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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Beekeeper Of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

Read April 2019. Published 2nd May 2019.

Nuri and Afra live in the city of Aleppo, Syria, with their young son, Sami.
Afra is an artist, and she make a living selling her paintings in the Aleppo marketplace.
Nuri is a beekeeper and, with his cousin Mustafa, he tends to many hives in the countryside outside of Aleppo. Bees are Nuri's passion and he went against the wishes of his parents to pursue dream of life as a beekeeper.
Nuri and Mustafa have made a great success of their beekeeping venture, selling honey and cosmetics made from bee products. They are surrounded by friends and family and have no wish to ever leave their beautiful homeland.

But, war has come to Syria and Nuri and Mustafa's lives are about to change for ever. Mustafa sends his wife and daughter away, to England, for safety and plans to follow them with his son. He tries to persuade Nuri and Afra to leave too, but they cannot bear to be parted from their homeland, clinging to the hope that things will get better.

As the situation in Aleppo worsens, their beloved bee hives are burned to the ground, and Mustafa's son is found murdered. Mustafa takes revenge by killing some of the callous soldiers based in Aleppo, as he suspects they are responsible for the death of his son. He must escape, before the soldiers come for him, and he leaves a hurriedly written letter for Nuri, urging him to follow him to England.

Further tragedy strikes Nuri and Afra when their son is killed by a bomb, while playing outside their home. Afra loses her sight on this day and the last things she has seen is the body of her young son, lying in the rubble.

Nuri and Afra are heartbroken by the death of their only child, but Afra still cannot bear to leave Aleppo, despite Nuri desperately trying to make her realise that things are getting worse and worse. It is not until the soldiers threaten to kill Nuri if he does not join them in the fighting, that he and Afra finally escape Aleppo.

So begins a long and difficult journey to be reunited with Mustafa in England, via Turkey and Greece - desperation forcing them to use their life-savings to pay smugglers to transport them across borders and away from the wretched conditions they find in the refugee camps. They are both broken by the destruction of their homeland and the death of their son, and trying to cope in the best way they can. Both are isolated by their grief and the horrific things they have seen.
Will they ever be able to find each other again, and themselves, again?

The theme of bees runs throughout this book. From Nuri and Mustafa's beloved hives, to Mustafa's new venture teaching people how to keep bees in Yorkshire (which he hope Nuri will help him to make a success). The bees are a symbol of hope and you will yearn with all your heart for some of this hope to become part of Nuri and Afra's lives again.

This book is beautifully written and heartbreakingly sad. I cannot even imagine what is must be like to have your homeland destroyed by war and be forced to leave behind everything you hold dear.

This book will give you a horrific glimpse into the lives of refugees and the conditions they experience, and I defy you not to feel compassion for the situations these people find themselves in.

I have not read anything this haunting and moving since The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini. This book will stay with me for a long time.

Monday, April 29, 2019

The Women's Prize For Fiction 2019 Shortlist

The Women's Prize For Fiction 2019 Shortlist is out, and these are the six books that have made the cut:
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker.
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite.
Milkman by Anna Burns.
Ordinary People by Diana Evans.
Circe by Madeleine Miller.
American Marriage by Tayari Jones.

There has been a lot of debate on social media, since the Shortlist was announced at midnight last night, about the books that have made this list - and the ones that have not.
I must admit that I am surprised that Normal People by Sally Rooney has not made the Shortlist, even though I found it pretty frustrating when I read it.

I have read, and reviewed on this blog, three of these already - Circe; Normal People; and My Sister, the Serial Killer. Circe has definitely been my favourite so far, and I suspect this may by the overall winner this year.

Reviews here:

I am currently listening to Milkman as an audio book, which I am really enjoying. For anyone who has struggled with this book, I highly recommend the audio book, because it adds an extra dimension when it is narrated by someone with a Northern Irish accent.

I have just ordered a copy of American Marriage, because this is the only one on the shortlist that I do not have, and I will be interested to see why the judges chose this one.

Happy reading!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Blue Gold (Gaia Trilogy Book One) by David Barker

Read April 2019. Published May 2017.

Set in the near future, this is a sci-fi thriller about how climate change could lead to a war for water. Water has become a precious commodity and is now the focus of political powers around the world, and some will go to extreme lengths to ensure that their supply remains plentiful.
The oversight of water politics is now under the care of an organisation called OFWAT, whose job it is to ensure the global supply of water is maintained.

When a satellite goes missing over the Arctic under suspicious circumstances, Sim Atkins (OFWAT computer scientist) thinks he knows why. Sim's expertise leads to him being drafted into the coveted Overseas Division of OFWAT, with experienced agent Freda Brightwell for a partner.
Freda is less than happy about having rookie Sim as her new partner, especially since this is shaping up to be a dangerous mission, but they soon reach an understanding which makes them a good partnership.

This mission will take them around the globe and bring them into contact with some unexpected allies, as they follow the leads uncovered by their investigation - ending in a climax that will put their lives in deadly peril. They must succeed in their mission if they are to save the World from war and protect the future of "blue gold".

Well, this book was a lot of fun!
With shades of James Bond, and a little John McClane thrown in for good measure, Sim and Freda pursue their mission to stop the "scumbags" and save the World from nuclear war. This is a rip-roaring, full-on thrill ride around the globe - tracking down leads and working hard for good.

I absolutely loved the film references spread liberally through the text - Mr Barker, we have obviously seen and enjoyed the same films! Can I have a kudos for saying that I have spotted an extra reference not listed in the back of the book? The scene on board the barge, with a ticking bomb, actually reminded me quite a lot of Die Hard With A Vengeance (Die Hard III)!

The message of this book, however, raises it above your ordinary thriller, and leaves you with quite a lot to think about. I think this is a great way to introduce the thriller audience to the importance of water politics, alongside a fun story.

Climate change is already leading to global the changes in the water cycle, which could have catastrophic effects in some parts of the World.
Living in Great Britain, we are lucky to have a good supply of water - and we are, of course, surrounded by water too (albeit the salty variety). We probably do not spend a lot of time thinking about the parts of the World that rely on their water supply in other ways - for example, via rivers that first travel through other countries. What would happen if a country further up-river decided to interrupt the flow to protect the supply of their own citizens, but in doing so caused water shortages for their neighbours? Water can easily become a political weapon and those with the military, and or monetary, clout will probably be the winners in any such dispute. Who will have oversight in these international disputes? An interesting question...

However, fear not those of you are shy of reading geo-political tracts. This book is a cracking thriller, with heart, and a message for those of us who choose to heed it.
I, for one, found it a great read and thought provoking too. I cannot wait to start on book two, Rose Gold.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Night By Night by Jack Jordan

Read April 2019. Published 2nd May 2019.

Rose's life is plagued by severe insomnia. She spends her time these days living in a haze and feeling like a zombie walking through treacle. It is hard to believe that she was once a successful artist.
Rose struggles on, but is finding life increasingly difficult to handle, especially being a proper mother to her 10 year-old twins, Violet and Lily. She cannot help but resent her husband Christian and his ability to sleep through the night - and for his frequent absences in the name of work.

One fateful bank holiday Monday, Christian is yet again absent. Rose must take her girls to a football tournament, even though she is really not in fit state to drive. Rose cannot stand the pitying looks directed at her by the other, judgmental mothers, when they see the unkempt state of her - this is not helped by the fact that she falls asleep when she should be watching the girls play football.
Disoriented and ashamed, Rose bundles the girls into the car and embarks on the journey home. This is a journey that will change to course of Rose's life for ever.

Rose's exhaustion overtakes her and she tragically drives the car off a bridge on the way home. Trapped underwater, she desperately tries to free herself and the girls from the car, but can only manage to untangle one of the twins - Violet is left behind and confined to a watery grave.

Four years later, Rose has been unable to move on from the tragedy. Christian and Lily blame Rose for Violet's death and are living separate lives from her, even though they still live under the same roof. Everyone in the town where they live knows what happened and the whispers follow her whenever she leaves the house.
Rose's insomnia is worse than ever. There seems no way she can ever live a normal life again.

Then, one evening, she bumps into a man running along the pavement. He drops a notebook in the dark, which Rose takes home with her. This notebook contains the diary of a young man called Finn and details his meeting with a stalker, who ruins his life. As Rose becomes obsessed with the need to know what has happened to Finn, she uncovers a conspiracy within the police to cover-up the deaths and disappearances of homosexual men in the town. Her own brother, Jay, committed suicide rather than confess to his family that he was gay, and Rose feels compelled to find out the truth behind the deaths and disappearances.

As Rose begins to see some purpose in her life again, she becomes embroiled in danger and will have to fight for her own survival in her pursuit for the truth.

This book rattles along at a pace, as Rose gets further and further involved in the cases of the missing and murdered men. She has battles to fight against her own family and the police at every turn, but remains stuck to her cause. Her investigations get her into some pretty sticky situations to say the least, but will ultimately lead to her redemption and, hopefully, some justice for the dead and missing - including her own brother.

I have not read any Jack Jordan before, but his previous book Before Her Eyes gets pretty good reviews. I suspect that this one will not do quite as well, judging by the reviews on Goodreads. Personally, I think this book could have done with a bit more editing to make the story run better (and there is a little timeline hitch with Rose's phone, which does not seem to have been picked up at the editing stage either), but it is still worth a read if you enjoy a fast-paced thriller with a twist.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl

Read April 2019. Published 21st March 2019.

1942, Ester, a Jewish courier for the Norwegian resistance, is betrayed to the Nazis and narrowly escapes to Sweden. Her family are not so lucky as they are shipped to Auschwitz and their possessions confiscated. After her escape, her dear friend Ase is tragically murdered, leaving a young daughter, Turid.
In Stockholm, Ester is reunited with Gerhard Falkum, who was Ase's lover and Turid's father. The Norwegian Gestapo believe that Gerhard is responsible for the murder of Ase, but he maintains his innocence.
Ester becomes involved in the murky world of espionage and finds herself being drawn into a relationship with Gerhard - until Gerhard's apparent death in a fire.

Twenty-five years later, Gerhard inexplicably shows up in Oslo, and apparently wants to get to know his daughter, Turid.
Where has he been all this time and why has he reappeared now? Why does he keep skulking around graveyards?

Ester starts to look into events of the past, using contacts from her previous life in espionage, and comes across information which leads to her putting together pieces of the past in a different way. Ester discovers the shocking truth behind her betrayal and Ase's death, and she will need to put her war-time training into use once again, in order to stay alive.

What a brilliantly crafted plot, with shades of John Le Carre and William Boyd! I did not know a lot about what went on in war time Norway, so this was particularly interesting.
There are actually three timelines running through this book - 2015, when Turid discovers a bracelet, with a significant past, she thought had been lost years ago is listed for sale in a local newspaper; 1967, when Gerhard comes back from the dead and Ester starts to investigate the past; and 1942, when the betrayl and murder happened.

It takes a skillful writer to manipulate these timelines into a satisfying and credible ending, and Kjell Ola Dahl manages to do this seamlessly.
As the threads of the story start to come together, and you learn the shocking truth behind the events of 1942, it was very difficult to put this book down. I thought my head was going to burst trying to put together all the little snippets of information Ester gathered, and when everything finally slotted into place, I felt like I had been kicked in the gut by the horrifying truth.
Fantastic writing and a fantastic translation too.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Airhead by Emily Maitlis

Read April 2019. Published 18th April 2019.

Emily Maitlis, Newsnight presenter, gives the low-down on some of her more memorable interviews over the last few years, such as Donald Trump, David Attenborough and even with the Dali Lama (who talked about poo!).
She details the back story behind these moments on air - how they came about; how they ended; the compromises that were made; and the regrets, rows and comedy behind the scenes. This gives a glimpse of what really happens when Newsnight attempts to tell the stories behind the current news and simplify things down to one soundbite. Making news is an imperfect art and does not always go to plan.

First of all, I love the title of this book!
Emily Maitlis is indeed an airhead - a figure head of the Newsnight programme "on air" - but is also has the negative connotation of being associated with a "empty-headed woman", and any woman in television is inevitably going to struggle with this label when she is performing in a the male-dominated arena of a serious news programme. Very clever, as are you, Emily Maitlis (definitely not an empty-headed woman!)!

She is very frank about the regrets and doubts that surface "after the event", when the often frantic atmosphere around an interview has died down. Should she have asked a particular question, or phrased it in a different way, now she has the perspective of hindsight? Of course, these are impossible questions, because you have to think on your feet in the world of news and as Emily Maitlis explains, there are many constraints that dictate how an interview turns out. It is easy to think differently looking back on things, especially when events have taken an unexpected turn later on - the election of Donald Trump, for instance. I think this shows great integrity.

This is not a memoir, as such, but a glimpse into how news stories are made. There are only bits and pieces about how working as a television journalist affects your home and family life in the main, but there is a very personal chapter about dealing with a stalker, who has dogged Emily since university days. She has clearly found it difficult and painful to talk about this publicly, which is not a surprise. Thank you for your honesty, Emily, because I really think your openness will help others to talk about their own experiences with stalkers.

This is a very accessible, frank and funny look into the world of news, and it has made me think about what may actually be behind the soundbites that grab the headlines.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Island (Hidden Iceland Book Two) by Ragnar Jonasson

Read April 2019. Published 4th April 2019.

This is the second installment in the Hidden Iceland series, about police detective Hulda Hermannsdottir, after book one The Darkness.

The story starts with a romantic break at a remote summerhouse for a young couple, from which only one will return. The girl will be found dead in a pool of blood, but no one will realise that a boyfriend had even been present.
Instead the murder will be blamed upon the girl's father - a secret drinker - and the police will be determined to make sure he is found guilty of the crime. Even if this means bending the truth a little.
The result will be the tragic end of an innocent man.

Ten years later, a group of four young friends visit a remote island that is cut off from the outside world. One of them will not make it off the island alive and it is Hulda's job to find out what happened - especially when she discovers that they are all linked to the murder of the girl ten years ago. What really happened on the island and were the murders committed by the same person?

There are three books in the Hidden Iceland series and the first two have definitely been dark and chilling. Both have played with the idea of the wild, remote, bleak, and lonely places away from the bright lights of Reykjavik - where dark deeds can happen without anyone knowing - the "hidden" side of the country. Ragnar Jonasson really transports you to these locations and makes you feel cold inside as well as out!

Interestingly, the books are written in a time line that goes backwards through Hulda's life, so this book takes place before the events in The Darkness.
This is a really interesting concept and screws with your mind a lot, as Hulda is talking about events in her personal life that your already have knowledge about and know the outcome of. It is a bit like deliberately reading the books in the wrong order - something I would much prefer not to do. Very twisted and almost voyeuristic - definitely creepy.

I am really looking forward to the next book in the series, to see where it all begins.

Monday, April 15, 2019

The Flat Share by Beth O'Leary

Read April 2019. Publication 18th April 2019.

Tiffy desperately needs to get out of her ex-boyfriend's place and into a cheap flat - one that she can afford on her limited wage as an assistant book editor, for a publishing house specialising in craft books.
Leon Twomey, a nurse in a hospice, needs a flatmate to help him pay for the cost of getting his wrongly convicted brother out of prison.
Tiffy needs a flatmate. Leon needs a flatmate. The only stumbling block is that this is a one bedroom flat, with one double bed.

No problem! Leon only needs the flat during the day, as he works nights and is away every weekend. Tiffy works during the day, and will enjoy the run of the place during the weekends. Who cares if there is only one bed. They won't be in it at the same time. Right? They will not even need to meet!

Unfortunately, the best laid plans of Tiffy and Leon prove to be a bit less that straightforward, once friends, family, ex-lovers and demanding clients get thrown into the mix. This unconventional Flat Share will change their lives for ever.

Oh, how I love this book! Beth O'Leary, you have become one of my favourite authors, with this wonderful debut.
Tiffy and Leon find themselves in the bizarre situation of sharing a flat without actually meeting. They gradually learn the most intimate details about each other via the notes they each leave and their personal possessions. They are two very different characters - Leon is quiet and thoughtful and Tiffy is loud and brash, with an extraordinary wardrobe to boot. Their unconventional living arrangements force them into a special closeness and they develop a firm friendship, on which each of them relies, without actually ever meeting.

Of course, the inevitable meeting does happen, accidentally, one fateful morning and the rules of their relationship gradually begin to change, until they become more to each other than they ever thought possible. Tiffy and Leon are both damaged in their own ways, but being together will make them whole again.

This book as everything you are looking for: humour; tears; misunderstandings; wonderful supporting characters; and the most beautiful ending I have read for a very long time. Prepare to have the box of tissues handy, as you are going to need them by the end of the book.
A must read for fans of Jojo Moyes and co.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Beautiful Bad by Annie Ward

Read April 2019. Published March 2019.

Maddie is a young writer, from Kansas. She has been living in Bulgaria, teaching and writing a travel guide, and has no intention of returning to her hometown of Meadowlark. Kansas holds many bad memories related to her childhood boating accident: an accident which changed her forever.

Maddie's college friend, Jo, is an aid worker in neighbouring Macedonia, and Maddie takes the long and difficult bus journey across the border to visit her as much as possible.
These are dangerous times in this part of eastern Europe. Macedonia is on the brink of war and the country is full of foreigners who are involved in peacekeeping and aid work. On one of her visits to see Jo, Maddie meets Ian, a British soldier who is in the country on a protection mission, and the course of her life takes an unexpected, and not always happy, turn. Ian is a man with a darkness within him, and with a psycho girlfriend to boot, but Maddie cannot help herself - she wants him, even though this will break-up her friendship with Jo.

Maddie and Ian fall in love, but it will be a bumpy ride and take many years before before they actually get together.

Almost two decades later, Maddie and Ian are married and have a young son, Charlie. Ian has made a fortune, working as a bodyguard in dangerous countries, and they are able to afford the kind of beautiful home many would envy. Maddie is able to stay at home with Charlie, but she feels herself trapped and has been manouevred into living back home in Kansas. Maddie has not seen Jo for many years and cannot understand why Jo continues to be unhappy about her marriage to Ian, and the birth of Charlie.
Maddie and Ian's relationship is far from ideal. Ian suffers with black moods, related to his experiences in the past, and this makes him unpredictable. He is often away from home working in far away places and Maddie never knows how he will behave when he returns.
Maddie has recently received a terrible injury to her face, after a mysterious accident on a camping trip, but says she cannot remember what happened. How did Maddie really get injured?

Years of love, fear and suspicion will result in a frantic 911 call. What has happened in this beautiful home and why is Jo there at the scene?

This book was quite a ride!
I liked the way that the story goes backwards and forwards in time - between the events of the night of the 911 call; the days before the call; and the history between the years when Ian and Maddie meet and when they get back together - putting little bits and pieces of the story together and building suspense.
There is a great twist, which works completely, that you only get hints of quite late in the book. The ending is pure Dexter Morgan and I did not see it coming at all. There is scope for a sequel here too. Any chance, Annie Ward?

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Farm by Joanne Ramos

Read April 2019. Publication date 7th May 2019.

Golden Oaks, nestled as it is in the lush countryside of the Hudson Valley, New York, looks just like an exclusive luxury retreat, away from the hustle and bustle of the City.
However, you need a certain set of credentials to be a resident at this haven, with its organic meals, personal trainers and daily massages. For Golden Oaks is no ordinary health spa - it is a baby farm, where surrogates incubate the young of the wealthy, under the watchful eye of the ambitious Mae Yu.

To join its select number of residents, you must sign over your life to Golden Oaks for the duration of your time as a Host. After all, you cannot expect to do as you wish when you are carrying the progeny of the elite.
You cannot leave the grounds; your every move is recorded carefully; and your only means of communication with the outside world is closely monitored and controlled, via the Media Room provided by The Farm.

Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines, has been providing for herself and her baby daughter, by working as a carer and baby nurse, but she is faced with the prospect of being without an income, after an unfortunate incident at the home of one of her employers.
Jane's elderly cousin, Evelyn, suggest that she should become a Host at Golden Oaks, as the money she can make will be beyond her imagination. The Host selection process is highly competitive, as the Clients are very picky, but Jane makes it through and begins her residency at Golden Oaks.
Despite the luxurious surroundings, Jane finds it hard to settle into life at The Farm, and she finds she has little in common with Reagan, her white, privileged room-mate. Jane desperately misses her daughter, Amalia, who she has had to leave behind in the care of Evelyn.

Jane and Reagan discover that Golden Oaks is a place of secrets and lies. But how can they escape without losing the rewards they have been promised? Is being a Host worth the cost?

This is an intriguing and unsettling book.
Part dystopian nightmare and part examination of the issues surrounding surrogacy.

The methods used by Golden Oaks to control their Hosts are horribly reminiscent of The Handmaid's Tale - the constant manipulation of their lives; the close monitoring; and the assumption that the bodies of the Hosts are just vessels, without feeling. This is just a money making exercise, for Mae Yu and her boss, despite the promotion of surrogacy as kindness to those who are unable to have children of their own. Mae takes the manipulation of her Hosts to extremes in the pursuit of business success, although she does start to question some of her methods later in the book, when surrogacy becomes personal.

And yet, there is another side to this story, that gives it unexpected depth.
Although the idea of a business relationship, where babies are bought and paid for as products is abhorrent to me, there is a discussion to be had about general thinking on motherhood, money and the trade-offs some women make to compete in a man's world. If the Host is willing and fully informed, and the Client is honest, is this exploitation? Who is exploiting who here? Why should a woman who is more than capable of carrying her own child, find it necessary to abdicate this role to another? Some big questions, without easy answers.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Ayesha At Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

Read April 2019.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the course of true love never did run smooth...

Ayesha dreams of being a poet, but real life dictates that she is actually embarking of a career as a teacher - albeit as a substitute teacher right now.

Ayesha's wider Muslim family are obsessed with marriage, and her young cousin Hafsa is determined to get as many proposals as possible - ideally, a round one hundred!
Although Ayesha admits to herself that she is lonely, having never actually had a boyfriend, she definitely does not want an arranged marriage, and she finds the whole spectacle of rishtas ridiculous - thankfully, her mother and grandparents agree.
But then Ayesha meets Khalid. He really does not seem to be Ayesha's type, and he is so infuriating, but she cannot get him out of her mind.

Khalid is happy in his conservative little life. Dressing as a strict Muslim should, and passing his days either at work, or the mosque. He is more than happy to allow his over-bearing mother free-rein of a choice of bride for him, because surely, she will know what is best.
But then he meets Ayesha. Ayesha is definitely not someone his mother would approve of, but she is all he can think about.
Unfortunately, he thinks her name is Hafsa.....

Thank you to Readers First and Corvus Books for the chance to read this delight of a book.
It is the most wonderful mix of Pride and Prejudice and a Shakespeare comedy, set within the Muslim community of Toronto and kept me entertained all the way through. This is a book full of tears and laughter; heart and soul. It has everything you need in a romantic comedy - misunderstandings, mistaken identity, trials and tribulations, with a suitably happy ending.

Ayesha and Khalid bump heads again and again, in a delightful parody of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy, and Uzma Jalaluddin even adapts some of the sublime dialogue of Jane Austen to fit! I loved that you could also pick out so many other sub-plots and characters from Pride and Prejudice, one of my all time favourite books, along the way too.

I am really looking forward to more from Uzma Jalaluddin.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Little Darlings by Melanie Golding

Read April 2019. Audio Book, for release May 2019.

This is the first time I have reviewed a pre-release audio book, and I would like to thank and Melanie Golding for the chance to be a part of this venture.

This is an unsettling tale of motherhood inspired by changeling folktale, The Brewery of Eggshells, and follows Lauren, a new mother to twins, as she becomes convinced that someone, or something, is trying to take her babies away.
Lauren must fight to save her babies from peril, while everyone around her thinks that she is losing her sanity, even her own husband, Patrick. Can Detective Harper get to the bottom of this, or will she be unable to allow herself to believe the "truth" she uncovers?
Only Lauren knows that the danger is real and she will do anything to keep her babies safe, even at the cost of her own liberty.

Oh my, this was a gripping and absorbing story, beautifully read by Stephanie Racine.
Melanie Golding herself, reads excerpts from haunting folktales related to supernatural child abductions, at the beginning of some of the chapters and I found these bits particularly terrifying - especially with the atmospheric music and sound effects.

This book captures, brilliantly, the fear that grips you as a new mother, when you realise how vulnerable your babies are to danger - and that it is up to you to protect them from this, no matter how unfit you feel for the task. The exhaustion...the claustrophobia...the feeling that you are somehow separated from the outside world, in those early weeks after childbirth.

This book will have you taking Lauren's side from the start, and you will wishing for her to succeed with every fibre of your being - even though you will simultaneuously continue to feel a grain of doubt throughout - very clever indeed. Is this real, or just imagination?
You will come to hate Patrick as much as Lauren does, by the end of the book. She has taken all the risks here, and yet, she cannot enjoy her victory in the way you want her to. I don't want to give any spoilers here, but I really need to see a sequel in which Patrick gets the ending he deserves. Bastard!

It's harrowing, beautifully written and chilling. I have not listened to a tale so full of tension and suspense in a long while. I was in dire need of a hug at the end!

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli

Read April 2019. Women's Prize for Fiction 2019 Long List.

A sound documentarian and his journalist wife, embark on a journey across USA from New York to Arizona, with their 10 year old son and 5 year old daughter.

The couple met while working on a documentary about the sounds of New York, and fell in love over this shared project.
Each brought to the marriage a child - the husband, a boy and the wife, a girl. They have become a single family unit, but the husband is restless and wants to embark on an epic road trip to follow the history of the Apache - for reasons unknown.
The wife is reluctant, at first, but comes to realise that something is amiss with their relationship, and she is also feeling restless. She has become involved in the story of two Mexican refugee girls, being held at the border, and decides to combine the road trip with a project about missing refugee children - "lost children".

They begin their trip with a few possessions, recording equipment, a polaroid camera, and some archive boxes, which are filled with various research materials/books/pictures associated with their two projects - and two empty boxes for the children to fill along the way.

As the family drives west, the father tells the children of the tragic history of the Apache, and the mother shares stories of the refugee children stranded at the southern border and being deported back home to an unknown fate....while a marriage falls apart at the seams.

This is a difficult book to review, so I may ramble a bit here!
Ultimately, it is a book about the sound and rhythm of our lives - how sometimes the beats of individuals can be in harmony, and at other times discordant. Sometimes, the harmonious note of a couple can become out of sync over time, and the music that was once there is gone.
It is a book about things that are lost - not just "lost children".

This book is actually in two different parts.

The first covers the narrative of the mother and describes their journey west, the tales that are shared with the children, and the worsening relationship with her husband. She finds it difficult to understand why her husband is so obsessed with tracing the history of the Apache tribe, and this is not really explained, although it does provide a reason for the road trip.
This part of the story, which takes up the majority of the book, is actually rather boring and introspective. Not a lot really happens, other than domestic dramas and the pace is very slow. To be honest, the Apache tales become a bit tedious, though they do serve to inspire the children to take on new identities - as sort of "braves".
I have seen a few reviews from people who have given up on this book, because they found it boring and I can see why, based on the first part.

The second part of the book is the narrative of the son. This part was by far the best bit of the book.
In this section, it becomes clear that the stories of both the mother and father have made a very big impression on him. The boy becomes fired up with the idea that, as a "brave", he can help to find the two refugee girls, who have now become lost after running away from a detainment centre.
The boy leaves a note and map for his parents, and takes his sister on a journey through the desert to trace the footsteps of the "lost children". In effect, they become "lost children" themselves.
This is the most powerful part of the book and my heart was in my mouth the whole time they were alone and vulnerable.

Thankfully, the boy and girl are found safe and well, but the fate of the other "lost children" is not so certain - are the missing girls alive or dead? We will never know for sure.

The boy is actually very astute, when it comes to the state of his parents' marriage. He can see the end is nigh, and because of this, he fills his archive box with momentos for his sister, so she will remember him and their adventures. This was so touching and beautiful that it made me shed a tear or two, and made the whole book worthwhile. So, if you give this book a go, please make sure to read it all.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Mother's Day 2019 Books - The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon and The Golden Atlas by Edward Brooke-Hitching.

Books for Mother's Day 2019!

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon is her brand new stand-alone, high fantasy, whopper of a book, which I cannot wait to get my teeth into.
I have read the first three books of Shannon's The Bone Season series and am waiting patiently for book four to come out. The Bone Season is an absorbing series, with wonderful world building - sort of a steam-punk future where psychic powers are banned. I highly recommend checking out this series, if fantasy is your thing.

The Golden Atlas by Edward Brooke-Hitching is a non-fiction book about the greatest episodes of exploration from across history, with matching maps! Absolutely fascinating, and I am looking forward to reading this one too.
This is a companion volume to The Phantom Atlas, that I received for Christmas, which is about myths, blunders and lies on maps. I hope to be dipping into this book soon too.