#TuesdayBookBlog

‘Cucina Tipica’ by Andrew Cotto #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog #Italy #Travel

I read ‘Cucina Tipica’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Escaping to Italy was the easy part. Figuring out how to stay forever is where the adventure begins…

When disheartened American Jacoby Pines arrives in Italy on vacation, he has no idea that a family photograph from the previous century would start a search for ancestry through the streets of Florence and the hills of Tuscany.

Jacoby’s quest includes encounters with a septuagenarian ex-pat, an elusive heiress in hiding, a charming Australian museum guide, a Pearl Jam-crazed artisan shoemaker, malevolent hunters, a needy border collie and one very large wild boar. Along the way there are magnificent, wine-soaked meals at every turn and immersion in the sensory splendor and la dolce vita of Il Bel Paese.

At the end of the novel, on the morning of Jacoby’s dreaded return to America, a chance of remaining in Italy arrives in stunning news from abroad. But is it too late?

I’ve only visited Italy once, a few days in Rome followed by a week by the sea down the coast from Naples. It was a fabulous holiday – it isn’t clichéd to say the people are incredibly friendly, the weather is fabulous, the scenery stunning and as for the food, it’s wonderful. So this book, although set in a different part of Italy, had a lot that appealed and that was enjoyable.#

I love my food, and some of the descriptions of the meals were wonderful. And the descriptions of the countryside and the people really made you feel as though you were there. The author can certainly write, and write well, and this would be a lovely book to take on holiday.

That said, the descriptions did begin to wear a little thin after a while and, to be honest, the book could be a great deal shorter. I didn’t feel that invested in the characters, and there were a couple that I didn’t like at all. I do think the book would be improved with less detail about the food and more depth to the characters.

That said, it’s an enjoyable read.

‘The Stray Cats of Homs’ by Eva Nour #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

The story of a young man who will do anything to keep the dream of home alive, even in the face of unimaginable devastation.

‘A cat has seven souls in Arabic. In English cats have nine lives. You probably have both nine lives and seven souls, because otherwise I don’t know how you’ve made it this far.’

Sami’s childhood is much like any other – an innocent blend of family and school, of friends and relations and pets (including stray cats and dogs, and the turtle he keeps on the roof). 

But growing up in one of the largest cities in Syria, with his country at war with itself, means that nothing is really normal. And Sami’s hopes for a better future are ripped away when he is conscripted into the military and forced to train as a map maker. 

Sami may be shielded from the worst horrors of the war, but it will still be impossible to avoid his own nightmare… 

It’s really not easy to write a review that does this book justice. It’s so beautifully written, that at times it is a joy to read, but the subject matter is so utterly heart-breaking that it feels strange to say so.

Sami grows up during the civil war in Syria. He has hopes and dreams for his future, as we all do, but fate and circumstance mean he lives in a place and in a time when he has few choices to make. He is conscripted into the Syrian army just as the rebellion against the regime begins and is forced to comply with orders that sicken him. 

Returning to Homs, he chooses to stay after his family leaves, and the account here of the horrors he experiences makes for grim reading. But he shows a resilience and a courage that is humbling to read.

Sami is real – this book is based on his experiences. If you’ve ever questioned the motives of those who put themselves in danger to escape places like Syria, or, from the security of your warm house, with food in your fridge, and your children safely at school, demanded to know why the young men don’t stay and fight, then I respectfully suggest that you read this book. In fact, it’s a book that everyone should read.

‘Starve Acre’ by Andrew Michael Hurley #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

The worst thing possible has happened. Richard and Juliette Willoughby’s son, Ewan, has died suddenly at the age of five. Starve Acre, their house by the moors, was to be full of life, but is now a haunted place.

Juliette, convinced Ewan still lives there in some form, seeks the help of the Beacons, a seemingly benevolent group of occultists. Richard, to try and keep the boy out of his mind, has turned his attention to the field opposite the house, where he patiently digs the barren dirt in search of a legendary oak tree.

Starve Acre is a devastating new novel by the author of the prize-winning bestseller The Loney. It is a novel about the way in which grief splits the world in two and how, in searching for hope, we can so easily unearth horror.

This is such an accomplished novel. It’s so atmospheric and creepy, immersing the reader in a disturbing, dark world, exploring isolation, loneliness and grief in a place where the folklore and myths of the past threaten the present. 

The writing is wonderful – this is a slow moving novel but it keeps you gripped throughout, slowly and surely unveiling the darkness that lies beneath a very real tragedy. You can feel Richard and Juliette’s devastation at their loss, their confusion about what happened to their boy, and at what is happening now.

Fascinating, disturbing, weirdly beautiful, this is the first novel I’ve read by Andrew Michael Hurley, and I’m very much looking forward to reading his other novels.

‘Then She Vanishes’ by Claire Douglas #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

Jess and Heather were once best friends – until the night Heather’s sister Flora vanished. The night that lies tore their friendship apart. 

But years later, when a brutal double murder shakes their childhood town, Jess returns home. 

Because the suspect is Heather. 

What happened to the girl you used to know? 

Jess is a reporter on a local paper who has moved from London to Bristol following her involvement in a scandal at the paper where she worked. Her new job isn’t far from her old home town, and when her childhood best friend, Heather, is accused of a double murder, her connection with the family gives her a chance to redeem herself and her career.

The murders seem random; why would Heather, a loving mother, kill two strangers and then attempt to take her own life?

But contact with the family that Jess once adored brings up all sorts of uncomfortable memories, especially around the disappearance of Heather’s sister, Flora. And Jess is torn between loyalty to her friend and her need for an exclusive for her editor.

A fascinating premise, and a well-told and compelling story. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Jess is so likeable and warm, and feels very authentic as a character.

The past and present are blended effortlessly, and I really identified with Flora and her love for ‘All About Eve’ and those long, tasselled skirts! These little details make the characters and settings so real.

There are plenty of twists and turns and plenty of drama and excitement to keep you turning the page. 

I wasn’t entirely convinced by a couple of the plot points, but the book is such a gripping read that this didn’t spoil my enjoyment.

Recommended and I’ll definitely read more by this author.

‘The Hunger’ by Alma Katsu #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview #HistoricalFiction #Supernatural

hunger

Hive   The Big Green Bookshop

 

After having travelled west for weeks, the party of pioneers comes to a crossroads. It is time for their leader, George Donner, to make a choice. They face two diverging paths which lead to the same destination. One is well-documented – the other untested, but rumoured to be shorter.

Donner’s decision will shape the lives of everyone travelling with him. The searing heat of the desert gives way to biting winds and a bitter cold that freezes the cattle where they stand. Driven to the brink of madness, the ill-fated group struggles to survive and minor disagreements turn into violent confrontations. Then the children begin to disappear. As the survivors turn against each other, a few begin to realise that the threat they face reaches beyond the fury of the natural elements, to something more primal and far more deadly.

Based on the true story of The Donner Party, The Hunger is an eerie, shiver-inducing exploration of human nature, pushed to its breaking point.

Combining historical fiction with the supernatural, the author cleverly blends the actual horrors of the pioneer wagon trail with something even more terrifying and deadly. It all adds up to a novel that is so interesting in so many different ways.

The hardships the families face are bleak enough and they are told unflinchingly in a narrative that is full of historical detail that never overwhelms. The characters are authentic, honest and engaging – some you hate, some you love, every one of them is three-dimensional.

The portrayal of their journey would be interesting enough, but the addition of something lurking in the woods, ready to pounce, adds to the claustrophobia that surrounds the travellers. And the author uses restraint so well, biding her time, building the suspense slowly, racking up the tension, making this a true page turner.

Accomplished, unusual, and a truly thrilling read.

5 stars

‘A Little Bird Told Me’ by Marianne Holmes #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

Little Bird

Hive

In the scorching summer of 1976, Robyn spends her days swimming at the Lido and tagging after her brother. It’s the perfect holiday – except for the crying women her mum keeps bringing home.

As the heatwave boils on, tensions in the town begin to simmer. Everyone is gossiping about her mum, a strange man is following her around, and worst of all, no one will tell Robyn the truth. But this town isn’t good at keeping secrets…

Twelve years later Robyn returns home, to a house that has stood empty for years and a town that hasn’t moved on, forced to confront the mystery that haunted her that summer.

And atone for the part she played in it.

Narrated by Robyn, this novel transports the reader between the long, hot summer of 1976 and twelve years later, when Robyn and her brother Kit return to their home town. Both are trying to come to terms with the events of that long ago summer.

This is a clever book, well-written and intriguing. The author builds a real sense of time and place, and it’s easy to picture those summer days, and then the dreary grey of a rainy autumn. Robyn is interesting and her relationship with Kit is warm and honest, one that anyone with an older brother will recognise.

There’s a very well-executed twist at the end too.

Robyn’s confusion and fear are sensitively but realistically portrayed, as are her feelings of powerlessness – feelings that lead to consequences neither she nor the reader expect.

But the first two thirds of the novel did feel very slow and it also felt at times as though the narrator was being deliberately obtuse in order to fool the reader, rather than for the purposes of the story itself. This did spoil things for me and I was quite frustrated at times, and a little confused.

The last third of the book makes up for that though, with that satisfying twist.

An interesting read, with lots to recommend it and I will read more from this author.

4 stars

 

 

 

‘The Five’ by Hallie Rubenhold #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

the five

Hive

Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers.
What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888.
Their murderer was never identified, but the name created for him by the press has become far more famous than any of these five women.
Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, historian Hallie Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, and gives these women back their stories.

This is a fascinating book in a lot of ways. I have always found the obsession some have with Jack the Ripper quite worrying – yes, his identity is intriguing, but the interest does seem to lean to a fascination with the grisly deaths of women, with these women almost side characters to the whole nasty, cruel business. We have tourist attractions and even museums about him, with the women reduced to mere props. I remember going to Madame Tussauds as a child and walking through the Ripper exhibition, with the recorded voices of women trying to attract clients, a wax model of a women, bloody and gory – a tourist attraction built on horrible, terrifying, painful tragedy visited on real people. The Jack the Ripper Museum sells fridge magnets and bloodstained memorabilia. There’s a lot to unpick there and probably not in a book review, but it goes to show how twisted our fascination with these murders has become.

So a book that focuses on the five victims as people is welcomed, and this book treats them warmly and with compassion, while setting out clearly and unflinchingly the way in which a patriarchal, classist and frankly misogynist society forced women into an endless life of toil, childbirth and misery. Life was grim and unrelenting for these women. The social structures that forced them into these lives is well-described, and absolutely fascinating.

There were a couple of issues for me though. At first, it felt as though, in proving that four of the five victims weren’t actually prostitutes, this meant we should feel more sympathy for them, that their reputations had been sullied by this assumption. But I don’t see why  a prostitute is less deserving of our sympathy. A prostitute doesn’t deserve to be murdered. And while it is important to show that these women were mothers, and wives, and daughters, and sisters, and that they laughed, and cried and worried about money, and were human beings, and that while it is important to take the narrative away from the murderer and to show the women he destroyed as people, I’m not sure that so much focus should be on whether or not they were prostitutes, because it doesn’t matter.

It’s tricky, because the popular narrative is that the women were prostitutes, out at night plying ther trade, and they were killed. The author shows that four of the five weren’t prostitutes, and so disproves this narrative. Which is important, because there is a nasty kind of titillation around the prostitution narrative. But, we are left with the feeling that the death of a prostitute is less of a tragedy – which it isn’t. And there is so much hypocrisy around the whole issue of sex work, that it’s important that we don’t add anything to the idea that it is somehow shameful.

Later on in the narrative, the author does address this to an extent, but the emphasis on the idea that four of the five women weren’t prostitutes did leave me feeling a little uncomfortable. There is still this idea whenever women are killed that if they were prostitutes killed by a client, or if they were women who sometimes slept with men for money or a home or security, or if they were alcoholics or drug addicts, then we shouldn’t care so much about their deaths. We absolutely should.

My other issue is that there’s a lot of conjecture around how the women felt about the things that happened to them in their lives. While there is a place for this, it did become a little wearing after a while. We don’t know how these women felt about anything, because they can’t tell us; we can assume some things, but whether or not those assumptions have a place in a book like this is tricky. While trying to humanise the women, and show them as people, it does feel as though the author sometimes goes too far.

That said, what we learn about the women themselves, the lives they lived, and the conditions in Victorian England, is fascinating. There is so much here that I didn’t know. For me, the best part of the book was the way it showed how society set these women up to fail, and then judged them as they did exactly that. Walking with these women through their lives, knowing their fate, is emotional and poignant. And it made me furious too – furious that this is what they and many others suffered, and furious that women are still judged more harshly than men, that our opportunities are still limited, that prostitutes are still vilified and judged, and judged more harshly than the men that use them.

So, on balance, while there were aspects of this book that didn’t work for me, overall I would recommend it. It’s an important book, and a brave one too (the author has, inevitably, received horrible abuse from mainly male ‘ripperologists’ online), and I’m very glad I read it. When I think of Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane now, I no longer think of the ‘Chamber of Horrors’ in Madame Tussauds, but of five women, who lived and loved and who were human.

 

4 stars

‘Deleted’ by Sylvia Hehir @shehir853 #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read and reviewed ‘Deleted’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team

Deleted

Big Green Bookshop    Hive

How much worse can Dee’s life get? Having already suffered a traumatic break up with her boyfriend, her best friend is now warning her off the handsome new boy in the village. So what if his dad is a traveller? And that’s without all the problems she’s having with her mobile phone. A young adult romance with a hint of mystery.

As an editor I read a lot of YA fiction, and one thing that annoys me is when the author clearly doesn’t know anyone who is actually YA! This often comes through in writing that is patronising and preachy. Sylvia Hehir ‘s writing is neither of those things. She is a writer who obviously likes her audience and has a great deal of respect for them.

This means she writes characters that are authentic, well-rounded, likeable and easy to identify with. Their concerns feel real and she doesn’t belittle their hopes, fears, anxieties and ambitions.

Dee is a lovely main character and, even as a middle-aged adult, I found her story engaging and interesting. The author portrays Dee’s world so well, it’s easy to imagine the village, the club, the wild countryside. And her relationship with Tom is explored sensitively and thoughtfully.

The writing is excellent and the novel has a lovely pace too.

It’s made me really angry to see young people criticised so nastily by some aspects of the press during this pandemic. All the young people I know are thoughtful, compassionate and really care about the world. A lot of older people don’t seem to grasp how dreadful it is for young adults to see their futures become so uncertain. It’s lovely to read YA by an author who has a real grasp of how much there is to like about the younger generation.

All in all, an outstanding YA novel, and highly recommended.

5 stars

 

 

‘Women’ by Chloe Caldwell #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

women

Big Green Bookshop      Hive

A young woman moves from the countryside to the city.
Inexplicably, inexorably and immediately, she falls in love with another woman for the first time in her life.
Finn is nineteen years older than her, wears men’s clothes, has a cocky smirk of a smile – and a long-term girlfriend.
With precision, wit and tenderness, Women charts the frenzy and the fall out of love.

This novella is incredibly well-written. Every sentence is put together beautifully. It’s a masterclass in how to write evocatively, almost poetically, while still producing prose that is eminently readable and that flows effortlessly.

The unnamed narrator of this story is refreshingly mixed-up and chaotic. She doesn’t know what she wants, or what makes her happy, and she makes mistakes. She’s confused about her feelings for Finn, confused about what she wants, and she makes the wrong choices.

Finn is an enigma – we never really get to know her, but then neither does the narrator. And that adds a real authenticity to the narrative.

That said, I did find the characters a little self-absorbed at times, the narrator in particular. There were times when I wanted to scream ‘grow up!’ but that reaction certainly means the character got to me!

Perhaps the current situation in the world has made me suffer fools less gladly, and perhaps I may have been more tolerant of the narrator’s issues a few months ago – but I did feel at times as though I wanted to give her a kick up the backside! It’s hard to really love a story when you don’t particularly like the main protagonist.

That said, this takes nothing away from the writing itself – which really is beautiful.

four-and-a-half-stars

‘Night Service’ by @john_f_leonard #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘Night Service’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Night Service

Amazon.co.uk

It’s been a great night, but it’s getting late. You need to make tracks and cash isn’t king.
No worries …all aboard the Night Service. It could be the last bus you ever catch.

Every journey is a journey into the unknown, but this trip is an eye-opener, unlike anything that Luke and Jessica have ever experienced. They’re going to learn a few important lessons. Being young and in love doesn’t grant immunity from the everyday awful …or the less ordinary evil that lurks in the shadows.
There’s no inoculation from the horror of the world – it’s real and it’s waiting to touch you.

Public transport tends to divide opinion. Some folks think it’s fantastic. They love rubbing shoulders with strangers, seeing life anew through condensation-clad windows. Others consider buses as nothing short of easy-on-the-pocket cattle trucks that the enviro-friendlies promote and never use.
There are drawbacks, that’s for sure.
A nagging distrust, an under the radar sense of unpredictability.
You never know who’s going to be in the seat next to you. You never know, with absolute certainty, if you’ll arrive where you need to be.
Especially on those rare darktime buses that run when the sensible folk have done their business and gone home. The last dance, last ditch, leftover choice. The get on or get walking option. They’re the worst.

All the night owls out there need to take care, buses after midnight are decidedly dodgy affairs. Unreliable and loaded with the potential for unpleasant.
That said, life doesn’t always leave you with very much choice. Love them or loathe them, sometimes you just have to climb aboard and hope for the best. How bad can it be?
Just jump on and enjoy!
Time to shut up and let someone else drive. You’re not in control when you travel in lowlife style.
No standing, there’s room on top.
No smoking and don’t distract the driver.
Don’t scream and don’t cuss.
Just get on the bus.

Night service is a wild ride. One you’ll never forget. It’s going to take you to places you’ve never been before.
Oh, one thing. Don’t expect to get off alive. And don’t expect to see another sunrise if you do. Happy endings can be elusive little devils.

Definitely a horror story. Part of the Scaeth Mythos and one of a number of sinister tales from the Dead Boxes Archive. Some places, just like some objects, aren’t quite what they seem. Ordinary on the surface, but underneath crawling with incredible.
They’re scary. They hold miracle and mystery. Horror and salvation.

I do love a good horror story, and this is definitely a good horror story.

Luke and Jessica take the bus home one night, and find themselves racing through the darkness straight into a nightmare world where Luke has to dodge the horrors around him as he struggles to come to terms with this new reality.

This is a creepy and clever story, with enough twists, turns and shocks to keep you guessing and turning the page. It’s really well-written too, with some wonderful turns of phrase and descriptions that making reading a (very scary) pleasure.

Two things did bother me though. In terms of the story, I wasn’t completely convinced by the final reveal. And in terms of the writing, the predominance of the subordinate clause did start to grate a little. These short clauses work really well to build tension, but they need to be used sparingly and here they seem to be an integral part of the author’s style – and I found it too much, to be honest. Which is a shame, because, on the whole, this is a cracking story, and one I really enjoyed.

4 stars