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Book Review: The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry

The Way of All Flesh is Ambrose Parry’s first novel in what is hoped will become a series. And it’s off to a very promising start here, making the most of being set against the backdrop of such an exciting time for medicine in a city known for its medical pioneers.

Edinburgh, 1847. City of Medicine, Money, Murder.

In the city’s Old Town a number of young women have been found dead, all having suffered similarly gruesome ends. Across the city in the New Town, medical student Will Raven is about to start his apprenticeship with the brilliant and renowned Dr Simpson.

Simpson’s patients range from the richest to the poorest of this divided city. His house is like no other, full of visiting luminaries and daring experiments in the new medical frontier of anaesthesia. It is here that Raven meets housemaid Sarah Fisher, who recognises trouble when she sees it and takes an immediate dislike to him. She has all of Raven’s intelligence but none of his privileges, in particular his medical education.

With each having their own motive to look deeper into the city’s spate of suspicious deaths, Raven and Sarah find themselves propelled headlong into the darkest shadows of Edinburgh’s underworld, where they will have to overcome their differences if they are to make it out alive.

The Way of All Flesh features real-life medical pioneers, most notably James Young Simpson, in whose house its two main characters and amateur detectives live and work. And, while the latter may be fictional, they both feel as if they could have existed. Their pairing gives the investigation access to wider society than either would have alone and the book’s all the richer for that.

Will Raven is Simpson’s latest medical apprentice and Sarah Fisher his housemaid, who assists at some of the clinics run out of Simpson’s house. They’re both looking to better themselves but, as Sarah is all too aware, it’s easier for Raven to do so than it is for her. Not only does her position in the household seem precarious but she would suffer more from its loss thanks to her sex and status. Read more

Book Review: A Boy in the Water by Tom Gregory

Tom Gregory’s channel swim memoir A Boy in the Water couldn’t be more timely, published as it is the day after Lewis Pugh successfully completed The Long Swim by swimming the length of the English Channel from Cornwall to Dover.

Eltham, South London. 1984: the hot fug of the swimming pool and the slow splashing of a boy learning to swim but not yet wanting to take his foot off the bottom.

Fast-forward four years. Photographers and family wait on the shingle beach as a boy in a bright orange hat and grease-smeared goggles swims the last few metres from France to England.

He has been in the water for twelve agonizing hours, encouraged at each stroke by his coach, John Bullet, who has become a second father.

It’s impressive enough to discover that Tom Gregory goes from being unable to swim a width of the pool without stopping for a rest to swimming the English Channel within four years. What makes his story all the more incredible is that he was only eleven years old when he did so.

It couldn’t happen today, not least because on 26th November 2000 the Channel Swimming Association ruled that no one under the age of 16 could attempt a solo Channel swim. But there are a host of other reasons and regulations why Tom Gregory’s transformation from reluctant Wednesday evening swim club participant to member of an elite group of swimmers would be less likely these days.

Here, kids pile into a rusty minibus to go away on swimming weekends in Dover and weeks up in the Lake District with their unorthodox swimming coach, sleep in communal tents I remember from school camps and eat stodge as we did, all while going through punishing cold water training. It is the story of another time. Read more

Book Review: The Haunting of Henry Twist by Rebecca F. John

Despite its title, Rebecca John’s The Haunting of Henry Twist isn’t a ghost story in the traditional sense but it does have an ethereal feel to it, and is likely to haunt you long after finishing it.

London, 1926: Henry Twist’s heavily pregnant wife leaves home to meet a friend. On the way, she is hit by a bus and killed, though miraculously the baby survives. Henry is left with nothing but his new daughter – a single father in a world without single fathers. He hurries the baby home, terrified that she’ll be taken from him. Racked with guilt and fear, he stays away from prying eyes, walking her through the streets at night, under cover of darkness.

But one evening, a strange man steps out of the shadows and addresses Henry by name. The man says that he has lost his memory, but that his name is Jack. Henry is both afraid of and drawn to Jack, and the more time they spend together, the more Henry sees that this man has echoes of his dead wife. His mannerisms, some things he says … And so Henry wonders, has his wife returned to him? Has he conjured Jack himself from thin air? Or is he in the grip of a sophisticated con man? Who really sent him?

Ruby Twist’s story is told in flashback after the first chapter in The Haunting of Henry Twist but she still stamps her presence on the whole book, as Henry grapples with her sudden death and his subsequent grief. Ruby’s friends feel her loss keenly too and it’s moving to discover what it is they miss about her.

Ruby’s ghost doesn’t waft about their home, unwilling to move on. But hints of her resurface in Jack, which is considerably more disconcerting. Despite his physicality, Jack’s a hard character to pin down: he often feels more will-o’-the-wisp than human and you question whether his role is sinister or benign.

Significant scenes take place under cover of night, such as Henry’s nocturnal rambles with his baby to avoid detection and Monty’s garden parties, which Henry and his friends attend, but that are held for the benefit of the Bright Young Things, who flicker and flare up like 1920s versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s cohort of muddling mechanics, mischievous Puck, and Titania and Oberon’s fairy attendants.

To balance out this otherworldliness, Rebecca John gives us Ruby’s Welsh roots; upstairs neighbours who bring some comfort and sense of normality when Henry’s first starting out as a single parent; the simple rhythm and routine of daily life with a baby, and that larger one of the city continuing around them. Read more

Author Q&A & #Giveaway: Summer in San Remo by Evonne Wareham

Photo © 2018, Sian Trenberth Photography
Photo © 2018, Sian Trenberth Photography

I’m welcoming author Evonne Wareham to the Nut Press today to talk about her most recent release, Summer in San Remo, which I reviewed here. You can also win a signed copy below.

What three words would you use to describe Summer in San Remo?

Sunny, flirty, enigmatic.

Summer in San Remo is a departure from your previous books which were romantic suspense. Is this breezier read a new direction for you or a chance to let your lighter side out to play?

Both. Writing romantic suspense is my first love, but when my publisher suggested having a go at something lighter – a fun read for the summer – I couldn’t resist the challenge. I enjoyed it and I hope that comes through in the book – and now I want to do it again.

I don’t intend to stop writing romantic suspense – much darker reads – but I will be doing the summer sunshine books too. They will have a touch of mayhem and mystery to them, as well as the romance, to make them just that little bit edgy, and because I can’t manage to stay away from crime completely.

There is some sizzling chemistry in Summer in San Remo. Any tips for writing those scenes?

The big thing about writing love scenes for me is that they need to arise naturally out of the story and the interaction between the characters. There has to be an emotional connection and the pace has to feel right.

I have to say that writing Cassie and Jake was enormous fun. I don’t know if it is because it is a second time around story – they were teenage sweethearts – but the sparks were there from the moment that Jake walked into Cassie’s office. Uninvited, of course, as she had no intention of getting involved with him again, or even breathing the same air, if she could avoid it. A lot of the time I had difficulty keeping up with them.

I’m working on a sequel now, in which they are supporting characters, and I’m glad to say they are still striking sparks.

Are we going to recognise anyone from previous books in Summer in San Remo?

No – because this book is separate from my previous romantic suspense novels. As I have now decided to make it a series, loosely based around Jake’s detective agency, characters from Summer in San Remo will appear in future stories, but there will be a new central romance, with a new hero and heroine for each one – and future heroes and heroines will appear in each other’s books, along the way. The hero of what I hope will be book two – if my publishers like it – has a small part in Summer in San Remo. You might not guess who it is, because I didn’t, until I came to start writing the second book. Read more

Book Review: Summer in San Remo by Evonne Wareham

You can tell from the gorgeous cover with its mediterranean colours that Evonne Wareham’s Summer in San Remo is an altogether breezier caper then her previous romantic suspense novels.

Anything could happen when you spend summer in San Remo …

Running her busy concierge service usually keeps Cassie Travers fully occupied. But when a new client offers her the strangest commission she’s ever handled she suddenly finds herself on the cusp of an Italian adventure, with a man she thought she would never see again. Jake McQuire has returned from the States to his family-run detective agency.

When old flame Cassie appears in need of help with her mysterious client, who better than Jake to step in? Events take the pair across Europe to a luxurious villa on the Italian Riviera. There, Cassie finds that the mystery she pursues pales into insignificance, when compared to another discovery made along the way…

I liked spirited Cassie from the moment I met her, envied her her Bath office space and concierge agency, if not her money worries and ready meals, and thought it said a lot about her that her best friend Benita worked for her. Jake took longer to warm to, if only because he seems so sure of himself and clearly needs taking down a peg or two. Oh, but Evonne Wareham has just the woman for the job.

The pages crackle with sexual tension from the opening seconds of Cassie and Jake’s first reunion since they were teenagers and it’s pretty evident that Evonne Wareham enjoyed giving her wicked sense of humour an outing in Summer in San Remo. As I was reading, I could imagine her getting a playful kick out of her characters being put in awkward situation after awkward situation, and watching them positively squirm. I swear I even heard the occasional evil cackle while turning the pages.

Summer in San Remo is a rollicking good read, filled with the sizzling heat of characters with undeniable chemistry, as well as that sultry summer heat of the Mediterranean, once the mischief switches from Bath via London to San Remo and environs. I enjoyed this roguish escapade and hope there are more to come.

Summer in San Remo by Evonne Wareham is published by Choc Lit. Originally released in ebook format last summer, it’s now also available as an audiobook and in paperback. You can buy it at Amazon UK or through Hive which helps support your local independent bookshop. You can find out more about Evonne Wareham and her books through her Author Website or by liking her Facebook page or following her on Twitter

My thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy via NetGalley and to the author for my own signed copy of her book. I bought a paperback for the giveaway. 

*SIGNED GIVEAWAY*

Check out our Q&A post for a chance to win a signed paperback of Summer in San Remo.

Book Review & #Giveaway: Somewhere Beyond the Sea by Miranda Dickinson

I always used to associate Miranda Dickinson with the run up to Christmas because that’s when her previous books have come out. But her latest novel, Somewhere Beyond the Sea, bucked this trend, coming out earlier this summer, when it was an absolute joy to escape with her and her characters to the Cornish seaside resort of St Ives.

Can you fall in love with someone before you’ve even met?

Seren MacArthur is living a life she never intended. Trying to save the Cornish seaside business her late father built – while grieving for his loss – she has put her own dreams on hold and is struggling. Until she discovers a half-finished seaglass star on her favourite beach during an early morning walk. When she completes the star, she sets into motion a chain of events that will steal her heart and challenge everything she believes.

Jack Dixon is trying to secure a better life for daughter Nessie and himself. Left a widower and homeless when his wife died, he’s just about keeping their heads above water. Finding seaglass stars completed on Gwithian beach is a bright spark that slowly rekindles his hope.

Seren and Jack are searching for their missing pieces. But when they meet in real life, it’s on the opposing sides of a battle. Jack is managing the redevelopment of a local landmark, and Seren is leading the community campaign to save it.

Both have reason to fight – Seren for the cause her father believed in, Jack for his livelihood. But only one can win. With so much at stake, will they ever find what they are really looking for?

One of the reasons Miranda Dickinson’s books appeal to me so much is that she builds such complete worlds in her novels and then fills them with characters who feel real. Characters who you feel certain are all still going about their lives in St Ives long after you finish the book and shelve it.

They’re not simply people who you understand or chime with, either. These are people you wish you knew, some of whom you feel certain you’d be friends with, if only you met. And this is precisely how it feels here with Seren, Jack, Aggie, Kieran and Becca. There’s such warmth and a genuine concern for others in their exchanges, even those between Seren and Jack, that you sense these are good people, ones you’d like to bump into at Aggie’s coffee hut or in Becca’s pub.

Alongside all the potential for romance among the friends and rivals, there’s also a great local campaign running throughout the book. It feels important and so genuine that I googled the existence of Seren’s dad’s local luminary and was ready to champion its cause. In addition to this, Somewhere Beyond the Sea is also a moving and rather beautiful father and daughter story. Or two father and daughter stories. Read more

Book Review: One Thousand Stars and You by Isabelle Broom

Isabelle Broom’s latest novel, One Thousand Stars and You, is set in Sri Lanka, not somewhere I know at all. However, I was confident that I could vicariously travel there because Isabelle Broom writes about place so very well. She took me to Prague in A Year and a Day and that’s still tiding me over until I actually go.

Alice is settling down. It might not be the adventurous life she once imagined, but more than anything she wants to make everyone happy – her steady boyfriend, her over-protective mother – even if it means a little part of her will always feel stifled.

Max is shaking things up. After a devastating injury, he is determined to prove himself. To find the man beyond the disability, to escape his smothering family and go on an adventure.

A trip to Sri Lanka is Alice’s last hurrah – her chance to throw herself into the heat, chaos and colour of a place thousands of miles from home. It’s also the moment she meets Max.

Alice doesn’t know it yet, but her whole life is about to change. Max doesn’t know it yet, but he’s the one who’s going to change it.

Before we’re whisked away to Sri Lanka, we see Alice at home and this shows us why we she so badly needs this exotic trip, filled with the possibility for adventure. I was as relieved as Alice that her friends Maureen and Steph had persuaded her to go on this joint 30th birthday celebration trip, and was willing her not to cancel. (I know she wouldn’t have because otherwise this would have been a short book but I was pretty anxious for her to leave the UK behind for a couple of weeks.)

When the story switches to Sri Lanka, Isabelle Broom lands you right in all the colour and chaos of Sri Lanka from airport arrivals through taxi transfers, tuk tuk rides and packed train journeys to night-time mountain climbs to see the sunrise and onto a photogenic safari with a hairy encounter. She describes the scenery and animal life, the heat and humidity, the tastes and sounds of the country so well that I imagined myself there. I could understand why Alice comes alive there and feels more her true self. Read more

Book Review: Beartown by Fredrik Backman

I’ve had three of Fredrik Backman’s books waiting patiently on my bookshelves for a while now. Not one of those was Beartown but when one of the book groups I’m in chose it as this month’s read, Beartown became my first Backman.

In a large Swedish forest Beartown hides a dark secret . . .

Cut-off from everywhere else it experiences the kind of isolation that tears people apart. And each year more and more of the town is swallowed by the forest.

Then the town is offered a bright new future. But it is all put in jeopardy by a single, brutal act. It divides the town into those who think it should be hushed up and forgotten, and those who’ll risk the future to see justice done.

Who will speak up? Could you stand by and stay silent? Or would you risk everything for justice? Which side would you be on?

You don’t need to follow or even like sports, let alone ice hockey, to enjoy Beartown. Its people will draw you into their stories long before before the sport is caught up in the blades of a moral face-off. But if, like me, you are a sports fan, you’ll find yourself whispering, “Oh yes, this!” and nodding along to paragraphs.

Backman nails all the complexities of sport, whether you love it or hate it, play it, coach it or support it, or simply live in a town where it dominates life. He taps into that all too human feeling of wanting to belong, of sharing in something good, of coming together with others and not feeling so alone, together with the darker side, such as the culture surrounding it, rough physicality, the violence, and its pack mentality.

Fredrik Backman writes people very well; he populates his novel with a myriad of characters and each and every one of them rings true. (For those of you worried about there being a large cast of characters, I wouldn’t be here – they’re fairly easily distinguishable.)

I enjoyed seeing how types repeated from one generation to the next but also how these differed in their responses. Because while Beartown may be a novel about a sports team and the culture surrounding it, this is fundamentally a novel about its people: their passions, their successes, their failings and those even more devastating momentary lapses, and their reaction to key moments in their lives. Read more

Book Review: Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey

In her second novel Elizabeth is Missing author Emma Healey casts her forensic eye on a family dynamic put under strain.

How do you rescue someone who has already been found?

Jen’s fifteen-year-old daughter goes missing for four agonizing days. When Lana is found, unharmed, in the middle of the desolate countryside, everyone thinks the worst is over. But Lana refuses to tell anyone what happened, and the police think the case is closed. The once-happy, loving family returns to London, where things start to fall apart. Lana begins acting strangely: refusing to go to school, and sleeping with the light on.

With her daughter increasingly becoming a stranger, Jen is sure the answer lies in those four missing days. But will Lana ever reveal what happened?

Whistle in the Dark looks at a family reunited after a traumatic separation. They’re no longer able to function as they once did, perhaps understandably so, and especially for as long as the mystery of what happened in those missing days goes unresolved.

Getting to the bottom of things is a twisty, often tortuous task but something which Jen takes upon herself. While her husband Hugh favours an altogether more relaxed approach, Jen is dogged and extreme in some of the lengths to which she’ll go. These include stalking Lana on Instagram, overanalysing comments made, and even following her in real life.

I grudgingly admired her for her terrier-like attitude and refusal to give up trying to unearth what happened, while questioning Jen’s behaviour throughout the book, which is often desperate, sometimes verging on paranoid. She becomes obsessed, seemingly self-absorbed, and turns inward, analysing herself and her relationships with others along the way. To the extent where I wondered if it wasn’t Jen who was slowly losing her mind, and she who had more issues than her daughter.

Read more

Book Review: The Unlikely Heroics of Sam Holloway by Rhys Thomas

If you’re looking for something a little different, something quirky, say, or even geeky, with a superhero for our times, where there’s quiet courage and genuine pathos, a tragic backstory, the hope of a hesitant heart, romance, kindness and humour, then you need to read The Unlikely Heroics of Sam Holloway by Rhys Thomas.

Sam Holloway has survived the worst that life can throw at you. But he’s not really living. His meticulous routines keep everything nice and safe – with just one exception…

Three nights a week, Sam dons his superhero costume and patrols the streets. It makes him feel invincible – but his unlikely heroics are getting him into some sticky, and increasingly dangerous, situations.

Then a girl comes into his life, and his ordered world is thrown into chaos … and now Sam needs to decide whether he can be brave enough to finally take off the mask.

The beautiful cover should tip you off that this book is something special. Open it and you tumble headlong into the world of Sam Holloway’s alter ego. (I had way too much fun reading some of these Phantasm sections in my best film trailer voice. It is unavoidable. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

It’s clear from Sam’s impeccable taste in chocolate bars that he’s one of the good guys, despite life treating him cruelly. But you sense that, whether he’s in disguise, doing good deeds, or quietly living his ordered existence at home or in the office, he’s not dealing with past trauma and it’s holding him back. His friends are there for him when he wants to go to the pub or play board games but something seismic needs to happen to effect change. Enter Sarah, potential romantic interest and human catalyst.

The Unlikely Heroics runs the whole gamut of emotions. You laugh, you cry, you get mad, you get goosebumps; you wince, you sigh, you gasp with pain, you cringe with embarrassment; you feel like hugging or punching someone, and you just plain feel for Sam. It’s this emotional range together with its humour which makes The Unlikely Heroics work so well and has you rooting for Sam to open up, hopefully find happiness, and enjoy closure. Especially when this requires the book’s dark horse to step in and help.

The Unlikely Heroics is an engaging and affecting novel, showing the power of the imagination to shield us, the bravery there is in opening your heart and letting someone else in. Grab yourself some cherry Coke and a Toffee Crisp, suit up and geek out with The Unlikely Heroics. Because this superhero needs YOU.

The Unlikely Heroics of Sam Holloway by Rhys Thomas is published by Wildfire Books, an imprint of Headline. It is available as an audiobook and an ebook and in paperback from 9th August. You can find it at Amazon UK, Audible UK, Foyles, Hive (supporting your local independent bookshop), Waterstones and WorderyThis is the third novel from Rhys Thomas. His previous two were The Suicide Club and On The Third Day. You can follow Rhys on Twitter

My thanks to the author and his publisher for sending me an early review copy.

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