Autumn Picks 17o Magazine Reviews

As well as blogging here, I also review books in 17o Magazine, a Scottish lifestyle magazine. You can read the archives here

So that my blog links up with my column, I’m also posting my print reviews here on my blog so that all the posts are available both online and in print…

There’s certainly no shortage of amazing books out this year. Autumn is one of my favourite seasons as it’s such a great time to curl up and read a book. I’m already thinking about cosy jumpers, wood burning stoves and buying new long boots. If you’re one of life’s super organised people – like my friend Alison – you might already be buying Christmas presents too.

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I have written about these books in my column this Autumn and had lots of great feedback about how many people loved these autumn picks. Have you enjoyed any of these fantastic autumn reads? Which ones did you enjoy most?

 

 

A right good story…

 

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The Break – Marian Keyes 

01. BREAK

When I got the advance copy of the latest Marian Keyes, I was so excited. Ever since I read Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married  I’ve been a huge fan and her 13th novel (yes, really) The Break is one of her very best. Amy is happily married, crazily busy at work and enjoying her life. You could literally knock her over with a feather when husband of 17 years, Hugh announces that he wants a six-month ‘break’ from being married to go off and ‘find himself’ after the death of his father. We follow Amy as she begins to rediscover herself after years of being Hugh’s wife with the help of a gallery of lovable characters in typical Marian Keyes style. This is a fantastic read that asks the reader to think about happiness and how we can sometimes find it in the most unexpected of places. By the end of The Break, the O’Connell family feel like your own extended family and I’d love it if she returned to them in one of her next novels. The Break is for fans of light-hearted family drama with a thoughtful and warm-hearted centre. It’s sure to please her army of fans and win her some new ones into the bargain. Go on, treat yourself!

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The Keeper of Lost Things – Ruth Hogan  

02. KEEPER

If you love a feel-good read then they don’t come much better than The Keeper of Lost Things. This is the story of Laura who gets lost in a haze of alcohol and sadness after the end of her marriage and her gradual

 

 transformation after landing a job with Anthony the ‘Keeper of Lost Things’ Soon after her appointment, he dies – leaving her with a house full of strange and wonderful objects and a mission to reunite them with their rightful owners. This dual narrative mingles Laura’s present-day story with Eunice’s adventures working for the eccentric and dashing ‘Bomber’ in the 1970s and I loved the way their stories collide. This, together with the curious collection of lost objects and their weird and wonderful stories will definitely keep you turning the pages. If you love an old-fashioned cosy tale with strong characters to lose yourself in whilst sitting by the fire with a massive cup of tea and a scone, this is absolutely your book. I can see this being a huge seller this Christmas and I’m going to be wrapping it for quite a few people that I know will love Laura’s story and fall under The Keeper of Lost Things’ magical spell.  

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Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman 

03. ELEANOR

I loved this book. It’s one of those books that absolutely everyone I’ve given it to has loved as much as I did and I really hope that you do too. Eleanor Oliphant is a bit of an oddball. She finds it hard to fit in and struggles to cope with the seemingly random social niceties, incomprehensible fashions and bizarre dating landscape of the modern world. Her orderly routine is managed through regular visits to the off-licence for ‘medicinal’ vodka and insidious telephone calls to Mummy, who-  we later discover -seems to be in prison. Set in Glasgow, Eleanor’s unusual perspective on life means that she is stuck in the role of the perpetual loner until she collides with nice-guy Raymond, whose patience and good humour begin to penetrate her protective outer shell and allow her to blossom – in a completely Eleanor way, of course. This book is laugh-out-loud funny. I tried to explain it to someone as being like Bridget Jones meets Rain Man but even that doesn’t do it justice. Reece Witherspoon obviously agrees that it’s a fantastic story as she’s optioning it as a movie next year. I literally can’t wait to see Eleanor on the big screen. A brilliant first novel from a fantastic new voice. I’m definitely looking forward to reading another Gail Honeyman book soon. A five-star read because, as far as I’m concerned,  Eleanor Oliphant was completely awesome.

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The People At Number 9– Felicity Everett 

04. NUMBER 9

I couldn’t put this book down and its characters have stayed with me ever since I finished it.  Sometimes characters do that because you really fall in love with them; in this book, they’ve stayed with me because the characters are so infuriating. Sara becomes intrigued by her new neighbours Lou and Gav – the ‘People at Number 9’. They are definitely the kind of neighbours we’d all be curious about: Lou is a film director and Gavin an artist so their boho lifestyle seems impossibly glamorous and desirable to Sara. She becomes caught up in the web of their seemingly  ‘golden’ world as she tries to gain access to their exclusive social circle. Competitive parenting, couples’ extra-curricular flirtations and the overwhelming desire to be ‘in’ with the ‘in crowd’ all build up in a claustrophobic pressure cooker that you just know is going to end in tears. Sara and Neil seem blinded by the apparent ‘dazzle’ of their neighbours and end up learning the hard way that all that glitters is definitely not gold. For anyone who’s been annoyed by their pretentious colleague, been made to feel inadequate boring or dull because their life doesn’t seem as exciting or dramatic as their neighbours or who’s ended up regretting a moment of trying to keep up with the Joneses – you’ll definitely identify with Sara’s journey. If you’re looking for lovable characters you’re in the wrong place but if you like memorable and credible characters you love to hate you’ll absolutely love The People at Number 9.
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Non-Fiction Page Turners

The Passion Of Harry Bingo  - Peter Ross

05. BINGO

I always like to include something local in my column and this edition is no exception. I was delighted to turn the pages of Harry Bingo and find a chapter on The Bo’ness Fair and The Linlithgow Marches where I least expected it.  Peter Ross definitely hits the right note here, treating these traditions respectfully whilst definitely allowing outsiders a ‘keek’ into these local rituals in all their glory. I also loved the tale that gives this collection its title and was very sad to read that Harry Calderhead AKA Harry Bingo – Partick Thistle’s number one fan –  died this week aged 97 so I wanted other people to meet and love him as much as I did. This collection of 42 short pieces is ideal to pick up and enjoy, like a pick and mix – and would make the perfect stocking filler for brothers, dads or anyone who loves a quirky read. From the Clavie fire rituals to the Naked Rambler, there’s definitely something here for everyone and I’m dedicating this review to my favourite: RIP Harry Bingo; truly one of Scottish football’s absolute legends.

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This Is Going to Hurt– Adam Kay 

06. HURT

Adam Kay’s autobiography is subtitled: ‘The Secret Diary of a Junior Doctor’  and this diary, scribbled in secret during his 97-hour-weeks on the front line of the NHS is brutal, funny and brutally funny in equal measure. This is definitely a no-holds-barred account of what it’s really like to work your fingers to the bone whilst earning less than the hospital parking meter and he pulls no punches in letting us know exactly what goes on behind closed doors. Adam Kay is also a stand-up comedian and some parts of this are genuinely hysterical, but there is a lot of heart here too and you’ll definitely be touched and respectful of the hell that many of these young doctors go through by the end of this painfully honest account of his years in A and E. I’d prescribe this for anyone who loves an autobiography with a difference and I guarantee that you’ll end up wanting to read some of these stories out loud to someone so they can share the joke. My sides are still sore from laughing but be careful, some of these are definitely not for the Christmas dinner table 

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Cheer Up Love – Susan Calman 

07. CHEER UP

It’s great to see Mental Health moving away from being a taboo subject at long last and I’m delighted to see more Scottish writers being brave enough to share their stories without fear of stigma. Susan Calman’s journey on ‘Strictly’ this autumn is sure to make her a household name and this book can only add to her recognition. Cheer Up Love is part memoir, part self-help book and this mixture really works well. From hilarious stories about her lost Wham scarf to frank and honest pointers about what to do when the blackness feels overwhelming; this book is a great read that will hopefully provide a light at the end of the tunnel for those that might need it.  It is also a fascinating insight into the way that Calman’s managed to cope so well with her own mental health issues. Winter can be a difficult time for people who struggle with depression and this could be – quite literally – a life saver for someone. If you really love Susan’s delivery, this book is also available on audiobook so you can hear her for yourself. This was a book I liked a lot more than I expected to and I’d definitely recommend it to people who might find her unusual take on depression a refreshing and useful change from other memoirs dealing with mental health problems. A compassionate and very positive read that will convince you that it is possible to have depression and still find hope in the darkness. Hopefully, this will increase society’s understanding of these struggles and help those that want to support their loved ones too. Well done to Susan for being brave enough to speak up about this difficult issue

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Damaged – Paul Stewart 

08. DAMAGED

As a young lad growing up on a rough Manchester estate, Paul Stewart dreamed of becoming a professional footballer. Sadly, this dream led him helplessly into the clutches of a predatory football coach as – aged only 11-  his dreams turned into a nightmare of hidden secrets, physical and sexual abuse and self-loathing.  This topical and shocking read exposes the dark truth behind his successful career, playing alongside legends like Gazza and Lineker, and achieving FA Cup success for Spurs at Wembley. Stewart buried his secrets deeply, turning to drugs and alcohol to mask his feelings and hiding the full truth from even his closest family. It was only when the first football coach abuse story broke that Stewart courageously decided to waive anonymity and break his silence so that others too might find the strength to come forward. This is a brave and harrowing read that will shock many readers. The extent of the abuse perpetrated by these men, entrusted with young people desperate to chase their dream is truly incomprehensible and I could not put this book down. You definitely don’t have to be a football fan to enjoy this autobiography but be prepared to be shocked at what was going on in plain sight for far too many young people for far too long. One of my non-fiction reads of the year.

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Crime & Thrillers

All The Wicked Girls – Chris Whitaker 

09. WICKED

Summer and Raine Ryan are 15-year-old twins, living in small town Grace, Alabama.  Summer is as sunny as her name: a model student who wants to work her way out of her small-town life and become a success – desperate to cast off her reputation as the daughter of small-time crook Joe Ryan. Her sister, Raine has gone in entirely the opposite direction and seems to have decided that if she’s going to get the Ryan reputation anyway, she might as well live up to it with all she’s got.  Despite their differences, the sisters are extremely close and Raine is devastated when Summer suddenly goes missing – especially given that she’s the sixth young girl to disappear in as many years. Raine is battling her reputation, her family name and the way that the inhabitants of Grace, have decided who deserves their help and who doesn’t in the pursuit of her sister’s disappearance. This is a tightly woven tale of small-town prejudices with a fantastic cast and a skilfully constructed plot. You’ll need to pay close attention if you want to second-guess this writer and the ending definitely had me turning the pages backwards looking for all the hints that I’d missed. If you love a mystery that keeps you guessing and a fantastic character-driven novel then look no further. All the Wicked Girls is a wickedly good read and I’m definitely addicted to Chris Whitaker – a British writer who’s beating the American thriller writers at their own game

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Anything You Do say –  Gillian McAllister 

10. DO SAY

Gillian McAllister is definitely one to watch. After devouring her debut novel in one afternoon, I was desperate to read Anything You Do Say and I can promise you right now that I wasn’t disappointed. I love a book with a good moral dilemma at the heart of it and the situation Joanna ends up in is one that kept me up at night until I’d finished it –  it’s seriously good. Joanna is one of life’s true avoiders: if she can get out of having to deal with a problem, she’ll definitely try. From hiding her bank statements to filing difficult life decisions under ‘later’ she’s determined to take as little responsibility for her life as is humanly possible. One night she hears footsteps behind her as she is walking home and, terrified that it’s the man who’d been pestering her in the bar earlier, she turns around at his approach and pushes him. Hard. Once she sees his motionless body at the bottom of a flight of steep steps, Joanna is faced with a terrible decision: will she face up to her actions or bury her head in the sand and flee the scene? This book emphasises the fact that the world is very rarely black and white and the right thing to do is often harder to face than you’d like to think. A satisfying and engrossing read that you’ll lose yourself in, perfect for a winter Sunday afternoon on the sofa.  I think this would make a fab series on TV. If you love Dr Foster, Broadchurch or Apple Tree Yard you should definitely give this a try. You won’t regret it

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Good Me, Bad Me – Ali Land  

11. GOOD ME

15 year-old Annie is the daughter of the notorious ‘Peter Pan’ serial killer and we first meet her wrestling with her inner demons after a lifetime of exposure to her mother’s depraved acts. As Good Me Bad Me progresses, it dawns on us that it’s actually even worse than we initially thought: Annie was also forced to participate in her mother’s sick and perverse games during years of horrendous psychological abuse. Annie is sent to live with a foster family after her mother’s arrest and her gradual rebirth as ‘Milly’ is fascinating to witness. A ‘shiny new me’ is what Annie/ Milly promises herself, but this reinvention is definitely far more complex than she – or the reader – realises. The internal struggle between the Good and Bad Milly provides us with a fast-paced and frequently harrowing read that takes us right inside Milly’s mind and exposes the long-term damage that her traumatic childhood has caused.  Ali Land’s novel is a stunner, taking a difficult subject matter and weaving an addictive narrative that will make you think twice about the nature: nurture debate. Milly’s vivid first-person voice plunges you headfirst into the mind of a very complex character that will definitely make you question your own moral judgement. Totally engrossing and set to be one of this year’s contenders for the Girl On The Train’s crown. Read it now.

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Perfect Death – A D.I Callanach Thriller – Helen Fields 

12. PERFECT DEATH

I like to recommend books set in Scotland whenever I can and when I discover a series as gripping as this one, I make sure I don’t keep it to myself. If you haven’t read any of Helen Fields’ DI Callanach novels, set in Edinburgh, then you’re definitely missing a trick. This is the third one and I’d definitely recommend starting at the beginning with Perfect Remains. Perfect Death, book number III in the series,  opens with Luc Callanach and newly appointed DCI Ava Turner investigating a serial poisoner roaming the streets of Edinburgh, whose cold-hearted modus operandi causes his victims to only realise the extent of their affliction once it is too late to save them. This is as gripping and fast-paced as Fields’ first two novels – with the added bonus, which readers of writers like Karin Slaughter and Tana French will recognise, that your relationship with the main characters deepens as the time you’ve invested in them really pays off.  You really start to care what happens to these characters as the pace intensifies and the ending itself is truly nail-biting. I love introducing readers to new writers – and if you haven’t met Luc Callanach already, then you’re definitely in for a winter treat as you can binge on all three in one go just like a box-set. Happy reading…

Again, it was so hard to choose just a dozen out of all of the fantastic books being published over the next few months.

My trip to the Edinburgh Book Festival to search out the best books for 17 Degrees readers made it even harder as I was quite literally spoiled for choice.

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 I hope that I’ve managed to find something you like and if you have enjoyed one of my picks, please tweet me at @OnTheShelfBooks and let me know. This edition we are getting right into the festive spirit and hosting a fantastic Winter Giveaway.

 

Look out on the 17o Facebook page for our 12 Books Of Christmas  promotion. Every day – from the 1st December to the 12th – we will be posting a feature on one of these books, asking you to tell us whose stocking you’d like to pop it into.

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All you then to do is tell us and then  like and share the posts and the winner each day will receive a copy of that book fresh from Santa’s workshop

 

Jill

 

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CWA Anthology of Short Stories

Crime spreads across the globe in this new collection of short stories from the Crime Writer’s Association, as a conspiracy of prominent crime authors take you on a world mystery tour. Highlights of the trip include a treacherous cruise to French Polynesia, a horrifying trek in South Africa, a murderous train-ride across Ukraine and a vengeful killing in Mumbai. But back home in the UK, life isn’t so easy either. Dead bodies turn up on the backstreets of Glasgow, crime writers turn words into deeds at literary events, and Lady Luck seems to guide the fate of a Twickenham hood. Showcasing the range, breadth and vitality of the contemporary crime-fiction genre, these twenty-eight chilling and unputdownable stories will take you on a trip you’ll never forget.

 

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It’s the perfect weekend for some fantastic crime writing.  I love all genres of books – but there something about these dark nights that makes me reach for something a little dark to read…

This Anthology published by the fab people at Orenda Books will definitely keep you turning the pages if you’re a crime lover, and might even go a long way to converting you even if it’s not a genre you’re usually drawn to. This Anthology has something for everyone. I loved the fact that it contained bite-size morsels from some of my favourite crime writers – like Anna Mazzola Susi Holliday Ragnar Jonasson  and Julia Crouch and also introduced me to some new writers that I’m definitely keen to explore further and I’ve already put some of their books on my Santa list – but more of that later…

I also loved the fact that the ‘theme’ of this anthology was a ‘Mystery Tour’ which meant that you could be exploring Scandi settings in one short story – ‘ A Postcard from Iceland’ by Ragnar Jonasson and then jetting off to Key West with the Snowbirds in Kate Rhodes’ tale. It’s perfect for that late night ‘Just one more chapter…’ feeling that you get when you are really enjoying a book and the fact that the stories are so diverse really means that there’s something here for everyone.

There are 28 short stories here – dark and lighthearted, lengthy and shorter more Instamatic pieces and famous and less well-known writers too. I think this is a perfect Christmas gift as you’re not risking them having ‘read it already’ and if they’re anything like me – they’ll probably finish it with a few more writers that they’ve developed a taste for and can go off and explore further.

My favourites were the Anna Mazzola story – no spoilers, I want you to read it for yourself and enjoy it as much as I did and the opening story by Ann Cleeves entitled ‘The Queen of Mystery’ which you’ll definitely savour whether you know Ann’s writing or not. I also loved the fact that the anthology doesn’t just contain British writers but several writers in translation so your mystery tour really does have a very international flavour.

Thanks so much to Anne Cater for sending me a copy and asking me to take part on the Blog Tour. What I’m not thanking her so much for are the seven new books I’ve added to my wishlist after reading this anthology. That #TBR is rising and rising 🙂

If you loved the sound of this book, you can buy it here  and also check out the rest of the Orenda Bookshelf if you’re looking for a fantastic Christmas prezzie for the reader in your life…

Contributions from:
Ann Cleeves, C.L. Taylor, Susi Holliday, Martin Edwards, Anna Mazzola, Carol Anne Davis, Cath Staincliffe, Chris Simms, Christine Poulson, Ed James, Gordon Brown, J.M. Hewitt, Judith Cutler, Julia Crouch, Kate Ellis, Kate Rhodes, Martine Bailey, Michael Stanley, Maxim Jakubowski, Paul Charles, Paul Gitsham, Peter Lovesey, Ragnar Jónasson, Sarah Rayne, Shawn Reilly Simmons, Vaseem Khan, William Ryan and William Burton McCormick

The CWA, or Crime Writers Association has been supporting, promoting, and celebrating crime fiction for over 60 years. The CWA runs the prestigious Dagger Awards

You can find the CWA on Twitter at @the_cwa, or on their website: https://thecwa.co.uk/.

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Editor on the Shelf

Martin-Edwards-The-Author

Martin Edwards was educated in Northwich and at Balliol College, Oxford University, taking a first class honours degree in law. He trained as a solicitor in Leeds and moved to Liverpool on qualifying in 1980. He published his first legal article at the age of 25 and become a partner in the firm of Mace and Jones in 1984.

He is married to Helena with two children (Jonathan and Catherine) and lives in Lymm. Martin is a member of the Murder Squad collective of crime writers and is chairman of the nominations sub-committee for the CWA Diamond Dagger (crime writing’s most prestigious award). In 2007 he was appointed the Archivist of the Crime Writers Association.

 

 

A Pearl for my Mistress – Annabel Fielding

A story of class, scandal and forbidden passions in the shadow of war. Perfect for fans of Iona Grey, Gill Paul and Downton Abbey.

England, 1934. Hester Blake, an ambitious girl from an industrial Northern town, finds a job as a lady’s maid in a small aristocratic household.
Despite their impressive title and glorious past, the Fitzmartins are crumbling under the pressures of the new century. And in the cold isolation of these new surroundings, Hester ends up hopelessly besotted with her young mistress, Lady Lucy.
Accompanying Lucy on her London Season, Hester is plunged into a heady and decadent world. But hushed whispers of another war swirl beneath the capital… and soon, Hester finds herself the keeper of some of society’s most dangerous secrets…
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Hester’s story is a proper page-turner. If you love a gripping family saga with well-developed characters and an irresistible storyline, you’ll love this period read from Annabel Fielding.
I am a huge fan of Sarah Waters’ period novels and I saw shades of Waters in this well-drawn wartime drama. Hester is drawn to the big city from the north in the hope of finding a different life, far away from her childhood home in the north. Gaining a job with the wealthy Fitzmartin family is the first step and she finds herself drawn to their daughter who is far from the obedient demure young lady she is expected to be.
 Hester is drawn to Lady Lucy like a moth to a flame despite the inherent danger of this illicit attraction. The forbidden nature of their attraction is juxtaposed with the turbulent politics of the time where admiration for fascism, support for Hitler and fear and suspicion of the Nazi regime all clashed with one another. I feel that this novel balances the personal and political very skilfully, blending them together seamlessly to make Hester’s situation all the more credible due to the care that Annabel Fielding has taken to get the period setting exactly right and immerse you in Hester’s story.
This novel is set right in the middle of a vastly changing Europe – the bright young things, flappers and the jazz age have paved the way for all of the old certainties about class, gender and sexuality to be disintegrating and once these certainties come adrift, it is more and more difficult to understand exactly where your allegiances lie – and who you are loyal to…
The love affair itself is convincingly depicted and we see exactly why Hester would be drawn to the bold, iconoclastic and rebellious Lady Lucy. The references to real people of the time  – such as Unity Mitford – add another dimension to this compelling read as it makes us remember that there were many Lady Lucys who flirted with politics and held fairly extreme views that might seem very shocking nowadays. I felt very invested in Hester’s tale and enjoyed seeing the workings of Hebden Hall from ‘below stairs’ as I feel that it gave a real insight into the inner workings of these homes and how they were still being run, even in the 1930s.
I watched The Remains of the Day whilst I was reading  A Pearl for My Mistress and I saw lots of parallels in both writers’ skilful depictions of political uncertainty and never knowing quite who to trust, set against a more personal exploration of passion and feeling that your emotions can never quite be spoken aloud due to circumstance.
I really enjoyed this fascinating period piece and it fitted in with the Remembrance day celebrations as I was reading it and thinking about the eventual circumstances of the war that was brewing in this novel.  Hester was a stand-out character for me and I enjoyed seeing this ‘golden world’ from an outsider’s perspective and witnessing the ‘Downton Abbey’ feeling through her eyes.
I look forward to hearing more from Annabel Fielding and it’s made me go off in search of other books set during WW2 – I might even go off in search of some Nancy Mitford to get another fix of the upper classes between the wars.
Author on the Shelf.

Annabel Fielding is a novelist, a history geek and an international woman of mystery.

 

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She has long since pledged her allegiance to travel, tea and books. On her blog you will find travel posts, lesser-known facts, some photography and (mostly) historical fiction-related book reviews. To check out her blog click here.

To buy your copy now click here

Thank you to Annabel & HQ Digital for a copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.

The Faithful – Juliet West

Huge thanks to Jess Duffy over at Pan Macmillan for sending me a review a copy of The Faithful by Juliet West in return for an honest review – I am so delighted to share my review here as I absolutely loved this fascinating portrayal of wartime passions, fateful decisions and self deception.

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July 1935. In the village of Aldwick on the Sussex coast, sixteen-year-old Hazel faces a long, dull summer with just her self-centred mother Francine for company. But then Francine decamps to London with her lover Charles, Oswald Mosley’s blackshirts arrive in Aldwick, and Hazel’s summer suddenly becomes more interesting. She finds herself befriended by two very different people: Lucia, an upper-class blackshirt, passionate about the cause; and Tom, a young working-class boy, increasingly scornful of Mosley’s rhetoric. In the end, though, it is Tom who wins Hazel’s heart – and Hazel who breaks his.

Autumn 1936. Now living in London, Hazel has grown up fast over the past year. But an encounter with Tom sends her into freefall. He must never know why she cut off all contact last summer, betraying the promises they’d made. Yet Hazel isn’t the only one with secrets. Nor is she the only one with a reason to keep the two of them apart . . .

From the beaches of Sussex to the battlefields of civil war Spain, The Faithful is a rich and gripping tale of love, deception and desire.

 

If you read my blog at all, you’ll know that I love a bit of a tale where it sends me diving off into a tailspin of ‘research’ into the real story behind the novel after I finish a good read – and The Faithful was definitely one of the most fascinating in terms of what I found. It’s so interesting to uncover a very different story of Britain during the lead up to WWII and think about Fascism in Britain as well as on the continent through the eyes of an ordinary girl after some extraordinary experiences.

Juliet West is a writer at the top of her game; if you’ve read and loved Before The Fall, you’re in for another treat: this is top-class wartime fiction with strongly realised characters and  an emotional punch – If you haven’t read it yet, you definitely should. It’s one of the most human wartime novels I’ve ever read and I really found it hard to ‘decompress’ from the world Juliet West recreates for us after finishing it.

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I love the way that in both novels there is a skilful balance of foreshadowing and suspense of what is to come so that we feel the balance subtly shift and change as we read, wondering what the ramifications of each decision the characters make will be. Bea is someone who you will follow keenly as you await her decisions and think closely about what you might have done in similar circumstances.

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I hate giving spoilers about such an engrossing read; instead I’ll praise Juliet West’s deft characterisation that has us hating Francine one minute for her closed minded selfish attitude and then moving closer to understanding her in the context of her time and social class the next. This is human history at its finest – making us see the war not as a list of events but a succession of relationships, decisions and human frailties that accumulated in tragedy for thousands of people. I learned a lot about the ‘ordinary’ face of Fascism and exactly how it appealed to so many people in the years between the war – far more than I have done in many of the factual articles and films I’ve seen and this is testament to the research and detail woven into the novel which really brings this complex period to life for us.

West is equally impressive conjuring up the Spanish civil war as she is in recreating the complex social stratification of British seaside towns and the diverse settings in the novel give this novel an epic feel – I kept wondering who I’d cast if I was making a film of The Faithful and imagining it coming to life on the big screen was hugely satisfying. If you loved Atonement, All The Light We Cannot See, The Nightingale or Everyone Brave is Forgiven, you’ll absolutely love the wartime setting of this book and if you love the human side of history you’ll definitely be caught up in this very human tale of truth, deception and consequences just as much as I was.

I absolutely loved the evocative description and lyrical language in this novel and got swept up in the story so much so that I didn’t want to leave. The portrayal of mothers in The Faithful is another aspect of this novel that really stood out for me and I loved the juxtaposition of relationships that we are presented with Bea and Francine, Hazel and Tom are unforgettable characters and the way that their lives intersect leaves the reader asking themselves probing questions about the reasons we make decisions and if we are being as honest with ourselves as we think we are at some of the critical times in our lives…

Writer On The Shelf:

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Juliet West worked as a journalist before taking an MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University, where she won the Kate Betts’ Memorial Prize. Before The Fall, her debut novel, was shortlisted for the Myriad Editions novel writing competition in 2012. Juliet also writes short stories and poetry, and won the H E Bates short story prize in 2009. She lives in West Sussex with her husband and three children.

You can follow Juliet on Twitter @JulietWest14

 

 

 

Snare – Has it caught you yet? Blog Tour

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After a messy divorce, attractive young mother Sonja is struggling to provide for herself and keep custody of her son. With her back to the wall, she resorts to smuggling cocaine into Iceland, and finds herself caught up in a ruthless criminal world. As she desperately looks for a way out of trouble, she must pit her wits against her nemesis, Bragi, a customs officer, whose years of experience frustrate her new and evermore daring strategies. Things become even more complicated when Sonja embarks on a relationship with a woman, Agla. Once a high-level bank executive, Agla is currently being prosecuted in the aftermath of the Icelandic financial crash. Set in a Reykjavík still covered in the dust of the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption, and with a dark, fast-paced and chilling plot and intriguing characters, Snare is an outstandingly original and sexy Nordic crime thriller, from one of the most exciting new names in crime fiction.

This was a fantastic read. A stand-out in an increasingly competitive field -Lila Sigurdardottir has crafted a book that you’ll take a long time to forget once you’ve finished it. It certainly ensnared me.

One of the most striking things I’ll remember about Snare – and there are many – is that I was reading this chilly piece of Scandi noir in the desert heat of Las Vegas this month and despite the 80 degrees or so outside, in my head, I was very firmly transported to Reykjavik and experiencing all of the twists and turns alongside Sonja in the midst of the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption.

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Sonja’s determined nature really spoke to me and she definitely stepped off the page for me in her determination to gain custody of her son Tomas. Sigurdardottir definitely makes us ask ourselves exactly how far we ourselves would be prepared to go to hold onto the things that we hold precious…

The snare that Sonja finds herself caught in becomes increasingly:  ‘Devil or the Deep Blue Sea’ – smuggling cocaine or losing your son is certainly a predicament that few people even dream of, never mind have to cope with. Having just been through American customs on my trip, I felt heart-pounding enough having NOTHING in my suitcase so I can only imagine how Sonja felt on her ‘expeditions’

I also thought that Bragi – the suspicious and observant customs official who finds himself wondering exactly WHY this striking woman keeps appearing it the airport  – was a deftly drawn character. His through processes provide a skilful counterpoint to Sonja’s voice and Sigurdardottir is careful that we do not just see him as a one-dimensional character: as well as his rather dour official face, he is a man struggling to cope with the deterioration of his wife who suffers greatly from Alzheimer’s. This book is beautifully balanced and does not just cast stereotypical or one-sided characters that can so often appear in thrillers, but has a cast of nuanced and credible characters that definitely drew me in and held me tight.

I was so drawn into this novel that I was delighted to find The Book Trail review when doing my customary obsessive research  – as ever, this fantastic blog transported me effortlessly to Sonja’s environment where I could see for myself the exact places that she was describing to me. Snare is such an evocative read that it was fascinating to see if the visions that I’d been conjuring up in my head in arid Las Vegas were matched by the reality of Sigurdardottir’s Icelandic reality. If this sparks your curiosity, I’ve included the link below so that you can see for  yourself

RESEARCH THE SNARE WITH THE BOOKTRAIL RIGHT HERE

The other aspect of  Snare that stood out for me was the presentation of Tomas, Sonja’s young son. I liked the human factor that this gave Snare and again set it apart from much crime thrillers and gave it a much more human edge. He reminds us of the whole reason WHY Sonja gets herself all snared up in the first place and makes readers think about the all too many human stories behind crimes committed rather than just thinking ‘drug smuggler’ or ‘criminal’ it forces us to think that people who commit crimes are wives, mothers, struggling and most importantly – just like us.

The other stand-out aspect of Snare is the story of Sonja and her love-interest Agla.  The best part of this story is that it definitely does not feel ‘shoehorned’ in. Agla and Sonja wind up in a passionate relationship where the fact that they are two women is irrelevant. They are two people who fall for each other during tough times for Iceland and their dynamic rings very true. Agla is in there to depict that the Financial rash in Iceland definitely brought out the very worst in some people and her selfish and high handed outlook is an enormous contrast to Sonja’s way of interacting with the people around her which remains human at all times – despite the daily difficulties she is forced to endure.

This will definitely appeal to fans of Scandi noir and is hopefully another fantastic Orenda pick from Karen that will encourage more people to choose books in translation rather than just stick to UK authours and famous voices. It really is well worth your while to cast your net more widely in terms of crime and thrillers right now and the Orenda back catalogue is a fantastic place to start ORENDA BOOKS Click here and see what else takes your fancy…

I’d like to pass on my thanks to the ever-lovely Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in the Blog Tour and sending me a copy of the book. It’s such a gorgeous cover that at least three people asked me what I was reading on the plane and in the hotel and the inside is definitely just as striking. Get your hands on your own copy here

BUY A COPY OF SNARE

 

Writer on the Shelf

Lilja Sigurðard.

Lilja Sigurðardóttir is an Icelandic crime-writer and playwright, born in 1972. She is the author of four crime novels, Steps (Spor), 2009, Forgiveness (Fyrirgefning), 2010, Snare (Gildran) 2015, Tangle (Netið) 2016 and Cage (Búrið) 2017.

Her debut stage-play Big Babies (Stóru Börnin) was staged in the winter of 2013-2014, became critically acclaimed and won the Icelandic Theatre Prize Gríman as “Best play of the year.”

Lilja´s latest book, Tangle, (Netið) was published in Iceland in October 2016 by Forlagid publishing. The rights to the novel have already been sold to France/Switzerland/Luxembourg/Canada (Éditions Métailié); World English (Orenda Books)

Follow her on Twitter @Lilja1972

The Yellow Room Blog Tour

Haunted by a tragic childhood accident, Chala’s whole life has been moulded by guilt and secrets. After the death of her stepfather, who took his own secrets to the grave, Chala re-evaluates her life and volunteers at a Kenyan orphanage, where she gets caught up in the turmoil of the post-election violence that took over a thousand lives in 2008. But, although she can walk away from Kenya, she cannot walk away from herself… With a poignant insight into Kenya’s recent crisis, Yellow Room is a drama that explores the power of secrets to run, and ruin, our lives.

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Shelan Rodger’s Yellow Room is definitely a strikingly beautiful book. It’s one of those novels that imprints itself upon you as it’s not just a fantastic story, it’s so gorgeously  written.

I actually knew very little about the political landscape of Kenya, but Yellow Room brought it vividly to life as we witness these events alongside Chala and see the profound effects of the post-election violence at first hand.

The colour yellow permeates this novel and the colours sounds and images of Kenya saturate the pages. I teach many students who, like Shelan Rodgers would have difficulty in describing where they are ‘from’ – maybe one of the advantages of this nomadic lifestyle is the innate ability to see any place with fresh and insightful eyes and this novel certainly achieves this.

There are of course many kinds of bravery and I think that this is one of the most memorable aspects of this novel and certainly one that will stay with me for a while.

The quotation:

 Secrets are like scars that heal over a wound that never quite disappears.

is a striking and apt one and I loved the way that the undercurrents  in this novel are managed so as to keep you reading on – as there is so much that is hidden, unsaid or veiled in Chala’s world.

Its always a good sign sign if I head straight off to research the time, place or events after reading a novel and it’s certainly true to say that Chala’s fictional experiences were so deftly handled that I was determined to find out more about the real-life events that she found herself caught up in. Even though the Kenyan scenes were at times brutal and harrowing, the powerful storyline and realistically drawn characters keep you reading on, to find out what answers will be revealed by the end of this fantastic read.

If you enjoy “travelling” to far off places through your reading and characters that draw you in and keep you guessing then you’ll love Yellow Room. I also found Shelan Rodgers story fascinating and you can find more about her by following the Blog Tour and reading some of the pieces by some of the other fab bloggers on the tour. I first became interested in finding out more about Shelan after reading Anne’s piece in the summer, link below:

Anne’s review and Shelan’s piece

 

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Id like to take this opportunity to thank Dome Press for inviting me to take part in this fantastic blog tour after being so intrigued to read about Chala’s journey this summer. If you haven’t read it yet, you definitely should…

My original Blogpost was ‘eaten’ and disappeared, but I actually loved the chance to revisit “Yellow Room” whilst here in Las Vegas for our Anniversary trip. It’s given me the opportunity to chat about it to three ladies who stopped by to ask what I was writing about and they’re definitely going to look it up later!

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Writer on on the shelf

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Shelan Rodgers’ life is a patchwork of different cultures and landscapes; she was born in Nigeria, grew up among the Tiwi – an aboriginal community on an island north of Darwin, and moved to England at the age of eleven. She travelled to Buenos Aires after graduating in Modern Languages from Oxford, and stayed for nine years. Then another chapter in England, followed by six years in Kenya on flower farms by Lake Naivasha and the lower slopes of Mount Kenya.

Now, Shelan lives in Andalucia, Spain. She has learned in and outside many classrooms around the world, teaching in some of them too. Her professional career has revolved around international education, learning and development, with an emphasis during her time in Kenya on anti-discrimination.

http://www.shelanrodger.com

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Dangerous Crossing – Rachel Rhys Blog Tour

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England, September 1939
Lily Shepherd boards a cruise liner for a new life in Australia and is plunged into a world of cocktails, jazz and glamorous friends. But as the sun beats down, poisonous secrets begin to surface. Suddenly Lily finds herself trapped with nowhere to go …

Australia, six-weeks later
The world is at war, the cruise liner docks, and a beautiful young woman is escorted onto dry land in handcuffs. 

What has she done?

This was such a treat to read. I absolutely lost myself aboard Rachel Rhys’ fantastic novel. Dangerous Crossing  is a wonderfully evocative depiction of life aboard a floating world and I lost myself in the twists and turns of the passengers I met on board.

Lily Shepherd is sailing to Australia on the Orontes as part of the Government’s assisted-passage scheme for domestic workers.  Her plan is to seek employment as a maid when she arrives and at first is entranced by the strange newness of life aboard this very different world.

Her two companions are very different to her and her homesickness threatens to overwhelm her until she is diverted by glamorous Eliza – who’s from a very different social class. Dazzling and vivacious Eliza leads Lily down a intriguing, confusing and sometimes dangerous pathway where the normal boundaries become blurred in the glamorous and heady and atmosphere she now finds herself in.

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I loved it so much, I made this collage immediately after reading it.

Lily is a fantastic narrator: because she is so entranced by the life aboard the Orontes, we see life on board through her eyes and find it as fascinating, magical  and glamorous as she does. Her growing friendship with mysterious Edward and his sister Helena provides an interesting counterpoint to her adventures with the glamorous and outré Eliza Campbell and the reader develops a dawning sense that most people aboard have some sort of secret that they are hiding as they follow Lily deeper and deeper into the ship’s  web of intrigue.

Rachel Rhys’ pedigree as a writer of thrillers is wonderfully apparent as the plot skilfully sails towards its conclusion. Rhys definitely gives Agatha Christie a run for her money in terms of keeping the reader guessing and leaves lots of red herrings as Lily gets more and more out of her depth in understanding anyone’s true motives or who she can truly trust. I hate giving spoilers, so I’m definitely avoiding too much detail about exactly what secrets and lies are being kept aboard the Orontes – but it definitely kept me turning the pages in Crete as I raced towards its conclusion.

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The period is deftly conjured and the heady atmosphere is skilfully realised by Rachel Rhys. I love this pre-war period, its glamorous clothing, the dances and drinks on board, the sense that the world is changing around them as they hang suspended in a closed world where time is almost suspended in their own claustrophobic world.  As the Orontes sails into warmer waters,  the atmosphere and tensions also ‘heat up’  around Lily whose naivety and innocence mean that we often see more than she is telling us which is a very effective means of subtly increasing the tension as we go.

 

I’ve never been on a cruise and I loved the way that Dangerous Crossing allowed me to vicariously experience the glamour, intrigue and excitement from my sun lounger in Crete. I read this in a single day, I was so fascinated by Lily’s tale and I desperately wanted to know who was being escorted off the ship at the start of the novel. The plotting is deft, the characters are larger than life and wonderfully painted and the setting is gorgeous. This is an amazing read and I absolutely adored it. If you like your thrillers dark and chilling, this might not appeal to you – but if, like me, you enjoy a great read with a twist in the tale then you’ll definitely love it too. The climax was well worth the wait – and I definitely hadn’t guessed the outcome and actually dropped the book when the secret was revealed!

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Thanks so much for Anne Cater for inviting me aboard on the Blog Tour  –  It was definitely a voyage I didn’t want to end. I’d love to see this on the screen and I’m keeping my fingers crossed as I think it would be amazing. I’ve already spent time casting Eliza, Lily and Edward in my mind…

 

Doesn’t it look fabulous in my #OnTheShelfie?

I actually loved this book so much, I made the collage above and quite a few GIFs too.

It’s that good. You should definitely treat yourself. All aboard the Orontes!

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Published in Paperback August 10th 2017 by Transworld (UK) 

BUY IT HERE