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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Don't Turn Around (Review) by Jessica Barry


Don't Turn Around (Review) by Jessica Barry.

Published 15th April 2021 in paperback by Vintage.

From the cover of the book:

TWO STRANGERS...

 DANGEROUS SECRETS...
 
THEIR ONLY CHANCE IS EACH OTHER.

Cait's job is to transport women to safety. Out of respect, she never asks any questions. Like most of the women, Rebecca is trying to escape something.

But what if Rebecca's secrets put them both in danger? There's a reason Cait chooses to keep on the road, helping strangers. She has a past of her own, and knows what it's like to be followed.

And there is someone right behind them, watching their every move...

*Named one of the New York Times top 10 crime novels of 2020*'

A novel like razor-wire...part chase thriller, part psychological suspense' AJ Finn, author of #1 bestseller The Woman in the Window

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

Don't Turn Around is a hard hitter of a thriller about two very different women who find themselves forging a strong bond while on a clandestine road trip across country from Texas to New Mexico. Cait is a young, single Texan woman whose dream of becoming a writer has so far only led her to a lengthy stint as a bartender in the kind of cowboy joint that expects its female workers to be outfitted in daisy dukes and a stetson. Rebecca is a polished Californian woman, a few years older and married to an ambitious politician on the fast-track to the Whitehouse. Both of them are running away from something and hiding secrets that lead them into terrible danger on the lonely highway during their trip - the kind of danger that might end their lives.

This is a beautifully constructed pacey thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat as the timeline moves back and forth between the past and the present, from the points of view of both women, revealing their secrets and the connection between them as you go. But, as good a thriller as this is, it is also so much more! Barry uses this story to paint a fascinating picture of the way the tide has turned against the right of women to have say over their own bodies in parts of modern America in the wake of Trump's presidency, and the way the #MeToo movement continues to divide opinion. 

This book took me in unexpected directions, and became very emotive as I got deeper and deeper into the cleverly woven threads of the plot. I would be lying if I didn't tell you that much of this book made me furious, gave me a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach, and completely broke my heart, as we hear the stories of Cait and Rebecca. Yet, at the same time, Barry looks at the many different sides of the arguments around the issues in this book, through the other characters she introduces, particularly in a way that gives the reader insight into how ambition, unresolved trauma and religion might play a part in inciting conflict and violence too.

There is so much to talk about with this book, but to do so would drop many a spoiler, which I will not be doing in this review. I leave it up to you to discover Cait and Rebecca's secrets for yourself, and I promise you will not be able to put this book down once you begin to understand what Barry really has in story for you, dear reader. It's powerful, punch to the gut stuff, that shows how a talented author can get you thinking about important issues through the vehicle of a slick and well written thriller.

Don't Turn Around is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Graeme Williams and Vintage 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:

Jessica Barrie is the author of her debut thriller Freefall, which has been translated into over twenty languages.

She is American and lives in London with her husband and her two excessively fuzzy cats, Roger and BoJack. She spends much of my time reading, writing, running along the Thames and trying unsuccessfully to remove cat hair from the furniture.





Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Dig Street Festival by Chris Walsh

 

The Dig Street Festival by Chris Walsh.

Published 15th April 2021 by Louise Walters Books.

From the cover of the book:

It’s 2006 in the fictional East London borough of Leytonstow. The UK’s pub smoking ban is about to happen, and thirty-eight-and-a-half year old John Torrington, a mopper and trolley collector at his local DIY store, is secretly in love with the stylish, beautiful, and middle-class barmaid Lois. John and his hapless, strange, and down-on-their-luck friends, Gabby Longfeather and Glyn Hopkins, live in Clements Markham House - a semi-derelict Edwardian villa divided into unsanitary bedsits, and (mis)managed by the shrewd, Dickensian business man, Mr Kapoor. 

When Mr Kapoor, in a bizarre and criminal fluke, makes him fabulously credit-worthy, John surprises his friends and colleagues alike by announcing he will organise an amazing ‘urban love revolution’, aka the Dig Street Festival. But when he discovers dark secrets at the DIY store, and Mr Kapoor’s ruthless gentrification scheme for Clements Markham House, John’s plans take several unexpected and worrisome turns…

Funny, original, philosophical, and unexpectedly moving, The Dig Street Festival takes a long, hard, satirical look at modern British life, and asks of us all, how can we be better people?

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

Welcome to the fictional East London borough of Leytonstow. Through the eyes of mopper, trolley collector and part-time poet/novelist John Torrington, Chris Walsh takes us on a rather surreal adventure through the highways and byways of this corner of London in the company of John's faithful, if sometimes reluctant, sidekicks Gabby Longfeather and Glyn Hopkins, and introduces us to a whole cast of vibrant and intriguing characters.

John, Gabby and Glyn live a somewhat below par existence in bedsits at the decrepit Clements Markham House, along with their elderly neighbours, at the mercy of their dodgy landlord Mr Kapoor. Wannabe rock god, and hopelessly sheltered, Gabby lives on the largesse of the council, but Glyn and John work as the lowest of the low at the local DIY store, and they all do the best they can to get by, occasionally trying to recreate Scott's expedition to the South Pole in their leisure time - when they are not drinking at the local pub, where John gazes from afar at the glamorous barmaid Lois, Glyn hides his magazines of a certain genre under the chair in not quite opaque carrier bags, and Gabby puts his not so hard earned cash into the juke-box.

They may be a unusual bunch of misfits, but their hearts are in the right place, so when John discovers shady dealings both at work and on the home front, it looks like it is going to be up to him and his friends to put things right - especially if he is to win the heart of the lovely Lois. Using an unexpected windfall, John sets about organising the Dig Street Festival as a big urban love-in and way to improve the lot of all the deserving on his home turf, and inadvertently sets in motion a series of madcap events with very unexpected consequences...

The Dig Street Festival is the zaniest and most hilarious book I have read for a very long time. Imagine a weird mash-up of Withnail and I; Only Fools and Horses; the mostly improvised stage shows of Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmonson's Bottom; the irreverent and guffaw inducing Tom Sharpe books; and a Tolstoy novel - but with a lot more hugging. However strange this sounds, you come up with something full of the most wonderful characters, and the kind of story lines that give you barrels of laugh out loud moments alongside those deep and memorable in the feels scenes that you hold in your heart for ever.

There are times here where you feel there is a bit too much going on, and although I can understand exactly why Walsh has crammed so much into his novel, I feel that he might have been better off taking a leaf out of John's book and covering a bit less ground in his debut - holding a bit back for another Leystonstow novel perhaps, or even some short stories set in the same borough. There are lots of lovely themes to engage with in this book, which Walsh explores beautifully, and I would be interested to read a bit more about some of the characters on the side-lines whose stories were not shown in full in these pages. My favourite theme is the way he shows you should never make assumptions about people from what you see on the surface - very good advice indeed!

This really is one of those books where you are sorry to get to the final page, even though the ending is a triumph of lovely, touching gorgeousness, because you feel like you have been on an all encompassing journey of discovery alongside the characters, and have made firm friends of them. I am nowhere near ready to let go of John, Gabby and Glyn and their frequent hugs yet, so really hope that Walsh will regale is with some more tales from Leytonstow in the future. 

If you are looking for something that will induce laughter and tears, fill you will life-affirming joy, and make you think really hard about what lies in the secret hearts of those around you, then this is definitely going to be the book for you!

The Dig Street Festival is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer in paperback and e-book formats, or via the links below:


Thank you to Louise Walters Books for sending me a copy of this book in return for an honest review, and to Emma Welton of Damp Pebbles Tours for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Chris Walsh grew up in Middlesbrough and now lives in Kent. He writes both fiction and non-fiction, an example of which you can read here in May 2020's Moxy Magazine.
Chris's debut novel The Dig Street Festival will be published by Louise Walters Books in April 2021. 
Chris's favourite novel is Stoner by John Williams and his favourite novella is The Death of Ivan Illyich by Leo Tolstoy. His top poet is Philip Larkin. He is also a fan of Spike Milligan.




Monday, April 12, 2021

Backstories by Simon Van Der Velde

 

Backstories by Simon Van Der Velde.

Published 24th March 2021 by Smoke and Mirrors Press.

From the cover of the book:

Dreamers, singers, heroes and killers, they can dazzle with their beauty or their talent or their unmitigated evil, yet inside themselves they are as frail and desperate as the rest of us. But can you see them? Can you unravel the truth? These are people you know, but not as you know them. Peel back the mask and see.

Backstories is a unique collection of stories each told from the point of view of a famous, (or notorious) person at a pivotal moment in their lives. The writing is literary but accessible and the voices vividly real.

The settings are mostly 60's and 70's UK and USA, and the driving themes are inclusion, social justice and of course, nostalgia - but the real key to these stories is that the protagonists' identities are withheld. This means that your job is to find them, leading to that Eureka moment when you realise who's mind you've been inhabiting for the last twenty minutes.

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

Backstories is an intriguing collection of fourteen short stories that asks you to assume the guise of a detective and guess the identity of the characters portrayed in each one. I am always up for a literary challenge, and found the idea of a guessing game for grown-ups rather appealing, so settled down with this one over a cup of tea one quiet afternoon.

Each story has you looking through the eyes of a mystery individual from history or popular culture at a pivotal moment in their lives, and although they are mostly set in the 1960s and 70s there are a couple that go somewhat beyond this time frame - one of them very far back indeed. 

They are well written, succinct, with interesting little clues and word plays hidden here and there to help you guess who's who, and are of varying levels of difficulty. I must admit that I didn't find them particularly hard to guess at my age, but if you are of more tender years you will inevitably struggle with some of them (some Googling may help you along) - even so, there are enough of them from the point of view of characters so well known you are bound to recognise them, and will feel pretty happy with your investigative skills as a result. Some of the insights they provide into the people we think we already know very well are also pretty thought provoking.

As a concept, this is one that has that legs, but I would like to see a mix of characters from more recent years in the next volume to increase the breadth of appeal among a younger reading audience, especially since the guessing game element is so unusual. I would also like to see some way for you to be able to check your guesses, to see if you have got them right, which does not seem to be an option at present.

This is a refreshingly different sort of read, and it will give you a spot of light entertainment during the quiet afternoon hours, or as a gentle bedtime read (although it may provoke strange dreams). It's always good to get your thinking cap on now and again, and as the great Poirot says, "If the little grey cells are not exercised, they grow the rust...".

Backstories is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Simon Van Der Velde for sending me a proof of this book in return for an honest review.

About the author:

Simon Van der Velde has worked variously as a barman, labourer, teacher, caterer and lawyer, as well as travelling throughout Europe and South America collecting characters and insights for his award-winning stories. 

Since completing a creative writing M.A. (with distinction) in 2010, Simon’s work has won and been shortlisted for numerous awards including; The Yeovil Literary Prize, (twice), The Wasafiri New Writing Prize, The Luke Bitmead Bursary, The Frome Short story Prize, The Harry Bowling Prize, The Henshaw Press Short Story Competition and The National Association of Writers’ Groups Open Competition - establishing him as one of the UK’s foremost short-story writers.

Simon now lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, with his wife, Nicola, their labradoodle, Barney and two tyrannical children.


Sunday, April 11, 2021

Don't Turn Around (Extract) by Jessica Barry

 

Don't Turn Around 

by Jessica Barry



Published 15th April 2021 by Vintage


TWO STRANGERS...
 
DANGEROUS SECRETS...
 
THEIR ONLY CHANCE IS EACH OTHER.

Cait's job is to transport women to safety. 
Out of respect, she never asks any questions. 
Like most of the women, Rebecca is trying to escape something.

But what if Rebecca's secrets put them both in danger? 
There's a reason Cait chooses to keep on the road, helping strangers. 
She has a past of her own, and knows what it's like to be followed.

And there is someone right behind them, watching their every move...

*Named one of the New York Times top 10 crime novels of 2020*'


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

As part of the blog tour to celebrate the paperback release of Jessica's Barry's thriller Don't Turn Around, it is my pleasure to share with you today an extract from this gripping novel!

CHAPTER 9

FARWELL, TEXAS—
232 MILES TO ALBUQUERQUE

Rebecca’s mind kept tugging her back to the dead fox lying by the side of the road back in Sudan. She could see the steam rising from the pool of blood and the dull black beads of its eyes. She had first seen those eyes as a kid, when Bugs, her pet bunny, was mauled by the neighbor’s dog. She saw that dog every day, twice a day, walking to and from the bus stop. His name was Fletch and he would track her the length of his yard, growling, penned in by a chain- link fence. One morning, she heard a commotion coming from the backyard and made it just in time to watch the dog shake Bugs until his brittle neck snapped. Fletch had dropped the bunny and run off when she’d charged at him screaming, but it had been too late. She watched the light go out of Bugs’s eyes, quick and final as a birthday candle. One minute Bugs was her pet rabbit who loved bell peppers and chin scratches and whose whiskers tickled her when he twitched his nose, the next it was just a collection of bones and flesh and fur. That’s why, later, when her mother tried to convince her that Bugs had taken the rainbow bridge to heaven, she knew it was a lie. She’d seen an animal die and now she couldn’t unsee it— she knew that life could go from something to nothing, just like that, and that there was no use pretending there was something waiting beyond.

She put a hand to her stomach.

They passed a processing plant on the horizon with a line of silos rising in the dark sky like a row of blunt teeth. On the other side of the road, a restaurant welcomed potential customers: THURSDAYS = STEAK NIGHT.

A small green sign announced they were leaving Farwell, Texas, and entering Texico, New Mexico.
“We’re through,” Cait said, nodding toward the sign and giving her a small and gentle smile. “You can relax now.”

Something tightened in Rebecca’s chest.

Cait was wrong about danger lying closest to home. For her, crossing the state line meant the threat was suddenly, terrifyingly real...
 
*****

The story continues with Chapter 10 on the blog of It Takes A Woman HERE so give them a visit for more! You can also find a special feature on Jessica Barry on the blog of  Chocolate 'n' Waffles HERE.

If you would like to go back to the beginning of the story and find out where Cait and Rebecca's journey begins, head over to the blog of A Little Book Problem HERE.

Please stop by on Thursday 15th April for my full review of Don't Turn Around - I am really looking forward to sharing my thoughts with you!





Friday, April 9, 2021

Lairies by Steve Hollyman

 

Lairies by Steve Hollyman.

Published 8th April 2021 by Influx Press.

From the cover of the book:

Shaun wakes up in hospital after a fight in a local nightclub and discovers his girlfriend has been assaulted. 

Ade and Colbeck were there that night – the climax to weeks of escalating violence, their two-man vigilante mission to kick back against a broken generation. A misguided plan to combat the lairies that blight Britain’s bars, pubs and streets.

What really happened? And how did it come to this?

Lairies is the brilliant and brutal debut from Steve Hollyman, mapping the lives of violent young men at the start of the twenty-first century, living aimlessly but desperately hunting for purpose. 

Hollyman speaks to the heart of small-town Britain, offering scathing insight into masculinity, class, and the bleak realities of a man’s aimless early twenties, lifting the lid on a world most would rather ignore.

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

Where to start? Lairies is quite an experience - one that grabs you by the throat and does not put you down until the classiest of endings!

It starts with a violent episode on a night out and then leads us down the rabbit hole of multi-person narratives from the characters who were present, swapping back and forth between the run up to the incident and the fall out from the events of that fateful night. 

Sounds simple, yes? But in fact, it is anything but. As in all the best stories using multiple points of view, everyone sees things slightly differently, coloured by their motives and experience. This unreliability is ramped up to the max by the way Steve Hollyman has the characters referring to each other by their surnames, first names, nick names and various shady terms of endearment or abuse throughout the book, and even though the chapter headings show you who is narrating at any one time, you are not sure exactly who is who, who did what to who, and what the connections between them are until very near the end of the novel, when the shocking truth about what happened that night comes spilling out. This is glorious storytelling that kept me guessing all the way through.

There is no getting away from the fact that there is a lot of very graphic violence in this book, accompanied by gratuitous swearing, but at no time does this feel too much. Every punch, kick and expletive has a part to play in the way the story plays out, and is used by great effect by Hollyman to explore the desperate search for purpose in the disaffected young men he is writing about. As an indictment of lad culture, small town hopelessness and toxic masculinity it is superb.

Imagine, if you will, a mash up between the violence of A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess; the surreal wtf epiphany country of Chuck Palahnuik's Fight Club; the mad-cap drug fuelled, shouty road trip of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson; and the wonderful dark humour and camaraderie of Irvine Welsh's sublime Trainspotting books, and you might be approaching something like the incredible debut that Hollyman has crafted here. 

For me, Irvine's Begbie will always be king, but there are some promising young pretenders to the crown here, and it was an absolute joy reading about them. I cannot recommend this one highly enough - if you are brave enough to take the plunge!

Lairies is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer, or direct from Influx Press HERE.

Thank you to Jordan Taylor-Jones for sending me a proof of this book in return for an honest review.

About the author:

Steve Hollyman was born in Stoke-on-Trent and currently works as a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing. He is a graduate of the Manchester School of Writing, where he completed an MA and PhD. He is the vocalist and guitarist in the three-piece alternative rock band CreepJoint, whose most recent album A Generation of the Dark Heart was released in 2018.


Thursday, April 8, 2021

Vera Kelly Is Not a Mystery (Vera Kelly Book Two) by Rosalie Knecht


Vera Kelly Is Not A Mystery (Vera Kelly Book Two) by Roslaie Knecht.

Published 6th April 2021 by Verve Books.

From the cover of the book:

Recently out-of-the-spy-game heroine Vera Kelly finds herself travelling from Brooklyn to a sprawling countryside estate in the Caribbean in her first case as a private investigator. 

When ex-CIA agent Vera Kelly loses her job and her girlfriend in a single day, she reluctantly goes into business as a private detective. Heartbroken and cash-strapped, she takes a case that dredges up dark memories and attracts dangerous characters from across the Cold War landscape. 

Before it's over, she'll chase a lost child through foster care and follow a trail of Dominican exiles to the Caribbean. 

Forever looking over her shoulder, she nearly misses what's right in front of her: her own desire for home, connection, and a new romance at the local bar. 

In this exciting second instalment of the 'splendid genre-pushing' (People) Vera Kelly series, Rosalie Knecht challenges and deepens the Vera we love: a woman of sparkling wit, deep moral fibre, and martini-dry humour who knows how to follow a case even as she struggles to follow her heart.

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

I completely fell in love with both Vera Kelly and Rosalie Knecht's writing in the first instalment of the Vera Kelly books, Who Is Vera Kelly?, so was chomping at the bit to see what was in store for Vera in Vera Kelly Is Not A Mystery.

This time around, Vera, fresh from her stint as a CIA agent in Argentina, has settled back in New York with a house, a steady job and a sort-of steady-girlfriend, but things soon turn rocky when she loses both her job and her girlfriend in a single day.

Heartbroken, broke and spurred on by Raymond Chandler stories, Vera decides to put her spying skills to good use by becoming a private detective, although the kinds of cases that come her way are less than thrilling - until, that is, she is employed to track down the whereabouts of a young Dominican boy. 

This case takes her from the streets of Brooklyn all the way to the politically troubled Dominican Republic and back again; has her searching for the lost boy in the chaotic New York foster care system: and has her rubbing shoulders with the kinds of devious types she thought she had left behind with her CIA days. The search for this lost boy is far more dangerous that Vera anticipated, but she will not rest until she has seen him safe from harm, whatever the personal cost...

It was such a delight to meet up again with the smart, sassy Vera Kelly, and in this second book of the series we learn quite a lot about her well hidden vulnerable side - the one that lies beneath the tough protective shell she has constructed over the years to keep herself from getting close to people, for fear of getting hurt - and what we learn is deeply affecting.

As Vera gets heavily involved in her search for the lost Dominican Boy, she starts to reflect on her own childhood relationships and her time within the care system, and she develops a feeling of kinship with him that will not allow her to fail in her task - even if this means facing peril head on. And of course, Vera being Vera, she has some romantic adventures along the way too. Interestingly, it is not only her soul searching, but the brush with danger itself that brings into focus some home truths about what, and who, she really wants, and the realisation that she can only achieve this by letting someone get close to her.

As in the first book, Knecht brings in just the right amount of politics here. In this case, we get a look at the murky politics of the late 1960's Dominican Republic and the influence of the USA in these events; the social changes on the ground in the USA itself through the anti-Vietnam protests; the rise of the peace and free love movements; and the continuing discrimination against the gay community - all set against a beautifully written and immersive adventure, with moments of  1960's Bond-like action and the wonderful emotional intensity of one woman's search for connection. It's glorious storytelling, and I cannot wait for the next Vera book!

Vera Kelly Is Not A Mystery is available to buy now in e-book and paperback formats now from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Hollie McDevitt from Oldcastle Books for sending me a copy of this book n return for an honest review, and for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Rosalie Knecht is the author of Who Is Vera Kelly?, Vera Kelly Is Not A Mystery and Relief Map. She is also the translator of C├ęsar Aira’s The Seamstress and the Wind (New Directions). She lives in New Jersey.



Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The Lost Hours by Susan Lewis

 

The Lost Hours by Susan Lewis.

Published 1st April 2021 by Harper Collins.

From the cover of the book:

A perfect marriage…

Golden couple Annie and David Crayce have it all. A loving marriage, three beautiful children and a thriving family business. Life couldn’t be better. Until the unthinkable happens…
 
A perfect crime?

A piece of damning DNA evidence has arisen, placing David as the prime suspect of a murder committed twenty-years ago. Annie is sure her David is innocent. But if he isn’t guilty, then either his father or brother must be.

As the police investigate the cold case, so does Annie. Trawling through her old diaries, she begins desperately looking for answers. But it all comes down to a few lost hours she can’t solve.

And Annie begins to doubt the one person she thought she knew best… Her husband.

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

December 2019, and golden couple Annie and David Crayce are looking forward to a fabulous Christmas up on Exmoor, at Hanley Court Estate, with their three beautiful children and close-knit extended family. Little do they know that the New Year is about to bring their perfect world crashing down around their ears.

January sees a piece of damning evidence coming to light that links one of the Crayce men to a cold case police investigation into the murder of a teenage girl twenty years ago. At first, Annie is certain that there has been mistake, because how could David, his brother, or their father be guilty of such a horrible crime, especially her loving husband David. But as time passes and the pressure of the investigation takes its toll on both their family and once thriving shooting school business, she is less sure. Searching through her past diaries, she knows David was At Hanley Court at the time of the murder, and reports of what happened that night are hazy at best. What is the truth of the matter and does she know her husband as well as she thought she did?

Welcome to a world with a perfect couple, surrounded by a perfect family, living the perfect country life in their prefect manor house. But how much of this is actually true? What does it take before the cracks in the veneer of this perfect world let secrets and lies bleed through?

Here we have a story where Susan Lewis spins a tale that exposes the truth that not everything is always as perfect as it first appears. Our golden couple may indeed have a loving and apparently healthy relationship, but it is not until we start to do a little digging that we realise there are some murky goings on in the past, and things have not always been quite as they are now. 

As the pressure mounts on the Crayce family and their nearest and dearest, at the hands of a lead investigator with something to prove, twists and turns galore are thrown our way before we find out the shocking truth about what happened all those years ago - and it was a truth that totally blindsided me!

I must admit that I did struggle with this book at the beginning, because the premise was a little too on the Aga Saga side for my tastes, there were a lot of characters introduced in the first few pages, and the lead investigator clearly had a few issues to work through before the case could be solved. But it began to dawn on me about half way through that the picture of perfection and the thrusting female detective were deliberate story devices on the part of the author, and once I had my head around this notion, I was able to enjoy the way she picks apart the relationships and motives of the characters under the auspices of a murder mystery. 

As Lewis spins her threads, she brings in some very interesting themes too, which were rather a surprise given the place where the story begins. We get a close look at the nature of marriage, family relationships, desire, infidelity, jealousy and revenge, but there is a dark thread about unresolved trauma, repressed memories and PTSD too - and, a little nod to a world in which women often have to work twice as hard to be accepted in the work place than their male counterparts.

This is my first Susan Lewis and turned out to be a lot darker than I was expecting, with a beautifully rich, character led story. It was a bit of a slow burner for me, but I did find myself getting completely caught up in the story, and enjoyed the shocker of an ending very much. It is easy to see from this book why Susan Lewis is an internationally bestselling author! 

The Lost Hours is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Harper Collins for ending me 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.

About the author:

Susan Lewis is the internationally bestselling author of over forty books across the genres of family drama, thriller, suspense and crime, including One Minute Later, My Lies, Your Lies and Forgive Me.

Susan’s novels have sold nearly three million copies in the UK alone. She is also the author of Just One More Day and One Day at a Time, the moving memoirs of her childhood in Bristol during the 1960s.

Susan has previously worked as a secretary in news and current affairs before training as a production assistant working on light entertainment and drama. She’s lived in Hollywood and the South of France, but now resides in Gloucestershire with husband James, two stepsons and dogs.




Tuesday, April 6, 2021

The Drowned City by K.J. Maitland

The Drowned City by K.J. Maitland.

Published 1st April 2021 by Headline Review.

From the cover of the book:

Gunpowder and treason changed England forever. But the tides are turning and revenge runs deep in this compelling historical thriller for fans of C.J. Sansom, Andrew Taylor's Ashes of London, Kate Mosse and Blood & Sugar.

1606. A year to the day that men were executed for conspiring to blow up Parliament, a towering wave devastates the Bristol Channel. Some proclaim God's vengeance. Others seek to take advantage.

In London, Daniel Pursglove lies in prison waiting to die. But Charles FitzAlan, close adviser to King James I, has a job in mind that will free a man of Daniel's skill from the horrors of Newgate. If he succeeds.

For Bristol is a hotbed of Catholic spies, and where better for the lone conspirator who evaded arrest, one Spero Pettingar, to gather allies than in the chaos of a drowned city? Daniel journeys there to investigate FitzAlan's lead, but soon finds himself at the heart of a dark Jesuit conspiracy - and in pursuit of a killer.

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

1606: a year to the day that the men executed for conspiring together to bring about the death of James I with the Gunpowder Plot, a huge wave engulfs the city of Bristol - a disaster that many believe can only be sign of God's vengeance.

England has been changed for ever by both the treason of the conspirators and their punishment, but the religious and political turmoil that caused them to act so boldly has not disappeared with their deaths. If anything, current circumstances are worse than ever.

James I is troubled by the unrest in his realm, but his close advisor Charles FitzAlan thinks he has a way to turn the matters to their advantage. FitzAlan's solution is to send a spy into the hotbed of Catholic insurrection in Bristol to discover the truth about a possible Jesuit conspiracy - and the man he has chosen, one Daniel Pursglove, has been dragged from the horrors of Newgate Prison to take on the mission.

When Pursglove arrives in Bristol, he is unsure quite how he will complete his mission - or even if there is a conspiracy here to uncover. However, it soon becomes clear that a murderer is at work among the ruins of this once thriving city, although their motives are unclear. Torn between his past and the present task, Pursglove, aided by a rag-tag band of willing and not so willing compatriots, must get to the bottom of the murders before more lives are lost - especially if he is to save himself from being thrown back into the bowels of Newgate Prison for the rest of his earthly days.

It's no secret that I like a bit of historical fiction, and this is just the kind of book of that genre that ticks every box for me. It is rich in historical detail, with wonderful characters who keep their real intentions a closely guarded secret, and is set against an intriguing backdrop of a time of political and religious troubles that offer endless possibilities to work in some beautiful storylines around betrayal and revenge.

Although we often hear much about what led up to the Gunpowder Plot and the punishment meted out to those identified as the culprits, I loved that K.J. Maitland has chosen the period following this event as the setting for her story. We all know about Guy Fawkes, but how much does burning his effigy every year on a bonfire really tell us about the lie of the land in England in the aftermath? Not a lot actually... but here we are treated to well-researched detail about the religious and political unrest and machinations that were still rife after the event, and how this discord fed the belief among the populace that God was not at all happy about what what happening across the country, not to mention fuelled the belief that witchcraft was to blame for many of their ills.

But this is not simply an exercise in historical recreation, because Maitland has also crafted a first class murder mystery, set in a city which is refreshingly not London for a change. And also one which carries a kind of mystique about the strange tidal wave that struck the city in 1606, that she uses to great advantage in ramping up the menacing feeling that there could possibly be something dark and sinister going on behind the scenes. The pacing was pitch perfect, the suspense a delight and the truth, when it came, had me looking at everything that had gone before in a completely different light - with an added little jaw dropper before the tale was done too!

As the start of a brand new series, this is a complete winner, and I really enjoyed the way Maitland holds back so much about the background of our complex protagonist Daniel Pursglove, dropping little hints here and there, but leaving a lot still to tell about the man we have only just begun to know - and I cannot wait to find out more.

The Drowned City is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Caitlin Raynor at Headline Books for sending me a proof of this book in return for an honest review.

About the Author:

Karen Maitland is an historical novelist, lecturer and teacher of Creative Writing, with over twenty books to her name. She grew up in Malta, which inspired her passion for history, and travelled and worked all over the world before settling in the United Kingdom. She has a doctorate in psycholinguistics, and now lives on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon.


In The Company Of Strangers (Audio Book) by Awais Khan

 In The Company Of Strangers

by
Awais Khan



Audio book narrated by Esh Alladi
Listening time 9 hours and 40 minutes
Released 1st April 2021 by Isis Audio.


In the glittering world of Pakistan's elite, all is not what it seems...

Mona has almost everything: money, friends, social status... everything except for freedom.
Languishing in her golden cage, she craves a sense of belonging...

Desperate for emotional release, she turns to a friend who introduces her to a world of glitter,
glamour, covert affairs and drugs. There she meets Ali, a physically and emotionally wounded man,
years younger than her.

Heady with love, she begins a delicate game of deceit that spirals out of control and threatens to
shatter the deceptive facade of conservatism erected by Lahori society, and potentially destroy
everything that Mona has ever held dear.


In The Company of Strangers is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer in paperback, e-book and audio formats, or via the link HERE.

About the author:

Awais Khan is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario and Durham University. He is also an alum of Faber Academy. He teaches creative writing in Pakistan as part of the Writing Institute and 
has delivered lectures at Durham University, American University of Dubai, Canadian University of  Dubai to name a few. 

He has appeared on BBC World Service, Dubai Eye, Voice of America, City42, Cambridge Radio, Samaa TV, Indus TV, PTV Home and several other radio and TV channels. His work has appeared in The Aleph Review, The Hindu, The Missing Slate etc.
 
He is the author of In the Company of Strangers (published by Simon and Schuster, The Book Guild and Isis Audio) and No Honour (published by Orenda Books in Summer 2021). He is represented by Annette Crossland.

As part of this blog tour to celebrate the release of this incredible tale of forbidden love and terror in the sweltering heat of Lahore, it is my pleasure to bring you a little glimpse of the man behind the story and this author bio, with 10 intriguing facts about Awais Khan!

1. My favourite food is chicken biryani. It has to be done right, though. I like the special Bombay Biryani recipe. It is very spicy and absolutely delicious.

2. My celebrity crush is Laura Prepon.

3. I can speak 4 languages: English, Urdu, Punjabi and Saraiki. I used to be able to speak a bit of French, but not anymore.

4. My favorite quotes are: "It is never too late to be what you might have been."- George Eliot
and "Be who are you are and say what you feel, because in the end, those who matter don't mind and those who mind don't matter."Bernard M. Baruch

5. My favorite authors are: Donna Tartt, Kate Morton, Faiqa Mansab, A.A. Chaudhuri, Alan Gorevan, J.K. Rowling, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Eve Smith, Rob Parker, and most recently V.E. Schwab.

6. As a child, I wanted to be a doctor.

7. If I could be a teenager again, I'd tell him to follow his dreams and not give a damn about what people thought. I would ask him to major in Creative Writing.

8. I'm practically addicted to social media!

9. My first thought when I wake up in the morning is how many emails and messagess have I received while I was asleep!

10. A place I really want to visit would be Yellowknife, Canada.


Thank you Awais!


About the narrator:

Esh Alladi is an actor who trained at LAMDA and has a wide range of stage experience. His theatre credits include: Hobson’s Choice (Royal Exchange), Rutherford and Son (Crucible Theatre), Absolute Hell (National Theatre) and Twelfth Night (Royal Shakespeare Company). Esh is also no stranger to the screen and some of his TV credits include: Anthony (BBC), Unprecedented (BBC), A
Confession (ITV), Casualty (BBC), Frankie (BBC) and EastEnders (BBC). He won a UK Theatre Award in 2019 for Best Supporting Performance for his role in Hobson's Choice.




COMING SOON...

From Awais Khan and Orenda Books


A young woman defies convention in a small Pakistani village, with devastating results for her and her family. A stunning, immense beautiful novel about courage, family and the meaning of love, when everything seems lost…

In sixteen-year-old Abida’s small Pakistani village, there are age-old rules to live by, and her family’s honour to protect. And, yet, her spirit is defiant and she yearns to make a home with the man she loves.

When the unthinkable happens, Abida faces the same fate as other young girls who have chosen unacceptable alliances – certain, public death. Fired by a fierce determination to resist everything she knows to be wrong about the society into which she was born, and aided by her devoted father, Jamil, who puts his own life on the line to help her, she escapes to Lahore and then disappears.

Jamal goes to Lahore in search of Abida – a city where the prejudices that dominate their village take on a new and horrifying form – and father and daughter are caught in a world from which they may never escape.

Moving from the depths of rural Pakistan, riddled with poverty and religious fervour, to the dangerous streets of over-populated Lahore, No Honour is a story of family, of the indomitable spirit of love in its many forms … a story of courage and resilience, when all seems lost, and the inextinguishable fire that lights one young woman’s battle for change.

Available to pre-order now!

Friday, April 2, 2021

The Girls From Alexandria by Carol Cooper

 

The Girls From Alexandria by Carol Cooper.

Published 1st April 2021 by Agora Books.

From the cover of the book:

‘Memories are fragile when you are seventy years old. I can’t afford to lose any more of them, not when 
remembering the past might help with the here and now.’


Nadia needs help. Help getting out of her hospital bed. Help taking her pills. One thing she doesn’t need help with is remembering her sister. But she does need help finding her.

Alone and abandoned in a London hospital, 70-year-old Nadia is facing the rest of her life spent in a care home unless she can contact her sister Simone... who’s been missing for 50 years.

Despite being told she’s ‘confused’ and not quite understanding how wi-fi works, Nadia is determined to find Simone. So with only cryptic postcards and her own jumbled memories to go on, Nadia must race against her own fading faculties and find her sister before she herself is forgotten.

Set against the lush and glamorous backdrop of 20th century Alexandria, Carol Cooper’s The Girls from Alexandria is equal parts contemporary mystery and historical fiction: a re-coming of age story about family, identity, and homeland.

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

What a fascinating mix of coming of age story, historical fiction and family mystery The Girls From Alexandria turned out to be!

Our story begins with seventy-year-old Nadia in hospital with a mysterious illness. Widowed and childless, she seems destined to spend her twilight years in a care home unless she can contact her sister Simone... a sister who has been missing since 1967... a sister that no one really believes exists.

Nadia may be frail and confused, but she is determined to track down Simone, and following the clues left behind on the postcards Simone has sent to her over the years (each one bearing a cryptic message) and raking up reminiscences from her own failing memory her quest begins in earnest.

The story follows a pattern that swaps between Nadia's search for her sister during her stay in hospital, and flashbacks from her past starting with her childhood in Alexandria in 1952, until we have the pieces we need to find the answers to more than one mystery.

In many ways this is a story of two halves, revolving as it does between the more sedate pace of what is happening in the present, and the vivid retelling of pertinent and emotive episodes from Nadia's past. This does bring an unusual mix of slow and fast as the story progresses, which some might find difficult, but I rather enjoyed the way the present bleeds into the past and back again in a dreamlike way as Nadia drags up the memories that spring from her refection on Simone's enigmatic messages.

Carol Cooper covers quite a lot of ground in this novel. The glimpses into Nadia's past are particularly revealing, especially those of her childhood in Egypt and her married life. I really enjoyed the description of the cultural melting pot 1950's Alexandria, and the way Cooper takes us through recent Egyptian history was a fascinating look at how political upheaval and regime change can affect ones notion of 'home'. In addition, Cooper does a fabulous job of showing what it is like to grow up in a culture where women dance to the tune of the men of the household, however abhorrent or controlling the behaviour of these males may be. There is also a nice vein of dark humour and irony that peeks its head above the parapet from time to time to lighten the mood - particularly in evidence in Nadia's observations about her time in hospital, and around some of her childhood memories.

The Girl's From Alexandria is an intriguing book, cleverly wrapping a lot of themes up in its story of two sisters divided by a shocking event - childhood, marriage, the bonds of family, home, identity and unresolved trauma all come under the microscope of Carol Cooper, and there is a nice thread around medical issues too, where her own background as a doctor shines through. It's worth noting that there are some difficult scenes in this book in relation to miscarriage and sexual abuse, and I did find some of Nadia's husband's comments about his patients troubling, but these subjects are integral to the story and all serve to make up the captivating whole.

But my absolute favourite thing about this novel is the way Cooper uses it as a very unusual coming of age tale. Throughout the story Nadia sees herself as the 'younger sister', even though Simone has not been in her life for 50 years - always as Naive Nadia in the shadow of Sophisticated Simone. It is not until the mystery of Simone's disappearance, and the truth behind her own sad tale are both solved that Nadia finally finds the courage to step out of that shadow and truly be herself - at the ripe old age of 70! Bravo!

The Girls from Alexandria is available to buy now in e-book, and from 29th April 2021 in paperback, from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Peyton Stableford 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:

Carol Cooper is a doctor, journalist, and author. Born in London, she was only a few months old when her cosmopolitan family took her to live in Egypt. She returned to the UK at eighteen and went to Cambridge University where she studied medicine and her fellow students. On her path to a career in general practice, she worked at supermarket checkouts, typed manuscripts in Russian, and spent years as a hospital doctor.

Following a string of popular health books as well as an award- winning medical textbook, Carol turned to writing fiction. Her first two novels were contemporary tales set in London. Ever a believer in writing what you know, she mined the rich material of her childhood for The Girls from Alexandria.

Carol lives with her husband in Cambridge and Hampstead. She has three grownup sons and three
stepchildren.




Thursday, April 1, 2021

The Deception Of Harriet Fleet by Helen Scarlett

The Deception Of Harriett Fleet by Helen Scarlett.

Published 1st April 2021 by Quercus.

From the cover of the book:

Dark and brimming with suspense, an atmospheric Victorian chiller set in brooding County Durham for fans of Stacey Halls and Laura Purcell.

1871. An age of discovery and progress. But for the Wainwright family, residents of the gloomy Teesbank Hall in County Durham the secrets of the past continue to overshadow their lives.

Harriet would not have taken the job of governess in such a remote place unless she wanted to hide from something or someone. Her charge is Eleanor, the daughter of the house, a fiercely bright eighteen-year-old, tortured by demons and feared by relations and staff alike. But it soon becomes apparent that Harriet is not there to teach Eleanor, but rather to monitor her erratic and dangerous behaviour - to spy on her.

Worn down by Eleanor’s unpredictable hostility, Harriet soon finds herself embroiled in Eleanor’s obsession - the Wainwright’s dark, tragic history. As family secrets are unearthed, Harriet’s own begin to haunt her and she becomes convinced that ghosts from the past are determined to reveal her shameful story. For Harriet, like Eleanor, is plagued by deception and untruths.

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

Welcome to brooding Teesdale Hall, County Durham, the home of the Wainright family - a family that  guards the truth behind its traumatic history very carefully. Into this picture of less than domestic bliss, governess Harriet Caldwell, escaping demons of her own, has arrived to care for the young lady of the house, Miss Eleanor. Almost as soon as Harriet crosses the threshold she learns that her task will be to spy on her intelligent, but unbalanced pupil rather than teach her - a fact that Eleanor is very aware of, and none too happy about.

Eleanor's hostility and the strange family dynamic at Teesdale Hall soon begin to wear Harriet down, and she becomes drawn into Eleanor's obsession with the dark secrets that the Wainright family have done their utmost to hide. Manipulated into playing Eleanor's game, Harriet's own ghosts from the past begin to haunt her, and she is convinced that her shameful secrets will be revealed - including her deception about who she really is. Some secrets refuse to stay hidden, and Harriet proves to be the catalyst that will bring the shocking truth to light, with tragic consequences for herself and the Wainright family.

It's true to say that many of the characters here come across as those you would expect to see in a Victorian melodrama, especially the males of the piece (I couldn't quite rid myself of the the image of Harriet's evil uncle as the baddie with an enormous bushy moustache and staring eyes), but this actually plays beautifully with the kind of story Helen Scarlett clearly wants to explore when it comes to her female players.

For it is the women of this story that are we are really here to read about, and through them we get to see many different sides of female powerlessness at the hands of men, all mixed up in a wonderfully atmospheric, Gothic mystery. We have women cast in the roles of dutiful wife, obedient daughter, tractable ward - all of whom stubbornly refuse to follow the male-defined character outlines given to them . Our 'dutiful' wife is in fact weighed down with the sorrows of a life in which she has almost constantly been pregnant, and suffered the trauma of seeing most of her children taken from her in one way of another, while being forced to stand-by and watch her philandering husband take his pleasures where he will (without much sympathy from her harridan of a mother-in-law); our 'obedient' daughter is damaged by the neglect of her parents, despises the female pursuits she is expected to confine herself to and longs for the same freedom to travel, learn and experience life that her brother takes for granted; and our 'tractable' ward has in fact escaped the clutches of her despicable uncle after refusing to be persuaded to take part in his sick fantasies, while being forced to leave behind all that is rightfully hers. All these women have good reason to be dissatisfied with their lot, and yet, denying the roles they are expected to fulfil on this male dominated 'stage' can only lead to pain, sadness and the constant fear of being labelled hysterical.

We also see the suffering of the women below stairs, in service, as they are subjected to the sexual advances of their masters, for them then to be cast aside, labelled as whores, and left to degradation (and worse) at the first hint of trouble. All apparently, due to their own 'wanton nature'.

There is certainly a lot of injustice and gaslighting towards the fair sex on display here, but interestingly Scarlett writes her women with degrees of light and shade, and is unflinching in delving into the nitty gritty of their motives, behaviours and even sometimes, complicity, which leaves you to make up your own minds about the grey area between justice and revenge - and you may not like everything that you find out about them in the process, even if you sympathise with their situations and struggles.

The Deception of Harriett Fleet is a very enjoyable Victorian murder mystery, family drama and romance that gives more than a little nod towards Gothic on the Bronte scale, especially the wonderful Jane Eyre, and I was impressed with the way Scarlett works her complex themes into the telling of it. The threads of the tale play out at just the right pace, with a slick twist I did not see coming, and the oppressive setting is perfect for a tale of terrible family secrets and retribution.

I think, perhaps, there might not be enough supernatural creepiness for the die-hard Laura Purcell fan here, but if you are a lover of a ghostly whisper, rich historical detail and a fascinating look at social history on the scale of Stacey Halls and Michelle Paver's Wakenhyrst, then The Deception of Harriett Fleet should definitely be on your reading pile. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Deception of Harriet Fleet is available to but now from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Katya Ellis at Quercus for sending me 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:

Helen Scarlett is a writer and English teacher based in the north east of England. Her debut historical novel, The Deception of Harriet Fleet, is a chilling take on nineteenth-century classics such as Jane Eyre seen through modern eyes. It is set in County Durham, close to where Helen lives with her husband and two daughters.