It’s My Second Blogiversary!

Today, Jo’s Book Blog turns 2!

When I started this blog as a way of sharing my love of books with other like-minded people, I wasn’t sure whether it would work, whether I’d be able to put enough content together, whether anyone would actually give a monkey’s about my opinions.  I’ll be honest – two years in, I still have all these doubts, but what I have found is that the blogging community is absolutely wonderful, and I’ve “met” lots of wonderful people through running my blog, and it’s been worth it just for that!

So to celebrate, and as a little thank you, I’m going to put together a little giveaway, the details of which I’ll post in the next couple of days.

 

Defectors by Joseph Kanon

defectors

Some secrets should never be told.

Moscow, 1961: With the launch of Sputnik, the Soviet Union’s international prestige is at an all-time high. And the most notorious of the defectors to the Soviet Union, former CIA agent Frank Weeks, is about to publish his memoirs. What he reveals will send shock waves through the West. Weeks’ defection in the early 1950s shook Washington to its core – and forced the resignation of his brother, Simon, from the State Department.

Simon, now a publisher in New York, is given the opportunity to read and publish his brother’s memoir. He knows the US government will never approve the publication of what is clearly intended as KGB propaganda. Yet the offer is irresistible: it will finally give him the chance to learn why his brother chose to betray his country.

But what he discovers in Moscow is far more shocking than he ever imagined …

Going into this novel, I couldn’t help but wonder: what makes someone defect?  I’m obviously aware people did (and do) switch sides, and I’m sure that they will have had, in their own minds at least, very good reasons for doing so, but it’s not something that I’ve ever considered at length.  I think that part of what makes this novel so engaging is that it is this question that drives Simon to head out to Russia to be reunited with his brother – why did he do it?  There’s an immediate connection to the main character, and I enjoyed the simple yet plausible explanation for Frank’s actions.

Since his defection, Frank and his wife, Joanna, have lived in Russia, and I really enjoyed the evocation of what life might have been like for those in that situation.  They’ve clearly made huge sacrifices at great personal risk in following the path they’ve chosen, and yet the atmosphere in Russia is extremely claustrophobic, as their movements are closely monitored, both by hidden recording devices, but also by their pseudo bodyguards, such as Boris, in Frank’s case.  A life of constantly watching what you say and who you say it to seems like scant reward for their efforts, although it seems as though everyone in Russia was treated in a similar fashion, and I guess that if you’ve switched sides once, what’s to stop you doing so again?

I also liked the portrayal of Simon and Frank’s relationship in Defectors.  Incredibly close as children, Frank seems to have been something of a bad influence on Simon until their mother sent Simon to a boarding school in order to separate them and to encourage some independence in Simon, although the two were reunited at Harvard.  They then went into the intelligence service together, although Frank’s defection meant that Simon also had to leave, through no fault of his own.  It seemed to me that Frank’s choices had a significant impact upon his brother’s life (amongst others), whilst Simon has had to live with the fallout of those choices, his life dictated by someone else.  This made me wonder why Simon is still, after everything he’s been through because of his brother, willing to publish these memoirs.  There’s clearly still some familial loyalty on Simon’s part, and I think that the question of “why” is too much to turn away from, but surely there’s a point where you’ve had enough?  It surprised me a little that Simon didn’t harbour some animosity towards Frank, given the way that his life has gone as a result of his brother’s actions.

This isn’t a high-octane thriller, although it does have plenty of twists to keep the reader engaged.  I found it to be a thought-provoking read (as you’ve probably gathered from my ramblings above) and one that is quite different to the kind of novels that I usually pick up, and I enjoyed escaping from my comfort zone.

Defectors will be published on 1 June by Simon & Schuster.  Many thanks to Emma Finnigan for providing a copy for review.

Rating: ★★★★☆

This Week in Books – 24-05-17

TWIB - logo

This Week in Books is a feature hosted by Lipsy at Lipsyy Lost and Found that allows bloggers to share:

  • What they’ve recently finished reading
  • What they are currently reading
  • What they are planning to read next

I recently finished reading Defectors by Joseph Kanon, which isn’t the sort of book I’d usually read, but that I really enjoyed:

Some secrets should never be told.

Moscow, 1961: With the launch of Sputnik, the Soviet Union’s international prestige is at an all-time high. And the most notorious of the defectors to the Soviet Union, former CIA agent Frank Weeks, is about to publish his memoirs. What he reveals will send shock waves through the West. Weeks’ defection in the early 1950s shook Washington to its core – and forced the resignation of his brother, Simon, from the State Department.

Simon, now a publisher in New York, is given the opportunity to read and publish his brother’s memoir. He knows the US government will never approve the publication of what is clearly intended as KGB propaganda. Yet the offer is irresistible: it will finally give him the chance to learn why his brother chose to betray his country.

But what he discovers in Moscow is far more shocking than he ever imagined…

My current is Block 46 by Johana Gustawsson, which the lovely Karen at Orenda Books very kindly sent me:

Evil remembers…

Falkenberg, Sweden. The mutilated body of talented young jewellery designer, Linnea Blix, is found in a snow-swept marina.

Hampstead Heath, London. The body of a young boy is discovered with similar wounds to Linnea’s.

Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1944. In the midst of the hell of the Holocaust, Erich Hebner will do anything to see himself as a human again.

Are the two murders the work of a serial killer, and how are they connected to shocking events at Buchenwald?

Emily Roy, a profiler on loan to Scotland Yard from the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, joins up with Linnea’s friend, French truecrime writer Alexis Castells, to investigate the puzzling case. They travel between Sweden and London, and then deep into the past, as a startling and terrifying connection comes to light.

Plumbing the darkness and the horrific evidence of the nature of evil, Block 46 is a multi-layered, sweeping and evocative thriller that heralds a stunning new voice in French Noir.

This is very unlike me, but I’m not entirely sure what to read next… I have plenty of options, I just can’t decide.  I’ll see how I feel when I’ve finished Block 46!

Blog Tour: Under the Approaching Dark by Anna Belfrage

Today I’m absolutely delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Anna Belfrage’s new novel, Under the Approaching Dark, and I have an excerpt to share with you all!

It had been decided that the former king was to be buried at St Peter’s Abbey in Gloucester. Some days into December, the court was slowly making its way across a sodden and gloomy England, the king preferring to ride apart with his young companions.

They arrived in Worcester in a squall of rain and sleet. Kit had never entered Worcester from the east before, having always approached from the west and over the bridge spanning the Severn, but once through the gate, the town was very much as she remembered it—albeit surprisingly empty of people, which she took to be due to the freezing weather. They made their way towards the river and the huge whitewashed church of the priory of St Mary’s, stark against the grey skies beyond. By the time they were ushered inside the priory’s guest hall, they were muddy and cold to the bone.

Kit settled herself in a corner, waiting for the bustle to settle. The queen insisted on private accommodation, and the little prior bowed and scraped, hands twisting nervously as he assured his lady queen he would do everything to fulfil her wishes.

Kit pulled her damp cloak closer and suppressed a shiver.

“Cold?” King Edward sat down beside her.

“And wet.”

So was he, his hair plastered to his head. A day of constant wind and rain had left him with windburn, he had a streak of mud under his right eye, and his boots squelched when he moved. And yet it wasn’t that which moved her to place a hand on his face—it was the shadows under his eyes, the uncertain set to his mouth.

“It will be over soon, my lord.”

“Will it?” He pulled off his gloves, rubbing his hands. “I am not so sure, Lady Kit.” He scraped at a scab on his hand, studying the little beads of blood intently.

“Once he is laid at rest, things will be easier.” She used her sleeve to wipe his hand clean of blood.

Edward grunted, no more, sinking into a heavy silence. Kit cast about for a somewhat cheerier subject.

 “Looking forward to your wedding, my lord?”

The king blinked. “My wedding?” His mouth curved into a soft smile, and he nodded. “She will be on her way soon.” He gnawed his lip, throwing Kit a look from under long, fair lashes. “I hope she is as pleased as I am.”

“Oh, I am sure she is.”

“Truly?” He smiled again, briefly. He made as if to say something, broke off. Kit waited. “I…” He turned troubled eyes on Kit. “I have never…er…deflowered a maid.”

“I am glad to hear that,” Kit said, laughing silently at his discomfited expression.

“Will I hurt her? I don’t want to, but Montagu says it always hurts the first time for a woman.” He leaned back against the wall, long legs extended before him.

“It doesn’t have to.” Kit recalled her own wedding night. It had been uncomfortable as Adam had been convinced she was no virgin. But he had made amends, loving her with far more tenderness the second time around.

“Lady Philippa will have been told two things: that it may hurt, and that she must lay back and bear it—as any good wife must.” She rubbed at her belly. In response, the child within kicked. “If you want a happy marriage, you don’t want her to lay back and bear it, my lord. You want her to enjoy it.” From the amused look in the king’s eyes and the heat in her cheeks, Kit suspected she was presently the bright red of rowan berries, but she pushed on. “You must…well, I suppose you have to…” She glared at him. “Why don’t you ask Adam instead?”

“He’s not a woman.” The king studied his hands. “I have to touch her, don’t I?” He cleared his throat. “Everywhere.”

“Yes.” Kit fiddled with the clasps of her cloak. “Touch her and kiss her until she strains towards you.”

“What if she doesn’t?”

“Then you’re not touching her boldly enough.”

The king grinned. “Can I hope for some demonstrations, Lady Kit?”

“Most certainly not!” She stood. “If you want further guidance, I suggest you ask someone else.”

“Like Adam.” Yet again that broad grin. “He must do everything right, to judge from your bright face, my lady.”

Kit grinned back, patting her belly. “As a matter of fact, my lord, he does.”


Under the Approaching Dark
by Anna Belfrage

Publication Date: April 28, 2017
Matador
eBook & Paperback; 424 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

Adam de Guirande has cause to believe the turbulent times are behind him: Hugh Despenser is dead and Edward II is forced to abdicate in favour of his young son. It is time to look forward, to a bright new world in which the young king, guided by his council, heals his kingdom and restores its greatness. But the turmoil is far from over.

After years of strife, England in the early months of 1327 is a country in need of stability, and many turn with hope towards the new young king, Edward III. But Edward is too young to rule, so instead it is his mother, Queen Isabella, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, who do the actual governing, much to the dislike of barons such as Henry of Lancaster.

In the north, the Scots take advantage of the weakened state of the realm and raid with impunity. Closer to court, it is Mortimer’s increasing powers that cause concerns – both among his enemies, but also for men like Adam, who loves Mortimer dearly, but loves the young king just as much.

When it is announced that Edward II has died in September of 1327, what has so far been a grumble grows into voluble protests against Mortimer. Yet again, the spectre of rebellion haunts the land, and things are further complicated by the reappearance of one of Adam’s personal enemies. Soon enough, he and his beloved wife Kit are fighting for their survival – even more so when Adam is given a task that puts them both in the gravest of dangers.

“The writing is impeccable. The story has everything. Under the Approaching Dark is just perfect in every sense” – Sharon Bennett Connolly, History The Interesting Bits

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Chapters | IndieBound | Kobo

About the Author

Anna was raised abroad, on a pungent mix of Latin American culture, English history and Swedish traditions. As a result she’s multilingual and most of her reading is historical- both non-fiction and fiction. Possessed of a lively imagination, she has drawers full of potential stories, all of them set in the past. She was always going to be a writer – or a historian, preferably both. Ideally, Anna aspired to becoming a pioneer time traveller, but science has as yet not advanced to the point of making that possible. Instead she ended up with a degree in Business and Finance, with very little time to spare for her most favourite pursuit. Still, one does as one must, and in between juggling a challenging career Anna raised her four children on a potent combination of invented stories, historical debates and masses of good food and homemade cakes. They seem to thrive…

For years she combined a challenging career with four children and the odd snatched moment of writing. Nowadays Anna spends most of her spare time at her writing desk. The children are half grown, the house is at times eerily silent and she slips away into her imaginary world, with her imaginary characters. Every now and then the one and only man in her life pops his head in to ensure she’s still there.

Other than on her website, www.annabelfrage.com, Anna can mostly be found on her blog, http://annabelfrage.wordpress.com – unless, of course, she is submerged in writing her next novel. You can also connect with Anna on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, May 1
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!

Tuesday, May 2
Interview at Let Them Read Books
Spotlight at What Is That Book About

Wednesday, May 3
Review at A Book Drunkard

Thursday, May 4
Review at A Holland Reads

Friday, May 5
Spotlight at The Reading Queen

Monday, May 8
Review at So Many Books, So Little Time

Tuesday, May 9
Review at Just One More Chapter

Wednesday, May 10
Review at A Bookaholic Swede

Thursday, May 11
Review at Pursuing Stacie

Friday, May 12
Spotlight at Passages to the Past

Monday, May 15
Review at Historical Fiction Obsession

Tuesday, May 16
Review at Back Porchervations
Guest Post at Ms. Stuart Requests the Pleasure of Your Company

Wednesday, May 17
Spotlight at A Literary Vacation

Thursday, May 18
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Friday, May 19
Review at Beth’s Book Nook Blog

Monday, May 22
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews

Tuesday, May 23
Review at A Chick Who Reads
Review at The Muse in the Fog Book Reviews

Wednesday, May 24
Excerpt at Jo’s Book Blog
Spotlight at The Paperback Princess

Thursday, May 25
Review at Broken Teepee

Friday, May 26
Spotlight at Laura’s Interests

Sunday, May 28
Review at Bookramblings
Review at Books and Benches

Monday, May 29
Guest Post at Yelena Casale’s Blog

Tuesday, May 30
Interview at Dianne Ascroft’s Blog

Giveaway

To win a copy of Under the Approaching Dark by Anna Belfrage, please enter via the Gleam form below.

Rules:

  • Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on May 30th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
  • Giveaway is open internationally.
  • Only one entry per household.
  • All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
  • Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

Under the Appraoching Dark

The Silent Kookaburra by Liza Perrat

the silent kookaburra

The Silent Kookaburra is set in Wollongong, Australia, and features 11-year-old Tanya Randall and her family.  Her mother longs for another child, but has suffered from multiple miscarriages, until, having almost given up hope, she gives birth to Shelley.

Life seems good, but then tragedy strikes the Randall family.  Now, all Tanya can do is watch the family collapse around her, unable to do anything to help, and so it comes as something of a boon when Tanya meets her Uncle Blackie, who she didn’t even know existed.  Her family refuse to speak about him, but at least she has someone to turn to as her family is torn apart.

The Silent Kookaburra is set predominantly in the 1970s, although it starts and ends with Tanya, now grown up, in the present day.  I loved the evocation of Australia at the time, both in terms of the native flora and fauna as well as political views and attitudes of the time.  Much of this comes from Tanya’s grandmother, Nanna Purvis, who holds traditional values and doesn’t like Tanya hanging out with the Italian family that she’s convinced are mobsters.

I have to admit that Nanna Purvis was, despite her abrupt attitude and borderline racism, my favourite character in the novel.  She’s a strong lady, and will do anything to protect her family, and it’s her that is there for Tanya as things come crashing down.  Tanya evokes a great deal of sympathy, as she’s caught up in matters that she doesn’t fully understand.  She concerned about her weight, which has resulted in bullying from her classmates, but comfort eats to get through the day.  It is therefore completely understandable that she is swept along by her Uncle Blackie, who appears from nowhere and seems to understand her completely.  The reader can see that something isn’t quite right there, and I read on with my heart in my mouth as things became worse for Tanya and her family.

The Silent Kookaburra is told entirely from Tanya’s perspective.  I always think that the author is taking a risk when telling events solely from a child’s point of view, although Perrat pulls it off with aplomb.  The reader can see what is happening, and can infer more than Tanya can understand, although, like all children, she understands more than those around her give her credit for.

There are multiple elements to the story, but Perrat manages to pull them altogether into one cohesive story that has a twist at the end that I would never have guessed.  Whilst I don’t want to spoil the novel at all, it’s worth noting that there are a few scenes that some readers may feel uncomfortable with.  Whilst I felt that these scenes were tastefully handled and weren’t gratuitous in any way, they do deal with some unpleasant subject matter.

The Silent Kookaburra is available to purchase now in digital and paperback formats.  Many thanks to Liza Perrat for providing a copy for review.

Rating: ★★★★☆

The Baltimore Boys by Joël Dicker

the baltimore boys

I absolutely loved Joël Dicker’s The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair, and had been looking forward to The Baltimore Boys.  Needless to say, I was delighted when my Netgalley request to read and review this novel was approved.

Marcus Goldman has bought a house in Boca Raton, Florida, somewhere quiet where we can get away from the hustle and bustle of New York and focus on writing his next book.

But running into an old acquaintance brings back memories of his cousins, Hillel and Woody.  Best friends as well as family, the three were incredibly close when they were younger.  But tragedy struck, and it’s now time for Marcus to discover what really happened to his cousins and to tell their story.

Their is always a risk in picking up the follow up novel to a book you loved.  Expectations are high, and the author has a lot to live up to.  And what if you don’t like it!?  These were my feelings going into The Baltimore Boys, and I have to admit that whilst I liked it, I didn’t love it as much as The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair (TTATHQA).

The Baltimore Boys is quite a different novel to its predecessor, despite both featuring young writer Marcus Goldman.  Whilst TTATHQA focused on his investigation into “the Harry Quebert Affair”, The Baltimore Boys sees him looking into his own past and working out what happened to his cousins.  The reader knows from early on that there was a family tragedy, but the specifics aren’t revealed until quite late into the novel.  To me, it came across as Marcus reminiscing about his past and therefore didn’t have the investigative quality of TTATHQA, although he does have to talk to various family members and friends in order to fit all of the puzzle pieces together.

In order to understand the events surrounding his cousins, Marcus takes the reader back to the 1960s to examine the relationship between his own father, his uncle Saul (Hillel’s father), and his grandfather, as well as his relationship as a child with Hillel and adoptive cousin, Woodrow (Woody) Finn, a young boy that Hillel’s family take in.  The three boys formed an incredibly close bond as children, despite their being differences in their characters, and this bond was maintained into adulthood.  I really enjoyed learning about their childhood antics and seeing them develop into young men with promising futures.  For me, this was the best part of the story – seeing these young boys grow up, albeit it overlaid with the knowledge that some tragedy is coming, but with no idea of what happens or why which adds some tension to the tale.

Interspersed with Goldman’s reflections on the past is what is going on in his current life as he tries to write his novel and attempts to rekindle his relationship with an old flame.  Because of the way that the novel jumps around in time, I found it a little harder to get into than I was expecting, although I did want to find out what happened.  Along with the oncoming tragedy, there are multiple puzzling elements to the tale, such as why “the Baltimore Goldmans” – Saul, Hillel and family – were held in much higher esteem than “the Montclair Goldmans” – Marcus’s own family.  All of the answers were tied up nicely by the end, and Dicker brings the novel to a satisfying conclusion.

Whilst The Baltimore Boys didn’t quite live up to the promise of TTATHQA, this is still an enjoyable read, and one that I would recommend to those who enjoy the unravelling of a family mystery, such as Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread.

The Baltimore Boys was published on 18 May.  Many thanks to the publisher, MacLehose Press, and Netgalley for providing a copy for review.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Child Taken by Darren Young

child taken

One day at the beach, Sandra Preston experiences a parent’s worst nightmare – her two-year-old daughter, Jessica, has gone missing.

The police are called, but Jessica is never found, and the police eventually conclude that Jessica has drowned.  Only Sandra believes that her little girl is still alive.

Twenty years later, and the disappearance of another little girl prompts Laura – a keen but inexperienced reporter – to look at other cases of missing children, and she comes across the Preston’s story.  And without really meaning to, she becomes embroiled in the case, and starts to do a little digging.

Beyond the above synopsis, I don’t want to say anything about the plot of Child Taken, as I think that it’s a novel that is best approached with as little prior knowledge as possible.  What I will discuss is what makes this novel unique, to me at least, and what makes it stand out from other novels with a similar theme.

Firstly, there isn’t a significant police presence, and it’s Laura, a trainee reporter working for her local Gazette, that starts digging into the story.  Whilst she’s relatively new to her job and often gets stuck with the filing, she has an incredible drive to succeed and to prove herself, and it’s this that pushes her on even when she starts to question the lengths that she has to go to for this story.  The novel is told from multiple perspectives, but it was Laura’s that I found to be the most interesting, and I enjoyed the moral dilemma she found herself in as she was driven to obtain “the story” but also to get to the bottom of what happened to Jessica.

This also allows Young to explore the role of the media in the case of a missing child, which can often swing between sympathy and accusation with alarming speed.  Today, cases of missing children are, quite rightly, huge stories that will dominate the national press for weeks, if not longer.  But in Jessica’s case, because of the prevailing view that she must have drowned, there was little media coverage, and twenty years later, hardly anyone is aware of the story at all.  To me, it seems that Laura, possibly because of her youth and inexperience, is surprisingly open to a solution that doesn’t allow for a high profile story, and I wondered whether a more seasoned reporter would have put quite so much into it, simply because of the imbalance between risk and reward.

Twenty years after the disappearance of her child, Sandra still refuses to accept that Jessica is dead.  A minor proportion of the story is told directly from Sandra’s perspective, and yet, through the other characters in the novel, Young brilliantly explores how such an event might affect a person so many years after this tragic event.  I found this to be a compassionate and insightful view of what it might be like to have to live with such a scenario, particularly when no one shares your view that your daughter is still alive, and that the search should continue.  I don’t have children, so I can’t relate to how this would feel personally, but the portrayal of Sandra’s grief felt incredibly plausible to me.

Child Taken is an enjoyable read that offers the reader something a little different from other novels featuring a similar premise, and I’m particularly excited by the fact that it’s a debut novel – Darren Young is definitely one to watch.

Child Taken is published today – 18 May.  Many thanks to the publisher, Red Door Publishing, for providing a copy for review.

Rating: ★★★★☆