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!
Well, this is certainly a new lifestyle change to when I was writing my last monthly wrap-up. With the close of my businesses and the re-direction of thoughts, my reading certainly suffered.
So, only seven books this month. Here’s some snappy thoughts on last month’s books… oh and I’ve listed the books I read in February, I wrote a post and just saw it in my drafts – so decided it was a little late to post now – lol!
Are Snakes Necessary? by Brian De Palma (the famous film director) and Susan Lehman – a caricature Film Noir style thriller, a quick, fun & quirky read (check out my previous blog posts for more chat) 3.5/5
Tidelands by Philippa Gregory – set in England, in 1648 – so Civil War and a renegade King as the backdrop for a love story, throw in some witchcraft rumours and you have ‘Tidelands’. I didn’t realise this was the first book in a series, so wasn’t prepared for the abrupt ending. Started well, but I lost my way and I didn’t overly like the male lead. 3/5
A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry – beautifully written book, with such powerful imagery (second in a series) based on a young Lakota orphan adopted by former soldiers; it explores the aftermath of the Civil War in America. 4.5/5
Thorn by Intisar Khanani – nice YA fantasy read, based loosely on The Little Goose Girl fairy tale. A princess, an unwanted betrothal, and a malicious sorceress. I enjoyed it. 4/5 YA stars.
Maybe One Day by Debbie Johnson – Hidden letters and a long-overdue reunion form the basis of the plot. This was addictive fun, and I’ll be chatting in more detail later this week as part of the blog tour. 4/5
The Library of the Unwritten (Hell’s Library 1) by A.J. Hackwith – the first book in a new fantasy series based in Hell’s library – a real bibliophile’s book, as book characters come to life, and characters battle to save libraries! I had fun reading this, and will definitely look out for book 2. 4.5
The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller – another YA fantasy read with a feisty anti-hero lead and a tormented Shadow King. Great escapism and fun. 4/5
Many thanks to the publishers: Titan Books, Hot Key Books and Orion for sending me books to chat about!
February Books – speedy chat!
Firstly, a movie serialisation, which is a new format for me. This was ‘Bloodshot’ which comes out this month and stars Vin Diesel. (see earlier blog post for more chat)
Death Deserved by Jorn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger (see blog tour post)
The Temple House Vanishing by Rachel Donohue. A mystery with a mixed time-frame based on themes of obsession, jealousy and power-play. I liked this.
The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda – a clever, puzzle of a novel (see blog tour post for further chat)
Beast by Matt Wesolowski – see blog tour post for more chat, but I loved it.
The Harlech Beach Killings by Simon McCleave – stronger than book one in his DI Ruth Hunter series set in Snowdonia.
The Stars We Steal by Alexa Donne – fun YA romance based on misconceptions and set in space. Based on Austen’s ‘Persuasion’.
The Woman Downstairs by Elizabeth Carpenter – see blog tour post for more chat, and I really enjoyed this mystery thriller.
The Sisters Grimm by Menna van Praag – I struggled a bit with the slow pacing. It’s the first in a series.
Never Look Back by Alison Gaylin – based around a podcast and the investigation of a series of 1970s murders. I liked it.
I’m delighted to share an extract from ‘Deep State’ as part of the #RandomThingsTour for this debut thriller by Chris Hauty. With thanks to Simon & Schuster, and Anne for the invite. I’m looking forward to reading ‘Deep State’ and chatting about it soon.
THE DEEP STATE – noun A covert state hidden within a government; a secret organisation of high-level operatives; exerts control through manipulation and a culture of pain and fear.
About the book
Hayley Chill isn’t your typical West Wing intern. Ex-military and as patriotic as she is principled, she is largely vilified by her peers and lauded by her superiors – it’s a quick way of making enemies. It is Hayley who finds the body of the White House chief of staff, Peter Hall, on his kitchen floor having died from an apparent heart attack. It is also Hayley who notices a single clue which suggests his death was deliberate, targeted. That he was assassinated. Unsure who to trust, Hayley works alone to uncover a wideranging conspiracy that controls the furthest reaches of the government. And Hall is just the beginning – the president is the next target. Hayley must now do the impossible: stop an assassination, when she has no idea who the enemy is, all while staying hidden, with Peter’s final words to her ringing in her ears: Trust no one. Because the Deep State will kill to silence her. And they are closing in.
It is entrenched. It is hidden. It is deadly. Who can you trust?
EXTRACTfrom the PROLOGUE of the novel
She can remember every fight. Whether childhood brawls back home in Green Shoals, West Virginia, or organised bouts as an amateur fighter since enlisting in the army, physical combat is the fierce memoir of a hardscrabble life. The oldest of six children—her single mother laid low by multiple cancers—Hayley defended herself and her five siblings with savage determination.
Losing her first four fights, she absorbed hard lessons with each defeat. Eight victories followed those early routs, a dozen fights in total before graduating first in her class from high school. Hayley has fought as many times as an army boxer and remains undefeated.
Tonight, she defends her regimental title.
After thirty minutes of steady jogging, her muscles have become elastic beneath a sweat- drenched T- shirt and shorts. Her thoughts are as measured and orderly as her heart rate. Barely winded, Hayley stops and checks the time on a Citizen Eco- Drive Nighthawk Black Dial watch she took off an army pilot who challenged her to a barroom arm- wrestling match. At her feet is the loose stone and gravel of the construction site for a new PX. Hayley bends down and picks up one of the jagged rocks, clenching her fist tightly around it. The stone’s sharp edges send jolts of pain through her body, acute and clarifying. She maintains the intensity of this clench for ten seconds, then twenty more. Finally, Hayley takes a deep breath and drops the stone to the ground. Studying the palm of her hand with clinical detachment, she sees blood seeping from multiple quarter- inch lacerations. There is nothing to fear. Blood has been drawn. Now she can fight.
The Author – Chris Hauty
Chris Hauty is a screenwriter who has worked at all the major movie studios, in nearly every genre of film. He currently lives in Venice, California, in the company of a classic Triumph motorcycle and a feral cat. Deep State is his first novel.
Huge thanks to Anne Cater and Orenda Books for the blog tour invite!
Police officer Alexander Blix and celebrity blogger Emma Ramm join forces to track down a serial killer with a thirst for attention and high profile murders, in the first episode of a gripping new Nordic Noir series…
The Book Blurb
Oslo, 2018. Former long-distance runner Sonja Nordstrøm never shows at the launch of her controversial autobiography, Always Number One. When celebrity blogger Emma Ramm visits Nordstrøm’s home later that day, she finds the door unlocked and signs of a struggle inside. A bib with the number ‘one’ has been pinned to the TV. Police officer Alexander Blix is appointed to head up the missing-persons investigation, but he still bears the emotional scars of a hostage situation nineteen years earlier, when he killed the father of a five-year-old girl. Traces of Nordstrøm soon show up at different locations, but the appearance of the clues appear to be carefully calculated … evidence of a bigger picture that he’s just not seeing… Blix and Ramm soon join forces, determined to find and stop a merciless killer with a flare for the dramatic, and thirst for attention. Trouble is, he’s just got his first taste of it…
I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Death Deserved’, the first book in the Blix and Ramm crime series, and steeped in Nordic Noir. I’ve read a few books recently that link the blogging world into the crime genre, but this brings something fresh to the table. It’s smart, intricately plotted and boosted by several moments of high tension. I really liked the characters of both Blix and Ramm, and look forward to reading more of the series. Both characters have vulnerabilities that create some fascinating depth and their developing relationship is unusual, so I’m curious to see where this may lead.
The serial killer in this book certainly has a flair for the dramatic, which is great for us readers! I loved trailing the crime scenes and attempting to work out who was behind it all. A challenging puzzle!
All in all, this book’s great. I didn’t want to put it down and would highly recommend it to crime novel fans. It’s smart, expertly paced, fuelled by tension and blooming fun to read!
Jørn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger are the internationally bestselling Norwegian authors of the William Wisting and Henning Juul series respectively.
Jørn Lier Horst first rose to literary fame with his No. 1 internationally bestselling William Wisting series. A former investigator in the Norwegian police, Horst imbues all his works with an unparalleled realism and suspense.
Thomas Enger is the journalist-turned-author behind the internationally acclaimed and bestselling Henning Juul series. Enger’s trademark has become a darkly gritty voice paired with key social messages and tight plotting. Besides writing fiction for both adults and young adults, Enger also works as a music composer. Death Deserved is Jørn Lier Horst & Thomas Enger’s first co-written thriller.
Wishing ‘Soot’ every success on its blog tour and with the publication. I’m really pleased to be contributing today with some content into the characters of the novel, and the world they inhabit. With thanks! Check out the tour list below for other fabulous contributions from the book loving community.
Welcome to a world where every desire is visible, rising from the body as a plume of Smoke. A world where bodies speak to one another and infect each other with desire, anger, greed. It is 1909 and this world stands on a precipice – some celebrate this constant whisper of skin to skin, and some seek to silence it forever.
Enter Eleanor, a young woman with a strange power over Smoke and niece of the Lord Protector of England. Running from her uncle and home, she finds shelter in a New York theatre troupe.
Then Nil, a thief hiding behind a self-effacing name. He’s an orphan snatched from a jungle-home and suspects that a clue to his origins may lie hidden in the vaults of the mighty, newly-risen East India Company.
And finally Thomas, one of the three people to release Smoke into the world. On a clandestine mission to India, he hopes to uncover the origins of Smoke and lay to rest his doubts about what he helped to unleash.
In a story that crosses continents – from India to England’s Minetowns – these three seek to control the power of Smoke. As their destinies entwine, a cataclysmic confrontation looms: the Smoke will either bind them together or forever rend the world.
I. The Story
Imagine a symphony made up of distinct themes and melodies. It starts with a young woman, Eleanor, afraid that the long reach of her uncle will at last discover her in her Canadian exile and summon her home. She has a ‘talent’—a special relationship to the Smoke—that she fears others will want to put to use. Then she meets a playwright, a master of the new art of Smoke Theatre, and he offers her shelter within his troupe. Then there is Nil—No-One, Nothing—a thief and confidence man, getting by on his wits. His latest mark is the New York City branch of the mighty East India Company, a trading corporation that controls the Indian Raj and is one of the dominant economic powers in this world after the ‘Second Smoke’, for they hold a monopoly on the only substance that can supress the Smoke. Nil is an orphan who does not know where he was stolen from when still a young child. He suspects that somewhere in the Company vaults slumbers the truth of who he is. And then there is Thomas, hero of Smoke, who has travelled to India to learn what really happened in the revolution he helped to start ten years ago. He meets the Singhs, a local couple who themselves are revolutionaries of sorts, dreaming of freedom from Company rule. Will what Thomas finds lay to rest his guilt and doubts about what he helped to unleash? These three melodies soon begin to intertwine, tying together events in North American and on the Indian subcontinent, and leading back to Britain, that sundered, Gale-haunted ‘Isle of the Smoke’, where the Smoke-affirming North of Minetowns and the Smoke-denying South under the stewardship of its Lord Protector are fighting over the country’s future.
About Dan Vyleta
Dan Vyleta is the author of four previous novels: Pavel & I, which gathered international acclaim and was translated into eight languages, The Quiet Twin, which was shortlisted for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, The Crooked Maid, which was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and winner of the J.L. Segal Award, and the critically-acclaimed Smoke.
His is the son of Czech refugees who emigrated to Germany in the late 1960s. After growing up in Germany, Dan left to attend university in the US, where he completed a PhD in History at King’s College, London.
He lives in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Praise for Dan Vyleta
‘For once both comparisons (with Harry Potter and Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights) are apt . . . this is a novel that stays in the imagination long after it has been read’
‘It’s detailed, multi-layered and feels authentic – and might just win over historical fiction fans too’
‘Mr. Vyleta writes with intricacy and imagination and skillful pacing’
New York Times
‘Vice is made visual in Vyleta’s sprawling, ambitious novel, a Dickensian tale tinged with fantasy’
‘One of the most original and enthralling books I have read in a long time.’
Book Blurb: Paris, 1889: Amélie Audet toils in a laundry when, only steps away, investors promise the most glittering dance hall the city has ever seen. Determined to secure an audition, she stumbles into a meeting with the alluring owner of the Moulin Rouge and must face her scandalous past.
She would have Paris at her feet. Jasper Degrailly is enchanted by a painting come to life. He sets out to seduce Amélie with his gilded world and the dark warrens of his mind. Yet he has his own sordid entanglements, and soon the gentleman and the singer must manage the greedy machinations of bohemian and high-society Paris.
He would have her at his. Caught between competing artists, directors, and dance halls, Amélie struggles to earn the role that could make her a star, while Jasper strives to let go of his tortured past and hold on to his bright future. Eventually, their fates collide, and they find themselves torn between their desperate hearts and their irreconcilable lives.
I enjoy historical fiction and this book certainly creates a vivid world of the late 1800s: the world of the female and society’s judgements and expectations. Of power, control, passion, troubles and hardships. At the heart of this story is a talented woman, Amelie Audet, who dreams to become a performer. Her physical allure makes her into an unwilling muse and into the object of desire from more than one man. It is her relationship with Monsieur Jasper Degrailly that dominants the novel, as much as he wants to dominate her as their relationship becomes physical. His controlling need in their relationship is handled well, as is Amelie’s submissiveness. There are two versions of this book available, one is the writer’s cut which does not hold back and contains explicit content with descriptions of bondage and consensual power exchanges. So, if you are looking for something milder then you can read the mainstream version. I enjoyed the writer’s descriptions of 1880s Paris, the performance halls and the start of the Moulin Rouge and the less unsavoury side of life beyond Paris’s high society. The writer crafts a believable love story with a difference, and I really became invested in Amelie’s story.
Recommended for readers’ seeking a different kind of historical love story.
Inspired by the real events of the Vardø storm of 1617.
On Christmas Eve, 1617, the sea around the remote Norwegian island of Vardø is thrown into a reckless storm. As Maren Magnusdatter watches, forty fishermen, including her father and brother, are lost to the waves – the menfolk of Vardø wiped out in an instant.
Vardø is now a place of women.
Eighteen months later, a sinister figure arrives. Summoned from Scotland to take control of a place at the edge of the civilized world, Absalom Cornet knows what he needs to do to bring the women of Vardø to heel. With him travels his young wife, Ursa. In Vardø, and in Maren, Ursa finds something she has never seen before: independent women. But Absalom sees only a place flooded with a terrible evil, one he must root out at all costs . . .
I enjoyed this ‘Norwegian Crucible’ of a story. Based on historical events where the search for witches becomes a bloodthirsty passion. It’s such an horrific part of our world history, that shouldn’t be forgotten, and this book serves to remind us of the awful way power, superstition, control, jealousy and mass hysteria can cause humans to do horrific things. The story follows two young women, who meet in differing circumstances but find an instant connection with one another. One woman who has endured great loss and hardship and another married to a stranger and taken to a new land. Both are likeable protagonists and I loved how their relationship developed amidst the chaos of accusations and suspicion. The writing is rich and immersive, the landscape dark and cold. I really enjoyed this book and the inevitable bittersweet ending.
Well, what happened to January? It disappeared as quickly as 2019! I finished 9 books this month, and four seasons of ‘The Mentalist’ – my new TV obsession.
First up is ‘The Snowdonia Killings’ a debut crime series novel by Simon McCleave introducing DI Ruth Hunter. A promising start, I’ve a blog post with a full review if you’re interested in finding out more. 3.5 stars
‘Killing Beauties’ by Pete Langman is an historical read about female spies and the wider network during Cromwell’s 17th century world of secrets and lies. 3 stars.
‘Dreamland’ by Nancy Bilyeau was a really enjoyable read, there’s also a blog post on this one. This book is an adventure and a murder mystery; it’s about first love, loss, addiction, power, corruption, and the battle for independence. 4.5 stars
‘Eros Element’ by Cecilia Dominic – a fantasy steampunk inspired adventure. It was okay for a little escapism. 2.5 stars
‘The Last Day’ by Andrew Hunter Murray is all bleak, apocalyptic and dystopian – uneven narrative issues for me, but lots of positives. 3.5 stars
‘The Foundling’ by Stacey Hall is one of my top reads this month. I loved Hall’s first book, ‘The Familiars’, and this one is even stronger. Built around the many ‘foundlings’ left in London’s Foundling Hospital; this is a story of despair, hope, isolation, lies and family bonds. 5 stars.
‘The Duke’s Desire by Erica Ridley was a review read, and it’s pretty much as you’d expect – a fiesty historical romance with the expected HEA. 3 stars
‘Six Wicked Reasons’ by Joe Spain was a great thriller, whodunit book and centres on a very dysfunctional family governed by a narcissistic patriarch. 4 stars.
Finally, ‘The Rose in Winter’ by Sarah Harrison – not really for me, I found myself disengaged several times. 2.5 stars
Overall, I read 203 books in 2019, not as many as 2018 but I’m still really happy with that, particularly as I set a goal of 80. The sad thing is, I have about 200 still on my TBR and 2020 is looking like another good year for publishing…so the lure of adding to my bookshelves will be undeniable and irresistible. Thank you to all the publishers and publicists who have sent me books to read and chat about; I’ve loved being a part of the lovely blogging community this year and look forward to another year of talking books in 2020.
When I talk about books, I am very conscious of the subjectivity of the reader. I strongly believe that each story calls to different people for different reasons. I won’t review a book negatively just because I don’t agree with some subject matter, or how it’s handled, or the meandering pace etc. I think every book has value for someone and every writer has put their heart and soul onto the pages, and that is no easy task. I will always respond to a book that hasn’t worked for me, by highlighting the story, themes, setting and characters, to inform others who might be interested. I see very negative, quite angry reviews that have caused other people not to read that particular book, and I find this sad. It’s like the movies isn’t it, a bad critical review by no means will suggest you won’t like it. Kindness, thoughtfulness and care with our words is always the way forward. For me, particularly as I have gotten older is… I just simply enjoy a good story. I like to jump into my imagination and bring the words on the page to life. A story calls to different people for different reasons, and I don’t care if you’re 50 years old and love YA books… just enjoy and read away! So, let’s chat about some of my favourite stories.
In no particular order, and for no particular reason, other than doing a damn good job of being my escape from reality: my most memorable reads of 2019.
A double whammy from my favourite crime series by Jane Casey. ‘Cruel Acts‘ was published this year and I was incredibly lucky to receive an arc of ‘The Cutting Place‘ before it’s 2020 publication. If you haven’t read any Casey, her Maeve Kerrigan series featuring DI Josh Derwent is a must if you enjoy character driven crime books. I thought ‘Cruel Acts’ was brilliant for plotting and character developments, but ‘The Cutting Place’ topped it! Absolutely loved this one. I’m a great fan of book series with long-term relationship plotting and the central duo of Kerrigan and Derwent is a huge focus in the latest read; I was glued to the pages until the final word. I’m looking forward to the audio book release next year, as the narrator, Caroline Lennon, is brilliant. Highly recommended. Begin with ‘The Burning’ and see the writing go from strength to strength. 5 stars reads.
Laura Purcell’s gothic novels ‘The Silent Companions‘, ‘The Corset‘ and ‘Bone China‘ were all firm favourites. I do enjoy gothic fiction and it’s great to not have to draw from my classic collection.
M.W.Craven’s Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw series, starting with ‘ThePuppet Show‘ and following with ‘Black Summer‘. Smartly and intricately plotted crime reads with a cracking crime solving team.
‘Dark Matter‘ by Michelle Paver – I loved this incredibly well-written ghost story about a man embarking on an Arctic Expedition that soon becomes a nightmare. There’s recently been a BBC Radio 4 reading, which is well worth a listen.
‘Perfect Kill‘ by Helen Fields – I’ve been reading these books from the beginning, so it’s great to return to loved characters and this is also a great crime read in itself. Highly recommended series.
‘Broken Souls‘ by Patricia Gibney is the D.I. Lottie Parker series; this is book seven in the series. Always enjoyable crime reads with plenty of family and relationships drama.
Tracy Chevalier’s ‘A Single Thread‘ was a surprise favourite, and I found it an very moving account of Violet Speedwell, and her endurance to find a place for herself as one of the many surplus women left after the war.
‘Platform Seven‘ by Louise Doughty was another unexpected winner for me. I loved this supernatural mystery read about loss, abuse and redemption.
Jennifer Donnelly’s The Tea Rose Trilogy – my favourite of the three is ‘The Winter Rose‘ featuring Sid and India, two characters pushed to the extreme and are drawn to each other constantly despite terrible hardships. Great historical fiction.
Katie Welsh’s Sarah Gilchrist books, ‘The Wages of Sin‘ and ‘The UnquietHeart‘ were also firm favourites. I discovered these books by chance and I really loved the historical setting and the ease of the story-telling.
‘Spin the Dawn‘ by Elizabeth Lim, was one of my favourite YA fantasy reads this year. The first in the Blood of Stars series and a magical fantasy centred around Chinese culture and pulling on the Mulan idea. Fun.
‘The Museum of Broken Promises‘ by Elizabeth Buchan was a beautiful story of Laure, the owner of a very different museum. We are taken into the past to uncover what happened to her in 1980s Prague, with the awful backdrop of the Cold War.
It was also great to read the final book in the Fawkes and Baxter series by Daniel Cole, ‘Endgame‘. This series began back in 2017 with ‘Ragdoll‘, the gruesome case of a body found stitched together from six different victims. The middle book in the series being ‘Hangman‘.
Ambrose Parry (a writing duo) published their second novel featuring Dr. Will Raven, called ‘The Art of Dying‘. These are great books, set in mid 1800s Edinburgh. Enjoyable, atmospheric historical crime reads.
‘We Hunt the Flame‘ was another top YA fantasy read by Hafsah Faizal and is the first book in the Sands of Arawiya series. Rich, immersive language and inspired by ancient Arabia, this is an epic adventure read.
Georgina Clarke’s ‘Death and the Harlot‘ and ‘The Corpse Played Dead‘ were great – really good stories, set in 1759 and featuring Lizzie Hardwicke a prostitute who gets drawn into crime solving to save herself.
Pamela Ford’s ‘To Ride a White Horse‘ was another of those books that just tells a great story. Lovely Sunday afternoon read with a cup of tea in hand.
I loved Naomi Novik’s ‘Uprooted‘ a fantasy book about a young girl who joins forces with the Dragon, a Wizard to protect her land from an evil, enchanted forest. Thrilling and magical.
‘The Murder of Harriet Monckton‘ by Elizabeth Haynes comes highly recommended for those who enjoy piecing together events surrounding the murder of a young woman. The novel is told via potential guilty parties and is based on a real murder.
‘Daisy Jones and the Six‘ by Taylor Jenkins Reid was great – I loved the interview style of this book and piecing together the actual events and feelings in this story of a rock band and one Daisy Jones!
Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell series comes highly recommended if you like witty historical investigative fun, with a dash of slow-burn romance. The series begins with ‘A Curious Beginning‘ and this year I read the recent release ‘A Dangerous Collaboration‘. Pure ‘over the top’ entertainment.
Elly Griffiths is another of my go-to authors and her Ruth Galloway books always are good, solid enjoyable reads, this year the 11th in the series came out, ‘The Stone Circle‘.
I loved ‘Where the Crawdad’s Sing‘ by Delia Owens for its wonderful world of the marshes and for the Marsh Girl that lived there. You also get a crime and a court-room drama, but it’s the natural world of the novel that stars for me.
Katherine Arden’s ‘The Winternight Trilogy‘ was a winner for me, I loved this Russian folklore inspired series of books, beginning with ‘The Bear and the Nightingale‘ – all these books are enchanting adventures and I loved each one. Perfect for a cold winter night by the fire.
Not a physical book, but the ‘West Cork‘ podcast was also a highlight; this is a podcast series that explores the investigation of the actual murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in Ireland, back in 1996. A brutal crime that is still being investigated today. This podcast is a fascinating and additive insight into the events, the investigation and the suspects.
Well that’s it for books that drew me into their worlds for 2019. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2020! Happy New Year! May it be healthy and happy! Leigh X