Thursday, 21 June 2018

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

The story begins in 1962. Somewhere on a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and views an apparition: a beautiful woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an American starlet, he soon learns, and she is dying.

And the story begins again today, half a world away in Hollywood, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio's back lot searching for the woman he last saw at his hotel fifty years before.

I have so enjoyed reading this book. Set in southern Italy I had the thrill of reading it whilst sitting on a sun soaked terrace overlooking Lake Garda in Italy. Although I was further north than the novel is set, it provided my reading experience with a certain degree of authenticity.

That said, this is a wonderful book to read and I would have enjoyed it just as much on a grey rainy day in England because this book has the ability to transport the reader to warmer climes through it's pages of atmospheric descriptions. I am certain that I would have believed myself to be in Italy even if I had not physically been there.

The book is also partly set in America and it moves seamlessly between place, past and present being set partly in the Italy of 1962 and present day America.

Pasquale and Dee are two of the most delightful fictional characters I have had the pleasure of reading about. However, factual characters also play a part in this book with the actor, Richard Burton, having a significant role.

In fact, the authors sense of character development is first class and I remained engaged by the characters over a sixty year development; no small task for an author but was deftly handled by Mr. Walter.

This book would appeal to anyone who enjoys characterization in their reading along with a perfect setting and some romance to boot. I would love to hear your thoughts on this lovely book.

ISBN: 978 0670922659

Publisher: Penguin

About the Author:

Jess Walter is the author of five novels and one nonfiction book. His work has been translated into more than 20 languages and his essays, short fiction, criticism and journalism have been widely published, in DetailsPlayboyNewsweekThe Washington Post, the Los Angeles TimesThe Boston Globe among many others.

Walter also writes screenplays and was the co-author of Christopher Darden’s 1996 bestseller In Contempt. He lives with his wife Anne and children, Brooklyn, Ava and Alec in his childhood home of Spokane, Washington.


http://www.jesswalter.com/

Monday, 18 June 2018

Library Lowdown - 16th June 2018

I got three books from the library this week and they are all titles that I have wanted to read for some time. Have you read any of them?


Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

An intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing examines the power and limitations of family bonds. Rich with Ward's distinctive lyrical language, it brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first-century America.








The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey 


Outside a London theatre, a throng of people wait expectantly for the last performance of a popular musical.

But as the door open at last, something spoils all thought of entertainment: a man in the queue is found murdered by the deadly thrust of a stiletto....







A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh

Wealthy Sir Hubert Handesley's original and lively weekend house-parties were deservedly famous, but the one planned for this weekend was to prove unique.

To amuse his guests, Sir Hubert had devised a new form of the fashionable Murder Game. A guest was secretly selected to commit a 'murder', the victim to be of his own choosing. At an appropriate moment he would tap the victim on the shoulder, say 'You're the corpse,' the lights would go out, a gong would boom, and everyone would assemble to figure out who did it.

But when the lights went up this time there was a real corpse, with a real dagger in the back, all seven suspects had had time to concoct skilful alibis - and it was Chief Detective-Inspector Roderick Alleyn who had to try and figure out the murderer.


Thursday, 14 June 2018

An Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

Sophie's husband, James, is a loving father and a successful public figure. Yet he stands accused of a terrible crime. Sophie is convinced he is innocent and desperate to protect her precious family from the lies that threaten to engulf him. She's kept his darkest secret ever since they were first lovers, at Oxford. And if she stood by him then, she can do it now.

Kate is the barrister prosecuting his case. She is certain that James is guilty and determined he should pay. No stranger to suffering herself, she doesn't flinch from posing the questions few want to hear. About what happens between a man and a woman when they're alone: alone in bed, alone in an embrace, alone in a lift....

Is James the victim of an unfortunate misunderstanding or the perpetrator of something sinister? This scandal - which forces Sophie to appraise her marriage and Kate her demons - will have far-reaching consequences for them all.

Part courtroom drama; part a portrait of a marriage; part an exploration of the extent to which our memories still haunt us, Anatomy of a Scandal is a disarming and provocative psychological thriller.

This was a gripping read which I read very quickly as I was keen to see the way in which the plot would develop. It has a very current feel to it and I think it portrayed very well a view of parliament and the upper classes that ordinary people like myself have of these institutions.

It is a character driven book and told from the perspectives of the three main characters, Kate, Sophie and James. This made it very easy to engage with them even whilst not necessarily liking them. In addition to these three perspectives the book also moves between past and present which allows the reader to understand the background of these three characters and, therefore, how they have evolved into the people they are in the present day narrative.

A thoughtful, sensitive and engrossing read that kept me up way past my bedtime. This is the first book I have read by Sarah Vaughan and I really enjoyed it. It has been a while since I read a courtroom drama and it has made me want to read more. Do you have any suggestions?

ISBN: 978 1471164996

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

About the Author:

Anatomy of a Scandal combines Sarah Vaughan's experiences as a news reporter and a political correspondent with her time as a student reading English at a historic Oxford college in the mid Nineties. She is married with two children and lives just outside Cambridge.

Monday, 11 June 2018

The Brondesbury Tapestry by Helen Harris

"Telling your life story is not just wallowing in nostaligia ... It gives people the opportunity to pass on the version of their life they want. It gives them a chance to right wrongs, to set down burdens they've been carrying around for years: secrets, horrisble things ....."

Six women and one man gather in a rundown community centre in North London for a life writing class run by Dorothy, their uniquely unqualified teacher. They have urgent stories to tell and, as they recount them, they discover they are connected in unexpected ways.

Illustrated with sharp line drawings by illustrator Beatrice Baumgartner-Cohen, The Brondesbury Tapestry is a quirky, perceptive look at a group of people who feel the modern world has left them behind but who have decided that they will still have the last word.

Confession time - I had never heard of Helen Harris before I read this book but I have every intention of becoming more familiar with her work as this is a book that is very well worth reading. Initially, I was attracted by the cover with its very pretty needlework design, as well as the word 'tapestry' in it's title. As a needlewoman myself, I am sure you can appreciate my original interest and surprise, as when I started reading I realised that both of these descriptors are the perfect metaphor for this story as they represent the coming together of stories that the characters in this book bring to the narrative.

And what a wonderful cast of characters they are. Each a little quirky in their own way and all entirely different personalities which make this book thoroughly enjoyable to read. It is very clear that the author has a keen eye for what goes on around her and, therefore, she creates her characters with a realism that makes them all very easy to engage with. Even those who were not so nice she deals with sensitively and arouses empathy in her readers for the individual characters.

It is the voices of the characters that really make this book something special. Each very different from the next and as they read their writing to one another it is very clear who we are hearing even without the character's name as the chapter title. For instance, I loved the way spelling mistakes were included in the writing of one of the women as it provided a real sense of authenticity to her voice. I think it is a very skilled author indeed, who is able to adapt her writing so well to the individual nuances of her characters.

Additionally, one of the ladies tells her story through drawings which are also included throughout . 

Essentially, this is about how we view ourselves and others and the persona that we each present to the world. I absolutely loved this book and encourage you to discover this delightful novel for yourself. 

ISBN: 978 905556609

Publisher: Halban Publishers

About the Author:

Helen Harris is the prize-winning author of five novels and many short stories, published in a wide range of magazines and anthologies. She teaches creative writing at Birkbeck College at the University of London.

I was gifted a copy of this book by the publishers in exchange for an honest review.





Wednesday, 30 May 2018

My Real Name is Hanna by Tara Lynn Masih

“I am beginning to realize that freedom means you can be who you are meant to be, whatever that is. . . . That breathing without any thought to it is a gift. Now, I think about breathing all the time. What is it like to take your last breath? What if the sound of it gave you away?”

Hanna Slivka is on the cusp of fourteen when Hitler's army crosses the border into Soviet-occupied Ukraine. Soon, the Gestapo closes in, determined to make the shtetele she lives in "free of Jews." Until the German occupation, Hanna spent her time exploring Kwasova with her younger siblings, admiring the drawings of the handsome Leon Stadnick, and helping her neighbor dyes decorative pysanky eggs. But now she, Leon, and their families are forced to flee and hide in the forest outside their shtetele--and then in the dark caves beneath the rolling meadows, rumored to harbor evil spirits. 

Underground, they battle sickness and starvation, while the hunt continues above. When Hanna's father disappears, suddenly it's up to Hanna to find him - and to find a way to keep the rest of her family, and friends, alive. 

Sparse, resonant, and lyrical, weaving in tales of Jewish and Ukrainian folklore, My Real Name Is Hanna celebrates the sustaining bonds of family, the beauty of a helping hand, and the tenacity of the human spirit.

Generally speaking, once I have read a book I usually get straight on with the review while it is still fresh in my mind. However, every now and again I read a book that affects me so profoundly that I have to take a day or two to process what I have read. This was one such book and it completely took my breath away.

I have heard it said that the world really does not need anymore Holocaust/World War II stories but I would have to disagree. When writing is of this standard it is a welcome addition to the canon and I would strongly encourage you to read this book as it really does have something to add. The author's ability as a storyteller is unquestionable and although the story is about difficult issues, it is ultimately one of survival and hope, and as such, is inspiraring to read.

Aimed at a young adults, it would be a huge loss to literature if this superb book were to be confined to this audience only. Having said that, this book is very well written and I could see it fitting quite neatly within the academic syllabus as there is so much to be gained from reading it.

Ms. Masih writes with sensitivity and empathy and, thus, evokes the thoughts and feelings of her characters extremely well. I could sense the darkness and feelings of claustrophobia experienced by the characters hiding in the caves which the author has depicted so well.

It is rare for me to say that I felt privileged to read a book but as I turned the last page in this book I did indeed feel that way. I had not realised until I read the author's Afterword that she had based this book on true events; those of Esther Stermer and her extended family who survived the war. I have the utmost respect for the bravery of this family, and other survivors like them, that endured and survived these horrific circumstances. Also, for an exceptional author who brought  her fictional characters so vividly to life in order to impart their story.

Due to be published in September 2018, I would strongly encourage you to pre-order this book. As a debut novel it is outstanding and I really hope that Ms. Masih will be writing many more novels.

ISBN:  978 19422134510

Publisher: Mandel Vilar Press

About the Author:

Tara Lynn Masih is editor of the Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction (a ForeWord Book of the Year), The Chalk Circle: Intercultural Prizewinning Essays (winner of a Skipping Stones Honor Award; a New England Book Festival award; a Benjamin Franklin silver medal award; and a ForeWord Book of the Year Award), and author of Where the Dog Star Never Glows, a National Best Books Award finalist in the short story category. She is the founding series editor of The Best Small Fictions, and My Real Name Is Hanna, her debut novel for young readers and adults set in WW II Ukraine, is due out Sept. 2018.

Tara received an MA in Writing and Publishing from Emerson College, and has published fiction, poetry, and essays in numerous anthologies and literary magazines, and her essays have been read on NPR and translated to dance. Several limited edition illustrated chapbooks featuring her flash fiction, along with poet's farthing cards, have been published by The Feral Press.

Awards for her work include first place in The Ledge Magazine’s fiction contest, a finalist fiction grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, The Lou P. Bunce Creative Writing Award, multiple Pushcart Prize nominations, and Best New American Voices and Best of the Web nominations. 

Tara was the assistant editor for STORIES literary magazine, and a regular contributor to The Indian-American and Masala magazines. She divides her time between Andover, MA, and St. Augustine, FL.


I was gifted a copy of this book by the author in return for an unbiased review.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Library Low Down - 26th May 2018

I found three lovely books at the library this week. Now, I just have to decide which to read first. Any suggestions?

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Alaska, 1974. Untamed. Unpredictable. A story of a family in crisis struggling to survive at the edge of the world, it is also a story of young and enduring love.

Cora Allbright and her husband, Ernt - a recently returned Vietnam veteran scarred by the war - uproot their thirteen-year-old daughter, Leni, to start a new life in Alaska. Utterly unprepared for the weather and the isolation, but welcomed by the close-knit community, they fight to build a home in this harsh, beautiful wilderness.

At once an epic story of human survival and love, and an intimate portrait of a family tested beyond endurance, The Great Along offers a glimpse into a vanishing way of life in America. With her trademark combination of elegant prose and deeply drawn characters, Kristin Hannah has delivered an enormously powerful story that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the remarkable and enduring strength of women. It is the finest example of Hannah's ability to weave together the deeply personal with the universal.

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Crime writer Alan Conway has been a bestselling author for years. Readers love his detective, Atticus Pund, a celebrated solver of crimes in the sleepy English villages of the 1950's.

But Conway's latest tale of murder at Pye Hall is not quite what it seems. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but hidden in the pages of the manuscript lies another story: a tale written between the very words on the page, telling of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition and murder.



March Violets by Philip Kerr

Bernard Gunther is a private eye, specializing in missing persons. And in Hitler's Berlin, he's never short of work....

Winter, 1936. A man and his wife have been shot dead in their bed. The woman's father, a millionaire industrialist, wants justice - and the priceless diamonds that disappeared along with his daughter's life. As Bernie follows the trail into the cesspit that is Nazi Germany, he's forced to confront a horrifying conspiracy. One that takes him to the very heart of government, and eventually, to Dachau...

The first in the iconic Berlin Noir series, March Violets takes readers to the rotten heart of Nazi Berlin, and introduces a private eye in the great tradition of Hammett and Chandler.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Silent Scream by Angela Marsons

Five figures gather round a shallow grave. They had all taken turns to dig. An adult-sized hole would have taken longer....

Years later, a headmistress is found brutally strangled, the first in a spate of gruesome murders which shock the Black Country.

But when human remains are discovered at a former children's home, disturbing secrets are also unearthed. D.I. Kim Stone fast realises she's on the hunt for a twisted individual whose killing spree spans decades.

As the body count rises, Kim needs to stop the murderer before they strike again. But to catch the killer, can Kim confront the demons of her own past before it's too late?

I love it when I read and enjoy the first book in a series as I have the excitement of knowing that there are more books about a particular set of characters to read.

This is a real page-turner of a book. Reading this was one of those occasions when I felt slightly cross at real life interfering with my reading pleasure.

The characters are very easy to engage with. Kim Stone is a detective with issues of her own to contend with and it was interesting to see the impact that those issues had upon how she carried out her day to day life as a police detective. She is efficient, strong-willed and driven and does not mind bending some of the rules if she feels the end justifies the means.

The rest of the characters are equally well fleshed out and Ms. Marsons has created a very believable and interesting set of characters that I can hardly wait to learn more about in the next book in this series, Evil Games

We are also given glimpses of the killer in the form of occasional chapters in the voice of the murderer. I found myself re-reading these particular chapters to try and guess who the killer was which, incidentally, I did not manage to do. I had my pet theory as to who was responsible only to be very surprised when the culprit was eventually revealed.

The plot is fast paced with plenty of twists and turns to ensure that I was up way past my bedtime reading 'just one more chapter'. A situation with which, I am sure, we are all familiar with.

If you enjoy a good crime novel then you will really enjoy this book and I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

ISBN: 978 1785770524

Publisher: Zaffre


About the Author:

Angela discovered her love of writing at Primary School when a short piece on the rocks and the sea gained her the only merit point she ever got. She wrote the stories that burned inside and then stored them safely in a desk drawer.

After much urging from her partner she began to enter short story competitions in Writer’s News resulting in a win and three short listed entries. She self-published two of her earlier works before concentrating on her true passion – Crime.


After many, many submissions she signed an 8 book deal with Bookouture as their first crime author.

She lives in the Black Country with her partner, bouncy Labrador and potty-mouthed parrot.