My Wonderful Reading Year April 2021- The Journey Continues!

I know we are not where we wanted to be at the beginning of 2021, but I believe my love of reading contributed to the little bit of sanity and hope I managed to hold onto in 2020.

So I have decided to be kind to myself this year and not place too much pressure on myself to meet set reading targets or publish a certain number of reviews.

As much as I can, I’m going to make 2021 about reading for the simple joy of it. I won’t stop doing blog tours, because I love how they challenge me and at least keep me focused reading when life is stressful and I am so distracted. But I will be doing less and reading more of the books on my to be read pile and gaining some more balance back in my reading world.

So here we are in 2021 and what follows are the books that I read in April 2021.

The first book I finished in April is the astonishingly beautiful and moving Together by Luke Adam Hawker. It is a book of our times and a testament to our shared experiences during the pandemic.

Following this I read the deeply moving and thought provoking The Source by Sarah Sultoon.

Then there was a very welcome return to the wondaful Detective Kubu in Facets of Death by Michael Stanley. Dark, thrilling, but also with a lighter side, because I love Detective Kubu so much.

I needed something lighter as my next read so I turned to The Garden Of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman. I had read and loved the Bookish Life of Nina Hill by the same author when I was a shadow judge on The Comedy Women in Print Prize in 2020 and so saw this novel as soon after. it is superb and I like how she deals with difficult subjects and yet it feels joyous to read.

Moving on, my next read was Vera Kelly is not a Mystery by Rosalie Knecht! I loved the first so much after reading it as part of the blog tour that I immediately put the second in the series on pre-order, because I had loved it so much. I am delighted to say, this is a wonderful as the first in the series.

Next I read a book by one of my favourite authors, Cartes Postales From Greece by Victoria Hislop. Not my favourite book of hers, enjoyable, but it didn’t work for me as I expected.

Resourceful Living by Lisa Dawson is a perfectly pitched guide to how you can revamp your home using items you already own, vintage buys and mixing them all up with a few key modern pieces. I am not very good at visualizing how a room can look and this has really helped me understand how I can mix my personal tastes with functionality.

I received Witten in Bone. Hidden Stories in What We Leave Behind by Sue Black from a lovely and thoughtful friend and it is utterly fascinating. Within its pages Professor Dame Sue Black details how the bones we leave behind can act as witnesses to the lives we led.

I was then very lucky to be offered My Daddies by Gareth Peter and Garry Parsons for review. This delightful children’s book has one central message, families in whatever shape and form they come in are formed by love. It is an important message and this book will help young children understand.

Next up is the delightful Mrs Narwhal’s Diary by S J Norbury. Funny, moving and poignant, I loved it.

The bookclub read for April was The Hiding Game by Naomi Wood. Mixed bag for me, I enjoyed it, but not as much as I expected to.

Then came Kjell Ola Dahl’s superb The Assistant.

Well April was a fantastic reading month and I hope May will be to.

Review- Facets of Death by Michael Stanley

Detective Kubu’s first case may also be his last…

Recruited straight from university to Botswana’s CID, David ‘Kubu’ Bengu has raised his colleagues’ suspicions with his meteoric rise within the department, and he has a lot to prove…

When the richest diamond mine in the world is robbed of 100,000 carats worth of gems, and then the thieves are killed, execution-style, Kubu leaps at the chance to prove himself. But where are the diamonds? And what role does a witch doctor and his son play?

Does this young detective have the skill – and integrity – to engineer an international trap? Or could it cost him everything, including his life…?

A riveting, chilling prequel to the award-winning Detective Kubu series, Facets of Death introduces the beloved Kubu and his richly described native Botswana, in a dark, sophisticated thriller that will leave you breathless.

Review

I am happy to start my review by announcing that I am,  imagine drum rolls, fireworks and flashing lights at this moment,  a Detective Kubu super fan! Just like Beyonce has a fan club, celebrated and cherished by so many, Kubu is my crime solving superstar! You might think that is a tad over the top, I promise you fellow book lovers it is not, he is bloody marvellous and in and of himself, a good enough reason to immediately buy Facets of Death by Michael Stanley. 

Do I hear you say,  that you need more reasons to spend your hard earned money? Well okay, here we go…

Facets of Death is not the first book to feature the wonderful Detective Kubu, it is in fact a thrilling prequal to a whole series of exciting adventures to feature one of my favourite detectives.  Which makes it wonderful in two ways, if you like me are an already died in the wool fan, it takes you back to Kubu’s first days in Botswana’s CID and you get to know where his story started, all wrapped up in a breathless and exciting read. If you have never had the luck to read one of the Dective Kubu series,  it is a good place to start and then, you have all his other stories to look forward to, almost unparcelled joy in my book.  

There you go!

More you say?

The story is rich and diverse. Set in a landscape that is so vividly brought to life, you can feel the warmth of the sun on your face, imagine yourself walking out of the page and into the Botswana Kubu inhabits.  It feeds into the story in a way that feels organic, because tales of witch doctors and murder driven by greed for the countries diamond wealth, marry up exploitation of the natural resources with the exploitation of those caught up in a series of increasingly brutal murders. Now that might all sound grim, but what makes the writing of Michael Stanley stand out, is the warmth that floods through the story and the humour, which in Facets of Death primarily comes from Kubu’s attempts fit into his role and his awkward, but endearing attempts at romance.

The pages are full of an ensemble cast of characters besides Kubu and we never really know who we can trust until the last page. I know what you’re thinking, such twists and turns are pretty standard fare in any thriller and your right they are! Sometimes they are so obvious you can see them long before the author intends, but within these pages I genuinely found myself accusing the wrong people of being involved in the conspiracy and trail of deaths that Kubu was trying to solve. 

It really is a first class thriller, one that will make you smile, even laugh a few times and it certainly will be worth every single penny they are asking for!

You can buy this amazing book directly from the author in print and ebook format from their website!

Or from Amazon and Waterstones.

Why not also consider ordering from your favourite independent bookshop?

About the authors

Michael Stanley is the writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip. Both were born in South Africa and have worked in academia and business. On a flying trip to Botswana, they watched a pack of hyenas hunt, kill, and devour a wildebeest, eating both flesh and bones. That gave them the premise for their first mystery, A Carrion Death, which introduced Detective ‘Kubu’ Bengu of the Botswana Criminal Investigation Department. It was a finalist for five awards, including the CWA Debut Dagger. The series has been critically acclaimed, and their third book, Death of the Mantis, won the Barry Award and was a finalist for an Edgar award. Deadly Harvest was a finalist for an International Thriller Writers’ award, and book five, A Death in the Family, was an international bestseller. Their first standalone thriller, Dead of Night, was published in 2019.

Review – The Source by Sarah Sutton

One last chance to reveal the truth…

1996. Essex. Thirteen-year-old schoolgirl Carly lives in a disenfranchised town dominated by a military base, struggling to care for her baby sister while her mum sleeps off another binge. When her squaddie brother brings food and treats, and offers an exclusive invitation to army parties, things start to look a little less bleak…

2006. London. Junior TV newsroom journalist Marie has spent six months exposing a gang of sex traffickers, but everything is derailed when New Scotland Yard announces the re-opening of Operation Andromeda, the notorious investigation into allegations of sex abuse at an army base a decade earlier…

As the lives of these two characters intertwine around a single, defining event, a series of utterly chilling experiences is revealed, sparking a nail-biting race to find the truth … and justice.

A riveting, searing and devastatingly dark thriller, The Source is also a story about survival, about hopes and dreams, about power, abuse and resilience … an immense, tense and thought-provoking debut that you will never, ever forget.

Review

The Source by Sarah Sultoon is a taunt, emotional and insightful story about the darker underbelly of society!

Within her narrative she tells a tale about sexual abuse on an army base, delivering a dark thriller that left me reeling, with the heart wrenching themes she wove with such skill and sensitivity.

It is always a risk I feel writing a story about such an emotive and troubling subject. It requires sensitivity and also importantly bravery, to lay in front of the reader the disturbing behaviour of the abusers, while giving a voice to the psychological damage done to the victims without sensualizing the story for cheap dramatic thrills.   Sarah Sutoon within The Source has delivered a novel that exposes the controlling nature and depravity of the abusers, yet her compassion for the victims and understanding of their circumstances, is sensitively done, with no attempt to marginalise the horror of their experiences.  It is to say the least a stunning debut from an author, who brings her experience as a journalist to bear to write a complex, clever tale, that will thrill and haunt the reader.

She handles the dual time narrative with skill, allowing the voice of thirteen year old Carly to escape the horror of events in 1996 Essex and feed into Marie’s life and current investigations.  We get to read on as she cleverly merges both periods like a call to us all to listen, the abuse of women and young girls is not relegated to the past, it is still an ever present danger. Powerful writing combines with a story that envelopes the reader, leaving them emotionally spent, yet also knowing that they have read a story that they are unlikely to forget and one that should remind them of how far we have yet to travel towards our children being free from exploitation and harm.

Character wise the writer draws on her understanding of human nature, both good and at its most disturbing.  Besides Carly who you can’t help but want to rescue, or Marie who you know is brave enough to challenge those that try to silence the victims, there is a host of characters that give this novel its sense of danger, its thrills and also that sense of revulsion.  The hum of the news room has reporters who seem cynical and yet they turn out to be true crusaders for justice.  Then there are the men who want to prevent Marie uncovering the truth, they made my skin crawl and my anger rise to the surface in waves of anguish. It is a cast of characters that gives this story it’s dual narrative of cruelty and the battle for justice.

This book is both incredible and thrilling. It is also deeply moving. I recommend without hesitation.

You can purchase this novel directly from the publisher on their fabulous website!

You can also buy it from Amazon, Waterstones and from your local independent bookshop.

About the author

Sarah Sultoon is a journalist and writer, whose work as an international news executive at CNN has taken her all over the world, from the seats of power in both Westminster and Washington to the frontlines of Iraq and Afghanistan. She has extensive experience in conflict zones, winning three Peabody awards for her work on the war in Syria, an Emmy for her contribution to the coverage of Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, and a number of Royal Television Society gongs. As passionate about fiction as nonfiction, she recently completed a Masters of Studies in Creative Writing at the University of Cambridge, adding to an undergraduate language degree in French and Spanish, and Masters of Philosophy in History, Film and Television. When not reading or writing she can usually be found somewhere outside, either running, swimming or throwing a ball for her three children and dog while she imagines what might happen if…..

Review – Resourceful Living by Lisa Dawson

It’s often thought that restyling your space comes with a hefty price tag and unavoidable waste. But in Resourceful Living, award-winning interiors blogger Lisa Dawson shows how, with a little creativity, you can revamp your home with existing pieces, vintage finds and key purchases.

The clever ideas in this beautiful book cover:

– The most important ways we use our homes, from eating to sleeping, living and working.

– The Basics of steering clear of interiors ‘fast fashion’, multi-purposing furniture and making the most of what you have.

– Styling Your Home with simple solutions for re-imagining each room, from gallery walls to home bars, repainted storage to retro accessories.

Including her top ten key vintage buys and tips for in-store and online thrifting, Lisa’s inspiring advice shares the fun of creative sourcing as a more sustainable way to keep your home feeling fresh.

Review

I am one of those people that loves the concept of revamping my home, especially using some vintage items! Sadly I am also one of those people who doesn’t plan, buys items without thinking about size and use. It is the reason my home is badly organised and lacks my personality, because I am also very indecisive. So a book like Resourceful Living by Lisa Dawson is a godsend!

Beautifully laid out in sections that helped me see how I can bring my ideas to life, without having to necessarily break the bank. I love how she advises you don’t become caught up in trends for a style that may not age well and doesn’t actually fit in with a person’s lifestyle. Your house she advises should reflect you as a person, your tastes and how you live and this well organised book helps with this. I’ve had a few ideas for my own home, that I felt too insecure to go ahead with, yet having seen them laid out in Resourceful Living, I now feel confident that not only will they work, that they will bring me a great deal of happiness.

Being inspired is one thing, the pictures in this book made me smile and helped me visualise the concepts and ideas Lisa Dawson was writing about. But I need guidance on how to bring my ideas to life and the sections in this book about Mood Boards and the use of checklists, will help to organise my naturally disorganised mind. They are clear and concise and structured in how they help bring a concept for the rooms in your home to life. From assessing the storage you need, how to update the cupboards in your kitchen without having to have a costly refit, focusing attention on key parts of a job that cost the most and advising you to take time to decide, because once a floor is laid for example, you could be stuck with a costly mistake.

All the advise provided is practical, but best of all is how she allowed me to think outside the box, to move items in my home around, repurpose them, rather than having to make costly purchases every time I want to change a room. On top of all this, what really impressed me was her commitment to the use of vintage items, saving them from landfill and helping the environment. This chimes with me and I will as I move forward, be using this book, the ideas it contains to inspire me to make my home, reflect the things I love.

You can purchase this book from Amazon and Waterstones. Why not though consider ordering it from your favourite independent bookshop?

About the author

Lisa Dawson is a multi-award-winning interiors blogger, writer, workshop presenter and social media influencer. She writes a popular weekly blog, is a regular contributor to Frank magazine and creates professional social media content for brands such as John Lewis and Loaf Home. She is co-founder of the popular Instagram hashtag #myhomevibe which has almost two million posts and was the first UK-based interiors community hashtag when it was launched in 2016. She lives in York with her husband, three children and a badly behaved Lhasa Apso called Buddy. Lisa shares her home inspiration on her Instagram @_lisa_dawson_.

Review – Together by Luke Adam Hawker

“Dark clouds were looming in the distance.

We watched them gather, and we wondered…

When will it come? How long will it last?”

One year on from the anniversary of the UK’s first lockdown, Together takes a gently philosophical, and very
relatable, look at how we have dealt with a difficult year and how we can cope with hard times in general.
Simple but striking text is paired with beautiful illustrations from hugely talented artist Luke Adam Hawker.

When a monumental storm arrives, day-to-day life changes overnight. We follow a man and his dog through
the uncertainty that it brings to their lives. Through their eyes, we see the difficulties of being apart, how the
world adapted to spending more time at home, the rollercoaster of emotions that we can all relate to, and
the realisation that by pulling together we can move through difficult times with new perspective, hope and
an appreciation of what matters most in life.

Review

We have and continue to live through extraordinary times, during which we have lost so much and yet perversely gained so much as well. The storm that has enveloped so much of the world, a virus that threatens all we hold dear, leaving so many grieving, remains an ever present reminder of the fragility of the connections which define humanity! Such events require a remarkable book to act as a testimony to the storm that is the Covid pandemic, for those that are living through it and I hope for those for whom it will be but a distant memory.

Together by Luke Adam Hawker is for me that book!

It is a work of beauty, the illustrations managing to voice that sense of gathering doom, clouds on the horizon, that left us separated and detached from the lives we have lived previously. Yet this is not a work without hope, quite the contrary, it is in fact full joy and the faith that by all pulling together, the world we emerge into will be a better legacy to leave to the next generation. 

The art work is breath-taking and matched up with the words provided by Marianne Laidlaw, they create the perfect combination, an ode to the things in life that really matter and a testimony to all be have been through together. Luke Hawker is an artist of immense talent and the ink and pen drawings feel crisp and intimate, portraying the busyness of our lives before the pandemic hit and yet also our individual isolation from our family and friends as the gathering storm engulfed all of us. It really is quite extraordinary how he manages to express so much emotion, the power of his drawings to illustrate the experiences of so many.  It felt such an emotional read, one I connected to on a personal level, that voiced how adrift I and so many others felt and continue to do so.. The drawings managing to convey a myriad of confused and fraught feelings that have occupied my mind for the last year.

This this is a book I will keep and turn many times over the next few months, as we face the future Together.

You can purchase this remarkable book from Amazon and Waterstones. Why not consider buying from your local indie, who are now open! If you don’t have one, then consider ordering online!

About the author

This is the debut from Luke Adam Hawker, who worked as an architectural designer before becoming a full-time artist in 2015. He lives just outside of London with his partner Lizzie and dog Robin. Luke ships his prints and originals to buyers all over the world and has been commissioned by brands such as Soho House Hotel Group, Annabel’s Club, and Eventbrite.

You can follow the author on Twitter @lukeadamhawker

Review- Vera Kelly is not a Mystery by Rosalie Knecht

When ex-CIA agent Vera Kelly loses her job and her girlfriend in a single day, she reluctantly goes into business as a private detective. Heartbroken and cash-strapped, she takes a case that dredges up dark memories and attracts dangerous characters from across the Cold War landscape. Before it’s over, she’ll chase a lost child through foster care and follow a trail of Dominican exiles to the Caribbean. Forever looking over her shoulder, she nearly misses what’s right in front of her: her own desire for home, connection, and a new romance at the local bar.

In this exciting second installment of the Vera Kelly series, Rosalie Knecht challenges and deepens the Vera we love: a woman of sparkling wit, deep moral fiber, and martini-dry humor who knows how to follow a case even as she struggles to follow her heart.

Review

I loved Who Is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht so much when asked to review it as part of the blog tour, that I immediately placed Vera Kelly is not a Mystery, the sequel on pre-order and I am delighted to say that it is splendid in very single way imaginable!

I started my post of Who Is Vera Kelly? by suggesting my review should be entitled, ‘Vera Kelly I Love You’! Thinking on this, I’m wondering if an alternative tile for this review should be ‘the love affair continues’!!

Vera is no longer a spy, but having lost both her girlfriend and job in the sane day decides to use her talents to set up as a private investigator. From this we are taken through a story full of thrills, heartbreak, love, discovery and friendship, all wrapped up in the perfect characterisation that is Vera herself. Fractured and damaged still, she is though on a road towards a better understanding of herself.

Feeling self indulgent and not wanting to be separated from Vera I read this book, except for a hour the night before, in one day, Rosalie Knecht enveloping me in her perfect characterisation, making me fall helplessly in love with this character all over again. It would have been easy to just have Vera striding through through more intrigue, pitting herself against dark forces to find a missing child, without developing her in anyway, but that would have been doing Vera an injustice. So I was overjoyed to see how she took the character on a journey that was as much about her acceptance as person worthy of love, as it was about her ingrained desire to help a child as lost as she had been, find safety and family. Vera moves from a world where she wraps herself in the protection of detachment and remoteness and takes tentative steps towards connection and romance. She is still the reluctant, self reliant heroine we met in Who Is Vera Kelly?, but over the course of this, her second outing, she starts to open up to us and herself and it’s really quite wonderful. I immersed myself in her journey and found myself increasingly wishing that Vera would come to recognise how wonderful she is! You can’t though simply shrug off years of rejection, by her mother for being troubled and rebellious, by society because of her sexuality and that is where the emotional connection comes with the story comes from. The writer makes her feel richer, braver, but never loses sight of the troubled road she is on and how it shapes her reactions to events and the people she meets.

It is equal parts espionage thriller and love story, that feels larger than life as we move from America to the Caribbean and yet intimate as Vera seeks answers to the motivations of those seeking the boy and her own reasons for wanting to protect him. Her fledging career as an investigator brings a sense of suspense and excitement, with quiet moments as she struggles with her own demons allowing us to get closer to this on time spy.

This is an exceptional tale, with a unique heroine and I can’t wait to see where she goes next.

You can purchase this novel from Amazon and Waterstones, but why not consider purchasing it from your favourite Indie Bookshop?

About the author

Rosalie Knecht is the author of Who Is Vera Kelly? and Relief Map. She is the translator of César Aira’s The Seamstress and the Wind (New Directions) and a Center for Fiction Emerging Writer Fellow. She resides in New York City.

My Wonderful Reading Year March 2021 – The Journey Continues!

I know we are not where we wanted to be at the beginning of 2021, but I believe my love of reading contributed to the little bit of sanity and hope I managed to hold onto in 2020.

So I have decided to be kind to myself this year and not place too much pressure on myself to meet set reading targets or publish a certain number of reviews.

As much as I can, I’m going to make 2021 about reading for the simple joy of it. I won’t stop doing blog tours, because I love how they challenge me and at least keep me focused reading when life is stressful and I am so distracted. But I will be doing less and reading more of the books on my to be read pile and gaining some more balance back in my reading world.

So here we are in 2021 and what follows are the books that I read in March 2021.

The first novel I finished in March was Simone Buchholz’s spiky and thrilling Hotel Cartegena.

While Paris Slept by Ruth Druart is a moving and thrilling read.

I have had The Dog Who Dared To Dream by Sun-Mi Hwang on by bookshelf for a few years and then when I was looking at my bookcase it suddenly called to me and what a delightful read it is. I loved the originality of the story, which is deeply moving.

Queer City by Peter Ackroyd is another book that has sat on my bookshelf for quite a while! Having made the decision to tackle my to be read pile of books, I picked as my next non fiction read. It is a fascinating history of gay culture of London from the Romans to the present day.

Dangerous Women by Hope Adams is a fascinating look at a group of women convicted of pretty crimes being transported to Australia. A murder on board leaves them wondering who amongst them is guilty!

I am a massive fan of The Repair Shop and so when I saw a book by Karen Farrington I snapped it up. I am so glad I did, because it tells the tales behind the objects restored in greater detail.

Bound by Vanda Symon’s is another fantastic read in the Sam Shepherd series!

After this came the very wonderful Olive, Mabel & Me by Andrew Cotter. Funny and moving, I loved it.

The next book read was Take Nothing With You by Patrick Gale. I adore his writing style and loved this book as I expected to. Eustace is a character easy to love and his story is deeply moving.

I managed to sneak in another read before we left March behind, Seven Kinds of People You Find In Bookshops by Shaun Bythell. A little gem of a read and I loved it.

Well March 2021 was full of wonderful reads and I’m looking forward to what April will bring.

Review – Bound by Vanda Symon

The New Zealand city of Dunedin is rocked when a wealthy and apparently respectable businessman is murdered in his luxurious home while his wife is bound and gagged, and forced to watch. But when Detective Sam Shephard and her team start investigating the case, they discover that the victim had links with some dubious characters.

The case seems cut and dried, but Sam has other ideas. Weighed down by her dad’s terminal cancer diagnosis, and by complications in her relationship with Paul, she needs a distraction, and launches her own investigation. And when another murder throws the official case into chaos, it’s up to Sam to prove that the killer is someone no one could ever suspect

Review

You just know sometimes that when you pick up a book by a certain author, that it is going to be fabulous and Vanda Symons is one of those writers for me. Every novel she delivers to eager readers is pitch perfect and guaranteed to be full of wonderful character development and a story that will thrill as well as entertain.

In Bound book four in the Sam Shepherd Series she has delivered a story that I found thrilling and yet at the same time moving. Sometimes continuing drama can become bogged down, but this series remains a fresh and addictive read.

It’s best asset is Sam Shephard herself, determined, flawed and honest. She is a breath of fresh air, as far removed from the traditional lead in such books, grumpy, badly dressed. worn down male detectives as you can dream of. In each instalment we get to know her better and this is definitely the case in Bound, where she battles a bullying boss and a complicated love life. Like many women Sam wants a career and to do so she has to navigate complex emotions and personal relationships every single day, to remain a functioning adult and this is why she is so loved by me. She is a complex, emotional human being and we can all identify with the challenges she faces. In this latest instalment Vanda Symon really put her and us through the emotional ringer and I know this sounds wrong, but her pain, her confusion, her distress, made this book a richer, more involving read. Her beloved dad is ill, she’s not sure what she wants from her current relationship and then a new dilemma throws her into a whole new level of soul searching and we ride those ups and downs with her. Yet it never distracts Sam from her determination to deliver justice for those victims that cross her path, in fact her career if effectively keeping her sane.

The story is equally addictive and that is because the writer not only knows that to keep a character fresh, she needs to develop them, but to keep readers hooked the stories have to be theatrical, with moments of humour and electrifying points within the narrative that have you glued to the edge of your seat. Bound, abounds with them all. We are swept across New Zealand as Sam seeks to tie together the treads of a murder investigation, that seems to be spiralling out of control, moments of humour help to lessen the pressure in our chests as we worry Sam is pushing herself towards ever greater danger. One minute we are holding on the edge of our chair as she is hurtled throw traffic in pursuit of a suspect, the next moment we are cheering her on as she gives her boss some overdue attitude and then holding her hand as she faces her father’s terminal diagnosis. We embrace the quiet moments, the conversations with family and friends and then are swept like adrenalin junkies on a roller coaster ride as Vanda Symons delivers the killer, sweeter and more delicious because it is Sam’s keen intelligence and analytical mind that captures the criminal.

From the mind of a first rate writer, comes a character and story with a flourish of magnificence, a large portion of humanity and oodles of excitement.

You can buy this book directly from the publishers ebook store. Amazon or 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.

You can follow the author on Twitter @vandasymon

Review – Nighthawking by Russ Thomas

Sheffield’s beautiful Botanical Gardens – an oasis of peace in a world filled with sorrow, confusion and pain. And then, one morning, a body is found in the Gardens. A young woman, dead from a stab wound, buried in a quiet corner. Police quickly determine that the body’s been there for months. It would have gone undiscovered for years – but someone just sneaked into the Gardens and dug it up.
 
Who is the victim? Who killed her and hid her body? Who dug her up? And who left a macabre marker on the body?
 
In his quest to find her murderer, DS Adam Tyler will find himself drawn into the secretive world of nighthawkers: treasure-hunters who operate under cover of darkness, seeking the lost and valuable . . . and willing to kill to keep what they find.

Review

Nighthawking by Russ Thomas is the superb sequel to Firewatching, his nerve tingling debut novel.

There is always a sense of trepidation when you pick up an author’s new novel, will it live up to the promise he showed in his first book, building on both the characters and the story arc? Russ Thomas not only does both, he does so within a provocative tale of corruption and murder. Importantly he builds on the events of the first novel, but not to the extent that you can’t either read this as part of a series or as a standalone! There are enough subtle references to events in Firewatching to allow you read Nighthawking only if that is what you prefer. Personally I like to read books in series order, because I feel you get a richer experience, but it so nice to know you can do either.

As for Nighthawking it is a superb! You know you have a cracker in your hands, when you whizz through a book it at a rate of knots, putting life on hold until you’ve read the final page. This was me! Picking it up at any opportunity that came to me and feeling cheated when I had to focus on real life instead.

Characterisation is yet again superlative. From the main characters such as Adam Taylor and Rabbani, we have a new cohort personalities that fill Nighthawking. From the Nighthawkers of the title, seemingly harmless treasure hunters, to students and hardened criminals. Russ Thomas brings them all alive and makes them two dimensional, forcing me on more than one occasion to reassess my feelings towards them, because i never knew which of them I could really trust. I loved how he allowed us to get to know Adam in more detail and also, introduced more nuanced reflection on the actions and decisions he makes. Best of all is how Rabbani maybe his subordinate, but she is never a lesser character than Adam himself, the workhorse of the tale, her commitment and frustrations with those around her are something so many can relate to.

In my case having read Firewatching it has a group of protagonists that I already knew and cared about, meaning I was invested in the story straight away. Then there was the antagonist or in this case antagonists, because the writer cleverly presents us with multiple possible contenders and then leads us on a merry dance, before with a clever slight of hand, throws a curve ball into the mix and left me feeling bamboozled by the killers identity. It is such a clever story, that follows more than one storyline, which in the hands of a lesser writer, could have become bogged down in confusion, but it flows with ease between the tale of a killer and Adam Tyler’s continued search for answers to a tragedy that has plagued his life! The tension comes not just from the teams hunt for a killer, but the interplay between them all. There are scenes that show the pressure they are under from above, the politics at play, as well as the real threat to their careers if they fail to track the killer fast enough to keep both the public and their superiors happy. It creates between them a tension that feels real and tangible and adds to the story a feeling that they are walking on a tightrope, one wrong step, could see them freefalling into professional and personal failure. Placing their lives in danger and leaving me as a reader, thrilled and excited for what comes next!

You can buy this novel from Amazon and Waterstones! But why not buy it directly from your local Indie bookshop?

About the author

Russ Thomas was born in Essex, raised in Berkshire and now lives in Sheffield. After a few ‘proper’ jobs (among them: pot-washer, optician’s receptionist, supermarket warehouse operative, call-centre telephonist, and storage salesman) he discovered the joys of bookselling, where he could talk to people about books all day. His highly-acclaimed debut novel, Firewatching, is the first in the DS Adam Tyler series and published in February 2020. Nighthawking, the second book in the series, will publish in February 2021.

Review – Dangerous Women by Hope Adams

London, 1841.

The Rajah sails for Australia.

On board are 180 women convicted of petty crimes, sentenced to start a new life half way across the world.

Daughters, sisters, mothers – they’ll never see home or family again. Despised and damned, all they have now is each other.

Until the murder.

As the fearful hunt for a killer begins, everyone on board is a suspect.

The investigation risks tearing their friendships apart . . .

But if the killer isn’t found, could it cost them their last chance of freedom?

Based on a real-life voyage, Dangerous Women is a sweeping tale of confinement, hope and the terrible things we do to survive.

Review

I admit I was drawn to Dangerous Women by Hope Adams by the stunning cover, as much a work of art as any painting hanging in an art gallery in my very humble opinion. Often what draws me to pick up a book while a wonder around a bookshop, is the cover, because they are, I believe a window by which we can glimpse the soul of the story! When I saw the cover of Hope Adams novel about a group of women being transported to Australia on the Rajah, it called to me. It whispered this novel is one you are going to love and it was right, I thought it was extraordinary.

The rough seas that the ship is sailing across suggest a dramatic murder mystery, which it is, but best of all it’s a character driven tale in which the lives of the women and the terrible things they were forced to do to survive are revealed to us slowly. Drama doesn’t always have to be shouty, sometimes it is quiet and clever, as Dangerous Women is! From the moment I walked onto the Rajah with women like Hattie, forced to steal to provide for herself and her son, or Kezia privileged and seeking to turn them towards a better life, I instantly felt drawn not just to the cover, but the women. To a story about the terrible decisions that led them to this fateful voyage and the possibilities it offers them for redemption, if only they can survive to reach Van Diemen’s Land.

For me the writer gets the balance between story and character right, because in order to become invested in the outcome of the novel, we have to care about the women themselves. They, as much as us, need to take the journey together! If they were simply portrayed as one dimensional, thief, prostitute, malefactor, or on the opposite spectrum altruistic, we would simply be skimming over the surface of their lives and as a result, the story itself. Once that connection is made, the drama flows from our relationship with them. Hope Adams has created a group of women who develop and reveal their deepest secrets, the tragedy of their pasts and as they bond, as we get to know them, the tension builds in increments, because we care, because the writer has crafted a sisterhood from a disparate group of women. The reality of their perilous situation is laid bare to us and I found myself helplessly and happily lost in this tale of murder, friendship and a desire to survive and flourish.

I can’t recommend this book enough, It is on the surface a murder mystery, the reason I loved it so much, is because it is so much more. It is captivating, yet dark, with a mystery at its core, that thrilled and left me waiting to see what this writer will produce next.

You can purchase this novel from Amazon and Waterstones. But why not order it from your favourite Indie Bookshop?

About the author

Hope Adams was born in Jerusalem and spent her early childhood in many different countries, including Nigeria and British Norht Borneo. She now lives near Cambridge. She has written books for children and adults as Adèle Geras.