Brilliant historical novel reminiscent of The Great Gatsby

The Haunting of Henry Twist by Rebecca F. John

The funeral has become something resembling a party: the drummer turns his sticks between nimble fingers; the trumpeter arches backwards and dips forward, following the undulations of his notes; couples twizzle and flick their feet to the stop-time beat, dancing the black bottom. And between dances, guests tip flutes of champagne into open mouths and kiss each other’s cheeks before swapping stories about a young woman who has been dead for exactly seven days.

London, 1926. Henry Twist’s heavily pregnant wife is hit by a bus and killed, though miraculously the baby survives. Henry is wracked with grief and left alone to care for his new daughter. But one evening, a man steps out of the shadows and addresses Henry by name. The man says he has lost his memory, but that his name is Jack. Henry is both afraid of and drawn to Jack, and the more time they spend together, the more Henry sees that this man has echoes of his dead wife. Henry begins to wonder, has his wife returned to him?

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up The Haunting of Henry Twist, knowing only that it had been shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award in 2017. What I wasn’t expecting was for it to be the best book I’ve read so far this year.

The Haunting of Henry Twist is a beautiful novel that has so much to say about love, grief, fear and happiness. With its 1920s setting, its cast of Bright Young Things and its three-dimensional characters, it bears comparisons to The Great Gatsby.

Henry Twist is a wonderful character. Formerly a soldier in the trenches of World War I, his experiences in the mud watching his friends die have irrevocably changed him and formed who he is as a man, driven by fear and terrified of losing the people he loves. He is consumed by memories of his wife after she is hit by a bus and killed. Then Jack walks into his life, offering the hope that maybe he doesn’t have to say goodbye after all.

Despite the title, this is not just Henry’s story. We also follow Henry’s close friends: Grayson and Matilda, whose marriage is beginning to fracture under the weight of Matilda’s unrequited love for Henry, and Monty, an older man who surrounds himself with Bright Young Things so he doesn’t have to feel the relentless marching of time.

The atmosphere and sense of history in this novel is fantastic. In the years after the First World War everyone is struggling with the weight of all they have lived through, while trying their hardest to celebrate their hard-won freedom and have a good time. Bright Young Things flit through gardens lit by candlelight and decorated with fabric swings draped from trees, but beneath it all is the quiet acknowledgement of all the pain and suffering they have gone through to get to this point. Trying to have fun is not as easy as it seems.

The writing is also brilliant. John writes about character with piercing insight, so that they become living, breathing creations standing at your shoulder as you read about their lives. She captures their sense of dissatisfaction, their desperate, clawing search for happiness, with wonderful language and a real sense of empathy. At times the metaphors and descriptions can feel slightly muddled, but this can be forgiven for the overall strength of the writing.

This is a fantastic book and one that I highly, highly recommend.


Atmospheric tale featuring real life ghost hunter Harry Price

The Lost Village by Neil Spring

I am haunted by a man who told stories for a living. This cantankerous, ill-tempered and selfish man – the unlikely father of my lost child – is the reason I believe in the supernatural. I know now that death is not the end of life, and I know spirits walk the earth, because of Harry Price.

Many years ago, soldiers entered a remote English village called Imber and forced every inhabitant out. Each winter, on one night only, Imber’s former residents return to visit loved ones buried in the overgrown churchyard. But this year, something has gone wrong, and notorious ghost hunter Harry Price must reunite with his former assistant Sarah Grey to solve the mystery.

This is a sequel to Neil Spring’s first novel, The Ghost Hunters, and is based on true events. Harry Price was a real life ghost hunter, a man committed to debunking frauds, and Imber was a village taken from its residents to be used as a training ground for soldiers during World War I.

Where Spring succeeds is in taking these true stories and adding supernatural mystery that sends a shiver down the spine. He is adept at creating atmosphere; the village of Imber is masterfully rendered on the page, a ghost town riddled with bullet holes and haunted by its tragic past. One particular scene, describing a séance in an abandoned windmill, is particularly memorable.

However, where Spring falls down is his characters. An author can write the scariest haunting in the world but no reader is going to be truly involved in the story if they don’t care about the person being haunted. Ghost hunter Harry Price has great potential for a character; a man who spends his life debunking fraudsters and whose rational beliefs in science are frequently challenged by the things he sees, he nevertheless feels more like the author’s puppet than a character with any agency of his own.

Likewise with Sarah Grey, the book’s narrator, who has so little personality I’m struggling to think of anything to say about her. She doesn’t work out the answers through intelligence or skill, but rather through a series of random hallucinations that come to her at just the right moment. When the mystery was resolved and the curtain finally drawn back, I was surprised by the reveal, but because I didn’t care about any of the characters, I didn’t care about the outcome of the story.

I enjoyed this book’s mix of superstition and science, its creepy atmosphere and the mystery at its heart, but it should have ended 50 pages before it did. The twist feels unnecessary and tacked on at the last moment. I would have much preferred the book without it.

At its worst, The Lost Village is clumsy, nonsensical and dull. At its best, it reads like a Sherlock Holmes story, with a determined sleuth brought in to prove that the supernatural mystery actually has a rational explanation. There’s no doubt that Spring can write well; he just needs to spend more time on bringing his characters to life.

Many thanks to Quercus for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

New book releases January 2018

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

One September evening in 1785, the merchant John Hancock hears urgent knocking at his front door. One of his captains has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid. As gossip spreads, everyone wants to see Mr Hancock’s marvel, and he is steered through the doors of high society.

This historical novel tells a story of curiosity and obsession, and author Louise O’Neill has said: ‘Good god, it is a wonderful book’.

Release date: 25th January

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

None of us ever agreed on the exact beginning. Was it when we started drawing the chalk figures, or when they started to appear on their own? Was it the terrible accident? Or when they found the first body?

This book has been called – rather ambitiously – THE book of 2018. Only time will tell if it lives up to that promise.

Release date: 11th January

Lullaby by Leïla Slimani

When Myriam decides to return to work after having children, she and her husband need to look for a caretaker for their two young children. They find the perfect candidate in Louise: a quiet, polite and devoted woman. But as the couple and nanny become more dependent on each other, jealousy, resentment and suspicions come to the fore.

This highly anticipated psychological thriller has already received a wealth of praise, and Publishers Weekly has called it a ‘gripping anatomy of a crime’.

Release date: 11th January

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

The court of the Grand Prince of Moscow is plagued by power struggles and rumours of unrest, while bandits roam the countryside. Setting out to defeat the raiders, the Prince comes across a young man riding a magnificent horse. Only Sasha, a priest with a warrior’s training, recognises this ‘boy’ as his younger sister, Vasya.

This novel is the sequel to one of my favourite books of 2017, The Bear and the Nightingale. I’m hoping The Girl in the Tower is full of the same wonderful magic, atmosphere and lyrical writing.

Release date: 25th January

Swansong by Kerry Andrew

Polly Vaughan is trying to escape the guilt of a disturbing incident in London by heading north to the Scottish Highlands. As soon as she arrives, she goes looking for drink, drugs and sex. In her pursuit, she also finds a fresh kind of fear, alone in the eerie landscape and prone to visions.

This debut from Kerry Andrew is inspired by British folk songs, mythologies and oral traditions.

Release date: 25th January

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This is How it Ends by Eva Dolan

This is how it begins. With a near-empty building, the inhabitants forced out of their homes by property developers. With two women: idealistic, impassioned blogger Ella and seasoned campaigner Molly. With a body hidden in a lift shaft. But how will it end?

This cryptic crime novel has already received a wealth of praise and has been described as ‘angry, compassionate and mind-blowingly clever’ by author Mark Edwards.

Release date: 25th January

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

Amid the ashes of Nazi Germany’s defeat, Marianne von Lingenfels returns to the once-grand castle of her husband’s ancestors. The widow of a resister murdered in a failed plot to assassinate Hitler, Marianne plans to uphold the promise she made to her husband’s conspirators: to find and protect their wives, her fellow resistance widows.

With 2018 marking the 100th anniversary of the First World War, there are sure to be plenty of books – fiction and non-fiction – to mark the occasion. This one has already been called ‘a masterful epic’ by People magazine.

Release date: 2nd January

The Girl on the Velvet Swing: Sex, Murder and Madness at the Dawn of the 20th Century by Simon Baatz

In 1901, 16-year-old chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit was raped by celebrity architect Stanford White. Years later Evelyn confided in Harry Thaw, the millionaire playboy who would later become her husband. Thaw subsequently shot and killed White during a performance in Madison Square Garden. The following sensational trial gripped the nation.

This tale of glamour, excess and danger by bestselling author Simon Baatz is the first comprehensive account of a murder that shocked the world.

Release date: 16th January

The Job of the Wasp by Colin Winnette

A new arrival at an isolated school for orphaned boys quickly comes to realise there is something wrong with his new home. He hears chilling whispers in the night, his classmates are violent and hostile, and the Headmaster sends cryptic messages, begging his new charge to confess. The boy realises he must unravel the mystery at the school’s dark heart.

Any book billed as a gothic ghost story, as this one is, is bound to catch my attention. It’s been called bloodcurdling and brilliant, and sounds right up my street.

Release date: 25th January

The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson

Lynn McBride has learned much since society collapsed in the face of nuclear war and the relentless spread of disease. She has been forced to forge ahead in the snow-covered Canadian Yukon, learning how to hunt and trap to survive. But her fragile existence is about to be shattered.

This post-apocalyptic, coming-of-age thriller has been compared to Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven as well as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road – so it has a lot to live up to.

Release date: 11th January


New book releases November 2017

Mythos by Stephen Fry

Comedian and actor Stephen Fry turns his hand to retelling Greek myths. From Zeus and Hades to Persephone and Pandora, discover why the Greek gods and goddesses are just like us.

Greek myths are admittedly something I don’t know much about, and I can’t imagine I would be in better hands to learn more about them than Fry’s.

Release date: 2nd November

Artemis by Andy Weir

Welcome to Artemis, the first city on the moon. Jazz Bashara lives in a poor area of Artemis and subsidises her work as a porter with smuggling contraband onto the moon. But it’s not enough. So when she’s offered the chance to make a lot of money, she jumps at it.

From the author of The Martian comes a sci-fi novel that promises a fun adventure in 1/6th gravity.

Release date: 14th November

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang

Orphaned, raised by wolves, and the proud owner of a horned pig named Merlin, Weylyn Grey knew he wasn’t like other people. But when he single-handedly stopped that tornado on a stormy Christmas Day in Oklahoma, he realised just how different he actually was. This is the story of Weylyn’s life from the perspectives of the people who knew him.

This debut novel has been described as ‘Charlotte’s Web for grown-ups’, and sounds bizarre and intriguing in equal measure.

Release date: 14th November

Heather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner

The Breakstone family arrange themselves around their daughter, Heather, and the world seems to follow. But as Heather grows, her radiance attracts more and more dark interest. Meanwhile a very different life, one of poverty and violence, is beginning its own malign orbit around Heather.

This first novel from award-winning Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner is a highly anticipated noir thriller that promises thrills aplenty.

Release date: 7th November

The House by Simon Lelic

Jack and Syd moved into their dream home in London a year ago. It seemed so perfect that, when they made a grisly discovery in the attic, they chose to ignore it. That was a mistake. Because someone has just been murdered outside their back door.

Called ‘taught, tense and terrifying’ by author Sharon Bolton, this psychological thriller is probably not one to read just before bed.

Release date: 2nd November

Artemis by Andy Weir SV

Mother by S.E. Lynes

Christopher grows up so lonely it hurts. Until the day he climbs into his family’s dusty attic, and finds a battered old suitcase. Inside the suitcase is a letter, and inside the letter is a secret about his mother that changes everything.

So many psychological thrillers promise a killer twist that ‘you just won’t see coming’, but this one has an intriguing premise and I’m eager to see whether Lynes pulls it off.

Release date: 22nd November

The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night by Jen Campbell

A girl runs a coffin hotel on a remote island. A boy is worried his sister has two souls. A couple are rewriting the history of the world. And mermaids are on display at the local aquarium.

This is a collection of 12 modern fairy tales brimming with magic, from the author of the Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops series.

Release date: 2nd November

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

Seven years ago the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a mockumentary bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Now a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain.

This sci-fi novel from the bestselling author of the Newsflesh series has already been called ‘a whip-smart thriller overflowing with social commentary’ by Kirkus.

Release date: 14th November

Jade City by Fonda Lee

Jade is the lifeblood of the city of Janloon – a stone that enhances a warrior’s natural strength and speed. When a modern drug emerges that allows anyone to wield jade, simmering tension between two crime families erupts into open violence.

This epic fantasy of family and honour promises plenty of magic and adventure.

Release date: 7th November

Bonfire by Krysten Ritter

It has been 10 years since Abby Williams left home and scrubbed away all evidence of her small town roots. Now working as an environmental lawyer in Chicago, she has a thriving career and her pick of one-night stands. But when a new case takes her back home, the life Abby created begins to crack.

This debut book from Jessica Jones actress Krysten Ritter doesn’t sound particularly original, but has already been called ‘dark and disturbing’, so I might just have to give it a go.

Release date: 9th November


Natasha Pulley’s second novel is a charming book full of magic and wonder

The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

Although I hadn’t been shot at for years, it took me a long time to understand that the bang wasn’t artillery. I sat up in bed to look out of the window, half-balanced on my elbows, but there was nothing except a spray of slate shards and moss on the little gravel path three floors below. There had been a storm in the night, huge, one of those that takes days and days to form and gives everyone a headache, and the rain must have finally worked loose some old roof tiles.’

1859. Merrick, a crippled smuggler working for the East India Company, heads deep into uncharted territory to find cinchona trees, the only source of the quinine that can cure malaria. Surrounded by local stories of lost time, cursed woods and living rock, Merrick must separate truth from fairytale and find out what befell the last expeditions.

Last year Pulley released her debut novel, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, to outstanding reviews. It was one of my favourite books of 2016, so my expectations were high for The Bedlam Stacks. Fortunately, Pulley has written her second novel in the same vein as her first and is clearly on to a winning formula.

Pulley seamlessly blends historical fiction and fantasy, whilst hopping through various other genres including thriller, steampunk and sci-fi. The plot takes the reader on an adventure into the fantastical wilds of Peru, where lamps are made of golden pollen, statues move freely, and no one crosses the salt line separating the town from the forest for fear of disappearing.

One of the things I enjoyed most about this book were the characters. They seem so real and empathetic that you can easily imagine them stepping off the page and reaching out to shake your hand. The intimate, delicately written moments between characters are so awkward and realistic that you can’t help but fall in love with them. Merrick is a highly empathetic character, a man with an edge who is searching for a new purpose in life. In Peru he meets Raphael, a young priest, and their growing friendship is a delight to watch unfold.

As with The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, there is much more to this book than first appears. An adventure it may be, but it is also a heartfelt exploration of time, identity and friendship. The fantasy elements sit easily alongside meditations on duty and the contrasts between different cultures. Science and fantasy walk side by side, intertwining in wondrous ways and creating a beautiful tapestry of a story.

It does take a while to get started so it requires a fair bit of patience to muddle through the short sentences and long-winded descriptions in the opening chapters, but Pulley soon hits her stride and plunges you into an immersive, fantastical world.

Pulley writes with flair and imagination, juggling a complicated plot with apparent ease. If you’re looking for escapism, look no further. This is a charming book, full of magic and wonder, and I urge you to pick up a copy.

Many thanks to Bloomsbury for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


New novel explores how female criminals are judged by the media

Little Deaths by Emma Flint

‘When tragedy strikes, there’s a tendency to assume that someone is different. Special. That there’s something about them that makes them the kind of person bad things happen to. Because the alternative – that bad things can happen to anyone, at any time – is unthinkable.’

New York, 1965. One morning, Ruth Malone wakes to find her two young children missing. After a desperate search, the police make a horrifying discovery. It’s every mother’s worst nightmare. But Ruth Malone is not like other mothers. Noting Ruth’s perfect make-up and provocative clothing, the empty bottles of alcohol and love letters that litter her apartment, the detectives leap to convenient conclusions. But is Ruth really capable of murder?

I was really intrigued by this book, having heard some great things about it. But, overall, the execution failed to live up to the promise of the idea.

The pace of the book was the main element that threw me off. We learn early on that Ruth is in prison, so throughout the investigation and trial there is no suspense about what is going to happen. I didn’t realise that this is partly a police procedural novel (a genre I am not particularly fond of) and that at least half the chapters are focused on a journalist named Pete who is investigating the story of the missing children, and in the process becomes obsessed with Ruth.

The writing is good, but lacks the flashes of brilliance that would have elevated this book to a truly great read. Some of the themes are really interesting and I found Ruth a sympathetic and well-written character. She cares deeply for her children but she becomes easily exasperated by them. Her life hasn’t turned out anything like she thought it would and her disappointment is, in the eyes of the media, enough to mark her out as a bad person – and possibly a murderer.

Even set in the 1960s, this book bears poignant relevance to our world today. Ruth might not be talked about and judged on social media, but in the claustrophobic working class environment where she lives, there’s always someone peeking through a net curtain and gossiping about the woman who comes home late.

If the focus had been entirely on Ruth, I think I would have enjoyed this book a lot more. Unfortunately, much of the story is focused on journalist Pete Wonicke. He is an entirely unmemorable character who quickly becomes exasperating with his unrealistic actions. I wanted to know more about Ruth, and I wanted Flint to delve further into the themes she just begins to pick at, especially the way female criminals are judged by the media.

I was also extremely disappointed by the ending. It seemed completely unconvincing and came out of the blue, and after that I was glad to put the book down.

This book definitely disappointed me, but fans of crime fiction will still find things to enjoy here. Just don’t expect it to blow your socks off.


New book releases July 2017

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

Tom Hazard has a secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. Always changing his identity to stay alive, Tom has the perfect cover – working as a history teacher at a London comprehensive. The only thing he must not do is fall in love.

This is easily one of my most anticipated books of 2017. I’m hoping Haig’s new offering is as full of hope and truth as his previous books.

Release date: 6th July


The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

Frank has a gift for finding his customers the music they need to hear. When he meets Ilsa, a mysterious woman engaged to another man, he falls in love. 12 years later Ilsa returns to find Frank. The shop has gone; no one knows where he is. All that remains is a series of clues, each one related to music.

Joyce is the author of the brilliant, heart-wrenching novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, and I can’t wait to read more of her charming, uplifting prose.

Release date: 13th July


Blackwing by Ed McDonald

The republic faces annihilation, despite the vigilance of Galharrow’s Blackwings. When a raven tattoo rips itself from his arm to deliver a desperate message, Galharrow and a mysterious noblewoman must investigate a long dead sorcerer’s legacy.

This is the first in a new epic fantasy series that has already received praise declaring it to be one of the best fantasy debuts of the year.

Release date: 27th July


Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown

It’s been a year since Billie Flanagan went on a hike and vanished from the trail. Her body was never found. Her husband and her teenage daughter, Olive, have been coping as best they can, but then Olive starts having strange visions of her mother that suggest she may not be dead after all.

This is a psychological thriller that has been compared to Big Little Lies, and it has already been called ‘clever and compelling’.

Release date: 11th July


The Goddesses by Swan Huntley

When Nancy and her family arrive in Hawaii, they are desperate for a fresh start. Nancy resolves to make a happy life for herself. She starts taking a yoga class and there she meets Ana, the charismatic teacher. As Nancy grows closer and closer to Ana, she knows she will do anything Ana asks of her.

This sounds like the kind of gripping psychological thriller that would make a perfect beach read.

Release date: 25th July


Darien by C.F. Iggulden

The city of Darien stands at the weary end of a golden age. 12 families keep order with soldiers and artefacts, spies and memories, clinging to a peace that shifts and crumbles. Here, amongst old feuds, a plot is hatched to kill a king.

From historical novelist Conn Iggulden – author of the Wars of the Roses series – this is the first in an epic new fantasy series that sounds perfect for fans of Game of Thrones.

Release date: 13th July


Final Girls by Riley Sager

They were the victims of separate massacres. Grouped together by the press and dubbed the Final Girls, they are treated like something out of a slasher movie. When something terrible happens to Lisa, Quincy and Sam finally meet. Each one influences the other. Each one has dark secrets. And each one will never be the same.

I love the idea behind this book and can only hope that the writing and the plot live up to the promise in the blurb.

Release date: 13th July


The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy

Every seven years something disappears in the remote town of Sterling: people’s reflections, the stars in the sky, the ability to dream. Aila realises that her mother may be to blame, but some secrets want to stay hidden.

This sounds like a very unusual debut novel, and has been described as ‘thick with mystery, buried secrets, and magic’.

Release date: 27th July


This Is How It Happened by Paula Stokes

After waking up from a coma, Genevieve can’t remember the car crash that killed her boyfriend Dallas, a YouTuber turned teen music idol. In the media everyone assumes the driver, Brad, is guilty. As she slowly pieces together the night of the accident, Genevieve starts to wonder if she was really the one at fault.

This sounds like it could be a very interesting novel, exploring themes about the way the internet is always watching and judging our actions.

Release date: 11th July


Where the Light Falls by Allison Pataki

Three years after the storming of the Bastille, the streets of Paris are roiling with revolution. Jean-Luc, an idealistic young lawyer, moves his family to Paris in the hope of joining the cause. Andre has evaded execution by joining the new French army. Sophie, an aristocratic widow, embarks on a fight for independence from her vindictive uncle.

With cameos from legendary figures including Robespierre, Louis XVI and Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, this sounds like an epic tale that will sweep readers off their feet.

Release date: 11th July