Blood Song

Publisher : Orenda

Published : 19th September 2019


Spain, 1938

The country is wracked by civil war, and as Valencia falls to Franco’s brutal dictatorship, Republican Teresa witnesses the murders of her family. Captured and sent to the notorious Las Ventas women’s prison, Teresa gives birth to a daughter who is forcibly taken from her.

Falkenberg, Sweden, 2016

A wealthy family is found savagely murdered in their luxurious home. Discovering that her parents have been slaughtered, Aliénor Lindbergh, a new recruit to the UK’s Scotland Yard, rushes back to Sweden and finds her hometown rocked by the massacre.

Profiler Emily Roy joins forces with Aliénor and her colleague, true-crime writer Alexis Castells, and they soon find themselves on the trail of a monstrous and prolific killer, in an investigation that takes them from the Swedish fertility clinics of the present day back to the terror of Franco’s
rule, and the horrifying events that took place in Spanish orphanages under its rule…

My thoughts:

I was attracted to this book for a number of reasons: it’s an award winner, it’s a Nordic Noir, and of course it’s published by Orenda – a publisher synonymous with quality crime thrillers!  I was not disappointed.  Blood Song is the third book in the Roy and Castells series by French writer Johanna Gustawsson. I have not read either of the previous two novels (46 and Keeper) but this did not impact on my enjoyment – Gustawwson takes the time to appraise the reader of the backstory of the main characters, allowing new readers to ‘keep up.’

So what’s it all about?

Blood Song swings between London and Sweden in 2016, and then back in time to Spain when Franco’s fascist party ruled the land. This book is a fascinating, chilling and informative read which weaves together a novel about murder, fertility clinics and the abuse of all Republican’s (men, women and children) in 1930s’ Spain. I thought I knew quite a bit about the Spanish Civil War, but I was particularly shocked by the treatment of children, which I learned about in Blood Song.

In 2016, Aliénor Lindbergh is recently appointed to Scotland Yard to work alongside criminal profiler Emily Roy.  Aliénor gets word that her parents and sister have been brutally murdered in their home in Sweden. She is accompanied back home by Emily Roy, along with true-crime writer Alexis Castells, to help investigate these brutal killings.

In an attempt to establish a motive for the killing, Roy and Castells, along with the Swedish authorities, begin to investigate the business dealings of the Lindbergh’s privately own IVF clinic.  They uncover a link to a fertility clinic in Spain, which leads them closer to a motive for murder.

For me, the most powerful and lingering aspects of Blood Song are the social history sections based in Franco’s Spain. The focus here is on five young girls who grew up in various Catholic orphanages and institutions under the care of priests and nuns. Before the novel even begins, Johanna Gustawwson imparts some chilling facts about the cruelty meted out by the fascists, and the death toll during this time.  She explains:

The acts of violence depicted in the historical chapters of this novel were inspired by actual events that have been recognised and confirmed.  While these acts are certainly cruel and some may find the images hard to stomach, there has been some softening to spare sensitive readers the most brutal details and avoid these pages sinking too deeply into the misery of those times.

These historical sections ultimately weave into the contemporary narrative. Once again, I was shaking my head at the heart-breaking impact that childhood abuse has on people throughout their lives – the shame it carries, and the way it can skew minds and taint whole existences.

So who killed the Lindberghs and why is the mystery at the heart of Blood Song.

Brace yourself for a page turner which will hook you, and keep you guessing right up to the end.

I will definitely be checking out Johanna Gustawwson’s previous books, and can’t wait for the TV adaptations.

Thank you to Anne Cater for offering me a place on this Random Things Blog Tour, and to Orenda for an e-copy of the book for review purposes.  Blood Song is published in paperback on 19th September, and has been beautifully translated from French by David Warriner.

About the author:

Johanna Gustawsson

Born in Marseille, France, and with a degree in Political Science, Johana Gustawsson has worked as a journalist for the French and Spanish press and television. Her critically acclaimed Roy & Castells series has won the Plume d’Argent, Balai de la découverte, Balai d’Or and Prix Marseillais du Polar awards, and is now published in nineteen countries. A TV adaptation is currently underway in a French, Swedish and UK co-production. Johana lives in London with her Swedish husband and their three sons. She drew on her own experience of fertility clinics and IVF to write Blood Song.


Lies by Doireann Ní Ghríofa

Publisher : Dedalus press

Pages : 83

My thoughts:

As a reader and a book blogger, I have tended to mainly concentrate on fiction reviews. Occasionally, I read non-fiction and short stories. Recently however, poet Chris Emery asked myself and @bookishchat why we didn’t review more poetry on our blogs. Our responses were pretty similar – but the main reason was fear and apprehension. I gave the question some thought, and decided to take the plunge. Experience has taught me that the joy felt on overcoming fears is one of life’s best feelings…so here I am sharing my thoughts on poetry (I’ll make a destinction between ‘sharing thoughts’ and ‘reviewing’ – I still feel unqualified to review poems, but I can tell you what I think.)

I chose to begin with Irish poet Doireann Ní Ghríofa, who writes in Irish and English. She is an aclaimed poet, and has won many prizes including the Michael Hartnett Award, the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, the Premio Ostana literary award (Italy) and was chosen as a Seamus Heaney Centre Fellow at Queen’s University Belfast. Her work has been published widely in literary magazines in Ireland and abroad, such as Poetry, The Irish Times, Irish Examiner, Prairie Schooner, The Stinging Fly, and Southword to but name a few.

I’ll admit that I only scanned the ‘blurb’ for LIES when I ordered it, and so was a little frightened when I received a book of bilingual poems through the post! Like many Irish people, I had to study Irish language in school. I have forgotten a whole lot of it since leaving school and Ireland. Undeterred, I started to read the poems, in English, then looked across to it’s companion ‘as gaelige’ (in Irish). I understood a smattering, but for me the joy and love came in the English poems. They are clever and thought-provoking and beautiful. As I read many of them I was inwardly shouting ‘YES! This is EXACTLY how I felt when X happened’ or ‘Wow…that’s so clever.’ There are poems that have jumped out at me, others that I have grown to love, and I know that this selection is one collection I will go back to time and again.

For those of you who are interested in fiction, watch out for Doireann in 2020, as she has a book coming out with Tramp Press. I for one cannot wait to read it!

Below is the official description of LIES, along with a poem called Tatoo (Irish version followed by the English.)

I hope you enjoy it!


Lies is a selection of Irish poet Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s Irish language poems, with facing English translations by the poet herself

When does a poem tell the truth? When is it a lie? In Lies, intimate moments carefully re-appraised (first dates, break ups, young parenthood, etc.) are the raw material of these vivid and wholly engaging poems, written in Irish, and translated here by the author – a process that itself raises questions about poetry and truth.

But a great deal of the power of Ní Ghríofa’s work comes from the way her personal history links her to the wider world – to the imaginative encounters that prompt so many of the poems, to an acute awareness of the restless nature of language itself, and not least to the women who preceded her and who remain a steadying and guiding presence throughout.

“[Ní Ghríofa] achieves the feat of making us look again at the usual and illuminating its pulsating strangeness. She is a brilliant addition to the distinguished succession of bilingual poets writing in Irish and English.”
— Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Ireland Professor of Poetry

Le Tatú a Bhaint

Shíl mé nach mbeadh ann ach go scriosfaí thú
sa tslí chéanna go gcuirfeadh gasúr grainc air féin
ag breathnú dó ar chóipleabhar breac le botúin,
á shlánú in athuair lena ghlantóir:
bhí dul amú orm.

Nuair a baineadh d’ainmse de mo chraiceann,
bhris na léasair an tatú ina mílte cáithníní líocha.
Shúigh mo chorp do dhúch scoilte, scaoilte. Anois,
is doimhne fós ionam siollaí d’ainm, táid daite im’ chealla;
táim breac leat.

Tá tú laistigh díom anois – caillte, dofheicthe.
Mé féin is tú féin, táimidne do-dhealaithe.


Tattoo Removal

I thought they would simply delete you,
as a child might find an error in homework,
frown, lift a pink eraser, and rub it out.
I was wrong. Everything’s worse now.

To take your name from my skin, lasers
split it into a million particles of pigment.
My flesh bled, absorbing that broken ink,
letting your name fall deeper still. Sink.

Sink. Sunk. Now, you’re stuck
in there, wedged somewhere in my innards’
disarray, between my arteries, my shame,
my quivering veins, and I, I must live
with your syllables, smashed, astray.

OK, OK. If you’re inside me now, lost,
invisible, it’s my fault. I’m sorry,
it was me who made us indivisible.

A River of Bodies by Kevin Doyle

Publisher : The Black Staff Press

Publication date : 9th July 2019

Pages: 309

#solidaritybookstrilogy #pureCork #Corknoir #Noelieontour #BlogTour #crimewriting


In this sequel to his impressive debut novel To Keep A Bird Singing, Kevin Doyle delves further into the murky world of the powerful Donnelly family and their association with the Catholic church and the security forces. The clock is ticking as Noelie and his friends try to uncover the network of corruption and deception that the family have used to protect themselves and their operations. But Albert Donnelly is onto Noelie and there’s nothing he won’t do to stop him.
Edgy, dark and sharp, Kevin Doyle’s A River of Bodies is a cracking
political thriller – restless, brilliantly plotted and topical.

My thoughts:

A River of Bodies is book two in The Solidarity trilogy written by Kevin Doyle.  As part of the blog tour for #ARiverOfBodies, I was also offered book one – #ToKeepABirdSinging. I am so glad that I accepted because I would have missed out on so much had I not read it.  Would it be possible to read book two without book one?  Yes – but I don’t understand why you would want to.  This promises to be a wonderful crime fiction trilogy, and I recommend getting in at Ground Zero.

So, what’s it all about?

A Body of Rivers falls into the Emerald Noir crime fiction genre.  It explores crimes and cover ups in the Irish police (the Gardaí), the Catholic Church and abuses that took place in Ireland’s industrial schools during the sixties and seventies. Book one and two are set in Cork in 2010, when austerity is really biting, and unemployment is high amongst the city inhabitants.

Noelie Sullivan is the protagonist in this trilogy – an out of work 48 year old Corkonian, struggling along in the aftermath of the Irish economic fall out of the noughties, following the crash of the Celtic Tiger.  Born and raised in the city, he worked in the US for a while, and returned to Cork to work in the pharmaceuticals industry.  When austerity and redundancies hit, he fell on hard times.  Noelie is a big music fan, and was involved in the punk scene when at University, and dabbled with political activism.

This trilogy begins when Noelie discovers his old collection of punk records in a charity shop in Cork – they had been stolen back in the eighties.  Delighted, he buys them back, but his suspicions are aroused.  How had they made their way to the charity shop all these years later?  He asks around, and unbeknown to him, sets off alarms amongst people who are looking for these records, as they contain hidden information.  Noelie discovers a Garda confession hidden inside the sleeve of one of the albums alleging Garda misconduct in the handling of a Sinn Féin politician who went missing a number of years back.

Noelie keeps digging, and gets drawn further and further into a sordid tale of right wing wrong doing and cover-ups in the Gardaí and in an ultra conservative wing of the Catholic Church.  Noelie finds himself with an organically formed maverick group of helpers who are determined to get to the bottom of this mystery… but who can be trusted?  The body count among Noelie’s family and friends is already too high…who is safe?

Cork City is another big character is this novel which Doyle depicts wonderfully.  I was born in Cork, lived in Youghal and after a period in Co. Kildare, spent my teenage years on Cork’s ‘Northside’.  I knew so many of the places and streets mentioned in the book, a complicated and wonderful city which holds my heart, despite my many years as an expat!

Both books are very well written with a tightly controlled plot. I enjoyed To Keep a Bird Singing, but I loved A River Of Bodies more, as I was drawn further into this dark and unsettling tale.  There are so many different threads to this story; I was relieved and grateful that Kevin Barry found plenty of opportunities to reprise the different strands to ensure that the reader could keep up!

A River of Bodies ended on a massive cliff-hanger – I cannot wait for book three! This would make a wonderful TV series.

As always, thank you to Anne Cater for inviting me along on this #RandomThingsBlogTour

You can read more about Kevin Doyle and his writing here.

#ARiverofBodies blog tour continues until 9th September.

Check out what the other bloggers have to say:


The Woman in the Photograph by Stephanie Butland

Publisher : Zaffre

Pages : 352


1968. Veronica Moon, a junior photographer for a local newspaper, is frustrated by her (male) colleagues’ failure to take her seriously. And then she meets Leonie on the picket line of the Ford factory at Dagenham. So begins a tumultuous, passionate and intoxicating friendship. Leonie is ahead of her time and fighting for women’s equality with everything she has. She offers Veronica an exciting, free life at the dawn of a great change.

Fifty years later, Leonie is gone, and Veronica leads a reclusive life. Her groundbreaking career was cut short by one of the most famous photographs of the twentieth century.

Now, that controversial picture hangs as the centrepiece of a new feminist exhibition curated by Leonie’s niece. Long-repressed memories of Veronica’s extraordinary life begin to stir. It’s time to break her silence, and step back into the light.

My thoughts:

Essentially, The Woman in the Photograph is a novel about feminism, friendship and photography.

At the heart of the story of is Veronica (Vee) Moon, an Essex born photographer.  We first meet her when she is young and working at a local Colchester newspaper. Her curiosity is roused with news of the female machinists’ strike at the Dagenham Ford factory in 1968. On her day off, she goes along to take some photographs. While snapping away almost apologetically at the picket line, she meets Leoine, out-spoken and opinionated writer and committed feminist. This meeting changes the course of Vee’s life and sets her on a path to becoming a celebrated and respected photographer and feminist.

In contrast to this timeline, we also meet Veronica when she is old, and her best friend Leonie has died. Vee is obviously ill, and has gaps in her memory due to an operation she had to remove a brain cancer she developed ten years previously. Veronica is living a solitary and almost reclusive life where she no longer takes photographs with her beloved camera.

Veronica’s isolation is disturbed when she is contacted by a young woman named Erica who wants to create and curate an exhibition about Veronica’s photography; she reluctantly agrees because Erica is Leonie’s niece. Veronica wants to do this as a favour to Leonie.

I love how this book is structured around the exhibition of Veronica’s photographs, many of them iconic and prize-winning; one of them career ending. This allows the narrative in the book to flow between 1968 and 2018, and each section of the book begins with a quotation from Veronica’s unpublished book Women in Photographs and tells the tale around on a notable photograph taken by Veronica at different times, and charts the challenging and complicated friendship she had with Leonie.

I enjoyed this novel so much because it made me think deeply about women’s rights and equality. Leonie and Vee don’t have an easy friendship – it’s full of tension and is simmering with uncertainty and resentment. Leonie introduced Veronica to the movement, but their approaches are contrasting – Leonie was loud and unapologetic where as Vee’s approach was quieter but no less important; her commitment to the cause came from capturing important moments from behind her lens.  We don’t all have to come at things from the same angles to be valuable.

Then there’s Erica – who is not very different to many women of my generation – trying to do it all ‘backwards and in heels.’ When Erica and Vee first meet, Vee fails to hide her incredulity and dismay at the way Leonie’s niece has turned out. As they both spend larger amounts of time together preparing the exhibition, Vee and Erica both begin to profoundly influence each others lives and they change as they get to know each other better.

The mystery at the heart of the book which will keep you pondering until the end is: who is the woman in the photograph, and why does this particular photograph continue to haunt Veronica Moon?

Author Stephanie Butland has created a wonderful book weaving many interesting facts and important moments in the feminist movement from 1968 right up to the present day into a fictional tale of life-long friendship. She has made me think about my own feminism, and as a result I have made some resolutions resolving to be a better feminist.  Undoubtedly, there’s still a way to go on the road to true equality. I also loved the descriptions on the art of photography – it’s something that has always fascinated me, but I know little about.

I won a copy of The Woman in the Photograph in a Twitter competition run by publisher Zaffre books, and was planning to just read it without writing a review.  It’s too important for that – I needed to share my thoughts!

I really enjoyed the sections at the end too, Author’s Note, Acknowledgements and the Reading Group points for discussion.

The Outrageous Fortune of Abel Morgan by Cynthia Jefferies


A novel by Cynthia Jefferies



1660, England. War is at an end but for Christopher Morgan, his personal
conflict rages on. Haunted by the tragic death of his wife, Christopher is
desperate to escape the pain her memory brings, although looking into the eyes of his young son, Abel, he cannot help but be reminded of what he has lost.
Over time, father and son develop a strong bond until they are callously torn
apart when Abel is snatched by smugglers and sold overseas.
From the shores of Constantinople to the coast of Jamaica, time and tide keep them apart. Christopher will sail across oceans to find Abel, never losing faith that one day they will be reunited, and, as the years pass, Abel will learn that fortune favours the brave.

This book has been on tour for the past few days.  Check out what the other bloggers had to say.


For a chance to win a copy of The Outrageous Fortune of Abel Morgan, please visit me on twitter.  Retweet, make sure you are following me (@corkyorky) and the author (@cindyjefferies1)

Expectation by Anna Hope

Pages : 324

Publisher : doubleday

Published : July 2019


Hannah, Cate and Lissa are young, vibrant and inseparable. Living on the edge of a common in East London, their shared world is ablaze with art and activism, romance and revelry – and the promise of everything to come. They are electric. They are the best of friends.

Ten years on, they are not where they hoped to be. Amidst flailing careers and faltering marriages, each hungers for what the others have. And each wrestles with the same question: what does it take to lead a meaningful life?

My thoughts:

I read this for pure pleasure, not intending to blog about it at all – but I can’t NOT!  Expectation has blown me away – it just captures a generation of women so wonderfully and eloquently, a generation I feel part of, and I need to shout about it!

This is a book primarily about female friendship, but it is also about feminism, lust and disappointments focusing on the lives of three wonderfully flawed characters: Lissa, Cate and Hannah.  When we first meet the trio it is 2004: they are twenty-nine and living their halcyon days together in East London.

The openings to the roads not taken have not yet been sealed up.  They still have time to become who they are going to be.

The timeline of the book moves forwards to 2010 where we have a very contrasting view of the friends.  Their lives have diverged somewhat, they remain close, but something has shifted in their friendships.

Hannah is seemingly in control of her life – organised and successful, she has a good position working in a charity, and is married to Nathan who she has been with for many years.  They are on their third round of IVF.

Cate has moved to Canterbury with her new husband and is trying desperately to cope with early motherhood, a new house and city where she knows no-one; she is lonely and isolated.

Lissa is the effervescent jobbing actress, living in the basement of the house they used to share, still waiting for her big break.  Her fizz is flattening as she gets older and finds it harder to find work.

Hannah, Cate and Lissa are all at a crossroads.  Life has not lived up to their expectations, they have faced major heartache and disappointments, certain roads are now closed off to them, decisions have been taken, mistakes have been made. They are all disillusioned.

How did they end up like this?

As each of the women tries to make sense of their lives, they watch, measuring themselves against each other, secretly coveting what the others have.

The timeline in Expectation moves back and forth, giving us access to formative moments and meetings in the lives of our three protagonists.

Cate, Lissa and Hannah’s characters are wonderful depictions of a generation of women – the second wave of feminists.  Educated women with expectations that life will work out; that it will be fabulous. The first wave fought hard for their freedom, but what are they supposed to do with it?  Lissa’s mother Sarah is an inspiring character in the novel – probably my favourite.  She was an activist and one of the protesters at Greenham Common.

“you’ve had everything… we changed the world for you. For our daughters. And what have you done with it?”

The focus of the novel is on how the women deal with this time in their lives, and how their friendship and loyalties change when they are at their lowest points.

Anna Hope has created wonderfully ordinary yet fascinating characters in Hannah, Cate and Lissa.  The chances are you will have similar friends, you may identify more with one of the characters, you might be a mix of all three.  At some point in your life, you are likely to have asked the same questions these women ask : How did this happen?  How did I get here?  What went wrong?

I loved the structure of this novel, the way the stories and backstories were intertwined and woven together, allowing the reader to really understand the characters and their motives.  There were moments in the lives of Hannah, Cate and Lissa where I sobbed, and other moments when my heart was bursting with happiness for them.  For me, the real strength in this novel is the language and the way Anna Hope has captured the essence of female friendships and its complications.  As Sarah (Lissa’s mother) says:

You must keep hold of your friendships, Lissa.  The women.  They’re the only thing that will save you in the end.

I absolutely loved it, and feel sure it will be on my favourite reads of 2019 list.


Don’t Feed The Bear by Rachel Elliott

Publisher : Tinder Press

337 pages

Published : 8th August 2019


On her forty-seventh birthday, Sydney Smith stands on a rooftop and prepares to jump…
Sydney is a cartoonist and freerunner. Feet constantly twitching, always teetering on the edge of life, she’s never come to terms with the event that ripped her family apart when she was ten years old. And so, on a birthday that she doesn’t want to celebrate, she returns alone to St Ives to face up to her guilt and grief. It’s a trip that turns out to be life-changing – and not only or herself. DO NOT FEED THE BEAR is a book about lives not yet lived, about the kindness of others and about how, when our worlds stop, we find a way to keep on moving. A life-affirming novel of love, loss and letting go – for readers of ELEANOR OLIPHANT, THE TROUBLE WITH GOATS AND SHEEP and WHEN GOD WAS A RABBIT.

My thoughts:

In today’s modern world where social media is an important thread connecting many of us, it’s easy to convince yourself that everyone else is living their best life: Do Not Feed The Bear is a refreshing and honest story about people who are definitely not. It is also a book which is hopeful and uplifting, and certain to appeal to fans of Joanna Cannon, Rachel Joyce and Ruth Hogan.  And of course there’s an endorsement on the cover by Sarah Winman!

So what’s it all about?

This is a novel about how it’s never too late to start leading your life.

Set predominantly in St Ives, Cornwall, this novel is populated by a host of (mostly) wonderful characters who also happen to have pain and sadness at their core, preventing them from feeling happy and fulfilled. It is full of people who are not honest with themselves, who are shut inside themselves with an internal monologue of regret and uncertainty, and who are keeping busy while ignoring the elephant (or bear) in the room!  It is beautifully written and contains wonderfully insightful observations on human behaviour which made me smile and laugh out loud on a number of occasions.

Do not be surprised when sections of the novel are narrated by dogs or ghosts! Packed full of characters, the main protagonists in the story are Sydney Smith, Howard Smith, Maria Norton and Belle Schaefer.

Sydney is a cartoonist and freerunner.  She lives with her partner, Ruth, and their dog.  Sydney is a restless individual who needs to run and expend her high energy levels.  Parkour allows her this freedom, but Ruth worries about Sydney, and feels shut out.  Sydney’s happiness is restricted by a tragedy which ripped the heart out of her family when she was ten years old.  Now 47, she takes herself off on her own to St Ives to mark her birthday, to revisit her past, to draw and to freerun. Syndey is about to have her second life changing moment in Cornwall.

Howard is Sydney’s father.  In his late sixties, he is retired and lives alone.  He enjoys drinking tea and listening to the radio.  He too is cloaked in his own unhappiness and unwilling to move on with his life.

Unhappily married Maria Norton is a dental hygienist and an inhabitant of St Ives who has never quite recovered from the tragic loss of her fiancee when she was in her twenties.

Maria’s twenty year old daughter Belle Schaefer hasn’t yet started to live her life, but takes steps to do so as the changes unfold in the lives of Howard, Maria and Sydney.

The narrative in the novel bounces between the past and present, filling in the spaces in this story which enable the reader to understand why Sydney, Howard, Maria and Belle are so unhappy, and what it is that is preventing them from moving forward. There is a nostalgic, dreamy quality to the sections in the past, and a sadness to the sections in the present.  The essence of the novel, however, is that it is never too late to start living.  I love the honesty and vulnerability of this following admission by Maria:

I’m so lost, I don’t know who I am or what I’m doing, and I’m completely certain that no one else feels this way.  And also, here’s another: I feel like I’ve wasted so much time, and it’s too late now for anything real or substantial or brilliantly new.  I wish I could just stop this life and start another, do it better this time, make more of time this time.

Rachel Elliott has achieved something remarkable in this story of loss, regret and disappointment: she has created a tender, hopeful and uplifting novel, which I feel certain many readers will fall in love with.  If you are a fan of beautifully observed, character-driven novels, you’re sure to enjoy this tale.

Thank you so much to Anne Cater for inviting me to be part of this blog tour and also to the publisher for sending me a copy of Do Not Feed the Bear to review.  You can follow the Random Things blog tour over the next ten days to check out what the other bloggers are saying:

Rachel Elliott

Rachel Elliott is the author of WHISPERS THROUGH A MEGAPHONE, long-listed for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize in 2016. She is also a practising psychotherapist, and lives in Bath with her miniature schnauzer Henry.