Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Drawing Lessons by Patricia Sands

Reviewer: Liza Perrat, author of The Bone Angel trilogy (Spirit of Lost Angels, Wolfsangel, Blood Rose Angel) and new release, The Silent Kookaburra.

What we thought: When Arianna’s beloved husband, Ben develops dementia, she decides to leave Canada and take part in an art retreat in France, in an effort to quell her grief and to rekindle her interest and talent for art.

She joins a very eclectic group of artists from all over the world, each of them aiming to improve their craft. And, like Arianna, each of them with their own reasons for travelling to this stunning region, south of Arles. Together, they support and encourage each other, form friendships, coax out hard-to-share stories.

Besides the opportunity to meet some memorable, strong and very human characters, I loved the way the author wove the story around the magnificent landscape, the fauna and flora, as well as the incredible historical, cultural and architectural aspects of this region; the same beautiful buildings and scenery that Van Gogh once painted. And, of course, the usual plethora of gourmet French food and wines.

Drawing Lessons is a story to lose oneself in; an emotional but wonderful escapade to the Camargue region in France as we accompany Arianna on her journey from grief to joy. Highly recommended for all Francophiles!


You’ll like this if you enjoy
: Women’s fiction, romance, love. Stories set in France. Patricia Sands’ Love in Provence series, which I reviewed here, and here and here.

Avoid if you don’t like
: stories set in France.

Ideal accompaniments: Taureau de Camargue sprinkled with Fleur de Sel, washed down with a chilled rosé de Provence.

Genre: Women’s fiction.

Available on Amazon


Elmet by Fiona Mozely

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett (http://barbarascottemmett.blogspot.co.uk/) author of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, The Man with the Horn, The Land Beyond Goodbye, and Don’t Look Down.

What We Thought: Daniel, who is 14, lives with his sister, Cathy, a year or so older, and his Daddy, on the edges of society. His mother, who was only ever an intermittent visitor, has not been seen for years.

Daddy builds a rough-hewn house on land he does not own, in an attempt to provide a settled life for his children. This venture is precarious at best and dangerous at worst. The landowner, Mr Price, soon comes knocking. He is willing to sign over the land, but at a cost. Daddy, a giant of a man, takes part in illegal fights and once worked for Price as a heavy and a debt-collector. He is unwilling to be 'owned' by Price again.

At first things seem relatively normal – within the parameters of their unusual lifestyle: Daddy manages the copse, chops wood, catches food, does odd jobs; Vivian, a neighbour who has known Daddy in the past, home-schools the children erratically from her own diverse and personal range of books. Cathy runs wild but Daniel is of a quieter disposition.

By turns prosaic and poetic, the narrative (told by Daniel) gradually reveals the secrets of the past. Rooted in the land, formerly known as Elmet, the novel depicts a life mud-splattered, hand-calloused and steeped in silence. A sense of unease soon turns to menace and the denouement is shocking.

A certain amount of poetic licence must be allowed as Daniel's narrative style seems too flowery and knowledgeable for a boy with little formal education. Also, at times Cathy seems almost superhuman. I didn't find these quirks a problem though, and accepted them readily within the context of the novel. The start did feel a little slow to me, however, and I almost gave up. I am glad I didn't, as I was soon drawn in to the strangeness of the story and couldn't wait to read on.

I received an ebook of this novel from NetGalley in return for an honest review.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Holes, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, The Catcher in the Rye.

Avoid if you dislike: Oddly literate narrators and somewhat unbelievable events.

Ideal accompaniments: Homegrown vegetable soup, a pint of cider and a roll-up..

Genre: Literary Fiction.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Little Bones by Sam Blake

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

What we thought: The storyline opens with the gruesome find of tiny bones in the hem of a wedding dress during a routine break-in investigation. Soon, the Dublin Garda are involved in a complex crime stretching back a whole generation.

The book is the first in its series, introducing us to Detective Cathy Connolly and her boss Inspector O'Rourke who between them are tasked with unravelling this gruesome case.

Add to the mix a mysterious killer on the run from Las Vegas, and a confused elderly woman who ends up in care in London, and you have the ingredients for an excellent thriller as the pieces of each plotline come together. The different elements of the story are well plotted and cleverly written and I found the ending totally gripping. 

Characters are extremely strong and come alive on the page. The relationship between Connolly and O'Rourke is a gripping, so much history to unravel that the reader is unaware of that it leaves a lot of scope for the author to develop as the series grows.

Really excited to read the first in the series from a new author and I am really looking forward to getting to know the characters more in the future. A definite must read for crime fiction enthusiasts.

You’ll enjoy this if you like : Ann Cleeves, Sheila Bugler, Peter James.

Avoid if you don’t like : Detective fiction and Irish accents.

Ideal accompaniments: Beef and ale pie washed down with a pint of Guinness.

Genre : Crime.

Available on Amazon

The Mirror World of Melody Black by Gavin Extence

Review by JJ Marsh

What we thought:

Hard to categorise as the initial lightness of tone gives way to much darker layers.

Abby pops round to a neighbour's flat to borrow a tin of tomatoes, but he's dead. This episode and her pragmatic reaction - she smokes two cigarettes, calls the police and takes the tomatoes anyway - soon leads the reader to realise Abby has problems relating to the world.

Gradually, reflected reactions from her therapist and boyfriend, plus a hypermania shopping episode which ends badly force us to accept the inevitable. Abby needs help even if all she wants is the emergency exit.

While in a secure psychiatric ward, she meets Melody Black, a curious and engaging individual whose approach to mental illness gives rise to the title. She and Abby and the other patients have fallen into the ‘Mirror World’, while other versions of themselves are living the life they should.

The writing is perfectly balanced, indicating the protagonist’s state of mind with great subtlety, and the letters from her boyfriend I found deeply moving.

Gavin Extence is a new author to me but it appears I’m late to the party. The Universe versus Alex Woods has a huge fanbase, so I shall seek out more. This book was fascinating, enveloping and a genuine insight into managing bipolar disorder.


You’ll enjoy this if you liked: Running in Heels by Anna Maxted, The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Flier or The Universe versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence.

Avoid if you don’t like: Unreliable, suicidal narrators, mental health problems

Ideal accompaniments: Penne Arrabiata, a glass of Valpolicella and Spem in Alium by Thomas Tallis



Available on Amazon




Wednesday, 4 October 2017

How Not to Be a Boy by Robert Webb

Review by JJ Marsh

What we thought:

Perhaps because so much of Webb’s upbringing reflected my own references, obsessions and interests – but as a girl – I found this wholly absorbing.

His angle is why masculinity is all messed up and he uses himself as an example. It’s hard to disagree. He does not shirk from all the teenage toss and mature arseholery, giving his younger self both a cringe and a pass.

Going from early childhood to maturity, we experience the world in present tense through the eyes of young Robert. He progresses from princeling, to adolescent, to adult with sharp self-assessment framed by the background he grew up against.

What does it mean to be a man? Who are your role models? What if you fancy boys as well as girls? What if you’re afraid of your father figure?

This makes the book sound soul-searching and miserable when it is precisely the former and not at all the latter. I laughed aloud so many times and noted great lines, while occasionally dabbing my eyes at the more poignant moments.

This is a grown-up analysis of why we should all be feminists under a personally searching light.

It’s an excellent, thought-provoking read from a very funny writer, who punctures his own ego and addresses how he rejects traditional masculine roles while frequently fulfilling them.

Highly recommended.



You’ll enjoy this if you liked: Believe Me by Eddie Izzard, How to be a Girl by Caitlin Moran

Avoid if you don’t like: Memoir, analysis of gender conditioning, good jokes

Ideal accompaniments
: A pint of Carlsberg, a fish finger sandwich and the theme to Star Wars.



Available on Amazon




Dark Places by Gillian Flynn


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

What we thought: If I’m honest this book came as a real surprise to me (a pleasant one I hasten to add) as although I enjoyed the author’s previous novel, Gone Girl, I hadn’t raved about it as many readers had. In Dark Places though, I felt the author really drove herself hard to delve into the darker side of humanity and deliver the results to the reader in both a unique and shocking conclusion.

The main protagonist is not a character designed to be likeable but then she saw her whole family slaughtered in front of her eyes when she was only seven years old … or did she?

And there lies the crux of this novel. When is an unreliable narrator not an unreliable narrator? 

Libby Day believes her brother murdered her mother and sisters, and is so sure of the fact she not only gave the evidence at the trial that saw him convicted, but has spent the past decades living off the spoils of his horror. But when challenged by a group of her brother’s supporters on what she really remembers about the series of events on that fateful night, her beliefs begin to slowly unwind like an out of control ball of wool spinning out of her grasp. 

Split narratives take us back and forth in time – from the build up to the night of the massacre to the current day – at quite a rate, so you have to concentrate on this novel to appreciate the full effect. But I admire the author for the skill she displays here. She holds the reader captive by orchestrating her words as if she were stood in front of a world class orchestra conducting each note.

And the truth about the real killer? That was the real sucker punch.


You’ll enjoy this if you like : Karin Slaughter, B.A Paris, Paula Hawkins.

Avoid if you don’t like : Dark secrets and false memories.

Ideal accompaniments: Nachos with guacamole dip and a bottle of ice cold cider.

Genre : Thriller.

Available on Amazon


Read Triskele's Book Club Discussion on Dark Places here