Wednesday, 19 September 2018

In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

“Violence made this city. Those living, born and raised, grow up with it like an older brother.”
Guy Gunaratne’s mad and furious city is London – the rough estates of modern, multi-cultural, working class London.

The story is told through five voices. Three young men who grew up playing football together: Selvon, the athlete, headed for university; Ardan, who watches from the rooftops, spinning Grime lyrics out of the world he observes, and Yusuf, son of an Imam, whose brother has lost his way. Then there is Nelson, wheelchair bound and speechless after a stroke, who lived through the bitter race riots of the 50s and 60s and has seen it all before. And Caroline, the alcoholic Irishwoman, who escaped, deeply scarred, from the sectarian violence of Northern Ireland.

A soldier has been murdered on these streets in broad daylight and the city is turning on itself. Far Right groups are marching, threatening the mosque. And in response, the new Imam is summoning up a vigilante group of young men, the Muhajiroun, to protect, but also to police, their community.

As anger and mistrust rip through their Ends, tearing at the bonds of friendship and stomping on the dreams of the three younger men, the two older ones remember earlier battles, and how violence begats violence, warping those who are caught up in it.

“During a high tide, things come fairly. The people them welcome newcomer like a novelty. Other times the tide is low and them smiles turn to bitterness and hate.”

Gunaratne is a master a voices. Selvon, Ardan and Yusuf’s stories are written in the street slang of modern London, while Nelson’s voice is still rooted in his Caribbean childhood and Caroline’s is straight off Belfast’s Falls Road. Each is distinct and utterly convincing.

A powerful novel that rips a window onto contemporary London in all its multicultural complexity – its violence, its vibrancy and its endurance.

In Our Mad and Furious City was longlisted for both the Man Booker and the Not the Booker prizes in 2018. Disappointingly, it failed to make the cut in either. I sincerely hope to see it on the Jhalak Prize shortlist next year, as it thoroughly deserved the recognition.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James, When We Speak of Nothing by Olumide Poloola, An Unreliable Guide to London (ed Kit Caless)

Avoid If You Dislike: Stories told in strong dialect

Perfect Accompaniment: Gang Signs and Prayers by Stormzy

Genre: Literary Fiction

Available on Amazon

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

The Stolen Child by Sanjida Kay


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

This is the first book I’ve read of this author and I must admit I was totally gripped by both the writing and the story. In the vein of some of the best of the modern-day thrillers from Gillian Flynn and Clare Mackintosh, The Stolen Child is the riveting story of one couples attempt to stop themselves, and their whole lives, falling apart when their adopted child, Evie, goes missing after school one day.
Zoe and Ollie Morley tried for years to have a child of their own and when it seemed their only route was adoption, they took on a tiny girl called Evie, and never looked back. Even after the birth of the own natural son, Ben, Evie was an integral part of their family, and other than long working hours keeping them apart, their lives were everything they had dreamed.
But after moving back to Zoe’s home county of Yorkshire and setting up a home on the edge of her beloved moors, Evie’s personality begins to change. Strange packages are left from Evie’s natural father, and when one day she disappears after school, the Morley’s life is shattered into a million unconscionable pieces.
The author cleverly gives us enough clues and red herrings to keep us guessing and on the edge of our seats right up until the exhilarating climax of the story. A personal favourite of mine was the description of the moors and the landscape, which I feel always adds another layer to the depth of the story. The characters were superbly drawn, no emotion felt awkward or contrived, I felt from start to finish that I was in the hands of a talented storyteller and let myself go to enjoy the journey.

Highly recommended!
You’ll enjoy this if you like: Kate Hamer, Jenny Blackhurst, Erin Kelly.
Avoid if you don’t like: High emotion and gripping plots.
Ideal accompaniments: Cheeseburger, fries and cola.
Genre: Contemporary


Available on Amazon

Smoke and Ashes by Abir Mukherjee

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

This third outing for Sam Wyndham and his redoubtable sergeant Surrender-not in 1920s Calcutta does not disappoint, from its shocking opening in Calcutta's Chinatown to the tense ending, blending fact and fiction.

It’s almost Christmas Day 1921, the end of the year in which Gandhi’s non-violent non-cooperation movement really got going. It’s also the year that the King Emperor George V decided to send his son, the Prince of Wales, on an ill-advised tour of India. Then, in the midst of seething unrest and with all the security implications of an impending royal visit, mutilated corpses start to turn up – apparently unconnected but bearing startlingly similar wounds. Section H, the military police, are convinced it must be the work of terrorists from the Independence Movement, but Sam is far from sure.

This is case that will test Surrender-not’s painfully divided loyalties to the limit. It will also force Sam to confront his own growing dependence on opium.

Mukherjee continues to paint a vivid picture of Calcutta as India lurches closer to independence, weaving fiction around real events and people. Chitta Ranjan Das, Gandhi’s chief lieutenant in Bengal, his wife Basanti Devi and his disciple and future hero of the movement Subhash Bose all appear in this novel, as Sam starts to appreciate both the genius of Gandhi’s non-violent resistance and the untenable nature of the British position.

“To see a man as your enemy, you needed to hate him, and while it was easy to hate a man who fought you with bullets and bombs, it was bloody difficult to hate a man who opposed you by appealing to your own moral compass.”


Mukherjee’s choice of Sam as his point of view character – an outsider who is part of the British Raj without being fully of it – provides a fascinating lens through which to see this troubled and pivotal period in India’s history. At the same time, he draws the thriller elements of the story from little known scraps of background history – in this case, a particularly shameful episode in British treatment of its colonial subjects.

This absorbing series just keeps getting better and batter. I am thrilled by its success – not least because it means should be plenty more to come for Sam and Surrender-not.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee, The Devil’s Porridge by Chris Longmuir, The Golden  Scales by Parker Bilal

Avoid If You Dislike: Facing up to the realities of Britain’s colonial past

Perfect Accompaniment: A stiff whisky

Genre: Crime Fiction, Historical Fiction

Available on Amazon

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

City of Sinners by A.A. Dhand

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

City of Sinners is the third in the A.A. Dhand’s series of crime novels set in Bradford and starring his detective, DCI Harry Virdee. It opens in the most arresting way possible, with a body hanging from the dome of Waterstones – formerly the Bradford Wool Exchange and one of England’s most beautiful bookshops. And that is just the start of a spree of bizarre killings that seems to centre Harry himself.

As ever, Dhand presents a Bradford that is – as Harry says – a British Gotham. And in Harry Virdee he gives us a stereotype-busting Asian Luther – violent, angry and willing to cross almost any line you draw. Surely it can only be a matter of time before someone takes these high energy books, with their spectacular set pieces and arresting imagery, and transfers them onto the small screen?

But Virdee doesn’t stop at busting stereotypes of geeky asexualised Asian men. He drives a coach and horses through the trope of the loner cop as well. For the light in the dark of Dhand’s novels remains the relationship between Harry and his wife and baby son. It’s also the part of the books where he most cleverly flips your expectations. The only other crime novelist of recent times that I can think of who has allowed their protagonist such a rich, warm and realistic home life is Sheila Bugler. Without it, these books could be grim fare indeed. With it, they become a joy.

Dhand also does what few other authors could do with clarity and integrity: he takes as his themes the darker, dirtier aspects of British Asian society – in this case, brown on brown bigotry, something he’s touched upon in his earlier books. And it is those generations of accumulated hatred and prejudice that, to my mind, produce the most quietly shocking moment in the whole book.

There is no getting away from the fact the Dhand’s novel’s are brutally violent, and if that’s really not your thing, you should probably steer clear. That said, there are many, many reasons why you should introduce yourself to Harry Virdee. If you haven’t already done so, go back and read Streets of Darkness and Girl Zero. And then get straight on and read City of Sinners.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Love: Val McDermid, Dreda Say Mitchell, Sheila Bugler, Gillian E Hamer

Avoid if You Dislike: Graphic depiction of violence (or probably if you are an arachnophobe.)

Perfect Accompaniment: Chai flavoured with fenugreek and cardamom seeds

Genre: Crime Fiction

Available on Amazon

Old Baggage by Lissa Evans

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett – author of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, The Man with the Horn and other books http://barbarascottemmett.blogspot.com

What We Thought: This is a very loud book! Matty Simpkin bounds onto the page and makes herself heard wherever she is and whatever she is doing. Mattie and her friend Florrie Lee (known as The Flea) live near Hampstead Heath in The Mousehole, so called because the house was once a refuge for suffragettes released under the Cat & Mouse Act.

Both Mattie and The Flea were members of the WSPU before the Great War. In 1918 an act was passed giving the vote to property-owning females over the age of thirty. It is now 1928 and a new bill is about to extend suffrage to all women over 21, even those who are not property owners.

Though still active - giving talks about the movement with The Flea's assistance - Mattie feels she wants to do more. Another former suffragette has started up an organisation for boys and girls which Mattie considers to be verging on the fascistic - uniforms and marching are involved. She determines to start her own group - a more freethinking outfit to be called The Amazons. Mattie wants to encourage young women and girls to be fit, healthy and knowledgeable so as to be able to use their votes wisely.

She recruits Ida, a former cloakroom attendant who has been dismissed, and puts notices up for more members. The group becomes successful, with The Amazons gallivanting all over the Heath learning physical skills while ingesting Mattie's teaching on a wide range of subjects.

However, when Inez joins things start to go wrong. Mattie knew Inez's dead mother, Violetta, and comes to believe that the girl's father may not be who she believes he is. She favours Inez again and again, thereby putting the other girls' noses out of joint. On one disastrous summer's day Mattie acts against her own better judgement and loses the respect of the Amazons and, ultimately, her friendship with The Flea.

Beautifully written, vibrant, witty and sad, this book explores the disappointments of nepotism and the way a fond memory of someone may not be the whole truth.

I received a free ebook from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans

Avoid If You Dislike: Accounts of women’s lives.

Perfect Accompaniment: Gooseberry jam and a cup of tea.

Genre: Literary/General Fiction

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West is a tricky book to pin down. It begins, straightforwardly enough, in a city crowded with refugees and about to be overrun by war. The city is never named and you are left to decide for yourself whether Hamid might have a specific place in mind or whether this could stand for any city on the brink of war.

The two central characters, Nadia and Saeed, meet at an evening class.

“It might seem off that in cities teetering at the edge of the abyss young people still go to class ... but that is the way of things, with cities as with life, for one moment we are pottering about our errands as usual and the next we are dying.”
We watch as that normal life crumbles around them, as militants take over the city, as the bombs come closer and closer, as they start to look for a way out.

And at this point, the story deviates from reality and take on the qualities of an allegory. Because in this world doors are opening up. Doors where, wif you step through, you walk out into a different part of the world.

To begin with, this does not change the trajectory of Nadia and Saeed’s lives that much, as – like so many refugees in our world – the first place they find themselves in is an overcrowded and ill-equipped Greek island. Resentment and nativism rear their ugly heads. Again and again, they flee.

But gradually, Hamid’s narrative implies, the fact that anyone, anywhere can step through a door and find themselves in another country begins to change the nature of the world. The concepts of borders and national identities grow hazier.

In the end, the novel is both an indictment of the West’s failure of understanding and its treatment of refugees, and an uplifting vision of what the world might be if we abandoned the idea of nation states.

In keeping with the allegorical nature of the story, our viewpoint remains slightly detached throughout. We are a camera hovering just above the scene, following Nadia and Saeed like a fly on the wall documentary team without ever fully entering their minds. There is little, if any, dialogue, only a few reported speeches. We are sitting at the feet of a story teller, not watching a play.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis, A Country of Refuge (ed Lucy Popescu), The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid.

Avoid If You Dislike: Allegorical style, stories that depart from realism

Perfect Accompaniment: Olive bread and fresh mint tea

Genre: Literary Fiction, Allegorical Fiction

Available on Amazon

The Future Memoir of Ann Jones by Alex Bailey

Review by JJ Marsh

What we thought:

Ann Jones is a respectable, happily married mother of two with a network of family and friends on the West Coast. Then out of the blue, she has a vision of her whole life transformed. The first thing she does is run around to tell her best friend, Alex.

“I saw his death, Alex. You think I should warn him?”

The Ann Jones of the future loses her husband in box-and-basement accident. Widowed with teenage twins in college, she takes her dog and moves to the East Coast. So far, so strange.

But things get a whole lot stranger when she joins a Knitting Club. All the members have lost a husband, some in quite bizarre circumstances, but they’re all friendly, they love their pets and appreciate home cooking. The one thing they don’t do much of is knitting.

As Ann embraces a new career as a baker and welcomes a new man in her life, she begins to enjoy her freedom. But she underestimates Knitting Club and the dangers it presents.

But it was only a vision, right?

Light romance with a dark tone, this is an entertaining read with witty observations on life, love and lethal women. Perfect to read on the beach while wearing sunglasses and looking innocent.


You’ll enjoy this if you liked: Jojo Moyes, Cecilia Ahern, The Stepford Wives

Avoid if you don’t like: Not knowing what’s real

Ideal accompaniments: Southern Fried Choc-Chip Cookies and coffee

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Available on Amazon



Wednesday, 15 August 2018

After the Party by Cressida Connolly

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett – author of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, The Man with the Horn and other books. http://barbarascottemmett.blogspot.com

What We Thought: Before reading After the Party, I would never have imagined I could feel sympathy for someone who had espoused a far right cause. This book is so sensitively written, however, that it is impossible not to feel sadness for the protagonist, and to recognise that she is embroiled in something, the potential consequences of which, she doesn't fully understand.

Phyllis Forrester is the youngest of three sisters. In 1938 they are all living, in various states of prosperity, in the south of England. Phyllis has three children, two girls and a boy, all about to go back to boarding school.

Through her middle sister, Nina, she becomes involved in a political party, the leader of which is simply referred to as The Leader. At first she is not especially interested in the cause but as she has little to do she helps her sister out. Her eldest sister, Patricia, is also involved but to a lesser extent. Patricia and her husband, Greville, are at the upper end of the social scale, Phyllis and Hugh are perhaps slightly below, and they both think Nina and her husband, Eric, are a little infra dig, as he runs a garage and she runs summer camps for members of the Party and their children. Patricia invites The Leader, or the Old Man, as he is sometimes called, to a grand dinner and a certain amount of vying for his attention is involved.

Though the Leader is not specifically named until some way into the novel, it is soon obvious who he is. He is charismatic and charming and his followers all adore him. Phyllis meets Sarita through her association with the Party and they become friends, though Sarita is often a little vague and distrait. When disaster strikes, Phyllis feels guilty that she had not seen the truth of the situation and had not been able to step in to help.

When war breaks out Phyllis and her husband are unexpectedly taken into custody. There is no trial and no formal sentencing. Separated, they are given little information as to what is going on or where the other is. Phyllis feels that her incarceration is in some way justified - not because of her association with the Party but because she let her friend down.

Years pass. Phyllis is sent to a camp on the Isle of Man along with other politicos and enemy aliens. She discovers another way of life, of friendships with women, of making do and of overcoming hardships. She misses her children desperately. When she is finally released they barely recognise her, and the youngest, Edwin, has become attached to Patricia and Greville, who have taken him in every school holiday.

Betrayed by both her sisters for different reasons, and in reduced circumstances, Phyllis moves north. Her children blame her for her involvement in what is now considered a wicked cause, and she has little contact with her wider family. She has become, perhaps sardonic rather than bitter, and quite apart from seeing the misjudgement in her earlier associations, has become rather more deeply entrenched in her views.

This is a beautifully written book, full of poignancy and sadness. It shows how lives can be destroyed by happenstance and by foolish errors of judgement and how, ultimately, no lessons may be learned.

I received a free ebook from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: The Great Gatsby

Avoid If You Dislike: Accounts of the privileged classes.

Perfect Accompaniment: Whisky in cut glass with an engraved cigarette case nearby.

Genre: Literary fiction

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Cresting Waves by F. K. Sewell

Reviewer: Jerome Griffin

What we thought: Cresting Waves, the third and final instalment of the Black Feather Trilogy, completes the tale of orphan pirate, Alex Cavendish, and leaves the reader with something of a lump in the throat and a tear in the eye.

As with the previous two books, it opens as an action-packed, adrenalin-fuelled adventure that ebbs and flows throughout, but very quickly it becomes so much more than just a fun pirate romp.

The long-running feuds with the Vliets and Barnaby continue to play a central role in the story, but Alex also has his mind on other matters, including a safe, secure and peaceful future. He’s had enough of life on the wave and he realises there are alternative lifestyles available to him. He is also determined to find his mother, if she is alive, and Kitty who he still loves dearly.

Sewell is a talented author who can produce diverse fight scenes bursting with excitement and tension, as well as intimate moments full of emotion and tenderness. One episode in particular between Alex and his wife will live with me for a very long time due to Sewell’s delivery and skill. I don’t want to give too much away in terms of spoilers, so I won’t go into detail, but she manages to take an extremely difficult situation for a couple and make it touching and poignant, without being cloying or trite.

On one level Alex is the same character as before. His determination, loyalty and strong moral code – despite being a pirate – remain true. But on another level, something has changed in him. There is a difference in his approach to life and responsibility. Where earlier in the story he was thrown into the deep end and had to learn fast, in retrospect that was his coming of age. In Cresting Waves, he has become a man.

As a trilogy, the Black Feather books provide a wonderful balance of adventure, passion and emotion with a dash of gritty history thrown in for good measure. Cresting Waves is a worthy finale.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: A mixture of high-octane adventure and emotional situations handled delicately.

Avoid if you dislike: Difficult relationship scenarios.

Ideal accompaniments: A strong drink, a box of tissues and something that reminds you of your childhood home.

Genre: Historical fiction, adventure

The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett - author of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, The Man with the Horn and other books http://barbarascottemmett.blogspot.com

What We Thought: Set in Edinburgh in the mid-19th century, The Way of All Flesh is both an informative account of the development of anaesthesia and a historical murder mystery.

Will Raven is a young medical student working as assistant to the famous James Young Simpson, pioneer of painless childbirth. Impoverished and of dubious parentage, Raven has secrets to keep and financial problems to solve. If he can do well with Dr Simpson, he will be set up for life. The work is challenging and often gruesome - women die in agony or survive at the cost of their infant's life. Simpson experiments with ether and other prospective anaesthetics (often on himself an d his colleagues) before he hits on chloroform.

Meanwhile, women's bodies are being found contorted into positions of apparent agony. Raven's friend, Evie, is one such and he determines to discover what has happened to her and to the other women of the lower orders thus cruelly disposed of.

He forms an uneasy alliance with Sarah, the Simpsons' housemaid, who has also had a friend die in similar circumstances. Sarah is intelligent and forthright - neither qualities likely to serve her in her employment. She dreams of better things and resents Raven's ability to move up in the world in a way that is denied to her.

This is an extremely well-written page-turner with plenty of excitement and interest on every page. The descriptions of medical matters are often graphic but never unnecessarily so. Both Will and Sarah are well-rounded characters with faults and foibles as well as strength and compassion. Edinburgh itself plays a major role, from the foetid wynds and ginnels of the Canongate to the pleasant streets of the Georgian New Town.

Ostensibly by Ambrose Perry, this novel, as I discovered after reading it, was in fact written by Christopher Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman. Brookmyre, who needs no introduction, has reined in the more excessive aspects of his graphic comedy; Haetzman is his wife and a consultant anaesthetist. It appears to be a perfect partnership. More books in this series are planned and I could visualise them as a tv series.

I received a free ebook from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin, Sarah Waters’ books.

Avoid If You Dislike: Accounts of childbirth that don’t always end well.

Perfect Accompaniment: A reasonably strong stomach and a bottle of gin.

Genre: Historical Mystery

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Someone To Look Up To by Jean Gill

Reviewer: Liza Perrat, author of The Bone Angel trilogy (Spirit of Lost Angels, Wolfsangel, Blood Rose Angel) and first book in the new Australian 70s trilogy, The Silent Kookaburra.

What we thought: I absolutely adored this beautifully-written story told from a dog’s point of view. Sirius, a magnificent Soum de Gaia (Pyrenean Mountain Dog) narrates his story and that of his siblings when they leave their mother, and their breeder, their “Choosing” taking each puppy to a very different place.

The author’s deep understanding of, and respect for, the canine psyche, is obvious, perfectly capturing the thoughts and emotions of Sirius as he attempts to understand the world into which he was born, and the often unhappy situations in which he finds himself.

Filled with humour, love and sadness, the author captivated me with her wonderful descriptions and lyrical prose, one moment bringing tears to my eyes, the next making me laugh out loud. My favourite scenes were the very moving dogs’ nighttime storytelling, the twilight barking.

Sirius’s story will certainly make all dog owners rethink the way they handle their dogs, especially those, like me, who need a bit of subtle training in managing their hound.

I would highly recommend Someone To Look Up To for every dog owner, but especially for those who are planning on getting a dog. I would even go so far as to say this book should be mandatory reading for people wanting to own a dog, in particular a large breed of dog.

You’ll like this if you enjoy: Animal stories. Fictional tales based on fact.

Avoid if you don’t like: Sad stories about animals that people can't handle.

Ideal accompaniments: Hot toddy and comfy fireside armchair, preferably with a view of the snow-capped Pyrénées Mountains.

Genre: General Fiction

Friday, 27 July 2018

The One Who Wrote Destiny by Nikesh Shukla

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought of it:
I first came across Nikesh Shukla in a yurt on the banks of the River Thames. It was Refugee Week 2011, and I had come to hear members of the Write to Life group from Freedom from Torture perform their poetry. Shukla was there to read from his debut novel, Coconut Unlimited. The reading, which was very funny, stuck with me because Shukla’s description of hearing his grandmother speaking Gujarati peppered with modern English words like ‘television’ was exactly like my memories of hearing my grandmother speaking Welsh. I bought the book the next day.

A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then, and The One Who Wrote Destiny is a very different book to Coconut Unlimited. This is one of several books I have read recently where the narrative passes from one hand to another. It begins with a father, Mukesh, retelling – as we later found out – a story he has repeated s often it has driven his children mad. It’s the story of how he met their mother, at Diwali, and how together they fought off racists trying to stop the celebrations. 

It then passes to the daughter, Neha – mathematician, programmer, obsessed with numbers and patterns. She shares the fatal genetic flaw that killed her mother before she really had time to get to know her. And now, dying herself, she is trying to find out if she can predict the destinies of the rest of the family.

From Neha it passes to her twin brother Raks – a stand-up comedian who needs to please, returning to Kenya to trace the grandmother he and his sister stayed with only once.

And finally to Ba, the grandmother, dealing with two small children who are foisted upon her when all she wants is to be left alone to mourn.

Each of the characters has their own take on what destiny means – whether it be written in our DNA or our stars. But for me, at least, the book is about coming to terms with death, whether our own or that of a loved one. And the recognition that the final step is one that one must always take on one’s own

Almost incidentally, the narrative also traces the paths of British immigrants (especially Kenyan Asians) and their descendents, showing how their experience alters (and doesn’t) over time, and the tensions that creates between generations. (Being made complicit in the telling of a racist joke may be a small thing compared with being beaten to death in the streets, but it still shows what a long way this country has to go.)

There were snippets of the narrative that I recognised, either from having read The Good Immigrant, which was edited by Shukla, or from following him on Twitter, which made it feel a little like reading a book by an friend whose back stories I was privy to.

A moving and reflective novel from an author who has done more than anyone else in the last few years to change the landscape for BAME authors in Britain.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Birdie by Tracey Lindberg, If You Look For Me I am Not Here by Sarayu Srivatsa, The Good Immigrant (ed Nikesh Shukla)

Avoid If You Dislike: narratives about death and dying

Perfect Accompaniment: Mango and sugar rotli

Genre: Literary Fiction

Available on Amazon


Nikesh Shukla is the editor of The Good Immigrant, co-founder of the Jhalak Prize and founder of The Good Literary Agency

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett – author of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, The Man with the Horn and other books http://barbarascottemmett.blogspot.com

What We Thought: Set in 1666 at the time of the Great Fire of London, this is a wonderfully atmospheric novel. We feel the heat of the fire scorching us in the opening chapter, and wipe the sooty sweat from our brows. There are two protagonist in this book and though they encounter each other briefly while watching the fire in that opening chapter, they don't meet properly until much later in the story.

James Marwood is a clerk to an Under Secretary of State at the Palace of Whitehall. James' father is a believer in 'King Jesus', a Republican and member of a Protestant sect who believe that getting rid of the earthly king will bring about King Jesus's reign more quickly. Only his age and increasing dementia saves him from the ultimate penalty. Let out of prison, he lives out of London, in Chelsea, and is safe as long as he keeps out of trouble.

Through his work James is involved in the investigation of a series of deaths that look very much like murders. It is a dangerous time: those who had demanded the killing of Charles I - the Regicides as they were known - were hunted down when his son, Charles II, reclaimed the throne. Is someone picking off former Republicans who have managed to hide their involvement in the king's downfall?

Catherine Lovett lives with her wealthy aunt and uncle who have betrothed her to Sir Denzil Croughton, a man much older than she is. Her father, also a follower of King Jesus and wanted as a Regicide, is on the run. Lovett has been abroad but there are rumours he is now in London. Cat longs to find him and creeps out of the house under cover of darkness to seek him out.

The lives of the two protagonists intertwine but this is not a love story. Cat wants to be an architect and have a life of her own. James is drawn ever further into the service of powerful men and ultimately into helping the king, on whose benevolence his father's freedom depends.

This is an entertaining and exciting book. It is part murder mystery, part political intrigue. It's a page-turner which is also a well researched and fully believable historical novel.

I received a free ebook from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel.

Avoid If You Dislike: Occasional graphic cruelty

Perfect Accompaniment: A long cold ale.

Genre: Historical Mystery

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Subjunctive Moods by C G Menon

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

I first read ‘Watermelon Seeds’ by C G Menon in the anthology Love Across a Broken Map by The Whole Kahani collective, also published by Dahlia Books. It was one of my favourite stories in the book, so I had high hopes for Subjunctive Moods, Menon’s own collection, and it did not disappoint.

The definition of a subjunctive mood is ‘a grammatical construction with expresses a condition which is doubtful or not factual.’ A common thread running through this collection is imagining lives as they could have been, if things had turned out just a little differently, or sometimes as they might still turn out to be. For one hour each year, as the clocks go back, one woman constructs an imaginary affair with a man she broke up with at university. Another dabbles with an actual affair, whilst in yet another returns to a secret place from her childhood to lay to rest her longing for a life where her son did not die.

The collection moves back and forth between Malaysia and Britain (with a single foray into Australia thrown in for good measure). The British stories take place in the hard, rocky corners of these islands – on the slag heaps of South Wales, the moorlands around Middlesborough, the coast by the Farne Islands.

Menon has a gift for finding fresh and arresting turns of phrase. The wife of a man with a wandering eye watches a beautiful woman as “her reflection swims up into his empty hands.” A troubled young mother who has already had one child taken from her contemplates, “a lifetime of trudging up her terraced street with a pram and a hangover and her mistakes dragging behind her like a sodden length of rope.”

Even before I found the first story set in Wales, Menon’s language was reminding me of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood. Her description of a faithless husband sloping off back to his mistress, “to be checked off her lists and hung up in her kitchen with the dinner menus, where he will dangle uselessly for several years,” is irresistibly reminiscent of Mr and Mrs Ogmore Pritchard.

Menon weaves threads of old beliefs – Malayan, Welsh, Hindu – into some of the stories to give a hint of magic realism. By coincidence, I had just finished reading Sharlene Teo’s Ponti, which introduced me to pontianaks – the malign, vampire-like female ghosts of Malaysia – before finding them again here, in two of Menon’s stories. But here too is the makara, the Hindu sea monster, and the piece of iron that keeps Welsh goblins at bay so your baby can’t be stolen away.

An utterly beguiling collection of stories by an author who weaves spells with language around the lives of ordinary people.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Love Across a Broken Map by The Whole Kahani, Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas, Speak Gigantular by Irenosen Okojie 

Avoid If You Dislike: Spinning poetry out of ordinary lives.

Perfect Accompaniment: Each story has a flavour of its own – from Bara Brith to Nasi Lemak

Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

I'll Keep You Safe by Peter May


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

What we thought: For those who follow Bookmuse reviews, you will know I am a huge fan of Peter May and think he’s one of the best new crime fiction writers of a generation. So, I was hugely excited to hear that in this latest novel he had returned to his Hebridean roots – a setting I think he handles best of all.

However, the story starts in Paris, with a shock car bomb explosion, that at first made me think we were going down the terrorism route, but no – Hebridean wool is at the heart of this crime not international terrorism.

Niamh and Ruairidh Macfarlane co-own the Hebridean company Ranish Tweed and are in Paris for a high-profile fashion show when the explosion kills Ruairidh and leaves Niamh a widow, alone in a foreign country to cope with the tragedy and its after effects. On her return home to the island of Lewis, and the beautiful house she shared with her husband, a series of events terrify Niamh and it becomes clear that she may have been the intended victim all along.

The landscape itself is a standalone character and the atmosphere of the islands is, as ever, evoked superbly well. Also, it’s nice to meet up again with old friends like DS George Gunn. The characters are brought to life in detail, real and vivid, and there is a large enough cast to hold a number of suspects. The pace and flow of the story is as good as I have come to expect from this author and grips you until the final pages. 

Next please, Mr May!


You’ll enjoy this if you like : Ann Cleeves, Peter James, Ian Rankin.

Avoid if you don’t like : Remote Scottish landscapes.

Ideal accompaniments: Haggis, peas and gravy.

Genre : Crime

Available on Amazon




Wednesday, 27 June 2018

The Corsican Widow by Vanessa Couchman

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

What we thought: I really enjoyed Vanessa Couchman’s first historical novel set on the island of Corsica: The House at Zaronza, and her second, The Corsican Widow, was just as enjoyable.

It follows the story of a young woman, Valeria, just before her arranged marriage to a much older man. This marriage, in which she is expected to cater to her husband’s every wish, and to provide him with children, will remove her from family and friends and everything she has ever known. So when, despite Valeria’s best efforts, he dies, she finds herself a lonely, isolated widow, trapped in the chains of the traditions of the customary bereavement period.

Valeria is strong, tenacious and craving independence in a time when attitudes to women were so very different from today. This provides for an emotional roller-coaster of a story as we share with Valeria her widowed plight.

Via well-researched historical detail, descriptive settings –– the herb-scented hill paths, the stone forts, the fountains and village squares –– and skilled characterisation, the author cleverly evokes the customs and traditions of 18th-century Corsica, and the Corsicans’ fight for independence.

After reading The Corsican Widow, I feel I know a lot more about the history of the island, and especially the traditional, archaic and cruel attitudes towards women. This all helps the reader to empathise with Valeria and to fight her seemingly impossible battles alongside her, all the way.

I highly recommend this beautifully-written and engaging story for lovers of Historical Fiction.

You’ll like this if you enjoy: well-documented historical fiction exploring the timeless themes of love and emotion.

Avoid if you don’t like: women in submission. Archaic treatment of women

Ideal accompaniments: Tommette de Chèvre – a full-flavoured goat milk cheese, accompanied by a rustic Corsican red wine.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Available on Amazon

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

The Summer of Impossible Things by Rowan Coleman

Review by JJ Marsh

What We Thought:

Take a deep breath and suspend your disbelief.

This take on 'Back to the Future' has much charm and character, not least the setting of Brooklyn in two different eras. It's flawed, certainly, but the central idea comes through.

Luna and her sister Pia fly to Brooklyn from Britain after their mother's suicide. Officially, they have come to sell her house. Luna's instinct tells her the old house contains more than dust and spiders. Memories claim her, she assumes from family photographs and old stories. Then she meets Riss.

This is a story of wish fulfillment. Don't we all imagine we might be able to go back and change the past to affect the future? It has tension, mystery and some strong characterisations, but meanders and circles on occasion. One to read on the beach.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Back to the Future, time travel, Saturday Night Fever

Avoid if you don’t like: Shifting realities, time slips, 1970s

Ideal accompaniments: Dr Pepper, popcorn and The Bee Gees

Genre: Women's Fiction

Available on Amazon


Wednesday, 13 June 2018

The Trick to Time by Kit de Waal

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

The Trick to Time is a tender exploration of love and loss and the ways we find to come to terms with the unbearable.

Somewhere in a small English seaside town, an Irishwoman approaching her sixtieth birthday makes and sells beautiful dolls. The bodies of the dolls are wooden, turned and carved for her by a man referred to only as the carpenter. She dresses them in wonderful, individualised clothing and she sells them to customers all around the world.

But as well as these, there are also the special dolls. The ones ordered by women who come into the shop and whisper in her ear. The ones whose wooden bodies are made to a precise weight. The ones that are handed over to the customer, not in the shop but at the Irishwoman’s home.

As the present day story unfolds - Mona’s sixtieth birthday, her tentative relationship with Karl, a neighbour who shares her insomnia, an annual trip in November that holds special significance – so we learn more and more about her past history: her early life in Ireland, her move to Birmingham, meeting her husband. They are poor and life is tough, but they are very much in love. Then, on the night that the IRA blows up a Birmingham pub – their life is split apart by tragedy.

This is a difficult book to review because the things I most want to write about risk spoiling the pleasure of peeling back the layers of the story and uncovering its mysteries step by step. It’s a very different story to de Waal’s debut, My Name is Leon, but her delicate prose shines through in the same way, as does her ability to create sympathetic characters with real depth of humanity.

De Waal is a champion of working class writing. (She is the editor and instigator of the anthology Common People, shortly to be published on Unbound.) Her characters are ordinary people from ordinary working class backgrounds. Her gift is to write about them without cliché and without being patronising – something you only realise is rare (among British writers in particular) when you take a step back.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀̀, My Counterfeit Self by Jane Davis, A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvvette Edwards

Avoid If You Dislike: Stories that revolve around bereavement and loss.

Perfect Accompaniment: A cup of tea and the smell of freshly turned wood

Genre: Literary Fiction

Available on Amazon

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Where My Heart Used to Beat by Sebastian Faulks


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


This is an author I’d been meaning to read for some time and chose this book because I liked the historical element to the story. I must admit I fell in love with the writing style from page one, there was an easiness to the prose, almost a languid confidence that took the reader right to the heart of the action – be that WW2 trenches, 1940’s London or a Mediterranean island – without once tripping over the prose.

This book is cleverly constructed, it hops back and forwards, again with a confidence that carries the reader along in its presence. The protagonist is Robert Hendricks, an English doctor, whose memories of WW2 are a rich and varied story in themselves from tragic events to an intense love story, Hendricks is a walking novella. Add to the mix, his Mediterranean host, Alexander Pereira, and his tales of his time in WW1 with Hendrick’s father – a man who was a stranger to his son – and the trip through time becomes a gripping tale.

There’s so much to love here, and this is a writer who clearly loves his craft. The historical attention to detail was effortless. The characters sparkled with life and the narrative was clever and clinical and engaging throughout.

I’m so glad I took the plunge with this author and have already made plans for the next.


You’ll enjoy this if you like: Anthony Doerr, Ian McEwan, Rose Tremain.


Avoid if you don’t like: War stories and personal journeys.


Ideal accompaniments: Iced tea and salad Nicoise.


Genre: Contemporary


Available on Amazon



Wednesday, 30 May 2018

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, by Imogen Hermes Gower

Review by JJ Marsh

What We Thought:

Two earthly lives intertwine, drawn to each other by creatures of the sea.

In the 18th century, women must be either lucky or clever. Angelica Neal is a courtesan, experienced in the arts of love, protected by her madam until one client takes her under his protection.
Jonah Hancock is a Deptford merchant, risking all he has on sea voyages to Macau and Java to procure fine china and profitable cargo.

His captain returns, without his ship. He sold the Calypso for the most unusual curiosity. A dessicated, furious sea-sprite, the furthest removed from one's idea of a mermaid imaginable. Yet the dreadful husk strikes fear into the populace of London, drawing folk of all ages and social class to witness its death mask. Mr Hancock profits handsomely and finds himself drawn into a wholly different world. Mrs Chappell's 'nunnery' or well-regarded whorehouse wishes to host the mermaid for a week of revelries. Mr Hancock is guest of honour. Things do not go according to plan.

Historical fiction doesn't get much better than this. The author's sympathies with the lot of women and comprehension of class permeate every chapter. Limited opportunities, social judgement and the currency of beauty is a delicate balance for a woman with no means other than looks and intellect. The ladies refer to their genitals as 'the commodity'.

This book fascinates and wears its research lightly. Stays, pins, phaetons, milk-soaked sheaths and powder capes are as incidental as the weather. Yet the things-we-do-not-understand loom large over the novel.

Taking something from its rightful place will curse you and yours. Shifting from one status to another is fraught with difficulty. In the final analysis, one must feel content in one's confinement or be released.

Gower builds a London as it was, and a cast of characters so real, spiteful, snobbish, kindly, humble, capricious and arrogant, one cannot help but want more.

You'll like this if you enjoyed: Sarah Waters, Rosie Garland, Angela Carter

Avoid if you dislike: The grim injustice of the female situation in the 18th century.

Ideal Accompaniments: Millefeuilles and sweet wine, or freshly shucked oysters and brine.

Genre: Literary fiction, historical fiction

Available on Amazon

Connectedness (Identity Detective Book 2) by Sandra Danby


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: I absolutely adored this extremely well-written mystery-family saga. It’s the second in Sandra Danby’s Identity Detective series and I have not read the first (yet!), but this did not deter at all from my enjoyment.


Justine Tree, successful collage artist, asks identity detective Rose Haldane to search for the daughter she gave up for adoption in 1983.Will this terrible secret that Justine carries close to her heart threaten her art career?


The story is told mainly through Justine’s viewpoint, flitting effortlessly between present-day London’s art world to isolated Yorkshire, and the hot streets of Málaga, Spain in the early 80s, where Justine went to study art. And where she found love.


With her well-defined, sympathetic characters, layers of meaning, and sensual, all-engaging descriptions, the author takes us on a highly-emotional and gripping journey through the art world, exploring love, loss and human weakness, all coming together in a truly heartfelt conclusion.


Highly recommended to readers who enjoy a very well-written story.


You’ll like this if you enjoy: family mystery stories. Books by Maggie O’Farrell and Rachel Hore.


Avoid if you don’t like: emotional stories about love and loss.


Ideal accompaniments: jug of sangria and assorted tapas.


Genre: Literary women’s fiction.


Available on Amazon