The Devil Stone by Caro Ramsay @CaroRamsayBooks @severnhouse

Source: Review copy
Publication: 6 December 2022 from Severn House
PP: 288
ISBN-13: 978-1448309740

In the small Highland village of Cronchie, a wealthy family are found brutally murdered in a satanic ritual and their heirloom, ‘the devil stone’, is the only thing stolen. The key suspects are known satanists – case closed? But when the investigating officer disappears after leaving the crime scene, DCI Christine Caplan is pulled in to investigate from Glasgow in a case that could restore her reputation.

Caplan knows she is being punished for a minor misdemeanour when she is seconded to the Highlands, but ever the professional, she’s confident she can quickly solve the murders, and return home to her fractious family. But experience soon tells her that this is no open and shut case.

She suspects the murder scene was staged, and with the heir to the family estate missing, there is something more at play than a mythical devil stone… As she closes in on the truth, it is suddenly her life, not her reputation that is danger! Will Caplan’s first Highland murder case be her last?

Wow! This one opens up with a dramatic scene and sets the pace for a fast moving, gripping drama with a protagonist you know you want to see so much more of.

DCI Christine Caplan has very clearly pissed someone off. She’s going through disciplinary action as a result of misplaced evidence and as she’s returning home after an evening out with her daughter she bravely foils a mugger – only to face accusations of excessive force. Under a cloud and facing demotion to D.I. she’s utterly fed up when she is sent to the small Highland village of Cronchie to help out. The long-standing DCI, Bob Oswald, has gone missing in the midst of a horribly brutal family slaying.

Oswald was in charge of a high profile macabre case in which 5 members of the wealthy and privileged McGregor family, the elderly Lady Charlotte, parents Stan and Barbara, and their children, Catriona and Gordon are discovered strangled, and posed next to each other.

The police investigation has focussed on the two lads who found the family, but Christine is less convinced. Her insertion into the team has, however, provoked some annoyance and she needs to get them on side if they are to be effective in investigating this horrendous crime. DI Garry Kinsella clearly resents her presence and she feels that she’s being kept at arm’s length from the information she needs.

Keen to restore her good name and equally keen to make sure she can return to her family which is giving her some cause for concern on a number of fronts, she puts herself under a lot of pressure.

Part of the joy of this book is the disparate cast of characters, especially in the local Cronchie police team. It’s difficult for her to work out whether they are being deliberately obstructive or are just struggling under a temporary leader in D.I. Kinsella.

Caro Ramsay establishes a wonderful sense of place and the contrast between the beautiful Highland scenery and the dark and dangerous going on there creates a wonderful threatening atmosphere and builds a tension that rapidly grows into a dangerous and life-threatening series of events. The plot line is tremendous; dark and sinister with a myriad of suspects. As Christine juggles with events and personalities at home in Glasgow and in the Highlands her life will be threatened and she will be driven to desperate measures to find the guilty party.

Verdict: Caro Ramsay has created a brilliant set of characters for this first in series police procedural. You want to know much more about Christine Caplan who is clearly a competent and professional officer despite the many personal and professional obstacles she faces. This is a brilliant start to a new series that is clearly going to be unmissable.

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CARO RAMSAY is the Glaswegian author of the critically acclaimed DI Anderson and DS Costello series, the first of which, Absolution, was shortlisted for the CWA’s New Blood Dagger for best debut of the year. The ninth book in the series, The Suffering of Strangers, was longlisted for the McIlvanney Prize 2018.

Dashboard Elvis Is Dead by David F. Ross @dfr10 @OrendaBooks @RandomTTours

Source: Review copy
Publication: 8 December 2022 from Orenda Books
PP: 320
ISBN-13: 978-1914585401

My thanks to Orenda Books for an advance copy for review

A failed writer connects the murder of an American journalist, a drowned 80s musician and a Scottish politician’s resignation, in a heart-wrenching novel about ordinary people living in extraordinary times.

Renowned photo-journalist Jude Montgomery arrives in Glasgow in 2014, in the wake of the failed Scottish independence referendum, and it’ s clear that she’ s searching for someone.

Is it Anna Mason, who will go on to lead the country as First Minister? Jamie Hewitt, guitarist from eighties one-hit wonders The Hyptones? Or is it Rabbit; Jude’ s estranged foster sister, now a world-famous artist?

Three apparently unconnected people, who share a devastating secret, whose lives were forever changed by one traumatic night in Phoenix, forty years earlier…

Taking us back to a school shooting in her Texas hometown, and a 1980s road trip across the American West; to San Francisco and on to New York; Jude’ s search ends in Glasgow, and a final, shocking event that only one person can fully explain…

David F Ross is an extraordinary writer. He keeps getting better and after the stunning and much praised There’s Only One Danny Garvey I couldn’t wait to see what he had in store for us.

The opening doesn’t offer too much of a clue to the sweeping epic to come. In fact, I thought it was a bit of a slow burn as I was reading until I learned to relax into Ross’s immersive prose and let this story carry me away.

In the 1980’s Jamie Hewitt is a Glaswegian musician and together with his pals Reef, Bingo, and Chic, they have formed the Hypetones, a band that is on the cusp of making something of themselves, largely aided by Annabelle Mason, daughter of the local gangland boss. Jamie is the lead singer and he is ill-equipped to handle the pressures of any kind of performance based career.

David Ross excels at this kind of character; a young working class lad who has dreams and aspirations but who lacks the mental stamina to drive himself forward. His decision making is poor; he’s the kind of young man who feels that bad things happen to him and when they do, he finds himself powerless to deal with them and runs away from the consequences faster than his legs can carry him.

Jude Montgomery is an American photo journalist from Texas. Brought up in a trailer park, her life has forever been tainted by two dramatic events in her life; a school shooting and an almost fatal mistake she made as a young woman. Taken in to a warm and loving house, she makes a terrible decision that will haunt her for the rest of her life. Although the mistake that she made compelled her to leave her place of love and safety, she owns that mistake so heavily that it is a weight that she carries with her wherever she goes. For all that she has a vivacity and a love of life that is captivating

Jude and Jamie’s lives will briefly intersect while the Hypetones is on a disastrous tour of the States, but it is a fleeting moment in what becomes an epic tale of the times. Ross’s book moves from the micro to the macro through fantastic characterisation and vivid dialogue that brings these moments and his characters to life in an explosive, evocative and authentic storyline.

David Ross creates a multiple timeline story, following Jude’s traumatic early life and charting the development of her love of photography that would become her career. We follow her quest to find the Scottish father she never knew and feel her desperate need to atone for the hurt she has caused. She has real guts and a self-awareness that grows as she makes her way through the world –shaking events that shape America as much as they shape her.

It is easy to like Jude and as you follow her life you become really invested in her quests. Jamie, on the other hand, starts off as a troubled and confused young man who you can’t help but like. But the more you understand what he has done and failed to take responsibility for, the more you see him retreat from ownership of his ills, the less he comes across as a sympathetic character. As the Hypetones begin their tour of the States, it becomes very clear that he does not have the emotional maturity or strength of character to handle it and as a result this tour is destined to fail. Ross paints a vivid and compelling portrait of all these characters and we follow their paths as the decades go by.

Ross combines these very personal stories and weaves them seamlessly into a bigger picture as each of these people intersects with some of the most memorable historic moments and people of our recent past in both Scotland the USA. He brings it all to life with detailed and remarkable observation and a grit that makes his dialogue sparkle with authenticity. These moments impact on our characters in different ways and none more so than on Jude whose photo journalism becomes a filter to look back on. She is the catalyst for much of the action in this story – the connection for everything.As a reader you are invested in these characters and there’s a strong emotional core that drives you on. You can see so clearly how the formative years of these striking and beautifully observed characters inform their decisions in later life and why things implode and impact the way they do.

This story culminates in Scotland during the Independence Referendum as Jude travels in search of her foster sister Rabbit, now an internationally recognised artist. Her journey brings everything to a head until the whole devastating truth is finally revealed.

Verdict: This is a massively perceptive and glorious novel. I was profoundly shocked as much as I was captivated by its scope and intensity. Ross’s novel is forceful and authoritative; it is a book that takes the personal journeys of his characters and brings them into blazing, colourful, life. The conclusion is so savage it took my breath away. I will be thinking about this book for a long time. David F. Ross is unquestionably a writer at the top of his powers and this book is a must read for me.

 Orenda Books                                  Hive Stores                         Waterstones

David F. Ross was born in Glasgow in 1964 and has lived in Kilmarnock
for over 30 years. He is a graduate of the Mackintosh School of
Architecture at Glasgow School of Art, an architect by day, and a
hilarious social-media commentator, author and enabler by night. His
debut novel The Last Days of Disco was shortlisted for the Authors
Club Best First Novel Award, and optioned for the stage by the Scottish
National Theatre. All five of his novels have achieved notable critical
acclaim and There’s Only One Danny Garvey, published in 2021 by
Orenda Books, was shortlisted for the prestigious Saltire Society Prize
for Scottish Fiction Book of the Year. David lives in Ayrshire.

So Pretty by Ronnie Turner  @Ronnie_Turner @OrendaBooks #OnestoWatch2023

Source: Review copy
Publication: 19 January 2023 from Orenda Books
PP: 320
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1914585593

When Teddy Colne arrives in the small town of Rye, he believes he will be able to settle down and leave his past behind him. Little does he know that fear blisters through the streets like a fever. The locals tell him to stay away from an establishment known only as Berry & Vincent, that those who rub too closely to its proprietor risk a bad end.

Despite their warnings, Teddy is desperate to understand why Rye has come to fear this one man, and to see what really hides behind the doors of his shop.

Ada moved to Rye with her young son to escape a damaged childhood and years of never fitting in, but she’s lonely, and ostracised by the community. Ada is ripe for affection and friendship, and everyone knows it.

As old secrets bleed out into this town, so too will a mystery about a family who vanished fifty years earlier, and a community living on a knife edge.

Teddy looks for answers, thinking he is safe, but some truths are better left undisturbed, and his past will find him here, just as it has always found him before. And before long, it will find Ada too.

Oh my goodness! Ronnie Turner’s So Pretty is an exquisitely written gothic novel set in Rye and it is both creepy and mesmerising. It reads like a malevolent Old Curiosity Shop, reminiscent of Dickens in its atmosphere and characterisation whilst modern in subject matter.

Teddy Colne comes to Rye hoping to make a new start. He finds a job in a strange shop called Berry and Vincent where Mr Vincent, the proprietor, is shunned by the townspeople. Vincent is a pale, silent figure and his whole aspect is both malign and very definitely squirm-making.

Ada, too, is hoping for a new start in life. She’s moved to Rye with her young son Albie and is looking to make friends in this small town after cutting herself off from her parents. But Ada is lonely and that makes her needy and there’s nothing that makes people nervous like being too close to needy people, so she finds it very difficult to make friends.

When Teddy and Ada meet it is the coming together of two bruised and fragile people and it will have devastating consequences. As they get to know each other Teddy introduces Ada and her son to Berry and Vincent, where he works, and to the strange man who runs it. It’s a shop with no customers, and the people of Rye go out of their way to avoid it. This shop is hiding some dark secrets and the skin on the back of Ada’s neck prickles when she enters. For Berry and Vincent is the refuge of an especially frightening character.

Ronnie Turner’s book is beautifully written and is totally creepy and so very intense. It is really unsettling and Turner manages to make even the Rye townspeople strange and somehow unpleasant. This is a book that gets under your skin and very quickly begins to squick you out.

It’s an amazing, gothic piece of writing that provides a great deal of food for thought. Themes of nature versus nurture combine with some provocative considerations of the relationship between parents and children and this is wrapped up in themes of coercive control with a dash of examination of how a small community can act in concert but never quite see what’s going on under their noses.

Written with a classical nod and containing dark and beautifully observed pen portraits, So Pretty is startling and incredibly intense and it engenders an atmosphere of fear and dread.

Verdict: A remarkable, beautifully gothic read that deals with old secrets and new. I’m overwhelmed by the intensity that Ronnie Turner creates. This is a seriously good piece of literary fiction that deals with fascinating questions around the nature of how personality and character are formed.  I loved this thought-provoking, deeply sinister read.

Orenda Books                                  Waterstones                                     Bookshop.org

Ronnie Turner grew up in Cornwall, the youngest in a large family. At an early age, she discovered a love of literature. She now works as a Senior Waterstones Bookseller and barista. Ronnie lives in the South West with her family and three dogs. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling and taking long walks on the coast.

The Whispering Dead by David Mark  @davidmarkwriter @severnhouse

Source: Review copy
Publication: December 6th from Severn House
PP: 224
ISBN-13: 978-0727850553

My thanks to Severn House for an advance copy for review

Cordelia Hemlock is teetering on the verge of joining MI6 when she meets the enigmatic Walt, a high-ranking member of the Secret Intelligence Service, who tells her: They won’t want you to do well. They won’t ever trust you. They don’t trust me and I’m one of them. She takes this as a challenge rather than a warning. She wants to protect the nation. Serve Queen and country. Who would turn down such a glorious opportunity?

Fourteen years later, Cordelia is desk-bound after finishing an undercover operation and going quietly mad with boredom. So when the call comes through on the top-secret Pandora line – so-called after the locked-box the telephone is kept in – she answers it.

It’s Walt. No longer officially MI6, he still inhabits the murky world of intelligence, where information always comes with a price. He tells her he has a secret to share with her – and only her. And once she knows it, nothing will ever be the same again . . .

Way back in 2019 I reviewed The Mausoleum, (now re-titled The Burying Ground) a stand-alone novel from David Mark; a beautifully conceived and well executed historical tale full of exceptionally well-drawn characters, with a tense and claustrophobic setting and a feel for sharp cruelty.

Now David Mark has brought back his two principal characters from that book, Cordelia Hemlock and Felicity Goose, in a novel that can easily be read as a stand- alone. Cordelia Hemlock rose through the ranks of the intelligence community to become Head of MI6. Now retired, she has gained her peerage and she and her long standing friend, Felicity Goose are talking over old times with an investigative reporter.

Felicity and Cordelia met in Gilsland, a small village just on the wrong side of the Scottish Border. Cordelia still keeps her large house in the area and Felicity and her husband John make sure it is kept in good condition when she is not there.

Cordelia reminisces about meeting her friend and mentor, Walt, who rose through the ranks of the intelligence service and guided her career. Told in the voices of Cordelia and Felicity, this is a reminiscence that is both violent and gripping, reaching back 34 years to the time when Gilsland played host to a team determined to uncover some dreadful truths.

David Mark’s novel highlights one of the most appalling and seldom discussed atrocities– the appalling genocide committed in Guatemala and the role of the British Government in supporting a murderous right wing dictatorship in that country. It is a deeply shameful episode in Britain’s foreign policy (though by no means the only one).  In 1983, Britain had soldiers stationed in neighbouring Belize, a former UK colony. Politicians in Westminster and the public thought that the British army was out there to stop Guatemala invading Belize. In secret, however, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was enabling our troops to help the Guatemalan military dictatorship eliminate its opponents.

Based on real events, Mark takes the role of the intelligence services both in the UK and the US and spins them into an incredibly twisty and hugely compelling tale of deceit, duplicity, double dealing and gross moral turpitude. It is also a portrait of enduring friendship, betrayal and it demonstrates what having a moral core really looks like.

Verdict: David Mark paints strong and vivid characters with depth and feeling. His fascinating and horrific premise for this spy thriller is gripping and instructive and you can’t really ask for more than that. The contrast between the sleepy borders village of Gilsland and the Guatemalan atrocities is beautifully done and makes for a deeply dramatic scenario when the two come together in a final, violent, destructive clash. Highly recommended.

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David Mark spent seven years as crime reporter for the Yorkshire Post and now writes full-time. The first novel in his DS McAvoy series, Dark Winter, was selected for the Harrogate New Blood panel (where he was Reader in Residence) and was a Richard & Judy pick and a Sunday Times bestseller. Dead Pretty was longlisted for the Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger in 2016. He lives in Northumberland with his family.

Hunting Time by Jefferey Deaver (Colter Shaw #4) @JeffereyDeaver @harpercollinsuk @fictionpubteam #TheReadersRoom

Source: Review copy
Publication: 24 November 2022 from Harper Collins
PP: 432
ISBN-13: 978-0008503819

THERE ARE TWO FUNDAMENTAL RULES OF SURVIVAL.

#1: NEVER BE WITHOUT A MEANS OF ESCAPE.

Allison Parker is on the run with her teenage daughter, Hannah, and Colter Shaw has been hired by her eccentric boss, entrepreneur Marty Harmon, to find and protect her. Though he’s an expert at tracking missing persons―even those who don’t wish to be found―Shaw has met his match in Allison, who brings all her skills as a brilliant engineer designing revolutionary technology to the game of evading detection.

#2: NEVER BE WITHOUT ACCESS TO A WEAPON.

The reason for Allison’s panicked flight is soon apparent. She’s being stalked by her ex-husband, Jon Merritt. Newly released from prison and fueled by blinding rage, Jon is a man whose former profession as a police detective makes him uniquely suited for the hunt. And he’s not alone. Two hitmen are also hot on her heels―an eerie pair of thugs who take delight not only in murder but in the sport of devising clever ways to make bodies disappear forever. Even if Shaw manages to catch up with Allison and her daughter, his troubles will just be beginning.

SHAW IS ABOUT TO DISCOVER RULE #3:

NEVER BELIEVE ANYTHING.

I am enjoying Deaver’s Colter Shaw series. It is straightforward thriller material with a fascinating protagonist in this son of a survivalist, brought up to regard everything and everyone with suspicion and to prepare for absolutely any eventuality.

Shaw works as a hunter for hire of missing people. Those desperate people who have lost a loved one and advertise a reward for information leading to recovery are his bread and butter, though Colter Shaw doesn’t just provide the information, he goes and gets them, irrespective of the danger.

He is peripatetic; living in a Winnebago to the back of which his motorbike is attached.

In this 4th episode, Shaw is in the mid-west, in a town called Ferrington. Ferrington is an old industrial town in decline and suffering from a toxic riverbed. Shaw has been hired by a progressive nuclear energy company whose CEO, Marty Harmon is helping the town by supplying clean water and bringing jobs. His company, Welbourne and Sons has developed a revolutionary new device that could be life saving for many third world countries, but the technology has been stolen and Shaw is hired to recover it.

Shaw is barely on the case before the company’s engineer and architect of the reactor, Alison Parker, goes missing.  Shaw is tasked by Harmon to find her and safely bring her and her daughter, Hannah, home. Alison is running from her husband, an abuser who has just been released from prison after serving time for wife beating. But Merrit is no ordinary abuser; he is an ex-cop with many friends still in the force and his tentacles reach far.

Colter Shaw works with Welbourne’s capable Head of Security, Sonja Nilsson to find Alison and Hannah. Their search takes them into prime Shaw territory; lost in the midst of a large forest where it is not only Jon Merrit who is on their trail but also two malevolent killers are working in concert to hunt down Alison and her daughter and kill them.

Hunting Time is a gripping and hugely enjoyable novel. There’s something really engaging about Shaw’s survivalist skills and his endless rules of survival that always come in handy whatever the situation. This is a protagonist who has heft and that lends the usual crime thriller an extra dimension and the many twists and misdirection add hugely to the enjoyment.

Verdict: Hunting Time is a thrilling twisty enjoyable addition to the Colter Shaw series. It is a fast moving, tense and action packed read with plenty to get your teeth into and some surprisingly tender moments.

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Jeffery Deaver is an international number-one bestselling author. His books are sold in 150 countries and have been translated into over twenty-five languages. He has sold 50 million books worldwide.

Smokeheads by Doug Johnstone @doug_johnstone @anguskingactor @UlverscroftLtd

Source:  Audiobook review copy
Publication: 1ST December 2022 from Isis Audio
Narrator: Angus King
Listening time: 7 hours and 25 minutes
ASIN: B0B9H4X8RV

Four friends. One weekend. Gallons of whisky. What could go wrong?

Driven by amateur whisky-nut Adam, four late-thirties ex-university mates are heading to Islay—the remote Scottish island world famous for its single malts—with a wallet full of cash, a stash of coke and a serious thirst.

Over a weekend soaked in the finest cask strength spirit, they meet young divorcee Molly, who Adam has a soft spot for, her little sister Ash who has all sorts of problems and Molly’s ex-husband Joe, a control freak who also happens to be the local police. As events spiral out of control, they are all thrown into a nightmare that gets worse at every turn.

I’m a fan of Doug Johnstone’s writing and so I jumped at the chance to listen to a book of his that I haven’t yet read and I must say, Smokeheads was right up my street. It’s Johnstone in sparkling black form but also a Doug Johnstone who knows his whiskies and has clearly put a lot of research into the Islay malts and even I, not the biggest whisky lover, ended up thirsting for a glass of the Bruichladdich.

Set in Islay, a beautiful island and home to many of Scotland’s best peaty malts, Johnstone does a fabulous job of creating the atmospherics of its rugged, fractal coast and the way in which many of the whiskies on the south of the island especially, have a distinctive taste infused with peat smoke, brine and iodine.

Four long standing friends come to Islay for a whisky tour. Adam is harbouring big plans of his own but as yet it is too early to unveil them; he is the whisky expert of the four and has planned their itinerary for the weekend. Roddy is a hedge fund manager. He lives life to the max and runs largely on booze and coke. He has an unattractive macho and somewhat aggressive attitude to women. Luke is a musician and something of a loner, while Ethan is the most settled of the four.

Adam is our guide and storyteller on this trip. In truth these friends don’t have a great deal in common anymore and it is Adam’s enthusiasm for this trip that has got them there.

From the start we know that this trip is going to land the friends in trouble. Roddy is a nightmare and it only takes one visit to the local pub for things to begin to cause grief. From there it is a hop, skip and a jump towards violence, intemperate behaviour and the realisation that there’s very little holding these friends together.

Islanders of course, protect their own and Islay is a place that harbours many secrets. When the boys realise that they have uncovered one such secret they also understand that this puts their lives in danger.

Johnstone uses the wild geography of Islay to enhance the danger and they lads become trapped by the winds and tide, by the rugged environment and by some pretty heinous adversaries. This is a violent tale and no-one will emerge unscathed. There’s something about being trapped on an island, even in the 21st Century, that lends itself well to this kind of writing.

Smokeheads is a dark tale of wrongdoing, spoiled love and fractured friendships, greed and venality. Liberally peppered with sweary words and laden with gore, it is both horrific in places and yet full of black humour.

Angus King proves himself yet again to be a worthy narrator. His own voice is as smooth as the long aged single malt and his tonality and inflection catching well those moments that turn black humour into scathing language and violent moments.

Verdict: a fast moving, violent story that has several ‘squick’ moments. You need to suspend disbelief somewhat but once you do, this is a story that quickly gathers momentum and barrels towards a climactic finish. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Amazon Audible
The Reading House

Doug Johnstone is the author of fourteen novels, most recently Black Hearts (2022). The Big Chill (2020), was longlisted for the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year. Several of his books have been bestsellers and three, A Dark Matter (2020), Breakers (2019) and The Jump (2015), were shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year. He’s taught creative writing and been writer in residence at various institutions over the last two decades including festivals, libraries, universities, schools, prisons and a funeral directors. Doug is a Royal Literary Fund Consultant Fellow and works as a mentor and manuscript assessor for many organisations, including The Literary Consultancy, Scottish Book Trust and New Writing North. He’s been an arts journalist for over twenty years and has also written many short stories and screenplays. He is a songwriter and musician with six albums and three EPs released, and plays drums for the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, a band of crime writers. He’s also co-founder of the Scotland Writers Football Club.

Angus King is a Scottish actor based in London & Glasgow. He trained at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and works regularly on television, Motion Capture and the West End and his voice can be heard in audiobooks, political campaigns, radio drama, corporate videos, computer games, ADR and much more.

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My Life in France by Julia Child @Duckbooks @RandomTTours

Source: Review copy
Publication: 3 November 2022 from Duckworth Books
PP: 368
ISBN-13: 9780715654682

My thanks to Duckworth Books and Random Things Tours for an advance copy for review

When Julia Child arrived in Paris in 1948, ‘a six-foot-two-inch, thirty-six-year-old, rather loud and unserious Californian’, she barely spoke a word of French and didn’t know the first thing about cooking.

As she fell in love with French culture – buying food at local markets, sampling the local bistros, and taking classes at the Cordon Bleu – her life began to change forever. We follow her extraordinary transformation from kitchen ingénue to internationally renowned (and internationally loved) expert in French cuisine.

Bursting with Child’s adventurous and humorous spirit, My Life in France captures post-war Paris with wonderful vividness and charm.

Julia Child co-wrote the definitive book on French cookery with Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck and it was this book that propelled her into the hall of cookery fame.

What My Life in France delivers is an understanding of who Julia Child was and how she came to love French cooking. She is remarkably frank about her own skills as a cook when she and her husband initially moved to France. A mediocre cook at best she was used to brown food and had to labour for hours in the kitchen to make a passable meal.

But the love and support of her husband Paul and their move to France where he was to join the US post war propaganda effort.   They were a well-travelled couple and met while both were working in Asia. 

What you get from this book is a love story. Certainly the love that Julia and Paul had for each other, but also the love that Julia rapidly develops for all things French but especially for French cuisine. She recalls with delight and astonishment the early meals (remembered in their entirety) the couple ate in France and her determination to be able to cook like that.

She has a childlike enthusiasm for all things French and loves nothing more than to shop at French markets learning about the produce. Her enrolment at the École du Cordon Bleu starts out in typically maladroit fashion as the school cannot quite work out what to do with this tall,  gauche American who knows nothing but wants to know everything.

So Julia Child ends up in the basement working with trainee chefs and learning to cook from scratch with chef Max Bugnard though it would take her two attempts to pass her final exam and graduate.

The book follows her meeting with Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck Fischbacher, to whom she grew very close, and the launching of their own cooking school, “Les Trois Gourmandes. The latter two women had been working on a cookery book and invited Julia to help them make it fit for the US market.  Mastering the Art of French Cooking had a difficult journey to publication but when it was published in 1961 it became an instant success and Julia started to garner serious attention.

What makes this book is that the recollections are direct from Julia Child and her passion and enthusiasm for France and French cooking shine through every paragraph. Her story is engaging and heartfelt and she makes it come alive. It is also the story of a couple very much in love who supported each other and it is clear that Paul Child made it easy for Julia to pursue her dream.

I very much enjoyed the photographs from Julia Child’s album which illustrate this book. This is a book that stands the test of time and will undoubtedly be enjoyed by a range of readers. If you are looking for a Christmas gift with wide appeal, this could be the answer. I really loved it.  

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Julia Child (1912-2004) was born in California and worked for American intelligence during World War II. Afterwards she lived in Paris, studied at the Cordon Bleu and taught cooking with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, with whom she wrote the
first volume of the bestselling classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961) that has sold over 1.5 million copies worldwide.

Racing the Light by Robert Crais (Cole & Pike #19) @SimonSchusterUK @graciegirlracer





Source: Review copy
Publication: 10 November 2022 from Simon and Schuster
PP: 368
ISBN-13: 978-1471195013

THE CITY OF ANGELS
Adele Schumacher isn’t a typical worried mum. When she hires Elvis to find her missing son, a controversial podcaster named Josh Shoe, she brings a bag filled with cash, paranoid tales of government conspiracies, and a squad of mysterious bodyguards. Finding Josh should be simple, but Elvis quickly learns he isn’t alone in the hunt – a team of deadly strangers are determined to find Josh first.

THE CITY OF LIES
With dangerous secrets lurking behind every lead, Elvis needs his friend Joe Pike more than ever to uncover the truth about Josh, corrupt politicians, and the murderous business cartels rotting the heart of Los Angeles. And when his estranged ex-girlfriend Lucy Chenier and her son return to the city, Elvis realizes just how much he has to lose . . . if he survives.

I am delighted to welcome back guest reviewer, Grace Mitchell to Live and Deadly once again. Grace writes:

I’ve been a big fan of Robert Crais from his very early books and have loved all of his Elvis Cole/Joe Pike novels. I have to say they are very similar to Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar and Win books but I personally don’t think that’s a bad thing, if you like one series, you’ll like the other.

The series is now on its 19th outing but still feels like it’s a new angle every time. Cole’s personal life starts to look up, as old flame Lucy and her son Ben come to visit, meanwhile a rather eccentric elderly woman with an interesting past asks Cole to find her son, who has gone missing after striking up a friendship with a young porn star; well, this is LA!

It’s clear there’s more to the dysfunctional parents than meets the eye, not least because as retired academic professors, they appear to have a pretty substantial security detail. The son was a conspiracy theory podcaster who has started to go more mainstream but with an investigative gene that was bound to get him into trouble.

The baddies are not disguised in this story which is a city council corruption scandal, involving money and prostitution, corruption and intimidation. Of course it centres around the hallowed ground of real estate, with every square inch in LA fought over, literally  to the death.

A black ops specialist, rogue Chinese black ops agents and an intelligence background don’t obscure the basic of a straightforward money motivated murder spree.

Verdict: Crais maintains a high standard and remains a solidly good, enjoyable read. Cole is an attractive flawed hero and Pike is that chap you wish you had in your life to ensure you are safe from bad guys.

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Robert Crais is the author of the bestselling Cole & Pike novels. A native of Louisiana, Crais moved to Hollywood in the late 70s where he began a successful career in television, writing scripts for such major series as Cagney & Lacey, Miami Vice and Hill Street Blues. In the mid 80s, following his success with the TV buddy genre, Crais created a series of crime novels based around the characters Cole & Pike. In addition, Crais has also written several bestselling standalone thrillers. Robert Crais lives in LA with his wife and family.

The Will by Rebecca Reid @RebeccaCNReid @PenguinUKBooks @RandomTTours

Source: Review copy
Publication: 10 November 2022 from Penguin
PP: 352
ISBN-13: 978-0552177399

My thanks to Penguin and Random Things Tours for an advance copy for review

The Mordaunts aren’t like most families . . .

For one, their family home is Roxborough Hall – a magnificent, centuries-old mansion in the Norfolk countryside. For another, the house isn’t passed down from parent to child – but rather to the family member deemed most worthy.

Cecily Mordaunt is dead. On the evening of her funeral, her family will gather for dinner and each will be given a letter, revealing who is the next custodian of Roxborough Hall.

The house is a burden, a millstone, a full-time job . . . but they all want it. And some are willing do anything to get it.

One family. Eight letters. Who will get what they deserve?

I really enjoyed this book. It is light enough to lift me out of my usual dark and bloody reading material and yet strong plotting with lots of nice twists and turns to keep my interest engaged and my brain focussing on what comes next.

Both the setting and the premise are fascinating. Roxburgh Hall is an idyllic grand mansion in the beautiful and tranquil Norfolk countryside. For years it has been home to Cecily Mordaunt and her companion and former ladies maid, Violet.

Now Cecily is dead and unusually, this house, which needs a lot of care and attention in its upkeep, is to go to the person whom Cecily deems most worthy to get it. It’s the way this house has been handed down for years and at every owner’s death letters are handed out at an eve of funeral family dinner. Each person gets a personal letter explaining why or why they are not the new owner of Roxburgh Hall. That person, however, has to be at the house to receive their letter.

Rebecca Reid’s book combines love and romance with family secrets, devious personalities, bitter resentment and years of hurt to provide a brilliant backdrop to a compelling story.

Not everyone wants the house; one because it would be too much of a burden, another because they cannot get over the hurt they feel that goes back decades. Others need the house for their own reasons. As Reid gives us glimpses into each character, their history and personality, we understand that centuries of tradition means more to some of those present than others.

Some have grand ambitions; others see the house as an answer to all their problems.

But who will Cecily have found the most worthy and was she the best judge of character for this job?

Told from a range of perspectives, Reid uses multiple timelines to help us understand each character and their motivation and to guide the reader in making their own decisions about who should inherit the house.

Reid’s flawed characters are very well drawn and spring to life from the page. The hopes, aspirations and dreams of these characters are well expressed and you can sense the frustration among those who feel they most deserve this inheritance.

I very much enjoyed reading about Cecily’s life and history and understanding what brought her to the final decision on who should inherit. There are many long buried secrets here that unfold as the narrative develops and Rebecca Reid does a terrific job of keeping the reader engaged and involved as each is revealed.

Verdict: A thoroughly engrossing, fast paced and enjoyable family drama involving hidden secrets and flawed characters that retained my interest throughout.

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Rebecca Reid is the author of the novels Perfect Liars, Truth Hurts and Two Wrongs, and the nonfiction book The Power of Rude. She is a freelance journalist and columnist for the Telegraph’s women’s section and a regular contributor to Telegraph culture. She is the former digital editor of Grazia magazine and has previously written for Stylist, the Independent, the Guardian, The Times, Marie Claire, the New Statesman and Glamour Magazine. She regularly contributes to Good Morning Britain, Sky News and various BBC radio programmes. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway.

The People Before by Charlotte Northedge @FictionPubTeam @HarperCollinsUK @RandomTTours

Source: Review copy
Publication: 10 November 2022 from Harper Collins
PP: 336
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-0008402570

My thanks to Harper Collins and Random Things Tours for an advance copy for review

What if your dream house became your worst nightmare?

Jess and her husband need a new start. So when the chance to buy a rambling old house in the Suffolk countryside comes up, they leap at it.

But not everyone in Suffolk is welcoming. The locals know a secret about the Maple House, and soon, Jess realises they’ve made a huge mistake.

Something bad happened in that house. Something nobody wants to talk about.

Something to do with the people before…

The People Before starts strongly with Jess and her husband Pete and their two young children wondering quite what they have done. They’ve left bustling, multi-cultural Walthamstow for a new life and have bought a draughty run-down pile in the Suffolk countryside which is need of serious renovation.

Maple House was once grand but now this Arts and Crafts house lies neglected and in need of serious modernisation. It is what we might call “a project”.

It’s not made clear just why they have left their Walthamstow home but as time goes on it’s clear that all is not well in Jess and Pete’s relationship. That feeling only gets worse when Pete resumes commuting to London and Jess, who gave up her own job to move into their new home, is feeling lonely and neglected.

We know quite quickly that Jess has secrets of her own, and Charlotte Northedge does an excellent job of portraying an unhappy woman in a house that feels cold and unwelcoming. More than that, there’s an atmosphere that is both spooky and malevolent as Jess feels all the time as if she is being watched.

Northedge drops hints for the reader about what has gone wrong in the marriage but readers have to wait to get the whole story and enjoy guessing what may have prompted the move.

Neither Jess nor Pete is especially likeable. Pete is hardly there and when he is he pays scant attention to Jess’s concerns. Though Jess tries to make friends with other mothers at the school gates, none of her overtures go particularly well and she feels lonely and isolated.

So she is hugely relieved when she meets Eve, who works in a local gallery and Eve is warm and friendly towards her. The two women discover they have interests in common and Jess enjoys going for a coffee with her new friend.

Soon Eve is at Maple House where she has lots of ideas about what could be done to restore it to its former grandeur.

Northedge’s book is in two voices; Jess’ story and then Eve’s perspective. Though the sense of malevolence is strong, with a small cast of characters it is not difficult to see where this story is going and from the middle of the book not all of Jess’ actions ring true. It’s not hard to second guess what’s going on and the tension dissipates somewhat as a result.

Verdict: Well written with good tension and a complement of spookiness, this is a great winter read as long as you can get over the somewhat predictable plot.

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Charlotte Northedge is the joint Head of Books for the Guardian. Charlotte
has previously written for a range of newspapers and magazines, including the
Guardian, Psychologies and Cosmopolitan. A journalist, she has an MA in
Modern and Contemporary Literature from Birkbeck and is an alumni of the
Curtis Brown Creative writing course. The House Guest was Charlotte’s greatly
acclaimed debut novel, published in 2021 by Harper Collins.

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