Updated: Mar 9

I'm reading The Book of Perilous Dishes as part of my very first readalong on Twitter. The event has been kindly organised by Neem Tree Press and will run from 3rd to 9th March 2022 to celebrate the publication of this wonderful book in English.

Book Cover: The Book of Perilous Dishes by Doina Rusti

Summary of the book

The Book of Perilous Dishes is a fantastic historical fantasy written by Doina Rusti and translated from Romanian into English by James Christian Brown.

The Book of Perilous Dishes is an atmospheric magical tale based on real historical events and Romanian culinary recipes, set in Bucharest, 1798. It follows the story of Pâtca, a fourteen-year-old initiated in the occult arts, who uses her powers to avenge the death of her uncle and retrieve a magical recipe book (the ‘Book of Perilous Dishes’) left in his keeping which has been stolen by Silica the cook. Travelling from Romania to France and on to Germany to do so, Pâtca’s family’s true past and powers are revealed...

Image of old fashioned buildings in Romania
Image by Hari Nandakumar on Unsplash

About Doina Rusti

Doina Rusti is one of Romania’s most successful writers of historical and speculative fiction. Known for the originality of her novels, Rusti is the recipient of many major Romanian awards, and her books have been translated into multiple languages. Rusti is known for exploring aspects of fantasy and the supernatural, as well as tackling darker themes such as political corruption.

About James Christian Brown

James Christian Brown, originally from Scotland, has lived in Romania since 1993 and teaches in the English Department of the University of Bucharest. His most recent book-length translations from Romania to English are The Tiger of Our Town by Gianina Cărbunariu (2016), the volume of philosophical talks About the World We Live In by Alexandru Dragomir (2017), and Doina Rusti’s novel The Book of Perilous Dishes (Neem Tree Press, 2022).

Neem Tress Press Readalong

You can follow the readalong on Twitter.

Thursday 3rd March - Card 1 - Page 11

The start of the story gives us a glimpse at how resilient the main character is and how strong she'll have to be. It's clear her heart is breaking, watching her grandmother being taken away, but she knows what she has to do to survive...

She has to leave this part of her life behind and start a new journey.

I think this isn't her first experience of persecution and death. And it won't be her last, either. However, I think losing her grandmother will be an event that has a huge impact on her for the rest of her life.

Friday 4th March - Card 2 - Page 47

I think I would have continued with my original plan to discreetly move the bodies I'd found.

Based on the events of the previous night, Pâtca isn't safe in the city. I think she stands out like a sore thumb, so she should keep her head down, as the last thing she wants is to be accused of murdering her own uncle.

I think the poison is either for the Cook's captor or for Caterina... Or a dinner guest that the Cook will be preparing a meal for.

I think the Cook's wife bought the poison on his behalf so that it can be put into somebody's food... Maybe Ismail Bina? Pâtca's captor from the night before...

Saturday 5th March - Card 3 - Page 50

Pâtca's story begins on this road, her grandmother, Maxima, was born here. Pâtca seems somehow bound to Murta Street, like it's in her veins.

Even though she's never set foot on Murta Street, she's had the road, and the city, drummed into her by Maxima... Almost like it's her destiny to go there.

I think her grandmother has been slowly preparing her for travelling to Bucharest. And now that the time has come, she's ready to go.

I think Pâtca will find these elusive houses eventually. But it might not necessarily be as straightforward as you might think.

I think the houses will reveal themselves when the time is right; when Pâtca is ready for what might come when she does eventually find them.

Sunday 6th March - Card 4 - Page 74

Sator seems to be some sort of power or essence. Something that can be harnessed by those who are gifted or trained.

Maybe something that can be used by people to defend themselves or do their bidding?

Pâtca first calls on Sator to help her defend herself when she's in a potentially dangerous situation. However, she doesn't know how to control Sator...

This makes me wonder whether a person has to be trained to be able to control Sator. So, does this essence only lend itself to those who need help and are worthy of receiving that help?

Monday 7th March - Card 5 - Page 90

Not sure if I've got a favourite recipe from The Book of Perilous Dishes... However, the gut salad stood out.

"It was a rare dish, also known as errator pinniger, because the patient's wanderings took wings, transforming dreams into nightmares. The salad is made from leaks and parsley, together with other green vegetables available at the same time, but the principal ingredient is lamb guts, heavily salted and fried in oil."

Neither the ingredients nor the outcome of eating this dish really appeal to me... But the nonchalant way Pâtca talks about this (and other dishes in the story) really got me.

She seems to sort of know how to make a lot of the recipes in The Book of Perilous Dishes. She's had them passed down to her by Maxima and her little Uncle, who got them from their parents and family.

An interesting family heirloom, but not one I would want to fall victim to!

Tuesday 8th March - Card 6 - Page 126

I think that Pâtca feels like the cook doesn't really understand what The Book of Perilous Dishes actually is or what it can actually do.

I think she's concerned he doesn't know what he's doing and could inadvertently cause some real damage.

I think the cook is observing Pâtca in the same way she's been watching him. Him giving her the ladybirds and then later asking whether she'd used them almost felt like a dare. Like he wants to see what she's capable of.

I'm undecided whether Pâtca's feelings towards the cook will change. I think he'll either become a mentor-slash-ally figure in her life, pushing her to fulfill her potential. Or he'll become her competition, her enemy.

Either way, I think he'll help her reach her full power and potential, it's just a matter of whether he does this intentionally or not.

Wednesday 9th March - Card 7 - Page 235

This isn't my first experience reading translated fiction (and certainly won't be my last). But it is my first experience reading a book that was translated from Romanian into English. And I absolutely loved it!

James Brown, the translator, has done a fantastic job bringing the characters' personalities alive in English.

In his translator's note, Brown says that he chose to keep some of the time-and-place-specific words and phrases, that Ruști used in Romanian, in English.

I love this nod toward the source text (the Romanian) because it brings us, the readers, closer to the author, Ruști, and her fabulous cast of characters.

I like that Brown also points out that the confusion felt by those of us reading in English when we see these Romanian words are "equally puzzling to most Romanians nowadays too".

Keeping some words in Romanian also helps add to the story's atmosphere. It's a fast-paced tale and we meet lots of characters in rapid succession. We're also privy to Pâtca's thoughts about those she meets.

The pace of meeting all of these characters, the events in Pâtca's life once she leaves for Bucharest and the multitude of languages that she hears in the city all create a mild feeling of confusion.

And I think Brown's choice to keep some Romanian words adds to this general feeling of confusion. Pâtca, and the readers, don't know who to trust, who killed her little Uncle, is anyone who they really say they are? We're not sure.

The glossary and list of characters at the end of the story really help you navigate Pâtca's story and provide a bit of clarity when you need it.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Book of Perilous Dishes. The story is entertaining, Pâtca is quick-witted and clever, and it has just the right amount of magic and mystery to keep you reading.

I want to say a big thank you to Doina Rusti, James Christian Brown, and Neem Tree Press for giving me the opportunity to take part in the readalong for The Book of Perilous Dishes.

My full review will come shortly!

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  • Cathy Castling

Updated: Mar 6

Book cover of The Darlings by Angela Jackson


When Mark Darling is fifteen years old, he is the golden boy, captain of the school football team, admired by all who know him. Until he kills his best friend in a freak accident.

He spends the next decade drifting between the therapy couch and dead-end pursuits. Then along comes Sadie. A mender by nature, she tries her best to fix him, and has enough energy to carry them both through the next few years.

One evening, Mark bumps into an old schoolfriend, Ruby. She saw the accident first hand. He is pulled towards her by a force stronger than logic: the universal need to reconcile one’s childhood wounds. This is his chance to, once again, feel the enveloping warmth of unconditional love. But can he leave behind the woman who rescued him from the pit of despair, the wife he loves? His unborn child?

This is a story about how childhood experience can profoundly impact how we behave as adults. It’s a story about betrayal, infidelity and how we often blinker ourselves to see a version of the truth that is more palatable to us.


I read and reviewed this book as part of the #damppebblesblogtours all of the views expressed below are my own. Thank you to Angela Jackson for my copy of the book and Emma Welton from Damppebblesblogtours for organising this tour.

The Darlings by Angela Jackson tells the story of Mark, a troubled man who seems to have lost his way after a series of traumatising events during his life. Mark's troubles started when he accidentally killed his best friend during a school PE lesson, this was closely followed by the death of his parents. It seems that Mark is stuck at rock bottom until he meets Sadie, the woman who drags Mark out of his despair and by all accounts seems to fix him.

The story is set years later when Mark bumps into an old school friend, Ruby, who was there the day of the accident and is able to give Mark an insight into what happened from an outsider's perspective. Their chance meeting leads to a drawn-out affair that Mark, being married, cannot fully commit himself to.

I have to start off by saying that Angela Jackson has created a very believable and grounded set of characters in The Darlings; they may not always do the nicest of things to one another, but this gives them a realness and a grittiness.

The story is told mainly from Mark's perspective, so we get to know and understand his inner thoughts and feelings. And while I don't justify his affair, once I had understood Mark and his past, I could sort of understood why he fell for Ruby. In Mark's eyes, Ruby holds all of the answers and can shed light for him on that fateful day when they were children - something that Sadie can't do - and this seems to be a big motivation for starting the affair.

I thought Ruby was an interesting character; when we first meet her, she's independent and strong. She's working in a job she enjoys and isn't yet married, she has an aura of empowerment around her which I quite liked. But the way she developed as a character was quite unexpected for me. She really falls for Mark and I was never quite sure if he truly felt the same way about her.

Out of all the characters, my favourite was Ava, Sadie's younger sister, a future tennis star. Again, I like her realness and no-bullshit attitude to her life. I also liked her relationship with Mark; the two seem to have an understanding that Mark lacks with the rest of Sadie's family. Their unspoken agreement around the Wii console and tennis game at Mark and Sadie's house was quite touching - they didn't need to say much to one another but you can feel their bond.

I think Angela Jackson has created a captivating story that deals with the difficulties and struggles that some people face in their everyday lives (a sort of warts and all approach). But this has allowed her to truly dig under the skin of the characters, especially Mark and Ruby, and help the reader understand the decisions that they've made. While it's not a fast-paced story, you still get the kick of adrenaline around what will happen to Mark and Ruby's relationship and whether Sadie will ever find out...


Selfie of Angela Jackson, author of The Darlings

About Angela Jackson:

Angela Jackson is a former psychology lecturer and teacher trainer. Her debut novel The Emergence of Judy Taylor won the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s First Book Award and was Waterstones’ Scottish Book of the Year.

The Darlings is her second novel.

Originally from the north of England, she now lives with her family in Edinburgh.

Social Media:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AngelaJ

Website: http://www.angela-jackson.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/angelaedinburgh/

Purchase Links:

Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/3cpZ7gk

Amazon US: https://amzn.to/3v3OgiD

Waterstones: https://bit.ly/3v409Vw

Hive.co.uk: https://bit.ly/34ZEaVq

Publishing Information:

Published in paperback and digital formats by Eye Books on 21st June 2021

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  • Cathy Castling

Updated: Mar 6

Tragedy brought them together. The truth will tear them apart.

It’s supposed to be Laura’s dream holiday: a trip to France with a group of friends to see their favourite band play live. But the holiday quickly turns to disaster, and Laura is left haunted by terrifying images from the worst night of her life.

When Laura finds an online support group for victims like her, she’s not convinced it will help. But when Sandrine replies to her message, she seems to understand what Laura’s going through, in a way that no one else can.

Soon, Laura and Sandrine are sharing their deepest thoughts and feelings with each other. But one of them has a terrible secret – she isn’t who she says she is. And once the twisted truth is revealed, there’s no going back…


I read and reviewed this book as part of the #damppebblesblogtours all of the views expressed below are my own. Thank you to Diane Jeffrey for my copy of the book and Emma Welton from Damppebblesblogtours for organising this tour.

The Silent Friend by Diane Jeffrey is one of the most intense and captivating books that I’ve read in a while. I powered through it in two days and it was an emotional read. And it’s my first five-star rating on Goodreads!

It tells the story of Laura and Sandrine, two women linked by a terrorist attack in France. Although linked by this attack, the two women come from very different backgrounds and have two very different experiences of this terrible event. They find each other as they’re both trying to come to terms with this attack and in each other, they find a sort of peace.

The narrative is told from the perspectives of both women, so you get to know who they both are and how they've both been affected by this tragic terrorist attack in France. One of the big twists in this story happens quite early on, however, the story doesn't lose its momentum. It continues to grip you even after this big twist is revealed and the second big twist left me with my mouth hanging open.

I thought that Jeffrey dealt with some fairly difficult and traumatising themes in a thoughtful manner. She has created two very empathetic and realistic characters in Sandrine and Laura.

Diane Jeffrey’s writing is vivid and evocative - I had tears in my eyes throughout. My heart was beating fast during the tense scenes in the novel - Jeffrey's descriptions transported me to the situation. And my heart absolutely broke for both Laura and Sandrine multiple times throughout their stories. Despite the difficult and upsetting event, The Silent Friend is a story of resilience in the face of diversity and the power that friendship (no matter what form it takes) really can help you in overcoming some of your most difficult moments. The Silent Friend is one of those stories that stays with you for a long time.

I enjoyed Diane Jeffrey’s writing in this novel so much that I actually bought one of her other novels, The Guilty Mother, and dove straight into it once I'd finished The Silent Friend.


Diane Jeffrey is a USA Today bestselling author.

She grew up in North Devon and Northern Ireland. She now lives in Lyon, France, with her husband and their three children, Labrador and cat.

Diane's is the author of four psychological thrillers, all of which were Kindle bestsellers in the UK, the USA, Canada and Australia.

THE GUILTY MOTHER, Diane's third book, was a USA Today bestseller and spent several weeks in the top 100 Kindle books in the UK.

Her latest psychological thriller, THE SILENT FRIEND, is set in Belfast and Lyon. It was published in ebook in November 2020 with the paperback and audiobook to follow in 2021.

She is currently working on her fifth psychological thriller.

Diane is an English teacher. When she's not working or writing, she likes swimming, running and reading. She loves chocolate, beer and holidays.

Above all, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends.

Author website: www.dianejeffrey.com Readers can also follow Diane on Twitter @dianefjeffrey or on Facebook.com/dianejeffreyauthor

Social Media:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/dianefjeffrey

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dianejeffreyauthor

Website: https://www.dianejeffrey.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/dianefjeffrey/

Purchase Links:

Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/300kiid

Amazon US: https://amzn.to/3sB34EA

Kobo: http://bit.ly/3r1yHH2

Google Books: http://bit.ly/3r45Th5

Apple Books: http://apple.co/2NFS2iC

Waterstones: http://bit.ly/2NDDVub

Hive.co.uk: http://bit.ly/3dUmSi8

Publishing Information:

Published by HQ in digital and audio formats on 18th March 2021

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