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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

This Green And Pleasant Land by Ayisha Malik (Paperback Release)

 

This Green and Pleasant Land by Ayisha Malik.

Published in hardback 13th June 2019, and in paperback 1st October 2020, by Zaffre Books.

From the cover of the book:

In the sleepy village of Babel's End, trouble is brewing.

Bilal Hasham is having a mid-life crisis. His mother has just died, and he finds peace lying in a grave he's dug in the garden. His elderly Auntie Rukhsana has come to live with him, and forged an unlikely friendship with village busybody, Shelley Hawking. His wife Mariam is distant and distracted, and his stepson Haaris is spending more time with his real father.

Bilal's mother's dying wish was to build a mosque in Babel's End, but when Shelley gets wind of this scheme, she unleashes the forces of hell. Will Bilal's mosque project bring his family and his beloved village together again, or drive them apart?

************************************

Bilal Hasham is not a man who is comfortable with his Muslim faith. He cannot even remember the last time he set foot in a mosque. When he moved away from Birmingham with his family, their intention was to live an "English" life in the country, and for eight years they have succeeded. For all intents and purposes, they have settled into village life, as members of the community of Babbels End, although they are the only non-white family for miles. On the surface, they seem content with their lives and have made many friends, but things are not always what they appear to be... 

When Bilal feels compelled to proceed with his task to build a mosque whatever the cost, the relationships both within his own family and with many of their neighbours change significantly - the majority of the villagers are outraged at the suggestion, seeing it as an attack on their traditional way of life, and Bilal is not really sure of his own standing with his wife and stepson either.

In the midst of strife, an unexpected light at the end of the tunnel appears, in the form of Bilal's aunt Rhuksana, who has lived most of her adult life in the shadow, and home, of Bilal's mother, after being tragically widowed at a young age. She speaks no English and has always been content to stay at home, away from the busy world around her, saying her prayers and writing poetry. She is not really arriving at the best of times, but her quiet presence and endless kindness has a profound effect on Bilal's family and the village of Babbels End. Rhuksana does not understand why everyone is so angry, and is determined to forge friendships where she can - even with the difficult Shelley. Why can't they all just get along? 

This is a pretty complex story, with multiple themes beyond that of a Muslim man who is compelled to question his own faith and identity, at the behest of his dying mother. It is actually the ideas of friendship, love, home and finding a compromise in the face of change that shine through, above all else.

The nature of love is explored in the stories of many of the characters in this book - romantic love, matrimonial love, and parental love - both happy and sad. Friendships are broken and sometimes remade, but the story also shows that kinship can be found in unexpected places as well - even if those friends appear to have nothing in common. And I rather enjoyed how Ayisha Malik makes you think about what home actually means to us too, and how is this tied to our identity? Is it the place we are born, where we are living, or the people we live with? Plenty to think about here. 

Big chunks of this book are really very funny and touching, which balances out nicely with the parts that deal with controversy and strife. It is loaded with humour and there are more than a few odd-ball characters for you to laugh at - in fact, it reminded me a little of some of the characters from the old Tom Sharpe books (Blott on the Landscape springs to mind). 

This book was a slow burner for me, but once Rhuksana made an appearance she worked her magical way her way into my heart and made this story very special. Her kindness, her ability to see beyond the surface and her persistence in forming a friendship with even the most reluctant of villagers - while she was suffering from her own secret sadness - really made this book for me. 

This is a very emotional story, which made me shed more than a few tears, and has left me with lots of things to ponder over too. This is a perfect read for the post-Brexit age.

This Green and Pleasant Land is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer - also available in ebook and audio formats.

Thank you to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Ayisha is a British Muslim, lifelong Londoner, and lover of books. She read English Literature and went on to complete an MA in Creative Writing. She has spent various spells photocopying, volunteering, being a publicist at Random House, and managing editor at Cornerstones Literary Consultancy. Her novels include, Sofia Khan is Not Obliged and The Other Half of Happiness. She is also the ghost writer for GBBO winner, Nadiya Hussain and has contributed to the anthology, A Change is Gonna Come.


 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Bone Shard Daughter (The Drowning Empire Book One) by Andrea Stewart

 

The Bone Shard Daughter (The Drowning Empire Book One) by Andrea Stewart.

Published 10th September 2020 by Orbit Books.

From the cover of the book:

The emperor's reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire's many islands.

Lin is the emperor's daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.

Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright - and save her people.

*********************************************

I am a huge fan of an immersive fantasy yarn, but they can get a bit samey and filled with repetitive plotlines after a while, so when I come across a gem like this one that offers something new and exciting it fills me with joy! 

Welcome to the Phoenix Empire, a world of floating islands, ruled by the Sukai Dynasty whose bone shard magic has kept their enemies at bay for over a century. But there is trouble afoot in this land - the rule of the reclusive emperor is failing, and rebellion is on the rise, along with rumours that an old and powerful enemy may be about to return to their shores.

The story follows four glorious threads within different parts of the Empire: Lin, the daughter of the Emperor, living in the palace on Imperial Isle and desperate to learn the secrets of bone shard magic that her father is reluctant to share with her; Jovis, a smuggler who has stolen from both the authorities and the criminal syndicate he was supposed to be working for, and pursuing a quest of his own for his missing wife; Sand, trapped on a distant island with no memory of who she is or why she is there; and Phalue, daughter of the indolent Governor of Nephilanu Island, who longs to be worthy of the hand and heart of her lover Ranami.

I became completely immersed in these threads, as each of our characters and their compatriots follow their destiny, yearning for the points at which their separate stories might touch - and when they eventually did, it sent shivers down my spine.... but no spoilers from me!

There is a deft hand at work here on the part of our debut author, Andrea Stewart, and her world building is accomplished, detailed and completely seductive - drawing cleverly on the Oriental side of her Chinese-American heritage. The people, the creatures, the environment, and the magic that underlies it all, are beautifully drawn, telling us just what we need to know to carry the story along and sprinkling the revelations we are desperate for at the perfect moments - but also leaving enough questions to be answered in the next part of the epic drama to ensure the reader is along for the ride beyond the final page of the book.

I adored the whole wonderful, entrancing story, and the pages of this sizeable novel just flew by in no time at all. This is one of the best fantasy novels I have read in a very long time and the next book in cannot come quickly enough, as I am desperate to find out what happens next in the Phoenix Empire!

The Bone Shard Daughter is available to buy now in hardcover, ebook and audio formats, from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Andrea Stewart and Orbit Books for providing me with a beautiful copy of this book in return for an honest review, and to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Andrea Stewart is the Chinese American daughter of immigrants, and was raised in a number of
places across the United States. When her (admittedly ambitious) dreams of becoming a dragon
slayer didn't pan out, she instead turned to writing books. She now lives in sunny California.



Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Old Bones by Helen Kitson (Cover Reveal)

COVER REVEAL 

Old Bones
By Helen Kitson

Publishing 18th January 2021
from Louise Walters Books


Today, I am honoured to be able to reveal the cover for the brand new book 
from Helen Kitson and Louise Walters Books: 
Old Bones!

“So much of life is about pretending to
be something other than what one is:
prettier, cleverer, less ordinary.”


From the cover of the book:

Diana and her sister Antonia are house-sharing spinsters who have never got over their respective first loves. Diana owns a gift shop, but rarely works there; and Antonia is unemployed, having lost
her teaching job at an all girls’ school following a shocking outburst in the classroom after enduring
years of torment. Antonia enjoys her “nice” magazines, Diana is a regular at the local library, and
they treat themselves to coffee and cake once a week in the village café.

Naomi lives alone, haunted by the failure of her two marriages. She works in the library, doesn’t
get on with her younger colleagues, and rarely cooks herself a proper meal. Secretly she longs for
a Boden frock.

When a body is discovered in the local quarry, all three women’s lives are turned upside down.
And when Diana’s old flame Gill turns up unexpectedly, tensions finally spill over and threaten to
destroy the outwardly peaceful lives all three women have carefully constructed around
themselves.

Helen takes us back to the fictional Shropshire village of Morevale in this, her brilliant second novel
which exposes the fragilities and strengths of three remarkably unremarkable elderly women.


About the author:

Helen Kitson is an acclaimed poet and lives in Worcester with her husband, two grown-up
children and two rescue cats. Her first poetry collection was nominated for the Forward Best First
Collection Prize. She has published three other poetry collections and her short fiction has
appeared in magazines including Ambit, Feminist Review and Stand. The Last Words of
Madeleine Anderson
was published by Louise Walters Books in 2019. Old Bones is her second
novel.

The Trials Of Koli (Rampart Trilogy Book Two) by M.R. Carey


The Trials of Koli (The Rampart Trilogy Book Two) by 
M. R. Carey.

Published 15th September 2020 by Orbit Books.

From the cover of the book:

Koli never planned to set foot outside his small village. He knew that beyond its walls lay a fearsome landscape filled with choker trees, vicious beasts and Shunned men. 
But when he was exiled, he had no choice but to journey out into this strange world where every moment is a fight for survival.

And it's not just Koli's life that is threatened. Whole villages just like his are dying out.

But Koli heard a story, once. A story about lost London, and the mysterious tech of the Old Times that may still be there. If he can find it, there may still be a way for him to change his own fate - by saving the lives of those who are left.

****************************************

The Trials of Koli continues the story from the first book in The Rampart Trilogy, The Book of Koli, published in April 2020 - which introduced us to the terrifying post-apocalyptic world of Ingland, with its few surviving human communities, in which nature has turned against mankind. 

This one carries on seamlessly from book one - which you really do have to have read before getting to this one, so make sure you have (and it's very enjoyable, so why wouldn't you...?).  This time around we follow Koli after he has been exiled from his village, Mythen Road, for stealing tech and also the narrative of Spinner, who Koli fell in love with in the first instalment of this trilogy but has left behind - the two parts of the story swap back and forth between each other throughout.

Koli and his companions Ursala and Cup, who he met in book one, are on a quest to follow a mysterious radio signal to old London, where they hope to find more survivors who will help to save the future of the human race - with the intriguing Dreamsleeve Monono (a sentient piece of tech that Koli stole from the village) along for the ride. But this is a terrifying place and danger lurks around every corner as they try to reach their destination - this is going to be far from easy.

Spinner's part in the tale shows us about the life Koli has left behind and why he is so invested in the fight for survival. Spinner has married another - one who has become a Rampart Knife - and her story gives us a very interesting insight into the world of Rampart Hold. Danger of a different kind is headed the way of Spinner's people and she has an interesting role to play in helping to save them.

The second book in a trilogy can be a tricky thing, as it has to bridge the story between introductory world building and the big flashy finale, but M.R. Carey has managed to pull off the balancing trick well in this book and keeps the action rolling all the way through both sides of the story to the cliff-hanger of an ending that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

I don't want to say too much about the story itself, for fear of spoilers, but be assured that this is every bit as good as the first book and will leave you yearning for the final part of the trilogy, The Fall of Koli, which will be arriving on March 2021.



If you like your sci-fi/fantasy on the dystopian side, with good world building and plenty of thrills and chills, then this is the series for you. There some very interesting moments of humour along the way too, as the humans of Koli's world try to fathom out what some of the technology that has been left behind was actually used for!

The Trials of Koli is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer in paperback, ebook and audio formats.

Thank you to M.R. Carey and Orbit Books for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review, and to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

M. R. Carey has been making up stories for most of his life. His novel The Girl With All the Gifts was a word-of-mouth bestseller and is now a major motion picture based on his own screenplay.

Under the name Mike Carey he has written for both DC and Marvel, including critically acclaimed runs on Lucifer, Hellblazer and X-Men. His creator-owned series The Unwritten appeared regularly in the New York Times graphic fiction bestseller list.

He also has several previous novels, games, radio plays, and TV and movie screenplays to his credit.



Sunday, September 20, 2020

Even If We Break by Marieke Nijkamp

Even If We Break by Marieke Nijkamp.

Published 15th September 2020 by Source Books.

From the cover of the book:

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Marieke Nijkamp comes a shocking new thriller about a group of friends tied together by a game and the deadly weekend that tears them apart.

For five friends, this was supposed to be one last getaway before going their separate ways—a chance to say goodbye to each other, and to the game they’ve been playing for the past three years. But they’re all dealing with their own demons, and they’re all hiding secrets.

Finn doesn’t trust anyone since he was attacked a few months ago. Popular girl Liva saw it happen and did nothing to stop it. Maddy was in an accident that destroyed her sports career. Carter is drowning under the weight of his family’s expectations. Ever wants to keep the game going for as long as they can, at all costs.

When the lines between game and reality start to blend with deadly consequences, it’s a race against time before it’s game over—forever.

*******************************

Marieke Nijkamp is known as an advocate for diversity in story telling, with the aim of making novels more representative of the world around us, so this was one I was really interested to read.

This is not the first diverse book to ever makes its way into my reading pile, but this the first one I have absorbed that weaves a gripping story around a broader range of characters than usual, thankfully without resorting to tokenism, and does it so well.

This is a story about five high school friends, with three years of shared history, who all seem to have something to hide and reasons to mistrust each other. Before they part ways, and head on to the next stage of their lives, they share a weekend together in a remote cabin, but things go seriously wrong - and murder and mayhem ensue!

Yes, we have versions of the popular high school rich girl and the jock, but we also have characters who would not normally have a role in a story like this, because our cast also features autistic, physically disabled, trans and non-binary characters - and refreshingly, these traits are not related to the secrets they are keeping. Hurrah for a story that manages to break away from those old stereotypes!

There are some really interesting themes explored in this book, all wrapped up in a good old murder mystery cum slasher tale. 

Our characters have all bonded over a shared role playing game - one which allows them to be themselves without being defined by the issues they encounter in their real lives. They have been able to escape into the game and leave their troubles behind, but recent events have changed the group dynamic and this is what gives rise to bloodshed. 

The story touches on the troubles that each of our characters has experienced - including discrimination, parental expectation, addiction and financial woes - and the truth behind their circumstances and motivations is eked out ever so gradually by the author, as the story shifts back and forth between the narratives of the different characters. Even though the story progresses quickly, all the little pieces come together gradually, until the truth is finally revealed.

One of the things that works so well in this book is that our 'diverse' characters are the ones who really show their strength, rather than being easy prey for the traditionally stronger ones - it is actually their ability to look at things in a different way that works to their advantage.

I will admit that there were some things I struggled with in the story, such as the assumption that the reader will be au fait with some of the language used - particularly around the game playing parts - but I am not really the target audience for this one and I was able to find out everything I needed via good old Google. It is also a little tricky getting your head around the non-traditional use of pronouns when referring to a non-binary character, but you get used to this after a while - as in all things, it is just a matter of becoming familiar with this.

There is plenty of suspense, gore and mystery here to keep you guessing, and a nice thread of supernatural spookiness provided by a ghost story about the mountain that was lots of fun. This is essentially a page-turner, with a twist.

This is a book that is a fine example of what can be done with diverse literature, and it proves to be both gripping and thought provoking at the same time - although it will primarily appeal to the YA audience it is aimed at. I look forward to reading more titles of this kind.

Even If We Break is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer in hardback, ebook and audio formats.

Thank you to Marieke Nijkamp and Source books for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review, and to Amber Choudhary of Midas PR for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Marieke Nijkamp is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of This Is Where It Ends and Before I Let Go. She is a storyteller, dreamer, globetrotter, geek. 

She holds degrees in philosophy, history, and medieval studies, has served as an executive member of We Need Diverse Books, and is the founder of DiversifYA. 
She lives in the Netherlands.

Find out more about Marieke on her WEBSITE.



Friday, September 18, 2020

Chronoscape by Roger Ley (audio book)

Chronoscape by Roger Ley (audio book).

Releaased 28th August 2020.
Narrated by Craig Bowles.

Listened September 2020.

From the cover: 

Will physicist Martin Riley get the rewards he feels he deserves? 

He's discovered a way to receive news stories from two weeks in the future but the Government has cloaked the technology in secrecy. 

Riley sees the danger in altering the Timestream but despite his warnings, politicians on both sides of the Atlantic make radical alterations to political events. The first temporal alteration saves Princess Diana, the next saves the Twin Towers, but ripples travel far ahead and disturb Earth's future civilisation. 

The Timestream must be realigned, but at what cost?

********************************************

There is nothing I like more that an good story about the vagaries of time - time travel tales, time slip adventures and journeys between alternate universes - I can always make 'time' for them (pardon the pun) and it is extra special when they turn out to be something a little different.

I don't think I have listened to a story quite like Chronoscape before. It starts with a scientist with an idea... what if you could send messages back in time? Except in this case, the scientist gets this idea because he has started receiving messages with racing tips in them, apparently from the future... oh, and apparently from himself. This is one of those circular conundrums that will drive you mad for some time - who actually comes up with this idea? But I digress...

Once he has established that this is not a hoax by placing bets on the tips and winning every time, he knows he is on to something, and after confiding in his mathematician girlfriend, they come up with a plan to try to get some funding to explore how to get this to work.

I am loath to give spoilers, so I won't, but suffice to say the idea becomes a reality and things go seriously awry as result - what a surprise!

Martin is the focus of the piece and he is likeable enough, although he does have his moments - and his narrative is laugh out loud funny in places. I loved his turn of phrase, and his use of swear words is wide, pointed and hilarious. There is plenty of suspense and real action among all the science too.

What made this so intriguing for me is that there comes a point in the story where the perspective changes big time and it becomes a whole different speculative beast - imagine Blake Crouch morphing into Philip K. Dick, if you will - and takes you to some mind-bending and philosophical places.

The story is thrilling, engaging and very thought provoking, but for me, the narration by Craig Bowles does let it down a bit, as I found his voice rather flat and expressionless, which was a shame.

Even so, this was a cracking listen and there is plenty here to capture the imagination. Highly recommended it you love a time tale too.

Thank you to Roger Ley and The Book Club Audio Listeners Facebook group for providing me with a copy of this audio book in return for an honest review.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Let's Hear It For: Louise Walters Books


Since I started book blogging about eighteen months ago, I have learned so much about the publishing industry that I was not aware of before, even though I have always been a big reader and worked as a librarian for many years.

One of the most revelatory things for me has been finding out about the wealth of publishers and imprints, both big and small, that actually exist - including the number of independent publishing houses.

I sometimes feel like I have now been inducted into some sort of secret society that the world at large has no idea about, and it has been a wonderful experience to find out about all the different offerings that publishers bring to the table - especially the little guys.

Times have been very tough for publishers this year, and even the big players have found it difficult to operate in the strange world we now inhabit, but it is the little publishing houses that have suffered the most, as they simply do not have the resources to keep going without help when pickings are slim.

More than a few of the small publishers have had to appeal for our support over the last few months to stay in business, through calls to buy books direct, and even contribute towards funds to help them pay the bills, but the wolf is still lurking just outside their doors.

Of course, we can all try to be a little more conscious about where we buy our books... I am not saying you can't buy from the massive online retailers like Amazon (goodness knows, us bloggers do love a Kindle bargain), but there are other ways to fund your book habit if you are able. Even if you only occasionally buy from another source, and there are some fabulous independent retailers out there, every little helps.

But it is not my intention to talk about independent bookshops and retailers here in a broad sense - instead I want to talk exclusively about the little indie publishers themselves, inspired by a recent heart-felt blog post from Louise Walters about the ups and downs of setting up and running her small publishing house, Louise Walters Books. If you missed this then I urge you to have a read, as it is very enlightening - you can find it HERE.

Have you ever gone direct to the site of a small indie publisher and bought their books this way, or do you always use a third party retailer? Many of them offer the facility to buy direct, and you can browse the amazing selection of books available from the little guys at the same time this way.

So, to the point! I have decided to write a few blog posts entitled "Let's Hear It For..." to spotlight some of the amazing little guys of the publishing world who have brought me such a lot of reading pleasure since I began blogging about books, and to share some of my reviews about the gems they offer.

It seems appropriate to start with my muse, Louise Walters, who is nearing the third anniversary of her tiny publishing house, so read on. booklover, read on....

Louise Walters Books


In Louise's own words...
"I'm a reader, writer, editor and publisher. My imprint Louise Walters Books is tiny, indie, and receptive to books bigger publishers may not be able to consider. I aim to publish only the very best in adult literary and literary/commercial fiction, across all genres."
Louise is an author herself and offers a critiquing service to writers. In 2017, inspired by the notion that her fiftieth birthday was approaching and if she did not do it then she never would, Louise set up her own publishing house, Louse Walters Books (LWB).

LWB, operates as a 'one woman band', has seven fabulous authors on the books and publishes up to four titles a year in a range of genres - in hardback, paperback, ebook and audio formats.

You can see the amazing range of books available from LWB, and purchase them direct, HERE.

Louise also offers a brilliant subscription service for those who wish to support her by more than just buying her books, which you can read more about HERE.. I am honoured to be one of her supporters myself.


I have had the pleasure of reading three of the LWB authors so far, who all write very different kinds of books - Diana Cambridge, Laura Laakso and Dominic Brownlow - and have shared the links to my reviews below so you can find out why I loved them all so much and hopefully be inspired to read them too.


Don't Think A Single Thought 
by Diana Cambridge




Fallible Justice: Wilde Investigations Book One
by Laura Laakso






The Naseby Horses
by Dominic Brownlow




On my to be read/listened shelf I also have the fabulous audio book of The Naseby Horses; books two and three in the Wilde Investigations series, Echo Murder and Roots of Corruption, by Laura Laakso; In The Sweep Of The Bay by Cath Barton, which is due for an autumn release; The Last Words Of Madeleine Anderson by Helen Kitson; and Louise Walter's own books, Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase, The Road To California and A Life Between Us and a few others too - so keep an eye out for the forthcoming reviews!


I hope my musings will encourage you to take a look as the LWB website, make a few purchases (her ebooks are only £2.50 each, which is the same price as on Amazon) and fall in love with the books as I have!

Watch out for more spotlights on some more of my favourite indie publishers in the next few weeks, as part of the "Let's Hear It For..." series.

LWB logo reproduced courtesy of louisewaltersbooks.co.uk

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

City Of Spies by Mara Timon.

City of Spies by Mara Timon.

Published 17th September 2020 by Zaffre.

LISBON, 1943: When her cover is blown, SOE agent Elisabeth de Mornay flees Paris. Pursued by the Gestapo, she makes her way to neutral Lisbon, where Europe's elite rub shoulders with diplomats, businessmen, smugglers, and spies.

There she receives new orders - and a new identity.

Posing as wealthy French widow Solange Verin, Elisabeth must infiltrate a German espionage ring targeting Allied ships, before more British servicemen are killed.

The closer Elisabeth comes to discovering the truth, the greater the risk grows. With a German officer watching her every step, it will take all of Elisabeth's resourcefulness and determination to complete her mission.

But in a city where no one is who they claim to be, who can she trust?

**********************************

I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed this book - in fact, I don't think I have enjoyed a historical fiction spy story as much this for a very long time.

Why is that, I hear you ask? Well, the reasons are many actually, but mainly because this is written by a very talented writer who brilliantly takes you into the less travelled land of the life of a female SOE operative in World War II; and that this is a story that that plays out against a very unusual backdrop for a tale about this period - the historic and beautiful, Lisbon.

When we first meet Elisabeth de Mornay she is deep undercover in Paris as Nathalie Lafontaine, an Allied radio operator, or pianist as they are more colloquially termed by those in the trade. When her cover is blown, she has to flee across country, relying on her training and wits keep her out of the hands of the Gestapo, and meeting both friends and foe along the way. This is actually quite familiar territory for a tale of wartime espionage, but our author balances just the right amount of danger and suspense with Elisabeth's skills as a operative to make this build up to the main event exciting and surprisingly emotional.

Elisabeth's flight takes her to neutral Portugal, where she finds herself adopting the persona of Solange Verin, a wealthy French emigree, who is given the unenviable task of infiltrating a German spy ring, whilst maintaining her cover in a city that is known to be a hot bed of spies. It is in Lisbon that the majority of this novel is placed and this is what makes the story so very, very good.

I have not read anything about the Lisbon of this period before, so really enjoyed that Mara Timon works the historical facts into her fictional tale about the world that Elisabeth must now become familiar with. This is new and fascinating territory, for both Elisabeth and myself - a city where British and German soldiers and diplomats rub shoulders, ostensibly on neutral ground, among a population of local Portuguese swollen with the presence of refugees from across war torn Europe. Here Elisabeth must carry off her new identity as Solange to perfection in an environment where it is impossible to trust anyone and true loyalty is hidden well.

It is here, in Lisbon and it's environs, that the story really comes alive. We are treated to the very best in the espionage genre, full of as much detail about the nitty-gritty spy stuff to keep any fan of this kind of book happy, as our protagonist is skilled, resourceful, and undertaking dangerous and important work. 

But that is not all: Solange is a wealthy woman and the trappings that come with this new role are not to be sniffed at. It is wonderful to revel in these long forgotten luxuries alongside Elisabeth - the elegant villa, the food, the gowns and jewellery -  and it adds beautifully to the glamour and period feel of the piece.

This is an espionage tale of a different class: a novel that is more the nature of an iron fist that is wrapped seductively in a velvet glove. Elisabeth is a very competent spy, but she is also a woman, and it is the combination of these things that give depth and feeling to the story - love makes a welcome appearance too, but it is love of country that holds sway.

I have spent a fair bit of time in Portugal over the years, and it is a country that I love. It is clear from Mara Timon's descriptions that she has fallen for the charms of Portugal too. I particularly enjoyed the fact that our author has even included an appendix about 'Touring the City of Spies', and cannot wait to visit beautiful Lisbon once again with Mara Timon's guide in hand to soak up the wonderful locations she uses in this book.

This is an accomplished debut from an author who is most definitely one to watch, and I am hoping from the hints at the end of the book that a sequel will be on the the way before long - I will definitely be along for the ride!

City of Spies is available to but from your favourite book retailer from 17th September 2020, in paperback, ebook and audio formats.

Thank you to Mara Timon and Zaffre Books for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review, and tpo Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Mara Timon is a native New Yorker and self-proclaimed citizen of the world, who began a love affair with London about 20 years ago. She started writing short-stories as a teenager, and when a programme on the BBC caught her interest, she followed the "what-ifs" until a novel began to appear.

Mara lives in London and is working on her next book. She loves reading, writing, running, Pilates, red wine and spending time with friends and family - not necessarily in that order.




Thursday, September 10, 2020

Exit Management by Naomi Booth

Exit Management by Naomi Booth.

Published 10th September 2020 by Dead Ink Books.

From the cover of the book: 

“At minus five degrees, even the densest blood materials start to turn: the beginnings of a human heart will still into black ice.”

There is a house, a beautiful house, that sits in a sought-after London location and is filled with priceless works of art. Joszef the elderly owner is ill; all he wants is some company until the end, and someone to trust his home to once he’s gone. Someone to help him over that final line, perhaps.

When Callum, a lost young man longing for direction, comes into his life, the pair form a friendship that transcends their ages. Lauren, Callum’s new girlfriend, has other plans, though. Calculating and ambitious, Lauren has already reinvented herself once and to reach the top she will do it again.

Pushed onwards by the poison of ambition and haunted by losses from the past, these characters are drawn together in a catastrophe of endings. Naomi Booth’s second novel is an unnerving dissection of class, xenophobia and compassion. Showing us the lengths that we will all go to in order to secure our futures, Exit Management will seize you in its cold hands and show you the dark heart within us all.

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Exit Management is quite a novel - seductively dark and with more than a little dose of chill at it's heart, and yet strangely insightful and compassionate at the same time. Naomi manages to draw you completely into her tragic tale of two lovers so completely unsuited to each other that you know heartbreak can be their only destination. I don't think I have ever read anything quite like it before - in a good way... a very good way.

Lauren is cold and fiercely ambitious, She has reinvented herself to get as far away as possible from her traumatic background - the roots that have seriously screwed her up inside. Callum is ripe for the picking, but his close friendship with the elderly Joszef proves to be both an opportunity and fly-in-the-ointment for Lauren's plans, and although in some ways she gets exactly what she wants, the fateful meeting of these three characters proves to be her undoing, while at the same time oddly being the making of Callum.

You would think that this makes Lauren the villain here, for how can you like someone so cold and calculating? But as the story unfolds, you learn exactly why Lauren has become the broken person she is - determined to stand on her own two feet and driven to do anything to get what she wants - and why she actually thinks she is protecting her nearest and dearest in the process. She is both hateful and desperately vulnerable at the same time; a contrary and controversial mix of conflicting desires, intentions and emotions.

Callum begins the piece as a drifter without direction. He is desperate for connection with a fellow human being, for love, and this makes him easy prey for Lauren - even if their meeting and plans are based on misconceptions at the start. But this also makes him open to forming a close and rather beautiful bond with Joszef. Callum's innate compassion is what ultimately brings him to breaking point as his deeply felt emotions eventually spill over, it is also the quality that saves him too.

This is a complex and multi-layered novel, that beautifully explores the weight of the past, class, ambition, relationships and connection with out fellow human beings, and the way Naomi Booth dissects and then displays the many facets of the meaning behind her cleverest of titles, Exit Management, is superb. This is a sad book, and our author leaves us in no doubt that we are not heading for a happy ending from the off, but it gets inside your head, and I so desperately want to know what happens for Lauren and Callum next - always the sign of a great storyteller. Outstanding!

Exit Management is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer, though I recommend supporting independent publishing by buying direct from Dead Ink HERE.

Thank you to Jordan Taylor-Jones for sending me a copy of this incredible book, in return for an honest review.

About the author:

Naomi Booth is a writer and academic. Her fiction tends to explore unsettling landscapes, strange compulsions, dangerous bodies and contamination. Her academic research currently focuses on the literary history of swooning. Her first novel, Sealed, was published by Dead Ink Books in 2017.