Book Review: Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane; Narrated by Madeline Gould #AudiobookReview

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You always remember your first love. Don’t you?

It began with four words.

I love your laugh. x

But that was 12 years ago. It really began the day Georgina was fired from The Worst Restaurant in Sheffield (TripAdvisor) and found The Worst Boyfriend in the World (Georgina’s best friends) in bed with someone else.

So when her new boss, Lucas McCarthy, turns out to be the boy who wrote those words to her all that time ago, it feels like the start of something.

The only problem? He doesn’t seem to remember Georgina at all.

This was my first Mhairi McFarlane book and I chose it because I have seen a lot of bloggers enthusing about her writing and I thought I had better see what I was missing out on. Having listened to this book, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed her work and will definitely be seeking out more.

I was intrigued by the premise of the book, how could someone who had been your first teenage love not remember you at all, and how would you deal with that? It seemed like it might be a hard idea to carry through convincingly, but Mhairi manages it, and the book was both funny and very moving. The story she has put together goes far beyond the basic comedic value of the premise and touches on much deeper and more serious issues. Combining the quite troubling aspects of the story with the funny element in a way that is not jarring is a difficult skill, but one Mhiari manages effortlessly. (I’m sure it wasn’t effortless but it certainly looks it in the finished novel.)

Georgina is a great character, hapless and unfocused, but full of chutzpah and I really liked her – an important characteristic for the protagonist in a romantic comedy! Mhairi also gives us an odious ex, plenty of mad family members with internal frictions to enjoy, and a dark, brooding Irishman as the love interest. Most of you will know how much I love a dark, brooding Irishman, in my fiction as well as in real life, so I was pretty much sold from the get go, but the execution of the promise in no way disappointed.

Being from South Yorkshire myself and having worked in Sheffield for a few years, I enjoyed the familiar setting of the book, and Mhairi’s set up of having Georgina as a waitress in a not-very-good Italian restaurant at the beginning gave scope for lots of comedy, not to mention the shenanigans with the odious boyfriend. This book made me laugh out loud as I was walking my dog along the canal bank; probably just as well that it  was usually quite deserted.

I really enjoyed the way the truth about what happened the night of the leavers’ party gradually unfurled and we finally find out what happened between Lucas and Georgina the first time around. The fact that it was so gradual kept me listening avidly; sometimes the pace of a book fails to translate from page to audio version, because the latter takes much longer to get through, but this book definitely did not suffer from any pacing problems in translation. In fact, the audio version of the book is wonderful, I really loved the narrator and even the accents were great (and I’ve heard a few dodgy Irish accents done in the past.) I would not hesitate to pick up another audiobook featuring this narrator again.

Overall, this was a funny, moving, bittersweet story with appealing characters and a fresh premise that the author carried through with aplomb. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and look forward to reading much more of her writing. Highly recommended.

You can buy a copy of Don’t You Forget About Me now in all formats here.

About the Author

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Sunday Times bestselling author Mhairi McFarlane was born in Scotland in 1976 and her unnecessarily confusing name is pronounced Vah-Ree.

After some efforts at journalism, she started writing novels and her first book, You Had Me At Hello, was an instant success. She’s now written six books and she lives in Nottingham with a man and a cat.

Connect with Mhairi:

Facebook: Mhairi McFarlane Author

Twitter: @MhairiMcF

 

Buddy Read: The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton by Anstey Harris #BookReview

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Between the simple melody of running her violin shop and the full-blown orchestra of her romantic interludes in Paris with David, her devoted partner of eight years, Grace Atherton has always set her life to music.

Her world revolves entirely around David, for Grace’s own secrets have kept everyone else at bay. Until, suddenly and shockingly, one act tips Grace’s life upside down, and the music seems to stop.

It takes a vivacious old man and a straight-talking teenager to kickstart a new chapter for Grace. In the process, she learns that she is not as alone in the world as she had once thought, that no mistake is insurmountable, and that the quiet moments in life can be something to shout about …

I’ve had a copy of this book for ages, in fact it appeared on my Tempted By… feature back in January, but it has taken until now, and the lure of a buddy read by my friend, Kate, to finally bump it to the top of the TBR and now I am wondering why I waited so long!

Kate had just finished reading the author’s new book, Where We Belong, and was waxing so lyrical about how much she loved it that I said I was going to dig out that copy of her first novel that was languishing on my TBR, and Kate said we should do a buddy read, which was great fun. Needless to say, we both loved it. In fact, I’ve not seen a negative comment about this book.

It is an absolutely beautiful story about love, betrayal, loss and the redeeming power of music and friendship. I knew from the very beginning that the book was going to be something special. Anstey took the bold step of introducing two characters and immediately making them morally ambiguous, so to begin with you are wondering if they are people you should be rooting for or not. Grace then quickly becomes someone that you fall in love with and your sympathies are entirely with her from then on. Anstey draws her so clearly and believably, that you can feel her every emotion exactly as she does and, even when she makes bad decisions, you understand and forgive them because you know the place of pain they are coming from. There are very few characters that I have become so emotionally invested in over the course of my reading life and it is a real skill to achieve.

The pacing of this book is perfect, and there are several points where the author introduces truly shocking events that took me entirely by surprise. I found myself sending Kate WhatsApp messages riddled with excited/shocked/horrified emojis when I got to a part of the book that I knew was going to blow her away when she reached them. It is the kind of book that makes you sigh, and scream and cheer out loud, even though this makes you look like a lunatic if you are reading in public, because you are so invested in the story and the characters’ emotions.

I am not a connoisseur of classical music and did wonder if the exploration of instrument making and classical music would be beyond me, but it wasn’t at all. I found it fascinating and enthralling, and I was swept away by the passion that the characters obviously feel for it, even though I don’t share it. It made me want to go and listen to the music the book refers to, and then read the book again with a better understanding of how these particular pieces complement the story. There is a part towards the end of the book involving a musical interlude that almost made me cry, and then another part of the book towards the end which actually did make me cry. I felt sympathy for a character I had recently despised, and genuinely did not know how things were going to end until I had read the conclusion. I felt despair and pain and hope and joy throughout the course of the book, and marvelled at the skill it takes to truly arouse all these feelings in a reader.

The writer excels at using language and phrasing to evoke emotions and paint a very clear picture. I made note of some of my favourite parts so that I could study them, as a student of writing, later. I can’t write down my favourite quote, as it gives away a major plot point, but it is in the second paragraph of Chapter Eighteen! The imagery is so clear and deft, I am in awe of her. The beauty of the descriptions of Paris and the love she espouses for the city will take you straight there. The power of the emotional descriptions will break your heart. The beauty of the friendships will put it back together again. It is just marvellous.

In fact, it is the odd friendships that form the backbone of this book and really make it sing. It teaches you that, however alone you feel, there are always people out there who will reach out to comfort you in times of need, and they are not who you might expect. However much you try and shut the world out, it will creep in at the edges and hold you up when you feel all is lost. And the people who you think matter most may not truly be the ones you can rely on, so you need to keep our eyes and your heart open and trust yourself. It is, ultimately, life-affirming.

I absolutely adored this book and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a powerful read.

The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Anstey Harris is based by the seaside in south-east England where she lives with her violinmaker husband and two dogs. She teaches creative writing in the community, local schools, and as an associate lecturer for Christchurch University in Canterbury.

Anstey writes about the things that make people tick, the things that bind us and the things that can rip us apart. In 2015, she won the H G Wells Short Story Prize for her story, Ruby. In novels, Anstey tries to celebrate uplifting ideas and prove that life is good and that happiness is available to everyone once we work out where to look (usually inside ourselves). Her short stories tend not to end quite so well…

Things that interest Anstey include her children and granddaughter, green issues and conservation, adoption and adoption reunion (she is an adopted child, born in an unmarried mothers’ home in Liverpool in 1965), stepfamilies, dogs, and food. Always food. She would love to be on Masterchef but would never recover from the humiliation if she got sent home in the first round.

Connect with Anstey:

Website: https://www.ansteyharris.com

Twitter: @Anstey_Harris

Instagram: @ansteyharris

Book Review: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert; Narrated by the author #AudiobookReview

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Listeners of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration from Elizabeth Gilbert’s books for years. Now this beloved author shares her wisdom and unique understanding of creativity, shattering the perceptions of mystery and suffering that surround the process and showing us all just how easy it can be.

By sharing stories from her own life as well as from her friends and the people who have inspired her, Elizabeth Gilbert challenges us to embrace our curiosity, tackle what we most love and face down what we most fear.

Whether you long to write a book, create art, cope with challenges at work, embark on a long-held dream, or simply to make your everyday life more vivid and rewarding, Big Magic will take you on a journey of exploration filled with wonder and unexpected joys.

Anyone poking around my Goodreads profile might observe that I have read this book twice this year already, once via audiobook and one reading of my paper copy. One might rightly, assume, therefore, that this is a book which means a lot to me.

As someone who, cautiously, describes themselves as a writer and has ambitions to get her writing published one day but with no confidence that this is achievable, I am exactly the person that Elizabeth Gilbert is aiming this book at. A creative person who allows fear to hold them back in their endeavours and this is why I love this book so much. It feels like she wrote it just for me and, having someone so successful and whose writing I love, understand me, tell me that she has felt the same and that my feelings are understandable and manageable in a source of such comfort at times when I am struggling.

This is not really a practical ‘how to write’ book. It is a why to write book, and how to overcome the mental blocks that prevent us doing so. In this book, the author talks about all the things that hold us back from fully embracing and engaging in our creative impulses – not just writing but anything at all, painting, pottery, ice skating, anything you do for reasons not of pure practicality – and tries to reassure us that our fears and reservations are normal, universal and conquerable. I defy anyone who has ever wanted to do something creative but has felt embarrassed about it, fraudulent, foolish or afraid about doing so, to read this book and not see themselves mirrored back.

So, for me, this book is reassuring because it makes me feel less alone, and this is important because, as Elizabeth points out, creativity can be a lonely business and we tend to spend a lot of time in our own heads, fretting over our inadequacies and assuming no one else has these struggles. To hear that even the most successful of authors share these moments of angst and self-doubt can help to make use believe that persistence may not be futile and, if we just stick it out, maybe we can make it too.

Look, this book is not going to be for everyone. There is no getting away from the fact that some of her ideas about creativity are a little ‘out there,’ and she admits this herself. She talks about ideas and inspiration as actual living things with will and motivation and that there is real magic involved in the process of creation. Some people will find this hard to swallow and it may put them off but, even if you find these theories too wild to be credible, there is a lot in this book that will be relatable and useful.

She talks about fear and how it can cripple your creativity and this is the most personal of her comments to me. “…we all know that when courage dies, creativity dies with it. We all know that fear is a desolate boneyard where our dreams go to desiccate in the hot sun.’ She is writing my soul here. I have spent far too many hours being literally (and I do mean literally) paralysed with fear into an inability to write. To feel so understood, and also have someone tell me they can help me deal with it is of immense comfort.

“Perfectionists often decide in advance that the end product is never going to be satisfactory, so they don’t even bother trying to be creative in the first place.” She’s talking about me again! Perfectionism has been the biggest debilitating factor of my life. It has caused me more anguish, stopped me doing more things, prevented me taking pride in any achievements than anything else in my life. It is absolutely not a virtue, it is a curse and, as Elizabeth says, it is ‘just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat.” Did I mention that her imagery and turn of phrase are also one of the things that make this book such a delight?

She deals with so many topics in this book. How to live with your fear (because there is no getting rid of it), what success can look like and how defining it can help you get over your fear, how to give yourself permission to write, how to trust yourself and the process. Whatever your particular hurdles are that hinder you from creating freely, I’m sure you will find something in here to help you, give you a crumb of comfort and the impetus to keep going. Certainly, for me, this is a book I keep on hand to dip in and out of whenever I need it. To keep the doubts at bay. I am not a person who dogears their books, but my copy of Big Magic has many pages with the corners turned down so I can find a favourite line or paragraph when I need a little boost.

This book tells me it is okay to be afraid. It is okay to fail. It is okay to feel like a fraud. It is okay to call myself a writer even though I have no qualifications in this area. It is okay to be a writer and never get published. Success for me is mine to define and not for others to decide. Time spent doing something you love is never wasted, even if it has no commercial value.

It’s okay to be the skinny lobster in spandex tights.

Big Magic is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Elizabeth Gilbert was born in Waterbury, Connecticut in 1969, and grew up on a small family Christmas tree farm. She attended New York University, where she studied political science by day and worked on her short stories by night. After college, she spent several years traveling around the country, working in bars, diners and ranches, collecting experiences to transform into fiction.

These explorations eventually formed the basis of her first book – a short story collection called PILGRIMS, which was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway award, and which moved Annie Proulx to call her “a young writer of incandescent talent”.

During these early years in New York, she also worked as a journalist for such publications as Spin, GQ and The New York Times Magazine. She was a three-time finalist for The National Magazine Award, and an article she wrote in GQ about her experiences bartending on the Lower East Side eventually became the basis for the movie COYOTE UGLY.

In 2000, Elizabeth published her first novel, STERN MEN (a story of brutal territory wars between two remote fishing islands off the coast of Maine) which was a New York Times Notable Book. In 2002, Elizabeth published THE LAST AMERICAN MAN – the true story of the modern day woodsman Eustace Conway. This book, her first work of non-fiction, was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Elizabeth is best known, however for her 2006 memoir EAT PRAY LOVE, which chronicled her journey alone around the world, looking for solace after a difficult divorce. The book was an international bestseller, translated into over thirty languages, with over 12 million copies sold worldwide. In 2010, EAT PRAY LOVE was made into a film starring Julia Roberts. The book became so popular that Time Magazine named Elizabeth as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

In 2010, Elizabeth published a follow-up to EAT PRAY LOVE called COMMITTED—a memoir which explored her ambivalent feelings about the institution of marriage. The book immediately became a #1 New York Times Bestseller, and was also received with warm critical praise. As Newsweek wrote, COMMITTED “retains plenty of Gilbert’s comic ruefulness and wide-eyed wonder”, and NPR called the book “a rich brew of newfound insight and wisdom.”

Her 2013 novel THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS is a sprawling tale of 19th century botanical exploration. O Magazine named it “the novel of a lifetime”, and the Wall Street Journal called it “the most ambitious and purely-imagined work of (Gilbert’s) twenty-year career.” THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS was a New York Times Bestseller, and Janet Maslin called it “engrossing…vibrant and hot-blooded.” The novel was named a Best Book of 2013 by The New York Times, O Magazine, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and The New Yorker.”

In 2015, she published BIG MAGIC: CREATIVE LIVING BEYOND FEAR—a book that encapsulates the joyful spirit of adventure and permission that Elizabeth has always brought to her work and to her life.

Her latest novel is CITY OF GIRLS — a rollicking, sexy tale of the New York City theater world during the 1940s. It will be published in June of 2019.

Elizabeth divides her time between New York City, rural New Jersey, and everywhere else.

Connect with Elizabeth:

Website: https://www.elizabethgilbert.com

Facebook: Liz Gilbert

Twitter: @GilbertLiz

Instagram: @elizabeth_gilbert_writer

Book Review: Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens #BookReview

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For years, rumors of the ‘Marsh Girl’ have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl.

But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved.

When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life – until the unthinkable happens.

Unless you have been living under a literary rock for the past few months, I’m sure you have heard of this book. You’ve probably already read it, as I seem to be a little late to the party but, if not, I suggest you pick up a copy as soon as possible because this is one of the best things I have read for a long while and will definitely be one of my top books of 2020.

This is the story of Kya, a young girl abandoned at a young age in the marshes of North Carolina who learns how to survive on her own by studying the wildlife that surrounds her on all sides. Her life is touched by a few souls from the nearby town, but largely she is an outcast, misunderstood and feared by local residents so, when a local man is murdered in the marsh, she is the prime suspect.

This book is a masterpiece in so many ways. It begins as a mystery story with the body of the man discovered in the marsh, so we are immediately engrossed in trying to discover, along with the local police, who is responsible. In this way we are introduced to Kya, the ‘Marsh Girl,’ an outsider who has lived alone in the marsh since she was a child and who is deeply misunderstood by the local townsfolk. The book then runs along two timelines, the current investigation of the murder, and Kya’s past as she grows up in the marsh. The  mystery is compelling and involves many twists and turns and false paths, so the reader can’t really know who did it until the very end. However, despite the fact the mystery is well-developed, this is probably the aspect of the novel that drew me the least.

The things that make this book so special are the exploration of Kya as a character and how she survives alone in the marsh from childhood and how this life affects her emotionally, and the vivid and immersive descriptions of the landscape and nature of the marsh where the book is set. The author writes so captivatingly and movingly about both that the reader cannot help but be swept away in the story.

The development of Kya’s story from her abandonment by her entire family as a young child and how she has to learn to survive alone in a hostile environment with very little contact with or help from her nearest neighbours is tender, believable and completely heart-breaking. It is a damning commentary on the way society frowns upon anyone who chooses to live a lifestyle outside the mainstream and how such choices invite disdain and a cold-shoulder. How people are largely concerned only with themselves and quick to ignore problems they don’t want to address. The only people who have the good heart to help Kya are others who are similarly shunned for their differences, or who want to use her for their own ends.

Kya is a fascinating and wholly endearing character. Her stalwart determination to survive alone, learning from the creatures that surround her, adapting their habits and survival skills to help her and, in doing so, falling in love with the life and creatures of the marsh and studying them in a way few people ever do. The way the author draws parallels between humans and the wildlife of the marsh and uses those parallels to inform the reader about both is deft and clever. We fall in love with both Kya and her delicate and unique environment and come to care deeply about the survival and protection of both by the end of the book.

The marsh, then, is an integral part of the book, as essential to the story as any of the characters. In fact, it becomes a character in its own right, as intricately described and developed as any of the human participants, a living, breathing organism that is vital to Kya’s happiness and well-being in a way no human has ever been. It is the one thing she loves, trusts and knows will never let her down. Their lives are so intertwined that, when she is forcibly separated from it, it feels like a form of death to her. Like removing a fish from the ocean, she feels like she cannot breathe. If you ever wanted to read a book that really transports you to an environment you have probably never experienced but into which you will completely disappear, this is the novel for you.

The writer’s prose is lyrical and flowing. I know some people have found the book a little slow, and it is true that is is very descriptive and languid, but this is a huge part of the beauty of the novel and, if you stick with it, I am sure you will find the whole story as beautiful, heart-rending but, ultimately, uplifting as I did. The languorous nature of the prose is entirely fitting to the plot and the setting, mirroring the slow, warm, unchanging days in the Carolinas and will envelope you in the mindset if you let it. Just kick back and go with the flow and let this exceptional novel float you on a magical journey that will leave you fundamentally affected by it.

Where The Crawdads Sing is out now in all formats here.

About the Author

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Delia Owens is the co-author of three internationally bestselling nonfiction books about her life as a wildlife scientist in Africa including Cry of the Kalahari.

She has won the John Burroughs Award for Nature Writing and has been published in Nature, The African Journal of Ecology, and many others.

She currently lives in Idaho. Where the Crawdads Sing is her first novel.

Connect with Delia:

Website: https://www.deliaowens.com

Facebook: Author Delia Owens

Instagram: @authordeliaowens

Book Review: The Complete #LoveLondon Collection by Nikki Moore #BookReview

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Six couples. One city. A year to remember.

Now you can get all of Nikki Moore’s gorgeously romantic stories from the #LoveLondon series in one book! This is THE book to fall in love with …

Includes the short stories

Skating at Somerset House
New Year at the Ritz
Valentine’s on Primrose Hill
Cocktails in Chelsea
Strawberries at Wimbledon

and the full length novel…

Picnics in Hyde Park

It has taken me so long to finally get round to writing this review, apologies Nikki! I don’t know why, because this book provided the perfect blast of much-needed joy and escapism just when I needed it at the beginning of this coronavirus pandemic. They lifted me at one of my lowest points, and I’m not sure that you can ask mush more of a book than that.

This book is actually a compendium of five novellas and one full-length novel, all themed around romance blossoming in some of London’s most popular haunts at different times of year, so it is a great title to be able to pick up for a short and satisfying burst of romantic pleasure when you aren’t in the mood for tackling a full-length novel, but need a quick, sweet fix. The characters in the stories are tenuously linked, but they all operate really well as standalones, so if you’d rather just read one or two of the novellas, knock yourself out, but all are equally deserving of your attention.

I absolutely love to visit London. I lived there for six months and wasn’t happy as a resident but, as a tourist, I am an enthusiastic and frequent visitor and I got the impression from reading these stories that Nikki feels the same way as I do about the place. She perfectly encapsulates the draw of the city, the glamour, bright lights, excitement and romance that you see in films and TV shows. By visiting some of the most famous tourist landmarks- Somerset House, Wimbledon, The Ritz, Hyde Park, The King’s Road, Primrose Hill – at some of the most exciting times of year – Christmas, New Year, Valentine’s Day – she manages to make me feel all the excitement and enjoyment I get from a trip to London at high days and holidays. Honestly, I have not come across stories that have given me the same frisson I get when I board the train from Doncaster for a trip to London as I did from this book.

As well as the locations, which are the real highlight of the book, the love stories captured between the pages are also absolutely charming and really, really sexy! The author has managed to perfectly tread the line between the two, and I really enjoyed each of them. They explore different aspects of beginning a love affair – friends to lovers; rekindling old flames; holiday romance – but manages at the same time to bring a particular freshness to them. To do this within the confines of 50 pages for the novellas is a real skill and, I have to say, I actually preferred the distilled passion of the novellas to the full-length novel, although I enjoyed that too. I would really like to read more novellas by this author.

Anyone who is a fan of romance and a lover of London will really enjoy this collection (I am particularly thinking of you, Kate Baker!) and I could highly recommend it. It is a book that is going to live on my shelves and be picked up whenever I feel the need to take a quick trip to London, even when I can’t get there in person. At a time when we are missing our travel more than ever, I am glad I have this volume to turn to.

The Complete #LoveLondon Collection is out now in paperback and ebook, or you can buy the individual short stories as separate ebooks, and the full length novel, Picnic in Hyde Park, is also available as a separate paperback or ebook. You can get them all here.

About the Author

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A self-confessed reading addict, Nikki Moore has a HR day job, two teenagers and a lovely Fiancé to keep her busy alongside writing. She’s the author of the popular #LoveLondon series, which attracted four and five star reviews on Amazon. A number of the novellas featured in the Top 100 short story charts on Kobo and the Top 20 in the Amazon UK bestsellers Holiday chart. It was subsequently published as a collection, and in 2018 was released in Italy as an ebook in two volumes. She is currently writing commercial women’s fiction set in her beautiful home county of Dorset.

Her first published work was the short story A Night to Remember in the best selling Mills & Boon / RNA anthology Truly, Madly, Deeply, edited by author Sue Moorcroft. Best-selling authors including Carole Matthews, Katie Fforde and Adele Parks also featured. Her debut novel Crazy, Undercover, Love was shortlisted for the RNA Joan Hessayon Award 2015 and being before offered her first contract, she was a finalist in several writing competitions including the Elizabeth Goudge trophy and Novelicious Undiscovered.

Nikki was in the Romantic Novelists Association New Writers Scheme for four years before graduating to full RNA membership and has contributed to their magazine Romance Matters. She has also chaired a panel and taken part in workshops at the Festival of Romance, as well as co-tutoring a ‘How to Write & Sell Your Novel’ workshop with Sue Moorcroft for the Purbeck Literary Festival.

When not writing or reading, Nikki can probably be found singing, walking the family’s cute beagle puppy or watching drama series on Netflix.

Connect with Nikki:

Facebook: Nikki Moore

Twitter: @NikkiMoore_Auth

Book Review: The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins #BookReview

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‘They say I must be put to death for what happened to Madame, and they want me to confess. But how can I confess what I don’t believe I’ve done?’

1826, and all of London is in a frenzy. Crowds gather at the gates of the Old Bailey to watch as Frannie Langton, maid to Mr and Mrs Benham, goes on trial for their murder. The testimonies against her are damning – slave, whore, seductress. And they may be the truth. But they are not the whole truth.

For the first time Frannie must tell her story. It begins with a girl learning to read on a plantation in Jamaica, and it ends in a grand house in London, where a beautiful woman waits to be freed.

But through her fevered confessions, one burning question haunts Frannie Langton: could she have murdered the only person she ever loved?

The problem that has been plaguing me the last few days is how to encapsulate the many, complex facets that form this novel, and my equally complicated reactions to it, in the form of a few inadequate words. I’m not sure I’ve solved the conundrum completely, but the day has come to plough ahead with my review regardless.

Part of the problem is, this book is too multi-layered and multi-themed to unravel in a single reading, and, reviewing it against the back drop of current events has further muddied my thinking on some of the issues it addresses. I am all too aware that I don’t know enough, I haven’t studied the history in sufficient depth, I don’t feel entitled to discuss some of these topics. All I can give you is my honest reaction to the book on my first reading of it, tempered as it is with all of this knowledge of inadequacy in the background.

This book, is at its heart for me, a gothic horror story, with a mystery and a love story woven in. Horror story, because that is my overwhelming reaction to the events that unfold between the pages. The novel follows the tale of Frannie, born a mulatto, on a sugar plantation in Jamaica, who, through a series of extraordinary events, arrives at a wealthy household in London where she becomes intimately embroiled with the mistress of the house. The book is dark and complicated and rich and thought-provoking.   It has echoes of some of my best beloved classic novels of all time; Jane Eyre, Moll Flanders, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde to name but a few. The writing is exquisite in detail, placing the reader firmly at the heart of Georgian society, but mining its seedy underbelly, whilst showing us the glossy front that hides these aspects.

The book is ostensibly anchored by the mystery of who murdered Frannie’s English ’employers’, and we meet her while she is on trial for those murders, telling her story for her lawyer. However, the mystery was probably the least diverting part of the book for me and, by the time the true facts of the crime were revealed, I wasn’t really that invested in the outcome. The most stimulating part of the book is the story of Frannie’s journey from slave to her position in the Benham’s household in London, the reactions people have to her transformation and the feelings she has herself about the things she has done to get there. It is not as straight forward as many stories about people ‘escaping’ from slavery are, and Frannie herself resists attempts by abolitionists to co-opt her tragic story to their cause, as she finds these tales of pity and misery boring. Frannie has, to every degree she is all permitted, refused to be fortune’s plaything and attempted to become author of her own future. How far this is actually possible, even in England where slavery is ‘illegal’ is one of the over-arching themes of the novel. In addition, Frannie has to consider at length the things she has been required to do in order to attain even the limited level self-determination she has and whether it could ever truly be freedom at that price.

This book addresses a lot of uncomfortable issues, particularly the matter of the science of race, which is being researched by Frannie’s original owner, using his own slaves as lab rats, including Frannie herself. In fact, the question of her whole life being a continual experiment is at the forefront of the book, and the whole concept if truly horrifying, particularly as we know it is based on true events. The author very cleverly uses hints at things that are going on in the novel, without specifically spelling it all out in graphic detail, which is actually an extremely clever way of making the reader really think, and using their imagination to fill in the gaps which, as we all know, means we end up conjuring the very worst images we can possibly conceive. This is human nature. However, in this case, the fear is always there that the worst images we can conceive don’t actually come close to the horrors that were enacted, our minds will shy away from accepting the true depths people can plummet in their inhumanity to one another, and this is the truth that is really the heart of the horror story here. I apologise if my thoughts on this come across as a little confused, I am still chasing all of my conclusions about this book around my head, still trying to process all of the emotions it has drawn from me.

The book also centres around a love story between Frannie and her mistress, but this also raises again the question of whether Frannie is a slave to the whims of a capricious woman who may be using the girl for her own ends, rather than seeing her as an equal in the relationship who deserves the same emotional treatment as anyone else. At least, this is what I drew from the book. I have seen some reviews that have characterised the love story as unconvincing but, on my interpretation of it, it worked perfectly, and Madame’s relationship with and feelings for, Laddie, particularly after his emancipation, just supported this reading of the relationship for me. Maybe I’ve got it all wrong, I’d love to discuss the book with the author to find out what she had in mind when she was writing it, but I guess the beauty of a novel is that every reader comes at it from a different angle and will take a completely individual experience away from it at the end.

Despite this being a very long and rambling review, I’m really not sure that I have adequately explained what is so marvellous about this book, or why you should be tempted to read it, so let me try and give you a succinct summary. This book is rich, detailed, beautifully written, historically illuminating and absolutely horrifying in the true, gothic sense of the word. If you don’t come away from it feeling deeply disturbed, you haven’t been concentrating, but you absolutely should read it, I have not come across anything quite like it in recent times.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton is out now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Sara Collins is of Jamaican descent and grew up in Grand Cayman. She studied law at the London School of Economics and worked as a lawyer for seventeen years, before admitting that what she really wanted to do was write novels. She obtained a Master’s degree in Creative Writing with distinction from Cambridge University, where she was the 2015 recipient of the Michael Holroyd Prize. In 2016, she was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish prize for The Confessions of Frannie Langton, her first novel, a gothic romance about the twisted love affair between a Jamaican maid and her French mistress in 19th century London. The novel won the Costa First Novel Award 2019.

Connect with Sara:

Website: https://saracollinsauthor.com

Twitter: @mrsjaneymac

Instagram: @saracollinsauthor

Desert Island Books: The Chrysalids by John Wyndham; Narrated by Graeme Malcolm

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David Strorm’s father doesn’t approve of Angus Morton’s unusually large horses, calling them blasphemies against nature. Little does he realise that his own son, and his son’s cousin Rosalind and their friends, have their own secret abberation which would label them as mutants. But as David and Rosalind grow older it becomes more difficult to conceal their differences from the village elders. Soon they face a choice: wait for eventual discovery, or flee to the terrifying and mutable Badlands. . .

The Chrysalids is a post-nuclear apocalypse story of genetic mutation in a devastated world and explores the lengths the intolerant will go to keep themselves pure.

I don’t know whether you are someone who likes to read dystopian fiction, especially in this current time of pandemic, but if you are, then John Wyndham is a writer you should know about and this novel is, in my humble opinion, his best. I have read all of his books and, although he is better know for The Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos (which was made into a film called The Village of the Damned which did not in any way do the book justice), none of his other books have the emotional impact of The Chrysalids.

I was first introduced to the works of John Wyndham in my early teens by my excellent high school librarian. Along with Dorothy L. Sayers (one of whose novels will be featured as a Desert Island Book later in the year), John Wyndham was an author I would never have picked up without her encouragement, but who has since become a lifelong favourite. The first of his books I read was Chocky, and it (excuse my language) scared the crap out of me, but it was this book that really made me think and which continues to linger in my mind long after I finish reading it, even after multiple re-reads.

The book is set in a post-apocalyptic corner of Canada. The Earth has been blighted by a tragedy that the reader assumes is nuclear war, but this is never confirmed because the people living at this time don’t actually know what happened to make their world the way it is. Their reality is that vast tracts of the planet are uninhabitable, and the earth is so ravaged by radiation fallout that large proportions of everything are deformed and distorted from what they perceive to be the ‘true’ image. For comfort, the population have grasped on to religion with fervour to control their lives and they ruthlessly pursue what they consider to be gospel as regards how man should look and behave, to the extent that they destroy crops and animals they consider deformed or ‘Offences’ against God and inflict unspeakable horrors on humans that do not conform to their belief of the True Image of God, whom they label as Blasphemies.

The story follows the life of David Strorm, the son of one of the most rigid leaders of their  community, and his group of fellow telepaths, who have managed to say hidden from people as they are physically ‘normal’, but who fear persecution because their telepathic ability is not shared by the majority of people (the Norms).

This is basically a book about bigotry. About fear of people who do not look or act exactly the same as the majority, and who are persecuted for their differences, despite the fact they do not hurt anybody. When I listened to this book a few weeks ago to prepare for this piece, I had no idea just how relevant the story was going to feel when I came to post it.

The Audible version of this book is extremely well narrated and very easy to listen to and, as someone who loves and has read the book many times, I can attest that the story loses none of its impact when consumed as an audiobook.

You can buy a copy of The Chrysalids here.

About the Author

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John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Benyon Harris was born in 1903, the son of a barrister. He tried a number of careers including farming, law, commercial art and advertising, and started writing short stories, intended for sale, in 1925. From 1930 to 1939 he wrote stories of various kinds under different names, almost exclusively for American publications, while also writing detective novels. During the war he was in the Civil Service and then the Army.

In 1946 he went back to writing stories for publication in the USA and decided to try a modified form of science fiction, a form he called ‘logical fantasy’. As John Wyndham he wrote The Day of the Triffids and The Kraken Wakes (both widely translated), The Chrysalids, The Midwich Cuckoos (filmed as Village of the Damned), The Seeds of Time, Trouble with Lichen, The Outward Urge (with Lucas Parkes) and Chocky. He died in March 1969.

Desert Island Books: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams; Narrated by Stephen Fry

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It’s an ordinary Thursday lunchtime for Arthur Dent until his house gets demolished. The Earth follows shortly afterwards to make way for a new hyperspace express route, and his best friend has just announced that he’s an alien. At this moment, they’re hurtling through space with nothing but their towels and an innocuous-looking book inscribed, in large friendly letters, with the words: DON’T PANIC.

The weekend has only just begun . . .

Is there anyone who needs me to tell them why I would want to take Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a trilogy in five parts (Yes, I’m having all five books, I’ve got them in a version that is just one volume so it totally isn’t cheating) to my desert island with me? Presumably only someone who has never read it, because noone who has ever picked up these books could fail to fall in love with them.

Look, I know that science fiction isn’t a genre that appeals to everyone; indeed, I myself am not a huge reader of sci-fi, but these books are so, so much more than a simple sci-fi series. They are hilarious and clever and astute and a damning commentary on the ridiculousness of human beings and the futility of existence and a celebration of those very same things. There has never, in my opinion, been anything quite like it before or since and the phenomenal popularity of the series (they’ve been translated into more than 30 languages) bears witness to this. They were a no brainer as an addition to my Desert Island books.

The basic story follows the adventures of Arthur Dent, a rather boring man who is whisked away from Earth by his best friend, Ford Prefect,  moments before our planet is demolished by the Vogon constructor fleet to make way for a hyper-space bypass. It turns out Ford is not an out-of-work actor, as Arthur believed, but an alien from the plant Betelguise who is a field researcher for a kind of inter-planetary Lonely Planet handbook called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Arthur then accompanies Ford around the Universe, discovering all kinds of extraordinary things.

This sounds far from extraordinary, but the summary does not do justice to the wit and sharpness with which Adams imbues the text and the deft comedy and piercing observations that pepper the book. True fans absorb the comedic prose into their very beings and you will often find in-jokes from the books creeping in to all kinds of discussions and debates. A bunch of EU law experts were referencing the book (and in particular, the virtues, or lack thereof, of Vogon poetry) during a Twitter debate about Brexit last autumn and it made my soul sing. In fact, one of the category headings of my blog is a direct nod to the title of the third book in the series; this is how deeply the novel is woven in to my psyche.

I have recently inducted my fourteen-year-old daughter in to the joys of the book and was delighted to hear her laughing out loud during the same audio version I have just listened to. I must have been around the same age when I first discovered it, and I have been in love with the books ever since, and I will never get tired of them. They make me laugh, and their comedy fills me with joy. They are the perfect eternal companion on my desert island.

The audio version (of the reading of the book, not the original radio shows) is very well done. Stephen Fry is always a delight to listen to, although he is forever associated in my mind with Harry Potter now when I listen to him. I have only made it through the first audiobook so far, but I have The Restaurant at the End of the Universe ready to go and plan to get through them all again this year. These books make my heart happy, what more can I say?

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Douglas Adams created all the various and contradictory manifestations of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: radio, novels, TV, computer game, stage adaptations, comic book and bath towel. He lectured and broadcast around the world and was a patron of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and Save the Rhino International. Douglas Adams was born in Cambridge, UK and lived with his wife and daughter in Islington, London, before moving to Santa Barbara, California, where he died suddenly in 2001. After Douglas died the movie of Hitchhiker moved out of development hell into the clear uplands of production, using much of Douglas’ original script and ideas. Douglas shares the writing credit for the movie with Karey Kirkpatrick.

Backlist: Lori Anderson Series by Steph Broadribb #BookReview

BACKLIST

The third in my backlist series is catching up with the previous three books in the Lori Anderson series by Steph Broadribb before I take part in the blog tour for her new book, Deep, Dark Night. I’m really enjoying this binge-reading of the backlist titles in a series, it’s the literary equivalent of a consuming Netflix box set over a single weekend.

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Lori Anderson is as tough as they come, managing to keep her career as a fearless Florida bounty hunter separate from her role as single mother to nine-year-old Dakota, who suffers from leukaemia.

But when the hospital bills start to rack up, she has no choice but to take her daughter along on a job that will make her a fast buck. And that’s when things start to go wrong. 

I listened to the first two of these novels on audio and this was a really great way to get to know the characters. The narrator, Jennifer Woodward, maintained a perfect Florida drawl for Lori throughout the book which brought the character sharply in to my mind’s eye. It made me realise that I never really read with the accent of the character in my mind when I read from text, and it gave the story an extra level of texture. I found myself hearing Lori talk in this voice throughout books three and four, despite the fact that I was reading rather than listening to them.

I’ve never read a book with a bounty hunter as the main character before, and a female one at that, so it was a delicious departure from the norm for me, and the book truly transported me to another world, as all really immersive novels should. I fell in love with Lori immediately, a tough, independent, determined woman, but we, the reader, also get to see her vulnerability with regards to her daughter, Dakota, and in her relationship with JT, as the book unfolds.

Having a bounty hunter, rather than a police officer, lawyer, detective or other member of the law-enforcement establishment, as the main character raises some interesting questions of where the moral lines sits between justice and revenge, where the line between good and bad blurs, and whether people can judge that for themselves according to their own moral code. Lori’s actions go beyond what you may perceive on paper as being truly law-abiding, but then you ask yourself what you would do in the same situation.

The book is packed front to back with drama, action and tension, as we criss cross the US from the mountains of West Virginia to the alligator-infested swamps of the Florida Everglades. It is a book that picks you up and runs with you from the opening pages, and doesn’t put you down until the last chapter. Even then, there is the tantalising prospect of the next case dropped in at the end, and you are left desperate to see where fate is going to take Lori next. A kinetic opening novel to a thrilling series.

Deep Down Dead is out now and you can get your copy here.

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Single-mother Florida bounty hunter Lori Anderson’s got an ocean of trouble on her hands. Her daughter Dakota is safe, but the little girl’s cancer is threatening a comeback, and Lori needs JT Dakota’s daddy and the man who taught Lori everything alive and kicking.

Problem is, he’s behind bars, and heading for death row. Desperate to save him, Lori does a deal, taking on off-the-books job from shady FBI agent Alex Monroe – bring back on-the-run felon, Gibson ‘The Fish’ Fletcher, and JT walks free. This is one job she’s got to get right, or she’ll lose everything…

So, we’re back with Lori and now she is faced with the reality of the love of her life in jail awaiting trial for murders he didn’t commit and at risk of facing the electric chair. Despite the ordeal she and her daughter, Dakota, have just faced in book one, Lori now has to leave Dakota behind and travel to San Diego on a mission for a dodgy FBI agent who has promised to arrange for JT to be exonerated if she brings in an escaped felon.

This novel adds a new dimension to the narrative by having us follow two timelines, one led by Lori and her attempts to track down the criminal in California, and the other charting the trials and hardships JT is suffering in jail. We also meet a new central character, a PI named Red who lives on a houseboat and has helped Lori in the past. I have to say, Red quickly became one of my favourite characters and I fell a tiny bit in love with him. If he were to be cast in a movie, he would be played by Sam Elliot, and I refuse to entertain any other suggestions.

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So, again, we have Lori dashing around in California, trying to track down the missing ‘bad guy,’ having to work as part of a team of other bounty hunters she doesn’t know that goes against her instincts. She is trying to work out who she can trust, who is on the make and whether the facts she has been given are the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Of course, they aren’t, the lines between right and wrong, justice and injustice bleed in to one another. the right people don’t always end up winning and Lori is muddling through the best she can, relying on her own moral code and what is best for her daughter and her partner. You can’t help but get taken along as she battles the outside enemies, and the demons within, whilst only relying on her own skills, smarts and the three people in the world she knows she can trust.

The books are fast-paced and quite bloody, with lots of devious twists and turns of fate, and the author is really excellent at ramping up the peril. This book is mad, extreme entertainment, the equivalent of an action-movie in novel form and I raced to the end to find out if everyone I cared about made it out alive and free. Fantastic, adrenaline-fuelled excitement, perfect for getting your heart pumping while you sit on the couch.

If this review has tickled your fancy, you can get a copy of the book by following this link.

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A price on her head. A secret worth dying for. 48 hours to expose the truth…

Single-mother bounty-hunter Lori Anderson finally has her family back together, but her new-found happiness is shattered when she’s snatched by the Miami Mob – and they want her dead. Rather than a bullet, they offer her a job: find the Mob’s ‘numbers man’ who’s in protective custody after being forced to turn federal witness against them. If Lori succeeds, they’ll wipe the slate clean and the price on her head – and those of her family – will be removed. If she fails, they die.

With North due in court in 48 hours, Lori sets off across Florida, racing against the clock to find him and save her family. Only in this race the prize is more deadly – and the secret she shares with JT more dangerous – than she ever could have imagined.

In this race only the winner gets out alive…

The author gets really ambitious in this book, when Lori gets blackmailed into doing a job for the head honcho of the Miami Mob, a man whose vendetta has been haunting her since the events of book one and who she needs to get off her back if she is ever going to manage a quiet life with JT and their daughter, Dakota. That possibility seems to get further and further away throughout the course of this novel, as Lori is once again separated from JT and her daughter, chasing down a mobster-turned-rat, with only 48 hours to find him.

Steph keeps finding ways to ramp up the stakes with every book, and finding new ways of testing Lori and her loyalties. She has to, once again, involve herself with Alex Munroe, the FBI agent who has his own agenda and whose motives she can never 100% trust. Again, nothing is as straight-forward as it seems and she has to evaluate whose side she is really on, whilst only truly being able to rely on herself to get everyone out of trouble.

This is a fantastic book for anyone who loves a gangster story, and there is the most marvellous battle towards the end that would grace the screen of any mob movie you ever saw. In fact, these books would make perfect films, I would definitely go and watch them (IF Sam Elliott is playing Red – see above – non-negotiable!) but, until that happens, the story completely comes alive on the page and is surely something you should all be reading to take your minds off the current situation we find ourselves in. Anything more completely unlike what you are currently experiencing locked in at home in the UK you’ll be hard-pushed to find, and it will sweep you out of reality for a little while, without requiring you to strain yourself, the author has done all the heavy lifting in the flow of the writing. I still find it hard to believe she is from Buckinghamshire!

Deep Dirty Truth is available now and you can get it in all formats here.

So, hopefully this has caught us all up to the current state of affairs with Lori Anderson and we are ready to hear what the latest book, Deep Dark Night, has to offer. Come back to the blog later today to see my review.

About the Author

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Steph Broadribb was born in Birmingham and grew up in Buckinghamshire. Most of her working life has been spent between the UK and USA. As her alter- ego – Crime Thriller Girl – she indulges in her love of all things crime fiction by blogging at crimethrillergirl.com, where she interviews authors and reviews the latest releases. She is also a member of the crime-themed girl band The Splice Girls.

Steph is an alumni of the MA Creative Writing (Crime Fiction) at City University London, and she trained as a bounty hunter in California, which inspired her Lori Anderson thrillers. She lives in Buckinghamshire surrounded by horses, cows and chickens.

Her debut thriller, Deep Down Dead, was shortlisted for the Dead Good Reader Awards in two categories, and hit number one on the UK and AU kindle charts. My Little Eye, her first novel under her pseudonym, Stephanie Marland, was published by Trapeze Books in April 2018.

Connect with Steph:

Website: https://crimethrillergirl.com

Facebook: Crime Thriller Girl

Twitter: @crimethrillgirl

Backlist: Chastity Riley Series by Simone Buchholz; Translated by Rachel Ward #Blue Night #Beton Rouge

BACKLIST

So, next in my occasional feature where I catch up on the back titles in a series before I review the latest release, are the first two books in the Chastity Riley series by Simone Buchholz. I will be reviewing the latest release, Mexico Street, tomorrow, so let’s see what we’ve missed so far, shall we?

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‘The hair stands up on the back of my neck and I get an age-old feeling in my belly. Like there’s a fight ahead. Like something’s really about to go off…’

After convicting a superior for corruption and shooting off a gangster’s crown jewels, the career of Hamburg’s most hard-bitten state prosecutor, Chastity Riley, has taken a nose dive: she has been transferred to the tedium of witness protection to prevent her making any more trouble.

However, when she is assigned to the case of an anonymous man lying under police guard in hospital almost every bone in his body broken, a finger cut off, and refusing to speak in anything other than riddles Chastity’s instinct for the big, exciting case kicks in.

Fresh, fiendishly fast-paced and full of devious twists and all the hard-boiled poetry and acerbic wit of the best noir, Blue Night marks the stunning start of a brilliant new crime series.

When you first jump in to this novel, you can be forgiven for thinking it is the second or third book in a series and go off hunting for books one and two so you can catch up on the back story. But you won’t find them, certainly not in an English translation anyway, so you must just get to grips with the nature of the narrative construct that the author has used, disjointed and non-linear, jumping back and forth in time, bobbing between different characters’ viewpoints and using a mixture of straight forward narrative, snippets of memories and random thoughts. It is a very unique approach, and one that takes a little getting used to but, once you get in to the rhythm of the writing, it is pacy and gripping, but also poetic and lyrical and strangely effecting, given the genre.

So, we meet Chastity Riley, a state prosecutor for the city of Hamburg, following some kind of fall from grace which we discover more details about as the book unfolds but never really discover the whole story. She has been consigned to what basically amounts to babysitting a victim of a crime as her recovers in hospital, waiting for him to divulge evidence that made lead to them catching the perpetrator. Inevitably things turn out to be more complicated than anticipated and the simple assault opens onto a world of drug running and gang warfare.

The crime investigation is fascinating and brilliantly portrayed but fairly straight forward and the less interesting part of the book for me. What really stood out and made this a really startling and noteworthy read was the character of Chastity herself and the people with whom she surrounds herself. She is a flawed and complicated person with some kind of darkness driving her that is compelling but never fully uncovered in this book. She is obviously tormented, has unwise attachments and is someone we long to know better but know we have barely scratched the surface of what there is to understand about her in this book. The author reveals some of her innermost thoughts, while keeping so much still concealed and making us care for her deeply, whilst maintaining her hard veneer, all at the same time. It is some of the most skilful writing I have read in a long time. You get the feeling that the reason we can’t fully understand what drives Chastity is that she isn’t quite sure herself.

On top of the fascinating characterisation, I was really drawn to the dark and gritty portrayal of the Hamburg underworld, a setting I have not read about before. Despite the fact that the author is describing some of the seediest and least attractive parts of the city and its inhabitants, there is still a sense of life and affection and kinship here, perhaps more so than Chastity now feels with some of her law enforcement colleagues. The book blurs the lines between good and bad, wrong and right and light and dark in an intriguing way.

This is a book that takes you places you’ve probably never been before, and leaves as many questions as it answers, but with a deep affinity for Chastity and an urge to discover more about her, to help her figure out her life whilst she herself perhaps doesn’t feel the drive to do so. It is a relationship different to any I think I have had with a fictional character before.

I just have to mention the translation of this book, which is seamless and impressive. All of the nuance and sensation of the book has been maintained, the poetry and lyricism of what is, in places, sparse language. Not an easy feat, I wouldn’t have thought, especially to leave the reader without any inkling that they are reading a piece of translated fiction.

Delightful, in a deeply noir-ish way.

You can buy a copy of Blue Night here.

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On a warm September morning, an unconscious man is found in a cage at the entrance to the offices of one of the biggest German newspapers. Closer inspection shows he is a manager of the company, and he’s been tortured. Three days later, another manager appears in similar circumstances.

Chastity Riley and her new colleague Ivo Stepanovic are tasked with uncovering the truth behind the attacks, an investigation that goes far beyond the revenge they first suspect…to the dubious past shared by both victims.

Travelling to the south of Germany, they step into the elite world of boarding schools, where secrets are currency, and monsters are bred…monsters who will stop at nothing to protect themselves.

On to book two and this book is a horse of a slightly different, but equally unusual colour, to the last one. Beton Rouge has a much more straight forward narrative that Blue Night, less of the disjointed skipping around and back and forth. As we are now fully conversant with the main characters, there is less back story to be woven in and we can focus more on the current situation, and the new characters the author throws in to stir up the mix. And stir it up they do, particularly Chastity’s new partner on the case, Ivo Stepanovic, who is more than a match for Chastity. Even a soulmate, perhaps?

The story switches to and reveals different aspects of the Hamburg social hierarchy from the first book, as we move from the night time streets of St. Pauli and the Reeperbahn to some of Hamburg’s most powerful men and the world of elite boarding schools. The plot even ventures out of Hamburg to a small village in Southern Germany and secrets hidden behind ancient school walls. And, as things are switching up in Chastity’s work, so drastic change is rippling through her social group at the same time. Everything is changing, and we follow Chastity as she tries to work out how all of these things are affecting her.

The book is written in short, sharp, snappy chapters which bowl the plot along at a riveting pace and the criminal investigation is again deliciously twisted and captivating. However, it was Chastity herself and her life and relationships that fascinated me once more, and formed the more absorbing part of the book. Her acid humour cuts through the narrative like a whiplash and makes it a joy to read, her developing relationship with Ivo, the way they bounce off each other, the new side of Hamburg that both Chastity and the reader see with his guidance were all great aspects that hooked me in to the plot. At the same time, her other deteriorating relationships bit deep, and I could feel her conflict and her pain. I think I’ve become a little obsessed with her, to be honest, and the way the author has achieved this in a couple of books with less than two hundred pages in each and pared back, not-a-word-wasted text is an admirable skill.

The more I read of this series, the more invested I have become in the character and her life. The more I get to know her, the more I want to know, and to burrow through the layers of complexity and defence she has built around herself and understand what makes her tick. The author has created a wonderful character and world in this series, and I have a feeling it is just going to get better and better.

Fresh, quick and surprisingly moving, whilst being dark and dirty. I absolutely loved it.

Beton Rouge is also available now and you can find it by following this link.

If this has whetted your appetite for this crime series, I hope you will head back over here on 13 March to read my review of the third title in the series, Mexico Street. I’ll see you then.

About the Author

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Simone Buchholz was born in Hanau in 1972. At university, she studied Philosophy and Literature, worked as a waitress and a columnist, and trained to be a journalist at the prestigious Henri-Nannen-School in Hamburg. In 2016, Simone Buchholz was awarded the Crime Cologne Award as well as runner-up in the German Crime Fiction Prize for Blue Night, which was number one on the KrimiZEIT Best of Crime List for months. She lives in Sankt Pauli, in the heart of Hamburg, with her husband and son.

Connect with Simone:

Website: https://simonebuchholz.com

Twitter: @ohneKlippo