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?


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…


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…


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.


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 –


Twitter @katethompson380


A Gypsy in Auschwitz – How I survived the horrors of the ‘forgotten Holocaust’ by Otto Rosenberg.

Otto Rosenberg is 9 and living in Berlin, poor but happy, when his family are first detained. All around them, Sinti and Roma families are being torn from their homes by Nazis , leaving behind schools, jobs, friends, and businesses to live in forced encampments outside the city. One by one, families are broken up, adults and children disappear or are ‘sent East’.

Otto arrives in Auschwitz aged 15 and is later transferred to Buechenwald and Bergen-Belsen. He works, scrounges food whenever he can, witnesses and suffers horrific violence and is driven close to death by illness more than once. Unbelievably, he also joins an armed revolt of prisoners who, facing the SS and certain death, refuse to back down. Somehow, through luck, sheer human will to live, or both, he survives.

The stories of Sinti and Roma suffering in Nazi Germany are all too often lost or untold. In this haunting account, Otto shares his story with a remarkable simplicity. Deeply moving, A Gypsy in Auschwitz is the incredible story of how a young Sinti boy miraculously survived the unimaginable darkness of the Holocaust.


Any book or novel that deals with the Nazi persecution of not just Jews but others such as gypsy’s, is difficult to read and review, simply because of the horrific nature of the story. It is impossible to read books like A Gypsy in Auschwitz and not become overcome by anger as well as horror and still be able to give a balanced review of the book. Emotion takes over as it should.

In his account of growing up under the horrors of the Holocaust, he tells his story with startling honesty, the emotion in the writing almost dispassionate, which has the adverse effect of making what we’re reading have less impact. In fact it makes it all the more horrifying, because we know, that having endured unimageable suffering, he would have as many did, found it difficult to talk about his experiences. That he did, was an act of bravery.

As you read, you know that behind the simplicity of the writing, is another layer of untold emotion, buried deep and it is utterly heartbreaking! He leaves nothing out, but writes in such a way to educate, not crush the reader. What I found so remarkable about his writing was how it brought across the psychological trauma he and so many suffered from, pushing back at the horror, lifting the shroud that he and others wrpped around themselves in order to survive what they had witnessed and endured. The trauma not ending when he was liberated, but all through his life and this led to his remarkable retelling of events within the camps. It is this trauma, still affecting him, that shapes his writing and it feels as you read that you can feel and see much it took for him to survive and eventually move on. The pain seeps into your mind and your heart and the writing and story will haunt me for a long time.

Otto Rosenberg is telling Nazi persecution of his people, to remind us that their hatred of ‘outsiders’ did not stop with the Jews, but led to the murder of many other groups. The story is powerful and emotional , one everyone should take the time to read, because as those that suffered and survived die, the risk is people will forget, so it is upon us to keep those events alive, so they never happen again. Otto Rosenberg legacy was his bravery in telling his story to the world, to overcoming the trauma he suffered, so others don’t ever have to again.

It’s power coming from the remarkable act of bravery it took to face those events again and speak out to us as readers.

You can purchase A Gypsy in Auschwitz from Amazon, Waterstones and all good independent bookshops.

About the author

Otto Rosenberg was born in East Prussia in 1927 and grew up in Berlin. He was 9 when he was sent to the Roma and Sinti camp in Marzahn, ahead of the 1936 Olympic Games, and 16 when he was sent to Auschwitz. He was then detained in Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps before being freed in 1945. In later years, Rosenberg was the chairman of the Regional Association of German Sinti and Romanies Berlin-Brandenburgand fathered seven children. He passed away in 2001.

My Wonderful Reading Year – August 2022- The Journey Continues.

I will start with the books I was gifted to review!

Whisper of The Seals by Roxanne Bouchard

The story is perfection! One moment a sense of terrifying exhilaration is gripping you, then you are suddenly it becomes quieter, the strained tranquility leaving you on edge and backwards and forwards you go, until you can barely breath. The writer using these two alternative settings to create varying levels of tension, that have the reader so rattled, they have to read on, simply to know who survives. Frankly I had to take a break from reading to cope before I moved onto my next read. Would I do it again, of course I would, because her writing is some of the best I have ever read and Whisper of the Seals her best book yet.

A Gypsy in Auschwitz by Otto Rosenburg

Otto Rosenberg is telling Nazi persecution of his people, to remind us that their hatred of ‘outsiders’ did not stop with the Jews, but led to the murder of many other groups. The story is powerful and emotional , one everyone should take the time to read, because as those that suffered and survived die, the risk is people will forget, so it is upon us to keep those events alive, so they never happen again. Otto Rosenberg legacy was his bravery in telling his story to the world, to overcoming the trauma he suffered, so others don’t ever have to again. It’s power coming from the remarkable act of bravery it took to face those events again and speak out to us as readers.

The Little Wartime Library by Kate Thompson

I loved this story of a wartime library set up in Bethnal Green tube station. The story of the people that run it and the amazing people who lived in the underground tube stations, it is both funny, heart warming and often emotional. A dam good story told with skill and a lightness of touch that means the story reads with ease and is almost impossible to put down.

For the first time in ages I managed to read more of my own books in August than review books. Hurrah! So here they are.

The Librarian by Allie Morgan

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.  

The Library by Bella Osborne

This is a gentle story about two bookworms, about friendship and the things that bring them together, the local library. It is funny, moving and gentle, yet deals with some difficult issues, loneliness, shattered families and a need for community. It is just what I needed and I fell in love with both the story and the characters.

The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

Magical and delightful, this is fantasy writing at it’s very best. Full of adventure, I found it impossible to put down, becoming lost in the richly imagined story of a quest, that leads one man to uncharted Peru. Here he finds, friendship and the answer to his families connection to this place of wonder. One of my favorite writers, Natasha Pulley delivers another stunning story.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Less by Andrew Sean Greer has to be one of my books of the year! A charming, funny emotional read about Arthur Less, who travels to try and heal a broken heart and find time to write his next great novel. He is without doubt a wonderful character and the story one I would recommend to all.

Well there we are. August was a captivating month for reading and I’m looking forward to what September brings.