Category Archives: Doubleday

The Wainwright Book Prize Shortlist 2017

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As we come to the end of July a real sense of excitement for me as one of my favourite book prizes of the year announcements is just a few days away. The Wainwright Book Prize 2017 in association with The National Trust is an award that celebrates the very best in writing about Nature and the great outdoors. One of my boyhood heroes was Alfred Wainwright and I have spent many hours just reading those wonderful iconic Pictorial Guides to the fells of the Lake District. It is no secret that one of my favourite genres in books is nature and the outdoors and my bookshelves are filled to capacity with some of the great books on these subjects. There is nothing better than being out in wilderness whether that is just being at one with nature or just admiring the stunning beautiful wild places that we have in our countryside from the mountains and islands of Scotland to the fells of the Lakes and the valleys of Wales and not forgetting our hardworking farmers. These are places to rejoice and to treasure now but above all for future generations. We are the caretakers and must preserve for our children and theirs to come.

I was honoured to have been given the opportunity to read all the books that make up The Wainwright Book Prize shortlist for 2017. I am still reading through the books and my personal reviews will appear soon. On the 27th June the shortlist was announced and on Thursday 3rd August direct from the BBC Countryfile live show the judges will announce this year’s winners. You can of course read more about the award and the judges chaired by TV’s Julia Bradbury on the website  The Wainwright Prize  Ahead of the announcement I thought I would give you just give a little introduction into the seven books that make up the shortlist.

The Wainwright Book Prize Shortlist 2017:

The January Man (A Year of Walking Britain) by Christopher Somerville (Doubleday)

The Running Hare by John Lewis-Stempel (Doubleday)

Love of Country (A Hebridean Journey) by Madeleine Bunting (Granta)

The Otters’ Tale by Simon Cooper (William Collins)

Wild Kingdom by Stephen Moss (Vintage)

The Wild Other by Clover Stroud (Hodder & Stoughton)

Where Poppies Blow by John Lewis-Stempel (W&N)

 

Previous Winners of The Wainwright Book Prize.

2016: The Outrun by Amy Liptrot (Canongate Books)

2015: Meadowland by John Lewis-Stempel (Transworld Publishers)

2014: The Green Road into Trees: A Walk Through England by Hugh Thompson (Windmill/Random House)

 

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The 2017 Shortlisted Books

 

The January Man – A Year Walking of Britain by Christopher Somerville

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This is the story of a year of walking around Britain and was in fact inspired by the song of the same name by Dave Goulder. The author sets off on a journey of discovery with memories of his late father walks that would cover all four seasons from all four corners of Britain from the Scottish isles to forests and vales. This in itself is a hope that readers will don their walking boots and grab their walking poles and explore the length and breadth of our country and the rich natural history and landscapes regardless of the vagaries of the British weather.

Rich not only in its descriptions but the exquisite writing of Christopher Somerville who has written thirty-six books.

384 Pages.

The Otter’s Tale by Simon Cooper

The Otters' Tale.jpgFor those like me who remember reading Tarka the Otter by Henry Williamson then The Otter’s Tale by Simon Cooper will also surely appeal. Simon bought what was an abandoned water mill in Southern England and then go on to share his home and his life with a family of wild Otters.

What this enabled Simon Cooper to achieve was to observe one of this country most secretive of mammals and he did so at very close quarters. The family allowed the author to become a member of their own family and in turn this gives the reader a personal and unique insight into the lives of the Otters in what turned out to be an extraordinary relationship of trust between Otter and man the close relationship between Simon and the female Otter called Kuschta is incredibly close and personal.

Within this story Simon Cooper also discusses the natural history of Otters here in the UK and a mammal that was once so persecuted that it was very close to being extinct in this country. A year in the life of not only Simon Cooper but also a beautiful insight to a family of Otters that shared the life of the author.

288 Pages.

Love of Country – A Hebridean Journey by Madeleine Bunting

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Some of my happiest of memories are those when I have been walking on some of the islands of the Western Coast of Scotland. Just mention the names of some of the islands like Jura, St. Kilda, Lewis, Harris, Sky, Rum and so many more. Each rich in their own history and also natural history. Here Madeleine Bunting a former Guardian journalist takes us on a journey that took six years to complete. Each time she would return there was more history and culture to uncover more islands to explore. The history of these islands shapes our countries history even today. The author not only explores but also asks questions. This is a wonderful travel companion if you are heading to one of the islands for a holiday. Read before you go and read while you are there as there is so much to read and learn. A wonderful book.

368 Pages.

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The Running Hare by John Lewis-Stempel

 

A former winner of the Wainwright Book Prize this year has two books on the Shortlist, the first titled The Running Hare looks at life on a farmland, the wild animals and plants that life on it and in it. This is an extraordinary piece of writing and you can see why this writer is so acclaimed. With so many species lost, this is a farmer who took a field and farmed it in a traditional way to conserve the wildlife that inhabit our fields. He talks about the birds that feed off the land and microbes that live in the land each having their own battle to survive modern practices. In fast paced modern world can farming go back to old practices to husband farmland thereby protecting the wildlife that also share the same farmland. A Place were the wild Hare can call home and live safely. Beautifully written and profound. A book that will stand the test of time and will be read by future generations to come. This is one of the great nature writers of our time.

304 Pages.

The Wild Other by Clover Stroud

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A deeply moving memoir from Clover Stroud about a life that was shaped by a tragic accident to her mother when Clover was only sixteen-years-old. Her mother was left with brain damage after a riding accident. Clover found herself from gypsy camps in Ireland to rodeos of Texas then to the far reaches of Russia before the White Horse vale of England brought her home to England. These journeys she took in the name of trying to understand a sense of home that was left shattered and broken. A remarkable and deeply honest account of loss and love. Nature has the power to heal the wounds that seem never to heal and here in The Wild Other Clover Stroud tells her personal story that is full of bravery and a life lived to the full. At times frank Clover reveals all in this haunting memoir that will both move and inspire the reader.

288 Pages. 

Wild Kingdom by Stephen Moss

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Stephen Moss is the acclaimed naturalist, writer and TV producer. Here in Wild Kingdom Stephen Moss at times is frank about this countries disappearing wildlife and asks some important questions about the land we share with the animals the Britain. It is not all bad news, just look at how Otters are now doing. But many others are not faring so well and Moss poses the question how can we bring back Britain’s wildlife. With intensive farming practices and housing developments taking over and wildlife being squeezed out of their natural homes something has to give and the wildlife suffers as a consequence. There has to be room for both man and wildlife to life in harmony. Rewilding is a term we may yet start to hear more of in the years ahead. So many questions are posed here. Moss takes us on a journey from farmland to wetlands from one part of the country to another. He knows what he is talking about and there is so much to understand. Common sense is key. If we care about our wildlife we can make a difference. It is not all bad news there is much to praise but there is not resting on laurels as there is work to do. Generations to come will point to our generation if we do not. This is so well written by a man who is passionate about the future of our wildlife.

304 Pages.

Where Poppies Blow by John Lewis-Stempel

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Where Poppies Blow is the second book by John Lewis-Stempel in this year’s Shortlist along with his The Running Hare. We all know of the horrors of the Great War. But in this book the author takes the connection between the British soldiers fighting in the Great War and the animals and plants and the relationships between them.

For many soldiers living inside the land they were close to nature as you can possibly get, many soldiers sought solace in the birds and plants around them, at desperate times it provided both peace and solace in a place of sheer hell. Many soldiers indeed were birdwatchers and there are stories of officers and men fishing in flooded shell craters. Here you will read of soldiers planting flower beds in trenches, this sounds truly remarkable but John Lewis-Stempel has researched this book and brings to life the incredible stories of fighting men and nature and in the end the cure that only nature can bring in its purest form. There is a quote on the inside of the book that just sums up what the men went through. ‘If it weren’t for the birds, what a hell it would be’.  A remarkable book that will take pride of place among the many natural history books in my book case.

400 Pages.

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 I have been following The Wainwright Book Prize now for a number of years and I believe this has to be the strongest of the shortlists yet. The quality of the writing is just outstanding. I am not sure if it is just me but it just gets stronger and stronger every year. I really do not envy the judges in their decision, but every one of these seven books is a real candidate to win the prize. Could John Lewis-Stempel win the prize again? I just have a feeling The Running Hare is going to be the book to look out for on Thursday. I would love to hear your views on the shortlist and if you have a favourite to win. I will of course be following the prize announcement as and when it happens and will Tweet the winning book as soon as I know over on my Twitter page The Last Word 1962 I will be reviewing each of the books in the coming weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Music Shop – Rachel Joyce

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The Music Shop – Rachel Joyce

There are many out there that love Rachel Joyce and her books and the characters she creates I count myself as being a big fan. How many of you read and loved The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry or The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey or the wonderful collection of short stories A Snow Garden & Other Stories. Now finally the wait is over and it seems to have been a long wait. Released today (13th July) is The Music Shop (Doubleday). This is a story that will lift your soul and capture your heart.

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This is a beautiful story set during the late 1980’s and as the title suggests is based around a music shop where we meet Frank who is more than just loves music it is in fact his life and his passion. Frank’s music shop has just about every possible genre of music so long as it is on vinyl that is. If you were looking for a piece of music, then Frank was your man. Just a few years before the first CD’s hit the record shops but for Frank the idea of selling music on a CD did not go well with him despite everyone around him telling him it was time to move with the times. It was the beginning of the end of vinyl as we knew it.

Then one day something happened it was just like any other day except outside Frank’s music shop there was a woman dressed in a pea green coat. Her name is Ilse Brauchmann This German woman seems a mystery to everyone including Frank but all Ilse wishes is for Frank to teach her about music. Frank is lonely and to escape this he throws himself into his music shop and making sure his customers leave with the music they are looking for. Here through the chapters of this touching and wonderful novel we find out more about Frank’s past and also about Ilse Brauchmann.

There is something warm and cosy about The Music Shop could it be the characters that Rachel Joyce creates or is it the memories we have the nostalgia aspect of the story. The past plays quite a role here and some are quite painful and for Frank the wounds do not heal easily and what was the reason for Ilse stopping by that day to the music shop. As you would expect music plays a major part in this story and in the relationship between the two characters the story. There is some humour here but also some real sadness but above all there is a message of hope. When souls are broken they need help to be put back together. Music has power to deliver on many fronts it can bring hope and it can heal. As the words to the song goes “Music was my first love and it will be my last.” Fans of Rachel Joyce will delight in this tender, wonderful and uplifting novel and just is just so beautifully written. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

336 Pages

Thank you to Alison Barrow for the advanced review copy of The Music Shop

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce is published by Doubleday on 13th July and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

 

The Things We Thought We Knew by Mahsuda Snaith

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The Things We Thought We Knew by Mahsuda Snaith

Hailed by The Bookseller as one of the Rising Stars of 2016 Mahsuda Snaith’s debut novel The Things We Thought We Knew is a story of a young Bengali woman is who confined to bed with chronic pain since an accident some years previous. Here she now reflects on the past.

 

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Ravine has not left her bed in the last decade, confined to the council flat in Leicester since her best friend Marianne disappeared. She has just celebrated her 18th birthday and with a bleak future ahead of her, she cannot leave the flat because she is in so much pain her mother as you can imagine is desperate for her daughter to try and make an effort ‘Will you at least try’ are the words from her mother. There is a sense that coming through the story that Ravine is using the pain as she is not in any hurry to make any effort. Her mother gives her a notebook to use as a pain dairy and then we journey back through the years as Ravine uses the diary to open her heart about her best friend Marianne and her disappearance. What really happened that day? As Ravine writes the reader is pulled into an intriguing journey and a story on an affecting friendship. It is clear that Ravine is hiding from the outside world even scared and hiding beneath the duvet provides her with security.

An intriguing coming of age story that will keep the reader guessing as to what really happened to Ravine’s best friend. This outstanding debut novel has some great characters that are so believable that weave through the story. With Mahsuda Snaith writing the initial novel when she was only sixteen. Impressive writing from a new and exciting author. From here I look forward to future books from Mahsuda Snaith.

304 Pages

Thank you to Doubleday for the advanced review copy.

The Things We Thought We Knew by Mahsuda Snaith is published by Doubleday and is now available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

 

You can follow the official The Things We Though We Knew Blog Tour

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Fierce Kingdom – Gin Phillips

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Fierce Kingdom – Gin Phillips

A mum takes her young son to the zoo in what should be a really special time, but then them events take place that means they have to run and hide in fear of their lives, gunshots are heard then panic sets in. A killer is roaming the grounds of the zoo and the intent is to kill. Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips is a compelling and gripping thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat until the very last. This is one of the most anticipated novels of the summer and is sure to be a bestseller.

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4.55pm and Joan and her four-year-old son Lincoln have spent the day at the zoo and it is nearly closing time so they head towards the exits, then Joan hears what she believes is gunshots.

Over the course of the next hours Joan has to think about how to not only how to run and avoid being seen by a madman with a gun who out to kill. She has to try and keep Lincoln from crying, that would attract real and grave danger. I always knew that this was going to be a gripping and tense thriller and how this delivers on every level. At times it left me breathless as you run with both Joan and her young son trying to hide and hope you are not found. Joan as a mother wanted to protect her precious son from this crazed madman. Why was he here killing people? What was his motive? I don’t think I have raced through a book so quickly I just wanted to know what was coming. You just knew something was going to happen.

I have to give credit to Phillips as she has written some incredibly strong characters for Fierce Kingdom, they are just so real which gives this novel such an edge. Incredibly powerful writing creating such dramatic scenes. The idea of setting this within a zoo is just mind blowing there are so many places and buildings not to mention the wild animals. I read this while in hospital and was caught reading during a sleepless night. The book caught the attention of some of the nurses looking after me.

So what we have in Fierce Kingdom is an extremely well thought out thriller that at times is very dramatic and for some would be traumatic I for one despite the setting felt claustrophobic I was there and I wanted to help them escape.  The ending is just as dramatic and I for one never really foresaw the ending. This is pulse racing and edge of your seat thriller that will be one book I am delighted to recommend for your Summer reading list. You will not be disappointed.

288 Pages.

Thank you to Alison Barrow for the advanced review copy of Fierce Kingdom

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips is published by Doubleday on 15th June and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

 

Follow the Official Fierce Kingdom Blog Tour

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Reviews of Into the Water by Paula Hawkins & See What I have Done by Sarah Schmidt

Today sees the release of two of this year’s biggest must read books. Paula Hawkins follows up from The Girl on the Train with Into the Water (Doubleday)and a debut novel by Sarah Schmidt called See What I Have Done. (Tinder Press) Two books that are going to be on everyone’s TBR lists this Spring and Summer.

For the first time I am running today on my blog a double book review. Starting with Paula Hawkins Into the Water.

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Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

Imagine for a moment trying to sit down and write your next novel. Ok you say but what if you were the author of the massive international hit that was The Girl on the Train Then not for a moment can I begin to imagine what Paula Hawkins must be thinking as today see’s the release of her new thriller Into the Water. (Doubleday) Although some readers found that The Girl on the Train with its narrator that we know as unreliable to say the least. Paula Hawkins has gone a different route this time around as this new psychological thriller is very different and if this is at all possible it actually is better that her monster hit that captured the imagination of readers across the globe and was also a massive success on the big screen that starred Emily Blunt.

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What you will find with Into the Water is that here is a thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat as this is a stunning thriller with more than just the usual twists than your average read. This is an ambitious attempt to move away from the formula that gave Hawkins so much success, here there are more characters and the plot is so layered that is gives more to the reader. There is even something Hitchcock about this book and one that many readers will flock to. The story is set in a small riverside town, and the opening sequences are nothing short of horrific as a woman is tied up and then drowned by a group of men. At this point I had to re-read this first part as I was not sure if this was a current event or was this a past event from history and if so was history to play a major part in the novel. A chilling start that set the tone for what was to be a gripping thriller. It is now August 2015 and this little riverside town now becomes centre stage and a small of that river that has a notorious history that involves the drowning of witches. But there has been a much more recent drowning a middle aged woman called Nel Abbott is found dead in this stretch of water but how was this possible? Now let your imagination play with you here. Some including her daughter think Nel planned to end her life but Nel’s sister Jules is not sure. Now the history of this part of the comes to the fore as other deaths by drowning come to light. It also appears that Nel was taking a keen interest into the drownings has she taken some if its secrets and the towns secrets with her.

There are many character here that have a story to tell and they do this in bite size chapters that play a part in telling the real story of what has been going on in this small town. Some of these characters are hiding the truth and it also appears that Nel was not liked by many in the town. Question is why? Add into the story a psychic and you have the recipe for a thriller that is just building page by page with suspense until the very last moment. If you are going to read Into the Water on a train journey, be warned you may miss your stop but at least it stop you looking at people’s homes through the window of your carriage.

368 Pages

My thanks to Alison Barrow for the advanced review copy of Into the Water.

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins is published by Doubleday and is released today 2nd May and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

 

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See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

It is the morning of 4th August 1892 and the bodies of Andrew and Abby Borden are discovered in their home. They have been brutally murdered with an axe. It was Lizzie Borden who discovered the mutilated body of her father. Here in See What I Have Done (Tinder Press) the debut novel by Sarah Schmidt she tells the story with fact and fiction in a gripping and riveting debut.

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I have to admit to not knowing the story of the brutal murders that took place in the Borden home so before I started to read the book I did a little research to prepare myself for the book. Once I started I became hooked on Sarah Scmidt’s telling of the story using both facts and then using fiction to re-tell the infamous story.

When the Police arrived at the family home in Fall River, Massachusetts it becomes clear there was only one suspect and that was Lizzie Borden. Could she really have taken an axe to her stepmother and to her father? Despite the fact that there was other people in the house the police believe that she was responsible for the murders. Lizzie Borden was then tried and acquitted. To this day the murders remain unsolved in what remains one of the most heinous crimes the axe that was used in the murders was never found.

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Lizzie Borden

There are a numbers of characters that Scmidt focuses on in the novel with Lizzie and her sister Emma who at the time of the murders was not present in the family home, then there is the girls Uncle John and then the maid, Bridget. With the facts of the case already known Schmidt then weaves a dark and claustrophobic story. Behind the front door of the family home clearly all was not well. To say this was a troubled family even dysfunctional, there was many things quietly bubbling away under the surface in that steaming hot summer. The entire story just jumps out at you and leaves your pulse racing. This is an incredible first novel that is visceral and truly compelling. Schmidt’s writing is dark and chilling and the palms of your hands become sweaty or was that blood oozing from the pages of this disturbing read. This was clearly a family with many problems hidden behind the shutters of the windows as if they were keeping the secrets from the outside world. The parts of the story as told through Lizzie Borden leave you cold and wondering about her sanity and left me in cold sweats. See What I have Done is a Superb first novel and one I highly recommend.

Thank you to Georgina Moore for the advanced review copy of See What I Have Done.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt is published by Tinder Press and is released today 2nd May and available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

 

 

Centaur by Declan Murphy & Ami Rao

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Centaur by Declan Murphy & Ami Rao

The May bank holiday Monday of 1994 the world was still coming to terms that weekend of the deaths of racing drivers Roland Ratzenberger and the three times World Champion Ayrton Senna at the San Marino Grand Prix. At Haydock Park the celebrated jockey Declan Murphy was riding Arcot the favourite in the Swinton Hurdle as they approached the final hurdle they were lying third after coming through the field. Arcot misjudged the hurdle and they fell for Declan Murphy the world just seemed to disappear into a world of blackness then a following horse crashed into Murphy with one hoof colliding with his head causing 12 fractures in his skull. It was so severe that soon after Declan was given the last rites. He was not expected to survive such dreadful injuries.

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The world of sport now held its breath, one of this countries’ top sportsmen was now in such a critical condition that the Racing Post ran his obituary. Despite he was facing having his life support switched off Murphy in a dark world was not giving up he was fighting and fighting hard. Now 23 years later Declan Murphy with Ami Rao tells his story in Centaur in what is one of the most incredible and brave memoirs that many will want to read and is surely in the running to win the William Hill Sports book of the year. This is a brave and open memoir of Murphy’s fightback from a man who looked death in face and lives to tell his story. Hidden within the pages of Centaur is a secret that at the time he kept from his loved ones and that for the celebrated Jockey is shattering. For coming back from the dead there was a price to be paid, as he fought to regain his health there were choices to be made some so painful that even this part of Declan’s journey brought a tear to my eyes. This brave man was going to overcome this crisis in his life he was mend his shattered injury and he was going to do this in the only way he could by shutting the world and those close to him away. This fight was personal and some may say selfish but I would like to call it brave.

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Just eighteen months later Declan Murphy recovered to ride again in what some would call sheer madness after facing death. The date was Tuesday 10th October 1995 Murphy rode Jibereen at Chepstow to win. This was the comebacks of all comebacks. To have your obituary in the Racing Post then comeback not only to ride again but win. This long tunnel that Murphy was in finally was the end was reached but for this brave sportsman that had to be more to life that riding and for Declan Murphy after a spell in New York and now Barcelona he has found peace and personal happiness. An extraordinary memoir that is so beautifully written. Riding a horse there is symmetry between both the rider and horse in Centaur there is symmetry between both Declan Murphy and Ami Rao and the result is a book worthy of the highest plaudits. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Thank you to Alison Barrow for the advanced review copy of Centaur

Centaur by Declan Murphy and Ami Rao is published by Doubleday and is published on 27th April and available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

Hold Back the Stars by Katie

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Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan

Katie Khan has a fascination with the stars in the night sky so much so that back in 2012 she came up with the premise of the story-line and so it was Hold Back the Stars was born and now it is one of the most talked about debut novels of 2017. In Katie Khan a new literary star has really been born. This is an incredible story so beautifully woven and seamless.

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The Europe as we know it today is Europia of tomorrow and this is where Hold Back the Stars it is set the Europe of the future after the World is torn apart by conflict and a new society was born but from this, the idea of young people falling in love is something that is not allowed that is for later in life. Our story begins in space two young astronauts are tumbling through space they have manged to escape their dying ship, but something is wrong and now they have only 90 minutes of air remaining and nothing else to help them. They are drifting further and further away and panic is setting. These two young lovers whose hearts have become one they have been drawn together as it was always meant to be and in a society where this is frowned on, now all seems lost. Imagine just helplessly drifting through space among the bright stars that just hang there. In space they say there are more stars than there are grains on sand on every beach on Earth.

What Katie Khan presents us is an act of sheer desperation so perfectly set in her writing and the tone, as both Cary’s and Max try everything to come up with a plan to save themselves at the same time they are looking back at their lives in moments of flashbacks. From the very start of this outstanding book I was hooked and never wanted to leave the young couple for too long. Cary’s is one amazing character she is full of life and one feisty young woman they are just a young couple with dep feelings for each other despite what the law makers think and want. It is so beautifully written I have found it difficult to pin this novel into any one genre as it crosses many of them. It is clever and also unusual but it really works and the ending well I am not giving any spoilers here but this is the only way it could have ended. You may need a handkerchief to hand. My goodness this is just so very special. It was written in the stars, but Hold Back the Stars really was written in the stars and for Katie Khan the future looks as bright as a night sky full of stars. Now you can add a new one.

Thank you to Sophie Christopher for the advanced review copy.

Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan is published by Doubleday and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys

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A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys

There is something of a mix of old and new in A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys. If you have ever enjoyed reading the classic old mysteries, then I would make a note of this book’s release date and pre-order a copy because you will enjoy reading this old school mystery.

The story unfolds not on land as you may expect but at sea during a five week sailing from Tilbury Docks to the other side of the world. August 1939 and Britain is on the verge of World War II and for many the world would change forever. The story centres around Lillian Shepherd she is young and has left her job as job as a servant and is now seeking a new life for herself in Australia. Leaving behind a country teetering on the brink of an abyss. Once on board the Liner Orontes Lilian begins to see a life full of difference the wealthy and those fleeing from the Nazi regime that is about to engulf all of Europe. The real beauty in Rachel Rhys writing is that the pace of the story is somewhat leisurely it is not hurried now bearing in mind this is a story unfolding on a long voyage aboard ship.

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All the passengers have stories to tell and there is a real mix of people and nationalities on the ship for Lily with whom you have a real sense of feeling the question I guess is Lilian leaving or running away, the answer lies within the pages of A Dangerous Crossing.  Lilian soon settles into being a passenger as opposed to the role of being a servant. While on the voyage she has a chance to mingle with the passengers including those who would I guess look down on her. In the confines on a ship you are always going to find a rich mix of characters and taking into consideration the timing of the events there are some interesting people Lily meets including sitting at a table with George Price and his support for Hitler and racist tone. Lilian makes friends with Maria Katz a young Jewish woman fearing for life and who has left behind a Europe amid rumours of Jewish persecution ahead of Hitler’s rape of Europe cities.

Along the journey the Orontes docks at various ports to take on more passengers and provisions and Britain is soon left behind as well as Lilian’s past as the story progresses Lilian settles into her ‘new lifestyle’ and gets to know her close circle of passengers. Sometimes though just when you think you know someone you actually don’t know them at all. And this is the crux of the story as much later into the story something happens that will shake Lilian’s faith in that.

This is superb piece of writing telling of differing people, and faiths all in a mixing bowl aboard ship at a time when the world was about to embark on fighting tyranny. There was something that struck me as I read A Dangerous Crossing something of the current times we are living in. All a bit worrying really. But this is wonderfully crafted story told in a way of the old mystery novels of times gone by. The documents at the end of the book tell of a true story on the Liner Orontes while on a voyage to Australia.

Thank you to Alison Barrow for the advanced review copy.

A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys is published by Doubleday and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops from 23 March. Available now to pre-order.

Different Class by Joanne Harris

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Different Class by Joanne Harris

 The Last Word Review

When you think of Joanna Harris you would not think of crime novels but in her latest release Different Class this is in fact her third crime novel a twisting psychological thriller set in a fictional Yorkshire town of Malbry with the backdrop being a boy’s grammar school and brilliantly written this is the third in the series of novels and follows on from Gentleman & Players.

The story is narrated through the boy’s Latin master Roy Straitley, so the story goes that the school has seen better days and now a schoolboy has been murdered. The school is in desperate need of some good fortune but it is in turmoil with the head and some of its tutors leaving, a new term and Straitley now in his sixties arrives for another term postponing his retirement but more problems lie ahead for him.

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Johnny Harrington the new head arrives and he is smart in more ways than just his attire, he will be bringing new ways of education the boys and also installing a ‘paperless office’ regime into the school. But for Roy Straitley there is a real problem here the new head just so happens to be one of the boys he taught, but has brought the past to the current as there is a scandal to be told here involving the head when he was a boy that led to one the teachers spending time in one of her majesty’s prisons. This is not an ideal working relationship and the tension is palpable. Should Roy have just walked into retirement?

The story moves between the years 1981 and to the current timeline of 2005 bring to life the story as he reminisces of the time when the scandal was unfolding that includes an unnamed boy and to the current day as Roy agonises of the events that overshadow the school and threaten its very survival. Roy is very much old school and encompasses the values and traditions of the old way of teaching and the school as he remembers as it should be. One thing that you do take from reading the diary entries is the relationship between master and pupil and vice versa. A story that tackles many issues including loyalty and consciences.

This is one book that you will be lured into by the intricate plot and storyline and is excellently executed as a thriller you know that something is lurking within the story and there is real trouble brewing and it delivers on all fronts it is dark and at times unsettling. I have not read the previous two books in the series and will be keen to go back and start the series from the beginning though Different Class can be read as a stand-alone book but whatever it should not be missed and one I fully recommend.

Thank you to Patsy Irwin (Transworld Publishers) for a review copy.

Different Class by Joanna Harris is published by Doubleday and is available in Hardback through Waterstones and all good bookshops.

 

Meet the Author Interview and review of The French Lesson by Hallie Rubenhold

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The French Lesson by Hallie Rubenhold

 

 MEET THE AUTHOR

HALLIE RUBENHOLD

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In the latest in a series of Meet the Author Interviews I talk Hallie Rubenhold about her latest historical novel The French Lesson which is has just been released through Doubleday and is available through Waterstones and all good bookshops.

I began by asking Hallie about her latest novel.

Congratulations on your latest book The French Lesson published by       Doubleday. Being a lover of history and historical novels, I have to admit at enjoying it very much. As it is just published can you give a brief synopsis of The French Lesson?

 I’m so pleased you enjoyed The French Lesson! I always have a very hard time giving a synopsis of this book because I feel I’m too close to it to be able to discern the woods from the trees.

 It’s about a lot of things, but I think it’s quite well summarised in the phrase, ‘it’s Dangerous Liaisons meets A Tale of Two Cities’, with a little bit of Thackeray thrown in for good measure. The French Lesson is the second book in a trilogy about my heroine, Henrietta Lightfoot and how she evolves from being an innocent girl to a scheming woman (which hints at what’s to come in the third novel). It’s told in first person, as a memoir when Henrietta is much older and involved in an on-going battle over reputation with her very dysfunctional family.  I won’t reveal anything more than that as there are many twists and turns in this story and I don’t want to give anything away. Although it’s part of a trilogy, it’s also very much a stand-alone read.

 What made you want to be an historian and historical writer and become involved in broadcasting and historical consultancy work for television drama’s such as Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell?

 I’ve always loved history, writing and filmmaking since I was a child. In fact they really are just extensions of the same thing – story telling. I find the past fascinating and I think that growing up somewhere where a sense of the past was so noticeably absent – Los Angeles – made me more desirous of connecting with it on some level. I also blame the place of my birth for my interest in film. 

 Do you think history is important today?

History is absolutely important today, however if we define history as simply a memorised roll call of names and dates, then it loses all meaning. I feel very sad when I hear that this definition of history is what so many people associate with the subject.

 Personally, I feel that social history has the most relevance in our lives – it’s fundamental that we understand how we lived and how we have evolved as a society. History is and should be the study of what it means to be human. 

 Is there a favourite period in history that you like to write about?

 The period called the Long Eighteenth Century (c. 1680 – 1837) really is the era that I most love, though I find the nineteenth century and the seventeenth century pretty fascinating too.

 If you were about to make a long journey and could take only one historical book with you what would that book be? Apologies for putting you on the spot with this one?

 I’m assuming you mean historical novel.  I’d take Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, which is one of my all-time favourites. This novel is so layered that I’d never tire of re-reading it and contemplating the complexities of its characters.

 I like talking to authors about their writing routines, some can be creative in the early hours and others like to write in busy coffee shops with the hustle and bustle of everyday life around them, can you tell me about your writing routines and what motivates you.

 I’m useless in the morning and have always been so. I’m not a great sleeper so my brain usually doesn’t kick into gear until after 10 am. If I’m working from home I try to do my chores in the morning – answer emails, go to the gym, the supermarket, etc and then settle into work around lunch time. I try to work from the London Library at least a couple of days a week when they have late opening. This means I can interact with other people, which keeps me sane. The London Library is a great resource for writers – there’s a nice community of us there and we’re all quite supportive of each other’s work. 

I tend to work fairly late into the evening, unless I’m going out. Often I’m writing until midnight, with breaks for dinner and coffee. I seem to really hit my stride after 4pm, which annoyingly is when many people are just starting to wind down their working day.

I love the silence of a deserted library in the evenings. I love it when my mobile stops ringing and the emails taper off. That’s pure writing bliss.

 With your busy schedule do you get time to read? Are you currently reading a book at present?

 I’m a very peculiar and fussy reader. When I’m writing fiction I can’t read fiction as I find that the voices of other authors start to intrude on my own. I read nonfiction when I’m writing my novels, and I read novels when I’m writing my nonfiction.  At the moment I’ve been reading a lot of late nineteenth century journalism and commentary about the lives of the poor which will factor into my next book.  I’ve just finished Jack London’s People of the Abyss, which was completely absorbing.

 Are currently working on another project?

My next book is going to be a nonfiction book about the five women who were killed by Jack the Ripper. It’s absolutely shocking that in nearly 130 year’s no one has ever thought to write a collective history of these women’s lives. The amazing thing is that everything we think we know about them is wrong. Only one among the five was what might be considered ‘a career prostitute’.  None of them came from the East End – they were from all over. One of them came from Sweden, another had lived on a country estate as the wife of a coachman. With the exception of one, all of the women were in their 40s, and most had been married and had children.

I’m really excited about writing The Five, which hopefully should be completed within two years. Watch this space!

I am extremely grateful to Hallie Rubenhold for taking the time out of her busy schedule to take part in ‘Meet the Author’. If you would like more information on Hallie’s work or further details of The French Lesson  please visit Hallie’s website:  HallieRubenhold.com

 

My thoughts on The French Lesson

The new historical novel by Hallie Rubenhold called The French Lesson is the second book in a trilogy about Henrietta Lightfoot and is written looking back at her time in Paris during the bloody French Revolution.

We find Henrietta caught up in the bloodletting that has set neighbour against neighbour and friend against friend and even Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette are not immune from the Revolution and are imprisoned. Henrietta’s lover has let her go and despite the fact she could have escaped the fighting and gone back to London our heroine chooses to stay and sets off in pursuit of her one great love George William Allenham and soon there is trouble for Henrietta as well as grave danger and she needs help and support to survive.

Along comes Grace Dalrymple Elliott no ordinary woman is our Grace, she has a reputation and soon Henrietta soon falls under the protection of Grace but with this comes one very heavy price to our heroine and she comes face to face with some of the most powerful women in France and she put her own life on the line as she tries to find her lover.

The French Lesson is a fabulous gripping account at a time of war and tyranny and the smell of blood is in the air and heads are rolling literally. This is so wonderfully written with a blend of factual and real life people put together in a tale of love and lust and nothing is as it seems as the old order is put to the sword or the guillotine. This is not to be missed.

The French Lesson follows on from the first book Confessions of Henrietta Lightfoot- Mistress of Fate and the third book will follow in time but The French Lesson can be easily read as a stand-alone book.

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My thanks to Patsy Irwin at Transworld Publishers for a review copy.

The French Lesson written by Hallie Rubenhold and published by Doubleday and is available through Waterstones and all good bookshops.  

FREE PRIZE DRAW

Now here is your chance to win a copy of the excellent The French Lesson by Hallie Rubenhold. Just head over to my Twitter feed @Thelastword1962 and follow and Retweet the pinned review tweet. You will be entered into the draw.  Terms and Conditions: Open to UK residents only.  The free draw closes on Monday evening at 20.00hrs 25t April 2016 and entries after this time will be excluded.  The winner will be selected at random and a copy will be sent out by the publishers.

 

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