Monthly Archives: July 2016
Blind Side – Jennie Ensor
The Last Word Review
London July 2005, a moment in time that all of us will recall and never forget. In her debut thriller Blind Side Jennie Ensor has written a stunning gripping psychological thriller that is set just before the terrorist attacks on 7/7.
For Georgie our leading character things could not be going any worse now after a fling with one of her best friends Julian she has met a Russian man called Nikolai and Julian is not best pleased to say the least as he is being rejected. Now Georgie has to cope with the venomous Julian. But for Nikolai he has a past that he does not like talking of and that is his time in the Russian army and the war in Chechnya and the sheer brutality of that war that is still haunting him. But there is something that Nikolai is holding back from Georgie something that could destroy them both. But what is it?
Set at a time when London and its inhabitants were trying to cope with the 7/7 terrorist atrocity there are a number of themes running through the story and questions of relationships with the leading characters as well as secrets and lies. Trust is something that is earned and can quickly be destroyed. But what price love? Does love really conquer all in the end? Both Georgie and Nikolai’s lives could not be so worlds apart but they have been brought together is this fate that has brought them together?
For a debut novel this is a brave topic as the time it is set in, but what Jennie Ensor brings is a thrilling psychological story that I really enjoyed and raced through. If you enjoy a thriller with a number of themes running through the story, then Blind Side is one not to be missed.
For more on Jennie Ensor talking about her debut novel Blind Side see the recent guest post that appeared on my blog recently Here
My thanks to Jennie Ensor and Unbound for the review copy ahead of publication.
Blind Side by Jennie Ensor and published by Unbound on 23 July and is available through Amazon for Here
The Couple Next Door – Shari Lapena
The Last Word Review
When I first heard of The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena and read up on the story line I knew instinctively that here was going to be one of the thrillers of summer 2016.
Here is a tight taught thriller that really is the stuff of nightmares for every parent and will leave you asking so many questions and asking just who you can really trust and how well we really know some people.
Anne and Marco Conti have arranged to go next door to their friends for an evening dinner party but their baby sitter has cancelled at rather short notice leaving the couple to leave their six-month old baby alone in the house and enjoy an evening next door, they would at intervals take turns and check on Cora. What could possibly go wrong?
Plenty of drink has been consumed and Anna is feeling somewhat guilty at leaving baby Cora alone in the house albeit just next door but they have both been drinking far too much and Anna who is suffering from postnatal depression wants to go home and persuades Marco to bring the evening to a close. Anna believes Marco has been flirting again and Anna is close to losing it. Their lives are now about to change. They stand on their doorstep to find their front door is open. Panic now sets in. The couple race to Cora’s room to find the cot is empty. Cora has been taken.
What takes in the following minutes is a blame game between both Anna and Marco, with Marco admitting it was his fault. But who has taken Cora, both parents had been taking it in turns to check on their beloved baby. It seems like in these immediate moments that two worlds have just collided. Anna for some time has had doubts about her husband now her baby has been taken. Anna is venting her fury at Marco and does not hold back.
The opening seems to go so quickly it is that good and is totally gripping and you feel that you are a fly on the wall watching two people lives fall apart. There are so many twists and turns that you start to play the role of trying to solve the mystery for them. Suspicion clearly falls on the couple as the police start their investigations. Look out the police detective Rasbach, in the chaos and confusion he is calm and calculated. He has his suspicions and doubts some of the answers he is hearing and then add to the mix Anne’s very wealthy parents, who have clearly do not have a lot of time for Marco. Then again what about the couple next door Cynthia and Graham, there is something not quite right about this couple but saying that all the key characters left me cold and rather too quickly into the book I found that I had dislike towards all of them. They all seemed to be hiding something and had their own agenda.
It was clear from the opening pages that Lapena has written a summer blockbuster that delivers a page-turning thriller that is packed with suspense. I enjoyed Lapena’s writing style and the fact that she made sure that all the key characters became under suspicion. If there is one drawback with The Couple Next Door it is in the conclusion, I just had the feeling it letting me down, the main story is enthralling and so fast paced but the ending without giving it away, I had high hopes for. But this does not in any way detract from a fabulous thriller.
Thank you to Becky Hunter from Transworld Publishers for the review copy.
The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena is published by Bantam Press and is available through Waterstones and all good bookshops.
I am delighted to welcome Jennie Ensor as a guest on my review page as a guest blog talking about her forthcoming debut book Blind Side to be published on 23 July 2016. I will be reviewing Blind Side on 27 July.
How Blind Side came into being: inspiration, research, titles and more
First, I’ll tell you a little about who my story and who everyone is.
The main narrator is Georgie, a young woman at a critical stage in her life. She knows something important is missing from it, and she must decide whether to continue the path she’s on or to gather her courage to risk making a change. The second narrator is Julian, Georgie’s close friend, a slightly geeky chap who has nursed strong feelings for her but been unable to express them, because he knows she would probably run away. From the start, Julian is jealous of Nikolai, the Russian ex-soldier who nearly clobbers Georgie in a London pub.
I started writing Blind Side – or ‘Nikolai’ as I first called my work in progress – in early 2005, before the London terror attacks that July. Back then I had my three main characters, Georgie, Julian and Nikolai as a young Russian conscripted to fight in Chechnya. I knew I wanted to explore – among other things – the impact of war-time experiences on Nikolai, and that the story would involve guilt, loyalty and betrayal.
After 7/7, I realised I was going to make London and the terrible events that during that July a significant part of my novel. Like many other Londoners, I was deeply affected by the assault on our capital and the climate of fear and suspicion it evoked. The revelations that four terrorists were ‘home-grown’ (from Yorkshire) particularly struck me, and led me to incorporate the idea of an ‘enemy within’.
Blind Side is the novel’s third title. My editor suggested I change it to reflect Georgie’s viewpoint. After much indecision I managed to let go of Ghosts of Chechnya, which had been the title since 2008. I came up with ‘Blind Side’ during the early hours one near-sleepless night and knew it was probably The One. It fits the novel in many ways and sounds more like a thriller – also it doesn’t risk confusing the reader. Although past scenes are set within Russia and war-torn Chechnya, the present of the novel is mostly located in London (especially Kings Cross, Camden, Hampstead and Finsbury Park).
Research wise, much of my fact finding for this novel has involved reading copiously – and the internet. Goodness knows how many politically sensitive, suspicious-looking Google searches I’ve made, seeking information about Chechen separatist groups, the Russian mafia, murky goings on in the Russsia-Chechen war, the Beslan hostage crisis, the 2005 London bombings, etc etc. (A while ago, months before Edward Snowden’s revelations, I became rather paranoid and stopped discussing anything sensitive on the phone, just in case.)
Thankfully, some of my research involved visiting real places and talking to people. For ages I’ve been interested in abnormal psychology and the impact of trauma, but I didn’t know that much about Russia, Chechnya or the many years of conflict between the two regions. (President Putin’s ban on foreign reporters probably got me interested in this in the first place. Not that I was intending to go, but I did wonder what he was trying to hide.) I managed to track down two Chechens who’d fought against Russia and were willing to talk about their experiences. Other people helped me with all sorts of details, from Russian life in Soviet times to accidents on construction sites (an important strand in the novel).
Coming up with a genre for my book has caused me much grief, I freely admit. In the final (100th?) revision of the manuscript, I turned my sort-of contemporary novel into a psychological thriller with political overtones entwined around a love triangle.
I’ve gone for long enough, I think. 11 years since starting out on this project, I wait with anticipation laced with hyperventilating panic to see what readers will make of Blind Side.
About the author
Jennie is a Londoner descended from a long line of Irish folk. For much of her life she’s been a wandering soul, but these days she lives with her husband and their cuddle-loving, sofa-hogging terrier. As well as from reading and writing novels, she loves poetry. Her poems, published under another name, tend to inhabit the darker, sometimes surreal side of life.
While on an extended trip to Australia, Jennie studied journalism and worked as a freelance print journalist, covering topics from forced marriages to the fate of Aboriginal Australians living on land contaminated by the British nuclear tests.
When not chasing the dog, lazing in the garden with a book or dreaming about setting off on a long train journey with a Kindleful of books, Jennie can be found writing or doing Writing Related Stuff. WRS can include singing and playing the piano (vital for destress) and watching thrillers/spy dramas on TV (research). She’s working on getting her second novel ready for publication, a dark and unsettling psychological thriller.
author Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JennieEnsorAuthor
About BLIND SIDE
The story begins in London in 2005, a few months before the 7/7 bus and Tube bombings. Georgie agrees to have sex with Julian, her close friend from their university days. Wary of relationships after previous heartbreak, she is shocked when Julian reveals he has loved her for a long time but felt unable to tell her.
Soon afterwards Georgie meets Nikolai, an ex-soldier recently arrived from Russia. Despite her misgivings, she can’t resist him; Julian struggles to deal with Georgie’s rejection. Realising how deeply war-time incidents in Chechnya have affected Nikolai, Georgie suspects that the Russian is hiding something terrible from her.
Then London is attacked…
BLIND SIDE explores love and friendship, guilt and betrayal, secrets and obsession. Can you ever truly know someone? And what if you suspect the unthinkable? An explosive, debate-provoking thriller that confronts urgent issues of our times and contemplates some of our deepest fears
Blind Side by Jennie Ensor will be published by Unbound on 23 July.
I will publish a link as to where you can buy a copy of Blind Side in my review on Wednesday 27 July.
Blind Side by Jennie Ensor The Official Blog Tour.
Being Dad: Short Stories about Fatherhood – edited by Dan Coxon
The Last Word Review
Being Dad published by Tangent Books and edited by Dan Coxon is an anthology of short stories of fatherhood from fifteen contemporary writers. Every single story is presented with such poignancy that any father will read and find themselves lost in the words of being just that a father.
The sheer beauty of this fabulous book is that there are no answers to the many questions posed by fatherhood but more the case of them sharing the everyday moments of everything that being a father is, the joy, the love and along the journey the pain. But these stories also pose the questions that every father will recognise it is a sheer joy to read. Recently Being Dad won the Best Anthology Prize at the Saboteur Awards 2016.
Writers who have written short stories are Toby Litt, Courttia Newland, Dan Powell, Nikesh Shukla and Nicholas Royale with many more adding their own personal take on what a father means to them.
As with each of the stories each one is unique and a personal perspective of being a father and what it means to that writer. The quality of the writing from each is outstanding. I guess the one thing that binds us all is that we all have a father sometimes though the father is missing and this is spoken about in Being Dad words that will resonate with some readers. The one thing that does come through the near 200 pages is Being Dad is that moment from birth the nappies the feeding during the nights the teenage years and tantrums that go along with this and then there is inevitable arguments and rows, there is love and then there is the talk of loss and also of death. Along the way there is great humour as there should be about Being Dad and that is the strength of this beautiful book is the words that shine through are poetry about what it means to be a father.
If you are a short story aficionado you will rejoice at this wonderful book that should hailed as a success by everyone involved and I just hope that one day we will see a book called ‘Being Mum.’ I urge you to read this and not be affected by it. Being Dad is a joy to read.
Thank you to Dan Coxon for a review copy of Being Dad
Being Dad: Short Stories About Fatherhood edited by Dan Coxon and published by Tangent Books is available to but through Amazon and to order through all good bookshops.
Moonstone – The Boy Who Never Was – Sjón
Translated by Victoria Cribb
The Last Word Review
The author Sjón whose full name is Sigurjón Birgir Sigurðsson has been involved on the Icelandic literary scene since the 1970’s and also best known for the collaboration with the Icelandic singer Björk but I am asking myself how it is I have not yet previously discovered his writing before now.
The year is 1918 and Europe is embroiled in the latter stages of World War One. Moonstone – The Boy Who Never Was is set in Reykjavik and its central character the 16-year-old orphan boy Máni Steinn who at night dreams of the cinema and during the day has sex with men for Money. Due to the Great War Iceland is short on food and coal and people are living hand to mouth on a daily basis. But life is about to get a lot worse for the inhabitants of Reykjavik.
That alone may put off some readers but would strongly advise you to read Moonstone it captures Iceland at a moment in history where life and death stalk everyone, like a time capsule the writing is poetic in nature.
Young Máni lives day to day flitting between the two main cinemas in Reykjavik and the money he earns pays for his dream. He is transfixed by the enigmatic Sóla G who seems to spend her time riding around on a motorbike in black leathers. Has she ridden straight from the silver screen into the young man’s life. She really has film star look and adds to the dreamlike state that Máni finds himself in.
The sky above Reykjavik are dark as volcano Katla spews it contents into the air and then to add to the gloom a Danish passenger ship arrives carrying an even deadlier cargo. Spanish Flu has now arrived in Reykjavik and suddenly death lurks in the shadows and no-one is immune. Máni goes about his daily rounds ‘earning’ his money through his encounters with other gentlemen.
As the Spanish Flu takes its toll and the death toll mounts to shocking proportions the main characters are recruited to make house visits and take the dead to the morgue. This is at times a difficult read but it is so profound and poignant. By the time I have read this very short book I too had felt I had been part of a dream like state but that is exactly how Sjón writes. Striking and noticeable Moonstone will capture the reader and it will be read in one sitting. Although a work of fiction the historical accounts of the time are not missed. Moonstone is a masterpiece of writing. It is only at the very end of the book do we really find out the true meaning of this incredible story.
There are times when a book comes along and will haunt you and get inside your head for days afterwards, this is one of those books. An absolute delight to read and pleased to say will convert many like me to the writing of Sjón.
Thank you to Sceptre Books and Bookbridgr for the review copy.
Moonstone – The Boy Who Never Was by Sjón and published by Sceptre on 2 June is available through Waterstones and all good bookshop.
Love and a Dozen Roast Potatoes – Simon Wan
The Last Word Review
I have to admit when this arrived on my desk I was somewhat unsure what to make of Love and a Dozen Roast Potatoes by Simon Wan. But I need not have worried. This is an autobiographical story of his life, or should I say his love life. It is a real hoot of a read. As a writer I am not sure were Simon Wan has been hiding but rather pleased he has emerged with this warm and funny story of his life and he is only 40.
One aspect of this book I should say now it will consume you as you will not want to put this down it is actually contagious but in a way that no other book I know of in this genre can bring. What Simon brings to this is his love and boy does he have lots to give. He shares his love of music, his close friendships his love of those he really cares about and potatoes. Well what did you expect from the title. Oh and then there is the women in Simon’s life. To say he has travelled the path and can tell the story is remarkable. Yes, he has had a wide range of interesting women in his life I will let the reader judge them. The one thing that he does well is to tell the story in his own inimitable way and this is where you will struggle to put the book down so wonderfully written and he lives a life in a way that is to live it to the fullest. There is great honesty within his story which refreshing and helps as the reader will take to take to this aspect of his writing. You may not agree with everything he does and all the women he falls in love with and some are to say ‘wacky.’ But Simon seems to be on the lookout for love at the turn of every corner and he does meet some interesting women on his journey to find the real true love.
The one thing that I took from his story is his energy and passion and the immense humour that he has. It is sizzling and hot as the hot sauces he enjoys. Do not miss this if you are looking for a very honest and immensely funny book to read this summer. Now that he turned to writing after stints in the music business and success as an actor I am looking forward to seeing what comes next for Simon Wan.
Thank you to Urbane Publications for the review copy.
Love and a Dozen Roast Potatoes by Simon Wan is published by Urbane Publications and available to buy through Amazon and to order through Waterstones and all good bookshops.
Where Roses Never Die – Gunnar Staalesen
The Last Word Review
I have for a while been a big fan of Nordic crime novels but I have to admit that this is my first read of Gunnar Staalesen’s novels and if his latest Where Roses Never Sleep is anything to go by then I have been missing out.
With excellent translation from Don Bartlett the writing has echoes of another of my favourite Nordic crime writers Jo Nesbo. Private investigator Varg Veum is recruited to try and solve a mystery that remains unsolved for nearly 25 years.
Just a little bit on the background of our P.I. Varg Veum, he is a lone operator, a maverick perhaps, he has become something of a drinker, this could be after the death of his girlfriend a few years before. There is something about this case that only Veum could solve.
It is September 1977 and three-year-old Mette Misvaer disappears while playing in her garden despite all efforts of the police there is trace of her. Due the laws regarding statute of limitations and that time is almost up and in a last desperate attempt to find out the truth about what really happened to Mette her mother meets Veum. From this moment Veum is involved in a case that uncovers a lot more than just 1970’s secrets and lies. Veum will leave no stone unturned as he goes about seeking the truth. For Mette’s mothers it has been nearly 25 years and time might have well stood still and she will not rest until she knows what happened to her daughter.
What begins is a journey of discovery a discovery of getting to the truth and also a journey for Varg Veum as he is a very troubled man. No-one believes he can solve this case within the time frame but never doubt this man Varg. He starts to delve in the history of the case and looking back at the people involved including the officers who handled the case. This is gripping stuff. I had a real sense of foreboding as I read through this outstanding book. This is really Scandinavian crime writing at its very best. There is something dark and haunting about this novel that will test every sinew of your emotions as the truth emerges and the shocking truth at the end.
At 260 pages this is the ideal book to slip into your bag if you are jetting off on your summer holidays. If you have not discovered Nordic crime novels before now you will not be disappointed in the crime writing of Gunnar Staalesen.
Thank you to Karen at Orenda Books for the advanced review copy.
Where Roses Never Die by Gunnar Staalesen was published by Orenda Books on 30 June and is available through Waterstones and all good bookshops.
The Good Guy – Susan Beale
The Last Word Review
When this book arrived in early June I sat and looked at the cover for some time wondering what the premise of the story was about. The cover is just sublime. The Good Guy by Susan Beale is inspired by her own true life events after reading her adoption files and from conversations with her birth mother after they re-connected later in life.
I have to admit I fell into The Good Guy hook line and sinker, I like nothing better than a story that has is inspired by true events. The story is based in suburban New England in the 1960’s. This is a gorgeous story filled to the brim with passion with a mix of desire and deception.
Back in the 1960’s young couples seemed to do what was expected dated, courted and married young, then came the house and then the family. The idyllic lifestyle. Ted and Abigail did all these things but some men just don’t know when to say no.
Susan Beale sets the tone of the book by alternating each chapter from the female and male perspective and captures the mood of the time perfectly. It is utterly captivating like watching a box set of your favourite tv series set in this era, nothing short of absorbing.
Ted was hard working he always felt that he was doing well in his job but something was just not right and his feeling was that his wife was not giving him the support he deserved. I think you can guess what comes next? Along comes Penny a single woman she is fashionable funny and most of all attractive and she is missing something from her life, she just wants to be loved. After a brief encounter things move quickly between them and the consequences of getting involved in an affair when things go too far are both stark and real. In a time when the contraceptive pill was not wildly available the dangers for both are real. And in this case Ted faces losing everything and for Penny life changing circumstances.
For Abigail who spends her time looking after their son and cooking a pot roast she seemingly struggles to cope in a marriage that has lost its way. Does she have any idea of her husband’s infidelity? Each character is so incredibly woven into the story that you become transfixed by their own words and deeds. I guess the one thing that comes out of this story is that of human frailties. At times you felt like you were watching a car wreck about to happen with the consequences for all to see. This is real life laid bare for everyone to see. Heartache for all three.
Looking back now after I have read The Good Guy is just how different life was back in the 60’s and how people were treated. Different era different generation. This is a hugely entertaining read one that you just cannot leave alone as you just want to find out what has happened next. If you are looking for an ideal Summer holiday read. Pack this one in your hand luggage.
My thanks to Ruby Mitchell at Hodder for the review copy.
The Good Guy by Susan Beale was published by John Murray on 16 June and is available in hardback from Waterstones and all good bookshops.