Monday, 23 December 2019

THE GIFT OF READING

As we head into the holidays and possibly into a mad frenzy of shopping, cooking, eating and entertaining, it's a good idea to make some quiet time for reflection and most importantly of all—for reading.
This year I've spent a whole lot of my time working on the revisions of my novel THE SAVAGE INSTINCT, which is to be republished in a second, very different edition 2020 by Inkshares, but I've also enjoyed reviewing books for NetGalley and Legend Press, a UK publisher.
I've shared below some of my great reads of the year. Hope you can find the time to read one or buy as a gift for friends or family.
Happy holidays!

FIVE WIVES by Joan Thomas



Local Winnipeg writer, Joan Thomas was the most deserving winner of this year's Governor General's Award for fiction with her novel FIVE WIVES, a fictionalized account of the lives of the real women left behind when their husbands were killed in a misguided attempt to contact the Waorani, a reclusive tribe from the Ecuadorean rain forest. "Operation Auca" as it was called, was undertaken in 1956 by a group of evangelical Christian missionaries, eager to share their faith and 'convert' the 'savages' to the word of God. Their wives and children were left to fend for themselves.
The book moves back and forth in time, from a present-day storyline of one of the grand-daughters who is given the opportunity to star in a movie version of the operation, then back to the past where each woman's story is explored. In this way, Thomas pieces together the events from different viewpoints, which makes for fascinating reading as some of the women are more zealously committed to the operation than others who fear the plan is ill-thought out but—since it's the 1950's—acquiesce to their husband's 'better' judgement.
While the story doesn't dwell on the actual details of the tragedy, Thomas deftly builds in a sense of soaring, almost boyish hope in the husbands as they set out on a great adventure while their wives wrestle with niggling fears of impending doom as they are left to deal with the uncomfortable realities of surviving in a primitive tropical setting with small children.
Throughout the entire novel Thomas's sly sense of humour is ever-present as she subtly reveals the short-sighted arrogance of the evangelical philosophy and its attitude towards third world peoples as well as the strength and foresight of the women who survive the tragedy and ultimately prosper in roles that their husbands could not. Beautifully written, this is a truly compelling read.

DARLING ROSE GOLD by Stephanie Wrobel



Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel is a compelling page turner, surprising since the two main characters are highly unlikeable women. Patty, Rose Gold's controlling mother is a disturbed, damaged woman whose denial of her crimes makes her all the more threatening and dangerous, Rose Gold, the daughter, is a sad, pathetic young woman whose childhood was destroyed by her mother and whose adult years continue to be affected by the trauma. 
The story begins with Patty being released from jail after serving five years for poisoning, starving and reducing her healthy daughter to invalid status until concerned friends help Rose to break free and report her mother's crimes. Strangely, however, Rose meets her mother from prison and invites her to stay. Keen to re-establish her dominance, Patty is surprised and accepts, hoping to slot right back into Rose Gold's life. But is the daughter offering an olive branch and putting the past behind her, or is something more sinister at hand as these two damaged women jockey for the upper hand using an arsenal of weapons—lies, secrets and devious cunning?
Told from alternating points of view, Wrobel ratchets up the tension with some surprising twists and turns until you simply have to find out who wins in the surprising ending. A terrific read.
Thanks to Net Galley for providing a preview copy in return for an honest review.

THE FORGOTTEN HOME CHILD by Genevieve Graham




This heartwarming yet heart wrenching novel deals with a little-known chapter in Canadian history—the shocking treatment received by a large number of British Home Children at the hands of those Canadians who paid UK authorities to employ these unwanted children, using them as indentured servants, slaves and in many cases, treating them worse than the animals they tended.
Genevieve Graham interviewed survivors of these Home Children and unearthed a painful chapter of suffering that lasted from the late 19th century until 1948. Sent from large orphanages like Dr. Barnardo's and other smaller institutions, these children were promised a fresh start in an exciting new country. What they encountered was much worse than they could ever imagine. Graham tells the story of Winnie, friend to siblings, Mary, Jack, Edward and Cecil. Abandoned by their parents, they scraped a living on the streets of London until they were caught and put into an orphanage. Reunited on the ship headed to Canada, they vow never to be separated, only to be torn apart on arrival. The brothers stay together, but Mary and Winnie go to separate farm families. 
Winnie is treated cruelly by her employers, sleeping in the barn with the sheep and slaving night and day to keep the farm going, though her mistress softens her approach much later and takes an interest in her future. Mary, however, doesn't fare as well and it is her tragic story that shapes the remainder of the novel and impacts Winnie's and her brother Jack's lives in an irreversible way.
The story is written with warmth and empathy but doesn't hold back on the shocking and terrible details of the brutal treatment received by some of these children. Graham does, however, provide a balance by recognizing that many children were adopted by loving families and others found opportunities in Canada that they wouldn't have received in the UK and therefore their lives did improve, though they carried a deep burden of shame that they hid from their families. Only recently online support groups have sprung up so that descendants of the Home Children can share their troubling legacy and find some closure to this terrible chapter of Canadian history.

Friday, 6 December 2019

THE SACRIFICIAL MAN






Ruth Dugdall’s new novel, The Sacrificial Man, the second instalment in her Cate Austin series is definitely not a book for the more squeamish reader. Dark in tone and containing grotesque and disturbing details, it tackles the very sensitive question of whether assisting a person to commit suicide is a crime or an act of love. This particular case, however, deals with a very different situation where the main character, Alice Mariani, a brilliant literature professor, obsessed with the Romantic poets, believes it’s an act of ultimate passion.
Cate Austin, probation officer, is called in to question Alice in order to recommend a suitable sentence, and discover why she agreed to help Dave, a young man suffering no apparent fatal illness, to die. As she tries to chip at Alice's icy exterior, she begins to dig deeper into the past of this enigmatic, beautiful though rather unlikeable woman and discovers how a painful, early childhood has shaped her into a lonely, unreachable narcissist haunted by the traumatic loss of her mother.
Told from multiple points of view, I found Alice’s voice the most compelling, though I enjoyed the more pragmatic character of Cate and would like to have heard a lot more from her. The story is fast moving, the plot compelling and the many twists and turns result in a powerful and shocking ending.
Thanks to Legend Press for sending me a copy in return for an honest review.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

CHILLS AND DYSTOPIA

I'm delighted to be reviewing two books this week: OVERDRAWN a thought-provoking dystopia by N.J Crosskey and VIOLET a chilling and suspenseful horror story by Scott Thomas.



Overdrawnby NJ Crosskey is an original and compelling dystopia, based on a chilling but plausible premise.
The novel is set in a near-future UK, where austerity is the rule, national health care is extinct and aging has become such an inconvenience that euthanasia is viewed as a patriotic act. It's a hostile, uncaring place where the length of your life is determined by how much you can afford to pay to keep yourself alive,
 The story follows two main characters: senior citizen, Henry whose beloved wife is gradually slipping away from him due to the ravages of dementia, and Kaitlyn, a young woman who sacrifices everything to keep her comatose brother’s life support switched on.
  The two characters meet and form an unusual business alliance that they hope will produce the funds to keep their loved ones alive. 
Crosskey beautifully develops the growing relationship between Henry, his wife and Kaitlyn, who has been virtually deprived of a loving family.  The bonds they forge are beacons of hope  and reminders that—even in such a cruel world—lost souls can come together and find comfort in their mutual pain.
The world the author brings draws us into is disturbing but unsettling in its familiarity, but I would have appreciated a little more world building, in terms of detail and description, to give a more vivid sense of the place. 
In the end, however, Crosskey delivers a very satisfying and tender story that shows us no matter how bleak our future might be, love will still triumph over all.
A previous reviewer remarked that this book should be developed into a TV series. I second that opinion. Overdrawn would make great viewing! 

Thanks to Legend Press for sending me an advance copy to review!

Nicola Crosskey
VIOLET by Scott Thomas


This exquisitely written second novel by Scott Thomas, author of the incredible horror novel, KILL CREEK, breathes new life into a familiar horror trope, the “imaginary friend” story. Thomas manages to straddle the line between literary and commercial appeal with an intense study of human grief that is also truly chilling.
After her husband is killed in a car crash, Kris Barlow returns with her eight year old daughter to her childhood home, a place of sad, painful memories, to recover from the grief that has shattered their lives. Soon, however, she discovers the town of Pacington is a sick, haunted place and the run-down house holds secrets Kris has tried to forget.

What follows is an intense and detailed journey into the impact of grief as well as the incredible power of the bond between mother and daughter. The author develops fresh, original characters, exposing their flaws and weaknesses and avoiding tired stereotypes. Suspense slowly builds as the narrative flips back and forth from the present where Kris attempts to deal with the trials of a decaying house, a daughter preoccupied with a strange, new "friend", and a town filled with odd, haunted souls—to a past that is lonely, dark and increasingly disturbing . The settings are so gorgeously portrayed in such lush  detail, reading the book is as vivid as watching the movie. I found myself totally immersed in Kris’s world as the story gradually and ominously builds towards an inevitable but shocking climax.
Scott Thomas

















THE TESTAMENTS by Margaret Atwood


 It's tough to step into a bookstore this week without being greeted by shelves filled with the stark green, white and navy cover that graces Atwood's highly anticipated latest novel. I'm looking forward to reading it and will be reviewing it next blog.
Happy Reading!

Sunday, 11 August 2019

GRACE'S TABLE: A FEAST OF A BOOK

I'm happy to review another book sent to me by Legend Press. This week it's Grace's Table by Australian author, Sally Piper.





Grace’s Table 

Set in Australia, this wonderfully insightful debut novel is set over the course of one day in the main character, Grace’s life. But it’s no ordinary day; it’s her 70thbirthday lunch. Over the course of the day, Grace works alongside her daughter, Susan, preparing the meal and slipping into memories about her past, mostly triggered by mundane tasks such as shelling peas or mixing gravy. 

Soon a gentle story metamorphoses into a painful study of Grace’s own difficult childhood, a tragic teenage love affair, a loveless marriage and finally a family traumatized by grief, regret and resentment, resulting from a shocking event in their past that reverberates through the following decades. Soon it’s clear that Grace is not just cooking a birthday meal, she’s fighting to keep her family from falling apart and drifting away from her.

Piper achieves this in a subtle, skilful way using the medium of food. Grace remembers her own emotionally distant mother whose only way of showing her love and expressing her creativity was through her carefully prepared and wonderfully tasty meals. Grace remembers the rare intimacy of those moments when she watched her mother whip up meringues and sponge cakes from scratch, and attempts to do the same with her eldest daughter, Susan, now a tense and anxious mother.

As family members and friends arrive for the birthday celebration, the memories become more vivid and troubling, and the interactions with her own children more bitter and abrasive, until a final family showdown results in all the hurt being laid bare and all the grievances aired.

Piper masterfully creates Grace as an unconventional, humorous and free-spirited character. A strong-willed woman who is finally forced to face her unrealistic expectations of her children and her own shortcomings as a mother. 

This incredible novel is not only a luscious and lyrical tribute to the power of food as a force to bring people together, it’s also an insightful reflection on the dynamic and powerful nature of family relationships. As Grace so aptly states:

Families were like sand dunes…. They shifted shape and position with even the gentlest of forces. Even a tiny puff – a shrug – could bring about change, move a handful of thoughts to a new understanding, a new authority. A gale, like today’s, and whole dunes – lives and futures – were relocated, reimagined.

Sally Piper
Sally Piper is an award-winning Brisbane based writer.  She is a former nurse and nurse educator, specialising in neurosurgical critical care, and has worked in both Australia and the UK.Sally has had short fiction and non-fiction published in various online and print publications, including a prize-winning short story in the first One Book Many Brisbanes anthology, The Sydney Morning HeraldThe Saturday Paper, Weekend Australian and WQ plus other literary magazines and journals in the UK. She has been interviewed for radio, been a guest panellist at literary festivals and delivered many author talks and readings.Sally holds a Master of Arts (Research) in Creative Writing from Queensland University of Technology. During her post-graduate studies she also tutored on the QUT Creative Writing program. She currently presents workshops and seminars for the Queensland Writers' Centre and mentors on their 'Writer's Surgery' program. 
If you want to check out more reviews of this book, take a look at these other great book blogs:
Happy Reading!

Friday, 2 August 2019

A SONG OF COURAGE, INJUSTICE AND TRAGEDY

A huge thanks to Legend Press who sent me a copy of Carolyn O' Brien's touching novel, The Song of Peterloo, to review. I'm delighted to be a part of the blog tour.


This compelling historical novel centres around The Peterloo Massacre, a real life tragedy of 1819, when close to 100,000 peaceable protesters gathered on St. Peter’s Field, Manchester to campaign for parliamentary reform. Nervous magistrates watched from a nearby window, then decided to read the ”Riot Act,” calling on up to 600 armed soldiers from the Manchester Yeomanry to break up the meeting, with the intention of arresting the main speaker, Henry Hunt. The soldiers, brandishing sharpened sabers, rode in among the crowd. Hundreds were injured and dozens killed, including women and children.

Carolyn O’Brien wisely uses the voice of Nancy Kay, a young mill worker, to tell most of the story, giving a distant historical event a much more human feel. Nancy lives with her young son, Walter and ailing mother, Ann, in a permanent state of grinding poverty and hunger, brought about by low wages and crippling prices. The author subtly portrays their dire situation without being heavy handed or patronizing, which often makes for heartbreaking reading. 

Nancy’s voice alternates with friends, relatives, enemies and the two widely different men who share her life that momentous summer. Nancy is an energetic, likeable, well-drawn character with a thirst for knowledge and a strong sense of justice. When she is given the chance to learn to read by her sympathetic employer, Samson, she becomes even more aware of the rampant social injustice that keeps her and her neighbours and co-workers, hungry and impoverished for life. Soon she is inspired to join the reformers in a great movement that calls for social change. Little does she know that the great protest being planned, will turn out to be a terrible human tragedy and not the triumph they hoped for.
Author, Carolyn O'Brien
At first, I found the author’s use of alternating voices a little jarring, as it interrupted the story’s narrative flow. I appreciated that this was intended to provide an interesting mosaic of differing points of view, but I found myself wanting to get back to Nancy’s voice and her absorbing story. Gradually, however, the other voices became stronger, particularly Adelaide, the snobbish social upstart and Samson, her empathetic nephew whose terrible experiences in battle showed him that all human beings should be treated with dignity regardless of social class.
Overall, I found myself rooting for the main character and her fight for social justice at a time when the poor were treated as little better than slaves, and children were forced to work in dangerous industrial situations with no concern for their safety. It’s refreshing to hear the voice of the marginalized and silenced telling the story of such an iconic historical event, especially at the commemoration of its anniversary.

The blog tour itinerary is listed below. Check out some of these amazing book review sites!



Thursday, 4 July 2019

WHEN FICTION BECOMES REALITY

This was my April! Two weeks in Spain and Portugal travelling across gorgeous, sunny Andalusia, followed by the pristine beaches of the Algarve for the last few glorious days. Then two weeks in England mostly staying in the north-west and north-east and finishing it all with a family reunion, a moving ceremony to commemorate the coal miners of Hetton, and the chance to be a real life Pitman's Daughter along with many other relatives and friends who are also pitmen's daughters!
Here's a little journey through some of the places we visited.


Beautiful Malaga harbour. You can get a ferry from Malaga to Tangier, Morocco that takes you about 5 hours to get there.

     
Downtown Malaga is incredibly beautiful. What better way to spend an evening than dinner and wine  beside the stunning cathedral, nicknamed "La Manquita" (the one-armed woman!) due to its missing second tower. Spicy shrimp piri piri and grilled anchovies with plenty of olives on a warm Andalusian evening! 
The Roman Theatre, Malaga dates back to the 1st century BC and is the only ancient ruin left in Malaga. Situated at the foot of the famous Alcazaba Moorish fortress, it was buried under rubble for centuries, then a 1951 excavation unearthed the ruins and the theatre was restored starting in 1995. It was reopened for performances in 2011.
The timeless Moorish palace, The Alhambra in Granada was filled with spring blossoms and flowers. A magical sight from every angle!


The pristine beaches of Portugal's Algarve region are absolutely breathtaking, but the water was still a bit  chilly to go further than my ankles! This is taken near the town of Lagos.

Back to England and down at the Albert docks in Liverpool, visiting with the Fab 4, John, Paul, George and  Ringo.

I really want this house in Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria! This beautiful town has a Victorian marketplace and some of the most breathtaking views in the country, including Ruskin's view (see below) which the poet, John Ruskin declared was "One of the loveliest views in England...I do not know a place more naturally divine."
Ruskin's view.


Now to Durham City, my birthplace and home of the most beautiful cathedral in the world! The sight of the cathedral nestled among the trees, above the River Wear, has been called one of the most stunning and mystical views in the world. The cathedral has been used as a backdrop for some of the Harry Potter movies and lately for an Avengers Infinity Wars movie.


 This beautiful statue of an older miner comforting a new boy on his first day in the mine, is called "Men Don't Cry" and was created by sculptor, Ray Lonsdale as a tribute to Hetton's mining heritage. I was proud to stand with all the other pitmen's daughters (and sons!) to see the statue unveiled and to read the nameplates that held the names of all the Hetton-le-Hole men who worked the mines. My father, grandfather and uncle were all named. You can watch the video by my brother, Ken Horn, on Facebook.Click here to view. Hope you enjoy!

By the way, for all you summer readers out there, here are a few great beach reads for you:


LETHAL WHITE by Robert Galbraith

The fourth of Robert Galbraith's (aka J.K Rawlings) Cormoran Strike novels does not disappoint fans of this series. Though the plot is a little more complex and the action not as gory as the others, there's plenty going on regarding Robin's relationship with her new husband and her continuing chemistry with her eccentric boss!


NEVERHOME by Laird Hunt

This incredible novel about a woman who leaves her husband and her farm to dress in men's clothes and become a soldier in the Civil War, is so compelling I could barely put it down. Told in a unique, honest and unsentimental voice, it covers a little known aspect of the Civil war and pays tribute to the many women who made a contribution to the campaign.


A WORLD ELSEWHERE by Wayne Johnston

Another amazing novel by Johnston, this one tells the story of young Landish Druken, a Newfoundlander who attends Princeton and befriends George Vanderluyden, the son of a rich and powerful American family . Years later after Landish's father cuts him off without a penny, Landish adopts an orphan child and turns to his rich friend for help. Vanderluyden, now the new heir to the family fortune, invites him to his massive estate in North Carolina. Landish discovers his friend is at the head of his own strange and twisted empire and is unwittingly drawn into a family mystery that centres around a murdered child. Compelling reading!



Wednesday, 16 January 2019

LAUGHING INTO 2019

Happy New Year to everyone and hope you're all looking forward to a great year of reading! I thought I'd start the year off on a lighter note with some book recommendations that will get you in a happy mood to face the rest of the winter.
After a steady diet of psychological suspense, I felt the need to switch things up and find some humour out there. Hope you find something here that will appeal.



ONE GOOD TURN by Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson writes with the kind of sly, ironic wit that makes the characters burst out from the pages of this complicated and multi-voiced crime novel. This is the second book that features ex-army, ex-cop, ex-private eye and newly retired millionaire, Jackson Brodie, who naturally can't stay away from the world of crime. When he travels to the Edinburgh Festival with his actress girlfriend, he witnesses a violent road rage incident in which a timid writer of "jolly English" crime novels becomes an unlikely hero by throwing his laptop at the antagonist and scaring him off. The incident sets off a string of brutal murders which inevitably draws Jackson Brodie into the mystery and gets him into a whole lot of trouble before resolving the case.
What makes Atkinson's Jackson Brodie books stand out is her character-driven writing, and the hilarious, self-deprecating humour that makes the reader laugh out loud at the ridiculousness of the human condition. While it's not a classically structured crime novel, Atkinson's sparkling wit more than makes up for any structural shortcomings.
By the way, if you enjoy this book, I'd highly recommend her other Jackson Brodie novel, Case Histories as well as Started Early, Took My Dog.



BORN INTO IT by Jay Baruchel

Normally I don't feature non-fiction books in my blog, but I had the distinct pleasure of attending An Evening With Jay Baruchel at my local bookstore. One stop on Baruchel's promotional tour for his new, quirky and hilarious book, Born Into It, an entertaining treatise on extreme hockey fandom.
Known for his edgy and offbeat film roles in Tropic Thunder, Million Dollar Baby, This Is the End with stars such as Seth Rogan and James Franco, Baruchel is also a talented writer and director. I also discovered that he's a charismatic, funny and engaging speaker especially when it comes to one of his burning passions - hockey and his team of choice - the Montreal Canadiens. Baruchel sees hockey as something more than a sport - it's a uniquely Canadian political and cultural institution. He also rediscovered his love of hockey in later years as a way to come to terms with the turbulent relationship he had with his troubled and drug-addicted father. An outsider since he was a kid, Baruchel also found hockey gave him a way to feel like he belonged to something bigger than himself - a family of sorts, united in their love for the team and the game. Hearing him read the section entitled Why I hate the f***ing Maple Leafs (a nod to the fierce rivalry between the Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs) was enough to make me buy the book and highly recommend it to anyone who loves crazy, wacky humour from a guy who always stays on the edge.



Happy Reading!

WHEN HISTORY COMES CLOSE TO HOME

THE SAVAGE INSTINCT, release date May 18th 2021 It's been almost eight years since I made the startling discovery that the street just a...