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.
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.
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!
2000s – Travelling across the Las Vegas desert in an RV to find your missing father may not be the best idea Becky’s ever had…
Becky Bloomwood is the shopaholic of the title who in previous outings has been the bane of her family and especially her bank manager’s life. Now in this latest offering, she is still in contact with him sending him emails and updates of what she’s up to. He’e even writing a book about his days as a bank manager and of course wants Becky to star in it.
But she’s got other things on her mind. Her father has gone missing . Last heard from travelling to Las Vegas where he and a friend have gone “in order to take care of something”
Like a credit card in the middle of a department store sale, Becky is dying to get out there. Las Vegas should be very afraid
Place and Setting
This is Las Vegas but not as you know it. This is Las Vegas seen through the eyes of Becky Brandon née Bloomwood and so when the novel opens with them getting stopped by the police in the middle of the Nevada desert just outside of Las Vegas, you know things are not going to go well.
The Becky bus is filled with characters you would not want on a long road trip across the US, but thankfully they’re only going as far as Las Vegas. Dad has a map from 1972 which traces a route from LA to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon so Becky follows hot on his heels to find them.
Husband Luke drives the RV in and around Las Vegas as the trail goes hot and cold and the diversions ever more wacky. From breakfast at the Bellagio to staying in the Venetian Palace, seeing Las Vegas through the eyes of a (former?) shopaholic is a novel way of seeing the city of sin. As Sin seems to have been replaced with ‘Milkshake cows’ ‘Vogue for Guns’ and reenacting various scenes from the Ocean’s 11 movie.George Clooney sadly does not make an appearance nor does Brad Pitt.
Oh and Becky being Becky manages to find herself at the Elvis Wedding Chapel to see the finer points of Las Vegas City. She gets involved with dancing, casino gambling, drinking, the local culture, the wild and wacky hotels and discovers that ‘ you can’t line dance in flip flops”
And all the while, she’s supposed to be finding her father! But there’s a plan for that…
I’d only read the first three of the Shopaholic series and well, things have changed haven’t they? Easy to follow though as if you understand Becky’s mindset from the first books and her random thoughts as they continue to veer left and right – much like the journey across the desert in a RV.
Going on a journey across the USA – well not technically as it’s from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, there are so many ways that a girl and her friends travelling in an RV can get into trouble. And she does. Becky is very accident prone and well gets into muddles you would never expect. You do have to suspend disbelief at points but then this is Becky isn’t it and she has somewhat of a reputation.
She’s not so much a shopaholic in this book as a travel guide with a difference on the lookout for an runaway dad. A crazy girl on a crazy adventure in perhaps one of the craziest cities in the US. I did enjoy the trail side to the story as they crossed the Nevada desert in the search of someone but I think I need to read more of the earlier books to get more out of this one.
I did keep imaging Isla Fisher in the scenes though and as the star of the show, if this were a future movie, she would have great fun filming this!
We do love a good travel adventure here at the booktrail so when that lovely Lucy Clarke invited me aboard her yacht for a chat, a swig of rum and some grilled fish, I thought how lovely!
But then this is the author of The Blue – the sailing experience in paradise which turns very sour indeed….Would we be alone on this yacht I asked? How far from land would we be? What about the rules of the passage? Lucy I’ve read your book – I know what goes on!
But of course this is fiction and Lucy is just the friendliest and nicest person ever. We set sail and drift off into a sea of conversation, good food and a sea breeze that whips my hair into a sort of Mr Whippy style. Still, with views like this I’m not going to complain…
Whilst Lucy’s husband grills the fish for lunch, we have a chat.
Your idea for the novel came from your own yacht trip. Can you tell us what you loved about it?
A few years ago I was lucky enough to be invited to spend a week on board a yacht with my best friend and her extended family. Having never sailed before, it was an incredible experience to spend day and night on the water, to eat our meals on deck, to anchor in deserted lagoons, to fall asleep to the sound of waves. But what stayed with me after the trip was how interesting dynamics can be when you’re confined to the small space of a yacht, as emotions become heightened and events can quickly escalate. By the end of that trip, I knew that one day I’d set a novel on board a yacht.
Where would you sail to in the world if you had the chance and why?
If I could sail anywhere in the world, I’d love to sail around the islands of Micronesia. From what I’ve heard and read, it’s an incredible, remote and beautiful place to explore – and doing so by yacht would be the icing on the cake.
Which five places is your novel based on?
I spent a month in the Philippines researching for the novel, and the places that inspired the settings within The Blue were Busuanga Island (particularly Coron Town), and Coron Island, and El Nido.
What food did you eat whilst sailing?
When I was sailing in the Philippines, our meals were usually simple affairs: pancakes and fresh mango for breakfast, salads for lunch, and freshly caught fish for dinner. We used to make a lovely local dish by frying up crushed peanuts, chillies and shredded cabbage.
(Lunch is served at this point and Lucy’s husband comes on deck with most of what Lucy has just talked about. Now that’s the way I love fact and fiction to mix…)
What memorable moment can you tell us about on the yacht?
A memorable moment I had on the yacht was diving from the bow to cool down. Afterwards I lay on my back in the sea, just drifting, looking up at the wide expanse of blue sky. It was so incredibly peaceful, that I think I’ll remember it for ever.
Whilst Lucy goes diving, I sit on deck, watching into the horizon and wondering where we’re sailing off to next. Where will Lucy take her readers to next? I for one can’t wait.
Now where’s that rum….
You can find more about Lucy and her travels here as well as the fantastic novel The Blue –