The Mission Song by John Le Carré

Today, I’m celebrating the works of John Le Carré – on 27 September Penguin will have completed a major nine year project to publish 21 of his books as Penguin Modern Classics. This will make him the living author with the greatest body of work to be awarded classic status, which I’m sure you’ll agree is quite the achievement. Launched in 1961, Penguin Classics celebrates contemporary authors whose works are considered timeless.

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Famous for his tales of espionage, terror and war, I’ve been a fan of Le Carré’s for a while. I’ve absolutely loved the TV and film adaptations of Le Carré’s work – from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, to the iconic BBC version of the Night Manager. Now, new to the list of Classics is The Little Drummer Girl – a gripping story of love and loyalty, set against the backdrop of the Middle East Conflict. Excitingly, this is going to be a major six-part BBC adaptation, showing this October – produced by the award-winning team behind The Night Manager. I’m just a little bit excited to curl up on the sofa, with the fire going, to watch this. However, TV series aside, and seeing as Le Carré is famous for saying:

Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bouillon cubes.

I’m actually a bit ashamed to say that I’ve never read any of his books. – despite being a HUGE spy fanatic and all-round book lover.  So, with the help of Penguin, I picked up The Mission Song – which I’m sure will be the first, of many, that I read.

The Mission Song

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Bruno Salvador has worked on clandestine missions before. A highly skilled interpreter, he is no stranger to the Official Secrets Act. But this is the first time he has been asked to change his identity – and, worse still, his clothes – in service of his country.

Whisked to a remote island to interpret a top-secret conference between no-name financiers and Congolese warlords, Salvo’s excitement is only heightened by memories of the night before he left London, and his life-changing encounter with a beautiful nurse named Hannah.

Exit suddenly, the unassuming, happily married man Salvo believed himself to be. Enter in his place, the pseudonymous Brian Sinclar: spy, lover – and perhaps, even, hero.

My thoughts:

The Mission Song is narrated by interpreter and translator, Bruno Salvador (Salvo) – hailing from the Congo. Now living in Britain, he is an endearing character, fuelled by a desire to good. But, what starts off innocently eventually turns into a botched coup and as the book progresses we see Salvo being exploited. It questions his morality – and how we react –  in the face of overwhelming political pressure.

Fast paced and entertaining, it is gripping from first page to last,  but at the heart of it The Mission Song is so much more than just a thriller. It explores how Western capitalism exploits Africa, and condemnation of this. How business interests and greed lead to corruption, ruining the chances for peace and freedom.

Ultimately, The Mission Song is an angry, urgent novel that has been exquisitely crafted, giving the reader an insight into global politics and contemporary issues.

Fancy your own copy?

As part of today’s blog tour, I’ve also got a Twitter giveaway – to win your own copy of The Mission Song, just visit @HarryMumford, follow me and retweet the pinned tweet to be in with a chance of winning. And, if you’re not lucky this time you can always pick up a copy here

The rest of the posts on the blog tour can be seen here:

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Blog Tour: Sticks and Stones by Jo Jakeman

How far would you go for revenge on your ex? Welcome to the blog tour for Jo Jakeman’s debut thriller, Sticks and Stones.

About the book: 

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Imogen’s husband is a bad man. His ex-wife and his new mistress might have different perspectives but Imogen thinks she knows the truth. And now he’s given her an ultimatum: get out of the family home in the next fortnight or I’ll fight you for custody of our son.

In a moment of madness, Imogen does something unthinkable: she locks her husband in the cellar. Now she’s in control. But how far will she go to protect her son and punish her husband? And what will happen when his ex and his girlfriend get tangled up in her plans?

 

  • Published by: Harvill Secker
  • Published: 12th July 2018
  • 368 Pages

My thoughts:

Sticks and Stones is a sharp, dark and engrossing read full of twists and turns. It’s a solid debut novel and perfect if you want to get stuck in to a good domestic thriller. The book is fast paced and full of complex characters – as the plot unfolds, it switches time periods between the past and present, which keeps you intrigued and interested in the action throughout. At times it is a little over the top and farfetched, however I was still gripped throughout and couldn’t get through it quick enough – particularly the second half of the book. I’m looking forward to seeing what Jo Jakeman does next. If you’re keen to read an original thriller, then I highly recommend Sticks and Stones.

About the author:

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Jo was the winner of the Friday Night Live 2016 competition at the York Festival of Writing. Born in Cyprus, she worked for many years in the City of London before moving to Derbyshire with her husband and twin boys. Sticks and Stones is her debut thriller. Find out more at http://www.jojakeman.com

You can read the other posts on the blog tour here:

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May Reads

May was a fantastic month for reading, ticking off nine books across a number of genres – from sci-fi and YA, to literary fiction and murder mystery.

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Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie – 5*

A modern retelling of Antigone, Home Fire is a timely, relevant novel that I urge you to read. I knew relatively little of Antigone and it was only afterwards, that I started looking up the storyline that I saw the clever parallels with it between Home Fire. Shamsie has woven an intricate thread that unravels on the last page – a proper tour-de-force of an ending!

I’ll Be Gone In The Dark by Michele McNamara – 4*

Published posthumously, this is the tale searching for The Golden State Killer – a man who committed a proliferation of murders and rapes across California in the 1970s and 80s. McNamara’s writing style is more crime-thriller than true crime, which absorbs you into the story. Full of meticulous detail and reports, this is such an interesting tale. Although be warned, it’s definitely creepy – I live in a single storey house and it left me feeling on edge.

Clean by Juno Dawson – 3*

A young adult novel, which definitely erred on the side of adult than teenage fiction. The story follows teen socialite Lexi into a rehab facility where she is treated for heroin addiction. It was a compelling and easy read – particularly given the heavy subject matter – but I felt it lacked diversity and depth, and was a little predictable in places. I wouldn’t rush to recommend this one.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton – 4*

A cross between Agatha Christie, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson and a real life game of Cluedo! I’m in awe of Turton’s plotting skills – it takes a real mastermind to be able to write and execute a story like this. A mind-bowing and unique concept.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson – 3*

This one didn’t really hit the mark for me – I was expecting to be scared witless, but instead I was left a little defeated. Perhaps it was because I read it on a sunny May commute with lots of hubbub around me, rather than a candlelit winter night with storms raging outside.

Everything I know about love by Dolly Alderton – 3*

An ode to growing up, growing old and navigating all types of love. Enjoyable, laugh-out-loud and sad in places, but perhaps not the mind-blowingly good book I was hoping it would be.

Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively – 3*

I think this was a case of right book, wrong time. It took me quite a while to get into the writing of Moon Tiger, which is saying something as it’s a relatively short book. It tells the story of Claudia who wants to write the history of the world whilst in hospital during her final days. There were bits that I thought were fantastic, but I don’t think I was really in the mood to read this at the time – I might revisit it in the future. 

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem – 4*

This was such an intelligent, complex and haunting sci-fi read. It reads as if it’s just been written, rather than 40 years ago. It’s vague in places, but the way Lem writes allows you to imagine the depths of Solaris – it focuses on alien life and the way humans communicate and understand it. It’s esoteric, leaving you with more questions than answers but well worth a read. Next up, I’m going to watch the films.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin – 5*

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If you knew the date of your death would you live your life differently? The Immortalists follow four siblings through their life. Chloe’s writing is immersive – the world she has constructed and the characters within it are just beautiful. I’ve seen mixed reviews of this one, but I couldn’t rate it highly enough. It will stick with me for a long time.

On Courage: A celebration of the Victoria and George Cross holders

Happy publication day to On Courage, stories of Victoria Cross and George Cross holders (published by Constable, Little Brown).

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On Courage is a moving collection of 28 inspirational stories, which showcase the valour, courage and bravery shown by recipients of the Victoria Cross and George Cross. The VC is the highest military decoration awarded for valour in the face of the enemy to members of the armed forces, whilst the GC is awarded to those who have displayed heroism or courage whilst in extreme danger.

Each chapter in On Courage is introduced by a public figure – from Mary Berry to Sir Bobby Charlton – and the stories told are remarkable, but also at times hard to read. The determination and selflessness of the VC and GC recipients is just incredible. Reading through the accounts was incredibly humbling – protecting others at the expense of your own safety is something I’m sure not many of us would be selfless and courageous enough to do. In fact, it’s hard to imagine the situations the recipients of the VC and GC endured and overcame.

Today, I wanted to shine a light on one story in particular – the one of RAF flight engineer Norman Jackson. During the war, he climbed out onto the wing of his Lancaster bomber plane, whilst in flight over Germany, to put out a fire using a twisted parachute as a rope. Whilst out there, with exploding aircraft around him lighting up the sky, he was shot in the arm which caused him to plunge down to earth, and many were surprised that he lived to tell the tale. He confronted fear head-on to protect his comrades and squadron, all on the night his first child was born. I found this story particularly moving as my Grandfather was also a pilot in the RAF during WWII – it made me think of the resilience and bravery they must have had up in the sky. But truth be told, this wasn’t the only story that left me with a lump in my throat and glassy eyes.

A heart-warming read, On Courage reminds you of the good in humanity and shows that wherever we go in life there will be remarkable people, if we just look for them. I highly recommend picking this up – just be sure to get the tissues at the ready!

You can order a copy of the book through Waterstones here.

The Victoria Cross and George Cross Association made its archive available, which contributed to the publication of On Courage. The book is part of The Sebastopol Project, which will raise money for Combat Stress, as well as The VC and GC Association – £2.70 of every book purchase will go directly to charity. Combat Stress is the UK’s leading charity for veterans’ mental health.

April Reads

April was spent with a viral infection, so a lot of time was spent resting up / sleeping / generally feeling miserable, so this month I’m going all guns blazing to get back on track and up-to-speed with everything.

So, what did I end up reading in April?

I See You by Clare Mackintosh (Sphere) – 4/5

I’m a big fan of Mackintosh’s debut novel, I Let You Go so had high expectations for I See You. I don’t think it had the same level of shock, or cleverness, as her first but nonetheless this was a high-paced psychological thriller which ultimately leads you to question those around you.

Elmet by Fiona Mozley (JM Originals) – 3/5

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Examining those on the fringes of society, Elmet explores family, the way we use the land and what landscapes mean to us. It’s a slow burner of a book for sure, but Mozley’s prose is beautiful. It’s an earthy, visceral read, however I found it a little patchy in places and didn’t think the ‘twist’ in the book worked with the overall flow – perhaps it was meant to feel jarring. I’m keen to see what Mozley does next.

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (Scribner) – 3/5

In the midst of WWII, we follow Anna who is ballsy and independent – she becomes the first female diver, something that was unheard of at the time. This novel has war, love, mobsters – intrigue and scandal. The characters were really well developed and the storyline evidently well researched as I could imagine myself on the dock with Anna. I did enjoy Manhattan Beach; however, it would have gone up a star or two if we heard more about Anna’s life and her Mother rather than the men that dominated her life.

When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy (Atlantic Books) – 5/5

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This is my stand out book for the month and definitely a contender to win the Women’s Prize for Fiction. It was raw, tender, poetic and playful. It tackled an incredibly sensitive subject matter – of domestic abuse – and spoke about it openly. I couldn’t stop reading this and devoured it in a single sitting.

 

Wellcome Book Prize: To Be a Machine by Mark O’Connell [Blog Tour]

Following on from my blog post on The Wellcome Book Prize shortlist, I’m here today as part of the blog tour, showcasing the wonderful To Be a Machine by Mark O’Connell, which is published by Granta Books.

The prize celebrates the many ways in which literature can illuminate the breadth and depth of our relationship with health, medicine and illness. If you’re not too familiar with the Wellcome Collection, then I highly recommend you check the museum out – it’s a great destination for the curious and often has intelligent, engaging and thought-provoking exhibitions on. The museum was originally established under Sir Henry’s will in 1936, and is now a global charitable foundation, which aims to improve health for everyone by helping great ideas to thrive.

Here’s a quick reminder of the other shortlisted books:

Wellcome Book Prize 2018 shortlist

The winner is set to be announced at a ceremony on Monday 30th April 2018, which is being held at The Wellcome Collection, and the prize is being judged by:

  • Hannah Critchlow, Neuroscientist, author and presenter
  • Bryony Gordon, Journalist, author and mental health campaigner
  • Edmund de Waal, Writer and Artist
  • Sumit Paul-Choudhury, Journalist
  • Sophie Ratcliffe, Writer, critic and academic 

A little more about To Be a Machine: 

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Transhumanism is a movement pushing the limits of our bodies–our capabilities, intelligence, and lifespans–in the hopes that, through technology, we can become something better than ourselves. It has found support among Silicon Valley billionaires and some of the world’s biggest businesses. In To Be a Machine, journalist Mark O’Connell explores the staggering possibilities and moral quandaries that present themselves when you of think of your body as a device. He visits the world’s foremost cryonics facility to witness how some have chosen to forestall death. He discovers an underground collective of biohackers, implanting electronics under their skin to enhance their senses. He meets a team of scientists urgently investigating how to protect mankind from artificial superintelligence.

Where is our obsession with technology leading us? What does the rise of AI mean not just for our offices and homes, but for our humanity? Could the technologies we create to help us eventually bring us to harm? Addressing these questions, O’Connell presents a profound, provocative, often laugh-out-loud-funny look at an influential movement. In investigating what it means to be a machine, he offers a surprising meditation on what it means to be human.

Author: Mark O’ Connell
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Granta Books

My initial thoughts: 

One thing that really draws me to To Be a Machine is that it looks at the influence technological innovations have on humanity and humanity’s future – ever since I was a young age, technology has fascinated and scared me in equal measure, so this a topic that really intrigues me. Also, in my career to date I’ve worked with a number of huge technology brands and it often astounds me that there’s no end to the use cases of new science and innovations – particularly when looking at new developments within hacking and robotics, I often end up thinking what next?

Whilst I’m yet to finish reading To Be a Machine, I’ve found it to be really thought-provoking, clever and engrossing so far. It manages to explores a really complex, and at times dark, subject matter in a chatty, candid and digestible way. I’m looking forward to finishing it off to see what the rest of the book holds.

Today I’ve also got an extract of To Be a Machine – read on and enjoy:

A broad definition: transhumanism is a liberation movement advocating nothing less than a total emancipation from biology itself. There is another way of seeing this, an equal and opposite interpretation, which is that this apparent liberation would in reality be nothing less than a final and total enslavement to technology. We will be bearing both sides of this dichotomy in mind as we proceed. For all the extremity of transhumanism’s aims—the convergence of technology and flesh, for instance, or the uploading of minds into machines—the above dichotomy seemed to me to express something fundamental about the particular time in which we find ourselves, in which we are regularly called upon to consider how technology is changing everything for the better, to acknowledge the extent to which a particular app or platform or device is making the world a better place.

If we have hope for the future—if we think of ourselves as having such a thing as a future—it is predicated in large part on what we might accomplish through our machines. In this sense, transhumanism is an intensification of a tendency already inherent in much of what we think of as mainstream culture, in what we may as well go ahead and call capitalism. And yet the inescapable fact of this aforementioned moment in history is that we, and these machines of ours, are presiding over a vast project of annihilation, an unprecedented destruction of the world we have come to think of as ours. The planet is, we are told, entering a sixth mass extinction: another Fall, another expulsion. It seems very late in the day, in this dismembered world, to be talking about a future. One of the things that drew me to this movement, therefore, was the paradoxical force of its anachronism. For all that transhumanism presented itself as resolutely oriented toward a vision of a world to come, it felt to me almost nostalgically evocative of a human past in which radical optimism seemed a viable position to take with respect to the future. In the way it looked forward, transhumanism seemed, somehow, always to be facing backward. The more I learned about transhumanism, the more I came to see that, for all its apparent extremity and strangeness, it was nonetheless exerting certain formative pressures on the culture of Silicon Valley, and thereby the broader cultural imagination of technology. Transhumanism’s influence seemed perceptible in the fanatical dedication of many tech entrepreneurs to the ideal of radical life extension—in the PayPal cofounder and Facebook investor Peter Thiel’s funding of various life extension projects, for instance, and in Google’s establishment of its biotech subsidiary Calico, aimed at generating solutions to the problem of human aging. And the movement’s influence was perceptible, too, in Elon Musk’s and Bill Gates’s and Stephen Hawking’s increasingly vehement warnings about the prospect of our species’ annihilation by an artificial superintelligence, not to mention in Google’s instatement of Ray Kurzweil, the high priest of the Technological Singularity, as its director of engineering.

I saw the imprint of transhumanism in claims like that of Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who suggested that “Eventually, you’ll have an implant, where if you just think about a fact, it will tell you the answer.” These men—they were men, after all, almost to a man—all spoke of a future in which humans would merge with machines. They spoke, in their various ways, of a posthuman future—a future in which techno-capitalism would survive its own inventors, finding new forms in which to perpetuate itself, fulfill its promise.

Have you read any books on the Wellcome Book Prize shortlist? Which one do you think will win this year? 

You can catch the other blog posts on the tour, here:

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COMPETITION: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Last week saw the launch of the brand-new Mike Newell film, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, starring Lily James and Michiel Huisman. Based on the book by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, it tells the story of the WWII occupation of Guernsey, and a secret literary society set up by islanders to help them through their ordeal.

A bit about the book

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It’s 1946 and author Juliet Ashton can’t think what to write next. Out of the blue, she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams of Guernsey – by chance, he’s acquired a book that once belonged to her – and, spurred on by their mutual love of reading, they begin a correspondence. When Dawsey reveals that he is a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, her curiosity is piqued and it’s not long before she begins to hear from other members. As letters fly back and forth with stories of life in Guernsey under the German Occupation, Juliet soon realises that the society is every bit as extraordinary as its name.

About the Authors

Mary Ann Shaffer was born in 1934 in Martinsburg, West Virginia. She worked as an editor, a librarian and in bookshops. She became interested in Guernsey while visiting London in 1976. On a whim, she decided to fly to Guernsey but became stranded there as a heavy fog descended and no boats or planes were permitted to leave the island. As she waited for the fog to clear, she came across a book called Jersey Under the Jack-Boot, and so her fascination with the Channel Isles began. Many years later, when goaded by her own literary club to write a book, Mary Ann naturally thought of Guernsey.

Mary Ann died in February 2008 – she knew that this, her only novel, was to be published in thirteen countries. Before she died she wrote, ‘I must tender special thanks to my niece, Annie, who stepped in to finish this book after unexpected health issues interrupted my ability to work shortly after the manuscript was sold. Without blinking an eye, she put down the book she was writing, pushed up her sleeves, and set to work on my manuscript. It was my great good luck to have a writer like her in the family, and this book could not have been done without her.’ Annie Barrows is the author of the Ivy and Bean series for children, as well as The Magic Half.

The competition

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Lily James in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

To celebrate the launch of the film, Condor Ferries is offering the chance to win a VIP prize for 2 worth over £1,000; including a high-speed trip to Guernsey by sea, to stay in one of the island’s finest hotels and have a private tour of the island, visiting all of the historic sites the film is based on! How amazing does that sound? As a lover of both history and books, I know I’ll be very envious of whoever wins!

The prize also includes:

  • A copy of the novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, signed by co-author Annie Burrows, who completed the book after her aunt Mary Ann Shaffer fell ill whilst writing it.
  • Return upgraded ferry travel with your car, plus meet the Captain on the bridge
  • £100 duty free voucher to spend onboard
  • Luxury 2 night stay including breakfast at the Old Government House Hotel and Spa
  • Potato Peel Pie cookery lesson and dinner at one of the island’s top restaurants, Pier 17 Restaurant

To enter the competition, all you need to do is head over to the Condor Ferries Facebook page, tagging the person that you would like to take with them. Then just share the post, and you’re done! The competition closes 30 April 2018, with travel by 31 May 2018, exclusion dates apply.

I’ve heard nothing but good things about the film from other fellow book lovers – I’m hoping to get to my local cinema this week, I’ll let you know what I think.

Good luck!