Review of The Library Paradox

The Library Paradox by Catherine Shaw

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cover – The library paradox




📖 In Cambridge 1896, a professor is shot dead in his study. The only suspect was seen leaving the building a number of seconds before the shot was fired, and the witnesses testify no one else left the building after the shot. How could the killer have escaped? Venessa Weatherburn is asked to look into the case.

✍️ Firstly, I had not realised this was book 3 in a series so perhaps may have enjoyed it a little more being armed with that info. The book intrigued me from the offset. A historical murder mystery with the detective not being a middle-aged man (or older widow) but a young married mother with two young children of her own. It seemed intriguing. The reality of the story is she drops the kids off at her sister’s and then pretty much forgets about them.

🗣 I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

‘I don’t know, though,’ he said. ‘People tell stories around here all the time, and Peretz’s latest can always be counted upon to get a lot of appreciation. Peretz is one of our great Yiddish authors,’ he added, turning to me. Reaching up to a shelf, which held a pile of papers and well-thumbed tomes, he took down some old newspapers and glanced through them. I looked eagerly over his shoulder, but found myself confronted with Hebrew characters, as illegible to me as if I were staring at a blank wall.
‘You won’t be able to read this,’ he said, smiling. ‘Anyway, I don’t think I have the story here, as it only just came out. Listen, I’ll find it and translate it for you, and send one of my brothers to bring it over to you tomorrow. I don’t know what conclusions you’ll be able to draw from it; probably none.’
‘I would very much like to read the story, nevertheless,’ I said.

👓 The story is all told from Vanessa’s viewpoint (written as a memoir/diary style) and whilst at times she is an interesting character, strong-willed, questioning but approachable, the book tends to drift off into large amounts of mathematical theory. Some of which is relevant to the story but the majority just seemed to be page fillers and I found myself glossing over to try to get to the next part of the book that contained actual story content.

👫 Quite early in the book we find out that the murdered professor was an anti-Semite, who made no secret of his views and had a clear stance on the famous Dreyfus affair in France. Vanessa slowly ends up in the Jewish community in London. This then meant the book went on to explain a lot about the Hassidic sect of Judaism. Some of this was interesting ( I did enjoy learning about the families and the customs within the Jewish community and the comparisons made by the Christian Vanessa). However, again the author seemed to put in every possible bit of information about Jewish culture from that time and for me, it really began to detract from the story.

🗺 I enjoyed the historical setting and the descriptions of the buildings in and around Cambridge and sections of London were very visual.

💔 Any Negatives: The story itself, for me, had real potential a murdered professor and a real puzzle of how a murderer could get in and out unseen – brilliant stuff. However, I found myself enjoying the book less and less as the author repeatedly went into more and more mathematical theories. I also feel a lot of the religious elements were unnecessary and again slowed the book and story down. There were also a few too many characters I felt, I understand Jewish communities are large, and also scholarly circles at the university, but the number of new character introductions felt too much for a fiction novel.

💭 Overall View: The setting, the mystery and the main character were all great. However, the book was too focused on mathematics, Jewish religion, and antisemitism which ultimately detracted from the story. A bit of knowledge is very interesting but the author went too far.

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Review of The Anniversary (short story collection)

The Anniversary by Veronica Henry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cover – The Anniversary. Image by KL Caley


📖 A collection of short stories which all revolve around an anniversary of some kind (finished off with a few recipes from the Hairy Bikers). This book contains short stories from Fanny Blake, Elizabeth Buchan, Rowan Coleman, Jenny Colgan, Philippa Gregory, Matt Haig, Veronica Henry, Andy McNab, Richard Madeley and John O’Farrell.

✍️I’m pleased to say that the entire collection was enjoyable and featured quite a range of stories, timelines and writing styles. See below a quick summary of a few of them to whet the appetite:

The Other Half by Fanny Blake is about a young single mum who has taken on a taxi job to support her family after her husband ran off with her best friend. It’s a funny, warm, light-hearted story with a great ending.

Moment of Glory by Elizabeth Buchan is a wonderful flash into the second world war. Ellen, now a stay-at-home mother, was working at a top-secret signals base. She gives us a little insight into life at the station. It’s a sweet uplifting story, championing motherhood. The type of tale you would expect to find in a people’s friend magazine.

Birthday Secrets by Rowan Coleman is an intriguing little tale giving an insight into families discussing LGBTQ+ within the household and opening up to partners/parents about it. It’s a kind, positive story and handled with a brilliant sense of positive normality.

May Day by Philippa Gregory was my favourite story of the bunch. It follows Henry VIII sixth wife, Katherine Parr but more interestingly it tells the story of St Tryphine, a woman forced against her will to marry her father’s husband. Exploring her husband’s castle, she finds some secret rooms which contain several of the murdered remains of her husband’s previous wives. The two stories are brilliantly woven together. Historical fiction at its finest.
💭 Overall View: Needless to say, I liked this book. It is part of the “quick reads” collection which I like to intersperse between larger novels. The idea of this collection is exactly as it says on the tin (or should that be cover), a shorter than normal book by world-leading authors. Well worth the £1 cover price and highly recommended.

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The facts are only ever a part of a story. Philippa Gregory
The facts are only ever a part of a story. Philippa Gregory Quote.

Review of Talking with Psychopaths and Savages

Talking with Psychopaths and Savages: A Journey into the Evil Mind by Christopher Berry-Dee

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cover – Talking with Psychopaths and Savages


📖 Talking with Psychopaths and Savages: A Journey into the Evil Mind. It’s pretty easy to guess what this book is about. The title is straight to the point, unfortunately for me, the book was less so.

✍️Christopher Berry-Dee is quite an interesting author, he is (according to the intro) a direct descendent of Dr John Dee, astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I. He no doubt has a great legacy in interviewing the worlds most notorious serial killers and murderers. The book has an interesting premise, cool cover and showed a lot of promise. It also did have plenty of detailed content about a small number of murderers which fit a definition of ‘psychopath’.

When CBD actually gets into the content, he takes us through some really interesting cases such as JR Robinson, Kenneth Allen McDuff, Arthur Shawcross, Kenneth Bianchi and more. However, he doesn’t start reviewing the cases until page 73 in a 292-page book (that’s 25% of the book that doesn’t really include talking with psychopaths and savages)! That’s a lot of pre-reading before the reader gets what they came for.

🗣 CBD also has this habit of referring to his other works throughout the book. I found it incredibly frustrating and distracting from the current story. I lost count of the number of times he wrote something along the lines of:

‘I fully documented Ross in Dead Men Talking: The World’s Worst Killers in Their Own Words, first published in hardback by John Blake, 2009, but the book you are reading now is not so much about his life and crimes…

👓 These types of self-promotion are a regular occurrence throughout the book distracting from the actual topic. In my opinion, these should have been a footnote (or a bibliography) to allow the reader to look up later if they felt the desire.

I think part of the reason I found all the waffle and self-promotion frustrating is that the author also mentions (repeatedly throughout the book) how he has a tight word count by his publisher so cannot go into details he would like to.

💭 Overall View: I hate to give a negative review and I realise the content of this review is mostly negative. However, I truly appreciate there is a lot of work and research put into writing any book. This subject matter is not a pleasant one and I think kudos has to be given to anyone who managers to spend time with these individuals and trying to understand their mental state. Even more kudos in the instances the author has managed to convince the killers to reveal details of the crimes which has given the families some comfort they would likely not have had otherwise. In these areas the book is really good. Another reviewer wrote a quote that cannot be beaten when summarising this book:

You know those really annoying blokes down the pub who keep bragging about what they’ve done, and you so want to just tell them to piss off but you’re a little transfixed, so you buy them another pint then instantly regret it as they ramble on some more with just enough interesting stuff to keep you going? This book is like that. (Credit: Alyssa Cowell).

I’ve read Jon Ronson’s The psychopath test recently (my full review of that can be seen following the links below) and in my opinion, it’s a better read than this, although this one does contain many more individual cases. Ronson’s book is easier to digest and a bit more well-rounded.

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Review of Six Foot Six

Six Foot Six by Kit de Waal

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cover – Six Foot Six

📖 This is a really cute little book. A fun and easy read.

✍️Timothy flowers is six feet six inches tall. The story follows Timothy as he goes about his day on his 21st birthday. However, when he is in the midst of his day he meets Charlie who is a builder and offers him a day’s work. It becomes clear that Timothy has some kind of learning disability and is more childlike than an adult. In many ways, Charlie takes advantage of Timothy using his size for both menial labour and for a bit of intimidation. Yet the friendship between the two flourishes into a heart-warming tale.

📖 I liked this book. It is part of the “quick reads” collection which I like to intersperse between larger novels. The idea of this collection is exactly as it says on the tin (or should that be cover), a shorter than a normal book by world-leading authors (less than 100 pages). One of the things I quite like about these books is that they force the authors to cut out a lot of the waffle that sometimes goes on in books. This keeps the stories quite fast-paced with a lot happening in less time.

🗣 I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

Charlie parks outside the house with the basement and tells Timothy to get out.
‘I’ll be back in a bit. You just carry on.’
Timothy doesn’t move.
‘What you waiting for?’ Same job as before. Go on.
‘I don’t want to go down on my own.’ Timothy is thinking of the broken room and the Brute hiding in the corner.
Charlie looks up at the ceiling of his van and shakes his head. ‘Christ. Come one then. But I’m not paying you to be sitting on your arse all bloody day.’ He starts the engine and drives off. ‘When we get back, you’ll have to work twice as hard and twice as quic. Got it?’

👓 This book covers some really complex issues (disability, vulnerability, domestic abuse) but the author handles them in a subtle, gentle way. I became invested in Timothy (and Charlie) and I really wanted the day to go well.

☠️ Any Negatives: Not a negative as such, and I have never read Kit De Waal’s work before so this may already exist, but I would love to see this story in a longer works or a sequel.

💭 Overall View: It is well worth the £1 cover price to read this. An unexpected but pleasant little tale. Another “quick reads” win which I would highly recommend it to any (mature) reader.

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Review of Lockdown by Peter May

Lockdown by Peter May

My rating: 3.5 Stars

Cover - Lockdown by Peter May
Cover – Lockdown by Peter May


📖 I loved the premise of this book but I especially loved the Foreword. May began researching and writing this book in 2005, but there was little interest in the book world for it and some editors thought the idea of London in lockdown too far-fetched. If only they’d known then what we do now.

✍️The book itself centres around detective Jack McNeil who is asked to investigate the mystery of a murdered child’s bones. Jack himself is on the last day of the job instead of taking things easy and wrapping up he finds himself on a chase across London to unravel the case. His own family are hit with heartbreak in relation to the virus.

🗣 I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

(Page 273)
‘I’ll scream!’ she said in a voice made so tiny by fear that it barely penetrated the dark.
MacNeil said breathlessly, ‘If you scream, then so will I.’
Something in his voice stopped her struggling. She lay on the ground below him, gasping for breath, a strange wiry creature in a tweed jacket and skirt with a white blouse and pearl necklace. ‘Who the hell are you?’ she gasped.
‘Detective Inspector Jack MacNeil. Who the hell are you?’

👓 I would just like to mention I love Peter May’s work. His Lewis trilogy is a personal favourite, and I would highly recommend that collection to anyone. I wish stars were out of 10 instead of 5 as this book is a solid 7 out of 10.

👫 Jack McNeil is a great character. Your usual flawed policeman, with a troubled family/home life and a girlfriend within the medical department. All quite cliché but you do warm to him and find yourself willing him to succeed.

Dr Sarah Castelli is another great character. A clever, fearless, sixty-year-old Canadian. She’s tough as old boots and will do anything to get the answers she needs. The only problem with Dr Sarah Castelli is that despite the pivotal part she plays in the book and particularly the finale, we are only just introduced to her on page 277 of a 399-page book. I feel like such a crucial character to the plot should have been introduced and established earlier, not just thrown in towards the end.

🗺 This book is set in London and whilst it is probably trying to be realistic (and perhaps to Londoners it is), for me, it felt a bit like we were being dragged from pillar to post with every great London eye mark thrown in for effect.

💭 Overall View: I did enjoy this book and Peter May’s writing style is brilliant. The characters were interesting and the plot was clearly very well researched. I wish the book had maybe been edited a bit to tie some of the strands together a bit neater. You would think everyone would avoid the mention of Lockdown never mind actively choosing to read about it, but I’m glad I did. Brilliant crime drama, very dark in places, fast-paced and full of action.

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Review of The Skylight by Louise Candlish

The Skylight: Quick Reads 2021 by Louise Candlish

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The skylight is a crime thriller set in a built-up suburban area. Simone and Jake live on the top two floors of a shared building. Their neighbours Gus and Alina live downstairs and live a life Simone is envious of. Simone soon realises she can watch them through their skylight (and does frequently).

When Simone sees Jake, her partner spending time over at the neighbours house her envy steps up a gear and Simone begins a neighbourly feud which could have deadly consequences.

I liked this book. It is part of the “quick reads” collection which I like to intersperse between larger novels. The idea of this collection is exactly as it says on the tin (or should that be cover), a shorter than normal book by world-leading authors. One of the things I quite like about these books is that they force the authors to cut out a lot of the waffle that sometimes goes on in books. This keeps the stories quite fast-paced with a lot happening in less time. The Skylight is a fast-paced plot-driven story, it meets the quick read criteria perfectly.

I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

‘I just saw Alina in the hall,’ he tells me one evening.
‘Oh yes? How is our local mean girl?’
‘Simone,’ he protests.
‘Well, she is.’
‘I’m sure she’s okay underneath it all.’
What, without her clothes on, I think.

This story is told from the viewpoint of Simone, a classic unreliable narrator. Simone tells the reader a story that cannot be taken at face value. It’s difficult to tell if she is insane, deluded or just malicious but you can feel the tension from her from the very first page. This makes the story all the more believable, how many people can’t stand their neighbours. Add in extreme jealousy to that mix and it’s a boiling pot ready to bubble over.

I don’t know how others would take it but I particularly loved the ending. Sharp and clever.
My first time reading Louise Candlish’s work but I would definitely be interested in reading a full novel if this is her calibre of storytelling.

Overall View: Under 100 pages. Dark, deceptive, witty, tension-filled. Amazing work in so few pages.

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Extract - The Skylight