Tag Archives: Review of the month

January 2021 – a book review (and dissectology update)

A new year always starts with good intentions, even this one, and so I am resurrecting my monthly reviews. I stopped doing these last summer for various reasons but, feeling rather rejuvenated, I thought I’d reboot them. There is the caveat that, if Lockdown drags on until 2022, the posts might just say ‘Ditto’. But what about January 2021? The best thing about January 2021 is that it’s over but the good news about it is that my reading powers were restored to me! I don’t read for as many hours a day as I did in Normal Times because I’m still working from home and still have no commute or a fixed lunch hour but I am reading much more than I did in 2020 and, more to the point, I’m enjoying it more. One reason for this is that I’m only finishing books I’m really enjoying. I read solely for entertainment.

I read fourteen novels in January and they brightened up a very Dry and rather dull month (and did I say Dry?). I’m behind on reviews but that’s because I seem to have spent 90% of the month in Teams meetings. They’ve been a good mix of books – historical fiction, science fiction (well, Jodi Taylor – I read so many of her books she should have her own section on FWN), spy thrillers past and present, action adventures, horror and crime. Three of the books were audiobooks – I love audiobooks so much! The Lockdown Revelation.

The Coffinmaker's Garden by Stuart MacBrideThere were some great reading highlights. Favourite authors were greeted with open arms (hugging books is to be recommended in these Post-Hugging Times) – Matthew Reilly returned to give the ultimate action hero Jack West Jr a really hard time in The Two Lost Mountains. Mick Herron was back to continue his guided tour of Slough House, the unloved refuge for secret service rejects.

My favourite crime writer Stuart MacBride re-opened the Ash Henderson case files in The Coffinmaker’s Garden and Professor Tom Wilde must hide from Nazis and Allies alike in the wake of a prince’s mysterious wartime death in Rory Clements’ A Prince and A Spy.

The Smallest Man by Frances QuinnI do much more reading of older books now. Perhaps because life is now slower, I feel that I want to give time to books I’ve missed or have newly discovered. Or is this an age thing? I really enjoyed Roz Watkins’ Cut to the Bone, which I missed last year (I love the Peak District locations). I also continued to catch up on Jodi Taylor’s Chronicles of St Mary’s, gobbling up the audiobooks (so fantastically narrated/lived by Zara Ramm) of books 6 and 7 – What Could Possibly Go Wrong? (an awful lot) and Lies, Damned Lies, and History. The heroine Max is now a member of my family. I must write a post about these books.

Historical fiction continues to be my Lockdown Genre Of Choice and I read some goodies in January. Cathedral by Ben Hopkins is a massively ambitious and immersive novel about the people of Hagenburg, Germany, during the construction of their cathedral in the 13th century. The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn takes us back to one of my favourite periods of history, the English Civil War, and we view it from the unusual and insightful perspective of the Queen’s Dwarf Nat.

Other reading highlights in January include Chris Hauty’s Savage Road, in which secret service agent Hayley Chills returns to continue her battle to protect the White House from Russian interference. The stakes are higher than ever as the new cold war goes cyber. I love political thrillers and I’m now hooked on Hayley Chills. I’m also hooked on haunted house ghost stories and so I couldn’t resist Thirteen Storeys by Jonathan Sims – a haunted house has become an entire haunted tower block! Perfect! As long as I don’t have to live in it.

February is starting in fine fashion. I’m reading The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper (a truly fabulous novel about the unfree women of Pompeii) and listening to Daughters of Night by the brilliant Laura Shepherd-Robinson. I have some other enticing books lined up for the month.

In addition to book reading, I have continued my activities as a Dissectologist. Due to popular demand (by two people) I will be incorporating a jigsaw update into each new book post. As you can see, jigsaw puzzles can be very educational.

May and June – looking back and looking ahead

A bit of a catch up today! I didn’t do a review of May and June, largely because there was so much I didn’t or couldn’t talk about. My grief for my mum was very raw and I was involved in organising and dealing with the funeral plus all of the other jobs involved with being the Executor. I’m still deeply involved in a lot of that stuff, longing for it to end, but I am in a bit of a better place now and so I’m ready to get back to it and tell you just how little I read in May and June!

There are other happier reasons why I didn’t read as much as I would have liked, especially over June. I finished the second draft of my novel! It finished off at about 88,900 words and, printed out, it seems to weigh more than a very fat cat and so, no matter its insides, in appearance and bulk it has heft! But I suppose it’s the insides that really matter so I’m now in the process of editing the hard copy and realising that I gave one character at least three surnames and went on about the weather in one month before remembering it’s set in a completely different month. But overall I’m pretty pleased with it and hope to send it off soon so that I can start collecting rejection letters.

Books, books, books!

The Pretender's Gold by Scott MarianiOn to my reading! My tally for May and June is dismal – I’ve read only twelve novels, at least half of what I would normally read over two months. Apart from the reasons above, I think a good reason why it’s so low is because my reading routine has been well and truly scuppered by Lockdown. In the old world, I used to read at least three hours a day thanks to my commute to work and my work lunch hour. I never thought I would miss my commute but I really do and I certainly miss those times when I would sit in a pub with my book and a glass of wine. As it’s unlikely I’ll be back in the office any time soon, this is set to continue. But, should the sun actually deign to come out again, then at least I can find myself a quiet beer garden and do some proper reading.

But there is another reason why I’ve read so few books. I am, I’m honoured to say, once again one of the judges for the Historical Writers Association Gold Crown award. This means I have quite a pile of books to read and so I have been working through these whenever I get a spare moment. I can’t wait for when we can release the long list later this summer. Historical fiction is my greatest book love and it’s wonderful to see so many good books being published, especially during such a hard year as this one.

Onto the books I can talk about! May saw the return of Ben Hope, my favourite thriller hero. I love this series by Scott Mariani more than any other and so I leapt on The Pretender’s Gold and I absolutely loved it. This is one of Ben’s best adventures and I can heartily recommend it. I read two other action or political thrillers over these two months – Curse the Day by Judith O’Reilley and Double Agent by Tom Bradby. I enjoyed both of these, particularly Tom Bradby’s thriller. I can see this developing into an unmissable series for me.

I read two new historical fiction novels – much of the historical fiction I’ve been looking forward to this summer has been postponed (along with so many other novels), but I was so glad to read these two as they’re by authors I read every year – Lionheart by Ben Kane and The House of Lamentations by S.G. MacLean. Both books are significant in different ways. Ben Kane is best known for his fabulous Roman novels and so Lionheart takes him and us to the entirely new territory of the late 12th century and the reign of Richard I. I loved it. This is such a favourite period of history of mine and so I had been looking forward to this. The emphasis here is very much on Richard the warrior and so it’s an action-packed adventure with a very charismatic figure at its heart. The House of Lamentations is the final novel to feature Damian Seeker, Cromwell’s enigmatic spy. This has been a landmark series and I will miss it. I’m delighted, but not surprised, to say that it ends in brilliant fashion.

I read two horror novels, or one and a half. I’m not sure if The Curator by M.W. Craven is strictly speaking horror but it certainly takes us into that territory and it is glorious. It’s always good to spend time with Poe, Tilly and Flynn and they’re on fine form here. But it’s certainly dark, chilling and terrifying. We’re in ‘safe’ horror land with Devolution by Max Brooks. When a volcano erupts in Washington State, the men and women of a hi-tech eco-commune have much more to worry about than ash. This hugely enjoyable novel raises all sorts of debate about survivalism and the nature of mankind as predator or hunter. It’s told in an intriguing way, too, just as you’d expect from the author of World War Z.

Without a Trace by Mari HannahThis leaves five police procedurals and psychological thrillers. I was so pleased to see Kate Daniels return after such a long time in Without a Trace by Mari Hannah. The previous book ended with such a cliff hanger and I was desperate to pick up the story of Kate and Jo. This is a fantastic series. Do take a look at it, if you haven’t already. I did enjoy The House Share by Kate Helm – this is an utterly bonkers psychological thriller set in a luxurious shared house which contains more secrets than it does people. Such a lot of fun! I can also strongly recommend The Babysitter by Phoebe Morgan and Three Perfect Liars by Hiedi Perks. I read everything these two authors write and their latest novels confirmed why. Finally, I read The Flight by Julie Clark, which didn’t quite work for me, after an excellent beginning, but is well liked by many. So, although I didn’t read a great deal, I did pick some corkers!

Looking ahead to July

July is starting very well indeed with The Split by Sharon Bolton. I’ve missed bookshops being open so much and so, as soon as they re-opened, The Split was the first book I bought (along with Cut to the Bone by Roz Watkins). I’m hoping stock will work its way into the shops soon as there are others on my to buy list which I can’t wait to get (thinking of Island of Secrets by Rachel Rhys and The Devil You Know by Emma Kavanagh, among others). I digress… I am thoroughly enjoying The Split, as I do all of Sharon Bolton’s books. This one is set on the remote island of South Georgia and has an intriguing structure.

I usually have about thirty books to review in July but this year it’s more like a third of that, with so many titles delayed until later this year or even 2021. I’m looking forward to investigating what is being published this month and filling up my shopping basket. July books I’m particularly looking forward to are The Resident by David Jackson, The Storm by Amanda Jennings and Fifty Fifty by Steve Cavanagh. I must also catch up on Cut to the Bone by Roz Watkins, Eden by Tim Lebbon, The Sea Gate by Jane Johnson, The Last Wife by Karen Hamilton and The Secrets of Strangers by Charity Norman.

So what have I missed? If there are any May and June books I really should read and any July books you can recommend – I could really do with some science fiction – please do let me know!

I hope you’re all doing well and managing to find comfort and peace in the company of good books (and jigsaw puzzles).

April 2020 – looking back and looking ahead

When I wrote my review of March 2020, I knew that April would prove to be a difficult month for all of us. It most certainly was. Popping out to the supermarket once a week seems like a major undertaking in these days. But I wasn’t expecting to be hit by the virus personally. Sadly, my lovely mum died suddenly of COVID-19 on 28 April. I’m not going to dwell on that here but I will say that it’s had a catastrophic impact on my reading and blogging and, well, doing anything at all, except perhaps doing jigsaw puzzles and staring at the wall. I have, though, reached the stage where I can think about engaging with the world again, although as I organise a funeral which will be nothing like the one my mum deserves, I will stumble. So, having got that sad news out of the way, as I did want to say why my reviewing has stalled, here’s what I have been able to read.

I only read nine books in April, I’m ashamed to say. So few! Which is no reflection on the quality of the books published or available because there were some corkers released and I still have every intention to catch up on many of them as my reading takes off again, as it has begun to do.

The Last Protector by Andrew Taylor

I’m not sure I’ve ever enjoyed historical fiction as much as I do at the moment, which is saying something because I’ve always loved it to bits. The month’s reading began in fine style, thanks to Andrew Taylor’s The Last Protector. This is a fantastic series, set during the late 1660s, when the glow has most definitely gone from the Restoration. People even begin to think nostalgically about a certain Oliver Cromwell, which brings me to another historical novel I read in April, The Puritan Princess by Miranda Malins. Set in the late 1650s, this romance features Frances, Cromwell’s youngest daughter, who has to grow used to her new and strange status as a member of what is effectively England’s new royal dynasty. But time is not on Cromwell’s side. My third historical read of the month was a return to a favourite series of mine, Lindsey Davis’s Roman mysteries starring Flavia Albia, daughter of the infamous and cherished Roman private investigator, Falco. Flavia has taken over the family business of detection and this time she has a nasty killer to catch, who preys on their victims in the gardens of the old Caesar. There’s also the matter of some old writings that have been dug up in the grove.

In April I also went off-planet, thanks to John Scalzi and the superb The Last Emperox, the final novel in Scalzi’s brilliant trilogy, the Interdependency. There is so much exhilarating and thrilling plot in this space opera and it’s matched by the fabulous wit of the author and some very appealing characters, some good, some very bad. I’m so sorry this trilogy is done but it’s the perfect time to read it if you haven’t already.

Power Play by Tony Kent

As we head deeper into Lockdown, I’ve really enjoyed finding escape in fast and furious thrillers. I read three in April. Unfortunately one didn’t really work for me, A Knock at the Door by TW Ellis, but happily I loved the other two. I love Tony Kent’s thrillers, each of which features a federal agent (British but based in New York), a barrister and a journalist. The third in the series, Power Play, is a belter of a thriller and the stakes are very high indeed when a candidate to the US Presidency is blown up in a plane above the Atlantic. What secrets was he hiding that would make someone kill over 500 people to get at one man?

I am a huge fan of Clive Cussler and I was so sad to hear of his death earlier this year. Journeys of the Pharaohs was the last book published before his death and it was a bittersweet read. It reminded me of Cussler’s old books. This one had the quality of the Dirk Pitt books and I loved every page of it. It’s good to learn that Cussler’s series of thrillers, and there are so many of them, will continue, thanks to his talented co-authors. Graham Brown is the co-author of Journeys of the Pharaohs and he is a thriller writer whose work I enjoy in its own right. The books are in safe hands but they will never be the same again, without the original driver at the wheel (in his vintage motors).

I had a bit of a hiatus with crime fiction at the beginning of the Lockdown. Perhaps I found it too gritty and real. But I’m glad to say that I’m now back reading it again. I do love a good police procedural and Kate Rhodes is one of the very best in the genre. I love her Ben Kitto novels set on the Isles of Scilly and thoroughly enjoyed Burnt Island. These books make me want to travel and one of these days I can’t wait to explore these islands for myself (without the murders, though, thanks very much).

Looking ahead to May

Without doubt, May will be a difficult month again. There are some personal challenges ahead for me. But I do sense that there might be some light at the end of the tunnel and I expect my reading to pick up again. Which is all to the good because I am once more one of the judges for the HWA Gold Crown! I’m so honoured to be asked again. I love historical fiction so much and it’s great to have an excuse to read so much more of it. This will take up quite a bit of reading time through the summer.

But there are other books I’m looking forward to in May. Having said that, it’s not always certain when book publication dates are put back! So there’s a chance that not all of these will keep to their schedule. I can’t wait to read Ben Kane’s new novel, Lionheart, which is a move to another time period for Ben, the late 12th century and the time of the Crusades. I’m also partial to a bit of horror and so Devolution by Max Brooks is on the pile. Emma Kavanagh has a crime novel out in May, which is always a treat, so I’m looking forward to The Devil You Know very much. Tom Bradby’s thriller Secret Service was a standout read for 2019 and so I was so pleased to hear that a sequel, Double Agent is on the way before the end of May.

There are, of course, many other books to look forward to in May and it is a wonderful thing to support authors, publishers and book shops. I’m looking forward to discovering what else is on the way. There are also all those April books that I missed! I’m looking forward to letting you know which of those I read in my May update.

I hope May behaves for you and that you and your family are well and safe x

March 2020 – looking back and looking ahead

WELL! What a difference a month makes and, as I write this in Lockdown, it’s hard to imagine a more profound change. I hope you and your families are all well, safe and managing as we adjust to the New Reality. This has impacted on my reading and I suspect that I’m not alone in this. It’s also affected my work on The Project. It’s just been too hard to focus, especially as my energy and computer time has been absorbed by adapting to working from home, with all of the challenges that entails. But I know I’m very fortunate in that I can do that. Many can’t. And to those who continue to work on the Front Line for the benefit of us all, I raise a glass (imagine suitable emoji at this point).

Light of Impossible Stars by Gareth L PowellBut the good news is that I’ve started to pick up my Project again and I’m continuing the massive task of typing it up, while carrying out a second edit. I’ve just realised that I may have to make some changes because some of it is set in 2021 and that 2021 is now not the same as it was when I began. Fortunately most of it is set in the past. And the other good news is that my reading has picked up again and I’m now finding a great deal of comfort and company in it, particularly in historical fiction and science fiction. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to read Gritty Fiction again. It could be quite a while. But I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get back to enjoying crime fiction again soon. I decided to reduce my GoodReads Reading Challenge target by 25 to 125 books. Better to be realistic than continually fall short of my target.

So what have I read this month? The answer is not a lot and a few of them weren’t very successful reads. The Mirror and the Light was one of the books I was looking forward to the most this year and its 900 pages took up much of the first week of March. Sadly, although the writing is stunning and there were some fabulous sections, I found it far too long, with too much of its narrative reporting on events rather than witnessing them. I realised once I was done, that there was one thing very much missing from this final volume which brought the previous two to glorious life – Anne Boleyn. What might have been a factor was that I was quite ill with ‘flu’ at the start of March and this made it very difficult for me to read. I then read a few thrillers for light relief but, unfortunately, The Bug had struck by then and I couldn’t focus on them: Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: God of War, The Warsaw Protocol and The Holdout.

Strangers by CL TaylorA psychological thriller that I really did enjoy was Strangers by C.L. Taylor. I was after a tense puzzler, a twisty pageturner, and this did the trick. I read it in a couple of sittings and I think it’s one of the reasons why I got back into reading again. It relit my fuse, if you see what I mean…

There were more goodies as I headed off into the past or off planet. I loved Light of Impossible Stars by Gareth L Powell! Embers of War has turned out to be one of my favourite space opera trilogies and it ended in fine fashion. I love Trouble Dog, what a great spaceship – part human, part machine and part dog.

I am such a huge fan of Harry Sidebottom whose Roman thrillers and military action epics have entertained me for so many years now. This summer he’s releasing something a little different. The Return is a Roman whodunnit set in the 2nd century BC. Its central figure is a soldier and so there’s plenty of military action but there’s also an unsettling and gruesome murder mystery for him to solve. I really enjoyed this, completely losing myself in a different world. My review will follow closer to publication in June. It’s definitely one to look out for.

Liberation by Imogen KealeyMy favourite read of the month was Liberation by Imogen Kealey. This is the beautifully written story of Nancy Wake, a real-life heroine of the French Resistance, whose extraordinary and deadly career in France in 1943 and 1944 is vividly portrayed. It’s a stunner. It’s upsetting at times but it carries a message that bad times will pass. And I hung on to that.

My current read is shaping up to be every bit as good, and it’s by one of my favourite authors – The Last Protector by Andrew Taylor. Once more we return to London in the late 1660s, when the shine and glitter have been stripped from the Restoration Court and sedition begins to rear its head. It is excellent.

Other books I reviewed in March and not already mentioned were We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker – without doubt this spectacular novel is a candidate for my book of the year. Rules for Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson – I loved this witty homage to classic crime fiction, which tells its own clever murder mystery. Meet Me in Monaco by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb – this is a sumptuous and enchanting novel which goes back to Cannes in the 1950s when a Hollywood actress, Grace Kelly, meets her prince. The Deep by Alma Katsu – a hugely entertaining horror thriller, which takes us back to the Titanic where there was even more than an iceberg to dread. In Five Years by Rebecca Serle – a devastatingly sad and beautiful tale of love, but not necessarily the love you’d imagine. When You See Me by Lisa Gardner – Flora and DD return – excellent – as Flora must confront her past once more.

We Begin At the End by Chris WhitakerLooking ahead
April is an absolute bumper month for new books! April isn’t going to be any easier than March, far from it, but, hopefully, we will get used to it more, while, and this is the important bit, staying well. I intend to do much more reading in April and will be looking forward to picking up some corkers. I’ve been kindly sent over 30 books to review which are published during the month and, although I won’t be able to read them all, there are plenty I can’t wait to read.

Two of them I’ve already read and reviewed. Strangers by C.L. Taylor and We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker. Another that I’ve read with a review on the way is The Cutting Place by Jane Casey. This book is magnificent and I can’t wait to tell you more about it later this week!

But among the others on my immediate reading pile are (in no particular order):
Magpie Lane by Lucy Atkins (set in my home town of Oxford!), I am Dust by Louise Beech, The Book of Koli by M.R.Carey, The Dead Line by Holly Watt, The Last Emperox by John Scalzi, Power Play by Tony Kent, Eden by Tim Lebbon, The Wasteland by Anna Jaquier, The Silent Treatment by Abbie Greaves, The Grove of the Caesars by Lindsey Davis, The Supernova Era by Cixin Liu, and no doubt plenty more!

I still have books from February and especially March that I want to return to, especially The Land Beyond the Sea by Sharon Penman, Without a Trace by Mari Hannah and Burnt Island by Kate Rhodes.

So, while there are challenges to come, there are also treats – and I haven’t even mentioned Easter Eggs yet! It just leaves me to say that I hope you and your loved ones stay well and that books can give you some respite. I’d love to hear which books have been a comfort to you at this time. I’ve been given a voucher. I want to spend it! All the very best to you x

February – looking back and looking ahead

It’s a Leap Year! One extra day to read, encouraged by the fact that it’s yet another stormy weekend. They’ve become a habit. In February I read ten novels, so another month in which I read a good third less than I normally do. The reason is, I’m afraid to say, The Project, The First Draft, which is all-consuming. I actually finished the first draft this month. I’m writing it by hand so now I’m faced with the task of typing up about 82,000 words, while doing an initial edit, making it nearer to 90,000 words. I can definitely say that everything about doing this is a challenge. I’m starting research for another story at the moment and mulling over ideas. Everything I write is completely different from the thing that preceded it or the thing that will follow it. I think this is because I’m finding my path and it’s a rocky, twisty, flooded path.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins ReidSo maybe instead of saying that I only managed ten books in February, I should jump and down and say that I actually managed to read ten books! They’re a mixed bunch as well so I’m happy about that. I was pleased to read some more historical fiction, beginning with Stacey Hall’s The Foundling, an atmospheric and sorrowful tale of a young woman’s struggle to find the child that she was forced to abandon at London’s Foundling Hospital on the day that child was born. It’s set in the mid 18th century, a period of history that is becoming more popular with fiction and I’m finding it increasingly appealing. I also read and reviewed The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I have a copy of Daisy and the Six to read but when I heard about its predecessor I knew I had to read it first. It’s a glorious tale of Hollywood, glamorous actresses and doomed love. It is a completely addictive read and I loved it.

I’ve always enjoyed romantic tales about 20th century figures, especially glamorous women (such as the Mitfords – I adore Jessica fellowes’ novels about them) and so my latest read could have been written for me. Meet Me in Monaco by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb is an enchanting novel set in the mid 1950s when Grace Kelly arrived in Cannes for the film festival and fell in love with Prince Ranier of Monaco, marrying him only a few months later. But there is another love story here, too, between perfumier Sophie Duval and an English photographer James Henderson. This book transported me to the sunny Mediterranean, a perfect place to be. A review of this will follow very soon.

It seems that the older I get, the more susceptible I become to gorgeously written tales about women’s lives and so this month I read my first ever novel by Marian Keyes – Grown Ups. It’s a relatively lengthy novel at about 600 pages and every single one of them was golden. This is beautifully observed story telling, with characters who are in many cases so easy to care about, despite their faults. It’s a good month when I discover a new author to love.

Bury Them Deep by James OswaldIt’s also a good month when you can read a new novel by a favourite author and I was so thrilled to read and review Bury Them Deep by James Oswald. Inspector (excuse me, Chief Inspector) McLean is a fantastic creation whose dark and troublesome cases always have that little extra spark about them, something unusual, maybe even supernatural. Bury Them Deep is the tenth book in the series and it is definitely among the best.

I love horror novels, particularly if they’re frightening (and don’t involve zombies or giant slugs). Peter Laws’ series featuring Professor Matt Hunter, an expert in all things supernatural, is essential reading. I’ve loved them all and Possessed, the fourth, may even be the best. The story it tells is both horrifying and engrossing and the pace builds and builds. Such a gripping, exhilarating and deliciously shocking book.

Haven’t They Grown by Sophie Hannah has a stunning premise to it. When Beth hangs around her estranged old friend’s house in the hope of seeing her, she is shocked to see that her friend’s children haven’t aged a bit in ten years. How can this be possible? It’s an addictive read as we hang on to every page to find out why, how, WHAT?! I do love a twisty psychological thriller on occasion. This did the trick.

The Last Day by Andrew Hunter MurrayI’m not a big reader of literary fiction but I’d heard so many good things about Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano that I was very keen to read it. Edward is the sole survivor of a plane crash and for the families of those who were lost he is their only comfort. Edward, though, must deal with his own losses and his trauma. This is a beautifully written novel but, for me, its subject matter is too traumatic and upsetting.

The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray takes a look at what life would be like in a Britain that is trapped in a perpetual twilight state. The world has stopped spinning and so most of it now is uninhabitable – either too hot or too cold. Britain is one of the few places where life can continue and that has all sorts of ramifications for politics and society – and they’re not good ones either. This is a bleak but fascinating depiction of a possible future post-apocalyptic world. I liked the fact that it was set in the UK and it even features my hometown of Oxford. Although I think I prefer Oxford as it is now without any of that post-apocalyptic business, thank you very much.

Books, books books!

Journey of the Pharaohs by Clive Cussler and Graham BrownI bought far too many books as usual during February. I have plenty of Netgalley ebooks to review but the strange thing is that I find it almost impossible to read ebooks these days. I just don’t enjoy the experience half as much as I do a treebook. This means that I usually go out and buy hardbacks of my Netgalleys as soon as they’re available and read those instead. So this month I bought The Guest List by Lucy Foley, Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano, Into the Fire by Gregg Hurwitz, The Holdout by Graham Moore, The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray, Haven’t They Grown by Sophie Hannah, Grown Ups by Marian Keyes, Inch by Inch by Morgan Llywelyn, Hunt You Down by Chris Farnsworth, Endgame by Daniel Cole and, I dare say, a few others. FAR TOO MANY BOOKS! I shouldn’t be allowed in a book shop.

My final book buy of the month was today’s Journey of the Pharaohs by Clive Cussler and Graham Brown. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while but the news that Clive Cussler died on Monday hit me for six. I am a huge fan of Clive Cussler, such an adventurer in his own life, and I grew up enjoying his Dirk Pitt books. I love them as much now as I did then. The first thriller I ever read was Raise the Titanic. I’m looking forward to reading Journey of the Pharaohs very soon and I will raise a glass to Clive as I do it.

I’m so grateful to publishers for all of the review copies I’ve received in February. There have been a fair few of them and there are some corkers! More of them below.

Looking ahead to March

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary MantelAnd so what am I looking forward to in March? First up, it has to be the book I preordered from Waterstones today – The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel. I cannot wait for this book! I know I only have to wait until Thursday but I feel like I’ve been counting down the days for ages. Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies were published such a long time ago but, strangely for me, I remember both vividly. I normally can’t remember what I ate for lunch so this is an achievement. I’ll be picking up my copy on Thursday lunchtime and I’ll start it straight away. If you’re interested, here is my review of Bring Up the Bodies, a review I’m rather proud of. Hilary Mantel inspired me. I saw her read from the book at the Oxford Literary Festival a few years ago – what a charismatic woman she is. We were all spellbound.

There is some other historical fiction out in March, which, in my opinion is unmissable. The Land Beyond The Sea by Sharon Penman is most definitely one of them. Sharon is another of those authors whose books have represented landmarks in my reading through my life. The Sunne in Splendour is just one of the books I will always recommend. She now returns to the late 12th century and the fight for Jerusalem. Other historical reads I’m looking forward to include The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey and The Lost Lights of St Kilda by Elizabeth Gifford. I can’t wait to read Liberation by Imogen Kealey, set during the Second World War.

There is some great crime fiction out in March and among those I’m looking forward to the most is Without a Trace by Mari Hannah. Kate Daniels is back! And for anyone who remembers the ending of the previous novel, it’s not a moment too soon. I’m also looking forward to Burnt Island by Kate Rhodes and The Bad Place by MK Hill. Other books to look out for include The Lovely City by Louise Hare and The City We Became by NK Jemisin. I’m looking forward to discovering what other treats are in store as many of them I only discover the week they’re published. I like surprises!

In Five Years by Rebecca SerleI’ve read just three books that are published in March and they are fabulous. In Five Years by Rebecca Searle is gobsmacking, a heartrending depiction of love. Beware its premise as that suggests a book that it isn’t. It is instead even better than that. I loved The Deep by Alma Katsu, a tale of horror set aboard the Titanic. As if things could have been even worse for the passengers – it turns out they could. Rules for Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson is a fantastic murder mystery, featuring a collector of antique books. I read it as soon as I could and I thoroughly recommend it. Peter Swanson has become an unmissable author for me.

I ran out of time to read some of February’s publications but I will get to them. These include my imminent read The Light of Impossible Stars by Gareth Powell, The Holdout by Graham Moore, Into the Fire by Gregg Hurwitz, Firewatching by Russ Thomas, The Guest List by Lucy Foley, Cross of Fire by David Gilman and Between the Lines by Eva Dolan. I have come to the conclusion that I need more eyeballs. Of course in March I will be reading 900 pages of The Mirror and the Light, so I’ll be interested to see how well I do with reading anything else!

I’d love to know what you’ve enjoyed in February and you’re looking forward to in March! Happy reading!

January – looking back and looking ahead

I thought that in 2020 I would try and mix things up a bit on For Winter Nights and have other posts than reviews (it’s probably about time considering that I’m now well into my tenth book reviewing year!), especially as my reading is a bit more all over the place these days. I always enjoy reading monthly reviews on other people’s lovely blogs and so I thought I would try and do the same, at least some of the time, as well as look ahead to what I’m looking forward to in the following month.

Reading and writing

Stasi Winter by David YoungI read eleven novels in January. This is quite possibly the lowest number I’ve read in a month since I started reviewing. I’ve been thinking about why this is as it does bother me. The obvious reason is that I’m now doing a lot of writing having caught the bug with NaNoWriMo last November. I’ve started another project so I’m doing another first draft. I’m now up to 40,000 words and my target is about 80,000. I’m really enjoying it but it’s hard work – I’m forever having to try and find places in which to write as it’s so difficult and distracting to do at home. I still leave myself two hours a night to read but I read much more slowly then as I’ve worn myself out! So that will explain fewer books read.

But the ones I’ve read have been corkers! My reading year couldn’t have started off better than how it did with David Young’s Stasi Winter. I love this series set in 1970s East Berlin and further afield beyond the Iron Curtain. Each book builds upon the others and I think Stasi Winter might even be my favourite. My review is up here.

I’ve read some great crime fiction all ready this year. I think my favourites so far are All the Rage by Cara Hunter and The Lantern Men by Elly Griffiths (review to follow shortly). Cara’s books are set in my little bit of Oxford so they couldn’t be much closer to home and their accuracy is spot on. I love the way that Cara Hunter tells a story, combining extracts from interviews, trial transcripts, newspaper articles and tweets, and so on. As for The Lantern Men, I adore this series. Ruth Galloway is one of my most loved characters in fiction and I love the setting in the Fens and on the north Norfolk coast. The Lantern Men is the twelfth in the series and may even be the best, in my opinion. Definitely a series that is going from strength to strength.

I’ve also been enjoying some thrillers: Silver by Chris Hammer, Black 13 by Adam Hamdy and Six Wicked Reasons by Jo Spain and I can thoroughly recommend all three of them.

The Doors of Eden by Adrian TchaikovskyIn January I read three science fiction titles. How I love my science fiction. I need to get off world for a while at regular intervals. One of them, The God Game by Danny Tobey was set firmly on Earth but in it teenagers find themselves playing a lethal virtual reality game with a figure that knows far too much about each of them, their hopes, fears and dreams, and calls itself God. In The Eternity War: Dominion, Jamie Sawyer took us into deep space and a Galaxy, rich in alien life, torn apart by war and rebellion. Excellent! This novel completed a fine trilogy. I’m looking forward to seeing where Jamie takes us next. I’m a huge fan of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s science fiction and I couldn’t wait to read The Doors of Eden, which is published in May. This is set on Earth but the planet is being torn apart by cracks and fractures with other Earths and from these come monsters. Good news if you’re a monster hunter like our heroine but less good news if you’re everyone else. This is definitely one to look out for in the late spring.

I’m such a big fan of ghost stories and so, in January, I read The Small Hand by Susan Hill. I’d purposefully missed the dramatised version of this on TV over Christmas as I thought I’d like to read it first. I must admit that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped, mostly because it wasn’t frightening or even creepy. But I did like the main character, an antiquarian on the hunt for rare books, and the writing is beautiful.

The Lady of the Ravens by Joanna HicksonI haven’t read as much historical fiction as I’d have liked through January. I think this is partly because most of the historical fiction I have to review isn’t out until later this year, beginning with The Foundling in February by the amazing Stacey Halls, and because those published in January I mostly read last year, such as the brilliant The Lady of the Ravens by Joanna Hickson. But I have been trying to read some older novels that I’ve missed. One that I read late last year was The Glittering Hour by Iona Grey. I loved it! I wanted to read the earlier novel Letters to the Lost as soon as I could and that was a January highlight for me. Such a beautiful novel, telling the story of a wartime love affair between a young woman and an American bomber pilot. There were tears… I loved it.

I may have read fewer novels than usual in January but I bought loads! I must have bought at least fifteen novels, including novels by Philip Pullman, Ian Rankin, Jojo Moyes, Erin Morgenstein, Diane Setterfield, James Swallow and MJ Ford.

Looking ahead to February

I’ve begun February by reading another older book that I missed – The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. This gorgeous novel tells the story of a glamorous Hollywood filmstar and her search for true love, a search (as you can tell from the title) that was not without its problems – seven of them in fact. I must read Taylor’s most recent novel, Daisy Jones and the Six, as soon as possible.

The Lantern Men by Elly GriffithsThere are some fantastic books published in February. These include books I’ve already mentioned (The Foundling by Stacey Halls and The Lantern Men by Elly Griffiths) and some others which are close to the top of my reading pile. These are the ones that I know about. There are plenty of others that I don’t. I always enjoy looking at what’s published each week as that week comes along so that I can go out and buy them immediately.

So here are some of the other books published this month that I can’t wait to read (in reverse order of being published): Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano, The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray, When You See Me by Lisa Gardner, The Holdout by Graham Moore, Into the Fire by Gregg Hurwitz, The Guest List by Lucy Foley, Bury Them Deep by James Oswald, Cross of Fire by David Gilman, and Between the Lines by Eva Dolan. I also have an American edition of Sarah Pinborough’s Dead to Her, which is published there in February but much later here. I won’t be waiting to read that.

Then there are the books from January that I missed. I must read Alexander’s Legacy by Robert Fabbri (I loved his Vespasian series) and Bone Silence by Alastair Reynolds as well as The Vault by Mark Dawson.

So, it looks as if I’m not going to run out of books to read anytime soon, although that is always the fear! I know there are many books I’ve missed and I’m looking forward to reading them. I hope you’ve had a good January and February is even better!