Friday, 2 June 2023


Like a Sister, by Kellye Garrett.



Black woman Lena Scott lives in the Bronx in an apartment left to her by her beloved paternal grandmother.  She is a self-supporting Columbia college Graduate student and is justly proud of her independence, especially as her father is a fabulously rich Music Producer, estranged from her life since he left her mother for his secretary when Lena was a child.  The only good thing that came out of that union, as far as Lena is concerned, is her friendship with her half-sister Desiree, commenced when they both stayed for school vacations with her Gram:  what great times they shared then – nothing would ever happen to break their bond.

            Until, by a series of happy coincidences, grown-up Spoilt Little Rich Girl Desiree became a reality TV star and fame started going to her head - and up her nose.  And Lena is not the sort of person to stand silently by while her sister slowly destroys herself. She issues an ultimatum:  carry on the self-destruction and their relationship is finished.  A challenge that Desiree accepts; who needs a Holier-Than-Thou Smart-Ass stopping Gals Who Just Wanna Have Fun?

            Two years of silence have passed when Lena finds out from a newspaper report that her sister has been found dead in a Bronx playground, partly-clad, all evidence pointing to an accidental drug overdose.  Which rings alarm bells right away, for Desiree would never venture to the Bronx;  nor had she graduated to heroin-use, as the paper stated.  Lena, battling with her grief and anger is certain that Desiree had been coming to the Bronx to see her for a particular reason, whatever that may have been, and she is stunned at the police lack of interest in investigating further, and her powerful father’s wish to have the matter cleared-up and out of the news as soon as possible. 


            The more Lena delves, the more rabbit-holes she has to investigate, especially with regard to Desiree’s new Bestie Erin, a white girl who ‘loved Desiree like a sister’:  oh yeah?  That’s kind of hard-to-swallow, especially as everyday racist experience for Black people, but Lena knows Desiree has been murdered- she knows.  But how to find the proof without suffering the same fate?  For Lena’s efforts at digging have not gone unnoticed.

            Kellye Garrett is a smart, funny writer and she has given us a perfectly-plotted, beautifully characterised tale of today’s Instagram age and our scary dependence on Social Media and all its forms – and Racism in its many forms, not to lecture but as fact, as part of the everyday fabric of so many lives.  Thank you, Ms Garrett.  SIX STARS           

Sunday, 21 May 2023


A World of Curiosities, by Louise Penny.


            Canadian author Louise Penny is internationally renowned for her series featuring Chief Police Inspector Armand Gamache and his trusted assistant Jean-Guy Belvoir as they battle crimes big and small in Montreal and its environs.  Her readers number in the millions, all fans of her great plotting and clever characters who reappear in each new story, and it shames me to say that this latest title is the first of hers that I have read.  So, where have I been all my life?!  Missing out on an excellent series of thrillers, that’s where!

            Monsieur Gamache’s latest display of his superior powers of deduction centres on the return to his home in the little country village of Three Pines of Sam and Fiona Arsenault, the adult children of murder victim Clotilde Arsenault, a local prostitute and drug addict.  She didn’t just sell herself;  it transpired that she sold her children as well, and kept a record of who did what to them:  the local police force were good customers. 

            After it was proven that Fiona killed her drugged mother as revenge for what she did to them, Fiona was tried and jailed as an adult, even though she was barely in her teens:  now she has served her sentence, earned an engineering degree, and returned to lodge with Gamache and his family. 

            The only fly in the ointment of this successful rehab story is Sam, her brother:  he loathes Gamache and takes special pains at every opportunity to show him the contempt in which he regards him;  Gamache knows in his very bones that Sam is anything but rehabilitated:  wherever he fetches up, grief and strife will follow. 

And they do, but first a seemingly unrelated quandary presents itself:  a mysterious letter is forwarded to one of the series’ permanent characters, writing of a false wall in the local bookseller’s loft:  when it is excavated a copy of a very famous painting is revealed behind the bricks – the Paston Treasure – or a very competent copy of it – is there, complete with tiny variations, spelling out a coded message for Inspector Gamache. 

‘I’m going to get you’


‘Time’s Up’.

Louise Penny has constructed a seemingly impossible plot to unravel;  there’s no figuring out in advance who, or how many, villains there are, but Gamache has been in the business of catching criminals for a long time;  he has many enemies – but none so clever and seemingly anonymous as his latest adversary.  What a clever writer she is, and how deprived I have been by my ignorance, especially when all her permanent minor characters are so winning, especially Rosa the duck:  she can quack at me any time!  FIVE STARS.



Sunday, 7 May 2023

Around the Adriatic, by Tony Straw.

Levin author Tony Straw opens his second book of travels with the Christchurch earthquake of 2011, a major disaster for New Zealand which killed 185 people and changed the city’s landscape and way of life permanently.  It also changed emotional landscapes, too;  he and Lee, his partner of many years, finally decide to Tie the Knot, Engage in Wedded Bliss – get MARRIED, not least because, out of the rubble eventually appears in handy proximity a building announcing it is the Dept. of Births, Marriages and Deaths.  Tony is intrigued because he’d never noticed it on his travels to work and back and, after some discussion, he and Lee decide to avail themselves of the department’s marriage service which turns out to be a very happy and tasteful occasion – and after the celebrations, the perfect excuse to plan a honeymoon.

            And what a wonderful itinerary is planned:  their first cruise ever on board the liner Celebrity Silhouette, fifteen decks containing twenty-eight hundred passengers, leaving from Venice, where Tony and Lee will join the ship, having completed a motoring tour of the Balkans beforehand.  Their ship’s ports of call also include Balkan ports, as well as Malta, Sicily, Naples and Rome:  this is the Honeymoon of everyone’s dreams!  In theory.  In a perfect world.

            Tiresome reality at Shanghai airport cracks Tony and Lee’s rose-coloured glasses, especially after a two-hour wait on the runway, all belted up and ready to go, waiting for someone’s permission to take off.  They are not in the best frame of mind to start touring the Italian Lake district before they explore Croatia when they eventually get to their first destination, BUT!  A good night’s sleep will restore anyone’s good humour – even driving with the prospect of a Tom Tom GPS nicknamed Tomasina who, in the grand tradition of all GPSs, is definitely a law unto herself as pilot of their rental car. 

The monumental tussle of wills is just beginning as Tony and Lee start their journey on what they hope will be lesser-known country roads instead of the huge motorway system – the scenery and accommodation will be much less ‘touristy’, more authentic.  (If Tomasina allows it.)

            Especially in the Balkans, where there has been so much recent tragedy and conflict:  the locals are very resilient and happy to help, and they are possessed of an offbeat sense of humour that our travellers find very appealing – and that is one of the strengths of this book -  Tony’s great attention to detail, and the fascinating background and historical facts that add to his wonderful scenic descriptions, not to mention the mouthwatering descriptions of food and drink consumed (Tony and Lee are gourmets of long standing).

            If finances prevent you from following in their footsteps, then get a vicarious thrill from the printed page, especially aboard the Liner Celebrity Silhouette:  Tony is such an engaging, humorous writer that it will almost be like sitting at the same table. Everyone who reads this book will enjoy his honeymoon, too!   FIVE STARS.  

Saturday, 29 April 2023


Mrs. Jewell and the wreck of the General Grant.


In May of 1866, the General Grant, ‘ a fine three-master sailing out of Boston,’ was wrecked with huge loss of life off the Sub-Antarctic Auckland Islands in the Southern Ocean, 465 kilometres from the southernmost tip of New Zealand.  Only fifteen of the eighty-three people aboard survived, and despite many searches over the intervening one hundred and fifty seven years, the wreck has never been found.  The General Grant was on its way to England, taking families back to their homes, some with considerable fortunes from the Australian Gold fields, not to mention a big, secret cache of gold from the London, a ship that had foundered.  Newly-weds Mary and Joseph Jewell are passengers, their clothes considerably weighed down by the gold that Mary has sewn into the seams and pockets.  When the nuggets are exchanged for pounds they will have enough to buy a farm in Clovelly, Joseph’s birthplace.  The future looks rosy.

            Until fog and swells push them off course and the worst happens – Mary wasn’t the only one to think of sewing gold into pouches and pockets:  when the ship starts to sink the weight of the gold drags many down to a watery death, and the children – the children have no chance.  The deaths of those innocents will remain in Mary’s nightmares for the rest of her life.  And she will never know why she survived along with fourteen others out of a complement of eighty-three:  fate was either being kind, or looking for her to play with.

            Christina Sanders brings the great tragedy to superb, terrible reality.  Narrated by Mary, it is though we are reading her journal over her shoulder as she writes, especially when she recounts their initial attempts to light a fire so that they wouldn’t die of the cold:  five of their six matches were damp and wouldn’t ignite;  the sixth match was carefully dried by the heat of the owner’s body, and when that last match took, everyone’s faith in God was renewed – until the next crisis. 

            No-one had any idea how long it would take for another ship to sail past, and to their horror, despite their permanent bonfires blazing on high ground, one did do just that – sail past and keep on going.  All hope disappeared for a time after that episode, but it didn’t die completely, especially with the discovery of wild pigs and goats, which made a great change from seal blubber.  There is much to be said of the resilience of the human spirit, and Ms Sanders tells this epic true story with grace and reverence for man’s survival instinct.    SIX STARS.   

Saturday, 22 April 2023


Scythe, by Neal Shusterman.                  Young Adults.



       This is not a recent publication, but it is the first book of a trilogy that I absolutely HAVE to finish.  Dystopian fiction, especially for Young Adults, is now a popular genre, especially with the advent of ‘The Hunger Games’ and it is a fitting reflection of the current turmoil and uncertainty that rules our world.  In ‘Scythe’, Neal Shusterman takes us on an all-too-realistic journey into the near future, where mankind has evolved far enough to have eliminated war, disease, hunger and its attendant misery:  no-one dies any more because all the usual ways to die have been eliminated;  instead, on a percentage basis according to Old World statistics, people are visited by a Scythe, a person specifically selected to kill them – whether they want to die or not.  There is no argument.  It shall be done, regardless of the protests and sometimes rebellion from the chosen one’s family:  it is their time.  Whether they agree or not.

            Scythe Faraday has taken on two new apprentices, even though it is usual to train only one at a time, but he is impressed with both of them for differing reasons:  Rowan happened to be nearby when his high-school classmate was ‘called’ into the Principal’s Office.  He was shocked to witness the boy’s death (called Gleaning), even though he tried to intervene it wasn’t ‘his time’.  He was trying to compose something empathetic to tell the boy’s parents when he is horrified to find his parents have been visited by Scythe Faraday:  if they will apprentice Rowan to the Scythe, then they will have immunity from death too – for a year.  Bye, Rowan!

            Citra, a pupil at the same high school, has also been chosen for her fearlessness at standing up to Scythe Faraday when he visited her family’s apartment, requesting dinner as he waited for their neighbour to come home.  (Scythes customarily eat wherever and whenever they like, for free.  Who would be brave enough to charge them?)  She had so many scathing things to say to him that he admired her courage.  Now, look where that has got her!  And one thing that unites Rowan and Citra irrevocably:  neither of them want to kill anyone, much less learn the myriad ways of death that Scythe Faraday wants to teach them.  It’s great that they have earned immunity for their families (for one year), but at what cost to themselves?

            Neal Shusterman has constructed a chillingly real future world, cleverly combining the former glories of Old World History with a frightening shift in the moral compass of the New.  Let’s hope he’ll never be right!  FIVE STARS.       



Wednesday, 12 April 2023



 The Dead of Winter, by Stuart MacBride.


          Detective Constable Edward Reekie is wondering why he ever became a Police Officer, especially when he is doing all the driving through unrelenting winter snowfall to a remote Scottish village to deliver an old crim on his last legs – and from  the sound of him, his last lung: he’s also transporting his ungrateful and surly temporary boss, Detective Inspector Victoria Montgomery-Porter, who hopes to get a deathbed confession from said old crim Marky Bishop about various places that he has stashed money from his many bank heists.

            ‘Good luck with that, Bigtoria’ thinks her chauffeur unkindly.  He is not looking forward to Glenfarach, their destination;  it’s literally full of felons, a kind of a Last Stop before they kiss their evil backsides goodbye.  It’s a dumping ground for Scotland’s worst paedos, rapists, murderers and sickos, the kind whom ordinary people don’t want in their neighbourhood, and will set fire to their accommodation to drive them out, so the authorities have come up with the ideal solution:  convert an abandoned country estate into a mini-open prison, staffed by Police Scotland’s finest.

            All very well and good, except that driving conditions are frightening and Edward is having a hard time keeping their piece-of-shite squad car on the road, and his nasty intolerant boss is demanding more speed.  The only thing Edward can do is say ‘Yes, Gov’, and hope that the need for speed won’t see them all dead in a ditch, or wrapped in a loving embrace with a Scottish Pine.

            The nightmare trip doesn’t end at their destination;  shortly after their arrival, the first murder occurs, that of a child-molester whom the ‘ordinary’ crims despise, then despite the continuing unrelenting snowstorm, someone unknown (well, of course!) sets fire to the child-molester’s house, destroying all forensic evidence, including his body, which had been most cruelly tortured.  Bigtoria is beside herself, not only because everything has gone up in smoke, but because all the technology has gone on the blink, not to mention ordinary power:  they are literally functioning in the dark.  And it also means that reinforcements won’t arrive from the nearest police centre until the weather dies down.  How is any one supposed to police efficiently in such conditions?  Which are only exacerbated by the next almost identical killing.

            Stuart MacBride never disappoints:  he creates wonderfully credible characters, and in this stand-alone story he has woven so many twists and turns into the narrative that I could only gape at his cleverness.  And it’s all done – not with mirrors – but a fantastic humour and feel for dialogue that has always made each of his books a pleasure to read.  FIVE STARS.    



Monday, 3 April 2023


Dark Music, by David Lagercrantz.



          Swedish writer David Lagercrantz is internationally known for creating well-written and credible sequels to the late Stieg Larsson’s ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ series after that author’s premature death from a heart attack;  now he has used terrible historic events of the beginning of this century as the background to the brutal murder of Jamal Kabir, an Afghani refugee in Stockholm – and he introduces as his main protagonists his modern version of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson to solve the crime.

            Holmes played the violin:  his modern-day equivalent, Professor Hans Rekke, was a concert pianist of some renown.  Holmes has frighteningly brilliant deductive powers, as does Rekke, but Holmes liked his opium pipe, and Rekke has his very own drug-dealer Freddie to supply him with whatever he needs.  Holmes was sad and solitary, and Rekke is bipolar, prone to fits of manic energy or abysmal despair. 

Lagercrantz’s version of Watson, that shrewd, loyal and trusty sidekick, is Micaela Vargas, from a Chilean refugee family who is a new and inexperienced police officer seconded to the Kabir killing.  She comes from a tough suburb of Stockholm and has a couple of brothers on the wrong side of the law;  naturally, they are not keen on her choice of work but too bad:  she loves her job and she’s good at it.  Especially when she meets Rekke and observes his marvellous logic in action – after he recovers from a suicide attempt, rescued by her!  And after he recovers sufficiently enough to use his mind for more positive and productive reasoning, Rekke and Micaela realise that there is a lot more to Kabir’s murder than they could ever have imagined, including the sinister influence of The Good Guys – the American CIA, who are anything BUT, in regard to this crime 

Throughout the whole story is a musical theme, that of thwarted ambition: Kabir in his youth had dreams of being an orchestral conductor, but  the forbidding by the Taliban after the Russians left Afghanistan of all musical forms (particularly decadent western classical music), and the destruction of all instruments used to produce it –‘because it leads us away from the only beauty that means anything, the love of Allah’ stifled any such dreams, and at the time of his murder he was a garage mechanic – and a part-time football referee.  And CIA informer.

Mr Lagercrantz has given us two worthy modern-day successors to Holmes and Watson and the plot fairly sizzles along, especially in the later stages, but I have to say that Ms Vargas had a two-dimensional air about her initially – which could have been translation problems. Anyway, I look forward with great anticipation to their next adventures.  FOUR STARS.