Review: The Book of Uriel by Elyse Hoffman (2021) #TheWriteReads #BlogTour @Project613Books

Blurb

In the fires of World War II, a child must save his people from darkness…

Ten-year-old Uriel has always been an outcast. Born mute in a Jewish village known for its choir, he escapes into old stories of his people, stories of angels and monsters. But when the fires of the Holocaust consume his village, he learns that the stories he writes in his golden notebook are terrifyingly real.

In the aftermath of the attack, Uriel is taken in by Uwe, a kind-hearted linguist forced to work for the commander of the local Nazi Police, the affably brutal Major Brandt. Uwe wants to keep Uriel safe, but Uriel can’t stay hidden. The angels of his tales have come to him with a dire message: Michael, guardian angel of the Jewish people, is missing. Without their angel, the Jewish people are doomed, and Michael’s angelic brethren cannot search for him in the lands corrupted by Nazi evil.

With the lives of millions at stake, Uriel must find Michael and free him from the clutches of the Angel of Death…even if that means putting Uwe in mortal danger.

The Book of Uriel is a heartbreaking blend of historical fiction and Jewish folklore that will enthrall fans of The Book Thief and The World That We Knew.

Review

Huge thanks to the author and to The Write Reads for my spot on the blog tour and for providing a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review.

There is a lot going on in this book, and at first I wasn’t sure about flicking between the two modes of the supernatural world of the angels and the brutal realism of Nazi violence, but it actually works really well, and makes for a gripping and profound story. The characters are well-rounded and complex – even the evil Major Brandt is given nuance and disturbingly likeable characteristics – in some ways, his charm and humour make him even more monstrous. Uwe and Uriel are characters you can’t help but root for, and I was carried along by the twists and turns of their adventures in the forest. There is a kind of breathless feel about some of the passages, and I did wonder if quite so many quests and mysteries needed to be packed in, but it certainly makes for a very ‘full’ book, one that feels resonant with Jewish folklore and rich in symbolism.

I think that is what I liked the most about The Book of Uriel – it feels like a really detailed exploration of Jewish lore, of the stories, most of which I was not familiar with, that Uriel carries in his heart. The fact that Uwe is unaware of the paranormal element of Uriel’s adventures is a really nice touch, as it allows his strand of the story to focus entirely on the human cost of the Nazi regime, contrasting the almost mythological feel of Uriel’s quest with the vile actions taken by Brandt and his men. The question of who are the demons takes on a philosophical slant as we see both literal and metaphorical ‘angels’ of Death. It is a book which really makes you think, and which, it seems to me, pays beautiful homage to the Jewish faith, honouring the stories and the traditions that have been passed down the generations.

It is violent, and certain scenes are very upsetting, but I think it is important that the author shows the brutality even as she weaves the more fantastical elements of the story among the shocking violence. Uriel is a really special character – even though he doesn’t say a word, it is easy to see why Uwe feels so paternal and protective towards him, and his spark and courage and acceptance of his role all make him incredibly endearing. I felt a real love for him by the end of the book, and I think Hoffman does justice to her wonderful protagonist. I’m grateful to have read his story.

About the Author

Elyse Hoffman strives to tell historical tales with new twists: she loves to meld WWII and Jewish history with fantasy, folklore, and the paranormal. She has written six works of Holocaust historical fiction: the five books of The Barracks of the Holocaust and The Book of Uriel.

Links

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Book-Uriel-Novel-WWII-ebook/dp/B08NZYJGB9

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/55991309

Review: Lemon by Kwon Yeo-sun translated by Janet Hong (2021) @HoZ_Books #Lemon

Blurb

In the summer of 2002, nineteen-year-old Kim Hae-on was murdered in what became known as the High School Beauty Murder. There were two suspects: Shin Jeongjun, who had a rock-solid alibi, and Han Manu, to whom no evidence could be pinned. The case went cold.

Seventeen years pass without justice, and the grief and uncertainty take a cruel toll on her younger sister, Da-on, in particular. Unable to move on with her life, Da-on tries in her own twisted way to recover some of what she’s lost, ultimately setting out to find the truth of what happened.

Told at different points in time from the perspectives of Da-on and two of Hae-on’s classmates, Lemon is a piercing psychological portrait that takes the shape of a crime novel and is a must-read novel of 2021.

Review

Huge thanks to Head of Zeus for my spot on the blog tour, and for providing me with a beautiful proof copy in exchange for an honest review.

It feels like a cop-out, as I say this about quite a few books, but Lemon really is a very difficult book to review! I’ll start by saying I loved it – it really is so different from anything else I have read – and it is the sort of book you will want to talk about immediately with others who have read it (as we’ve been doing in the Insta discussion group!). It is a book that manages to be both hugely clever and very readable. This is crime fiction, but not as we know it.

From the tragic death of Kim Hae-on, the story spins out into the future, following those affected by (and accused of) the murder. Dae-on, her younger sister, is our touchstone, the character we spend the most time with, but we also enter the viewpoints of Eonni and Taerim, both former classmates, and as the years pass, we find out hints of what happened at the time, and the spiral of incidents that has taken place in the aftermath. At one point, one of the characters notices something, and says “I couldn’t help but find this fact chilling,” and that pretty much sums up how I felt while reading this book. The story is slippery, elusive, hard to pin down and yet there is a core of something dark running through it that keeps you reading, even as you might wonder what exactly is going on.

There are elements that would appeal to fans of true crime podcasts, and others that provide a kind of slantwise take on the crime genre. It reminded me slightly of Claudia Piñeiro’s excellent novel Elena Knows, in that it takes a familiar genre and creates something entirely new out of it, but as I mentioned before, it is very hard to compare Lemon to anything but itself, so strikingly original is it.

This is a short novel, but it manages to say so much in its gaps and silences, in what it refuses to spell out explicitly. If you are a fan of a neat and tidy conclusion, you may find this book frustrating, but you will certainly come away with a lot of theories, and a lot to discuss. I thought it was brilliant – a darkly ambiguous book that sticks in the mind long after your finish it.

About the Author

Kwon Yeo-sun is an award-winning Korean writer. She has won the Sangsang Literary Award, Oh Yeongsu Literature Award, Yi Sang Literary Prize, Hankook Ilbo Literary Award, Tong-ni Literature Prize and Lee Hyo-seok Literary Award. Lemon is her first novel to be published in the English language.

About the Translator

Janet Hong is a writer and translator based in Vancouver, Canada. She received the TA First Translation Prize and the LTI Korea Translation Award for her translation of Han Yujoo’s The Impossible Fairy Tale, which was also a finalist for both the 2018 PEN Translation Prize and the National Translation Award. Her recent translations include Ha Seong-nan’s Bluebeard’s First Wife, Ancco’s Nineteen, and Keum Suk Gendry-Kim’s Grass.

Purchase Links

Amazon UK: https://bit.ly/3mw4AXa

Waterstones: https://bit.ly/3mw4AXa

Bookshop.org: https://bit.ly/3DbTxJg

Blackwells: https://bit.ly/2YqvirS

Review: The Whistling by Rebecca Netley (2021) @MichaelJBooks @Rebecca_Netley

Blurb

Alone in the world, Elspeth Swansome takes the position of nanny to a family on the remote Scottish island of Skelthsea.

Her charge, Mary, hasn’t uttered a word since the sudden death of her twin, William – just days after their former nanny disappeared.

No one will speak of what happened to William. Just as no one can explain the hypnotic lullabies sung in empty corridors. Nor the strange dolls that appear in abandoned rooms. Nor the faint whistling that comes in the night . . .

As winter draws in and passage to the mainland becomes impossible, Elspeth finds herself trapped.

But is this house haunted by the ghosts of the past?

OR THE SECRETS OF THE LIVING . . . ?
________

Chilling, twisty and emotionally gripping, The Whistling is an atmospheric page-turner with shades of the classics, yet a unique character of its own, perfect for fans of Susan Hill and Laura Purcell.

Review

Huge thanks to Ella Watkins at Penguin Michael Joseph for my spot on the tour, and for providing me with a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I don’t tend to theme my reading around the time of year, so it is merely a lucky coincidence that I ended up reading The Whistling during ‘spooky season’. I have to admit, reading it in bed with the wind howling and the rain lashing down outside, was spectacularly atmospheric, and that’s before you add in the previous week’s experience of hearing ‘footsteps’ in our loft (it was birds on the roof, btw, but I swear it sounded like footsteps!) Anyway, suffice it to say that the scene was set for me to be properly scared by this book, and indeed, it did make me a bit jumpy for a few days!

What I loved about The Whistling, though, is that it doesn’t go in for cheap thrills and shocks. It builds up the tension by tiny increments, letting us become fully immersed in Elspeth’s experiences on Skelthsea, developing the characters as much, if not more, than the spooky plot. As Elspeth desperately tries to cling to rational explanations for the strange happenings, we are right alongside her, maintaining our scepticism as long as we can even as the evidence mounts that there is something unnatural going on at Iskar, the family home that is simply dripping with du Maurier-esque atmosphere. As with the best first person narratives, we are so firmly in Elspeth’s viewpoint that each suspicion, each fluctuation in how she views the other characters, becomes part of our own response, and I found myself unwilling to trust anyone at all apart from our narrator.

There is something about the book that reminds me not only of du Maurier but also of Stuart Turton’s The Devil and the Dark Water – it doesn’t ask you to suspend your disbelief and just buy into the (potential) ghostliness, instead it slowly and carefully assembles the evidence, and, in the end, becomes something more than just a supernatural tale. I don’t want to spoil anything about this book, but I will say that I found the way all the threads wrapped up deeply satisfying. It is a really clever story, and the writing is beautiful, especially when evoking the landscape.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced, gore-filled horror, this is not it; but if you like your books creepy and atmospheric and full of dark corners, strange noises and sinister traditions, I highly recommend getting your hands on this wonderfully crafted novel. I’m really looking forward to reading more by this author.

The Whistling by Rebecca Netley is published by Penguin Michael Joseph and is available to purchase here.

Review: An Island by Karen Jennings (2020)

Blurb

Samuel has lived alone for a long time; one morning he finds the sea has brought someone to offer companionship and to threaten his solitude…

A young refugee washes up unconscious on the beach of a small island inhabited by no one but Samuel, an old lighthouse keeper. Unsettled, Samuel is soon swept up in memories of his former life on the mainland: a life that saw his country suffer under colonisers, then fight for independence, only to fall under the rule of a cruel dictator; and he recalls his own part in its history. In this new man’s presence he begins to consider, as he did in his youth, what is meant by land and to whom it should belong. To what lengths will a person go in order to ensure that what is theirs will not be taken from them?

A novel about guilt and fear, friendship and rejection; about the meaning of home.

Review

I was delighted to see Karen Jennings on the Booker Prize longlist – I read one of her books last year (it was one of the very first review copies I was ever sent, in fact!) and thought her writing was brilliant and urgent. Having really enjoyed Upturned Earth, I was obviously going to buy myself a copy of An Island asap!

It did not disappoint – for a shortish novel, it packs a hell of a punch. Jennings gives me Nadine Gordimer vibes – the writing is sharp, precise, politically unflinching, and I found it impossible to stop reading An Island. The prose and the setting pull you in – it is gripping in an almost nightmarish way, the boundaries between reality and delusion becoming blurred, the descriptions visceral and bloodied. Samuel’s life on the island may be physically removed from his past on the mainland, but the echoes of history reach him even on its shores. I liked the deliberate vagueness of the setting – it reminded me of The Silence and the Roar by Nihad Sirees, and has that same effect of universalising a specific political experience, as if to say, this could happen anywhere.

Despite being a story that ostensibly takes place across only four days, there is such a weight and burden of past events pressing down on the narrative – the tension is subtly but hugely effectively ramped up as the book moves towards its conclusion, and I found myself holding my breath at various points. It gets really dark towards the end (which regular readers of my blog – hi both – will know I am a big fan of!) and the nightmarish sensation builds up beautifully.

This book is uncomfortable, urgent, powerful, wonderfully intricate and deceptively complex. I am not at all surprised at its Booker longlisting, and I’ll be interested to see, once I have read more of the list, whether I end up feeling it should have gone even further. I suspect I shall. Highly recommended, especially if you like literature that hits you with a powerful thump.

An Island by Karen Jennings is published by Holland House and is available to purchase here.

Review: 29 Locks by Nicola Garrard (2021)

Blurb

Growing up in Hackney with his loving but troubled single mum, fifteen-year-old Donny’s life has been shaped by poverty, crime and casual violence, including grooming by a local gang. When his mum is jailed for drugs offences, Donny is fostered outside London to the Hertfordshire countryside. Life in the rural Home Counties is a bit like landing on another planet but doing work experience on the Hertford Union Canal, Donny feels like he’s finally found his purpose.

When Donny’s posh new friend Zoe is offered a dubious modelling audition in London, the pair decide to ‘borrow’ a canal barge and navigate the 29 locks down to Kings Cross. As they start out on their journey the future looks as unpromising as Zoe’s fake audition. But as each lock is navigated and conquered, their adventures take on a new dimension, and life will never be the same again.

Fast-paced, tragic and tender, 29 Locks is an unflinching depiction of urban teen life.

Review

I am extremely grateful to the author and the publisher for providing me with a proof copy of 29 Locks in exchange for an honest review. In what is becoming a bit of a theme at the moment, I must apologise for the delay in posting this review!

I feel like I am striking it lucky with narrative voices in the books I am reading at the moment! Donny is a great narrator – his voice feels fresh and real and engaging, and he is another character, like Aoife in Iron Annie, that I refuse to believe does not exist in real life. There is no authorial barrier between Donny’s voice and the reader; his use of Multicultural London English (as helpfully glossed at the back of the book!) feels authentic and individual, and his outlook and humour bring him to life so vividly. I missed him when I finished reading 29 Locks, and I think that’s the best compliment I can pay a character!

The story itself is great – there are moments of sadness and tragedy, but there is also an adventure, and one that is both unusual and very funny. I loved the scenes of Donny and Zoe escaping down the canal – it was especially engaging for me, as I lived in Herfordshire briefly, and I can picture that stretch of the canal so vividly. We lived right by it in Ware, and I just loved the idea of walking down the towpath and seeing Donny, Zoe and Ziggy the dog cruise by on Zuma Jay! It all feels very original – I don’t think I have come across a YA novel that I could compare 29 Locks to, it’s so much Donny’s individual story. The different sections of Donny’s life keep the book fast-paced and attention-grabbing, while allowing for small moments of reflection which add depth and tenderness to the story.

I gather that this book is getting a great reception among teenagers, and I can imagine that lots of young people will see themselves in Donny. 29 Locks does not shy away from the realities of growing up in poverty, and it is an eye-opening read, but most of all, it is a tender, fully-realised portrait of a wonderful character that everyone needs to meet. I am firmly #TeamDonny, and if you read this book, as I hope many of you will, you’ll immediately see why.

29 Locks by Nicola Garrard is published by Hope Road and is available to purchase here.

#TheWriteRead #BlogTour Spotlight Post: The Chronicles of Iona: Exile by Paula de Fougerolles @PauladeFoug

Huge thanks to The Write Reads for my spot on the blog tour for The Chronicles of Iona: Exile by Paula de Fougerolles. I’m delighted to share a spotlight post with some links to the fabulous reviews we’ve had so far on the tour!

Blurb

The Chronicles of Iona: Exile tells the story of the Irish monk and Scottish warrior, Saint Columba and Aedan mac Gabran, who would band together to lay the foundation of the nation of Scotland.  They were a real-life 6th-century Merlin and King Arthur and their story has never been told.

The book begins in 563 A.D.  The Roman Empire is long gone, freeing the region of Scotland from the threat of imperial rule but opening it to chaos from warring tribes vying for control. Columba, a powerful abbot-prince, is exiled from Ireland to the pagan colony of Dal Riata on Scotland’s west coast for an act of violence. There he encounters Aedan, the down-and-out second son of the colony’s former king, slain by the Picts.

Together, this unlikely pair travels the breadth of a divided realm, each in search of his own kind of unity.  Their path is fraught with blood feuds, lost love, treachery, dark gods and monsters, but also with miracles and valor.  Beset on all sides, their only hope is to become allies—and to forge a daring alliance with the pagan Picts.

How Columba overcame exile and a crisis of faith to found the famous monastery of Iona (one of the greatest centers of learning in Dark Age Europe) and, from it, the Celtic Church in the British Isles; and how Aedan avenged his father’s death and became, against all odds, the progenitor of Scottish kings and the greatest warlord of his age, begins here.

For both, what begins as a personal imperative becomes a series of events that lead to the foundation of Iona and the kingdom of Scotland—events that literally change the world.

From the Blog Tour

[Click on blog name for full review!]

The Artsy Reader: “Paula de Fougerolles created a story that made it fun to learn more, to link historical figures with true events and she was effortlessly weaving historical facts with her own imagination – something I enjoyed immensely.”

Frost at Midnite: “Absolutely loved it. Even readers who do not prefer historical reads will no doubt enjoy The Chronicles of Iona: Exile.”

Sarah’s Book Life: “Together Columba and Aedan’s journey is filled with adventure, miracles and is highly entertaining. As they travel the breadth of a divided realm, their path is fraught with blood feuds, lost love, treachery, dark gods and monsters.”

I’m A Voracious Reader: “This wonderfully written fictional tale is rooted in factual historical details but since very little records survived this time period the author has given us a compelling story of two men who ultimately helped shaped a region into what it is today.”

My Bookish Bliss: “Aedan is one of the best characters I’ve ever read. His strength, coupled with his intensely good character, makes him a man for people to love.”

Bri’s Book Nook:  “Once the story picked up, I couldn’t put the book down. The battle scenes captivated me as I couldn’t wait to see who became the victor, and the romantic drama had me on the absolute edge of my seat.”

About the Author

Paula de Fougerolles has a doctorate from the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, University of Cambridge, and has taught and published in the field. She has lived and traveled extensively throughout Scotland and Ireland, including a prestigious year-long Thomas J. Watson Fellowship in which she criss-crossed Europe in search of the physical remains of the so-called Dark Ages–research which ultimately led to this award-winning historical fiction series. To learn more, visit www.pauladefougerolles.com

Length: 394 Pages

Publishing: 25th May 2012

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Chronicles-Iona-Exile-Paula-Fougerolles/dp/0615602541

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21654964-the-chronicles-of-iona

Review: The Impossible Truths of Love by Hannah Beckerman (2021) #ImpossibleTruths @AmazonPub

Blurb

From bestselling author Hannah Beckerman comes a moving story about memory, secrets, and what it really means to feel that you’re one of the family.

When Nell’s father makes a deathbed declaration that hints at a long-held secret, it reignites feelings of isolation that have plagued her for years. Her suspicions about the family’s past only deepen when her mother, Annie, who is losing her memories to dementia, starts making cryptic comments of her own.

Thirty-five years earlier, Annie’s life was upended by a series of traumas—one shock after another that she buried deep in her heart. The decisions she made at the time were motivated by love, but she knew even then that nobody could ever understand—let alone forgive—what she did.

As the two women’s stories unravel, a generation apart, Nell finally discovers the devastating truth about her mother’s past, and her own.

In this beautifully observed and emotionally powerful story of identity, memory and the nature of family, Hannah Beckerman asks: To what lengths would you go to protect the ones you love?

Review

Many thanks to FMcM Associates for sending me a proof copy of the book in return for an honest review, and for my spot on the blog tour.

This novel offers a deep dive into the secrets of a family, unravelling the tangled strands in a skilful and absorbing way. Nell’s attempts to come to terms with her father’s recent death and the decline in her mother’s health are complicated by the hints of things left unsaid, of memories pushed to the bottom of the pile, and it is a compelling emotional journey to uncover the truth. The narrative flicks back and forth between Now and Then, using an evocative present tense for both, and I found myself equally drawn to Nell and Annie as protagonists.

The story is tenderly and delicately told, excavating painful and difficult truths with care and sensitivity. The themes are deep and raw, but they are handled with beautiful empathy and respect. Beckerman is a wonderful writer – her sentences shine, and there is a deliberateness, a carefulness, to the prose that suits its heavy subject matter.

Annie’s story in particular reminded me a lot of Elaine in Mel O’Doherty’s novel Fallen, which I read earlier this year, and I think the two writers share a sensibility, a care and precision that lends itself to these weighty topics. If you like fiction that moves you, that delves deep into the emotional recesses of what it means to be part of a family, into the ebb and flow of memory and truth, then you will find much to enjoy in The Impossible Truths of Love.

About the Author

Hannah Beckerman is a novelist and journalist. She is a book critic and features writer for The Observer and FT Weekend Magazine and has contributed to a wide range of publications from The Guardian to Red magazine. As a regular chair at literary festivals and corporate events she has interviewed a host of authors and celebrities, as well as appearing as a book critic on BBC Radio 2 and Times Radio. Prior to becoming a full-time writer, Hannah worked in television as a producer and commissioning editor for the BBC, Channel 4 and the Discovery Channel USA. She lives in London. The Impossible Truths of Love is her third novel.

The Impossible Truths of Love is published by Lake Union and is available to purchase here.

September 2021 Reading: She Came to Stay; The Mystery of the Blue Train; Black Coffee; Iron Annie; The Impossible Truths of Love; Lemon; 29 Locks; An Island

I’m still reading a little bit more slowly than I was in the first half of the year, but I’ve had a great month of reading nonetheless. Here’s a quick round-up:

She Came to Stay by Eleni Kyriacou (2020)

This is a wonderfully atmospheric story, drenched in smog and mystery and full of surprises. You can read my full review of She Came to Stay here.

The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie (1928)

I got a bit behind on our Poirot readalong, so I’ve been trying to catch up. I enjoyed this one – I don’t think it’s up there with my favourites, but I do like a Poirot that flicks between locations (it always amuses me how effortlessly he nips down to the south of France or whizzes back to London for a night!) and there are some good characters. Solid mid-level Christie.

Black Coffee by Agatha Christie – novelisation by Charles Osborne (1998)

This novelisation of Christie’s 1930 play of the same name didn’t quite hit the spot for me, although I found it more enjoyable if I pretended I was seeing it on stage! As a locked room mystery, there just wasn’t quite enough intrigue to sustain my attention over the book, though there are some fun moments.

Iron Annie by Luke Cassidy (2021)

All I can say about this book is that I LOVED it. Absolutely one of my top reads of 2021 – not to be missed! You can read my full review of Iron Annie here.

The Impossible Truths of Love by Hannah Beckerman (2021)

This is a beautiful, heartbreaking book. The mysteries that are unravelled are both shocking and moving, and the writing is gorgeous. My review will be up on 2nd October as part of the blog tour.

Lemon by Kwon Yeo-sun translated by Janet Hong (2021)

This is a startlingly fresh novel – a slim but powerful book that isn’t quite like anything I’ve read before. My review will be up as part of the blog tour on 18th October – keep an eye out!

29 Locks by Nicola Garrard (2021)

I’ll be getting a full review up soon, but this YA novel is brilliant. Donny, the narrator, is a wonderful character – and his story is really important. It’s just been released, and I hope it’s read widely by both teens and adults.

An Island by Karen Jennings (2020)

I’ve just finished this Booker longlisted novel, and I need some time to process it! It’s a really powerful story, told in an almost allegorical style, and it left me reeling. Highly recommended – I’ll try and gather together some more coherent thoughts soon!

September has been another good reading month – I’m still a bit stressed that my TBR doesn’t seem to be getting any smaller (but then I keep buying books, so…) but I’m trying to relax and not get so het up about reading to a schedule. Having said that, October seems to be a busy one for blog tours, so I guess I never learn!

Hope you’ve seen something that piques your interest – lots of reviews still to come, so keep an eye on my blog for more detailed thoughts!

Happy reading!

Ellie x

Review: Iron Annie by Luke Cassidy (2021)

Blurb

I still think’a her every day, several times a day.

Aoife knows everyone in Dundalk’s underworld. Too well, in some cases. But when she meets Annie, a beautiful whirlwind of a woman, and brings her to the Town, she finds that she doesn’t know nearly enough about her.

Annie is magnetic and wild and Aoife’s desire to learn more quickly becomes a need, and then an obsession – to know this dangerous woman, to love her, to keep her. So when Aoife’s friend and collaborator the Rat King asks her to help him dispose of ten kilos of cocaine, swiped from a rival, she brings Annie along for a road trip through a Britain that she only knows as a place to be suspicious of. So when Annie decides she doesn’t want to return to Ireland, Aoife makes a decision that changes everything.

Gritty and yet tender, tragic and yet hopeful, Iron Annie is a breakneck journey that crackles with energy, warmth and heart, and marks the arrival of a fresh and vibrant new voice in literary fiction.

Review

Huge thanks to Brian at Storyline Literary Agency and Bloomsbury for providing me with a beautiful finished copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

I am going to find it very difficult to write a decent review of this book, because Iron Annie is one of those rare, special gems that has worked its way into my heart. I feel less as if I’ve read a novel, and more as if I have met and fallen in love with real people. It’s kind of similar to how I felt about Fíona Scarlett’s stunning book Boys Don’t Cry (incidentally, Scarlett is also quoted on the back cover of Cassidy’s novel) – in my review of that book, I wrote about the way in which the author makes space for the voices of the boys, stepping back so that the characters come to the fore. This also happens in Iron Annie – this is so definitively Aoife’s story – she is its voice and its centre and she comes alive through her narration, to the point where it is hard to remember that there is an author behind her words (sorry, Luke, I promise I do mean that as a huge compliment!)

But in Iron Annie there is another layer at play. Not only does the wonderfully vivid narrative voice immerse us in Aoife’s story, but Aoife herself is a generous, clear-eyed, honest narrator, who gives space to the other characters in the story, brings them alive for us, loves them fiercely despite their flaws, and it is impossible not to feed off her energy and enthusiasm and straight-talking wisdom. Seeing the world through Aoife’s eyes feels like a gift, an insight into a better way of looking at people and learning to love them. And yet there is nothing sentimental about this story – the hard, painful truths of scraping by and living in the margins are there in all their gritty realism, and Annie herself is far from idealised, despite Aoife’s love for her. But that’s what makes it so real – Aoife is under no illusions about Annie; she sees her clearly, she tries her best to understand her, and, in a very subtle, intelligent way, she shows us how to love without either judgement or naivety.

It did take me a little bit of time to get into Aoife’s distinctive voice, but as soon as I did, I was flying. It’s gorgeously written, compulsively readable – I found myself having to ration it out so I didn’t reach the end too quickly. There are so many small, moving moments in this book (as well as one GIANT one that had me break down in tears), so many instances of showing what it means to be truly, purely ALIVE. There are lines that will stay with me, characters who have firmly taken up residence in my mind – I know I will be thinking about them for a long, long time.

I don’t know whether the author will return to Dundalk in future books, but I’d absolutely love to revisit it. The Town is as much a character in the novel as the people, and I would love to catch up with its residents again. Regardless, I will definitely be reading anything else Luke Cassidy writes in the future – his talent radiates from every page, and I think I’ll be hard-pressed to read a better debut novel this year. I miss Aoife already, though I can still hear her voice.

Iron Annie by Luke Cassidy is published by Bloomsbury and is available to purchase here.

Review: She Came to Stay by Eleni Kyriacou (2020)

Blurb

London, 1952. Dina Demetriou has travelled from Cyprus for a better life. She’s certain that excitement, adventure and opportunity are out there, waiting – if only she knew where to look.

Her passion for clothes and flair for sewing land her a job repairing the glittering costumes at the notorious Pelican Revue. It’s here that she befriends the mysterious and beautiful Bebba.

With her bleached-blonde hair and an appetite for mischief, Bebba is like no Greek Dina has ever met before. She guides Dina around the fashionable shops, bars and clubs of Soho, and Dina finally feels life has begun.

But Bebba has a secret. And as thick smog brings the city to a standstill, the truth emerges with devastating results. Dina’s new life now hangs by a thread. What will be left when the fog finally clears? And will Dina be willing to risk everything to protect her future?

A story of friendship, family, love and loss set against the grimy and glittering streets of fifties Soho. For fans of Kate Furnivall and Rachel Rhys.

Review

Many thanks to the author for sending me a copy She Came to Stay in exchange for an honest review. I owe Eleni an apology for taking so long to get around to reading this, but I’m so glad I did, as I really enjoyed it.

She Came to Stay is such an atmospheric novel – the thick swirling smog that fills the streets, creeps under doorways, catches in the characters’ throats, becomes a sinister presence in the story, a poisonous, yellow-tinged evil that aligns perfectly with the darker side of this book. London in 1952 is perfectly evoked, from the fashion to the first stirrings of a more emancipated post-war era, and the details and descriptions are wonderful.

What I liked most about the story is that it genuinely took me by surprise. This makes it quite hard to review, as I don’t want to give away the unexpected swerve I felt the story took – suffice to say it is a brilliant exploration of the changing dynamics between the three main characters, and as Dina, Beppa and Peter move into closer proximity, the results are dramatic and gripping. All three characters are nuanced and intriguing, and, as with real life, we don’t see all sides of them at once. Instead, as the story progresses, their complexities are revealed, in a way that rings very true.

There is a really good balance of thoughtful examination of what it means to be an immigrant, to leave your home country behind in search of the fabled ‘better life,’ and a full-blown mystery that dramatically unravels. It’s not easy to hold both strands confidently in a narrative, but Eleni Kyriacou does it with aplomb, and it creates a lovely tension between the interior lives of the protagonists and the thriller-esque events they have to face. I liked the change of pace as the novel gathers momentum and becomes more thriller-like in its second half – I always enjoy reading books that play around with mode and genre, and She Came to Stay does this brilliantly.

Conventional attitudes at the time are similarly juxtaposed with the real feelings of the characters, creating yet more conflict and tension as they struggle to fit into a world that seems set against them. It is a fascinating story, full of intrigue and excitement, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. She Came to Stay would appeal to lovers of both historical fiction and thrillers, marrying as it does both genres in an interesting and compelling way.

She Came to Stay by Eleni Kyriacou is published by Hodder & Stoughton and is available to purchase here.