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From the bestselling author of Lady of Hay, Barbara Erskine‘s The Dream Weavers is a spellbinding saga that spans centuries through a writer’s eerie connections to Anglo-Saxon King Offa and his indomitable daughter. In 2021, writer Simon has decamped to a cottage on the English-Welsh border to finish his book about King Offa. Unsettled by noises in the cottage - a woman’s distant voice, banging on doors in the dead of night - he enlists the help of modern-day mystic Bea. In 775 AD, Eadburh, the youngest daughter of ambitious, aggressive King Offa has inherited her father’s ruthless streak, along with unusual gifts from her mother, and it’s not long before these two time periods and gripping stories are seamlessly interwoven, not least when Simon’s daughter vanishes in our time. While the action is epic, the stakes high, and the historic episodes powerfully evocative, Erskine has an accessible down-to-earth style, with lots of character backstory and side strands feeding into the main narratives. Thronging with mystery, ghostly visions and centuries of secrets, this comes recommended for readers who like historic fiction with meandering intrigue.
Nobody Tells You is a brilliant and reassuring companion for anyone starting out on the path to parenthood, from getting pregnancy all the way through to feeding your baby. Featuring diverse real-life stories, it feels so natural and personal, like you’re chatting with friends. These are real people (with their twitter handles and photos) answering real questions about different types of pregnancies, babycare and parenthood. So you know that whatever you’re thinking – or feeling – is normal, and that you’re not alone. It’s a reminder that parenting may be a struggle at times – all those niggling things that no one else is going to tell you and you’ve not yet dared to ask. ‘Yes, contractions can hurt.’ ‘It’s natural to worry about your baby.’ ‘It may take time to bond.’ This book is packed with simple advice from healthcare professionals too, featuring essential tips on morning sickness, hospital items, and more. I wish I had been given a book like this before my two sons were born.
Spanning twenty years, beginning four years from now, Rosa Rankin-Gee’s Dreamland is a haunting, visionary dystopian novel. Set against a bleak backdrop of escalating inequality, austerity and climate change in post-Brexit Britain, the novel feels both hyper-real and dream-like, suffused as it is in the ethereal melancholy of an abandoned seaside town and the longings of its inhabitants. Seven-year-old Chance and thirteen-year-old JD were born in London, which “was a fourth world country now. A hotbed. A timebomb waiting to go off. That, and an island for rich Russians.” And so their mother accepts a grant from a right-wing foundation for them to move to Margate at a time when droves of people are moving inland to escape the rapidly rising sea. It’s run-down, boarded-up, and subject to the hazardous consequences of climate change, from the rising sea, to the extreme heatwave that hits during their second summer. There are black-outs too, power outages, riots and looting, and then comes the Localisation Act, which grants greater autonomy to smaller regions, resulting in London isolating itself further from the rest of the country and a mass exodus from hard-hit Margate. The creeping sense of change, deterioration and desperation is palpable as Chance seeks to settle into herself, to make a life in Margate while her mother has a new baby to care for and a violent boyfriend to watch out for. And then Chance meets Francesca (Franky), and both their lives change forever thanks to a love that both sets them spinning and roots them, as the world spins out of control. Beautifully-written (the calm, crystalline language is loaded with longing), and powerfully prescient, this is a unique and captivating cautionary tale of our times.
A wonderfully engaging blended mix of spy turned PI novel set in the USA during the 1960’s. When ex CIA spy Vera’s girlfriend leaves her and on the same day she is sacked, Vera decides to turn private investigator. Her first case involves a lost child and a Caribbean Island under authoritarian rule. I haven’t read the first in the series Who is Vera Kelly, yet felt incredibly comfortable stepping midway into the story. Though I have to say that the various mentions of the first book where she was stranded in Argentina during a coup, ensured I wanted to go back and meet her at the start. Vera is very much the star of this story, she survives on instinct and smarts, her vulnerabilities adding an edge. Rosalie Knecht creates a beautifully balanced story, with go-getter Vera marching through the interesting plot and her life during a time of political upheaval and action for LGBTQ rights. The ending arrived at unexpected speed, leaving me wanting to know more about this private investigator. Vera Kelly is Not a Mystery is a short, smart, rewarding detective novel with real heart.
Subtle in style and fierce in characterisation, Carol Birch’s Cold Boy’s Wood is a haunting psychological enigma. Exploring the flux and fallibility of memory, and the effects of loneliness on the human spirit, the novel is a puzzle, of sorts, as two flawed and damaged characters are confronted with long-buried secrets when a mudslide unearths a body outside their village. Visiting his mother’s grave near the site of the mudslide, Dan observes “Ravens. The wet nose of the pregnant doe. A body returned to light. Things falling into sequence. All these things seemed significant.” Embittered, often drunk, and scared stiff by the supernatural, he’s disturbed by a sound in the darkness and locks up. Then there’s Lorna, who lives nearby in the ancient woods that have called her since she saw a strange “cold boy” here as a teenager. The boy haunts her still, along with her past, as she watches Dan, and helps him when he collapses drunk, all the while delivering a feverish internal dialogue. Both of them provoke intrigue, their lives entangle, their stories haunt and pierce to the end.
An interesting and immersive book about the undeveloped potential of mushrooms. If our relationship with nature interests you, if you believe that in order to thrive we should live in harmony with nature, then I can highly recommend reading In Search of Mycotopia. Doug Bierend is an American journalist who writes about science and technology, food, education, and how we can live in a sustainable world. Here he looks at the potential of fungi, and we meet a variety of people and ideas that could contribute to our working in harmony with nature. The author challenges the reader throughout this book, he questions our idea of expertise and asks us to look at fungi in a completely new way. The various chapters include a section at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London where it is clear that amateurs and experts have worked together throughout its history in the study of fungi. This is readable, inclusive, and the big messages that I kept hearing throughout this book, were about bringing people together and working together in order to gain a better relationship with nature. In Search of Mycotopia highlights the importance of fungi in an eloquent and engaging way.
Crossing a number of genres, this is a read that both challenges and provokes thoughts. Gabriela works in the Foreign Office, Isobel is a journalist, both women have a drive to succeed that will ultimately put them in danger. This novel links to Part of the Family, and I would suggest starting there as though the main characters are different, there are connections that are needed in order to fully appreciate the plot. Charlotte Philby has created two women that aren’t particularly likeable, but you don’t have to become friends with them in order to experience the story. The focus here is family life, with an investigation sitting brooding and waiting with menaces. The prologue, so short, has huge impact and left questions buzzing around in my mind spoiling for a fight. The two women and two different time frames remain separate until information slowly bleeds into and connects each story. The ending arrived in an unexpected way, and leaves the story wide open for more. With hovering suspense and intrigue, A Double Life is a provocative and stimulating novel.
How to Make Good Things Happen is a well-researched book on managing your stress and anxiety levels, and how our mental health influences our physical health and day-to-day lives. Written by an American psychiatrist, it’s not a quick read or self-help book, but is more of a scientific look at our hormones and how our brain works in relation to our emotions – love, sadness, happiness, guilt – especially at times of stress. To combat stress, we need to train ourselves to see positivity in all situations, rather than focusing on negativity, and we also need to learn how to stop overthinking. The book uses practical approaches based on science, including the evidence for mindfulness and omega-3 foods in brain health. I loved the case studies dotted around the book – short stories about people the author has met over the years, some as patients and others just in passing. The book seeks to help its readers see the good in everything so that they can lead a healthier, more fulfilling life. An interesting read.
Chris Aslan’s Mosaic is an atmospheric novel underpinned by Christian spirituality. Rich in historic and cultural detail, the writing is visual and sensory, evoking the book’s first-century Middle Eastern setting in vivid technicolour. It’s also shot-through with a young woman’s trials and tragedies, and the hopes that bud in the wake of hearing about a miracle worker. Tabita‘s tale opens with her “seething at how unfair life is” as she picks stones from dried lentils in the afternoon sun of her mountain village. It’s located in the "far north of our holy land”, with the foothills below “populated by foreign occupiers with their enormous vineyards, expensive villas, and drunken and idolatrous ways.” Her family is scarred by death, and Tabita feels fragmented, in despair that she might not be repaired. Then comes news of a Teacher who can heal. A Teacher whom some wonder might be a trickster, but a Teacher who himself counsels for people to “put our trust in God and not man, and to be aware of blind guides who lead others into destruction.” Taking portions of the Gospel of Mark and the Book of Acts as its sources, this is steeped in the author’s spirituality and knowledge of its setting.
Inclusive and welcoming this is such a charming, gentle, and compassionate tale. Kath wants to ensure a successful centenary celebrations for Hope Hall which stands at the heart of their community. This is the second in a trilogy, so I recommend starting with the lovely Springtime at Hope Hall, if you’ve already met the people who use and staff Hope Hall then you’ll catch up with some old friends along the way. There are a number of characters here, diverse personalities are on display, and approachable and generous Kath the centre manager, sits at the centre of them all. Pam Rhodes writes with generosity and kindness, ensuring hope weaves through her tales. Her books soothe, even as she visits all that life has to offer, including difficult times. Summer’s Out at Hope Hall is a good-hearted and thoughtfully readable tale that offers hope and community spirit.
Ringing with bell-clear writing, remarkable atmosphere and emotional honesty, Takis Würger’s Stella is a hauntingly gripping story of naive young love and duplicity in wartime Berlin. Innocent soul Friedrich grew up in Switzerland, with an alcoholic mother and somewhat eccentric father. In 1942 he takes the inadvisable decision to travel to Berlin to study art, where’s he’s entranced by Kristin, the model in his life drawing class, and a character who’s partly based on a real person. Kristin is bold, intoxicating and brilliantly evoked as a “warm and soft” enigma. “Would you call me Tink? Like Tinkerbell?” she asks of him. Friedrich obliges, of course, for “there was nothing I could refuse this woman,” and she fast becomes a permanent presence in his suite at the Grand Hotel. Their life of drinking and dancing in banned jazz clubs feels worlds away from the war, but as the months pass and the Nazi grip tightens, so the couple’s merrily enclaved existence darkens. Friedrich is disturbed to discover their mutual friend is in the SS, and perplexed by Kristin’s high connections. Then, after vanishing and returning with a shaven head and “dark welts on her neck”, she reveals that she’s Jewish, with more revelations to come. “I don’t know if it’s wrong to betray one human being to save another. I don’t know if it’s right to betray one human being to save another” Friedrich muses, and herein lies the heart of this powerfully melancholic story - fundamental moral questions swell beneath its simply-told surface.
Kehinde Andrews’ The New Age of Empire is an urgent, incisive analysis of the origins of Western Imperialism that lays bare its continued racist legacy. Pointing out that “we urgently need to destroy the myth that the West was founded on the three great revolutions of science, industry and politics”, the author makes a powerful argument for the need to “trace how genocide, slavery and colonialism are the key foundation stones upon which West was built.” Indeed, Andrews discusses how the West concocted scientific theories designed to “prove” its superiority, and shows how the Enlightenment provided “the intellectual basis for Western imperialism.” The chapter covering Kant’s “racial logic” is especially mind-blowing on this. While we might live in a different age, centuries-old ideologies run deep in what the author terms today’s “new age of Empire”, with their legacies persisting in the form of racial capitalism, colonial nostalgia (as exemplified by Trump’s “make America great again” slogan and Brexit’s promise to “take back control”), racial patriarchy, and the fallacy of post-racialism - “the delusion that we have moved beyond racism, that we are in a post-racial society.” This is a major, vital point - how can we truly obliterate racism if we pretend it’s been overcome? Answer: we cannot. In the author’s words, “As long as we delude ourselves with rebranding and tinkering at the margins we will never be able to address the issue of racism.” Framing some arguments in the context of COVID-19 (“the delusions of all being in it together, or that viruses do not discriminate, quickly fell apart as the evidence began to show that Covid-19 simply laid bare existing social inequalities”), and drawing on historic, scientific, philosophical, political and economic discourse, this debunks myths, challenges misplaced self-congratulation and is, quite simply, a must-read, wake-up call.
Containing more than a smirk of humour, this is a bold, vibrant crime caper set in Uruguay. When Diego is released from prison he reluctantly agrees to hold up an armoured truck. Along the way we also meet a crooked lawyer, brutal psychopath, amateur con artist, and police inspector, two of whom are women and fighting to hold their own with the men. Award-winning author Mercedes Rosende from Uruguay is also a lawyer and journalist. Her writing is sharp and pointed yet rich and earthy. I initially felt as though I was observing from a distance, then as I got to know each character I edged closer and closer to the action. I found myself completely caught up in the words, the translation by Tim Gutteridge placed me within a country I don’t know, yet enabled me to feel a connection. I didn’t question, just sank completely into the storyline, and as the synopsis declares: “never, ever underestimate the women”. Hugely entertaining, Crocodile Tears is a full-on, fresh yet heady read.
If you want to escape reality for a while you can just throw yourself into this diverting mystery. Two women find themselves at Hare’s Landing in West Cork for very different reasons and join forces to investigate some strange links to the house, including two suspicious deaths and a missing persons case. A number of plot lines all rather gleefully twist together and once the main characters are together in Ireland the story really comes together. Sam Blake writes short intense chapters, encouraging thoughts to whip and spin. Rachel and Caroline investigate with determination, though I have to admit that Jasper the dog was my particular favourite! The hint of ghostly goings-on play with the atmosphere, but it is very much the humans in this tale that you need to keep an eye on. Entertaining and twisty, The Dark Room slots together to a satisfying end.
With a smart writing style that combines lyrical and thoughtful with sharp and pacy, this thriller reads like a zingy dream. Public Prosecutor Chastity Riley and friends are celebrating a birthday in a 20th floor hotel bar in Hamburg when armed men take the occupants hostage. Meet the fourth in the rather fabulous Chastity Riley series. Two linked stories separated by time sit side by side. Short sharp shocks of chapters fizz into being. Simone Buchholz packs a hefty wallop into a relatively small number of pages. Her books always kiss difference, and encourage thoughts to whip in new directions. It almost felt as though there were parts in hiding, yet it all slots together. I simply adore the short and biting chapter headings, join them all together and they almost form a story in their own right. Rachel Ward as translator has again done a cracking job. Can you tell that I love this yet! Simone Buchholz has a style all of her own, and I can highly recommend Hotel Cartagena.
With intense pace, an intriguing storyline, and fascinating characters, this is an incredibly readable crime thriller. When Sam Shephard starts to investigate a murder in Dunedin, New Zealand she soon realises that things aren't as obvious as they may first appear. This is such a fabulous series, with a vivid sense of place, great characters, and juicy crimes to solve, no-nonsense detective Sam Shephard often has to kick some serious ass. Do start with Overkill, and make your way through the series until you come to Bound, I’d advise starting at the beginning and reading in order just to enjoy the experience to its fullest. Sam appears to have mellowed just a tad, her relationship is evolving, but she is more than capable of standing up for herself when needed. The exchanges between Sam and her boss make me wince and then smirk if she manages to land a blow. Vanda Symon balances dramatic entertainment with penetrating storylines and Bound is another cracking and thoroughly enjoyable addition to a winner of a series.
An incredibly smart, taut, and pacy crime thriller set in Norway. An unsolved kidnapping thrusts itself back into play when police officer Alexander Blix and investigative journalist and blogger Emma Ramm are caught up in an explosion on New Years Eve in Oslo. The Blix and Ramm Series is a blast of pure reading entertainment from Jorn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger, internationally best-selling Norwegian authors who joined forces to create this series. Death Deserved was a cracking start and Smoke Screen just cements this pair as a formidable writing duo. I also just want to do a shout out to translator Megan Turney, this is so easy to read that I didn’t stop to think that it was translated. The immediate hook at the start set my mind racing, and it didn’t let up until the end. Flashbacks are effectively used to highlight important back stories. The two main characters are independently interesting and capable of carrying the tale, and the links from each of their plot lines gradually fuse together to create an explosive end. Smoke Screen is an enthralling continuation in a series that I can highly recommend.
Taut, tenacious storytelling squeezes thoughts and feelings in this chilling read. Winterkill continues the Dark Iceland series in Iceland’s most northerly town as a snow storm hits. A 19 year old falls to her death, and a diary entry suggests that it wasn’t an accident while a man in a nursing home writes “she was murdered” on the wall of his room. This is the sixth and apparently last in a series that pulses with chilling atmosphere and energy. Translated from the French edition by David Warriner, he ensures Ragnar Jonasson’s trademark biting and uncomplicated style is allowed freedom to sing. Now an Inspector, Ari Thor Arason is as fascinating as ever. The storyline contains several strands, interesting characters, and Ari’s complicated relationships. This particular investigation has an unsettling and sad overtone, that lingers after finishing. Winterkill is a satisfying conclusion to a stimulating and readable series.
Shot-through with the author’s personal experiences as a coach, player and all-round football obsessive, Dominic Stevenson’s Get Your Head in the Game is a timely must-read for fans, players, coaches - the whole kit and caboodle of anyone involved with football. Sharing the experiences of internationally renowned players, figures from top clubs, trailblazers of the women’s game (and many more besides), and offering legions of insights into how sport and the mind could be reconnected, this might just make the beautiful game yet more beautiful - and transformative. Stevenson’s context will strike a powerful chord with fans: “Football is the universal leveller. It speaks in a way that no language does. It is poetry without the pontification, a novel without the concentration, and it changes the world in minutes.” What’s more, football’s “community spirit, the sense of comradeship and the provision of a social lifeline for those who may otherwise be alone are enormous, and they have great potential to be positively exploited for the greater good of society.” Despite these huge positives, mental health “is still an issue that doesn’t get the exposure it deserves, in spite of well-meaning link-ups between football clubs and mental health charities”, and the testimonies from players under pressure feeling they’ve failed even after playing for top clubs, and those blighted by injury and abuse, cut to the core. Then there’s the lack of support from clubs, and heart-breaking accounts of suicide attempts. The book also covers football’s efforts to become truly inclusive, acknowledging that while steps have been made, the game still has a long way to go before racism, homophobia, sexism and transphobia have been totally kicked out. Concluding with a range of tips for improving mental health in the context of football, and confident that “the glory days of football are still ahead of us”, this book is a game-changer.
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