Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Adults in the Room, by Yanis Varoufakis

ReviewerJJ Marsh

What we thought:

This reminded me of Hillary Mantel's Wolf Hall. It's not historical or fiction, but it contains all the intrigue and political machinations to be found in the court of Henry VIII. Yet the tyrant at the heart of this story is no capricious king who reforms history to suit himself. The ruthless creature wrecking lives and crushing countries is a many-headed Hydra formed by self-interested individuals colluding in maintaining the status quo.

It's rare to find a non-fiction book about contemporary politics and economic imbalance that is so fascinating you cannot wait to read what happens next. But Adults in the Room is just such a thing. We know what happens in the end, which gives it a tang of classic tragedy, but still it is impossible not to hope.

Yanis Varoufakis is an economist academic and left-wing politician, who served briefly under the Greek Syriza government as Minster for Finance. His brief was to renegotiate the crippling debt Greece owed the troika - the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission.

His ideas are clearly stated, his ambitious plan to get Greece out of a debt spiral that would damage Europe as a whole is coherent, and his habit of recording in detail every conversation and meeting provides for an alternately thrilling and appalling insight as to what goes on behind institutional doors.

Finally, Greece put a question to its people - more austerity or a different approach? Yes or No?

If you have concerns about the state of the world, its institutions, bankers, politicians and media, you should read this book. Then you will appreciate why the only people to blame are those who parrot such phrases as "Too big to fail" and throw their shoulders to a wheel they know will inevitably come off.

You'll enjoy this if you like: Economic analyses, politics, the writings of George Monbiot, or Charles H. Ferguson's film Inside Job.

Avoid if you dislike: Europe, finance, thinking.

Ideal accompaniments: A plate of assorted pickles, a crystal-clear glass of ouzo to which you gradually add water, and Lost in the Stars by Kurt Weill

Genre: Non-fiction

Available on Amazon

The Breakdown by B.A Paris

Reviewer : Gillian Hamer, author of The Charter, Closure, Complicit, Crimson Shore, False Lights & Sacred Lake. (

What we thought: This book goes straight into my top ten reads of the year so far! Totally gripped from start to finish (despite a drop in pace in the middle section.) And the end was a delight! I’d give this one six stars out of five if we were that kind of review site!

In the follow up to bestseller, Behind Closed Doors also from this author, we follow the story of protagonist, Cass Anderson, who, over the course of one ordinary summer goes from a wealthy, confident, school teacher – to a drug-dependent, paranoid shadow of her former self.

The central question of this book … is why?

When Cass finds herself eye-witness to the murder of local woman she had recently befriended, she slowly slides into a pit of lies, guilt and confusion that shatters her life. She turns for support to her husband, Matthew, and best friend, Rachel, who despite their best efforts of understanding seem unable to persuade Cass her life isn’t falling apart. With her mother’s previous history of dementia, Cass finds no other answer to her memory loss than she must be following in her mother’s footsteps.

A series of chance encounters at the end of the summer, set in motion a shocking chain of events that might finally set Cass on the road to recovery if she can only find the strength to see them through.

Written in first person point of view, I found the proximity between reader and protagonist really powerful, and each cruel blow dealt to the character felt real to me. As expected from this author, the twists, turns and red herrings were superbly managed – and despite an early inkling I had it sussed, I was never sure enough not to read on. The end was subtle rather than shock and awe, which was another point in the book’s favour and nice to go against the grain for this genre.

I stayed up late into the night to finish this book, because once the story began to unravel, I couldn’t put it down. I can offer no more higher praise than that. A must read novel in my opinion for anyone who loves their crime and thrillers.

You’ll enjoy this if you like : Clare Mackintosh, Linda Green, Gillian Flynn.

Avoid if you don’t like : Coping with depression.

Ideal accompaniments: Mature cheddar with cheese biscuits and a dry white wine.

Genre : Psychological Thriller.

Available on Amazon

Why I Am No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

Last year, I read and reviewed Ta-Nahisi Coates brilliant extended essay, Between the World and Me. But while it hit me in the solar plexis, I was conscious that it left me some wriggle room. This was a Black American man talking about the state of race relations in America. I could tell myself that was ‘over there.’ Britain was a different country and its problems were different.

Why I Am No Longer Talking To White People About Race, written by Black British woman, Reni Eddo-Lodge, gives me no such wriggle room.

The title itself is deeply ironic. It was originally the title of a blog post written by Eddo-Lodge in 2014, when, exhausted by the constant pushback she received every time she raised the question of race, she wrote, “I can no longer engage with the gulf of an emotional disconnect that white people display when a person of colour articulates their experience.” The irony is that, the response to the post has been such that, in fact, Eddo-Lodge now spends most of her time talking to white people about race. This book is a distillation of those conversations.

In a series of eloquently argued chapters, Eddo-Lodge addresses (among other things) the erasure of Black Britons from the portrayal of British history, the nature of white privilege, the failure of white feminism to engage with issues of racism, the often overlooked intersections of race with class – and what white people should be doing to tackle racism.

At one point in the book, Eddo –Lodge interviews the former head of the British National Party. My skin runs cold at the thought of speaking directly to someone who holds views like that. I cannot conceive what it must be like for a young Black woman. Yet here again, Eddo-Lodge rebukes my failure of imagination – pointing out that at least people of colour know where they are with those who hold far-right views. The real hurt comes when those they imagine to be allies let them down - again.

It strikes me frequently that there is a disconnect between the language people of colour use when discussing racism, and the way that white people hear that language and use it themselves. Contrary to what most discourse by white people seems to assume, racism is not simply about hatred and bigotry, whether or not combined with power. Nor does privilege imply being born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth or having one’s path through life strew with roses. As Eddo-Lodge says, “Structural racism is never a case of innocent and pure, persecuted people of colour versus white people intent on evil and malice. Rather it is about how Britain’s relationship with race infects and distorts equal opportunity ... white privilege is the absence of the consequences of racism.”

The analogy I have worked out goes something like this:

Two people are climbing a steep hill together. They are both dealing with the same steep ascent, the same boulder-strewn path, the same boggy patches and the same fallen trees. But there is also a cloud of midges. One of the two climbers gets the odd bite along the way, but is largely left alone. The other is constantly bitten, until their skin is a mass of itchy welts and they scream, “These bloody midges are eating me alive.” The other climber, with only a couple of bites, replies, “Come on, it’s just a few insects. Man up. You’re being too sensitive.”

The cloud of midges is the myriad, often tiny, elements of bias and discrimination that together create structural racism. Privilege is the white person’s relative immunity to those bites. Complicity is the failure to acknowledge the midges are there, or to do anything to combat them.

I want to put this book into the hands of every good-hearted, liberal-minded white person I know and say, ‘please read this; please try and understand. We are all complicit, but we don’t have to be.’

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved:
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahisi Coates; The Good Immigrant, ed. Nikesh Shukla; Country of Refuge, ed. Lucy Popescu

Avoid If You Dislike: Having the scales fall from your eyes – but read it anyway! We all need to.

Perfect Accompaniment: Open ears, an open heart, an open mind.

Genre: Non-Fiction

Available on Amazon

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Fatal Forgery by Susan Grossey

Reviewer : Gillian Hamer, author of The Charter, Closure, Complicit, Crimson Shore, False Lights & Sacred Lake. (

What we thought: One of the best things about reviewing for Bookmuse is that you get to read books that would otherwise pass you by … and that is certainly the case with this author.

Although I do enjoy some historical fiction, this period wouldn’t have been my personal choice, and it would have been a real shame to miss out on the first book in this series. Crime fiction meets Regency London and it’s a real winner!
This is the first book featuring the sleuthing powers of Constable Samuel Plank. Here he is tasked with discovering why a wealthy, reputable banker would risk the gallows by forging customer’s signatures and stealing hundreds of thousands of pounds. Can Plank uncover the truth behind the actions and in doing so save a man’s life … or is there something even more sinister behind the trail of events?

The book was a real page turner. Not high in gore or drama as many modern day crime fiction tends to be, but still full of suspense and tension throughout. I liked the way the author wove in the details of the period, using her research cleverly to settle the reader into the story. And I also thought the pace and plotting were spot on – the twist at the end was very well thought out.
Characters were also very solid, believable enough to step from the page, and suited to the language and style of the writing. Constable Plank is a real asset, this author is a real find, and I look forward to reading more books in the series.

You’ll enjoy this if you like : Dorothy L Sayers, PD James, John Marrs.

Avoid if you don’t like : Regency period and police drama.

Ideal accompaniments: Pigs trotters with a pint of ale.

Genre : Crime.

Available on Amazon

A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

A Necessary Evil is a follow up to Abir Mukherjee’s debut novel, the historic crime thriller, A Rising Man, which was shortlisted for the Jhalak Prize.

A Rising Man was set in Calcutta in 1919, at a time when the Quit India movement was beginning to gain ground and the British were cracking down – often with extreme violence – on any hint of rebellion. The book established Mukherjee’s main characters – Captain Sam Wyndham, recently widowed and a WWI veteran, a new recruit to the Calcutta police, and his Harrow-educated, Bengali Detective Sergeant, Surendrenath (Surrender-not) Banerjee,.

A Necessary Evil takes a slight side step from the politics of British India into one of the fabulously wealthy, pseudo-independent princely states, Sambalpore. Mukherjee states that the book was inspired by the Begums of Bhopal, a dynasty of Muslim queens who ruled from 1819 to 1926. Indeed, the book gives a fascinating glimpse into the power wielded by the royal wives and concubines from the seclusion of the zenana.

Mukherjee paints a wonderfully detailed picture of a time in Indian history that is often overlooked. Every page sings with local and period detail. Sam, the outsider, is our eyes and ears in this setting, noticing what others take for granted while learning to recognise his own blind spots, while Surrender-not is both Sam’s guide and ours. But that detail is never allowed to get in the way of the intrigue and action that drive the fast-moving plot – one that this time includes assassination, diamond mines, palace intrigue and a tiger hunt!

Mukherjee has plans to extend this series over several years, tracking the decline of  the British Raj and the rise of independent India. I, for one, can’t wait to follow Sam and Surrender-not on their journey. I highly recommend you come along for the ride.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved:
A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee, The Crimson Petal and The White by Michel Faber, Finding Takri by Palo Stickland

Avoid If You Dislike: Descriptions of Big Game hunting or opium addiction.

Perfect Accompaniment: Omelette with plenty of fresh chillies, and chai.

Genre: Crime, Historical Fiction

Available on Amazon

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Yesterday by Felicia Yap

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

In the crowded field of Crime Thrillers, it is not easy to find a truly original concept, but Felicia Yap might have done just that.

I first came across Yap last year, when the opening chapter of Yesterday was one of two pieces chosen for the National Academy of Writing’s Public Edit. I loved the idea behind the book and told her so. Just a few weeks later, I wasn’t a bit surprised to learn that it had been the subject of a bidding war at the 2016 London Book Fair.

I am thrilled, therefore, to have the chance to read an Advance Review Copy of Yesterday.

In Yap’s world – in other respects indistinguishable from ours – people have total vivid recall of everything that happened to them in either the previous 24 hours (Monos) or 48 hours (Duos). Beyond that, they remember only the facts they record at the end of each day in their iDiaries.

Into this mix comes a woman whose memories work like ours. Sophia remembers the hurt that was done to her twenty years earlier, and she is bent on revenge. So why is she the one who ends up dead? And how can detective Hans Richardson solve her murder when he has less than twenty-four hours before his memories are wiped?

The story unfolds from four points of view: the detective, a husband and wife whose lives are somehow entangled with Sophia’s, and Sophia herself, speaking from the pages of her iDiary. The text is also peppered with newspaper articles and other extracts that serve to flesh out this world for us.

It’s good to see publishers embrace a book that dares to cross the boundary between Crime Thriller and SciFi. Yap has worked through the ramifications of her world – from the practical aspects of life through the social mores and hierarchies that develop, to the impact on love itself. The reader can relax and go along for the ride, knowing they are in confident hands.

Like Matt Haig’s The Humans, this debut is a fun read that manages to sneak in some penetrating questions - in this case, about how memory affects both our relationships and our sense of self. In the end, the least human character among them is the one most like ourselves.

This is the first of a trilogy and I look forward to seeing where Yap takes this next.

Watch Yap discuss her writing secrets with fellow authors at the Triskele Lit Fest, Sept 2016.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: The Humans by Matt Haig, The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas, The Lives and Loves of a She Devil by Fay Wheldon

Avoid if You Dislike:
Crossing genres

Perfect Accompaniment: Bacon sandwich and a coffee

Genre: Crime, Sci Fi

Available on Amazon

False Rumours by Danae Penn

Review by JJ Marsh

What we thought:

For lovers of history, this book will steep you in the society, politics, culture and environment of the fifteenth century of France and Britain. 

Belina Lansac works in the cathedral at Condom, a well-known stop for the pilgrims on the route to Santiago in Northern Spain. When her detective husband is summoned away, he leaves her with a task. Find out who poisoned the pilgrim. 

Belina is left to her own wits as she attempts to piece together any information about this atypical 'pilgrim' with precious coins sown into his cloak and suspiciously smooth skin. Her attempts are aided by a foreigner, Philippe Barvaux, a charming and well connected Fleming, whose interest in Belina and her activities are intense.

As her investigations progress, she begins to appreciate how complex the web of connections and political intrigue are and how the trail of influence goes all the way to the top. Powerful men and women are scheming to gain the throne of England and if that means murdering two young princes, so be it. Belina holds their fate in her hands.

A rich, dense story of cunning machinations, set in a fully realised historical setting, brought to vivid life through the eyes of Belina. Every element from weather to architecture feels authentic and vivid, as if you are stepping back in time. Hence the tension of the plot becomes as real as any detective story. One to absorb slowly and enjoy the attention to detail, before emerging stunned and blinking back into reality.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: The Auberge des Anges series by Liza Perrat, David Penny's Thomas Berrington historical mysteries or the intrigue and plot of Ann Swinfen.

Avoid if you don’t like: History and period detail, gradual plot development.

Ideal accompaniments: Honeycakes, a carafe of Bordeaux and a few Franco-Flemish Renaissance tunes

Genre: Historical fiction, historical crime

Available on Amazon