Men Like Air – Tom Connolly
New York, the big apple, the city that never sleeps. It is a city that so many words have been written about even sung about. Now a novel that captures the very heart of New York City. Men Like Air by Tom Connolly really is an epic love letter to that very city.
It is Springtime in New York and destiny is about to come calling for a group of men, they don’t actually know this yet but it is coming. Finn is 19 years-old and has just arrived in the city with Dilly his girlfriend who is something of a character both leaving behind a previous life, running away perhaps. Just they are not quite sure where they are about to stay. Men Like Air could well be the ultimate love story but things don’t always go to plan as in life. Dilly is one key character in this young couple and she is full of passion at the very start of this novel, but soon the story has a twist in store for the reader. The main element of Connolly’s incredible writing is how he manages to make this story into something beautiful and unforgettable. Just watch how the story becomes about four men, four lost men. For Jack the reason he is here is because he has to seek out Jack his brother following the death of their parents Jack abandoned Finn soon after. This is more or less about men’s relationships with each other.
Along the way we meet other men such as Leo who runs a gallery and suffers great loneliness and seems to be in the shadow of his brother-in-law William who is everything that Leo isn’t. The connection between these two men really is all about how men handle relationships with each other. Something happens out of the ordinary that will shape and change the lives of the men involved.
This is everything you want in a pure novel sense, at times full of emotion and tender as well as being funny. The real beauty of Men Like Air is that it is human in all its facets. Sheer bloody brilliant and for me it captivated me unlike any other book this year but in a unique way. Connolly’s writing is rich in the way he writes in the characters and just how he has managed to play with the emotions of the reader laughing one moment and almost in crying the next. The ultimate love letter to New York. Men Like Air is one of my books of 2016 and should not be missed.
Thank you to Emma Dowson at Myriad Editions for the review copy.
Men Like Air by Tom Connolly is published by Myriad Editions and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
An Honest Deceit – Guy Mankowski
‘Mum where do fish go in the winter’ This is how An Honest Deceit by Guy Mankowski opens. Those words will linger with me for some time and when I walk by the river during this winter I will be thinking of these words again.
This book came as a real surprise as I was not quite sure what to expect. What I will say is that this novel is well thought out and brilliantly written. When a book opens with a quote like that you know something is coming but you are not quite sure what. This is a story of every parent’s nightmare. Now read on.
Ben and Juliette are just normal parents with the normal every day worries that every parent has. When you send your child to school you expect your child to be under the best possible care. Their daughter Marine is off on a school trip but there is an accident and Marine dies. This is the story as told by Ben and the search for the truth as to the death of their daughter while in the care of the school while out on a trip. The grief is that pours out of every page is real and the questions come thick and fast. Something is not right and now the grieving parents want answers and they will not rest until the truth is out. For Juliette she is frozen in shock as you can imagine and nothing can change that. This is threatening to tear the family apart. Ben has to step up and be the strong half of the couple and as well as trying to carry on working he will not give up the fight for the truth despite whatever some people think. What if he is wrong and it was just a desperate tragic accident. Ben refuses to think this way. What of Kraver the school headmaster, the reader will take an instant opinion to him as all he seems to care about is the school’s reputation and wants to deflect Ben from continuing the fight for the truth.
You will come to hope that Ben will succeed in finding out what really happened to his daughter on that fateful day and you urge him on with every turn of the page. Ok I will admit I wanted to thump Kraver if not knock him into the next century. Hidden in the story are corruption and lie after lie ad Ben has to dig deep and fight for an investigation to be launched but at times it seems he is fighting a losing battle but Ben will not give up the fight for Marine. There are times in the book that some readers will find difficult and uncomfortable. The emotions are raw and real.
This is not just good it is brilliant as the story starts to burn away at the reader, questions come thick and fast at times the complexity can get in the way but this just adds to the tension on every page. Guy Mankowski is a real talent for telling a story and keeping the reader guessing right to the very last moments.
I am highly recommending An Honest Deceit as one book that you must read before this year is out. It really is that good. ‘Mum where do fish go in the winter’ will be the words you will remember.
Thank you to Matthew at Urbane Publications for the advanced review copy.
An Honest Deceit by Guy Mankowski is published by Urbane Publications and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
Under a Pole Star – Stef Penney
From the author of the Costa Book award winning The Tenderness of Wolves comes the third novel from Stef Penney and a story set over two time frames and a land of frozen landscapes in Under a Pole Star.
It is 1948 and a group of scientists are heading to the North Pole and among the group is Flora Mackie. Flora is 77-years-old and a renowned scientist and explorer in her younger days. But this is no scientific trip for Flora this is more of a trip down memory lane and a time to recall memories of previous arctic explorations. While talking with a member of the press ‘The Snow Queen’ starts to explore her own memories and of one trip in 1892 to Greenland and this was with her father who was a Whaling Captain as well as other explorations that followed.
Flora born in Dundee and brought up by her father when her mother died but as time passes Flora becomes her own person and independently minded and fascinated by the land of ice and snow and the people who inhabit the frozen lands. She first explored Arctic Circle at the age of 12 and even at this tender age she wanted to be taken seriously.
In 1892 she led an expedition to Greenland and at the same time Jakob de Beyn from America was among a rival expedition and this is being led by Lester Armitage and it is no surprise that both expeditions meet and for Flora and Jakob this is moment that will shape their lives. Flora, Jakob and Lester all share one common theme they love and passion for these cold forbidden lands of perpetual endless days and nights that seemingly never end. You just know that something is coming in this mammoth book of 600 pages and it comes in the form of a tragedy that will haunt many of them and these lands for the rest of their days.
Flora is a determined character in this story in an age dominated by male explorers it is hard not to admire her courage in the face of not only the freezing lands but also the men of this time. Here in this story is not on exploration but also of a love story against a backdrop of the golden age of exploration.
The incredible beauty of the Arctic Ocean the colours of the ice and snow and the endless night skies full of stars. This is breath-taking story and a mystery that still requires resolving and for Flora returning to the land of ice and snow in 1948 returns for the last time to solve the long-standing mystery and lay this to rest.
Under a Pole Star is dramatic story that is the perfect read for cold winters nights.
Thank you to Hannah Robinson at Quercus Books for the advanced review copy.
Under a Pole Star by Stef Penney is published by Quercus and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
Night School (Jack Reacher 21) – Lee Child
Just released is the 21st book in the Jack Reacher series of thrillers by Lee Child. This time round Reacher finds himself being awarded a medal for his last assignment the ‘quiet’ ceremony was barely over when he was told of his next assignment. Jack Reacher was heading back to School.
Set in 1996 and back during his army days this school though is a bit of ‘cover’ as he is joined by two others to form a three-man secret ‘ops’ mission to seek and find an American traitor. As yet they are not sure of the traitor’s true identity. Add into the mix that there is an Islamic terrorist group in Germany and that they met with the unknown American but what is it that he has offered to the terrorists? The asking price is staggering at $100 million. This man must be found and found quickly before he compromises the United States.
The three-man team including Jack Reacher are specialists in their fields and each is investigating in their own way. For Reacher he heads off to Germany but not alone and with him is Frances Neagley together they must seek the answers that will lead them to the traitor before something catastrophic takes place. This is a full on thriller and you can hear the clock ticking away in the background as time starts to run down. Can Reacher save the day? There are some rather interesting moments in the book as Reacher baits some Germans as war losers and not afraid of showing some select individuals just what he is made of. Even in 1996 you do not pick a fight with Jack Reacher and expect to win.
The one thing you can expect from Jack Reacher in a tight spot is that he will come through. So even at this earliest point in his ‘career’ you can just see the makings of what was to come in the years ahead. A thumping good thriller is what Night School is and if you have read any of the previous Jack Reacher novels then you must not miss this look back to his early days.
Thank you to Patsy Irwin at Transworld Publishers for the advanced review copy.
Night School by Lee Child is published by Bantam Press and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
How Much the Heart Can Hold – Seven Stories on Love
Many will know of my passion for short stories so when How Much the Heart Can Hold arrived for review I was just as keen to get into this outstanding collection of stories on love. The real beauty of this book lies in each unique story and the list of writers who have made a contribution is like a who’s who in the literary world today.
The idea of commissioning the stories from the publisher Sceptre was based around a short story competition (now closed). With the winning entry having their story included in the paperback version released in February 2017 as well as a cash prize. Now just how good is that?
Each of the stories takes on a personality of their own through each of the writers. Some of the stories we just totally incredible some I felt lacked depth but in a collection of short stories there will always be some that reach the highs and others that for reasons just do not reach the same level.
The one stand out story for me was by Carys Bray author of the wonderful A Song for Issy Bradley and Bray’s story is called A Series of Codas is a rare thing of beauty. Here we see Louise struggling as a single parent and now she has to deal with her father’s serious illness after a collapse during a football match. She now has to look after her son Max and now also her father as he recovers from surgery. This is truly beautiful story of how we deal with life and the challenges and changes that we face. When faced with the challenges that Louise faces the message here is to treasure every moment and hold our loved ones close to our heart and talking of hearts. Having been through heart related surgery on a number of times over recent years I was taken by Bray’s take on hearts. Talking about people still being just the very same people after heart surgery and after all it is all just plumbing. It is just how I described my surgery to my close ones to stop them worrying.
Hearts can cope with so much after all they are the strongest muscle in our bodies yet at the same time have to cope with so much pain and loss and also capable of so much love. Some of these stories may not be to everyone’s taste but give this a go if you are a lover of the short story and just How Much the Heart Can Hold.
Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
Thank you to Nikki Barrow for the advanced review copy.
How Much the Heart Can Hold is published by Sceptre and is now in hardback available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
Waves – Jared A. Carnie
There is something different between the covers of Waves by Jared A. Carnie, that I just really enjoyed. Not just the stunning location of Outer Hebrides but the story it is just so beautifully told. It is a simple tale of life as many of us have experienced.
The real beauty of Waves is not to expect any great drama to unfold not even any crime to solve. To be able to write a plot line that does not involve any great plot twisting writing. Just a pure delight to read.
We meet Alex a guy whose relationship has just hit the rocks when he believed this was steady, but now his life is just drifting like a rudderless boat in a storm looking for a port to hide away. For Alex this is a time of reflection as to where he sees his life heading. Alex even hates his current job. Basically Alex is drifting. Then one day his closest friend James decides it is time to get away for Alex to have a change of scenery and get away from Essex to the remote beauty that is The Outer Hebrides. This is a time for Alex to really understand himself and to find something in his life to give him that spark that he is missing. This becomes a tour of the Isle of Lewis and the remoteness helps Alex find the peace among the mountains the long beaches and castles as well as coming to terms about who he really is.
The thing about life is as we all know there are times when life can throw a curved ball at you and you find yourself taking one blow after another as well as feeling like the walls are just closing in around you. This is about understanding who we are and understanding that in real life things can and do go wrong sometimes without meaning. It is about how we manage ourselves and the situations. We pick ourselves up and we move on. We have to. This story is no roller-coaster of a thriller it is beautifully paced and for me having spent some time in The Outer Hebrides I can fully understand the reason for writing a book based here. The scenery is just spectacular. This is a story that will not take your breath away but it is a story of just one guy trying to find himself. I am delighted to recommend.
Thank you to Matthew at Urbane Publishing for the advanced review copy.
Waves by Jared A. Carnie is now available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
The Last Word Review
My Love Letter to Libraries
What does a library mean to you? Over the last few years we have seen local authorities use austerity as a measure to force the closure of hundreds of local libraries. But what does a library actually mean to each of us?
I will be 54 in a months’ time and I have been recalling my younger days in my local library. I grew up in Wallasey which is on the Wirral. My local library was a place of learning and a place of wonder. In those days during the 1970’s we never had computers and the internet was not invented so a lot of my time was spent sat in a library researching for homework or just for reading. My local library was a very special place for me. I recall every time I entered the library the aroma of books hit you and I was hooked. When I had my very first library card it was my cherished possession. It was my key to knowledge beyond my wildest of dreams. I took books home and read by torchlight under blankets when I should have been sleeping. I took books everywhere went. I used every opportunity to read. There were times after school I had to be reminded that it was time to go home. But home was not a very welcoming place to be. My local library was my escape.
So I was from this moment I was hooked and books and reading and they have played a very important role in my life for many reasons and this library in Wallasey close to my home became more or less my second home. During these days as a boy I watched my parents literally tear themselves apart and on occasions we were moved to London. I was missing my second home that was my local library. We returned to the Wirral some months later as my parents tried to reconcile their differences and I was re-united with my library. I was such a regular the staff used to acknowledge me when I arrived. I was crazy for books and reading. It was my escape from my warring parents a place I felt secure around people I know and books became friends, as they never judged you and whenever you were going through a difficult they were there for you.
When I had to go into hospital for a major eye operation in the mid 1970’s both eyes were covered for some time. I missed the library and I missed my books and reading. Hours became days and days became weeks. It was the staff at the library who noticed my absence and contacted my parents and then for nearly each day I was in hospital and could not read they came to see me and read passages from a chosen book to me. That Library and its staff helped me through some extremely dark moments in my early formative years. Years later it helped me through my exams and it was where I used to write poems, then I was there to say goodbye when I left my hometown to seek a career in London. All these years later my love affair with books and reading is still strong and this is all because of my local library way back in the early days of the 1970’s.
We fast forward to the present and libraries are under pressure and now need our help to survive and survive they should regardless of where you live. They are a place of learning and a place for people to meet for some libraries are the hub of local communities and for the locals a chance to access information through books or now through the internet. Not every household has a computer or access to fast broadband. Take this away from communities and some people become stranded and alone. It is heart-braking to read of more local councils planning to close libraries. They seem to be the easiest of targets during council cut backs. Deprived areas need libraries and closing them is just plain pointless.
Some once said ‘A library is the delivery room for the birth of ideas, a place where history comes to life.’ Just imagine swathes of the country where a library is the thing of the past. This is happening right now and must we must continue to protest against the closure of libraries. They are the lifeblood of local communities from Land’s End to John O’ Groats Many a bestselling author started their love for books because of going to their local library. I fear that one day that libraries will become a thing of the past. Let us stop and think of what they mean to each and every one of us. When they are gone they are gone for good. I know of homeless people who during the cold weather will quietly read and keep warm, a place for people seeking solace in troubled personal times a place to hide. I know of people who have written a book in their local library because they could not work through illness. When you attend your local library you meet like-minded people whether they are looking for their next book or seeking out information or it could be the next bestselling author struggling to write their first book.
Yes, I still have a library card and it is still a treasured item but I just don’t want it to become a memento of times gone by. I still use my local library here in Somerset when I need to seek information or somewhere to write quietly. We must rejoice for libraries and let’s do our bit to save them for future generations to come and not allow ourselves to talk of libraries as a thing of the past. Or they will become just that. Libraries are thriving in all parts of the world so why are we closing ours in this country? This must be reversed.
All those years ago as a young boy this library was my guiding light a bright star in troubled times that showed me the way ahead. I will continue to support and fight for access to libraries for all.
Midwinter by Fiona Melrose
The Last Word Review
At this time of year, I am extremely fortunate to see a beautiful fox most mornings on the field close to my home sometimes at close quarters and in the astonishing debut novel Midwinter by Fiona Melrose there is a fox on the stunning cover and also plays a part within the storyline itself.
This is a story of a father and son both living in Suffolk and the land is the work for they are farmers. A story of Landyn Midwinter and his son Vale. At the very core of this novel is Cecilia wife and mother. Some years before she died in horrifically while they were all living in Zambia and both father and son have to come to terms with their loss and it has been simmering beneath the surface now for too long.
To say that times are hard is an understatement, this is their home, their livelihood even their very existence. The competition is from bigger ventures trying to squeeze them off the land. This is their birthright, their heritage. For Landryn and Vale they are struggling not just in keeping the farm going in difficult economic times but trying to keep their emotions under control sometimes bubbles to the surface and the pair clash harshly and often. For Landryn the land is his solace where he can retreat to and on the farm there is fox and this fox plays a key role as the father finds he is drawn to the vixen and there is a bond between the two.
Midwinter is an incredibly beautiful book and for me it was hypnotic as I was drawn to the poetic prose of Fiona Melrose. It is a story of a tragic loss in horrific circumstances and what follows when communication breaks down as can happen. At times this story may seem brutal as we feel helpless to act for father and son and also as Landryn faces economic ruin as bankruptcy stalks the farm as he tries desperately to save their heritage.
The way in which Melrose tells the story of both Landryn and Vale from both their perspectives and how they both deal with grief and pain as well as how they deal with each other is portrayed brilliantly you can almost smell the earth at the turn of every page and this is also the case with her descriptions of the land of Suffolk and Zambia, it is a story to hold onto in its refreshing honesty of life that is the human despair as we witness Vale resorting to finding the answers in drink. Of course the answers never are here they just manifest and get out of control.
Midwinter is a book I am delighted to recommend it is a book for dark winters evenings. It is a book to treasure and would be ideal one day to see this on the small screen. It really is that good. An incredible debut novel.
Fiona Melrose is already hard at work on her second novel and I for one look forward to seeing how she follows this.
Thank you to Corsair Books and Jo Unwin for the advanced review copy.
Midwinter by Fiona Melrose is published by Corsair and is now available in Hardback through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.