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

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Yesterday by Felicia Yap

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

In the crowded field of Crime Thrillers, it is not easy to find a truly original concept, but Felicia Yap might have done just that.

I first came across Yap last year, when the opening chapter of Yesterday was one of two pieces chosen for the National Academy of Writing’s Public Edit. I loved the idea behind the book and told her so. Just a few weeks later, I wasn’t a bit surprised to learn that it had been the subject of a bidding war at the 2016 London Book Fair.

I am thrilled, therefore, to have the chance to read an Advance Review Copy of Yesterday.

In Yap’s world – in other respects indistinguishable from ours – people have total vivid recall of everything that happened to them in either the previous 24 hours (Monos) or 48 hours (Duos). Beyond that, they remember only the facts they record at the end of each day in their iDiaries.

Into this mix comes a woman whose memories work like ours. Sophia remembers the hurt that was done to her twenty years earlier, and she is bent on revenge. So why is she the one who ends up dead? And how can detective Hans Richardson solve her murder when he has less than twenty-four hours before his memories are wiped?

The story unfolds from four points of view: the detective, a husband and wife whose lives are somehow entangled with Sophia’s, and Sophia herself, speaking from the pages of her iDiary. The text is also peppered with newspaper articles and other extracts that serve to flesh out this world for us.

It’s good to see publishers embrace a book that dares to cross the boundary between Crime Thriller and SciFi. Yap has worked through the ramifications of her world – from the practical aspects of life through the social mores and hierarchies that develop, to the impact on love itself. The reader can relax and go along for the ride, knowing they are in confident hands.

Like Matt Haig’s The Humans, this debut is a fun read that manages to sneak in some penetrating questions - in this case, about how memory affects both our relationships and our sense of self. In the end, the least human character among them is the one most like ourselves.

This is the first of a trilogy and I look forward to seeing where Yap takes this next.

Watch Yap discuss her writing secrets with fellow authors at the Triskele Lit Fest, Sept 2016.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: The Humans by Matt Haig, The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas, The Lives and Loves of a She Devil by Fay Wheldon

Avoid if You Dislike:
Crossing genres

Perfect Accompaniment: Bacon sandwich and a coffee

Genre: Crime, Sci Fi

Available on Amazon

False Rumours by Danae Penn

Review by JJ Marsh

What we thought:

For lovers of history, this book will steep you in the society, politics, culture and environment of the fifteenth century of France and Britain. 

Belina Lansac works in the cathedral at Condom, a well-known stop for the pilgrims on the route to Santiago in Northern Spain. When her detective husband is summoned away, he leaves her with a task. Find out who poisoned the pilgrim. 

Belina is left to her own wits as she attempts to piece together any information about this atypical 'pilgrim' with precious coins sown into his cloak and suspiciously smooth skin. Her attempts are aided by a foreigner, Philippe Barvaux, a charming and well connected Fleming, whose interest in Belina and her activities are intense.

As her investigations progress, she begins to appreciate how complex the web of connections and political intrigue are and how the trail of influence goes all the way to the top. Powerful men and women are scheming to gain the throne of England and if that means murdering two young princes, so be it. Belina holds their fate in her hands.

A rich, dense story of cunning machinations, set in a fully realised historical setting, brought to vivid life through the eyes of Belina. Every element from weather to architecture feels authentic and vivid, as if you are stepping back in time. Hence the tension of the plot becomes as real as any detective story. One to absorb slowly and enjoy the attention to detail, before emerging stunned and blinking back into reality.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: The Auberge des Anges series by Liza Perrat, David Penny's Thomas Berrington historical mysteries or the intrigue and plot of Ann Swinfen.

Avoid if you don’t like: History and period detail, gradual plot development.

Ideal accompaniments: Honeycakes, a carafe of Bordeaux and a few Franco-Flemish Renaissance tunes

Genre: Historical fiction, historical crime

Available on Amazon

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

The Good Immigrant (ed: Nikesh Shukla)

How do I even begin to review a book like The Good Immigrant?

If you have been paying attention, you will know that the book began life as a crowdfunding enterprise on Unbound. As Shukla writes in his Editor’s Note, it exists “because <immigrants > are done justifying our place at the table.”

The book is a collection of 21 essays revealing the reality of the immigrant experience in Britain today. Its authors are novelists, playwrights, poets, journalists, actors, comedians and teachers. It clearly touched readers, because it won the Books Are My Bag Readers’ Awards Book of 2016, beating both Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and The Girl on the Train. And yet it undeniably makes [white] readers uncomfortable too. When three of the authors spoke on a panel at the 2017 Hay Festival, audience members walked out when they were challenged to reform their own communities. <From a thread by @chimenesuleyman on Twitter, 30th May 2017>.

The title itself is a swipe at the notion of the ‘good immigrant’ – that imagined exception to the rule that allows us to go on denigrating the rest.

The essays are as varied as the backgrounds of the authors. Nikesh Shukla’s ‘Namaste’ takes on the casual, shallow cultural appropriation that results in such absurdities as a menu offering Chicken Chuddhi (literally Chicken Underpants). Author Chimene Suleyman’s ‘My Name is My Name’ recounts her Turkish Cypriot family’s tragic history. Journalist Kieran Yates describes the culture shock of returning to India in ‘On Going Home’. While in ‘Is Nish Kumar a Confused Muslim?’ the comedian discovers he has accidentally become an internet meme.

Reni Eddo Lodge (author of the recently published Why I Am No Longer Talking To White People About Race) – rebels against ‘respectability politics’. Teacher Darren Chetty describes the frustrations of convincing children that stories don’t have to be about white people. Coco Khan navigates the hazards of dating. Sabrina Mahfouz explores the relationship between immigration and the fashion industry. And Inua Ellams describes a journey across Africa pursuing the viral hashtag #IfAfricaWasABar.

If any group is erased more than any other in modern Britain, arguably it is those from East Asia (China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, Thailand...) Actor Vera Chok and author Wei Ming Kam both tackle cultural stereotypes, while actor and screenwriter Daniel York Loh writes about the one childhood hero he felt he could identify with and how he lost his illusions.

If we British are tempted to feel smug that ‘at least we are not the USA,’ actor Riz Ahmed describes how, in the aftermath of 9/11, he was slammed up again the wall by the customs officer at Heathrow, and how he is still picked so regularly for ‘random’ searches at airport security he’s started to call some of the personnel ‘uncle’.

The book closes with poet and broadcaster Musa Okwonga growing weary of the constant expectation of gratitude. And indeed, as the book shows, if we take the scales from our eyes, the host country has as much and more to be grateful to its immigrants for – and shows it only too rarely.

This book is would be an important read at any time, but in a climate of increasing hostility to immigrants, when the country seems intent on putting up barriers instead of reaching out its hands, it is vital.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Country of Refuge (ed: Lucy Popescu) Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahisi Coates

Avoid if you dislike: having your preconceptions challenged

Perfect Accompaniment: A sample of world cuisine you’ve never tried before (washed down with a slice of humble pie)

Genre: Non-Fiction, Essays

Available on Amazon

Her Deadly Secret by Chris Curran

Review by JJ Marsh

What we thought:
Curran's previous novels, Mindsight and Her Turn To Cry blend contemporary lives with the shadows of the past to unsettling effect. Her Deadly Secret creates the same insidious fear in the reader, building uncertainty and doubt in whom we can trust. Each novel is a standalone, so if this is your first, you have more treats in store.

Joe and Hannah's daughter is missing. Lily is only fourteen so they are in a blind panic. Naturally, the searchlight of suspicion falls on the family, turning up surprises. In a parallel storyline, Rose watches the news coverage of missing Lily, forcibly reminded of the loss of her own sister at a similar age. Murdered in the family home.

The two stories connect in a dark and uncomfortable echo, but it's not only the past which is threatened. The danger is present and closer than anyone realises.

The characters' determination to maintain a normal life despite their traumas draws the reader into the emotional tension and dials it up to breaking point.

This is book to devour in one greedy sitting, flipping the pages as the pace increases to the shocking conclusion. And if you're familiar with Hastings, you'll relish the detail of the setting. It adds both beauty and drama, rooting believable characters in a real place.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: Mindsight, Her Turn To Cry, The Ellen Kelly Series by Sheila Bugler or The Gold Detective Series by Gillian E. Hamer.

Avoid if you don’t like: Psychological drama, police procedurals, the agony of losing a child.

Ideal accompaniments: Bitter lemon with ice, fish and chips in newspaper and a sea breeze blowing through your hair.

Genre: Crime

Available on Amazon

Oppression by Dianne Noble

Reviewer: Liza Perrat, author of The Bone Angel trilogy (Spirit of Lost Angels, Wolfsangel, Blood Rose Angel) and new release, The Silent Kookaburra.
In the cold and foggy north of England, Beth tries, unsuccessfully, to prevent the abduction and forced marriage of 16-year-old Layla. She then defies her dominating and controlling husband, Duncan, and travels to Cairo. 
In the vast necropolis called the City of the Dead, she finds, and helps, Leyla, who is hiding from her abusive husband and inciting fellow Muslim women to rebel against the oppression under which they exist.
The author immediately drew me into this story of women battling the violence of men, both in the UK and Egypt, and their fight against traditions, religion and oppression. 
It shows us how women the world over can develop strong kinships despite their religion, race or upbringing. She also excellently evoked the political unrest in which Beth becomes caught up in, as well as the heat, squalor and smells of Egypt.
The reader can’t help but cheer on the well-drawn characters of Beth and Layla, and the other women in this story, in their battle. The realisation, once again, is drummed home of how fortunate I am not to live under such an oppressive regime.
This was the first novel I’d read by Dianne Noble, and I’m really looking forward to reading her other books. Very entertaining and educational!
You’ll like this if you enjoy: contemporary women's fiction set against exotic foreign backdrops.
Avoid if you don’t like: violence and injustice against females.

Ideal accompaniments: mashed fava beans on pita bread, washed down with mint tea.

Genre: Women’s Fiction, suspense.

Available on Amazon

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear by James Shapiro

Review by Catriona Troth

What we thought:
I first heard the name James Shapiro when I was lucky enough to interview the curators of the 2012 exhibition, Shakespeare: Staging the World at the British Museum. They had cited 1599: A Year in the Life of Shakespeare as an influential source and, inspired by that terrific exhibition, I bought the book.

1606, the follow-on book, again focuses on a single year – a remarkable one both for Britain and for Shakespeare.

As Shapiro notes, we think of Shakespeare as an Elizabethan playwright. But some of his greatest plays were written after the accession of James I, when as a member of the King’s Men, he had exceptional access to the goings-on at court.

1606 is three years into James’ reign. The country is still absorbing the shock of the Gunpowder Plot when, on the 5th November 1605, parliament and monarchy came within a whisker of being wiped out in a single night. In the year that follows that near miss, as the plotters are hunted down, Shakespeare writes not one, but three of his most important tragedies – King Lear, Macbeth and Anthony and Cleopatra.

Shapiro’s fascinating narrative painstakingly uncovers the source material for those three plays and shows how the dangerous politics of the times interweave with the plays - and with Shakespeare’s own life.

Even if you know the plays well, it is easy, at more than 400 years’ remove, to miss the subtle references that Shakespeare stitched into his texts. Indeed he seems to have been exceptionally politically astute as – unlike his contemporaries Ben Johnson and Christopher Marlowe – he seems to have stayed largely out of trouble while still providing powerful commentary on events unfolding around him. Shapiro rebuilds those lost connections and allows us to glimpse how the plays must have been received by their first audiences – inside the court and out.

A compelling read for historians and Shakespeare lovers alike.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: 1599: A Year in the Life of Shakespeare by James Shapiro; Shakespeare: The World As A Stage by Bill Bryson

Avoid if you dislike immersing yourself in detailed scholarship. Or if you’re a Shakespeare conspiracy theorist.

Perfect Accompaniment: A mug of ale and a DVD of your favourite performance of Lear, Macbeth or Anthony and Cleopatra

Genre: Non-fiction, History

Available on Amazon

Frenchman's Creek by Daphne Du Maurier

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

What we thought: Spending a week near Falmouth, and enjoying the numerous nooks and creeks of the Helford river and the Lizard peninsular inspired me to download the audio version of Du Maurier’s famous novel.

Perhaps it was enhanced by being in the area, but I found the atmosphere and setting of the novel one of my favourite points. The description of the river, the bird life and stormy seas were as accurate today as back in the times when pirates roamed the woods and threatened the locals.

The plot itself also engaged me. Lady Donna St Colomb swaps a life in London that has become shallow and pointless, and buries herself away in her husband’s ancestral Cornish estate, Navron. Here she chooses life as a hermit, burying herself in nature and enjoying raising her children in a beautiful, natural environment. Her heady days of London seem a million miles ago and adventure is the last thing on her mind.

But when she stumbles across a pirate ship hidden in a creek on the estate, she becomes embroiled in the biggest adventure of her life. With her heart and brain set on two different roads, when her husband arrives from London to see her, she has to make some serious choices about where the rest of her life will take her. Which will win – head or heart?

The style of the writing, both in pace and style and POV, are very different to modern day novels but this only adds to the enjoyment of this wonderful classic. There is is still enough page-turning drama to keep the reader hooked right to the conclusion, but with a more sedate and delicate style than I am used to. Du Maurier’s writing is effortless, and the characters are perfectly drawn in both style and dialogue.

I’m already planning to try another novel by the author – and may well have to take another journey to Cornwall to accompany it!

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Jane Austen, Catherine Cookson, Barbara Taylor Bradford.

Avoid if you don’t like: Cornwall and pirates.

Ideal accompaniments: Cornish clotted cream and strawberry jam with scones.

Genre: Literary Fiction.

Available on Amazon

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Close to Me by Amanda Reynolds

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

A woman wakes up, lying at the bottom of the stairs, her husband crouching beside her. And the only memories she has of the past twelve months come in a few tantalising flashes that cause her to doubt everything she knows about her life.

Jo and Rob have been married 24 years. They have two grown up children. They are happy, aren’t they? So why does she keep thinking, “I don’t want him near me!”

As Jo starts to piece together her fragments of memory and to chase down what happened during that lost year, the narrative unfolds in two parallel timelines – one starting the day of the fall and the other one year earlier, on the day they dropped their son off at university. In between, something fractured their marriage. Something Rob doesn’t want her to remember.

With Rob mediating everything she is told about the past, the familiar details of their lives take on a sinister cast and their dream home – a converted barn on top of a windswept hill – begins to feel like a prison. Is Rob caring and concerned? Or controlling and dangerous? And which one of them is responsible for poisoning their marriage? The glimpses Jo has of her own behaviour seem far from innocent. Reynolds skilfully manages the balance of doubt, right to the very end.

It’s refreshing to find a powerful psychological thriller whose lead character is a woman in her fifties. Reynolds creates an entirely believable portrait of a marriage and the pitfalls of ‘empty nest syndrome,’ when the cracks in a relationship are ruthlessly exposed.

A taut and thoroughly enjoyable debut.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Avoid If You Dislike: Narratives split over two timelines

Perfect Accompaniment:
Vodka and tonic

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Available on Amazon

These Dividing Walls by Fran Cooper

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: Number 37 sits at the meeting of two streets in Paris’s 5th Arrondisement. The apartment block houses a variety of tenants including Edward, a young Englishman who is visiting his French girlfriend Emilie, who is currently away. Her aunt, Frederique, lives in another part of the block. Chantal and Cesar live on a lower floor and Anais lives on the second floor with her husband and children. The caretakers, the Marins live on the ground floor where Mme Marin has a hairdressing salon.

Frederique runs a hidden bookshop at the back of the inner courtyard. She always says hello to Josef, a homeless man who camps in a doorway across the street and lends him her newspapers. She seems to know his business as he does hers. Edward is intrigued by this.

New tenants, Muslims, move in. The residents are divided in their opinions; some like Mme Duval, being antagonistic and some are supportive; others, like Cesar, get caught up in things they did not intend. Against this background and the heat of a Paris summer secrets begin to be revealed, attitudes displayed and events unfold on the larger world stage.

An attack at Notre-Dame means all public buildings have to be evacuated, including the Louvre while Edward is there. Violence erupts and there is trouble on the streets. The tenants of No.37 cannot avoid being involved. People are hurt, passions run high and the new Muslim tenants are targeted. Meanwhile an affaire blossoms.

Will Chantal and Cesar ever recover from their estrangement? Will Anais find the strength to go on? Will Mme Duval leave the new tenants alone to get on with their lives? And will Edward finally realise where he needs to be?

This novel is a fascinating account of a varied cast of people, all with their own problems and destinies. It is well written and a very enjoyable read.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Plenty of different characters and plot strands.

Avoid if you dislike: A small amount of graphic violence.

Ideal accompaniments: Chilled gin and lime in a tall glass to roll across your brow.

Genre: General/Literary Fiction

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