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Friday, July 31, 2020

Idle Hands by Cassondra Windwalker

Idle Hands by Cassondra Windwalker.
Published 23rd July 2020 by Agora Press.
Read July 2020.

When Perdie makes the brave decision to leave her abusive husband and take her children half-way across the country, she thinks she is giving them all the best chance of a full and happy life.

But years later, when tragedy strikes, she wonders if it would have been better to stay put and weather her husband's fists for the sake of her children.

What would you do if you were given the opportunity to do it all again? Would you make the same choices?

When Perdie is given the chance to find out, by making a deal with the devil - otherwise known as Ella - she has the opportunity to see if she can really change the course of her family's destiny, or if they are fated to make the same mistakes over and over again.


Idle Hands poses a really interesting question, that intrigued me from the off. What if you had the chance to do it all again and change the course of your life? Would you? Could you?

In this book, our author, Cassondra Windwalker, not only poses this question, but gives it an original twist by adding the devil to the mix - in this case, going under the rather ordinary name of Ella. Ella lurks in the shadows, looking for the opportune moment to tempt those greedy and dissatisfied humans who stray off the straight and narrow path, offering them a choice deal or two to win herself a few souls.

However, Perdie is not the usual prey of Ella as she does not yearn for sex, money or a rock and roll lifestyle. In fact, Ella has to bide her time for a number of years before the opportunity presents to snare Perdie and trap her into a deal that bodes ill - a chance to go back and make a different choice at a significant crossroads in her life. Instead of deciding to leave her abusive husband eight years ago, Perdie gets to see what her life would have been like if she had stayed with him. I think we can all agree that this is unlikely to give us a fairytale ending, especially as the chance is offered by none other than the devil, but no spoilers in this review!

There are some interesting concepts explored in this book - not least the nature of the devil and evil - but the dominating theme of abuse makes for some tough reading. I found Perdie's choices problematic, and wondered how realistic her decision to live with an abusive husband rather than remove herself and her children from danger actually was? Would someone who had had the courage and determination to make that difficult choice really return to the violence that they had escaped?  The life she chose, and her justifications gave me rather a bad taste in my mouth - especially the implication that she was complicit in the abuse her husband subjected her to. This made me very uncomfortable. 

Beware! This is not a book for the faint-hearted or anyone who finds these subjects triggering, because all your buttons will be pushed! But having said all this, there are some intriguing pivotal moments and imagery, that give pause for thought in these pages. I particularly enjoyed the scene where Ella is holding the hand of one of the characters as they fade from life and the angel of death is holding their other hand and gathering up their soul - while the both studiously ignore each other - and some of the musings on the nature of human kind are very thought provoking. There is also something rather compelling in the notion of the circular nature of the fates of the characters. There is definitely scope for another outing for the sardonic Ella, should Cassondra choose to write more, as her brand of devilry is certainly an unusual and intriguing one!

Idle Hands is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer in paperback, ebook and audio formats.

Thank you to Cassondra Windwalker and Peyton Stableford of Agora Books for providing me with a copy of this book, in return for an honest review, and for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

From the cover of the book:

You can call me Ella. You generally assign me a whole host of other preposterous monikers. I think the least imaginative name I’ve heard is “the devil”, but I’ll answer to it if I must.

After making the courageous decision to leave her abusive husband, Perdie and her three young children start over and finally find the safety and love they deserve. But years later, when tragedy strikes, Perdie is left wondering if the choice she made to leave has led them to this moment.

If she were given the opportunity to take it all back and stay, would she?

In a frantic bid to protect her family, Perdie makes a deal with the devil to do just that. But in a world where the devil pulls the strings, can Perdie really change the past?

Brimming with enlightened observations and brilliant voice, Idle Hands is a haunting examination of grief, resilience, and what we’d give to spend another moment with the ones we love.

About the author:

Cassondra Windwalker grew up on plains and longed for mountains. Today she lives by the frozen sea. She earned a BA of Letters at the University of Oklahoma and pursued careers in bookselling and law enforcement before resigning her post to write full time.

A poet, essayist, and novelist, her short-form work has appeared in numerous literary journals and art books. Her full-length books of poetry and prose are available in bookstores and online. She welcomes conversations with readers through her social media platforms and in the occasional coffee shop.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Dear Emmie Blue by Lia Louis

Dear Emmie Blue (audio book) by Lia Louis.
Released 6th August 2020 by Hachette Audio UK.
Narrated by Katy Sobey.
Listened July 2020.

Fourteen years ago, Emmie Blue released a red balloon, with a heartfelt message hidden inside. A balloon that was found many miles away on a French beach by a boy called Lucas. And so Emmie found a best friend and some light at the end of her lonely tunnel.

On the eve of both Emmie and Lucas' 30th birthday, he announces that he plans to marry someone else, and with this Emmie's life comes crashing down - for she has been in love with Lucas from the time they met and always thought they would end up together.

Now, Emmie finds herself Lucas' 'best woman' and helping to arrange his marriage to another woman and she does not know how she will ever got over it.

But maybe...just maybe...Lucas is not the man she is meant to be with. What if that man has been there all the time and she just has not been able to see it....?


I can't tell you how much I was looking forward to Dear Emmie Blue, after falling in love with Lia Louis' wonderful debut Somewhere Close To Happy, last year.

This time, I indulged myself by listening to the audio version of Lia's new book, which is narrated beautifully by Katy Sobey, whose voice makes for the perfect Emmie and draws you completely into this most heartwarming and enchanting tale of love and friendship.

Emmie was a desperately lonely child, with a cold and distant mother, and an absent father who she had only the vaguest details about. She longed to have the kind of family and welcoming home that her best friend had, but when Emmie was the victim of sexual assault by one of the very people she trusted most, her world came crashing down and she found herself without the comfort of friendship, and the subject of hurtful gossip, with no one to confide in. 

So, Emmie released a red balloon, with a heartfelt message inside that made it's way across the water to Lucas, who had recently moved to France. And so began a correspondence that eventually led to Emmie becoming a member of Lucas' own family, as close to his parents and brother, Elliot, as Lucas himself.

When Lucas tells Emmie he is getting married to another woman, she is forced to look closely at not only her feelings for him, but whether she has seen their relationship in the right light all these years. Is she really in love with him, or with the idea of him? Is it actually someone else who has been there for her all this time and she has just not seen it?

And as Emmie finds herself, her true family and home, and the man who has always loved her, we go on the most delicious of journeys that fills your heart to the brim - not to mention your eyes with overflowing tears. Along the way, we meet some excellent characters too, many of whom will have you chucking and dabbing your eyes in turn!

I loved this story so much and it is now my new favourite Lia Louis book. It is just so beautiful, romantic, tender and down right lovely that I absolutely sobbed my heart out at the end. This is one of my favourite listens this year, and I just know it will be one of your favourites too!

Dear Emmie Blue is available to order now from your favourite book retailer in audio, ebook and paperback, and will be realeased on 6th August 2020. Get ordering now!

From the cover of the book:

Emmie Blue has a secret...

A long time ago, Emmie Blue released a red balloon with a secret message hidden inside - and against all odds, across hundreds of miles of ocean, it was found on a beach in France by a boy called Lucas.

Fourteen years later, on the eve of her thirtieth birthday, Emmie hopes that Lucas is finally about to kiss her. She never expected him to announce that he was marrying someone else!

Suddenly Emmie's dreams are shattered and the one person in her life she can rely on is slipping through her fingers. But what if Lucas isn't her forever? What if her love story is only just beginning...

Monday, July 27, 2020

Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers

Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers.
Published 9th July by W & N.
Read July 2020.

South East London, 1957: Jean Swinney is a reporter for a local London paper, normally consigned to the kind of article that revolves around gardening and handy household tips.

Jean's life has shrunk over the years, and now, nearing forty, she finds herself passing her time between her comfortable niche at the paper, and looking after her difficult, elderly mother, with very little in the way of pleasure to brighten her days.

When a young woman contacts the paper to say that she believes her daughter to be the result of a virgin birth, it falls to Jean to take on the story of Gretchen and her daughter Margaret, and discover whether the story could possibly be true.

But once Jean meets the Tilburys - Gretchen, Margaret, and Gretchen's husband Howard - her life and happiness become strangely intertwined with theirs. She makes a friend in Gretchen, becomes an aunt figure to the endearing Margaret, and finds herself falling for the gentle wit and charm of Howard - and if she is not mistaken, Gretchen seems to be pushing her and Howard together.

Jean suddenly finds her life opening up in a way she did not expect, but inevitably, there is a price to pay for her new found happiness, and it will be a devastating one.


 Small Pleasures is the most gorgeous book, and I fell in love with it from only a few pages in.

Jean Swinney makes for a sympathetic character. She feels that her life has become very small indeed, and nearing forty, her disappointed love life has left her still living at home with her frail and demanding, elderly mother, with very little prospect of escape. She finds her pleasures where she can - a moment's peace from her mother, a cigarette, handling a small luxury that she has tucked away in the drawers of her dressing table (even if she never intends to use it) - these are the tiny moments of enjoyment she allows herself. She cannot even begin to imagine anything more, and to wish for it would be asking for bitterness to overwhelm her.

But when Jean meets the Tilburys, something shifts inside her. Jean gets a glimpse of the comforts she has not allowed herself to desire - a well-maintained and cosy home, someone to love and care for her, even motherhood - and her fate becomes inextricably entwined with these people who were strangers not so long ago.

It soon becomes clear that Gretchen and Howard's marriage is not all it appears, and Jean and Howard are drawn to each other - seemingly with Gretchen's blessing, as she repeatedly throws them together. Love blossoms and with it comes tragic consequences.

This book is beautifully written by Clare Chambers and draws you in from the very first page, to the nostalgic feel of 1950s suburban London. Jean's repressed longings and frustrations are palpable, and you yearn for her to be able to break out of her self-imposed exile from joy. So when she gets the chance to grab the chance of happiness, the will she/won't she have a happy ending is almost unbearable. I am wary of giving spoilers here, because the suspense of simmering passions held in check between Jean and Howard, their tenderness and genuine love for each other, is divine - but be assured, this book will get you in all the feels.

However, this is not just a love story, because there is a pretty big mystery element too. Gretchen's story of virgin birth is a peculiar one and Jean has to dig deep to find out the truth behind Margaret's conception. There is almost an Agatha Christie feel to this part of the story, as the discovery of the truth revolves so much around the stories of the people who knew Gretchen at the time - those who were supposed to be caring for her, her friends and even loved ones - and Jean certainly has to use her little grey cells to put all the pieces together and the weight of the truth hangs very heavy on her.

This is so much a story about people and relationships, repression and longing for fulfillment, although the time period and suburban setting really add to the mix. Jean has been deeply affected by her past, but we get little glimpse of the person she used to be that show us she was not always the lonely figure we meet at the beginning of the book. It is clear from things Jean lets slip to Howard that she is a woman of great determination, and she has experienced freedoms, especially during the war years. Jean's life has been reduced by circumstance, as well as her desire to live a closed off existence, and her home in claustrophobic suburbia with her cold and irascible mother only highlights her feelings of disillusionment.

By the way, I really enjoyed that this book was set in suburban south East London, as I was born in Beckenham and recognised many of the places named in this book - albeit from a 1970s perspective. For me, this really added to the nostalgic charm that Clare Chambers to skillfully weaves.

This is an absolute corker of a book and one that has haunted me since finishing it, as it is quietly devastating - and there is so much to think about and discuss from this novel (a perfect book club book, actually). But, it is not without its wit and wry humour - and the excited glee with which Jean's editor encourages her to get a scoop about a virgin birth story in the run up to Christmas is particularly funny.

 This is one of my favourite reads this summer and I have no doubt that more of Clare Chambers' books will be finding their place in my to be read pile soon.

Small Pleasures is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer in hardcover, ebook and audio formats.

From the cover of the book:

1957, south-east suburbs of London.
Jean Swinney is a feature writer on a local paper, disappointed in love and - on the brink of forty - living a limited existence with her truculent mother.

When a young Swiss woman, Gretchen Tilbury, contacts the paper to claim that her daughter is the result of a virgin birth, it is down to Jean to discover whether she is a miracle or a fraud.

But the more she investigates, the more her life becomes strangely (and not unpleasantly) intertwined with that of the Tilburys: Gretchen herself, her husband Howard - with his dry wit and gentle disposition - and her charming daughter Margaret.

But they are the subject of the story Jean is researching for the newspaper, a story that increasingly seems to be causing dark ripples across all their lives. And yet Jean cannot bring herself to discard the chance of finally having a taste of happiness.

But there will be a price to pay - and it will be unbearable.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Set My Heart To Five by Simon Stephenson

Set My Heart To Five
By Simon Stephenson

Published 28th May 2020
by 4th Estate.

Set My Heart To Five 

Hi! My name is Jared.
I am sincerely pleased to meet you.
Also, I am a bot!
Unless you have been living under a rock in North Korea or New Zealand – Ha! – you of course know what a bot is.
Nonetheless I am programmed to relay the following dialogue to each new human I encounter:
Please do not be fooled by my human-like appearance.
I am a mere bot!
I do not have feelings or anything else that might be misconstrued as a ‘soul’.
Instead, I have been programmed to a high level of proficiency in dentistry!
Should you have any concerns please immediately report me to the Bureau of Robotics.
But humans rarely find this information calming.
Instead, they see a fellow human standing in front of them claiming that he is not a human.
This bamboozles them!
It often bamboozles them so profoundly that they exclaim, ‘But you look so human!’
 I then patiently explain to them what they anyway already know: that my body looks human because it is indeed a human body. It is engineered from DNA and constructed of cells the exact same way their own body is. It has the same basic needs – food, water, oxygen, regular exercise – and it can be injured or killed in all the same comically outlandish ways any other human body can.
Yet I am definitely not human!
Because the precious thing that sets humans apart is their feelings.
And as a bot I am specifically designed and programmed to be incapable of feelings.
I can no more feel than a toaster!
 BTW that is a hilarious joke because the programming language I run on was in fact first developed many years ago for use in the domestic toaster.
 Here is something curious I have observed about humans: informing them I am incapable of feeling often makes them feel sad. I suspect they believe they are being empathetic, but in fact they are being paradoxical. After all, feeling sad in response to someone telling you they lack feelings is like running a marathon in response to somebody telling you they lack legs.
Truly, if I lacked legs and somebody ran a marathon on my behalf I would not consider them empathetic.
I would consider them confused!
 Nonetheless, it makes them sad, and making humans sad goes against my core programming. If ever I accidentally render a human sad in this way, I therefore quickly employ self-deprecating humor to amend the situation with reassuring levity.
So I tell the human they can think of me as a microwave oven with feet!
A mobile telephone with arms!
A toaster with a heart!
BTW I mean a heart in the sense of a mechanical pump, not a bucket of feelings.
The hearts of us bots are only ever mechanical pumps.
And they certainly do not contain anything as precious as a human ‘heart of hearts’!
 Humans are only sad about our lack of feelings because they do not comprehend all the incredible advantages this gives us. To start with just one important example, a bot’s self-preservation instincts are based not on a human-type delusion that we are irreplaceable, but calculated on a rational cost-benefit analysis. It is hardly a coincidence that many bots have already made heroic and self-sacrificing contributions in fields as varied as nuclear firefighting, bomb disposal and NFL football-playing!
My own vocation of dentistry is also ideal work for a bot.But this is not because we are expendable.After all, dentistry is rarely fatal.At least, it is not fatal for the dentist!Ha!
 No, the primary reason bots make such excellent dentists is our complete inability to feel empathy. An empathic dentist – by which I mean a human dentist – could easily become distracted by inappropriate fear, criticism, or even mere crying from a patient. A bot is immune to all of these things and will get the job done every time. Even when it comes to wisdom teeth removal!
 Of course, the other reason why dentistry is ideal work for bots is that no human wants to do it anymore. Humans prefer jobs that are creative, social, clean, luxurious, and can be completed from a home office between breakfast and lunch. They strongly dislike jobs which involve an actual office, weekend work, children, blood, screaming and the mouths of strangers. Therefore when the laws reserving jobs for humans were being passed, nobody spoke up for dentistry.
Especially not the dentists!

From the cover of the book:

Set in 2054, when humans have locked themselves out of the internet by forgetting the names 
of their favourite teacher and first pet, Simon Stephenson’s dazzling debut, 
Set My Heart to Five, is a hilarious, touching, strikingly perceptive story 
of the emotional awakening of an android named Jared, 
and a profound exploration of what it truly means to be human.

Set My Heart to Five is set to become a major motion picture with Edgar Wright directing, and Working Title, Focus Features and Universal Pictures producing.

Fourth Estate | Hardback | 28 May 2020

About the author:

Simon Stephenson is a Scottish writer based in Los Angeles. He previously worked as an NHS doctor, most recently in paediatrics in London.
His first book, Let Not The Waves Of The Sea (John Murrays, 2011), was a memoir about the loss of his brother in the Indian ocean tsunami. It was serialised as ‘Book of the Week’ on BBC Radio 4 and won ‘Best First Book’ at the Scottish Book Awards.

Simon moved to the US followed the success of his spec screenplay, Frisco, a semi-autobiographical story about a depressed doctor who desperately needed a change. The script was at the top of the Blacklist - an industry-voted list of Hollywood’s favourite unproduced scripts - and opened the door to a screenwriting career in the US. In 2015, Simon was photographed alongside Phoebe Waller-Bridge as one of Screen International’s ‘Stars of Tomorrow’. His friends never tire of telling him that Screen International were at least half right. 

As a screenwriter, Simon nonetheless continues to be much in demand on both sides of the Atlantic. He spent two years writing at Pixar in San Francisco, and originated and wrote Amazon’s forthcoming feature film Louis Wain (starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy). Julia Roberts attached to his screenplay Train Man, and the film rights to Set My Heart To Five were pre-emptively acquired by Working Title Films, Focus Features, and Nira Park’s Complete Fiction Pictures. Edgar Wright is set to direct the film from Simon’s screenplay. 

One of Simon’s most memorable moments from his time in Hollywood was taking a meeting with an actor he admired most, and then having said actor kindly insist on driving Simon home in his distinctive vintage Porsche while telling him about his mind-blowing stories about his canonical body of work. As a token of thanks, Simon then gave that car to the villain in Set My Heart To Five!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Artemis (audio book) by Andy Weir

Artemis (audio book) by Andy Weir.

Released November 2017 by Audible Studios.

Listened July 2020.

Jazz Bashara is one of the nicer kinds of criminals. Yes, she may see smuggling as a legitimate way to supplement her pay as a porter, but she is fair and has a strict code of conduct - and when you live on Artemis, the first and only city on the Moon, life can be tough.

When Jazz is offered the chance to get rich quick, by undertaking a risky and very illegal mission for one of her best clients, she jumps at the chance - and so inadvertently sets in motion a course of events that will have enormous consequences for everyone in Artemis.

So much for the perfect crime...


The Martian was one of my absolute favourite reads from last year, so when I saw this audio book in the Audible members' sale it really caught my eye.

I wasn't sure at first, as this one is very different from The Martian - even though they are both space tales - as this one is set in the Moon base, Artemis, and is much more a crime caper than I was expecting.

The story revolves around Jazz Bashara, a smuggler masquerading as a legitimate delivery person in Artemis. She has spent most of her life on the Moon base and is trying to amass enough money for a cushy lifestyle. She may operate on the wrong side of the law (although Artemis is pretty lawless), but she is smart and has a strict code that makes her very popular with her clients. She has a cheeky sort of charm about her, which is very likeable, and she has a great sense of humour.

When Jazz is offered the chance to make a lot of money by undertaking a daring mission for one of her regular, and very wealthy, clients, she decides to take grab the chance to upgrade her life - even if it means operating outside of her comfort zone. Unfortunately, there is a lot more at stake than Jazz knows, and her actions uncover a conspiracy to take over control of Artemis, and spark a chain of events that put her life in danger. 

I soon found myself completely absorbed in this story, which is narrated by the actor Rosario Dawson, who handles all the accents pretty well (although her English accent leaves a lot to be desired!). It is beautifully paced and the excitement ramps up very nicely, to the thrilling ending.

This is one of those stories that would make an excellent mini-series, should it be picked up by the likes of Netflix, as it has a great leading lady and a good range of strong characters in the rest of the cast - and it certainly has plenty of scope for a sequel or two as well.

If you like a space story, with a bit of a difference, with a good mix of adventure and science, then this should hit the spot. Perhaps not as good as The Martian, but still absorbing and very satisfying.

Artemis is available in print, ebook and audio formats from your favourite book retailer now.

From the audio cover:

The best-selling author of The Martian returns with an irresistible new near-future thriller - a heist story set on the moon.

Jazz Bashara is a criminal. Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you're not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you've got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she's stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself - and that now her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

Bringing to life Weir's brash, whip-smart protagonist is actress Rosario Dawson (Marvel's The Defenders, Sin City, Death Proof). With the breathless immediacy of one realizing they're one cracked helmet visor away from oblivion, Dawson deftly captures Jazz's first-person perspective – all while delivering sarcastic Weir-ian one-liners and cracking wise in the face of death. And with a cast of diverse characters from all walks of life calling Artemis home, Dawson tonally somersaults to voice Kenyan prime ministers, Ukrainian scientists, and Saudi welders. It's a performance that transports listeners right alongside Jazz, matching her step for step on every lunar inch of her pulse-pounding journey.

Midtown Huckster (Alex Cohen Book 3) by Leopold Borstinski

Midtown Huckster (Alex Cohen Book 3) by Leopold Borstinski.
Published 16th July 2020 by Sobriety Press.
Read July 2020.

Prohibition is over and Alex needs a new way to make money, although his job running Murder Inc. for Lucky Luciano does put him in good stead with the Syndicate.

Before long Alex finds himself trying to find ways to expand the prostitution racket for his powerful friends and taking a piece of the action from the next big thing - heroin.

Being a gangster is not quite the same these days though. With the high profile take-down of Al Capone on tax evasion charges, the Feds have found a new way to make a dent in organised crime and they are now casting an eye on operations in New York.

When Alex's boss, Lucky Luciano is taken down for racketeering, Alex loses his protection and becomes the next target for the ambitious law man who did for his mentor. Time has come for Alex to decide if he should cut a deal and grass up his criminal colleagues to save his own skin, or settle for prison time. Is this the end for Alex?


Welcome to the third adventure in the historical noir Alex Cohen series, Midtown Huckster.

When we last met Alex, he had become a great success in organised crime circles, rubbing shoulders with some very big names, running booze during Prohibition, and heading up the Murder Inc. operation for Lucky Luciano. However, his marriage had fallen victim to the amount of time and attention he spent on his nefarious work undertakings, his penchant for "skirt", and the lies he told - not to mention the danger he put his family in.

The end of Prohibition marks a big change for Alex. Although he is still flavour of the month with his boss Luciano, and continuing to run a slick hit man operation, organised crime is going through some big changes. With the loss of income from illegal booze sales, crime bosses are now looking at drugs to fill the gap - namely heroin. Although reluctant, at first, to get on board with this new direction, Alex recognises that there is big money to be made, and he is soon up to the gills in the drug venture and reaping the substantial monetary rewards. His marriage is still on the rocks though, even though he seems less enamoured by the attention of other females as time goes by.

But this is also a time of uncomfortable attention from the Feds, buoyed as they are from their success in bringing down Capone, and they are now making trouble in New York that will soon make Alex's life very difficult, and this all adds gloriously to the seedy gangster scene.

I take my hat off to Leopold Borstinski at the way he has manged to find ever more interesting storylines for Alex Cohen as this series progresses. He really seems to have found his niche in the noir historical crime genre, and this adventure is absolutely packed with glorious mob detail that gives the reader a real feel for the era.

In this book, we are in the middle of the 1930s organised crime world and can fully experience the way New York crime lords are organising themselves along syndicate lines, with gangs working closer together and sanctioning each other's operations in a more corporate way - although this doesn't mean they always agree and are not trying to out manoeuvre each other all the time behind the scenes! We also get to see how and why drugs become a big focus for organised crime, which was really interesting.

This is also the era of Eliot Ness and company, with the Feds getting a taste of how they could bring down some of the big criminal fraternity, such as Al Capone and Lucky Luciano. Although everyone surely knows the name of Capone, and is aware of how he met his downfall, I found it fascinating the way Leopold Borstinski shows us how the the attention of the Feds was also focused on the gangs in New York, and that they also had success in making a dent in organised crime there too - gone were the days when you could payoff a few cops and judges, or threaten jurors and witnesses; this is the age of The Untouchables.

Interestingly, this also brings home how organised crime gangs were starting to think seriously about how they needed to create legitimate fronts for their operations that could provide a way to hide the sources of their ill-gotten gains and launder the huge amounts of money their were making.

Leopold Borstinski is really warming to his task in this episode of Alex's life. There is a tantalising feel of The Godfather and a touch of Goodfellas that makes it all very enjoyable - in fact, I think this is the best one yet - and I look forward to much more of this is Alex's next outing, Casino Chiseler.

Midtown Huckster is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer, or via the links below:

Thank you to Leopold Borstinski and Sobriety Press for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review, and to Damp Pebbles Tours for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

From the cover of the book: 

Can you keep your gelt and freedom when the cops have enough evidence to take you down?
1930s Jewish gangster, Alex Cohen runs Murder Inc for Lucky Luciano. After the death of Prohibition he must find a new way to make money, just as the cops are baying at his heels. When Luciano goes down for racketeering, Alex loses his protection and is arrested for tax evasion-he must decide between saving his skin and ratting out his friends.

If he chooses prison time then his gang will fall apart and he will end up with nothing. If he squeals then he will have to flee the city he loves and the family he once adored. What would you do in a world where nobody can be trusted and you have everything to lose?

The third book in the Alex Cohen series is an historical noir novel, which plunges you deep into the early days of narcotics trafficking and the Jewish New York mob. Leopold Borstinski's piercing crime fiction delivers a fix to every reader like heroin from a needle.

About the author: 

Leopold Borstinski is an independent author whose past careers have included financial journalism, business management of financial software companies, consulting and product sales and marketing, as well as teaching.
There is nothing he likes better so he does as much nothing as he possibly can. He has travelled extensively in Europe and the US and has visited Asia on several occasions. Leopold holds a Philosophy degree and tries not to drop it too often.

He lives near London and is married with one wife, one child and no pets.

Social media links:

Twitter      Facebook      Instagram      Author's website

Monday, July 20, 2020

The Strange Book of Jacob Boyce by Tom Gillespie

The Strange Book of Jacob Boyce by Tom Gillespie.
Published 21st July 2020 by Vine Leaves Press.
Read April 2020.

Dr Jacob Boyce becomes obsessed with a mysterious painting, that he believes holds some important life changing message - if only he could decipher the clues. He has been trying to crack the code of the painting for months, letting all areas of his life slide - including his marriage.

So when his wife goes missing, the police put her disappearance down to a marital dispute, but Jacob is convinced that her absence is somehow linked to the painting that has captured his attention.

When Jacob follows his wife's trail to Spain, he embarks on a cat and mouse chase that leads him into the realms of madness and eventually takes him to an art forger's studio in Madrid, where he comes face to face with the horrific truth.


The Strange Book of Tom Boyce is a difficult book to describe, but I am going to start with calling it a mind-bending, intense adventure incorporating the history of art and the occult. Intriguing, no?

Dr Jacob Boyce becomes obsessed with a strange painting, purported to be a work by the famous Spanish artist Diego Velazquez, that he comes across in a Glasgow art gallery - one that will alter the course of his life. He believes that this painting contains hidden clues to a riddle he has been trying to solve for months, and may in fact have been painted by an almost unknown artist called Maneul Pinero, who was an apprentice of Velazquez. But the truth that he is searching for remains tantalisingly out of reach, no matter how many hours he spends studying it. His findings are meticulously recorded in his most precious of possessions - his notebook. 

Quite how this is related to his subject of Earth Sciences, that he teaches at the University, is beyond the understanding of his wife, Ella, and his colleagues. His obsession consumes him to the point that is is the most important thing in his life, so we are not surprised when his wife does a disappearing act. But there is something not quite right about her departure and Jacob becomes convinced that this has something to do with the strange painting. 

Following a bizarre series of clues, Jacob pursues his wife to Spain where he learns that she has been travelling in the company of a mysterious man. What follows is a surreal odyssey that brings Jacob into contact with a series of curious and increasingly nightmarish characters, who fuel his fixation on his search for truth about the artist Manuel Pinero. As Jacob's sanity starts to fracture, he becomes ever more desperate to find his wife, convinced that she is in terrible danger. The fabric of his reality starts to fold in itself and Jacob is no longer sure what is real and what is not.

But Jacob is right about one thing. There is something very unnatural going on here and it seems Pinero may have been meddling with more that just the spectrum of paint colours when he was creating his unorthodox paintings.

This is the kind of book that messes with your head. At points you are sure you are keeping up with Jacob's journey of discovery, painstakingly piecing together each little clue, and can almost see the answers he is looking for, but then the story takes an abrupt turn towards the chilling territory of a full-on horror novel and completely knocks you for six. It becomes a different sort of creature altogether and will have you questioning what exactly the story is all about by the time you reach the end. I am still pondering this one and will be for some while, I think.

There are some delicious elements to be picked out here, that certainly get under your skin. Inevitably, there is a comparison to be made with The Da Vinci code (fast paced adventure about clues to be garnered from works of get the idea), but The Strange Book of Jacob Boyce also put me in mind of a couple of films too - they are After Hours (a surreal film about a night in New York that goes bad real quick!) and the Johnny Depp film The Ninth Gate (loosely based on the novel The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte, in which a rare book dealer becomes obsessed with finding a book that purportedly contains the secret to summoning the devil).

This is a weird one, but there is something compulsive about it too. I confess I am not entirely sure I understood this book, but is is definitely one that I will be thinking about for some time. I am convinced that this is the kind of book you need to read more than once to appreciate fully - the kind of book where you will understand more each time you read it. 

It's a book that demands to be discussed over a glass of finest Rioja, so would make an excellent choice for the more daring book clubs among you - give it a go, you may find you have a taste for the more bizarre...and the Rioja!

The Strange Book Of Jacob Boyce is available to buy from your favourite book retailer from 21st July 2020, or via the link HERE.

Thank you to Tom Gillespie and Vine Leaves Press 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 blog tour.

From the cover of the book:

A spiralling obsession.
 A missing wife. 
A terrifying secret. 
Will he find her before it’s too late?

When Dr Jacob Boyce’s wife goes missing, the police put it down to a simple marital dispute.
 Jacob, however, fears something darker. 

Following her trail to Spain, he becomes convinced that 
Ella’s disappearance is tied to a mysterious painting whose hidden geometric 
and numerical riddles he’s been obsessively trying to solve for months. 

Obscure, hallucinogenic clues, and bizarre, larger-than-life characters, 
guide an increasingly unhinged Jacob through a nightmarish Spanish landscape 
to an art forger’s studio in Madrid, 
where he comes face-to-face with a centuries-old horror, 
and the terrifying, mind-bending, truth about his wife.

About the author:

Tom Gillespie grew up in a small town just outside Glasgow.

After completing a Masters in English at Glasgow University, he spent the next ten years pursuing a musical career as a singer/songwriter, playing, recording and touring the UK and Europe with his band.
He now lives in Bath with his wife, daughter and hyper-neurotic cat, where he works at the university as an English lecturer. Tom writes long and short stories.
His stories have appeared in many magazines, journals and e-zines.
He is co-author of Glass Work Humans-an anthology of stories and poems, published by Valley Press.

Visit Tom at:

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Darkness Comes by John Lynch

Darkness Comes by John Lynch.
Published 28th December 2019 by Mandrill Press.
Read July 2020.

Ted has lived a life that can hardly be called virtuous - he has been selfish, greedy and even committed the mortal sin of murder - and he has never given a thought about what might happen to him on Judgement Day (if he believed in that sort of thing).

But that day has now come - rather inconveniently while he is in a hotel room on holiday in the Canary Islands, and in the company of a young woman.

It is time for Ted's life to be held in the balance - for his immortal soul to be judged. And in the words of St. Peter - "It doesn't look good."


What a fascinating read this book turned out to be!

Ted appears to have reached the end of his allotted time on the earth, when Judgement Day comes calling while he is engaged in a strenuous amorous adventure with a much younger woman, during his holiday in The Canaries.

The time has arrived for Ted's life to be judged and the decision to be made about where his soul will spend eternity, and since he has lived a less than innocent life things are not looking good.

Ted's trial takes the form of a cross between This Is Your Life and a game show, as episodes from his past are displayed on a huge television screen for the jury and audience to see, and pass judgement on. These snatches of Ted's life almost always seem to revolve round the women in his life, the decisions he has made in rspect of his relationships and the resulting fall-out.

But Ted is not friendless in this surreal and frightening environment, because he has been appointed an advocate to plead his case by St Peter - someone very close to him in the past, who is free to cast a different light on what at first appears to be an open and shut case, by bringing up examples of Ted's life which have shown him to be a worthy human being.

Ted's life (or more accurately, death) hangs in the balance - and I promise you will be unable to put this book down until you know the outcome! But this is a spoiler free zone!

This book asks some interesting philosophical questions about how you decide whether someone's life tips the balance between a good or bad one, in the most entertaining of ways. Not to mention the poser of how much trauma in your young life can be seen as an influence on your future behaviour, and the nature of guilt. No one is wholly good or bad and even many of the World's acknowledged monsters had people who loved them: even the blackest of hearts may be capable of mercy and kindness at times. Can cases be made be made to mitigate the blame?

Of course, John Lynch's book holds with the religious theology that there will be a judging at the end of your life and a decision will be made about where your soul will spend eternity - Heaven or Hell - whether or not you believe this yourself. But at the same time, this book also turns this idea on its head. In his reality, humankind have some serious misconceptions about the nature of God and religion, and who has the right to judge whether someone has lived a good life or not. I am not a religious person, but found this very thought provoking, none-the-less. At the very least, this may lead you to question how the balance of your own life falls...and perhaps make amends, if necessary!

Darkness Comes is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer, or via the link HERE.

Thank you to John Lynch and Mandrill Press for provding 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:

Ted has been many things……selfish, greedy, and even a murderer. 
How will he survive judgment day? 

Ted’s in a hotel room, with a woman named Bella, in the Canary Islands. 
He’s moments from death. 

In retrospect, he’d made it to the end and never paid for the drug dealing, gun running, 
or even the people he’s killed. Let the trial begin. St. Peter said, “It doesn’t look good. ”

This other world, one we think of as the afterlife, isn’t as advertised. 
There is a God, but this Deity isn’t the God people imagine. 

Ted’s judgment day will peel back the layers of his life. Is there redemption to be found? 
Will the ruling be Heaven or Hell? Or is there something else? 

Before they can begin, Ted needs an advocate. 
After a lifetime of deceit, will anyone stand for him? 

You’ll love this clever look at a life, because what we see on the surface is often only 
a shade of the truth. 

Get it now.

About the author:

For 40+ years, John Lynch was an international salesman. He has lived and worked on every continent except Antarctica, but was always a writer, though; the very first writing success he remembers was standing on the stage of Benton Park Primary School in Newcastle upon Tyne at the age of ten, reading to the assembled school and parents a story he had written. It still gives him pleasure to know that one of his fellow pupils -- a man he has dinner with once a year when he goes back to Newcastle -- was nagged all the way home that afternoon by his mother demanding, "Why can't you write like John Lynch?".

He sold my first freelance piece to Good Housekeeping Magazine in 1989 and that was a good year for him - it was also when he sold his first book to a publisher and his first short story to BBC Radio. (It's called Bird and you can listen to it on his blog). His mother, the daughter of a Durham miner who first went down the pit when he was 12 years old, was proud that her son had a story on the radio -- but even prouder that it was read by Clarrie Grundy from the long-running radio serial, The Archers.

He has ghost written about 50 books that have been published in other people's names (you'll find a video about that on his Author Page) as well as writing his own work. As himself, he writes under two names:

As R J Lynch for a series of five books set in County Durham (with one in the revolutionary American colonies) in the 1760s.

As John Lynch for contemporary fiction and two non-fiction books.

See more about John Lynch here: Author's website     Twitter

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Shadows Of The Woods by Duncan Thompson


Shadows of the Woods
by Duncan Thompson

Published 6th June 2020
in paperback and ebook formats
by Panther Publishing.

Faceless shadows, a night that will never be the same, and a sinister force. 
If you go down to the woods tonight, you're in for a sinister surprise.

When a stag party decide to camp in the woods, 
they soon discover that a malevolent force has them in their sights. 
As the unknown creeps ever closer, Joe and his friends must survive. 

To survive, Joe must learn to fight. If he fights, he could lose it all.

A rollercoaster ride of blood, sweat and tears, Shadows of the Woods will keep you hooked, 
all whilst throwing nostalgic homage to slashers of the late seventies and early eighties.

A Night Terror that you won't be forgetting any time soon.

Shadows Of The Woods is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer, of via these links:

About the author:

Duncan has spent most of his life in a small market town in West Yorkshire — the same town in
which most of his stories are set under the guise of Ravenfield.

Duncan has been writing works of fiction since the age of seven. In those early days, his stories often involved himself and his friends being transported to fantasy worlds. However, as a teenager, Duncan fell in love with horror movies and his writing took a whole new direction.

Duncan still lives in West Yorkshire with his partner and their two young children. He also has slight obsession with Spider-Man and the actor Bruce Campbell, as well as having an addiction to vinyl records, coffee and Lego.

Find out more about Duncan here:     Twitter     Facebook     Author's website

Monday, July 13, 2020

Far From The Tree (audio book) by Rob Parker

Far From The Tree by Rob Parker.
An Audble Original, narrated by Warren Brown, released 2nd July 2020.
Listened July 2020.

With the discovery of twenty-seven bodies, buried in a shallow woodland trench, DI Brendan Foley suddenly finds himself in charge of one of the biggest murder investigations the country has ever seen.

While horrified, Foley is aware enough to realise that this case could be the making of his career - and is something he never thought he would experience in his home town of Warrington.

But all too soon, this case comes too close to home for comfort and Foley is forced to make some very difficult choices. Is this a case too far and is it worth the risks involved?


If you have been following my blog, you can hardly fail to be aware that I am a big fan of Rob Parker's work, and have absolutely inhaled his Ben Bracken series. I highly recommend the Ben Bracken books if you love a big, bold action thriller - Bracken is uncompromising in his ways, but has a strict moral code at heart, and this makes him just the kind of hero you can attach yourself to. They are corkers! So I was chomping at the bit to get into Rob's new series, especially since it is set in his own backyard of Warrington.

Far From The Tree, the first in a new crime trilogy from Rob, offers a wonderfully gritty Northern Noir police procedural story, with a very different kind of hero from Mr Bracken. This time, our protagonist is Detective Inspector Brendan Foley - a man who has spent his whole life in Warrington, slap bang in-between Manchester and Liverpool, and whose roots go deep into the local area. He is a dedicated police officer, but Foley is not your normal run of the mill copper, because he has a few skeletons he would rather like to keep hidden in relation to his family background - ones that are straining to burst out into the open as the horrifying case of the Warrington Twenty-seven gets underway....

The investigation is destined to derail Foley, as it becomes very personal indeed, and there are plenty of delicious wtf moments throughout that hit you like the proverbial truck, as the chilling truth becomes clear...but no spoilers, now! I will say that this takes you to some dark places, and sets everything up beautifully for book two, which I am now eagerly awaiting. There is also the most delectable of little titbits in this tale that will have fans of the Ben Bracken books grinning -  know I did.

This story is full of everything you want from a slick police procedural and crime caper. It is so evocative of 70s and early 80s crime strories, but with a clever modern twist - think The Long Good Friday and the wonderful Fox with Peter Vaughan (should you be old enough to remember this), all tied up with a big Line of Duty ribbon (in blood red, of course). There are good guys, bad guys and those who cross both sides of the line - of both the male and female variety - which give this very wide appeal. I particularly enjoyed smart, gutsy DS Iona Madison, who Rob uses to share his love of boxing with the reader.

Unusually, this new trilogy is being released in audio format, by Audible Originals, before coming out in print and I found this rather enjoyable. The audio book is narrated by Warren Brown (of Luther fame) with aplomb and the perfect intonation for a story of this kind. The pacing and suspense are nigh on perfect, and will have you sitting on the edge of your seat - and periodically falling off at the big hitting moments. I always know I am onto a winning audio book when I find myself stopping what I am doing and just listening, and I confess that much of the housework was neglected while  was listening to this one (good one, Rob!). 

I think it's fair to say that this is the kind of book Rob Parker was born to write. I have seen Rob blossom as a writer with each successive book, as he matures and gets to grip with his craft, and he uses every bit of his considerable skill here - weaving multiple threads and complex characters to great effect, and completely drawing you in to the world he has created. This is outstanding work and I absolutely loved it!

And can I just say, as a connoisseur of a clever book title that Far From The Tree is a stroke of genius!

Far From The Tree is available to buy now from Audible UK and will be published in paperback by Lume Books in July 2021.

Thank you to Amber Choudhary of Midas Public Relations for giving me the chance to listen to Far From The Tree in return for an honest review, and for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. This one is so good that I bought an Audible copy too, so I can listen again and again!

From the cover:

Twenty-seven bodies, vacuum-packed, buried in a woodland trench - some have been there for years, some for just days. DI Foley finds himself the Senior Investigating Officer on one of the largest murder cases the country has ever seen. This could make his career.

But as new discoveries unfold, this horrific gangland crime suddenly gets personal. Too personal. Foley has a choice. Solve the crime and risk his family? Or leave well alone? To a man like Brendan, that’s no choice at all…

Far From The Tree is the first in a new crime trilogy from Rob Parker.

About the author:

Rob Parker is the author of the Ben Bracken thrillers - A Wanted Man, Morte Point, The Penny Black, Till Morning Is Nigh and the standalone post-Brexit country-noir Crook’s Hollow. A member of the Northern Crime Syndicate and a co-host of the For Your Reconsideration film podcast, Rob is also a regular voice on the Blood Brothers Crime Podcast. A champion of encouraging literacy and creative writing, Rob spends a lot of time travelling to schools giving talks across the country. Rob Parker lives in Warrington with his family.

Rob Parker commented: ‘Working with Audible has been both a joy and a game-changer. I’m honoured and thrilled to have their faith with this canvas on which to tell a much larger, more complete story than I could ever have dreamed previously. Not only this, but to be able to write a crime trilogy set in the area I grew up in - an area which doesn’t receive much limelight or exposure - is a real delight, and I’m supremely thankful to Audible for giving me this opportunity. I’m taking this chance with both hands, aim to repay their faith in spades and I’m determined to show you ain’t seen nothing yet.’

About the narrator: 

Warren Brown is an actor and former 2 x World Thai Boxing Champion. Following his performance in the BAFTA-winning, three-part event Occupation, appearing opposite Stephen Graham, Warren went on to star alongside Idris Elba as DS Ripley, the role for which he became most well-known, in the BBC's multi award-winning series Luther. He was nominated in 2014 for a Critics Choice Television Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal. Warren can currently be seen as 'Sergeant Thomas 'Mac' McAllister' in the highly anticipated reboot of the Emmy-nominated series, Strike Back, for Sky/HBO Cinemax.

About Audible:

Among the acclaimed performers who have narrated works of literature for Audible are Zachary Quinto, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Lily Collins, Emma Thompson and Jesse Eisenberg. Audible Studios has won a Grammy Award, for its production of Janis Ian’s memoir Society’s Child, and has also been recognised with the Audie Award for Audiobook of the Year, for Colin Firth’s performance of Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair. Audible invented and commercialised the first digital audio player in 1997, and has since been at the forefront of the explosively growing audiobook download segment. On average, Audible members listen to Audible content for 2 hours a day. In 2018, Audible customers downloaded nearly 3 billion hours of content.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The Women Writers' Handbook

The Women Writers' Handbook edited by Ann Sandham.

Published 5th June 2020 by Aurora Metro Books.

Read July 2020.

This book is a special revised edition of the publisher's inaugural, prize-winning publication, produced to mark their 30th anniversary as an independent publisher.

Featuring essays, short stories, poems and interviews with  over 30 top female writers - both emerging names and established authors - and also writing workshops to inspire a new generation of female talent, 20% of the profits from its sales will go towards the campaign to create of a bronze statue of Virginia Woolf.


What a fabulous source book - full of inspirational essays, short stories, poems and interviews with some top female writers - about the writing process, feminism and the experience of female authors, designed to get the juices flowing for any woman who has the hankering to write.

The full list of contributors is as follows:

A.S. Byatt, Saskia Calliste, April De Angelis, Kit de Waal, Carol Ann Duffy, Sian Evans, Philippa Gregory, Mary Hamer, Jackie Kay, Shuchi Kothari, Bryony Lavery, Annee Lawrence, Roseanne Liang, Suchen Christine Lim, Jackie McCarrick, Laura Miles, Raman Mundair, Magda Oldziejewska, Kaite O’Reilly, Jacqueline Pepall, Gabi Reigh, Djamila Ribeiro, Fiona Rintoul, Jasvinder Sanghera, Anne Sebba, Kalista Sy, Debbie Taylor, Madeleine Thien, Claire Tomalin, Ida Vitale, Sarah Waters, Emma Woolf.

If this was not enough to make you want to grab your note book and pen and embark on a writing project, then there are also writing exercises designed to stimulate the creative impulses and a directory of resources to help you on your way!

And... quotes from some of the top women writers, both contemporary, and from history, are spread liberally throughout the publication, as encouragement.

"You can't use up creativity.
The more you use, the more you have."
- Maya Angelou

The Women Writers' Handbook is available to buy from your favourite book retailer now, or via this link Amazon UK.

If I have not already persuaded you that you need a copy of this book to hand on the writing desk you are now surely going to purchase (should you not have one already), perhaps it will help if you know that 20% of the profits from the sale of this book will go towards the Virginia Woolf statue campaign!

The Virginia Woolf statue campaign: The proposed statue will be located in Richmond on Thames where Virginia and Leonard Woolf lived from 1914-1924 and set up the Hogarth Press. A public consultation by the local council was 83% in favour of the statue and planning permission has been granted to site the first life-size statue in bronze of the famous author on Richmond riverside where the author walked her dog daily. Over 20% of the £50,000 target has been raised so far.

See more about the campaign HERE.
To donate to the campaign, please click HERE.

"A woman must have money and a room of her own
if she is to write fiction."
- Virginia Woolf

Thank you to Aurora Metro 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 blog tour.

From the cover of the book:

To celebrate Aurora Metro's 30th anniversary as an independent publisher 
with 20% of profits to go to the Virginia Woolf statue campaign. 

Includes essays, fiction, poems and interviews with top female writers. 
This is a special edition of the indie publisher's inaugural publication which won the 
Pandora Award from Women-in-Publishing. 

Inspirational in its original format, this new edition features literary works 
and exclusive interviews with over 30 women writers, both emerging authors 
and luminaries of contemporary literature. 

In her foreword to the book, publisher and managing editor Cheryl Robson, 
describes the development of Aurora Metro Books to becoming a leading indie press 
and saw the company named a finalist in the 2019 IPG Diversity in Publishing Awards. 

Includes the original writing workshops plus quirky black and white illustrations.

About the editor:

Ann Sandham has edited The Women Writers' Handbook for 2020 for Aurora Metro as a guest editor. 

In her day job, she is a Commissioning Editor for Ladybird Children's Books at Penguin Random House.

Previously, she worked at Cambridge University Press commissioning and editing educational textbooks and examinations.