‘In The Company Of Strangers’ by Awais Khan @rararesources @AwaisKhanAuthor #bookreview #bookbloggers #blogtour

It is my pleasure to be taking my turn on the blog tour today for Awais Khan’s debut novel ‘In The Company Of Strangers’. Many thanks to Rachel Gilbey, from Rachel’s Random Resources, for including me, and to the author for the copy of the book, which I have reviewed as a reader; honestly, individually and impartially.

In The Company of Strangers Cover

The Blurb:

Mona has almost everything: money, friends, social status… everything except for freedom. Languishing in her golden cage, she craves a sense of belonging…

Desperate for emotional release, she turns to a friend who introduces her to a world of glitter, glamour, covert affairs and drugs. There she meets Ali, a physically and emotionally wounded man, years younger than her.

Heady with love, she begins a delicate game of deceit that spirals out of control and threatens to shatter the deceptive facade of conservatism erected by Lahori society, and potentially destroy everything that Mona has ever held dear.

My Review:

The prologue, which sets the scene for this story, makes us party to the tormented final thoughts and observations of a suicide bomber who is making his way into a crowded area in order to avenge his family. When he puts his finger to the detonator, he sets in motion a devastating chain of events.

Ali’s little brother is caught up in the blast, with life changing consequences. To pay for the medical bills, Ali must return to the sleazy work he had hoped to leave behind, despite being extremely successful. He becomes a top billing for the Lahori socialite Meera, who has been newly reunited with her best friend from her youth, Mona, who had married Bilal, a construction magnate, many years earlier. Their social circles are the same; glamourous and bitchy, a superficial whirlwind of parties and home visits which are very amusing to begin with, but palpable tension builds up throughout the story.

It is through Mona and Ali, our star-crossed lovers, that the story is told. The warmth with which these characters’ experiences are told is utterly pervasive and compelling.

I was struck with the author’s ease of writing from a female perspective. I lived and breathed with Mona for the duration of this novel. She has a sense of abstraction from the Lahori high society to which she belongs, allowing us to see the cracks and strains in her life and the lives of those around her.

Although the men believe they are the controlling force in society, there are some very formidable women too. Meera, thrice divorced and fiercely independent, makes it her mission to supersede all others in the pursuit of high society domination. This incenses the cunning and calculating Shahida Elahi, an older woman with a social agenda of her own. Mona’s mother in law, Nighat, is a complex character and I think I ended up liking her, despite her treatment of Mona throughout most of the story.

Away from the high life in Lahore, where secular conservatism is being espoused, young men are becoming radicalised. The dangers of charismatic leadership have been well documented throughout history, in all walks of life and fields of influence and Mir Rabiullah is no exception. He is a monstrous character, and unlike all others in this book, one who the author does nothing to redeem.

Mona experiences huge anxiety about the bomb attacks in Pakistan, which seem to be increasing in frequency and moving closer to the circles in which she moves. She is treading a dangerous path herself and there is great risk in what she does.

The plot of the novel is so compulsive; I found myself reading through the night to find out how Mona and Ali’s troubling situation would resolve.

I have experienced Istanbul through Orhan Pamuk, Kabul through Khaled Hosseini and now Lahore through Awais Khan. He is an author to watch, and I hope that he continues to write much more. As English speakers, to have language barriers broken down for us by skilled writers and translators, we are gifted access to recognise ourselves in others and to see the similarities in human society, no matter the location or culture.

Without reservation, I highly recommend In the Company of Strangers. It is an emotionally charged, stunning debut with masterful characterisation and a tremendous sense of place.

Trigger Warnings: domestic violence, bomb blasts and associated injuries, self-sacrifice, pregnancy related triggers.

This is of course, a blog tour, and there will be many unique perspectives on ‘In The Company of Strangers’ and I would urge you to read them. Some have interviews with the author and on others there are extracts from the novel.

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If you would like to order a copy, please follow one of these purchase links:

The Book Guild

Waterstones

Foyles

Amazon

About the Author:

Awais Khan photo

Awais Khan is a graduate of Western University and Durham University. Having been an avid reader and writer all his life, he decided to take the plunge and study Novel Writing and Editing at Faber Academy in London.

His work has appeared in the Missing Slate Magazine, Daily Times and MODE, and he has been interviewed by leading television channels like PTV, Voice of America, Samaa TV and City 42, to name a few.

He is also the Founder of The Writing Institute, one of the largest institutions for Creative Writing in Pakistan. He lives in Lahore and frequently visits London for business.

To connect:

Instagram

The Writing Institute on Instagram

Facebook

‘Smile of the Stowaway’ by Tony Bassett @rararesources @tonybassett1 #bookgiveaway #competition #rafflecopter #bookblog #bookreview

I am delighted to be on the blog tour today for Smile of the Stowaway by Tony Bassett. Many thanks to Rachel from Rachel’s Random Resources for including me on the tour, and for the copy of the book, which I have reviewed as a reader, honestly, individually, and impartially.

Smile of the Stowaway cover

The Blurb:

A married couple, a stranger from far away and a murder that rocks their lives. Desperate to reach England, a bedraggled immigrant clings precariously beneath a couple’s motor home as they cross the Channel. Once holidaymakers Bob and Anne overcome their shock at his discovery and their initial reservations, they welcome the friendly stranger into their home in defiance of the law. But their trust is stretched to the limit when the police accuse the smiling twenty-three-year-old of a gruesome murder. Could this man from six thousand miles away be guilty? Or is the real killer still out there? Former national newspaper journalist Tony Bassett tells how Anne turns detective, battling against a mountain of circumstantial evidence and police bungling to discover the truth. This gripping first novel concerning a death in a remote Kentish country cottage is packed with mystery, suspense and occasional touches of humour.

My Review:

Imagine travelling back from a trip abroad in your motorhome, ignorant of the fact that a desperate stranger has boarded the underside of your vehicle, only finding out when you pull on to your driveway, and he drops to the ground, ready to run. Would you call the authorities immediately, or might you take pity on an exhausted human being who has undertaken a hellish journey in order to reach a safe country which he hopes to make his home? This is the precise dilemma that suburban couple Bob and Anne face in Smile of the Stowaway, the first crime novel written by ex-Fleet Street journalist Tony Bassett.

The choice they make places the Eritrean illegal immigrant, Yusuf, as a new fixture in their lives, and one who they come to regard with concern and affection. When Yusuf is able to take up a job locally, due to the deniability of the way he has arrived, and his being in possession of a passport, all appears to be going very well.

Then, there is a brutal murder, and the shadow of suspicion falls upon the stowaway with the beautiful smile. Anne is convinced that Yusuf is innocent, and goes on a one-woman mission with her husband Bill (through whom this story is recounted) in tow, to prove it.

Yet, will her faith be misplaced, and is Yusuf really the genial, kind and hardworking man he appears to be?

Some of the problems encountered in this book seemed to me to have solutions which were a little too quickly resolved. I felt that the writing would have benefited from fewer descriptions of some minor points, and greater complexity in other areas, particularly with regard to police procedure and legal process. As a layperson, I would have liked to have understood these things better within the context of this as a crime novel, and this subject, which I found very interesting. I am glad that the author chose to tackle illegal immigration from the perspective he did.

The plot moves forward quickly, and the author is at his most comfortable when he is writing about the private investigation process that his amateur sleuth, Anne, undertakes (although I did have to suspend disbelief on occasion!). I’m sure that this must in no small part be attributable to his extensive journalistic experience.

The book uproots the typical negative tabloid story we used to be confronted with on a regular basis concerning illegal immigrants, and makes our perspective focus on the individual rather than the headline. This is more in keeping with the new, more compassionate style of journalism which appears to be turning the tide against the people traffickers, and eliciting our sympathy for those seeking safe harbour, often failing so tragically.

The author uses his main characters to demonstrate the value of friendship and compassion to those who risk everything to reach a safe place, but also lets the plot unfold in such a way that the complex issues faced by illegal immigrants are exposed.

To take part in an exciting giveaway…

Giveaway to Win 6 x PB copies of Smile of the Stowaway (Open INT)

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*Terms and Conditions –Worldwide entries welcome. Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below. The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data. I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

Purchase links:

Amazon UK  

Amazon US

About the author:

Tony Bassett picture

Tony Bassett, who was born in West Kent, grew up wanting to be a writer from the age of nine when he edited a school magazine.

After attending Hull University where he won a `Time-Life’ magazine student journalism award, he spent six years working as a journalist in Sidcup, Worcester and Cardiff before moving to Fleet Street.

Tony spent 37 years working for the national press, mainly for the `Sunday People’ where he worked both for the newsdesk and the investigations department.

He helped cover the Jeremy Thorpe trial for the `Evening Standard’, broke the news in the `Sun’ of Bill Wyman’s plans to marry Mandy Smith and found evidence for the `Sunday People’ of Rod Stewart’s secret love child.

On one occasion, while working for `The People’, he took an escaped gangster back to prison. His first book, `Smile Of The Stowaway’, is one of four crime novels Tony has written over the past three years.

He has five grown-up children and eleven grandchildren. He lives in South East London with his partner, Lin.

To connect with Tony,  please follow the social media links below:

Facebook 

Twitter

Tony Bassett Author Page

‘The Sentinel’s Alliance’ by Suzanne Rogerson – PUBLICATION DAY!! @rararesources @rogersonsm #publicationday #bookbloggers #fantasy #specialoffer

Hi everyone! It’s e-book publication day today for the third book in Suzanne Rogerson’s The Silent Sea Chronicles – The Sentinel’s Alliance. It is my privilege to be taking part in the promotion of this book, courtesy of Rachel’s Random Resources.

Sentinel pic.png

The Blurb

As the island of Kalaya and its people recover from civil war, a new threat surfaces. Invaders from the island of Elkena hunt the seas, butchering those who possess magic. Their scar-faced captain seeks the Fire Mage who it has been foretold will kill him and Tei and her people are in his warpath.

Tei and a band of Kalayans travel to Stone Haven, the home of their new allies, planning to restore magic to the dead island. But the Stone Haven Council have abhorred magic since their people were massacred by Elkenan invaders twenty years before. Commander Farrell must persuade his people to accept magic again, but his plans expose them to their biggest fear and he risks leading Tei and her people into danger, and jeopardising the safety of both their islands.

Under Farrell’s guidance treaties are forged, but is the newly formed Silent Sea Alliance enough to defeat the invaders and stop their bloodthirsty quest to destroy magic forever?

Fans of epic and character fantasy will be delighted to know that the three books are available for 99p today in celebration. I’m so excited to read this – I’m a lover of fantasy, yet haven’t read one for what seems like ages. I’m off to buy myself the trilogy now; 99p for each book is a fabulous bargain, and the first two books have staggeringly good reviews on Amazon, Goodreads and from the bloggers who have been involved in the blog tour last month. If you follow the Twitter link at the end of this post, you can read the reviews for yourselves.

If you haven’t read the previous books, the first is entitled ‘The Lost Sentinel’, and the blurb reads:

The magical island of Kalaya is dying, along with its Sentinel.

The Assembly controls Kalaya. Originally set up to govern, they now persecute those with magic and exile them to the Turrak Mountains.

Tei, a tailor’s daughter, has always hidden her magic but when her father’s old friend visits and warns them to flee to the mountains she must leave her old life behind.

On the journey, an attack leaves her father mortally wounded. He entrusts her into the care of the exiles and on his deathbed makes a shocking confession.

Struggling with self-doubt, Tei joins the exiles search for their new Sentinel who is the only person capable of restoring the fading magic. But mysterious Masked Riders are hunting the Sentinel too, and time, as well as hope, is running out.

Against mounting odds it will take friendship, heartache and sacrifice for the exiles to succeed, but is Tei willing to risk everything to save the island magic?

The second is ‘The Sentinel’s Reign, and the blurb reads:

Against mounting odds it will take friendship, heartache and sacrifice for the exiles to succeed, but is Tei willing to risk everything to save the island magic?

The Sentinel’s reign is doomed to failure unless Tei can prevent the Kalayan people from plunging into war.

With the new Sentinel initiated and the magic restored on Kalaya, life is flourishing for Tei and the exiles. But Rathnor’s plans for war soon escalate and thwart any chance of peace.
Brogan’s position on the Assembly is uncertain as rumours circulate that he is an exile spy.

After an attempt on his life, Farrell is more determined than ever to build a home for his people on Stone Haven. But the council have their sights set on Kalaya and Farrell struggles to steer them from war.

As trouble brews within and outside forces gather against them, can the exiles keep their hold on the magic, or will this spell the end of Kalaya and its people?

Purchase Link: The Sentinel’s Alliance

To celebrate publication day, all three books of the Silent Sea Chronicles are 99p today!The Lost Sentinel#1 Silent Sea Chronicles
The Sentinel’s Reign#2 Silent Sea Chronicles

About the Author: Suzanne Rogerson

Suzanne Rogerson.jpg

Suzanne lives in Middlesex, England with her hugely encouraging husband and two children.

She wrote her first novel at the age of twelve. She discovered the fantasy genre in her late teens and has never looked back. Giving up work to raise a family gave her the impetus to take her attempts at novel writing beyond the first draft, and she is lucky enough to have a husband who supports her dream – even if he does occasionally hint that she might think about getting a proper job one day.

Suzanne loves gardening and has a Hebe (shrub) fetish. She enjoys cooking with ingredients from the garden, and regularly feeds unsuspecting guests vegetable-based cakes.

She collects books, loves going for walks and picnics with the children and sharing with them her love of nature and photography.

Suzanne is interested in history and enjoys wandering around castles. But most of all she likes to escape with a great film, or soak in a hot bubble bath with an ice cream and a book.

Social Media Links:

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

Goodreads

Amazon Author Page

Bookbub

 

‘Cultivating a Fuji’ by Miriam Drori @rararesources @miriamdrori @crookedcatbooks #blogtour #bookreview #giveaway

Today, it is my pleasure to be on the blog tour for Cultivating a Fuji by Miriam Drori. Many thanks to Rachel Gilbey at Rachel’s Random Resources for including me.

The Blurb:

“Convinced that his imperfect, solitary existence is the best it will ever be, Martin unexpectedly finds himself being sent to represent his company in Japan. His colleagues think it’s a joke; his bosses are certain he will fail. What does Martin think? He simply does what he’s told. That’s how he’s survived up to now – by hiding his feelings.

Amazingly, in the land of strange rituals, sweet and juicy apples, and too much saké, Martin flourishes and achieves the impossible. But that’s only the beginning. Keeping up the momentum for change proves futile. So, too, is a return to what he had before. Is there a way forward, or should he put an end to the search now?

Gradually, as you’ll see when Martin looks back from near the end of his journey, life improves. There’s even a woman, Fiona, who brings her own baggage to the relationship, but brightens Martin’s days. And just when you think there can be no more surprises, another one pops up.

Throughout his life, people have laughed at ‘weirdo’ Martin; and you, as you read, will have plenty of opportunity to laugh, too. Go ahead, laugh away, but you’ll find that there’s also a serious side to all this…”

Cultivating a Fuji is the story of Martin, a young IT professional, who has lived with debilitating social anxiety since he was a child. It takes us on his journey as he ripens into a successful and self-assured person later in life.

We begin the story at the end, as it were, as Martin looks back at his painful school life and a career marred by the judgement of his peers, as they firstly struggle to communicate with him, and then view him as almost a lost cause, apart from his exceptional ability at his job.

One of the turning points for Martin, although not the most significant for him as I view it, is when his company, in sheer desperation, send him on a business-critical trip to Japan. He must make preparations for this trip, which could have sent him into a tailspin due to the communication required, yet he achieves success for heart-warming reasons.

In the weeks following Martin’s return from Japan, he is offered help from his company, who wish to repay his success on their behalf. This forces a decision point, between two momentous choices. I think the resilience Martin inadvertently learned from his school years, sets him on the path he takes, and propels the story forward into a new chapter in his life.

Fiona brings meaning to Martin’s life, but she has her own demons to fight. Their relationship heralds an end to their solitary lives:

“Humans aren’t meant to be alone. Anyone who says they prefer to be alone has chosen that state because other people have treated them badly. At least, that’s what I heard from all the lonely people I’ve been in contact with. They may have deserved that treatment because of what they did, but the fact remains that it’s never ideal to be alone.”

The ending leaves us uncertain. There are plenty of moments of contrition in this book, and the feel is generally cathartic. I did find certain aspects troubling, as I think we are meant to. This is an exercise through fiction to educate about, and encourage recognition of, social anxiety. We are urged to think about our responses to those about us and to be kinder to each other.

Trigger warning: child abuse

Purchase Link  https://amzn.to/30cYkYd

Please check out all the other wonderful bloggers’ reviews of Cultivating a Fuji! Dates and the bloggers involved are here:

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Author Bio –

Cultiveating Author Photo
Miriam Drori has decided she’s in the fifth and best stage of her life, and she’s hoping it’ll last for ever. It’s the one in which she’s happiest and most settled and finally free to do what she wants. Miriam lives in a delightful house and garden in Jerusalem with her lovely husband and one of three children. She enjoys frequent trips around the world.

She dances, hikes, reads and listens to music. And she’s realised that social anxiety is here to stay, so she might as well make friends with it. On top of that, she has moved away from computer programming and technical writing (although both of those provided interest in previous stages) and now spends her time editing and writing fiction.

NEITHER HERE NOR THERE (currently unavailable), a romance with a difference set in Jerusalem, was published in 2014.

THE WOMEN FRIENDS, co-written with Emma Rose Millar, is a series of novellas based on the famous painting by Gustav Klimt.

SOCIAL ANXIETY REVEALED (non-fiction) provides a comprehensive description of social anxiety from many different viewpoints. CULTIVATING A FUJI takes the social anxiety theme into fiction, using humour to season a poignant story.

Giveaway to Win copies of Neither Here Nor There and Social Anxiety Revealed (Open Internationally)

To enter the giveaway, please click the link below:

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*Terms and Conditions –Worldwide entries welcome. Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below. The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data. I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

‘The Silent Companions’ by Laura Purcell #bookreview #bookblog

Black, macabre book cover? Check.
Intriguing, sinister title? Check.
Enough budget to buy? Check.
Damnit! Malevolent forces pulled me in again!

The Silent Companions promised so much; a front-page testimony from Susan Hill, whose Woman In Black remains one of the most terrifying books I’ve read to date, and the quote from the Times reads, “a sinister slice of Victorian gothic”. Perfect…

….and yet, during the first fifth of the book, I was toying with not finishing it. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why that was. Possibly ghost story fatigue? I’ve just finished The Turn of The Screw by Henry James, and I’ve also read a few stories over the last year where an incarcerated woman needs to write her account of past events in order to either damn or exonerate herself. I found the character of Dr Shepherd irritating, and I wasn’t sure if the writing style suited me.

However, by page 60 or so, I had managed to thoroughly get over myself, and really began to enjoy the story. There are some great bits of writing, and the author did a sterling job of showing the creeping menace, and of casting doubts everywhere.

The premise of The Silent Companions is that a doctor in a mental hospital attempts to elicit information from a female patient who has been struck dumb by some horrific past event for which she is being held responsible. She is coerced into writing her account, which she does in the third person.

We are taken back to 1865, where newly widowed and pregnant Elsie Bainbridge is travelling by coach, with her dull-witted, spinster sister-in-law, Sarah, to her late husband’s family seat in the foreboding backwater village of Fayford. The house is called The Bridge, and well, it’s on a bridge. Her husband’s body is lying in the Great Hall, awaiting his funeral.

After the entombment has occurred, Elsie and Sarah take up residence at The Bridge, and this is where the horrors begin. The villagers are superstitious, hostile and seemingly impoverished. Elsie decides to try to make an inroad with the tenants of the estate using produce from a farm animal, until she learns that the source of their fear is The Bridge itself.

This is a frightening tale, and I don’t think that any lover of ghost stories will not find something to enjoy in The Silent Companions.

I wasn’t too convinced that Elsie’s position as a woman who felt she had married above her station, and the anxiety of managing the staff in the house and being the new lady of the village, came across very markedly. However, she was awfully distracted, which could then have been partly a result of this or have caused her to have forgotten about it almost entirely. Elsie’s family history is distressing and heart-breaking and is well told.

The story is told over two separate years; 1865, which is the present, and 1635 (told through the medium of diaries found in the garret, although far more than this emerges from this place).  I raced through it, in the end, and couldn’t put it down. Throughout, it reminded me of several other stories – this is not an exhaustive list, but they are: The Turn of the Screw, The Yellow Wallpaper, The Miniaturist, the garden scenes in The Shining (book, not film), and the Woman in Black. It’s good, it’s creepy and in some places, downright terrifying. It’s worth a read.

It made me look around my home and worry about how much wood we have, furniture and floors. While I was reading, I jumped out of my skin when I heard the ‘hiss’ of a chair moving in the kitchen, until I realised it was my five-year-old attempting to reach snacks. I also had a moment when I was scared to pull the shower curtain back, just in case I had my own Silent Companion. Mission accomplished, The Silent Companions; you scared me, thank you 😊

‘A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World’ by C. A. Fletcher #AboyAndHisDogBook #NetGalley #amreading #bookbloggers #bookreview @orbitbooks #littlebrownbookgroup @CharlieFletch_r

“My name’s Griz. My childhood wasn’t like yours. I’ve never had friends, and in my whole life I’ve not met enough people to play a game of football.

My parents told me how crowded the world used to be, but we were never lonely on our remote island. We had each other, and our dogs.

Then the thief came.

There may be no law left except what you make of it. But if you steal my dog, you can at least expect me to come after you.

Because if we aren’t loyal to the things we love, what’s the point?”

I have already made my mental list of the friends to whom I will be lending my copy of this book once I’ve bought it. Yes, Marie Kondo, you heard me right. I’ve already read it, AND I will be buying the physical copy. It will bring me joy sitting on my shelf, available for my kids and friends, whilst all the time looking fabulous in its amazing cover and having one of the best titles I will ever own! This may even be one I’d read again, particularly after the twists revealed in the final fifth.

To me, this is a story about the power of stories; the way they can teach us about the world, ideas, history, practicality, and how they are told, by whom, and for what purpose.

It’s also about humans; how they can be duplicitous, exploitative, selfish, cruel, cowardly and vengeful, whilst also having the capacity to be compassionate, thoughtful, fanciful, brave, loyal and ardent. All our grey areas.

Yet we are also, to our downfall, too clever for our own good. A ‘soft apocalypse’ leaves teenager Griz and his family as a few of the only humans left.

A Boy and his Dog at the End of the World follows Griz on a quest to find a stolen dog, through a wasteland of the last mass human activity a century ago, but one which is on its way to being reclaimed by nature (plastics excepted).

I didn’t read it quickly, but that isn’t because it’s not absorbing; it’s so thought provoking that I think I may have spent an inordinate amount of time staring into space, with it on my mind. Some of the story progresses slowly, but it always feels realistic under the circumstances. It is 100% worth sticking with.

It reminded me a little bit, although the story is different, of a book I read at school in English class, pre-GCSE, called ‘Z for Zachariah’. The apocalyptic circumstances were different, but the dangers which humans can pose to each other, when there aren’t too many of them left, made me pluck this one out of my (very distant) memory.

It’s very well written; the sentences have a lovely, rhythmic balance. It’s a stream of thought-diary-style, and the grammar reflects this. The characters are vivid, and the situations feel uncomfortably real and palpably tense. I loved the duality between one boy and his dog, and another, both at the end of the world. There are so many quotable bits of writing; my e-reader is littered with highlighted notes. John Dark and all associated mispronunciations are especially good!

All of the characters (including the dogs) will stay with me for a long while, as will the situation in which they found themselves. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Thanks very much to Netgalley and Orbit for the ARC in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.

Publication date in the UK is 25th April 2019. Get yourself a copy here: A Boy and his Dog at the End of the World

‘The Songs of Us’ by Emma Cooper #thesongsofus @ItsEmmaCooper #bookbloggers #bookreview #amreading

“If Melody hadn’t run out of de-icer that day, she would never have slipped and banged her head. She wouldn’t be left with a condition that makes her sing when she’s nervous. And she definitely wouldn’t have belted out the Arctic Monkeys’ ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ in assembly at her son’s school.

If Dev hadn’t taken the kids to the zoo that day, then the accident wouldn’t have happened. He wouldn’t have left Flynn and Rose without a dad. Or shattered the love of his life’s heart.

But if they hadn’t seen the missing person’s report, they might never take the trip to Cornwall. And, in the last place they expected, discovered what it really means to be ‘Us’.”

I don’t often pick up a book like this one. Often, I will bypass a pretty cover in a shop, thinking, no, not for me. This book is a lesson in, hold on, take a better look; you could be missing out on something quite extraordinary. Now that I’ve read it, I look at the cover and feel differently. There is so much to love about this book that I barely know where to begin….

I’ll start, I think, with the singing. Most of us like to belt out a song in private, and I’d be willing to bet that 95% of us aren’t exactly X-Factor quality. We do it as a release; there must be something almost primal about it, and yet we would no doubt feel pretty ridiculous if a stranger heard us. How do we choose the songs we sing?

For Melody, there is no such privacy. She involuntarily sings wherever and whenever that special song comes into her head. Although this sounds frivolous and hilarious, and occasionally it is written so, there is a deeper context to this condition.

The book is written from four points of view, and this highlights the different ways that this disorder is experienced by the characters. Ah, the characters. Melody, Rose, Flynn and Tom are so well-crafted and relatable. These songs, after all, belong to everyone who ‘us’ comprises, and seeing the story from each of their perspectives is what gifts this clever and poignant story with its heart.

Parenting teenagers is hard, even when life is going well. Rose and Flynn are trying to simultaneously manage their teenage emotions and deal with their mum’s condition, her stress and her heartbreak, as well as handle their own devastation at the disappearance of their father. Melody also has a wonderful sense of humour and each song she spontaneously breaks out into, reflects her mood, no matter how high or low that is. The family dynamics are skilfully handled, painfully realistic and both funny and heart-breaking in equal measure. Difficult themes are sensitively and thoughtfully written.

The Songs of Us broke my heart several times, firstly at the end of Chapter One, and then intermittently throughout, but the ending is just wonderful. The story is both original and uplifting, however you will, in all likelihood, require chocolate and tissues to hand before you sit down to read it.

I gave this book to my mum after I had read it, and she has been raving on about it to her friends too; she loved it so much.

Emma Cooper has such a natural aptitude for writing, it hurts! The Songs of Us is an outstanding novel, and I am really excited to read whatever she writes next.

Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Headline Review (20 Sept. 2018)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 9781472252531
ISBN-13: 978-1472252531

About the author:

Emma Cooper
Emma Cooper is a former teaching assistant, who lives in Shropshire, with her partner and four children. Her spare time consists of writing novels, drinking wine and watching box-sets with her partner of twenty-four years, who still makes her smile every day.

Emma has always wanted to be a writer – ever since her childhood, she’s been inventing characters (her favourite being her imaginary friend ‘Boot’) and is thrilled that she now gets to use this imagination to bring to life all of her creations.

The Songs of Us was inspired by Emma’s love of music and her ability to almost always embarrass herself, and her children, in the most mundane of situations. She was so fascinated by the idea of combining the two, that she began to write Melody’s story. Working full-time with a large family meant that Emma had to steal snippets of ‘spare’ time from her already chaotic and disorganised life; the majority of her novel was written during her lunchtime in a tiny school office. She never expected to fall so deeply in love with the King family and is overwhelmed that others feel the same.

 

‘The Silver Road’ by Stina Jackson #netgalley #TheSilverRoad #bookbloggers #book review #amreading #noirfiction

Atmospheric, slow burning and heart-rending . A superb debut novel, and a must-read for fans of noir fiction.

“Even the darkest journey must come to an end…

Three years ago, Lelle’s daughter went missing in a remote part of Northern Sweden. Lelle has spent the intervening summers driving the Silver Road under the midnight sun, frantically searching for his lost daughter, for himself and for redemption.
Meanwhile, seventeen-year-old Meja arrives in town hoping for a fresh start. She is the same age as Lelle’s daughter was – a girl on the brink of adulthood. But for Meja, there are dangers to be found in this isolated place.

As autumn’s darkness slowly creeps in, Lelle and Meja’s lives are intertwined in ways, both haunting and tragic, that they could never have imagined.”

The chapters are interchangeably split between Lelle, who relentlessly searches the area around the Silver Road for his teenage daughter who has been missing for three years, and Meja, who travels around from place to place and man to man with her worryingly unstable and self-absorbed mother. She meets a boy, although he is from an unorthodox background too.

The first half of the book has an almost feverish quality to it. Set in the months in Sweden when it doesn’t get dark, the erratic behaviour of the characters (and the mosquitoes, the damned mosquitoes *slaps neck) fits really well with the days which never seem to end. It’s also in contrast to the bleakness of the story. The second half is set in the darkness of winter, where Lelle has to scale down his search and the two stories start to combine.

This isn’t really a detective novel, but it is a crime one; it’s a desperate man looking for answers, trying to succeed where the police gave up. Lelle suspects everyone; the police were perhaps looking closer to home. As readers, we just don’t know. Is his own guilt driving him, or is he right to keep searching to find out what really happened? Then, another girl goes missing.

It doesn’t twist and turn too much, there is no real shock reveal; it’s a more profound story with a slower pace, wending its way to an almost inevitable conclusion.

It’s emotional, visceral and heart rending. It drew me in and kept me there. It’s a story about isolation and abandonment, where suffocating loneliness means that any attachment is better than none at all. The characters are really well developed, and the story is totally absorbing. I really loved it.

About the author…

Stina Jackson

Stina Jackson (b. 1983) hails from the northern town of Skellefteå in Sweden. Just over a decade ago she relocated to Denver, Colorado, where she penned her debut novel, the acclaimed The Silver Road. A runaway bestseller, the novel established Jackson as a rising new star within Nordic suspense.

Awards
The Swedish Academy of Crime Writers’ Award (Best Swedish Crime Novel) Sweden 2018
Shortlisted for the Crimetime Specsavers Award (Crime Debut of the Year) Sweden 2018

The Silver Road will be released in the UK on 7th March 2019, published by Corvus / Atlantic Books

To get your copy, click this link: The Silver Road

‘The Magpies’ by Mark Edwards #themagpies @mredwards #markedwards #amreading #bookbloggers #bookreview #thriller

Imagine finding your perfect home with the love of your life and being certain that all your life is coming together just as it should. Jamie and Kirsty are delighted to find the home of their dreams at a knock down price; the neighbours appear friendly; the neighbourhood is quiet and orderly. What could possibly go wrong?

The first chapter gives us a bit of a clue, as the incumbent tenants are vacating what we assume is the same flat, displaying significant psychological and emotional trauma relating directly to their tenancy.

In ‘The Magpies’, Mark Edwards embellishes his own real-life experiences to craft a terrifying tale about the neighbours from hell. I think maybe I didn’t really believe this sort of thing happened, but then I was talking about the plot to a friend, and she said that a similar thing had happened to her and her husband in the early days of their relationship, when they too lived in a flat in London. I wonder if it was the same flat……

Little by little, strange things start to happen. It starts with small, minor inconveniences and builds to a state of slight paranoia, then a normal-life restricting major irritation, then worse and worse from there.

This is a creepy and intense psychological thriller. Although, there are early signs that we might be jumping to the wrong conclusion, the story is made all the more real and frightening because we are not led through major plot twists and turns. We just start to wonder why? What motivates people to behave this way?

I’ve seen some criticism levelled at the realism of the characters of Jamie and Kirsty, but this ignores that fact that not all people are the same. I don’t think I am like Jamie and Kirsty. My relationship with my husband is totally different from theirs. We don’t have the types of conversation they have. This does not make this unrealistic. It just describes the sort of relationship that many people have. I can well imagine friends of ours being like them. But you know what? This could happen to anyone; we see it on TV as well. It doesn’t matter what type of person you are, or what your relationship with your partner is like, or if you are on your own or with your family. What would you do? How far would you go to protect yourselves? How much could you take?

Mark Edwards is thorough in his exploration of this experience. There is also a lot of sexual content, but it serves fair purpose to show the inhibition they suffer during their horrifying experience.

Really enjoyed this and was impressively creeped out.

To bag yourself a copy, click here: The Magpies

About the author:

Mark Edwards

Mark Edwards writes psychological thrillers, and counts among his influences writers such as Stephen King, Ira Levin, Ruth Rendell, Ian McEwan, Val McDermid and Donna Tartt, and movies like Rosemary’s Baby, Single White Female, Fatal Attraction and anything in which scary things happen to ordinary people.

His first solo novel, The Magpies (2013), reached the No.1 spot on Amazon UK and has sold 550,000 copies to date. This was followed by What You Wish For (2014), Because She Loves Me (2014), Follow You Home (2015), The Devil’s Work (2016), The Lucky Ones (2017), The Retreat (2018) and In Her Shadow (2018). These can be read in any order. He also published A Murder of Magpies, a short sequel to The Magpies, in 2018.

He also co-writes with Louise Voss. Their novels are: Killing Cupid (2011); Catch Your Death (2011); All Fall Down (2012); Forward Slash and a series featuring Detective Inspector Patrick Lennon, starting with From the Cradle (2014) and The Blissfully Dead (2015).

He grew up on the south coast of England and starting writing in his twenties. He lived in Tokyo for a year before returning to the UK and starting a career in marketing. He now writes full-time and lives in the West Midlands, England, with his wife, their three children, two cats and a golden retriever.

‘Bird Box’ by Josh Malerman #bookbloggers #BirdBox #bookreview #amreading

There’s a lot of buzz about this book at the moment. I bought it a while ago, and it had been waiting patiently on my TBR pile. Then the Netflix film hit, and before I had the chance to read it, my husband had put it on TV. Slightly miffed that I hadn’t got to read it first, I gave in, because it just looked so good. I had also listened to the director, Susanne Bier, talking about it on Women’s hour on Radio 4 the previous week, and found what she said about it fascinating.

I loved the film, despite finding it stressful and frightening. Putting all else aside, I decided to read the book next.

The book is different, as you’d expect. Worse things happen. The film is faithful to the story, with obvious artistic license. When I had read it, I realised how well the casting had been done, for a start. Sandra Bullock has got the character of Malorie down to a tee. She is incredible in this role.

The book then, starts in the most recent period of the story, where Malorie is facing the awful decision to leave the house where she and her two very young children have been for over four years. They must do so blindfolded, and we are struck immediately by the bleakness of their situation and the peril in which she has to put them all to try to escape it. They must somehow negotiate a 20-mile trip down the river, relying only on their hearing in order to navigate it. They believe that someone can help them at the end of this journey, if they make it.

We move interchangeably from the time immediately prior to the collapse of society, where Malorie and her sister, Shannon, are living in a flat together, just starting to notice news reports of unexplained mass suicides in areas of Russia and Europe, to the time where Malorie lives with a group of survivors, and then the journey down the river alone with the children.

During the week where Malorie discovers she is pregnant, following a brief fling, the news that the suicides have come to the USA, and the rumour that it is something that people are seeing, creatures maybe, causing it, leads Shannon to put blankets over the windows and start to block out the outside world. There is no going back from this darkness throughout the vast majority of this novel. The sisters live like this for three months, eating everything they have in the house without leaving it, watching the breaking news which becomes increasingly despondent.

People flood to social media over everything now. I don’t think an apocalyptic event would stop that in the first days, but it doesn’t explicitly happen here. The author is a young guy; I don’t think he would ignore this without purpose, so I guess it was a choice to leave it out. It’s actually scarier without, somehow. As though the emerging situation was of such horror and fear, that people just couldn’t bear to talk about it between themselves. Malorie follows blogs, and reads theories online, but there is no mass hysteria in the way that social media would generate.

Then, the worst happens. Malorie finds her sister dead, and it’s horrific. The blanket had fallen a little from an upstairs window. There is no doubt that there is something outside, and that it’s causing rational people to lose their minds. I can honestly say that I don’t think there is a more chilling premise for a story out there. This situation must come close to the absolute worst thing you can think of. Josh Malerman’s mind is a dark and brilliant place.

Malorie has seen an advert for a place she can go, where other survivors are. Somehow, she drives there with her eyes mostly closed, seeing sinister movement in her peripheral vision. She then begins a prolonged and tense cohabitation with strangers who have survived. The owner of the house, who placed the advert is already dead.
If you have ever cohabitated with other adults before, it’s difficult. Personality clashes, falling out, the peacemakers, the confronters, positive outlook people, negative Noras.

The dynamics are altered here because of the situation; everyone has lost every other person close to them, but the undertones of cohabitation begin to come through, as there is no escape from each other. There is incredible pressure on resources. Malorie and Olympia are the two pregnant women in the house, each with their own huge anxieties about what will happen during and after the birth of their children in this terrifying, claustrophobic, blind world. Tom is the housemate (at the risk of going all Big Brother) who Malorie knows she can rely on, but he is the innovator, the solutions guy, who goes outside to try to find things to help them survive. On one journey, he finds some birds, who are put outside in a box as an alert system. The birdbox outside, resembles the birdbox inside, all trapped.

It turns Sylvia Plath’s bell jar of suicidal thoughts on its head; Malerman’s birdbox is the only prevention from it, although both are suffocating and claustrophobic.

I like how the author gets across the division between what are considered ‘old world fears’, like fear of the dark, fear of basements and attics, and the ‘old world’ problems. The new world is ONLY fear, and nothing else, apart from perhaps, the remotest glint of hope. This is not hope of defeating what’s out there. Malorie’s only desire is to get her children somewhere where they won’t starve, they can take off their blindfolds, and to let them have a taste of a childhood.

Disaster strikes the house eventually, and devastatingly, Malorie is left alone. She is resourceful and determined though, a meticulous planner.

One of the central themes of this novel is motherhood, and to what lengths Malorie forces herself for the children to survive. It’s impossible to fathom what it must be like to think or do the things Malorie does. It’s against instinct. The children are completely compliant with her and are unfailingly obedient. They have learned how to hear and identify sequences of up to forty of the minutest individual sounds. They are only called Boy and Girl, a reflection of Malorie’s reluctance to be attached to them, when she has lost everyone else. She has spent four years training them to make this journey.

If you can follow the journey down the river with Malorie and the children without suffering palpitations, I admire you. It’s just the worst thing. The capability and resilience that children can have in desperate situations is captured so poignantly. Josh Malerman’s ability to describe hearing without seeing in the most hostile world imaginable is terrific.

It is just a happy coincidence that they lived so close to the river in the first place! There are some questions, but I’m not sure they really matter. It’s a cracking book. If you’ve enjoyed the film, the book, I’m sure won’t disappoint you, and likewise, the film won’t let fans of the book down.