Welcome to my book-blog. I've spent the last 22 years as a teacher of English Literature and running a Stage School and Theatre. Alongside that, I spend as much time as I can within the pages of a book and hope you'll get some reading inspiration from my library. Catch me on Instagram as well as books.tea.and.me – I'm always looking for recommendations!
University professor Nina is at a turning point. Her work seems increasingly irrelevant, her doctor husband is never home, relations with her adult daughter Ingeborg are strained, and their beautiful house is scheduled for demolition. When Ingeborg decides to move into another house they own, things take a very dark turn. The young woman who rents it disappears, leaving behind her son, the day after Nina and Ingeborg pay her a visit. With few clues, the police enquiry soon grinds to a halt, but Nina has an inexplicable sense of guilt. Unable to rest, she begins her own investigation, but as she pulls on the threads of the case, it seems her discoveries may have very grave consequences for her and her family.
This was one of those books that once you start reading, you keep going until the end, despite the late hour. It’s not action packed or fast paced, it’s a very steady read, but completely absorbing. I have to admit there were some inferences that starting raising my curiosity fairly early on, and the ending proved that my ‘spidery’ senses were correct, so the outcome was not a surprise for me, but I loved watching the interactions of all the characters throughout: the network of lies, suspicions, greed, power-play, and manipulation provides great reading.
This is a layered psychological thriller with plenty of underlying drama. At the core is Nina, who is being displaced from her roots, and having to relocate as her house is going to be demolished. I really enjoyed her character, in particular her tenacity and drive to not give in. With themes of connection, roots and uprooting wrapped around the central mystery, there’s certainly a decent amount of background and depth to the narrative.
I loved the references to art, literature, and fairy-tales. The Bluebeard underscore was woven darkly and beautifully; the threaded allusion addition was very welcome, and I really enjoyed the insights it offers for readers, with the seven doors parallel.
Overall, a dark, layered allusion themed Nordic Noir that hooks you in until the closing lines.
The Author – Agnes Ravatn
Agnes Ravatn (b. 1983) is a Norwegian author and columnist. She made her literary début with the novel Week 53 (Veke 53) in 2007. Since then she has written three critically acclaimed and award-winning essay collections: Standing still (Stillstand), 2011, Popular Reading (Folkelesnad), 2011, and Operation self-discipline (Operasjon sjøldisiplin), 2014. In these works, Ravatn revealed a unique, witty voice and sharp eye for human fallibility. Her second novel, The Bird Tribunal (Fugletribuanlet), was an international bestseller translated into fifteen languages, winning an English PEN Award, shortlisting for the Dublin Literary Award, a WHSmith Fresh Talent pick and a BBC Book at Bedtime. It was also made into a successful play, which premiered in Oslo in 2015. Agnes lives with her family in the Norwegian countryside.
Thanks to Anne for the tour invite and to Orenda Books for the review copy – wishing this book every success it deserves.
It’s lovely to be chatting about THE BONE SHARD DAUGHTER today for the Blog Tour – many thanks to Tracy for the invite, and Orbit for the review copy. I enjoy reading fantasy, so this appealed to me straight away, and I wasn’t disappointed…
The Sukai Dynasty has ruled the Phoenix Empire for over a century, their mastery of bone shard magic powering the monstrous constructs that maintain law and order. But now the emperor’s rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands.
Lin is the Emperor’s daughter, but a mysterious illness has stolen her childhood memories and her status as heir to the empire. Trapped in a palace of locked doors and old secrets, Lin vows to reclaim her birthright by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.
But the mysteries behind such power are dark and deep, and wielding her family’s magic carries a great cost. When the revolution reaches the gates of the palace itself, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her throne – and save her people.
THE BONE SHARD DAUGHTER is certainly an eye-catching book, and the title an intriguing one. I enjoy reading fantasy novels, so was delighted to read this one as part of its Blog Tour.
Firstly, I’m not usually a fan of too many narrative perspectives, in this book we see the story through several eyes, written either in the first or third person. Lin and Jovis are connected via their first-person narratives, and I personally enjoyed the immediacy and drive of these sections. I really liked both Lin and Jovis. Jovis in particular is very endearing as he copes with what life throws at him, but also the thought and dedication to maintain the search for his missing wife is very emotive; I loved the snatches of memory built into the story as we piece together the past. Ah, and then there’s the adorable evolving relationship with Mephi – a magical horned cat/otter type creature. Loved every moment with Mephi! I also enjoyed the third person narrative pulling into the story the lives of Ranami and Phalue that explores the relationship between two social classes and pulls in the revolution theme.
Overall, meticulous planning and structural format creates a multi-layered perspective fantasy set in a creative island-based world ruled by a failing Emperor. There’re all the elements fantasy readers expect, and importantly the world is carefully crafted in detail, so the transference from reality is seamless. This is a book of layers with a thought out embedded magical system – I found Pullman’s Dark Material vibes made creepy with the creature constructs lurking and spying. The idea is menacing, and Frankenstein vibes underscore the reanimated creatures. It’s really creative and explores more modern themes of experimentation and exploitation.
With themes of identity, control, loss, the past, memory, and connection this is an impressive debut; I’m be looking forward to the second book in the Drowning Empire Trilogy.
THE HEIGHTS is the second book in the Crane and Drake series from Parker Bilal. The first book in the series ‘The Divinities’ received great feedback, such as ‘terrific crime fiction rooted in geopolitics’ from the Sunday Times, and ‘told with a delicate elegance . . . it promises to be a fine series’ from the Daily Mail. For book chat about the newly published, THE HEIGHTS, please do keep scrolling. With thanks to the publisher for the review copy, and Anne for the tour invite.
What starts with the gruesome discovery of a severed head on the Tube soon becomes personal for former DI Cal Drake. After one betrayal too many, Drake has abandoned the police force to become a private detective. He’s teamed up with enigmatic forensic pathologist Dr Rayhana Crane and it’s not long before the case leads them to the darkest corners of the nation’s capital and in dangerously close contact with an international crime circuit, a brutal local rivalry and a very personal quest for retribution. With the murder victim tied to Drake’s past, his new future is about to come under threat.
This book begins after Cal Drake, a former Met DI, has left the police force, and begun work as a private detective, partnering with Dr. Rayhana Crane, a forensic psychologist. The story begins as this partnership starts to work together, and coinciding with the disturbing discovery of a severed head of a woman on a tube train. The plot develops and draws in Drake’s past during an undercover drugs operation, and a complex web of gangs, drugs, suspicion and plotting develops.
I really enjoyed the plot layers, and you have to keep focused as past and present collide in this well written crime thriller. Added into the mix is a seemingly Middle East connected abduction, that spirals into another connection, bringing both investigations on a similar tangent. The relationship between Drake and Crane adds a further dimension, and although suffers from mistrust, they make an interesting team. Both have layers, and I may have some missing gaps from not reading ‘The Divinities’, the first book in the series, but it didn’t seem to matter. There’s a lot of depth and complex detail in the book, which can slow the pace, but when it picks up it hurtles along!
It’s dark, intense, disturbing and complex. A decent crime thriller read.
Parker Bilal is the pseudonym of Jamal Mahjoub, the critically acclaimed literary novelist. He is the author of the Makana Investigations series, the third of which, The Ghost Runner, was longlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year Award. The Divinities, the first in his Crane and Drake London crime series, was published in 2019. Born in London, he has lived in a number of places, including the UK, Denmark, Spain and, currently, the Netherlands.
I love a good yarn about witchcraft, so jumped at the chance to be a part of the blog tour for THE YEAR OF THE WITCHING, huge thanks to Anne for the invite. It’s a debut novel from Alexis Henderson whose lifelong love of ghost stories and all things witchcraft has resulted in a surprisingly detailed story, with complex themes and a defiant, political feminist drive.
Please keep scrolling for bookish chat about THE YEAR OF THE WITCHING
Born on the fringes of Bethel, Immanuelle does her best to obey the Church and follow Holy Protocol. For it was in Bethel that the first Prophet pursued and killed four powerful witches, and so cleansed the land. And then a chance encounter lures her into the Darkwood that surrounds Bethel. It is a forbidden place, haunted by the spirits of the witches who bestow an extraordinary gift on Immanuelle. The diary of her dead mother . . . Fascinated by and fearful of the secrets the diary reveals, Immanuelle begins to understand why her mother once consorted with witches. And as the truth about the Prophets, the Church and their history is revealed, so Immanuelle understands what must be done. For the real threat to Bethel is its own darkness. Bethel must change. And that change will begin with her . . .
Firstly, this is not simply a story of witchcraft, it’s a layered and detailed novel with Atwood vibes connecting the wider themes into the dominant patriarchal village of Bethal. I must admit I wasn’t expecting a YA book vibe, so once that was established, I was able to adjust to the overall plot, character types and their relationships.
Bethal is controlled strongly by religion, and the patriarchy that represents it. The rules over the villagers are stark, particularly so for the women. The darkness and the evil are not, as expected, ultimately caused by the witches, but it’s deeply rooted in the societal structures in place throughout Bethal. At the centre of this is the Prophet, who leads the villagers and is the top of the village’s hierarchy – he is also able to claim several wives, and both dominate and control them to his advantage. The reader cannot help but immediately question the morality and systemic patriarchy controlling this sheltered and alienated village.
So, where’s the witchcraft? It lies in the deep forest surrounding the town, and in its history. Our eyes are opened to this, through our central protagonist, Immanuelle, whose life changes after finding her dead mother’s diary; suddenly her perspective of the world shifts, and she begins to question how evil, and how much a threat the spirits of the witches in the wood are.
This is also a book about a quest, and the coming of age story of Immanuelle. She is drawn into the battle to stop four plagues descending on the village, a plague she unwittingly began. Her quest is to defeat the four plagues of Blood, Blight, Darkness and Slaughter, and along the way discover who is she, and where she truly belongs. Her bravery, passion, and morality to do what is right makes her a powerful female character; this is most definitely, and rightly, her story.
Certainly, a strong debut novel, with surprising thematic depth. A book that explores religion, patriarchy, feminism, fundamentalism, and politics as a young girl fights for the truth of her past and attempts to build a better future. With an abundance of darkness, witchery, and horror; this is a steadily paced and detailed book of a town plagued by witchcraft with a powerful thematic undercurrent.
Alexis Henderson is a speculative fiction writer with a penchant for dark fantasy, witchcraft, and cosmic horror. She grew up in one of America’s most haunted cities, Savannah, Georgia, which instilled in her a life-long love of ghost stories. When she doesn’t have her nose buried in a book, you can find her painting or watching horror movies with her feline familiar. Currently, Alexis resides in the sun-soaked marshland of Charleston, South Carolina.
I’m very excited and grateful to be a part of the Blog Tour for Erin Kinsley’s Innocent – many thanks to Anne for the invite and Headline for sending the book. I love a good thriller with a large dose of drama, and this was billed as great for people who enjoyed LIAR and BROADCHURCH. As soon as I started reading, I could see this as a TV drama, and please do keep reading to find out why…
The pretty market town of Sterndale is a close-knit community where everyone thinks they know everyone else. But at a lavish summer wedding a local celebrity is discovered slumped in the gardens, the victim of a violent assault that leads to a murder investigation.
As the police search for answers, suspicion and paranoia build – and the lives of the locals are turned upside down.
Secrets that lurk beneath the pristine façade of Sterndale come to light as detectives close in on the truth…
This book from the start was so easy to visualise as a TV series, I could picture the mix of close and long shots, and the switches in perspectives, as all the central players come into focus. In all good thrillers, you need a great location and great diverse characters, and Innocent provides all of this in abundance. I really enjoyed it.
The book is set in the small town of Sterndale, and begins with a brutal assault of a celebrity, Tristan Hart, who lives in the town with his wife, Izzy and their young daughter. This novel certainly begins with ‘the calm before the storm’, as the perfect couple leading a perfect life, fractures within the opening pages and is pulled apart over the course of the novel. Secrets, lies and betrayals take centre stage as the reader is tasked with working out what’s behind the surface and who could possibly have acted so violently.
From the start, there are plenty of suspects to choose from, and this only builds as the investigation progresses. I enjoyed the Police investigation perspective as those who knew Tristan Hart are investigated, and secrets are revealed. The investigation and interviews are written in detail, and sometimes repeated back, some may find this a repetitious, but I enjoyed the reflection time to wonder about the suspects.
This is not a fast-paced book, it takes its time to describe this community and the events that shake it up, I enjoyed taking my time reading it as well, and loved the heart behind the story. I enjoyed the tensions, the reveals and the emotional depth within this thriller. With some smart red herrings to put you off the scent, there’s some super plotting in this book that makes you want to keep reading.
A emotionally charged, intelligently designed thriller that demands you keep turning the pages. Highly recommended.
A huge thanks to Alex for sending me a copy of The Quickening , it’s a gorgeous looking book, and seemed a perfect genre match for me, and I was right; I had such an enjoyable ride reading this one.
Keep scrolling for more bookish chat…
An infamous séance. A house burdened by grief. A secret that can no longer stay buried.
England, 1925. Louisa Drew lost her husband in the First World War and her six-year-old twin sons in the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Newly re-married and seven months pregnant, Louisa is asked by her employer to travel to Clewer Hall in Sussex to photograph the contents of the house for auction. Desperate for money after falling on hard times, she accepts the commission.
On arrival, she learns Clewer Hall was host to an infamous séance in 1896, the consequences of which still haunt the family. Before the Clewer’s leave England for good, the lady of the house has asked those who attended the original séance to recreate the evening. Louisa soon becomes embroiled in the strange happenings of the house, unravelling the longheld secrets of what happened that night thirty years before… and discovers her own fate is entwined with Clewer Hall’s.
I love gothic fiction, so jumped at the chance to read Rhiannon Ward’s The Quickening, described as a supernatural, chilling historical mystery; centering around a séance at a crumbling, isolated hall in Sussex. With that introduction, there’s no way I’m not in!
We begin with two quotes, a definition of quickening, which is a time in pregnancy where the female can feel dizzy, nervous or experience hysteria. The other from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, from his collection of essays, The History of Spiritualism, that explores the question of life after death, and seeking to know if communication is possible with passed loved ones to seek ‘the touch of a vanished hand, and the sound of a voice that is still.’ This sets up the tone of the narrative, that is split over two time periods.
Our story begins in 1925, where the central protagonist wakes from a dream, filled with memories of the past and those she has lost. This is Louisa Drew, and she is a woman ahead of her time, with a strong determination to achieve and contribute to her life and wider world. She’s a photographer, and despite being heavily pregnant takes on a job at Clewer Hall, to photograph household items for a auction. She knows her second husband will object, so she arranges to leave before he gets home and finds out. I liked Louisa from the start, and soon we begin to realise that Clewer Hall and its inhabitants are hiding many secrets, and that Louisa’s new commission will not be straightforward.
I love crumbling expansive mansions in isolated settings, adding a heavy dose of gothic atmosphere and I’m hooked. This is my kind of book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved the merging of mystery thriller, gothic deliciousness, supernatural events and murder. However, it’s the additional depth that really resonated with me, from the devastation of World War One, to female empowerment, photography methods of the time, grief and finding the strength to change your life, even in difficult circumstances.
Added to all this, there’s the intrigue of the recreated séance, the mysterious behaviour of the characters, and Louisa’s increasingly dangerous position that racks up the tension. The séance adds an intensely creepy tone that adds malevolence with increasingly odd, and unexplainable events to add turmoil to Louisa’s commission. There’s a darkness lurking in the shadows of the house, and this drives the narrative; the reader begins to piece together the clues, that reveal the truth of the house. Along the way, Louisa makes both enemies and friends, but she remains determined. There’s a little of a romance sub-plot which is nicely handled, and adds to Louisa’s spirit and determination to live her life, and build her future in her own terms.
Overall, I highly recommend this book to people who enjoy historical gothic fiction, and enjoy some supernatural thrills.
I struggled to put it down, a goose-bump inducing supernatural ride! Read it!
It is 1941. Hope’s father, Jenner, builds Liverpool Cathedral while the Luftwaffe’s bombs fall. It is 2014, and Hope cares for her husband Robert as Alzheimer’s destroys his personality.
Hope’s husband Robert is a retired civic sculptor. As Alzheimer’s unravels his mind, a secret he has kept for her threatens to emerge, breaking the fragile peace she has made with her parents’ memory: the truth of what happened to her mother during the Liverpool Blitz.
Hope brings in Louise to be home-carer. A young mother, the last resident of the Blackbird Estate, harassed by her ex-partner. But now they are together, can they find a way the past can’t hurt them?
I’m absolutely delighted to be a part of ‘The Blackbird’ Blog Tour for @HenninghamPress with thanks to David for the invitation. I’m also delighted to be adding a conversation between Claire Allen and Dr. Sophie Oliver.
Firstly, and importantly, I loved reading this book. It’s also a joy to look at and there are lovely little illustrations dotted throughout the pages.
The story is constructed via two narrative timelines, there’s a mix of character perspectives, and the reader moves between 1941 and 2014. I soon became absorbed in the unfolding stories, albeit initially contrasting in nature. From the war threatened city of Liverpool and those connected to the challenging building of its imposing, dominating Cathedral, and to London’s Blackbird Estate, which is dilapidated, and the tenants are slowly being evicted.
Forgive my oxymoronic phrasing, but there’s both simplicity and complexities in its syntax, expression and figurative style. It’s both minimal and detailed; there’s a deep control to the writing, and I loved it. For more than one reason, the book also resonated with me. Last year I visited Liverpool and spent time at the Cathedral with my daughter. It’s a stunning building, and whilst I was there, an organist was rehearsing; the music seemed to dominate every space and people were absorbing the atmosphere, and reflecting in their own ways. It was an almost sublime and cathartic experience – reading about its challenging construction brought back these memories.
Our family is also dealing with dementia at the moment, and it’s a very hard journey, so the story of Hope and Robert was very emotional for me. There’s loss, heart-break, turmoil, grief wrapped in its pages, but it’s also a story of how the past remains within us, construction of the physical and the spiritual, and how relationships form and break. I loved this historical character led novel and would highly recommend it.
Please keep reading for a discussion of this novel between the author and Dr. Sophie Oliver, lecturer in Modernism at the University of Liverpool.
Claire Allen and Dr Sophie Oliver discuss ‘The Blackbird’.
The Blackbird is preoccupied with construction, with building things, but also with things being destroyed. The book itself is carefully built around several storylines in different places and different times. How did you construct the novel? What was your process of building? Tell us about the components.
I began with characters and small, specific things about them. For example, with the older character, Hope, my starting point was when I noticed a small block of nineteen-thirties flats built in a gap between rather grander, older houses in one of the roads that leads up to Telegraph Hill, near where I live, and I imagined an elderly woman living there. Her character and elements of her story grew from that. And I had, for a long time, wanted to write a novel about the building of Liverpool Cathedral. I’d originally thought of a kind of multi-generational saga but, in the end, I found the old lady living on Telegraph Hill kind of wove herself into things and I decided she belonged in the novel about Liverpool.
With the construction/destruction theme, I did try to knit everything together with underpinning threads which run through the whole novel, and they all tended towards oppositions: as well as construction/destruction, I was also thinking about memory/truth, control/independence and the idea of random chance versus things being connected.
How do you teach your students how to ‘knit everything together’?
I tend to deal with structure on a micro level, rather than on the bigger scale. Partly because of the kind of creative writing courses I teach, which are made up of very short, free-standing sessions, generating new ideas each week, so we don’t work on shaping a single piece over a longer period of time.
One thing I do focus on with students is how a good piece of writing can be a kind of choreographed plate-spinning exercise, in which the various separate elements that might be teased apart in creative writing classes are all working together. The trick is to keep all the plates spinning at the right speed and keep the joins seamless. So, for example, we will do an exercise on dialogue, but we also keep the ‘setting’ plate spinning and have the characters interacting with their environment while they’re speaking. And we keep the ‘character’ plate spinning by incorporating the characters’ movements, gestures, habitual actions, etc into the section of dialogue.
It’s funny because in The Blackbird, I felt that the threads you mention are actually visible. I think you can see the seams as a central part of the book. Not in a clunky way at all, not in the way you might want to iron them out – their visibility is poetic because the construction is also thematic. Perhaps it’s not always desirable to make the joins seamless?
That’s fantastic to hear! I’m really pleased that those thematic threads are visible because it’s always so difficult to know, when you’re writing something, how it’s going to work for the reader. And because the construction of the book is as much thematic as it is narrative I always imagine the themes, rather than the plot, as the skeleton that holds it all together and I absolutely do want that to be visible. So you’re right – it isn’t always desirable to have seamless joins. I suppose what I was talking about with the seamlessness was more the nuts and bolts stuff of how to put a passage of prose together so that it is fluid and as potent as it can be. And to avoid that thing where people will sometimes skip bits that describe the setting when they’re reading. If that descriptive passage also incorporates character development, for example, because it’s showing a character experiencing the setting, rather than just describing it from a more distanced, authorial point of view, then it feels more likely the reader won’t be tempted to skip it, and chances are it’ll be a richer, more effective few paragraphs into the bargain!
I’m new to Liverpool, having been in London for the best part of 20 years. You can see the cathedral in Liverpool from so many places in the city, and when I lived in south London I would pass the Heygate estate – which for me was brought to mind by the Blackbird estate – every day on the bus, until it was demolished. That symmetry pleased me, a sense of connection between the two cities that otherwise are only connected in my mind because I decided to move recently. How are the two cities connected for you? Is connection important in a wider sense?
Yes, my experience of watching the Heygate Estate gradually disappear as I passed it on the bus every day was very similar to yours and, in fact, The Blackbird Estate is very much based on the Heygate, (with a nod to other estates with bird names, eg The Nightingale Estate in Clapton, the Woodpecker Estate in New Cross, and an estate in Oxford called Blackbird Leys, which was at one time notorious for joyriding.)
The two cities are very connected for me in a personal sense, because they are the two main places I have lived. I grew up in Liverpool and lived there until I left to go to university, and I’ve now lived in London for well over 20 years. There was a time a few years ago when I became very aware of the fact that I was approaching the point where I would have lived in London for as long as I’d lived in Liverpool, and the question of where I belonged, where I was ‘from’, started to nag at me. I’ve now passed that pivot point and have lived in London for far longer than I ever lived in Liverpool, so I guess I’m now undeniably a Londoner, but I still find the idea of ‘belonging’ really interesting.
And yes, connection is something I find very important in a wider sense. I love reading novels where there are echoes and parallels between characters’ experiences or between different times and different stories and I’ve enjoyed creating my own echoes and connections in The Blackbird.
Are there any specific novels that influenced you?
William Golding’s The Spire was the most obvious influence, in the sense that the 1941 sections of The Blackbird have lots of narrative parallels with Golding’s novel. I also enjoyed playing around with the way I echoed the earlier text, so, for example, in my opening chapter I kept the beginning of The Spire very much in mind, but, instead of using sunlight to create a sense of joy and divine chosen-ness, which is how Golding begins The Spire, I tried to create a sense of discomfort.
I’m not sure there are any other similarly direct influences, but the idea of connection– the ability of some to see or seek connection and others to deny its existence or importance, and to what extent it is possible to bridge the divide between the two – was something I always had at the back of my mind as I was writing and creating relationships between characters.
I have a feeling that you think of ‘connection’ in a gendered way – the women in the novel are the ones building relationships, taking care of others. Is there something in that?
That’s a really good point! I’d never really thought about it as being gendered, and it’s not something I did consciously in The Blackbird, but you’re absolutely right – it is the female characters who do more of the connecting and the relationship-building. Hmmm. It’s interesting, because in the novel I’ve been working on since The Blackbird, I have been developing two characters who are shaping up to be slightly Forsterian older women who just sense stuff. And my narrative point of view has, so far, been deliberately female-only, so I think there is definitely something in what you’re saying!
‘Sensing stuff’ suggests a way of knowing that isn’t about facts, but more about intuition, and it might even be faulty. There seems to be something similar happening with your approach to the past, for example, in The Blackbird. It’s partly a historical novel, half set in the 1940s, but apart from the war you quite deliberately avoid giving too much historical detail in terms of time and place. Can you say a bit more about your approach to the past generally?
Yes, I think that ‘sensing stuff’ is about intuition, and it can, as you suggest, sometimes be wrong. I think the character of Mary is maybe a good example of that: her tendency to see connections everywhere is certainly seen by her husband and her friend Thomas as something based too much on feeling and sensitivity. And I think I, too, thought rather as they did and felt that she tended to read too much into things. But it’s ambiguous, because in the end she is right about the need to accept one’s own responsibility and culpability and it’s Thomas’s inability to do that which makes her so disappointed in him.
The idea of ambiguity was really important to me, and I used the instability of memory, and offered alternative versions of what might have happened in the past, as ways of exploring this. I enjoyed not giving answers and exploiting the tension between that need to know ‘what really happened’ on the night Mary Jenner died, and the genuine possibilities that are offered by not knowing.
With the point you make about avoiding giving too much historical detail, I think maybe that’s to do with being so close-up to the characters rather than stepping a bit further back and taking a wider view that incorporates more of the surrounding time and place. It’s not necessarily another influence from The Spire, but that is a novel that does something similar, I think, although to a more extreme degree, in the sense that the whole book is from such an incredibly close-up, blinkered point of view that it is difficult to see anything outside the point of view of the main character, so you don’t really get a sense of a wider historical context. I think, in general, I tend to zoom in on characters, so perhaps the effect that has on historical period is that it gives only a partial view.
Claire Allen spent her childhood in Liverpool and lives in London. She teaches English literature and creative writing at City Lit. Her first two novels, The Mountains of Light (2004) and Protection (2006) were published by Headline Review. Her books have been translated into French and Greek.
Henningham Family Press
Henningham Family Press is the collaborative art and writing of David and Ping Henningham. We are both Artists and Authors, and we are curious about every aspect of writing, printing and publishing. We complete and represent our writing through fine art printmaking, bookbinding and performance.
Books and Prints are machines for communicating ideas, and the ideas that fascinate us tend to involve Money, History and Religion. We exploit the fact that reading makes the dead available for comment. We make live shows that bring our books and ideas to life.
HFP have teamed up with G.F Smith, paper merchant to Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press, to celebrate small presses. All editions of the book will be covered with Gmund Urban, which uses “genuine pulverized cement” to recreate concrete’s subtle texture and sparkle. The Römerturm paper mill has created “tradition and dynamic modernism in one material.” Especially apt for a book that is set in a post-war housing estate: The Blackbird. It is a sculptural material, perfect for HFP’s hand-bindery.
WIN A COPY OF CLAIRE ALLEN’S ‘THE BLACKBIRD’
For a chance to win a copy of this book, please comment on this post, and I’ll add you into the prize draw. Winner chosen on Friday 14th August, 2020. The winner will be contacted shortly after. Huge thanks to David, at Henningham Family Press for the generous offer of the gifted book for this giveaway. The giveaway also runs across Twitter and Instagram.
I’m quite an eclectic reader, so when I was asked to join the blog tour for ‘Mime’, I jumped at the opportunity to read a genre that’s not my typical choice. In all honesty, it was not a book I’d probably pick up if I saw it in a bookstore, mainly because the cover doesn’t appeal to me personally (because I’m not a supernatural/horror reader), but I’m really glad I got to read this. Keep scrolling to find out why…
There’s a supernatural killer on the loose…
Elliot Cross didn’t believe in monsters. At least, not until his brother died at the hands of something unnatural.
Four years later and a string of impossible deaths leave the police baffled. Consumed by a desire to shine a journalistic light on the supernatural world, Elliot sees a chance to make a difference. Enlisting the help of his (only) employee, Samantha, he quickly identifies the culprit – a demonic mime artist whose invisible creations are fatally real.
Way out of his depth, Elliot’s only hope is renowned demon hunter Gabriel Cushing. But tracking down Gabriel is only the beginning… The search for a way to end the demon forever will take Elliot and Sam across the country, uncovering lost history, buried secrets, and a few new truths about themselves.
Mime is one of those books that’s pure escapism, and fun to read. It’s on the long side, coming in at 520 pages, but don’t let that put you off! It’s an adventure from start to finish, and I relaxed straight away into Harrison’s clear and uncomplicated storytelling. I’ve always loved being told stories since I was little, and this is one of those books you can just sink into. It’s described as a supernatural thriller, and it certainly is that, however you also get a flawed and haunted lead character, Elliot Cross, whose investigation into the strange and weird wraps the reader very quickly into a battle with a supernatural demon nemesis. Along the way, he enlists support from other like-minded people, and suddenly we have a varied demon fighting team, but it’s certainly a battle to stay alive.
Cross’s main sidekick is Sam, and she becomes more than an employee as the story develops, this adds a side romance plot, but it doesn’t overtake at all. The focus remains on the battle to remove Mime from its host and stop it murdering innocents. There’s a hidden past to uncover, as the team race across the country to find a way to exorcise the demon that is after them, and one of the secrets has deeply personal implications. This adds needed depth, and is plotted in extremely well.
If you like supernatural reads, than I’d highly recommend ‘Mime’. A driven mystery, a supernatural thriller, an evil demon in a battle with flawed, but driven, dedicated demon hunters and a fun adventure. I really enjoyed the variety of the cast of characters, and as we discover more about them, they also realise there’s so much more going on under the surface. The story sets itself up really well for the sequel.
A thrilling supernatural adventure with heart! Recommended Read.
Author of supernatural thrillers and other spec genre fiction.
What can you expect from my books? Monsters, magic, action and adventure, and fragile human characters trying to muddle through as best they can. They make mistakes and bad choices sometimes, and they have to learn to recognise their own strengths and weaknesses and turn to their friends and loved ones for help and support.
My debut novel, “Mime”, released June 2020. Working on this book has been an epic 10 year journey learning how to be a writer. Although Mime was my first project, it has routinely been on the back burner while I worked on other projects. You can discover the published ones in the books section of my website, and novelette “The Star Coin Prophecy” is available as a free download for subscribers.
I’m a science geek, gamer, fan of sci-fi and fantasy, and wearer of many hats. Metaphorical hats, that is, not so much real hats. At the moment I mostly wear my writer hat, my designer and my crafter hat. I also used to wear my film maker hat when producing movies with my amazing colleagues over at The Great Escape.
I live in Clevedon in a creaky old Victorian terrace with my partner and my 17 year-old goldfish Ambition. One day I will own a cat… one day.
Mia thinks she has escaped her controlling ex-husband, Rob. She’s found herself a new home, a new boyfriend and a new life.
But when the police arrive to tell her that Rob has been found dead on his boat, things quickly fall apart. Mia is terrified she’ll be suspected, however the police are keeping all options open. They know Mia had reason to hate her ex-husband, but she’s not the only one. Plenty of people wanted Rob Creavy dead, not least his new wife, Rachel.
What they don’t know is that Mia has a secret, one she’s desperate to protect.
But someone else knows. Someone with very dark secrets of their own . . .
‘The One That Got Away’ is a tense thriller built on lies, abuse, manipulation, jealousy and deceit that ends with murder. The story is told in different time frames via our frame narrator, so it’s really enjoyable piecing everything together. One of the things I enjoyed about this story is controlled plotting of the narrative, and the insight into gaslighting behaviour.
The story begins with a death, and the reader finds themselves questioning what really happened, as we find out more about Mia, her current life and her past as Jess. In the present day, Mia is dealing with the aftermath of her ex-husband’s murder, and its implications on her current life. This story is split up with the experience of Jess, as she falls in love, gets married and finds her life becomes anything but happy.
This book is a strong debut, for me personally it stalled a little in the middle, and I wanted the narrative to develop at a quicker pace, but that’s just my experience. The narrative drive comes from the question, why now? why does this murder happen at this particular time and who are the suspects? I enjoyed how little clues and red herrings were implanted carefully into the story.
Overall, a solid psychological thriller debut. Huge thanks to the author, and publisher for the review copy.
I’ve just realised I didn’t post about my May and June reads, I think the ‘RONA’ pandemic has taken my focus away! I’ve been shutting down my costume and fancy dress hire shop (it sadly is a victim of RONA) and putting into stasis the Stage School, Touring Theatre, rehearsals rooms and other theatrical work, in the hope that they’ll come back to life in the future. So, like many others, these are tough times. If you’re having a difficult time too, I really wish you well, and keep the faith!
So back to books, I thought I’d tag the May and June reads into my July reads blog post, so if you are interested then do keep scrolling. 🙂
Book totals: July 13, June 5, and May 18
Cape May by Chip Cheek – set in the 1950s and explores the loss of innocence; lots of potential, but soon turned into the unexpected, and not in a good way for me. Disappointed.
From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout – I enjoyed this, a fantasy novel about protected maidens waiting for Ascension, until one decides to make a different choice, and with the help of Hawke, changes her course.
The Official Downton Abbey Afternoon Tea Cookbook – delightful cookbook, full of cookery history and delicious recipes.
The First Lie by A.J. Park – entertaining thriller, about a man coming home to find his wife over the body of a dead man.
Daughters of Cornwall by Fern Brittain – an enjoyable family saga from 1914 to 2020.
Very Nearly Normal by Hannah Sunderland – funny rom-com and entertaining escapism, enjoyable.
A Murderous Relation (Veronica Speedwell 5) by Deanna Raybourn – the lastest book in the Speedwell and Stoker mysteries, always entertaining!
The Deck of Omens (The Devouring Grey 2) by Christine Lynn Herman – the second in the series set in Four Paths, and the Beast that threatens the town may once again return, enjoyable.
The Devouring Grey by Christine Lynn Herman – the first book in the duology, set in a town threatened by an ancient curse, and as a new girl arrives in town, she soon notices something is very wrong. Fun,
The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren – Perfect summer garden read, lots of laughs and your predictable but necessary happy ever after.