Tuesday, 21 March 2023

Blood Runs Cold - Neil Lancaster


Jesus, Mary and Joseph and the wee donkey as Ted Hastings of AC12 might say. It’s no surprise then that the TV series, Line of Duty, is referenced in the latter part of this book. This is a gripping police procedural where corruption within the force is at the heart of matters.

The novel begins with a prologue that has your heart in your mouth as you feverishly read, expecting the worst. Isn’t that what happens in the majority of prologues? Oh no, not here! This author cleverly turns it around, and in the prologue everyone lives happily ever after. Not for long though. It was simply the prologue. We wouldn’t have a book otherwise would we?

You might relax at the end of that prologue but it will be the last time till you get to the end. Blood Runs Cold is a tour de force of action and reaction and the title ably describes how both readers and characters in the book feel at certain points in the book. It’s a fast paced book which propels it into the page turner category. But I felt there was a clever balance between the tension and some of the interrelationships between the team members. Different characters, different dynamics that offered a little light relief at times. That was really necessary, because my goodness there are some moments in this book.

I understand that this is the fourth in a series! So far, I haven’t read any of the others, but this book inspires me to seek them out. However, not having read, the others doesn’t detract at all from the impact and enjoyment of reading this instalment. Duos in police thrillers are not unusual. But they’re very enjoyable. DS Max Craigie is the main cop, ably abetted by DC Janie Calder. They make a great team, and the supporting cast of their potty mouth superior, Ross, Norma and the wonderful Barney make you feel like you’re part of a family and you’re rooting for them all desperate for them to solve the crime and come to no harm.The villains are suitably ruthless and evil and they send a chill down your spine. 

It’s a thoroughly engaging and entertaining read. Well, plotted and well written. The use of police techniques, forensics and technology is at times mind blowing and you need to concentrate, but oh my, it’s so worth it.

Thanks to Readers First for a gifted copy.

Thursday, 16 March 2023

The Wrong Mother - Charlotte Duckworth

 You know, I almost get nervous when I start a book by Charlotte Duckworth because I know I’m going to get tummy squirmy. I’ve read all her books. I always think to myself, no, she can’t do it again, she can’t possibly produce another twisty, turny tale but she does. Every time! And I think that every time I review her books, I say that! But, as ever, it’s always difficult to review a psychological thriller because I don’t want to give anything away. So let’s begin with a little blurb.

Faye is 39 and single. She’s terrified she may never have the one thing she always wanted: a child of her own.

Then she discovers a co parenting app: Acorns. For men and women, who want to have a baby, but don’t want to do it alone. When she meets Louis through it, it feels as though the fates have aligned.

But just one year later, Faye is on the run from Louis, with baby Jake in tow. In desperate need of a new place to live, she contacts Rachel, who is renting out a room in her remote Norfolk cottage. It’s all Faye can afford – and surely she’ll be safe there?

But is Rachel the benevolent landlady she pretends to be?

Or does she have a secret of her own?’

Almost from page one with an enigmatic prologue, you find yourself slightly off-balance instinctively knowing that nothing is as it really seems. You know that Faye has some issues, but you’re not quite sure what and you’re not quite sure whether she is the one off centre or whether it’s the rest of the world! Louis is not likeable at all, my hackles rose quite soon after he entered the proceedings.so that made me more pro Faye, although I wanted to shake her sometimes, because it seems she couldn’t see the obvious. And Rachel is a brilliant character, because somehow you want to endow her with all kinds of qualities that may or may not be so. You want to accuse her of all kinds of things that she may or may not have done. She’s a cleverly constructed character and her final denouement is masterful. But until that point, there’s almost something of the Mrs Danvers about her. 

It’s immensely compulsive reading, sub plots alongside a main plot. And all the time there’s this sense of nothing being quite right, that is quite unnerving as you read. But a story like this wouldn’t work unless the narrative was correctly paced, and it’s nigh on perfect here. And with any psychological thriller, you know that the narrators will be flawed. How flawed though? The story yo-yos between Rachel and Faye’s perspectives, but who can you believe?  Interestingly, we never get Louis’s perspective.

As long as Charlotte Duckworth writes these thrillers, I will read them! My thanks to Ella Patel at Quercus books for a gifted copy, and the opportunity to share my thoughts on publication day.

Tuesday, 14 March 2023

The Instant - Amy Liptrot


The instant I started reading this I was locked. Locked into the life and love of Amy Liptrot as she spends a year in Berlin.

‘ The Instant tells of the momentous year that follows, encountering the city’s wildlife in the most unexpected places, tracing the cycles of the moon, the flight paths of migratory birds, and surrendering to the addictive power of love and lust.’

Hard to place in any specific or defined genre, I loved the paradox of Amy’s story. Her love of the natural world and the commitment to dating apps and finding love. I suppose it comes close to a memoir or autobiography, but it’s more than an account of a life lived, it’s a consideration of a state of mind and individual desire. There is an intimacy with the honesty of the book, the sense that someone has bared their soul to perfect strangers. But alongside the individual and personal observations, there is also a consideration of Berlin, and of course, Germany. And then there are the digital, online lives that we lead and our seeming addiction to checking our devices way more times than we really need to. 

It’s not a lengthy book, but it packs a concentrated energy within its pages. There are times, I suppose, when I felt it came across as a little self-indulgent. And I did wonder whether I would have benefited from having read The Outrun before I read this because it may have offered me a greater context. There were moving moments in the book, and some very informative ones. Ms. Liptrot would make a fine nature writer as well as a perceptive observer of her own life and state of mind.

My thanks to Canongate Books for a gifted copy.

Forbidden Notebook - Alba De Cespedes

February 14th

I was wrong to buy this notebook, very wrong.’ I had to chuckle when I read that for I’ve said the same thing to myself many times and I have a shelf full of blank notebooks to prove it. I loved  the sound of this book as I am a journal writer. In fact, initially, I thought it was the diary of an Italian/Cuban author, but it isn’t. It’s a novel. The narrative is in the form of a journal. I looked up at my shelf of completed diaries and realised that I’ve written several books over the years! However I don’t think that publishing mine would make very interesting reading. They’re not what you would call novel. And not nearly as interesting as this promises to be. Valeria Cossati is the protagonist and she seems terrified from the outset that anybody in her household should suspect that she is keeping a diary. She lives with her husband and two children. I’m with her on this one. I wouldn’t want anybody to read my diaries. Diaries are like having a conversation with yourself. It’s a place where you can say anything and everything that you want to. And that includes things that you might not want to say to other people, those who are dear to you and those who aren’t! So I get that she doesn’t want anyone to take a sneak peek. But in some ways her fear seems irrational. So that got me wondering why. I was trying to date when the action takes place. And I think it must be between the two world wars. And as it is in Italy, perhaps the political climate made everybody a little fearful and anxious? Valeria also spends a great deal of time finding hiding places for the journal and is challenged as to when she can actually sit down to write. Some of that is because she doesn’t want anybody to know she’s writing. That must be dreadful. My diary is on hand all the time and I scribble in it at any point during the day and any where I feel like it! But then it’s different when you live alone. I nearly always write with a fountain pen too. She doesn’t mention what she uses to write with but for me, using proper ink gives the words a greater validity.

February 15th

I’m feeling quite sorry for Valeria. The family would seem to take her for granted. It seems they have fallen on lean times because she has to work in an office to make ends meet and it seems that is not the done thing in good society and her mother seems to disapprove. But she seems to relish going to work. She seems to take her role as wife and mother quite seriously, but I found some of her exchanges with her children quite detached, harsh even. They are both grown up or in later adolescence at least, but I can’t remember my mum ever talking to me like that, even if she disagreed with what I was doing. Mind you, I don’t think I was doing what Valerias’s daughter was doing. I suppose as this is a diary I haven’t got to worry about spoilers, but somehow I’m not willing to give too much away just in case. For me my diary writing fulfils a number of functions. It helps me remember what I’ve done, where I’ve been, what I’ve thought and it helps me try and make sense of this curious thing we call life. And I think it’s the same for Valeria. But because diary keeping seems to be very much an unfamiliar activity she’s learning a lot about herself and her life and I’m not sure she necessarily likes what she’s learning.

February 16th

The writing is very good. Very literary. She’s an intelligent woman. There are plenty of descriptions and through her diary I’m getting to know her family. It feels like she’s desperately trying to analyse her life and her relationships with her husband and children. But she seems to be floundering, not quite certain what conclusions she can reach.. And there is a potential situation developing with her boss in the office. That could work out to be quite interesting. I think it’ll give another dimension to her diary certainly. She has considered whether she should take the diary to work and write in it there, but again that same fear of somebody finding out and knowing that she’s keeping a journal seems to bother her immensely. It’s interesting because all of my diaries are on the same shelf and potentially anybody who comes to my house could pick one up and read it. I don’t actually think they would. I wonder too if people are really interested in reading other peoples diaries? I’m enjoying reading this one, but deep down I know it’s a novel. But I have read diaries. In fact I’ve got on order a new translation of Franz Kafka‘s diaries. And I’ve recently read Alan Rickman‘s diaries. But the thing is this I feel guilty when I do it. Because I know that the writers never intended the words in their diaries to be read. Maybe that’s why Valeria is so anxious. She doesn’t want others to have that guilt.

February 20th

Things are gathering pace. Both kids have presented Valeria with challenges and I think she’s beginning to question the whole notion of what it is to be a woman in the current world, She’s struggling because the contrast between her generation and the next is marked. She is questioning her role as mother and wife, and seems confused by how she’s feeling and how the role is perceived by others. It’s as if she’s damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t. As I suspected there is a situation that has developed between her and the director of the office where she works. I haven’t said much about the relationship she has with her husband. On the surface, they seem like a devoted couple, but when you dig a little deeper, I found him to be a little patronising towards her. Her loyalty is commendable. But it’s as if she’s mainly playing a role. I don’t think she dislikes him and she reminisces about how things were in the early days of their relationship. I think she feels trapped. 

February 21st

Oh my days! I didn’t expect it to end like this. It’s something I could never ever do. But you never know if she goes ahead with it or not. I guess she must because it’s the end of the book. I guess she was too frightened of her own feelings and the realisation that she is an unfulfilled woman.but she’s been on a journey, and I hope she’s come out of it the other side, knowing a little more about herself and about women.

Monday, 13 March 2023

No Life for a Lady - Hannah Dolby - Tandem Collective readalong


For some folk historical fiction is much like a period drama on television you either love it or hate it. I’ve always enjoyed historical fiction on varying levels. But I don’t restrict myself to the one genre. For example, I also enjoy crime which I also experience on a number of levels. And if a sub genre of the crime novel is “cosy crime” then I think it’s possible that a sub genre of historical fiction novel could be ‘cosy history’?! If that can be so, then Hannah Dolby’s, No Life for a Lady should surely slot neatly into that category.

Set along the bustling promenades of Victorian Hastings, this novel follows the fortunes of Violet Hamilton, spinster of this parish, much to her fathers chagrin, and he will not desist from trying to introduce her to eligible men. But that’s not what Violet aspires to. She’s a feisty, determined Victorian lady who bends the rules of propriety on many an occasion. But there’s a refreshing naïveté to her that works very well alongside her wit and stubbornness. 

Central to the action is Violet’s desire to find or find out what happened to her mother, Lily, who disappeared 10 years previously. To achieve that end she enlists the services of a private investigator. This proves to be the catalyst for the events that follow. And I refuse to give away any more than that. You’re just going to have to read the book for yourself.

I found Violet’s character most endearing, and I found her so funny. The whole book has some very humorous moments in it, so it comes across as quite lighthearted in places, even though some of the subject matter is serious. 

The location is dominant but it’s very much a character driven narrative. And there’s a great deal of attention to historical detail. The only thing I might say is some of the language and idioms were possibly not Victorian and some more modern vernacular was used, but overall it didn’t detract from the fun aspect of this story. The ending was a tad inconclusive, but I’m hoping this means we’re going to see some more of Violet in her intended role, which I will not divulge because I try not to do spoilers!

It’s a book of warmth and wit, undemanding in many ways, but it leaves you more upbeat than down. And we all need some of that in these drear times.

My thanks to Tandem Collective for a gifted copy of the book, and a spot on the readalong, which was enhanced by all of the activities offered in the special edition of the book.

Mrs. Pankhurst’s Purple Feather/ Etta Lemon The Woman Who Saved the Birds - Tessa Boase

 Some years ago, my sister bought me gift membership of the RSPB and renews it for me annually. I probably don’t make as much use of it as I could as there are no reserves especially near to me, but I enjoy flicking through the magazine each month and I always participate in the Great British Birdwatch each January. Yet I’ve never given a single thought to the origins of the charity. The RSPB. It just IS!

I recently joined an online event from Kensington and Chelsea libraries – Fashion, Fury, and Feathers: Women’s Fight for Change with Tessa Boase. It was an illuminating talk, and I learned a great deal about millinery in the Victorian age, the cruelty unleashed on numerous species of birds, and…… some incredible women. I guess the mark of a good talk is if it sends you hurtling off to find out more. I did. Go hurtling off to find out more! Tessa Boase’s book Etta Lemon – The Woman Who Saved the Birds was my starting point. So I tried to reserve a copy at my local library but the search came up with a different book – Mrs Pankhurst’s Purple Feather, same book, different title - “a rose by any other name “. The copy, secured and collected, I began reading on International Women’s Day, which seemed like an auspicious day to start the book.

I was hoping to find out more concerning the RSPB and its origins. I did, but I also found out so very much more. Several women were pivotal in shaping the organisation, but very little is known about them - Emily Williamson founded the RSPB over tea in her living room in 1889. But the book looks closely at two lives in parallel, Etta Lemon and Emmeline Pankhurst, two very different women with opposing views and contrasting modus operandi. But it shows that when your temperament, be it the quiet dignity of Etta Lemon or the forceful militance of Mrs Pankhurst, combined with sufficient determination and doggedness can eventually bring about change. Of course Mrs Pankhurst needs little introduction, but I had never heard of Etta Lemon before Ms. Boase’s talk, let alone the instrumental part she played in creating the RSPB.

In an accessible narrative, not bogged down by academic jargon and padding, the book, gives us a detailed account of the millinery industry of the 19th century, the lives of its workers from those women and children, who “willowed” ostrich plumes by hand, to the feather manufacturers of the East End. The research is thorough and impeccable. Running alongside this scenario is the Suffragette movement and the development of anti suffrage which you might determine to have little to do with millinery and the RSPB, except the book is also about women and the transformation of a society, about conservation and its legacy.

Today, we are appalled at the procuring of egret plumes, how the young birds are left to starve after the murder of the parent birds for their feathers. So I’m glad to know of Etta Lemon’s single-mindedness and commitment to those birds who have the most beautiful voices but not necessarily those we can comprehend if they scream in pain and outrage. They need voices like Etta’s to heighten public consciousness. Reading more about her shows interests and causes that extended beyond ornithology.

The book also made me wonder how many other people there are in history who have quietly done great things but have gone largely unnoticed? It’s a curious world we live in. Today, social media is redolent with “influencers” posting eye-catching photos and vibrant videos. One sometimes gets the sense that they’re trying to outdo each other instead of focusing on a single issue. My guess is they actually do very little in the way of meaningful influence. But it made me wonder if time could be manipulated, how Etta Lemon and Emmeline Pankhurst would have utilised social media? Mrs Pankhurst would maybe have created hard-hitting reels and videos on TikTok and Instagram. Etta Lemon would have posted meaningful tweets with photos of birds on Twitter!!

Wednesday, 8 March 2023

Winchelsea - Alex Preston

 Many swashes were buckled in the reading of this immersive tale of Kentish smugglers and Bonnie Prince Charlie!  Sound like a contradiction? And a geographical paradox? Maybe. But anything can happen in the world of fiction. But wait…….. this is historical fiction, and so we have some facts at our fingertips. But we also have Goody Brown, the glue that cements the book together, the fact and the fiction.

At the end of the book, the author refers to the misconception that smuggling was confined to the West Country. It wasn’t. It was very much alive and well in Kent. And this isn’t the first book to deal with smuggling in this part of the world. One thinks of Russell Thorndike‘s Dr.Syn. My father grew up in that part of the country. So I’m familiar with Romney Marsh, Dymchurch and Dungeness. Maybe that gives me an advantage when reading a book like this, because I’ve visited Rye and Winchelsea too. I was instantly taken back to 18th century England and I found the research and the writing to be very evocative.The Hawkhurst gang renowned for their brutality and dominance, an organised crime gang of the 18th century!

Goody Brown is a wonderful character. Multifaceted and multitalented it seems. I found her to be the most defined character in the book. The others were there to play their parts and they did so very well. I found the book to be something of a paradox because on one level, it’s quite simplistic storytelling. A story told very well with plenty of action. But if you scratch beneath the surface, there are some deeper themes and social comment, not to mention political intrigue.

The only part I wasn’t quite so keen on was at the beginning of book 2, when we were treated to a memoir by a character, hitherto unencountered, which was very different in style from the rest of the book and for me, disturbed the rhythm a bit. Progressing further on, I could see its function which confirmed what had been very subliminally hinted at earlier in the book

I read this as part of a readalong with Canongate Books, and I thank them for my gifted copy.