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Thursday, December 31, 2020

Too Much And Never Enough by Mary L. Trump

Too Much And Never Enough by Mary L. Trump.

Published 14th July 2020 by Simon and Schuster.

From the cover of the book:

In this revelatory, authoritative portrait of Donald J. Trump and the toxic family that made him, Mary L. Trump, a trained clinical psychologist and Donald’s only niece, shines a bright light on the dark history of their family in order to explain how her uncle became the man who now threatens the world’s health, economic security and social fabric.

Mary Trump spent much of her childhood in her grandparents’ large, imposing house in New York, where Donald and his four siblings grew up. She describes a nightmare of traumas, destructive relationships and a tragic combination of neglect and abuse. 

She explains how specific events and general family patterns created the damaged man who currently occupies the Oval Office, including the strange and harmful relationship between Fred Trump and his two oldest sons, Fred Jr. and Donald.

A first-hand witness, Mary brings an incisive wit and unexpected humour to sometimes grim, often confounding family events. She recounts in unsparing detail everything from her uncle Donald’s place in the family spotlight and Ivana’s penchant for regifting to her grandmother’s frequent injuries and illnesses and the appalling way Donald, Fred Trump’s favourite son, dismissed and derided him when he began to succumb to Alzheimer’s.

Numerous pundits, armchair psychologists and journalists have sought to explain Donald Trump’s lethal flaws. Mary Trump has the education, insight and intimate familiarity needed to reveal what makes Donald, and the rest of her clan, tick. She alone can recount this fascinating, unnerving saga, not just because of her insider’s perspective but also because she is the only Trump willing to tell the truth about one of the world’s most powerful and dysfunctional families.

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This is a book that I had no intention of reading over the Christmas holidays, especially since I bought it as a present for my husband, but he was so fascinated and horrified by what he read that he said I needed to read it as soon as he had finished. How could I refuse? 

The blurb pretty much tells you what to expect in these pages, but nevertheless actually reading the intimate details of the goings on within the dysfunctional Trump family is still horrifying in the extreme. Mary L. Trump, although a family member, walks just the right line here by telling the tale through the eyes of her professional persona as a Clinical Psychologist and this makes it all the more credible and macabrely fascinating - it certainly serves as a case study in how not to raise a family if you wish your children to become decent, caring, law abiding citizens. In fact, it is the story of the making of a monster, who in other circumstances we would have been vaguely aware of from trashy stories in the media. Unfortunately, this particular monster somehow found himself elected to take on the job of arguably the most powerful man in the Western World - a role he is not only woefully unqualified for, but one which he does not have the moral, or intellectual capacity to even make a half decent stab at.

I was very impressed with not only the style of the writing and its accessibility to a general audience, but the simple way Mary Trump lays out the history of her family and leaves us to make up our own minds whether or not such behaviour is acceptable in the grand scheme of things. She lays out the facts clearly and with surprising wit and forbearance, even though the events she recounts must have been very painful to experience. The title of the book is also surprisingly sharp and full of nuance, which becomes apparent as you work your way through from start to finish. 

Critics of Mary Trump have claimed that this book has been written out of spite, but having read her words I can tell you that  I wholeheartedly believe she has actually done this out of a compulsion to reveal the truth about her own family before it is too late, however uncomfortable this must be for her personally, and her bravery should be commended. I do wonder how much difference her words have made given the 2020 election result.

There are many lessons that can be taken from this book and the more people that read it the better. Anyone who can act so cruelly towards his own flesh and blood, albeit as a result of being brought up to believe this is acceptable conduct, is wholly unsuited to any job that requires even a modicum of compassion and understanding. However, what really comes across from Mary Trump's account is the blame that should be laid at the feet of all those that have enabled Donald Trump from the very start - those who have fuelled his need for self-aggrandizement and taken advantage of his arrogance and weakness for their own ends.

I must admit that this is probably a book I would not have even considered reading if Trump had won the 2020 Presidential election (Yes, Donald you really have lost), because it would have been too depressing to contemplate. However, given the forthcoming change in Whitehouse staffing it is one I would recommend as required reading, especially to anyone who thinks Donald might be a suitable candidate for re-election.

Too Much And Never Enough is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer, or from Bookshop.org HERE.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The Thief On The Winged Horse by Kate Mascarenhas

 

The Thief on the Winged Horse by Kate Mascarenhas.

Published 12th November 2020 by Head of Zeus.

From the cover of the book:

The Kendrick family have been making world-famous dolls for over 200 years. But their dolls aren't coveted for the craftsmanship alone. Each one has a specific emotion laid on it by its creator. A magic that can make you feel bucolic bliss or consuming paranoia at a single touch. Though founded by sisters, now only men may know the secrets of the workshop.

Persephone Kendrick longs to break tradition and learn her ancestors' craft, and when a handsome stranger arrives claiming doll-making talent and blood ties to the family, she sees a chance to grasp all she desires.

But then, one night, the firm's most valuable doll is stolen. Only someone with knowledge of magic 
could have taken her. Only a Kendrick could have committed this crime...

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I loved Kate Mascarenhas' mind-bending debut novel The Psychology of Time Travel so was really looking forward to diving into The Thief On A Winged Horse, her second book. I was not disappointed!

This time, Kate's imagination takes us into the world of the Kendrick family - makers of high quality dolls since the 1820s. What makes these dolls so special? Well, they are no ordinary dolls... in fact they are enchanted. Each doll is imbued with a human emotion by its maker, evoking a response in a single touch that is so powerful and addictive that the dolls are both highly desirable and highly priced.

The company was established by four sisters who were born with the ability to cast hexes after, as legend tells it, their mother made a bargain with the Fae - specifically the eponymous Thief on a Winged Horse - and the Thief and his Fae brethren have had a strong influence on the goings on in the family business ever since, even though times have changed in the world outside.

Most markedly, the casting of hexes, has now become the province of male family members only. Women are not permitted to become sorcerers at Kendricks, nor to make the dolls themselves, no matter how talented they are - despite the fact that the business of magical doll making was started by four sisters.

Our story begins with a company stuck in the past, with its elderly patriarch firm in his belief that only family members can be trusted with the knowledge of how to craft magical dolls, provided they are male or course; a mysterious newcomer, called Larkin, who claims kinship with the Kendricks; a modern young woman, called Persephone Kendrick, who is determined to regain her birth right; and the theft of the most precious doll in the Kendrick collection. And what follows is the most wonderful tale of magical realism blended with a cracking crime story and touching romance.

Although the setting for this novel is in contemporary Oxford, Kate Mascarenhas makes the magical undertones of this story work particularly well by setting Kendricks on an eyot that is isolated from the real world around it. On entering this environment we feel we are travelling back in time to a community that is suspicious of outsiders and follows a style of living based firmly on tradition and folklore - even if this is a twisted version of how Kendricks began. They guard their secrets well here - or at least, they think they do...

At heart, this is a feminist tale with an ending that will make your heart sing. Like the dolls that Kendricks produce in their workshop, Kate Mascarenhas' writing conjures a range of emotions that draw you in completely, and her talent for creating beautifully drawn, and realistically flawed, characters is impressive. I adore how she writes her female characters especially - something that I very much enjoyed in her debut novel too.

Kate Mascarenhas has very quickly won a place as one of my favourite authors and I cannot wait to see what her imagination conjures up next. If you have yet to read one of her books, then you really should - they are incredible.

The Thief of the Winged Horse is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer, or from Bokshop.org HERE.

Thank you to Vicky Joss at Head of Zeus for sending me a proof of this book in return for an honest review.

About the author:

Kate Mascarenhas is a writer.

Born in 1980, she is of mixed heritage (white Irish father, brown British mother) and has family in Ireland and the Republic of Seychelles.

She studied English at Oxford and Applied Psychology at Derby. Her PhD, in literary studies and psychology, was completed at Worcester.

Since 2017 Kate has been a chartered psychologist. Previously she has been an advertising copywriter, bookbinder, and doll’s house maker. She lives in the English midlands with her partner.


Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Island by Victoria Hislop

The Island by Victoria Hislop.

Published 10th April 2006 by Headline Review.

From the cover of the book:

On the brink of a life-changing decision, Alexis Fielding longs to find out about her mother's past. But Sofia has never spoken of it. All she admits to is growing up in a small Cretan village before moving to London. When Alexis decides to visit Crete, however, Sofia gives her daughter a letter to take to an old friend, and promises that through her she will learn more.

Arriving in Plaka, Alexis is astonished to see that it lies a stone's throw from the tiny, deserted island of Spinalonga - Greece's former leper colony. 

Then she finds Fotini, and at last hears the story that Sofia has buried all her life: the tale of her great-grandmother Eleni and her daughters and a family rent by tragedy, war and passion. 

She discovers how intimately she is connected with the island, and how secrecy holds them all in its powerful grip...

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For some reason, Victoria Hislop's books have passed me by, even though The Island was a massive hit when it was published in 2006 and her books are just the kind I would normally settle down with on holiday. So with the publication of One August Night, the long awaited sequel to The Island, it was high time that I got around to checking this one out.

This was a bit of a slow beginning for me, starting out with the very modern young woman, Alexis Fielding, who finds herself delving into her mother Sofia's secretive past in an attempt to get some perspective on her own life and the important decision she must make. 

It's is not until the story of her mother's family begins to unfold, told by her old friend Fotini, and this tale heads into the past, that it really come alive. As we head back in time to learn the tragic history of Alexis' great grandmother Eleni, Eleni's chalk and cheese daughters Anna and Maria, and the truth of Sofia's childhood, Victoria Hislop rapidly immerses you in a wonderful tale of family, passion and loss, against the backdrop of a sleepy little Cretan village and the leper colony on Spinalonga - and her love of Greece shines through in her engaging writing too.

This is one of those books that carries you along on the tide of an epic love story and teaches you a lot of fascinating history at the same time without you really noticing, because you are so invested in the lives of the characters. I absolutely raced through these pages, easily finishing this book in a couple of sittings, despite its weighty 480 pages - and even then, it seemed over too soon. Victoria Hislop has certainly won herself a new fan here!

I cannot wait to pick up the story again in One August Night, so watch this space for more Victoria Hislop soon! 

The Island is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer, or from Bookshop.org HERE.


Thursday, December 17, 2020

Saving The World by Paola Diana

 

Saving The World by Paola Diana.

Published 2nd May 2018 by Quartet Books.

From the cover of the book:

“I write about history to free us from the past, I write about the present to strive for alternative destinies and I write about the future because the world we live in is not the only one possible.”

Part manifesto for change part historical and sociological essay, Saving the World charts women’s condition through the centuries, analysing their treatment within political, religious, economic and societal contexts to form a bigger picture of their place in the world; and explores what needs to be done in 2018 to create a truly equal world. 

Having already broken the glass ceiling for women in Italy, where she introduced a new bill requiring company boards to have 30% female representation, Paola turns to the Gender Pay Gap and puts forward her vision for how we reach an equal society, one in which all women are set free from fear, violence and oppression. Paola Diana impresses on us that this world we inhabit, dominated by men and often seemingly immutable, is far from the only one possible.

Already a bestseller in Italy, this translation has been extensively revised by the author to incorporate recent UK events that impinge on women’s rights and the struggle to achieve equality. A clarion call for change, Diana’s polemic should be read by all who hold powerful positions in government, industry and the arts.

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I should probably start our by saying that this is not really a book for anyone who has done any in depth reading into the history of women's rights and the lives of the leading lights of the various waves of the feminist movement, and subsequently has an understanding of the issues involved. If you have already taken the time to do such reading, you do not need this book.

Instead Paola Diana's book offers more of a general introduction to the tenets of feminist thinking and some of the notable names involved in the movement for those who may have previously given the rights of women little attention through ignorance or apathy, by the use of a series of essays that address the case for more women at the top of politics, economics and the arts. As such, it is more of a rallying cry or a manifesto for social change that suggests there is a way forward that would offer obvious benefits for all. Bravo!

Paola's arguments are certainly impassioned and she offers some fascinating examples of injustices meted out by patriarchal societies the world over that will make your blood boil, alongside illustrations of some of the good work that is being done in relation to women's rights. Most importantly she also points out that it should be the responsibility of more developed countries to improve the lot of women who live in less enlightened societies rather than taking an 'I'm alright, Jack' attitude, with which I wholeheartedly agree.

However, there are parts of this book that are less successful in promoting Paola's cause, some of which stem from the feeling that a bit of careful editing would give clarity to the overall message she wants to impart to the reader, and some of from the fact that recent events make this book come across as rather dated, despite the revisions that were made in 2018 to the original Italian 2016 text. 

For example, naturally Paola writes about the history she knows from her Italian background, but this does not always work as a direct translation to other parts of the world when she is trying to make a point, including the UK. And rather strangely the final chapter details the Bonus Care Draft Bill Paola worked on with the government in her home country of Italy, rather than ending with the previous chapter discussing change, which would have worked so much better for an international audience - it was interesting to see the details of the bill, and I understand she is rightly proud of her achievements which are commendable and should be applauded, but I feel this information would have been better included as an appendix. 

In addition, I found some of her attitudes and assertions contentious, especially in terms of religion, marriage and the world of work, and a few the women she promotes as beacons of virtue are more likely to be seen as controversial rather than exemplary given more recent events, all of which serve as a distraction that takes away from the overall positive message of the book.

Despite the parts that do not quite work, this book definitely has a lot to offer to those looking for an opening into the issues that modern feminists are seeking to address, and the short, essay like nature of the chapters makes them very accessible and engaging. I can see this book being very useful as a popular tool to draw others into a discussion, particularly amongst older teens and those who have not previously given much thought to what feminism means. In fact, it is just the kind of book that would be good to use extracts from with sixth form or college reading groups in order to introduce discussion about women's rights, before moving on to more weighty academic texts. It's certainly the kind of book that provokes a response and one that leaves you with lots to mull over!

Saving The World is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer or from Bookshop.org HERE.

Thank you to Paola Diana and Quartet Books for sending me a copy of this book in return for an honest review and to Bei Guo of Midas PR for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.


About the author:

A top ten bestselling author and political activist in Italy, Paola Diana is a mouthpiece for female equality in a country that has some of the worst work place equality in the world ranking 118th out of 144 countries in terms of women’s participation in economic life and 126th for wage equality for similar work according to the 2017 Global Gender Gap Index, with Italy lagging behind India and Iran in wage equality.

A London based entrepreneur and campaigner for equal rights Paola has dedicated her life to championing sexual equality in business and politics in the UK and Italy. In Italy, Paola is the founder of the organisation PariMerito (Equal Merit), which she used to lobby the Italian Government to pass new equality laws in the work place, including a new bill requiring every company board to have minimum 30% female representation.

Prior to starting PariMerito Paola ran a Think Tank in support of the former Prime Minister and President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi’s political campaign, which had a particular focus on issues including welfare, female employment and structural policies in favour of the family and equal opportunities.

Paola is also an entrepreneur starting her first business as a single mother of two, her hugely successful Diana Group, comprises three separate businesses and has established itself as a market leader in recruitment and lifestyle services, recognised as one of London’s most influential service providers for high net worth individuals, families and corporations around the world.





Tuesday, December 15, 2020

A Time For Swords by Matthew Harffy

 

A Time For Swords by Matthew Harffy.

Published in ebook format 10th December 2020 and in hardback 4th March 2021 by Aries/Head of Zeus.

From the cover of the book:

When the Vikings attack, a novice monk's life is changed forever in Matthew Harffy's new historical adventure.

Lindisfarne, AD793.

There had been portents – famine, whirlwinds, lightning from clear skies, serpents seen flying through the air. But when the raiders came, no one was prepared.

They came from the North, their dragon-prowed longships gliding out of the dawn mist as they descended on the kingdom's most sacred site.

It is 8th June AD793, and with the pillage of the monastery on Lindisfarne, the Viking Age has begun.

While his fellow monks flee before the Norse onslaught, one young novice stands his ground. He has been taught to turn the other cheek, but faced with the slaughter of his brothers and the pagan desecration of his church, forgiveness is impossible.

Hunlaf soon learns that there is a time for faith and prayer . . . and there is a time for swords.

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As a big fan of historical fiction, and more than a bit partial to a good battle now and again, A Time For Swords was an absolute joy!

In this first book of this new series, Matthew Harffy introduces us to young Hunlaf, who lives a contemplative life as a monk, dedicated to learning and a life of service to God. However, Hunlaf finds the course of his life taking a most unexpected turn after he takes a trip to the monastery on Lindisfarne with his teacher, and fellow monk, Leofstan - for while they are there, brutal Viking raiders from the North attack in search of treasure. 

The Viking Age has begun. The peaceful religious communities of Northumberland have caught the eyes of these Norse men, and the slaughter reigned down on the monks and villagers on Lindisfarne has whetted their appetite for more.

Hunlaf is horrified by what he has seen, puzzled by his own reaction to the bloodshed he experienced  and has somehow taken on the role as interpreter and guardian for a captive Viking raider, who goes by the name of Runolf. He has come to realise that turning the other cheek may not be the best way to protect his people from future danger and that instead now may be the time for swords....

What follows is what I would describe as Bernard Cornwell does The Magnificent Seven, as Hunlaf becomes part of a quest to find a band of protectors for his own monastery of Werceworthe, which is likely to become the next target for the raiders from the North, and it is glorious!

This is the kind of book that is full of great characters - loveable rogues, with tough exteriors and heart rending tales of their own, who band together to protect the innocent and lay their own ghosts to rest at the same time. Matthew Haffty regales us with bags of historical detail about life in Northumberland during this period, and clearly relishes describing the combative elements of the story - especially the battle scenes, which are thrilling.

There is a cracking little twist at the end of the book, which students of Viking surnames may get a little hint of before it hits you full in the face, and the hook that Matthew Harffy baits to tempt us into the next book is a corker!

I thoroughly enjoyed this tale and cannot wait for the next book, because where Hunlaf and his little band of warriors are headed next promises to be very exciting indeed.

A Time for Swords is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer.     

Thank you to Aries/Head of Zeus for sending me an ecopy of this book in return for an honest review, and for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Matthew Harffy grew up in Northumberland where the rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline had a huge impact on him. He now lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.

Find our more about Matthew:




 

Friday, December 11, 2020

A Necessary Blessing (The Roelswick Chronicles Book One) by Sarah Head

 

A Necessary Blessing (The Roelswick Chronicles Book One) by Sarah Head.

Published 19th November 2020 by Heresy Publishing.

From the cover of the book:

Ruth Turner has a unique ability. She can walk through time, seeing the village, religious community and inhabitants as they used to be. Abandoned by her philandering husband, she makes new friends amongst village leaders, Greg Iles, the village blacksmith, Granny Compson, a retired farmer's wife and Lord Peter Brazington, the prickly Earl of Haverliegh, owner of Roelswick Estate.

As Ruth learns more about village history, she uncovers many secrets, which change her life and affect her closest friends, putting her at the centre of ghostly retribution. Can she use her new knowledge to unravel the cause of all the trouble before her community is torn apart again?

A Necessary Blessing is the first book in the Roeslwick Chronicles by Sarah Head. Set deep in the heart of the Cotswolds, it charts the story of a rural village where modern and ancient practice work side by side. Where past beliefs inform present customs, promoting future action, we understand how water is a necessary blessing to us all.

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A Necessary Blessing is the kind of book that appears to promise you a tale of the modern domestic woes of a downtrodden wife, abandoned by her faithless husband, then leads you on a merry dance in quite a different direction - and an enchanting one at that. 

As Ruth begins an uphill journey towards recovery after the break up of her marriage, helped along by the villagers who come rallying to her side, she begins to pick up the threads of her former self, allowing the skills that she has buried deep to resurface - skills that mark her out as particularly suited to the close knit community of Roeslwick as it turns out for, pardon the Sixth Sense pun, Ruth can 'see dead people'.

As she learns more about Roelswick and its history, through her interactions with a lovely cast of characters (both living and ghostly), it becomes clear that Ruth is connected to this village in ways she never knew, and destiny has led her here to assume a mantle of responsibility that has always been hers to wear. But I don't want to delve too much into that here for fear of spoilers - suffice to say that I thoroughly enjoyed putting together all the pieces alongside Ruth, and our author, Sarah Head, spins out the mystery beautifully, revealing just enough at opportune moments to keep you absorbed right to the very end.

This is a bit of a genre busting kind of book, rich in folklore and the weight of past misdeeds, that mixes supernatural elements with historical fiction, romance, cosy mystery and domestic drama. Sarah Head brings history alive (often literally!) in these pages and I really enjoyed the way folklore, pagan traditions, and the mystical properties of water weave throughout the book, blending with the more modern elements in a way which works surprisingly well. There are some beautifully drawn relationships between Ruth and other villagers as her status changes from outsider to spiritual guide and stalwart of the village that were really rather lovely too - and the theme of wronged woman who rediscovers her strength, and finds love, is always very compelling.

I didn't know what to expect when I started reading this debut novel, but it turned out to be something of a quirky little gem that completely drew me in. There is a superb little hook at the end that serves to lead the reader into the next book in the series, and I cannot wait to find out what happens to Ruth and the Roelswick gang in the next instalment!

A Necessary Blessing is available to buy from your favourite book retailer now, or from Bookshop.org HERE.

Thank you to Charlie Farrow of Heresy Publishing for sending me an e-copy of this book in return for an honest review.

About the author:

Born in a small North Cotswold village, Sarah grew up listening to stories while helping her family around their arable farm. As a small child she climbed the steps of the medieval water cross, singing hymns in the 11th century Norman church while her grandmother played the harmonium.

Her landscape was steeped in history, from Neolithic henge through Roman roads to the second Civil War. Living halfway between two villages on their new farm and sent away to secondary school, isolated holidays left plenty of time for dreaming about the people who lived before.

After studying social policy at university, she made a career supporting NHS patients in many different forms. She has kept in touch with her Cotswold roots, providing relief organ duties to several villages for many years, like her mother and grandmother before her. Writing inspired her to study the medicinal use of plants and become a spiritual healer. Now, she teaches herbwifery on the family farm and music in the town where she lives with her husband. 

She enjoys exploring different parts of the UK to discover ancient sites and healing wells. A Necessary Blessing is her first published novel.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

 

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields.

Published 25th September 2020 by World Editions.

From the cover of the book:

New foreword by Margaret Atwood.

Widely regarded as a modern classic, The Stone Diaries is the story of one woman’s life; that of Daisy Goodwill Flett, a seemingly ordinary woman born in Canada in 1905. 

Beautifully written and deeply compassionate, it follows Daisy’s life through marriage, widowhood, motherhood, and old age, as she charts her own path alongside that of an unsettled century.

 A subtle but affective portrait of an everywoman reflecting on an unconventional life, this multi-award-winning story deals with everyday issues of existence with an extraordinary vibrancy and irresistible flair.


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Welcome to the life of Daisy Goodwill Flett, a seemingly ordinary woman born in Canada in 1905, who follows the path laid out for her almost all the way through the twentieth century, taking in, and sometimes struggling with, the changes that come with the times, especially for women. Daisy's story is broken up into sections that take us through the experiences and feelings associated with each stage of her long life from Birth to Death, via Childhood, Marriage, Love, Motherhood, Work, Sorrow, Ease, and Illness and Decline.

This is what I would call a 'quiet book' - not to say that momentous things do not happen in the life of Daisy, because they do, but it is written with an almost distant lyrical reflectiveness that serves to remove you a step back from the intensity of feeling a life such as Daisy's would normally evoke. It's almost like looking through a dusty scrapbook of photographs, fragments of journals, newspaper cuttings and letters that give you a glimpse into the life someone has led, rather than being at their side for the duration of the story - and the inclusion of an incredible fictional photo album and family tree all add to the effect.

The scrapbook feeling is enhanced by the way Carol Shields tells Daisy's story through the eyes of her friends, family and acquaintances for almost the entire book, with our main character practically in the wings for most of the time. We largely get to know her from the accounts and assumptions of others, rather than through her own consciousness, which I found rather intriguing. So on the rare occasions when the point of view actually does shift to Daisy herself the moments are particularly telling about the woman we thought we knew. 

One of the things that really comes across in this book is the clever use of letters in moving the story forward. This is not an epistolary novel, although letters are used on and off throughout the text, but our author knows just how and when to use them to the best effect - especially in the Work section of the book, which is is entirely made up of letters of various sorts. I don't think have ever read a chapter of a book that conveys the impact of the events we are hearing about on our protagonist in this way as well as Carol Shields does here - without ever once showing a letter from Daisy herself. It's brilliant.

This is the kind of book that somehow gets under your skin and you find you are unable to look away for a moment. There is so much about Daisy's story that resonates about the human experience, particularly the parts about middle age and later life. I easily managed to finish this in two sittings, and it leaves you with a lot of things to think about, primarily from the times when we get to see into Daisy's own mind and can appreciate the stark differences that sometimes exist between her inner thoughts and the way others see her - especially her feelings of frustration over an unfulfilled life.

I did find it a rather sad book overall, even though it is not without its moments of love, joy and absurdity, although interestingly this did not detract in any way from the pleasure it gave me in reading it, because it is so beautifully written - but I think Carol Shields says it best herself, so I will sign off with her own words on the matter here:
"I did believe, as I wrote the final chapter, that I had written a sad book. From its inception I found myself writing the phrase 'I am not at peace'. When I got there, finally, on the second-to-last-page, I was reluctant to register those words. My wont had always been to find harmony and reconciliation, but the phrase pressed on my consciousness - and my conscience. Finally, I committed it to print. I've learned to live with that hard choice."

 

The Stone Diaries is available to buy now in paperback from our favourite book retailer
 (ISBN: 9781912987191 ASN B08G6TKQKX Price: £9.99 FOR SALE IN: UK, IRELAND, EUROPE)

Thank you to World Editions and Turnaround Publisher Services for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review, and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Carol Shields (1935–2003) was born in the United States, and emigrated to Canada when she was 22. 
She is acclaimed for her empathetic and witty, yet penetrating insights into human nature. 

Her most famous novel The Stone Diaries was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, along with the Governor General’s Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Happenstance was praised as her tour de force, masterly combining two novels in one. The international bestseller Mary Swann was awarded with the Arthur Ellis Award for best Canadian mystery, while The Republic of Love was chosen as the first runner-up for the Guardian Fiction Prize. 

In 2020, the Carol Shields Prize for Fiction, a North American literary award dedicated to writing by women, was set up in her honour. Her work has been published in over 30 languages.





The Red Admiral's Secret by Matthew Ross COVER REVEAL

 The Red Admiral's Secret 
Mark Poynter Book 2
By Matthew Ross


Today, it is my absolute pleasure to reveal the cover for the second book in the Mark Poynter series by Matthew Ross from Red Dog Press, which is being released on 3rd February 2021!

From the cover of the book:

A Premier League bad-boy murdered at his newly refurbished home; a teenage runaway’s corpse uncovered on a construction site; a gunman shoots up the premises of the local gangland boss – all of them projects run by beleaguered builder Mark Poynter. Can he fix it?

Things seem to be on the up for builder, Mark Poynter. Mark’s got himself a nice little earner taking care of the sizeable property portfolio built up from the career earnings of former Premier League bad-boy and local celebrity, Danny Kidd. But when Danny Kidd puts an interested party’s nose out of joint by using his star status to gazump them on a development site – the derelict Admiral Guthrie pub - things turn ugly and incendiary, leaving Mark to deal with the consequences.

Meanwhile local villain, Hamlet, uses his subtle persuasion to dupe Mark into unwittingly help him launder vast sums of dirty cash but when it drags the area to the brink of gang warfare, Mark’s help is needed to try and broker a truce.

At the Admiral Guthrie secrets from the past meet conflicts of the present - will the rising flames reduce Mark’s future to ashes?

The Red Admiral's Secret is the second in the series of darkly comic crime fiction novels featuring the beleaguered builder Mark Poynter, aided and hindered in equal measure by his trusted crew of slackers, idlers and gossips, and the lengths they go to just to earn a living, and is available to preorder HERE.

For anyone who missed the very enjoyable first book in the Mark Poynter series, Death Of A Painter, take a peek at my review here: Death Of A Painter and then hurry off to get yourself a copy before book 2 comes out - you won't be sorry!

About the author:

Matthew Ross was born and raised in the Medway Towns, England. He still lives in Kent with his Kiwi wife, his children and a very old cat.

He was immersed in the building industry from a very early age helping out on his father's sites during school holidays before launching into his own career at 17. He's worked on projects ranging from the smallest domestic repair to £billion+ infrastructure, and probably everything in between.

A lifelong comedy nerd, he ticked off a bucket-list ambition and tried his hand at stand-up comedy. Whilst being an experience probably best forgotten (for both him and audiences alike) it ignited a love for writing, leading to various commissions including for material broadcast on BBC Radio 4 comedy shows.

Matthew moved into the longer format of novel writing after graduating from the Faber Academy in London in 2017.

Death Of A Painter was his first novel and the first in a planned series of stories featuring Mark Poynter and his associates.

Matthew enjoys reading all manner of books - especially crime and mystery; 80s music; and travelling and can't wait for the next trip to New Zealand to spend time with family and friends.

 

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Foul Play: The Manor House Murder Mystery Card Game

Foul Play: The Manor House Murder Mystery Card Game 

The Game:

Welcome to Edwardian England. The Lord of the Manor is dead! The servants are our lead suspects and it's up to you to unearth the evidence, seek out the suspects and catch the culprit in order to scupper the other sleuths, and win this game of murder!

There's more than one way to catch a killer though. So what's it gonna be? Good Cop or Bad Cop? These two game versions come with their own set of rules and tactics to crack the case and finger your suspect, but will you use fair play or FOUL PLAY?

The Game is Afoot! Playing as detective, you’ll need to find the three evidence cards that point to a specific suspect in order to catch a killer in this crazy criminal caper. Will you uncover them in the crime scene? Could the other detectives be willing to collaborate and share their findings? Or will you resort to more tricky tactics, and plunder the proof you need to solve this crime?

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Something a little bit different on the blog today, because rather than a book review or promotion I have the pleasure to bring you a glimpse of a game for lovers of crime fiction instead!

Welcome to Foul Play: The Manor House Murder Mystery Game from After Dark which is card game for 2-5 players, over the age of fourteen, where it's up to you to unearth the evidence to catch the killer of The Lord Of The Manor by playing Good Cop or Bad Cop. 

The pack comprises cards explaining the rules and game play; a selection of 8 character cards, with some likely suspects from the staff of the Edwardian manor house; and all the cards you need to dictate how the investigation plays out.

We had a lot of fun playing this as a family as we are firm favourites of a good board or card game. The rules are easy to follow, whether you play in the Good or Bad Cop modes - although I have to say that we had more fun with Bad Cop mode, as the game play came a bit more naturally, but maybe that says more about us than the card game itself!

This is the perfect little game to have around for the festive season, and it would make a nice little stocking present for anyone who fancies themselves as a bit of a sleuth. In fact I am really looking forward to having a couple of more players around the table for Christmas, because this is bound to make it even more fun.


Foul Play is available to order now HERE for £8.95 plus P+P.  Email : info@afterdarkmurder.co.uk

Thank you to After Dark for sending me a Foul Play game to try out in return for an honest review and to Emma Welton of Damp Pebbles Tours for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.



History of Foul Play:

What’s a Murder Mystery Events Company to do?

With a pandemic sweeping the nation and no sign of being able to perform their confounding criminal cabarets or incredible interactive investigations any time soon, they needed to come up with a plan, another way to provide mystery to the masses (and provide income to keep themselves afloat)!

Well, Lockdown does strange things to people, especially actors who can't go out and perform. So one fateful evening, Ben and Lee Cooper-Muir decided to come up with a whole new way to murder people. Keeping their cards close to their chests they plotted and schemed until Foul Play : The Murder Mystery Card Game was born. 

So, what to do next? This is where After Dark enters the picture. After all, Ben and Lee were two of the operators of the infamous murder mystery company. Maybe they could collaborate to bring the game to the masses. When Lockdown restrictions were eased a top-secret meeting was held with the other criminal masterminds behind After Dark, Helen Burrows, Sophie Webster and Tom Fisher and a pact was made. The game would be launched and licensed under the After Dark banner. 

In true After Dark style, the team burst into action and then began the beta testing, design updates, promotional planning, character changes, proofing, proofing and more proofing until finally all the kinks were ironed out, mysteries solved, and FOUL PLAY came to life!

We hope you enjoy playing it, and although we all hope to be back performing soon, WATCH THIS SPACE! Now we know we can create and produce games we've got a lot more fun things planned for the future!



Thursday, December 3, 2020

The Corset by Laura Purcell

The Corset by Laura Purcell.

Published in paperback 2nd May 2019 by Bloomsbury/Raven Books.

From the cover of the book:

Is prisoner Ruth Butterham mad or a murderer? Victim or villain?

Dorothea Truelove is young, wealthy and beautiful. Ruth Butterham is young, poor and awaiting trial for murder.

When Dorothea's charitable work leads her to Oakgate Prison, she finds herself drawn to Ruth, a teenage seamstress - and self-confessed murderess - who nurses a dark and uncanny secret. A secret that is leading her straight to the gallows. As Ruth reveals her disturbing past to Dorothea, the fates of these two women entwine, and with every revelation, a new layer of doubt is cast...

Can Ruth be trusted? Is she mad, or a murderer?

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This is my third Laura Purcell, after her cracking debut The Silent Companions, and her last chilling thriller Bone China, and she has now confirmed her place in my "auto-buy" list of authors, because I have loved every single one - and this, her second book, is my favourite of the lot so far!

As with all Laura Purcell's books, I have treated myself to reading them alongside listening to the wonderful audio book productions - call me strange, but I think you really do get more out a book this way. This particular audio was narrated by Nathalie Buscombe, and it is a corker.

In The Corset we have the entwined stories of Dorothea, pampered and privileged, but not without her own trials and tribulations in the shape of a controlling father, and the poor, mistreated Ruth, who is awaiting trial on murder charges. 

The story unfolds as doer of good works Dorothea, intent on collecting evidence to support her theories on phrenology, visits the newly established women's prison to provide succour and spiritual guidance to the poor wretches imprisoned there - and to get a good feel of their cranial lumps and bumps while she is at it. During one of her visits Dorothea meets the ill-fated Ruth, who she is convinced she can lead towards redemption before the consequences of her crimes catch up with her, but as Ruth begins to relate her dark and fantastic history, Dorothea's theories are put sorely to the test. Can Ruth's tale be true, or is she playing games with Dorothea?

As Dorothea goes back and forth to the prison, we get to hear more and more of Ruth's tale, interspersed with details her own life and it becomes clear that not is all rosy on that front either. What really happened to cause the death of her own mother? What are her father's intentions? And how can she ever be free to marry her secret love, a lowly member of the constabulary?

As ever, Laura Purcell weaves her considerable skill to draw us into the stories of both these young women, showing us that even though they have come from very different backgrounds there are shocking similarities to be drawn from their experiences. One thing that always strikes me about Purcell's books is the magical way she walks the line between what is believable and what is not, bringing in just enough of a supernatural undercurrent to make you question exactly what is going on - and she keeps you on tenterhooks all the way through this one, until the absolutely glorious and breath-taking ending. It's superb!

If you like your historical fiction on the dark and Gothic side, then I can highly recommend any of Laura Purcell's books for your delectation - make sure you put aside a chunk of time if you choose to read them though, because I promise you are not going to be able to put any of them down once you begin.

I cannot wait to get to Laura Purcell's upcoming novel The Shape Of Darkness, which is coming in January 2021, so watch this space dear reader for more spellbinding story telling from her enchanted quill!

The Corset is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer, or from Bookshop.org HERE.

About the author:

Laura Purcell is a former bookseller and lives in Colchester with her husband and pet guinea pigs.

Her first novel for Raven Books The Silent Companions won the WHSmith Thumping Good Read Award 2018 and featured in both the Zoe Ball and Radio 2 Book Clubs. Other Gothic novels include The Corset (US title The Poison Thread ), Bone China (US title The House of Whispers) and The shape Of Darkness (2021).
 

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Trading Time by Owen Martin

 

Trading Time by Owen Martin.

Published 23rd July 2020 by RedDoor Press.

From the cover of the book:

Julia Madison is about to take a break from her career in the family corporate law firm. A little disheartened by the excesses around her she decides to travel to Brazil to work with some of the poorest people there.

Geoff Madison is on the verge of retirement, feeling his age and ready to slow down. His long-time best friend and client, Larry is just the opposite. Full of life and energy he is excited by the massive breakthrough his research company has made into harvesting time from one human, to give to another. 

He wants Geoff to represent him in this, the biggest opportunity of his life. Geoff isn’t sure, but Larry ploughs on anyway, beginning trials with this new method.

Gabriel and Isabella live in a favela and willingly give up some of their years for the money they are offered. But the drugs haven’t been checked rigorously enough and they are ageing early – and quickly. By chance, Julia meets Gabriel and hears his shocking story.

As Gabriel and Isabella’s bodies race towards their untimely demise, Julia vows to bring their case to trial back in New York, placing her father’s friendship with Larry at risk and causing Geoff to think carefully about right and wrong as he faces his own terminal diagnosis.

A twisting and twisted drama that spans the favelas of Brazil to the courtrooms of NYC.

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

I am always fascinated by books that are about that strange old concept of time, so this is a title that immediately caught my eye - and I am so very glad it did, because this is a book that I ended up reading in almost a single sitting, which doesn't happen often dear reader...

This is a story based on the development of a new medical procedure that can harvest time from a donor and transfer it to another - the theory being that someone can choose to sell some of their lifespan to make money to improve their own lot at the expense of a few years, and similarly a buyer can extend their own allotted time on the Earth by purchasing a little extra. 

While this may not be a new idea in the realms of fiction, this is the kind of storyline you normally come across in a book firmly in the science fiction genre. It's not a surprise then that I was expecting this to be a thriller with a hard sci-fi edge, in the Michael Crichton mould. What is surprising is that while it certainly does have echoes of Mr Crichton they are rather of the more reflective kind than he is normally associated with, and to spice things up nicely, somewhere along the way, they have also been firmly spliced onto a John Grisham legal drama - so more of a love child of the two shall we say?

This is actually a book rather light on science, beyond proposing that a new procedure exists, but this matters not a jot because the story itself is about the ethical issues surrounding such a development, rather than the ins and outs of the procedure itself. Instead the crux of the matter lies in whether or not it is right to take a portion of someone's lifespan and give it to another person at all, and there is a tough legal battle to be fought before a decision can be made by the courts.

Of course, this is made all the more interesting by the fact that the procedure in question is the province of a global corporation under the remit of a less than scrupulous American business man who is keen to make as much money as he can from it - and he is not too careful about following the letter of the law along the way. This aspect of the tale provides a delicious thread of menace to the proceedings that allows our author to spin this as a thriller both on more familiar New York City ground and in the steaming favelas of Rio, alongside the courtroom drama element.

I really enjoyed the way Owen Martin throws up so much thought provoking material in his telling of this story. Along with the more obvious moral considerations about the buying and selling of time, there is so much about how we can effectively ease poverty; the exploitation of the poor and vulnerable by the rich, particularly by global corporations;  the influence of business and money making decisions on ethical considerations; the, possibly misguided, imposition of first world sensibilities on the developing world;  the freedom of an individual to make their own, albeit difficult choices; the way campaigns are fought in this social media age; and interestingly, the role of activism in fighting for justice.

This is an intelligent, page turner of a book that will both entertain you and leave you with some intriguing issues to mull over. So far it has gone a bit under the radar, but I hope my review will help garner a few more fans for Owen Martin's novel, because I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Trading Time is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer, from Bookshop.org HERE.

Thank you to Lizzie Lewis at RedDoor Press for sending me a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

About the author:

Owen Martin was raised on a farm in Ireland and graduated in business from Trinity college in Dublin. He now lives in Switzerland and has spent most of his life in executive leadership positions throughout the world. He travels extensively for business and writes occasionally for relaxation.


Sunday, November 29, 2020

Of Necessity And Wanting by Sascha A. Akhtar

 

Of Necessity And Wanting by Sascha A. Akhtar.

Published 11th October 2020 by The 87 Press.

From the cover of the book:

Of Necessity & Wanting is a collection of lyrical, atmospheric stories of varying lengths set in urban Pakistan.

At its forefront are the concerns of people who are lower down on the metaphorical ‘chain’ of status and power, especially in the context of their symbiotic relationship with 
those they see as 'other', 'privileged' or 'fair'.

Akhtar’s breath taking prose, which combines social realism with complex and intricate plots, desires, and psycho-geographies—represents a ground breaking exploration of women’s rights, such as independence and emancipation, in South Asia.

Sharply observed and tightly spun. Sascha has the eye of a poet and the ear of a wanderer. She writes precisely and lyrically. It’s a thing of beauty. Mohammad Hanif. Author of A Case Of Exploding Mangoes, Our Lady of Alice Bhatti and Bhutto: The Musical.

There is a familiarity in Akhtar’s characters that reminds us that, whomever or wherever we are, we share the same truths. Deliciously written, always entertaining and filled with striking imagery, Akhtar’s stories do the most magical thing - they show us who we are. Nik Perring. Author of Beautiful Words, Beautiful Trees, and Not So Perfect.

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What a fabulous, and eye-opening collection of short stories from Sascha Akhtar about life in urban Pakistan. 

Of Necessity and Wanting gives us a fascinating, detailed, and often shocking glimpse into the lives of some very different characters who are seen as 'lower down' in the context of their own social circles, but who are nonetheless alike in their shared requirement for the things that they need to live, and the things they desire in order to fulfil their aspirations.

The first story is The White Cage. This is about Rumina, known as Guddi, a young girl from a middle class family whose mother has high ideas about climbing the social ladder and ensuring her daughter marries well. This was such an interesting look at the whole marriage market business in Pakistan and the booming beauty industry that fuels the obsession with being fair of complexion. This was my favourite and ends with the most wonderful 'punching the air' moment.

The second story, Paani: Water, is told from the point of view of a country boy made good, Akram, who finds himself running the household of a wealthy family in Karachi. This is the most shocking of the three, as it examines the water politics of Pakistan.

The third story, Janat Ki Huwa: The Air In Paradise, is the story of Javed and Zainab and is essentially a love story about two young people trying to make a living in Karachi, highlighting the reality of life at the lower end of the social scale. For me, this was the most heart-warming of the three tales, despite the difficulties they face in their lives.

This collection, when taken as a whole, highlights many aspects of life in Pakistan that may seem strange to the sensibilities of those of us brought up in a country like Britain, but Sascha Akhtar writes  so beautifully that she carries us along with her lyrical prose and immerses us completely in another world. She expertly shows us what it means to be human, which makes these tales relatable to all. Alongside the more distressing and absurd parts, there are moments of joy, heartache, frustration and longing, and a desire to better ourselves, that we can all recognise, whatever our background. There are certain truths that link us all, and this is where the magic lies.

There is such much in these pages that will set you thinking long after you have finished reading this book, especially about women's rights in south Asia; the huge gulf between rich and poor; social mobility; and the complex relationships between people who are reliant on each other, even though their lives may seem worlds apart. For me, this makes it a book that has the power to educate as well as entertain, and is one which I hope will be read widely.

Of Necessity And Wanting is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Isabelle Kenyon for sending me a copy of this book on behalf of Sascha A. Akhtar and The 87 Press in return for an honest review, and for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Born in Chaklala, Rawalpindi in 1976, Sascha Akhtar has led a life less ordinary. Her ancestral roots are Baluchi, Kashmiri, Pathan and English, and she has lived in Peshawar, Karachi, Islamabad, Murree, U.S.A and the U.K.

She grew up in a mixed-race literary family in Pakistan. Her maternal grandfather, Haq Nawaz Akhtar who was the closest thing to a father to her, was a Government servant dedicated to real change in Pakistan, in addition to all his charitable works, including an organization that worked to free the poor fishermen falsely imprisoned in Indian and Pakistani jailed for accidentally crossing over international waters. In his lifetime, they managed to free over 1500 poverty-stricken fishermen. He was also the author of 9 + books of poetry and fiction in Urdu and works of non-fiction including the important If Truth Be Told: An Alternate History of Pakistan and India. ( Sang-i-Meel Publications, 2007 Lahore).

In 1995, Sascha went to attend Bennington College, Vermont, U.S.A. She left for America on a scholarship at 18 with $1000 U.S. Dollars, that she had earned herself as a teenager doing a T.V.  commercial for Nestle Cerelac. At that time, she was a fashion model in Pakistan doing catwalk and print shoots while being a youth empowerment advocate with KZR.

When she reached college, her first job was as a food server in the dining hall. She lived in America for nine years, in which time her jobs included waitressing and house painting.

Her love of stories and storytelling began at home. Her love for Pakistan came from her grandfather, who loved his country terribly and helped it and the poor throughout his lifetime.

She dedicates this collection to him —a poor, young poet who was given the takhallus (pen-name) Akhtar in his village in Sargodha and was to keep the name throughout his life. Above all, he transcended the circumstances of his own birth.
“The characters in Of Necessity And Wanting are all reflections of my beloved Grandad Haq Nawaz Akhtar. Long may he live on.”
Her debut fiction comes after an 18 year career in writing, during which time she has had six collections of poetry in English published in the U.K. Sascha Akhtar also wrote for almost a decade for Libas Magazine - interviewing Nadeem Aslam, William Dalrymple, Mohammad Hanif, Kamila Shamsie and Aamer Hussein to name a few. 

Her literary criticism, film reviews, op-eds and features can also be found in the archives of Herald, The Express Tribune, Blue Chip and Himal. Currently, Sascha is a Poetry School London Tutor and judge for the Streetcake Prize for Experimental Writing. Her course ‘Breaking Through Writer's Block,’ has been published by The Literary Consultancy, London as part of their ground-breaking #BeingAWriter online programme.

She is dedicated to the promotion of the Urdu language. In this regard, she is working with The Stephen Spender Trust as an Urdu translator, taking Creative Translation methods to schools in the U.K. She has taught at the Poetry Translation Centre, London, working with poems by Kishwar Naheed.

Upcoming is a book of translations from the Urdu of pioneering feminist fiction writer Hijab Imtiaz from the Indian Subcontinent is due in 2021 with Oxford University Press, India. Hijab Imtiaz was also the Subcontinent’s first female pilot in 1936.



Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Lady Colombia by Stacy Christopher Zaghloul

 

Lady Colombia by Stacy Christopher Zaghoul.

Published 19th July 2020 by SCZ Publishing.

From the cover of the book:

Laidy is a young woman living outside Bogotá, Colombia. She applies herself in school, works a part-time job, and helps to look after her aging father.

Her exertions begin to take an emotional toll. An estrangement with her sister is particularly painful, leading her to investigate unanswered questions about her past. 

To resolve these doubts, she must traverse the world of narco-traffickers, a task she is loath to do. Along the way, she travels to parts of Colombia she has never seen and learns that her family history is much more complicated than she ever imagined. 

A genre-bending novel which incorporates elements of the women's literature, Latina, coming-of-age, mystery, contemporary romance, historical fiction, family life and multicultural genres, Lady Colombia is a moving tale that guides readers through the splendid cultural weave of the land, whilst delivering on the promise of the unputdownable. 

This stunning debut work will resonate with readers for years to come.

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

Lady Colombia is a book that takes you under the skin of modern day Colombia by cleverly using the compelling story of our young protagonist, Laidy, to weave in details of how Colombians are dealing with the legacy of the violence that has torn their country apart.

Laidy is a smart and ambitious young woman, living a quiet life, studying hard and doing her best to keep clear of the temptations that have drawn her sister into a life embroiled with the men exploiting the darker side of the Colombian economy. 

But when a twist of fate brings violence close to home and throws up a question about her past, she finds herself undertaking a quest to find out about her heritage - unexpectedly aided by a dangerous cartel boss who she has fallen for, despite all her efforts to keep away from the dark underbelly of Colombian life.

Laidy's present, her fascinating exploration into her past, and the fate of her mother allows Stacy Christopher Zaghloul to give us a glimpse into the recent history of Colombia in such an engaging and informative way that belies the relatively short length of this novel. This may be only 192 pages long, but our author packs in a lot of shocking detail, and there is such an interesting range of characters in the mix - rogues who revel in crime, reluctant monsters trapped in a life they cannot escape, those who carry the guilt of secret misdeeds, and innocents caught up in the consequences of their behaviour. Inevitably, there are lots of hard edges given the violent context and the horrifying truth of the "disappeared", but our author blends the facts with the fiction in such a way that it makes it a very human story about love, family and trying to make amends for the acts you are not proud of too. There are also some lovely surprises to discover along the way.

It is very easy to think of Colombia from the perspective of what we see in our television screens in programmes like Narcos, but this book gives much more depth to the lives of the people who live there. I found it interesting that Stacy Christopher Zaghloul originally intended to show the softer side of the people of Colombia, but found it impossible to write about their lives without reference to the violence too.

It's clear from this fascinating book that the past has shaped these people, but it does not define them, and as such it serves as a fitting tribute to the love that our author so clearly holds for Colombia.

Lady Colombia is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer or from Amazon UK HERE.

Thank you to Stacy Christopher Zaghloul for sending me a copy of this book in return for an honest review, and to Kelly Lacey of Love Books Tours for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Stacy Christopher Zaghloul is a proud graduate of Texas A&M University and SMU's Dedman School of Law. She is now a happily inactive member of the District of Columbia's bar association. A native Houstonian, she has also lived in Dallas, Beijing, and Bogota.


She has taught special education students and English language learners in Texas, and spent some years in the administration of special education services. She also had the privilege to advocate for students with disabilities in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Stacy recently published her first novel, Lady Colombia, for Amazon. She is currently writing her third book, loosely based on the life of her Palestinian Venezuelan mother-in-law.

When not writing, Stacy is reading, gardening, listening to music, painting, and attempting to cook. She has been blessed with two lovely daughters, the eldest of whom is attending university in Florida, the younger completing secondary school in Texas. She lives in Oklahoma with her husband Jose and her dog Jet.






Tuesday, November 24, 2020

In The Sweep Of The Bay by Cath Barton

 

In The Sweep Of The Bay by Cath Barton.

Published 23rd November 2020 by Louise Walters Books.

From the cover of the book:

This warm-hearted tale explores marriage, love, and longing, set against the majestic backdrop of  Morecambe Bay, the Lakeland Fells, and the faded splendour of the Midland Hotel.

Ted Marshall meets Rene in the dance halls of Morecambe and they marry during the frail optimism of the 1950s. They adopt the roles expected of man and wife at the time: he the breadwinner at the family ceramics firm, and she the loyal housewife. 

But as the years go by, they find themselves wishing for more…

After Ted survives a heart attack, both see it as a new beginning… but can a faded love like theirs ever be rekindled?

A tender and moving study of a marriage” Alison Moore, author of the Booker short listed The Lighthouse.

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

What an absolute little gem of a novella! 

This is primarily the story of Ted and Rene, from the time of their meeting in the 1950's, all the way through their lives... and beyond to the reflections of their children and grandchild. It's heavy with the all too fleeting pleasures, the weight of expectation and duty, the grind of everyday drudgery, and the secret disappointments held inside from of a long marriage that follows an emotional ebb and flow through the years, that is so typical of many couples from this era. A couple who were bound to each other for better or for worse in a partnership that is not without enduring love, but who have forgotten how to be happy together - no matter how devoted they appear to outside eyes.

Through the years, we get a glimpse of the changing times in the way Cath Barton compares the relationship of Ted and Rene with the experiences of their own daughters and granddaughter - and interestingly also with the experiences, and observations, of an eclectic cast of walk-on parts from other characters that find themselves washed up in the sweep of Morecombe Bay. Every interaction, every innermost thought has a part to play as the threads of the story spin out over the years - lives touching in seemingly casual ways, but with undertones that have significance later down the line. 

"I look at them for quite a time, thinking and wondering, just wondering.
Realising how little we know of other people's lives, even our own parents. 
Perhaps especially our own parents."

As a child of parents who married in the 1950's there was a lot in this book that resonated with me - the feeling that so much was going on under the surface that was never spoken out loud was a big part of this, and the quirky way Eric Morecombe was worked into the story brought back so many happy childhood memories of Saturday night family TV viewing. If you are also of a certain age then you will find 'Bring Me Sunshine' is on a constant loop in your head for days after reading this!

Quite how Cath Barton manages to pack so much deep emotion into a novella that is only a smidge over 100 pages is a feat of beautiful writing, especially since this book covers such a wide time frame, but she chooses her words with such care that she wrings every ounce of feeling out of them - and trust me, you will feel every twang of the heartstrings with profound force. 

This is another winner from the fabulous indie publisher Louise Walters Books, and one that I can particularly recommend to fans of the wonderful Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers, as it evokes many of the same poignant feelings. It's simply brilliant.

In The Sweep Of The Bay is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer or via the links below:

Louise Walters Books     Amazon UK     Amazon US     Foyles     Book Depository     Kobo     


Thank you to Cath Barton and Louise Walters for sending me a copy of this book, and to Emma Welton of Damp Pebbles Tours for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Cath Barton lives in Abergavenny. She won the New Welsh Writing AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella in 2017 for The Plankton Collector, which was published in September 2018 by New Welsh Review under their Rarebyte imprint. She also writes short stories and flash fiction and, with her critical writing, is a regular contributor to Wales Arts Review. 

In the Sweep of the Bay is her second novella.

Find out more about Cath Barton here:

LWB Books     Author's Twitter Page     Author's Website