Review of ‘In Place of Fear’ by Catriona McPherson

‘In Place of Fear’ by Catriona McPherson is set in Edinburgh in 1948, at the birth of the NHS. Helen begins a new job as Medical Almoner, which is a welfare role within the practice. Whatever the doctors can’t help with medically, will normally fall under her remit. Her family don’t seem happy that she’s even working, never mind with two male doctors. They are of the opinion that a married woman should be having babies and staying at home. There is also the inverted snobbery attitude that she is trying to rise above her station in life, and girls like her from the poor tenements should be working in factories, not a doctor’s office. When Helen stumbles across a dead body, she finds her herself investigating the murkier side of life. It seems people will stop at nothing to prevent scandal, and by poking her nose in, Helen is in grave danger. 

I have read Catriona McPherson’s Dandy Silver series set in the 1920s and enjoyed them immensely. This is very different, in that the heroine is a working class woman, dealing with the harsh realities of life just after the Second World War. The historical aspects of the new NHS fascinated me. Its inception made life bearable for so many people and continues to this day, despite the efforts of some politicians.

The descriptions of Edinburgh in the 1940s felt so real and so desperate. The poverty was appalling still. The use of local language and dialect gave it a gritty reality, and I hope that those reading out-with Scotland will appreciate its richness.

The mystery is well told, as Helen delves into the seedy underbelly of Edinburgh, and finds out some secrets that others will kill to keep hidden. It was tense and compelling. There was also love and loyalty and a desire to make things better. I loved it.

I was given this ARC to review.

My Best Books of 2021!

This year has been another difficult one, but authors have stepped up and given us some amazing stories. I struggled to whittle my favourite books of the year down to a reasonable number. There was no way I could stop at a Top Ten, but I managed a Top Fifteen. These are the books that made my year, and I highly recommend each and every one. Here they are, listed in no particular order:

  1. The Tell Tale by Clare Ashton

2. A Corruption of Blood by Ambrose Parry

3. The Island Between Us by Wendy Hudson 

4. The Fair Botanists by Sara Sheridan 

5. Ignis by KJ

6. The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

7. Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily R Austin

8. The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

9. The End Of Men by Christina Sweeney-Baird

10. Her Last Request by Mari Hannah

11. The Dead Of Winter by Nicola Upson

12. Song Of Serenity by Brey Willows

13.The Appeal by Janice Hallett

14. Katharine Parr, The Sixth Wife by Alison Weir

15. Shiver by Allie Reynolds

Review of ‘Highland Whirl’ by Anna Larner

‘Highland Whirl’ by Anna Larner is the third book I’ve read by this particular author and I’ve loved every one. Although this is a follow up to ‘Highland Fling’, there is no need to have read the previous story as it works as a standalone too. In this novel we spend time with Roxanne Barns, best friend of Eve, who is paying a long anticipated visit to Inverness, and Alice Campbell, stepdaughter of Moira, Eve’s partner. The pair did not hit it off at all when they first met in Leicester a few years before, so when Alice is asked to host Roxanne for the night, neither are happy about it. Roxanne’s apparent nonchalance regarding women and relationships annoys Alice no end. And Roxanne finds Alice stuck-up and immature. Can either of them get past that now? As a growing attraction builds it becomes more difficult to keep to their own corners. 

I was so glad to be back in Newland, with Eve, Moira and their neighbours, especially Angus and Elizabeth. Life had moved on and there were new issues to deal with involving all of them. The tension between Roxanne and Alice was skilfully done, as was the story involving the whole group. The writing was beautifully descriptive and one could almost imaging being in the Highlands with them. The setting was perfect and the characters exceptionally well imagined. Anna Larner writes in a gentle, kind and loving way, and I look forward to every book she brings out. A wonderful story.

I was given this ARC for review.

Review of ‘Song of Serenity’ by Brey Willows

What’s a Muse to do when her much-anticipated peaceful break is under threat? Calliope Ardalides is the eldest of the nine Muses, and is responsible for arbitrating arguments between the gods and answering for their failures to the humans who complain. Her haven of serenity is a small Scottish village, where the Temple of the Muses is situated. But when an American businesswoman lodges plans for an adventure park right next door, Calliope’s hopes of relaxation and calm are shattered. Despite a powerful attraction neither women appear ready to yield. Can they each get what they want? And will they be able to resist the pull of something more?

I’ve been looking forward to this, the first in a new series set in the Afterlife Inc world. The first trilogy was excellent and my favourite series of the past five years. This time we are with the Muses, and they are just as compelling. Calliope is a talented musician and singer, but has been so caught up in the other aspects of her job, that her artistic side has taken a back seat. Being in Scotland lets her enjoy music again, but the threat to her peace from Jordan James and her plans is worrying. Although she’s used to seeing an issue from both sides at work, it’s more difficult in this case. She’s a kind, thoughtful and sensitive soul and I really liked her. 

Jordan wasn’t the big, bad wolf, even though she wanted to build next to the Temple. I could see her point of view, and it would certainly help the local community. But she had to see the whole picture, and Calliope was the person to help her do that. Their attraction was intense and powerful, but it was also healing for both of them. 

Brey Willows describes the Scottish countryside perfectly and makes me feel as if I’m there. She sees past the surface and allows the reader a peek of that too. I love the marrying of old and new, the mythology and the present. The story shows wonderful imagination, and I never tire of reading what she has come up with . She knows her characters inside out and allows the reader to become part of their lives. 

‘Song of Serenity’ is a stunning story. I highly recommend it.

I was given this Arc for review. 

Review of ‘Change of Heart’ by Clare Lydon

‘Change of Heart’ by Clare Lydon has ALL the feels.  The Scottish Highlands, is the perfect setting for this heart-warming romance. Erin runs a decorating business with her friend Morag in Edinburgh. Her parent’s wedding anniversary means a big party in the Highlands, and she doesn’t want to turn up alone. So she hires a fake girlfriend. Steph, a struggling actress, takes on the role.  It’ll be strictly business and they’ll part ways at the end of the weekend. What could go wrong? A growing attraction and family secrets throw a spanner in the works. Nothing is ever simple.

I loved Erin and Steph. As with all of Clare Lydon’s characters, I get the feeling we would be friends. They’re lovely women and perfect for each other. Their story had some unusual and very surprising twists and I found myself so invested in them. The wider story was extremely emotional and beautifully told. When I realised where it was going, it was a shock, but as with everything Clare Lydon writes, it was so well thought out and pulled me in.  And with some added comedic moments and hot and steamy interludes, who could ask for more? I adored it. 

I was given this ARC for review. 

Review of ‘We Are All Liars’ by Carys Jones

The Fierce Five have been friends since early childhood. Once close, they have drifted apart as adult life takes hold. In an attempt to rekindle the feelings they all had for each other, Gail invites the women to her cabin in the Scottish Highlands for the weekend. Will they find that friendship again, or will they discover that the lies we all tell each other are too big and too serious?

‘We Are All Liars’ is exhilarating, terrifying and very, very, clever. Told from the point of view of Allie, we see the lives the women lead now and how that has affected their friendship group. But the past cannot and will not be forgotten. There are secrets and lies that have remained hidden for twenty years, but once the women are together it becomes increasingly difficult to keep them from surfacing. I was shocked and surprised and could never have guessed where it was all going. Carys Jones took me on a rollercoaster ride, one I could not get off until the brilliantly conceived twist was revealed. What an amazing story.

I was given this ARC for review.

Review of ‘The Island Between Us’ by Wendy Hudson

‘The Island Between Us’ by Wendy Hudson is an atmospheric and wonderfully descriptive story set on a Hebridean Island off the coast of Scotland. Adventurer Georgia runs survivalist courses using the skills she has gained over many years travelling in the most remote areas of the world. When famous actress Kelsey signs up for one of her courses, Georgia initially has no idea who she is, or that they have a long-lost connection. The fierce Scottish weather leaves the group stranded and faced with using their newly acquired survival skills for real. How will they cope? And what will it mean for Georgia and Kelsey as they become reacquainted? 

Wendy Hudson has surpassed herself with this novel. The writing is excellent, with exquisite descriptions of the island and the dire situations the group face. She slowly ramps up the tension, making the adventure real and dangerous. The distinct personalities within the group add to the drama, and it is only by working together they can overcome the situation they are in. It’s about teamwork and camaraderie and realising what is important. The story is compelling, with characters I could believe in. Georgia was strong, and a born leader. She brought out the best in people – especially Kelsey. I loved seeing how they became a unit and encouraged the others to believe in themselves too. Highly recommended.

I was given this ARC for review.

Review of ‘The Fair Botanists’ by Sara Sheridan

‘The Fair Botanists’ by Sara Sheridan is the standout novel of the year for me. It’s the wonderful story of two women and the connections they make in Edinburgh in the early 1800s. Elizabeth is a widow moving to Edinburgh to live with her husband’s family, and hoping for a better life. Her interest in botany and especially illustration, brings her into contact with those working at the new botanical gardens. The imminent flowering of a special tree has the city fascinated, as has the expected visit of the King. Belle has a secret identity and a plan for the future. She knows her present career will be short lived, so is using her interest in botany to ensure her comfort later. These two very different women find a common bond, forming a friendship that defies society’s expectations .

Elizabeth and Belle’s stories weave in and out with those of other prominent and not so prominent members of Edinburgh society. It is this that captured my attention and did not let go until the last page.  Sara Sheridan builds each layer, and connects each strand, with beautifully written descriptive pose. It’s  a story of life, of friendship and of love.  Highly recommended.

I was given this ARC to review.

Review of ‘Under Her Influence’ by Amanda Radley

‘Under Her Influence’ by Amanda Radley is a sweet love story and leaves the reader feeling happy and contented. And that’s exactly what I want from a romance these days. Ms Radley keeps angst to a minimum and lets her readers enjoy the blossoming of love between her characters. Beth Fraser runs Fraser Park, a theme park in Scotland, where she takes the brunt of the responsibility and decision-making, whilst her brother apparently skates through life without a care in the world. When social media influencer, Jemma Johnson comes to the park to check out all it has to offer, Beth is perplexed. What is an influencer? She barely knows what Instagram is, so the idea that hundreds of thousands of people would follow Jemma on her travels around the world is beyond her. But as a hostile board threatens everything Beth has worked for, she realises that the park needs new ways of attracting customers. 

I loved this story, as it was gentle and endearing, with two main characters I could really get to know. Beth was determined and focused and worked non-stop. In her way Jemma was the same. But the way they chose to deal with life was completely different, and bringing them together worked so well. It was a fee-good love story, with wonderful descriptions of the park. So wonderful that I want to go to Fraser Park. Tell me its a real place please Amanda Radley!

I was given this ARC to review.

Review of ‘The End Of Men’ by Christina Sweeney-Baird

Shivers ran down my spine reading this book. The author, Christina Sweeney-Baird, could never have known just how prophetic she was being when she wrote it, but it is astounding how much she has predicted. The world is in the grip of a viral pandemic that only affects men. Dr Amanda MacLean tried to warn the authorities, but no-one was willing to listen. Men soon realise the folly of ignoring her warnings as they begin to die. What follows are first-person accounts by women from all over the world, documenting the fall of the male-dominated patriarchal society we knew, and the rise of a female-led one. The storytelling is wonderful – perfectly paced, with an immediacy and emotional intensity that made me gasp. She amps up the tension, opening out the story as the virus spreads, and lets us see how society could be if women were in charge. If I had read this last year, before the pandemic, it would still have been a great story, but this year makes it even more so. I could not put it down. ‘The End Of Men’ deserves to be the hit book of the year.

I was given an ARC by LoveReading to review.

Due out 29 April 2021.