books, reviews

Book Review: North – Edith Pattou

This is a beguiling epic of magic, love, loss and betrayal based on the traditional fairytale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”. The lyrical writing and bold sweep of the story as Rose travels north will cast a spell over every reader. “A rich tapestry that will resonate with readers…The stuff of epic tale-telling, replete with high drama and compelling characterisations.” – Booklist. Rose was born into the world facing north, and as a north child, superstition says that she will be a wanderer, travelling far from home. This prophecy is fulfilled when she is taken on the back of a white bear to a mysterious empty castle, where a silent stranger appears to her night after night. When her curiosity overcomes her, she loses her heart, and must journey to a land east of the sun and west of the moon to reclaim it.

My thoughts:

I won this book in a Twitter giveaway from Usborne and will be published in November.

This is a beautiful retelling of a fairy tale hailing from Scandinavia, with a clever and resourceful young heroine who goes on a magical quest to find her white bear and bring him home. A love story, not just between the two protagonists, but also between Rose and her family.

While this book is aimed at younger readers (what publishing calls Middle Grade) this gentle, moving tale would resonate with readers of all ages.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Cage – Lilja Sigurđardóttir*

The prison doors slam shut behind Agla, when her sentence for financial misconduct ends, but her lover Sonja is not there to meet her. As a group of foreign businessmen tries to draw Agla into an ingenious fraud that stretches from Iceland around the world, Agla and her former nemesis María find the stakes being raised at a terrifying speed. Ruthless entrepreneur Ingimar will stop at nothing to protect his empire, but he has no idea about the powder keg he is sitting on in his own home. And at the same time, a deadly threat to Sonja and her family brings her from London back to Iceland, where she needs to settle scores with longstanding adversaries if she wants to stay alive… The lives of these characters are about to collide in a shocking crescendo, until the winner takes it all…

Icelandic crime-writer Lilja Sigurdardóttir was born in the town of Akranes in 1972 and raised in Mexico, Sweden, Spain and Iceland. An award-winning playwright, Lilja has written four crime novels, including Snare and Trap, the first two books in the Reykjavik Noir trilogy, which have hit bestseller lists worldwide. The film rights have been bought by Palomar Pictures in California. She lives in Reykjavík with her partner.

My thoughts:

I really liked the two women at the centre of this; Agla, a criminal financier and Maria, an investigative journalist. Their relationship is complicated but in this case beneficial to both – but more deadly for Maria.

The writing is slick and compelling, the plot clever and intriguing. I wolfed this down in one sitting, driven to find out what was going to happen next.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in this blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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Blog Tour: Don’t Get Involved – Fiona Curlew*

A missing shipment of cocaine

Three street-kids fighting for their lives

A Mafia hitman intent on killing them

A naïve expat who gets in their way

Who would you bet on?

Ukraine, 2001. A time of lawlessness and corruption. Three street-kids stumble upon a holdall full of cocaine, belonging to the Mafia. Mafia hitman, Leonid, is given the job of retrieving the cocaine and disposing of the street-kids. To do so he is forced to step back into his old life and he doesn’t like it. The children run on their wits. Leonid hunts them down. Nadia, a young woman with her own dark past, arrives in Ukraine looking for a fresh start. She wasn’t expecting this!

“She had no idea of what, or who, she was supposed to be running from. Right now everything was a threat. Definitely militsiya, but who else? Everyone. Right now it felt like everyone.”

Amazon 

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Fiona spent fifteen years working as an international school teacher, predominantly in Eastern Europe. Much of her inspiration comes from her travels. Her writing has been described as, “Human experience impacted upon by political situation, interwoven with a love of nature.”

She now lives on the East Coast of Scotland with Brockie the Springer, and Fingal the rescued Portuguese street-cat. Her days are divided between dog-walking in beautiful places and working on her stories. Not a bad life!

Don’t Get Involved is her third book.

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My thoughts:

This was a really interesting read, I am always interested to read books set in other countries, and see the contrast between the UK and abroad. I also happen to have a specific interest in Ukraine (and Russia) following several years studying their history. So this was very specific to my interests.

A clever, pacy thriller, I was definitely rooting for the kids involved. Well written, with exactly enough attention to detail to really place you in the action, and the plot grips hold tight, dragging you into a world you would probably manage to ignore otherwise.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in this blog tour, but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Birthday House – Jill Treseder*

The year is 1955, the location picturesque Devon.

In a house by the River Dart, schoolgirl Josephine Kennedy posts invitations to her twelfth birthday party – a party that never takes place.

Horrific violence is committed that night in the family home, leaving all of its occupants dead.

Based on a disturbing real-life crime, this compelling story explores Josephine’s fate through the prism of friends and family – the victims and survivors who unwittingly influenced the events that led up to the tragedy.

Josephine’s best friend, Susan, is haunted by the secrets of the birthday house. Can she ever find a way of making peace with the past?

Amazon

I started writing in a red shiny exercise book when I was seven years old. But in that time and place it was an ‘invalid’ activity, was overlooked, but never went away. It was many years before I felt able to call myself ‘writer’.

But there came a day when the phrase ‘I am a writer’ no longer sounded pretentious, but legitimate, and even necessary. Was it because I had a writing room instead of the corner of a landing? Or because I spent more time writing? Or because I’d got better at it? Or because I get miserable and bad-tempered if I don’t write? Probably a combination of all of the above.

Writing is my third career. The first was as a social worker with children and families, a job I loved, but left because I could no longer cope with the system.

This led to a freelance career as an independent management consultant, helping people to handle emotions in the work context. I worked in the IT industry, in companies large and small, as well as public organisations. Later I became involved in research projects concerned with the multi-disciplinary approach to social problems such as child abuse. So, in a sense, I had come full-circle.

All these experiences feed into the process of writing fiction, while my non-fiction book The Wise Woman Within resulted indirectly from the consultancy work and my subsequent PhD thesis,‘Bridging Incommensurable Paradigms’, which is available from the School of Management at the University of Bath.

I live in Devon and visit Cornwall frequently and these land and seascapes are powerful influences which demand a presence in my writing.

Writers’ groups and workshops are a further invaluable source of inspiration and support and I attend various groups locally and sign up for creative courses in stunning locations whenever I can. I try doing writing practice at home but there is no substitute for the focus and discipline achieved among others in a group.

I have written some short stories and recently signed up for a short story writing course to explore this genre in more depth.

I live with my husband in South Devon and enjoy being involved in a lively local community.

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My thoughts:

This novella may be slim but it packs a punch. Based on the real life death of the author’s childhood friend, told from a variety of viewpoints, including the killer and his victims, Treseder attempts to unpack the reasons a man would destroy his family. Powerful, direct and shocking, the gentle title hides a hell of a narrative.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Museum of Lost Love – Gary Barker*

In Zagreb is an unusual museum: it displays mementos of broken relationships. Each exhibit describes a unique story of a broken heart, of love gone awry.

When Katia and Goran visit the museum, Goran stumbles upon an exhibit that seems to be addressed to him, from a girl he met in a Sarajevo refugee camp at age fourteen. A reminder of two days spent together while he and his mother and brother waited anxiously for visas to America to escape the war.

Encouraged by Katia, a therapist, to reconnect with his lost past, Goran confronts the youth he lost during the Yugoslav Wars. Similarly Katia, adopted by Americans at one week old after her birth mother was murdered in a gangland killing in Brazil, heads back to Brazil to uncover her own family history.

Meanwhile Tyler, a military veteran and one of Katia’s patients, attempts to put the Afghan war behind him, and finds love in unexpected circumstances.

Drawing upon his own experiences working in conflict zones, Gary Barker’s powerful novels dive deep into human love and longing. Crossing continents, and set against backdrops of war, deprivation, and violence, The Museum of Lost Love is a soulful testament to the resilience of the human heart.

GARY BARKER is an author, researcher, and human rights activist. He is founder and director of Promundo, an international organization that works with men and boys in more than 25 countries to achieve gender equality and end violence against women. He has been awarded an Ashoka Fellowship and an Open Society Fellowship for his work in conflict zones. His previous novels include Luisa’s Last Words, Mary of Kivu, and The Afghan Vampires Book Club (co-written with Michael Kaufman). Barker lives in Washington, DC.

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My thoughts:

I remember reading a piece in the newspaper about the museum at the heart of this book, a place where people send in things that remind them of lost loves. Weaving in between the narratives of Katia, Goran and Tyler, are those of the displays in the museum.

Katia and Goran both look into their own pasts to find answers to questions they didn’t admit to having; while Tyler is trying to look forward, putting his new life and son first, moving on from his wartime experiences.

Each goes on a journey, literally and figuratively into themselves in order to find a way forward, to put lost loves to right and find out who they truly are.

Goran returns to Bosnia and seeks out first his father and then his first love, filling in the past, both of his country and the people he left behind.

Katia goes in search of her birth mother’s family, and finds not only that she is part of a family but also a tragic history.

Finally Tyler unexpectedly finds himself in love and raising the son he never knew he had, when tragedy strikes and he discovers the man he really is.

This book is slight but powerful, love is an incredibly potent emotion and Barker looks at all its forms; from familial, to sexual and innocent romance. He is interested in how people interact and the importance of someone’s capacity to sustain themselves.

The characters are well written and believable, the plots intersect nicely and flow well, swapping comfortably between the three protagonists without any jarring.

I found it an interesting way to look at violent parts of history (the war in Sarajevo, the gang violence in Brazil’s favelas, the recent conflict in Afghanistan) and show that love can blossom even under the shadow of such tragedy and suffering.

*I was kindly gifted this book in exchange for taking part in this blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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Blog Tour: North – Lucas Ehrenhaus*

After one of the most decisive warring campaigns in European history between Barbarians and Romance, the sheer possibility of a full-scale Roman invasion into Barbarian lands launches a lifelong recruitment process, which drives to the re-discovery of old mighty forces in the long forgotten North.

The most apolocalyptic pan-tribal conflict amongst central and northern European natives will ensue.

Amazon

My thoughts:

This was a really interesting book, complete with historical dates and illustrations, featuring some of the most well known (and some of the lesser known) Norse gods and myths. We think of the Romans as the civilising force of history, bringing culture and hygiene to swathes of the then known world. But those that they forcibly civilised had other opinions, and this tells of one.

The Norsemen were not interested in the Roman way of things, of their religious beliefs and gods, they wanted to be left alone.

Ehrenhaus attempts to simplify Snorri Sturlusson’s work, The Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda (I have read chunks of both and they are not easy), and I think he mostly succeeds, by focusing on the gods and dwarves at the heart of Norse mythology, the great stories that were passed down from campfire to hearth fire.

I found the book a little simplistic at times and they layout of the pages annoying to try and follow, as a lot is imparted in a small space. However I was pleased with this overall. While Greco-Roman mythology is taught in most schools, Norse mythology often seems a bit forgotten, which is a shame as many of us have Anglo-Saxon roots and not knowing the stories of our ancestors seems a shame. Most people think Marvel invented Thor, god of thunder when he really pre-dates comic books by several centuries!

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in this blog tour.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Angel Mage – Garth Nix*

More than a century has passed since Liliath crept into the empty sarcophagus of Saint Marguerite, fleeing the Fall of Ystara. But she emerges from her magical sleep still beautiful, looking no more than nineteen, and once again renews her single-minded quest to be united with her lover, Palleniel, the archangel of Ystara.

A seemingly impossible quest, but Liliath is one of the greatest practitioners of angelic magic to have ever lived, a genius at making icons to summon angels, and supremely adept in forcing them to do her bidding.
Liliath already knew that most of the inhabitants of Ystara died from the Ash Blood plague or were transformed into beastlings, and she herself led the survivors who fled into neighbouring Sarance. Now she learns that angels shun the Ystaran’s descendents. If they are touched by angelic magic, their blood will become ashes, or they will turn into beastlings. They are known as Refusers, and can only live the most lowly lives.

But Liliath cares nothing for the descendants of her people, save how they can serve her. It is four young Sarancians who fix her interest, for they are the key to her quest: Simeon, a studious doctor-in-training; Henri, a dedicated fortune hunter; Agnez, an adventurous musketeer cadet; and Dorotea, an icon-maker and scholar of angelic magic.

The four feel a strange, immediate kinship from the moment they meet, but do not know why, or suspect their importance. Only Liliath knows their secret, and she draws them in to her complex plot, just as she manipulates Queen Louisa and her musketeers; King Ferdinand and his guards; Cardinal Duplessis and her pursuivants; and the Refuser Night King Biscaray and his criminal gangs.
All become pawns in Liliath’s grand scheme to fulfill her destiny and be united with the love of her life. No matter the cost to everyone else.

 

My thoughts:

I remember when the first Old Kingdom books came out (Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorson) and I’ve read some of Nix’s other books over the years, then he went quiet.

And for good reason if this brilliant new book is why, featuring an incredible magic system where people call upon angels to aid them, and a cast of characters whose bravery and friendship help them save the day.

I romped through it in one sitting, completely hooked from page one, the setup and plotting sucked me in completely, immersing me in the world Nix has so carefully crafted.

This book is superbly well written, clever, funny, smart and what you’d expect from a master storyteller, moving from writing for young adults to adult fantasy fiction. While he has said this a standalone text there is scope for another book in the same world, and I think he would be wise to return to it, as I can see a lot of other stories that could be built within this incredibly well created world.

 

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*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in this blog tour but all opinions remain my own.