Sunday, 28 May 2017

Week in Words: 21st-28th May 2017

Like a lot of bloggers this has been a quiet week for me. The horrific terrorist attack in Manchester that left 22 innocent people dead and many others injured meant that posting about books didn't feel right to me at the start of the week. There have been many words written since the attack, some in love, some with hate, many much wiser than anything I will say here. I'm not going to pretend I have any ideas about how global terrorism should be tackled, I only know how I choose to live in what often feels a frightening world. I choose to give my children as free a childhood as possible; I want them to have freedom from fear, freedom to go and explore the world, freedom from hatred. I try to teach them love, compassion and encourage curiosity and tell them not to look on other people as potential enemies but as potential friends. My heartfelt condolences to everyone who has been affected by terrorist atrocities, whether under the guise of religion, politics or nationalism, strip the cloak away and evil is as evil does. Throughout the world we are all forced to mourn our dead, taken by extremism. Having grown up in the 1970s and '80s, the years of countless terrorist attacks by the IRA, I am grateful I was raised to believe we are stronger united. I believe we owe it to our children to not allow terrorists the victory of fear and division now.

So to return to books and the power of the written word; they are our gateways into other lives, into understanding and empathising with those who seem to be very different but who have the same hopes, fears, loves, losses and secrets - whether in the past, present or future, in this world or another. This is what I've been reading and watching this past week.

I finished all three books I was reading last week. You can read my reviews for Western Fringes and Nightblind but will have to wait until 11th June to hear what I thought about Wolves in the Dark as I will be hosting the blog tour that day.

I've now started two more books. both were sent to me by the authors. The first title is The Former Chief Executive by Kate Vane, I really enjoyed her previous book, Not the End and am already finding this one an engrossing read. The second book, We've Come to Take You Home is by Susan Gandar and partly set during World War One, one of my favourite periods for historical fiction so I'm really looking forward to delving deeper into this one.

I've watched very little television this week, other than Doctor Who obviously! I really enjoyed this episode again, I always like the stories that are spread over a few episodes and thought The Pyramid at the End of the World had a good mix of intrigue, tension and humour. I watched it with my 9 year old daughter who adores Pearl Mackie's character, Bill. She summed up the episode as "Scary but cool, the Monks are a bit boring though. I like different monsters each week, except for the Daleks because they're the best." We're both in agreement that we're going to really miss Peter Capaldi's Doctor and that Bill and Nardole are fantastic companions. blue string pudding...? What would the Clangers say? (image from

Next Week
Talking of blog tours I'm looking forward to being the host for the Block 46 tour on Wednesday 31st May. I've already tweeted about how much I loved the book so it's not really a spoiler to say expect a glowing review! I'm actually going to be on holiday next week and may not have much access to wifi, my post is scheduled to publish and I hope HootSuite will do the rest but I'll be very grateful for any shares in my absence.

If I finish the two books I'm currently reading I will be starting Blood Moon by John David Bethel, another book I received from the author. I currently have quite a few books that have been sent to me but am still accepting requests to review as long as you are prepared to wait a few weeks for me to get round to reading it. My review policy can be found here.

Ramadan Mubarak to my Muslim visitors and friends. I send you my best wishes for peace and health during the holy month and beyond.

Happy reading everyone!

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Book Review - Nightblind by Ragnar Jonasson

Siglufjörður: an idyllically quiet fishing village on the northernmost tip of Iceland, accessible only via a small mountain tunnel.
Ari Thór Arason: a local policeman, whose tumultuous past and uneasy relationships with the villagers continue to haunt him.
The peace of this close-knit community is shattered by the murder of a policeman – shot at point-blank range in the dead of night in a deserted house. With a killer on the loose and the dark arctic winter closing in, it falls to Ari Thór to piece together a puzzle that involves tangled local politics, a compromised new mayor, and a psychiatric ward in Reykjavik, where someone is being held against their will. Then a mysterious young woman moves to the area, on the run from something she dare not reveal, and it becomes all too clear that tragic events from the past are weaving a sinister spell that may threaten them all. Dark, chilling and complex, Nightblind is an extraordinary thriller from an undeniable new talent.

I recently reviewed Snowblind, the first book in Ragnar Jonasson's Dark Iceland series, and after reading the extract from Nightblind at the end of that book, I couldn't resist diving straight in!
About five years have passed since Ari Thor's first case in the small fishing village of Siglufjörður and in this time his old mentor, Tómas has moved away but Ari Thor has missed out on promotion, it is now Herjólfur who is the inspector of the small police station. It is also Herjólfur who answers a call-out to an abandoned property with a dark history, and it is Herjólfur who is shot and left for dead, while Ari Thor is in bed, struck down by influenza.
The shooting shatters the apparent peace of the village and Ari Thor must contend with local politics, long kept secrets and his own guilt as he tries to discover the truth behind the murder of his inspector; a family man whose father was a distinguished police officer himself, the attack shocks not just Siglufjörður but the whole of Iceland.
Ari Thor is sharply aware that he should have been on duty that night, was Herjólfur shot in a random attack on a police officer, or was Ari Thor himself the real target? He realises he knows little about his inspector and is forced to admit to himself that his bitter disappointment at missing out on promotion meant he hadn't made the effort to learn more about the man. Meanwhile his relationship with his girlfriend, and mother of his baby son, is strained and Ari Thor must deal with not only the secrets and lies of the town but also those within his own life. The return of Tómas, drafted in to help investigate the case, at least provides him with a familiar face to work with, but the pair still struggle to uncover a motive for the attack. With the eyes of the country on them, do the local mayor as his deputy know more than they're letting on?
As they slowly expose the dark secrets kept behind closed doors, there is a creeping menace about Nightblind. We are reminded that even the seemingly most peaceful places hide brutal truths. The excerpts from a journal, interspersed between chapters in the book add another layer to the mystery. We soon learn this journal belongs to a patient on a psychiatric ward - but who are they and how are they connected to the case Ari Thor is investigating? How too, is the scene of the murder connected? Why has this unsettling, malevolent property now become the site of two sudden deaths?
 Nightblind is a tale as chilling as the snow and ice of  Siglufjörður, the suspense builds gradually as Ari Thor uncovers the horrific truth. He remains the complex and conflicted character from Snowblind, although now less affected by the claustrophobia that dogged him in the first book, he still feels like a newcomer and forced to investigate suspicious and reticent locals means he struggles to know who he can trust. Although published as the second book of the Dark Iceland series in the UK, Nightblind also works as a standalone novel. Ragnar Jonasson has crafted a superb, contemporary tale, the social issues in the book are a strong and important theme making it a compelling addition to the Icelandic Noir canon. As with the first book, I thoroughly recommend it to anybody who enjoys tense, atmospheric thrillers. I'm very much looking forward to catching up with Ari Thor again in Blackout and Rupture.

Snowblind is published in the UK by Orenda Books. You can follow Ragnar Jonasson on Twitter as @ragnarjo and Orenda as @OrendaBooks

About the Author

Ragnar Jónasson is author of the international bestselling Dark Iceland series. His debut Snowblind went to number one in the kindle charts shortly after publication, and Nightblind, Blackout and Rupture soon followed suit, hitting the number one spot in five countries, and the series being sold in 15 countries and for TV. Ragnar was born in Reykjavik, Iceland, where he continues to work as a lawyer. He also teaches copyright law at Reykjavik University and has previously worked on radio and television, including as a TV-news reporter for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service. Ragnar is a member of the UK Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) and set up its first overseas chapter in Reykjavik. He is also the co-founder of the international crime-writing festival Iceland Noir. From the age of 17, Ragnar translated 14 Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic. He has appeared on festival panels worldwide, and lives in Reykjavik with his wife and young daughters.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Book Review - Western Fringes by Amer Anwar

Southall, West London.
Recently released from prison, Zaq Khan is lucky to land a dead-end job at a builders' yard. All he wants to do is keep his head down and put his past behind him.
But when he has to search for his boss's runaway daughter it quickly becomes apparent he's not simply dealing with family arguments and arranged marriages as he finds himself caught up in a deadly web of deception, murder and revenge.
With time running out and pressure mounting, can he find the missing girl before it's too late? And if he does, can he keep her - and himself - alive long enough to deal with the people who want them both dead?

If you like gritty action, sharp dialogue and pacy plotting, then you'll love this award winning action thriller from Amer Anwar.

I was delighted when Amer Anwar contacted me to ask if I'd like to read his debut book, Western Fringes. I always enjoy discovering new authors and with Western Fringes having won the prestigious CWA Debut Dagger Award, I suspected I was in for an enjoyable read.
I wasn't wrong, Western Fringes gripped me from its opening few pages and despite being a fairly long read never lost pace or focus. The book opens with Zaq Khan called in see the owner of the builder's yard where he works. Recently released from prison following a five year sentence and as the only Muslim in a company owned and run by Sikhs, he fears the worst and assumes he may be out of a job. The worst turns out to be far more troubling than sudden unemployment; Mr Brar informs him he has to find his runaway daughter, Rita, and if Zaq even thinks of refusing he will find himself back in prison, framed for strealing from the family firm. It appears that Rita has fled an arranged marriage and her father and two brothers, Parminder and Rajinder are determined that she should be found swiftly to avoid their family being shamed in the community. it quickly becomes apparent however, that this is far more than a family argument and before long Zaq's life is in real danger.
Throughout the book Zaq is an engaging and likeable protagonist, he wrestles with his conscience when he realises to protect himself he may have to return Rita to a dangerous situation and though we, the readers may hope desperately that he makes the right decision, we fully understand and sympathise with the moral quandary he finds himself in. His relationship with his best friend, Jags is one of the highlights of the book, the affection between the two characterised by their mutual name-calling and teasing but their bond means Jags is prepared to support his mate, whether that's with cups of tea and painkillers or as his partner in a risky stakeout. Zaq finds himself in numerous fights and though his years in prison mean he has learned to take care of himself, he receives some punishing blows and we realise that despite the lighter moments with Jags, he isn't playing a game, he has become involved in a shady underworld that could result in deadly consequences. The violence is brutal and one scene in particular is difficult to read, I would caution anybody who is of a more sensitive disposition as the treatment meted out to one character is truly shocking.  However, it's equally important to note that it never feels gratuitous, Zaq's enemies are dangerous killers and there should be no ambiguity as to what they're capable of and what both Zaq and Rita are at risk from.
The setting for the book, Southall plays an important part in the story, both the streets themselves and the tensions and camaraderie between the Asian community who lived there. There is real honesty about Western Fringes, the depiction of diverse cultures and the divisions between them give a real sense of  the challenges of living in an urban Asian community. I loved the sprinkling of Punjabi words throughout the book, the frequent (and mouthwatering!) descriptions of food, the music blaring from car stereos, all combining to bring to life the atmosphere of the area. Western Fringes is one of the most descriptive books I've read in a while, we learn even the tiniest minutiae sometimes of Zaq's day, even down to the order he eats his KFC meal in, yet this never detracts from the tight pacing of the plot. Instead it gives the book an almost televisual quality as we feel we are there with Zaq, observing his every move, his every decision, as he uses his fast talking and quick thinking skills to figure out how he is going to extricate himself from the nightmare situation he finds himself in. The book eventually builds to a tense and gripping finale, the twists and often visceral violence meant I truly didn't know how the action would pan out and was completely immersed in this exciting and cleverly plotted urban noir.
Western Fringes is an exciting and fresh thriller, I absolutely loved it and look forward to reading more from Amer Anwar. If you're looking for a book that is action-packed, witty and believable, then look no further.
Many thanks to the author for my copy, received in return for my honest review.

Western Fringes is available on Amazon.

About the Author

 Amer Anwar grew up in West London. After leaving college he had a variety of jobs, including warehouse assistant, comic book lettering artist, driver for emergency doctors and chalet rep in the French Alps. He eventually settled into a career as a designer/creative artworker producing artwork mainly for the home entertainment industry. He has an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck, University of London and is a winner of the Crime Writers' Association Debut Dagger Award. WESTERN FRINGES is his first novel

You can follow Amer Anwar on Twitter as @ameranwar and find his website here

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Week in Words: 14th - 21st May 2017

Welcome to my very first Week in Words, my new regular feature where I look back at what I've been reading and watching over the past seven days.


Last Sunday I finished Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson, having only started it the day before. It's a book I've been meaning to read for some time, I'm glad I finally got to it because I loved it. You can read my review here

I currently have three books on the go. I'll most likely finish Western Fringes by Amer Anwar later today so look out for my review early next week. I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say it's going to be a very complimentary review!

After finishing Snowblind, I immediately started the second book in the Dark Iceland series, Nightblind. It's only my busy week and the fact I'm switching between three books that has stopped me racing through this one too as I'm enjoying it just as much. Congratulations to Ragnar Jonasson, shortlisted for the CrimeFest eDunnit Award in Bristol this weekend.

On Wednesday I travelled up to London for the Orenda Roadshow at Waterstones Piccadilly. You can read my post about it here. I started reading Gunnar Staalesen's latest book, Wolves in the Dark on the train and have been kicking myself ever since that I haven't read any of his Varg Veum stories before now, with almost 40 years of the series to catch up on I certainly have lots to look forward to! Huge congratulations to Gunnar, winner of the Petrona Award at CrimeFest for Where Roses Never Die.


It's dark and he's wearing sunglasses (image from
I haven't watched much television this week. It's definitely been all about the written word this week! I never miss Doctor Who though, and thought Extremis was another excellent episode in what has so far been a superb season. It appears to have divided opinion somewhat with some people finding it too muddled and unnecessarily complicated. However, I found it tense and  thought-provoking and can't wait to see if things are resolved in the second part of this adventure next week.

Sing a yo ho (image from
Talking of two-parters, I've yet to catch up with the finale of Once Upon a Time but I have rewatched the cheesily fantastic musical episode,The Song in Your Heart. I loved every single moment but if pushed I'd say enjoyed Josh Dallas giving it everything was what I loved most. Always a pleasure to see Hook in his pirate leather and guyliner too.

Some pig! (image from

This morning I watched Charlotte's Web again with my 9 year old daughter. It's a film I've seen several times before but I think it's a lovely adaptation of one of the finest children's books of all time.

Next Week
Once I've finished the books I'm currently reading, I'll be starting We've Come To Take You Home by Susan Gandar, and The Former Chief Executive by Kate Vane. I have several more books lined up (of course!), including the three I bought at the Orenda Roadshow, The Mountain in my Shoe by Louise Beech, A Suitable Lie by Michael J. Malone, and Exquisite by Sarah Stovell.

Hope you all enjoy your visits to different places next week. I thought this picture I spotted on Twitter was perfect!

(h/t @thelaceylondon on Twitter)
I'd love to hear what you've been enjoying. Happy reading everyone!

Friday, 19 May 2017

Book Review - Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson

Siglufjörður: an idyllically quiet fishing village in Northern Iceland, where no one locks their doors – accessible only via a small mountain tunnel. Ari Thór Arason: a rookie policeman on his first posting, far from his girlfriend in Reykjavik – with a past that he’s unable to leave behind. When a young woman is found lying half-naked in the snow, bleeding and unconscious, and a highly esteemed, elderly writer falls to his death in the local theatre, Ari is dragged straight into the heart of a community where he can trust no one, and secrets and lies are a way of life. An avalanche and unremitting snowstorms close the mountain pass, and the 24-hour darkness threatens to push Ari over the edge, as curtains begin to twitch, and his investigation becomes increasingly complex, chilling and personal. Past plays tag with the present and the claustrophobic tension mounts, while Ari is thrust ever deeper into his own darkness – blinded by snow, and with a killer on the loose. Taut and terrifying, Snowblind is a startling debut from an extraordinary new talent, taking Nordic Noir to soaring new heights.

Snowblind is the first book in Ragnar Jonasson's Dark Iceland series centred on Ari Thór Arason. In this novel he is a rookie officer who, when he accepts a job offer, must move away from Reykjavik and his girlfriend, and adapt to life in Siglufjörður, a quiet fishing village in the far north of the country. He learns from Tómas, the police sergeant in charge of Siglufjörður police station, that nobody ever locks their doors because there's no point as nothing ever happens. Ari Thór's sense of isolation at this news is immediately palpable, he's in a strange town, one that views outsiders with suspicion and he somehow has to learn to work within this tight-knit community but if nothing happens how can he ever hope to be accepted?
However, the sudden death of celebrated local author, Hrólfur Kristjánsson, immediately plunges him into a case and he finds himself caught up in the secrets and lies of this little community. At first it is widely believed that Hrólfur's death may have been a tragic accident but Ari Thór suspects this may not be the truth, leading him to become further isolated from the locals who object to his questions about their relationships with one another. When a young woman is then found brutally attacked and left for  dead, half-naked in the snow, it appears they may really have a killer in their midst. With the only road out of the town blocked following an avalanche, tensions rise as Ari Thór battles to control his growing claustrophobia as he strives to find the killer when he doesn't know who he can trust.
 We slowly learn more about the community as Ragnar Jonasson cleverly switches the perspective numerous times meaning we discover little snippets about the various characters from their own thoughts and actions. There is a risk with multiple points of view that the narrative becomes confused but that never happens here, instead this gradual drip-feeding of hidden truths helps to build the tension and increased my desire to turn the pages to discover more. Ari Thór is an engaging protagonist, instinctive and impulsive; the twists and turns kept me captivated and the descriptions of the landscape and weather in Iceland are beautifully and atmospherically described.
I found Snowblind an unsettling read, perhaps because I suffer mildly from claustrophobia myself, the overwhelming sense of being trapped in this dark little town was palpable. I became so immersed in this world, in which the landscape was as much as character as the people of Siglufjörður, that I physically felt the tension, my chest became tight and I could sense the unease in the pit of my stomach. This of course, is in a strange way, exactly what I loved about Snowblind, to experience that deep connection with Ari Thór meant once I picked the book up I didn't put it down until I'd read the whole thing. To say a book made me feel anxious may seem an odd way to recommend it but I mean it as the highest compliment, to write a novel I felt as well as read is something very special and I thoroughly recommend Snowblind to anybody who enjoys gripping, atmospheric thrillers. I've already started reading the second book in the series, Nightblind!

Snowblind is published in the UK by Orenda Books. You can follow Ragnar Jonasson on Twitter as @ragnarjo and Orenda as @OrendaBooks

About the Author

Ragnar Jónasson is author of the international bestselling Dark Iceland series. His debut Snowblind went to number one in the kindle charts shortly after publication, and Nightblind, Blackout and Rupture soon followed suit, hitting the number one spot in five countries, and the series being sold in 15 countries and for TV. Ragnar was born in Reykjavik, Iceland, where he continues to work as a lawyer. He also teaches copyright law at Reykjavik University and has previously worked on radio and television, including as a TV-news reporter for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service. Ragnar is a member of the UK Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) and set up its first overseas chapter in Reykjavik. He is also the co-founder of the international crime-writing festival Iceland Noir. From the age of 17, Ragnar translated 14 Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic. He has appeared on festival panels worldwide, and lives in Reykjavik with his wife and young daughters.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

The Orenda Roadshow - An Evening of International Crime Fiction at Waterstones Piccadilly

After finishing work yesterday (when I discovered a small girl actually believed I was 106 years old!), I didn't go home and curl up with a book - or google the latest anti-ageing treatments... Instead  I took the train to Waterloo and after a few hours of enjoying the rainy streets of London, I made my way to Waterstones Piccadilly for the Orenda Roadshow - An Evening of International Crime Fiction. I've made no secret on this blog of my admiration for Orenda Books, Karen Sullivan is a brilliantly astute publisher who specialises in crime fiction from around the world. The opportunity to attend an event where you could see fifteen of the brilliant Team Orenda authors talk about their books and read an excerpt from them was too good to miss. I've read several already of course, and with the others all on my bookish radar, I knew I wouldn't be coming away empty handed.

Johana Gustawsson talking about Block 46

The evening began with an offer to try aquavit, three of the authors attending (Gunnar Staalesen, Thomas Enger and Kjell Ola Dahl) are Norwegian and it was also the Norwegian Constitution Day yesterday so only right we helped them celebrate. It felt especially apt for me as I'd been reading Gunnar Staalesen's new book, Wolves in the Dark on the train - although admittedly Varg Veum drinks rather more than a shot glass of the drink! Once we were all seated Karen introduced each of her authors in turn and then they told us a little about themselves and their most recent book. We learned that there used to be just one television station in Iceland, it didn't broadcast on Thursdays or at all in July which might explain why they're a nation of readers, Johana Gustawsson is a Swede killer, Thomas Enger is co-leader because of his bag carrying prowess but has a serious rival for the position in Antti Tuomainen and some of the authors turned to crime (fiction) because there's no money in historical fiction, poetry or farming!

Paul E. Hardisty captivating the audience with an extract from Reconciliation for the Dead

Karen then asked each author to read an excerpt from their latest book. This was a real goosebumps moment for me: whether hearing the words of a book I already know and love, or listening to an extract from a story I'm looking forward to reading, there's always something very special about having the author read their own words. I can honestly say I was enthralled and again blown away by the calibre of writers published by Orenda, each and every book published is an absorbing read and always beautifully written. There was then time for a short Q&A session when we learned more about the research some of the authors have done before writing their books, and how it feels to write some of the darker, more horrific scenes (and now I'm looking forward to what Matt Wesolowski has up his sleeve because it sounds intriguing - and disturbing...)
Matt Wesolowski reading from the gripping Six Stories

We then had the chance to mingle with the authors over a drink and a slice of chocolate cake, and to have our books signed. There was also a table of temptation, laden with Orenda books to buy. I selected three but could easily have picked more, if only I had a Thomas Enger or Antti Tuomainen to carry my books! I was delighted to have the opportunity to talk to Johana Gustawsson, whose Block 46 is one of my books of the year, I will be reviewing it soon for the current blog tour, and Paul E. Hardisty, author of the very first Orenda book I ever read, The Abrupt Physics of Dying and whose subsequent novels, The Evolution of Fear, and Reconciliation for the Dead have cemented my belief that he is one of the most exciting and intelligent writers of action thrillers around today. It was also lovely to be able to meet two of the authors I've not read yet, Michael Malone and Louise Beech. I'm looking forward to reading A Suitable Lie, and The Mountain in My Shoe soon and even more delighted to be a recipient of Louise's breasts...

 Karen is clearly and justifiably proud of each of her novelists, I came away from the evening even more convinced that she is a true force for good within publishing; the support she gives to her authors, and the relationship she has developed with book bloggers is inspiring a growing number of loyal readers.
It was only when I finally left the warmth of Waterstones and headed back into the rain that I realised it was almost nine o'clock and I had to run to catch my train. It was probably just as well I'd only bought those three books - I just hope somebody figures out a way to clone the bag carriers for next time (please be a next time!) because I know there are even more fabulous stories to come from Team Orenda!

I'm going to need a bookshelf dedicated to Orenda soon

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Book Review - Will of the People by David Hurst

“If you close that door on me, it’ll be murder.”
“No Mr Brand, it’ll be justice.” 

Will Of The People is a Lord Of The Flies-esque allegory for this infantile political era – asking what would we think if children behaved just as badly?

Will is a friendly teacher who lets his class call him by his first name, and who he collectively calls the People. On a school trip, they are travelling in a coach through a Spanish mountain tunnel when an earthquake leaves them trapped. Within their new world, when Will becomes ill, the children have to take charge…

Will of the People is a difficult book to categorise, on the one hand it's an exciting, albeit dark at times, story for children. It's also a biting, occasionally humorous political allegory. This means of course it can be enjoyed by a wide audience, although I suspect the further to the right your political opinions the less you'll want to read it...
The story opens with a coach load of school children from England and their two teachers, on a trip to Andalucia, caught up in traffic after a small earthquake had brought down a tiny part of the tunnel they are in. Their frustration soon turns to terror as a massive earthquake causes the tunnel to collapse. Many of their fellow occupants are instantly killed and with his fellow teacher unaccounted for, it is left to Will Folk to try to restore calm - but Will's foot is trapped under a large rock. Taking advantage of Will's predicament, class bully Tom and some of the other children leave the coach in search of food. Fortunately a young but emotionally advanced young lad, Dani remains on the coach and administers first aid to Will. Eventually he is freed but badly hurt and barely mobile he is unable to stop Tom's gang from leaving the coach to set up camp elsewhere. Away from Will's compassionate and sensible guidance they are easily manipulated by those that prefer to lead using divide and conquer tactics.
What follows is a gripping story of two rival groups of children battling to survive not only the conditions in the tunnel but also each other - and themselves. The frequent aftershocks, precarious rocks and debris, poor air and limited resources would be enough to cope with but add in monstrous egos, violent aggressors and a need for something in their lives, even if that something leads to hatred and bloodshed, and before long Will, Dani, his best friend, Asad and their friends face an uncertain future at the hands of those who should be working with and not against them. 
I never felt the political allusions detracted from the flow of the story, some were lighthearted, "you kip", while some had a darker humour to them, and I enjoyed trying to work out if certain characters represented more well known political figures. The strongest and most poignant allusions were at the more distressing points of the story however, and shone an uncompromising light on the way those seen as different, particularly refugees are treated, and how people are manipulated to believe they are more threatened by those who have very little than those who have power. In some ways it's quite a bleak story, as with our turbulent times there are no easy solutions and not everybody is willing or able to reflect on their behaviour and examine their beliefs. However, it's not entirely without hope, the humanity shown by Dani and Asad in particular show that there is still good in many people. We are reminded too that even what seem to be the coldest of hearts has the capacity to change. 
I'm mindful not to give the impression that Will of the People will only appeal to those interested in politics. While I think an awareness of this 'alternative facts' era is useful in really appreciating David Hurst's intentions, this is still a cracking story. It's tense, dark and has a few surprising twists. I think it would also really appeal to older primary school children who enjoy well structured stories where kids of their own age drive most of the action. As with all good stories they may even learn something and consider what sort of world they want to shape. Will of the People is a book for the people, young and old.

Will of the People can be purchased on Amazon. Follow David Hurst on Twitter as @DavidHurstUK and @FolkTalesEU

About the author

David Hurst is an author and prolific freelance writer published in British national newspapers & magazines; as well as in Spain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland, USA & UAE. He also helps people with addiction and relationship problems on a voluntary basis. David is married to Debs and a hands-on daddy to his amazing two little boys.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Book Review - Did You See Melody by Sophie Hannah

She's the most famous murder victim in the country.

What if she's not dead?

Did You See Melody? is a different kind of Sophie Hannah novel.

It is a stand alone.

It is pure psychological suspense, with a chilling hook and a killer central mystery.

It combines Sophie’s critically acclaimed writing with a pacy and twisty plot.

Confession time first - this is the first Sophie Hannah book I've read. It's unlikely to be the last. Did You See Melody has a slow paced start and reads more like a family drama than a mystery. Cara Burrows is an English woman who has spent her family's savings on a solo trip to a luxury resort and spa in Arizona. However, instead of the space and tranquility she was hoping to find, she becomes embroiled in a years old murder case after another guest reports seeing Melody Chapa - only Melody's parents are both serving life for her murder.
I read Did You See Melody in little over a day, it's surprisingly lighthearted considering the subject matter, with an intriguing mystery at the heart of the book. It's the female characters though who are the book's main strength; Cara is an interesting lead character, much of the humour in the book comes from her English reserve and awkwardness in the face of American hospitality and positivity. I must admit to finding her reason for leaving her family, albeit even if it was just for a break, a little flimsy but was pleased to see her character's growth as the book progresses. Bonnie Juno, criminal prosecutor tuned television personality is the very essence of dogged and is a memorable character although not at all likeable. Tarrin probably deserves a book of her own, a wisecracking no nonsense florist turned amateur detective might be a little unlikely but she was definitely the stand out character of the book.
I found the secondary characters a bit weaker unfortunately. Cara's husband, Patrick isn't given much to do and the teenagers, Cara's children, Jess and Ollie, and Tarrin's daughter, Zellie felt a little stereotypical. Zellie never really fulfilled her early potential and although she was clearly an intelligent free thinker ultimately came across as a typical eye rolling teen. I was a bit disappointed too with the way certain parts of the story seemed to fizzle out. At one point the story focuses on the past history of the investigating police officers but what could have been an interesting sub-plot never really went anywhere.
The main story though is fascinating, I was completely intrigued by the premise of a murder that may not have been a murder, and the questions about who is guilty of what kept me turning the pages, eager to discover the truth. It is a book that probably requires its readers to accept a few unlikely coincidences, close scrutiny would likely stretch credibility a bit. However, it's still a gripping story with some excellent twists. Much of the story of Melody's disappearance is told through television transcripts and while arguably this interrupted the pace somewhat, I rather enjoyed the drip feeding revealing of the past. I have conflicting feelings about the conclusion to the book and suspect it will divide opinions. It is undoubtedly a truly disturbing twist but I wish it could have been explored a little further. While I can appreciate an open ending this just felt a tiny bit unsatisfying but I am nit-picking here as it definitely made me gasp! Overall there really was much to enjoy about Did You See Melody and I think it will be a deservedly popular holiday read later this summer.
My thanks to the publishers for my copy, received through Netgalley in return for my honest review.

Did You See Melody will be published in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton on 24th August 2017.

Sophie Hannah is on Twitter as @sophiehannahCB1 and Hodder & Stoughton as @hodderbooks.  See #ISawMelody for more reviews and news about the book.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Blog Tour - Sleeper by J.D. Fennell review and Q&A

Sixteen-year-old Will Starling is pulled from the sea with no memory of his past. In his blazer is a strange notebook with a bullet lodged inside: a bullet meant for him. As London prepares for the Blitz, Will soon finds himself pursued by vicious agents and a ruthless killer known as the Pastor. All of them want Will's notebook and will do anything to get it. As Will's memory starts to return, he realises he is no ordinary sixteen-year old. He has skills that make him a match for any assassin. But there is something else. At his core is a deep-rooted rage that he cannot explain. Where is his family and why has no one reported him missing? Fighting for survival with the help of Mi5 agent-in-training, Anna Wilder, Will follows leads across London in a race against time to find the Stones of Fire before the next air raid makes a direct hit and destroys London forever.

I'm delighted to be the host today for the Sleeper blog tour. Sleeper is an exciting YA/crossover story from debut author J.D. Fennell. You can read my review below but first I'm pleased to introduce J.D. who was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.

1. The events in Sleeper take place during the Second World War, what made you decide to set it during this period?
I loved the idea of an action/mystery set in London during the Blitz. Not only do Will and Anna fight for survival against evil villains, but they have to navigate a city that is being destroyed around them. I wanted back to basics action and having no high tech such as mobile phones, internet or laptops was a huge appeal. Also, as a writer, weaving Sleeper into the timeline of 1941, and setting it in real places, during real events, was just too irresistible a world to create. 

2. The Blitz is so much a part of the nation's consciousness, how much and what sort of research did you have to do?
I did quite a lot of research, before and during the writing of Sleeper. I drew up the actual timeline of what was going on in London, and the world in 1941, and then developed my story around that. 

3. Are any of the characters in Sleeper based on real people or are they all from your imagination?
Mostly from my imagination, however, there is much of me in Eoin and a some of me in Will. 

4. I loved your main character, Will Starling and was also really pleased that he is helped by a girl, Anna Wilder who is just as brave and resourceful as he is. Do you have a favourite character in the book, and if so, why?
I’m so glad you loved Will and Anna. I do too. It was very important to me that Anna is on an equal footing with Will. She is as remarkable as him, if not more so. Will is special; he was a long time in the making and almost feels like an imaginary son to me. That said, what a wicked father I am for making his life so difficult. I’m really fond of all the characters, however, if I were to pick one I would say the Pastor because his darkness is terrifying, entertaining and fun to write. Blimey, what does that say about me? *smiles*

5. Sleeper is a YA novel but doesn't patronise your younger audience at all, there's a real sense of danger throughout. How difficult was it to get the balance right between keeping the plot so tense whilst still remaining suitable for your target readers?
Thank you so much for saying that. It really means a lot. When I wrote Sleeper I did not think once about holding back because some of my readers might be younger. As a writer you are limiting your creativity if you start down that path. Also, young people are not as fragile as some people might think. They are tougher and smarter than most adults when it comes to dealing with hard core subjects. To answer your question - it was not difficult, mainly because I wrote the book that I wanted to read.

6. Any British spy novel will almost certainly be compared to James Bond and I'm sure Sleeper, with the shadowy VIPER threatening Will and all of London will be no exception. However, I was also reminded of John Buchan's Richard Hannay books probably because both are faced with anarchic traitors aiding Britain's enemies but also because both Will and Hannay seem rather reluctant heroes who nevertheless have a great deal of skill plus a generous helping of luck. Were you influenced by other fictional spies and do you have a favourite spy novel?
Interesting that you say that - It’s been a long time since I read it but I loved The Thirty Nine Steps. I also loved the many different movie and TV adaptations. I am also a fan of the Bond novels. 

7. Although it has a wartime setting, the mystical Stones of Fire so sought after in the book add a fresh element to the story, was it a challenge to combine the historical adventure with the mythology and yet remain believable and not too farfetched?
It was challenging but also great fun. The key here was to not go overboard with the mysticism. I wanted to keep it mysterious throughout the story with the big reveal at the end.

8. I was intrigued by the ending of Sleeper as clearly there is more to come. Without giving too much away, can you tell us what you have planned next?
There is more to come. I can’t say much other than there will be consequences. Make of that what you will. ;-) 

And now for some more general questions

9. What authors influence your writing?
I love Thomas Harris, Stephen King, Sarah Waters, JK Rowling and Ken Follet, to name a few.

10. What underrated book would you most recommend?
I loved the Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, which is a wonderfully written, atmospheric tale of love, magic and a creepy circus. I think it did quite well, but really needs to be read by more people.

11. What was your favourite book as a child and have you reread it as an adult?
Yes, I still love the Tintin books and am collecting the original first editions. One book that springs to mind is Richard Matheson’s post apocalyptic thriller, I am Legend, which tells the story of the last man on an earth populated with vampires. It spawned four different movie versions and was the inspiration for many zombie films. I read it again four years back and enjoyed it just as much.

12. When you're writing a book do you have much of the outline worked out in advance or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?
I am a planner. I cook the idea in my head, write a rough synopsis followed by what happens in the structure, i.e. Act 1, Act 2 and Act 3. I will then do a chapter by chapter summary and crack on. 

13. What advice would you give to your younger writing self?
Don’t doubt yourself. Read more poetry and dream big.

14. What can you tell us about how you structure your day when writing? Many authors seem to tweet about their favourite writing/procrastinating snack - do you have one?
I’m a planner, so I usually know what chapter or scene I am about to tackle, which has the advantage of extra thinking time before I start writing. Regarding snacks: I don’t really have a favourite. That said, if you were to press me I would say cheese or chocolate.

15. Are you currently reading a book?
Yes, I am reading Spellslinger by Sebastian De Castell. It’s a wonderful fantasy with a western influence.

Thank you for hosting me today, Karen. 

Many thanks J.D, I'm very much with you when it comes to cheese and chocolate! Now for my review...

I was delighted to be asked to take part in the Sleeper blog tour, although I haven't read much historical fiction of late I'm always a sucker for novels set in the First and Second World Wars. That this is an adventure story piqued my interest still further, as you may be able to tell from the Q&A I loved the Hannay books!
Sleeper opens with Will Starling still knowing who he is and what he is doing. At this early point the reader is told very little. It is clear he is on some sort of mission but why and who he is working for is a mystery. However, it is immediately obvious that there are people who want him dead. After Will loses his memory we are on equal footing with his character, which I found a really clever way of revealing the truth, neither the protagonist nor the reader knows before the other. What follows is a hugely enjoyable tale, in some ways it's almost an old fashioned rollicking yarn, filled as it is with spies,dastardly baddies, thrilling twists and a mysterious artefact, the Stones of Fire, that threatens London's very existence. However, don't be fooled into thinking old fashioned equals tired or cliched, Sleeper may have a historical setting but the story feels fresh throughout. The mythological element of the novel adds an intriguing twist but the story stays plausible, Fennell's research pays off well here as events in the book are linked to historical incidents.
Although an action story, Sleeper is equally strong when it comes to the characters in the novel. Will himself is a deeply engaging protagonist, with a novel and indeed trilogy that is centred on him there was a risk that he could have become a rather two dimensional figure but thankfully this is far from the case. He is a highly skilled and resourceful young man but his memory loss has made him confused and more vulnerable than whatever training he has received intended. Not knowing who he is or who he can trust makes him a more sympathetic character and of course leads to a real sense of tension as he learns more about why people want him dead. He is joined by MI5 agent-in-training Anna Wilder and she is probably the character who most gives Sleeper a contemporary feel despite the wartime setting. She is never there as window dressing to be rescued or patronised, like Will she is highly trained and skillful, that she is a girl is immaterial when it comes to her capabilities.
The enemies they face are truly menacing and a real threat, the Pastor in particular is really quite terrifying. Without giving anything away, there are multiple deaths, J.D. Fennell is never condescending to his younger readers and doesn't let all his characters walk away unscathed. Sleeper is genuinely tense and also deeply moving, losses are felt and characters aren't merely disposable.
I really enjoyed Sleeper, I'm very much in the 'crossover' part of a YA/crossover and while this is clearly written to appeal to readers younger than me I still found it a gripping and often dark story that surprised me several times and managed to keep me guessing. The book ends with a tempting glimpse into Will's plans for the future and leave the reader in no doubt that his life isn't going to become any less dangerous. I can't wait to find out what happens next!
Many thanks to J.D. Fennell and the publishers for my advance copy received in return for my honest review.

Sleeper is the first book from exciting new independent publisher, The Dome Press. You can follow them here on Twitter and follow the author at @jd_fennell. Sleeper has its own webpage here.

About the author

J.D. was born in Belfast at the start of the Troubles, and began writing stories at a young age to help him understand the madness unfolding around him. A lover of reading, he devoured a diverse range of books - his early influences include Fleming, Tolkien, Shakespeare and the Brontës.
He left Belfast at the age of nineteen and worked as a chef, bartender, waiter and later began a career in writing for the software industry.
These days he divides his time between Brighton and London, where he lives with his partner and their two dogs. 

It's been an honour to be the host for Sleeper's blog tour today, you can follow the rest of the tour too, details are on the poster below.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Book Review - Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor #1) by Mark Lawrence

"I was born for killing – the gods made me to ruin" At the Convent of Sweet Mercy young girls are raised to be killers. In a few the old bloods show, gifting talents rarely seen since the tribes beached their ships on Abeth. Sweet Mercy hones its novices’ skills to deadly effect: it takes ten years to educate a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist. But even the mistresses of sword and shadow don’t truly understand what they have purchased when Nona Grey is brought to their halls as a bloodstained child of eight, falsely accused of murder: guilty of worse.

If that short description whetted my appetite for this book, the opening paragraph of the prologue caught me hook, line and sinker,
'It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size. For Sister Thorn of the Sweet Mercy Convent Lano Tacsis brought two hundred men.' 
Red Sister follows the tribulations of Nona Grey, a small peasant girl with dark and dangerous secrets. Nona has been bought  by Giljohn, the child-taker. Abeth is a harsh world, much of it now covered in ice, its people are forced to live in a narrow corridor. With little space and a climate that makes crop growing near to impossible, starving families are often forced to sell their children. We learn of this in flashback form as Nona remembers the events that have led her to the gallows, convicted of murder. She has been rescued from execution by Abbess Glass and brought to the Convent of Sweet Mercy but why would a nun save her, and is she really safe now? The answer to that latter question is quickly apparent, Nona has powerful enemies and she will need to learn not just the skills taught at Sweet Mercy; she will also need also understand and come to terms with who is she is, and what she is capable of, if she is going to survive.
Much of Red Sister follows Nona's education alongside the other novices at the convent. Novices move through four classes on their way to receiving their holy orders, classes are named after the four orders of nun. At just eight, Nona joins Red Class and we learn that there are four paths nuns eventually follow  - a Bride of the Ancestor (Holy Sister) honours the Ancestor and maintains the faith; a Martial Sister (Red Sister) is skilled in armed and unarmed combat; a Sister of Discretion (Grey Sister) is skilled in espionage, stealth and poisons,and a Mystic Sister (Holy Witch) can walk the Path and manipulate threads. Novices quickly learn which path they are likely to follow and this is generally decided by whether they show any sign of bearing the distinguishing features of the four tribes the people of Abeth are descended from. The tribes who came found an unforgiving world even before the ice spread and were forced to mix their blood to breed people who could survive. Their descendants may still display touches or more obvious signs of the attributes that differentiate them. The tribes are described as:
Gerant - distinguished by their great size
Hunska - distinguished by their speed. A dark-haired, dark-eyed people
Marjal - distinguished by their ability to tap into the lesser magics.
Quantal - distinguished by their ability to walk the Path and work greater magics.
A book set in a school that teaches magic, with four categories pupils can be determined by, with the principal character a child from a difficult background will inevitably be compared to Harry Potter. While I think this book will appeal to Potterheads it's a much darker and bleaker book, not something I'd recommend to younger HP fans. This is a brutal world with cruel and violent characters. Nona suffers some horrendous attacks, without giving anything away there is one particular scene that is really quite difficult to read. Nona is a remarkable lead character, she is bright - she often seems much older than her years but her hard life has doubtless caused her to grow up fast - skillful, brave and principled. She is also impetuous, finds in hard to trust people and is frequently an unreliable narrator. Her vulnerability and need for acceptance means she is desperate for friends and must endure some hard lessons about truth and trust. There are several other strong characters in the book, her friends are diverse and believable, often with their own secrets, the nuns are a fascinating bunch and far removed from the pious expectations we have of holy sisters. That one (my favourite) is nicknamed the Poisoner, should be enough of a hint that these are nuanced characters. Their enemies are, in various ways, terrifying. Whether its a deranged High Priest, a vengeful rich man or a warrior able to take on and beat several attackers at the same time, the tension and danger is palpable.
So superb characterisation then, but Red Sister is also beautifully written, This is a world brought vividly to life, visceral, menacing and thrilling. There's always a risk with the first in a series that too much world building goes on at the expense of  an exciting plot but here the balance is perfect, there is much to look forward to with the next instalment but this is a gripping and immersive story from the very start. There are twists and turns, a breathtaking conclusion and an epilogue that has me desperate for book two! I highly recommend this book, if you're looking for a new fantasy series then look no further, this should hit the spot.
Many thanks to the publishers for my copy received through Netgalley in return for my unbiased review.

Red Sister is published in the UK by Harper Voyager.

About the author
Mark Lawrence is married with four children, one of whom is severely disabled. His day job is as a research scientist focused on various rather intractable problems in the field of artificial intelligence. He has held secret level clearance with both US and UK governments. At one point he was qualified to say ‘this isn’t rocket science … oh wait, it actually is’.

Between work and caring for his disabled child, Mark spends his time writing, playing computer games, tending an allotment, brewing beer, and avoiding DIY.

You can follow Mark on Twitter as @Mark__Lawrence and his website is at

Monday, 24 April 2017

Book Review - Madam Tulip by David Ahern

Out-of-work actress Derry O'Donnell is young, talented, a teeny bit psychic ... and broke. Spurred on by an ultimatum from her awesomely high-achieving mother, and with a little help from her theatrical friends, Derry embarks on a part-time career as Madam Tulip, fortune-teller to the rich and famous. But at her first fortune-telling gig - a celebrity charity weekend in a castle - a famous rap artist will die.

As Derry is drawn deeper into a seedy world of celebrities, supermodels and millionaires, she finds herself playing the most dangerous role of her acting life. Trapped in a maze of intrigue, money and drugs, Derry's attempts at amateur detective could soon destroy her friends, her ex-lover, her father and herself.

Madame Tulip is the first in a series of Tulip adventures in which Derry O'Donnell, celebrity fortune-teller and reluctant detective, plays the most exciting and perilous roles of her acting life, drinks borage tea, and fails to understand her parents.

Although I read a lot of crime fiction and thrillers it's been a while since I've read a cosy mystery. However, having enjoyed the genre in the past I was delighted when David Ahern contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in reading Madam Tulip.
As the first book in what will be a series of Madam Tulip books (there is already a second book, Madam Tulip and the Knave of Hearts, with a third book on the way) the story builds slowly as first we are introduced to the characters and their relationships to one another, setting the scene for the crime that Derry inadvertently becomes involved in. As the lead character it is vital that Derry O'Donnell has enough depth to be an engaging protagonist who can carry a series. Thankfully she is exactly that. She is intelligent, resourceful and self deprecating, and by cleverly giving her an alter ego (the eponymous Madam Tulip) the author has provided her not only with a reason for becoming involved with a situation where a crime occurs but also with an alternative method for interacting with the other characters. The use of her second sight makes for an interesting twist and I was pleased to note, not overdone. It provides her - and us - with clues but they are never straightforward and still require solving using the more traditional cosy mystery methods of solving crimes - snooping and luck. The secondary characters are also well written, I particularly enjoyed the relationship Derry has with her parents - and they have with each other; it's probably best described as somewhat dysfunctional yet written with a light touch that makes any disagreements more comedic than bitter. The crime that kick starts Derry's amateur sleuthing isn't particularly unusual, a rap singer dies at the first charity fundraiser Madam Tulip has been engaged to attend. After being privy to certain conversations Derry quickly realises his death isn't an accident. Nevertheless it builds into a well constructed mystery with some real tension alongside the humour.
I really enjoyed Madam Tulip, it was a pleasure to remind myself of how much fun lighter crime fiction can be. I'm looking forward to finding out what mystery she finds herself involved with next!
Many thanks to the author for my copy of Madam Tulip, received in return for my honest review.

Madam Tulip is published by Malin Press and can be purchased here.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Book Review - How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

'I am old. That is the first thing to tell you. The thing you are least likely to believe. If you saw me you would probably think I was about forty, but you would be very wrong.'

Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he's been alive for centuries. From Elizabethan England to Jazz Age Paris, from New York to the South Seas, Tom has seen a lot, and now craves an ordinary life.

Always changing his identity to stay alive, Tom has the perfect cover - working as a history teacher at a London comprehensive. Here he can teach the kids about wars and witch hunts as if he'd never witnessed them first-hand. He can try and tame the past that is fast catching up with him. The only thing Tom mustn't do is fall in love.

How to Stop Time is a wild and bittersweet story about losing and finding yourself, about the certainty of change and about the lifetimes it can take to really learn how to live.

'I have been in love only once in my life. I suppose that makes me a romantic, in a sense. The idea that you have one true love, that no one else will compare after they have gone. It’s a sweet idea , but the reality is terror itself. To be faced with all those lonely years after. To exist when the point of you has gone.'
The Humans by Matt Haig is the first book I reviewed on Hair Past a Freckle and pretty much the reason why this blog exists. It remains my most recommended book and the one that means the most to me. It was the book I needed when I most needed books.
Four years on and How To Stop Time is Haig's first adult fiction book since The Humans. He's not been quiet in the meantime having written a young adult novel, Echo Boy, a self-help memoir, Reasons to Stay Alive, and two books for children, A Boy Called Christmas and The Girl Who Saved Christmas. Having read them all (as well as his previous novels The Radleys, The Last Family in England, Shadow Forest and The Runaway Troll.) I know a little of what to expect from his books. I don't know if there's an author writing today who is better than Haig at making it seem as if his book is written with you in mind. He has a deep understanding of the human condition and writes with such honesty and clarity that his books become more than just stories, they are beacons of hope in what are troubled times.
How To Stop Time continues this theme, again Haig's principal character - in this case Tom Hazard - needs to learn what it means to live. Tom doesn't have any problem staying alive, in fact he's over 400 years old, but forced to move every few years before people become suspicious by his much slower ageing rate ('The speed of ageing among those with anageria fluctuates a little, but generally it is a 1: 15 ratio') and the knowledge that his condition means he is dangerous to become close to has led to a lonely existence. Despite leading what many would consider an extraordinary life, born in 1581, he has spent time with Shakespeare, had a drink with F. Scott Fitzgerald, sailed to the South Sea Islands and watched as mayflies (humans who age naturally, Tom and others like him are albas - short for albatrosses, once thought to live to a great age) have invented bicycles, cars, the telephone, television and the internet, he craves an ordinary life.  Now working as a history teacher at a London comprehensive he finds himself drawn to Camille, the French teacher but he knows he should heed the warning from Hendrich, leader of The Albatross Society and facilitator of his new lives every few years - in return for certain 'favours'...
‘The first rule is that you don’t fall in love,’ he said. ‘There are other rules too, but that is the main one. No falling in love . No staying in love. No daydreaming of love. If you stick to this you will just about be okay.’
Living in London means Tom is surrounded by memories from his long past. How to Stop Time isn't written chronologically, something in Tom's present will remind him of past events and we're transported there. Haig writes so vividly that these scenes are always far more than distant memories. His evocation of the sights, smells and sounds bring Tom's past to life;
'It was an area, essentially, of freedom. And the first thing I discovered about freedom was that it smelled of shit. Of course, compared to now, everywhere in or out of London smelled of shit. But Bankside, in particular, was the shittiest . That was because of the tanneries dotted about the place . There were five tanneries all in close proximity, just after you crossed the bridge. And the reason they stank, I would later learn, was because tanners steeped the leather in faeces.
As I walked on, the smell fused into others. The animal fat and bones from the makers of glue and soap. And the stale sweat of the crowd. It was a whole new world of stench.'
 By having a plot with a meandering timeline we are reminded that history isn't just something that happened long ago, we are history too. Tom may use social media now but he recognises how we are linked to the past, how the conflicts, superstitions and oppressive regimes from previous centuries are lessons we never really learn from. He has seen people repeat the same mistakes over and over, the contemporary setting providing a sharp reminder that we still haven't learnt and still allow our differences to divide us.
How to Stop Time is a beautiful book, it's not a word I would use often to describe a novel but it's completely charming. From the simple wish to prepare breakfast for a loved one ('Toast. Blackcurrant jam. Pink grapefruit juice. Maybe some watermelon. Sliced. On a plate.')  to the description of 19th century New York ('But I looked at the New York skyline and felt like the world was dreaming bigger. Clearing its throat. Getting some confidence.'), to the heartbreaking despair of loss ('I did not know how to be me, my strange and unusual self, without her. I had tried it, of course. I had existed whole years without her, but that was all it had been.') I fell in love with it within the first few pages, it's a book that celebrates the things we all need to make us feel human - music, art, food, love.  Haig's understanding of  what happens inside heads though is what gives How to Stop Time its heart. He writes with his soul which gives the book a touching honesty and although it may be a fantastical story of a 400 year old man, it's actually telling a universal truth, that life needs to be lived. For all the hurt, the losses along the way, we can't allow fear of grief to prevent us from experiencing the joys of living, to allow ourselves to hope and to love and be loved.
Many thanks to the publishers for my advance copy, received through Netgalley in return for this review.

How to Stop Time will be published in the UK by Canongate on 6th July 2017. You can follow Matt Haig on Twitter as @MattHaig1 and Canongate as @canongatebooks.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Book Review - Reconciliation for the Dead by Paul E. Hardisty

Fresh from events in Yemen and Cyprus, vigilante justice-seeker Claymore Straker returns to South Africa, seeking absolution for the sins of his past. Over four days, he testifies to Desmond Tutu’s newly established Truth and Reconciliation Commission, recounting the shattering events that led to his dishonourable discharge and exile, fifteen years earlier. 

It was 1980. The height of the Cold War. Clay is a young paratrooper in the South African Army, fighting in Angola against the Communist insurgency that threatens to topple the White Apartheid regime. On a patrol deep inside Angola, Clay, and his best friend, Eben Barstow, find themselves enmeshed in a tangled conspiracy that threatens everything they have been taught to believe about war, and the sacrifices that they, and their brothers in arms, are expected to make. Witness and unwitting accomplice to an act of shocking brutality, Clay changes allegiance and finds himself labelled a deserter and accused of high treason, setting him on a journey into the dark, twisted heart of institutionalised hatred, from which no one will emerge unscathed. 

Back in 2015 I was sent a copy of The Abrupt Physics of Dying, an eco thriller by a debut author, the CWA John Creasy Award nominee Paul E. Hardisty. It should have been the sort of book that left me cold, big action thrillers are not my thing. Instead I fell in love, both with Claymore Straker and Hardisty's writing. This love was confirmed in the follow up last year, The Evolution of Fear and I've been eagerly waiting this latest instalment since then.
Reconciliation for the Dead sees Straker returning to his South African homeland. After the events in Yemen and Cyprus he has decided it's time to confront his past and has agreed to testify before Desmond Tutu's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Although ostensibly set shortly after Cyprus, the book is actually more of a prequel, with the action set in Angola as we meet the young Claymore Straker and learn of the terrible events that lead not only to his dishonourable discharge from the army but also to the psychologically damaged man we know from the first two books. This is the book that takes us not only into Clay's dark past but also to South Africa's shameful history when their army fought Communism in neighbouring Angola in order to protect their own Apartheid regime. 
As always Hardisty has written an uncompromising and brutal action thriller. He doesn't sanitize war, it's ugly and vicious, there are multiple deaths, a vicious rape and always the stench not only of blood and sweat but also of corruption. 
What Hardisty also achieves though is superlative characterisation, he never sacrifices top quality character development for the complex, exciting plot. Claymore has always been a deeply engaging lead character, a tenacious justice-seeker who is prepared to take any steps both to survive and to expose the truth and yet still a man deeply tormented by the things he has seen and done. This is where we finally learn why he is so troubled, the court transcripts from his testimony a reminder that the older Straker is still desperate to atone for his past. The young Straker is forced to re-evaluate  everything he knows and ultimately loses some of himself as he becomes torn between his country and the search for the truth. The secondary cast isn't forgotten either, both his allies and those who seek to harm him are vividly realised. We are finally properly introduced to Eben, the friend we first met as a horrifically injured veteran in the first book is brought to life here making his eventual fate all the more tragic. Rania appears only briefly this time, instead he meets two new female characters, Zulaika and Vivian, both strong and brave women who play pivotal roles in the story. His enemies are truly evil, as always Hardisty's research means the plot is firmly influenced by real life events and the horrific research into chemical and biological warfare makes for chilling reading. As Straker gradually reveals the truth about his past he is questioned by the various commissioners and even in these brief transcripts Hardisty has ensured that each panel member has a clear and distinct voice, we know who is sympathetic to him and who is suspicious of the role he played.
Reconciliation for the Dead is perhaps the highlight of a superb trilogy, it's a powerful and honest look at war, inhumanity, brutality and the need for forgiveness. It's a complex and engaging thriller that never forgets that the lead character is a human being who is deeply affected by the events that shape his life and lead to him taking the lives of others. My love affair continues and I look forward to Straker's next outing knowing I'm in for another another superb book at the hands of an author who is truly on top of his game.
Many thanks to the publishers for my advance copy, received in return for my honest review.

Reconciliation for the Dead will be published by Orenda Books on 30th May 2017. You can follow Orenda on Twitter as @OrendaBooks and Paul E. Hardisty as @Hardisty_Paul .