Annie Stanley, All At Sea by Sue Teddern

Annie Stanley All at Sea by Sue Teddern

Annie Stanley is taking time out; she has given up her teaching job, split up with her boyfriend and is spending a lot of time on her sofa. When her father dies suddenly she is, as the title suggests, ‘all at sea’.  When she finds out that her father’s partner, Bev, plans to scatter his ashes somewhere that has no significance for her or her sister, Kate, she acts on impulse and steals the urn.  She embarks on what becomes a road trip around the coast visiting all the areas mentioned in the shipping forecast. Despite living in landlocked St Albans, her father had been an avid listener to what he called ‘the soundtrack to our lives’ and ‘the poetry of our Isles’ and had even named the cat, Cromarty.

Annie is grieving and needs to find a way to say goodbye that means something to her, which I can totally relate to. What starts as an ill-thought-out impulse, becomes a plan to visit all the coastal areas mentioned in the shipping forecast. As she travels from Cromarty to Forth, Tyne, Dogger and beyond, Annie re-evaluates her life, past and present, and gradually makes peace with herself, and comes to appreciate that, even if just for a short while, Bev was an important part of her father’s life.

The characters are well drawn and believable, a road-trip theme always appeals to me, and each chapter is aptly prefaced with a phrase from the shipping forecast. I had to look up the shipping forecast online to find out where some of the areas were and discovered some beautifully illustrated maps which are well worth a look. I really enjoyed this book, it made me laugh despite the sadness and grief, and look forward to reading whatever Sue Teddern writes next. Thanks to Pan Macmillan, Mantle and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

Kimura: A Tale of a Japanese Murderess by RG Honda

Kimura by RG Honda

 I chose to read Kimura: A Tale of a Japanese Murderess because of the setting as I am fascinated by Japanese culture, and this did not disappoint.

The novel opens with Naoko realising that she has killed her husband; he is lying in a pool of blood at the bottom of the stairs, but was it an accident? She makes her escape and goes off to meet her friend Akari at a festival. There are hints that Naoko has a problem controlling her violent temper, both with her husband and with her sister, Yuki, who disappeared seven years previously. They now have a lead on her whereabouts and plan to rescue her. With the police chasing Naoko, they are forced to go on the run, but will they get to Yuki before it is too late?

This novel reads as though it was translated from the Japanese as some of the expressions are strangely stilted and awkward – I could find no information as to whether this was the case or not – but this did not hinder my understanding and perhaps added something to the narrative. There are graphic scenes of violence and torture, so bear that in mind before you begin reading as it is not for the faint-hearted.

The characters are well drawn and believable, except perhaps for Yuki who is almost a caricature, and I really liked Takamoto, the old man who lived on the boat. I loved the road trip section of the plot, and could imagine this book being made into a dark atmospheric film. The setting comes across as completely authentic, but the underlying theme of the human trafficking and slavery was deeply upsetting.

I was unable to find out anything about this author, so have no idea if they have written anything else, but would like to thank them for the digital copy that I chose to review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT

The Cursed Girls by Caro Ramsey

The Cursed Girls by Caro Ramsey

Having previously enjoyed her Glasgow-based Anderson and Costello detective series, I thought I’d give this standalone psychological thriller by Caro Ramsey a try. The Cursed Girls is very different but equally compelling. Set on a country estate in the west of Scotland, overlooking the Holy Loch, this story takes us behind the scenes at the Melvick family ancestral home, the Italian House. After an absence of three years, Megan has returned to say goodbye to her older sister Melissa who is dying; their relationship had always been difficult, but her father was keen for her to return.

There are a lot of unsolved mysteries surrounding this family, who believe themselves to be cursed, and a sense that everyone has something to hide. Why did Megan lose her hearing as a small child (she was not born deaf), where did her mother go when she vanished all those years ago, and who caused the fatal explosion at Melissa’s wedding?

The story is told from Megan’s point of view, with flashbacks from Carla, and they have very different narrative  voices. Megan is trusting and naïve, and believes everything people tell her; Carla is tough, streetwise and trusts nobody. This way we get a much fuller picture of what went on.

The Cursed Girls is well written, with believable fully fleshed out characters and a wonderfully atmospheric setting in the wilds of Argyllshire. The slow beginning sets the scene, and the build-up of tension as secrets are gradually revealed lead to a kind of Agatha-Christie-style finale where DS Murray brings everyone together to reveal what he has discovered; there are other references to her as well if you know what you’re looking for.

Throughout the book there is a sense that nothing is as it seems on the surface. It starts off with a lot of questions, and under each layer that is revealed there is another, and another, until we finally get to the truth. I enjoyed this story immensely and kept on reading it late into the night.

Thanks to Black Thorn, Canongate and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.  

Out of the Silence by Owen Mullen

Out of the Silence by Owen Mullen

In a village in the Punjab region of Pakistan, Afra and Jameel want to marry and spend the rest of their lives together, but her mother does not agree. After being refused permission to marry Afra, Jameel leaves his village and sets off to find his only relative in Lahore. He is welcomed by his uncle and goes on to become a successful business man, but he never forgets Afra. Meanwhile, Afra is sold to a wealthy family in Lahore to become the wife of the oldest son. They are horrible to her right from the start, but when she does not give him an heir, she is reduced to the role of household slave and treated appallingly. Years later, members of this prominent family are being killed off, one by one.

Owen Mullen skillfully  weaves the strands of the story together, leading us up many false paths until we learn who is behind the killings. I did guess eventually, but only at the very last minute. The writing is evocative, full of rich descriptions of the sights, sounds and smells, and brings this area of Pakistan to life. I have never been to this part of the world, but had no trouble imagining the setting in vivid colour.

This story left a lasting impression on me; long after I had finished reading I was still thinking about what Afra (and others like her) had suffered during her short life. This is a misogynistic society where animals are treated better than women. Out of the Silence is a shocking exposé of the abuse suffered by women at the hands of their husbands, brothers, cousins, and men in general. While it is extremely upsetting to read, it has been written with compassion and understanding. It is also a gripping murder mystery. The characters are well written and believable; some you will hate with a vengeance, and others will go straight to your heart.

I chose Out of the Silence without reading the blurb as I had enjoyed other books by Owen Mullen (crime thrillers set in Glasgow) and, though it is very different, I highly recommend it, and suggest you try some of his other books too – you won’t be disappointed.

Thanks to Bloodhound Books and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.


A Corruption of Blood by Ambrose Parry

A Corruption of Blood by Ambrose Parry

A Corruption of Blood is the third book in the series, written by Chris Brookmyre and his wife Marisa Haetzman as Ambrose Parry, featuring Will Raven and Sarah Fisher. Set in mid-nineteenth-century Edinburgh, this thoroughly researched and beautifully written story highlights the realities of life for women at both ends of the social spectrum; the circumstances of your birth were no guarantee of your survival.

Sarah had gone to Europe in search of Dr Elizabeth Blackwell, hoping for advice and inspiration that she too could fulfil her dream of studying to be a doctor, but comes home strangely subdued. Back living in Dr Simpson’s house, she has been asked by one of the servants for help in locating the baby that was taken from her against her will.

Meanwhile, Will has become engaged to Eugenie, daughter of another Edinburgh doctor, who asks him to help her childhood friend, Gideon, who is accused of poisoning his father, Sir Ainslie Douglas. He is also trying to find out why a murdered baby was discovered in the harbour at Leith. At first glance, none of these things are connected.

Despite Will being engaged to Eugenie, there is still an undoubted attraction between him and Sarah, and they struggle to come to terms with how it affects their relationship. It is only after they pool their resources, and discover their investigations are connected, that they start to make some progress. Gradually, as the two storylines converge, long-buried secrets are brought to light.

Medical history and real-life characters are woven seamlessly into the narrative which uncovers the misery caused by the unscrupulous ‘baby farmers’. Parallels are drawn between the advice given to women, then and now, such as not walking in certain areas of the city alone or after dark.

The sights, sounds and smells of Victorian Edinburgh are vividly described, the characters are well drawn and flashes of dark humour help to lighten the darkness in A Corruption of Blood. The hypocrisy surrounding society’s treatment of women, the double standards and the social injustice are all combined in this gripping, tightly plotted story. While you could read this as a standalone, I suggest it would be more meaningful to start at the beginning as The Way of All Flesh and The Art of Dying are well worth reading.

Thanks to Canongate and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.