Monthly Archives: June 2019
The Exhausting Summer of São Martino
by Simon Carr
Narrated by Steven Pacey
Prospero is the mayor of a small town that has escaped the attention of the modern world. In Tapoli, news still travels by word of mouth – and it travels fast, since everyone knows everyone else in the town’s latticework of narrow streets. We first encounter Prospero at a local summer festival, where his attention is caught by a visiting Englishwoman who seems oddly familiar. As the couple embark on a curious friendship, and then an even more curious love affair, Prospero discovers the woman’s connections with his own past. As his personal life grows complicated, so does his role as the town’s mayor – especially when strangers arrive, rubbing up against the entrenched local community and against local traditions. Prospero’s own role as mayor comes under growing public scrutiny as he struggles with the conflicting advice of his head and his heart.
My second Audible book review and what a beautifully narrated story this is. You the listener are transported to the heat of the day in Tapoli. Life has always been in a time warp of bygone sleepy long summer days. The modern era has not reached this town in Portugal.
Prospero is the Mayor of Tapoli and all he wants is the town to become successful and modern as well as a town that remains quintessentially still of a time gone by feel. This is a challenge for Prospero as the town is reluctant to wake up to the modern ways of the world. Imagine going to buy your bread at the bakery and getting the local news of the day at the same time. This is Tapoli. Like all towns there are the usual issues to solve but not like anywhere else though. Then there is the Englishwoman who visits the town and Prospero and the woman begin a friendship that leads to love but what is it about the Woman that seems familiar?
This is a story written by Simon Carr who moved to Portugal some years ago so this is a story he has wanted to write about the home he has adopted. There is humour in the story which is so wonderfully told by Steven Pacey as he plays each role so wonderfully. I just loved the gentle style of how the story flowed that you could almost feel the heat of the day and the sound of crickets in the background. You are transported to Tapoli through the words of Simon Carr and gentle narration of Steven Pacey.
About the author
Simon Carr was for a dozen years the parliamentary sketch writer of the UK national newspaper the Independent. His retirement – earlier than expected – ultimately led to an abandoned smallholding in the depth of central Portugal. With the help of a digger, a tractor and with the long-suffering support of the Medelim community, he developed the wild, bramble-covered property into an idyllic little domain.
About the narrator Steven Pacey.
Steven Pacey needs little introduction. A star from our screens, radios and audiobooks, he has played and read an extraordinary number of parts. You may know him for his roles in musical theatre – such as La Cage Aux Folles (2009) or Spamalot (2012/13) – or from his appearances in shows such as King Lear (2013/14) and Peter Pan (2011). More recently, he has become a prodigious narrator, turning his voice to an array of books across genres: fiction, children’s novels and more. In his own words, the great joy of audiobooks is ‘that you get to play all the parts that you wouldn’t possibly be considered for visually’. He does so here with characteristic vivacity and verve.
Thank you to Phoebe Swinburn (Midas PR) for the review copy of the audio book of The Exhausting Summer of Sao Martino by Simon Carr. Available now via Audible.co.uk
The Last Widow by Karin Slaughter
It begins with an abduction. The routine of a family shopping trip is shattered when Michelle Spivey is snatched as she leaves the mall with her young daughter. The police search for her, her partner pleads for her release, but in the end…they find nothing. It’s as if she disappeared into thin air.
A month later, on a sleepy Sunday afternoon, medical examiner Sara Linton is at lunch with her boyfriend Will Trent, an agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. But the serenity of the summer’s day is broken by the wail of sirens.
Sara and Will are trained to help in an emergency. Their jobs – their vocations – mean that they run towards a crisis, not away from it. But on this one terrible day that instinct betrays them both. Within hours the situation has spiralled out of control; Sara is taken prisoner; Will is forced undercover. And the fallout will lead them into the Appalachian mountains, to the terrible truth about what really happened to Michelle, and to a remote compound where a radical group has murder in mind…
Shock! I have only just discovered the international bestselling author Karin Slaughter. I cannot believe this either. But I am so pleased I have. I am new to the Will Trent series but this did not deter me and can be read as a standalone novel.
This is a terrifying thriller and you will need to prepare yourself for some parts of the storyline as it contains some scenes which will make you angry. Do not let this deter you from reading as the tension is heart-stopping with some brilliant characters written into the plot and there is no let-up in the action as the story begins when a family head off to a shopping mall. As Michelle Spivey leaves the mall with her young daughter it is Michelle who is kidnapped. But who has taken her and why? Despite everything there is no sign of Michelle.
If this is not scary enough then the story really ignites as Will Trent and Sara Linton are enjoying what was going to be a relaxing lunch, but sound of explosions means their lunch will go cold but the action now really hots up as they speed to help and find a car accident and they stop to help. Home-grown terrorists have attacked Georgia leaving many dead and wounded.
These are bad guys and Sara is taken. Will is hurt but one of the bad guys is taken prisoner. Now the situation is rapidly getting out of control and there are some difficult moments in this story. Will is lost and hurt at prospect of allowing Sara to be taken by the gang members. This is Will at his most vulnerable but he must regain control to have any attempt of finding Sara alive as he now goes undercover and finds these murderous white young men are planning something more horrific and terrifying.
What they find is utterly shocking as there is an ultra-right wing group with one thing on their mind. Murder! This group of young white supremacists with an agenda and they will not be stopped. Something we are hearing a lot of in the sad times for real.
As much as some of the scenes are shocking I believe you can move quickly to avoid any upset to the reader. The characters of Will and Sara are strong and they both bring so much to this rollercoaster of a story.
Nothing is left to chance in this pulsating read as fans of Karin Slaughter will know from her previous novels. The author has researched well for the plot line and the superb characters she brings to her novels as well as emotions that are at times plainly raw.
The start may seem slow but persevere as this story just comes to life quickly and there is so much going one that you wonder how it will all end. A brilliant if at times disturbing read but we are living in troubled times. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Thank you to Rebecca Bryant (Harper Collins) for the review copy of The Last Widow by Karin Slaughter
The Last Widow by Karin Slaughter was published by Harper Collins and was published on 13th June 2019 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
The Last Widow – The Blog Tour
Ten Poems about Childhood
Selected and Introduced by Mimi Khalvati
We all have memories about childhood or are reminded of our childhood by those that are close to us. Our childhood years make us become who we are. Sometimes I find looking at photos can suddenly take me back to one moment back then or a piece of music but also it is poetry that can reflect the childhood years really well.
One of the very latest poetry pamphlets by Candlestick Press is Ten Poems about Childhood. Selected and introduced by Mimi Khalvati. Ten wonderful poems that speak to us of childhood. Poems by Poems by Kayo Chingonyi, Jane Duran, Louise Glück, Seamus Heaney, Elizabeth Jennings, Mimi Khalvati, Hannah Lowe, James Merrill, Tracy K Smith and James Womack.
The poem The Railway Children by Seamus Heaney just reminded me of my young days sat watching the trains at a station. I was fascinated. What is Written by Jane Duran. The opening lines:
The way you look at your book:
crawl round, lie over it,
turn number of pages at a time
and sit and put your face down
to look deeply into the words,
These opening lines of the poem could by anyone of us when we were young. It was certainly me.
Ten Poems about Childhood available now to order through Candlestick Press.
Ten Poems about Bees
Introduced by Brigit Strawbridge Howard
Another of the latest of the poetry pamphlets is Ten Poems about Bees introduced by Brigit Strawbridge Howard is just sublime. Bees right now need our help.
The Honeybee provides us with that wonderful golden honey that we spread on our morning toast as well as many recipes. But just imagine a world without the bee? Too frightening to contemplate but the threat is more than just real. We are so closely intertwined with the bee.
There is even a poem by the nature writer Miriam Darlington called Beekeeper and it deserves to be read. As a child I was scared of bees as I did not understand them until I discovered nature and I became fascinated by the lives of bees, from the honeybee to the solitary bee each one so unique and wonderful. I have been stung far too many times so seeing the poem Stung by Heid E. Erdrich tells of a person being stung.
These poems are just delightful and ones to treasure. Ten Poems about Bees avaialble to order through Candlestick press.
Thank you to Kathy Towers of Candlestick Press for the review copies of Ten Poems about Childhood and Ten Poems about Bees both now available to order through Candlestick Press website.
Candlestick Press are a small independent publisher based in Nottingham and were founded in 2008. The team consists of four dedicated people in Di Slaney (Publisher), Kathy Towers (Assistant Editor) and two admin assistants. Their aim is simple to spread the joy of poetry to adults and children alike who love poetry and or may be just beginning their journey in to enjoying poetry. These small pamphlets are just ideal for bedtime reading or like I have been doing and that is enjoying them on journeys.
They have published so many of these beautiful pamphlets on a wide range of topics from Christmas to Cricket, from Dogs to Sheep and even Clouds and walking and even breakfast. These wonderful poetry pamphlets make the ideal gift to send to friends and loved ones. For more information, please visit the Candlestick Press website: Candlestick Press
The Dragon Lady by Louisa Treger
Opening with the shooting of Lady Virginia ‘Ginie’ Courtauld in her tranquil garden in 1950s Rhodesia, The Dragon Lady tells Ginie’s extraordinary story, so called for the exotic tattoo snaking up her leg. From the glamorous Italian Riviera before the Great War to the Art Deco glory of Eltham Palace in the thirties, and from the secluded Scottish Highlands to segregated Rhodesia in the fifties, the narrative spans enormous cultural and social change. Lady Virginia Courtauld was a boundary-breaking, colourful and unconventional person who rejected the submissive role women were expected to play.
Ostracised by society for being a foreign divorcée at the time of Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson, Ginie and her second husband ,Stephen Courtauld, leave the confines of post-war Britain to forge a new life in Rhodesia, only to find that being progressive liberals during segregation proves mortally dangerous. Many people had reason to dislike Ginie, but who had reason enough to pull the trigger?
Deeply evocative of time and place, The Dragon Lady subtly blends fact and fiction to paint the portrait of an extraordinary woman in an era of great social and cultural change.
Following on from her first book The Lodger published in 2014 I have patiently been waiting for Lousa Treger to release another novel. The wait is over today as The Dragon Lady (Bloomsbury Caravel) is published this very day.
A mix of fiction and non-fiction and a real blend of history, crime and a dash of romance thrown in. The Dragon Lady is the story of a rather intriguing woman Lady Virginia Courtauld. Ginnie as she was more widely known was something of a real intoxicating figure. She was known for the incredible snake tattoo that seemed to be working its way up her leg.
The book begins in 1950’s Rhodesia and Ginnie has been shot in the gardens of her and husband Stephen’s beautiful gardens. The story finds its way from Italy to the rugged Scottish Highlands to the British ruled Rhodesia the world was changing around them during these times but Ginnie was not one to be away from the headlines as she was a woman of immense character and no ordinary woman.
We never quite know who shot Ginnie or why as you read and you do begin to look for clues. It is true she had those who did not like or agree with her thoughts or attitude. While settling in hot climate of Rhodesia both Ginnie and Stephen became outspoken at what they saw as racist behaviour. So could this have been the motive for Ginnie’s shooting in the gardens of their home La Rochelle.
Many who met Ginnie Courtauld certainly would never forget they had met her. A woman of adventure and intrigue. A remarkable woman and an even more remarkable life and when it came to the suffering of native Rhodesia Ginnie steps up to the mark to stand up for them and it is through the pages that Louisa Treger talks of the oppression the natives of this land suffered.
This is beautifully written and told by Louisa Treger and the reader is carried along through the story of Ginnie. This is why I really became a fan of Louisa’s writing after her first novel and is absorbing and captivating and a book I became really attached to and could not put down.
In the 1958 New Year’s Honours Stephen was Knighted. In 1967 and Lady Virginia Courtauld then moved to Jersey were she died in 1972. Their home that was La Rochelle was bequeathed to the National Trust of Rhodesia (Now The National Trust of Zimbabwe) in 1970. If you enjoy books that involve both fiction and non-fiction, then I am delighted to highly recommend The Dragon Lady.
I am delighted to say that I will be interviewing Louisa Treger for a special podcast to talk about The Dragon Lady and Louisa’s writing process.
Thank you to Bloomsbury Caravel for the review copy of The Dragon Lady by Louisa Treger
The Dragon Lady by Louisa Treger is published by Bloomsbury Caravel and published on 13th June 2019. Available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
Bird Therapy by Joe Harkness
When Joe Harkness suffered a breakdown in 2013, he tried all the things his doctor recommended: medication helped, counselling was enlightening, and mindfulness grounded him. But nothing came close to nature, particularly birds. How had he never noticed such beauty before? Soon, every avian encounter took him one step closer to accepting who he is.
The positive change in Joe’s wellbeing was so profound that he started a blog to record his experience. Three years later he has become a spokesperson for the benefits of birdwatching, spreading the word everywhere from Radio 4 to Downing Street.
In this groundbreaking book filled with practical advice, Joe explains the impact that birdwatching had on his life, and invites the reader to discover these extraordinary effects for themselves.
I have loved nature since I was a young boy. But the one thing I have always felt is that nature has a way of mending. But I have always felt the same way about books and reading. Many months ago I had a phone call from Joe Harkness and we had a long conversation and he told me all about himself and the book he wanted to write after all the planning and the writing and the worry Joe Harkness has written an astonishingly open book called Bird Therapy (Unbound) and this is a book that really does go a long way to heal.
Joe was a broken sole, he was at the lowest point any human being can get, life seemed dark and devoid of any hope. Jo had suffered a breakdown in 2013 and was looking into a void with no light. There is hope and there is help even when we don’t think there is.
Thankfully Joe got the help he needed and through this the first steps were taken and it was then Joe started bird watching and whether Joe found nature or nature found Joe it does not matter as in the end the light at the end of the tunnel was this. It has been proven how important nature is to mental health. Taking time out and looking at and even listening to nature is so important to all of us.
Joe has written in Bird Therapy a book from the heart. At the very start he talks in great courage to us about how low he mental health problems had got. But kit is through watching birds that has really helped Joe and his passion just pours out of the pages. Nature and people are connected and without nature we literally do not have a soul. Watching and studying birds requires time and patience not chasing around after rarities that are just a tick on a spreadsheet. But watching how birds interact with each other. We learn many things by watching each species and we learn many things that in turn help us.
I have spent many happy days in Norfolk birdwatching as it is one the premier counties from the coasts to the Norfolk Broads to the marshes and this is also home to Joe Harkness and how he talks about his home as he travels to watch birds. Home is where the heart is and this is really where Joe’s heart belongs.
The first pages of Bird Therapy may seem dark and difficult to read but to understand a broken soul you have to be honest and open and Joes does this. There is a foreword by Chris Packham that discusses the stigma about Mental Health even in today’s world and there should not be any stigma at all. Being allowed to talk about problems is the start of the journey to recovery.
As Chris Packham says in his foreword this book will save lives. It will. Joe it was a real pleasure talking to you all those months ago. I knew just by talking with you that something incredible was coming. You have created something very special in Bird Therapy I wish nothing but success. Many will read your book and empathise with your words and your honesty. Bird Therapy is Natures Cure in its own right.
Thank you to Unbound and also Joe Harkness for the review copy of Bird Therapy by Joe Harkness
Bird Therapy by Joe Harkness is published by Unbound and will be published on 13th June 2019 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak
‘In the first minute following her death, Tequila Leila’s consciousness began to ebb, slowly and steadily, like a tide receding from the shore. Her brain cells, having run out of blood, were now completely deprived of oxygen. But they did not shut down. Not right away…’
For Leila, each minute after her death brings a sensuous memory: the taste of spiced goat stew, sacrificed by her father to celebrate the long-awaited birth of a son; the sight of bubbling vats of lemon and sugar which the women use to wax their legs while the men attend mosque; the scent of cardamom coffee that Leila shares with a handsome student in the brothel where she works. Each memory, too, recalls the friends she made at each key moment in her life – friends who are now desperately trying to find her. . .
I cannot believe that this is my first review of a book written by one of our foremost critically acclaimed female writers of our time in Elif Shafak. After reading her latest novel set in the bustling city of Istanbul. 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World is just breath-taking.
10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World is in fact the last moments of the life of Tequila Leila’s life. These are her dying moments and each one a memory.
Tequila was a prostitute and her body has been dumped within the city and left to die. It is during these last moments of her life that she recalls her own past in flashbacks to her childhood and growing up, her family and the tastes and the smells of the Istanbul. But also her five friends that gave her the life and also peace of mind. Through these last minutes we see these friends that became close to Tequila they like her were surviving as only they knew how. They left the families and made their own lives. Living from one day to another they had created their own unique community looking out for one another. Each one is different and it is down to the reader to find one that you become fond of. I became attached to all of them just because they were so supportive of each other. I just warmed to their individual lifestyles.
Now I know why so many people love and totally respect the writing of Elif Shafak, only Elife can bring a story set in Turkey and breathe such life into such a story. There are of course many sad moments that will leave you asking many questions but there are some moments of real humanity and warmth. This is the story of Tequila Leila’s life and how she met her death. Leila is strong and this really comes across in this simply magnificent novel. Istanbul is vibrant and colourful. Her friends are bereft and devastated at the loss of their friend and cannot give her the burial she deserves. I am now a fan of Elif Shafak and will be seeking out further novels in the future.
For more information on Elif Shafak: http://www.elifsafak.com.tr/
Twitter: @Elif_Safak; Instagram @shafakelif
Thank you to Viking Books UK for the review copy of 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak
10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange Worldby Elif Shafak is published by Viking UK and was published on 6th June 2019 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
If I Had Two Lives by Abbigail N. Rosewood
As a child, isolated from the world in a secretive military encampment with her distant mother, she turns for affection to a sympathetic soldier and to the only other girl in the camp, forming two friendships that will shape the rest of her life.
As a young adult in New York, cut off from her native country and haunted by the scars of her youth, she is still in search of a home. She falls in love with a married woman who is the image of her childhood friend, and follows strangers because they remind her of her soldier. When tragedy arises, she must return to Vietnam to confront the memories of her youth – and recover her identity.
An inspiring meditation on love, loss, and the presence of a past that never dies, the novel explores the ancient question: do we value the people in our lives because of who they are, or because of what we need them to be?
A novel that is separated into two parts with the first part beginning the story in Vietnam in the 1990’s and is focussed on a young girl who remains nameless throughout and is brought to this decaying military camp with her mother. If I Had Two Lives (Europa Editions) by Abbigail N. Rosewood tells the story of the young girl who from the age of four through to the age of twelve is kept behind the wire fence in the camp along with her mother. The story is very much in the first person narrative and we learn of how she copes in the camp and the only friends are another young girl and a soldier with whom she befriends and he repays this friendship by teaching her.
We learn that they a brought to the camp to protect them as the regime is very much against her. The child clearly has psychological problems as she was abused and left. At the age of twelve her mother manages to arrange her escape to the USA and begins a new life with relatives. Her mother will very soon follow, albeit an empty promise as her mother is soon embroiled in a political twist and turns back in Vietnam and never follows her daughter to America. She has been abandoned once again. For our young girl the past is haunting her and she struggles to move on with memories if the past.
It is one day that she spots a woman who shows a remarkable resemblance to the young girl in the camp she befriended and she falls in love with Lilah. But she is married. What happens next is that she has a child for the couple and then the story takes on a sadder route as we watch from afar our young girl and her young daughter head back to Vietnam not only to find her mother and the girl in the camp but it is also a healing process.
A remarkable story with an even more remarkable ending told with such detail and written with such beauty and a story of bravery and trying to heal the past and look to a new future. This one book I heartily recommend.
Thank you to Daniela Petracco for the review copy of If I Had Two Lives by Abbigail N. Rosewood
If I Had Two Lives by Abbigail N. Rosewood was published by Europa Editions and was published on 11th April 2019 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.