April Reads 2020

Shadows Over the Spanish Sun by Caroline Montague

Wicker Dogs By Dave Holwill

The Illustrated Child by Polly Crosby

Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver

Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Last one at the Party by Bethany Clift

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera


All these books are on my bookshop list and at the time of writing are all on offer.


Shadows Over the Spanish Sun by Caroline Montague

Published 27th May 2021 by Orion Publishing Co


Official Blurb


A country in the shadow of war. A love that burns through the decades...

Mia Ferris's heart has always belonged in Spain. Every childhood summer was spent at her grandfather's hacienda, riding together amongst the olive trees or listening to his stories of the past. So when she learns that he has fallen from his horse, she knows that she belongs by his bedside - even if it means leaving behind her life in London, and her new fiance.


But as Leonardo fights for his life, and Mia to save the family home from financial ruin, secrets begin to emerge that tell a different story of the past - a terrible history that begins with a boy running for his life over the Andalusian hills, and ends with a forbidden love that only war can destroy...


As Mia untangles the passions and betrayals of the past, everything she thought she knew is turned upside down. Can she heal the wounds of the past, and face the truth of her own heart?


A sweeping novel of passionate love, betrayal and redemption, set against the turmoil and tragedy of the Spanish Civil War.


My Review

I was seduced by the landscape, and enjoyed the physical setting in the Andalusian hills and the timeframe which looked back from the present to the onset of civil war Spain, a time I know very little about.

Disappointingly I still know very little about it for the story is essentially about relationships. So although the drama hinges on families and villagers being torn apart the politics is skimmed over.

This is partly because there is so much story to cover that I think the author simply didn't have room and also I think her genre is historical romance rather than historical fiction. This left me feeling a bit cheated somehow as it could have been epic.


My Rating

3 stars



Wicker Dogs by Dave Holwill

Published 21 Jan 2021 independently


Official Blurb

After more than two centuries, Lady Melissa Dewer’s current body is wearing out.


Luring Patrick, the last of the Dewer bloodline, and his long-term girlfriend Polly to her remote Dartmoor town proves easy. Tricking them out of a child neither of them want to have will not.


On moving to their new home, Patrick finds a dismembered foot in a stone circle and soon discovers that, in Dourstone Nymet, there is always a mysterious disappearance during their ancient Winter festival.


Once Polly falls unexpectedly pregnant, Lady Melissa takes her under her wing and, amid rumours of Patrick’s infidelity, persuades her not to get rid of the baby.


It looks like Lady Melissa will get her wish and, unless Polly wakes up to the manipulations of this remote town and its odd traditions, it could be Patrick that disappears, along with her unborn child.


My Review

I think the official blurb might have changed since I downloaded the book?

Anyway, this a great read. Dourstone Nymet seems the perfect town but ancient dark forces simmer beneath the surface. It's a fantastic unusual plot and very funny and witty. What works particularly well is how the past is balanced with the present. Lots of mystery and tension, you can hear the dogs howling and see the mist swirling on the Dartmoor hills.

Overall, I would recommend.


My Rating

4 stars



The Illustrated Child by Polly Crosby

Published 29th October 2020 by Harper Collins


Official Blurb

Romilly lives in a ramshackle house with her eccentric artist father and her cat, Monty. She knows little about her past - but she knows that she is loved.

When her father finds fame with a series of children's books starring her as the main character, everything changes: exotic foods appear on the table, her father appears on TV, and strangers appear at their door, convinced the books contain a treasure hunt leading to a glittering prize.

But as time passes, Romilly's father becomes increasingly suspicious of everything around him, until, before her eyes, he begins to disappear altogether.

In her increasingly isolated world, Romilly turns to the secrets her father has hidden in his illustrated books, realising that there is something far darker and more devastating locked within the pages...


My Review

I cannot explain how much I loved this. It filled me with nostalgia and a sense of deja vu. I had to keep reminding myself, that I do not know the author, but I felt very strongly that we must have grown up together. So much she described resonated with me.

As the story unfolds and things become darker, (again I must re-iterate this was not about me!) but it's so well written I really felt it was.

This is a novel I shall think about and talk about for a long time.

This is my book of the month.


My Rating

5 stars



Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver

First published 2004 by Hachette Children's group


Official Blurb

Thousands of years ago, the land is one dark forest. Its people are hunter-gatherers. They know every tree and herb and they know how to survive in a time of enchantment and powerful magic. Until an ambitious and malevolent force conjures a demon: a demon so evil that it can be contained only in the body of a ferocious bear that will slay everything it sees, a demon determined to destroy the world.

Only one boy can stop it - 12-year-old Torak, who has seen his father murdered by the bear. With his dying breath, Torak's father tells his son of his burden. He must lead the bear to the mountain of the World Spirit and beg that spirit's help to overcome it.

A terrifying quest in a world of wolves, tree spirits and Hidden People, a world in which trusting a friend means risking your life.


My Review

I first read this when it came out because my daughter Jemima loved the series. I read it this month as part of research because I have written a story also set in the Stone Age. I was glad to find very few parallels.

Consequently it was hard to read this, purely as a reader! I loved it though and will probably read the whole series now, especially as 'Skin Taker' is now out!


My Rating

5 stars



Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Published Sept 2011 by Ecco Press (Harper Collins)


Official Blurb

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles.

Despite their differences, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something deeper - despite the displeasure of Achilles's mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess.

But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfill his destiny.

Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.


My Rating

I loved every minute of this book.

It's not something I would have normally chosen, for I found it by googling LGBTQ books as part of research for Taunton Live's Pride event in July that I am helping organise the literary area for on behalf of the Jemima Layzell Trust. Although Madeline Miller won't be appearing, I like to be able to talk about and recommend books around the Pride theme.

The story is so cleverly told, and helps make sense of quite complicated Greek characters and their interweaving lives. Mostly it's about love, pure and beautiful.

This is the kind of writing I wish I were capable of, and I am looking forward to Circe despite reading mixed reviews.



My Rating

5 stars



Last one at the Party by Bethany Clift

Published Feb 4th by Hodder & Stoughton


Official Review

THE END OF EVERYTHING WAS HER BEGINNING

It's December 2023 and the world as we know it has ended.

The human race has been wiped out by a virus called 6DM ('Six Days Maximum' - the longest you've got before your body destroys itself).

But somehow, in London, one woman is still alive. A woman who has spent her whole life compromising what she wants, hiding how she feels and desperately trying to fit in. A woman who is entirely unprepared to face a future on her own.

Now, with only an abandoned golden retriever for company, she must travel through burning cities, avoiding rotting corpses and ravenous rats on a final journey to discover if she really is the last surviving person on earth.

And with no one else to live for, who will she become now that she's completely alone?


My Review

This is a great story and the writing style is the biggest strength, funny, poignant and witty. It's a huge achievement stylistically because there is almost no dialogue! To keep the pace, variations and cinematic quality is no mean task and it's done very well using flashbacks to add contrast to the bleak and tragic present.

The character is at times frustrating and irritating and there are some implausible Hitchcock style moments, but overall I really enjoyed it.


My Rating

4 stars



They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

First published 5 Sept 2017 by Harperteen


Official Blurb


A love story with a difference - an unforgettable tale of life, loss and making each day count.

On September 5th, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: they're going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they're both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: there's an app for that. It's called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure - to live a lifetime in a single day.

Another beautiful, heartbreaking and life-affirming book from the brilliant Adam Silvera.


My Review

I stayed up last night to finish this and then just held the book gazing at the cover for a while. It's profound and moving (not enough to bring me to tears but enough to resonate for a while).

This is the second book that I ordered by chance as research for the Taunton Pride event coming up and I'm so glad I did.

Told not just through the two protagonists POV but also a varied cast of minor characters it's a deftly woven tale giving us a broad perspective of life with Death-Cast. Each voice is unique, strong and clear... I would highly recommend.


My Rating

5 stars



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