Book review: The Wych Elm by Tana French

The Wych Elm

I’d read two books by this author previously – one of these blew me away while the other (although exquisitely written) had a plot I found hard to believe – so I had to think a bit before committing myself to this 500+ page read. However, I’m glad I did.

Fans of Tana French’s Dublin Squad police procedurals should be aware this is a very different type of story – I’d describe it as a psychological drama in that it gradually reveals a dark secret within an extended family. I think it would appeal to fans of Ian Banks’s The Crow Road and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History.

The mystery takes a while to get established but once it starts to unfold it becomes more and more gripping.

The story’s told by Toby Hennessy, a privileged, good-looking, happy-go-lucky young man who’s never really had to question himself until a violent break-in leaves him hospitalised and traumatised. While recovering he goes to stay at Ivy House to help his Uncle Hugo who’s dying. A lot of Toby’s childhood memories were formed at Ivy House with his cousins Leon and Susanna.

The first third of the book introduces us to the characters who are vividly portrayed. There are some beautiful descriptions of the house, witty lines and thought-provoking observations:

“It’s taken me this long to start thinking about what luck can be, how smoothly and deliciously deceptive, how relentlessly twisted and knotted in its own hidden places, and how lethal.”

It becomes clear that Leon (who’s gay) and Susanna (who as a teenager went from “untroublesome” reclusive to wild child and back) had a difficult time at school which doesn’t match Toby’s recollection of events – but then because of his head injury chunks of his memory are missing.

While playing in the garden Susanna’s children discover a skeleton in the Wych Elm. A police investigation begins and the body is identified as a boy who the three of them were at school with. How did the body get there and how is it linked with their pasts?

From this point I couldn’t put the book down. The characters and their motivations were all believable and there’s a clever twist at the end.

The Wych Elm will be published by Penguin on 21st February 2019

ISBN 9780241379509

Hardback £14.99

Audiobook £22.74





Book review: An Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

I love a courtroom drama so was immediately attracted to this. I should start off by saying that like Erin Kelly’s He Said She Said and Laura Marshall’s Three Little Lies it is a story about a rape and for that reason won’t appeal to everyone  but I felt it was an important book that was intelligently written and didn’t sensationalise.

Kate Woodcroft is a highly-driven criminal barrister specialising in sex crime cases. She’s on the lookout for a high-profile case to advance her career when one comes along that she can’t refuse.

James Whitehouse, a Tory politician and close friend of the Prime Minister, is accused of rape by his aide, Olivia Lytton, an accusation which threatens to blow apart his apparently perfect middle class marriage to Sophie. James admits to having had an affair with Olivia but insists the sex was consensual. Kate’s convinced he’s guilty and is determined to prove it but it gradually becomes apparent her reasons for taking the case are more personal than she would admit.

The story’s told from different character viewpoints and in two timeframes – the present day and 1992 at Oxford university. Having been, like Kate, a state school girl at Oxbridge, I found all the characters and the behaviour of the Libertines (similar to the Bullingdon club) totally convincing. This is an unflinching portrayal of a toxic male culture of entitlement which in the #metoo climate is obviously very topical.

I took a while to warm to Kate and was a bit concerned that she was acting unprofessionally but I loved the way the story developed with several twists and revelations, and the ending felt right. All in all, I found this book a compulsive read and would highly recommend.

An Anatomy of a Scandal is published by Simon & Schuster and costs £7.99 paperback and £2.99 kindle.


The Secret – Katharine Johnson

I There’s a lovely review and a chance to win a signed paperback of The Secret or The Silence – visit Mai Taylor’s blog for lots more book recommendations

Mai's Musings

I am kicking off my 2019 reviews with the moving book, The Secret, by Katharine Johnson.


Love, Lies, and Betrayal in Wartime Italy.

Two girls growing up in Mussolini’s Italy share a secret that has devastating consequences.

Against a backdrop of fear, poverty and confusion during the Second World War, friendship is tested, and loyalties are divided until a chance encounter changes everything. 

Their lives diverge when beautiful, daring Martina marries and moves into Villa Leonida, the most prestigious house in their Tuscan mountain village, while plain, studious Irena trains to be a teacher.

But neither marriage nor life at Villa Leonida are as Martina imagined. And as other people’s lives take on a new purpose, Irena finds herself left behind.

Decades later, a tragedy at the villa coincides with the discovery of an abandoned baby, whose identity threatens to re-open old wounds among the next generation.

You can…

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Book review: Grass Shoots by Jane Bwye



Described as “a tender love story” Grass Shoots is the sequel to Breath of Africa, a family saga which portrayed Kenya as it emerged from colonial rule. I very much enjoyed it so was looking forward to this one. I absolutely loved it.

This book takes us up to modern times, showing a new set of challenges facing the next generation and the country. The descriptions are amazing – the chaotic capital, the colourful scenery and the exotic wildlife.

But the book also depicts the poverty, corruption and violence in the country and includes events such as the election violence of 2007-8 and the Westgate shopping centre terrorist attack. I love the way these historical details give context to the story. The author has lived in Kenya and obviously knows the country inside out.

The title refers to a charity set up to help a village but also captures the message of hope for the country. But there is also a love story and some intriguing family secrets which kept me turning the pages.

I read this book on a cold day in England but felt transported to Africa and was held by its spell. I have a feeling it will stay with me a long time.

Grass Shoots is published by Crooked Cat Books and is available in paperback £8.99 and ebook £1.99.

To buy from Amazon click here

Book review: The Cornish Retribution by Amanda James


I was pretty certain I’d love this book before I opened the cover – and I was right. A psychological thriller by Amanda James set in Cornwall – what’s not to like? 

Recently widowed Sam who lives in Cornwall is invited to a school reunion in Sheffield. She dreads seeing her old friends Dan and Penny there who betrayed her by going off with each other when they were 16. We know Sam did something she’s ashamed of in retaliation but don’t yet know what.

At the reunion Dan’s very enthusiastic to see her, Penny much less so. It’s obvious that although they appeared to have won all those years ago by ending up with each other, their marriage hasn’t been a success. And now Penny’s parents have died the couple are talking about buying somewhere in Cornwall close to Sam. This doesn’t bode well but things are about to get so much worse and someone will soon end up dead. 

As with many books in this genre, you have to be willing to suspend a certain amount of disbelief in places, and if you’re one of those people who feels it’s essential to like the characters they read about, this wouldn’t be an ideal choice. But if you love dark, twisty, domestic noir stories I’d highly recommend this book.

It certainly lives up to the description “gripping”. The setting is perfect and beautifully portrayed, and the writing is taut. Although I wondered what on earth Sam saw in certain characters, how she could allow herself to get involved and why she wasn’t able to see what was obvious to the reader, I couldn’t stop turning those pages to find out what would happen – and what an ending!

The Cornish Retribution is published by Bloodhound Books and is available in paperback £8.99 and ebook £1.99

To buy from Amazon click here

News from the Writing Cave

I’m sorry for the silence – I don’t mean my book but the shortage of posts recently while I’ve been hiding away in my writing cave.

But I have some news I’d like to share with  you.

The summer seems to have flown by but we have some great travel memories.

The Secret which came out in June has had some lovely reviews – but I’ve found that promoting existing books while writing the next one is a constant juggling act and there aren’t enough hours in the day.

Half-price Halloween Sale

But just to let you know – my 3 ebooks are discounted to half-price for Halloween – only 99p/99c – until Friday! You don’t need a Kindle to read these – you can read ebooks on a laptop, PC, phone or tablet, or in the Cloud.

So if you’re looking for something to read now the nights are drawing in, here are the links:


In September Crooked Cat authors were invited to a publishing event in Carcassonne – we had some brilliant workshops and plenty of time to look around the beautiful town. I took lots of useful ideas away with me and have now:



updated my pinterest boards – take a look at

Started on Instagram – follow me on

signed a contract with Audible for producing an audio version of The Silence!

I’m hopefully also about to sign a contract for the audiobook of Lies, Mistakes and Misunderstandings and am  currently listening to auditions for a narrator for The Secret.

And I’ve finished my next novel!

It’s currently with beta readers. The feedback I’ve had so far has been fantastic – everyone’s spotted different things but all useful.

Watch this space for more news on The Suspects – or sign up for my next newsletter for a sneaky preview and a giveaway (click this link):





Author visit – Joan Livingston, author of the Isabel Long Mystery series

rednecks and hc


Today’s coffee shop guest is Joan Livingston, author of the Isabel Long mystery series and I have an excerpt from her new book to share with you.

The first book in this series Chasing the Case has received stellar reviews and Rednecks Revenge looks set for the same success. It’s in my Kindle library and I can’t wait to read it.

Chasing the Case is a clever whodunit but what I loved most about it was the characters, especially Isabel’s mother. Joan’s here to talk about the relationship between her main character, journalist-turned-sleuth Isabel Long, and her fabulous sidekick.

Over to you Joan!

Joan Livingston

Isabel Long’s Watson – her mother

Many sleuths have a sidekick. When I chose one for Isabel Long, the protagonist in my mystery series, I went for someone unusual — her 92-year-old mother, Maria Ferreira. Yeah, she’s Isabel’s Watson. And she’s an important character in the series’ second book, Redneck’s Revenge.

Maria Ferreira, or Ma, as Isabel calls her, is a smart and spunky mystery-loving woman. So is the person who inspired her — my own mother, Algerina Medeiros although she is now 94. Being a big reader and a fan of my books, my mother gave her approval. Yes, my mother is indeed a character in my Isabel Long mystery series.

Both Isabel and her mother, Maria Ferreira are widows. Maria came to live with her in the tiny town of Conwell in Western Massachusetts because both were tired of living alone. Also, Isabel has the most space of her siblings.

It’s been a bit of an adjustment for Maria moving to the sticks, as she calls it. But the town has a library that supplies her with those mysteries and smutty romances she likes. And she’s found a whole different culture in country living.

Maria likes to stay up late reading and watching TV. Being Portuguese, she makes family favorites like kale soup.

She’s also got a lead foot when she’s driving, or as Isabel says, it’s like her mother is driving the getaway car in a bank robbery.

And when Isabel takes on her first case, her mother not only gives her wholehearted support, she goes with her on interviews and shares he insight on leads. She comes up with nicknames for the people she meets like the Tough Cookie and the Floozy.

And she encourages Isabel to continue being a private investigator. Actually, she is just as excited as Isabel when a woman hires her to find out what happened to her father. The official story is that he was drunk and passed out when his house caught fire at his junkyard. His daughter is convinced he was murdered. Suspects include a rival junkyard owner, drug-dealing brothers, and an ex-husband.

I like Maria. She’s got a quick sense of humor. Isabel says she inherited her nosy gene, which came in handy when she was a journalist. Now, it will help her as a P.I.

Rednecks Revenge hi res cover



Redneck’s Revenge, which officially launched Sept. 26, is available in Kindle for £1.99 ($2.99) and paperback £6.99 ($10.99). Here’s the link to Amazon:

The blurb

Her next case. She’s in it for good.

Isabel Long is in a funk months after solving her first case. Her relationship with the Rooster Bar’s owner is over. Then cops say she must work for a licensed P.I. before working solo.

Encouraged by her Watson — her 92-year-old mother  — Isabel snaps out of it by hooking up with a P.I. and finding a new case.

The official ruling is Chet Waters, an ornery so-and-so, was passed out when his house caught fire. His daughter, who inherited the junkyard, believes he was murdered. Topping the list of suspects are dangerous drug-dealing brothers, a rival junkyard owner, and an ex-husband.

Could the man’s death simply be a case of redneck’s revenge? Isabel is about to find out.

An excerpt

Here’s an excerpt from Redneck’s Revenge. Isabel and her mother are coming back from a visit to a licensed private investigator in the town of Jefferson. Isabel found out from the cops she needs to work for one for three years before she can go solo. Her interview with Lin Pierce, a P.I. whose best days are behind him, was a success.

Ma and I don’t stay in Jefferson once my business is done. She informed me this morning another snowstorm is on its way. My mother is the official weather watcher in our household. It’s part of her late-night routine. She plays solitaire on a tablet one of my sisters gave her while the TV is on. She has her shows. I’m in bed long before her, but then again, I’m up at the crack of dawn, a habit I acquired when I worked at the newspaper and just can’t seem to shake even though it’s been nine months since I got the heave-ho. You might’ve heard the story. After a corporation bought the Daily Star, we were supposed to reapply for our jobs. Like hell, I told the publisher, who ended up getting canned later even though he did what the new owners asked.

Besides, I like the quiet that time of day. The dog, Maggie, and cat, Roxanne, hang out with me like we could be best friends, as if that were true. They love Ma better, but, honestly, that’s okay.

“What did you think of Lin Pierce?” I ask her.

“He did what you asked him for.”

“That’s not really an answer, Ma.”

She pauses.

“I was expecting somebody a little more hard-boiled.”

“You mean pickled?”

“No, no, more like Philip Marlowe or Mike Hammer.”

I laugh.

“I think you’re dating yourself there, Ma.”

“I am ninety-two.”

“Almost ninety-three.”

“Don’t remind me.” She’s laughing. “I think he’ll be all right. You just need to be a part of his business and not take any of his cases unless he really needs you. From what you say that doesn’t seem to be a possibility anyways.”

“That’s right.”

“Now that it’s official, how are you going to get the word out besides telling those Old Farts in the back room.”

I grin hearing Ma call them that name.

“Actually, I believe that will be sufficient to get the ball rolling. I’m not looking to do this full time. As I told Lin, this is more like a paying hobby than a business. I gotta do something to keep me out of trouble.”

My mother snorts.

About the author

An award-winning journalist, Joan Livingston started as a reporter covering the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. She was an editor, columnist, and most recently the managing editor of The Taos News, which won numerous state and national awards during her tenure.

After eleven years in Northern New Mexico, she returned to rural Western Massachusetts, which is the setting of much of her adult fiction, including the Isabel Long series.

Connect with Joan here:



Twitter: @joanlivingston




You can buy Chasing the Case and Redneck’s Revenge here: