The White Book by Han Kang #HanKang @PortobelloBooks Translated by @londonkoreonist

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The White Book by Han Kang. Translated by Deborah Smith.  Portobello Books   November 2nd 2017

Han Kang won the Man Booker International Prize for Fiction in 2016 and I was most intrigued and excited to read The White Book.

Written whilst the author lived in Warsaw it is hugely autobiographical, reflecting on the death of her elder sister, who was born prematurely and lived for only two hours. It examines the effect it had on her and her family in South Korea.

Kang uses objects that are white in colour, perhaps to signify the purity of a newborn and also the simplicity that white represents to try and explain the grief that she and her family feel at the loss.  Kang beautifully describes the swaddling shroud the baby was wrapped in, and the breast milk her mother produces that will never be drunk by the baby.

It also a mediation on the world that we now live in. As Kang walks the streets of Warsaw there are constant reminders of the Nazi’s, the persecution that took place during the second world war. Would it be right for the baby to be alive in the world that we now find ourselves in.

This is a sparsely written novel, full of wonderful imagery that will linger long after the last page has been turned.

The writing is brilliant and I was immersed from the first page and read in one sitting.

I am not sure that it will be to everyone’s taste as it is so unique,  but it was wonderful.

About the author

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Han Kang was born in Gwangju, South Korea and at the age of ten moved to Seoul.

Kang studied Korean Literature at Yonsei University.  She has won the Today’s Young Artist Award, and the Korean Literature Novel Award. The Vegetarian was her first novel to be translated into English and was published by Portobello Books in 2015. It went on to win the 2016 International Booker Prize. Kang has also written Human Acts

The translator Deborah Smith is British translator of Korean fiction. Smith has also recently set up her own independent publishing house, Tilted Axis, aimed at publishing more experimental foreign fiction.

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The Fighter by Michael Farris Smith @michael_f_smith @noexitpress @annecater

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Jack Boucher, a former bare-knuckle fighter, has nothing more to give. In a single twisted night, he is derailed. Hijacked by a sleazy gambler out to settle a score, Jack loses the money that will clear his debt with the queen of Delta vice, Big Momma Sweet. As Jack’s foster mother slowly dies, her mind eroded by dementia, so Jack finds his mind is failing too. Years of bare-knuckle fighting have taken their toll and recurrent concussion leaves him relying on painkillers and a notebook of names, separating friend from foe, to keep himself alive. Yet a saviour comes in the form of Annette, a tattooed carnival  worker and free spirit, who guides him towards some sort of salvation. But the road to redemption is filled with danger and Jack is forced to step into the fighting pit one last time, with the stakes no less than life or death. 

My review

This is not the type of book that I would necessarily read but sometimes it’s good to get out of your comfort zone and try something new.

Jack Boucher is as the blurb describes a hardened fighter, past his prime and heading home with money in his pocket to settle his debts. Yet the money is not enough to save the house he grew up in, the house his foster Mother entrusted him with, a fact Jack regrets. An accident and the loss of the money confounds Jacks problems and this is where the story really starts.

Jack is a complex character, abandoned at birth and shunted from children’s homes to foster homes. It is only when Maryanne fosters him that Jack finally feels secure. Cage fighting turns out to be the only thing he is good at but it takes it’s toll. Farris excels at showing the two sides of Jack, the hard nosed fighter and the caring but damaged side. His love for Maryanne  is deep, his sense of responsibility towards her strong, but I could feel his angst, his feelings that he had let her down and that he so wished his life had been very different. I could visualise the anguish on his face, a face that I could imagine looking older than his true age. I also felt his physical pain and winced a couple of times as Farris described his intense and extremely painful headaches.

The scenes as Jack sat at the nursing home with an unresponsive Maryanne were tender and emotive and I really felt the Jacks sorrow.

The other major character in the novel is Annette. Annette is young, tattooed and hardened by the life she has led. An ex pole dancer Annette exhibits her tattoos in her friend Baron’s travelling show. It’s a show run by ex prisoners, those on the wrong side of society. She’s one tough woman and I loved her grit and determination. When she meets Jack I knew there was something deeper between them and I wasn’t quite sure what it was. I did feel there was an instant connection on Annette’s side and I loved the journey of discovery Farris took us on as Annette pieced together her past.

There is one aspect of the novel that really stood out for me and that was the brilliant scene setting and atmosphere. I could feel the hot, sticky humidity of the Delta, and could clearly imagine Big Momma Sweet’s compound.

Farris seamlessly wove the past and the present together, unraveling the back stories of Jack and Annette. The latter part of the novel was fast paced, and exciting with a very dramatic last few pages that had me totally gripped, wishing that the outcome for both Jack and Annette would be a good one.

This novel could best be described as hard on the outside with a soft and tender inside. It is a novel of grief, loss and regret with a small glimmer of hope just within sight. It is a novel that surprised me and I am so pleased that I had the opportunity to read. The Fighter.

Thank you to No Exit Press for a proof to read and review and to Anne Cater for inviting mybookishblogspot to take part in the blogtour.

About the author

Michael Farris Smith

MICHAEL FARRIS SMITH is a native Mississippian who has spent time living abroad in France and Switzerland. He is the recipient of the 2014 Mississippi Author Award and has been awarded the Mississippi Arts Commission Literary Arts Fellowship, the Transatlantic Review Award for Fiction, and the Alabama Arts Council Fellowship Award for Literature. His short fiction has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and his essays have appeared with The New York Times, Catfish Alley, Deep South
Magazine, and more. He lives in Columbus, Mississippi, with his wife and two daughters.

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The End of Loneliness by Benedict Wells #BenedictWells @SceptreBooks Translated by Charlotte Collins @cctranslates

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The End of Loneliness by Benedict Wells  Sceptre March 8th 2018

Told through the fractured lives of siblings, The End of Loneliness is a heartfelt, enriching novel about loss and loneliness, family and love.

My review

Jules, Liz and Marty are alone, living in a boarding school, their parents killed in a car accident. Each deals with the death in their own way. Liz, rebels spiraling into drugs and alcohol and unable to maintain any kind of relationship. Marty retreats into the newly discovered world of the internet setting up his own company before selling and enjoying an opulent lifestyle with his wife Ellen.

Jules, is the youngest, the one who finds himself adrift unsure of where his talents lie. It is his school friendship with Alva that shapes much of his adult life. Over the years they rarely stay in touch until a meeting in Munich results in Jules leaving his job and moving to Switzerland to live with Alva and her husband. As Alva’s older husband’s health deteriorates the love that has always bubbled just below the surface encompasses Jules and Alva with consequences neither could ever have imagined.

The novel is a story of how we deal with loneliness, what it means to be lonely and how it can affect the course of our life, and what happens when we accept ourselves for who we are. It also illustrates the power of family and the strong ties that bind and support during troubled times.

The characters are brilliantly portrayed and Jules, the main protagonist, will take the reader through a whole range of emotions from sheer joy,and frustration to deep despair.

The relationship between Jules and Alva is compelling and yes you can guess what is going to happen but the writing is so beautifully done that it doesn’t really matter.

Liz and Marty have good supporting roles and their own story did not feel out of place but merely added to the intensity of the novel.

If you are looking for a happy ever after then this this not the book for you, but with its wonderful well paced writing it is one to savour and enjoy.

All credit must be given to Charlotte Collins who has done an amazing job translating Benedict Wells’ stunning novel

About the author

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Benedict Wells was born in 1984 in Munich. At the age of six, he started his journey through three Bavarian boarding schools. Upon graduating school in 2003, he moved to Berlin, where he decided against an academic education and instead started to dedicate his time to writing. In 2016 he won the European Prize for Literature for his third novel, The End of Loneliness, which has been in the German bestseller list for over a year. After years of living in Barcelona, Wells has recently returned to Berlin.

Bitter by Francesca Jakobi @fjakobi @JenKerslake @wnbooks

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Bitter by Frances Jakobi W&N March 8th 2018

It’s 1969, and while the summer of love lingers in London, Gilda is consumed by the mistakes of her past. She walked out on her beloved son Reuben when he was just a boy and fears he’ll never forgive her. Yet she hopes desperately they can mend their shattered relationship.

When Reuben marries a petite blonde gentile, Gilda takes it as the ultimate rejection. Her cold, distant son seems transformed by love – a love she’s craved his entire adult life. What does his new wife have that she doesn’t? It’s an obsession that will bring shocking truths about the past to light . . 

Bitter is a beautiful and devastating novel about the decisions that define our lives, the fragility of love and the bond between mother and son.

My review

Imagine growing up in a household where your mother shows you no affection, more interested in attending cocktail parties, then spending any time with her daughters. Imagine a Father that has no kind words or a sister that treats you with contempt. This is Gilda’s world, as she grows up in pre-war Germany. Life doesn’t get much better when she is shipped off to an English boarding school where she is treated with scorn and derision for being German and Jewish. As war approaches her family must flee Germany and Gilda is married off to her father’s business associate, Frank. Much older then Gilda, theirs is a comfortable life and seems complete when Gilda welcomes her son Reuben, except how can Gilda be a mother when she doesn’t know how to be one.

It is an issue Gilda wrestles with for most of her adult life, and her turmoil intensifies when Reuben marries, sweet, petite Alice. As she sees her sons happiness and the ease at which he showers Alice with love and affection Gilda becomes increasingly jealous. Why can he not show her such love and affection, and so begins Gilda’s obsession with Alice. This was where the story became particularly interesting as the layers of Gilda’s past life were slowly peeled away. From a character that you really wanted to dislike, even hate, you slowly began to feel great sorrow for Gilda. Jakobi was brilliant at laying bare the immense turmoil and damage done to Gilda over many years. You could feel her aching with loneliness, not even able to find solace in her one and only best friend Margo. It was as though she had pressed the self destruct button and didn’t know how to make it all stop.

I felt myself willing Reuben to pull down his barriers, to show his Mum some affection and understanding and perhaps forgive her just a little bit. Yes, Gilda had made mistakes, but she was for the most part a victim of circumstance, of having no role models to look up to or persons to seek advice and guidance. Reuben sees only ones side, his, and his feelings of rejection run pretty deep.

I liked the role Jakobi gave Alice, the go between, the one normal person who had a loving, warm and secure family background.  Gilda’s actions towards Alice are the most chilling aspect of the book, hinting of desperation and I was never sure if she actually wanted to harm Alice or just scare her. Unaware of what is happening and able to see the issues from both sides, Alice works tirelessly to try and bring the two together.

Jakobi’s writing is wonderfully evocative. I could feel the desperation and aching loneliness of Gilda in her later life and the coldness that emanated from her parents as she endured a loveless childhood, her bitterness oozing from the pages. The alternating timelines between past and present was seamlessly done, and the short staccato chapters perfectly reflected the sharpness we often associate with bitterness.

It is a novel full of anguish, of the relationship between mothers and their children, the good and the bad. It is profoundly sad but also full of hope, that redemption and forgiveness may be possible.

It is hard to believe that this is Jakobi’s first novel, it is remarkably well written and I look forward to reading her next novel.

Many thanks to Jennifer Kerslake at Weidenfeld and Nicolson for a proof copy to read and review.

About the author

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Francesca studied psychology at the University of Sussex, followed by a stint teaching English in Turkey and the Czech Republic. On returning to her native London she got a job as a reporter on a local paper and has worked in journalism ever since. She’s currently a layout editor at the Financial Times. Bitter is her first novel.

#Blotour The Teachers Secret by Suzanne Leale @Suzanne_leal @Legend_Press


The Teachers Secret by Suzanne Leal  Legend Press March 1st 2018

I love Australian literature and was delighted to be invited on the blogtour for The Teacher’s Secret.

A small town can be a refuge, but while its secrets are held, it’s hard to know who to trust
and what to believe. Terry Pritchard, assistant principal at Brindle Public School, watches his career collapse. Nina Foreman, a new teacher, struggles with the breakdown of her marriage and a new classroom. Rebecca Chuma is also new to Brindle: the locals are curious – what’s she doing there and why can’t she return home. By contrast, Joan Mather has lived in Brindle all her life. Since the death of her elderly mother, however, she’s been finding it hard to leave the house.

My review

The small Australian town of Brindle, is a place where everyone knows your business, where nothing can remain a secret or at least not for very long. This is the setting for Leal’s story of a myriad of characters who must all come to terms with their past, present and future.

Terry is the deputy head at the local primary school, adored by both staff and especially by the children he teaches. When young new head. Laurie, arrives Terry expects life to carry on as normal, but it doesn’t. As she watches his close interaction with the children, all she can see is the inappropriateness of his hugs, of the arms around the shoulders, of the assistance given to one girl out of school hours. All Laurie, wants to do is to get rid of him, to fill the school with regulation, procedure and order. Who wouldn’t rebel when faced with new ideas, with restrictions on what you can and cant do, and that is exactly what happens with Terry. Leale writes wonderfully of his anguish, and turmoil, as what he perceives as just helping is twisted and manipulated. You could sense the sorrow and raw emotion oozing from him, and I wanted to scream at Laurie for her vindictiveness and sheer narrow mindedness.

Nina on the other hand is struggling to keep her marriage alive, and be the best mother she can to her little girl. When she arrives at Brindle Primary she has a real battle on her hands to be accepted by the children. What I loved about Nina was her tenaciousness and her ability to accept when she was wrong. She had a certain fragility to her that resonated with myself and I remained hopeful throughout the story that all would be well.

My favourite character had to be Joan. A woman who is now alone, her mother dead and no immediate family. It was beautiful to read of her slow emergence into a world outside her front door, making new friends and seeing the possibility of a life full of people and happiness.

I wasn’t quite sure how the story of Rebecca and her son actually fit into the story. Their flight from Africa under strange circumstances certainly piqued my attention and I did wonder what Rebecca was holding back. I concluded that Rebecca and her family were there to show how those who are different from the norm stand out in a such a small community, and how difficult it is for families similar to Rebecca’s to be accepted. It was nice to see Rebecca portrayed as a strong and brave woman and my fingers were crossed throughout the whole novel for her to be ok and to get the outcomes she so wanted for her family.

Leal has written a novel that shows the good and bad of a small community, it shows how information can be twisted and manipulated to suit a situation, how lives can change in a heartbeat. It is also a novel of immense hope, recovery and survival, of a communities willingness to accept people for whom they are no matter what they have done or where they have come from.

I thoroughly enjoyed the cast of characters and their stories

Thank you to Imogen Harris at legend Press for a copy to read and review and for inviting mybookishblogsot on to the blogtour.

About the Author

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Suzanne Leal is a lawyer experienced in child protection, criminal law and
refugee law. The Teacher’s Secret is her first novel published in the UK following her well-received debut in Australia, Border Street. Suzanne lives in Sydney with her husband, David, and her four children, Alex, Dominic, Xavier and Miranda.

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The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin @chloekbenjamin @Bookywookydooda @TinderPress

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The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin  Tinder Press March 8th 2018

If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children–four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness–sneak out to hear their fortunes.

The prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists probes the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, this world and the next. It is a deeply moving testament to the power of story, the nature of belief, and the unrelenting pull of familial bonds.

My Review

The Immortalists has been huge in America garnering critical acclaim for its author, Chloe Benjamin. I was extremely lucky to receive a pre publication copy and saved it until I had a weeks leave and a long train journey to London. I am sometimes sceptical about novels that receive huge publicity, often disappointed when I finally read so I began reading with few expectations.

From the first page to the last I can honestly say I was hooked, fully immersed in the story of the Gold family siblings, Varya, Daniel, Klara and Simon.  The whole premise of the novel, that each Gold sibling knows the date of their death, was totally unique, but it does make it hard to review the novel without giving too much away.

What I will try to do is give an overview of each character.

Simon is the youngest and is persuaded, after the death of their Father, to flee to San Francisco by sister Klara. Once there he becomes involved in a world so far removed from the one he has fled. He is selfish, self centered, living everyday as if it his last.

Daniel is much more complex, the one who persuaded them all to visit the psychic and the one who seems to carry the burden of blame. A military doctor, married to Mira, they have no children yet he seems the most level headed and steady out of all the siblings. As the date of his death approaches he becomes slightly unhinged, hell bent on tracking down the psychic perhaps trying to reverse his fate and that of his siblings.

Klara is a magician finding herself on the verge of fame when she and her husband Raj get their own show in Las Vegas. It is everything Klara ever wanted but wracked by guilt over Simon’s death she finds herself in complete turmoil. Klara’s story was for me the most intense aspect of the novel. Her inner turmoil and complete breakdown was unbearable to read but the narrative was utterly compulsive.

The eldest Gold sibling is Varya, a research scientist investigating the anti aging process which sounds completely absurd considering they all knew when theywere going to die. Varya is the most complex of all the siblings, wrapping herself in the protective layer of obsessive compulsive disorder. Hers is a life lived to rules, no eating out, careful potion control, not too many calories, lots of hand washing and definitely no relationships or friends. I was enjoying afternoon tea in Covent Garden when I read Varya’s story and at first I found her cold and unlikeable and then oh my goodness suddenly Varya’s  story changed. I can remember holding my breath and wanting to turn to the table next to me and tell them what had happened. It was this moment that I started to like Varya, the moment she felt like a human with feelings and emotions and I too wanted everything to be ok for her, for her to be happy and content.

Benjamin’s writing is brilliant, it draws you in and completely immerses you in the story of the Gold siblings. There is an intensity about it that I haven’t experienced in a novel for a long time. She made me feel a complexity of emotions and I felt a real connection to each of the characters and I really wanted them to have a happy ending.

Ultimately, The Immortalists is a story of family, love, grief and life. It makes you question our purpose, our actions and how much we must be grateful for what we have before it is too late.

There are three words I would use to describe The Immortalists. compelling, immersive and brilliant.

Thank you so much to Caitlin Raynor and Tinder Press for a pre-publication copy to read and review

About the author

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Chloe Benjamin is the author of the novel The Anatomy of Dreams, which received the Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award and was longlisted for the 2014 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. A San Francisco native, Benjamin is a graduate of Vassar College and of the University of Wisconsin, where she received her MFA in fiction. She lives with her husband in Madison, Wisconsin.

#Blogtour The Woman Before Me by Ruth Dugdall @RuthDugdall @Legend_Press

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They came for me, just like I knew they would. Luke had been dead for just three days.
Rose Wilks’ life is shattered when her newborn baby Joel is admitted to intensive care. Emma Hatcher has all that Rose lacks. Beauty. A loving husband. A healthy son. Until tragedy strikes and Rose is the only suspect. Now, having spent nearly five years behind bars, Rose is just weeks away from freedom. Her probation officer Cate must decide whether Rose is remorseful for Luke’s death, or whether she remains a threat to society. As Cate is drawn in, she begins to doubt her own judgement.Where is the line between love and obsession, can justice be served and, if so… by what means?
New edition of internationally-bestselling thriller.

My Review

The Woman Before Me is one of those novels that gets under your skin. Its challenging, bleak and very dark, but intelligently written. What I admired was Dugdall’s ability to get to the very heart of her characters. Rose is damaged by a childhood blighted by death and rejection, with no one to point her in the right direction her adult life sees her cling to what she believes is love, and the loss of her baby pushes her over the edge. I couldn’t make my mind up if I sympathised with Rose or indeed if I actually liked her as she struggled with reality, with what was right and wrong. She is highly manipulative and psychologically damaged and it did make me wonder that if her childhood had been completely different , if she would have made the same choices or acted as she did.

Cat on the other hand is definitely not psychologically damaged but she finds Rose a challenge. It was interesting to read as Cat slowly fell under Rose’s spell and how she began to question her professionalism and objectivity. The fact that Cat was also a mother made the story that much more believable and showed how difficult it is to leave emotions out of work life, it made Cat seem more human.

I liked that Rose and Cat each had their own chapters, their chance to tell their story. Rose’s in particular was so well done, as she used a black book, almost like writing a letter to inform the reader of her background, her thoughts and the reasoning behind her actions. It allowed Dugdall to really get to the heart of Rose and her human psyche.

Ruth Dugdall’s professional background as a prison probation officer meant the story was steeped in reality and it was brilliant to gain an insight into the prison system and her profession. Yes, this is a work of fiction but Dugdall must have encountered similar situations, perhaps not as extreme, that lent the story a measure of real life anthenticity.

I loved the twist towards the end and Rose’s story needs a sequel please!

About the author

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Ruth worked as a Probation Officer for almost a decade, working in high security prisons
with numerous high-risk criminals. Her writing is heavily influenced by her professional
background, providing authenticity and credibility to the crime genre.
Follow her on Twitter @RuthDugdall

Don’t forget to follow the rest om my fellow blogger on The Woman Before Blogtour

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