BLAKE’S MAGIC SHINES BRIGHT IN A PERFECT ESCAPE FROM DARK TIMES

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Over Christmas Adrian and I filled the lockdown hours with board games, books, walks and TV. We fell down the rabbit hole that is Netflix, Prime and You Tube. The lure of just one more episode, or similar programme suggestions, proved too strong on many occasions and lots of late nights were had.  In particular , we have discovered, or in Adrian’s case , rediscovered, Unsolved Mysteries with Robert Stack. The series was first aired in 1987 and went through several presenters and incarnations. Prime are rerunning the shows and many of the cases have updates and most of the ‘Unsolved mysteries’ are now solved. The attraction to many of us of a mystery fuels the continual growth of the crime and mystery genre of writing. So there’s no better way to fling open the Library Door on a new year and the first review, than with a mystery. Its The Dark Room by Sam Blake, published by Corvus books (www.atlantic-books.co.uk) on the 7th January.

The story is based around an old house in West Cork, called Hare’s Landing. Two women travel there. One is Rachel Lambert, a film location manager, and the other is Caroline Kelly, a crime reporter, based in New York. Both women have familial ties to Ireland but are visiting hare’s landing for other reasons. Caroline has come back to Ireland to get some thinking space after being threatened with a lawsuit in the US. Hare’s Landing seems like the ideal retreat. Rachel has travelled to Hare’s Landing, following the trail of a homeless man’s history. He has died in London. At the same time, her investigative journalist boyfriend has been knocked off his bike and their narrowboat home, ransacked. While staying at the hotel, they find out about a mysterious death and a 30-year- old missing persons case, which have happened there. Soon it becomes apparent that Rachel’s investigation into the homeless man’s past and the mysteries at Hare’s Landing are intertwined. Their search for the truth may have put them in danger.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable read. The two main characters were sympathetic and appealing. It was easy to imagine how the two of them would have struck up a friendship as the only two guests at the old house.

Being a veterinary nurse and animal lover, Its always good to have a dog in the mix too and Jasper, the retired police dog was a necessary device here.

There was a good cast of locals (or suspects!) too. Something you’d find in most rural areas, which helped to build the backdrop of that Irish small town feel of everyone knowing everyone else’s business or wanting to! This was handled well without recourse to diddly-I, as one would expect from an Irish author. From her introduction, I kept thinking that Mrs Travers, the hotel manager, reminded me of Mrs Danvers from Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ and at some point Caroline and Rachel make that comment too so it was nice to see it referenced.

Sam Blake aka Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin (SamBlakeBooks)

This the fifth book of Irish author,Sam Blake (www.samblakebooks.com) , the others all feature her female Garda detective Cat Connolly, Little Bones (2016), In Deep Water (2017), No Turning Back (2018) and Keep Your Eyes On Me (2020). Sam Blake is the pseudonym of Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin, the founder of the website writing.ie and The Inkwell Group, a publishing consultancy. Originally from St. Albans in Hertfordshire, she started writing after her husband, a retired Garda, set sail across the Atlantic for 8 weeks, and she had an idea for a book. When not writing she runs Murder One, Ireland’s leading crime writing festival (we need an Invite) and hosts a podcast called Behind The Bestseller (must give it a whirl) , she lives with her husband and kids, three cats, and an ant farm, down the road from us here in Co. Wicklow.

The suggestions of paranormal events only added to the gothic feel of Hare’s Landing. I loved the hints at secrets, the finding of clues like letters and photos and slow realisation the past events were very much linked to current ones, building tension. Loved the climatic ending too. If I had any quibble it would be to wonder how the title relates to the story? It does pique your curiosity though..

So, a five star recommendation from us here at the Library Door for a super lockdown read. Thrills without the gore, a classic mystery, and two likeable amateur sleuths. We suggest you Hare off to buy it (within Covid guidelines), click and collect a copy at your local bookshop or download a copy now!

Reviewed by Georgina Murphy

This review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour. To see what the other reviewers thought, visit their sites listed below. Then, if you get a copy, comeback and tell us what you thought, we’d really appreciate the feedback.

GOOD BYE 2020, HELLO 2021

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Just a short message to all our followers and regular visitors to TLD. Myself and Georgina would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very Happy New Year.

Its been a tough few months and for a few of us, including ourselves here in Ireland. Were starting 2021 in full lockdown for the next four weeks.

Remember, the The Library Door is always open, to read our thoughts on books we’ve read. This year marked TLD’s 7th anniversary, here’s to another 7 years and lots more books to review.

See you next year.

Adrian & Georgina Murphy

FREEMAN SWOOPS IN TO RELIEVE A BLEAK MIDWINTER

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T’was the week before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring not even a mouse….” 

That’s not entirely true for us this week, as our youngest cat (Edison) has very kindly left two rather angry and bewildered mice on our back step over a forty eight hour period. The same can also be said of the next verse of Clement Clarke Moore’s famous yuletide poem.

The children were settled all snug in there beds…” well not in this months second  book review which is Children Of The Valley  by Castle Freeman and published by Farrago Books (www.farragobooks.com) December 10th.

Lucian Wing is Sheriff in Cardiff a sleepy little town in the backwoods of Vermont. They have crime but its usually harmless mischief. That is until a big New York lawyer, Carl Armentrout, arrives into his office asking for help tracking down his client’s step-daughter. His client is Rex Lord, a big wig in the city. Lucian has never heard of him. He agrees to keep an eye out for the step-daughter, Pamela DeMorgan, who has gone AWOL from a fancy school up in Boston. Then Lucian gets a call from a local character, by the name of Ms Truax, a retired teacher, who says she had trespassers camping in her woods. Going up into the woods, he finds a tent and a makeshift camp, with girls clothing in it. He assumes its his missing girl. Then, a couple of days later, the camp is found shot up and he when he finally crosses paths with Pamela, she’s actually with a local boy, whose a classmate at the same school. She says she’s not running a way from school, but her step-fathers attentions. Soon it transpires that the stepfather isn’t the problem, it’s Armentrout and his goons. Thus, follows a game of cat and mouse, with Lucian moving the kids from one makeshift safe house to another. Can Sheriff Wing restore law and order, while also trying to deal with day-to-day life in the town, including an oversized wild boar that’s running amok around the county, and his high spirited wife and the kid’s weird and colourful parents?

Unlike quite a few books I read, Castle Freeman’s it appears, isn’t one for wasting paper. His books, well this one at 170 pages in length, and I guess his previous ones in this series, are short and to the point. Almost Novella-esque, but in doing so he delivers a serious but highly entertaining and witty story of the life and loves a of a sheriff in modern day America.

Castle Freeman (Thesnipenews)

If this book is like anything, it is a James Herriot novel. That’s if he wasn’t a vet in Yorkshire but a local lawman in Vermont. With his very hokey, but wonderfully colourful cast of support characters who inhabit Cardiff, VT, Lucian Wing isn’t a know-it-all type of character. He’s a real take him as you find him type of guy. A quick witted and smooth operator, who could charm the birds out of the trees, if needed.

I loved this book from the start and felt very much at home in Cardiff, Vermont. Thanks to Freemans no nonsense but well-structured style of storytelling. Even though this isn’t Freeman’s first outing with Sherriff Lucian Wing, the well-placed back stories, mean you don’t have to have read the previous books to know what going on. At times it’s like being driven through the county by the central character and every now and then he’d point to a place and say That’s Old man Holler’s place, he did that and or this happened back then, etc, etc

This is American author Castle Freeman’s ( http://www.castlefreemanjr.com)  fifth book, his other in the Lucian Wing series are All That I have (2009), Old Number Five (2020) and two others not in the series are Go With Me (2008) and The Devil In The Valley (2015). He was born in Texas and is an award-winning writer of personal essays, reporting, op-ed material, history and natural history, while also being a regular contributor to several periodicals, including “Old Moore’s Almanac”. He lives with his wife in South-western Vermont.

After reading this book I could move to Vermont and live happily in Cardiff! When the pandemic subsides, of course! So, as we enter the week of madness that normally comes with the run up to the 25th December, this maybe an ideal escape with a mice glass of wine or Egg Nog. Then I suggest you keep it local as per Covid 19 restrictions and click and collect from your local book shop, or download a copy. 

Oh, and have a Happy Christmas from both of us here at The Library Door.

Reviewed by Adrian Murphy

This book review is part of a Random Things blog tour, to see what the other reviewers thought visit their sites listed below. Then if you get a copy and read it, comeback and tell us what you thought. We’d really appreciate the feedback.

QUINN IS HOPING THAT GREAT THINGS COME FROM THE SMALLEST BEGININGS

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I enjoy a good historical romp. I’m a big fan of Phillipa Gregory and Hilary Mantel. There’s a certain amount of artistic licence allowed in fleshing out the lives of historical characters with the details of their everyday lives. Sometimes we’re shown events from the perspective of another, lesser known character, such as in the ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’, where we hear the story of Mary Boleyn, Anne’s older sister. Sometimes through the eyes of one of the main protagonists, such as Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s advisor, during his divorce and ill-fated marriage to Anne. Sometimes the main character is entirely imagined.

I must admit that when I first picked up Wolf Hall, I thought the Thomas Cromwell was Oliver Cromwell! I have mentioned in this blog before, how sketchy my history knowledge is! I’m also not good with names! I was quite looking forward to hearing about the Civil War, as it’s a period I know little about. B.C. (before covid), I was lucky enough to spend a weekend in Newark, which was the site of a famous civil war battle and has the UK’s civil war museum. A fascinating and informative place. However, on beginning to read I realised it was another book set during the rule of Henry Eighth. I was initially disappointed, but then found a whole new aspect of the familiar story to enjoy.

I was delighted therefore, to get the chance to read this month’s first book for review, The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn and published by Simon & Shuster (www.simonandshuster.com)  on the 7th January 2021.

Its front cover title reads, ‘He may the The Smallest Man in England, but Nat Davy has a big story to tell’, which is certainly the longest title I’ve seen for a while. It is set in 1625 and our hero, Nat Davy is just 10 years old. His childhood has been poor but happy, living in a small village with his parents and his brother. But now the truth is dawning on Nat. He is small. Really small. And he’s stopped growing. Narrowly escaping life in a freak show, he’s plucked from his family and presented as a gift to the new young queen of England – a human pet to add to her menagerie of dogs and monkeys. But when Nat realises she’s as lost and lonely as he is, the two misfits begin and unlikely friendship, one that takes him on an unforgettable journey, as England slides into the cilvil war that will tear it apart and ultimately lead the people to kill their king.

Frances Quinn

This is English author, copywriter and Journalist, Francis Quinn’s (@franquinn) first novel. Having read English at King’s College Cambridge, she has gone on to write for such titles as Prima, Good Housekeeping, She, Woman’s Weekly and Ideal Home. She lives in Brighton with her husband and two Tonkinese cats.

Frances has taken the story of Jeffrey Hudson, a real figure and the court dwarf to King Charles the first and his queen, Henrietta Maria. Jeffrey was given as a present to the queen in the similar circumstances to the book. He became popular at court and was given the duty of fetching the queen’s midwife from France. He too suffered bullying and ridicule and engaged in a public challenge to protect his name, which resulted in tragedy and in Jeffrey’s case disgrace and expulsion from court. Jeffrey was captured by Barbary pirates and after release rejoined the exiled Queen. He may have aided her as a spy and he was implicated in a Popish plot and imprisoned until his death.

While it may seem, I’ve indulged in some spoilers here, the narrative of the book and the truth take different paths on the whole with some unions.  Nathanial’s story gives us an adventure, a romance and just rewards for loyalty. It is a thoroughly enjoyable romp. Nathanial is an engaging character, larger than life, despite his diminutive stature. One cover quote from the book is from Nathanial’s mother, when she tells him, ‘ I want you to remember something Nat. You’re small on the outside. But inside, you’re as big as everyone else. You show people that and you won’t go far wrong in life.’ This really sets the tone of the book. It is a story of someone overcoming their disadvantages and accepting  themselves for who they are. This is very on message at the moment. I think the book would be a great young adult read as well as for adults.

As I googled Jeffrey Hudson, the long fascination with ‘little people’, another acceptable term for dwarfs, became clear. Revered by the Egyptians, seen as sideshow curiosities by the Victorians and exploited by Hollywood, in more recent times, they have fought for rights denied to them. I enjoyed the characters and the story. It had drama and intrigue. It also had a gentle romance and a ‘will they, wont they?’ get together. It was a fun read. I think that the subject of dwarfism was handled sensitively and positively, and I hope it is well received.

So, with Covid19 regulations in certain places relaxed in the run up to the festive season, Get out and support your local book store, by going (if you feel safe doing so) in person or clicking and collecting a copy for yourself or ordering a book that’s big on adventure and small in stature, as a Christmas present for a loved one.

Reviewed by Georgina Murphy

This book review is part of a Random Things blog tour, to see what the other reviewers thought, visit their blogs listed below. Then, if you get a copy and read it, comeback and tell us what you thought. We’d really appreciate the feedback.

PREPARE TO STUFF YOUR LITERARY GILLS WITH PARIKIAN’S HILARIOUS COLLECTION

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Tis almost the season to eat drink and be merry. Yes, I know it is still the middle of November, but the run-in always goes by in a flash. Two things that we eat a lot of over the festive period are cake and soup, well, depending on where you are. But mostly cake, pudding and a myriad of other desserts…. Have you ever thought about what best accompanies stuffing your face over the festive period, with cake or any time of the year, musically? No? Well this month’s second book review ponders just that. But not just cake, also the afore mentioned topic of soup, allotments, space travel, sports commentators, and Donald Sutherland (actually he comes up in the topic of “Second Chances”)…. The book is – Music To Eat Cake By, written by Lev Parikian and published by Unbound on the 12th November (www.unbound.com).

So, lets imagine you’ve gone to a dinner party, where after the meal the guests gather in the living room and play a game of Charades. This book is just like that, Lev asked his readers to suggest topics for him to write about and they could be on anything from to the obscure to the sublime. Eventually, he whittled it down to forty topics and set about compiling a series of essays, all with his signature wit and warmth.

What you get from this, is a an amazingly funny and wild romp, through some of the weirdest and wonderful topics a group of readers could suggest. Contained with the covers of this book are some of the most sleep depriving questions on the planet, Things that could keep anyone, and probably has, occupied on a rainy afternoon in a pub (when were allowed in them, of course). As well that, Lev asked his tormentors to suggest numbingly and scrabble winning obscure words to place into the content. A version of “word for the day” you might say. Did they fail? No. The words would probably test the mental agility of Susie Dent, she of Countdown fame. Some of the words included “Weltanschang”, “Gazzer”, “Orcadian” and “Cornucopia”, although there are weirder and more tongue testier ones, all of which are highlighted with regular footnotes, which explain their meaning, if you’re stuck… I’m not the greatest fan on footnotes, in books that are non-academic, but in this case, they added to the overall enjoyment of the read.

Most Sunday mornings I listen to RTE Radio One’s (the Irish national broadcaster) “Sunday Miscellany”, which each week gives you a wonderful collection of short stories and essays on any subject that you might think of. Prior to that, I grew up listening to Alistair Cooke’s “Letters from America” on BBC radio 4. These were the first things came to mind when I started reading this book. Also, I loved that  the essays themselves decrease in length from the first being 4,000 words in length and the last, the topic suggested by his wife, being just 100 words.

This isn’t a cover to cover read, oh no, it’s one of those typical, “big dippers” or “swimming pools” as some people, including me and my wife, refer to them as. You can start in the middle, then dip in and dip out all over the place as you follow Lev on a literary breaststroke through his liking of cricket, music, food and birds.

Lev Parikian

This is English Author, Conductor and Ornithologist, Lev Parikian’s (www.levparikian.com) fourth book, the others are Waving Not Drowning (2013) with Barrington Orwell, Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear (2018) and Into The Tangled Bank – How We Are In Nature (July 2020). He also contributed to the Red 67 Anthology, with 134 other writers to raise money for the conservation of the 67 British wild birds on the endangered red list. He’s also reviewed for the Times Literary Supplement (I’m still waiting for Stig to give me a bell) and when not writing or watching birds, he likes to take Twitter by storm, most recently in 2019 with his viral hit Bird Song For Beginners. He lives in London.

So, I can truly say, I may have found my book of the year and with a little over six weeks to go, it may be a safe assumption. If you are fan of Bryson or a regular reader of Jezza Clarkson’s Column, then I think you might have to reconsider your position. Because if like me, you’ve been a Parikian virgin, I think we may have to go in search of his previous works. But before that, while observing the Covid restrictions, click and collect online with your local bookshop, because they need the support. Or if you must, download a copy and prepare to split your sides and fill your lexicographic gills with this hilariously funny collection of essays. With Crimbo just around the corner too, this would be an ideal gift.

Reviewed by Adrian Murphy

This blog is part of a Random Things blog tour, to see what the other reviewers thought, visit their pages listed below. Then if you get a copy and read it come back and tell us what you thought. We’d really appreciate the feedback.

WILSON ATTEMPTS TO STICK A FORK IN THE MAELSTROM OF 2020

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We have a friend who has regularly suggested, that as we get older, she, my wife and I, retire to the Med or Devon and Cornwall and buy an old farm or a couple of connected villas and live in a sort of Commune…. If you were born in the fifties or sixties, then Commune’s were not so much a fad, as an accepted part and parcel of the era of free love. They were the equivalent of our Spa retreat, although you didn’t nip off down to an exclusive hotel in the country to have a deep tissue massage and a Bellini. You smoked weed, drank, tried to live a more simpler life, maybe even walked around naked. I don’t think our friend has aspirations of us doing that (not the naked part anyway), just to live a quieter life away from the rat race in a place where the cost of living and climate is easier on the pocket and aching bones. This month’s first book review involves a commune and the after effect of what went on there back in the sixties. Its Coyote Fork by James Wilson and was published by Slant Books (www.slantbooks.com) in September.

Seasoned British travel writer Robert Lovelace is sent to California to write a piece on social media giant Global Village and its founder Evan Bone, who has just bought up the newspaper Robert works for. Lovelace is disturbed when he sees a colleague who should be in the UK, in a parking lot, shortly after arriving in the states. But when he goes after her she disappears, only to discover later,that at the same time her saw her, she has taken her life in the UK, after being trolled by Global Villages members. Following a trail of old friends of Evan Bone, and finding out about the disappearance of a local native American, Robert finds himself dragged into a mystery surrounding the Tech Moguls past and the mysterious Coyote Fork commune. As his travels take him from San Francisco to the Midwest and eventually to the site of the commune in Northern California, can he elude the reach of social media which seem to follow his every move and get to the truth behind what happened at Coyote Fork?

With all that’s been going on in the US this week. I, as well as quite a few others could’ve done with heading off to a commune or at least needed some sort of distraction to take us away from the 24-7 furore engulfing every news channel around the world. I felt sorry for James Wilson’s thriller, having to compete with the madness which is transfixing the planet not just now but in 2020 in general. But Coyote Fork does go some-way to competing.  In less chaotic times, it would have held me gripped from page one, but in these fraught days, I was loosely engaged, from the first half of the book until Wilson threw in a few well placed grenades in the second half to ramp up the pace and pressure on his hero.

James Wilson

The plot is credible, and the setting and writing lovely. Having not been to California for ten years, and had my planned trip to the states this year postponed due to the Pandemic, any thoughts of long distant travel especially to a Covid hotbed like the States are gone for at least another 12 months. This was a decent panacea, with a likeable main character in the form of Robert Lovelace and a believable support cast, plus the smouldering threat of Big Brother, in the form of social media, looking over your shoulder, which helps build the both hero’s and reader’s paranoia .

This is English author James Wilson’s seventh book (www.jameswilsonauthor.com) he’s written six other novels The Dark Clue (2001), The Bastard Boy (2004), The Woman In The Picture (2006), Consolation (2008), The Summer Of Broken Stories (2015) and a book of narrative non-fiction The Earth Shall Weep : A History Of Native America (1998). Which won The Myers “Outstanding Book” award. Wilson has also written for TV and radio and now lives in South London.

Like the smell of burning wood which hangs over northern California from nearby forest fires in the latter stages of book. We may still have to contend with the lingering diatribe and odious tweets of a recalcitrant Bigot in the White House for another couple of months. But as we head toward Christmas and see what type of weird , Covid restricted, festive season we have, this book would be an ideal escape, maybe paired with a nice glass of Californian wine.

So, head down to your local bookshop, in these economically restricted times and keep it local (or click and collect from them). Then join Robert Lovelace in a race across the Midwest to unearth the dark secrets of Coyote Fork.

Reviewed by Adrian Murphy

This Blog is part of a Random Things Blog Tour, to see what the other reviewers thought visit their sites listed below. Then if you get a copy and read it, comeback and tell us what you thought, we’d really appreciate the feedback.

MAZZONI AND HER FOXY LITTLE TALE SLINKS INTO YOUR HEART AND STAYS THERE

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Thankfully Albinism is more commonly accepted in humans, due to medical research, than it is in the animal world, where albino’s are usually ostracised by their own kind and struggle to survive. It’s thought that albino alligators, for example, have a life span of around 24 hours, due to the lack of both UV protection in the skin, and camouflage to protect them from predators. Before researching this review, I assumed only animals and humans were prone to albinism, but plants can get it too. But not all ‘albino’ animals are  really albino’s. They are loosely referred to as being such, however, true albinos have red eyes.  This month’s third book review features an albino animal, it’s The Snow Fox Diaries by Jan Mazzoni, published by Amazon last August.

Katie is a smart and successful partner in a  London estate agent; until the boss’s rampant gambling debts bring about its demise, and with that her job.  A year later, and she’s still unemployed, and starting to lose hope. When a client of her husband Ben, offers her the opportunity to move to the edge of Exmoor and renovate the interior of a house left to them by a relative, Katie jumps at the chance to escape a capital. She hopes to avoid struggling through a vicious winter and the onset of a crippling financial crash, fby heading for the fresh ,but frozen, fields of the West Country. With Ben leaving her for weeks while he tries to keep his own business afloat in London, Katie sets about working on the house and exploring the moorland. The countryside has been ravaged by a hard winter and the rabbit population devastated by a myxomatosis epidemic, which in turn is having a knock on effect on the food chain, forcing other predators such as foxes and the like to find alternative food sources. After a while Katie starts to catch glimpses  of a white fox around the garden, and in the distance across the fields, as well as on the roadsides. Then one day in early spring, while walking on the moors she gets up close to a white vixen and her  two cubs. Taking a couple of photos, Katie starts to feel a bond. Locals are aware of a supposedly rare albino fox, but also resentful of foxes for attacking local livestock. When the two  white cubs are bludgeoned to death by local youths, Katie is desperate to find the vixen, but her growing obsession with the fox is having a detrimental effect on both her mental state and her marriage. Can she save the rare fox, with the help  of family and some dubious new local friends, while also trying to get her life back on track?

If you’ve already read this week’s previous review, you’ll remember my wife describing how she sidestepped this book after reading the first page and the description of numerous animal deaths. It turned out to be a scene setter for the book, and  yes there are gorier animal mishaps. Being set in rural England, there are going to be a few four legged casualties. So I was able to somewhat overcome these little details.

The book itself, is a bit of a slow burn at first, but then, being an animal lover, the story did start to get to me. I am, as you may know from previous reviews, a slave to my emotions and very much in touch with them, so much so, that by the time I was finished, I was emotionally bereft and felt the same way I do after watching animal movies in general. 

Mazzoni’s writing style ensures that this story gets under the readers skin and tugs at the heartstrings, while also being topical. As the story takes place against the backdrop of the recent financial crisis, there are similarities to present day, considering what we are enduring now, and will face, in the economic aftermath.

Overall, I felt like in some instances, there were similarities to  Where the Crawdads Sing, with a troubled female character, helping an animal and using it to work through her own personal trials and tribulations. Although others might draw more similarities to books such as Watership Down, only here, with a fox as the central theme.

 

Jan Mazzoni

This English author Jan Mazzoni (www.janmazzoniwriter.com) third book, the others are Dreamland And Other Stories and Stones Of The Madonna. Jan has been writing since she was a child and has only recently realised that her stories fit into the Genre of Eco Fiction. She lives on the edge of Exmoor in Devon with her husband three Romanian rescue dogs.

So, if you are looking for a heart-warming story to remove you from the various physical, political and medical storms whirling around outside your door, then look no further than Mazonni’s book. Take yourself online to amazon and order or download a copy and transport yourself to the wilds of north Devon, and join Katie in her campaign to save a rare fox.

Reviewed by : Adrian Murphy

This review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour. To see what the other reviewers thought, visit their blogs listed below. Then, if you get a copy and read it, come back and tell us what you think. We’d really appreciate the feedback.

BIRCH’S FRUITY LITTLE OFFERINING LEAVES ME MENTALLY BOWLED OVER

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One Saturday morning recently, I opened the paper to find an article had been cut out. There was just an empty space where it should have been. Someone had removed it very precisely with scissors. I was somewhat surprised as we’d just purchased the paper an hour or so earlier. What could be the reason for this? ‘Easy’, my husband replied, ‘There was a story you wouldn’t like’. 

No, I’m not subject to domineering censorship by my other half. He just knows me very well. Despite thirty odd years as a veterinary nurse, I find animal cruelty stories extremely upsetting. I experience distress and to be honest, rage, for days after reading such reports. I’ve had to cull my Facebook newsfeed, which at one point in Lockdown had a solid diet of missing, stolen or abused animal stories. I couldn’t take it. With humans, I don’t lack empathy, but I’m not usually so bothered. I would subscribe to the website that warns you if the dog dies in films but be unabashed by disaster movies wiping out half the world’s population.

So, I thought I was dodging a bullet, when I handed my initial option for this months reading, over to my husband. The blurb suggested difficult animal scenes. Best avoided. I was therefore delighted in turn to be given a collection of dark crime stories for this months second book review. Its A Bowl of Cherries by F.E Birch. Self Published in July 2020.

Birch had taken the time to pen a personal comment inside the cover, ‘I hope you like your stories on the dark side’. I do. My regular ‘go to’ reading catalogue is thrillers, murder mystery , crime and horror. One Christmas, a friend gave me a book she described as the most disturbing book she had ever read, with the comment that she thought I’d like it. So you see, I wasn’t nervous.

The first story, the titular Bowl of Cherries, certainly made me sit up and take notice. I thought I’d wandered into soft porn, before the gore unfolded. It’s a great opening piece. Showing you what kind of thing you might be in for!  The book continues through 33 more stories, some less sexual, some more, but all delving into the darker side of the human mind. There are twists a plenty. Sometimes the stories have a supernatural element, such as one titled ‘On the Beach’ which I felt was reminiscent of The Lovely Bones, by Alice Seabold. However, the real horror of most of the stories is that you feel they could happen.

All of the stories and characters leave their mark on you in some way. I found myself turning over the scenarios in my head for days after reading, often with a shudder. Another story titled ‘Haemorrhage,’ in particular may continue to haunt my dreams for a while to come. Some of the stories are poignant, rather than disturbing. Many of the stories are only a page long, but its still enough to cause an emotional response.

F.E, Birch (Effie Merryl)

F.E Birch is the Amazon pen name of English author Effie Merryl (@effiemerryl) . In 2013 she wrote the ‘Faction’ book of memoirs published by Harper Collins. Since 2004 she has had over 150 short stories published in print and online, many which have been entered into competitions and a Bowl Of Cherries is a selection of her best prize winners. In 2012 she won the Bloody Scotland “Pitch Perfect” for a manuscript will hopefully be her debut crime novel. A former police officer, she now divides her time between the North East of England and Central Scotland.

Overall, I’d recommend this as a great collection of stories, perfect for adults at Halloween. A lesson for us all that sometimes the thing you should be scared of is right there, sitting at the other end of the couch or staring back from the mirror. This bowl of cherries is sour rather than sweet and theres often a maggot at the core. Even whilst being thankfully, animal cruelty free, it still engendered feelings of fear, disgust, anger and sadness, because it showed the more base sides of human nature.

So, with Lockdowns looming again around the world, support your local bookshop by buying a copy online for through a click and collect scheme or download it and prepare to be unsettled!

Reviewed by: Georgina Murphy

This review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour, to see what the other reviewers thought visit their blogs listed below. Then if you get a copy, comeback and tell us what you thought, we’d really appreciate the feedback.

LOMAS STAKES HIS CLAIM ON HISTORY BY STICKING IT TO THE BUFFS

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I’ve bemoaned the teaching of history in English schools in this blog before. We get the Bronze age, the Romans, the Normans, the Tudors and the World Wars and not much in between. Like the Author of this month’s first book, I was unenthused by way history is taught in British schools. The book is Stick A Flag In It – A Thousand Years Of Bizarre History From Britain And Beyond by Arran Lomas and published in October by Unbound (www.unbound.com)

I am amazed how the current passion for denying and rewriting unpopular history has ignited a bit of a passion in me for finding out the truthful versions of events, even if they show my historic heroes as flawed humans rather than gods. Living in Ireland, I’m occasionally made to feel ashamed of my British ancestors. There’s a lot to apologise for and many to apologise to, I agree, but for a small island, the UK has made its mark in terms of influence, progress and the transformation of large parts of the globe. Essentially, I’m proud to be English.

What Lomas does in Stick A Flag In It, is take an engaging and joyous romp through a millennia of history, from 1066 and the battle of Hastings, to the eve of the First World War. The Brits have been an eccentric, ingenious and sometimes unhinged race, from mad monarchs to mass-murdering lepers. Lomas explores the stories behind notable events and presents some quirky facts and the origin of such words as Trenchers and Accolade.

I’m notoriously blunt myself and have a dark sense of humour. I like people like Jeremy Clarkson who are passionate about their subject, tell it how it is and can make me smile too. Jeremy Clarkson is a bit of a history buff himself, particularly on wartime history, something contestants on  the TV quiz, ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ should bear in mind if they should need to ask the host. If Jeremy had written a book on British History, I feel it would read a lot like this book.

Lomas’s writing style is laddish, humorous and opinionated. Something along the lines of a history show fronted by the three ex Top Gear presenters of Clarkson, Hammond and May. Sometimes I felt a bit overwhelmed with all the metaphors and jokes and it felt like the author was trying too hard to be funny. However, the book is genuinely very entertaining and educational.

Arran Lomas

This English author Arran Lomas’s (@thoughty2) first book. He’s better known for being man behind YouTube hit, Thoughty2. Since 2012 he has created videos covering topics like crime, space, medicine, conspiracy theories, food and social issues, not forgetting history too.

I’d have possibly enjoyed the book more as a dip in and out sort of read, rather than your usual cover to cover job. But even where the history was more familiar, Lomas adds an extra pinch of something quirky you didn’t know, to make it a worthwhile read.

This is an ideal Christmas present for the lad or ladette in your life, who likes their history warts and all, with a side helping of giggles. Like British history, this book is full of unexpected twists and turns and is never dull.

So, drop a pin on your phone’s google map, or stick one on an old OS map you have lying around,marking where your nearest book shop should be and then set out to get a copy. Better still save your energy and download a copy online. Either way, enjoy it or put away as a Crimbo stocking filler.

Reviewed by: Georgina Murphy

This book review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour, to see what the other reviewers thought visit their blogs listed below. Then if you get a copy and read it, comeback and tell us what you thought, we’d really appreciate the feedback.

VINE’S DEBUT DALI-ANCE WITH FICTION HAS ME LOVED AND ENLIGHTENED

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It’s often said that you should never meet your heroes, as you’ll be disappointed. Because when you do, you’ll find their guard is down and their stage persona offline and so you will undoubtedly discover they are just like you and me, spilling things down their front, slurping their tea, picking their nose or teeth in public, etc, etc. I’ve met a few famous people in my time, namely in my work as a film extra in the past. Its rare that I’ve had the opportunity to meet celeb’s in a personal capacity; but the above applies when I have (excluding the nose picking, but you get my point).

Another thing I have never done and is part of a large list, which I keep trying to shorten, especially having hit my half century this year, is visit Glasgow. If I had, I would have probably gone to its main art museum The Kelvingrove to see among other things its pride and joy, a Dali painting. I’ve seen the Caravaggio in Dublin, the Nightwatch in Amsterdam and David in Florence.  While I used to have a poster of Dali’s, The Temptation of St Anthony on my bedroom wall when I was in my teens. Dali’s surrealism and the weird things he did with animals and clocks amused me. This month’s first book review, is centred around the great man’s painting, Christ Of St John Of The Cross. The book is The Diver and The Lover by Jeremy Vine and published by Coronet an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton (www.hodder.co.uk) in September.

Its 1951, Ginny and Meredith, two sisters from Hull, travel to Spain to help Meredith recover from a terrible trauma. They run into the famous American stuntman, Russell Saunders in their hotel. He’s there to work with Local resident and surrealist painter Salvador Dali with his latest project. But, tensions have arisen between the two men and their PR representative, a fiery red headed Irish woman, called Siobhan Lynch is desperate to save this very lucrative arrangement for her bosses back in London and push on with her plan of taking control of the Dali account. With Saunders refusing to work with Dali and time running out, Ginny and Meredith witness what appears to be the suicide of a member of the hotel staff off nearby cliffs, only to discover he’s Adam, a keen diver. The sisters along with Siobhan, hatch a plan to save the deal, wherein  Adam takes Saunders place as a body double for Dali’s masterpiece, with Saunders taking all the credit. Meanwhile, Ginny and Adam have fallen in love, but Siobhan also has feelings for the Canadian. Can the quartet work together, against Dali’s eccentricities and with the backdrop of the ever growing divisions between the locals and Franco and the rumblings of Civil War….

Like most books I accept for these blog tours, I rarely read the blurb on the back and literally like Adam, I dive right in and see where it takes me. I knew nothing of Dali’s Christ Of St. John Of The Cross and that it was hanging in Glasgow or the history behind it’s conception and what Saunders had to endure so Dali could get what he wanted. Along with the outcry which came with the Museums purchase.

Christ Of St. John Of The Cross (Glasgowlive.co.uk)

What I got, was a thoroughly enjoyable read from start to finish. I had seen mixed reviews from other bloggers and my own wife had baulked at reading it when it arrived in the post. Now that I’ve finished, I feel enlightened and delighted to discover the back story of this amazing piece of work.

Vine has a lovely easy going style about his writing, which is similar to his style of radio presentation (something I experience regular listening to him from here in Dublin and on our regular trips to visit family in the UK) which allows him to tell a story with just enough drama, humour and suspense. Not forgetting, adding a healthy and rich mix of romance into the tale too. The four main characters are full bodied and well drawn, while there there is a Rainman-esque sort of relationship between Ginny and Meredith. As for the real characters, Dali and Saunders, there is a lot of research visible by Vine into the artist’s home and character. I had a feeling of Dali’s acting like Willie Wonka as he shows the quartet around his villa in  Port Lligat and down to his subterranean studio. Vine has done a great job to bring out the artists eccentric qualities. While Saunders is a support cast member, he does provide some great heroic interludes, as well as being the inspiration for the story too.

Jeremy Vine (BBC.co.uk)

This is English author, broadcaster and journalist Jeremy Vine’s (@thejeremyvine) first novel, he’s previously published two books of non-fiction ‘Its All News To Me’ (2013) and ‘What I Learnt: What My Listeners Say’ (2017). He currently presents The Jeremy Vine Show on BBC radio 2 and in 2018 took over presenting the UK’s  Channel 5’s The Right Stuff, now called Jeremy Vine. He lives in Chiswick, with his wife and two daughters.

If there was a downside to the book, I thought it was a bit drawn out at the end, but apart from that it was an amazing experience and a fantastic read. With my choice for a book group read coming up in four weeks’ time, I think I may have found another contender. A difficult choice ahead, me thinks.

So if like me, you are fascinated by Dali’s work and the eccentric life of this great painter, but also want to discover more about the history of this little known work, Then you’ll enjoy this story. So download or purchase a hardcopy, throw yourself onto the couch, and with Covid restrictions still in place, visit Spain through Vine’s eyes. Then, like me, plan a trip to Glasgow for next year (fingers crossed).

Reviewed by Adrian Murphy

This review is part of a blog tour Organised by Hodder & Stoughton, to see what the other reviwers thought, visit their sites listed below. Then if you get a copy comeback and tell us what you think, we’d really appreciate the feedback.