Tin Man by Sarah Winman (Tinder Press)

How do I even begin to explain how beautiful Tin Man by Sarah Winman is? It feels cliché to call it beautiful, but it really is. At its heart, Tin Man is a tale about the complexities and longings of friendship and love; how the lines between the two blur so easily and are never clear cut. Not only that, but it’s also an explosive study of sexuality, illness and grief; let me tell you, it’s heart-wrenching and raw in such an understated and simple way. It is a book that made me feel so much, in an incredibly short amount of pages.

Tin Man

I can’t say much more, not because I don’t want to, but because I’m lost for words at how to describe such a wonderful piece of writing. I only wish I had the opportunity to read it for the first time again – with the type of open eyes, heart and mind that you have when opening a book at its first page, full of expectation and hope.

This deserves to be on many book bloggers’ top books of the year list; I’ll be amazed if it gets knocked out of my top five!

Publisher: Tinder Press
Author: Sarah Winman

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My Man Booker Prize plans

Each year I usually give myself the ambitious challenge of reading all of the books on The Man Booker longlist. This year, I’m cutting myself some slack. I’ve taken a look through the longlist and only a small handful jump out at me. One of the things I love about literary prizes is discovering new authors and fantastic stories, but this year I want to focus on the ones that excite me, because after all life is too short to spend time reading books that I know I won’t enjoy…

Out of the thirteen books, I’ve already read two: Days Without End by Sebastian Barry and Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, both of which I’ve written mini reviews on. There are eleven books left to pick from and my Man Booker picks are:

The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (Hamish Hamilton)

Ministry

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness takes us on a journey of many years-the story spooling outwards from the cramped neighbourhoods of Old Delhi into the burgeoning new metropolis and beyond, to the Valley of Kashmir and the forests of Central India, where war is peace and peace is war, and where, from time to time, ‘normalcy’ is declared.

Anjum, who used to be Aftab, unrolls a threadbare carpet in a city graveyard that she calls home. A baby appears quite suddenly on a pavement, a little after midnight, in a crib of litter. The enigmatic S. Tilottama is as much of a presence as she is an absence in the lives of the three men who loved her.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is at once an aching love story and a decisive remonstration. It is told in a whisper, in a shout, through tears and sometimes with a laugh. Its heroes are people who have been broken by the world they live in and then rescued, mended by love-and by hope. For this reason, they are as steely as they are fragile, and they never surrender. This ravishing, magnificent book reinvents what a novel can do and can be. And it demonstrates on every page the miracle of Arundhati Roy’s storytelling gifts.

Autumn by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton)

Autumn

Daniel is a century old. Elisabeth, born in 1984, has her eye on the future. The United Kingdom is in pieces, divided by a historic once-in-a-generation summer.

Love is won, love is lost. Hope is hand in hand with hopelessness. The seasons roll round, as ever . . .

Swing Time by Zadie Smith (Hamish Hamilton)

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Two brown girls dream of being dancers – but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, black bodies and black music, what it means to belong, what it means to be free. It’s a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten either.

Bursting with energy, rhythm and movement, Swing Time is Zadie Smith’s most ambitious novel yet. It is a story about music and identity, race and class, those who follow the dance and those who lead it . . .

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (Fleet)

UndergroundRailroad

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. All the slaves lead a hellish existence, but Cora has it worse than most; she is an outcast even among her fellow Africans and she is approaching womanhood, where it is clear even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a slave recently arrived from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they take the perilous decision to escape to the North.

In Whitehead’s razor-sharp imagining of the antebellum South, the Underground Railroad has assumed a physical form: a dilapidated box car pulled along subterranean tracks by a steam locomotive, picking up fugitives wherever it can. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But its placid surface masks an infernal scheme designed for its unknowing black inhabitants. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher sent to find Cora, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

At each stop on her journey, Cora encounters a different world. As Whitehead brilliantly recreates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America, from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once the story of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shatteringly powerful meditation on history.

Out of the longlist, which ones are you most excited for? Do you think I’ve missed some essential reading off my list?

  • 4 3 2 1by Paul Auster (US) (Faber & Faber)
  • Days Without Endby Sebastian Barry (Ireland) (Faber & Faber)
  • History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (US) (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
  • Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan-UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
  • Solar Bonesby Mike McCormack (Ireland) (Canongate)
  • Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (UK) (4thEstate)
  • Elmetby Fiona Mozley (UK) (JM Originals)
  • The Ministry Of Utmost Happinessby Arundhati Roy (India) (Hamish Hamilton)
  • Lincoln in the Bardoby George Saunders (US) (Bloomsbury Publishing)
  • Home Fireby Kamila Shamsie (UK-Pakistan) (Bloomsbury Circus)
  • Autumn by Ali Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
  • Swing Time by Zadie Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (US) (Fleet)

 

Book Review: Did You See Melody by Sophie Hannah (Hodder & Stoughton)

DidYouSeeMelody

About the book:

Pushed to the breaking point, Cara Burrows abandons her home and family and escapes to a five-star spa resort she can’t afford. Late at night, exhausted and desperate, she lets herself into her hotel room and is shocked to find it already occupied – by a man and a teenage girl.

A simple mistake on the part of the hotel receptionist – but Cara’s fear intensifies when she works out that the girl she saw alive and well in the hotel room is someone she can’t possibly have seen: the most famous murder victim in the country, Melody Chapa, whose parents are serving life sentences for her murder.

Cara doesn’t know what to trust: everything she’s read and heard about the case, or the evidence of her own eyes. Did she really see Melody? And is she prepared to ask herself that question and answer it honestly if it means risking her own life?

Author: Sophie Hannah
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Hardback: 336 pages, to be published 24th August 2017

My thoughts:

My friend Melissa introduced me to Sophie Hannah a few years ago and since then I’ve been a huge fan of her books – particularly the Culver Valley Series – so I was more than excited to get my hands on an early copy of Did You See Melody.

Cara Burrows flees to the US to escape her family and not before long she’s embroiled in the historic murder case of the infamous Melody Chapa. The drama slowly unfolds amongst the inhabitants of five-star spa resort, as we find out what really happened to Melody that fateful day. The characters are memorable, and drawn so colourfully, with a range of conflicting personalities that help bring the story to life. The mixed formats used in the book – from the narrative and Melody’s book to TV dialogue and interviews – kept it fast paced and built the intrigue and mystery.

Although the story is farfetched in places it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the book, as Sophie Hannah is such a great storyteller. Did You See Melody is a compelling read, full of dark humour and twists – I highly recommend this for an easy Summer read.

July Reads

Another month has passed, which means it’s time for another wrap-up! I must apologise in advance for my tardiness with this post – I had written half of it before 1st August, then it fell by the wayside, but it’s here now! Better late than never, right?

Once again, my reading hasn’t been great having only read six books – I’ve found it hard to have time to pick up books, having to prioritise other things (if you haven’t taken a look at this post, please do!).

Without further ado, last month I read…

Plum by Hollie McNish (Picador Poetry) – 5/5

Plum hollie mcnish

Plum is poet Hollie McNish’s newest collection and features both new and old poetry – her recent poems are interrupted by earlier writing from her formative years – voices that are raw, honest and also very, very funny. If you’re looking to get into poetry, this is a fantastic place to start – Hollie is warm, honest, funny, sarcastic and passionate. I could listen to her poetry over and over again (a personal fave of mine is Mathematics – I encourage you to go and have a watch on YouTube!)

The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla (Unbound) – 5/5

Good Immigrant

This is a collection of essays written by BAME authors, edited together by Nikesh Shukla. It explores what it means to be Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic in Britain today. The essays look at identity, culture, family and diversity; I found it enlightening, eye-opening, funny, heart-breaking and infuriating all in one. This is such an important read and one that everyone should pick up!

Them: Adventures with extremists by Jon Ronson (Picador) – 3/5

Them

It seems I was on a bit of a non-fiction roll this month! I’m a big fan of Jon Ronson’s books and my favourite of his is The Psychopath Test, however I wasn’t mad about Them: Adventures with Extremists. The book goes on a quest to explore extremism, from Islamic fundamentalists to Neo-Nazis. Originally written in 2001, this book is definitely still prevalent today; I found it fascinating in parts, but also a little boring in others.

Dying to Live by Michael Stanley (Orenda Books) – 4/5

Front Cover Dying to Live

Dying to Live is the sixth book in the Detective Kubu series – I loved the setting of the book, the African landscape added a different dimension, making it stand out from so many British crime books, which can sometimes feel a bit samey! If you’re looking for a fairly light crime novel, which is a bit different, then I’d definitely recommend giving the Kubu books a go. My full blog tour post is here.

Our Memory Like Dust by Gavin Chait (Doubleday Books) – 2/5

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This one puzzled and perplexed me – my full review can be found here. Our Memory Like Dust wasn’t completely up my street, but I definitely think you’d enjoy it if you’re a fan of light sci-fi or dystopian fiction. Chait is a complex storyteller, using many themes, characters and contemporary issues to make a wider point about society – although I think some of these points went over my head…

The Marshking’s Daughter by Karen Dionne (Sphere) – 4/5

Marshking's Daughter

Last of all, I picked up The Marshking’s Daughter to help get me out of my slump! I was hooked from the get-go; it is thrilling, suspenseful and action packed. The story is centred around a woman who was born into captivity after her Mother was abducted – I was wary that this might read like Room by Emma Donoghue. I shouldn’t have been worried as it was completely different. Dionne creates wonderful, atmospheric scenery which chills you to the core. After finishing The Marshking’s Daughter I was excited to pick up another thriller.

What did you read in July? Do you have any recommendations? 

Where I’ve been…

For the last couple of months I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump and things have been a bit quieter on the blog than I’d have liked. But, I promise there is a good reason for this – I’ve been beavering away, working hard setting up my online gift-box brownie business ready for launch! For those of you that don’t know, last November – after six years of working at a fantastic London PR firm – I quit my job to pursue my passion of baking.

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Well, I am super pleased to say that Nutkins Bakery is now fully up-and-running and OPEN FOR BUSINESS. You can order gift-box brownies, with personalised gift cards, for delivery anywhere in the UK.

After months and months of hard work, late nights, blood, sweat and tears I’ve actually managed to create a site that I’m pretty proud of – at the start of this process I decided I’d build and design the website by myself, with no professional help. Looking back, I’m not sure what I was thinking…but I managed to solve the problems I had and got there in the end!

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Needless to say, I’d be absolutely over the moon if you paid my site a visit – www.nutkinsbakery.co.uk. I like to think brownies are the perfect gift, and let’s face it they’re far tastier than flowers! Please do let me know what you think of the site!

As a welcome offer, I’ve got a discount code for 10% off all orders in August. Don’t miss out!

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If you do place and order and enjoy them, I’d also love it if you left a review on Facebook (Facebook.com/NutkinsBakery), followed my Instagram/ Twitter (@NutkinsBakery) or recommended the site to a friend – after all, as a small business we count on recommendations from lovely folk like you. It really would mean the world to me.

Book Extract: Perfect Prey by Helen Fields

#BookExtract #BlogTour @Helen_Fields @Sabah_K @AvonBooksUK

Hello! Welcome to my spot on the Perfect Prey Blog Tour. Thank you Sabah, and Avon Books, for inviting me to be part of this tour. Today I’ve got an extract from Helen Fields’ latest novel, Perfect Prey (the sequel to the gripping Perfect Remains). But, before we get into the good stuff, let me tell you a little bit about the book…

About Perfect Prey: 

PerfectPrey

The second in the terrifying DI Callanach crime series. Fans of M.J. Arlidge will be hooked from the very first page.

In the midst of a rock festival, a charity worker is sliced across the stomach. He dies minutes later. In a crowd of thousands, no one saw his attacker. The following week, the body of a primary school teacher is found in a dumpster in an Edinburgh alley, strangled with her own woollen scarf.

DI Ava Turner and DI Luc Callanach have no motive and no leads – until around the city, graffitied on buildings, words appear describing each victim.

It’s only when they realise the words are appearing before rather than after the murders, that they understand the killer is announcing his next victim…and the more innocent the better.

Author: Helen Fields
Published by: Avon Books
Paperback: 464 pages, published 27th July 2017

About Helen Fields: 

Helen Fields studied law at the University of East Anglia, then went on to the Inns of Court School of Law in London. After completing her pupillage, she joined chambers in Middle Temple where she practised criminal and family law for thirteen years. After her second child was born, Helen left the Bar.

Together with her husband David, she runs a film production company, acting as script writer and producer. Perfect Prey is her second novel following Perfect Remains. Both are set in Scotland, where Helen feels most at one with the world. Helen and her husband now live in Hampshire with their three children and two dogs.

Without further ado, I hope you enjoy this extract from Perfect Prey:

Detective Inspector Luc Callanach stood at the spot where the young man had taken his last breath. His identity had not yet been established. The police had pieced together remarkably little in the hour since the victim’s death. It was amazing, Callanach thought, how in a crowd of thousands they had found not a single useful witness.

The young man had simply ceased his rhythmic jumping, crumpling slowly, falling left and right, forwards and backwards, against his fellow festival-goers, finally collapsing, clutching his stomach. It had annoyed some of them, disrupted their viewing pleasure. He’d been assumed drunk at first, drug-addled second. Only when a barefooted teenage girl had slipped in the pool of blood did the alarm ring out, and amidst the decibels it had taken an age for the message to get through. Eventually the screams had drowned out the music when the poor boy had been rolled over, his spilled entrails slinking closely in his wake like some alien pet, sparkling with reflected sunshine in the gloss of so much brilliant blood.

The uniforms hadn’t been far away. It was a massive public event with every precaution taken, or so they’d thought. But making their way through the throng, police officers first, then paramedics, and clearing an area then managing the scene, had been a logistical disaster. Callanach looked skywards and sighed. The crime scene was more heavily trodden than nightclub toilets on New Year’s Eve. There was enough DNA floating around to populate a new planet. It was a forensic free-for-all. The body itself was already on its way to the mortuary, having been photographed in situ for all the good it would do. The corpse had been moved so many times by do-gooders, panicked bystanders, the police, medics, before finally being left to rest on a bed of trampled grass and kicked-up dirt. The chief pathologist, Ailsa Lambert, had been unusually quiet, issuing instructions only to treat the body with care and respect, and to move him swiftly to a place where there would be no more prying cameras or hysterical caterwauling. Callanach was there to secure the scene – a concept beyond irony – before following Ailsa to her offices.

In the brief look Callanach had got, the victim’s face had said it all. Eyes screwed tight as if willing himself to wake from a nightmare, mouth caught open between gasp and scream. Had he been shouting a name? Callanach wondered. Did he know his assailant? He’d been carrying no identifica­tion, merely some loose change in his shorts, not even so much as a watch on his wrist. Only a key on a piece of string around his neck. However swiftly death had come, the terror of knowing you were fading, of sensing that hope was a missed bus, while all around you leapt and sang, must have seemed the cruellest joke. And at the very end, hearing only screams, seeing panic and horror in the sea of eyes above. What must it have been like, Callanach wondered, to have died alone on the hard ground in such bright sunlight? The last thing the victim had known of the world could only have been unalle­viated dread.

Callanach studied the domed stage, rigged with sound and lighting gear, and prayed that one of the cameras mounted there might have caught a useful fragment. Someone rushing, leaving, moving differently to the rest of the crowd. The Meadows, an expanse of park and playing fields to the south of the city centre, were beautiful and peaceful on a normal day. Mothers brought their toddlers, dog walkers roamed and joggers timed

the circuit. Strains of ‘Summer is A-Coming In’ sounded in the back of Callanach’s mind from a screening of the original version of The Wicker Man that DI Ava Turner had dragged him to a few months ago. He’d found Edward Woodward’s acting mesmerising, and the images of men and women in animal masks preparing to make their human sacrifice had stayed with him long after the projector had been switched off. It wasn’t a million miles away from the circus in the centre of which this young man had perished.

‘Sir, the people standing behind the victim have been identified. They’re available to speak now,’ a constable said.

Be sure to swing by the blog in August, when I hope to publish a full review! You can check the other posts on the blog tour out here: 

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