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Thursday, September 30, 2021

September 2021 Reading Round-Up

 September 2021 Reading Round-Up


Eleven fabulous books read (or listened to) cover to cover this month - and there are some absolute stunners here! Please click the captions on the individual photos below to go to the relevant review! 

Resistance by Mara Timon


A Rattle of Bones by Douglas Skelton


Codename Firefly by C.J. Daugherty


Let Us Prey by David James Smith


The Chateau by Catherine Cooper


Whisper Cottage by Anne Wyn Clark


The Hidden Child by Louise Fein


The Family Lie by P.L. Kane


Blasted Things by Lesley Glaister


The Impossible Truths of Love by Hannah Beckerman


The Late Train to Gipsy Hill by Alan Johnson


More great books next month!
If you have enjoyed my photographic efforts, please head to my Instagram page
@brownflopsy for more!


Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The Late Train to Gipsy Hill by Alan Johnson

 

The Late Train to Gipsy Hill by Alan Johnson.

Published 2nd September 2021 by Wildfire Books.

From the cover of the book:

A woman hiding a deadly secret. And the man who went in search of adventure, but found himself in danger...

Gary Nelson has a routine for the commute to his rather dull job in the city. Each day, he watches as a woman on the train applies her make up in a ritual he now knows by heart. He's never dared to strike up a conversation . . . but maybe one day.

Then one evening, on the late train to Gipsy Hill, the woman invites him to take the empty seat beside her. Fiddling with her mascara, she holds up her mirror and Gary reads the words 'HELP ME' scrawled in sticky black letters on the glass.

From that moment, Gary's life is turned on its head. He finds himself on the run from the Russian mafia, the FSB and even the Metropolitan Police - all because of what this mysterious young woman may have witnessed. In the race to find out the truth, Gary discovers that there is a lot more to her than meets the eye . . .

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

This begins with a delicious scene of intrigue and shady shenanigans at London's Strand Hotel, where a group of disparate Soviet émigrés meet to discuss a possible collaboration on a film project. Their reasons for leaving their homeland differ: among them some have escaped persecution, some are celebrities, some are out and out mobsters - some of them may also be spies, but it is not easy to tell where their real allegiances lie from the surface. In any event, this is a meeting that ends badly for more than one of the men at this table, for reasons Alan Johnson is going to take us on a very enjoyable spooks caper to discover!

The action then moves to another of our central characters: the very ordinary Gary Nelson, who finds himself involved it the fallout of the events in the Strand Hotel by virtue of the young woman he watches apply her make-up every day during his boring commute into the city. His longing for adventure is answered with rather more than he was prepared for when one evening this young woman asks Gary to sit next to her. Delighted to finally be able to speak to the woman he has been admiring from afar for so long, his joy turns to shock when she holds up her mirror to show him the words "HELP ME" scrawled in mascara. What's a hero-in-waiting supposed to do? Well, exactly as she asks of course!

Gary's life suddenly becomes the stuff of fiction, as he and and the apparent damsel in distress, who calls herself Arina, hales from the Ukraine and works at the Strand Hotel as a waitress, find themselves on the run from Russian gangsters, the British and Russian security services, and the police, who all want to get to the bottom of what went on at the fateful meeting. Each of these groups have problems of their own to contend with too - problems that take us deep into the workings of the Russian gangs that have made their home in London, the political pastimes and power plays of those involved in the intelligence services, and a lovely thread of conspiracy that threatens to derail the investigation of the pleasingly named Detective Superintendent Louise Mangan. Along the way, Gary's housemates and mum also get dragged into the twisty affair. Will Gary and Arina survive to tell their tale?

There are so many wonderful things about this book!

Its roots lie in an authentic spy story which draws on themes around the legacy of the Cold War, the break-up of the Soviet Union, how the security services operate, and the intriguing connections between Russian criminal gangs, super wealthy oligarchs, and those at the top of Russian politics. The way Johnson uses these themes to infuse this story with threads of money, corruption, retribution and ambition is supremely slick, and speaks volumes about his knowledge of both Russian political history, and the contemporary landscape in the East and the West. There is plenty of tension, menace and bloodshed to be found in thee pages and I loved every second of it.

In addition, Johnson manages to make this a compelling mystery tale, throwing a crateful of red herrings at you before you find out exactly what has gone on here, who has done what to who, and why - with some intriguing surprises.

But this is also a very human tale. Gary is just an ordinary bloke, living a humdrum life. He has very relatable hopes and dreams, working relationships, and housemate dramas - he also has a close and loving relationship with his single mother, which touches on some interesting themes about parenthood all on its own. Although, there are some darkly humorous moments to be had from the gritty spooks and gangsters side of this story, it is by and large in the interactions Gary has with his friends, family and colleagues where most of the chuckles lie - and a chance for Johnson to incorporate a bit of romance too. This all lightens the piece as a whole, making it very accessible for a general audience, even those who don't normally find themselves drawn to a spy yarn. 

This is a cracking good read, plain and simple, that mixes things up in terms of what we normally expect from a political thriller, and I cannot wait to see what comes next in terms of fiction from Alan Johnson after this captivating debut. 

The Late Train To Gipsy Hill is available to buy now in hardcover (which is gorgeous), ebook and audiobook, from your favourite book retailer.

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

About the author:

Alan Johnson was General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union before entering Parliament as Labour MP for Hull West and Hessle in 1997. He served as Home Secretary from June 2009 to May 2010. Before that, he filled a wide variety of cabinet positions in both the Blair and Brown governments, including Health Secretary and Education Secretary. Until 20 January 2011 he was Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer.

His childhood memoir This Boy was published by Bantam Press on 9th May 2013. It won the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize, and the Orwell Prize, Britain's top political writing award. His second volume of memoirs. Please Mr Postman, was published in September 2014 and won the National Book Club award for Best Biography. The final book in his memoir trilogy, The Long and Winding Road, was published in September 2016 and won the Parliamentary Book Award for Best Memoir.

Alan retired as an MP before the 2017 general election after 20 years as an MP. On 20th September 2018 his latest book, In My Life – A Music Memoir was launched at Studio 2, Abbey Road where the Beatles made almost all of their records.

He and his wife Carolyn live in East Yorkshire.


The Impossible Truths Of Love by Hannah Beckerman

 

The Impossible Truths of Love by Hannah Beckerman.

Published 5th October 2021 by Lake Union Publishing/Amazon Publishing.

From the cover of the book:

When Nell’s father makes a deathbed declaration that hints at a long-held secret, it reignites feelings of isolation that have plagued her for years. Her suspicions about the family’s past only deepen when her mother, Annie, who is losing her memories to dementia, starts making cryptic comments of her own.

Thirty-five years earlier, Annie’s life was upended by a series of traumas—one shock after another that she buried deep in her heart. The decisions she made at the time were motivated by love, but she knew even then that nobody could ever understand—let alone forgive—what she did.

As the two women’s stories unravel, a generation apart, Nell finally discovers the devastating truth about her mother’s past, and her own.

In this beautifully observed and emotionally powerful story of identity, memory and the nature of family, Hannah Beckerman asks: To what lengths would you go to protect the ones you love?

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

As Nell sits at the bedside of her terminally ill father Bill, he lets slip a piece of information about their relationship that puzzles her. It's something she never gets to question him about, as he slips away quietly in the night.

Something about his deathbed declaration tugs at Nell's long-held feelings of isolation and not quite fitting in with the rest of her family, but how will she get the answers she needs now her mother Annie is slowly being lost to the ravages of dementia?

When Nell returns to her family home to help her sisters pack up the contents of their parents' lives, before their mother is admitted to a care home, the stark difference between the high-flying academic life she now leads and the day to day existence of her nearest and dearest cuts to the quick. She feels guilt at the way her older sisters have been left to carry the burden of care for their mother, and with the resentment they feel towards her as the favourite child who seems to have it easy barely concealed, all three find themselves falling back into the pattern of behaviour that was established in their childhood.

Nell's suspicion that there is a deep dark secret at the heart of this family refuses to go away, especially when her mother starts to make some odd comments as she slips back and forth between the present and the past - and some of the things she finds among her parents' possessions don't add up. Will she ever know the truth about her own past?

The Impossible Truths of Love is a superbly crafted story of grief, identity and family secrets that brings in elements of domestic noir and mystery to weave a tale that grips you from the first page to the last. The story moves between the present as Nell tries to get answers to the doubts that plague her, and the past when Annie was shattered by a series of traumatic events with consequences that ripple through time.  Hannah Beckerman's writing is beautiful, wringing every possible ounce of emotion from you as she explores what it means to be part of a family with hidden sorrows, as the strain of current events throws up unresolved issues from the past.

If you have been through the process of losing your own parents through illness or dementia, and subsequently had to sift through the belongings left behind you will find so much of what is written in these pages hugely relatable. Beckerman conveys so well everything that follows these events: sibling rivalry rearing its ugly head; overwhelming feelings of nostalgia; the rawness of grief; and the heart breaking acknowledgement of what has been lost, especially if you have questions about what you find. Much of this hit the mark with me and made my heart ache anew with the loss of my own parents. The fact that this book is set in my old stomping ground of South London really ramped up the sentimental vibes too. The tears flowed, dear readers...

This is character driven and deeply affecting stuff, but is is also a deliciously plotted mystery story that unfolds with a quietly devastating slow-burn over the course of the book, in both storylines. Nell and Annie's stories come together as all the little pieces of the puzzle reveal themselves, and you find yourself seconding guessing where you think this novel is taking you many times before the surprising ending gives you an emotional pummelling. 

The Impossible Truths of Love is one of the finest novels I have read this year that combines themes of searching for a sense of belonging, the fathomless depths of what it means to be a mother, and the impact of unresolved trauma on mental health both in the present and the past. I read this one in a single luscious sitting, unable to tear myself away. It is thoroughly engrossing, profoundly moving, and will break your heart in two. Simply stunning!

The Impossible Truths of Love is available to buy in paperback, ebook and audio formats from 5th October 2021, via your favourite book retailer.

Many thanks to FMcM Associates for sending me a proof of this book in return for an honest review, and for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Hannah Beckerman is a bestselling author and journalist whose novels have been translated into more than a dozen languages worldwide. She is a book critic and features writer for a range of publications including The Observer and the FT Weekend Magazine, and has appeared as a book pundit on BBC Radio 2 and Times Radio. She chairs literary events across the UK, interviewing authors and celebrities, and has judged numerous book prizes including the Costa Book Awards. Prior to writing her first novel, Hannah was a television producer and commissioning editor for the BBC, Channel 4 and the Discovery Channel, and for two years lived in Bangladesh, running a TV project for the BBC. She now lives in London where she writes full-time.




Monday, September 27, 2021

Misty Ricardo's Curry Compendium by Richard Sayce

 

Misty Ricardo's Curry Compendium by Richard Sayce.

Published 10th September 2021 by Misty Ricardo's Curry Kitchen.

From the cover of the book:

Curry Compendium is based on the two topselling paperback prequels Indian Restaurant Curry at Home: Volume 1 & 2 which have collectively sold over 50,000 copies in three years. Both books won Gourmand World Cookbook awards for the best UK self-published cookbooks.

Richard Sayce has combined all the content from both these books into a quality hardback format, added a splattering of new recipes, and updated many of the photographs and illustrations.

Inside the new book you'll find an abundance of mouth-watering, delightfully easy to follow Indian restaurant recipes. These are all backed up with detailed and comprehensive informational chapters: everything you need to learn the art of curry cooking.

Curry Compendium contains all you need to create your own restaurant quality food at home in your kitchen. Start saving a fortune on takeaways!

  • 99 recipes, fully detailed and explained, covering starters, mains, sides, rice, accompaniments, and traditional Indian & streetfood
  • Video Tuition throughout. A QR code is included for most recipes which can be scanned with a smartphone to instantly open up the associated YouTube video
  • A quick and easy base gravy recipe to cook in 30 minutes
  • Scaling Up - a detailed but easy to follow chapter about cooking multiple curry portions at once
  • Inside an Indian Restaurant kitchen - a chapter showing the workings of a busy kitchen
  • Additional recipe photos crediting social media followers
Based on the top-selling, Gourmand award winning paperbacks Indian Restaurant Curry at Home Volumes 1 & 2 (ISBN: 9781999660802 & 9781999660826)

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

Welcome to the Curry Compendium - the definitive guide to recreating British Indian Restaurant (BIR) food in the comfort of your own home!

Although I am an experienced cook and have made a variety of curries from scratch many times before, this book offers a whole new way of approaching the subject of homemade curries, so I was intrigued to discover what Richard Sayce had in store for me with his BIR method.

Let's start with what you get for your money: 

Although self-published, this is one of the highest quality hardbacked cookery books I have ever had the pleasure to give shelf room to. It is beautifully bound, with high quality glossy pages, the print is large enough to read comfortably without glasses (a bonus for me) and there are loads of full colour photographs throughout - there is also a photograph to illustrate what each finished dish should look like, which is always helpful, particularly when you are trying something new. There is not a separate dust jacket, which is a bit of a shame as cookery books always get a bit messy in use and I like them to still look smart of the shelf, but this is a very minor thing. Have no fear this is a top quality book and looks and feels every inch worth its cover price of £21.99.

What's inside the cover?

Richard Sayce starts with a few basics about curries and the equipment you will need to get started. This is all stuff well worth reading, even if you consider yourself a competent curry chef. Sayce's tone is engaging and informative throughout,  so it is not a case of wading through boring detail either.

He then gives a full introduction to the BIR method and what makes his cooking process so unusual to the home cook. Basically, this is all about preparing ingredients beforehand, like they do in Indian restaurants - and it's fair to say that there is a lot of prep involved before you can sit down to enjoy your tasty final dish. Essentially there are several distinct stages to these curries: making up a base spice mix; making up a base sauce/gravy; precooking your chosen main ingredient (usually meat, but vegie options are available); and then the final cooking process where everything comes together with extra ingredient to make a curry.

Preparation is key and Sayce goes to great lengths to explain how and why before you get going with the recipes. He gives comprehensive details about what is involved here, and you do need to read this section very carefully to understand what comes in the pages that follow, including the ingredients you will require. Incidentally, there were a few ingredients listed here that I had not come across before, and some were called different names to those which I was familiar with so this was very useful information. There are also tips about swaps you can make, and things which are optional too.

The rest of the book is full of delicious sounding recipes for starters, a whole range of different curries, side dishes, rice, breads and sundries. There is also a really interesting chapter on Street Food, a wealth of information about scaling up curry recipes (more of an art than a science it seems), a sneak peek inside an Indian restaurant kitchen, and a couple of handy appendices on shopping lists and suppliers. 

I will add a word here about something that makes this book rather special. Many of the recipes and processes covered in these pages are accompanied by tutorials on YouTube. Simply access the relevant video via your smart phone using the QR code printed on the page. If this isn't the future of all cookery books, than I don't know what is, because it gives invaluable support before you attempt your own BIR menus. Brilliant!

How did I get on with BIR cooking?

The Spice Mix:

First of all I tackled the spice mix! There are two options available, and I plumped for the basic Mix Powder, as I had all the ingredients readily available. 

This was a gentle start, as basically it is just combining dry spices. You do have to grind some whole spices, which is quite hard work in a pestle and mortar, so I recommend a spice blender if you have one to make this stage easier.



The Base Gravy:

Making up the base gravy is where things start to get a bit more interesting. You can choose the type of gravy you make at this stage, which really depends on how much time you want to spend here. I opted for the 30 Minute Base Gravy, which was the quickest option.

Gather your ingredients, chop your onions and follow the steps provided, leave everything to bubble away for 15 minutes, then blend to a smooth consistency and you get a vibrant base sauce. This makes up a concentrated curry base, which has to be thinned down when making up you final curries.

At this stage, the base gravy can be cooled and stored in the fridge. The 30 Minute Gravy  will make about five BIR style curries.

The final curry!

I have made a handful of curries from this book, with a variety of ingredients, so will cover this final stage in general terms. 

This is the stage where everything comes together. 

There are lots of different options and methods here, but really they all involve using spices, including your basic spice mix, base gravy, and a variety of other ingredients. 

If you are making a meat curry, you ideally need to prepare this element first, although at a push you can extend the cooking period to cook everything together at this point - you do get a better flavour from cooking the meat separately though. To be honest, I did cheat a little bit here and cooked the meat in the oven, rather than on the stove-top, because this saved time. Sorry Mr Sayce! I would recommend making sure you meat is ready before embarking on the final stages though, as that is where things get busy!

Now comes what you have been waiting for... the grand finale! Each recipe has very specific instructions about how things come together and the extra ingredients you need. This is where things tend to get hot and sweaty, but although the process seems a bit hectic and messy, it is actually quite quick - this is where all the prep pays dividends. 

Once everything is ready you can relax and enjoy a delicious curry!

My thoughts:

This is a whole new way of thinking about Indian cookery and it is quite a lot to take in if you are new to the BIR method, as I was. 

I have to be honest here and say that it does seem like there is a lot of work involved in cooking this way, and you do have to invest a big chunk of time in preparing everything you need beforehand. This is not a method for the chef who likes to cook by the seat of their pants! However, it is also the case that making curries with a depth of flavour is not something that happens quickly, and actually making elements of the final product before you plan to eat them can potentially save you time in the long run - especially if you plan to tackle a curry after a long day at work. It is a matter of balance and adjusting your mindset.

There are a lot of interesting and tasty dishes in this book. They are presented well and are easy to follow. If you are not used to cooking curries you will need to invest in quite a few ingredients, and some of the processes are very involved, even if the equipment you need is rather basic. I think this aims it towards the keen cook rather than the beginner in terms of the curries themselves, as this could be a bit overwhelming for a beginner, but many of the starters, side dishes and accompaniments are easily achievable and offer a good way to start to engage with this book.

I can see how it it would be easy to become a devotee to the BIR method, as it is very persuasive, especially if you are a fan of Indian restaurant cooking, and the Misty Ricardo's Curry Kitchen technique is certainly hugely popular. I am not sure I am ready to become a card carrying member of the club just yet, as I am fond of spontaneity in my kitchen, but I enjoyed tackling the recipes, and I can see this would be an attractive option to the lovers of preparing ahead or batch cooking. It's been a long while since I had a cookery book in my kitchen that made me think in a completely different way about preparing something I am familiar with making, which I found quite exciting!

Curry Compendium is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer.

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




About the author:

Richard Sayce, the man behind Misty Ricardo’s Curry Kitchen and the Indian Cookbook Indian Restaurant Curry at Home Volumes 1 & 2, has many years experience in the world of Indian food. A love of curry from an early age motivated him to master the art of BIR (British Indian Restaurant) cooking and to share his passion with others.
“I’ve been interested in cooking since an early age, and have always loved Indian food. My passion led me to learn all about how curry is cooked in restaurants and takeaways here in the UK, which was my first experience of Indian food.
Having tried unsuccessfully to reproduce BIR (British Indian Restaurant style) curry many years ago, albeit with limited resources, I resigned myself to thinking the amazing flavour was out of reach for home cooks. How the (mainly Bangladeshi) chefs created their divine-tasting food was seemingly a closely-guarded secret and inaccessible to everyone else.

In more recent years with a rekindled passion and determination, I endeavoured to finally master the art of creating excellent BIR style curry, and with time and a lot of experimentation, finally gained enough skill and knowledge to be happy with sharing my experiences.”
Richard lives in the North West of England and dedicates his ‘foodie’ time to cooking, recipes, social media, catering, and of course eating. A firm love of Indian food in both home and restaurant styles gives plenty of motivation to experiment and try out new recipes and ideas.

His two books, Indian Restaurant Curry at Home Volume 1 and 2, have each won the Gourmand World Cookbook award for best UK Self-Published Cookbook, 2019 and 2020 respectively, and have sold many thousands of copies in the UK and abroad. His long-standing YouTube channel has over 30 thousand subscribers and over 5 million views.



Saturday, September 25, 2021

The Tortilla Cookbook by Sarah Cook

The Tortilla Cookbook by Sarah Cook. 

Published 26th August 2021 in hardback by Seven Dials.

From the cover of the book:

Inspired by the viral TikTok trend #TortillaChallenge, this cookbook is packed with 60 quick, easy and delicious wrap recipes that you can make for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

The concept is simple: you cut a slit in a tortilla and then top each quadrant with a different ingredient, then, you fold the tortilla over on itself and toast it, fry it or just eat it as is!

There's never been a simpler way of creating a tasty, nutritious meal in a matter of minutes. Whether you're looking for a filling breakfast, lunch to go, or quick fix dinner; this book has you covered. With each recipe accompanied by a photo, chapters include:

  • BRILLIANT BREAKFAST & BRUNCH
  • EVERYDAY FAVOURITES
  • LOVE YOUR LEFTOVERS
  • EASY CHEESY
  • SWEET TREATS
**********************

I am a bit of an cookbook addict and have quite a number in my collection, covering all sorts of cuisines, cooking methods, and occasions, with a smattering of books from my favourite celebrity chefs too. I don't tend to talk about them on my blog, but I was recently given the chance to try out some of the recipes from this gem of a book by Seven Dials, and chat about them on my social media feeds - so I thought I should post my review here too! 

So, what do you get? This is a very nice quality, small format hardback cookery book with lots of ideas about how to pack tasty fillings into tortillas to brighten up your breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, inspired by the TikTok trend #TortillaChallenge. There are a variety of both savoury and sweet options - yes, tortillas make great desserts too - and each recipe is accompanied by a full colour photo showing you exactly how to arrange the fillings, which is very handy.

This book introduced me to a new way of filling a wrap as the method involves making a slit in the tortilla, filling quadrants (or sometimes thirds) with different ingredients, and then carefully folding it over itself - you then either fry, or toast the folded tortilla, or eat it as it is. Simple!

There is a knack to getting the proportions and folds right, but you soon catch on, and folding the tortilla this way is a surprisingly effective at containing the fillings - whilst allowing you to enjoy a blend of al the ingredients in each bite.

For the toasted options, I used a sandwich toaster - opt for a deep fill one if you can, as the tortillas can be quite chunky when folded. However, you can easily use a frying pan instead, turning over the wrap halfway through the cooking time. The choice is yours!

I tried out several of the recipes, covering a variety of savoury and sweet options, and have included a few below to give you a flavour, with pictures to feast your eyes upon.

The Chic-Greek Toastie

Welcome to the Chic-Greek Toastie: a mix of herby courgettes, tomatoes, olives, feta and mozzarella in the different quadrants to evoke the feeling of sun-drenched holidays! 

This is a toasted option, so I popped it into the sandwich toaster for two minutes, until golden brown. I loved the way the melty cheese layer goes all the way around the outside here, wrapping everything up in cheesy yumminess. 

I also tried a feta/extra-mature-cheddar combination in pursuit of cheesy variety, which gives an extra kick of flavour.





Portuguese Sardine

This is the easy-peasy Portuguese Sardine tortilla: Sardines, tomato paste, mayonnaise, tomatoes and salad leaves - again, in a quadrant formation.

This is a very simple assemble and eat option, which makes it ideal for packed-lunches and picnics. Healthy, delicious and almost like lunch in the sunny Algarve! 

I also tried this with a tinned mackerel and sundried tomato combination which was yummy! 





Salted Caramel Banana Bread

Next was  a sweet offering, which was a bit of a revelation as I have not thought of using them this way before. 

Behold the Salted Caramel Banana Bread tortilla... a mix of chocolate spread/Biscoff spread, crumbled cake, banana & caramel sauce toasted to a crisp sweet-treat delight! Perfect for those of you with a sweet tooth.

I also experimented with a chocolate spread, crumbled flapjack, banana and honey version, which was delicious too.



My favourite thing about this book is how inspirational it is. It not only gives you some really interesting flavour combinations in the recipes, but also sets your mind buzzing with ideas of your own to try in the spirit of adventure! 


Here is an example of a bit of free-styling...

This option included ham, baby salad leaves, tomatoes, a cheddar/feta mix, and my choice of chutney (Mrs Ball's Chutney in this case, which hales from South Africa and is delicious).

I am happy to report that this was resounding success all round!

The recipes can all be adapted to fit what you have in your fridge or cupboards, swapping ingredients in and out as you wish - and there are tips about how you can make them suitable for vegetarians and vegans, and also information to show how the use of gluten-free wraps can make them an easy option for celiacs and those who are intolerant to gluten.

I absolutely love this little book. It has opened up my mind to all sorts of possibilities, and showed me how very versatile tortillas can be in terms of meal time options and snacks. Quick, easy and delicious! I cannot recommend The Tortilla Cookbook highly enough.

The Tortilla Cookbook is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Seven Dials for sending me a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

About the author:

Sarah Cook is a food writer, food stylist and former food editor at BBC Good Food Magazine. She is always up for a recipe challenge and loves creating innovative new dishes with big and bold flavours. She is based in London.


Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Blasted Things by Lesley Glaister

 

Blasted Things by Lesley Glaister.

Published in paperback 16th September 2021 by Sandstone.

Previously published in hardback on 7th May 2020.

From the cover of the book:

1920: Britain is trying to forget the Great War. 

Clementine, who nursed at the front and suffered losses, must bury the past. 

Then she meets Vincent, an opportunistic veteran whose damage goes much deeper than the painted tin mask he wears. 

Their deadly relationship will career towards a dark and haunting resolution.


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

At the end of 1917, Clementine volunteers to become a VAD nurse on the frontlines, doing all she can to help the poor wretches injured in battle as a way to find some sort of peace over the death of her younger brother in the trenches. Dirty, exhausted and emotionally drained she has little time to think of the GP fiancé Dennis she has left behind in leafy Surrey, let alone find the time and energy to keep up any sort of correspondence with him.

This is a place where every small comfort is clutched at in the fleeting moments between death and bloody mayhem - a hasty cigarette, a fitful few hours of sleep, a selfless act of kindness for a dying man to remind you that you are human - but somehow amid this hell, Clementine finds true love with a Canadian doctor called Powell. Their passionate affair and depth of feeling sustaining them through the nightmare they live day to day, as they look ahead to the time when they can settle into married life after this terrible conflict, and make a future for themselves with the child Clementine secretly carries. But then tragedy strikes. Powell is killed when their field unit comes under bombardment, and in the hazy traumatic days that follow, Clementine miscarries her baby.

The story then moves to 1920. In a Britain that is desperate to forget the war to end all wars, Clementine is now married to Dennis and expected to live the life of a respectable rural GP's wife. She has given birth to a son, but rather than bringing her joy, this event only reminds her of the child that never lived and the loss of the man she loved - none of which she has ever told her husband about. Consumed by memories of the past, Clementine succumbs to a breakdown that keeps her confined to her room for days on end, moving between a murky awareness of the time passing around her and the oblivion of drugged sleep.

As the months pass, Clementine gradually comes back to herself and achieves a fragile, if numb existence. But this is not quite the recovery Dennis believes it to be and he remains blissfully unaware of the memories that haunt her about her wartime experiences, especially since he never served in the trenches himself. During a visit to Dennis' sister Harri, who is also a war widow, Clementine feels the desperate need to escape their constant bickering about whether or not Harri should return to the family home under the control of Dennis. Fleeing the house she is almost knocked over by a male motorcyclist who for some fathomless reason reminds her of Powell - it is a meeting that becomes fateful for them both.

The motorcyclist is a man called Vincent. A former door-to-door salesman who was profoundly injured in the war, and who now wears a tin mask to cover the devastation of his half ruined face. Clementine finds herself drawn to this man, seeing him as a kindred spirit, and Vincent is not beyond preying on her fixation with him to manipulate the relationship to his advantage, even into the realms of blackmail. As events spiral out of control, the secrets and lies begin to mount up until a violent resolution to their twisted association becomes inevitable. 

Blasted Things is a wonderful novel that evokes such a feeling of time and place, and examines the legacy of unresolved trauma, grief and the mourning for lives which will never be lived. Set in one of my favourite periods of history, this novel is intriguingly unlike anything I have ever read about how the events of the Great War marked the lives of those who lived at this time, because is it shines a light on the trauma experienced by the women who served at the front through the eyes of Clementine. In many ways this turns a story about the legacy of the horror of WWI on its head, because Clementine comes home from the front to marriage with a man who is unable to even to begin to comprehend what she has gone through, and even though she is unable to share the full truth of the past with Dennis he still blunders onwards with thoughtless witticisms and petty controlling behaviours that will obviously cause her pain. 

Unsurprisingly, Clementine is desperate for a way to share the secret heartbreak she hides inside, and it is this that draws her into the clutches of a man like Vincent - a man with secret sorrows of his own, not just a half-ruined face that he keeps hidden behind a tin mask. However, Vincent is not the man Clementine judges him to be. I really enjoyed the way in which Glaister uses the idea of physical and mental trauma to compare and contrast the stories of Clementine and Vincent, each profoundly scarred and hiding their wounds in different ways - Vincent wears a mask to hide the worst of what the war has done to him, but Clementine's injuries are every bit as debilitating even though she holds then deep inside. Both are flawed in their own way, caught up in a twisted association that will bring them harm, but they are also capable of redemption - and strangely their meeting, while also leading them down a dark path, does ultimately bring this too. Even Vincent shows a certain nobility of spirit at the end, despite all he has done. 

"You see, my wound's invisible."

"Aren't you the lucky one." 


But this a book that encompasses so much more than focussing on the relationship of two damaged individuals. This is certainly a quietly devastating portrayal of heartbreak, loss, and what it means to be human, with threads that bring in equally dark themes of guilt, shame and reputation, but there are so many moments of gold among the sorrow as Glaister also touches on female sexuality and the freedom many women found after the war through the stories of Harri, the irreverent Gwen, and Vincent's object of desire Doll. There are many intimate and tender moments, even some chuckles to be had from Gwen and Harri, that bring in a warmth and lightness to the piece among the more heartrending episodes.

This may sound a gruelling read, but I can honestly tell you that this novel was an absolute delight to devour from cover to cover. Glaister's writing is simply wonderful and I cannot believe I have not read any of her books before now. I cannot recommend this book highly enough - particularly if you enjoy the very best that historical fiction has to offer, and have a fascination with WWI and the time between the wars. 

Blasted Things is available to buy now in hardcover, ebook, paperback and audio formats from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Sandstone for sending me 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:

Lesley Glaister is a fiction writer, poet, playwright and teacher of writing. She has published fourteen adult novels, the first of a YA trilogy and numerous short stories. She received both a Somerset Maugham and a Betty Trask award for Honour Thy Father (1990), and has won or been listed for several literary prizes for her other work. She has three adult sons and lives in Edinburgh (with frequent sojourns to Orkney) with husband Andrew Greig. She teaches creative writing at the University of St Andrews and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.




Monday, September 20, 2021

The Family Lie by P.L. Kane

 

The Family Lie by P.L. Kane.

Published 17th September 2021 by HQ Digital.

From the cover of the book:

A scream cut through the night as they watched flames engulf the woodland. Fire ripped through the trees, leaving only charred branches behind. And then they saw it… on the ashen forest floor… was a body.

Police officer, Mitchel Prescott answered the phone with a shaking hand. It was the one call he had been dreading. It was the hospital at Green Acres… his father Thomas, had died in the night.

Returning to the small town he had been avoiding since he was a child, Mitch must lay his father to rest.

When he arrives, the close-knit residents refuse to speak about Thomas’ death, other to explain he was found burnt to death in the woods and his dementia was the likely cause.

But when Mitch discovers traces of accelerant on his father’s body, he’s certain it wasn’t an accident. Then his childhood home is broken into, his father’s study ransacked, and a rock thrown through the window warning him to leave.

Mitch is convinced Thomas had discovered something that had got him into trouble… something that would threaten his entire family.

But what secret is worth killing for?

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

Mitch Prescott finds himself all at sea after resigning from the police force in the wake of a riot that went horribly wrong, for which he lays the blame entirely at the feet of his incompetent superiors. It doesn't help that this calamity happens on the same day he finds out that his estranged father has died and he is expected to return home to the small town he has been avoiding for years in order to organise a funeral, rather than his sister who seems to be conspicuous in her absence.

The strain of his current predicament is weighing heavily on Mitch as he heads back to Green Acres, leaving his girlfriend Lucy behind with no idea if their relationship will survive recent events, and he can only hope that he will be able to tie up his father's affairs in double quick time and find a way to get his life back on track. But what he finds in his boyhood hometown has him bemused.

Things in Green Acres seem decidedly off. No one wants to talk to him about what happened to his father, a prospective property development is causing waves with the locals, and a strange commune that looks all too much like a cult in Mitch's eyes has established itself in the neighbourhood in his long absence. Things only get weirder when Mitch discovers that the circumstances of his father's death are highly unusual - how on earth did he come to be wandering around the woods late at night, let alone catch fire in the process? What was his father up to? And where the hell is his sister?

As Mitch uses is investigative skills, and his uncanny sixth sense, to try to uncover what is going on in Green Acres, attracting some very unwelcome attention in the process, he becomes convinced that something is afoot in this small community, and he is going to to his best to find out what it is.

The Family Lie is a slow burn tale of secrets. lies and conspiracy that builds its tension nicely as Mitch goes about finding out exactly what is going on in both his home town and at the dark heart of his fractured family. It starts its life as a police procedural that goes way left of field into the delicious realms a mystery that draws heavily on folklore, witchcraft and weird small community dynamics to ham up The Wicker Man vibes to the max, throwing in some nice horror scenes along the way.

I must admit that I wasn't too sure whether this story would hook me at the start, but the supernatural vibes ended up dragging me right into the eerie goings on in Green Acres. It's a quick, easy read that makes for an entertaining, cross-genre tale, and it has a rather splendid cat in it too, who ended up being my favourite character. There is some scope here for a sequel that could team up Mitch and his sister in a supernatural investigative venture, which would be quite intriguing. Lots of fun, especially in the run up to spooky season.

The Family Lie is available to by now in book format and will be available in paperback from 25th November 2021.

Thank you to HQ for providing me with a Netgalley copy of this book in return for an honest review and to P.L. Kane for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

P.L. KANE is the pseudonym of a number one bestselling and award-winning author and editor, who has over a hundred books published in the fields of SF, YA and Horror/Dark Fantasy. In terms of crime fiction, previous books include the novel Her Last Secret, the collection Nailbiters and the anthology Exit Wounds, which contains stories by the likes of Lee Child, Dean Koontz, Val McDermid and Dennis Lehane. Kane has been a guest at many events and conventions, and has had work optioned and adapted for film and television. Several of Kane’s stories have been turned into short movies and Loose Canon Films/Hydra Films have just adapted Men of the Cloth into a feature, The Colour of Madness. Kane’s audio drama work for places such as Bafflegab and Spiteful Puppet/ITV features the acting talents of people like Tom Meeten (The Ghoul), Neve McIntosh (Doctor Who/Shetland), Alice Lowe (Prevenge) and Ian Ogilvy (Return of the Saint).

Friday, September 17, 2021

The Hidden Child by Louise Fein

 

The Hidden Child by Louise Fein.

Published 2nd September 2021 by Head of Zeus.

From the cover of the book:

From the outside, Eleanor and Edward Hamilton have the perfect life, but they're harbouring a secret that threatens to fracture their entire world...

London, 1929.

Eleanor Hamilton is a dutiful mother, a caring sister and an adoring wife to a celebrated war hero. Her husband, Edward, is a pioneer in the eugenics movement. The Hamiltons are on the social rise, and it looks as though their future is bright.

When Mabel, their young daughter, begins to develop debilitating seizures, they have to face an uncomfortable truth: Mabel has epilepsy – one of the 'undesirable' conditions that Edward campaigns against.

Forced to hide their daughter away so as to not jeopardise Edward's life's work, the couple must confront the truth of their past – and the secrets that have been buried.

Will Eleanor and Edward be able to fight for their family? Or will the truth destroy them?

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

It's easy to think that ideas about genetic purity are confined to the past along with people like Adolf Hitler and his Nazi acolytes, and that we now come across such visions only in the pages of history texts and Dystopian fiction. However, Louise Fein's excellent second novel The Hidden Child, makes us think again by examining in shocking clarity how the ideas on which Hitler based his philosophy came from thinking that was widespread in the early 20th century through the eugenics movement, even throughout the USA and the UK .

Fein introduces us to the subject via the fictional Hamilton family. Living in London in 1929, the Hamiltons seem to have the perfect life. Eleanor Hamilton is the epitome of feminine perfection of her era - the dutiful mother to young Mabel with another child on the way, caring sister to Rose, and loving wife of WWI hero Captain Edward Hamilton - and all seems rosy in their leafy corner of Surrey. Edward is making a name for himself in the right circles as an exponent of the eugenics movement and their future is bright.

However, when Mabel develops epilepsy the Hamiltons are forced to confront their eugenic principles. Epilepsy makes Mabel one of the 'undesirables' Edward is so very keen to remove from society, not to mention the fact that this brings into the question the purity of his own and his wife's genetic credentials. As Mabel's condition becomes too advanced to hide from prying eyes, and with Edward's reputation at stake, she is secretly consigned to a barbaric treatment regime in an institution from which it is unlikely she will ever return.

Eleanor is destroyed by the fate of her daughter and comes to question the beliefs that Edward still holds so dear now the consequences of such thinking have touched their own family. How can she abandon her daughter and bring up another child as though Mabel no longer exists? Perhaps the ambitious ideas that Edward and his colleagues are so determined must become the foundation of government policy are not the solution they claim to be? As Eleanor discovers that Edward is harbouring secrets that call into question not just his theories, but the very nature of the man she thought she knew so well, can she remain the dutiful wife everyone believes her to be? There must be another way...

There is so much I want to praise about this book! It is a compelling and emotional tale that pulls you in with its intimate portrayal of a family shattered by a twist of fate, that draws heavily on Fein's own experience as the mother of a child with epilepsy. It kept me engrossed from the first page to the last, shining a light on some very uncomfortable historical facts, while entertaining and educating about the customs, attitudes, anxieties and struggles of the wider time and place in the way that only a talented author can. In setting this tale against the backdrop of the huge social changes that played out between the wars Fein skilfully touches on practically every aspect of what marks this era as so fascinating, alongside her examination of eugenics.

Fein pulls no punches in laying out the ideals of the popular eugenic movement of 1929, and I defy you not to be both disturbed by the views espoused, and horrified by the familiar names of some of the people that supported its ideology, and yet, by and large these were ordinary people who genuinely believed their intentions were for the good of society which makes it all the more chilling. As someone with a background in psychology, I was aware of some of these details, but even I was shocked to learn how widespread these views were, and of the sheer scale of the atrocities visited upon the poor souls dubiously deemed unfit. It's particularly distressing to think of the end results of these views, and there are many moments when hindsight gives you a shiver up the spine at the hints of things to come at the hands of eugenics supporters like Josef Mengele. 

But there is so much more, dear reader... 

In keeping with the theme of the story, Fein tells us a lot about the views of epilepsy and the barbaric forms of treatment meted out to sufferers, including small children - and the suspicion of new treatments by the establishment. Much of this is distressing and difficult to read, as it should be to our modern sensibilities, but in choosing epilepsy as her subject Fein also makes us think about the perception of disability both then and now. The notion that a person with epilepsy could be labelled as worthless to society from childhood is particularly upsetting I think, as I have had the pleasure to know more than a few wonderful children with this condition during my time as a school librarian - and I am pretty sure I am not alone in this. Does anyone really have the right to decide the worth of another's existence? 

I did enjoy the way Fein includes epilepsy itself as a character in the novel, with asides that break in at pivotal times in Mabel's story, personifying it in a way that contrasts its harsh nature with the cruelty of humankind. It's quite a brilliant story device, and actually builds rather a lot of tension into the story with some lovely misdirection.

Through the beautifully drawn characters we come to understand the wider events that have shaped them into who they are, and the paths they are destined to follow. There are lovely touches of glamour from descriptions of location, decor and clothing; of the dying days of the country house party set with fast cars and a desperate need for fun to chase away the shadow of the Great War; and of sojourns to exotic locations in Europe; but alongside this beguiling side of the era we get a glimpse at how poverty overshadows many lives, and some interesting observations on the aspiring middle classes.

There are myriad threads about women's emancipation and their reluctance to return to the domestic sphere after enjoying the freedoms granted to them through their wartime efforts, including sexual freedom and the greater availability of birth control - particularly through Rose's story and Eleanor's dawning frustration with her lack of intellectual freedom. In addition, Fein goes to great efforts to ensure we understand what is happening in the political sphere that is provoking a call for better rights for working men and women and a change in the social order, leading to unrest among all the classes. 

I was also struck by the moving way she delves into the lives of those who returned from the trenches as changed men, often profoundly physically damaged and mentally scarred. The way this is used to great effect in motivating Edwards's actions in particular is rather clever, and this lends him a realistic complexity, making him a much more sympathetic character with scope for redemption than he might otherwise appear given some of the things he does in these pages. 

I could go on and on... but I very much want you to go and read it to discover its delights for yourselves. This really is an astonishingly good novel on every single front that tugs mercilessly on the heart strings, and thrums with the love of family and the bonds of motherhood, but if that was not enough, it also does what the very best kind of historical fiction should do by highlighting exactly how history can teach us lessons about our own time. Many of the ideas rooted in the eugenic philosophy still receive support today, despite our beliefs that we live in more enlightened times, and we need to be wary that so called solutions are not taken to extremes in many areas of life in the name of progress. Danger lies in the fear and suspicion of those we see as different, and the all too persistent need for humankind to blame its misfortunes on others. If this tells us anything, it is that a desire to improve the lot of others through kindness, acceptance, and compassion should be the real focus of our lives, and making decisions on pseudo-science and false conclusions should be avoided at all costs. An important lesson indeed.

There is so much to reflect on here, all tied up in an incredible novel that made me sob with both sadness and joy. Louise Fein's writing is truly wonderful, and I am aching for more - her debut People Like Us has just moved to the top of my reading pile so keep your eyes peeled for my thoughts on it soon! 



The Hidden Child is available to buy now in hardcover, ebook and audio formats.

Thank you to  Head of Zeus for sending me a prof of this novel in return for an honest review, and for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Louise Fein is the author of People Like Us, her debut novel. It is a story of forbidden love and the brainwashing of a nation, set in 1930's Leipzig, and was inspired by the experiences of her family who fled Leipzig as refugees in 1933. The novel has been published in thirteen territories and has been shortlisted for the RSL Christopher Bland Prize 2021, as well as for the RNA Historical Novel of the Year award 2021. Her second novel, The Hidden Child, is set in 1920's England and tells the story of a couple who are ardent supporters of the burgeoning Eugenics movement, until their own daughter turns out to be not quite perfect. She holds an MA in creative writing from St Mary's University, London, and lives in Surrey with her family.





Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Whisper Cottage by Anne Wyn Clark

 

Whisper Cottage by Anne Wyn Clark.

Published 2nd September 2021 by Avon.

From the cover of the book:

How well do you know the woman next door?

When Stina and Jack move to an old rural cottage, they’re hoping for a fresh start. Their new home is run-down compared to their neighbour’s, but generous Mrs Barley quickly becomes a friend.

Until Stina sees a mysterious figure in the widow’s garden, and her happy new life begins to unravel. 

And when she hears strange noises in the night, she is forced to question if Mrs Barley is what she seems. 

Why do the other villagers whisper about her? Why is she so eager to help the couple? And what is she hiding in her picture-perfect home?

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

Young couple Stina and Nick head for a slice of rural peace and quiet when they swap the busy city of Birmingham for the Warwickshire countryside. Although their new cottage needs more than a bit of work, Stina hopes this will become a happy family home for them and the baby she is carrying, giving her the chance to put her own disturbed childhood well and truly behind her.

While Nick is out at work at the rural veterinary practice that has drawn them to this neck of the woods, journalist Stina passes the time with some freelance work for a local magazine, making friends in the village, preparing for the birth of their baby, and getting to know their next door neighbour elderly Mrs Barley - whose house and garden are practically picture perfect. 

Although Mrs Barley seems a little odd at times, Stina finds it difficult to reconcile the picture of this little old lady with the one she starts to hear from the other villagers. No one seems to have a good word to say about her, which seems strange given the kindness she has shown to her and Nick. What lies behind these whispers about a woman who seems perfectly harmless, if eccentric? But when Stina starts to see a strange man hanging around Mrs Barley's garden - one it seems no one else has seen - and she hears strange noises and chanting coming from next door, she begins to wonder exactly what this old lady is hiding, and whether there might be any truth in the belief of the villagers that her intentions are evil. Have they made a mistake letting this woman into their lives?

Whisper Cottage is a great mix of domestic noir and mystery tale, with some lovely spooky undertones that draw heavily on themes of witchcraft and otherness. Anne Wyn Clark plays up the notion of outsiders in a close rural community beautifully throughout the story, examining how behaviour viewed as out of the ordinary can be woven into village gossip as tales ripe with suspicion and rumours of the supernatural.

This is a book that finds you second guessing yourself almost as much as Stina does, as she tries to come to terms with the whispers she nears about Mrs Barley and the woman she gets to know. As the strange happenings play out in the present, intertwined with the details of Stina's youth, the history of her relationship with Nick, the clues she puts together about Mrs Barley's past, and the worries Stina has about her own mental stability, the story becomes completely engrossing - and it takes you places you do not see coming, with a few poignant, and sometimes chilling, surprises to finish off everything nicely.

I read this book in a single entertaining sitting and thoroughly enjoyed the way Wyn Clark wove themes of folklore, paganism, forbidden love, trust, loneliness, mental health and motherhood into a slow burn tale that keeps you on your toes! Highly recommended in the run up to spooky season!

Whisper Cottage is available to buy now in paperback, ebook and audio formats from you favourite book retailer, or from the link HERE.

Thank you to Avon Books for sending me a Natgalley copy of this book, and to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel's Random Resources Tours for inviting me to take part in this blog tour.


About the author:

Anne Wyn Clark lives in the UK, in the Midlands, with her husband, son and a feisty chinchilla. She has three (now grown-up) children and five grandchildren. She is particularly partial to Italian food, decent red wine (or any coloured wine come to that...) and cake - and has been known to over-indulge in each on occasions. She is passionate about animals and their welfare. Whilst she has enjoyed writing for many years, a love of all things gothic inspired her to try her hand at producing something dark and twisty, culminating in the haunting Whisper Cottage.




Friday, September 10, 2021

The Therapist by B.A. Parris (Audio Clip Tour)

 

The Therapist (Audio Book) by B.A. Parris.

Narrated by Olivia Dowd and Thomas Judd.

Released 16th April 2021 by HQ.

From the cover:

Tell me your secrets.... 

When Alice and Leo move into a newly renovated house in The Circle, a gated community of exclusive houses, it is everything they’ve dreamed of. But appearances can be deceptive....

As Alice is getting to know her neighbours, she discovers a devastating, grisly secret about her new home - and begins to feel a strong connection with Nina, the therapist who lived there before.

Alice becomes obsessed with trying to piece together what happened two years before. But no one wants to talk about it. Her neighbours are keeping secrets, and things are not as perfect as they seem....

The million-copy Sunday Times best-selling author B A Paris returns to her heartland of gripping psychological suspense in this powerful tale of a house that holds a shocking secret.

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

As part of the blog tour for the gripping psychological thriller The Therapist by B.A. Parris it is my pleasure to bring you a clip from the audio book narrated by Olivia Down and Thomas Judd.


The Therapist is available to buy now in hardback, paperback, ebook and audio formats from your favourite retailer, or via the link HERE.

Thank you to HQ for inviting me to take part in this blog tour.

About the author:

B.A. Paris is the internationally bestselling author of Behind Closed Doors, The Breakdown, Bring Me Back, The Dilemma and The Therapist. Having sold over 3.5 million copies worldwide, she is a New York Times and Sunday Times bestseller as well as a number one bestseller on Amazon and iBooks. Her novels have been translated into 40 languages, and Film and TV rights to Behind Closed Doors have been optioned. She is currently based in the UK.