29 Mar My Top Reads for March
In a break from routine, I’m sitting here on the Isle of Skye, looking out over the water at oyster catchers as they search out their breakfast. Only a view like this could pull me away from my reading!
I’ve covered a range of genres in March – and even changed my reading mode by borrowing an audio book from Libby. It turns out books are just as enjoyable when they’re listened to, and I’m going to write a separate blog about them. Watch this space!
Meanwhile, thanks to Netgalley, and various publishers, here are the books I’ve loved this month, but haven’t had a chance to blog about separately.
I hope you enjoy my selection.
The Dead of Winter by Stuart MacBride (Bantam Press, hardback and ebook)
They say there is honour among thieves. Try telling that to PC Edward Reekie when he finds himself snowed in at Glenfarach, a model village deep in the north of Scotland, designed to house ex-offenders whose crimes are so unspeakable that they cannot be released back into society, even when their sentences are spent.
Edward and his boss, DI Victoria Montgomery-Porter’s only job was to drop dying ex-gangster Mark Bishop into the care of police and social workers who man the village. But with the snow continuing to fall, they are there when the first of the murders begin.
One of the residents is found dead, a house fire destroys the evidence. Then a social worker goes missing, and another murder occurs.
In a den of gangsters, murderers and child abusers, who is the killer? And will Edward bring him or her to justice before the snow melts?
It seems not as the story begins with DI Montgomery-Porter digging a shallow grave to bury her erstwhile young colleague, having horribly murdered him herself!
It’s a great opening to a book that is rich in dry Scottish wit as the events leading up to this grisly episode unfold. Edward and his DI – known not so affectionately as Bigtoria to her peers – have an unequal relationship in which she calls all the shots, and he does all the donkey work. It’s a wonder he doesn’t have to dig the grave himself.
But don’t be fooled by the humorous narrative. This is a proper murder mystery, peopled by criminals who may be free but aren’t reformed, hardened police personnel who have seen it all, and jaded social workers who have lost faith in the system.
There is plenty bad language, along with violent scenes of torture and murder, and the triggering theme of the sexual abuse of both adults and children.
But balancing that is the sheer good-heartedness of Edward himself, and his relationship with Bigtoria. They make a great team – such a pity that it seems like it will all end in tears frozen into the snow that falls silently on Edward’s makeshift grave …
Code Name Elodie by Anna Stuart (Bookouture, paperback and ebook)
The second in the Bletchley Park series sees friends Fran, Steffie and Ailsa back at Bletchley Park, using their skills to help fight the war against Hitler – and sometimes against their own peers, some of whom believe women should stay at home.
As the war progresses, we visit Ceylon, Portugal and France as the women follow their ambitions as well as their dreams of finding true love and contentment. But for every triumph there is a tragedy in this exciting well-paced story that explores courage, determination and close female friendship.
Each of the women is a strong and empathetic character, as are the people to whom they entrust their hearts.
The atmosphere is excellent, placing you squarely in the centre of wartime Britain, and introducing you to real-life heroes of war. But it is the fictional ones that will capture your heart.
Fran, Steffie and Ailsa are the embodiment of the spirit and resilience of the people who worked behind the scenes to keep the enemy at bay and deliver a future for themselves, their family and their beloved country.
Though this is part of a series, it can be read as a stand-alone, but I really recommend you read the first book, The Bletchley Girls, too.
One Moment by Becky Hunter (Atlantic Books, hardback and ebook)
A really well-written romance, this gorgeous story from Becky Hunter tugs at the heart-strings even more with its extra dimension of strong female friendship from beyond the grave.
When Scarlett dies in a tragic accident, her spirit lingers, looking out for her best friend Evie, whose recent MS diagnosis has made her shrink from the world, Because of the accident, Evie meets Nate, but can she ever forgive him for the death of her beloved friend? Or forgive Scarlett, for appearing to move on without her? And does he even want a committed relationship? As for Scarlett, will she every be able to finally rest in peace?
Told from Evie and Scarlett”s point of view, this is an engrossing and heartbreaking story with strong, empathetic characters. Each has his or her strengths and flaws – they’re genuine people. caught in a challenging situation, all trying to do their best for themselves, and for each other.
The story explores friendship, love, loyalty and family ties. The varying threads come together seamlessly as the narrative flows its way towards the story’s resolution – which holds surprises right up to the end.
I loved it.
Strange Sally Diamond by Liz Nugent (Penguin, hardback and ebook)
An Irish woman who decides to cremate her own father in the garden incinerator is certainly strange – and her actions lead to all sorts of repercussions when the world’s media focus on her and discover who Sally Diamond really is. She herself didn’t know the tragic story of how she came to be adopted by an eminent psychiatrist, but it explains why at 42 she is a loner with severe anger management issues.
As the story explore how Sally, with the help of sympathetic neighbours and family, comes to terms with her past and grows as a person, another person is brought in to the narrative; a little boy called Peter brought up by a single father who isolates him from the world to “keep him safe”.
As the two threads of the book draw together, a story emerges that is horrifying, yet so very engrossing. It’s harrowing to read at times, but Sally is such an appealing character – so vulnerable and yet so strong, she’s a reminder that it’s possible to overcome the vicissitudes life throws at us,
Peter elicits sympathy, too – but he is never as strong as Sally, who carries this emotive story beautifully from beginning to end.
For fans of books like Room by Emma Donohue, Sally’s story will touch your heart – though be warned, it’s darker and probably reflects the reality of the tragic repercussions a kidnapped child will carry forward throughout their life.
Daughters of Sparta by Claire Heywood (Hodder & Stoughton, paperback and ebook)
The story of Klytemnestra and Helen, daughters of King Tyndareus of Sparta and his wife, Leda, is reimagined here in an exciting story that captures the years leading up to and including the Trojan war. The devoted sisters are separated forever when Klytemnestra is married off to King Agamnennon and goes to live in his kingdom of Mycenae. Helen meanwhile stays in Sparta, to marry Agammemnon’s brother Menelaos. But then she elopes with Paris to Troy, setting in motion the Trojan war, which would last a bloody ten years.
This book has been on my TBR pile for some time, and I can’t believe it took me so long to get round to it, as I’m a real fan of mythological retelling, and loved Pat Barker’s Women of Troy.
This story closely follows Homer’s version of the events that shaped and brutalised Klytemnestra and Helen’s lives, from their girlhood at the weaving looms in their father’s palace to their helplessness in a patriarchal world at the courts of their husbands.
The author never makes the mistake of imposing 21st values on these women of ancient times, so their voice is very authentic. They may suffer under men’s rule, but they know they are powerless – their courage comes in living their lives in the best way they can.
The one thing I missed was the inclusion of the Olympian gods in mortal lives. They are frequently referenced, but never appear, and we are left to decide for ourselves if Helen and her brothers Castor and Pollux really are Zeus’s offspring.
I know it sounds like dichotomy, but, for me, bringing the immortals into the story would have given this mythological retelling more authenticity.
Still, it’s a great story, well told, with plenty action and insight, and I’ve no hesitation in recommending it.
Read all my March reviews