A new Mike Malone on Kindle

My latest Mike Malone story is now live on Kindle and Smashwords. This story is inspired by a crime in Russia that I read about around three years ago. Thinking it would be perfect for Mike, I squirreled away until I was ready to use it.

DI Mike Malone fears that this might be the case that breaks him – the discovery of a child’s body at the local landfill site, especially when the secrets that the post-mortem reveal are so grotesque. Add to the mix some disturbed graves and Mike feels that light and happiness are distant countries. This is one of the strangest cases that Mike and his trusty DS, Alan Shepherd, have ever tackled and they find themselves seeking help from someone who leaps at the chance to be useful once more. Another Mike Malone mystery and a chance to meet up with some familiar faces.

Seven Steeples by Sara Baume

Shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize 2022

Such a gentle book where nothing really happens but that is sort of the point. Bell and Sigh have decided to move, with their two dogs, to a remote cottage and effectively cut themselves off. The cottage has been close to a nearby mountain for decades, and the couple are told that from the summit they can see seven standing stones, seven schools and seven steeples. The book records their first seven years in the cottage and describes the landscape in which they live in beautiful detail and with such poetry that several times, I had to stop because the author had made me see something that I thought I knew in a different light – for example when she describes the way snow thaws on fields it is ‘as if fat chalk lines had been drawn around the perimeter’. Each chapter is a year and each chapter takes us through the specific seasons and months. Chapter one describes January, February until we get to chapter seven and December. As time goes on, Bell and Sigh withdraw from their former lives and we see a steady deterioration of their house and a merging of their selves. You never really get a sense of the couple, there is no dialogue – the landscape, the elements are the stars in this book. A beautiful novel.

Weyward by Emilia Hart

Do not think of witches with broomsticks and pointy hats when you pick up this book. These three timelines focus on women with an affinity, a close bond with the natural world This is a world of the magic of nature, how it can sustain and heal. We have Altha in the 1619s, Violet in 1942 and Kate in 2019 and the author weaves an intricate web to show us how the three women are connected, and how they discover that all share the same gifts. I don’t want to give too much away, but I really loved the way that each timeline gripped me. There was not one moment when I felt like skipping over one timeline to read the next. There was also an undercurrent of fear that clung to Kate’s story. This is a story about the power that women have and I’m sorry that I’m not writing more, I just don’t want to spoil it, i want you to discover this super debut for yourself.

The Direction of the Wind by Mansi Shah

This is a story about finding yourself. Sophie, a Gujarati woman in her late 20s, has just lost her beloved Papa. Since she was 6 it has just been the two of them and he devoted his life to ensuring that his daughter had the skills to be independent – which maybe was not the true Gujarati way. In her aunts’ eyes, she should already have been married, but looking after her father was a valid reason for not being. But now Sophie is on her own, it is important to arrange a marriage as soon as possible. Sophie had been told that her mother died, but when she starts sorting through her father’s belongings she finds letters from her mother, Nita. Letters that prove that she never died, she left them to go to Paris. With a marriage arranged, Sophie knows that she needs to find her mother and ask the question – why?

The stories are told in two timelines – Nita’s when she goes to Paris to become an artist, and Sophie’s when she goes to Paris to find Nita. Some of the things that happened to both women, I did feel were contrived sometimes and, with regard to Sophie, maybe sometimes, things fell into place just a little too easily. But, it was a satisfying read and I enjoyed watched how both women navigated a life that was very different to the privileged life that they had enjoyed in India.

Hani & Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar

I picked this up because it is the winner of the YA Book Prize 2o22. This is a book that is – as it says in the title – about fake dating. The two main characters in this novel are Hani and Ishu, two Bengali students in an Irish school which immediately adds another layer. As the two ‘brown’ girls in the school, they are expected to be friends, but they aren’t. Ishu is studious, the A grade student, who does not have friends and doesn’t seem to really mind. Hani is open and friendly and willing to be whatever her friends want her to be. They come together when Hani’s friends refuse to accept her bisexuality and Ishu wants to be Head Girl. They realise that by fake dating, they can help each other and we all know what happens with that trope.

However, there is more to it than this trope. We have the family relationships – how Ishu’s parents have such high expectations for her while Hani’s parents are supportive and loving. We also have toxic friendships and racism and islamophobia. Hani’s friends make no attempt to understand her culture and her religion, they just expect her to follow them. The character arcs of the two girls are well developed and their romance is quite sweet.

Even though I am not the target audience for this book, it was an enjoyable read and was about more than just fake dating.

Becky by Sarah May

This novel is a sort of modern retelling of Vanity Fair and the life of Becky Sharp. It covers the period from 1980 to 2012 and melds fact and fiction as we are in the world of the tabloids. Becky’s childhood was not easy. Her father was absent and her mother was a cleaner who earned her money so that she could have a good time at weekends. Becky watches the girls in the elite school, sees their lives, and makes up her mind that her present life is not for her. From a job at a local newspaper, she starts climbing the ladder to success, regardless of who she tramples on the way. She is a strong character, she’s powerful and ruthless but did I like her? Not really. The other characters, Rawdon, George, Amelia are all names from the original Vanity Fair and some are developed better than others -I preferred Rawdon to George. What I like about this was the way that events from that period are incorporated into this without actually naming names. As someone old enough to have lived these events, each one caused a little ‘ping’ of recognition. Very cleverly done.

Overall, I found Becky to be a fascinating character even if I didn’t actually have any real liking for her. A book that kept me going.

Stories from the Tenants Downstairs by Sidik Fofana

Bannekar Terrace in Harlem is a high-rise building that is home to many on low incomes. The building now has new owners who have plans to develop the units so that they will attract more up-market residents, but first, they need the existing residents to leave and so rents are rising to levels that will result in evictions. This book is a series of eight stories of some of these struggling residents and all are interconnected. They are also told in various styles and voices. But what we do see are very real characters who all have their own dreams and struggles. Written as it is in the dialect of Harlem, I did struggle initially to understand it but managed to get the meaning of most of it. But what comes through is the perspective of a group of people who feel that while life is unfair, they are doing the best they can do. There were two stories that stood out for me. Firstly, that of Mrs Dallas, a classroom assistant, and maybe it is because I used to teach that her story reaches me. The second is a letter written by Narjee, a young lad who is trying to find the right words. A debut novel that brings you eight very different voices.