Thursday, 29 January 2015

Saxon's Bane by Geoffrey Gudgion

Reviewer: JD Smith, author of historical fiction

What We Thought: Gudgion classes himself as a writer of contemporary fiction grounded in the past, and this book is certainly that. Opening with a car crash near the village of Allingley, Fergus Sheppard begins a journey of self-discovery and insight into the past as he's targeted for human sacrifice.

As Fergus comes to terms with and relives the events of the car accident, archaeologist Clare Harvey discovers the body of a peat-preserved Saxon Warrior and the skeleton of a female nearby. She surmises the warrior has been ritually killed, and at night she's having nightmares, reliving the days of the Saxons and their story. 

It's no surprise that Fergus' accident and the discovering of the Saxon warrior and linked. And as the festival of Beltane approaches, not everyone in the village of Allingley are as friendly as local girl Eadlin.

Although there's not as much past as there is present for my tastes, you cannot  help but become sucked into the world steeped in history and events which echo across the years. There's a little bit of everything, from action to love, accompanied by an obvious passion for horses.  

You’ll enjoy this if you like: time-slip novels, Labyrinth by Kate Mosse, horse-riding

Avoid if you dislike: 100% historical fiction, ritual sacrifice, quiet English villages

Ideal accompaniments: a pint of Hobgoblin, scampi fries, a warm blanket

Genre: time-slip, historical, contemporary

Available from Amazon

Ox Herding: A Secular Pilgrimage by Jackie Griffiths

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

What We Thought: Jae is dissatisfied with her life. Though she has a child, Chloe, and a partner, Jason, she lives with her parents, has no outside job and is at a crossroads. Distant and withdrawn, she accepts Jason’s suggestion they take time apart. Jae feels the urge to explore a spiritual journey and she sets off on this quest, visiting a type of fairground where various religions and ‘isms’ have set out their stalls.

As she goes from one to the next learning their beliefs and practices she comes to realise none of the organised religions are for her. Neither are Humanism, Existentialism and so on. She decides she must find and follow her own path. At home she has a picture of a man leading an ox (one of the zen ox herding pictures). This image takes on greater significance for her when she encounters the man and the ox on her journey.

This book – and I’m not sure whether to call it a novel or a spiritual treatise – starts off couched in the real world of Jae’s ordinary life. Very soon it ventures into a more fantastical territory, reminiscent at times of Alice in Wonderland. Nothing is quite as it seems and Jae must face and defeat her own demons in the shape of the ox and the young ox herder. Just as she seems to have gained wisdom she is brought down again and understands she has reached a false summit. There is still further she must go.

Jae’s journey is the journey of a seeker after truth; it is the well-documented journey of spiritual advancement and ultimate enlightenment. At times beautifully written, at times overladen with unnecessary adverbs, it is always intriguing and honest in its intent. The present tense of the narrative threw me a little at first. I know from my own writing experiments that this can serve to distance the reader. However, I soon got into the rhythm of it and it became less distracting as I was drawn into the story.

I believe this is a first novel and if so, it is an excellent effort. Though not a total adverb-hater (I believe all words have their place), I would advise the writer to resist their lure in future. This book would be sharper and just as vivid without most them.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Spiritual journeys, metaphysical narratives, zen.

Avoid if you dislike: Anything about religion or philosophy or fantastical adventures.

Ideal accompaniments: Crystal clear spring water.

Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Metaphysical Fiction, Religion & Spirituality.

Available from Amazon

Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill

Reviewer: JJ Marsh

What We Thought: O’Neill blends an unreal alternative world with an uncanny skill at describing real human interaction. In doing so, she raises some awkward questions.

frieda and all the other “eves” are nearing the end of School. None of them can read, but they are each expert in body consciousness, colour coordinated underwear, hairstyling and manipulation. Only months to go until they learn their fate: companion, concubine or chastity? Friendships are as false as nails, tears and anger are forbidden and there is always room for improvement. frieda did have a true friend once, someone she’d known all her designed life, but isabel has changed. And she got fat.

A deeply chilling novel of women as carefully bred commodities, whose initial outlandish premise grows increasingly sinister when the parallels to contemporary culture run uncomfortably close. The girls communicate via eFones, MyFace and VideoChat, they follow reality TV shows such as Charles and carrie Carmichael, they compete to be the thinnest, the prettiest, the glossiest, and they take their meds. Some more than others.

So many things about this world impressed me – the lowercase names, the wealthy ‘Inheritants’ who get to choose their females, the Huxley/Orwellian control over obsessive body image and peer judgement, the Nutrition Centre and Organised Recreation – but most disturbing of all were the cruel mind games inflicted by the girls on each other.

This book makes you think hard about a range of issues: gender, sexuality, self-awareness, religion, conditioning, the pressure on young girls and exactly how far away this alternative universe is from our own.

You’ll like this if you enjoyed: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, Rats by JW Hicks.

Avoid if you dislike: Sci-fi, sexual politics, young women

Ideal accompaniments: Gazpacho, sparkling water with lime juice and vodka, and Jerry Goldsmith’s soundtrack to The Omen.

Genre: Literary fiction, science fiction, young adult

Available from Amazon

Friday, 23 January 2015

Suspended Sentences: Three novellas by Patrick Modiano, translated by Mark Polizzotti

Reviewer: Rebecca Johnson

What we thought: Patrick Modiano won this year’s Nobel Prize for literature but I am sure I am not the only one who had not previously heard of him. These three novellas translated into English deal largely with memory and the way it constructs our lives and focus on a young man who catalogues the work of a famous and reclusive photographer; a boy who, with his brother, is fostered by a gang of circus artistes and criminals; and a young man who is fascinated by the story of a double suicide committed by two lovers many years previously. What they have in common is a meticulous detailing of Parisian streets and suburbs, a sense of evanescence and exclusion, the tangential intersection of lives in a city, and a questioning of identity and human subterfuge that is as unsettling as it is mysterious. Over the course of the three novellas, the same places are revisited and characters from one story reappear in another.

I found myself alternately drawn in and repelled by this world. One of the characteristics of Modiano’s writing is his use of precise physical detail – whether that be the plaid bathrobes of the young boys or lists of garages found in a certain quarter of Paris, or the addresses of each person photographed by the photographer earlier in his life. This serves to give the impression of bearing witness, almost of documenting evidence, and at the same time, creates greater mystery, as all these ‘facts’ prove nothing and do not pin down any kind of truth or conclusion. Often they are discarded by the narrator himself as worthless or too effortful to pursue further. It is as if a documentary history is being compiled to shore up memory that in fact serves instead to obscures any sense of the real life or essence of the character by irrelevance, repetition or overstatement, while life slips away elsewhere out of reach. Sentences are repeated and echoed – hence the suspended sentences of the title, which also seem to refer to the criminal underworld that borders the lives of the main characters, and to the nature of their lives – as if they are condemned to live in a kind of hiatus from moment to moment.

The cumulative effect is complex and interesting – particularly in the first two stories – but some might also find it wearing and irritating at times. And while the characters and their worlds are sometimes distant and ultimately unrewarding, yet I was drawn in by the themes and evasions, the absences and the nostalgic tone, and the sense of a weaving together of fragments to create the fabric of city life. Everything is defined by negativity and emptiness. The friends and guardians of the main character leave or are taken away and abandon him mysteriously at the end. Nothing is fixed, certain or palpable here, not the truth, not character or identity, not ‘realism’, not even the solidity of the city. The novellas are all constructed of little scenes or episodes, which could be shuffled around, almost like afterthoughts – or like photographs – in an artificial and arbitrary anti-narrative. In Afterimage, the first novella, there is talk of ‘black holes’ – episodes of life when identity seems to disintegrate. While in the second, Suspended Sentences, the adults’ lives seem utterly mysterious to the boys: they are always disappearing and reappearing, with hints and fragments that the boys try to reconstruct in their imaginations into a coherent story of what they do.

This idea of life and identity as a reconstruction from imagination and memory seems to be a recurring theme. Several times in all the stories the narrator imagines that something might have happened, or that someone’s name was this or that, and then it becomes so for the remainder of the narrative. The borders between imaginary worlds and reality are constantly broken down and he suggests that our own perception of reality is largely imagined from these memory fragments and surmises, rather than anything approaching a true account.

The resulting book is fascinating and profound and I can see why it might lead to the awarding of prizes. It is, however, also very anxious writing, and leaves a constant sense of shifting unease as the reader tries to piece together all the false starts and blind alleys and deliberate thwartings of narrative promise. It is also slightly surreal, in a very French kind of way. At times I was fascinated, at others I found the techniques dry and disturbing, both claustrophobic and empty at the same time. The final story, in particular, felt as if it had been written by someone with some kind of obsessive compulsive disorder. People in Modiano’s world are like ghosts, the living as much as the dead, who wander around the city’s more concrete physical presence, leaving only faint traces and official records of their existence, then disappear unexpectedly never to be seen again.

You will enjoy this if you like: Paris, Samuel Beckett, Kafka, Le Grand Meaulnes, Zazie dans le Metro, Nouvelle Vague cinema.

Avoid if you don’t like: Melancholy, frustration, modernist narrative styles, lack of a happy ending.

Ideal accompaniments: a whisky or Ricard and espresso with a pack of Gauloises in a seedy café-tabac on a rainy street that smells of rotting leaves, listening to the songs of Edith Piaf or Jacques Brel.

Genre: literary fiction

Available from Amazon

The King's Curse (Audiobook) by Philippa Gregory

Reviewer: Gillian Hamer, author of The Charter, Closure, Complicit & Crimson Shore (

Audiobook narrated by Bianca Amato.

What we thought: I’m a big fan of Philippa Gregory’s books, and think I’ve probably learnt more about Henry VIII and the history of the Tudors from her than I did from many years of schooling! However, it’s been more than a year since I last read any of her work, and since then I’ve fallen in love with Hilary Mantel, so I did wonder if her writing would still grip me. I needn’t have worried.

The King’s Curse is written from an original POV – that of Margaret Pole, daughter of George, Duke of Clarence, one of the few surviving members of the Plantagenet dynasty after the Wars of the Roses. In previous Tudor novels, including Mantel’s, Margaret has been a bit-part, hidden in the shadows of Queen Katherine or Princess Mary. Here, she takes front stage, and her story is as thrilling and brave as any of the female leads to come before her.

She was Lady of Ludlow during the period Arthur, Prince of Wales, took his new, young bride to live there. Having accepted a marriage, any marriage, following her family's defeat in the Civil War, Margaret Pole was at her lowest ebb. However, she made one very important decision in life when, after Arthur’s early death, she chose to stand by, and support, Katherine of Aragon. That decision dictated her life path, and bought her riches, power – and sorrow.

I loved the audiobook version of this novel, and think the narrator did a wonderful job in bringing the strength of Margaret Pole to life through the trials and tribulations of her life. Gregory’s writing may not have such flowing, charismatic prose as Mantel’s – but her gift for storytelling is her one true strength. I was immersed in the story, location and period in history – and you can ask for nothing more from historical fiction.

It won’t be another year before I read the next Philippa Gregory.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Religion, Royalty, warring families ... or anything Tudor.

Avoid if you don’t like: Henry VIII, infidelity, power-mad men and women, executions ... or anything Tudor.

Ideal accompaniments: A tankard of mulled ale and silver plate of sliced roast oxen.

Genre: Historical Fiction.

Available from Amazon/Audible here.

The Sadness of Angels by Jim Williams

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

What We Thought: I didn’t know quite what to make of this novel at first as it’s rather different from the other books by Jim Williams I’ve read. But then all Williams’ books are different, both from each other and from just about any other book you care to mention. It’s also some time since I read any Sci Fi (Asimov half a lifetime ago) and I generally avoid fantasy altogether (despite loving the fantastical when it’s couched in reality).

As I read on I found myself entering into a dream world, a barren land of strange creatures and bold yet vulnerable characters. This is a world of long Great Years where the sun barely rises above the horizon for generations at a time and people are either old to the point of immortality or rarely live beyond thirty. It is a disorientating world with hints of myth and legend, and a sense of some greater truth hidden beneath it all.

Destructive angels mingle with self-styled gods, evil sultans, mad emperors – devils in disguise. Opposing them are our heroes (and heroines) – novice priests of a mysterious Order which violently opposes those claiming to be descended from monkeys, filthy horsewomen who keep their men veiled, an ancient Mapmaker who travels the globe like the Wandering Jew, a half mythical princess of an icy land. A Game is being played but no one quite knows what the rules are or what the outcome might be.

A battle is fought against the Slavers, a rough bunch who round up anyone they can put to work and who curse in various bastard languages. Our heroes haven’t a hope of winning – and yet...

This is often a very funny book and one that conjures strange images. The animals, though having familiar names – horses, bears etc – have wheels and tentacles. They emit gases through anal vents and often sound vaguely motorised. The Monkey (the last perhaps of its kind) has green fur that glows and it witters through its anal vent. It made me think of a Furby.

The effect of all this is the disorientation of the mind (well, the mind of this reader anyway) – a disorientation that leads to a dreamlike state where anything can happen, and often does.

This is the first book in a series in which Williams intends to explore the implications for space travel by creatures with a human lifespan faced with the vast distances between planets.

I look forward to reading more of the adventures of this odd band of fellow travellers and having my mind bent further. My straining to find the meaning behind it all may just turn out to be the koan that flips me into enlightenment.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Mysterious dreamlike novels full of strangeness.

Avoid if you dislike: Anything that doesn’t strictly conform to genre standards.

Ideal accompaniments: Swirling electronic music mixed with a Bach fugue.

Genre: Sci –Fi, Fantasy, Literary

Available from Amazon

Friday, 16 January 2015

The House at Zaronza by Vanessa Couchman

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

What we thought: The House at Zaronza, a story of love, loss and conciliation, set on the island of Corsica in the early 20th century, immediately drew me in, and hooked me right to the end.

The story begins in the present, as Rachel Swift arrives at a guesthouse in Corsica in the hope of uncovering her past. But when she discovers a series of love letters between a schoolmaster and his secret lover, another story surfaces, and we walk straight into the life of a brave and remarkable woman of her times.

The author vividly brings to life the wild and rugged landscape of Corsica, and its people of that particular era, as well as deftly exploring WWI and its consequences. The characters are well-drawn and believable, the storyline intriguing and fascinating, and the descriptions beautiful. I would highly recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction looking for a gripping, well-written read.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: family dramas set against stunning scenery and a WWI backdrop. 

Avoid if you don’t like: emotionally-charged stories with feisty heroines.

Ideal accompaniments: roasted wild boar seasoned with maquis’ herbs, accompanied by a glass of robust red wine.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Wrote for Luck by DJ Taylor

Reviewer: JJ Marsh

What We Thought: An unusual collection of stories which offers a zoom lens onto a set of human interactions. Reading these pieces is like seeing pictures from an Edward Hopper exhibition. Evocative, melancholy and mere slices of experience, so the reader finishes each story curious about the background, the characters and what happened next.

Because in the stories themselves, nothing much happens at all. Yet the atmosphere, the routine, the sense of entrapment and stasis evoke the same dreamlike feeling of wondering how on earth you got yourself into this situation. Habitual relationships, lukewarm likes and dislikes, aberrant behaviour, muted earthquakes and bored affection takes the characters through dinner parties, picnics, academia, village life, disappointments, awkward family gatherings and weather forecasts.

From the first story, Some Versions of Pastoral, these stories have a visual quality. Waiting for their guests in a Suffolk garden, we meet ‘Mr and Mrs Underwood, who, proud and statuesque, like the elders of some benighted South American tribe, finally discovered in their Amazonian bolt-hole’.

Taylor has a gift at inhabiting a head, regardless of age, gender or nationality, with such fullness the reader’s loyalty is absolute. In the title story, Wrote for Luck, you’re Lucy, desperate to shake up suburban Wimbledon. You wince all the way through Birthday Lunch, feel capable of subtle savagery throughout Blow-Ins and grow bitter in Wonderland.

The stories are crafted with deceptive skill, so much so you think you could be overhearing a conversation in a coffee shop. Curiosity engendered by the situations, natural dialogue and plausibility of characters make these vignettes feel uncomfortably familiar. Like a master chef, Taylor’s brilliance is extracting the essence by reduction.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Kazuo Ishiguro, Lorrie Moore, Annie Proulx

Avoid if you dislike: a lack of action, introspection, ennui

Ideal accompaniments: Crudités with a selection of dips, chilled white port and Philip Glass

Genre: Short stories

Available from Amazon 
Available from Galley Beggar Press

The End of the Wasp Season by Denise Mina

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What we thought: When Denise Mina’s Gods and Beasts won the 2013 Theakstons Old Peculier crime novel, I have to admit, I had never heard of her. I had fallen in love, that year, with Peter May’s Lewis Man, and was somewhat peeved he didn’t win. And though I’d watched BBC Scotland’s excellent dramatisation of Field of Blood, I hadn’t made the connection with Mina.

So once I discovered that her previous novel, The End of the Wasp Season, had also won the award in 2012, I thought it was high time I found out what the fuss was about. I wasn’t disappointed!

The End of the Wasp Season begins with the isolated home of a young woman being invaded by two schoolboys. Before they reach her bedroom, she manages to dial 999 and the brutal attack that follows is captured on an automatic recording.

This is the classic “two prisoner dilemma” – if two individuals are present at the crime, are they both equally guilty? And if both simply blame the other, can the truth ever be uncovered? Mina makes use of shifting points of view – predominantly that of the investigating officer, Alex Morrow, and Thomas Anderson, one of the two schoolboys – to play with both our sympathies and our suspicions.

Thomas’s father is a wealthy financier who has just committed suicide after losing vast sums of other people’s money – but not before his controlling behaviour has inflicted untold damage on his wife and children. Yet we observe Thomas showing kindness, taking responsibility for his little sister, Ellie. Could he really be capable of murder? Whose words can we trust?

Mina takes many elements familiar to the crime novel and subverts them. The fact that the victim is a sex worker challenges the prejudices of both police and reader. And Mina paints a picture of life in a tower block in a poor area of Glasgow that is a long way from the Benefits Street cliché.

Morrow herself is refreshing take on the fictional police detective – a youngish woman in a ordinarily happy relationship, pregnant now with twins and conscious of how that affects that way she is treated by her colleagues. Mina provides some wonderful descriptions of the moments of contentment that pregnancy delivers, the sensation of the twins moving inside her, the way they respond to stillness with bursts of activity – tender counterpoints to the darkness of the main plot.

The End of the Wasp Season has at its heart a violent and disturbing crime. The unravelling of that crime takes us on a voyage through some dark and twisted psychology. Yet there is a warmth about it too. Mina’s view of all her characters (except, perhaps, the dead financier) is profoundly compassionate. I am definitely going to be working my way through the rest of Mina’s books now.

You’ll enjoy this if you love: Val McDermid, Sheila Bugler

Avoid if you dislike: Stories involving brutal attacks on female victims

Perfect Accompaniment: A large pot of breakfast tea and some rough oatcakes.

Genre: Crime fiction

Friday, 9 January 2015

The Biology of Luck, by Jacob Appel

Reviewer: JJ Marsh

What We Thought: One of the greatest things about being a reviewer is that you get sent things you might never have discovered. The Biology of Luck is one such find.

This is the story of Larry Bloom, and one key day in his life as a tour guide of New York City. Larry has a date that evening with the woman he worships, Starshine, and he will offer his love. To prove himself, Larry has written a novel, fictionalising Starshine’s life. He called it The Biology of Luck and sent it to an agent.

In the morning, he receives a reply from the literary agency but does not open the letter. He will wait till he is in the presence of Starshine to know if he is a success or a failure. He will risk his day collapsing into double rubble for the hope one ‘yes’ might trigger a second.

The book follows Bloom on one extraordinary day when he swings from optimism and love for his city to maudlin misery which drives him to contemplate jumping off a bridge. Meanwhile, the reader follows Starshine through her day, which is fictionalised in the words of Larry Bloom.

It’s a daring experiment with form and in fact character, as we only grow to know the Starshine as seen through Larry’s eyes. But it works. It’s fabulously written and conjures a cast of secondary characters whom you’d happily follow into their own stories: Bone, the one-armed caretaker; Eucalyptus, the morbid ivory-carver; Colby, the trust-fund plastic-romantic; Jack, the fifty-four year old revolutionary who sees Amsterdam as the promised land; the Armenian florist who can read your luck in your face; Aunt Agatha who loves the feel of fruit and Ziggy Borasch in search of the Great American Sentence... I could go on.

The analytical self-absorption of our two protagonists feels like a hall of mirrors leading us with increasing tension to the big moment. This is a literary comedy, crammed with superb set pieces which border on farce, threaded with observations on New York, history and luck, accompanied by allusions from Homer to Joyce, and references from Whitman to Batman. An absolute delight from a truly impressive writer.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Ned Beauman, Woody Allen, Thomas Pynchon, NYC

Avoid if you dislike: Introspective main characters, unconventional narratives, present tense

Ideal accompaniments: Eat a pastrami and corned beef sandwich. Drink a Manhattan with rye whiskey. Then agonise over whether you’re being clichéd or postmodern.

Genre: Literary, humour

Available from Amazon

The Woods by Harlan Coben

Reviewer: Gillian Hamer, author of The Charter, Closure, Complicit, Crimson Shore. (

What we thought: This was my first Harlan Coben read and it’s always a joy to meet a writer you know you are going to re-visit time and again.

The book was one of those rare gems for me. An ‘unputdownable’ novel that had a superb balance of strong characterisation, excellent crime storyline, and an added level of humour that brought the novel to life. Some of the one-liners from lead protagonist, Paul ‘Cope’ Copeland made me laugh out loud.

All of his characters are very strong, likeable, three-dimensional and believable. There are also lots of them! Even the bit-part players were great, I particularly enjoyed his relationship with coroner, Tara O’Neill, who I think should have played a much bigger role!

As well as a complex crime story, there’s a nice echo of romance here too. Primarily about re-discovering a lost love. How many of us have wondered what became of our very first love and how would we feel if we met up again? Would we fall in love again or would the spark have died? These are questions dealt with extensively in The Woods, and it's rich material that’s handled well.

But it's also a love story in terms of family. Virtually every character in this book does something inconceivable in order to protect a family member. Good and bad. This is something that seems to be are the core of Coben's thoughts and he projects the intensity of emotion very well. Relationships are at the very heart of The Woods and it makes for some heart-thumping moments.

The Woods is an excellent piece of writing, and I am now biting at the bit to read everything he's ever written. Yet more to add to the TBR pile!

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Jeffrey Deaver, Val McDermid, Karin Slaughter.

Avoid if you don’t like: Dark crimes and gritty storylines

Ideal accompaniments: A steak burger and a cold lager.

Genre: Crime Fiction.

Available from Amazon

The Witch of Napoli by Michael Schmicker

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

What we thought: Set in Italy in 1899, The Witch of Napoli is inspired by the true-life story of the controversial Italian spiritualist physical medium, Eusapia Palladino (1854-1918). Palladino’s expensive performances involved, amongst other things, levitating herself and tables, materializing, and communicating with, the dead, and producing spirit hands and faces in wet clay. Some believe these things to be the result of trickery, however many parapsychologists regard Palladino as a baffling, impressive and genuine Spiritualist medium.

In this same vein, The Witch of Napoli tells the story of the Neapolitan peasant and medium, Alessandra Poverelli. When the flamboyant and volatile Alessandra levitates a table during a Spiritualist séance in Naples, a reporter––Tomaso Labella––photographs the miracle. This leads the rich, but skeptical Jewish psychiatrist, Camillo Lombardi to Naples to investigate. When Alessandra materialises the ghost of Lombardi’s mother, he funds a Continental tour to challenge the exclusive European academics to test Alessandra’s powers, in the hope that she will help him redefine, and rewrite, science. At the mercy of her violent husband, Pigotti, who wants to kill her, Alessandra sees Lombardi’s payment as a way of escape, and the means to start a new life in Rome.

Naturally, Alessandra hits the newspaper headlines, and the public is curious. Does she truly have these supernatural powers?

Nigel Huxley, the impeccably dressed and extremely confident upper crust detective for England’s Society for the Investigation of Mediums––who also has a reputation as a genius for detecting the mechanics of fraud––hatches a plan to try and expose Alessandra.

To say anything more about the story would be to spoil the ending of The Witch of Napoli, so all I shall reveal is that the investigation, the pressing question of Alessandra’s authenticity, and the lyrical narrative engaged me right from the beginning. The author’s personal experience as an investigative journalist and nationally-known writer on scientific anomalies and the paranormal also adds great authenticity to this story. I would highly recommend The Witch of Napoli to readers with an interest in the supernatural, and the ongoing debate over the existence of life after death.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: tales about supernatural powers

Avoid if you don’t like: historical fantasy stories about erotic mediums and dead people coming back to life.

Ideal accompaniments: Spaghetti con Fegatini with a tumbler of Chianti

Genre: Historical Fantasy

Available from Amazon

A Funeral for an Owl By Jane Davis

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

What we thought: A Funeral for an Owl is a multi-layered story that hooks you from the beginning, and which you don’t want to end.

The author gradually develops the four main characters––Jim, Ayisha, Aimee and Shamayal––to reveal well-crafted detail of each of their lives.

We first meet Jim in the present day, as a school teacher who is stabbed whilst trying to break up a schoolyard fight. Jim watches out, and risks his job, for Shamayal, a pupil who has a difficult home life. And another teacher, Ayisha––a stickler for the rules that say teachers cannot be friends with students––becomes caught up in the situation and must question her own moral standards.

The story then jumps back to the eleven-year old Jim, who is living in similar conditions to Shamayal, and we learn how Jim battles to better himself and his life, and about how his relationship with Aimee affects his future.

The story slipping between the past and the present, the language and descriptions are stunning, the characters come alive on the page and the storyline holds the reader’s interest right till the end.

A Funeral for an Owl is beautifully written, as are this author’s other books that I’ve had the pleasure to read, and I would highly recommend it for lovers of literary fiction.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: stunningly-written and cleverly-crafted, character-driven page-turners

Avoid if you don’t like: emotionally-charged stories

Ideal accompaniments: cup of tea, fish ‘n chips wrapped in newspaper

Genre: Literary Fiction