Friday, 29 April 2016

Judith Wants to be Your Friend by Annie Weir

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

What we thought: Inside the mind of a stalker is a very strange place to be, but Annie Weir does a great job of conveying Judith’s strange obsessions as quite normal behaviour. This is achieved by a skilful blend of narrative voices and viewpoints.

The book delivers on two alternating timelines about one year apart. The earlier story-line is delivered in third person, past tense and with varying viewpoints. The reader gets to understand how things look from Judith’s perspective as well as that of Chloe, Judith’s object of fascination. Judith’s motivation seems innocent enough – she wants to be Chloe’s friend, to find someone new to fill the vacuum left by someone who has recently run out of her life. Judith’s problem is that she doesn’t pick up on the verbal and non-verbal cues that indicate when a person is interested in another or not. If she gets pushed away, Judith just tries harder to get closer to her target. The situation is further complicated by two other major things going on in Judith’s life. Her mother has Alzheimer’s and Judith is forced by her sister to shoulder some responsibility and become involved in the family scene she detests. The second twist is that Judith’s livelihood has fallen to pieces since her recent best friend fled town. Judith’s clients start to drop her and she is slow to accept the reality of her failing business. Given all the challenges that Judith was facing, I almost felt sympathy for her, but not quite. Something is missing in Judith’s sense of right and wrong, in her interaction with other humans.

The later narrative is first person, present tense and from Judith’s viewpoint. This clearly differentiates it from the earlier thread and so the author can switch between the two without confusion. It also makes the reader sympathetic to Judith’s current situation. She’s under pressure in a new workplace from a bully, but we know that Judith is a wolf in sheep’s clothing and it’s amusing to see how she delivers just deserts. Judith is capable of far more than her supermarket admin job requires. She’s waiting for something better, but exactly what that will be is elusive. Pretty soon Judith has a new crush and she starts to put her energy into becoming part of Joanna’s life, this time with a little more guile. Judith even maintains a relationship with a man, and it appears she’s just somebody trying to rebuild their life after a couple of false starts. It almost seems unfair on Judith when things start to unravel again. Almost.

In Judith’s wilder moments she commits some fairly heinous acts with scant regard for the adverse consequences, short-circuiting her own commonsense and setting herself up for a fall. In a way she is a kind of psychopath, feeling no guilt when others would, having no conscience when bending society’s rules to suit her needs. But Judith isn’t quite as clever as she likes to think. Some of her best laid plans are faulty from the off and it’s no surprise to the reader when she gets de-railed. However, the author maintains a good level of suspense by holding on to the fine details of Judith’s past behaviour until it’s time to tell. Any dismay felt by the reader at knowing the terrible truth is echoed by Judith’s own mortification at being publicly exposed. Although she relentlessly pursues her quarry and will mercilessly avenge any perceived slights, Judith hates to have her control over life rattled by any fuss or bother. When it happens, she doesn’t wait around. Like a predator disturbed during a hunt, Judith will recover and set her sights on fresh prey.

Avoid this if you dislike: the idea that maybe you don’t like some of your so-called friends as much as you think. They might have their own reasons for being in your circle of trust. They might be Judiths.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: taut psychological tales that examine the fine line between friendship and obsession.

Ideal accompaniments: a warm fire and a cosy blanket while the storm rages outside. But make sure the curtains are closed because you never know who might be watching, waiting for the right moment to slip into your life.

Genre: psychological thriller.

The Kestrel by FK Sewell

Reviewer: Jerome Griffin

What we thought
: In The Kestrel, FK Sewell has skilfully delivered an adventurous pirate romp bursting with exhilarating battle scenes, a pacy plot and engaging narrative.

The story follows the adventures of Alex, an orphan of pirates, as he returns to the sea on board The Kestrel as a cabin boy. On land, due to his parentage, he found himself shunned by polite society and so he joined a gang of miscreants and vagabonds. Two of the gang, Kitty and Sam, join him “on account” aboard The Kestrel seeking a life of excitement and freedom having outgrown the confines of small town Barretstowe.

Led by their charismatic captain, Nathaniel and his fiery, tempestuous first mate, Vesta, the three new crew mates are plunged into the deep end of pirate life in a heartbeat and learn that they need to adjust quickly in order to survive. They soon realise that the life of a pirate isn’t all pillage, plunder and rum, and that there’s more to their captain than meets the eye.

As well as an entertaining plot, Sewell has created a layered work of historical fiction that picks at numerous unsavoury social themes of the day. The prevalence of prostitution, ubiquity of homeless street urchins and an unforgiving and cruel penal system are just a few of the commonplace and accepted issues she explores.

If I have a criticism of The Kestrel at all, it is that the crew's enemies, particularly the Vliets, could have had a little more depth. Everyone loves a good, well developed bad guy and I just felt that Sewell could have done more here. By the same token, I have a feeling that one of the peripheral characters who was introduced late in the day could prove to be a worthy and despicable nemesis of Nathaniel through the rest of the series.

I guess I'll just have to wait for the next instalment to find out. And I'm looking forward to it already!

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Pirates, Patrick O’Brian and historical fiction.

Avoid if you dislike: Light reading

Ideal accompaniments: Sea breeze, an ocean view and rum, rum and more rum!

Genre
: Historical fiction, adventure

Thursday, 28 April 2016

The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst

Reviewer: David C Dawson www.davidcdawson.co.uk.

What we thought:
After the fabulously acerbic In the Line of Beauty, Hollinghurst’s next novel is very different. Set in multiple, distinct, historical periods, The Stranger’s Child explores how English taste and attitudes have changed over more than a century.

It is rare for an author to pull off something as subtle and complex as this. But Hollinghurst has done it. Only Ian McEwan’s Atonement comes close.

In the late summer of 1913, George Sawle brings his Cambridge friend Cecil Valance, a charismatic young poet, to visit his family home. Cleverly written in the style of the time, Hollinghurst portrays a weekend that is filled with forbidden intimacies and elaborately contrived confusions. Valance is a man who challenges the societal conventions of the time, in his attitudes to sex and love. His visit has a lasting impact not only on his host George, but also on George’s sixteen-year-old sister Daphne.

The second section of the book is set in the time immediately after the First World War and focuses on Daphne. Through well-crafted conversations and a chain of events, we discover a new angle on what happened in 1913.

In total there are five sections to this book. Each section brings us to a new period in recent history. Attitudes change; the original events of 1913 are told, re-told and interpreted in different ways by successive generations.

The Stranger’s Child is a joy to read. It is a book with many layers and great subtlety. As Hollinghurst carries us forward through time, he changes his writing style to reflect the different periods in which the novel is set. It takes a short while to readjust to the new section; it is almost like reading a book from a different author. What Hollinghurst has achieved here is a book that leaves you thinking, long after you have read the final sentence.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Atonement by Ian McEwan, Any Human Heart by William Boyd, The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, 

Avoid if you don’t like: Historical fiction set in the recent past

Ideal accompaniments: A glass of prosecco or a gin martini

Genre: Historical fiction, LGBTQ

Available from Amazon



Friday, 22 April 2016

Siren by Annemarie Neary

ReviewerJJ Marsh

What we thought: A psychological thriller with a political twist, all told in an understated yet believable voice.

Róisín ran from her Belfast childhood and its harsh choices to reinvent herself in New York. She thinks she’s escaped. Until Brian Lonergan appears on the news. Another reinvention who’ll escape what he did unless someone tells the truth.

That someone is Róisín.

She heads back to Lamb Island, determined to expose this man. She’s aware of the risks, she tells herself, unaware she’s being watched by someone with a very different agenda. Someone else with a ‘history’.

Bone-chilling contemporary thriller juxtaposed with flashbacks to a terrifying past, the tension left nail prints on my palms. Neary’s prose is precise and sharp, the characters drawn in nuanced shades and the evocation of a remote island adds both atmosphere and uncertainty – small community secrecy can be friend or foe. Northern Irish politics loom over the story like a balaclava backdrop, a reminder of what division and hatred can do.

Superb storytelling and impressive use of time and place.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: The Wicker Man, Arlene Hunt and In the Woods by Tana French

Avoid if you don’t like: The fallout from politics, some violence and creepy observation.

Ideal accompaniments: Dry gin, cucumber sticks and silence. This is a book you’ll want to read right through to the end, uninterrupted.

Genre: Psychological thriller

Available on Amazon


Secrets of the Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford

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

What we thought: This is my idea of a perfect book, so much so that I love to write in this style! Split between a modern day story, with a historical thread unwinding in the background, it very much put me in mind of Kate Mosse’s writing and her bestseller Labryinth.

This novel, however, is set on the remote Scottish Hebridean Islands and the story really begins when a newly-wed couple move into an old manse and find a child’s body buried beneath the floorboards during renovation works. But it’s a skeleton with a difference … which leads Ruth, herself originating from the Hebrides, to set upon a task to discover the secrets the house has hidden for many years.

Whilst in the 1860 historical thread, the truth of the tragedy unwinds as we follow the tale of a young vicar of the parish, Reverend Alexander Ferguson, who believes he can make changes for the better in this isolated island of Harris - but finds himself unwittingly drawn into the cruel world of the local landowner and forced to take part in not only the clearances but also matters closer to home.

With myth and mystery winding itself around every twist in the tale, how will the two threads finally meet – and who will get the happy ending they deserve?

I found this book both engaging and exciting. The pace doesn’t race along but settles you into the story so well that you absolutely have to know how both past and present threads end! The location is superbly described and the characters are real, with flaws and strengths, that make each of them stand out from the page. I thought the author handled her character, Ruth, with real insight into the human spirit which more than once touched my heart.

Having read the author’s notes, it gets an extra vote of confidence from me as I see her inspiration came from a real life letter to The Times newspaper from a Scottish clergyman of the period. For me, linking fiction with non-fiction tales of the past is a brilliant recipe for a novel. I really look forward to reading another novel from this talented author.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Kate Mosse, Barbara Erskine, Liza Perrat.

Avoid if you don’t like: Scotland, folk tales and secrets from the past.

Ideal accompaniments: Porridge and honey, black tea and oat cakes.

Genre: Cross-genre, historical

Available from Amazon

The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough

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

What we thought: A timeless classic, this was my third reading of The Thornbirds, and I enjoyed it just as much after a 20-year interval.

Popular and acclaimed Australian author, Colleen McCullough explores three generations of the Irish Cleary family, ranchers who carve out their lives from the rugged, beautiful and harsh land of their home in the Australian outback. Battling tragedy, the unforgiving extremes of weather and the absolute isolation of their home, the Clearys are also driven by their dreams, wedged apart by their passions, and suffer from the secrets of forbidden love upon which their very family is structured.

Above all, The Thornbirds is an intense, almost overwhelming, romance: the tale of forbidden love between the Cleary’s only daughter, Meggie and the man she so desperately loves, but can never have: Father Ralph de Bricassart. As Ralph rises through the priesthood ranks, from parish priest right up to the innermost circles of the Vatican, he too, endures a lifelong love of Meggie.

But there is so much more to The Thornbirds. Through her outstanding prose, the author transports the reader to the heat, the flies, the desolation of the Drogheda homestead in the Australian outback. She brings to life not only the characters, but also the place, which becomes as much a character we can love and sympathise with, as the human ones.

The story about the thornbird, at the beginning is an apt introduction, both for this story and for life in general: all sadness will pass, and one day something beautiful will come from that pain.

The Thornbirds is a page-turning emotional roller-coaster of a saga. On my list of one of the best, life-changing books I’ve read, I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys family drama, romance, action and adventure.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: complex family sagas.

Avoid if you dislike: tragic stories set in the Australian outback.

Ideal accompaniments: a cool glass of Barossa Valley Shiraz and a comfy chair in the shade.

Genre: Historical family saga.

Available from Amazon

Friday, 15 April 2016

Vanessa And Her Sister by Priya Parmar


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

What we thought: I totally loved this book! This is a beautifully evocative historical novel, built around the relationship between Vanessa Bell and her sister Virginia Woolf

A new author for me, and a lightness in the tone and style and language that oozes charm and wit, and through a cleverly constructed journey through scenes, letters and diary excerpts introduces us to a lifestyle long since lost.

The novel is set in London in 1905, a period of ageless grace and an early taste of liberation for strong, female characters. Vanessa, Virginia, Thoby and Adrian Stephens take a house in the heart of the avant-garde area of Bloomsbury, where they bring together a glittering circle of friends who will come to be known as the legendary Bloomsbury Group. And at the centre are the devoted, gifted sisters: Vanessa, the painter and Virginia, the writer.

The novels traces the lives of each of the artistic group, each who will go on to greatness in their own rights, but centres mostly on the lives of Vanessa and Virginia. Virginia: delicate and damaged. Vanessa: talented and level-headed, shadowed by the need to cherish and protect her sister.

However, when Vanessa falls in love and Virginia’s position of the centre of her sister’s world appears to be threatened she rapidly unravels in a decline towards dangerous levels of depression that not even her doting sister can handle.

There’s so much to love about this novel. The dialogue is pitch perfect, the research brilliantly handled, and the pace and style a refreshing change. But if I had to name one thing that really stood out to me, it would be the ease in which this talented author took you back in time and transported the reader right back into that leafy square in Bloomsbury, London.

I was sad to come to the end and will certainly search out more books from Ms Parmar.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Jodi Picoult, Amanda Hogkinson, Sarah Waters.

Avoid if you don’t like: Human frailty, sibling rivalry and high society London.

Ideal accompaniments: Cream and jam scones, Earl Grey tea and ice cold Champagne.

Genre: Historical Fiction.

Available from Amazon








Carol (originally The Price of Salt) by Patricia Highsmith

ReviewerJJ Marsh (of audiobook narrated by Laurel Lefkow)

What we thought: An unusual and unpredictable love story and road trip rolled into one, which sheds light on the atmosphere and attitudes of 1950s America.

Therese grew up in an orphanage, but she is no orphan. Her mother gave her away. Now she’s in her early twenties in New York, trying to make her way as a stage designer. To make ends meet, she takes a job in a department store, in the toy department. One day, an older woman comes in – Carol – and Therese’s life changes with one look.

This story of obsessive love is intense, slow-paced and with an extraordinary amount of detail: glances, moods, cigarettes, drinks and conversations. Tension increases throughout, lending an almost thriller-like quality to the story as the two women try to outrun a private investigator. Carol’s ex-husband, determined to gain exclusive custody of their daughter, is paying the man to find evidence of an ‘unnatural’ relationship.

So much about this book is an immersive experience. The trip across the Midwestern states, the social and economic feel of post-war America and the dizzying sensation of falling hopelessly in love is all conveyed with delicate detail through Therese’s passionate voice.

This is a book to savour, whose characters behave with all the irrationality of typical human beings – displaying egotism, jealousy, selfishness, cynicism, joy and love. A classic Highsmith.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, Thelma and Louise, Flannery O’Connor.

Avoid if you don’t like: Lesbian love stories, slow pace, smoking.

Ideal accompaniments: A Tom Collins in a highball glass, salted pretzels and a torch song playing from the radio of a Buick convertible.

Available from Amazon


Birdie by Tracey Lindberg

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought: I am always on the lookout for books written by indigenous authors – not always an easy task when you are based in the UK – so I was particularly pleased when this year’s CBC Canada Reads programme introduced me to Birdie – a book by and about a present-day Cree woman.

Tracey Lindberg is a citizen of As’in’i’wa’chi Ni’yaw Nation Rocky Mountain Cree and comes from the Kelly Lake Cree Nation community. She is a lawyer teaching Indigenous studies and Indigenous law at two Canadian universities, and describes herself as “next in a long line of argumentative Cree women.” Birdie is her first novel.

Birdie is the nickname for Bernice, a ‘big, beautiful Cree woman’ with a deeply troubled past. She has grown up an outsider, living beyond the boundaries a reserve in northern Alberta because her family are not recognised as ‘status Indians.’ She has been fostered, homeless, incarcerated in a sanitorium. She has been called many other names, too – little brown dolly, fat cow, buffalo.

 

We first meet her in Gibsons, British Columbia, where the long-running television series, Beachcombers was filmed. As a child, Birdie loved Beachcombers, because one of its lead characters was a First Nations man – a rare positive male role model. The men in her real life, the ‘uncles’, are shadowy figures, one of the many things in Birdie’s life that no one talks about.

“No one ever talked about a lot of things. What happened to Freda’s mom ... Why Maggie stopped talking to anyone. When the electricity would come back on. Why no one stayed with the uncles. The silence about what was happening around then seeped into the kitchen, first. Permeating the curtains. Eating into the linoleum. Eventually settling into the fridge.”

In Gibsons, Birdie takes a job in a bakery run by Lola, an elderly white woman. But she can’t escape from the ghosts of her past. She retires to bed, and her spirit seems to leave her body, taking her on a dreamquest. Alarmed, Lola manages to contact Birdie’s Auntie Val and her cousin, skinny Freda, and as the three women gather around Bernice, she finds the strength travel back along the path that led her to Gibsons, and to emerge the other side, stronger and healthier.

Birdie is permeated with many aspects of Cree culture. In particular, pimatisewin, a word which Lindberg uses for the tree of life. In the book, the tree itself it sick, like Bernice, something which seems to represent the damage inflicted on the Cree nation. But when Bernice is at last able to reach out beyond her own suffering, she makes an offering to the tree which is healing for them both.

I must put in a word for the gorgeous cover. The more you study the central image, the more you find hidden depths in what appears, at first, to be a traditional image.

Birdie celebrates the strength, unity and wisdom of Cree women. Lindberg calls this book a ‘love letter to her mom and her aunties.’But at the same time it does not shirk from showing the lasting harm done to indigenous communities by colonisation, resulting in deeply dysfunctional families.


You’ll enjoy this if you loved: A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvvette Edwards, The Roundhouse by Louise Erdrich,

Avoid if you dislike: stories dealing with sexual abuse.

Perfect Accompaniment: Home-baked sweet rolls with tea

Genre: Literary Fiction, Indigenous authors

Friday, 8 April 2016

Hollow Pike by Juno Dawson

Reviewer: David C Dawson www.davidcdawson.co.uk

What we thought:

This is an exceptional debut novel. The characters are well drawn, it’s easy to empathise with them, and the threats are very real, even though this is a fantasy novel.

This Young Adult fiction book was highly recommended to me, when I was looking to broaden my knowledge of LGBTQ fiction. It is a book that will hook you from the start and keep you with it to the very end.

Lis London arrives in Hollow Pike, Yorkshire to live with her older sister. She was bullied at her school in Wales and needs a new start.

The village of Hollow Pike has ancient connections with witchcraft. Everyone has a tale to tell about witches that were murdered in the nearby forest long ago. In a series of nightmares, Lis dreams she is being chased by a killer through the woods.

She tries to ignore the dreams, but when a girl from her class is found murdered in the forest, Lis fears she will be next. Her class friend Danny becomes her confidant, but then maybe he knows more about macabre events than he is telling her. Lis doesn't know who to trust anymore.

Juno Dawson creates very real characters, set in a very scary story of mystery and witchcraft. At the same time, she deals with the issue of teenage bullying and homophobia in a way that is both low-key and thought provoking.

When you learn that Juno Dawson was once a teacher, and spent a lot of time tackling bullying and homophobia in schools, you can understand why much in this novel rings true.

Dawson was awarded the title Queen of Teen in 2014, voted for by thousands of teenage readers. At the time, Juno was James Dawson, so until the reprints come, you will need to look for this title under her previous name.

Highly recommended!

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Alan Garner, J. K. Rowling

Avoid if you don’t like: Fantasy

Ideal accompaniments: A large bar of dark chocolate on a dark night

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, LGBTQ

Available from Amazon

A cupboard full of coats by Yvvette Edwards

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What we thought: Yvvette Edwards’ debut novel, A cupboard full of coats, was longlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2011, but it’s only now, with the release of her second novel, The Mother, that I have got around to reading it.

A cupboard full of coats is a story of domestic abuse and the way its consequences reverberate down through the years. We see events unfold, not through the eyes of the abused woman, but through the eyes of her daughter, Jinx – sixteen at the time of her mother’s murder and now thirty – and Lemon (short for Philemon), a family friend.

The adult Jinx is emotionally shut down, her relationship with her son and ex-husband in tatters, when Lemon arrives on her doorstep, determined to unearth the past she has tried so hard to bury. Bit by bit, we piece together the events that led up to her mother’s death. As the heartbreaking significance of that cupboard full of coats is revealed, we start to glimpse Jinx and Lemon’s own roles in the tragedy.

A cupboard full of coats explores, in a gentle, nuanced way, the nature of obsessive love, jealousy, guilt, remorse and responsibility.

Edwards has a gift for finding fresh ways of describing commonplace emotions. Here is sixteen year old Jinx trying to come to terms with all the ways her mother’s boyfriend moving in has disrupted life with her mother.

“The mirror in my hand was bigger than my head, yet it was too small to see everything I wanted to see, to see all the things I needed to see in order to get my head around the things in my life that it was impossible to get my head around.”

The novel is set in Hackney in East London, but the older generation of characters are all immigrants from the tiny Caribbean island of Monserrat, and the language and rhythms of the island permeate the story. Food plays a central role – the scents and tastes of the food Lemon cooks, creating a bridge between Jinx and her past. Saltfish cakes and plantain, “red mullet, perfectly fried, crisp and salty on the outside, moist and steaming on the inside.” Sorrel and Guinness punch. Pumpkin soup, “saffron coloured and bursting with flavour, with small soft pieces of yam and sweet potato and green banana and tania seed and chewy torpedo dumplings.”

“It was the smell that woke me. Heaven scent. Both alien and familiar at the same time. First it permeated the air, then pervaded my nostrils, then made its way down into my gut where it took hold and wrenched hard, and I found myself simultaneously hungry and awake.”

Edwards’ writing is profoundly sensual–whether she is describing Lemon dancing, plaiting cornrows into Jinx’s hair, or the coats themselves, still carrying the lingering scent of her mother, moulding to her naked shape as perfectly as second skin.

The Mother in some ways reverses the story in A cupboard full of coats – focusing on a mother dealing with the murder of her son. After finishing this one, I can’t wait to read it.

A tender telling of an all-too-common tragedy, and one that seems to promise the possibility of healing and redemption.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: The Gospel According to Cane by Courttia Newland, The Round House by Louise Erdich, Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

Avoid If You Dislike: stories about domestic violence.

Perfect Accompaniment: A bowl of rich pumpkin soup

Genre: Literary Fiction

Available from Amazon

Divorcing Mum / 33rd County by Jerome Griffin

Reviewer: JJ Marsh

What We Thought:

Two powerful and disturbing shorts which peel back civilised façades and confront some ugly truths behind Irish/British culture. Griffin's voice is angry, articulate and occasionally, to great effect, vulnerable to optimism.

Divorcing Mum is a many-layered tale of love (or the lack of it), predestination in the eyes of others, and the meaning of loyalty; whether that means friendship, nationalism or self.

Our narrator is the result of a rape and therefore an outcast. To his mother, his very existence is a painful reminder of the assault, particularly as he (apparently) looks like his father. And the fact that he's alive reminds her of the other great betrayal.

Jack has a plan and uses all his intelligence to do the right thing for both of them - him and his mum. His fight is rigged, but the reader sympathises, understands and rages with him in his frustrations. Many of the dead-ends he encounters are due to the conservatism of his culture and the iron grip of the Catholic church. The very people who forced his existence on the world.

This is a furious, passionate and touching tale which feels like the first act of something bigger. I hope that will prove to be the case.

 
33rd County is set in a police interrogation room, the story filled in by flashbacks. A bored but politically conscious office worker, numbed by the banality of political awareness in his colleagues, writes an idealistic blog. It's a joke. He knows it can't happen but part of him wishes it could.

His words touch a chord with others, less armchair revolutionaries, more political activists. Before he knows it, he's the spokesperson for movements he despises, his subsequent posts incite anger and drive wedges into the social cracks, widening them into chasms.

Under interrogation, we see how O'Sullivan's online persona has moved from being a mask behind which to hide to a spotlight, thrusting him onto the activist stage. He can insist on it being all part of the craic, but the results are all over the news. The riots, the deaths, the civil war.

The tension in the small room and big ideas are part of the skilful way this short, intense experience unfolds. An uncomfortably believable portrayal of a man who spoke his mind only to find his mouth forcibly shut.

You'll like these if you enjoyed: Gift of the Raven by Catriona Troth, God's Instruments by Wayne Price and the short stories of Kirsty Logan.

Avoid if you dislike: British/Irish politics, social injustice, violence.

Ideal accompaniments: A Bloody Mary, tough dried meat and Sinnerman by Nina Simone.

Genre: Short stories, Contemporary

Available from Amazon

Friday, 1 April 2016

Vendetta by Dreda Say Mitchell

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought: When Mac wakes up next to the dead body of a woman who has been shot through the head, he knows he is in big trouble. He is a ‘naked cop’, deep undercover with a gang of international arms smugglers. But is he back in the field far too soon after the death of his young son?

DI Rio Wray is not a woman to be messed with – especially when she is forced to turn up at a crime scene still dressed for her mate’s hen party.

Both are hunting the same murderer, but from such opposite extremes of law enforcement they seem more like enemies than old friends.

Mitchell’s Vendetta is packed into little more than 24 hours, and covers ground that would have been familiar to Dickens’ Inspector Bucket – peeling back the gentrification of places like St Katherine’s Dock to reveal the criminality still lurking underneath.

Mac and Rio snag our sympathies. We get a hint of the prejudices Rio has overcome as a black, female police officer. But Rio needs no pity from anyone. As for Mac, some of Mitchell’s best writing comes when he relives the death of his son, and when he interacts with Milos, a young boy of the same age, caught in a complex crossfire of adult vengeance and retribution.

A high octane thriller with plenty of brutal violence from the start, but one that explores the nature of loyalty, both in the police world and in its flip side – the world of criminal gangs.

You’ll enjoy this if you loved: The Waiting Game by Sheila Bugler, Entry Island by Peter May

Avoid if you dislike: A rollercoaster of violent action, morally questionable police characters

Perfect Accompaniment: Blinis with sour cream, a shot of vodka.

Genre: Crime

Available from Amazon

Midnight Sky by Jan Ruth


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

What we thought: This is the second novel I've read by this author and she is fast turning into one of my favourite authors of modern day contemporary fiction - and as the books are set in North Wales, one of my favourite places on Earth - then it gets extra points from me for location!

I loved the style and tone of the book from page one. Separate threads, cleverly interwoven, keep us on our toes, seeing two sides of one family from, on one hand, chic, cosmopolitan interior designer, Laura, and from the opposite angle, frustrated, stay-at-home mum, in her sister, Maggie.

Added to the mix we have local horse-whisperer, James, whose dark, brooding talents with a filly spreads with ease between the equine and human versions!

There are lots of reasons to love this book, but if I had to name one it would be strength of characterisation. Each character took centre stage in their own right, and each - whether a volatile teen or a man in the midst of a middle-age crisis - felt 100% real, tangible and most importantly easily connected with the reader.

There are a wide spectrum of emotions in this book, from laughter to tears and back again, all handled with total competence by the author, as is pacing, tension and the quiet moments needed for the reader to absorb the layers of content.

It's a pleasure to read a novel where the writing is so fluid, it doesn't get in the way of the story. And this is a story most definitely worth a read. Highly recommended and I can't wait to get onto book two in the series!

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Amanda Prowse, Jill Roman, David Nicholls

Avoid if you don’t like: Welsh landscapes and horses.

Ideal accompaniments: Hot chocolate and toasted tea-cakes by a roaring log fire.

Genre: Women’s Fiction.

Available from Amazon

Flesh Wounds by Richard Glover


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

What we thought: Oh what an achingly honest and fabulous account of the author’s childhood and family life. Luckily I was on holidays (with a shady spot on the beach) when I read it, as I literally could not tear myself away.

The author, Richard Glover, is an Australian talk radio presenter, journalist and author, whose favourite dinner party game is: “Who's Got the Weirdest Parents?” With the parents Richard Glover had, or rather endured, he rightly believes he will always win.

In this harrowing, humorous, insightful and very poignant account of his childhood, the author tells us about his mother, a deluded, disillusioned women who invented her past, ignored her child, and eventually ran off with Richard’s eccentric English teacher, and his father, an often-absent alcoholic who seemed to spend his life chasing dreams. In the middle of all this was the sad and confused teenage Richard, trying in vain to belong to a functioning family. He tells us about some truly terrible experiences, and then goes on to portray the love and satisfaction he found in building his own, loving family, with his wife and children. All quite the opposite to what he’d known.

The author shows how he eventually accepted the fact that in the end we are responsible for the way we live our lives and that we should not blame our parents for our own shortcomings, through theirs. It teaches us to examine how we live our lives: to think about our past, but perhaps not to focus too much on it.

Excellently- narrated and very thought-provoking, I was mesmerized, and finished Flesh Wounds in one sitting.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: memoirs, or if you had a not quite “normal” family and childhood.

Avoid if you dislike: sad stories about neglected children and highly dysfunctional families.

Ideal accompaniments: a crate of beer, a meat pie and a shady spot on the beach to plunge right back into 1970s Australia.

Genre: Memoir – Autobiography.

Available from Amazon