The Island Cottage by Jane Lovering

The Island Cottage by Jane Lovering

It’s always a joy to read the latest book by Jane Lovering, and The Island Cottage does not disappoint. Brid Harcus is sent to Orkney by her mother to clear out Midness Cottage so that it can be put up for sale. It has been empty for a long time, but Brid hopes her trip will be short and lucrative as she has been promised the proceeds to put down a deposit for her own place (she is currently living in a shared house in York). As time goes on, it becomes clear why Brid’s mother had really wanted her to go to Orkney, as she needed to see how narrow and restricted her life had become. There was a whole world out there if only she could be persuaded to join in. The setting is a departure for this author as her books are normally set in Yorkshire, but the descriptions of these fascinating islands were one of the things I liked best. I visited Orkney many years ago, and this story reminded me of happy times there.

The story is told entirely from Brid’s point of view. She seems to be stuck in a bit of a rut, and I found it frustrating how long it took her to realise that as an accountant she could live and work anywhere she chose. The cottage is only accessible through a farm owned by relatives of her mother, and though watertight is not really fit to live in. She has to adjust her expectations, but comes to love the cottage and its situation by the lochside, despite the belief among the locals that as its owner she is the local witch. Marcus is a silversmith and brother of the farm owner – they are slowly getting to know each other, but will Brid be brave enough to hang around and see what develops between them? You’ll just have to read it for yourself to find out. I always enjoy Jane Lovering’s books and look forward to her next one. Thanks to Boldwood Books and NetGalley for a  digital copy to review.

The Devil You Know by Neil Lancaster

The Devil You Know by Neil Lancaster

The Devil You Know is the fifth book in the Max Craigie series which just keeps getting better and better. Davie Hardie is not enjoying his stay in Shotts prison, and wants to do a deal – something no one his family has ever contemplated before – but insists that Max Craigie is not involved. He claims to know the location of the body of Beata Dabrowski who disappeared without a trace six years previously. Her former lover is now a high profile individual who will stop at nothing to protect their reputation, no matter who gets caught in the crossfire. The plan goes awry, and Max’s team have their work cut out to discover the source of the leaked information, and who is behind Beata’s murder. Time is not on their side.

As with the other books in this series, humour is used to good effect to offset the dark subject matter. Neil Lancaster’s experience as a detective gives the narrative an authentic feel – he knows how it all works, and while it is a work of fiction, it rings true. It also raises the question of how ethical it is for the police to do deals with criminals, though the closure obtained by the families surely makes it worthwhile in most cases. The Scottish settings are an added bonus for me, as I can picture where they are as they travel about the country.

While the gripping plot and action-packed narrative will keep the reader on the edge of their seat, the reason this series is so good is the cast of characters that go to make up the Policing Standards Reassurance Team. In this fifth book in the series, the team is now well established with each of them bringing their unique skill set to the mix, and here they are not just fighting criminals and corrupt officers, but for their unit’s very survival. I look forward to reading the next instalment in this phenomenal series. Thanks to HQ Digital and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.  

Badlands by Jack Lively

Badlands by Jack Lively

Badlands is the sixth book in the series featuring Tom Keeler, and I have read and enjoyed them all. This one goes back in time to 2016 when Keeler was still serving in the US Air Force. He is officially on leave recuperating, camping in the Negev Desert with Yasmin, an Israeli soldier and sister of a Mossad agent whose life Keeler had saved, when they come across two dead bodies. Help will not arrive in time so they follow three mysterious figures into the extensive tunnels under the Egyptian border. They are captured by an Egyptian colonel who has no intention of letting them live. Tom and Yasmin have to use all their formidable skills, and manage to escape by the skin of their teeth.

From this point on, they are separated and become part of a complicated operation that does not always go as planned. I have to admit I was not completely sure what was going on at times, and had trouble differentiating all the different characters, though they were convincing as were the impressive action scenes. I enjoyed this glimpse into Keeler’s time in the military, and look forward to his next adventure. You could read this as a standalone, but you’d be missing some great stories if you didn’t go back and start at the beginning. Thanks to Jack Lively for an advanced copy.

Bad Publicity by Bianca Gillam

Bad Publicity by Bianca Gillam

After reading the blurb for Bad Publicity, I was looking forward to a fairly light-hearted romcom based around the world of publishing, with a road trip thrown in, but that was not what it turned out to be. After five years in New York, Andie has just landed her dream job of senior book publicist and is looking forward to working with the authors assigned to her. Imagine her shock when she recognises the name at the top of the list – none other than her nemesis from her time at Edinburgh University, Jack Carlson. She must put on a brave face at the prospect of a month-long European tour for his first novel, or jeopardise her career.

I did enjoy some aspects of this debut novel, but I have a big problem with the main female character, Andie, and the story is told mostly from her point of view. She is not easy to empathise with, and her behaviour is, at times, very hard to understand, particularly the effect it has on those who care about her. For a large part of the story, it is hinted that Jack did something utterly unforgivable when they were at university, but when it is finally revealed it is more nuanced than you might expect. Bearing in mind that Andie has never let Jack tell his side of the story, her attitude seems a bit over the top.

Bad Publicity is well written, with believable characters, insight into the workings of the publishing industry, and a trip round Europe, but Andie is her own worst enemy, and I found myself constantly frustrated by her self-destructive behaviour. I know she was hurting, and had not come to terms with her father’s death, but her actions leave a lot to be desired. Thanks to Bloomsbury and NetGalley for providing a digital copy to review.  

The Gentleman's Gambit by Evie Dunmore

The Gentlemans Gambit by Evie Dunmore

I chose to read The Gentleman’s Gambit not knowing it was the fourth book in the series ‘A League of Extraordinary Women’. It tells the story of Catriona Campbell, an academic, writer and suffragist, and Elias Khoury who has come to assist her father, an Oxford professor, in the classification of artifacts from his homeland in The Levant. Forced to work together, they become close, but Catriona fears she would lose herself if forced into the traditional female role. This is a well-written  intelligent story that deals with serious issues still relevant today. As well as the suffragist theme, The Gentleman’s Gambit also focuses on the role of women in society, particularly motherhood, and the ethics of returning stolen artifacts to their country of origin.

The story is told from the points of view of both Catriona and Elias so we get a rounded picture of what is going on. The period detail is convincing and obviously well researched, and the characters have depth. I enjoyed the historical aspect of the story, though it definitely overshadowed the romance at times. The epilogue was an effective way to round off the whole series, but including all the offspring of the various characters was just too confusing.

While it made sense as a standalone, I would have preferred to read the books in order as I found it difficult to sort out the relationships and backstories of Catriona’s three close friends, Annabelle, Lucie and Hattie. Having discovered that I already have them on my kindle, I plan to do this quite soon. This is an unusual series that made me appreciate just how much of a struggle it was for women to get the vote. Bearing this in mind, we should not take it for granted. I look forward to reading Evie Dunmore’s next book.