The History of Bees by Maja Lunde
(Translated by Diane Oatley)
Imagine for one moment a world without Bees. When you think of the vital work Bees do in pollinating plants, that keep the planet and its inhabitants alive then it is a scary thought that a world without Bees could be. China 2098 and Tao is just one of a group of people that is hand pollinating plants after Bees disappeared from our world in the year 2040. This is the novel The History of Bees by Maja Lunde. The International number one bestseller and translated in 20 languages.
It is 1851 and Bees are plentiful. William took to his bed months previous depressed that his ambitions in becoming a famous researcher did not work out and depression has set in. But now he has a vision and this vision is to design a new type of Beehive and enjoy the rewards that will surely follow.
We then move to 2007 and in the United States a beekeeper is trying to keep up the old family traditional ways in farming practices against a backdrop of the ultra-modern practices. But will George succeed?
2098 and Bees are now extinct and the world faces a world food shortage since Bees disappeared. Now people are doing the word of the humble Bee and hand pollinating. Now just imagine that on a world wide scale. The task in itself is mammoth. For Tao and his family, they are now facing a tragedy of their own and now they face a journey to try and uncover what has happened to their son and why were the authorities hiding the truth.
Throughout this novel Bees play a significant role in the various storylines through the various generations. Did the world take the bee for granted and what role did the human race and global industries play in the demise the Bee?
I loved the way that Maja Lunde created each of the characters and their narrative through the generations and each in turn bees play such a vital role. Lunde has created a dystopian novel with a worrying concern for the planets future at the hands of mankind. But do not worry too much as there is ‘hope’ and this plays a part towards the end of a brilliant book so beautifully constructed and written. The History of Bees is really worth discovering for yourself. I promise you will look at bees differently after you read this fascinating novel.
Thank you to Jessica Barratt for the advanced review copy.
The History of Bees by Maja Lunde is published by Scribner and was published on 7th September and is available in hardback through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
Maria in the Moon by Louise Beech
Maria in the Moon is the third novel from Louise Beech and by far the best yet. A novel that will test your senses through to the very last page. A dark psychological thriller with complex and damaged characters. So beautifully written, this is a novel that will linger long after you have finished reading.
Thirty-one-year-old Catherine Hope lost her home in the terrible floods in Hull in 2007, like many she lost everything. People felt loss so a Flood Crisis helpline was set up. But for Catherine there is much more that she has lost. Memory and sleep. Insomnia is just dreadful. Trust me on that one. Now Catherine has volunteered on the helpline and for Catherine she is learns to listen to people who are just in need of help and support through a difficult time even to the point of taking their own lives. But away from the call centre there is another side to Catherine. Memories of a painful breakup of her relationship. Catherine is vulnerable, and lonely. But there is something lurking in the background that is disturbing and she can only deal with this by being brutal and hostile to others. The dark humour she uses is only to cover up the painful memories that are slowly coming back from the past.
Like a jigsaw puzzle with the pieces missing for so long suddenly now falling into place her memory now is releasing parts of those missing pieces. The road to recovery is a long road for Catherine and a painful one. Life can be cruel and for Catherine life has been more than just difficult even when it comes to her relationship with her closest family. How I hoped for better times for Catherine through this incredible and beautifully written novel. I have been fortunate to have read all of Louise Beech’s novels and how she writes. She manages to capture the reader and here in Maria in the Moon Louise has managed if that is possible to go further and your feelings will be tested in every sense. It is dark and also a deeply moving story that will stay long after you have finished reading.
I have high hopes that Maria in the Moon will be the breakthrough novel that gets Louise Beech the recognition she so deserves. Sometimes her novels can deal with difficult subjects but how she brings the stories alive with every character in each of her novels. Maria in the Moon is released at the end of September and is one of my books for the autumn. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Thank you to Karen Sullivan for the advanced review copy of Maria in the Moon.
Maria in the Moon by Louise Beech is published on 30th September by Orenda Books and is available to pre-order through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa
Like a warm cosy blanket on a cold winters night, The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa wraps itself around you and does not let you go until the very end. The international bestseller is so beautifully written and a heartwarming tale from Japan.
The story starts with Nana the cat who has been befriended by Satoru Miyawaki and they soon become the best of friends. Now together they embark on a trip together across Japan but this is no ordinary trip, this a trip that involves visiting some old friends including some Satoru has not seen in a long time. The reason becomes obvious that Satoru is looking some a new home for Nana the cat. At first there is no real clue as to why he wants to Nana away to a new home. But as the journey deepens and the seasons change Nana who is a wise cat soon begins to realise why they are on this journey and this will soon become totalling devastating to Nana and to the reader. The news is heartbreaking.
Along their journey together Nana is always riding in the front seat of the Van that Satoru drives. The pair whose bond and love for each other is so strong Nana has become totalling loyal and trusting from the time Satoru took him in from the street. Anyone who loves animals not just Cats will totally understand what I am saying here. Their road trip across Japan together is so incredibly life-affirming and along the way they will meet some of Satoru’s old friends and they too are curious as to why he wants to give Nana away. But Nana has worked it out now.
A beautiful tale of kindness and so warm and tender and will bring great joy to everyone who reads The Travelling Cat Chronicles. Translated by Philip Gabriel who is experienced in translating from Japanese literature and best known for his work with Haruki Murakami. Delighted to highly recommend The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa. This is a book that has sadness, real joy and there is some humour as you take a journey across Japan with Satoru and Nana the cat. Make yourself a coffee and settle down with this wonderful book. You will not want to stop reading it.
Thank you to Poppy Stimpson for the advanced review copy of The Travelling Cat Chronicles.
The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa is published by Doubleday and is published on 2nd November and is available to pre-order through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
Tin Man – Sarah Winman
A beautiful bright yellow cover heralds what is quite simply a stunningly beautiful novel inside. Tin Man by Sarah Winman begins with a painting of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers being won in a raffle. A story of friendship, love and loss a story of two boys as friends that drifted apart and then reunited. A beautiful story that I found so difficult to leave. Although on short at just around 200 pages once started it was over so quickly as I could not put it down.
When both Ellis and Michael were boys they entered each other’s lives and they were inseparable. They were the best of friends. But as they grew life would play its part. Annie then enters their lives and the story then moves on to see Annie and Ellis marry and Michael departs their lives and moves away to London for his own reasons. Time moves on for both Ellis and Michael.
The novel is split between the story through Ellis and then later through Michael and his thoughts as he travels through Europe and the memories he recounts especially the days spent in the South of France with Ellis when for those precious days the two became one. For those brief moments in their life anything was possible.
Sometimes we believe a life plan is set out for us only never to be fulfilled a life that could have been so different. But sometimes life can only but give us a brief glimpse of what could have been and then cruel reality. Sarah Winman writes with such emotion. The characters in Tin Man are just so incredible. Lives so fragile and so precious. All three share the same one aspect and that is love. This is not just writing this is a story set to poetry it is that remarkable. It is all here every human emotion. Love, loss friendship and loneliness. It will move you, it break you and put you back together again. Like a precious vase the human heart is capable of being broken and shattered yet it can also heal.
Tin Man by Sarah Winman is one of those books that will make you realise just how precious we all are. A difficult review to write without giving too much away. It is emotive and powerful. I expect to see this beautiful book in many reader’s books of the year. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Tin Man by Sarah Winman is published through Tinder Press and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell
Meet Shaun Bythell, the owner of Scotland’s largest second- hand bookshop called ‘The Bookshop’ and is located in Wigtown which is in the Dumfries and Galloway region of Scotland and is also home to the Wigtown Book Festival which runs from 22nd September to 1st October this year. In Shaun’s bookshop he has a few books in fact over 100,000 books. This must be the closest thing to book heaven you can get. Shaun has been keeping a diary since taking over Wigtown bookshop and The Diary of a Bookseller is an extremely funny and humorous look at life running a large bookshop.
Someone once said to me that second-hand bookshops are were books go to die. I completely disagree with that comment and when you read The Diary of a Bookseller you will come to see what joy Shaun brings to his work. There are some very funny stories from his diary of customers and his staff and not to mention the bookshop cat. Shaun’s witty diary entries are a joy to read as he goes about running his bookshop. On the miles of bookshelves there are books on every subject, it would be hard to think that anyone would dare say they cannot find anything to read, so you would think. Then there is his assistant Nicky who just leads an interesting life. Each time I visit my local Morrisons store I will think of Nicky. You have to read to understand this.
Then there are the trials and tribulations of running a bookshop let alone a second-hand bookshop. That word ‘Amazon’ keeps cropping up. Over the last few years we have seen digital books taking a slice of the market so Shaun has had to cope with the ever changing reading habits of the buying public. There is nothing better than holding a ‘real’ book in your hands books are meant to be held and read from page to page not switched on or off. Just don’t mention eBooks to Shaun Bythell. Some of us have seen the clip of him taking his shotgun to an eReader.
If you have read and enjoyed The Bookshop Book by Jen Campbell then you will love The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell. Just makes me want to work I a bookshop and sell books all day. It is written by a man who clearly has a passion for books and selling books. It is an ode to second-hand bookshops everywhere. I just loved this wonderful book. Now what did I do with that Kindle?
Thank you to Profile Books for the advanced review copy of The Diary of a Bookseller.
The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell is published by Profile Books and is published on 28th September 2018 and will be available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
Refugee Tales by Various writers
Today I want to bring you two books that many may not have come across but they are important books Refugee Tales Vol I and II. I read both earlier this month and they have been on my mind ever since. In Volume I there is a collection of stories and poems by Chris Cleave, Ali Smith, Carol Watts among others. These are stories of people who are fleeing their own countries seeking shelter in Britain. These are not fictional stories but stories that are real and as they happened and how the British detention system could keep them not knowing their fates for years. These true stories are harrowing and real. Not from a bygone age in history but now and the unspeakable suffering that the refugees suffered.
Published by Comma Press on 16 June 2016
Refugee Tales Vol II – Various writers
In Volume II there are twelve stories from Jackie Kay, Helen MacDonald author of the best-selling H is for Hawk, Marina Walker, Kamila Shamsie and Neel Mukherjee and many more.
This is the second volume that tells of the true stories of refugees and the stories of the detention centres. In one story there is a young man who has been fighting deportation for 25 years. Never knowing from one day to another whether he is going to be deported back to his country and an uncertain future. These are real people and real stories and happening across Europe today. Heartfelt and profound these stories cry out to be read and should be. All profits from both Volume I and II go to the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group and also Kent Help for Refugees.
Thank you to Becky Harrison for review copies of Refugee Tales Volumes I and Two.
Published by Comma Press and released on 20 July 2017
Where Poppies Blow by John Lewis-Stempel
To be invited along to see the announcement of the winning book/author in this year’s Wainwrights Golden Beer Book Prize held at Blenheim Palace during Countryfile Live was a real honour. I was privileged to meet most of the writers both before and after the prize ceremony. I said during the run up to the day that the 2017 prize was the toughest yet as the quality of the writing is just an exceptional high standard and gets better and better every year. One of the writers on this year’s shortlist was John Lewis-Stempel who had two books with The Running Hare and Where Poppies Blow listed and it was in the end his book Where Poppies Blow came out as the winner of the 2017 Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize.
Many books have been written of the horrors of The Great War and the hell that the soldiers endured. My bookshelves are filled with books on WWI and also natural history but I have not yet come across a book that takes a look at how the British soldiers explored nature during the darkest years of 1914-18. They lived in nature it was in fact all around them and in Where Poppies Blow John Lewis- Stempel explores the soldier’s relationship with the plants and animals and how nature helped to fill the hours and days of the men that filled the trenches. From those who kept logs of the birds and plants they saw to the men who kept gardens as a reminder of home. Nature has a way of enduring like no other. To endure the hell of the trenches in The Great War the men needed something to take their minds off the horror they witnessed on a daily basis. Britain sent over five million men to the battlefields during those years but one fact that many may not understand was just how many horses, mules and donkeys were sent to aid the war effort, in total more than two million with many of them dying in such dreadful conditions. But without these animals Britain would not have been able to have continued the war. Many of the men cared deeply about their horses in their charge and here in Where Poppies Blow there is a chapter dedicated to the bravery of these animals with words and poems.
In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
When you read how the British Soldiers kept both flower garden and also vegetable garden and held show to decide winners this was both to keep up morale and the reminder of home life and in fact the growing vegetables helped feed the men in the trenches. There are chapters also on men and how they kept notebooks on the daily bird sightings and even nesting birds despite the shelling. To hear Larks singing in between the fighting must have been on one hand been calming and on another near impossible. Nature carried on despite the hell that was The Great War. Nature had a way of healing it was all around them from the Poppies of the battlefields to the Skylarks that sang while shells rained down.
Where Poppies Blow is a truly remarkable insight to life of the British soldier during The Great War and a side that many will have never known. John Lewis-Stempel has written many books on both natural history and also military history and this deserves its place among the best. The Wainwright chair of judges Julia Bradbury described Where Poppies Blow as “an extraordinary book about the healing power and resilience of nature in the darkest of times”
This is a remarkable and moving book and one that I whole-heartedly recommend. The poems alone will move you to tears. This is the second time that John Lewis-Stempel has won the Wainwrights Golden Beer Book Prize. He previously won it in 2015 with Meadowland (Transworld).
Thank you to Laura Creyke at the Wainwright Prize for the advanced review copy of Where Poppies Blow and all of the books on the 2017 Wainwright Prize
Where Poppies Blow by John Lewis-Stempel is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops. The Paperback will be released on 14th September.
Many who love the writing of Joanna Cannon have been very excited over recent days with the news of her second book Three Things About Elsie due for release in early January 2018. The first copies of the proofs were issued late last week and the early news is that this is going to be a much loved book and will touch all who read it. It will be one of the books of next year that is without doubt.
Joanna’s debut novel The Trouble with Goats and Sheep went on to become a bestseller and today is still selling extremely well and was even selected to be on the Richard and Judy Book Club for WH Smith. It is a remarkable debut novel about two ten-year-old girls Grace and Tilly who set about trying to solve a mystery. Mrs Creasy is missing and there are whispers. A beautiful written novel about secrets behind every front door but it is more than just that.
It came to my attention that there are still some (yes hard to believe) that have not yet discovered The Trouble with Goats and Sheep and as Joanna’s forthcoming second novel is already talk of social media with a cover that is just pure Battenberg, I thought it would be a good time to a competition to win not just one copy but I have two to give away. But that is not all. These editions are the special copies produced in the yellow paperback cover as issued by Sainsbury’s to celebrate Summer as this wonderful novel is set in a long hot Summer that some of us still recall. Sadly, I am not offering free Battenberg as I am keeping that for myself. Sorry!
To enter the competition all you have to do is head over to my Twitter page The Last Word 1962 and answer one simple question:
In what year is the novel The Trouble with Goats and Sheep based in. Then follow and RT the main pinned Tweet and you are in with a chance. There I told it was easy. It is easy honest.
Just to recap:
- In what year is the novel The Trouble with Goats and Sheep based?
- Follow and Re-Tweet the pinned Tweet
The completion will close at 7pm on Thursday 17th August 2018 and two lucky winners will be selected at random on Friday morning. The Winners will receive a Direct Message from me on Twitter that morning. All being well prizes will be sent out within a few days. Good luck.
Behind Her Back by Jane Lythell
When Jane Lythell released Woman of the Hour last year a fictional story based around life at a TV studio it was a break away from the thrillers that Jane had previously written and it really worked. I loved the idea of the story and the characters. I was delighted to hear that there would be a follow up and now just released through Head of Zeus is Behind Her Back and this I loved just as much as Woman of the Hour.
Jane Lythell writes with experience as she was a TV producer for many years so reading Behind Her Back does feel like you are a fly on the wall at StoryWorld. I really enjoyed the main character in Liz Lyon a busy single mother to a teenage daughter Flo. Now after an enjoyable holiday in Italy she is back at the TV studio but there is a new face that has joined the team. Just who is Lori Kerwell? Liz is such an endearing character you just want the best for her as she works so hard at the station and coping as a single mum with all the daily challenges. The station apparently has brought Lori in to help increase the ratings and therefore increase in profits but Liz feels there may be another reason for bringing in Lori. Something is going on and Liz is not being told.
As you can imagine there are some rather big egos at the station and at times for Liz it is like walking on broken glass as she tries to keep her team happy and motivated and working together. It is not long before the memories of the wonderful holiday in Italy start to fade as realisation dawn that something is going on and that feeling of wishing you had eyes in the back of your head really does come to the fore. Who does Liz really trust at the station now and why was she not told they were recruiting before she left for her holiday. Jane Lythell really has written a brilliant and gripping follow up. If you have not read Woman of the Hour you will want to after reading Behind Her Back. At times it is explosive and will have you turning the pages rather quickly as you will want to know what is really happening. This is quality drama and a slice of real life drama. Jane Lythell hits the right note again with this follow up novel and one I highly recommend.
Thank you to Head of Zeus for the advanced review copy.
Behind Her Back by Jane Lythell is published by Head of Zeus was published on 10th August and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
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Johannesburg by Fiona Melrose
The debut novel Midwinter by Fiona Melrose was so well received it was longlisted for the 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for 2017 and was one of my books for 2016. It’s voice still to this day resonates with as it was so beautifully written. Fiona Melrose returns with her second novel Johannesburg and the cover alone (Neil Gower) is just breath-taking.
The premise for Johannesburg is that it is set just over one day, and that day being 6th December 2013 the story follows Gin Brandt who grew up in South Africa and became an artist and moved to New York. But this is a time for celebration as it is her mother’s 80th birthday and Gin returns home to the place of her birth to be with her family.
But also there is great sadness, the world will at the same time hear of the passing of Nelson Mandela at the age of 95. The world is about to mourn the loss of this great man. There is so much within this book to absorb and not just the storyline. The characters that make up this astonishing novel really make the story come alive. Whether it is the mother and daughter coming together and trying to understand the past as well as the present to the housekeeper and domestic servant a past love and there is also a homeless man who was badly injured while protesting on worker’s rights. It is all here. With each character they each in turn bring something to the story which brings it to life.
The more you read through this novel the more your mind may start to play a little trick with you. Many will have read Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Wolf. In Johannesburg, Fiona Melrose has paid the ultimate tribute to Mrs Dalloway. This is true homage to a classic story and Melrose throws her heart and soul into her second novel. Ambitious? Yes, without any doubt. The next question is does she pull it off? In my view this is an extraordinary novel that at times is just runs with emotion just like the city itself on that very day when hearts and minds all met a day of history. Fiona Melrose tells it straight as she tells us of a troubled and divided city, with all its inequalities and prejudices and the violence that haunts this city. There is so much to take in through the pages of Johannesburg and I am not giving any clues as to how the story proceeds. This is a book that will linger with you for some time after you have finishes reading. I am delighted to HIGHLY RECOMMEND Johannesburg and a book for your Summer reading.
Thank you to Helen Upton for the advanced review copy of Johannesburg
Johannesburg by Fiona Melrose was published by Corsair on 3rd August and is available through through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.