This Week in Books – 21-06-17

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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’ve just finished reading The Magpies by Mark Edwards, which was the choice for this month’s Criminally Good Bookclub, hosted by Janel @ Keeper of Pages – my review will be up soon!

When Jamie and Kirsty move into their first home together, they are full of optimism. The future, in which they plan to get married and start a family, is bright. The other residents of their building seem friendly too, including the Newtons, a married couple who welcome them to the building with open arms.

But then strange things start to happen. Dead rats are left on their doorstep. They hear disturbing noises, and much worse, in the night. After Jamie’s best friend is injured in a horrific accident, Jamie and Kirsty find themselves targeted by a campaign of terror.

As they are driven to the edge of despair, Jamie vows to fight back – but he has no idea what he is really up against . . .

I’m currently reading The Things We Thought We Knew by Mahsuda Snaith ahead of my stop on the blog tour next week:

Ravine and Marianne were best friends. They practised handstands together, raced slugs and went into the woods to play.

But now everything has changed.

Ten years later, Ravine lies in a bed plagued by chronic pain syndrome. And her best friend Marianne is gone.

How did their last adventure go so wrong? Who is to blame? And where is Marianne?

Heartbreaking, bittersweet and utterly unforgettable, The Things We Thought We Knew is a powerful novel about the things we remember and the things we wish we could forget.

My next read will be An Act of Silence by Collette McBeth which I picked up at the Headline Blogger Night in February:

These are the facts I collect.

My son Gabriel met a woman called Mariela in a bar. She went home with him. They next morning she was found in an allotment.

Mariela is dead.

Gabriel has been asked to report to Camden Police station in six hours for questioning

Linda Moscow loves her son; it’s her biological instinct to keep him safe. But if she’s not sure of his innocence, how can she stand by him? Should she go against everything she believes in to protect him?

She’s done it before, and the guilt nearly killed her.

Now, the past is catching up with them. As old secrets resurface, Lind is faced with another impossible choice. Only this time, it’s her life on the line…

And that’s my week in books!  What are you reading this week?

For the Winner by Emily Hauser

for the winner

I really enjoyed For the Most Beautiful, Hauser’s debut novel, which told the tale of the siege of Troy from the perspective of two women caught up in the battle – an unusual and likely unique perspective from which to share that well-known story – and I was absolutely delighted when I was sent a copy of Hauser’s follow up, For the Winner, to review.

Some three thousand years ago, in a time before history, the warriors of Greece journeyed to the ends of the earth in the greatest expedition the world had ever seen.

One woman fought alongside them.

Abandoned at birth on the slopes of Mount Pelion, Atalanta is determined to prove her worth to the father who cast her aside. Having taught herself to hunt and fight, and disguised as a man, she wins a place on the greatest voyage of that heroic age: with Jason and his band of Argonauts in search of the legendary Golden Fleece.

And it is here, in the company of men who will go down in history as heroes, that Atalanta must battle against the odds – and the will of the gods – to take control of her destiny and change her life forever.

With her unrivalled knowledge and captivating storytelling, Emily Hauser brings alive an ancient world where the gods can transform a mortal’s life on a whim, where warriors carve out names that will echo down the ages… and where one woman fights to determine her own fate.

As with her previous novel, Hauser presents the reader with a tale from Greek mythology, but told from the perspective of a female character.  In this case, we have Atalanta, abandoned on a mountain at her father’s command during a winter storm, but rescued and taken in by a peasant family.  Growing up, she learns to wield a bow and a sword, and, upon discovering the truth about her heritage, seeks out the father who abandoned her, determined to prove her worth.

I absolutely loved Atalanta.  She is smart and capable, and if ever there was ever a feminist in ancient Greece, it is surely her.  I loved her determination to prove herself, her pride and unwillingness to concede defeat, even when faced with daunting odds.  I also loved her desire to go on an adventure, and to be comparable to the heroes of the time – her attitude spoke to the part of me that always wanted adventures as a child.

Also present in For the Winner are the meddling Gods and Goddesses of the time, most notably Hera who loves to involve herself in human affairs.  I loved the portrayal of these beings as proud, manipulative and self-obsessed, yet ultimately fallible and capable of being outwitted, often by each other, and I think that the inclusion of these beings in the tale adds a little something extra to the story.

If I enjoyed For the Most Beautiful, I absolutely loved For the Winner.  I think that part of this was because I’m less familiar with the story of Jason and the Argonauts than I am with the siege of Troy, although I remember watching a film of Jason and the Argonauts with my dad while growing up (although it bore little resemblance to this novel).  If you’re interested in mythology, this is definitely a novel worth reading, but even if that element doesn’t appeal, I think that fans of historical fiction and / or fantasy adventures would find much to enjoy in Hauser’s novels, which can be read as standalone tales, despite being loosely linked.

For the Winner was published on 15 June by Doubleday – many thanks to Hannah Bright for providing a copy for review.

Rating: ★★★★★

Greatest Hits by Laura Barnett

greatest hits

I really enjoyed Laura Barnett’s debut novel, The Versions of Us, and I was absolutely delighted when I was sent a copy of her follow up, Greatest Hits, ahead of its publication.

Greatest Hits features Cass Wheeler, a famous singer songwriter who withdrew from the public eye ten years ago, and who is now looking to release a very personal greatest hits album – not of the songs that were the most popular with her fans or of the tracks that sold the most, but the ones that were inspired by the key moments in her life:

Not, she’d said, the obvious songs – the label had put that record out long ago – but the songs that meant the most to her.  The songs that tracked the arc of a lifetime.

Over the course of a single day, Cass, alone, listens to her music, and reveals her story to the reader from her childhood to the current day.

The idea of a character revealing the highs and lows of their life isn’t a new one, but I really enjoyed Barnett’s unique approach to this type of story.  There are sixteen chapters, and each one starts with one of Cass’s songs, the lyrics for which have been written by Barnett in collaboration with acclaimed singer songwriter Kathryn Williams, and which will be released as a studio album to coincide with the publication of Greatest Hits.

The chapters are told in chronological order, and the reader sees Cass as a young girl, taking her first piano lessons, and how, as she grows up, she tries to make her way in the world of music where success is notoriously hard to come by whilst going through the key milestones of life such as love and marriage.  Cass’s life has many highs and lows, and whilst she is successful and realises her dreams, there are plenty of sour notes in her life.  It’s clear from the outset that she’s suffered a great tragedy in her life, although the reader doesn’t find out what this is until later in the novel.

I found Cass’s story to be incredibly compelling – the hints at the tragedy to come are intriguing, as is her decision to withdraw from the public eye, but I also found that Greatest Hits gave an insight into the life of a musician, with everything that entails.  I thought that Cass’s life, from living in relative squalor as she was starting out, touring small towns and trying to get a gig anywhere that would let her have a stage for a fraction of time was an accurate and realistic portrayal of the steps someone has to go through in order to “make it”.  This isn’t a Cinderella story of someone who is transformed into a star overnight, this is a story of hard work and elbow grease as Cass puts everything she has into her music.

Interspersed with Cass’s recollections of the past are snippets from her current day life, and I enjoyed this aspect of the novel too, albeit marginally less than the chapters looking back.  It felt a little as though Barnett was providing a little light relief between those chapters, as these interludes tended to be lighter in tone, even if they weren’t entirely happy either.  I’ll admit that I was always eager to get back to Cass’s past, however – I always wanted to know what happened next in her life.

Greatest Hits is quite different in style and tone to The Versions of Us, and shows that Barnett won’t be the sort of author that sticks to a tried and tested formula.  I absolutely loved Greatest Hits, and I expect it to be one of my books of the year

Greatest Hits is published today (15 June) by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.  Many thanks to Rebecca Gray for providing a copy for review.

Rating: ★★★★★

This Week in Books – 14-06-17

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 Greatest Hits by Laura Barnett, which I absolutely loved – my review will up in the next day or so!

One day. Sixteen songs. The soundtrack of a lifetime…

Alone in her studio, Cass Wheeler is taking a journey back into her past. After a silence of ten years, the singer-songwriter is picking the sixteen tracks that have defined her – sixteen key moments in her life – for a uniquely personal Greatest Hits album.

In the course of this one day, both ordinary and extraordinary, the story of Cass’s life emerges – a story of highs and lows, of music, friendship and ambition, of great love and great loss. But what prompted her to retreat all those years ago, and is there a way for her to make peace with her past?

Daughter. Mother. Singer. Lover. What are the memories that mean the most?

In this bittersweet and poignant follow-up to the Number One bestselling The Versions of Us, Laura Barnett cements her position as one of the most talented storytellers of her generation.

My current read is For the Winner by Emily Hauser:

Some three thousand years ago, in a time before history, the warriors of Greece journeyed to the ends of the earth in the greatest expedition the world had ever seen.

One woman fought alongside them.

Abandoned at birth on the slopes of Mount Pelion, Atalanta is determined to prove her worth to the father who cast her aside. Having taught herself to hunt and fight, and disguised as a man, she wins a place on the greatest voyage of that heroic age: with Jason and his band of Argonauts in search of the legendary Golden Fleece.

And it is here, in the company of men who will go down in history as heroes, that Atalanta must battle against the odds – and the will of the gods – to take control of her destiny and change her life forever.

With her unrivalled knowledge and captivating storytelling, Emily Hauser brings alive an ancient world where the gods can transform a mortal’s life on a whim, where warriors carve out names that will echo down the ages… and where one woman fights to determine her own fate.

My next read will probably be An Act of Silence by Colette McBeth:

These are the facts I collect.

My son Gabriel met a woman called Mariela in a bar. She went home with him. They next morning she was found in an allotment.

Mariela is dead.

Gabriel has been asked to report to Camden Police station in six hours for questioning

Linda Moscow loves her son; it’s her biological instinct to keep him safe. But if she’s not sure of his innocence, how can she stand by him? Should she go against everything she believes in to protect him?

She’s done it before, and the guilt nearly killed her.

Now, the past is catching up with them. As old secrets resurface, Lind is faced with another impossible choice. Only this time, it’s her life on the line…

And that’s my week in books!  What are you reading – let me know in the comments! 😊

Ninja Book Box Unboxing – A Grand Adventure

Ninja Book Box is a quarterly subscription box that specialises in books from independent publishers.  I’ve received two boxes, and you can see my unboxings here:

I’ve really enjoyed the two boxes I’ve received so far, and love the themed gifts that are chosen to go along with the books, all of which have been of excellent quality.

For the summer, Ninja Book Box have added a new package to their product offering, centred around the theme of A Grand Adventure. These boxes aren’t available as part of the regular subscription package and need to be purchased separately, and rather than containing one book plus gifts, they contain three books!  These can be books aimed at adults or children or a mix of the two, depending on whether you want to take your family on your adventure with you.  There is also a mini adventure box available, containing a single book.

When I first saw these boxes advertised, I was immediately taken with the idea, and duly purchased a box, which arrived last week:

NBB - grand adventure

Doesn’t it look wonderful!

(Be warned – this next bit contains spoilers!)

Here are the books I received:

Electric Souk by Rose McGinty (Urbane Publications)

Ireland’s gone bust, and with it Aisling Finn’s life. She flees austerity for adventure in the desert. But the Arabia she finds is not that of her dreams. Everyone is chasing a fast buck, a fast woman and another G&T. Expats and locals alike prickle with paranoia. Debonair fixer, Brian Rothmann, charms Aisling with champagne brunches and nights at Bedouin camps. But is Brian a hero or a desperate expat prepared to go to any lengths to get what he wants? Is this Aisling? Or is he using her as bait? Her only hope is Hisham, a local activist. But where do his loyalties lie? Aisling faces severe peril when the sleazy expat and blood-lusting desert worlds collide, as the Arab Spring erupts. She has to ask, whom can she trust? Can she trust her instincts? Humanity blisters in this haunting, lyrical thriller about trust and treachery.

The Great and the Good by Michel Déon (Gallic Books)

From the acclaimed author of The Foundling Boy comes this new classic set in 1950s America.

Arthur Morgan is aboard the Queen Mary bound for the United States, where a scholarship at an Ivy League university awaits him, along with the promise of a glittering future.

But the few days spent on the ship will have a defining effect on the young Frenchman, when he encounters the love of his life.

Sometime a River Song by Avril Joy (Linen Press)

Set in a river boat community in Arkansas in the 1930s, this poignant story chronicles Aiyana Weir’s spirited determination to break away from a life, like that of the women around her, defined and dominated by brutal patriarchy. Aiyana’s voice, unique, hesitant and uneducated, expresses the turmoil of her inner world through the details and rhythms of her beloved river and charts her secret pursuit of literacy – her only means of escape from the abuse of her father and the indifference of the man to whom she is casually given. Her grandmother, a mythical figure steeped in wisdom and folklore, and her brother, Lyle, are Aiyana’s only allies in her struggle for survival and as shameless plans to leave the river.


I’m really pleased with the books I’ve received, and I love how they all fit in in with the idea of a grand adventure in different ways.  Whilst I’ve heard a little about Electric Souk from other reviewers, the other two books and authors are completely new to me, and I’m really looking forward to diving into these stories which I may not have discovered otherwise.

It’s worth noting that the boxes don’t all contain the same books – four have been selected for the adult box, three of which are shown above.  I am, of course, dying to know what the fourth book is!

In addition to the books, there is also is a little challenge contained within each box to encourage you to take your own adventure and try something new – completing these six tasks wins you an extra little something.  I won’t share what my tasks are right now – I’m not sure if they are the same for all boxes – but they do fit in with the books selected, and I’ll definitely have a go at completing them.

I’m going to be completely honest – I preferred this style of box to those usually offered.  As I’ve said, the gifts contained in the quarterly boxes are wonderful, but for me it’s all about the books, and so getting three themed books was a better option for me personally than one book plus gifts, and I hope that Ninja Book Box decide to offer more of these themed boxes going forward.

You can find out more about Ninja Book Box on their website: www.ninjabookbox.com

Blog Tour and Giveaway: The Lighterman by Simon Michael

the lighterman

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the first two novels in the Charles Holborne series, The Brief and An Honest Man, and I was delighted to be invited to join the blog tour for the release of the third instalment, The Lighterman.  I’m also offering one lucky reader to opportunity to win a paperback copy of The Lighterman – see the end of this post for details of how to enter.

Simon Michael’s follow up to the bestselling The Brief and An Honest Man, continues the adventures of criminal barrister Charles Holborne. The Lighterman provides more of Charles’s personal history, dating back to the war years when he worked on the River Thames with his cousin Izzy. Gangland leader Ronnie Kray is not a man to forgive or forget. Holborne has ‘taken liberties’ and revenge will follow. But how to get at a tough and resourceful Brief with his own history of criminality and a penchant for violence? The answer: find a man who can’t be hanged twice. Now Holborne must dig up the secrets of the past to save two lives… one of them his own. Simon Michael brings the past vividly back to life across a beautifully rendered 60s landscape, and delivers a gripping piece of thriller fiction that will excite any fan of the genre.

In the first two novels in the series, the reader is able to pick up little snippets about Holborne’s background, particularly his East End upbringing and the disagreements with his family when he anglicised his name thereby rejecting, in their eyes, his Jewish heritage.  One of the things I loved about The Lighterman was finding out more about his past, particularly his time in London during the Blitz when he worked on the river with his uncle and his cousin, Izzy.  I thought that this allowed the reader to get a more complete picture of Holborne as a character, and helps to show how he got to where he is today.

Both The Brief and An Honest Man have made reference to the infamous Kray twins, and Michael has been building up to clash between Holborne and the two brothers, whose paths he crossed in his last outing.  It was no surprise that they formed a much more significant part of this novel, as the Kray twins, and Ronnie in particular, seek to avenge themselves.   Thus, Holborne finds himself in a great deal of trouble, and I found this to be an incredibly exciting storyline as things come to a head.

I’ve always found Holborne to be something of a loveable rogue, and this book brings out more of this side of his character as he is forced into some misdemeanours of his own in order to save not just his cousin’s life, but his own as well.  It’s sometimes hard to know if a good man doing bad things is meant to garner sympathy from the reader – in Holborne’s case, his motivations are understandable, even if this doesn’t allow the reader to fully condone his actions.  I was completely on board with Holborne, however – it seems that almost everyone in the 1960s was corrupt in some way, and I think that you sometimes have to play the bad guys at their own game in order to resolve a situation.  As Green Day said “Nice guys finish last”.

I love a good courtroom scene, and Michael once again delivers a fantastically tense case against seemingly insurmountable odds.  I love those moments – the questioning of the witnesses, and trying to bring the jury round to a particular way of thinking.  Scenes like these, when done badly, can come across as dull and repetitive, but Michael has this down pat, which I’m sure stems at least partly from his own experiences in legal profession.

I think that The Lighterman is the best in the series yet, and I found it to be darker and grittier than the first two novels in the series, although still in keeping with the style and tone set in the preceding novels.  I do recommend reading the first two novels in the series before this one – there are references to the previous stories in The Lighterman, and I think it helps to understand what Holborne has been through in the last two novels in order to get the most out of this one.

The Lighterman was published on 8 June.  Many thanks to Matthew at Urbane Publications for the review copy, and to Michelle Ryles for inviting me to join the blog tour.

Rating: ★★★★★

Make sure you check out the other stops on the blog tour:

thelighterman_tourposter


Giveaway

As part of the blog tour, Matthew at Urbane Publications is very kindly offering a paperback copy of The Lighterman to one lucky reader.  To be in with a chance of winning, either leave a comment on this blog post or retweet my pinned tweet by midnight on 14 June.  UK entrants only please!

Blogiversary Giveaway Winner

Thank you to everyone who entered my two year blogiversary giveaway to win this little bundle of goodies:

giveaway 1

Once again I was overwhelmed with the support and good wishes from you guys – book people really are the best people!

I’m thrilled to announce that the winner of the giveaway is:

Emma at damppebbles.com

Congratulations, Emma! I’ll be in touch shortly to get your details and will get your prize sent over to you in the next few days.  I hope you enjoy it!