The Wellcome Book Prize ten years on

Today I’m here to celebrate the tenth birthday of the Wellcome Book Prize. Launched in 2009, the prize worth £30,000 celebrates the best new books that engage with an aspect of medicine, health or illness, showcasing the breadth and depth of our encounters with medicine through exceptional works of fiction and non-fiction. Since then it’s come a long way, championing some amazing, amazing books.

I’m a huge fan of the prize, which rewards exceptional works of literature that illuminate the many ways that health, medicine and illness touch our lives, marks the 10th anniversary of this prestigious award. Over the last decade, the prize has recognised an eclectic variety of titles from novels (Mend the Living, Maylis de Kerangal) to memoirs (The Iceberg, Marion Coutts) to popular science (It’s All in Your Head, Suzanne O’Sullivan). In 2019, the prize will celebrate this legacy and this extraordinary genre of books that add new meaning to life, death and everything in between.

This year, the judges are: Elif Shafak, Rick Edwards, Jon Day, Viv Groskop and Kevin Fong. The longlist will be announced in February – I’m looking to see what books are on there this year – with the 2019 prize being announced in April.

Previous winners include: Mark O’Connell for To Be a Machine in 2018, Maylis de Kerangal (author) and Jessica Moore (translator) for Mend the Living in 2017, Suzanne O’Sullivan for It’s All in Your Head in 2016, Marion Coutts for The Iceberg in 2015, Andrew Solomon for Far from the Tree in 2014, Thomas Wright for Circulation in 2012, Alice LaPlante for Turn of Mind in 2011, Rebecca Skloot for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks in 2010 and Andrea Gillies for Keeper: Living with Nancy – a journey into Alzheimer’s in 2009.

You can view the other blog posts on the Wellcome Book Prize blog tour, below:

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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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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!

 

Blog Tour: The Ice Swimmer by Kjell Ola Dahl

Another day, another blog tour – today, I’m here with The Ice Swimmer by Kjell Ola Dahl, published by the wonderful Orenda Books.

About the book

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The Oslo Detectives are back in another slice of gripping, dark Nordic Noir, and their new colleague has more at stake than she’s prepared to reveal…When a dead man is lifted from the freezing waters of Oslo Harbour just before Christmas, Detective Lena Stigersand’s stressful life suddenly becomes even more complicated. Not only is she dealing with a cancer scare, a stalker and an untrustworthy boyfriend, but it seems both a politician and Norway’s security services might be involved in the murder.

With her trusted colleagues, Gunnarstranda and Frølich, at her side, Lena digs deep into the case and finds that it not only goes to the heart of the Norwegian establishment, but it might be rather to close to her personal life for comfort. Dark, complex and nail-bitingly tense, The Ice Swimmeris the latest and most unforgettable instalment in the critically acclaimed Oslo Detective series, by the godfather of Nordic Noir.

Publisher: Orenda Books
Paperback: 276 Pages
Translated by: Don Bartlett

A brief overview of my thoughts…

The Ice Swimmer is a wonderfully written Police Procedural, fronted by Lena who is a whip smart and strong female detective. Gripping from the start, it works wonderfully as a stand alone novel – this was the first book I’d read in The Oslo Detective series and I didn’t feel lost, or like I was missing any information.

Full of plot, twists and tales this kept me intrigued from the first to last page – I wanted to keep going until I found out what had happened. If you’re into your Nordic Noir, I’d recommend this clever, twisty tale.

About the author

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One of the godfathers of the Nordic Noir genre, Kjell Ola Dahl was born in 1958 in Gjovik. He made his debut in 1993, and has since published eleven novels, the most prominent of which is a series of police procedurals cum psychological thrillers featuring investigators Gunnarstranda and Frolich. In 2000 he won the Riverton Prize for The Last Fix and he won both the prestigious Brage and Riverton Prizes for The Courier in 2015. His work has been published in 14 countries, and he lives in Oslo.

You can keep up with the other posts on the blog tour, here:

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As ever, a HUGE thank you to the wonderful Anne for organising another wonderful A Random Things Tour.  

Giveaway: We Were the Salt of the Sea

Today I’ve got a great giveaway for you – the wonderful folk at Orenda Books have given me two copies of Roxanne Bouchard’s novel, We Were the Salt of the Sea, as part of the blog tour.

About the book:

Truth lingers in murky waters…

As Montrealer Catherine Day sets foot in a remote fishing village and starts asking around about her birth mother, the body of a woman dredges up in a fisherman’s nets. Not just any woman, though: Marie Garant, an elusive, nomadic sailor and unbridled beauty who once tied many a man’s heart in knots. Detective Sergeant Joaquin Morales, newly drafted to the area from the suburbs of Montreal, barely has time to unpack his suitcase before he’s thrown into the deep end of the investigation.

On Quebec’s outlying Gaspé Peninsula, the truth can be slippery, especially down on the fishermen’s wharves. Interviews drift into idle chit-chat, evidence floats off with the tide and the truth lingers in murky waters. It’s enough to make DS Morales reach straight for a large whisky…

About Roxanne:

Ten years or so ago, Roxanne Bouchard decided it was time she found her sea legs. So she learned to sail, first on the St Lawrence River, before taking to the open waters off the Gaspe Peninsula. The local fishermen soon invited her aboard to reel in their lobster nets, and Roxanne saw for herself that the sunrise over Bonaventure never lies. We Were the Salt of the Sea is her fifth novel, and her first to be translated into English. She lives in Quebec.

You can enter the giveaway below:

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Take a look at the other blog tour posts, here:

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Femmeuary Reads

I had such a great month of reading in February – I stuck to my pledge of only reading books by women, as part of Lauren and The Books’ Femmeuary (see this post if you have no idea what I’m on about). I managed to read five four star reads and one five star books – I’ve felt more motivated to read than I have in a long, long time. May this reading streak continue! 

How to be Human: The Manual by Ruby Wax (Penguin) – 4/5  

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This is a warm and witty look at mental health; accessible and informative it discusses twelve elements, from evolution to addiction. In tone and content, I found this quite similar to her previous books Sane New World and Mindfulness for the Frazzled, however I thought the structure of it was great and really enjoyed the discussions between the monk and the neuroscientist. At the end of each chapter, each topic is dissected, looking at how the mind works, mindfulness and more scientifically, the brain. If you’re looking for a light-hearted book at why we behave in certain ways, this one is for you.

The Road Home by Rose Tremain (Vintage) – 4/5

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A book about courage, belonging, determination, love and family. I was nervous going into The Road Home, as last year The Gustav Sonata by Tremain was one of my favourite books and I hoped that this would live up to expectations. I’m pleased to say it did – I absolutely loved it. Rose Tremain creates characters that are intricate and three-dimensional, ones that you care about and also ones that at times you hate. There was only one plot point that jarred with me – no spoilers here, but on reflection I can see why Rose Tremain included it, however the point in question seemed so out of character for the book’s main man (Lev) that I thought I was a little unnecessary.

Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary by Anita Anand (Bloomsbury) – 4/5

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Sophia Duleep Singh was born into Indian royalty. Her father, Maharajah Duleep Singh, was heir to the Kingdom of the Sikhs, one of the greatest empires of the Indian subcontinent. My Mum got me this book for Christmas and I’d saved it to read to coincide with it being 100 years since (some) women got the vote and woman’s suffrage. At times this is quite dense, but never unenjoyable, to read – it is rich with description and character, so much so that you get a true flavour of what Sophia was like, her priorities and her lifestyle. I learnt so much from this book. Ultimately it is about a strong, independent and revolutionary female that I’d previously not heard of.

The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober by Catherine Gray (Aster) – 4/5

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A fresh look at alcohol addiction and the joy sobriety can bring, as well as understanding why society has a negative view of staying sober. This was in no way condescending, or preachy, instead Catherine Gray provides information – and her story – and lets you make your own mind up. It tells the tale of her booze-fuelled twenties and how hitting rock bottom allowed her to start living her life again. It is a super quick, and enjoyable read, which definitely made me question my health and my alcohol consumption. 

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (Blackfriars) – 4/5

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This novel opens with such a punchy first line – “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” after reading this, I was hooked and raced through this novel in two short sittings. Everything I Never Told You is about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio; it explores family dynamics, racial tension, and the pressures children can face from parents. Ultimately, it is about discovering who we, and our families, really are and why we behave the way we do. Ng’s writing is beautiful, filled with tension and tenderness – I’ve now got her second book, Little Fires Everywhere high-up on my TBR list.

The Unseen World by Liz Moore (Windmill Books) – 5/5

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Where do I start? This was, without doubt, my standout novel for the month. It follows Ada Sibelius, an intelligent young girl who has been raised by David, her brilliant, eccentric, socially inept single father, who directs a computer science lab. Set in multiple eras (1980s and 2009), early on in the novel Ada realises David is forgetting things – the book is her quest to discover her father’s past and piece together his life. It is emotional, quirky and intense – it won’t be for everything, but for me it was incredible. A full review will follow shortly, once I’ve managed to put how much I enjoyed it into words.

Anticipated Reads: March

Here are the books that I’m most looking forward to reading in March (all blurbs are below):

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The F Word by Lily Pebbles (Hodder & Stoughton) 

If there’s one piece of invaluable advice for women and girls of all ages, it is that there is nothing more important than creating and maintaining strong, positive and happy friendships with other women.

If Lily Pebble’s 1998 diary is anything to go by, female friendships are incredibly complex and emotional but they’re the mini love stories that make us who we are. For many women, friends are our partners in crime through life; they are the ones who move us into new homes, out of bad relationships, through births and illnesses.

The Trick to Time by Kit de Waal (Viking)

Mona is a young Irish girl in the big city, with the thrill of a new job and a room of her own in a busy boarding house. On her first night out in 1970s Birmingham, she meets William, a charming Irish boy with an easy smile and an open face. They embark upon a passionate affair, a whirlwind marriage – before a sudden tragedy tears them apart.

Decades later, Mona pieces together the memories of the years that separate them. But can she ever learn to love again?

Bitter by Francesca Jakobi (W&N)

It’s 1969, and while the summer of love lingers in London, Gilda is consumed by the mistakes of her past. She walked out on her beloved son Reuben when he was just a boy and fears he’ll never forgive her. Yet she hopes desperately they can mend their shattered relationship.

When Reuben marries a petite blonde gentile, Gilda takes it as the ultimate rejection. Her cold, distant son seems transformed by love – a love she’s craved his entire adult life. What does his new wife have that she doesn’t? It’s an obsession that will bring shocking truths about the past to light . . .

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin (Tinder Press)

It’s 1969, and holed up in a grimy tenement building in New York’s Lower East Side is a travelling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the date they will die. The four Gold children, too young for what they’re about to hear, sneak out to learn their fortunes.

Over the years that follow, the siblings must choose how to live with the prophecies the fortune-teller gave them that day. Will they accept, ignore, cheat or defy them? Golden-boy Simon escapes to San Francisco, searching for love; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician; eldest son Daniel tries to control fate as an army doctor after 9/11; and bookish Varya looks to science for the answers she craves.

Bookworm A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan (Square Peg)

She was whisked away to Narnia – and Kirrin Island – and Wonderland. She ventured down rabbit holes and womble burrows into midnight gardens and chocolate factories. She wandered the countryside with Milly-Molly-Mandy, and played by the tracks with the Railway Children. With Charlotte’s Web she discovered Death and with Judy Blume it was Boys. No wonder she only left the house for her weekly trip to the library or to spend her pocket money on amassing her own at home.

In Bookworm, Lucy revisits her childhood reading with wit, love and gratitude. She relives our best-beloved books, their extraordinary creators, and looks at the thousand subtle ways they shape our lives. She also disinters a few forgotten treasures to inspire the next generation of bookworms and set them on their way.