Normal People by Sally Rooney
I am delighted as part of the University of Swansea International Dylan Thomas Prize longlist 2019 to share my thoughts on Normal People (Faber & Faber) by Sally Rooney.
A little about Normal People by Sally Rooney:
Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in rural Ireland. The similarities end there; they are from very different worlds. When they both earn places at Trinity College in Dublin, a connection that has grown between them lasts long into the following years.
This is an exquisite love story about how a person can change another person’s life – a simple yet profound realisation that unfolds beautifully over the course of the novel. It tells us how difficult it is to talk about how we feel and it tells us – blazingly – about cycles of domination, legitimacy and privilege. Alternating menace with overwhelming tenderness, Sally Rooney’s second novel breathes fiction with new life.
Normal People was THE most talked about novel of 2018 and is Sally Rooney’s second novel following Conversations with Friends which was showered with praise. This time around Sally Rooney has managed to surpass her debut novel. I cannot believe that I have managed to go this far without reading Normal People despite the many people urging me to read it. Once I started I really could not put this down. There is something rather special about Rooney’s writing and there is energy and something more the ease at how she writes. It is therefore no surprise when you consider the list of literary prize nominations that she has received for Normal People.
Some say beware of books that are lauded with praise and prizes but not in this case. For Sally Rooney has raised the bar to such a height that I am already excited to see how she manages to surpass her second brilliant novel.
Normal People is a compelling read. Set in a small town in Ireland and the two main characters in Marianne and Connell. Both are very different in personalities and background but they not only share the same school but also the same class.
Marianne is seen as a quiet loner somewhat different than the rest with her wealthy family she is somewhat left alone. Connell on the other hand is really popular among his peers his background could not be different as his mother is a single parent. It just took one moment and the spark was ignited and then we follow two different young people on their journey through the later school years and through their twenties.
There is at time passion and there is at times sheer intensity between the two young people as they go from school to University and then their first steps into the world of work.
When you read Rooney’s writing there is something so different yet sublime but there is something so unique that really attract the reader into the story. We find the two star-crossed young lovers bouncing from between the sheets to being friends and then back between the sheets again. Would this be because of their backgrounds and personalities? Is there a force that means that they were destined for each other as both Marianne and Connell seem to be inseparable?
So the couple mature from their school days to adulthood and the complexities of modern life and how they really begin to understand each other. A modern day love story and a testament of today. Brilliant and Outstanding and a book not to be missed.
The Shortlist will be announced on Tuesday 2nd April and I will be announcing this via my Twitter and Instagram feed during the morning.
WINNER OF THE COSTA NOVEL AWARD 2018
WINNER OF THE SPECSAVERS NATIONAL BOOKS AWARD 2018 (International Author)
LONGLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2018
LONGLISTED FOR THE WOMEN’S PRIZE FOR FICTION 2019
LONGLISTED FOR THE 2019 SWANSEA UNIVERSITY INTERNATIONAL DYLAN THOMAS PRIZE.
Thank you to Agnes Rowe for the review copy of Normal People by Sally Rooney
Normal People by Sally Rooney was published by Faber & Faber and was published on 30th August 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
Follow the 2019 Longlist for the Swansea University International Dylan Thomas Prize.
Ten Poems about Trees and Ten Poems about Husbands and Wives. The Latest releases from Candlestick Press
Ten Poems about Trees
Introduced by Katherine Towers
They say Oceans contain the warmest blood of all but stop and think about trees for one moment and they too contain life. How many of have childhood memories of gathering Conkers every atumn or stand and listen to birds singing high in a tree or Squirrels chasing each other around the trunk of a tree. Yes trees also do contain the warmest blood and are harbingers of new life each Springtime.
I am delighted to share the new poetry pamphlet by Candlestick Press: Ten Poems about Trees introduced by Katherine Towers.
“Ah in the thunder in the air
how still the trees are”
Poetry from ranging from DH Lawrence (Trees in the Garden) through to Alistair Elliot (Dear Betula) each of the ten poems talk about trees in their own very special way. This really in Arboriculture in ten poems. Trees remind us of special times and how fragile our own brief lives really are.
From Aspens to colourful trees in a garden to trees a lement of a lost tree and to all of us who love trees and who never want to be seperated from them.
Candlestick Press are making a donation from the sales of Ten Poems about Trees to The Woodland Trust.
Ten Poems about Husbands and Wives
I am delighted to share the latest poetry pamphlet by Candlestick Press Ten Poems about Husbands and Wives. The poet Anne Bradstreet (1612 – 1672) said it all:
“If ever two were one, then surely we”
Ten glorious poems about the relationship of a couple celebrating the bond of marriage. Poetry by Tiffany Atkinson (Portrait of the Husband as Farmer’s Market) and including Ingrid’s Husband by Paul Henry to The Seventh Wedding Invitation by Choman Hardi.
Beautiful poems laid out facing each other. Just as you would imagine a husband and wife sat facing each other enjoy time together embraced in conversation.
Both Ten Poems about Trees and Ten Poems about Husband and Wives are available to order from the Candlestick Website. (See below).
Thank you to Kathy Towers of Candlestick Press for the review copies of Ten Poems about Trees and Ten Poems about Husbands and Wives both now available now to order through Candlestick Press website.
Candlestick Press are a small independent publisher based in Nottingham and were founded in 2008. The team consists of four dedicated people in Di Slaney (Publisher), Kathy Towers (Assistant Editor) and two admin assistants. Their aim is simple to spread the joy of poetry to adults and children alike who love poetry and or may be just beginning their journey in to enjoying poetry. These small pamphlets are just ideal for bedtime reading or like I have been doing and that is enjoying them on journeys.
They have published so many of these beautiful pamphlets on a wide range of topics from Christmas to Cricket, from Dogs to Sheep and even Clouds to walking and even breakfast. These wonderful poetry pamphlets make the ideal gift to send to friends and loved ones. For more information, please visit the Candlestick Press website: Candlestick Press
The Ghost Tree by Barbara Erskine
Released in paperback on 7th March is the latest best-seller by Barbara Erskine. The Ghost Tree (Harper Collins). The main character Ruth Dunbar has returned to Edinburgh after the death of her father. Now she is faced with sifting through all his belongings.
Ruth is having a tough time after the break-up of her marriage and also losing her career. The death of her father has come as a latest blow. Sifting through her father’s she now comes across a cupboard full of possessions belonging to her mother among them are letters and documents and also diaries kept by her mother’s ancestor Thomas Erskine. Thomas really lived a life but as she reads she begins to feel she is not alone in this isolated room at the top of the house.
As the name of the book suggests this is also a ghost story. But it is not just the ghost of Thomas Erskine that Ruth can feel, as she discovers more about Thomas’s past she also realises that he had his enemies and now she feels the presence of not only Thomas but also his enemy.
Ruth now must count on her friends who have experience in dealing with the paranormal. This is not really a scary ghost story but you find this novel dealing with aspects of trying to rid the house of the ghostly existence.
The story moves between the past and the present and this historical part of the novel I enjoyed more especially as Barbara Erskine brought into the novel her great-great-great-great-great grandfather Thomas Erskine who she heard so much about through her own family.
It is not only the past that contains enemies but also the present for Ruth, one such person is Timothy one man that really is not at all pleasant and is seriously questioning Ruth’s inheritance.
If you are a fan of Barbara Erskine then this really is for you.
Thank you to Charlotte Walker from LoveReading for the review copy of The Ghost Tree by Barbara Erskine.
The Ghost Tree by Barbara Erskine was published by Harper Collins and was published on 7th March 2019 in Paperback and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
The Ghost Tree – Blog Tour
Agent Jack: The True Story of MI5’s Secret Nazi Hunter by Robert Hutton
Delighted to share my thoughts on the story of the MI5 agent at the very heart of Operation Fifth Column, which was the covert WWII operation that was to flush out Nazi sympathisers on British Soil.
Just a few words on what the book is about: June 1940 and Britain stands alone as Hitler eyes his next prize across the channel. Codenamed ‘Jack King’ Eric Roberts who was a former Bank Clerk from Epsom in Surrey. He was recruited into MI5 and then went on to become Hitler’s man in London. This whole operation has only recently come to light. In Agent Jack: The True Story of MI5’s Secret Wartime Nazi Hunter Robert Hutton goes on to tell the story through newly declassified documents and private family archives.
The enemy within during the war was a fear at the heart of the government getting to know who they were and then infiltrate them was key to identifying the key players and also the spies who would pass on information to their spy masters in Berlin.
Author Robert Hutton must be congratulated for his well-researched book that is an incredible read that delves deep into this story of Eric Roberts.
It is hard to imagine that even when that dreadful Oswald Mosely was taken out circulation that there ordinary Britons willing to work for the Nazis and put this country at real risk of invasion.
Eric Roberts hailed from Cornwall and was spotted by spymaster Maxwell Knight. Roberts was nothing short of brave as he set about infiltrating British Union of Fascists at any time he could have caught out and then what? It was later that he rose through the ranks. This an ordinary bank clerk. Nothing short of remarkable.
As the war went on, it was decided the best way to play them was to set up their own ‘Fifth Column’ and so it was the under the name of ‘Jack King’ Eric Roberts played his best part.
‘Jack King’ was to play the Nazi’s man in London pretending to be the link and the key to the very heart of Nazi Germany. Hard to imagine that here in Briton as men and women risking their lives to destroy the Nazis that there were those who believed in the Nazi cause and wanted see their own country defeated. These were the vile anti-Semitic Nazi sympathisers that Eric was infiltrating. This was dangerous work at any time he could have been found out and almost certain death awaited. It was indeed that ‘Jack’ already being eyed as an MI5 spy and her name was Marita Perigoe who was in her own right an extremely dangerous woman who was very suspicious of ‘Jack King’ These were the people plotting against their own country passing vital information to the Gestapo but plotting Churchill’s downfall. These were the enemy within and needed to be brought to justice but at the end of the war were they indeed brought to justice. There are some surprising findings and facts that even opened my eyes while reading this riveting account.
At the end of the story the country owed Eric Roberts a great deal but did he get the rewards he deserved. I won’t reveal that here as I think this is one book that finally opens the story of a man with a smile that opened doors and revealed many secrets.
Agent Jack: The True Story of MI5’s Secret Nazi Hunter by Robert Hutton was published by W&N and was published on 6th September 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
The Wild Remedy: How Nature Mends Us ~ A Diary by Emma Mitchell
Welcome to my stop on The Wild Remedy by Emma Mitchell Blog Tour. It is thanks to bestselling author Joanna Cannon who pointed out Emma’s beautiful book to me and I rushed out and got myself a copy in January. As I write this piece for this blog tour I am watching a small group of Long-tailed Tits playing around the tree and one of the Long-tailed Tits comes and sits on the window ledge and looks through the window at me. It is as if it knows I am writing this important blog post. Nature really can inspire and heal.
At the end of this Blog Post there is thanks to Michael O’Mara Books a chance to win a copy of this beautiful and important book.
For Emma Mitchell who has suffered with depression (or the Grey Slug) as she refers it to moved away from the built up city to Cambridge and close to the fens. It was at this point that Emma discovered the real beauty of nature and it really became natures cure.
With each walk there would be photographs and collecting natures little gifts as well as drawing and painting and it is here within the pages of The Wild Remedy that you really get to see and experience the both the writer and artist that is Emma Mitchell. A real joy and a pleasure to read. But there is a purpose to this beautiful book. This is Emma’s guide to the natures calendar year. Starting in October as the leaves turn to their stunning colourful display before it shuts down for the winter this is a month by month guide on how to see nature in all its real beauty. A year of exploring and a year of discovering the flora and fauna of the walks Emma took close to her home and it is through words and paintings and
photographs that Emma opens up and candidly talks about her depression and also the darkest of times as Emma battles Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
But it through the walks and discovering nature through the year the change from Winter to Spring, a bird’s feather so delicate and intricate. Often Emma would walk with her Lurcher, Annie who is her walking companion and together seek the peace that only nature can give.
When Emma returns home, she recounts her walk with her writing and photos as well as her sketches and paintings. The Wild Remedy is not just a book about nature it is an important book about allowing ourselves to be at one with nature and also how nature can help us on our road to healing. A book to treasure and also to help each and everyone one of us. Highly Recommended.
PRIZE DRAW – A CHANCE TO WIN A COPY OF THE WILD REMEDY BY EMMA MITCHELL.
For a chance to win a copy of stunningly beautiful The Wild Remedy by Emma Mitchell. Head to my Twitter account @thelastword1962 Follow and Retweet either the Review or Prize draw Tweets. The competition closes on Friday evening 22nd March at 7pm.
Please note: This is a UK only competition and the winner will be drawn and notified by a DM message on Twitter. Michael O’Mara the publisher of The Wild Remedy will be sending the lucky winner a copy in the post. Good luck!
Thank you to Alara Delfrosse for the review copy of The Wild Remedy by Emma Mitchell.
The Wild Remedy by Emma Mitchell was published by Michael O’Mara and was published on 27th December 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
The Wild Remedy by Emma Mitchell – The Blog Tour
Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li
This book really intrigued me before I started reading Number One Chinese Restaurant the debut by Lillian Li. (One, Imprint of Pushkin Press). I need not have worried. An incredible novel set in a Chinese restaurant and the character’s that both run and work there. We have all eaten in restaurants but how many take time just to stop and think about what really goes on behind the scenes.
This really is the ultimate character driven novel as there are many and you get to meet them. The trials and tribulations of the members of staff at the Beijing Duck House, Rockville, Maryland. They have been dishing up Chinese food now for many decades but when you have many people working closely together even if they are as close as a family, there are the usual tensions that are bubbling away just under the surface.
One aspect of this fabulous novel that I really enjoyed was each of the characters you get to meet in each of the chapters. So many interesting threads through the book that keeps you wanting to know more about the people who work there many as immigrants and their offspring. This really is a very large family drama being played out page by page.
There is Jimmy whose passion is to break away and set up his own restaurant but his relationship with Johnny is complex and many then there is Nan who is the Manager of the Duck House Restaurant and that of Ah-Jack who seems to have been there forever but he is formidable character.
Even in the best of family’s trouble can simmer and bubble to the surface and this does come through in Li’s writing and it is Nan who seems to have to deal with the many complex characters who work there. We also get to meet one of the original owners Feng Fei Wang who is full of zeal, she is wise but can stand up for herself if needs be.
It is a heart-warming story interjected with humour of characters that are workers, friends, family and more. This really is a compelling novel I found hard to leave alone for too long. Lillian Li’s prose is delicious and one I devoured like my favourite Chinese meal. Highly Recommended .
LONGLISTED FOR THE 2019 WOMEN’S PRIZE FOR FICTION
Thank you to Tabitha Pelly at Pushkin Press for the review copy of Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li.
Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li was published by One an imprint of Pushkin Press and was published on 7th Febraury 2019 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr
Today as book lovers across the world we are celebrating are love of books as today marks World Book Day 2019 and book lovers are sharing their favourite books, past and present. Children are going to school dressed as their favourite characters from books they have loved.
Today I thought I would share one book I read when I was very young that had a profound effect on me. First released in 1971 ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’ by Judith Kerr. This is a semi-autobiographical story of a young Jewish girl and her family escaping the Nazis.
The story begins in Berlin in 1933 and Anna discovers that her beloved Papa has gone missing. Papa knows that if Adolf Hitler wins the forthcoming elections the family will be in grave danger. Anna and the rest of her family do not wait to find out and secretly escape Berlin and head to Switzerland.
Anna cannot take all her toys with her and leaves behind her ‘Pink Rabbit’ and it is this that gives the book its title as Anna believes that Hitler has stolen her Pink Rabbit.
As the family settle in Switzerland Papa believes that the family should move to Paris so he travels alone to the French capital to seek a new family home but now the Nazis have found out and have put a price on Papa’s head.
So it was that When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr seemed to start me asking questions about what really happened in WWII and I started to read books from the Library on the Holocaust and the more I read the more horrified I was and I remember asking questions of my teachers at school that I wanted to learn about the persecution of the Jewish race from Germany and across mainland Europe and the death camps.
I watched in horror the major TV series World at War narrated by Laurence Olivier in what was the most expensive TV series ever made at that time equivalent to nearly £11 Million in today’s money. As they years moved on I learned more and more and read more and read the diary of Anne Frank and visited the home of Anne Frank in Amsterdam.
Bringing the story up to date I have read many personal accounts of survivors of the Holocaust and will continue to support their personal stories.
I am also proud and honoured to be supporting for the second year The Jewish Book Week which is currently being held in London.
For further details of The Jewish Book Week 2019: http://jewishbookweek.com/
Where Reasons End by Yiyun Li
There are many conversations we have in life and some that are difficult but at the same time there are conversations that none of us want to have. In Where Reasons End by Yiyun Li (Hamish Hamilton) is a deeply moving account of a mother having a conversation with her son who took his own life.
It is understandable that some may find this an uncomfortable book to pick up and read, but what I would say is do not be put off, this is a remarkable story that is being told. The narrator is a Chinese – American writer and it was her son Nikolai who was full of life took his own life, leaving his mother to try and understand why.
Soon after her son’s death a conversation begins between them and it is an extended conversation and sometimes Nikolai would seem to be a little harsh on his mother. We start to learn about Nikolai and what he really enjoyed in life but also the pain that was clearly there. As I was reading I guess I fell into a trap expecting to learn why Nikolai took his own life but it is his mother who talks of life after her son is gone. There are many questions in life and sometimes no matter how hard we try answers are never found.
I have been very lucky to have read many great books so far this year but there is something here that is just remarkable, there is no doubt it is an incredibly sad novel to read but Where Reasons End is nothing short of a masterpiece of a novel. As a writer Yiyun Li is at the top of her game as a writer and one everyone who loves writers should be shouting her name from every rooftop.
Of course this is a book that pour out grief and unspeakable pain and it should be, but this conversation that takes place is in a place that none of us want ever to visit.
There is real sadness about Where Reasons End when you understand Yiyun Li’s own life. Do writers sometimes write to escape? I don’t fully know the answer to that question but I would seriously recommend reading Where Reasons End.
Thank you to Hamish Hamilton for the review copy of Where Reasons End by Yiyun Li.
Where Reasons End by Yiyun Li was published by Hamish Hamilton and was published on 7th February 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl
(Translated by Don Bartlett)
I have loved thrillers and espionage novels for many years but along comes The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl (Orenda Books) and weaves them both together and set in the darkest part of Europe’s history. It set in Oslo in 1942 and Esther just manages to escape being seized by the dreaded Gestapo.
Ester manages to escape to Sweden, but she will never see her family again as they are arrested and sent to Auschwitz. It is while in Sweden she meets the mysterious and yet resistance hero Gerard Falkum. Gerard has fled the Gestapo and has his own story to tell.
There are stories about Falkum murdering his wife Åse who just happened to be Ester’s close friend while they were at school. Are these stories true and why would Falkum kill his wife? But then he dies in a fire. Ester wants answers to how and why her best friend died. There is immense tension all through the story as Ester plays a deadly game that could end in her being arrested by the Nazis and sent to one of the death camps. But Ester want and seeks answers.
The story then flits forward twenty-five years and the mysterious Falkum appears to have come back from the dead and shows up in Oslo. Where has he been all these years. There is danger ahead for Ester and she must use all her courage to keep one step ahead and stay alive. This is a superbly character driven storyline set in a time when many did brave things to defeat the Nazi’s. A tense and compelling plot that has many twists. The movement between different timelines is easy to follow as they are marked at the start of every chapter.
For Ester she seeks answers about her friend and also answers to what happened to her own family. There is incredible emotion at this point as I have read many books on the Holocaust.
It is not hard to see why Kjell Ola Dahl is so highly respected. The Courier is exceptional and is one of the best books I have read so far this year and will take some beating. Six out of Five stars. A MUST READ!
Thank you to Karen Sullivan (Orenda Books) for the review copy of The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl.
The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl published by Orenda Books and will be published on 21st March 2018 and is available to pre-order through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
The Flower Girls – Alice Clark-Platts
Another top notch thriller that hit the bookstands in January was The Flower Girls by Alice Clark-Platts and one that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Pulsating and compelling. A thumping good page turner. A story of a child murderer another given a new identity and what happens when that identity is revealed.
1997 and sisters Laurel and Rosie are playing in the park and invite another girl (Kirstie) to play with them. Kirstie does not return and is found murdered and horribly tortured. Ten-year-old Laurel is found guilty of Kirstie’s murder. Rosie who is only six does not stand trial as she is too young. Instead her and her new family are given new identities and moved away to a new town.
Bring the story to current day and Primrose now given the new name of Hazel is staying at a hotel, with the weather closing in and a child goes missing from the hotel. What now for Hazel and her past and also her real name? With the family now completely severing all connections with Laurel. Now all these years later Laurel is fighting to be released. She claims that she is a reformed character. She has a lawyer who also happens to be her Uncle.
Laurel and Rosie as children and Laurel and Hazel now nineteen years later and with a child gone missing the past could unfold in front them again. Hazel has spent these past years re-building her life while her sisters was locked up. The Flower Girls is a superbly written and gripping thriller. Alice Clark-Platts has created a tense and twisty thriller that will keep you on your toes until the very powerful ending. But with so many motives and also secrets especially with what really happened that day in the park. I love a thriller that makes the palms of your hands sweaty. I really love the way the author has created this storyline and keeps the reader guessing all the way through. How would the two sisters feel when they come face to face again after all these years? Highly Recommended.
Thank you to Ros Ellis (Bloomsbury Publishing) for the review copy of The Flower Girls by Alice Clark-Platts
The Flower Girls was published by Raven Books and was published on 24th January 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.