Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves by Rachel Malik

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Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves by Rachel Malik

 

This is the story of Rachel Malik’s own Grandmother, but told in a fictional novel that I found so tender and loving. Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves is a remarkable debut from an author I am really looking forward to reading more from in the future. If like me, you missed the hardback copy when it was released in April 2017 then you will be delighted to know the paperback will be released on 1st February through Fig Tree (Penguin Books UK).

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Before the outbreak of World War II Rene Hargreaves walked out on her husband and three young children. Her husband had an addiction to gambling. But to walk away from three young children is something that is nothing short of a crime. Rene had to break free and soon she found herself with a new life on ‘Starlight Farm’ living with Elsie it would not be long before they both would become totally inseparable from each other. Rene’s new life had begun.

Both women at first are different from each, Elsie is more a woman who enjoys the peace and freedom of being on her own and does not bother too much with locals but Rene comes across as more the opposite. But now Elsie has offered a chance to Rene on the farm. Both find that theirs is a unique relationship and it seemed to just right for each other. Despite the constant pressure of running a farm and with some of the locals looking on hoping they would fail and seeing a land grab opportunity.

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Hardback edition – 27th April 2017

The ever present threat of World War II finally arrives and everyone’s lives are about to change. Details of Rene’s past are now shared and then the past comes back to haunt Rene with consequences that will have dire effect on both Rene and Elsie’s lives.

There is so much about this story and how Rachel Malik weaved a fictional account of her grandmother’s life. It is a book that just written so eloquently and reads so gently. There are secrets to uncover and a painful past that has far reaching consequences for them both. This was not an easy life for Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves but their life was a quiet and gentle life. They wanted to bother no-one and wanted no-one to look into their lives. But sadly in the early 1940’s life was not going to leave them alone. This is a story of love and loyalty to each other and also of secrets from the past. Beautiful and rich a story I really fell in love with and one I hope you will too.

Thank you Hannah Ludbrook for the review copy of Miss Boston & Miss Hargreaves

 288 Pages.

Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves by Rachel Malik is published by Penguin (Fig Tree) and the PB is published on 1st February 2018 and is available to Pre-order through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops

 

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The Tattooist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris

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The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

“I will live to leave this place. I will walk out a free man. If there is a hell, I will see these murderers burn in it”

Over the years I have read many book on the Holocaust and every book has me asking the same questions about man’s ability to reach the levels of inhumanity. Just recently I have been reading about The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris. The story of one man Lale Sokolov. By the end of this book I was in tears not just at Lale’s story but man’s shocking brutality. My words here will never do justice to such an important subject. All I can do is to just ask you to read it for yourself. Lale’s story will stay with me and those who have read The Tattooist of Auschwitz.

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Lale Sokolov’s was a smartly dressed intelligent man in fact a lady’s man. All that was to change in April 1942. Lale was born into a Jewish family and he volunteered himself to save his other family members. Of course at this time Lale had no idea what was coming or where he would go to work for the Germans. They were crammed onto cattle wagons and the train then set off to the Nazi death camp that was Auschwitz. On arrival he was tattooed with the number 32407. No longer would he be known by his name but only by his number.

Like many others he was put to work at Auschwitz in building the blocks that would eventually house the many thousands that would end up at the death camp. Within a short time Lale became very ill and was cared for by a French man called Pepan, this was the very man who tattooed his number on arrival.

After Pepan was taken away and never to be seen again Lale being intelligent and speaking many languages was given the role of ‘Tätowierer’- The Tattooist and would be responsible to tattooing the numbers of the thousands of new arrivals that would be working at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Those not selected were sent to the gas chambers.

It was on one of those days that he was tattooing the women as they arrived that he met one particular young woman and her name was Gita she was given the number 34902. In the hell that was Auschwitz-Birkenau Lale fell in love with Gita. Lale was determined to survive and also that Gita was to survive and they would both one day be free. Over the coming years Lale manged to survive being sent to his death. He was indeed a survivor. Because he was given the role of ‘Tätowierer’ he was seen by many as collaborating with the SS as this role was directly working for the Political Wing of the SS and meant that he was protected to a degree. But others had come to trust Lale and he helped many by giving them food. If caught, he would face certain death. Lale will do things to survive that he would normally never consider. Thousands were being murdered in the gas chambers or just murdered because a guard said so. Death stalked everyone at Auschwitz. From one moment to another you never knew if you were going to die. If you wake up in the morning, it is a good day’

The sheer horror of life at the Nazi death camp that is Auschwitz-Birkenau and the scale of the killing is something no-one can comprehend but survive both Lale and Gita did despite being separated towards the end of the war as Auschwitz was cleared because of advancing of the Russian army. The was near its end and the Nazi’s were in their final death throws. Both Lale and Gita survived and found each other and later married.

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The Tattooist of Auschwitz reads like a novel because that is exactly how Lale wanted it to read and is based on the many interviews between Heather Morris and Lale himself. For all these years Lale himself kept his secret, and it was only after the death of his beloved wife Gita in October 2003 did he feel the time was right to finally tell his story that he kept a secret to protect his family and this is when Heather Morris started to spend time with Lale and for Lale to trust her. And so he began to tell the story, his own story a remarkable and life-affirming story of daring to live while in Auschwitz.

Heather Morris has written an incredible story of Lale and Gita’s survival. How she manages to portray the evil that went on inside the death camp on a daily basis. The despair that must have prevailed the pain and hunger. Knowing death was just moments away.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a powerful and deeply moving story of survival and also a remarkable love story. Both Lale and Gita’s story will stay with me forever as these stories must be told for future generations to understand and to learn. Let us remember and let us never forget. Ludwig “Lale” Sokolov died in October 2006. HIGHY RECOMMENDED.

Such has been the demand for this story there have been a number of bookshops that never received stock in time and that a second print run is now underway.

January 27th marks Holocaust Memorial Day. On this day I light a candle to remember the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust. The day marks the anniversary of when Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by the Russian army in 1945.

288 Pages.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris is published by Bonnier Zaffre and was published in the UK on 11th January 2018 and is available to through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

The Last Mrs Parrish by Liv Constantine

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The Last Mrs Parrish by Liv Constantine

This is the story of a woman who is not happy at just being no-one and this woman wants to be something more. This is the story of Amber Patterson who is that woman. In The Last Mrs Parrish by Liv Constantine we see a woman who wants a share of the lifestyle of the wealthy. Amber Patterson is manipulative and wicked. But she does not care she wants the lifestyle that she craves and she has a plan.

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Amber Patterson has set her sights on the wealthy lifestyle of a couple Daphne and Jackson Parrish and her desires on Jackson to get the life she believes she deserves. So now Amber’s plan to worm her way into the lives of this couple be befriending Daphne all seem to be going according to plan.

For Daphne Parrish and her husband, theirs is the life that is just perfect. She is beautiful and the perfect life with her wealthy husband Jackson and their two children. Now all Amber has to do is just set about catching the eye of Jackson and let everything fall into place or so she thinks. The problem with Amber is that she has a past, the skeleton in the closet and this is about to wreck her plans.

This is a novel is narrated by the main characters Amber and Daphne and at first we see how Amber sets about her plan that is just set out so perfectly even though you detest this character already. This woman is set about to destroy a family for her own insatiable greed.

In the second part we hear from Daphne, and then in the final part we come to the gripping finale. It would be so easy for me to go into detail here but this is a novel that many will enjoy. The characters are so well created and you may hate Amber who is the perfect jealous greedy woman who wants Daphne’s role in the family. But saying that what about the golden couple themselves, they too have their own secrets hiding away just waiting to be told.

A story with a few twists that will throw you off course The Last Mrs Parrish is a dark and thrilling suspense filled rollercoaster that many will enjoy. A superb psychological debut.

 400 Pages.

Thank you to Felicity Denham at Harper Collins for the review copy of The Last Mrs Parrish.

The Last Mrs Parrish by Liv Constantine is published by Harper Collins and was published on 28th December 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops

 

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This is How It Ends by Eva Dolan

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This is How It Ends by Eva Dolan

If you are a fan of Eva Dolan then This is How It Ends (Raven Books) you will not want to miss. I could not put her latest book. It is just so incredibly compelling and Eva’s writing is just superb. It just grabs hold of you and does not let go. This is a story of modern day London and a body in a part empty house. But how will it end?

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If you have read any of Eva Dolan’s previous crime novels then you will know you are in for a thrilling read, but in her latest novel this is more of an ambitious approach. Straight from the beginning you are drawn into the plot. This is not Eva’s previous crime detective style of novel this is a new approach and how it really works.

Straight from the off you meet the main characters of this plot, activists against property developers, but these are the sort who will go straight to action as opposed to just talking about it. The two main characters are Molly who is a battle hardened campaigner who is not afraid of demonstrating and then there is Ella who is a Phd student who is also a dab hand at blogging.

There is a tower block that developers have their eye on for a lucrative property development and both Molly and Ella do not want to see them get their hands on this and squeeze out the ordinary hard working people of this part of London.

Now add in to the story a body of a man in the tower and hidden in the lift shaft and did this man meet his death. Only two people really know what happened to this man and it is their secret so now we have a story based on lies and also deceit and throw in a little matter of trust between the two women. The story just gets more tense at the turn of every page. It is just superbly written by a writer who is now at the very top of her game. We have two utterly brilliant characters both so different in age and also in background, they have a secret but what happens to their secret and what happens to Molly and Ella. This is a timely novel and there is so much in this book that the reader will discover. A totally brilliant piece of writing and a book destined to be a bestseller. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

336 Pages.

This is How It Ends by Eva Dolan is published by Bloomsbury Raven and is published on 25th January 2018 and is available to Pre-order through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops

 

 

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

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Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

My first read of 2018 was a bleak and disturbing novel by multi award winning author Louise Erdrich. Future Home of the living God is not an easy read and is a post-apocalyptic novel.  A dystopian story set as the World as we know is coming to an end. Everything has changed and all living creatures will be affected by what is a massive biological shift.

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Set in a future America were biological chaos reigns. Something has gone shocking wrong as the world in which we know is going backwards and women are giving birth to babies that are not of this time but a more primitive species of belonging to a time long ago and we are talking primitive here and that is not all that is going on. Strange animal that are prehistoric suddenly appear. I have to admit to really struggle at times while I was going through the opening chapters. This is a brave novel by one of America’s great writers.

I had the feeling of walking into an alternate universe but in the end I was really pleased I stuck with this powerful story. The main character is Cedar, a young native American woman, she is pregnant and looking forward to motherhood. But things are not going to go as Cedar hopes in a story of running and hiding and also a fight for freedom. Cedar are narrator takes us from her home in the secluded woods to various locations including an underground railroad that helps pregnant women escape the government that wants them confined to a tribe reservation.

Through our narrator we get a real sense of what is happening on the outside. If only we knew just how we got here in the first place may have helped the story at the very beginning. A missing piece of the novel that the reader will have to decide. One thing is happening more than 70% of pregnant women are dying during childbirth. No explanation is given as to why?

This is a story of loss and also grief. Future Home of the Living God was written by Louise Erdrich back in 2002 and as much as I am pleased that I stuck with this I think it could have helped by adding more detail as to why? I just kept asking myself this question. There are many characters that through Cedar we meet and through her we take this journey in a world that has changed forever.

There are times in our lives we have to make decisions no matter how difficult and the ending might not what we hope for. Not a happy tale and in any shape or form but that is exactly how Louise Erdrich designed this novel to be.

In a world were woman are fighting for their basic rights and a society that has changed and regressed this is more than just a novel but in our current times a significant novel.

 288 Pages.

Thank you Ella Bowman for the advanced review copy of Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich.

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich is published by Corsair and was published on 4th January 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

Dark Pines by Will Dean

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Dark Pines by Will Dean

I have to admit to really loving book covers as there are times when a book cover just screams at you and with the debut thriller Dark Pines by Will Dean it really does just encapsulate everything this exciting debut is all about.

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Journalist Tuva Moodyson is sent to investigate a series of murders in the small Swedish town of Gavrik, being a reporter here mean you generally report on small town issues for Tuva who moved back to Gavrik from London to be closer to her mother who is very ill. Being a reporter in a big city meant being on call for major news stories happening all the time but in Gavrik not much was happening until now that is. Now with the discovery of a mutilated body deep in the pine woods all that changes for Tuva. A killer is out there and could strike again.

This could be such an important break for Tuva is she can find a link between this murder and three other murders from years back then she could be on to finding clues to the killer and if there is a link then the killer could strike again. But there is one thing about Tuva that you should know. Tuva is deaf and in the bid expanse of the woods this could pose a real danger to her. As soon as I realised this my pulse rate rocketed as you can almost realise and sense the danger that she could find herself in. What a real character Tuva is she is now one of my favourites in crime novels.

There is something about how she goes about investigating the murder and the local communities close to the scene of the crime. She uncovers some strange locals including two creepy sisters. Add into the mix a series of red herrings as the police move closer to their potential ‘target’.

This is going to be a massive hit with any reader who loves Nordic crime noir as this is a dark and at times foreboding tale. How Will Dean describes the locality and the dark pine forest is totally bang on. I really could not put Dark Pines down and when I did I just wanted to go straight back as I felt I was missing something.

A gripping and haunting debut crime novel and I just hope Will Dean is now busy writing book two with Tuva at its heart. I want to read more of our new heroine.

Dark Pines is a must read Winter fireside crime novel and launches 2018 with a bang. I have a feeling this is already one of my big hits for this year. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

336 Pages.

Dark Pines by Will Dean is published by Point Blank and was published on 4th January 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon

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Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon

First Review of 2018.

I have to admit to being a bit of a fan of Joanna Cannon’s writing and loved her debut novel The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, one of those books that left an indelible mark on me. I lost count of how many copies I ended giving away to family, friends and also prize giveaways on my blog.

 

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Joanna Cannon returns with her second novel Three Things About Elsie which is officially released into bookshops on the 11th January (The Borough Press). The first thing that will strike you when you go and buy a copy is the fabulous Battenberg themed cover. It is one of the most striking of covers. A cake themed cover. This could really catch on.

I am deeply humbled to have been mentioned in the Acknowledgements. I never thought that when I started talking about books that one day I would end up seeing my name in print. Thank you Joanna.

There are books that come into your life and move you in a way that makes you look at life in a new way some books make you appreciate not only yourself but others around you. I felt this in Joanna’s debut novel but in Three Things About Elsie this is much more evident. Joanna Cannon has a way with words that when she writes she writes from the heart and is telling YOU the reader a story with a message contained within that she would like you to connect with. This story is tender, warm and humane. I personally think it is better than The Trouble with Goats and Sheep and I never thought I would say that.

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The story opens with Florence Claybourne lying on the floor after a fall at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. There Florence lies waiting to be found. Imagine for a moment an elderly person falling and lying just waiting and hoping to be found. What goes through their minds during this time? Scared and frightened and alone. For Florence as she lies on the floor of her flat she is thinking of recent days and trying to make sense of her memories. How has the past returned is it at all possible?

Florence has a best friend and her name is Elsie and it is Elsie who helps Florence remember things. They have known each other for sixty years. But Flo has a secret from the past. Literally a ghost has appeared at Cherry Tree in the form of a man who died all those years ago. What is going on? So now it is down to Florence and her best Friend Elsie to solve the mystery. How I really enjoyed reading how they go about proving something they believe is not right. At times I laughed at what they got up to. Thanks to Joanna’s wonderful vivid writing you are there with them.

There is a problem though for Florence the manager at the home thinks that Florence is causing problems at the home and is threatening to move Florence to Greenbank. This she believes is where you go to die and she does not want to be sent there. ‘You can’t make me’ she exclaims early into the book.

Elsie is always there for Florence as she always has been through the last sixty years. Now more than ever and this is the true meaning of friendship. There are so many wonderful characters there is Handy Simon and Miss Bissell and of course Miss Ambrose. Characters make novels and the people you meet here in Three Things About Elsie are real and they help make this such a wonderful humane book and really enjoyed meeting them.

Over recent weeks I have spoken a lot about hope and here Joanna Cannon gives us all hope. The real hope of friendship, tolerance and understanding of the things we hold dear and of course love. This is a book of sheer tenderness and an understanding of age and how memory can play tricks with us as the years move on. There are books that are like a warm duvet on a cold winters night. Three Things About Elsie is that duvet. As we enter a New Year full of hope this is a novel that acts as a beacon of humanity and so many facets of this book that I just loved. Heart-warming and sympathetic.

When I first left School I worked in care home for the elderly I was the Handyman (John) and shared some moments that were funny but also those that are tender and humane. Let us not forget the people who live there are real people with lives and still are living.

Grab some Battenberg and settle down with a book that you will read and then read again. A book to be loved and shared. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

464 Pages.

My thanks to Ann Bissell (Harper Collins) for the Advanced Review Copy of Three Things About Elsie.

Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon is published by The Borough Press and is published on 11th January 2018 and is available to Pre-order through Waterstones, also Amazon and all good bookshops.

My Books of the Year 2017

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Another year has gone by in the world of books and so as we get closer to saying goodbye to 2017 it is time to reveal my own books for the year. As always these are books I have read either been sent kindly by publishers or bought by myself. They are in no order so there is no number one, just my selection of fifteen of the books that have made my bookish year.

The selection was not easy as there was so many that could have easily made the final fifteen. Those just outside honestly were just as good. There was through the year many great highlights involving books a number of writers I had the chance to interview and also meet in person.

So here in a little detail in the fifteen Books of the Year for 2017.

Rachel Rhys – A Dangerous Crossing  (Doubleday – March 2017)

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 September 1939 and Europe is heading into World War Two and Lily Shepherd boards a cruise liner for a new life away from the war in Australia. For Lily she now enters a new world of endless cocktail parties and elegant new people to meet. But things do not go as smoothly as she hopes. When you are aboard ship there is nowhere to go as secrets begin to come to fore. Six weeks later the ship docks in Australia, the world has entered a dark phase as war has started and a young lady disembarks from the ship in handcuffs. What could have possible gone wrong?

Rachel Rhys is the pen name for bestselling author Tammy Cohen. I have to say I loved A Dangerous Crossing. It just reminded me of the old murder mysteries of years gone by. It has everything. Politics, glamour the sexual tension at time crackled and not forgetting of course murder on the high sea. This is a sumptuous read. Thrilling and compelling.

 

The Lie of the Land by Amanda Craig (Little,Brown – June 2017)

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Quentin and Lottie cannot afford a divorce, their hopes and dreams as well as their jobs have gone thanks to the recession and now they find they cannot afford to live in London any longer and have to downsize. So they and their three children now head to a remote part of Devon. Lottie is not happy at the thought of sharing a home with the husband she wants to divorce yet Quentin who has had a string of affairs cannot fathom why she is so unhappy. There are secrets connected to the house and this may have something to do with why the rent is so low. This is a modern day black comedy based on lives as we know it today a real state of the nation. Amanda Craig is a great storyteller.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (Bloomsbury – March 2017)

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Winner of the Man Booker Prize for 2017, this is a book that really has divided reader’s opinions. I really enjoyed reading and yet others I have spoken to could not really accept the way the story is told. President Lincoln’s son Willie is gravely ill and at the same time the American Civil War is raging all around. In just a matter of a few days Willie has died and Lincoln is devastated and cannot come to terms with his loss. Lincoln returns to the cemetery a number of times to cradle his dead son. This is a story told over one single night and I can only describe this as one of the most extraordinary novels I have read.

Maria in the Moon by Louise Beech (Orenda Books  –  September 2017)

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What can I possibly say that I have not said before about Louise Beech, one of my favourite writers. Louise can put together a storyline that just simply takes my breath away. Maria in the Moon was one of the first books to make the list. When I wrote my review I said that I had great hopes that this would be Louise’s breakout novel that would finally get her the recognition she deserves. I stand by this as I write this piece just a few days away from the end of the year. Karen the founder of Orenda Books has found a real gem in Louise Beech.

This story follows Catherine Hope. She suffers from Insomnia and she has a memory yet struggles to remember anything. Dark and poignant this is a story of many things including memory, it is what happens to us when we can no longer hide. A story that is at times painful yet moving. One book not to be missed.

Larchfield by Polly Clark (riverrrun –  March 2017)

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How could I not include this gorgeous debut by Polly Clark. Simply wonderful. Larchfied follows two timelines. Current time when Dora moves to Helensburgh on the West Coast of Scotland. Dora is recently married and is expecting her first child. She is excited at the prospects that are ahead. But soon reality arrives and Dora is struggling to adapt. What she needs to something to help her escape the reality she is in. What transpires is that the poet Wystan H. Auden once lived at Helensburgh. At 24 Auden seemed to have made his name as his first collection of poetry was published and yet following a broken engagement he cannot cope and takes a teaching post at Larchfield boys school. A beautiful and haunting novel. Beautiful and deft a novel of great storytelling.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (Harper Collins  – May 2017)

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Eleanor Oliphant has life planned out. Every Friday after work she buys the same pizza and two bottles of vodka and then shuts the door of her home for the weekend and gets drunk. She sees no-one except her colleagues at work. She wears the same clothes to work and eats the same lunch every day. Nothing seems to be missing from her life and yet everything is missing. Sometimes we all build a wall around us to protect ourselves but what happens when you build a wall that no-one or nothing can get through. Isolation happens. Then one day a simple act of pure human kindness happens to shatter Eleanor’s precise life. A novel of loneliness and kindness. One of the truly great books of 2017 and shortlisted for the 2017 Costa First Novel Award. I raved about this when I was sent a copy and I am just so pleased that it has got the recognition it really deserves and one of the biggest sellers of the year.

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (Corsair  – October 2017)

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I was very lucky to have met Jennifer Egan when I was at BBC Radio Four in November as she was talking about her Pulitzer Prize Winning novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad. Manhattan Beach is about Anna Kerrigan and when she was young she remembers visiting with her father a man who was to be important for the family. Now years later the country has entered WWII and Anna is working at the Brooklyn Naval Yard and is doing a job only previously held by a man. She is the first female diver. She is the breadwinner for the family since her father disappeared, she believes her father has been murdered and she wants to know how and why. Haunting and so beautifully written and constructed.

Elmet by Fiona Mozley (JM Originals –  August 2017)

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Shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize and was my tip to win it. Fiona Mozley’s outstanding debut novel Elmet is brutal and incredible. The bond between father and child. A family living on a knife edge of society and what happens when it tips over the edge. The family live in the woods after mother and father split. Dad did not want his children mixing with others. He built their home with his bare hands. Sometimes he would disappear and then he would return with eyes raging. But soon he would be at peace again but then peace would soon be shattered. When people are pushed to their limits sometimes they can be capable of anything. Gripping and a real slow burner of a book.

 

 

Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski – (Orenda Books – March 2017)

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A thriller based around a series of podcasts. Brilliant idea and how this book really grabbed me. I could not put this down. Such a simple idea really works and resonated with me and I know it has for others. Matt Wesoloski in writing Six Stories has nailed it. Set over two time frames 1997 and 2017. In 1997 the body of teenager Tom Jeffries is found, they say it he died in an accident but some are not believing this story. Now in 2017 journalist Scott King who produces a series of podcasts about cases now decides this is a case worth investigating. Now some are nervous about his intentions. Just how did Scott Jeffries meet his death on Scarclaw Fell in 1997. Over the course of Six interviews on his podcasts Scott attempts to get to the bottom of this mystery. A chilling and gripping story. Orenda Books has another sensation to its ever growing band of writers.

A Thousand Paper Birds by Tor Udall (Bloomsbury –  June 2017)

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My association with Kew Gardens goes back along way and the memories I carry will last a lifetime happy and also sad. Never did I think anyone would write a novel set to the backdrop of Kew Gardens. Along comes the debut novel A Thousand Paper Birds by Tor Udall. Just one of THE best novels of 2017.

Jonah has been left alone and shattered by the death of his Audrey and wanders the grounds of Kew Gardens trying to make sense and also trying to put life into some sort of resemblance and make sense of it all. There is Chloe who finds peace is making Origami, there is Milly the child who loves to laugh and explore the gardens of Kew. This is a timeless piece of writing that made cry for the story for the memories and one that I will hold close for years to come. If you have not read A Thousand Paper Birds yet, I urge you to go buy a copy. It will stay with you long after you have finished reading.

American War by Oamar El Akkad (Picador – September 2017)

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In September I was given the chance to interview Omar El Akkad about his novel American War during the Cheltenham Literature Festival just hours after arriving in the UK and we talked about his career as a journalist covering the war in Afghanistan and then how American War came about.

The Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074 this is when Sarat Chestnut is only Six-years-old. But this Civil War is not about race        but fossil-fuels. America has ravaged by natural disasters and sea levels have rose to such an extent that parts of America are now under water. Drones fill the sky and the fight for survival is fraught with dangers every day. Sarat’s voice is one that is haunting as she is drawn into the resistance as she faces starvation and poverty and now is an instrument of war. This is a devastating post-apocalyptic novel that is both poignant and disturbing.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Alex Preston & Neil Gower  (Corsair – July 2017)

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The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce (Doubleday – July 2017)

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I have to admit to being a huge fan of Rachel Joyce. Rachel can tell a story like no-other. I have been lucky to have met Rachel on a number of occasions and each time I go away with a head full of stories and here with The Music Shop a book I just fell for. Beautifully written and lyrical in more than just one sense. We go back to 1988 and Frank is running his music shop. All vinyl not a CD in sight. Here he sells his music and that could be any genre and Frank knows his music. Then one day something happens to change he life. Ilse Brauchmann is that woman. She wants Frank to teach her all about music. Frank has a past that now threatens to open up, his past follows him. Not to be seen but always there. This is just the most beautiful of novels and told by the master storyteller Rachel Joyce. Just wonderful in every sense.

I AM I AM I AM – Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell (Tinder Press – August 2017)

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The second no-fiction book to make my fifteen books of the year. The highly acclaimed Maggie O’Farrell has a massive bestseller and for many the book of the year with I AM I AM I AM – Seventeen Brushes with Death. This is not a novel but her own near death experiences. This is her own life in her own words. One of the most extraordinary literary experiences. From Childhood with an illness she was not expected to survive to a terrifying encounter on a footpath. When I picked up my copy I knew this was a book that once started I was not going to put down. This will pull at your own heart. Truly breathtaking and brilliant.

Tin Man by Sarah Winman (Tinder Press – July 2017)

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And so to my final choice and how could I not put Tin Man in my fifteen books of the year. Sarah Winman has written a book of outstanding beauty. It may be short at around 195 pages but what it packs into those pages in just so profound. It is tender and beautiful in every sense. A painting of fifteen sunflowers and then two boys who are inseparable. The boys grow to be men and a woman walks into their lives. Annie would be change everything. This is a tender novel that deals with love and loss and friendship. A truly outstanding novel that will break your heart and them put it back together.

My Literary Year

Just a few of the events I have attended this past year have been a major part of why I just love books and talking with writers.

In February I was invited along with many other book bloggers to the Headline Publishing Group Blogger Night 2017.

This was a peek at some of the great and up-coming novels being released. It was great to catch up with some of the authors and also some of the bloggers.

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In August I was invited to Blenheim Palace for the Wainwright Book Prize 2017 which was part of Countryfile Live. I had the great pleasure of meeting all the writers who had been shortlisted for this important book prize that covers writing on natural history and the outside world. The winner for 2017 was John Lewis-Stempel with his book Where Poppies Blow which is about the Soldier of the first World War and his relationship with the plants and animals and birds around him even as battles were raging.

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In October I attended the Salisbury Literary Festival and in front of a packed theatre to listen to a talk by Joanna Cannon as she spoke about her debut novel The Trouble with Goats and Sheep and also a little glimpse of her second novel Three Things about Elsie which is released on 11th January 2018 also about how she became a writer. Finally after all this time I got to talk with Joanna after the event.

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So there we have it. That is 2017 all wrapped up in one post. I hope you have enjoyed reading not just about my books of the year but also about my bookish year. I have met some of the most incredible people this year from authors to publishers and other  book bloggers but this also goes for those I have met on social media. I would not be doing this without your support. I have some exciting plans for 2018 and along with this some incredible books already in for the coming months of the new year. Part of the real pleasure is the book banter we share on Twitter. Long may that continue.

Thank you for all your incredible support and Happy New Year.

 

A Christmas Eve Message

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Today being Christmas Eve a day that is special to me as I spent a period of younger life in Germany and I still celebrate this special day like many from Europe that celebrate Christmas Eve.  Today I was planning to post a book review but I thought it would be a good opportunity to replace this with a personal Christmas message instead.

Many will be gathering with family and friends over the Christmas period to celebrate the festivities in a spirit of happiness and joy. Our lives seem to be getting busier and busier many do not get the chance to get together during the year. I will be with family and also friends but I will be thinking of those who are less fortunate and will be spending Christmas on the streets or alone. As a nation that is the 6th richest on the planet why we allow the homeless situation to be getting worse year on year despite what government ministers tell us. Families are struggling to feed their children in my local area I have read a report recently that 900 children needed emergency food handouts. This is the sort of thing we may read in a Charles Dickens novel not 2017 Great Britain. Then we also see the NHS under the most severe pressure with nurses and doctors working flat out over the Christmas period some working without a break.

Over the course of this year I have been handing out books to homeless people in my local area just trying to provide some comfort as for many they will not have access to books. I have also taken time to listen to their stories and some have been so heart-breaking and I have been on more than one occasion moved to tears. Any one of these people living on the streets could be us. It could happen that easily. I will be doing the same again in 2018 and just trying to spread the joy of books and reading to those in need of some comfort. But that is not all I have been doing this year. Many of you will know of the recent death threats I have received. There have been a number.  While investigations are still ongoing I can say very little. But it is being treated seriously. Waking in the small hours to find a police car sat outside your house is a worrying moment and having previously been in a position when I had to fight for my life after been stabbed this was a deeply troubling time and brought back too many bad memories. But saying that I will not ever shy away from supporting those that need our help. I was close to closing down all my social media accounts and very nearly did. But it was a telephone call from a ‘supporter’ who told me that that is indeed what they wanted me to do and they would win. I am still here and will remain so. I do not give into to threats.

During this time, I was moved by the messages of support I received on Twitter but also away from social media. To each of you and you know who you are, I can honestly say that you will never know just how much your love and support at that time helped me. You all are just amazing which is why I wanted to post this Christmas Message. Friendship in times of need is something we all need but also we need hope and that is what this message is primarily about. Hope for the future. During Christmas we see love is all around us, whether that is a message in a Christmas Card or a hug from friends while we share a drink or two. If we as people can do this at Christmas, why can’t we share this love through the rest of the year. Despite all the pressures we face in our ever busier lives surely we can give a little love to each other. Love can build bridges and also give hope to those that are indeed less fortunate and also to those who are alone and afraid.

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Between Christmas and the New Year, I will be sharing my list of my books of 2017. I am looking forward to sharing this with you all. I receive through the year so many amazing books from publishers and writers and I am so very grateful for your trust. It is just impossible to read every book that arrives. I would need many more months to read through them. Already 2018 looks like being another incredible year for books and I have read two books coming out in January that I know you will love and I have no doubt they will feature heavily in a year’s time as a review of the year.

My hope for each and every one of you that reads this message is that you find happiness and joy this Christmas whether you choose to celebrate with family or friends or you are spending time alone. Many indeed do not celebrate Christmas for personal or religious beliefs, that is ok. Love is still there. We all just need to show a little bit more to each other regardless of who we are. Please take a little moment during your celebrations to think of those keeping us safe and to those working in the NHS working long hours looking after us but also those living on the streets this Christmas.

Thank you for all you kind support through this year.

From me to all of you and yours

A Very Happy and Peaceful Christmas.

John

The Last Word Book Review.

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House of Spines by Michael J. Malone

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House of Spines by Michael J. Malone

I raved about A Suitable Lie when it was released in September 2016 now Michael J. Malone returns with a terrific psychological thriller House of Spines. It is compelling and at the same time visceral. If you enjoy a thriller with a touch of the ghost story, then read on!

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There have been many books through the course of this year that have kept me up into the small hours as I have been unable to put the book down. There is much to admire about how Malone goes about creating his storyline and the characters. With House of Spines you cannot pin down to any specific genre it crosses so many.

Hidden within this gripping storyline are a leading character who you could say is complex to say the least. There are deep hidden secrets from the past and there is something of a Gothic ghost story, so the reader has many elements in this book to keep them awake long into the night.

Our leading character Ranald is a writer that has fallen on hard times and yet Ranald has inherited a house from his great uncle, but Ranald never even knew him. Ranald is a damaged character and I warmed to him despite everything that he was going through and with worse to come you just wanted him to come through in the end. There is some about the property that has the name of Newton Hall, something about this place both intrigued me and yet at the same time worried me. Every room would be filled with books. A writers dream you could say. Yet Newton Hall would have a deep impact on Ranald as there are dark and worrying secrets from the past lurking in the shadows and as Ranald is a fragile character I was becoming really worried for him. Old homes always contain the history of those that lived within, and for generations Newton Hall has been gathering the everything that was wrong for generations lies, secrets and hidden truths. Now for its new owner those secrets are going to pour out of the walls and how would Ranald cope with this. He is becoming more and more isolated and given his history of Mental Health issues Ranald become detached from the outside world and more locked into Newton Hall as he explores the many rooms in the mansion. You have this sense that something is always lurking just below the surface in this story just waiting to show itself. The question you are asking is how does it end for Ranald and his new house? Well that is something you will have to discover for yourselves. I am just going to leave it here.

Credit to Michael J. Malone for handling with such sensitivity the issues of Mental Health that are written into the storyline of the leading character in House of Spines and yet at the same time writing an incredible story that is just fantastic and gripping. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

276 Pages.

Thank you to Karen Sullivan for the review copy of House of Spines by Michael J. Malone.

House of Spines by Michael J. Malone is published by Orenda Books and was published on 15th September 2017 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

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