Monday, 4 December 2017

Munich by Robert Harris

Reviewer: JJ Marsh


What we thought: 
Fascinating and un-plug-outable (I listened to the audiobook).

This novel details the tense lead-up to the Munich conference in late 1938 with exemplary research and human insight. Two men, both insiders in the opposing regimes, observe the frantic diplomacy required to avert war in Europe. Hugh Legat and Paul Hartmann met at Balliol, Oxford, becoming friends, co-travellers and political debaters. Now, they are working for their respective governments but share a single aim. To defeat Hitler.

Harris is a master on this subject and in this genre - historical fiction from the perspective of those who could have changed the key moments of modern history. Despite our hindsight, this diplomatic dance around a despot is involving, and gives us hope. There are good men prepared to do something, regardless of the risk.

This fictionalised account sent me scurrying to learn more about the events which could have precluded WWII. Period details such as the enormous undertaking of flying to another country and the brutal ugliness of gas masks transport the  reader to the 1930s with a sharpness which underlines the danger.

Anyone with a passing interest in politics must draw parallels to current events and feel a shiver of sinister familiarity when the egotistical dictator grows incensed at his depiction by the foreign press. We should be grateful such a short-fused, power-crazed man didn't have access to Twitter.


You’ll enjoy this if you like: Fatherland, Enigma, Downfall

Avoid if you don’t like: European politics, details of diplomacy

Ideal accompaniments: Cigarettes, whisky and liverwurst

Genre: Historical fiction, spy thriller

Available on Amazon


Wednesday, 29 November 2017

24 Hovrs in Ancient Rome by Philip Matyszak

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

What we thought: It's not often you come across a book which is so deliciously rich in historic fact, and yet presented in the most readable and engaging manner, but that is exactly what 24 Hovrs in Ancient Rome offers. It presents a day in the life of your average ancient Roman citizens, from an Imperial messenger to a washerwoman, spice trader to my favourite, the water-clockmaker.

Each person's tale is one hour (hovr) long, describing in detail their comings and goings, challenges and accomplishments, told in a believable way, as if spying upon these people as they go about their business, observing interactions, talents and trade.

The text is interspersed with extracts from ancient texts, supporting the story-like narrative, and in some instances illustrations.

In the case of the water-clockmaker, you discover rare insight into not just his life, but that of the Roman way of life as a whole:

Unknowingly, Copa has identified a major reason why the Romans will never become a fully mechanized culture. The Romans have so much cheap manpower available that there is no incentive to invent machines to do all the work or reason to use these machines if they are invented.

An again, when reading of a mother nursing her sick child, we're abruptly made aware of how easily life slips away in ancient times and the sickness rife in cities:

As do most working-class girls, Sosipatra married in her late teens. In the ten years since, she has continually been either pregnant or nursing a baby. Yet for their best efforts, the couple have just one healthy child. This is their daughter, Termalia, who is now seven years old. That's about two years after the age when Roman parents can be reasonably sure that their child will survive. That is, survive the illnesses that in Rome kill two to four of every newborns before they reach the age of five. 

It's these glimpses, far from the gladiators and gloriously epic scenes we witness on television and in films, which makes this books so compelling. It is fiction untouched by sensationalism, allowing the true history to breathe on the page, telling us of another side of Roman life; that of the people who truly lived there.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Ancient Rome, facts, knowledge

Avoid if you don’t like: Non-fiction, ordinary life

Ideal accompaniments: honeyed bread and herbal tea

Genre: Historical, Non-Fiction

Available on Amazon

The Last Tudor by Philippa Gregory


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

What we thought: Covering the life stories of the three Grey sisters – Jane, Kathryn and Mary – it gives a little known viewpoint of the cruel and scheming Tudor court in the years following Henry VIII’s death through to the tyranny of the court of Elizabeth I.

We start with the most famous of the sisters, Jane Grey, queen for only nine days and sentenced to death for refusing to denounce her faith after her own father and his allies made her a scapegoat. Her story was both stoic and touching, told with compassion and grace and I found I really connected with her story and admired the character Gregory created.

Next in line, Kathryn, also died young, always seen as threat to Elizabeth’s rule, she was imprisoned after secretly marrying Edward Seymour, and spent the rest of her days captive either in the Tower of London, or under the charge of one of the Court’s trusted followers. A similar curse fell on youngest sister, Mary, who never wanted to challenge the throne, and was denied the peaceful life the craved, when she too followed the same path as Kathryn by being imprisoned after secretly marrying the man she loved.

The storylines here, while loosely based on real events and dates, are mostly written from the author’s imagination. But after so many years researching the Tudor court, and getting to understand the paranoia rife at that time, every conversation and decision taken are wholly believable. Gregory has a superb way of bringing character, setting and story to life – be it the girl’s love of animals or their petty sisterly squabbles – everything worked perfectly for me and I was sad when the book came to an end. But glad at least one of the sisters survived the cruelty of the royal court to get the quiet life she deserved and craved.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Elizabeth Chadwick, Alison Weir.

Avoid if you don’t like: Tudor history.

Ideal accompaniments: Roasted ox and a tankard of small ale.

Genre: Historical.

Available on Amazon

















Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett (http://barbarascottemmett.blogspot.co.uk/ ) author of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, The Man with the Horn, The Land Beyond Goodbye, and Don’t Look Down.

What We Thought: I usually give a despairing sigh when celebs bring books out. Just a way of extracting more cash from the fans, I think. Not so here, I have to say. With Uncommon Type, a compilation of short stories, Tom Hanks proves he can actually string sentences together. And paragraphs. Indeed, whole slices of life spring from his pen, and very good they are, too. I was prepared to maybe read a few, skip a few, pick a few faults, but I found that as soon as I finished one I happily started on another. As far as faults go, there was one instance of head-hopping that caught my attention but didn't seem at all problematic.

Hanks gives us traditional tales alongside quirky futuristic fantasies, stories of the past as well as modern instances, comedy as well as serious topics, and he is never dull. As might be expected, there are many stories told from the point of view of boys, youths and men. There are, however, stories with female protagonists too, and though they may not pass the Bechdel Test, they are not solely a man’s-eye view.

The common theme is typewriters. Most stories include a reference to one. Sometimes the typewriters are integral to the story, sometimes they are simply there in the background. Despite the prevalence of elderly writing machines, these stories are diverse in style and structure. Most are good humoured and made me smile throughout and sometimes even laugh. Others have the emotional pull that leads the reader to contemplation.

I found myself warming to the writer as I read, for the sense of a very human and caring intelligence is always present. It is this sense of someone behind it all that gives the collection coherence, I think. Though the stories are varied in tone and characterisation, there is also a sense of them being part of a larger whole. I found them all entertaining and enjoyable.

I received an ebook from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

You’ll enjoy this if you like:
Stories about people who are essentially good, if prone to human frailty sometimes.

Avoid if you dislike: Lack of evil antagonists – apart from war and life itself.

Ideal accompaniments: A nice cup of tea and some ginger biscuits.

Genre: Short Stories

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett (http://barbarascottemmett.blogspot.co.uk/) author of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, The Man with the Horn, The Land Beyond Goodbye, and Don’t Look Down.

What We Thought: Don't expect another Visit from the Goon Squad from Jennifer Egan – Manhattan Beach is an entirely different beast altogether. Set in the hungry 30s and wartorn 40s, it is the story of the Kerrigan family, told mainly through the eyes of Anna, the elder daughter.

Anna works at the US Naval Yard, sizing parts for ships – an important but repetetive job. She dreams of becoming a diver, of donning the diving 'dress' and going down to fix ships below the waterline. Her chance comes when the war starts to cut down the numbers of good male divers. Anna fights prejudice at work through the day and helps her mother care for her disabled sister, Lydia, at night. Her father, Eddie, whose story this also is, has disappeared.

Eddie operates on the fringes of the mob. Involved first with the Irish longshoremen and waterfront tough guys, he hooks up with Dexter Styles, a man who himself straddles the divide between legitimacy and criminality. Styles runs nightclubs for Mr Q, an aging Italian mobster. Eddie becomes his bagman.

Slow to start, this novel gradually pulled me in. At first it seemed as though nothing much was happening and at times I had very little sense of where it was going. Once I became involved in it, however, I realised that the book was a kind of experiment, an attempt perhaps at the Great American Novel. It is a Moby Dick of a book: we get long (possibly overlong) accounts of war work, diving, shipboard life; we learn intricate details of how people lived – what they ate, drank, wore, played with as children.

Detail is piled on detail and it will depend on the reader whether this is seen as an added richness or an irritating diversion. I was, at times, torn between these views but overall came down on the side of richness. Once one gives in and goes with it, rewards are reaped. I don't think Manhattan Beach fully works as a 'great' novel but it is a valiant attempt.

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

You’ll enjoy this if you like:
Lots of detail.

Avoid if you dislike:
Slow burners.

Ideal accompaniments: "Here Comes the Navy" by The Andrews Sisters

Genre:
Historical/Literary Fiction.

Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

I have been travelling back and forth to Canada quite a bit these past few years, and every time I do, I try to come back with a book by an indigenous author – books that are often difficult or impossible to obtain on this side of the Atlantic.

My latest acquisition is the Giller shortlisted Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson. Robinson is a member of the Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations of British Columbia, and this is the first of a planned trilogy of books about the Trickster, Wee’git, the shape-shifting Raven of Haisla stories, the bad example who teaches children the rules by breaking every one of them.

This is no traditional folk tale, though. Robinson places Wee’git firmly in the modern world. Kitimat, where the author lives and the book is set, was a town dominated by the Eurocan pulp and paper mill – a company that was at once a big employer and a big polluter. So when the mill closed, despite the harm it had done to the land, it sent a seismic shock through the community.

It is in this world that Jared is growing up. His parents have split up. His father is unemployed. His mother is on drugs and his dog has just died. Jared wants to get through Grade 10 and keep his family safe, but nothing is ever quite that simple. Especially when (as one of his grandmothers insists) your father just might be Wee’git.

Just because this book has a teenage protagonist and deals in magic, don’t imagine this is a YA novel, or that it bears any resemblance to Harry Potter. The book explodes into swear words (including the c-word) within the first couple of pages. Drugs, alcohol and violence fuel a good part of the action. And the magic it deals in (from talking ravens to eco-warrior otters) is neither good nor evil, but dark and unquestionably dangerous.

For a good part of the book it is unclear – to Jared or to the reader - whether the strange things that keep happening are the result of magic or the product of too many drugs. Just when you think you’ve got to grips with it, the novel twists and turns and throws up more surprises. What is clear – despite what appears to be his wildly dysfunctional upbringing – is both Jared’s kindness and his intelligence. You care about what happens to him because he cares so much about those around him (even when it hardly seems to be reciprocated).

This is a wild trip of a novel, and not for the faint-hearted. I look forward to getting my hands on the next part of the trilogy when it comes out!

This excellent interview with Eden Robinson from Prism Magazine explains at lot of the background to the novel – the Haisla stories that shape it, and the social and ecological conditions in the troubled communities it describes.

The interview also finishes with a fabulous list of Canadian indigenous women authors I shall be adding to my wish list for my next visit.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Augustown by Kei Miller, Birdie by Tracey Lindberg, The Break by Katherena Vermette, Disposable People by Ezekel Alan

Avoid If You Dislike: Swearing, drugs, alcohol and violence mixed with magic

Perfect Accompaniment: Spaghetti and moose meatballs

Genre: Literary Fiction, Coming-of-Age Novel

Available on Amazon



Wednesday, 15 November 2017

We Are The End by Gonzalo C. Garcia


Review by JJ Marsh

What we thought: This would make a perfect art house film. It has all the right elements: rain, ennui, obsession, motifs and a tragic (in)sensibility.

Chilean games designer Tomás is trying to start again. New life, new game. His girlfriend left him with the crushing line, “I never knew I could do better”. She’s taken everything they had – except an album by Serge Gainsbourg and some unreliable memories.

Self-absorbed beyond millennial navel-gazing, Tomás is not a good neighbour, friend, son, brother or casual lover. He made all the wrong choices. Now his best mate is a successful rock star (with the band Tomás left), his ex-girlfriend is in Antarctica and he cannot up his narrative game. His university teaching gig depends on him being a games designer, but ever since Bimbo – the elephant that can jump but doesn’t come down again – his IDEAS book is full of non-starters.

Adventures with Tomás are just around the corner. He has big plans but planning is as far as he gets. His imaginary world and reality overlap as he floats into one situation after another until he finds himself onstage at a Satanists’ meeting, talking about the end of the world.

This is a darkly comic insight into a barely functioning adult who can shave, make coffee and single-mindedly try to rewind his world. Symbols of home and escape abound: mountains encircling Santiago, the hole in the ceiling, the plastic windmills, chewing-gum constellations and our not-quite-hero’s decision to camp in a tent in his own living-room.

A book to make you sigh, smile and acknowledge the internal loop of self-deception, all the while hoping Tomas might still bring his elephant back down.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked:
Model Behaviour by Jay McInerey, L’Etranger by Albert Camus or The Ten O’Clock Horses by Laurie Graham

Avoid if you don’t like: Languor, introspection, fractured storytelling

Ideal accompaniments: Piscola, sopaipillas and Ana Tijoux’s 1977.



Away for Christmas by Jan Ruth


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

What we thought: Loved this Christmas novella! There really is something for everyone here. If you’re a writer you will laugh, despair and sympathise with protagonist Jonathan Jones, and the trials and tribulations he faces as he battles to become a published author. And if you’re a reader, you’ll be captivated by the excellent story-telling that weaves Jonathan’s complicated life into a page turning drama.

Set in the North Wales resort of Rhos-on-Sea, the author uses the landscape to match the tone of the narrative. Out of season Irish Sea coastlines can be bleak, grey and blustery – but equally they can be lit by twinkling fairy lights and toasty open fires and packed with heart-warming memories. It’s a clever trick that worked perfectly here and brought out the best of the setting.

The story strode along at a pace, detailing the successes and failures, the rights and wrongs, Jonathan made on his life’s journey. You will laugh and cry in equal measure. He not only walks out of his job, inherits a book shop, and splits from his partner … he also has additional complications from his first wife and daughter to manage. I also loved the subtle echoes of some of Jonathan's writing heroes, like Frodo the dog and references to rings and lost manuscripts. All helped build the atmosphere of Jonathan's literary life.

Characters are strong and believable – from Jonathan and his writer’s angst, to Catherine as his discontented partner, to Lizzie his strong-willed daughter … to the ineptitude and rudeness of the staff of the small publishing house, Tangerine Press, who were just perfect for their roles! For me as a writer, I could relate to every single publishing experience poor Jonathan suffered and was cheering him on throughout. Whether he gets his happy ending or not though, of course, is not for me to say – this is fiction after all!

A real feel good novella, perfect to curl up with on a stormy winter’s afternoon, and experience the highs and lows of one writer’s journey. 

You’ll enjoy this if you like : Jojo Moyes, Jill Mansell, Erica James.

Avoid if you don’t like : Writers and Christmas!

Ideal accompaniments: Hot chocolate with marshmallows and a plate of shortbread.

Genre : Contemporary.

Available on Amazon

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Zoli by Colum McCann

Reviewer: Liza Perrat, author of The Bone Angel trilogy (Spirit of Lost Angels, Wolfsangel, Blood Rose Angel) and latest release, The Silent Kookaburra.

What we thought: I wondered how an Irish, male writer could conceive to portray a Romani woman from Czechoslovakia in 1930. Yet Colum McCann’s Zoli is a rich, intricately-researched tale of Romani life, racism, love, exile, belonging, and human endurance and survival. In short, a literary masterpiece.

When Zoli’s parents and other members of her Romani caravan are murdered by the Hlinka guards in fascist Czechoslovakia, she and her grandfather flee, and join another caravan. Even though their culture bans literacy, Zoli’s grandfather sends her to school, and Zoli begins not only to sing the old Roma songs, but to compose her own. “It was still a secret, my writing. I pretended to most that I could not read, but, I thought, then, surely it could do no harm? I said to myself that writing was no more nor less than song. My pencil was busy and almost down to a nubbin.”

However, as post-war Czechoslovakia goes from fascist to communist control, the long-persecuted Gypsies, along with Zoli’s song-poems, become useful to the revolution. And Zoli’s safety is in great danger.

While Colum McCann’s lyrical, prose-like style is haunting, harrowing and beautiful, at times I had some difficulty understanding the cold, hard political facts. Then I stopped trying to understand every factual detail and just sat back and drank in this gripping story. And, in the end, I did understand. The author is so talented that his message of how the Romani people suffered comes through crystal clear.

I greatly enjoyed this novel for the author’s characterization of Zoli –– portrait of the life of a poet, her song-poems as the voice of her people. I loved this peek into Slovakian “Gypsy” culture. Spanning the twentieth century, across Europe, this is a unique tale that evokes the life of a community rarely portrayed so vibrantly in literature.

You’ll like this if you enjoy: Sensuous, literary historical fiction.

Avoid if you don’t like:
Racism, holocaust stories.

Ideal accompaniments:
Potato soup and roasted ribs, eaten whilst listening to Zoli’s song-poems.

Genre: Literary Historical Fiction.

Available on Amazon

The Golden Scales by Parker Bilal

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

“Being something of an optimist it has always struck Makana that it made a good start to the day to wake up in the morning and find himself still afloat.”

Makana is a former Sudanese policeman, now a refugee in Cairo, living in a wrecked houseboat and trying (and mostly failing) to eke out a living as a private detective. All that changes one day, when one of the wealthiest men in Egypt, the founder and owner of the famous DreemTeem football club, comes to him for help to find his missing star player.

Makana begins to find connections with another case – the four-year-old daughter of an English woman, abducted years before. Are those connections real, or is Makana’s imagination working overtime – driven by memories of his own daughter’s death?

As the present-day investigation rolls forward, we also learn, piece by piece, about the troubling events in Sudan that led to Makana fleeing north into Egypt.

Parker Bilal (pseudonym of Jamal Mahjoub) is of Sudanese and British heritage. He was born in London and has lived in Sudan, Egypt, Denmark, Britain and Spain. Mahjoub’s first three books were a trilogy of historical novels exploring the history of politics of Sudan from the late 20th C back to late 19th C, and that understanding permeates his writing as Parker Bilal. The Egypt he portrays is not one any tourist is likely to discover.

This is a crime novel with political overtones, a setting you can smell and taste right off the page, and a detective character with both charm and depth.

At the end of the book, we have the making of a classic Holmesian trio – the detective, withdrawing into his own thoughts, a jaded policeman, and a young, eager journalist dreaming of turning the story into a best seller. An enticing invitation to the rest of the series.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Streets of Darkness by AA Dhand, Easy Motion Tourist by Leye Adenle, Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela

Avoid If You Dislike: Moderate graphic violence, stories centred on child abduction

Perfect Accompaniment: Taamiya (Egyptian falafel) with tahini dip

Genre: Crime Fiction

Available on Amazon

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

When We Speak of Nothing by Olumide Poloola

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

Two friends so close they are like twins. One who never stops talking. The other who never stops running. In the summer before their eighteenth birthdays, their lives pull them in different directions. Karl flies to Nigeria in search of a father he never knew existed. Abu stays behind, in a London about to explode into riots.

Port Harcourt gives Karl a chance to be himself, free of other people’s assumptions. In company of new friends, he learns how oil companies are despoiling the landscape while leaving local people in poverty.

“The village we are passing. Life expectancy is only 35 years. Because of the flaring. The gas, it comes back with the rain. There’s toxicity. Health problems.”

Back in London, Abu is immersed in a school project, discovering the memoirs of Mary Prince, an enslaved black woman who lived and worked in the Bloomsbury streets he walks down every day. And then there’s the anger that’s brewing on the streets. The anger that will explode into the 2011 riots.

Karl and Abu have always shared everything. But distance, new friendships and first love are all carving a space between them. Will their relationship be broken by their experiences – or just fundamentally changed?

This is a coming-of-age tale that explores friendship and trust, sexuality and gender. It touches, too, on the long legacy of slavery and colonialism to be found in both London and Nigeria. The voice is unusual, almost as if you’re overhearing a story one friend is telling another, and they’re not going to wait for you to catch up or fill in the gaps.

The sort of story that opens a window in your mind and lets in a breath of fresh air.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta, Orange Boy by Patrice Lawrence, Feral Youth by Polly Courtney

Avoid If You Dislike: Stories of teenagers exploring gender and sexuality

Perfect Accompaniment:
Spicy Nigerian beef and tomato stew

Genre: Young Adult, LGBTQ

Available on Amazon

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Review by JJ Marsh

What we thought:

No surprise this won The Booker Prize. A book which makes the impossible plausible and in doing so, holds up the harshest of lights to illuminate our broken civilisation.

Dickens, California, where Sellout was born and raised by a terrifyingly obsessive father, has been wiped off the map, along with its self-respect. But he has an idea how to get it back.

By re-instituting slavery and segregation.

Beatty’s writing is shocking, sharp and erudite while his main character is laconic and stumbles into his heroic role almost accidentally. The novel’s landscape is peopled with a fabulous range of characters: Marpessa, the bus-driving love of Sellout’s life; Hominy Jenkins, ageing ex TV-star who makes Sellout his unwilling slavemaster; Foy Cheshire and the Dum Dum Donut intellectuals; plus the whole range of black cultural stereotypes which are not so much pierced as skewered.

The wit is bone-dry and the social intelligence brilliant. It’s hilariously, caustically funny, making you guffaw with a guilty look over your shoulder.
 “Like most black males raised in Los Angeles, I’m bilingual only to the extent that I can sexually harass women of all ethnicities in their native languages.”
There are some startling moments, such as when Sellout is coerced into doing a Show and Tell at the local school, to demonstrate the jobs available to young black teenagers. He chooses to castrate a calf. Or when young white people stage a demonstration demanding access to the segregated school, protesting their exclusion.

A book to make you actually laugh out loud, gasp and nod, but most of all, think.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked:

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge or Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe.

Avoid if you don’t like: Comedy as black as it gets, social satire.

Ideal accompaniments: Cantaloupe melon, a banana daiquiri and Billie Holiday Sings.

Available on Amazon 



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 Mozley

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett (http://barbarascottemmett.blogspot.co.uk/) 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. (www.gillianhamer.com)

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. (www.gillianhamer.com)

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 (www.gillianhamer.com)


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 (http://barbarascottemmett.blogspot.co.uk/) 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. (www.gillianhamer.com)

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 (http://barbarascottemmett.blogspot.co.uk/) 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