I bring you another book from Rosie’s Book Review Team that I discovered thanks to some of the reviews by other members. They were right!
Eat the Poor (Galbraith & Pole Book 2) by Tom Williams
A werewolf is on the loose in London.
Chief Inspector Pole, the vampire from the mysterious Section S, teams up once again with his human counterpart to hunt down the beast before the people of the city realise that they are threatened by creatures they have dismissed as myths.
Time is short as the werewolf kills ever more recklessly. Can Galbraith and Pole stop it before panic spreads through London?
Galbraith and Pole start their search in Pole’s extensive library of the arcane, accompanied by a couple of glasses of his excellent malt whisky. All too soon, though, they will have to take to the streets to hunt the monster by the light of the moon.
But the threat is even greater than they think, for in its human form the werewolf is terrifyingly close to the heart of government.
This is Tom Williams’ second tongue-in-cheek take on traditional creatures of darkness. Like the first Galbraith & Pole book, Something Wicked, this will appeal to fans of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London.
You never know when the forces of darkness may be released and there will be no time for reading then. Buy Eat the Poor before it’s too late.
Tom Williams used to write books for business. Now he writes novels set in the 19th century that are generally described as fiction but which are often more honest than the business books. (He writes contemporary fantasy as well, but that’s a dark part of his life, so you’ll have to explore that on your own – ideally with a friend and a protective amulet.)
His stories about James Burke (based on a real person) are exciting tales of high adventure and low cunning set around the Napoleonic Wars. The stories have given him the excuse to travel to Argentina, Egypt, and Spain and call it research.
Tom lives in London. His main interest is avoiding doing any honest work and this leaves him with time to ski, skate and dance tango, all of which (before covid) he thought he did quite well. In between he reads old books and spends far too much time looking at ancient weaponry.
I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and thank her and the author for this opportunity.
The description of the novel sets up the plot quite clearly, and I won’t elaborate on it. Readers can find elements of the police procedural novel (one flexible enough to allow for a supernatural element rather than one where logic and realism to the minutest detail are the required standard) with an unlikely and seemingly unsuited couple of investigators, and the tongue-in-cheek approach suits beautifully the description of the inner workings of the police department, and the way promotions and a career in the police are likely to progress for those who care for the actual job and are not that keen on cultivating influences and playing political games within the force.
The ironic commentary on UK politics helps make the story even more memorable. After recent shenanigans in the UK Parliament, one can’t help but wonder if a conservative MP with pretty radical (and classist) views, with the peculiarity of being also a werewolf, would really be that much worse than what had been happening. (And, of course, readers in other countries would wonder the same as well, as although the details might be different, the behaviour of the political classes has been less than stellar pretty much around the world).
There is a mystery that owes plenty to the cozy genre (despite some vicious murders and the addition of the supernatural Others that usually belong in the horror genre) and is likely to attract people who are more interested in quirky and original characters than in the investigation itself.
I haven’t read the first novel in the series, so I don’t know anything about the background story between Pole and Galbraith, and I can confirm that this book can be read as a stand-alone. There are some references to the previous case, but those are contextualised and don’t affect the action or the development of the story. Of course, having read this book, I’d like to know more about the first case, but that is to be expected, having enjoyed this one so much.
The story is narrated in the third person from two of the characters’ points of view (mostly, although there are some paragraphs and comments from an outside observer’s perspective), those of Galbraith and of the criminal they are trying to track. That gives readers a better understanding of the personality of the perpetrator and the circumstances behind the crimes, some of which are well beyond anybody’s control. That doesn’t make the criminal more likeable, at least to me (his politics are quite extreme, although looking at the general political situation, it is evident that many people share similar views), but it allows us to follow his reasoning and to see how easy it could be for someone to move from similar type of thoughts to action. Despite the light tone of the story and the amusing characters and events, there is more than a slight touch of social criticism and a call to attention that is impossible to miss. From feeling privileged and proud of one’s achievement to thinking that those who aren’t as well-off as one is are undeserving of any help or assistance there is but a small step.
Chief Inspector Galbraith is a sympathetic character, and especially those readers of a certain age who have seen their jobs change and become enmeshed in bureaucracy and a never-ending litany of meetings and committees are likely to identify with him. (I had to nod at many of the situations, and some of his reflections as well).
Pole is a mysterious character who never quite reveals much about anything, especially himself —he mentions Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes, and it is impossible to read about his character and not think of Doyle’s creation—, but there are moments when his real feelings and emotions filter through the hundreds of years of containment and good breed. I came to like him more and more as the story progressed, and I hope there will be plenty of occasions to get to know him better in future books.
I’ve talked about the baddie already, but towards the end of the novel, a new character was introduced and became one of my favourites. Robson is a masterpiece, and he makes the closing of the investigation totally memorable. (And no, I won’t say anything else about him).
Those readers who dislike head hopping and sudden changes in viewpoint don’t need to worry, as each chapter is told from a single point of view, and it is clearly marked. Oh, and I love the old-style titles of the chapters. They are a joy.
You’ve probably guessed that I enjoyed the ending from my mention of Robson, but apart from the resolution of the case, there are a couple of scenes at the end that I also enjoyed. Especially because Pole and Galbraith share a moment that reminded me of Casablanca’s closing scene when Humphrey Bogart and Claude Rains disappear into the fog. Very understated and very moving.
So, if you enjoy mysteries but are not a stickler for realism, love quirky characters and appreciate a touch of the paranormal, have a sense of humour, and like to look at politics and society from a critical but seemingly light-hearted point of view, you should give this novel a go. The author has written plenty of historical novels and has a talent for highlighting trends, connections, and behaviours that many might not perceive. I have discovered another author whose books I’m eager to learn more about, and I’m sure I won’t be alone in this.
Thanks to Rosie and her team for the support and the suggestions, thanks to the author, and especially, thanks to all of you for visiting, reading, liking, commenting, sharing… Don’t forget to keep cool, safe, and smiling!
Oh, and before you go, I wanted to let you know that from the 20th of August, for a week or so, we’ll be having a local festival (la Festa Major de Sants), and we’ll be doing live coverage at the radio, so I’ll be quite busy. Just in case you don’t see me much around, don’t worry, I’m just busy doing radio-related things.
I bring you another book by an author whose very special book of short stories, Backstories, I featured recently. This one is a novel, and it is quite a novel.
The Silent Brother by Simon Van der Velde
When his beloved little brother is stolen away, five-year-old Tommy Farrier is left alone with his alcoholic mam, his violent step-dad and his guilt. Too young to understand what has really happened, Tommy is sure of only one thing. He is to blame.
Tommy tries to be good, to live-up to his brother’s increasingly hazy memory, but trapped in a world of shame and degradation he grows up with just two options; poverty or crime. And crime pays.
Or so he thinks.
A teenage drug-dealer for the vicious Burns gang, Tommy’s life is headed for disaster, until, in the place he least expects, Tommy sees a familiar face…
Simon Van der Velde was born and educated in Newcastle upon Tyne where he trained and practiced as a lawyer. Writing, however, was always the real passion, and Simon has now left the legal profession in order to concentrate on his writing.
Since completing a creative writing M.A. (with distinction) at University of Northumbria in 2011, Simon’s work has won and been short-listed for numerous awards including; The Yeovil Literary Prize, (twice), The Readers’ Favorite Gold Medal, The Wasafiri New Writing Prize, The Luke Bitmead Bursary, The Frome Short Story Prize, The Writers’ and Artists’ Short Story Prize, The Harry Bowling Prize, The Henshaw Press Short Story Competition and The National Association of Writers’ Groups Open Competition.
Simon is the founder and chair of Gosforth Writers Group and author of the widely acclaimed, Amazon bestseller, Backstories, ‘the stand-out most original book of the year’ in 2021. His literary crime novel, The Silent Brother is published on 16th June, 2022 by Northodox Press. Simon is
currently working on both Backstories II and his follow-up crime novel, Dogwood.
Having travelled throughout Europe and South America, Simon now lives in Newcastle upon Tyne with his wife, labradoodle and two tyrannical children.
I read and reviewed Simon Van der Velde’s book Backstories, which was a great success with many other members of Rosie’s Book Review Team as well; I expressed my interest in reading the second volume of that book (due in autumn 2022), and I ended up exchanging several messages with the author. He told me he had finished a novel and asked me if I’d be interested in reading it, although it was quite different to Backstories. When he told me what it was about, I could not resist, and I thank the author for providing me with an early ARC copy of The Silent Brother, which I freely chose to review.
The author, of course, was right. This novel is pretty different from Backstories, although it retains some of its best qualities and goes further still, building up the setting and, especially, the characters, creating fully-fledged individuals and a universe that merges realistic details with fictional but truly believable and understandable situations. One wouldn’t be surprised to read some of the episodes featured in the novel in a local (or national) newspaper, and, unfortunately, many will be quite familiar, especially to UK readers. (Not that similar stories don’t happen in other places, but one of the beauties of the novel is in the detail, and the author explains where the story comes from and how and why it was born, in his note Victims or Perpetrators? The Inspiration Behind The Silent Brother). I suspect that for many people in the West, the idea of poverty wouldn’t include their neighbours or people living just a few streets away from them, but there are many who are born into families with little to no resources and for whom “dysfunctional” is perhaps an understatement in our own countries and cities.
Tommy, the protagonist of the novel, is one of those people. Born into a family that is far from conventional (or happy), he lives a very traumatic event when he is very young, and he blames himself for what happened and feels guilty ever since. This is only the first of many traumas he manages to survive, but not unscathed, and it is easy to understand why and how he ends up becoming a criminal. There is never much of a reprieve for Tommy, though, and every time things seem to be going right for him, something happens and reality comes crashing down on him. But, one of the qualities that will endear him to most readers is that he never gives up. His decisions might get him (and others) into trouble quite often, but he is loyal to his friends (in his own way), and he is a better judge of character than he gives himself credit for.
The story is told in the first-person from Tommy’s point of view, and although he is not always the most reliable of narrators (Personally, I think he knows when to stop telling a story and when to edit out some things. He is clearly in control of the narrative), his pretty unique point of view and his inside knowledge serve the reader well, because he is insightful enough to pick up on clues and events that are important even before he knows why, and although he hides some things even from himself, he evolves and has learned to face the truth by the end of the novel.
I have talked about Tommy, and, as I have mentioned before, I think the characters are all very well written, recognisable, and memorable. There are truly bad baddies; some that fall in the grey area (most of the rest); some likeable but puzzling and ambiguous (sometimes, perhaps, because we see them through Tommy’s eyes, and his emotions and feelings toward them change); and some that we can’t help but feel sorry for. Tommy sometimes annoyed me, but he also intrigued me, grabbed my attention, and wouldn’t let go, and I loved Annie from the very first. She is a wonderful character, despite (or perhaps because of) the terrible circumstances she finds herself in, and she is full of ambiguities, as real people are.
Beyond the social commentary (which makes the book well-worth a read already), particularly aimed at the changes many cities in the North of the UK went through in the final decades of the XX century (in this case, the Northeast, especially Newcastle and Sunderland), we have many themes that are explored in the novel: single parenthood, the underclasses, alcohol and drug abuse, abusive relationships including domestic violence, the role of social services, bullying, gang crime and violence, drug dealing, family relationships, regret, guilt, trauma, self-harm, PTSD, the self-expressive and healing power of art, different kinds of friendship, the nature of storytelling and narratives, and above all, this is a story about love: fraternal love, family love, and also romantic love, against all odds.
The writing is wonderful, though harsh at times, of course. The author has a talent for descriptions, and I don’t mean only physical descriptions —which he does well enough— but he can make us see a person, a place, and feel as if we were living a moment, by focusing on the small details: a noise, a touch, a gesture… He recreates the atmosphere of the city, the pubs, the clubs, the houses, the social services office… And he immerses us inside the head of the main character, getting us to share his thoughts and his experiences. It can be a pretty uncomfortable place to be in, but, somehow, you don’t want to leave until you’ve seen the whole thing through. The story is told (mostly) chronologically, although at times there are intrusive memories and thoughts that disrupt the character’s perspective, sending him (and us) back to particular events.
Rather than sharing my favourite quotes (and there are many I highlighted), I include an excerpt at the end, chosen by the author.
As you can imagine from the list of themes, the book is tough and pulls no punches. This isn’t a look at life through rose-tinted glasses, so people who find bad language, violence, and any (or all) of the topics mentioned upsetting, should be wary of the contents. Despite all that, though, this is a very hopeful book, and I loved the slightly bittersweet ending. I won’t give too many details, because I don’t want to spoil it for readers, and some things aren’t revealed until the very end and might come as a surprise, but let’s say that I was satisfied with the fate of most of the characters, and I hope most readers will be as well.
I recommend this novel to those who already know the author (I’m sure they’ll love it as well) and to those who don’t but appreciate realistic and hard-hitting stories, beautifully written, full of heart, with social consciousness, especially those set in the contemporary UK (particularly the North of England). It does not pull any punches, so people worried about certain types of content (violence, substance use, abuse…) should be warned, but otherwise, this is a novel whose characters will stay with the reader, and one that will make us face some uncomfortable truths as well. The author has more novels coming out soon, so make sure not to miss any. I won’t.
Excerpts from The Silent Brother
‘They’re coming for you,’ Mam said
That’s how it all got started…cos of me being a coward
Bells, it says, but it doesn’t ring, it crashes
‘Do as your told and there’s five grand in it for you. Or you can piss about and get another kicking’
Back in Walker …with the police camera that never works and the half bricks lying in the road, and all those mean-eyed bastards sitting on their front steps, getting pissed, shouting the odds at anyone who looks at them.
‘All I want is a fair cut.’ ‘You want your cut? I swear, you f*ck me about and you’ll get your f*cking cut’
I’ve got a good feeling about this. I’ve got a good feeling about everything. So long as I keep the music playing and the money coming, so long as I don’t go back down Belmont Street, so long as I keep on flying and never look down.
Her arms pull me closer. Her body draws me deeper. I don’t know where I end, where she begins.
The place is normally lit in this pink-ish dusk with silk sheets hanging off the balcony rail, so it looks like the sort of boozer
Aladdin might’ve bought it after he found his genie. But Aladdin didn’t buy it. Eddie Burns did. That’s why we’re sitting here, shitting ourselves, waiting to see exactly how pissed off Eddie’s going to be.
Thanks to Rosie and the members of her team for introducing me to this author, thanks to the author for the book, and thanks to all of you for reading, for your support, for sharing with all who might be interested, and remember to keep smiling and being your wonderful selves. ♥
I bring you the review of the third book in a trilogy I’ve been reading by one of the authors I don’t hesitate to recommend (and who is also a member of Rosie Amber’s team of reviewers, whose reviews I also recommend):
Megacity (Operation Galton Book 3) by Terry Tyler
The UK’s new megacities: contented citizens relieved of the burden of home ownership, living in eco-friendly communities. Total surveillance has all but wiped out criminal activity, and biometric sensor implants detect illness even before symptoms are apparent.
That’s the hype. Scratch the surface, and darker stories emerge.
Tara is offered the chance to become a princess amongst media influencers—as long as she keeps quiet and does as she’s told.
Aileen uproots to the megacity with some reluctance, but none of her misgivings prepare her for the situation she will face: a mother’s worst nightmare.
Radar has survived gang rule in group homes for the homeless, prison and bereavement, and jumps at the chance to live a ‘normal’ life. But at what cost?
For all three, the price of living in a megacity may prove too high.
Megacity is the third and final book in the dystopian Operation Galton trilogy, and is Terry Tyler’s twenty-third publication.
‘As long as some of us are still living free, they have not yet won. Anyone who refuses to live as they want us to has beaten them. That’s how we do it. That’s how we win.’
Terry Tyler is the author of twenty-two books available from Amazon, the latest being ‘Megacity‘, the final book in the dystopian Operation Galton trilogy. Also published recently is ‘The Visitor‘, a post-apocalyptic murder mystery set in the same world as her popular Project Renova series. She is currently at work on a psychological thriller that centres round an internet dating con, but has not yet finished with devastated societies, catastrophe and destruction, generally. Proud to be independently published, Terry is an avid reader and book reviewer, and a member of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.
Terry is a Walking Dead addict, and has a great interest in history (particularly 12th-17th century), along with books and documentaries on sociological/cultural/anthropological subject matter. She loves South Park, the sea, and going for long walks in quiet places where there are lots of trees. She lives in the north east of England with her husband.
I received an ARC copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.
I discovered Terry Tyler’s novels a few years ago and since I read the first novel in her Renova Series (Tipping Point), I have been lucky enough to read everything she has published (or almost). Although she writes in different genres (and, The Visitor, her previous novel, although set in the Renova world was a thriller), it is as if she had picked up some vibes, because she’s been writing dystopian novels, or novels set in dystopian universes recently, although those universes feel uncannily similar to ours (or to how ours might end up being some years down the line). This means that her books are gripping, impossible to put down, and at the same time chilling and very hard to read. There are so many events, topics, trends, behaviours, and attitudes we recognise, that is impossible not to worry about what that might mean for the future of humanity if we take her novels as a warning/prophecy.
This novel is the third (and final? I add the question mark because I know characters and stories often like to challenge their authors and keep demanding their attention, so, who knows?) in the Operation Galton series, and if Project Renova is set in a dystopian world that develops as a result of a deadly virus (of course, there is far more to it than that), Operation Galton, also set in a dystopian but not all that distant future, has the added dread of not being brought on by any catastrophic events, but it seems to develop, almost naturally, from social and political circumstances that are very similar to those happening around us (one might even say that, considering how things have gone these last couple of years, things have gotten worse in our own world). So, be prepared for strong emotions and shocking events, because although readers of the other two books in the series knew terrible things were going on, “you ain’t seen nothing yet”.
The story is divided into four parts, set in chronological order, from 2041 to 2062. While the two first parts cover a decade each, part three recounts the events that take place in the years 2061 and part of 2062, and part 4 is much more focused and tense, covering a much shorter period of time.
As is usual in Tyler’s novels, she does not focus on plot over characters, despite the complexities of the story and the world-building necessary to set the narrative. The descriptions are never overwhelming or heavy with details, and this works well because we see things from the perspective of characters who are either used to the type of world they live in or have far too many things going on in their lives to spend much time obsessing over every little detail. The story is narrated from the point of view of several characters, usually in alternating chapters: a young girl who loses her family in traumatic circumstances and ends up in a Hope Village (Tara); one of the boys she meets there and becomes friends with (Radar); a young woman living off-grid at the beginning of the story who ends up moving to a Megacity with her partner and paying a terrible price for it (Aileen); in part 3 and 4 we meet some other characters who contribute their own thoughts and perspectives (mostly Leah, and fleetingly, Xav, Skylar & Kush); and there are also some chapters from the point of view of the movers and plotters (Jerome, Ezra). Some are in the first person (Tara and Aileen’s), the rest are in the third person but we still get to experience what the character feels, at a little bit of distance (thankfully, in some cases), and there are a couple of chapters that recount what has happened and/or set the scene, also in the third person but omniscient, in this case. There is not a boring moment in the whole novel, but it is true that things accelerate as the narration moves along, and the last two parts will have readers totally engaged, worrying, suffering, and hoping with and for the main characters (and booing at the bad ones as well).
Tara and Aileen, although far from perfect, are genuinely likeable. Tara is tough, a survivor, but has a big heart and is vulnerable at the same time. Aileen has to cope with plenty of losses and heartache, and, worst of all, lies and continuous disappointments. If Tara’s circumstances throughout her life mark her as pretty unique (although some of her experiences are, unfortunately, not as uncommon as we’d like to believe), Aileen is a character easy to identify with, and they are both extremely relatable. Radar, whom we meet as a young boy, bullied and abused, does anything he feels he needs to do in order to survive, but he is far more complex than others give him credit for. I am trying to avoid spoilers, so I won’t go into much detail, although I must confess that I usually prefer baddies with a degree of complexity and ambiguity (because good and evil are not always, if ever, clear cut) and that is not the case here, but it is true that it makes for a “slightly” more reassuring story.
I have already said that there are many elements and events in this series that are eerily similar to things and trends happening today: the dominance of social media, the manipulation of politics by big money and powerful corporations, the rise of authoritarian and populist discourses, fake news, conspiracy theories… and subjects that also appear in the story and are not necessarily characteristic of dystopian novels, but are also very present in our lives: bullying, poverty, unequal access to jobs, education, and healthcare, sexual harassment, violence and abuse, drug use, peer pressure, complex family relationships… It is impossible to read this book (and the whole series) without thinking how easy it would be for things such as those to happen, and how there are many different ways to interpret or evaluate the same events, depending on your perspective. What might be a clear conspiracy theory for some, with no logical basis, might be a cry for freedom and independent thinking for others, and the difference might be impossible to tell when the atmosphere is one of mistrust and suspicion all around.
You’ve probably guessed by now that I’m going to recommend this novel and the whole series. You would be right. The author does include a link at the beginning of the book for people who have read the other two books a while back (or those who haven’t read them) to a brief summary of the previous two books, so, in theory, it would be possible for somebody who hasn’t read the other two books to read this book first, although I wouldn’t recommend it. I am sure people would enjoy the book and get a general sense of what had gone on, but the three books work well together and fit in like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, building up a clearer and more complete and global picture if read in the right order. There are also some characters who have appeared in previous novels who either make an appearance or are referred to, but even without that, because each one of the books focuses on a part of the whole project to create a new world order (and we get to experience it from a vantage point of view each time), the story moves naturally and evolves throughout the three books, so yes, do read it, but make sure you read the other two books first. You will enjoy a great story, with compelling characters you will be able to identify with, well-written and bound to make you think.
There is violence, some pretty extreme events take place, and as I’ve mentioned some of the subjects discussed, people who know they are bound to be badly affected by any of those would do well to avoid it. For those who like to get some idea of what the ending is like, let’s say that most matters are settled satisfactorily (personally, I felt this was perhaps a bit too fast and relatively smooth, considering everything that had gone on), although some are left open to the reader’s imagination, and the book ends up in a fairly hopeful note.
I recommend this book (and the whole Operation Galton series) to anybody who enjoys dystopian novels, and even those who have never read one but appreciate stories well-written, with strong characters, and don’t mind a story set in a near and more-than-a-bit troublesome future that doesn’t stretch too much the imagination. This is not a reassuring read, but it is bound to make readers look at things in a new light. And hope the author is wrong.
Thanks to the author for this book and the whole series, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review and always keep safe, keep smiling, and keep reading!
I bring you the review of a boxed set today, 5 full-length novels, so, as you can imagine, it’s going to be long, so you’ve been warned. It’s a fantastic collection though, so you might want to read on.
Together for the first time: award-winners and trail-blazers. Five international women authors showcase five unforgettable novels.
Blood Rose Angel, by Liza Perrat
1348, France. A bone-sculpted angel and the woman who wears it––heretic, Devil’s servant, saint.
Despite her bastardy, Héloïse has earned respect in the French village of Lucie-sur-Vionne for her midwifery and healing skills. Then the Black Death sweeps into France.
Hidden, by Linda Gillard A birth. A death. Hidden for a hundred years.
1917.“Lady, fiancé killed, will gladly marry officer totally blinded or otherwise incapacitated by the war.” When Miranda Norton inherits Myddleton Mote and its art collection she is haunted by the dark secrets of a woman imprisoned in a reckless marriage.
The Chase, by Lorna Fergusson The past will hunt you down.
Gerald Feldwick tells his wife Netty that in France they can put the past behind them. Alone in an old house, deep in the woods of the Dordogne, Netty is not so sure.
Netty is right.
The Chalky Sea, by Clare Flynn July 1940. When bombs fall, the world changes for two troubled people.
Gwen knows her husband might die in the field but thought her sleepy English seaside town was safe. Amid horror and loss, she meets Jim Armstrong, a soldier far from the cosy life of his Ontario farm. Can war also bring salvation?
Coffee and Vodka, by Helena Halme Eeva doesn’t want to remember, but in Finland she must face her past.
‘In Stockholm, everything is bigger and better.’ Her Pappa’s hopes for a better life in another country adjust to the harsh reality but one night, Eeva’s world falls apart. Thirty years later, Eeva needs to know what happened.
Liza grew up in Wollongong, Australia, where she worked as a general nurse and midwife for fifteen years.
When she met her French husband on a Bangkok bus, she moved to France, where she has been living with her husband and three children for twenty years. She works part-time as a French-English medical translator, and as a novelist.
Several of her short stories have won awards, notably the Writers Bureau annual competition of 2004 and her stories have been published widely in anthologies and small press magazines. Her articles on French culture and tradition have been published in international magazines such as France Magazine and France Today.
Spirit of Lost Angels is the first in the historical “The Bone Angel” series set against a backdrop of rural France during the French Revolution. The second in the series, Wolfsangel, set during the WWII German Occupation of France, was published in October, 2013. The third in the series, Blood Rose Angel, set during the 14th century Black Plague years was published in November, 2015.
The Silent Kookaburra, a domestic noir, psychological suspense novel set in 1970s Australia, was published in November, 2016. The second in this Australian family drama series, The Swooping Magpie, was published in October, 2018. The third in this series, The Lost Blackbird, was published in August, 2020.
Friends & Other Strangers is a collection of award-winning short stories from Downunder.
Liza is available for virtual book club visits (via Skype) upon request.
Linda Gillard lives in North Lanarkshire, Scotland. She’s the author of nine novels, including STAR GAZING (Piatkus), shortlisted in 2009 for Romantic Novel of the Year and The Robin Jenkins Literary Award for writing that promotes the Scottish landscape.
Linda’s fourth novel, HOUSE OF SILENCE became a Kindle bestseller. It was selected by Amazon as one of their Top Ten Best of 2011 in the Indie Author category.
In 2019 Amazon’s Lake Union imprint re-published THE TRYSTING TREE as THE MEMORY TREE and it became a #1 Kindle bestseller.
Lorna Fergusson was born in Scotland and lives in Oxford with her husband and two sons. She runs Fictionfire Literary Consultancy and for many years has also taught creative writing, including at the University of Winchester’s Writers’ Festival and for Oxford University’s Department of Continuing Education’s various writing programmes. Her novel ‘The Chase’ was originally published by Bloomsbury and is now republished by Fictionfire Press on Kindle and as a paperback. Her stories have won an Ian St James Award, been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and longlisted for the Fish Short Story Prize. Her chapter on Pre-writing appears in ‘Studying Creative Writing’, published by The Professional and Higher Partnership. Her story, ‘Reputation’, a finalist in the Historical Novel Society’s short story prize 2012, appears in the e-anthology ‘The Beggar at the Gate’. She is working on a collection of historical stories and a novel, the opening of which won Words with Jam Magazine’s First Page competition in 2014. Also in 2014, she won the Historical Novel Society’s London 2014 Short Story Award with her story ‘Salt’, which now appears in the Historical Novel Society’s anthology ‘Distant Echoes’.
Historical novelist Clare Flynn is a former global marketing director and business owner. She now lives in Eastbourne on the south coast of England and most of her time these days is spent writing her novels – when she’s not gazing out of her windows at the sea.
Clare is the author of twelve novels and a short story collection. Her books deal with displacement – her characters are wrenched away from their comfortable existences and forced to face new challenges – often in outposts of an empire which largely disappeared after WW2.
Her latest novel, A Painter in Penang, was published on 6th October 2020. It is set in Malaysia in 1948 during the Malayan Emergency.
Clare’s novels often feature places she knows well and she does extensive research to build the period and geographic flavour of her books. A Greater World – 1920s Australia; Kurinji Flowers – pre-Independence India; Letters from a Patchwork Quilt – nineteenth century industrial England and the USA; The Green Ribbons – the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth century in rural England, The Chalky Sea – World War II England (and Canada) and its sequels The Alien Corn and The Frozen River – post WW2 Canada. She has also published a collection of short stories – both historical and contemporary, A Fine Pair of Shoes and Other Stories.
Fluent in Italian, she loves spending time in Italy. In her spare time she likes to quilt, paint and travel as often and as widely as possible. She is an active member of the Historical Novel Society, the Romantic Novelists Association, The Society of Authors, and the Alliance of Independent Authors.
Get a free copy of Clare’s exclusive short story collection, A Fine Pair of Shoes, at www.clareflynn.co.uk
Helena writes Nordic fiction with a hint of both Romance and Noir. Her latest series, Love on the Island, is set on the quirky and serenely beautiful Åland Islands filled with tourists in the summer and covered by snow and ice in winter.
Prize-winning author, former BBC journalist, bookseller, and magazine editor, Helena Halme holds an MSc in Marketing and an MA in Creative Writing. Full-time author and self-publishing coach, Helena also acts as Nordic Ambassador for The Alliance of Independent Authors and has published twelve Nordic fiction titles and three nonfiction books.
Apart from writing stories, Helena is addicted to Nordic Noir and dances to Abba songs when nobody’s watching.
You can find more about Helena and her books on www.helenahalme.com, Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/HelenaHalmeAuthor/), Twitter (@helenahalme) and Instagram (@helenahalme)
I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and thank her and the authors for this opportunity.
I am known for my long reviews, but I’ll try to provide brief reviews for each one of the novels that compose the boxed set, which comes with my highest recommendation.
Blood Rose Angel, by Liza Perrat.
I read and reviewed this novel in full a while back, and you can read my original review, here.
For the sake of briefness, I include few paragraphs below:
This is the third novel in the series The Bone Angel.We are in Lucie-sur-Vionne, France, 1348. The whole series is set in the same location and follows the characters of the female line of a family who are linked by their midwifery skills (or wish to care for others) and by the passing of a talisman, the bone angel of the title. All the women of the series feel a strange connection to this angel (whose story/legend we hear, first- hand, in this book) and to each other, although this novel is, so far, the one set further back in the past, and at a very momentous time (like all the others). The Black Death decimated a large part of the world population and this novel offers us the perspective of the people who lived through it and survived to tell the tale.
Midwife Héloïse is the main character, a strong woman, dedicated and caring, who has had a troubled and difficult childhood, and whose vocation gets her into plenty of difficulties.
The novel’s plot is fascinating and as good as any historical fiction I have read. History and fiction blend seamlessly to create a story that is gripping, emotionally satisfying, and informative. Even when we might guess some of the twists and turns, they are well-resolved, and the ending is satisfying. The life of the villagers is well observed, as is the relationship between the different classes, the politics of the era, the role of religion, the power held by nobles and the church, the hypocrisy, superstition, and prejudice, and the social mores and roles of the different genders. The descriptions of the houses, clothing, medical and midwifery procedures, and the everyday life are detailed enough to make us feel immersed in the era without slowing down the plot, that is a page turner in its own right. I particularly enjoyed the sense of community (strongly dominated by women) and the optimism that permeates the novel, showing the strength of the human spirit even in the hardest of circumstances. The author includes a glossary at the end that explains the words no longer in use that appear in the novel and also provides background information on the Black Death and the historical figures that grace its pages. Although it is evident that the book involved a great deal of research, this is flawlessly weaved into the story and adds to the feeling of authenticity.
Although part of a series, the novel can be read as a stand alone (although I recommend the rest as well).
Another great novel by Liza Perrat and one of my favourites. I will not forget it in a hurry and I hope to keep reading more novels by the author. I recommend it to readers of historical fiction, especially those interested in the era, the Black Death, and medical techniques of the time, readers of women’s fiction, and anybody looking for great characters and a writer to follow.
Hidden, by Linda Gillard
This is the first novel I read by Linda Gillard, and, to save you time, in case you’re in a hurry, I can tell you I’ve added her name to my list of authors to watch out for.
This historical novel is also a dual-time story, combining a contemporary chronological timeline (set in 2018) following Miranda Norton, a woman who inherits a beautiful building from a famous father she never knew, and decides to move in with her whole family (her mother, her adult pregnant daughter and son-in-law and her twin teenage sons) to make ends meet, and the story of a previous owner, Esme Howard, a painter whose family had lived in the house for generations, who after several losses during the Great War, makes a decision that will have drastic consequences for all involved. Her story takes place from 1917 until the very end of the war, and there are all kinds of links and connections between the two stories, and even a touch of the paranormal.
Myddleton Mote, the property that links both time periods and sets of characters, becomes a protagonist in its own right, and there is something of the Gothic romance in the story, with multitudes of secrets, forbidden love stories, people being kept prisoner, losses and bereavements, hidden rooms, mysterious findings, rumours and disappearances, heroes and villains, some unexplained events (a ghost, perhaps), and even a moat. These are not the only themes touched upon by the novel. Women in abusive relationships take a central role in both stories, but there is also plenty of information about life during WWI, shell shock and the experience of returning soldiers, the world of art, especially for female painters, and also the feelings of grief, guilt, and sacrifice. It is a grand melodrama, and there are moments that are very sad and emotional, although the novel also contains its light and happy moments.
The story is divided up in three parts: the first and the third one are told in the first person by Miranda, and the second one narrates the story of Esme in the third person, although the narration moves between the different characters, giving readers a chance to become better acquainted not only with what happens, but also with the feelings and state of mind of the main characters (Esme; Guy, her husband; and Dr Brodie; although we also get to follow some of the others, like wonderful Hanna, the maid who plays a fundamental part in the story). Part one and two also contain fragments of Esme’s narrative, in the first person, of her own story. That means that when we read part 2, we already have some inklings as to what has been going on, but we get the whole story ahead of Miranda, and everything fits into place.
I don’t want to go on and on, so I’ll just try and summarise. I loved the story. Some of the high points for me were: the relationships in Miranda’s extended family, and how well the different generations get on; the way the author handles the experience of domestic abuse/violence, including fascinating comparisons and parallels between the circumstances of two women separated by 100 years; the descriptions of London and the UK during WWI and the experiences of the people in the home front; shell-shock and how it affected soldiers during the war; I loved the descriptions of Esme’s creative process, her inspiration, and her paintings (which I could see in my mind’s eye), and also the true story of Baroque Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi (which I am fascinated by), a woman deserving of much more attention than she has been given so far. I also enjoyed the mystery side of things and trying to piece the details of the story together, although, for me, Esme’s story, the house, and Miranda’s family were the winners.
I have mentioned the abuse the female characters suffer, and although this is mostly mental, it should come with a warning, as it is horrifying at times. Some of the descriptions of the experiences during the war are harrowing as well, and there is also illness to contend with. Notwithstanding that, I cannot recommend this novel highly enough. Any readers who love historical fiction set in the early XX century, particularly during WWI, in the UK, who are keen on mysterious houses, a good love story, and prefer stories told (mostly) from a female perspective, should check this one. Oh, and the ending is… as close to perfect as anyone could wish.
The Chase, by Lorna Fergusson
As was the case with the previous novel, Fergusson is a new author to me, although she is well known, especially for her short stories, and, in fact, this novel had been published by Bloomsbury years ago. That goes some way to explain why, although the structure of the book seemed to alternate between chapters set in different historical periods (from prehistory until WWII), and those telling the chronological story of a couple of Brits expats who move to France (to the Dordogne, the Périgord) trying to leave their tragic past behind, the main story is set in 1989 and at times it gives one pause to think how different things are today from that near past (many of the events and some of the storylines would be completely changed by the simple introduction of a mobile phone or the internet).
This novel will delight readers who love detailed descriptions of places, local culture, and food and drink, especially those who know or are thinking of visiting la Dordogne. Fergusson has a beautiful turn of phrase and manages to seamlessly incorporate some buildings and locations fruit of her imagination into the real landscape of the region, so effectively that I am sure those who have visited will wonder if they have missed some of the attractions as they read the book. Le Sanglier, the house Gerald Feldwick falls in love with and buys, in particular, is a great creation, and as we see the house mostly from (Annette) Netty’s point of view, we get a very strong sense of claustrophobia, of hidden and dark secrets that can blow-up at any minute, and of a malignant force at work, undermining her efforts to settle and forget (although she does not really want to forget, only to remember with less pain).
The author also manages to create a totally plausible community in the area, consisting mostly of expats, but also of some local farmers and even an aristocrat, and their interactions and the complex relationship between them add depth to the novel. Although the newcomers, the Feldwick, might appear ill-suited to the area, and we don’t get to know their reasons for the move until the story is quite advanced, the network of relationships established since their arrival has a profound impact on their lives.
This is a novel where the historical aspect is less evident than in the previous two, and it might not appear evident at first, although, eventually, the historical fragments (narrated in the third-person —like the rest of the novel— from the point of view of a big variety of characters from the various eras) fall into place and readers discover what links them to the story. Secrets from the present and the past coalesce and the influence of the region and its past inhabitants on the present come full circle.
The psychological portrayal of the main characters is powerful as well. Although I didn’t particularly warm up to any of them (it’s impossible not to feel for Netty, whose tragic loss and unresolved bereavement make her easy to sympathise with, but her behaviour and prejudices didn’t do much to endear her to me, personally. Gerald is less likeable, especially as we see him, most of the time, from Netty’s perspective, but the fragments narrated from his point of view make him more understandable, if not truly nice or appealing; and we only get to see the rest of character’s from the main protagonists’ perspectives), the fact that they all had positive and negative aspects to their personalities, the way they behaved and reacted to each other and to their plight (sometimes in a selfish way, sometimes irrationally, sometimes totally blinded to the world around them, sometimes obsessed, overbearing, and/or abusive…), gave them humanity and made them more rounded. These were not superheroes or insightful and virtuous individuals, perfect in every way, and although by the end of the story they’ve suffered heartbreak, disappointments, and have been forced to confront their worst fears, this is not a story where, as if by magic, they are totally enlightened and all their problems have disappeared. The ending is left quite open, and although some aspects of the story are resolved (in a brilliant way, in my opinion), others are left to our imagination.
I want to avoid spoilers, but I wanted to include any warnings and extra comments. The main storyline is likely to upset readers, especially those who have suffered tragic family losses recently, and I know the death of very young characters is a particularly difficult topic for many. There are also some scenes of violence and death of animals (it is not called The Chase for nothing), battles and death of adults as well (in the historical chapters), and an off-the-page rape scene. There are other sex scenes, but these are not very explicit either. There are some elements that might fall into the paranormal category, although other interpretations are also possible. On the other hand, I have mentioned the interest the novel has for people who have visited the Dordogne or would like to visit in the future; readers who are interested in embroidery, mythology, and history of the region will also have a field day; its treatment of bereavement is interesting and compelling; and I think all those elements would make it ideal for book clubs, as there is plenty to discuss and think about.
A complex and beautifully written story that is likely to get everybody siding with one of the main characters, and a great option for those who love to travel without leaving their armchairs.
The Chalky Sea, by Clare Flynn
Clare Flynn is a favourite author of many readers, and although this was the first of her novels I’ve read and reviewed, I am not surprised, as she is a fine writer, who combines a strong sense of place and historical detail (WWII, especially the home front experience in the UK, particularly in Eastbourne, East Sussex, a seaside resort in the South of England that was heavily bombed during the war), with characters who undergo many trials and challenges, remain strongly anchored in the era, and whose innermost thoughts and motivations we get to understand (even when we might have very little in common with them or their opinions and feelings).
The two main protagonists, Gwen and Jim, are totally different: Gwen is an upper-middle-class British woman, well-educated, married, who enjoys volunteering and helping out, but whose life is far from fulfilled, as she never had children, her husband spends long periods of time away, and that gets even worse when the war starts. Jim is a young Canadian farmer, engaged to be married and happy with his lot when we meet him (although feeling somewhat guilty for not enlisting), whose life takes a sudden turn for the worse, and ends up enlisting and being sent to England. Although initially their stories only seem to have in common the fact that the action takes place during WWII, most readers will suspect that the characters are meant to meet at some point. I don’t want to spoil the reading experience for anybody, but let’s say both of them meet in Eastbourne in the latter part of the war, and they help each other understand their experiences, and be ready for life after the war. Gwen has experienced many losses from a very young age and has never been encouraged to express herself or talk about her feelings, afraid that her love could be a curse to anybody she met. Jim is presented as kind and patient (sometimes unbelievably so), but despite his good qualities he is betrayed and abandoned repeatedly and doesn’t trust his own feelings anymore. There are many secondary characters that add a touch of realism and variety to the novel (some good, some bad, some mean, some somewhere in-between), and I particularly enjoyed the details about the home front realities during WWII, the tasks women engaged in (Gwen gets to play a bigger part in the war effort than she expected), and the descriptions of Eastbourne, as I lived there for a while and the level of detail made the story feel much closer and realistic.
The story is narrated in the third person, from the points of view of the two main characters, and the author writes beautifully about places and emotions, without getting lost in overdrawn descriptions or sidetracked by titbits of real information. The novel touches on many subjects beyond WWII: there are several love stories, legally sanctioned and not; the nature of family relationships; morality and what was considered ‘proper’ behaviour and the changes those concepts underwent due to the war; women’s work opportunities, their roles, and how they broadened during the war; prejudice and social class; the Canadian contribution to the UK war effort; miscarriages/abortions and their effects on women; childless marriages; the loss of a sibling; was destruction and loss of human lives… Some of them are dealt with in more detail than others, but I am sure most readers will find plenty of food for thought in these pages.
Although this is the first novel in a series, I found the ending extremely fitting and satisfying (quite neat, but I’m not complaining)! And, of course, those who want to know more will be happy to hear that there are two more books to deep into as soon as they’ve finished reading this one.
A great option for lovers of historical fiction set during WWII in the UK, particularly those with a keen interest in the home front. A novel that reminded me of Brief Encounter, with some touches of Graham Greene as well. Also recommended to Flynn’s many fans.
Coffee and Vodka, by Helena Halme
Both the author and the setting of part of the story were completely new to me. Nordic crime novels have become quite popular, and I have read some, and also watched some series set in the area (mostly Sweden and Denmark), but had never come across any Finnish literature, so I was quite intrigued by the last novel in the boxset.
This is another story set in the recent past, but in contrast with many of the other texts in this volume, it is a pretty personal one. The story is told in the first person by Evva, and the timeline is split up into two. One half of the story takes place in 1974, when Evva is only a teenager and her family migrates from Finland to Sweden; and the other half takes place thirty years later, in 2004, when she is in her early forties and has to go back to Finland (not having been there even for a visit in the meantime) because her beloved grandmother is dying. The chapters in the two timelines alternate (although sometimes we might read several chapters from the same era without interruption), building up to create a clear picture of what life was like before, and how things have moved on. This is another one of those novels that I sometimes call an adult coming-of-age story, although in this case, we have both. We see Evva as a young child having to face a traumatic move, leaving her friends and her grandmother behind and having to start again in a new country, having to learn a new language, and having to face a degree of prejudice, although that is far from the worse of her experience, as things at home are not good either, and the situation keeps getting worse. And then, in 2004, Evva discovers that some of her beliefs and her version of events might not be accurate, and that much information about her family has been kept hidden from her. Everybody seems to have tried to protect her from the truth, although she realises she has also contributed to this by refusing to face up to things and continuing to behave like a naive teenager, both with her close family and in her personal life.
The author captures well the era and the teenager’s feelings and voice, and although I have never visited Finland or Sweden, I got a strong sense of how living there might be. She also manages to structure the novel in such a way that we get to know and understand Evva (young Evva is much easier to empathise with than older Evva, although I liked the way she develops and grows during the novel) whilst getting a strong suspicion that she is missing a lot of the facts, and the two timelines converge to provide us a reveal that is not surprising for this kind of stories, but it is well done and beautifully observed and written. I particularly appreciated the understated tone of the funeral and the conversations between the family members, and the fact that despite their emotions, they all behaved like the grown-ups they are.
There are harsh moments, and although those take place mostly off the page, readers who prefer to totally avoid the subject of domestic violence should be warned.
I recommend this book to readers who enjoy a well-written family drama, especially those interested in new settings and Nordic literature, those who love stories set in the 1970s, and anybody who enjoys dual timelines, coming-of-age stories, and beautifully observed characters.
Thanks to Rosie and the authors for this wonderful collection, thanks to all of you for reading (especially today!), keep reading, reviewing, smiling, and above all, keep safe.
The darkly compelling new novel from the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Chalk Man, The Taking of Annie Thorne and The Other People, soon to be a major TV series
‘Hypnotic and horrifying . . . Without doubt her best yet,’
The Burning Girls left me sleeping with the lights on’ CHRIS WHITAKER, bestselling author of Waterstones Thriller of the Month We Begin at the End
‘A gothic, spine-tingling roller-coaster of a story . . . CJ Tudor is a master of horror’ C.J. COOKE, author of The Nesting
500 years ago: eight martyrs were burnt to death
30 years ago: two teenagers vanished without trace
Two months ago: the vicar committed suicide
Welcome to Chapel Croft.
For Rev Jack Brooks and teenage daughter Flo it’s supposed to be a fresh start. New job, new home. But, as Jack knows, the past isn’t easily forgotten.
And in a close-knit community where the residents seem as proud as they are haunted by Chapel Croft’s history, Jack must tread carefully. Ancient superstitions as well as a mistrust of outsiders will be hard to overcome.
Yet right away Jack has more frightening concerns.
Why is Flo plagued by visions of burning girls?
Who’s sending them sinister, threatening messages?
And why did no one mention that the last vicar killed himself?
Chapel Croft’s secrets lie deep and dark as the tomb. Jack wouldn’t touch them if not for Flo – anything to protect Flo.
But the past is catching up with Chapel Croft – and with Jack. For old ghosts with scores to settle will never rest . . .
‘Tudor operates on the border between credulity and disbelief, creating an atmosphere of menace’ Sunday Times
‘A mesmerising and atmospheric page-turner, with plenty of shocks and a surprise twist for a finale. Her best novel yet’ Sunday Express
‘The best book yet from C. J. Tudor’ Best
Praise for C. J. Tudor:
‘C. J. Tudor is terrific. I can’t wait to see what she does next’ Harlan Coben
‘Britain’sfemale Stephen King’Daily Mail
‘A mesmerizingly chilling and atmospheric page-turner’ J.P. Delaney
‘Her books have the ability to simultaneously make you unable to stop reading while wishing you could bury the book somewhere deep underground where it can’t be found. Compelling and haunting’ Sunday Express
‘Some writers have it, and some don’t. C. J. Tudor has it big time’ Lee Child
C. J. Tudor lives with her partner and young daughter. Her love of writing, especially the dark and macabre, started young. When her peers were reading Judy Blume, she was devouring Stephen King and James Herbert.
Over the years she has had a variety of jobs, including trainee reporter, radio scriptwriter, dog walker, voiceover artist, television presenter, copywriter and, now, author.
Her first novel, The Chalk Man, was a Sunday Times bestseller and sold in thirty-nine territories.
I thank NetGalley and Penguin Michael Joseph UK for providing me an ARC copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.
I discovered C. J. Tudor with her first novel, The Chalk Man, a pretty impressive debut, and have read the two novels she has published since, The Taking of Annie Thorne and The Other People. As you can guess from that, I enjoy her writing and her penchant for creating stories that are never boring, with characters that keep us guessing until the end (or near enough). It is true, as well, that the topics she covers and her plots are not unique —if such a thing even exists—, especially for people who read plenty of thrillers, horror novels, mysteries, and watch films and TV series in those genres. But she knows how to pick up some elements that might feel familiar at first (after all, that is one of the reasons why many readers enjoy reading certain genres, because they know what to expect) and create something that manages to meet the expectations while keeping readers on their toes. And sometimes, scaring them a fair bit in the process.
That is true as well for this novel, which for me had a few things that made it particularly attractive. One would be the setting. The novel is set in the UK, in Sussex, an area where I lived for a few years and that I know fairly well. Although the village where the novel is set doesn’t exist, and neither does the actual tradition that gives it its name (and I won’t elaborate on that to avoid spoiling the story, although there is a fake Wikipedia entry at the very beginning that explains it all), I’ve read in an interview that the author felt inspired by the area and by the town of Lewes and its history, and I am not surprised that is the case. It is a very atmospheric place. I’ve read comments calling it “Gothic”, and it isn’t a bad name, but there is something more ancient and primordial at play as well (The Wicker Man comes to mind).
Another thing I found interesting is how self-referential the novel feels. The author has been compared to Stephen King (and she acknowledges how much she loves his books) on many occasions, as you can see reflected by the editorial comments, and his novels appear repeatedly in the book, as do references to popular movies and TV (The Lost Boys, The Usual Suspects, Heathers…) that might (or might not) be connected to the story and the plot. By openly acknowledging those in her pages, the author seems to be giving us clues and adding layers of meaning, although perhaps it is a fairly tongue-in chick ploy, and it is all part of the misdirection, twists and turns, and red herrings that are spread around the novel. Because another thing (and author) I kept thinking about when reading this novel was Agatha Christie and her works, in particular her Miss Marple novels, with their small villages with dark goings-on, where everybody is hiding something and outsiders have a hard time trying to find somebody trustworthy and to discover the truth. And there is also an elderly lady, Joan, who would fit perfectly into one of Christie’s novels, (and she is one of my favourite characters as well).
As I said, I won’t be discussing the plot in detail, to avoid spoilers, but I’ll mention some of the things readers can find in this novel: exorcisms gone wrong, crypts hiding dark secrets, ghoulish ghosts, disappeared girls, religious martyrs, child abuse and death, bullying and manipulation, abandoned creepy houses, unrequited love and jealousy, hidden motives and fake identities… This is not a mild or cozy novel, and there are some pretty gruesome and violent episodes, so I wouldn’t recommend it to readers looking for a light-hearted read.
That doesn’t mean the novel is all doom and gloom, as there are several characters with quite a sense of humour, and the protagonist, Jack, and Jack’s daughter, Flo, are both pretty witty and often funny. The protagonist narrates a lot of the story in the first person: Jack’s self-comments and observations appear sharp, clever, and they made me chuckle many times. Some also made me nod in agreement, and although I won’t say I agree with everything Jack does in the novel, I definitely understand the protagonist’s reasons. Apart from Jack’s first-person narration, there are fragments narrated in the third person, some from Flo’s point of view, and others from the perspective of a different character who we soon realise is trying to find Jack. Who he is and why he is after them… well, you’ll need to read the book to learn that. There are also brief fragments in italics that help create a fuller picture in our minds of what might have happened, even if we don’t know exactly whose memories we are accessing when we read them (but we are likely to have our suspicions). Does that mean the story is confusing? I didn’t find it so, and although this might depend on how familiar readers are with the genre, the different personalities of the characters come through in the writing, so I don’t think most people will have many problems telling whose points of view they are reading. Nonetheless, I recommend readers to be attentive and keep a close eye on everything, because, as is the case with more traditional mysteries, all the details are important, and the clues are there for a reason. If you blink, you might miss a piece of the puzzle that becomes important later on.
As is to be expected from these kinds of books, there is a false ending and a big twist. The author drops hints and clues along the way, and I am sure most people will suspect at least some of the information that is revealed, although perhaps not everything. Because, let me tell you that if you love unreliable narrators, you shouldn’t miss this one. Some reviewers felt disappointed by the ending, because… Well, I can’t tell you, of course. But, as I’ve said, there are hints dropped, and there is a bit of a soliloquy (not a soliloquy, but I could imagine it would become one if this were a play) where we get an explanation/justification of some important plot points. I’m not sure it was necessary, to be honest, but I can see why the author did that. Oh, and I did enjoy the ending, by the way.
Other reviewers also took issue with some depictions of characters and events that they feel reinforce negative stereotypes and prejudicial media representations of certain groups. Although this could be argued in one or two instances, and it is always a matter of interpretation, much of that view might result from a partial or perhaps too literal reading of the book with might have missed some of the nuances of the story.
This is a novel that, beyond the gripping plot and the mysteries it contains, deals in identity, in how we can reinvent ourselves and get a second chance, and also in what important role prejudices and labels can play in the way we are seen and perceived by others. While some people struggle to fight against assigned roles and expectations, others can use them to hide behind them and protect their true selves, or even manipulate them to their advantage. It also revisits the debate about evil. Do we believe some people are born evil or are we all born innocent and other people and our circumstances can turn us into monsters? Can there be some valid justifications, no matter how subjective they might be, for actions that would be considered evil by most people? Or there is no grey area when it comes to good and evil, and a person’s point of view doesn’t come into it? We might or might not agree with how things work out in the story, but I am sure we will all have formed an opinion by the end of the novel, perhaps even one that surprises us.
I recommend this book to fans of mysteries with some supernatural and horror elements, also to readers looking for a page-turner with plenty of atmosphere and a gripping storyline. I am sure most followers of C. J. Tudor won’t be disappointed, and, personally, I am looking forward to her next novel already.
Today I don’t bring you one of my usual reviews. The author of this novel, Anne Goodwin, contacted me ahead of its publication because she thought I might be interested to read it due to the topic and the story. She couldn’t have been more right, and rather than a review, I ended up writing a reflection on the type of thoughts and memories the novel brought to my mind. The book is being published by Inspired Quill on the 29th of May 2021, but I wanted to share it today because the author is holding a virtual book launch this Thursday, 27th of May, and I wanted to give those of you interested a chance to join in (I share the link below). Unfortunately, I can’t make it, as I am teaching an English lesson at that time on a Thursday afternoon, but I’m sure it will be fascinating. And without further ado:
Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home by Anne Goodwin
In the dying days of the old asylums, three paths intersect.
Henry was only a boy when he waved goodbye to his glamorous grown-up sister; approaching sixty, his life is still on hold as he awaits her return.
As a high-society hostess renowned for her recitals, Matty’s burden weighs heavily upon her, but she bears it with fortitude and grace.
Janice, a young social worker, wants to set the world to rights, but she needs to tackle challenges closer to home.
A brother and sister separated by decades of deceit. Will truth prevail over bigotry, or will the buried secret keep family apart?
In this, her third novel, Anne Goodwin has drawn on the language and landscapes of her native Cumbria and on the culture of long-stay psychiatric hospitals where she began her clinical psychology career.
Anne Goodwin grew up in the non-touristy part of Cumbria, where this novel is set. When she went to university ninety miles away, no-one could understand her accent. After nine years of studying, her first post on qualifying as a clinical psychologist was in a long-stay psychiatric hospital in the process of closing.
Her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, about a woman who has kept her past identity a secret for thirty years, was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her second novel, Underneath, about a man who keeps a woman captive in his cellar, was published in 2017. Her short story collection, Becoming Someone, on the theme of identity, was published in November 2018. Subscribers to her newsletter can download a free e-book of prize-winning short stories.
I arrived in the UK in September 1992. My goal was to qualify as a psychiatrist (I had studied Medicine back home in Barcelona, Spain) and, also, to improve my English. I started working as a junior doctor in psychiatry in February 1993, and Anne Goodwin’s new novel is set (mostly) just a couple of years earlier, at a moment when mental health services in the UK were undergoing a major change. The move from the big old-style asylums —where people who suffered from chronic mental health conditions, sometimes poorly defined, were “warehoused”—to “care in the community”, with its resulting emphasis on normalisation, on reintegration, and on support within the family, and/or the community, rocked the foundations of the system, and resulted on new practices, roles, and also in bringing to the fore a number of patients who had spent most of their lives in institutions and had real difficulties finding a place in an outside world they no longer recognised.
Even though this is a work of fiction, it is evident that the author is writing from personal experience, and that lends immediacy and depth to the story. Goodwin captures perfectly the atmosphere of the mental health asylums, where routine was sacred, and everybody had a part to play they were not allowed to deviate from. She offers readers several points of view: that of a newly-qualified social worker (Janice), who is going through an unsettling time in her personal life, and whose values and certainties will be put to the test by this job, especially by Matty’s case; Matty’s, one of the long-stay patients, whose story is less-than-certain after having been institutionalised for over 50 years, who allows us a peek into her unique world (stuck as she is in the past, an imaginary refuge from her less than glamorous reality); Henry’s, a man who also lives stuck in the past, waiting for a sister/mother whom he is no longer sure ever existed; and Matilda’s, who takes us back to the 1930s and tells us a story full of everyday tragedy, loss, and despair.
Although I only experienced the aftermath of the closing of the big asylums, I got to talk to many nurses and doctors who had spent most of their working lives there and had been involved in the changes as well. I also met many of the patients who hadn’t been lucky enough to move back into the community and ended up in newer long-term units, and also some of those who managed to create new lives for themselves, with the dedicated support of members of staff who were usually stretched to their limits. I worked in a newly-built unit in the grounds of one of the big asylums in the South of England, and walked the beautiful gardens, saw the impressive buildings (it had even had a railway station in its heyday), and it was easy to imagine how things must have been. Hardly any of the patients who’d spent years there had any contact with their families any longer, and their worlds had become reduced to their everyday routine, the tea with the sugar and milk already in, and the daily trip to the shop that the novel so realistically portrays. The way the author contrasts the experiences from the characters who live “normal” lives in the community (Henry’s life is “peculiar” to say the least, and Janice is in a sort of limbo, an impasse in her life) with Matty’s life in hospital emphasises the importance of the stories we tell ourselves, and also reminds us of the need to take control and to impose our own meaning in our lives. If we don’t, we are at risk of becoming the person or the version of ourselves that other people decide. And that is the worst of tragedies.
This is not an easy story to contemplate, and most readers will soon imagine that the truth about Matilda’s past, once revealed, will be shocking and tragic. Worse still, we know that it is all a too-familiar story and not a flight of fancy on the part of the author. But she manages to make it deeply personal, and I challenge any casual readers not to feel both, horrified and moved, by the story.
As a mental health professional, this novel brought goosebumps to my skin and a lot of memories. As a reader, it gave me pause and made me care for a group of characters whom I share little with (other than my professional experience). As a human being, I can only hope no girls find themselves in the position of Matilda ever again, and also that, as a society, we always remember that there is no health without mental health. Thankfully, many people have come forward in recent years and shared their mental health difficulties and their experiences trying to find help. It was about time because those patients not at liberty to leave the hospital always reminded us that we would go home at the end of the day, but they had no home to go to, or, worse even, the hospital was their only home. Out of sight, out of mind is a terrible attitude when it comes to people’s suffering. Hiding away mental health problems does nothing to help those suffering them or the society they should be fully participating in, and Goodwin’s novel reminds us that we have come a long way, but there’s still a long way ahead.
A fantastic novel, about a tough topic, which highlights the changes in mental health policy and forces us to remember we are all vulnerable, and we should fight to ensure that nobody is ever left behind.
Thanks to the author for offering me the opportunity to read her novel ahead of publication. It will stay with me for a long time, and I’m delighted to hear that she’s already working on its second part.
I haven’t forgotten the invitation to the online launch. Tickets can be booked here:
Thanks to the author for sharing this novel with me. As you can see from my comments, it brought back many memories. Thanks to all of you for reading, and if you know anybody who might be interested, remember to share and pass the message on. Remember that it will be published on the 29th of May, so not long to go. Remember to keep safe and keep smiling!
I bring you a book by an author who has visited my blog before, although this one is pretty different. You know I like different… Oh, I kept thinking about Pete who blogs from Beetley now and whose London stories (and others) I enjoy so much. If you don’t know him, you can check his blog here.
The London Property Boy by Patrick Brigham
Michael Mostyne, a thirty-something developer and property dealer, has fallen foul of Great Britains 1970s economic recession. A property crash like no other, it foreshadows the end of a promising career, but it is also the end of his unhappy marriage to Lavender Mostyne. The tale of his painful struggle to get back on his feet, whilst dealing with the past and an acrimonious divorce, Mike Mostyne leaves his provincial home, moves to London and gets a job running a West London real estate agency. Through hard work, success soon turns to success and his life begins to change for the better. By manoeuvring around his bosses, with their narrow self-interest, his own desire for big money and a wish to be financially independent means he has to take huge risks.
London is not short of girls, and Mike Mostyne is rarely on his own. Christine, a West End PA and a good time girl, looks at him through a cloud of cannabis smoke. Sofie, a minor Dutch diplomat, disappears when Mike’s son Mark is mysteriously kidnapped by the IRA. And finally, there is Nadezhda Antova, who friends say is an Eastern European honey trap, but who he marries despite their warnings. From rags to riches, and with the next property crash waiting around the corner, will fate finally conspire to finish him off once again? Will he also find personal happiness with Nadezhda Antova, and why is MI5 so interested?
Patrick Brigham has lived in the Balkans for many years. Originally from London, where he was in the property business, he lived in the City until 1993 and then moved to Sofia. As Chief Editor of a magazine called the Sofia Western News, and the first English language magazine in ex-Communist Bulgaria, it introduced him to the intrigues of Eastern Europe, and a firm understanding of the people living there.
Now living in Northern Greece, Patrick has published many murder mystery novels as well as stand-alone literary fiction and a humorous play. Writing for the more thoughtful reader, Patrick Brigham says:–
“I have lived quite an eventful life, so much of what I write is based on fact. Most of my books concentrate on a particular subject, and The London Property Boy does just that and has quite a lot of me in it. We should never simply dwell on the past, but a colourful past is where much of our inspiration comes from.”
I received an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to read and review.
I read and reviewed Bringham’s Goddess of the Rainbow some time ago, and I was curious to read a new work by him, in this case a novel that seemed totally different in setting and subject matter. And that is indeed the case. This is not a choral book, and although there are quite a number of characters, the story centres around Mike Mostyne, and most of it takes place in London (although other parts of the UK also feature, and there are occasional trips to Bulgaria as well, and that connects it somewhat to the previous novel). The author’s biography confirmed my impression that the novel showed a deep and personal knowledge of the world of the property business in London in the 70s and 80s.
I don’t want to go into a lot of detail about the plot, as the description covers the gist of the main events. We follow Mike Mostyne, who is a property developer when we meet him at the beginning of the novel, through several decades of adventures that mirror what’s happening in London’s property market and the UK economy at large, from bust to boom and repeat. Although a lot of the novel is taken by his work and his efforts to rebuild his business and avoid bankruptcy, we also read about his personal life (although not in so much detail): his two marriages and the other women who cross (and some share, even if momentarily) his life, the relationship with his son, his attempts at looking after his mother and his fraught relationship with his sibling, his interaction with friends and associates, and also some more unusual goings-on (there’s some spying thrown in). Although this is narrated in a third-person omniscient voice (most of it from Mike’s point of view, but we also get some inside information about some of the other characters the protagonist could not be privy to [at least not at the time when the events were taking place], and in some occasions, we appear to be observing Mike as if from a distance), at times it feels as if it were a memoir, but rather than Mike writing it, it is as if he had told the story to somebody else who had gathered other information as well, and we get to read this more detailed account of events. And believe me, the events make for quite a good read.
Although some of the themes might be pretty standard and to be expected in a novel (I’ve mentioned some already: private life, family relationships, love, friendship, business), Mike goes through more than his fair share of disappointments, betrayals, misunderstandings, strange deals and connections, unusual characters, politics (both in the UK and in Bulgaria, which gives him an unusual insight and perspective into the transition from the communist regime to the new democracies of some of the Eastern Bloc countries), and secrets beyond those most people come across in a lifetime. People familiar with the London of the 1970s and 80s will feel quite at home in this novel, and those who know or are interested in the property business, especially as it was 40 to 50 years ago in London, will remember and/or learn a lot about how things were really like. Tricks of the trade, underhand deals, backstabbing and internal company politics, corruption, traffic of influences, legal and not-so-legal procedures… It’s an eye-opener for those of us without direct experience who have always felt curious about it.
Mike is the main character, and we get to know him fairly well, although, as I’ve mentioned, the way the story is told and the fact that there is plenty of telling rather than showing, means that this is not in a touchy-feely way. Even when he is distressed, there is no much time dedicated to his feelings, and the style of the storytelling seems to go hand in hand with the character, who tries not to dwell on bad things, who is eminently practical and prefers to get on with things and act rather than to gaze at his own navel, and who never gives up. We get glimpses of his relationship with his mother, his sister and his brother, his first wife (who is a pretty dislikeable character, at least in my opinion), his son (who sounds like a terrific boy, but we don’t hear about him very often), some of the other women he comes across, and some pretty colourful characters, like a Bulgarian spy/politician, and John Cunningham, who is a puzzle in his own right. Personally, I would have liked to learn more about some of them (I particularly like his mother, although we meet her at a bad time in her life), but, as I have mentioned, the style of writing reflects the character’s personality, and one gets the sense that whatever his true feelings or interests, he would be unlikely to delve on them or divulge them even to those closest to him.
I’ve mentioned the point of view of the novel; the language suits the character and the location perfectly; it is peppered with local British expressions (which I think many readers will enjoy) and popular references to the period, without excessive or flowery descriptions (but there are some memorable characterisations); and it flows quite well. It isn’t a page-turner in the usual sense, as even when events take a turn that appears risky or dangerous, there isn’t a quickening of the pace but there isn’t an excessive build-up of tension either. It is a less-is-more approach that I found quite refreshing, although it seems to go against the usual dictates of how to write a bestseller. This is a fascinating story, told without too many bells and whistles, in a style that allows the facts to speak for themselves. That does not mean there is a lack of reflection and insight, as there are comments and quotes that are so sharp and true that one is left nodding in amazement and agreement. And, unfortunately in many cases, some of them are as relevant now as they were at the time the story is set in. I highlighted a lot of the text, and I share a few examples here (but, as usual, I recommend readers to check the look-inside feature or get a sample before deciding if the style suits their taste):
It always surprised him how solicitors managed to remove their umbrella when it began to rain, and to charge heavy fees when the pressure was on, and how, even after years of loyalty, you became their victim in the end.
Mike reflects about his mother and her failing memory:
Perhaps her memory loss was closely connected to her loneliness, and recollecting the past only served to increase her feelings of isolation. Maybe that was the solution to loneliness: to simply forget.
Here Mike is talking to John Cunningham about a pretty peculiar Bulgarian character (yes, Bulgarians don’t come out of this novel particularly well, although they aren’t the only ones to suffer a harsh treatment, and the author seems to be talking from personal experience) who after the fall of the Eastern Bloc decides to become a candidate in the first democratic elections in his country:
‘What, from con man to respectable politician? I thought that was an oxymoron?’
‘It’s just like good old Dr Johnson said —“Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”
The ending is open, and it promises further adventures (although I don’t know if there’s another book planned or not). That does not mean there is a cliff-hanger. Nothing like that. As I’ve said before, Mike is a man who never gives up and who’s always after a new project or challenge, so it’s not surprising he goes searching for the next thing.
This is a book for those who enjoy local atmosphere and fiction set in the recent past (the latter part of the XX century), particularly in the UK and London. It doesn’t easily fit into a genre (it is a fictionalised memoir with plenty of information about the property business, family and romantic relationships, and even elements of the spy novel), and it defies many of the expectations of the majority of novels published these days. If you want more of the same or love standard genre novels, don’t bother with this one. But if you’d like to check a story that reflects the period, has touches of humour, and is non-apologetically personal, give it a go. It’s likely to leave you eager for more.
Thanks to the author for his novel, thanks to all of you for reading, I hope 2021 has started on a good note for you (don’t we all need it!), and remember to comment, like, share, click, and especially keep safe, and keep reading!
I bring you the review of one of the books that won the Booker Prize in 2019. I hope to read Atwood’s novel as well at some point.
Girl, Woman, Other: WINNER OF THE BOOKER PRIZE 2019 by Bernardine Evaristo
BRITISH BOOK AWARDS AUTHOR & FICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR 2020
WINNER OF THE BOOKER PRIZE 2019
THE SUNDAY TIMES 1# BESTSELLER
‘The most absorbing book I read all year.’ Roxane Gay
This is Britain as you’ve never read it.
This is Britain as it has never been told.
From Newcastle to Cornwall, from the birth of the twentieth century to the teens of the twenty-first, Girl, Woman, Other follows a cast of twelve characters on their personal journeys through this country and the last hundred years. They’re each looking for something – a shared past, an unexpected future, a place to call home, somewhere to fit in, a lover, a missed mother, a lost father, even just a touch of hope . . . ____________________________
‘[Bernardine Evaristo] is one of the very best that we have’ Nikesh Shukla on Twitter
‘A choral love song to black womanhood in modern Great Britain’Elle
‘Beautifully interwoven stories of identity, race, womanhood, and the realities of modern Britain. The characters are so vivid, the writing is beautiful and it brims with humanity’ Nicola Sturgeon on Twitter
‘Bernardine Evaristo can take any story from any time and turn it into something vibrating with life’ Ali Smith, author of How to be both
‘Exceptional. You have to order it right now’ Stylist
Award-winning British writer Bernardine Evaristo is the author of seven books. She is also an editor, critic, dramatist and essayist. Her writing spans the genres of prose novels, verse-novels, a novel-with-verse, a novella, poetry, non-fiction, literary criticism and radio and theatre drama. Her latest novel, Mr Loverman, is about a 74 yr old Caribbean London man who is closet homosexual (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, 2013 & Akashic Books, USA, 2014). Her writing is characterised by experimentation, daring and subverting the myths of various Afro-diasporic histories and identities. She has published widely in a variety of publications and anthologies.
Her books are: MR LOVERMAN (Penguin, 2013), HELLO MUM (Penguin 2010), LARA (Bloodaxe 2009), BLONDE ROOTS (Penguin 2008), SOUL TOURISTS (Penguin 2005), THE EMPEROR’S BABE (Penguin 2001), the first version of LARA (ARP 1997), ISLAND OF ABRAHAM (Peepal Tree, 1994). For more information visit BOOKS.
Her awards include a Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize, EMMA Best Book Award, Big Red Read, Orange Youth Panel Award, NESTA Fellowship Award and an Arts Council Writer’s Award. Her books have been a ‘Book of the Year’ thirteen times in British newspapers and magazines and The Emperor’s Babe was a (London) Times ‘Book of the Decade’. Hello Mum has been chosen as one of twenty titles for World Book Night in 2014. She was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2004, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 2006, and she received an MBE in 2009.
Her verse novel The Emperor’s Babe was adapted into a BBC Radio 4 play in 2013 and her novella Hello Mum was broadcast as a BBC Radio 4 play in 2012. Her new novel Mr Loverman was optioned by BBC television drama in 2014.
She is co-editor of two recent anthologies and a special issue of Wasafiri magazine: BlackBritain: Beyond Definition, which celebrated and reevaluated the black writing scene in Britain. In 2012 she was guest editor of the winter issue of Poetry Review, Britain’s leading poetry journal, in its centenary year. Her issue, Offending Frequencies, featured more poets of colour than had ever previously been published in a single issue of the journal, as well as many female, radical, experimental and outspoken voices. She is guest-editing the September 2014 issue of Mslexia magazine.
Her literary criticism appears in the national newspapers such as the Guardian and Independent and she has judged many literary awards.
Bernardine’s books have been translated into several languages including Mandarin.
Personal: Bernardine Evaristo was born in Woolwich, south east London, the fourth of eight children, to an English mother and Nigerian father. Her father was a welder and local Labour councillor and her mother a school teacher. She was educated at Eltham Hill Girls Grammar School, the Rose Bruford College of Speech & Drama, and Goldsmiths, University of London, where she earned a PhD in Creative Writing. She spent her teenage years acting at Greenwich Young People’s Theatre.
She lives in London with her husband.
I thank Penguin UK and NetGalley for the ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.
My list of books to read has grown so long that sometimes I’m surprised when I realise some titles I’ve wanted to read for a while had been quietly waiting on my e-reader, and I’d completely lost track of them. This is one of them. I kept reading comments and reviews and thinking I had to read it once I got a copy, and I finally realised I had it already. Oh, well, a nice surprise for a change in a year that hasn’t had many.
I’ve never read any books by Evaristo before, although she’s been writing for quite a while and has become well-known and, judging by this book, deservedly so.
Although brief, the official book description gives a good idea of the content. There isn’t a plot in the traditional sense, a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. In fact, some reviewers have complained that this is not a novel, but rather a collection of twelve biographical notes, and they didn’t feel connected to any of the characters, as none of their stories were explored in detail. It is true that the book is a catalogue of the multi-faceted experience of British women from diverse ethnic backgrounds, social classes, locations (from the most rural to London and beyond), educational levels, professions, gender identities, politics, sexual interests, tastes… But rather than being true biographies (of fictional biographies), these are no stories told objectively from an outsider’s point of view. Although written in the third-person (the writing style is very special as well), we get each of these women’s stories from their own point of view, at least in their own chapter. The book is divided into 4 parts, each telling three stories that appear connected, as they are often the stories of relatives or close friends, sometimes going back several generations. The beauty of the way the book is constructed is that, as we keep reading, we come to realise that a lot of these women’s lives have intersected at some point or other, and that gives us also an outsider’s perspective on what they are like, or, rather, how they appear to others and what others think of them. Sometimes there is a huge gap between the two, but I found it difficult not to empathise with these women after seeing their lives through their own eyes, even when I might have nothing in common with some of them. When you’ve walked a mile in their shoes, it’s easier to understand who they are and to feel sorry when others dismiss them, misunderstand them, or even openly dislike them. Of course, I liked some characters more than others, but I was interested in their experiences, even those of the women I would never want as my friends.
As you can imagine from the above, the book deals in many important issues: race, gender, political views, aging, social changes, family relationships, identity in its many facets, prejudice, sexual and physical abuse, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse … The risk Evaristo runs in trying to cover such wide and numerous topics is to end up skimming over all of them and never getting into the nitty-gritty of anything. That might be true, but I see this book as a celebration of uniqueness and self-definition, rather than as an in-depth exploration of one single issue. We are not just one thing to the exclusion of everything else. We aren’t only daughters or only British, or only writers, or only adopted or only heterosexual… This book illustrates the multiple possibilities, the many combinations, and the complexity of womanhood (and humanity).
The author is well-known for her poetry, and she has called the style she uses in this book “fusion fiction” a form of rather fluid prose poetry, with no capital letters at the beginning of the sentence and no full stops to mark the end of a sentence. The lack of adherence to grammar rules has bothered quite a number of readers, who found it difficult to get used to, distracting, or pretentious. I was surprised at first, and more than once I had to go back to make sure I had got the right end of the conversation, but it seemed to work well with the text-to-speech option I often use (it adapted well to the natural reading rhythm), and I suspect the same might be the case for the audiobook version. I normally recommend that readers check a sample of a book when I think the writing style might not be to everybody’s liking, and this is a case in point. If you’re thinking about purchasing it, have a look first. (I am not sharing quotes because mine was an ARC copy and any quote would need to be fairly long to give any idea of what the reading experience might be like).
There is an epilogue at the very end of the book, which I wouldn’t call a twist, but it does put an interesting spin on some of the stories. If the idea that we are all connected somehow seems to flow through the whole book, the epilogue closes the circle. (I enjoyed it, although if this was a mystery, I’d say that I’d guessed what was likely to happen well before the last page).
I recommend this novel to readers who like to explore diverse characters and alternative voices, particularly in a UK setting; to those who like to experiment different writing styles, unusual formats, and unconventional stories. And those who enjoy reading poetry should check it out as well. Some of the topics covered are quite hard and bound to be upsetting, even when not discussed in too much graphic detail, so caution is advised. I will keep track of Evaristo from now on, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one.
Thanks to NetGalley, to Penguin UK and to the author for this book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and above all, keep safe.
I bring you another book by one of my favourite authors. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Wasteland (Operation Galton Book 2) by Terry Tyler
“Those who escape ‘the system’ are left to survive outside society. The fortunate find places in off-grid communities; the others disappear into the wasteland.”
The year: 2061. In the new UK megacities, the government watches every move you make. Speech is no longer free—an ‘offensive’ word reaching the wrong ear means a social demerit and a hefty fine. One too many demerits? Job loss and eviction, with free transport to your nearest community for the homeless: the Hope Villages.
Rae Farrer is the ultimate megacity girl – tech-loving, hard-working, law-abiding and content – until a shocking discovery about her birth forces her to question every aspect of life in UK Megacity 12.
On the other side of the supposedly safe megacity walls, a few wastelanders suspect that their freedom cannot last forever…
Wasteland is the stand-alone sequel to ‘Hope’, the concluding book in the two-part Operation Galton series, and Terry Tyler’s twenty-first publication.
Terry Tyler is the author of twenty-one books available from Amazon, the latest being ‘Wasteland’, a dystopian thriller set in the UK in 2061, the stand-alone sequel to ‘Hope’. Other recent releases include ‘Blackthorn’, a stand-alone post apocalyptic drama related to her Project Renova series. Proud to be independently published, Terry is an avid reader and book reviewer, and a member of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.
Terry is a Walking Dead addict, and has a great interest in history (particularly 14th-17th century), and sociological/cultural/anthropological stuff, generally. She loves South Park, Netflix, autumn and winter, and going for long walks in quiet places where there are lots of trees. She lives in the north east of England with her husband.
I received an ARC copy of this novel previous to its publication, and I’m pleased to finally be able to review it of my own free wall.
I discovered the author of this novel a few years back, and I am aware that she writes in a variety of genres, but for some reason, every time I think of reading one of her books in a different genre, another one of her dystopic novels comes my way, and I can’t resist their call. I have read and reviewed The Project Renova Series and also Blackthorn (an offshoot of that series), and I read the first novel in this series (or duo of novels, unless the author decides to return to this world later), Hope (you can find my review here) a little over a year ago. Circumstances have changed since I read the first novel, and the Coronavirus health crisis has made me think of the ProjectRenova Series, especially Tipping Point, very often. But many other worldwide events have kept Hope also quite fresh in my mind.
What to say about this author? Reading her reviews of books by other authors (that I recommend as well) one learns that although she enjoys a well-plotted story, she needs meaty characters to engage with as well, and paper-thin characterisation doesn’t cut it for her and that is reflected in her books. The plot of this novel, like that of Hope, is gripping, don’t get me wrong, but what always makes me fully engage with a story is believing in the characters and connecting with them, not always because I like them. When it comes to this author’s novels, even those characters I don’t like feel true, human, and relatable, down to their weaknesses and their evil ways.
I don’t want to ruin this novel for anybody, so I won’t go into the plot in too much detail. The story takes place in the same dystopic but recognisable future world featured in Hope, but almost forty years later (in 2061). Those who worry about starting to read a series in the middle don’t need to worry too much, as the novel starts slowly and there is enough world building and information about the way things work for readers to quickly pick up and settle into the story, although I’m sure anybody who starts to read here will want to know what happened before (and I recommend reading both books and in the right order if at all possible). For those who read the first novel a while back, there’s no need to worry either, because the author offers us a link to a summary at the beginning of the book. Having said that, the main characters are completely new, and although we do get the odd reference to some of the characters in the previous book (and some make a fleeting appearance in this volume), it is not necessary to remember every detail of the first book to enjoy this one, and this novel can be read independently.
Things have moved further along, the mega-corporations control everything in people’s lives (their diets, their contacts, their jobs, exercise regimes, transportation, opinions…), and the government is preparing the new phase of their plan. If they had managed to solve the problem of homelessness and poverty by removing, rehousing, and warehousing the people they found no use for (or those who could be disruptive), they now go a step further. I had mentioned “the final solution” in my review of the previous book, and this novel echoes that mentality, and, as many reviewers have mentioned, reminds us of Orwell’s Big Brother, but also of other dystopias (I kept thinking of Huxley’s Brave New World).
The main character, Rae, one of the inhabitants of a megacity, discovers that her early childhood and personal circumstances are very different to what she’d been told and decides to try and find out the truth and locate her family, despite the risks this might involve. Although when we meet her she is only a young woman who is not totally happy with her life (she is a counsellor but is frustrated at having to follow guidelines and dish out the same trite advice to everybody, and her boyfriend is self-obsessed and not very caring) but she does not question it, she evolves through the novel, grows, and learns to think for herself. Her story is told in the first-person and it occupies a big part of the book. That works well because it allows us to explore different aspects of the world order, as she travels between them trying to find her family. But we also get snippets of the stories, told in the third person, of a variety of characters, from one of the big and powerful who is behind much of what is to come, to a young man who ended up in a Hope Village and discovers that, no matter how bad things are, they can always get worse. There are others as well, and that allows us to experience, through the eyes of the characters, the ramifications of this operation and what it does to the population. Scary doesn’t quite cover it. It is terrifying, precisely because it feels so plausible, and because many of the things we hear the characters say (or read, or watch) are so similar to what we experience in our everyday lives that it is impossible not to pause and gasp.
No privacy, government monitoring of our lives, total control of information, the abysmal division between the haves and the have-nots, the cult of popularity, the importance given to looks and appearances above everything, the spinning of news and the emergence of fake news, the demolishing of any discordant voices, the pressure to conform, bullying and backstabbing at work, the cuts of the funding for social projects… The list of the issues brought up by the novel that could be out of today’s newsfeed is endless, and it seems to have become even more pressing and shocking now than when I read the first book.
When I think about this book and about the author, I’m reminded of the dialogue of a play I read years back, when one character explained that a clairvoyant is a person who “sees clearly”. And yes, this is what Tyler is, a clairvoyant, not so much because she can predict the future (I hope she’s got it wrong, but I wouldn’t bet on it), but because she sees what’s happening around us with tremendous clarity. And she can write about it, for sure.
So, yes, I loved this book, although “loved” is perhaps not the right word for such a book. I enjoyed it immensely but I kept my fingers crossed and can’t but hope that the things in it that haven’t happened yet will never come to pass. I enjoyed the ending, at least for some of the characters I’d come to care about, (but the author takes no prisoners and this is not a cosy and happy ending by any stretch of the imagination); there are plenty of twists (if you needed a proof that we can make assumptions and reach the wrong conclusions when we read, this book delivers in a big way); and if you are looking for a gripping read that you won’t forget any time soon, I recommend it without reservations. If you are looking for a book that will take your mind off things and you’ll forget as soon as you’ve turned the last page, this isn’t it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Thanks to Terry for this fantastic novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, keep smiling, and above all, keep safe.
I bring you a book that appealed to me for a variety of reasons. I hope you find it interesting as well.
Battle of Britain Broadcaster: Charles Gardner, Radio Pioneer and WWII Pilot by Robert Gardner
In 1936 Charles Gardner joined the BBC as a sub-editor in its news department. Shortly afterwards, he was joined by Richard Dimbleby and together they became the very first BBC news correspondents. They covered everything from shipwrecks to fires, floods to air raid precautions and, in Garner’s’ case, new aircraft. Their exploits became legendary and they laid down the first principles of news broadcasting – of integrity and impartiality – still followed today. With the outbreak of war Charles Gardner became one of the first BBC war correspondents and was posted to France to cover the RAF’s AASF (Advanced Air Strike Force). He made numerous broadcasts interviewing many fighter pilots after engagements with the Germans and recalling stories of raids, bomb attacks and eventually the Blitzkrieg when they all were evacuated from France. When he got home he wrote a book AASF which was one of the first books on the Second World War to be published. In late 1940 he was commissioned in the RAF as a pilot and flew Catalina flying boats of Coastal Command. After support missions over the Atlantic protecting supply convoys from America, his squadron was deployed to Ceylon which was under threat from the Japanese navy. Gardner was at the controls when he was the first to sight the Japanese fleet and report back its position. Gardner was later recruited by Lord Mountbatten, to help report the exploits of the British 14th Army in Burma. He both broadcast and filed countless reports of their astonishing bravery in beating the Japanese in jungle conditions and monsoon weather. After the war, Gardner became the BBC air correspondent from 1946-1953. As such, he became known as The Voice of the Air,’ witnessing and recording the greatest days in British aviation history. But Perhaps he will best be remembered for his 1940 eye-witness account of an air battle over the English Channel when German dive bombers unsuccessfully attacked a British convoy but were driven off by RAF fighters. At the time it caused a national controversy. Some complained about his commentary being like a football match,’ and not an air battle where men’s lives were at stake. That broadcast is still played frequently today.
Robert Gardner, Charles Gardner’s son, worked as a journalist for four years before moving into public relations with the British Aircraft Corporation becoming Head of Publicity and later Vice President of British Aerospace and BAE Systems. He is the author of From Bouncing Bombs to Concorde – The Authorised Biography of Sir George Edwards. Robert Gardner, who is now retired, was appointed MBE in 2001.
I thank Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for providing me a hardback review copy of this book that I freely chose to review.
What initially intrigued me about this book was the mention of Charles Gardner’s career as a broadcaster for the BBC. I am a fan of radio and as a volunteer at local radio stations for the last few years (first on Penistone FM, in the UK, and now on Sants 3 Ràdio, here in Barcelona), I wanted to read about an important pioneer’s experiences. When I read more about Gardner and his career, both with the BBC and also as a pilot and collaborator with the British Aircraft Corporation, I wanted to know more.
This is a book, written by the son of the protagonist, and as such, it has the virtue of including plenty of personal details and memories that are not easily available anywhere else. Charles Gardner wrote and published books about WWII and about aviation and aircraft, and we have access to many of his broadcasts and articles —and there are excerpts of those in the book as well— but the author has had privileged access to materials such as notebooks, letters, and also, of course, to stories he heard first-hand and lived, and that makes this a much rarer opportunity for those interested in the story of this pioneer, a man who loved the news, journalism, and also planes and flying, to the point that he decided to learn to fly and that would influence his later career in the BBC and also his time in WWII.
This book highlights some events, like Gardner’s life broadcasting of an air-battle between British and German planes in 1940 (a first, and somewhat controversial broadcasting), his friendships (Richard Dimbleby, New Zealand pilot ‘Cobber’ Kain, with Sir George Edwards, his connection to Lord Mountbatten…), his time broadcasting in France and following the RAF before enlisting as a pilot and being involved in actions in Europe and later in East Asia (Ceylon and Burma)… There is also content about his return to the BBC after the war and a chapter about a royal secret and Gardner’s involvement in it (and yes, it concerns Elizabeth, a princess then, and Philip, her future husband. Yes, romance is involved as well). I loved the details about the beginning of Gardner’s journalistic career at the Nuneaton Tribune and the Leicester Mercury and also the account of the first years with the BBC, that reminded me very much of what is like to report on local news: you might be covering an anniversary even today, the opening of a new facility tomorrow, and interviewing some local celebrity the next day. The difficulties he and Richard Dimbleby had trying to broadcast from France and getting access to a broadcasting vehicle highlights how different things were (we were not all connected then), and I loved the inclusion of snippets of how the family was experiencing the same events (his wife and his growing number of children moved a number of times to follow him during the war, and those stories make for great reading material in their own right).
The book also includes many black and white photos of Gardner, his family, the locations… There is an index and detailed notes and resources for each chapter.
This is a great read and a book I recommend to people interested in Charles Gardner, in the history of the radio, news reporting, BBC and media in the UK, in WWII history, particularly the RAF, and in British aviation in general.
You might want to check this article by the author where he talks about his father and about this book.
Thanks to Pen & Sword and to the author for this opportunity, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and especially, keep safe and keep smiling (even under the mask). ♥
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