Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Review of The Spice Box Letters by Eve Makis

I would advise buying a packet of tissues before you start reading this extraordinary novel which depicts the human cost of war. The novel is peppered with vividly evoked scenes of the physical, emotional and mental trauma that many Armenian families went through during the massacre of their people in WWI.

The rhythm of Makis's phrasing delivers a unique sense of authenticity, it feels as though you are listening to a traditional storyteller as they reveal family secrets. The story begins in the present in the UK when a spice box is discovered in Katerina's late grandmother's effects. It contains letters written in Armenian that neither she or her mother can translate, and Katerina turns her journalistic instincts towards uncovering her grandmother's past at the request of her mother.

Despite her initial reluctance, due to wondering if her grandmother would have wanted the family to go prying into her private life, Katerina takes her grandmother's letters on holiday to Larnaca in Cyprus and a series of coincidences lead her to a translator. As her grandmother's painful past is gradually revealed Katerina learns the true meaning of family, love and hope in order to reclaim her Armenian roots.

The chapters alternate between Katerina's voice and her grandmother Mariam's voice. Mariam was only a child when she witnessed the first of many horrifically violent events. She and her family are forced to leave everything behind as they are sent on a death march from Armenia into the Syrian desert. Makis writes the most brutal scenes in deceptively simple and clean prose, embedding shocking images in the memory of the reader without ever being gratuitous. You will feel like you witnessed the horrific treatment the Armenians were subjected to at first hand.

Yet there is humour and light to balance the darkness. Each survivor has happy memories that they hold on to, memories of coming together in times of love and celebration. There are many well observed comical moments in the novel to remind you that these characters are ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. The shadows of the past never fully go away but sometimes the characters can rise above them to appreciate the moments that make life worth living.

The flavours of Cyprus are woven throughout the text making your mouth water, serving to emphasise the depth of the hunger felt by those starved not only of food but of love, care and kindness during the war. The sense of being the last survivor of a generation or race is deeply isolating for many characters, who take comfort in the rhythm and rituals of their culture, a culture that they fear will end with their passing. 

The Spice Box Letters is a life-affirming and unforgettable reading experience. Makis has given the Armenian people a voice that shares the pain of the past and ends on a hopeful note. I was in tears by the end, they were cathartic tears as I grieved for those who were lost and acknowledged the light of a new generation that still burns thanks to those who survived.

With thanks to Eve Makis for the review copy.
Published by Sandstone Press
Follow the author on twitter: @EveMakis

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Review of Ghosting by Jonathan Kemp

It's quite possible to be a ghost in your own life, to exist yet not really feel alive, to become subsumed by another person's expectation of who you are, what you should be until you no longer recognise yourself. In many ways this is 64-year-old Grace's experience, until the day she thinks she's seen the ghost of her long-deceased first husband, Pete.
The trauma of the violence Grace experienced during her first marriage has resonated throughout her life. Memories slide into the narrative quietly, almost as though Grace knows they're there but doesn't want to look too closely in order to avoid feeling anything.
In the present Grace is married to Gordon, her second husband, who sold their home and moved them into a narrowboat when they both retired. Outwardly Grace appears to be happy about the move but inwardly she feels the walls of her current existence closing in on her.
The story moves effortlessly from the present to the past exploring the misplaced guilt, heartbreak and unspoken grief that nearly broke Grace's mind and bound her to Gordon.
The 'ghost' of Grace's first husband turns out to be a young man called Luke who makes a living as a performance artist. Luke bares his pain in public, while Grace's pain is hidden and suppressed. As Grace begins to open up to the world and new experiences through her friendship with Luke, she learns that she is not alone in her suffering and that it's possible to break free of her self-imposed prison.
To say I loved this novel would be an understatement. Reading Ghosting is a heart-breaking yet uplifting experience. The writing is brimming with tenderness, insight and compassion as Grace gradually begins to reclaim herself rather than slip back into old habits and beliefs. As I turned the last page I hoped that the autumn of Grace's life would be as golden as the leaves drifting down the black and white cover of this beautiful novel.
Published by Myriad Editions 12 March 2015. With thanks to the publisher for the review copy.
Find out more about the author.
Follow the author on Twitter: @JonathanMKemp

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Review of The Distance by Helen Giltrow

Welcome to the final stop on the Blog Tour for The Distance by Helen Giltrow. 

The novel is set in the near future and opens with Karla, a woman who has access to information that everyone wants and who can make anyone disappear. Karla left that life behind when she became Charlotte Alston, a discrete, elegant woman with a low profile who has a flat in the Docklands. 

When Karla is contacted by a contract killer called Johanssen she's drawn back into her former life once more. She agrees to help him get into The Program, which is a 'self-regulating society made up of other criminals', where Johanssen needs to find a woman and kill her. Both Karla and Johanssen have a complex history and her new life as Charlotte depends on his ability to keep her identity secret.

The Program is run by a criminal mastermind called Quillan, who gave the the original order for Johanssen to be killed, which adds another layer of tension. Johanssen thinks his true identity is safe as Quillan has never seen him. Johanssen enters The Program and despite the challenges presented by Quillan's sadistic sidekick, Brice, he manages to find the woman he's been sent to eradicate, only the job doesn't prove to be that simple.

Meanwhile, Karla is on the outside wondering if Johanssen will survive in The Program. She decides to investigate the background of the woman he has been sent to eliminate and discovers a web of intrigue and deception, and time begins to run out for all of them.

Who is the prey and who is the hunter constantly changes as Karla and Johanssen desperately try to find the truth behind the circumstances they find themselves in. The concept behind The Program is original and vividly realised. Five thousand inmates have been taken out of prison and dumped in the equivalent of a ghetto, where they are monitored by a private security firm. The environment has that film noir quality: all sharp angles, shady lighting, dark corners and a sense of being watched by shadowy figures, which constantly heightens the tension.

The main characters are well drawn. Each one feels a distinct sense of distance, alienation and fear, and they're all driven by ambiguous motives. The violence is brutal, you may find yourself squirming with empathy for the victims as Brice revels in drawing out the torture. 

Giltrow has created a great, fast paced, hardcore espionage thriller with an intriguing lead character. Taut writing and well placed cliffhangers makes The Distance a compulsive read for thriller fans.

With thanks to the author for the review copy. 
The Distance is published by Orion.
Find out more about the author.
Follow the author on twitter @HelenGiltrow.
And check out the other blogs on the tour for more reviews and interviews.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

The Broadway Book Club is under new management

The Lounge at the Broadway Cinema
where the book club often meets

Due to the unpredictable nature of my health at the moment I've had to give up running the Broadway Book Club. I did think that the club may have to close but book club member Leanne Wain (@leannewain on Twitter) has offered to take it over, much to the relief of everyone as no one wanted it to stop. 

Leanne will be a fabulous host as she is as passionate about books and reading as I am. She is also a fantastic book blogger over at

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has supported the club over the last five years since I started it. 

Thank you to all the authors who have visited and inspired our members to read more widely (see below). It was a wonderful to hear how you achieved your dreams of becoming published authors and to share your joy. A special thank you to Mark Charan Newton who was the first author to give every member an e-copy of his first novel - Nights of Villjamur - to read. 

                                                         Mark Charan Newton 

Thank you to authors Anya Lipska and Damien Seaman who offered every member of the club copies of their self-published e-books Where the Devil Can't Go and The Killing of Emma Gross. Both authors went on to land traditional publishing deals and Anya's series has just been signed by BBC Drama.

Thank you to Stephen L. Holland from Page 45 in Nottingham, who blew everyone away when he gave an inspired talk on graphic novels. I highly recommend booking Stephen for your library, club, school, college or university to appreciate graphic novels from his perspective. Graphic novels are not simply comics, they are works of art that can express the human condition every bit as eloquently as the written word. 

I'd also like to say a huge thank you to the Broadway Cinema in Nottingham and Events Co-ordiantor Laura Cubley, who always made sure we had a room to meet in every month, it's been a real pleasure to work with you all. I think we've held meetings in most of your rooms over the years, which means I'm now in a better position to recommend your facilities! I'll still be coming in for movies, events and book club meetings when I can.

Finally, I'd like to thank my members. You have been amazing, thought provoking, entertaining and extremely vocal in voicing your opinions of every book we've read. You made the whole experience so much fun. Thank you. I hope you continue to enjoy discovering new reads with Leanne!

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Review of Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

1976: Eight-year-old Peggy Hillcoat is spending the summer learning how to be a survivalist, as her father has become obsessed with the idea that the world will soon end. 

Her German mother, Ute, is a successful concert pianist. Occasionally, Ute has to work away from home and it’s during one of these absences that Peggy’s father decides to take his daughter on holiday to a remote hut in Europe. But as the journey progresses it gradually dawns on Peggy that her father has no intention of ever taking them home again. When he tells her Ute has died and that they are the only humans left alive on earth Peggy has no choice other than to go along with him.

Peggy does survive the experience as the novel begins in 1985, shortly after she has returned home to her mother. In the opening chapter the reader learns that Peggy has complex feelings about her father and around being back home with her mother, Ute. As she tries to make sense of her feelings Peggy slowly begins to reveal what happened during those years in the wilderness with her father.

The voice of the younger Peggy resonates with innocence, trust, disappointment and hope. Her father's unstable mentality and the impact his behaviour has on his daughter is revealed during a scene set in the summer of '76, when Peggy is practising her survival skills during a timed drill to impress one of his friends. Her sense of shame at having failed him comes off the page in waves, just as powerfully as her sense of pleasure when she does something well. Fuller's depiction of the father's mood swings and irrational behaviour patterns in the followng chapters are perceptive and emotive. 

In the wilderness Peggy reconnects to her mother when her father makes her a set of soundless piano keys. The memory of her mother's music floods her senses as she learns to 'play' them in the hut. But it's as Peggy moves from childhood to adulthood that her perception of her father begins to change, as the pressures of living in isolation increasingly challenge both his coping mechanisms and hers.

The compelling narrative will put you through an emotional wringer as Peggy and her incredibly unprepared father are given harsh reality checks during the first brutal winter in the remote hut, and during the following years. The writing is rich with imagery, sounds and sensory diversions as Fuller draws you into the wilderness, where nature rather than nurture rules Peggy’s life.

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller is a complex, devastating and completely unforgettable début novel. There is subtle artistry and exceptional skill in how Fuller shows rather than tells the reader what is happening. The final scene is exquisitely drawn and resonates with a raw emotional power. Highly recommended.

Published by Fig Tree Books (Penguin). With thanks to Penguin for the intriguing review package.

Follow the author on Twitter: @ClaireFuller2
Visit the author's website

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Review of The Longest Fight by Emily Bullock

I was knocked out by the depth of the emotional punches in this stunning début novel. Emily Bullock had me on the ropes, wrung out, cried out and then delivered a heart-wrenching blow in the final, pitch perfect, not a word wasted, lines of the last chapter. 

The novel is set in the 1950s and circles the life of grafting boxing manager Jack Munday. The world of boxing that he inhabits is vividly and believably rendered, you can smell the sweat and the testosterone. Bullock captures the sense of time and place with incredible authenticity as she gradually reveals what drives Jack to make the choices he does. These scenes are delivered in a series of punishing blows before drawing the reader back to a corner of Jack's life where he discovers something worth fighting for. 

Yes, I'm championing this novel, for it's a worthy contender in the world of publishing. Place your bets on this original and emotive reading experience that is about making mistakes, taking the blows, getting back up and seizing an opportunity for change or redemption. The story within will leave you feeling emotionally battered, bruised and marked with a new understanding of life, love and everything that's worth living or dying for, as you weep for Jack and his longest fight.

With thanks to Myriad Editions for the review copy.
Follow the author on Twitter: @emilybwritng and find out more at

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Review of Second Life by S.J. Watson

When Julia's younger sister, Kate, is murdered in Paris, Julia becomes obsessed with finding her killer. The only clue she has is that Kate was using specialist websites to contact men. Curious about why her sister was attracted to these sites, Julia logs onto her computer and is soon drawn into the world of online sexual fantasies. 

As Julia and Kate's back story is gradually revealed, the reader learns that Julia is a recovering addict, has perfectionist tendencies, an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and a lot of unresolved guilt. 

Julia's tendency towards addiction means she soon becomes addicted to the freedom online to create an entirely new persona. When she is contacted by a man called Lukas, he gives her the opening she has unwittingly been looking for to explore another side of herself. Their online chats progress to a real life meeting, leading Julia to negate all common sense as Lukas draws her further into his sexual fantasies and begins to draw out hers, putting both her recovery and life at risk.

While Second Life doesn't have the unique hook that made Watson's debut novel - Before I Go to Sleep - such a massive hit, the novel is a good thriller and would translate well on screen. Watson explores how someone can present different aspects of the self both online and in person and how easy it is to reveal more than originally intended, with damaging effects. Everything you need to know about the truth of the situation is right in front of you, but how much you perceive will depend on what you, as a reader, choose to obsess over in order to discover Kate's killer.

Second Life by S.J. Watson is published by Transworld, with thanks to Transworld and NetGalley for the review copy.

Follow the author on Twitter: @SJ_Watson

Review of The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

Ted Severson is fuming in an airport bar when a woman sits next to him and compliments him on his choice of drink. Preoccupied by thoughts about his wife, Miranda, back home Ted doesn't pay much attention at first, until the woman ends up next to him on the same plane. During the flight he reveals that Miranda has been having an affair and that he'd kill her if he had the guts for it. The woman listens to Ted rant and then offers to murder his wife. While the beginning of the The Kind Worth Killing is reminiscent of Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith, Swanson has put his own stamp on the theme in this thriller.

The woman turns out to have a taste for murder. Her name is Lily Kintner and she committed her first murder at the age of 13, when she was put in an untenable situation where the likelihood of being believed was low. This sets a trend; Lily is cold, predatory and calculating when she is disappointed by life, as the reader soon discovers.

The novel is written from three perspectives in the first person: Ted, his wife Miranda and Lily's, and the more you know about each character the more dislikeable they become, as the narrative questions who actually is the kind worth killing, or if killing can be justified at all. Ted and Miranda are a mismatched couple with different expectations that are mirrored in the vast house Miranda is building for them both. A tour of the building site exposes the sense of distance between them, the lack of solid foundations within their relationship and Miranda's agenda for Ted. 

Lily is a fascinating creation, she is able to emotionally detach from a traumatic situation, then observe and manipulate it to her advantage. Lily is as devoid of a conscious as Highsmith's creation Tom Ripley. While the narrative lacks the subtlety of a Highsmith novel, it does power along with plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader engaged, and although you may see some of the twists coming it's Lily's unique perspective on events that will keep you turning the pages until the end.

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson is published by Faber and Faber Crime. With thanks to Faber and Faber and NetGalley for the review copy.

Follow the author on Twitter: @PeterSwanson3

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Review of The Snow Globe by Judith Kinghorn

I love snow globes, I find them fascinating. They offer a little glimpse of a perfect world encased in glass. There's something relaxing about shaking one and watching the snow fall on that little bit of perfection.

The snow globe of the title was given to Daisy by her father, Howard, when she was five. It features a perfect replica of the family home - Eden Hall in Surrey, and is one of Daisy's most treasured possessions. Every Christmas Daisy puts it on display in Eden Hall where it is admired by everyone. 

Romance and developing independence are on eighteen-year-old Daisy's mind in Christmas 1926, and she dreams of meeting a man who is as 'principled, honest and kind' as her father.

Hours later the snow globe becomes a metaphor for Daisy's shattered illusions. Iris, Daisy's older sister, is a woman who has started up her own successful fashion business in London, a business that many of the the men at home dismiss as a mere hobby. A wild card, Iris is up for anything and always roaring with laughter, but she does have a sensitive side, which comes to the fore when Daisy's discovers the truth about their father after overhearing a conversation that reveals he's been leading a double life. As the novel progresses, Daisy gradually learns that things aren't quite as black and white they seem when it comes to love. 

I loved the women in this novel, while they are rich in terms of possessions or a secure job, they are all finding love a challenge. They each go on a journey of self-discovery which is painful at times, yet enriching. As they learn to assert their own needs they become more compassionate and understanding of the needs of others.

Mabel is Daisy's mother, the woman who ensures Eden Hall runs smoothly. At first Mabel appears bored with her life but there is much more to her story than is first indicated. Dosie, her sister-in-law, is a fiercely independent character, highly vocal and a lot of fun. She understands what's driving Mabel to behave out of character and has a plan that will give Mabel the space she needs to think about what matters to her. Meanwhile, downstairs Mrs Jessop runs the kitchen with efficiency, loathes newfangled technology and has a few secrets of her own. 

The male characters are just as interesting and complex as the women and have just as many secrets to hide: some out of kindness, some out of frustration, others through being easily led and regretting it or because they are manipulating the situation for personal gain. 

Kinghorn has captured the quirks of the language of the time well, especially in Iris's voice. This is a beautifully written novel that explores the frailty and power of love. The Snow Globe is about mature love, materialistic love, idealistic love, miscommunication, misunderstandings, loss, grief and the joy to be found in forgiveness. It was an absolute pleasure to read and I was moved to tears just before the end. If you love watching Downton Abbey, you will love reading The Snow Globe.

I won my US proof copy of The Snow Globe in a competition 
that Judith Kinghorn ran on Twitter (@judithkinghorn). 

Published by New American Library on 3 March 2015.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Review of Behind Closed Doors by Elizabeth Haynes

Behind Closed Doors is Elizabeth Haynes's fifth novel and the second in the Briarstone Major Crime series featuring DCI Louisa Smith. As is the tradition with Haynes the novel explores hard-hitting themes, in this case human trafficking.

The novel begins with the disappearance of a young British teenager called Scarlett Rainsford who is on holiday in Rhodes with her family. No one knows what has happened to her, until she turns up 10 years later in her home town of Briarstone.

DCI Louisa Smith is already working on a serious assault case involving a young man called Ian Palmer, plus the murder of a business man called Carl McVey, when she's informed of Scarlett's reappearance. Ten years earlier she had been a young DC working on the team investigating Scarlett's disappearance and had always regretted the fact that they hadn't found her. 

The chapters alternate from the Scarlett to DCI Louisa Smith, with intelligence reports on the victims and possible perpetrators for all three cases in-between. 

The chapters featuring Scarlett are told from her perspective during each stage of her journey over the past ten years as she is trafficked across Europe. These are hard hitting chapters: Scarlett is treated brutally, yet she learns how to survive in this cruel climate where she is classed as a commodity as long as she brings in the money. All the time she thinks about her family, particularly her younger sister, whom she feels protective towards. There are undercurrents of an unspoken darkness throughout as DCI Louisa Smith gradually draws out how Scarlett ended up in such a vulnerable position.

The chapters featuring DCI Louisa Smith demonstrate how emotionally hard it is to keep work and personal lives separate. Louisa is in a new relationship with a colleague, Jason, and she's not sure where she stands with him, or how flexible and understanding he will be when her caseload takes up her spare time. 

The intelligence reports give the reader insights to each case, allowing the reader to try and solve them alongside DCI Louisa Smith. While Behind Closed Doors is a harrowing read at times it does offer important insights to the human trafficking that goes on in reality today. The novel covers the difficulties involved in tracing the victims, plus finding the perpetrators and bringing them to justice, and how hard it is for the victims to readjust should they find a way to escape.

Haynes depiction of Scarlett's experience is also uncannily close to the real life story of Megan, which was featured in the Guardian on Sunday 18 January, so close in fact that Haynes was driven to write the post - Closer than you think.

Thoughtfully written fiction like Behind Closed Doors by Elizabeth Haynes can increase understanding and empathy for the real life victims and survivors of human trafficking like Megan. After all the first step for many survivors on the road to recovery is to be listened to and believed.

Behind Closed Doors by Elizabeth Haynes is published as a trade paperback and an e-book by Sphere. 

With thanks to Sphere for the review copy.