Wednesday, 7 September 2016

TLC Book Tours Review of Beulah's House of Prayer by Cynthia A Graham

 photo B22A5D7F-B9D4-4657-8E80-310682EE11FB_zps7uhnmezv.jpg
Beulah's House of Prayer by Cynthia A Graham
Pages: 224 pages
Publisher: Brick Mantel Books (July 12, 2016)
Source: Publisher/TLC Book Tours

Rating:

Disclaimer: A complimentary digital copy of 'Beulah's House Of Prayer' was provided by the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest unbiased review.

Read in August 2016
Synopsis:
Some storms bring destruction. Others bring salvation.
In 1934 the tiny town of Barmy, Oklahoma, is in desperate need of a miracle. The cows are hungry, the rain won’t fall, most of Main Street is boarded up. Young aspiring trapeze artist Sugar Watson is dumped unceremoniously into this bleak setting with little money and only one thing on her mind—escape. Beulah Clinton, a Holy Ghost preacher, has dedicated herself to helping the distressed in this ragged little wasteland, and Sugar soon finds herself thrown in with Marigold Lawford, the simple-minded widow of the richest man in town, and Homer Guppy, a boy trouble follows like dust after a wind.
Despite Sugar’s immediate distaste of Barmy, Beulah’s patience, Marigold’s kindness, and Homer’s unconditional love make her reconsider the meaning of home.
On Black Sunday, the worst dust storm in history brings with it a choice: Sugar must decide whether or not to return home, leaving the hospitality—and love—of Barmy’s inhabitants. A stunning Depression-era literary novel with a touch of magical realism, Beulah’s House of Prayer captivates until the very end.

My Thoughts:
I read ''Beneath Still Waters' by Cynthia A Graham back in March of this year and was very impressed with her debut historical crime novel so when 'Beulah's House of Prayer' popped up for review with the 'TLC Book Tours', I jumped at the chance to be a tour host.

Beulah Clinton, a kindly but fierce lay preacher, surprisingly isn't the main character of this story however she is the pivital character that the townsfolk's lives revolve around in this desolate dusty town.  She arrives in Barmy with just her wagon drawn by two mules and sets up a boarding house where anyone in need of sustenance or comfort is always welcome.

Sugar Watson, the narrator's mother finds herself stranded in town with little more than her fathers trunk and a coffin with his body inside. Self centred, with a tendency towards spitefulness when things do not go her way, Sugar is not a likeable young girl.  With nowhere to go she reluctantly accepts Beulah's offer to stay for as long as she needs at the boarding house with her and another homeless boarder, Marigold Lawford a sweet natured, put upon young widow.

Several of the chapters begin with an event reminiscent in the narrators mind which gently blend into the narration of the past to continue the storyline.

Barmy is a 'godforsaken' place frequented by huge, violent dust storms which bring bad health and life threatening ailments in its wake. It tirelessly seeps in through every tiny crack or crevice and into homes to be inhaled and ingested by everyone. Dust tirelessly coats household surfaces no matter how many times it is cleaned away. There is no escape even from within the safety of their homes. The storms appear to foretell the arrival of bad news, upheavals, and crisis points for the townsfolk, with one almighty storm towards the end of the book bringing with it devastation and revelation in biblical proportions.

At times it is an immensely touching tale with scenes so tender and heartbreaking that I was moved to tears. One such scene is of Homer Guppy, the towns 'bad boy' who doesn't want to leave the side of the dying Sugar because she would be afraid to be alone in the dark. (It's okay, no spoilers given.) The characters were utterly believable and I felt fully invested in them, I watched them grow, learn about love, sacrifice, and to care for, and be cared about, it genuinely hurt to feel their pain.

Moments of humour are also evident as shown in a scene where Homer and Sugar are busy digging hole after hole in the yard, trying to find Beulah's buried mason jars full of money, unaware that they are being watched by an amused Beulah through the kitchen window.

Beulah's House of Prayer is set during the depression era of the 1930's in the 'Dust Bowl' days of the Oklahoma Panhandle and is written with such depth of character, a light touch of southern gothic, and accompanied by a twist of magical realism. It was an absolute delight to read.

Ultimately it is a tale of coming to terms with what you have and who you are, taking a long hard look at yourself and making amends. It is also about patience, friendship, hope, healing, redemption and forgiveness, and above all the power of love.

I highly recommend this quick, heartwarming tale.

About Cynthia A. Graham
Cynthia A. Graham is the winner of several writing awards, including a Gold IPPY and a Midwest Book Award for Beneath Still Waters, and her short stories have appeared in both university and national literary publications. She attained a B.A. in English from the Pierre Laclede Honors College at the University of Missouri in St. Louis. Cynthia is a member of the Historical Novel Society, the St. Louis Writers’ Guild, the Missouri Writers’ Guild, and Sisters in Crime. She is the author of two works of historical mystery: Beneath Still Waters and Behind Every Door. Beulah’s House of Prayer is her first foray in the land of magical realism.

Praise for Beulah's House of Prayer:
“Cynthia A. Graham’s novel, Beulah’s House of Prayer, is chock-full of what Flannery O’Connor called ‘large and startling figures.’ But these are not caricatures; they are people with whom you will fall in love and think you know in real life. You will care about their travails and want to turn to that last page to see what becomes of them—but with Dust Bowl descriptions reminiscent of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, a break-neck speed conclusion, and a fascinating love story in the mix, you’ll be conflicted about how fast you want to get there.” —David Armand, author, The Gorge, Harlow, and The Pugilist s Wife

“Beulah’s House of Prayer blends the stark reality of Steinbeck and the grace and imagery of Willa Cather into a beautifully-rendered story of struggle and faith in Depression and Dust Bowl era Oklahoma a place where ‘communion is the wheat I grow and the blood I sweat.’  Steeped in metaphor, this moving novel is at once compelling and poetic. It is the kind of story that often finds its way onto the big screen. One heck of a good read!” —Dixon Hearne, author, From Tickfaw to Shongaloo and Delta Flats: Stories in the Key of Blues and Hope.

Cynthia A. Graham’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Tuesday, September 6th: Bewitched Bookworms
Wednesday, September 7th: SJ2B House of Books
Friday, September 9th: Buried Under Books
Monday, September 12th: Mockingbird Hill Cottage
Thursday, September 15th: Kahakai Kitchen
Monday, September 19th: FictionZeal
Wednesday, September 21st: Write Read Life

Friday, 26 August 2016

HF Virtual Book Tours Review & Giveaway: The Munich Girl by Phyllis Edgerly Ring

 photo 98992984-F28C-4A8C-9D15-DB17F8FFA7CF_zpspmqvrzmk.jpg

The Munich Girl: A Novel of the Legacies That Outlast War
By Phyllis Edgerly Ring
Publisher: Whole Sky Books (November 2015)
Source: Author/Historical Fiction Virtual Tour Books
Pages: 356

Rating:

Disclaimer: I would like to thank Phyllis Edgerly Ring for gifting me a copy of her book and HF Virtual Book Tours for allowing me to take part in this book tour.

"Anna Dahlberg grew up eating dinner under her father’s war-trophy portrait of Eva Braun. Fifty years after the war, she discovers what he never did—that her mother and Hitler’s mistress were friends. The secret surfaces with a mysterious monogrammed handkerchief, and a man, Hannes Ritter, whose Third Reich family history is entwined with Anna’s. Plunged into the world of the “ordinary” Munich girl who was her mother’s confidante—and a tyrant’s lover—Anna finds her every belief about right and wrong challenged. With Hannes’s help, she retraces the path of two women who met as teenagers, shared a friendship that spanned the years that Eva Braun was Hitler’s mistress, yet never knew that the men they loved had opposing ambitions. Eva’s story reveals that she never joined the Nazi party, had Jewish friends, and was credited at the Nuremberg Trials with saving 35,000 Allied lives. As Anna's journey leads back through the treacherous years in wartime Germany, it uncovers long-buried secrets and unknown reaches of her heart to reveal the enduring power of love in the legacies that always outlast war."

My Thoughts:
The Munich Girl is primarily a story of self discovery and the importance of being true to ourselves told through the narratives of three women from present day and 1940's timelines.

In part, it tells the story of Anna Dahlberg, and her journey of uncovering the story behind her mother's portrait of an enigmatic pretty young woman.

It is through her diaries that Peggy, (Anna's mother) tells of how she comes into possession of the painting and becomes the unlikely friend of Ava, (Eva Braun).  It gives us a fascinating imagined glimpse of the world of Hitler's secret mistress.

I loved the writing style, the pace was perfectly timed with scenes flowing effortlessly through each timeframe. Yes, it's beautifully written with meticulously drawn characters, I truly believed in them, and that's where my problem with it lies. It bothered me that the lines between fact and fiction were so exquisitely blurred that I believed in the premise that Eva was an innocent in her naivety and worship of her abuser. I was confused and didn't feel comfortable with it.

Eva Braun was the 'highly kept secret' mistress of Adolf Hitler and yes she was a woman in her own right who under different circumstances may have been all the book portrays of her. She is not to be blamed for the evil acts this man was responsible for, however she did love him and chose to stay with him with the full knowledge of his monstrous beliefs and actions.  No, we shouldn't demonise her, but nor too can I accept a romanticised fairytale version of her. I tried but I failed. Had this been a work of pure fiction I would not fault it.

This isn't a negative review but I do have an opinion that could be perceived as such so I hope it won't dissuade anyone from reading it as Phyllis Edgerly Ring has written an exemplary piece of historical fiction which I truly enjoyed reading. It was just the portrayal of the little known about, factual character I found hard to come to terms with.

Perfect for fans of historical fiction that address history in some form and book groups as I think it could generate some lively debate.

Praise
“I was drawn in by Phyllis Ring’s economical and expressive language. Then the story took over! Protagonist Anna Dahlberg must face the emotional fallout from a traumatic plane crash, while simultaneously uncovering the first clues in a shocking generational mystery involving key players in the Third Reich. Everything’s complicated by a new romance that may help her overcome the past and find her true inner strength. But is it real? Love can manifest itself in enigmatic–and unexpected–ways.” -Elizabeth Sims, author and contributing editor at Writer’s Digest magazine
“… fresh perspective of German women at opposing ends of the warring spectrum … a beautiful story of enduring friendship and the lengths people will go to for love.” -The Stellar Review
“So persuasive is this novel that, before I could believe it was in fact a piece of fiction, I contacted the author and asked where she did her research and where she came up with the idea.” -Leslie Handler, The Philadelphia Inquirer

About the Author
 photo 998466C9-465A-4B6F-B983-11A63045B532_zpsdxt2sj86.jpg
Author Phyllis Edgerly Ring writes fiction and non-fiction. She left a part of her heart in her childhood home of Germany, which she visits as often as she can.
Her newest release, The Munich Girl: A Novel of the Legacies That Outlast War, follows the lives of three women there before, during, and after the Second World War. The novel’s protagonist begins a journey that links past and present when she discovers that her mother shared a secret friendship with Hitler’s mistress, Eva Braun.
The New Hampshire author loves writing, travel, and the noblest possibilities in the human heart and is always curious to discover how history, culture, relationship, spirituality, and the natural world influence us and guide the human family on its shared journey.

For more information, please visit Phyllis Edgerly Ring’s website. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Giveaway - Open Internationally
To enter the giveaway for a paperback copy of 'The Munich Girl', please click here:
Two copies are up for grabs!

Blog Tour Schedule
Monday, August 1
 Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Tuesday, August 2
 Review at Creating Herstory
Thursday, August 4
 Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews
Friday, August 5
 Interview at Dianne Ascroft’s Blog
Monday, August 8
 Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective
Tuesday, August 9
 Review at First Impression Reviews
Wednesday, August 10
 Guest Post at Let Them Read Books
Friday, August 12
 Spotlight at Just One More Chapter
Monday, August 15
 Guest Post & Excerpt at The Silver Dagger Scriptorium
Wednesday, August 17
 Review at A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, August 18
 Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Friday, August 19
 Review at Book Nerd
Monday, August 22
 Spotlight at Passages to the Past
Friday, August 26
 Review at SJ2B House of Books

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

NUDGE NB Newbooks Review: The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock


 photo B4B6C7D2-2FB6-43F8-9291-A43F9BE37AF8_zpsll5zevz5.jpg
The Heavenly Table
Donald Ray Pollock
Pages: 384
Publisher: Harvill Secker
Souce: NUDGE, NB Newbooks
Genre: Historical Western Noir

Rating:

Disclaimer: I received a complementary copy of The Heavenly Table
from NUDGE NB Newbooks in exchange for my honest review.

A classically written western with a contemporary noir twist
Read in July 2016
Synopsis:
Cane, Cob and Chimney Jewett are young Georgia sharecroppers held under the thumb of their domineering, God-struck father Pearl. When he dies unexpectedly, they set out on horseback to rob and loot their way to wealth and infamy, inspired by a lurid dime novel that only one of them can read. But little goes as planned and soon they're pursued by both the authorities and by stories that make them out to be the most fearsome trio of bank robbers and murderers around. The truth, though, is far more complex than the legend. And the heaven they've imagined may in fact be worse than the hell they sought to escape. The Heavenly Table is gritty, electrifying and weirdly funny. It cements Donald Ray Pollock's place among America's best contemporary novelists.

My Thoughts:
My first encounter with Donald Ray Pollock was with 'Kockemstiff' and 'The Devil All The Time'. I just love the gritty hillbilly, redneck storylines. I just love his twisted, cruel sense of humour. Peppered throughout with the worst acts of human kind, moral angst and a just a sprinkling of goodness or innocence, Pollock does not write comfortable easy reading material. So then, with 'The Heavenly Table' I knew what I was likely to be getting and was not disappointed.

Set against the backdrop of Alabama and Meade in 1917 and the beginning of America's involvement in WWI, 'The Heavenly Table' is an epic family saga with the Jewett family at the heart of the story, with Pearl a fanatically religious hardworking farmer and his sons, Cane the oldest, wisest and literate, Cob the 'dummy' and Chimney the rebellious youngest and least moral of the three sons.

We also hear about the Fiddler's; Ellsworth who has lost the family's life savings to a travelling con artist, Eula his long suffering, all forgiving wife, and Eddie their good for nothing drunk of a son.

Initial chapters give alternating perspectives of the families with a build up of characters adding their own distinctive points of view along the way. These seemingly unrelated storylines will eventually converge with an exciting explosive climax.

The Heavenly Table's titular phrase comes from a mystical drifter Pearl encounters one day, who tells him to, “welcome all the suffering that comes your way” and preaches that if he does so, one day he will “eat at the heavenly table.”  Well darn it if Pearl and those boys haven't suffered enough already, but Pearl believes they can and must suffer more to do whatever it takes to be worthy of sitting at that table some day.  Fortunately for Pearl his suffering is soon over and the boys decide that they've had enough and want something better while they're still alive.  With the influence of an old dime novel and its violent tales of 'Bloody Bill Bucket', a hero they will aspire to more and more, the boys set off on their adventurous, often disastrous, road to to seek their fortunes.

This is gritty western noir at its best with impeccably placed humour with gruesome graphic scenes, one such as a parasitic worm vacating the dead body of the Jewett boys' mother.

Pollock writes with such fluidity and emotive intensity about his deprived and often depraved characters, about the hardship and savagery in their lives, and of their grit and determination to better themselves.  So fabulously drawn that at times it feels as if the Jewett boys could just ride off the pages in a blaze of dust and played out for me like a Cohen Brother's movie.  Surface to say, it's deliciously dark, mean and cruel with a smattering of good old religious comeuppance and plenty of brutal black humour.

Perfect for fans of Bill Frank, Joe R Lansdale, Patrick de Witt, and because I don't think it has quite the same level of violence as in his previous books, it would make an excellent introduction for newcomers to the world of Mr Pollock who is in my opinion a cracker of a story teller.

Favourite Character/Scene: I loved all the characters and far too many scenes were memorable so I'll go with...the image of a drunken Eddie Fiddler accidentally blasting his mom's cat Pickles to Kingdom Come.

Least liked character: ohh it’s got to be the big 'Bad Bob' psycho killer.

Friday, 12 August 2016

TLC BOOK TOURS REVIEW: The Ninja's Daughter by Susan Spann

 photo 9D914CCD-8BB9-4711-9690-E2C3997A09FA_zps3eobyofw.jpg

The Ninja's Daughter : A Hiro Hattori Novel
by Susan Spann
Publisher : Seventh Street Books (August 2, 2016)
Source: Publisher via TLC Book Tours
Genre: Crime Mystery set in 16th Century Japan

Rating:

Disclaimer: Thank you to the publisher and TLC Book Tours for my complementary digital copy of the book in exchange for an honest review and to take part in this book blog tour.

Read in July, 2016

Synopsis:
Autumn, 1565: When an actor’s daughter is murdered on the banks of Kyoto’s Kamo River, master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo are the victim’s only hope for justice.
As political tensions rise in the wake of the shogun’s recent death, and rival warlords threaten war, the Kyoto police forbid an investigation of the killing, to keep the peace–but Hiro has a personal connection to the girl, and must avenge her. The secret investigation leads Hiro and Father Mateo deep into the exclusive world of Kyoto’s theater guilds, where they quickly learn that nothing, and no one, is as it seems. With only a mysterious golden coin to guide them, the investigators uncover a forbidden love affair, a missing mask, and a dangerous link to corruption within the Kyoto police department that leaves Hiro and Father Mateo running for their lives.

My Thoughts:
The Ninja's Daughter by Susan Spann is the latest novel in the Hiro Hattori detective mystery series set during 16th century Japan.  Having not read any of the other books in the series, I don't think this detracted any from my enjoyment or understanding of the characters or their history together, as Susan supplies the pertinent information without going overboard to understand what is going on within the context of current storyline.

The case the duo are investigating is that of a young girl who shows definite signs of having been murdered. However, being from the low born status of an actress she is classed as 'a nobody' and therefore 'nobody' has been killed and no crime committed. To complicate matters further the victim happens to be the niece of Father Mateo's bodyguard.  The formidable duo, Father Mateo and Hiro Hattori his bodyguard and translator certainly have their work cut out for them in solving this mystery.

An enjoyable quick satisfying read with a little Japanese cultural history to boot, 'The Ninja's Daughter' is an engaging story with a likeable and quirky cast of characters from the main duo, to Ana the very cranky landlady, and Gato the adopted cat. I really liked this one and will definitely look at the previous books in the series.

Highly recommended for fans of the cosy crime genre and wanting or maybe willing to try something a little different, and exotic blended into the mix.  Fabulous fun, great for book group reads too.

A glossary of the cast of characters and Japanese words are included to enrich the readers experience and understanding.
About Susan Spann
 photo A0AC728D-CC50-4FA9-BDEF-26E738A47A0E_zpsmqkqwttz.jpg
Susan Spann is a transactional publishing attorney and the author of the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. Susan has a degree in Asian Studies from Tufts University, where she studied Chinese and Japanese language, history, and culture. Her hobbies include cooking, traditional archery, martial arts, and horseback riding. She lives in northern California with her husband, son, two cats, and an aquarium full of seahorses.

Here's a link to the schedule of reviewers participating in the TLC tour for THE NINJA’S DAUGHTER by Susan Spann: TLC BOOK TOUR schedule

Susan Spann’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS
Monday, July 25th: Buried Under Books
Tuesday, July 26th: Reading Reality
Tuesday, July 26th:Book Dilettante
Wednesday, July 27th: In Bed With Books
Thursday, July 28th: Worth Getting in Bed For
Friday, July 29th: Wordsmithonia
Friday, July 29th: Write Read Life
Sunday, July 31st: Write Read Life – author interview
Monday, August 1st: Hoser’s Blook
Wednesday, August 3rd: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Thursday, August 4th: A Holland Reads
Thursday, August 4th: Book Dilettante – author guest post “Swords & Crosses: Jesuit Missionaries in Japan”
Sunday, August 7th: Buried Under Books – author guest post, “How I Decided to Murder The Ninja’s Daughter”
Monday, August 8th: All Roads Lead to the Kitchen
Tuesday, August 9th: Open Book Society
Thursday, August 11th: Luxury Reading
Friday, August 12th: SJ2B House of Books
Monday, August 15th: Books and Tea
Monday, August 15th: Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Tuesday, August 16th: A Fantastical Librarian
Wednesday, August 17th: Broken Teepee
TBD: Lavish Bookshelf
TBD: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

Thursday, 4 August 2016

The Atomic Weight Of Love by Elizabeth J Church

 photo 122D9B5C-E5AD-4A9C-AB47-5F90D32F56F2_zpspkelid3d.jpeg
Title: The Atomic Weight of Love
Author: Elizabeth J. Church
Publisher: Algonquin Books (3 May 2016)
Pages: 320 pages
Source: ARC via NetGalley
Genre: historical fiction, womens fiction, WWII, Vietnam War, women's studies

Rating:

Disclaimer: A complementary copy of The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J Church was provided by the Publisher for an unbiased honest review.

Read in July, 2016
Synopsis:
In her sweeping debut novel, Elizabeth J. Church takes us from the World War II years in Chicago to the vast sun-parched canyons of New Mexico in the 1970s as we follow the journey of a driven, spirited young woman, Meridian Wallace, whose scientific ambitions are subverted by the expectations of her era.

In 1941, at seventeen years old, Meridian begins her ornithology studies at the University of Chicago. She is soon drawn to Alden Whetstone, a brilliant, complicated physics professor who opens her eyes to the fundamentals and poetry of his field, the beauty of motion, space and time, the delicate balance of force and energy that allows a bird to fly.

Entranced and in love, Meridian defers her own career path and follows Alden west to Los Alamos, where he is engaged in a secret government project (later known to be the atomic bomb). In married life, though, she feels lost and left behind. She channels her academic ambitions into studying a particular family of crows, whose free life and companionship are the very things that seem beyond her reach. There in her canyons, years later at the dawn of the 1970s, with counterculture youth filling the streets and protests against the war rupturing college campuses across the country, Meridian meets Clay, a young geologist and veteran of the Vietnam War, and together they seek ways to mend what the world has broken.

Exquisitely capturing the claustrophobic eras of 1940s and 1950s America, The Atomic Weight of Love also examines the changing roles of women during the decades that followed. And in Meridian Wallace we find an unforgettable heroine whose metamorphosis shows how the women’s movement opened up the world for a whole generation.

My Thoughts:
On Meri's 10th birthday her father gives her a book, 'The Burgess Bird Book for Children'.  For her 11th birthday he gives her, Darwin's 'On The Origin of the Species'. Six months later her father dies leaving both Meri and her mother utterly devastated.
At 17 years old Meri leaves her hometown of Pennsylvania and attends Chicago University with a fierce ambition to earn an advanced degree in ornithology.  She sits in on one of Professor Whetstone's physics lectures and is completely smitten by this man old enough to be her father. This is what she says about seeing him at that first lecture, ' I was in awe of Alden. I could only sense the very fringes of concepts that his intellect grasped with such easy, ready fingers. I worshipped his knowledge, his aloof independence and greater world experience. He was my teacher; he led me, and I followed gladly.'  They embark on an affair fuelled, not by passion or lustful recklessness, but of joint admiration of intellectual minds. They marry and Alden takes her away to Los Alamos, New Mexico.

At the commencement of each chapter there are ornithological terms of reference which cleverly shadow Meri's experiences within the chapter they refer to.
The writing style is gently paced, and intelligent, with beautifully constructed sentences and phrases such as,"I watched the first snowfall begin as a light, dry powder and morph into those luscious, fat, lazy flakes that sashay downward and accumulate into weighty drifts." I fell immediately under the authors spell of words and eagerly devoured the pages of the book. In another poignantly beautifully written scene where the crows say farewell to one of their own, I cried as the loss and feeling of loneliness was utterly palpable and I truly believed I understood how Meri was feeling at that particular stage of her life.

The Atomic Weight of Love is primarily a love story written and voiced by Meri about the ever changing, evolving love she feels for Alden, and then in her 40's of her love for a much younger man.  I found it in turns to be heartbreaking, and infuriating due to the out dated attitudes of the times, but above all an uplifting read.  There is a bittersweet quality to the story and at times it simply broke my heart.

Elizabeth Church’s debut novel is an exquisite poignant tale of loyalty, trust and knowing when to let go. I truly hope there's a lot more to come from her as a writer.  I'd recommend it for readers who love beautifully written literary historical fiction that will make them question their own sacrifices and accomplishments.  I would also suggest it for book group readers as the multitude of topics raised throughout the book could generate some lively discussion.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

The Far Empty by J Todd Scott

 photo 03A948F5-62B7-4208-9B92-6FE4682B33DF_zpsveu2vdad.jpg
The Far Empty, J Todd Scott
Publisher: G P Putnam's Sons (9 June 2016)
Pages: 448
Source: Publisher/Edelweiss
Genre: Contemporary Western Crime Noir, Fact Based Fiction
Themes: Mexican Drug Gangs, Graphic scenes of violence, Abuse of every kind...
Rating:

Disclaimer: A complimentary copy of The Far Empty was provided by G P Putnam's Sons via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest unbiased review.
Synopsis:
Todd Scott s "The Far Empty" is so good I wish I d written it. The poetic and bloody ground of west Texas has given birth to a powerful new voice in contemporary western crime fiction. Craig Johnson, "New York Times" bestselling author of the Walt Longmire series
In this gritty crime debut set in the stark Texas borderlands, an unearthed skeleton will throw a small town into violent turmoil.
Seventeen-year-old Caleb Ross is adrift in the wake of the sudden disappearance of his mother more than a year ago, and is struggling to find his way out of the small Texas border town of Murfee. Chris Cherry is a newly minted sheriff s deputy, a high school football hero who has reluctantly returned to his hometown. When skeletal remains are discovered in the surrounding badlands, the two are inexorably drawn together as their efforts to uncover Murfee s darkest secrets lead them to the same terrifying suspect: Caleb s father and Chris s boss, the charismatic and feared Sheriff Standford Judge Ross. Dark, elegiac, and violent, "The Far Empty" is a modern Western, a story of loss and escape set along the sharp edge of the Texas border. Told by a longtime federal agent who knows the region, it s a debut novel you won t soon forget."

My Thoughts:
So much time and effort goes into getting a book cover right so when one catches my eye I think it deserves a mention. The cover has to convey something about the book, as well as making sure it appeals to a potential reader, because if it's not right it can be the death of a book. I always tell customers (especially if they're looking at a book with a spectacular cover) that, you can tell a publisher believes in the author from the quality of the cover... So to The Far Empty... I love the cover artwork for this gritty, crime debut.  It certainly gives a clue as to what the book is about...Mexican border gun culture, drug cartels with a murder or two.

If you find scenes of graphic violence abhorrent then move away from this one and if the cover is right I think you'll have done that anyway.

The Far Empty is a fictional piece based on actual violent drug related incidents and on a corrupt local sheriff from a drugs task force in Texas.
J Todd Scott, a federal agent with the DEA for many years has drawn on his experience to pen this gritty, brutal debut and with twenty years experience in the force investigating smuggling, domestic meth lads and Mexican cartels, he knows what he's writing about.

Ok so Caleb Ross, he's 17 and his father is the charismatic, influential Sheriff Stanford 'Judge' Ross and in Celeb's own voice he says this of him, 'My father has killed three men. My father . . . that f*****g monster . . . also killed my mother'.
So Caleb doesn't like his father...He even feels uneasy turning his back on him. Why would he feel such hatred for, and fear of his own father, unless of course he has reason. Caleb 'knows', that his mother wouldn't have run out on him with no word for the last thirteen months, and that his father killed her. He just cannot prove it.

Chris Cherry, after a knee injury ends his promising football career, returns to Murfee taking on the role of sheriff's deputy.  His girlfriend Melissa is not so sure that its such a good move when they arrive.

When skeletal remains are unearthed out in the 'badlands' Cherry wants to do everything he can to put a name to this poor soul. However it's not going to be easy with the apathetic, unwillingness to investigate on the part of Sheriff Ross and his psychotic chief deputy Duane Dupree. After all it's probably just another dead Mexican in the desert so who cares.  Well, Cherry does and so too does Caleb who's convinced it's his mum that's been lying out there all this time.

Into the mix we have, another missing person Rudy Ray a border patrol officer; the arrival of Anne the mysterious new teacher at Caleb's school; América Reynosa Caleb's Mexican friend whose brother Rudy Ray has gone missing, and Maximo a young teen 'hired Killer' for one of the drug cartels.

Each character gets their own chapter to tell us about their history and their thought process throughout the story, but its only Caleb's narrative which is in the first person, lending his voice focus and impact.

The Far Empty is dark, brutal, menacing and exceedingly violent with all of the unsavoury characters you'd expect to find involved in Mexican border gun culture, and some ignorant or down trodden towns folk living within an environment where the law is just as feared as the drug run cartels. There are some shocking and unexpected surprises along the way with one big shocker I didn't see coming.

If you read to escape reality and whats really going on in the world then steer very clear, this one really is not for you.  However, I really enjoyed The Far Empty and fully believed in the depraved characters and the world within which they resided. I'm so looking forward to reading his next offering.

Perfect for fans of James Ellroy, Donald Ray Pollock, Frank Bill and Don Winslow.

Most memorable character:  Maximo, frighteningly all too real, desperately unsettling as it is an all too real scenario and inescapable reality for many kids like him.

Characters disliked: The callous cruel remorseless and calculating Sheriff 'Judge' Ross; his sidekick Deputy Dupree and most of the seedy darn right despicable townsfolk.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

TLC Book Tours Review: The Monster's Daughter by Michelle Pretorius


 photo 05B5A203-AC5B-4C32-ADF5-C221A1057F7F_zpsphi7lccf.jpg

The Monster's Daughter by Michelle Pretorius
Publisher: Melville House (19th July 2016)
Source: Publisher/TLC Book Tours
Pages: 465

Rating:

Disclaimer: Thank you to the Publisher and TLC Book Tours for a complementary D-ARC in exchange for my unbiased and honest review.

Synopsis:
THE MONSTER‘S DAUGHTER is a tale of race and murder that takes readers through South Africa’s remarkable history. It’s a mix of the personal and the political, the past and the present.

After a fling with one of her superiors, young policewoman Alet Berg is reassigned from her big city beat to a small village in the country, where she makes a horrific discovery: the body of a young woman, burned beyond recognition. None of the villagers are willing to speak, especially to a transplant from the city whose stubbornness rubs even her colleagues the wrong way. But it’s also a dangerous case for reasons that Alet can’t know — reasons that go back one hundred years to the height of the Boer War, and a British doctor who conducted a series of grim experiments on Boer concentration camp prisoners. His work ended in chaos, but two children survived.

Pretorious was born and raised in South Africa, and she wrote the novel partly as a way to understand her country’s history, a history that her family (like many others) didn’t discuss. THE MONSTER‘S DAUGHTER is a gripping thriller, and a fascinating look at 100 years of buried history.

“Michelle Pretorius is a funny, surprising and fearless writer. The Monster’s Daughter is at once a historical thriller that reckons seriously with South African politics, an imaginative piece of speculative fiction, and a stereotype-busting roller-coaster ride of a novel. I loved it.”
—Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife—Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife

My Thoughts:
Well it's day two of the TLC Book Tour for Michelle Pretorius' 'The Monster's Daughter and here's what I thought of it.  2010 - Modern Day (Post Apartheid South Africa) Constable Alet Berg has been demoted and relocated to serve her probation on traffic duty in Unie a small quiet, 'out of the way' town. At the discovery of a badly burned body, and desperate to get into something more exciting, Alet deviously manoeuvres herself into position to assist Mathebe the local chief investigating officer in solving the crime.  During the course of the investigation she will unwittingly uncover involvement of prominent townsfolk in crime and corruption on a vast scale, spanning several decades.

1901 - At the height of the 2nd Boer War the British are destroying all property, land and livestock belonging to any Boer they encounter under 'the scorched earth' policy.  Jooste is one of the marauding party and he relishes in the destruction and pillaging opportunities.  Although a Boer himself, Jooste has no loyalty to anyone but himself and will change allegiance to whomever he will best profit from. At one such farm raided is a young girl, Anna, and her little brother who are rounded up and imprisoned at one of the British run concentration camps. It was heartbreaking to hear about the horrendous camp conditions and the inhumane treatment that the women and children, who were the majority of the prisoners, received from their captors and from each other in their struggle to survive. Sanitary conditions were appalling and disease rife and of which many would succumb and with many more dying the lingering agonising slow death of starvation.

We meet up again with Jooste in his search for young healthy looking girls, to abduct and hand over to a doctor for his secret genetic medical research. Anna is one of his victims but in exchange for submitting to the experiments she receives food and a safe place to sleep. Anna and the other girls at the doctor's mercy may just survive the horror of the concentration camp.

Two surviving children are the result of these latest experiments, Tess and Benjamin, both with strange characteristics and suffering from what is thought to be stunted growth. We follow them as they mature to adulthood and find their way in a country full of prejudice and violence.

The first part of the book resonated with me so powerfully and was the most compelling and unsettling to read.  Dialogue runs smoothly and believably and with the full bodied development of key characters I found it highly plausible and indicative of the times portrayed. With all too vivid imagery the characters felt real and I absolutely believed in them, so much so I was devastated when the story moved on without them.

The Monster's Daughter is narrated in dual timelines with the majority unfolding progressively from the 1900's through to 2010 where Alet's investigation will lead her to research back in time in order to solve the present day murder.

An hugely ambitious multi genre, part speculative, part historical political fiction, all encompassed into a murder mystery thriller, this debut is a credit to the author and one I highly recommend.  Book groups would find 'The Monsters Daughter' of particular interest as there would be a fantastic amount of content to discuss.

About Michelle Pretorius
 photo B68150E7-96C9-4A3C-8D70-7F1994C816D9_zpsgcfsfeuu.jpg
MICHELLE PRETORIUS was born and raised in South Africa. She received an MFA in Fiction Writing from Columbia College Chicago and is currently a PhD candidate at Ohio University. She has written for numerous publications, including Bookslut, Word Riot, and the Copperfield Review. She is a recipient of the John Schultz and Betty Shiflett prize and lives in Athens, Ohio.

TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS for The Monster’s Daughter:

Tuesday, July 19th: Kahakai Kitchen
Thursday, July 21st: SJ2B House of Books
Tuesday, July 26th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Thursday, July 28th: Crime Segments
Monday, August 1st: Helen’s Book Blog
Tuesday, August 2nd: 5 Minutes for Books
Monday, August 8th: Bewitched Bookworms
Tuesday, August 9th: Travelling Birdy
Wednesday, August 10th: Booksie’s Blog
Monday, August 15th: Dreaming Big – author Q&A
Thursday, August 18th: The Book Whisperer


Nina Is Not OK (Debut) by Shappi Khorsandi

 photo 966F3033-85E5-4B84-A08C-29D45DF9EA46_zpsfxtgoald.png

Nina Is Not OK by Shappi Khorsandi
Publisher: Random House/Ebury Publishing (28 July 2016)
Source: Publisher/Netgalley
Pages: 352

Genre: New Adult, Older Teen, Adult, Teen Issues

Rating:

Disclaimer: Thankyou to the Publisher for the D-ARC
in exchange for my unbiased, honest review

Synopsis:
Nina does not have a drinking problem. She likes a drink, sure. But what 17-year-old doesn’t?
Nina’s mum isn’t so sure. But she’s busy with her new husband and five year old Katie. And Nina’s almost an adult after all. And if Nina sometimes wakes up with little memory of what happened the night before , then her friends are all too happy to fill in the blanks. Nina’s drunken exploits are the stuff of college legend.  But then one dark Sunday morning, even her friends can’t help piece together Saturday night. All Nina feels is a deep sense of shame, that something very bad has happened to her…
A dark and sometimes shocking - coming of age novel from one of the UK’s leading comedians. NINA IS NOT O.K. will appeal to fans of Caitlin Moran and Louise O'Neill.

My Thoughts:
I am so excited about this one...This is going to be big ... big !

Sometimes an author can get writing about troubled teens so wrong.  For instance, characters are written to be way too angsty and antagonistic with explicit, and sometimes laughable sex scenes, and using a barrage of crass language just for shock value can really be a turn off for a mature reader; or writing in too literary 'a style', again may put off its intended Teen/YA audience by boring them half to death with preachy dialogue.

Shappi hits it right on target every time with just the right balance of crude, lewd behaviour from its rebellious, antagonistic (inwardly desperately confused and unhappy) teen for both an Adult and Teen/YA reader to want to read.

We first encounter Nina, in a seriously drunken state, in a taxi with her knickers in her hand.  Nina cannot remember very much at all after being thrown out of a club for giving a 'blow job' to someone at the bar.

I only intended to peruse the blurb to find out about the book. I finally put it down two days later after I'd finished it.

Nina was like watching a car crash, I wanted to look away but just couldn't do it, I had to keep watching as she spiralled into a never ending whirling dark hole.

At times I thought out loud 'no Nina don't ...oh too late you did', and 'O.M.G. I can't believe you just did/said that'

The second half does ramp up on the emotion side with things becoming rather more darkly disturbing. That said, 'Nina Is Not OK' is full of hope, forgiveness and surviving to maybe screw up another day, but luckily Nina has some great friends and with support from people who love her hopefully Nina Will Be OK.  With wit and humour laced throughout, with one or two cringe worthy laugh out loud moments, and considering the subject matter, Shappi has written a positive uplifting tale about an out of control teen learning to live with, and respect herself and to not allow others to treat her so badly.

In 'Nina Is Not OK', Shappi's writing style is full on hectic and I wondered if she could sustain the pace without it becoming monotonous, but she did and it didn't. It was brilliant and fabulously written and I loved it !

I know it's probably not going to be for everyone due to the sexual content and bad, very bad language and lewd situations but because of the seriousness of the subject matters involved including, slut-shaming, alcoholism, and social media bullying, to mention just a few, it's one I'd wholeheartedly recommend for anyone who is or ever was, or just needs a reminder of just how difficult it is to be, a teen.

Favourite Character: I absolutely loved the 'too honest for anyone's good' Trish, the hopelessly tactless 'stand-by' friend of Nina's

Least Liked Character (understatement !) : ALEX !