Thursday 28 July 2016

ACCUSED: British Witches Throughout History by Willow Winsham

5 GOLD stars

Non-fiction: British witches throughout history

On Amazon UK (published on July 30) HERE
On (not available until Nov 2) HERE
On Goodreads HERE

This an incredibly well researched and cleverly put together book, and fascinating with it.  Accused is a series of studies of just a few of the witches of our history, each one explored in great depth, giving details not only of the accusations levelled against the so-called sorceress in question but also her life.  Each paints the picture of the woman and the time in which she lived, providing insight into the social structure of the time (such as how a woman might be demoted from the title 'Mistress' to that of 'Goodwife'), the effects of economic instablity, fears of divine retribution ~ and, sadly, how easily events could be manipulated by those higher up the social strata for their own benefit, as in the case of Joan Flowers.  She was accused of causing the deaths of the two heirs to the title Earl of Rutland, but others suggest that the deaths were caused by the man who sought the hand in marriage of their sister, who would, thus, bring the lands with her as a dowry if her brothers were no more.

Willow Winsham talks of the swimming of witches, the ducking stools, the rarity of burning in this country, and of corsned, something I hadn't heard of before, which involved the 'witch' eating consecrated bread to see if she could swallow it.  Then there is Isobel Gowdie and her Scottish coven, the case of Welsh witch Gwen fetch Ellis, and possibly the most well-known English witch, Jane Wenham.  

The book moves into the 18th century, when belief in witchcraft itself was outlawed, leading to more support for anyone, like Susannah Sellick, who was accused ... and then to the case of spiritualist Helen Duncan, in 1944, who strikes me as being little more than a charlatan aiming to make money from people who had lost loved ones in the war.  However, one thing I noticed about this books is that, to a certain extent, Ms Winsham leaves the reader to make up his or her own mind as to whether or not certain whisperings of the supernatural kind might have been present at any one time.  I liked that.

I read the hardback edition of this book, which is definitely worth getting.  The middle includes many pictures of the locations mentioned, of the indictments of the witches of hundreds of years ago, and the art and literature of the time based on the belief of the existence of witches.  Finally, the author suggests that in these modern times, other groups of people have risen to be victimised in the place of the witch, people who, in the eyes of the common man, threaten 'to consume all that is held dear'.  In other words, nothing changes....

A stunning and admirable piece of work, highly recommended.

I received a review copy of this book from the publishers, Pen and Sword books, the receipt of which has not influenced my assessment.

Wednesday 27 July 2016


4.5 out of 5 stars

Zombie Apocalypse, US

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

'For all the fans who aren't ready to let go of the Broken World series yet...'

You know a series is working for you when you've read the 8th book in it! I was so pleased to spot this on Amazon, a 'side' story about Jim and new character Amira from Kate Mary's Broken World series ~ I'd wondered what happened to Jim!  Good to see a bit more about the sinister, terrifying group called The Watchers, too...

I bought this yesterday afternoon and finished it at 10 this morning, couldn't put it down.  I loved Jim in the last book, and Amira is great, too, a deaf girl who was waiting for her father to return from a food run.  I would have given it the full five stars because I think the writing in this series is getting better and better, if it wasn't for the slightly overdone sexual tension thing between Amira and Jim; Kate Mary writes it very well, it's realistic, and the growing love between them makes their quest for safety more urgent, but there's just too much of it in this book.  I like zombie apocalypse series because I want to read about survival, adventures, extreme circumstances, the worst of humanity and the best pulling through; if I wanted pages of love and desire I'd buy romantic suspense!  But it's mostly concentrated in the middle, after which it's back to the story.

The popularity of these books indicates how good they are ~ and I am still not ready to let go of the Broken World series, Kate, so any time you feel like writing a bit more....(especially about The Watchers!) :)

Review of Broken Stories, and links to all other books in the series can be found HERE

Tuesday 26 July 2016


5 GOLD stars

Travel memoir: Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

I've read all of Jo Carroll's travel memoirs and loved every one, and this is no exception; I think I loved it as much as my previous favourite (Bombs and Butterflies, about Laos, which I read as part of her paperback incorporating three books, called From The Inside Looking Out).

What I enjoy about the way Jo Carroll writes about is that she brings the country alive, not by clever, researched facts or wordy descriptions but by the deceptively simple way she describes the local people and the way in which they live.  Every time, she makes me want to visit that country, which is what a travel book should be all about, isn't it?  Her love for Ecuador in this book shone through so much, and brought tears to my eyes on several occasions (sometimes they were tears of envy!).

She's funny, sometimes, with her observations of her guides and her fellow travellers, and very down to earth; I've said before that her style reminds me of Bill Bryson's.  But she also talks about the problems within the country, the charm of the people, the wonder of her surroundings, the joys and difficulties of being a lone traveller.  When I read about the Galapagos Islands I almost started packing a bag, and her tales of the less populated areas of Ecuador made me want to go and live there, too.

It's a short, delightful book which I enjoyed so much I know I'll read it again.  Would be lovely if there were pictures too, but they're not necessary.   

After the Earthquake (Nepal) is reviewed HERE, with links to From The Inside Looking Out (Laos, Cuba and Nepal) and Over the Hills and Far Away.

Tuesday 19 July 2016

WHAT TIM KNOWS by Wendy Janes

4.5 out of 5 stars

Six short stories, stand-alone outtakes from a novel

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

It was so hot this afternoon that reading some easy-read short stories was all I felt fit for, and these fitted the bill perfectly.  They're outtakes and glimpses into the back stories of characters from Wendy Jane's novel, What Jennifer Knows, which I haven't read yet, so I can safely say that they stand completely alone from it.  I imagine that anyone who has enjoyed the novel will love to read these, and I'd recommend them even if you haven't.

Like all short story collections they vary in quality, but I'm happy to say that the only variation was from pleasantly readable to one of them which I thought was a masterpiece... I'll get to that!  

The stories do not have twists in the tale or neat denouements; at times they're more like sketches, but as I read on I saw how they all tied up, loosely, which I liked very much.

I had three favourites: The Never Ending Day, about poor Sue who had just had a baby and felt as though she hadn't got a clue what to do, and never would have; I know nothing of parenthood but her despair was so well drawn I lived it with her, and the gaping chasm between her and her awful husband made me want to weep for her.   The second one I liked a lot was The Perfect Family, about fourteen year old Blythe, an only child, who goes on holiday with the big, noisy family she envies, only to discover that being part of such a group is not all she'd thought it was....

....which leads me to the title story, What Tim Knows, which is far and away the best.  It's told through the eyes of eight year old Tim, who is at his first children's party.  I soon realised that he's autistic; I know Wendy Janes has involvement with the Autistic Society, and this story shows such insight, whilst being touching, sad and funny, all at once.  It's worth getting the book for this story alone, a terrific piece of writing - big round of applause, Author!

FURY by Joan De La Haye

3.5 out of 5 stars

Graphic horror & supernatural novella

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

Reviewed by me as a member of Rosie Amber's Review Team

Set in the mean streets of Pretoria, the story starts with Andre, a smack addict who will do anything to get his fix ~ including supplying girls for the makers of snuff and sexual torture films.  He entices Angela, who is murdered in the most brutal way imaginable; the only trouble is, she keeps coming back to remind Andre of what he's done.... 

....enter Alice, Andre's next 'mark', an art history student who has a bit more about her than the usual victim.  Alice is caught in the middle when un-dead Angela wreaks havoc to extract her revenge.

This is horror at its most grisly, in fact I don't think I've ever been more keen to point out that a book is not for the faint of heart, and you definitely shouldn't read it while you're eating.  If you're a fan of films like 'Hostel' and 'Saw', and if you didn't have to shut your eyes in the more revolting bits of 'Trainspotting', you'll like this.  That is all I will say!

It's an interesting portrayal of human life at its most debauched, and Andre's junkie torment is expressed so graphically that it should put anyone off even mildly addictive prescription drugs (!). There's a good twist at the end, it's a decently thought out story and not badly written, certainly not boring, though I found some of the dialogue a little unlikely and there are lots of repetitions that should have been sorted out in redrafts and editing.

I found it just okay, but I imagine it will tick the boxes for lovers of no-holds-barred, gruesome horror. 

Friday 15 July 2016


5 out of 5 stars

Hardback, 18th century non-fiction

On Amazon UK HERE
On (not yet available to buy) HERE
On Goodreads HERE

This is a book that serves the format of hardback perfectly and is worth the outlay, even if it will later be available in paperback or Kindle editions.  It would grace any coffee table and make the most delightful present for a person with even a vague interest in this era, consisting of magazine article length chapters about the era from not only the English court but also that of the Bourbons, the Romanovs and more, arranged into the groupings of 'Children', 'Marriage', 'Scandal' and 'Death'.  This serves to give a general impression of the whole era, and shows the background behind some of its most colourful characters.

I first came across Catherine Curzon's pieces on her blog, via Twitter (you can follow her @madamegilflurt), and was impressed by the light but compelling way in which she writes.  There is much humour involved as she paints her cameos of the wayward George IV ('King Bling'!), Christian VII of Denmark, William IV, the unfortunate Caroline of Brunswick and the young Marie Antoinette, amongst many, many others.  It's immensely readable.  The eighteenth century is probably the one I know the least about so much of the information was new to me, but this book made me realise why it is such a popular subject for the producers of books and television dramas.

George IV

I think my favourite section was 'Death', and there is a satisfying wad of portraits and humorous drawings in the middle of the book, to which I kept flicking back as I read about each character.  If I have any complaint it's that I kept thinking 'hang on, I haven't finished, I want to know more' at the end of many of the chapters, as they showed only snapshots of a character's history and I'd just be getting into one when it would end, but this in itself is a testament to Ms Curzon's writing, that she'd managed to make the person come alive in just a few pages.  In any case that character would, inevitably, pop up again in another section. Incidentally, there is a timeline at the beginning of the book showing dates of all key events from 1660-1837.

Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette

I started off being frustrated by the stopping and starting, but the more I read on the more I saw how the book comes together as a whole and realised what a terrific achievement it is, indeed worthy of more than the 4* I was initially going to award it.  A delightful book, beautifully presented, and one I shall return to again and again.

This book is based on a review copy, which in no way influenced my opinion.

George III

Sunday 10 July 2016


4.5 out of 5 stars

Thriller novella about the EU Referendum

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

This was a jolly good few hours' read!  Brexecution is a fast moving thriller set during the few days following the results of the EU referendum.  At the heart of it are a corrupt banker or two, a high level politician, sadistic thug, a London cab driver and a girl in a Marilyn Monroe wig.  It's amazingly well written considering how quickly it was (br)executed, but then Joel Hames has intelligent thriller-writing talent in spades, and not without a little humour.

Some of the events unfold a little over-smoothly, but that's what stories like these are made of, after all; some of the most outlandish secrets are frighteningly possible, even likely, suggesting that there is a lot more (and a lot darker) stuff involved in the governing of this country than is known to the common man.  The plot fits perfectly into the novella format, which is an art in itself.

A few writers may leap on the referendum bandwagon to produce a highly topical novel, in weeks to come, but once you've read this you'll applaud Mr Hames for being in the driving seat.  It's great.  Buy it!

The Art of Staying Dead by Joel Hames is reviewed HERE

Friday 8 July 2016


4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

Reviewed by me as a member of Rosie Amber's Review Team

I liked this book a lot.  It's simply but so well written, the words just flow; lovely to come across a book like this by someone who has a real talent for writing.  It's all about making the reader want to keep turning the pages, after all, and I certainly did with this! 

Judith Summers' Brazilian husband, Edson, has just died, and she is determined to fulfil his final wish by 'taking him home' ~ ie, back to the village of his birth to scatter his ashes.  His fifteen year old daughter goes with her, and together they uncover the mystery of Rosa's birth, and many more besides. 

The story is told mostly from Judith's point of view, interspersed with occasional chapters inside the head of Rosa, and Edson's friend, Ricardo, who runs a shelter for young people in trouble.  The plot slowly unravels via tapes of conversations between twelve year old Luciana, and Ricardo's wife, Flavia.  I'd more or less guessed the outcome before we were told, though not all the details, and it didn't spoil my enjoyment of the story. 

Judith's a great character, pretty screwed up after taking her share of wrong turns throughout her life.  Tempestuous teenager Rosa is portrayed perfectly, but I think the star of the show is Brazil itself; Ms Powell clearly has a great love for the country and its poorer corners are depicted with much colour and warmth.  The people Judith and Rosa meet are so real, the dialogue is great, and there are some heartrending moments, too (too sad!).   

The writing style reminded me of Emily Barr, whose books I like very much.  I have nothing negative to say about this novel at all; highly recommended, and I'll definitely read her next one.

Tuesday 5 July 2016

SILENT TRAUMA by Judith Barrow

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

'The story is fictional, the drug was real'

Judith Barrow wrote this book to bring attention to the trauma sufferered by the victims of the drug Diethylstilboestrol (DES), given to women between the years 1949 and 1971.  It was prescribed to prevent miscarriage, but had a devastating effect on the daughters - and possibly the granddaughters - of the women who took it, meaning that they had miscarriages, too, cancers of the reproductive organs usually associated with older women, and other problems to do with that part of the body.  Unlike with Thalidomide there has been very little publicity about it, and the women who campaigned for what they had been through and why to be recognised, faced many brick walls.

I think writing a novel about it is such a good way of letting people know about the ongoing tragedy; I would not read an article about it, but I read this.  Silent Trauma follows the lives of four women affected by the drug, and the friendship that forms between them: Meg, whose daughter Lisa took her own life; Rachel, whose husband left her because of the change in their marriage due to her depression caused by several miscarriages; Avril, a recluse whose life was shattered by cancer in her teens; and Jackie, caught in a difficult and violent relationship with a woman, herself a product of a difficult upbringing.  

Aside from the main purpose of the book, I enjoyed reading about the four women very much; it's a well written, well planned story.  The characterisation is terrific, and the situations so real.  I've read Judith Barrow's nostalgia orientated, warts and all family sagas set in the north of England during the 40s, 50s and 60s, but actually liked this more.  I read it in one sitting.  Speaking as one who has never had the urge to have children I cannot imagine how it must feel to want them so badly that you feel like less than a woman if you can't reproduce, but all the emotions were painted so vividly that I felt everything the characters went through, and the situations were met with great understanding and sensitivity.

Jolly well done :)

Monday 4 July 2016

SMOKESCREEN by Khaled Talib

4 out of 5 stars

Political assassination conspiracy

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

Reviewed by me as a member of Rosie Amber's Review Team

Smokescreen is a fast moving, all action, international thriller about an assassination conspiracy, involving movers and shakers at the highest levels—think '24', James Bond, The Bourne trilogy, etc. 

Magazine journalist and superficial Singapore socialite Jethro Westropp (Jet West) is to be set up as 'the next Lee Harvey Oswald' - only he knows nothing about it, and has no hint that anything is wrong until he meets up with the beautiful and ill-fated Niki.  'He finds himself at the centre of a political plot so diabolical and sweeping in its world implications that he is stunned to discover tomorrow’s news headlines today': that comes from the blurb, one of the lines that made me want to read the book! 

It's well written and I can tell it's well researched; Talib obviously understands the dark side of politics in the international arena.  The characters are brilliantly over the top stereotypes—that's not a criticism as I think these sort of books and films rely on certain characters.  Jet is perfect as the amusing and unsuspecting hero, but I enjoyed the dialogue between the older spies, agents and ne'er-do-wells best; X and the unscrupulous Chan and Yung, for instance.  There are some good, witty lines! 

There's a case for saying that these sort of stories work better in films than in books, but this is very convincing, it's a jolly good plot and I think anyone who loves this sort of book will thoroughly enjoy it.  There's certainly never a dull moment.


Saturday 2 July 2016

OCCUPYING LOVE by Marilyn Chapman

3 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

Reviewed by me as a member of Rosie Amber's Book Review Team 
Occupying love is a historical romance set in Guernsey during the occupation by the Nazis during the second world war.  Lydia Le Page returns to Guernsey from England on a momentous day: the first bombing on British soil during the war.
Lydia is, thus, trapped on Guernsey and has to put on hold her plans to train as a pharmacist.  Happily reunited with her best friend, Maggie, and having met the mysterious new rector, Martin Martell, life seems bearable even though Lydia feels annoyed by the way some are more accepting of the island's fate than others, particularly Maggie, who is quite taken with the German soldiers.

The fates of Lydia's family take a turn for the worse when Germans decide to occupy not only the island but also their house, forcing them to lodge with friends.  Lydia takes a job that means she gets to know Martin better, though both his activities and his personality remain something of a conundrum to her.  Then another suitor enters the arena... 

I think this is a book for an older readership, as the tone is one of the British pulling together against the enemy, with a fair bit of domestic detail.  The characterisation and dialogue are reminiscent of 1950s films about the war, so it would appeal to readers who enjoy the current popularity of nostalgia orientated books, and/or who live in or have some knowledge of Guernsey.  

The book is well presented, and competently edited.