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Monday, May 31, 2021

Shadows Over The Spanish Sun by Caroline Montague


Shadows Over the Spanish Sun by Caroline Montague.

Published 27th May 2021 by Orion.

From the cover of the book:

A country in the shadow of war. A love that burns through the decades...

Mia Ferris's heart has always belonged in Spain. Every childhood summer was spent at her grandfather's hacienda, riding together amongst the olive trees or listening to his stories of the past. So when she learns that he has fallen from his horse, she knows that she belongs by his bedside - even if it means leaving behind her life in London, and her new fiancé.

But as Leonardo fights for his life, and Mia to save the family home from financial ruin, secrets begin to emerge that tell a different story of the past - a terrible history that begins with a boy running for his life over the Andalusian hills, and ends with a forbidden love that only war can destroy...

As Mia untangles the passions and betrayals of the past, everything she thought she knew is turned upside down. Can she heal the wounds of the past, and face the truth of her own heart?

A sweeping novel of passionate love, betrayal and redemption, set against the turmoil and tragedy of the Spanish Civil War.


There's nothing I love more than the kind of novel that enfolds you in the lives of its characters, carrying you along on the tide of their triumphs and tragedies, loves and losses, so you feel emotionally connected to them and their fortunes. Shadows Over the Spanish Sun is just that kind of book.

We start our literary journey with half-Spanish journalist Mia, whose heart lies in Andalusia at the hacienda of her beloved grandfather Leonardo, even though she is supposed to be preparing for marriage and settling down to life in England with her new fiancé Matt. When Leonardo has an accident that puts him in a coma, while out riding a spirited stallion in the beautiful grounds of his home, Mia knows that her place is at his bedside, even though it means leaving every other part of her life behind - including Matt.

Splitting her time between her grandfather's bedside and trying to keep the hacienda and its estate from financial ruin, Mia begins to learn something of the real history of her family, which differs markedly from the stories she has been told, and she cannot rest until she knows the truth. The story then follows two rich and immersive timelines - one in the present as Mia discovers what really happened in her family's past, and one that takes us back to the bloody days of the Spanish Civil War and a forbidden love story.

In Mia's present, she comes to learn of the family secrets that have been kept hidden for so long, but as the story of Leonardo's past plays out, through the words of her great-aunt and her grandfather himself, she also learns many things about herself and what she really wants. Leonardo's tale is full of tragedy, loss and revenge, both before and during the Civil War years, but is is also full of passion; deep devotion for family, home and horses; and true love that will not be denied - and many of these sentiments are also cleverly reflected in the threads of Mia's story.

This is the best book I have read yet that delves into the turmoil of the Spanish Civil War in a way that lays bare the deep divisions that were created between friends, neighbours and within families as a result of the political lines drawn between the Nationalists and Republicans. Montague brings home the terrible human toll of the violence meted out by both sides and the way its legacy still marks the Spanish people that remember it.  I was very impressed by the way she incorporates every aspect of this terrible time into her story, bringing in some very moving scenes about reconciliation and forgiveness - which again have echoes in Mia's story too. 

Sweeping, in the absolute best way possible, is the only way to describe this beautiful novel. It encompasses so much emotion and historical detail within the rich tapestry of the threads that Montague weaves with her words, and her love for Spain comes across so clearly. I adored every single minute that I spent with the wonderful characters she has created here, and was sad to leave them behind at the end. I cannot wait to give myself a treat by reading her previous two novels, A Italian Affair and A Paris Secret!

Shadows Over the Spanish Sun is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer.

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

About the author:

Caroline won her first National Poetry competition at 10 years old and from that moment dreamed of being a writer. Her life, however, took a different turn. At 18 she began a law degree but left after a year to marry a country solicitor. When juggling motherhood with modelling assignments became too much, she founded an Interior Design Company working on many projects in the UK and abroad. Her second marriage to the widowed Conroy Harrowby brought four stepchildren into her life, giving her a wider audience for her imaginative bedtime stories. As a family they all live at the Harrowby ancestral home, Burnt Norton, which famously inspired T S Eliot to write the first of his "Four Quartets". At last Caroline has the time to fulfil her dream of becoming a full time author.

Friday, May 28, 2021

The Wolf Mile (The Pantheon Book 1) by C.F. Barrington


The Wolf Mile (The Pantheon Book 1) by C.F. Barrington.

Published in e-book 6th May 2021 and paperback 5th August 2021 by Head of Zeus.

From the cover of the book:

An action-packed adventure thriller, where modern-day recruits compete in an ancient, deadly game in the streets of Edinburgh.

Welcome to the Pantheon Games. Let the streets of Edinburgh run with blood...

The Games are the biggest underground event in the world, followed by millions online. New recruits must leave behind their twenty-first century lives and vie for dominance in a gruelling battle to the death armed only with ancient weapons – and their wits.

Tyler Maitland and Lana Cameron have their own reasons for signing up. Now they must risk their lives and join the ranks of seven ancient warrior teams that inhabit this illicit world. Their journey will be more extraordinary and horrifying than anything they could have dreamed, testing them to breaking point.

Let the Season begin.


Welcome to Edinburgh, a city very like the one that many of us are familiar with, and yet there is something not quite as we know it about what happens on these streets - for every year blood is spilt on these cobblestones as part of the biggest underground games of them all, the Pantheon Games.

No one knows exactly who devised the Games, and the shadowy figures at the helm prefer to stay hidden behind the anonymity that enormous wealth and political heft can buy, gambling their fortunes on the results of the battles they control each season from on high. The Games have become an urban legend and the silent obsession of millions who dream of becoming part of the warring factions that fight for dominance  - even if this means it costs them their lives.

For reasons unclear, Edinburgh is now home to two of the seven secretive factions that take part in the Games - the Horde, that follow Viking traditions, and inhabit the ancient tunnels below the city;  and their sworn enemies the Titan's, who have ties to the history of Alexander of Macedon and are guardians of the city's rooftops.

The story is primarily told through the eyes of Tyler, an ex-addict, and Lana, a woman struggling with the legacy of abuse and loss, both of whom are among those offered the chance to find redemption by  becoming part of the new cohort of recruits for the Horde. We are at their sides as they undergo the arduous training they must endure if they want to be accepted into the Horde as warriors, and accrue the rewards that come hand in hand with the danger they will have to face during the Games - and it's no walk in the park. This is the kind of training that will take them to breaking point, but they both have their own reasons for pushing themselves to succeed - Lana to recapture the spirit of her youth, and Tyler to find his missing sister...

I absolutely love the concept of this novel, the first part of a debut trilogy from C.F. Barrington, and the way it twists contemporary and historical themes together into a cracking adventure story like nothing I have read before. Described as 'Fight Club, with swords' I could not resist delving into the world of the illicit Pantheon Games and it was quite a ride! 

There is something so compelling about the way the Game takes place in the shadows, and while everyone knows on some level that it is happening, only those sworn to secrecy are aware of the whole truth. During the day, these secret combatants seem to be ordinary folk, but at night they fully immerse themselves into the traditions and duties required of them as warriors. Of course, something that is based on the premise of secrecy and lies is also open to corruption and backstabbing - not just in the form of the authorities that seem to condemn its illegal activities with one hand, while accepting very bloody hush money with the other - but also from within, and the notion of games within games muddies the waters beautifully as events play out.

The whole story is fast paced, on the edge of your seat stuff, with a big dollop of gritty, emotional impact from the individual stories of the central characters, and Barrington uses the location of Edinburgh very cleverly throughout - if you know Edinburgh at all, you will find this very enjoyable. Fear of spoilers prevents me from getting into the real nitty gritty of the adventure, but be assured that this is a cracking tale, that kept me hooked from the first page to the last - and promises great things for the next instalment. I can't wait...

The Wolf Mile is available to buy now in e-book format and will be released in paperback on 5th August.

Thank you to C.F. Barrington for sending me an e-copy of this book, in return for an honest review.

About the author:

C.F. Barrington spent twenty years intending to write a novel, but found life kept getting in the way. Instead, his career has been in major gift fundraising, leading teams in organisations as varied as the RSPB, Oxford University and the National Trust. In 2015, when his role as Head of Communications at Edinburgh Zoo meant a third year of fielding endless media enquires about the possible birth of a baby panda, he finally retreated to a quiet desk and got down to writing. Raised in Hertfordshire and educated at Oxford, he now divides his time between Fife and the Lake District.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Celebrating the 15th Anniversary of Quick Reads

Celebrating the 15th Anniversary of 

Quick Reads:

Short Books and Great stories
Tackling the Adult Literary Crisis 

OYINKAN BRAITHWAITE: The Baby is Mine (Atlantic)

LOUISE CANDLISH: The Skylight (Simon & Schuster)

KATIE FFORDE: Saving the Day (Arrow)

PETER JAMES: Wish You Were Dead (Macmillan)

CAITLIN MORAN: How to Be a Woman, abridged (Ebury)


27 May 2021 | £1 | #QuickReads

One in six adults in the UK – approximately 9 million people – find reading difficult, and one in three people do not regularly read for pleasure. Quick Reads, which celebrates its 15th anniversary this year, plays a vital role in addressing these shocking statistics by inspiring emergent readers, as well as those with little time or who have fallen out of the reading habit, with entertaining and accessible writing from the very best contemporary authors.

This year’s short books include:
- a dark domestic thriller from British Book Award winner Louise Candlish (The Skylight), who thanks reading for setting her on the right path when she was ‘young and adrift’

- an uplifting romance by the much-loved Katie Fforde (Saving the Day), who never thought she would be able to be an author because of her struggle with dyslexia

- the holiday from hell for Detective Roy Grace courtesy of long-time literacy campaigner and crime fiction maestro Peter James (Wish You Were Dead)

- a specially abridged version of the feminist manifesto (How to Be a Woman) by Caitlin Moran: ‘everyone deserves to have the concept of female equality in a book they can turn to as a chatty friend.’

- an introduction to Khurrum Rahman’s dope dealer Javid Qasim (The Motive), who previously found the idea of reading a book overwhelming and so started reading late in life, to find ‘joy, comfort and an escape’

- Oyinkan Braithwaite’s follow-up to her Booker nominated debut sensation My Sister, the Serial Killer – a family drama set in lockdown Lagos (The Baby is Mine)

Over 5 million Quick Reads have been distributed since the life-changing programme launched in 2006. From 2020 – 2022, the initiative is supported by a philanthropic gift from bestselling author Jojo Moyes. This year, for every book bought until 31 July 2021, another copy will be gifted to help someone discover the joy of reading. ‘Buy one, gift one’ will see thousands of free books given to organisations across the UK to reach less confident readers and those with limited access to books – bring the joy and transformative benefits of reading to new audiences.

To celebrate the release of the six new books, I have had the pleasure of being able to read The Baby Is Mine by Oyinkan Braithwaite, author of the Booker nominated My Sister, the Serial Killer.

The Baby Is Mine by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Published 27th May 2021 by Atlantic.

From the cover of the book:

When his girlfriend throws him out during the pandemic, Bambi has to go to his Uncle’s house in lock-down Lagos. 

He arrives during a blackout and is surprised to find his Aunty Bidemi sitting in a candlelit room with another woman. They are fighting because both claim to be the mother of the baby boy, fast asleep in his crib

At night Bambi is kept awake by the baby’s cries, and during the days he is disturbed by a cockerel that stalks the garden. There is sand in the rice. A blood stain appears on the wall. Someone scores tribal markings into the baby’s cheeks. 

Who is lying and who is telling the truth?


For a story of only 104 pages The Baby Is Mine certainly packs a punch!

Told through the eyes of a young Nigerian man Bambi, during the madness of lockdown in Lagos, Braithwaite drops us into a tense family drama. When Bambi is thrown out by his girlfriend, for his womanising ways, he arrives unexpectedly at his late uncle's house, where his widowed aunt and his uncle's mistress are fighting over a baby boy - both claiming to be the boy's mother.

At first, Bambi doesn't really take too much notice of what is going on in the house, because he wants a quiet life away from troublesome, argumentative women, but it soon becomes clear that something sinister is happening here, and he going to have to try to get to the bottom of it.

The cut-off, lockdown setting really adds to the claustrophobic tension, and there is a deliciously creepy feeling of tribal witchcraft at work, which is enhanced by the frequent blackouts, the strange noises, and Bambi's complete lack of awareness about anything related to childbirth or motherhood - or of the inner workings of the minds of women. There are some intriguing observations about the roles of men and women in Nigeria here too.

Bambi undergoes something of an interesting transformation over the course of the tale, and although I was in two minds about the message of the story, there is no doubt that it has a hefty emotional impact - which is remarkable for such a short book.

This is proper grown-up writing, in an accessible form, which is exactly what the Quick Reads campaign is all about!

About the author:

Oyinkan Braithwaite gained a degree in Creative Writing and Law at Kingston University. Her first book, My Sister, the Serial Killer, was a number one bestseller. It was shortlisted for the 2019 Women’s Prize and was on the long list for the 2019 Booker Prize.

Oyinkan Braithwaite, author of The Baby is Mine (Atlantic) said: “When I am writing, I don’t know what my readers will look like or what challenges they may be facing. So it was an interesting experience creating work with the understanding that the reader might need a story that was easy to digest, and who might not have more than a few hours in a week to commit to reading. It was daunting – simpler does not necessarily mean easier – I may have pulled out a couple of my hairs; but I would do it again in a heartbeat. Quick Reads tapped into my desire to create fiction that would be an avenue for relief and escape for all who came across it.”

Details of the other five Quick Reads books for 2021 are shown below:

Louise Candlish, The Skylight (Simon & Schuster)

They can’t see her, but she can see them… Simone has a secret. She likes to stand at her bathroom window and spy on the couple downstairs through their kitchen skylight. She knows what they eat for breakfast and who they’ve got over for dinner. She knows what mood they’re in before they even step out the door. There’s nothing wrong with looking, is there? Until one day Simone sees something through the skylight she is not expecting. Something that upsets her so much she begins to plot a terrible crime…

Louise Candlish is the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Other Passenger and thirteen other novels. Our House won the Crime & Thriller Book of the Year at the 2019 British Book Awards. It is now in development for a major TV series. Louise lives in London with her husband and daughter.

Louise Candlish, author of The Skylight (Simon & Schuster) said: "It's an honour to be involved in this [next] year's Quick Reads. Reading set me on the right path when I was young and adrift and it means such a lot to me to be a part of literacy campaign that really does change lives.”

Katie Fforde, Saving the Day (Arrow, Penguin Random House)

Allie is bored with her job and starting to wonder whether she even likes her boyfriend, Ryan. The high point in her day is passing a café on her walk home from work. It is the sort of place where she’d really like to work. Then one day she sees as advert on the door: assistant wanted. But before she can land her dream job, Allie knows she must achieve two things: 1. Learn to cook; 2. End her relationship with Ryan, especially as through the window of the café, she spies a waiter who looks much more like her type of man. And when she learns that the café is in danger of closing, Allie knows she must do her very best to save the day …

Katie Fforde lives in the beautiful Cotswold countryside with her family and is a true country girl at heart. Each of her books explores a different job and her research has helped her bring these to life. To find out more about Katie Fforde step into her world at, visit her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @KatieFforde.

Katie Fforde, author of Saving the Day (Arrow, Penguin Random House) said: “As a dyslexic person who even now can remember the struggle to read, I was delighted to be asked to take part in the scheme. Anything that might help someone who doesn’t find reading easy is such a worthwhile thing to do.”

Peter James, Wish You Were Dead (Macmillan)

Roy Grace and his family have left Sussex behind for a week’s holiday in France. The website promised a grand house, but when they arrive the place is very different from the pictures. And it soon becomes clear that their holiday nightmare is only just beginning. An old enemy of Roy, a lowlife criminal he had put behind bars, is now out of jail – and out for revenge. He knows where Roy and his family have gone on holiday. Of course he does. He’s been hacking their emails – and they are in the perfect spot for him to pay Roy back...

Peter James is a UK number one bestselling author, best known for his crime and thriller novels. He is the creator of the much-loved detective Roy Grace. His books have been translated into thirty-seven languages. He has won over forty awards for his work, including the WHSmith Best Crime Author of All Time Award. Many of his books have been adapted for film, TV and stage.

Peter James, author of Wish You Were Dead (Macmillan) said: “The most treasured moments of my career have been when someone tells me they hadn't read anything for years, often since their school days, but are back into reading via my books. What more could an author hope for? Reading helps us tackle big challenges, transports us into new worlds, takes us on adventures, allows us to experience many different lives and open us up to aspects of our world we never knew existed. So I'm delighted to be supporting Quick Reads again - I hope it will help more people get started on their reading journeys and be the beginning of a life-long love of books.”

Caitlin Moran, How to Be a Woman (abridged) (Ebury)

It's a good time to be a woman: we have the vote and the Pill, and we haven't been burnt as witches since 1727. But a few nagging questions remain… Why are we supposed to get Brazilians? Should we use Botox? Do men secretly hate us? And why does everyone ask you when you're going to have a baby? Part memoir, part protest, Caitlin answers the questions that every modern woman is asking.

Caitlin Moran became a columnist at The Times at eighteen and has gone on to be named Columnist of the Year six times. She is the author of many award-winning books and her bestseller How to Be a Woman has been published in 28 countries and won the British Book Awards' Book of the Year 2011. Her first novel, How to Build a Girl, is now a major feature film. Find out more at her website and follow her on Twitter @caitlinmoran

Caitlin Moran, author of How to Be a Woman (abridged) (Ebury) said: "I wrote How To Be A Woman because I felt that feminism is such a beautiful, brilliant, urgent and necessary invention that it should not be hidden away in academic debates, or in books which most women and men found dull, and unreadable. Having a Quick Reads edition of it, therefore, makes me happier than I can begin to describe - everyone deserves to have the concept of female equality in a book they can turn to as a chatty friend, on hand to help them through the often bewildering ass-hattery of Being A Woman. There's no such thing as a book being too quick, too easy, or too fun. A book is a treat - a delicious pudding for your brain. I'm so happy Quick Reads have allowed me to pour extra cream and cherries on How To Be A Woman."

Khurrum Rahman, The Motive (HQ)

Business has been slow for Hounslow’s small time dope-dealer, Jay Qasim. A student house party means quick easy cash, but it also means breaking his own rules. But desperate times lead him there – and Jay finds himself in the middle of a crime scene. Idris Zaidi, a police constable and Jay’s best friend, is having a quiet night when he gets a call out following a noise complaint at a house party. Fed up with the lack of excitement in his job, he visits the scene and quickly realises that people are in danger after a stabbing. Someone will stop at nothing to get revenge…

Born in Karachi, Pakistan in 1975, Khurrum moved to England when he was one. He is a west London boy and now lives in Berkshire with his wife and two sons. Khurrum is currently working as a Senior IT Officer but his real love is writing. His first two books in the Jay Qasim series, East of Hounslow and Homegrown Hero, have been shortlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year and CWA John Creasey Debut Dagger.

Khurrum Rahman, author of The Motive (HQ) said: “I started reading late in life, as the idea of reading a book always seemed overwhelming. I hesitantly began a book a friend had recommended and quickly became totally immersed in the story. I found joy and comfort and most importantly, an escape. It’s for this very reason that I am so proud to be involved with Quick Reads. This initiative is so important for people, like I once was, to engage in stories that may mirror their own lives or to read experiences far beyond their imagination. Just like a friend once did for me, I hope I am able to play a small part in encouraging somebody to pick up a book.”

About The Reading Agency & Quick Reads

The Reading Agency is a national charity that tackles life's big challenges through the proven power of reading. We work closely with partners to develop and deliver programmes for people of all ages and backgrounds. The Reading Agency is funded by Arts Council England.

Quick Reads, a programme by The Reading Agency, aims to bring the pleasures and benefits of reading to everyone, including the one in three adults in the UK who do not regularly read for pleasure, and the one in six adults in the UK who find reading difficult. The scheme changes lives and plays a vital role in addressing the national crisis around adult literacy in the UK. Each year, Quick Reads commissioning editor Fanny Blake works with UK publishers to commission high profile authors to write short, engaging books that are specifically designed to be easy to read. Since 2006, over 5 million books have been distributed through the initiative, 5 million library loans (PLR) have been registered and through outreach work hundreds of thousands of new readers each year have been introduced to the joys and benefits of reading. From 2020 – 2022, the initiative is supported by a philanthropic gift from bestselling author Jojo Moyes.

Screams From The Void by Anne Tibbets


Screams From The Void by Anne Tibbets.

Published 18th May 2021 by Flame Tree Press.

From the cover of the book:

For two years in deep space, the freighter Demeter and a small crew have collected botanical life from other planets. It's a lesson in patience and hell.

Mechanics Ensign Reina is ready to jump ship, if only because her abusive ex is also aboard, as well as her overbearing boss.

 It's only after a foreign biological creature sneaks aboard and wreaks havoc on the ship and crew that Reina must find her grit - and maybe create a gadget or two - to survive...that is, if the crew members don't lose their sanity and turn on each other in the process.


I am rather partial to a space adventure, especially one with some strong female characters, and Screams From The Void proved to be just the thing to satisfy my galactic leanings!

The Demeter is on a two year mission to collect specimens of alien plant life from planets in deep space, before returning to Earth with their potentially valuable load. The small crew is made up of a few experienced officers, including the brooding Science Officer Pollux who is sick to death of her colleagues, and a handful of ensigns on their first United Space Corps mission - one of whom, Mechanics Ensign Raina, is finding the last few months of the trip pretty hard to bear too. Her boss has turned out to be a lazy, boorish, regulation obsessed chauvinist, who belittles her at every turn and is quick to quash any ideas she may have of showing her technical flare, even though her skills are just about the only thing holding the 'bucket of bolts' Demeter together, and she is trying to extricate herself from a disastrous affair with another of the crew, Morven, who has turned out to be a far from ideal partner. 

When a biological creature sneaks aboard the ship after one of their planetary sample collecting trips, it spells disaster for the crew. With officers dropping like flies, it is up to the ensigns to try to pull together to save the ship - a task that proves far from easy considering the aggression and robustness of the creature; the total inability of some of them to cope with danger; Morven's simmering hatred for anyone who dares to gainsay his ambition to be in charge - and his vicious resentment of Raina, who no longer wants anything to do with his controlling and downright abusive behaviour.

As the situation escalates and the blood and guts fly, it is two women on board that are the ones to grasp the off-worldly nettle and show their strength and intelligence to deal with the rampaging creature - Raina, with her quick mind, reflexes and technical prowess, and Pollux, who channels her battle with the demons from her past into the kind of force they desperately need to survive.

This is a fast and furious space drama, with chilling echoes of Alien, that is hugely entertaining, and rather intriguingly runs the history of Raina and Morven's toxic relationship in a back to front timeline alongside the current events playing out on the ship. But it also has some very interesting things to say about sibling rivalry; the struggle of women to earn recognition and promotion in the workplace (albeit a workplace in space), and about the insidious way abusive relationships can take over your life - especially when you cannot escape the clutches of your abuser. Rather deliciously, our two women manage to kick back against all that is thrown at them in this book, and come out firmly on top, which I thoroughly enjoyed. 

It was interesting to note that Anne Tibbets says in her Acknowledgements that she had little success getting this book published until after the advent of the #MeToo movement, which I think says a lot about the distorted perception about who actually reads books in the sci-fi genre - contrary to popular belief, women do read sci-fi and they want to read about the kind of strong female leads in this book, who refuse to fit into sexual stereotypes. I loved it! More please sci-fi publishers!

Screams From The Void is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Flame Tree Press for sending 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:

Former TV writer Anne Tibbets is author of The Line Book One and Two: Carrier and Walled, and co-authored the first book of the sci-fi series Extinction Biome: Invasion, and authored the second, Extinction Biome: Dispersal, both as Addison Gunn. When Anne isn’t writing she’s a Literary Agent.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Aiden Shaw's Penis And Other Stories Of Censorship From Around The World

Aiden Shaw's Penis And Other Stories Of Censorship From Around The World.

Published 6th May 2021 by Imprint 27.

From the cover of the book:

This beautifully illustrated anthology celebrates high quality fiction and non-fiction short story writing from authors all over the world. 

Bringing together 12 exciting and emerging international voices, this collection explores the censoring of the past, present, future, the self, the state, and the effects of censorship on everyday life. 

As a provocation, this book will provide readers with a diverse, relatable and surprising look at censorship and what it means to be silenced - or, perhaps more importantly, what it means to break free.


It has been such a joy to be part of the Tandem Collective readalong for this collection of short stories from around the world!

This collection contains 12 short stories, both fiction and non-fiction, that delve into different perceptions of the term 'the censor', with a foreword from Mariam Khan the author of It's Not About The Burqa - who was also a member of the judging panel that selected the final stories for the book.

The stories cover a wonderful mix of genres, writing styles, and subject matter, which makes them completely fascinating, and I can't remember ever reading a book that challenges my idea of what censorship means quite as much as this one has. The myriad shades of meaning are so thought provoking - the controlling face of censorship of the oppressed; the way we censor ourselves in relationships and to the world outside; the value of small acts of rebellion; even the times when censorship might be considered as a positive thing - it's all here to explore in these 12 stories. They are superb!

I have laughed and cried (mostly cried 😪) my way through this book and hope my Instagram posts intrigue you enough to tempt you to read this one too. I cannot recommend it highly enough!

If you want to find out more about the fabulous readalong experience for this book, please head to my Instagram feed HERE.

Aiden Shaw's Penis is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Tandem Collective and Imprint 27 for sending me a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Sword Of Bone by Anthony Rhodes


Sword Of Bone by Anthony Rhodes.

Published 20th May 2021 by the Imperial War Museums.

From the cover of the book:

In May 2021, IWM will publish two more novels in their Wartime Classics series which was launched in September 2019 to great acclaim, bringing the total novels in the series to ten. Each has been brought back into print to enable a new generation of readers to hear stories of those who experienced conflict firsthand.

First published in 1942, Sword of Bone is a lightly fictionalised memoir based on Anthony Rhodes’ own experiences during the Second World War – firstly during the so-called ‘Phoney War’ from 1939 – 40, followed by the terror of the evacuation of Dunkirk.

Shortly after war was declared, he was sent to France serving with the British Army where his days were filled with billeting, friendships and administration – the minutiae of Army life. 

Apart from a visit to the Maginot Line, the conflict seems a distant prospect.

It is only in the Spring of 1940 that the true situation becomes clear – the Belgian, British armies and some French divisions are ‘now crowded into a small pocket in the North of France’. The men are ordered to retreat to the coast and the beaches of Dunkirk where they face a desperate and frightening wait for evacuation.

The ‘miracle’ of Dunkirk was a brilliantly improvised naval operation that extracted more than 338,000 men from the Dunkirk beaches and brought them safely back to England. Some 850 vessels, including channel steamers and fishing boats, took part in this, Operation ‘Dynamo’. The final pages of the novel outline Rhodes’ experiences of the chaos of the evacuation where the scenes are depicted in vivid and terrifying detail.


As I recently mentioned in my review for Pathfinders by Cecil Lewis, the other recently published addition to the IWM Wartime Classics collection, I find this series of books so thoroughly nostalgic in the way they take me back to reading my own father's wartime book hoard. They are so of their time, and I find this curiously moving. (see my review of Pathfinders here).

Sword of Bone is a very interesting book, because it takes us to the strange period of the Second World War before the conflict got started, when there was an air of strange calm about the whole proceedings. The experience of the Great War had left a false impression that this would be a largely static kind of trench warfare, with periodic episodes of senseless slaughter in the mud of no man's land, but for the soldiers who found themselves in France at this time, the war seemed very far away from where they were billeted, quaffing champagne and gorging on pate de fois gras.

Anthony Rhodes uses his own experience of this early period of WWII to show exactly how the men on the ground were bemused by this odd period of being manoeuvred around the French and Belgian countryside, being treated to the hospitality of the local population, who were more or less carrying on like normal - apart from the fact that many of their own menfolk had already been sent to the front. There are many surreal scenes described, which add an absurd comic undertone to the story, despite being set during wartime.

I did find this part of the book rather difficult to get into, even with the dark humour of the piece, because the view point is so overwhelmingly masculine, although it does provide an intriguing glance into how a wartime army was provisioned and accommodated on foreign soil. It's not until the German army suddenly surprise the Allies with a rapid and aggressive advance that this story really comes alive for me.

As the Allies are harried across the countryside and trapped in a pocket of northern France, the soldiers who have been playing at war suddenly realise the full horror of the situation. With their backs to the sea, they become trapped and subjected to a terrible bombardment from the German guns and bombs. Their only escape is to head back across the English Channel from the beaches of Dunkirk - a name that has been branded into our consciousness as the setting for an extraordinary evacuation operation called Operation Dynamo, when a rag-tag flotilla of marine vessels ferried an army back across the Channel to home shores.

This part of the book vividly brings home the traumatic experience of the men on those beaches, desperately waiting for a rescue that might never come, and the bravery of those that took up the call to come to their aid. The value of Anthony Rhodes' own first-hand knowledge of being among the men silently praying for deliverance, while all around them death rains from the sky, pays dividends here - doing exactly what this series of books is intended to do.

If you have yet to discover the excellent books available as part of this Wartime Classics series, then I urge you to check them out. They really do bring history alive.

Sword of Bone is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer or direct from the IWM shop here.

Thank you to the IWM for sending me a paperback 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:

Anthony Rhodes (1916 – 2004) served with the British Army in France during the so-called ‘Phoney War’ and was evacuated from Dunkirk in May 1940. In the latter part of the war he was sent to Canada as a camouflage officer and was invalided out of the Army in 1947 having served for 12 years.

After the conflict he enjoyed a long academic and literary career and wrote on various subjects, including the 1956 Hungarian Revolution for the Daily Telegraph and well-regarded histories of the Vatican. 

Friday, May 21, 2021

Absorbed by Kylie Whitehead


Absorbed by Kylie Whitehead.

Published 27th May 2021 by New Ruins.

From the cover of the book:

Allison has been with Owen since university. She's given up on writing her novel and is working a dull office job at the local council - now it feels like the only interesting thing about her is that she's Owens girlfriend. 

But he's slipping away from her, and Allison has no idea who she'll be without him. 

Panicking, she absorbs him...

Soon Allison begins taking on Owens best qualities, becoming the person she always thought she should be. But is Owen all she needs to complete herself? 

Will Allison ever be a whole person?

Absorbed is an original and timely debut novel about female insecurity, body horror and modern relationships. Darkly comic, it is perfect for fans of Halle Butler, Otessa Moshfegh, Sophie Mackintosh and Lara Williams.


If you have never reached the end of a novel and thought to yourself "Well, that was a bit weird..." then, dear reader, you have really missed out, because sometimes the wackiest of concepts can really get to the heart of what it means to be human. I am here for all the wonderful weirdness that makes you think when it comes to books, and so I bring you the fabulous debut from Kylie Whitehead, Absorbed.

Absorbed is about a young woman called Allison, whose insecurities have led to her a place where she has given up on her hopes and dreams and clings desperately to her identity as Owen's girlfriend -worried that if he leaves her she will be nothing. Terrified that Owen is distancing himself from her after ten years together, as his life seems to be going upward and onward while she stagnates, she panics and... absorbs him.

Once Owen has become part of her, Allison begins a painful transformation that has her taking on his finer qualities in an attempt to become a better person and escape the darkness inside her - but will this assimilation be enough for her to be the person she wants to be?

Okay, so it's an unusual concept, but to be honest it doesn't really matter if you take Allison's absorbing habit literally or metaphorically. What you actually have here is an unusual coming of age story that explores female insecurity; unhealthy relationships; the painful act of self-discovery; and a coming to terms with the legacy of a disturbed childhood - and it imparts its message by pushing the boundaries with style.

There were times when I was reminded of the eerie bleakness of How Pale The Winter Has Made Us by Adam Scovell, the blackest humour and unravelling of the psyche of Boy Parts by Eliza Clark, and Naomi Booth's examination of the frozen human heart in her incredible Exit Management, by way of the insidious menace of Ira Levin's classic Rosemary's Baby, in the slick way it mixes original literary fiction with an underlying feel of delicious surreal horror. It's completely compulsive reading and I absorbed the whole lovely lot in a single sitting in much the same way Allison draws in Owen, unable to look away even for a minute.

As the inaugural publication from New Ruins, a brand new collaboration between two of my absolute favourite indie publishers Influx and Dead Ink, it is something of a gem that promises a treasure trove of delights in the future. Embrace the weird and wonderful and give yourself a treat!

Absorbed is available to pre-order from your favourite book retailer now, and will be published in paperback and e-book formats on 27th May 2021.

Thank you to Jordan Taylor Jones, Kylie Whitehead and New Ruins for sending me a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

About the author

Kylie Whitehead is originally from rural Mid Wales and currently lives in London. She works in marketing with technology startups. Absorbed is her first novel.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Pathfinders by Cecil Lewis


Pathfinders by Cecil Lewis.

Published 20th May 2021 as part of the Wartime Classics series by The Imperial War Museum.

From the cover of the book:

In May 2021, IWM will publish two more novels in their Wartime Classics series which was launched in September 2019 to great acclaim, bringing the total novels in the series to ten. Each has been brought back into print to enable a new generation of readers to hear stories of those who experienced conflict firsthand.

First published in 1944 and set over the course of one night in 1942, the story follows the fate of six crew members of a Wellington bomber ‘P for Pathfinder’ thrown together by chance from different corners of the world. They each reflect on the paths of their own lives, as they embark on a fateful mission deep into the heart of Nazi Germany. 

Cecil Lewis’ novel examines the life of every man in turn, rendering a moving account of each as not merely a nameless crew member, but as an individual with a life lived, ‘a life precious to some, or one... these men with dreams and hopes and plans of things to come.”

Cecil Lewis was a flying instructor for the RAF during the Second World War where he taught hundreds of pilots to fly, including his own son. It was while doing this training that he wrote Pathfinders. Pupils were graded by the time it took them to fly solo – the best became fighters and then bombers. The RAF’s Bomber Command was the only branch of the armed forces that could take direct action against Germany and in 1942 the strategic air offensive changed from precision to area bombing where whole cities were targeted in order to destroy factories as well as the morale of those who worked in them.

The ‘pathfinders’ of the story were needed because often the bombers could not find the towns and cities they were destined to attack at night, let alone the industrial centres within. The crew used coloured marker flares to guide the bombers to their targets and the crews selected (often from the USA, Canada and NZ as well as Britain) were the best night flying crews who were able to find the target unaided. As a pilot who took part in both World Wars, Cecil Lewis brings his unique experience to bear, shining a light on this vital and sometimes contested aspect of Britain’s Second World War focusing on the sacrifice made by the Allied airmen it depicts.

IWM Senior Curator, Alan Jeffreys, has written an introduction to each book that provides context and the wider historical background. He says, ‘researching the Wartime Classics has been one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve worked on in my years at IWM. It’s been very exciting rediscovering these fantastic novels and helping to bring them to the wider readership they so deserve’.


I have always been a voracious reader and in my youth consumed all the reading material we had in our house; a great portion of which comprised the classic war novels my dad loved so much. Perhaps it might seem a little strange to think of a teenager in the 1980s reading well worn tomes like The Cruel Sea, Reach for the SkyA Town Like Alice, Ice Cold in Alex and the like, but I used to be fascinated by the bravery, the comradeship, and the sense that the characters were all pulling together in a vital struggle that was so much bigger than themselves - the notion that there are always things worth laying your life on the line for. As a result, I find the series of books republished by the Imperial War Museum, under the Wartime Classics banner, so thoroughly nostalgic. They are so of their time, and I find this curiously moving.

Pathfinders is one of the latest in the series to come within my grasp, and tells the tale of a Wellington bomber crew given the difficult and dangerous task of being the 'pathfinder' for the pilots in their wake - marking out targets for the nighttime bombing raids that began with earnest in 1942, under the command of Air Chief Marshall Arthur 'Bomber' Harris.

The book rather sadly begins with a scene in which a trawler crew find the remains of a Wellington, named P for Pathfinder in their nets and speculate about the fate of the air crew that would have been aboard. Lewis then takes us into the story of the final, fateful mission of P for Pathfinder, as she leads a bombing raid on Kiel, interspersed with the musings and details of the lives of each of the six crew members.

As detailed in the fascinating foreword by IWM Senior Curator, Alan Jeffreys, the bombing raids orchestrated by 'Bomber' Harris have become rather contentious in recent years, due the the terrible toll the incendiary devices took on the towns and cities that were targeted, but in keeping with a novel published in 1944, we come to understand through the thoughts and deeds of the men aboard P for Pathfinder that they believe in the necessity of a strategy designed to wipe out Germany's industrial power as the only way to turn the tide of this interminable Second World War - even if they cannot allow themselves to dwell on the loss of life this brings.

However, this is not really a military story, even if this forms the spine of the novel. Instead it is more about the men who form the crew of P for Pathfinder. Through the intimate portraits Lewis paints with their stories, we see the lives of six very different men, crossing the barriers of class, wealth and nationality - six men who have come together in a single purpose.

In every sense, this novel takes me back to the very things that appealed to me about my own dad's collection of wartime classics, but it also brings in so much historical detail about the time these men were living through, and their very human hopes and dreams. It's both fascinating and poignant in equal measure, and this makes Pathfinders a great addition to the IWM series.

Pathfinders is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer in paperback format, or direct from the IWM Shop HERE.

Thank you to the IWM for sending me a paperback 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:

Cecil Lewis (1898 - 1997) was a British fighter ace in the First World War and his memoir Sagittarius Rising became a classic of the literature from that war, considered by many to be the definitive account of aerial combat. He was a flying instructor for the RAF during the Second World War where he taught hundreds of pilots to fly, including his own son. 

After the war he was one of the founding executives of the BBC and enjoyed friendships with many of the creative figures of the day, including George Bernard Shaw, winning an Academy Award for co-writing the 1938 film adaptation of Shaw’s Pygmalion

He had a long and varied career but retained a passion for flying all his life. In 1969 he sailed a boat to Corfu where he spent the remainder of his life, dying two months short of his 99th birthday.  

He was the last surviving British fighter ace of the First World War.

The Killings At Kingfisher Hill (A New Hercule Poirot Mystery) by Sophie Hannah


The Killings At Kingfisher Hill (A New Hercule Poirot Mystery) by Sophie Hannah.

Published in paperback 13th May 2021 by Harper Collins.

From the cover of the book:

The world’s greatest detective, Hercule Poirot—legendary star of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile—returns to solve a fiendish new mystery.

Hercule Poirot is travelling by luxury passenger coach from London to the exclusive Kingfisher Hill estate. Richard Devonport has summoned him to prove that his fiancée, Helen, is innocent of the murder of his brother, Frank. There is one strange condition attached to this request: Poirot must conceal his true reason for being there from the rest of the Devonport family.

On the coach, a distressed woman leaps up, demanding to disembark. She insists that if she stays in her seat, she will be murdered. A seat-swap is arranged, and the rest of the journey passes without incident. But Poirot has a bad feeling about it, and his fears are later confirmed when a body is discovered in the Devonports' home with a note that refers to ‘the seat that you shouldn’t have sat in’.

Could this new murder and the peculiar incident on the coach be clues to solving mystery of who killed Frank Devonport? And can Poirot find the real murderer in time to save an innocent woman from the gallows?


I am a huge Agatha Christie fan, with her Poirot mysteries being my absolute favourites of the many novels, short stories and plays that have earned her the well deserved title the Queen of Crime - in fact they are a go to for me when it comes to comfort reading and I always have one or other of the Poirot books, or audio books, on the go at any one time. While I was aware that Sophie Hannah had been commissioned to write some new Poirot mysteries by the Christie estate, this is actually the first one that I have read out of the four books she has now written.

This latest mystery finds Poirot heading off to Kingfisher Hill, a gated estate of swanky residences in the Surrey countryside, in the company of his new sidekick Inspector Catchpole. Although Poirot is rather reticent to share the details of their trip with his friend, we slowly learn that Poirot has been asked to visit the home of the Devonport family in Kingfisher Hill under the guise of an enthusiast for a new board game, while actually being required to solve a murder - and possibly save an innocent woman from the gallows at the same time.

The journey itself is quite eventful, as a young woman upsets the calm of the passengers by acting erratically and refusing to occupy the single remaining seat on-board the bus, because she claims she will be murdered if she does. Oh, and Poirot sits next to a mysterious femme fatale who claims to have committed a murder in the past... intriguing.

But it is not until Poirot and Catchpole arrive at Kingfisher Hill and begin their investigation that the plot starts to thicken in earnest, and we learn that the strange goings on during the journey here are actually related to the matter in hand. The story then plays out in a way that Christie herself would be proud of, with all the lovely foibles and panache of Poirot out in force as he clears up the whole mess, points the finger in the right direction, and astounds everyone with his acumen when it comes to crime and the 'psychologies' of those who indulge in breaking the law - with Catchpole helping matters along in his own special way, as every good Poirot companion does.

Although I originally approached this book with a little trepidation, worried that the Poirot I know and love might be under some threat under the custodianship of a different author, I really should not have worried. This book is perhaps, a little on the wordy side (something that Christie herself indulged in occasionally too), but Sophie Hannah manages to stuff everything I look for in a Poirot novel into these pages with style - the twisty mystery; the dodgy characters who all seem to have something to hide; the red herrings; the sidekick well behind the genius of Poirot's 'little grey cells'; and the rich period feel of the era. The story goes along at a good pace, and completely draws you in, all the way to the kind of classic Poirot 'gather them all together and explain the whole complicated business' ending that I adore. 

Should you be in any doubt about the competency of Sophie Hannah to charge forth with the Poirot brand, then I can dispel your worries completely - this book is hugely entertaining and I cannot wait to now go back and read the others that Hannah has written!

The Killings At Kingfisher Hill is available to buy now in hardback, e-book, paperback and audio formats from your favourite book retailer.

About the author:

Sophie Hannah is the internationally bestselling author of 9 psychological thrillers, which have been published in more than 20 countries and adapted for television. Her novel The Carrier won the 2013 Specsavers National Book Awards Crime Thriller of the Year. Sophie is an Honorary Fellow of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, and as a poet has been shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize.

Agatha Christie is known throughout the world as the Queen of Crime. Her books have sold over a billion copies in English with another billion in over 70 foreign languages. She is the most widely published author of all time and in any language, outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare. She is the author of 80 crime novels and short story collections, 20 plays, and six novels written under the name of Mary Westmacott.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Mrs Narwhal's Diary by S.J Norbury


Mrs Narwhal's Diary by S.J Norbury.

Published 16th May 2021 by Louise Walters Books.

From the cover of the book:

“It was Woman’s Hour who suggested I keep a diary. They said it was good for mental health, and I must say I did feel much less frazzled after writing everything down yesterday. The frustrations were all still there, but somehow smoothed out – as if by a really good steam iron.”

Mrs Narwhal is overwhelmed. Her husband, Hugh, is unkind and unhappy – working every hour at a job he hates to save the ancestral home he never wanted. Then there’s Hugh’s sister, Rose, who’s spurned her one true love, and ricochets from crisis to crisis; and not to mention two small boys to bring up safely in a house that could crumble around their ears at any moment…

When Hugh's pride receives a fatal blow, and he walks out, Mrs Narwhal is plunged into a crisis of both heart and home. With help from Rose she sets out to save the house her husband couldn't. But can she save her marriage? And does she really want Hugh back?

Funny, charming, and moving, Mrs Narwhal’s Diary is an irresistible story which will enchant and delight its readers.


Welcome to Narwhal Manor, the faded and crumbling home of the Narwhal family, now in the reluctant custodianship of Hugh Narwhal, his wife and their two small boys.

The story of the Narwhal family is told in diary form through the eyes of the wonderful Mrs Narwhal, stalwart bastion of this eccentric, down-at-heel, once grand lineage, as she battles vainly to carry on the semblance of family life amid the dilapidated surroundings. Being a diary, it is a little tricky to get your head around who's who and quite what is going on here at first, but it soon becomes clear that all is not quite right in the Narwhal household.

Laid low by the weight of a responsibility he never wanted, Hugh Narwhal is struggling to deal with this money pit of a house and spends most of his time withdrawn from his wife and sons, trying to earn an income from an upholstery business that only serves to remind him of how his fortunes have fallen since his days as a London furniture designer. 

Hugh's closed off behaviour does little to promote marital happiness. Mrs Narwhal is unsure what has gone wrong here and is at a loss for how to put things right between them - or even if she really wants to. However, she is not going to go down without a fight and she is the one holding things together for their boys and for Hugh's sister Rose, who has issues of her own as a result of their less than ideal upbringing.

When Hugh walks out, all pretence comes swiftly to an end, and it becomes time for Mrs Narwhal and the much maligned Rose to put their heads together and try to save the house that Hugh couldn't. Now is their time to shine!

Mrs Narwhal's Diary is a charming and mostly hilarious book, but is certainly has its share of poignant moments along the way. It's an intriguing portrait of a family in crisis, especially since this is the side of the upper-classes that we seldom read about - the picture of faded elegance that needs a fortune to maintain, even though the money is no longer there. There is something terribly sad about the burden of expectation and tradition laid at the feet of Hugh as the heir apparent to the Narwhal legacy, but I will admit I found him very hard to like, and I was never entirely sure whether I was supposed to feel sympathy for him, or be consumed with rage at the way he treats his wife and sister (rage it was!).

However, there are splendid characters galore in this book that more than make up for the shortcomings of Hugh. Mrs Narwhal herself, who rather interestingly seems to be without a first name in this book, as befits her assumed role as the dutiful wife of the head of the household, is wonderful. She is devoted to her adorable, but realistically exuberant, boys and the fragile Rose, and is just the gutsy kind of heroine that I love. Rose is also a cracking character, who absolutely shines out from these pages when she is given the chance to step out from the shadow of her chauvinistic brother and the unfair label as the emotionally unstable member of the family. I think my absolute favourite of the remaining gaggle of characters though is the formidable cleaning lady, Jo! 

This is a delightful debut novel, which kept me entertained throughout and incorporates some interesting themes about mental health and the fate of the grand stately homes that once littered our landscape, and it has a lovely uplifting end that will put a smile on your face and a spark of warmth in your heart.

Mrs Narwhal's Diary is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer, or via the links below:

Amazon UK     Book Depository     Waterstones     WH Smith     Foyles     Nook     Blackwells

Thank you to Louise Walters Books for sending me 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. I also purchased a paperback copy of this book.

About the author:

S J Norbury lives in Herefordshire with her family. Mrs Narwhal’s Diary is her first novel.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

The Glorious Guinness Girls by Emily Hourican


The Glorious Guinness Girls by Emily Hourican.

Published in paperback 13th May 2021 by Headline.

From the cover of the book:

The Top Ten Bestseller. Step inside the extraordinary world of the Bright Young Things...

The Glorious Guinness Girls are the toast of London and Dublin society. Darlings of the press, Aileen, Maureen and Oonagh lead charmed existences that are the envy of many.

But Fliss knows better. Sent to live with them as a child, she grows up as part of the family and only she knows of the complex lives beneath the glamorous surface.

Then, at a party one summer's evening, something happens which sends shockwaves through the entire household. 

In the aftermath, as the Guinness sisters move on, Fliss is forced to examine her place in their world and decide if where she finds herself is where she truly belongs.

Set amid the turmoil of the Irish Civil War and the brittle glamour of 1920s London, The Glorious Guinness Girls is inspired by one of the most fascinating family dynasties in the world - an unforgettable novel of reckless youth, family loyalty and destiny.


The time between the First and Second World Wars is one of my absolute favourite periods of history, especially anything about the Roaring Twenties, and I absolutely love the kind of book that mixes fact and fiction in the way Emily Hourican does to perfection in The Glorious Guinness Girls.

Hourican tells her story from the point of view of the fictional Felicity (Fliss) Burke, who is sent to live with the Guinness family in their Dublin house Glenmaroon, to be a companion to the three Guinness daughters Aileen, Maureen and Oonagh. 

We begin in 1978, when Fliss is sent on an errand to the faded, crumbling Glenmaroon to retrieve some old documents which have been found in an attic, at the behest of the long grown Guinness girls who are desperate to prevent any chance of something accidentally coming into the possession of the media. As she sifts through the old papers, Fliss finds herself swept back in time, and the story then spins out from the moment she arrived here as a ten year old child, with the present occasionally breaking through her reminiscences.

In 1918, Fliss leaves a home where her mother is overwhelmed with grief at the loss of her husband in the First World War. She is used to being overlooked and held at arms length by all, except her beloved brother Hughie, and is is unsure of her new position in the Guinness household. But Fliss soon becomes used to living in a world of luxury and ease as the beloved friend of the three girls she finds herself being raised with; adept at gauging their capricious moods, calming troubled waters, and complying dutifully with the requests of the family. 

As the political landscape of Ireland changes beyond the walls of Glenmaroon, troubled times intrude upon the genteel calm of the Guinness family, culminating in an incident in connection with Fliss' brother that rocks them to the core. The time comes for the family to move on, travel the world, and leave the dangers of Ireland behind, but can Fliss do the same?

After a break, the Guinness family relocate to London and recall Fliss from her exile in the strangling atmosphere of her mother's rotting home, but something has changed in the interim. Fliss finds herself looking at the rarified lives of her childhood companions differently, and reassessing what lies in her own future.

The Glorious Guinness Girls is a fabulous, sweeping tale that takes us deep into the world of the upper-classes in the 1920s, whilst incorporating oodles of detail about the political and social changes on both sides of the Irish Sea. The Guinness girls live in an environment protected from the grime and poverty outside the walls of their splendid homes and gardens, but Hourican cleverly crosses the gulf between these very different worlds by telling her story through the eyes of Fliss, who will always be an outsider, despite being brought up with Aileen, Maureen and Oonagh. 

My favourite parts of this tale take place in the heady atmosphere of 1920's London, as the Guinness girls become enveloped in the frenzied atmosphere of a privileged set of young people desperate to push against the strictures of their staid parents, and the shadow of the lost generation who died on the battlefields of the Great War - the bright young people with aristocratic credentials, rubbing shoulders with famous figures from the worlds of entertainment, literature and fashion, that we associate so much with this period in time. The glitz and glamour, the decadence and debauchery of this set is laid out beautifully in these pages, but we get to see how fragile this atmosphere of forced jollity is too, and the emptiness that often lies underneath the veneer of elegance and fun - and as this endless party plays out against the reality of ordinary mortals, we know that social change is on the way that will bring all this dissipation to an end. 

I was struck by how successfully Hourican manages to show that however degenerate these bright you people may seem, there is a sadness behind the mask that many of these characters show to the world: the glimpses of hopelessness, frustration at a lack of purpose, and the weariness that comes with the effort to always having to put on a show was quite intriguing. Although it was hard to like the Guinness girls themselves, their desperate need to act in the way expected of them as the toast of society, make good matches, and become dutiful wives was compelling.

This is an engaging book, blending fact seamlessly into a fictional coming of age tale, with a little gentle romance, and a dollop of vice. It's sure to set you on a path of discovering more about many of the fascinating characters mentioned here alongside the Guinness girls too! 

The Glorious Guinness Girls is available to buy now in hardback, e-book, paperback and audio formats from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Antonia Whitton at Headline 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:

Emily Hourican is a journalist and author. She has written features for the Sunday Independent for fifteen years, as well as Image magazine, Conde Nast Traveler and Woman and Home. She was also editor of The Dubliner Magazine.

Emily's first book, a memoir titled How To (Really) Be A Mother was published in 2013. She is also the author of novels The Privileged, White Villa, The Outsider and The Blamed. Her first novel about the Guinness sisters The Glorious Guinness Girls was published in 2020.

She lives in Dublin with her family.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Ladies' Midnight Swimming Club by Faith Hogan


The Ladies' Midnight Swimming Club by Faith Hogan.

Published 6th May in ebook and 13th May 2021 in paperback by Aria, Head of Zeus.

From the cover of the book:

When Elizabeth's husband dies, leaving her with crippling debt, the only person she can turn to is her friend, Jo. Soon Jo has called in her daughter, Lucy, to help save Elizabeth from bankruptcy. Leaving her old life behind, Lucy is determined to make the most of her fresh start.

As life slowly begins to return to normal, these three women, thrown together by circumstance, become fast friends. But then Jo's world is turned upside down when she receives some shocking news.

In search of solace, Jo and Elizabeth find themselves enjoying midnight dips in the freezing Irish Sea. Here they can laugh, cry and wash away all their fears. As well as conjure a fundraising plan for the local hospice that will bring the whole community together...


Elizabeth is a woman released from a long, but unhappy, marriage after the death of her GP husband Eric. She is unsure what the future holds, but is looking forward to a life out from under Eric's domineering shadow - until that is she finds out he has left her with crippling gambling debts that look likely to leave her with nothing.

Shocked and upset, Elizabeth turns to her oldest friend Jo for advice. Fortunately, Jo has a plan: her daughter Lucy, a doctor, is also trying to piece her life back together in the wake of a divorce and coming back home to run the GP surgery might just be the new start she needs - even if Lucy's teenage son Niall is likely to be a bit reluctant to be dragged to the back of beyond on the west coast of Ireland. 

Things start to look up as Elizabeth and Lucy work together to get their lives back on track, with the indefatigable Jo in support. But then Jo's world is turned upside down with some shocking news of her own, and it looks like the time comes for her to need to support of her nearest and dearest.

Heartbreak lies ahead, but the three woman form a strong bond enjoying midnight dips in the freezing Irish sea, encouraged by Jo who has always been a keen sea swimmer. Although Elizabeth and Lucy are reluctant at first, they soon find themselves enjoying their nightly dips and the freedom to laugh, cry and clear their minds that comes with their midnight swims. They eventually hatch a plan between them that is designed to celebrate Jo's life in the best way imaginable, and raise some money for a good cause at the same time - by getting all the women in the village to join them in a sponsored midnight swim branded as a 'dip in the nip'.

The combined stories of these three women is a masterclass from Faith Hogan in exploring warm friendship, deep love, coping with loss, and new beginnings. But she also weaves some gold in the rest of the novel with Niall's story of finding acceptance and a place to belong, which was joyful, and a delightful thread about a character called Dan who is searching for the mother he never knew in this little corner of west Ireland.

As the stories of Elizabeth, Jo, Lucy, Niall and Dan collide, Hogan uses the theme of the bond between mother and child beautifully, but it also allows her to shine a light on the plight of those women who found themselves in the Irish mother and baby homes. It is shocking to read about the hundreds of women and children that died in these homes, and the babies that were taken from their mothers, in the days when to be an unmarried mother was considered to be shameful in the eyes of God and respectable people, but I really enjoyed the way Hogan examines this through her characters, bringing in some interesting threads about discrimination and hypocrisy along the way - and wraps everything up in a glorious, bittersweet ending.

This is an incredibly emotional story and although you know pretty early on that there is going to be a hefty dollop of sadness to come, this is actually a very uplifting tale that will warm the cockles of your heart, and have you craving the wild beauty of the west coast of Ireland. If you are looking for a book to make your heart full and your eyes brim over with tears, then The Ladies' Midnight Swimming Club is it.

The Ladies' Midnight Swimming Club is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Vicky Joss at Head of Zeus 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:

Faith Hogan lives in the west of Ireland with her husband, four children and two very fussy cats. 

She has an Hons Degree in English Literature and Psychology, has worked s a fashion model and in the intellectual disability and mental health sector.