Blog Tour: The Things We Thought We Knew by Mahsuda Snaith

#BlogTour #BookReview @DoubledayUK @MahsudaSnaith @TransworldBooks

Welcome to the penultimate stop on The Things We Thought We Knew blog tour. Thank you Transworld Books / Doubleday for having me and letting me share my review!

About the book:  The Things We Thought We Knew - Hardback.jpg

Ravine and Marianne were best friends. They practiced handstands together, raced slugs and went into the woods to play. But now everything has changed.

Ten years later, Ravine lies in a bed plagued by chronic pain syndrome. And her best friend Marianne is gone. How did their last adventure go so wrong? Who is to blame? And where is Marianne?

Heartbreaking, bittersweet and utterly unforgettable, The Things We Thought We Knew is a powerful novel about the things we remember and the things we wish we could forget.

Author: Mahsuda Snaith
Published by: Transworld Books / Doubleday, 15th June 2017
Hardback: 304 pages

My thoughts:

Mahsuda Snaith’s writing is stunning – it draws you in from the first page and envelops you in feeling and emotion. Firstly, her descriptions of chronic pain are done in such a sensitive and complex way. The exploration of an invisible illness is heartbreaking as we see how Ravine adapts and conquers. It is a fascinating glimpse into both the physical and mental aspect of what it is to suffer an endless, chronic illness.

The Things We Thought We Knew is also full of familial relationships and friendship. I found it interesting how Snaith explores the impact memories can have on us; how they evolve over time, the way in which they can trick us and also shape us into the people we grow to be. It is interesting to see how Ravine’s perspective changes over time, between her younger and older self. The story is like an origami bird that keeps unfolding, revealing more and more hidden secrets as we delve deeper into the narrative. Snaith writes about Ravine’s multicultural surroundings and the sense of community and claustrophobia echoes through the pages. Her characters are so vivid, with humanity and life experience shining through them.

The Things We Thought We Knew is a beautifully moving coming-of-age tale that captures life on a council estate with such clarity. It is gutsy, eye-opening and emotional, showing the reader what it is to truly find ourselves in this cruel, crazy and vivid world.

I can’t wait to see what’s next for Mahsuda Snaith – she’s certainly an author I’ll be keeping watch on!

About the author:

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Mahsuda Snaith is the winner of the SI Leeds Literary Prize 2014 and Bristol Short Story Prize 2014, and a finalist in the Myslexia Novel Writing Competition 201. She lives in Leicester where she leads writing workshops and teaches part-time in primary schools.

Mahsuda is a fan of reading and crochet. This is her first novel. 

You can catch the other blog tour posts here:

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I received an advanced copy of The Things We Thought We Knew from Doubleday in exchange for a fair, honest and unbiased review. Thanks Transworld / Doubleday!

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Blog Tour: Secrets of the Italian Gardener by Andrew Crofts (RedDoor)

#BlogTour #BookReview @RedDoorBooks @AndrewCrofts #SOTIG

Welcome to my stop on The Secrets of the Italian Gardener blog tour. Thank you RedDoor for having me!

About the novella:  

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Mo, the wealthy dictator of a volatile Middle Eastern country, enlists a ghostwriter to tell his story to the world and enshrine him in history as a glorious ruler. 

Inside Mo’s besieged palace the ghost forms an unlikely friendship with a wise and seemingly innocent Italian gardener who slowly reveals that the regime isn’t all it appears to be.

As a violent rebellion threatens all their lives the ghost struggles to cope with a personal secret too painful to bear.

Author: Andrew Croft
Paperback: 160 pages
Published by: RedDoor

My thoughts…

The Secrets of the Italian Gardener follows a nameless ghostwriter as he is enlisted to write about Mo, a powerful, Middle-Eastern dictator. During his time at the palace he wanders the grounds collecting his thoughts as he struggles to garner information from Mo. Whilst in the beautiful, serene garden he stumbles upon Lou, the Italian Gardener, and as the friendship between them develops we quickly start to see that there is both pain and suffering behind beauty. Even the nicest people can have dark pasts to hide.

The novella is full of power and threat. As the violent uprising on the streets overspills into the palace, Lou continues his work to hide the atrocities that are taking place. Crofts uses the garden to show that we mustn’t always take things as they seem on first glance. He champions the restorative, healing power of nature; over time pain can be built into something beautiful. The darkness feeds the light and without one the other can’t thrive.

Whilst it made me uneasy in places, it also made me question whether I would do the same as the ghost writer – would I stand by and watch the atrocities, keeping silent, all in the name of money? Crofts weaves in a parallel storyline where the ghostwriter and his wife deal with one of the greatest personal tragedies a parent can go through. This personal pain both marries and contrasts with the tragedy that is unfolding on the global stage before him; as the uprising and revolution roars in the Middle East, his own grief becomes prevalent giving him a reason to continue with his work. Can we ever judge the reason and rationale of another person’s moral decision?

I read this in one sitting and for such a short book it packs so much in thanks to Crofts magical storytelling ability. It encompasses everything from what it is to endure grief to understanding, and accepting, your own morality. Political, tense, philosophical and intriguing, The Secrets of the Italian Gardener is a well-developed, thought-provoking read that will make you question good vs. evil.

About the author:

Andrew Crofts is a ghostwriter and author who has published more than eighty books, a dozen of which were Sunday Times number one bestsellers.

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He has spent much of his ghostwriting career amongst the dictators, politicians, arms dealers and billionaires who hold the reins of power and control the wealth of the world, stationed in their lavish palaces and heavily guarded compounds in the wildest parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East as well as in tax havens like Monaco, Geneva, Bermuda and the Caribbean.

You can check out the other posts on the blog tour here:

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I received an beautiful hardback copy of Secrets of the Italian Gardener from RedDoor Books in exchange for a fair, honest and unbiased review. Thanks RedDoor!

Holiday Reads – Corfu 2017

At the start of June I headed off for a week’s break in Corfu – as usual, I had visions of grandeur, thinking I’d read a book a day, if not more! Alas, I only read three books during the whole week! After all, it was because I was having too much fun playing card games, completing arrow words puzzles (hello guilty pleasure!) and drinking gin fizzes in the sun.

I’m in a very fortunate position where I frequently get sent books for review, however I decided that my holiday reading would be ones that I had picked out myself and had a thirst to read – I made sure they all had no review, timeline or expectation attached. It was oddly refreshing! Given the location we were in, I probably should’ve packed The Durrells of Corfu as one of my books. I’ll be doing mini reviews of these three books in my monthly wrap up at the beginning of July, so without further a do…on holiday I read…

Miss you by Kate Eberlen (Pan MacMillan) – 4/5

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A Richard and Judy Book Club pick, a Radio 2 Book Club Choice – and the most unconventional love story you’ll read this year Tess and Gus are meant to be. They just haven’t met properly yet. And perhaps they never will …Today is the first day of the rest of your life is the motto on a plate in the kitchen at home, and Tess can’t get it out of her head, even though she’s in Florence for a final, idyllic holiday before university. Gus and his parents are also on holiday in Florence – and, for one day, the paths of these two eighteen-year-olds will criss-cross before they each return to England. Over the course of the next sixteen years, life and love will offer them very different challenges. Separated by distance and chance, there’s no way the two of them are ever going to meet each other properly …or is there?

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (Penguin Books) – 5/5

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Perfect family, perfect house, perfect life; Jane, Madeline and Celeste have it all …or do they? They are about to find out just how easy it is for one little lie to spiral out of control. From the author of Truly Madly Guilty and The Husband’s Secret comes a novel about the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive. Jane hasn’t lived anywhere for longer than six months since her son was born five years ago. She keeps moving in an attempt to escape her past. Now the idyllic coastal town of Pirriwee has pulled her to its shores and Jane feels as if she finally belongs. She finds friends in the feisty Madeline and the incredibly beautiful Celeste, two women with seemingly perfect lives – and their own secrets. But at the start of a new term, an incident involving the children of all three women occurs in the playground, causing a rift between them and other parents. Minor at first but escalating fast, until the whispers and rumours become vicious and spiteful, and the truths blur into lies. It was always going to end in tears, but no one thought it would end in murder …

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins (Doubleday) – 4/5

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The addictive new psychological thriller from the author of The Girl on the Train, the runaway Sunday Times No. 1 bestseller and global phenomenon. In the last days before her death, Nel called her sister. Jules didn’t pick up the phone, ignoring her plea for help. Now Nel is dead. They say she jumped. And Jules has been dragged back to the one place she hoped she had escaped for good, to care for the teenage girl her sister left behind. But Jules is afraid. So afraid. Of her long-buried memories, of the old Mill House, of knowing that Nel would never have jumped. And most of all she’s afraid of the water, and the place they call the Drowning Pool…With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, satisfying read that hinges on the stories we tell about our pasts and their power to destroy the lives we live now.

As a bonus for reading this far, here are some photos of our break away…

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What books will you be reading this Summer?

Blog Tour: Being Simon Haines by Tom Vaughan MacAulay @RedDoorBooks

#WhoIsSimonHaines @TomMacAulay80 @RedDoorBooks

Hello and welcome to one of the final few stops on the Being Simon Haines blog tour.

About the book:

Meet Simon Haines.
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For a decade he’s been chasing his dream: partnership at the legendary, family-run law firm of Fiennes & Plunkett. The grueling hours and manic intensity of his job have come close to breaking him, but he has made it through the years and is now within a whisker of his millions: in less than two weeks, he will know the outcome of the partnership vote. He decides to spend the wait in Cuba in an attempt to rediscover his youthful enthusiasm and curiosity, and to clear his mind before the arrival of the news that might change his life forever. But alone in Havana he becomes lost in nostalgia and begins to relive his past…

Set against the backdrop of an uncertain world, and charged with emotion, Being Simon Haines is a searching story about contemporary London and aspiration, values and love. Painting a picture of a generation of young professionals, it asks the most universal of questions: are we strong enough to know who we are?

Author: Tom Vaughan MacAulay
Paperback: 425 pages
Published by: RedDoor Books, 22 June 2017

My thoughts…

Frenzied, stressful city life is at the heart of this novel as Simon Haines works ridiculous hours at Fiennes & Plunkett – on the brink of propelling his career further, he decides to have a trip to Cuba.

The narrative is beautifully descriptive, full of anecdotes and humour, with flashbacks delving into Simon’s past. We see how his relationships have panned out, and influenced him personally, including that with his ex-girlfriend Sophie. The characters are well developed and complex; my perception of Simon changed as the story progressed. I didn’t warm to him at first, but as we learn more about him I grew to like him. As his backstory unravelled he became more human and thus easier to connect to as a character.

I particularly enjoyed the sections in Cuba, where Simon spends time rediscovering himself – this offered a much-needed, fantastic, calming contrast to his frenetic, chaotic corporate life.

If you’re looking for an intelligent read which is something a little bit different then I highly recommend Being Simon Haines – it is a refreshing take on what sacrifices are made in order to pursue lifelong happiness, as well as the consequences these actions can have along the way.

About Tom Vaughan MacAulay: 

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Tom Vaughan MacAulay was born in Chester in 1980. Tom is a solicitor and has worked both in London and Milan during his career. He currently lives in North London and is in the process of completing his second novel.

You can see the other posts on the Being Simon Haines blog tour here:

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I was sent an advanced review copy of Being Simon Haines from RedDoor Books in exchange for a fair, unbiased and honest review. Thanks RedDoor!

Blog Tour: If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

#TitanBooks #BookReview #BlogTour @TitanBooks

Hello and happy publishing day to If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio. Welcome to my stop on the blog tour – once again, a big thank you to Philippa at Titan Books for organizing, and including me, on this tour.

About the book: 

Oliver Marks has just served ten years for the murder of one of his closest friends – a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day he’s released, he’s greeted by the detective who put him in prison. Detective Colborne is retiring, but before he does, he wants to know what really happened ten years ago.

As a young actor studying Shakespeare at an elite arts conservatory, Oliver noticed that his talented classmates seem to play the same roles onstage and off – villain, hero, tyrant, temptress – though Oliver felt doomed to always be a secondary character in someone else’s story. But when the teachers change up the casting, a good-natured rivalry turns ugly, and the plays spill dangerously over into life.

When tragedy strikes, one of the seven friends is found dead. The rest face their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless.

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Paperback: 400 pages
Published by: Titan Books, 13th June 2017

My thoughts…

The characters’ love of theatre is at the heart of this novel, with obsession, passion, tragedy, love, and betrayal also peppered throughout the story. Rio packs drama in to every crevice of every page and she does a great job of making it unfold hastily before our eyes.

Rio clearly knows her stuff when it comes to Shakespeare (sadly some of which was perhaps lost on me…) and the novel is so rich in detail. It is absolutely jam-packed with Shakespearian quotations, but don’t let that put you off if you’re not an English-literature lover! For me, it flowed effortlessly in to the rest of the narrative and added another dimension to it; the period dialogue added drama and intrigue.

I was hooked on If We Were Villains from the first few chapters and then utterly engrossed until the final page. I definitely recommend this one if you’re looking for a solid literary thriller, which will leave you thinking about it for a long time after.

You can see the other posts from the blog tour here:

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I received an advanced copy of If We Were Villains from the lovely Philippa at Titan Books for an honest and unbiased review – thank you, 

And the winner is…

The 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction has been awarded to The Power by British author Naomi Alderman. Although I was hoping for a different outcome I am still thrilled with this being crowned as the winner. The Power is a subversive, feminist novel that makes you think about our current society and what affect power can have.

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Tessa Ross, 2017 Chair of Judges, said: “The judges and I were thrilled to make this decision. We debated this wonderful shortlist for many hours but kept returning to Naomi Alderman’s brilliantly imagined dystopia – her big ideas and her fantastic imagination.”

You can read what I thought of The Power here and an extract of it over on the Baileys Prize website.

Baileys Prize Shortlist Wrap-up

When the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist was announced earlier this year I made it my mission to get through all of them before the winner is announced (the prizegiving is taking place 7th June 2017). I got on pretty well and (thanks to my local library!) I read five out of the six. The only one I missed out on was The Sport of Kings – I didn’t have enough time to get stuck in before I had to send it back to my local library as it was reserved for another member!

Here are my thoughts on the 2017 shortlist:

The Power by Naomi Alderman (Penguin / Viking) – 4/5
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Set in a contemporary – and almost dystopian – world, The Power is a feminist study into what would happen if true, unlimited power was in the hands of women. In this new world, with the flick of a wrist, women can emit an electrifying force and this emergence of power soon leads to corruption. I honestly didn’t know what to think once I had finished The Power – it blew my mind. It was fascinating and terrifying; I still regularly think about it and I read it over 3 months ago now. I definitely encourage you to read this, whether you’re male or female, as I think everyone will take something different from The Power. Ultimately, it questions gender, power and religion. Trigger warning: there are some harrowing scenes throughout, featuring sex-trafficking, death, rape and civil war.

First Love by Gwendoline Riley (Granta) – 3/5
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What First Love lacks in length, being the shortest novel on the shortlist, it certainly makes up for with emotion and grit. The main character, Neve, is in an unhappy, abusive and seemingly loveless marriage with Edwyn. But there is more to it. It appears that her formative years have played a huge part in contributing to her current situation as well as her mental state; or is it actually Edwyn’s fault they’re in the predicament they are? Riley writes pithy dialogue which is true to life, giving us a glimpse into Neve and Edwyn’s marriage behind closed doors. We never truly understand their backstory. First Love is raw and disturbing in places, but it lacked a real story – the timeline felt confused and it is missing a satisfying ending, however I’m certainly keen to read more of Riley’s work to see how First Love compares.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeline Thien (Granta) – 3/5
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Spanning many, many years of Chinese history, Do Not Say We Have Nothing is an epic, expansive study into the realities of life under Chairman Mao’s cultural revolution. Family loyalty, music and brutality all feature heavily in Thien’s writing. I’ll admit that I had some trouble reading this – it took me at least 100 pages to get into the story, in addition to this there are so many characters, often with multiple names and nicknames that I had to wrack my brain to figure out who was who at times. It is a fascinating read, but also felt quite heavy-going, which made it hard to emotionally invest in the characters. Whilst this isn’t my favourite book of the shortlist I can definitely see why it has been nominated as it is a fantastic piece of historical writing that offers insight to the country’s fragmented state of affairs.

The Dark Circle by Linda Grant (Virago) – 3/5
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Set in a tuberculosis sanatorium in the Kent countryside, The Dark Circle charts the beginnings of the NHS at the end of the Second World War. Second generation Jewish immigrants, twins Lenny and Miriam, are sent there in their teenage years to recover and gain strength. Linda Grant’s characters, whilst diverse, felt lacklustre; there is something missing for me as I didn’t care what happened to them, which is never a good sign. If the plot was stronger and quicker in places I think I would have been more connected to their stories. It is a moderately enjoyable read, but it certainly felt wayward in places, particularly as the story progressed to hear about their later lives.

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adébáyò (Canongate Books) – 5/5
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Spoiler: I absolutely loved this book. Set in Nigeria, Stay With Me is a mouthpiece for Yejide and Akin, a married couple whose troubles push them to the brink of separation. The themes of individual identity, heritage and societal expectations of women are explored as Yejide struggles to conceive; she cannot offer Akin the family his family have always dreamt of. The plot then thickens, set against a backdrop of Nigerian politics. Stay With Me weaves a stunning and engaging story of deception and love. Featuring many twists and turns, the narrative flows effortlessly. It swiftly switches perspectives, between Yejide and Akin, making the reader challenge their assumptions of what the female or male view of marriage should be. I felt wholly invested in this book and was sad when the book ended – Adébáyò manages to fit so much in less than 300 pages! I was also astounded to hear that this is her debut novel. Without a doubt, I will be keeping an eye on what Adébáyò does next as I’m sure she has a bright future ahead.

My prediction

Based on my overall reading experience I would absolutely love Stay With Me to win as it drew me in and enveloped me with its layered commentary on marriage and the pressures of being a woman. Having said that, I don’t think it will win – I think The Power will. It has so many themes that are prevalent and important in today’s predominantly patriarchal society. Until we have full equality between men and women I think this will continue to be an important, eye-opening read. It is clever, powerful (sorry, I couldn’t resist…) and really, really is something special. It is such a unique novel. Either way, I’d be happy if one of these fantastic novels won the prize! Now, we just have to wait until 7th June for the winner to be unveiled.