Sunday 6 August 2023

A Dangerous Fossil - John J. Delaney

This book really does have it all; mystery, drama, twists and turns - and dinosaurs, so I was hooked from the start. The story unfolds as ‘Jurassic’ Jemma discovers the largest plesiosaur that has been found on the Dorset coast. She battles the tide, joined by a team of helpers led by her young nephew Billy, to excavate every last piece. This exciting discovery is a catalyst for a series of events that make you question which characters you can really trust, what their genuine motivations are and how far they’ll go to get what they want.

The story is multi-layered as we learn about the struggle to keep the local Lulcombe museum open, fending off developers who want to transform the area building a hotel, spa and casino on the land. Alongside these visions of what a future Lulcombe could be like, Jemma is taken back to her past as an old flame arrives with a keen interest in purchasing the dinosaur and reigniting their romance. 

A Dangerous Fossil moves at a fast pace and is a real page turner that keeps you guessing until the end. We get to know Jemma who, like all great protagonists, has her flaws and weaknesses and takes us on her personal journey as she tries to make sense of everything unfolding around her and seek the source of these dangerous, sometimes fatal, circumstances.

I can highly recommend this book, which would be a particlaurly good holiday read - especially if you are spending time on the Jurassic coast this summer. I am hoping that there are more of Jemma’s adventures to come as I’m sure she has some more exciting discoveries ahead, with some equally intriguing subplots and characters interlaced. 

Tuesday 13 June 2023

Bradington Bay - Alaric Mark Lewis

When you first meet Edward at the start of the novel, you make an instant assumption about the kind of person he is; entitled, cold, mechanical,selfish. And he is all of those things to a certain degree. However, in the wake of a hurricane that has grounded all flights he sets out on a road trip across America to reach the place he spent his childhood. A place that pulls him with so many mixed memories. 

After a stark phone call with his boyfriend it seems that he has been, or is about to be, dumped. There is very little if any emotion displayed at this point. Nostalgia calls him and he sets off in his Range Rover. We travel forwards alongside Edward as his physical journey evolves, but we also travel backwards in time with him in a series of chapters that show him from a child growing up into a young man with an important surname to live up to. Within these chapters unfolds life changing events on many levels in and around Bradington Bay.

After meeting Hank randomly in a bar one night as he stops over in a motel on his way, he decides that Hank should join him on the trip, keeping him company. He feels comfortable with Hank and very quickly their conversations begin to open up about their complicated pasts.

The story splits into chapters from Edwards childhood and early adulthood to the present day, and gradually we see how the past has informed the future. Their exchanges and advice to each other (not always welcomed) illustrate beautifully what complex characters these fragile two men really are.

I read this book in 2 days and literally couldn’t put it down. It’s so beautifully written and incredibly sensitive in the depiction of relationships, both familial and romantic. Although only a short book it is so rich. Edward unfolds as a complex, thoughtful man, born into a very wealthy family, which has had it’s drawbacks as well as it’s benefits. Mistakes, or bad choices - or maybe just a simple lack of courage - have put him on a path that he has continued along for so long. 

For a debut novel this is such a powerful, important book, which I predict is going to be an instant hit.

Thursday 4 August 2022

Small Angels - Lauren Owen

Sam Unthank and his fiancé Chloe Day are returning to the place that Sam grew up in order to get married in the picturesque village church, St Michaels and All Angels – better known to the locals as Small Angels. On their ‘hag’ night in the pub the local historian and “curator of gossip” begins to tell the story of Small Angels, the Gonnes family who lived close by at Blanche Farm and the last time the church was used 10 years ago for the funeral of Paul Gonnes. Chloe is fascinated by the story and wants to know more, but Sam doesn’t want to talk about anything that happened in the past. He didn’t really want to come back here. Some of the locals are superstitious about this place and a possible curse that hangs over it. Sam’s sister Kate still bears the scars of that night around her neck, but is unable to recall how they got there.   


And so begins the story wrapped up in a tale, surrounded by legend, encased in a ballad of the natural world, ghosts and revenge.  

I really enjoyed this book, as much as Lauren Owen’s first novel The Quick. It was incredibly atmospheric and eerie.  I like the way that the theme of stories and storytelling runs throughout. People retelling their stories, performing plays or hearing a narrative running through their head. We also get the story from a number of different points of view which helps to build the bigger picture and see the different perspectives.  

I particularly liked the character of Kate, and her struggle with the past and present. She returns to Small Angels begrudgingly and is desperate to get through the wedding and escape back to the life she has made for herself away from this place. But it draws her in, and soon she is recalling her childhood with the Gonnes children and the relationship she once had with the now reclusive Lucia.

Mockbeggar Wood, at the edge of the church, is a character itself throughout the book. It’s alive and reaching out to all your senses. It breathes and produces such beauty in things like the fragrant gentle roses and petals that sweep into the village, but it is also spiteful and stagnant and extremely treacherous in places when it chooses to be. Some say Small Angels was too close to the woods. It felt like “it was going to be eaten up by the trees any minute”.  

The character of Harry Child, the wickedly childish boy who appears one day in the woods and befriends Lucia is a fantastic creation. He’s malicious, and vulnerable and vengeful. He draws Lucia in, and she believes it is because of her reputation as ‘Lucia the bad’ or the bad thoughts that she sometimes has and presumes he can sense. 

The present day story runs alongside the unfolding tale of what happened 10 years ago – and even further back as the full horror is revealed. And just like the vines and bushes of Mockbeggar Woods this book starts to wrap itself around you and pull you in deeper so that you can’t very easily put it down.


This book is suited to people who like a gothic, ghostly tale and don’t mind being spooked, readers who may have read books such as Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver, The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell or Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley – all of which I would highly recommend.  


Saturday 23 July 2022

Shape Of A Boy: My Family and Other Adventures - Kate Wickers

Kate Wicker is a travel journalist, regularly visiting countries all around the world along with her husband, particularly exploring those hidden gems a bit off the beaten track and unspoiled by tourism. When she begins to have children she decides to bring them along with her too - needing to plan a little differently, but still wanting them to get the most out of these incredible locations, people and experiences. It’s part memoir, part travelogue and a lot of fun. 

I am that person, that rolls their eyes when someone sits near me on a plane with a baby or small child. My earphones go in and my music is turned up in anticipation of the screams and tantrums I expect on a long flight. What possible interest does a small child have travelling to these exotic locations? Surely all they can be interested in is ice cream and a swimming pool?

I wasn’t sure if this book was really for me, but I like to explore different genres and perspectives so I thought I would give it a go and I’m so pleased I did. I thoroughly enjoyed every chapter.

The way that the book is structured works incredibly well. Each chapter describes a particular trip, and as a travel journal they evoke the sights, smells and sensations of the location. For instance, the claustrophobia of the tunnel that you travel along to get to the centre of the great pyramid in Egypt. The beauty of the cherry blossom on the trees in Japan, alongside the quirkiness of the cosplay outfits of the Japanese wandering through the pathways beneath the trees. But what is so powerful is the life lessons that are learnt on each trip, in each chapter.

Every adventure transforms into a lesson for one or more of the boys and is told with great humour and honesty. They have their moments when they are grumpy, disappointed or disinterested but there is always a moment that makes the situation a little bit more profound. The lesson in mortality is particularly touching and relatable. But this is in no way a heavy, deep tome about the meaning of life. This is a very funny, easy read. You could easily dip into different chapters if you’re particularly keen on certain countries, but I think you’d miss the bigger picture of the boys growing up and developing which is really lovely to see subtly unfold.

I read this recently over a sweltering weekend in the garden and couldn’t put it down. It’s a great summer read, but also one to enjoy if your own travel plans have been on hold recently. The education that the family gain and the memories they make are so important. So I absolutely get now why it is important to get young children exploring these weird and wonderful environments, cultures and flavours. Life lessons that will stick with them long after they’ve left any classroom.

Tuesday 24 May 2022

The Manager - A. K. Wilson

Katy Daly is a mediocre PA, with no real ambition other than to collect her pay check at the end of the month. She has gone from job to job, making no great impact, building no friendships or loyalties. Unexpectedly losing her job one day leads her to apply for a new position as assistant to Riley Daniels - a high powered, entrepreneur in the tech world. 

Being part of this exciting new world starts to excite Katy and brings out a side to her she never knew existed. She starts to take an interest in how she looks each day, starts to wear high heels and actually looks forward to getting into the office. She is generally wowed by everything about Byrsa, the company that Riley created, and the whole city lifestyle. 

Is Katy a reliable narrator? I wasn’t sure, and couldn’t decide if I liked her at first. But as you start to get to know her and her background you start to understand that she carries some heavy personal baggage which has an impact on her general outlook and motivation. I enjoyed her transformation, how she’s inspired and attracted by this intelligent, sassy and somewhat mysterious CEO. Seeing how dedicated Riley is to delivering something truly worthwhile, rather than being driven by profits has such a positive impact on Katy. 

This book was really easy to get into and I quickly got absorbed by Katy’s curiosity as the story began to unfold. I’m not going to include any spoilers in here, but I have to say this book has a twist with an impact that I’d liken to Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. I really didn’t see it coming and it totally transforms the story that leaves you turning the page quicker and quicker to find out where it’s all heading - and how it might end.

Sunday 24 April 2022

Belle Nash and the Bath Soufflé - William Keeling

Who knew that the seemingly minor matter of a soufflé failing to rise would be the catalyst for a group of dinner party guests to instigate an investigation into some shady dealings. Seeking to gain the truth behind some questionable members of the local community and generally cause mayhem in the city of Bath. 

Bellerophon 'Belle' Nash, leads the cast of characters and as we get to know each one we discover a multitude of societal issues and hot topics of the 1830s as they unfold. The complexities of love, feminism, forbidden love, the pursuit of justice and the birth of psychotherapy are woven together as these characters interact on their shared quest to overcome corruption. 

It was such an enjoyable, easy read and the story is so much fun, with humour in every page. The characterisation is very Dickensian so the cast are incredibly visual, springing to life with ease. You get a sense of time and historical setting with the wonderful descriptions of the city that transport you there into the middle of the adventure. It was very hard for me to put this book down once I’d started and the conclusion was so unexpected and compelling, it has set the scene for so a variety of stories to evolve.

I have a lot of affection for these characters and hope they return. I think there will be many more escapades that start life behind the closed doors of the residents of Gay Street that I’d like to discover! 

Monday 11 April 2022

Little Nothings - Julie Mayhew

This novel totally absorbed me from the first few pages. I could not put it down and finished it within 24 hrs. 

Becky has always felt like an outsider until she meets a couple of women at a baby group and suddenly she is part of a strong, supportive friendship that provides her with everything she has been missing out on. The friendship evolves beyond the children and soon there are coffee mornings, girl’s nights out and shopping trips. The husbands and partners are then folded into the mix and life events are shared as a group. All seems well until a new person joins the group. Ange is deep, thoughtful and the girls truly value her opinion and admire her style. Soon Ange is organising their social events that are now expensive nights out in London’s finest restaurants, advising on home improvements and the best private schools for the children.  Suddenly Becky feels she is being marginalised. But is she just being paranoid, reading too much into things?  

The drama climaxes in a luxury Greek holiday, where tensions overspill and truths unravel.

I predict great things for this book and can see this being a huge hit this summer!