This Week in Books – 14-06-17

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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 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!

Do No Harm by Henry Marsh

do no harm

I don’t read a lot on non-fiction, and if I do pick up something of that nature, it’s usually because I’m extremely interested in that particular topic, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when my book group chose to read Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery for our book this month.

What is it like to be a brain surgeon?

How does it feel to hold someone’s life in your hands, to cut through the stuff that creates thought, feeling and reason?

How do you live with the consequences when it all goes wrong?

Do No Harm offers an unforgettable insight into the highs and lows of a life dedicated to operating on the human brain, in all its exquisite complexity. With astonishing candour and compassion, Henry Marsh reveals the exhilarating drama of surgery, the chaos and confusion of a busy modern hospital, and above all the need for hope when faced with life’s most agonising decisions.

I’ll admit, I was pleasantly surprised! This is a well-written account of one man’s experiences in this field or medicine.  And Marsh delivers his account in a very matter of fact way.  Clearly there are some patients who he has been more attached to over the years, but even with those he maintains a relatively neutral tone.  Whilst this might sound as though it would be a bit dry, it’s anything but, and I found it to be as tense as the best psychological thrillers as I became invested in each patient and their situation.

Throughout, Marsh is extremely open and honest about the mistakes he’s made, although the patient details are protected.  I imagine that elements of this book were painful to write, and whilst I’m sure that this book doesn’t cover even a fraction of the patients he’s operated on, he does share both good and bad outcomes.  And reading his accounts of the various kinds of operations that he has dealt with, the reader comes to understand how any slight mistake can have a devastating impact.  Unfortunately, mistakes are easy to make, as the surgeon is often operating within a few millimetres of space at most and they are as fallible as the rest of us.  That said, I think that the overall message imparted here is one of hope, as we can now treat so many patients that we couldn’t have done in years gone past.

Whilst it isn’t central to the book, Marsh also documents his frustration with the increasing bureaucracy that he has had to deal with over time, and the red tape that hinders, rather than helps, him and his patients.  He doesn’t focus on this, nor does he rant and rave about it, but from what he does say, it’s clearly extremely frustrating for him, and understandably so.  Whilst some of the measures he talks about make sense, such as steps taken to reduce infections on a hospital ward, there are others that do seem completely bonkers and come across as box-ticking exercises on behalf of the management.

Whilst Do No Harm is not my usual kind of book, it’s one that I’m glad that I’ve read.  It’s both informative and easy to read, and I think that it removes a little of the mystery, if not the complexity, from this incredibly difficult field of medicine.  And, note to self, if ever in the situation where surgery (brain or otherwise) is an option, ALWAYS ask the surgeon what they would do.

Rating: ★★★★★

This Week in Books – 07-06-17

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 The Lighterman by Simon Michael, the third instalment in the Charles Holborne series, and I’ll be sharing my review as part of the blog tour on Sunday:

The Lighterman is the third book in the bestselling series of legal thrillers starring barrister Charles Holborne. 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.

My current read is Greatest Hits by Laura Barnett.  I loved Barnett’s debut, The Versions of Us, and I’m really enjoying Greatest Hits so far:

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 next read will be For the Winner by Emily Hauser, the follow on to her wonderful debut, For the Most Beautiful:

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.

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

The Fortunes by Peter Ho Davies

the fortunes

Ah Ling: son of a prostitute and a white ‘ghost’, dispatched from Hong Kong as a boy to make his way alone in 1860s California.

Anna Mae Wong: the first Chinese film star in Hollywood, forbidden to kiss a white man on screen.

Vincent Chin: killed by a pair of Detroit auto workers in 1982 simply for looking Japanese.

John Ling Smith: a half-Chinese writer visiting China for the first time, to adopt a baby girl.

Inspired by three figures who lived at pivotal moments in Chinese-American history, and drawing on his own mixed-race experience, Peter Ho Davies plunges us into what it is like to feel, and be treated, like a foreigner in the country you call home.

Ranging from the mouth of the Pearl River to the land of golden opportunity, this remarkable novel spans 150 years to tell a tale of familial bonds denied and fragmented, of tenacity and pride, of prejudice and the universal need to belong.

The Fortunes is divided into four sections – Gold, Silver, Jade and Peral.  Each section is set in a different time and features a real-life individual, although the stories themselves are works of fiction.  I did find some links between some of the stories – these were subtle, and I wasn’t sure if it meant that all the stories were linked, and that I just missed some of the clues along the way, or if I was looking for something that wasn’t there.  I don’t think it matters, as each of the stories within The Fortunes could easily be read as a standalone.

Thematically, there are more obvious links, as they all feature Chinese immigrants in American seeking to make their way in the world.  I thought that this was handled with great sensitivity, and no country or race was shown to be better than another.  Indeed, all four of these characters find that they feel isolated from both elements of their heritage, and don’t quite fit into either society as well as they would like.  The author doesn’t make any overt requests for tolerance (with the possible exception of the third tale, which I’ll come on to), but I thought that this made the book all the more poignant, and it’s a book with as much relevance to our own time as to those in which it’s set.

I called out the third story here, as this features Vincent Chan, an individual who (in real life) was killed by two men in Detroit because they thought he looked Japanese, and the importation of Japanese cars hit the manufacturing industry in Detroit hard, with layoffs and closures of factories (I’m not justifying their behaviour here, I’m just providing the context).  Given this, I think that this tale does stand out as being a more direct look at the violence that can come with extreme prejudice, although all of the characters are looked down on in their tales by those around them.

I’m sure that readers will have their favourite tales, but mine was the first story, which focuses on Ah Ling and is set in the 1860s and the Californian gold rush.  I found the second story in particular to be a little difficult to follow as it consists of very short scenes and moves around in time.  As it features Anna Mae Wong – the first Chinese film star in Hollywood – I expect that this is meant to mimic the way in which a film is put together – scenes are shot out of sequence, and broken down into smaller parts for filming, but it did make the story a little difficult to follow.

I picked up The Fortunes after hearing Peter Ho Davies discuss his novel at this year’s Hay Festival, and I’m so glad I did – this is an enjoyable read, and looks at the prejudice that is as rife today as it has ever been.

Rating: ★★★★☆