Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The Seagull by Ann Cleeves

Reviewer : Gillian Hamer, author of The Charter, Closure, Complicit, Crimson Shore, False Lights & Sacred Lake. (

What we thought: I am a huge fan of both author, Ann Cleeves and the central character in this detective series, Vera Stanhope – so I have been waiting in anticipation for the eighth book of the series to be published.

And it’s another cracker! 

Here we see DCI Stanhope at her formidable best. Always one to acknowledge that she doesn’t look like the most professional DCI in the business, here she uses that to maximum advantage to solve a crime whose roots are buried twenty-seven years in the past.

When convicted former CID officer John Brace offers to do a deal with Vera – she looks after his vulnerable daughter outside in the real world in exchange for the whereabouts of the body of a missing man – her loyalties are tested. But as ever, Vera shows herself to be the shrewdest in the crowd as she investigates his claims about a cold case which seems to have its roots buried in a long-ago demolished nightclub in Whitley Bay called The Seagull. 

When Vera’s past life collides with her current enquiry, she is forced to examine whether her own father might be involved in more than just the dodgy trade of rare birds eggs. Could he have been a murderer too?

It was brilliant to be back in Vera’s world again, interacting with the detective team and immersing ourselves in the North East landscape through the author’s superb descriptive talents. There’s nothing I would change about this series and I hope it continues for many years and many books to come! 

You’ll enjoy this if you like : P.D James, Peter May, Ian Rankin.

Avoid if you don’t like : Cold case investigations.

Ideal accompaniments: Pot of tea and hot buttered teacake.

Genre : Crime.

Available on Amazon

French Collection by Vanessa Couchman

Reviewer: Liza Perrat, author of The Bone Angel trilogy (Spirit of Lost Angels, Wolfsangel, Blood Rose Angel) and latest release, The Silent Kookaburra.

What we thought: For Francophiles, French Collection: Twelve Short Stories is an anthology of short stories from Vanessa Couchman, author of The House at Zaronza, which I immensely enjoyed and reviewed here.

This eclectic collection of twelve short stories is inspired by the history and culture of the author’s adopted country, France. The descriptions, emotions and savoir-faire portray her love for the history, people and traditions of France, and the characters are so well-drawn that the reader comes to know and care about them in a matter of a few short pages.

Not all, but most of the stories are historical, and, as an author of French-based historical fiction novels, I admired and enjoyed all of them. My personal favourite was the 17th century plague story, The Visitation, but there’s something for everyone in this mix: historical, contemporary, romance, art, ghosts, all of them entertaining vignettes of French life across the ages.

Included at the end of the collection is Chapter 1 of the author’s next novel, The Corsican Widow, which whet my appetite. After Vanessa Couchman's most entertaining debut novel, The House at Zaronza, I'm really looking forward to reading this new one!

You’ll like this if you enjoy:
literary historical and contemporary fiction; a touch of the supernatural.

Avoid if you don’t like: historical and modern-day short stories.

Ideal accompaniments: French baguette and camembert, washed down with a glass of sturdy red Bordeaux.

Genre: Short stories. Literary fiction. Historical fiction.

Available on Amazon

Friday, 22 December 2017

Bookmuse Reviews of the Year

2017 was a vintage year for Bookmuse.

Between us, the team have read and reviewed over 250 books. Not every publication makes the cut, so those reviews we publish mean Recommended to Subscribers.

We review books we think you'll love.
Here we revisit some of the most popular/most passionate reviews of 2017.

January kicked off with the publication of Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller. Already a fan, Gillian Hamer dived in.

In February, Jacob Ross won the inaugural Jhalak Prize with his unforgettable novel, The Bone Readers. Here's Catriona Troth's assessment.

Barbara Scott-Emmett chose Tracy Chevalier's At the Edge of the Orchard in March. This was her opinion.


April saw a non-fiction book take centre stage. Dear Reflection, by Jessica Bell, proved fascinating for Liza Perrat.

We correctly predicted the winner of the Baileys Prize in May. JJ Marsh has not stopped crowing since.

In tandem with an interview, Jane Dixon-Smith read Then She Was Gone, by Lisa Jewell. Here's what she thought.

Lyn Farrell's The Wacky Man had quite an impact on Jerome Griffin. Read his recommendation - and warning - here.

Remember, Bookmuse publishes two new reviews every Wednesday, so you'll never be stuck for ideas. Or browse our back catalogue by genre. Undiscovered gems guaranteed.

All the best for the festivities and we wish you many, many good books!
From all of us at Bookmuse!

Monday, 4 December 2017

Munich by Robert Harris

Reviewer: JJ Marsh

What we thought: 
Fascinating and un-plug-outable (I listened to the audiobook).

This novel details the tense lead-up to the Munich conference in late 1938 with exemplary research and human insight. Two men, both insiders in the opposing regimes, observe the frantic diplomacy required to avert war in Europe. Hugh Legat and Paul Hartmann met at Balliol, Oxford, becoming friends, co-travellers and political debaters. Now, they are working for their respective governments but share a single aim. To defeat Hitler.

Harris is a master on this subject and in this genre - historical fiction from the perspective of those who could have changed the key moments of modern history. Despite our hindsight, this diplomatic dance around a despot is involving, and gives us hope. There are good men prepared to do something, regardless of the risk.

This fictionalised account sent me scurrying to learn more about the events which could have precluded WWII. Period details such as the enormous undertaking of flying to another country and the brutal ugliness of gas masks transport the  reader to the 1930s with a sharpness which underlines the danger.

Anyone with a passing interest in politics must draw parallels to current events and feel a shiver of sinister familiarity when the egotistical dictator grows incensed at his depiction by the foreign press. We should be grateful such a short-fused, power-crazed man didn't have access to Twitter.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Fatherland, Enigma, Downfall

Avoid if you don’t like: European politics, details of diplomacy

Ideal accompaniments: Cigarettes, whisky and liverwurst

Genre: Historical fiction, spy thriller

Available on Amazon

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

24 Hovrs in Ancient Rome by Philip Matyszak

Reviewer: JD Smith, author of Tristan and Iseult and the Overlord series.

What we thought: It's not often you come across a book which is so deliciously rich in historic fact, and yet presented in the most readable and engaging manner, but that is exactly what 24 Hovrs in Ancient Rome offers. It presents a day in the life of your average ancient Roman citizens, from an Imperial messenger to a washerwoman, spice trader to my favourite, the water-clockmaker.

Each person's tale is one hour (hovr) long, describing in detail their comings and goings, challenges and accomplishments, told in a believable way, as if spying upon these people as they go about their business, observing interactions, talents and trade.

The text is interspersed with extracts from ancient texts, supporting the story-like narrative, and in some instances illustrations.

In the case of the water-clockmaker, you discover rare insight into not just his life, but that of the Roman way of life as a whole:

Unknowingly, Copa has identified a major reason why the Romans will never become a fully mechanized culture. The Romans have so much cheap manpower available that there is no incentive to invent machines to do all the work or reason to use these machines if they are invented.

An again, when reading of a mother nursing her sick child, we're abruptly made aware of how easily life slips away in ancient times and the sickness rife in cities:

As do most working-class girls, Sosipatra married in her late teens. In the ten years since, she has continually been either pregnant or nursing a baby. Yet for their best efforts, the couple have just one healthy child. This is their daughter, Termalia, who is now seven years old. That's about two years after the age when Roman parents can be reasonably sure that their child will survive. That is, survive the illnesses that in Rome kill two to four of every newborns before they reach the age of five. 

It's these glimpses, far from the gladiators and gloriously epic scenes we witness on television and in films, which makes this books so compelling. It is fiction untouched by sensationalism, allowing the true history to breathe on the page, telling us of another side of Roman life; that of the people who truly lived there.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Ancient Rome, facts, knowledge

Avoid if you don’t like: Non-fiction, ordinary life

Ideal accompaniments: honeyed bread and herbal tea

Genre: Historical, Non-Fiction

Available on Amazon

The Last Tudor by Philippa Gregory

Reviewer: Gillian Hamer, author of The Charter, Closure, Complicit, Crimson Shore, False Lights & Sacred Lake (

What we thought: Covering the life stories of the three Grey sisters – Jane, Kathryn and Mary – it gives a little known viewpoint of the cruel and scheming Tudor court in the years following Henry VIII’s death through to the tyranny of the court of Elizabeth I.

We start with the most famous of the sisters, Jane Grey, queen for only nine days and sentenced to death for refusing to denounce her faith after her own father and his allies made her a scapegoat. Her story was both stoic and touching, told with compassion and grace and I found I really connected with her story and admired the character Gregory created.

Next in line, Kathryn, also died young, always seen as threat to Elizabeth’s rule, she was imprisoned after secretly marrying Edward Seymour, and spent the rest of her days captive either in the Tower of London, or under the charge of one of the Court’s trusted followers. A similar curse fell on youngest sister, Mary, who never wanted to challenge the throne, and was denied the peaceful life the craved, when she too followed the same path as Kathryn by being imprisoned after secretly marrying the man she loved.

The storylines here, while loosely based on real events and dates, are mostly written from the author’s imagination. But after so many years researching the Tudor court, and getting to understand the paranoia rife at that time, every conversation and decision taken are wholly believable. Gregory has a superb way of bringing character, setting and story to life – be it the girl’s love of animals or their petty sisterly squabbles – everything worked perfectly for me and I was sad when the book came to an end. But glad at least one of the sisters survived the cruelty of the royal court to get the quiet life she deserved and craved.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Elizabeth Chadwick, Alison Weir.

Avoid if you don’t like: Tudor history.

Ideal accompaniments: Roasted ox and a tankard of small ale.

Genre: Historical.

Available on Amazon

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett ( ) author of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, The Man with the Horn, The Land Beyond Goodbye, and Don’t Look Down.

What We Thought: I usually give a despairing sigh when celebs bring books out. Just a way of extracting more cash from the fans, I think. Not so here, I have to say. With Uncommon Type, a compilation of short stories, Tom Hanks proves he can actually string sentences together. And paragraphs. Indeed, whole slices of life spring from his pen, and very good they are, too. I was prepared to maybe read a few, skip a few, pick a few faults, but I found that as soon as I finished one I happily started on another. As far as faults go, there was one instance of head-hopping that caught my attention but didn't seem at all problematic.

Hanks gives us traditional tales alongside quirky futuristic fantasies, stories of the past as well as modern instances, comedy as well as serious topics, and he is never dull. As might be expected, there are many stories told from the point of view of boys, youths and men. There are, however, stories with female protagonists too, and though they may not pass the Bechdel Test, they are not solely a man’s-eye view.

The common theme is typewriters. Most stories include a reference to one. Sometimes the typewriters are integral to the story, sometimes they are simply there in the background. Despite the prevalence of elderly writing machines, these stories are diverse in style and structure. Most are good humoured and made me smile throughout and sometimes even laugh. Others have the emotional pull that leads the reader to contemplation.

I found myself warming to the writer as I read, for the sense of a very human and caring intelligence is always present. It is this sense of someone behind it all that gives the collection coherence, I think. Though the stories are varied in tone and characterisation, there is also a sense of them being part of a larger whole. I found them all entertaining and enjoyable.

I received an ebook from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

You’ll enjoy this if you like:
Stories about people who are essentially good, if prone to human frailty sometimes.

Avoid if you dislike: Lack of evil antagonists – apart from war and life itself.

Ideal accompaniments: A nice cup of tea and some ginger biscuits.

Genre: Short Stories