Off Target by Eve Smith

An unthinkable decision
A deadly mistake

In an all-too-possible near future, when genetic engineering has become the norm for humans, not just crops, parents are prepared to take incalculable risks to ensure that their babies are perfect … altering genes that may cause illness, and more…

Susan has been trying for a baby for years, and when an impulsive one-night stand makes her dream come true, she’ll do anything to keep her daughter and ensure her husband doesn’t find out … including the unthinkable. She believes her secret is safe. For now.

But as governments embark on a perilous genetic arms race and children around the globe start experiencing a host of distressing symptoms – even taking their own lives – something truly horrendous is unleashed. Because those children have only one thing in common, and people are starting to ask questions…

Bestselling author of The Waiting Rooms, Eve Smith returns with an authentic, startlingly thought-provoking, disturbing blockbuster of a thriller that provides a chilling glimpse of a future that’s just one modification away…


Off Target by Eve Smith is an exciting and deeply disturbing story about the length parents will go to, to have a healthy, ‘perfect’ baby! Relevant and compelling, the tension comes from the powerful themes it deals with, the genetic modification of the foetus and the consequences they have on the children. It also looks at the troubling way we treat those who are ‘different’ and how intolerance leads to fear and violence.

Now this may all feel very heavy and indeed Eve Smith has layered quite painful and emotional issues throughout her narrative, yet she does so within a fast paced and exquisitely written thriller.  It punches hard, delivering a provocative storyline that will have your heart racing in excitement. She delivers on the traditional elements of a thriller, crime, morality, a ticking clock counting down to a terrifying conclusion, while teaching us about an issue that has consequences beyond our wildest imagination. To do all this and deliver a story that will leave the reader unable to think of anything but the story she is telling, is a massive ask of any writer, but Eve Smith handles it with convincing ease. 

Within a dystopian world, which is not as far in the future as we all might think,  she weaves a story that hinges on the actions of the medical, political and religious forces that are battling it out to influence a growing movement to genetically eradicate disease. Then adds a much more emotional element, by introducing characters and exploring the impact on their lives and relationships.  

I love the way she probed the often-dubious actions of scientists and the violent reactions of the religious right, leaving me the reader to decide if we have the knowledge and the right to play Russian roulette with our children.  She treats her readers to a story that explores the ethics and makes it a stunningly thought provoking thriller, because she is willing to tackle a subject most writers would steer clear of.

You can purchase Off Target directly from the publisher Orenda Books. Or from Amazon and Waterstones.

About the author

Eve Smith writes speculative fiction, mainly about the things that scare her. She attributes her love of all things dark and dystopian to a childhood watching Tales of the Unexpected and black-and-white Edgar Allen Poe double bills. In this world of questionable facts, stats and news, she believes storytelling is more important than ever to engage people in real life issues.
Set twenty years after an antibiotic crisis, her debut novel The Waiting Rooms was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize First Novel Award. Her flash fiction has been shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award and highly commended for The Brighton Prize.
Eve’s previous job as COO of an environmental charity took her to research projects across Asia, Africa and the Americas, and she has an ongoing passion for wild creatures, wild science and far-flung places. A Modern Languages graduate from Oxford, she returned to Oxfordshire fifteen years ago to set up home with her husband.
When she’s not writing she’s romping across fields after her dog, trying to organise herself and her family or off exploring somewhere new.
Follow Eve on Twitter: @evecsmith and her website Eve Smith

The Love That Dares: Letters of LGBTQ+Love and Friendship Through History by Rachel Smith and Barbara Vesey.

A good love letter can speak across centuries, and reassure us that the agony and the ecstasy one might feel today have been shared by lovers long gone. In The Love That Dares, queer love speaks its name through a wonderful selection of surviving letters between lovers and friends, confidants and companions.

Alongside the more famous names coexist beautifully written letters by lesser-known lovers. Together, they weave a narrative of queer love through the centuries, through the romantic, often funny, and always poignant words of those who lived it.

Including letters written by:
John Cage
Audre Lorde
Benjamin Britten
Lorraine Hansberry
Walt Whitman
Vita Sackville-West
Radclyffe Hall
Allen Ginsberg


Stories are powerful tools, especially letters, as they speak straight from the world and experiences of the people who wrote them. For many it is rare to see themselves and their community reflected in books, especially LGBTQ+ people, children and adults, who are often made to feel that they have no history they can identify with. The Love That Dares seeks to correct that and give them a link with those that came before them, such as Benjamin Britten, Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde.

It is a wonderful collection of love letters from the past, that speaks to the present generation, shouting loud and clear that love is definitely love, no matter your sexuality. What I found fascinating was how Rachel Smith and Barbara Vesey didn’t just include letters from famous people many of us are familiar with, but have given a voice to the historical diversity of the LGBTQ+ community; such as the ancient Greek poet Sappho, who is said to have had male and female lovers and whose poetry talks about her passionate love of women.

Sing the song while I, in the arms of Atthis,

Seal her lips to mine with a lover’s fervour,

Anacreon’s Song: The Love That Dares: Letters of LGBTQ+ Love & Friendship Through History – Rachel Smith & Barbara Vesey

Not only is it and emotional and powerful read, it is informative as well, each section is given an introduction, giving us the background to the letters and the people that wrote them. I was fascinated to learn of not just the love felt by the writers, but the context in which they poured out their feelings within. Men such Bayard Rustin, who was not just an openly gay man during a time of civil unrest, he was an influential adviser to leaders such as Dr Martin Luther King. Despite facing discrimination and attacks simply for being gay, he continued to work for issues he felt passionate about and poured out in his correspondence the agonies of the love he felt as a gay man, when his very existence was deemed illegal and an act of gross perversion. The authors giving a voice to his experiences and the anguish he and others felt, because society ostracized them. They have brought to life in the best way possible way within The Love That Dares, his thoughts and the love he and others felt, through their own words. They have allowed men and women to call across the generations to modern readers and say, we understand how you feel, we felt that way to, we see you and you are not alone because we walked before you.

Many still live with shame and in isolation and need to see themselves reflected in written word, just as any community does. This delightful collection of letters shows them that not only are they not alone, but that LGBTQ+ love, has existed throughout history.

It is an excellent and highly emotive read, that brings the history and the written word of the LGBTQ+ community to modern readers. It does so with a great deal of sensitivity, allowing the writers to speak for themselves and shows that queer love has existed throughout history.

It is time now to stop homophobia in in tracks and this book gives the lie to their arguments against equality. Love is what connects us to the people that pour out their feelings in The Love That Dares, not what separates us!

You can purchase this book from Amazon and Waterstones or from one of the fabulous Independent bookshops we have in this country.

About the writers who compiled this book.

Rachel Smith was born in Providence, raised in Hope, Rhode Island, and currently resides in London, where she is an archivist at Bishopsgate Institute. She is also an award-winning screenwriter. The Love That Dares is her first work of non-fiction, after releasing a collection of her poetry and photography, Words & Pictures, in 2016. In her free time, Rachel enjoys coffee, travel,
knitting, her dog and her wife.

Barbara Vesey was raised in New York but, having seen Mary Poppins at an impressionable age, eventually moved to London. Once accused of being a ‘rampant feminist’ – an epithet she was delighted to receive – after 25 years as a writer, editor and proofreader she retrained as an archivist. She is proud to work at the archives of both the Bishopsgate Institute and the Society of the Sacred Heart. Through sheer luck she has two amazing children and a world-class collection of art postcards.

The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs

Eliza Acton is a poet who’s never boiled an egg.
But she’s about to break the mould of traditional cookbooks
And change the course of cookery writing forever

England 1835. Eliza Acton is a poet who dreams of seeing her words in print. But when she takes a new
manuscript to a publisher, she’s told that ‘poetry is not the business of a lady.’ Instead, she’s asked to
write a cookery book.

Eliza is horrified but her financial situation leaves her no choice. Although she’s never cooked before, she
is determined to learn and to discover, if she can, the poetry in recipe writing. To assist her, she hires
seventeen-year-old Ann Kirby, the daughter of local paupers. Over the next ten years, Eliza and Ann
change the course of cookery writing forever.


The Language of Flowers is the beautifully written story of Eliza Acton, poet and cookery writer and Anne Kirby, a young girl who dreams of escaping poverty and becoming a cook.  Together they changed the course of cookery writing and gave us the format we are familiar with today!

Great historical fiction should transport you back to the time the story is set in, make current events disappear and this stunning novel does that. I found myself in the comforting surroundings of Anne and Eliza’s kitchen, I could smell the aroma of food and feel the passion and the joy they felt for cooking and they wanted to make it accessible to others.  

There are so many wonderful things to say about this book, that the review could write itself.  The characterization is crafted to perfection and the story packed with emotion and nuanced details.  Annabel Abbs brings both Eliza and Anne to life and tells their tale with intricate period details, while ensuring story conveys both the restraints of their lives, but also their bravery in fighting against the accepted role of women of the time.

It is a balancing act for any writer to tell a story and get the atmosphere right, and Annabel Abbs does that perfectly. We have the drama, the emotions, the struggles both characters faced and still we have the important historical details that shaped both women and made them the pioneers they were. The story taking us from the rejection of Eliza poetry, to the suggestion by a publisher that a better use of her time would be to write a cookbook, marred perfectly with Anne’s desperate longing to escape the grinding poverty and make a better future for herself. We are treated to a tale of how the strength of these two women, made this all possible, we feel the passion they had for subject and how their pasts shaped their present.  The story is not swamped by the historical details, rather they work together in perfect sympatry.

I loved how the writer brought both the women to life, fleshed out their stories, taking them from relative obscurity and introducing them to a whole new generation of readers.

The Language of Food is one of the best historical novels I have read in quite some time and that is saying something. 

You can purchase The Language of Food from Amazon, Waterstones and your local independent bookshop.

About the author

Annabel Abbs is the new rising star of biographical historical novels. She grew up in Bristol, Sussex and Wales before studying English Literature at the University of East Anglia and Marketing at the University of Kingston. Her debut novel The Joyce Girl was a Guardian Reader’s Pick and her second novel Frieda: The Original Lady Chatterley earned critical acclaim including Times 2018 Book of the Year. She regularly appears on national and regional media, with recent appearances on Radio 4 Woman’s Hour and Sky News, and is popular on the literary festival circuit. She was longlisted for the Bath Novel Award, the Caledonia Novel Award and the Waverton GoodRead Award. Annabel lives in London with her husband and four children.

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

Well here we are, entering a new reading year. It seems only yesterday that I was saying the same about 2021!

We are still living through very tough times and books continue to be a form of self care and so I am continuing this series of posts for another year. To remind me how lucky I am to have books, bookish friends with me.

The first book I finished in 2021, was one I started as the year changed from 2021 to 2022. Circus Of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal is magical, moving and thought provoking. It was the perfect way to start the year.

Following this I delved into the latest installment of The Six Stories Series. Demon by Matt Wesolowski is chilling, yet you can’t stop reading.

Next came Late City by Robert Olen Butler, the story of one man’s regrets and experiences during a long life. Overall I loved this book, which was deeply moving and beautifully written, but I struggled with the religious element.

Next came a book that has sat on my to read pile for over a year, The Bookseller’s Tale by Martin Latham. I am a sucker for a book about books, booksellers or bookshops and so dived into this and loved it. It is an astounding book about the history of books, bookseller’s and about our favorite places to snuggle up and read.

Read as part of a blog tour The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs is beautifully told story of Eliza Acton English food writer and poet, who wrote the first cookbook aimed at the domestic reader. It tells of her quest for independence and her friendship with her kitchen servant Anne, who became not just a friend, but a collaborator in writing the cookbook. Deeply moving, I lost myself in its pages for hours at a time.

Finally was The Love That Dares by Rachel Smith and Barbara Vesey, a moving collection of letters that tell of the love and friendships of LGBTQ+ people throughout history.

Well that was January 2022, a great reading month. I am already reading two books that are set to become firm favorites and so February is I feel going to be fabulous.

Late City By Robert Olen Butler

A 115-year-old man lays on his deathbed as the 2016 election results arrive, and revisits his life in this moving story of love, fatherhood, and the American century from Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler

A visionary and poignant novel centered around former newspaperman Sam Cunningham as he prepares to die, Late City covers much of the early twentieth century, unfurling as a conversation between the dying man and a surprising God. As the two review Sam’s life, from his childhood in the American South and his time in the French trenches during World War I to his fledgling newspaper career in Chicago in the Roaring Twenties and the decades that follow, snippets of history are brought sharply into focus.

Sam grows up in Louisiana, with a harsh father, who he comes to resent both for his physical abuse and for what Sam eventually perceives as his flawed morality. Eager to escape and prove himself, Sam enlists in the army as a sniper while still underage. The hardness his father instilled in him helps him make it out of World War I alive, but, as he recounts these tales on his deathbed, we come to realize that it also prevents him from contending with the emotional wounds of war. Back in the US, Sam moves to Chicago to begin a career as a newspaperman that will bring him close to all the major historical turns of the twentieth century. There he meets his wife and has a son, whose fate counters Sam’s at almost every turn.

As he contemplates his relationships – with his parents, his brothers in arms, his wife, his editor, and most importantly, his son – Sam is amazed at what he still has left to learn about himself after all these years.


I had quite a complex reaction to Late City by Robert Olen Butler, both good and troubling. But that is okay, because I can genuinely say, that I loved it.

115 year old Sam Cunningham is dying and we are told of his life leading up to this moment in conversation between himself and God. It is a story about not just his life, but his coming to terms with his life choices, love, loss and redemption.

I wanted to start with the part that troubled me, it is a very individual reaction and no reflection on the quality of the book. I’m mentioning it, because it caused me to stop and decide if I wanted to carry on reading. I personally have no religious belief and felt the use of conversations with God felt a little too ambiguous and it would have sat easier with me and had a greater emotional impact, if the relating of his story to the reader had not been centered around this spiritual element. Please don’t misinterpret this as a criticism of the writing our the characterization, it isn’t, just that I felt the story would have been more compelling without God guiding his exploration of over a century of living!

Despite this, Late City is one of the best books I have read this year. Why?

Firstly Sam is a fascinating and complex character whose life has spanned many wars and cultural changes that have shaped the modern world. Robert Olen Butler telling a story that takes him from his childhood and the impending horror of World War One, to the deeply divisive election of Donald Trump. Such epics sometimes become bogged down by lack of attention to characterization, allowing such events to distort and overpower the intimacy of a life lived. Late City manages to avoid that, becoming a beautifully wrought tale of the memories and experiences of one man, as he navigates a century of unapparelled change.

He is a character much of his period, strong, stoic, emotionally repressed, the worker, dedicated to his job and often absent from the life of his wife and son. The writer asking the reader and Sam if the isolation that he had from them, was worth the price his long life has forced him to pay. You feel his determination to do his duty, his strong moral compass and the detachment he has from his own emotions. You are forced to question if he is simply the product of his upbringing, or a more complicated victim of the way society forced men of his generation, to be a leaders within their families, not it’s beating heart. His feelings and emotional development are stunted and it is only as death approaches does he realize what this has cost him, my emotional reaction coming from the fact that he has seen so much, but lost so much. It is this, in the end, that drew me in, creating an emotional bond with Sam that still, weeks after I finished the novel, has me thinking about his life and the world he lived in.

You can buy Late City from Amazon, Waterstones and your local independent bookshop!

About the author

Robert Olen Butler is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of eighteen previous novels, including HellA Small Hotel, and Perfume River. He is also the author of six short story collections and a book on the creative process, From Where You Dream. He has twice won a National Magazine Award in Fiction and received the 2013 F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Literature. He teaches creative writing at Florida State University.