Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Drawing Lessons by Patricia Sands

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: When Arianna’s beloved husband, Ben develops dementia, she decides to leave Canada and take part in an art retreat in France, in an effort to quell her grief and to rekindle her interest and talent for art.

She joins a very eclectic group of artists from all over the world, each of them aiming to improve their craft. And, like Arianna, each of them with their own reasons for travelling to this stunning region, south of Arles. Together, they support and encourage each other, form friendships, coax out hard-to-share stories.

Besides the opportunity to meet some memorable, strong and very human characters, I loved the way the author wove the story around the magnificent landscape, the fauna and flora, as well as the incredible historical, cultural and architectural aspects of this region; the same beautiful buildings and scenery that Van Gogh once painted. And, of course, the usual plethora of gourmet French food and wines.

Drawing Lessons is a story to lose oneself in; an emotional but wonderful escapade to the Camargue region in France as we accompany Arianna on her journey from grief to joy. Highly recommended for all Francophiles!

You’ll like this if you enjoy
: Women’s fiction, romance, love. Stories set in France. Patricia Sands’ Love in Provence series, which I reviewed here, and here and here.

Avoid if you don’t like
: stories set in France.

Ideal accompaniments: Taureau de Camargue sprinkled with Fleur de Sel, washed down with a chilled rosé de Provence.

Genre: Women’s fiction.

Available on Amazon

Elmet by Fiona Mozely

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: Daniel, who is 14, lives with his sister, Cathy, a year or so older, and his Daddy, on the edges of society. His mother, who was only ever an intermittent visitor, has not been seen for years.

Daddy builds a rough-hewn house on land he does not own, in an attempt to provide a settled life for his children. This venture is precarious at best and dangerous at worst. The landowner, Mr Price, soon comes knocking. He is willing to sign over the land, but at a cost. Daddy, a giant of a man, takes part in illegal fights and once worked for Price as a heavy and a debt-collector. He is unwilling to be 'owned' by Price again.

At first things seem relatively normal – within the parameters of their unusual lifestyle: Daddy manages the copse, chops wood, catches food, does odd jobs; Vivian, a neighbour who has known Daddy in the past, home-schools the children erratically from her own diverse and personal range of books. Cathy runs wild but Daniel is of a quieter disposition.

By turns prosaic and poetic, the narrative (told by Daniel) gradually reveals the secrets of the past. Rooted in the land, formerly known as Elmet, the novel depicts a life mud-splattered, hand-calloused and steeped in silence. A sense of unease soon turns to menace and the denouement is shocking.

A certain amount of poetic licence must be allowed as Daniel's narrative style seems too flowery and knowledgeable for a boy with little formal education. Also, at times Cathy seems almost superhuman. I didn't find these quirks a problem though, and accepted them readily within the context of the novel. The start did feel a little slow to me, however, and I almost gave up. I am glad I didn't, as I was soon drawn in to the strangeness of the story and couldn't wait to read on.

I received an ebook of this novel from NetGalley in return for an honest review.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Holes, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, The Catcher in the Rye.

Avoid if you dislike: Oddly literate narrators and somewhat unbelievable events.

Ideal accompaniments: Homegrown vegetable soup, a pint of cider and a roll-up..

Genre: Literary Fiction.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Little Bones by Sam Blake

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

What we thought: The storyline opens with the gruesome find of tiny bones in the hem of a wedding dress during a routine break-in investigation. Soon, the Dublin Garda are involved in a complex crime stretching back a whole generation.

The book is the first in its series, introducing us to Detective Cathy Connolly and her boss Inspector O'Rourke who between them are tasked with unravelling this gruesome case.

Add to the mix a mysterious killer on the run from Las Vegas, and a confused elderly woman who ends up in care in London, and you have the ingredients for an excellent thriller as the pieces of each plotline come together. The different elements of the story are well plotted and cleverly written and I found the ending totally gripping. 

Characters are extremely strong and come alive on the page. The relationship between Connolly and O'Rourke is a gripping, so much history to unravel that the reader is unaware of that it leaves a lot of scope for the author to develop as the series grows.

Really excited to read the first in the series from a new author and I am really looking forward to getting to know the characters more in the future. A definite must read for crime fiction enthusiasts.

You’ll enjoy this if you like : Ann Cleeves, Sheila Bugler, Peter James.

Avoid if you don’t like : Detective fiction and Irish accents.

Ideal accompaniments: Beef and ale pie washed down with a pint of Guinness.

Genre : Crime.

Available on Amazon

The Mirror World of Melody Black by Gavin Extence

Review by JJ Marsh

What we thought:

Hard to categorise as the initial lightness of tone gives way to much darker layers.

Abby pops round to a neighbour's flat to borrow a tin of tomatoes, but he's dead. This episode and her pragmatic reaction - she smokes two cigarettes, calls the police and takes the tomatoes anyway - soon leads the reader to realise Abby has problems relating to the world.

Gradually, reflected reactions from her therapist and boyfriend, plus a hypermania shopping episode which ends badly force us to accept the inevitable. Abby needs help even if all she wants is the emergency exit.

While in a secure psychiatric ward, she meets Melody Black, a curious and engaging individual whose approach to mental illness gives rise to the title. She and Abby and the other patients have fallen into the ‘Mirror World’, while other versions of themselves are living the life they should.

The writing is perfectly balanced, indicating the protagonist’s state of mind with great subtlety, and the letters from her boyfriend I found deeply moving.

Gavin Extence is a new author to me but it appears I’m late to the party. The Universe versus Alex Woods has a huge fanbase, so I shall seek out more. This book was fascinating, enveloping and a genuine insight into managing bipolar disorder.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: Running in Heels by Anna Maxted, The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Flier or The Universe versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence.

Avoid if you don’t like: Unreliable, suicidal narrators, mental health problems

Ideal accompaniments: Penne Arrabiata, a glass of Valpolicella and Spem in Alium by Thomas Tallis

Available on Amazon

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

How Not to Be a Boy by Robert Webb

Review by JJ Marsh

What we thought:

Perhaps because so much of Webb’s upbringing reflected my own references, obsessions and interests – but as a girl – I found this wholly absorbing.

His angle is why masculinity is all messed up and he uses himself as an example. It’s hard to disagree. He does not shirk from all the teenage toss and mature arseholery, giving his younger self both a cringe and a pass.

Going from early childhood to maturity, we experience the world in present tense through the eyes of young Robert. He progresses from princeling, to adolescent, to adult with sharp self-assessment framed by the background he grew up against.

What does it mean to be a man? Who are your role models? What if you fancy boys as well as girls? What if you’re afraid of your father figure?

This makes the book sound soul-searching and miserable when it is precisely the former and not at all the latter. I laughed aloud so many times and noted great lines, while occasionally dabbing my eyes at the more poignant moments.

This is a grown-up analysis of why we should all be feminists under a personally searching light.

It’s an excellent, thought-provoking read from a very funny writer, who punctures his own ego and addresses how he rejects traditional masculine roles while frequently fulfilling them.

Highly recommended.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: Believe Me by Eddie Izzard, How to be a Girl by Caitlin Moran

Avoid if you don’t like: Memoir, analysis of gender conditioning, good jokes

Ideal accompaniments
: A pint of Carlsberg, a fish finger sandwich and the theme to Star Wars.

Available on Amazon

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

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

What we thought: If I’m honest this book came as a real surprise to me (a pleasant one I hasten to add) as although I enjoyed the author’s previous novel, Gone Girl, I hadn’t raved about it as many readers had. In Dark Places though, I felt the author really drove herself hard to delve into the darker side of humanity and deliver the results to the reader in both a unique and shocking conclusion.

The main protagonist is not a character designed to be likeable but then she saw her whole family slaughtered in front of her eyes when she was only seven years old … or did she?

And there lies the crux of this novel. When is an unreliable narrator not an unreliable narrator? 

Libby Day believes her brother murdered her mother and sisters, and is so sure of the fact she not only gave the evidence at the trial that saw him convicted, but has spent the past decades living off the spoils of his horror. But when challenged by a group of her brother’s supporters on what she really remembers about the series of events on that fateful night, her beliefs begin to slowly unwind like an out of control ball of wool spinning out of her grasp. 

Split narratives take us back and forth in time – from the build up to the night of the massacre to the current day – at quite a rate, so you have to concentrate on this novel to appreciate the full effect. But I admire the author for the skill she displays here. She holds the reader captive by orchestrating her words as if she were stood in front of a world class orchestra conducting each note.

And the truth about the real killer? That was the real sucker punch.

You’ll enjoy this if you like : Karin Slaughter, B.A Paris, Paula Hawkins.

Avoid if you don’t like : Dark secrets and false memories.

Ideal accompaniments: Nachos with guacamole dip and a bottle of ice cold cider.

Genre : Thriller.

Available on Amazon

Read Triskele's Book Club Discussion on Dark Places here

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Dark Chapter by Winnie M Li

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

Dark Chapter is an extraordinary novel – a forensic examination of a rape and its aftermath, written by someone for who has lived through it. I read it in two days, and twice had to stop myself from reading through the night.

The book opens with the narrator looking back on her old before-the-rape self, watching her as she walks up the path that will lead to her meeting her rapist, seeing her in those last few moments as if across an unbridgeable divide:

“I look across that gap now, an unexpected rift in the contour of my life, and I long to shout across that ravine to the younger me who stands on the opposite edge, oblivious to what lies ahead. She is a distant speck. She seems lost from my perspective, but in her mind she thinks she knows where she’s going . . . she does not know who follows her; she is only thinking of the path ahead.”

It is even more extraordinary that Li writes not just from the point of view of the young woman who is raped. She delves deep into the mind of the attacker – the last place one would imagine she would want to go.

The account of the rape itself is brutal and Li spares us none of the details. But some of the hardest moments to read about come later in the novel – the medical examinations, Vivian’s frantic attempts to access anti-HIV drugs before the 72 hour time limit for them to be administered expires; the ugliness of cross-examination during the trial.

“There will be violation upon violation. This much she has come to realise in the past few weeks.”

But worst of all is the sense of desolation, of the hollowing out of the self.

“The real Vivian checked out days ago and she doesn’t know when she’ll return.”

Many people turn to writing as a way of dealing with terrible events in their lives. But this is far more than a slice of therapeutic memoir. Li’s lucid prose and compassionate understanding shine a light into a dark chapter that blights many women’s lives. It both reveals the profound, life-changing impact rape has on its victims, and offers hope that they will in time, like Li herself, grow into survivors. That the old and the new self can merge back into one person.

“The person she is now. The person she still can be. The person she always was.”

Li passionately believes it is important for survivors of rape to speak out – not just to report the crime to the police, but to speak about it openly, to remove the stigma and to enable others to understand. This book is part of that quest. Reading it, I am conscious of the many times I have walked alone, on city streets, in woods, in fields – how lucky, how privileged I am that I have never stumbled over that ‘unexpected rift’.

A shocking, absorbing and ultimately uplifting read.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: The Mother by Yvvette Edwards, The Break by Katherena Vermette

Avoid If You Dislike: Graphic description of sexual assault and its consequences

Perfect Accompaniment: An apple and a long drink of water

Genre: Literary Fiction, Crime

You can read Catriona Troth's interview with Winnie M Li on Words with Jam here.

Available on Amazon

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

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

What we thought: I have made it a personal goal to work my way through all of du Maurier’s novels following a recent trip to the Lizard Peninsular. Following the enjoyable passions of Frenchman’s Creek, I turned to Rebecca – and what a change of tone!

I’ve read since that du Maurier used her own feelings of jealousy towards her husband’s previous fiancee as her basis for this novel – and I have to say if the evil Mrs Danvers epitomises Daphne’s own jealous streak … I have much sympathy for the poor woman!

The novel begins in the glamorous surroundings of Monte Carlo where the author’s protagonist first meets the charming Maxim de Winter and despite her youth, they marry and settle in his ancestral home of Manderley in Cornwall. Despite the beauty of the surroundings and the heady flush of first love, it’s not long before our heroine clashes with the sinister housekeeper, Mrs Danvers. The story slowly unwinds as we delve into the mystery of Max’s first wife, Rebecca - said to have drowned at sea – and sympathise as the weight of family history threatens to overwhelm their marriage.

We see the struggle of a young, innocent woman, thrown into a world where she feels compelled to judge the success of her role as Mrs de Winter on the previous occupier of the title – and finds herself unable to do battle with a dead woman. But the intrigue is whether her perceptions of the situation are true are false. Could what appears to be love really be hate – or vice versa?

I listened to the audio version of this book, ably narrated by the late Anna Massey, and the superb voices she gave - for Danvers and Rebecca in particular - added another layer to the story.

The dark themes and the mysterious characterisation were brilliant, and while there was less use of the Cornish setting here than in Frenchman’s Creek, the author’s love of the area still came through in the writing. This is a lesson in effortless story-telling and edge of the seat page turning drama all writers should aspire to without doubt.

And onto the next …

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Henry James, Jane Austen.

Avoid if you don’t like: Cornwall. Family secrets. Jealousy.

Ideal accompaniments: Fresh caught mackerel cooked over an open fire. Cornish cider.

Genre: Classic.

Available at Amazon

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Streets of Darkness by A A Dhand

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

AA Dhand is one of a trio of brilliant new British Asian crime writers (the others being Vasim Khan and Abir Mukherjee) who rose to prominence around the same time, each writing a radically different style of crime novel. Of these, Dhand is the only one to set his novels in contemporary Britain.

All good noir needs a dark location as a background, and Dhand gives us Bradford – once a wealthy wool town in the north of England, now riven with unemployment, drugs and racial conflict.

“Bradford had become the cesspit of Yorkshire ... Dereliction was the norm here. Huge Victorian buildings from the industrial era were covered in black soot. They stood abandoned and ashamed.”

It’s Eid, and a huge Mela is planned to celebrate the end of Ramadan. Then Virdee finds the murdered body of the man who has just won a by-election and become the city’s first Muslim MP. The scene is set for the city to go up in flames, just like in the 2004 riots. But could that all be a distraction – and if so, what is it designed to hide?

Dhand has said that (Bradford Review 11/07/2016) that he was striving for a hero that broke the stereotypes of Asian males. Harry Virdee certainly does that. Out on the streets, he is reminiscent of Luther – dangerous, violent, unpredictable. But unlike Luther, he’s not a loner. His tender relationship with is heavily pregnant wife, Saima – the strength they draw from one another, the search for the perfect name as Virdee vetoes one after another of Saima’s suggestions – is one of the joys of the book and a counterpoint to the bleakness of the world outside.

Dhand stares down the lens at some of the toughest problems facing our cities - organised crime, drugs, prostitution, racism in the streets and in politics. And he doesn’t flinch from addressing problems that come from within Bradford’s British Asian community as well as without.

A powerful new voice in British crime fiction. His second book in the series, Girl Zero, is already out and addresses even more controversial issues. I look forward to reading it.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Love: Dreda Say Mitchell, Leye Adenle, Ian Rankin, Val McDiarmid, Jacob Ross

Avoid If You Dislike: the brutal end of the Crime Fiction spectrum

Perfect Accompaniment:
Vegetable thali

Genre: Crime

Available on Amazon

Then She Was Born by Cristiano Gentili

Review by JJ Marsh

What we thought:

A disturbing yet important read about the fate of an albino child born in Tanzania. Adimu, born albino or zeru zeru in Swahili, is instantly rejected by her parents. Even the villagers believe the child is a symbol of bad luck and should be left to die in the forest.

Adimu’s grandmother intervenes and suggests they allow the fates to decide. According to custom, the baby is to be placed in the path of the cattle when they are released in the morning. If she is trampled to death, so be it. If she survives, her grandmother will raise her.

Thanks to her grandmother and cows more curious than frenzied, Adimu survives and thrives, despite all the prejudice against her. Her luck waxes and wanes, always dependent on the kindness of others, but her innate intelligence and determination carry her forwards.

Yet others hold to the superstition that body parts of the zeru zeru; her hair woven into fishermen’s nets, her bones made into amulets, can bring good luck. Once she is dead.

A troubling book which challenges easy judgement, filled with nuanced characters and the eternal theme – how to be different?

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga, A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston or Accabadora by Michela Murgia

Avoid if you don’t like: Cultural norms which sit uneasily with your own

Ideal accompaniments: Drink Long Island Iced Tea, eat slices of mango and listen to White African Power

Available on Amazon

Girl Zero by A.A. Dhand

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

Girl Zero is the second novel by Bradford author AA Dhand, a follow up to his debut, Streets of Darkness.

Dhand takes us back to Bradford, the patch of Inspector Harry Virdee. Virdee has been compared to Luther, but there is at least one crucial difference. Virdee has a family – a wife and now a young son. That grounds him, allows us to see his more tender side, and also gives him something to fight for.

Like all the best crime writers, Dhand explores the dark underbelly of the place he loves – and his Bradford can get very dark indeed. His first novel tackled drugs and racial violence. This second book opens with Virdee confronting the body of his own niece. To begin with it seems likely that her death is linked to his brother’s nefarious activities. But (reminiscent of Craven in the incomparable 80s television series, Edge of Darkness) he soon finds she has been uncovering some dark and dangerous secrets of her own – in this case the activities of a child grooming gang.

In the past few years, many stories of child sexual exploitation have belatedly come to light in the UK. Predators across all communities have made use of the points of access that are available to them. For White predators that has been churches, schools, youth groups, television studios. For Asian predators, it’s been late night chip shops and off licences.

These are modern atrocities crying out to be explored through the medium of crime fiction. Yet there is so much danger of either tarring a whole community with the sins of a few, or looking away for fear of causing offense, that perhaps it’s taken a writer from a British Asian community to tackle this aspect of the problem head on. Like Nazir Afzal, the prosecutor in the Rochdale grooming gang case, Dhand has had the courage and compassion to confront what others have shied away from.

A brave book and gripping read.

You’ll Enjoy this if You Loved: Easy Motion Tourist by Leye Adenle, False Lights by Gillian E Hamer, Streets of Darkness by AA Dhand

Avoid If You Dislike: Stories centred on child sexual exploitation

Perfect Accompaniment: Fried bread with ajwain seeds and a cup of chai

Genre: Crime

Available on Amazon

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan

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: Lydia enjoys working at the Bright Ideas Bookstore in Denver, Colorado. She lives a quiet life and is a willing listener when any customer needs a friendly ear.

When she makes a shocking discovery on the top floor of the bookshop, however, her world is turned upside down. She is led to investigate the life of a vulnerable young man called Joey, who has hanged himself. Joey is one of the BookFrogs – the name given to those regulars who come in as much to find a place to shelter from life's hardships, as to buy books. Following a series of strange clues cut out of, or rather into, books, Lydia finds out more about Joey and his traumatic childhood.

This is not the first time Lydia has had to deal with trauma. As a child she witnessed a series of brutal murders, while on a sleepover at a friend's house. The perpetrator, nicknamed the Hammerman, has never been caught. While digging into Joey's story, she finds connections that lead her to attempt to discover the identity of the Hammerman.

Though she has a boyfriend, David who works in IT, Lydia reconnects with an old childhood friend, Raj Patel. Raj's parents run the gas and doughnut store where she and her friend Carol used to hang out as ten-year-olds. She also reluctantly reconnects with her estranged father who lives a reclusive life up in the mountains.

Filled with quirky characters, Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is a gripping read. We dip in and out of the past, steadily learning the secrets of Lydia's early life. As the mysteries unravel, Lydia begins to suspect someone close to her of being the Hammerman. And though the reader, too, begins to have suspicions, the answer is unexpected and shocking.

This is a novel about the love of books, the nature of friendship, and the way childhood experiences shape us. While on some levels it is a murder mystery, it is also much more than that, and though it features more than one terrible tragedy, it is told with verve and sympathy.

I received an ebook of this novel from NetGalley in return for an honest review.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: The Shadow of the Wind, The Little Paris Bookshop.

Avoid if you dislike: Books about books and bookshops.

Ideal accompaniments: A cup of hot chocolate and a cosy blanket.

Genre: Psychological Crime / Literary / Mystery

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

The Wacky Man by Lyn Farrell

Reviewer: Jerome Griffin

What we thought: "Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable." It's almost like Cesar A. Cruz was talking about Wacky Man when he uttered his immortal phrase.

If you don't want to experience everyday terror, don't read this book. If you want don't want to feel domestic fear, don't read this book. If you don't want to know parental rejection, don't read this book.

But if moving outside your comfort zone is the reason you read, then Wacky Man will drag you over skin reefing gravel, through flesh shredding hedges and slam you into bone crunching boulders. It's not that Wacky Man holds no punches, but insists on delivering blow upon blow on already raw emotions.

The story follows Amanda, a teenager suffering with a range of mental health issues, trying to survive in a broken home dominated by an abusive father. Her mother, Barbara, was defeated long before Amanda was born, while her brothers, like Amanda, spend their lives trying to avoid the next beating.

It wasn’t always like that though and it’s easy to see how Barbara fell for the undoubted charms of Seamus before she got to know his other side. At times Lyn G. Farrell’s tale delicately ebbs and flows with Seamus’s moods and Barbara and her children do their best to enjoy the good times knowing that within Seamus a volcano is getting ready to erupt.

Farrell paints a multilayered picture over time that shows the alarming power one controlling person can exert over so many others. She shows the lasting impact that a never ending cycle of abuse can have on an individual. And she demonstrates the power of a bully in an age when victims of bullying weren’t heard because of their age or sex.

Instead of being heard, they learned to cope. Or not, as the case may be. And maybe that’s the same for everyone. In times of duress and stress we tend to put on a brave face. The ability of humans to adapt to a new set of circumstances, such as oppression, is truly remarkable and worrying in equal measure.

On one level Wacky Man is the story of a teenage girl trying to cope with the solitary anguish of depression, while on another level, it is a savage indictment of how we, as a species, have learned to suppress emotions in favour of stoic resolve, thereby damaging our own mental health in the process.

In the same way books like American Psycho have you turning away from the page in horror only to turn back because you must know what happens next, Wacky Man will leave an indelible mark on your mind. It will leave you emotionally raw and desperate for a comedy to read next. But it’s well worth the journey.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Disturbing stories featuring mental illness

Avoid if you dislike: Domestic violence

Ideal accompaniments: Crispy pancakes, chips & peas washed down with something non-alcoholic

Genre: Contemporary

Available on Amazon

Innocent Blood by P.D James

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

What we thought: A standalone crime thriller from one of my favourite crime writers that for me stood apart from her usual style, but was none the less still gripping to the final page.

Written from split perspectives, we firstly follow Philippa Palfrey, a young girl who upon reaching eighteen decides to find out the truth about her birth parents despite the objections of her adoptive family. Her fairy tale dreams that she is the long-lost daughter of a nobleman are shattered by her discoveries, and we join her as she struggles to come to terms with the reality of her past. 

In a separate thread, Norman is on the mission of his life to find justice for her wife and daughter. Gradually, inch by inch, we see the two stories merge into one and the shocking conclusion that results.

There is much more of a psychological style here than in most of the author’s detective books and I thought she handled it well. I also really enjoyed the London setting, the use of inner city areas versus the leafier suburbs added weight to the class struggle running throughout the novel.

The twist in the tale of the novel was superbly written and the book was well-paced throughout, keeping the reader guessing how the story would evolve. Characters were well formed and believable, yet still distant enough that the reader would not easily connect with any of the main players as none were designed to be ‘nice’ or pleasing to the audience.

I really enjoyed my time back in the company of P.D. James and was pleased at the more modern style in this novel.

You’ll enjoy this if you like : Ruth Rendell, Michael Crichton, Karin Slaughter.

Avoid if you don’t like : Family secrets and lies.

Ideal accompaniments: Vegetable stew and a half pint of bitter.

Genre : Thriller.

Available on Amazon

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

I am grateful to the Twitter feed of the Bradford Lit Fest for alerting me to fictional delight I could easily have missed!

Sofia Khan is a totally recognisable, flawed, modern young woman. She wears skinny jeans, smokes, swears, has issues with deadlines and agonises about getting fat while scoffing muffins and lemon puffs. So far, so Bridget Jones. On the other hand, she wears a hijab, doesn’t drink alcohol, prays five times a day and has no intention of having sex before marriage.

It’s something of a meta fiction – a book about Muslim dating telling a story of someone trying to write a book about Muslim dating. Like Bridget Jones’ Diary, it’s written in the form of a diary. And the book has other things in common with BJD. Parents who are frequently out of joint both with each other and with their daughter. A mixed bag of supportive friends with their own hang-ups and problems. And a selection of potential marriage partners each with their own reasons for appearing both attractive and unsuitable.

It will also make you laugh out loud on almost every page. Sofia and her friends have to deal with things Bridget could never have imagined - from Muslim speed dating, to deciding whether it’s okay to become a polygamous second wife. As for emotional blackmail, Muslim aunties take it to new heights.

But Sofia Khan has something BJD never quite achieved – a sense of real heart. Sophia can be clumsy, obtuse, grumpy, even downright rude at times. But she is utterly lovable in her vulnerability, and the warmth of affection for her friends and her bickering family leaps off the page. I cried unashamedly through much of the last fifty pages.

Do not expect this to end with Sofia ripping off her hijab and going on a binge. Nor with her settling down to be a ‘traditional’ submissive wife. This is about how you can be a modern, independent, strong-minded woman – and still a faithful Muslim. Something most Muslim women have always known; Malik is just letting the rest of us in on the secret. Can’t wait to follow Sofia into the next chapter of her life.

You Will Enjoy This If You Loved: Bridget Jones Diary by Helen Fielding, The Trials of Tiffany Trott by Isabel Wolff, Life Isn't All Ha Ha Hee Hee by Meera Syall

Avoid If You Dislike: Novels in diary format

Perfect Accompaniment: Chocolate digestives

Genre: Romance

Available on Amazon

Last Child 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
: Last Child is the gripping sequel to the unique and highly entertaining Kings and Queens, which I thoroughly enjoyed and reviewed here. As Kings and Queens was a modern day take on the life of Henry VIII and his six wives, through a contemporary setting, Last Child evokes the lives of his children, the Tudor descendants: Edward VI (as Jasper), Mary I (as Isabella), and Elizabeth I (as Erin), written with a fictional take that brings these modern characters alive.

Last Child is divided into three parts, representing the “reigns” of Edward VI (in Jasper Junior), Mary (in Isabella) and Elizabeth (in Erin).

I loved reading about the lives and loves of this next generation of the Lanchester family as much as I did Henry VIII’s generation in Kings and Queens: hateful, lovable, irritating, sweet, laughable, the entire array of human qualities and faults renders the characters easy to relate to, and to empathise with. I couldn’t help but become attached to this family.

In Last Child, as in Kings and Queens, most readers will be well-acquainted with Tudor history –– those turbulent times in British history –– (although the author’s brief account of this historical period post-Henry VIII is a very interesting and useful accompaniment), but what makes this author’s books unique is the way she narrates the stories against a fictional, contemporary backdrop. She shows us that human nature, human behaviour, and history, are timeless.

As a history lover, and author of historical fiction, I love a gripping historical novel. I also enjoy good contemporary fiction, so Last Child ticked both of those boxes for me. It’s a book I wanted to read slowly, to savour, but one that I couldn’t help but gobble up in a few short sittings.

As for Kings and Queens, it’s not easy to label this book with a particular genre. Again, I think I’d call it parallel history.

You’ll like this if you enjoy: Kings and Queens by Terry Tyler.

Avoid if you don’t like
: A contemporary, fictional take on factual historical stories.

Ideal accompaniments
: Pigeon pie with a large glass of mead.

Genre: Parallel History, Contemporary Historical Retelling

Available on Amazon

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

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