win over and this made her very unhappy. Her history always preceded her and her intentions were frequently misunderstood. By trying to do good, she often made enemies of the women whose company she sought - her unconventional ways, and beauty may have been bewitching for the men she met, but this instantly put the women around her on their guard.

This book primarily concentrates on the years the Ginie and Stephen Courtauld spent living in Rhodesia and through Louisa Treger's eyes we can see how the beauty of the country worked its way into their hearts and why they wanted to create a haven at La Rochelle. But these were unsettled times in Rhodesia, and as the garden the they created at La Rochelle was growing, the seeds of change were also sprouting. War was already on its way and their liberal attitudes and desire to treat their black employees fairly made them a target for an already wary white minority.

The push for social change, with the early shoots of the black political movement, underlies the Rhodesian episode of this tale and violence is never far from rearing its ugly head. Some of the scenes describing the behaviour of the more callous and fearful element of the white elite are very difficult to read, but are an essential part of the story, as a contrast to the benevolence and enterprise of the Courtaulds.

This all mixes irresistibly with the simmering passions that are always bubbling just under the surface, lending the whole tale a most wonderful "White Mischief" feel that is completely intoxicating.

I loved this book. It has everything I look for in a historical fiction story - the ability to teach me something I did not know before, beautifully drawn characters, glorious settings, strong women, and passion. This is an absolute winner!

The Dragon Lady is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer, or via this link: Amazon UK

Thank you to Louisa Treger and Bloomsbury books for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review, and to Kelly Lacey of Love Books Tours for inviting me to be part of this tour.

From the cover of the book: 

Opening with the shooting of Lady Virginia 'Ginie' Courtauld in her tranquil garden in 1950s Rhodesia, The Dragon Lady tells Ginie's extraordinary story, so called for the exotic tattoo snaking up her leg. From the glamorous Italian Riviera before the Great War to the Art Deco glory of Eltham Palace in the thirties, and from the secluded Scottish Highlands to segregated Rhodesia in the fifties, the narrative spans enormous cultural and social change. Lady Virginia Courtauld was a boundary-breaking, colourful and unconventional person who rejected the submissive role women were expected to play.

Ostracised by society for being a foreign divorcée at the time of Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson, Ginie and her second husband ,Stephen Courtauld, leave the confines of post-war Britain to forge a new life in Rhodesia, only to find that being progressive liberals during segregation proves mortally dangerous. Many people had reason to dislike Ginie, but who had reason enough to pull the trigger?

Deeply evocative of time and place, The Dragon Lady subtly blends fact and fiction to paint the portrait of an extraordinary woman in an era of great social and cultural change.

About the author:

Born in London, Louisa Treger began her career as a classical violinist. She studied at the Royal College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music, and worked as a freelance orchestral player and teacher.

Louisa subsequently turned to literature, gaining a First Class degree and a PhD in English at University College London, where she focused on early twentieth century women's writing.

Married with three children, she lives in London.

Find out more about Louisa here:


Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda

The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda. Translated by Alison Watts.
Published 16th January 2020 by Bitter Lemon Press.
Read February 2020.

Japan, 1970s: One oppressively hot and stormy night, the highly respected Aosawa family, owners of a local hospital, held a party to celebrate the birthdays of three generations of the family, in their splendid villa on the Sea of Japan.

A party that turned into the most awful tragedy, as seventeen people died from ingesting drinks that had been spiked with cyanide.

There were only two survivors - a housekeeper, who was so busy she only had a sip of the deadly drink, and the enigmatic, beautiful and blind, daughter of the house, Hisako, who was completely unharmed.

The only clue to who might have carried out these horrendous murders was a mysterious and poetic note left at the scene, and the police were stumped until a suspect emerged in the form of a troubled young man who delivered the poisoned drinks to the Aosawa house - a man who committed suicide before he could be questioned.

Inspector Teru, who headed up the police investigation, was convinced that Hisako herself was involved in the deaths - but he was unable to find any concrete evidence linking her to the delivery man. Instead he was left to wonder for ever about this case - and the girl he believed got away with murder.

Ten years after the infamous murders, a childhood friend of Hisako's, Makiko Saiga, decided to write about the mysterious case. She had been unable to shake a longstanding obsession with the murders of her friend's family and was compelled to work through the events by interviewing those connected with the tragedy. She produced a book called The Forgotten Festival, which attracted both critical acclaim, and criticism for the use of the word "festival" associated with such a dark and devastating incident. Although, Makiko drew no conclusions in her book, it was an instant bestseller, but despite its success, she never wrote another.

Decades later, The Aosawa Murders takes us on a new journey to examine the testimonies of Makiko, family members, witnesses and neighbours, police investigators and the beautiful Hisako herself to piece together the tragic events of so long ago...and to finally get to the truth behind the murders.


The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda is my first translated Japanese work and it will certainly not be my last. You can almost feel yourself becoming immersed in the Japanese psyche as the story progresses, which has been ever so skillfully wrought by the translator Alison Watts.

The story winds intriguingly back and forth in time, through the eyes and voices of those associated with the terrible events of that summer day so long ago - told in the form of interview responses. We do not find out the identity of the interviewer until well into the book, which was very cleverly managed, and leads to a most pleasing little twist at the end.

Each interview offers us a glimpse into the past, especially the mysterious Makiko and the bewitching Hisako, often with added details that were not revealed at the time of the original investigation. This gives us a myriad of puzzle pieces to fit together and builds up layer upon layer until we are able to see the whole, disturbing picture, much like standing in the shoes of the wonderfully shrewd Inspector Teru, who I absolutely adored (I would love to see more about him!).

There is almost a languorous, slow-building, heavy atmosphere over the whole proceedings, which beautifully echoes the oppressive weather at the time of the murders (and interestingly, at the time of the current interviews). This is quite captivating and serves to keep the tension running high throughout the whole book.

This is a book that completely draws you in. It is addictive, with dark and chilling undertones, and one that I will be thinking about for a long time to come.

The Aosawa Murders is available now from your favourite book retailer, in paperback and ebook formats.

Thank you to Bitter Lemon Press for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an hoenst review, and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

From the cover of the book:

On a stormy summer day in the 1970s the Aosawas, owners of a prominent local hospital, host a large birthday party in their villa on the Sea of Japan. 
The occasion turns into tragedy when 17 people die from cyanide in their drinks. 
The only surviving links to what might have happened are a cryptic verse that could be the killer's, and the physician’s bewitching blind daughter, Hisako, the only family member spared death. 

The youth who emerges as the prime suspect commits suicide that October, effectively sealing his guilt while consigning his motives to mystery. 

Inspector Teru is convinced that Hisako had a role in the crime, as are many in the town, including the author of a bestselling book about the murders written a decade after the incident. 

The truth is revealed through a skillful juggling of testimony by different voices: family members, witnesses and neighbors, police investigators and of course the mesmerizing Hisako herself. 

“This spine-chilling masterpiece will make you aware of the dark places in your own heart.” Hokkaido Shimbun

• The Aosawa Murders won the 59th Mystery Writers of Japan Award for Best Novel. 

• Part Kurosawa’s Rashomon, part Capote’s In Cold Blood. The mass murder at the centre of the novel also evokes David Peace’s critically acclaimed novel Occupied City, based on the Teikoku Bank Massacre in Tokyo in 1948 during the US occupation. 

• Takes the classic elements of the crime genre with a twist, providing a multi-voiced insight into the psychology of contemporary Japan, with its rituals, pervasive envy and ever so polite hypocrisy. But it’s also about the nature of evil and the resonance and unreliability of memory.

About the author:

Riku Onda, born in 1964, is the professional name of Nanae Kumagai. 

She has been writing fiction since 1991 and has won the Yoshikawa Eiji Prize for New Writers, the Japan Booksellers' Award, the Mystery Writers of Japan Award for Best Novel for The Aosawa Murders, the Yamamoto Shūgorō Prize, and the Naoki Prize. 

Her work has been adapted for film and television. This is her first crime novel and the first time she is translated into English.

About the translator:

Alison Watts is an Australian-born Japanese to English translator and long time resident of Japan. She has translated Aya Goda’s TAO: On the Road and On the Run in Outlaw China (Portobello, 2007) and Durian Sukegawa’s Sweet Bean Paste (Oneworld Publications, 2017), and her translations of The Aosawa Murders and Spark (Pushkin Press, 2020) by Naoki Matayaoshi are forthcoming.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Exercises In Control by Annabel Banks

Exercises In Control by Annabel Banks.
Published 20th February 2020 by Influx Press.
Read February 2020.

Exercises In Control is Annabel Bank's debut short fiction collection -, comprising twelve compelling and provocative stories on the subject of control, in all its forms.


I must confess that I was not a lover of short story collections in the past, preferring to immerse myself in a full-length novel, but as I have got older, I have realised what I was missing out on - and I now make sure to add a sprinkling of shorter fiction into my TBR pile each year.

My particular favourites are collections from a single author, as they are a great introduction to the breadth of an author's work and writing style, particularly when they are musings on a single subject - so Exercises In Control certainly caught my attention. Oh boy, have they (and their author) caught my attention!

These stories are glorious and mindblowing in the ways they examine different forms of control. They are punchy, violent, viscerally shocking, bizarre and often darkly humourous - drawing you along weird and wonderful paths that will leave your head spinning. 

Right from the first story, Payment to the Universe (short, sharp and, oh so, unexpected!), I knew I was going to love this collection, and raced through the book in double quick time - in fact, I made myself put it down to finish the next day in order to prolong the pleasure - which was over way too soon.

Each one left me wanting more...wanting to find out what happens next.....and they will have me thinking about them for a long time to come. 

I cannot wait to read more from Annabel Banks - more short fiction would be delightful, but I am now longing for a full-length novel. When will it be finished, Annabel? 

Exercises In Control is available now from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Turnaround UK, Annabel Banks and Influx Press for providing me with a copy of this book, in return for an honest review.

From the cover of the book:

‘Smart and smarting, Banks's incisive stories reveal the sharp tensions and chaotic impassivities of modern life. A triumph.’

– Eley Williams, author of Attrib.

‘We do have a complaints procedure. You will find paper and a pen (chained) to the shelf by the bin. Write your concerns and then place them in the bin. PLEASE NOTE: We do not allow items to be placed in the bin. Please do not write on the paper.’

A lonely woman invites danger between tedious dates; a station guard plays a bloody game of heads-or-tails; an office cleaner sneaks into a forbidden room hiding grim secrets.

Compelling and provocative, Annabel Banks’s debut short fiction collection draws deeply upon the human need to be in control — no matter how devastating the cost.

About the author:

Annabel Banks is an award-winning writer of poetry and prose. Her work can be found in such places as The Manchester Review, Litro, The Stockholm Review, Under the Radar and 3:AM, and was included in Eyewear's Best New British & Irish Poets 2016.

Her writing has received multiple nominations for the Pushcart Prize, with further nominations for the Queen's Ferry Press Best Short Fictions, Blazevox's Bettering American Poetry, Best News Poets [US] and the Derringer Awards, and was recently longlisted for the Royal Academy/Pindrop Short Story Award. 

She lives in London.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds: Living the Dream in Rural Ireland by Nick Albert (Audio Book)

Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds: Living the Life in Rural Ireland (Audio Book) by Nick Albert.
Released October 2019 by Nick Albert. Narrated by Andy Stevenson.
Also available in paperback and ebook formats.
Read February 2020.

Having been told by his doctor that he needs considerably less stress in his life, Nick Albert knows that he needs to make some big changes. Fortunately his wife, Lesley, is up for a taste of the quiet life too.

After Nick takes redundancy and their beloved home goes on the market, all that remains is to decide where their next home will be. After some discussion, Nick and Lesley eventually decide that rural Ireland is just the spot they are looking for - even though they have never even visited there.

And so Nick and Lesley embark on their new adventure - negotiating the bewildering process that is finding and buying a suitable property in the wilds of Ireland, and fathoming out the strange ways of the people that will become their new neighbours.


Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds: Living the Life in Rural Ireland is the first part in Nick and Lesley's adventure to find the perfect quiet, country life, away from the stresses and strains of modern Britain - taking us from when they made their decision to completely change their lives, through to the early days in their new home.

Nick and Lesley's story is well narrated by Andy Stevenson, who handles the different voices and accents beautifully, and skillfully draws you into their trials and tribulations, just as if you were sitting there on Nick's shoulder.

The early chapters do go along a bit haltingly at first, with the timeline going back and forth a bit confusingly, but Nick Albert soon gets into his stride and the story flows wonderfully from then on.

There is so much humour here, stemming from the absurd situations Nick and Lesley experienced and the crazy characters they meet, that I found myself laughing out loud a lot with this audio book.  But there is plenty of deep emotion too, as our couple struggle with the stress of the move and the sorrows and joys that come with everyday life. I also learned a whole lot about rural Ireland that was pretty eye-opening!

By the time I got to the end of the audio book, I almost felt that Nick and Lesley were old friends and I was leaving their story too soon.

I can't wait to read the next installment of Nick and Lesley's life in Ireland in Book Two: Still Living the Dream in Rural Ireland: Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds.

Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds: Living the Life in Rural Ireland is available now from your favourite book retailer, or using the links below:

Thank you to Nick Albert for providing me with a copy of this audio book in return for an honest review, and to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel's Random Resources Tours for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

From the cover of the book:

Nick and Lesley Albert yearn to leave the noise, stress and pollution of modern Britain and move to the countryside, where the living is good, the air sweet, with space for their dogs to run free. 

Suddenly out of work and soon to be homeless, they set off in search of a new life in Ireland, a country they had never visited. 

As their adventure began to unfold, not everything went according to plan. If finding their dream house was difficult, buying it seemed almost impossible. 

How would they cope with banks that didn’t want customers, builders who didn’t need work, or the complex issue of where to buy some chickens? 

About the author:

Nick Albert was born in England and raised in a Royal Air Force family. After leaving College he worked in retail management for several years before moving into financial services where he quickly progressed through the ranks to become a training consultant.

As a very passionate and reasonably talented sportsman, Nick had always wanted to use his training skills towards creating a parallel career, so in the mid 1980's he qualified and began coaching sport professionally. 

After a health scare in 2003 and in search of a simpler life, he and his wife Lesley, cashed in their investments, sold their home and bought a rundown farmhouse in the rural west of Ireland - a country they had never before even visited. 

With little money or experience and armed only with a do-it-yourself manual, they set about renovating their new home, where they now live happily alongside a flock of chickens, two ducks and several unruly, but delightful dogs. 

In 2017 Nick was signed to Ant Press to write a series of humorous memoirs about his life in rural Ireland. Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds (book one) was published in September 2017 and soon became an Amazon bestseller. Book two in the series was published on 1st June 2018 and book 3 in August 2019. Book four is due out in early 2020. 

Nick is also the author of the twisty thriller, Wrecking Crew, the first in a series of books featuring reluctant hero Eric Stone.

Social media links:

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

The Guest List by Lucy Foley.
Published 20th February 2020 by Harper Collins.
Read February 2020.

It's going to be the celebrity wedding of the year!

Fashion magazine proprietor Jules Keegan is marrying television survival expert Will Slater and anybody who is anybody would like an invitation to the spectacle, which will be taking place in a romantic folly on an island off the west coast of Ireland.

The guests attending this function may have a few axes to grind, and secrets they would prefer stayed hidden, but inevitably, past resentments rise to the surface once the festivities get under way - helped along by a liberal sprinkling of alcohol and the wildness of the storm that breaks during the ceremony.

One of these guests will not be leaving the island alive....


I absolutely loved Lucy Foley's debut novel, The Hunting Party, with its wonderful modern take on an Agatha Christie murder mystery, so could not wait to get my hands on a copy of her second book, The Guest List.

If anything, The Guest List has even more of an Agatha Christie feel to it than The Hunting Party - by being set on an island with the guests trapped there during a storm - and this makes a wonderful setting for the murderous festivities to begin. It helps that the island has a dark past with plenty of ghosts lurking at the edge of your vision too!

Once again, our characters have dirty little secrets that they want to keep hidden. Being forced together in an unusual environment makes them behave in unguarded ways, that cause their lies to be called into question and suspicion to arise.

The whole story is so beautifully choreographed, like some sort of wild Irish dance that starts ever so slowly, but then builds in pace to an absolute frenzy at the climax - and this is reflected ever so cleverly in the weather, with the intensity of the storm building all the time in the background.

Although you know that one of the guests gets murdered at the very beginning, tantanlisingly, you don't become aware of who the victim actually is until very near the end. The story goes back and forth in time, exposing the secrets of the past, and ever so slowly revealing the circumstances around the murder on the wedding day. This is delicious, because all our main players have so much to hide that it is impossible to guess who has been killed and who might have struck the killing blow, until the wonderful twisty ending. There are red herrings and motives galore in these pages!

It is hard to say much more about this corker of a book without giving away spoilers, but suffice to say that The Guest List is even better than the brilliant The Hunting Party and I absolutely loved every suspenseful second of it. Lucy Foley is rapidly becoming one of my favourite authors and I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next!

The Guest List is available on 20th February 2020 from your favourite retailer - and while you're at it, get a copy of The Hunting Party too!

Thank you to Lucy Foley and Harper Collins for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review, and to Tracey Fenton of Compulsive Readers for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

From the book cover:


A gripping, twisty murder mystery thriller from the No.1 bestselling author of The Hunting Party.

‘Lucy Foley is really very clever’ Anthony Horowitz
‘A classic whodunnit’ Kate Mosse
‘Sharp and atmospheric and addictive’ Louise Candlish
‘A furiously twisty thriller’ Clare Mackintosh
‘Secrets and lies at every turn’ Sarah Pinborough

On an island off the windswept Irish coast, guests gather for the wedding of the year – the marriage of Jules Keegan and Will Slater.

Old friends.
Past grudges.

Happy families.
Hidden jealousies.

Thirteen guests.
One body.

The wedding cake has barely been cut when one of the guests is found dead. And as a storm unleashes its fury on the island, everyone is trapped.

All have a secret. All have a motive.
One guest won’t leave this wedding alive . . .

About the author:

Lucy Foley studied English Literature at Durham and UCL universities and worked for several years
as a fiction editor in the publishing industry, before leaving to write full-time.

The Hunting Party, an instant Sunday Times and Irish Times no.1 bestseller, was Lucy’s debut crime novel, inspired by a particularly remote spot in Scotland that fired her imagination. 

Lucy is also the author of three historical novels, which have been translated into sixteen languages. 

Her journalism has appeared in ES Magazine, Sunday Times Style, Grazia and more.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri (Paperback release)

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri.
Published in paperback 20th February 2020.
Originally read April 2019 in hardback (published 2nd May 2019).

Nuri and Afra live in the city of Aleppo, Syria, with their young son, Sami.
Afra is an artist, and she make a living selling her paintings in the Aleppo marketplace.
Nuri is a beekeeper and, with his cousin Mustafa, he tends to many hives in the countryside outside of Aleppo. Bees are Nuri's passion and he went against the wishes of his parents to pursue dream of life as a beekeeper.
Nuri and Mustafa have made a great success of their beekeeping venture, selling honey and cosmetics made from bee products. They are surrounded by friends and family and have no wish to ever leave their beautiful homeland.

But, war has come to Syria and Nuri and Mustafa's lives are about to change for ever. Mustafa sends his wife and daughter away, to England, for safety and plans to follow them with his son. He tries to persuade Nuri and Afra to leave too, but they cannot bear to be parted from their homeland, clinging to the hope that things will get better.

As the situation in Aleppo worsens, their beloved bee hives are burned to the ground, and Mustafa finds that he must now escape too. He leaves a hurriedly written letter for Nuri, urging him to follow as soon as he can.

But Afra still cannot bear to leave Aleppo, despite Nuri desperately trying to make her realise that things are getting worse and worse. It is not until a terrible tragedy strikes them that he and Afra finally escape Aleppo.

So begins a long and difficult journey to be reunited with Mustafa in England, via Turkey and Greece - desperation forcing them to use their life-savings to pay smugglers to transport them across borders and away from the wretched conditions they find in the refugee camps. They are both broken and isolated by their grief and the horrific things they have seen.

Will they ever be able to find each other again, and themselves, again?


The theme of bees runs throughout this book. From Nuri and Mustafa's beloved hives, to Mustafa's new venture teaching people how to keep bees in Yorkshire. The bees are a symbol of hope and you will yearn with all your heart for some of this hope to become part of Nuri and Afra's lives again.

This book is beautifully written and heartbreakingly sad, but so completely mesmerising that you find yourself totally immersed in Nuri and Afra's story. I cannot even imagine what is must be like to have your homeland destroyed by war and be forced to leave behind everything you hold dear, and I sincerely hope that I will never have to find out.

This book will give you a horrific glimpse into the lives of refugees and the conditions they experience, and I defy you not to feel compassion for the situations these people find themselves in. Nuri and Afra's journey is terribly hard and some of the scenes described are particularly difficult to read.

I have not read anything this haunting and moving since The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini. This book will stay with me for a long time.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo is published on 20th Febraury 2020 in paperback, and is available in hardback, e-book and audio formats now.

Thank you to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers Tours for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

From the cover of the book:


Featured as One to Watch for in 2019 across Sunday Express, Irish Independent, Belfast Telegraph, Sunday Independent, Woman’s Way and Culturefly

“This is a novel of international significance. Courageous, provocative, haunting, it will open your eyes”

In the midst of war, he found love

In the midst of darkness, he found courage

In the midst of tragedy, he found hope

Nuri is a beekeeper; his wife, Afra, an artist. They live a simple life, rich in family and friends, in the beautiful Syrian city of Aleppo - until the unthinkable happens. 
When all they care for is destroyed by war, they are forced to escape. But what Afra has seen is so terrible she has gone blind, and so they must embark on a perilous journey through Turkey and Greece towards an uncertain future in Britain. 
On the way, Nuri is sustained by the knowledge that waiting for them is Mustafa, his cousin and business partner, who has started an apiary and is teaching fellow refugees in Yorkshire to keep bees.

As Nuri and Afra travel through a broken world, they must confront not only the pain of their own unspeakable loss, but dangers that would overwhelm the bravest of souls. 

Above all - and perhaps this is the hardest thing they face - they must journey to find each other again.

About the author:

Brought up in London, Christy Lefteri is the child of Cypriot refugees. She is a lecturer in creative writing at Brunel University. 

The Beekeeper of Aleppo was born out of her time working as a volunteer at a Unicef supported refugee centre in Athens, and draws on her own personal experiences getting to know those escaping harrowing war torn regions. 

Everything in the book; dark or beautiful has come directly from people she has met.

Monday, February 17, 2020

The Garden of Bewitchment by Catherine Cavendish

The Garden of Bewitchment by Catherine Cavendish.
Published 20th February 2020 by Flame Tree Press.
Read February 2020.

February, 1893: Sisters Evelyn and Claire Wainwright decide to leave their Yorkshire town home and head for the peace and tranquility of a cottage on the moors. A move which they hope will inspire their writing, as it did for the Bronte family before them.

As the sisters are settling into their home, a strange game, called The Garden of Bewitchment, appears in Claire's bedroom. The toy garden looks enchanting and harmless enough, but its appearance heralds a series of strange and terrifying events for the sisters, somehow connected to Claire's obsession with the long-dead Branwell Bronte.

When their neighbour Matthew Dixon tells Evelyn of a similar game that he found as a child - one that brought about horrifying consequences, she begins to worry that their lives may be in danger. But can she trust a man that seems to have plenty of secrets of his own?

As events become increasingly bizarre and disturbing, the sisters start to fear for their own sanity. Evelyn cannot tell that is real and what is imagination, but they are in real danger and time is running out....


Welcome to the Garden of Bewitchment, a game you really don't want to be caught dead playing - or perhaps a game you may be caught dead playing?

I found this book wonderfully nostalgic - almost harking back to a complex horror tale of old. It starts out like an old fashioned Victorian ghost story, with echoes of Susan Hill and Shirley Jackson, but it evolves into something quite different as the story unfolds and becomes much more akin to the chilling evil of one of Roald Dahl's Tale of the Unexpected yarns. 

I enjoyed the concept of a mysterious game that winds its insidious tendrils through the lives of the characters, much like the strange plants of the garden itself. There is such a deliciously dark intensity about this book, and just as Evelyn struggles to see what is real and what is not, it is difficult as a reader to tell how much of what happens is real too, as events take on a nightmarish quality that is quite unsettling.

It is very easy to get caught up in this story, and although I did guess one of the twists quite early on, I actually found this rather enjoyable as it was almost like being in on a secret that you know is going to blow the mind of Evelyn when she eventually learns the truth. But I had no idea where the story was finally going to take me - and be assured it goes to some very scary places.

If you like you horror well written, complex, satisfyingly nostalgic and darn right diabolical then The Garden of Bewitchment is definitely going to be for you. I might also add that fans of good old Jumanji will find this book a winner too.

 I was very impressed by this book and am looking forward to reading more of Catherine Cavendish's books - The Haunting of Henderson Close is now most definitely in my sights!

The Garden of Bewitchment is available to pre-order now from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Catherine Cavendish and Flame Tree Press for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review, and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

From the cover of the book:

Don't play the game.

In 1893, Evelyn and Claire leave their home in a Yorkshire town for life in a rural retreat on their beloved moors. But when a strange toy garden mysteriously appears, a chain of increasingly terrifying events is unleashed.

 Neighbour Matthew Dixon befriends Evelyn, but seems to have more than one secret to hide. 

Then the horror really begins. The Garden of Bewitchment is all too real and something is threatening the lives and sanity of the women.

 Evelyn no longer knows who - or what - to believe. And time is running out.

About the author:

Catherine Cavendish first started writing when someone thrust a pencil into her hand. Unfortunately as she could neither read nor write properly at the time, none of her stories actually made much sense.
However as she grew up, they gradually began to take form and, at the tender age of nine or ten, she sold her dolls’ house, and various other toys to buy her first typewriter – an Empire Smith Corona. She hasn’t stopped bashing away at the keys ever since, although her keyboard of choice now belongs to her laptop. 

The need to earn a living led to a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance but Cat is now the full-time author of a number of supernatural, ghostly, haunted house and Gothic horror novels and novellas, including The Haunting of Henderson Close, the Nemesis of the Gods trilogy –Wrath of the Ancients, Waking the Ancients, Damned by the Ancients - The Devil’s Serenade, Dark Avenging Angel, The Pendle Curse, Saving Grace Devine and Linden Manor.

She lives north of Liverpool with her long-suffering husband and black cat.


Saturday, February 15, 2020

Real Life by Adeline Dieudonne

Real Life by Adeline Dieudonne.
Published in ebook 4th February 2020 (paperback 13th February 2020) by World Editions.
Read February 2020.

At home there are four bedrooms: one for her, one for her little brother Sam, one for her parents, and one for the stuffed animals her father has shot.

Her father's predatory ways assert themselves at home too. Her mother is submissive to his aggressive demands and passive under his fists, and they all live in fear of his temper.

To escape from the horror of their lives, our young narrator spends her days playing with Sam in the local scrap yard, spinning tales and giving reassurance to the hulks of the cars that rest there.

Only the call of the ice-cream truck pulls them from their games and gives them comfort, but after a brutal accident shatters their world everything changes...


Real Life is one of the most disturbing books I have ever read - and this is from someone who ploughed their way through the work of authors like Stephen King and James Herbert in her teenage years. 

Parts of this novel are very hard to read and I did struggle with the more violent and troubling parts - especially the cruelty towards animals. A few times, I did need to walk away from this stark and uncompromising debut novel from Adeline Dieudonne and read something a bit lighter for a while.

But this book is so compelling that I could not help myself picking it up again time after time, because I needed to know that our young narrator was going to be safe in the midst of the tragedy that was her life.

Her parents have no interest in parenting - her mother is so completely passive that she calls her an amoeba and her father so aggressive that it is best not to attract his attention at all. But she has her brother Sam and the sight of his smile and the sound of his laughter are all that she needs.

However, things start to change after the accident that brings death tragically to their attention and the presence of the eerie stuffed trophies in the spare bedroom starts to weigh heavily on the children. Sam no longer wants to be close to his sister and she can see that something is starting to eat away at him, changing his behaviour in most shocking ways.

Our young protagonist is convinced that she can put things right if only she can go back in time to before the accident and save her brother from his suffering. At first, she feels sure the way to do this is through magic, but as she gets older it becomes apparent this will not work so she dedicates herself to science and maths instead - which, as it turns out, she has a great talent for. She can endure all that is thrown at her now, in the sure knowledge that this can all be corrected once she has perfected a way to travel back in time. But going through puberty can be hell, and the pull of her new needs and wants is complicating matters.

As things start to deteriorate on the home front, the darkness that is swelling inside Sam brings him to the attention of their father and he goes about inducting him into the life of a hunter. He also begins to recognise that his daughter is becoming the enemy at the same time, as she gets older and develops into a young woman. Violence starts to be directed at our young protagonist, in increasingly more insidious and terrifying ways.

The tension builds almost unbearably until a frenzy of violence erupts in a thrilling climax, with the most delicious final twist  that I did not see coming! 

Real Life is essentially a coming-of-age story on the part of our young female narrator, whose name we never learn - whilst also being a horrifically thrilling tale, worthy of Stephen King. The lessons to be learned along the way are not ones which we would want our own children to have to learn, but courage and hope shine from within our heroine and although she is subjected to the most violent behaviour the flame within her is never extinguished.

This is not a book for the fainthearted, but the story completely draws you in, the writing is outstanding, and the premise is nothing short of brilliant. Real Life became a big bestseller when it was originally published in France, and this excellent translation by Roland Glasser should be just as well received here. 

It is interesting to speculate on the intended meaning behind the intriguing title of this book. What does Real Life mean? Is it accepting that we must learn to live with the inevitable hard knocks that life throws at us? Is is realising that magic is not real and that we must look to science for our answers instead? Or is real life only something that can be experienced when there is no longer constant fear and a risk of violence? Read this book and make up your own mind.

Real Life is available now from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to World Editions and Adeline Dieudonne for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review, and to Anne Cater of Random Things for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

From the cover of the book:

When the innocence of fairy tales meets the terror of a Stephen King thriller...

This international bestseller by French author Adeline Dieudonné is one girl’s bitingly funny coming-of-age tale within a violent, savage family.

At home there are four bedrooms: one for her, one for her little brother Sam, one for her parents, and one for the carcasses. Her father is a big-game hunter, a powerful predator, and her mother is submissive to her violent husband’s demands. The young narrator spends the days with Sam, playing in the shells of cars dumped for scrap and listening out for the melody of the ice-cream truck, until a brutal accident shatters their world. The uncompromising pen of Adeline Dieudonné wields flashes of brilliance as she brings her characters to life in a world that is both dark and sensual.

About the author:

ADELINE DIEUDONNÉ was born in 1982 and lives in Brussels.

A playwright and short-story writer, her first novella, Amarula, was awarded the Grand Prix of the Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles. Two further booklets were published by Editions Lamiroy in 2017: Seule dans le noir and Bonobo Moussaka.
  Real Life was recently awarded the prestigious Prix du Roman FNAC, the Prix Rossel, the Prix Renaudot des Lycéens, and the Prix Filigrane, a French prize for a work of high literary quality with wide appeal. 

Dieudonné also performs as a stand-up comedian.

About the translator:

ROLAND GLASSER is an award-winning translator of French literature, based in London.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Our Fathers by Rebecca Wait

Our Fathers by Rebecca Wait.
Published 23rd January 2020 by Quercus Books/Riverrun.
Read January 2020.

Tom returns to his childhood home, the island of Litta in the Hebrides, after 20 years away from the small community where he spent his early years - the place where his father turned a shotgun on his mother, brother and baby sister, before killing himself.
The place where he was the only survivor of that tragic day.

For twenty years Tom has tried to escape the ghosts of his past, but now he feels compelled to return, though he is not sure why.
Turning up on the doorstep of his taciturn uncle, Malcolm, he is searching for answers to the questions that plague him.

What makes a grown man murder his own family and does the same darkness lie within his own heart too? How can we escape the sins of our fathers?


Wow, what a book! Our Fathers is totally gripping and absolutely heartbreaking.

Tom grew up in a household where his father, John, was controlling and often violent behind closed doors, but showed a completely different persona to the world outside. The small community of Litta was shocked by how someone who was apparently such a loving family man and charming neighbour could have done such a thing. He feels an element of guilt for what happened that fateful day, even though he was only eight years old. The weight of the past hangs heavy, and the fear that he will become the same man his father was haunts him.

Malcolm feels guilty too. He and John also grew up with a violent and controlling father. and although they developed into very different kinds of men, he feels he should have seen the darkness within John before such a tragedy came about. Should he have looked closer? 

As Tom and Malcolm start to get to know each other and reflect on their own childhoods, a tenderness starts to develop between them that is beautiful and poignant. They are both quiet and taciturn, and find it hard to be open about their feelings, but as Malcolm does all he can to convince Tom that he is nothing like his father, an understanding grows between them that helps them both to find some peace. The writing here is so unbelievably good - you feel every awkward pause; every unspoken hurt and frustration; and appreciate ever little bit of humour and heartbreak that comes from their interactions. Outstanding!

There is another delicious and shocking thread in this story that will tear you to pieces, and that is the part played by another member of the small community - a community that while it seems to know everything about everyone, is unwilling to look past the surface. No spoilers from me though, so you will just have to read the book to find out!

It is hard to convey how well written and compelling this book is in just a few words. Rebecca Wait uses the remoteness of Litta so cleverly to reflect the emotional isolation of the characters in this story, and the turbulent weather plays its part in heightening every feeling. The threads are all woven so artfully together as we learn the truth behind the events of the past, and follow Tom through his search for answers.

I cannot say that I found this book enjoyable exactly, as many parts were very difficult to read - the hidden domestic abuse, coercion and violence against the vulnerable was very shocking. I was an emotional wreck by the time I had got to the end and had sobbed my way through big chunks of the story! But it is an incredible and oh so well written book that the experience was most definitely worthwhile. I cannot recommend this one highly enough.

Friday, February 7, 2020

The Art of Murder by J.S. Strange


The Art of Murder (Jordan Jenner Mysteries Book Two) by J.S. Strange.
Published on 30th September 2019 by Panther Publishing.

From the cover of the book:

Artist Xander Draper is being threatened by a dangerous group. With PI Jordan Jenner's help, Xander hopes to remain unscathed.

But when Xander is murdered, his body displayed as his final exhibit, Jordan realises the extent of the trouble Xander was in. Now, there are people following Jordan. They know his name, and they want him dead.

Meanwhile, Jordan's brother Ashley has returned, and he has a secret. As time runs out to solve the murder of the famous artist, Jordan begins to fear his brother may be responsible.

A classic cosy mystery set in the heart of Cardiff. A perfect read for fans of Agatha Christie.

A murdered artist. A brother with a deadly secret. A group intent on killing. The Art of Murder is the second in the Jordan Jenner Mysteries series, a cosy murder mystery set in Wales.

The Art of Murder is available now from your favourite book retailer, or via the links below:

About the author:

J.S. Strange is an author from Wales, United Kingdom. He writes crime, mystery and horror. His first novels, published in 2016 and 2017, were set in an apocalyptic London. Murder on the Rocks, is the first in a cozy crime mystery series, featuring a leading gay male detective.

Murder on the Rocks was written by Strange for many reasons. One of those reasons was a lack of representation within the crime genre, particularly with detectives and sleuths. Strange created Jordan Jenner, a private investigator, who lives and works in Cardiff. Murder on the Rocks was written with the intention of shining light on Cardiff, and bringing Cardiff, and furthermore, Wales, into the crime genre.

Strange's previous works, such as 'Winter Smith: London Burning', also explored LGBT themes, and featured socialite Winter Smith escaping a zombie apocalypse. 'London's Burning' became an Amazon best-seller in LGBT fiction.

When Strange doesn't write, he works in television. He also presents a radio show all about the paranormal. He has an enthusiasm for Britney Spears and cats.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Nothing To See Here by Kevin Wilson

Nothing To See Here by Kevin Wilson.
Published in paperback 30th January 2020 by Text Publishing.
Read January 2020.

As school-mates, Lillian and Madison formed an unlikely friendship at Iron Mountain Girls' Preparatory School.

Lillian, from a poor background, had fought her way to gain a scholarship at the elite academy, sure that it would allow her to finally escape her less than ideal roots. While, Madison, from a wealthy home, looked forward to the best future money could buy. These girls should have had nothing in common, and yet there was a deep connection that bound them together.

However, after Lillian was forced to leave Iron Mountain unexpectedly, following a scandal, it was years before the two of them met again and under the strangest of circumstances.

Lillian has been living a stale existence in her mother's attic, while Madison has had a golden passage through Vassar and into politics, where she has met and married an ambitious senator, Jasper Roberts. The two friends have stayed in contact over the years, but it is not until Madison sends Lillian a letter pleading for her help that Lillian knows she must go to her and answer her friend's call.

It seems that Madison's twin step-children are moving to their luxurious Tennessee estate after the death of their mother and Lillian is the only person she can trust to be their "governess" for the summer.....only there is a catch - the twins have a habit of spontaneously combusting when they are agitated or upset.

Lillian has nothing to regret leaving behind in her dead-end life, so she readily agrees to move to Tennessee to help out - after all the pay is good and Madison must surely be playing some kind of joke on her?

It is not until Lillian meets the twins, Bessie and Roland, that she realises Madison was telling the truth about the fire part, and wonders how on earth she is going to cope with being their care-taker.

But over the course of the summer, Lillian and the misunderstood twins come to know, trust and love each other. It turns out that Lillian needs the twins as much as they need her, and the strange little family they make together might just give them all the meaning they have been looking for in their lives.

And as Lillian discovers that the situation in Tennessee might actually be one of more than a few secrets and lies, Lillian finds that she will do anything to protect her charges from harm.


The premise of Nothing To See Here is certainly an unusual one, but that is exactly what intrigued me about it. Yes, Kevin Wilson weaves a strange tale in these pages, but is is oh so brilliantly warm, touching and funny that I absolutely loved it!

There is something about the cynical Lillian's character that draws you to her cause from the very first chapter. You can understand why, based on her sorry childhood, she comes to feel the passionate love and loyalty she does for Madison, and Madison in her ever so strange way does feel the same in return - at least as much as she is capable of feeling. But I must admit that I found Madison hard to sympathise with and her selfishness and sense of entitlement actually made me pretty angry for almost the entire book! Great writing here, as this serves to highlight the genuine trust and love that develops between Lillian and the twins.

How can I even start to describe how lovely that developing relationship is? Bessie and Roland are strange, wild creatures when we first meet them. They have been let down by both their parents and grandparents and have become used to relying on each other in a world that seems determined to treat them as freaks and outsiders. Interestingly, it is the very fact that Lillian also sees herself as a freak and an outsider that leads to her finding common ground with the twins - although she has been chosen by Madison from the selfish point of view of keeping their condition secret from prying eyes in the face of Jasper's political ambitions, it transpires that Lillian is the perfect person for the job. The way they begin to understand and find faith in each other is quite simply beautiful.

I absolutely inhaled this book. It is very emotional, and I cried at many points during the story, but there are so many funny moments that had me laughing out loud too, and the climax of the tale has such a gorgeous sense of irony to it that it actually had me punching the air with delight!

Although it is only early days for 2020, I can see that Nothing To See Here is has wormed its way so completely into my heart that it is sure to be one of my top reads of the year. This is an unusual and original story of love and I think that is one of the reasons why it is so good. It is certainly going to be a hard act to follow. 

Nothing To See Here is available now from your favourite book retailer, in hardback, paperback, ebook and audio formats.

Thank you to Ben Williams of Turnaround Publisher Services for kindly providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Death Deserved by Jorn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger

Death Deserved (Blix and Ramm Book One) by Jorn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger.
Published 31st January 2020 in ebook and audio formats (paperback release 20th February 2020).
Read January 2020.

Police Detective Alexander Blix has certainly not achieved the dizzy heights in his career that he imagined when he was a fresh-raced rookie.

A hostage situation nineteen years ago, in which he was forced to kill to save a five year old girl from her father, has left its mark both personally and professionally, leaving him divorced, estranged from his daughter, and at odds with his boss, but he is a fine and dedicated police officer none-the-less and getting the job done is what keeps him going.

When former athlete, Sonja Nordstrom fails to attend the high-profile launch of her much-anticipated autobiography, Blix finds himself heading up the missing persons investigation, which soon turns into a wider search for a possible serial killer.

There is something cold and calculating about the man they are searching for, and he seems to be using his victims as some sort of countdown - but to what? And why is he so obsessed with targetting celebrities? There must be some sort of pattern here, but the victims seem to have absolutely no connection to each other.

Unexpectedly, Blix finds a new perspective on the case through the eyes of celebrity blogger Emma Ramm and they end up joining forces, in order to track down the killer.

Blix and Ramm form a unlikely pair, but there is a bond between them that was forged in the past, and they make a formidable team. Can they hunt down the killer before the countdown gets to zero?


Well, Orenda Books have down it again folks! Death Deserved is the first in a new Nordic Noir crime series about the Blix-Ramm partnership and is is something very special indeed. This book, an all new collaboration between two of Norway's best-selling authors, is already a big hit in their native country and I can see why.

This is a slick and perfectly paced crime thriller, set in and around Oslo, with all the hallmarks of the very best of Nordic Noir - and I could not put it down. The story was so twisty and exciting that the tension increased all the way through until I found myself just gobbling up the text at an increasingly rapid rate to find out what happened next, and there are delicious blind alleys galore that keep you looking with suspicion at practically every character in the book. My poor heart was going nineteen to the dozen almost the entire time, and my palpitations were not helped by the cliffhanger at the end... 

The interaction between Blix and Ramm is just wonderful and their connection from the past casts such a tender light over it, that I found it really quite emotional - especially since Blix was struggling with his realtionship with his own daughter at the same time. My goodness, thrills and emotion? The perfect package.

Fiction sometimes suffers in translation, as removing the reader from the native language of the author can result in a loss of the intimacy with the characters. None of that here, ladies and gentlemen! Anne Bruce has done a fine job, and with a nifty use of vernacular that keeps you right in the story for every gorgeous second of it - just like Messrs Lier Horst and Enger are whispering their cleverly plotted thriller right in your eager ear (just gave myself goose-bumps at the thought!).

This is the kind of classy, intelligent crime thriller that I like best and it ticked every box for me. The Blix and Ramm series is one that I am definitely signed up for and I can't wait for the next installment.

Death Deserved is available now from your favourite book retailer!

Thank you for Anne Cater for inviting me to be part of this blog tour, and to the amazing Orenda Books and the esteemed authors, Jorn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger, for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

From the cover of the book:

Police officer Alexander Blix and celebrity blogger Emma Ramm join forces to track down a serial killer with a thirst for attention and high-profile murders, in the first episode of a gripping new Nordic Noir series…

Oslo, 2018. Former long-distance runner Sonja Nordstrøm never shows at the launch of her controversial autobiography, Always Number One. When celebrity blogger Emma Ramm visits Nordstrøm’s home later that day, she finds the door unlocked and signs of a struggle inside. A bib with the number ‘one’ has been pinned to the TV.

Police officer Alexander Blix is appointed to head up the missing-persons investigation, but he still bears the emotional scars of a hostage situation nineteen years earlier, when he killed the father of a five-year-old girl. Traces of Nordstrøm soon show up at different locations, but the appearance of the clues appear to be carefully calculated … evidence of a bigger picture that he’s just not seeing…

Blix and Ramm soon join forces, determined to find and stop a merciless killer with a flare for the dramatic, and thirst for attention.

Trouble is, he’s just got his first taste of it…

About the authors:

Jørn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger are the internationally bestselling Norwegian authors of the William Wisting and Henning Juul series respectively. 

Jorn Lier Horst

Jørn Lier Horst first rose to literary fame with his No. 1 internationally bestselling William Wisting series. A former investigator in the Norwegian police, Horst imbues all his works with an unparalleled realism and suspense. 

Thomas Enger

Thomas Enger is the journalist-turned-author behind the internationally acclaimed and bestselling Henning Juul series. Enger’s trademark has become a darkly gritty voice paired with key social messages and tight plotting. Besides writing fiction for both adults and young adults, Enger also works as a music composer. 

Death Deserved is Jørn Lier Horst & Thomas Enger’s first co-written thriller.