Monday, 27 December 2010


I'm taking part in the Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge for 2011 in which the goal is to read 12 books in 12 months starting from 1st January -- thanks to Book Chick City for hosting this -- just click here for details and to sign up.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010


Genre: Fiction, True Story

Published by: Simon & Schuster (April 2010)

Pages: 274 (Paperback)

My Rating: 8/10


About the Book:

California Schemin' is the remarkable real life story of how two rappers from Dundee pretended to be two rappers from California and duped the record industry out of hundreds of thousands of pounds. Gavin Bain and Billy Boyd - or Silibil N' Brains, as they became known - were two ordinary Scottish boys who shared an extraordinary dream: to become rap superstars. Creating new identities for themselves, they persuaded the music industry that they were the latest hot young talent from California. Silibil N' Brains then lived out that lie for more than two years, securing an enormous record deal with Sony and being catapulted into the industry high-life, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Madonna, Eminem and D12. But, ironically, they could never actually deliver and promote the album that they were paid so much money to put together. As soon as they became famous they would be recognised by anyone who had known them in their former lives in Scotland and the dream would evaporate. As the pressure mounted, there would be disastrous consequences......

My Thoughts:

My first thoughts on finishing this book is that it's a wonder how Gavin Bain managed to write a coherent book at all after the huge amounts of alcohol he had consumed after his wild partying lifestyle! In fact, the book starts with him being rushed to hospital (not for the first time!) having drunk so much alcohol and popped so many pills that it was presumed it was a suicide bid.

First Lines:

Afterwards they would call it a suicide attempt - and that's if they would call it anything at all. Mostly they chose never to speak about it, at least not in my company

This story is mostly about the build up to that night and how Scot Gavin -- a neurotic, obsessive, insomniac -- and his friend Billy Boyd -- handsome, confident, self-satisfied -- fooled everyone in this fascinating account of a crazy two years in the life of the rappers known as Silibil N' Brains. Their whole appeal was built on a lie, a scam.

Gavin's life in those days was full of highs (signed by Sony and given a huge advance) and lows (too many to mention) and we follow him through all these, knowing that he's heading for a fall. I did feel quite sorry for him several times, but he was his own worst enemy, he doesn't want our pity, he knows he was an idiot.

I enjoyed his writing style, it was simple, never dull or boring, he didn't try to sensationalise things - he just told it how it was - and I'm glad he did and I'm glad I read it.

Gavin Bain interviewed in the Scotsman.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster for sending me this book to review.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Beauty Care Product Review: ALVA SANDDORN SHOWER GEL

Another product from mypure that I am reviewing today is this Shower and Cleansing Gel.

Alva Sanddorn say that this Gel is suitable for sensitive skins and the nourishing comfrey delivers moisture, aids in the replenishment of skin oils, refines and calms irritated skin. Also, natural wheat protein helps to increase the skin's moisture level.

I have been using this every day and it has a lovely fruity smell, which is not too overpowering. It is a clear rich gel which I really loved the feel of on my skin, but I did need quite a fair amount to make a good lather.

My skin felt nice and soft afterwards, it didn't dry out my skin at all, it just felt moisturised all day. A nice gentle product.

This is available from mypure for £10 for a 150ml tube.

Check out mypure for some great special offers on organic beauty products, everything sold by them is sulfate, paraben free and phthalate free.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010


Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Published by: John Murray (Nov 2010)

Pages: 320 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 6/10


About the Book:

This is a story about a woman. And the truck driver who mistook her for a prostitute. The old man she robbed and the hunters who smuggled her across the border. The woman whose name she stole, the wife who turned a blind eye.This is the story of a mother searching for her child.

My Thoughts:

The first part of the story is narrated by various people who encountered a woman and helped her in her quest to travel to Berlin to find her young son. I thought this was intriguing and I really liked how they all helped her in different ways, some good, some not so good, from a truck driver, snail shell collector to a chess player and other interesting characters.

As the story goes on we gradually learn a little more about this woman from Africa, until she herself narrates the last part and we see that she sees most of the people and the situations in a different way.

For me, the story started well but slowly I got bored, it just didn't hold my attention enough, I didn't really care too much about Ines, the woman, or the characters she meets about half way through. I did like the easy writing style which contained mainly short sentences and paragraphs.

I read and enjoyed Mister Pip which was Lloyd Jones last book so this was quite a disappointment to me.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Beauty Care Product Review: ALVA SANDDORN HAND CREAM

About Alva Sanddorn (Anti-Ageing):

Sanddorn is Alva's premium anti-ageing skin care range based on the cold-pressed oil of the organic sea buckthorn berry - one of the most valuable
anti-oxidants in the natural skin care world. Sea buckthorn is renowned as an effective protection against the sun's UV rays, as well as being prized for its anti-ageing and moisturising qualities.

Alva Sanddorn Hand Cream is a deeply penetrating, nourishing and moisturising hand cream that provides extensive care for stressed hands, preventing them from drying out and boosting
the skin's elasticity. As we age, along with our face, the hands are the most exposed part of the body and are therefore subjected to a multitude of environmental stressors and UV damage, leading to premature age spots and dry leathery hands. Organic shea butter and cocoa butter, along with organic sea buckthorn oil help to stimulate regeneration, providing supple hands and shiny fingernails.

I have been using Alva's hand cream for several weeks, it is ideal for normal and dry skin as well as mature skin over the age of 30 (which I am!).

It is very rich and thick and creamy and is dark yellow in colour. I loved the smell which is quite light, and while it did take some time to rub it all into my hands I really felt as if it was working deep down to protect them from drying out in the cold weather. It can be used both night and

I really love using this hand cream, it is certainly more rich than any cream that I've used before and I would definitely recommend it if you're looking for something extra or if your hands are particularly dry.
The packaging is also a pretty white, gold and orange colour.

It has not been tested on animals, is parabin and paraffin free and contains no alcohol.

It is available from the mypure website in a 75ml tube for £12.00.

Friday, 12 November 2010


Genre: Crime and Mystery

Published by: Orion Books (October 2010)

Pages: 400 (Hardback)

My Rating: 8.5/10


About the Book:

When Mickey Haller is invited by the Los Angeles County District Attorney to prosecute a case for him, he knows something strange is going on. Mickey's a defense lawyer, one of the best in the business, and to switch sides like this would be akin to asking a fox to guard the hen-house.

But the high-profile case of Jason Jessup, a convicted child-killer who spent almost 25 years on death row before DNA evidence freed him, is an intriguing one - particularly since the DA's determination to re-charge and re-try him for the same crime seems doomed to failure.

Eager for the publicity and drawn to the challenge, Mickey takes the case, with Detective Harry Bosch on board as his lead investigator. But as a new trial date is set, it starts to look like he's been set up, with the renewed prosecution merely a tactic to prevent Jessup from successfully suing the state and county for millions of dollars.

To avoid humiliation, Mickey and Harry are going to have to dig deep into the past and find the truth about Melissa Landy and what really happened to her all those years ago.

My Thoughts:

The characters of Mickey Haller (criminal defence attorney) and Harry Bosch (Detective) are both well known to readers of Michael Connelly's other books.

But I was a little worried as I hadn't ready any of his books before and wondered if I wouldn't really know the characters by not reading them before. But I needn't have been concerned as Connelly managed to give just the right amount of back story for each so that, by the end of the book, I felt I knew them both pretty well.

The first part of the novel deals with the build up to the trial, the story of Jessup's conviction and the reasons for the re-trial, the talking to the witnesses, choosing the jurors, all of which made an interesting and steady build up to the trial.

The last part then deals with the trial itself which I thought was the most compelling and fascinating, I love court room dramas and this did not disappoint.

I also really enjoyed the way the story alternated chapters between the lst person of Mickey Haller and the 3rd person of Harry Bosch. I really got a feel of how each character was thinking and of how the characters thought of each other. It really brought a new dimension to the story.

This is a wonderful description of a judge presiding over another trial:-

Presiding over this anthill was Judge Malcolm Firestone, who sat with his head down and his sharp shoulders jutting up and closer to his ears with each passing year. His black robe gave them the appearance of folded wings and give him the overall image of a vulture waiting impatiently to dine on the bloody detritus of the justice system

This was a storyline that kept me intrigued throughout with intelligent characterisations, simply told explanations of the justice system, a couple of twists and turns scattered about, and is one of the best court room dramas I have read for a long time. Thoroughly enjoyable!

For more on Michael Connelly his website is here

Also, many thanks to for sending me this book to review.

I must just add that the book I received was an uncorrected bound manuscript proof and the quoted text above may not appear exactly as quoted in the actual book.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

BOOK NEWS: V&A museum pleads for cash to save Charles Dickens's manuscripts

Handwritten drafts of David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities and The Mystery of Edwin Drood are suffering from acid paper rot

Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens at work in 1860. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When Charles Dickens picked up his quill in 1859 to write the words, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times," at the top of a clean sheet of paper, he was setting down some of the most enduring opening lines in world literature. The novelist's striking phrase helped to set the scene for his celebrated story of love amid the turmoil of the French Revolution, but the famous passage with which he began A Tale of Two Cities might not endure for much longer without urgent intervention.

This weekend the Victoria and Albert Museum is launching a campaign to raise funds to conserve the original manuscripts of three of Dickens's best-loved works, including A Tale of Two Cities. Rescued from the novelist's home by his close friend John Forster, the manuscripts came to the V&A in 1876 when Forster, a literary agent, bequeathed his library to the fledgling museum.

The V&A now hopes to restore the priceless originals – which are still legible although blotched and underscored – in time for international celebrations of the bicentenary of Dickens's birth in 2012. "At the moment we can't display these manuscripts safely because they are so damaged and so fragile," said John Meriton, deputy keeper of word and image at the V&A. "They were last conserved in the 1960s, when they were rebound and placed in what are called 'guard books'. But the backing paper used, unfortunately, was very acidic, causing a lot of stress to the original manuscript leaves."

Some parts of the manuscripts are also impossible to read because the leaves were pasted down, making the left hand or verso pages inaccessible.

If the museum – which, like other national heritage institutions, is now facing severe budget cuts – can raise £25,000, curators say it will be able to protect the full manuscript of A Tale of Two Cities, the story of the love between Lucie Manette and the aristocrat Charles Darnay, as well as the original manuscript of the equally loved David Copperfield, published in 1850.

The third manuscript is Dickens's perplexing, unfinished last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. If this manuscript is restored and conserved, museum visitors and Dickens scholars will be able to study the author's own notes and textual alterations and even perhaps deduce their own solution to one of the most intriguing unsolved cases in literary history.

"You can see the corrections Dickens has made to each section of the stories," said Meriton. "And these are the pages that he would have handed into the printers for typesetting, before receiving the galley proofs for correction in return. We have some of those proofs too, and so it will be possible for visitors to trace the editing process that went on."

Written in "iron gall" ink on low-grade blue writing paper, purchased by the author from WH Smith, the manuscripts were never "wonderful quality", according to Meriton. But they remain a crucial part of Britain's cultural heritage.

To read the full article in click here

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Interview with Eliza Graham, Author of Jubilee

I'm so thrilled that Eliza Graham has agreed to take part in a Question and Answer session on my blog.

Her third novel, Jubilee, was published in June 2010 by Pan Macmillan and my review of her book is here

Eliza lives in the Vale of the White Horse in Oxfordshire with her husband, children and dogs.

When your 1st novel, Playing with the Moon, was published when and where did you first see it in a bookshop, and how did you feel and what did you do? I'd probably want to go round and tell everyone that that's my book!!

I first saw PWTM in the flesh at my book launch and I was rendered speechless by the sight of boxes of the book. I kept wanting to touch them. Part of me also feels a little alarmed when I see my books in 'real life'. I want to blurt out that it was only a story I made up! I always imagine people flicking through books to find bits that are wrong... People are often very kind about telling me where they've spotted my books. Sometimes they report back a few weeks later and say that the books are now 'gone' and then I wonder if they 'went' in customer bags or were simply sent back to the publisher because they didn't sell. These are questions best not considered in the early hours of the morning.

I love watching The Book Show on Sky Arts and one of my favourite parts is when we see authors in their writing area surrounded by all their little bits and bobs, and I wondered if you did your writing in a particular place and do you set yourself targets for the day?

It's not very glamorous, my writing space! I am typing these answers where I normally work: on the breakfast bar in our kitchen. I started off writing in a more bespoke writing area but then we had those two very cold winters and the kitchen was just warmer. We have also had a series of puppies, who live in the kitchen while they're being house-trained, and it's just easier to be here with them. One of them is curled up round my foot at the moment. Unfortunately being in the kitchen means I'm never far away from the digestive biscuits, too...

I don't usually have word count targets as that tends to encourage me to write words for the sake of words and often they aren't the right ones. Most often I challenge myself to get through a particular chapter or scene or transition. Even just a tricky hundred-word paragraph, if it's a bad day. More and more I think that, for me, a lot of the writing takes place in my head when I'm going for a walk or pottering around. If that part of the process is going well the words seem to get themselves written. If I'm struggling I often need to think a bit more about what I'm trying to do and perhaps bounce ideas off friends.

A recurring theme in your books seems to be the 2nd World War. Is that deliberate or it's just the way your stories have evolved?

I've always been fascinated by WW2. Where I grew up in London there were still air raid shelters and my grandmother used to tell us stories about the Blitz. It's such a rich repository of stories and themes and there's so much material available now that I've found myself drawn back again and again.

My latest novel and the one I'm planning next probably won't have that part of history in them, though.

You must have done a lot of research, particularly about the prisoner of war camps, in Jubilee. Do you enjoy that side of your work?

I love research and have to be careful that I don't get carried away and let it take over. It's much easier to look things up these days and the internet is my best friend. But I also love libraries, museums and archives. I often get the urge to visit small museums in small towns--you find interesting little details in them. I'm still trying to think of a use for some little boots I saw in an agricultural museum that were designed for sheep to wear.

What sort of authors do you read and what book are you reading now?

At the moment I am reading the last Lee Child book and then I'm going to move on to Hans Fallada's Alone in Berlin. I tend to have reading obsessions and need to read a whole series at a time. I read almost every kind of book, from Anita Brookner to Trollope to Len Deighton. The only books I don't enjoy are westerns and romances. I think I am drawn to thrillers and crime because there's such a lot of good plotting in those books and you can very enjoyably learn a lot as a writer.

Can you give us some idea of your next book and when it's going to be published?

I am touching wood as I type this answer... My fourth book is set in an apparently idyllic boarding school in Oxfordshire where the apparently serene and charismatic head has some disturbing personal secrets that start to come out. It also involves reborn dolls: particularly life-like dolls that are often mistaken for real babies. I am touching wood because you never really know what will happen with a book until you get the go-ahead from the editor. Or the cheque.

Ooh that story sounds a little scary, but intriguing! Can't wait to read the book.
A huge thank you to Eliza Graham for taking the time and trouble to give me such brilliant answers.

Jubilee is out now and is published by Pan Books.

Monday, 1 November 2010


Product Description

Living Nature Nourishing Day Cream - New FormulaTreat your skin with this nutrient rich day cream that has been formulated to deliver nourishment and protection, optimising your skin health. A unique blend of Manuka Honey and Shea Butter will restore valuable moisture. A lovely, smooth cream suitable for combination, normal, and dry skins.

As with all the products I have reviewed from mypure this is sulfate free, paraben free and phthalate free.

I have been using this nourishing Day Cream for the last few weeks. It comes in a pretty but quite plain container and I had real problems in opening it! I tried unscrewing the top, pushing it, pulling it but I just couldn't open it, until I looked on the bottle and read that you have to first remove the tag from the cap at the BOTTOM of the bottle and then it opens. Not sure if I was just being a bit stupid or it was a stupid way to open it. Anyhow, I opened it but I'm still not convinced that this is a good idea as sometimes when I pull the cap the cream spills out.

However, that is my only real complain about the product.

The cream is a lovely smooth consistency which smells divine -- I can't place the scent but I presume it is manuka honey and totara extract as those are the ingredients on the front of the box.

Living Nature claim that the plant actives can speed up the skin renewal and repair process -- and repair the damage done to your skin during the day, i.e. free radical damage, loss of moisture and UV damage. It also promotes cell repair and brings fresher, younger-looking skin to the surface.

It spreads very easily on my face and was soon absorbed. It's very light. I have combination skin and it is suitable for normal and dry skin as well.

My skin felt lovely and smooth afterwards, and it didn't get too greasy later in the day which it has a tendency to do.

As I've only been using it for a few weeks I haven't really noticed a huge difference, but I really do like the feel of it and would definitely recommend it for everyday use.

A 50ml bottle sells on mypure for £21.00.

Sunday, 31 October 2010


Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Published by: Pan Books (June 2010)

Pages: 327 (Paperback)

My Rating: 8.5/10


About the Book:

It's the Queen's Golden Jubilee, and Rachel and her aunt Evie are celebrating with the crowds on the village green. The scene is tranquil, but Rachel and her aunt can never forget what happened exactly twenty-five years ago. On that day, Evie's young daughter Jessamy vanished. She hasn't been seen since. Soon after, news comes of Evie's sudden death, and Rachel must return to the village to deal with her aunt's estate. The extraordinary story she uncovers there will change everything. It is a story of departure and return, of atrocity and betrayal, of unrequited love and the dreadful legacy of war.

My Thoughts:

First Line

By the time the kitchen clock struck seven I knew that my cousin wouldn't be coming back

After reading and loving the first two Eliza Graham novels -- Playing with the Moon and Restitution -- I was eagerly looking forward to another mystery with the backdrop of the War and I think she has once again come up with another excellent and compelling story!

The story starts with the now grown up Rachel reminiscing about the day of the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977 when she was aged 9 and her 10 year old cousin Jessamy seemingly vanished off the face of the earth, there were no signs of a struggle, no reports of a child being dragged off, she was happy and had no problems, so what could possibly have happened to her?

We are taken back and forth in time throughout the book, from the prison camps of the second World War , the Queen's Coronation in 1953, the Queen's Silver and Golden Jubilees, through to the present day, as we are slowly building up a picture of Jessamy and her family and of the secrets they hold. Indeed, on the day Jessamy vanished she said to Rachel that she hated keeping secrets.

Evie (Jessamy's mother) and her twin brother were evacuated to the Winters family farm in the country during WWII and I loved how we were given snippets of the letters that Robert Winter wrote, but never sent, to a young Evie while he was in a prisoner of war camp. It gave us an insight into not only the terrible conditions but also of the slowly deteriorating mind of a young man who struggles to live a normal life after the War has ended and he comes back to work on the family farm.

I enjoyed this book and was engrossed in the story from start to finish, I thought the prisoner of war camp was handled sensitively and knowledgeably, the characters both main and on the periphery were strong and believable, and overall a thoroughly good mystery.

Eliza Graham's website is here -- to whom I must thank for sending me her book to review.

Sunday, 24 October 2010


Genre: Political Thriller

Published by: Miss Nyet (Dec 2009)

Pages: 334 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 8.5/10


About the Book:

WRONG PLACE... After participating in a pro-separatist march that turned violent in January of 1992, 21-year-old Lorenzo Lartaun Izcoa is wrongly charged with the fatal bombing of a police station in his home town.
Irun is a small city located in the heart of the Basque country, trapped between France and Spain, and struggling for independence. Lartaun finds himself on the Spanish Secret Service's most wanted list, branded an active member of the Basque terrorist group ETA. He has no choice but to flee his country.
Two years later, Lartaun's childhood friend bursts back into his life. In exchange for a small favor, he offers him a passport and the chance to return to Europe under a new identity. Lartaun seizes the opportunity.

...WRONG TIME. Back in Europe, hiding away in a commune in the French Pyrenees Mountains, Lartaun meets Faustine, a young French environmentalist. As their relationship renews his belief in a future worth fighting for, Lartaun realizes, albeit too late, that the favor he owes his friend is not so small after all.


My Thoughts:

They say that a debut author should write about what they know and Delphine Pontvieux has done just that ....... she obviously knows a great deal about rock climbing and the Basque country, and her knowledge shines through as the Pyrenees mountains and climbing them forms an integral part of this fascinating and exciting political thriller based upon the activities of the Separatist Group ETA. The story of their inception and rise without any bias on either side was handled very sensitively as well.

I loved this description (Lartaun is staring at something on the ground while mountain climbing) ----

He was transfixed by the sight of a tiny Rock Jasmine. The frail plant was growing on a miniscule patch of soil encased in a crack between two sheets of rock ........ Whatever miracle had caused this little seed to travel all the way up there and find a piece of earth to call home seemed like a true wonder. It was so ironic and yet made him think about the Basque country. The flower was just like his people, fighting an ongoing battle against all odds so that they could flourish and grow on their small piece of land.

The central characters are the tall, slender and extremely good looking 23 year old Lartaun and the pretty enviromentalist Faustine, 18, "with a gift for reading people's thoughts". They are both incredibly likeable figures and I found their relationship totally believable.

Lartaun is drawn into a world in which he starts to feel uncomfortable with as he has to repay his friend's favour, the suspense is very slowly and skilfully drawn to an exciting conclusion.

This isn't just a tale of political terrorists it is an absorbing thriller showing different sides of people's characters and of how they come to terms with the consequences of their actions, of romance, all the while with a backdrop of the beautiful mountainous scenery which is wonderfully described throughout.

I thought the storyline was strong and the characters were all well-defined with fascinating back stories.

Congratulations to Delphine Pontvieux as she was the recipient of the "2010 French in Chicago Community Award" Oscar in the category "Arts and Culture" for her novel this summer.

MissNyet website is here and I must thank them for sending me this book to review.

Friday, 22 October 2010

It's been quiet on here lately ...............

Some of my regular readers will notice that it's been a bit quiet on here lately. I've been quite busy lately selling my Christmas Cards on Ebay, since the summer! So, my blog has had to take a back seat for a while until I can devote more time to it.

I'm still reading books but I haven't been reviewing as many as I would like.

On top of that, my youngest son's girlfriend is staying with us for a few months. She is from Calgary, Canada and when we've had the time we've been showing her around the lovely area that is the North West of England. The weather has been unseasonly warm for October so we've been out and about quite a lot.

I'm sure life will get back to normal around Christmas time and I'm looking forward to reading and reviewing loads more great books!

Shameless plug for my Cards - here's a link - My Cards - if you do click the link and buy some of my Cards please email me and mention my blog and I'll give you FREE P&P!

See you all soon!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

BOOK NEWS: Chile miners' story signed up by publishers

Chile miner Alex Vega waves after being rescued from the collapsed San Jose mine. Photograph: Hugo Infante / Government of Chile / AP

Jonathan Franklin, currently covering the story for the Guardian newspaper in the UK, has already completed early chapters of book for Transworld

The long ordeal of the 33 trapped Chilean miners is finally at an end – and the buzz about book deals and film rights to the men's dramatic story has already begun.

The miners themselves are reported to have made a pact to collaborate on their own book, but in the UK the first book was signed up on Monday, before the rescue had even begun. Freelance journalist Jonathan Franklin, who has covered the dramatic story for the Guardian from day one, is to pen an account of the saga, provisionally titled 33 Men, for publisher Transworld.

Franklin, who is an American but has lived in the Chile's capital Santiago for 15 years, spoke about the book on his mobile phone from Chile, after 48 sleepless hours covering the emotional scenes as the miners emerged.

"This is one of the great rescue stories of all time," he said, admitting he himself had wept as the first miners were released on Tuesday night. "It's the reason we all want to be reporters: a remarkable story of the world coming together for a good reason. It taps into human altruism, the desire to work together, perseverance, faith that good things happen, never giving up." The early chapters of the book, he said, were already written.

As a journalist, Franklin had had "a backstage pass to the whole thing. I was allowed to tape record the psychologist talking to the [trapped] men, I spent last night in the hospital talking to the [newly freed] miners." He intends his book to reveal the characters of the miners themselves ("You could probably do a book on every one of them") and reflect their black humour: one of the men played dead, for a joke, during the first 17 days spent in the collapsed mine without food, while another attempted phone sex with the nurse who was attending to him 700m above.

To read the full article see

Monday, 4 October 2010

Interview with Peter Millar, author of The Black Madonna

I'm really pleased that Peter Millar, author of The Black Madonna, has taken time out to answer a few questions about his recently published book, which I have just read and enjoyed.

Peter is a British journalist, critic and author, primarily known for his reporting of the latter days of the Cold War and fall of the Berlin Wall for The Sunday Times in London. He has published non-fiction, Tomorrow Belongs To Me, and fiction, Stealing Thunder and Bleak Midwinter.

The Black Madonna is a religious thriller set in London, Spain and Germany.

1. Firstly, where did the idea first come from to write this book?

My first encounter with a Black Madonna was seeing the lapel pin worn
by Lech Walesa, leader of the Solidarity free trades union in communist
Poland. That depicted the painted icon of the Madonna at Czestochowa.

In my time as a foreign correspondent I visited Czestochowa during the
pilgrimages of Pope John Paul II and for the first time became aware that the
idea of a 'black' depiction of the virgin - despite her more common snow-white
appearance - was a phenomenon throughout the Roman Catholic world. That
started me wondering why?

2. I've never read a book where a young Muslim woman is the lead and
wondered why you decided to have Nazreem as the main
character instead of a man? Was this deliberate, if so, why?

Yes, it was deliberate for several reasons: firstly because it seemed to me
correct that a book about the most famous female to have come from the
Middle East region during a time of trouble (the Virgin Mary at the time Israel
was being run as a Roman satrapy) should have as lead character a young
woman from the same region in a time of trouble today.

It also made sense that she should come from more oppressed section of
the population, which obviously pointed to the Palestinians of Gaza. I thought
it was also worth pointing out that despite its modern image as a hive of
concrete refugee camps, Gaza is actually one of the oldest cities on Earth,
dating back to the time of the Pharaohs.

One other important reason was that as there is a major role played by
fundamentalists Islamic terrorists in the book (as well as fundamentalist
Christians who are little better), it seemed worth highlighting that there are
Muslim women who are intelligent, educated, capable of independent thought
and who do not feel oppressed. I see Nazreem as representing a role model
that many women brought up in Islamic culture (I think particularly of the
brave female politicians standing for parliament in Afghanistan) genuinely
aspire to.

3. Did you travel to the places mentioned and see the idols in Altotting,
Germany and Spain?

Of course. Having been a foreign correspondent on the front line of the Cold
War (see my semi-autobiographical history book: '1989: The Berlin Wall, My
part in its Downfall') - I know only too well the importance of research carried
out not just through books or over the internet, but first hand. My family spend
several weeks each year in Munich and on several occasions we made trips
out to Altötting to see the strange and quite remarkable shrine, and the grove
of Linden trees around it. I was struck how similar the religious souvenir shops
around it were to those (owned my Muslims) on a visit to Bethlehem many
years ago.

I also spent several days in Guadalupe in Spain, staying at the same hotel
used by Marcus and Nazreem, the former lepers' hospital, now a magnificent
Parador. In addition I visited a shrine they do not quite get to, although it is
mentioned, that of the Black Madonna of Montserrat in the hills of Catalunya,
not far from Barcelona.

4. What is your next book about?

My next book, provisionally entitled The Shameful Suicide of Winston
Churchill, draws on my experience living behind the Iron Curtain in East
Berlin, Warsaw and Moscow. It postulates that, as was actually considered
at the time, the Western Allies joined with defeated Germany to press back
Stalin's growing communist empire in Europe. In this case they have failed.
Britain has been part-conquered by the Red Army and London is a divided
city. Forty years on a murder reopens some awkward old questions.
It is currently scheduled for publication by Arcadia next April.
I am also working on a sequel to the Black Madonna, again involving
Nazreem and Marcus, but the details of that are a secret for now.

A big thank you to Peter.

The Black Madonna is out now and is published by Arcadia Books.

My review can be found here

Thursday, 30 September 2010


Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Published by: Arcadia Books (September 2010)

Pages: 315 (Paperback)

My Rating: 9/10


About the Book:

In ruins on the outskirts of Gaza, the war-torn Palestinian city that had been a metropolis since the times of the pharaohs, a plucky young female archaeologist has made a remarkable find: possibly the earliest known image of the Virgin Mary, created during her lifetime. But before she can reveal it to the world, it is stolen from her in a brutal personal assault amidst the chaos of an Israeli airstrike. But who has stolen it and why? What dark hidden secret did it conceal? With her former lover, an Oxford professor of comparative historiography – the science of comparing alternative versions of the past – she sets out on a dangerous quest to some of the holiest sites in Christendom.

In a tale of murder, treason, intrigue and geopolitics, they uncover a web of conspiracy, cover-ups, confused mythology and interlinked religion that dates back to the last pagan Roman emperor, and maybe even to the very origins of life on earth.

My Thoughts:

Peter Millar has been compared to Dan Brown, though having read 'Angels and Demons' I think that Peter Millar's storyline is more believable and exciting and is much better written overall.

When Nazreem Hashrawi, Museum Curator, discovers "one of the most important, semi-legendary items in Christian lore" her life is instantly in danger from people who are not averse to brutally torturing and murdering people who get in their way. But just why these people would want the Madonna and why they would want to kill Nazreem is revealed slowly and tantalisingly in this very compelling story with twists and turns that I found hard to put down.

The tension built up steadily as Nazreem and her ex-lover Marcus Frey, an Oxford Professor, travel to Spain and Bavaria in an effort to seek out other similar idols while meeting people such as the devout Sister Galina in Germany who mysteriously vanishes after speaking to them.

I thought the plot was fascinating overall and Peter Millar has obviously done an amazing amount of research; it seemed that every character had an encyclopaedic memory of historical events and which sometimes seemed too much and I couldn't always take in all the facts and figures, though I could follow the story (just!) without it spoiling my enjoyment.

Even though it is a complicated plot at no time did I feel that I didn't know what was going on, the style of writing was very readable, most of the characters were believable (with a couple of exceptions) and I liked the way that an intelligent headstrong young Muslim woman was one of the lead characters.

Thoroughly recommended for anyone who enjoys a thriller with a historical lesson - the authors notes at the back of the book make for interesting reading too.

My Thanks go to Arcadia Books for sending me this book to review.

Peter Millar's website can be found here

Read my Q and A with Peter Millar here


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