A Long Petal of the Sea: Book Review

It was with little hope that I applied to NetGalley to read a pre-release copy of Isabel Allende’s latest book “A Long Petal of the Sea”.

Isabel Allende

As a huge fan of her work, I coveted the book but I doubted my chances. Ideally, NetGalley want 80% of books delivered to be reviewed —let’s say my stats are nowhere near this figure. In the early days as a member, I happily clicked on new books, then failed to find the time to either read or review.

Against all expectations, I was accepted to review “A Long Petal of the Sea”. I was overjoyed and that same evening started the book. Wow! I had no idea the emotional and intellectual journey ahead in this most remarkable of books.

Normally, I do not include the blurbs of books, however, considering the wide scope of “A Long Petal of the Sea” it makes sense to first introduce its premise. Surprisingly, there is a very different blurb for the Amazon in America. Here is the UK book description:

“That September 2, 1939, the day of the Spanish exiles’ splendid arrival in Chile, the Second World War broke out in Europe.

Victor Dalmau is a young doctor when he is caught up in the Spanish Civil War, a tragedy that leaves his life – and the fate of his country – forever changed. Together with his sister-in-law, the pianist Roser Bruguera, he is forced out of his beloved Barcelona and into exile.

When opportunity to seek refuge in Chile arises, they take it, boarding a ship chartered by the poet Pablo Neruda to the promised ‘long petal of sea and wine and snow’ over the seas. There, they find themselves enmeshed in a rich web of characters who come together in love and tragedy over the course of four generations, destined to witness the battle between freedom and repression as it plays out across the world.”

M/S Winnipeg

Spoiler Alert: In order to write a comprehensive review I have included some elements from the book that could be considered as ‘spoilers’. I feel my review here barely begins to hint at its magnificence and any details will in no way affect any later rewarding read.

My Review

“A Long Petal of the Sea” is an incredible literary novel. It is effectively divided into three parts, each one representative of a different country and time era in which Victor and Roser find themselves.

The story starts dramatically in the midst of the Spanish Civil War as Victor finds himself holding the heart of a fallen soldier, which he massages back to life. His vision of working within cardiology is set from this moment.

The first part of the book is captivating, heartbreaking, emotional. It’s epic, yet often tender and personal as the reader is introduced to the various characters, especially, Roser, Victor and his brother Guillem.

At times in this first section the story is interspersed with succinct history ‘lessons’ about the Spanish Civil War which are equally fascinating and horrifying. As Roser and Victor’s mother are forced to join the half million refugees walking to France from Spain I felt deep shock. How had I never heard of this mass exodus – The Retreat. A retreat which killed thousands, both en route and later in appalling conditions in camps in France.

Pablo Neruda

Once in France Victor and Roser are among the lucky two thousand accepted onboard the rescue ship M/S Winnipeg chartered by the famous Chilean Nobel-prize winning poet and politician Pablo Neruda. Throughout the book, Pablo Neruda’s poems are quoted at the beginning of chapters, his words reflecting his belief in humanity, his love for his country.

Once in Chile the writing style is transformed. From the stark description of the terror in Spain, which at times left the main protagonists feeling remote from the reader, the attention moves alongside Victor and Roser as they build a new life in their adopted country.

Here they find warmth, comfort and opportunity. Whilst Victor works in a bar to fund his medical training, Roser continues piano playing, increasingly at a higher level. Their lives become interlinked with a Chilean family whose son Felipe was a young diplomat and welcomed them to Chile on their arrival. Felipe’s sister, Ofelia de Solar immediately catches Victor’s eye.

One of my concerns as I read about the book was that it would skip from one generation to next with just a brief time in each. Rather Isabel Allende has skilfully woven generations of history through the eyes of the two main characters and their friends. This is inspired and as they live through each new trauma or coup, it’s as if we experience it ourselves.

The sweeping story of the book is captivating and I found myself transported across the globe to a country about which I knew nothing. As Victor and Roser both become successful in their chosen careers, as their son Marcel happily grows up as a Chilean, the threat from Pinochet is increasing.

After the coup, Victor blithely and naively feels invulnerable. Until the day he is denounced by a neighbour whom he had helped many times. Once more, nearly forty years after leaving Spain, he finds himself being tortured in cells, taken to a work camp and almost starved to death. It is with Roser’s determination, courage and perseverance to find him over eleven months coupled with the fortuitous near-death of the camp commander that saves Victor’s life.

Once he is freed, the couple flee to Venezuela who is welcoming all refugees from Chile.

Throughout the book, the themes of hope, exile and belonging are thoroughly explored … topics that personally touch the author and reflect her life. As a young Chilean her grandfather fled Spain during the civil war, and years later she too found refuge in Venezuela.

Once again in exile, Roser’s inner and positive spirit helps them to rebuild their lives. The melancholy that often overcomes Victor fails to do so on this occasion and their relationship enters a new level. The epic nature of the book has never felt more intimate and close, the political events of the countries are sweeping, the horrors perpetrated in Chile unimaginable yet there is love and life in their new adopted country.

Victor’s and Roser’s years of exile in Venezuela is brought to an end when a list of those free to return to Chile is published. Victor’s name is on the list and on the advice of their son, they return to a country that has and is still suffering terribly under the regime of Pinochet. Against the odds, they forge a new life, one which flourishes as Pinochet dies and the country slowly reverts to democracy.

As the book headed towards a heartfelt and compelling conclusion I found myself reading slower, not wanting to leave the book, its story, characters.

This is a stunning historical literary novel and one I cannot recommend highly enough. It is a book I will never forget and one I feel that changed me.

I received a free copy of this book from the publishers via Netgalley in exchange for an honest and impartial review.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing

Publication date: 21st January 2020

Genre: Historical fiction, literary fiction

To purchase: Amazon UK Amazon US or at any bookshops.

What’s in a Name?: Book Review

Shakespeare said it so well, didn’t he? Or did he?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Even as a sixteen-year-old studying ‘Romeo and Juliet’ I had quibbles with this assertion. Although I understood the particular references for this play, I felt, and still do, that our given names carry a certain ponderance. With our names we have a responsibility to our ancestors, to ourselves. Behind each there is a story.

With these thoughts swirling in my mind, I approached Sally Cronin’s book with deep interest. I couldn’t wait to read it. In these fictional short stories she explores the lives of twenty named individuals. This first volume which I’m reviewing here included names from ‘A’ to ‘J’. I was enthralled by the concept of the book, the names in alphabetical order, male and female.

It’s been a while since I read a book of short stories and often I find that my brain needs to change gear, to adapt to the different mode of storytelling.

With ‘What’s in a Name?’ I did not need to make any such adjustments. I slipped seamlessly into the book and once I started I couldn’t stop! Each separate story pulling me into the next.

Each is centred around one person. This is all the stories have in common. The themes vary from gentle reunions, relationships which have gone awry whether in friendships, marriage, siblings or between parent and child, from war to a violent abusive marriage. The versatility of subject matter is astonishing.

Equally wide-ranging are the various time eras, often spanning thirty or more years seamlessly within the stories. In one the gap is from the very beginning of humans to modern-day as early man Brynyar is reflected later in the story in modern-day ‘Brian’.

Throughout, Sally captures the reader’s attention from the very first sentence, immediately transporting the reader to the setting. I found myself immersed, the tiniest of detail settling me into the story. Furthermore, and I’m not sure how she does it, Sally sketches such an intimate picture of the characters I felt they were my friends, neighbours. I fell for them, some I adored, a couple rightly angered me and I cheered as one was arrested. The stories never felt rushed, the writing flowing with ease and complete on their own. More than a few times however I longed to read more about their lives, to stay with the characters longer and I could easily imagine a novel from some of them.

Throughout, Sally writes in the third person but at no stage does this create a sense of distance, rather the close portrayals of every day people come powerfully across. Effortlessly she explores people in all stages of life. A few stories feature children and ‘Grace’ had me tear-eyed as the five-year-old girl struggled with loneliness in the orphanage once her best friend was adopted. Could Father Christmas make all the difference?

All the endings are wonderfully surprising, with delightfully unexpected twists. Some were brilliantly audacious, where else would one find an assassin featuring alongside stories including a ballerina and a tortoise? Some stories left me chuckling, others were heartbreakingly sad about loss, and others about fateful revenge.

‘What’s in a Name?’ is a highly rewarding and engaging read which I finished over two afternoons. It’s a book I highly recommend and I’m sure you will come away answering the question in the title of the book with a resounding ‘Everything is in a Name!”

Although I was sad to finish this first volume, I’m looking forward to reading Volume 2 of ‘What’s in a Name?’ which is already on my Kindle!

Rating:        5 out of 5 stars

Available:    Amazon US  $ 3.79 (Kindle) Amazon UK £2.95 (Kindle)

Publisher: Moyhill Publishing

As well as a wonderful writer in her own right many of you will know about the superb work Sally carries out in promoting books for authors, helping in marketing via her blog, Smorgasbord Blog Magazine, and social media. She has become an indispensable and good friend of authors here on WordPress. What is probably less known is how she found herself here. Learn more on her about page here.

Contact details for Sally Cronin:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sgc58
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sally.cronin
LinkedIn: http://uk.linkedin.com/in/sallycronin1
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.ie/cronin1423/

SEA PRAYER: A Book Review

On 2nd September 2015 an image flashed around the world that saddened and horrified us all. A young boy, later identified as Alan Kurdi, lay motionless on a pristine beach in Turkey, the dawn sun glowing around him. He was dead. During his three young years he knew only war in Syria; a war his parents fled to find safety. The photo of Alan touched everyone and inspired, nay, I would say, drove one famous writer to pen a short book, Sea Prayer.

Within Khaled Hosseini’s Sea Prayer the words and illustrations are intrinsically linked, creating a wondrous work of art.

The first page starts as a letter (quasi-eulogy) to the narrator’s son, Marwan, and it recalls the beauty of life in Homs. The father describes his childhood when he had woken “to the stirrings of olive trees in the breeze/to the bleating of your grandmother’s goat”.

Tender, colourful watercolours by Dan Williams accompany the story. On one page the vibrant red of poppies match the red of his wife’s coat, as she holds her son’s hand wandering through a field.

It’s a time of peace, tranquillity, harmony. In the old city there was “a mosque for us Muslims,/a church for our Christian neighbours,/and a grand souk for us all”.

Soon this life of normality is transformed into one “like some long-dissolved rumour”.

As war approaches the watercolours darken, greys, blacks, browns dominate. These are more powerful than ever, conveying the despair and sense of hopelessness. As the illustrations change, so does the language for a few pages, the short staccato sentences echoing the weapons.

“The skies spitting bombs.
Starvation.
Burials.”

Marwan’s childhood is one where he has learned “dark blood is better news/than bright.” His bathing places are not the idyllic creeks of his father’s youth, rather that of bomb craters. This is not a childhood.

As the family join thousands of other refugees fleeing their country I find myself physically pained, the long march pictured across two pages, no words necessary.

Father and son find themselves on a beach with many others where they stand “in the glow of this three-quarter moon”. Here the father makes his promise: “Nothing bad will happen.”

A hollow promise as the father recognises more than ever “How powerless I am to protect you from it.”

The book ends with the beauty of sunlight across a soft morning beach. A new day, a new beginning, new hope.

Three certainties not afforded to all.

This is a book I’ve read many times, each occasion more tear-eyed than before. It is beautiful, heartbreaking, emotional. It is a testament to the human spirit, to love and compassion within every one of us.

Throughout Khaled Hosseini writes with flair and skill, the poetic prose magically drawing the reader into the story. It’s deceptively simple, almost a lullaby in the gentlest of tones telling the cruellest of truths.

If you come to Sea Prayer expecting a lengthy literary novel such as his brilliant The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns or And The Mountains Echoed you will probably be disappointed.

If you expect to catch the sublime gifted language and story to remember for all time by this renowned author, you are in for a treat.

This is a book that crosses all genres, it’s for children, for adults, for humanity — it’s a precious gift to hold it within one’s hands and heart. Everyone who reads it will be, as I was, humbled by its message told on behalf of all refugees who endure so much but whose voices are seldom heard.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars.

AVAILABLE: From bookshops, libraries, online such as Amazon UK and Amazon US

PUBLISHER: Bloomsbury Books

This Storyteller Purrs – A Review of The Storyteller Speaks by Annika Perry

From the very first sentence I knew this would be a book review like no other!

“This is not about the war between lovers of dogs or cats. It’s about Annika Perry, a talented writer who works like a cat.”

As I continued to read Sharon Bonin-Pratt’s review of my book ‘The Storyteller Speaks’ I was increasingly awed by its imaginative approach, masterfully weaving the analogy throughout whilst describing my observation of human life, writing style, the book and some of the stories. 

Her favourite story is one close to my heart and she captures its essence beautifully. 

‘My favorite story is The Whiteout Years, and I’ve read it four times. Out of the gate, it captivated me with passages as lyrical as this one when Carl is driving through a winter storm, remembering his wife, Karin:

“A moment of total silence. With the windows down he sat and listened. He never failed to be awed by the silence, the odd rustle of snow falling gently to the ground from the laden fir trees. The odd animalistic sound deep in the forest, feral and prehistoric.”

While this scene describes the landscape surrounding Carl, it also describes his isolation from the world. Lost in the snowdrift of his grief over his wife’s death, he is blinded by silence and whiteness and can’t move on with his life. The threat of Carl’s possible death looms throughout the story.’

I am honoured and touched by this latest review of my book and I am sure you will be enthralled and captivated by Sharon’s unique review which you can read in full on Sharon Bonin-Pratt’s Ink Flare.

For this post I have turned off comments and look forward to your thoughts and discussions on Sharon’s blog. Thank you so much!

‘The Storyteller Speaks’ is available to buy on Amazon, here are the links for Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Elisabeth’s Lists: A Book Review

My signed copy of Elisabeth’s Lists: A Family Story by Lulah Ellender

There is a word in Japan for unread books left to pile up around one – tsundoku! I’m guilty of a few tsundoku collections of books; ones bought with well-meaning and tingling anticipation. Somehow they become unintentionally forgotten and lay precariously balanced with other books, dangling over the edge of shelves.

Often treasures of literature are hidden among these and this is the case for one such book which I recently extricated from a listing pile and eagerly I started to read the book.

‘Elisabeth’s Lists’ by Lulah Ellender is a gem! I was hooked from the very beginning and it is incredibly moving and thought-provoking.

The beautifully crafted book is an eloquent memoir based on the life of Lulah’s grandmother. A life recorded in meticulous detailed lists; lists which were entrusted to Lulah by her own mother. 

Elisabeth

The lists started during Elisabeth’s childhood whilst growing up in 1930s China. Just as her father was a diplomat, so was her husband, Gerry and her world travels continued into adulthood. The lists, many innocuous and of everyday items, included information about  packing, dinner parties, price of food and even the names of hens and number of eggs laid.  The lists are endless. A touching heirloom in their own right, they have been transformed into a moving and heartfelt book by Lulah. Her research and dedication are superlative and the end result is a sweeping and engrossing story of Elisabeth’s life.

Postings abroad included Madrid under Franco’s  regime, post-war Beirut and Rio. In sharp contrast Elisabeth endured the hardship and deprivation of bombings and food rationing in England during World War Two, whilst at the same time finding a certain peace and harmony as a normal suburban housewife, away from the hectic duties of a diplomat’s wife. Throughout the book the various eras are exquisitely captured and provide a vivid impression of the times.

It was not all a joyous time however, as occasional bouts of depression, some post-natal,  forced Elisabeth to seek medical care and time away from the family. Furthermore, a family tragedy darkened her life.

The author, Lulah Ellender

The book develops into a deeply profound study as Lulah weaves the threads of her own life and that of her mother into the memoir. The three generations of women effectively become the focus of this family story; their lives remarkably intertwined and the memoir gives not only insight and comfort about motherhood, family, and loss to Lulah but also to the reader. 

Even more heartbreaking and poignant is that the book is written whilst Lulah’s mother is terminally ill with the cancer; the very disease which killed Elisabeth when her daughter was only nine-years-old. As Lulah delves deeper into Elisabeth’s life she finds some solace and acceptance in her own life; a process which she describes with exceptional clarity and feeling.

As she must feel, I believe that without our past, our present is unclear, our future unnavigable.

To conclude, ’Elisabeth’s Lists’ is an enriching, gifted and rewarding book and one I highly recommend. 

I just want to add that I had the privilege of briefly meeting the author following a talk in March 2018 as part of Essex Book Festival. Her intelligence, warm and kind nature sparkled and she spoke with ease and confidence at great length without any notes whatsoever! 

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars.

AVAILABLE: From bookshops, libraries, online such as Amazon UK and Amazon US

Finally, if this book seems slightly familiar to you from my blog, I mentioned it briefly in May 2018 in my post Books in the Shingle.

The title page of ‘Elisabeth’s Lists’ with inscription to myself and signed by the author.

NO MORE MULBERRIES: A BOOK REVIEW

The name alone of the country Afghanistan conjures up images of war, strife, death, despair and deprivation. Intellectually we know there is a life beyond the headlines, an everyday existence which is rarely written about. A few books in recent years have emerged to fill the gap of our lack of knowledge and one of the best of these is Mary Smith’s excellent ‘No More Mulberries’.

Although a fiction novel, it is evident that the author draws on her personal experience as a health worker for ten years in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

‘No More Mulberries’ follows the life of Scottish-born midwife Miriam, who has wholeheartedly embraced Afghanistan and relishes her work with the local people in the rural community of her second husband. Here she makes friends, finds fulfilment with her work however cracks quickly appear in her life.

Her husband Iqbal is struggling to cope with the return to his home village and to balance the rigid expectations of his family, friends and colleagues with his previously more independent life in Pakistan, where he could equally celebrate and be proud of Miriam’s success. As Iqbal escapes into a world of work and silence, Miriam, against her husband’s wishes, joins another health clinic as a translator for Afghan paramedics and foreign doctors. Here the past and present collide as a friend of her first husband, her first and true love, rides into the clinic to bring her for a visit to the village she first lived in when newly married and in Afghanistan years earlier.

The book follows the intense journey of Miriam and partly Iqbal’s journey in the present-day as well as brilliantly bringing their past vivdly alive for us in flashbacks. Through these the characters deep introspection develops into an inner soul-searching journey. For both past traumas has marred their present lives and that of their children. Is it too late for them, they both wonder as their relationship seems to flounder? How can they live in a village that threatens to engulf them by history and tradition?

The book is set in the stunning natural landscape of the countryside as well as to the increasingly unstable political backdrop where tribal tensions are growing in severity. The, at times, precarious situation surrounding Miriam and her family ensures this is a tense, compulsive read which never flags. I was riveted by both the epic sweeping story as well as the wonderful descriptive writing and the beautifully drawn and varied characters in ‘No More Mulberries’.

Mary Smith is an assured writer who unravels the multifaceted lives of her characters with creative skill, whilst retaining a tight control of the overall novel. I was hooked from the very beginning and felt a sense of loss upon finishing the book … one of those times I just didn’t want to say farewell to my new friends! This is one of my favourite books this year and I look forward to reading more by this author.

Rating:  5 out of 5 stars

Available:  Amazon UK    And Amazon US 


ENCOUNTERS: A BOOK REVIEW

Encounters

Creativity is wondrous gift and one that has no expiration date! 

This thought came to me whilst reading ‘Encounters’ by Fred. H. Rohn. Fred Rohn came late to writing after a two hugely successful careers in public accounting and venture capital investment behind him. His first book, ‘A Fortunate Life’, was published last year when he was aged 91, followed by ‘Encounters’ this year.

I admire and am in awe at the ease he seemed to have entered his third career. Age was no boundary for him, nor for many other artistic people as he explains in the preface, stating that ‘creativity doesn’t stop as you age’ and Herman Wook still wrote at 102.

I myself also aspire and hope to be writing to the last of my days!

‘Encounters’ is a collection of stories of varying lengths which explore ‘Relationships in Conflict’. All the stories are brilliantly written and immediately pulled me into their scenarios. I was always intrigued by the seemingly innocuous beginnings, compelled to read on and unravel the lives of the characters.

Consequence of one’s action is a theme explored in many of the stories as the conflict is deftly outlined. A conflict often followed by reconciliation. Fred Rohn demonstrates skill in placing the reading in the middle of a scene and gradually letting the story unfurl, mostly to delicious unexpected twists.

The first story of ‘The Painting’ highlights many of the writing elements that makes ‘Encounters’ such a great collection. The story begins in the middle of an art show along with an artist called Carrie. This supposedly understated opening quickly becomes a story centred on deceit, and a conflict with no possibility of resolution as Carrie’s actions cause irreparable damage to her marriage. This story, like the majority in the book, is told in the third person. This stylistic technique, which can seem rather distant at times, works perfectly for the stories.

Fred Rohn had a particular interest not only in observing and documenting conflict in relationships but also wanted to show an element of reconciliation in some of the pieces.

This is particularly evident in ‘Doc Brunner’  which is set in a small town in America during World War II. The era is beautifully captured as is the tension of the society at the time as the pastor becomes embroiled in a fight with the local council and bank in an attempt to save his church from foreclosure. His actions, sometimes verging on those of a showman, win new supporters amongst the youth, especially as Doc Brunner also seeks to ease the town’s restrictive rules regarding their freedom to socially meet-up.

There is a quiet, under-stated feeling to all the stories and this is particularly true in ‘Reunion Deals’. Here the sneaky and egotistic nature of Harry Long is brilliantly revealed and one cannot help but be pleased for the long-term deceit he has endured and will continue to experience.

A variety of locally divisive issues are tackled by Fred Rohn, and one of bullying is sensitively handled in ‘The Piano Recital’. Where many earlier stories feature adults, here 12-year-old Jeremy Twitchell is relentlessly bullied by Bill Parsons. With the help of a piano teacher, a music concert and a surprise suggestion by Jeremy a rewarding and heart-moving reconciliation is achieved.

A few stories centre around the hiring and firing of staff … in itself a most unlikely topic for short stories! However, these are all terrific reads and as usual I was hooked! The lack of empathy and understanding of certain characters is conveyed with expertise.

Two of my favourite stories are slightly unusual. ‘Bicycle’ is deceptively simple in itself with hidden depths and is profoundly moving and full of wisdom as a younger brother is helped by his morose older brother. ‘The Old Man’ is uniquely centred on just one character who remains nameless throughout. In a series of everyday situations his confusion, loneliness is shown as he fails to comprehend his own state and merrily signs up for a most unusual course!

I am particularly struck by the last two pieces in the book – which I assume are autobiographical. Both these are in the close first person. ‘My Red Bible’ is a personal essay about a red-covered bible which was received on the 17th birthday. This thoughtful and reflective piece takes us from Fred’s travels and musing, showing how important this gift has been to him over the years.

‘Reincarnation – Chance Encounters with The Past’ is a wonderful finale to ‘Encounters’. In this eerie work the writer describes the visits from the departed, particularly from his mother. Bizarrely in some of the visions she has adapted to the modern world, even to the extent of checking emails and using an iPhone! Whilst the author longed for a hello from his mother, the readers can only hope that Fred Rohn was aware that his written work is a testament to his mother’s belief: ‘She always said that imagination and intellectual curiosity were two of most important attributes one could possess.’

26042545-5C3F-428F-8E54-20F2FE593BBCFinally, it was with deep sadness I learnt that Fred Rohn passed away earlier this month. As some of you know, his daughter Barbara Vitelli at Book Club Mom helped him on his publishing journey. My sincere condolences to both Barbara and her family.

Rating:        4 out of 5 stars

Price:        Amazon US  $8.99 (paperback) $6.64 (Kindle)

Amazon UK  £7.95  (paperback)  £4.99 (Kindle)

BENEATH A BURNING SKY

Beneath A Burning Sky

This was just the perfect book for a cold and wintry Easter holiday! Set in the warmth of Egypt towards the end of the 19th-century, I soon found myself basking in the heat of the rich descriptions of Alexandria of 1891 as the city was brought vividly to life. Quickly I found myself immersed in not only the wonderfully exotic locations, which are lavishly described but I also found myself wrapped up in the lives and drama of the characters.

The first of these is a new arrival to Alexandria. Although born in the city, Olivia left fifteen years earlier following the tragic death of her parents. Her paternal grandmother, who always resented her mother, sought revenge by abandoning her youngest granddaughter in a lonely and uncaring convent school in England, whilst raising Olivia’s sister, Clara herself.

At last the two sisters are reunited in their beloved city; both married to two men linked through their business. Olivia has effectively been coerced into a marriage with Alistair Sheldon, despite her misgivings … fears soon to be proved all too real. Generally disliked by those around him, few would believe the depth of Alistair’s cruel and violent nature. In contrast Clara’s marriage to Jeremy is happier, safer with two young sons, however she is distracted and distraught.

Secrets abound within the idyllic city and within all the relationships and soon Olivia too has to hide her close friendship to a certain Captain Edward Bertram (Teddy) who lodges in their house. The attraction between the two is palpable and intense although Olivia will not allow herself to act on her feelings.

The pivotal moment in the book is the sudden disappearance of Clara. As the book counts up the days thereafter, the intrigue only deepens and embroils everyone – apart from Olivia who desperately wants to find her sister. Ostensibly the novel is told through the third-person point of view, but obliquely from Olivia’s, thereby ensuring the reader feels her pain, confusion, fear. Just as Olivia attempts to unravel the mystery with the investigative help of Teddy, her friends and the police, so the reader seeks comprehension of the myriad of events.

Olivia’s strong spirit and determination grows as the dramatic and heart-wrenching story unfurls with secrets overflowing and for some reason seems to revolve around the ‘accidental’ death of a local mother. Everything seems to be connected but how?

Furthermore, the undercurrent of revolution permeates throughout the book and the historical elements are skilfully interwoven with the fictional.

The final tense chapters are spell-binding and relentless. I highly recommend this superb novel.

I received a free copy of this book from the publishers via Netgalley in exchange for an honest and impartial review.img_0621

Rating:        4 out of 5 stars

Publisher:  Sphere (Imprint of Little, Brown)

Price:        Amazon US  $ 13.99 (paperback) $ 4.05 (Kindle)

                 Amazon UK  £ 7.26 (paperback)  £ 2.99 (Kindle)

DAYS OF WONDER: A BOOK REVIEW

Daysofwonder

As a huge fan of Keith Stuart’s debut book ‘A Boy made of Blocks’ I was thrilled to be offered the opportunity by the publisher to read and review a pre-release copy of his latest novel. As always on such occasions when I eagerly look forward to a new publication, I hesitated for a fraction before plunging in to read … I just hoped the book would not disappoint. I need never have feared – it is truly a gem! 

From the first couple of paragraphs into ‘Days of Wonder’ I knew I was in for a treat and settled back to enjoy, savouring the story, becoming engrossed with the characters and their lives. By the end my emotions had been on a rollercoaster ride, ending in tears, at times laughing out loud, all the time moved and touched to the core.

Keith Stuart’s first book was based on his own life experience as a father with an autistic son, ‘Days of Wonder’, his first fiction novel, also centers on the relationship between a father and his child; in this case a 15-year-old daughter, Hannah and her father Tom. Not only is Hannah seeking her natural independence, experiencing first-love, fretting about A-level options, she also has to contend with an uncertain future – and perhaps none at all. Since being diagnosed with a life-threatening heart-condition cardiomyopathy, her whole life has been under its shadow. 

The disease has brought father and daughter wonderfully close together, their bond inseparable since her mother left whilst Hannah was still young. Tom has raised Hannah on his own, with the support of his eclectic theatre group which he manages. The members are close-knit and effectively a second, albeit quirky, surrogate family to Hannah, caring and understanding.

Since the initial diagnosis at the age of five, Tom has sought to bring magic into her life and a professionally produced birthday play at the theatre has been key to this … a tradition Tom is desperate to continue, one that Hannah feels less keen on in the cusp of adulthood… an adulthood that may never exist for her. 

Starting the book my one fear was that the disease would dominate the book, that it could become mawkish and moribund. Not at all! The disease is a backdrop to so many stories within the book; the uncertain future of the theatre, how it has saved so many people. It’s about lives, relationships, friendships, love. Of living and dying. I became totally absorbed into not only Tom and Hannah’s lives but that of Ted, Angela, Margaret, Callum, Sally to name a few. Their fears, frustrations, courage and perseverance were uplifting and soulful.  

 Throughout feisty gutsy Hannah is insightful and wise beyond her years, whilst loving and worrying about her father as she desperately seeks to find him a date. Furthermore, she finds and becomes supportive of her first boyfriend; a young man equally crippled with a very different illness.

The book is effectively and skilfully told through the two-viewpoints of Tom and Hannah. With the latter, it is as if overhearing a private conversation, immediate, at times raw, at times swinging perfectly into modern jargon. As with Tom and the other characters, the sense of humour is impeccably narrated, the put-downs perfectly timed. Through Hannah’s words we learn about her best friends, including a very special 81-year-old lady, the dramas of school, relationships.

Tom’s narrative is personal, emotional, realistic … comically sardonic at times, other moments relating such humorous dating escapades I cried with laughter! As a reader, I couldn’t help but warm to him and feel for his predicament- caring and being over-protective and struggling to let go of his daughter. All the time, unaware his daughter is trying hard to protect her father from the future and for the future. His gentle, confessional tones mingled with the comic and drama persona whilst the ghost of his ex-wife lingered in the background, the possibility that they might yet be a family.

For both of them, there will never be a normal life … and as the novel develops they learn to embrace their predicament; their love and bond growing stronger as a result. 

An interesting additional narrative format is the occasional letters in the book … deeply revealing about past events in Hannah’s life and written by her, it is only towards the end the reader becomes aware for whom they were written. This is yet one more poignant and emotional revelation in a novel which has heart-wrenching moments cascading throughout. 

The descriptive detail by the author is superb, he is wonderfully visual in creating settings, presenting plays, and I became engrossed in them all and felt as if I’d been watching a film. 

‘Days of Wonder’ is ultimately, and perhaps unexpectedly, a powerful, life-affirming and inspirational book. I was hooked from the very beginning and did not want to put it down for any breaks. It’s one of those books that I just had to read one more chapter until I sadly had to say goodbye to my new friends!

 
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I received a free copy of this book from the publishers via Netgalley in exchange for an honest and impartial review.
 
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Publication Date: 7th June 2018
Price:  Amazon UK:    £ 12. 99 Hardback.      £ 6.99 Kindle    
             Amazon US:  $ 9.82  Kindle
Publisher:  Sphere (Imprint of Little, Brown)

‘A COMPELLING DEBUT BOOK!’

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A heartfelt thank you to everyone who has read and/or reviewed my book over the past couple of months.

It’s amazing to read your thoughts about my collection through your comments and reviews!

Reviews are the ultimate gift for authors and the latest one on Amazon for The Storyteller Speaks was the perfect start of the month for me!

Overwhelmed with joy, I read it over and over and was touched how Lauren Scott managed to bring in so many aspects of my stories and poems. My warmest thanks to Lauren for her wonderful review and for letting me share it here on my blog.

Featured Image -- 5975A COMPELLING DEBUT BOOK!

The stories and poems in Annika Perry’s debut book are indeed compelling. Each one evokes various emotions from everyday life.

I’ve followed Annika’s blog for awhile now, so I wasn’t surprised at how wonderful the final outcome turned out to be. The cover alone is stunning! She has her magical way of playing with words to pull the reader in, but keep one hanging on until the end.

However, not all of her writing in this book is lighthearted; some is pretty dark. There were times when I smiled, moments when I was horrified, and occasions for tears. The beauty is that with each turn of the page to a new story or poem, the reader is pleasantly surprised.

With this being said, it was difficult to choose favorites, but I managed to pull out a few: Chillies in My Handbag, Bouquet of White, A Rare Passion, Stars of Wonder, and Loss of a Patriarch, which personally resonated with me because of my father’s passing last fall.

Another bonus to this creative compilation was the About the Stories section at the back of the book. I really enjoyed reading how each story was born.

Overall, anyone who chooses to read this wonderful collection of short stories and poems will not be disappointed. This was a wonderful start to Annika Perry’s writing journey, and I’m sure I’m not alone in anticipating new publications from this amazing author.  

5.0 out of 5 stars

by Lauren Scott’

If you want to check out The Storyteller Speaks it is available here at Amazon US or Amazon UK. Thank you so much!

Lauren Scott blogs at Baydreamer and this is her ‘space for sharing poetry and photography, and for initiating occasional discussions.’ It’s always inspiring and heart-warming to read her posts and chat away via comments. Do pay her a visit!

NB. I have turned off comments for this post.