Debut Novel

All posts in the Debut Novel category

Talking About The Tattooist Of Auschwitz by Heather Morris with Chrissi Reads

Published October 18, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is based on the true story of Lale and Gita Sokolov, two Slovakian Jews who survived Auschwitz and eventually made their home in Australia. In that terrible place, Lale was given the job of tattooing the prisoners marked for survival – literally scratching numbers into his fellow victims’ arms in indelible ink to create what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust. Lale used the infinitesimal freedom of movement that this position awarded him to exchange jewels and money taken from murdered Jews for food to keep others alive. If he had been caught, he would have been killed; many owed him their survival.

There have been many books about the Holocaust – and there will be many more. What makes this one so memorable is Lale Sokolov’s incredible zest for life. He understood exactly what was in store for him and his fellow prisoners, and he was determined to survive – not just to survive but to leave the camp with his dignity and integrity intact, to live his life to the full. Terrible though this story is, it is also a story of hope and of courage. It is also – almost unbelievably – a love story. Waiting in line to be tattooed, terrified and shaking, was a young girl. For Lale – a dandy, a jack-the-lad, a bit of a chancer – it was love at first sight, and he determined not only to survive himself but to ensure that Gita did, too. His story – their story – will make you weep, but you will also find it uplifting. It shows the very best of humanity in the very worst of circumstances.

Like many survivors, Lale and Gita told few people their story after the war. They eventually made their way to Australia, where they raised a son and had a successful life. But when Gita died, Lale felt he could no longer carry the burden of their past alone. He chose to tell his story.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: This book has sensitive content. We’ve both read books about WWII before. How does this book compare to others in its genre?

BETH: I think any book about World War II and the atrocities of The Holocaust is always going to be difficult to read but it’s actually one of my preferred periods of history to read about. I like hard-hitting topics that make me think and appreciate my own life a bit better and generally, whenever I read a book in this genre, I find out something brand new every single time. I thought it was a fascinating story that was all the more poignant for being based on real-life individuals. It was all the more unique for being told from the perspective of a character who was forced to tattoo those terrible numbers on the prisoners in Auschwitz. If I compared it to other books based around the same period like The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne, I don’t think I enjoyed it quite as much as the Boyne but it’s still an excellent read in the genre.

BETH: Had Gita and Lale met in a more conventional way, would they have developed the same kind of relationship? How did their circumstances change the course of their romance?

CHRISSI: Hmm. A really interesting question there. I’m not so sure they would have developed such an intense relationship. I feel that the environment they were in pushed them together and made them feel deeper than they may have done if they had met in a conventional way. They pretty much felt a connection instantly and didn’t really have outside influences that could change the course of their relationship.

CHRISSI: Did this book make more of an impact on you because it was based on a true story from that time?

BETH: For sure. I hadn’t realised when I first read the synopsis that it was based on people that actually existed and when you realise this as a reader, it automatically makes the novel even more moving and impactful. However, I think I was touched most by the extra parts of the novel i.e. the afterwords written by the author after the story ends. In particular, she talks about how she met Lale and what his drive was for getting this story published. To meet the man behind the character was a touch of brilliance and very emotional to read.

BETH: In what ways was Lale a hero? In what ways was he an ordinary man?

CHRISSI: I personally think that any person that experienced the Holocaust is a pretty heroic individual to me. I think Lale’s story is impressive because he tried to help those in need even though he was in a high place compared to others in the camp. I do think that Lale was quite selfless and wanted to improve lives of others that were struggling, despite the fact that it could get him into trouble. As for being an ordinary man? I think he had inner strength like many of us do, it’s just hidden sometimes.

CHRISSI: How did you feel about Lale when he was first introduced, as he arrived in Auschwitz? How did your understanding of him change throughout the novel?

BETH: This sounds terrible to say but I didn’t really like Lale when he was first introduced in the novel. He seemed quite cocksure and I didn’t particularly gel with his attitude towards women. He didn’t have a bad attitude, I hasten to add. In fact, he loved all women unreservedly. However, it was the way in which he was keen to share this with the reader that I didn’t really buy into. As he progresses through the novel, we see how much he suffers, watch him falling in love (even though it was pretty instantaneous and I wasn’t too sure about this part) but it’s his selflessness and determination to make life better for all other prisoners that I really ending up admiring and respecting about his character in the end.

BETH: How does this novel change your perceptions about the Holocaust in particular, and war in general? What implications does this book hold for our own time?

CHRISSI: I’m not so sure that it’s changed my perceptions of the Holocaust. I still think it was an awful, awful time (even though I do like to read about it!) What I did like about this book was that it gave a different, more hopeful approach. The fact that Lale went above and beyond for those suffering really made my heart happy. I love acts of kindness. I certainly think we could all learn from those acts of kindness that were carried out in recent times.

CHRISSI: Discuss some of the small acts of humanity carried out by individuals in The Tattooist of Auschwitz. How did these small acts of kindness have greater implications?

BETH: I don’t think any of us in the present time can ever imagine what it was like to be in a Nazi concentration camp and how difficult and brutal the conditions were for the prisoners. One of the things I enjoyed most about this novel was the risk certain individuals took, especially considering that they could have lost their own lives in the process just to make another person more comfortable or safe. The viciousness of the German guards never fails to shock and appal me but it’s through these tiny acts of kindness that you start to see hope for the human race in the future. It’s amazing how such tiny things can make a world of difference to someone suffering and it was truly heart-warming.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I think so. I did enjoy the author’s writing style and I tore through it!

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

BETH’s Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

CHRISSI’s Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

Advertisements

Two O’Clock Boy (DI Ray Drake #1) – Mark Hill

Published September 15, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

‘A fantastic debut: dark, addictive and original. I couldn’t put it down
Robert Bryndza, author of The Girl in the Ice

Discover the gripping, twist-filled start to a fantastic new London-set crime thriller series starring morally corrupt DI Ray Drake – the perfect new addiction for fans of LUTHER. 

TWO CHILDHOOD FRIENDS… ONE BECAME A DETECTIVE… ONE BECAME A KILLER…

Thirty years ago, the Longacre Children’s Home stood on a London street where once-grand Victorian homes lay derelict. There its children lived in terror of Gordon Tallis, the home’s manager.

Then Connor Laird arrived: a frighteningly intense boy who quickly became Tallis’ favourite criminal helper. Soon after, destruction befell the Longacre, and the facts of that night have lain buried . . . until today.

Now, a mysterious figure, the Two O’Clock Boy, is killing all who grew up there, one by one. DI Ray Drake will do whatever it take to stop the murders – but he will go even further to cover up the truth.

What did I think?:

Two O’Clock Boy (also published as His First Lie) was a very welcome discovery for me on Netgalley after I had heard a little bit of buzz about the author so thank you so much to Little, Brown publishers for approving my request and apologies it has taken so long for me to get round to reviewing it! The author, Mark Hill has previously worked as a journalist and an award-winning music radio producer and now he can add another string to his bow because he is without a doubt, an accomplished crime fiction author. The first book in the DI Ray Drake series is filled with drama, betrayal, dark secrets and lies and it’s one of those delicious narratives that keeps you on tenterhooks throughout, always teasing just a little bit but never giving too much away until the final, cataclysmic showdown where all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle finally fall into place.

Mark Hill, author of Two O’Clock Boy/His First Lie.

This startlingly good debut novel incorporates two separate time periods. The first, is set at Longacre Children’s Home in the 1980’s where a group of children were terrorised, used and brutally victimised by the manager, Gordon Tallis. In the present time, our male lead, DI Ray Drake, a widower with a rather interesting past of his own has just promoted one of his members of staff, Flick Crowley. He insists she should take the lead in the next murder case they happen upon, where almost an entire family is butchered to death in the most horrific way. However, he is not prepared for what Flick will discover as she starts to investigate the suspicious deaths. It all harks back to Longacre and the abuse that happened in the home in the 80’s, with one maverick murderer appearing to be targeting every single one of the individuals that were present at that moment in history. As Flick gets closer to the truth, DI Ray Drake must do everything possible to try and steer her away from it – for very intriguing reasons of his own.

London provides the setting for Two O’Clock Boy/His First Lie.

Two O’Clock Boy was such a pleasant surprise that has made me so keen to read further books in the series. I think you might instantly expect with all crime fiction/thriller novels to have a fast-paced plot and unexpected twists and turns but for some reason, this novel felt really different and unique. If I could compare it to anything, I might compare it to Tana French who I feel writes crime novels with a bit of a literary edge and her stories are quite slow-burning, which you take a while to become invested in but once you do, it’s thoroughly worth the effort. The similarity with Mark Hill is the slow-burning element to the narrative and how it seems to be much more focused on getting to know the characters intimately, flaws and all (which I always appreciate in a novel!).

However he does differ in that there are darker moments of the narrative, particularly those scenes set in the children’s home, which although they are never gratuitous, still leave you feeling slightly uncomfortable and a bit uneasy. Stories about child abuse are NEVER going to be nice to read about but the author deals with the topic intelligently and sensitively and I was compelled throughout, transfixed by both the characters and the plot and never sure what exactly was going to happen next. As I’ve alluded to, our characters are far from perfect, including our male lead Drake who has secrets from his past and in the present, a very difficult relationship with his teenage daughter. I didn’t always agree with his actions in both time periods and at times, did want to shake him for the way he acted and treated people close to him, particularly his new Detective Sergeant, Flick Crowley. Nevertheless, I found his flaws, misdemeanours and difficulties were what made him so hugely interesting, relatable and readable in addition to the multitude of other characters we also meet from all different walks of life that all have their own individual personalities and quirks.

This is an exciting and brilliant debut novel from Mark Hill and sets him up as a force to be reckoned with in the British crime fiction genre. I for one can’t wait to read the second in the series, It Was Her that sits on my Kindle already, just begging to be started!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Two O’Clock Boy by Mark Hill was the forty-fourth book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

September 2018 – My Boyfriend Chooses My TBR!

Published September 9, 2018 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to something a bit different on bibliobeth today. I’ve been with my boyfriend coming up to sixteen years now and he’s well aware of my “little problem” with books. To bookworms like us though, it’s not a problem right? It’s a necessity! Anyway, for something a bit fun, I asked him if he would mind picking out five books for me to read this month from my shelves and I gave him free rein to run amok. At first, he rubbed his hands in glee (I think he was preparing to be a bit devilish and pick some HUGE tomes) but in the end, he picked a fabulous list with some great reasons for doing so which I’ll share with you in this post. This is what he picked and why:

1.) The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat And Other Clinical Tales – Oliver Sacks

What’s it all about?:

In his most extraordinary book, “one of the great clinical writers of the twentieth century” (The New York Times) recounts the case histories of patients lost in the bizarre, apparently inescapable world of neurological disorders. Oliver Sacks’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat tells the stories of individuals afflicted with fantastic perceptual and intellectual aberrations: patients who have lost their memories and with them the greater part of their pasts; who are no longer able to recognize people and common objects; who are stricken with violent tics and grimaces or who shout involuntary obscenities; whose limbs have become alien; who have been dismissed as retarded yet are gifted with uncanny artistic or mathematical talents.

If inconceivably strange, these brilliant tales remain, in Dr. Sacks’s splendid and sympathetic telling, deeply human. They are studies of life struggling against incredible adversity, and they enable us to enter the world of the neurologically impaired, to imagine with our hearts what it must be to live and feel as they do. A great healer, Sacks never loses sight of medicine’s ultimate responsibility: “the suffering, afflicted, fighting human subject.”

Why did he pick this?:

This is one of the books that my partner has already read and thoroughly enjoyed and he wanted to know what I thought about it too so we could compare notes. I’m delighted he chose it as I was considering it for Non Fiction November but if I’m honest, other books would probably have beaten it to the eight coveted spots that I’m considering. Hey, I have a lot of non fiction on my shelves. Now however, I can get to it sooner than expected, hooray!

2.) Cop Town – Karin Slaughter

What’s it all about?:

Karin Slaughter, author of the bestselling Will Trent novels, is widely acclaimed as “one of the best crime novelists in America” (The Washington Post). Now she delivers her first stand-alone novel: an epic story of a city in the midst of seismic upheaval, a serial killer targeting cops, and a divided police force tasked with bringing a madman to justice.

Atlanta, 1974: As a brutal murder and a furious manhunt rock the city’s police department, Kate Murphy wonders if her first day on the job will also be her last. She’s determined to defy her privileged background by making her own way—wearing a badge and carrying a gun. But for a beautiful young woman, life will be anything but easy in the macho world of the Atlanta PD, where even the female cops have little mercy for rookies. It’s also the worst day possible to start given that a beloved cop has been gunned down, his brothers in blue are out for blood, and the city is on the edge of war.

Kate isn’t the only woman on the force who’s feeling the heat. Maggie Lawson followed her uncle and brother into the ranks to prove her worth in their cynical eyes. When she and Kate, her new partner, are pushed out of the citywide search for a cop killer, their fury, pain, and pride finally reach the boiling point. With a killer poised to strike again, they will pursue their own line of investigation, risking everything as they venture into the city’s darkest heart.

Relentlessly paced, acutely observed, wickedly funny, and often heartbreaking, Cop Town is Karin Slaughter’s most powerful novel yet—a tour de force of storytelling from our foremost master of character, atmosphere, and suspense.

Why did he pick this?:

Now I didn’t know this but ever since I suggested to my partner that he could do this for September he’s been making little notes on his phone every time I moan about a book that I’ve been meaning to read for ages. This is especially true of Karin Slaughter who I am woefully behind with her books and because I’m such a stickler for wanting to read things in publication date order, Cop Town is the next one I need to read. I won’t go on and on about how much I love him for listening to me and putting this on the September TBR (I don’t want to make you all nauseous) but I’m SO HAPPY RIGHT NOW.

3.) A Brief History Of Seven Killings – Marlon James

What’s it all about?:

Jamaica, 1976. Seven gunmen storm Bob Marley’s house, machine guns blazing. The reggae superstar survives, but the gunmen are never caught.

From the acclaimed author of The Book of Night Women comes a dazzling display of masterful storytelling exploring this near-mythic event. Spanning three decades and crossing continents, A Brief History of Seven Killings chronicles the lives of a host of unforgettable characters – slum kids, one-night stands, drug lords, girlfriends, gunmen, journalists, and even the CIA. Gripping and inventive, ambitious and mesmerising, A Brief History of Seven Killings is one of the most remarkable and extraordinary novels of the twenty-first century.

Why did he pick this?:

We did this little thing after he chose the September TBR where he hid the books from me then brought them out, one by one and told me his reason for choosing them. When he brought this one out, my reaction was so mixed it was funny. I’ve been wanting to read this book for AGES, ever since it won the Man Booker Prize in 2015 and I heard all the hype about it. My other half actually listened to it on audiobook and hasn’t stopped going on about how good it was so I know I need to get round to it. I don’t know why I’m feeling a bit anxious about it – perhaps it’s the size at 688 pages? Or maybe it’s the fact that it won a huge prize and I’m worried I won’t agree with the hype? We’ll soon see.

4.) Buried In Books: A Reader’s Anthology – Julie Rugg

What’s it all about?:

For bibliophiles, life is full of tricky problems: wondering whether a small trunk full of reading material can be taken on board as hand luggage; how to smuggle yet another guilty stash of tomes past the nearest and dearest. But as Julie Rugg shows in this anthology, bibliophiles are by no means new. For centuries bookish types have been delving in bibliophilia. Buried in Books is a compilation of more than 350 literary extracts, quotations, and bon mots arranged in 14 chapters that cover every aspect of bookish behavior: reading, buying, borrowing, recommending, hunting, even defacing. The selections range from short, pithy quotations to more extensive extracts, and they are taken from diaries, memoirs, novels, plays, and letters by authors from Samuel Pepys to Iain Sinclair, Laurence Sterne to Lucy Mangan. If you are an obsessive reader, stroke this book lovingly, listen as you riffle through the pages, and be proud: you are in good company.

Why did he pick this?:

In his words, he wanted to pick something that “you wouldn’t necessarily pick for yourself,” and he’s absolutely right! Not that I’m not looking forward to this book but there’s so many books on my shelves that this one does tend to take a bit of a back seat to others that excite me a bit more. Books about books are really wonderful but are almost books you want to dip in and out of rather than read in a couple of sittings. I’ve decided that’s exactly what I’m going to do with this one and perhaps read a little from it each week.

4.) My Name Is Leon – Kit de Waal

What’s it all about?:

It’s 1981, a year of riots and royal weddings. The Dukes of Hazzard is on TV and Curly Wurlys are in the shops. And trying to find a place in it all is young Leon.

Leon is nine, and has a perfect baby brother called Jake. They have gone to live with Maureen, who has fuzzy red hair like a halo, a belly like Father Christmas, and mutters swearwords under her breath when she thinks can’t hear. Maureen feeds and looks after them, and claims everything will be okay.

But will they ever see their mother again? Who are the couple who secretly visit Joke? The adults are speaking in low voices, and wearing pretend faces. They are threatening to take Jake away and give him to strangers. Because Jake is white and Leon is not.

As Leon struggles to cope with his anger, certain things can still make him smile – like Curly Wurlys, riding his bike fast downhill, burying his hands deep in the soil, hanging out with Tufty (who reminds him of his dad), and stealing enough coins so that one day he can rescue Jake and his mum.

Evoking a Britain of the early eighties, My Name is Leon is a story of love, identity and learning to overcome unbearable loss. Of the fierce bond between siblings. And how – just when we least expect it – we somehow manage to find our way home.

Why did he pick this?:

Once again, I was really delighted when my partner pulled this out from behind his back. He picked this as it’s a book he’s actually interested in himself and he didn’t realise I had put it on my latest Five Star TBR Predictions TBR. (Which by the way, I’m getting on dismally with – I’ve only read two of the five books so far – Dadland and NOS4R2). I’m relieved he chose it as it will push me to get to it that bit sooner. Although I was planning to read this in the next month or so anyway – promise! 😛

I really enjoyed having my boyfriend pick out my TBR for the month and to tell you the truth, I think he really enjoyed the process too! It’s something we’ll definitely be doing in the future but probably not until early next year as I now have “ARC/Netgalley” month in October, Non Fiction November in November and Chrissi Cupboard Month in December to look forward to. 

What I’d love to know is have you read any of these books? Which were your favourites? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Love Beth xxx

Mini Pin-It Reviews #24 – Four Books From Netgalley

Published September 7, 2018 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to another mini pin-it reviews post! I have a massive backlog of reviews and this is my way of trying to get on top of things a bit. This isn’t to say I didn’t like some of these books – my star rating is a more accurate reflection of this, but this is a great, snappy way of getting my thoughts across and decreasing my backlog a bit. This time I’ve got four books from Netgalley for you – please see my pin-it thoughts below!

1.) Me, Myself And Why: Searching For The Science Of Self – Jennifer Ouellette

What’s it all about?:

As diverse as people appear to be, all of our genes and brains are nearly identical. In Me, Myself, and Why, Jennifer Ouellette dives into the miniscule ranges of variation to understand just what sets us apart. She draws on cutting-edge research in genetics, neuroscience, and psychology-enlivened as always with her signature sense of humor-to explore the mysteries of human identity and behavior. Readers follow her own surprising journey of self-discovery as she has her genome sequenced, her brain mapped, her personality typed, and even samples a popular hallucinogen. Bringing together everything from Mendel’s famous pea plant experiments and mutations in The X-Men to our taste for cilantro and our relationships with virtual avatars, Ouellette takes us on an endlessly thrilling and illuminating trip into the science of ourselves.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

2.) Land Where I Flee – Prajwal Parajuly

What’s it all about?:

To commemorate Chitralekha Nepauney’s Chaurasi – her landmark 84th birthday – Chitralekha’s grandchildren are travelling to Gangtok to pay their respects.

Agastaya is flying in from New York. Although a successful oncologist at only thirty-three he is dreading his family’s inquisition into why he is not married, and terrified that the reason for his bachelordom will be discovered.

Joining him are Manasa and Bhagwati, coming from London and Colorado respectively. One the Oxford-educated achiever; the other the disgraced eloper – one moneyed but miserable; the other ostracized but optimistic.

All three harbour the same dual objective: to emerge from the celebrations with their grandmother’s blessing and their nerves intact: a goal that will become increasingly impossible thanks to a mischievous maid and a fourth, uninvited guest.

Prajwal Parajuly – the son of an Indian father and a Nepalese mother – divides his time between New York and Oxford, but disappears to Gangtok, his hometown in the Indian Himalayas, at every opportunity. Land Where I Flee is his first novel.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

3.) Joy, Guilt, Anger Love: What Neuroscience Can And Can’t Tell Us About How We Feel – Giovanni Frazzetto

What’s it all about?:

Is science ever enough to explain why we feel the way we feel?

In this engaging account, renowned neuroscientist Giovanni Frazzetto blends cutting-edge scientific research with personal stories to reveal how our brains generate our emotions. He demonstrates that while modern science has expanded our knowledge, investigating art, literature, and philosophy is equally crucial to unraveling the brain’s secrets. What can a brain scan, or our reaction to a Caravaggio painting, reveal about the deep seat of guilt? Can ancient remedies fight sadness more effectively than antidepressants? What can writing poetry tell us about how joy works? Structured in seven chapters encompassing common human emotions—anger, guilt, anxiety, grief, empathy, joy, and love—Joy, Guilt, Anger, Love offers a way of thinking about science and art that will help us to more fully understand ourselves and how we feel.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

4.) The Transcriptionist – Amy Rowland

What’s it all about?:

This powerful debut follows a woman who sets out to challenge the absurdity of the world around her. Lena, the transcriptionist, sits alone in a room far away from the hum of the newsroom that is the heart of the Record, the New York City newspaper for which she works. For years, she has been the ever-present link for reporters calling in stories from around the world. Turning spoken words to print, Lena is the vein that connects the organs of the paper. She is loyal, she is unquestioning, yet technology is dictating that her days there are numbered. When she reads a shocking piece in the paper about a Jane Doe mauled to death by a lion, she recognizes the woman in the picture. They had met on a bus just a few days before. Obsessed with understanding what caused the woman to deliberately climb into the lion’s den, Lena begins a campaign for truth that will destroy the Record’s complacency and shake the venerable institution to its very foundation. An exquisite novel that asks probing questions about journalism and ethics, about the decline of the newspaper and the failure of language, it is also the story of a woman’s effort to establish her place in an increasingly alien and alienating world.

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

COMING UP NEXT TIME ON MINI-PIN IT REVIEWS: Four YA Novels.

 

Blog Tour – The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon

Published September 3, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

A powerful, darkly glittering novel of violence, love, faith, and loss, as a young woman at an elite American university is drawn into acts of domestic terrorism by a cult tied to North Korea.

Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2018 by The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Elle, Time, Parade, Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan, Esquire, PBS, Vulture, Buzzfeed, BookRiot, PopSugar, Refinery29, Bustle, The Rumpus, Paste, and BBC.

Phoebe Lin and Will Kendall meet their first month at prestigious Edwards University. Phoebe is a glamorous girl who doesn’t tell anyone she blames herself for her mother’s recent death. Will is a misfit scholarship boy who transfers to Edwards from Bible college, waiting tables to get by. What he knows for sure is that he loves Phoebe.

Grieving and guilt-ridden, Phoebe is increasingly drawn into a religious group—a secretive extremist cult—founded by a charismatic former student, John Leal. He has an enigmatic past that involves North Korea and Phoebe’s Korean American family. Meanwhile, Will struggles to confront the fundamentalism he’s tried to escape, and the obsession consuming the one he loves. When the group bombs several buildings in the name of faith, killing five people, Phoebe disappears. Will devotes himself to finding her, tilting into obsession himself, seeking answers to what happened to Phoebe and if she could have been responsible for this violent act.

The Incendiaries is a fractured love story and a brilliant examination of the minds of extremist terrorists, and of what can happen to people who lose what they love most.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Grace Vincent for getting in touch via email and asking me if I’d like to take part in the blog tour for this stunning and powerful debut novel and to Virago for sending a copy my way in exchange for an honest review. To be frank, I’m a sucker for an eye-catching cover and this one certainly does the trick but when I read the synopsis above and realised the themes of religion, the loss of faith and extremism that it would explore, I couldn’t reply fast enough to Grace’s email, enthusiastically registering my interest in reading it. On receiving the book, I have to say, I was surprised at the length – it was a mere 210 pages long and yes, I was kind of nervous. I think if you have a novel that brief, the writing has to be so immaculate that it should pull you in quickly whilst leaving you fairly satisfied at the end. In other words, the author has so much to do in such a short space of time but I was hopeful that a novel named one of the most anticipated books of 2018 by publications like The New York Times could do exactly that.

R.O. Kwon, author of debut novel The Incendiaries.

I don’t want to re-hash the blurb for you right here, Goodreads does a tremendous job of that in the synopsis above so I’d just like to go straight into my thoughts and feelings about The Incendiaries, which in fact the more time I have away from it, the more I find I’m ruminating on the story and admiring the writing. This is *almost* a “read in one sitting,” kind of narrative and in hindsight, I wish I had had the opportunity to do just that but unfortunately work commitments got in the way and I read it in two separate sittings. I fell in love straight away with the writing which is assured, grandiose, thought-provoking and at times, filled with the most vivid imagery that I can’t bear to give it away, it’s definitely something to discover for yourself. All I’ll say on that score is that I connected very personally to a certain point in the text where our narrator, Will is hallucinating and various images related to the situation he finds himself in pop into his visual field. These images are so striking and graphically written I felt as if I was there with Will seeing exactly what he sees and feeling exactly what he feels at that moment in time.

The Incendiaries is incredibly literary in its tone and style and as a result, you have to be prepared for not necessarily getting all the answers you might crave. Phoebe and the leader of the cult she becomes enmeshed in, John Leal are much more enigmatic, mysterious characters that you don’t really find out a whole lot about and whilst that might frustrate certain readers, I enjoyed the vague, almost secretive air of what has happened to these characters in their past and what may have led to them to having the views they now possess or indeed, why they carry out the extreme actions that they choose to do. Our main focus for the narrative is on Will, whom I really felt sympathetic to as he struggled to understand Phoebe and attempted to connect with her on a deeper level but who seemed to always remain rather aloof, almost like mist slipping through your fingers.

I think one of the most fascinating things about this novel was its exploration of faith. Will has previously had faith and lost it and now doesn’t know where he stands on the whole “God” question. Phoebe has been through intense personal struggles of her own and has now found something new to put her faith in but as you can tell from the synopsis, she is incredibly vulnerable and as a result, her faith may be extremely misguided. The author gave an interesting and beautifully frank interview HERE about how she was raised in a very religious household and how she too, has become somewhat disconnected and disillusioned with Christianity which reminded me very much of my own upbringing in Catholicism compared to the confusion I now find myself feeling with religion which started during my teenage years.

The Incendiaries has a quiet, wonderfully confident quality to the writing and although it has moments which are almost like streams of consciousness and an ending which doesn’t necessarily wrap everything up in a neat bow, I thoroughly enjoyed the reading experience and will be watching out for whatever this supremely talented author does next.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

AUTHOR INFORMATION

R.O. Kwon’s first novel, The Incendiaries, is published by Riverhead (U.S.) and forthcoming from Virago (U.K.) in September 2018. She is a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellow. Her writing has appeared in The Guardian, Vice, BuzzFeed, Time, Noon, Electric Literature, Playboy, San Francisco Chronicle, and elsewhere. She has received awards and fellowships from Yaddo, MacDowell, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Omi International, and the Norman Mailer Writers’ Colony. Born in South Korea, she’s mostly lived in the United States.

Find R.O. Kwon on her Goodreads page at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16556776.R_O_Kwon

on her website at: http://ro-kwon.com/

on Twitter at: @rokwon

Thank you so much once again to Grace Vincent and Virago for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a wonderful time doing it. The Incendiaries is published on the 6th September 2018 and is available as a hardback and a digital e-book. If you fancy more information don’t forget to check out the rest of the stops on this blog tour for some amazing reviews!

Link to The Incendiaries on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36679056-the-incendiaries?ac=1&from_search=true

Link to The Incendiaries on Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Incendiaries-R-Kwon/dp/0349011877/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535818983&sr=8-1&keywords=the+incendiaries

Block 46 (Emily Roy & Alexis Castells #1) – Johana Gustawsson (translated by Maxim Jakubowski)

Published July 31, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

In Falkenberg, Sweden, the mutilated body of talented young jewelry designer Linnea Blix is found in a snow-swept marina. In Hampstead Heath, London, the body of a young boy is discovered with similar wounds to Linnea’s. Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1944. In the midst of the hell of the Holocaust, Erich Hebner will do anything to see himself as a human again. Are the two murders the work of a serial killer, and how are they connected to shocking events at Buchenwald? Emily Roy, a profiler on loan to Scotland Yard from the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, joins up with Linnea’s friend, French true-crime writer Alexis Castells, to investigate the puzzling case. They travel between Sweden and London, and then deep into the past, as a startling and terrifying connection comes to light.

What did I think?:

All my favourite bloggers have been telling me to read this novel from the Queen of French Noir, Johana Gustawsson and I’ve been putting it off for goodness knows how long but there came a time when I could no longer delay the inevitable and I finally succumbed, gave in, folded, (however else you want to describe it) and all I can say is THANK YOU SO MUCH EVERYONE. This debut novel and the first in a new series is the most excited I’ve been about a debut since Cara Hunter’s Close To Home and I devoured it within a couple of days, reluctant to return to ordinary life each time I picked it up, it was that compelling and had me thoroughly enraptured by the power of both the subject matter and the extraordinary writing.

Johana Gustawsson, author of Block 46, the first novel in the Roy and Castells series.

Like many of my other preferred narrative styles, Block 46 takes place across two time periods. The first is the present day and follows two women, crime writer Alexis Castells and profiler Emily Roy who team up when a series of gruesome murders plague both London and Sweden. Are the murders committed by the same people? Is it a single serial killer or a duo? Why in particular has the killer(s) chosen to focus on these geographical areas? Then the author takes us back to the past, the 1940’s to be exact where we follow a man, Erich Hebner who is incarcerated in the brutal Buchenwald concentration camp in Nazi Germany. Roy and Castells must discover how these two time-lines are connected and attempt to stop a crazed killer who will stop at nothing in order to carry out his convoluted, incredibly twisted little mission.

Prisoners during a roll call at Buchenwald concentration camp.

I don’t know how eloquent I’m going to be at convincing you that if you haven’t read this book yet and you enjoy a gritty, shocking piece of crime fiction, you should pick this book up immediately. I feel a bit cross with myself for not picking this book up earlier myself as I was completely engrossed as soon as I had got to the end of the first page! I don’t often do one-off Tweets about a book I’m currently reading unless I have very strong opinions about the novel either way but with Block 46, I just couldn’t help myself. Part of it is set during one of my favourite periods of history to read about, Nazi Germany but I felt this author found brand new ways to tell me about the suffering of prisoners in the camps that opened my eyes as if I had been reading about the horrors for the very first time. It was intense, it was horrific, it was emotional and grotesque all at the same time. There were some events that occurred where I thought I wouldn’t be able to bear it but even through this, I prevailed because I literally couldn’t put this book down.

I couldn’t help but think as I was reading about how the treatment of the prisoners in concentration camps actually happened. It was this cold, it was this cruel, it was this malicious. The author’s grandfather was actually liberated from Buchenwald camp in 1945 so it’s plain that she has not only a very personal connection to the atrocities perpetuated in that place but has carried out her research diligently and sensitively. On another note and credit to the translator, at no point did it feel like I was reading a translated work, it felt just as raw, sharp and honest in English as I’m sure it does in the author’s native French. Let me just take a moment and mention the characters also, particularly Roy and Castells who I immediately warmed to and who definitely have mysterious depths that I’m hoping get probed a bit further in future books in the series. I especially loved the enigmatic Emily Roy, a no nonsense, blunt, independent woman who is quite the closed book when we first meet her and doesn’t always behave in a socially acceptable way (I can relate to this, I’m incredibly awkward at times!) but there are reasons behind her “poker face” demeanour that we start to discover near the end of the novel and personally, it was really affecting for me.

Finally, can we PLEASE talk about that ending. This is actually when I tweeted my message, it made me gasp out loud whilst waiting in a coffee shop for a hospital appointment and I got quite a few odd looks in return when customers saw the *gasp* was about a book. I know you bookworms would understand though?! All I can say about it is that it was pure and utter brilliance. I didn’t see it coming, I don’t think you could ever predict it and it elevated the author and her talent to even greater heights in my eyes. Now that I’m thinking about the way I delayed reading this book, I’m actually pretty glad I did. It meant I could immediately order the second book from Johana Gustawsson, called Keeper straight after I had finished reading Block 46, something I’m not sure I’ve ever done before. I can already tell that this author has the potential to become a firm favourite where I buy/pre-order her books the second I get the chance to and Block 46 has certainly earned its place on my favourites shelf where I look forward to reading it again in the future.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

imagesCAF9JG4S

The Last Banquet – Jonathan Grimwood

Published July 5, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Jean-Marie Charles d’Aumout is many things. Orphan, soldier, diplomat, spy, lover. And chef.

This is his story.

We meet Jean-Marie d’Aumout as a penniless orphan eating beetles by the side of a road. His fate is changed after an unlikely encounter finds him patronage and he is sent to military academy. Despite his frugal roots, and thanks to it and courage in great measure, he grows up to become a diplomat and spy.

Rising through the ranks of eighteenth-century French society, he feasts with lords, ladies and eventually kings, at the Palace of Versailles itself.

Passionate love, political intrigue and international adventure abound in Jean-Marie’s life, but his drive stems from a single obsession: the pursuit of the perfect taste. Three-Snake Bouillabaisse, Pickled Wolf’s Heart and Flamingo Tongue are just some of the delicacies he devours on his journey toward the ultimate feast.

But beyond the palace walls, revolution is in the air and the country is clamouring with hunger of a different kind.

What did I think?:

The Last Banquet, translated by Maria Maestro was recommended to me on a reading spa I went to at the wonderful Mr B’s Emporium Of Reading Delights with Chrissi Reads. To be honest, considering that eye-catching cover, it’s the sort of book that would have intrigued me enough to pick it up but I’m not sure on the synopsis alone whether I would have been compelled to follow through and read it. Luckily, the book-seller who encouraged me to give it a try was incredibly persuasive and I became excited to find out what it was all about. To be fair, the intricate details of the narrative within this novel haven’t completely stayed with me but generally, this book is a literary marvel. The way it’s written is so sumptuously detailed that for any lovers of language, it’s truly a joy to read. It’s not for the faint-hearted, (which I’ll go into a bit later) but it’s a surprisingly compulsive read and I found myself hanging on every word the author had written, the sure sign of a hooked reader!

Jonathan Grimwood, author of The Last Banquet.

In a nutshell, The Last Banquet focuses on one male lead, Jean Marie Charles d’Aumout who is found by the Regent of France in the late 1700’s on a roadside feasting on some beetles whilst his parents lie dead in a looted house nearby. The Regent takes pity on the young boy and takes him under his wing, sending him to a school and then to a prestigious military academy where he mixes with the aristocracy. This is the story of how Jean Marie rises from a penniless existence to the ranks of the wealthy as he takes his fascination that began with tasting beetles to whole new levels, continually on the quest for a more interesting and exclusive taste. Meanwhile, the French Revolution looms terrifyingly in the background, threatening the rich and entitled, and Jean Marie begins to understand the true nature of love and trust.

Our story covers the period of the French Revolution from 1789-1799.

This was such an interesting novel that I really didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I eventually did. From the very first moments, when we are introduced to Jean Marie eating stag beetles at the side of the road, I was instantly curious to see how the story was going to play out and of course, completely disgusted! My mum actually tells a story of when I was a young girl and she pulled half of a stag beetle from my mouth: (“It’s back legs still wriggling!” she delights in telling me!) and I don’t even want to think about where the rest of that beetle went! UGH. The fact that I find all kind of insect life absolutely grotesque in my adult years means that I wonder now whether the taste of that beetle put me off for life? Haha! Anyway, our lead character certainly doesn’t have any problems in that department regarding tasting the weird and wonderful. He will try anything and everything, despite the species and this is where my warning in the first paragraph comes into effect. If you think you might be slightly queasy regarding this subject, be warned indeed. Included in the text are multiple recipes for Jean Marie’s concoctions, including graphic details on how exactly they should be cooked.

Some parts are horrible, I have to admit but at the same time, the dark side of my brain was fascinated by his life, his strange obsession for new tastes (which does stray into the sexual as an adult as well), and how his happiness seems to hinge on this very unique quest of his. It is an odd book in this regard and I think you have to be pretty open-minded to see past this slight freakishness and appreciate the novel for what it is – something a bit different which is beautifully written and definitely has an edge over other books in the genre. The author did go to some unconventional places, that’s for sure but you know what? I actually respect and admire him all the more for being brave enough to do that and writing a book that I’m more likely to think about and want to re-visit years down the line. Despite our male lead’s quirks, he is an endearing and engaging character and because you follow him from such a young age and see his rise in society, you really want to know how it’s all going to turn out for him.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0