November Reads 2021

Another nice mix; a detective novel, a play, a collection of short stories, another WW2 thriller and then a couple of contemporary thrillers.


They are, in the order I read them:

The Red Monarch by Bella Ellis

Freak by Anna Jordan

Backstories by Simon Van Der Velde

The Light We Left Behind by Tessa Harris

Hostage to Freedom by Richard Sorapure

The Chalet by Catherine Cooper



The Red Monarch by Bella Ellis

Published 18 November by Hodder and Stoughton


Official Blurb

The Brontë sisters' first poetry collection has just been published, potentially marking an end to their careers as amateur detectors, when Anne receives a letter from her former pupil Lydia Robinson. Lydia has eloped with a young actor, Harry Roxby, and following her disinheritance, the couple been living in poverty in London. Harry has become embroiled with a criminal gang and is in terrible danger after allegedly losing something very valuable that he was meant to deliver to their leader. The desperate and heavily pregnant Lydia has a week to return what her husband supposedly stole, or he will be killed. She knows there are few people who she can turn to in this time of need, but the sisters agree to help Lydia, beginning a race against time to save Harry's life. In doing so, our intrepid sisters come face to face with a terrifying adversary whom even the toughest of the slum-dwellers are afraid of . . . The Red Monarch.


My Review

This was sent to me as an ARC by the publishers because I really enjoyed the previous one Diabolical Bones in Sept 2020. They are really exciting in the same way that Sherlock Holmes detective novels are, lots of shady characters, twists, turns and reckless bravado from our protagonists. I’m not sure why Bella Ellis chose fictional Brontë sisters as her main characters, it seems to me a bit of a hindrance, for there must be so many fans who will over scrutinise, but maybe that’s the challenge. To me it seems very well researched and yet again I was completely absorbed.


My Rating

5 stars




Freak by Anna Jordan

Published July 2014 Nick Herne Books


Official Blurb

'They think I am the most beautiful thing in the world. And I don't mind being a thing. I don't want their respect. I want only their animal desire'. Georgie is 30 with dirty secrets. She drinks in her bedroom and hides from the sun. Leah is 15 with teenage dreams. She practices her cum face and Veets. A lot. All-meat, all-sex, all-vulnerable, all-powerful. There's a first time for everything... Isn't there? A punchy and provocative new play by Bruntwood Prize winner Anna Jordan that receives its premiere at the 2014 Edinburgh Festival.


My Review

This is very neatly structured, and the two characters are perfect foils for one another. The setting is also very clever, just a bed that Georgie and Leah share although they occupy it at different times.

The language is graphic, raw and almost painful as are Georgie’s experiences, and I found it unsettling and very sad.

This is not as subtle or as powerful as the last play I read, Lela & Co, but it is none the less very worth tracking down.


My rating

4 stars




Backstories by Simon Van Der Velde

Published March 2021 Smoke and Mirrors Press


Official Blurb

Can you find the famous person hidden in every story? And once found, can you understand them? 'Ingenious idea, brilliantly executed' - Daily Mirror Backstories – ‘the stand-out most original book of the year’ - is a collection of stories each told from the point of view of one of my personal heroes, (or villains) back when they were just another Jew or black, or queer – back when they were nobody. Bullied, assaulted or psychologically abused, their road to redemption was never easy, and for some there would be no redemption, only a descent into evil. These are the stories of people you know. The settings are mostly 60’s and 70’s UK and USA, the driving themes are inclusion and social justice - but the real key to these stories is that I withhold the protagonists’ identities. This means that your job is to find them - leading to that Eureka moment when you realise who's mind you've been inhabiting for the last twenty minutes. I should also add that this is a book that operates on two levels. Yes, there’s the game of identifying the mystery activist or actor, singer or murderer, but there is then the more serious business of trying to understand them. This in turn leads to the challenge of overlaying what you now know about these famous people onto what you thought you knew – not to mention the inherent challenge to your moral compass. These are people you know, but not as you know them. Peel back the mask and see.


My Review

This has a broad cast of sinners and saints. You’ll recognise a rock star or two, activists, murderers and more. Some the stories are told first person and others in third. Those told in first person struck me as being perfect monologues, especially for teens looking for unique audition pieces.

I loved this and whipped through quite quickly mainly because I enjoyed Van Der Velde’s writing style. It’s also very short, only 90 pages, so you can finish it in a couple of nights. It’s powerful, different, and will give you a unique perspective on famous people you thought you knew. I highly recommend.


My Rating

5 stars






The Light We Left Behind by Tessa Harris

Published December 2021 by HQ Digital


Official Blurb

England: 1944

When psychologist Maddie Gresham is sent a mysterious message telling her to report to Trent Park mansion, she wonders how she will be helping the war effort from a stately home. She soon finds captured Nazi generals are being detained at the house. Bugged with listening devices in every room, it’s up to Maddie to gain the Nazis’ trust and coax them into giving up information. When Max Weitzler, a Jewish refugee, also arrives at Trent Park with the same mission, Maddie finds herself trapped in a dangerous game of chess.

The two met in Germany before the war, and Maddie’s heart was his from the moment they locked eyes. The hope that Max had escaped the Nazi threat was her guiding light in the darkness of war.

But Maddie has finally gained the trust of the Nazi officers at the house, and her love for Max must remain a secret. When the walls have ears, who can you trust?

Based on the true events that took place at Trent Park during WWII, this is an emotionally gripping, and heart-breaking novel about love, sacrifice, and betrayal, perfect for fans of The Rose Code and The Lost Girls of Paris.


My Review

This was fascinating. I know little of Mi19 and this is the first novel to help bring the work of many men and women listening in to the Germans housed at Trent Park to life. It was highly skilled and dangerous especially for the ‘stool pigeons’ and shows how personal safety was put on hold in order to try and gain advantage over the Nazis.

This is an exciting historical thriller, with romance woven in. The protagonists are young and passionate, and we follow their journeys from teenage activists to hardened spies. The personal sacrifice that many made throughout the war is highlighted and very worth reflecting on. I rather hope this is made into a film, it could be fantastic.

I was lucky to receive an ARC copy thanks to the publishers and wish Tessa Harris the best of luck with The Light We Left Behind.


My Rating

5 stars



Hostage to Freedom by Richard Sorapure

Published June 2021


Official Blurb

The Fletchers are an English family living in expatriate comfort in Singapore in 2002 when a recession threatens their lifestyle. Geophysicist Michael and his son, Alex, are drawn into a marine survey to locate the Siren, an East Indiaman, sunk in a tempest in the Sulu Sea in 1764. Onboard, a rich cargo of 250,000 cases of Ming Dynasty porcelain lies buried on the seabed. A single plate recovered by a diver sets in motion the frantic search by Michael's company, PanAsia Services, in a race against a rival team led by Tong, a ruthless Clan leader and collector of antique porcelain. Michael’s wife, Julie, is worried. The Sulu Sea is the hunting ground of local pirate gangs and the brutal Abu Sayyaf terrorist group led by Khadaffy Janjalani. The remote area where the shipwreck lies buried is close to terrorist jungle camps on Basilan Island. Can Michael’s team locate the precious cargo before they are attacked? Can we be sure Julie wants her husband back if he is held hostage? This novel is located in many colourful locations in SE Asia including Singapore, Zamboanga and Tawi-Tawi Island. The struggle for an independent Muslim Mindanao by Abu Sayyaf is one of continuing conflict. A fast-paced and well researched novel based on the Author's intimate knowledge of the region.


My Review

This is a proper adventure. A quest to find buried treasure, a race between two rival groups and the added threat of pirates. It could be set in any period but this is contemporary SE Asia.

As well as the trials on board we have the politics of the investors and the mixed feelings of Michael’s wife Julie who is left behind.

There are a lot of characters, but it’s worth paying attention (in my case re-reading sections because we all know how limited my attention span is) because the multi POV gives a really broad international feel to the story.

This couldn’t have been written so successfully without the author’s in-depth knowledge of both geophysics, the geography and the politics of the area. I highly recommend.


My Rating

5 stars



The Chalet by Catherine Cooper

Published Oct 2020 by Harper Collins


Official Blurb

French Alps, 1998

Two young men ski into a blizzard… but only one returns.

20 years later

Four people connected to the missing man find themselves in that same resort. Each has a secret. Two may have blood on their hands. One is a killer-in-waiting.

Someone knows what really happened that day.

And somebody will pay.

An exciting new debut for anyone who loves Ruth Ware, Lucy Foley, and C.L. Taylor


My Review

So, I have seen this on various twitter chats because the author is very active promoting her work, so when I saw this for 25p in a charity shop I bought it. (Apologies to the author for not buying a new copy but I hope my glowing review makes up for the lack of pennies).

I read The Fear by C.L Taylor (mentioned above) a while ago and came to the conclusion that thrillers were not for me, this however, has made me change my mind. I raced through it, the setting was fun, the characters believable, most of the time, and the whole thing just fantastic escapism. It’s well written, if there were any gimmicky overly short sentences to ramp up tension, I didn’t notice. And the murder weapon was plausible and something that’s been very much on my radar this autumn. (You’ll have to read it to see what I mean or PM me).


My Rating

4.5 stars


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