Portrait of a Murderer – A Christmas Crime Story by Anne Meredith

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Portrait of a Murderer – A Christmas Crime Story by Anne Meredith

I have been a lover of Christmas Crime novels for many a year and was delighted when the British Library Publishing sent me a copy of Portrait of a Murderer by Anne Meredith. This book marks the 50th in the series these really capture the crime writing of time gone by and with this current release in time for the festive period it is the perfect fireside read.

I have been lucky during a previous Christmas to take part in a murder mystery which took place at a country house during the Christmas holidays and in Portrait of a Murderer you really get the feel for this.

It is Christmas 1931 and like every Christmas the Gray family gather to celebrate at the home of their father Adrian Gray a rather unlikeable fellow, mind you his offspring are not that pleasant either. At the start we get to meet each of the family in turn in all their glory (said rather loosely). So now we have the full family tree and all their personalities. While I was reading this introduction to the family I had in my mind Cluedo, yes we have all played this over Christmas and some of us still do. But here Adrian Gray will meet his death at the hands of one of his own Children. It is an instantaneous murder and unplanned. But who did and what was the reason. Each of his children have their own agenda and would like to get their hands on his money. Adrian seems to have been at loggerheads with each of his children and it seems they attend Christmas at his country home through gritted teeth.

The reasons why several of the family would wish him harm are many and all have money at the heart of this. Whether it is because one is being blackmailed or through bad business dealings and then there is one who just wants to grab his father’s cash and leave his wife and children and all his responsibilities and fee to Paris and start a new life.

So now it begins and pretty soon an arrest is made and all the evidence looks damming for the accused and the gallows now look a dead cert. But hang on there not all is as it seems and one family member sees a flaw in the evidence and the real murderer may escape justice and an innocent person my hang in their place.

This is such an accomplished crime novel and a compelling read of a dysfunctional family at war with their father. This is an ideal Christmas read as there is more to this story than just a murder mystery. How Meredith managed to create each of the characters in their own unique way and bring them to life. Christmas is a time for family to get together but for some there are dark feelings lurking at the back of their minds and Meredith has brought this together brilliantly. If you are being forced to attend a family Christmas when you would rather not, then get a copy of this book and settle down with a glass and the tin of chocolates and enjoy Portrait of a Murderer. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

288 Pages.

Portrait of a Murderer by Anne Meredith is published by British Library Publishing and was published on 25th September 2017 and is available through The British Library and Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

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Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Just recently I had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer Egan at BBC Radio 4 as part of Bookclub. The programme was about her Pulitzer Prize winning novel A Visit from the Goon Squad. Now Jennifer Egan returns with her first historical novel Manhattan Beach (Corsair) a beautifully written and constructed novel set with a backdrop of the Great Depression and then World War Two.

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The story starts at around the time of the Great Depression and an Irish family and Anna Kerrigan is very close to her father Eddie, times are hard and now Anna accompanies her father and visits the local mobster Dexter. Fast forward and it is now the time of the Second World War and Anna is now 19-years-old and working as the only woman diver at the Brooklyn Naval Yard where she is assisting in the building of the Battleship Missouri. But there is more to this powerful novel than you think. Her father disappeared six years earlier and now Anna is just discovering what really lay behind her father’s sudden and unexplained disappearance all she recalls is her father leaving the apartment as he usually did that day but never to return. You can clearly see that is haunting Anna and she wants to know what happened to her beloved father.

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For Anna realisation is that she now has to support her mother and her disabled sister Lydia, now her life is not as she planned or hoped for. Rarely visiting anyone or even venturing too far. She just wants to know what happened to her father. To get to the truth sometimes you have to carry out an act of desperation and later revulsion at what you have done in the hope of getting to the truth. She meets Dexter at a night club. He has no idea who she is. Anna will do anything for the truth.

Egan clearly has put in an enormous amount of time in research of this period of the 19th Century and it shows in what is an absorbing  and compelling read and a handsomely constructed A novel that is not to be taken lightly, Egan has taken her time in writing Manhattan Beach and the quality of her writing is flawless. An outstanding read. Different it may be from A Visit from the Goon Squad but a success it is. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

448 Pages.

 Thank you Corsair for the review copy of Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan.

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan is published by Corsair and was published on 3rd October 2017 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

 

 

Islander – A Journey Around Our Archipelago – Patrick Barkham

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Islander – A Journey Around Our Archipelago by Patrick Barkham

How many times have you heard the expression ‘We are an island race’ This is of course true but how many of you actually know how many islands there are around Britain? The answer is a staggering 6,289 but not all are inhabited. For the nature writer Patrick Barkham who has been shortlisted for his books The Butterfly Isles and Badgerlands returns with Islander-A Journey Around our Archipelago were he island hops to discover how life really is and the natural history of the Islands that make up our wonderful country.

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I have been lucky enough to island hop around our coastline while studying wildlife but here in this outstanding book Patrick Barkham visits some islands we may never get the chance to visit, such as South Ronaldsay, Eigg, St. Kilda, and also Rathlin among others. Along the way he talks about the ecology of the islands and culture as well as meeting the wildlife of the islands.

Anyone who has watch Whisky Galore will know the story was written by Sir Compton Mackenzie who loved islands so much he actually liked buying islands as well this may account for his love of isolation. Along the way Barkham meets the people of the islands who live and work on the islands. Some of the islands he visits can be described as remote. It can be a hard life and the weather extreme and some of the islands can easily be cut off for days or weeks at a time. Then of course there is the uniqueness of each of the islands and also the geo politics. The people work the land but they also have to run the islands as well.

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Some of my favourite islands are those on the West Coast of Scotland and also the Scilly Islands. Life can be extreme to say the least but time spent on these islands changes you as a person. What really stands out for me is Barkham’s writing on natural history aspects of the islands and how species have developed away from the mainland.

I am keeping my fingers crossed that Patrick Barkham will make the longlist for the 2018 Wainwright Prize with this wonderful account of just a few of our islands dotted around Britain’s coastline.

368 Pages.

 Thank you Lamorna Elmer and Granta Books for the review copy of Islander by Patrick Barkham

Islander – A Journey Around Our Archipelago by Patrick Barkham is published by Granta Books and was published on 5th October 2017 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

Whiteout by Ragnar Jónasson

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Whiteout by Ragnar Jónasson

 

The Dark Iceland Series of crime novels is one of the best series I have enjoyed. Now the master of Icelandic Crime Noir returns for the fifth instalment with Whiteout. I have praised the writing of Ragnar Jónasson in my previous reviews and now I am just word blind except to say if you have not yet read any of the series then you must have been locked in a freezer because Whiteout is just chilling to the bone. This is pure classic crime fiction.

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Do not worry if you have not read any of the previous four in the series as they can be read as standalone books. But if you want to binge read over the festive period then I cannot recommend highly enough the writing of Jónasson, he manages to reach out to the reader in a way that I have not discovered in any other series of books.

Ari Thór is looking forward to spending Christmas with his pregnant girlfriend Kristin, but then the body of a young woman has been found at the foot of cliffs near a desolate village. Ari has been called in to assist with the case. Was this a case of suicide or something more sinister.

This is winter on Iceland so it bleak and the conditions are harsh and unforgiving. But This is an unexplained death and it needs to be investigated. Do not expect a thunderous pace to Whiteout as Jónasson has crafted this to be an old school detective novel and there is real pleasure to be had in reading, prepare for a few false leads along the way. Then it becomes apparent that this woman died in exactly the same place as her mother and sister. What made these three women from the same family take their own lives here. Or did they.

The desolation and isolation of this part of Iceland become apparent and add to this just who does Ari Thór trust in this case? So what are the characters involved hiding. You just know there are secrets being hidden away. Christmas is fast approaching and this a sad case and they want answers quickly and a resolution to the case. There is something about the village and its inhabitants, creepy and odd spring to mind yet they intrigued me. This is a book that will bring the reader in and hold them until you have reached the very final sentence. This is what makes this such a great read. Delivers on every level.

This is a crime novel par excellence it needs to be savoured like fine wine such is the brilliant writing of Ragnar Jónasson. This is a book that heralds winter reading a real fireside treat. Get comfortable with your favourite drink and prepare for a classic. Yes, I am an unashamed fan of Ragnar Jónasson’s writing and already looking forward to seeing what comes next. Whiteout is one of the best crime books of 2017. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

 276 Pages.

Thank you to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for the advanced review copy of Whiteout and to Anne Cater for arranging the blog tour.

Whiteout by Ragnar Jónasson is published by and was published on 3rd August 2017 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

BOOK GIVEAWAY PRIZE DRAW.

Today I am offering one lucky reader the chance to win a copy of Whiteout by Ragnar Jónasson. Just head over to my Twitter page @thelastword1962 and follow and Retweet the pinned tweet that has my review of Whiteout. The draw will close at 7pm 1st December. Normal T&Cs apply.

 

How to follow the Whiteout Blog Tour.

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This is Going to Hurt – Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay

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This is Going to Hurt – Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay

Anyone who uses the NHS marvels at the incredible work of the nurses and doctors who look after us, but what is it really like from the point of view of a junior doctor. Along comes Adam Kay with his laugh out loud This is Going to Hurt (Picador) that was released in early September. In recent weeks Adam has won the Books Are My Bag Non-Fiction Book of the Year, the Books Are My Bag Readers’ Choice Award and also Winner of Blackwell’s Debut Book of the Year. Not a bad return for a debut about a junior doctor. Actually it is just brilliant in every respect.

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There were times when I was reading this that I was laughing so much I had tears in my eyes not sure what my fellow passengers must have thought on my daily commute to and from work. But at the same time I had tears for very different reasons. Just the pure emotion and also heartbreaking. These are the diaries of Adam Kay when he was a junior doctor for six years.

I said to one of my bookish friends on Twitter that I was going to send a copy to Jeremy Hunt (Health Secretary), well I can now reveal here that I actually did just that, whether the book actually reached him personally is another matter. But I carried out my threat as I believe he and other government ministers should read this outstanding and brilliant book.

Here are his diary entries from 2004 to 2010 after which he gave up his job suddenly and very sadly.  Now he writes and my goodness does he write. Though Kay is extremely funny in his writing there is a very serious side to this book and he uses it to send a message to those in power and how the NHS is on the verge of collapse despite those in government denying this for their own agenda.

There is one part that has stayed with me and it is when Adam has just ended yet another very long shift on the wards and is so exhausted that he falls asleep in his car. He has not left the car park at the hospital. He is woken up by the registrar on Christmas Day asking why he is late for his next shift. Then he falls asleep at various points. If this does not get a message across as to just how hard these doctors and nurses are working and to the point of sheer mental and physical exhaustion, then nothing will. These dedicated people are not just human they are super human. They are there to put us back together when things go wrong for whatever reason.

I am not one for watching these medical dramas on TV as I have seen them working at first hand on my over recent years and to me each and every one is a hero and should treated as such.

If you read one book before the end of this year, please make it This is Going to Hurt I promise you will fall over laughing it will make you cry laughing and it will make you angry at the way the NHS is being managed. It is one of my 15 books of 2017. You will not be disappointed. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

288 Pages.

This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay is published by Picador and was published on 7th September 2017 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

 

 

 

Publisher Spotlight – Candlestick Press

 

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Publisher Spotlight – Candlestick Press

It was the run up to Christmas 2014 and I was looking for a Christmas card but something unique and different from the normal Christmas cards that we buy. I was in  Waterstones bookstore in Exeter and came across The Christmas Wren a small pamphlet size booklet and is written by Gillian Clarke in response to Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales a beautiful look back at a Welsh Christmas through the eyes of a child. Magical time of year on wonder, snow and baubles. Published by Candlestick Press. This was just what I was looking for. The response was one of real joy. Every Christmas since I have bought a number of these and sent them either on their own or along with a card. The beauty of these pamphlets is that they come complete with their own matching bookmark and envelope.

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Just recently I was delighted to receive in the post a package from Candlestick Press containing some of their recent releases and they are just magical. Poetry and short stories that will be cherished for many years. The idea of sending one in the post to a loved one for any occasion will be a delight to anyone who receives one. So just who are Candlestick Press?

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Candlestick Press are a small independent publisher based in Nottingham and were founded in 2008. The team consists of four dedicated people in Di Slaney (Publisher), Kathy Towers (Assistant Editor) and two admin assistants. Their aim is simple to spread the joy of poetry to adults and children alike who love poetry and or may be just beginning their journey in to enjoying poetry. These small pamphlets are just ideal for bedtime reading or like I have been doing and that is enjoying them on journeys.

They have published so many of these beautiful pamphlets on a wide range of topics from Christmas to Cricket, from Dogs to Sheep and even Clouds. With the festive period now upon us this is an ideal time to think of sending cards to loved ones and friends. But there is something a little different from Christmas Cards and that is one from Candlestick Press.

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Christmas Garland – Ten Evergreen Poems

Ten new poems by contemporary poets celebrating the natural world and how it enriches the idea of Christmas. One the darkest day of the year, the ancient tradition of ‘bringing in the greens’ is a sign that Christmas is close.

Christmas Stocking – Five Festive Poems for Children – Selected by George Szirtes.

We all enjoyed opening our Christmas Stockings on Christmas morning. This is a wonderful and delightful way of bringing the excitement of Christmas to your children as the big day approaches. Perfect to read before bedtime.

Christmas Crackers – Ten Poems to Surprise and Delight

From busy Christmas malls to the bah humbugs this specially commissioned collection is to be enjoyed and will bring the festive period closer. These poems are just wonderful.

Fourteen Festive Sonnets – Selected and Introduced by James Nash

From a department store’s reluctant Father Christmas to a herd of ponies that break loose from their hobbles to gallop to freedom. A lonely house waiting for snow and the quiet company of a Christmas tree. A wondrous collection with Christmas at its very heart.

Holly and Ivy by Sean O’Brien

We all have sung The Holly and the Ivy at Christmas some of us still do. But here is a contemporary and original take on the old tale. A distant father, a vodka-fuelled stepmother, a fall of snow and some carol singers who are not quite what they seem. Get comfortable and to be enjoyed with a cup of your favourite drink. Log fire is optional. This I loved and will love every Christmas from here on.

 Candlestick Press have poetry and short story pamphlets to cover almost everything. Among some of my favourites are:

The Wood in Winter by John Lewis-Stempel

From the Waintwright Prize Winner writer, comes a beautiful piece of nature writing focused on a wood through the bleak midwinter. Looking at traditions of times gone by and his close encounters of the wildlife that inhabit the wood through this time of year. With illustrations by the wonderful Angela Harding. This is a little book that will be treasured by anyone who loves nature writing at its very best.

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Ten Poems about Birds

Ten beautiful poems about birds. Those remarkable of creatures that brighten our everyday world. From The Tawny Owl to the Snipe and then the Swallow. With contributions from John Clare, Emily Dickenson, Beautiful poems and words to treasure. A donation will be made to The Owls Trust.

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Ten Poems about Sheep – Introduced by Alison O’Neill

We tend to take Sheep for granted, they grace our landscape but how many of us actually much about Sheep and the vital contribution they make to the countryside. These poems reflect just that and the hardships that it takes to looking after Sheep. Introduced by Shepherdess and textile designer Alison O’Neill who can be found on Twitter ( @woolismybread )  posting the most remarkable photos of her life as a shepherdess in the beautiful Lakeland fells.

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These are just a small selection of the poetry pamphlets available to buy direct. Your local bookshop may even have some in stock. Alternatively have a look at their website: Candlestick Press Each of the pamphlets cost under £5.00 and they are more than a worthy gift, they will be treasured. I have already bought a selection ready to send to friends and loved ones this Christmas and I am looking forward to seeing more releases through 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Devil’s Day – Andrew Michael Hurley

 

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Devil’s Day by Andrew Michael Hurley

The follow up to the Costa Book Award winning The Lonely is Devil’s Day by Andrew Michael Hurley. This is a dark and atmospheric creepy novel based in a valley called the Endlands and the bleak landscape mirrors the horrors that locals hide.

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 It is autumn and John Prescott has returned to the valley to gather his sheep from the moor for the winter, he has been doing this for many a year but this time something is different, he has brought with him his wife who is pregnant. Now his grandfather (the gaffer) has died and also this is the time for the annual Devil’s Day. Some of the locals still talk and carry out the slaughter of a lamb this according to folklore will keep the devil away. John is arranging the funeral for ‘the gaffer’ while some of the locals from this bleak outpost are preparing the local Devil’s Day ritual.

It was about 100 years ago that the locals believe the devil came to Endlands and took a sheep as disguise during the cold snowy winter and a number of mysterious deaths occurred. Now the locals carry on the tradition of Devil’s Day in songs and the taking of the first lamb of the season.

A dark and sinister story of the past and present traditions and folklore. For Katherine she longs to get this visit over with and head back to her own life away from the bleak moors and valleys. She does not belong here with past feuds and their lifestyle. They have a child one the way and she wants their normal life back.

The novel started slowly and it builds as you get further in to the story and there is tension and it builds as the story progresses. Hurley can really tell a creepy tale and this is just as good as his debut novel. If you liked The Lonely then Devil’s Day will be for you. This is not a horror story but it is dark with secrets of the past and its traditions and local feuds that threaten. The is a sense of unease that burns away through the storyline. Andrew Michael Hurley delivers with Devil’s Day and is a worthy read for these dark nights. RECOMMENDED.

 Thank you to for John Murray Publishers the advanced review copy of Devil’s Day.

304 Pages.

Devil’s Day by is published by John Murray and was published on 19th October 2017 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

 

 

 

CWA Anthology of Short Stories – Mystery Tour – Edited by Martin Edwards

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CWA Anthology of Short Stories – Mystery Tour – Edited by Martin Edwards

Firstly, an apology from me. I am a little late with this review purely down to pressure of work commitments.

Many will know of my love of short stories so I was delighted when a copy of CWA Anthology of Short Stories – Mystery Tour landed on my doormat from Orenda Books. The Crime Writer’s Association has brought together some of the very best crime writers for a world tour – of crime writing. Now this is my kind of world tour.

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From the UK to France, the Ukraine, South Africa and India along with many more on a murderous crime spree of twenty-eight short stories. This is just the most incredible collection of stories by some of the very best in crime writing.

With contributions from: Ann Cleeves, C.L. Taylor, Susi Holliday, Martin Edwards, Anna Mazzola, Carol Anne Davis, Cath Staincliffe, Chris Simms, Christine Poulson, Ed James, Gordon Brown, J.M. Hewitt, Judith Cutler, Julia Crouch, Kate Ellis, Kate Rhodes, Martine Bailey, Michael Stanley, Maxim Jakubowski, Paul Charles, Paul Gitsham, Peter Lovesey, Ragnar Jónasson, Sarah Rayne, Shawn Reilly Simmons, Vaseem Khan, William Ryan and William Burton McCormick.

I do though say that this is the first of the Crime Writer’s Anthologies I have read. How I have managed to avoid not reading any of the prior volumes is beyond me as they are just so good. The names just like a roll call of great crime writers. Ann Cleeves, Anna Mazzola and Ragnar Jónasson just three of the writers I was looking forward to reading as I am a bit of a fan of their writing.

One of the great aspects of a collection of short stories is how different they can be but when you bring together so many different writers the stories just take on a completely new dimension and also the varied writing styles of each of the writers. Diverse and gripping is how I would describe each one in turn. The real beauty of this anthology is that each of the stories is about ten pages in length. Which if you are travelling to and from work is just perfect. I read this book inside two days. But just imagine for a moment how difficult it is in writing a crime story in ten pages. I could not leave this book alone it is that good. One of the stories by Christine Poulsen is called Accounting for Murder and is a crime story based purely on receipts there are no words written it is just receipts.  Think about that one. It is actually rather clever and it worked.

As for the story by Ragnar Jónasson called A Postcard from Iceland yes I loved it. It is two pages and a postcard from someone to their mother. It is just the ending. I will say no more.

To say this is a fabulous collection is an understatement. It is simply brilliant. I am going to dip in and out of some of the stories again and again through the long chilly winters nights. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

 276 Pages.

Thank you to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for the review copy of CWA Anthology of Short Stories – Mystery Tour.

CWA Anthology of Short Stories – Mystery Tour is published by Orenda Books and was published on 15th November 2017 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

 

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The Future Can’t Wait by Angelena Boden

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The Future Can’t Wait by Angelena Boden

Following on from her debut novel The Cruelty of Lambs Angelena Boden returns with a deeply emotional story of a mother’s love in The Future Can’t Wait. If you have not yet discovered Angelena Boden’s writing, then read on as I give you an insight into her second novel.

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There is no love like the love of a mother and in The Future Can’t Wait the story really is heartfelt and powerful that I think even beats Angelena’s debut novel were she is not afraid of writing about difficult situations.

Set in multicultural Birmingham were there are some who try to radicalise young people. Kendra is half Iranian and her daughter Rani seems to be going through something of a crisis. Yes, we have all been through this period when we were young, who are we and why? But this looks sinister to Kendra. This is an ever real situation and when a mother sees her daughter cut all ties with her, Kendra’s life just collapses, with her own life now in a crisis. What has happened to her daughter? Now she fears the worst.  Rani has just vanished with no clues to where she is. She has severed ties with her mother and step-father. Kendra is now worried sick that she has become mixed up with the wrong people and is being radicalised. The emotion just pours from every page as Kendra tries in vain to find her daughter before it is too late. There are times when I was reading this that I found it so difficult as it is just so powerful and deals with mother/daughter relationships. This is real and it is very much set in the present day with the issues that are being discussed in the novel.

One aspect of the book really shook me was when Kendra sought help from psychics. This is totally believable as a good friend of mine did exactly the same after a tragic accident claimed the lives of a number of people a number of years ago. To-date his close friend that survived and blamed himself has never been found. The memories flooded back at this point.

There are so many incredible characters in this book and each one plays such an important role which helps make the book so readable. But to see Kendra’s life just spiral out of control is just heart-breaking. A little warning from me. This is not a comfortable read for a Sunday afternoon, so be prepared

To say I was swept away by Angelena’s writing is an understatement. This is a novel I would recommend for book clubs as so many questions arise from reading The Future Can’t Wait.

Thank you to Matthew at Urbane Publications for a review copy of The Future Can’t Wait.

 304 Pages.

The Future Can’t Wait by Angelena Boden is published by Urbane Publications and was published on 2nd November 2017 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

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Year of the Drought by Roland Buti

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Year of the Drought by Roland Buti

First published in 2014 in Switzerland Year of the Drought by Roland Buti went on to win the prestigious Swiss Literature Prize. Set in the sizzling Summer of 1976 and is a coming of age novel that is just simply beautiful written and a novel that is a must read for anyone who loves great literature.

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It is the time of the school holidays and the summer is going to be long and hot and on the family’s farm in Canton of Vaud in Switzerland 13–year-old Gus is the key character in this beautiful novel yet under cloudless skies and endless blue skies this is a tragic story unfolding.

The family have invested everything in thousands of chickens and a modern barn but something clearly is wrong and the heat and drought are now killing the chickens in their hundreds and the crops are now wilting under the baking sun and this is clearly affecting the family and is hitting the farms finances to add to this the arrival of the glamorous Cécile who   is a friend of Gus’s mother and life suddenly changes for Gus, now he dreams of those dreams that have been suppressed until now. Our narrator watches as his family is tested like never before the bonds and ties of family unity are now under the most incredible strain and the novel reaches its finale with great tragedy that cannot be undone. The family is literally blown apart. Roland Buti clearly has written a novel that at times is poetic with some humour a novel that one will read and re-read in the future and one not to be ignored. Beautifully constructed and written it is no surprise The Year of the Drought has won awards and a book I am happy to HIGHLY RECOMMEND.

Thank you to Old Street Publishing Ltd for a review copy of Year of the Drought.

 160 Pages.

Year of the Drought by Roland Buti is published by Old Street Publishing Ltd and was published on 12th September 2017 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

 

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