Monthly Archives: January 2016

For The Most Beautiful by Emily Hauser

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Delighted to say that as part of the Official Blog Tour For The Most Beautiful I talk to the author Emily Hauser about her debut book. I also review For The Most Beautiful and there is an exciting opportunity to enter a free prize draw to win a signed copy.

MEET THE AUTHOR

EMILY HAUSER – FOR THE MOST BEAUTIFUL

~ OFFICIAL BLOG TOUR 2016 ~

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In the latest in a series of Meet the Author Interviews I talk Emily Hauser about her debut novel For The Most Beautiful which is has just been released today 28 January and available through all good bookshops.

 Congratulations on your debut novel For the Most Beautiful. For those that are about to discover your book for the first time, can you give us a brief synopsis?

Thank you, John! For the Most Beautiful tells the legendary story of the Trojan War, as immortalised in Homer’s Iliad, from a new perspective – from the points of view of two women, Briseis, a princess of Pedasus, and Krisayis, daughter of the High Priest of Troy. When Helen arrives on a ship with Paris, prince of Troy, bringing war and destruction in her wake, the lives of both women are changed forever. As war takes over the Trojan plain, they are taken captive in the Greek camp by Achilles, the greatest warrior the world has ever seen, and Agamemnon, a cruel and brutal king – but will they allow themselves to be overtaken by fate, or will they fight to defend their homeland? … and I’ll stop there, I don’t want to give too much away!

 For the Most Beautiful is stunning and is the first in the Golden Apple Trilogy. What made you want to write about the Women of Troy, Krisayis and Briseis?

Homer’s Iliad, and the tale it tells of the Trojan War, is one of the oldest and richest cultural myths in the west. But although the women are just about visible in the epic – hiding behind the walls of Troy; captive in the Greek camp – I wanted to bring their story to the fore. Their tale is one of incredible power, hidden in the pages of the Iliad just waiting to be told – but it so often gets overshadowed by the better-known tale of the rage of Achilles. I wanted to uncover that story. And when you look a bit deeper, you begin to see that these women – in particular, Briseis and Krisayis – had pivotal roles in the way the Trojan War played out: that, in fact, nothing would have happened the way it did without them! That’s what really fascinated me, and I felt that it was a story that needed to be told.

 When you decided to write For the Most Beautiful you must have had to face a lot of research when retelling Homer’s Iliad. What challenges did you come across during the writing process and how long did it take to write?

I actually really enjoyed doing the research for For the Most Beautiful. As I’m currently studying for my PhD in Classics, I am fortunate to be immersed in this world on a daily basis. I’m lucky enough to have some amazing university libraries at my disposal, and while I was writing I would spend hours trawling through the stacks in search of old records of Mycenaean archaeology. I even came across an archive of old maps of Troy at Yale, with one dating back to the 16th century! For me, most of the research centred around getting the historical feel of Bronze Age Troy as accurate as I could – I’m fortunate in that I know the Iliad fairly well as a classical scholar, but I wanted to make sure that the reader really felt that Troy was historically accurate, as well as true to the details of the Iliad. So I spent a lot of time investigating the finds at Hisarlik (the site of ancient Troy), making drawings of Bronze Age armour, maps of the terrain of the Troad (the plain of Troy) and so on! My husband and I even made a trip to Troy, which was an incredible experience.

As for challenges, the main challenge for me I think was to be as true to the spirit of the Iliad as I could, whilst at the same time giving my own spin on it. It was probably the main reason why, for example, I included the scenes on Mount Olympus – so many modern authors choose to ignore the gods, but I felt that they were such a vital part of the world of Homer (and the Trojans) that they had to be there.

 At Cambridge you studied Classics you now live and work in the United States – have you continued this journey? And did this inspire you to decide to start the Golden Apple Trilogy?

The idea for For the Most Beautiful was born from a class I took during my first year of my PhD at Yale, called “The Invention of the Classic”. One week we were assigned to read Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad – a re-telling of the Odyssey from Penelope’s perspective, and a read I would highly recommend! – and I thought, “Why has nobody done this for the Iliad?” And that’s how it all started!

 I talk to a lot of authors about their writing routines: some are more creative in the early hours; some can write in a busy coffee shop.  What are your writing routines? And what are your hopes and fears?

I have a very simple writing routine: I write in the morning and do whatever else I have to do in the afternoon, and yes, I work in coffee shops! As I’m often working in libraries for my academic research, I love the buzz and the feel of other people conducting their lives around me that you get from a busy café – that’s really the heart and soul of literature, isn’t it? I always set myself a target for the day – usually 700 words – and once I’ve done that I’ll stop and move on to whatever other work needs to be done for the PhD. While I sometimes change the order in which I work, I find the routine and structure helpful and productive to combine my writing and my love of research.

Have you started writing the second book in the trilogy? Can you give us an idea of what we can look forward to?

Yes, certainly! The second book in the Golden Apple trilogy tells the story of Atalanta, a courageous and determined female warrior who sets out on the legendary voyage to capture the Golden Fleece with Jason and the Argonauts. Exposed on a mountainside to die at birth because she wasn’t a boy, Atalanta is determined to prove to her father, the king of Pagasae, that she is worthy to be his heir. There’s more at stake than just the Fleece, though, as Atalanta also has her own kingdom to fight for…

What are you currently reading?

Pompeii by Robert Harris. It’s one of my favourite books and one I re-read at least once every few years! I adore the vividness of the picture he paints of pre-eruption Pompeii, as well as the pace and adrenaline of the plot. Historical fiction on the ancient world at its best!

Thank you to Emily Hauser for taking the time to take part in Meet The Author on a busy publication day. You can find out more about Emily Hauser by visiting her official web site.  Here

The Last Word Review

 A new writing talent arrives with a fresh new take on Homer’s epic masterpiece

 Emily Hauser has taken a fresh new look at Homer’s epic Greek epic Iliad and the siege of Troy, but with a here is a fresh twist on the Greek myth.

The story is based around the Women of Troy namely Krisayis who is the daughter of the Trojan’s high priest and Briseis who is a Princess of the City of Pedasus close to Troy.

I recall reading Homer’s Iliad nearly 38 years ago and thanks to this I got interested in the classics.  So anyone who has read Iliad knows the story and how the fate of Troy was sealed.

Emily Hauser has written the story through the eyes of the two women of Troy and how they used what power they had to influence the outcome.

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Paperback edition – Available July 2016

For The Most Beautiful is an epic tale in its own right as Hauser tries to describe to the reader how life was living in the shadows of the gods of war. I have to admit that my favourite of the women was Krisayis she is brave and does everything she can to assist the Trojans by learning the Greek plans after she is captured by them.

You always know a good book when you get drawn into the storyline, and what Hauser has done here is to create a new and vibrant retake on the story of Troy not so much a retelling as I don’t think that this is how it comes across. Indeed, within in the interview I have done with Emily Hauser she says ‘It is a story that needed to be told’. For those not familiar with the epic Greek tale there is a handy detailed glossary of names and places at the back of the book. I compliment Hauser’s prose it is peerless. A truly outstanding debut.

For The Most Beautiful is the trilogy and each can be read on their own, and with the second book now underway I am already looking forward to the next instalment.

For The Most Beautiful written by Emily Hauser published by Doubleday. 28 January 2016.

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Competition time. I have a signed copy of For The Most Beautiful to give away in a free prize draw.  Head over to my Twitter page: @Thelastword1962 Just follow and retweet the post for ‘Pinned’ Tweet and you will go into the draw to win a copy of For The Most Beautiful.

* Please note: UK only prize draw. Winning book issued by publisher. Entry closes today 28 January 2016  at 8pm entries after this time will not be included

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From Yellow Star to Pop Star by Dorit Oliver-Wolff

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From Yellow Star to Pop Star by Dorit Oliver-Wolff

The Last Word Review

A deeply moving memoir and a unique insight to an inspirational woman who survived the Nazis to tell her story

 

Once in a while a memoir lands on my desk, when From Yellow Star to Pop Star by Dorit Oliver-Wolff arrived I kept it on my desk as this is a woman I already knew from articles in newspapers. This is her story in her own words. A remarkable woman, a very brave woman.

Dorit Oliver-Wolff born Theodora Handler was born in Novi Sad in 1936. In 1941 While living in Belgrade she witnessed the bombing of the city and the horrific scenes no child should ever have to see. This was the start of the invasion. Along with her mother they managed to the hills. From here on they would be running and hiding, escaping capture from the Nazis being Jewish that would mean being sent to a concentration camp and almost certain death. She lost her father as well as other close family members as they were rounded up and sent to concentration camps and were never seen again. There is one story that is that involved her grandfather that he had to witness that is appalling he survived but was mentally destroyed by what he witnessed and the torture that followed at the hands of the Gestapo.

Both Dorit and her mother were constantly on the run from the Germans always trying to keep one step ahead of being captured, always looking for somewhere constantly going without food. This is a harrowing story of a little girl so determined to survive and tell her story. In the end they found themselves in Budapest hiding in the catacombs under the city when the Russians defeated the Germans this was not the end of the hell for Dorit and her mother as certain elements of the invading Russians took advantage of the women and girls and rape was widespread they both managed to survive thanks to some kind Russian soldiers.

At War’s end they found themselves under Serbian rule and behind and it was not until 1948 did they manage to escape and find their way to Israel but at this time they were stateless and with no passport she joined her mother’s dance troupe and this enabled her to travel to various countries to work and study and so began a remarkable career as a very gifted singer that shot to stardom with many hit records that to this day are still played on radio stations around the world.

Throughout this part of her life she never lost touch of her immense zest for life and why not having witnessed the horrors of war at first hand. She talks passionately of bringing up her daughter while combining this with her career.

In February 2015 on Holocaust Memorial Day she was awarded a limited edition medal for her remarkable work in Schools and colleges and communities throughout the UK talking about the Holocaust to students.

This is a story of a very remarkable brave little girl that was determined to survive the horrors of the Nazis and also inspirational. Dorit Oliver-Wolff has now told her story and this will now be read for generations to come. This is a story that will stay in my memory for many years to come.

My thanks to Red Door Publishing and Publishing Push for a review copy.

From Yellow Star to Pop Star written by Dorit Oliver-Wolff published by Red Door is available now.

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The Chimes by Anna Smaill

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Delighted to say that as part of the Official Blog Tour for The Chimes I talk to the author Anna Smaill about her debut book as well the Man Booker Prize and also poetry. I also review The Chimes and there is also a chance to enter a free prize draw to win a copy of the 2015 Man Booker Prize longlister.

MEET THE AUTHOR

ANNA SMAILL – THE CHIMES

~ OFFICIAL BLOG TOUR 2016 ~

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In the latest in a series of Meet the Author Interviews I talk Anna Smaill about her debut best-selling and Man Booker Longlister 2015 novel The Chimes which is has just been released in paperback.

 Your first novel The Chimes is stunning. Music plays an important in the book. What challenges did you face when you came up with the idea for the book?

Thank you, that’s really kind. To be honest, when I started writing, the book felt like a series of insurmountable problems. I think, in fact, that this is what kept me writing – it was like a very intriguing and deeply personal labyrinth. I had to solve it in order to get out. The central problem was dealing with a first-person narrator with memory loss, while writing in the present tense. I needed to convey the fact that, for Simon, the same day seems to repeat itself interminably, yet I also needed to move the plot forward. The first third of the book was reshuffled countless times. It was a challenge also understanding the way in which music orders the world – how far I could stretch this idea, and the limits and implications of it.

The cover art design is very unique and beautiful. Did you come up with the idea for the artwork?

I’m glad you feel that way. I adore it too. I would love to claim some sort of influence over the cover design, but in fact it’s down to my editor Drummond’s excellent instinct, the genius of the illustrator Rich Gemell, and the wonderful design team at Sceptre. I remember waiting nervously to see the first sketch and glimpsing it as a preview thumbnail on my email. I could tell it was right, even before I’d downloaded it and seen it properly, and even in black and white. It just had a wonderful idiosyncratic, off-kilter texture in the water and cityscape, which keyed so closely with my sense of the book. In colour it came alive. I’m particularly fond of the paperback design, which employs another brilliant illustration from Rich.

 

What was it like when it was announced that you had been Longlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize?

Quite dreamlike, actually – in the sense that it was utterly unexpected and in such surreal juxtaposition to the day I’d had. I was just about to go to bed when I got an email from my editor. Ten minutes later it was announced on Twitter and my timeline exploded. It’s very much a cliché, but it did feel like time slowed down, and I couldn’t speak to explain to my husband for a few seconds. After it sunk in, I felt incredibly happy. There is so much that is fraught in publishing your debut novel, and so many hurdles along the way. It felt like a wonderful moment not just for me, but for my agent and editor and everyone at Sceptre who had taken a gamble on the book

 

I talk to a lot of authors about their writing routines and their hopes and fears. Can you describe yours?

My writing routine is still evolving. I started writing The Chimes while juggling a series of unfulfilling part-time jobs. Writing felt clandestine and secretive, and I fit it in around other things. I tended to write in the British Library, or my local library. Then my daughter was born, and writing became an evening pursuit, or something snatched in daytime naps. As soon as I had some regular days of childcare,  however, my routine solidified a lot. When I have a whole day to write, it essentially still follows this pattern: get up, say goodbye to husband and daughter, brew a pot of tea, sit down, write. I tend to do most of the main composition in the morning. After lunch I usually read, edit, and type up (I write longhand first). This general routine is most productive when I’m in the middle of a book. When I’m in the earlier stages, as I am at present, there is a larger component of reading, sketching, thinking, and looking out the window.

 

Did you manage to read any of the other finalists for the Man Book Prize and did you have a favourite?

A few days after the longlisting I was paid in book vouchers for an event. It seemed too fortuitous a moment to pass up, so I went straight to a bookshop and bought all of the other novels on the list. This was a trifle ambitious and not remotely cool of me, but glorious nonetheless. I have still only read a handful, but to me Marilynne Robinson’s Lila is simply indelible. The story and language are simple, but her experience and wisdom and the humanity she manages to distil in the story is remarkable. I find her work and philosophy very moving.

 

I understand you had a book of poetry published. Is there a chance that one day we could see another?

I’d like to say yes, but I’m really not sure. There was something about writing poetry that effectively rescued me from the emotional quandary that resulted when I stopped playing the violin. I really needed to write that book. The intensity of linguistic attention directly derived from the intensity of my musical practice and the sort of thinking I had developed around it. I do think poets are a different breed from prose writers – their insights and drives move differently, and come from different locations. I still have some doubts about which camp I fall into. I haven’t felt that moment of inspiration that I recognise as the seed of a poem for a while, but I do hope it comes back at some point.

 

How is your second book coming along? Can you give a little insight as to what we can expect to see?

It’s going well, I think. Halting, but with increasing jolts of enjoyment! I hope that it will have a similar density and strangeness to The Chimes, though it’s actually set in contemporary Tokyo. It’s much more familiar and knowable an environment on the surface, but with trapdoors into a complex, more fantastic landscape also.

 

What is the book you are currently reading?

Moby Dick. Whenever people have those discussions about which classic novel they’re most ashamed not to have read, that’s mine. My father read it last year, and – as we’re secretly competitive with our reading – now I have to stop prevaricating and just read it.

I am extremely grateful to Anna Smaill for taking the time to take part in ‘Meet the Author’. If you would like more information on Anna Smaill’s work, please annasmaill.com

The Chimes by Anna Smaill

The Last Word Review

A wonderfully hypnotic debut fantasy that draws the reader in. A dazzling read

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Now just published in paperback is the wonderfully hypnotic debut The Chimes from the New Zealand born writer/poet Anna Smaill. This is a fantasy tale that takes a little time to become tuned into the authors musical background that she has used to great effect in The Chimes as read on the rewards come to you.

Simon has left his home following the death of his parents and heads for London he is not sure why. But he is inexorably drawn here. All he carries with him is a bag of objects that are personal to Simon they help him remember and recall moments. Important in a world that at the end of every day memories are wiped clean when The Chimes sound in fact it is a world were memory is banned.  Music is the key in this dystopian world were every life in its every form is orchestrated by music. This is imagination in all its pure glory.

When in London Simon now meets up with Lucien, who is different to most and Lucien takes an interest in Simon because of his recollections thanks to his bag of memories. As the story unfolds here Simon begins to understand he was being drawn to London for a reason, that reason is to find a friend of his mother. But there is so much more to Smaill’s storytelling. Imagine a world where everyone carries a bag of memories and what would happen if that bag where lost or were to be stolen. Anyone reading this may think that in this world everyone suffers from a form of amnesia their lives seem to be in a day to day state of flux.

The world that Simon and Lucien do inhabit is one in its most basic, food is hard to come by and lodgings are very basic. In a world where memory is wiped clean at the end of every day the past history and memory is referred to as ‘blasphony’.

Everyone who reads The Chimes will have their own unique opinion as to how it effects them personally but I felt it was like waking from a dreamy state of mind, it could be just that is exactly how Smaill wanted this to be read and seen. But it a story that is so well crafted and put together and I can see why so many plaudits came its way as it was longlisted for Man Booker Prize 2015.

The Chimes may not appeal to the disconcerting reader but for those seeking a unique and remarkable read, then enter the world of Simon and Lucien and a world were memory no longer exists.

Thank you to Ruby Mitchell and the publishers Sceptre for a copy of The Chimes

The Chimes written by Anna Smaill is published by Sceptre and is now available in paperback.

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Competition time. I have a copy of The Chimes to give away in a free prize draw.  Head over to my Twitter page: @Thelastword1962 Just follow and retweet the post for ‘Pinned’ Tweet and you will go into the draw to win one of the copies in paperback. 

*Please note: UK only prize draw. Winning book issued by publisher. Entry closes today at 8pm this evening 27 January 2016.  Entries after this time will not be included.

 

Beside Myself by Ann Morgan

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Beside Myself by Ann Morgan

The Last Word Review

A dark story that creeps under your skin. Brilliantly written. Chilling, the stuff of nightmares

Rarely does a book get under my skin the way that Beside Myself by Ann Morgan does. Very quickly you realise that this is a story that you cannot leave alone if you try you just end up going back to it. It is dark very dark and it does creep under your skin.

The story is basically about Helen and Ellie they are identical twins. At the age of six both are very different. Helen being the popular of the twin’s lots of friends and always doing well at School whereas Ellie is completely the opposite some may say rebellious not many friends, you could say a loner compared to Helen and always having to face some sort of punishment for her bad behaviour.

I am sure we have all thought what would happen if identical twins swapped places or mistaken one for another. Well here is that story. One day the twins decide to play a game of just that except there is a catch that will have profound consequences for both of them. Ellie refuses to go back to themselves. Things go dramatically wrong and the consequences for Helen are life changing.

Fast forward twenty-five years and the bright and bubbly Helen is destroyed by her twin her life is in ruins now suffering from mental health problems she has cut all ties with her family and hears voices in her head. She asks herself about the switch did it actually happen? Rarely seen out in public. Ellie on the other hand is now the famous actress.

The story switches back and forth from the time the twins were young to the present day and the hellish life that the bright and bubbly Helen now has a complete and real nightmare that has no end. She has hit the rocks and alcohol seems to be her only real friend. The story of how mental illness takes its toll on the individual is hard going. Having a friend who suffers from Bi-Polar I know how at first hand the devastating effects this has on everyone around them and how the world treats the subject.

The one person she does not want to in her life is Ellie. What if something were to happen and that the twins were re-united with all that the past holds?

Beside Myself is brilliantly written, it is chilling and so dark it made the hair on the back of my neck to stand up. As every new chapter started it brought to life new issues that just knocked you off your feet. I must credit Ann Morgan for the characters, each and every one left me cold in some way, they all have their own issues.

My thanks to Philippa Cotton at Bloomsbury Books for a review copy.

Beside Myself written by Ann Morgan is published by Bloomsbury Books and is now available in all good bookshops.

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The North Water by Ian McGuire

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The North Water by Ian McGuire

 

The Last Word Review

As bone chilling tale on board a whaling ship and is as chilling as the Arctic waters. Ian McGuire has written a classic tale

The setting for Ian McGuire’s second novel is aboard the 19th – Century Yorkshire based whaling ship Volunteer but something is not right. On board is the usual mix of whalers but also on board for the first time is Patrick Sumner. Patrick has a past as an army surgeon, now broke with nothing better to do than join a hellish group on board ship setting sail to the freezing waters of the Arctic to hunt Whales.

Also on board is Henry Drax a harpooner. Drax is nothing more than a drunk and a filthy brutal thug and much more besides.  This is the story of the ill-fated voyage of the Volunteer.

During the voyage to the bone chilling waters of the Arctic we get to meet the various characters on board, a dubious captain all keen to hunt whales and make money. There is a killer on board and I do not mean someone killing whales we have a drunken cold-blooded killer on the loose on board ship. We have flashbacks of Sumner’s past that tells us about the character who now finds himself embroiled on a voyage that is hellish beyond description.

The North Water is a brutal book beyond anything I have read in many a year. But bearing in mind this is a 19th Century based tale on life aboard a whaling ship the story contains violence and detail that is not for the faint-hearted it is a story from a lost world. The sheer brilliance of the McGuire’s writing is something to behold. It is told very much in the prose of an old dusty novel found in a vintage book store. It is that good.

It is not often that a book takes hold of you and delivers a punch that this novel packs, the sheer brutality of the story will shake most, it is gore in its description but the story is so captivating that you cannot put it down.

The North Water is visceral it is blood thirsty, it is a story of survival, with one of the most terrifying characters I have read in many years that will linger in my memory for some time to come. It also tells a story of courage in the face of the purest form of evil. If there is the slightest criticism I just wish the ending was more drawn out as I would have liked to have known more before I closed the book.

Ian McGuire’s second novel is destined for great things and is already one of my books of 2016. I have a feeling there are awards waiting to come as it is truly sensational.  Don’t be put off the violence in The North Water and make this one book that you must read in 2016.

My thanks to Elizabeth Preston for an advanced review copy.

The North Water written by Ian McGuire. Published by Scribner UK on 11 February 2016

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Another Love by Amanda Prowse

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Another Love by Amanda Prowse

Amanda Prowse returns with her best novel to-date. Stunningly written and deeply emotive. One book not to be missed

I  knew in advance what the new novel by best-selling author Amanda Prowse was about and it sat on my desk for a few weeks tempting me to pick it up. When I did I was completely blown away.

Only Amanda Prowse could write a novel that covers the effects of alcoholism and the devastation that it causes to a family. I have read a number of Amanda’s books and my research on the remaining ones leads to say that what we have in Another Love is Amanda Prowse’s seminal work to-date and is without a doubt her best. It hits home hard but that is the way that Amanda wanted it to be.

The story is based around Romilly who adores her husband David they have worked hard to get the perfect home in a lovely part of Bristol. The love for each other is ‘proper love’ Their daughter Celeste is at the heart of the family. Another Love is told in the third person through both Romilly and Celeste.

We all lead incredibly busy modern lives and sometimes at the end of the day we round it off with a glass of wine. With Romilly as her frailties came out, then a glass would then turn to a bottle and a bottle would turn to two bottles. You the story. Slowly but surely we witness the fall of Romilly into alcoholism pure and simple and through the eyes of not just Romilly but her daughter Celeste who I could have cried for as she witnessed things no young daughter should witness but this is real life as we know it happens.

David had to cope in some of the most appalling situations to arrive home and find his ‘bug girl’ in a heap drunk after drinking to excess. An alcoholic will never admit to their problem and takes on the persona of a Jekyll and Hyde character and we see this through Celeste.

Another Love is hard hitting and pulls no punches. It is stunning in its approach to the subject and I found incredibly intense at times to the point I had to put the book down. When a person such as Romilly suffers from alcoholism the profound devastating affect it has on those in the immediate family who love her and also close friends. The total affect is shocking as friends start to drift away and you feel the walls start to close in on you.

As the story moves on things get much worse for Romilly and rock bottom fast approaches. Then I really started to fear the worst. As I reached the climax to Another Love a tear rolled down my cheek this is a story that will break your heart in more way than you think. It left me numb.

Credit must be given to Amanda Prowse for approaching the subject of alcoholism, it is not an easy subject to write a novel about. It hits the mark here as it told in all its gory detail as we witness the shocking fall of Romilly the ‘scientist’ David’s ‘Bug Girl’ who had the world at her feet.

Another Love written by Amanda Prowse is published by Head of Zeus. The eBook is released 16 January with the Hard Back edition released 11 February.

To pre Order your copy from Amazon: Here

Stop Press:

Amanda Prowse has just been announced as the winner of the Sainsburys eBook of the year for A Mother’s Story

A Mother's Story

 

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

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The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

The Last Word Review

Captivating, charming, intuitive. A debut novel that will sweep you off your feet and one that capture the hearts of its readers

 

It would be so easy for me to say here is one of the most eagerly anticipated debut novels of 2016. Well actually it is and what is more it is one of the best debut novels I can remember in a long time. Much praise has been heaped upon Joanna Cannon’s first novel and it stands up to the litmus test so early in the year of being one of the books of 2016 I have the feeling we will be talking about ‘Goats and Sheep’ a lot during the coming year.

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is set in a typical English avenue during the long hot Summer months of 1976. Mrs Creasy has suddenly gone missing this is not like Mrs Creasy to just wander off, the curtains are twitching and Mr Creasy is seen wandering the streets looking for his missing wife.

What is needed here are two amateur sleuths to investigate, on the case come Grace and Tilley, who are Grace and Tilly? They are two ten-year-olds. But there is more to this than a hunt for the missing Mrs Creasy. They believe that God has the answer and as that God is everywhere he will know the whereabouts the missing Mrs Creasy.

When you add to the story that the Avenue is alive with ‘talk’ and that Mrs Creasy was friends with everyone and therefore knew all their secrets there are one or two neighbours who realise that she knew too much and are hoping their secrets have gone for good along with Mrs Creasy.

We have a story that moves along so beautifully you find yourself wishing the book would go one for much longer than the 464 pages it seems a long story but I promise you this will sweep you off your feet and will carry you along with it and then before you know it the story is over. The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is like wrapping yourself in warm cosy duvet it just makes you feel warm or maybe it is just the thought of that hot Summer.

As with any neighbourhood there are always one or two that are seen as different to the rest even as far undesirable residents that do not fit into the Avenue. There are some here and you will get too meet them here. Grace and Tilly are two of the most memorable endearing characters I have read in a book for many years and a pure joy to behold.  I just loved the way Grace swept poor Tilly up at the start of the book as she had just moved in across the road. The two become friends and so the story begins a pure delight. It is not too often that a book comes along that fills your heart with joy. It is poignant and totally unforgettable. A story of secrets and lies also it is a story of coming of age, there is humour in the story but some elements are dark as we just do not know what secrets lie behind every front door. How the book got its title comes out through the story and I will not ruin that here, the reader can discover this for themselves. One thing is for sure, you will look at people from here and wonder ‘Goat or Sheep’

I was 14 in that Summer and the memories are as vivid today as if it was yesterday but the sheer beauty of the research by the author with a few added gems just helped me awaken more memories of those long hot shimmering days that seemed to last forever.

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, a wonderful and unforgettable tale.

 

My thanks to Borough Press and to Ann Bissell for an advanced review copy ahead of publication.

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep written by Joanna Cannon and is published on 28 January 2016 by The Borough Press.

Nightblind by Ragnar Jónasson

Night-Blind_cover

Nightblind by Ragnar Jónasson

 The Last Word Review

Ragnar Jónasson is back with Nightblind. As chilling as an Icelandic winter’s night. This will grip you and not let go

 

Following on from the success of Snowbind Ragnar Jónasson returns with Nightblind and sure to be just as successful and his first.

With Nightblind set a few years after Snowblind we are in the remote quiet fishing village of Siglufjörður which is situated at the very tip of northern Iceland and not the easiest of places to get to only via a tunnel in the mountains. Here Ari Thór Arason the local policeman, continues his difficult relationship with the villagers. If you read Snowblind you will have come to know Ari well and his let’s say you got to know all about his past fast forward a few years now.

Now the village is having to deal with the murder of a policeman, who is shot at point-blank in a deserted house. Now a cold blooded killer is out there on the loose and the long dark winter days are fast approaching. Now the local policeman Ari Thór has to catch the killer before he kills again. Is this a revenge killing or the start of something more sinister? So who is the killer of policeman Herjólfur?

Add in a strange woman who comes to town, who is she, well she is running away from something that is for sure, but what? When you add in local politics that is sure to make things difficult for Ari, the local mayor is compromised what is this all about and then Ari decides he needs help and calls upon the assistance of his old colleague Tomás to help. We discover a psychiatric ward in the capital Reykjavik ward where someone is being held against their will.

What Ragnar Jónasson gives us in Nighblind is a complex crime thriller written against a backdrop of the Wintery Icelandic scenery that Jónasson weaves into the storyline and is nothing short of breath-taking and just adds to the drama that is unfolding.

One of the reasons I so enjoy reading Ragnar Jónasson’s Icelandic crime novels is that to me there is an air of the old ‘who done it’ may be it has something to do with Jónasson who translated a number of Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic when he was 17 years-old.

There are plenty of clues along the way to help the reader to try and see if they can find the killer. Plenty of twists and turns to keep you up late at night.

I have said it before some authors can suffer from second book syndrome but I am so delighted that this is not in the case of Ragnar Jónasson.

As Ragnar Jónasson’s first novel Snowblind the translation of Nightblind has been completed by Quentin Bates.

My thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for supplying a review copy ahead of publication.

To my delight I even get a mention in Nightblind as part of the reviews for Snowblind which came as a rather nice surprise.

My thoughts on Snowblind

If you are looking for the perfect winter crime novel that mixes not only drama but outstanding scenery, then from the land of fire and ice Nightblind is the Icelandic noir crime novel is one book to start the new year.

One day I can see Ragnar Jónasson’s Icelandic crime novels being turned into crime dramas for the small screen they are just perfect for TV.

Nightblind is released in paperback on 15 January 2016 by Orenda Books.

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