Lockdown Reads #2 Magpie Lane

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When the eight-year-old daughter of an Oxford College Master vanishes in the middle of the night, police turn to the Scottish nanny, Dee, for answers.

As Dee looks back over her time in the Master’s Lodging – an eerie and ancient house – a picture of a high achieving but dysfunctional family emerges: Nick, the fiercely intelligent and powerful father; his beautiful Danish wife Mariah, pregnant with their child; and the lost little girl, Felicity, almost mute, seeing ghosts, grieving her dead mother.

But is Dee telling the whole story? Is her growing friendship with the eccentric house historian, Linklater, any cause for concern? And most of all, why is Felicity silent?

Roaming Oxford’s secret passages and hidden graveyards, Magpie Lane explores the true meaning of family – and what it is to be denied one.

Magpie Lane, thriller, Lucy Atkins, Oxford, nanny, bad mother

 

If you are looking for a book to grip you tight and refuse to let you go during the lockdown, then look no further. An unforgettable and atmospheric Oxford thriller that will remain with you long after you’ve closed its final page…

An unreserved place on my thrillers of the year so far, buy yourself a copy here

 

I fell hard for the beautiful writing and ghostly mood of Magpie Lane. Dee, a riveting Russian doll of a character, had me in her thrall from start to finish. Highly recommendedLouise Candlish

Clever and creepy, twisty yet tenderMagpie Lane will have you hearing footsteps overhead in an empty house. I loved it, Erin Kelly

‘Full of hidden chambers, and some of them are haunted . . . part thriller, part love story, wholly beguiling. I was glued to every page’, Mick Herron

‘Lucy Atkins excels at creating highly intelligent, slightly eccentric outsiders. I was completely immersed . . . and preoccupied, and appalled, by such credible characters. I loved it!’, Sarah Vaughan

The most sublime book I’ve read since Apple Tree Yard . . . masterful writing from an experienced hand. I’ll be gushing about this for a while’, Jo Spain

‘So clever and different. I raced through for the reveal but also the spookiness, the characters and the wonderful love story’, Sabine Durrant

‘A brilliant feat – a creepy, chilling, page-turning tale that also made me laugh out loud. I can think of no other writer who pulls that off’ Kate Hamer

‘Intricate, intelligent, and immensely satisfying, and with a deliciously spooky edge. It really is first-class Oxford intrigue’, Cara Hunter

‘That rare thing: a thriller that warms your heart even as it chills your spine. I adored it on so many levels – the page-turning tension, the emotional depth of the central relationship. Simply brilliant!‘, JP Delaney

Beguilingbrilliantly creepy, and an utterly compelling read. Lucy Atkins has created such a complex character in Dee: I rooted for her, and yet was suspicious of her; swept along by her love story, but worried for her. A wonderful story, Claire Fuller

 

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‘Highly recommended’ Louise Candlish
‘Clever and creepy’ Erin Kelly
‘Beguiling’ Mick Herron

‘Spellbindingly brilliant’ Sarah Hilary
‘Highly intelligent’ Sarah Vaughan
‘Sublime’ Jo Spain
‘Different’ Sabine Durrant
‘Chilling’ Kate Hamer
‘Simply brilliant!’ JP Delaney
‘Twisted’ Amanda Jennings

 

Lockdown Reads 1 #TrueStory

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Inventive, electrifying and daring, True Story is a novel like nothing you’ve ever read before.

A mind-blowing page-turning un-put-downable heartwarming empathetic formally inventive horror suspense thriller, with a life-affirming and timely feminist message‘ Elif Batuman

 

After a college party, two boys drive a girl home: drunk and passed out in the back seat. Rumours spread about what they did to her, but later they’ll tell the police a different version of events. Alice will never remember what truly happened. Her fracture runs deep, hidden beneath cleverness and wry humour. Nick – a sensitive, misguided boy who stood by – will never forget.

That’s just the beginning of this extraordinary journey into memory, fear and self-portrayal. Through university applications, a terrifying abusive relationship, a fateful reckoning with addiction and a final mind-bending twist, Alice and Nick will take on different roles to each other – some real, some invented – until finally, brought face to face once again, the secret of that night is revealed.

Startlingly relevant and enthralling in its brilliance, True Story is by turns a campus novel, psychological thriller, horror story and crime noir, each narrative frame stripping away the fictions we tell about women, men and the very nature of truth. It introduces Kate Reed Petty as a provocative new voice in contemporary fiction.

Sunday has totally flown by, am totally engrossed in this one and cannot out it down. No words can describe this book as it’s a total treasure box that defies being pigeonholed into a genre and is wholly itself. I’m jealous of you if you’ve yet to read it. An absolute five star read that will be in my ‘Books of the Year 2020’ list without a shadow of a doubt.

Advance Praise

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“I literally cannot believe this book exists. A mind-blowing, page-turning, un-put-downable, heartwarming, empathetic, formally inventive horror suspense thriller, with a life-affirming and timely feminist message? What? This would be an amazing fifteenth novel for a person to have written and it is Kate Reed Petty’s first one. What an incredible talent!” —Elif Batuman, author of The Idiot

“Kate Reed Petty is such a gifted writer that she can make even a college application essay feel utterly heartbreaking. And in True Story, she has given us a riveting and totally innovative novel about the power of lies to shape the truth, a book built like an elaborate jigsaw puzzle whose picture becomes thrillingly clear only after you’ve locked in the very last piece.” —Nathan Hill, author of The Nix

“Brilliant—a darkly gripping enigma of a book. Petty boldly plays with genre and voice to tell the story of an assault and a rumor that shapes the trajectory of a woman’s life. The result is a beautifully prismatic and profound meditation on victims and perpetrators, lies and truth, and above all the dangers and powers of storytelling and what it means to finally claim your voice.” —Mona Awad, author of Bunny

True Story is a spectacular first novel—innovative, convincing, daring, suspenseful, heart-wrenching, and altogether astonishing. Kate Reed Petty is a force. What a beautifully unified, richly imagined, and skillfully composed work of literary art. I hope it wins the prizes Petty deserves.” —Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried

Black River Blog Tour

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Black River is an electrifying return for relentless reporter Tuva Moodyson, from the author of Dark Pines and Red Snow.

FEAR

Tuva’s been living clean in southern Sweden for four months when she receives horrifying news. Her best friend Tammy Yamnim is missing.

SECRETS

Racing back to Gavrik at the height of Midsommar, Tuva fears for Tammy’s life. Who has taken her, and why? And who is sabotaging the small-town search efforts?

LIES

Surrounded by dark pine forest, the sinister residents of Snake River are suspicious of outsiders. Unfortunately, they also hold all the answers. On the shortest night of the year, Tuva must fight to save her friend. The only question is who will be there to save Tuva?

Black River by Will Dean

Having enjoyed Dark Pines & Red Snow so much, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of Black River as I loved the main character – the legend that is Tuva Moodyson. I loved Will Dean and his writing and am so honoured to be closing the tour for his third novel. Let me tell you that it absolutely lived up to my levels of anticipation and I’ve been lost in Snake River during my period of isolation and I’m not planning on leaving any time soon…

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When Tuva leaves Gavrik behind and heads off for a new start in a whole new town, it should come as no surprise to fans of hers that she is plunged headlong into another intriguing case – with a Midsommar angle that really proves to be every bit as gripping as his two previous novels.  It must be so difficult for crime writers to keep coming up with fresh and exciting ‘cases to crack’ and I think that this is one of the aspects of Will Dean’s writing that is gathering the most acclaim. You really feel like you get a deep dive into the case of her friend Tammy’s disappearance with Tuva and her somewhat unorthodox way of proceeding with things really sets her apart as a protagonist as well as the dynamic and unforgettable pairing of Lena and Thord – who I absolutely love.

pine trees field near mountain under sunset

I hate spoilers, so I don’t want to dwell too long on the plot of Black River as I want you to be able to experience all the twists and turns for yourself – suffice to say that the skilful way that Will Dean weaves the many and disparate elements of this case into the narrative is superbly done and remains convincing throughout. I know at times it can feel like the fictional world is saturated with ‘quirky’ detective teams with complicated back stories but this series is something that’s absolutely in its own league and once you’ve read one, you’ll not be content until you’ve devoured all three…

Black River by Will Dean

 

I loved the way that this novel wove many threads together – a convincing detective story, a fabulous Midsommar setting where the nights never come – but the twists and turns certainly do,  and a set of fabulously original characters who have felt like real people from the get-go  Black River is definitely one of those novels that stays with you long after closing its final page and one that I will definitely be recommending to my friends – it packs a powerful punch and never lets up in terms of keeping you second-guessing its ending right up until the final few pages.

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I can’t wait to see what Will Dean does next. I’m a sucker for a fantastically written crime read and Tuva is one of my favourite female creations. I can’t wait to see where this series goes and heartily recommend it for whiling away a long dreich Isolation afternoon by the fire.  Away and treat yourself – You’ll thank me for it as it’s just the thing to take your mind off everything that’s going on in these strangest of times.

Buy yourself a copy here

 

Black River by Will Dean

 

Writer On The Shelf

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WILL DEAN grew up in the East Midlands and had lived in nine different villages before the age of eighteen. After studying law at the LSE, and working in London, he settled
in rural Sweden, where he built a house in a boggy clearing at the centre of a vast elk forest.

His debut novel, Dark Pines, was selected for Zoe Ball’s Book Club, shortlisted for
the Guardian Not the Booker Prize and named a Telegraph book of the year. The third book in the series, Black River, is now out

Coming Up For Air – Blog Tour

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THREE EXTRAORDINARY LIVES INTERTWINE ACROSS OCEANS AND TIME

On the banks of the River Seine in 1899, a young woman takes her final breath before plunging into the icy water. Although she does not know it, her decision will set in motion an astonishing chain of events. It will lead to 1950s Norway, where a grieving toy-maker is on the cusp of a transformative invention, all the way to present-day Canada where a journalist, battling a terrible disease, risks everything for one last chance to live.

Taking inspiration from a remarkable true story, Coming Up for Air is a bold, richly imagined novel about the transcendent power of storytelling and the immeasurable impact of every human life.

This is a book that will make you think hard, make you reflect on things you might never have contemplated before and make you coma back to it to re-read certain parts so you can drink in their beauty, whilst at the same time be shocked and affected by some of its troubling and darker passages.

Coming Up For Air tells the moving and enduring story of three extraordinary lives – and it’s all the more compelling for being based so closely on real life.Its vividly realised lives are painstakingly drawn in such a way as to bring them to life right before our eyes. The curtains are drawn, throwing light on this  period and allowing us to see the truth after so many years of things being hidden and uncovered.

This beautiful book – for beautiful it most definitely is, despite its sometimes harrowing subject matter – is  so much more than a story about three intersecting lives  – it’s a story about connections and the small intertwining threads that make up the rich tapestry of life; a story about darkness transfigured into light and most of all a story about how human beings connect and relate to one another even if it is only in tiny and fleeting ways.

The book gives a real insight into these three very different moments in history and the women who inhabited them – I found it truly fascinating and it would be difficult for me to choose one that I preferred over the others – they were all absolutely engrossing in their own right. I absolutely adored its blending of the personal with the atmosphere of community and the darkness and bleak aspects with the rhythmic and soothing sense of the changes in nature that come with the seasons and the small movements of pleasure and kindness amongst darkness, sorrow and pain.

Coming Up for Air, Hardback Book

This book might be quite emotionally challenging for some people, owing to the nature of its content, but please be reassured that although it does not skirt around the subject or diminish the horror – the death itself is handled with sensitivity and is certainly far from sensationalised during the novel. The story is about life itself through the prism of these experiences and their aftermath too. There is much to think about here and its blending of the beautiful and the painful is deftly done, leading to a reading experience like no other. It is very hard to put into words – the closest I can come to is that this book holds you in its spell and does not release you until long after you’ve finished reading it.

Coming Up For Air is a book that you won’t forget easily. A beautifully wrought piece of prose that glimmers with the hope of the future even as it looks back on the hurt and pain of the past. It is a redemptive read that will leave you feeling like you see the world around you with new eyes and a read that will keep coming back to you at the quieter moments of the days as your thoughts drift, some of the moments of this book will creep back into your consciousness and make you appreciate the small moments in your day, the positive relationships that you have and the power of love to change things forever. Please just go out and buy yourself a copy now and I have no doubt that you’ll fall for it as hard as I did.

"A consummate story teller" Rachel Joyce

Writer On The Shelf

Born and raised in Canada, Sarah Leipciger lives in London with her three children, and teaches creative writing to prisoners. Her short fiction has been shortlisted for the Asham Award, the Fish Prize and the Bridport Prize. Her first novel, the critically acclaimed THE MOUNTAIN CAN WAIT, was published in 2015. COMING UP FOR AIR is her second novel.

 

 

The Operator Blog Tour

t’s 1952. The switchboard operators in Wooster, Ohio, love nothing more than to snoop on their neighbours’ conversations, and gossip about what they learn. Vivian Dalton is no different (despite her teenage daughter’s disapproval), and always longs to hear something more outrageous than the monotonous discussions about quilting and makeup tips.
But on the night of December 15th, she wishes she hadn’t listened in on Betty Miller’s call with an unknown stranger because what Vivian hears rips the rug of her life out from under her. Vivian may be mortified, but she’s determined to find out who the unfamiliar voice belongs to, and why they are trying to ruin her life. And the thing about small towns is, one secret tends to lead to another …
THE OPERATOR vividly captures small town dynamics as it takes us down Vivian’s rocky path towards reinvention and compassion. In this moving, heart-felt and uplifting narrative, unexpected friendships, family tensions and a marriage shaped by secrets are brought brilliantly to life, in an utterly satisfying read from a dazzling new writer.
Perfect for readers of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees and Anne Tyler’s Clock Dance.

 

The Operator, Gretchen Berg, Laurie Frankel    The Operator, Gretchen Berg, Kathryn Stockett

 

When you love a book, you just want everyone you’ve ever met to rush out and read it too. That’s definitely the case with The Operator and I can’t wait for my sister to finish it so we can have a long lazy afternoon together enjoying a lengthy chat about this gorgeous, gossipy and captivating read.

Its the perfect antidote to these difficult times and it’s a tonic to lose yourself in its perfect portrait of a small town where everyone knows each other’s business and feel like you are one of its inhabitants.

It’s such a skilful blend of amazingly vivid characters and a zip along plot that plunges you straight into the middle of their lives that you won’t be able to put it down. I totally fell for Betty & Vivian and by the end of the book I felt like I’d become part of their world too.

If you love a period read that allows you to inhabit its landscape and live that era inside its pages then this is the perfect read to dive into and forget all about everything that’s going on in the world. It’s a moving read too,  as we see these characters journey through pitfalls to make some realisations about themselves and what us important in life and their realistic and perceptive portrayal will strike many chords – time has changed perhaps, but human nature certainly hasn’t…

This is a book that would be absolutely perfect for your next reading group meeting – even if now that meeting’s going to be online as there is plenty to talk about and you’ll have strong opinions about these characters and the adventures they get up to across these pages. If you loved The Help, then this is right up your street and I can’t wait for this too to be optioned for a movie – I’m already thinking about who to cast as Vivian and Berry and think it’d absolutely be a feel good smash hit!

Thanks so much for inviting me onto the Blog tour and if you liked the sound of The Operator, then buy yourself a copy here and read it as a tonic over these difficult days ahead…

 

‘Just finished THE OPERATOR in an unstoppable rush and it was every bit as glorious, gossipy, delicious and perfect as I’d hoped. Absolutely heaven!’, Jill Mansell

‘What if you could listen in on any phone conversation in town? With great humor and insight, The Operator by Gretchen Berg delivers a vivid look inside the heads and hearts of a group of housewives and pokes at the absurdities of 1950s America, a simpler time that was far from simple. Think The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel in the suburbs with delicious turns of jealousy, infidelity, bigotry, and embezzlement thrown in for good measure. The Operator is irresistible!’, Kathryn Stockett

‘Funny, sweet, secretive, and full of fascinating 1930s, 40s, and 50s period details, The Operator is a poignant look at life in a small town with its nosy neighbors, thorny families, imperfect romances, scandalous pasts, and gratifyingly just deserts. Nothing is as simple – nor as dreadful – as it seems’, Laurie Frankel

‘Funny and fast-paced, this intriguing tale of loose lips sinking relationships will make you wistful for days gone by’ , Heat

Writer On The Shelf

 

Gretchen Berg grew up in the US Midwest and now lives in Oregon. She has always been curious about history and family dynamics, and has a personal family tree of over 16,000 people. Her family research started with her own grandmother’s little brown notebook full of details, and it was the story of her grandmother – herself a switchboard operator in Wooster, Ohio, in the 1950’s – that inspired this book and partly provides an authenticity to the narrative.

THE OPERATOR is her astonishingly accomplished first novel with a vibrant narrative full of brilliantly portrayed characters, surprise plot twists, and a deftly handled exploration of the issues of class and race relations in 1950’s America.

Writer On The Shelf

 

Gretchen Berg grew up in the US Midwest and now lives in Oregon. She has always been curious about history and family dynamics, and has a personal family tree of over 16,000 people. Her family research started with her own grandmother’s little brown notebook full of details, and it was the story of her grandmother – herself a switchboard operator in Wooster, Ohio, in the 1950’s – that inspired this book and partly provides an authenticity to the narrative.

THE OPERATOR is her astonishingly accomplished first novel with a vibrant narrative full of brilliantly portrayed characters, surprise plot twists, and a deftly handled exploration of the issues of class and race relations in 1950’s America.

Eileen – The Making of George Orwell

 

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This is the never-before-told story of George Orwell’s first wife, Eileen, a woman who shaped, supported, and even saved the life of one of the twentieth century’s greatest writers.

In 1934, Eileen O’Shaughnessy’s futuristic poem, ‘End of the Century, 1984’, was published. The next year, she would meet George Orwell, then known as Eric Blair, at a party. ‘Now that is the kind of girl I would like to marry!’ he remarked that night. Years later, Orwell would name his greatest work, Nineteen Eighty-Four, in homage to the memory of Eileen, the woman who shaped his life and his art in ways that have never been acknowledged by history, until now.

From the time they spent in a tiny village tending goats and chickens, through the Spanish Civil War, to the couple’s narrow escape from the destruction of their London flat during a German bombing raid, and their adoption of a baby boy, Eileen is the first account of the Blairs’ nine-year marriage. It is also a vivid picture of bohemianism, political engagement, and sexual freedom in the 1930s and ’40s.

Through impressive depth of research, illustrated throughout with photos and images from the time, this captivating and inspiring biography offers a completely new perspective on Orwell himself, and most importantly tells the life story of an exceptional woman who has been unjustly overlooked.

I’d like to thank Anne Cater and @Unbounders for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and introducing me to a new non-fiction novel to enjoy during my February break in Perthshire.

The fact that this is a true story really adds to the reading experience and introduced me to aspects of Orwell’s life I didn’t know that much about and left me feeling intrigued and desperate to go and find out more about one of my literary heroes.

I love investigating the real history and characters found in the books I’m reading and Sylvia Topp does an amazing job of transporting you back in time and reliving this period, giving us a fascinating insight into his life and allowing us a uniquely voyeuristic appreciation of their relationship as we are able to penetrate their domestic world, rather than seeing the ‘famous’ George Orwell in isolation.

 

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This is a moving and engrossing read. Topp keeps these characters faithfully within their period context, providing much food for thought about marriage, dependence and morality during this period for a 21st-century readership – you start to feel like you have been transported back to this time and are living through this period alongside them.

I think that Topp is extremely skilful in writing about marital relationships: the dynamics between these characters and the way that they were so realistically depicted was a real strength. The trials of living alongside an artist and accepting their lifestyle and priorities is a difficult one to paint without resorting to cliche and I feel that Topp has managed it superbly. There’s no denying that she manages to describe their evolving relationship and all its complexities in a really credible and fascinating way and I became really engrossed in their lives as I read it.

Eileen: The Making of George Orwell by [Topp, Sylvia]

Fans of Orwell will love this beautifully written portrait and I hope that it also brings some of his die-hard fans some new perspectives on the undeniable influence that Eileen had on his life and work

This was my second nonfiction read of the year, and, it was such a good way to continue my nonfiction reading! I recommend it for fans of literature and anyone interested in the creative journey of an artist, feminism and the way that writing and relationships can be inextricably intertwined. I thoroughly enjoyed this insight into Orwell’s life and it just proves as they say – that behind every great man, there has to be a great woman!

 

Thank you so much for inviting me on the tour and if you like the sound of it, buy yourself a copy here and read about their compelling lives for yourself

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Writer On The Shelf

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Sylvia Topp has worked in publishing since college, starting as a copy editor on medical journals, then moving to freelance editing at major literary publishing houses. She was the long-time wife and partner of Tuli Kupferberg, a Beat poet who later was a co-founder, in 1964, of the Fugs, a legendary rock and roll band.

Together Sylvia and Tuli wrote, edited, and designed over thirty books and magazines, including As They Were, 1001 Ways to Live Without Working, and Yeah! magazine. Sylvia joined the staff at The Soho Weekly News and later The Village Voice, before finishing her publishing career at Vanity Fair. Eileen is her first book. She lives in Kingston, Ontario.