Archives for books

#BookReview ‘Spook Street’ by Mick Herron #spy #thriller

Read in entirety on a train journey, Spook Street by Mick Herron is an absorbing tale of 21st century spies and terrorists combined with old-school tactics of indoctrination. The story, fourth in Herron’s ‘Slough House’ spy series, opens straight into the action with a flash mob bomb attack unsuspected by the security services. When the ‘OB’ – the elderly former-spy grandfather of slow horse employee River Cartwright – says stoats are on his trail, his claims are dismissed as advancing senility. Until a man is shot at the OB’s house and the old man disappears. This a story with a tight timeline, everything takes place within a couple of days of the first page. This brings an urgency to the danger and also makes the pages turn quickly. For Slough House fans, there are a couple of new characters to adjust to – Moira Tregorian has taken over the administrator’s desk previously occupied by Catherine Standish, and River now shares an office with the silent, hoody-wearing JK Coe. No one is sure why the latter is there, ie what he has done wrong to deserve being sent to Slough House, or the nature of his particular skill. Jackson Lamb may
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Darling Blue’ by @AuthorTracyRees #historical

The Blue of the title is Ishbel Camberwell but Darling Blue by Tracy Rees is not the story of one woman but three. Although the main voice is that of Blue’s, this is really an ensemble piece about a year in the life of a wealthy family living in Richmond-upon-Thames in the 1920s. At her 21st birthday party, Blue’s father makes a startling announcement. Suitors interested in marrying Blue must woo her by letter within the next twelve months. Blue, who wants to be a writer and has no pressing desire to marry, is horrified by her father’s challenge. She’s even more appalled when she receives three letters. Determined to make her own decisions, she gets a temporary job as a reporter on the local newspaper. Delphine Foley is trapped in a violent marriage. Desperate to escape and determined to protect her mother and sister from potential threats from her husband, she forges a secret plan. When her plan takes an unexpected turn, she finds herself in Richmond-upon-Thames, a beautiful place only miles from where she lived but somewhere she didn’t know existed. When an accident throws her into the path of the Camberwell family, she senses a chance of
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Silver Wolf’ by @JCollissHarvey #historical

The Silver Wolf by JC Harvey is first in the Fiskardo’s War series set in 17th century Europe during the Thirty Years War. If, like me, your history is a little hazy, the author’s note at the beginning is helpful. This was a time of sprawling wars and disputes, religious, political and national plus local personal grudges being settled. Into this soup of battle, Harvey has inserted the story of Jack Fiskardo. And what a story this is. Young Jack is an orphan, surviving on his wits in the Amsterdam docklands. Around his neck he wears a silver token of a wolf. He knows neither its provenance nor its meaning. People who meet him and recognise it, look at him askance. Jack is a brilliant hero. Feisty, brave yet considered, he has a fondness for the bullied and those weaker than himself. And he is also something of a horse whisperer. This is a long book – 560 pages, though not as long as Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth – and slowly we pick up hints about the relevance of Jack’s wolf necklace. There is a huge cast of characters, but a limited number in each place that
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Pod’ by @LalinePaull #contemporary

Pod by Laline Paull is an environmental allegory for the ocean today, for the state of the world, the climate and for humanity. The topics are huge. Man’s misuse of the ocean and its creatures. Migration and our treatment of refugees who are different from us. Violence against women. Drug addiction. Selfishness and the betrayal of trust and respect for others. The connections of family and the meaning of home. It reminded me of Watership Down, not read since childhood but which made a lasting impression on me.There are several narratives. The main voice is Ea, a spinner longi dolphin whose inability to hear the music of the ocean prevents her from spinning beautifully. Unable to take part in the annual Exodus ritual, she feels a failure. When tragedy happens in her small pod, she flees and finds herself alone in the ‘vast’. When she joins a huge pod of bigger bottlenose tursiops dolphins, Ea finds a society completely alien to the world she knows. The First Alliance is ruled by lord Ku who, with his second in command lord Split, maintains a strict structure of order using the vira military officers. Devi, first wife and head of Ku’s harem,
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘A Woman Made of Snow’ by Elisabeth Gifford #historical

A Woman Made of Snow by Elisabeth Gifford is a historical mystery moving between post-World War Two Scotland and the Arctic in the nineteenth century. This is an ambitious, well-researched dual timeline story encompassing exploitation of the Inuit people, the whaling industry, racial prejudice, the maintenance of sprawling country estates and the iron will of a mother for her son to marry the woman she prefers rather than the woman he loves. In 1949, Caro moves to Kelly Castle near Dundee with husband Alasdair and new baby Felicity, to live with his mother Martha. As the two women scratch along together, Martha asks Caro to organise the family records which have fallen into confusion. Sorting the piles of documents, Caro finds an intriguing photograph of Oliver Gillan, Alasdair’s great-grandfather, and two unknown young women. As she sets out to identify the strangers, workmen on the estate uncover bones of a woman in an unmarked grave. Caro jumps to the assumption that the bones might belong to one of the women in the photograph. This 1949 storyline is alternated with that a century earlier of Oliver, a medical student, who grew up at Kelly Castle. Gifford lays clues for the reader
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Sacrilege’ by SJ Parris @thestephmerritt #historical #crime

Everywhere he goes in the England of Queen Elizabeth I, Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno runs into trouble. In Sacrilege, third in this quickly-becoming-addictive series by SJ Parris, Bruno is in Canterbury to help an old friend prove her innocence of murder. And to spy for his master, Sir Francis Walsingham. When the woman he loved in the first book of the series asks for his help, Bruno risks the wrath of Walsingham and heads to Canterbury. Set in turbulent political times, the various historical plots are twisted and complicated. Weary at Bruno’s determination to pursue what he believes is a lost cause, Walsingham charges him with identifying a traitor in the cathedral administration in Canterbury. Parris weaves a fictional plan by Catholics in Britain and France to use the ‘discovered’ bones of Thomas Becket to anoint a new Catholic king when France should invade England. The labyrinthine politics and geography of the inner sanctums of Canterbury cathedral add to the tension. The scenes in the crypt are thrilling as Bruno again and again takes huge risks to discover the truth. When he is charged with murder and a fabricated charge of theft, he realises his contacts at the royal court
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Broken Faith’ by Toby Clements #historical

Broken Faith, second in the Kingmaker series by Toby Clements, takes place in the lull after the 1461 battle of Towton and 1464 when Edward IV marries Elizabeth Woodville. The history of these intervening years is subject to much confusion, guesswork and mystery, wonderful territory for an imaginative novelist. Clements gives Katherine and Thomas, who we first met in Winter Pilgrims, a secret which if revealed will change the succession to the throne of England. Exactly what the Yorkists and Lancastrians are fighting about. The battles are bloodthirsty, the battlefield surgery by Kit [aka Katherine in disguise] is gruesome but surprisingly modernistic, the betrayals of self-seeking lords are countless and amongst it all shine the people of genuine morals, driven by belief in what is right, with humble and generous natures. That brave and endearing pair Thomas and Kit are separated, not sure if the other is alive, and forced to do what is necessary to survive. Life in the 15th century was tough enough without living through war, Clements describes the life of a common soldier, the weapons, the methods of fighting, the battle tactics, the food, the smells. Although the detail is fascinating, Clements doesn’t leave the story
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘This Rough Magic’ by Mary Stewart #romance #suspense

Until re-visiting Mary Stewart again I’d forgotten the exoticism of her settings and so, inspired by The Gabriel Hounds which is set in Lebanon, I quickly moved onto This Rough Magic. I remember being enchanted by this book when I read it as a teenager. The magic of Corfu, the beating heat, the warm dust, the blue sky. My memories didn’t let me down. Set in Greece, this is another fantastic romantic suspense novel from Mary Stewart which to be honest is more adventure story than romance. Difficult to believe it was first published in 1964 [here’s the cover of the Hodder & Stoughton first edition]. More moody and atmospheric than the disappointingly generic front cover of the current edition. When young actress Lucy Waring goes to stay with her sister Phyl in Corfu, she meets the neighbour living at the adjacent mysterious Castello dei Fiori. None other than Shakespearean master Sir Julian Gale. Although Sir Julian is flattering, sharing his theory that Shakespeare based The Tempest on Corfu and that Prospero’s cave is nearby, his son Max is cool and unwelcoming. So later, when Lucy is on the nearby beach where she meets a tame local dolphin, shots ring
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Real Tigers’ by Mick Herron #spy #thriller

When recovering alcoholic and slow horse Catherine Standish goes missing, alarm bells ring at Slough House. Real Tigers by Mick Herron is third in his series about the unfashionable not-quite-up-to-it spies who have been sent to MI5’s version of Coventry. After an intriguing start, I found myself immersed in the tortuous twists and turns of Regents Park v politicians, all playing I-can-betray-you-better-than-you-can-betray-me, when I wanted more Standish. Standish, who has been kidnapped, seems the most unlikely target for attack. But this is Herron’s take on London’s spy-stitching-up-another-spy-for-promotion world where power and accountability don’t go together. Add in slimy Home Secretary Peter Judd and I lost track of the double-crossing. Thankfully Jackson Lamb who, despite disgusting personal habits and an apparent ‘don’t care’ attitude, was an operative during the Cold War and so can still cut through the lies. When Slough House is the focus of a surprise assessment, and it becomes clear that Standish is not coming back, Lamb’s Cold War trickery comes in handy. After a soggy middle, the pace picks up in the final third. The real tigers of the title are of course the slow horses who find their claws at last. The action scene in the
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Categories: Uncategorized.

#BookReview ‘Devotion’ by @HannahFKent #historical #emigration

In Prussia, 1836, fourteen-year-old Hanne lives in a world-within-a-world, a strict religious group where worship must be kept secret and hidden from the sight of neighbours. Devotion by Hannah Kent is the story of Hanne’s persecuted community. They live in fear of expulsion or worse. But when a new family arrives Hanne meets another outsider, Thea, and her life is changed forever. Kent takes her time with the first half. This is a slow start, a painstaking building of the relationship between Hanne and Thea, drawing the world in which neither fits. As Hanne reaches womanhood, her life is changing in small ways. Her mother increasingly separates her from twin brother Matthias as they are prepared for different adult lives. Hanne simply longs to be free to be in the woods, to listen to the sounds of nature alive. But in times of fear or uncertainty, when she bristles against the strict confines set by her mother, the unshakeable belief of her father, she cleaves to her twin. The glimpse of a different world offered by Thea’s family, the more open way they behave with each other, makes Hanne’s mild dissatisfaction with her life become an acute fear of being
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘A Fatal Crossing’ by @TomHindle3 #crime

‘When amateurs are involved… mistakes are made,’ says the detective. It is 1924 when a suspicious death occurs on board a transatlantic liner bound for New York with 2000 passengers.  A Fatal Crossing by Tom Hindle is set up as a classic closed room murder mystery. The detective has four days to find the murderer before the ship docks in New York. Key elements are mixed together. An elderly gentleman travelling under a false name is found dead, a key witness disappears, a painting is stolen, the captain wants an easy final voyage before retirement, while a Scotland Yard detective James Temple won’t say why he’s travelling to America. The captain, who is desperate to believe the death was accidental, permits Temple to investigate the crime only if accompanied by ship’s officer Timothy Birch. They are a mis-matched pair. Grumpy Temple is irritated by Birch’s interference. Birch, whose unspecified grief makes him an outsider amongst the crew, is intimidated by Temple. They begin to interview witnesses. Soon, Birch receives a death threat. The story is told through the first-person narrative of Birch which is limiting and repetitive. It is a feature of crime novels to use more telling – not
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Key in the Lock’ by @bethunderdown #historical

Two unrelated deaths, thirty years apart, set in motion a chain of cause and effect. Decades later, so many answers remain unspoken. The Key in the Lock by Beth Underdown is an unusual multiple timeline historical mystery set in Cornwall, rather like Mary Stewart mysteries but darker. Ivy Boscowen has known two deaths in her life. In 1918 she is mourning the death in the Great War of her son, Tim. The exact circumstances of his death cannot be confirmed and this haunts her, she becomes afraid that her reluctance for him to enlist actually forced him to go and so feels responsible for his death. At night she dreams of Tim when he was a child, hiding beneath a bed. This dream morphs into the memory of another young death; when Ivy was nineteen, young William Tremain died in a house fire at the nearby Polneath. He was found asphyxiated beneath a bed. The two deaths are unconnected in terms of circumstances and cause, but are forever connected in Ivy’s mind because of decisions taken. When she was a teenager, Ivy was sweet on Edward Tremain, son of ‘Old’ Tremain, owner of Polneath and the gunpowder works. Appropriately, at
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Tea for Two at the Little Cornish Kitchen’ by @janelinfoot 

I’m not a great reader of novels described as ‘heartwarming’, particularly with cheerful pastel-coloured covers. But as an impulse read for a winter day when I was feeling under the weather and in need of comfort, Tea for Two at the Little Cornish Kitchen by Jane Linfoot proved to be a bit of a surprise. Second in the Little Cornish Kitchen series, I hesitate to call this a ‘cosy romance’ but it is fun, flirty and funny. Novels set in Cornwall are almost a genre of their own and the fictional seaside village of St Aidan with its pastel-coloured houses set on steep windy streets leading to the beach is ideal for a ‘community’ novel with a strong list of characters. There are lots of alliterations, hashtags and cute names starting with Cressida Cupcake, the social media name for hit online baker Cressy Hobson. Dog and apartment-sitting for her brother Charlie [owner of the Little Cornish Kitchen Cafe and star of the first book in Linfoot’s series, one of a collection set in St Aidan] Cressy will be at Seaspray Cottage for six weeks. She’s glad to escape London and the embarrassing fallout after an online baking disaster. She’s trending
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Tempted by the Runes’ by @PiaCCourtenay #romance #timetravel

Having visited Iceland and loved the wild beauty, I was pleased to discover Tempted by the Runes by Christina Courtenay. A time-travelling Viking romance combining Sweden, Iceland and Ireland in the 21st and 9th centuries, this is a light romance which skips along nicely. Geir Eskilsson is a Viking adventurer who sets sail from Sviariki [Sweden] in AD875 in a ship bound for Iceland, loaded with fellow travellers, livestock and tools. During a stopover in the port of Dyflin [Dublin, Ireland] to buy thralls [slaves] to work the land, he sees a strangely dressed woman being attacked. In 2021 a nineteen-year-old Swede, Maddie, is visiting Dublin with her parents and brother to attend the Clonarf Viking Festival. Maddie’s father is an archaeologist, her mother a conservator, so she and her siblings have attended Viking re-enactments since they were small and have learned the practical skills of Viking life at workshops. When Maddie explores Dublin on her own, she finds steps down to the shore of the River Liffey where she sees a knife half-buried in the mud. From the beginning it’s necessary to ignore the large number of conveniences and coincidences that occur; just abandon the questioning voice in your
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘In a Summer Season’ by Elizabeth Taylor #classic #love

What a painful, heart-wrenching read is In a Summer Season by Elizabeth Taylor. It is about love – giddying heart-spinning young love, the intensity of teenage crush, the love and companionship of friendship, parental love, second love, age-gap love, tragic love and lust-love. Widow Kate is seen by friends and family to have married again, unwisely, to a younger man, the charming and feckless Dermot. Kate’s sixteen-year-old daughter Louise hates the way Dermot speaks to her mother, while Kate’s son Tom struggles to make his way in his grandfather’s business and retired teacher Aunt Ethel fears for the new marriage which she believes is founded solely on sex. As Kate adopts new hobbies to fit in with her husband – going to the races, the pub – Dermot feels excluded by the things he doesn’t know, and by Kate’s shared experience with first husband Alan. The household exists in an uneasy alliance. For the first half of the book, this calm is layered with a troubling current eventually brought to the surface by the arrival of Alan’s oldest friend, Charles, and his beautiful daughter Araminta. Tom becomes too caught up in his own calf love for Minty to worry about
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Swift and the Harrier’ by Minette Walters #historical

The latest historical novel from former thriller writer Minette Walters is an absolute cracker. I raced through The Swift and the Harrier which is a fabulous mixture of dramatic history, medicine, family divisions and romance, all set in the English Civil War. Three days before the English Civil War begins in 1642, a Catholic priest is hung in Dorset for treason. Gentleman’s daughter and physician Jayne Swift is introduced to us in the public crush on Dorchester’s streets as people press to see the action. To avoid confrontation, Jayne steps into a doorway and finds herself drawn into the house by a thin-lipped elderly woman. They are strangers and in the current political unrest, all strangers must be mistrusted. This meeting is the catalyst for a narrative which takes us through the twists and turns of this war which sets brother against brother, where unpaid soldiers are ordered by superiors to loot and ransack civilian property, where small towns are attacked under siege for little gain and where men choose sides on blind belief rather than an understanding of the facts. Disguise and dissimulation are necessary to avoid the attention of whichever band of soldiers are encountered. Jayne is a
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘A Change of Circumstance’ @susanhillwriter #crime

Lafferton, the small town at the heart of the Simon Serrailler crime novels by Susan Hill, has until now only known small-scale drugs crime. In A Change of Circumstance, a young local man is found dead of a presumed overdose in a flat above the Chinese pharmacy in neighbouring hippy village Starley. County lines drug gangs are using local Lafferton children and people are beginning to die. This is the eleventh instalment of this excellent series. Hill’s Serrailler novels are always a delight to read, thoroughly grounded in the town of Lafferton with familiar characters and landmarks set against beautiful countryside. A reminder that crime happens in pretty places too. I wasn’t so sure about the veracity of some of the police procedure but the stories of Brookie and Olivia feel real enough, both children from fractured families pulled into crime by lies and bribes. A Change of Circumstance is a horrible portrayal of the manipulation and abuse of children but lacking in the narrative drive of earlier books. I finished it quickly but it is short – 315 pages compared with first in the series The Various Haunts of Men which is 448 pages long. As always, a network
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘They Came Like Swallows’ by William Maxwell #literary

Bunny Morison is eight years old and his mother Elizabeth is the centre of his life. Published in 1937, They Came Like Swallows is the second novel by William Maxwell. An autobiographical novella based on the 1918 flu epidemic seen through the eyes of Bunny, Robert and their father James, it’s a sensitive portrayal of the depths of family love not always outwardly expressed. This is a quiet character-led story about love, anxiety and grief, beautifully-written. I most enjoyed Bunny’s viewpoint, the simplicity and power of the love of a small child who sees things he doesn’t understand while sensing a significance. Thirteen-year-old Robert, first seen through Bunny’s eyes, seems a bully but is revealed in his own section as a boy approaching adulthood, protective of his pregnant mother and desperate to please his emotionally-absent father. And finally, James’s section shows the reasons for this distance. Each character is teetering on the edge of change, immersed in his own fears and hopes. As the story unfolds we are introduced to the Morison’s wider family. Bunny dwells on his aunt Irene, Elizabeth’s sister. ‘… their hands felt entirely different and looked entirely different. From Irene’s hands he drew excitement, and from
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Women of Troy’ by Pat Barker #historical #myths

The Women of Troy is the second of the Trojan War novels by Pat Barker, telling the post-war story of Trojan woman Briseis, a trophy of war owned by Achilles. I loved the first, The Silence of the Girls, but wanted to hear the stories of more of the women. That’s what we get in this second book. Briseis, now pregnant with Achilles’ child, is again narrator along with a new male voice, that of Pyrrhus, eldest son of Achilles and Briseis’ stepson. Now Achilles is dead Briseis belongs to Alcimus, charged by Achilles before his death with caring for his unborn child. The story starts with Pyrrhus inside the wooden horse, constructed by the Greeks, to trick the Trojans. ‘Inside the horse’s gut: heat, darkness, sweat, fear. They’re crammed in, packed as tight as olives in a jar.’ It is Pyrrhus who kills Priam, king of the Trojans, and that murder echoes throughout The Women of Troy. As storms rage – punishment of the victorious Greeks by the Gods for their impious behaviour – the army and its captives are now trapped on the beach waiting for a chance to sail home. This enclosure at close quarters raises emotions,
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Gabriel Hounds’ by Mary Stewart #romance #suspense

A rollicking, sensuous tale set at a rundown Lebanese palace involving two cousins, an eccentric great-aunt, various chases and subterfuge, The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart is a classic 20th century suspense romance. The hounds of the title are a legend saying that when the dogs run howling around the palace of Dar Ibrahim in the gloriously-named Adonis Valley, death is sure to follow. Christy Mansel leaves her guided tour of Syria and Lebanon to visit the palace of her Great-Aunt Harriet. When she arrives at the beguiling, almost Gothic building, she finds a staff who are incommunicative and protective of their boss who prefers her solitude and will not receive visitors until dark. Waiting to hear if her relative will see her, Christy sets out to explore the passages, gardens, walls and secret places, trying to ignore the glares of the servants and avoid the saluki hounds she has been warned are guard dogs and aggressive to strangers. The descriptions of Lebanon make the story come alive as do the stories of legends researched by the great-aunt’s assistant, John Lethman. Published in 1967, the story develops slowly compared with current publishing tastes but the settings are luscious and the
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Categories: Book Love.