Tag Archives: new release special

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Penric’s Fox – Book 3 of the novella series Penric and Desdemona by Lois McMaster Bujold

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This series has become a firm favourite with both Himself and me, having been largely responsible for my renewed interest in reading novellas. So I was delighted when this one popped up on my Kindle as a pre-ordered release.

Some eight months after the events of Penric and the Shaman, Learned Penric, sorcerer and scholar, travels to Easthome, the capital of the Weald. There he again meets his friends Shaman Inglis and Locator Oswyl. When the body of a sorceress is found in the woods, Oswyl draws him into another investigation; they must all work together to uncover a mystery mixing magic, murder and the strange realities of Temple demons.

The observant among you may have noticed that this latest addition to the Penric and Desdemona series does not follow on from the last book. However, it really didn’t make all that much difference to my enjoyment as there were no spoilers in the subsequent stories to compromise my reading experience.

Penric is inhabited by an old and very powerful chaos demon, Desdemona, who can provide him with supernatural powers and regularly needs feeding with the souls of dead creatures. Penric normally obliges by ridding any dwelling where he resides of fleas, lice, mice and rats. So he is shocked when he comes across the body of a fellow sorceress alone in the woods. The question then has to be – what has happened to her demon? In addition to tracking down a clearly dangerous and inventive murderer, Penric needs to discover what has happened to a traumatised demon who may be hitching a ride on a woodland animal.

Bujold is very good at packing a lot of story into a relatively short read. While I appreciate and draw on previous knowledge of the character, I believe that if anyone reads this book as a standalone, they won’t find themselves floundering. An extra twist to this tale is that Penric has the assistance of a couple of shape-shifting shamans who know the woods well. It was interesting to see how these differently talented characters fitted into this established world and worked alongside Penric.

As ever, the pacing of the story is well judged as the tension rises. This isn’t a classic whodunnit as we have a fair idea who the culprit may be well before the end. But the manner in which the denouement occurs and the story wrapped up is skilfully handled. This is another well-written, thoroughly enjoyable addition to this quality series and is highly recommended for anyone who enjoys first-class fantasy with a difference.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Book Review of KINDLE Ebook The Devil’s Cup – Book 17 of the Hawkenlye Mysteries by Alys Clare

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I selected this book on Netgalley as I enjoy well-told historical mysteries – and this one looked interesting.

September, 1216. A foreign army has invaded England. The country is divided. Some support the rebel barons and Prince Louis of France; others remain loyal to the king. His rule under threat, King John summons Sir Josse d’Acquin to support him. But can Sir Josse save the king from himself? Meanwhile, Josse’s daughter Meggie is summoned to Hawkenlye Abbey to attend a sick patient in a very distressed state. The elderly woman is warning of terrible danger unless she can complete her mission. What she learns from her patient will set Meggie on a perilous journey to retrieve a cursed treasure. But will she be in time to prevent a tragedy?

This was an impressive blunder even by my standards – to find myself reviewing the final instalment in a seventeen-book series – and it is to Clare’s credit that I was able to crash into this world without any undue floundering whatsoever. While I am sure I would have better appreciated the characters and their final outcomes had I read the previous books, there was no stage where I felt unduly adrift. Indeed, the strength of the book for me are the characters and the worldbuilding, which is excellent. Clare manages to evoke the uncertainty of times and I very much enjoyed the way we get an insight into both sides of this conflict. I was particularly impressed with the characterisation of King John, who has always seemed to be an interesting character full of contradictions. The famous scene at The Wash was described with suitable drama and pulled me into the story – I only wish that we had spent more time following the King, rather than other aspects of this tale.

It is also a treat to read a story where religion and its impact on everyday life is fully acknowledged – I get a tad fed up with stories set in these times when it is all about the swordplay and lack of modern amenities, yet somehow omitting how much people prayed and looked to God for guidance throughout the day.

The protagonists in this unfolding story are all well depicted and cover a range of ages – another plus for me, as I rarely get to see my own age group represented as a main character in this type of story. However, one of my misgivings is the huge amount of freedom the main female characters seem to have. Helewise is able to retreat to a small cottage in a wood – despite being the wife of a landowner. She would be responsible for running the house and trammelled by a host of tasks that modern women would not have to consider, even if she had a number of servants performing chores for her – especially if she had a number of servants. Likewise Meggie is also able to wander off on an adventure, leaving the Forge and adjoining home shut up and idle. It simply wasn’t an option. Most households had a pig and chickens, along with a piece of land that would need tending to keep producing food for the table. The Queen’s experience would be the lot of most women of the time – and while she may well have felt frustrated at being so confined, it would not be unusual for high-born women to be kept tucked away in fortified homes and castles, given the custom of kidnapping noble family members and holding them as surety or ransom.

However, the one issue with this book that did compromise my enjoyment of the story is the lack of narrative tension. Due to the title and cover art – the reader already has a very good idea what the cursed object is, while Clare writes the story as if this is part of the mystery. It wasn’t a dealbreaker, as there was much else to enjoy about this tale – but a shame that this fundamental issue wasn’t addressed at some stage during the book’s production process. However, I will be looking out for more books in this series and am pleased to have discovered another talented author.

While I obtained the arc of The Devil’s Cup from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
7/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The List by Patricia Forde

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Being something of a word nerd, I liked the sound of this one, so requested it from Netgalley and was delighted when my request was accepted.

In the city of Ark, speech is constrained to five hundred sanctioned words. Speak outside the approved lexicon and face banishment. The exceptions are the Wordsmith and his apprentice Letta, the keepers and archivists of all language in their post-apocalyptic, neo-medieval world. But when events take a darker turn, Letta realises that her responsibilities extend to more than the words in this fragile community…

I’ve paraphrased the rather chatty blurb and my firm advice would be not to read it if you intend to get hold of the book – it gives far too much of the story arc away. I really liked Letta – she gets wrapped up in the words she records for when times get easier and takes great care to copy out The List for the children to learn. But as her job isolates her from most of the rest of the community, she has the opportunity to look and wonder about some of the older words – and make comparisons to their current existence. I also very much like the fact that she is short-fused with a quick temper and cannot abide to see suffering and injustice. Otherwise her actions simply don’t make sense.

In order to believe in this dystopian world, the reader has to go along with the premise that the founder of the Ark, John Noa, has decided that language and words were the cause of humanity’s downfall. He feels that if only humanity is limited to the most basic of communication, they will be nearer the state of animals. He thinks is a great idea – for animals do not harm the planet, or plot and deceive each other. Only mankind is capable of that – because of the lies he can spin with his words. Initially I wasn’t sure this was going to work, but overall I think that Forde has built a convincing case for Noa’s beliefs. Like many charismatic leaders, Noa becomes caught up in his own rhetoric and needs to continue to push the community to make ever more extreme changes as everyone falls short of his grandiose schemes to return humanity to a pristine state.

Forde effectively raises the stakes and it doesn’t take much for this fragile, brutalised community to be tipped into unrest, as events drive Letta ever forward with some plot twists along the way. The climax of the story works very well, though for the more experienced reader, there aren’t a lot of major surprises as the overall story arc follows a well-trodden path. That said, this is aimed at children who haven’t necessarily read much in this genre and it raises some interesting issues regarding the role of language in the development and organisation of human society. If you enjoy dystopian, post-apocalyptic worlds, then this one is worth tracking down.

While I obtained the arc of The List from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory

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A number of glowing reviews for this one prompted me to nick across to Netgalley to see if the arc was still available – and I was delighted to see that it was…

The Telemachus family is known for performing inexplicable feats on talk shows and late-night television. Teddy, a master conman, heads up a clan who possess gifts he only fakes: there’s Maureen, who can astral project; Irene, the human lie detector; Frankie, gifted with telekinesis; and Buddy, the clairvoyant. But when, one night, the magic fails to materialize, the family withdraws to Chicago where they live in shame for years. Until: As they find themselves facing a troika of threats (CIA, mafia, unrelenting skeptic), Matty, grandson of the family patriarch, discovers a bit of the old Telemachus magic in himself. Now, they must put past obstacles behind them and unite like never before. But will it be enough to bring The Amazing Telemachus Family back to its amazing life?

This isn’t a book that I immediately loved from the moment I opened it up. Indeed, it took me a while to warm to some of the characters as we learn how each of this uniquely talented family copes with their gifts in multiple third person viewpoint – though I use the word gifts loosely as their abilities seem more of a curse. Teddy, the patriarch, is the only family member reasonably content and he is without any true talent and compensates by being a consummate sleight-of-hand con artist. Nonetheless we learn that in the past, even Teddy has paid an appalling price for using his fast-fingered tricks with the wrong people.

Everyone else in the Telemachus family are struggling. They all were dealt a major blow when Teddy’s wife and their mother, Maureen, died of cancer far too young. Buddy and Irene have never truly recovered. However, their problems go well beyond plain grief for the one parent who could truly understand their unique viewpoint. Gregory’s intuitive and accomplished writing demonstrates all too clearly the horror of enduring a slice of the future in the middle of a daily routine – particularly as Buddy only seems to get these insights when a family member is under some threat. The effort and trauma involved has caused him to fall silent as he battles to sift exactly what is going on and how he can nudge the outcome. Irene has found her personal life become a battleground, making it difficult to live alongside anyone as the minute they don’t tell her the truth, she knows. While Frankie can sometimes move small objects – and sometimes he can’t…

As events stack up against each family member, the tension increases as the stakes become ever higher, transforming Spoonbenders into a real page-turner despite being almost afraid to power through to the end, as I was convinced it was going to be a heartbreaker… I certainly didn’t see the final denouement coming and was impressed at the ingenuity and skill Gregory demonstrates in bringing this story to a fitting conclusion. Highly recommended.

While I obtained the arc of Spoonbenders from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
9/10

Teaser Tuesday – 1st August, 2017

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

The Devil’s Cup – Book 17 of the Hawkenlye Mysteries by Alys Clare
27% What was this danger to the Queen? Meggie guessed it must be something to do with the invading French prince and the rebel barons. Perhaps there was some plot to abduct Queen Isabella and use her to force the King’s hand.
If that were true, though, how had Faruq and his mother come to know about it? And how was it, moreover, that it had been left up to them to warn the Queen or, more probably, warn the captain of whatever bodyguard King John had detailed to keep her safe?
It all seemed very unlikely.

BLURB: September, 1216. A foreign army has invaded England. The country is divided. Some support the rebel barons and Prince Louis of France; others remain loyal to the king. His rule under threat, King John summons Sir Josse d’Acquin to support him. But can Sir Josse save the king from himself?
Meanwhile, Josse’s daughter Meggie is summoned to Hawkenlye Abbey to attend a sick patient in a very distressed state. The elderly woman is warning of terrible danger unless she can complete her mission. What she learns from her patient will set Meggie on a perilous journey. But will she be in time to prevent a tragedy?

Until I visited Goodreads to glean the details of this Netgalley arc, I hadn’t appreciated that it was the last in a very long-running series. However, I haven’t had any trouble working out who was whom and am now in the world and enjoying it. And wanting to know what is so urgent that a sick woman is willing to leave her bed and risk her life to warn the Queen…

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Star Witch – Book 2 of The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Magic by Helen Harper

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Himself spotted the first book in this series Slouch Witch – see my review here – which I loved, and was delighted when he told me the next book in the series would be shortly released. Right now, I could really do with an amusing, snappy urban fantasy series to dive into…

Ivy Wilde, the laziest witch in the West, is still entangled with the Hallowed Order of Magical Enlightenment. That’s not a bad thing, however, because it gives her plenty of excuses to spend more time with sapphire eyed Raphael Winter, her supposed nemesis. And when he comes knocking because he needs her to spy on the latest series of Enchantment, she jumps at the chance. Hanging around a film set can’t be hard … or dangerous … right?

One of the reasons why I enjoy this series so much is that it is set in the UK and draws on Brit humour. I particularly liked the fact that Ivy gets involved in a reality show about magic which ends up being on location in Scotland – think of The Great British Bake-Off with magic instead of muffins and an over made-up announcer called Belinda instead of Sue Perkins and a wannabe magician wafting around in a purple robe called Terry instead of Paul Hollywood. And rather than working in a marquee with the rain lashing down – the contestants are thigh-deep in heather on the edge of a small Scottish village miles from anywhere…

While there were moments when I laughed aloud, there is still danger and bloody mayhem to deal with as a gruesome murder takes place – and no one quite knows whodunit. Or even if the murderer is human… In the meantime, Ivy opts to become a contestant to get out of the exhausting job of being a runner on the TV set, thinking it must be less tiring. Until she is faced with a muddy obstacle course and a hike up a mountain. The farce and rising tension in the story is really well handled – Harper manages to ensure that the humour doesn’t detract from the seriousness of the crime as the stakes are raised ever higher. It would have been only too easy to have turned this into a knockabout comedy, which doesn’t happen.

The emerging romance between Ivy and Rafe is also well done. I’m not a huge fan of romantic fiction and yet I found myself rooting for this couple, despite their very different attitudes to Life. Any niggles? Nope – not a one. The climactic final scene works brilliantly, wrapping up the mystery satisfactorily yet leaving us with a huge cliff-hanger regarding our main protagonists. However that hasn’t wound me up – because the very good news is that the next book in this series, Spirit Witch, is due out in August.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Face the Change – Book 3 of the Menopausal Superheroes series by Samantha Bryant

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I was delighted when the author contacted me and asked if I would like to review this latest adventure, as I had posted a review of her previous book in the series Change of Life.

The Menopausal Superheroes are coming out of the closet and the pressure is high, on the job and on the homefront. Now that he knows what it’s like to be a hero, Leonel “Fuerte” Alvarez can’t imagine going back to his former life as a grandmother and housewife. But putting his life on the line may cost him his husband even while he saves the city. Jessica “Flygirl” Roark is holding on to her second chance at love with both hands while learning to balance single parenthood with her new career in crime-fighting. Patricia “Lizard Woman” O’Neill is blindsided by an unexpected romance just as she signs on to join the team. Meanwhile enemies abound–old and new. When superpowers alone aren’t enough, what a woman really needs are her friends.

I do feel this is one series where a “story so far” prologue would help the reader. As I followed the fortunes of our four protagonists and a couple of formidable antagonists, it took me a while to recall who was doing what to whom. However, once I was back in the flow of this entertaining and unusual take on the superhero genre, I was able to settle back and thoroughly enjoy the story. While the blurb and eye-catching cover give the impression this is a humorous parody, in fact this isn’t the case. Bryant has set up an original scenario whereby for women of a certain age suddenly find themselves endowed with superpowers – what she isn’t doing is playing this situation for laughs.

In a genre which historically has been dominated by the likes of Superman, Spiderman and Batman, Bryant has given us a refreshingly different take on the superhero dynamic when these four women with busy home lives, including grandchildren, and established careers suddenly find themselves dealing with paranormal powers.

The character who has to embrace the biggest change is Leonel who not only is suddenly coping with superstrength, but also coming to terms with also becoming a man. His very traditional husband is finding it difficult when the household chores aren’t done because Leonel is off chasing down baddies. When David demands that Leonel choose between his new crime-fighting career or his marriage, Leonel is anguished at being forced into such a choice and turns to his daughters for help and advice. Whereas Helen, who finds herself able to wield fire with lethal consequences, appears to be affected mentally by her newfound ability and increasingly ignores her daughter. Always a rather brittle, obsessive personality, she is now consumed with fury against those who she regards betrayed her and abandoned her and she is determined to get her revenge.

Bryant gives us interesting insights into how these characters interact as we switch between viewpoints. I am not always a fan of multiple viewpoint, having far too often found that shuttling between a cast of characters means I don’t get a chance to bond or fully understand anyone. That isn’t the case here. Once I got back into the swing of the story, Bryant’s perceptive characterisation built a really interesting dynamic that took this story beyond an escapist romp. The primary antagonist also has problems of her own, having also been caught up in the inadvertent changes her experimentation has caused and I enjoyed following her story in parallel with those people whose lives she has changed forever.

The climactic denouement satisfactorily resolved the narrative while leaving a few plot points dangling for another adventure. At least, that is what I am hoping – I have grown fond of this band of menopausal superheroes and very much hope I can revisit their world. Recommended for readers who enjoy plenty of adventure featuring strong interesting characters.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Slouch Witch – Book 1 of The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Magic by Helen Harper

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Himself had bought this book and when he finished it, he said ‘Read this – it’s really good!’ So I did – and he’s right…

Let’s get one thing straight – Ivy Wilde is not a heroine. In fact, she’s probably the last witch in the world who you’d call if you needed a magical helping hand, regardless of her actual abilities. If it were down to Ivy, she’d spend all day every day on her sofa where she could watch TV, munch junk food and talk to her feline familiar to her heart’s content. However, when a bureaucratic disaster ends up with Ivy as the victim of a case of mistaken identity, she’s yanked very unwillingly into Arcane Branch, the investigative department of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Her problems are quadrupled when a valuable object is stolen right from under the Order’s noses. It doesn’t exactly help that she’s been magically bound to Adeptus Exemptus Raphael Winter. He might have piercing sapphire eyes and a body which a cover model would be proud of but, as far as Ivy’s concerned, he’s a walking advertisement for the joyless perils of too much witch-work. And if he makes her go to the gym again, she’s definitely going to turn him into a frog.

The blurb gives an indication of the sharp humour that runs throughout the book as Ivy is pitchforked into the middle of this entertaining mystery, where there is clearly a nefarious plot brewing at the Order. What made this book for me is Ivy’s first person narrative as she is reluctantly dragged into this investigation, when she would far rather curl up on her sofa and watch something good on the telly. It is such a refreshing change to find a protagonist who genuinely would rather be doing almost anything else other than getting involved that I was completely beguiled and found it very difficult to put this one down.

The fact she is partnered with the very focused and ambitious Winter – a complete opposite – heightened my enjoyment. It would have been only too easy for Harper to become so involved in the spiky dynamic of this partnership such that she didn’t pay sufficient attention to the investigation. This doesn’t happen. As events steadily stack up, the stakes continue to become ever higher so that despite the humour and interesting relationship, I was staying up waaay too late because I wanted to know what was going to happen next.

Of course along the way, Ivy discovers that she is quite enjoying herself – not that she is prepared to admit it, and certainly not to Winter. This entertaining investigation provides plenty of tension and action as well as a genuinely funny main protagonist with a strong voice that pings off the page. If you enjoy your urban fantasy with a feisty protagonist, strong supporting characters and an entertaining mystery, then I recommend you track down this enjoyable book by a talented indie author. I’m delighted to report that the next book in the series, Star Witch, has just been released and I will certainly be getting hold of it just as soon as I can.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of the KINDLE Ebook The Stargazer’s Embassy by Eleanor Lerman

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When I read the description for this one, I was intrigued enough to request the ARC (advance readers’ copy) – and was delighted when I was approved.

The Stargazer’s Embassy explores the frightening phenomenon of alien abduction from a different point of view: in this story, it is the aliens who seem fearful of Julia Glazer, the woman they are desperately trying to make contact with.

Julia is the edgy protagonist who immediately gripped me and pulled me into the start of this one, which pings off the page with tension as we begin to get to know her. The tale slowly unspools as we learn her backstory and why she is constantly alert. Lerman’s depiction of a damaged character whose trust was destroyed during her childhood is very effective. Julia, suspicious and closed off, finds it difficult to bond with anyone and prefers to work as a cleaner alone, so she is able to react quickly whenever she is visited by the things. I found her relationship with John very moving, particularly when she begins to drop her guard and strive for normality. The twist where she discovers what it is he actually does is nicely handled.

However the trouble with her attitude in denying and pushing away the peculiar beings that constantly invade her life, is that the reader is left hanging without any further information about what is actually going on until relatively near the end, which then felt a tad rushed. Julia’s attitude also means that she refuses to discuss the situation until she absolutely has to – and even then the conversations are so overlaid with her hostility that she manages to shut down any meaningful discourse, other than the one with Alice, which even then poses more questions than it answers. This means that we don’t have an opportunity to fully engage with the subject on a deeper level, other than as a prop for the story. And initially, this book seemed to promise more.

I love the premise. I thought the setup regarding The Stargazer’s Embassy bar was both plausible and quirky. However the catch in beginning a book with such a strong hook is that it has to keep delivering. If the tension and narrative pace falls away, the reader is left feeling short-changed.

Don’t get me wrong – this is a good book. There is much going for it in the description, the detailed characterisation, the strong supporting cast and atmospheric writing. But after that storming start, I was expecting a great book and because of the story structure, the pacing was too uneven and there wasn’t sufficient opportunity to fully explore the issues raised surrounding the alien abductions. That said, I am still glad I read it and I do recommend it to anyone who has an interest in this subject.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook How To Stop Time by Matt Haig

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I love Matt Haig’s writing – read my review of The Humans and The Radley’s. So I was delighted to encounter this offering on Netgalley and even more delighted when my request for an arc was accepted.

Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. From Elizabethan England to Jazz Age Paris, from New York to the South Seas, Tom has seen a lot, and now craves an ordinary life. Always changing his identity to stay alive, Tom has the perfect cover – working as a history teacher at a London comprehensive. Here he can teach the kids about wars and witch hunts as if he’d never witnessed them first-hand. He can try and tame the past that is fast catching up with him. The only thing Tom mustn’t do is fall in love.

I’m a sucker for any book dealing with time and I also have a real weakness for historical adventure, so this book was bound to be a hit with me. While Tom starts his teaching career in a tough London school, we also have regular flashbacks throughout his very long life which explain how he comes to be so burnt out and sad.

Haig clearly put in the legwork regarding his research. For me, this book really sprang to life during the flashbacks, which start during the reign of Elizabeth I and throughout we gain glimpses of Tom’s life around the world as he constantly is on the move to try and cover up the inconvenient fact that he doesn’t age at the same rate as everyone else around him. In order for this book to really work I had to believe in Tom’s longevity and weariness. Haig triumphantly pulls this off, to the extent that I found parts of this book quite hard to read. I really cared about him and hoped that he would be able to find some peace and comfort. In the supporting cast a couple of characters really stood out for me – Rose, Tom’s first love is beautifully depicted and completely convincing as an Elizabethan girl and Hendrich, who has formed a society to help the “albas” protect themselves from the “mayflies”, is also a convincing character in his desire to keep those who are long-lived, safe from suspicions and anger of the majority of humanity. However, the standout supporting character has to be Camille, the French teacher who is clearly attracted to Tom. She is written with such tenderness and sensitivity that I found myself really rooting for her, to the extent that I was unsure whether she should get tangled up with Tom, who has more emotional baggage than he knows what to do with.

The one thing you can never be sure with Haig is that his stories will end happily ever after. Obviously I am not going to provide any spoilers, but I will say that this one concludes satisfactorily with all the main characters completing a strong story arc. As ever, Haig’s writing lingers in my head and I find myself thinking about this one a lot now that I have finished reading it.
9/10