August Reads 2021
This month's books are by local authors that I met at the Taunton Live and Pride Festival Literary Area or by authors I know. They are all very different but united by their theme, which is that the main protagonists are fighting some form of oppression.
They are (in the order I read them);
The Third Magpie by M. S. Clements
The Coven by Lizzie Fry
Disbelieved by Beth Webb
The Other Twin by Lucy V. Hay
The Bellever Hagstone by D. A. Holwill
No Honour by Awais Khan
My book of the month is No Honour by Awais Khan.
The Third Magpie by M.S. Clements
Published March 2020 by PgUp Limited
Caring teacher and loving husband, Finn tolerates daily humiliation to be with Sophie, the woman he loves. Despite the injustice, they dream of a normal life, where liberty and identity are not subverted by ever tightening restrictions.
When a powerful politician requests that Finn tutor his daughter, it seems like a change of fortune. But as Finn's naive optimism is crushed by manipulative abuse, it is left to Sophie to save her husband. In New Albany, every opportunity comes at price.
‘What price would you pay to save the ones you love?’
For fans of speculative fiction, 'The Third Magpie' takes the reader into a terrifyingly plausible world where place of birth limits what you can do, who you can marry, and where propaganda masks extremism that may threaten your very existence.
This is dystopian fiction at its best. Believable and heart-breaking. New Albany feels like a world that could so easily exist, built on fear, cronyism, hypocrisy and mis-guided philosophy. A story of love, sacrifice and the struggle for power, take this as an allegorical warning.
I highly, highly recommend this and love that it’s lengthy and immersive. A gripping and thought-provoking read.
M S Clements featured in my last blog, so if you're interested in why this story was told have a look here.
The Coven by Lizzie Fry
Published Feb 2021 by Little, Brown Book Group
Let me repeat myself, so we can be very clear. Women are not the enemy. We must protect them from themselves, just as much as we must protect ourselves.
Imagine a world in which witchcraft is real. In which mothers hand down power to their daughters, power that is used harmlessly and peacefully.
Then imagine that the US President is a populist demagogue who decides that all witches must be imprisoned for their own safety, as well as the safety of those around them - creating a world in which to be female is one step away from being criminal...
As witches across the world are rounded up, one young woman discovers a power she did not know she had. It's a dangerous force and it puts her top of the list in a global witch hunt.
But she - and the women around her - won't give in easily. Not while all of women's power is under threat.
The Coven is a dazzling global thriller that pays homage to the power and potential of women everywhere.
This is structured like a film and you can literally see how it would work as a big blockbuster! It’s a great premise; female power subjugated by men, turning husband against wife and women against each other. This is the ultimate battle as the ‘chosen one’ arrives and everyone has to pick a side. There’s something for everyone, romance, old rivalry, political intrigue and big battles, plus for us locals lots of the action happens in Cornwall.
It’s a fast and fun read…just let me know what kind of witch you reckon you would be!
Disbelieved by Beth Webb
Published Sept 2018 by Golden Scale Media
'A gripping crime drama with a sci-fi edge… Full of twists and turns, a complex criminal master-plan, crossed wires, double meanings and a grand final show-down…' Waterstones
Anelise sees crimes before they happen, but no-one believes her. Joe solves crimes. But the police don’t believe him either. When Anelise sees a cyclist plunging into a quarry she rings 999, but when help arrives there’s no cyclist and no bike. The following week the accident happens for real. The cyclist survives, but did someone mean to kill him – and why? Forensics-mad Joe investigates, only to discover a deadly nest of drug dealers who’ll stop at nothing to shut the cousins up. Disbelieved is the riveting new YA action thriller from Beth Webb, author of the Star Dancer quartet. Packed with science, deceit, and too much sugar, Disbelieved will keep you guessing till the very last page.
This was well written and exciting with likeable characters who are clever, flawed but brave and loyal…ideal role models for YA readers. It’s a fun plot and not as far-fetched as you might initially think, as those of you who work with young people exploited by County lines gangs will know. I also loved the setting, it’s very Somerset although the place names are changed. If you have a teen looking for an adventure story that’s a bit grittier than most of the usual YA novels, they will love this.
The Other Twin by Lucy V. Hay
Published May 2017 Orenda Books
When Poppy's sister falls to her death from a railway bridge, she begins her own investigation, with devastating results ... A startlingly twisty debut thriller.
When India falls to her death from a bridge over a railway, her sister Poppy returns home to Brighton for the first time in years. Unconvinced by official explanations, Poppy begins her own investigation into India's death. But the deeper she digs, the closer she comes to uncovering deeply buried secrets. Could Matthew Temple, the boyfriend she abandoned, be involved? And what of his powerful and wealthy parents, and his twin sister, Ana? Enter the mysterious and ethereal Jenny: the girl Poppy discovers after hacking into India's laptop. What is exactly is she hiding, and what did India discover...? A twisty, dark and sexy debut thriller set in the winding lanes and underbelly of Brighton, centring around the social media world, where resentments and accusations are played out, identities made and remade, and there is no such thing as the truth.
This is the debut novel by Lucy, who also writes as Lizzie Fry (see above).
I really enjoyed this. Partly because of the way it’s structured, with inserts from a mysterious male POV, and with interjections from Poppy that give you dictionary definitions of words, and blog extracts. This makes the pace even faster and helps add to the tension and makes it feel like a jigsaw puzzle that needs piecing together, which is perfect for a thriller.
This novel like The Coven another exploration into power, and the unravelling of dark secrets to get to the core of the mystery (but no paranormal elements of course).
It makes you think about prejudice and how far we’ve come in the last 100 years…or have we?
The Bellever Hagstone by D A Holwill
Published independently July 2021
If only Lady Melissa Dewer could stay dead.
It’s Christmas time in Dourstone Nymet, a year since Polly nearly lost her daughter to the eldritch forces that govern the mysterious Dartmoor town.
Since then she has found herself having to lead the community’s traditional rituals.
But Dourstone does not like change, and Polly’s meddling leads to the return of an ancient evil, isolating the town from the outside world.
Once again Polly finds herself cut off from the only person she can trust. Her daughter.
To get her back she will have to work with the very people she once fought, to solve a series of clues leading to the only thing that can break the siege: the Bellever Hagstone.
The problem is, there’s only one person who can solve them.
Luckily, Lady Melissa Dewer doesn’t know how to stay dead.
Well written, incredibly funny and a little bit bonkers!
The characters are also witty, foulmouthed and sex obsessed which, when set against a gothic horror plot where ancient forces battle to control Dourstone Nymet, is a unique and firey combination. Plus, everyone keeps dying, and then they don’t, and then they finally do … or do they?
If you fancy something a little bit different, with local folklore, magick (with a k) and a cast of heavy drinking, chain smoking villagers then this is for you.
No Honour by Awais Khan
Published August 2021 by Orenda Books
In sixteen-year-old Abida's small Pakistani village, there are age-old rules to live by, and her family's honour to protect. And, yet, her spirit is defiant and she yearns to make a home with the man she loves. When the unthinkable happens, Abida faces the same fate as other young girls who have chosen unacceptable alliances - certain, public death. Fired by a fierce determination to resist everything she knows to be wrong about the society into which she was born, and aided by her devoted father, Jamil, who puts his own life on the line to help her, she escapes to Lahore and then disappears. Jamil goes to Lahore in search of Abida - a city where the prejudices that dominate their village take on a new and horrifying form - and father and daughter are caught in a world from which they may never escape. Moving from the depths of rural Pakistan, riddled with poverty and religious fervour, to the dangerous streets of over-populated Lahore, No Honour is a story of family, of the indomitable spirit of love in its many forms ... a story of courage and resilience, when all seems lost, and the inextinguishable fire that lights one young woman's battle for change.
This starts shockingly and the world of honour killings is introduced immediately so that the reader is left with no doubt what the story focusses on. This powerful opening has immediate impact on Awais Khan’s main protagonists and leads them on to make the decisions they do further in the book.
Both Abida and her father Jamil are highly relatable characters, with conflicting feelings and loyalties, love, duty and honour tearing them in different directions. Ultimately, love wins but it comes at a very high price.
The sense of place is strong, the sights, sounds and smells of Lahore are clearly described. You really do believe in Abida’s story and the tragic thing is, that for many it probably is very real. For a western reader it is inconceivable how such practices can happen every day in Pakistan. Books like No Honour are so important. Thank you Awais.
No Honour is my book of the month.