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Friday, April 30, 2021

April 2021 Reading Round-Up

April 2021 Reading Round-Up

Eighteen books down this month, and there were some absolute corkers among them!
Please click the links below the photos to take you to the reviews.

The Deception of Harriet Fleet by Helen Scarlett

The Girls From Alexandria by Carol Cooper

Drowned City by K.J. Maitland

The Lost Hours by Susan Lewis

Vera Kelly Is Not A Mystery by Rosalie Knecht

Lairies by Steve Hollyman

Backstories by Simon Van Der Velde

The Dig Street Festival by Chris Walsh

Don't Turn Around by Jessica Barry

The Summer Job by Lizzy Dent

On Hampstead Heath by Marika Cobbold

Lean Fall Stand by Jon McGregor

Cunning Women by Elizabeth Lee

Lionheart by Ben Kane

Cuban Heel by Leopold Borstinski

The Inimitable Jeeves and Carry On Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse - no reviews for these as they are part of an audio collection, but it is enough to say that these first two books are simply wonderful!

More great books next month!

If you have enjoyed my photographic efforts, please head to my Instagram page
@brownflopsy for more!

Geiger by Gustaf Skördeman


Geiger by Gustaf Skördeman.

Published 29th April 2021 by Bonnier Books.

From the cover of the book:

The landline rings as Agneta is waving off her grandchildren. Just one word comes out of the receiver: 'Geiger'. For decades, Agneta has always known that this moment would come, but she is shaken. She knows what it means.

Retrieving her weapon from its hiding place, she attaches the silencer and creeps up behind her husband before pressing the barrel to his temple.

Then she squeezes the trigger and disappears - leaving behind her wallet and keys.

The extraordinary murder is not Sara Nowak's case. But she was once close to those affected and, defying regulations, she joins the investigation. 

What Sara doesn't know is that the mysterious codeword is just the first piece in the puzzle of an intricate and devastating plot fifty years in the making..


Our story begins with grandmother Agneta Broman waving off her daughters and grandchildren after a seemingly ordinary family get-together, but what happens next is very unexpected - for no sooner are the family out the door, than Agneta receives an enigmatic telephone call that provokes her to shoot her husband Stellan in the head and head off into the unknown. How could the single word "Geiger" cause an old woman to murder her husband of many years and leaver her life behind?

Sara Nowak is a cop that spends her time busting the men who try to buy sex, while attempting to do what she can to help the girls and women forced into prostitution, but she is not sure she that the little she can do is enough to make any real impact on the problem. Her life takes a surprising turn when she receives a call from one of her colleagues telling her about the murder of Stellan Broman and the disappearance of his wife. Sara was close childhood friends with the Broman's daughters Lotta and Malin, and she cannot understand why anyone would want to kill Stellan, a former television celebrity beloved by all, or abduct Agneta.

Although this case is not Sara's to investigate, she cannot help looking into the murder, feeling a compulsion to do what she can for the family that showed her and her mother so much kindness when she was a child, but what she discovers makes her reassess everything she thought she knew about the past. She begins to realise that the rosy picture of childhood summers that she has carried around with her all her life does not reflect the truth and that sinister things were going on in the Broman household - things that impacted upon her own childhood, and things that may have terrible consequences for millions of people in the present unless she can do something to stop the sequence of events now playing out. 

Geiger is an entertaining mix of contemporary Scandi crime thriller and Cold War espionage yarn, parts of which are really rather clever, and I liked the way the story cuts backwards and forwards between Sara and Agneta, bringing in elements of the past, present and a horrifying future.

Sara is a tricky character to warm to, but her sheer determination to get to the truth, whatever the toll on her personal and professional lives, drives the story along at a good pace and builds suspense nicely along the way. However, there are times when Skördeman tries to cover too much in Sara's part of the story, with some scenes which are a bit unnecessary in the overall scheme of things - and even, sometimes, a bit gratuitous in terms of the sexual violence portrayed. A bit less would have been more here. Agneta was the most interesting character from me, as she had so much unexpected depth to her story, and conversely, I wanted to read more about her, as the mystery surrounding her real intentions was intriguing. 

The way Skördeman spins Sara's investigation, cutting back and forth between the clues she uncovers, and Agneta's mission, works beautifully, and I particularly enjoyed the way Sara's relationship with her mother develops as a result of what she finds. The truth is uncovered gradually, with some pretty hefty, gut-wrenching revelations in connection with political conspiracy, coercion and sexual abuse, and the whole lot is polished off with a couple of little gems of twists that I did not see coming at all. I think it's fair to say that you do need to be up on a fair bit of Cold War politics to fully appreciate how canny this novel is, but if you are a fan of books which delve into the dark days of murky machinations of the Eastern Bloc security services then you are in for a treat.

There are some threads left hanging at the end of this novel, and a bit of a strange twist, that imply Geiger may be the first in a series of books, and I really want to know what happens next. There are certainly plenty of promising elements in this debut that make me want to read more from this author, so I have my fingers crossed that this will happen - time will tell!

Geiger is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer in hardcover, e-book and audio formats.

Thank you to Bonnier Books for sending me an Netgalley 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 blog tour.

About the author:

Gustaf Skördeman was born in 1965 in Sweden and is a screenwriter, director and producer. Geiger, his thriller debut, is published in 24 countries, and film rights have been optioned by Monumental Pictures.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Cuban Heel (Alex Cohen Book 5) by Leopold Borstinski

Cuban Heel (Alex Cohen Book 5) by Leopold Borstinski.

Published 3rd April by Sobriety Press.

From the cover of the book:

Would you work with the devil to build a paradise on Earth?

Jewish gangster, Alex Cohen joins long-time friend and business partner, Meyer Lansky to recreate Las Vegas in 1950s Havana. When dictator President Batista gives them the opportunity to build their dream casino complexes, Alex must choose between dancing with this devil or being in debt to the Italian mob.

If he takes the mafia money then he will be tied to the men who planned his earlier downfall and removed his mentor, Lucky Luciano from the syndicate. If he refuses their investment then he will be beholden to the tin-pot generalissimo and his bloated ego. But Alex knows that there is more at stake than mere gelt - now he has his family surrounding him and they will suffer the ultimate price if he makes a bad decision.

The fifth book in the Alex Cohen series is an historical thriller novel, which tears at the heart of the Jewish mob's role in pre-revolution Cuba. Leopold Borstinski's piercing crime fiction gives each reader the shocking skinny into the building of modern America.


Welcome to the fifth book in the Alex Cohen series, which finds Alex fresh from the Las Vegas scene and trying to establish his own gambling empire in Cuba, in partnership with old friend Meyer Lansky.

There is a lot of money to be made in a country that is little more than a banana republic under the control of a dictator president, but to do so Alex must make some difficult choices - President Batista wants part of the action, and some pretty hefty bribes too, but it boils down to either keeping him sweet or relying on money from the Syndicate back home - the very people who were plotting Alex's downfall not so long ago.

Despite the tricky situation, Alex knows if he can make enough money in Cuba he will be set for life, and he is rather enjoying being away from the beady eye of the FBI for once, but things are about to get complicated - there are quite a few old Syndicate buddies who want in on the deal, Meyer is demanding more and more commitment, and a revolution that threatens all their schemes is on the horizon...

It was great to meet up with Alex again in his fifth adventure Cuban Heel, and this time we see him wheeling and dealing in Cuba. There are opportunities aplenty on this little tropical island off the coast of Florida, and lots of money to be made if Alex can learn the rules of the game quickly enough. As usual money talks, and President Batista is a man who is partial to lining his own pockets at the expense of his people, which gives Alex and Meyer some promising avenues to exploit, but do they really know what they are getting themselves involved in?

 I did not know a lot about the mobster operations in Cuba that intended to make it into a playground for American tourists, but it is hard to ignore that there is a pretty fixed window of opportunity in a country headed for a very well known revolution and change of leadership at the beginning of 1959. This brings a really interesting air of suspense to the tale while you are waiting for the inevitable takeover by the Castro brothers that must bring an end to the fun, and Borstinski nicely works into the story some of the events heading up the to eventual downfall of Batista. Tension builds slowly, as the story goes back and forth between Cuba and some action packed visits by Alex to the US, until everything comes crashing down in a way that makes you wonder how he is going to get out of this one without losing everything. 

The entertaining way Borstinski keeps you on the edge of your seat makes this my favourite Alex Cohen story so far, but it is not the only thing: Cuban Heel also sees Alex shaping his own dynasty for the first time, as he begins to build bridges with his sons, and establish a family affair with him and Sarah at the top. Although both Sarah and Alex want to keep their children on the legitimate side of operations, we know that they are are all more than aware of the more shady dealings beneath the surface of everything Alex does, which offers some interesting possibilities for the future - and of course, it's great to finally see Sarah getting some recognition.

Talking of shady dealings, Alex is called upon to make use of his special skills more than once in this book, especially to settle some old scores and keep his reputation fresh in certain circles back home, even if the Italian mobs are distancing themselves from the Jewish gangs - it seems he is still a good friend to have around in a tight spot!

Of course, the party does come to an end, as we know it will, and Alex now needs to move onto pastures new, but this time he will be beginning with his family around him and some intriguing cards up his sleeve, which I have no doubt he will play to his advantage. I have enjoyed each and every one of the books in this series, and Alex has become like an old friend to me now - albeit one with a particular set of less than legal skills. His experiences have shaped him into the very resourceful and crafty character he has become, and it has been a pleasure being along for the ride. I cannot wait to see what comes next in book six, Hollywood Bilker, which will take us into the 1960s!

Cuban Heel is available to buy now in e-book and paperback formats from your favourite book retailer, or via the links below:

Thank you to Leopold Borstinski for providing me with an e-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:

Leopold Borstinski is an independent author whose past careers have included financial journalism, business management of financial software companies, consulting and product sales and marketing, as well as teaching.

There is nothing he likes better so he does as much nothing as he possibly can. He has travelled extensively in Europe and the US and has visited Asia on several occasions. Leopold holds a Philosophy degree and tries not to drop it too often.

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

Monday, April 26, 2021

Lionheart by Ben Kane


Lionheart by Ben Kane.

Published in hardcover 28th May 2020 by Orion.

From the cover of the book:

1179. Henry II is King of England, Wales, Ireland, Normandy, Brittany and Aquitaine. The House of Plantagenet reigns supreme.

But there is unrest in Henry's house. Not for the first time, his family talks of rebellion.

Ferdia - an Irish nobleman taken captive during the conquest of his homeland - saves the life of Richard, the king's son. In reward for his bravery, he is made squire to Richard, who is already a renowned warrior.

Crossing the English Channel, the two are plunged into a campaign to crush rebels in Aquitaine. The bloody battles and gruelling sieges which followed would earn Richard the legendary name of Lionheart.

But Richard's older brother, Henry, is infuriated by his sibling's newfound fame. Soon it becomes clear that the biggest threat to Richard's life may not be rebel or French armies, but his own family...


Lionheart is Ben Kane's first novel that tackles a subject that is not related to the Roman empire, and he has made a great job of it. He tips us right into the middle of a family at war, as the four sons of Plantagenet King Henry II battle it out for power, and in his inimitable style there is plenty to get your teeth into, with well-researched historical facts spun throughout a gripping fictional story.

Told through the eyes of Ferdia, who becomes known as Rufus, an Irish nobleman taken hostage in order to keep his rebellious family in line, we get an intriguing glimpse of the politics and social structure of this period of history. Although Rufus is noble-born, his change of circumstances has him taking on the role of a squire without a master, and one with pretty strict boundaries at that. His journey to the castle in Wales that becomes his home is a rough one, and he makes a dangerous enemy on the way, but he soon finds friends among his new found 'family' - although a compulsion to return to the land of his birth and fight for the freedom of his homeland feeds a rebellious streak within him.

However, a meeting with the young Duke Richard, the King's second eldest son, changes the course of his life in ways he never expected. Drawn to the charismatic Richard, a man that should be his enemy, he follows a path that takes him to France as a squire in the Lionheart's service, and many thrilling adventures follow...

Kane's writing is extremely engaging and you soon find yourself caught up in a sweeping story that encompasses rich period detail and a wealth of great characters. The love-hate relationships, jealousy and bitter rivalry between the sons of Henry II is all too apparent and we are along for lots of beautifully written uncomfortable scenes as the bitterness between them overflows into treachery and violence. 

The moments of battle, political posturing and powerplays behind the scenes are particularly enjoyable, and even though I knew a fair bit about this period of history, there was lots to discover from Kane's depiction of the fierce conflict between Henry's sons that I was not aware of. Interestingly, for a man known for his political and military prowess, King Henry comes across as blind and foolish in the partiality shown to the less worth of his off-spring at this stage of his reign, with disastrous consequences for the empire he built. There's nothing like a bit of glorious family backstabbing to keep you glued to the page!

But it is not just the wider historical drama of the ruling family that makes this such a good yarn. Rufus' story itself has plenty of moments of drama, love, laughter and loss to keep you busy, along with some fierce rivalries of his own that get your blood boiling. Cracking stuff!

The story leaves off just as Richard takes the throne at his coronation, with a nice hook to take you into book two, Crusader. I cannot wait to find out what adventures await Rufus in the service of the new King Richard, as they 'take the cross' and head to the Holy Land!

Lionheart is available to buy now in e-book, hardcover, paperback and audio formats from your favourite book retailer. Book two, Crusader, is also available to pre-order and will be released in hardcover and e-book formats on 29th April 2021.

Thank you to Virginia Woolstencroft from Orion books for sending me a paperback copy of this book in return for an honest review. I have purchased a hardcover copy to add to my collection.

About the author:

Kenya born, Irish by blood and UK resident, Ben Kane's passion for history has seen him change his career from veterinary medicine to writing, and taken him to more than 60 countries, and all seven continents. During his travels and subsequent research, including walking hundreds of miles in complete Roman military gear, he has learned much about the Romans and the way they lived.

Ten of his thirteen novels have been Sunday Times top ten bestsellers, and his books are published in twelve languages; a million copies have sold worldwide. In 2016, his research was recognised by Bristol University with an honorary Doctor of Letters degree and he is regular speaker at schools and history festivals around the country, as well as being an official guide for Andante Travels. 

Kane lives in Somerset with his wife and children, where he writes full time.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Cunning Women by Elizabeth Lee


Cunning Women by Elizabeth Lee.

Published 22nd April 2021 by Windmill.

From the cover of the book:

When it is no longer safe to be a witch, they call themselves cunning.

1620s Lancashire. Away from the village lies a small hamlet, abandoned since the Plague, where only one family dwells amongst its ruins. Young Sarah Haworth, her mother, brother and little sister Annie are a family of outcasts by day and the recipients of visitors by night. They are cunning folk: the villagers will always need them, quick with a healing balm or more, should the need arise. They can keep secrets too, because no one would believe them anyway.

When Sarah spies a young man taming a wild horse, she risks being caught to watch him calm the animal. And when Daniel sees Sarah he does not just see a strange, dirty thing, he sees her for who she really is: a strong creature about to come into her own. But can something as fragile as love blossom between these two in such a place as this?

When a new magistrate arrives to investigate the strange ends that keep befalling the villagers, he has his eye on one family alone. And a torch in his hand.

Cunning Women is the powerful reckoning of a young woman with her wildness, a heartbreaking tale of young love and a shattering story of the intolerance that reigned during the long shadow of the Pendle Witch Trials, when those who did not conform found persecution at every door.


Cunning Women is the story of star-crossed lovers Sarah Haworth and Daniel Taylor who fall in love after finding an unexpected connection with each other, despite the obstacles that divide them. One is the son of the only farmer in the village, expected to take on his father's mantle as what passes for local gentry, and the other a girl living on the fringes of the community with her mother and younger siblings, oppressed by poverty and her heritage as the child of a cunning woman. In the age of James I's obsession with eradicating witchcraft and religious dissenters from his realm, and especially in the aftermath of the Pendle Witch Trials, this is a dangerous time to not only be suspected of being a witch, but also to be associated with anyone accused of practicing the dark arts - even if the villagers are happy to secretly consult a cunning woman in times of need. Sarah and James are walking a dangerous path in trying to be together, and it is hard to see how the course of true love can ever run smooth.

When a scandal precipitates the arrival of a new magistrate in the village, it is not long before he has his beady eye on the Haworth family as the root of all evil hereabouts, and his zealous bigotry encourages the kind of self-serving talk and finger pointing that bodes ill for the family. 

I do not think I have ever read anything inspired by the Pendle Witch Trials quite like this book. While passion and witchcraft lie at the heart of the tale, essentially this is a book about hard choices limited by expectation and circumstance, and it brings in all kinds of rich themes around love, loss, yearning, intolerance, power, betrayal, revenge, cruelty and kindness in unexpected places, set against the backdrop of suspicion and fear that characterised this period of history.

Elizabeth Lee plays with the threads of the story in a way that is completely unexpected, and although we have cunning women here they are not the ones we normally read about in a witchy yarn. So much of their life is dictated by the crushing poverty the hand of fate has dealt them, but you are never quite sure where the line between cunning and witchcraft lies, and at times, they seem to be perpetuating the myth that witches are marked and chosen to follow a dark path against their own wishes.

There is a lot in this book that is difficult to read, with plenty of violent scenes that pack a powerful punch, and at all times you are waiting for the inevitable hammer to fall. The characters are beautifully drawn, and so well filled out that you understand what drives them to think and act as they do, even if you desperately want to stop them from behaving in ways you know will break your heart. Sarah is my pick of the bunch for her sheer courage, torn as she is between what she desires and the weight of what appears to be her incontrovertible destiny, but the most tragic character here is Sarah's brother John, I think, who is forever in some kind of wretched limbo. 

This is an impressive book and I could not tear my eyes from the page, even at the most distressing moments, as Lee carried me along with her bittersweet, sweeping tale. This is historical fiction at it's all encompassing best, working in themes that have intriguing parallels today in terms of prejudice and human frailty. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Cunning Women is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer in hardcover, e-book and audio formats.

Thank you to Isabelle Ralphs of Penguin Random House for sending me a proof of this book in return for an honest review.

About the author:

Elizabeth Lee won the Curtis Brown Creative Marian Keyes Scholarship, and her work has been selected for the Womentoring Project and Penguin’s WriteNow Live. She lives in Warwickshire.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Lean Fall Stand by Jon McGregor


Lean Fall Stand by Jon McGregor.

Published 29th April 2021 by 4th Estate.

From the cover of the book:

When an Antarctic research expedition goes wrong, the consequences are far-reaching – for the men involved and for their families back home.

Robert "Doc" Wright, a veteran of Antarctic field work, holds the clues to what happened, but he is no longer able to communicate them. While Anna, his wife, navigates the sharp contours of her new life as a carer, Robert is forced to learn a whole new way to be in the world.

Award-winning novelist Jon McGregor returns with a stunning novel that mesmerizingly and tenderly unpicks the notion of heroism and explores the indomitable human impulse to tell our stories – even when words fail us. A meditation on the line between sacrifice and selfishness this is a story of the undervalued, unrecognised courage it can take just to get through the day.

The highly anticipated new novel from the Costa-award winning, three-times Booker-longlisted author of Reservoir 13.


Robert 'Doc' Wright is a man at home among the frozen wastes of Antarctica, and the years he has spent involved in research projects here have formed a deep love in his heart for this remote landscape that does not bear close comparison with the feelings he holds for his wife and family back home in Britain.

This year, Doc is on the ice with two young Antarctic virgins who very keen to get everything right, something which often puts them at odds with Doc's more relaxed attitude to some of the procedures instilled in them as vital during their training. Doc seems to know his stuff though, and he is the veteran here after all, so they soon fall into his way of doing things. But when a sudden storm hits while they are out on the ice, events take a very dangerous turn for the three men, and the consequences are deadly. Doc holds the key for what went wrong, but what happened that day means that he is unable to tell anyone his side of the story. 

Lean Fall Stand is the kind of novel that takes you in a very surprising direction - and an emotionally charged one at that. What begins as a tale about an Antarctic expedition that goes wrong, entitled Lean, changes abruptly, with the second part of the book Fall, into a story of one man's fight to learn how to deal with the huge changes that have been forced upon him and his family by events that took place out on the ice - events that he is not able to communicate the truth about.

Fall is told entirely from the perspective of Doc's wife Anna, a respected academic in her own right, from the point she receives a phone call telling her he has been injured and she needs to get to Chile as soon as possible. This is where the novel really hits hard, as we follow Anna as she is expected to play the part of devoted wife at Doc's side on his road to recovery, even though there has been a distance between them for many years that is not just geographical, and McGregor holds nothing back about the toll this takes on the couple, and their children.

The final part of the novel Stand, brings us to the point where Doc finds a way to recover something of the man he used to be... leading intriguingly into some clarity about the events of the fateful day in Antarctica.

The abrupt change of pace and context between parts one and two of the novel certainly hit me for six, and I found it rather disorienting in much the same way that life changes for Doc and his family which, if intentional, is genius. Suddenly you find yourself in a very different sort of story exposing the real nitty gritty of what it is like to not only find yourself incapacitated, but also how this impacts on the friends and family around you. In keeping with Doc's inability to communicate, this part of the tale is told cleverly through the eyes of Anna, allowing us to understand exactly how the change in the course of their, normally quite separate, lives is not something she felt she signed up for.

There are parts of this novel where I felt a bit like I was lost on the ice as McGregor plays up the mystery side of the story, with the truth about what happened that fateful day always out of focus in the whiteout - for me the pieces did not completely fall into place, even with the insight of Doc's recall of events at the conclusion. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the way he explores the concept of isolation throughout the novel so well - the isolation of a remote landscape; the emotional isolation of a couple unable to connect with each other; and the isolation of someone unable to communicate with the people around them - and his use of language to convey aphasic speech is brilliant.

In addition, there is no doubt that this is a masterful depiction of the reality of someone struggling to cope with the recovery from profound injuries, and the repercussions that it has on the people around them. McGregor paints an authentic picture of the obvious frustration Doc feels at the changes in his circumstances, but for me, it is the way he shows Anna's true feelings of desperation, guilt, anger and the realisation that she has also lost the life she once enjoyed in becoming his carer that is where the power of this story lies. It was refreshing and moving to read a novel that really addresses the darker feelings of the family, which are normally unacknowledged.

I must admit that I am still not quite sure what to make of this novel, despite the beautifully written insight into the lives of Doc, Anna, their children and the people they meet along the way, but it has given me a lot to reflect upon, which I think makes it rather interesting. I would perhaps, advise some caution if you are currently bearing up under similar circumstances, but there is a lot to take from this novel that is helpful, reassuring and even uplifting - and that can only be a good thing in my view.

Lean Fall Stand is available to pre-order from your favourite book retailer and will be released in e-book and hardcover formats.

Thank you to Matt Clacher of 4th Estate for sending me a proof of this book in return for an honest review.

About the author:

Jon McGregor is the author of four novels and a story collection. He is the winner of the IMPAC Dublin Literature Prize, Betty Trask Prize, and Somerset Maugham Award, and has twice been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. He is Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Nottingham, where he edits The Letters Page, a literary journal in letters. He was born in Bermuda in 1976, grew up in Norfolk, and now lives in Nottingham.

Monday, April 19, 2021

On Hampstead Heath by Marika Cobbold


On Hampstead Heath by Marika Cobbold.

Published 15th April 2021 by Arcadia Books.

From the cover of the book:

Thorn Marsh was raised in a house of whispers, of meaningful glances and half-finished sentences. Now she's a journalist with a passion for truth, more devoted to her work at the London Journal than she ever was to her ex-husband.

When the newspaper is bought by media giant The Goring Group, who value sales figures over fact-checking, Thorn openly questions their methods, and promptly finds herself moved from the news desk to the midweek supplement, reporting heart-warming stories for their new segment, The Bright Side, a job to which she is spectacularly unsuited.

On a final warning and with no heart-warming news in sight, a desperate Thorn fabricates a good-news story of her own. The story, centred on an angelic apparition on Hampstead Heath, goes viral. Caught between her principles and her ambitions, Thorn goes in search of the truth behind her creation, only to find the answers locked away in the unconscious mind of a stranger.

Marika Cobbold returns with her eighth novel, On Hampstead Heath. Sharp, poignant, and infused with dark humour, On Hampstead Heath is an homage to storytelling and to truth; to the tales we tell ourselves, and the stories that save us.


Thorn Marsh is a journalist in the old style. Long-standing Editor of the news desk at her beloved London Journal, one of the last bastions of decent reporting, she believes in printing the facts and holds the responsibility granted to the media as the Fourth Estate as sacred. But something is afoot at the Journal. It has been taken over by the media giant The Goring Group and under the guardianship of a 'media consultant' the Journal is about to be brought firmly into the twenty-first century and rebranded as click-bait central, with very little regard to the actual truth. Thorn's kind of reporting is no longer required, thank you very much, and she has been side-lined into working on the light-hearted, news free, midweek supplement London Living, specifically the rather ominously entitled The Bright Side page, which will involve her writing heart-warming and inspirational stories - something which Thorn is most certainly not suited for.

Thorn's upbringing, and her passion for the truth are not conducive to writing the sort of content now required of her, so after a drunken session with her ex-husband, Thorn resorts to making up a story about a man seen leaping from Viaduct Bridge into a pond on Hampstead Heath. Although such a man does exist, did jump for reasons unknown, and surprisingly survived the drop, Thorn spins the tale as that of the 'Angel of the Heath' and embellishes it by adding in that he saved a drowning woman - a tale which unfortunately takes off out of all proportion and goes viral. Trapped in a lie that she cannot now confess to, Thorn has to weave a web of half-truths and downright whoppers to keep her in a job and she begins to question who she is becoming. As she is forced to dwell on the truth behind the man she has made an unwitting hero, she must confront her own secrets and lies, and what she finds affects her in ways she could never have imagined. 

Sometimes you start reading a book and know from the very first page that you are going to love it, wherever the story takes you. On Hampstead Heath by Marika Cobbold is that kind of book. 

The characters here are rich, varied and realistically flawed, and Cobbold weaves her threads around them with a deft touch, taking us on a journey that she playfully hints at the direction of with a portentous first chapter. It is a heart-felt lament for good old fashioned journalism, and I found the shattering of everything Thorn values surprisingly emotional - I defy you not to feel that the kind of lowest common denominator reporting that takes the place of her ideals is distressing in the extreme, and a sad indictment of the kind of journalism we see so much of today. But more than that, this is a book about the importance of truth in a wider sense too - the truth between friends and loved ones that can easily become subverted and lead to misunderstandings; the truth you must acknowledge to yourself about the kind of person you really are; and the truth about acts of the past that should never be allowed to be forgotten.

There is a lot here to tug firmly on your heartstrings, but it is also full of the most brilliant humour that will make you chuckle on and off throughout, despite the poignancy of the story. Cobbold throws up a lot for us to examine as part of her exploration of truth, including the influence of social media and the impact of family secrets on the way we see ourselves in adulthood. I have to say it was also a delight to have a protagonist who was able to really shine as a middle aged woman.

This is my first Marika Cobbold novel, but it will most definitely not be my last. I have fallen in love with her writing and am looking forward to the enjoyment of exploring every one of the seven books in her back catalogue. In many ways it reminds me of the sublime Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers in how it examines our feelings about the things we hold dear, which is a very good thing indeed. I cannot recommend this one highly enough.

On Hampstead Heath is available to buy now in hardback and e-book formats from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Georgina Moore from Midas PR for sending me a copy of this book in return for an honest review and to Amber Choudhary from Midas PR for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Marika Cobbold was born with newspaper ink flowing through her veins. She used to visit her father and grandfather at their offices at the Gothenburg-Post, the Swedish broadsheet her grandfather had rescued from oblivion decades earlier. At home, when Marika wasn’t reading, she listened as the grown-ups around her discussed the issues of the day, and to the stories told by her mother and great aunt, who was a writer.

She left Sweden for England when she was nineteen, with vague plans of studying law, but eventually what her grandfather called ‘the family curse’ caught up with her, and some years later she wrote her first novel, Guppies For Tea. She has been writing ever since.

The Summer Job by Lizzy Dent


The Summer Job by Lizzy Dent.

Published 15th April 2021 by Viking/Penguin.

From the cover of the book:

Have you ever imagined running away from your life?

Well Birdy Finch didn't just imagine it. She did it. Which might've been an error. And the life she's run into? Her best friend, Heather's.

The only problem is, she hasn't told Heather. Actually there are a few other problems...

Can Birdy carry off a summer at a luxury Scottish hotel pretending to be her best friend (who incidentally is a world-class wine expert)?

And can she stop herself from falling for the first man she's ever actually liked (but who thinks she's someone else)?

The Summer Job is a fresh, fun, feel-good romcom for fans of The Flatshare, Bridget Jones and Bridesmaids.


Birdy Finch is not particularly sure who she is or what she wants from life, but she knows she cannot go on living the way she is now. So when she gets a chance to get away from her hopeless part-time boyfriend and the string of dead end jobs that she finds far from fulfilling, she decides to go for it - the only problem is that she has to pretend to be someone else to do it... and that person is her best friend Heather. 

Birdy packs up and heads off to Scotland for a bit of a break to have a stab at working in a run-down Scottish hotel as a sommelier. It can't be that hard can it? Well, as it turns out, things are going to be a lot harder for Birdy than she thought... the run down hotel has just had a huge revamp turning it into a luxury retreat, and is aiming for a Michelin star - something for which they definitely need the world-class wine expert that as 'Heather' she is supposed to be! Can Birdy really carry this off, without Heather or the hotel finding out? And can she stop herself making things even more complicated by falling for the handsome chef James - who thinks she is someone else entirely? 

Every now and again, a rom-com comes along that absolutely knocks it out of the park, and The Summer Job is one of these special books. It has everything you want on a first-class romantic comedy - the characters, the humour, the romance, the heart... and of course, the inevitable hiccups on the road to happiness.

I absolutely loved Birdy from page one. She has had a difficult start in life and does not have a good track record when it comes to sticking at things, except her long friendship with her best friend Heather. She's fun, down to earth, and speaks her mind, but she is also one of life's blaggers who has never really settled down to anything. But Birdy finds that she has untapped skills and there are things worth fighting for, such as the dishy James, who is everything you want in your romantic story good guy - and as in all the best stories, Birdy spreads a little magic in her own special way too, and brings about change for everyone, even if it is in a roundabout way and as the result of a very bad error of judgement.

This book also manages to give a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of a country house hotel in the way only someone who has worked there can do, with such a lot of mouth-watering descriptions about the food and wines of such an establishment - and about the kinds of people that work there, and how hard they work. 

This is a gorgeous story, with a surprising amount of emotional depth in the way Lizzy Dent gets to the nitty gritty about what her characters need to do, or find, to be truly happy. It takes us right where we want to go, via lots of laughter and shed-loads of tears, in the way that all the best heart bursting books do. It's just the kind of brilliant escapist read that fans of Beth O'Leary and Lia Louis will love, and I can feel in my bones that Lizzy Dent is going to be one of my auto-buy 'snuggle down on the sofa' authors from now on!

The Summer Job is available to buy now in hardcover, e-book and audio formats from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Ellie Hudson at Penguin Books Uk for providing me with a proof of this book in return for an honest review, and for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. I have also purchased both e-book and hardcover versions.

About the author:

Lizzy Dent (mis)spent her early twenties working in Scotland in hospitality, in a hotel not unlike the one in this novel. She somehow ended up in a glamorous job travelling the world creating content for various TV companies, including MTV, Channel 4, Cartoon Network, the BBC and ITV. But she always knew that writing was the thing she wanted to do, if only she could find the confidence. After publishing three young adult novels, she decided to write a novel that reflected the real women she knew, who don't always know where they're going in life, but who always have fun doing it. The Summer Job is that novel.

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:



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


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!



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.