Thursday, 25 February 2021

Nick - Michael Farris Smith

 I totally get it. Being utterly fascinated by a character in the book and wanting to know more. Jean Rhys did too if The Wide Sargasso Sea is anything to go by. So she upped and wrote a book about a character from Jane Eyre. In this novel from Michael Farris Smith he’s taken Nick Caraway, he of Great Gatsby fame and created an utterly absorbing fiction around Scott Fitzgerald’s narrator.


Is it essential  to have read the Great Gatsby to enjoy this novel? No, I don’t think so. Whilst there are references towards the end of the book this is Nick’s story and his alone. However it has made me want to read Gatsby all over again! It is many years since I read it but my appetite is whetted. Is that part of the motivation for writing this book? To try and gain a whole new legion of Gatsby and Fitzgerald fans by offering a gripping fiction based on one of the characters? Who knows and does it matter?!

This story works regardless. It’s a riveting tale of a man emerging from the horrors of World War 1. Nick seems unable to face going home initially and he ends up in New Orleans where he is trying to make some sense out of his wartime experiences and what they have done to him. Nick presents as a great romantic and therefore quintessentially at odds with the merest concept of war and conflict.Pursuing doomed romances, though, seem to be his forte, but he is nothing if not persistent and, I suppose, loyal.

As I guess is evident in Gatsby Nick allows himself to become involved in the intrigues and dilemmas of others. Compassion and a desire to seek what is right seems to be at the heart of his initial motivation but it is never plain sailing. The issues of these other characters form the meat of the story in terms of action and mystery. The exposition nestles alongside the development of Nick as a character. It’s a pleasing balance.

Farris Smith has an eye for detail that enriches a narrative. Not over embellished it supports the unfolding of events with a depth that good storytellers seem to instinctively bring to their work. So the prose flows almost effortlessly as the story gains momentum.

So call this what you like fan fiction, a backstory it doesn’t matter. It works. It’s a thoroughly immersive and enjoyable read. But I still want, no I need, to re read The Great Gatsby.

My thanks to Lisa Gooding, the Publicity Director at No Exit Press for gifting me an early proof.

Monday, 22 February 2021

Spotlight on The Promised Land by Elizabeth Musser UPDATED WITH REVIEW

I was part of the blog tour for this book and my review was due to be posted on February 22nd. However due to the late arrival of the book I was not able to read and review it by then and I submitted this spotlight post instead. I am happy to add this review to the post.

With her oldest son taking a gap year in Europe, her aging father losing his sight and his memory, and her husband of twenty years announcing that he's leaving her, Abbie Bartholomew Jowett is surrounded by overwhelming loss.
Desperate to mend her marriage and herself, she follows her son, Bobby, to walk the famed Camino pilgrimage. During their journey they encounter Rasa, an Iranian woman working in secret helping other refugees, and Caroline, a journalist who is studying pilgrims on the Camino while searching for answers from her broken past.
Each individual has their own reasons for the pilgrimage, but together they learn that the Camino strips you bare and calls you into deep soul-searching that can threaten all your best laid plans.’


Although this book is part of a series and there’s plenty of references to past events which may well feature in previous books my not having read the earlier books in no way detracted from my enjoyment of this book. If anything it made me want to seek out the other books!

I was reminded of Tracey Scott-Townsend’s The Vagabond Mother, perhaps because I read it so recently, and also Cheryl Strayed’s Wild because this book tells of a more mature woman setting out on a journey, a pilgrimage. And for me the premise of the book is ably summed up by Rasa, one of the characters.

‘We are all refugees - pilgrims on the earth. We are awaiting our eternal home.’

Faith, belief, spirituality is central to the book and forms the central core of many of the characters, all seeking and open to finding. The role and motivation of the artist is also an importune theme. The devastation of radicalisation also features. The Promised Land of the title conjures many images, biblical and beyond. I guess we are all searching for our own promised lands, our own eternal homes.

The narrative is told from three perspectives, Abbie, who I guess could call the main charter, but also her sone, Bobby and Caroline, a journalist, who is sister to a close friend of Bobby’s. All three make the pilgrimage of the famed Camino but all have very different reasons for doing so. All are making journeys of self discovery.

The characters are all relatable and the book is well written, substantial and expansive; descriptions palpable,  emotions moving. The book nestles within the Christian fiction genre with much to say abut each character’s relationship with God. There’s also an intriguing mystery running alongside the pilgrimage which adds to the sense of a novel with substance.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book and found it uplifting in these troubled times we’re enduring currently.

My thanks to Kelly and Meggy of the LoveBooksTours for my gifted copy of the book and a place upon the blog tour.


SPOTLIGHT ON THE PROMISED LAND

The Promised Land is the third in a series called The Swan House. I haven’t read this book. I would like to read it. But due to situations beyond anyone’s control I am without a copy. So I’ll do the next best thing and offer a post about the book and the writer. 


It sounds like my kind of book. Offer me the words “pilgrimage“ and “soul-searching“ and I’m hooked. I like stories that talk of peoples’ searches in order to find and heal themselves. And given the times we are living in at the moment it seems like a perfect literary vaccine to help us through these trying times.

 

I also like to discover new writers. It also interests me to find a writer who has been prolific and yet I’ve never heard of them. Usually my bad. So I found out a little bit about Elizabeth Musser.


This is what I found on “Bookbub” 


'Elizabeth Musser writes "entertainment with a soul" from her writing chalet—tool shed—outside Lyon, France. Her highly acclaimed, bestselling novel, The Swan House, was named one of Amazon's Top Christian Books of the Year. The Mussers have two sons, a daughter-in-law and three grandchildren who all live way too far away in America. Find more about Elizabeth's novels at www.elizabethmusser.com and on Facebook Elizabeth-Musser, Twitter @EMusserAuthor, and Pinterest EMusserAuthor'


And unsurprisingly that then took me to Elizabeth‘s own website where I had a rummage around! You can find out all about Elizabeth on her informative website. Her journey into writing. Her beliefs. Her role as a pastoral caregiver to missionaries. The many novels that she’s written. Her own blog. It's a rich and varied website that offers an insight into the author and her motivations for writing. 

 




 


UPDATE: Since preparing this post I’m pleased to say that I now have a copy of the book. I will read it and post a review on my blog in due course. Watch this space as they say.




Saturday, 20 February 2021

The Perfect Father - Charlotte Duckworth - Social Media Blast


I’ve read all of Charlotte Duckworth’s books now so I think I’ve come to know what to expect. And that is that I never know what to expect!! I never know what kind of fiendish plots and twists she’s been able to come up with. And I marvel at how prolific a writer she is in a relatively short space of time, especially with such labyrinthine plots!

The Rival explored rivalry in the workplace ostensibly, Unfollow Me explored the riskier side of social media and here we have the bleaker, tangled mess of relationships and parenting given the full Duckworth treatment! And, my goodness, it’ll grip you.

Here’s some blurb to set the scene.

‘THE PERFECT HUSBAND . . .

After a difficult pregnancy, Esther is grateful that her husband Robin offers to put his career on hold so that she can return to the job she loves.

But Esther finds leaving her daughter Riley behind more challenging than she'd thought. And soon the new imbalance in her relationship with Robin brings old tensions to the surface.


OR A PERFECT LIE?

Then one day Esther arrives home from work to find Robin and Riley are missing. As the police investigate their disappearance, it becomes clear that nothing about this modern-day family is what it seems...

Is Robin the perfect father everyone thinks he is? Or was it all a perfect lie?”


It’s a ‘then’ and ‘now’ narrative told from the perspectives of Esther and Robin and as with any respectable psychological thriller you don’t know whose testimony is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Sometimes there’s a sense of the Patricia Highsmith’s about it as events spiral out of control and follow tangents that might easily be avoided. And there are twists hiding behind innocent chapters that’ll have you open mouthed.

The development of the characters and the skilful way in which the author manipulates the readers’ response to them and then with a subtle nuance sets in motion a whole set of different responses. A character you have little time for at the beginning of the book you find yourself feeling sorry for by the end. 

It’s a dark story and it is easy to dislike several of the characters which I think is what you’re supposed to do in a book of this genre. I think you can only risk your reader engaging positively with anyone when they reach the end of the book!

There is a suitable level of tension built up around the disappearance and that deepens as the whole story starts to unfold. I love the way a readers’s perceptions are challenged as you learn more and more about the circumstances and the part the characters have played.

As always with psychological thrillers it is hard not to give anything away and it is the worst thing anyone can do. Best you read it! It’s a fast paced story and one where I bet you will want to race to the conclusion. If this is your first Charlotte Duckworth it is as a good a place to start as any but I reckon you’ll be searching out her first two books after you’ve finished this one!

My thanks to Ella Patel at Quercus Books for  a gifted copy and a chance to participate in the Social Media Blast.

 

Friday, 19 February 2021

Death Awaits in Durham - Helen Cox


 It’s the cosy crime Queen of Yorkshire’s fourth Kitt Hartley novel. But on this occasion it’s a less than cosy Durham that provides the setting for this dark and complex tale of a student who mysteriously disappeared a year ago.

Fans of the series will welcome another chance to engage with the indomitable Kitt, keen to see if her relationship is still progressing, and happy to reacquaint themselves with Evie and Grace. Evie has much less presence in this tale but the wonderful Grace is in the forefront. Grace was always one of my favourite characters so I was thrilled to find her playing such a prominent role this time. And it’s all I can do not to divulge the conclusion, suffice to say it’s made me very happy for the future of the series.

It’s no spoiler as the blurb confirms that in addition to her role as librarian in York Kitt is now a bona fide Private Investigator! The great thing about recurring characters is that you can launch straight into the story with a depth of previous knowledge that renders the characters, friends almost (or do I need to get out more?! But, hey, I’ m reading this in lockdown!).

When librarian and budding private investigator Kitt Hartley visits her ex-assistant Grace Edwards in Durham, she soon learns of an unsolved murder.

A year ago Jodie Perkins, a Mechanics student, disappeared after her student-radio broadcast was cut short with a deafening scream. The police suspect Jodie was murdered although her body was never found.

Keen to be on the front line of one of Kitt's investigations, Grace convinces Kit to use her recent private investigator training to solve the mystery. Can Kitt and Grace uncover the truth?


As you might expect the plot is complex and the denouement gradual with the dramas unfolding one by one until they reach a crescendo towards the end. There’s some tension, some light hearted moments, but this is less cosy, a tad darker, perhaps, than the previous books but progression is essential to keep an audience on their toes. It’s an art in so called cosy crime to strike the right balance.

This whole series has developed into entertaining reads, not over demanding of the reader but complex enough to send you floundering down several blind alleys and finding yourself wryly chuckling at yourself when the identity of the perpetrator is finally divulged. Sometimes more ‘whodidn’tdoit’ than ‘whodunnit’!


And guess what? Book 5 is on its way, this April! Yay!

My thanks to Ella Patel at Quercus books for a gifted copy of the book and a chance to participate in the social media blast.


Thursday, 18 February 2021

Madam - Phoebe Wynne

 We seem to be in a time where contemporary literature celebrates the role of women from the Ancient Greeks’ legends and myths. I’m thinking of Pat Barker, Madeline Miller and, of course, Natalie Haynes but what Phoebe Wynne has done in this, her debut, novel is use the ancient stories to run alongside a different kind of tale for which I will coin the word ‘gothstopian’ ! The chilling premise of Caldonbrae Hall is divulged like an agonisingly slow drip feed for poor Rose Christie, vocational  teacher of Classics. Think The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie meets The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Secret History meets the Stepford Wives but ultimately finds a voice of its own.


For 150 years, Caldonbrae Hall has loomed high above the Scottish cliffs as a beacon of excellence in the ancestral castle of Lord William Hope. A boarding school for girls, it promises that its pupils will emerge ‘resilient and ready to serve society’.
Into its illustrious midst steps Rose Christie, a 26-year-old Classics teacher and new head of department. Rose is overwhelmed by the institution: its arcane traditions, unrivalled prestige, and terrifyingly cool, vindictive students. Her classroom becomes her haven, where the stories of fearless women from ancient Greek and Roman history ignite the curiosity of the girls she teaches and, unknowingly, the suspicions of the powers that be.
But as Rose uncovers the darkness that beats at the very heart of Caldonbrae, the lines between myth and reality grow ever more blurred. It will be up to Rose – and the fierce young women she has come to love – to find a way to escape the fate the school has in store for them, before it is too late.
Perfect for fans of Margaret Atwood and Madeline Miller, Madam is a darkly feminist tale with an electrifying cast of heroines you won’t soon forget.


Brooding, suspenseful, frustrating, as Rose seems to bang her head against so many brick walls. Secrets and disciplines beyond our contemporary belief that make the covid-19 lockdowns seem like summer vacations. Hard to believe this is a debut work the narrative flows so seamlessly and the tensions and frustrations are racked up as Rose and the reader battle their wits against the Teflon bastion of a dogmatic regime that defies belief.

The parallel flaws of both pupils and staff run alongside each other subtly giving Rose complex cerebral conundrums. Perceived friendships and rapports in both camps seems fragile, vulnerable and give the narrative a sustained sense of unease. The paradox of a contemporary world running parallel with a world functioning on an archaic set of values where the female teachers are called “Madam” and the male teachers ‘Sir’.

Rose is the focus, the pivot and the reader is drawn along with her, and to her, willing her to succeed with both her students and her colleagues. We feel with her the edginess of the manipulation she’s subjected to. But she remains strong, purposeful and refuses to remain silent. Her use of Classic Greek stories that nestle into the narrative and augurs what lies ahead reinforcing  the feminist principles embedded in the novel.

For me there was always the sense of being forced slightly out of kilter, off centre all the way through the book. The hierarchy of the school seemed sinister and their intent, their control, or desire to control, staff and pupils was chilling. And redemption? Was there any? Read the book for I’ll not give anything away!

My thanks to Quercus Books for a gifted proof by an exciting new author.

Residuum - Dominic Dulley Social Media Blast






When I signed up to this social media blast I felt faintly guilty because I could see this was the third in a series and I hadn’t read the first two. Well, I reasoned, it’s useful to see if a book which forms part of a series can also be enjoyed as a standalone story. Would my not reading the first two books prove to be detrimental to my reading of the third. Know what? I haven’t the faintest idea. Couldn’t tell you. Because in the end I just couldn’t do it. I went ahead and bought the previous two stories, Shattermoon and Morhelion and read them. So there! 


The whole series is called The Long Game. And I’m hoping it’s just that. And that we’re not stopping with a mere trilogy. Because I’m hooked. Lined. Sinkered. 2021 has been the year I’ve rediscovered my sci-fi mojo and I’m loving every parsec, every alien world, every orbit and star system I’ve come across. Naïvely I  used to have the view that science-fiction was easy to write. (I have a couple of unfinished sci-fi novels languishing in my attic.) I figured that you didn’t have to do the hours of research that you might need for, say, an historical novel. Wrong. You’ve got to make the science work. You’ve got to make it plausible in an implausible situation. That’s a skill. And Dominic Dulley has it.

At the heart of all of these books is Orry Kent. She is what I like to call a “Houdini heroine“ because she ends up in these seemingly inextricable situations and every time you think she’s not going to make it but she does. Of course she does. You wouldn’t have three books if she didn’t! But it’s nailbiting stuff. And she is a very credible heroine.You’re always rooting for her. Always hoping it will work out. 
 
Let's head to blurbsville.

Orry Kent just wants a quiet life - but even a little R&R on the holiday planet of Halcyon turns wild when she accidentally sparks off a revolution amongst the downtrodden native workers. 

But that's small beer compared with the news footage being broadcast across the Ascendancy, showing Orry murdering the man she saved just six months earlier and destroying the Halstaad-Mirnov Institute, the heart of research into the aeons-dead alien race called The Departed. 

With her brother Ethan, the irascible spacedog Captain Mender and his intelligent spaceship Dainty Jane, not to mention the Kadiran exile Quondam, she sets off to prove her innocence. It's just a shame that means teaming up with the woman she loathes more than anyone else in any universe: the space pirate and criminal mastermind Cordelia Roag.

For it's not just Orry's freedom at stake now: a long-dormant planet-eating plague has been triggered and there's only one thing that can stop it.‘

Residuum continues with the personnel from the previous two books. But I think you get an idea of the characters’ personalities, and functions within the story even if you haven’t read the first two. I have read the first two. Did I mention that? 😉 The characters are diverse and compliment each other in that diversity. They all bring something to the overall narrative. There's a range of ages, genders, species, even. And Dulley makes excellent use of the vastness of the universe as he introduces us to even more new worlds and aliens, who aren't actually aliens because they're on their own planets and star systems, but you know what I mean?! There are villains around every corner. You are never quite sure who can be trusted and who should be avoided. And there are the most wonderful alien creations. And planets with the most incredible landscapes and atmospheres. It’s  escapism. It’s a book to lose yourself in for 500 odd pages and wonder where the time went for you’ve got yourself so absorbed in these interstellar worlds.

Books like these won’t win the Booker prize. I don’t think they’re ever intended to. This is pure, unadulterated entertainment. It’s the age-old recipe of goodies versus baddies. Heroes and villains. Good triumphing over evil. If you’re a Star Wars fan you’re going to love them. I venture to suggest that Mr Dulley is word perfect, particularly on Star Wars episode three, A New Hope! I was chuckling myself silly at some of the dialogue. It’s action packed, it’s clever, it’s detailed and you need to keep up and you need to pay attention. There are many factions involved in the numerous skirmishes that occur throughout the book and, I hope this isn’t a spoiler, there are quite a lot of dead bodies. 

It was with some reluctance that I returned to earth and lockdowns and pandemics. So if you’re looking for something to take you out of that mindset this very well might be the book you’re looking for.

My thanks to Ella Patel and Jo Fletcher Books for a gifted copy. And of course for a place upon the social media blast. I’m keen to see what my blogging colleagues thought of the book.



Thursday, 4 February 2021

Space Hopper - Helen Fisher


 ‘ Although Faye is happy with her life, the loss of her mother as a child weighs on her mind even more now that she is a mother herself. So she is amazed when, in an extraordinary turn of events, she finds herself back in her childhood home in the 1970s.  Faced with the chance to finally seek answers to her questions – but away from her own family – how much is she willing to give up for another moment with her mother?’

 An interesting premise that at once makes you think of Mitch Albom but there is something very British about this tale of grief. The title is a subtle play on words and I’m offering no spoilers hopefully for it gives you a kind of clue as to what happens. But you won’t hear it from me! There are rather touching childhood references in the book that persuade the reader that it will be a whimsical work and the stuff of imagination, fantasy even.


There is a lot to digest thematically, from explorations of grief and bereavement to relationships with spouse, parent, child and friends. There is also some astute considerations of how the child who becomes a parent can rethink their relationships with both their own parent and their own children. It’s moving, particularly if you can relate directly to some of the situations and emotions covered in the book. I was rendered tearful a couple of times, I will admit. 


I am struggling hard not to give anything away but there is a part of the book that has had me thinking for ages. It relates to one’s various selves I guess. And something none of us will ever be given the opportunity to do, unless it’s within the pages of a book,  is to interact in a meaningful way with any of our previous selves. I do that hope that’s not a spoiler.


I guess there may be some readers who are questioning Faye’s motivation. When she has what she has how could she risk that? It was another one of the burning questions that made me wonder -  how many of us would do what Faye did? 


I enjoyed the way that the author avoided the potential temptation to go down a saccharin and a sentimental path. I think that would’ve been easy to do but it never happens. Faye is very real because we are invited to see her,  flaws and all. It’s a good contrast between her and husband Eddie, who, whilst is not exactly flawless is in possession of some stunning qualities shall we say! I also enjoyed the dynamic between Faye and her blind friend Louis. The author puts her experience working for the RNIB to very good use and offers the reader an additional dimension to think about.


I think there will be readers who will struggle to suspend disbelief on a tale like this. But if you can,  and if you can let yourself go and allow yourself to be enveloped in this unique situation it’s a captivating story that will transport you out of the humdrum and to somewhere where it's more 'space HOPER' than Space Hopper. 


My thanks to the team at Simon and Schuster for my gifted proof.