Dog Rose Dirt by Jen Williams @RandomTTours


What if your mother had been writing to a serial killer?

A convicted murderer with a story to tell
 
Serial killer Michael Reave – known as The Red Wolf – has been locked in Belmarsh Prison for over 20 years for the brutal and ritualistic murders of countless women.
 
A grieving daughter with a secret to unearth
 
Ex-journalist Heather Evans returns to her childhood home after her mother’s inexplicable suicide and discovers something chilling – hundreds of letters between her mother and Reave, dating back decades.
 
A hunt for a killer ready to strike again

When the body of a woman is found decorated with flowers, just like his victims, Reave is the only person alive who could help. After years of silence, he will speak to Heather, and only Heather.

If she wants to unearth the truth and stop further bloodshed, she’ll have to confront a monster

Dog Rose Dirt has a dark and brooding storyline that reads like an adult fairy tale, rather like the disturbing tales that are woven within the narrative. I found myself getting goosebumps very early as we first meet Michael Reave as a young child and I wondered what on earth could have happened to this young boy for him to have become a vicious serial killer with the nickname of “The Red Wolf”. Was he born with evil inside of him or has his upbringing and subsequent life delivered events that have changed his perspective on life and women in particular.

When Heather Evans has to return home due to her mother’s suicide, she finds some unexpected things in her mother’s home. Books of dark, gruesome fairytales, a suicide note that doesn’t make total sense and letters from a convicted murderer. Why was her mother corresponding with Michael Reave and how can she find out what her mother wrote in reply to the letters she found from him? They obviously had some sort of connection but what? Being a journalist means that Heather is unable to leave these questions and ends up contacting the police. They are very interested in the letters especially as there have been some recent copycat murders of young women and they help Heather to meet Michael at Belmarsh prison where he is serving his sentence for murder.

Michael is a complex character at odds with the man Heather expects him to be. He talks of fairytales with gruesome endings but seems like a normal person and not the psychopath that murdered and removed the hearts from numerous victims. Why would her mother have befriended such a man? Although it’s a well documented fact that the meaner the man, the more pen pals he gets when in prison! There are comparisons with Ted Bundy throughout who was as famous and as popular with the ladies as a rock star after his conviction! The attraction seems bizarre for most of us but it happens more that we realise. So Heather has to dig into the past and try to work out connections between her mother and this man she doesn’t understand.

Dog Rose Dirt is a gripping book that I wanted to read from behind a cushion! It was a harrowing read at times with its disturbing storyline and it had the feel of a nightmare at times as Heather delved deeper into the mystery of her mother’s connection with the perpetrator of some heinous crimes. It’s slow burning build up continued to give me goosebumps until the shocking truth became clear.

Highly recommended!


Jen Williams lives in London with her partner and their small ridiculous cat. Having been a fan of grisly fairy tales from a young age, these days Jen writes dark unsettling thrillers with strong female leads, as well as character-driven fantasy novels with plenty of adventure and magic. She has twice won the British Fantasy Award for her Winnowing Flame trilogy, and when she’s not writing books she works as a bookseller and a freelance copywriter

Reckless by R.J. McBrien @midaspr @welbeckpublish @r_mcbrien

What happens when an affair goes wrong? Find out in this nail-biting thriller, perfect for fans of Apple Tree Yard and Girl on a Train

You think you’ll stay the same – you won’t. Infidelity will change you forever. There can be no going back. 

Kirsten Calloway knows she should be grateful. She has a stable marriage, decent job, and a wonderful teenage daughter. But she also has a raging libido that won’t shut up, and a husband who’d rather go on a bike ride.

She bumps into an old friend at a school reunion who faces a similar problem. Dianne, though, has found the answer: a discreet agency which arranges casual sex for people just like them, people who want to keep their marriages but also scratch that itch.

Enter Zac: younger, handsome and everything Kirsten could hope for in bed. For a while, they seem to have it all. Kirsten even finds herself becoming a better wife and mother. But Zac wants more – a lot more, and he’ll stop at nothing to get it.

Sexually charged, shocking and relatable, Reckless is a profound exploration of marriage, motherhood and desire.

I was drawn to Reckless by the comparisons to AppleTree Yard and Girl On A Train as I’ve loved both of those books. And Reckless certainly lived up to those comparisons for me as it delivered everything I want from my preferred genre of psychological thrillers-shocking twists, an unreliable female narrator and a very dark, seductive storyline. Reading this book became an addiction for me and once started, I struggled to put it down.

The infidelity aspect of this debut novel is handled perfectly and although I understood why Kirsten did what she did, I still wanted to shake some sense into her when she made some very questionable decisions! For a male author to bring a female character to life so perfectly is a huge achievement as Kirsten felt relatable and authentic in her actions and emotions, even though (as I’ve said before!) I didn’t completely agree with some of her judgments. But I found her a compelling character study as she took the route she obviously felt she had no choice but to follow…

It’s apparent very early on though that something has gone very wrong for Kristen. The narrative opens with a police report that states a body has been found but how does this relate to Kirsten and the extra marital affair she goes on to start. As the storyline develops, each new part starts with a crime report relating to the death of a young man and I loved the extra detail that this added to the book. It’s obvious that R.J. McBrien writes for tv and screenplays as his words manage to create a visual feel to the story, bringing characters and settings to life with his descriptive prose. He pulls his readers deeply into his fictional world and the family home that Kirsten returns to after her exploits with Zac, and this means that they became quite heavily invested in the whole family-I know I did!

This has been one of my favourite books so far this year-it’s an intelligent, alluring and gripping read with some shocking revelations. I absolutely loved it!

RJ McBrien attended York University, the Sorbonne and graduated from the Yale School of Drama. He writes for TV (Wallander, Spooks and Trust for ITV) and has sold scripts to major Hollywood studios, for whom he regularly works as a script doctor. Reckless is his first novel.

Running Out Of Road by Cath Staincliffe

A missing schoolgirl, a middle-aged recluse, an exploited teenager. Lives thrown into chaos and set on collision course. With the police in hot pursuit.

Scarlett is dancing in the school talent show tomorrow. Nana, who Scarlett lives with since Mum died, reckons Scarlett will be on Strictly at this rate. Except Scarlett doesn’t make it home from school. She’s abducted by a man she never imagined she’d see again. A man on the police’s most wanted list. Her dad. 

Ron has made a living as a house and pet sitter since quitting his career on the front line in the fire service. He’s currently looking after a place deep in the Derbyshire Peaks. The solitude suits him. And managing animals is so much simpler than coping with other people. 

Dylan’s a ‘cuckoo’, dealing drugs on the county line, moving from nest to nest, picking out people who daren’t say no. Keeping his head down, one step ahead of the law. So far. But now everything’s falling apart.

DS Laura O’Neil is running on empty after nights dealing with her teething toddler. But Laura is driving the hunt for Scarlett and knows that every minute counts. 

A race against time, played out in the brooding wilderness, the limestone gorges and gritstone edges of the Peak District. Themes of escape and entrapment, of shifting loyalties and new alliances, of violence, fear and love, resilience, kindness and hope.

The beautiful Peak District is the backdrop for the latest novel by Cath Staincliffe, a gripping cat and mouse chase that brings together some brilliantly crafted characters. Eleven year old Scarlett is snatched by her estranged father on the way home from school. Dylan is a county lines drug dealer on the run after a shocking incident, Ron is a house sitter with a tragic past and Laura is the police officer who is about to get thrown into a case that will test her resilience And when these four people connect, the resulting violence leaves no one untouched…

Cath Staincliffe always writes character driven fiction that feels authentic and relatable. Running Out Of Road continued that same theme combining interesting people going about their everyday lives with a compelling storyline. It’s that moment when one little thing changes the lives of so many with a domino effect that comes unexpectedly, touching their lives and leaving them changed forever. I found myself convinced of their existence, desperately needing to know that everyone was going to be okay. As their individual stories unraveled and became entwined I became totally invested in the outcome and I wasn’t disappointed-what an ending!

I definitely recommend Running Out Of Road. Its a brilliant page turner, set in a stunning but desolate part of the UK and with a cast of characters who will stay with you long after you turn the last page. I absolutely loved it!


Cath Staincliffe is a best-selling, award-winning novelist, radio playwright and the creator of ITV’s hit series, Blue Murder, starring Caroline Quentin as DCI Janine Lewis. Cath’s books have been short-listed for the British Crime Writers Association best first novel award, for the Dagger in the Library twice and twice for the Short Story Dagger, winning in 2012. She was a winner of the WGGB Best Radio Drama Award in 2019. Cath’s Sal Kilkenny private eye series features a single-parent sleuth working the mean streets of Manchester. Her debut Looking For Trouble was serialised on Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4. Trio, a stand-alone novel moved away from crime to explore adoption and growing up in the 1960s, informed by Cath’s own experience. Letters To My Daughter’s Killer was selected for Specsavers Crime Thriller Book Club in 2014 and featured on ITV3’s Crime Thriller Club. Cath also writes the Scott & Bailey novels based on the popular UK TV series. Cath created the probate detective series Legacy for BBC Radio 4 and guest writes on the Stone police drama. Her recent stand-alone novels examine the impact of crime on ordinary families. The Girl in the Green Dress was inspired by her experience as the parent of a transgender child. Cath’s latest book, Quiet Acts of Violence, sees detective duo DI Donna Bell and DC Jade Bradshaw investigating the death of a newborn baby and launching a hunt for her missing mother. Cath is one of the founding members of Murder Squad – a group of Northern crime writers who give readings, talks and signings around the country. Cath was born in Bradford, Yorkshire, UK and now lives in Manchester, Lancashire with her family. You can follow her on Twitter, @CathStaincliffe, where she hangs about when she should be busy writing!

The Beach House by Beverley Jones

The perfect place to hide. Or so she thought . . .

When Grace Jensen returns to her home in Lookout Beach one day, she finds a body in a pool of blood and a menacing gift left for her.

The community of Lookout Beach is shocked by such a brutal intrusion in their close-knit neighbourhood – particularly to a family as successful and well-liked as the Jensens – and a police investigation to find the trespasser begins.

But Grace knows who’s after her. She might have changed her name and moved across the world, deciding to hide on the Oregon coast, but she’s been waiting seventeen years for what happened in the small Welsh town where she grew up to catch-up with her.

Grace might seem like the model neighbour and mother, but nobody in Lookout Beach – not even her devoted husband Elias – knows the real her. Or how much blood is on her hands.

The hottest, edge-of-your-seat summer thriller, perfect for fans of Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty and The Holiday by T. M. Logan

The Beach House by Beverley Jones was a one sitting read for me! A quiet Sunday afternoon sitting in the garden passed by in the blink of an eye as I became completely immersed in this later psychological thriller from a writer who’s books I always enjoy. What I loved about The Beach House was the dual timeline that twisted around the present day action and provided two different settings-both of which came alive. The Welsh setting of Grace’s teenage years was dark and creepy compared to the sunshine of the Oregon coastline as Grace hides in plain site, just waiting for her past to catch up with her…

As I mentioned before this is a book that keeps you interested as you try to work out what happened to Grace to make her convinced that the blood covered body in her kitchen, and the accompanying equipment left beside it, is connected to something she has been running from for years. I have to admit to not taking to Grace particularly throughout-no idea why but I found her a little unlikeable! Her friends were far more interesting although I did find that the lifestyle contrast showed a very different side to Grace.

An enjoyable read!

Beverley Jones, also known as B E Jones, is a former journalist and police press officer, now a novelist and general book obsessive. Bev was born in a small village in the South Wales valleys, north of Cardiff. She started her journalism career with Trinity Mirror newspapers, writing stories for The Rhondda Leader and The Western Mail, before becoming a broadcast journalist with BBC Wales Today TV news, based in Cardiff. She has worked on all aspects of crime reporting (as well as community news and features) producing stories and content for newspapers and live TV.

 

Most recently Bev worked as a press officer for South Wales Police, dealing with the media and participating in criminal investigations, security operations and emergency planning.

 

Perhaps unsurprisingly she channels these experiences of ‘true crime,’ and her insight into the murkier side of human nature, into her dark, psychological thrillers set in and around South Wales.

 

Her latest novels, Where She Went, Halfway and Wilderness, are published by Little Brown under the name BE Jones. Wilderness has recently been optioned for a six part TV adaptation by Firebird Pictures. Her seventh novel, The Beach House, is due for release in June 2021 under the name Beverley Jones. Chat with her on Goodreads.co.uk under B E Jones or Beverley Jones and on Twitter and Instagram @bevjoneswriting Bev is represented by The Ampersand Agency.

Shame by Elizabeth Forbes @RandomTTours

George and Martha have things they’d rather keep hidden from each other: private thoughts, desires and secrets which, if discovered, could cause untold shame. But to an outsider they appear to have a happy, contented and conventional family life. At their twins’ Fred and Delilah’s twenty-first birthday party events conspire to uncover disturbing emotional connections, and threaten to reveal a past that has long been concealed. Soon after, a holiday designed to repair the damage exposes further rifts that could spread beyond the family and possibly change their futures forever. As a GP, Martha is used to helping her patients mend physically and mentally, but can she do the same for her husband and children, or will the ensuing damage leave wounds that will never heal?

I’ve been a huge fan of Elizabeth Forbes since reading her book The Nearest Thing To Crazy which has an almost cult status now due to word of mouth praise from members of TBC (THE Book Club on Facebook) and reviews by some of the best known book bloggers around! So I knew I wanted to read and review Shame, especially after seeing that amazing cover! The apple of temptation which has had a chunk bitten out of it, gives you a good idea of what’s to come between the pages of this family drama and what a gripping, character driven tale it is!

Martha and George are a hardworking couple going through what many couples of their age struggle with. Martha is a busy GP and George often travels for his business but even when he is at home, Martha feels he is more interested in walking the dog than spending quality time with her, especially when it comes to their sex life. They have grown up twins who are approaching 21 and it’s at the twins birthday celebration party that things for the Wilshire family start to unravel. There are secrets that George and Martha are keeping from each other and each of them are living with the daily shame that they feel from their hidden emotions. A holiday in Italy should be a relaxing break for them all but the untold truths can’t stay buried forever leading to some very shocking revelations for them all.

The cleverly crafted characters aren’t always likeable and they often act in ways that seem to be a little ill advised and irresponsible but that made this difficult situation seem more authentic and convincing. Martha especially felt representational of her age and class, delivering her thoughts and actions with realistic emotions. And it’s obvious from the very start of the book that George is fighting his inner demons but what and why is it now that things are starting to come to a head? I didn’t always feel comfortable with the way he treated Martha and his family but I understand why due to the wonderful writing that kept me involved in the family dynamics-desperate to know how and when everything would come to a head and how everyone would react when it did.

Shame paints a vivid and insightful portrait of a family lacking in communication. But how will they cope with the turbulence of their journey together through the shocking and disturbing domino effect of secrets both in the past and the present? You’ll just have to pick up a copy of Shame yourself to find out!

Elizabeth Forbes was born and raised on the Isle of Wight and now lives in Herefordshire with her husband, two dogs and two hens. She published three romantic thrillers under the name Elizabeth Harrington: The Corporate Wife, Making Up and Daddy Darling. She then took a break from writing and enrolled with the Open University to study for a degree in Literature. She completed her BA with First Class Honours, and also achieved the OU’s Diploma in Creative Writing. Her first psychological suspense novel, Nearest Thing to Crazy, was published by Cutting Edge Press in 2013. BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and the Mail Online featured the novel because of its gaslighting subject matter. It was a bestseller in Amazon UK’s psychological thriller charts. Her second novel published by Cutting Edge Press in 2014 was Who Are You? which is a dark and twisty tale focussing on the stormy marriage of two people affected by PTSD and childhood trauma. Elizabeth has recently re-published these novels independently with Amazon KDP, and plans to publish a new novel in the summer of 2021.

Twitter @lizzieforbes

The Lies She Told by Lynda Renham

Life in the village of Stonesend is pretty uneventful, that is until Detective Tom Miller is transferred there following a personal tragedy. He is not greeted well by local police officer, Beth Harper, who feels he is not up to the job. The day of his arrival, Kate Marshall, a teacher at the local school, is beaten in her own home and left for dead. The villagers are left in a state of shock. Was it a random attack, or something more personal?

Lynda Renham has once again delivered a gripping psychological thriller that has the potential to a series to be honest as I adored the police couple who worked to solve an horrific and shocking crime. Tom Miller is transferred away from his previous job after suffering a personal tragedy and on his first day, he doesn’t make the best of impressions on Beth Harper by stealing her parking space! But Tom and Beth very quickly have to put their personal disagreements to the side when they are called to a house where Kate Marshall lies bloodied and battered. Who would attack such a normal wife and mother? Beth is stunned as she also lives in the village and can’t understand why Kate has been left for dead in such a quiet neighbourhood. And as Tom and Beth investigate, some shocking revelations come to light…

In a way it’s really difficult for me to speak about the plot anymore than that! I really wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone as it really is a clever and twisty tale. Unfortunately for me, I have read a couple of books with a very similar storyline recently so I was able to deduce very quickly what the main plot twist was and therefore work out the rest of the plot from there. I won’t say what the other books are as again I don’t want to spoil it for other readers but Lynda Renham has done a great job of delivering compelling plot developments with characters who are brilliantly brought to life-especially Tom and Beth. I really loved their camaraderie and they sparked off each other with an unexpected connection from the moment they met which slowly developed as they worked together. Both had had personal traumas that they were still working through and this made them interesting and intriguing enough for me to want to meet them again.

I would definitely recommend this book if you’ve read Lynda’s books before and if you haven’t this could be a great place to start!

Lynda Renham is author to many popular romantic comedy and gripping psychological thriller novels. She lives in Oxford, UK. She has appeared on BBC radio discussion programs and is a prolific blogger, Twitter and when not writing can usually be found wasting her time on Facebook.

That Night by Gillian McAllister

THE RICHARD & JUDY SUMMER PICK

‘Incredibly tense and gripping’ ADELE PARKS

‘Kept me guessing and kept me fooled. Clever, pacy and so gripping that my heart raced’ 
C.L. TAYOR

‘This absolutely blew me away. Properly unputdownable’
5***** READER REVIEW

‘Another unputdownable what-would-you-do thriller, rich with McAllister’s trademark twists and emotional depth’ 
ERIN KELLY
________

What would you do to protect your family?

ANYTHING.

During a family holiday in Italy, you get an urgent call from your sister.

There’s been an accident: she hit a man with her car and he’s dead. She asks for your help.

She’d cover for you, so will you do the same for her?

But when the police come calling, the lies start . . .

And you each begin to doubt one another.

What really happened that night?

Who is lying to who?

AND WHO WILL BE THE FIRST

Gillian McAllister is one of my must read authors and has been since I picked up her very first book. That Night is her sixth book and I have to say that with every book her writing just blows me away even more. And I was thrilled to see last week that That Night has been selected as part of the Richard and Judy Summer Picks! So what better recommendation for you if you’ve never picked up one of Gillian’s books before! That Night is an addictive read so be prepared to be up most of the night once you start it…

I do love a slow burning psychological thriller and That Night gradually crept up on me until I was completely caught within its pages. It’s a story about family loyalty and what happens to three siblings when, one evening, a call comes through to say that one of the siblings has knocked over and killed someone. What would you do? Cathy and Joe rush to help Frannie as soon as they can but “that night” puts everything they have ever believed in at risk. It’s told in the third person by the siblings and by one of them in first person as they await a trial-but we aren’t informed which trial or who will be in the dock. I have to say that I do love to hate characters but these three really did have the most unlikable personalities and reactions to what has happened! I read on in horror after their initial actions and that shock continued throughout until the final few pages when things become much clearer to the the reader.

Gillian McAllister writes so beautifully that not a word is wasted as she brings her characters and settings to life. I could practically smell the lemon trees and feel the heat of the sunshine on my face as I followed the Italian holiday that the family were on. Even the (not quite so exotic!) setting of Birmingham was brought perfectly to life with a detailed description of the city as the characters make their way around familiar landmarks. I felt perfectly at home as I followed the siblings home to real life-a life that each of them struggle to adapt to after the happenings of “that night”.

A compelling and often surprising storyline that has once again been researched to within and inch of its life but this means that Gillian McAllister has once again pulled a brilliant book out of the bag! Read it now!

Gillian McAllister is the Sunday Times Top 10 bestselling author of Everything But The Truth, Anything You Do Say, No Further Questions, The Evidence Against You and How To Disappear. 

Her latest release is That Night, available now and selected for the Richard & Judy summer book club 2021. 

All of her novels are standalone and can be read in any order. She is published in ten countries around the world. The Good Sister is her US debut, released by Penguin USA, and is the American title for No Further Questions. The Choice is her second American release which is the US title for Anything You Do Say. 

You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @gillianmauthor. She also blogs at http://www.gillianmcallister.com.

The Beresford by Will Carver @OrendaBooks

Just outside the city – any city, every city – is a grand, spacious but affordable apartment building called The Beresford.

There’s a routine at The Beresford.

For Mrs May, every day’s the same: a cup of cold, black coffee in the morning, pruning roses, checking on her tenants, wine, prayer and an afternoon nap. She never leaves the building.

Abe Schwartz also lives at The Beresford. His housemate, Sythe, no longer does. Because Abe just killed him. 

In exactly sixty seconds, Blair Conroy will ring the doorbell to her new home and Abe will answer the door. They will become friends. Perhaps lovers. 

And, when the time comes for one of them to die, as is always the case at The Beresford, there will be sixty seconds to move the body before the next unknowing soul arrives at the door.

Because nothing changes at The Beresford, until the doorbell rings…

Eerie, dark, superbly twisted and majestically plotted, The Beresford is the stunning standalone thriller from one of crime fiction’s most exciting names

I love Will Carvers books and so was really excited about getting my hands on his new standalone book The Beresford. But I knew after reading it that once again I would struggle with writing my review of it! I mean, the man is a genius so what more is there to say! But just incase you need any more convincing, here’s my thoughts on The Beresford.

The first thing I noticed was that although The Beresford was a building on the outskirts of the city, Will Carver cleverly doesn’t tell us which city as this book could quite literally be set in ANY city! But when Blair Conroy decides to escape her small town life with a move to the city, little does she realise that 60 seconds before she rings the doorbell at The Beresford someone died. That someone was artist Sythe and he was killed by his neighbour Abe Schwartz. But why? And who is Mrs May who has the same routine everyday including never leaving the house. I knew that there was something very dark happening behind the front door of The Beresford after it opened itself to its new tenants but I had no idea exactly what or how everything connected to that next ring on the bell…

What grabs me about Will Carvers books is the brilliant social commentary of his writing as he delivers his unsettling and disturbing storylines. He writes what we are all already thinking about the state of the world we live in, challenging our thoughts and beliefs whilst highlighting the flaws of humanity. His writing is powerful, demanding recognition as he cleverly creates character interactions that made me feel uncomfortable and unclean at times! Be warned that there are some VERY graphic scenes involving the disposal of dead bodies that may be a little too much for the squeamish but that felt so realistic that I actually felt like I was intruding on a true crime scene.

The Beresford is an unnerving novel with short, sharply intense chapters and a unique twisty feel. The ending was delivered with a self assured stylish flourish that hit the spot perfectly. I loved it!

Will Carver is the bestselling author of the January Series – Girl 4 (2011), The Two (2012), The Killer Inside (2013), Dead Set (2013) – and the critically acclaimed Detective Pace series, which includes Good Samaritans (2018), Nothing Important Happened Today (2019) and Hinton Hollow Death Trip (2020), all of which were selected as books of the year in mainstream international press. The books in this series have also been longlisted/shortlisted for the Amazon Readers Independent Voice Award, Goldsboro Books Glass Bell Award, Not The Booker Prize and the Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year Award. Will spent his early years living in Germany, but returned at age eleven. He studied theatre and television at King Alfred’s Winchester, where he set up a successful theatre company. He currently runs his own fitness and nutrition business and lives in Reading with his children.

Down by the Water by Elle Connel @RandomTTours

Seven friends gather at a castle in the Scottish Borders. One last girls’ weekend before Georgina’s wedding. Near the castle, through a path in the woods, is a loch. After a few bottles of Prosecco, the girls head down to the water to take photos. The loch is wild, lonely, and stunningly beautiful. They set their camera to self-timer and take some group shots. Later, looking back at the pictures, they see something impossible.
Behind them, eyes wide, a small, drenched boy emerges from the water. How did he get there; where is he now; and what does he want?
The girls thought they knew each other’s darkest secrets, but one of them has been hiding something terrible. Consumed by grief, she’s been waiting for the perfect moment to wreak her revenge…

Down by the Water is a beautifully crafted, atmospheric slow burner that grew in intensity as I read it. It wasn’t what I had expected from the book blurb, which concentrates on the photo of the young boy giving the impression of a ghostly tale, but in no way did this disappoint me! This is a carefully crafted psychological thriller that takes its time building the tension as the characters are introduced and feel their way around their new surroundings.

You may think you’ve read a similar plot line before but there is a unique and uncomfortable feel to the narrative right from the start. A group of old university friends meet at the train station to start their journey to the Scottish Borders and the castle that they have booked for a hen party. And to begin with this did seem like a group of young women letting their hair down as there is a fair amount of drug taking involved throughout this book. Two of the women are married with children but even so the group don’t seem to have much in common from the days that they studied at St Andrews! And when they eventually get to their destination it becomes obvious that there are tensions between them. What has led to these strained friendships isn’t revealed until the shocking second half of this gripping drama when things really do start to unravel.

Down By The Water delivers a haunting and immersive storyline, beautifully crafted characters all set within a creepy Scottish castle. The author obviously knows the area well and this comes across in her knowledgeable descriptive language. I was entranced by these women, wondering who had something to hide and why. I surprised myself by getting quite emotional during the epilogue as the we see the results of what occurred during the hen party and how it has affected the women who had attended.

A darkly atmospheric, intelligent and compelling read.

Elle Connel studied English at the University of St Andrews, and later Shakespearean Studies at Kings College London and Shakespeare’s Globe. She has worked as a researcher for Al Jazeera television, a freelance writer while living in Spain, and later as the Cruise Coordinator for the National Trust for Scotland (where she worked onboard a ship, swam amongst icebergs, set foot on St Kilda, and finally learned how to ceilidh dance). She’s now a full- time writer, based in Edinburgh with her husband and twin sons.

This Is How We Are Human by Louise Beech @OrendaBooks

When the mother of an autistic young man hires a call girl to make him happy, three lives collide in unexpected and moving ways … changing everything. A devastatingly beautiful, rich and thought-provoking novel that will warm and break your heart…

‘One of the best writers of her generation’ John Marrs, author of The One

‘A brilliant premise, executed beautifully … such a moving, tender and unexpected read’ Catherine Isaac, author of Messy, Wonderful Us

‘I guarantee you will not read anything like it this year … you will fall in love with this book’ Miranda Dickinson, author of Our Story

‘Incredibly moving, gripping, and full of heart … The novel everyone will be talking about this year’ Gill Paul, author of The Secret Wife
_______________

Sebastian James Murphy is twenty years, six months and two days old. He loves swimming, fried eggs and Billy Ocean. Sebastian is autistic. And lonely.

Veronica wants her son Sebastian to be happy … she wants the world to accept him for who he is. She is also thinking about paying a professional to give him what he desperately wants.

Violetta is a high-class escort, who steps out into the night thinking only of money. Of her nursing degree. Paying for her dad’s care. Getting through the dark.

When these three lives collide – intertwine in unexpected ways – everything changes. For everyone.

A topical and moving drama about a mother’s love for her son, about getting it wrong when we think we know what’s best, about the lengths we go to care for family … to survive … This Is How We Are Human is a searching, rich and thought-provoking novel with an emotional core that will warm and break your heart…

This is probably going to be once of the most difficult reviews I write this year as I’m no writer and I know that I will in no way do this book justice. This Is How We Are Human is a stunning book-heartbreaking with an honesty and validity that sweeps the characters along with the broom of life-and it’s the best book I have read this year. I have to admit to having been a beta reader for Louise Beech when the book was in its infancy and it blew me away then but the polish applied by Orenda books has taken it to another level…

One of the reasons I read an early copy is because of the work I do. I obviously can’t go into details but most people who read my blog know that I’m a Teaching Assistant for SEN children and have lots of experience of autism in primary school aged children. And one of the toughest parts of my job is letting go when they move onto the next stage of their education. I worry about how they will cope with the outside world-will they marry, have children and what sort of job will they do? And I know that’s not for me to worry about but it’s part of who I am and what makes me so good at my job (which is a very bold thing for me to say considering I suffer terribly from Imposter Syndrome in most areas of my life!). So I can honestly say that Louise has written an authentic portrayal of autism and the needs and worries of those diagnosed as being on the spectrum.

Sebastian, Veronica and Violetta are all beautifully drawn characters and I adored all of them for different reasons. Veronica just wants the best for her son and if that means finding him a professional to satisfy the very normal sexual needs of a young man his age, then that is what she will do. Violetta is a young woman who, like many others, is drawn into the “easy” money that prostitution promises although emotionally it ends up costing her far more than she is ever paid. And I defy anyone not to fall in love with Sebastian as he starts to find his own way in the world…

I had to read the last few chapters though my tears. Emotionally, Louise Beech gets me EVERY SINGLE TIME!! She is one of the best writers of her generation and her books just speak to me so profoundly that I don’t read them…I experience them with a welcoming intensity deep within me. It’s a difficult feeling to explain as Louise writes such different books with each one that she releases but I think that the title of this one explains what she does perfectly-she is able to define and channel what it is to be human within her fictional work. I have made no secret of the fact that I adore her books and am a huge fan but This Is How We Are Human is my favourite of her books so far. It’s just so beautifully written, perfectly crafted and made me cry…a lot! Due to Covid restrictions there hasn’t been an Orenda roadshow this year so Louise hasn’t been able to make me cry in person with her readings but once this is all behind us, I’m hoping that events will quickly get back to normal and I’m stocking up on tissues for when that day comes!

A must buy for fans of Louise Beech…and for everyone who has had their life touched and enhanced by someone on the autistic spectrum.

Louise’s debut novel, How to be Brave, was a Guardian Readers’ pick in 2015 and a top ten bestseller on Amazon. The Mountain in my Shoe longlisted for the Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize 2016. The Sunday Mirror called Maria in the Moon ‘quirky, darkly comic, original and heartfelt’. It was also a Must Read in the Sunday Express and a Book of the Year at LoveReadingUK. The Lion Tamer Who Lost was described as ‘engrossing and captivating’ by the Daily Express. It also shortlisted for the RNA’s Romantic Novel of the Year and longlisted for the Polari Prize 2019. Call Me Star Girl hit number one on Kobo. It also longlisted for the Not The Booker Prize and won the Best magazine Big Book Award 2019. This Is How We Are Human is out now.

Link to her website – http://louisebeech.co.uk/