#TuesdayBookBlog

‘Fault Lines’ by Tsveti Nacheva #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT #BookReview

I read ‘Fault Lines’ for Rosie’s book review team.

When the unthinkable happens…

When her best friend disappears from a party at a haunted house attraction, Laurie Arbo fears the worst. Ashley would not just up and leave. As days turn into weeks, it becomes clear that she is not coming back. But without a body, proving that a crime has been committed—let alone unmasking the culprit—is a tall order.

The truth should come first.

All eyes are on Ashley’s boyfriend, who is being cagey. But Laurie’s own partner, Nate, is keeping secrets too. On that fateful night, his clothes were covered in blood, which he swears wasn’t Ashley’s. Refusing to accept the man she loves might be a murderer, Laurie decides to believe him. Yet, unable to put the past behind them, they drift apart.

But what if it’s ugly?

Seven years later, while working on a TV documentary about a local family drama, she reconnects with Nate, and the pieces start falling together. As Laurie draws closer to learning what happened that night, she realizes the truth might be the one thing she doesn’t want to uncover.

I really enjoyed this novel. The characters are very well-written, the writing flows well, and there’s enough intrigue and twists and turns to keep you turning the page. 

Laurie’s best friend vanishes after a Halloween party out in the backwoods of Canada. Laurie, having gone to bed drunk, can’t remember the night clearly, but what she does remember is that her boyfriend Nate’s clothes were covered in blood – surely he can’t have anything to do with Ashley’s disappearance?

They split up, but years later, Laurie’s work takes her back to her past, and she’s finally forced to confront the truth.

As the story unfolds, our ideas about the characters and their motivations unfold too, and they reveal things about themselves that add to the intrigue of the story. That said, I did feel that Erin was a bit of a missed opportunity – I was expecting more from her and her potential didn’t feel realised.

Laurie, though, is a great character; it’s very easy to believe in her and the way she behaves and to sympathise with her. Her confusion and her emotions are so well portrayed. 

The settings work very well too, and there’s a very creepy and threatening feel to the narrative.

One of the strengths of the novel for me was the smaller storyline around Ashley’s mum and her frustration and fear around her daughter’s disappearance. She’s another really well-written and fully realised character.

There are a few issues with tense, however, with lots of switches from past to present that don’t really work, and some of the dialogue feels rather formal. 

But overall this is a very well-written and enjoyable novel.

‘The Nanny State Made Me’ by Stuart Maconie #FridayReads #BookReview

It was the spirit of our finest hour, the backbone of our post-war greatness, and it promoted some of the boldest and most brilliant schemes this isle has ever produced: it was the Welfare State, and it made you and I. But now it’s under threat, and we need to save it.

In this timely and provocative book, Stuart Maconie tells Britain’s Welfare State story through his own history of growing up as a northern working class boy. What was so bad about properly funded hospitals, decent working conditions and affordable houses? And what was so wrong about student grants, free eye tests and council houses? And where did it all go so wrong? Stuart looks toward Britain’s future, making an emotional case for believing in more than profit and loss; and championing a just, fairer society.

Last week I reviewed Cash Carraway’s book about her struggle to build a life for herself and her daughter under the current social system in this country. It felt timely then to read this book straight after – a book that praises that once great system, when the much maligned ‘nanny’ state looked after the people of this country and helped those who needed help.

I am slightly younger than Maconie, but I very much recognised the world he described – albeit that I lived further south, first in London and then in an estate in a new town, built to cater for the London overspill. Like Maconie’s estate, the estate we lived in had been planned to put open spaces at its heart – terraces of houses not in rows but in squares around a green area, and we had a toilet downstairs! 

I had a free education,  free library, free care from the NHS, and when I when to university I had a grant – a grant that didn’t need to be paid back – ever.

Things weren’t perfect. There was snobbery. There was still need. But it was a damn sight better than now.

Maconie’s book then, is a love letter of sorts to those institutions that meant so much to those of us who were working class – the swimming pools, the parks, the libraries (especially the libraries), the completely free education. And it’s also a warning that we are letting it all slip away. That we are letting this false narrative of scroungers, of benefit cheats, of people swanning up to food banks in Range Rovers (yes, I have been told this I by someone I know – she firmly believes it) to allow us to turn our back on a system that, although not perfect, was genuinely a safety net, was genuinely a way out for many of us.

Maconie writes with wit, with warmth, with intelligence. The book isn’t perfect though. In a section about how the privately educated have taken over the music industry, with the majority of bands in this country formed of ex-public schoolboys, Maconie wonders where are the John Lennons, the Jarvis Cockers, the Johnny Marrs? In doing so he completely overlooks grime – a whole genre of working class and independent music.

I also found his defence of the BBC a little hard to swallow, and a little disappointing too.

That said, however, this is a really important book. The ‘nanny’ state is not a terrible, interfering, wasteful behemoth that needs continuous overhauling – it is a lifeline for many that definitely needs proper funding (might help if the rich paid their taxes). We need those Sure Start Centres, those public libraries, the school playing fields, the public swimming pools. And we most certainly need free university level education. I couldn’t have done without these things. I wish the generations after me had had the benefit of them too. 

A much-needed warning, well-written, very readable, and an important book, especially as we head into the uncertainty of 2022.

‘The Other People’ by C.J. Tudor #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

Driving home one night, Gabe sees the face of a little girl he knows in the rear window of the car in front.

She mouths one word – ‘Daddy’. It’s his five-year old daughter, Izzy.

He never sees her again.

The police believe she’s dead. But three years later, Gabe still drives the roads, searching for the car that took Izzy, never giving up hope . . .

Meanwhile Fran and her daughter, Alice, aren’t searching – but running.

Always one step ahead of the people who want to hurt them.

Because Fran knows the truth about Gabe’s daughter.

And she knows what the people chasing her will do if they ever catch them . . .

The beginning of this book is fantastic – such an exciting and interesting premise. What a clever idea for a novel. 

It’s gripping, dramatic, exciting, with plenty of twists and some characters to get behind too. I so wanted Gabe to find Izzy, or at least find out what happened to her – his grief, his guilt, his longing for her are palpable; he’s so well-written.

I really loved Katie too – at last, a realistic portrayal of single motherhood, the boring, badly paid job, rushing here and there to pick up the kids, she felt very real and, like Gabe, was so likeable.

Living far from family, we spend a lot of time on the M4 and a lot of time in service stations, and the idea of Gabe driving from services to services is compelling. Motorway services are odd places, and the author’s descriptions are spot on. Standing in the queue for a coffee, I often wonder where everyone has come from and where everyone is going – this book opens up a whole new set of possibilities!

A clever, entertaining, and gripping read.

’Dominicana’ by Angie Cruz #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

‘This book is a valentine to my mom and all the unsung Dominicanas like her, for their quiet heroism in making a better life for their families, often at a hefty cost to themselves. Even if Dominicana is a Dominican story, it’s also a New York story, and an immigrant story. When I read parts of Dominicana at universities and literary venues both here and abroad, each time, audience members from all cultures and generations came up to me and said, this is my mother’s story, my sister’s story, my story’ Angie Cruz

Fifteen-year-old Ana Canción never dreamed of moving to America, the way the girls she grew up with in the Dominican countryside did. But when Juan Ruiz proposes and promises to take her to New York City, she must say yes. It doesn’t matter that he is twice her age, that there is no love between them. Their marriage is an opportunity for her entire close-knit family to eventually immigrate. So on New Year’s Day, 1965, Ana leaves behind everything she knows and becomes Ana Ruiz, a wife confined to a cold six-floor walk-up in Washington Heights. Lonely and miserable, Ana hatches a reckless plan to escape. But at the bus terminal, she is stopped by César, Juan’s free-spirited younger brother, who convinces her to stay.

As the Dominican Republic slides into political turmoil, Juan returns to protect his family’s assets, leaving César to take care of Ana. Suddenly, Ana is free to take English lessons at a local church, lie on the beach at Coney Island, dance with César at the Audubon Ballroom, and imagine the possibility of a different kind of life in America. When Juan returns, Ana must decide once again between her heart and her duty to her family.

In bright, musical prose that reflects the energy of New York City, Dominicana is a vital portrait of the immigrant experience and the timeless coming-of-age story of a young woman finding her voice in the world.

What a wonderful book. Warm, heartfelt, honest and beautifully written, I just loved Ana and so wanted her to be happy. I felt all her frustrations, her dashed hopes, her spirit, and felt so invested in her story.

A girl with dreams, hopes, aspirations, Ana hopes she will have a better life as a married woman in the US, even if she feels nothing for husband Juan, a man twice her age. Only fifteen, she has to grow up far too quickly and do her best to make a life for herself. She has so much to contend with, so much responsibility, and so much pressure from her mother, still in the Dominican Republic, always demanding that she send home money. 

It’s difficult to imagine what it must be like to have to make a new life in a country where you don’t know anyone, where you don’t speak the language, where you have no money, no job, no friends. The resilience and courage Ana shows is a testament to all of those who have been forced to build a life in a strange, often hostile land. 

Her story is told beautifully; the author is incredibly talented. 

Highly recommended.

 ‘The Bodies That Move’ by Bunye Ngene #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

I read and reviewed ‘The Bodies That Move’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

“But what other options are available to you when you’re stuck in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea in a tiny dinghy other than to reflect on your life and how the decisions you made brought you there?”

The Bodies That Move tells the riveting story of a man who embarks on a journey in search of greener pastures.

Abandoned by his father as a child, Nosa is forced to bear the responsibility of caring for his mother and siblings. Seeing no future in Nigeria, he is persuaded by an old schoolmate to migrate to Europe. In order to achieve this, he employs the services of smugglers.

His journey takes him through many transit cities, safe houses and detention camps in Nigeria, Niger and war-torn Libya, and sees him cross the Sahara Desert. On his journey, he meets other travellers, each with unique stories. They are all united, however, by the desire for a better life in Europe.

This is a powerful and moving story of a young man who wants so much to improve his life, to provide for his family, to be safe and happy – the basic things that we all want.

For Nosa there isn’t a way to do this if he stays in Nigeria. Although intelligent, well‑qualified, and ambitious, he can’t get a job because he doesn’t know the right people. He has no future in Nigeria, so he has no choice but to try and make a future elsewhere, even if that means risking his life.

His journey is horrifying, the things he sees and experiences terrible. Women raped, men beaten, people left to die. Exploited, abused, treated like nothing, these people are desperate.

It’s a sobering story. And one that needs to be shared. It’s all too easy, from your sofa, or behind your keyboard, to judge refugees and asylum seekers. But it could just as easily be you or me, had we been born somewhere else, in different circumstances. 

The author tells Nosa’s story unflinchingly, without sentiment, and the result is a really well-written, and important novel. 

‘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