'Highland Blood' The Celtic Blood Book 2 by Melanie Karsak

In this excellent sequel to ‘Highland Raven’, Karsak continues the magical, mystical story of Gruoch as she continues to learn of her destiny amid the complexity of both worlds to which she belongs. 

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As with the first book in this series, Gruoch’s story is so beautifully written  and expertly crafted that the reader becomes deeply invested in the events and characters of the story, sharing Gruoch’s fears, pain, and hopes as her life takes compelling twists and unpredictable turns. She is a complex and powerful woman, strong and admirable, and steadfast in the face of conflict and danger. Yet, she is never portrayed as perfect, never unrealistically good, and never so contrived as to not be believable. 

There are some lovely references to Shakespeare’s ’Macbeth’, woven seamlessly into the narrative. This establishes close ties between that story and this one, even though the events of this series thus far happen before those in the famous play.

The story delivers a fascinating blend of history, mystery, fantasy, romance, and adventure in an deeply engaging read that, once started, demands to be consumed. 

Book Review: ‘Larkin’s Landing’ by S.K. Wee

Small towns often seem quiet, as though nothing interesting would ever happen there. 

Larkin’s Landing is not that kind of small town. Full of old secrets and strong prejudice, it’s a community that is bursting at the seams with lies, deceit and mystery. 

This excellent blend of contemporary mystery and family drama keeps the reader guessing right to the end. The central characters are likeable, regular people who find themselves in the middle of a web of intrigue that they must undo before it undoes them. The story is well developed and suspenseful, taking the reader on a rollercoaster ride of anticipation and discovery as the mysteries of Larkin’s Landing unfold.    

There are elements of the story that some readers will find very confronting. It is a story that exposes the horrors of domestic violence and emotional abuse, and demonstrates very clearly that nobody should ever tolerate or excuse such reprehensible behaviour. There is also some adult content, so this book is not recommended for younger readers.

It is, though, a story of the importance of resilience, the healing power of acceptance, and the life-changing difference that true friendship makes. Overall, the story delivers a positive message and a satisfying sense of justice having been done.

Book Review: ‘Little Book of Spring’ by Claire Buss

A relatable, easy to read poetry collection.

This book offers vignettes of daily life and glimpses into the thoughts of a young woman. Her children, family life, personal feelings and places they visit all feature in this collection of poetry. 

Some of the poems carry a kernel of a deeper truth that provoked more thought, while others skip through a scene, describing it in a way that leaves the reader nodding and smiling. In every case, it is easy to relate to the ideas expressed by the poet. 

Audiobook Review: ‘The First Queen of England, Part 2’ by M.J. Porter

Elfrida, or Ælfryth, was the first anointed and crowned queen of England, ruling alongside her husband, Edgar, in the 10th century.

‘The First Queen Of England’ Part 2 is the second instalment of Elfrida’s story, and shows just how strong and resilient  she was in a world dominated by patriarchy, politics and warfare. 

Just like the first book in the series, this book is very well written and is entirely consistent with the historical context of the story, even though it is undoubtedly fiction. 

It is a significant achievement on the author’s part to reanimate characters from the long-distant past in such a way that the reader feels as though they know them and can understand their concerns, cares and motivations. It is pleasing to witness the dynamics of the characters as they mature, and intriguing to observe the intricacies of the machinations and politics at court and the personal impact on the queen and king as individuals as well as rulers. 

The narration by Sheila Daly Payson is most enjoyable. Her voice is pleasant and her reading is fluent. Her characterisation of the different roles is effective, and really brings the various characters to life. 

As richly detailed and intriguing as part 1, ‘The First Queen Of England, Part 2’ is a most enjoyable story. This is in every aspect a very pleasurable audiobook experience, and is also available as an ebook or paperback. 

Book Review: ‘Highland Raven’ The Celtic Blood Book 1 by Melanie Karsak

Historically, very little is known of the early life of Gruoch, later known as Lady Macbeth. Immortalised by Shakespeare as a conniving, power -hungry shrew, audiences have been fascinated by her for centuries. 

Karsak weaves a kinder tale of the young Gruoch in this excellent work of historical fantasy. History, magic and fantasy combine to tell a story of a young woman searching to discover her destiny and calling in life, while still learning who she is and the power she holds over men. 

This story is so powerfully and beautifully written that it is easy to forget that this is fiction, and to believe that this really is Gruoch’s story. We see Gruoch’s strengths and vulnerability, her loyalty and hatred, her past and glimpses of her future. As readers, we love those she loves and despise those she hates, and we become deeply invested in her hopes and dreams. 

The author has also incorporated some lovely nods to Shakespeare’s play, littering quotes and references to the text throughout the narrative. This very cleverly lends credibility and legitimacy to Karsak’s story, reinforcing that sense of reality and closeness to Gruoch that the reader feels from almost the first page onwards. 

The story delivers a fascinating blend of mystery, fantasy, romance, and adventure in an expertly crafted package that is almost impossible to put down once started. 

‘Highland Raven’ has been awarded a Gold Acorn. 

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Book Review: ‘Azalea Wang Mysteries’ Books 1-3 by Lucy Ai

Amateur detective stories are abundant, and readers are generally spoiled for choice. While readers will always choose books that appeal to them for their own reasons, it’s always exciting to find a series that not only presents a succession of very interesting mystery stories, but also addresses bigger ideas such as prejudice, jealousy and the assumptions people make about one another.  

Azalea Wang Mysteries is one such series, and is well worth reading for more than just well-developed mystery stories that will keep you guessing right to the end. 

These stories are set largely in and around the senior citizens community of Evening Glory. Azalea Wang is, like many of the residents, of Chinese heritage, and the Chinese culture adds a refreshing and interesting perspective in these mystery stories. The stories draw on particular Chinese cultural elements in such a way that they become part of the story and become more familiar to non-Chinese readers, providing a new sense of familiarity and understanding that builds both knowledge and acceptance.

The stories very subtly address not only the assumptions non-Chinese people make, but also the biases that different groups of Chinese people hold about one another. Because those stereotypes are challenged, the characters and the reader begin to see the people in these stories as individuals, each with a story and a past and reasons why they behave the way they do, rather than simply as a member of one group or another. This adds a positive tone to the stories that is actually very hard to resist, drawing the reader in and making them feel as though they too are part of the community. 

The three mysteries contained in this book are varied and unique, while Azalea’s own story continues throughout. The three cases are well crafted and there are some great surprises and twists along the way, making the stories unpredictable and entertaining.

Azalea is a delightful character. Kind, thoughtful, intelligent and lively, the reader gets to know her as a friend and a mother as well as an amateur sleuth. The people with whom she shares her life are a diverse group, so the cast of characters and suspects is realistic and relatable. 

There is a little bit of not-really-for-younger-readers content in one of the stories, but it is not graphic or explicit.

A most captivating and enjoyable mystery story collection, the Azalea Wang Mysteries collection has been awarded a Silver Acorn. 

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Book Review: ‘Out Of Chaos’ by Elle Mott

‘Out Of Chaos’ is a compelling autobiographical read, written with honesty in a matter-of-fact style that makes reading this somewhat discomfiting story still a quite comfortable experience. 

The title of this book is no lie: it is a story of family dysfunction, homelessness, crime and abuse experienced by a young woman who had the strength to then reclaim and rebuild her life. It is a cautionary tale about how easy it can be to fall so far that it’s hard to get back up, but it is also a story that would give hope to anyone in similar situations.  

Mott neither glorifies the less-than-stellar choices and actions of her misguided youth nor begs for the reader’s pity as she tells her story, but does evoke a great deal of understanding and empathy in the reader as her life is pulled into a downward vortex from which she cannot escape. The moments of resolve and the decisive actions that Elle takes as a result position the reader to share her hope of a better life and to almost will her to make it work, despite the fact that they are reading the story in past tense. 

Despite the bleakness of its beginning and the despair encountered as the story continues, the overall tone and the message of this book are positive and life-affirming.

‘Out Of Chaos’ has been awarded a Gold Acorn. 

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