The Beach House by Beverley Jones

The perfect place to hide. Or so she thought . . .

When Grace Jensen returns to her home in Lookout Beach one day, she finds a body in a pool of blood and a menacing gift left for her.

#TheBeachHouse @bevjoneswriting @TheCrimeVault @damppebbles #damppebblesblogtours


The community of Lookout Beach is shocked by such a brutal intrusion in their close-knit neighbourhood – particularly to a family as successful and well-liked as the Jensens – and a police investigation to find the trespasser begins.

But Grace knows who’s after her. She might have changed her name and moved across the world, deciding to hide on the Oregon coast, but she’s been waiting seventeen years for what happened in the small Welsh town where she grew up to catch up with her.

Grace might seem like the model neighbour and mother, but nobody in Lookout Beach – not even her devoted husband Elias – knows the real her. Or how much blood is on her hands.

My Review

This is an exciting book. You never know what’s going to happen next and however bad it is, Grace can never tell anyone. Because no-one, not even Elias, her lovely, giant bear of a husband, has any idea what happened one Halloween night in the Welsh village where she grew up.

Seventeen years ago, Grace was Laura Llewellyn, a teenager with a huge imagination and a knack for telling scary stories.

It used to be just Laura, Silas and Liam until Priss’s widowed father asks if Priss can join their ‘gang’. They are not keen but they don’t really have a choice. And Priss can be a rather nasty piece of work, though it’s not really surprising after losing her mother at such a young age. Laura, known to her friends as Lolly Pop, is teased by Priss who calls her Pissy Pants and shows everyone at school a photo of her after she spilled a drink down the front of her shorts, saying she wet herself. And she tries to ‘steal’ Silas from her, knowing how much Laura adores him. And that’s just for starters.

Then one night things turn much darker and Laura leaves the UK and moves to the Oregon coast, where she reinvents herself as Grace, marries Elias and has her daughter lovingly known as Terrible Tilly. They are well off and have an idyllic lifestyle with a beautiful house and a second home they are building, known as ‘the Project’.

But when Grace comes home one day and finds a body on the floor of her kitchen, lying face down in a pool of blood, the police become very interested in everyone, but for all the wrong reasons. And why did the intruder leave his special gifts – gifts that would only mean something to Grace or anyone who was there the night of the murder. How can Grace tell the police what or who she suspects when even her husband doesn’t know about that fateful night. Grace, however, is not the only one with secrets and eventually it must all come out. Unless Grace can keep it buried.

Always exciting, with more twists and turns than the Monte Carlo rally, this is a book that you won’t want to put down. I highly recommend it.

Many thanks to @damppebbles for inviting me to be part of #damppebblesblogtours

About the Author

Beverley Jones, also known as B E Jones, is a former journalist and police press officer, now a novelist and general book obsessive. Bev was born in a small village in the South Wales valleys, north of Cardiff. She started her journalism career with Trinity Mirror newspapers, writing stories for The Rhondda Leader and The Western Mail, before becoming a broadcast journalist with BBC Wales Today TV news, based in Cardiff. She has worked on all aspects of crime reporting (as well as community news and features) producing stories and content for newspapers and live TV.

Most recently Bev worked as a press officer for South Wales Police, dealing with the media and participating in criminal investigations, security operations and emergency planning.

Perhaps unsurprisingly she channels these experiences of ‘true crime,’ and her insight into the murkier side of human nature, into her dark, psychological thrillers set in and around South Wales.

Her latest novels, Where She Went, Halfway and Wilderness, are published by Little Brown under the name BE Jones. Wilderness has recently been optioned for a six part TV adaptation by Firebird Pictures. Her seventh novel, The Beach House, was released in June 2021 under the name Beverley Jones. Chat with her on Goodreads.co.uk under B E Jones or Beverley Jones and on Twitter and Instagram @bevjoneswriting. Bev is represented by The Ampersand Agency.

Social Media:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/bevjoneswriting

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bev.jones.9083477

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bevjoneswriting/

Website: http://bevjoneswriting.co.uk/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34040919-where-she-went
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Beverley-Jones/e/B00F6I6XQG/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1 or https://www.amazon.co.uk/Beverley-Jones/e/B08YP9LFM6/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_ebooks_1

Purchase Links:

Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/3zSVNEv
Amazon US: https://amzn.to/3gSMU6m
Waterstones: https://bit.ly/3qmFtHA
Hive.co.uk: https://bit.ly/3zR0crv
Book Depository: https://bit.ly/3d92bOl

We Need To Talk by Jonathan Crane

It’s 2019 in Sudleigh, a market town not far from the south coast. It’s not a bad place to live, provided the new housing development doesn’t ruin it, but most residents are too caught up in their own disappointments, grudges, and sores to notice.

#WeNeedToTalk @jon_crane24 @EyeAndLightning @damppebbles #damppebblesblogtours

Gap-year Tom is cleaning toilets but finding unexpected solace in his Chinese house-share. Former lounge musician Frank wants to pass his carpet business to his nephew Josh, killing the boy’s dream to become a chef. Sharp-elbowed phone-sex operator Heather will stop at nothing to become manager of the golf club. Miss Bennett keeps putting her house on the market when she doesn’t want to move.

Do they all know how their lives are linked? And will creative writing tutor Tony, hard at work on his ironic pseudo-children’s book The Jazz Cats, ever pluck up the courage to leave his unappreciative girlfriend Lydia?

Meticulously observed, with flashes of wicked comedy, We Need to Talk offers a jigsaw puzzle of unwitting connections for the reader to assemble. The finished picture is an unflinchingly honest portrait of multi-jobbing, gig-economy Middle England on the eve of Covid.

My Review

A beautifully observed series of short stories which are all linked. Sudleigh is a small town where everyone knows almost everyone and even if they don’t, they know someone who does.

There are some lovely characters – I particularly had a soft spot for Tony, a published writer who is working on a new book called The Jazz Cats, and is in a relationship with the ghastly, pretentious Lydia, a glass artist, who goes to painting classes with divorcee Miriam (who wants to buy Miss Bennett’s house), where they are tutored by Sean, whose family constantly compare him to his successful brother and want him to get a ‘real’ job.

George (another of my favourites) is recently widowed and his daughter thinks he is falling apart. He is obsessed with gardening and why not. Frank was once in a band called Furore with Ted who went off to work on the cruise ships. Frank owns a carpet warehouse, but now nearing retirement, he wants to hand over the business to his nephew Josh. But Josh is a trained chef and wants to run his own restaurant. Tom is estranged from his mum and her nasty husband, but the Chinese family with whom he lives treat him as family.

Heather is the worst – she is so determined to better herself, she won’t let anyone stand in her way (including one of our old friends), even if it means dirty tricks and subterfuge. She has no scruples whatsoever. It looks at first glance as if none of these people can have anything in common, but they are all linked, even if sometimes rather tenuously.

At the heart of the story is the small town of Sudleigh and the plan to build 90 new houses on an estate. There is objection from many of the townspeople who want to put a stop to it. Stupid Lydia thinks they can all be united through a competition called In Bloom. There are also a number of references to Brexit.

This is a very clever and intricately woven story that never seems disjointed, in spite of so many separate characters. I never thought I would remember them all but I didn’t even have to refer to the book once when writing this review. A great read.

Many thanks to @damppebbles for inviting me to be part of #damppebblesblogtours

About the Author

Jonathan Crane completed an MA Literature and a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Essex, where he is now an academic in Creative Writing. He also works with charities to design and deliver writing programmes in prison and community settings. His previous writing includes fiction and academic papers. Formerly a musician/composer, he has released two albums. We Need to Talk is his first novel. He currently lives in Hampshire.

Purchase Links:

Lightning Books: https://www.eye-books.com/books/we-need-to-talk

Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/35KhFEi

Amazon US: https://amzn.to/3gVEs58

Waterstones: https://bit.ly/2SS6XZD

Foyles: https://bit.ly/3wZ0Q4A

Hive.co.uk: https://bit.ly/2UnA1s7

Nowhere to Hide (Shannon Ames, #4) by TJ Brearton

A brutal winter storm traps residents of a small Adirondack town with two vicious killers. But they didn’t count on Shannon Ames…

FBI Agent Shannon Ames is headed to the north country for some much-needed R&R when a sudden ice storm traps her in the small hamlet of Long Lake, NY. But the storm isn’t her only problem – as she rolls into town she finds a body by the side of the road.

As Shannon begins to investigate, she realises she’s not the only person trapped here – there are two vicious killers stalking the town. And with no way in or out, it’s up to Shannon to stop them before they hurt someone else.

#NowhereToHide #TJBrearton @inkubatorbooks

And so begins a deadly game of cat and mouse with Shannon relentlessly closing in on the two criminals.

But what she doesn’t realise is this little town has secrets that must stay hidden at all costs. And when Shannon gets a little too close to the terrible truth, she goes from hunter to hunted.

And in her moment of greatest danger she finds she has… nowhere to hide.

My Review

A roller coaster of a ride is a description bandied about in book reviews, but Nowhere To Hide really is just that. Brilliantly written by one of my favourite authors, the excitement and tension never lets up. This was a very fast read because I needed to keep up the pace. This is not a book you dip in and out of.

I first met Shannon Ames in Book 3 – Sign of Evil – in which she had to pass herself off as a working girl in order to catch a serial killer who is targeting clients of local sex workers. The victims, all male, are either burned alive or beaten to death. Nice.

In Book 4 Nowhere To Hide Shannon is off-duty, just visiting, taking a well-earned break. She certainly needs it after the last case. But as she gets nearer to her destination, an ice storm traps her in a small town and she has nowhere to go. The roads are impassable and she is stuck.

However, that’s just the start of her troubles. There’s a dead body by the side of the road, shot to death, and that’s just the first one. There’s more to come at the local store where young Nick has witnessed another shooting. His girlfriend Chloe is babysitting Mr Sayward’s three young children, when one of the killers – Steve-nice-but-dim (apologies to non-UK readers who won’t get the reference) – worms his way into the house and is holding them there against their will. They don’t realise how dangerous he is, but Shannon does. So much for a holiday. She needs to get to Chloe and those kids before anyone else gets hurt.

But we know from Nick that there were two shooters at the store, so where is the other one? For Shannon, with backup miles away and desperately trying to get through to help her, she is on her own in a race against time, and the weather is against her for the foreseeable future.

This is such an exciting story, where you think you know who the good guys are, but there are plenty of twists and turns and shocks along the way.

Many thanks to the author for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

About the Author

T.J. Brearton’s books have reached half a million readers around the world and have topped the Amazon charts in the US, UK, Canada and Australia. A graduate of the New York Film Academy in Manhattan, Brearton first worked in film before focusing on novels. His books are visually descriptive with sharp dialogue and underdog heroes. When not writing, Brearton does whatever his wife and three children tell him to do. They live happily in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. Yes, there are bears in the Adirondacks. But it’s really quite beautiful when you’re not running for your life.

GOODREADS:    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58409366-nowhere-to-hide
BOOKBUB:          https://www.bookbub.com/books/nowhere-to-hide-shannon-ames-book-4-by-t-j-brearton

AMAZON US:       https://www.amazon.com/dp/B098412F6F
AMAZON UK:       https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B098412F6F
AMAZON CA:       https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B098412F6F
AMAZON AUS:    https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B098412F6F

My Top 8 Books of 2021 – part two

Here are my favourite eight books of the second quarter of 2021. So far this has been a good year for books if for nothing else, so it was a really difficult decision.

The Girls Inside by NJ Mackay

I have always been fascinated by religious cults and what makes people join them. How you can have such power over someone that you can make them bend to your will (think Charles Manson and the killing of Sharon Tate and her friends). Then there was Jonestown and WACO amongst others, including The Moonies (or Unification Church) – though no killing or mass suicides….

For my full review click here

Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bublitz

Written from the point of view of the dead girl – Alice – we know right from the start that she has been murdered. Just turned 18, her childhood has been hard. Her beautiful mother moved from place to place every year or two, running away each time a relationship failed. Alice has no roots. When her mother dies, she goes to live with a relative called Gloria, who frankly doesn’t care a hoot about her, but at least Alice doesn’t need to pass through the foster system or end up in care.

For my full review click here

Emmet and Me

One of my favourite books of the year so far, I love Claire, our ten-year-old narrator. She is sharp and funny but often very naive.

It is 1966 and Claire’s mother has discovered lipstick on her husband Conor’s collar – the very same lipstick she gave her best friend. She starts yelling and smashing plates and eventually walks out, leaving him to cope with Claire, older brother Will and baby brother Louis. The first night they stay with Uncle Jack, but it is then decided that Jack will take them from their home in Wales to live temporarily with his and Conor’s mum in Connemara, while mother sorts herself out.

For my full review click here

Matilda Windsor is Coming Home

My own experience of mental illness is what attracted me to reading Matilda Windsor is Coming Home. In 1938 my Jewish mother and grandmother escaped from the Nazis in Vienna. Unable to return to their hometown of Bucharest, they made their way to England and settled here in Cheltenham, where I still live. Over her adult life, my mother spent three spells in psychiatric hospitals – the first in the 1950s following the death of my older sister at 17 months and then the birth of my brother and myself. This resulted in a lobotomy. The second in 1973 after her mother died and the third in 1989/90, the same time as when we meet Matty.

For my full review click here

She Never Told Me About The Ocean

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

This Is How We Are Human by Louise Beech

When I read the blurb – at least the part about Sebastian’s mum offering to pay an escort to have sex with her autistic son – I felt just a tiny bit uncomfortable. I know you would do anything for your children, but this is a bit extreme – isn’t it? But in reality she sees the person she loves most in the world growing up in pain because his physical needs are not being met. Paying for sex would be like paying for his swimming lessons or buying his food wouldn’t it?

For my full review click here

Work in Progress 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.

Dear Peter
You are not misunderstood and unappreciated. You are simply a pretentious twat. And I’m not sure all that secret recording is actually legal.

For my full review click here

Extra Special Mention

Mirrorland by Carole Johnston

I know this was one of my top three books of 2020 but I jumped the gun and it wasn’t published until May 2021.

Every once in a while you know you have read something special, something original, something so overwhelmingly beautiful and sad that you feel like your heart is breaking. Mirrorland is that something. Dark and unsettling, the more you read, the more you cannot imagine what the next chapter holds. It’s like holding your breath underwater, afraid to surface, yet more afraid to remain.

For my full review click here

The Meeting by Cat on a Piano Productions / Theatrephonic

I just want the truth…

But Greg isn’t very good at telling the truth.

What starts out as a drunken one night stand for Greg turns into something much much darker.
A brilliant story with a very unexpected twist.

Written and directed by Emmeline Braefield

Starring
Luke Rhodri as Greg
and
Jasmine Raymond as Eloise

Produced by Cat on a Piano Productions

Music: Sloppy Clav by Godmode

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 us @theatrephonic, or visit our Facebook page.

And if you really enjoyed The Meeting listen to Theatrephonic’s other plays and short stories and consider becoming a patron by clicking here…

The Blue Hour by MJ Greenwood

The Blue Hour – two love affairs and two summers, 75 years apart 

Damaged by a toxic relationship, Ava Westmorland flees the ruins of her life in London for a carer’s job in a Cornish village. She hopes a combination of countryside and coast will heal her shattered heart. But she has yet to face tyrannical Tilly Barwise; the 89-year-old she will be looking after. Sharp, cantankerous and with an acid tongue, Tilly is the polar opposite of a sweet old lady. She has lived a thrillingly full life of romance and intrigue – and is determined shy Ava will follow in her doddering footsteps.

#TheBlueHour #MJGreenwood @BADPRESSiNK @annecater @RandomTTours #RandomThingsTours

Through Tilly’s outrageous antics and bittersweet reminiscences, she shows Ava what it is to embrace life. As the pair form an unlikely bond, Tilly reveals the details of a wartime love affair with an American that ended in tragedy – but not quite in the way Tilly always believed.

M J Greenwood has drawn a rich, funny, and poignant portrait of two women reluctantly bound by circumstance amid a landscape that retains a unique beauty, even in the midst of unwelcome change.

My Review

Poor old Tilly! Almost 90 years old with only her memories – apart from the cigarettes and the brandy – to sustain her. Those memories are mainly about her love for GI Jack during the Second World War and the pregnancy she was left with. It comes as a shock when you realise that the result of that liaison is the ghastly Vicky, now 70 years old! I’m not sure how she is the product of Tilly and Jack – she’s truly awful.

The story is told in two timelines – the first during the war when Tilly was a boy-mad, sexy, attractive 18-year-old living with her boring, staid mother and straying father, and the second when she is a wrinkled, decrepit, cantankerous, old bat living in her home in Cornwall after a brief spell in a nursing home. We first see Tilly when she meets an American GI called Jack and they fall instantly in love (or lust). Much of this is told in letters from Jack, diary entries and letters from Jack’s family to him.

In 2015, Ava has just split from her husband of a year after he went of with her best friend and to add insult to injury they are having a baby. The job came up as Tilly’s carer and though she has no experience whatsoever other than being an excellent cook (she’s a copywriter in an advertising agency or was), she got the job. She soon discovers why. No-one else has lasted more than a day or two – one only lasted an afternoon. In fact the whole community seems to have taken bets on her lasting 24 hours. Initially, you can understand why. But our Ava is made of sterner stuff and besides she needs a job and doesn’t want to go back to London, to her ex Josh and pregnant Sadie.

This book is at times poignant, sad, and often extremely funny with a rich cast of characters, from Ava’s possible love interest (not telling) and the indomitable May who cleans for Tilly, to Evangeline from the care home and her blossoming romance with Robbie the gardener. We also of course have daughter Vicky and her son Edward, but lots of others drop in and out, and it looks like Tilly has more friends than enemies – so long as they don’t have to look after her.

My only reservation is the acceptance that Tilly has survived so long in spite of smoking 40-a-day which grates somewhat as the book appears to condone it. It took decades to stop both my parents from smoking and it still killed them both in their seventies so I am not a fan. However, I love her WW2 Ration diet (if someone needs to lose weight she tells them) and I’m sure a drop of brandy never hurt anyone (a drop that is though – not half a bottle). Tilly is rude to everyone, proudly decadent, an incurable romantic and frankly a pain in the posterior, but we can’t help loving her by the end.

Many thanks to @annecater for inviting me to be part of #RandomThingsTours and to @ThePigeonholeHQ for allowing me to read along with the author and my fellow Pigeons.

About the Author

Melanie Greenwood is a mother-of-four, former journalist and editor who specialised in features for regional and national press. he was born in Liverpool, with Irish roots and now lives in a village at the foot of the beautiful Mendips in Somerset, near Bristol. The Blue Hour has been a four-year project begun during an MA at Bath Spa University.

When she’s not writing or reading, She loves creative gardening, comedy (live and on TV), going to plays, walking, salsa, poetry, music, family and friends, trying to get to grips with stand-up-paddle boarding and learning to sail.

The Lost Girls by Heather Young

In the summer of 1935, six-year-old Emily Evans vanishes from her family’s vacation home on a remote Minnesota lake. Her disappearance destroys her mother, who spends the rest of her life at the lake house, hoping in vain that her favorite daughter will walk out of the woods. Emily’s two older sisters stay, too, each keeping her own private, decades-long vigil for the lost child.

Sixty years later Lucy, the quiet and watchful middle sister, lives in the lake house alone. Before she dies, she writes the story of that devastating summer in a notebook that she leaves, along with the house, to the only person to whom it might matter: her grandniece, Justine.

#TheLostGirls @HYoungwriter @Verve_Books @annecater @RandomTTours #RandomThingsTours

For Justine, the lake house offers a chance to escape her manipulative boyfriend and give her daughters the stable home she never had. But it’s not the sanctuary she hoped for. The long Minnesota winter has begun. The house is cold and dilapidated, the frozen lake is silent and forbidding, and her only neighbour is a strange old man who seems to know more than he’s telling about the summer of 1935.

Soon Justine’s troubled oldest daughter becomes obsessed with Emily’s disappearance, her mother arrives with designs on her inheritance, and the man she left behind launches a dangerous plan to get her back. In a house steeped in the sorrows of the women who came before her, Justine must overcome their tragic legacy if she hopes to save herself and her children.

My Review

The Lost Girls is told in two timelines. First of all we hear from Lucy who is telling her story in the first person in her notebook. Lucy lives at the lake house with her older sister Lilith. They had another sister – Emily – who disappeared in 1935 when she was six. Forty-five years later their mother still lives with them. She has never stopped waiting for Emily to come home – her body was never found.

The second timeline is recounted in the third person and is the story of Lucy’s great-niece Justine. It is the winter of 1999 and Lucy has just died and left the lake house to Justine. Lilith’s daughter Maurie has not inherited anything other than $5000 and her mother’s jewellery.

Justine has two daughters Melanie and Angela. Their father walked out one day and never returned. Justine now lives with Patrick, a rather insecure and controlling man. When Justine learns of her inheritance, she packs a few things and leaves their home in San Diego to travel 2,000 miles to Lucy’s house. When they arrive they realise the house is run down, the weather is colder than anything they have ever encountered and they are miles from anywhere.

The lake house forms part of a summer community, so during the winter there is only one inhabited house nearby, that of Matthew and his brother Abe. They are a slightly strange pair, who have lived there since they were children, running The Lodge where visitors can stay or just come to eat and drink. While well-regarded, their family were never fully accepted in the community due to their Native American heritage. When Emily disappeared, Abe was the first suspect.

I grew very fond of Lucy while reading her journal, though the feeling started to wane towards the end. As the book progresses, we realise what a difficult childhood she and her sisters endured – their religious zealot and somewhat strange and sinister father, their cowardly mother and the way they are different from their friends, with their childish clothes and Mary Jane shoes. But I have to admit I never warmed to Justine or her mother Maurie. As a child, Justine was dragged from town to town and from one failed relationship to another. Attractive and entertaining on the outside, Maurie is inwardly selfish, bitter and shallow. I really tried to like Justine, but I struggled with her negativity. On the other hand, Matthew is kind, generous and honourable.

However, this is a wonderfully written novel and at times the descriptions are breath-taking in their beauty. The ending was totally unexpected. I don’t want to give anything away, but it was even sadder than I could possibly have imagined.

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

About the Author

Heather is the author of two novels. Her debut, The Lost Girls, won the Strand Award for Best First Novel and was nominated for an Edgar Award. The Distant Dead was published on June 9, 2020, and was named one of the Best Books of Summer by People Magazine, Parade, and CrimeReads. A former antitrust and intellectual property litigator, she traded the legal world for the literary one and earned her MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars in 2011. She lives in Mill Valley, California, where she writes, bikes, hikes, and reads books by other people that she wishes she’d written.

Fragile by Sarah Hilary

Nell Ballard is a runaway. A former foster child with a dark secret she is desperate to keep, all Nell wants is to find a place she can belong. So when a job comes up at Starling Villas, home to the enigmatic Robin Wilder, she seizes the opportunity with both hands. But her new lodgings may not be the safe haven that she was hoping for…

#Fragile @sarah_hilary @panmacmillan @annecater @RandomTTours

Her employer lives by a set of rigid rules and she soon sees that he is hiding secrets of his own.

But is Nell’s arrival at the Villas really the coincidence it seems? After all, she knows more than most how fragile people can be – and how easy they can be to break . . .

A dark contemporary psychological thriller with a modern Gothic twist from an award winning and critically acclaimed writer who has been compared to Ruth Rendell, PD James and Val McDermid. Rebecca meets The Handmaid’s Tale in Sarah Hilary’s standalone breakout novel, Fragile.

My Review

One of the things I love most about this book is the way it is written, the metaphors, the clever turns of phrase that pepper the narrative time and time again. It is clever, sinister and menacing with some really unlikable characters such as foster carer Meagan Flack a “Poundland Bond villain without even a cat to warm her vicious lap”, Dr Robin Wilder who owns Starling Villas “his loneliness had a colour, pebble-grey”, his wife or is it ex-wife Carolyn who “didn’t need a weapon, with her eyes like knives” and I hate to say it – “soft boy” Joe Peach.

One always wonders in these types of story how someone like Meagan Flack (her full name makes her sound more sinister) ever got to be a foster carer. Surely someone was suspicious. She doesn’t even like children. She is mean and spiteful and lazy – allowing foster child Nell Ballard to do all the work. Abandoned at eight years old when her mother met a new man and wanted to start a fresh family with a new baby, she becomes the mum to all the little ones. She cooks, cleans and even irons their clothes. She reads them bedtime stories and puts them to bed. Then Rosie Bond arrives, the pretty little ‘princess’ whose parents wanted a doll to show off and got a toddler with the terrible twos. Nell adores Rosie who calls her her new mother and follows her everywhere.

But when tragedy strikes, Nell and Joe run away to London, doing anything and everything to survive till they end up on the streets. Then Nell sees an opportunity to become the housekeeper at Starling Villas, but employer Dr Wilder has rules, pages of them, which would send most people running. But Nell doesn’t mind – she’s used to rules – and she doesn’t believe she is worthy of anything better. She breaks everything she touches because she knows how fragile people can be, including herself. All she really wants is love and security but she doesn’t believe she deserves it, not after what she and Joe did back at Lyles.

This is a very dark story, full of guilt, secrets and lies. As the reader you pray there will be hope and salvation, but can Nell find a way back and forgive herself?

Many thanks to @annecater for inviting me to be part of #RandomThingsTours and to NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

About the Author

SARAH HILARY’s debut Someone Else’s Skin won the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year, was a Richard & Judy Book Club pick and The Observer’s Book of the Month. In the US, it was a Silver Falchion and Macavity Award finalist. No Other Darkness, the second in the series, was shortlisted for a Barry Award. The sixth in her DI Marnie Rome series Never Be Broken is out now. Her short stories have won the Cheshire Prize for Literature, the Fish Criminally Short Histories Prize, and the SENSE prize. Fragile is her first standalone novel. Sarah is one of the Killer Women, a crime writing collective supporting diversity, innovation and inclusion in their industry.

The First Day of Spring by Nancy Tucker

“So that was all it took,” I thought. “That was all it took for me to feel like I had all the power in the world. One morning, one moment, one yellow-haired boy. It wasn’t so much after all.”

Meet Chrissie…

Chrissie is eight and she has a secret: she has just killed a boy. The feeling made her belly fizz like soda pop. Her playmates are tearful and their mothers are terrified, keeping them locked indoors. But Chrissie rules the roost — she’s the best at wall-walking, she knows how to get free candy, and now she has a feeling of power that she never gets at home, where food is scarce and attention scarcer.

Twenty years later, adult Chrissie is living in hiding under a changed name. A single mother, all she wants is for her daughter to have the childhood she herself was denied. That’s why the threatening phone calls are so terrifying. People are looking for them, the past is catching up, and Chrissie fears losing the only thing in this world she cares about, her child.

My Review

This is probably one of the darkest books I have ever read. An eight-year-old child killer tells her own story. How could we feel sorry for her – but we do.

Chrissie’s Mammy can’t cope. She tries to give her away more than once. There is never any food in the house. She is permanently starving – starved of both food and love. She steals sweets from the local shop and inveigles her way into her friends’ houses just so she can share their tea. Especially her best friend Linda, who for some reason is always on her side. Chrissie is rude and kicks and screams when she doesn’t get her own way. She wets the bed but no-one changes the sheets or gives her clean clothes. She is a nightmare, the ‘bad seed’ as someone called her, but how far would you go under the circumstances.

We know from the opening sentence that she has just strangled a toddler to death. But he’ll come back alive soon, won’t he. Like her Da who keeps dying and coming back. You’re too old to believe that anymore, he tells her one day.

But in all this, where are social services? Don’t the school or her teachers wonder why she is so thin and filthy with her tangled hair and dirty clothes?

‘Where’s your cereal box, Chrissie,’ asked Miss White.
‘Don’t got no cereal,’ I said.
‘Don’t be ridiculous Chrissie,’ she said. ‘Everyone has cereal’.
Except she really doesn’t. You wonder why no-one sees it. There is no-one to protect her. Particularly her Mammy and Da.

One of the saddest things I think is that she pretends to herself and to others that her Mam loves her. She defends this awful woman because she can’t bear to admit that she is unloved and unwanted. And her Da turns up now and again and doesn’t want to hear it. He prefers to block it out. It’s easier that way.

Chrissie is the narrator when she is eight. Twenty years later we hear from Julia, Chrissie’s new identity. She has her own child now, Molly, but is waiting for her to be taken away. She knows she’s not good enough to be a mum. Not good enough to deserve a second chance. Still the bad seed.

Are some children born to be killers or is it the hand they have been dealt? Can we ever feel sorry for Chrissie? It’s hard to imagine that you can, but by the end I was crying for the sadness of it all and the cruelty to her and by her. None of it should have happened, but it did and it still does.

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

About the Author

Nancy Tucker was born and raised in West London. She spent most of her adolescence in and out of hospital suffering from anorexia nervosa. On leaving school, she wrote her first book, THE TIME IN BETWEEN (Icon, 2015) which explored her experience of eating disorders and recovery. Her second book, THAT WAS WHEN PEOPLE STARTED TO WORRY (Icon, 2018), looked more broadly at mental illness in young women.

Nancy recently graduated from Oxford University with a degree in Experimental Psychology. Since then she has worked in an inpatient psychiatric unit for children and adolescents and in adult mental health services. She now works as an assistant psychologist in an adult eating disorders service. The First Day of Spring is her first work of fiction.

Work in Progress by Dan Brotzel, Martin Jenkins and Alex Woolf

Work in Progress: The untold story of the Crawley Writers’ Group, compiled by Peter, writer

In December 2016, Julia Greengage, aspiring writer and resting actor, puts up a poster in her local library inviting people to join a new writers’ group. The group will exchange constructive feedback and ‘generally share in the pains and pleasures of this excruciating yet exhilarating endeavour we call Literature’.

Seven people, each in their own way a bit of a work in progress, heed the call.

There’s Keith, a mercenary sci-fi geek who can write 5,000 words before breakfast and would sell his mother for a book deal. Tom, a suburban lothario with an embarrassing secret. Peter, a conceptual artist whose main goal in life is to make everyone else feel uncomfortable. Alice, who’s been working on her opening sentence for over nine months. Jon, a faded muso with a UFO complex. Blue, whose doom-laden poems include ‘Electrocuted Angel in the Headlights of My Dead Lover’s Eye Sockets’ and the notorious ‘Kitten on a Fatberg’. And Mavinder, who sadly couldn’t make the first meeting. Or the second. But promises to come to the next one…

Soon, under Julia’s watchful eye, the budding writers are meeting every month to read out their work and indulge each other’s dreams of getting published. But it’s not long before the group’s idiosyncrasies and insecurities begin to appear. Feuds, rivalries and even romance are on the cards – not to mention an exploding sheep’s head, a cosplay stalker, and an alien mothership invasion. They’re all on a journey, and God help the rest of us.

A novel-in-emails about seven eccentric writers, written by three quite odd ones, Work in Progress is a very British farce about loneliness, friendship and the ache of literary obscurity.

My Review

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.

Dear Peter
You are not misunderstood and unappreciated. You are simply a pretentious twat. And I’m not sure all that secret recording is actually legal.

Hey Jon
There are no aliens living in the sky or UFOs coming to rescue you. Get over it and keep taking the tablets or in your case probably stop taking the illegal substances. And as far as rebooting the rock band of the seventies, l should leave that elderly rockers thing to The Rolling Stones.

Hey Keith
I think maybe 4.5 million words, many of which are in a made-up language, is (are?) about 4.3 million too many. Can I have a Bink badge please at a hugely discounted price? Of course I can’t.

Dear Blue
Somewhere deep inside that Goth exterior is a really nice person desperately to trying to get out. I think I might be your friend.

Dear Alice
The Sentence has become a life sentence. Ditch it and realise that everything else you write is really rather good. Writers write. Everything else is procrastination. And keep blogging.

Hey Tomcat
A writer’s group is for writers to exchange ideas, not for perverts to pick up women. It can only end in disaster or the police coming round.

Hi Mavinder
Who are you? Where are you? Do you even exist?

And finally:

Dear Julia
I’m sure you are a beautiful person (both inside and out) with a beautiful house and beautiful clothes, the world’s biggest selection of canapes, more than one chimenea and a kidney-shaped infinity pool (how does that work?). Unfortunately, your ego is bigger than your talent, but no worries, talent is no requisite for success (you only have to watch reality TV) and I’m sure you will be the talk of the town.

This book is the most fun I have had reading in ages. It is so good and so funny. I wish there was more to come.

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

About the Authors

Dan Brotzel is the author of Hotel du Jack, a collection of short stories, and The Wolf in the Woods, a novel. both published by Sandstone Press. More info at www.danbrotzel.com

Martin Jenkins is a freelance writer, researcher and editor. His publications include the novel A Science of Navigation and a contribution to the Soul Bay Press short story anthology 13.

Alex Woolf is an award-winning author of over two hundred books for children and adults, published by the likes of OUP, Ladybird, Hachette and Fiction Express.

This Is How We Are Human by Louise Beech

Sebastian James Murphy is twenty years, six months and two days old. He loves swimming, fried eggs and Billy Ocean. Sebastian is autistic. And lonely.

Veronica wants her son Sebastian to be happy, and she wants the world to accept him for who he is. She is also thinking about paying a professional to give him what he desperately wants.

Violetta is a high-class escort, who steps out into the night thinking only of money. Of her nursing degree. Paying for her dad’s care. Getting through the dark.

When these three lives collide, and intertwine in unexpected ways, everything changes. For everyone.

#ThisIsHowWeAreHuman @LouiseWriter @OrendaBooks @annecater @RandomTTours

Both heartbreaking and heartwarming, This Is How We Are Human is a powerful, moving and thoughtful drama about a mother’s love for her son, about getting it wrong when we think we know what’s best, about the lengths we go to care for family and to survive.

My Review

When I read the blurb – at least the part about Sebastian’s mum offering to pay an escort to have sex with her autistic son – I felt just a tiny bit uncomfortable. I know you would do anything for your children, but this is a bit extreme – isn’t it? But in reality she sees the person she loves most in the world growing up in pain because his physical needs are not being met. Paying for sex would be like paying for his swimming lessons or buying his food wouldn’t it?

The problem with Veronica’s solution is that she is not being honest and she’s lying to protect him. She’s buying sex and pretending to Sebastian that it’s love. That the girl she finds for him wants a relationship with him. In an attempt to quash other people’s prejudices, she is perpetuating her own. Is it the only way he gets to have sex, by buying it for him? Does she not trust that eventually he will find his own way.

I worked with someone whose son was autistic and she worried about his inappropriate behaviour – walking into his sisters’ rooms naked for instance – what would happen when he was in his teens and he did the same thing with strangers? Sebastian is obsessed with sex – if he finds a girlfriend will he do something inappropriate? Much safer then to buy him a ‘girlfriend’ so he can relieve his urges.

After a few paragraphs, I no longer felt uncomfortable (maybe a little on occasion) and I fell in love with the characters. Maybe not so much Veronica (though I may well have done the same thing under the circumstances) but with Sebastian and Isabelle. Sebastian is obsessed with routine and order. It’s what grounds him.

Isabelle’s father has had an accident and is in an induced coma. His last words to her before they put him under were to keep him at home. But how can she pay for his treatment and round-the-clock nursing while she completes her nursing degree? His business is failing and there is no money. Too shy to be a lap dancer (and she can’t dance anyway), Isabelle becomes a high class escort calling herself Violetta after the heroine of the Opera La Traviata, and offering her services online through an agency. But it soon turns ugly and at times dangerous, so when Veronica approaches her and offers her a fortune to have sex with her beautiful boy Sebastian, it’s an offer too good to refuse. Or is it?

This Is How We Are Human is written with so much love and compassion. It challenges everything we think we know about autism and even the prejudices we don’t realise we are carrying. I read it in two days. I woke up at 6am and read for an hour before work. I read it in my lunch break. I took it upstairs and finished it after tea.

By the end of the book, I was crying so much I couldn’t see the page. To say I was crying for Sebastian would make me just another person feeling sorry for him. In many ways it would be patronising and judgemental. Like Veronica I wouldn’t be letting him find his own way in his own time. But I cried freely for Isabelle, who was trying so hard to help everyone and eventually heal her shame. But this is not a sad story. It’s a celebration of life and it’s full of joy. I defy you not to fall a little bit in love with Sebastian. This is a book that everyone should read.

Incidentally, a couple of months ago we built a pond in the garden. We bought six fish. Only two survived. I have called them Flip and Scorpion in honour of Sebastian.

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

About the Author

Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015. The follow-up, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize. Both of her previous books Maria in the Moon and The Lion Tamer Who Lost were widely reviewed, critically acclaimed and number-one bestsellers on Kindle. The Lion Tamer Who Lost was shortlisted for the RNA Most Popular Romantic Novel Award in 2019. Her 2019 novel Call Me Star Girl won Best magazine Book of the Year, and was followed by I Am Dust.

Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice. Louise lives with her husband on the outskirts of Hull, and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012.

“Though This is How We Are Human is fiction, the premise was inspired by my friends, 20-year-old
Sean, who is autistic, and his mum Fiona. Fiona had spoken to me about how much Sean longed to
meet a girl and have sex. No one talks about this, she said – the difficulties navigating romance often faced by those on the spectrum. It ’s an issue that I wanted to explore. Fiona and Sean encouraged me and guided me through the book; Sean regularly consulted on dialogue, rightly insisting that his voice was heard, was strong, and was accurate. I cannot thank my extraordinary friends enough for their help and support.” Louise Beech

The Last Minute Play by Cat on a Piano Productions / Theatrephonic

When you are really busy it’s time for the actors to improvise. And they really do. Absolutely hilarious The Last Minute Play has some of my favourite lines.

“Is that a new car…”
“….lime green….really brings out your eyes Pitrum.”
“Shame I’ve only got the one really.”
“Beautiful eye though.”

“It’s always easier to recover from grief when it makes you filthy, stinking rich.”

And of course The Last Minute Play is set in a country house so there has to be a murder. Detective Polar Bear is onto it. Everyone was somewhere else polishing the candlesticks or whatever or ‘someone was clearly lying’ and what’s the motive?

“I have given everything for this family…the least they could do is give me a good retirement fund.”

Well there you go.

“When do we get paid?” Brilliant!

Written and Directed by Emmeline Braefield

Starring:
Chloe Wade as Charlie as Detective Polar Bear
Jackson Pentland as Robert as Marsha Mollymaddock and Jeffrey Butler
Rob Keeves as Paul as Pitrum Mollymaddock
Pippa Meekings as Patricia as Eleanor Duke
Emmeline Braefield as Sarah as Laura

Produced by Cat on a Piano Productions

Music:
King Porter Stomp by Joel Cummins
Retrograde by Spence
Never You Mind by Dan Lebowitz
London Fog by Quincas Moreira

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 us @theatrephonic, or visit our Facebook page.

And if you really enjoyed The Last Minute Play listen to Theatrephonic’s other plays and short stories and consider becoming a patron by clicking here…