Latest Reviews

karen byrom book reviewer headshot

Karen Byrom

I love to write and I love to read, so writing book reviews is the best job in the world for me!


What got me into journalism? After studying Latin and history at St Andrews university, I returned to my home town of Dundee, where DCT Media has been a proud presence for over 100 years.


I worked there in magazine journalism for over 30 years, honing my skills at My Weekly and The People’s Friend. I’ve now retired from the 9-5, but still write book reviews for My Weekly and for NFOP’s in-house magazine, along with all the reviews you’ll find here.


My tastes are eclectic – I love all genres from romance to detective, fantasy to thriller noir, young adult to literary fiction. Hilary Mantel, Neil Gaiman, Lisa Gardner, Milly Johnson – I’ve too many favourite authors to mention … just check out my reviews to discover more!

Bookish Blog

It's the time of years for festive reading with so many seasonal stories to choose from! Check out my recommendations for four of the best, from Anne Booth, Sue Moorcroft, Emma Heatherington and Sarah Morgan, and do keep checking my blog as I add to it over November and December.

Day 1 of Advent calendar challenge from @socially_distanced_bookclub - I’ve been looking forward to reading #thecupideffect by @dorothykoomson_author for some time and it will be a treat to read it in December 🎄🎅🏼🎄📚#lovereading #lovebooks #adventcalendar #adventcalendarchallenge2023
Please join me on the #blogtour for #TheGirlsLeftBehind by @EmilyGunnis. In 1975, young policewoman Jo Hamilton is called to a domestic dispute. In trying to calm the situation, she inadvertently causes a devastating tragedy. As a result, two little girls are taken into care, into the same orphanage from which a 15-year-old girl had recently run away, only to turn up dead on the beach the next morning. Had she really killed herself?
Fast forward 40 years, and the skeletal remains of another young girl are found near the orphanage. The story then goes back and forward in time from 1975 to 1985 to 2015 as Jo sets out to discover who the girl is and what happened to her.
She's convinced it's linked to events involving the other dead young girl. But for some reason, her superiors are blocking her investigation.
Meanwhile, her mother lies dying in a nursing home, reflecting over her wartime experiences at Bletchley. How is her story connected to this one? All will be revealed ...
This was a sound murder mystery with sympathetic characters, and enough clues to help the reader along to the final denouement. Told from the viewpoint of Jo and Daisy, grown-up sister of one of the missing girls, it moved back and forward through forty years with ease.
The story-telling was good, the style reminiscent of Lesley Pearse books, with the characters reflecting the times they live in.
My heart went out to all the unloved girls in the story, and Jo’s care, compassion and determination to make what amends she could to them was the story’s real strength. @headlinebooks #bookstagram #bookrecommendations #murdermystery #domesticdrama #thrillingbooks #newbooks #lovereading #lovebooks #bookworms
Another 5-star read from @mitchalbom is out today. #TheLittleLiar opens in Greece in WWII, and explores the horrors Greek Jews had to endure at the hands of the Nazis, through the eyes of the Crispi family, and their friend Fanni.
They lose their freedoms, their homes and ultimately their lives in the death camps – but some survive to tell the tale.
Nico is “the little liar” of the title, groomed by Nazi officer Udo Graf to reassure departing Jews at the station that new homes and jobs await them. He doesn’t realise that he has been lied to until his own family are forced on to the trains and he is left behind to fend for himself.
Meanwhile on the train, his older brother Sebastian contrives to save their friend Fanni.
The story then follows each one as they find ways to survive the horrors of war.
This is such a strong, powerful story, told in Mitch Albom’s unique and perceptive way. His books always have a religious theme, exploring the way faith, or lack of it, can impact the lives of his characters.
That’s never more strong than here, where the Jewish people hold private prayers in the camp. How can they believe in a merciful God with all the suffering going on around them? Wisely, Mitch Albom does not try to address the question, but refers us to Truth, a personified central narrator in the story, who is very matter-of-fact, but knows where to lay the blame for all the suffering.
It’s a harrowing story of course, but also offers hope for the future, if only we heed the message that love is stronger than hate. #bookrecommendations #wwiifiction #holocaust #greekjews #forgivenessandhealing @littlebrownbookgroup_uk
It’s Christmas! Is my daughter @susanreilly85 about to swap her soulmate Kev @k3vreilly for @aldiuk ‘s tasty #kevinthecarrot ? #sharethelove #christmasvibes🎄 #truelove
#WinterLights by @deborah.jenkins.stillwondering is a collection of 10 short stories set in, but not confined to, the fictional village of Hanford introduce us to a cast of loosely interconnected characters. Each faces challenges, whether it's Amy's struggles with her rebellious teenage daughter Mia, Duncan's dilemma over his sister's Christmas present, or Sunil's exasperation at his father Ram's refusal to modernise their restaurant business.
Whether they know it or not, all are looking for enlightenment in their lives, and each person finds it through the kindness of others, random strangers who help them see the way forward in their lives.
There is a seasonal feel to each story, making this the ideal Christmas read.
Over all, the stories introduce themes of romance, friendship, kindness and caring, as well as tackling more difficult subjects like grief, depression and loneliness. I found myself laughing and crying over them - this author portrays raw human emotion with skill and deep empathy, bringing characters young and old to life on the page.
Though these are short stories, and each stands completely alone, with just the final two stories bringing the characters from each one together, to show resolution.
This book is a lovely reminder, at a time when it seems the world is falling apart, that 99.9 percent of humanity cares deeply about the rest, and is willing to extend a helping hand. @fairlightbooks #shortstories #seasonalstories #christmasreading #bookerecommendations #bookworms #heartwarmingreads 🎄
Welcome to my turn on the #blogtour for #BloodOnShakespearesTypewriter by #MarkEklid. You can’t pass up on a book with a title like this one. Young hero Dan is elated when he buys what he believes is Shakespeare’s typewriter from dodgy Fingerless Frankie. Girlfriend Shannon isn’t so sure but is convinced by the letter of authentication that accompanies it.
Inspired by owning what he thinks is a piece of the playwright, Dan decides to write his own masterpiece – but then Fingerless Frankie demands the typewriter back, and the hapless young couple are caught up in the machinations of a criminal gang who will stop at nothing to get their hands on the typewriter. The police can’t protect them, and so begins a cat and mouse game that involves robbery, car chases, beatings and murder.
But Dan and Shannon are not giving up their typewriter without a fight!
This was a great read. It hooked me in from the first page, with its unlikely premise of a typewriter belonging to Shakespeare, and quickly gripped me with its fast-moving and thrilling plot.
Though the writing is humorous, don’t mistake this story for cosy crime – it soon takes a dark turn, and the criminals are pretty nasty people who will stop at nothing to get what they want. Well, why do we think Frankie is called “Fingerless”?
Mark Eklid also brings emotion and pathos to the story – in the solid love Dan and Shannon have for each other; the loyal friendship of their friend Hermie; and the courage and tenacity of their would-be saviour Em, who wants the typewriter as badly as anyone, for her own reasons.
For sheer entertainment, I’d recommend this read to murder-mystery and non-murder-mystery fans alike. It’s clever, it’s funny, it’s gripping. It delivers on all counts. @spellboundbks #cosycrime #thrillerbooks #shakespeare #murdermystery #bookrecommendations #bookstagram #bookworms #lovereading #lovebooks
It’s taken over 60 years and two trips to Norway, but I finally saw the northern lights from my own back garden in Dundee! #bucketlistchecked✔ #northernlights #northernlightsphotos #naturesbeauty #backgardenbeauty #nightsky
I love a bit of historical fiction especially when it’s based on true-life character. I also love learning about all things medical, so #MrHammondandthePoeticApprentice by @MellanyAmbrose ticked all the boxes for me.
It tells the story of 19th century poet #JohnKeats, a trained surgeon, through the eyes of his apprentice-master Thomas Hammond, a surgeon-apothecary working as what we would now call a country GP. He recognises young John’s potential as a surgeon, but just does not understand his fondness for poetry. How can words heal and comfort people?
In a beautifully-told and evocative narrative, the story explores the relationship between the two men, John’s growth to manhood and Mr Hammond’s existential angst at his own perceived inability to alleviate the suffering of all his patients.
The author, a doctor herself, gives us a fascinating tour the practice of medicine in the early nineteenth century. They knew so little and yet they knew so much, and were learning every day. You can really see the birth of modern medicine in the accounts of the various treatments of Hammond and Keats’ patients, who suffer everything from consumption to dropsy to asthma and broken bones, most of which is treated by home-spun remedies, blood-letting or unanaesthetised surgery.
It seems there is “no space for beauty in an apothecary’s world” yet the pages are lightened by the beauty of nature and the everyday life of a rural community who accept suffering with patience, and trust implicitly in Mr Hammond, even though he often doubts himself. A warning – if you’re at all prone to depression, Mr Hammond’s self-reflection may trigger your own existential angst, but bear with him and be inspired by him. Brave, kind, clever, compassionate, and loving, the man forges on in the face of his own mental and physical challenges, never forgetting his duties to others.
While it was great to learn about Keats through this fictional telling, Mr Hammond was the man who found his way into my heart. @randomthingstours @troubador_publishing #historicalfiction #bookrecommendations #bookbloggersofinstagram #booklovers #lovereading #lovebooks
So far this festive season I’ve been to Canada with Jo Thomas and Norfolk with Sue Moorcroft.
Where would @LucyColemanAuthor take me, I wonder, as I delved into the covers of #Christmasatthesnowcoveredinn
It starts with a plane journey, so we are definitely going abroad, in the company of businessman Hayden Reynolds and interior designer Ria Porter, whom he has hired to refresh and update the family’s ailing hospitality business in – New Hampshire!
Yes, we’re crossing the Atlantic to the USA, and guaranteed a white Christmas, at the very least.
Hayden and Ria have never met but get along well from the first. However, when they get to The Inn on the River, it becomes clear all is not well with Hayden’s parents’ relationship. Mason wants to keep the inn as old-fashioned as his father and grandfather before him did. Eve recognises it needs a refresh if they are to make it successful once more.
As Hayden and Ria set to work, their own relationship develops. But is it wise to mix business with pleasure?
This story had all the ingredients needed for a cracking Christmas read. Thwarted romance and family conflict simmering beneath a blanket of all things festive keeps the reader engrossed, even as they’re enjoying Christmas fairs, seasonal retreats to romantic snow-covered cabins, the decoration of halls that have seen better days – it is all there.
I felt Hayden and Ria’s story took some time to get going – there was so much emphasis on Mason and Eve’s challenges, that their son and his potential love interest fell into the background. I’d have liked to see a little more sexual tension between them in the first part of the story.
But once it does explode, it does it with panache – right down to shooting stars in the starry sky above the frozen winter wonderland, and it is worth waiting for @emblabooks #christmasromance #newhampshirechristmas #bookrecommendations #lovebooks #lovechristmas #bookstagram #booklovers #bookworms #snowandsparkle
Gorgeous advance reading copy of #theweddingoftheyear by @jillmansell - thank you @headlinebooks 👰‍♂️👨‍⚖️💕💒🥂 #romanticfiction #lovereading #lovebooks #readingrecommendations #weddedbliss #romance
I read #TheLostGirls by @kate_hamer_writer as an audiobook, and it's another five star listen for me! 21-year-old Carmel was kidnapped at eight years old and taken to the US by an itinerant preacher to perform healing miracles on his congregations. At 13, she was found and returned to her mother, Beth – but what has happened to Mercy, the preacher’s first “protegee”?
A midwestern child of drug addicted parents, she, too, was exploited by the preacher. Carmel knows of her existence, and is determined to find out what happened to her. But to do so, she has to contact the preacher once more – something Beth is profoundly unhappy about.
This was a wonderful read, told from Mercy, Carmel and Beth’s point of view. Mercy is a joy of a little girl; Carmel a troubled and vulnerable adult. But it is Beth I empaphise with most. Imagine losing our little daughter for five years, then losing her all over again as she struggles against the trauma of her abduction and recovery.
The plot twists and turns, never failing to keep the reader enthralled, but it is the characters that really drive this story.
Atmospheric, chilling and as mesmerising as the preacher’s hooded eyes. This story is a follow-up to #thegirlintheredcoat but you can read and enjoy it stand-lone, as I did #mystery #clipperaudiobooks #bookrecommendations #booklovers #lovereading #lovelistening #lovebooks
I’m so happy to be kicking off my Christmas reviews with #CountdownToChristmas, the new @JoThomasAuthor seasonal sizzler. She always gets plot and characters spot on, and her settings are sublime. 
This time she takes us to snowy Quebec, where Chloe Jones has travelled to discover more about her unexpected inheritance of a parcel of land from a distant family member. She’s hoping it will provide enough money to set up her and 12-year-old son Ruben in comfort, and crossing her fingers that the distraction of travelling will ease the pain of missing Ruben, who is spending the whole of December in New York with his father.
Arriving in Quebec, Chloe finds herself in a small community of Foret d’Esprit. She has to contend with snow, ice, a protective moose mother, a cheeky turkey and her growing attraction to local store owner Theo. As she counts down to Christmas with the help of a home-made calendar from Ruben, Chloe becomes part of the community. But can she help save the maple syrup production co-operative that binds them together before the big boys move in?
This was a joy of a Christmas story. I loved the setting and the descriptions are picture-perfect, from log cabins, to snow-capped trees to young ice-hockey players on the frozen lake, the settings all spring to life before the reader’s eye.
The characters are all very empathetic. Ruben is a true hunky lumberjack type, strong, manly, capable, but with a sensitive side and a true caring nature. The community of Foret d’Esprit are a mixed bunch, adding interest and humour to the story.
And Chloe is everything a heroine should be. Warm, caring, passionate about her family, but with a vulnerability only she can overcome by gathering her courage, stepping out of her comfort zone, and maybe, just maybe, learning to love again.
And of course, there are Christmas tree, fairs, carols and concerts. And it wouldn’t be a Jo Thomas book without lashings of lovely food – all with a maple syrup flavouring that adds to the sweetness of this comfortable Christmas read @penguinukbooks @randomthingstours #blogtour #bookrecommendations #festivefiction #christmasromance #christmasreading #snowycanada #lovechristmas
Thanks to @netgalley, I got in early with #LifeAndOtterMiracles, the latest book from @hazelpriorbooks, of #AwayWithThePenguins fame. Phoebe, a teenager racked with chronic pain, finds a new interest in life when she and father Al rescue infant otter Coco and discover a local otter sanctuary. Phoebe saved Coco - now can she save the otter sanctuary from sabotage? And can Coco save her from a life of pain? This was a delightful and charming read, funny, wise and throught-provoking, too. Phoebe is a very real flesh and blood girl, and her father Al is a delightful man. The other characters in the story are by turn warm and whimsical - people like sanctuary owner Carol, artist Christina and local nob Rupert al have their part to play in the story, along with the quirky customers on Al's parcel delivery round. There's so much going on in this story that every page is a delight. It's a worthy successor to Hazel Prior's penguin books, with the otters every bit as charming and central to the plot. A five-star read. #bookrecommendations #bookstagram #bookblogger #lovebooks #wildlifeinbooks #otterlove @penguinrandomhouse #penguinlove
Looking for a good audiobook? #TheNewcomer by @lauraelizabethwoollett narrated by Natasha Beaumont (#WavesoundAudiobook) is a five star listen! Paulina Novak has gone missing on the Pacific Island she has made her home in order to start a new life – and her mother Judy’s worst fears are confirmed when she turns up dead. Has Paulina, a complex and troubled young woman, killed herself, or has she been murdered? It soon becomes clear it is the latter, and so begins Judy’s quest to discover the truth about her daughter’s fate.
This is not your usual crime thriller – it’s more an exploration of the mother/daughter relationship, and how it can be bent but never broken. The story is told both from Paulina and Judy’s point of view, in the present and in flashbacks to when Paulina moved to the island.
She is a terrific character – loud, feisty, wild and outspoken, and she is brilliantly brought to life by narrator Natasha Beaumont, who gives her voice a touching vulnerability the reader might otherwise miss. Her story is a tragedy waiting to happen, but it is so enthralling, as she settles on the island, making friends and enemies, exploiting men, but being far more exploited by them in all ways.
Judy is a very sympathetic character, and I enjoyed watching her grow in confidence and strength through her deep, abiding grief.
And the setting is wonderful – a fictional Pacific island peopled with characters who can be welcoming, strange, or sinister – and sometimes all three at once.
This was laugh-out-loud funny in some parts, heartbreaking in others. Author Laura Elizabeth Woollett has a rare and precious skill in bringing threads and themes together with powerful storytelling #audiobooks #mystery #drama #bookrecommendations #loveaudiobooks #lovereading #lovebooks
What can I say? I’m a convert to #AndyWeir books, having read #TheMartian just a couple of months ago.
Like that story, this one is set in space. Ryland Grace awakes from a deep sleep to find himself alone in a spacecraft, light years away from earth – and no memory of how he got there! Gradually, he remembers his mission is to save his home planet – but how can he do that all alone? Is there anyone out there who can help him? And will he ever get back home?
Ryland Grace is a great character – though pretty indistinguishable from our Martian friend! Both have the same dry humour, the same intelligence, ingenuity and wit to get themselves out of tight black holes. But there is an extra dimension to #ProjectHailMary in the shape of an unlikely rescuer. No spoilers now – but if you’re a fan of fun and witty sci-fi, you won’t do better than read this book.
I’m now on to #Artemis, another Andy Weir book, and enjoying my time on the moon! #scifibooks #scififans #scifiworld #bookrecommendations #spacetravel #aliens #lovereading #lovebooks
Meet 45-year-old homeless Jess. She may have made some poor choices in the past, but she does not deserve the fate that has befallen her. The strength that encouraged her leave her old life behind stands her in good stead as she rebuilds her new one – though she breaks the law initially to do it, squatting in an empty house so that she can give prospective employers an address.
When the home-owner shows up, Jess fears she’ll be back on the streets. But Gethin, a divorced man in his forties, is kind, and caring and takes her under his wing, allowing her to stay in the house, first as a guest, then as a lodger.
Gradually Gethin and Jess become friends, but their relationship seems doomed to stall unless Jess can resolve her trust issues. She must learn to love herself before she can love others, and that is not going to be easy.
This story relies on deep strong emotions, exploring the relationship between Jess and Gethin in great intensity. While Jess has secrets, there are no huge plot twists and no sudden reveals, but the story is a gentle and thoughtful reminder that friendship, kindness and caring will always make life better.
A warm, wise and thoughtful read that allows the reader to examine their own attitudes to the difficult issues of the day while enjoying the story of a woman whose inner resilience may be bowed but is never fully broken. #bookrecommendations #blogtour #womenscontemporaryfiction #popularfiction @bookminxsjv @simonandschuster #thebeginningofeverything #jackiefraser #loveandloss #friendship #romance #lovereading #booklovers #bookloversofinstagram
Enormous thanks to Anne Cater of @randomthingstours for the opportunity to be part of this #blogtour, or I would never have heard of #Geraniums by @MarleneHauser_
I can’t believe such a powerful and moving story has stayed under the radar for over a year. It should be at the top of the bestseller lists, for its subject, plot and its wonderful main character, Lily.
Set in the sixties, the story opens a few decades earlier with a description of Lily’s grandmother, Emma Preston, “M”, as a girl who grows into a malevolent woman, twisted in body and mind by a childhood bout with polio. When her only son Jack marries sweet Lauren Rose, M disapproves, and sets out to destroy her daughter-in-law and family, in particular Lily.
Lily endures all the petty cruelties of her father and grandmother. But M’s campaign grows ever more vicious. Lily will need all her courage, resilience and wit if she is to survive her dysfunctional family.
This was a beautifully told story, sharp and incisive in its portrayal of a very young girl, clever, outgoing and loving, growing up with adults determined to thwart her natural talents. Lily is a character you’ll love from the minute you meet her, a little girl forced to grow up too soon, trying to protect not just her younger brother, but her older sister and mother.
The other characters are enthralling, too. M and Jack are so skilfully drawn that we can see that they are products of their upbringing, their ugliness stemming from tragedies that have befallen them. 
But it’s Lily who shines out in this story. Will she bloom, like her mother’s beloved geraniums, or wilt away from lack of being cherished?
I enjoyed this book as a story, but I also took away from it a very powerful message. It opens with M, who meets the challenges she faces by turning sour, bitter and mean. It closes with Lily who faces up to her challenges with a sweet, feisty and loving nature. Sending out cries for help that no-one hears, she learns to help herself. She is an inspiration. #bookworm #bookrecommendations #comingofagebooks #familydrama #brilliantbooks #booklovers #lovereading @the.bookguild
I’ve got that festive feeling! 🎄🎄🎄@simonandschuster @bookminxsjv @heidi_swain #lovereading #lovechristmas #christmasreads #christmasromance
Welcome to my stop on the blogtour for #TheHiddenYears by @rachel.hore an author whose books I have always enjoyed. She’s wonderful at creating a sense of time and place in dual time-line stories that involve family mysteries.
The Hidden Years opens in 1966 as young student Belle abandons her studies to run off with new boyfriend Gray to Cornwall, to join a commune of free-spirited artists and musicians in a grand old house called Silverwood. It is to be their Shangri-la, but it evokes strange longings in Belle, who recognises the name from an old photograph she once found in her parents’ attic. 
The narrative switches to 1939, as Imogen accompanies two little boys to their prep school, which has relocated to Cornwall for the war. She stays to cover for matron, who is ill, and her story is told in tandem with Belle’s. As the threads of the story draw together, it becomes clear that something links the two young women together. Will discovering the truth about Imogen help Belle go forward in her own life?
This was an atmospheric and immersive read. Both Imogen and Belle’s stories could have stood alone, as each is such a strong and interesting character, living her life in a way she’d never expected – Imogen plunged into wartime experiences, Belle uprooting herself from a nice normal middle-class upbringing to share her life with strangers.
Mystery and romance form the backbone of this story, but it is the characters of the two women that really draw you in. Both are strong, empathetic, often conflicted but never mentally frail, and it would be hard to choose a favourite between them.
There is plenty of action and drama in both timelines, and the narrative is very well paced. The resolution of the mystery is predictable, but that doesn’t matter because it is the telling of Imogen and Belle’s stories that make this book such a wonderful read. @simonschusteruk @bookminxsjv @netgalley #bookrecommendations #dualtimeline #popularfiction #bookstagram #lovebooks #lovereading #cornwallcoast #wwiifiction
Welcome to my review of #
TheRagingStorm by #AnnCleeves. #matthewvenn , her brooding Devon detective is now on his third outing. A man scarred by an overly-religious upbringing, he’s sombre and serious and can’t quite believe he deserves his happy marriage to outgoing, charming Jonathan. But he has no doubts about his qualifications as a detective, and nor does the reader as he uses his investigative skills, life experience and empathy to solve what proves to be a very tricky case. 
From the very outset we’re promised a dark and dramatic story, presaged by the storm that see the lifeboat crew of Greystone village called out to a dinghy in difficulty. On board they find the body of Jem Roscoe, sailor, adventurer and local legend, who has recently returned to the area on mysterious business. Called to the murder scene, Venn and his team, Jen Rafferty and Ross May, find themselves stormbound in the village, and start to investigate the ties the locals might have with Roscoe. 
As always, this is an elegantly written, superbly plotted story. There are plenty suspects and witnesses, each springing to life as a fully-formed character, no matter how small or large a part they have to play in the story. There’s an extra dimension to the story in the brooding atmosphere of Greystone, with its strong ties to the Barum Brethren, which matches the broodiness of Matthew Venn, who escaped the sect physically but struggles to shake off its, for him, malign influence. As he reflects on his younger years, his character grows ever more understandable. He really is coming into his own now – as a reader I feel I’m getting to know him better in every book. 
Another great read from #AnnCleeves @panmacmillan @randomthingstours #bookrecommendations #detectiveseries #murderymystery #lovereading #lovebooks #devon