#TuesdayBookBlog

‘The Toymakers’ by Robert Dinsdale #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

Toymakers

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Do you remember when you believed in magic?

An enchanting, magical novel set in a mysterious toyshop – perfect for fans of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and Stephanie Garber’s Caraval by way of Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist

It is 1917, and while war wages across Europe, in the heart of London, there is a place of hope and enchantment.

The Emporium sells toys that capture the imagination of children and adults alike: patchwork dogs that seem alive, toy boxes that are bigger on the inside, soldiers that can fight battles of their own. Into this family business comes young Cathy Wray, running away from a shameful past. The Emporium takes her in, makes her one of its own.

But Cathy is about to discover that the Emporium has secrets of its own…

Fifteen-year-old Cathy, pregnant and in danger of having to give away her baby, runs away to London and secures a job in Papa Jack’s Emporium.

The emporium isn’t just any old toy shop. Open only for winter, the toys use the magic of imagination, the innocence and magic of childhood, to create patchwork dogs that seem alive, toy soldiers that really fight, Wendy houses that are as big inside as they seemed to be when you were little.

Cathy soon becomes an essential part of the emporium, safe, happy and loved. But war is looming and the repercussions of a sibling rivalry put that happiness and safety at risk.

This is such a beautiful book. The writing is truly lovely, absolutely magical in places and it really is the perfect book to sink into on a winter’s afternoon. The magic is presented in such a way that it seems totally believable, and the dark threads of war, violence, jealousy and cruelty are wound through so skilfully, that this is much more than a fantasy.

Cathy is a lovely main character and her relationships with Kaspar, Emil, Papa Jack and Martha are a real highlight of the book – as is lovely Sirius, the patchwork dog. If you think you can’t cry over a toy, think again!

Perfect for Christmas, and one of my books of the year.

5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

 

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‘Petals and Stones’ by @Joanne_Burn #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

petals

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When Uma discovers her husband’s infidelity just hours before his untimely death, the carefully woven threads of her life begin to unravel.

Struggling to manage the grief of those around her, she escapes to a remote cottage by the coast where she swims in the winter sea, cooks the forgotten Keralan dishes of her childhood and begins the search for her husband’s lover.

It isn’t long before Uma realises what she must do to pick up the tattered threads of her life. But will her choices jeopardise the only family she has left?

Such an interesting way to begin a novel – we are with Uma, content, to an extent, enjoying a normal day in a relatively normal life when two horrible things happen in quick succession – she discovers her husband Daniel’s affair, and then he is killed on his way back to explain himself to her.

Her grief is tempered by anger and frustration, and the way she has to keep these things in check in front of his family and friends is so well portrayed. And the dual timelines exploring their relationship, their pasts and that of their friends Aaron and Pippa, make for a really beautifully written and novel about relationships, love, loss and the little decisions we make that affect our lives in huge ways.

The writing is wonderful, almost lyrical in places, without feeling overdone or ‘clever’. It flows so well and the author draws her scenes beautifully, immersing the reader in the different places with some beautiful descriptions and details that never overwhelm, just give a lovely sense of time and place.

Joanne Burn is definitely an author to watch out for. An accomplished and absorbing novel.

5 stars

‘Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams’ by Matthew Walker #bookreview #TuesdayBookBlog

sleep

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Sleep is one of the most important aspects of our life, health and longevity and yet it is increasingly neglected in twenty-first-century society, with devastating consequences: every major disease in the developed world – Alzheimer’s, cancer, obesity, diabetes – has very strong causal links to deficient sleep.

In this book, the first of its kind written by a scientific expert, Professor Matthew Walker explores twenty years of cutting-edge research to solve the mystery of why sleep matters. Looking at creatures from across the animal kingdom as well as major human studies, Why We Sleep delves into everything from what really happens during REM sleep to how caffeine and alcohol affect sleep and why our sleep patterns change across a lifetime, transforming our appreciation of the extraordinary phenomenon that safeguards our existence.

I have suffered from poor sleep on and off for most of my adult life. I’ve tried all the usual things – less caffeine, less alcohol, more alcohol, warm baths, no screen time after 8 p.m. – the list goes on and on and none of those things have worked. So I was keen to read this book and see if it could offer any help.

It does so much more than that. This book goes into real depth about how and why we sleep. It’s scientific, research-based and full of sometimes quite startling information. But it does all this in a very readable and reader-friendly way. It isn’t confusing or dense, and it certainly isn’t boring. It’s informative and fascinating and very, very well-written.

It’s eye-opening and concerning to discover just how much of an impact on health – both mental and physical – poor sleep has. And it’s a real concern in a culture that is based on work, work, work with little time for relaxation. It’s a reminder that sleeping and resting and caring for yourself isn’t a luxury or an indulgence but is something that is vital and necessary. A real wake-up call.

I still don’t sleep all that well, but I have more good nights than bad. And I understand now how important that is.

I can’t recommend this book enough.

5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

 

 

 

‘Home’ by Amanda Berriman #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

home

Amazon.co.uk

Meet Jesika, aged four and a half. The most extraordinary narrator of 2018.

She lives in a flat with her mother and baby brother and she knows a lot. She knows their flat is high up and the stairs are smelly. She knows she shouldn’t draw on the peeling wallpaper or touch the broken window. And she knows she loves her mummy and baby brother Toby.

She does not know that their landlord is threatening to evict them and that Toby’s cough is going to get much worse. Or that Paige, her new best friend, has a secret that will explode their world.

This should be a thoroughly depressing read, but it is saved from being so by Jesika, the four-year-old narrator.

It isn’t easy to successfully write from a child’s point of view once you’re an adult, but Jesika feels really  authentic. Her misconceptions and misunderstandings really make you realise how confusing the things adults say can be, and you long for the grown-ups in her life to listen to her properly, to slow down and to realise that she’s confused and worried and scared.

Jesika’s love for her mum and brother is beautifully portrayed, and her visceral fear of being left is one of the strengths of the story. And while, as adults, readers understand what is going on completely, Jesika’s confusion adds to the tension and drama – there’s an almost physical reaction, wanting to protect Jesika and poor little Paige.

This is a timely portrayal too of the frustrations and stupidities involved in accessing services, particularly for the most vulnerable. Someone should be helping Jesika and her mum – they shouldn’t be in a mouldy, dangerous flat, at the mercy of an unscrupulous private landlord. It’s a damning portrayal of the times we live in.

Hard to read at times, but definitely one to read, I can’t say I ‘enjoyed’ this, but Jesika will stay with me for a long time.

5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

‘The Men’ by Fanny Calder #RBRT #TuesdayBookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read and reviewed ‘The Men’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Cover Image - The Men

Amazon.co.uk

A darkly brilliant debut novel by Fanny Calder, and arguably essential reading for the feminist hedonist woman in your life.

City life in the 1990s. Anonymous, intense, paradoxical and sometimes lonely. A young, haunted woman falls in love with a singer. She finds she has been consumed by the relationship and when it ends – as it inevitably does – she feels unable to quite rediscover herself.

Cities can draw you into even darker places, and she embarks on a series of intense relationships with thirteen men of very different types, from a rough sleeper to a millionaire, and from a transvestite to a leading politician. As she is propelled through a series of extraordinary adventures and wild parties she finds she begins to lose her own identity. Is there a way out?

A raw and unflinchingly honest narrative with stripped down language that is liberating and sometimes challenging. It is a tale of urban human connections crafted with no judgement or deep introspection – a window on the author’s own life at that time that will resonate and stay with you.

How refreshing to read something different, something honest and authentic. This is a book that is what it says it is – raw and unflinchingly honest. It follows the experiences of an unnamed woman as she moves from encounter to encounter and from relationship to relationship, making mistakes, getting into difficult situations, looking for something she can’t quite reach.

The relationships she has make for a compelling read, and one that is difficult at times. I found the first few episodes a little irritating to be honest and I wasn’t sure I was going to like the narrator or the book, but then, as things progressed, I warmed to her and became really engrossed in the narrative. She grows on you and you find yourself feeling angry with her, sorry for her, frustrated with her and happy for her when she does find joy and contentment.

I found her friendship with the transvestite and his boy really touching and a joy to read. She found with them, it seemed, a relationship that was real and good and good for her.

The author is a very talented writer, the writing here is beautifully done – well-crafted, measured, beautiful in places without being overblown. The writer knows how to build a scene, build characters without overdoing descriptions, unnecessary adjectives and tired, clichéd similes and metaphors – this is a writer with natural flair.

An unusual, intelligent and unsettling book. Very much recommended.

5 stars

 

‘The Confession’ by Jo Spain #tuesdaybookblog #bookreview #crime

confession

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Late one night a man walks into the luxurious home of disgraced banker Harry McNamara and his wife Julie. The man launches an unspeakably brutal attack on Harry as a horror-struck Julie watches, frozen by fear. It looks like Harry’s many sins – corruption, greed, betrayal – have finally caught up with him.

An hour later the intruder, JP Carney, hands himself in, confessing to the assault. The police have a victim, a suspect in custody and an eye-witness account, but Julie remains troubled.

Has Carney’s surrender really been driven by a guilty conscience or is this confession the first calculated move in a deadly game?

The opening of this book is a lesson in how to hook your reader – and is also not for the faint-hearted. It’s shocking, but not gratuitous, and brings you straight into the drama.

Told form varying points of view, we follow Julie as she meets and marries Harry, realises he’s not all he’s cracked up to be, but finds herself unable to give him up. We also follow JP, his troubling past, and discover what has led him to this crime.

There is also Alice, the detective assigned the case, who  knows there’s more to it than others want to believe, but who is frustrated at every turn, by both JP and by Julie.

This is a very well-written book, and one that is much more than a crime novel. There is much here about the complexities of love, loyalty and jealousy, there is also a good dose of social comment (without being preachy) and enough drama to keep you turning the pages.

I did feel, however, that there could have been more detail about Harry and Julie’s early relationship. It’s all a bit vague – how did he become so successful exactly? And I wanted more about Alice too. She’s a great character, funny, clever and interesting and I felt that she deserved much more room in this novel.

I was also a little disappointed by the ending. It didn’t feel that realistic to me.

That said, this is a really enjoyable read.

4 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

‘While You Sleep’ by Stephanie Merritt #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

sleep

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A house full of secrets…
The McBride house lies on a remote Scottish island, isolated and abandoned. A century ago, a young widow and her son died mysteriously there. Last year a local boy, visiting for a dare, disappeared without a trace.
A woman alone at night…
For Zoe Adams, the house offers an escape from her failing marriage. But when night falls, her peaceful retreat is disrupted—scratches at the door, strange voices—and Zoe is convinced she is being watched.
A threat that lurks in the shadows…
The locals tell Zoe the incidents are merely echoes of the house’s dark past. Zoe is sure the danger is all too real—but can she uncover the truth before she is silenced?

A remote Scottish island, a creepy house, the wind moaning, waves crashing, a terrifying legend and the kind of locals that all go silent when you walk into the pub – what more could you ask for?
Zoe is looking for peace and quiet and isolation so she can get her head together. A beautiful old house miles from anywhere seems ideal. But the house has a mysterious past and the locals are a bit cagey. Strange things begin to happen – but this isn’t bumps in the night and rattling chains; there’s a weird feeling in the house and Zoe’s dreams are vividly erotic and very unsettling.
But this is no Fifty Shades (thank goodness) and the sex is, on the whole, well-written. And what the writer does especially well is to weave a really suspenseful and at times terrifying tale. The claustrophobic atmosphere of the house, the isolation, the fear that Zoe feels are so well portrayed – you feel terrified for her.
I also liked the weaving of myth and history with the reality of the characters’’ present. It’s done really well, and there are two stories going on here, that of Zoe and that of Ailsa, the widow who died a century before. Ailsa’s story is fascinating – it could probably be a whole different novel in itself.
It’s truly a gripping read, well-paced, dark, but fun too if you like to be scared! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

four-and-a-half-stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

 

‘The Twelve-Mile Straight’ by Eleanor Henderson #tuesdaybookblog #bookreview

12 mile

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Cotton County, Georgia, 1930: In a house full of secrets, two babies–one light-skinned, the other dark–are born to Elma Jesup, a white sharecropper’s daughter. Accused of raping Elma, field hand Genus Jackson is lynched and dragged behind a truck down the Twelve-Mile Straight, the road to the nearest town. In the aftermath, the farm’s inhabitants are forced to contend with their complicity in a series of events that left a man dead and a family irrevocably fractured.

Despite the prying eyes and curious whispers of the townspeople, Elma begins to raise her babies as best she can, under the roof of her mercurial father, Juke, and with the help of Nan, the young black housekeeper who is as close to Elma as a sister. But soon it becomes clear that the ties that bind all of them together are more intricate than any could have ever imagined. As startling revelations mount, a web of lies begins to collapse around the family, destabilizing their precarious world and forcing all to reckon with the painful truth.

New York Times bestselling author Eleanor Henderson has returned with an audacious American epic that combines the intimacy of a family drama with the staggering presence of a great Southern saga. Set in the years of the Depression and Prohibition, and tackling themes of racialized violence, social division, and financial crisis, The Twelve-Mile Straight is a startlingly timely, emotionally resonant, and magnificent tour de force.

In a world that seems to be moving backwards, with the rise of the far right in the US and here in the UK, this is a pertinent novel. We kid ourselves that we’ve moved so far, that we have achieved equality, but the prejudice and discrimination written here is unfortunately only too real almost a hundred years later.

Sharecropper’s daughter Elma gives birth to twins – one light-skinned, one dark. Not surprisingly, this garners a great deal of interest, and gossip, and the result is that field hand Genus, deemed to have raped Elma, is lynched.

But there’s more to the twins’ conception and birth than meets the eye. And Elma, her father Juke, and housekeeper Nan find themselves entangled in a web of lies and deceit.

The writing is so evocative – 1930’s Georgia is brought to life with a confident yet careful touch. The little details of everyday life really help set the scene and the poverty, the frustration and the dreadful unfairness are portrayed not always through dramatic events and tragedies, but through the every day constraints, degradation and brutality that one group of people inflict on another.

The narrative shifts viewpoints and we get to know the story from all the main characters which adds a depth to the novel and makes the reader feel involved and invested. Each characters feels real, and authentic, and their actions and reactions, their decisions, their mistakes and their desperation, carry the narrative along.

There are shadows of Harper Lee here, and Carson McCullers and Williams Faulkner – with writing that is sparse at times and as dry and barren as the Georgia fields in drought, at other times vibrant, full of colour and life.

This isn’t a pleasant, happy read. But it is an important one. Like Britain’s history of colonialism, the US has never seemed to really address its past, admit its guilt and make amends. That it isn’t too hard to imagine the events of this book happening still is a sad indictment of how little we’ve progressed. A must read.

5 stars

 

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

Summer Reading Part 2 – some more recommendations #amreading #summerreads #TuesdayBookBlog

Following on from my previous post, here are some more recommendations for books to read while you’re enjoying this beautiful weather. As before, unlike some other lists that seem to appear this time of year, these books aren’t necessarily new; some are old favourites, some not so old.

The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

cottingley

1917: When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, announce they have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when the great novelist, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, endorses the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a sensation; their discovery offering something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war.

One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript and a photograph in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story of the two young girls who mystified the world. As Olivia is drawn into events a century ago, she becomes aware of the past and the present intertwining, blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, will Olivia find a way to believe in herself?

A lovely book, with an almost dreamlike quality, based on a fascinating true story, the author weaves a lovely spell that draws you in and might even make you believe in fairies.

Perfect for a relaxing read on a summer’s day.

The Final Girls by Riley Sager

 final girls

FIRST THERE WERE THREE

The media calls them the Final Girls – Quincy, Sam, Lisa – the infamous group that no one wants to be part of. The sole survivors of three separate killing sprees, they are linked by their shared trauma.

THEN THERE WERE TWO

But when Lisa dies in mysterious circumstances and Sam shows up unannounced on her doorstep, Quincy must admit that she doesn’t really know anything about the other Final Girls. Can she trust them? Or…

CAN THERE ONLY EVER BE ONE?

All Quincy knows is one thing: she is next.

There are so many twists and turns here. Just when you think you’ve solved the mystery, that you know what the twist is, you realise you’re wrong. It’s skilfully done and makes this a real page-turner. There are some really tense moments, and genuine shocks and surprises. It’s a really intense, gripping and enjoyable read.

Afterlife by Marcus Sakey

Afterlife 

Between life and death lies an epic war, a relentless manhunt through two worlds…and an unforgettable love story.

The last thing FBI agent Will Brody remembers is the explosion—a thousand shards of glass surfing a lethal shock wave.

He wakes without a scratch.

The building is in ruins. His team is gone. Outside, Chicago is dark. Cars lie abandoned. No planes cross the sky. He’s relieved to spot other people—until he sees they’re carrying machetes.

Welcome to the afterlife.

Claire McCoy stands over the body of Will Brody. As head of an FBI task force, she hasn’t had a decent night’s sleep in weeks. A terrorist has claimed eighteen lives and thrown the nation into panic.

Against this horror, something reckless and beautiful happened. She fell in love…with Will Brody.

But the line between life and death is narrower than any of us suspect—and all that matters to Will and Claire is getting back to each other.

From the author of the million-copy bestselling Brilliance Trilogy comes a mind-bending thriller that explores our most haunting and fundamental question: What if death is just the beginning?

The writing is excellent, a joy to read. There is quite a lot of violence here, but, in my opinion, it isn’t gratuitous.  And the book is so clever and compelling.  An intelligent, different, imaginative and unusual book. Definitely recommended.

The House by Simon Lelic

 house

Whose story do YOU believe?

Londoners Jack and Syd moved into the house a year ago. It seemed like their dream home: tons of space, the perfect location, and a friendly owner who wanted a young couple to have it.

So when they made a grisly discovery in the attic, Jack and Syd chose to ignore it. That was a mistake.

Because someone has just been murdered outside their back door.

AND NOW THE POLICE ARE WATCHING THEM.

You do have to work at this book, but that, I think, is part of its appeal. The protagonists are confused, and the reader is confused along with them. What lies behind the house, and their lives, is complex and twisted and surprising.  A really good read; gripping, complex, clever.

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

todays

When Tom loses the love of his life, time travel seems like the only answer. . . what could possibly go wrong?

Elan Mastai’s breakthrough novel brings a whole new dimension to a classic love story.

So, the thing is, I come from the world we were supposed to have.

That means nothing to you, obviously, because you live here, in the crappy world we do have.

But it never should’ve turned out like this. And it’s all my fault – well, me and to a lesser extent my father.

And, yeah, I guess a little bit Penelope.

In both worlds, she’s the love of my life. But only a single version of her can exist.

I have one impossible chance to fix history’s greatest mistake and save this broken world.

Clever, well-written and intriguing. Tom is a great main character. Aware of his short-comings, he’s an honest narrator. The reader really feels his panic about what he’s done, the dawning reality of where he is and what his new life means. An unusual novel and very readable despite its complexity.

‘The Cottingley Secret’ by Hazel Gaynor #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

cottingley

Waterstones   Amazon.co.uk

1917: When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, announce they have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when the great novelist, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, endorses the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a sensation; their discovery offering something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war.

One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript and a photograph in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story of the two young girls who mystified the world. As Olivia is drawn into events a century ago, she becomes aware of the past and the present intertwining, blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, will Olivia find a way to believe in herself?

I love reading fiction based on history and I’d heard the fascinating story about the Cottingley fairies before, so was very keen to read this novel.

This is a really lovely book and a pleasure to read. The author treats Frances and Elsie with respect, sensitive always to the fact that these two girls were real people, and her retelling provides an explanation as to how and, perhaps more importantly, why, people were so ready to believe in fairies.

Frances is portrayed so authentically – her fear about the world in which she finds herself, her anxiety about her father, her unease as things develop out of her control. And Olivia, coping with grief and her own insecurities and fears about life, brings the story up to date, adding an extra depth and dimension to the story.

It’s slow-paced, almost gentle, but the story flows well and the tone is entirely appropriate for the subject. The settings are really well-drawn, without being bogged down in detail, particularly the beck at the bottom of the garden, where the sense of something magical is always rooted in reality.

If you like fast-paced drama with twists and turns then this probably isn’t the book for you. But I felt that the pace and the tone were ideally suited to the subject matter and the book weaves a lovely spell that draws you in and might even make you believe in fairies.

A lovely book for a relaxing read on a summer’s day.

5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.