Sunday, 22 November 2015

Spilling the Beans by Just Write

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

Ever sat in a coffee shop and wondered about the lives of the strangers you see sitting around you?

Many writing groups have produced anthologies of short stories, and many of those have had common themes running through them. But the ten members of the Just Write group, based in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, set themselves a far more intriguing challenge.

All twenty stories in Spilling the Beans take place in a single day in the same coffee shop. And each one, from 'Ristretto' to 'Hazelnut Steamer', has the title of a drink served in the shop. More than that, the same characters weave in and out of the stories, brushing up against one another’s lives – sometimes colliding, sometimes barely noticed.

In many ways, this anthology has more in common with serial novels such as Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street. Many of the stories are not self contained. They leave tantalising loose threads, some of which are picked up later, while others trail out of the coffee shop into a future we are invited to imagine. Taken singly, this might make for frustrating reading, but the pleasure in this anthology comes from the way the stories weave together into a satisfying whole.

We learn about the staff, the regulars and the casual visitors – people at all ages and stages of life, from seven year old Maisie, to Maria, recollecting days in the SOE during WWII. Some of the stories brim with optimism and others are redolent with disappointment.

“He imagined freeze-drying each of these memories, reducing the essence of each cup down and capturing them somehow in his instant coffee jar, his to release ... every time he brought them to life with hot water.”

From “Instant Coffee”, by Phil Tysoe.

The design of the book, too, is pleasantly unified. The cover appears ring-stained from coffee mugs. Each story starts with a line drawing that matches its title, and ends with a pattern of three coffee beans. And the book itself does not End, but Close at the end of the day.

I am not surprised, therefore, to learn that this innovative compilation won Writing Magazine’s Writers’ Circle Anthology Award 2014.

Spilling the Beans is sold in aid of the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.

Just Write’s second anthology, Delayed Reaction, was launched on Thursday 19th November, 2015.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith, The Lost College and Other Oxford Stories, by the Oxford Writers Group

Avoid if you dislike: Gentle domestic dramas, stories with minimal driving plot

Perfect Accompaniment: Coffee and cake at your favourite independent coffee shop (obviously)

Genre: Short Stories.

Ebook available from Amazon Pbook available from www.spillingthebeans.org.uk

The Chimes by Anna Smaill, Sceptre (2015)

Reviewer: Rebecca Johnson Bista

What we thought: Anna Smaill is a New Zealander, a classical violinist and a poet. This, her first novel, was longlisted for this year’s Man Booker prize, and it certainly deserved that accolade. It will be like nothing you have ever read. Reading this book is like inhabiting the head of someone who thinks in musical idiom rather than in prose, which has a startling and disorientating effect – especially for the musically illiterate, like me. And along the way, Smaill raises questions about memory, narrative, religion, oppression, identity, language, the evil of perfection, and the pain of free will, in a consistently vivid and gripping tale.

The Chimes is – technically – science fiction, as it is set in a future where the world as we know it – the hi-tech world of computers, electronics, metro systems, planes, and written information - has been destroyed in an apocalyptic episode called the Allbreaking. What has replaced it is a harmonious, but backward, totalitarian state run by the Order, and ruled by music: music as social organizing principle; music as mytho-political orchestration; music as language; music as mind control; music as faith. It is a world where everyone plays an instrument, almost everyone converses in ‘solfege’ – the hand-signed version of the tonic Sol-Fa scale – and every trade, place, smell, object, person, direction or memory has its own idiosyncratic theme-tune or melody. It is also where, more ominously, all books have been burned and the narrative principle of individual lives, the connection with remembered past, is erased daily by Onestory and the Chimes. These are two acts of compulsory daily communal worship or ritual accompanied a massive barrage of glorious but brain-wiping sound. Smaill sustains this world not only descriptively but with its own vernacular – an English corrupted in pronunciation by the lack of written records – and with a perfectly judged use of musical terminology and imagery through which the characters describe their lives, feelings and actions.

In this strange but familiar world we meet Simon, a boy or young man apparently from nowhere, somewhere on the road to London. With him he carries only a bag containing his ‘object memories’ – talismans he uses to recall elements of his past and his now dead parents, and the ‘body memory’ of the skill of planting bulbs. We know nothing more of him or where he is going – and nor, it seems, does he, except for a song whose words he can’t quite remember as a clue, a thread he is convinced he has to follow.

Simon falls in with a gang of young river prospectors who search ‘the Under’, formerly the London Underground and sewer systems, for ‘the Pale Lady’ – a corruption of palladium, a pure silvery metal that has the unique property that it can insulate against sound. They sell scraps of this ‘mettle’ to make a living, as it is used to build the instrument that makes the Chimes. The gang members find their way in the darkness by maps drawn with song, memorizing routes with music, and find ‘the Lady’ because of its silvery silence behind the interwoven melodies of their soundscape world.

It turns out, however, that Simon has a gift that not many in his world possess – the ability to piece together his own fragmented memories into a narrative, and the ability to ‘read’ others’ memories from the objects in which they have invested them. The novel is written in the present tense, so we are naïve readers, sharing Simon’s perpetual ‘groundhog day’ point of view, then piecing together the threads along with him and Lucien, the gang leader, as they begin to reconstruct each others’ pasts and the history of their world through recovered scraps of memory. In doing so, they discover the dystopian truth of their apparently utopian world, and the mission Simon has been sent on by his parents. This, it becomes clear, is to seek out others like him, a kind of resistance movement of memory keepers and, eventually, to overturn the beautiful serene musical order that has tried to erase the past and imposes totalitarian oppression on them all.

The concepts raised in this ambitious novel are not all quite fully realized or resolved, which perhaps is why – aside from the genre – the book did not make the Booker shortlist. What enchanted me about it, though, was the magical world of musical consciousness – a parallel to the almost magical way in which those with faith of certain kinds perceive the universe and operate within it. Reading it was like acquiring a seventh sense, in which everything is newly comprehensible in a supra-real way, or like experiencing all-five-sense synaesthesia. This beyond-normal means of perception and communication, the revelatory exploration of the capacities of memory and what it means in human society, and the extraordinary talents and feats of musicianship, are gateways to a higher, more refined world, and it is no surprise that after the demise of the Chimes the general population is not relieved but pained and bewildered by the loss of this magical repetitive certainty of existence.

Although the beauty of such a world in this novel proves fatal, it is nevertheless an extraordinary imaginative creation, and sings on in the memory long after you close the book. I will be looking forward to Anna Smaill’s next novel.

Best accompanied by: bubble and squeak, neeps and tatties, rabbit, squirrel and every kind of music from folk song to organ to plainsong.

You will like if: you can read music or play an instrument or know solfege; you like earth-based future world sci-fi; Oxford; London; the Underground; memory games.

Avoid if: You don’t like science fiction or music, or critiques of religion!

Genre: Literary fiction, science fiction

Available on Amazon

Slade House by David Mitchell

ReviewerJJ Marsh

What We Thought: Down a back alley is a small door, leading to an improbably large garden and exceptional house. Over decades, people are lured inside, with the promise of fulfilment. Fulfilment does indeed lurk within, but not for them.
Mitchell has often stated he’s writing an ‘über-novel’, with each of his books as chapters in it. Characters reappear, themes recur, motifs abound and certain questions are addressed from a variety of angles. Slade House is a whimsical chapter, an example of the author extrapolating and enjoying himself by delving into a plotline overtly from The Bone Clocks but less visibly, Cloud Atlas.

This ghost story began life as a Twitter tale, told in 140 character chunks. Its origins and length make it perfect for a dark and stormy night in front of the fire. Nods and winks to conventions of storytelling, haunted houses and fantastically alluring predators are familiar. The author’s trademark brilliance with voice and character sparkles as the victims’ stories are told through the prism of their own egos. References to the various periods are subtly flagged making this an ideal Christmas Eve TV adaptation. Are you listening, BBC?

There are some goosebumpy, skin-shivery moments, an increasing sense of menace and several hearty laughs. It’s not quite the Michelin-starred feast of Cloud Atlas, Black Swan Green or The Bone Clocks, but rather like cheesy-beans-on-Marmite-toast. You scoff it down in one greedy sitting and afterwards feel smug and satisfied, but certainly not guilty.


You’ll enjoy this if you liked: The Woman in White, The Little Stranger, Interview with the Vampire.

Avoid if you dislike: Spooky houses, shifting realities and hidden icebergs of references.

Ideal accompaniments: Honey-glazed roast pumpkin, a Bloody Mary and the soundtrack to The Hunger.

Genre: Literary fiction, fantasy

Available on Amazon

Friday, 20 November 2015

The Firemaker by Peter May


Reviewer: Gillian Hamer, author of The Charter, Closure, Complicit, Crimson Shore. (www.gillianhamer.com)

What we thought: I am a huge fan of Peter May and would list his Lewis trilogy among my favourite top three crime fiction reads of recent years, so I was excited to take on book one of this China Thriller series.
Location plays a big part for me in books, connecting with the setting, as well as the characters will determine if I immerse myself fully in the story, and if I’m honest the thought of a China location, with all the language and name difficulties that posed, did put me off the series for a time. 

But I have to say I am pleased I took the plunge!

In normal Peter May style we open with a gruesome murder, and it’s not long before we sympathise with the chief detective in the case, Li Yan, who faces mounting pressure from all sides as the body count increases. Finally, his boss enlists the help of a visiting US pathologist, Margaret Campbell, who has decided to spend time in a new country and culture to escape the mess of her own life back in America. 

The two leading characters soon bond, and in their own troubled ways forge an excellent crime fighting team that puts their own lives in danger.

This is a great start to the series, fast paced, full of twists and heavy with tension. I can see great things in the future for both Li Yan and Ms Campbell, and can already see their private lives are going to be as enthralling as their professional careers.

Another winner from a truly talented author!

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Jo Nesbo, Ann Cleeves, Peter James.

Avoid if you don’t like: China.

Ideal accompaniments: Special fried rice and green tea.

Genre: Crime thriller.

Available from Amazon





My Story as an American Au Pair in the Loire Valley (French Illusions Book 1) by Linda Kovic-Skow

Reviewer: Liza Perrat, author of Spirit of Lost Angels, Wolfsangel and Blood Rose Angel

What we thought: French Illusions: My Story as an American Au Pair in the Loire Valley is the first of two memoirs based on the diary entries of the author, Linda Kovic-Skow. Back in 1979, when she was 21, Linda yearned to become a flight attendant. But this required speaking a second language, so she chose to learn French by becoming an au pair to a wealthy French family living in a château in the beautiful Loire Valley. Thrown in at the deep end, without knowing any French, Linda struggled to adapt to her new environment, not to mention certain difficult members of the family. And when she signed up for French classes at the university, and met another student, the handsome Adam, her life became even more complicated.

As an Australian living in France, I completely identified with the author’s predicament. Arriving here to take up with the Frenchman I’d met on holiday in Thailand, without a word of the lingo, I too floundered with the language, customs and traditions, yet immensely enjoyed the food, wine and history.

I felt I was reading the author’s diary entries a she was writing them, and as I accompanied Linda on her adventures and romances, I found myself sympathizing with her problems, and celebrating her triumphs.

By the end of the first book I felt I had truly come to know the author as a person; as she was then––a young girl struggling to find her way in a foreign country. Keen for more, I immediately purchased French Illusions Book 2, from Tours to Paris; which I also loved.

Highly personal and entertaining, as well as informational, I would recommend these stories for Francophiles and young girls thinking of becoming au pairs in France, or any foreign country for that matter.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: non-fiction travel tales.

Avoid if you don’t like: intimate personal memoirs.

Ideal accompaniments: cheese lathered on a hunk of baguette, accompanied by a chilled glass of dry French white.

Genre: Memoir

Available from Amazon

Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett, author of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, The Land Beyond Goodbye, and Don't Look Down. http://bit.ly/1rYqaDT

What We Thought: Nora Webster is a middle-aged recent widow living in Wexford, Ireland in the late 60s. She has two daughters grown and beginning their own lives, and two sons, Donal, aged 14-15, who suffers with a dreadful stammer, and Conor, several years younger. Her wider family includes her sisters and aunt, and her husband’s relatives all of whom both bear her up and drag her down.

Neighbours in the town of Enniscorthy all knew or knew of her husband, and she must daily suffer the condolences which serve to remind her of what she has lost. Maurice, a teacher, was well-thought of by most and Nora must negotiate the frequent references to him and accept the scrutiny of those who, though well-meaning, watch her closely to see how she copes.

Her finances now constrained, Nora has to return to work though she has been twenty or more years out of the workplace. Without her husband to buffer her she must also discover a new way to live. She makes her first tentative steps at developing a social life, joins a music appreciation society, and studies singing. She keeps some of her activities secret, or at least quiet, for fear she will be misunderstood and criticized.

Her mother, now dead, and her sisters have apparently always criticized Nora and as a counter to this she herself tries to be as uncritical of her children’s lives as she possibly can. This leads at times to her seeming almost totally detatched from them. Indeed much of Nora’s life is lived at a distance – the result of her grief and depression. Despite this apparant apathy she does have strong feelings which she internalises, though they do occasionally break out. Though outwardly passive most of the time, Nora is anything but in her head. Her ascerbic inner comments temper our vision of her as the plaything of circumstance.

There are no major events, adventures or plot points in this novel. Incidents which seem to be about to lead to some denouement fade away and are never referred to again. This is not a fault however; it is the perfect representation of everyday life where things simply happen and follow no writerly pattern.

As the book progresses one finds oneself drawn into the sedate rhythms of Nora’s life. Tóibín’s genius here is in letting us experience the dullness, the quotidian plod through ‘this happens’ then ‘this happens’ then ‘this happens’ all of which shows us what Nora’s existence is like and which allows us to inhabit it and feel it. We live with her, accompanying her on her inexorable trudge towards some hope of light and life. And though this may seem bleak, in fact there is gentle humour in this book and an underlying beauty.

This is a perfect book and a perfect reflection of a life which, though ordinary, is heroic in its ordinariness.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Literary books about ordinary life.

Avoid if you dislike: Novels without much plot or adventure.

Ideal accompaniments: A shiny Schubert LP on the gramophone and a Babycham.

Genre: Literary / General Fiction.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Hotel Arcadia by Sunny Singh

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought: A hyper-luxury hotel in a city by the sea has been overrun by terrorists. Guests who were in public spaces, or who were rash enough to open their doors, have been gunned down. Now the survivors hunker down inside, as outside, the security forces plan their assault. With an opening chapter headed ’87 hours ago’, it is clear we are counting down towards a showdown.

The premise of Hotel Arcadia could be the outline for yet another Die Hard film, but Sunny Singh transforms it into something quite different. Instead of focusing on the battle between the terrorists and the soldiers, she homes in on two people who would be bit players in any Hollywood movie. Abhi, the hotel manager, trapped in the operations room, watching events unfold on the closed circuit television screens. And high up in the tower, Sam, a photojournalist who was spending the last night of her assignment in the hotel.

Hotel Arcadia is a duet of whispered conversations by phone and text, followed by hours of silence as memories peel back layers of their lives. We learn that Abhi is an army brat who refused to follow his father and brother into the forces, while Sam has spent her life moving between one war and another, increasingly obsessed with capturing images of the dead. Both lonely, both used to being alone, they reach out to each other across the darkness, revealing parts of themselves they habitually keep hidden.

This is an intensely visual book. Sam’s photographs are described in lush detail, as is the way she attempts to control the world by framing it through her viewfinder. Photographs and images on screens – who takes them, why they are taken and for whom – become powerful, shifting metaphors.

“It was the jutting plane of this hip that caught her eye ... The jutting bone pushed against brown skin, gleamed in the growing morning light, the lean plane of his upper leg disappearing into the gloom. Shadows reached up from the depths of the hut and bled into hollows of his stomach.”

Singh names neither the city nor the country in which the siege is happening, though it is hard not to hear echoes of the 2008 attacks on the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai. Yet the absence of specificity serves to underline that this could happen anywhere, at any time. This could be Mumbai, but it could equally be New York or London, Sydney, Nairobi or Dubai.

The three and a half day siege is allowed to play out with no sudden rush of heroics. We are left poised in the moments before what, in the blockbuster version, would have been the big set-piece climax – a profoundly emotional ending that satisfies on a much deeper level.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: A Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tam, Moth Smoke by Mohsin Hamid, Grace Notes by Bernard Maclaverty

Avoid if you dislike: Stories where the tension doesn’t come from shoot-outs, car chases and other high octane tropes

Perfect Accompaniment: A bottle of L’Eglise-Clinet Pomerol, 1994. Or failing that, an inch of Auchentoshan single malt whisky, neat.

Genre: Literary Fiction

Available from Amazon

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

Reviewer: JJ Marsh

What We Thought: One day in the mid-1860s, potential gold-digger Walter Moody steps off a ship in the town of Hokitika on the south island of New Zealand. He’s just had a nasty shock. There was something quite terrifying in the hold of the Godspeed. Out of sorts, he stumbles in to the hotel lounge, unaware of the fact he’s interrupting a private meeting between twelve leading lights of the town.

Gradually, the tale begins to unfold, guided by the firm hand of our narrator(s). Each man seems implicated in death, suicide, murder and conspiracy, but nothing is quite as it appears. All these men are seeking a fortune and then intend to be ‘homeward bound’. But fortune has two meanings.

The story unfolds from each person’s perspective, dropping nuggets of information for the reader to assemble into a detective’s theory. Our loyalties shift, our opinions alter and we tread with great caution, unsure who can be trusted.

Catton’s narrative is a perfectly constructed drama in a most unusual setting, conjuring Victorian New Zealand and its inhabitants with atmospheric realism. The hardships, the gossip, the politicking and the landscape don’t so much leap off the page as lure you in, so you feel as tangled and sapped of the will to escape as a fly in a web.

A hefty tome, but wholly absorbing with a wonderful Zodiac theme underpinning the complexity of this intrigue where men believe they are in control of their destiny.

You’ll like this if you enjoyed: The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale, The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell.

Avoid if you dislike: Victorian storytelling, overt exposition of construction, large casts of characters.

Ideal accompaniments: A platter of cold meats, a dram of Laphroaig and a cold, clear night so you can see the stars.

Genre: Literary fiction

Available on Amazon

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith


Reviewer: Gillian Hamer, author of The Charter, Closure, Complicit, Crimson Shore & False Lights (www.gillianhamer.com)

What we thought: In a word - brilliant! I have been having Strike withdrawal symptoms for many months, so it was with sweaty-palmed anticipation I awaited the release date of the next Cormoran Strike novel. And it was well worth the wait.

The opening thrill in this novel is not a gruesome killing, but the delivery, by a calm and devious murderer, of a female leg to Strike’s office, addressed to his assistant, Robin. Clearly a reaction to Strike’s own disability and a hint to unfinished history. The story revolves around three suspects who Strike believes hold strong enough grudges, and are evil enough in character, to have carried out the crime.

In this novel we came closer to the backstory of the characters than ever before, partly due to the fact that the closeness between Strike and Robin takes us there. We find out about Robin’s troubled past and why she suddenly left university, and we get a glimpse into the real horror of Strike’s childhood and his mother’s premature death.

There were the usual clever twists and turns we come to expect from Galbraith (which if you’ve been living under a stone for the past two years is actually Harry Potter author, JK Rowling) and also some excellent descriptive writing that I thoroughly enjoyed when the story took us out of London during visits to Melrose and Barrow-in-Furness in particular.

I’m quite proud to report that I guessed the identity of the killer about mid-way through the book, but was still enthralled by the author’s clever ending. And I punched the air with frustration at the cliffhanger between Robin and Strike in the final chapter which doubtless means I have several more months of Strike withdrawal symptoms to come! 

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Val McDermid, Peter James, PD James.

Avoid if you don’t like: Serial killers and gritty crime stories.

Ideal accompaniments: Fish, chips and mushy peas with a pint of Doombar.

Genre: Crime Fiction.

Available from Amazon





Friday, 6 November 2015

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

If you are not to get lost in the highways and byways of this epic Man Booker winner, it helps beforehand to know a little Jamaican history.

During the 1970s, at the height of the Cold War, two political parties were vying for power, each backed, to some extent, by rival gangs. One of those parties was taking an increasingly socialist stance and making overtures towards Fidel Castro’s Cuba, and this was making the US extremely nervous. It is widely alleged that the CIA armed, and possibly provided drugs, to one of the gangs, in order to swing power to the party sympathetic to the US.

This gang – the Shower Posse – went on to become one of the most powerful drug gangs of the 1980s and early 90s, controlling the supply of crack cocaine in New York and other US cities. But before that, in 1976, when reggae singer Bob Marley returned to Jamaica to hold a Peace Concert, a group of men from the Shower Posse shot and almost killed him and members of his family in his own home.

A Brief History of Seven Killings is set against a barely fictionalised version of those events.  In it, the Shower Posse becomes the Storm Posse. Tivoli Gardens, the Kingston neighbourhood where they were based, becomes Copenhagen City. Their leader is transformed into the gloriously named Josey Wales, while Bob Marley is referred to only as ‘The Singer.’

The book opens in the days leading up to the attempted assassination of The Singer. The plot, such as it is, follows what happens to those who took part, through the rise of the powerful drug syndicates, to the death, 15 years later, of the last surviving shooter.

As the Jamaican proverb quoted at the beginning of the book says, "If it no go so, it go near so."

But A Brief History is, above all, a novel of voice. James has said that the book began with what he believed were two false starts – the voices of John-John K, gay hitman in 1980s New York, and Bam Bam, minor gang member in 1970s Kingston. It was only when he began to think of them as part of the same whole that the book began to take shape – a book which lists over 70 named characters, of which 15 take turns to narrate the story. They include gang members, drug lords, CIA members, a journalist, a nurse.

The novel is structured like a patchwork quilt. Each of the fifteen voices is a colour, cut into small pieces and sewn together. Some colours – Josey Wales, holding his empire together through terror; the derailed music journalist Alex Pierce, doggedly hunting down the truth; Nina Burgess, reinventing herself over and over to escape from her past – sweep across the whole book, creating its dominant notes. Other voices are highlights, used selectively in parts. It’s only when you reach the end of the book that you can step back and appreciate the whole pattern.

A Brief History is not an easy book to read. Many of the segments are written as streams of consciousness. Most are in one flavour or another of Jamaican dialect. By the fifth and final section, James has stopped heading chapters with the name of the narrator, expecting you to recognise their voices. You have to read slowly to appreciate the dense texture of the writing – but at the same time, you need to hold onto the bigger picture, to remember where characters have come from and how they fit together.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Pychoraag by Suhayl Saadi, All Involved by Ryan Gattis, As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner.

Avoid if you don’t like: Fragmented narratives, novels written it dialect, graphic violence

Ideal accompaniments: Fry chicken ‘light brown and soft inside,’ with rice and peas and fried plantain so ripe it ‘just mash up in your mouth’.

Genre: Literary Fiction.

Available from Amazon

Sewing the Shadows Together by Alison Baillie

Reviewer: Ruby Barnes, author of Peril, Dodge, The Baptist, Koobi Fora and the Zombies v. Ninjas series

What we thought: A very engaging read that does what it says on the cover – pulls together the shadowy events of thirty years before and weaves a tale of intrigue and romance around a cast of appealing characters.

Although pitched as crime fiction, Sewing the Shadows Together is firmly in the romantic suspense genre. There is a murder, there is injustice and there is new evidence that verifies the innocence of the poor soul who has spent most of his adult life in a secure prison, but the main story is about the middle-aged rekindling of young adult affections, unrequited love and regrets over a life of compromises.

Alison Baillie’s settings are as blustery, rocky and rain-soaked as the streets and shores of the Scotland where they take place. Her characters are treacherous, fallible and infuriating as real people are. The reader will care if the original crime is solved or not, but it’s always about the two main protagonists. Will they or won’t they? Can they overcome the obstacles on the path to happy ever after?

I read this book during a week trapped by stormy weather in a mobile home on a seaside caravan park. It was the perfect companion and was quickly grabbed by my other half when she saw how immersed I had been in its pages.

Avoid this if you dislike: slightly floppy forensics (this really isn’t crime fiction) or a couple of rather convenient plot twists.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: reading about real people and living with them through some excruciating self-discoveries, because you hope their future will be bright.

Ideal accompaniments: stormy weather, several glasses of your favourite vino and a loving partner to make you realise how lucky you are.

Genre: romantic suspense / crime fiction

Available from Amazon