My Wonderful Reading Year – June 2022 – The Journey Continues.

Here we are, summer has arrived and I have added tending to my garden to the list of the things I love to do at this time of the year. When it is cooler, I love to sit with a good book and relax, moving to the cool of my house when my south facing garden becomes too hot. I find myself drawn away from reviewing books for blog tours and towards reading simply for pleasure, something I will be doing more of this summer. I have strayed from the path of tackling my to be read pile of books, but hope to remedy that as well.

So here we go! These are the books I read in June 2022.

Villager by Tom Cox.

It feels like a cliché to say that when I pick up a novel I have certain expectations. Sometimes I love when a book delivers exactly what I want, other times I feel a tiny bit let down, because as reader I still want to be enchanted and challenged! I want a piece of writing that feels authentic and original. Villager by Tom Cox is all this and I felt eutrophic that I had found a piece of writing that felt exciting, different and best of imaginative. The writing is vivid and the characters felt alive, talking to me from the page in glorious detail.

The Beach House by Beverley Jones

There is a sense of snobbery from some towards thrillers, put down as having mass market appeal, as if that in some way, is an insult. But the reason this genre has such appeal is because it can create a sense of excitement in the readers, so many other genres can’t and when done well, they are cracking reads. The Beach House is an example of this, the story vibrates with tension, it doesn’t run along out of control, but like a ticking clock, slowly counts down to an ending that has you holding you breath!

Gentleman Jack – The Real Anne Lister by Anne Choma

I picked this non fiction title up because I love the story of Anne Lister and loved the TV adaption of her life. It has, I am ashamed to say, sat on my bookshelf for over two years, bought on a city break in the summer before the Covid Pandemic changed our lives forever. I found it to be a fascinating and moving read, that told the story of a remarkable women through her own words.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury was the book chosen by book group for June and I really enjoyed it. I’m not a massive fan of dystopian fiction, but I loved this one. The idea of a world without books scares me, so I found it both chilling and haunting.

Nothing Else by Louise Beach

Read as part of a blog tour nothing else is a beautiful and haunting tale of love and kinship. I am a massive fan of Louise Beeches writing and I love how she always manages to capture the essence of what connects us. Stunning writing once again.

Tasting Sunlight by Ewald Arenz

It seems too simplistic to say this book is beautifully written, one of the best books I have read this year, but it is true. Here we have two women who find redemption by simply allowing each to be, not asking or demanding, simply coming to an acceptance of what it means to find acceptance.

The Secret LIfe of Albert Entwistle by Matt Cain

It is impossible as far as I am concerned to read this novel and not fall head over heals with Albert. It is a story of finding acceptance, of being true to who you are. Here is an LGBT+ story that will warm your heart and remind you that we all have the right to find love and be loved.

An Extra Pair of Hands by Kate Moss

A deeply moving account of what it really means to be a carer, told with love and honesty, this is a book we should all read. I found myself seeing within it’s pages a tender understanding of not just the hardships and stress brought about by caring for someone, but the joy and rewards it can bring.

Well that was June 2022 and it was a wonderful reading month. I’m hoping to delve deeper into my piles of books in July and I am excited to discover new and wonderful stories.

Nothing Else by Louise Beech

Heather Harris is a piano teacher and professional musician, whose quiet life revolves around music, whose memories centre on a single song that haunts her. A song she longs to perform again. A song she wrote as a child, to drown out the violence in their home. A song she played with her little sister, Harriet.

But Harriet is gone … she disappeared when their parents died, and Heather never saw her again.

When Heather is offered an opportunity to play piano on a cruise ship, she leaps at the chance. She’ll read her recently released childhood care records by day – searching for clues to her sister’s disappearance – and play piano by night … coming to terms with the truth about a past she’s done everything to forget.

An exquisitely moving novel about surviving devastating trauma, about the unbreakable bond between sisters, Nothing Else is also a story of courage and love, and the power of music to transcend – and change – everything.

Review

I am a devoted fan of Louise Beeches writing, so I am admitting now, that this is going to be an unapologetically gushing review.

Here we have on the surface a book about two sisters, separated as children following the death of their parents. The older of the two now an adult, sets out to discover more about her past and to try and solve the mystery around the sudden disappearance of her sister as a child. Now that all seems pretty run of the mill, but in the hands of Louise Beech it is so much more, becoming a mediation on grief, loss, love and longing.

The story is delivered straight from the heart and is full of emotional poignancy. It is powerful, startlingly honest and it’s greatest gift to the reader, is the way the writer taps into our shared experiences of loss and longing. Most of us at some point have suffered the loss of a loved one, leaving us feeling incomplete and so will feel an instant connection with the story being told. Louise Beech adds an extra dimension to this though, with a story about the death of a loved one and the disappearance of another. Leaving Heather to deal with one loss that at least on the surface has a sense of closure and a never ending longing to know the fate of her younger sister. It adds dimension and layers to a story that other writers would shy away from, for fear of overloading the reader with too much emotion. But grief and loss is complex and the writer trusts the reader to know the pain her characters suffer from is found in many forms and asks them to embrace it.

Heather’s anguish felt all the more real to me, because for us and her the pain has the potential to be an open wound throughout her life. She tapped into the complex feelings of adopted children who are searching for answers and created from it a character of who feels sad and lost at the beginning of the story, but comes alive as the journey through the story progresses. Because she learns to trust, not just those around her which is never easy, but herself. With Nothing Else the writer never seeks to make a cheap emotional story, but delivers one that brings Heather’s story to life like the petals of a flower, blooming as the sun warms them.

It is rare for any book to make me feel a sense of longing that a character finds the answers they need, to find the love that was ripped from them. I can think of only a few, one being Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles which found me so desperate that Achilles and Patroclus find each other before I reached the last page, that I felt my heart being wrenched out of alignment. I felt a similar need for Heather to find the answers she needed, to know what happened to her sister and find closure. That is solely down the the quality of the narrative and the writers ability to make me care. As I read the last part of the book, I felt an ache in my chest that I prayed would be eased by the last page. She threatened to break my heart, but also promised me and Heather the hope of happiness. As perverse as it sounds to a non reader maybe, isn’t this the feeling we are looking for in the novels we read, the delicious pain created deep in our souls about characters we have come to love? An inborn sense of yearning for a character to find peace or if they can’t, that we understand and embrace our hearts being toyed with.

That dear readers is why you should read Nothing Else!

You can purchase this novel directly from the publisher Orenda Books

From Waterstones and Amazon

About the author

Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015. The follow-up, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize. Both of her previous books Maria in the Moon and The Lion Tamer Who Lost were widely reviewed, critically acclaimed and number-one bestsellers on Kindle. The Lion Tamer Who Lost was shortlisted for the RNA Most Popular Romantic Novel Award in 2019. Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice. Louise lives with her husband on the outskirts of Hull. All six of Louise’s books have been digital bestsellers.

You can follow Louise Beech on Twitter

The Silent Brother by Simon Van Der Velde

When his beloved little brother is stolen away, five-year-old Tommy Farrier is left alone with his alcoholic mam, his violent step-dad and his guilt. Too young to understand what has really happened, Tommy is sure of only one thing. He is to blame.

Tommy tries to be good, to live-up to his brother’s increasingly hazy memory, but trapped in a world of shame and degradation he grows up with just two options; poverty or crime. And crime pays. Or so he thinks.

A teenage drug dealer for the vicious Burns gang, Tommy’s life is headed for disaster, until, in the place he least expects, Tommy sees a familiar face… And then things get a whole lot worse.

Review

The Silent Brother by Simon Van Der Velde is a hard hitting, emotionally charged thriller about a young man from a very troubled background. Tommy Farrier is left alone with his alcoholic mother and abusive step father, when social workers take his brother away. The nightmare of that evening has repercussions that shatter his life for years to come.

If you are looking for a traditional thriller, then you will find that The Silent Brother challenges your perceptions of that kind of narrative. I would urge you to pick it up and immerse yourself, in what is a top class urban thriller, that doesn’t shy away from telling Tommy’s story in all it’s often brutal reality. It is very dark in places and focuses on the underbelly of city life and its attraction for me, was how he depicted a setting that is rough, caustic and ugly. It is rare to find such honesty in a novel, but he does it in such a way that doesn’t mire the story down in endless misery, but says, look at the brutality of some peoples lives and see the possibility for change and redemption.

It would all feel to impregnable if not for the sense of hope embedded in the character of Tommy. Simon introduces an all too real sense of vulnerability into his lead character. He balances out the darkness by making him more nuanced. He is a character that has made some reckless decisions in life, but he is capable of being more than a drug dealer, if only he was given a chance, if his family life had not be dominated by abuse, neglect and poverty. It is this that made me read to the end, in the hope he could escape the path he seemed born to follow and the writer made me want him to find redemption, because he made Tommy the perfect balance between sinner and saint.

Simon Van Der Velde used The Silent Brother of the story as a clever narrative tool. His absence from Tommy’s life has a devastating effect on Tommy. Like ripples on a pond, his absence continues to drive the pain and self destructive path Tommy finds himself on. He is both a fuel for his anger and most impactfully the reason why Tommy seems to have only two choices in life, poverty or crime. Guilt is a heavy burden for a child to carry, it creates unbearable pain, crushing self worth and it shapes Tommy’s character. It infuses his life to such an extent, that as a reader my heart broke for him, even when I new the harm his choices did to others.

If only Tommy can find his way back to a life that holds more promise. Read The Silent Brother to find out!

You can purchase The Silent Brother from Amazon.

About the author

Simon Van der Velde has worked variously as a barman, laborer, teacher, caterer and lawyer, as well as traveling throughout Europe and South America collecting characters for his award-winning stories. Since completing a creative writing M.A. (with distinction) in 2010, Simon’s work has won and been shortlisted for numerous awards including; The Yeovil Literary Prize, (twice), The Wasafiri New Writing Prize, The Luke Bitmead Bursary, The Frome Prize, and The Harry Bowling Prize – establishing him as one of the UK’s foremost short-story writers.

Simon now lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, with his wife, labradoodle and two tyrannical children.

Tasting Sunlight by Ewald Arenz

Teenager Sally has just run away from a clinic where she to be treated for anorexia. She’s furious with everything and everyone, and wants to be left in peace.

Liss is in her forties, living alone on a large farm that she runs single-handedly. She has little contact with the outside world, and no need for other people.

From their first meeting, Sally realises that Liss isn’t like other adults; she expects nothing of Sally and simply accepts who she is, offering her a bed for the night with no questions asked.

That night becomes weeks and then months, as an unlikely friendship develops and these two damaged women slowly open up – connecting to each other, reconnecting with themselves, and facing the darkness in their pasts  through their shared work on the land.

Achingly beautiful, profound, invigorating and uplifting, Tasting Sunlight is a story of friendship across generations, of love and acceptance, of the power of nature to heal and transform, and the goodness that surrounds us, if only we take time to see it…

Review

Some reviews write themselves simply because the book is such utter perfection, that you could wax lyrical for hours and hours. Tasting Sunlight is one of those novels, described on the publishers website as achingly beautiful and uplifting, it is this and more, that makes it one of my all time favorite reads!

Why? Because it is about friendship, love, new beginning’s and how when we take a step away from the perceptions others have of us, we can truly find ourselves. It’s a story about two women, pretty unique even in 2022, who find healing from simple companionship, from a non judgmental benevolence and a deep rooted need to find a place of acceptance.

The writing and the story are deceptively uncomplicated, simply because the language is not about the big events. It is about the stories of these two women, one young and deeply troubled and an older women, whose own trauma, though different, has its roots in the same cause, the cloying expectations and judgements of others. As much as it is about the pain that dominates their lives when they meet, it is also a perceptive tale about all the things that connect us and them. As Ray Bradbury writes in Fahrenheit 451 of how friendship forms, as drop by drop, the moments of allowing the other to exist, breath, grow, a series of kind acts, of letting each be, connects them, creating an understanding that will last a lifetime. This is what makes this story so very special, so utterly perfect, the quiet moments, that explore why these two women make an unbreakable connection across the abys of the past traumas of their lives.

The writer Ewald Arenz real gift is his ability to trust his characters to tell a story. Sally and Lis are both complex character’s, whose resilience and strength made me love them deeply. Neither fit into society and both have paid a high price personally because of this. Each offers the other a chance to heal and find peace, through a connection to the land around them and the painful dissolution of relationships that have come to blight their lives. The writer telling it is such a way, that I felt an intense connection to the redemptive nature of both their journeys. To what would hopefully be a better life for both.

He made me care about both women and allowed me as a reader an intimate glimpse into their lives. Friendship is born out of shared moments as well as trust and this novel abounds with both.

It is a story that should grace everyone’s bookshelves.

You can buy this novel directly from the publisher Orenda Books.

From Waterstones and Amazon

About the author

Ewald Arenz, born in Nürnberg in 1965, studied English and American literature and history. He is a teacher at a secondary school in Nürnberg. His novels and plays have received many awards. Ewald lives near Fürth with his family.

About the translator

Rachel Ward is a freelance translator of literary and creative texts from German and French to English. Having always been an avid reader and enjoyed word games and puzzles, she discovered a flair for languages at school and went on to study modern languages at the University of East Anglia. She spent the third year working as a language assistant at two grammar schools in Saaebrücken, Germany. During her final year, she realised that she wanted to put these skills and passions to use professionally and applied for UEA’s MA in Literary Translation, which she completed in 2002. Her published translations include Traitor by Gudrun Pausewang and Red Rage by Brigitte Blobel, and she is a member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting.
Follow Rachel on Twitter @FwdTranslations, on her blog http://www.adiscounttickettoeverywhere.wordpress.com and on her website http://www.forwardtranslations.co.uk

The Beach House by Beverley Jones

When Grace Jensen returns to her home one day, she finds a body in a pool of blood and a menacing gift left for her.

The community of Lookout Beach is shocked by such a brutal intrusion in their close-knit neighbourhood – particularly to a family as successful and well-liked as the Jensens – and a police investigation to find the trespasser begins.

But Grace knows who’s after her. She might have changed her name and moved across the world, deciding to hide on the Oregon coast, but she’s been waiting seventeen years for what happened in the small Welsh town where she grew up to catch-up with her.

Grace might seem like the model neighbour and mother, but nobody in Lookout Beach – not even her devoted husband Elias – knows the real her. Or how much blood is on her hands.

Review

The Beach House by Beverley Jones has to be one of my favorite thrillers of 2022. It’s addictive and I found myself glued to the story, unable to put it down. Unusually for me I raced through it in two sittings and can honestly say it is a compulsive page turner.

Having read Wilderness by the same author, I jumped at the chance to read and review The Beach House, because I knew that Beverley Jones writes stories that are the best in her genre. I was right, because she has delivered a novel that contains all the best elements of a thriller, a fabulous story, a main character that has a lot to lose, multiple characters that draw you into the story and creates a set piece that defied my already high expectations when I started the book.

Here we have a story about the cost of keeping secrets, of the price to be paid to protect the carefully constructed web of lies Grace Jenson has constructed around herself. Now that might just feel like your average run of the mill thriller and it is true that The Beach House follows a well trod formula, but what lifts it above the ordinary, is a story that is cleverly assembled and which had me as a reader utterly taken in by the misdirection’s the writer littered her story with.

Thrillers are at their best when they are full of oodles of tension and create an atmosphere that grips the reader. Not all thrillers achieve this, they are too formulaic, the protagonist is devoid of any likeability and the story has too many twists and turns. They become all action and no character. The Beach House has a lead character who is it’s crowning glory, you know she is not perfect, you suspect she has done wrong and yet you can’t help liking her, wanting her to survive the nightmare unfolding around her. You are willing to accept her flaws, because you believe in her as a character. Grace and her predicament, real you in and keeps you hooked until the final page. Best of all you never know, until the end, if she will survive or her life and those that care for her will be shattered against the rocky coast she loves so much.

There is a sense of snobbery from some towards thrillers, put down as having mass market appeal, as if that in some way, is an insult. But the reason this genre has such appeal is because it can create a sense of excitement in the readers, so many other genres can’t and when done well, they are cracking reads. The Beach House is an example of this, the story vibrates with tension, it doesn’t run along out of control, but like a ticking clock, slowly counts down to an ending that has you holding you breath!

I have read so many thrillers in the last few years that I became overwhelmed with a sense of sameness, The Beach House by Beverley Jones reminded me why I loved them so much! When they are as good as this, when you lose time in a quality page turner, there really is no better feeling.

You can purchase The Beach House from Amazon, Waterstones and your local independent bookshop!

About the author

Beverley Jones, also known as B E Jones, is a former journalist and police press officer, now a novelist and general book obsessive.

Bev was born in a small village in the South Wales valleys, north of Cardiff. She started her journalism career with Trinity Mirror newspapers, writing stories for The Rhondda Leader and The Western Mail, before becoming a broadcast journalist with BBC Wales Today TV news, based in Cardiff.

She has worked on all aspects of crime reporting (as well as community news and features) producing stories and content for newspapers and live TV.

Most recently Bev worked as a press officer for South Wales Police, dealing with the media and participating in criminal investigations, security operations and emergency planning.

Perhaps unsurprisingly she channels these experiences of ‘true crime,’ and her insight into the murkier side of human nature, into her dark, psychological thrillers set in and around South Wales.

Her latest novels, Where She Went, Halfway and Wilderness, are published by Little Brown under the name BE Jones. Wilderness has recently been optioned for a six part TV adaptation by Firebird Pictures. Her seventh novel, The Beach House, is due for release in June 2021 under the name Beverley Jones.

Chat with her on Goodreads.co.uk under B E Jones or Beverley Jones and on Twitter @bevjoneswriting

Villager by Tom Cox

Villages are full of tales: some are forgotten while others become a part of local folklore. But the fortunes of one West Country village are watched over and irreversibly etched into its history as an omniscient, somewhat crabby, presence keeps track of village life.

In the late sixties a Californian musician blows through Underhill where he writes a set of haunting folk songs that will earn him a group of obsessive fans and a cult following. Two decades later, a couple of teenagers disturb a body on the local golf course. In 2019, a pair of lodgers discover a one-eyed rag doll hidden in the walls of their crumbling and neglected home. Connections are forged and broken across generations, but only the landscape itself can link them together. A landscape threatened by property development and superfast train corridors and speckled by the pylons whose feet have been buried across the moor.

Review

It feels like a cliché to say that when I pick up a novel I have certain expectations. Sometimes I love when a book delivers exactly what I want, other times I feel a tiny bit let down, because as reader I still want to be enchanted and challenged! I want a piece of writing that feels authentic and original. Villager by Tom Cox is all this and I felt eutrophic that I had found a piece of writing that felt exciting, different and best of imaginative. The writing is vivid and the characters felt alive, talking to me from the page in glorious detail.

Its greatest strength is the way the story and writing are rooted in everything that makes a community of characters feel substantial and real to the reader, shared experiences connecting their individual stories. They are formed by their mutual love, loss, nature and the land around them; an intrinsic connection to the voice of the landscape they live in.

There is a word in Welsh, ‘hiraeth’, which means many things in English, for some it is a longing for home, a time, or a person, even a longing for a place and time you have never been to beyond this plane of existence, yet inexplicitly feel a connection to in a deeply heartfelt way. For me Villager imbues that feeling, because the land within it felt familiar and yet not, a place I long to be in, but can’t go to because it exists beyond the world I live in, despite feeling all to real, almost fully formed, yet only existing in my minds eye. It felt so real that I felt I could walk into the world of the Villager and lay down on one of the characters itself, the land the village existed in. The hills and fields are used to powerful effect to imbue the story with a powerful sense of place. It feels pain, loss and longing, in the same way the humans living within it’s embrace do.

Splendid and deeply moving Villager by Tom Cox talks of our need to be rooted to a place, even if only fleetingly, even if we don’t understand why we are drawn to the land around us. It is a complex and beautifully written novel and in the days since I have finished, I still feel a longing to back with it’s pages.

You can purchase this novel from Amazon and Waterstones, as well as your local independent bookshop.

About the author

Tom Cox lives in Devon. He is the author of the Sunday Times bestselling The Good, The Bad and The Furry and the William Hill Sports Book longlisted Bring Me the Head of Sergio Garcia. 21st-Century Yokel was longlisted for the Wainwright Prize, and the titular story of Help the Witch won a Shirley Jackson Award. @cox_tom

Beloved Ghost by Fiona Graph

Theo Lawder and Zac Bonneval meet in the army at the outbreak of World War II. They survive the horror of Dunkirk and become lovers. Theo goes to work at Bletchley Park, where he becomes friendly with Alan Turing. After the war he joins the Foreign Office, while Zac works for MI6. They make a good life together.

But this is a time when homosexuals are criminalised, and the pressure of being outcasts in society takes a terrible toll. Zac becomes deeply depressed and goes away. Can their love survive society’s hatred?

Review

Beloved Ghost is the moving love story between Theo Lawder and Zac Bonneval. Having met during the war, the author takes them and us on a journey to the beginning of equality.  It is the story of their love affair, the way they were forced to live their life as a couple in the shadows, facing persecution, physical and mental abuse.

Fiona Graph has written a very character driven novel, creating two characters who both having grown up when being gay was a criminal offence, are used to show how the life they lived affected them mentally and physically.  She uses the two men to show that it took great bravery to refuse to conform, that their love was what defined them, not the judgement of others. She gives them a voice to express the damage done by the homophobia of others, yet more important than that, to show they were no different to ‘straight couples’. All they wanted  was to be allowed to live their lives together.  Beloved Ghost is about, love, the daily minutiae of being a couple and the love of two men for each other.

The flip side of this novel is how she depicts the cruelty and persecution faced by men like Theo and Zac. The beatings, the threats to careers, the isolation from ‘normal’ society.  The drama comes from ache the reader feels when the pressure of all this takes its inevitable toll on their love . The drama is not big and flashy, it is subtle and rooted in their individual characters. I felt a desperate need for their love to survive, but given all they had been through, I knew that that was not a given and it felt heartbreaking.

Beloved Ghost is a novel that speaks not just about Theo and Zacs, but all the gay men of that period who paid a terrible price for just being themselves. It pays homage to their bravery, the important part they played in both the war and after and how despite all this they were betrayed and prosecuted.

It is a tale of despair and pain, but also hope and courage, charting how progress came about too slowly for so many!

You can buy this novel from Amazon

About the author

Fiona Graph lives in London. Her first novel, ‘Things That Bounded’, was published in October 2020. ‘Beloved Ghost’ is her second novel.

My Wonderful Reading Year – May 2022 – The Journey Continues.

Well, the plan to beat the backlog of my to be read pile did not go well in May, only one read and the rest were review books! I love reviewing books, but preferred the better balance between the two and will be reading more of my own books in June. I didn’t read any non fiction which I find frustrating, because I love this genre, but that is my fault for over committing myself!

But I have loved the books I read and so overall it has been a good reading month!

The first book I finished was The Great American Boogaloo by Paul Flower.

It is first class satire, using intelligent writing and humour to delve into the world of the American right! Conspiracy theories abound, as does the writers obvious skill at delving under the surface of the madness on which the story is based. It is at it’s heart a comedy of errors and a tale of the absurd behaviour of the militia groups and right wing politicians, who have decided that the American president has to be stopped, before she bans not just guns, but their right to eat beef and hug cows!

Next was The Silent Brother By Simon Van Der Velde, a hard hitting, emotionally charged thriller about a young man from a very troubled background. The author has caught caustic and ugly world he has grown up in and created from it a story that will haunt me for years to come!

Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason was the only book I picked up from my too be read pile in May, as it was the choice of the book group I attend. Beautifully written, it is a study of the effects of mental illness not just on the individual, but all the people around them.

Keep Her Sweet by Helen Fitzgerald is yet another stunning thriller from this writer. If there is one thing I have learned when reading Helen Fitzgerald’s books is to always expect the unexpected. The humour is always deliciously dark, her prose modern, which strong themes and characters whose voices speak to the reader, of the simmering toxicity that sits just under the surface of fractured family relationships. Few writers do it better and Keep Her Sweet is proves yet again, that in reading the synopsis, you would expect a run of the mill thriller about two sisters who simply dislike each other. But what you actually get, is a much more fascinating account of the shocking reality of families, whose connection creates murderous undercurrents.

My final read of May was Beloved Ghost by Fiona Grapth. It is a moving love story between Theo Lawder and Zac Bonneval and it follows them from their first meeting to the beginning of the movement for equality. This a gentle read, not action led, but character based and it feels as you as the reader are taking the journey with them.

Well that was May 2022. In June I intend to focus my energy on reading the books that have sat on my bookshelf for a while.

Review – Keep Her Sweet by Helen Fitzgerald

Desperate to enjoy their empty nest, Penny and Andeep downsize to the countryside, to forage, upcycle and fall in love again, only to be joined by their two twenty-something daughters, Asha and Camille.

Living on top of each other in a tiny house, with no way to make money, tensions simmer, and as Penny and Andeep focus increasingly on themselves, the girls become isolated, argumentative and violent.

When Asha injures Camille, a family therapist is called in, but she shrugs off the escalating violence between the sisters as a classic case of sibling rivalry … and the stress of the family move.

But this is not sibling rivalry. The sisters are in far too deep for that.

This is a murder, just waiting to happen…

Review

If there is one thing I have learned when reading Helen Fitzgerald’s books is to always expect the unexpected. The humour is always deliciously dark, her prose modern, which strong themes and characters whose voices speak to the reader, of the simmering toxicity that sits just under the surface of fractured family relationships. Few writers do it better and Keep Her Sweet is proves yet again, that in reading the synopsis, you would expect a run of the mill thriller about two sisters who simply dislike each other. But what you actually get, is a much more fascinating account of the shocking reality of families, whose connection creates murderous undercurrents.

For me one of the best things about Keep Her Sweet is the superb characterisation. The writer giving us a masterclass in delivering a story about a group of deeply dysfunctional individuals. She ensures that as readers we are kept off balance at all times, because we simply do not know what they are really capable of and that is down to the slight of hand played by Helen Fitzgerald. Not only do we have the sisters but their parents and their family therapist, each of whom seem capable of throwing a curve ball, into our perceptions of what will be the fate of each character.

Joy the family therapist was without doubt my favourite character.  Not only does she play a part in the girls’ lives, but we get to find out about her own relationship with her daughter and how that affects her relationship with the sisters of the story.  She is caring and acts as a counterbalance to all the other people around her.  She felt inconsequential to the story at the beginning, but actually plays a pivotal role in the ensuing drama. As a character she stops the story descending into total darkness and overpowering an intelligent narrative about quite complicated relationships.  She is goodness at the heart of the story and is used to highlight the not only how dysfunctional the family are, but how easy it is to misunderstand from the outside, who is the sinner and the sinned against, behind closed doors of suburbia. I loved that though she to is flawed, essentially she is a good person, but one with hidden depths.

The story is shocking and intense, but the balance between the ‘thriller’ elements and the themes of the story are pitch perfect. Throughout Helen Fitzgerald weaves into the story the idea that no family is perfect, that relationships can become as they do in real life, very strained, violent and murderous. I was chilled to the bone in places, I laughed at other parts and I adored every word she wrote. Here we have a family that appears to be in mortal decline, but you have to read to check if she has tricked us! It is not just a story about sibling rivalry, it is about the darkness that can lurk behind any door in your street!

You can purchase this novel directly from the publisher at Orenda Books.

You can also buy it from Waterstones or Amazon

About the author

Helen FitzGerald is the bestselling author of ten adult and young adult thrillers, including The Donor (2011) and The Cry (2013), which was longlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, and is now a major drama for BBC1. Helen worked as a criminal justice social worker for over fifteen years. She grew up in Victoria, Australia. She now lives in Glasgow with her husband.

You can follow the author on Twitter

The Great American Boogaloo by Paul Flower

From his woodland bunker in Michigan, Bo ‘Big Bruddah’ Watts has assembled a scratch army of gun-toting militiamen, and he’s ready to use it. Rumours are circulating that the liberal, female President of the USA is going to fight climate change by banning beef, snatching the great American hamburger from the mouths of patriots. Big Bruddah missed the last militia uprising. That one, sparked by a conspiracy theory about a deadly virus and stolen cheese recipes, ended in failure when his now ex-wife, Miky Spike, stopped the potentially bloody conflict at a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Wisconsin.

He is determined to stop the president, with the help of eccentric octogenarian Wilbur Tuttle, who runs Silver Eagle Security, the private military enterprise owned by the hapless former governor of Michigan, Bill Hoeksma.

The plan is to launch a coup in Tampa, Florida by kidnapping the President’s daughter and then installing Hoeksma as a puppet President. With the support of Silver Eagle’s best men, Big Bruddah and Tuttle hope to ignite the long-awaited insurrection militia members call the “boogaloo.” What could possibly go wrong?

Review

The Great American Boogaloo By Paul Flower is a first class satire, using intelligent writing and humour to delve into the world of the American right! Conspiracy theories abound, as does the writers obvious skill at delving under the surface of the madness on which the story is based.

It is at it’s heart a comedy of errors and a tale of the absurd behaviour of the militia groups and right wing politicians, who have decided that the American president has to be stopped, before she bans not just guns, but their right to eat beef and hug cows!

I loved that Paul Flowers didn’t hold back, he lets rip and brings to life not just the absurdity of their beliefs, but the dangers behind their ideology. Satire is hard to do and although I did not laugh continuously, I was glad that I didn’t, because he took the time to show me, not only how mad they are, but also how dangerous. This is humour with a healthy dose of respect for the dangers these people pose.

The characterisation is spot on. These are not caricatures, but an all to real depiction of the type of people these groups attract. The misfits, the racists, the losers, homophobes, basically any one determined that progress is halted at any cost. Men like Bo ‘Big Braddah’ are littered throughout the book. The writer not only managed to make me laugh, most of all he made me pity men like Big Bruddah, because he brought them to life and delved into the sadness at the centre of such men, into their paranoia.

It is the lightness of touch that makes this story both very very funny, but also oddly moving. To be able to laugh at these groups, is only possible, because Paul Flower’s uses humour to great effect.

I really enjoyed it and if you like your comedy full of wonderfully drawn characters, so will you.

You can buy this novel from Amazon

About the author


Paul Flower was born and raised in Michigan and still resides there. He has been writing professionally for more than 37 years. While much of his career has been spent in advertising and marketing, he worked in broadcasting for a short time. Paul has one previously published novel to his credit, and his writing has appeared in national and regional magazines. He and his wife have four grown children and a rapidly evolving number of incredibly beautiful and intelligent grandchildren.