Blogotober – Bleeding Heart Yard – a Review

Bleeding Heart Yard by Elly Griffiths

I love Elly Griffiths’ crime novels especially the Ruth Dalloway series. This is a newish series featuring a young Sikh policewoman but is promising to be just as good as the Dalloway books.

Bleeding Heart Yard is another great outing for the newly promoted Inspector Harbinder Kaur. No longer living in Sussex, in this third book, she has now moved to take up a new role in London heading a detective team. This means she has finally moved out of her parents’ house and is now sharing a flat in London. A new life beckons.

Her first murder enquiry is a high profile one when a prominent MP is found murdered at a school reunion. To complicate matters, her sergeant, Cassie, was also at the event and as a possible witness, cannot be involved in the case. The murder victim was one of an elite group who were all pupils at the school and there seems to some link to the unexplained death of one of their school mates 21 years ago. When another of the group is murdered, things become darker and it is unclear who can be trusted

I enjoyed both of the previous books in this series but this is my favourite one so far. I love the character of Harbinder and it’s great to see her moving on both in her career and her life. She is gay, non-white and small of stature so life in the police is likely to be difficult. However, she is completely competent and soon gains the confidence of her new colleagues. Harbinder’s character seems very real to me. She knows that she is good at her job and has confidence that she can do it properly. However, in her personal life she is a lot less confident and Elly Griffiths does a great job in showing us the different sides of her character. I have really enjoyed seeing how Harbinder has developed over the three books so far.

The other characters are all written with the author’s customary skill. Harbinder’s colleagues are a mixed bag including one who is a friend of the murder victim and could possibly be a suspect. I also love the way that the settings are so vivid in Elly’s books. Bleeding Heart Yard is a real place in London with an actual bistro and the author’s use of this setting adds a feeling of reality to the story

The book is written from different points of view and sometimes we see the same scene twice as we revisit it through the eyes of a different character. I enjoyed this aspect of the book as it’s always interesting to see how different people can view the same event.

I loved this book and am eagerly looking forward to the next one.

I received this ARC from the publishers and Net Galley in exchange for my honest review.

Bleeding Heart Yard was published by Quercus Books on September 29th

This is post 3 for Blogtober 2022

Lily Bennett’s Bucket List – A Review

This is a lovely light-hearted romance novel.

Lydia is almost 40 and living in her parents’ spare room after her husband of 20 years left her. She feels that life is passing her by when she discovers a bucket list in a shopping trolley. She has never done any of the things on the list and decides to try and complete the 9 tasks herself in the hope of winning back her husband. She even manages to find a companion to do the tasks with and has high hopes that she can show her husband that she isn’t the dull, boring person that he seems to think that she is.

I loved the setting of this book, it’s refreshing to have a romance not set in London or Cornwall and there are some lovely scenes set in and around Leeds. The supporting characters are also brilliant. Lydia’s family and friends especially her mother are vividly portrayed and there are some great comic moments in the family scenes. I loved the Polish family background and Lydia’s frustration and love for her family feels very real.

I really felt for Lydia as she tried to conquer her fears and complete the challenges. I think the fact that the bucket list wasn’t her own made this more interesting. They weren’t challenges that she had thought of so the effort to complete them was greater. Her personal journey throughout the story is a lovely one as she discovers who she really is.

The romance between Lydia and Jake is quite a slow burn as they come together to complete the challenges. Lydia wants to be somebody else which leads to her deceiving Jake. At first this doesn’t seem to be important but as he comes to mean more to her, her deception becomes more of an issue. However, Jake has secrets of his own and both of them have to decide whether or not to be open and honest with each other.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and definitely recommend it. It’s a great debut novel and I will certainly look out for future books by Katherine Dyson

Thank you to Net Galley and the publishers for my ARC in exchange for my honest review.

Lily Bennett’s Bucket List was published by Harper Collins UK, One More Chapter on September 9th.

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches – a review.

What a gorgeous witchy read. I had no idea what to expect from this book but I absolutely loved it.

Mica Moon is a 31 year old witch who has been brought up believing that witches must always work alone and can never trust anyone with the secrets of their witchcraft. However, when she is approached to help three young witches control their powers, she sees the chance for a new start.

The three girls live in a mysterious house in Norfolk in the care of their guardian, an archaeologist who is off somewhere excavating. In her absence, Ian, Ken and Lucie look after the girls and the house. And then there’s the librarian, Jamie who is very prickly and is determined to keep the girls safe at all costs.

Mica settles into her new role and begins to feel at home which she has never done in any place before. However, then she discovers that Jamie and the others are keeping secrets from her because they do not trust her and everything she has come to believe is shattered.

This book is a gorgeous combination of fantasy and romance. The fantasy elements are set firmly within the real world and are presented as normal. I love the way that Mica can fit a completely random collection of things including a fish pond into her small car. At its heart though, this is a novel about found family and seeing how Mica finds a place for herself is heart-warming. There are very similar vibes to The House on the Cerulean Sea so if you loved that, there is a good chance you will enjoy this one.

I loved all of the characters in this book. The three girls especially are brilliant. Each of them has their own character but my favourite is Terracotta who is a typical middle child, very spiky and reluctant to trust anyone especially an unknown witch. The standout character though is Mica herself. Despite lacking love and affection in her life, she cares about everyone around her and always thinks the best about any situation. A character who is a constant ray of sunshine can be irritating but Mica has a very vulnerable side and when she was hurt, I got a real lump in my throat.

This is a gorgeous book about found family, trust and new starts. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys a witchy story with a healthy dose of romance.

Thank you so much to Net Galley and the publishers for providing this ARC in exchange for my honest review.

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches is published by Hodder and Stoughton on 23rd August.

The Lost Man of Bombay – A Review

The Lost Man of Bombay by Vaseem Khan

I have loved this series since reading Midnight at the Malabar Hotel last year and was really keen to read this latest book in the series.

Persis Wadia is the only female police inspector in India in the years immediately following partition. She has been assigned to the unit based in the Malabar Hotel which is where they put all the officers who they don’t quite know what to do with. She is a gifted detective who achieves great results but constantly has to battle with the prejudice of being a woman doing what is seen as a man’s job. In this book, she is forced to work with the senior detective Oberoi, who makes no secret of the fact that he sees no need for her and in fact, instructs her not to speak during the investigation. The occasions when Persis gets the better of Oberoi and other men who try to put her down provide some of the book’s lighter moments.

The investigation is an intriguing one. It begins when two mountaineers discover a dead body high in the mountains. This discovery is followed by the brutal murder of an Italian businessman and his Indian wife. Both men have their faces destroyed but nothing else seems to link the two cases. Then a further death occurs and the links gradually appear.

Persis is an engaging but sometimes frustrating main character and love the interweaving of the investigation and her personal life. She is feeling confused and almost hostile as she feels that changes are being forced upon her not only by her father but also the criminologist Archie Blackfinch who she is developing feelings for. Her behaviour towards Archie in particular is frustrating as she certainly doesn’t treat him well due to her conviction that there can be no future for them. She is also initially hostile to the idea of being a mentor to a young girl from the slums. You would expect this to be something she would be keen to do. However, her reluctance   stems from her conviction that she can’t do a good job. This makes her a very real character with positive traits and flaws just like the rest of us

The author paints a vivid picture of Bombay and the surrounding area in 1950. We see clearly the inequalities between the rich and the people who like her young mentee, come from the slums. We also visit other locations such as the Banganga Tank and an old prisoner of war camp. Each different location is described in a way that lets the reader visualise the setting without bogging the story down in detail.

The historical background to this story is fully realised and the difficulties thrown up in the aftermath of the British leaving are clear. I enjoyed the greater importance placed on faith in this story too. The faith of the young girl Seema and the priests makes an interesting counterpart to Persis’s own almost forgotten Parsee religion.

I loved this book and totally recommend it to anyone who loves detective fiction especially with a  historical element.

I am really grateful to Net Galley and the publishers, Hodder and Stoughton,  for my ARC in exchange for my honest review.
The Lost Man of Bombay will be published on August 18th by Hodder and Stoughton.

Spring Cannot be Cancelled – A Review

I love the art of David Hockney and have been lucky enough to go to two of his exhibitions so when I received this book for my birthday, I was thrilled.

Spring Cannot be Cancelled is a series of conversations, mostly by phone and email, between the artist, David Hockney and Martin Gayford, an art critic, author and friend of Hockney. In 2019, Hockney moved to Normandy with his assistant and Gayford visited him there. Some of their conversations during that visit form the first chapter of the book and then most of the remainder are records of phone and zoom calls and emails between the two. As well as the emails, Gayford provides biographical details about Hockney which provide some background to the subjects that they discuss as well as his thoughts on what they discuss.

It sounds a bit boring when I sum it up like this but the book itself is fascinating. Hockney is 82 but his enthusiasm for life and his art remain as strong as ever. His love of nature and desire to paint what he sees is a common thread through all of the chapters.

You should paint what you love. I’m painting what I love; I’ve always done it”

The move to Normandy meant that he was able to just step outside and look at the countryside and his delight in being to do this is clear. He talks about the tiny details such as the ripples in water and how they are constantly moving and then moves onto how he tries to represent these things in pictures and also compares the way that other artists have attempted the same thing.

Hockney also talks a lot about how he works and the need he has to paint every day.

“I have to paint. I’ve always wanted to do it. That’s my job I think, making pictures, and I’ve gone on doing it for over 60 years.”

He discusses how he uses different methods to recreate what he sees in front of him. One of the things that I have always loved about his work is his use of modern technology and he talks about how he uses his ipad to create his pictures. We also see inside his studio and he compares his to the studios of other artists both past and present.

Obviously, in a book about Art, you want to see what they are talking about and the book is full of pictures, not only of Hockney’s work but also pictures by other artists who have inspired him or simply made him think about something differently.

The illustrations aren’t just put together in a picture section as so often happens in a paperback but actually in the correct place in the text so there is no need to be constantly flipping backwards and forwards between the picture and the text. Ironically, one of the things that he talks about is that seeing a picture of an artwork is not the same as being faced with the actual painting but at least the pictures show what he is talking about.

“You notice more with each successive year.”

I loved this book and Hockney’s ability to still be inspired by the tiny day to day changes in trees, light and water is something that makes me want to go out and try to do the same.

This is my eighth book Non-Fiction book so far in 2022 so I’m well on track to hit my Non-Fiction Reader Challenge this year. The Non-Fiction Reader Challenge is hosted at Book’dout and you can find the details of the challenge here

Godmersham Park – A Review

Godmersham Park is Gill Hornby’s second visit to the life and times of Jane Austen. In her previous novel, Miss Austen, she wrote a gorgeous fictionalised story of Cassandra, Jane’s older sister. In Godmersham, she focuses on a much less well known person in Jane’s life, Anne Sharp.

Anne Sharp became the governess to Jane’s favourite niece Fanny in January 1804 and spent two years at Godmersham Park. Gill Hornby has used Fanny Austen’s  journals to create a wholly believable novel of life in the family of Jane’s elder brother Edward over that two years.

The novel begins as Anne Sharp arrives at Godmersham to take up the role of governess. We know nothing about her background but the author has a created a perfect backstory for her. She has been brought up in a wealthy household where she was the much loved only daughter. However, upon her mother’s death, she is practically abandoned by her father and forced either to marry someone she actively disliked or find employment to support herself.

Her arrival at the park shows us all of the confusion that would have been felt by a young woman who has been flung into a totally different life to the one that she expected. A governess was neither part of the family nor part of the servant group so their lives would have been very lonely. In some ways, she was treated worse than the servants as they had set times of freedom whereas Anne was expected to be on duty whenever the family had need of her.

The novel is a gentle walk through Anne’s time at Godmersham. There are no dramatic events, just a gradual unfolding of characters. We see Anne’s unhappiness and then her increasing satisfaction with her new role. Into this calm existence, Henry Austen comes crashing in like a rock into a pool. His presence creates ripples and upheaval for everyone at the Park. At first, Anne dislikes him intensely but gradually her feelings change. She also meets Jane Austen when she comes to stay and their lifelong friendship begins as they put on theatrical performances together and go for long walks.

A governess’s life was a precarious one and this is clearly illustrated thoughout the book as Anne fears for her position due to her poor health and she only spends two years with the Austen family.
In some ways, it is a sad book as Anne is never able to really be happy. There are definite echoes of Persuasion in Anne’s character but sadly she never achieves the happy ending of Anne Elliott.

I really enjoyed the style of the writing and Jane Austen’s voice comes through clearly in the letters that she sends to Fanny. Anne felt incredibly real to me and I loved the way that Gill Hornby has created such a vivid character from Fanny’s journals.

I was so pleased that the author included notes at the end. The actual story ends with Anne’s departure from Godmersham Park but we can find out what happened to her after that. She and Jane only met twice more during their lives but Jane sent her a presentation copy of Emma with a handwritten inscription and she was also remembered in Jane’s will which definitely shows the closeness between the two women despite not seeing each other. Friendships being maintained by letter writing was a much more important of women’s lives two hundred years ago than it is now.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and being transported back to 1804. If you love Jane Austen, then this is definitely not to be missed.

Godmersham Park was published by Century in June 2022

I Belong Here – a review

In my aim to read more non fiction this year, I seem to be drawn to books about walking. So far I’ve read In Praise of Walking and Windswept and I Belong Here is another book where walking is the central theme.

I Belong Here: A Journey along the backbone of Britain by Anita Sethi

Anita Sethi was inspired (or driven to) walking the Pennine Way after being the victim of a Hate Crime involving racial abuse while on a train journey. The crime was reported and the perpetrator eventually prosecuted and found guilty. However, the author was traumatised by this whole experience and felt driven to explore the landscape of the place where she was born and had been brought up. She hoped that this would alleviate her anxiety and maybe provide a sense of belonging.

I was expecting something along the lines of The Salt Path which I read last year as in both cases, the authors had set out to complete a journey. However, this was a very different book and ultimately for me, a much less successful one.

The book is very much about the healing power of nature and how walking can ease your mind but the actual journey formed a much smaller part of the book than I expected. I loved her actual walking experiences especially when she went out for the day with a young girl who was staying at the same hostel. Her descriptions of the setting and her feelings are vivid and really made me want to see the peaks and pools for myself. I also loved the way she noticed the tiny details as she walked, first with a companion and then on her own. I share her frustration in seeing plants and birds and not being able to identify them. She was also very clear about how hard the actual process of walking was. It was very easy to empathise with her descriptions of how uncomfortable it is to carry your belongings in a single rucksack and I really felt her frustration when she injured her foot early on and had to interrupt her journey as a result.

However, the actual descriptions of her walking were constantly interrupted with other thoughts and the chapters seemed to meander between describing her journey, musings on society in general and racism in particular and even to include parts of a dictionary. Sometimes, this meandering made it hard to maintain interest especially the digressions into word meanings.

She makes a lot of very important points about how prevalent racism still is here in the UK as well as how unsafe many places still are for women on their own but I felt that the book really needed to be better organised. I really loved many parts of this book but others just didn’t hold my interest which is a shame as this was a book that I really wanted to like.

I Belong Here was published in 2021 by Bloomsbury.

Half a Soul – a review

Genre – Romance, Regency romance, Fantasy
Net Galley ARC
Publication Date – June 30th
Rating ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This is a  gorgeous Regency romance with a healthy dose of magic and a sprinkling of satire.

I wasn’t sure whether I would enjoy Half a Soul or not. I love historical fiction and all things Regency but I’m not a convert to stories about the fae and so I didn’t know how I would feel about a book that combined the two. I didn’t need to worry though, Olivia Atwood put the two worlds together and it worked brilliantly.

We first meet Dora as a nine year old when she encounters the fae lord in the local wood. He steals half her soul and she grows up never quite feeling any of the emotions that she is supposed to. The story really begins when Dora accompanies her cousin Violet to London for the season. In London she meets the sorcerer, Lord Sorcier who Violet hopes can free Dora from the fae curse.

I really loved the character of Dora. Her matter of fact manner and bluntness made her an interesting heroine. I enjoyed the way the author really tried to convey how her emotions were blocked by the lack of her soul. She was perfectly matched by the very bad-tempered Lord Sorcier who hated society and the need to be polite. As the story progresses, we find out more about Elias and begin to understand his manner. The book is full of brilliant characters from the master of the workhouse to the Fae lords but one of my favourite characters was Albert, the third son of an earl who Dora’s aunt tries to pair her off with. Their friendship was one of the many strong points of the novel.

The novel did a brilliant job of looking at the unfairness of society too. This is often an issue not covered by Regency romances but Olivia Atwood really showed us the dreadful conditions in the workhouses and how this compared with the opulence of the lives lived by the aristocracy. It was good to see a portrayal of those people who worked to improve the lives of the poor and I loved Albert’s mother who did what she could to help. I was a bit puzzled by Dora’s anger towards Violet when Violet didn’t feel the outrage that Dora expected. It felt a bit illogical because Dora hadn’t understood until she actually saw the workhouse but also her anger seemed a bit out of place with her character and general lack of emotion.

There was so much that I enjoyed about this novel that it is difficult to put it all in one review. One element that I did enjoy was the satirical view of London society. The Fae ball was a great example of this when the author poked fun at the conventions of polite balls through the eyes of the fae.

There were a couple of occasions when the author’s choice of language jarred and didn’t feel appropriate to the period. However, the thing that really spoilt the novel for me was the epilogue. Without giving anything away, it seemed unnecessary and I felt that it actually reduced what had gone before.

Apart from that awkward epilogue, this was a brilliant read for any lover of Regency Romance with a bit of added magic.

Half a Soul is published by Little Brown Book Group on June 30th.

The Final Strife – a review

The Final Strife
Saara El-Arifi
Adult Fantasy

Harper Collins UK

Once this book hooks you in, you can’t let go. I had to stay up until way past midnight to finish it and it’s a long while since I’ve had to do that. It’s a slow starter and I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy it at first but once I got into the story I was completely hooked.

There are three classes of people in the empire, red blooded, blue blooded and clear. The red bloods or Embers are the ruling class and they rule their empire without mercy. The blue bloods are the Dusters who do all of the work and the clear or translucent bloods are simply invisible and known as Ghostings. 

Four Wardens control every aspect of life and their disciples learn from them. Every ten years, the disciples become the new wardens and the Aktibar Games are held to choose new disciples from the ranks of the Embers. These games and the opportunity that they bring for change are the focus of the novel. This is a familiar scenario but there is nothing familiar about the story that the author creates here.

We read the story through the eyes of three different women, an ember, a duster and a ghosting. Each of the women has her own agenda and through each of the view points we gradually learn more about the world they live in. Sylah was trained from birth to win the games but six years before, her entire family was murdered in front of her. Now she is a drug addict who survives by fighting for money in the ring. Anoor is the spoilt daughter of the Warden of Strength. Her only interest appears to be creating more and more extravagant outfits to wear. Hassa is a ghosting and also a friend of Sylah’s. As a ghosting, she has no worth in society but she is far more than at first appears. These women’s lives become intertwined and their interests coincide but nothing is quite as it seems.

The three women are very different and at first two of them at least, don’t seem very likeable. However, as the story develops and we learn more about each of them, you find yourself caring for all three. The relationships cover love, anger, hatred and betrayal and right up until the end, you aren’t quite sure how things are going to turn out.

Interspersed with the story are brief extracts from the wardens’ journals which show us more about the way they govern their empire and the horrific way the Dusters and Ghostings are treated. We also get extracts from the story tellers or griots which add more to our understanding of the world.

I found the world building amazing. Bit by bit, we learn about the society, its history and the magic system. I loved the way that the characters themselves don’t know their history and it gets gradually revealed to them and the reader.  The magic system is really logical and based on blood which makes sense as blood is such an integral part of this story.  It’s a dark world and there are some distressing descriptions of punishments meted out to the Dusters and Ghostings but for me, this book was unputdownable.

The book is definitely part of a series but doesn’t end on a cliff hanger. This part of the story concludes in a way that ends satisfactorily but leaves plenty of questions for the next books. I loved this debut novel and can’t wait to see how the story develops next.

The Final Strife is published by Harper Collins UK on 23rd June 2022

Thank you to Net Galley and the publishers, Harper Collins UK, for my ARC in exchange for my honest review.

The People on Platform 5 – a review

I was excited to see that Clare Pooley had written a new novel after loving The Authenticity Project and this one certainly lived up to my expectations. It’s a lovely, warm-hearted book with a great cast of random characters whose only link is that they catch the same train each day.

Blurb from Net Galley
Nobody speaks to strangers on the train. But what would happen if they did?

Every day at 8:05, Iona Iverson boards the train to go to work. Every day, she sees the same people and makes assumptions about them, even giving them nicknames. But they never speak. Obviously.

Then, one morning, Smart-but-Sexist-Surbiton chokes on a grape right in front of Iona. Suspiciously-Nice-New Malden steps up to help and saves his life, and this one event sparks a chain reaction.

With nothing in common but their commute, an eclectic group of people learn that their assumptions about each other don’t match reality. But when Iona’s life begins to fall apart, will her new friends be there when she needs them most?

My Review
This story is told through several points of view as we meet different characters in turn. Each of the them has their own distinct voice and life and although they travel together, nobody ever speaks. However, one day, an unexpected event occurs that breaks the ice and connections and relationships begin to be formed.

The main character focus is Iona, a 57 year old agony aunt who is feeling threatened at work by a young editor who feels Iona is too old for her role. It’s Iona who breaks the non-speaking rule and who the other characters revolve around. Although, for me Iona is the star, all of the characters are brilliantly written and I love the way that they gradually begin to connect with each other.

There isn’t really a plot as such. Each of the characters has their own story and their own problems which we learn about in their separate chapters. During the space of the book, each character must overcome or deal with their difficulties but they all grow through doing this. A character who possibly has the most dramatic journey through the book is Piers. Initially he seems really unlikeable but as we find out more about him, our views change. The book contains a lot of humour, some despair and a bit of romance and they all combine to make an extremely satisfying read.

Everybody needs an Iona in their lives to take us out of our shells.

Thank you to Net Galley and Random House publishers for my ARC in exchange for my honest review.

The People on Platform 5 was published on May 26th by Random House.