Friday, 27 March 2015

A Place Called Winter - Patrick Gale event at Foyles, March 26 2015

Thursday evening saw me at Foyles, Charing Cross Road in London.  I had booked my ticket for this event several weeks ago and was very much looking forward to it.   I absolutely loved the book – so much so that I was even more excited at having the opportunity to hear Patrick Gale talk about it.

Claire Armistead and Patrick Gale
I met up with Nina, a friend and fellow book lover (@Matineegirl) at Foyles and we had a seat in the front row – a perfect grandstand view. The event was chaired by Claire Armistead, Books Editor for the Guardian.  Patrick began by showing a few pictures of his family members who inspired the story – Harry Cane, his wife Winifred, and her mother and sisters – all of whom feature in the book.

It was a relaxed and informal chat – Patrick has a very natural manner and had the audience laughing several times with his replies. He talked about his reasons for writing the book and explained that because there was so little information known in the family about Harry Cane, it was necessary to add fiction to the fact so that the story would work. He explained how he did his Canadian research and described his visit to the area of land in Winter that Harry actually farmed.   He also read an extract from the book – unlike some authors I’ve seen read, he didn’t stumble once, I was very impressed.  He then took questions from the audience and talked a little about his earlier writing and gave a little teaser of his future writing plans.

Sadly, all too soon the hour was up  - he was so interesting to listen to I could easily have stayed for hours!

I wasn't going to leave empty handed though and I made sure that I picked up a couple of books to purchase for signing.

This was a really enjoyable event and if you get the chance to go to any of these talks by Patrick then I recommend that you do go - you can be sure of a very interesting and entertaining time.

I was delighted to be able to finally meet Georgina of Headline (@PublicityBooks). We have tweeted many times and its so nice to actually meet in person. 

I've had a couple of Patrick's earlier books in my collection forever (I know I have Notes From an Exhibition and at least one other) which have been bypassed for no apparent reason but now I will certainly hunt them down and make sure I read them.  

If you haven't read A Place Called Winter, I can highly recommend it - you can read my review here

Edited:  In the Saturday 28 March edition of The Guardian, is an article which includes the family photos mentioned here.

About the book:

In the golden 1900s, Harry Cane, a shy, eligible gentleman of leisure is drawn from a life of quiet routine into marrying Winnie, eldest daughter of the fatherless Wells clan, who are not quite as respectable as they would appear.

Winnie and Harry settle by the sea and have a daughter; conventional marriage does not seem such a tumultuous change after all. When a chance encounter awakens unacknowledged desires, however, Harry is forced to forsake the home and people he loves for a harsh new life as a homesteader on the newly colonized Canadian prairies. There, in a place called Winter, he will come to find a deep love within an alternative family, a love imperilled by war, madness and a man of undeniable magnetism.

In a dramatic departure from anything he has written before, Patrick Gale boldly projects his own fears and loves to tell the dramatic story of an Edwardian innocent's gradual understanding of his own nature. Based on the real life mystery of the author's own great-grandfather, and drawing on the understanding of psychology and relationships which infused Rough Music and Notes from an Exhibition, A PLACE CALLED WINTER charts the gathering of wisdom of a kind suppressed in most family histories.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

The Faerie Tree - Jane Cable : Guest Post and Giveaway

I'm delighted to take part in the blog tour for Jane's second book, The Faerie Tree, published on 21 March 2015 by Troubador Publishing/Matador.  Jane is also giving away a paperback copy - please see below.

How can a memory so vivid be wrong? 

I tried to remember the first time I’d been here and to see the tree through Izzie’s eyes. The oak stood on a rise just above the path; not too tall or wide but graceful and straight, its trunk covered in what I can only describe as offerings – pieces of ribbon, daisy chains, a shell necklace, a tiny doll or two and even an old cuckoo clock.
"Why do people do this?" Izzie asked.
I winked at her. "To say thank you to the fairies."

In the summer of 1986 Robin and Izzie hold hands under The Faerie Tree and wish for a future together. Within hours tragedy rips their dreams apart. 

In the winter of 2006, each carrying their own burden of grief, they stumble back into each other’s lives and try to create a second chance. But why are their memories of 1986 so different? And which one of them is right? 

With strong themes of paganism, love and grief, The Faerie Tree is a novel as gripping and unputdownable as Jane Cable’s first book, The Cheesemaker’s House, which won the Suspense & Crime category of The Alan Titchmarsh Show’s People’s Novelist competition. It is a story that will resonate with fans of romance, suspense, and folklore. 

* * *

I would like to welcome Jane, who will tell you a little more about The Faerie Tree.


My first encounter with a faerie tree was with the one in the story. In April 2010 a friend took me for a walk in some woods next to the River Hamble with the express purpose of introducing me to the tree. In fact, it was rather less formal than that – all I wanted to do was to hug it.

Hamble from Faerie Tree
I suspect my reaction was an echo of a very distant shared memory of a faith pre-dating Christianity. Did our pagan ancestors worship trees? I suspect a better word would be venerated, acknowledging their importance as providers of shelter and sustenance. Modern-day pagans do just the same.

I should make it clear that the faerie tree on the banks of the Hamble at Curbridge seems to have less to do with paganism and more to do with a little whimsy and family fun. I have no idea how long the practice has been going on, but people who visit the tree leave what I can only describe as offerings for the wee small folk of the woods. When I first saw it there was more in the way of ribbons and strings of beads – now there is a definite preference for miniature soft toys and dolls.

Faerie Tree Guardians
The other thing people do is write letters to the faeries. Sometimes they ask for wishes to come true; alternatively they leave poems or ask the faeries questions about their lives. And what is even better is that the faeries, pixies and elves of the wood reply to each and every one. 

How could that fail to inspire an author? Faeries who spend endless hours writing to children. Faeries who share exactly the same handwriting, but who nobody ever sees. Faeries who collect very small fortunes for Barnardo’s from the coins left studding the tree trunk.

I knew, back in April 2010, that the tree would feature in one of my books. The whole set up was so innocent – and yet so intriguing. What stories could start – or end – under such a tree? Might the tree itself be a source of secret powers? Could the faeries really exist? (Just kidding – I know they do).

Faerie Letterbox
The shared memory of paganism inspired me as well. As my characters developed it made sense that Jennifer, the guardian of the tree, was motivated by her faith but to find out exactly what that faith would be took a great deal of research. As I wandered through pagan websites and literature I found the religion which suited Jennifer – and the faerie tree – best was heathenry.

Heathenry is a modern day variant of pre-Christian northern European faith. It recognises major gods (Odin, Thor, Freya et al), local gods, ancestor worship and most importantly for the story, nature-loving wights – or elves. The central tenet of the religion is wyrd, a complex concept of patterns of the past continually linking to patterns of the present; everything we are and do is dependent on what we or others have done before us and all our actions now will affect the future.

Other than a huge respect for nature, heathenry is not specifically linked to faerie trees, which have a broader Celtic context, particularly in Ireland. Here they are specific hawthorns, (the Hamble tree is an oak) which cannot be cut down for fear of offending the faeries (or wee folk) who live beneath them. Roads have even been re-routed to avoid them and this reminded me of a trip to Iceland when I learnt that the hiddenfolk are respected in the same way – there is even a government minister with responsibility for their well-being.

This is what I meant by a shared past leading us to consider trees as special. Across the generations and across Europe (if not the world), the beliefs – and the practices – still exist. It is simply that we all translate them into our experience in our own way.

And in case you’re wondering… yes… I have written to the faeries… And yes… they did reply.


Jane has kindly offered one paperback copy of The Faerie Tree.  To enter just leave a comment below and I will pick a winner at random when the giveaway closes at 6pm on Wednesday 1 April.  The book will be sent to you direct by Jane. 

I hope you enjoyed Jane's post and good luck if you are entering!

The Faerie Tree is set to be as gripping and unputdownable as Jane's first book, The Cheesemaker 's House, which won the
Suspense & Crime category of The Alan Titchmarsh Show's People's Novelist competition.

Following the success of her debut novel, The Cheesemaker 's House Matador, 2013 , Jane Cable divides her time between writing and her chartered accountancy business. Although born in Cardiff, Jane now lives on the Hampshire/Sussex border and The Faerie Tree is set nearby.

For more information, please see Jane's website, and you can also follow on Twitter and Facebook.

The Faerie Tree blog tour schedule :

22 March:  Random Things Through My Letterbox

23 March:  Rosie Amber 

24 March:  Liz Loves Books   

25 March:  My Reading Corner      

26 March:  Crooks on Books     

28 March:  Jaffa Reads Too 

29 March:  Being Anne 

31 March:  Beadyjan's Books 

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

A Place Called Winter - Patrick Gale

Published 24 March 2015 by Tinder Press

From Amazon:

In the golden 1900s, Harry Cane, a shy, eligible gentleman of leisure is drawn from a life of quiet routine into marrying Winnie, eldest daughter of the fatherless Wells clan, who are not quite as respectable as they would appear.

Winnie and Harry settle by the sea and have a daughter; conventional marriage does not seem such a tumultuous change after all. When a chance encounter awakens unacknowledged desires, however, Harry is forced to forsake the home and people he loves for a harsh new life as a homesteader on the newly colonized Canadian prairies. There, in a place called Winter, he will come to find a deep love within an alternative family, a love imperilled by war, madness and a man of undeniable magnetism.

In a dramatic departure from anything he has written before, Patrick Gale boldly projects his own fears and loves to tell the dramatic story of an Edwardian innocent's gradual understanding of his own nature. Based on the real life mystery of the author's own great-grandfather, and drawing on the understanding of psychology and relationships which infused Rough Music and Notes from an Exhibition, A Place Called Winter charts the gathering of wisdom of a kind suppressed in most family histories.

* * *

We first meet Harry Cane as a patient in a Canadian asylum being subjected to a rather brutal sounding bath treatment.  Immediately my interest was piqued, what had he done to end up in such a place? Through the following chapters going back and forth in time, we find out.

The story is set in the early 20th century. Harry Cane and his brother Jack, have a privileged life due to their father’s successful horse drawn omnibus business. However their early life was not a very happy one and women are somewhat of a mystery to Harry. Whereas Jack is confident and outgoing, Harry is a shy, gentle man and unworldly, which makes him vulnerable to those wishing to take advantage.

Over time, Harry marries and has a child. His married life has not been without its problems but generally life is good and uneventful until one unthinking act suddenly brings his life crashing around him. He is forced to leave his wife and child behind and after seeing a poster announcing ‘Canadian Emigration’, makes his way to Canada for a new life as a homesteader; farming in the remote lands of the Canadian prairies – eventually settling in a remote town called ‘Winter’.

As much as I enjoyed the backstory, it is from here on that Harry really comes into his own for me. The strangeness of this whole new world is such a marked difference to the privileged life that he was used to. He is not used to hard physical work and the challenges he faces and the hardships and deprivation of his new life are made clear, However there is no self pity – Harry just accepts and gets on with what is needed. There is a wonderful sense of place and the land and its people are so vividly described that you can’t help but be totally pulled into the story.

Harry finds his own strength of character being tested to the extreme – some events make for heartbreaking reading. The characters that Harry meets in his new life will each have a hand in forming the person that he will become. There are those that are treacherous with evil intentions, whilst others enrich his life and bring him happiness - as well as tragedy.

I loved this book and I couldn't help but care deeply for Harry. He was a good man at heart and deserved so much more than the life he had. It’s sobering to think that in modern times, Harry’s life could have been quite different.

Patrick Gale has created a stunning novel of relationships and loss but also of the ability to endure and triumph. My review can’t possibly do the book justice and I am trying not to give away too much of the story as it is one that you need to discover for yourself. It was only after reading interviews given by the author did I realise that the story is based, in part, on his own family history.

The writing was absolutely beautiful - this is just one example of the prose that stood out for me “He did not consciously harden his heart but he loved with hands metaphorically behind his back”. 
I have no hesitation in giving this 5 stars. I am certain it will be one of my top books of the year.

My thanks to Georgina of Headline for the advance reading copy. 

About the author:

Patrick Gale was born on the Isle of Wight in 1962. He spent his infancy at Wandsworth Prison, which his father governed, then grew up in Winchester. He now lives on a farm near Land's End. He's a passionate gardener, cook, and cellist and chairs the North Cornwall Book Festival each October. His sixteen novels include A Perfectly Good Man and Notes From an Exhibition - both of which were Richard and Judy Bookclub selections, The Whole Day Through and Rough Music. His latest, A Place Called Winter, draws intriguingly on his family history. 

You can find out more from Patrick's website , Twitter, or Facebook

Monday, 23 March 2015

Black Wood - SJI Holliday : Guest Post and Review

I'm delighted to be part of the Black Wood blog tour and am pleased to welcome Susi to the blog.  My review of 'Black Wood' is at the end of this post. 

Once Upon A Time…

Once upon a time there was a reasonably young woman (of the age where she was still happy to be called a girl), who decided she might quite like to write a novel. So she sat down with a notebook and a pen and she started to write. She didn’t bother to plot it out – she thought a rough idea of a story about girls vanishing when they crossed a creepy bridge, and the image of ripped up newspapers blowing in the wind, and a character who was a journalist with a nosey nature would see her through to the end. He didn’t, and both he, and the ‘book’, were soon relegated to the filing system under ‘D’ for ‘Disaster’.

But she still wanted to write. So she wrote short things about strange and creepy people and posted them online, and she was happy… for a while. But she knew she wanted to write something longer, more complicated, more… like a BOOK.

Many years (and many half-formed plots) later, a story called Black Wood reared itself from the darkest recesses of the writer’s mind. There was a true event, long ago… a spark of an idea, and embellishment, a load of new characters who cropped up as the story unravelled itself from the box it had been hiding in; and a setting that was easily developed from a real one (with some of the edges sharpened, and some rounded off).

The writer was very lucky.

She managed to finish the story, with support from her agent, Sir Phil the Fantastic. He was there for her, even when she had begun to think that all was lost.  Like a happy little bird, he sang her praises from the rooftops and worked away tirelessly until he received a bag of golden coins from The Mysterious Monochrome Man who said ‘I will make your book.’

Several eons later, the book was wrapped in a lovely shiny cover with a scary photo of two little girls on the front, and people all over the Kingdom started to offer their pieces of silver for a chance to read this splendidly dark and twisted tome. Wine flowed by the flagon.

There were a few miserable souls who wished the writer would never write another word, but they were mere specks of dust in a landscape of stars; for, ‘Hooray and Hallelujah,’ nearly everyone cried. ‘We love it! Please write another! When is it coming? We want more… more… MORE!’

The writer retreated into her rented tower in despair.

‘You want me to do it all AGAIN?’ she wept.

‘Yes,’ said nearly everyone, including Sir Phil the Fantastic, who had almost run out of golden coins.

And the writer knew that she would.


Because she was a real writer now. And she loved it.

Something happened to Claire and Jo in Black Wood: something that left Claire paralysed and Jo with deep mental scars. But with Claire suffering memory loss and no evidence to be found, nobody believes Jo's story. Twenty-three years later, a familiar face walks into the bookshop where Jo works, dredging up painful memories and rekindling her desire for vengeance. And at the same time, Sergeant Davie Gray is investigating a balaclava-clad man who is attacking women on a disused railway, shocking the sleepy village of Banktoun. But what is the connection between Jo's visitor and the masked man? To catch the assailant, and to give Jo her long-awaited justice, Gray must unravel a tangled web of past secrets, broken friendship and tainted love. But can he crack the case before Jo finds herself with blood on her hands?

My review:

Black Wood is SJI Holliday’s debut thriller, published by Black & White Publishing. The Kindle version was published on 24 February and the paperback on 19 March 2015.

The events of over 20 years ago in Black Wood have left their scars on both Jo and Claire. Clare is paralysed and Jo has been left with psychological problems – her dysfunctional family background has also impacted on her mental state and her meltdowns are a cause of concern for her friends.  

There is a darkness and atmospheric quality to this thriller – both from the setting of Banktoun, the small Scottish town where everyone seems to know each other’s business and from the woods; where Jo and Claire’s life changed all those years ago, and on the old track where someone wearing a balaclava and a mask is now targeting young girls. 

The release of information as to what happened to Claire and Jo is cleverly and slowly controlled throughout with clues, some being deliberately designed to lead you up the wrong path.  I did eventually guess who was responsible but not before having my sights on other suspects. 

All the main characters make an impact.  Claire doesn’t appear to remember the events of that day and it seems that she doesn’t want to.  My feelings were confused towards Jo, I felt sorry for her but I wasn’t sure if I liked her very much, however she was an intriguing character; psychologically damaged and although sometimes manipulative, she had ourage and determination.   Sergeant Davie Gray was definitely the ‘good guy’ of the story.  A policeman of the old school where common sense prevailed over petty rules and regulations, he was someone that you felt you could trust. 

The character driven story, the atmospheric descriptions together with sinister twists and turns make this an extremely good debut and I was so engrossed  that I read it in less than 2 days.  It’s a complex tale and one which requires full concentration.  I did enjoy the style of writing and do hope Ms Holliday produces another book, I would certainly love to see what she comes up with next.

My thanks to the publisher for the paperback copy to review for the tour. The Kindle version currently available for only 59p from

About the author: 

SJI Holliday grew up in East Lothian. A life-long fan of crime and horror, her short stories have been published in various places, and she was shortlisted for the inaugural CWA Margery Allingham competition. She is married and lives in London.

You can find out more at, or by following on Twitter or Facebook

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Disclaimer - Renée Knight

Published on 9 April 2015 by Doubleday

From Amazon:

When an intriguing novel appears on Catherine’s bedside table, she curls up in bed and begins to read.

But as she turns the pages she is sickened to realise the story will reveal her darkest secret.

A secret she thought no one else knew…

* * * 

“This is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author’s imagination and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, is purely coincidental

Catherine and Robert Ravenscroft have a lifestyle which outsiders would envy. They both have successful careers – Robert is a lawyer whilst Catherine makes TV documentaries about the nastier side of life. They have just moved house, their son, 25 year Nicholas lives in a flat share. His life has not really been the success that his parents hoped for but at least he has a job and some resemblance of independent living.  However what others see and the actual family dynamics are not always the same.

Boxes still remain to be unpacked when Catherine discovers a book left on her bedside table - t
he disclaimer has a neat, red line through it. Upon further reading, she is horrified to find that it is the story of her life; of secrets that she had kept hidden for over 20 years and, if made known to her family, could destroy them.

Doesn't this premise sound so enticing? This is Renee Knight’s debut thriller, to be published by Doubleday in early April. This is another psychological suspense thriller that is attracting a lot of publicity and a buzz in the book world – is it deserved? Well, yes it is – to a degree.

Besides Catherine, the other main character is Stephen Brigstocke, an retired teacher who left his last school under a cloud. He is a widower and is still grieving for his wife Nancy who died 7 years before. Catherine’s narration is in the third person and set in 2013 whilst Stephen’s is in the first person but starts two years earlier. For me, the fact that we hear directly from Stephen makes his narration and actions even more sinister and although I felt that Catherine’s character remained rather remote, it is Stephen with his obsessive personality and his desire for retribution that stood out for me.

The story starts very slowly but gradually more and more details are revealed. It is very cleverly structured because you think you know what has happened but then something is revealed which makes you completely backtrack on what you thought you knew. From the start I was impatient to know what Catherine’s secret was and what had she done that was so dreadful to put her at the receiving end of such hatred. Why did this person want to destroy her life?

To go into any detail about the plot would ruin the story for those who have yet to read it but it is a story that is very well plotted and full of twists and turns with cleverly placed revelations and red herrings. I didn’t like any of the characters nor did I feel much sympathy for Catherine, in fact most of the time I was frustrated with her, and as for her husband - I won't say any more!   In all honesty, my only disappointment was with the ending – I wasn't convinced by this (for obvious reasons I can't reveal why) and I felt it was rushed compared to the overall slower pace.

A 4* read for me but nevertheless one to be recommended. 

I received my review copy from the Amazon Vine review programme. 

About the Author:

Renée Knight worked as a documentary-maker for the BBC before turning to writing and is a graduate of the Faber Academy. Disclaimer is her first novel.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

The Abrupt Physics of Dying - Paul E. Hardisty (Review and Book Launch)

Published by Orenda Books

E-book 15 December 2014

Paperback 8 March 2015

I was delighted to be invited by Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books to the paperback launch of The Abrupt Physics of Dying, held at Waterstones, Trafalgar Square on 12 March.  It was a joint launch of both Paul Hardisty's debut thriller and also the third instalment of James Carol's Jefferson Winter series - 'Prey' (published by Faber & Faber).  Overseeing proceedings and conducting the interviews was author William Ryan, whose own book, 'The Twelfth Department: Korolev Mysteries Book 3 (The Korolev Series)' was published in May 2013. 

Hearing all 3 authors talk about their writing process and the creation of their characters etc was extremely interesting and I had a very enjoyable evening. There was wine - and there was cake! Karen had made a truly splendid cake to celebrate the occasion.

(From left to right Karen Sullivan, William Ryan, Paul Hardisty and James Carol)             

From Amazon

Claymore Straker is trying to forget a violent past. Working as an oil company engineer in the wilds of Yemen, he is hijacked at gunpoint by Islamic terrorists. Clay has a choice: help uncover the cause of a mysterious sickness afflicting the village of Al Urush, close to the company’s oil-processing facility, or watch Abdulkader, his driver and close friend, die. As the country descends into civil war and village children start dying, Clay finds himself caught up in a ruthless struggle between opposing armies, controllers of the country’s oil wealth, Yemen’s shadowy secret service, and rival terrorist factions. As Clay scrambles to keep his friend alive, he meets Rania, a troubled journalist. Together, they try to uncover the truth about Al Urush. But nothing in this ancient, unforgiving place is as it seems. Accused of a murder he did not commit, put on the CIA’s most-wanted list, Clay must come to terms with his past and confront the powerful forces that want him dead. A stunning debut eco-thriller, The Abrupt Physics of Dying is largely based on true events – the horrific destruction of fresh water and lives by oil giants. Gritty, gripping and shocking, this book will not only open your eyes but keep them glued to the page until the final, stunning denouement is reached.


My thoughts:

This book was well out of my comfort zone and not in my usual choice of genres so it was with a little trepidation that I started to read, thinking it would be more of a ‘man’s book’ however I got great enjoyment from the story and would recommend anyone to give it a read. Set in Yemen, in 1994, with the country on the cusp of civil war, our ‘hero’ is Claymore Straker. Formerly a soldier, he is now an engineer working for Petro-Tex, an oil company, to check out the land and to pave the way (often with bribes) to those who may stand in the way of the company’s expansion ambitions.

The story begins when Clay and his driver Abdulkader are hijacked at gunpoint and taken before a local leader, Al Shams. Al Shams wants to know why his people are ill and dying and he believes Clay is the person to find out. To ‘persuade’ Clay to help, he holds Abdulkader hostage and gives Clay a few days to come back with answers otherwise his friend will die.

In his quest for the truth, Clay had to deal with bribery, corruption and double crossings galore – all the time not knowing who he could trust. He is a very strong character, both physically and mentally, but although he can look after himself in a fight, he is not superhuman and some of the fighting and gun scenes did have me wincing at times. His developing friendship with the female journalist, Rania, only complicates matters. Rania seems to have a shady past and it is unclear whether she can be trusted.  Clay is a complex character and his violent past has left him mentally scarred with demons of his own to fight. In trying to help the villagers of Al Urush, he faces great danger from people determined to stop him at any price. One of the things that comes from this book is that for some people, human life is worth nothing and that land – and oil, are much more valuable.

It is clear that the author’s background and experience has enabled him to write a thriller that is so rich and detailed in description that you can almost feel the searing heat and visualise the vast endless desert. This is a part of the world that I know little about but after reading this book, I did feel that I had learned just a little bit more. I have to admit that the scientific and technical details did sometimes ‘whoosh’ over my head but the fast pace of the story kept me reading eager to find out what happened next. Behind the action scenes, is a very powerful and compelling message of corporate greed and the deliberate destruction of life and land. 

This is the author's debut thriller and is certainly one to be recommended.

I understand that Paul Hardisty has a new book to be published next year, “The Evolution of Fear” – which will again feature Clay Straker, this will certainly be on my wishlist.

My thanks to Karen of Orenda Books for the paperback copy to review.

At the time of writing this review, the Kindle version is currently 59p on

About the Author:

Canadian by birth, Paul 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. In 1993 he survived a bomb blast in a cafe in Sana'a, and was one of the last Westerners out of Yemen before the outbreak of the 1994 civil war. Paul is a university professor and Director of Australia's national land, water, ecosystems and climate adaptation research programmes. He is a sailor, a private pilot, keen outdoorsman, ironman triathlete and conservation volunteer, and lives in Western Australia with his family.

You can find out more from the author's website or by following on Twitter 

Monday, 9 March 2015

Hidden - Emma Kavanagh

E-copy and Hardback published 23 April 2015 by Century

Paperback published 5 November 2015 by Arrow

From Amazon

A gunman is stalking the wards of a local hospital. He's unidentified and dangerous, and has to be located. Urgently. 

Police Firearms Officer Aden McCarthy is tasked with tracking him down. Still troubled by the shooting of a schoolboy, Aden is determined to make amends by finding the gunman - before it's too late.

To psychologist Imogen, hospital should be a place of healing and safety - both for her, and her young niece who's been recently admitted. She's heard about the gunman, but he has little to do with her. Or has he?

As time ticks down, no one knows who the gunman's next target will be. But he's there. Hiding in plain sight. Far closer than anyone thinks...

* * *

The story begins with a shooting spree by a lone gunman at a hospital. A witness to the carnage is Charlie, a reporter with a local paper. We see from her eyes the victims, some of whom she knows. These names don’t mean anything to us – yet, but the timeline to the story then goes back, counting down to detail events over the preceding 6 day period and culminating on the day of the shooting. This does tend to jump around and attention is needed to the timeline heading for each chapter to avoid confusion. Written from multiple viewpoints – Charlie, the journalist; Aden, a police fire arms officer; Imogen, a hospital psychologist and the shooter himself - the voice of Charlie and the shooter are told in the first person, the other characters in third. I know that some don’t like the switching of tenses of POV but this doesn’t bother me at all.

I’m not usually a fan of stories that begin with the end as I lose that element of surprise but in this case, the author has made it work very well. The dramatic start will get you hooked and by going back in time, we get to know the backstory to various characters, including the shooter. Although there can be no excuse for such a savage act, we get to see his mindset as he prepares for his murderous mission.

Running through the story, is a strand concerning the death of a young nurse, Emily. Emily’s body was found on the M4, apparently the drunken victim of a road accident. Although Emily and Charlie used to be close friends, they had drifted apart but Charlie is concerned that her death is somehow connected to reports of a gunman having been seen at the hospital (this is prior to the shooting) and uses her investigative skills to find out the truth. She is not convinced that Emily’s death was merely an accident but struggles to convince others.

This is a complex character driven story and the author has used her experience as a police and military psychologist to show how police officers involved in life or death situations can struggle to deal with the aftermath of their actions and how such tragedies affect them. Writing about what she knows makes these characters realistic and believable.

Once or twice I thought I had guessed who the shooter was from the little hints that were weaved in at various times. I was however completely wrong and I realised later that I should have been paying more attention. Whilst Charlie was my favourite character (she’s feisty who acts on her gut instinct), all the main characters were realistic and well-drawn.

This is the second novel by Emma Kavanagh that I’ve read (I reviewed her debut ‘Fallinghere last year). Both books are extremely well written but this latest one just has the edge for me. Hidden is a well plotted and tense thriller written with authority and attention to detail. It’s not a fast paced action thriller but for those interested in the human psyche then this is definitely recommended.

I received my paperback copy from the Amazon Vine review programme.

About the author:

Emma Kavanagh was born and raised in South Wales. After graduating with a PhD in Psychology from Cardiff University, she spent many years working as a police and military psychologist, training firearms officers, command staff and military personnel throughout the UK and Europe. Now she is lucky enough to be able to write for a living. She lives in South Wales with her husband and young son.

You can follow Emma on Twitter 

Thursday, 19 February 2015

The Dead Ground - Claire McGowan

Published 10 April 2014 by Headline

From Amazon:

Stolen. Missing. Dead...

Forensic psychologist Paula Maguire, already wrestling with the hardest decision of her life, is forced to put her own problems on hold when she's asked to help find a baby taken from a local hospital. 

Then the brutal murder of a woman found lying on a remote stone circle indicates a connection to the kidnapping and Paula knows that they will have to move fast if they are to find the person responsible. 

When another child is taken and a pregnant woman goes missing, Paula finds herself caught up in a deadly hunt for a killer determined to leave no trace, and discovers every decision she makes really is a matter of life and death...

* * *

This is the second book in the Paula Maguire series (the first being ‘The Lost’).  I enjoyed the first very much and although in this story I felt that Paula was a little more subdued and not quite such a maverick, the overall quality and the general darkness of the plot goes up a notch.  

Forensic psychologist Paula Maguire is still with the MPRU (Missing Persons Response Unit) headed up by Guy Brooking, seconded from London, and yet again finds herself caught between the clash of personalities between Guy and DCI Helen Corry of the Serious Crime Unit.  When a newborn baby is snatched from a local hospital and then later more babies and pregnant women go missing, both forces want to work the case their own way and it becomes a battle of wills between Brooking and Corry as to who will the first to find the perpetrator.

Paula has a major decision of her own to make; her personal life is a mess and new information that she has received about the disappearance of her mother 17 years previously is causing conflicting emotions.  She needs the help and support of her oldest friends more than ever but instead she seems to be driving them away.   She continues to live with her father and, as before, her father PJ is keeping his feelings to himself regarding her mother, his developing friendship with Pat (mother of Paula’s former boyfriend, Aidan), is giving signs that he is ready to move forward with his life. 

Set against the backdrop of an icy and snowy winter, this story is much darker than the previous one with the scene of crime descriptions becoming even more gruesome with each discovery.  It is not just babies that are missing, pregnant women are also being abducted and Paula and her colleagues have to go back to the past to discover which of their (many) suspects could be responsible.   An integral part of the story are the religious issues regarding abortion and the political hostilities and suspicions that still run deep between the north and the south – these divisions are even felt in the unit where Paula is working.  

There are plenty of twists and turns in the story that kept me engrossed and turning the pages.  A few times I thought I knew who the culprit was but after a few teasers and one or two curve balls, I realised that actually I didn’t have a clue and it could have been any one of several suspects – although once I got near to the end, I was really was biting my nails – it was that tense!   It’s probably not the best choice of book if you are pregnant or have just had a baby but for crime fans the well written plot structure and developing characters makes for a very good read.  I’ve read all three of Claire McGowan’s books now (her debut thriller, The Fall, was a standalone); she has made this series her own and the quality of her writing just gets better.  

It’s not essential to have read the first book in the series, but for character development and continuity, I would recommend that you read The Lost first.   I am pleased to see that there is a book 3 due later this year (The Silent Dead).  The reason for the disappearance of Paula’s mother alone is enough to make me want to continue reading the series as well as discovering which path Paula follows, although I have to say I do miss the strong willed and ‘take a chance’ Paula from the first book and hope she returns again!  

My thanks to the publisher for the copy to review.

About the author:

Claire McGowan grew up in a small village in Northern Ireland. After a degree in English and French from Oxford University she moved to London and worked in the charity sector. The Fall was her first novel, which is followed by a series starring forensic psychologist Paula Maguire in The Lost and The Dead Ground.

You can find out more by following on Twitter, or author website 

Monday, 9 February 2015

The Dandelion Years - Erica James

Published 26 February 2015 by Orion

From Amazon:

Ashcombe was the most beautiful house Saskia had ever seen as a little girl. A rambling pink cottage on the edge of the Suffolk village of Melbury Green, its enchanting garden provided a fairy-tale playground of seclusion, a perfect sanctuary to hide from the tragedy which shattered her childhood.

Now an adult, Saskia is still living at Ashcombe and as a book restorer devotes her days tending to the broken, battered books that find their way to her, daydreaming about the people who had once turned their pages. When she discovers a notebook carefully concealed in an old Bible - and realising someone has gone to a great deal of trouble to hide a story of their own - Saskia finds herself drawn into a heart-rending tale of wartime love...

* * *

Erica James is another of my all-time favourite authors. I loved her previous book (Summer at the Lake, reviewed here last year) and this, her 19th novel, is in my opinion, even better.

This is a dual time story, set in the current day and also during 1943/44. The story begins with Saskia Granger, 32 years old and living with her father Ralph and two grandfathers Oliver and Harvey in an idyllic sounding Suffolk cottage, following a family tragedy many years before. Both Saskia and her father love old books – her father sells them and Saskia restores them.  An old bible comes into her hands which contains a notebook – the story told in this notebook is an incredibly moving account of the difficulties and hardship sustained of a love affair conducted during the war.

This leads very nicely into Jacob’s story. Jacob Belinsky was part Russian/part British, whose Russian family had settled into London with their barber/hairdressing business. Jacob did not want to join the family business, his talents lay elsewhere and his academic background led to him being employed at Bletchley Park as a cryptanalyst. He was entrusted with top secret work deciphering German messages. It was because of Bletchley Park that he met Kitty – and it is their story, given the title of ‘The Dandelion Years’ by Jacob, that runs alongside that of Saskia and her family.

There is another intriguing character heavily involved in the story. A young man, Matthew Gray. He is mourning the recent loss of his mentor and the only father figure he has ever known.

I know it’s very early but this could possibly be a contender for my book of the year. The main characters were just wonderful and I felt an engagement with every single one. I chuckled at the good natured and gentle bickering between the two grandfathers or at Jacob’s dealings with his vile landlady; I could fully understand Saskia’s desire to stay with the familiar life that she loves rather than to embrace change and I was intrigued by the complex characters of both Jacob and Matthew.

Unusually both timelines worked extremely well for me and I was equally happy to spend time with Saskia and her family as I was with Jacob and Kitty. I found the Bletchley Park connection very interesting, so much so that it is on my list of places to visit this year.

There were times when the story tore at my heart and made me gasp out loud, however I can forgive you Erica for almost making me cry! This is a truly wonderful story of families and love and why we need to take a risk in life sometimes.

My thanks to Gaby at Orion who kindly sent a paperback copy for review. 

About the author:

With an insatiable appetite for other people's business, Erica James will readily strike up conversation with strangers in the hope of unearthing a useful gem for her writing. She finds it the best way to write authentic characters for her novels, although her two grown-up sons claim they will never recover from a childhood spent in a perpetual state of embarrassment at their mother's compulsion.

Erica now divides her time between Cheshire and Lake Como in Italy, where she now strikes up conversation with unsuspecting Italians. 

You can find out more from Erica's website or by following on Twitter or Facebook

Friday, 6 February 2015

First We Take Manhattan - Colette Caddle

Published 14 August 2014 by Simon & Schuster

From Goodreads:

Identical twins, Sinéad and Sheila Fields, have always done everything together and so, after graduating in millinery, they decide to open their own hat shop. It's a small business but thanks to hard work and talent, they build up a loyal clientele. Then one day a glamorous young actress buys one of their hats, wears it to the Baftas and suddenly success seems guaranteed.

But within weeks, tragedy strikes when Sheila disappears, and is presumed dead. After months of desolation, Sinéad is just beginning to come to terms with her loss when she is given new hope: there has been a sighting of her sister. While she is filled with excitement at the thought that Sheila might be alive, she is haunted by questions. Why would Sheila have deserted her twin without a word? After all, they had always told each other everything … hadn't they?

* * *

Twin sisters Sinéad and Sheila Fields have started their own millinery business. They are just about to hit fame and fortune after a famous actress wears one of their creations to a BAFTA awards ceremony when Sheila suddenly disappears without trace. Her car is found abandoned with her handbag inside. After several months without any news the family reluctantly have to accept that Sheila is dead, possibly by her own hand. Her twin Sinéad is devastated and lets the business slide into ruin – along with her relationship with boyfriend Dylan. The two sisters were so close and Sinéad can’t accept that Sheila would deliberately wish to cause so much hurt. Her younger brother Max intervenes to try and salvage the business and this is really where the story starts with disclosures and coincidences that eventually form the crux of the tale.

This is the first Colette Caddle book that I have read (although I do have a few of her earlier books in my collection - I hadn't realised that she had written so many, this being her 14th novel). What attracted me (apart from the gorgeous cover) was the mystery element of the missing twin and the dual location of Ireland and New York. The story kept me engrossed, whether we were in Dublin or Central Park.

I really enjoyed Colette’s writing. The Fields family are well drawn with complex characters and you are drawn in to the family relationships and dynamics, each of them dealing with loss and grief in their own way. The mother died tragically by drowning years before when the twins and their brother Max were quite young and the father has never really got over the loss of his wife. His wife’s sister, Bridie, stepped in to look after the family, and although she did an adequate job, she was never a very loving person and the lack of affection was felt by all the siblings. Bridie is now suffering from dementia; she has a past of her own that is partly shrouded in mystery and appears to be the holder of long held family secrets.

There is a little bit of everything in this book, mystery, family relationships, secrets and romance. There are some fabulous supporting characters – Krystie was a wonderful creation and came into the lives of the Fields family like a breath of fresh air, her relationship with her own family felt believable and was one that perhaps many people could identify with. Very cleverly, the author threw in a few seeds of doubt here and there - just enough to make you wonder about certain characters and whether they were all that they seemed.

Despite the mystery element, this is not a suspense thriller but neither is it light and fluffy. I was completely engrossed in the lives of the Fields family and as desperate as they were to find out the truth about Sheila’s disappearance. We see a family that has been torn in two by loss and the repercussions of keeping secrets. This was a really enjoyable story and I and look forward to reading more by Colette Caddle.

My paperback copy came as a competition win from the author.

About the author:

Colette Caddle lives in Dublin with her husband and two young sons.  

You can find out more from Colette's website, or by following on Twitter and Facebook