SHINDLER RETURNS LEAVING LITTLE CHOICE BUT PICK UP HIS KILLER READ

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I have often wondered, if faced with the difficult choices and moral dilemmas that our ancestors faced in times of war, the modern generation would be all for themselves or would they do the right thing , even at cost to themselves? When you read social media and newspaper’s , there’s very little evidence of self sacrifice of thinking of others first but the odd story does stand out. I suppose it really was the same in previous eras. We all like to think we’d do the right thing and are a good person but often we take the easy path through fear of selfishness. In this month’s third review we meet a killer who is testing the theory of making people choose between themselves and others. It’s ‘The Killing Choice’ by Will Shindler, published by Hodder & Stoughton (www.hodder.co.uk) on the 4th February.

This is the second book featuring Detective Inspector Alex Finn. The Library Door reviewed his previous outing in ‘The Burning Men’, a year ago. We were unfortunately late to the blog tour party for the release of this one (due to have been reviewed on the 6th Feb), as our copy was late arriving here in Ireland, due to lockdown, Covid 19, or Brexit. You can take your pick. Deliveries are proving very erratic here. Basically, if there’s a deadline, you’ll miss it but if there’s no rush, the item arrives very quickly.

Enough complaining, back to the book.. In this thriller the victims are faced with a choice by the killer. They must choose between themselves and a loved one or between two loved ones to save one person or themselves. The initial victims, Karl and his daughter Leah, are ambushed by a figure in a blank mask. At knife point, Karl is asked to make an impossible choice. Stay and they both die or leave Leah and accept the killer’s word that they will both live. If Karl leaves and Leah dies will he ever be able to live with himself? Subsequently other seemingly random people are offered similar choices as the killer leaves a trail of bodies across London. DI Finn and his detective constable, Mattie Paulson, must hunt for a killer with no face, no conscience and seemingly no motive , whilst battling problems of their own.

This is another dark crime thriller from Will Shindler, which keeps you turning the pages. It makes you think about what you’d do in the circumstances and also how social media and the mainstream media judge the motives and actions of strangers. The descriptions of the killings are quite graphic and gory, so not for the feint hearted, but the story is neatly resolved at the end, so you are at least able to sleep soundly again after finishing the book. We also get to know a little more about the lives and back stories of Alex, Mattie and another returning team member, Jackie Ojo. Alex is still struggling with grief after the death of his wife. Mattie is dealing with the increasing frailty of her parents and we are introduced to her brother. The characters are rounding out nicely.

Will Shindler

This is English author Will Shindler’s (@willshindlerauthor) second book featuring his crime fighting duo of Detective Inspector Alex Finn and Detective Constable Mattie Paulsen, the other one being Burning Men (2020). Previously Shindler was a broadcast journalist with the BBC, before spending a decade as scriptwriter on such TV drama’s as Born & Bred, The Bill and Doctors. He currently combines reading the news on BBC Radio London and writing crime novels.

What I particularily like about this book and the previous book , is that Shindler has given us a killer with a motive and specific victims. I find too many authors go down the route of putting one of their central characters in the killers sights, and the books become all about the main character and sometimes about a vendetta against them , and  happens in every subsequent book. Shindler has a well-reasoned motive and in these two books , a specific reason for choosing  the victim and the mode of killing. Its all very satisfying when its reasoned out at the end of the book.

So what would I chose? I guess I wouldn’t know unless it happened. So maybe I shouldn’t support those threads, sites and newsfeeds which are so quick to point a finger. What I do know is that you should order or download a copy of the Killing Choice as soon as possible. That’s a no brainer at least!

Reviewed by : Georgina Murphy

This review was meant to be part of a blog tour organised by Hodder & Stoughton, to see what 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.

MURRELL’S DEBUT SHOWS NO FEAR AS A RISING STAR FROM DOWN UNDER

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Love is in the air, everywhere I look around…” So, the lyrics of the John Paul Young song go. But with today being the fourteenth of February, it’s quite apt for this book review, with its plot based on the use of cutting-edge technology to put love or the feelings of intense emotion in the air or more appropriately in the ears. This month’s second book review is Yearn To Fear by Chas Murrell and was self-published in November 2020.

Marcus Hall is an Australian scientist working at CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) developing ground-breaking 5G Wi-Fi technology with Lamarr computer chips (Yes, Hedy wasn’t just a beautiful actress, but also had a razor-sharp mind to boot). One afternoon when his boss is off sick, Marcus and his colleague Henry Henderson, inadvertently create a device that therapeutically allows the wearer to experience very intense “wet dreams”. When his project manager Sarah returns a couple of days later after recovering from the flu and in guidance with post COVID-19 protocols, he informs her of their discovery. She in turn informs their General Manager, but after that meeting, she starts acting very strangely and goes straight home with Marcus’s prototype. When he makes a welfare check on Sarah at her house later, he discovers that Henry is a spy working for the Australian Government, but then both men find Sarah murdered. A couple of hours after that, Marcus’s brother, sister in-law and girlfriend are kidnapped. With his prototype missing, along with his family now in danger and a mysterious kidnapper demanding Marcus hand over all other prototypes and plans for their development in return for the hostage’s freedom, can he trust Henry to help rescue the situation.

Wow, the first quarter of this book had me stopping to check I hadn’t picked up a Mills & Boon by accident, as it is very raunchy (Bridgerton-esque) and hedonistic. Every one of the main characters seems to be having sex. That’s without even trying out the revolutionary new device Marcus has created, let alone what they experience with it. However, after the discovery of Sarah’s murder, things slip into typical espionage mode.

Australian or antipodean spy thrillers aren’t new, take the Netflix series Pine Gap and Secret City for example. In the past I have read the works of fellow Australian thriller writer Matthew Reilly, behind me on the shelf sit two books by fellow Aussie rising star Chris Hammer (Scrubland and Silver), both read by my wife and fellow reviewer Georgina. While more recently I reviewed New Zealander,  Vanda Symon’s, Sam Shepherd series on this blog and am looking forward to listening to her third book in the series Containment on Audible over the next week.

As for Yearn To Fear, it is a thoroughly enjoyable book, and Murrell really sets a fast pace with a unique and well researched story, while the banter between the main characters does make it an easy read and give it a feel very much of a Roger Moore 007 outing.

That is not to take away from the characters and the writing. The master mind and villain of the piece is very believably cold and manipulative. Murrell, breathes life into the story and characters, with in depth descriptions of anatomical reactions and engineering workings, whiskey and weaponry. At times, the technology being described even for someone working on an IT magazine, was a bit over whelming and felt slightly over my head. But overall, the storyline and intrigue keep the reader engaged right to the end.

Chas Murrell

This is Australian author Chas Murrell’s debut novel (www.chasmurrellcom.au). He’s a former Police Officer, Fire Commander, Customs Coastwatch Surveillance Co-Ordinator, mechanic and EMT instructor. He’s also previously written academic papers on liquid hydrogen, while also held a worldwide patent for a nonlinear mathematical calculation. (how much can one person fit into a life… I’m fifty and still have a lot of living left to get to a quarter of what Chas has achieved). He lives with his family in Tasmania, which he claims is very much like Scotland, which is apt considering he can claim to be a direct descendant of Robert The Bruce. When not writing you may find him online playing World Of Tanks (fancy a game of COD).

Another thing that makes this book standout among its contemporaries, especially those being published in around this time, is it’s deft references to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the beginning it highlights the financial results of the technology Marcus and Henry are working on to Australia’s budget deficit following the pandemic and then the covid-19 protocols Sarah has to follow after the bout of influenza. This is something I’m eagerly watching to see how other books, authors and TV shows respond to in the coming months. In this instance it’s another sign of a bright new talent responding to world changing events to keep his work relevant.

So, take my advice and order a copy online from Chas’s website as well as amazon and then snuggle up – while were still in Lockdown and get into this debut before the the next instalment of the “Lamarr” series Fear To Recal lands later this year.

Reviewed by   Adrian Murphy

This book review 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, comeback and tell us what you thought, we’d really appreciate the feedback.

KAUFMANN’S DEBUT SKIRTS ACROSS TIME WITH A TALE OF LOVE, LOSS AND EMPOWERMENT

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Prior to the second world war, my grandmother was a lady’s maid in a grand house in the Nottinghamshire countryside. The daughter of a coalminer, she achieved this position, with its travel to London for the season and summer holiday’s on the Dorset coast, by winning a needlework competition. Her winning entry caught the fine Lady’s eye and my great grandparents were asked if she could go ‘into service’. As a 14-year-old, this must have been a daunting proposition. My grandmother certainly became a modern woman, working as a bus conductress in the war and running a ‘chippy’ after. Following the death of her husband in her 50’s, she returned to working with textiles, becoming a cutter and examiner in a local factory.  She was always interested in fashion, never went out without her hair done or her ‘lippy’. I hope to emulate her style, love of travel, independence and joy in life through the rest of mine, especially once I get vaccinated and liberated!

These reminiscences bring me to this month’s final review, its The Dressmaker of Paris by Georgia Kauffmann published by Hodder & Stoughton (www.hodder.co.uk) on the 28th January. This is the story of Rosa Kusttatscher, born in the mountains of Italy and who is forced to flee during the war to Switzerland following a traumatic event. Having discovered a skill and interest in fashion, she moves to Paris. Here as well as developing he career, she finds love. Moving to Brazil, she experiences both tragedy and success. When we meet her in New York, she has found peace and happiness. Her past haunts her still. She has spent a life running, she realises. But now she will run no more.

Each chapter begins with a short vignette about her preparations for an important meeting Rosa is going to. She explains some aspect of her toilette or appearance to the reader in a chatty, informative way. We do not know whom she is addressing, as she just refers to the person as ‘ma chere’ Thereafter, Rosa remembers a period of her life and gradually, through the book, we learn her life story. Usually, the beauty advice related in some way to the period or event that was discussed.  I like these thoughtful markers at each new point in the story. They were useful in tying the parts together and reminding you of the mystery surrounding her appointment that day.

I enjoyed this book immensely. There was always a sense of drama. The wartime scenes were well portrayed. I enjoyed learning a little fashion history during the Paris period. I must admit my favourite portion was the American section and her final marriage. It was lovely, romantic and rather unexpected. I don’t usually like books with beautiful, brilliant women who are too perfect, but Rosa had enough flaws and experienced enough troubles to have me rooting for her. I’m not a chick lit fan either but this had enough grit, history and great characters to keep me enthralled. It was a book I looked forward to picking up at the end of a busy, messy and unfashionable day!

Georgia Kaufmann

This the debut novel of English author Georgia Kaufmann (www.georgiakaufmann.com).After studying Social Anthropology and Demography in Cambridge, she travelled widely, living in numerous places beginning with the letter B, Brussels, Brighton and Boston, to name a few. She now lives within cycling distance of central London with her husband, two daughters and a cat.

This book is a journey through time. The threads of love, loss, fashion, female emancipation and the importance of family were woven deftly into a sweeping story.  It can’t be read without a sigh, a few tears and the odd smile. An ideal escape from lockdown woes, I recommend you cut a dash to your local online book supplier now.

Reviewed by Georgina Murphy

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

GATWARD’S ON THE RIGHT TRACK WITH GRIMM TALES FROM THE DALES

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Most of the roads we travel on these days that connect our large towns and cities, have been there for centuries. The few exceptions are the major motorways, highways and other multi-lane routes that gauge a direct line across from one side of a country to another. These are more often, just large transport veins, that bypass smaller, slower, meandering, routes, and bottle-neck towns.

Britain and Ireland are criss-crossed, especially in rural areas, with old stone roads, that these days are the preserve of hill walkers and ramblers. Their original function apart from taking livestock and crops to markets, was also for the conveyancing of the dead to consecrated burial grounds. These roads are known in England and Ireland as corpse roads, and as coffin roads in Scotland. This month’s second book review features an old burial road, the book is Corpse Road by David J Gatward, published by Amazon in December 2020.

When Detective Chief Inspector Harry Grimm, is awoken in the middle of the night, by his second in command Sergeant Matt Dinsdale, he knows it won’t be good news.  There’s been a body found by Mountain Rescue in the Yorkshire Dales and being part of the Mountain Rescue team, Dinsdale is one of the first on scene to realise the victim hadn’t met their demise by accident. The victim’s has been viciously attacked and there’s blood everywhere, also there is a name scrawled in the victims blood on the side of the tent, which isn’t hers, and strange little balls inside and out. Over the next twenty-four hours Harry and is team, made up of detectives and Community Support officers (Special Constables or part-timers), quickly discover the victim’s marriage was in freefall, but after an eventful visit with the husband, things go awry when he suddenly disappears. This is all while Harry is trying to deal with an overbearing Chief Superintendent who doesn’t hide his contempt for him and a crisis in his personal life involving his father and brother. Is there more to this savage murder or was it just a crime of passion committed by a controlling husband?

I really got into this book from the first page. Which isn’t strange considering I, like many people living in Ireland and England, love the simplicity of rural crime stories and TV dramas. such as Midsomer Murders, Heartbeat and Bergerac for example.

Ok, so Bergerac was based on the Channel Islands, but that is rural to an extent. Suburban and inner-city crime dramas usually have fast cars, flashy offices, and advanced technology, while the rural ones are more likable because, the prevalence of heinous crimes, drugs, gangland killings, and the like are rare and shatter the peace and tranquillity of country life. Also, the equipment and means by which a country copper or detective can solve a crime are a lot more rudimentary than his city and suburban counterparts.

This is what you get with a Corpse Road, a very simple, but modern tale of murder and mystery set among the windswept but beautiful hills and moors of the Yorkshire countryside. Gods own country, as it is often stated, is not immune to crime.

To prove how simple things in his neck of Yorkshire are, Harry and his team’s base of operations is a community centre, not a purpose-built police station, where they share one laptop between them, one step above pencil licking, while taking notes and wearing bicycle clips.

Meanwhile, Gatward’s descriptions of the surrounding countryside and the quaint grey stone buildings of the local towns and villages, are what enable you to really get immersed in this story. If unlike me you’ve never been to this part of country, then when you do eventually get to visit Yorkshire (I personally recommend visiting there and the Peak district, albeit once the pandemic has subsided) you’ll see how immersive and detailed they are.

Harry as a character stands out initially because of his surname, as well as being a blow-in to the local area. Thus having read none of Gatward’s previous Grimm books, I felt we had something in common.

David J. Gatward

This is English author David J Gatward’s (www.davidjgatward.com) Third Harry Grimm novel, the others are Grimm Up North (2020) and Best Served Cold (2020). He’s also the author behind the Padre series of books – featuring a Military Padre fighting supernatural forces. As well as writing numerous young adult books and teaching creative writing courses around England. He now lives in Somerset, South West England, where he pursues a huge number of hobbies when not writing including caving, camping, climbing, archery, shooting and music.

At two hundred and eighty pages, and the rate at which David seems to produce these books, you know from the start you are not getting a meandering tale but a gripping as well as tightly scripted and well researched thriller. I could have read this in one day if I’d had a long train or plane journey. But this helped me endure a couple of very Irish, wet, sleety days as we headed towards to backend of winter and promised brighter evenings of spring.

So, order or download your copy online, which under the current Covid restrictions is the best way to follow Government guidelines. Then prepare to join DCI Harry Grim in the wilds of Yorkshire as he attempts to overcome the fish out of water feeling, while solving crime in Britain’s answer to “Big Sky Country”.

Reviewed by  Adrian Murphy

This book review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour, to see what the others thought, visit their sites listed below. Then if you get a copy, comeback and tell us what you thought. We would really appreciate the feedback.

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.

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.