A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh

bookshelves: published-2014, radio-4, spring-2014, dystopian, first-in-series, newtome-author, plague-disease, series, medical-eew, london, lifestyles-deathstyles, britain-england

Recommended for: BBC Radio Listeners
Read from April 26 to May 10, 2014




Description: Apocalyptic thriller by award-winning novelist Louise Welsh.

At the height of a hot London summer, in which people are falling seriously ill from a highly contagious virus, TV shopping channel presenter Stevie Flint goes in search of her boyfriend, who has stopped returning her calls.

Louise Welsh is the author of six highly acclaimed novels including “The Cutting Room” and “The Girl on the Stairs”. She is the recipient of several awards including The John Creasey Memorial Dagger, the Saltire First Book Award, the Glenfiddich/Scotland on Sunday, Spirit of Scotland Writing Award and the City of Glasgow Lord Provost’s Award for Literature. In 2007 she was included in Waterstone’s list of Twenty-five Authors for the Future.


Episode 1: Hot London summer and there is something in the air.

Episode 2: Simon Sharkey is lying dead in his bed. Still in shock, Stevie waits for the emergency services to arrive.

Episode 3: Stevie has herself been laid low by the virus and, after eight days in bed, has finally recovered enough to act upon instructions left for her in a letter from Simon. She must deliver a mysterious package to his colleague, Malcolm Reah, at St Thomas’ Hospital.

Episode 4: London is in meltdown as the deadly virus known as “The Sweats” spreads rapidly through the population. Despite the danger, survivor Stevie Flint is determined to continue her search for answers to the mysterious death of her boyfriend, Dr Simon Sharkey.

Episode 5: Worryingly, it appears that she has herself become a target, attacked in the car park at work. Now she is pinning her hopes on the expertise of a computer hacker to gain access to the secrets she believes lie within Simon’s laptop.

Episode 6: Ignoring the chaos around her, survivor Stevie Flint is determined to discover who, or what, killed her boyfriend.

Episode 7: She has learned that Simon was working on a controversial treatment for cerebral palsy. Returning to his flat in search of more evidence, she makes another shocking discovery.

Episode 8: She’s discovered that Simon and his colleagues were developing a controversial treatment for cerebral palsy. Their company, Fibrosyop, was being investigated by a journalist who was killed in a street mugging a few days before Simon. The coincidence seems to confirm Stevie’s suspicions that Simon was murdered.

Episode 9: Searching for clues, she has sought help from Iqbal, an IT expert, to access her murdered boyfriend’s laptop. But now Iqbal isn’t answering his telephone and Stevie fears that something bad has happened to him, too.

Episode 10: While London burns, Stevie Flint closes in on two of her boyfriend’s medical colleagues, convinced that one of them is his killer.

Reader ….. Nadine Marshall
Abridger ….. Siân Preece
Writer ….. Louise Welsh
Producer ….. Kirsteen Cameron.

This is not going to be a popular verdict given those glowing reviews from flisters I usually seem to fall into step with, yet I have to declare this was an also-run set at tedium level. The premise is non-existent: Why did she keep on keeping on when Simon was just a temporary shag partner? Stevie was set for slinging her hook right at the beginning because he hadn’t contacted and she took the silence as rebuff – that right there shows the shallowness of the relationship.

It has been posited elsewhere that this was written with an eye to a screen production, however don’t save me a seat.

Still, on the up, where there is nearly always an up moment, this did keep me wanting to know the outcome at the end.


The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson

bookshelves: published-2014, net-galley, e-book, debut, britain-england, london, historical-fiction, first-in-series, spring-2014, mystery-thriller

Read from February 13 to March 14, 2014


Hodder & Stoughton

Description: London, 1727 – and Tom Hawkins is about to fall from his heaven of card games, brothels and coffee-houses to the hell of a debtors’ prison.

The Marshalsea is a savage world of its own, with simple rules: those with family or friends who can lend them a little money may survive in relative comfort. Those with none will starve in squalor and disease. And those who try to escape will suffer a gruesome fate at the hands of the gaol’s rutheless governor and his cronies.

The trouble is, Tom Hawkins has never been good at following rules – even simple ones. And the recent grisly murder of a debtor, Captain Roberts, has brought further terror to the gaol. While the Captain’s beautiful widow cries for justice, the finger of suspicion points only one way: to the sly, enigmatic figure of Samuel Fleet.

Some call Fleet a devil, a man to avoid at all costs. But Tom Hawkins is sharing his cell. Soon, Tom’s choice is clear: get to the truth of the murder – or be the next to die.

A twisting mystery, a dazzling evocation of early 18th Century London, THE DEVIL IN THE MARSHALSEA is a thrilling debut novel full of intrigue and suspense.

For Joanna, Justine and Victoria, with thanks

Opening quotes are by Daniel Defoe and John Granto, circa 1728/1729.

Marshalsea prison: John Constable 1703

Opening of the prologue: They came for him at midnight. There was no warning, no time to reach for the dagger hidden beneath his pillow. They had moved as silently as ghosts, crossing prison yard and stealing up the dank, narrow, staircase while he slept on, oblivious.

This has been marked up as Tom Hawkins #1. We gather from the front of this book, in the historical notes, that this story is set in the autumn of 1727 where the country is waiting for George II to be crowned. The debtors’ prisons are full to the gunwales with those who had their finances burst in the pricking of the South Sea Bubble.

Never, well hardly ever, have I been so enthralled at the circumstances at the end of a novel as with this: the potential for books about books and bookshops is staggeringly enticing for future numbers in this series. A great read this.

Page 133: ‘Would you permit me to take Mr Hawkins out into the Borough – perhaps to The George? I was there myself three months ago, sitting where both Dickens and Shakespeare had supped…
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Associated trivia:

The South Sea Bubble by William Hogarth. 400 years of bubbles. The same pattern of bubbles and busts has been repeated many times in capitalist history.

Was the South Sea Shares Fiasco before or after Tulipmania, I shall have to check, however given the propensity at any one time for extraordinary popular delusion and the ever present madness of crowds, expect a bubble.

Rake’s Progress by Hogarth


The Blackhouse

bookshelves: published-2009, tbr-busting-2014, series, winter-20132014, mystery-thriller, e-book, britain-scotland, gr-library, contemporary, first-in-series, medical-eew, religion, glbt, bullies, bedside, hebridean, zoology, teh-demon-booze, revenge

Read from June 19, 2013 to March 05, 2014

Here we go: They are just kids. Sixteen years old. Emboldened by alcohol. and hastened by the approaching Sabbath, they embrace the dark in search of love and find only death.

Excellent; looking forward to the next.

The Guga Hunt, Sula Sgeir. The chute used to drop the guga down to the boat.

3.5* The Blackhouse
TR The Lewis Man (Lewis Trilogy, #2)
TR The Chessmen (Lewis Trilogy, #3)


Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims

bookshelves: currently-reading, first-in-series, newtome-author, net-galley, published-2014, winter-20132014, wars-of-the-roses, medieval5c-16c, historical-fiction, war, series, e-book, adventure, religion, plague-disease, seven-seas, superstitions, britain-england, pirates-smugglers-wreckers, france, betrayal, medical-eew, revenge, spies, travel

Read from February 12 to 20, 2014

ARC received with thanks from Net Galley and Random House UK, Cornerstone in exchange for an honest review.

Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick One of the Yorkist leaders in the Wars of the Roses, he was instrumental in the deposition of two kings, a fact which later earned him his epithet of “Kingmaker” to later generations. (wiki sourced)

Description: February, 1460: in the bitter dawn of a winter’s morning a young nun is caught outside her priory walls by a corrupt knight and his vicious retinue.

In the fight that follows, she is rescued by a young monk and the knight is defeated. But the consequences are far-reaching, and Thomas and Katherine are expelled from their religious Orders and forced to flee across a land caught in the throes of one of the most savage and bloody civil wars in history: the Wars of the Roses.

Their flight will take them across the Narrow Sea to Calais where Thomas picks up his warbow, and trains alongside the Yorkist forces. Katherine, now dressed as a man, hones her talents for observation and healing both on and off the fields of battle. And all around them, friends and enemies fight and die as the future Yorkist monarch, Edward, Earl of March, and his adviser the Earl of Warwick, later to become known as the Kingmaker, prepare to do bloody battle.

Encompassing the battles of Northampton, Mortimer’s Cross and finally the great slaughter of Towton, this is war as experienced not by the highborn nobles of the land but by ordinary men and women who do their best just to stay alive. Filled with strong, sympathetic characters, this is a must-read series for all who like their fiction action-packed, heroic and utterly believable.

Dedication: To Karen, with all my love

Opening is February 1460: The Dean comes for him during the Second Repose, when the night is at its darkest. He brings with him a rush light and a quarterstaff and wakes him with a heavy prod.
‘Up now, Brother Thomas,’ he says. ‘The Prior’s asking for you.’

Epic adventuring that had me hooked by page 52. In the time-honoured way of honest reviewing I shall point out the things that stopped this excellent story from being the 5* this read really deserves:

-The present tense prose: didn’t bother me at all once I was into the story but it will not appeal to some of my reading pals.

-That carrot ending: this really is a turn-off to many a reader and could be the kiss of death for a series. We don’t want to have it taken for granted by the author that we will buy into the next installment.

-Some secondary characters were barely fleshed out: I’m especially looking at a giant of a man who comes across as cartoon thug.

I loved this story, non-stop action featuring a lovely pair of modest but surprising heroes and that is all I can say for the moment as this is not due to be published until April. To I recommend it? Oh yes, the best adventure novel I have read in quite a while.

A word on Scrofula, sourced by The Science Museum:

In the Middle Ages it was believed in England and France that a touch from royalty could heal skin disease known as scrofula or the ‘king’s evil’. Scrofula was usually a swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck caused by tuberculosis. The practice began with King Edward the Confessor in England (1003/4-1066) and Philip I (1052-1108) in France.

Subsequent English and French kings were thought to have inherited this ‘royal touch’, which was supposed to show that their right to rule was God-given. In grand ceremonies, kings touched hundreds of people afflicted by scrofula. They received special gold coins called ‘touchpieces’ which they often treated as amulets.

By the late 1400s it was believed that you could also be cured by touching a type of coin called an angel, which had been touched by the monarch. After angels ceased to be minted in the 1620s the same effect was said to be achieved by touching a gold medallion embossed much like the old coin.

Henry Beaufort, 3rd Duke of Somerset (26 January 1436 – 15 May 1464) was an important Lancastrian military commander during the English Wars of the Roses. He is sometimes numbered the 2nd Duke of Somerset, since the title was re-created for his father after his uncle died. He also held the subsidiary titles of 5th Earl of Somerset, 2nd Marquess of Dorset and 2nd Earl of Dorset.Source

Kidwelly Castle

EXTRAS: You too can watch Dating in the Middle Ages


The Horns of the Buffalo

bookshelves: winter-20132014, tbr-busting-2014, published-2004, fraudio, historical-fiction, under-100-ratings, afr-s-africa, britain-wales, first-in-series, newtome-author, victoriana, series, palate-cleanser

Read from February 13 to 14, 2014

Book………………The Horns of the Buffalo
Author…………….John Wilcox
Series…………….Simon Fonthill
Narrator…………..Graham Padden
Source…………….20 Tapes

COVER BLURBS:In 1879, the British redcoats are universally regarded as the finest fighting force in the world. Among them is Lieutenant Simon Fonthill, dispatched to South Africa with much to prove: for Colonel Covington, his former Commanding Officer, has slanderously branded him a coward. In the Cape, tension is high. The Zulus, an independent nation of magnificently militant tribesmen, threaten the colonial government’s vision of a united South Africa. And Simon has been chosen for a particularly dangerous mission: to travel deep into Zululand to discover the intentions of the king. Simon encounters violence and imprisonment before he is faced with his greatest challenge. Escaping from the massacre at the Battle of Isandlwana, he must warn the tiny garrison at Rorke’s Drift of the threat posed by advancing Zulu impis. He has a chance to prove Covington a liar, but he may pay the ultimate price.

About The Author: John Wilcox. An inability to do sums and a nascent talent to string words together steered me towards journalism – that and the desire to wear a trenchcoat, belted with a knot, just like Bogart.

About The Reader: Graham Padden. Graham’s work on screen includes Doctor Who, Casualty, The Kindness of Strangers, Why We Went to War, Derailed, Casanova. He has been heard in many radio dramas, including David Edgar’s Playing with Fire, Lorna Doone, Blake’s 7, and The Archers. He has recorded 60 audio books. He has had 3 plays produced.

A story of Rourke’s Drift. Excellent writing, lovely narration and I especially liked 352 Jenkins.

3* The Horns of the Buffalo