A feminist retelling of the Medusa myth, set in a run-down, modern seaside town, Medusa Retold is filled with the magic and fury of the original tale. In this telling, loner Nuala is difficult and introverted, fascinated by creatures of the sea. Athena becomes her best friend and first crush, and together they form a duo which is ripped apart by circumstance, leaving Nuala unprotected, unable to save herself. A long-form poem of poignant motifs which recur throughout, the poem is a mythic puzzle, an epic for ordinary girls, and a love letter to the sea.
About the author
Sarah Wallis is a poet and playwright based in Scotland. She has an MA in Creative Writing from UEA and an MPhil in Playwrighting from Birmingham University. Theatrical residencies include Leeds Playhouse and Harrogate Theatre. Recent publications include The Yorkshire Poetry Anthology and Watermarks: for Lido Lovers and Wild Swimmers and Best New British & Irish Poets 2018.
You can connect with her via Twitter @wordweave and her website sarahwallis.net
In City of Margins, the lives of several lost souls intersect in Southern Brooklyn in the early 1990s. There’s Donnie Parascandolo, a disgraced ex-cop with blood on his hands; Ava Bifulco, a widow whose daily work grind is her whole life; Nick, Ava’s son, a grubby high school teacher who dreams of a shortcut to success; Mikey Baldini, a college dropout who’s returned to the old neighborhood, purposeless and drifting; Donna Rotante, Donnie’s ex-wife, still reeling from the suicide of their teenage son; Mikey’s mother, Rosemarie, also a widow, who hopes Mikey won’t fall into the trap of strong arm work; and Antonina Divino, a high school girl with designs on breaking free from Brooklyn. Uniting them are the dead: Mikey’s old man, killed over a gambling debt, and Donnie and Donna’s poor son, Gabe.
These characters cross paths in unexpected ways, guided by coincidence and the pull of blood. There are new things to be found in the rubble of their lives, too. The promise of something different beyond the barriers that have been set out for them. This is a story of revenge and retribution, of facing down the ghosts of the past, of untold desires, of yearning and forgiveness and synchronicity, of the great distance of lives lived in dangerous proximity to each other. City of Margins is a Technicolor noir melodrama pieced together in broken glass.
This was a book I needed, no pussy footing around, but strong harsh and gritty. Set away from the bright lights and glamour of New York City, Boyle did exactly what he said in his title as he pushed us out to the cities margins. His characters were surviving, just, knocked back by life circumstances of their own choosing and the circumstances chosen by others.
Donnie, the corrupt cop was a scarred man, even if he himself didn’t realise. The suicide of his son, Gabe, had far reaching consequences, ones that Boyle made him fail to recognise. His involvement with the subervise underground made him cocky, to take risks that you knew would eventually lead to his downfall.
He was the cog in the wheel, the one the other characters whirled around, as their lives and their actions became more and more intertwined.
There was Mikey, directionless, his father dead by presumed suicide, who lived with his mother, a woman who had never recovered who inherited her husband’s debt to Big Time Tommy. Antonina unwittingly pulled into the net, desperate for escape and Donnie’s ex wife Donna still reeled from Gabe’s suicide.
Boyle set the scene, gave us brilliant insights into the characters, their motives, their thoughts, he did this slowly, as coincidence played its part, as they met unaware of the hidden connections. It felt as if Boyle was winding up a clockwork toy just waiting for the right moment to let it go, for the craziness and the consequences to unravel and for you, the reader, to wonder who would be left at the end.
His narrative was harsh, the undertones dark and oppressive, the chinks of light few and far between. Boyle did it so well that you didn’t mind, that you understood that it was essential to the novel, to portray the darkness that engulfed those at the margins, those that could see no way out, that somehow resigned themselves to the life they were in.
As the connections between the characters became more apparent to us and themselves, Boyle ramped up the tension, the pace became more frenetic, and individuals surprised us with their actions, actions that would change their lives forever. You delighted in some, felt dismayed at others and I was most pleased to see Boyle include an epilogue to tie up the loose ends, to stop me wondering where they all ended up.
The City Of Margins was a novel I admired from start to finish, the human consequences of crime and its after effects brilliantly examined and presented. A must read for all those who like a crime novel with a bit of a difference.
I would like to thank No Exit Press for a copy of City Of Margins to red and review and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
William Boyle is from Brooklyn, New York. His debut novel, Gravesend, was published as #1,000 in the Rivages/Noir collection in France, shortlisted for the Prix Polar SNCF, nominated for the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière and shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger. Boyle is also the author of the Hammett Prizenominated The Lonely Witness (No Exit Press), a book of short series, Death Don’t Have No Mercy and another novel, Tout est Brisè, released in France by Gallmeister. His new novel, City of Margins, will be published by No Exit Press in 2020. He lives in Oxford, Mississippi.
Book Synopsis Film star Amelie Hart is the darling of the silver screen, appearing on the front pages of every newspaper. But at the peak of her fame she throws it all away for a regular guy with an ordinary job. The gossip columns are aghast: what happened to the woman who turned heads wherever she went? Any hope the furore will die down are crushed when Amelie’s boyfriend Dave is arrested on charges of child sexual abuse. Dave strongly asserts his innocence, and when Amelie refuses to denounce him, the press furore quickly turns into physical violence, and she has to flee the country. While Dave is locked up with the most depraved men in the country and Amelie is hiding on the continent, Damaris, the victim at the centre of the story, is also isolated – a child trying to make sense of an adult world… Breathtakingly brutal, dark and immensely moving, A Song of Isolation looks beneath the magpie glimmer of celebrity to uncover a sinister world dominated by greed and lies, and the unfathomable destruction of innocent lives… in an instant.
The scope of A Song Of Isolation was wide ranging from Amelie Hart, film star, Dave, ordinary bloke, to Damaris, a young girl living her everyday life. Malone took these three individuals and threw them into a whirling melting pot that made for intense and thrilling reading.
From the start Amelie and Dave’s relationship appeared on the brink but Malone put that on the backburner as Dave found himself in prison accused of child sex abuse. Amelie and Dave’s parents threw all their efforts into proving his innocence but Malone didn’t give us that happy outcome, instead he plunged us into maelstrom of lies and deceit. For Amelie, it was the trauma of a past event, whose memory pushed into the present as Malone sent her to France, to flee the media onslaught, and the disappearance of her money. A pervading sense of being watched meant she was never far away from what she wanted to leave behind. The trust of friends and those with whom she worked came into question and it allowed Malone to highlight the fickleness of the showbiz world, the media’s need to infiltrate every aspect of a persons personal life no matter the hurt it caused nor the inflated nature of the material published in print and on social media.
For Dave the harsh world of life behind bars was stark and brilliantly portrayed, the ever present need to act in a certain way, to toe the line, to be wary of those around him, filled you with unease, that something could happen at any time. What I admired most was Malone’s ability to convey Dave’s resigned sense of hopelessness, of trial by media as well as the courts, guilt assumed before he even stepped into a court room.
Then we had Damaris, the young girl at the centre of the storm, innocent, confused, never allowed to fully relate her story. Malone treated her story with great sensitivity, compassion, never exaggerated, but maintained a balanced perspective. What he conveyed so brilliantly was her emotional trauma, her bewilderment and lack of understanding, her ability to suppress what happened to the back of her mind, until years later when the actions of her mum and Uncle began to unlock memories. When he did unlock them it was careful and slow, like cogs on a machine that needed oiling to run faster and the final realisation of what happened pushed her to take action.
The final pages were a whirlwind of emotion and truth, of recriminations and justice that left you quite breathless but also with a sense of satisfaction. Why I am not going to reveal as that is for potential readers to discover.
A Song Of Isolation was one those novels operated on a two tier system. Malone had that wonderful ability to tell a story, to keep the reader immersed, but also to examine what is currently so pervasive within society, the role of social media and the impact simple words can have on an individuals life. When you looked at Amelia you saw how once she relished her success, her time in the spotlight, but how far should the media go when that star wishes to retreat to the background to live a life out of the spotlight. Should we respect that or should she have accepted that she was public property, fair game for the media both online and in print? And what of Dave, subjected to a barrage of media attention, of perceived knowledge that effectively ruined his life?
We will all have our own opinions and I didn’t think Malone was preaching or telling us the answers, his role was to make us think, to question , but ultinately to entertain, which he did with aplomb.
Once again Malone has demonstrated what a fine and accomplished author he has become.
I would like to thank Orenda for a copy of A Song Of Isolation to read and review and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
Michael Malone is a prize-winning poet and author who was born and brought up in the heart of Burns’ country. He has published over 200 poems in literary magazines throughout the UK, including New Writing Scotland, Poetry Scotland and Markings. Blood Tears, his bestselling debut novel won the Pitlochry Prize from the Scottish Association of Writers. His psychological thriller, A Suitable Lie, was a number-one bestseller, and the critically acclaimed House of Spines, After He Died and In the Absence of Miracles soon followed suit. A former Regional Sales Manager (Faber & Faber) he has also worked as an IFA and a bookseller. Michael lives in Ayr.
Till now, Stephanie has done her best to play by the rules—which seem to be stacked against girls like her. It doesn’t help that she wants to play football, dress like a boy, and fight apartheid in South Africa—despite living in rural middle England—as she struggles to find her voice in a world where everything is different for girls.
Then she hears them on the radio. Greenham women—an irreverent group of lesbians, punk rockers, mothers, and activists who have set up camp outside a US military base to protest nuclear war—are calling for backups in the face of imminent eviction from their muddy tents. She heads there immediately, where a series of adventures—from a break-in to a nuclear research center to a doomed love affair with a punk rock singer in a girl band—changes the course of her life forever. But the sense of community she has found is challenged when she faces tragedy at home.
Other Girls Like Me took me back to my teenage years as I watched the news and saw the furore the women at Greenham Common caused. I wasn’t sure I fully understood their actions, their mentality or was even aware of the whole LGBT community, which at the time wasn’t seen as the norm within society. Fast forward to today and the LGBT community is alive, thriving and generally accepted, but for me personally I still wanted to understand their thoughts, their own view on society and the world around them.
Davies, lifted the lid on that world in a truly eloquent and deeply personal way, from her life growing up in an average family, to her right of passage at Greenham Common. One thing that stood out was her struggle from a very young age, not just within her family, to be treated as an equal to the opposite sex, to be allowed to play football, to go on their football trips and not be pigeonholed into her girls corner.
The clashes with her parents only served to emphasis their lack of understanding, even if they held some of the same believes regarding nuclear weapons and apartheid. I found her relationship with her father particularly interesting and at times immensely moving, as I felt she tried and often failed to gain his respect and indeed his admiration for her endeavours.
Her young life was one of discovery of her political and ethical views, but more an exploration of her sexuality. The expectation that the obligatory boyfriend was the norm, even that one boyfriend exerted control over every aspect of her life, overrode many of her decisions, and you desperately wanted her to have that light bulb moment when the realisation that another world and other decisions were open to her.
When that light bulb finally did switch on, her life became all the more fascinating and I loved the descriptions of her life in Greenham Common. Davies gave you a real feeling of camaraderie, of women, who looked out for each other, lived how they wanted to live, found freedom to express their common views and opinions. Their concentrated actions against the Cruise missiles were often hit and miss, with numerous arrests and clashes with military and police but that didn’t deter only solidified their objectives and their actions. In their midst you could see Davis grow and mature, but you sensed she still wasn’t happy, that she hadn’t found her own voice until one night and a family trauma changed it all.
Yes, it was upsetting for her, but in other ways it was a hidden blessing, a forced detachment from those around her, breathing space to grieve and to think for herself. As if grief wasn’t enough, an impending court case and the impending threat of prison added to her anguish. Yet Davies was a fighter and you admired her determination to defend herself, the hours of research and practice she put in. You felt it gave her purpose and direction, empowerment and beliefs in her own decisions and capabilities, in essence it forced her to take control of her life and its trajectory.
The court case itself was thrilling, tense, as you could so easily have imagined yourself in a novel rather than someone’s own reality.
And it was this that made Davies memoir so good. It wasn’t mired in stereotype, but infused with huge emotion, personal anguish and a look inside the thought processes of a mixed up directionless young woman. The fact Davies didn’t make us feel sorry or pity her, that she took responsibility for her actions, was refreshing. I was pleased there was an epilogue or I would have felt quite bereft if I didn’t know where she was now.
I would like to thank Bedazzled Ink for a copy of Other Girls Like Me to read and review and to Midas PR for inviting My Bookish Blog to participate in the blogtour
About the author
Stephanie Davies is a writer who worked for many years in communications for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in the United States. A UK native, Stephanie moved to New York in 1991, where she taught English Composition at Long Island University in Brooklyn and led research trips to Cuba. Before moving to New York, she co-edited a grassroots LGBTQ magazine in Brighton called A Queer Tribe. Stephanie earned a French and ESL teaching degree from Aberystwyth University in Wales, and a BA in European Studies from Bath University, England. She grew up in a small rural village in Hampshire, where much of her first book, Other Girls Like Me, takes place. At the age of 22, Stephanie joined a women’s peace camp outside a US military base at Greenham Common in Newbury, a life-changing experience that is at the heart of Other Girls Like Me. Today, Stephanie divides her time between Brooklyn and the Hudson Valley, New York where she lives with her wife, Bea, and rescue dog, Emma Peel.
University professor Nina is at a turning point. Her work seems increasingly irrelevant, her doctor husband is never home, relations with her adult daughter Ingeborg are strained, and their beautiful house is scheduled for demolition. When Ingeborg decides to move into another house they own, things take a very dark turn. The young woman who rents it disappears, leaving behind her son, the day after Nina and Ingeborg pay her a visit. With few clues, the police enquiry soon grinds to a halt, but Nina has an inexplicable sense of guilt. Unable to rest, she begins her own investigation, but as she pulls on the threads of the case, it seems her discoveries may have very grave consequences for her and her family.
The Seven Doors was an interesting take on the crime novel, the police very much in the background, as they appeared monetarily. It was, I think obvious intent from the author, Ravatn as she decided to concentrate on the effects it had on not only Nina and her family but also on Nina herself as she reached a crossroads in her personal and professional life.
Nina, an academic and lecturer in literature, was I felt at that stage in her career when perhaps her students and indeed her subject had moved beyond what stimulated and interested her. Ravatn made her question her role but also the validity of what she taught, and maybe it was coincidence or fate that saw her stand in for a colleague on a literary panel at the same time as the young mother that rented their house,that caused the perfect storm, the perfect reason to up end her whole life.
It was also at this point that Ravatn made it that much more interesting than your normal crime novel. Who else would have thought that a literature professor would proclaim the analytical skills required in her role made her the perfect candidate to assist in solving police crime? In some ways she was right as Nina slowly plugged away with a determination to find out what happened to Mari, the young mother, as she probed into the psychology behind doctor patient transference and the old fairy tales that highlighted the relationships between men and women.
Now if Ravatn had concentrated purely on this aspect it would have produced a very one sided novel, but we need not have worried as slowly Mari’s disappearance moved closer and closer to her own doorstep. Ravatn littered her narrative with clues that led first one way and then another, the tensions of a house move, of christmas, of winter weather that brought the family together, that created a claustrophobic and tense nervous feeling, that you knew could explode at any moment.
It wasn’t a huge explosion of high drama, but understated, subtle, words used to carry feeling and emotion, guilt and regret, answers revealed that shocked and stunned. The way forward hung in the air only for the very last sentence to cause a huge intake of breath, an abrupt but brilliant ending that made you stop and think about what you had just read.
Yet, again the perfect novel form Agnes Ravatn.
I would like to thank Orenda for a copy of The Seven Doors to read and review and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours fro inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
Agnes Ravatn (b. 1983) is a Norwegian author and columnist. She made her literary début with the novel Week 53 (Veke 53) in 2007. Since then she has written three critically acclaimed and award-winning essay collections: Standing still (Stillstand), 2011, Popular Reading (Folkelesnad), 2011, and Operation self-discipline (Operasjon sjøldisiplin), 2014. In these works, Ravatn revealed a unique, witty voice and sharp eye for human fallibility. Her second novel, The Bird Tribunal (Fugletribuanlet), was an international bestseller translated into fifteen languages, winning an English PEN Award, shortlisting for the Dublin Literary Award, a WHSmith Fresh Talent pick and a BBC Book at Bedtime. It was also made into a successful play, which premiered in Oslo in 2015. Agnes lives with her family in the Norwegian countryside.
A young woman living in a rigid, puritanical society discovers dark powers within herself in this stunning, feminist fantasy debut.
In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. Her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace, so Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father, follow Holy Protocol, and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the other women in the settlement.
But a mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood surrounding Bethel, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still lurking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the journal of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood.
Fascinated by the secrets in the diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches. But when she begins to learn grim truths about the Church and its history, she realizes the true threat to Bethel is its own darkness. And she starts to understand that if Bethel is to change, it must begin with her.
I don’t usually read speculative, fantasy fiction but for some reason the Year Of The Witching had something appealing about it. I wasn’t sure if it was the topic of witches, or after reading the blurb, the parallels of men’s hold over women and the use of religious doctrines that intrigued me.
Whatever it was, it was a novel that I loved, that enthralled from the very first page and pulled me into the world of Immanuelle.
What can I say about Immanuelle! One of the bravest, strongest most determined young woman I have met in fiction. She had to live with her mothers past as a witch, the family that were stripped of their wealth, made to pay the price for her wrongdoings. Most women would keep their head down and just get on with life, but Henderson had other ideas for Immanuelle as she challenged the very core of Bethel, and the hold the Prophet and his Apostles held over its inhabitants.
The similarities to modern day cults were obvious, the use of scriptures, holy laws to ‘guide’ its people, the threat of contrition, imprisonment, punishment an axe that loomed large over their heads. Immanuelle, with the help of her mothers diary set out on a dangerous path that allowed Henderson to play with our imagination. She took us into the darkness of the Darkwood, and we felt the eerie chill of danger, saw the trio of witches that played with Immanuelle, attempted to draw her in, before a series of plagues descended on Bethel. The images that ran through my mind were just brilliant, as blood ran through the streams, the wells, the fields before darkness and finally the slaughter, the ultimate sacrifice.
Henderson gave Immanuelle an intelligence and maturity beyond her years as she battled the elements and the Prophet himself. Here was a man who believed in his own all encompassing power, that would stop at nothing to hold onto it, his abuse of young girls, his many wives that bore all the hallmarks of a cult leader at its worst. Yet Henderson pushed Immanuelle to her limits as she bargained with the Prophet, exposed his weakness and cowardice, putting herself in danger in the hopes of releasing Bethel from the grip of the plagues. Would the people of Bethel be behind her, or would they rail against her, afraid of recriminations, a blindness to the hold the Prophet had held over them? As per human nature there were those that doubted, that believed in the status quo, refused to believe in Immanuelle, bayed for her blood and you wondered if she would prevail or indeed survive.
The latter pages were full of drama, of sacrifice, you could hear the cacophony of noise fill you ear drums, the tension almost too much, and the imagery was fantastic.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom, there were hints and glimmers of hope and a feeling of optimism, of a bond that formed between Immanuelle and Ezra, son of the Prophet, the heir to the throne. Their combined strength appeared to grow despite the obstacles put in their way, and you felt that they were the future of Bethel, that something more lay in wait.
I was very pleased to read that Henderson will be writing a sequel as I cannot wait to see what the future will have in store for our wonderful Immanuelle.
I would like to thank Bantam Press for a copy of The Year Of The Witching to read and review and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
Alexis Henderson is a speculative fiction writer with a penchant for dark fantasy, witchcraft, and cosmic horror. She grew up in one of America’s most haunted cities, Savannah, Georgia, which instilled in her a life-long love of ghost stories. When she doesn’t have her nose buried in a book, you can find her painting or watching horror movies with her feline familiar. Currently, Alexis resides in the sun-soaked marshland of Charleston, South Carolina.
Her debut novel THE YEAR OF THE WITCHING will be published by Penguin Random House (US) and Penguin Books (UK) in summer 2020 with a sequel to come in 2021.
This is the story of The Greatest Funambulist Who Ever Lived…
Born into a post-war circus family, our nameless star was unwanted and forgotten, abandoned in the shadows of the big top. Until the bright light of Serendipity Wilson threw her into focus.
Now an adult, haunted by an incident in which a child was lost from the circus, our narrator, a tightrope artiste, weaves together her spellbinding tales of circus legends, earthy magic and folklore, all in the hope of finding the child… But will her story be enough to bring the pair together again?
Beautiful and intoxicating, A Girl Made of Air brings the circus to life in all of its grime and glory; Marina, Manu, Serendipity Wilson, Fausto, Big Gen and Mouse will live long in the hearts of readers. As will this story of loss and reconciliation, of storytelling and truth.
My first thought about A Girl Made Of Air was its distinctly ethereal feel, from the timely insertion of Isle Of Man folklore, to the magic of the circus and the big top. In the centre, our unnamed narrator, sometimes referred to as Mouse took our hand and guided us through her story, one of neglect, of friendship, love and regret.
She was the girl born of parents who didn’t see her, didn’t love her, forced her to fend for herself, as they became wrapped in their own love and woes. That was until she met Serendipity Wilson, the funambulist with the shocking red hair who took her into her wigwam and wrapped her in the love her parents deemed incapable of, yet it set of a chain of events that resonated throughout her life.
Hetherington didn’t make me feel sorry for her, instead she used Mouse’s voice to talk directly at us, or at someone else, someone alluded to but not revealed. I loved that it gave the novel a close personal feel, that enveloped us in her words, thoughts and feelings, a long winding stream of consciousness.
As she sat in her hotel room, wrote her story, Hetherington portrayed a young girl, who under the tutelage of Serendipity became a great tight rope worker but also learnt the hardship of human nature. She grew up in front of us, her naivety laid bare, the truth of her parentage shocking, her one supposedly good act thrown back at her, caused her untold grief that made you want to wrap her up in soft warm blankets, tell her it wasn’t all her fault.
Hetherington gave us the workings of the circus, the glamour stripped away, the hard life its performers, both human and animal led. There were the petty jealousies, favoritism, the dirt, the transit nature of their lives that prevented friendships and education, but it was home until Mouse decided it wasn’t and it was time to find what was lost.
Hetherington took her to the new world of America, of Tv’s shops, streets full of people, Mouse lost in the melee. Yet she was brave, determined as she found herself on Coney Island. Hetherington conjured images of a rundown island, of the tired acts, the poverty, but the sparks of hope and love Mouse discovered made me smile and hope that finally she had found peace. It wasn’t to be and the promise of wealth and fame led her away, almost to her downfall and you wondered if she would become lost, forget who she was and why she was there.
You wanted that happy ending to what was a truly wonderful story full of colour, of the frailities of human nature. I can only recommend that you borrow or buy and discover the wonderful story for yourself.
I would like to thank Quercus for a copy of A Girl Made Of Air to read and review and to Millie Reid for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blog blitz .
About the author
Originally from Leeds, Nydia Hetherington moved to London in her twenties to embark on an acting career. Later she moved to Paris where she studied at the Jacques Lecoq theatre school before creating her own theatre company. When she returned to London, she completed a creative writing degree at Birkbeck.
It’s late 1944. Allied victory is on its way, but it’s ruddy well dragging its feet. Hitler’s rockets are slamming down on London with vicious regularity and it’s the coldest winter in living memory. In a large house next to Hampstead Heath, Vera Sedge is just about scraping by, with a household of lodgers to feed, and her young ward Noel (almost fifteen) to clothe and educate. When she witnesses a road accident and finds herself in court, the effects are both unexpectedly marvellous, and potentially deadly, because Vee is not actually the person she’s pretending to be, and neither is Noel. The end of the war won’t just mean peace, but discovery, and not in the way any of them could ever expect.
I was trying to pinpoint exactly what it was that I liked so much about V for Victory but came to the conclusion that it was a veritable mix of characterisation and scene setting.
You couldn’t forget Evan’s wonderful characters, normal on the outside, but with a hidden mystery that lurked just below the surface.
Vee, or Margery Overs, head of the Green Shutters boarding house, seemed older than her approaching 40 years Evans led us to believe. You could understand why, five years in London, in the Blitz would age anyone, but there was something else that Evans kept carefully under wraps until she felt we and the story were ready. Vee was dependable, stoic, a great ‘Aunt’ to Noel her young charge. You wanted her to have some fun, some joy, to be able to leave her troubles if only for a short time. Evans didn’t let me down although it came at a price as the American GI entered her life quite by accident. It was the excuse Evans needed to give us a glimpse into her past, but also to leave it behind, to relax and seek some enjoyment.
Her young charge, Noel was a wonderful mix of youthful naivety and intelligence, traditional schooling abandoned as the boarders taught him their own specialised subjects. His various quotes and knowledge were interspersed throughout, and added to the serious intensity of his nature. You understood why as Evans revealed his childhood. I loved that he was a wonderful cook, could turn the meagre rations into delicious meals.
I think the character that most resonated was Winnie, head of air raid post 9. Respected by her colleagues, she was hardworking, conscientious, and extremely capable given the magnitude of her job. Her bravery, and skills in the face of so much destruction as V2 bombs and rockets fell from the sky was brilliantly portrayed by Evans. The fear and trepidation she must have felt was replaced by a selfless responsibility to her colleagues and those who fell victim to the falling bombs. Evans didn’t forget that she also had a personal life, a twin sister who didn’t quite ‘get’ her job who lived a life of wealth and luxury, and a husband trapped in a prisoner of war camp. Newly married, with little time to truly know each other, you could forgive her dismissiveness towards his mundane letters, product of a bored prison camp existence. It was Evans way to show us the lack of knowledge, of true news that didn’t exist in a world that lacked today’s internet and rolling 24hr news channels.
Their stories briefly cris crossed, as they meandered their individual ways through Hitler’s last hurrah. Evans gave us a sense of the changes to come, as Vee and Noel came to terms with the past, as Winnie acknowledged her future would need patience and understanding if she and her husband were to be happy, to succeed.
Perhaps Evan’s greatest triumph was her truly wonderful depiction of a London at war. The imagery was fantastic, as you felt each thud and vibration of the falling bombs, the trepidation of those close by who wondered if this time it would destroy their home. You couldn’t escape from the magnitude of Hitler’s wrath, of the fallen and crumpled buildings, of those forced to live in the ruins in the depths of winter.
The human suffering was immense, yet Evans always infused her narrative with a sense of optimism, as her characters grasped pleasure when it appeared and held on to a promise of a brighter future.
V For Victory was an utter triumph and one I shall remember for a long time to come.
I would like to thank Doubleday for a copy of V For Victory to read and review and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
Lissa Evans has written books for both adults and children, including Their Finest Hour and a Half, longlisted for the Orange (now Women’s) Prize, Small Change for Stuart, shortlisted for many awards including the Carnegie Medal and the Costa Book Awards and Crooked Heart, longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. OLD BAGGAGE was a sell-out Waterstone’s Book of the Month; THEIR FINEST HOUR AND A HALF was adapted into a star-studded film with Gemma Arterton and Bill Nighy
Everyone always wants to know why relationships fail. It’s a spiteful curiosity thing, schadenfreude, but also a self-preservation thing. People want to understand how to avoid the fall. The answer is complicated. There isn’t one reason, one event. It has something to do with smoking cigarettes and drinking all night. It takes into account thousands of hours of labour on a small house, projects finished and unfinished. It is late-night conversations and inside jokes and making love and having a child. The answer is wrapped up, shrouded and ensconced in prioritization, ambition and work. Caring about these things is not the problem. Not caring about them is death. Emma has settled into her hometown bar for the evening. It was in this very room that she met Lucas a few years back, on a blind date. Nine months ago, in unimaginable circumstances, they divorced. Emma listens to the locals’ banter, key facts about her life story begin to emerge and the past comes bearing down on her like a freight train. A powerhouse in the business world, why has she ended up here, now a regular in the last bar on the edge of a small town? What is she running away from? And what is she willing to give up in order to recapture the love she has lost? As Emma teeters on the edge of oblivion, becoming more booze-soaked by the hour, her night begins to spin out of control with shocking results.
A lone woman, Beth, in a bar slowly getting drunk, watching the interactions of those around her as memories slowly resurfaced. It soon became apparent to us the reader, that Beth was recovering from something traumatic, something that cast a shadow over her present life. Bruno, carefully, slowly and at times painfully, unwrapped her, layer by layer, as she watched those around her bicker, talk, drink and most importantly remember. All intrinsically linked, Beth’s ex husband the common thread, the tension between them grew as Beth’s story began the slow gradual build up to an event we hitherto knew nothing about but could only guess or surmise.
Bruno’s narrative was clever, the narrative more a stream of thoughts, of questions, of analysis, dialogue sparse and economical. It was a technique and structure you had to admire her ability to maintain our interest, to slowly release snippets of information.
It was Bruno’s ability to dig deep, to examine Beth’s responses, her reactions and subsequent actions, of a grief never acknowledged but glossed over, pushed to one side as the need to bury deep into work, to forget took over. You got an overriding feeling that her relationship with ex husband Lucas, was left unfinished, regret that words left unspoken had pushed them apart, that maybe love still remained, but did he feel the same way, would there be a way back or would all routes be blocked.
If Beth, looked back to the past, she was also in the present as the regulars in the bar provided the banter, the awkward conversations and grudges that slowly began to rise to the surface. A misguided decision from Beth lit a touch paper that you knew would eventually ignite and explode, but not before Bruno ramped up the tension, left you on tenterhooks until boom we were off, the quiet of the novel left behind a conclusion within reach.
The aftermath was quiet, understated, and peaceful, a recognition of conclusions arrived at, hope for a future.
Ordinary Hazards was just wonderful, a novel I devoured in one day, my need to discover Beth’s story, to know the outcomes, utterly compelling. Its slow meandering and subsequent change of pace compelling and mesmerising and in my opinion, brilliant.
I would like to thank Scribner for a copy of Ordinary Hazards to read and review and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour
About the author
Anna Bruno is a writer and business communications instructor at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business, where she coaches MBAs on developing and delivering presentations. Previously, Anna managed public relations and marketing for technology and financial services companies in Silicon Valley. She holds an MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, an MBA from Cornell University and a BA from Stanford University.
A darkly humorous, thought-provoking story of Scottish medical students in the sixties, a time of changing social and sexual mores. None of the teenagers starting at Glasgow University in 1967 live the life they imagine.
Beth Slater is shocked at how few female medical students there are and that some people, such as Conor Towmey, think they shouldn’t be there at all. Devastated by a close friend’s suicide, Beth uncovers a revealing diary and vows to find the person responsible for her death. Struggling with the pressure of exams while supporting friends though disasters, Beth charts the students’ changing, often stormy, relationships over two decades in a contemporary backdrop of Free Love, the Ibrox Football Disaster, the emergence of HIV and DNA forensics. In time, indiscretions surface with dire consequences for some.
In Not the Life Imagined, retired medic Anne Pettigrew has written a tale of ambition and prejudice laced with sharp observations, irony and powerful perceptions that provide a humorous and compelling insight into the complex dynamics of the NHS fifty years ago.
You are young, about to embark on the next chapter of your life at university yet you have chosen one of the hardest subjects, medicine. So what you might have thought, no problem, skip seamlessly in, work hard and emerge five years later as a doctor. Except there was a problem, it was 1967 and Beth was a woman, one of only a handful who dared to enter such a male dominated environment.
From the very beginning you knew it was going to be hard and Pettigrew didn’t hold back as she showed men at their worst, women ignored, grouped together, shoved in a corner and treated as their own personal playgrounds, ripe for the odd grope and sexual encounter. They had to work so much harder, their skills tested at every corner, the old guard resistant to change, as consultants favoured men, gave them the plum jobs.
From the start you wanted Beth to succeed but Pettigrew meandered skillfully into life in her social group, the mixture of characters wide and diverse, their friendships tested to the upper most limits. Beth was our eyes and ears as we watched their relationships, their jealousys, as the wide class and financial divide threatened everything they were working towards.
Conor was one character that stood out, a man full of self importance, the expectation that it was his right to become a well renowned, rich consultant, and you read in utter frustration as he used his connections, the old boy network, and married to gain that upper hand. I seriously wanted to punch him, and by the end I detested him so much more than when I first met him, so angry did Pettigrew’s portrayal make me feel.
Others battled depression, mental illness, suicide and you did wonder who would be left as you neared the end. Pettigrew didn’t make it easy, she made us work, she made us think, provoked questions as we compared what we have today with the past. It did make me realise how far we have moved on since those times, women more successful and prevalent in the medical world. We still have a similar class and financial divide, that is something that I don’t think will ever change, but the ladder to success both professionally and financially is maybe that little bit easier.
The city of Glasgow, and it’s imposing cold university and hospital buildings were all used to great advantage by Pettigrew, adding to the sometimes oppressive, taut and tense feelings of the characters.
Politics, sexism aside The Life Not Imagined was a fantastic story, wonderfully written, with a narrative full of emotion, the educational and historical themes perfectly balanced and seemlessly interwoven.
I would like to thank Ringwood Publishing for a copy of The Life Not Imagined to read and review and to Damp Pebbles Tours for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
A graduate of Glasgow (Medicine) and Wolfson College, Oxford (Anthropology), Anne Pettigrew has been a GP, worked in psychiatry, family planning/sexual health, lecturing, patient/women doctors pressure groups, BMA Media relations, Homeopathy, acupuncture, an EEC Committee, book reviewing and journalism (medico-political and humorous articles to The Herald, Doctor newspaper etc: a Channel 4 Despatches). Retiring from practice, she became a wedding planner for a charity theatre, before starting Creative Writing classes and mentoring at Glasgow University. She is now a member of Garnethill critical writer’s forum and has won short story and article trophies in Greenock Writer’s Club. Not the life Imagined was runner up in the Scottish Association of Writers’ Constable Silver Stag Award 2018. The book was originally called No Sinecure, a title abandoned as no one under 35 in any class or group she joined knew what ‘sinecure’ meant (though some suggested it was apt, the book featuring ‘sin’ in those who ‘cure!’) Two more books are underway. Anne has two grown up children and lives with her husband in North Ayrshire.