Wednesday 30 August 2017

Twelve Days to Dream by Bradley Bernarde

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: Solicitor, Anne Reed, is a Jane Austen fan. She works hard but fantasises about living in the early 19th century and attending the balls and pump rooms mentioned by her heroine. While suffering a bad case of ’flu, she visits an odd apothecary’s shop where she is given a medicine to take. Next morning she wakes in her own flat in the Queen Anne house in London where she lives, to discover that she and it are now in the year 1816.

Naturally confused, she realises that the ‘Apothecary’ has granted her wish to experience life in Jane Austen’s time. She is now Lady Arabella Clyde, married to Sir Andrew, who bears a striking resemblance to her colleague Andrew Hargreaves, her senior partner’s son. As her relationship with that Andrew was difficult, she finds the prospect of matrimonial relations with this Sir Andrew disconcerting.

The Apothecary visits Anne and tells her she will spend a year in the past but this will only amount to twelve days in her modern life, where the real Arabella will take her place. Under the guise of having lost her memory in a fall, she tentatively begins her life in Georgian times.

Anne meets Arabella’s friends, relatives and servants and must pick up what information she can about her new life and the woman she is supposed to be. She makes various discoveries about Arabella and her companion Hortense, an overbearing Frenchwoman, and about the strained relationship between Arabella and Sir Andrew. Anne is, at first, homesick and desperate to return to her own times. Life in 1816 is not as glamourous as she had imagined. The Apothecary tells her she must remain until November 1817.

Though she never gets to meet Jane Austen, Anne has various adventures and eventually comes to enjoy her new life. She makes peace with Sir Andrew and grows to care for him and her friends. As November looms, she finds herself reluctant to return to the 21st century.

The transitions in time are plausibly done and the period detail rich without seeming research-heavy. Characterisation is good and the protagonists are all changed by circumstances. Occasionally, a little more detail would have been welcome – a ball comes and goes without much description – and more information on Hortense and her strange powers would have been interesting. If you are a fan of timeslip novels, however, this one certainly fits the bill.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Georgian Romance, Georgette Heyer etc

Avoid if you dislike: Timeslip novels.

Ideal accompaniments: A hot posset.

Genre: Timeslip Fiction/Light Romance

Available on Amazon

Out of Heart by Irfan Master

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

When Adam steps into his estranged father’s shoes and takes on the man’s role of washing his dead grandfather’s body, he discovers that his Dadda’s dying wish was that his heart should be given away for transplant. Adam cannot understand why he would do this, especially without telling anyone. And when the recipient, William, turns up on their doorstep, things can only get more complicated.

Adam is a regular teenager (one who just happens to be Muslim). His mother is a single parent working hard to support them. He’s estranged from his father, and his cheerful little sister’s refusal to speak hints at something traumatic in the past.

He’s also an artist. He sketches all the time, trying to make sense of a world that continually baffles him. His art teacher appreciates his talent – though she knows probably won’t help him pass exams. And he’s earning the grudging respect of the graffiti crew from the old train yard.

William’s arrival, unsettling as it is at first, seems to provide them all with an anchor. But there are those on the outside who misinterpret their relationship and are bent on causing trouble.

And then there’s Laila, the girl Adam adores but to whom he can never seem to say the right thing.

At times it seems as if the weight of the world is on Adam’s shoulders, but maybe he is not quite as alone as he thinks. Out of Heart is a wonderful exploration of friendship and family, love, loss and trust. Like all the best of YA, it confronts troubling subjects in a way that is uplifting but not sentimental.

And I must mention the stunning gold-on-black cover that makes you want to reach out and hold the book in your hands.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Finding Violet Park by Jenny Valentine, Orangeboy by Patrice Lawrence, Pig Heart Boy by Malorie Blackman

Avoid it you dislike: Stories addressing bereavement / organ transplant

Perfect Accompaniment: A mug of masala chai.

Genre: Young Adult

Available on Amazon

Wednesday 23 August 2017

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Reviewer: JD Smith, author of Tristan and Iseult and the Overlord series

What we thought: Then She Was Gone describes the sudden disappearance of Ellie Mack; a beautiful, fifteen year old golden girl with her whole life ahead of her.

The effect upon her family is both heartbreaking and unsurprising as her parent's marriage disintegrates and the effects of Ellie's disappearance leaves a damage rippling through the years.

And then, ten years later, Ellie's mum, Laurel, meets Floyd, and the beginning of a happy future glow on a barren horizon. But when Laurel meets Floyd's youngest daughter, Poppy, the past comes racing back.

Poppy looks just like Ellie.

You think you know the end, you think you know all the answers; you think the conclusion obvious. But as you race through the pages, you realise there's more to Ellie's disappearance, and the secrets unfold to the very end.

The prose is dynamic and fluid and Jewell's characters keep you engaged. You will feel their confusion, loss, sadness and hope for a future not as bleak as the past.

You'll enjoy this if you like: Gone Girl, Girl on a Train, anything else with 'Girl' in the title.

Avoid if you dislike: Mysteries, books which rely a little heavily on coincidence, missing girl stories.

Ideal accompaniments: Rhubarb and custard tea, pistachio nuts and a footstool.

Genre: Thriller

Available on Amazon

Irina's Story by Jim Williams

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: Set in Russia, Irina's Story follows the history of the Uspensky family from the end of the 19th century to the fall of Communism. The Uspenskys, comfortably well-off from the efforts of the previous generation, live in relative luxury in their country estate at Babushkino. Irina tells their story, and hers, through the eyes of various members of the family. There is Xenia, Irina’s mother, her father Nikolai, the eldest Uspensky son, and Adalia, Irina’s idealistic aunt, plus several other Uspensky siblings. There is also her father’s cousin, Alexander, and his wife Tatiana. The history of the family reflects the history of Russia from the last years of the tsar, through the soviet era and Stalinist horrors, and into the time of nascent capitalism and gangsterism.

Born deformed, Irina is often considered stupid and is overlooked. Her father, seared with guilt because he has created a monster, can barely bring himself to touch her. As she grows, however, she shows herself to be so much more than she at first seems. Her friendship with a local boy, whom she meets when they are children, lasts for decades though they rarely see each other and the love Irina hopes for never materialises.

As the years go by the family falls into disarray. They suffer through both wars, the coming of the Soviet Union, and the Stalinist purges. Falling foul of the rapid changes of ideology and government they lose all they have. Poverty, squalor, drudgery and labour camps await them.

Irina has access to letters, diaries, overheard conversations and stories told to her by others. What she does not directly know, she fills in from imagination and experience. In her later years she looks after a young family member though unsure of who he actually is – a great-grandson of one of her brothers perhaps? Through him she witnesses the birth of a new corrupt and violent Russia. In her nineties now, she has seen almost a century of changes, most of them unwelcome.

This book reads like a Russian novel on a grand scale, and is interspersed with Irina's more up to date commentary. It is filled with insights into the emotional and psychological lives of the characters, particularly the women, and into life in general. It is both a fascinating account of recent Russian history – incorporating social, economic and military details – and a series of personal histories, all told with verve and colour. At the same time it comments on itself and the nature of memory and writing. Irina’s underlying humour and toughness prevent it from being either sentimental or depressing.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Books that span decades. Plenty of historical detail.

Avoid if you dislike: Russian novels.

Ideal accompaniments: A warm blanket – it’s chilly in Siberia.

Genre: Historical/Literary Fiction

The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown by Vaseem Khan

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

Ganesha: a riddle inside an enigma wrapped inside an elephant.

The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown is the second book in Vaseem Khan’s Baby Ganesh series

Inspector Chopra has at last retired. He and his tireless wife Poppy have opened a restaurant for Mumbai’s police force, and Chopra has set up the Baby Ganesh Detective Agency. Ganesha himself, the baby elephant Chopra mysteriously inherited from his uncle, has settled happily into the yard behind the restaurant. But finding lost cats and uncovering cheating husbands is not supplying Chopra with the same excitement that policework once did.

When the famous Koh-i-Noor diamond is stolen from the crown jewels during a rare visit to India, and an old police-colleague-turned-security-expert is accused of being complicit in the theft, Chopra is once more thrust into the thick of a dangerous investigation. And where Chopra goes, Baby Ganesha is rarely far behind.

Chopra and Ganesha have a couple of new helpers this time – ex-policeman Rangawalla and a young street urchin, Irfan. And of course Poppy remains a force to be reckoned with. There may be some dubious characters now in charge of the Mumbai police, but with Chopra on the case, you can be certain that justice will prevail.

In this classic locked room mystery that playfully references the Sherlock Holmes short story, ‘The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,’ Vaseem Khan conjures the same charm and humour that he brought to The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, poking fun at Mumbai life while neatly exposing its darker side. 

This is an ensemble of characters you will fall in love with, and a series you will want to return to again and again. Good thing, then, that Book 3 (The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star) is already out there.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan, The Necessary Deaths by David C Dawson, Inspector Montalbano by Andrea Camilleri, Bad Apples by JJ Marsh

Avoid If You Dislike: Crime Fiction laced with gentle humour

Perfect Accompaniment: Butter chicken with tandoori roti

Crime Fiction

Available on Amazon

Wednesday 16 August 2017

Adults in the Room, by Yanis Varoufakis

ReviewerJJ Marsh

What we thought:

This reminded me of Hillary Mantel's Wolf Hall. It's not historical or fiction, but it contains all the intrigue and political machinations to be found in the court of Henry VIII. Yet the tyrant at the heart of this story is no capricious king who reforms history to suit himself. The ruthless creature wrecking lives and crushing countries is a many-headed Hydra formed by self-interested individuals colluding in maintaining the status quo.

It's rare to find a non-fiction book about contemporary politics and economic imbalance that is so fascinating you cannot wait to read what happens next. But Adults in the Room is just such a thing. We know what happens in the end, which gives it a tang of classic tragedy, but still it is impossible not to hope.

Yanis Varoufakis is an economist academic and left-wing politician, who served briefly under the Greek Syriza government as Minster for Finance. His brief was to renegotiate the crippling debt Greece owed the troika - the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission.

His ideas are clearly stated, his ambitious plan to get Greece out of a debt spiral that would damage Europe as a whole is coherent, and his habit of recording in detail every conversation and meeting provides for an alternately thrilling and appalling insight as to what goes on behind institutional doors.

Finally, Greece put a question to its people - more austerity or a different approach? Yes or No?

If you have concerns about the state of the world, its institutions, bankers, politicians and media, you should read this book. Then you will appreciate why the only people to blame are those who parrot such phrases as "Too big to fail" and throw their shoulders to a wheel they know will inevitably come off.

You'll enjoy this if you like: Economic analyses, politics, the writings of George Monbiot, or Charles H. Ferguson's film Inside Job.

Avoid if you dislike: Europe, finance, thinking.

Ideal accompaniments: A plate of assorted pickles, a crystal-clear glass of ouzo to which you gradually add water, and Lost in the Stars by Kurt Weill

Genre: Non-fiction

Available on Amazon

The Breakdown by B.A Paris

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

What we thought: This book goes straight into my top ten reads of the year so far! Totally gripped from start to finish (despite a drop in pace in the middle section.) And the end was a delight! I’d give this one six stars out of five if we were that kind of review site!

In the follow up to bestseller, Behind Closed Doors also from this author, we follow the story of protagonist, Cass Anderson, who, over the course of one ordinary summer goes from a wealthy, confident, school teacher – to a drug-dependent, paranoid shadow of her former self.

The central question of this book … is why?

When Cass finds herself eye-witness to the murder of local woman she had recently befriended, she slowly slides into a pit of lies, guilt and confusion that shatters her life. She turns for support to her husband, Matthew, and best friend, Rachel, who despite their best efforts of understanding seem unable to persuade Cass her life isn’t falling apart. With her mother’s previous history of dementia, Cass finds no other answer to her memory loss than she must be following in her mother’s footsteps.

A series of chance encounters at the end of the summer, set in motion a shocking chain of events that might finally set Cass on the road to recovery if she can only find the strength to see them through.

Written in first person point of view, I found the proximity between reader and protagonist really powerful, and each cruel blow dealt to the character felt real to me. As expected from this author, the twists, turns and red herrings were superbly managed – and despite an early inkling I had it sussed, I was never sure enough not to read on. The end was subtle rather than shock and awe, which was another point in the book’s favour and nice to go against the grain for this genre.

I stayed up late into the night to finish this book, because once the story began to unravel, I couldn’t put it down. I can offer no more higher praise than that. A must read novel in my opinion for anyone who loves their crime and thrillers.

You’ll enjoy this if you like : Clare Mackintosh, Linda Green, Gillian Flynn.

Avoid if you don’t like : Coping with depression.

Ideal accompaniments: Mature cheddar with cheese biscuits and a dry white wine.

Genre : Psychological Thriller.

Available on Amazon

Why I Am No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

Last year, I read and reviewed Ta-Nahisi Coates brilliant extended essay, Between the World and Me. But while it hit me in the solar plexis, I was conscious that it left me some wriggle room. This was a Black American man talking about the state of race relations in America. I could tell myself that was ‘over there.’ Britain was a different country and its problems were different.

Why I Am No Longer Talking To White People About Race, written by Black British woman, Reni Eddo-Lodge, gives me no such wriggle room.

The title itself is deeply ironic. It was originally the title of a blog post written by Eddo-Lodge in 2014, when, exhausted by the constant pushback she received every time she raised the question of race, she wrote, “I can no longer engage with the gulf of an emotional disconnect that white people display when a person of colour articulates their experience.” The irony is that, the response to the post has been such that, in fact, Eddo-Lodge now spends most of her time talking to white people about race. This book is a distillation of those conversations.

In a series of eloquently argued chapters, Eddo-Lodge addresses (among other things) the erasure of Black Britons from the portrayal of British history, the nature of white privilege, the failure of white feminism to engage with issues of racism, the often overlooked intersections of race with class – and what white people should be doing to tackle racism.

At one point in the book, Eddo –Lodge interviews the former head of the British National Party. My skin runs cold at the thought of speaking directly to someone who holds views like that. I cannot conceive what it must be like for a young Black woman. Yet here again, Eddo-Lodge rebukes my failure of imagination – pointing out that at least people of colour know where they are with those who hold far-right views. The real hurt comes when those they imagine to be allies let them down - again.

It strikes me frequently that there is a disconnect between the language people of colour use when discussing racism, and the way that white people hear that language and use it themselves. Contrary to what most discourse by white people seems to assume, racism is not simply about hatred and bigotry, whether or not combined with power. Nor does privilege imply being born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth or having one’s path through life strew with roses. As Eddo-Lodge says, “Structural racism is never a case of innocent and pure, persecuted people of colour versus white people intent on evil and malice. Rather it is about how Britain’s relationship with race infects and distorts equal opportunity ... white privilege is the absence of the consequences of racism.”

The analogy I have worked out goes something like this:

Two people are climbing a steep hill together. They are both dealing with the same steep ascent, the same boulder-strewn path, the same boggy patches and the same fallen trees. But there is also a cloud of midges. One of the two climbers gets the odd bite along the way, but is largely left alone. The other is constantly bitten, until their skin is a mass of itchy welts and they scream, “These bloody midges are eating me alive.” The other climber, with only a couple of bites, replies, “Come on, it’s just a few insects. Man up. You’re being too sensitive.”

The cloud of midges is the myriad, often tiny, elements of bias and discrimination that together create structural racism. Privilege is the white person’s relative immunity to those bites. Complicity is the failure to acknowledge the midges are there, or to do anything to combat them.

I want to put this book into the hands of every good-hearted, liberal-minded white person I know and say, ‘please read this; please try and understand. We are all complicit, but we don’t have to be.’

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved:
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahisi Coates; The Good Immigrant, ed. Nikesh Shukla; Country of Refuge, ed. Lucy Popescu

Avoid If You Dislike: Having the scales fall from your eyes – but read it anyway! We all need to.

Perfect Accompaniment: Open ears, an open heart, an open mind.

Genre: Non-Fiction

Available on Amazon

Wednesday 9 August 2017

Fatal Forgery by Susan Grossey

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

What we thought: One of the best things about reviewing for Bookmuse is that you get to read books that would otherwise pass you by … and that is certainly the case with this author.

Although I do enjoy some historical fiction, this period wouldn’t have been my personal choice, and it would have been a real shame to miss out on the first book in this series. Crime fiction meets Regency London and it’s a real winner!
This is the first book featuring the sleuthing powers of Constable Samuel Plank. Here he is tasked with discovering why a wealthy, reputable banker would risk the gallows by forging customer’s signatures and stealing hundreds of thousands of pounds. Can Plank uncover the truth behind the actions and in doing so save a man’s life … or is there something even more sinister behind the trail of events?

The book was a real page turner. Not high in gore or drama as many modern day crime fiction tends to be, but still full of suspense and tension throughout. I liked the way the author wove in the details of the period, using her research cleverly to settle the reader into the story. And I also thought the pace and plotting were spot on – the twist at the end was very well thought out.
Characters were also very solid, believable enough to step from the page, and suited to the language and style of the writing. Constable Plank is a real asset, this author is a real find, and I look forward to reading more books in the series.

You’ll enjoy this if you like : Dorothy L Sayers, PD James, John Marrs.

Avoid if you don’t like : Regency period and police drama.

Ideal accompaniments: Pigs trotters with a pint of ale.

Genre : Crime.

Available on Amazon

A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

A Necessary Evil is a follow up to Abir Mukherjee’s debut novel, the historic crime thriller, A Rising Man, which was shortlisted for the Jhalak Prize.

A Rising Man was set in Calcutta in 1919, at a time when the Quit India movement was beginning to gain ground and the British were cracking down – often with extreme violence – on any hint of rebellion. The book established Mukherjee’s main characters – Captain Sam Wyndham, recently widowed and a WWI veteran, a new recruit to the Calcutta police, and his Harrow-educated, Bengali Detective Sergeant, Surendrenath (Surrender-not) Banerjee,.

A Necessary Evil takes a slight side step from the politics of British India into one of the fabulously wealthy, pseudo-independent princely states, Sambalpore. Mukherjee states that the book was inspired by the Begums of Bhopal, a dynasty of Muslim queens who ruled from 1819 to 1926. Indeed, the book gives a fascinating glimpse into the power wielded by the royal wives and concubines from the seclusion of the zenana.

Mukherjee paints a wonderfully detailed picture of a time in Indian history that is often overlooked. Every page sings with local and period detail. Sam, the outsider, is our eyes and ears in this setting, noticing what others take for granted while learning to recognise his own blind spots, while Surrender-not is both Sam’s guide and ours. But that detail is never allowed to get in the way of the intrigue and action that drive the fast-moving plot – one that this time includes assassination, diamond mines, palace intrigue and a tiger hunt!

Mukherjee has plans to extend this series over several years, tracking the decline of  the British Raj and the rise of independent India. I, for one, can’t wait to follow Sam and Surrender-not on their journey. I highly recommend you come along for the ride.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved:
A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee, The Crimson Petal and The White by Michel Faber, Finding Takri by Palo Stickland

Avoid If You Dislike: Descriptions of Big Game hunting or opium addiction.

Perfect Accompaniment: Omelette with plenty of fresh chillies, and chai.

Genre: Crime, Historical Fiction

Available on Amazon