Monthly Archives: February 2016
Anatomy of a Soldier by Harry Parker
The Last Word Review
Brutal yet compassionate book on modern warfare. One that will stay with the reader long after its finish
Writing about the brutality of modern warfare is no easy feat when trying to capture the reader. What Harry Parker has done with his debut novel Anatomy of a Solider is take this to the next level and see the brutality through 45 objects.
Harry Parker a veteran of tours in Iraq and Afghanistan writes about a fictional soldier Captain Tom Barnes serial number BA5799 who we find out very early is going to be seriously injured by an IED.
Writing about these forty-five objects that include the tourniquet, a bag of fertilizer, a beer glass, a drone, dog tags, a mobile phone, a kit bag, the IED itself a helmet, even a snowflake each item will narrate to the reader its part in the human suffering in warfare. Captain Tom Barnes loses both legs to the roadside IED (Improvised Explosive Device). It is a highly charged and brutal account of what takes place. It holds nothing back from the reader from the very start, uncompromising and dramatic in its detail.
With each object talking in the first person it is a brave first novel that only a skilful writer can pull so it is pleasing to see that Harry Parker successfully manages to turn this into a moving and captivating first novel when you realise it is a grim personal reality of a novel after Harry Parker while serving in Afghanistan was badly wounded losing both legs. In a recent interview he said ‘I stepped on a bomb’
From serving soldier to amputee is the true heart of this story and when one part of the story is told by a bed after Tom returns home from hospital and the sudden realisation of the sheer horror of what has happened hits home and Tom breaks down in tears is heart-breaking and is more autobiographical in its telling.
It would have been so easy to write an account of the sheer brutality of war but writing about the items that in essence surround takes on more uniquely if chilling aspect through each of the forty-five objects.
Many historical accounts of warfare are black and white in their approach but Harry Parker after taking a writing course funded by the army does not fall into this in any way and it is both brave and bold in its approach to life in the field and then staring total reality in the face on returning to the family home and facing rehabilitation and then facing the future. Anatomy of a Soldier is one man’s journey of survival and how it affects everyone around him.
My thanks to Kate McQuaid at Faber & Faber for a review copy.
Anatomy of a Soldier written by Harry Parker and publishes by Faber and Faber on 25 February and is available through all good bookshops.
In a Land of Paper Gods by Rebecca Mackenzie
The Last Word Review
An evocative story of a missionary school in China. Poignant yet funny. An enchanting debut novel
At the end of 2016 we may look back and declare this year to be one of those incredible literary years. Two months into 2016 and already we are seeing some truly outstanding books being released including debut novels and I include In a Land of Paper Gods by Rebecca Mackenzie in this.
We all know China as a land of mystery and legends. What Mackenzie presents to the reader here is a beautifully told story of a boarding school set high on a misty mountain and that of a ten-year-old Henrietta S. Robertson who is sent to the school. Set at the outbreak of WWII Etta as she is known sent there so both her parents can continue their Missionary work teaching Christianity to the Chinese.
As Etta makes friends at the School including one she names as ‘Big Bum Eileen’ they soon realise that they are missing in their lives and set about make a secret society called The Prophetess Club with new names and mystical secret powers. The brave girls set about exploring the grounds of the School. Harmless fun at first as the girls are missing their parents and with very few teachers present to control them the girls then cross the boundaries soon something happens that will have dire consequences for Etta. It is now 1941 and Japanese forces have moved into China and the world that seemed so far away from Etta and her friends is now a dangerous one and soon the Japanese soldiers are running the school. Life for Etta is now one of grave danger and the story so poignantly told by Mackenzie takes a darker route.
In a Land of Paper Gods is a story told through the eyes of a young girl in a beautiful land of full of mystery and a unique culture from the one she knows but it is one of great danger so far away from home and separated from her parents the story of Henrietta is set over a period of ten years and follows her from the young girl seemingly so alone and afraid to one of a young lady so confident and assured and making her way through life. A story of incredible imagination at times funny but also one of bravery as a teacher who becomes a surrogate mother to Etta and to watch their story unfold in a time of incredible uncertainty and mortal danger.
Henrietta is an unforgettable in this coming of age story one that you will find extremely hard to leave alone especially as you progress into the second half of the story and one that at times is horrifying.
A stunning debut novel from Rebecca Mackenzie and one that has left an indelible mark on this reviewer. Yet another brilliantly written first novel and one that deserves many plaudits. I now find myself wondering what became of Henrietta now that we leave her. In a Land of Paper Gods, a story that I will not forget in a hurry.
I am extremely grateful to Ella Bowman at Headline for a review copy.
In a Land of Paper Gods written by Rebecca Mackenzie and publishes by Tinder Press and is available from all good book shops.
Out of the Darkness by Katy Hogan
A heart-warming and life affirming book that will break your heart and at the same time heal it
Every now and again a book lands on my desk that just after the first few pages will make me sit up and take notice. When I was asked if I would like to review Out of the Darkness by Katy Hogan I had already heard that readers were liking what they had just read. What I was not ready for was the impact it had on me.
What Katy Hogan has written here is a story about three women Jessica, Alex and Hannah who are suffering the loss of a loved one and how they deal with the grief and in turn how it affects everyone around them.
Jessica is devastated by the death of her beloved mum and best friend and struggles with the daily reality that she is no longer there. We find Jessica going to her mother’s house to start the process of packing up he mum’s possessions which proves to be so very painful every item holds a memory whether it is a hairbrush or her mums perfume that’s makes her feel her presence.
As Jessica is in no mood to celebrate at a New Year’s party, but ends up being taken along and meets Finn. Sometimes something that seems so right at that moment in reality never is. She never sees Finn again. Despite trying to make contact.
Jessica meets Alex and Hannah after a grief counselling session after Jessica is taken ill and what happens from here to the three women as they form a friendship is just so beautiful.
Not long after Alex has moved to a new home in Brighton she believes the house is haunted. Despites Jessica not really believing in the physic world of mediums the three women go along to a meet for the first time and with each of the women having their own reason for going despite Jessica entering with misgivings. The end result is three women how have found each other all of them carry secrets and how they help each other through bad times in their lives.
A story about loss and grief and in turn how we all deal with this in our lives, it is story about friendships and how important they can be in the healing process. Some people try to deal with grief alone and in isolation but realising that you are not alone and there is support there. It is a message of hope not just entirely for the reader but for all of us. A book that will make you think about your own life and beyond.
Katy Hogan writes with such beauty here and each chapter is relatively short which makes the story even more compulsive reading. Written with a great deal of sensitivity. Despite the storyline there is humour that is captured so well. The affinity you will form with each of the women is down purely to how beautifully Hogan writes. Hard to imagine that Out of the Darkness is Katy Hogan’s first novel.
Do not be put off by the idea that here is another book about loss and grief this is wonderful story about love just as much as it is loss and grief and how we handle this moment in our lives may be like me you will feel Katy Hogan is taking you on a journey of self-discovery and a healing process at the same time.
Thank you to the author Katy Hogan for a review copy.
Out of the Darkness written by Katy Hogan and published by Illumine and is available now.
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
The Last Word Review
This is beautifully crafted book. Both heartwarming and heartbreaking. A magical read
The one thing about this book is that it is different. It will divide opinion on whether people love it or not as much. I will state here that I was captivated by the story all the way through.
Miss Ona Vitkus is one hundred and four years-old she is wise and switched on and tells the story of the relationship between her and an eleven-year-old boy.
‘The boy’ who is never named in the story is rather obsessed by world records and he is also a boy scout. As part of a community project the boy comes to visit Ona to do odd jobs and the relationship blooms between the two. ‘The boy’ is totally obsessed with the Guinness World Records it is more than just a book. He even thinks Ona could qualify to be in the book itself. ‘The boy’ is different you could even say he is quirky, but Ona warms to him more than any of the other boy scouts that she rejected and the friendship is born and with that comes trust and she starts to open up to him. One thing that the reader may ask is why does ‘the boy’ have no name, but credit to Wood here it really works in a story like this.
Pretty quickly you get the feeling something is going to go wrong and when ‘the boy’ stops turning up Ona naturally believes he is just like other eleven-year-old boys with other things to do, sadly there is more to this story than this and when Quinn the boy’s father arrives to take his place Ona has other ideas and rejects the idea of being friends but they soon strike up a friendship and then naturally we start to realise that ‘the boy’ has died.
We meet Belle The boy’s mother and she is destroyed by the loss and grief she feels, but when both parents see how both Ona and the boy connected brings them hope as they come to terms with their own grief.
Death does play a major role in The One-in-a-Million Boy and how we deal with our own grief and it looks at opportunities that should have been taken.
The One-in-a-Million Boy is beautifully written and despite the theme is very much a joy to read and life-affirming. Monica Wood’s prose is a joy to behold and you will not want to leave the story. The characters we meet in the story are powerful in their own right and make this a magical read. One book that should not be missed.
Thank you to Caitlin Raynor and Headline for an advanced review copy.
The One-in-a-Million Boy written by Monica Wood is released by Headline on 5 April 2016.
Fever at Dawn by Péter Gárdos
The Last Word Review
Based on a true story this is moving and compassionate novel that is packed with emotion
When the war ended in 1945 and the horrors of the concentration camps were clearly visible to the world for those that survived the death camps it was time to rebuild their shattered lives and try and find husbands, wives, sons, daughters and other family members for many the sad truth is that families would never be reunited as they were murdered at the hands of the Nazis running the concentration camps.
Fever at Dawn is the deeply moving true story of two survivors from Belsen now free and recovering from their ordeal.
The author Péter Gárdos painstakingly retraces the lives of his father and mother through an incredibly moving account of their letters and their story in Fever at Dawn. It is beautifully written totally flawless.
We find Miklos in Belsen concentration camp barely alive when he was rescued by the Red Cross they found he had no teeth he was eventually moved to a hospital in Sweden while there he was diagnosed with TB and was only given six months to live. Miklos was not going to sit around waiting for death to come and visit after surviving Belsen.
At the same time that Miklos was being rescued from Belsen we find Lili also at the same camp also being saved by the Red Cross, Lili was also in a very bad way suffering severe malnutrition, the Red Cross also moved Lili to a hospital in Sweden. Both Miklos and Lili despite being in the same death camp had never previously met.
How they finally met is a true love story in defiance of death. While recovering in hospital Miklos managed to obtain a list of over 100 Hungarian women that survived the death camps and were recovering in various hospitals in Sweden. Miklos wanted to find love and wanted to find a wife before he died.
With not very many wanting to enter into any correspondence only Lili Reich seemed to summon up the courage to write back. From this moment their lives were about to change and the beautiful love story was born through letters.
Fever at Dawn is an incredibly moving account of the letters between Miklos and Lili as two young people try and rebuild shattered lives after the sheer brutality of war and we see two fragile lives now daring to dream of a future.
I am not going to spoil the story from here needless to say it moved me in a way only these stories from survivors could. For me it is a must read novel. A heart-stopping love story.
Péter Gárdos is a well renowned Hungarian film director with more than 20 international awards awarded. It was just three days after his father Miklos’ death that his mother decided to tell him the story and gave him a pack of letters tied with coloured ribbons, not opened since 1946.
A film based on the novel Fever at Dawn will be premier at major film festival during this coming year.
I am very grateful to Alison Barrow and Doubleday UK for an Advanced Review Copy.
‘Fever at Dawn’ written by Péter Gárdos and published by Doubleday. Published on 7 April 2016.
What a Way to Go by Julia Forster
The Last Word Review
A debut novel set in the 1980’s full of wit and charm but also touching. A joyous read from beginning to end
Set in the 1980’s a decade of colour and change a time of Kylie Minogue and Culture Club you either loved this era or just wanted to hide for the next decade.
We meet 12-year-old Harper Richardson, she is wise and funny and is split between her divorced parents who to say the least are somewhat dysfunctional and Harper tries to make sense of the life around her.
It is 1988 and Harper spends a lot of time reading as money always seems to be a little tight. Forster has written What A Way To Go very much through the eyes of Harper as she sets about trying to all things right including her estranged parents. I really enjoyed the narrative as Harper has a lot to say for herself about everything going on around her whether is her father who is obsessed with the last War or her mother’s friend Kit.
Every other weekend Harper spends the weekend with her father, and the elderly next door neighbour is her only friend here and gives her order during the weekend.
We also get to meet Cassie who is Harpers only really best friend and is the complete opposite to Harper, Cassie has an ordered lifestyle whereas Harper only seems to live in a world of chaos while split between both parents. A joyous read as we get to know Harper as she deals with the day to day chaotic life which she tries to make sense of. A laugh out loud read but it has its emotional moments in the storyline. Writing a novel with as seen through the eyes of a 12-year-old is no easy feat but Forster manages to capture the time and the characters brilliantly.
This is an idyllic nostalgic read for anyone who loves the decade of the 1980’s and I for one loved this era and also loved What A Way To Go
My thanks to Ruth Killick and Atlantic Books for a review copy.
‘What A Way To Go’ written by Julia Forster and published by Atlantic Books is now available in all good book shops.
Exposure by Helen Dunmore
The Last Word Review
A gripping and emotionally charged tale of espionage from the dark days of the cold war. Simply magnificent
The latest from Helen Dunmore has just hit the book shops. Exposure is an intricate title it can hide so many stories under the title. What Dumore has delivered is an outstanding spy story set in 1960’s era of the cold war where spies seemingly lurked around every corner.
One moment Simon Callington is lost in memories of a childhood while sat in a train carriage the next his life lies in total ruin. Simon Callington is a loyal family man married to Lily (Lili) originally from Germany but a Jewish refugee. Simon secured a decent Admiralty posting through his Cambridge chum Giles Holloway a hard drinking man that many would rather distance themselves from.
One night Holloway has drunk his fair share at home and falls badly and finds himself in hospital, except there is a problem he has left a file on his desk no ordinary file this one, but a ‘Top Secret’ file remember this is set in the cold war and this file should have left the Admiralty. So who can he trust to return the file before anyone realises it has gone missing.
Now at home sat by the fire Simon receives a telephone call that will change his life and his families lives. Giles Holloway wants Simon to go to his flat and collect the file and return it to the Admiralty when you add into the story that Simon is hiding a secret from his wife that dates back to his days at Cambridge. There is ‘blackmail’ in the air as Simon becomes the fall guy.
Simon is arrested and charged with selling secrets to the Russians, the police are not only looking at Simon they are very interested in Lily being of German origin despite fleeing in 1937. The house is turned upside down, and Lily is strong resourceful and will do anything for her children and it is Lily who is also under threat from those that will do anything to protect themselves. To me Lily is the real star of Exposure and she holds the family together. Now they must move and they head to the coast and rent a cottage by the sea and we see another part of this story that is not only a 1960’s spy story but it is a love story.
I have read nearly all of Helen Dunmore’s books but I am completely taken with Exposure and the shadowy world of espionage and the 1960’s cold war and the fears that came with it.
Exposure is a gripping and complex story that is moves along at a pace that the reader will fall in line with. The characters are as gripping as the storyline add to this the world of Cambridge University days and the secrets that adults hide and must never see the light of day.
Exposure by Helen Dunmore is published in Hardback by Hutchinson and available through all good book shops now.