There are some cracking books out now and next week. Oh yes, get very excited as it’s going to be a busy time for fiction fans.
Setting: The Silk industry and a war zone
The Silk Merchant’s Daughter. Your literary guide – Dinah Jefferies
A story about a country divided in two – French Indochina – and a girl with both Vietnamese and French parents stuck between two worlds and the fear that she may fit into neither.
Stunning scenes of The heat and humidity of Hanoi, the art of the silk market and the cold, brutal onset of war, violence and a devastating family secret. This played out like a film in my mind. It was visually stunning and so poignant and sad. I felt so bad for Nicole and devastated at what she is faced with. How could she cope in such a situation? I was riveted to find out more about French Indochina and the historical setting but it was the plight of the characters, what it myst have felt like at the time that really got me going
Where to read- with a cup of chai tea, a silk ribbon as a bookmark and somewhere very comfortable you’ll want to read it all.
Dr Harry Kent is a doctor called out to dangerous situations and as a former army medic, he has seen some sights. But the siege in a chicken take away turns into something he’s never faced before and it’s a dangerous setup in more ways than one. With a mix of medical drama and a hectic pace that never lets up, this is a new, sharp and thrilling new angle to crime fiction.
Where to read – on a bed or near a doctor as you’ll be needing medical attention for a rapid heartbeat after this one!
Setting: a Scottish music club
Destination: Kilmarnock and other Scottish cities
Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespas. Your literary guide – David F Ross
Think Train Spotting set in a musical world. Think humour and Scottish banter, the trials and tribulations of making it, busking around the Scottish music scene and trying to make big. Think life.
Following on from The Last Days of Disco, with a theme tune to take you back into the eighties, with your permed hair and neon socks or maybe with a kilt you’ve fashioned from a tartan blanket and a belt…this is the decade that style may have forgot but praise the Scottish maestro who has brought the best side of it back and brought back the music too.
Where to read – preferably in a club with a beer in one hand and music banging away n the background -wearing a kilt whilst in Scotland of course.
2000s, 1982: Siglufjörður: a quiet little fishing village until a policeman is shot in the dead of night
Why a booktrail?
Siglufjörður is unique in Iceland for being the only village accessible by a tunnel to the world outside. Life in the village is good and peaceful but when a policeman is shot at one night, at a deserted house, the sense that something bad is lurking amongst this close knit community. Policeman Ari Thor is joined by his old boss Tomas, who has been recalled from a move to Reykjavik to get to the bottom of what is going on.
That’s just the problem however for the deeper they delve into the case, the more it looks as if local politics are involved and a newcomer to the village, could have brought with her, bad remnants from her past.
Meanwhile, in an psychiatric ward, not far away, some one is starting to talk…
Place and setting
Siglufjörður is the place, safe and protected from the outside world where if something comes to break that peace, the result can be more deadly and more threatening than most. The town rather like the cover of the novel itself is dark and foreboding, the snow covers the village and muffles what really goes on behind those pretty closed doors. The community starts to unravel, threats are made and the biggest threat could be hiding in plain sight.
With a policeman shot, in a country where violence is practically unheard of, the effects are shattering. Gun ownership on the island is not uncommon as they are traditionally a nation of hunters after all, yet this has never been heard of before and so unsettles many.
Ari Thór has an uphill struggle on this hands as he knows everyone in the village, everyone knows him, yet no one seems to be talking. And a desolate house on the outskirts near to the tunnel holds the darkest secrets yet. A newly installed Mayor is making his presence felt, making a mark on the town, and a newcomer to the village has a secret no one knows about.
Meanwhile, with the chilling Icelandic winds,a voice can be heard…of someone locked in a psychiatric ward, seemingly against their will. Chilling as to what they reveal and whether those in the small village of will hear what could tear them apart
A small town, suffocating secrets, and a chillingly disturbing denouement
This man is fast becoming one of my favorite authors. How he writes so poetically and evokes so much in so few words is just outstanding. The book comes in at just over 200 pages but the world created within it is every bit as perfect asyou could imagine. The sheer beauty of the Icelandic setting, an insight into a community now linked to the rest of the island by a tunnel, the dark foreboding of a policeman’s shooting and hidden secrets make for one heck of a novel. Ragnar grew up reading and translating Agatha Christie and ti shows for the adept plotting, the sense of fear and foreboding and hiding the killer in plain sight are masterstrokes that I’m sure the great lady herself would be proud of.
There’s even time for very well developed characters in the local policeman Ari Thor, his family life and that of new characters too. The overall effect is one where you can literally see them, hear them, see their breath in the chilling Icelandic air. And sense that you are in a very unique place indeed.
Once I found out just what the ramblings of the person in the psychiatric ward was all about – well…..
A lovely note too is added at the end where Ragnar prints a small passage that his grandfather wrote about the chilling yet beautiful period where the sun disappears behind Siglufjörður’s mountains. A lovely and poignant end to a story his grandfather would be proud of.
We asked 3 top authors and 2 top bloggers to share with us a few little literary tips as to what they’re read and loved and what they are most looking forward to. Look at the lovely guests we have! Of course we served tea and cake and had a right good natter….here’s what they said:
Creator Of The Roy Grace Thrillers
“My one book of 2015 has to be I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh.
The story begins in a UK urban environment and then moves to the Welsh coast. It is very rare for a book to grip me so completely from the very first sentence, and then, halfway through, to throw a twist that turns the entire story on its head – and leaves me gasping. But this story did. Further there were yet more twists to come. Beautifully written and immensely satisfying.
The book I’m most looking forward to reading in 2016 is Get Even by Martina Cole. I’m interviewing her on stage at Harrogate in July, so am busy boning up on her canon of work! I love the raw energy in her writing.”
Creator of Vera and Shetland
Ann Cleeves has gone for two writers who she loved their latest books and is looking forward to seeing what they produce next. Ray Celestin was a favourite with his debut The Axeman’s Jazz which won the Crime Thriller Award on ITV in
Set in New Orleans in 1919 this is a shockingly true story of a man who terrorised the city of jazz with an eerie swan song of his own. The whole city was petrified by the so called AxeMan and the city of New Orleans at the time was a heady mix of jazz, bourbon and mob rule.
Sara Paretsky was her other top author to look out for. Her main character VI Warshawski. She is a fictional private investigator from Chicago and all except one of the novels are written in the first person giving them a real insider view of the work and the mind of such a person.
No body writes about Cornwall like Liz Fenwick
My best book of 2015 was…hard to choose. I read Not Forgetting the Whale by John Ironmonger in proof form in 2014 and it came out in 2015. I LOVED this book. But if you had to pin me to one I read in 2015 it would be H is Hawk by Helen Mcdonald. Simply brilliant and such a surprise. I never imagine a book about hawks and grief could be so uplifting.
I am counting the days until The Trouble With Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon comes out. I have loved Jo’s blog posts which are written with such and humanity that I can not wait to see how this translates to a novel.
If forced to pick one I will go for Untouchable by Ava Marsh…so different from my normal crime thriller.
2016 has the final part of the Pierce Brown trilogy which is due in March. There are probably some amazing books coming that I don’t know about yet so lets go with Morning Star by Pierce Brown. Set on Mars…and a very popular choice it seems!
I think I’ll have to say when pushed to name one (my own Top Ten of the Year blogpost had a joint No 1) that my best read of 2015 came via Rod Reynolds and his debut “The Dark Inside” Set in 1940’s America, it is a brilliantly compelling and atmospheric murder mystery based on actual events, but the real heart of it comes in the personal and redemptive journey of its main protagonist Charlie Yates. For me there were several reasons why this one hit the spot over and above any of the other fantastic books I read – the unique and rarely found true southern noir style of the writing and some genuinely old school storytelling art, reading The Dark Inside was like revisiting classic movies and realising that they really don’t make them like they used to! Well Rod Reynolds DOES make them like they used to but manages to also weave a modern contemporary twist to the ambience of it which means you get the best of both worlds. The best debut I have read since Elizabeth Haynes “Into the Darkest Corner” and trust me, that is saying something.
My most anticipated is OUT OF THIS WORLD!
My most anticipated novel of 2016 comes in the form of the finale to the Red Rising Trilogy by Pierce Brown – the much desired “Morning Star” Red Rising was my No 1 book of its year and Golden Son was in my top ten of 2015. The pure energy of the writing just sucks you into a vortex of emotional flux – you will laugh, cry, pull your hair out, beg for mercy and feel every darned moment of this tale, often putting the book (s) down and glaring at them from a distance whilst trying to decide if you can actually take any more trauma. But of course you can because it is quite simply the most addictive and most emotionally charged reading experience you will ever have. The end of Golden Son most determinedly blew my mind and therefore Morning Star is a must have. So much so that I have taken the release day off work and intend to set booby traps around my house for anyone daring to disturb me..
With thanks to all you lovely authors and bloggers for your insights into the best of last year and what you’re most looking forward to! Now we’re off to read some more…
The list this year for the Richard and Judy WHSMITH bookclub is really impressive and we review the second batch of four in brief to help you choose your next read from the list.
England – Sussex
The Bones of You
This is the ultimate – you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors kind of novel. The one where you’re thinking some people have the most perfect lives until you realise differently. The village life in England seems perfect, the fact that the missing girl has a nice family life, people go horse riding together etc
This is more of a character study than a booktrail book but it’s the family insight was what got me. What you think you see and what actually exists. How appearances can be deceptive. It’s a bit like Lovely Bones too as the dead girl Rosie talks to you the reader from time to time and describes events that Kate, a neighbour and friend is finding out.
A man praying on lone female drivers in LA – and acting as a Samaritan is the ultimate monster really when you thin about it. someone who seems to want to help and then does the exact opposite.
I think what made it even more of a thriller was the fact that the locations – LA and the Santa Monica mountains are the very palaces that would be scary to drive through on your own. I think everyone not just women is scared of something happening like this. The hunt for the person responsible is a real thriller andthe reveal of the victims and how and why this is being done… wellwhen you read about Carter Blake and the ways he sets about tracking down the Samaritan was a road trip that was very violent in place and sickening to a large extent but the thriller thread wove all the way through for me.
Not so much a booktrail but a novel all about family, ghosts of the past and people. A house opens up it doors for a viewing and the woman who lives there guides him round with each room revealing a secret or two as well as many memories. The house transports her back to her early life and the fifty so years she’s lived in the house. As well as the boxes of possessions, she’s packing away the memories and nostalgia as well and this is harder to let go off. Some are nice memories to recall whilst others not so much.
Edwina is not the only one with a claim to this house though – others in the family tell their story and the house suddenly takes on more colour, fabric of their lives and the tears and holes within
The house is a major character itself and written with the wit, charm of Jenny Eclair, this is a real winner for me. I could hear her talk as I read the book and am sure this really gave it the edge!
Europe – in a forest..
Our Endless Numbered Days
It was the fairytale aspect of the story which got me in the first place. The idea of the Hansel and Gretel cottage in the middle of the forest where a girl is taken by her father to live. The forest is huge and dark and they have to find food by foraging like animals, killing and hunting to survive. The Girl, Peggy is only 8 and has been told by her father who is a survivalist, that the end of the world is nigh. There are still people who live like this in America – who prepare for the end and the hut is going to be their salvation. Life is good fora while but the reasons for his rift with his wife and the hardship of having to life so basic, the mindset of the father himself becomes even more harsh and difficult. The story is told by Peggy as she grows up and I was shocked at the end. This was a dark fairytale with lots of hidden meaning and a reason not to go into the woods anytime soon.
The Richard and Judy book club is a great book club where the two broadcasters choose books that they love and champion. My favourites have often been on there and Dinah Jefferies book last year was a particular book that I was so pleased got the extra recognition it deserved.
This year, a few of my favs have again appeared on the list and once again I’m excited to see them in pride of place in WHSMITHS when you walk in the store. Here’s the top four- well for me at least. I’d love to know what you think!
A gem of a novel I think for the sheer novel premise of a girl and a boy meeting by chance in various scenarios throughout time. There are three different outcomes to what happens and theexciting part about it is that this could be all our lives. One moment, one split second can change the way things pan out and sometimes we’re not even aware of the choices. Cambridge for the setting has that feeling of people fleetingly coming into each others life with the university and the transient nature of life there. A real gem of a book. Great to see on the list.
The Quality of Silence
I love this book. Quietly unassuming but oh so powerful. I mean the narrator is a deaf 10 year old who sees sounds and feels sounds to describe the world around her. Her dad tells her stories and she remembers falling asleep with ‘ his fingers still making the words in front of my eyelids” The father has gone missing in the Alaskan wilderness and so the mother and ten year old Ruby go in search. the darkness, the unknown mixing with the insular world of a little girl lost. It was a haunting read and I felt the chill of the snow and saw the blackness of the landscape stretching out in front. What an evocative read!
England – Northumberland
In a Dark Dark Wood
Not that I’m biased in any way but there’s something exciting about reading a book based in a place that you love. And Kielder Forest, Northumberland, stars as that place in this book about a group of girls who haven’t met for years since school, back together for a hen do.
One guest has a bit of a backstory with the bride to be it would seem and doesn’t know the other guests so getting together in a remote house in the middle of the woods where there is no phone
may not be such a good idea? Great for the story though as this was creepy and I did not guess the end! Talk about building the creepiness as if every turn of the page was the tap of a tree branch on a window at night.
England – Cornwall
A year of Marvellous Ways
So sweet, heartwarming and I just love Marvellous! Marvellous by name and Marvellous by nature. She lives life as she wants to, quietly in a creek in Cornwall. She isa lovely woman living her life beside the river, telescope in hand waiting for something but she’s unsure as to what. Her landscape is her world and I loved the way her surroundings are evoked and are part of her everyday.
I awoke dazed, looking up through a portal to a star-drenched sky. And beyond the stars bands of milky light stretched out to the hush of infinity.
There’s a place mentioned (a fictional setting) that becomes a place you will never forget once you find out its significance and her view of her home landscape.Drake, a soldier, comes into her life and theirs is a very special relationship of salvation, redemption and hope.I would describe this as magical realism and quirky Cornwall legends.
There’s four more in the list. Reading them as we speak…..Four more treats in store.
1948 – True story of a cat found and smuggled on board HMS Amethyst, all through the eyes of the very cat himself.
Sea cat Simon knows that cats have nine lives and it’s the first thing he remembers his mother telling him. With this heartwarming start, Blackie or Kitty as he is sometimes called remembers his mothers kind words and the kind heart of the humans who take him under their wing and feed him on Stonecutter Island, who takes him onhis ship – George the human who becomes his saviour and experiences life on board a very long journey at sea. With his new human friends and more experiences than anyone could ever hope for, even for a cat wit nine lives, this is a story trough the eyes of a small but very adventurous little kitten.
Place and Setting
From the shores of Stonecutter island(on the map above) in Hong Kong, a small kitten is found and rescued by a British sailor who smuggles him aboard HMS Amethyst.
Imagine the noise and the chaos from the eyes of a small cat:
“The Quayside is an assault on all my senses”
His world is changed in an instant – from a lonely existence where he doesn’t know what happened to his brothers and sisters, and where fear is his only companion. Now George a sailor offers him a sardine (fish can come in tins don’t you know), and a chance of a new life.
But a cat has to explore and on the ship, this brings new challenges such as judging distances close to so much water, avoiding slippery surfaces, the resident dog and finding the resident mice. But he thinks its rude to wake up his human friend and so cuddles up on the edge of the bed and dreams of moths instead.
“And then the pre-dawn Cacophany, also human in origin that started up long before the sun peeked over the horizon.”
When disaster strikes, Seacat Simon learn about survival in many other ways and about war and chaos. The human world he sees as not being too different to the troubles of cats but the way they deal and struggle is very much the same. His only wish is to abide by the sailing code and the code that sailors see cats as lucky. When the ship arrives in the Yangtse river, history unfolds and we learn of what it means to be in enemy territory on every level.
A very poignant tale of a emotional event in history told in a very clever way.
If you’ve ever thought what a cat might think and do then this is the book for you. How can you be sure that it likes the name you’ve chosen for it? I’d be careful if I were you as they have a strong opinion on the subject if Simon is anything to go by. Cats keep sailors safe he is told and so as he starts to live life more comfortably on the ship, his confidence grows and he speaks of joining the crew which I found hilarious!
This cat has some attitude and then some! It’s a lovely true story and very inventive to tell I thought the eyes of the cat! Life is all about order and routines he says. The day he describes as his first kill, and the day she meets Peggy the dog…..
This is such a charming read with a serious back story that it really has to be read to be believed and appreciated. The story of the Yangtse river incident is heartbreaking and even more poignant from the eyes of a cat. Oh and the ending! No spoilers here but it’s emotional.
Lynne Barrett Lee evokes the war and the fate of the Amethyst in a way I’ve not seen before and it was a joy yet a heartbreaking one at that to read.
Literary journey around the world part 2 – more countries to cover and more adventures to be had:
If you’ve ever wanted to feel as you’re standing beside an iconic figure in history as he makes that history, then how about meeting Harold Carter and being one of the first into the tomb ofTutankhamen ?
I really enjoyed this book for the mix of fact and fiction. Much of it was based on real people and certainly real places and the iconic moment of discovering the tomb, revealed as if being there yourself, was just a very memorable reading experience. I love stepping back in time and seeing an event or a person as it might have happened and this was particularly real I felt. A book to read and immerse yourself in. I had no particular interest inEgyptian history as such before reading this book but this was an eye opener!
The South Atlantic
How to Be Brave
Two stories woven together in a very creative and clever way. A mother showing concern and love for her daughter who is sick, tells her the story of the girl’s grandfather who was adrift at sea. By telling her the story, they forget momentarily their own anguish but bring themselves closer to the grandfather and his bravery. The overall theme is survival and hope in the most extreme circumstances – lost in an illness or the ocean, the feeling is the same but bravery and the power of hope can help them all.
The sense of adventure with this book was breathtaking. Holidaying up a mountain retreat with your best friends? It might be in the wilds of nowhere but you’re with people you know and trust right? Isolation can b both relaxing and frightening at the same time and this for me ramped up the tension. A retreat sounded great, even if I’ve never done yoga myself, yet the twists and turns Ifelt with this book made me think as if I have now.
This was a novel I was not expecting. Not from the blurb or the general information out there on the web. I’d heard of ‘the twist’ but was still not expecting the one that came.
Written by a former detective, this gave it added gravitas but was especially clever was the way we followed Jenna and judged what she did and what she was doing without thinking of the bigger picture. Jenna is trying to escape but from what exactly? She settles in Wales and lives an isolated life but sometimes silence can be deafening. This book was one of Richard and Judy’s summer picks for 2015 and was reviewed on Loose Women so everyone was talking about it and still is!
Remember those books that you read as a child where you could pick the end or the turn of events? Where you felt you had a part to play in the fate of the characters? This is thegrown up version of that idea – the Sliding Doorsof the book world – where you go literally on a journey with the characters and see how things could have turned out had they happened differently. I loved the style of this, the idea and the way it was written. It was one of the most involving novels I’ve read in a long while and stands out for being very different and a real treat. It’s on the Richard and Judy picks for 2016 and very well deserved!
This has been a good year in fiction. The places we’ve been and the people we’ve met!
The joy of reading has been quite a journey this year – with a varied array of passengers along the way. From the Girl on the Train (snooping from a train window has never been so chilling) to a mechanical octopus in The Watchmaker of Filigree Street.
We’ve sailed to Portugal with Rebecca Mascull, drank tea in Ceylon with Dinah Jefferies and worn taffeta bonnets with Sophia Tobin who told us of The Widow’s Confession – and what a story it was.
But let’s now have a top ten of literary gems that have dropped into our hands this year. In no particular order as well, it’s like choosing your favourite child– here is the booktrail best:
The premise of entering the homes and minds of the Swedish laplanders in 1717 is enthralling and as their lifestyle and belief system is revealed then the whole landscape becomes one of intrigue, folklore and the battle between good and evil.
This was one of the most evocative books read this year with the snowy chill of the mountains and the faint howling of the wolves audible as I turned the pages.
I loved this for so many reasons. The chance to get inside the mind of a genius for one and the minds of the women who loved him. The women who shared his life, his mad moments, his obsessions and his moods. This was one fascinating book and one of the most beautiful to be honest with a gold primed cover and gold page edges, this book was a piece of art in itself. I was particularly thrilled to feel the crisp pages – just like those of the olden days. My reading experience was complete. The story told via the man’s most famous paintings. Genius!
IN THE MIDDLE OF THE OCEAN
Close to the Philippines
This book worked on so many levels with us. I think it was the sense of adventure that Lana and Litty have when they board a yacht in the Philippines. The crew are unknown to them but they are invited to join them for the adventure of a lifetime.Paradise may be the long days sailing, catching fish for dinner, drinking on deck and swimming or it could easily turn into something dark – where sailing becomes a race to safety,where it’s not just the fish being hunted…and where drinking and swimming in the middle of nowhere can be the last thing you ever do.
Talk about wipingthrough the pages to see where this all would lead. I loved this book and loved taking to Lucy about her inspiration for such a ride!
Inspired by a real life family mystery of a family member who emigrated to Canada, Patrick Gale has drawn a sobering picture of love, family duty, self discovery and hope.
Harry Cane is a quiet unassuming man living in London and married to respectable Winnie Wells. But behind the facade, the dark truth is bubbling. Harry is soon forced to leave everything behind and to emigrate to the Canadian prairies at the very time that the railways were booming.
I felt as if this was one of the most personal books I’d read this year and I was humbled to have discovered some of the author ‘s family history. The history and family emotions in this book are so raw and poignant that I really think it’s one of my top books on the year and one I’d recommend to everyone.
We loved The Separation here at the booktrail and to be honest love the TeaPlanter’s Daughter even more. This is such an evocative story in every sense of the word that the tea leaves fluttered from each and every page as I read. The story itself is epic and inspired by real events so even more shocking. The rich poetic writing was a joy to read and I savoured this book and lingered over it. The story of a young girl moving to a tea plantation in former Ceylon with a husband she has barely met has so many twists and turns – from the fate of the plantation workers to the shady history of the husband that I read with as few breaks as possible. When it was announced that it was one of the Richard and Judy book club picks for 2015, I cheered. How well deserved!