The House at Ettrick Bay by Myra Duffy

I have met Myra Duffy on several occasions and always enjoyed her company but somehow had never read any of her novels, so when my friend Chris gave me The House at Ettrick Bay as a gift, I was delighted to be able to put that right.

As expected the story is set in and around Ettrick Bay on the Isle of Bute. Bute, is an island in the Firth of Clyde in Scotland, United Kingdom. It is divided into highland and lowland areas by the Highland Boundary Fault. Formerly a constituent island of the larger County of Bute, it is now part of the council area of Argyll and Bute. It is a beautiful part of the world and the vivid descriptions do it justice.

The story is a cosy crime about a teacher, Susie, who inherits a large house on the island of Bute but as she is working in the USA her close friends, Alison and Simon agree to look over the property for her.

However, after several unexplained ‘accidents’ Alison realises someone is not happy Susie is the new owner of Ettrick House. An archaeological dig near the house leads to an unexpected discovery and it appears Susie is not the only claimant to Ettrick House. When the next ‘accident’ turns out to be murder, Alison knows she and Susie are in danger. Other people on the island have an interest in Ettrick House -and one of them is prepared to kill.

The House at Ettrick Bay falls nicely into the cosy crime category, It is quite tense in places and the voices of the different characters are well distinguished. So much so that I took an active dislike to Simon whom I found belittled Alison regularly. This is an excellent read and would suit book groups well as there are many issues that could make for lively discussion.

The Author

Myra Duffy started writing at a very early age, both fiction and non-fiction. She now concentrates on fiction and although she still writes short stories and poetry, prefers to focus on novels, mainly cosy crime. ‘When Old Ghosts Meet’ was published in 2009, ‘The House at Ettrick Bay’ in 2010 and ‘Last Ferry to Bute’ in 2011.

Val Penny

Mixing reality and imagination by Angela Wren

It is a treat to have my friend and fellow author, Angela Wren visit my blog today to discuss Marseille, the setting for the fourth novel in her bestselling series of novels featuring Jacques Foret. Thank you for visiting today, Angela. Tell us all about Marseille, please.

A vast sprawling conurbation, Marseille, is the second city of France.  With a population of just under 900,000, it outstrips Lyon easily.  It also has a fascinating history, is renowned for its independence and can claim to be the oldest city in France.

This city is also one of the most multi-cultural that I have ever come across in France.  As you meander through the streets, for every five people you pass speaking French there are another five following speaking an entirely different tongue and you can eat in any one of a hundred different languages!

The very first settlers here were the Phocaeans (ancient Greeks), arriving around 600BC.  They settled on one side of what is now the Vieux Port, the sound being then little more than a creek.  But it was an essential supply of water and an opportunity for trade – something the ancient Greeks were very good at.  Of course, those first settlers weren’t allowed to keep everything to themselves, and about 60 years later the Persians arrived.  The original settlement expanded as trade and ancient commerce grew, and the reach inland expanded to the sites of modern cities such as Arles, Nice, Avignon and elsewhere.  The Romans finally turned up around 125BC, and after years of war, established Transalpine Gaul.  The port of Marseille (then referred to as Massalia) became an independent republic allied to Rome.  Maybe that’s why it has a reputation for independence and a very distinctive local character, not to mention it’s own very particular local dialect.

It was hard to ignore a city with such a pedigree and, having spent some time there, I decided that it would be location for one of Jacques’ cases and I used the name of the city as the title.

Of course, using a real place as a location means you have to get the details right.  In the scene when Jacques and his associate, Didier Duclos, are meeting a possible witness at the Vieux Port, creating the sound and feel of the bustling city was quite a task.  The bench where they wait is in front of a real bar, but I used a fictitious name for the bar.  The street where Jacques and Didier are sent by the witness is real but I’ve renamed it, so checking a map of the city will be fruitless.  But, if you’re a good enough detective and know the city well, you can probably work out the exact location I chose to keep in my mind’s eye as I was writing the various scenes that take place there.

In another scene, the criminals that Jacques is pursuing are crossing the city in a vehicle.  It was my time spent in Marseille walking the streets in the sunshine that helped me recreate the actual sights and sounds.  With a detailed street map and all my photos, I could actually work out a precise journey for my characters to take. Again, someone who knows the city well could probably work out exactly which streets they drove through!

Thanks very much for inviting me to your blog, Val, and I hope your readers enjoy the post.


A spate of abductions and subsequent deaths in nearby départements have Investigator, Jacques Forêt, perplexed. Returning from extended leave to the news of a local kidnapping, Jacques is on the case immediately. And this time it’s personal.

But the case isn’t Jacques’ only worry. He has become more and more concerned about Beth, but what can he do if she doesn’t let him help her?

The investigation into the murders takes him and his trusted assistant, Didier Duclos, to Marseille. Can Jacques find the kidnappers and release their captive before another body is added to the list of unexplained murders?

It’s a race against time.

Marseille is the fourth instalment in the bestselling Jacques Forêt Mystery series.


Having followed a career in Project and Business Change Management, I now work as an Actor and Director at a local theatre.  I’ve been writing, in a serious way, since 2010.  My work in project management has always involved drafting, so writing, in its various forms, has been a significant feature throughout my adult life.

I particularly enjoy the challenge of plotting and planning different genres of work.  My short stories vary between contemporary romance, memoir, mystery and historical.  I also write comic flash-fiction and have drafted two one-act plays that have been recorded for local radio.  The majority of my stories are set in France where I like to spend as much time as possible each year.

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Merle Jacques Forêt Mystery #02Messandrierre Jacques Forêt Mystery #01Miss Moonshine’s Emporium of Happy Endings An anthology of feel-good stories
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The Lewis Man by Peter May

The Lewis Man is the second book in Peter May’s acclaimed Lewis Trilogy. I found it for sale in a charity booksale and chose it because I enjoyed the first book in the series, The Blackhouse, so much.

The story finds Fin return to Lewis after the death of his son and the collapse of his marriage. He has left the police force and returns to the place with which he feels the strongest connection.

The local force investigate when a body is recovered from a peat bog on the Isle of Lewis. The male Caucasian corpse is initially believed by its finders to be over 2000 years old, until they spot the Elvis tattoo on his right arm. The body, it transpires, is not evidence of an ancient ritual killing, but of a murder committed during the latter half of the 20th century.

The reader follows the investigations and also the rambling thoughts of a local man, Tormod Macdonald, who is suffering from dementia. The juxtaposition of the two is brilliant and affords the author many occasions to misdirect the reader.

Peter May is a clever author who well commands his place in the proponants of tartan noir. He must never be unerestimated. This would be an excellent book group read. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and look forward to reading the third novel in the trilogy in due course.

Val Penny

The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore

The ghost story, The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore was book of the month in my book group. We had not read a ghost story for a while so everybody was looking forward to this one.

The Greatcoat is set just after World War II, in the summer of 1954, newly wed Isabel Carey arrives in a Yorkshire town with her husband Philip. As a GP he spends much of his time working, while Isabel tries hard to adjust to the realities of married life. Life is not easy: she feels out-of-place and constantly judged by the people around her, so she spends much of her time alone.
One cold winter night, Isabel finds an old RAF greatcoat in the back of a cupboard that she uses to help keep warm. Once wrapped in the coat she is beset by dreams. And not long afterwards, while her husband is out, she is startled to hear a knock at her window, and to meet for the first time the intense gaze of a young Air Force pilot, handsome, blond and blue-eyed, staring in at her from outside.
His name is Alec, and his powerfully haunting presence both disturbs and excites Isabel. Her initial alarm soon fades, and they begin a delicious affair. But nothing could have prepared her for the truth about Alec’s life, nor the impact it will have on her own marriage. 

Although it is a ghost story, The Greatcoat is not in the slightest bit scary and this was a disappointment. Also Dunmore writes so simplisticly, it was almost as if this were a crossover novel. I also felt a little disappointed with the ending it just felt a bit abrupt and sudden for me.

I was disappointed in The Greatcoat and would not look out for another book by this author, but neither would I avoid it.

Val Penny

Keep the Midnight Out by Alex Gray

Few Scottish authors have matched the quality and quantity of novels produced by Alex Gray over the years. I have read many of the books in her DCI Lorimer series, but rarely in order. This rarely matters because most of her novels work well as stand alones. Keep the Midnight Out is no exception.

Keep the Midnight Out is the twelfth novel in Gray’s long running DCI Lorimer series and it is, unsurprisingly, beautifully written. The book starts with an exciting and gruesome scene when poachers gather more than they expect when the body of a red-headed young man is caught in their nets.

Lorimer and his wife are on vacation on the Isle of Mull. Therefore the readers get a taste of a different part of Scotland. And since Lorimer is on vacation, someone else is in charge of the investigation. DI Stevie Crozier is a woman with a chip on her shoulder.

Gray has the ability to weave much about Lorimer and his wife, Maggie, into the ongoing police investigation. That results in a good balance of character development and plot progression. Gray also includes a good amount of description, characteristic of Scottish crime thrillers.

The mystery is a good one too, dealing with sexual preferences and how parents deal with something they don’t understand. There are several red herrings that make trying to figure out the villain a good challenge.

The only point I found difficulty with are flashbacks to a twenty year old case, an early one of Lorimer’s and how the author explains that this may have relevance to the current case. The flash backs are well done and includes how Lorimer and Rosie Fergusson came to know each other but some of the co-incidences, for me, were a bit of a stretch. However, on the plus side the reader gets to know Lorimer and his wife better in Keep the Midnight Out.

I recommend this book to thriller and mystery readers who enjoy a well crafted novel with a good balance of description, character development, and plot progression. It would make a good read for a book club. My reservations are far outweighed by the quality of Gray’s story telling.

The Author

Alex Gray is a Scottish crime writer who was born and educated in Glasgow. She worked as a folk singer, a visiting officer in the DSS and an English teacher. She has been awarded the Scottish Association of Writers Constable and Pitlochry trophies for her crime writing.

Val Penny

Bethel Manor Reborn by Beatrice Fishback

Sometimes a sequel can be a disappointment. However, I had read Bethel Manor by Beatrice Fishback and enjoyed it, so when I had an opportunity to read bethel Manor Reborn, I took it and was not disappointed. I would recommend reading these books in the correct order as the story flows on seamlessly.

Clare Shaw Blackwell is struck with blindness after the birth of her son, George. Unsurprisingly, she struggles to cope with her loss of independence and withdraws into her world of darkness, she shuts out the person who wants to help her most, her husband, James.

James seeks solace at the home of a friend, an innocent liaison blossoms into something unexpected, and threatens to tear his family apart.  Many obstacles are thrown in the path as James and Clare strive to find their route toward happiness.

The chronicle of the Shaw and Blackwell families continues in Bethel Manor Reborn as they struggle to heal broken relationships, offer forgiveness to an enemy who tries to destroy them, and restore their deteriorating home to its former glory. Read this wonderful story and find out if they can overcome their trials and find the peace they long for.

Val Penny

Evil Games by Angela Marsons

Angela Marsons was a new author to me, although I had heard a lot about her novels and they were highly commended. I’ll be honest, I chose Evil Games because it was on sale. It transpires this is the second book in her DI Kim Stone series, but it really doesn’t matter because this works perfectly well as a standalone novel.

In Evil Games a rapist is found mutilated in a brutal attack, Detective Kim Stone and her team are called in to bring a swift resolution. However, more vengeful killings come to light and it becomes clear that there is someone far more sinister at work.

The investigations are quickly gathering momentum, and the novel becomes increasingly tense and dark. There were parts that even I, as a crime novel officiando found too dark. The character of DI Kim Stone also reminded me a bit of MJ Arlidge’s Detective Helen Grace, so it all felt a bit derivative. Any way, Stone finds herself exposed to great danger and in the sights of a lethal individual undertaking their own wicked experiment. She is up against a sociopath who seems to know her every weakness, each move she makes could be deadly. As the body count starts to mount, Stone must dig deep to stop the killing spree. 

The reader learns more about Stone’s childhood; she starts opening up, just slightly, to her friend Bryant – and she acquires a dog. There are some tight well-written climactic scenes. I would probably read another book in this series, but I wouldn’t shuffle my TBR pile to get it to the top.


Angela is the author of the Kim Stone Crime series. She discovered a love of writing at Primary School when a short piece on the rocks and the sea gained her the only merit point she ever got.
Angela wrote the stories that burned inside and then stored them safely in a desk drawer.
After much urging from her partner she began to enter short story competitions in Writer’s News resulting in a win and three short listed entries. The rest, is history!

Val Penny

In America by Nina Romano

In America is the third novel in Nina Romano’s award winning series, the Wayfarer Trilogy. I enjoyed the first two novels, The Secret Language of Women and Lemon Blossoms and was looking forward to reading the final book. In America did not disappoint.

In America tells the conclusion of the Scimenti family saga. It takes place in Brooklyn, N.Y. during the Great Depression. I enjoyed revisiting Giacomo and his experiences of life in America.

The strong willed Marcella, who has always wanted to be a singer in Hollywood. As she comes of age, true love comes into play. Marcella must learn to balance new friendships, promising suitors, and life as a modern working girl with the expectations of her tradition-bound family, all against the backdrop of a looming economic depression and a changing world. Along the way, she unearths a devastating family secret that shakes her to her core and tests the boundaries of her love, loyalty, and faith.

As in all Romano’s novels, the prose is wonderfully written and so very descriptive. The description of wonderful Italian dishes make your mouth water as you read. I highly recommend that you read this wonderful trilogy.

The Author

Nina Romano earned a B.S. from Ithaca College an M. A. from Adelphi University and a B. A. and M.F.A. in Creative Writing from FIU. She’s a world traveler and lover of history. She lived in Rome, Italy, for twenty years, and is fluent in Italian and Spanish. She authored a short story collection, The Other Side of the Gates, five poetry collections, and two poetry chapbooks. Her most recent collection, Westward: Guided by Starfalls and Moonbows, was published from LLC Red Dashboard. She co-authored, Writing in a Changing World from Bridle Path Press. Romano has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize.

Val Penny

Lies, Mistakes and Misunderstandings by Katharine Johnson

Although this was the first novel written by Katharine Johnson, it is the one I have read most recently. I always enjoy the subtle pschological thrillers created by Johnson. I would put the quality of her writing along side Erin Kelly or Sophie Hannah, although Johnson is less well known.

In Lies, Mistakes and Misunderstandings, the action takes place in England around World War II. It starts in 1931 when our hero, Jack is introduced. Nothing much has gone right for Jack since he graduated from Cambridge with a law degree last year. His career has failed to take off, his father is unimpressed with him and his fiancée has ditched him for someone with better prospects. On top of all that, he receives an invitation to their wedding. He dreads going to the wedding alone, surrounded by his high-achieving university friends, so when he meets a beautiful girl, Giselle, who offers to accompany him he jumps at the chance.

Jack falls passionately in love with Giselle and believes she loves him too, but the path of true love for some is a lot more stony than for others. Jack’s pathway is strewn with boulders yet, he’s not daunted by the prospect. As the story unfolds, the reader wonders who is Giselle and also where is Giselle. There are some very dark themes in this pre and post World War II novel, highlighting the way war can change both a person’s personality afterwards and how that can affect the people around them. 

As with all Katharine Johnson books, I was swept up in the story and believed in the characters. I think this would make an excellent book gorup read as there is plenty of room for lively discussion.


Katharine Johnson is an English author who grew up in Bristol and now divides her time between Berkshire and Lucca, Italy. After doing a History degree she trained to be a journalist and has worked for a variety of magazines, writing about everything including the kitchen sink. She’s loved writing since childhood and wrote her first book aged nine. When not writing she can usually be found walking her spaniel, doing the school run, playing netball or being a room guide in a stately home.

Val Penny

If You Love Me I’m Yours by Lizzie Chantree

Those of you who read this blog regularly will know that my favourite genre is crime fiction, however from time to time I stray into other territories. Often this is because of my book group or because I am given a book as a gift. On other occassions, I simply find an author whose work I enjoy. Lizzie Chantree is one of those writers.

Her novel, If You Love Me, I’m Yours, is about as far from my usual crime thrillers as it is possible to get – but it is well worth a read. The eclectice characters jump off of the page and into your heart.

Maud and Dot come together to support each other as they find their way in the world that has been created for them by their parents. Maud, is a blooming artist, but she is constricted by the disappointment in her parents who want her to settle down, dress conservatively, find a nice man and have a good job, basically forget about art. Her bungalow is plain to the outside world apart from her bedroom, where she has painted a gorgeous mural and her studio at the end of the garden.  While Dot wants to be an artist and tries to live up to her parents and brother’s talent. They are all outstanding artists, but Dot, in her mind, can’t paint. So instead, she is a persona of what she thinks her family want her to be, the crazy one, with outrageous outfits.

They find each other, well Dot finds Maud, due to someone dropping random art around the village with little tags on and it causes quite the stir. Instantly, the extrovert Dot and the introvert Maud become fast friends, both seeing the real person behind the walls they have built. There is also a love story but I enjoyed that the romance took the back seat in this story and it was the friendships that took centre stage. 

This is a delightfully crafted story that I read in one sitting because I could not put it down. Read it, enjoy it, you won’t forget it!


A #1 bestselling author and award-winning inventor, Lizzie Chantree, started her own business at the age of 18 and became one of Fair Play London and The Patent Office’s British Female Inventors of the Year in 2000. She discovered her love of writing fiction when her children were little and now runs networking hours on social media, where creative businesses, writers, photographers and designers can offer advice and support to each other. She lives with her family on the coast in Essex.

Val Penny