Demon by Matt Wesolowski

In 1995, the picture-perfect village of Ussalthwaite was the site of one of the most heinous crimes imaginable, in a case that shocked the world.

Twelve-year-old Sidney Parsons was savagely murdered by two boys his own age. No reason was ever given for this terrible crime, and the ‘Demonic Duo’ who killed him were imprisoned until their release in 2002, when they were given new identities and lifetime anonymity.

#Demon #SixStories @ConcreteKraken #RandomThingsTours @annecater @RandomTTours @OrendaBooks #blogtour

Elusive online journalist Scott King investigates the lead-up and aftermath of the killing, uncovering dark and fanciful stories of demonic possession, and encountering a village torn apart by this unspeakable act.

And, as episodes of his Six Stories podcast begin to air, King himself becomes a target, with dreadful secrets from his own past dredged up and threats escalating to a terrifying level. It becomes clear that whatever drove those two boys to kill is still there, lurking, and the campaign of horror has just begun…

My Review

I listen to podcasts, usually audio plays, but last year I listened to a podcast called The Battersea Poltergeist and the format of Demon reminded me of this. A number of people are interviewed including people who were there, but are the supernatural happenings real or is it some kind of mass hysteria? And of course there always those who wish to profit financially for giving their view, as well as those who have an ‘opinion’ (we know the kind of people we are talking about).

In Demon we have a mix of interviewees, though of course we don’t get to hear from Robbie and Danny, the killers of 12-yer-old Sidney Parsons, as they were incarcerated and given new identities on release (rather like the killers of James Bulger). The killers in this case are a tiny bit older (ie about 12 years old, but the victim was their own age and had learning difficulties.

The podcast is the brainchild of Scott King who claims to ‘rake over old graves’ and he is criticised openly by many who believe he is cashing in on the misery of the victim’s family. He sees it differently however, but then he would, wouldn’t he.

The most interesting side to this is the idea that the fictitious village of Ussalthwaite is in some way haunted, possibly by a witch who lived in the 1600s and cursed it. There is ‘evidence’ of dark shadows and demonic possession, but as I said earlier, this is often the result of a kind of mass hysteria. Suddenly everyone has a tale to tell of mysterious goings on, swinging ropes and small black stones appearing again and again.

I love this kind of book. Haunting, creepy and often scary, it’s right up my street. The idea of telling it as a podcast is very original and gave it an unusual twist. It allowed us to hear different ‘voices’ – from Scott King himself and also from people who were there, in their own words. Very clever and often unsettling.

Many thanks to @annecater for inviting me to be part of #RandomThingsTours

About the Author

Matt Wesolowski is an author from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the UK. He is an English tutor for young people in care. Matt started his writing career in horror, and his short horror fiction has been published in numerous UK- an US-based anthologies such as Midnight Movie Creature, Selfies from the End of the World, Cold Iron and many more. His novella, The Black Land, a horror story set on the Northumberland coast, was published in 2013. Matt was a winner of the Pitch Perfect competition at Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival in 2015. His debut thriller, Six Stories, was a bestseller in the USA, Canada, the UK and Australia, and a WH Smith Fresh Talent pick, and TV rights were sold to a major Hollywood studio. A prequel, Hydra, was published in 2018 and became an international bestseller, Changeling (2019), Beast (2020) And Deity (2021) soon followed suit.


Orenda Books is a small independent publishing company specialising in literary fiction with a heavy emphasis on crime/thrillers, and approximately half the list in translation. They’ve been twice shortlisted for the Nick Robinson Best Newcomer Award at the IPG awards, and publisher and owner Karen Sullivan was a Bookseller Rising Star in 2016. In 2018, they were awarded a prestigious Creative Europe grant for their translated books programme. Three authors, including Agnes Ravatn, Matt Wesolowski and Amanda Jennings have been WHSmith Fresh Talent picks, and Ravatn’s The Bird Tribunal was shortlisted for the Dublin Literary Award, won an English PEN Translation Award, and adapted for BBC Radio Four ’s Book at Bedtime. Six titles have been short- or long-listed for the CWA Daggers. Launched in 2014 with a mission to bring more international literature to the UK market, Orenda Books publishes a host of debuts, many of which have gone on to sell millions worldwide, and looks for fresh, exciting new voices that push the genre in new directions. Bestselling authors include Ragnar Jonasson, Antti Tuomainen, Gunnar Staalesen, Michael J. Malone, Kjell Ola Dahl, Louise Beech, Johana Gustawsson, Lilja Sigurðardóttir and Sarah Stovell.

Dear Past-Self by Cat on a Piano Productions / Theatrephonic

An exploration into hindsight and mental health.

I’m not going to comment or review. Please just listen.

This episode contains discussion of depression and suicide. It may not be suitable for all audiences. Listener discretion is advised. If you feel like you need help, please reach out. A list of UK based help services are listed below.** It also contains a public Q & A session usually reserved for patrons.

Written and performed by Ashley Shiers

Produced by Cat on a Piano Productions

Music:
Morning Joe by Patino
Passing Time by Kevin MacLEod

The Theatrephonic Theme tune was composed by Jackson Pentland
Performed by
Jackson Pentland
Mollie Fyfe Taylor
Emmeline Braefield

Cat on a Piano Productions produce and edit feature films, sketches and radio plays.

Their latest project is called @Theatrephonic, a podcast of standalone radio plays and short stories performed by professional actors. You can catch Theatrephonic on Spotify and other platforms.

For more information about the Theatrephonic Podcast, go to catonapiano.uk/theatrephonic, Tweet or Instagram @theatrephonic, or visit their Facebook page.

And if you really enjoyed this week’s episode, listen to Theatrephonic’s other plays and short stories and consider becoming a patron by clicking here…

**List of Resources:
Samaritans.org: 116 123
Thecalmzone.net : 0800 58 58 58 – 5pm to midnight every day
sossilenceofsuicide.org/what-where-why : Call 0300 1020 505 – 8am to midnight every day
papyrus-uk.org/hopelineuk : for people under 35 – Call 0800 068 41 41 – 9am to midnight every day or Text 07860 039967

The Engine House by Rhys Dylan

You can bury the bodies, but you can’t hide the truth.

When a landslip on Pembrokeshire’s stunning coastal path reveals the harrowing remains of two bodies, ex-DCI Evan Warlow’s quiet retirement is shattered.

As the original investigator for the two missing persons eight years before, Evan is recalled to help with what is now a murder inquiry. But as the killer scrambles to cover up the truth, the body count rises.

#TheEngineHouse @RdylanBooks #Wales @Zooloo’s Book Tours @zooloo2008 #ZooloosBookTours #blogtour

Working with a new young team, Warlow peels away the layers to reveal the dark and rotten heart that beats beneath the chocolate box tranquillity of an area renowned for its quiet beauty.

But does he still have what it takes to root out the monstrous truth before all hell lets loose?

My Review

The Engine House is a very tightly written story, put together by someone who knows how to write a chilling tale with plenty of twists and turns. Lots of detail but no waffle. Everything is relevant. And very entertaining – the sarcasm and banter between the police officers had me laughing out loud. I was surprised to discover therefore that this is the author’s first venture into this type of crime thriller, though he has written other books in different genres.

I really enjoyed this book and certainly will be interested in reading more in the series. The character of DCI Warlow is hard-bitten, cynical and often very funny. But he carries a dark secret and only his senior officer knows what it is.

Eighteen months ago he took early retirement, but when a storm causes the cliff to collapse into the sea and the bodies of two missing persons are revealed, he is asked to come back and help with the investigation. But this isn’t just a missing persons cold case. It turns into something far more complicated, sinister and involved (not that two dead bodies stuffed in a crevice isn’t sinister enough).

In the meantime, we find out that the missing persons – the Pickerings – lived in a house situated between the farm belonging to the Gowers and the deserted engine house perched on the edge of the cliffs. The Pickerings’ house is now occupied by Izzy and her partner Marcus, who have moved here from London after Marcus’s stressful job became too much for him. But is it all peace and quiet out here in the Welsh hills? Well it was until the bodies were found.

Towards the end I really couldn’t put this down – and I don’t mean that in a cliched way. I really couldn’t. A brilliant, cleverly-constructed murder mystery with more depth than you normally expect from a police drama.

Many thanks to @zooloo2008 for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the Author

Rhys Dylan was born and grew up in West Wales, went away to university in London, but came back to live and work in his country of birth. Along the way he indulged his imagination by writing books for children and adults under various pen names and in a variety of genres.

2021 sees him turning his hand once more to crime with DCI Evan Warlow in the Black Beacons crime series. Spread over 500 square miles, the Brecon Beacons mountain range sits like a giant doorstop at the heads of the South Wales valleys. To the north and west, they nestle in the crook of the ancient kingdoms of Powys and Dyfed, stretching from the eastern Marches to the wild southwestern coast. Many of the mountain peaks in the range have names. Others are simply referred to as black. It is in this timeless landscape that the books are set.

Rhys lives on the edge of the Beacons with his wife and a dog that doesn’t like the rain.

Follow him at:
Instagram : https://www.instagram.com/rhysdylanbooks/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Rhysdylanbooks
Twitter: https://twitter.com/RdylanBooks
Website: http://www.rhysdylan.com/

Buy Links
Amazon UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/Engine-House-Beacons-Mystery-Thriller-ebook/dp/B09P3S8FH7
Amazon US https://www.amazon.com/Engine-House-Beacons-Mystery-Thriller-ebook/dp/B09P3S8FH7/

The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett

Forty years ago, Steven Smith found a copy of a famous children’s book, its margins full of strange markings and annotations. He took it to his remedial English teacher, Miss Isles, who became convinced it was the key to solving a puzzle.

That a message in secret code ran through all Edith Twyford’s novels. Then Miss Isles disappeared on a class field trip, and Steven’s memory won’t allow him to remember what happened.

Now, out of prison after a long stretch, Steven decides to investigate the mystery that has haunted him for decades. Was Miss Isles murdered? Was she deluded? Or was she right about the code? And is it still in use today? Desperate to recover his memories and find out what really happened to Miss Isles, Steven revisits the people and places of his childhood.

But it soon becomes clear that Edith Twyford wasn’t just a writer of forgotten children’s stories. The Twyford Code has great power, and he isn’t the only one trying to solve it… 

My Review

First of all I’d like to say that this book is a bit marmite – many people will either love it or hate it. I read it in staves with my online bookclub The Pigeonhole and a few people dropped out because of the writing style. It was exhausting to read because 8/10ths of the staves are written in transcripts from audio files recorded on an old iPhone 4. The software used to transcribe the files often picks things up wrongly – eg Miss Isles is transcribed as missiles, Wrexham as wrecks ’em, UCL as you see L, young ‘uns as young guns etc. I did get quite confused initially. But you get used to it and eventually it became second nature.

It all started with a green book found on a bus by fourteen-year-old Steve Smith (who later became known as ex-con Little Smithy). That innocent looking book was one of a series written by banned children’s author Edith Twyford (no prizes for guessing who she’s based on) and so the mystery of the code begins.

The story meanders like a forest stream, twisting and turning and throwing us, the reader, into confusion. What is the meaning of the ‘fish’ symbol? Who are the two men that keep cropping up? Who is Maxine and what happened to Miss Isles, the teacher to whom Steve gave the book? You can guess all you like, but I’ll bet you got most of it wrong. I can’t say much more because the twist is huge and any hint would give it away.

While it was all a bit clever for me and I’m not really into code-breaking (they’d never have employed me at Bletchley Park or GCHQ). I really enjoyed The Twyford Code. It’s definitely a perfect book for an online book club, because the experience was massively enhanced by sharing opinions with my online reading friends. We were chucking theories around like there’s no tomorrow, almost all of them way out.

I think it was on a review somewhere that someone compared it to Richard Osman, but even with his enormous brain I doubt he would have cracked The Twyford Code.

Many thanks to The Pigeonhole and my fellow Pigeons for making this such an enjoyable read.

About the Author

Janice Hallett is a former magazine editor, award-winning journalist, and government communications writer. She wrote articles and speeches for, among others, the Cabinet Office, Home Office, and Department for International Development. Her enthusiasm for travel has taken her around the world several times, from Madagascar to the Galapagos, Guatemala to Zimbabwe, Japan, Russia, and South Korea. A playwright and screenwriter, she penned the feminist Shakespearean stage comedy NetherBard and co-wrote the feature film Retreat. The Appeal was her first novel and The Twyford Code is her follow-up.

Bitter Flowers by Gunnar Staalesen

Translated by Don Bartlett

Fresh from rehab, PI Varg Veum faces his most complex investigation yet, when a man is found drowned, a young woman disappears, and the case of a missing child is revived. The classic Nordic Noir series continues…

PI Varg Veum has returned to duty following a stint in rehab, but his new composure and resolution are soon threatened when three complex crimes land on his desk.

#BitterFlowers #GunnarStaalesen @OrendaBooks
#RandomThingsTours @annecater @RandomTTours
#nordicnoir #vargveum #blogtour

A man is found dead in an elite swimming pool. A young woman has gone missing. Most chillingly, Veum is asked to investigate the ‘Camilla Case’: an eight-year-old cold case involving the disappearance of a little girl, who was never found.

As the threads of these three apparently unrelated cases come together, against the backdrop of a series of shocking environmental crimes, Veum faces the most challenging, traumatic investigation of his career.

My Review

While this is a great story with an exciting and intricate plot, what stands out for me is the constant stream of unusual metaphors which spring from the brain of our intrepid hero PI Varg Veum. One of my favourites is: ‘On pavements people strolled, in couples or groups, at their ease like lemmings on Valium.’ The list is endless, It could form another whole book called Veum’s Veumisms.

PI Varg Veum has returned to duty following a stint in rehab and just when he is hoping for a new start, his life is thrown into turmoil. He’s been asked by one of his therapists – Lisbeth Finslo – to look after a posh house for the wealthy owners, who are on holiday in Spain. Unfortunately what he finds is a body at the bottom of the swimming pool. As he rushes out of the house, Lisbeth is nowhere to be found.

So now we have both a dead man and a missing woman. And if that is not enough, he is asked to investigate the ‘Camilla Case’ – an eight-year-old cold case involving the disappearance of a little girl, who was never found.

Seemingly unrelated, a successful company called A/S Norlon has been singled out by environmental group Greenearth as an example of a company that is damaging the environment by dumping toxic waste. It has become the focus of a not-yet violent protest and has split the family ie Harald Schroder-Olsen and his son Trygve and other son Odin. They also have a sister Siv, who following a tragic accident, has the mental capacity of a five-year-old at 26. I’ll leave it there as the company history is too complicated to try and describe in detail.

Bitter Flowers is a very sophisticated crime thriller with a cast of well-drawn characters, that will keep you reading into the night. Just be aware, however, that at times you will really need to concentrate and sometimes have to re-read some passages to keep track of what is going on. As Veum begins to link the crimes and the people involved, the action ramps up into an explosive final few chapters which will leave you gasping, including some very unexpected twists. This is Nordic Noir at its very best.

Many thanks to @annecater for inviting me to be part of #RandomThingsTours.

About the Author

One of the fathers of Nordic Noir, Gunnar Staalesen was born in Bergen, Norway, in 1947. He made his debut at the age of twenty-two with Seasons of Innocence and in 1977 he published the first book in the Varg Veum series. He is the author of over twenty titles, which have been published in twenty-four countries and sold over four million copies. Twelve film adaptations of his Varg Veum crime novels have appeared since 2007, starring the popular Norwegian actor Trond Espen Seim. Staalesen has won three Golden Pistols (including the Prize of Honour); Where Roses Never Die won the 2017 Petrona Award for Nordic Crime Fiction, and Big Sister was shortlisted in 2019. He lives with his wife in Bergen.

Granite Noir fest 2017. Gunnar Staalesen.

Orenda Books is a small independent publishing company specialising in literary fiction with a heavy emphasis on crime/thrillers, and approximately half the list in translation. They’ve been twice shortlisted for the Nick Robinson Best Newcomer Award at the IPG awards, and publisher and owner Karen Sullivan was a Bookseller Rising Star in 2016. In 2018, they were awarded a prestigious Creative Europe grant for their translated books programme. Three authors, including Agnes Ravatn, Matt Wesolowski and Amanda Jennings have been WHSmith Fresh Talent picks, and Ravatn’s The Bird Tribunal was shortlisted for the Dublin Literary Award, won an English PEN Translation Award, and adapted for BBC Radio Four ’s Book at Bedtime. Six titles have been short- or long-listed for the CWA Daggers. Launched in 2014 with a mission to bring more international literature to the UK market, Orenda Books publishes a host of debuts, many of which have gone on to sell millions worldwide, and looks for fresh, exciting new voices that push the genre in new directions. Bestselling authors include Ragnar Jonasson, Antti Tuomainen, Gunnar Staalesen, Michael J. Malone, Kjell Ola Dahl, Louise Beech, Johana Gustawsson, Lilja Sigurðardóttir and Sarah Stovell.

The Key in the Lock by Beth Underdown

I still dream, every night, of Polneath on fire. Smoke unfurling out of an upper window and a hectic orange light cascading across the terrace.

By day, Ivy Boscawen mourns the loss of her son Tim in the Great War. But by night she mourns another boy – one whose death decades ago haunts her still.

For Ivy is sure that there is more to what happened all those years ago: the fire at the Great House, and the terrible events that came after. A truth she must uncover, if she is ever to be free.

Brimming with secrets, this lyrical haunting historical thriller is perfect for fans of Elizabeth Macneal, Sarah Waters and Diane Setterfield.

My Review

The Key in the Lock is set in two time frames – the first in 1888, the year of the fire at Polneath when seven-year-old William died, and the second in 1918 when Ivy is mourning the loss of her son Tim in the Great War. How did Tim die and why is she unable to discover the truth? The telegram simply says: KILLED rather than KILLED IN ACTION or DIED OF HIS WOUNDS. What is the significance, if any?

In 1888, there was a fire at the Great House, the home of Edward Tremain and his drunken bully of a father. Edward’s wife had died earlier and Edward was left to care for his son William. But it was poor William who died that night, hiding under the bed, in the room of housemaid Agnes. But what was he doing there? And who set the fire?

Both time periods are written from Ivy’s first person point of view, but because we hear from her as a mature woman of almost 50 years old in 1918, I found her very naive in 1888, and often forgot how young she was – only 18 or 19. She is easily led by others less scrupulous.

However, the book is beautifully written, in lyrical prose, and I know some will find it rather old-fashioned in the manner of books such as The Turn of the Screw and similar prose from a bygone age and be impatient to move on with the action. There is often far too much detail for ‘modern’ readers. I have to admit I am one of them but I still enjoyed it immensely, though it was rather slow at times. A lovely book.

Many thanks to The Pigeonhole, the author and my fellow Pigeons for making this such an enjoyable read.

About the Author

Beth Underdown was born in Rochdale. Before becoming an author, she worked as a waitress, a cookbook editorial assistant and for an exam board. She began writing her first novel while studying Creative Writing at the University of Manchester, where she is now a lecturer. In her spare time, Beth enjoys hiking and cake; her comfort reads are Wolf Hall and the ghost stories of MR James. She can be found on Twitter @bethunderdown and Instagram @bethunderdown – go and say hi!

Little Wing by Freya North

Little Wing is the powerful story of two families over three generations.

In the 1960s, a pregnant 16-year-old is banished to one of the remotest parts of the UK. Years later, Nell and Dougie are both at critical moments in their lives when their paths cross. Between Camden, Colchester and the Outer Hebrides, the three story lines collide when secrets are uncovered and answers sought.

Little Wing is a novel about resilience, forgiveness and the true meaning of family, about finding one’s place in the world and discovering how we all belong somewhere and to someone.

My Review

I’d never read Freya North before, so I had no idea what to expect. Little Wing is quite slow at times so you need to be patient and immerse yourself in the beauty of the isle of Harris, the delightfulness of our heroine Nell, her friendship with Frank and the amazing staff of the Chaffinch Cafe where she works. Settle in gently and allow yourself to become part of both communities.

Nell was brought up by her mum Wendy, who has suffered with her mental health (maybe bipolar?) all her life, but now has dementia and lives in a nursing home. When Nell goes to visit, her mum sometimes calls her Florence, but she doesn’t know why. When she is lucid, Wendy still calls her Nell.

Throughout the book we have flashbacks to the late 1960s, when a pregnant 16-year-old is banished to the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides to have her baby and protect her family from the shame.

In the meantime, Dougie is at a turning point in his life. He is a professional photographer, but makes a living by taking photos of hardware and tools. It’s boring, but lucrative. Where did he lose the ability to see real life through the lens of his camera? He needs to find out and this means returning to his childhood home in Scotland.

We realise that eventually these three separate strands will come together, but how are they connected? Nell knows nothing about her family or her early childhood and is desperate to find out, while there are so many things Dougie would rather forget. But he needs to face his demons in order to move on. Finally, who is the 16-year-old and how does she fit in?

After a slightly confusing start, I grew to love the main characters, and the minor ones too. It’s definitely going to be one of my favourites this year, 2022.

Many thanks to The Pigeonhole, the author and my fellow Pigeons for making this such an enjoyable read.

About the Author

Freya North is the author of many bestselling novels which have been translated into numerous languages. She was born in London but lives in rural Hertfordshire, where she writes from a stable in her back garden. A passionate reader since childhood, Freya was originally inspired by Mary Wesley, Rose Tremain and Barbara Trapido – fiction with strong and original characters. To hear about events, competitions and what she’s writing, join Freya on FacebookTwitter and her website

Wahala by Nikki May

Ronke, Simi, Boo are three mixed-race friends living in London. They have the gift of two cultures, Nigerian and English, though not all of them choose to see it that way.

Everyday racism has never held them back, but now in their thirties, they question their future. Ronke wants a husband (he must be Nigerian); Boo enjoys (correction: endures) stay-at-home motherhood; while Simi, full of fashion career dreams, rolls her eyes as her boss refers to her urban vibe yet again.

#Wahala @NikkiOMay #RandomThingsTours @annecater @RandomTTours

When Isobel, a lethally glamorous friend from their past arrives in town, she is determined to fix their futures for them.

Cracks in their friendship begin to appear, and it is soon obvious Isobel is not sorting but wrecking. When she is driven to a terrible act, the women are forced to reckon with a crime in their past that may just have repeated itself.

My Review

Wahala (which means trouble) is the story of three, mixed-race, best friends whose lives are disrupted when glamorous Isobel threatens to tear them apart. Because Isobel has an agenda, only none of the women can see it.

Ronke is definitely my favourite character. You could say she’s a bit of a doormat – all her previous boyfriends have walked all over her and her friends Simi and Boo are convinced that her current partner Kayode will do the same. But Ronke adores him and besides, he’s Nigerian, and Ronke wants a Nigerian husband. She’s a great cook, a good friend and she adores children, especially Boo’s daughter and at times you wonder if she loves her more than Boo does.

I’m sorry but I really didn’t like Boo. She has a French husband Didier, who can’t do enough for her, and a gorgeous (if a tad precocious) daughter Sofia who can swear in French, but Boo is never satisfied. She often wishes she’d never got married and had a child. She feels trapped. Her constant sniping was very annoying.

Simi is married to wealthy Martin, who desperately wants a baby, except she doesn’t. That means a lot of lying, but one day she’ll get caught out. Martin is currently working overseas for nine months and they only get together once a month.

Isobel was Simi’s friend at school. Disgustingly rich and ostentatious, her family was the type that could buy themselves out of anything. Unfortunately, the two girls fell out over something to do with their parents and haven’t seen each other since. Until now that is. And that’s when the trouble starts.

Isobel is a total bitch. As the reader we can see it, but they can’t. I was almost screaming at the page ‘don’t tell her your secrets, don’t trust her!’ She’s manipulating all of you.

This is one of those stories you can’t put down. It’s exciting, frustrating, sad, funny, everything you would expect from a great book. But there’s also racism, jealousy, obsession and even murder, all mixed in with Nigerian culture and fantastic recipes for Nigerian food. And it’s not every day you get a murder mystery combined with a recipe book.

Many thanks to @annecater for inviting me to be part of #RandomThingsTours, NetGalley for an ARC and to The Pigeonhole and my fellow Pigeons for making this such an enjoyable read.

About the Author

Born in Bristol and raised in Lagos, Nikki May is Nigerian-British. At twenty, she dropped out of medical school, moved to London, and began a career in advertising, going on to run a successful agency. Nikki lives in Dorset with her husband and two standard Schnauzers.

Nikki says: “This is a novel about the power of friendship and the stories we inherit. The inspiration for Wahala came from a long (and loud) lunch with very good friends in a Nigerian restaurant. I wanted to read a book that had people like me in it. The first scene was drafted on the train journey home. The characters became flesh and wouldn’t let me go.”

My Top 3 Books of 2021

It’s January 1st 2022 and it’s time to reflect on my three favourite books of 2021.

Last year it was hard but not impossible. There were instant standouts. This year I have found it much harder. I have tried to include a mix of genres but I’ve definitely failed. Maybe I should simply call them all slightly ‘whimsical’.

And if that is not where you see yourself as an author, it includes Neil Gaiman, Sarah Addison Allen, Jasper Fforde, Erin Morgenstern, Alice Hoffman and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, to name but a few.

She Never Told Me About The Ocean by Elisabeth Sharp McKetta

Firstly let me say that I loved this book. Every word, every phrase, every brilliant moment. It has gone to the top of my favourite books of the year.

She Never Told Me About the Ocean is a work of magical realism – I didn’t realise to what extent when I started it. There were touches of the mystical beauty I have only ever found in the books of Alice Hoffman (not so much Practical Magic which is the best known as it was made into a Hollywood film) but in others such as The World That We Knew, Faithful, Blackbird House and she is my favourite writer ever. This is the biggest compliment I could pay any author.

For my full review click here

Still Life by Sarah Winman

Just when you think you’ve found your favourite books of the year so far, another one comes along. That book is Still Life. What a band of lovable, eccentric characters in this marvellous story that sweeps across more than forty years from the second world war to the late 1970s. It looks at love, friendship, class, sexuality, art and culture in a manner that is both hilarious and sad in equal measures. It takes place in London and Florence, Italy and we also have a glimpse into the life of Evelyn much earlier in the twentieth century. She may have been a spy, but now she lectures in Art History.

For my full review click here

The Beloved Girls by Harriet Evans

Another book that’s gone straight to my top books of the year. This book is so unique, amazing, heartfelt, sad and at times quite creepy. It revolves around the annual bee ceremony where the Hunter family and the whole community must follow the path to the old Chapel at Vanes to open the combs and taste the honey.

It all sounds highly risky and even more so this hot summer of 1989. August 31st is the 18th birthday of Joss and his twin sister Kitty and the bees have had to wait an extra two weeks and this had made them crosser than ever. We discover there have been accidents in the past. But it’s an obsession for Charles Hunter and his sister Ros – why is the ceremony so important to them?

For my full review click here

However, there was another standout for me, but it’s not published quite yet. I read it in 2021, so I’m including it as my ‘special mention’. Or I could just call this My Top 4 Books.

The Unravelling by Polly Crosby

‘The sea is made up of unspeakable sadness.’ This is a sentence you will read many times in this extraordinary book.

Tartelin, a young woman who has recently lost her mother, travels to the tiny, remote island of Dohhalund in the middle of the North Sea, to work for Miss Stourbridge. Her job will be to catch butterflies and kill them, so they can be pinned and studied. It’s a strange request and one that Tartelin doesn’t realise will have such a profound effect on her.

For my full review click here

And finally, one of the funniest books of the year:

Work in Progress: The untold story of the Crawley Writers’ Group by Dan Brotzel, Martin Jenkins and Alex Woolf

Hilarious. At a time when the world is in pandemic chaos following Brexit chaos, this book is a beacon of light in the darkness (I hope that is/is not too pretentious). In the spirit of the novel I am going to write in the style of the Crawley Writers Group. If I ever thought about joining a writer’s group I hope/dread that they would all be as mad as this lot.

For my full review click here

Art History by Cat on a Piano Productions / Theatrephonic

This Friday 31st Theatrephonic round up their Christmas series with the perfect piece to end the year.

‘Art History’

For her end of term Art History module, Saskia wants Lisa to examine a work of art in her house or a painting to which she feels a connection. But Lisa is struggling to be objective. The painting she has chosen is the last one her ex-husband gave her. What is the legacy of the work, asks Saskia?

Well, it was painted by a man who’s partner was also …..ing my husband, and anyway, he was a dog painter really and I’m not a dog person.

Stay away from anecdotes Lisa. Context!

In the future we won’t need to know about art history, says Lisa. Post oils, it will be more about foraging and food fermentation.

‘Bye Saskia, I’ve got a sack of cabbages to shred.’

Very clever and very funny. I loved this.

Written by @geraldine.brennan
Directed by @ebraefield

Starring 
Geraldine Brennan @geraldine.brennan as Lisa
Zoe Cunningham @zoefcunningham as Saskia
and Michael Luke Walsh as Dad

Music:

Love Explosion by Silent Partner

Produced by Cat on a Piano Productions

The Theatrephonic Theme tune was composed by Jackson Pentland
Performed by
Jackson Pentland
Mollie Fyfe Taylor
Emmeline Braefield

Cat on a Piano Productions produce and edit feature films, sketches and radio plays.

Their latest project is called @Theatrephonic, a podcast of standalone radio plays and short stories performed by professional actors. You can catch Theatrephonic on Spotify and other platforms.

For more information about the Theatrephonic Podcast, go to catonapiano.uk/theatrephonic, Tweet or Instagram @theatrephonic, or visit their Facebook page.

And if you really enjoyed this week’s episode, listen to Theatrephonic’s other plays and short stories and consider becoming a patron by clicking here…

I Know What You’ve Done by Dorothy Koomson

What if all your neighbours’ secrets landed in a diary on your doorstep?
What if the woman who gave it to you was murdered by one of the people in the diary?

What if the police asked if you knew anything? Would you hand over the book of secrets? Or … would you try to find out what everyone had done?

I Know What You’ve Done is the unputdownable thriller from the Queen of the Big Reveal.

My Review

Well this had us all guessing! And getting it wrong over and over. What a corker! Who can we trust? Who do we believe is telling the truth? No-one probably.

The story revolves around a diary left with Rae by her distinctly unfriendly neighbour Priscilla, after she’s been bonked on the head by person or persons unknown. The diary is full of secrets about some of the residents of the street, so who is implicated and who had a motive to try and kill Priscilla, and not just because she’s a snooty cow. And if you were Rae, would you hand the diary over to the police or try and read it first? Well of course you’d hand it over, but this is fiction and there wouldn’t be a story if she did.

I know Brighton has its seedier side (what town doesn’t), but the innocently-named Acacia Villas is a real den of iniquity. All those crims in one tree-lined, residential street. Makes me start wondering about my own neighbours (she says shutting the curtains and hiding the diary).

Rae is fleeing from something that happened in London. She’s married to Clark, whose demented ex, Lilly, is trying to get him back. Bryony is married to Grayson, but he’s vile and we all hate him almost as much as she does. And Dunstan happens to be the Police Officer who arrived on the scene when Priscilla collapsed on Rae’s doorstep. The story unfolds from different characters’ points of view, which makes it more interesting if initially slightly confusing.

And when you get the ‘final’ twist, there’s another to follow. So just how far would you go to keep your secrets?

Many thanks to The Pigeonhole, the author and my fellow Pigeons for making this such an enjoyable read.

About the Author

“Hello, my name’s Dorothy Koomson and I’ll try to make this bit that’s all about me as interesting as possible.

“I wrote my first novel called There’s A Thin Line Between Love And Hate when I was 13. I used to write a chapter every night then pass it around to my fellow convent school pupils every morning, and they seemed to love it.

“I grew up in London and then grew up again in Leeds when I went to university. I eventually returned to London to study for my masters degree and stayed put for the following years. I took up various temping jobs and eventually got my big break writing, editing and subbing for various women’s magazines and national papers.

“Fiction and storytelling were still a HUGE passion of mine and I continued to write short stories and novels every spare moment that I got. In 2001 I had the idea for The Cupid Effect and my career as a published novelist began. And it’s been fantastic. In 2006, third novel, My Best Friend’s Girl was published. It was incredibly successful – selling nearly 90,000 copies within its first few weeks on sale. Six weeks later, it was selected for the Richard & Judy Summer Reads Book Club and the book went on to sell over 500,000 copies. Oh, there I go again, this is meant to be about me, not my novels.

“Okay, back to me. I recently spent two years living in Sydney Australia, and now I’m back in England. But I can’t say for how long I’ll be in the UK for because I’ve been well and truly bitten by the travel bug.”

My Top 8 Books of 2021 – part four

Here are my favourite eight books of the fourth quarter of 2021. So far this has been a good year for books if for nothing else, so it was a really difficult decision. Please note that there may be books amongst the list that are not published until 2022, but these are books I have read this year and may be ARCs.

The Flight of the Shearwater by Alan Jones

Flight of the Shearwater continues the journey of the Kästners – the relationship between Erich and youngest daughter Antje and their mother Maria and sister Eva declining all the time. This disagreement revolves around the relationship with their lifelong friends and housekeepers – the Nussbaums who happen to be Jewish. While I do understand that Maria and Eva are afraid of repercussions – who can say if any of us would have been brave enough in the face of the SS or the Gestapo – I can’t help feeling that in their case it was more about their standing in society and Maria’s relationship with the Countess and finding Eva a well-connected husband.

For full review click here

A Woman Made of Snow by Elisabeth Gifford

This is one of the most beautifully written books I have read this year. Once again we have two timelines – Caroline, Alasdair and baby Felicity in 1949, being forced to live in Kelly Castle with Alasdair’s opinionated mum Martha, after their cottage in the grounds is flooded, and the mystery of who was Alasdair’s great-grandmother, for whom there is no grave, no pictures and whose name has been removed from the family tree.

For full review click here

The Unravelling by Polly Crosby

‘The sea is made up of unspeakable sadness.’ This is a sentence you will read many times in this extraordinary book.

Tartelin, a young woman who has recently lost her mother, travels to the tiny, remote island of Dohhalund in the middle of the North Sea, to work for Miss Stourbridge. Her job will be to catch butterflies and kill them, so they can be pinned and studied. It’s a strange request and one that Tartelin doesn’t realise will have such a profound effect on her.

For full review click here

The Every by Dave Eggers

Is this the future? One where people are happy to give up their freedoms in exchange for a life without crime, false friendships and anxiety. But there’s a catch. Constant monitoring and surveillance. Scared to say anything in case it tips your algorithms into the negative, and never get cross with your kids, it’s all being recorded. There’s no hiding place because the Every has the technology.

For full review click here

The Soul Catcher by Monica Bhide

This is an author who is not afraid of tragedy. The worst can happen and sometimes it does. But there is also love and joy.

The narrative goes round in a circle of short stories. We begin with Yamini – the Soul Catcher in the title. She uses her supernatural power to heal people – it is her destiny and one from which there is no escape.

For full review click here

Three Little Girls by Jane Badrock

What a crazy roller coaster of a ride. I just loved this book. Fantastic cast of characters – DI Karen Thorpe, tough, clever, untidy, her on-off boyfriend John Steele, head of forensics, Karen’s opposite, tidy and organised. But I especially loved ‘wee’ book shop owner and map-keeper Mr Binks. Who is he and what does he really do? Can we trust him?

For full review click here

The Visitors by Caroline Scott

This is such a beautiful book. Exquisitely written using sensitive, evocative language, we really feel we are there in Cornwall and in the trenches in France during the Great War.

It’s 1923 and Esme has been widowed for seven years. Her husband of only a few months went to war in France but after two years of regular letters, they suddenly stopped. Then one fateful day the letter she dreads arrives and she is informed that he has died.

For full review click here

The Last Checkmate by Gabriella Saab

I often cry at the end of a book, especially if the ending is sad, but I have to admit I cried throughout most of The Last Checkmate. After so many years have past since the holocaust I still struggle with the notion that there are people out there who can do these things to one another. And those who not only believed the killing and torture was OK but that it was actually justified – the destruction of an entire race was justified. But this story is not about the Jews, it’s about one 14-year-old girl who joined the Polish resistance in Warsaw with her ‘friend’ Irena and got caught, and how she survived the horrors of Auschwitz.

For full review click here