What Should You Read Next?

Coggling
Author: Jordan Elizabeth
Published: 25th January 2016
Goodreads Rating: 4.08 out of 5
Reviewed: February 2016

Fifteen-year-old Edna spends her life looking after her brother Harrison whilst also working as a servant for a rich family. One day she is worried about Harrison’s uncharacteristic behaviour and is concerned to find him wearing a pocket watch that does not belong to him. Yet, when she snatches the watch away from him, he disintegrates into a pile of cogs. Panicked, Edna rushes out onto the streets in search of help, but naturally, no one believes her; no one but a thief, that is. Ike claims to recognize the watch as belonging to the hags – an evil, magical species – and says they must have stolen Harrison and replaced him with a cogling – an automaton changeling.

With Ike’s help, Edna is determined to rescue her brother, yet there are many incidents ahead for the pair to try and deter them. Not only that, Ike appears to have an ulterior motive for aiding her. Edna is also harbouring a deep secret.

Cogling is not based on a fairytale, yet it would not look out of place amongst the Grimm selection. It is full of adventure and magic, yet is darker than the stories told to children. When reading, I could not help but be reminded of Cornelia Funke’s Reckless on account of the similarities of strange creatures and settings – although that is where the comparisons end.

What I liked about Cogling is that it is a very modern fairytale in terms of its characters. Although set in a past where women were a lower caste than men, the heroine is not a helpless maid as in traditional tales. Edna and Ike are of equal ability and defeat the hags together, rather than Ike being the dashing prince rescuing the princess.

To begin with, Cogling felt like it was going to be fun to read but nothing special. The characters were a little annoying, but that added a slight humour. Then it got more interesting. As their lives became more dangerous, the story got much more exciting and hard to put down. The character developments were brilliant.

If you like fairytales, you will also love Cogling. Its steampunk approach makes it unique and fascinating. 

In A Land of Paper Gods
Author: Rebecca Mackenzie
Published: 28th January 2016
Goodreads Rating: 3.47 out of 5
Reviewed: March 2016

“My name is Henrietta S. Robertson. That’s my English name… My Chinese name is Ming-Mei.”

As the child of two members of the Interior Alliance Mission, Henrietta has grown up between two cultures: English and Chinese. From the age of six, she was sent to boarding school on a mountain in the Jiangxi Province, where four years later, she remains a small, pale, lonely girl.

For a girl as young as ten, Etta has a big imagination. She decides that God has called her to be a prophetess and encourages the other girls in Dormitory A to join her in a Prophetess Club. This results in Etta getting into all sorts of trouble as she naively goes about inventing prophecies; all the while, the Second Sino-Japanese War gets closer and closer to their mountain sanctuary.

Told mostly from Etta’s point of view, In a Land of Paper Gods is a hilarious historical novel about a young girl’s innocence. A large part of the story is about the missionary school rather than the ongoing war, so the focus is on Etta’s interpretation of the Bible and her understanding of the differences between Western Christian and Chinese cultures. Yet, once America joins the war effort, it is shockingly quick how the tale can go from humorous to heartbreaking.

The other character who plays a large part in this novel is Muriel, a dorm aunty who Etta regards highly. Muriel wanted to be a missionary but found herself working at the Lushan school instead, keeping an eye on the ten and eleven-year-old girls. Although most of the book is written in Etta’s first-person narrative, Rebecca Mackenzie has also included the occasional diary entry from Aunty Muriel. Since these are so few, it is not clear what their purpose is, as the story could easily continue without them.

Despite being a historical novel, In a Land of Paper Gods focuses less on fact and more on the impact the times had on a young girl. It is interesting to see the character development of Etta as she goes from a naughty, attention-seeking schoolgirl to a young woman who must fend for herself. All the while, she has her belief in God to resort to for explanations about the world in which she is living. The reader also witnesses the growth of the relationship between Aunty Muriel and Etta. To begin with, it is that of an adult and child, but it ends with them being equals in their suffering.

For some people, the Christian content will not mean anything, but it is possible to enjoy the novel without a religious background. For those like myself, who have a Christian upbringing, this aspect makes the story even better. Readers may recognize themselves or their childhood in Etta, particularly her understanding of the Bible.

Gratitude
Author: Dani DiPirro
Published: 13th September 2016
Goodreads Rating: 4.06 out of 5
Reviewed: June 2016

“Effortless inspiration for a happier life.” It has been scientifically proven that gratitude can benefit mental and physical well-being. It is also acknowledged that being thankful is difficult for many people due to negative circumstances or pessimistic personalities. Gratitude is a little, hardback book by writer and graphic designer Dani DiPirro, whose purpose is to encourage the reader to show and feel more gratitude in their lives. In a way, this is a self-help book.

Using quotes, written insights and activities, DiPirro guides the reader through several situations in which one can be grateful. The author’s insights are sensitive but to the point, suggesting that everyone faces these problems and does not isolate individuals. The quotes help emphasise the ideas, and the activities are simple and relevant.

The activities are nothing to be afraid of; they are not strenuous or difficult. They merely require you to think or complete a task that does not require you to go out of your way: “Reflect on the last time you experienced compassion or forgiveness.”

The book itself is simple yet beautifully designed. The red theme makes it feel bright and positive, but it may be more attractive to women than it would be to men. The print is large, clear and easy to read, suitable for all ages and backgrounds.

Although roughly 130 pages, it only takes ten minutes to read from cover to cover, yet this is not the author’s intention. To get the most out of the book, each section/task should be tackled individually to experience the outcome you are hoping for: feeling a sense of gratitude. This is a book that you can return to time and time again, whether you feel motivated or need a little pick me up.

At the back of the book, DiPirro has provided lists of the top ten ways to be grateful in different environments. These are useful when you are experiencing problems at home or work and need help stepping back and seeing the bigger picture.

Overall, Gratitude is a lovely, inexpensive guide to help people gain a more positive outlook on life. Other books in this series focus on different areas of life that people struggle with, e.g. forgiveness and living in the moment. Gratitude is the ideal book to give as a gift to a loved one or even to keep on your bookshelf or bedside table, accessible when needed.

There Will Be Lies
Author: Nick Lake
Published: 6th January 2015
Goodreads Rating: 3.45 out of 5
Reviewed: June 2016

Award-winning Nick Lake has returned to the limelight with a young adult thriller so full of emotion that you will be gripped from beginning to end. There Will Be Lies starts with a happy relationship between mother and daughter, then rips it apart, revealing that everything you once believed is a lie.

From the very beginning, seventeen-year-old Shelby Jane Cooper warns the reader that bad things will happen. She speaks of death and a car collision that is about to occur within the first few chapters of the story. But this is not the climax of the story. It is merely the small stone dropped on the top of a mountain, causing an avalanche of questions, danger and the slowly unravelling truth.

All her life Shelby has been homeschooled, isolated from society and shadowed by her overprotective mother. After being hit by a car, resulting in a fractured foot, Shelby is ushered into a car by her mother and driven in the opposite direction from home. Supposedly an abusive father, a man Shelby cannot recall, is on their tail whom they must hide from to avoid a disastrous confrontation. Despite initially believing this story, peculiar things start happening to Shelby that suggest all is not as it seems.

The first quarter of There Will Be Lies follows a typical contemporary storyline, but as it becomes more thrilling, the author incorporates fantasy/American mythology into the mix. Finding herself slipping in and out of a dying, impossible world known as the Dreaming, Shelby begins to question the things her mother is telling her, especially after being warned that there will be two lies followed by a truth. Yet she cannot work out what they are, and what if the truth is something she cannot – does not want – to consider?

I loved this book from the very beginning. I loved Shelby’s character: the way she spoke, her sarcasm, her wit, and her intelligence. Despite being so sheltered from the world, she was not weird or awkward. What made it even better was discovering she was deaf. Readers will not even be able to guess at that for almost half the novel when Shelby reveals the fact herself. She is not portrayed as stupid or any less human for having a disability. Nick Lake has done a superb job of avoiding any forms of stigma or prejudice.

The fantastical elements, the American mythology, which gave it the appearance of a half fairytale, nearly ruined the entire book. I admit I liked the concept and enjoyed reading the scenes set in the Dreaming, but it seemed so out of place with the rest of the novel, as though Lake had written two different stories and decided to combine them instead of publishing them separately. 

As the story progressed, the relevance of the fairy-tale-like elements became clearer. You cannot say whether the Dreaming was real or whether Shelby was merely doing that: dreaming. The mythological storyline is a metaphorical way of revealing what Shelby was dealing with in the real world. In a place where she was confused about what was true, she needed the Dreaming to explain things to her, to make her understand her predicament.

There Will Be Lies is full of little metaphors, some that you do not notice at first but easily apply to life in general. It is a quotable narrative with beautiful phrasing. With two thrilling storylines that eventually merge, you are guaranteed to be gripped, wanting to know what happens, yet also not wanting it to end.

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old
Author: Hendrik Groen
Published: 1st June 2014
Goodreads Rating: 3.94 out of 5
Reviewed: August 2016

Think Adrian Plass but with octogenarians, and this is the result. The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old is a years-long journal beginning on 1st January 2013. Hendrik hates old people, an unfortunate predicament as he lives in a home for the elderly. He set himself the task of writing a daily account about the “life of the inmates of a care home in North Amsterdam,” with the purpose of it being read after his death by readers or “inmates” who wish to know what to expect in their old age.

Whether the contents of this diary are true or exaggerated does not matter, as what it produces is a laugh-out-loud story – a pleasure to read. From cake in the fish tank to complaints about leaky nether regions, Hendrik provides a brutally honest account of the highs and lows of being an OAP.

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old encompasses a selection of unique and presumably real characters. Readers are bound to discover someone who reminds them of an elderly relative or even themselves! There is the diabetic, rude, gin-loving Evert – Henrdik’s best friend of many years – who is never without a witty comeback for the bossy, self-important director of the home. On the other hand, levelheaded Eefje, who Hendrik is rather fond of, shows a completely different view of elderly mentality. Despite the stereotypes associated with care home patients, Hendrik and his friends still have as much fun as possible; after all, they may be Old but not Dead.

Speaking of Dead, Hendrik makes several jokes and references to euthanasia, which may seem like poor taste to some readers. Yet, when all the friends around you are living the final years of their lives, why not joke about it instead of worry? Naturally, there are sad diary entries about the inevitable deaths of his contemporaries throughout the year, but Hendrik does not let it get him down for long. Hendrik and his close friends make the most of the time they have left, and if that involves speeding along the roads of Amsterdam on their souped-up mobility scooters, then that is exactly what they will do.

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old is a gem of a book and comes highly recommended to readers of all ages. Hendrik‘s effortlessly funny, sarcastic remarks stress what the average citizen is too polite to voice. Once you begin, it is hard to put down. Unfortunately, a year is not long enough, and you will end up wanting more. Whatever the future holds, let us hope we become someone like Hendrik Groen.


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How to Write a Book Review

There is no right or wrong way to write a book review. For some, writing “I liked this book” is good enough, but many writers prefer in-depth feedback and critique. A friend recently asked me for advice about writing book reviews, knowing that I have written many reviews, and new authors send me copies of their books in exchange for honest opinions. Admittedly, I do not follow a strict method of writing reviews, but I do try to include a few key points. At my friend’s request, I wrote the following instructions.

How to Write a Book Review

Firstly, write a brief description of the book. What is it about? Is it fiction or non-fiction? To what genre does it belong? Do not give anything away, especially the ending, but it is useful to tell potential readers a little about the narrative to entice them. Also, mention whether it is part of a series or a stand-alone. Is this the author’s first work, or are they a well-established writer?

For example:
Ancient Indian knowledge and wisdom have been expressed through storytelling for thousands of years. With this in mind, Limesh Parekh wrote his first business book Cracking the CRM Code in fiction format. CRM, which the author fails to define in the book, stands for Customer Relationship Management and is a useful process for businesses to interact with their customers.

What did you like about the book? Even if you did not enjoy it, try to find something positive to say. Was it well written? Did it contain interesting ideas or characters? What made you keep reading? Mention the emotions you felt, whether the author made you laugh or cry. Could you relate to the subject? Did you learn something new?

For example:
Many business books and manuals are nondescript and boring, whereas Limesh Parekh keeps the reader engaged with anecdotes, stories and quotes. Rather than learning how to use CRM, the characters show the process of purchasing and using the software, which is far more enlightening than a step-by-step guide.

For some, the hardest part of writing a review is mentioning the things they did not like. It is so easy to tell someone you liked their work rather than criticise them. Yet, even if it is unpleasant to hear, authors appreciate honesty and take on advice and comments in their future writings. If you found the book uninteresting, say so. Perhaps you were not the intended audience. Was the narrative easy to follow? Did you dislike any of the characters or ideas? Were there too many mistakes? (Be aware, typing errors are sometimes the fault of the editor and publisher rather than the author.)

For example:
English is presumably not the author’s first language, hence the sentences do not always flow, and the punctuation is far from perfect. At times, it is difficult to work out which character is speaking, making it a little confusing to follow.

Why should other people read this book? Did your reading experience benefit you in any way? Was it entertaining or educational, or was it a waste of your time? To whom would you recommend the book? Was it written for people with particular interests? Is it suitable for older or younger readers? Did it remind you of any other books you had read?

For example:
Cracking the CRM Code is written for business-minded people who understand the jargon and acronyms, many of which are unexplained. As a layperson, some of the information went over my head, but the fiction format helped hold my interest.

The final sentence of your review should indicate your overall impression of the book. You may have mentioned both positive and negative points, but which opinion comes out strongest? Some people find it easier to end their review with a rating out of 5 or 10 to indicate how much they enjoyed the book. 

For example:
Cracking the CRM Code has the potential to be a big hit with small business owners and business consultants. (3/5 Stars)


Below are a few examples of book reviews I have written over the past few months.

Larry, Bush Pilot by Jordan Mierek (2020)

Jordan Mierek, also known as Jordan Elizabeth, usually writes for young adults, but after many requests, she has published her first children’s book. Larry, Bush Pilot is a collaborative effort between Mierek and her father, Lawrence Mierek, who grew up on a dairy farm. Larry, a ten-year-old boy, also lived on a farm during the 1970s with his father, who owns an aeroplane. Despite his age, Larry’s father taught him to fly, which came in handy when his father suffered an accident in the middle of nowhere.

This short story loosely reflects Lawrence Mierek’s childhood. As a teenager, his father taught him to fly a plane on the airstrip behind their barn. The narrative is likely an imagined scenario, placing a young boy in a precarious situation, which many children would not have the means to solve. Only through extreme determination and courage is Larry able to rescue his father.

Larry, Bush Pilot is a short story intended for primary school children. The few illustrations between chapters make it an appropriate step between picture books and teenage novels. Larry’s life on the farm allows modern children to learn about the world before digital technology and the importance of a family working together. The story also tells the reader that if they believe in themselves and their abilities, they can achieve great things.

Jordan Mierek has stepped into the world of children’s literature and proved that she is more than capable of writing for several age groups. Larry, Bush Pilot is the first in a series called Flying Acres, and we look forward to joining Larry on his next adventure. (4/5 stars)

Home at Last: Your Journey of Faith in Challenging Times by Ruth Pearson (2020)

Ruth Pearson wrote Home at Last during the pandemic for those who have felt discouraged and afraid about the future. Suggesting Covid-19 could be a sign of the Second Coming, Pearson focused on three questions to prepare the reader for such an event. 1. How important is God in your life? 2. Do you have a personal relationship with God? 3. Where are you planning to spend eternity?

Using examples from the Bible, Pearson explores the idea of a journey of faith. Several characters in the Bible went on journeys that brought them closer to God. Pearson uses the Parable of the Prodigal Son to explain the notion of “coming home” to God. Readers may have drifted away from the creator, but He will welcome them back with open arms. The story of Ruth and Naomi explores faith, and the story of Joshua and Rahab features truth, about which Pearson also writes.

Whilst the ideas in the book are worth pursuing, the written narrative is poor. Pearson is either more confident verbalising her thoughts, or the English language is not her strong point. Frequent spelling and grammatical errors make the book difficult to read, and it is hard to follow the author’s thought process.

Pearson claims she wrote the entire book in 48 hours, and I believe her. Although some editing must have occurred, it needs a lot more work to make it a successful seller. It appears the author tried to conclude the narrative several times but thought of more to say. Chapter Nine ends by informing the reader that the next chapter is the last. Chapter Ten concludes the book, only for the reader to turn the page to find another chapter headed “Conclusion”.

It is a great shame the quality of writing lets the book down because the ideas could potentially help many new and old Christians. Although she does not reveal her denomination, Pearson’s beliefs suggest she is a Seventh-Day Adventist and emphasises the Second Coming. Some readers may be uncomfortable with this, but Pearson’s ideas are suitable for all types of Christians. (3/5 stars)

This Shining Life by Harriet Kline (2021)

Ollie’s Dad died. Richard had an incurable brain tumour, and before he passed away, he sent everyone a special present. He also told Ollie that “being alive was like a puzzle and it was all falling into place.” Ollie is autistic. He thinks his father left him a puzzle to solve. Could it involve the gifts? Why won’t anyone help him solve the puzzle?

This Shining Life by Harriet Kline is a heartbreaking tale about a family coming to terms with death. Told from several people’s point of view, Kline explores different portrayals of grief. Ollie’s mum wants to stay in bed; his aunt wants life to carry on; his maternal grandmother tries to exert control; his paternal grandmother wishes she could understand her grandson; and his grandfather has no idea what is going on. No one has time for Ollie and his obsession with his puzzle.

Before Richard’s death, Ollie dominated family life. Ollie had a strict routine, always had a few spare pairs of socks with him because he hated dirty ones, and had meltdowns if his parents used the “wrong” tone of voice. Without his familiar habits, Ollie’s life was a mass of confusion – an apt metaphor for the grief the rest of the family experienced.

With a contemporary novel such as This Shining Life, there is no “happy ever after”. People do not come back from the dead. There is no answer to the meaning of life. Grief is a long process and different for everyone. It causes depression, anger and confusion, but hidden under all these negative feelings is love.

Harriet Kline takes death and grief seriously but adds a touch of humour to the narrative for the reader’s benefit. It is not a light read, nor is it markedly profound. Instead, This Shining Life is painfully honest, and for that reason, it is beautiful. (4/5 stars)

Nine Ways to Die by Jordan Elizabeth (2021)

Fifteen-year-old January “Jan” hates the new town she has moved to but loves her new boyfriend, Jean. Her parents are never home, and her sister is in hospital, so she spends the summer days with her new friends. The only people she meets are around her age, and she never comes across any adults. The buildings are decrepit and old, almost like a ghost town. The more time Jan spends with her friends, the more peculiar the town, Memoir Falls, feels.

Nine Ways to Die is a short story by versatile writer, Jordan Elizabeth. The details about Jan’s past gradually emerge until Jan, along with the reader, discovers the truth about the strange town and its inhabitants. There are clues everywhere, but like Jan, readers fail to notice them until they come together in a sudden climax.

Through Jan’s eyes, readers experience the town as though they are also new inhabitants. Although it is a short story, there is so much on offer: suspense, romance, thrills, and the supernatural. For those familiar with Jordan Elizabeth’s work, this is a welcome addition to her vast collection of books. For newbie readers, this is a tempting taste of the author’s full potential. (4/5 stars)

Cracking the CRM Code by Limesh Parekh (2021)

Ancient Indian knowledge and wisdom have been expressed through storytelling for thousands of years. With this in mind, Limesh Parekh wrote his first business book Cracking the CRM Code in fiction format. CRM, which the author fails to define in the book, stands for Customer Relationship Management and is a useful process for businesses to interact with their customers.

Rather than produce a mundane manual about how to purchase and use CRM software, Parekh writes a story about four friends and their journey with CRM. Liladhar Shastri, a successful business owner, is encouraging his friends, Anubhav, Jagdeep and Irshad to consider using CRM to improve their businesses. What follows is a lengthy discussion about buying CRM, using CRM and getting the most out of the software.

As the Indian entrepreneur, Rashmi Bansal writes in the introduction, Limesh Parekh is “not a salesman but a friend.” The author gives advice through the voice of Liladhar, and the other three friends express the reader’s questions and concerns. The book is written for small businesses with the potential to grow with the help of CRM. The story analyses what the friends do wrong and what they need to change.

Cracking the CRM Code is written for business-minded people who understand the jargon and acronyms, many of which are unexplained. As a layperson, some of the information went over my head, but the fiction format helped hold my interest. English is presumably not the author’s first language, hence the sentences do not always flow, and the punctuation is far from perfect. At times, it is difficult to work out which character is speaking, making it a little confusing to follow.

Many business books and manuals are nondescript and boring, whereas Limesh Parekh keeps the reader engaged with anecdotes, stories and quotes. Rather than learning how to use CRM, the characters show the process of purchasing and using the software, which is far more enlightening than a step-by-step guide. Cracking the CRM Code has the potential to be a big hit with small business owners and business consultants. (3/5 stars)

The Boy I Am by K. L. Kettle (2021)

Imagine a world where women are safe from men. Imagine a world where women are in charge. Imagine a world where men no longer reduce women to something to flirt with or dismiss as beneath them. This is the way of life in K. L. Kettle’s dystopian novel The Boy I Am. War has left the Earth in ruins, and it is no longer safe to go outside, yet humanity is surviving in tall, secure tower blocks overseen by the Chancellor. Men and boys are confined to the basement floors as a punishment for their behaviour during the war. To earn their right to live on the upper floors, they must learn to behave like a gentleman, and never look at a woman’s skin without their permission.

The protagonist, Jude, is running out of time to earn the right to live amongst the women. If he does not gain a sponsor, he faces a future in the dangerous mines. Yet, Jude is not sure he wants to live with the women, who have demeaned him for his gender since his birth. He has seen another side to them and believes the Chancellor has killed his best friend. Jude wants to escape, risk the poisonous fog outside and search for a better life. To do this, the Chancellor must die.

The way women treat men and boys is uncomfortable to read. Female readers, in particular, may have experienced similar treatment at the hands of men. Feminists desire an equal world, but there is the risk of going too far the other way. Yet, as Jude discovers, it is not as black and white as Female versus Male. An underground gang of women known as Hysterics are also trying to escape. They want to save themselves and the boys from a society not run by women, but by the elite.

K. L. Kettle explains her intentions behind the novel in a letter to the reader at the end of the book. She quotes Lord Acton’s (1834-1902) proverb “absolute power corrupts absolutely” and questions if everyone is equal, does everyone have the ability to abuse the power they have? What may have seemed a good idea for humanity after the war, has become an oppressive state where no one is safe from those in power, not even the women. The Chancellor controls everyone, but Jude and the Hysterics are determined to take that power away from her.

Telling the story from Jude’s perspective highlights the faults in today’s societies. Many are unaware of the belittling behaviour happening around them, but when the roles are reversed, they are obvious. The Boy I Am is both thrilling and eye-opening, challenging gender roles and power dynamics in general. Those who have read books such as Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman are guaranteed to enjoy K. L. Kettle’s novel. (4/5 stars)

In Picardy’s Fields by Hannah Byron (2020)

Told from two perspectives, In Picardy’s Fields is the story of two brave young women during the First World War. Set mostly in France, the two women put gender stereotypes to one side to help the allied soldiers. Baroness Agnès de Saint-Aubin, a young surgeon from Paris, follows her teacher, Dr Alan Bell, to the Château de Dragoncourt on the front lines in Picardy to help her friends, Jacques and Elle de Dragoncourt care for the injured soldiers. Meanwhile, the youngest Dragoncourt child, Madeleine, is determined to escape from her finishing school in Switzerland to play her part in the war effort.

The author, Hannah Byron, accurately describes the devastation and dangers the characters faced both in Paris and at the front. Flowing seamlessly from scene to scene, Byron paints a dark picture of life in war-torn France at the same time as weaving a captivating story. Agnès is a reticent but strong woman, a stark contrast from the stuck-up Madeleine, used to getting her way. Yet both characters develop, forced to face horrifying circumstances. While Agnès becomes more confident, Madeleine uses her head-strong determination to secretly help the allied soldiers, even if it means putting herself in danger.

Whilst the war is the main feature of the novel, the author weaves themes of friendship and romance into the narrative. Although only two people narrate the story, In Picardy’s Fields shows the importance of working together and putting aside prejudices. The undercurrent of a developing romance brings a sense of hope that everything will end happily, yet the reader also knows nothing is safe during wartime. With each turn of the page, disaster could befall the characters, which makes for a gripping read.

Hannah Byron admits she is not a medic or war expert, yet she undertook extensive research to make In Picardy’s Fields as accurate as possible. She also confesses it is unlikely a female doctor went to the front lines, yet as a work of fiction, this does not matter, especially as Agnès’s profession is key to the story.

Authors have written novels about the World Wars ad nauseum to the point that writing an original story seems impossible, but Hannah Byron proves this assumption wrong. In Picardy’s Fields feels almost modern in some respects, despite being set in the 1910s, which adds a freshness to the story. These women, these characters are just like you and me, living in a time we could not possibly understand.

In Picardy’s Fields is a fantastic debut novel and Hannah Byron is a writer to keep an eye on. (4/5 stars)

The Red-Haired Archaeologist Digs Israel by Amanda Hope Haley (2021)

“Finding Noah’s ark … would be fun, but it wouldn’t be instructive… wouldn’t teach us about God or each other.” This is the view of Amanda Hope Haley in The Red-Haired Archaeologist Digs Israel, a book about the author’s travels in the land of the Bible. As a Harvard-trained biblical archaeologist, Haley spent time in Israel excavating areas of land where Jesus once walked. Her goal was not to unearth evidence of Jesus but to discover what life was like for the everyday person during Christ’s time on Earth.

Only the first couple of chapters mention items and foundations Haley found on her digs. After that, Haley describes her holiday in Israel with her mother, father and husband. She writes honestly, admitting to tourist errors she and her family made. She describes the places she visited as though speaking to a reader who plans to make the trip too. Yet, it is far from a holiday diary.

In each location Haley visited, she describes the history of the place, the biblical references, the antagonism between the Jews and Muslims, and its current state. She discovers why Jesus chose to preach in certain areas, locates towns and cities mentioned in the Bible, and notes how much places have changed since the 1st century.

It is interesting to learn how the three religions, Judaism, Islam and Christianity, both merge and alienate each other. Haley visited areas that banned Jews, yet as a Christian, she could enter. She paints Israel as a dangerous place but also highlights its beauty spots.

The title, The Red-Haired Archaeologist Digs Israel, is misleading because there is little physical digging mentioned. Haley only documents a few of her finds, and readers do not learn a great deal from them. On the other hand, Haley’s metaphorical dig into the history of Israel proves fruitful, enhanced from her first-hand experience.

Those looking for a book about archaeology may be disappointed with The Red-Haired Archaeologist Digs Israel but those wishing to learn more about the biblical land of Israel, past and present, will appreciate Haley’s knowledge. For Christian readers, this book will enhance their understanding of the Bible. (4/5 stars)

The Diamond Courier by Hannah Byron (2020)

Twenty years have passed since the end of Hannah Byron’s World War One novel In Picardy’s Fields. It is now 1939 and the Second World War is just beginning, but all seems peaceful in Kent, England where the narrator, Lili Hamilton, lives with her parents. War is the last thing on Lili’s mind as she contemplates how to get out of an arranged marriage and pursue a career in journalism.

The surname Hamilton may be familiar to those who have read the previous book but Lady Madeleine has left her war achievements far behind in The Diamond Courier where she plays the role of a prim and proper lady of the house. Her daughter, Liliane, feels trapped by her sensible parents’ expectations who thwart her plans to be a political journalist. Yet Lili, encouraged by the handsome leader of the British Communist Party Leo Oppenheim, perseveres, thus estranging herself from her family.

Lili soon learns living in London with Leo is not the life she desired, but feels it is too late to back out, especially after witnessing the treatment of Jews on the continent. The Jewish community need someone to bring their precious diamonds to safety before the Germans get their hands on them, and they believe Lili is the best person for the job. Unless, of course, she gets caught.

The Diamond Courier is much darker than Byron’s previous book. Naturally, war is not a happy topic, but the sense of hope felt in In Picardy’s Fields is missing in this novel. The story is divided into two sections, “Leo” and “After Leo”. The former is lengthier, drawn-out, and not always pleasant to read. The latter, on the other hand, is packed with danger, excitement and adventure.

For Lili, Communism is something new and exciting, which she desires to pursue. The party has clear views about the war, with which all members must agree. Yet, when faced with the horrors of war, Lili realises she must cast aside her political opinions. Whether Communist, Jew, sympathiser or resistance member, no one deserves the terrible treatment delivered by the Nazis.

Although this is a work of fiction, Byron remains faithful to the true nature of the Second World War. She does not gloss over any of the atrocities and, whilst the reader keeps their fingers and toes crossed that Lili will get her “happily ever after” ending, this cannot be possible for everyone in the novel.

Aiming to show the strength of women living in a “man’s world”, Byron has created female characters of whom to be proud and respected. Whilst the storyline may not always be pleasant, it is a gripping narrative that immerses the reader into Lili’s life and experiences. Hannah Byron has a way with words that keeps the reader engaged throughout. She is an author to keep an eye on. (4/5 stars)


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