My baptismal name may be Giovanna but here in my mother’s adopted country I have become plain Joan; I am not pink-cheeked and golden-haired like the beauties they admire. I have olive skin and dark features – black brows over ebony eyes and hair the colour of a raven’s wing…
The Lady of the Ravens – Joanna Hickson
When Joan Vaux is sent to live in the shadow of the Tower of London, she must learn to navigate the treacherous waters of this new England under the Tudors. Like the ravens, Joan must use her eyes and her senses, if Henry and his new dynasty are to prosper and thrive …
I received a copy of this book from Harper Collins UK – Harper Fiction in return for an honest review.
Joan finds much of her life revolves around the Tower of London and develops an affinity with the mystical ravens who live there. They are seen by some as symbols of the monarchy’s strength, whilst many view them as pests and harbingers of death. Joan’s life collides with the ravens at many key times, Important characters and points in her life are associated with them.
This story creates an intricate tapestry of life at the time, the darkness, disease, treachery and unruliness. Historical characters are blended seamlessly with fictional ones, giving the story historical authenticity, and history an intimate drama of day to day life and iconic events.
A rich, vibrant story told from a brave woman’s point of view, who overcame her fears and obstacles of class and gender to lead a purposeful, rewarding life.
Affairs of state, family drama, the role of women and a touch of romance make this easy to read. This dramatic story lets you experience the beginning of the House of Tudors. and 15th Century English life.
Joanna Hickson spent twenty-five years presenting and producing News and Arts programmes for the BBC. Her first published book was a children’s historical novel Rebellion at Orford Castle but more recently she has turned to adult fiction, concentrating on bringing fifteenth-century English history and some of its fascinating principal characters to life. She is married with a large family and gets inspiration from her Wiltshire farmhouse home, which dates back to her chosen period.
The prose poems in I Can See The Lights are earthy and raw, but also incredibly sensitive. It’s pretty much guaranteed that more than one of them will bring you to tears. Characters are vividly brought to life, and stark but warm environments evoked in a down to earth, yet almost painterly manner by Russ Litten’s uncompromising voice.
Tales of home, of un-belonging, of strife at sea – of a northern city’s beating heart. Told in a mesmeric, stripped-down tone, this collection is a work of genius.
I received a copy of this book from WildPressed in return for an honest review
Edgy, eloquent and emotional, the poetry in ‘I Can See The Lights, shows the darker side of life, the things people prefer to forget or turn away from. It showcases the human fear of being alone and vulnerable. The forgotten groups in society who are becoming too numerous to ignore.
It’s a collection of feelings and thoughts. Showcasing the world’s cruelty, the way we fool ourselves, the inherent human need to search for the light and something good to hold onto.
The writing is emotional, honest and poignant. It makes you think and saddens you. It’s not all darkness, as you read you can see the good, the happiness and the light, and it’s worth looking for.
This is a collection of poetry and stories you can read again, and see something different. When it ends you wonder what happens next, or what if.
If you enjoy poetry that reflects today’s world, this is for you.
I received a copy of this book from Aria Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
From the blurb, the reader knows that this is not the idyllic holiday you’d expect, but nothing prepares you for the twists and turns that appear with increasing alacrity as the story progresses.
Cora and Jonathan are on a dream holiday, Cora seems unsure whether she wants to be there. Jonathan is full of surprises, and it seems that life is on track. Until, their exclusive holiday retreat becomes crowded, with another couple, and they can’t fail to see the resemblance to themselves.
The story has a strong technological theme, which adds depth and complexity to the plot.
Progressing, through Cora’s point of view, things start to spiral in an increasingly uncomfortable way. The characters are believable and complex. They are not what they appear to be on the surface.
Cora is an unreliable narrator, and as the story progresses, she presents a hidden side to her character. Flashbacks to incidents in her past illuminate and reinforce her present actions. The last part of the story is an adrenaline rush, and at times full of confusion.
Even at the end, I still wasn’t sure I’d understood everything, but that’s what you want from a psychological thriller.
An absorbing, addictive read.
Guest Post : Smiling assassins By Pat Black
The psychopathic, murderous villains in my new novel The Beach House drew inspiration from a lovely couple we met on holiday.
When I’m on holiday I tend to stick to my own pen. I wouldn’t say I was unfriendly, but I am guarded. I realise this doesn’t reflect well on me, but bitter experience has taught me to be wary.
I remember one couple I got to know on holiday years ago who passed out business cards and tried to flog their home renovation business at every opportunity. This was odd enough – before the boorish male in that pairing then made some utterly jaw-dropping comments about the looks of a woman as part of a third couple who joined the group. I was astounded at the cheek, and the fact the woman just smiled and laughed at these comments, instead of absolutely battering him. “People like that actually exist! In the real world!”
Another couple on an overnight boat trip didn’t realise I was joking when I was… making jokes. It’s not like any of the daft comments and dad-on-holiday patter were certificate X, either. It was a bit like explaining that, you know, it doesn’t really matter why the chicken wanted to cross the road, or what might have awaited it on the other side. Now imagine that sort of scrutiny after every utterance. “It’s your accent,” the woman explained later, as if that explained anything.
So, I’ve learned. I’m happy enough drinking cocktails in our own group of two, reading a stack of books on my tod, worrying about sharks while we go for a swim in a pair, and forming our own pub quiz team.
Then one night (a while ago now, mind you; pre-kids anyway), we were approached by this cracking couple from the South West. The shutters went up immediately, but then something strange happened: I lightened up, and we… Well. We made friends. They were loads of fun. They didn’t want anything from us. They got my jokes, and I got theirs. Importantly, they also knew not to crowd us – I looked forward to having a drink with them at night back at the hotel, and was genuinely sorry to see them go home, a couple of days before we did.
Hey – maybe for them, we were the weirdos?
It was a nice, human experience. So of course my imagination twisted this into something unpleasant for The Beach House.
I wondered what would happen if you had genuinely evil people try to befriend you on holiday – evil people with an evil purpose. And you couldn’t easily extricate yourself from the situation. When your own sense of manners and social skills over-ride your instincts, which might have to scream at you in order for you to protect yourself and your partner.
One of my favourite parts of any modern thriller is in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, when Mikael Blomkvist confronts the novel’s villain. He has a chance to get away, but he refuses, because of good manners. The villain reflects on this with some astonishment. “All I had to do was offer you a cup of coffee.”
All my baddies had to do was order my heroine a pina colada. And it could happen to you. Of course it could. They’re out there. They walk among us. They go on holiday. They sit beside you on a train. They seem nice. They know exactly what to say to people. They see a person or a situation, and their minds instantly move onto how they can strip it to the bone.
Have you seen my business card, incidentally? Maybe we could swap? Hey, networking is networking, after all. No sense in ignoring the business angle, hey? We’ve all got to eat. Fancy a cocktail? Maybe we could go to the pub quiz…
Author and journalist PR Black lives in Yorkshire, although he was born and brought up in Glasgow. When he’s not driving his wife and two children to distraction with all the typing, he enjoys hillwalking, fresh air and the natural world, and can often be found asking the way to the nearest pub in the Lake District. His short stories have been published in several books including the Daily Telegraph’s Ghost Stories and the Northern Crime One anthology. His Glasgow detective, Inspector Lomond, is appearing in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. He took the runner-up spot in the 2014 Bloody Scotland crime-writing competition with “Ghostie Men”. His work has also been performed on stage in London by Liars’ League. He has also been shortlisted for the Red Cross International Prize, the William Hazlitt essay prize and the Bridport Prize.
But being a working mother is so much more difficult when you’re a secret agent for an underground branch of the security services.
Platform Eight have been tasked with tracking down and eliminating the traitor in MI6 who has been selling information to the highest bidder through a headhunting website for the criminal underworld that connects intelligence operatives with all manner of bad people with a simple right swipe. Deals get made. Secrets get sold. Missions fail, and agents die.
Lex’s own home life is not much easier. With a husband who rings her in the middle of a gunfight to complain she’s yet again forgotten to pick up his dry-cleaning, and a two-year-old daughter who has a newfound love of biting, surviving both the Terrible Twos and a traitor might just be too much for one exhausted mother to handle.
I received a copy of this book from Bonnier via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
More adventures, or misadventures of Lex and Platform eight. She’s tasked with finding a double agent in the secret services, and action and danger surround her.
Her home life is arguably more challenging. The mother of a two-year-old, she faces the terrible twos on a daily basis. Combining motherhood and being a spyleads to lots of drama and many humorous moments.
The plot is fast-paced and well written with twists, danger and delightful comic moments.The characters are vividly created but believable, and it’s easy to like Lex, themain protagonist.
Perfect escapism. A delightful mix of laughs and thrills, and parenting moments that are relatable for any parent.
I received a copy of this book from Harper Collins UK- Harper Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
A heartwarming, serendipitous story, about Charlotte’s life and loves. At twenty-two, she meets the one, but there’s someone else in Tom’s life, and the love remains unrequited. The story continues with chance meetings, but life events force them apart.
Music is a recurrent theme in this story, reflecting life events and changes in emotions.
The romance is chequered, but Charlotte faces family tragedies and difficult decisions that shape her as a person. The impact of mental health issues on families is explored with sensitivity. The idea that our lives could be different if we’d made another choice is also a theme of this emotional story. As Charlotte matures and changes, as life events occur.
There is a strong sense of place in this story that grounds it, adds interest and give it authenticity. The characters are realistic and draw you into their world.
When the fate of the world rests on your shoulders, how do you choose between what you ought to do and the only thing you really want?
Leonie finally knows who she is. But now she needs to decide who she is going to be. Her choice will affect not just her family, not just those she knows, but tens, hundreds of thousands, millions of people that she doesn’t. And every path that’s open to her will put Perry under the pressures that caused his breakdown before. How can she do what she must and still protect Perry?
Perry desperately wants to make things easier for Leonie. Somehow he has to find the strength to face the things that all but destroyed him in the past. But every way he turns, some aspect of his past lies waiting to pounce – even during his happiest moments. And he can never forget that Leonie’s life is in danger from someone, somewhere.
Gabriel has managed to negotiate peace, at least in theory. Now he must put that into practice and reunite Leonie with the family she never knew she had. Then disaster strikes right in the middle of his own sanctuary. Can he still protect those he loves, or has he been harbouring a villain the whole time?
What if the ethical choice has devastating consequences for others?
How can anyone know the right thing to do?
Leonie chose to sacrifice everything to save other people. Now those around her have to face the consequences – and those consequences are not what they expected.
Prospero must deal with his own guilt. He was the one who gave Leonie the tools she needed – her life was in his hands. To make the most of what she did, he will have to face up to all the family issues he has avoided for so long. Whatever he chooses to do, someone he loves will be hurt. For Leonie’s sake, is he now strong enough to make the choice he couldn’t make before?
The crisis predicted by Lord Gabriel has come and gone. But his task isn’t over. Leonie’s very existence may be out in the open but Gabriel discovers that the past is never what it seems – and nor is the present. How can he use what he now knows to bring together those who have been enemies for as long as anyone can remember? If he fails in this, everything he’s had to do so far will be in vain.
What if your secrets are so dangerous they could destroy the one you love? Is honesty always the best policy?
Leonie may have run away but Prospero will find her. He loves her and he wants a future with her by his side whatever the consequences. Only when he does find her, he ought to tell her who he really is, outside the monastery. That’ll make her run again. Dare he risk it? But if he doesn’t tell her, someone else may…
Marriage to Prospero is what Leonie wants most and the one thing she knows she can’t have. If he found out what she was really like, what she’d been, what she’d done, he’d despise her and she couldn’t bear that. Better to leave now than live a lie – but it’s harder than she expected. If only…
Gabriel is starting to discover the secrets inherent in Leonie, secrets that not even she knows, secrets that will tear the world apart. And the secrets he is keeping are tearing him apart. How can sacrificing those he loves possibly achieve peace when everything he discovers risks the death of millions?
A girl. A monk. An unthinkable sacrifice. When the choice is between love and life, how can anyone decide?
In a post-apocalyptic future, a girl and a monk, both with extraordinary mental powers, have compelling reasons not to fall in love. But their choices will have consequences for the rest of the world.
After the troubles of his youth, Brother Prospero has found comfort and fulfilment in the monastery. Then he discovers something that forces him to reconsider his whole vocation. How can it possibly be right to leave a life of worship and service for human desire? And if he does leave, will the pressures from his past destroy him?
Orphaned and mistreated, Leonie has found sanctuary and safety at the Abbey. When she comes into contact with Prospero everything spirals out of her control. Everyone she’s ever loved has died. She can’t do that to him. But how can she walk away from the first place she’s truly belonged?
Abbot Gabriel is faced with an impossible choice. He can do nothing and watch the world descend into war. Or he can manipulate events and ensure peace – at the cost of two lives that he is responsible for. Is he strong enough to sacrifice those he loves?
Rachel J Bonner is the author of the compelling and enthralling four book Choices and Consequences series. The first book in the series, Strand of Faith, was published in November 2018. Book 2, Thread of Hope, released on 2nd May 2019, followed by Weave of Love on 24th October, and Cloth of Grace at the end of February 2020.
Getting a degree in engineering, followed by a career in accountancy is probably not a conventional path to becoming an author, particularly in paranormal romance. Rachel says that, although accountancy isn’t anything like as boring as everyone thinks, writing is a lot more fun. When not writing, she can be found walking in the beautiful countryside near where she lives, which has influenced much of the scenery in her books or shooting things with her local archery club. Shooting targets only, honest. Nothing to worry about.
She also enjoys swimming, eating chocolate chip cookies and growing aromatic herbs, especially thyme and rosemary. It’s no coincidence that her heroine likes the same things.
You can find out more about her books and sign up for Rachel’s newsletters on her website.
Kate used to be good at recognising people. So good, she worked for the police, identifying criminals in crowds of thousands. But six months ago, a devastating car accident led to a brain injury. Now the woman who never forgot a face can barely recognise herself in the mirror.
At least she has Rob. Young, rich, handsome and successful, Rob runs a tech company on the idyllic Cornish coast. Kate met him just after her accident, and he nursed her back to health. When she’s with him, in his luxury modernist house, the nightmares of the accident fade, and she feels safe and loved.
Until, one day, she looks at Rob anew. And knows, with absolute certainty, that the man before her has been replaced by an impostor.
Is Rob who he says he is? Or is it all in Kate’s damaged mind?
I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
This is a chilling, complex and curious thriller, with psychological and technological themes. Told from three points of view. The reader lives the complete story. Whilst, it keeps you turning the pages, it starts your mind thinking too, what if?
The story has many strands. The unusual skill of the female protagonist, as a superrecogniser, which now lost, has left her unsure and vulnerable. The secret world of the new man in her life, and his attitude towards her that makes their interactions often claustrophobic. The themes of doppelgangers, and his apparent obsession with his.
The story is full of underlying detail, which sets the scene convincingly, and evidences the author’s copious research. There are many twists, and the ending is memorable.
If you’ve read this author’s psychological thrillers before, you may be waiting for something to happen that you don’t expect. It does, but its impact is more powerful than you may imagine.
Clever writing, intense suspense, and originality make this a must-read for those who like to explore the darkness and vastness of the human mind.
Guest Post – Super recognisers, by J.S.Monroe
There are some unlucky people in this world who cannot remember a face. Try as they might, they can’t recognise the most familiar people in their lives: relatives, friends, even their own reflection. The condition is known as facial blindness, or prosopagnosia, and it’s estimated that about two per cent of us are sufferers. In 2009, Richard Russell, a Harvard psychologist, wondered if these people were on a spectrum and, if they were, what happened at the other end? Were there those who cannot forget a face? Enter the “super recognisers”, a term coined by Russell for the one per cent of us who indeed have a preternatural gift for remembering the human face. A super recogniser might only have seen someone for a split second at a bus stop five years ago, but if he walked passed them again tomorrow, he would remember them.
In my new thriller, The Other You, my main female character, Kate, is a former super recogniser. She used to work as a civilian for the police, studying mug shots and then identifying criminals on CCTV footage, or working in the field at large public events, spotting known troublemakers in crowds. I spent a lot of time reading up on the subject, as I found it increasingly fascinating. The part of the brain where human faces are processed, for example, is called the fusiform gyrus and it appears to be a lot more active in super recognisers than the rest of us.
My research eventually took me to Essex, where I met a super recogniser called Emma. She only discovered her ability in her thirties, but she’d always had a good memory for faces, recognising someone in the swimming pool who had served her in Tesco’s years earlier, or spotting extras who kept on cropping up in different films. “It’s a bit embarrassing when you go up to someone familiar and smile and they look at you blankly because they don’t remember your face,” she says. Emma used to be in the Metropolitan Police but she now works a super recogniser for a private security firm. After a shift of spotting people, she’s mentally drained. “Your brain’s working overtime, taking screenshots all the time, scanning faces like a robot.”
Talking of robots, super recognisers are proving more than a match for facial recognition software, which is currently experiencing a global boom. The artificial intelligence algorithms deployed to identify faces, matching people in live situations to databases of criminals, are getting better, but it remains a far from exact science. When South Wales Police deployed facial recognition software at the Champions League Final in Cardiff in 2017, more than 2,000 people were wrongly identified as criminals – a failure rate of 92%.
Compare that with the success of super recognisers working for the Metropolitan Police. After the London riots in 2011, the Met amassed 200,000 hours of CCTV footage, but software managed to identify one criminal. One! The Met’s team of super recognisers, by contrast, identified more than 600. One extraordinary individual, PC Gary Collins, identified 180 alone, including a man who had concealed his face with a bandana and beanie. Collins recognised him from just his eyes – he’d last seen him two years ago.
“Algorithms will get better, but people change appearance and we as humans are primed to see through those changes,” says Josh Davis, professor of Applied Psychology at the University of Greenwich, who works closely with super recognisers and police forces around the world.
There’s something about the human face, it seems, that can’t be analysed solely by metrics. When we see someone, we imbue their face with meaning. He reminds me of my father; she looks like my old English teacher. The distance between our ears, or our mouth and nose, only tells half the story. Faces are uniquely human and humans – the super recognisers – remain, for the time being, the best at identifying them.
J.S. Monroe read English at Cambridge, worked as a foreign correspondent in Delhi, and was Weekend editor of the Daily Telegraph in London before becoming a full-time writer. Monroe is the author of eight novels, including the international bestseller, Find Me.