Category Archives: Sceptre
In Every Moment We Are Still Alive by Tom Malmquist
(Translated by Henning Koch)
A story that is set in Sweden about loss and grief except this is not a novel, this is in fact a factual story of Tom and his partner of 10 years Karin. In Every Moment We Are Still Alive by Tom Malmquist is the bestselling and award winning story that took the Nordic countries by storm.
The story starts with Karin being rushed to hospital with what they believe is a serious bout of flu. Karin is heavily pregnant with their first child. The baby is delivered safely but Karin’s condition is beginning to worsen very soon it transpires that what Karin is suffering from is acute Leukemia and despite the best efforts by the medical team Karin loses her brave fight. Tom’s world has just crashed but he knows he must keep strong as he faces bringing up baby Livia on his own.
Through the heart-breaking opening chapter’s, we meet Tom’s and Karin’s immediate family members and Tom’s friends as it becomes clear that Karin’s condition is worsening. Then having to take in the news that their daughter has lost her fight as well as trying to be there for Tom as his life plan is shattered.
Throughout this story Tom’s writing is at times clinical and others just poetic as we see Tom trying to grieve for Karin at times he comes across as being too hard on those around him but Tom’s own world and his plans for his family have been totally destroyed he is trying to survive one day at a time, from the moment he wakes up and seemingly every minute of every day trying to get through one day at a time. Then there is Tom’s father who is also very ill so the pressure on Tom is just immense I can feel the need to be alone and grieve for his wife alone.
In Every Moment We Are Still Alive could well be a private love letter to his wife Karin and something that his daughter Livia will read when she is able to understand and through these pages she will come to meet the mother she never knew and how her father grieved for her while bringing up Livia up alone. At times utterly heart-wrenching but so tenderly written and told. I have read many books on grief and this will remain with me for a long time to come.
Thank you to Sceptre for the advanced review copy.
In Every Moment We Are Still Alive by Tom Malmquist is published by Sceptre and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
Fell – Jenn Ashworth
When a book speaks to you in such beautiful prose as in Fell by Jenn Ashworth you know that it is worth savouring every word on every page. This is a stunning atmospheric and haunting tale set on the Morecambe Bay coastline. Like the shifting sands of the bay this story moves from the past to the present day.
Annette Clifford returns to the long abandoned family home she has now inherited, the house has been empty now for some time and mother nature has long since moved in to claim it as her own with two Sycamore trees and the ever present gregarious starlings. There is something spooky and creepy about the house that was her parent’s home. Now the spirits of her parents have woken at the arrival of their daughter Annette. The past was a painful experience and now the spirits of her parents want to make some sort of amends for this. A haunting tale that moves from the early 1960’s to the present day a story that is narrated by the spirits of her parents.
In the story we find out about the character Timothy Richardson who moved into the family home in 1963 a real mysterious man who claimed to have healing powers. At the time Annette’s mother (Netty) was very poorly. But there is something about Timothy and his reasons for want to stay in the house. There was something sinister in Timothy and I came to loathe his presence in the story. Yet he is a leading character yet I so wanted him out of the house. I just became totally hooked on the outstanding writing of Jenn Ashworth and her beautiful way she moves the story like the shifting sands of Morecambe Bay. Little moments of life at that time come to life in the storyline like the can of warm cola just add to the beauty of Fell.
There are moments of real disturbing scenes when we are back in time and Timothy is bringing back to life dead rabbits and the moment when he manages to get Netty to bring up a never ending tide of salty sea water is a little squeamish to say the least. But Timothy presence seems to shape the lives in the household while not really aiding the ailing Netty. Why is he here? What does he want? So the spirits of Annette’s parents have woken to try and find the words to speak to their daughter. Fell is an astonishing book and knowing the area well I knew this was going to speak to me in through the landscape as well as the words and I deliberately left the book on my desk to read in December and if you have not yet read Fell this is the month to read it. It comes into to its own at this time of year. It is mysterious and mystic and dark and the landscape all plays its part in the perfect wintertime story. Fabulous.
Thank you to Nikki Barrow at Sceptre for the advanced review copy.
Fell by Jenn Ashworth is published by Sceptre and is available through all good bookshops.
How Much the Heart Can Hold – Seven Stories on Love
Many will know of my passion for short stories so when How Much the Heart Can Hold arrived for review I was just as keen to get into this outstanding collection of stories on love. The real beauty of this book lies in each unique story and the list of writers who have made a contribution is like a who’s who in the literary world today.
The idea of commissioning the stories from the publisher Sceptre was based around a short story competition (now closed). With the winning entry having their story included in the paperback version released in February 2017 as well as a cash prize. Now just how good is that?
Each of the stories takes on a personality of their own through each of the writers. Some of the stories we just totally incredible some I felt lacked depth but in a collection of short stories there will always be some that reach the highs and others that for reasons just do not reach the same level.
The one stand out story for me was by Carys Bray author of the wonderful A Song for Issy Bradley and Bray’s story is called A Series of Codas is a rare thing of beauty. Here we see Louise struggling as a single parent and now she has to deal with her father’s serious illness after a collapse during a football match. She now has to look after her son Max and now also her father as he recovers from surgery. This is truly beautiful story of how we deal with life and the challenges and changes that we face. When faced with the challenges that Louise faces the message here is to treasure every moment and hold our loved ones close to our heart and talking of hearts. Having been through heart related surgery on a number of times over recent years I was taken by Bray’s take on hearts. Talking about people still being just the very same people after heart surgery and after all it is all just plumbing. It is just how I described my surgery to my close ones to stop them worrying.
Hearts can cope with so much after all they are the strongest muscle in our bodies yet at the same time have to cope with so much pain and loss and also capable of so much love. Some of these stories may not be to everyone’s taste but give this a go if you are a lover of the short story and just How Much the Heart Can Hold.
Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
Thank you to Nikki Barrow for the advanced review copy.
How Much the Heart Can Hold is published by Sceptre and is now in hardback available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
Moonstone – The Boy Who Never Was – Sjón
Translated by Victoria Cribb
The Last Word Review
The author Sjón whose full name is Sigurjón Birgir Sigurðsson has been involved on the Icelandic literary scene since the 1970’s and also best known for the collaboration with the Icelandic singer Björk but I am asking myself how it is I have not yet previously discovered his writing before now.
The year is 1918 and Europe is embroiled in the latter stages of World War One. Moonstone – The Boy Who Never Was is set in Reykjavik and its central character the 16-year-old orphan boy Máni Steinn who at night dreams of the cinema and during the day has sex with men for Money. Due to the Great War Iceland is short on food and coal and people are living hand to mouth on a daily basis. But life is about to get a lot worse for the inhabitants of Reykjavik.
That alone may put off some readers but would strongly advise you to read Moonstone it captures Iceland at a moment in history where life and death stalk everyone, like a time capsule the writing is poetic in nature.
Young Máni lives day to day flitting between the two main cinemas in Reykjavik and the money he earns pays for his dream. He is transfixed by the enigmatic Sóla G who seems to spend her time riding around on a motorbike in black leathers. Has she ridden straight from the silver screen into the young man’s life. She really has film star look and adds to the dreamlike state that Máni finds himself in.
The sky above Reykjavik are dark as volcano Katla spews it contents into the air and then to add to the gloom a Danish passenger ship arrives carrying an even deadlier cargo. Spanish Flu has now arrived in Reykjavik and suddenly death lurks in the shadows and no-one is immune. Máni goes about his daily rounds ‘earning’ his money through his encounters with other gentlemen.
As the Spanish Flu takes its toll and the death toll mounts to shocking proportions the main characters are recruited to make house visits and take the dead to the morgue. This is at times a difficult read but it is so profound and poignant. By the time I have read this very short book I too had felt I had been part of a dream like state but that is exactly how Sjón writes. Striking and noticeable Moonstone will capture the reader and it will be read in one sitting. Although a work of fiction the historical accounts of the time are not missed. Moonstone is a masterpiece of writing. It is only at the very end of the book do we really find out the true meaning of this incredible story.
There are times when a book comes along and will haunt you and get inside your head for days afterwards, this is one of those books. An absolute delight to read and pleased to say will convert many like me to the writing of Sjón.
Thank you to Sceptre Books and Bookbridgr for the review copy.
Moonstone – The Boy Who Never Was by Sjón and published by Sceptre on 2 June is available through Waterstones and all good bookshop.
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
The Last Word Review
War can throw people together unlike anything else in life and in the new outstanding historical novel Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave we meet three people who will leave a lasting impression on the reader.
London in 1939 and war has just been declared and hopes and dreams of many people are about to be crushed by war, for some who believe the war will be over quickly are about to be proved sadly wrong. Loosely based on the story of the authors grandparents we follow the main characters Mary, Tom and Alistair through the war years based in London and Malta in a story of love, hopes and dreams to put it simply this is their story.
What we see in Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is how the lives of ordinary people have been shaped by events completely out of their control for which they have no influence people and lives torn apart and shaped by the events of WWII.
From the start we meet Mary from a wealthy young lady and the daughter of an MP, she leaves finishing school and ends up as a teacher to children who have become rejected by the those in the countryside after the evacuations and through the job soon meets up with Tom and the two start a love affair, meanwhile Tom’s closest friend Alistair who is in art as a trade and soon enlists but what happens when Mary meets Alistair means there is a tragic and emotional love story involving all three protagonists the war is raging and London is in the midst of the blitz and the bombs fall like rain the face of London is changing by the day. During this part of the story you can almost hear the air raid sirens wailing around you and taste the smell of death and destruction this is the testament to how Chris Cleave writes as he involves the reader in every aspect of the story.
For Alistair he soon finds himself embroiled in the siege of Malta were tomorrow could well be your last. We learn that the author’s grandfather served in the siege of Malta during the war and there are photographs at the back of the book of his grandfather in uniform as well as together with his grandmother in 1944 that help bring the story to life.
The sheer detail is down to the immense research undertaken by Cleave and he does not hesitate to describe the horror of war whether it is in London as we see Mary and her fiend Hilda driving an ambulance through the blitz and London burnt as the bombs fell.
For me this has just become one of my top two books of 2016 and will be very hard to beat an incredible absorbing story that is both brutal and also incredibly humorous at times. The book is beautifully presented the cover is split between the top half of the book as a black and white photograph of a smartly dressed lady posting a letter surrounded by bombed out buildings and the bottom half mainly in red with the page edgings also in red giving a stunning feel and look to the book.
Without doubt Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is a book that will leave a mark on anyone who loves historical novels and proves that Chris Cleave is a writer at the very top of his game and master of telling a story. I do not ever recall ending a book and holding it with a tear knowing that we are leaving some characters behind that I wanted to know more about. “Brilliant, devastating, humorous and heart-breaking.”
Everyone Brave Is Forgiven written by Chris Cleave and published by Sceptre is available in Hardback through all Waterstones and good shops.
Delighted to say that as part of the Official Blog Tour for The Chimes I talk to the author Anna Smaill about her debut book as well the Man Booker Prize and also poetry. I also review The Chimes and there is also a chance to enter a free prize draw to win a copy of the 2015 Man Booker Prize longlister.
MEET THE AUTHOR
ANNA SMAILL – THE CHIMES
~ OFFICIAL BLOG TOUR 2016 ~
In the latest in a series of Meet the Author Interviews I talk Anna Smaill about her debut best-selling and Man Booker Longlister 2015 novel The Chimes which is has just been released in paperback.
Your first novel The Chimes is stunning. Music plays an important in the book. What challenges did you face when you came up with the idea for the book?
Thank you, that’s really kind. To be honest, when I started writing, the book felt like a series of insurmountable problems. I think, in fact, that this is what kept me writing – it was like a very intriguing and deeply personal labyrinth. I had to solve it in order to get out. The central problem was dealing with a first-person narrator with memory loss, while writing in the present tense. I needed to convey the fact that, for Simon, the same day seems to repeat itself interminably, yet I also needed to move the plot forward. The first third of the book was reshuffled countless times. It was a challenge also understanding the way in which music orders the world – how far I could stretch this idea, and the limits and implications of it.
The cover art design is very unique and beautiful. Did you come up with the idea for the artwork?
I’m glad you feel that way. I adore it too. I would love to claim some sort of influence over the cover design, but in fact it’s down to my editor Drummond’s excellent instinct, the genius of the illustrator Rich Gemell, and the wonderful design team at Sceptre. I remember waiting nervously to see the first sketch and glimpsing it as a preview thumbnail on my email. I could tell it was right, even before I’d downloaded it and seen it properly, and even in black and white. It just had a wonderful idiosyncratic, off-kilter texture in the water and cityscape, which keyed so closely with my sense of the book. In colour it came alive. I’m particularly fond of the paperback design, which employs another brilliant illustration from Rich.
What was it like when it was announced that you had been Longlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize?
Quite dreamlike, actually – in the sense that it was utterly unexpected and in such surreal juxtaposition to the day I’d had. I was just about to go to bed when I got an email from my editor. Ten minutes later it was announced on Twitter and my timeline exploded. It’s very much a cliché, but it did feel like time slowed down, and I couldn’t speak to explain to my husband for a few seconds. After it sunk in, I felt incredibly happy. There is so much that is fraught in publishing your debut novel, and so many hurdles along the way. It felt like a wonderful moment not just for me, but for my agent and editor and everyone at Sceptre who had taken a gamble on the book
I talk to a lot of authors about their writing routines and their hopes and fears. Can you describe yours?
My writing routine is still evolving. I started writing The Chimes while juggling a series of unfulfilling part-time jobs. Writing felt clandestine and secretive, and I fit it in around other things. I tended to write in the British Library, or my local library. Then my daughter was born, and writing became an evening pursuit, or something snatched in daytime naps. As soon as I had some regular days of childcare, however, my routine solidified a lot. When I have a whole day to write, it essentially still follows this pattern: get up, say goodbye to husband and daughter, brew a pot of tea, sit down, write. I tend to do most of the main composition in the morning. After lunch I usually read, edit, and type up (I write longhand first). This general routine is most productive when I’m in the middle of a book. When I’m in the earlier stages, as I am at present, there is a larger component of reading, sketching, thinking, and looking out the window.
Did you manage to read any of the other finalists for the Man Book Prize and did you have a favourite?
A few days after the longlisting I was paid in book vouchers for an event. It seemed too fortuitous a moment to pass up, so I went straight to a bookshop and bought all of the other novels on the list. This was a trifle ambitious and not remotely cool of me, but glorious nonetheless. I have still only read a handful, but to me Marilynne Robinson’s Lila is simply indelible. The story and language are simple, but her experience and wisdom and the humanity she manages to distil in the story is remarkable. I find her work and philosophy very moving.
I understand you had a book of poetry published. Is there a chance that one day we could see another?
I’d like to say yes, but I’m really not sure. There was something about writing poetry that effectively rescued me from the emotional quandary that resulted when I stopped playing the violin. I really needed to write that book. The intensity of linguistic attention directly derived from the intensity of my musical practice and the sort of thinking I had developed around it. I do think poets are a different breed from prose writers – their insights and drives move differently, and come from different locations. I still have some doubts about which camp I fall into. I haven’t felt that moment of inspiration that I recognise as the seed of a poem for a while, but I do hope it comes back at some point.
How is your second book coming along? Can you give a little insight as to what we can expect to see?
It’s going well, I think. Halting, but with increasing jolts of enjoyment! I hope that it will have a similar density and strangeness to The Chimes, though it’s actually set in contemporary Tokyo. It’s much more familiar and knowable an environment on the surface, but with trapdoors into a complex, more fantastic landscape also.
What is the book you are currently reading?
Moby Dick. Whenever people have those discussions about which classic novel they’re most ashamed not to have read, that’s mine. My father read it last year, and – as we’re secretly competitive with our reading – now I have to stop prevaricating and just read it.
I am extremely grateful to Anna Smaill for taking the time to take part in ‘Meet the Author’. If you would like more information on Anna Smaill’s work, please annasmaill.com
The Chimes by Anna Smaill
The Last Word Review
A wonderfully hypnotic debut fantasy that draws the reader in. A dazzling read
Now just published in paperback is the wonderfully hypnotic debut The Chimes from the New Zealand born writer/poet Anna Smaill. This is a fantasy tale that takes a little time to become tuned into the authors musical background that she has used to great effect in The Chimes as read on the rewards come to you.
Simon has left his home following the death of his parents and heads for London he is not sure why. But he is inexorably drawn here. All he carries with him is a bag of objects that are personal to Simon they help him remember and recall moments. Important in a world that at the end of every day memories are wiped clean when The Chimes sound in fact it is a world were memory is banned. Music is the key in this dystopian world were every life in its every form is orchestrated by music. This is imagination in all its pure glory.
When in London Simon now meets up with Lucien, who is different to most and Lucien takes an interest in Simon because of his recollections thanks to his bag of memories. As the story unfolds here Simon begins to understand he was being drawn to London for a reason, that reason is to find a friend of his mother. But there is so much more to Smaill’s storytelling. Imagine a world where everyone carries a bag of memories and what would happen if that bag where lost or were to be stolen. Anyone reading this may think that in this world everyone suffers from a form of amnesia their lives seem to be in a day to day state of flux.
The world that Simon and Lucien do inhabit is one in its most basic, food is hard to come by and lodgings are very basic. In a world where memory is wiped clean at the end of every day the past history and memory is referred to as ‘blasphony’.
Everyone who reads The Chimes will have their own unique opinion as to how it effects them personally but I felt it was like waking from a dreamy state of mind, it could be just that is exactly how Smaill wanted this to be read and seen. But it a story that is so well crafted and put together and I can see why so many plaudits came its way as it was longlisted for Man Booker Prize 2015.
The Chimes may not appeal to the disconcerting reader but for those seeking a unique and remarkable read, then enter the world of Simon and Lucien and a world were memory no longer exists.
Thank you to Ruby Mitchell and the publishers Sceptre for a copy of The Chimes
The Chimes written by Anna Smaill is published by Sceptre and is now available in paperback.
Competition time. I have a copy of The Chimes to give away in a free prize draw. Head over to my Twitter page: @Thelastword1962 Just follow and retweet the post for ‘Pinned’ Tweet and you will go into the draw to win one of the copies in paperback.
*Please note: UK only prize draw. Winning book issued by publisher. Entry closes today at 8pm this evening 27 January 2016. Entries after this time will not be included.