Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski
The idea of setting a thriller around a series of six podcasts is a unique one and in the debut novel Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski I was not sure at first how this was going work, but have no fear I devoured this gripping psychological thriller on my journey to London for the recent book fair were I was going to meet the publisher of this gripping psychological thriller Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books. And it really is a book I recommend.
Podcasts have really taken off over recent years, there are podcasts that cover all manner of things, just search the internet and it is all there. I am a fan of listening to podcasts on my journeys. But here in Six Stories is a series of six podcasts based around a murder mystery. The host of the Podcast series Scott King is an ex journalist and through his chosen medium he sets out to investigate mysteries that have not been solved. It is a clever way of getting an audience and then the listeners could end up being the judge and the jury in some cases. Through his podcasts Scott King interviews key people involved with the mysteries thereby breathing new life into a case that may have been long since closed or forgotten about. Now he has turned his attention to attention to the death of the teenager Tom Jefferies who died on Scarclaw Fell in 1997. Now twenty years on King is attempting to uncover just how Tom Jefferies died and just what why was he on Scarclaw Fell when he met his death.
Through his six interviews Scott King will talk to those with close links to the teenager and each of them has a story to tell of that time and of the group of teenagers that Jefferies was involved with. Each character has a story and you the reader are listening to the podcast through the pages of this dark twisting story and through the podcasts more and more details become available to the reader/listener. Scarclaw Fell is depicted as a dark and desolate place and just how Matt Wesolowski through his words describe this place and foreboding, just why would Tom Jefferies would want to be there is part of the story.
By talking with those linked to Jefferies Scott King slowly uncovers just what was going on and as the plot deepens and thickens you become deeply involved. This is a clever trick by the author as he wants you to come to your own conclusion as if you are listening to the very podcasts themselves. It really works, I found this very addictive. Slowly the jigsaw of this case is put together through the interviews and more of the mystery is uncovered. This is a classic murder mystery and reads like one.
The one great aspect of this is that it in my view was completely unpredictable and I was never sure what was coming in the next podcast. I will not give any clues here as to how this ends but I found this to be a dark and at times very unsettling and sinister for different reasons but one thriller I am so glad I have read and Matt Wesolowski is a writer I am looking forward to hearing more of. Yet again Orenda Book has pulled off another great scoop of a novel and one that you need to read and be warned. Once started you will not put this book down. It is impossible.
Thank you to Karen Sullivan for the advanced review copy.
Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski is published by Orenda Books and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
Larchfield by Polly Clark
One of the most beautifully written novels of 2017 so far and I have no doubt will feature as one of my books of the year. Larchfield the debut novel by Polly Clark already shortlisted for the prestigious T.S. Eliot Prize is one book that should be on everyone’s ‘must read’ books this Spring. I have high expectations for this book through 2017.
A novel set over two time-frames firstly during the early years of the 1930’s and a young poet W H Auden was based at Larchfield School and then to the present day when Dora tries to cope with motherhood and a life that seems to be in isolation. It is not unusual these days in literary terms to see novels set over two time-frames but Clark as more than written a timeless novel this is a modern day classic, it is just so beautiful and captivating in every sense.
Dora’s life is one really one that she looks back on and thinks of what could have been. She met her future husband (Kit) while they were both studying at university. Dora had dreams of being a writer and has swapped that life for a life in a large converted house and they live in one of the flats, she has to cope with the baby more or less on her own and feels alone and there is an overwhelming sense when reading that the walls are closing in on Dora as there is mistrust between her and those that live in the other flats. All this while her husband seems to be away working all the time. Dora is alone and depression is setting in and there is some concern here for her welfare and that of her baby. Dora tries to cope by escaping into another world that only she knows.
Meanwhile back in 1930 Auden is to struggling but in a very different time and different sent of scenarios he was viewed with suspicion because of his sexuality and mocked by the very school boys he is trying to teach. Just imagine for one moment the mental torture that Auden himself must have gone through not just trying to teach and write poetry but the bigotry that must have followed.
For both Dora and Auden two very different people sent in two very different timeframes the results are the same a crisis for both a human crisis. For both Clark has treated so passionately and sensitively that you feel for both protagonists to the point of shedding a few tears. You connect with both characters as the need for compassion is so very strong through the pages of Larchfield that you just want to reach out to both. Maybe in a way just by reading that is exactly what we are doing. This however is a novel but built on personal experiences after she moved to Helensburgh and the desolate isolation she felt. Without doubt one THE debuts I have read in a long time. Unforgettable and deeply moving as well as haunting. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Thank you to Elizabeth Masters for the advanced review copy.
Larchfield by Polly Clark is published by riverrun an imprint of Quercus Books and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops from 23 March.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
This is probably one of the most unusual books I have read this year, yet it is something unique and a real treasure of a novel one that many have been waiting patiently for. Hard to believe that Lincoln in the Bardo is in fact George Saunders first novel, his previous collection of stories as in Tenth of December have won awards and received praise in many quarters.
Lincoln in the Bardo is a novel set two days after the death of Willie Lincoln the 11-year-old son of Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States who died of typhoid and is set on one night 22 February 1862 and Abraham Lincoln visits the grave of his son and the story is set to this one night. Lincoln cannot rest and the spirits of the souls who are laid to rest want to talk and through the course of this one night in February 1862 his son who he mourns is trying to talk to his father but the ghosts of those dead all want to communicate. Now this sounds totally extraordinary basis for a novel but Saunders has created a real tour de force of s story that I could leave.
Is this just a story of a man deeply missing his dead son and fretting over a war that seems to have no end or is this a story that delves deeper into the meaning of grief, loss and so much more. So many deep questions and the answers you can only answer for yourself. What this book is in fact a book of many voices all of them trying to talk to the reader. It is a very clever book and when you read of Abraham cradling his son in the crypt and the spirits of the dead seeing this it has an effect like no other book I can recall. A story that is life-affirming and those who have read George Saunders previous work will know just how good a writer he really is. Some of the deceased wander by night and must return to their ’sick boxes’ before daylight brings a new day. Then there are those that continue their long held bickering that must happen every night like a well- rehearsed play. Then again how good would this be if it was on stage. This is a book that I recommend it really is an experience that you will not forget and a book not even close to anything you will read this year.
Thank you Ros Elis at Bloomsbury to for the advanced review copy.
Lincoln in the Bardo George Saunders by is published by Bloomsbury and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
The Gift Maker by Mark Mayes
When The Gift Maker landed on my doormat I have to say it really intrigued me, I was so taken by the cover and press release that it haunted me, it sat on my desk and I would just look at it as if it was actually calling me to it. Announcing Mark Mayes as a new and rare writing talent. This really is a spellbinding and magical book.
The one thing I will say is that it defies any genre as I cannot place into any perhaps a foot in a number but not one that is specific as this is not like any other book, it is something unique and so beautifully written a fantasy that can be real and unreal in one sentence.
One night a student alone in his lodgings receives what can only be described as a strange looking package that he was not expecting but Thomas Rudder does not open it, it soon becomes clear that he is not the only one who has received a surprise gift out of the blue. We learn that a friend Liselotte Hauptmann has also received a gift, unlike Thomas Liselotte opens hers and so the scene is set. She set off on an adventure that is more of a quest as it is one that is not free from hazards. For Thomas he is worried about his gift and has not opened his, but he soon set off after Liselotte to the town of Grenze. There is a third student that comes into the storyline and Johan he is aware of the gifts to his two friends, but who has sent them and why? All we know is that their lives are never going to be the same again from this moment. We then find that a theatre producer is behind the gifts but why has he sent them on a journey that places perils in front of each of the three students.
A journey made by three students that turns into something unlike anything you will have read in a long time. A journey of self-discovery that the reader will also become part of these very journeys. What happens next is down to you. Now you have to go on your own journey to your local bookshop and order a copy of The Gift Maker and prepare for what is at times scary and extraordinary adventure to a town that you would not never want to visit let alone the journey. This is a story that will make you think about your life and life in general, I found it incredibly philosophical at times difficult and worrying. But I for one delighted that this book landed on my doormat. A book that asks so many questions not in general but to each and every individual reader some questions may hang around for quite some time. Then they will come back to you. This is not a book to take lightly but at the same time it is just brilliant and a read you will not forget. Every book has an ending, just wait until you read the ending to The Gift Maker.
Thank you to Matthew Smith at Urbane Publications for the advanced review copy.
The Gift Maker was Published by Urbane Publications on 23 February 2017. is available from Amazon and available to order through Waterstones and your local bookshops.
Cursed by Thomas Enger
Translated by Kari Dickson
Hands up if you are like me a fanatic reader of crime Nordic Noir? I thought there would be many. But how many have come across the name of Thomas Enger? Ok I will admit I had not up to this point, but thanks to the amazing Karen Sullivan the owner Orenda Books we can now add a new name to the long list. Thomas Enger’s latest novel Cursed deserves to be added to the list of the very best in Nordic crime writing.
Cursed is an ambitious novel in that I found it was a bit of a slow burner like waiting for a firework to go off and then when it does it just knocks you off your feet, but then it does get quite explosive through this twisty thriller that packs so much into nearly 350 pages that I raced through and even abandoned sleep to get to the end, and what an ending.
This being the fourth novel for Henning Juul but do not be concerned if like me you have not read the previous three, this really does stand out as a standalone read and once you have read Cursed you may then want to explore the previous outings. Nora and Henning once lived a happy married couple but after the tragic death of their son their marriage was put under so much strain as any marriage would do. A personal tragedy and a couple trying to take their own steps forward in their lives.
Both Nora and Henning are journalists, neither are serving police officers, while Henning is still looking for answers to his son’s Nora is now investigating the disappearance of Hedda Hellberg after she failed to return home from a trip to Italy, now Hedda’s life is being looked into as she never reached Italy and something about her life has shocked her husband. Was Hedda living a double life.
Something about this novel when reading Cursed told me that despite both Nora and Henning investigating on two completely different levels, there was a feeling both were going to connect the dots at some point. What are Hedda’s wealthy family hiding from this inquiry. Secrets and lies. How many times have we heard that in a crime novel? This is a thrilling crime read that is so multi-layered that at times especially through the first chilling opening pages makes you wonder what really is going on, then it explodes in your hands. It is complex and that is why it really appealed to me. As chilling as a freezing Norwegian winter this will keep guessing as to what really is at the heart of this book. Both Nora and Henning will face real personal danger in their quest to get to the truth. With an ending that will make your jaw drop and is a breath-taking climax. Roll on book five. A powerful new Nordic crime writer.
Thank you to Karen Sullivan for the advanced review copy.
Cursed by Thomas Enger is published by Orenda Books and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
You can follow the Cursed Official Blog Tour on the following dates
The God People by Hannah Kent
From the author of the highly acclaimed novel Burial Rites comes her second novel The Good People and the idea for this book came while writing Burial Rites and confirms that Hannah Kent is a master storyteller.
Set in 1820’s Ireland and has folklore at its heart, something that was prevalent in the 19th Century. The story is based in County Kerry in South West Ireland. Nóra Leahy’s husband Martin has just died in mysterious circumstances as he was not suffering an illness. He just died very suddenly. That same year they lost their daughter and as such they take in their four-year-old Grandson Micheál but he is disabled and cannot walk or speak and he has been kept hidden from public gaze, Nóra has hired Mary to care for Micheál but the whispers and gossip has already begun. Just what has caused young Micheál to go from being a happy and healthy young boy to one who is now disabled.
Coming into the story apart from Mary we have Nance Roche who is the local ‘healer’ but is seen otherwise by the village priest who is concerned about her actions and the affects it will have on the villagers. To the three women they now come to believe that Micheál is a ‘changeling’ he has been taken by the fairies. For Nóra going through a time of hardship and misfortune she cannot understand why life has turned against her home. Now Nance believes she can cure Micheál and bring him back from the fairies. This is a story that is steeped in Irish folklore and superstition. Hannah Kent’s meticulous research opens up a world from the past like looking through a window as it is so vivid and detailed. Each character has been brought to life that the reader becomes so deeply involved in the story that I found it was difficult to leave the story alone. This is not just a novel but is a history lesson as you learn of the hard life of the small communities, surviving on potatoes and Poitín and their local folklore all come to light in a deeply painful and heart-breaking novel.
As Nance goes about treating Micheál and the treatment using local remedies become more and more severe it becomes apparent to anyone reading that what is going on here is nothing short of madness. But remember this is the 19th Century and these small isolated communities are cut off from the rest of the world. Kent has brought to life a past long forgotten and how she has brought the past to life and the local language she brings to the reader is deep and rich.
The Good People is not a book to be taken lightly and it will shake your very emotions. This story is actually based a real event which makes reading it more personal. It has been a long time to wait for Kent’s second novel but the wait was worth the wait. It is beautifully written and if you have read Burial Rites you will know just how Kent paces her writing. This is no exception. A truly gifted writer.
Thank you to Kate Green for the advanced review copy.
The Good People by Hannah Kent is published by Picador and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
The Draughtsman by Robert Lautner
On the cover of Robert Lautner’s new novel The Draughtsman it says ‘We all have choices’ but under Nazi Germany and when you have been chosen to work for the SS do you have a choice? Can you speak out for others and face being found out with the dire consequences for you and your family.
It is 1944 and for Nazi Germany the net is closing in as the allies fight their way to Germany’s front door and for Ernst Beck a young unemployed engineer he just wants to work and earn some money for him and his wife Etta so that they can start a family when the war finally ends with a dream of eventually having their own home. Then the offer of a job arrives from Erfut’s prestigious engineering firm Topf & Sons. Now for Ernst he can now feel like a man again and start providing for his wife and make his parents proud. Sometimes though not everything is as it seems and for Ernst he will soon find out what the SS have really been doing. On his first day Ernst joins the Special Ovens Department designing new ovens that can withstand burning all day and night at special ‘prison camps’ at Buchenwald and Auschwitz but as visits to both camps including a dangerous situation it soon dawns on Ernst that he has not been told the truth about what these ovens are for and the story of executing criminals and those that have died of disease cannot surely amount to why these ‘special’ ovens are being designed and why the secrecy as he has to report direct to Berlin. For Ernst and Etta there are some trappings that go with the job as he is a special employee. But soon the real truth comes to Ernst that his employers have been colluding with the SS and now he has a choice to make does he risk his life and that of his beautiful wife Etta or does he start telling the truth that these ovens are part of the Crematoria for the concentration camps and he will have a hand in the Holocaust if he remains silent. The terrible burden ways heavy for Ernst as he weighs up the consequences of being complicit. What would become of his wife and even his parents. There now worrying signs that there is no escaping for Ernst.
The Draughtsman is an incredible achievement as Lautner explores how the mind plays out when suddenly life is generous while others struggle and how could he possibly give this new lease of life up. The one aspect of the story is how the war is going for Germany and how close the allies are now as the last months of the war begin. Germany is losing the war there will be heavy price to pay for those found guilty of being compliant and complicit in the Holocaust. This is a dark and at times harrowing read as the themes involved but it is a compelling read and one that will ask many questions of the reader. After you have read this novel ask yourself in a country that was fearful when neighbour turned against neighbour what would you do? This is a novel that should not be treated lightly. The authors note at the end of the book testifies to this. Without doubt a full five star novel.
Thank you to The Borough Press for the advanced review copy.
The Draughtsman by Robert Lautner is published by and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
Birds Art Life Death: A Field Guide to the Small and Significant by Kyo Maclear
This is an intricate and delicate memoir that is in fact more than just a memoir this is poetic and allows the reader the peace and freedom of nature’s cure. Birds. Art. Life. Death. by Kyo Maclear is not just a book about birds it is about how nature helped during a difficult period in Kyo’s life.
Kyo Maclear was born in London and the family emigrated to Canada when she was four-years-old. When her father suffered two strokes she tells of suffering from “anticipatory grief” she felt that she needed something out of her life of waiting for the telephone calls from the hospital something different. That something different is actually all around us every day. That is wild birds. For Maclear she had heard of a musician who gained the love of photographing wild birds in and around Toronto.
After contacting “the musician” in the hope of a bird walk what happened next is a book called Birds. Art. Life. Death. A book that covers not just the initial bird walk with “the musician” but a book covering every month of the year they watching and discovering birds. This is a book that is the purest form of nature’s cure a meditation as the reader is invited along with Maclear as she talks about not just the peace she finds in watching and discovering urban birds but openly discusses her parents, her past, the books she enjoyed through her life and almost anything and everything that she wanted to bring out into the open. I loved the way she uses words to describe certain birds they discover through the year. It is unique and at times made me smile. Being a keen birder through my life I have found times when I have done something similar.
Do not expect a rip roaring memoir but a book that moves along at a constant slow pace as it should do but it is so beautifully presented and Maclear’s prose is something to be cherished. The book is interspersed with drawings and small images of birds. So many topics are covered in 256 pages looking back I found it incredible to think that Kyo Maclear managed to achieve this.
If you are struggling with the current world news and need some of nature’s cure. I would happily recommend you pick up a copy and join Kyo and “the musician” and discover the peace that you will find in discovering some of the wild urban birds.
Thank you to Fourth Estate for the advanced review copy.
Birds. Art. Life. Death. by Kyo Maclear is published by Fourth Estate and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
Fragile Lives by Stephen Westaby
The balance between life and death is so fine, something we take for granted as we go about our busy lives every day. Professor Stephen Westaby a Heart Surgeon has dedicated his life in the pursuit of saving people’s lives. This is his life story in his own words a truly remarkable memoir of an outstanding career. When I was approached my Harper Collins if I would review Fragile Lives I have to admit to being concerned as I have been through heart surgery over recent years and the concern and worry this has brought not only to my but family and friends.
Stephen Westaby is not just a renowned heart surgeon but he is a pioneer of new heart surgery techniques that have saved many lives. He is a no-nonsense surgeon and this really comes through in his own words through the pages of Fragile Lives. For Stephen Westaby this is his story in his own words on how ‘the back-street boy’ from Scunthorpe decided he wanted to be a Cardiac surgeon all this at the very young age of 7 years.
This is a no-holds barred memoir that tells it straight it life and death. Sadly, it really is as simple as that. My emotions were shot by the time I finished reading, every life is precious as he describes some of the cases he has treated and not just in the UK either. At times I found my emotions just got to me having been through heart surgery and knowing what was involved. Fragile Lives may not be for everyone as it can be quite graphic in detail at times but it really gives an insight to the inner workings of the heart and also at the same time the strain that Stephen Westaby was under. Every life matters. Sadly, not all make it through. There is also a price to be paid for a life devoted to saving others and Westaby’s own private life especially with his first wife and children suffered as a direct consequence.
It is incredible the amount of progress that has been made since the 1960’s when so many died from a heart attack now so many are saved and this is because of the dedication of Cardiac surgeons like Stephen Westaby and he is also a flag waver for the NHS and is not afraid of taking a swing at those running the NHS as he clearly states ‘The rise and fall of the NHS’ We owe so much to surgeons like Westaby and many owe their lives to them that is why we must do everything in our power from allowing The Grim Reaper to take the NHS. It must survive for future generations.
Fragile Lives is an outstanding memoir from an outstanding man who we should all be extremely grateful to. There is humility mixed with some dry humour. Life and Death in their hands it is but one book that should not be missed. I for one will always be more grateful than I can put into words for Cardiac Surgeons like Professor Stephen Westaby. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Thank you to Caroline Saramowicz for the advanced review copy.
Fragile Lives by Professor Stephen Westaby is published by Harper Collins and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
First Love by Gwendoline Riley
Delighted at last to discover the writing of Gwendoline Riley and her latest novel First Love which you may think could well be a love story, actually this is something yet more terrifying in an all-consuming little book that I devoured on a train journey to London at times brutal and visceral we see a couple’s marriage falling apart and every sinew of human emotion exposed on every page.
We are introduced to Neve who is a thirty something writer and she is married to Edwyn who is older and is suffering from an illness which means he is pain a lot of the time and this is something that is constantly there. To understand Neve we have to turn the pages of time back to when she was a child and watched her parent’s marriage fail and then the ensuing divorce. Neve decided that she wanted distance from both parents especially her bullying father yet at the same time she cannot cut the ties with him. By the time she was in her twenties alcohol played a part in her life and bounced through friendships and partners and yet there is a sense of loneliness at the same time even when she spent time France.
Now with Edwyn that sense of loneliness is still present as Edwyn is a controlling character who recognises that he can control Neve by throwing childish tantrums to get attention and can become moody at the toss of a coin, there is obviously something missing from this marriage and that is Love in all its forms. For Neve one senses that she misses any form of affection as there is nothing there even sex is non-existent in the marriage. Is the Neve’s family past being played out in their own marriage or is this just Edwyn covering for his own failures and is he trying to get Neve to just accept that that is the best she is going to get in life? Despite the gloomy scenario there are some amusing parts in the story which Neve as the narrator takes the reader on the journey with her.
There is also a sense that you get when reading First Love is that Neve is not only trying to understand herself but the life around her and how best to cope as their marriage hits the rocks one minute then the next everything is OK.. She must have looked at her life as we look at a snow globe after it has been shaken.
First Love is one of those novels that is raw and human in that it exposes what life is like behind the closed doors of some people’s lives as we are invited into Neve’s world. At times it is shattering yet Riley’s writing is dazzling as she explores human frailties and at the same time incredibly moving.
Thank you to Granta Books for the advanced review copy.
First Love by Gwendoline Riley is published by Granta Books and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.