The Books that made my year – 2018


As another year comes to a close we look back on 2018 and the news might be full of bad news but in the world of books it has been another great year. Sales are continuing to grow in both physical hard copy but audio books are also booming. This really is great news and added to this more independent books shops have opened during the year with the trend set to continue. With the high street struggling like never before it is just heartening to see the growth of sales in books. Just a few years ago some were saying the days of the hard copy book were doomed.

2018 will be a year that I will remember for years to come. So many great books have been read some sadly I have not had time to read and will miss this end of year review. I look back with great memories to take away from this year whether it the honour of being asked blog about some of the books and authors for The 2018 Jewish Book Festival to being invited to assist with a very special book On Courage: Stories of Victoria Cross and George Cross Holders a day surrounded by some of the bravest men and women. Real heroes. Also to be involved with The Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize a book prize that is dedicated to books on natural history and the great outdoors. Then of course there was The Lost Words project I launched for Somerset Primary Schools in August which is still going to this very day. The generosity of many that made this a success. To those behind the scenes who helped and are still helping I could not have done this without you. To the many radio interviews not just in Somerset but across the UK and also in Europe. In the early part of the Summer I was invited to take a tour of The London Library which turned out to be an incredible experience a very special place that holds over one million books on over 17 miles of shelving. You walk in the footsteps of literary giants.

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So this brings me to my 15 books of 2018. The books that made my year. This was incredibly hard as so many could have made it in.

The choices are in no particular order so there is no number one book just the best of the year.


Our House – Louise Candlish

(Simon & Schuster) 5th April 2018

Fi Lawson arrives home to find strangers moving into her house. The terror of knowing your life is about to be turned upside down and all the possessions of your life with Bram have gone and who are these people moving into the home they never had any intention of selling. Bram has made a dreadful mistake and there is a price to pay. Now there are score to settle. Both have secrets that they kept from each other.

Our House is a gripping domestic noir read that I recall racing through and kept up long into the night.


All Among the Barley – Melissa Harrison

(Bloomsbury) – 23rd August 2018

With memories of The Great War still in the minds and memories of the community it casts a shadow across the fields as the autumn harvest approaches. It is 1933 the glamorous Constance arrives from London to write about the traditions of the Suffolk farming community. For Edie Mather adulthood is approaching and the arrival of Constance is seen by Edie to be everything she longs for. But there is something more to Constance than Edie thinks. This is a remarkable and powerful novel from the Costa Shortlisted author of Hawthorn Time.


Three Things About Elsie – Joanna Cannon

(The Borough Press – 11th January 2018

With a Battenburg cover Three Things About Elsie is just a wonderful and delicious story. 84-Year-old Florence has had a fall and as she lies there waiting for help to come she wonders if some part of her past is come back. Florence lives in a flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly and she wonders if the new resident is who he claims to be as he died sixty years ago. It is a beautiful, charming and profound novel from the author of The Trouble with Goats and Sheep. Three Things About Elsie was longlisted for The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018.



Something of His Art – Horatio Clare

(Little Toller Books) – 11th October 2018

(Non-fiction choice)

The year is 1705 and the yet unknown Johann Sebastian Bach is earning a living as a teacher and organist sets off on more than a 250 mile walk from Arnstadt to Lübeck to visit a composer. This was to be a pivotal time for the young J.S. Bach and this short book tells of his walk and Horatio Clare walks in his footsteps and re-traces that walk that was to change Bach’s life. Based on the BBC Radio 3 series of the same Horatio talks of the walk, the sights, and sounds and natural history that would have accompanied Bach on this epic adventure that would see him become the greatest composer.


The Lost Letters of William Woolf – Helen Cullen

(Michael Joseph) – 12th July 2018

William Woolf works for the Dead Letters Depot in East London were he spends his days solving mysteries that include terrible hand writing, missing post codes, torn packages to name but a few. Then he discovers letters addressed to ‘My Great Love’ and suddenly life for William Woolf takes on a whole new perspective. These letters written by a woman to a man she has not met yet, and William now starts to think that he could be the man the letters are meant for. Now he must take on his biggest mystery to follow the clues in the letters and solve the biggest mystery of all. The human heart. This is a charming and romantic novel a wonderful debut. Shortlisted for the Newcomer of the Year – Irish Book Awards.


The Wood: The Life and Times of Cockshutt Wood – John Lewis-Stempel

(Doubleday) – 8th March 2018

(Non-fiction choice)

For four years John Lewis-Stempel managed a mixed woodland of three and a half acres that is Cockshutt Wood and raised cows and pigs that had free reign through these woods. This is John’s month by month account of his last year managing the wood. Through the lives of the trees and the birds and animals that made this wood their home a sanctuary for the wildlife and also for the author. You are there through the changing seasons through to the final days of John’s management of the woods that became his spiritual home. This is a man in tune with the natural world and one of the country’s finest natural history writers. Longlisted for the Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize 2018.


Anatomy of a Scandal – Sarah Vaughan

(Simon & Schuster) 11th January 2018

A scandal that will rock Westminster. This is a high profile marriage and James has been accused of a shocking crime and his wife Sophie believes in him and will protect the family. Kate on the other hand is the Barrister who believes he is guilty and will make sure he pays for the crimes he has committed.

This is an explosive thriller that will keep the reader on the edge of their chair until the very end. Superbly written with great characters. A story of marriage and power and who has it and how they use it. Totally absorbing and gripping.


The Last Wilderness – Neil Ansell

(Tinder Press) – 8th February 2018

(Non-fiction choice)

Nature and solitude. Neil Ansell has spent the best part of his life walking the remote parts of Britain but here in The Last Wilderness he takes on the part of Scottish Highlands but doing so as he talks of his hearing loss and hoe this affects his love of the great outdoors and the birds he loved to hear that have now become silent. To be in the wilderness is to be at one with nature. It is indeed a love letter to both the wilderness and to the Highlands of Scotland. The wonderful rich writing of Neill Ansell almost makes you believe you are there walking in his footsteps. A treasure of a book. Shortlisted for The Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize 2018.


I Love You Too Much – Alicia Drake

(Picador) – 8th February 2018

A novel based in Paris and centred around Paul a quiet and lonely boy who is unloved. He spends his time watching those in his family and his rather glamourous mother Séverine and her musician boyfriend Gabriel. For a boy who closely observes his family and their daily lives, you just know one day he will see something he is not supposed to see.

Paul seeks the friendship of the not so quiet Scarlett and the patisseries of this part of Paris. Paul is crying out to be loved but what if love does not come his way. What then? This is a book I totally loved and still do to this day. So deserving to be read by a wider audience. It is deft and intelligent and so beautifully told. One book I would I would recommend.



Erebus: A story of a Ship – Michael Palin

(Hutchinson Books) – 20th September 2018

(Non-fiction choice)

Michael Palin tells the story of the ill-fated journey of HMS Erebus and its crew that set sail for the arctic in search of the North West Passage. In 1845 it disappeared with HMS Terror along with their crews. What really happened? A story of the ship and its crew as Palin recounts the adventure and ultimately the biggest naval disaster. Together with photographs this makes for a remarkable read for anyone who has an interest in the sea or adventures.


Dark Pines – Will Dean

(Point Blank) – 14th June 2018

An impressive debut by Will Dean. Dark Pines is dark, chilling and atmospheric. Set in an isolated Swedish town. An unsolved murder from two decades ago a deaf reporter trying to find a story that could make her career. Now Tuva needs to find the killer before she becomes the killers next target. But there are secrets in the pine woods were Tuva must venture. If she solves the crime she could find a way out of the small of Gavrik and finally make a name for herself. Dark Pines is the thriller that really beats all thrillers in 2018 and is the first in a series with Red Snow about to be released in January 2019. If I had to choose my book of the year Dark Pines would be that book. If you have not read Dark Pines and thrillers are your genre, then read it now!


Owl Sense – Dr Miriam Darlington

(Guardian Faber Publishing) 8th February 2018

(Non-fiction choice)

I have been fascinated by Owls all my life and have been lucky to have travelled and seen many species of Owl in Europe, Africa and the Caribbean and I loved Owl Sense by Miriam Darlington she takes walks with her son seeking species of UK Owls. Then she travels into Europe from France to Spain, Serbia and Finland and close to the arctic lands of snow and ice. But this book not only is a story of a quest for Owls but her son Benji becomes very ill and then suddenly it is also a quest for a cure. Owl Sense brings to life the mysterious lives of Owls and what we are so fascinated with these mysterious birds.


The Lingering – SJI Holliday

(Orenda Books) – 15th November 2018

This dark and creepy ghost story is best read during the dark hours as it really sets the tone. Though you might not want to switch the light off after.

Jack and Ali move have moved into a self-sufficient commune set in Rosalind House, the local village it is said is were witches roamed and the home itself has a dark and sinister past. But it is not long after they arrive that things start to happen. Now the residents and locals are nervous, something or someone is seeking retribution. But why? Terrifying and unnerving. The Lingering really had me spooked. Superbly written and a storyline that holds until the very end.


Take Nothing With You – Patrick Gale

(Tinder Press) – 21st August 2018

Set in the 1970’s West-Super-Mare and only son Eustace has been signed up for Cello lessons by his mother. Music is an escape for Eustace and his lessons from his teacher he cannot get enough of. But it is his mother that is not sure of the glamorous teacher. Soon though it is lessons in life and love that take on whole new meanings for Eustace. This is beautifully told story of coming of age and finding out who you really are told with real compassion. A truly wonderful read.


The Lost Words – Robert Macfarlane & Jackie Morris

(Hamish Hamilton) – 5th October 2017

(Non-fiction choice)

After everything this year, I could not leave The Lost Words out of my selection for the year. It has been the bedrock of my year.

Imagine a world where children no longer talk of Heron’s, Otters, Bluebells, Acorns, Conkers, Dandelion, Bramble to name but a few. Well there are around 50 words that The Oxford Dictionary for Children removed. What they did not reckon on was Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane. Here is the most beautiful book imaginable. In words spoken as Spell-Poems and paintings by the amazing Jackie Morris they both bring these words back to life.

Many people across the country have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds to bring this book in into Schools, care homes and hospitals. Even today many more are planned to launch. A truly remarkable book that has a life all of its own. And this story for Somerset has only just begun.

And so there we have it. As the old year ends and a new one is about to begin and so it starts all over again. It has been a pleasure and an honour to work with such incredible writers and publishers and I thank them all for their incredible work.

In 2019 I have some great plans ahead I am honoured to have been asked to be an official blogger for The Jewish Book Festival in early March. I will be podcasting through the year and hope to take the podcast on the road to talk to writers and may be a few publishers. I will be doing my usual book giveaways when time permits and also there will be The Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize.

Have a happy and peaceful 2019 and remember “We read to know that we are not alone”. Books take us to places and to escape all the bad news of the day.


The Last Word Book Review


Entanglement by Katy Mahood

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Entanglement by Katy Mahood

Entanglement is the brilliant debut novel from Katy Mahood that begins on a train platform at London Paddington station in 2007 and three people’s lives cross and yet there is something about these three people and how they become linked. Primarily this is a novel about the choices people make and the encounters along life’s journey and just how they can all become connected.


The three people at the centre of this novel are Stella, Charlie and John. Is there a connection between the three people? Now this is where the novel now takes a backward step of thirty years and the lives of two couples during the 1970’s.

This is a story of people’s lives of marriages that upset parents and shattered dreams and the horror of a London pub bombing and the carnage and aftermath that this brings. For Stella she has dreams of an academic career and all this is brought to an end as she faces up to becoming a young mum and the father John, how does he take to the idea of being a father so soon?

Then there is Charlie and Beth just an ordinary couple and the everyday struggles of life. These two couples are just ordinary people leading ordinary lives yet somehow inexorable linked. A story of connections over the course of decades and most of all as the story reaches its end a story of hope. At the end of the day hope is what we all cling onto in our everyday life and Katy Mahood weaves a captivating debut novel of chance encounters. Wonderful characters and so beautifully written.

320 Pages.

Thank you to Ann Bissell (Harper Collins) for the advanced review copy of Entanglement

Entanglement by Katy Mahood is published by Borough Press and was published on 22nd March 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon (Special Summer edition) Competition


Many who love the writing of Joanna Cannon have been very excited over recent days with the news of her second book Three Things About Elsie due for release in early January 2018. The first copies of the proofs were issued late last week and the early news is that this is going to be a much loved book and will touch all who read it. It will be one of the books of next year that is without doubt.


Joanna’s debut novel The Trouble with Goats and Sheep went on to become a bestseller and today is still selling extremely well and was even selected to be on the Richard and Judy Book Club for WH Smith. It is a remarkable debut novel about two ten-year-old girls Grace and Tilly who set about trying to solve a mystery. Mrs Creasy is missing and there are whispers. A beautiful written novel about secrets behind every front door but it is more than just that.

It came to my attention that there are still some (yes hard to believe) that have not yet discovered The Trouble with Goats and Sheep and as Joanna’s forthcoming second novel is already talk of social media with a cover that is just pure Battenberg,  I thought it would be a good time to a competition to win not just one copy but I have two to give away. But that is not all. These editions are the special copies produced in the yellow paperback cover as issued by Sainsbury’s to celebrate Summer as this wonderful novel is set in a long hot Summer that some of us still recall. Sadly, I am not offering free Battenberg as I am keeping that for myself. Sorry!

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To enter the competition all you have to do is head over to my Twitter page The Last Word 1962 and answer one simple question:

In what year is the novel The Trouble with Goats and Sheep based in. Then follow and RT the main pinned Tweet and you are in with a chance. There I told it was easy. It is easy honest.

Just to recap:

  1. In what year is the novel The Trouble with Goats and Sheep based?
  2. Follow and Re-Tweet the pinned Tweet

The completion will close at 7pm on Thursday 17th August 2018 and two lucky winners will be selected at random on Friday morning. The Winners will receive a Direct Message from me on Twitter that morning. All being well prizes will be sent out within a few days. Good luck.


The Draughtsman – Robert Lautner


The Draughtsman by Robert Lautner

On the cover of Robert Lautner’s new novel The Draughtsman it says ‘We all have choices’ but under Nazi Germany and when you have been chosen to work for the SS do you have a choice? Can you speak out for others and face being found out with the dire consequences for you and your family.


It is 1944 and for Nazi Germany the net is closing in as the allies fight their way to Germany’s front door and for Ernst Beck a young unemployed engineer he just wants to work and earn some money for him and his wife Etta so that they can start a family when the war finally ends with a dream of eventually having their own home. Then the offer of a job arrives from Erfut’s prestigious engineering firm Topf & Sons. Now for Ernst he can now feel like a man again and start providing for his wife and make his parents proud. Sometimes though not everything is as it seems and for Ernst he will soon find out what the SS have really been doing. On his first day Ernst joins the Special Ovens Department designing new ovens that can withstand burning all day and night at special ‘prison camps’ at Buchenwald and Auschwitz but as visits to both camps including a dangerous situation it soon dawns on Ernst that he has not been told the truth about what these ovens are for and the story of executing criminals and those that have died of disease cannot surely amount to why these ‘special’ ovens are being designed and why the secrecy as he has to report direct to Berlin. For Ernst and Etta there are some trappings that go with the job as he is a special employee. But soon the real truth comes to Ernst that his employers have been colluding with the SS and now he has a choice to make does he risk his life and that of his beautiful wife Etta or does he start telling the truth that these ovens are part of the Crematoria for the concentration camps and he will have a hand in the Holocaust if he remains silent. The terrible burden ways heavy for Ernst as he weighs up the consequences of being complicit. What would become of his wife and even his parents. There now worrying signs that there is no escaping for Ernst.

The Draughtsman is an incredible achievement as Lautner explores how the mind plays out when suddenly life is generous while others struggle and how could he possibly give this new lease of life up. The one aspect of the story is how the war is going for Germany and how close the allies are now as the last months of the war begin. Germany is losing the war there will be heavy price to pay for those found guilty of being compliant and complicit in the Holocaust. This is a dark and at times harrowing read as the themes involved but it is a compelling read and one that will ask many questions of the reader. After you have read this novel ask yourself in a country that was fearful when neighbour turned against neighbour what would you do? This is a novel that should not be treated lightly. The authors note at the end of the book testifies to this. Without doubt a full five star novel.

Thank you to The Borough Press for the advanced review copy.

The Draughtsman by Robert Lautner is published by and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.


The Wolf Road – Beth Lewis

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The Wolf Road – Beth Lewis

The Official Blog Tour




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In the latest in a series of Meet the Author Interviews I am delighted to welcome Beth Lewis to talk about her stunning debut novel The Wolf Road which is has just been released through The Borough Press and is available through Waterstones and all good bookshops.


Congratulations on your debut novel The Wolf Road, can you tell you tell us a little of what The Wolf Road is about?

The Wolf Road is about Elka, a young girl who discovers the man who raised her, is a killer. Upon finding this out, she flees into a scarred wilderness to find her real parents but neither the man, Trapper, nor the law on his tail, aren’t letting her go that easily. To me, it’s about a girl’s journey, about facing her demons and trying to find her own place in the world.

 How did you come up with such a compelling post- apocalyptic storyline?

Firstly, thank you for calling it compelling! It was pretty organic. I had a start point, Elka in the trees watching the man she once loved, I had a moment in the middle, and a vague sense of where I wanted Elka to end up, but other than that, it all came together on its own. It’s that old, annoying thing writers say, ‘the character led the story’ but Elka really did. Like hell I could make her do anything she didn’t want to do!

 Can you give us a little idea of the research that was required to write such an extraordinary book?

Thank you! The research was the best part. I was already an ardent, long-time fan of survival shows and movies, and nature documentaries, so knew I wanted to write something set in the wild. I had the base knowledge of the area and skills but I wanted a more hands-on experience so I spent a weekend in the woods learning bushcraft and survival skills. I slept in the woods, built a shelter, made fires, set traps and prepared game. I was uncomfortable and hungry and cold, woke up shivering, covered in dew. It was brilliant and gave me invaluable, real experience to draw on for Elka’s story.

 The cover art design is incredible. Did you come up with the idea for the artwork?

I can’t take any credit for that! Dom Forbes at HarperCollins designed the cover and it’s just perfect, he did a fantastic job. My only real input was saying I liked bold, typographical covers. They took that, ran with it, and came up with something striking and beautiful.

 I always like to ask authors about their writing process, how long did it take to write The Wolf Road? And do you have a ‘quiet’ location where you write?

It took about three months to write, all over one rather frenzied summer. Looking back on it, it’s mostly a blur but I remember it being crazy fun. My wife told me I was a nightmare during that summer but I think she’s happy with the results.

In terms of a ‘quiet’ location, hell no. I can’t write in silence but I can’t write to music either. I spent my weekends and days off in a café. White noise, no TV, and rubbish WiFi are key ingredients to my perfect writing environment.

 How does it feel now that you have your first novel published? Are there plans for a book tour?

It still feels unreal, even after seeing it in bookshops. It’s always been my dream to have a book published, right from childhood. It’s the reason I work in publishing and the reason I spend my evenings and weekends hunched over a laptop, so to have that dream come true takes a bit of getting used to. It’s amazing and I’m so thankful. I’m not sure about a book tour at this stage but I wouldn’t rule it out.

 Do you have a favourite author? And what are you reading at present?

It’s too hard to pick just one favourite but I adore David Mitchell, Sarah Waters, Stephen King, Clive Barker, and I loved The North Water by Ian McGuire, A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, and so many more. I’m currently reading Norwegian Wood by Lars Mytting and Barkskins by Annie Proulx, what can I say, I like trees!

For your chance to win a copy of The Wolf Road read on.

The Last Word Review


As debut novels go The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis stands as a post-apocalyptic novel that takes the reader on a journey into the wilderness of North America. Written through the words of the leading character Elka a young lady brought up by a man she only knows as ‘Trapper’ a hunter and very much a loner. This following a storm in what Elka knows as ‘the Big Stupid’ an apocalyptic event. Without spoiling for the reader I will let them decide what this event was.

Trapper has looked after Elka whereas she would not have survived alone and so young, I would not go as far to say they lived a happy peaceful life together but more or less co-existed. He taught her to hunt and stay alive the very things needed in this ‘new’ world following the ‘event’.

While venturing into town Elka discovers the Trapper has a name Kreagar Hallet and he is wanted for murder. This changes everything for Elka and she realises she can no longer stay with the man who has been looking after her. She needs to escape and now we join her on a journey to try and find her real parents. If indeed they are still alive. Out in the wilderness were you must fight to stay alive where others would wish you harm. But there was something else about that wanted poster that puts Elka’s life in real danger. She is being hunted. This is an enthralling epic adventure that from the very first page Beth Lewis snares the reader and you face every twist and turn with Elka. It is brilliantly written and as dark and sinister the plot is there is some great humour added.

The real beauty for me was in the fact that all the hunting and survival skills that ‘Trapper’ taught her she uses in the wilderness to stay alive, now the real Elka comes forward as she fights the elements right down to catching and killing for food you are alongside her every step of her journey out of the hell and the darkness of her past. Imagine being out in the devastated wilderness and fearing you are being followed and hunted down, you run for fear you run for the fear of what will happen to you if they catch you. And Elka does run as fast as she can. This is a land were law and order does not exist so it is a fight for survival and trusting only yourself. As time moves on Elka starts to think about the past and she starts to question herself and was she Kreagar’s accomplice what was her role in all that took place. She must put this aside to keep her safe.

The Wolf Road is a remarkable story and one of the best stories of survival it is an astonishingly brilliant in the way the voice of Elka comes through every page it is unique in how her voice is transcribed onto the reader. Very quickly you will be accustomed to Elka’s personality and style of language.

I must admit to loving The Wolf Road and the story of a brave tough young lady fighting her surroundings and fighting to survive. A stunning debut novel from Beth Lewis and one I am delighted to recommend.


Thank you to Jaime Frost at The Borough Press for the advanced review copy.

The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis and published by The Borough Press was released on 30 June 2016 and is available through Waterstones and all good bookshops.

The Wolf Road Official Blog Tour 2016.


You have read the interview with Beth Lewis and then my review, so now I have wetted your appetite, do you fancy winning a copy?


Now here is your chance to win a copy of the excellent The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis Just head over to my Twitter feed @Thelastword1962 and follow and Retweet the pinned review tweet and you will be entered into the draw. (UK Only) The free draw closes on today 8th July 2016 at 20.00hrs. The winner will be selected at random and notified via a DM through Twitter and a copy will be sent out by the publishers.

The Nest – Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney


Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney


The Last Word Review

I wonder how many reading this have thought when hearing about someone coming into a lot of money either through a lottery win or inherited will love the debut novel The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney.

We join the dysfunctional Plumb siblings enjoying life and waiting for the day when their long awaited father’s inheritance lands in their lap. Their father had not anticipated that this fund would not be as big but following his death the Plumbs learn that their ‘Nest’ has been inflated way beyond anything that they could imagine this thanks to the ‘markets’ out of control valuations. The Plumbs are not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination and are already eying the Nest and how they want to spend their inheritance that is until one night one of the Plumbs crashes his car.

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Leo is the older of the Plum siblings at 46 and not too responsible considering his age and a rather unhappy marriage to go with it. So when he is involved in a car crash overdosed on alcohol and drugs, that in itself is not good news but add in a 19- year-old waitress he picked up at a wedding and who is badly hurt The Nest is raided to ‘shush’ this up. The Nest was not in any way meant for a situation such as this and Leo’s indiscretion has now put a very large hole in their inheritance.

One aspect of the story that I enjoyed was how the author takes the reader on a grand tour of New York through the pages of The Nest, it really worked for me, whether it was Grand Central Station or Central Park or the famous Natural History Museum it really added to the how the story plays out for the Plumbs.

With the other siblings Melody, Bea and Jack now looking at vastly depleted inheritance pot, they meet Leo and want to know two things, how and when is the fund going to be replaced. It is like watching a comedy film through the pages of a wonderfully written novel.

This is actually a very clever ploy that Sweeney has pulled on the reader, as you now start to ask yourself about how you or any of us come to think of it would handle this situation. Some families are close knit but sometimes all it takes is a hair-trigger moment and sibling rivalry breaks out and with the Plumbs it is their fiscal aspirations and The Nest that was their inheritance but that now has gone thanks to the eldest of the sibling’s Leo’s behaviour, replacing that now depleted cash fund is not easy for Leo especially when his wife just likes to spend his money.

I really enjoyed how each character has been created each one a pure individual, even their late father described each of them brilliantly.  Look out for some sub-plots within the main thread of the story but does not distract the reader from the main family fiscal drama that is being played out on a grand scale.

Sweeney’s debut novel is a joy to read and is full of wit and humour as well as the family dramas and some home truths as well as the lies and jealousies. Just throw money into a family circle and you have the perfect storyline. A great read.

My thanks to Hayley Camis for an advanced review copy.

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney is published by The Borough Press and was released on 19 May and is available through all branches of Waterstones and all good bookshops.

At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

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At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

Official Blog Tour 2016 and Publication Day event

Meet the Author


Tracy Chevalier

In the latest in a series of Meet the Author Interviews I talk Tracy Chevalier about her latest book At the Edge of the Orchard which is published today.

You have been described as undertaking the writing equivalent of ‘method acting’ in your research. How much research did you have to undertake for the different historical settings in the book, and also in the specialist jobs & skills the characters in the book have (such as grafting techniques)?

I always do a lot of research. This time I read a lot about apples, visited an apple farm and picked apples, talked to experts. I admit though that I didn’t graft any trees! I did plant a couple of apple trees in our garden. One died, and I replaced it with a Pitmaston Pineapple tree – which if you read the book you’ll discover is an interesting old apple variety that tastes faintly of pineapple.

How difficult did you find it to write in the traditional dialect in the sections told from the viewpoint of Sadie and the letters that feature throughout the book and what materials did you use to get a flavour of the local dialect of that time?

You know, I didn’t really research this, I just wrote it by feel. Most of the rest of the book (apart from the letters) are in third person, but the extreme character of Sadie demanded that she tell her own story – a third-person narration would tame her too much. Her voice came out complete. She is her own person, with her own dialect.

The letters are more standard, though I had a lot of fun playing with Robert’s spelling as he slowly learns to write. He is still very understated, however, and I played with that too. Sometimes what a character doesn’t say reveals more than what they do.

This novel is set in your native America and the idea of the American Dream is inherent throughout, how effected by the American setting is Robert’s story of running away from his roots and choosing to be different from his past?

This book really is about the American Dream – the idea that there is a place (in this instance, Goldrush California) where you can leave your past behind, start over, and make something of yourself. That idea came with the Goldrush, where a few people did fish out nuggets of gold from California rivers and become wealthy. For most, though, miners didn’t find that easy fix. Robert goes there too, and realises his past is still with him, no matter how far west he runs.

As your novel Girl with the Pearl Earring was turned into a film starring Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson, are there any particular actors or actresses you could see playing the adult Robert and Martha Goodenough from At the Edge of the Orchard?

Ah, I love this sort of question. Often during tedious or difficult periods of writing, I’ll entertain myself with such thoughts. Except with this book. Oddly enough, I never thought about casting Robert or Martha – even though I still had difficult moments during the writing. Thinking now…Robert would need to be a maverick, like Paul Dano. Martha: very hard, as she needs to be small and frail and about as unlike modern Hollywood actresses as you can get.

What authors do you like to read and why? What book or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?

I read all kinds of books: literary and commercial, obscure and bestsellers. I tend to gravitate towards contemporary British and American women writers – reading who I am myself, I guess. (How boring of me!) Restoration by Rose Tremain had a big effect on me. I read it when I did an MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia, and Rose was my tutor. I think it was the first contemporary historical novel I read, and it showed me how it could be done – that you could take something like the restoration of Charles II to the throne and tell it differently, from the point of view of a normal person, that history could be about the “little people”. That is what Girl with a Pearl Earring ended up being.


The Last Word Review

At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

‘The brutal realities of a pioneering family in the 19th Century. A beautifully written story’

Not having previously reviewed any of Tracy Chevalier’s previous books I was delighted to have At the Edge of the Orchard arrive on my desk in early February. The setting for her eighth novel is Ohio in 1838 and the Black Swamp where James and Sadie Goodenough have made their home planting apple trees but no ordinary apples. These are sweet ‘eaters’ but as you can imagine life is incredibly hard and swamp fever and poverty takes its toll on James and Sadie’s children.

While James tends to his beloved apples trees trying to grow the requisite 50 trees that will secure their right to the land while James looks after his apple trees Sadie gets drunk on applejack cider made from ‘spitters’ and is somewhat abusive to their remaining children and her husband. This will have a profound affect in the years that follow.


The story moves back and forth to California fifteen years later to 1853 and to their younger son Robert who was drifting in out of jobs in ranching and gold-mining only to find himself later back among trees but these are not apples there are the Giant Sequoia trees, Robert seems to have found his peace to come good then he meets the plant collector William Lobb who is collecting seeds and plants to send back to England. Soon there are differences between what Robert is doing and how far man should go in interfering with mother nature.

There does however remain the one question that seems to hang over Robert Goodenough, what drove him away from the family home. Is he trying to escape the past? I found Robert to be an odd fellow not really sure of himself and someone who was constantly looking over his shoulder. I was never at ease with this character constantly restless never ease in relationships of any kind. Soon however the past will catch up with Robert Goodenough.

This is a superbly written novel that highlights graphically the harshness of the time and the struggles of those early settlers trying to make a life for themselves in the Black Swamp.

The characters I found interesting but at the same time difficult. But I put that down to the skill of Tracy Chevaliers writing and a new fan has been gained. You cannot help take in the aroma of the sweet apples as it oozes from every page.

My thanks to Hayley Camis at Harper Fiction for an advanced review copy ahead of publication.

At the Edge of the Orchard written by Tracy Chevalier and is released today by The Borough Press.

At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier Official Blog Tour 2016 Dates 




The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon


The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

The Last Word Review

Captivating, charming, intuitive. A debut novel that will sweep you off your feet and one that capture the hearts of its readers


It would be so easy for me to say here is one of the most eagerly anticipated debut novels of 2016. Well actually it is and what is more it is one of the best debut novels I can remember in a long time. Much praise has been heaped upon Joanna Cannon’s first novel and it stands up to the litmus test so early in the year of being one of the books of 2016 I have the feeling we will be talking about ‘Goats and Sheep’ a lot during the coming year.

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is set in a typical English avenue during the long hot Summer months of 1976. Mrs Creasy has suddenly gone missing this is not like Mrs Creasy to just wander off, the curtains are twitching and Mr Creasy is seen wandering the streets looking for his missing wife.

What is needed here are two amateur sleuths to investigate, on the case come Grace and Tilley, who are Grace and Tilly? They are two ten-year-olds. But there is more to this than a hunt for the missing Mrs Creasy. They believe that God has the answer and as that God is everywhere he will know the whereabouts the missing Mrs Creasy.

When you add to the story that the Avenue is alive with ‘talk’ and that Mrs Creasy was friends with everyone and therefore knew all their secrets there are one or two neighbours who realise that she knew too much and are hoping their secrets have gone for good along with Mrs Creasy.

We have a story that moves along so beautifully you find yourself wishing the book would go one for much longer than the 464 pages it seems a long story but I promise you this will sweep you off your feet and will carry you along with it and then before you know it the story is over. The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is like wrapping yourself in warm cosy duvet it just makes you feel warm or maybe it is just the thought of that hot Summer.

As with any neighbourhood there are always one or two that are seen as different to the rest even as far undesirable residents that do not fit into the Avenue. There are some here and you will get too meet them here. Grace and Tilly are two of the most memorable endearing characters I have read in a book for many years and a pure joy to behold.  I just loved the way Grace swept poor Tilly up at the start of the book as she had just moved in across the road. The two become friends and so the story begins a pure delight. It is not too often that a book comes along that fills your heart with joy. It is poignant and totally unforgettable. A story of secrets and lies also it is a story of coming of age, there is humour in the story but some elements are dark as we just do not know what secrets lie behind every front door. How the book got its title comes out through the story and I will not ruin that here, the reader can discover this for themselves. One thing is for sure, you will look at people from here and wonder ‘Goat or Sheep’

I was 14 in that Summer and the memories are as vivid today as if it was yesterday but the sheer beauty of the research by the author with a few added gems just helped me awaken more memories of those long hot shimmering days that seemed to last forever.

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, a wonderful and unforgettable tale.


My thanks to Borough Press and to Ann Bissell for an advanced review copy ahead of publication.

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep written by Joanna Cannon and is published on 28 January 2016 by The Borough Press.