The Pain Tourist by Paul Cleave

How do you catch a killer…
When the only evidence is a dream?

James Garrett was critically injured when he was shot following his parents’ execution, and no one expected him to waken from a deep, traumatic coma. When he does, nine years later, Detective Inspector Rebecca Kent is tasked with closing the case that her now retired colleague, Theodore Tate, failed to solve all those years ago.

But between that, and hunting for Copy Joe – a murderer on a spree, who’s imitating Christchurch’s most notorious serial killer – she’s going to need Tate’s help. Especially when they learn that James has lived out another life in his nine-year coma, and there are things he couldn’t possibly know, including the fact that Copy Joe isn’t the only serial killer in town…

Review

A brief look in any bookshop and you will soon see how big the thriller genre is! So, to be able to stand out from the crowd in an unusual or good way, to be better than those around you, the book really needs to be remarkably good. The Pain Tourist by Paul Cleave does so because it is clever, intricately plotted and pays attention to the elements that matter, character, setting and story.

So many thrillers are all just about the ‘twist’ in the narrative, the cover literally shouting at you, that you’ll never see the curve ball being thrown at the reader. Sadly, more often than not, you do, that and you end up feeling buffeted by the constant blows as the story twists so often, the story becoming lost in amongst the maelstrom of events. The story too hard to follow, without the aid of some paracetamol and a lie down in a dark room. Here, in The Pain Tourist, the twists and turns that are a staple part of the thriller genre are used sparingly and as a result have far more impact. The drama becoming subtle, intricately woven into the story and not dominating it. God, how I loved that, that feeling that you just have to read one more chapter, than one more, because you are drawn in, so involved that sleep becomes a luxury and not a necessity. Paul Cleave for me understands that less is more and uses that with such skill, you really don’t see as he leads you down a one-way street, forcing you then to do an about turn, leaving previous assumptions behind you.

The story contains multiple threads, which if they are to work, need to be woven together perfectly, or it all unravels into an impregnable mess. To me they worked utterly and by the end, it felt that I was looking at the literary equivalent of one of my grandmother’s pieces of embroidery, where you could never tell the difference between the back and the front, so great was her skill and talent. In The Pain Tourist we have three stories running side by side, with multiple characters connecting them. James Garret and his parent’s murders, a copycat killer whose thirst for fame and notoriety bring terror to Christchurch and a killer who has stalked the women of this city while hiding in plain sight. At no point does it become confused, start to unravel or lose its way! Perfection as far as I am concerned.

The characters are brilliant, so much so I hope and pray this is not the last we hear of them. Detective Inspector Rebecca Kent and former police officer Theodore Tate are like all of us flawed, but at their very core, they are good people. Good people make mistakes, are even capable of actions many of us would find it difficult to imagine doing ourselves, but that is where the author pull out his ace card, he shows that under the right circumstances, any person can do things out of desperation, self-preservation, even from a place of pain and revenge. He plays off the more law-abiding Kent against Tate, whose past has created a more fluid character, whose pain and addictive nature makes him more capable of straying from the ‘acceptable’ path, because he reacts to the pull of the darker side of his nature.

This a novel from the pen of an author whose books don’t need statements such as ‘you will never see the twist coming’ flashing from the front cover, his writing speaks for itself. It is superb and you really need to add it to your book collection, thriller reader or not, because words are used as weapons, not stickers and endless hackneyed over used phrases stuck to the front cover.

You can purchase this novel directly from the publisher Orenda Books. From Waterstones and Amazon or from your local independent bookshop!

About the author

Paul is an award winning author who often divides his time between his home city of Christchurch, New Zealand, where most of his novels are set, and Europe. He’s won the New Zealand Ngaio Marsh Award three times, the Saint-Maur book festival’s crime novel of the year award in France, and has been shortlisted for the Edgar and the Barry in the US and the Ned Kelly in Australia. HIs books have been translated into over twenty languages. He’s thrown his Frisbee in over forty countries, plays tennis badly, golf even worse, and has two cats – which is often two too many. The critically acclaimed The Quiet People was published in 2021, with The Pain Tourist to follow in 2022.

Dawnlands by Philippa Gregory

In a divided country, power and loyalty conquer all…

It is 1685 and England is on the brink of a renewed civil war against the Stuart kings with many families bitterly divided. Alinor, now a successful businesswoman, has been coaxed by the manipulative Livia to save Queen Mary from the coming siege. The rewards are life-changing: the family could return to their beloved Tidelands, and Alinor could rule where she was once lower than a servant.

Inspired by news of a rebellion against the Stuart kings, Ned Ferryman returns from America with his Pokanoket servant to join the uprising against roman catholic King James. As Ned swears loyalty to the charismatic Duke of Monmouth, he discovers a new and unexpected love

Meanwhile, Queen Mary summons her friend Livia to a terrified court. Her survival, and that of the Stuart kings, is in the balance, and only a clever and dangerous gamble can save them…

A compelling and powerful story of political intrigue and personal ambition, set between the palaces of London, the tidelands of Fowlmire and the shores of Barbados.

Review

When picking up a Philippa Gregory novel you know you are going to be guaranteed a thrilling story, beautifully researched and inhabited by a cast of characters that feel so real, you could walk into their world, becoming part of their story.  It is no mean feat given the phalera of books set in this period, to be able to stand above the crowd as Dawnlands does, because it is written by an experienced storyteller who knows how to deliver a first class read, an intelligent story that had me gripped throughout. 

Within it we have a group of characters, both men and women who haven’t been altered to fit modern conceptions but reflect their world and its attitudes, as well as its social norms. From the King and his failed attempt to return his country to the ‘true faith’, to his Queen, her lady in waiting and a runaway slave. She elevates the women, so the story revolves around them, including the charismatic Livia, whose machinations behind the scenes, reflect the way women had to learn to circumvent the control of men, to get their own way.  She is for me the most compelling character in the book, ruthless in her search for power and wealth, because for her and many other women, the only way to avoid destitution was to take what she needed. As a character she is a masterpiece, her actions are cruel, she manipulates those around her and yet, I can understand why she acts as she does, even if I dislike her behavior. She stands out as a woman whose charisma and intelligence, makes her a character that can hold a novel, just as well as a ‘strong male lead’ and frankly, her manipulation of those around her, proves that you don’t need a traditional male ‘villain’. Other fabulous characters are found within the pages of Dawnlands. This evocative portrayal of women in the 17th Century contains characters both bad and good, given it a feeling of an ensemble cast, with more than one lead. Including the proud runaway native American Indian Raven, who acts a counterpoint to Livia. For she is loyal, yet they share some characteristics, the difference being that Raven uses her intelligence to help those she cares for, her pride to stop the actions of men from killing her and her determination to survive, not at a cost to others as Livia does, but to find that which others stole from her.

The narrative takes us from the coast of America to England and Barbados and yet it still feels like an intimate story of a group of characters, rather than an epic where story is swamped by location. We are drawn to the wharves of London and its burgeoning trade with the world opening up around them and where we meet Alinor, finding ourselves drawn into their world of trade and survival, running from a past full of poverty. Then in the next moment, we are in the court of the King, where religion and the succession dominate a court riven with secrets and terrible jealousies, where love comes at a cost and the fate of the kingdom resides. The excitement for the reader, coming from never knowing if the characters they have come to love, will survive a world, once again torn apart by religion and a people hungry to be free from the control of Rome once again. It is the beginning of a saga, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

You can buy this novel from Waterstones, Amazon and all good independent bookshops.

About the author.

PHILIPPA GREGORY is one of the world’s foremost historical novelists. She wrote her first ever novel, Wideacre, when she was completing her PhD in eighteenth-century literature and it sold worldwide, heralding a new era for historical fiction.    Her flair for blending history and imagination developed into a signature style and Philippa went on to write many bestselling novels, including The Other Boleyn Girl and The White Queen.    Now a recognised authority on women’s history, Philippa graduated from the University of Sussex and received a PhD from the University of Edinburgh, where she is a Regent and was made Alumna of the Year in 2009. She holds honorary degrees from Teesside University and the University of Sussex. She is a fellow of the Universities of Sussex and Cardiff and an honorary research fellow at Birkbeck University of London.  Philippa is a member of the Society of Authors and in 2016 was presented with the Outstanding Contribution to Historical Fiction Award by the Historical Writers’ Association. In 2018, she was awarded an Honorary Platinum Award by Neilsen for achieving significant lifetime sales across her entire book output.   She welcomes visitors to her site http://www.PhilippaGregory.com.

Havana Fever by Leonardo Padura

Havana, 2003, fourteen years since Mario Conde retired from the police force and much has changed in Cuba. He now makes a living trading in antique books bought from families selling off their libraries in order to survive. In the house of Alcides de Montes de Oca, a rich Cuban who fled after the fall of Batista, Conde discovers an extraordinary book collection and, buried therein, a newspaper article about Violeta del Rio, a beautiful bolero singer of the 1950’s, who disappeared mysteriously. Conde’s intuition sets him off on an investigation that leads him into a darker Cuba, now flooded with dollars, populated by pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers and other hunters of the night. But this novel also allows Padura to evoke the Havana of Batista, the
city of a hundred night clubs where Marlon Brando and Josephine Baker listened to boleros, mambos and jazz. Probably Padura’s best book, Havana Fever is many things: a suspenseful crime novel, a cruel family saga and an ode to literature and his beloved, ravaged island.

Review

Havana Fever by Leonardo Padura is the story of former detective Mario Conde, whose passion for books leads him to investigate two murders linked by ghosts from the past. 

This is best described as a slow burn, the story evolving within a very character driven narrative.  If you enjoy books that read like a ride on a helter-skelter than this book is probably not for you, because this is story where character and landscape are predominant. So perfectly written that you feel that you are walking the streets of Havana with Detective Condo. The shape of the landscape helping to form both Condo’s character and the story itself.  It not only defines those that live within the story, but defines the life they live. Condo and others who live on the island of Cuba are isolated from the world around them and live daily on the brink of poverty and starvation, making total sense of this tale of people so desperate to escape grinding poverty that they will kill to protect honour, life and liberty.   The sense of isolation heightens sense of claustrophobia, created not just by the island setting, but by Cuba’s fractured links not just with the world around it, but between those that live on it’s shores.  The writer using it to show that unity and balance are out of kilter, driving those already desperate, to kill characters, that threaten their very survival. It all feels contained, in that the narrative is never left to the vagaries of endless twists and turns, but simmers slowly like the heat of the Cuban landscape, the pressure growing slowly, violence is always present, often in the background, other times it is so present that it adds an added layer of tension to the simmering violence always sat there in the background.

The characterization is really good. Detective Condo and a wealth of flamboyant supporting characters reflect the multi-cultural nature of Havana and the melting pot created from such a passionate and colourful culture. Condo himself comes across as caring, passionate and troubled, yet he always thinks of his friends, no matter how much money he has. It makes him very loveable, and I found myself enjoying the book because I like this character so much.  I loved how clever he is, but how the writer created a much more rounded character by showing that his passion to know the truth sometimes blinds him to the faults in others. He is a strong enough character to hold this story together and made me as a reader want to emerge myself in the story.

You can purchase this novel from Amazon and Waterstones

About the author

Leonardo Padura was born in 1955 in Havana and lives in Cuba. He is a novelist, essayist, journalist and scriptwriter. Havana Fever has been published in Cuba, Mexico, Spain, Portugal, Germany and France.

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

How is it October again? The year just seems to be whizzing by! It’s that time of year, where a good book and a cup of coffee snuggled up in bed, are the perfect way to pass the time. I prefer a night with my book to watching the TV and this year I have some fantastic novels to read during the winter months. I actually look forward to cwtching up under the duvet cover if a book is really good and I’m lucky to say, that it is rarely that a book disappoints me. So here we go, with the titles I read in October 2022!

First up are the book I read from my rather high to be read pile.

The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary

I have been a big fan of Beth O’Leary since I read The Flat Share. The Road Trip is just as good. I love how the author continues to tackle quite serious subjects and yet keep both the writing and story very accessible. You know you are dealing with a story about some of societies darkest subjects, yet you don’t feel crushed by them. The Road Trip delves into the lives of some mismatched individuals and tackles the issues that cause their relationships to fracture. But her writing always offers some hope of a better life, as with this novel and that is why I love her writing so much.

This Much Is True by Miriam Margolyes

I love Miriam Margolyes the women and the actress, so I bought her autobiography knowing I would love it and I did. She is wise, witty, and formidable and this comes across in the book; with such a strong personality that you hear her voice as you read. I know some find her rude, but I don’t, she is who she is and she doesn’t apologize for it and I admire her for this.

The Anomaly by Herve Le Tellier

This absolutely fascinating novel was the book of choice for the book club I am a member of. It is extremely clever and beautifully written, though I admit I struggled at first, I came to love it by the end. What intrigued me the most was that it was a book within a book or was it? That it had stories within stories and was handled with care by the writer. In lesser hands it could have been a mess, but it wasn’t, it was mind-bending and the perfect choice for a book club discussion.

The Boy With The Topknot by Sathnam Sanghera

The last of the books I read this month from my own to be read pile was the very moving and on times funny The Boy With The Topknot by Sathnam Sanghera. The author tells of his life and the secret that sat at the heart of his family, but which he knew nothing of until the age of twenty-four. He takes us into the world he grew up in, that shaped the man he became, but also left him living in a half-way house between the world of his immigrant parents and his life as a western man. It is one of the best books I have read this year.

Now the books I read to review as part of blog tours, or at the request of authors.

Dark Horses Ride by Lisa Edwards

This is a book about one women’s journey into middle life and the menopause. It is beautifully written, startlingly honest and most remarkably of all, not written with the soul aim of reaching the top of the best sellers list, though it deserves to, but to show others through her own journey, that by excepting ourselves we can live are far, far richer lives.

Havana Fever by Leonardo Padura

Having visited Cuba many years ago, though Havana for only a few hours, I was eager to read and review this fascinating novel. It is full of atmosphere, so much so you feel as if you are walking the streets of this fabulous island. The story is a slow burner, but that suits the narrative and allows you to absorb the world of Mario Conde.

Well, that was October 2022. I love that I really had a good balance between review reads and my own books and I hope to keep that up in November. Though I do have some rather wonderful review books coming up to!

The Librarian by Allie Morgan

The library saved her. Now she wants to save the library.

I’m a librarian. Every day I encounter people. I serve the regulars, the crime enthusiasts, the bookworms, the homeless, the eccentrics, the jobless, the teenagers, the toddlers, the aged. I know my community well. And they know me.

The library is a sanctuary for some, a place for warmth for others and, on many occasions, an internet café. It’s not always the books that bring us together. That’s why you might be surprised to hear that I’ve been a witness to an attempted murder, a target for a drugs gang and the last hope for people in desperate poverty. The quirks of library life. But what I didn’t expect was for a simple part-time job to become a passionate battle for survival, both for me and for the library.

I’m sharing stories from my daily life to show you that being a librarian isn’t what you think it is. Libraries are falling apart at the seams, and we need to start caring before its too late. So this is my eye-opening account of the strange and wonderful library that saved me and why I’m on a mission to save yours.

Review

When I was a child, my family like many others, couldn’t afford to buy me books unless it was a special occasion and they certainly could never have kept up with my voracious need for ever more stories, so the library was my saviour. Some days during the school holidays it was like a second home, the place I went to lose myself in other worlds, stories other than my own, or to delve into the history of Britain. I am as a result still passionate about the security of our libraries, the idea that they are no longer needed or relevant is absolute nonsense, dangerously so!

So when I noticed The Librarian by Allie Morgan I immediately picked it up and instantly knew that I would both love it and be able to identify with the authors passion to save not only the library she worked in, but all libraries. I was not disappointed! This book is not just a call to arms, but a deeply personal as well as moving story about the authors struggle with her own mental health and how the library became the means of her salvation!

She tells of the endless levels of bureaucracy she and her colleagues faced to keep their libraries open, threats of violence from local gangs, bullying and intimidation by colleagues and councillors. It really is an eye opener, given the sense of calm and the tranquillity I have always associated with a library, to find that behind this façade is a world far grittier than I could ever have imagined. It makes it not just a very relevant read, but on times a deeply inspiring one, because despite everything the author never lost site of why her professional was as vital.

Of course, it is not all endless battles with bureaucrats, she also gives us a moving account of how much libraries are needed by the most vulnerable members of society. Those that don’t have access to a computer, those simply wanting to find some warmth of a cold day, single parents, the elderly, are helped by librarians, who don’t just issue books! They issue sanitary towels, dog waste bags. They help people that have no one else to turn to and receive very little reward for doing so.

I loved how Allie Morgan ‘s The Librarian is the honesty of her writing, her humour and her passionate sense of community. We can see that she understands that without access to this service, many would be  disadvantaged and left to fall to the wayside. Communities need libraries, they have the right to access to the services they provide. Without libraries children with parents that can’t afford to buy them books, will be forever disadvantaged, may never develop a love of books and reading, their education and life chances forever hindered. This book is a says that if we want our libraries to survive, if we say we believe in equality for all, we need to support Librarians like Allie Morgan and their battle to save these valuable resources.  

You can buy this book from Amazon and Waterstones, as well as one of the many wonderful independent bookstores we are so lucky to have in this country!

About the author

Allie Morgan is 29-year-old librarian who lives in Scotland. She runs a secret Twitter account where she tweets about the role of libraries in community life.

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

September is a month that always for me marks the changing of the seasons, as we begin the drift from summer into Autumn and Winter. I like this time of year and the onset of the dark nights feels oddly comforting, as I cwtch up in bed with some glorious reads. As it is also the month of my birthday, I engage in lots of book buying. Well as every good bookworm understands, you can never own too many books!

So this month I am going to start with the books I read that have sat on my bookshelf patiently waiting to be read. My very own tottering pile of to be read books!

Dog Days – A Year With Olive and Mabel by Andrew Cotter.

If you look at this book and think it is just about the authors relationship with his dogs, you would be wrong. Indeed they feature very heavily, they were his sanity during the dark days of the Covid 19 lockdowns, as his videos were for me and many others. It is also a very deeply moving and often very funny reflection on how the lockdowns effected us all, mentally and physically. Oh how so many people many to find a way through the darkness, until the vaccines allowed us to slowly start to return to a sort of normal.

Meet Me In Another Life by Catriona Silvey

This was the choice of the book club I attend and I loved it. It deals with some complex issues, but still manages to entertain and tell a story that kept me turning the pages long into the night. It is about love, yet not a love story, it’s about friendship and the connection between those who come to mean so much to us. I loved the way the story weaved back and fore, through time and many dimensions and yet never lost sight of the most integral part of the story, the myriad ways the human heart and mind pull us is many different directions.

Stronger by Gareth Thomas

There is no doubting that Gareth Thomas is a complex personality, but what I loved about this book is how this comes across. He allows us under the surface of who he is, to the vulnerable and troubled man below the surface. What I adored is that he acknowledges his ghost writer and yet we can still hear his voice loud and strong.

Then there are the books I have read to review.

Black Hearts by Doug Johnson

The fourth book in the author’s Skelfs series of thrillers, it is a tense and emotional read, with strong female leads and humour that is dark and delicious. Three generations of women, whose lives revolve around death and who are so beautifully written that you can imagine walking into the story and their world. Without doubt, I would buy any book they feature in, just to be able to spend time with them.

The Bleeding by Johana Gustawsson

The story is superb, because there are women are at the center of it. They are the story, their personalities, their actions, the paths they are driven down, making it far more than your average historical thriller. You can never be ready for what you are faced with: the way the words form something we don’t always acknowledge, that women are complex beings, as capable of evil, of desperate actions the same as men. It blows the myth of women as only ever forgiving and nurturing out of the water and that reader is why The Bleeding is breathtaking!

Lessons by Ian McEwan

Many novels succeed because the story roars along at breakneck speed, Lessons does so, because it does exactly the opposite. Within the embrace of the story, we are able to luxuriate in the whole of Roland’s life. How rare is that in modern literature? By far, for me, being able to live through such events as the fall of the Berlin Wall with this man, experience how events in history shaped the course of his life, was this book’s greatest gift. It is ambitious indeed, but it works, because Ian McEwan doesn’t bog it down with needless waffle. Each world, each sentence is designed to bring Roland and his experiences to life in glorious panoramic detail and the result is magnificent.

Well, that was September 2022. Exactly an even split between reading my own books and those I accepted for review. I’m happy with that. Bring on October!

Lessons by Ian McEwan

While the world is still counting the cost of the Second World War and the Iron Curtain has descended, young Roland Baines’s life is turned upside down. Stranded at boarding school, his vulnerability attracts his piano teacher, Miriam Cornell, leaving scars as well as a memory of love that will never fade.

Twenty-five years later, as the radiation from the Chernobyl disaster spreads across Europe, Roland’s wife mysteriously vanishes and he is forced to confront the reality of his rootless existence and look for answers in his family history.

From the fall of the Berlin Wall to the Covid pandemic and climate change, Roland sometimes rides with the tide of history but more often struggles against it. Haunted by lost opportunities, he seeks solace through every possible means, literature, travel, friendship, drugs, politics, sex and love.

Roland’s story asks can we take full charge of the course of our lives without damage to others? And what can we learn from the traumas of the past?

Review

Lessons by Ian McEwan is the first novel by this writer that I have read. It won’t be the last! For Roland Baines’s story is a fascinating, beautifully written tale about a life, often ordinary, yet at times extraordinary, lived against the backdrop of a world in constant flux. The most remarkable thing about this tale for me is how the writer manages to create a striking sense of intimacy. For though Roland’s life is played out against events, that have had such long-lasting impact on the world in which he lives, it is this man, his thoughts, his actions and their consequences that this modern classic is about.

Many novels succeed because the story roars along at breakneck speed, Lessons does so, because it does exactly the opposite. Within the embrace of the story, we are able to luxuriate in the whole of Roland’s life. How rare is that in modern literature? By far, for me, being able to live through such events as the fall of the Berlin Wall with this man, experience how events in history shaped the course of his life, was this book’s greatest gift. It is ambitious indeed, but it works, because Ian McEwan doesn’t bog it down with needless waffle. Each world, each sentence is designed to bring Roland and his experiences to life in glorious panoramic detail and the result is magnificent.

As a character, I have seen Roland described as ineffective, too passive in the events that lead to a life shaped by an abusive affair. But to frame his character in this way, is to suggest that he has no control over his own life, that he is entirely passive, which is to do a disservice to him and his story. Indeed, his vulnerability is abused, forming one off the most emotional parts of this book, but from that point, he like so many, lives a life of undeniable complexity and from experiences both good and bad, comes to understand his role as much other characters, in the decisions that lead to probably one of the greatest loves of his life. His world, his life is shaped by history as he lives through it. For though he is but an insignificant player on the world stage, such events are not a passive or abstract force that rumble over him, while he is buffeted by the aftershock. They actually lead him to take steps that change the life he and others imagined for him.

All this and more form a novel that is an intelligent and absorbing read. It brims with compassion for a man, Roland Baines, in all his glorious complexity.

You can purchase this novel from Amazon and Waterstones and all good independent bookshops.

About the author

Ian McEwan is a critically acclaimed author of short stories and novels for adults, as well as The Daydreamer, a children’s novel illustrated by Anthony Browne. His first published work, a collection of short stories, First Love, Last Rites, won the Somerset Maugham Award. His other award-winning novels are The Child in Time, which won the 1987 Whitbread Novel of the Year Award, and Amsterdam, which won the 1998 Booker Prize.

The Bleeding by Johana Gustawsson

Three women
Three eras
One extraordinary mystery…

1899, Belle Époque Paris. Lucienne’s two daughters are believed dead when her mansion burns to the ground, but she is certain that her girls are still alive and embarks on a journey into the depths of the spiritualist community to find them.

1949, Post-War Québec. Teenager Lina’s father has died in the French Resistance, and as she struggles to fit in at school, her mother introduces her to an elderly woman at the asylum where she works, changing Lina’s life in the darkest way imaginable.

2002, Quebec. A former schoolteacher is accused of brutally stabbing her husband – a famous university professor – to death. Detective Maxine Grant, who has recently lost her own husband and is parenting a teenager and a new baby single-handedly, takes on the investigation.

Under enormous personal pressure, Maxine makes a series of macabre discoveries that link directly to historical cases involving black magic and murder, secret societies and spiritism … and women at breaking point, who will stop at nothing to protect the ones they love…

Review

For a dedicated fan like myself any new novel by Johana Gustawsson is cause for excitement! So, when her new novel arrived, I cleared my calendar and dived right in. The verdict, it is marvelous, in fact the best word to describe it is breathtaking.

Why? The Bleeding is a clever and dazzling story of four women, for here I am counting Detective Grant who all live in different time periods, but whose lives weave in and out of each other, in often harrowing, but always deeply compelling ways. As we read, it quickly becomes clear that the author doesn’t shy away from taking her characters and readers down a dark path, that envelopes us all in a story that haunted me weeks after I have finished reading it.

When I picked it up, nothing could have prepared me for how the lives of these women would come to entwine themselves in my thoughts, because no matter how much I felt I knew them, their eventual fates left me feeling poleaxed. It is in many ways a historical thriller about the subjugation of women within a patriarchal society and the desperate lengths they are driven to, to find some form of liberation. The clever part is how the author shows how the women compartmentalized their lives, separating parts of themselves off to be lived in secret, showing the world only the parts of themselves their families would approve of. Yet even this was not enough and the repression of their individual parts, lead to the nightmarish events within The Bleeding.

Both the story and the personalities of the characters creates a narrative that is both vivid and times utterly grotesque, but in such a way that it seeps into your soul and putting down the book is simply not an option. You have to read on, even if you shudder as you read, because you are compelled to do so, just to find out if your darkest assumptions are true or not. The darkness tempered in the most perfect way, by the author’s understanding of motivation, the subtle line that divides love, hate, friendship and enmity. Each character is almost chameleon like, in that they can change their personality to fit in with their surroundings, until that fateful moment when exposed, we see what each is capable of in order to survive.

The story is superb, because these women are at the center of it. They are the story, their personalities, their actions, the paths they are driven down, making it far more than your average historical thriller. You can never be ready for what you are faced with: the way the words form something we don’t always acknowledge, that women are complex beings, as capable of evil, of desperate actions the same as men. It blows the myth of women as only ever forgiving and nurturing out of the water and that reader is why The Bleeding is breathtaking!

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

From Amazon and Waterstones.

About the author

Born in Marseille, France, and with a degree in Political Science, Johana Gustawsson has worked as a journalist for the French and Spanish press and television. Her critically acclaimed Roy & Castells series, including Block 46, Keeper and Blood Song, has won the Plume d’Argent, Balai de la découverte, Balai d’Or and Prix Marseillais du Polar awards, and is now published in nineteen countries. A TV adaptation is currently underway in a French, Swedish and UK co-production. The Bleeding – number one bestseller in France and the first in a new series – will be published in 2022. Johana lives in London with her Swedish husband and their three sons.

You can follow the author on Twitter

Black Hearts by Doug Johnstone

Death is just the beginning…

The Skelf women live in the shadow of death every day, running the family funeral directors and private investigator business in Edinburgh. But now their own grief interwines with that of their clients, as they are left reeling by shocking past events.

A fist-fight by an open grave leads Dorothy to investigate the possibility of a faked death, while a young woman’s obsession with Hannah threatens her relationship with Indy and puts them both in mortal danger. An elderly man claims he’s being abused by the ghost of his late wife, while ghosts of another kind come back to haunt Jenny from the grave … pushing her to breaking point.

As the Skelfs struggle with increasingly unnerving cases and chilling danger lurks close to home, it becomes clear that grief, in all its forms, can be deadly…

Review

Black Hearts the fourth in the Skelf’s series is abundant proof of why author Doug Johnstone’s books not only appear on so many prize lists, but also why the series has been optioned for development into a TV series.

It is a thoughtful, touching book, full of moments of sorrow and excitement, all mixed up into one of the best drama’s available to read. Within it are three of the best characters in Scottish fiction, the very wonderful Skelf women. Working within the teaming community of Edinburgh, not only do they run a funeral business, but they also run a detective agency.

This original set-up creates a narrative that centers around the lives of these three women and the cast of characters that revolve in and out of their lives. The fact is that a book in which all the primary characters are female is still rare enough to make it incredibly special. For me to have followed a series around three generations of the same matriarchal family has been why I am such a massive fan. Take into account the superb stories that they inhabit, and you simply won’t find a better book to read.

The novel is made up of several intricate tales, there is murder, a mystery of a missing father, an old man crushed by the loss of his wife, who thinks he is being haunted and they come together perfectly to form a story that is impossible to put down. A heady mixture of love, loss, drama and family.

Many books feature these same elements, but what makes Black Hearts so brilliant, is its sense of family. Doug Johnstone gently layers it into all the stories, the connections good and bad formed within families and then showing us within an electrifying narrative, the utter destruction that can take place when the clan falls apart. By death, by abandonment, he takes the family dynamic apart and creates a story which is both heartbreaking, heartwarming and exciting, a heady mixture which forms the perfect story. Few writers can within a drama, break your heart, heal it and excite it like this author. He tests both them and us and this is why I love these women so much.

Even the pace of the narrative is perfect. Each story is given equal treatment and at no point does the story falter. From the quiet moments we are ambushed by sudden moments of excitment, fear even for the safety of the Skelf women. It delivers a quiet punch to the heart and left me feeling sad once again that my time with these remarkable women was over once again.

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

You can also buy it from Amazon and Waterstones.

About the author

Doug Johnstone is the author of Twelve novels, most recently The Great Silence, the third in the Skelfs series, which has been optioned for TV. In 2021, The Big Chill, the second in the series, was longlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. In 2020, A Dark Matter, the first in the series, was shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year and the Capital Crime Amazon Publishing Independent Voice Book of the Year award. Black Hearts (Book four), will be published in 2022. Several of his books have been bestsellers and award winners, and his work has been praised by the likes of Val McDermid, Irvine Welsh and Ian Rankin. He’s taught creative writing and been writer in residence at various institutions, and has been an arts journalist for twenty years. Doug is a songwriter and musician with five albums and three EPs released, and he plays drums for the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, a band of crime writers. He’s also player-manager of the Scotland Writers Football Club. He lives in Edinburgh.

The Little Wartime Library by Kate Thompson

London, 1944.

Clara Button is no ordinary librarian. While the world remains at war, in East London Clara has created the country’s only underground library, built over the tracks in the disused Bethnal Green tube station. Down here a secret community thrives: with thousands of bunk beds, a nursery, a café and a theatre offering shelter, solace and escape from the bombs that fall above.

Along with her glamorous best friend and library assistant Ruby Munroe, Clara ensures the library is the beating heart of life underground. But as the war drags on, the women’s determination to remain strong in the face of adversity is tested to the limits when it seems it may come at the price of keeping those closest to them alive.

Based on true events, The Little Wartime Library is a gripping and heart-wrenching page-turner that remembers one of the greatest resistance stories of the war.

Review

When I received the email offering the opportunity to read and review The Little Wartime Library I jumped at the opportunity. It ticked so many boxes. Its set in one of my favourite periods of history, World War Two, then there is the fact that the story revolves around a library, in the underground which is run by two female librarians. It literally called out to my bookish heart and I couldn’t wait to dive in.

I was not disappointed, because within it’s pages is a story about friendship, love and the power of reading to change lives. It is both emotional and funny with the author bringing history to life within a very entertaining read. What I really loved was how the historical detail was woven into the story, without any loss of pace and entertainment. Sometimes when a author becomes bogged down in historical detail, they forget that they are meant to enthrall the reader. But Kate Thompson manages to avoid that. She brings the complex and often frightening reality of the lives of her characters to the page in vivid detail. The reality of war is played out within her story, without losing sight of the emotions and personalities of Clara, Ruby and the myriad of supporting characters.

Both women are very different people, yet they work perfectly together, supporting each other when most needed. It was one of the things I most loved about The Little Wartime Library, that very human characteristic that at the toughest of times, friendship not only sustains us, but fulfils that need we all have to feel loved. It is a story that does ultimately makes you feel good, because whatever the fate of each character, it’s about their ability to overcome difficult times and see their way through to peacetime. We all need books that make us feel good from time to time, but don’t do so by sacrificing the quality of the story and this novel certainly does the first without the second. It is warm hearted, without dovetailing the reader into saccharine nature of some historical drama’s.

Here the female characters are strong, intelligent and yes love is involved, but it doesn’t turn them into caricatures of themselves, because they remain throughout intelligent, stoic and ever so real. We feel their frustrations, we see they are flawed, but celebrate the fact that they are good people who are passionate about books and stories. They want to take that passion to the factory workers, the people living within the underground and are prepared to face whatever war throws at them to do that. It really does feel good to turn over the next page and lose yourself in the story.

You can purchase this novel from Amazon and Waterstones, as well as the wonderful independent bookshops we are so lucky to have in this country.

About the author

Kate Thompson was born in London in 1974, and worked as a journalist for twenty years on women’s magazines and national newspapers. She now lives in Sunbury with her husband, two sons and a Lurcher called Ted. After ghost writing five memoirs, Kate moved into fiction. Kate’s first non-fiction social history documenting the forgotten histories of East End matriarchy, The Stepney Doorstep Society, was published in 2018 by Penguin. Her seventh novel, The Little Wartime Library is to be published by Hodder & Stoughton in the spring of 2022.

You can follow the author on the following social media sites –

https://www.facebook.com/KateThompsonAuthor/

Twitter @katethompson380

http://www.katethompsonmedia.co.uk