Expectant by Vanda Symon

A killer targeting pregnant women. A detective expecting her first baby…The shocking murder of a heavily pregnant woman throws the New Zealand city of Dunedin into a tailspin, and the devastating crime feels uncomfortably close to home for Detective Sam Shephard as she counts down the days to her own maternity leave. Confined to a desk job in the department, Sam must find the missing link between this brutal crime and a string of cases involving mothers and children in the past. As the pieces start to come together and the realisation dawns that the killer’s actions are escalating, drastic measures must be taken to prevent more tragedy. For Sam, the case becomes personal, when it becomes increasingly clear that no one is safe and the clock is ticking…


There is something innately comforting about returning to a character and a familiar series of books! Like cwtching up with a hot drink, sunk into your very favourite chair. The Sam Shephard series is one of those books, for which any other plans are dropped and the world outside ceases to exist. All that matters is the words and the story. Don’t misinterpret this to suggest that it is a cosy drama, it isn’t, but it is consistently welcoming and both the characters and story are compulsive and engaging. The minute I open the page, I know that me and Sam Shepherd are going to face danger, navigate tricky relationships and face evil.

In this, book five in the series, writer Vanda Symon tested my resolve never to read the last page of a book, to see if Sam and the child she is carrying survive. I never do this, but as the story progressed, I thought about it, just to relieve the building anxiety, to the point that my fingers teased at the pages and I came close to giving in. She built the tension up within the story to such a degree, it was like having a weight sitting on my chest. She took us from a horrifying murder, weaved in Sam frustrations at being confined to a desk job and ended it with a almost unbearable last few chapters. This created for me the perfect narrative. Because it allows the reader to take a breath and makes the next moment of peril Sam faces feel all the more menacing. You don’t see where the threat comes from and that creates venerability in the reader, when your ripped from the safety of a chat with friends, to the heroine face to face with a killer who just maybe the one that ends her life.

I love Sam as a character and I really like how we get to know her more with each installment. Here she is caught between boredom and frustration at being sidelined from the investigation because of impending motherhood. Now on it’s own it wouldn’t work, so added in is her compulsive nature, her passion for her work and a reckless disregard for her own safety and you have a character perfectly in tune with the story. The story needed her vulnerability to be at its maximum to work and it does, because it invests her in catching a killer of women just like herself. Without Sam Shepherd being so invested, it would simply be another run of the mill thriller, but it’s not because she is fighting not just to catch a killer and bring justice to the victims family, but to protect herself and her unborn child. As a reader, you love her passion, but her lack of regard for her own safety terrifies you. That is why I was tempted to read the last page, because of who she is and the sure and certain knowledge that this time, she might push her luck to far.

Once again the New Zealand Queen of crime, left me a bag of nerves and threatened to break my heart.

You can purchase this book directly from the publisher.

From Amazon and from Waterstones.

About the author

Vanda Symon is a crime writer, TV presenter and radio host from Dunedin, New Zealand, and the chair of the Otago Southland branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors. The Sam Shephard series has climbed to number one on the New Zealand bestseller list, and also been shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award for best crime novel. She currently lives in Dunedin, with her husband and two sons.

The Forcing by Paul E Hardisty

Frustrated and angry after years of denial and inaction, in a last-ditch attempt to stave off disaster, a government of youth has taken power in North America, and a policy of institutionalised ageism has been introduced. All those older than the prescribed age are deemed responsible for the current state of the world, and are to be ‘relocated’, their property and assets confiscated.

David Ashworth, known by his friends and students as Teacher, and his wife May, find themselves among the thousands being moved to ‘new accommodation’ in the abandoned southern deserts – thrown together with a wealthy industrialist and his wife, a high court lawyer, two recent immigrants to America, and a hospital worker. Together, they must come to terms with their new lives in a land rendered unrecognisable.

As the terrible truth of their situation is revealed, lured by rumours of a tropical sanctuary where they can live in peace, they plan a perilous escape. But the world outside is more dangerous than they could ever have imagined. And for those who survive, nothing will ever be the same again…


There is one thing that you can always expect from anyone one of Orenda’s authors, superb and exciting reads! The Forcing by Paul E Hardisty proves this once again.

It is utterly compelling, grimly plausible and terrifying because of this. A Government of youth, angry at the mess made of the world, takes power in North America, forcing everyone over a certain age into exile, in an attempt to save the earth from total disaster. When we watch the news and see the mess we are making of our world and the protests by young people like Greta Thunberg, it doesn’t take a massive leap of imagination to envision that events in The Forcing, could one day become our reality, or more likely for the generations that follow us.

I consumed it within a few short days, not just because it is written by an author at the very top of his craft, but because he made me believe that the events within this book could happen. It maybe a work of fiction, but for the reader, it reads as reality, one we could be sleep walking toward. You have to keep reading, to keep alive the hope that Teacher and those he loves, manage to survive. I was terrified that he would not, that the world was doomed and I felt a very real sense of disquiet as I turned the pages. This story of survival works, not because it is full of gruesome details, but by virtue of the fact it oozes with intelligent and thought provoking possibilities.

It is an emotional read. I cried for the pain of characters separated from the only life they knew, from their children, carrying the guilt of the part they played in the horrors enveloping the earth. Its all well and good, drawing us into a story, but you need to care and I did, very much so. Not just for Teacher, but all the others, the children, the planet. Then I began to feel an infinissable sense of hope that not all was doomed, only to be crushed as with each corner turned in the story, it all seemed increasingly hopeless. But there is always hope and I will leave you to find out for yourselves, whether hope springs eternal or if Teacher is destroyed by mankind’s reckless abuse of it’s most precious resources.

You can purchase this book direct from the publisher Orenda Books

Amazon or Waterstones

About the author

Canadian Paul E Hardisty has spent 25 years working all over the world as an engineer, hydrologist and environmental scientist. He has roughnecked on oil rigs in Texas, explored for gold in the Arctic, mapped geology in Eastern Turkey (where he was befriended by PKK rebels), and rehabilitated water wells in the wilds of Africa. He was in Ethiopia in 1991 as the Mengistu regime fell, and was bumped from one of the last flights out of Addis Ababa by bureaucrats and their families fleeing the rebels. In 1993 he survived a bomb blast in a café in Sana’a. Paul is a university professor and CEO of the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS). The first four novels in his Claymore Straker series, The Abrupt Physics of DyingThe Evolution of FearReconciliation for the Dead and Absolution all received great critical acclaim and The Abrupt Physics of Dying was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger and Telegraph Thriller of the Year. Paul is a sailor, a private pilot, keen outdoorsman, conservation volunteer, and lives in Western Australia.

My Wonderful Reading Year – January 2023 – The Journey Continues

Well Here we are in a new year, wondering by it will bring us all. I have only one reading resolution and that is to continue reading more books of my to be read pile. It is definitely tottering after a wonderful book buying splurge over Christmas and presents from family and friends alike.

This year, I am going to continue separating this feature into sections, books I read and received as review copies and those I selected from my bookshelf, There is going to be no pressure to read a set amount, type of book or any targets at all. I didn’t cope well last year, with trying to aim for a set number of books read, so I’m shelving that and taking a much more relaxed approach.

Review books

River Sing Me Home by Eleanor Shearer

The stunning story of a former slave and her search for the children taken away from her. It features a heroine whose strength of character is central to the story and whose journey is both heart breaking and heart warming. I new little of the story behind this book, but will be seeking out non fictions texts, just because the story moved me so much.

Books from my bookshelf


The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan

This was the choice of the Cardiff Waterstones Book Group and admittedly has not been on my bookshelf for long! Moving, shocking and deeply absorbing, Richard Flanagan tells the story of society turns it’s back on a women, through fear and ignorance. It is a book that requires investment by the reader and though parts didn’t work as well as he may have intended, it is still an amazing read.

How To Kill Your Family by Bella Mackie

An interesting concept for a novel, it just didn’t work well enough for me. The characterisation was to one dimensional and the story too predictable.


Wintering by Katherine May

Wintering by Katherine May is a beautiful and poignant read. It tells of how during our lives we lives through many winter cycles, both in a physical seasonal form and periods of mental and physical upheaval. On reading it I felt seen, I felt understood and it helped me accept, that it is natural to struggle sometimes and that we need to care more for ourselves as individuals.

Anti Social by Nick Pettigrew

Despite the subject matter Anti Social is a moving story of the pressure faced by Social Behaviour Officer. Nick Pettigrew tells not just the stories of deeply venerable people and how they are affected by the actions of others, but also how it affected his own mental health. Darkly funny, it really is a book we should all read, because he has some powerful tales to tell.

Boy in a China Shop by Keith Brymer Jones

I am a massive fan of The Great Potter Throw Down and love how invested and supportive Keith Brymer Jones is of the potters and so bought his book. I loved it! His passion and his love of his craft is infectious.

River Sing Me Home by Eleanor Shearer

We whisper the names of the ones we love like the words of a song. That was the taste of freedom to us, those names on our lips.

Mary Grace, Micah, Thomas Augustus, Cherry Jane and Mercy.

These are the names of her children. The five who survived, only to be sold to other plantations. The faces Rachel cannot forget.

It’s 1834, and the law says her people are now free. But for Rachel freedom means finding her children, even if the truth is more than she can bear.

With fear snapping at her heels, Rachel keeps moving. From sunrise to sunset, through the cane fields of Barbados to the forests of British Guiana and on to Trinidad, to the dangerous river and the open sea.

Only once she knows their stories can she rest. Only then can she finally find home.

Inspired by the women who, in the aftermath of slavery, went in search of their lost children.


River Sing Me Home is the moving story of a former slave who sets out to find the children stolen from her by masters. It is both heartbreaking and healing, with a story set around a women who in seeking to find her children and it explores what freedom means for her and the children she is searching for. It is not about tidy endings, but about the reality of life for former slaves in the months and years after this abhorrent trade was outlawed.

Until I read this novel, I had no idea of the quests former slaves made to find their missing children. The result for me being that River Sing Me Home felt like a odyssey I was taking with Rachel, the writing speaking to my ignorance and the resulting emotional connection felt all the more poignant. It was an utterly compelling read and emotionally I felt Rachel was speaking to me from the past, acting as a voice for all those lost to history, but now reclaiming their stories. It is a delicate balancing act for any writer, to write about a historical period, without overwhelming it with modern assumptions and inaccurate story telling. But Eleanor Shearer handles it with great skill, she focuses on Rachel’s drive not only to find her children, but also how their lives mean that her dream of reuniting the family has the possibility of being both joyful, but also heart-breaking for all concerned. To have made it too positive, would have been a betrayal of Rachel and the tragedy of her story.

All stories need some drama to keep us invested, this is a fictional tale and not a piece of non-fiction, so the writer cleverly draws on the greed of plantation owners and their desperation not to lose their workers, by imposing a system of slavery in all but name, indentured servitude, to create the threat to her life and freedom that left me on edge throughout. The drama coming from the real fear that as she travels across Barbados, Trinidad and British Guiana, she must avoid the violence of men who in their desperation, are all to willing to use the treat of violence and death if need be. It means the story has drama, drama that kept me on the edge of what felt like a precipice that could engulf Rachel at any point. I desperately wanted her to succeed, to complete the task she has set herself, to find not only her children, but peace for herself. Right until the last page, I knew this was under threat and it lifted River Sing Me Home from being a simple, but beautiful historical drama, into something far more complex, a fight for justice and survival, love and empowerment.

River Sing Me Home is truly a debut that speaks of a bright future for Eleanor Shearer.

You can buy this novel from Amazon and Waterstones

About the author

Eleanor Shearer is a mixed race writer from the UK. She splits her time between London and Ramsgate on the coast of Kent, so that she never has to go too long without seeing the sea.

As the granddaughter of Caribbean immigrants who came to the UK as part of the Windrush Generation, Eleanor has always been drawn to Caribbean history. Her first novel, RIVER SING ME HOME (Headline, UK & Berkley, USA) is inspired by the true stories of the brave woman who went looking for their stolen children after the abolition of slavery in 1834.

The novel draws on her time spent in the Caribbean, visiting family in St Lucia and Barbados. It was also informed by her Master’s degree in Politics, where she focused on how slavery is remembered on the islands today. She travelled to the Caribbean and interviewed activists, historians and family members, and their reflections on what it really means to be free made her more determined than ever to bring the hidden stories of slavery to light.

You can follow the author on Twitter