The Widow by Fiona Barton

If you have a Twitter account, I am sure you heard about Bantami Press’ latest release for which Transworld Books was in charge of promoting: The Widow by Fiona Barton, published on the  14th of January, 2016. Thanks to Ben Willis for sending me the review copy.

You see, my husband died three weeks ago. Knocked down by a bus just outside Sainsbury’s. He was there one minute, giving me grief about what sort of cereal I should’ve bought, and the next, dead on the road. Head injuries, they said. Dead, anyway.

The Widow tells the story of Jean ‘Jeanie’ Taylor, the recent widow of Glenn Taylor. Aged almost 40, Jeanie has spent half her life married to Glenn, living with him, and following his tips. Right, Jeanie? As we read we learn that Jeanie was not much liked at home, and upon meeting Glenn in her late teens, they got married. He worked in a bank, she was a hairdresser, and life went on until, one day, Glenn is involved in a pedophilia scandal and the disappearance of a toddler called Bella. How will Jean react to this?

Barton’s novel is more of a study character than a mystery or a thriller. Even though the story is told from different points of view, they all make Jeanie and her relationship with Glenn the main character. The abusive relationship in which Jeanie sees herself subjected to her husband’s patronising know-it-all tips take much of the narrative, probably in an effort to make Jeanie one of the most gray characters I have ever met. However, that was not enough. I appreciated the effort to make Jeanie an interesting and complex character, but I could not bring myself to believe her. From chapter 2 I knew what she knew, and I knew she was not telling, so it was just a matter of time I was told. There was no real character development in the waiting, and I felt Jeanie could have had a darker side.

The novel is told from three points of view: Jeanie’s, Kate’s – the journalist trying to get an exclusive interview with the widow and the real jewel here – and Rob Sparkes, the detective in charge of investigating Glenn. Both Kate and Rob help construct Jeanie as a character, but it is Kate who sees beyond the “housewifey” act and offers a more interesting take on her. Sparkes is a mediocre detective, not outstanding in any sense from his literary peers: middle-aged, haunted by the case, and with a troubled family life.

I really wanted to enjoy The Widow because I thought it would go beyond the middle-class houswifey façade and offer a subversive perspective on Jeanie Taylor as someone who has been subjected for half her life and has had enough. But Barton played the safe card with both the main character and the ending, which I had to re-read twice to believe that all that Internet sub-worlds and pedophilia research led to such a bleak conclusion. One thing to highlight, though, is the marvellous use of the language Barton does, and the Kate’s character, which I thought could make a series. Isn’t it about time we have a series with a research female journalist as the main character? I will keep an eye on Barton to see if she has decided to develop Kate, which I really, really hope she does.

The Lake House by Kate Morton

I have to confess I am a huge fan of Kate Morton’s ever since I read her debut novel The House at Riverton. There is something about her books that makes me feel instantly better, probably because they remind me of my love for literature and words. So, when I learned her latest work would be out in October 2015 I made a mental note of adding it to my Christmas wishlist. It would be the jewel of the crown, that gift that represents all the good feelings and love of Christmas on itself. Thanks to Mum and Dad for the expensive and so beautiful hardcover copy of The Lake House.

Kate Morton The Lake House

All families were a composite of stories, and yet her own, it seemed, comprised more layers of tellings and retellings than most. There were so many of them, for one thing, and they all liked to talk and write and wonder.

On her fifth novel Kate Morton takes us to Cornwall, summer of 1933. The Edevanes are about to celebrate their epic midsummer party at  Loeanneth, their family home, and everyone is busy running their chores, except for Alice Edevane, who is 16 and a daydreamer. As we follow her around the big family house, we learn of her sisters, Clementine and  Deborah, her little brother Theo, and her mother, a perfectionist who will not let Alice alone. By midnight, everyone is celebrating and Theo is gone.

Theo Edevane’s disappearance is the main event, or the corpus delicti that sets the whole plot in motion, but as it usually happens with Morton’s novels, there is much more going on in the background. Alice’s storyline from 1933 is masterfully interwoven with that of detective Sadie Sparrow who, in 2003, has been sent on an enforced break to rest that leads her to her grandfather’s cottage in Cornwall. There, she learns of Theo’s disappearance and takes an interest on the case as she tries to free her mind from her own personal troubles. In this 2003 time line Alice Edevane has become one of the United Kingdom’s best crime fiction writers, although not one interested in her own family mystery.

I firmly believe The Lake House is Kate Morton’s best novel up to now, and I think she will have to work really hard to deliver a better story in her next book. My love for the novel probably comes from the fact that she has finally introduced a detective in her novels, and a very good one. Sadie Sparrow is young, ambitious and a workaholic who also happens to love running – in the recent fashion of running detectives. I felt inspired and very attached to the character whilst reading, and I think Morton could very well construct a series of novels for Detective Sparrow, although she has said during an interview at Goodreads that will not be the case.

Alice Edevane, on the other hand, is quite a character on her own. If we have reached a time when female dislikable characters are finally free to inhabit our books, then Alice is the very embodiment of that freedom. 1933 Alice, at least. As a teenager, she makes the world revolve around her and her daydreaming. As a well-known and settled crime writer, educated in an upper-class family, she still retains some traces of disdain that will make modern readers cringe… but love her. Morton makes a great job at making Alice a more complex and troubled character than she appears to be, and the access she grants us to Alice’s internal world will help us understand her better, even though we may not agree with her. Also, being a crime fiction writer, Alice offers some of the best comments on the genre, especially through her morally dubious detective Diggory Brent.

As a crime novel, The Lake House is just the perfect update of cosy reading. By including the troubled detective in the historical narration, Morton has managed to remain faithful to her origins while experimenting with the evolution of crime fiction. I have to admit that if you are a fan of Morton you will maybe glimpse at the ending coming, but you are very likely not to see it. She manages this by using different points of views and making the reader remember that a character’s narration is just that: their side of the story. There is also an improvement from her earlier works in the way she deals with morality. I think that by introducing Alice and her fictional detective Digorry Brent, Morton has found a space to develop a less rigid take on morality, much more in consonance with nowadays crime fiction. Sadie herself admits that “Alice had a nuanced outlook on matters of justice and its course”, and the very Alice says of her works:

They were the sort of crime novels reviewers liked to describe as “psychologically taunt” and “morally ambiguous”, whydunits as much as they were whos or hows. As she herself had famously said in an interview with the BBC, murder in and of itself was not engaging; it was the drive to kill, the human factor, the fervors and furies motivating the dreadful act that rendered it compelling.

I wholeheartedly recommend The Lake House to anyone looking for a great, chunky novel. I started reading it while I was taking some time off from my PhD, but I went back to work again while reading it. I remember the commute back home from the library, after spending more than six hours reading and writing, and my only wish was to curl up in bed and read The Lake House. I also recommend spoling yourself and getting the hardback edition, as it is beautifully designed both inside and outside, and it is quite light, so could carry with you without risking a back injury.

The Invisible Guardian Giveaway Winners

Here are the 5 lucky winners of an advanced review copy of Dolores Redondo’s novel The Invisible Guardian. You will all be notified via email today and you have 48 hours to reply. In case you don’t, another winner will be chosen. You were all assigned a number according to the order of your comments on the giveaway post:

  1. Rachel Hall.
  2. Derek Norton
  3. Mary Picken
  4. Mrs.P
  5. Michelle H.
  6. Lucy Andrew
  7. Naomi Frisby
  9. Abby
  10. MadameBibliolophile
  11. Pots of Tea
  12. Andy

And then I used the Random Number Generator to find the 5 winners:


  • Mrs. P
  • Lucy Andrew
  • Naomi Frisby
  • Abby
  • MadameBibliolophile

Congrats, everyone!!!


January Books

Hi, there!

January has been a great month for books, mainly because Christmas in Spain last until the 6th of January and it was my birthday on the 27th. But I also got some very interesting review copies from publishers, so thank you!


The Lake House by Kate Morton

I asked the Three Wise Men for Kate Morton’s latest work knowing that I would love it, but it was even better than I expected. The Lake House (2015) is Morton’s best work til now, and the edition is to die for. Highly recommended for book lovers in general.

Kate Morton The Lake House

Gloria Steinem’s WORKS

The boyfriend bought me Gloria Steinem’s biography My Life on the Road (2015) – as recommended by the one and only Margaret Atwood – for Christmas and a new 1985 edition of her iconic work Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions for my birthday.  I haven’t read anything by Steinem, so I am very excited to get to know both her as a feminist role model and an activist.


Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

My lovely baby brother – who is actually almost 22 but never mind – told me I could ask him for whatever I wanted for my birthday. After thinking of all the different shades of pink lipstick I could get I realised that there was only one thing I wanted: another book by Gone Girl’s author Gillian Flynn. I chose Dark Places (2009) as I heard the film adaptation starring Charlize Theron is a really good one and, since I knew I would end up watching it sooner rather than later, I would rather read the book first.

Flynn's Darkest Places


Borrowed from the Library

Bodies That Matter (1993) by Judith Butler and Historia de la sexualidad I (History of Sexuality Vol I, originally published in 1976, my edition is the 2006 Spanish translation by Ulises Guiñazú) by Michel Foucault are key reading for my thesis. I thought of buying them second-hand as they are both landmarks in postmodern theory, but I also love using libraries, and I don’t think I make the most of the access I have to quite a wide range of books. Also, if we do not use them, libraries will get no funding, no support and we all know what is happening in the UK right now. So, I borrowed both copies from my school library for a month. I have already read History of Sexuality and it is really, really good.

Library Books

For Review

I finally got a very advanced review copy of Sarah Hilary’s Marnie Rome #3 book Tastes Like Fear, which I can’t wait to read. I am a huge fan of the series, and if you haven’t read the two previous installments in the series I highly recommend you do before book 3 comes out on the 7th April, 2016.

The Pool’s founder Sam Baker got her crime novel The Woman Who Ran published and everyone says it’s one of the books of the year. I started it last night and I couldn’t be happier today is Sunday because it’s one good page-turner. Published on the 28th of January.

I was offered a review copy of Benjamin Black’s Even the Dead by Penguin Random House and I couldn’t refuse. I have had a love affair with Ireland ever since I can remember and Black’s hardboiled Quirke are the perfect way to get lost in mid-century Dublin. Also, he is a pathologist. need I say more? Published on the 28th May, 2015.

I discovered Where Love Begins by Judith Hermann (translated by Margaret Bettauer Dembo) at Savidge Reads and I immediately knew it was the kind of thriller/character study I needed to read. Also, it is a translated book, which would add some diversity to my TBR pile. Just perfect. Out in April 2016.

Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins was everywhere on Twitter last week and I couldn’t help myself. All I know it is a dystopian story set in California and this is Watkins’ second book, and first novel. Published on the 29th September 2015.

Books for review (January)

These are the new additions to my ever-growing TBR pile. Did you add anything to yours? Let us know in the comments below!

Exclusive Interview with Dolores Redondo, Author of The Invisible Guardian + Giveaway

A few weeks ago I read and reviewed a Spanish crime novel that left me almost speechless. El guardián invisible by Dolores Redondo has been on the Spanish best-selling lists for 3 years, and there is a reason why. You can check my spoiler-free review here if you missed it or download a promotional PDF here.

Now, the novel is being released in the UK next April by Harper Collins under the title The Invisible Guardian. To celebrate I have had the pleasure of exclusively interviewing Dolores Redondo and we are also giving away 5 copies of The Invisible Guardian, thanks to Hayley Camis from Harper Collins. Please read the following before entering:

  • We are giving away 5 copies of The Invisible Guardian by Dolores Redondo, each one to a different person.
  • This giveaway is UK-only.
  • To enter you just have to leave a comment below indicating that you live in the UK.
  • This competition closes on the 2nd of February at 23:30 GMT. Winners will be selected using the True Random Number Generator and notified via e-mail. If any of the winners were not to reply in 48 hours, another one would be selected.

Best of luck!

Dolores Redondo for Books & Reviews

When I first contacted Dolores’ agent, we reached an agreement that I would post the questions in Spanish to her, she would reply in Spanish as well, and then I would translate them into English for my readers. I hopeI have mantained Dolores’ passion for her female characters and the Baztán Valley. Welcome to B&R, Dolores!

The Invisible Guardian by Dolores Redondo. Courtesy of Harper Collins

The Invisible Guardian by Dolores Redondo. Courtesy of Harper Collins

Which was the inspiration for the Baztán trilogy and main character Amaia Salazar?

The trilogy was born out of a wish to write about different aspects of life and the traditional culture in the Basque Country and Navarra, an area in Spain with a different tradition, related to matriarchy, an important historical heritage, their own language, Euskera, and the consequences of having been the place where most witch trials were celebrated by the Spanish Inquisition; an abrupt – yet green – environment and the closeness to the French border make this a perfect place to speak about the magical tradition, which has merged here with Christianity and which is still alive nowadays. There was also a real life inspiration: a couple belonging to a magical sect sacrificed their 14-month old, a theme present in the trilogy: being hurt by those who should protect you – sadly something pretty in fashion right now – the perverted faith that justifies murder as an offer to the gods, demons or any other godly creature that could feel praised.

You make a great job of representing violence against women in different stages of their lives. But you also show that there is a way out, especially with the help of other women and that is something new in crime fiction. Could you tell us a bit more about this issue?

My work won an award from the Instituto de igualdad por la defensa de las víctimas (Equality Institute for the Defence of Victims), not a very bookish award, but one that makes me really proud.

Traditionally, women have been in charge of both businesses and the homes, since men were sailors who migrated to America for long periods of time, so feminine roles have never been seen as a challenge to men’s masculinities. It is true that women’s independence – women who lived alone, midwives, healers, all with an economic independence and a some kind of control over maternity even from the Middle Ages –led the Catholic Church to prosecute, condemn and burn dozen of my own ancestors for witchcraft. The novel – The Invisible Guardian – is set nowadays with an all-female family in a very similar environment, but also completely ware of others’ incursion on their own lives. This usually creates conflicts, but it extraordinarily strengthens women’s role in society, in their relationship to their partners, and professionally.

Dolores for B&R

Dolores Redondo. Courtesy of Pontas Agency

Amaia is a great detective, and despite that, she still has to face discrimination against her for being a woman from her male colleagues. How important was it for you to write a female detective and portrait the difficulties she faces?

Professional jealousy are something common to both men and women in their Jobs, but it is true that when Amaia is put in charge of an all-male Homicides division, she gets the feeling she has to prove her real value. I have had the pleasure of talking about this with some real-life detectives who admitted to feeling identified with the situation… All of this while trying to maintain a balance, because Amaia’s personal life is as fragile as her professional life is strong.

Maternity plays a key role in the story, very much influenced by the Catholic imaginery of Virgin Mary, but also by Pagan culture. Which difficulties did you find while trying to combine both modes of representation?

The truth is that I found no problem at all. The religion practiced in this area before Christianity was based on a Mother-Goddess to whom people asked for fecundity, easy births for cattle, good harvest, and to whom they offered local fruits. It is true some other goddesses existed, some of them monstrous, who have inspired the killer’s behaviour and identity in the novel. But the Mother-Goddess is the mother of the earth, it is also Virgin Mary, which is the most important goddess. Maternity is present in all of my novels, even when it implies crimes against someone’s own children. But there also many other aspects: women owning their own body, their decision to become a mother or not, society’s expectations, the difficulties of balancing a professional life and motherhood; but above all I focused the novel on the image of the monstrous mother, able to hurt her own child. So, I took the place’s tradition and resuscitated it in order to be able to include these mythological beliefs – which, by the way, are included in historical treaties – and establish a link with other European imaginaries that appear with different names, but that share their magical characteristics. I am sure many UK readers say: ‘I’ve heard those stories when I was young, about those monsters or magical creatures.’

Do you read crime fiction? Who are your favourite authors?

I read everything, not crime fiction only. I truly believe crime fiction writers should read about other issues and themes. But I confess I am a fan of P.D James, who I try to honour in my novels, Agatha Christie, Patricia Highsmith, Ruth Rendell, Thomas Harris…

This post is part of the UK blog tour for Dolores Redondo’s The Invisible Guardian. OUT on 23th April 2016. See more dates here:


It’s Monday! What are you reading? 

A 5* review is coming up soon at Books & Reviews, but meanwhile I wanted to share what I’m reading, because this time it’s not crime fiction or even contemporary fiction written by a woman – I am fine, don’t worry.

In the spirit of #ReadDiverse I took a look at my TBR pile and realised that I hadn’t read any sci-fi in a while. Not that I am too much of a fan, but it is a genre that I closely associate with crime fiction, since both belong to popular literature and are discredited as ‘bad/cheap’. So, here I am, reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) by Philip K. Dick, the landmark that inspired Blade Runner (1982), yet another classic that I haven’t read – yet. Yesterday I managed to read almost a hundred pages, it is that good. I love the story and it reminds me of classic crime fiction.


El guardián invisible (The Invisible Guardian) by Dolores Redondo (Baztán Trilogy #1)

As many of you already know I’m Spanish, but I tend to avoid Spanish literature as much as possible and have done so since I can remember. I read better and quicker in English, and I feel much more at ease in the Anglo-speaking world. However, last year I heard about a crime fiction trilogy called ‘the Baztán trilogy’ by Dolores Redondo. I was not that impressed until I visited La semana negra –’The Noir Festival’– where many independent bookshop owners recommended the trilogy to me the very same day the author was at the festival meeting readers and signing books. So, I bought the first installment in the series, El guardián invisible, got it signed, and I shelved it. Last week Harper Collins informed me that they are publishing the English translation under the name The Invisible Guardian – literal translation of the original Spanish title– and I thought it was about time I read it and shared it with you.

 El guardián invisible, or The Invisible Guardian, tells the story of Detective Inspector Amaia Salazar, who has to go back home to the Baztán valley to investigate the brutal murder of teenager girls. This valley is located in Navarra, in the North-East of Spain, a place very similar to where I live, in which celtic and pagan traditions have merged with the more dominant Catholic ideology for which Spain is known for, creating a very special environment. Imagine cloudy, misty, and wet days for most of the year, deep forests, and an over-all image of green and humidity tainting your view. Welcome to the North of Spain.

The Baztán Valley

The Baztán Valley: from Pamplona to France. Source: Editorial Buen Camino.

The novel has one of the most complex and troubled detectives I have encountered in the last years. Even though Amaia is young, has a successful career as a homicides detective, and is happily married to James, an American sculptor, she has a troubled past. When she goes back to the Baztán valley, we are introduced to her two sisters, Flora and Ros, and her aunt, Engrasi, a wonderful group of women with very different points of view, but who stick together through thick-and-thin. Previous to my reading I had heard praise for the novels precisely because of these women and, although I had my doubts throughout my reading, now that I have finished the novel I can say that they are something special, and something never seen before in crime fiction. If the detective is usually a loner, or has a professional team in the best of cases, Redondo has created a detective with a close female family that will help her no matter how terrible the argument during last night’s dinner. Closely related to the family is the theme of motherhood, with which I had quite a troubled relationship while reading. Without giving anything away, Redondo makes motherhood a central theme for young couple Amaia and James, and since the victims are young teenagers, the reader is exposed to that terrible discourse of ‘asking for it’ that seems to be so prevalent in our rape culture.

The crimes were also one of a kind, with Redondo offering us very detailed descriptions of the bodies and the crime scenes. This is the moment when I warn readers about the gritty descriptions, because even though we access them through Amaia’s point of view, we are given all the information about what happened to the girls’ bodies. These details are never voyeuristic, and they are all relevant to solve the case, but I can see why many readers would not like them. But, if you are a crime fiction reader, you are more than likely to have encountered these descriptions before. You should be fine.

As I have mentioned before, the mix of the celtic and pagan traditions and mythology with Catholic ones is typical of the Northern provinces of Spain, such as Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, the Basque Country, and Navarra: Imagine Irish mythology and the old, obscure Catholic representations of the Saints and Virgin Mary. This has created a unique society, and a very interesting one for feminism. Redondo has been inspired by the supposed matriarchal traditions from these societies, even though this idea is historically inaccurate. Despite this, Northern women are represented in the collective Spanish imaginary as strong and resourceful, an idea that inspired all the characters in the novel, who move in an inbetweenness of contradictory pagan and Catholic role models for women: the mother of Christ vs. the strong, independent woman, the witch vs. the nymph, the whore vs. the Virgin. And so on, and so forth. Even though this was hard to read, it is an accurate portrait of the clash of two cultural constructions, and the clash between tradition and modernity. I had a hard time making up my mind about these issues, along with that of motherhood, because although they are terrible views on womanhood, they reflect the actual conflict in contemporary Spanish art in which women are caught between very different representations in which the guilt-ridden Catholic imaginary is still very present, and very powerful.

And, finally, Baztán, the real main character in the narrative, shaping everyone’s identity and coming out of the pages as a haunting place. I especially enjoyed the descriptions of the forests, the rain, and the cold weather, and they have remained with me. British readers will find themselves at home, maybe a bit too much. Forget flamenco, forget sunny Costa Brava. This is the Spain of deep forests, bagpipes, the Camino de Santiago, hot chocolate, and 200 rainy days a year.

Author Dolores Redondo by the Baztán river. Source: El País.

Author Dolores Redondo by the Baztán river. Source: El País.

I throughly enjoyed reading in Spanish, and reading something by a Spanish woman writer who is enjoying a massive success. The Bazatán trilogy is on its 32nd edition, with more than 600,000 copies sold only in Spain, and ready to be adapted into movies by the produces of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Both Redondo and Detective Amaia Salazar have changed Spanish literature forever, and they have made this Spanish reader regain hope in her country’s literature.

Interested in getting an early copy? Books & Reviews will host a giveaway this January. Stay tuned by subscribing, following the blog on Twitter or on Facebook.


The Invisible Guardian will be released by Harper Collins in the UK on the 23rd of April, 2015.