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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The Malan Witch by Catherine Cavendish

The Malan Witch by Catherine Cavendish.

Published 18th August 2020  by Silver Shamrock Publishing.

From the cover of the book:

"Naught remained of their bodies to be buried, for the crows took back what was theirs."

An idyllic coastal cottage near a sleepy village. What could be more perfect? 

For Robyn Crowe, borrowing her sister’s recently renovated holiday home for the summer seems just what she needs to deal with the grief of losing her beloved husband.

But behind those pretty walls lie many secrets, and legends of a malevolent sisterhood—two witches burned for their evil centuries earlier. 

Once, both their vile spirits were trapped there. Now, one has been released. One who is determined to find her sister. Only Robyn stands in her way.

And the crow has returned...

***********************************

If you haven't come across books by Catherine Cavendish before this is an excellent place to start, as at only 114 pages it manages to pack a pretty scary punch and will leave you with the kind of chill in your heart that she is so good at eliciting in her readers. I first came across her work earlier this year when I read her wonderful Bronte inspired tale The Garden of Bewitchment, which I can highly recommend for some excellent Gothic horror vibes - see my review HERE.

This novella draws heavily on some well known and terrifying themes that are guaranteed to scare the bejesus out of you - an eerie village full of people who are not quite as friendly as they might be... a newly widowed woman, weighed down by the loss of her beloved husband... all alone in an isolated cottage that has a history steeped in witchcraft and dark folklore...  just the ticket!

It rattles along at a good pace, starting gently with just the right amount of creepy suspense and ramping up to full on witchy combat between good and evil, against the backdrop of a tiny Cornish village that takes its folklore very seriously indeed, and has the kind of ending that will have you holding your babies very close and sleeping with the lights on.

Shades of Susan Hill, Tales of the Unexpected, Hammer House of Horror and the Wicker Man can be found in these pages, all combined into a spooky tale that is just perfect for this time of year!

The Malan Witch is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer in paperback and ebook formats.

Thank you to Catherine Cavendish for gifting me a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

About the author:

Catherine Cavendish writes horror fiction - frequently with ghostly, supernatural, Gothic and haunted house themes.

Her latest novella, The Malan Witch, has recently been published by Silver Shamrock. An idyllic cottage set on a rugged coastline seems the perfect place for Robyn to relax and recuperate. But recent renovations have released the spirit of an evil witch bent on revenge...

Her latest novel, The Garden of Bewitchment, is out now from Flame Tree Press. Historical haunted Gothic horror set in the wilds of the Yorkshire moors - pure Bronte country - with a Bronte theme.

Also from Flame Tree Press is The Haunting of Henderson Close, a ghostly horror set in Edinburgh's Old Town.

Her novella, The Darkest Veil, is published from Crossroad Press. In case you were thinking of messing with an ouija board - don't. Especially if you're not prepared to follow the rules.

Her other novellas Cold Revenge, Miss Abigail's Room, The Demons of Cambian Street, Dark Avenging Angel, Linden Manor, The Devil Inside Her and The Second Wife have now been released in new editions by Crossroad Press.

Her other novels The Devil's Serenade and Saving Grace Devine have also been released in new editions by Crossroad Press, as has my novel of the Lancashire Witches, The Pendle Curse

Also available  from Kensington-Lyrical - the Nemesis of the Lords trilogy: Wrath of the Ancients, Waking the Ancients and Damned by the Ancients - set in Egypt and Vienna and featuring the sinister Dr. Emeryk Quintillus whose obsession has stayed with him long past the grave.


Saturday, October 24, 2020

Dangerous To Know (Alvie Knightly Trilogy Book Three) by Chloe Esposito

 

Dangerous To Know (Alvie Knightly Book Three) by Chloe Esposito.

Published 15th October 2020 by Penguin Books.

From the cover of the book:

Once, serial killer Alvie Knightly was living the dream.

Unlimited cash.
An Italian getaway.
A hot new boyfriend . . .

How the mighty fall.

One year - and one very unfortunate incident - later, Alvie is homeless, surviving on meal deals, and counting her dwindling pennies.

It's time for one last hit, and if anyone can pull it off - in six-inch heels - it's Alvie.

But if she's to succeed in her mission to avenge her ex, win back her money and secure her future, she'll have to face her most terrifying enemy yet . . .

Her past.

**********************************

The first two books in the Alvie Knightly Trilogy by Chloe Esposito, Mad and Bad, were certainly quite a ride, so I was really looking forward to meeting up with the audacious Alvie once again.

At the beginning of this final instalment in Alvie's story, we find her in a major slump after the 'unfortunate' Nino incident - living in a hostel in north London and surviving on whatever she can scrape together of her seriously dwindled funds, while avoiding the attentions of the police.

Alvie needs to get her act together if she is going to embark on her scheme of revenge against those she considers responsible for her plight, and get what she feels she deserves. To do this she must take on yet another identity - this time as Cork born Irish colleen Siobhan Faelan... dyed ginger hair and all (and in ALL the right places!). The target is wealthy businessman Edwin Forbes, who she hopes to ensnare via his Instagram famous, do-gooder wife, Tiffany...

The story does take a little time to get rolling in this third book before Alvie has fully broken out of her depressive fug, but once she gets going we are off on another mad-cap, darkly comic and blood-letting adventure of the Alvie brand - via sushi-chef knife skills, pug puppy-sitting responsibilities, farcical Venetian escapades, saucy seductions, and murderous Machiavellian schemes, in pursuit of her plan.... which doesn't turn out quite as she intended.

Interestingly, this time around we get to see a different side of Alvie, because she develops feelings which distract her from her goals and cause her to reflect on her past in a way she never has before. The scenes she recalls from her childhood give us an intriguing glimpse into the development of her character and the complicity of her mother in how she has turned out, and it is for this reason that this third book is not as full on as the first two. This is a trade off of sorts on the part of Chloe Esposito, but I rather enjoyed learning more about the Alvie inside as it makes her less of a caricature -  and it makes the ending of the book all the better, I think.

It's mad in ways that are unexpected, bad in the form of the dark secrets revealed, and very dangerous for the emotions - everything you need to tie up the threads of the last episode of a trilogy - and I thoroughly enjoyed it! Plenty of laughs too, especially over Alvie's attempts to be spiritual... and Irish.

Dangerous To Know is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer in paperback, ebook and audio formats.

Thank you to Chloe Esposito and Penguin Books for providing me with a gifted copy of this book in return for an honest review, and to Sriya Varadharajan at Penguin for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.




Thursday, October 22, 2020

The Once And Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

The Once And Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow.

Published 15th October 2020 by Orbit.

From the cover of the book:

In 1893, there's no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. 

If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when the three Eastwood sisters join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten ways that might turn the women's movement into the witch's movement. 

Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote - and perhaps not even to live - the sisters must delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

There's no such thing as witches. But there will be.

**************************************

Where to even start.... this is quite simply one of the best books I have read all year!

This is a most wonderful mix of historical fiction and fantasy that pulls you in completely and works its magic on you like the spells our three Eastwood sisters conjure in New Salem. Three sisters torn apart by tragic family history that fools them into believing they have betrayed each other, who are unexpectedly reunited - three sisters who fall prophetically into the roles of warrior maiden, powerful mother and sage crone, whose destiny sets them on a path that will change the world in which they live.

It is a stroke of genius for Alix Harrow to set this book about witches in a time that we do not normally associate with magic. This is an era when women are fighting for the vote as a way to get their voices heard - a modern era... and era of progress... of industry. But it is, of course, impossible to set a book anywhere near Salem, made famous for its witch trials, and ignore the legacy of the women that lived there before, and our author weaves her tale of witchcraft beautifully into the fabric of the atypical backdrop she has chosen.

This novel thrums with the power of women - maidens, mothers and crones - who have been disenfranchised, brought low in a world of men, and forced to weave traces of their magic into songs, fairy tales and nursery rhymes to keep them hidden, waiting for the time when their sisters can rise again. Magic remains in this world, passed down the female line in many different cultures, but of necessity it has a form so subtle and secret that it takes a mighty catalyst like the reunion of the Eastwood sisters to bring matters to a spectacular head.

What starts as a tale of a bustling metropolis at the end of the nineteenth century with eyes set firmly on the future, but with underlying whispers of latent magic, morphs beautifully into a full on tale of witches gathering their strength for a battle against the forces of darkness... and it is glorious.

There are some lovely ideas worked into this story that I found captivating. The gathering of spells and folklore, rich in sorcery, from women of so many different cultures and backgrounds made my heart sing - the notion of so many different kinds of magic, kept secret for so long, all brought together in a single purpose is enchanting (please pardon the pun). And I really enjoyed that Alix Henderson gives an interesting role for the good men in this tale - the men with secret magic of their own.

This is perfectly paced, full of danger and adventure, of love and loss, of camaraderie and conjuring, and it was an absolute pleasure to race through the pages of this book. What a perfect read for the spooky season!

The Once And Future Witches is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer in hardcover, ebook and audio formats.

Thank you to Alix Harrow and Orbit for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review and to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for inviting me to be part of this tour.




Monday, October 19, 2020

Should We Fall Behind by Sharon Duggal

 

Should We Fall Behind by Sharon Duggal.

Published 20th October 2020 by Bluemoose Books.

From the cover of the book:

Jimmy Noone escapes his difficult life in a small town and finds himself living on the streets of a big city where he meets Betwa, who brings with her a chance of real friendship and a glimpse of new hope. Betwa disappears and Jimmy walks across the sprawling metropolis searching for her.

He arrives on Shifnal Road on the other side of the river where people from all over the world live side by side yet some inhabitants are so isolated they seem to have disappeared altogether. Jimmy becomes the catalyst for their lives colliding.

Journeys to the street and to the city are retraced, so too are stories abundant with lost dreams, unrivalled friendship, profound love and stifling grief, each underpinned with the subtle threads of commonality which intersect them all.

Should We Fall Behind is about the passing of time, and the intricate weaves of joy and suffering, love and loss which shape human life along the way. It is about the people who have somehow become invisible, and how their stories make them visible once more.

****************************

Should We Fall Behind is the third book being published by Bluemoose Books as part of their year of publishing only women authors - following on from the gorgeous Saving Lucia by Anna Vaught and the compelling The Sound Mirror by Heidi James. 

Like the two wonderful books before it, Should We Fall Behind is captivating and beautifully character led, making it another winner from Bluemoose!

From the very first page, when we meet Jimmy Noone, as he forms his friendship with the grief stricken Betwa, you know you are in for the kind of story that is going to tug mercilessly at your heartstrings, but both the journey and the destination make this book an absolute pleasure to read.

When Jimmy loses track of Betwa on the streets, his search for his only friend takes us into the heart of the small community of Shifnal Road, which is populated with some beautifully drawn characters - the pensioner Rayya with her terminally ill husband; the feisty single mother Ebele and her lonely daughter Tuli; and the widowed landlord and shopkeeper Nikos - not forgetting the all round good guy and knight in shining armour, Daban. Each of these characters lives an isolated existence, keeping their history and secret sorrows hidden deep, even though they live and work cheek-by-jowl with each other.

Although, on the surface, they seem very different to each other, and the homeless man Jimmy who is sleeping rough in their neighbourhood, there are threads and similarities that connect each of their stories. As the novel progresses, Sharon Duggal lets us experience life from their different points of view, cleverly steering us through the happy and traumatic moments that have brought them to where they are, and showing us the reality of the lives they now live. 

Their lives touch, in such superficial ways, and I found myself yearning for the moment where their bubbles would merge meaningfully and their relationships could develop into something more  - but they are unable to break out of the prisons they have created for themselves without a catalyst, and this proves, most unexpectedly, to be Jimmy.

Jimmy's presence evokes some pretty strong reactions in out little cast of characters - from bringing out Rayya's long supressed motherly feelings;  feeding into Ebele's fear and suspicion;  inspiring Tuli's imagination and longing for a friend; provoking Nikos' sorrowful anger; and spurring the lovely Daban on a quest to do good for everyone - and when a moment of crisis brings them together it sparks real change for them all.

This is a beautiful book that delves into the lives of people suffering deep seated sorrows and loneliness, who have fallen through the cracks and been left behind by the endless rat-race of modern life - and sometimes the people they love.  It is also one which shows us how important it is to look beneath the surface to the person below, and the magic that can happen when love. kindness and understanding are allowed to triumph over fear, discrimination and hatred. I loved it!

Should We Fall Behind is available to buy from Bluemoose Books HERE, or from your favourite book retailer, from 20th October 2020.

Thank you to Sharon Duggal and Bluemoose Books for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

About the author:

Sharon Duggal was born and raised in Handsworth, Birmingham. She now lives in Brighton & Hove. The Handsworth Times is her debut novel.

The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox: Book Trailer

 The Absolute Book

By Elizabeth Knox





Some stories never leave you, others you can never leave...

In February 2021, you’re invited to escape to another world with the masterfully mind-bending novel  The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox.

Perfect for fans of Susanna Clarke and Neil Gaiman. 

Published by Michael Joseph Books
February 2021


More details HERE.


Thursday, October 15, 2020

All Your Little Lies by Marianne Holmes

 

All Your Little Lies by Marianne Holmes.

Publishing in ebook 22nd October 2020 and paperback 19th November 2020 from Agora Books.

From the cover of the book:

When everything you say is a lie, can you even remember the truth?

Annie lives a quiet, contained, content life. She goes to work. She meets her friend. She’s kind of in a relationship. She’s happy. Not lonely at all.

If only more people could see how friendly she is — how eager to help and please. Then she could tick “Full Happy Life” off her list. But no one sees that side of Annie, and she can’t understand why.

That all changes the night Chloe Hills disappears. And Annie is the last person to see her.

This is her chance to prove to everybody that she’s worth something. That is, until she becomes a 
suspect.

Drenched in atmosphere and taut with tension, All Your Little Lies takes a hard look at why good 
people do bad things.

************************************

What a cracking little thriller All Your Little Lies turned out to be! Once I started it, I could not put it down, and ended up reading it in a single sitting - if perching uncomfortably on the edge of your seat counts as sitting!

Annie Marwood is a young woman with a murky past, which unfolds beautifully through out the book in the form of childhood flashbacks, that cut periodically into action taking place in the present. The weight of her history hangs heavy on her and has led to her being a bit of a recluse, choosing to keep away from prying eyes and the chance that anyone might get too close - except for her one and only friend Lauren, although even she does not know the real truth.

Her sheltered life means that she has never really learned how to act in social situations, and she often misreads the intentions of others. She longs to be easy-going and popular like Lauren, and she tries to be as friendly as her limitations will allow, but her efforts sometimes make her come across as odd. She yearns for some love in her life too, and she rather likes her work colleague, Paul - and she is sure he is attracted to her in return, but her attempts to force a relationship with him have been something of a disaster.

Annie is happy in her own way, at least on the surface, but when a young girl goes missing in her small town, the legacy of her past that makes her obsessed with missing children cases leads to her misguidedly getting involved in the investigation and derailing the quiet contented life she has tried to create for herself. It seems Annie was there when the girl disappeared, even if she cannot remember seeing her, but in her desperation to eliminate herself from the inquiries she ends up making herself look like a suspect - and as the lies start to show, the situation snowballs into something dangerous and unpredictable.

Annie is a complex character, socially awkward and not very good at reading others, which means she gets herself into scrapes and difficult situations. There were many times in this book that she was so frustrating I wanted to give her a shake and get her to see sense, but she is so used to telling lies about her own life that she finds it very hard to admit to the truth about anything. 

Interestingly, as Annie's chilling past is revealed - and her secrets are horrifying indeed - you understand completely why she is the way she is, and her parents have been more than complicit in this, especially her mother. Annie is terrified about people finding out about her past and this creates an almost impenetrable barrier that means she cannot let herself be close to anyone. But her history also makes her adept at picking up some of clues about the disappearance of the missing girl that others seem to have missed, which was really rather clever in the part of the author, Marianne Holmes.

The book also asks some intriguing questions about the hysteria that can build up around the cases of missing children, and how both mass media, and social media, can stoke this into a frenzy that brings about devastating consequences.

This is a proper page turner that is perfectly paced and will keep you guessing all the way through. It's tense, exciting, thoroughly absorbing and ultimately rather touching - think Eleanor Oliphant mixed with Girl on a Train and you will get the idea.... but no spoilers from me.

If you like your thrillers tense, this is the one for you!

All Your Little Lies is available to preorder from your favourite book retailer now!

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

About the author:

Marianne Holmes is the author of A Little Bird Told Me, published by Agora Books in 2018. 

She was born in Cyprus and bounced around the UK, Germany, Kuwait and Belgium with her RAF parents as a child but is now firmly based in London with her own family. 

She has degrees in Classics (RHUL) and Linguistics (UCL), neither of which got much use while she worked in marketing.






Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Madam by Phoebe Wynne: Book Trailer

Madam

By Phoebe Wynne



 
Madam is a contemporary Gothic novel, set within the walls of prestigious and remote boarding school Caldonbrae Hall, an institution which instills the young women in its care with four key qualities: confidence, courteousness, charm and courage.

 Our protagonist Rose is a Classics teacher, like Phoebe was herself, and the novel opens with her becoming the first new teacher at Caldonbrae Hall in over a decade. The institution is shrouded in mystery, and stands on an isolated patch of the Scottish coastline, with local villagers steering clear of the imposing building and its inhabitants.

Rose will soon discover that not all is as it seems at the historic institution, and as she begins to uncover what happened to her predecessor, the dark history of the school will come to light...

Coming early 2021 from Quercus Books
#StartTheFire

Available to preorder now from Waterstones HERE.


Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Caribbean Evil by Merryn Allingham

 

Caribbean Evil (The Tremayne Mysteries Series, Book Three) by Merry Allingham.

Published 8th October 2020 by The Verrall Press.

From the over of the book:

When Paradise isn’t quite what it seems …

Nancy Tremayne has landed the job of her dreams in London. But this is 1955 and her husband, Leo, an art expert, has a project in the Caribbean and expects her to travel with him.

Reluctantly, she packs her suitcase for Malfuego, but almost as soon as she arrives on the island, witnesses a brutal attack on a defenceless young man. And there is worse to come.
Much worse.

When a murder occurs, Nancy is asked for help and, along with her husband’s assistant, Archie, discovers the very darkest side of the island. Together, they are forced to confront a terrifying situation —and, at the same time, find their lives have become dangerously entangled. 

After Malfuego, their worlds will never be the same again...

*************************************

Caribbean Evil is the third book in the Tremayne Mayne Mysteries series, following on from Venetian Vendetta and it's prequel The Dangerous Promise, about the thrilling adventures of Nancy Tremayne. I was at a bit of a disadvantage with this one, as I have not read the previous books and had clearly missed out on quite a lot! However, I was still able to piece together enough bits and pieces to get the gist of what had gone before - enough to understand the state of play at the start of the book anyway. Forgive me if you have read the previous books and I am making some false assumptions here!

Nancy has escaped a the arms of a difficult and dangerous man, and is now married to steady Leo Tremayne, an art expert. Although he is quite a bit older than her, and things are not always comfortable between them, they are settling into married life and are looking forward to the birth of their first child - even if their ideas of what married life entails may not always coincide.

In the company of Leo's assistant, Archie, they have set off to a the Caribbean island of Malfuego, where Leo has been employed to help establish a high class art gallery. Nancy was not keen to accompany Leo, and leave her burgeoning career as an apprentice art restorer behind in London, but as his wife she has little choice. It also seems that the situation between her and Archie is a bit fraught after their recent adventure in Venice, which seems to have changed the nature of their relationship.

What follows is a rather exciting mystery set against the backdrop of a small Caribbean island with problems of its own. Rebellion is in the air, and everyone seems to have secrets to hide - drugs, forbidden love, murder and mayhem all have a part to play, as Nancy and Archie set out to get to the bottom of what is going on on Malfuego, and also find their relationship heading into equally dangerous waters.

The contrast of the 1950s glamour of the top set of Malfuego's social scene against the poverty of the less fortunate local population is stark indeed and it makes for a tense backdrop. You are never quite sure what is at the bottom of the whole dangerous mess until very near the end of the story, and there are plenty of red herrings along the way. The whole story is reminiscent of a mix of the charm of a Death in Paradise mystery, mixed with the peril of a James Bond thriller, and I found it all rather enjoyable.

This is definitely the kind of book where you would get the best from the story if you have read the previous ones, as it would have really helped if I had been aware of the whole history between Nancy and Leo, and the circumstances of her adventure with Archie in Venice, but nonetheless it was a nice bit of nostalgic escapism in itself.

Caribbean Evil is available to but now from your favourite book retailer in ebook and paperback formats.

About the author:

Merryn Allingham was born into an army family and spent her childhood moving around the UK and abroad. Unsurprisingly it gave her itchy feet and in her twenties she escaped from an unloved secretarial career to work as cabin crew and see the world.

Merryn still loves to travel and visit new places, especially those with an interesting history, but the arrival of marriage, children and cats meant a more settled life in the south of England, where she has lived ever since. It also gave her the opportunity to go back to 'school' and eventually teach at university.

She has written seven historical novels, all mysteries with a helping of suspense and a dash of romance - sometimes set in exotic locations and often against a background of stirring world events.

She has recently changed genre to write crime. Her debut, Venetian Vendetta, is a classic crime novel set in 1950s Venice. Plenty of intrigue and danger and still with that dash of romance.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Odd Bird by Lee Farnsworth

Odd Bird by Lee Farnsworth.

Published 15th October 2020 by Farrago Books.

From the cover of the book:

Simon is an academic expert on the mating behaviour of birds – but he has a lot to learn about humans...

Simon Selwood spends his time researching the courtship behaviour of birds. Unfortunately, he’s rather hopeless at finding human love.

Then he meets Kim, and suddenly something is more important to him than ornithology. But Kim doesn’t give a hoot about birds. And at first, she doesn’t seem to be very interested in Simon either.

Relying on what he has learned from observing the opportunistic pied flycatcher and other bird species, plus the unorthodox advice from his best friend and wingman Phil, Simon spreads his wings and sets out to discover love for himself. Will he make the right choice?

*************************************

As rom-coms go, this one is about as odd as its protagonist, Simon Bird - and I mean this as a compliment! It's highly unusual to come across a romantic comedy that has a male protagonist, let alone one that is written by a male author, so this makes it an "odd bird" in itself - and it works so well too!

Simon is hopeless at this romance lark (pardon the avian pun!), preferring to immerse himself in his academic life, but there is no denying that he would like to have a pair-bond with a suitable female - if only he could figure out exactly how human courtships are supposed to work. And so, after his only real relationship does the dying swan (further apologies!), he embarks on the pursuit of a new mate, with the help of his not always very helpful "wingman" Phil (not my pun this time, blame Lee Farnsworth for this one!).

What follows is Simon's narration of his hapless romantic adventures, told in the kind of language normally associated with a scientific study into bird behaviour. This does take a bit of getting used to, but after a while you find yourself chuckling away to yourself over Simon's little absurdities, cringing at his faux-pas, cheerleading his efforts, and ultimately wishing him domestic happiness. Yes, I can guarantee you will want to give him a shake at times, but his heart is in the right place and he is a thoroughly "good egg" (final one, I promise!). 

This is an unconventional love story, with a real feel of a Richard Curtis movie about it. It's definitely one that you have to persevere with and get into the rhythm of, but it is worth it, and I found it very enjoyable and rather touching - you can also learn a heck of a lot about birds along the way, if you are so inclined. Its refreshing to read a romantic story that will appeal to both male and female readers, as this genre does tend to be the preserve of the female of the species, and I am very interested to see what Lee Farnsworth has up his sleeve for his next book.

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

Thank you to Lee Farnsworth and Farrago 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.

About the author:

Lee Farnsworth studied Genetics at Newcastle University, eventually gaining a PhD for his work on bovine mitochondria. He then spent more than fifteen years in the pharmaceutical industry, holding senior leadership positions in Europe and the US before kissing the corporate world goodbye to spend more time writing. 

Lee lives in Berkshire. He has two children and a large collection of bird feeders.

 


Wednesday, October 7, 2020

The Naseby Horses by Dominic Brownlow (audio book)

The Naseby Horses by Dominic Brownlow (Audio Book). Narrated by Robin Morrissey.

Released 20th August 2020 by Louise Walters Ltd.

From the cover:

Seventeen-year-old Simon’s sister Charlotte is missing. The lonely Fenland village the family recently moved to from London is odd, silent, and mysterious. Simon is epileptic and his seizures are increasing in severity, but when he is told of the local curse of the Naseby Horses, he is convinced it has something to do with Charlotte’s disappearance. Despite resistance from the villagers, the police, and his own family, Simon is determined to uncover the truth, and save his sister.

Under the oppressive Fenland skies and in the heat of a relentless June, Simon’s bond with Charlotte is fierce, all-consuming, and unbreakable; but can he find her? And does she even want to be found?

Drawing on philosophy, science, and the natural world, The Naseby Horses is a moving exploration of the bond between a brother and his sister; of love; and of the meaning of life itself.

***********************************

It was my absolute pleasure to be able to read the hardback version of this stunning book recently, and you can read what I have to say about it in my review here.
This is a book that bowled me over with its mesmerising and eerie story, loaded with supernatural undertones and lashings of folklore, so when I had the chance to listen to this one in audio format I was thrilled.
I am a big fan of audio books, even ones of books that I have read in print format, as they can allow you to experience a story in a whole new way, especially when the voice of the narrator is a perfect fit - as in the case of the dulcet tones of Robin Morrissey, whose voice is completely magical when reading Dominic Brownlow's lyrical prose. 

There is a mystical, dreamlike feeling to this book and Robin's vocal talents manage to bring this out beautifully. I found myself enrapt and stopping what I was doing to sit and listen, even though I already knew what was going to happen next - it was spellbinding and the mark of an excellent audio book. I was particularly struck by the way Robin highlights Dominic's use of light and sound throughout the novel to heighten the sense of otherness that Simon experiences. This comes across so much more in the audio version, which I found surprising.
As audio books go, this one is rather special. It is a credit to the care and attention taken by both the author, Dominic Brownlow, and the publisher, the stellar Louise Walters, to produce something of this outstanding quality for both readers and listeners.
This is beautiful, moving and true to the incredible novel from which it is springs, and highly recommended by me!
The Naseby Horses (audio format) is available to buy from your favourite audio retailer now.
It is also available in hardcover, paperback and ebook formats from Louise Walters Books here, or from your favourite book retailer.
Thank you to Louise Walters for providing me with a copy of this audio book in return for an honest review.
About the author:

Dominic Brownlow lives near Peterborough with his two children.

He lived in London and worked in the music industry as a manager before setting up his own independent label.

He now enjoys life in the Fens and has an office that looks out over water.

The Naseby Horses is his first novel. It was long listed for the Bath Novel Award 2016.

Find out more about Louise Walters Books, and their fantastic range of books, here.


Monday, October 5, 2020

Love Orange by Natasha Randall

 

Love Orange by Natasha Randall.

Published 3rd September 2020 by riverrun/Quercus Books.

From the cover of the book: 

While Hank struggles with his lack of professional success, his wife Jenny, feeling stuck and beset by an urge to do good, becomes ensnared in a dangerous correspondence with a prison inmate called John. Letter by letter, John pinches Jenny awake from the "marshmallow numbness" of her life. The children, meanwhile, unwittingly disturb the foundations of their home life with forays into the dark net and strange geological experiments.

Jenny's bid for freedom takes a sour turn when she becomes the go-between for John and his wife, and develops an unnatural obsession for the orange glue that seals his letters...

Love Orange throws open the blinds of American life, showing a family facing up to the modern age, from the ascendancy of technology, the predicaments of masculinity, the pathologising of children, the epidemic of opioid addiction and the tyranny of the WhatsApp Gods. 

The first novel by the acclaimed translator is a comic cocktail, an exuberant skewering of contemporary anxieties and prejudices.

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Welcome to Love Orange - Natasha Randall's State of the Union address about the reality of life in modern day USA! 

This is the story of the Tinkley family: to all intents and purposes a typical white, American middle class Mom, Pop and two children set-up, and a shining example of the ideal cutesy apple-pie image that harkens back to the 1950's nostalgia they all hold so dear. But practically everything we see on the surface is as artificial as the plastic beams that make up their "Arts and Crafts Style" home, and it is not long before the cracks start to show.

Our pop, Hank Tinkley, is struggling with the role he feels he should be projecting as the head of the household, and his need to be true to the Viking blood that runs in his veins, but he is floundering, even if he cannot admit this to his wife. He feels that the only way to be a strong father and husband is to stamp his authority on his family, save them from the dark underbelly of real life, and force his boys to develop the manly side of their characters at the expense of any softer feelings, although he likes to kid himself that he is really a 'modern man' with new age ideas. His brand of masculinity is misguided and toxic and his insistence that weakness, and "wrong behaviours" are unacceptable is causing his wife and children much unhappiness - as is his smug concept of a smart home that will surely take the strain off his wife, despite her feelings in the matter.

Our mom, of the piece, Jenny Tinkley has fallen into marriage with a man she hoped would be a good provider for her and their children, but she is disenchanted with her lot, lonely and torn between the fierce protectiveness she feels for her boys and a yearning for something more. Her husband takes her for granted, assuming that the home he has provided is everything she needs to make her life easier, but in reality she feels like she has lost control of her own domain. She feels, worthless and disconnected, like an empty shell and has resorted to finding comfort, quite literally, in a correspondence with a prison inmate, who she feels will be sympathetic to her feeling of being trapped.

Then we have out two boys: Jesse the burgeoning teenager, full of angst and conflicting emotions with no idea of how to balance these emerging sides of himself - and without the kind of role model of a father he really needs; and lovely, sweet, inquisitive Luke, with his quirky ways and total bewilderment at what is expected of him - and his need to hide away somewhere safe.

This is a family tearing itself apart at the seams, with a total inability to sit down and really talk to each other, and as the book progresses Natasha Randall takes us cleverly into their heads so we feel like voyeurs watching on as their family unit disintegrates. Hank can't seem to stop himself from doing wrong in failing to understand his family, especially with his boys, who end up feeling inadequate and not quite up to the mark, and Jenny becomes more and more isolated and dependent on the mysterious sweet orange glue that seals the envelopes of her prison pen pal.

This may sound like pretty heavy stuff that will break your heart, and you would be right, especially when it comes to Jesse and Luke, but it is also the warts and all picture of the kind of dysfunctional family that I fear is all too common. However, there is also a lot of humour to be found in these pages from the absurd situations that arise and some of it is totally laugh out loud funny, and this serves to break up the novel nicely and make it surprisingly easy to read.

There are some complex themes here that are artfully explored by Natasha Randall, which is very impressive for a debut author. Obviously, the most apparent ones are social disconnection and isolation, brought on by the stresses and strains of modern life. Our author does not really offer up any answers to the questions she poses, other than the implicit suggestion that communication is to be advised, and it is easy to conclude that humans are in need of some form of "pain relief" to get through it - whether this be chemical, or technological. This makes this book an absolute corker of a choice for a book club read, or in my own case, as a buddy read, because there is so much to discuss.

One of my favourite take aways from this book is that technology has a lot to answer for in terms of removing the face-to-face contact, and sense of purpose that humans need to function, and proving an appropriate outlet for working out our emotions, and Natasha Randall works this theme all the way through the novel to great effect.

This is a book that provokes strong emotions in its reader and I found this highly enjoyable - although perhaps enjoyable is not the right word to describe many of the feelings it elicits - in any case, this is an experience of a book that will set you thinking some deep, deep thoughts. It's brilliant.... read it!

Thank you to Natasha Randall and riverrun for gifting me a copy of this book in return for an honest review, and for inviting me to be part of this wonderful buddy read adventure!

About the author: 

Natasha Randall is a literary translator whose translations include Notes from an Underground by Dostoyevsky, A Hero of Our Time by Lermontov, and We by Zamyatin. She has edited a volume of Gogol for riverrun, Quercus. Her articles and reviews have appeared in the TLS, LA Review and the NYT. She lives in London with her husband and young children.

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

 

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman.

Published 3rd September 2020 by Viking/Penguin Books.

From the cover of the book:

In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet up once a week to investigate unsolved murders.

But when a brutal killing takes place on their very doorstep, the Thursday Murder Club find themselves in the middle of their first live case.

Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves.

Can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer before it's too late?

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I cannot tell you what a joy it is when a much anticipated book by a celebrity author not only proves to be an excellent read, but actually one of the best murder mysteries you have read all year!

The Thursday Murder Club is the first book in a new series following the adventures of a group of septuagenarian sleuths who live at a select retirement village in rural Kent (with it's own 'contemporary upscale restaurant', don't you know). They call themselves the Thursday Murder Club, booking out the Jigsaw Room once a week, under the guise of a group of fans of Japanese opera, to go over cold cases and try to solve them. Our group of retirees comprises the dapper psychiatrist Ibrahim; ex-trade union firebrand Ron; the rather brilliant, ex-secret service doyenne Elizabeth; and new recruit, Joyce the nurse - and they are a formidable team.

When a local builder connected to the shifty, smooth operating owner of the retirement village is murdered, the Thursday Murder Club find themselves setting out to solve the mystery - sweeping DCI Chris Hudson and PC Donna De Freitas along with them in the process . They are really rather good at it too, and as the bodies start to pile up the Murder Club are nothing if not resourceful and tenacious in the most charming of ways, and their unorthodox (and not always legal) methods certainly bring results.

The characters are all beautifully drawn, especially the quirky, sharp-minded Thursday Murder Club oldsters. I fell in love with the members of the Club, and becoming acquainted with them and their lives - and loves - was an absolute pleasure. There are lots of laughs here, but my goodness, there are some poignant moments too that will bring a lump to your throat and a tear to your eye.

This book is the ideal mix of humour and heartache, intrigue and investigation, and it all rolls along at a gentle, but perfectly pitched, pace until all the threads are nicely tied up in a bow at the very satisfying end. There are echoes of Agatha Christie, the Queen of Crime herself, in the slick plotting with multiple threads and oodles of suspects, but Richard Osman's style also has a real nostalgic feel that is reminiscent of G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown tales about it too, which was very enjoyable. I loved every criminally cozy page and cannot wait for the next case for the Thursday Murder Club!

The Thursday Murder Club is available to buy now in hardcover, ebook and audio formats HERE.

Thank you to Penguin/Viking 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.

About the author:

Richard Osman is an author, producer and television presenter. The Thursday Murder Club is his first novel. He is well known for TV shows including Pointless and Richard Osman’s House of Games. As the creative director of Endemol UK, Richard has worked as an executive producer on numerous shows including Deal Or No Deal and 8 Out of 10 Cats. He is also a regular on panel and game shows such as Have I Got News For You, Would I Lie To You and Taskmaster.



Friday, October 2, 2020

The Employees by Olga Ravn

 

The Employees by Olga Ravn.

Published 2nd October 2020 by Lolli Editions. Translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken.

From the cover of the book:

The near-distant future... Millions of kilometres from Earth...

The crew of the Six-Thousand Ship consists of those who were born, and those who were made. Those who will die, and those who will not. When the ship takes on a number of strange objects from the planet New Discovery, the crew is perplexed to find itself becoming deeply attached to them, and human and humanoid employees alike start aching for the same things: warmth and intimacy. Loved ones who have passed. Shopping and child-rearing. Our shared, far-away Earth, which now only persists in memory.

Gradually, the crew members come to see their work in a new light, and each employee is compelled to ask themselves whether they can carry on as before – and what it means to be truly living.

Structured as a series of witness statements compiled by a workplace commission, Ravn’s crackling prose is as chilling as it is moving, as exhilarating as it is foreboding. Wracked by all kinds of longing, The Employees probes into what it means to be human, emotionally and ontologically, while simultaneously delivering an overdue critique of a life governed by work and the logic of productivity.

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What a weird and wonderful little book! Imagine, if you will, an HR report comprising interview statements following an incident in a futuristic workplace, spun into a highly conceptualised sci-fi drama, by way of Alan Dean Foster's Alien, Michael Crichton's Sphere and Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?... whacky, eh? But it is also rather brilliant.

The statements are generally pretty sketchy and the anxiety of the interviewees is almost palpable as they answer the questions put to them about the goings on aboard the Six-Thousand Ship and on the surface of New Discovery. Intriguingly, the interviewers' side of the conversations is not recorded, until the summation near the end of the book, so it is up to the reader to fill in the gaps, and it's all the better because you are never quite sure why they have gone to New Discovery in the first place. In fact, the stark nature of the whole book means it is up to you to join the dots yourself, and I found this very enjoyable - it's as if the author gives you permission to let you imagination run riot!

Although the witness reports are rather brief, and in some cases only a scant few lines, as the book progresses they build a chilling picture. You are aware that the experiment being carried out by this mission has gone seriously awry, precipitated by the arrival of the mysterious objects, and the tension mounts splendidly to an ending that serves as somewhat of a warning to us all. Woven into the plot are some very philosophical and thought-provoking themes, some of which are particularly poignant - such as, the yearning of the human crew members for what they have left behind, and the longing to be "more" and desire to survive of their humanoid co-workers.

This is a disconcerting and disquieting book and I take my hat off to the translator Martin Aitken for his stellar (please pardon the pun) work here in producing such a powerful work in a language other than the original. It is one that I will be mulling over in the wee small hours of the morning when sleep refuses to come, though perhaps, this is better than the nightmares that might otherwise be inspired by the subject matter!

The Employees is availalable to buy direct from Lolli Editions HERE, or via your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Lolli Editions for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

About the author:

Olga Ravn (b. 1986) is a Danish novelist and poet. Her novel Celestine appeared to critical acclaim in 2015. She is also a literary critic and has written for Politiken and several other Danish publications. Alongside Johanne Lykke Holm, she runs the feminist performance group and writing school Hekseskolen.

About the translator:

Martin Aitken has translated numerous novels from Danish and Norwegian, including works by Karl Ove Knausgaard, Peter Høeg, Ida Jessen, and Kim Leine. He was a finalist at the U.S. National Book Awards 2018 and received the PEN America Translation Prize 2019 for his translation of Hanne Ørstavik’s Love.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Atomic Love by Jennie Fields

 

Atomic Love by Jennie Fields.

Published 17th September 2020 by Michael Joseph UK/Penguin.

From the cover of the book:

Chicago, 1950.

Rosalind Porter has always defied expectations - in her work as a physicist on the Manhattan Project to design the atomic bomb, and in her passionate love affair with co-worker, Thomas Weaver.

Five years after the end of both, her guilt over the results of her work and her heartbreak over Weaver are intertwined. She has almost succeeded in resigning herself to a more conventional life . .

Then Weaver gets back in touch. But so does the FBI.

Agent Charlie Szydlo wants Rosalind to spy on Weaver, whom the FBI suspects of selling nuclear secrets to Russia. As Rosalind's final assignment launches her on a dangerous mission to find the truth, she faces a heartbreaking choice . . .

Believe the man who taught her how to love? Or trust the man who her love might save?

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Atomic Love is a really interesting mix of spy thriller, love story and historical fiction novel set against the backdrop of the aftermath of World War II.

This is 1950. The war is over, but not everyone made it home from the battlefield, and many of those that did are scarred both inside and out by their experiences. Women have been consigned back to the kitchen and bedroom, in the wake of the return of their menfolk, and they are all trying to come to terms with a world in which the landscape has changed beyond their wildest imaginations - nuclear weapons now exist, and have been used in anger, and the Cold War has begun. Communism is the new big threat and the Government are on the watch for Russian spies everywhere, even within their own corridors of power.

In Chicago, we meet Rosalind Porter, who was one of the top scientists working on the Manhattan Project, which developed nuclear technology during the war, until her affair with Thomas Weaver derailed her life. She is now working in a store on the jewellery counter, a million miles away from the kind of life she once led, and longs to return to.

When Thomas Weaver reappears unexpectedly and wants to meet with Rosalind, she is not keen to reopen old wounds. However, it appears that Thomas is a man with a murky past - the FBI have him marked down as a person of interest and Rosalind is just the woman that Agent Charlie Szydlo needs to bring him down.

So begins a thrilling game of cat and mouse, undercover surveillance and menacing counter moves from shady foreign operatives with enough suspense to keep you teetering on the edge of your seat. But this is not all, because Rosalind is drawn to handsome, broken FBI Agent Szydlo, and is caught between her complicated love-hate feelings for Weaver and the chance of a real love with another, which gives us a very touching romantic element too.

Jennie Fields pulls off a quite impressive balancing act in this book with the themes she entwines with her story of love and espionage. I liked the way she brings in the role of women both at home and in the workplace, before and after the war, and gives us a little glimpse in the social changes ahead. I was also vey impressed by the way she balances Rosalind's feelings of guilt about being involved in a project that led to so many deaths against the experiences of Charlie when he was a prisoner of war in a Japanese camp. 

This is an intelligent and exciting book that is something of a page turner, with enough passion and heart to give your emotions a real work out as well as your heart rate. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

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

Thank you to Penguin Books for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review and inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Jennie Fields, who is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, lives in Nashville. Her most recent novel, The Age of Desire (Pamela Dorman Books/Viking, August 2012), was a New York Times Editor's Choice and has just been optioned for film.