Category Archives: Review

Murder in the Family (DI Hillary Greene #5)

Murder In The Family

by Faith Martin

by Faith Martin

In this, the fifth in the DI Hillary Greene series, there is a feeling that things are changing for our intrepid Oxfordshire Detective.

With her former boss now promoted to Superintendent, the book begins with Hillary as acting Detective Cheif Inspector receiving a medal for her role in a previous case (Murder In The Village). The question is will Hillary get the permanent promotion or not? 

She barely has time to polish her award when another case demands her urgent attention. This time it is the death of a 15-year-old boy at his father’s allotment.

As DI Greene and her team begin the painstaking process of digging below the surface of the teenager’s life, they find more questions than answers. But as always, Hillary’s calm and methodical approach, together with not a little intuition begin to pay off. What they find uncovers not only the truth behind this troubled teenager’s life but also some of the dark secrets of the small Community.

While dealing with this tricky case, Hillary must also deal with some big changes at the station. A surprise change of boss together with the news that she is losing two of her tight-knit team put her at a crossroads. What the changes will mean and how they will impact her remain to be seen.

As always, Faith Martin weaves an interesting and easily read tale. I become invested in Hillary Greene and her story and look forward to reading her next case.

 

The Memory of Midnight

The Memory of Midnight

by Pamela Hartshorne

by Pamela Hartshorne

Having already read four of her other books, I was pretty sure what to expect from this one, and I wasn’t disappointed. It has all Pamela’s trademarks of historical accuracy, compelling characters, dark mystery and unexplained bumps in the night. 

Set in historic York, The Memory of Midnight is the story of two mothers who do whatever they must to protect their children.

Both find themselves stuck in abusive marriages; both find hope in the return of a former lover; both live in fear. What separates these women is four-and-a-half centuries.

Nell lives in Elizabethan York. She loves her best friend Tom, but circumstances result in her being forced to marry his sadistic brother Ralph. For Nell, the abuse is physical and emotional as Ralph feeds off her fear and her pain. Will Tom’s return to York offer her the chance to escape and save her daughter from a similar fate?

Recently returned to York, Tess is escaping her husband’s controlling and abusive ways. Whilst Martin has never been physically violent, her fear of his anger is just as strong. As Tess tried to rebuild her life and get back her independence, the past and present begin to clash as she finds herself reliving the key moments in Nell’s life. She remembers being trapped in a wooden chest, the fear and pain of her wedding night, the trauma of childbirth and the devastation of losing her baby son. As she tries to make sense of these memories and the physical marks they leave, she also finds herself having to deal with her husband’s mind games as he tries to force her to return to London.

Tess also has to deal with her feelings towards Luke, her first love who has himself recently returned to their home town. 

Both Tess and Nell find themselves betrayed by those they thought they could trust, but both find strength in the love they have for their children and Tom and Luke.

The story is dark and unrelenting with plenty of twists and surprises along the way. A great ready that once again proves that Pamela Hartshorne is one of the best at what she does. Her passion for the Elizabethan period, and York in particular, is obvious and helps to drive the narrative and characters she has created.

 

The Gift of Cockleberry Bay (Cockleberry Bay #3)

The Gift Of Cockleberry Bay

by Nicola May

by Nicola May

Once again we pay a visit to the residents of Cockleberry Bay. Over the previous two books, I have grown very fond of the residents of this quaint little village, nestled on the South Devon coast.

The usual cast of characters is here, including Rosa Smith and her faithful dachshund Hot. Now happily married and running both the Corner Shop and the Cockleberry Bay Cafe (recently renamed Rosa’s), Rosa now finds herself ready to pass on her beloved shop to someone else. However, she is not able to sell it – one of the stipulations of her inheriting the shop was that it cannot be sold, only passed on to someone who really deserves it. 

But how can she make such an important decision? How will she know she is doing the right thing?

These questions form the central pillar of the book’s story, but there is also, as you can imagine, lots of other distractions for Rosa and her friends. 

The Gift of Cockleberry Bay is as amusing and easy to read as the first two books, filled with humour, compassion intrigue and conflicting loyalties. Whilst there are a few interesting twists and a small mystery to solve, the ending is just what you would expect. 

I have enjoyed this series and hope that there will be more. I am sure that Rosa Smith’s story is far from over. 

 

 

How To Stop Time

How To Stop Time

by Matt Haig

by Matt Haig

This is my third venture into the rather off-centre world of Matt Haig and it was every bit as enjoyable as the previous books. Whilst deeply entrenched in the realms of science fiction and fantasy, this book (as well as the other two I have read) don’t really fit in the genre at all.

It is not uncommon for Sci-Fi writers to delve into the workings of the human psyche, they usually reserve most of their time for the mechanics and “big question” stuff. Not Matt Haig. His books concentrate on what it is to be human, the frailties and strengths that make us what we are. They just happen to have a fantasy or Sci-Fi theme to hold it together.

In How To Stop Time, Matt Haig introduces us to time travel, but not as you might expect. Tom Hazard has a rare condition that slows down the ageing process. He looks 41 but he is actually over 400 hundred years old. He is not unique, there are others like him, but they work very hard to keep their existence a secret. After all, when people come across something they don’t understand, they inevitably want to destroy it. Trying to survive against the superstitions of 16th century England is not going to be easy.

The book wanders about a little, with continual flashbacks to various points during Tom’s life. To keep his secret Tom has had to keep moving, and over the centuries he has travelled a lot and seen more than any one person should. Needless to say, I really love this approach. There is something tongue in cheek about the whole thing that just adds another level to the story.

The book raises the question about life and longevity. Would any of us really want to live forever? How would we cope with watching everyone and everything we love grow old and die before us? How can you possibly hope to love, knowing that it will inevitably break your heart? Seeking eternal life is nothing new, it features in the mythology of almost every race and civilisation. It is a subject that has fascinated mankind since time immemorial. For Tom, it takes four centuries to come to terms with the grief of losing the people he held most dear – his mother and his wife, Rosie. His entanglement with the mysterious Albatros Society appears to offer him a reason for living and a distraction, but even there, all is not as it seems.

Matt Haig has a unique way of viewing the world and I was as intrigued by this book I was the previous three. I look forward to reading more in the future.

 

 

When The World Was Ours

When The World Was Ours

by Liz Kessler

by Liz Kessler

This is the story of three children from Vienna – Leo, Elsa and Max –  whose lives are devastated by intolerance, prejudice, ignorance and hate. It is 1936 and as they celebrate Leo’s ninth birthday, everything is perfect for these best friends. 

They are so sure of their futures, determined that they will always be together. The only doubt is which of the boys will marry Elsa. 

Telling their story over the following nine years, When The World Was Ours is an inspiring and cautionary tale. Based on events in her own family, Liz Kessler uses the voices of her three young friends to highlight the true horrors of not just the Nazis but any and all extreme nationalist views.

As I write this review, the news is full of the horrors of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Although we might not be seeing the same level of atrocities inflicted during WWII, references to genocide and neo-Naziism can’t help but raise tensions and fears.

There has been a lot written about the holocaust and its impact. What makes this book particularly interesting is that it is told through the eyes and voices of the young. There is an innocence to the characters’ narratives as they struggle to understand what is happening to them and the ones they love. It begins with the pain of separation as the three families are pulled apart.

For Leo and Elsa, the fact they are Jews has never been an issue before. It is something that has never been important, the fact that they shared a different religion to their best friend Max. But with the coming of Hitler, everything changes. As Leo and Elsa face persecution, Max’s father begins to rise through the Nazi ranks. 

Each of the three face different challenges as the war progresses, but what I love about this book is the way they hold onto their hope and their innocence, despite everything that is going on around them. 

The reader is given a snapshot of each year through the eyes of the best friends. Leo and Elsa tell their own stories, whilst Max’s story is in the third person. I was particularly saddened by Max’s journey. All he ever wanted was for his father to love him. But to achieve that he had to abandon everything else he loved, including his own innocence and humanity. 

Over the past few years, I have come to realise that the most moving and emotionally challenging books I have read have been written for young adults. This one in particular hit a nerve. It is a wonderful story, expertly told. It is a book I would recommend anyone to read as the message it contains is as relevant now as ever. 

When The World Was Ours is moving, challenging, emotional and totally absorbing. It is a “must read” book if ever I have read one. 

Raft (Xeelee Sequence #1)

Raft

by Stephen Baxter

Imagine a universe where gravity is many times stronger than it is in our own, where stars are much smaller than in our own and live and die relatively quickly, a universe where life has adapted to travel between nebula for their survival. 

It is to just such a universe that Stephen Baxter’s debut novel takes us. 

It has been over five hundred years since the crew of a spaceship from Earth found themselves trapped in this strange and dangerous universe. In that time their descendants have learned to adapt to the oddities of this new reality, most of them with no knowledge or understanding of their past. They have learned to accept this strange existence. But for one young man, Rees, a miner working in the Belt, his curiosity and need to understand his world are about to change everything.

Since their arrival, the crews’ descendants have divided into three different groups, each forced to adapt in different ways to ensure their survival. There is The Belt, where inhabitants mine the core of stars for iron they can trade. There is The Raft, home to descendants of the officers and scientists who consider themselves to be the elite. Then there are the Boneys, to many a myth, who live deep in the gravity well of the nebula and whose survival strategies are the most extreme of all. But as Rees soon discovers, the Nebula that has been mankind’s home for generations is dying, and there is no obvious strategy that will enable them to survive that.

Raft follows Rees’ journey as it brings him into contact with all three “tribes” of humans, learning their strengths and developing an understanding of how they could each benefit the whole. It has all the hallmarks of a great Science Fiction adventure. There is plenty of science, both speculative and real, mixed with gripping adventure and insightful introspection of human nature. There is a touch of Lord of the Flies about the way some of the characters develop, which is not a bad thing. 

Although there is a lot of science in the book, I felt it was more character-driven. Baxter doesn’t dig too deeply into his character’s backgrounds, but he has created a believable and solid ensemble whose strengths and frailties provide the key to mankind’s survival. 

I have to admit that my only previous experience of Stephen Baxter’s work was as a collaborator with Terry Pratchett on on “Long Earth” series and Arthur C Clarke on the “Time Odyssey” trilogy. It is clear from this book that this needs to change.

And I should point out that although this book is listed as the first in the Xeelee Sequence, it is definitely a stand-alone novel. 

A worthy inclusion in Gollancz’s “Masterworks” collection. 

The Silent Companions

The Silent Companions

by Laura Purcell

by Paura Purcell

Fear is a strong emotion. The adrenaline rush we get can be intoxicating. That is why horror and thrillers are so popular. But we each have our own tolerances and, so I believe, there are some people who don’t enjoy the occasional shudder up the spine or hair standing up on the back of the neck. 

Each to their own I suppose.

But for the rest of us, there are writers like Laura Purcell who is able to deliver the correct dose in the perfect format. 

The Silent Companions is my first Purcell novel but definitely not my last. Before I had finished the book I had already purchased a second which is currently eyeing me up from the bookshelf. This particular book was loaned to me by a friend who assured me it was a great example of gothic horror. And so it is. 

Before I turned the first page I was already a little spooked as I had taken the trouble to look up silent companions, just see if it was a reference to something I should know. What I found both intrigued and unnerved me as I could see straight away the horror potential of these strange ornamental pieces. If you don’t believe me, check them out at https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/feat…

There are three narratives running through Silent Companions, 1865, 1635 and one undated. They each give us a glimpse of the lives of two different women sharing a common experience, Anna and Elsie. Elsie is a young widow, pregnant with her late husband’s child and about to take up residence in his old family home. Anna, on the other hand, is a Happily married young mother whose husband is on the verge of gaining recognition in the royal court.

It is Anna who introduces the silent companions to the home. What appears at first to be a whimsical idea designed to impress their impending royal visitors, soon turns dark and threatening. But can the things she sees and hears be real? Is she going mad as her husband thinks? And what really happened to the Queen’s horse?

Two centuries later, Elsie’s arrival reawakens the same malevolent force. Once again, the line between sanity and madness blurs as Elsie begins to question her own state of mind.

From the very first page, Laura Purcell guides the reader on a well-plotted and divinely spooky path. Like all the best of the genre, the fear comes from anticipation, and you can expect that on almost every page. 

It is a brooding tale, dark and sinister in the best possible way.

The Silent Companions themselves are a mystery. I was as intrigued by them at the end as I was when I first discovered what they were. I think I will have to avoid any stately homes that claim to have them on display. 

 

Never The Bride (Brenda and Effie #1)

Never The Bride

The Brenda and Effie Mysteries, #1 – by Paul Magrs

by Paul Magrs

Let’s begin with an admission: I began this series by reading books 2 and 3. That was not a deliberate decision, just an accident. So here I am, back at the beginning to see how it all began, before going any further.

In Never The Bride, Paul Magrs introduces us to a weird and wonderful set of characters, all of whom call Whitby their home. Nestled on the North Yorkshire coast, this small fishing town has become synonymous with gothic horror, thanks to Bram Stoker’s classic novel, Dracula. 

And it is fair to say that the town is as much a part of the story as the people who inhabit it. 

Reading these books out of order meant that I was already aware of Brenda and Effie’s backgrounds and the path they were on, but for anyone who is setting out on this journey for the first time, Never The Bride is a wonderful example of what is to come.

Paul Magrs has taken all the classic elements of the 19th-century gothic horror, sprinkling them with twenty-first-century humour and insight. I love the relationship between Brenda and Effie. They may be best friends but they do not always see eye-to-eye and the friction between them provides much of the book’s dry wit. In this, their first outing, they face not one but four mysteries: the truth behind the Deadly Boutique, the mysterious Green family, the strange manifestation at Effie’s junk shop, the strange goings-on at the Christmas Hotel, and Effie’s mysterious new bau. And to top it all, what is the Bitche’s Maw, and what has it got to do with Brenda and Effie?

Never The Bride is fun and an easy read. It has all the elements of a gothic horror without the tension and anticipation of doom. There are monsters, mysteries and mayhem, but all are delivered in a light-hearted way. Great entertainment from a talented writer. What I would say is that the following books are less fragmented with more involved storylines.

If I Never Met You

If I Neve Met You

by Mhairi McFarlane

by Mhairi McFarlane

If I Never Met You is an unashamedly romantic book. It will not change the way you view the world or provide enlightenment in these dark and strange times. What it will do is entertain and leave you with the warm glow that comes from being emersed in a world where even the most unlikely people can find love in the most unexpected place.

In this case, the unexpected place is a broken-down lift.

Laurie Watkinson is a successful lawyer working for a leading Manchester law firm, in her mid-thirties and has just been dumped by her boyfriend of 17 years. She used to be independent and a fighter. Now she is lost and needs to find a new way forward. But all she can think about is Dan, his new girlfriend and revenge.

Enter renowned womanizer Jamie Carter, a potential partner in the firm and source of much gossip amongst his colleagues. 

After being trapped together in the lift, Laurie and Jamie hatch a plan that will meet both of their needs. Together they will fake a romance. Selfies on social media, appearances at all the right places, just enough to get the tongues wagging and give everyone the impression they are a loving couple. For Jamie, the prize is a partnership – all he needs is a stable relationship to give the bosses the right impression. Laurie’s motives are less clear. Does she really want revenge?

As you will imagine, things don’t go quite as the pair plan. It isn’t long before they start breaking their own rules and the fake romance soon becomes something else. it soon becomes clear that the bond between them has become something more than friendship.

But can a relationship founded on deceit really be anything other than a lie?

If I Never Met You is a funny and heartbreaking story that looks beneath the surface of friendships. The characters each have their own journey and despite the final destination being a foregone conclusion (this is a romance after all!), the road that leads there is winding and full of interesting little twists and turns.

A thoroughly enjoyed Laurie and Jamie’s adventure. It is heartwarming, heartbreaking and a joy to read.

The Last Astronaut

The Last Astronaut

by David Wellington

by David Wellington

I love Science Fiction and have done for more years than I care to remember. I am particularly fond of “first contact” stories when mankind meets an alien species for the first time. One of my favourites, a book I have read several times over the years, is Arthur C Clarke’s classic “Rendezvous With Rama”. The reason I mention this is that “The Last Astronaut” has a little more than a passing resemblance to Clarke’s brilliant novel.

Let me get one thing clear, that is not intended as negative criticism, just an observation.

The Last Astronaut of the title is Commander Sally Jansen, former mission commander for NASA’s aborted Mars mission, brought out of retirement to lead a hastily assembled crew. Their mission: to intercept and assess an unknown object that has recently entered the solar system. 

But NASA are not the only people interested in whatever this alien object has to offer. In an era where private enterprise has become the driving force in space exploration (and exploitation), Commander Jansen finds herself leading her team in a race to make first contact.

Like all good science fiction, David Wellington’s book is not just a gripping adventure story, it looks beyond the superficial and asks questions about ourselves and our place in the universe. First contact stories in particular as much about digging deep into the human psyche as it is about scientific and technological concepts. In The Last Astronaut, Wellington faces the question of whether or not we would recognise alien life for what it is. In a universe of infinite possibilities, how we can be sure we would even recognise our alien visitors as alive, let alone communicate with them. 

It is this question, and the novel’s attempt to answer it, that makes this such a good and compelling story. It is also a damned good adventure story with plenty of jeopardy, tension and a rollercoaster ride as the characters face one challenge after another in as alien an environment as you could hope for. There is even a little romance. 

The Last Astronaut is one of the best new SciFi I have read in recent years.