All posts by Jo

Melmoth by Sarah Perry

melmoth

Melmoth is a novel that I’ve been looking forward to since I first heard about its publication, having enjoyed The Essex Serpent and After Me Comes the Flood.

Twenty years ago, Helen Franklin did something she cannot forgive herself for, and she has spent every day since barricading herself against its memory. But her sheltered life is about to change.

A strange manuscript has come into her possession. It is filled with testimonies from the darkest chapters of human history, which all record sightings of a tall, silent woman in black, with unblinking eyes and bleeding feet: Melmoth, the loneliest being in the world. Condemned to walk the Earth forever, she tries to beguile the guilty and lure them away for a lifetime wandering alongside her.

Everyone that Melmoth seeks out must make a choice: to live with what they’ve done, or be led into the darkness. Helen can’t stop reading, or shake the feeling that someone is watching her. As her past finally catches up with her, she too must choose which path to take.

Exquisitely written, and gripping until the very last page, this is a masterpiece of moral complexity, asking us profound questions about mercy, redemption, and how to make the best of our conflicted world.

Melmoth introduces the reader to Helen Franklin, a woman in her early forties who works as a translator in Prague.  Helen intrigued me immediately, as it is clear from the beginning of the novel that she is punishing herself for something, although what past act or misdeeds she thinks she has to atone for isn’t revealed until later in the novel.  She barely eats, drinks nothing but water, and denies herself the most basic of pleasures, sleeping on a hard, bare mattress and not even allowing herself to listen to music.  She seems determined to live in discomfort, and I was curious as to why she would choose to live her life in that way.

Helen has few friends and acquaintances in Prague.  There is her landlady (who is a terrific character), and Karel and Thea, a couple she first met in Prague.  It is Karel who first draws her attention to the tale of Melmoth – a fairytale-esque being dressed in black with bleeding feet, it is said that Melmoth wanders the Earth bearing witness to the atrocities committed by man as a punishment for her own past transgressions.  Helen is dismissive of the tale at first, and yet she is soon swept up in the story as she reads various eye-witness accounts of Melmoth from various locations and points in time.

The novel moves between the present day and the various documents that Helen finds relating to Melmoth, gradually revealing more of this legendary figure, and Helen is quickly caught up in the story, much as Karel was before her.  It seems that Melmoth has an overwhelming allure to all those who discover her, and as her role is to bear witness, Perry uses this character to explore the very human need to share the burden of guilt we may, rightly or wrongly, carry with us and the power of redemption.

Set in a modern-day Prague, Perry captures the nature of the city perfectly.  The story has a heavy Gothic atmosphere, and I found it to be wonderfully creepy with its tale of a black-clad figure who is always watching…  Recommended for those who enjoy Gothic and / or literary fiction, Melmoth is published by Serpent’s Tail, and is available to buy from all the usual places.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

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Gone to Ground by Rachel Amphlett

gone to ground

Gone to Ground is the sixth instalment in Rachel Amphlett’s Detective Kay Hunter series, and it’s a series that now feels a bit like revisiting old friends with its wonderful cast of characters.

While attending a crime scene on the outskirts of Maidstone, DI Kay Hunter makes a shocking discovery.

The victim has been brutally cut to pieces, his identity unknown.

When more body parts start turning up in the Kentish countryside, Kay realises the disturbing truth – a serial killer is at large and must be stopped at all costs.

With no motive for the murders and a killer who has gone undetected until now, Kay and her team of detectives must work fast to calm a terrified local population and a scornful media.

When a third victim is found, her investigation grows even more complicated.

As she begins to expose a dark underbelly to the county town, Kay and her team are pulled into a web of jealousy and intrigue that, if left unchecked, will soon claim another life.

Gone to Ground presents a particularly difficult case for Kay as a severed foot is discovered in the Kentish countryside by a group of cyclists.  With no clues as to who it belongs to, where the rest of the body is, or how it got there, Kay and the team face a daunting task, made even more difficult when additional body parts are discovered.  Due to the lack of clues in the case, the investigation grinds to a halt almost before it’s begun, leading to a frustrating time for Kay and her team, and this does make the novel a little slower to start than the others in the series have been, although the pace soon speeds up as they get their first break.

I love the characters in this series, and enjoy finding out a little more about them as the series progresses.  Kay has a fantastic bond with her colleagues, and I love the friendly banter that ensues when the team get together.  Kay is a particularly strong character, and one that I’ve liked since she was first introduced in Scared to Death.  Newly promoted, Kay now has the difficult task of balancing her desire to be out in the field during an investigation with the additional managerial duties (and paperwork) that her new role entails.  It wouldn’t be much of a series if the protagonist was stuck at her desk the whole time, and so she doesn’t let this hold her back from the hands-on investigation.  Another character who is worthy of mention is Adam, Kay’s veterinarian partner.  He plays a minor role in the novels, but I love that he always brings a little bit of his work home with him, and while they aren’t relevant to the story, the creatures he brings home always add a little extra fun to the novel, and Misha the goat is no exception.

As with earlier novels in the series, Amphlett delivers plenty of twists and turns throughout the novel, and, as usual, I had no idea who the culprit was until the big reveal.  This is a great series, with a strong cast of characters, and I recommend it to those who enjoy police procedurals.

Gone to Ground is available to purchase now.  Many thanks to Rachel Amphlett for providing a copy for review.

Gone to Ground is the sixth novel in Amphlett’s Detective Kay Hunter series, and you can find my reviews for the other titles in the series through the following links:

  1. Scared to Death
  2. Will to Live
  3. One to Watch
  4. Hell to Pay
  5. Call to Arms 

This Week in Books – 14-11-18

TWIB - logo

This Week in Books is a feature hosted by Lipsy at Lipsyy Lost and Found that allows bloggers to share:

  • What they’ve recently finished reading
  • What they are currently reading
  • What they are planning to read next

The last book I finished reading was Melmoth by Sarah Perry which I really enjoyed.  Now I just need to find the words to review it!  

melmoth

Twenty years ago Helen Franklin did something she cannot forgive herself for, and she has spent every day since barricading herself against its memory. But her sheltered life is about to change.

A strange manuscript has come into her possession. It is filled with testimonies from the darkest chapters of human history, which all record sightings of a tall, silent woman in black, with unblinking eyes and bleeding feet: Melmoth, the loneliest being in the world. Condemned to walk the Earth forever, she tries to beguile the guilty and lure them away for a lifetime wandering alongside her.

Everyone that Melmoth seeks out must make a choice: to live with what they’ve done, or be led into the darkness. Helen can’t stop reading, or shake the feeling that someone is watching her. As her past finally catches up with her, she too must choose which path to take.

Exquisitely written, and gripping until the very last page, this is a masterpiece of moral complexity, asking us profound questions about mercy, redemption, and how to make the best of our conflicted world.


I’ve just started reading Gone to Ground by Rachel Amphlett – the latest instalment in the Detective Kay Hunter series.

gone to ground

While attending a crime scene on the outskirts of Maidstone, DI Kay Hunter makes a shocking discovery.

The victim has been brutally cut to pieces, his identity unknown.

When more body parts start turning up in the Kentish countryside, Kay realises the disturbing truth – a serial killer is at large and must be stopped at all costs.

With no motive for the murders and a killer who has gone undetected until now, Kay and her team of detectives must work fast to calm a terrified local population and a scornful media.

When a third victim is found, her investigation grows even more complicated.

As she begins to expose a dark underbelly to the county town, Kay and her team are pulled into a web of jealousy and intrigue that, if left unchecked, will soon claim another life.


My next read will probably be The Swooping Magpie by Liza Perrat.

the swooping magpie

The thunderclap of sexual revolution collides with the black cloud of illegitimacy.
Sixteen-year-old Lindsay Townsend is pretty and popular at school. At home, it’s a different story. Dad belts her and Mum’s either busy or battling a migraine. So when sexy school-teacher Jon Halliwell finds her irresistible, Lindsay believes life is about to change.

She’s not wrong.

Lindsay and Jon pursue their affair in secret, because if the school finds out, Jon will lose his job. If Lindsay’s dad finds out, there will be hell to pay. But when a dramatic accident turns her life upside down, Lindsay is separated from the man she loves.

Events spiral beyond her control, emotions conflicting with doubt, loneliness and fear, and Lindsay becomes enmeshed in a shocking true-life Australian scandal. The schoolyard beauty will discover the dangerous games of the adult world. Games that destroy lives.

Lindsay is forced into the toughest choice of her young life. The resulting trauma will forever burden her heart.

Reflecting the social changes of 1970s Australia, The Swooping Magpie is a chilling psychological tale of love, loss and grief, and, through collective memory, finding we are not alone.


And that’s my week in books! What are you reading this week?  Let me know in the comments! 😎

One More Chance by Lucy Ayrton

one more chance

I was delighted to be offered the opportunity to read and review Lucy Ayrton’s debut novel, One More Chance. It is published by Dialogue Books, a new imprint of Little, Brown Book Group which aims to promote diverse voices in publishing.

THE BATTLE ON THE INSIDE IS JUST THE BEGINNING

Dani hasn’t had an easy life. She’s made some bad choices and now she’s paying the ultimate price; prison.

With her young daughter Bethany, growing up in foster care, Dani is determined to be free and reunited with her. There’s only one problem; Dani can’t stay out of trouble.

Dani’s new cellmate Martha is quiet and unassuming. There’s something about her that doesn’t add up. When Martha offers Dani one last chance at freedom, she doesn’t hesitate.

Everything she wants is on the outside, but Dani is stuck on the inside. Is it possible to break out when everyone is trying to keep you in…

I thought that Dani was a fantastic character, and one that is sadly all too representative of many young women today.  The reader quickly learns that she has been in and out of prison since her late teens, and it’s clear that she knows how to handle herself, striking the difficult balance of not getting herself into trouble (most of the time) yet not letting others push her around, either.  Whilst she encourages her image of someone not to be messed with, it’s apparent that there’s a delicate individual underneath the façade, and I loved these little glimpses of a vulnerable individual who understands that she is caught up in a cycle of drugs, crime, and prison, yet feels powerless to do anything about it.

As well as seeing Dani in prison, there are also flashbacks to her younger days, exploring how she ended up where she did.  This is a common tale of an unhappy childhood and behaviour that spiralled out of control from an early age as she felt that those around – her mother, the man her mother moves in with (I don’t think they actually get married) – didn’t care about her, gave her a hard time, and, before long, gave up on her.  Ayrton doesn’t blame the parents explicitly – Dani’s behaviour is very much her own – but it’s no secret that an unhappy childhood may lead to criminal behaviour in adults, and in Dani’s case it has led her to self-harm, drug abuse, and the crimes associated with funding a habit.

The main aspect of the plot centres on Dani, and how she might get back to her daughter who is in foster care.  Whilst Dani feels that the system is against her – that the vocational courses offered won’t help her, that no one will employ her, that she has no home to go to on the outside – her new cell mate, the mysterious and otherworldly Martha, provides her with an alternative.  The plot does stray a little into the realms of fantasy to achieve its aim, and yet it still felt very real, and readers who are sceptical of such plot devices shouldn’t be put off by this.  I don’t want to explore this in any detail – you’ll have to find out for yourself if she makes it out or not.

Ayrton has used her experience working for a prison charity to full effect to give the reader an insight into what life is like on the inside for young women today, and the hopelessness that many feel.  The characters and the setting are authentic, and I loved the snippets of statistics and excerpts from the Prison Service Instructions which add context to the story and emphasise Dani’s experiences.  Despite parts of the plot being slightly fantastical, this novel opens the reader up to the harsh reality of a prisoner’s life, and yet still manages to incorporate moments of hope.  I’m looking forward to seeing what Ayrton does next.

One More Chance is published in paperback on 15 November, and is available to purchase now on Kindle ( for just £0.99 at the time of writing this post!).  Many thanks to Millie Seaward for the opportunity to read and review this novel.

The Children of Jocasta by Natalie Haynes

the children of jocasta

As I’m sure regular readers of this blog are aware, I’m a big fan of novels that give a new spin on an ancient myth, and I was delighted to hear Natalie Haynes speak at last year’s Hay Winter Weekend, allowing me to pick up a copy of her second novel, The Children of Jocasta.  If you do get the opportunity to hear Haynes give a talk, please do go – I found her talk at Hay to be incredibly interesting and extremely amusing.

In The Children of Jocasta, Natalie Haynes retells the Oedipus and Antigone myths to reveal a new side of an ancient story…

My siblings and I have grown up in a cursed house, children of cursed parents…

Jocasta is just fifteen when she is told that she must marry the King of Thebes, an old man she has never met. Her life has never been her own, and nor will it be, unless she outlives her strange, absent husband.

Ismene is the same age when she is attacked in the palace she calls home. Since the day of her parents’ tragic deaths a decade earlier, she has always longed to feel safe with the family she still has. But with a single act of violence, all that is about to change.

With the turn of these two events, a tragedy is set in motion. But not as you know it.

The Children of Jocasta retells the stories of two Greek plays – Oedipus Tyrannos and Antigone.  I was familiar with the tale of Oedipus in the broadest terms – it’s difficult not to be when Freud borrowed his name to describe certain feelings towards one’s opposite sex parent – but Antigone’s tale was a new one to me.  This didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the novel at all, and I felt that it worked as an introduction to these plays.  The novel alternates between the two narratives, and while the two plays are separate, they are connected, and I loved the way that Haynes intertwined the two, revealing a clue in one to explain something in the other.

The tale of Oedipus is told from the perspective of Jocasta, a relatively minor character in Sophocles’ play, despite the important role that she plays, and I thought that this was a nice spin on the story.  Indeed, Oedipus is all but relegated to the side-lines, not appearing until quite late in the novel, and then playing a relatively minor role.  Similarly, the second narrative is told from the perspective of Ismene (Isy) – again a minor character in the play, given a new voice by Haynes in order to tell the story from a different point of view to those traditionally used.

Haynes admits to playing fast and loose with some of the detail in her author’s note at the end of the novel.  I’ve no issue with this, and I wouldn’t have been aware of many of the changes had she not pointed them out herself.  And I think that to tell the story from the perspectives she did that this was necessary.  It’s difficult to focus on Jocasta and yet show Oedipus solving the riddle of the Sphinx, for example – you can’t have both, and so the Sphinx becomes a bandit horde terrorising the area around Thebes that Oedipus does battle with, mentioned in passing, rather than being a key scene1.

I haven’t gone into any detail of what happens in either narrative – this is one of those novels where you either know the key details or I’d have to spoil it for you – but this is an entertaining retelling of two Greek tragedies that I’d recommend to fans of Madeleine Miller and Emily Hauser.

Rating ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Also, the riddle of Sphinx can’t be done any more brilliantly that in Terry Pratchett’s Pyramids.

Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill

sea of rust

I was drawn to Sea of Rust when it was first published in 2017, attracted to the idea of an end of the world novel in which humans are extinct and it’s now the turn of the robots and AI that we developed to serve us.

HUMANKIND IS EXTINCT.

Wiped out in a global uprising by the very machines made to serve them. Now the world is controlled by OWIs – vast mainframes that have assimilated the minds of millions of robots.

But not all robots are willing to cede their individuality, and Brittle is one of the holdouts.

After a near-deadly encounter with another AI, Brittle is forced to seek sanctuary in a city under siege by an OWI. Critically damaged, Brittle must evade capture long enough to find the essential rare parts to make repairs – but as a robot’s CPU gradually deteriorates, all their old memories resurface.

For Brittle, that means one haunting memory in particular…

With humans out of the way, you might expect that the world would run more smoothly, and be managed according to logic rather than the whims of a few individuals who have, by luck or judgement, gained power over their respective areas of the map.  It couldn’t be further from the truth.  Now that humans are extinct, there are two One World Intelligences (OWIs) – vast mainframes with intellect and capabilities outstripping those of individual robots – seeking domination.  That domination entails destroying the other OWI, as well as absorbing the memories and knowledge of each individual robot for their own purposes.

Sea of Rust follows Brittle – a robot designed as a caregiver, supporting the ill and elderly in their day to day needs.  Left with no purpose (as with most robots, her purpose expired with the human race) Brittle now wanders around the desert that is all that’s left of the American Midwest, seeking out spare parts to repair herself as bits and pieces begin to fail, and trying to avoid being absorbed by the OWIs.  I found Brittle to be surprisingly human, and I liked the contrast of introspection, which I wouldn’t expect from a robot, combined with the abilities to make precise calculations as to distance, speed etc. that I would expect.  Her end goal might be different to that of a human left at the end of the world – finding parts rather than food or medicine – but the challenges are the same as she tries to find what she needs whilst avoiding other robots who are doing the same.

As well as sharing her own story, Brittle also reflects upon the last days, months, and years of the human race, explaining how and why the war started, and how it ended as it did.  Once war was declared, I think that the result was inevitable, and most robots – whatever their original purpose – were involved in the fight, seeking out and killing any remaining pockets of human resistance.  I thought that this was a fascinating, if worryingly plausible, scenario, but it was good to understand why there were no humans left, and I really enjoyed these parts of the story.

Sea of Rust is a fantastic end of the world saga, but an original one in that our own world has already vanished, leaving it in the hands of robots as the two remaining OWIs fight it out for supremacy.  I loved that there are robots – like Brittle – who don’t want to be absorbed by these vast mainframes, and just want to be themselves, and this novel raises interesting questions about identity and individualism.  At the same time, it is an excellent story with plenty of action and a great plot, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

This Week in Books – 07-11-18

TWIB - logo

This Week in Books is a feature hosted by Lipsy at Lipsyy Lost and Found that allows bloggers to share:

  • What they’ve recently finished reading
  • What they are currently reading
  • What they are planning to read next

The last book I finished reading was The Children of Jocasta by Natalie Haynes.  

the children of jocasta

In The Children of Jocasta, Natalie Haynes retells the Oedipus and Antigone myths to reveal a new side of an ancient story…

My siblings and I have grown up in a cursed house, children of cursed parents…

Jocasta is just fifteen when she is told that she must marry the King of Thebes, an old man she has never met. Her life has never been her own, and nor will it be, unless she outlives her strange, absent husband.

Ismene is the same age when she is attacked in the palace she calls home. Since the day of her parents’ tragic deaths a decade earlier, she has always longed to feel safe with the family she still has. But with a single act of violence, all that is about to change.

With the turn of these two events, a tragedy is set in motion. But not as you know it.


I’ve just started reading One More Chance by Lucy Ayrton.

one more chance

THE BATTLE ON THE INSIDE IS JUST THE BEGINNING

Dani hasn’t had an easy life. She’s made some bad choices and now she’s paying the ultimate price; prison.

With her young daughter Bethany, growing up in foster care, Dani is determined to be free and reunited with her. There’s only one problem; Dani can’t stay out of trouble.

Dani’s new cellmate Martha is quiet and unassuming. There’s something about her that doesn’t add up. When Martha offers Dani one last chance at freedom, she doesn’t hesitate.

Everything she wants is on the outside, but Dani is stuck on the inside. Is it possible to break out when everyone is trying to keep you in…


My next read is likely to be Gone to Ground by Rachel Amphlett – the latest instalment in the Detective Kay Hunter series.

gone to ground

While attending a crime scene on the outskirts of Maidstone, DI Kay Hunter makes a shocking discovery.

The victim has been brutally cut to pieces, his identity unknown.

When more body parts start turning up in the Kentish countryside, Kay realises the disturbing truth – a serial killer is at large and must be stopped at all costs.

With no motive for the murders and a killer who has gone undetected until now, Kay and her team of detectives must work fast to calm a terrified local population and a scornful media.

When a third victim is found, her investigation grows even more complicated.

As she begins to expose a dark underbelly to the county town, Kay and her team are pulled into a web of jealousy and intrigue that, if left unchecked, will soon claim another life.


And that’s my week in books! What are you reading this week?  Let me know in the comments! 😎