Category Archives: Bloomsbury
One Hundred Miracles: A Memoir of Music and Survival by Wendy Holden
Zuzana Ruzicková grew up in 1930s Czechoslovakia dreaming of two things: Johann Sebastian Bach and the piano. But her peaceful, melodic childhood was torn apart when, in 1939, the Nazis invaded. Uprooted from her home, transported from Auschwitz to Hamburg to Bergen-Belsen, bereaved, starved, and afflicted with crippling injuries to her musician’s hands, the teenage Zuzana faced a series of devastating losses. Yet with every truck and train ride, a small slip of paper printed with her favourite piece of Bach’s music became her talisman.
Armed with this ‘proof that beauty still existed’, Zuzana’s fierce bravery and passion ensured her survival of the greatest human atrocities of all time, and would continue to sustain her through the brutalities of post-war Communist rule. Harnessing her talent and dedication, and fortified by the love of her husband, the Czech composer Viktor Kalabis, Zuzana went on to become one of the twentieth century’s most renowned musicians and the first harpsichordist to record the entirety of Bach’s keyboard works.
Zuzana’s story, told here in her own words before her death in 2017, is a profound and powerful testimony of the horrors of the Holocaust, and a testament in itself to the importance of amplifying the voices of its survivors today. It is also a joyful celebration of art and resistance that defined the life of the ‘first lady of the harpsichord’- a woman who spent her life being ceaselessly reborn through her music. Like the music of her beloved Bach, Zuzana’s life is the story of the tragic transmuted through art into the state of the sublime.
In 2015 I reviewed Born Survivors (Bloomsbury) by Wendy Holden which told the story of three mothers and their newborn babies survived the horrors of the Holocaust and then 65 years later the three ‘babies’ met for the first time. A powerful story that has stayed with me to this day.
Wendy Holden the author of over 30 books now has released a memoir One Hundred Miracles: A Memoir of Music and Survival (Bloomsbury) the powerful memoir of Zuzana Ruzicková the Czech Harpsichordist who faced the horrors of the Nazis after they invaded her homeland.
It was March 1939 when the German troops arrived and soon after Zuzana and other young Jewish boys and girls were forced to act as ‘messengers’ delivering the dreadful letters that informed those families that they were to be transported away from their homes. Many already feared the worst. These letters were the final confirmation of what was to come. In October 1941 these transports to hell started and this included Zuzana and her own family. Life was never to be the same again. The family were sent to Auschwitz their fate was almost certain death and it was here that her father was murdered by the Nazis.
Zuzana and her mother survived the horror of Auschwitz only to be moved to hell that was Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp. By now they were barely surviving on next to nothing and the only way to survive from one day to another was to work in the camp by moving the dead to the ovens. By doing this it meant a little more food for her and her mother. From an early age Zuzana loved music and learnt to play the piano and throughout her time in the concentration camps she kept her music alive in her head. To be free and to play again.
It was a date that would live with Zuzana for the rest of her life. 15th April 1945 she was liberated from Belsen by the British Army. At this time Zuzana only weighed around four stone. But she had survived. All through these years and through the hell and horror of Auschwitz and Belsen she carried a piece of printed music paper with favourite J.S. Bach music on it.
The war was over but the suffering was not over as she now lived under the Soviets and the Communist regime. Zuzana went back to her music studies but only as per the Soviets perspective. From the pianist she switched to playing the Harpsichord after she met Victor Kalabis who would be her future husband. Now she could learn some of her favourite Bach pieces. Following this she became famous and performed all over the world for decades to come and also recorded over 100 albums. J.S. Bach had saved her life.
Wendy Holden conducted many interviews with Zuzana Ruzicková and two weeks after her final interview Zuzana passed away never to see her memoir published. The dedication in the book reads as follows: Dedicated by Zuzana to Johann Sebastian Bach whose music reminds us there is still beauty in this world.
Thank you to Bloomsbury Books UK for the review copy of One Hundred Miracles: A Memoir of Music and Survival by Wendy Holden
One Hundred Miracles: A Memoir of Music and Survival by Wendy Holden was published by Bloomsbury and was published on 18th April 2019 in Hardback and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
As another year comes to a close we look back on 2018 and the news might be full of bad news but in the world of books it has been another great year. Sales are continuing to grow in both physical hard copy but audio books are also booming. This really is great news and added to this more independent books shops have opened during the year with the trend set to continue. With the high street struggling like never before it is just heartening to see the growth of sales in books. Just a few years ago some were saying the days of the hard copy book were doomed.
2018 will be a year that I will remember for years to come. So many great books have been read some sadly I have not had time to read and will miss this end of year review. I look back with great memories to take away from this year whether it the honour of being asked blog about some of the books and authors for The 2018 Jewish Book Festival to being invited to assist with a very special book On Courage: Stories of Victoria Cross and George Cross Holders a day surrounded by some of the bravest men and women. Real heroes. Also to be involved with The Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize a book prize that is dedicated to books on natural history and the great outdoors. Then of course there was The Lost Words project I launched for Somerset Primary Schools in August which is still going to this very day. The generosity of many that made this a success. To those behind the scenes who helped and are still helping I could not have done this without you. To the many radio interviews not just in Somerset but across the UK and also in Europe. In the early part of the Summer I was invited to take a tour of The London Library which turned out to be an incredible experience a very special place that holds over one million books on over 17 miles of shelving. You walk in the footsteps of literary giants.
So this brings me to my 15 books of 2018. The books that made my year. This was incredibly hard as so many could have made it in.
The choices are in no particular order so there is no number one book just the best of the year.
Our House – Louise Candlish
(Simon & Schuster) 5th April 2018
Fi Lawson arrives home to find strangers moving into her house. The terror of knowing your life is about to be turned upside down and all the possessions of your life with Bram have gone and who are these people moving into the home they never had any intention of selling. Bram has made a dreadful mistake and there is a price to pay. Now there are score to settle. Both have secrets that they kept from each other.
Our House is a gripping domestic noir read that I recall racing through and kept up long into the night.
All Among the Barley – Melissa Harrison
(Bloomsbury) – 23rd August 2018
With memories of The Great War still in the minds and memories of the community it casts a shadow across the fields as the autumn harvest approaches. It is 1933 the glamorous Constance arrives from London to write about the traditions of the Suffolk farming community. For Edie Mather adulthood is approaching and the arrival of Constance is seen by Edie to be everything she longs for. But there is something more to Constance than Edie thinks. This is a remarkable and powerful novel from the Costa Shortlisted author of Hawthorn Time.
Three Things About Elsie – Joanna Cannon
(The Borough Press – 11th January 2018
With a Battenburg cover Three Things About Elsie is just a wonderful and delicious story. 84-Year-old Florence has had a fall and as she lies there waiting for help to come she wonders if some part of her past is come back. Florence lives in a flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly and she wonders if the new resident is who he claims to be as he died sixty years ago. It is a beautiful, charming and profound novel from the author of The Trouble with Goats and Sheep. Three Things About Elsie was longlisted for The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018.
Something of His Art – Horatio Clare
(Little Toller Books) – 11th October 2018
The year is 1705 and the yet unknown Johann Sebastian Bach is earning a living as a teacher and organist sets off on more than a 250 mile walk from Arnstadt to Lübeck to visit a composer. This was to be a pivotal time for the young J.S. Bach and this short book tells of his walk and Horatio Clare walks in his footsteps and re-traces that walk that was to change Bach’s life. Based on the BBC Radio 3 series of the same Horatio talks of the walk, the sights, and sounds and natural history that would have accompanied Bach on this epic adventure that would see him become the greatest composer.
The Lost Letters of William Woolf – Helen Cullen
(Michael Joseph) – 12th July 2018
William Woolf works for the Dead Letters Depot in East London were he spends his days solving mysteries that include terrible hand writing, missing post codes, torn packages to name but a few. Then he discovers letters addressed to ‘My Great Love’ and suddenly life for William Woolf takes on a whole new perspective. These letters written by a woman to a man she has not met yet, and William now starts to think that he could be the man the letters are meant for. Now he must take on his biggest mystery to follow the clues in the letters and solve the biggest mystery of all. The human heart. This is a charming and romantic novel a wonderful debut. Shortlisted for the Newcomer of the Year – Irish Book Awards.
The Wood: The Life and Times of Cockshutt Wood – John Lewis-Stempel
(Doubleday) – 8th March 2018
For four years John Lewis-Stempel managed a mixed woodland of three and a half acres that is Cockshutt Wood and raised cows and pigs that had free reign through these woods. This is John’s month by month account of his last year managing the wood. Through the lives of the trees and the birds and animals that made this wood their home a sanctuary for the wildlife and also for the author. You are there through the changing seasons through to the final days of John’s management of the woods that became his spiritual home. This is a man in tune with the natural world and one of the country’s finest natural history writers. Longlisted for the Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize 2018.
Anatomy of a Scandal – Sarah Vaughan
(Simon & Schuster) 11th January 2018
A scandal that will rock Westminster. This is a high profile marriage and James has been accused of a shocking crime and his wife Sophie believes in him and will protect the family. Kate on the other hand is the Barrister who believes he is guilty and will make sure he pays for the crimes he has committed.
This is an explosive thriller that will keep the reader on the edge of their chair until the very end. Superbly written with great characters. A story of marriage and power and who has it and how they use it. Totally absorbing and gripping.
The Last Wilderness – Neil Ansell
(Tinder Press) – 8th February 2018
Nature and solitude. Neil Ansell has spent the best part of his life walking the remote parts of Britain but here in The Last Wilderness he takes on the part of Scottish Highlands but doing so as he talks of his hearing loss and hoe this affects his love of the great outdoors and the birds he loved to hear that have now become silent. To be in the wilderness is to be at one with nature. It is indeed a love letter to both the wilderness and to the Highlands of Scotland. The wonderful rich writing of Neill Ansell almost makes you believe you are there walking in his footsteps. A treasure of a book. Shortlisted for The Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize 2018.
I Love You Too Much – Alicia Drake
(Picador) – 8th February 2018
A novel based in Paris and centred around Paul a quiet and lonely boy who is unloved. He spends his time watching those in his family and his rather glamourous mother Séverine and her musician boyfriend Gabriel. For a boy who closely observes his family and their daily lives, you just know one day he will see something he is not supposed to see.
Paul seeks the friendship of the not so quiet Scarlett and the patisseries of this part of Paris. Paul is crying out to be loved but what if love does not come his way. What then? This is a book I totally loved and still do to this day. So deserving to be read by a wider audience. It is deft and intelligent and so beautifully told. One book I would I would recommend.
Erebus: A story of a Ship – Michael Palin
(Hutchinson Books) – 20th September 2018
Michael Palin tells the story of the ill-fated journey of HMS Erebus and its crew that set sail for the arctic in search of the North West Passage. In 1845 it disappeared with HMS Terror along with their crews. What really happened? A story of the ship and its crew as Palin recounts the adventure and ultimately the biggest naval disaster. Together with photographs this makes for a remarkable read for anyone who has an interest in the sea or adventures.
Dark Pines – Will Dean
(Point Blank) – 14th June 2018
An impressive debut by Will Dean. Dark Pines is dark, chilling and atmospheric. Set in an isolated Swedish town. An unsolved murder from two decades ago a deaf reporter trying to find a story that could make her career. Now Tuva needs to find the killer before she becomes the killers next target. But there are secrets in the pine woods were Tuva must venture. If she solves the crime she could find a way out of the small of Gavrik and finally make a name for herself. Dark Pines is the thriller that really beats all thrillers in 2018 and is the first in a series with Red Snow about to be released in January 2019. If I had to choose my book of the year Dark Pines would be that book. If you have not read Dark Pines and thrillers are your genre, then read it now!
Owl Sense – Dr Miriam Darlington
(Guardian Faber Publishing) 8th February 2018
I have been fascinated by Owls all my life and have been lucky to have travelled and seen many species of Owl in Europe, Africa and the Caribbean and I loved Owl Sense by Miriam Darlington she takes walks with her son seeking species of UK Owls. Then she travels into Europe from France to Spain, Serbia and Finland and close to the arctic lands of snow and ice. But this book not only is a story of a quest for Owls but her son Benji becomes very ill and then suddenly it is also a quest for a cure. Owl Sense brings to life the mysterious lives of Owls and what we are so fascinated with these mysterious birds.
The Lingering – SJI Holliday
(Orenda Books) – 15th November 2018
This dark and creepy ghost story is best read during the dark hours as it really sets the tone. Though you might not want to switch the light off after.
Jack and Ali move have moved into a self-sufficient commune set in Rosalind House, the local village it is said is were witches roamed and the home itself has a dark and sinister past. But it is not long after they arrive that things start to happen. Now the residents and locals are nervous, something or someone is seeking retribution. But why? Terrifying and unnerving. The Lingering really had me spooked. Superbly written and a storyline that holds until the very end.
Take Nothing With You – Patrick Gale
(Tinder Press) – 21st August 2018
Set in the 1970’s West-Super-Mare and only son Eustace has been signed up for Cello lessons by his mother. Music is an escape for Eustace and his lessons from his teacher he cannot get enough of. But it is his mother that is not sure of the glamorous teacher. Soon though it is lessons in life and love that take on whole new meanings for Eustace. This is beautifully told story of coming of age and finding out who you really are told with real compassion. A truly wonderful read.
The Lost Words – Robert Macfarlane & Jackie Morris
(Hamish Hamilton) – 5th October 2017
After everything this year, I could not leave The Lost Words out of my selection for the year. It has been the bedrock of my year.
Imagine a world where children no longer talk of Heron’s, Otters, Bluebells, Acorns, Conkers, Dandelion, Bramble to name but a few. Well there are around 50 words that The Oxford Dictionary for Children removed. What they did not reckon on was Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane. Here is the most beautiful book imaginable. In words spoken as Spell-Poems and paintings by the amazing Jackie Morris they both bring these words back to life.
Many people across the country have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds to bring this book in into Schools, care homes and hospitals. Even today many more are planned to launch. A truly remarkable book that has a life all of its own. And this story for Somerset has only just begun.
And so there we have it. As the old year ends and a new one is about to begin and so it starts all over again. It has been a pleasure and an honour to work with such incredible writers and publishers and I thank them all for their incredible work.
In 2019 I have some great plans ahead I am honoured to have been asked to be an official blogger for The Jewish Book Festival in early March. I will be podcasting through the year and hope to take the podcast on the road to talk to writers and may be a few publishers. I will be doing my usual book giveaways when time permits and also there will be The Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize.
Have a happy and peaceful 2019 and remember “We read to know that we are not alone”. Books take us to places and to escape all the bad news of the day.
The Last Word Book Review
All Among the Barley – Melissa Harrison
Melissa Harrison was shortlisted for the Costa Novel of the Year Award and longlisted for the Baileys Prize for At Hawthorn Tim. A timeless and memorable novel. With her third novel All Among the Barley (Bloomsbury) I am predicting great things. This is just the most wonderful piece of writing. This is set in 1933 to the backdrop of Wych Farm in Suffolk this is a story as seen by the 14-year-old girl Edie Mather. Although not released until August 23rd I am giving readers a little glimpse of this incredible novel and one to add to your summer reading lists. I promise you will totally fall for Melissa Harrison’s forthcoming novel.
The Great War may have been over a number of years but it still lingers in the memory and the spectre of another war is haunting the country at this time. This is a powerful novel of a girl about to enter adulthood and the autumn is a time of harvest so pressures on the entire farming community are great. But then to add a touch of glamour there is a visitor in the shape of the very beautiful Constance who is here to write about rural traditions. But who really is Constance? And what is the impact on Edie? This evocative storyline of times gone by and the natural world that Harrison writes so knowledgably about just adds to the beautiful prose. On a farm time does not stand still it is ever changing with the seasons and here in All Among the Barley is a story that is just pure nostalgia. But the story-line is just breath-taking and unforgettable. This is just a novel that will be read time and time again. I totally fell in love with All Among the Barley and have since read it for the second time. This is just a timeless novel and so passionately and beautifully written. My tip for one of THE books of 2018 and All Among the Barley I am delighted to Highly recommend.
Thank you to Jack Birch at Bloomsbury for the review copy of All Among the Barley by Melissa Harrison.
All Among the Barley by Melissa Harrison will be published on 23rd August 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
Alex Reeve – The House on Half Moon Street – Guest Post
I am delighted to welcome to my blog author Alex Reeve whose debut novel is a Victorian crime thriller called The House on Half Moon Street is released on 3rd May (Raven Books) an exciting new historical series. Leo Stanhope is a transgender coroner’s assistant who must uncover a killer without risking his own future.
A body is found in the River Thames it is London in 1880. Was it suicide, accidental or something more sinister. Introducing Leo Stanhope who is hiding one hell of a secret. He was born Charlotte, and his father was heavily involved in the church. When Leo left home at the age of fifteen he left his family home never to return or to see his mother and father again. He knew that life as Charlotte was not the life and he knew from an early age he wanted to be a man. Leo is in love with Maria but can his love survive this secret? At this moment in time he is hiding this secret from the world and it must not come out. Leo’s fear of being found out pours out of the pages of this historical thriller.
Now he is heavily involved in a mystery involving the body of a man washed up by the Thames. A superbly written thriller that is written with so much warmth for our protagonist Leo. Reeve’s describes Victorian London perfectly that you can almost feel the smog around you and also smells and noise of 1880 London. This is a novel that has been carefully thought out and the characters that Reeve brings to the reader are just so incredibly real. At times I was reading this while travelling on a bus and was totally lost in a bygone age. I feared for Leo as every page was turned wondering if his secret would be exposed and what fate would befall him. At times I was so involved in this intricate thriller that time just passed me by. There is so much in this stunning debut novel by Alex Reeve that touches so many subjects including gender. it is atmospheric and dark yet intricate. I cannot recommend The House on Half Moon Street highly enough and I congratulate Alex Reeve on a fantastic debut novel. I am already looking forward to book two.
Alex has been kind enough to write a little Guest Post for my blog and here he talks about his debut novel The House on Half Moon Street.
The story of the story
The first inklings of an idea for The House on Half Moon Street came during a train journey I took with a transgender co-worker. I felt great compassion and anger about the way she was treated. It wasn’t anything overtly aggressive, but it was persistent: glances, stares, whispers and sighs. And she had to deal with it every single day! All she’d done was make a choice about her identity. What more fundamental human right could there be?
Surely, I thought, things must be getting better?
I love historical crime novels, so I started doing some research. I found lots of examples of transgender men and women, and of course there must be lots more, people who lived and died in happy obscurity. However, I also found they suffered many of the same issues as today: societal disapproval, legal uncertainty and health issues, among other things.
At some point, Leo Stanhope took up residence in my head and wouldn’t leave. I knew everything about him almost immediately. I could hear his voice, both amused and exasperated, and sense his romantic nature. I knew I had to write about him and, after a few false starts, I did.
From the very start I decided this wouldn’t be a novel about being transgender; it would be about a man who happened to be transgender. That distinction steered the story; Leo suffers a tragedy that could happen to anyone, and he sets off to solve the crime. It’s neither caused by, nor solved by, his being transgender. His perspective might be unique, but so is everyone’s.
I’ve been asked before how it feels to write about a transgender experience, but actually I found writing the women much harder. After all, Leo is a man and almost all the time people treat him as a man. His personality is very different from mine though. In fact, one of things that most attracts me to this peculiar profession is the chance to live as someone else for a while, someone who’s quite different from me. If I only ever wrote versions of myself, trust me, the result would be very boring indeed.
And now I get to do it all again! The second in the Leo Stanhope series is nearing completion, and the plot of the third is taking shape. Soon there’ll be even more characters for me to live as, for a little while.
My thanks to Alex for giving his time ahead of publication for writing a Guest Post.
The House on Half Moon Street by Alex Reeve (Raven Books)
Thank you to Amber Mears-Brown (Bloomsbury) for the advanced review copy of The House on Half Moon Street by Alex Reeve.
Published by Raven Books on 3rd May and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
This is How It Ends by Eva Dolan
If you are a fan of Eva Dolan then This is How It Ends (Raven Books) you will not want to miss. I could not put her latest book. It is just so incredibly compelling and Eva’s writing is just superb. It just grabs hold of you and does not let go. This is a story of modern day London and a body in a part empty house. But how will it end?
If you have read any of Eva Dolan’s previous crime novels then you will know you are in for a thrilling read, but in her latest novel this is more of an ambitious approach. Straight from the beginning you are drawn into the plot. This is not Eva’s previous crime detective style of novel this is a new approach and how it really works.
Straight from the off you meet the main characters of this plot, activists against property developers, but these are the sort who will go straight to action as opposed to just talking about it. The two main characters are Molly who is a battle hardened campaigner who is not afraid of demonstrating and then there is Ella who is a Phd student who is also a dab hand at blogging.
There is a tower block that developers have their eye on for a lucrative property development and both Molly and Ella do not want to see them get their hands on this and squeeze out the ordinary hard working people of this part of London.
Now add in to the story a body of a man in the tower and hidden in the lift shaft and did this man meet his death. Only two people really know what happened to this man and it is their secret so now we have a story based on lies and also deceit and throw in a little matter of trust between the two women. The story just gets more tense at the turn of every page. It is just superbly written by a writer who is now at the very top of her game. We have two utterly brilliant characters both so different in age and also in background, they have a secret but what happens to their secret and what happens to Molly and Ella. This is a timely novel and there is so much in this book that the reader will discover. A totally brilliant piece of writing and a book destined to be a bestseller. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
This is How It Ends by Eva Dolan is published by Bloomsbury Raven and is published on 25th January 2018 and is available to Pre-order through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops
A Thousand Paper Birds by Tor Udall
Just once in a while a book will land on my door mat for review and I know this is going to be something rather special. The wonderful A Thousand Paper Birds out now by Bloomsbury is the debut novel by Tor Udall. This is a novel that is to be cherished like a very rare plant specimen to hold and to cherish time and time again. Just look at the cover design it is a thing of real beauty. Then you start reading the book itself. Your heart is stolen.
A Thousand Paper Birds is a novel that is incredibly moving and poignant. It explores love and grief as well as the beauty that nature can only bring. There is a very special place that is close to my heart and never did I believe that one day a novel would be written with Kew Gardens at its very heart. This is not just a book it is the purest of love songs.
Loss is incredibly painful and so very personal and for Jonah he cannot let go and pain is beyond anything imaginable his wife, his love and best friend Audrey died suddenly leaving just memories. For Jonah and Audrey together they shared a love and friendship and also a love of Kew Gardens, now Jonah is alone with the memories of their visits. He is trying to come to terms with the loss of his wife and trying to understand the world around him and of his own life which now feels empty. There is a void in his life or maybe he thinks that his own life now seems pointless without Audrey.
As Jonah retraces their steps they took together through the gardens the reader is introduced to a number of Characters, all play a part in Jonah’s life and the life of Kew Gardens from the intrepid and always busy head gardener, there is Chloe the artist that is just a bit different and there in the back of Chloe’s memories is on an incident within the gardens that will not go away and there is Milly the child who loves to smile and loves life and the gardens who finds beauty around every corner. What happened to Audrey is so tragic and sudden, one minute there, and then she was never to come home never again to be held by Jonah.
Through the pages of Audrey’s diary, we get to know her so much better which just adds to the poignancy of the story. So has Jonah ever read the pages of her diary or would it be just too painful? The raw emotion pouring out of this beautiful book just left my heart aching. At times I had to put the book down just to think about what I was reading and to compose myself.
There is so much to love within the pages of this story that at times it leaves you breathless in the Udall’s writing. This is poetic writing at its best. Tor Udall has managed to bring the majestic beauty of Kew Gardens and weave the most beautiful of stories through it. Through a window given to you by the writer you enter people’s lives and see how they are linked together. It is at times so very raw yet at the same time compelling. You never want to reach the last page as with the very best books you never want them to end. So the window closes but does it really? The gardens are real and now this very special place for me will now be just that more precious. This is a book for all the seasons a book that will not leave you in a hurry and you will not forget it. A Thousand Paper Birds is without doubt my book of 2017. Delighted to HIGHLY RECOMMEND.
Thank you to Philippa Cotton for the advanced review copy of A Thousand Paper Birds.
A Thousand Paper Birds by Tor Udall is published by Bloomsbury and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
This is probably one of the most unusual books I have read this year, yet it is something unique and a real treasure of a novel one that many have been waiting patiently for. Hard to believe that Lincoln in the Bardo is in fact George Saunders first novel, his previous collection of stories as in Tenth of December have won awards and received praise in many quarters.
Lincoln in the Bardo is a novel set two days after the death of Willie Lincoln the 11-year-old son of Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States who died of typhoid and is set on one night 22 February 1862 and Abraham Lincoln visits the grave of his son and the story is set to this one night. Lincoln cannot rest and the spirits of the souls who are laid to rest want to talk and through the course of this one night in February 1862 his son who he mourns is trying to talk to his father but the ghosts of those dead all want to communicate. Now this sounds totally extraordinary basis for a novel but Saunders has created a real tour de force of s story that I could leave.
Is this just a story of a man deeply missing his dead son and fretting over a war that seems to have no end or is this a story that delves deeper into the meaning of grief, loss and so much more. So many deep questions and the answers you can only answer for yourself. What this book is in fact a book of many voices all of them trying to talk to the reader. It is a very clever book and when you read of Abraham cradling his son in the crypt and the spirits of the dead seeing this it has an effect like no other book I can recall. A story that is life-affirming and those who have read George Saunders previous work will know just how good a writer he really is. Some of the deceased wander by night and must return to their ’sick boxes’ before daylight brings a new day. Then there are those that continue their long held bickering that must happen every night like a well- rehearsed play. Then again how good would this be if it was on stage. This is a book that I recommend it really is an experience that you will not forget and a book not even close to anything you will read this year.
Thank you Ros Elis at Bloomsbury to for the advanced review copy.
Lincoln in the Bardo George Saunders by is published by Bloomsbury and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
The Burning Ground by Adam O’Riordan
Adam O’riordan may not be a name you have come across before now but he is an award winning poet having won the prestigious Somerset Maugham Award in 2011 for his collection of poems called In the Flesh. A new collection of poetry is being published on 2nd February but earlier this month Adam released through Bloomsbury a wonderful collection of short stories called The Burning Ground so eloquently written that the you become beguiled by each of the eight stories.
To say that this is one of the very best collections of short stories I have read in a long time and it will be hard to beat. There is something about the way that O’Riordan manages to capture the reader’s attention all the way through as if you are holding your breath.
The collection starts ofF with A Thunderstorm in Santa Monica and this is the author capturing you the reader in the palm of his hand and keeping you there as the story of Harvey and his relationship with the delicious Teresa, Harvey sets off to Los Angeles to see Teresa and this is his story from leaving England to fly across the Atlantic and how he then sees a fellow passenger during the flight. It is later when Harvey is alone in the bar do we suddenly realise that he is alone and that his lover is now in England. This is when you realise that O’Riordan has had us in his spell from start to finish without realising.
For me the best of this collection is The El Segundo Blue Butterfly A story of a teenager who sets off to interview the businessman Michael Hogan Bernstein. This story is a masterstroke as it is a timeless piece of writing that anyone who loves short stories must read at some point. For the key character here is Christopher and how the story flows from a young Michael who goes to interview the businessman and then the story moves through the years and the two continue to cross paths. Each chapter in this piece is a unique time period and is just the most eloquent piece of writing I have read and the ending is something to just read and then read again. I have read this short story three times over the last week.
Through the remaining six short stories we move from Rambla Pacifico which I found deeply enjoyable is about a foreman that heads off down the Pacific Coast Highway and heads into trouble and then when his employer’s daughter goes missing the story really comes into its own and you are left not only wondering about the outcome but the people involved.
In Wave-Riding Giants we see the lonely McCauley who is reflecting on his life while in a senior housing complex a moment that he starts to recall his memory charting his life from childhood to adult and that and now at this moment in time he faces confrontation with his memory. Yet another superb told story that I will be revisiting over time.
Black Bear in the Snow start off with the words changed from the hit song from Boney M’s Brown Girl in the Ring and you know that this is being sung to a baby and the story is primarily about Randall and his wife Thelma and their new born baby called Joey. There are memories here from Randall as he recalls a hunting trip with Joseph his father. This is the story of the father trying to ‘find’ his son again after a divorce. Then later it is revealed that Randall and Thelma split and that Joey is with his mum and so the cycle begins again as Randall takes his son Joey on a trip so that they can ‘connect’ as father and son. I am sure there are many who like me will identify with this story. Deftly and beautifully written.
And so to the story that makes up the title to the book The Burning Ground We see an artist trying to find so peace after a relationship with a married woman. Is the artist on the run from his desire for Alannah? Or just seeking a fresh start but either way there is success for the artist as his work is suddenly find a new fame but the memory of Alannah is still there with every paintbrush she has previously brought for him. This story I found somewhat different in style and pace but still written in a class of its own and it burns into your heart as your reach the stories ending.
With the next story ’98 Mercury Sable it starts with a conversation about car’s and is a story of a couple Sebastian and Sofia and it is Sebastian is learning how to drive at times the story is quite humorous as you would imagine but there is something else about the story and that hit me as I did not see it coming. I think by this time I was hypnotised by O’Riordan’s writing. To say anymore here would be wrong. A must read story.
In the last of the short stories in Magda’s a Dancer when you look at the first page it looks somewhat different in how O’Riordan has approached it. Basically this is a conversation piece it is unique and a clever piece of writing and a unique way of ending the collection again I will not give too much away but to me it worked well and it is worth reading a few times. It does not read as the previous stories but a worthy addition.
The Burning Ground is just a delicious collection of stories that you become hooked on and like me you will want to re-read some of them a second or more times to purely enjoy Adam’s prose. I can only hope that this collection of short stories is a success as it purely deserves to be on merit. It is nothing short of a tremendous collection of unique and differing stories and the characters involved. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Thank you to Ros Ellis at Bloomsbury for the advanced review copy.
The Burning Ground by Adam O’Riordan is published by Bloomsbury and is now available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
The River at Night by Erica Ferencik
How many of you recall the film Deliverance that starred Jon Voight and Burt Reynolds which was based on the popular novel by James Dickey. The film won a raft of Academy and Golden Globe Awards. It still ranks among one of my all-time favourite films. So now comes the heart-pounding The River at Night by Erica Ferencik a superbly written novel about a group of female friends out on a white-water rafting trip deep in the Maine wilderness were no-one can hear you if anything went wrong. But what could possibly go wrong?
The scene is set for a thrilling adventure for four women in their forties, for an adventure in the wilderness that to many would seem extreme especially as this adventure would be taking the four friends well and truly out of their comfort zone. A wild white water rafting experience deep in the wilderness. Seriously?
Our narrator is Win and is out of sorts with life since her divorce, not sure about her role in life and is still grieving for her brother Marcus. Basically Win is in a rut and she needs something to bring her out of it. The out of the blue Pia invites her on a daring trip into the Maine wilderness and what’s more it would involve wild water and a raft. On the trip also are Rachel and Sandra.
The beauty of this novel is how well Ferencik has created the characters each one has something about their personality whether she is a recovering alcoholic or one who is the centre piece an extrovert willing to try new and exciting adventures. From the hustle and bustle of the urban jungle that is the city life the women are so used to seeing in their busy everyday lives to the sheer majestic beauty of the Maine countryside, so beautifully described by Ferencik. It is not hard to see where she drew her inspiration for The River at Night.
The four women set off on an adventure of a lifetime though Win still has real misgivings about the adventure. Along with them is a guide Rory Ekhart still in his 20’s and it becomes apparent very quickly that one of the group has her eyes on the young guide. The trip does not start well for Win and this just adds to her forebodings. But what harm could this trip do, they all need some excitement. One seeks excitement before they hit the water and now the group really needs to focus on what lies ahead.
White water rafting is a bonding experience when everyone has to work to together, here in this thrilling novel the bonds that tie the friends together are tried and tested beyond anything that could have been envisaged from the outset. Sometimes in situations when it becomes a test of survival you see people react and it is not always the people you think who are the strongest. This is why I really enjoyed how Ferencik worked on the characters to create such a strong and powerful storyline. How Win comes through and in my belief ends up the strongest out the group as they try to survive when things go terribly wrong.
This is a gripping novel and the comparisons to the famous novel and film are clearly there and the chill of the river scenes are incredibly detailed and told.
Erica Ferencik has written a masterful novel and so well told you are almost in the raft with the women and feel the chill of the water as you are turned over still aboard and you are trying to escape, this is a book told as if it was in 3D as I have read in a long time the scenery and the water all stand out and come at you at speed. This is a white water experience and a bid to survive when all seems lost. Leadership is required when your lives and the lives of your friends are at risk.
This is exhilarating and packed full of suspense and as you reach the climax you are still not sure who will come out of this alive.
To coincide with the release of The River at Night there is a special price for anyone wanting to download the book for Kindle, at £1.49 via Amazon Kindle and you the thrilling book for January.
Thank you to Joseph Thomas at Bloomsbury for the advanced review copy.
The River at Night by Erica Ferencik is published by Raven Books (Bloomsbury) and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
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