Wednesday, 28 June 2017

The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

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

What we thought: Where to start! There’s so much to love about this book and not just because of the strong writing and the beautifully woven plot and superbly drawn characters – but also the melting pot of short stories interwoven throughout the story that took on a relevance of their own.

I purchased this book because of the excellent reviews I’d seen on an online writing site, and the comments made by some members that this was their stand-out book of the year. And at a time when there is bad news every day and an overwhelming feeling of malaise, this is the exact book to read to take you away from reality and into a safe and comfortable environment you can’t help but enjoy.

The story begins from the point of view of retired author, Anthony Peardew, and although we don’t spend too much time in his company, it’s enough to build an empathetic bond between the writer and the character. Understanding and accepting his life is nearing its end, Anthony makes some life changing decisions – not only for himself but also for his PA, Laura.

Anthony is what would today be called a hoarder. His study has always been his private space, out of bounds to everyone, and when Laura finally enters following Anthony’s death – what she finds and the task she has been left with takes her life on a completely new tangent.

Anthony’s final wish is that Laura reunite as many of the lost things he has collected over half a lifetime to their rightful owners, no easy take when he has hundreds of items in storage. Each item has its own story, and the author cleverly winds them into the tale, so the reader knows much more about the origins than the team tasked to reunite them.

I thought the story was a really original concept, and a particular strength for me was the characters that led the reader along in a totally believable style. It’s hard, without giving too much away, to describe much about the ending, but that was another of my highlights. Highly recommended and I look forward to reading more from this hugely talented writer.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Jojo Moyes, Maggie O’Farrell. Kate Hamer.

Avoid if you don’t like: Lost things!

Ideal accompaniments: English afternoon tea with scones and jam.

Genre: Contemporary.

Available on Amazon

West End Quartet by Ariadne Apostolou

Review by JJ Marsh

What we thought:

A complex, unusual and fascinating saga of four women whose idealism and friendship is tested by change, distance and the intransigence of the outside world.

In 1980s New York, four women form an alliance. Flatmates and warriors against injustice, Group stands for self-actualisation, acceptance of criticism and a determination to change the status quo.

The book, as its title suggests, is a quartet of novellas, each following one woman's journey.

We begin in 1980 with Mallory - British-born of the upper classes - who throws away her silver spoon and joins a female collective in New York. She falls for passionate and fiery Juan, believing he loves her as much as she adores him. Starry-eyed and smitten as she is, she knows she can never compete with his true passion: the Sandinista-driven revolution in Nicaragua. When he persuades her to join the resistance, she rejects her friends and follows. It's an experience that will mark her for life.

In 2001, Juan's sister Jasmina (Mina) is a wife and mother trying to hold down a job as a lawyer, care for her sick husband and bring up her daughter, Skye. The crazy but kind neighbour adds to the pressure by insisting someone is poisoning her plants. All the while there is a dream, a fantasy of running a bookshop for children, called Fox & Crow. Mina's in therapy, finding her daughter difficult and when Mallory arrives for a visit, tensions come to the surface.

Part three follows Gwen, still in the same apartment in New York, who rekindles an almost romance. It's 2005 and Taylor, the boy from the lake, is a scholar. So is she. He's married. She isn't. She seeks him out and lures him into a collaboration, which develops into something more. Gwen discusses her dilettante behaviour with old friend Mallory, who counsels against busting up a marriage for fun. But Gwen's grief at the recent death of her father makes her self-absorbed to the point of cruelty.

Lastly Kleio, once leader of Group, is now settled on a Greek island with her daughter Sophia. Mallory wants to forge links and suggests Skye, Mina's rebellious child, should stay for a summer. Kleio agrees but soon encounters the brittle exterior around the teenager. It's an awkward cohabitation while Kleio has issues of her own to manage. Finally, Mallory manages to draw all four women into a reunion, both sweet and sad, with an eye on the future generations of women.

An intriguing span of lives and experiences from the 80s till now, and a reminder of how much we've both forgotten and achieved.

You'll enjoy this if you liked: Between Friends by Gillian Hanscombe or Seeking Sophia by Ariadne Apostolou

Avoid if you dislike: The details of female friendships and the internal gaze

Ideal accompaniments: Dr Pepper, a messy great kebab with falafel, yoghurt and chilli sauce, while listening to That's What Friends Are For

Genre: Literary fiction

Available on Amazon

A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman

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

What We Thought: Well, I rattled through this one. A Horse Walks into a Bar is a book that grabs you and takes you with it whether you want to go or not. And some of the time I wasn’t sure if I did want to go. Dov G is an Israeli comedian of the type that insults his audience – think Lennie Bruce but not so blue, or Frankie Boyle but not so political. He homes in on his audience’s frailties and picks at scabs – both theirs and his own.

His old friend from schooldays, now a retired Judge, has come to Netanya to see Dov’s performance. The pair haven’t seen each other for 40 years but Dov has begged the Judge to come and tell him what he sees. Is there something in everyone that cannot be hidden? If so, the Judge with his experience of studying defendants will be able to see it. In the crowd is a tiny woman who also knew Dov as a child. He was nice to her then but isn’t now. She cries at his barbed comments but refuses to leave.

When the jokes come they are not always funny and even when they are there is an unpleasant background taste. Along with his stand-up Dov tells the tale of how he went to his first funeral, even though he didn’t know who had died. The audience get restless; some leave. Those remaining call for more laughs. This is not what they paid to see.

While Dov strips himself and the crowd bare, the Judge recalls his own shameful part in an incident for which he is sure Dov will excoriate him before long. He also reminisces about his dead wife. He eats and drinks but cannot seem to fill himself up.

Dov’s jokes get fewer and less funny and more people leave. The tables in the supper club are emptying. The tiny woman, Pitz, is still there and a few other stalwarts. Dov punches himself, punishes himself, makes himself bleed. The revelation of the cause of his self-hatred is not totally unexpected but still, it could have been otherwise. He wipes the sweat from his brow, says ‘Goodnight Netanya’ to the almost empty club, and finishes what is probably his last ever performance.

This is an unusual and brilliant book. The stage show is presented visually so that we see Dov’s very physical performance. We feel his sweat and his pain. We dislike him but cannot stop watching him. Ultimately, there may be some kind of redemption – for him and the Judge.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Investigations into mental and physical pain.

Avoid if you dislike: Watching a man having a breakdown on stage.

Ideal accompaniments:
A nip of ‘Milk’ out of Dov’s big red flask.

Genre: General/Literary Fiction

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Best Murder in Show by Debbie Young

Review by JJ Marsh

What we thought:

Sophie Sayers moves to the small English village of Wendlebury Barrow, to take up the legacy of a beautiful country cottage. Against the wishes of her soon-to-be-ex Damian, who thinks small English villages are full of madmen and murderers. Sophie ignores him and begins a new life as a young, single writer embracing the peace and quiet of village life.

Her dream is to be a successful author, like her dear Great-aunt May, whose travel writing made her famous. The only problem is, she has no idea where to start. Her attention is distracted by getting a new job at the bookshop, meeting the locals and joining the planning committee for the highlight of the year, the village show.

All is going smoothly until one of the Wendlebury players is murdered on the Henry VIII and his Six wives float during the show. Suspects are everywhere Sophie begins to wonder if Damian's words were truer than she thought.

With a cast of eccentric characters such as the quirky local shopkeeper, the amiable drunk, the lecherous amateur dramatist, the bookseller with a secret and the writing group which fines members 10p per cliché, this gentle crime caper is lively, funny and the perfect antidote to watching the news.
What's more, it would make the ideal Radio Four serial or BBC Sunday evening programme.

You'll enjoy this if you like: The Janice Gentle books by Mavis Cheek, Agatha Raisin mysteries, Lilian Jackson's cat mysteries.

Avoid if you dislike: very English settings, cosy crime.

Ideal accompaniments: Scones and honey, 'special' tea and summer birdsong through an open window.

Genre: Crime

Available on Amazon

Winter Downs by Jan Edwards

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

What We Thought: Rose Courtney, nicknamed Bunch, is in charge of the Courtney estate while her parents are away. It is 1940 and the Ministry of Defence has commandeered Perringham House so Rose has to move into the Dower House with her grandmother. Her recently widowed sister Dodo is staying with her in-laws but is not happy there and would prefer to be with Rose.

When Rose comes across the body of her friend and former lover, Jonathan Frampton, in an attitude suggesting suicide, she does not believe he has taken his own life. To do so would be against all he believed. The Coroner and the police think otherwise, however.

Rose is determined to prove Jonathan was murdered and when further bodies turn up it seems she has been vindicated. Chief Inspector Wright now agrees with her, though his investigations are hampered by the army activity at Perringham House. Meanwhile, sheep are being rustled and there is a suspicion of black market activity in the community.

Set against a wartime background, which is well-conveyed, this novel is written in the style of early 20th century writers such as Josephine Tey, Dorothy L. Sayers et al. Though a little slow at the start, the characterisation is especially good and the descriptions are vivid and apt.

Rose (Bunch) is a strong and determined character and there is a suggestion of a relationship brewing with the policeman. There are shocks and discoveries for everyone and though occasionally a little loose, the plot moves forward once the book gets going.

The text is marred by a number of typographical errors, missing or extraneous words and the occasional grammatical error. I read an Advance Readers' Copy, however, and presumably these things will have been dealt with before publication.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Cosyish Crime, early 20th century crime novels.

Avoid if you dislike: Books written in the style of a former age.

Ideal accompaniments: Black market coffee.

Genre: Crime Fiction

Into The Water by Paula Hawkins

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

What we thought: I listened the audio version of this book, and have to admit I found it a little slow to get into because each lead character had its own narrator, but because they had different voices for the characters around them I found it confusing. However, by the end of the book, I was totally enthralled by the approach, and found it added an extra layer to the story.

Whilst I enjoyed the author’s bestselling novel, The Girl on the Train, I hadn’t been as blown away by it as some reviewers, so I came to this book with a degree of trepidation, hoping that she’d achieved success again with the ‘difficult second book.’

And I wasn’t disappointed.

After the mysterious deaths of a school girl and a local woman who was investigating the legend of the drowning pool in the local river, this novel retells the stories of a group of people surrounded with the tragedy. Lena lost her mother and her best friend in a double tragedy, and seems to be at the heart of the mystery, but when her aunt arrives to care for her, the story seems confusing and fractured. The police investigation follows two separate detectives, and I loved the way their paths crossed and twisted, and as a reader we were open to secrets from both sides. A really clever tactic that worked well for me.

Strong character, excellent paced, and twists and turns galore. A definite winner!

You’ll enjoy this if you like : Clare Mackintosh, Kate Hamer, Peter James.

Avoid if you don’t like : Complex storylines and multiple narrators.

Ideal accompaniments: BBQ meats and salad.

Genre : Contemporary.

Available on Amazon

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Kings and Queens by Terry Tyler

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: Kings and Queens by Terry Tyler is a unique and highly entertaining story that brings to life Henry VIII and his six wives via a contemporary setting. Through a clever storyline, each well-drawn character parallels the life and times of this infamous historical ruler. Each of the six wives were so different, and totally modern, whilst being the perfect reflection of her historical counterpart.

I really enjoyed how the multiple viewpoints gave me the opportunity to see Harry Lanchester (Henry VIII’s modern-day counterpart) through many different eyes. And, of course, not all of those were totally flattering!

This novel brought home to me the point that human behavior remains the same, across the ages.

While many readers of Kings and Queens will be well-acquainted with Tudor history, and more particularly, the fate of Henry VIII’s wives, I found it the way the author managed these stories in a modern-day setting turned the story into something quite unique and special.

I’m not sure what genre this book could be classified as. We are certainly enjoying alternative history and historical fantasy these days. So why not parallel history?

I love a compelling and gripping historical fiction novel. I also love good contemporary fiction, and Kings and Queens enormously satisfied these two readers in me. Highly recommended.

You’ll like this if you enjoy: Great fiction, both historical and contemporary.

Avoid if you don’t like: A modern take on historical stories.

Ideal accompaniments: Swan pie (kidding!) with a huge glass of mead.

Genre: Parallel History, I’d say.

Available on Amazon

The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

I read Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s enchanting The Girl of Ink and Stars when it was shortlisted for the Jhalak Prize earlier this year. I wasn’t a bit surprised when it won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize for 2017 – and was delighted when they brought forward the publication of her second book, The Island at the End of Everything, by way of celebration.

The two books share an island setting – and of course Millwood Hargrave’s wonderful, lyrical prose – but they have very different starting points. Joya, the floating island that is Isa’s home in The Girl of Ink and Stars, is a fantasy. Culion, where Ami’s story begins and ends, is a real island in the Philippines.

“There are some places you would not want to go. Even if I told you that we have oceans filled with sea turtles and dolphins, or forests lush with parrots that call through air thick with warmth. Nobody comes here because they want to. The island of no return.”

From 1906 to 1998, Culion became with world’s biggest leper colony. In the early part of the 20th C, thousands of those touched by the disease were forcibly transported to the island, their healthy children taken from them by government authorities to avoid further contamination. It is a story that has been repeated in varying forms in different parts of the world – from the Irish laundries to the Indian Residential Schools. A story of cruelty promulgated by arrogant authorities believing they know best and failing utterly to see the subjects of their experiments as whole people. Millwood Hargrave takes us into the heart of the story by showing it to us through the eyes of one of those children.

Butterflies dance over the cover of the book and butterflies form a thread that winds through the story. Mr Zamora – the man who comes to take the children away, and a villain quite as detestable as Dolores Umbrage – is a butterfly collector, someone who can only see the beauty of the butterflies once they are dead and pinned in one of his display cases. But it is the living butterflies who will connect mother with daughter, and Ami with her friend Marisol – the girl whose name means butterfly.

A story of love and trust, hope and reconciliation, told in language that is both simple and utterly poetic. A must-read for children and adults alike.

You'll Enjoy This If You Loved: The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave; My Name Is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson; The Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington Garimara.

Avoid If You Dislike: Stories of children taken from their parents. Confronting the realities of arrogant decision making.

Perfect Accompaniment: Dragon Fruit

Genre: Children's Fiction (9-12yrs)

Available on Amazon

The Secret Wife by Gill Paul

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

What we thought: My first read from this author and I thoroughly enjoyed The Secret Wife, with the use of past and present threads to carry the reader effortlessly though the tale of romance between cavalry officer Dmitri Malama and Grand Duchess Tatiana, the second daughter of Russia’s last tsar. And also threaded through the historical tale was a modern story of one woman’s journey while deciding whether to forgive her husband after an infidelity.

There was much to like in the storyline. I really enjoy tales that intertwine real-life history into fictional stories, it’s something I’ve done in my own writing, and I think the balance here is spot on. The attention to detail in the 1914-1923 chapters was excellent, the subject had clearly been well researched, and as the tension built in the story I was totally swept along by the pace and emotion in the writing.

Characters were well-developed and ready to step from the page, dialogue and style was superbly written, and the pacing held its own throughout. As I said, I am new to the author, but I have no hesitation in recommending this book and look forward to more from the author in the future.

You’ll enjoy this if you like : Amanda Hodgkinson, Elizabeth Chadwick, Barbara Taylor Bradford.

Avoid if you don’t like : Family secrets.

Ideal accompaniments: Vodka.

Genre : Contemporary.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Holding by Graham Norton

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

What we thought: I listened the audio version of this book, narrated by the author, which I found added to the overall enjoyment as Graham Norton clearly loves his book and enjoyed adding the character’s voices and animation.

A slow burn in the early chapters, I found this story became increasingly engaging as the mystery deepened and the characters developed. When a jumble of human bones are found at a building site near the small Irish town of Duneen, it’s down to local Garda to investigate the cold crime.

As ever, the ghosts of the past soon come back to haunt the villagers, and many long-buried secrets are revisited. As the story unravels, and the identity of the body is revealed, the tensions builds to a point where I was eagerly awaiting the next chapter.

Norton writes in an engaging style that suits the book. Atmosphere, setting and characterisation all work very well, with an added layer of dark humour and human observation which I found superb. Other than an odd aversion to any kind of POV, I had little criticism with the pace of style of the writing, and the story held my attention throughout.

I’ve no doubt this book will have its negative reviews, but I admire anyone who can finish a novel of this quality, and for those who enjoy cosy crime mysteries, this will suit their tastes. I’d recommend this read and hope we see more of Garda P.J. Collins after his move to Cork and promotion to CID.

You’ll enjoy this if you like : MC Beaton, Deidre Purcell, Kate Hamer.

Avoid if you don’t like : Ireland.

Ideal accompaniments: Cheese and potato pie with a pint of Guinness.

Genre : Contemporary.

Available on Amazon

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

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

What We Thought: Every now and then a book comes along that is written in a style unlike any other. This is one of those books. Reservoir 13 is intimate, conversational, gossipy, nosy, and reads at times like a soap opera, at times like a country music song with a story to tell. Neither of those last two descriptions accurately convey its brilliance though. While seemingly detached, the style gets right under the skin. Sometimes it seems too much and one wishes for a break into direct speech or action, but it goes relentlessly on, poking its nose into other people’s business.

A young teenager goes missing in the hills around Reservoir 13. The girl was last seen out walking with her parents but became separated from them. Naturally, the parents are suspected but there are others in the village with secrets to keep and information to hide. The girl’s friends have not revealed all they could have done about the relationships between them. There are those in the village who have dark interests in young persons. There are philanderers and secret lovers and those who never manage to connect. There are marriages, divorces and violence. There are births and deaths and illnesses – indeed, all life is here. And underlying it all is the girl who disappeared.

Time goes by and the girl is still missing. This is the story of how such an event impacts on a community, how they deal with it, respond to it and incorporate it into their reality.

Truly unique and a fascinating read.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Explorations of the effects of crime on a community.

Avoid if you dislike: Experimental Crime Novels

Ideal accompaniments:
A pair of binoculars and a net curtain to hide behind.

Genre: Crime Fiction

The Expansion by Christoph Martin

Review by JJ Marsh

What we thought:

A fast-paced thriller set in the world of international politics and big business, this book stands out from its peers for two reasons. One, its complex characters and their choices. Two, its fascinating setting – the eponymous expansion refers to the Panama Canal.

Max Burns, geomatic engineer, gets the opportunity of a lifetime when an old schoolfriend asks him to head a bid for the hugely competitive project of expanding the canal. He’s got his work cut out, not just in outperforming the other countries in the running, but dealing with his employers’ unusual managerial style. With parties, prostitutes and politics, he’s out of his depth.

When he meets Karis Deen, Smithsonian researcher, his feet touch bottom. She’s different, someone he can trust. But Karis is not exactly who she seems.

A crackling global adventure which dives into the murky waters of geopolitics, the business of construction, environmental effects, human greed and weakness. Add to this a colourful supporting cast of not-all-good-or-bad guys who alternately exasperate and delight, and you are onto a winner.
This demands to be read in one heart-thumping go.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: The Expats by Chris Pavone, Deception Point by Dan Brown or The Fear Index by Robert Harris

Avoid if you don’t like: Complex plots, international finance, surprises

Ideal accompaniments: Gasoline tea, fried plantain and a warm breeze blowing through the curtains

Genre: Thriller

Available on Amazon