Friday, 29 June 2018

Beloved Poison by E. S. Thomson

"The object I drew out was dusty and mildewed, and blotched with dark rust-coloured stains. It smelt of time and decay, sour, like old books and parchments.. The light from the chapel's stained-glass window blushed red upon it, and upon my hands, as if the thing itself radiated a bloody glow."

Ramshakle and crumbling, trapped in the past and resisting the future, St Saviour's Infirmary awaits demolition. Within its stinking wards and cramped corridors, the doctors bicker and fight. Ambition, jealousy and hatred seethe beneath the veneer of professional courtesy. Always an outsider, and with a secret of her own to hide, apothecary Jem Flockhart observes everything, but says nothing.

And then six tiny coffins are uncovered, inside each a handful of dried flowers and a bundle of mouldering rags. When Jem comes actross these strange relics hidden inside the infirmary's old chapel, her quest to understand their meaning prises open a long-forgotten past - with fatal consequences.

Whilst this has clearly been written for a twenty-first century audience there are some definite echoes of Charles Dickens in this delightful historical crime novel. For instance, there is Mrs Roseplucker, the brothel keeper and Joe Silks, the handkerchief thief; all names worthy of the great man himself.

The first in a series of  three books (and I am hoping there will be more) featuring Jem Flockhart, these books ooze with the sights, sounds and smell of nineteenth century London. The author's descriptive prose has the ability to transport the reader to the time and place in which the book is set.

Ms Thomson skillfully builds the tension in her plot with indicatory sentences being woven throughout the text. This created a tension and excitement and made this book a real page turner. I read this while I was on holiday and there was more than one night that I sat up reading well past the time when the rest of my holidaying companions were asleep in their beds.

I am very much looking forward to reading Dark Asylum which is the next book in the series and I hope you will join me.

ISBN: 978 1472122292

Publisher: Constable

About the Author:

E. S. Thomson was born in Ormskirk, Lancashire. She has a PhD in the history of medicine and works as a university lecturer in Edinburgh. She was shortlisted for the Saltire First Book Award and the Scottish Arts Council First Book Award. Elaine lives in Edinburgh with her two sons.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim - #Blog Tour

I am thrilled that the Blog Tour for An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim is stopping at my blog today.

"Polly flipped the photo over. And then she tore it up. She would regret this always. It would sit like a bubble in her lungs. She would wish she still owned the piece of paper that housed the outline of his face, with the ruts his writing made in the back, where he had written his message without signing his name."

Their story begins with a goodbye.

Polly and Frank are young and in love, a lifetime together before them. But one evening in 1981, as the Texas sun sets over their shoulders, the world is suddenly pulled apart by a deadly virus. Within months, Frank is dying. Polly can save him, but only if she agrees to a radical plan: to time travel to 1993 for a corporation who can fund his life-saving treatment. She can only go forward, she cannot go back. And she must leave everything she loves behind, including Frank.

All they have is the promise of a future together: they will find each other again in twelve years' time, in Galveston, Texas, where the sea begins.

But when something goes wrong and Polly arrives late, Frank is nowhere to be found. Completely alone, Polly must navigate a terrifying new world to find him, and to discover if their love has endured.

An Ocean of Minutes is an absorbing and timely novel about courage, yearning, the cost of holding onto the past - and the price of letting it go.

I very much enjoyed reading this book. It mainly focuses on Polly and her experiences upon her arrival in the future. The society into which she arrives is not what she had expected and there was a real sense of shadowing her through this minefield of the unknown.

It was this connection with the characters that held my attention firmly to the page. I felt as anxious for Polly all through the book as I would have done for a friend. I think Polly was a completely different person by the conclusion of the novel to which she had been at the beginning and the author dealt extremely well with depicting Polly's realisation of this whole new society she has stepped into and the impact that has upon the relationships that she forms with the people around her and also with those that she left behind.

This is a book about love, idealism and, above all, realism. However, this is a multi-layered book and  I think that it will mean different things to different readers. For some, this will be about the lengths people go to for those they love, for others it will be about time travel but for me it was about the way we learn about ourselves. It was impossible to read this and not wonder how I would have reacted in those circumstances.

It is beautifully written and was a joy to read. The chapters alternate between Polly's past and present and we learn much about how far she has come through this.

Published tomorrow, I would encourage you to read this book for yourself. I am confident that you will enjoy it every bit as much as I did.

ISBN: 978 1786487919

Publisher: Quercus

About the Author:

Thea Lim's writing has been published by the Southampton Review, the Guardian, Salon and others, and she has received multiple awards and fellowships for her work, including artists' grants from the Canada Council for the Arts. She holds an MFA from the University of Houston and she previously served as nonfiction editor at Gulf Coast.

Thea grew up in Singapore and lives in Toronto with her family.

I was given a proof copy of this book by the publisher in order to provide an honest review.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Blog Tour Tomorrow

Tomorrow is my stop on the Blog Tour for An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim. I hope you will stop by and read my thoughts on this lovely book.

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.

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.