The Blue Bench by Paul Marriner

Synopsis:

Margate 1920

The Great War is over but Britain is still to find peace and its spirit is not yet mended.

Edward and William have returned from the front as changed men. Together they have survived grotesque horrors and remain haunted by memories of comrades who did not come home. The summer season in Margate is a chance for them to rebuild their lives and reconcile the past.

Evelyn and Catherine are young women ready to live life to the full. Their independence has been hard won and, with little knowledge of the cost of their freedom, they are ready to face new challenges side by side.

Can they define their own future and open their hearts to the prospect of finding love?

Will the summer of 1920 be a turning point for these new friends and the country?

My thoughts:

As part of the Random Things Tour for The Blue Bench, I listened to the audiobook via Audible. Thank you to Anne Cater for inviting me along, and for providing me with an audio copy of this book.

The Blue Bench follows the lives of a group of friends living in Margate in the summer of 1920: Evelyn and Catherine, two young women who strike up a warm and caring friendship, and William and Edward, two friends and ex-soldiers who are trying to fit back into life after the horrors they experienced in the trenches in France. The novel is narrated in the third person, and is told primarily from the perspectives of Evelyn and Edward.

This is a pretty long book! The audio was over 19 hours, but I found it a comforting and heart-warming listen where I was swept away to the south coast of England in the summer of 1920.

In The Blue Bench, Paul Marriner has created a richly detailed and multi-layered portrayal of what life was like for many, weaving factual details into this wonderful fiction. We see how the wounded soldiers suffered with emotional as well as bodily injuries, amputations and disfigurements. We see how women were beginning to change their outlooks on how they were viewed and how they should be treated. There’s a real contrast between the sadness and pain which lingers post 1918, and the hope and warmth which is kindled between the characters, especially between Edward and Evelyn.

I loved the attention to detail and really felt as though I knew and loved the characters, flaws included. I really enjoyed spending time with Catherine, Evelyn, William and Edward. If you enjoy character driven novels or historical fiction, you are bound to love this book.

The Random Things Tour continues until 4th June. Check out what the other bloggers have to say about The Blue Bench.

About Paul Marriner

Paul grew up in a west London suburb and now lives in Berkshire with his wife and two children. He is passionate about music, sport and, most of all, writing, on which he now concentrates full-time. Paul has written four novels and his primary literary ambition is that you enjoy reading them while he is hard at work on the next one (but still finding time to play drums with Redlands and Rags 2 Riches).

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Breakers by Doug Johnstone

Synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old Tyler lives in one of Edinburgh’s most deprived areas. Whilst trying to care for his little sister and his drug-addicted mother, he’s also coerced into robbing rich people’s homes by his bullying older siblings.
One night whilst on a job, his brother Barry stabs a homeowner and leaves her for dead. And that ’s just the beginning of their nightmare, because they soon discover the woman is the wife of Edinburgh’s biggest crime lord, Deke Holt.

With the police and the Holts closing in, and his shattered family in terrible danger, Tyler is running out of options, until he meets posh girl Flick in another stranger ’s house. Could she be his salvation? Or will he end up dragging her down with him?

My thoughts:

This is Doug Johnstone’s 10th crime novel, so if you’re a crime aficionado, the chances are you will have come across his work before. For me, it was my first of his books, and I know it will not be the last!

Breakers is a gritty crime thriller set in Edinburgh’s underworld. It centres around an unusual protagonist – seventeen year old Tyler Wallace. Unlike most seventeen year olds, Tyler finds himself acting as primary carer for his little sister Bethany (who he calls Bean) and his drug-addicted mother. He lives on the fifteenth floor of Greendykes House, one of the only two tower blocks left in the area. Across the corridor, lives his brother Barry and sister Kelly.

Barry and Kelly finance their hedonistic lifestyle and cocaine addiction by breaking into wealthy houses in Edinburgh, stealing valuables and selling them on. Tyler, who is small for his age, is their unwilling accomplice; they use him to climb through small windows and grant them access. Barry is evil and sadistic – Tyler knows he has to do as his brother commands, there’s simply no other real choice. One night, things go horribly wrong for the Wallace’s when they unwittingly break into the house of Deke Holt – Edinburgh’s version of Tony Soprano.

Tyler permits himself a secret life of breaking and entering, away from his siblings, in the smarter suburbs of Edinburgh. This unorthodox hobby gives him some head space from the pressures of home and family. Following the calamity of the the Holt break-in, Tyler meets Flick, a posh girl from one of Edinburgh’s elite boarding schools, and they strike up a friendship. Despite their lives being universes apart, Flick and Tyler find out that they have more in common than they ever imagined. But Tyler’s friendship with Flick drags her into his world, placing her, and Bean, in grave danger.

In Breakers, Doug Johnstone allows us access to a seedy, usually unseen side to Edinburgh, and explores themes of deprivation and excess. It is a whirlwind of a read, that had me feeling tense and nervous throughout. I loved Tyler’s character and desperately wanted everything to work out for him and his younger sister. Through Tyler, Doug Johnstone shows us the complexities and difficulties that can arise from a life of extreme poverty, where choices are limited and often the odds are stacked against you. Tyler’s absence of faith in social services and the authorities means that he refuses help that is offered, and causes him to choose a terrifying path which left me wracked with nerves for him. You’ve probably gathered that I really enjoyed this heady and fast-paced novel, which was packed with characters I know I will not forget in a hurry.

Thank you to the publisher, Orenda, for my digital copy of Breakers, and to Anne Cater, for inviting me to be part of the Random Things Blog Tour for this thrilling book.

About the author:

Doug Johnstone is an author, journalist and musician based in Edinburgh.
He’s had nine novels published, most recently Fault Lines. His previous
novel, The Jump, was a finalist for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime
Novel of the Year. Several of his other novels have been award winners and
bestsellers, and he’s had short stories published in numerous anthologies
and literary magazines. His work has been praised by the likes of Ian Rankin,
Val McDermid and Irvine Welsh. Several of his novels have been optioned
for film and television. Doug is also a Royal Literary Fund Consultant Fellow.
He’s worked as an RLF Fellow at Queen Margaret University, taught creative
writing at Strathclyde University and William Purves Funeral Directors.
He mentors and assesses manuscripts for The Literary Consultancy and regularly tutors at Moniack Mhor writing retreat. Doug has released seven albums in various bands, and is drummer, vocalist and occasional guitarist for the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, a band of crime writers. He also reviews books for The Big Issue magazine, is player-manager for Scotland Writers Football Club and has a PhD in nuclear physics.

The Den by Abi Maxwell

Synopsis:

A luminous, hypnotic story of youth, sex, and power that tells of two young women who find themselves ostracized from the same small New England community for the same reasons–though they are separated by 150 years.

Henrietta and Jane are fifteen and twelve, growing up in a farmhouse on the outskirts of town. Their mother is a painter, lost in her art, their father a cook who’s raised them on magical tales about their land. When Henrietta becomes obsessed with a boy from town, Jane takes to trailing the young couple, spying on their trysts–until one night, Henrietta vanishes into the woods.

Elspeth and Claire are sisters separated by an ocean–Elspeth’s pregnancy at seventeen meant she was quickly married and sent to America to avoid certain shame. But when she begins ingratiating herself to the town’s wealthy mill owner, a series of wrenching and violent events unfold, culminating in her disappearance.

As Jane and Claire search in their own times for their missing sisters, they each come across a strange story about a family that is transformed into coyotes. But what does this myth mean? Are their sisters dead, destroyed by men and lust? Or, are they alive and thriving beyond the watchful eyes of their same small town?

With echoes of The Scarlet Letter, Abi Maxwell gives us a transporting, layered tale of two women, living generations apart yet connected by place and longing, and condemned for the very same desires.

My thoughts:

The Den is an atmospheric and spellbinding novel about two sets of sisters, Jane and Henrietta, and Elspeth and Claire, separated by more than 150 years, but connected through the New Hampshire land and through the tale of Cold Thursday, a local myth.

The first timeline in the novel is set in relatively recent times (but pre-mobile phones, Facebook etc).  Here we meet Henrietta and Jane: sisters who have always been close, but are growing apart as teenage Henrietta becomes involved with a local boy, Klaus, and increasingly leaves Jane behind while she lives out her rebellions.  Jane finds this rejection by her sister difficult to deal with, so she takes to trailing her in order to discover why she is being left behind.  Then one day, Henrietta disappears.

The second timeline in the book is set in the middle of the nineteenth century, and focuses on the relationship between Elspeth and Claire: Scottish sisters, separated by the Atlantic Ocean.  Elspeth, like Henrietta, has a rebellious nature and is driven by her sexual desires.  Along with her husband, she emigrates to New Hampshire to live in the woods on the outskirts of a mill town.  Claire and Elspeth correspond faithfully, so when Elspeth’s letters stop, Claire becomes increasingly concerned.  Sources reveal to her that Elspeth’s entire family disappeared from their cabin on a day known locally as Cold Thursday, and all that remained of them was a pack of coyotes.

I loved the exploration of sisterhood in this character-driven novel, the examination of bonds that link, the secrets concealed, the ways events can be interpreted and remembered differently, and the myths we tell ourselves.

Abi Maxwell’s writing has an ethereal quality to it, which kept me spell-bound right until the end.  The different sisters’ story threads were expertly woven together to create this wonderful read.  I know that these four women and their stories will stay with me for a long time.

Thank you to the publisher for a proof copy of The Den.  To read more reviews, you can check out what the other bloggers are saying on this tour.  Thank you to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me along.

About Abi Maxwell:

Abi Maxwell is the author of Lake People. Her fiction has also appeared inMcSweeney’s. She studied writing at the University of Montana and now lives in New Hampshire, where she grew up, with her husband and son.

 

Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

 

The Synopsis:

They were the new icons of rock and roll, fated to burn bright and not fade away. But on 12 July 1979, it all came crashing down.

There was Daisy, rock and roll force of nature, brilliant songwriter and unapologetic drug addict, the half-feral child who rose to superstardom.

There was Camila, the frontman’s wife, too strong-willed to let the band implode – and all too aware of the electric connection between her husband and Daisy.

There was Karen, ice-cool keyboardist, a ferociously independent woman in a world that wasn’t ready for her.

And there were the men surrounding them: the feuding, egotistical Dunne brothers, the angry guitarist chafing on the sidelines, the drummer binge-drinking on his boat, the bassist trying to start a family amid a hedonistic world tour. They were creative minds striking sparks from each other, ready to go up in flames.

It’s never just about the music…

 

My thoughts:

Daisy Jones & The Six is a vortex of a novel. Thankfully, I was off work when I picked it up, as I was sucked in to the centre of this story, and couldn’t get enough of the characters. I found it it be a thoroughly enjoyable and ultimately uplifting book.

The novel is a fictional recount of a band which ceased to be at the height of their fame, at the end of the seventies. It documents the origins of the band, and reveals how The Six and Daisy Jones came to be.

What makes this novel to utterly readable and compelling is the style it is written in – like an interview in a music magazine, the tale is relayed using the different voices from band members and those on the periphery, including Rolling Stones journalists and photographers who captured iconic moments in musical history.  This inter-cutting interview style provides a comprehensive picture of what was happening from all the different perspectives.

Daisy Jones is a flawed and troubled character: teenage ‘It Girl’ of the Sunset Strip, she hangs out with musicians and falls into writing and singing her own songs.

Meanwhile, The Six are becoming a huge deal. Like many great bands, they were formed by two brothers and a group of friends. The lead singer – Billy Dunne – is also troubled soul, and experiments with booze, women and drugs.  Camilla, his girlfriend from before they became famous, becomes his rock and muse, and tries her best to keep him on the straight and narrow.

When record company bosses decide to merge Daisy Jones and The Six,  tensions arise.  Daisy and Billy clash, and tense, often explosive scenes follow as both stubborn and head-strong characters fight to maintain their creative input and control over their song writing. Ruffling feathers, they struggle through their differences. The US is fascinated by them – they can’t get enough of the chemistry between Daisy and Billy – everyone can see it, but them.

After one gig, Daisy walks out, putting an end to the band at the height of their fame. What happened, and why? Everyone was there, but they all have a different take on the situation. Thankfully, the writing style allows us access to everyone’s views.

I loved it. I want a Daisy Jones & The Six band t-shirt, and am really excited (and slightly nervous) about seeing this story brought to our screens later in the year as Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine company bought up the screen rights to the book before it even reached the publisher!

About Taylor Jenkins-Reid

Taylor Jenkins Reid is the acclaimed author of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, One True Loves, Maybe in Another Life, After I Do, and Forever, Interrupted. Her most recent novel, Daisy Jones & The Six, is a New York Times bestseller.

In Two Minds by Alis Hawkins

Synopsis:

Harry Probert-Lloyd, a young barrister forced home from London by encroaching blindness, has begun work as the acting coroner of Teifi Valley with solicitor’s clerk John Davies as his assistant.

When a faceless body is found on an isolated beach, Harry must lead the inquest. But his dogged pursuit of the truth begins to ruffle feathers. Especially when he decides to work alongside a local doctor with a dubious reputation and experimental theories considered radical and dangerous. Refusing to accept easy answers might not only jeopardise Harry’s chance to be elected coroner permanently but could, it seems, implicate his own family in a crime.

My thoughts :

I first came across Alis Hawkins’ Teifi Valley Coroner series when Emily at Dome Press asked if I’d like to be part of the blog tour for In Two Minds. I was happy to give it a whirl based on the synopsis, and the fact that I really enjoy historical crime fiction. Emily very kindly also sent me a copy of book one – None So Blind, but unfortunately I didn’t get around to reading it beforehand. However, it is most definitely on my TBR pile now.

This second book in the series is set in the 1850s, in the Teifi Valley in Cardiganshire, Wales. In it, Harry Probert-Llloyd, acting coroner, and his clerk, John Davies, investigate the events surrounding the discovery of a faceless body on a remote beach. In today’s world, a coroner would be unlikely to act as an investigative detective, but life was very different back then. Here’s a summary of the historical note from book one, which helps to put things into context:

In 1829, Robert Peel established the Metropolitan Police Force. Around a decade later, the County Police Act was passed, enabling provincial police forces to be established. This lead to the establishment of a police force in Cardiganshire in 1943. The role of the police in society was very much as keepers of the peace – they would not have investigated murders like today’s detectives do. As for coroners, they were elected by male property freeholders, and were unpaid – so they needed an independent income: this meant that they had to come from the professional or landed classes.

The Teifi Valley Coroner series stars Harry Probert-Lloyd, a young squire from a large estate in Glanteifi. He’s a trained barrister who has had to give up his legal career in London due to the loss of his central vision – he still has his peripheral vision, but cannot make out faces or detail. In book one, he establishes working a relationship with a local solicitor’s clerk, John Davies, who is Harry’s right hand man, and is essential to Harry’s ability to carry out his duties. Book two opens with Harry as acting coroner, once again requesting the services of John as his assistant.

Together, they set about discovering why a faceless body was found on a beach. Was it murder, or merely an unfortunate accident?

The journey they embark upon allows the reader a glimpse into the social history in the Teifi Valley at the time. I’m pretty well-versed in Irish history, but I was unaware that many of the people of Wales were also forced to consider emigration to the USA around this time, as they could no longer rely upon the land to provide for them and their families. I loved learning more about the society and culture while also trying to work out who the body belonged to, and how it ended up dead on the beach.

John and Harry’s relationship is still relatively new, and there’s plenty of tension and misunderstanding between the pair. The chapters alternate between John and Harry’s viewpoints, allowing the reader full access to the different lines of enquiry, and also enabling us to get to know both characters equally well. John comes from a very poor background, and desperately needs a salaried position in order to support himself. He is very aware of the way people see him as he tries to earn respect and show that he is deserving of his position as Harry’s assistant. In contrast, Harry is set to inherit Glanteifi from his elderly father when he dies, but is desperately fighting the responsibilities of an estate squire.

I really enjoyed this book: Alis Hawkins has thoroughly researched the time and place, and has done a wonderful job in evoking and creating an atmospheric mystery, filled with a cast of interesting and colourful characters. This book not only provides an insight into the legal practices of the time, but also in gives insight into medical practices and attitudes towards illness.

I loved the inclusion of the map at the front, along with a brief glossary of the Welsh used in the book. I am definitely planning on reading book one (None So Blind) in the very near future so that I can fill in the blanks that I missed out on. Reading the books out of sequence did not impair my enjoyment of In Two Minds. It’s one I would definitely recommend to readers who enjoy historical and crime fiction – and who like learning a little along the way.

Thanks again to Emily at Dome Press for my gifted copies of None So Blind and In Two Minds. If you want to read some more reviews, check out what the other bloggers on the tour have to say:

About Alis Hawkins:

Alis Hawkins is a Welsh writer, who lives on the Welsh/English border. She grew up on a dairy farm in Cardiganshire. After attending the local village primary school and Cardigan County Secondary school, she left West Wales to read English at Oxford. Subsequently, she has has done various things with her life, including becoming a speech and language therapist, bringing up
two sons, selling burgers, working with homeless people, and helping families to understand their autistic children. And writing. Always. Nonfiction (autism related), plays (commissioned by heritage projects) and, of course, novels.
Alis’s first novel, Testament, was published in 2008 by Macmillan and was translated into several languages. (It has recently been acquired for reissue, along with her medieval trilogy of psychological thrillers by Sapere Books).
Her current historical crime series featuring blind investigator Harry Probert-Lloyd and his chippy assistant, John Davies, is set in Cardiganshire in the period immediately after the Rebecca Riots. As a side-effect of setting her series there, instead of making research trips to sunny climes like more foresighted writers, she just drives up the M4 to see her family.
Now living with her partner on the wrong side of the Welsh/English border (though she sneaks back over to work for the National Autistic Society in Monmouthshire) Alis speaks Welsh, collects rucksacks and can’t resist an interesting fact.

You can find out about her upcoming indy book tour on her website.

Twitter: @Alis_Hawkins
Website: http://www.alishawkins.co.uk

Worst Case Scenario by Helen Fitzgerald

Synopsis:

A deliciously dark, unapologetically funny psychological thriller by the international bestselling author of The Cry

‘The harrowing plot keeps you gripped until the final, devastating revelation’ Sunday Mirror

Mary Shields is a moody, acerbic probation offer, dealing with some of Glasgow’s worst cases, and her job is on the line.
Liam Macdowall was imprisoned for murdering his wife, and he’s published a series of letters to the dead woman, in a book that makes him an unlikely hero – and a poster boy for Men’s Rights activists.

Liam is released on licence into Mary’s care, but things are far from simple. Mary develops a poisonous obsession with Liam and his world, and when her son and Liam’s daughter form a relationship, Mary will stop at nothing to impose her own brand of justice … with devastating consequences.

A heart-pounding, relentless and chilling psychological thriller, rich with deliciously dark and unapologetic humour, Worst Case Scenario is also a perceptive, tragic and hugely relevant book by one of the most exciting names in crime fiction.

My thoughts:

I haven’t read any of Helen Fitzgerald’s previous novels, but I’ve watched the dramatisation of The Cry and really enjoyed it, so I excited to be asked to read and review this book – plus it’s published by Orenda, so I was confident it would be good. Boy, what a read!

Mary Shields is a social worker in Glasgow. Her job is to work with paedophiles, murderers and sex-offenders. She spends her time talking to the dregs of society to assess the level of threat they pose to the public. Part of her job is to imagine the worst case scenario, and work backwards from there, imposing conditions on her clients’ freedom in order to ensure the freedom and safety of the public at large. But what happens when your judgement is not what it used to be? What happens when you endanger the ones you love, and become your own worst case scenario?

Mary is one of the most unusual and memorable protagonists I have come across; she is car-crash-mesmerising. At fifty-two, she’s menopausal and filled with red rage; her career as a social worker appears to have taken its toll on her, and she has passed the point where she gives a shit about what others think of her. Mary’s husband has been a struggling cartoonist for all of their marriage, and finally he is on the brink of ‘making it.’ Emboldened by the promise of his imminent contract and subsequent financial rewards, Mary decides to resign. However, before she does, she becomes a loose canon, and makes some very bad decisions.

I really enjoyed that Helen Fitzgerald gave the reader an insight into how draining and consuming social work must be. Despite it’s rather serious and disturbing subject matter, the novel is darkly funny. Mary is so outrageous and inappropriate – I was absolutely fascinated by her.

Worst Case Scenario is fast-paced, heady and addictive, and you never know quite which way things are going to go. In fact, I never predicted any of the outcomes!

Mary Shields MUST make it to our screens. In my mind, she’s a Glaswegian menopausal Fleabag. There’s a huge audience of unheard women just waiting for such an unlikely heroine. In the meantime, grab yourself a copy of this book, and meet Mary Shields.

Thank you to Anne Cater of Random Things Blog Tours for inviting me onto this blog tour, and to Karen at Orenda for my copy of this book.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

Publication Date : 2nd May 2019

Publisher : Zaffre Books

Synopsis :

A BBC RADIO 2 BOOK CLUB CHOICE 2019

‘This is a novel of international significance. Courageous, provocative, haunting, it will open our eyes’ Heather Morris, author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz

In the midst of war, he found love
In the midst of darkness, he found courage
In the midst of tragedy, he found hope

The Beekeeper of Aleppo

What will you find from his story?

Nuri is a beekeeper; his wife, Afra, an artist. They live a simple life, rich in family and friends, in the beautiful Syrian city of Aleppo – until the unthinkable happens. When all they care for is destroyed by war, they are forced to escape.

As Nuri and Afra travel through a broken world, they must confront not only the pain of their own unspeakable loss, but dangers that would overwhelm the bravest of souls. Above all – and perhaps this is the hardest thing they face – they must journey to find each other again.

Moving, powerful, compassionate and beautifully written, The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a testament to the triumph of the human spirit. Told with deceptive simplicity, it is the kind of book that reminds us of the power of storytelling.

My thoughts:

I have read The Tatooist of Auschwitcz and The Kite Runner, so I guess I am the target audience for The Beekeeper of Aleppo. I find it strange to say that I enjoy these books – knowing that the subject matter is heartbreaking – but I feel that it’s important to read books like these : it’s important that we know about the lives of others, especially those who are less fortunate – for reasons of geography, for reasons of bad luck, for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In The Beekeeper of Aleppo, Christy Lefteri has succeeded in portraying beauty and love in a desolate situation. She has created central characters I really cared about, came to love, and who I continue to think about long after finishing the last page.

Nuri is a beekeeper from Aleppo, and his wife Afra is an artist. They were madly in love in their home city of Aleppo: they had a beautiful son and they were happy. Life was good to them, until it wasn’t. Until war came along and destroyed everything, stealing them of their boy, and leaving them almost unrecognisable to each other.

A dual timeline forms the structure of this book, where alternating chapters, narrated by Nuri, reveal Nuri and Afra’s life during their first weeks in England, and their journey from Aleppo, through Turkey, Greece and finally to England. I really enjoyed how the story was slowly revealed, showing how they went from being normal, regular and happy people, to becoming refugees in a B&B in the south of England.

There are some really heart-warming characters in this book – and some real villains.

This is a beautifully written and humbling book. Reading it might just make you more aware of the plight of many of the people seeking refuge in wealthy countries. Reading it might make you take stock of what you have.

This is a book I will be recommending to friends and family, and one I think people should read.

Thank you to the lovely folk at Zaffre Books for my ARC of this book.

About the author

Brought up in London, Christy Lefteri is the child of Cypriot refugees. She is a lecturer in creative writing at Brunel University. The Beekeeper of Aleppo was born out of her time working as a volunteer at a Unicef supported refugee centre in Athens.