Pieces of Me by Natalie Hart

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Natalie Hart: Pieces Of Me

Published By: Legend Press

Buy It: here

 

What The Blurb Says:

Emma did not go to war looking for love, but Adam is unlike any other.

Under the secret shadow of trauma, Emma decides to leave Iraq and joins Adam to settle in Colorado. But isolation and fear find her, once again, when Adam is re-deployed. Torn between a deep fear for Adam’s safety and a desire to be back there herself, Emma copes by throwing herself into a new role mentoring an Iraqi refugee family.

But when Adam comes home, he brings the conflict back with him. Emma had considered the possibility that her husband might not come home from war. She had not considered that he might return a stranger.

What I Say:

Thank you very much to Legend Press for sending me this copy of Natalie’s book. I have to say from the outset, after all the bad press bloggers have had this week, I have been feeling a little weary about it all.  Wondering whether there was any point at all in my writing about this novel.  I haven’t been asked to, I am not taking part in any blog tour to promote it, nor have I received any payment to talk about Pieces Of Me.

Let me tell you why I am taking a couple of hours out of my weekend to write this post.

Quite simply, I want to tell you about this amazing book. Why I loved it, what I got from it, and what it meant to me.

That’s it.

You can read my blog post or not, and decide if you want to read Pieces of Me.  I blog because I love books and reading so much, and if by writing this post or any of my posts, I can inspire you to pick up a book and read, that’s enough.

Book Bloggers do this because we are all motivated by the same thing.  We love books and reading, and want to share that with you all. Nothing makes me happier than when someone tells me that they have bought a book because I recommended it and they loved it.  For me, that’s all I need, and I will keep blogging because reading and books will always be my passion.

 

And now in front of me, with fragments from all the periods and places of my life, it starts to take shape again.  A silent call. An invitation. All the pieces of me.’

Pieces of Me tells the story of Emma and Adam.  They meet, fall in love, marry and are separated when Adam is deployed on a mission in Iraq and Emma stays at home in Colarado.  So far so simple. The difference is that this is the very first layer of the story.  This is a love story unlike any you will have read before, because at the heart of it always is the reality of a couple who have met in a time of war and have experienced things that many of us can never understand.

Emma and Adam meet in a world where they are attempting to maintain a level of normality on a compound in Iraq, while all around them, the world outside is fighting a war.  Friday afternoons where everyone congregates around the pool area, where they can drink and dance and try to forget what they have had to deal with, become the most important and stabilising thing for everyone.  Sealed in this bubble, emotions are heightened and people realise that time is short, and life should be lived to its fullest while they can. It is almost as if that the pent up frustrations and anger at the futility and damage of what is happening outside their walls, gives some of them permission to disregard what is right and instead seize what they want and believe they are entitled to.  Couples stray, women are preyed upon and are forced to defend themselves, and rules are made to be broken.

Emma is an administrator who interviews people who have applied for urgent visas to enter the United States.  She with her friend Anna, make the best of their situation and form a friendship over their shared experiences.  She meets Adam who contacts her after a blind date set up by Anna, to ask for her help in arranging for some contacts of his to leave Baghdad.  When Adam and Emma realise they are falling in love, they feel invincible.  They believe that their love will overcome everything and that they need to grab the moments while they can.  Emma loves her job, but she decides to move to Colorado with Adam to start a new chapter.

Emma tries to make a life for herself in Colorado, but finds it far from easy.  She is used to working, to helping others, and although life in Colorado is calm and peaceful, it does not bring her the fulfillment she needs.  She makes friends with Kate, who is the wife of Adam’s friend Dave, and this gives her at least some contact with other people.  When Emma finds a job in a local art shop, she meets Noor, who encourages her to attend a local art group attended by refugees.  Finally Emma starts to feel she can connect with others again and have a reason to be, which is where she meets Zainab, and Noor suggests that Emma becomes the family’s mentor.

Through the novel, the idea of two worlds co-existing is something that comes through every chapter.  Emma and Adam are living in Colorado, but the reality that he may well be deployed back to Baghdad is a constant and unspoken undercurrent. It is something that both of them know is only a phone call away, but that they are doing their best to avoid.

When the call comes, and Adam is told he is to be deployed, he starts to emotionally remove himself from the marriage, possibly to ensure he can focus on the mission he knows he has to do.  Emma knows that this is happening, and for me, I felt Emma’s anguish and increasing sense of isolation  – she just doesn’t know where she fits in any more. By throwing herself into mentoring Zainab’s family, she at last feels she has a purpose, that her existence in Colorado is finally validated.

When Adam’s best friend Dave is killed on the mission, the reality of the conflict, and the fragility of life makes Emma further question what this is all for.  Then Adam returns home.  Natalie’s pertinent writing makes this part of the novel the most brutal and traumatic.  Adam is not the same man who went away.  He cannot bring himself back to Emma and is instead pushing her further away as he sinks slowly into the life he has in Colorado.  Adam is here, Dave is not, and Emma although sympathetic, cannot possibly understand what he has gone through.

There is a superb part in the plot, where Emma is forced to make a choice, and although she seemingly makes the right one, it starts a chain of events that pushes Emma and Adam to the limits of their marriage.  Emma moves around Adam, worried about doing anything to provoke him as he dominates the space in the house.  Adam’s time away has poured into every facet of their relationship and has pushed them further apart.  Set against this now unhealthy and claustrophobic relationship, Emma finds solace and a sense of understanding by looking through a jar she has filled with fragments of things that have been emotionally important to her.  Each one alone means something, but together, laid in front of her they paint a whole picture of her life.  Emma now has to decide where the next piece comes from  – and does it feature Adam?

Pieces of Me is a beautifully understated and consistently powerful novel. The reality of war and more importantly its effect on those who are part of it, can never be underestimated.  Natalie has written a novel of our overwhelming and unsettled times, of love and loss, and makes us realise that often what is not said is much more important than what is.  If I took one thing away from Pieces of Me, it is that life is short, and everyone has the right to be happy, to find the fragments that together make them whole.

I loved it.

 

The Secrets You Hide by Kate Helm

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The Secrets You Hide by Kate Helm

Published By Bonnier Zaffre

Buy It: here

What The Blurb Says:

Georgia Sage has a gift: she can see evil in people. As a courtroom artist she uses her skills to help condemn those who commit terrible crimes. After all, her own brutal past means she knows innocence is even rarer than justice.

But when she is drawn back into the trial that defined her career, a case of twisted family betrayal, she realises her own reckless pursuit of justice may have helped the guilty go free.

As Georgia gets closer to the truth behind the Slater family, something happens that threatens not only her career – but even her own sanity. At first, she fears her guilt around the events of her terrible childhood is finally coming back to haunt her.

The truth turns out to be even more terrifying . . .

What I Say:

Georgia Sage has a job that many of us don’t even think about. We take for granted the sketches from inside the courtroom that appear on our news programmes and only notice them if something stands out about them. Georgia not only sketches scenes from inside the courtroom, but she understands the power that she has in interpreting the character of the people inside the courtroom. By deciding whether or not she feels that someone is guilty or not guilty, Georgia produces sketches that show the personality of the person and influences the judging decisions that are made. Georgia wants justice to be done, and for those who are guilty to be punished.

Georgia is not doing this as a malicious endeavour, she herself has been the victim of a senseless and unspeakably terrible crime. As a young girl, then called Suzanne, she was locked in her bedroom as her father killed her mother and her younger brother Pip. Her life shattered and incomprehensible, she is sent to live with foster parents and given a new identity as Georgia Sage to start to rebuild her life.

Little by little, Georgia starts to see a young boy around her. The only thing is, no one else does. Georgia knows that something is not right, but she feels she has no one to turn to. As well as trying to maintain her career, she is battling with the realisation that she may be like her father, and is suffering with mental health issues.

When Georgia is approached to draw a picture for a book featuring the most memorable cases of courtroom artists, she finds herself forced to revisit a disturbing case she had to document earlier in her career. Daniel Fielding, apparently jealous of his new step mother, set fire to the house while she was inside, unaware she was pregnant and that there were two children being babysat inside. His father Jim, had rushed into the fire and managed to save the two young children. However, he lost his wife and unborn baby in a seemingly senseless crime perpetrated by a member of his family.

When Jim and Georgia meet, he seems initally to be the reluctant and humble hero, but as Georgia starts to paint him, to see the man behind the headlines. you sense that there is much more to him than first appears. For me, I thought that it was particularly poignant that the more Georgia adds layers to her painting, that more layers are peeled away from Jim and the world around him. There is always an unease that permeates every visit she makes, a sense of mistrusting Georgia because she is not local, and that Jim is such a powerful part of his local community. As she gets more involved in his world, she starts to realise that Jim may be far more complex and not the folk hero he first seems..

All the while, Georgia is seeing not only a little boy called Charlie, who it transpires was one of the children caught in the Fielding’s fire, but also her murdered brother Pip, and a teenage girl Georgia nicknames Pink. This is a brilliant plot device – it serves to disorentiate and confuse us and wonder what on earth this means.  We see Georgia battling with her demons on a daily basis, and how it makes her worry about her own mental state and ability to function, to appear ‘normal’ so she can keep her job.

When the reason for Georgia seeing these children is revealed (as always, am not going to tell you – buy the book!), as a reader you understand that this not only explains what Georgia has been seeing and why, but also makes us understand how she has to become focussed on what is ultimately important to resolve these issues while she still can.

In Georgia, Kate has created a sensitive and relatable character. We feel her sense of loss, her ongoing struggle to try and build an identity and a new life. I felt that we were as much a part of Georgia’s journey as she is, she is trying to not only make sense of her past life, but also to ultimately be comfortable with her new one.

What differentiates The Secrets You Hide, and for me, makes it a must read novel is that it is so different to anything I have read before. The whole plot unravels little by little and packs punch after punch and twist after twist. I am certainly not going to tell you any more about what happens, because it would absolutely spoilt it, but let me tell you this. I have read lots of books, and I did not guess at all what was going to happen. The joy of The Secrets You Hide is its complexity and intelligence.  It takes the tried and tested thriller genre, shakes it up, and adds a brilliantly flawed heroine who we desperately want to succeed, and ensures we are there every breathtaking step of the way.

Kate Helm’s first novel of this genre is brilliant in its orginality and razor sharp in its execution.  Believe me, if you love books, and are looking for your next must read novel, you won’t want to miss this chance to meet Georgia Sage for the first, and hopefully not the last time.

I loved it.

What Kate Says:

I am very proud to have a guest post from Kate Helm, the Author of The Secrets You Hide – here’s Kate to tell you about which podcasts you should be listening to and why.

Am off to download them all now…

Top 5 podcasts for thriller fans – and thriller writers – by author Kate Helm

If you’re a crime or thriller fan who hasn’t discovered podcasts yet, this could change your life.

I love podcasts: they’re free, easy to download and they transform household chores, dog walks and any other routine task into a fascinating experience. And, in my case, they’ve even inspired an entire novel: the idea for The Secrets You Hide came when I was listening to one on a cross-trainer.

So here are my top 5 for fans of crime and thriller writing:

Criminal – the unexpected podcast

It was an episode of Criminal, a beautifully made American podcast, that triggered the idea for my novel about a courtroom artist. In Pen and Paper, They interviewed court sketch artists about their work and how it felt to stare into the eyes of the accused and the seed of the story began to grow in my mind. I love Criminal because the show features quirky, unexpected cases and fascinating people who operate across the law, from dog theft to the impact of gunshot wounds.

They walk among us – the British crime podcast

Many crime-themed podcasts are US-based, but this one focuses on UK cases – it can be gritty but I love the range of topics covered, from the Krays right up to contemporary trials.

File on 4 – the investigative podcast

This is a UK BBC current affairs show so each week there’s a well-made investigative documentary covering crime and legal issues, as well as other controversial subjects. It’s not just the stories themselves that grip, it’s also how the reporters uncover them, as it gives you a glimpse of what it takes to get to the truth.

The bingeworthy one-off podcasts – Serial, Murder in the Lucky Holiday Hotel, The Ratline

Serial put investigative podcasts on the map, as it unpicked a cold case step-by-step across multiple episodes: it’s now on its third season. I am a sucker for a story that unravels slowly, playing tricks with you as you change your mind about guilt or innocence. The two ‘intrigue’ documentaries from the BBC offer the same depth and doubts, with Murder at the Lucky Holiday Hotel focusing on shady Chinese-British business dealings, and The Ratline dealing with the Nazi’s secret escape route from Europe.

Hidden Brain – the podcast about what makes us tick

Too much true crime can be exhausting or depressing – and like many readers, and writers, the whydunnit matters as much to me as the whodunnit. Hidden Brain is a great listen, covering the psychology of groups and individuals, from #metoo to procrastination or going without sleep. The examples are always fascinating and the presenter Shankar Vedantam really gets the most of out each topic.

The Secrets You Hide is published as an e-book on October 4 and paperback on February 7. Join Kate’s free book club for exclusive previews and competitions to win signed books by your favourite thriller authors, via Kate’s website www.kate-harrison.com or follow her on Twitter @katewritesbooks

If you have missed any more posts from Kate’s Blog Tour, here are my fellow brilliant bloggers who have been taking part. Find out what they have been saying about The Secrets You Hide..

Thanks to Francesca Russell and Sahina Bibi at Bonnier Zaffre and Netgalley for my e-copy in exchange for an honest review.

How We Remember by J.M. Monaco

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How We Remember by J.M. Monaco

Published By: Red Door

Buy It Here: here

What The Blurb Says:

Family Secrets. Sibling Rivalries

The blood ties that have kept Jo and her brother Dave together are challenged when an unexpected inheritance fans the flames of underlying tensions. Upon discovering her mother’s diary, the details of their family’s troubled past are brought into sharp relief and painful memories are reawakened.

Narrated with moments of light and dark, J. M. Monaco weaves together past and present, creating a complex family portrait of pain and denial in this remarkable debut novel.

Perfect for fans of Anne Tyler and Sylvia Brownrigg, this is a novel that will stay with you long after you stop turning the pages.

What I Say:

How We Remember by J.M. Monaco is a powerful and often very uncomfortable story about families.  To be a member of a family is something that we all want, and for many, being part of one is everything.  An inbuilt support system, a place where we can be ourselves and a sense of contentment and belonging.

Jo and Dave live with their Mother and Father, and seemingly have a fairly normal family life.  However, when their Mum dies, Jo, Dave and their Father are brought together in grief and also the realisation that their Mum was very organised and had planned everything so that when she did die, they would be provided for.

However, How We Remember is not a saccharine, sickly sweet description of American Family life.  It is at times, dark, brutal and very shocking as it tackles familial sexual assault, addiction, mental health issues, dealing with the reality of living with Multiple Sclerosis on a daily basis and the suicide of a family member.

Jo, now living in London with her husband Jon, returns to America to help her father sort through and organise her mother’s effects and memorial service. Having left the States for a career in academia, and trying to start a family of her own, Jo now has to face the past and the awful events that happened in her childhood and split her family.

The story is told in a dual narrative- past and present, and we see how Jo and Dave became the people they are today.  At the heart of the family split, is the fact that Jo was sexually assaulted by her Uncle, who would give her rides back from baby sitting.  He gave Jo alcohol and drugs without her knowing, and in her hazy unclear minded state, is not completely sure what happened to her, but Jo knows she has been assaulted.  To protect her Mother, she tells her only that Uncle Ron kissed her, but this revelation is enough to break the bond between the sisters.  It is shocking that her Aunt Peggy will only speak to her mother if Jo agrees to say that it didn’t happen, wanting to hide her husband’s assault rather than standing up for her niece.

This is one of the strongest themes of How We Remember.  That the characters do some awful things, but that the idea of family, and the shame that they would face should these incidents come to light, outweigh the concept of morally corrupt issues.

As Jo attempts to navigate her teenage years, we see her fractured relationship with her brother.  I found this relationship uncomfortable to read about. They start as close brother and sister, but as Jo gets older, Dave becomes increasingly hostile towards Jo, they have to share a room with only a sheet between them. Jo is subject to Dave’s sexual attention on a couple of occasions, and for me, this was difficult to read.  His personality changed as he did this – he seemed not to be fully in control of himself, which made it for me even more challenging.  The awful fact of the matter is that in spite of this, Jo does not remove herself from his life.

For me, this was the crux of the novel. That when something so brutal happens, you are in a dilemma. Your head tells you that you should remove yourself from this situation, but your heart tells you that this is your family, and can you really be the one to shatter that bond?

When Jo meets Jon, she finally has some semblance of reality, and a chance for a stable life with a man who requires nothing more of her than her love.  Their story is one of the most powerful for me in this novel.  This routine and some may say mundane relationship is exactly what Jo has never experienced, but the heartbreaking issue is that Jo is unable to carry a baby to full term, and she measures her success as a wife and partner by her ability to show her love to Jon by giving him a baby.  I feel that this sense of frustration and perhaps grief is what leads her to have a one night stand with Nina, an intense and manipulative student she tutors, as almost a way for Jo to find her way back to Jon.

The interesting thing is that all the time Jo is trying to navigate her way through her marriage, her life in America is always like a distant echo in the background.  She is always aware of her brother’s neediness and her father’s inability to function without his wife.  As long as they are alive, she can never really be free and able to fully be herself.

As the novel draws to its close, we see Jo contemplating her imperfect family in an idealised way.  I think this is a really clever plot device by J M Monaco as it made me contemplate my own life and my memories of my childhood.  In today’s world, where at a click of a button, we can edit our reality to show the world how fabulous our filtered life is, How We Remember is an intense and often emotional novel which makes us confront (not always comfortably) what our lives were really like.  Ultimately in spite of the truth, and how hard that may be, we are bound to our families and our love for them makes us put aside any frailities or flaws they may have.

Thank you very much to Red Door Books for asking me to take part in the official Blog Tour, and if you want to see what my fantastic fellow bloggers are saying about How We Remember, you can follow the Tour here..

How We Remember is available:

At Amazon: here

Via Netgalley: here

Or you can purchase it at Red Door Publishing: here

If you would like to read more about J. M. Monaco, please visit her blog: here

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The Corset by Laura Purcell

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Laura Purcell: The Corset

Published By: Raven Books

Buy It: here

What The Blurb Says:

Is prisoner Ruth Butterham mad or a murderer? Victim or villain?

Dorothea and Ruth.

Prison visitor and prisoner. Powerful and powerless.

Dorothea Truelove is young, wealthy and beautiful. Ruth Butterham is young, poor and awaiting trial for murder.

When Dorothea’s charitable work leads her to Oakgate Prison, she is delighted with the chance to explore her fascination with phrenology and test her hypothesis that the shape of a person’s skull can cast a light on their darkest crimes. But when she meets teenage seamstress Ruth, she is faced with another theory: that it is possible to kill with a needle and thread. For Ruth attributes her crimes to a supernatural power inherent in her stitches.

The story Ruth has to tell of her deadly creations – of bitterness and betrayal, of death and dresses – will shake Dorothea’s belief in rationality, and the power of redemption.

Can Ruth be trusted? Is she mad, or a murderer?

What I Say:

If you know me at all, you will remember how much I loved Laura’s previous novel The Silent Companions (my blog post about how wonderful it is here ).  You can imagine how much I was looking forward to reading The Corset.  After trying every way possible to get hold of a copy for review, the wonderful Pigeonhole HQ came to the rescue!

The Pigeonhole is an app which you sign up to for free, and they offer you the chance to read books via a Stave (a small portion of the novel) every day.  It’s a way of reading that’s growing in popularity, and I love it!  Just to be clear, I am in no way affiliated with or paid by The Pigeonhole, it’s just a unique and brilliant way to access books – for free!

The Corset is set in the Victorian Era, and tells the story of Ruth Butterham and Dorothea Truelove. From the very start, the novel pulls the reader right into the murky, oppressive and unrelenting atmosphere of the city.

The Victorian life is very much a world of two halves – one of social mobility, wealth and having a future, the other is of people being treated no better than animals, where children are traded as commodities and are destined for a life of poverty and hopelessness.

Dorothea is a young lady, who is settled in a social class where money talks and she has plenty of it.  As a young woman of means, she is not interested by the fashion and gossip of the time, instead she is fascinated by the science of phrenology, which claims that by studying the different lumps and bumps on a person’s skull, that you can determine the different facets of their personality.  Dorothea wants to understand how much of an impact this can have on a person’s propensity to kill, and her ability to give monetary donations to Oakgate prison, gives her the exclusive access to inmates to conduct her research.  Her mother has passed away and Dorothea’s father is attempting to bring her up to be the young woman he wishes her to be, and is dismayed by her interests and lack of willingness to marry.

She is a fiercely independent and dynamic character, who understands what is expected of her – to marry well, produce children and be the dutiful wife and mother.  What is refreshing about Dorothea is that she does not want to marry for money – she wants to marry on her own terms – if at all.  She does not want her life determined by what is expected – she wants her life to be what she wants, something she has to suppress and keep hidden from everyone else for fear of angering her distant and somewhat intimidating father.

Ruth Butterham is a sixteen year old seamstress, who has been accused of murder and is awaiting her fate in Oakgate Prison.  Dorothea is immediately drawn to her and makes her almost a pet project.  Ruth has had a far from easy childhood to this point, her mother has had to ‘sell’ her to an inhuman Seamstress called Mrs Metyard after Ruth’s father has died and she has no source of income, and Ruth has lost her younger sister too in a most tragic way.

Ruth is convinced that her instinctive skill as a seamstress means that she is able to imbue her needles with her emotions, that she has the power of life and death over her sewing clients.  This inexplicable power has resulted in her being accused of the murder of Kate Metyard, Mrs Metyard’s daughter.  As Dorothea spends more time in Ruth’s company, we learn about her life, the horrors she has seen, and the shocking realisation that Ruth is a complex young woman who may not be as wealthy or privileged as Dorothea, but is just as determined and unique.

In telling Ruth’s story, Laura not only builds up a complete picture of her, and allows us to witness the other side of the case, but also provides a brutal and shocking depiction of life in Victorian Britain.  I learned more about the grim realities of life for those without money in reading this novel than I ever have before.  Laura’s gritty and evocative telling of Ruth’s life are in stark contrast to the beautiful and grandiose descriptions of the fabric she works with but will never own, and the unfulfilling world that Dorothea inhabits.

As a reader, you find yourself pulled and pushed along with Ruth – she witnesses and is forced to participate in things which are jaw droppingly awful (and not for the faint hearted), but she also shows a gritty determination and resilience to ensure that she does what she has to do to survive, to get revenge on those who have wronged her or hurt the ones she loves.  I felt all the way through the novel that along with the dense and eerie atmosphere, there was also a magical and mystical air, where things that seem impossible and out of the ordinary are able to thrive in this imposing and claustrophobic world.

The Corset moves enticingly towards its conclusion, with Dorothea wondering whether Ruth is really telling the truth or if she has been manipulated into believing her story. This is the skill that Laura has in the way she draws the reader in – we are as much in the dark as Dorothea, every revelation and every layer that is unfurled pushes and pulls us one way or the other.  Surely the idea that you can hurt someone purely by the garment they are wearing is ridiculous..

It would be too simplistic to say that The Corset is purely a story of deciding whether Ruth Butterham is guilty or innocent.  It is a novel which addresses so many issues that are just as relevant now as they were then.  We learn about the place of women in society, poverty, social expectations and what love really means.  The Corset is shocking, brutal, filled with an underlying tension that pulses through the pages and keeps you reading long into the night. It is a novel that deserves to be read and re-read and I ordered a copy the minute I knew it was coming out.

Laura Purcell is an astounding writer, and I cannot wait to see where she takes us next.

I loved it  – it is for me, one of my books of the year and I can’t wait to read it all over again – now you need to get hold of a copy too so we can talk about it!

The Roald Dahl Short Story Collections

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Roald Dahl Short Story Collections

Published By: Penguin

Buy Them: here

Roald Dahl.  One of the truly great British authors that you know that everyone will have heard of.  His amazing books are timeless, imaginative and are for many children, the start of a long love affair with books and reading.

For me, it was Charlie and The Chocolate Factory.  The very notion that not only could someone own such a magical place, but that this world was one where children could visit and even own it was such an awe inspiring idea!

So, you can imagine how thrilled I was when I was asked to review four of Roald Dahl’s glorious short story collections reissued by Penguin.  Believe me, these are most definitely for the grown ups!

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Innocence

This for me, was a perfect place to start on my Roald Dahl journey.  It starts with an autobiographical chapter, Boy.  I have to admit that I knew little about the man behind the novels.  As we learn about Dahl’s childhood, right from the very start, every chapter in his life is an influence on his writing in later life.  His story is punctuated with photos and drawings, and far from this being a staid fact driven work, it feels very much like you are sitting down with your Granddad, as he tells you about his life.

Some of his anecdotes made me laugh out loud – one where he puts a mouse in the gobstopper jar of a particularly cantankerous sweetshop owner called Mrs Pratchett, could just as easily be a scene in George’s Marvellous Medicine!

This chapter ends with Roald Dahl heading off to East Africa, with the ominous foreboding of a Second World War not too far away.

The rest of the book looks at tales of Innocence, and for me, although all of them are brilliant, there are two in particular which unnerved and shocked me slightly!

In Taste, a repugnant wine snob attends a dinner party, and in exchange for correctly guessing a bottle of wine, he wants to take the daughter of the host home.  Of course, this being a Roald Dahl story, there is a huge sense of tension as it looks like all is lost and that he will win the daughter.  However, Dahl’s skill in effortlessly leading us down one path before revealing the twist is a masterclass in the unexpected!

The most unnerving story  for me was The Landlady.  An ordinary, apparently nice middle aged woman takes in young men as residents in her boarding house.  As she shows around the latest tenant, we as readers can sense that something is very amiss, but it is only when the action moves away to the other people in the house that we see exactly how menacing and shocking her actions are.  I loved this story because it was so understated and apparently innocuous, but it packed a huge disturbing punch at the end!

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War

This volume of stories is influenced by Dahl’s experiences during the Second World War.  A large part of this volume is take up with another of his autobiographical chapters, called Going Solo.  This details his experiences as a fighter pilot in World War II, and provides a no holds barred narrative to the realities and tragedies he faced during his time in the Air Force.

This is a perfect stand alone volume for those who are interested in discovering more about his time during the war, and the beauty of these re-issued editions are that you can pick and choose your volumes to satisfy every readers’ likes and dislikes.

I thought that the story Only This was a beautifully poignant exploration as to the reality of those left behind while their children go off to fight for their country.  We see a mother awaiting the return of her son from war, and feel her fear, isolation and loneliness.  Then we realise she closes her eyes and can clearly see her son in his aircraft, as he battles and is eventually hit.  Unable to free him, she decides to try and save him by throwing herself on top of him.  Back in her cottage, she sits back in her chair and brings the blankets close around her – but that is not the end of the story..

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Trickery

Tales of Deceit and Cunning – for me I loved this volume. What makes Dahl’s storytelling so skilled for me, is the ordinariness of the characters in many of his stories.

One of my favourite stories in all the volumes is Mrs Bixby and The Colonel’s Coat.

Mrs Bixby, frustrated by the mundanity of her life, and the apparent indifference of her Dentist husband, embarks on an affair with a man known as the Colonel.  When he finally decides to end their relationship, he does so with a parting gift of a minx fur coat -something which Mrs Bixby is thrilled about.  However, this now places her in a massive dilemma.  She desperately wants to keep it, but how can she possibly bring it into the house she shares with her husband?  After persuading a pawnbroker to take the coat, she convinces her husband that she has found the ticket and asks him to collect it for her.  Of course, this being a Dahl short story, the parcel is collected, but there is a double twist in the tale.

What I loved about this one was the way in which Mrs Bixby is not bothered about the end of the affair, but is much more concerned that she keeps the coat she believes she deserves! When she gets her comeuppance, you can feel the anger and resentment burn off the pages…!

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Fear

I thought that this was a very clever addition to the Roald Dahl short story collection.  In this volume, Dahl in the opening chapter, tells us how he has personally chosen these stories as ones that inspired him in his writing.  What I loved about this approach, was that this would be perfect as a stand alone volume for anyone wanting to read some extremely spooky stories, and even better to know that Dahl loved them too.

For me, it not only introduced me to superb writers I had never encountered before, but also gave me a real insight into what inspired Dahl to write in the way he did.

There were a number of stories I loved in this volume, which absolutely sent a shiver down my spine!

In Harry, by Rosemary Timperley, a young girl called Christine keeps talking to a boy named Harry.  She is adopted, and believes her imaginary friend is her brother, Harry.  Mrs James, her adoptive mother becomes increasingly concerned for Christine, and the story becomes darker and darker as it appears that Harry is starting to not only encroach on their lives, but may be far more present than they think…

I also loved The Telephone by Mary Treadgold.  A young woman has an affair with a married man called Allen.  Katherine, his wife discovers their relationship, and after the lovers flee to an isolated cottage in the Scottish Highlands, they learn that Katherine has died.  Then, they start to receive phone calls, from the London number where Katherine was living – except that there should be no one there, and Allen seems to be talking to his dead wife….!

Fear, Innocence, Trickery and War are beautiful and thoughtful re-issues of Roald Dahl’s short stories.  Not only do they look wonderful, they are the perfect addition for any Roald Dahl fan, or indeed for any person wanting to start to read his work and are not sure where to start.

As it is #RoaldDahlDay on Thursday 13th September, there has never been a better time to start your collection!

Thank you very much to Katie Ashworth at Michael Joseph, Penguin Random House for these stunning books.  In exchange for an honest review and a chance to participate on the official Blog Tour.

The Roald Dahl Blog Tour has already featured these amazing bloggers, and follow the rest of the tour to see what they thought of these stunning books…

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Transcription by Kate Atkinson

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Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Published By: Doubleday Books

Buy It: here

What The Blurb Says:

In 1940, eighteen-year old Juliet Armstrong is reluctantly recruited into the world of espionage. Sent to an obscure department of MI5 tasked with monitoring the comings and goings of British Fascist sympathisers, she discovers the work to be by turns both tedious and terrifying. But after the war has ended, she presumes the events of those years have been relegated to the past for ever.

Ten years later, now a producer at the BBC, Juliet is unexpectedly confronted by figures from her past. A different war is being fought now, on a different battleground, but Juliet finds herself once more under threat. A bill of reckoning is due, and she finally begins to realize that there is no action without consequence.

Transcription is a work of rare depth and texture, a bravura modern novel of extraordinary power, wit and empathy. It is a triumphant work of fiction from one of this country’s most exceptional writers.

What I Say:

“She believed that England could be a better country.  She was the apple ripe for plucking and she also had been Eve willing to eat the apple.”

The publication of a Kate Atkinson novel is always a huge event in the Book World.  Transcription was being hailed as extraordinary long before its publication date on September 6th last week.  I knew I wanted to read it having heard so many things about it, and there was a huge publicity buzz on Twitter and Instagram.  I was delighted to finally receive my copy and decided to flick through a few pages just to get a feel for it.

Big Mistake.

The thing that no one is saying openly about Transcription is this.

Once you read the opening page, it is simply impossible to put down.

The action moves between 1940, 1950 and 1981.  We meet Juliet Armstrong as an eighteen year old living in London.  She is selected from her routine governmental role and is recruited by MI5 to work for them.  Her job is transcribe the conversations between a group of people called The Fifth Columnists and an agent called Godfrey Toby, who is pretending to be a Gestapo Agent, and is trying to see what intelligence they have.  This group is completely taken in by Godfrey, and believe that he has direct links to Nazi Germany, and that they will be rewarded for their efforts to thwart Britain’s war effort.

I thought that it was interesting that for a novel set in World War Two, that the most powerful weapons for Juliet and her colleagues are words.  The ones spoken by The Fifth Columnists, the transcripts that Juliet has, and the things that the agents say to each other, which can determine the course of action and their lives by a single sentence.

Juliet understands the importance of what she is being asked to do, but is also completely confused by the behaviour of Perry, her boss.  Juliet is attracted to him, and on the one hand he wants to take her out on dates to get to know her better (by the way if a man asks you to go looking for otters, believe me, stay at home!), but on the other hand acts with a complete detached indifference to her.  She wants to be seduced, loved and adored, so she is absolutely baffled when he proposes and then they lie next to each other in bed with Perry pointedly staying as far away as possible from her!  Juliet’s bewilderment and frustration at Perry’s lack of interest are a joy to read – the reason for which is revealed in a series of poignant moments later in the novel..

Juliet’s obvious skill and intelligence means that she is given a much more testing task by MI5 – she and an older lady called Mrs Ambrose have to infiltrate a far more sinister group of Nazi sympathisers who are led by the mysterious Mrs Scaife.  For the first time, Juliet has to go completely undercover, with a new identity and history, and entrap Mrs Scaife.  Juliet’s resilience and determination mean that she plays a pivotal role in ensuring she and her cohorts are eventually arrested.

For me, throughout Transcription runs an interesting paradox. Juliet is obviously capable and proficient at the tasks she is given from MI5, and pushes herself and puts her life in danger to ensure she does what she is asked.  However, we also see that she is never treated completely as an equal – she is asked to make tea, clean up, or make herself busy in the kitchen when important decisions are being made.  She may be putting her life on the line, but at the end of the day, she is still a woman in a very male dominated world.

After the adrenaline rush and sense of achievement she gets from helping Mrs Scaife get arrested, Juliet goes back to transcribing the ramblings of the Fifth Columnists, and seems to accept that her thrilling days of espionage are over.

That is until one day, a door left slightly ajar in the Dolphin Square flat means that Juliet’s life will never be the same again, and she has to do things to survive that she never would have thought possible.

After her services are no longer required at MI5, Juliet starts work at the BBC and becomes a producer, making programmes for schools and dealing with an array of characters and incidents.  After a strange encounter on the street with Godfrey Toby, who denies ever having met her, Juliet finds herself slowly drawn back into the world of espionage.  She meets faces from her past and actively seeks out the Fifth Columnists to see what happened to them.  At certain points, we see a steely determination and a completely dispassionate side to Juliet as she tracks down the members of the group, and start to understand that there may be more to her than we think.

This is where the shift in the story becomes more and more sinister.  Is Juliet simply an instrument of the state, bound by a sense of duty to her country and her government, or is there another side to her that we have not been aware of all along?

Transcription may at first glance seem to be simply an espionage novel, with a plucky young heroine who does what she has to do for the war effort to ensure that Britain is the victor in the Second World War.  However, that would not come close to doing this astouding novel the justice it deserves.

It is a novel about so many different things.  The power of language and words, of what is said, and what is not, about the grim reality of war and how when we are pushed to our limits, we can do far more than we ever believed possible.

Kate Atkinson’s mastery at drawing us in from the first page and keeping us there until the last, with a beautifully understated ending, means that Transcription is a novel you will want to read, then read again to scour the pages for what you missed the first time.

As Juliet is told about espionage: “If you are going to tell a lie, tell a good one.”

I loved it.

The Rival by Charlotte Duckworth

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Charlotte Duckworth: The Rival

Published By: Quercus on 6th September 2018

Buy It: here

What the Blurb Says:

NOW
Helena is a career woman with no job and a mother without a baby. She blames Ashley for destroying her life. But is what happened really Ashley’s fault?

THEN
When Helena hires Ashley to work for her, she’s startled but impressed by her fierce ambition. They form a dream team and Helena is proud – maybe this is the protégée she’s always wanted to have. But soon Helena realizes that nothing will stand in the way of Ashley’s drive to get to the top. And when Helena becomes pregnant, everything she has worked so hard for is suddenly threatened, with devastating consequences…

What I Say:

I am going to be honest, I was wary of offering to review The Rival. I thought that it was going to be one of those ‘psychological thrillers’ that are all over the bookshops at the moment.  I don’t know about you,  but I am almost at the point where if I see one more novel promising twists and turns that you won’t see coming, I think I might have to scream into a cushion!

So, let me start by telling you that The Rival is so much more and is a brilliant timely and relevant read for all women.

It is a powerful and heartfelt study not only of female ambition and drive, and how women are damned if they work and damned if they don’t, but it also intelligently examines what it means to be a woman in society today.

The narrative in The Rival moves between the past and the present.  We meet Helena, a woman who we learn has lost a baby, and has been the victim of a campaign by her protegee Ashley,  who will stop at nothing to get the life she wants, even at the expense of Helena’s wellbeing.

Helena and her husband live in the countryside, she is currently undergoing therapy and the geographical isolation of her house seems to echo her distance from work and everyday life.  We know that Helena has lost a child and is grieving, unable to connect with her husband. She is haunted by the constant number of cars that crash into the wall of her house, often acting as the medic and counsellor until the ambulance can arrive at the scene.

What is striking about this is that it seems that Helena is slightly in a dream like state, and that as a reader, you immediately sense that this novel is far more layered than it first seems…

When her previous boss David, gets in touch with Helena to offer her a contact to get back into the world of work, she is determined that Ashley is not part of the conversation. It is becoming increasingly clear that we understand something has happened between them which has changed their lives forever.

Ashley is a young, focussed and ambitious young woman, who starts work at Helena’s company (KAMU – Kiss and Make Up).  From the start of the novel, we are in no doubt that Ashley has a career path in mind, and no one, especially not Helena, is going to stop her.

Helena and Ashley start to work together, and from the moment they share office space, Ashley is working on her plan to make sure that Helena becomes dispensable.  She puts all her energies into developing a proposal to move the company forward, and is horrified when Helena seemingly steals her ideas and presents them to David their boss. Furious with Helena, Ashley steamrollers her way onto Helena’s team and every decision she makes is designed to make Helena realise that she is not as powerful as she thinks.

Charlotte’s writing means you feel Ashley’s anger and irritation with Helena seep through every page of this novel and I was both intrigued and appalled by her!  So often, novels just make the ‘bad’ character a stereotyped cartoonish image, with no depth and little understanding of why they act like they do.  What I loved about The Rival is that we see into Ashley’s background, we learn how she has had to deal with so much in her life, and that her ambition is borne of a desire to be the best she can, so that she never ends up like her mum.

With Ashley now pushing forward, and Helena seemingly being excluded from decisions and meetings, Helena discovers she is pregnant.  This, for me, elevates The Rival way above the many novels I have read before.  Charlotte writes frankly and intelligently about women not only in the workplace, but also how they are defined and limited by the expectations of society the minute they become pregnant.

Far from relaxing and enjoying her pregnancy, Helena is constantly on edge as she battles to retain her position in the company.  Ashley now comes into her own, and sees this as the perfect opportunity to usurp Helena – I mean, after all, how can you trust a hormonal pregnant woman who may not come back anyway.  You need a young, driven and focussed woman who will not be leaving early to pick up her child – someone just like Ashley.

This was for me the crux of the novel.  The world would be a far more contented place if women supported each other, but the issue is that we are trying to work within a society that is patriarchal – it does not often support women, and leaves them fighting for their careers.  When you are on maternity leave, you can’t relax, because you know that most of your salary will be spent on childcare when you return to work, and that from the moment you do return, your whole way of working has to change.  You have to work twice as hard, always worried that you will get a call asking you to collect your child. I know when I was working, and my son was poorly, my husband and I would be arguing as to who was the least busy and could afford to take the time off.

Helena starts to realise exactly what Ashley is doing, but of course, she knows that eventually she will have to leave to have her baby, and then everything is out of her control.  Interestingly, Ashley is also irritated that if Helena leaves, she may not have a project to work on and so has to fight for her professional life.  So she cleverly decides to have some meetings in New York, knowing that Helena can’t fly, and Ashley seemingly gets everything she wants…

As Ashley starts to live the life she wants, we finally discover how Helena lost her baby, and The Rival seamlessly comes to its brilliant conclusion (no, am not going to tell you!)!

This is when the jaw dropping, did not see that coming, check back to make sure I read it correctly moments happen, and it was fantastic!

The Rival is a novel that is not easily categorised, and that is part of its fantastic appeal.  It is a clever and satisfying read, that I felt raised so many pertinent issues for all women.  Charlotte Duckworth has written a smart, challenging and timely novel, which is not only a joy to read, but is also compassionate and eloquent.

At the heart of The Rival, lies a simple truth.

If women devoted more time to supporting each other rather than trying to tear each other down, just think of what we could really achieve.

I loved it.

Thank you to Quercus Books and Ella Patel for my copy of The Rival in exchange for an honest review and to participate in this blog tour.

The Blog Tour continues with these amazing bloggers. See what they are saying about The Rival too…

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