The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan


A complex and provocative story of loss, redemption, and the cost of justice that will linger with readers long after turning the final page.

Despite their many differences, Detective Rachel Getty trusts her boss, Esa Khattak, implicitly. But she’s still uneasy at Khattak’s tight-lipped secrecy when he asks her to look into Christopher Drayton’s death. Drayton’s apparently accidental fall from a cliff doesn’t seem to warrant a police investigation, particularly not from Rachel and Khattak’s team, which handles minority-sensitive cases. But when she learns that Drayton may have been living under an assumed name, Rachel begins to understand why Khattak is tip-toeing around this case. It soon comes to light that Drayton may have been a war criminal with ties to the Srebrenica massacre of 1995.

If that’s true, any number of people might have had reason to help Drayton to his death, and a murder investigation could have far-reaching ripples throughout the community. But as Rachel and Khattak dig deeper into the life and death of Christopher Drayton, every question seems to lead only to more questions, with no easy answers. Had the specters of Srebrenica returned to haunt Drayton at the end, or had he been keeping secrets of an entirely different nature? Or, after all, did a man just fall to his death from the Bluffs?

In her spellbinding debut, Ausma Zehanat Khan has written a complex and provocative story of loss, redemption, and the cost of justice that will linger with readers long after turning the final page.

My thoughts

This is a difficult one. I avoid Holocaust fiction because it feels voyeuristic, and somehow something that horrific shouldn’t be used for the purpose of fiction. Reading this book I had the same feelings because so much of it is based on survivors’ accounts of the atrocities committed against Bosnian Muslims.

On the other hand, while the Holocaust remains prominent in everyone’s memories, the war crimes against the Bosnian Muslims, including the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica, seem to have fallen by the wayside and perhaps it needs books like this to remind people of the genocide that took place.

Setting aside my feelings akin to guilt because I enjoyed the book, it is a well plotted good story and well worth the read.

This Place Of Wonder by Barbara O’Neal


In the wake of a personal tragedy, four women face the past, their futures, and each other in a novel of broken ties and healing by the Amazon Charts bestselling author of When We Believed in Mermaids.

When famed chef Augustus Beauvais dies, he leaves behind a celebrated reputation—and four women grappling with loss, anger, pain, and the question of how the world will turn without him…

Meadow, the ex-wife with whom Augustus built an empire—and a family—still holds a place for him in her heart, even as she continues to struggle with his infidelities, which ended their twenty-year marriage. More unforgiving is Maya, his estranged daughter, who’s recently out of rehab but finally ready to reclaim her life. Norah, his latest girlfriend, sidelined her own career for unexpected love and a life of luxury, both of which are now gone with Augustus. And then there’s Rory, Meadow’s daughter, the voice of calm and reason in a chorus of discontent.

As Meadow, Maya, Norah, and Rory are flung together by tragedy, grief, and secrets yet to be revealed, they must accept—or turn away from—the legacy of great intentions and bad decisions Augustus left them. And when the circumstances around his death are called into question, their conflicted feelings become even more complicated. But moving forward is the only choice they have, and to do so, they’ll need to rely on family, friendship, and inner strength.

Set on the stunning, rugged California coastline, This Place of Wonder is an emotional, lush, and empowering story of four women finding their way in a changed world—and what a wondrous journey it will be.

My thoughts

The story is told by three women close to charismatic renowned celebrity chef and restaurateur Augustus – daughter Maya, ex-wife Meadow, and live-in girlfriend Norah – as they each come to terms with his sudden death and what that means for each of them. Maya struggles with the realisation that she will now never be able to resolve feelings of his abandonment of her. Meadow has never stopped loving Augustus, despite being divorced for several years. She remained close to him and could never quite let him go. Norah was his latest girlfriend, a bright and ambitious writer whose prospective career stalled when she fell under Augustus’s spell. Now she is suddenly homeless and penniless. Each woman has her own grief to process along with unresolved issues and secrets, and now confronted with the possibility that Augustus may have been poisoned.

I enjoyed the format which worked well to communicate to the reader each woman’s thoughts and insecurities. And I liked the characters and the way details about their lives were slowly revealed. My favourite character was Meadow’s daughter, Rory, and I would have liked to see more of her as she was such a strong, level-headed foil to her mother and step-sister.

As usual with Barbara O’Neal’s books there are gorgeous settings and lots of delicious food, and this is followed by a satisfying ending for dessert.

The Butcher’s Blessing by Ruth Gilligan

The Butchers' Blessing by Ruth Gilligan


Every year, Úna prepares for her father to leave her. He will wave goodbye early one morning, then disappear with seven other men to traverse the Irish countryside. Together, these men form The Butchers, a group that roams from farm to farm, enacting ancient methods of cattle slaughter.  

The Butchers’ Blessing moves between the events of 1996 and the present, offering a simmering glimpse into the modern tensions that surround these eight fabled men. For Úna, being a Butcher’s daughter means a life of tangled ambition and incredible loneliness. For her mother Grá, it’s a life of faith and longing, of performing a promise that she may or may not be able to keep. For non-believer Fionn, The Butchers represent a dated and complicated reality, though for his son Davey, they represent an entirely new world—and potentially new love. For photographer Ronan, The Butchers are ideal subjects: representatives of an older, more folkloric Ireland whose survival is now being tested. As he moves through the countryside, Ronan captures this world image by image—a lake, a cottage, and his most striking photo: a single butcher, hung upside-down in a pose of unspeakable violence.


“…the way Una thought about it, without folklore and traditions, surely Ireland didn’t really exist? Surely it might just as well be England or France or anywhere else (give or take an endless soak of rain)? So just as there were those who preserved the country’s mother tongue and those who saved up all the country’s native stories, there were those like her father who devoted their lives to maintaining the country’s old beliefs.”

My thoughts

This is not a book I would have ordinarily picked up but I’d read reviews that piqued my interest. It’s mostly set in 1996 in Ireland toward the end of The Troubles, when mad cow disease destroyed the farming industry, divorce and homosexuality had just been legalised, and people were torn between honouring the Old Ways and accepting progress. It is also a coming of age story. It was a fast read with an easy writing style and I read it in one sitting. Well worth the read and with a satisfying ending.

Truly, Darkly, Deeply by Victoria Selman

Truly, Darkly, Deeply


Twelve-year-old Sophie and her mother, Amelia-Rose, move to London from Massachusetts where they meet the charismatic Matty Melgren, who quickly becomes an intrinsic part of their lives. But as the relationship between the two adults fractures, a serial killer begins targeting young women with a striking resemblance to Amelia-Rose.

When Matty is eventually sent down for multiple murders, questions remain as to his guilt — questions which ultimately destroy both women. Nearly twenty years later, Sophie receives a letter from Battlemouth Prison informing her Matty is dying and wants to meet. It looks like Sophie might finally get the answers she craves. But will the truth set her free — or bury her deeper?

My thoughts

Another new author and another new favourite!

The story is told in a back and forth manner, from Sophie as a child and her relationships with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend, Matty, whom Sophie adored as a substitute father, to Sophie as an adult trying to decide whether she should visit Matty who serving a life sentence as a convicted serial killer.

The story is cleverly done, showing the events that were happening in and around Sophie’s life as a 6-13 year old and how they impacted on her tight knit family, and Sophie today as she looks back at those years and constantly second-guesses whether Matty is innocent and whether she, herself, is in some way guilty.

This held my interest and there were two really good twists near the end which I did not see coming as they were so well done. The characterisation was good and carried the story well, especially introspective Sophie and charismatic Matty.

Keep an eye out for this one when it is published in July 2022!

I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley in return for an honest review.

Messenger by Liz Keller Whitehurst

Messenger by Liz Keller Whitehurst


“You know that message everybody’s been waiting for their whole lives, as long as they can remember? Well, I bring that message. That’s my job. It’s up to me.”

While searching for a new, intriguing story among the insanely competitive media world of New York City, young journalist Alana Peterson finds Messenger, an old woman who gives life-changing messages to strangers all over the city. Alana thinks she’s found her big break with Messenger’s story, but soon realizes there is much more to Messenger than meets the eye. Through a series of mistakes, Alana bends the trajectory of the story to tragic results, only then realizing Messenger’s bigger plans.

The pivotal themes of initiation, connection, relationship, and mystery form the heart of this refreshing novel. In Whitehurst’s adaptation of her podcast of the same name, she reminds us that we are all messengers for each other, and that empathy and connection can come from the most unexpected places.

My thoughts

This was an interesting premise. Alana is an aspiring journalist, almost broke. She hears about a mysterious elderly woman who hands strangers short messages which have positive impacts on their lives, and thinks she has found the story she needs to make a name for herself and break into journalism.

The story itself is quite lovely, but it takes a long time to get there and I found myself skimming in places. But the ending was very satisfying.

Thank you NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I also post my reviews in the Facebook group The Fiction Cafe Book Club

The Idea Of You by Robinne Lee

The Idea of You


Solène Marchand, the thirty-nine-year-old owner of an art gallery in Los Angeles, is reluctant to take her daughter, Isabelle, to meet her favorite boy band. But since her divorce, she’s more eager than ever to be close to Isabelle. The last thing Solène expects is to make a connection with one of the members of the world-famous August Moon. But Hayes Campbell is clever, winning, confident, and posh, and the attraction is immediate. That he is all of twenty years old further complicates things.

What begins as a series of clandestine trysts quickly evolves into a passionate and genuine relationship. It is a journey that spans continents as Solène and Hayes navigate each other’s worlds: from stadium tours to international art fairs to secluded hideaways in Paris and Miami. For Solène, it is a reclaiming of self, as well as a rediscovery of happiness and love. When Solène and Hayes’ romance becomes a viral sensation, and both she and her daughter become the target of rabid fans and an insatiable media, Solène must face how her romantic life has impacted the lives of those she cares about most.

My thoughts

I did enjoy this steamy little number as a change from my usual genres, but it came across strongly like fan fiction about an affair with Harry Styles a lot of the time. I found that to be quite distracting.

The main character of Solène was written well. Her insecurities and fears around aging and whether she would be able to compete with younger women in a few years time if the affair was allowed to develop into something more lasting was the part of her that I felt was most authentic and human. Hayes was almost too good to be true. I know he needed to be mature otherwise it wouldn’t be plausible for him to attract an older woman, but he was more like the mature one in the relationship.

So yes. I enjoyed it but still have some mixed feelings about it.

Waiting Since Forever by Kiltie Jackson

Waiting Since Forever


Does running away from your problems lead you right back to them?

Clarissa Walton, her mother Essie, and Gerald Wainwright are living miserable lives.

Clarissa and Essie are dominated by their father and husband, Gerald is bullied both at work and at home.

That is until the day Clarissa and Gerald find themselves unwilling participants in a hypnotic stage show and after that, things begin to change.

Clarissa and Essie decide to go on a mother/daughter bonding road trip. When fate throws Gerald across their path, he ends up joining them. After all, he’s just found the woman he’s loved for over twenty-five years, he’d be a fool not to.

As the three travellers drive their way around the country, new secrets are shared and old secrets begin to come out, changing everything they thought they knew.

Will being out of the shadow of their abusers help them to grow and move on?

Or will the open road bring them right back to where they started?

My thoughts

I love stories where characters undergo growth and transformation. I also love stories set in tiny homes or mobile homes, so there was a lot for me to enjoy here!

When Clarissa and Gerald become the subjects of a stage hypnotist they walk out changed people. Clarissa has courage to stand up to her tyrannical father, which in turn emboldens her mother, Essie, to rebel. Once their paths cross with Gerald’s it sets in motion huge life changes for them all as they embark on a road trip together. Essie and Clarissa’s mother-daughter bond blossoms, and Gerald and Essie rekindle a long lost friendship from before her disastrous marriage.

Essie, Clarissa, Gerald, and not to mention dreamy Ross, are lovely characters who I would want to be my best friends and neighbours in real life. Their individual personal growth away from the bullying they left behind was heart-warming. I really enjoyed their travels, but especially the part set in Scotland. I didn’t want them to leave! It is a safe read in that I knew everything would turn out well in the end and come-uppances would be, but the story still held plenty of different elements to hold my attention. I liked that the ending was satisfying without being generic.

Now I’m wondering who will be featured in the next book in this new series!

Gideon The Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb, #1)


The Emperor needs necromancers.

The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.

Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

Of course, some things are better left dead.

My thoughts

I love books where I don’t know what’s going on for the first half and then the story begins to coalesce in the second half. It’s only 448 pages but felt longer, not because I wasn’t enjoying it, but because there is just so much to unpack. There are lots of characters, many of who drift in and out of the story as and when they are needed – but you need to remember them because they do re-emerge. The settings are complex and creepy, and the story itself is complex and with several strands to it. I keep seeing references to “lesbian necromancers in space” and honestly, if that’s all those people are getting out of this book then I feel sorry for them. The character development is well done and there are some very poignant moments – made even more poignant because the author doesn’t labour them. This book has a bit of everything – humour, drama, valour, fight scenes, enigmatic characters, incredible settings, and more. The character of Gideon seems to be polarising reviewers but I loved her, flaws and all.

I couldn’t put this book down and will be moving onto the next book in the series, Harrow The Ninth.

A Million Things by Emily Spurr

A Million Things


Rae is ten years old, and she’s tough. She’s had to be: life with her mother has taught her the world is not her friend. Now suddenly her mum is gone and Rae is alone, except for her dog Splinter.

Rae can do a lot of things pretty well for a kid. She can shop and cook a little and take care of Splints and keep the front yard neat enough that the neighbours won’t get curious. But she is gnawed at by fear and sadness; haunted by the shadow of a terrible secret.

Lettie, the old woman who lives next door, might know more about Rae than she lets on—but she has her own reasons for keeping the world at arm’s length. When Rae finds out what they are, it seems like she and Lettie could help each other.

But how long can a friendship based on secrets last?

A Million Things is a tender, funny, and heartbreaking story of how we cope with grief.

My thoughts

The story covers 55 days in the life of 10 year old Rae after her mother leaves her alone to fend for herself. Rae knows what will happen if the authorities find out she is alone, so for 55 heart rending days she desperately conceals her mother’s absence from friends, teachers, and well-meaning neighbours while trying to cope with something no 10 year old should ever have to. The only company Rae has is her dog, Splinter. The only person she can rely on is herself. Until her path crosses that of her cantankerous old neighbour, Lettie, who has her own reasons for keeping authorities away. An odd uneasy alliance forms as they each cover for the other in order to protect themselves. Inevitably secrets start being uncovered and Rae feels the day of reckoning drawing ever closer and I found myself feeling her panic and fear right along with her. The suspense is palpable as her life starts to unspool. Rae and Lettie are fantastic characters and this story is utterly heartbreaking in places. I am going to include a bit of a spoiler right here because I was so upset at one point that I want to spare others – the dog survives! This was an emotionally draining read but well worth the tears I shed.

I also post my reviews in The Fiction Cafe Facebook group:

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic


After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.

Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemí’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.

Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.

And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.

My thoughts

I started reading this expecting a nice, Gothic novel with an “is it paranormal or is someone being gaslighted” slant. Wrong! It’s certainly Gothic, but totally paranormal. Once I was in the supernatural zone I found myself on a wild unpredictable ride with a decent side of horror which makes this a perfect read for those who like to read horror for Halloween. The house alone is one of the creepiest house settings I’ve read in a book, and then there is the creepy and disturbing behaviour of the inhabitants. I’m not a horror fan, and knowing something falls into that genre is usually enough to put me off picking a book up in the first place, so it was a happy accident that I read Mexican Gothic because it was a very enjoyable and entertaining read.