INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS SHOWCASE #12

INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS SHOWCASE

#12 FLIPPED EYE PUBLISHING

It is the twelve in my series of Independent Publishers Showcase and this week I am delighted to welcome to the showcase Flipped Eye Publishing.

 Flipped Eye Publishing was founded by award winning writer Nii Ayikwei Parkes in 2001 focussing on fine literature both in poetry and fiction books and has won critical acclaim across the world for some fine poets in Inua Ellams, Malika Booker, Miriam Nash, Nick Makoha and Warsan Shire. All the writers from Flipped Eye publishing have a home in a publisher that really allows them to express themselves. There is a dedicated team at Flipped Eye from poetry to fiction as well as a team of editors. A publisher that really is worth having a look at.

During these difficult times small independent publishers need all our support to survivie. They have a very exciting listing of books in both fiction and poetry and these can be ordered by visiting their website and details are below:

Keep an eye on their Twitter feed @flippedeyeor visit their website:  Flipped Eye  

A selection of the poetry and fiction titles currently released:

A Warning to the House that Holds Me (Flap Series) by Amina Jama

Poetry

Published: 19th December 2019

Summary:

 Warning to the House That Holds Me builds on the milestones and mythology of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo to perform a deeply personal act of reclaiming power. Fully aware of the political significance of rejecting the dominant, Amina weaves together a series of poems that pay homage to her home country and lineage – exploring displacement, dual nationality and Somali history. Drawing on a long tradition of Somali storytelling, these poems achieve the complex balance of being as conversational as they are crafted. Brimming in them is a sense of longing for escape, yet accepting the inescapable reality of generational trauma and the ever present grip of a mother’s embrace.

29 Ways to Drown by Niki Aguirre

Fiction

Published: 25th October 2007

Summary:

From an incredible new talent come ten stories that fizz with the irreverence of ZZ Packer, the time-bending antics of Borges, the layered mystery of Alice Munro and whiffs of Marquez’s surrealism. Whether it’s a boy trapped at age fourteen after a botched attempt to capture time in a capsule, an organic seed distributor entrapping an errant lover with a replica pre-Columbian Aztec artefact bought in Chicago, or a woman attempting to drown herself in a water aerobics class in London, Niki Aguirre’s stories grip by their absolute logic and the sheer absurdity of the inevitable truths they unravel.

Breathe: Stories from Cuba by Leila Segal

Fiction Collection

Release Date:21st January 2016

Summary:

Breathe is a collection that explores the heart of Fidel Castro-era Cuba; an outsider’s look that is balanced by a weight of empathy to illuminate truths that lie couched between the island’s propaganda and the Western media’s portrayal. Characters from Europe and the USA in Swimming, Taxi and Sabbatical seem to want to hold on to the indulgences that their countries offer them, while praising Cubans for the more abstemious lives they lead and seeking to sample what the locals experience; in Siempre Luchando, I Never See Them Cry and The Party, romantic liaisons strengthen or buckle under the strain of the minute exploitations that result from the assumptions one makes about the other; the seedy sexual aggression of Luca’s Trip to Havana is undercut by the subtle yet intense lust of Breathe; while Leaving Cuba, with its closing image of Havana’s night sky, is as eloquently balanced a tale of the lives of everyday Cubans as you will read in a long while – whichever path one takes, something is lost. As Aida Bahr, winner of Cuba’s Premio de la Critica Literaria says, “relying more on subtleties than on drama, [Segal] portrays the tensions and struggles, but also the joy and warmth, that fill Cubans’ lives.”

A Class Act by Chip Hamer

Poetry Collection

Release Date: 1st May 2020

Summary:

As the opening poem of this debut, Death of a Pie ‘n Mash Shop, attests: Chip Hamer is not your typical man of letters. A founding member of the Poets on the Picket Line squad, his poems have been bellowed against the din of rush hour traffic from picket lines throughout London, bringing solidarity and attention to workers across the capital. Chip’s first full collection is unflinching in its appraisal of the first fifteen years of the millenium, from New Labour’s descent into Middle Eastern conflicts to the ConDem government’s age of austerity. But while the outlook may seem grim, A Class Act is characterised by an attitude of stern determination and a tender, underlying empathy that never forgets the human story behind each headline and statistic. Revealing another passion, as a coach at the All Stars Boxing Gym, these poems jab, feint and move before catching you with a hard left hook.

Paper Doll (Flap Series) by Katherine Lockton

Poetry Collection

Release Date: 24th September 2020

Summary:

Proudly staking a landmark for the UK’s Latinx community, Katherine Lockton’s debut pamphlet, Paper Doll, strikes the poetry landscape as disruptively as a meteor scars earth with its impact. Documenting a shape-shifting existence between activist and survivor, immigrant and alien, lover and loner, this is a tract of the unseen made visible and given a striking, defiant vocabulary. Having fallen from a building as a child in Bolivia, Katherine seems to have retained an ability to stack images that zip along, only leaving an imprint of their meaning as the poem descends to its conclusion. This quality, combined with a contrasting directness makes reading Paper Doll a profoundly affecting experience. There is no smooth ride to be had here. As the poet puts it in the poem The Paper Doll Chain, “she will defy me; time after time/ teaching me how to live when she does.”

For further information on the publications from Flipped Eye Publishing please visit their website: Flipped Eye

You can also find them on Twitter: @flippedeye and also their Instagram feed @flippedeye

If you have enjoyed this week’s showcase, please look out for my next Independent Publishers Showcase next week. If you are an indie publisher and would like to add your name to the showcase, you can contact me via Twitter: @TheLastWord1962

Red Corona by Tim Glister

Red Corona by Tim Glister

Summary:

It’s 1961 and the white heat of the Space Race is making the Cold War even colder.

Richard Knox is a secret agent in big trouble. He’s been hung out to dry by a traitor in MI5, and the only way to clear his name could destroy him.

Meanwhile in a secret Russian city, brilliant scientist Irina Valera makes a discovery that will change the world, and hand the KGB unimaginable power.

Desperate for a way back into MI5, Knox finds an unlikely ally in Abey Bennett, a CIA recruit who’s determined to prove herself whatever the cost…

As the age of global surveillance dawns, three powers will battle for dominance, and three people will fight to survive…

My Review:

I really enjoy reading spy thrillers and I was delighted to receive a copy of Red Corona (Point Blank Books) the debut novel by Tim Glister set in 1961 and at the height of the cold war and the space race and this was one book I literally raced through. Superbly written and researched.

In the world of politics and spies there was so much going on and this at a time when there were not computers as we know them today, so it was the basic spying techniques and this was at a time when the world was worried about nuclear war happening at a moment’s notice.

Richard Knox is out of MI5 meanwhile his boss James Holland is critically ill and in a coma. Somewhere out there is a traitor and Knox needs to find him. Time really is of the essence and it is not helped that the new Director General of MI5 believes Knox is a KGB spy.

The spy centres of the UK, USA and the USSR were red hot at this time as each one was trying to be the first to get the technological advance over Moscow and it was in space that the countries were focusing their attention. When two Italian men are found murdered in Depford in South East London and the two just happen to be of interest this could be a chance for Knox to take a closer look at what the two Italians were doing.

Meanwhile in Russia there is a secret city called Povenets B which was a former Soviet labour camp and this is now where top scientists are kept and treated extremely badly living on meagre rations and scientist Irina Valera is based here with her young son. But Irena has discovered something that could well change the course of the power over the West that involves sending messages via space that would be a huge victory for the Communist state. But Irina manages to escape putting lives in danger. Has she taken her secrets with her?

In London the CIA operative Abey Bennett who is now out of favour decides to forge an alliance with Knox and hunt down the traitor but they also take a real interest Irina Valera and want to meet her. A dangerous game of cat and mouse is underway as the major superpowers are on the very brink.

What I really enjoyed was how Tim Glister brings to life the characters in Red Corona and describes the time of the early 1960’s perfectly a lot of research has gone into Tim’s debut novel especially the science aspect of Red Corona and a lot of this science and technology is real. A gripping and compelling espionage thriller that delivers.

288 Pages.

My thanks to Margot Weale (Oneworld) for the review copy of Red Corona by Tim Glister.

Red Corona by Tim Glister was published by Point Blank Books and will be published on 14th January 2021 and is available to order through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop or through Bookshop.org that supports your local independent bookshop. UK Bookshop.org

INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS SHOWCASE #11

INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS SHOWCASE

#11 BLUEMOOSE BOOKS

Happy New Year everyone! As we enter Lockdown V.3 and news is pretty bleak and with the festive period over it is a welcome return to the Independent Publishers Showcase on my blog. To start the year, we welcome Bluemoose Books to the showcase.

Bluemoose Books was founded in 2006 by Kevin and Hetha Duffy and are based in beautiful Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire with the idea of bringing brilliant stories to readers across the world. And just look at the books that Bluemoose Books have published over recent years: Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession still one of the most beautiful novels I have read in many years. The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers is just a stunning novel and won the prestigious £25k Walter Scott Prize in 2018 and if that was not enough Benjamin Myers won the Portico Literature Prize in 2015 with Beastings and it also went on to win the Northern Writers Award in 2014 and went on to win the Gordon Burn Prize in 2013 with Pig Iron.

With a dedicated team of editors, they may not have a publishing house in the big city but what Kevin and Hetha did was to re-mortgage their house with the sole intention of bringing great stories alive.

They have a very exciting listing of books for publication in January, these can be pre-ordered by visiting their website with details below.

Keep an eye on their Twitter feed @ofmooseandmenor visit their website: Bluemoose Books  

A selection of the fiction titles currently released and soon to be released through Bluemoose Books:

Captain Jesus by Colette Snowden

Published: 28th January 2021

Summary:

When three brothers find a dead magpie and peg it to the washing line, the resurrection re-enactment becomes a portent of tragedy to come, and a reminder of past guilt and trauma. In Captain Jesus we see a family struggle to cope as loss rips through their lives; through the teenage eyes of their mother, twenty years earlier, we glimpse the events that shape her response. The icons, influences and family histories that define faith connect the two narratives as the family gradually heals, thanks to the quietness of love and the natural world.

Should We Fall Behind by Sharon Duggal

Published: 22nd October 2020

Summary:

Jimmy Noone walks from one side of a sprawling city to the other, looking for Betwa, a friend he found and lost on the bustling city streets. Jimmy becomes the catalyst for lost lives colliding, exposing stories of tenderness, devotion, displacement and tragedy, and the subtle threads of commonality which intersect them all, making the invisible, visible again.

East Coast Road by Anna Chilvers

Release Date: 28th November 2020

Summary:

As university term gives way to the summer break she is plagued by dark memories and the only person there for her is her cousin – a cousin that no one else can see – together they embark on a journey that changes Jen and her world forever. ‘Haunting, shape-shifting and tense, ‘East Coast Road’ takes the reader on a thrilling quest which challenges our preconceptions. Chilvers is a master storyteller and she guides us through the complexities of devotion, faith, tenderness, grief and desire, all set against the rugged coastal edges of north east England.’ – HELEN MORT

The Sound Mirror by Heidi James

Release Date: 20th August 2020

Summary:

‘Tamara is going to kill her mother, but she isn’t the villain. Tamara just has to finish what began at her birth and put an end to the damage encoded in her blood. Quitting her job in Communications, Tamara dresses carefully and hires a car, making the trip from London to her hometown in Kent, to visit her mother for the last time. Accompanied by a chorus of ancestors, Tamara is harried by voices from the past and the future that reveal the struggles, joys and secrets of these women’s lives that continue to echo through and impact her own.’ The Sound Mirror spans three familial generations from British Occupied India to Southern England, through intimately rendered characters, Heidi James has crafted a haunting and moving examination of class, war, violence, family and shame from the rich details of ordinary lives.

King Crow by Michael Stewart

Release Date: June 2020

Summary:

Paul Cooper is an outsider. When he looks at people he wonders what bird they are. He finds making friends difficult especially when he has to move from school to school, so he obsesses about ornithology until he meets Ashley.

Winner of The Guardian’s Not The Booker

World Book Night recommended read.

Michael Stewart is a fascinating new voice, and King Crow is a fine debut novel. Part action thriller, part psychological drama, part birding manual. I’ve come across nothing quite like it. It’s a fantastic example of modern fiction at its innovative best.’ Melvin Burgess

For further information on the publications from Bluemoose Books please visit their website: Bluemoose Books

You can also find them on Twitter: @ofmooseandmen and also their Instagram feed @BluemooseBooks

If you have enjoyed this week’s showcase, please look out for my next Independent Publishers Showcase next week. If you are an indie publisher and would like to add your name to the showcase, you can contact me via Twitter: @TheLastWord1962

My Books of the Year 2020

Books of the Year 2020

1st January 2021

As we start the New Year this is my opportunity to look back at my favourite books that got me through that awful year of 2020. For all of us who love books they really got us through that difficult year. We could lose ourselves in stories and head of on adventures or we could read some non-fiction and learn from history or read books on natural history. How would we have got through 2020 without books.

This is also my opportunity to thank all the authors and publishers who have trusted me with their books. To each and everyone one of you all I can do is thank you. It is also a chance to mention bookshops. All have struggled through the lockdowns and have had to adapt. All are still struggling and need our support through the months ahead. Bookshops are vital for every community just like libraries. We would be poorer without them. They have managed to adapt by click and collect or many delivering free to people living local and who have been isolating. It has been inspiring to hear and read their stories.

Without further ado here are my ten shortlisted fiction and ten non-fiction books of 2020 and at the end I have chosen my fiction and non-fiction books of the year.

MY TEN SHORTLISTED FICTION BOOKS OF THE YEAR

The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel

Published by Fourth Estate.

Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020

Longlisted for the Booker Prize

The long-awaited sequel to Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies and the conclusion to the fabulous trilogy. I have to admit this was my tip to win the Booker Prize and make it a hat-trick of wins. I still think this is just some of the best writing in many years.

Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce

Published by Doubleday

I have been a fan of Rachel Joyce’s writing for some years now and Miss Benson’s Beetle is set in 1950 a story of adventure and friendship.

Summer by Ali Smith

Published by Hamish Hamilton

Longlisted for the Highland Book Prize

The finale to the seasonal quartet. Like each season the quartet seems to have gone so fast. All four to cherish in the years to come.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Published by Tinder Press

Winner of the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction

Waterstones Book of the Year 2020

This is one book I have been speaking about since I was lucky enough to receive a review copy and was one of the first books of 2020 that I read. Instantly I knew this was something incredible and without doubt Maggie’s finest hour in writing.

A story based on the story of Shakespeares wife Agnes (Anne Hathaway) and their young son Hamnet. It will break your heart but stunningly beautiful. Deserved of all the plaudits.  

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

Published by Viking Books

This is just a brilliant debut from the TV quiz master Richard Osman. It has gone on to become one the biggest selling books of 2020. A novel set in a quiet retirement village. Readers will love the characters involved. Warm and very funny.

Winterkill by Ragnar Jónasson 

Published by Orenda Books

Sadly, the finale in the Dark Iceland series. As chilling as an Icelandic winter this is gripping finale as Ari Thor returns to solve the death of a young woman found dead beneath a balcony. Suicide or something much more sinister?

Shuggie Baine by Douglas Stuart

Published by Picador Books

Winner of the Booker Prize 2020

The Waterstones Scottish Book of the Year 2020

Shortlisted for the National Book Award for Fiction 2020

Bleak and heartbreaking. A story set in Glasgow in the early 1980’s of young Shuggie Baine and Agnes his mother. Even now I keep thinking of this story.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Published by Orion Books

Selling well over one million copies the international bestseller. A heart stopping thriller that had me guessing until the very end. Why did Alicia Berenson who had a perfect life and marriage suddenly shoot her husband dead five times in the head. Six years later and incarcerated she has not spoken a word.

Three – Fifths by John Vercher

Published by Pushkin Vertigo

Set in 1995 in Pittsburgh and a story of race, class and violence. A powerful novel, that is so brilliantly written. Nominated for many literary awards.

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

Published by Raven Books

The Year is 1634 and Samuael Pipps the great detective is being transported to Amsterdam from the Dutch East Indies to stand trial for a crime he says he did not commit. He could face the death penalty. But as the ship sets sail things begin to happen on board.

MY TEN SHORTLISTED NON-FICTION BOOKS OF THE YEAR

The Ratline by Philippe Sands

Published by W&N

A breathtaking account of the life of  SS Brigadeführer Otto Freiherr von Wächter. Painstakingly researched. Otto managed to escape justice as he was indicted for mass murder. Escaping via the Austrian Alps and then to Rome where he was helped by a Vatican Bishop. Powerful and reads like a thriller.

Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty

Published by Little Toller

Winner of the 2020 Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing

This is Dara’s diary from Spring to Winter looking at the natural world and his own life at school as well as being an environmentalist and conservationist. Beautifully written.

Rootbound by Alice Vincent

Published by Canongate

Longlisted for the Wainwright Prize

Part memoir, botanical history and biography. This is just a beautiful book about what the outside world can do even by bringing it indoors. Insightful and beautifully written.

The Lost Spells by Jackie Morris and Robert Mcfarlane

Published by Hamish Hamilton

If you loved The Lost Words then you will automatically know and love the follow up or the kindred spirit to The Lost Words. Breataking in its beauty in both words (Spells) by Robert Mcfarlane and the artwork by Jackie Morris. It is never too far away and how it has helped during periods of lockdown and being isolated. It is just georgeous!

The Lost Pianos of Siberia by Sophy Roberts

Published by Doubleday

I was just blown away by this incredible book. Across the landscape that is Siberia are the lost pianos that were created during the boom years of the nineteenth century. Sophy Roberts travelled this land in search of the pianos. This remarkable book is her story.

Jeoffrey: The Poet’s Cat – A Biography

Published by The History Press

Jeoffrey was a cat that lived over 250 years ago and with the poet Christopher Smart were confined in an asylum. This is the story of Jeoffrey the cat and how it came to be in one of the greatest poems of all time’Jubilate Agno’.

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

Published by Viking Books

Barack Obama started to write his memoir as he boarded Air Force One as he left the White House as President of America. This is the first part of what will become one of the great political memoirs. Obama writes with the calmness and assurance and with humour that we came to know and love. It is just a fabulous read.

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

Published by William Collins

What was it like to be around Churchill and his family through the countries darkest period, the blitz? This is the book to read. It is a gripping and page turning read that was painstakingly researched by Larson.

Beethoven: A Life in Nine pieces by Laura Tunbridge.

Published by Viking Books

In 2020 we celebrated the birth of truly one of the greatest composers the world had ever seen. Ludwig van Beethoven. Yet there are so many myths. Here Laura Tunbridge looks at parts of his life in each chapter and a piece of music. Not to be missed if you love Beethoven.

The Boundless Sea by David Abulafia

Published by Allen Lane (Penguin Books)

Winner of the Wolfson History Prize 2020

Some books just leave me speechless. The Boundless Sea by David Abulafia was one of those books. A stunning book that looks at the Oceans and the need to trade goods but in the end not only goods but culture. Not a small book in over a thousand pages but a book that will stand the test of time. A masterpiece and a deserving winner of the Wolfson History Prize.

And so now I have to find my fiction and non-fiction book of the year. There have been so many incredible books this year and selection ten fiction and ten non-fiction was hard enough. So hear are my two books of 2020.

My Fiction Book of 2020

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Published by Tinder Press

It had to be Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. This story of grief and loss has staye with me throughout this year and I cheered the when Maggie O’Farrell won the Women’s Prize for Fiction. How on earth does Maggie follow up on Hamnet. If you have not read Hamnet yet then this is one book that you must read. So much is weaved into the storyline about Agnes and Shakespeare’s son Hamnet, about a Kestrel and then there is the flea that finds its way aboard ship in Alexandria and the time of the plague that shut the playhouses in London and the devastation it would cause. Maggie’s writing is just dazzling.

My Non-Fiction Book of 2020

The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans by David Abulafia

Published by Allen Lane (Penguin)

A difficult decision to find my favourite non-fiction book of 2020, but ultamately The Boundless Sea by David Abulafia won through because it is a remarkable piece of writing. One of the greatest books on world history. I read The Boundless Sea through part of the Summer and just became lost in the book. Inside there are pages of maps and colour photographs that go to make up one book that takes pride of place among my non-fiction books. To even begin to think about writing a history of the oceans is heartstopping to produce a work that is a masterpiece. From pirates to kings to sailors and slave ships to conquerers they are all here. One day I will re-read and travel the worlds oceans through time again. Worthy winner of the 2020 Wolfson History Prize.

So there we are my books of 2020. A year that books got us through the worst year we have ever known. We will need books just as much in 2021. So here’s to all the writers and publishers and bookshops across the UK.

Have a Happy, peaceful and safe 2021.

Happy reading.

John

Blog Journal #7 December

A Christmas unlike any other

Dickens and festive reading

Blog Journal: #7 December

24th December 2020

For me Christmas eve is the best day over the festive period. I have always loved this day over Christmas day itself.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse’


This year though, Christmas will be unlike any other we have known. Like the year that is coming to an end it has been difficult and worrying and hard on all of us. But saying that we will make the most of the festive period and contact friends and loved ones over Zoom on Christmas day just like we have during the lockdowns. We will all be missing friends and loved ones who should be with us over Christmas.

Many of us will be curled up over the days over Christmas watching Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol in one of its many forms of adaptation. Will it be the old black and white film or the Muppets? Charles Dickens first published A Christmas Carol in 1843 but it was not without its problems. Just how close it was to never being published is a discussion point as Dickens had a few failures before this and was struggling to get the story together and the characters. It was finally published on 19th December with changes to end papers and completed just two days before publication. Dickens paid for the publishing costs himself and even a year after publication the profits were not as good as Dickens had hoped for.

But still imagine a world without A Christmas Carol? He is after all the man that made Christmas. It has never been out of publication since release. A story I have loved since my childhood days and it always makes my Christmas complete.

A Poem for December.

Ring Out, Wild Bells

By Alfred Tennyson

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.


We will all take memories of this year away with us and many of you like me will quite frankly be glad to see the back of this year, on a personal level it has been one of the worst. Good riddance to 2020 I say!

There is a Robin that sings from the garden during the early hours of the morning and is a joy to wake to. I have always thought of a Robin singing during Christmas is a sign of hope. Something we have all been clinging to.

Christmas is always a time to finally switch off and relax, for me I will be busy as I have a few articles to write and amazing books to read. But it is my favourite reading period of the year.

As this is my final blog journal for this year I just wanted to say a big thank you to everyone for your kind words and encouragement. Books have never been so important to readers they have allowed us to escape these worrying times and so to all the authors who have been writing incredible books and the publishers who have worked so hard this year. Thank you for writing and publishing incredible books through this difficult year.

Have a Happy, peaceful and safe Christmas.

John Fish

The Last Word Book Review

Olga by Bernhard Schlink

Olga by Bernhard Schlink

Translated by Charlotte Collins

Summary:

Olga is an orphan raised by her grandmother in a Prussian village around the turn of the 20th century. Smart and precocious, she fights against the prejudices of the time to find her place in a world that sees her as second-best.

When she falls in love with Herbert, a local aristocrat obsessed with the era’s dreams of power, glory and greatness, her life is irremediably changed.

Theirs is a love against all odds, entwined with the twisting paths of German history, leading us from the late 19th to the early 21st century, from Germany to Africa and the Arctic, from the Baltic Sea to the German south-west.

This is the story of that love, of Olga’s devotion to a restless man – told in thought, letters and in a fateful moment of great rebellion.

My Review:

I was so moved by The Reader by Bernhard Schlink when I read it some years ago and still remains with me to this day. So I was delighted to have received a copy of Olga (W&N) in the post last month. I was so taken by the story of Olga who was an Orphan and her life in a Prussian village at the turn of the 20th century.

Bernhard Schlink remains one of Germany’s most respected authors and the poignant story of Olga is a compelling novel of hopes, love and dreams. Olga was brought up by her grandmother in Pomerania but it is a harsh upbringing and it is a story that that weaves through two World Wars. Olga has dreams of becoming a teacher and attends college to train. Soon Olga would meet and fall in love with the aristocratic Herbert. The two leading characters could not be from two different backgrounds. His parents vehemently are against their relationship but Olga wants to be with Herbert.  

Herbert has another side to him and he wants to be the best and is a bit of an adventurer and travels the world and instilling his own arrogance but it is on an arctic expedition that he subsequently disappears in 1913.  By now Germany is growing in its own self confidence and rising power across not just Germany but also across Africa.

By the end of World War II, Olga is in West Germany and is now deaf. But now she works for a family and raises their son Ferdinand. This becomes a lasting friendship and Ferdinand is surprised that on her death she leaves him something. But the story does not end here and we move forward a few years and it is what Ferdinand finds that confirms her devotion to the love she lost many years before a love that was doomed. So what does Ferdinand find? This you will have to find out for yourself.

Absolutely adored Olga and her story and devotion to a man with a wanderlust. Timeframes fly by in a blink of an eye but say and detail so much of the time. Bernhard Schlink is master storyteller and if like me you loved and have not forgotten The Reader then you must not miss Olga.

288 Pages.

Thank you Alainna Hadjigeorgiou for the review copy of Olga by Bernhard Schlink.

Olga byBernhard Schlinkwas published by W&N on 12th November 2020 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop or through Bookshop.org that supports your local independent bookshop. UK Bookshop.org

Away with the Penguins by Hazel Prior

Away with the Penguins by Hazel Prior

Summary:

Veronica McCreedy is about to have the journey of a lifetime . . .

Veronica McCreedy lives in a mansion by the sea. She loves a nice cup of Darjeeling tea whilst watching a good wildlife documentary. And she’s never seen without her ruby-red lipstick.

Although these days Veronica is rarely seen by anyone because, at 85, her days are spent mostly at home, alone.

She can be found either collecting litter from the beach (‘people who litter the countryside should be shot’), trying to locate her glasses (‘someone must have moved them’) or shouting instructions to her assistant, Eileen (‘Eileen, door!’).

Veronica doesn’t have family or friends nearby. Not that she knows about, anyway . . . And she has no idea where she’s going to leave her considerable wealth when she dies.

But today . . . today Veronica is going to make a decision that will change all of this.

My Review:

After reading Ellie and the Harp-maker I did wonder how Hazel Prior was going follow up on her debut novel which I really loved. I need not have worried Away with the Penguins (Black Swan) is a fabulous life-affirming story.

We are introduced to Veronica McCreedy who is 85 and who is recluse and lives in a large remote house by the sea in Ayrshire, Scotland. Straight away I was drawn to Veronica as there was just something about her. That feeling that she feels that there is still so much to offer the world and that her age and encroaching deafness should not be a barrier to that.

Veronica has no financial concerns as she does seem to be secure and there is the large house, there is Eileen her assistant and then there is the gardener but apart from that there is no-one in her life and no relatives that are close by so she spends most of her time alone. She can be found wandering the beach picking up the litter that visitors have discarded. Veronica really does have a few choice words for people who litter her beach. What Veronica does enjoy though is to spend time in front of the TV watching wildlife documentaries with a cup of her favourite tea.

It is while settling down to watch one of the wildlife documentaries that something changes for Veronica, the programme is about Penguins! It is a moment for our character that changes everything.

When Eileen suddenly finds that Veronica does indeed have a relative living not too far away she sets off to meet Patrick who is her grandson. The meeting does not go as well as she hoped, at the end of the day she wants to leave her estate to someone but it clearly is not going to be Patrick.

But there is Penguins on Locket Island. But Antarctica is long way from the coastline of Ayrshire in Scotland. But this is Veronica and she wants to save the Penguins and she will not be deterred even by those scientists who advise her that her age is against her. Veronica is on a mission. But does she save the Penguins?

This is a beautiful novel about self-discovery and you the reader will go on a journey with our character who has a big heart despite the sadness from her past and although she may be a bit cranky at times, you want to make sure that her dream comes true. A gorgeously written and well researched story that really makes Hazel Prior a great storyteller.  

 416 Pages.

Away with the Penguins by Hazel Prior was published by Black Swan on 22nd October 2020 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop or through Bookshop.org that supports your local independent bookshop. UK Bookshop.org

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

Winner of the Booker Prize 2020

Shortlisted for the National Book Award for Fiction 2020
The Waterstones Scottish Book of the Year 2020

Summary:

It is 1981. Glasgow is dying and good families must grift to survive. Agnes Bain has always expected more from life. She dreams of greater things: a house with its own front door and a life bought and paid for outright (like her perfect, but false, teeth). But Agnes is abandoned by her philandering husband, and soon she and her three children find themselves trapped in a decimated mining town. As she descends deeper into drink, the children try their best to save her, yet one by one they must abandon her to save themselves. It is her son Shuggie who holds out hope the longest.

Shuggie is different. Fastidious and fussy, he shares his mother’s sense of snobbish propriety. The miners’ children pick on him and adults condemn him as no’ right. But Shuggie believes that if he tries his hardest, he can be normal like the other boys and help his mother escape this hopeless place.

Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain lays bare the ruthlessness of poverty, the limits of love, and the hollowness of pride. A counterpart to the privileged Thatcher-era London of Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty, it also recalls the work of Édouard Louis, Frank McCourt, and Hanya Yanagihara, a blistering debut by a brilliant writer with a powerful and important story to tell.

My Review:

As a book blogger, I tend to get lots of messages saying “have you read this or that book yet” but this year more than any I have received so many messages saying I need to read Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (Picador). Finally, I got my hands on a copy and now I know why. Some books leave a lasting impression on you long after you have finished reading. But Shuggie Bain did something different. I don’t think the story of young Shuggie will ever leave me. It is heartbreaking and brutal but beautiful if that makes sense? Whether my review of the Booker Prize 2020 winner will do it justice I am not sure.

Set in Glasgow in 1981 when the city was struggling and hopes and dreams lay in ruins for many. This is not a story that is easy and there was a number of times that I had to put the book down, but you are drawn back to the story of young Shuggie Bain.

For Agnes Bain all she wanted was a nice home and a garden but now she is an alcoholic and her life is nothing like what she was dreaming about. Shug, her husband cheats on her, and Agnes gambles away her benefits. She has three children, Catherine has married and left to live in South Africa to get away from her mother, then there is Alexander who is eventually thrown out of the house which now leaves the Shuggie who has to cope with everything at home. If that is not enough, when the family move to a new place surrounded by black slag heaps and Shuggie attends a new school only to be bullied as he is different from the other boys then he goes home to care for his alcoholic and abused mother.

This is not an easy novel to read as it is hard as a punch in the stomach at times but then again it is meant to convey a story of addiction and poverty and also of abuse. About a teenage boy who is picked on by others of his own age but also the adults of the village who see him as different and not right. But at the same time it is a story of a relationship between a mother and her youngest son and how he cares for her despite at times the brutal way she would treat him. Then there is his father who did not understand him and wanted Shuggie just to be like the other boys.

As hard as it was to read at times, this is a very intimate look at a family but also about the poverty of Glasgow during at this time. Beautifully crafted by Douglas Stuart and a deserved winner of this year’s Booker Prize and will be talked about for many years to come. Shuggie Bain is not an easy read and many will find the themes difficult but it really is worth the time to get to know the characters.

448 Pages.

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart was published by Picador on 6th August 2020 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop or through Bookshop.org that supports your local independent bookshop. UK Bookshop.org

The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo

The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo

Translated by Louise Heal Kawai

Summary:

In the winter of 1937, the village of Okamura is abuzz with excitement over the forthcoming wedding of a son of the grand Ichiyanagi family. But amid the gossip over the approaching festivities, there is also a worrying rumour – it seems a sinister masked man has been asking questions around the village.

Then, on the night of the wedding, the Ichiyanagi household are woken by a terrible scream, followed by the sound of eerie music. Death has come to Okamura, leaving no trace but a bloody samurai sword, thrust into the pristine snow outside the house.

Soon, amateur detective Kosuke Kindaichi is on the scene to investigate what will become a legendary murder case, but can this scruffy sleuth solve a seemingly impossible crime?

My Review:

First published in April 1946 The Honjin Murders was the first of a series to feature the amateur detective Kosuke Kindaichi who went on to feature in 77 books, with many going on to become film and TV adaptations in Japan. Until now it has never been translated into English.

Set in 1937 and in the village of Okamura as there is going to be a wedding. There is a real buzz and anticipation as this marriage involves Kenzo Ichiyanagi the son of one of the most prominent and wealthiest of families in the region. Kenzo met Katsuko a schoolteacher, there love of books soon turned into romance.

 But death is stalking the newlyweds as that evening there is a terrible scream and followed by what sounds like strange music. Family members rush to see what the scream was about but cannot wake or get access to the home of the newlyweds. It is Katsuko’s uncle that breaks into the property and is faced with a shocking scene, both Kenzo and his bride lay dead covered in blood. Who could do such a thing just hours after the wedding. But that is not all. Outside thrust into the snow is a samurai sword covered with blood. Murder has come to the village.

But something does not fit, there is no sign of a break-in and the house was locked, who could have murdered the bride and groom and leave no trace of entrance or exit.

With the police on the scene looking for clues as to who may have committed the double murder, then a family member believes amateur detective Kosuke Kindaichi could be of real help is solving the crime.

Kosuke goes about his work in a somewhat different way to the usual police methods and his demeanour may not appeal to everyone but Kosuke could just be the man to solve the mystery of who killed Kenzo and Katsuko.

I have to say that I really enjoyed reading this Japanese mystery and the translation was superb by Louise Heal Kawai. This reads like a good old fashioned murder mystery. Fans of Agatha Christie will really enjoy The Honjin Murders and how Seisho Yokomizo crafted the storyline keeping the reader guessing with a number of red herrings to throw the reader of course just when you think you have nailed who killed the newlyweds. A short murder mystery under 200 pages but with interesting characters adding to the plot. I can really recommend for a winter read by the fire.

192 Pages.

My thanks to Poppy Stimpson & Pushkin Vertigo for the review copy of The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo.

The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo was published by Pushkin Vertigo and will be published on 3rd December 2020 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop or through Bookshop.org that supports your local independent bookshop. UK Bookshop.org

INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS SHOWCASE #10

INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS SHOWCASE

#10 HOBECK BOOKS

This week see the Tenth in the series of Independent Publishers Showcase. This week I am pleased to welcome Hobeck Books to the weekly showcase.

Hobeck Books was founded by Adrian Hobart and publisher Rebecca Collins together bringing 50 years of experience in both media and publishing and is based from a 17th century farmhouse in Staffordshire. Publishing thriller, crime, mystery and suspense novels being published in hardback, paperback, ebook and audiobook.

They have a very exciting listing of books for publication in January, these can be pre-ordered by visiting their website with details below.

Keep an eye on their Twitter feed @HobeckBooksor visit their website: Hobeck Books  

A selection of the fiction titles currently released and soon to be released through Hobeck Books:

The Angel of Whitehall by Lewis Hastings

Published: 15h December 2020

Summary:

Jack Cade returns in this explosive thriller by Lewis Hastings, author of The Seventh Wave trilogy.

Twelve women hunted by a deadly enemy

A young African woman’s body is found slumped in a London side street. Her stomach slashed open, a single diamond hiding within.

A shameful secret that must remain hidden

An elderly sailor with just weeks to live harbours a dark secret that he has to share before he dies. The only problem. His memory is failing through dementia.

What’s the connection?

Former British police officer Jack Cade is the only man who can help unravel the mystery. Piecing together the fragments of information that the old man’s fragile memory reveals, Cade unearths a people trafficking conspiracy with links to the heart of the British Establishment.

They want his source silenced. Cade is the only person who can protect him. But who can Cade trust?

The Angel of Whitehall is the fourth brilliant Jack Cade thriller by bestselling author, Lewis Hastings.

Over Her Dead Body (The Quirk Files Book 1) by A B Morgan

Published: 5th January 2021

Summary:

Gabby Dixon is dead. That’s news to her…

Recently divorced and bereaved, Gabby Dixon is trying to start a new chapter in her life.

As her new life begins, it ends. On paper at least.

But Gabby is still very much alive. As a woman who likes to be in control, this situation is deeply unsettling.

She has two crucial questions: who would want her dead, and why?

Enter Peddyr and Connie Quirk. husband-and-wife private investigators. Gabby needs their help to find out who is behind her sudden death.

The truth is a lot more sinister than a simple case of stolen identity.

Over Her Dead Body is a ‘what if’ tale full of brilliantly drawn characters, quirky humour and dark plot twists.

Sleeping Dogs by Wendy Turbin

Release Date: 12th January 2021

Summary:

A jigsaw puzzle of a crime novel with a paranormal twist – the brilliant feel-good debut from Wendy Turbin

Meet Penny Wiseman, a private investigator by circumstance, stumbling through adulthood and desperately trying to keep her late father’s business afloat. 

She’s on the trail of her client’s husband. He’s guilty of hiding something, but is he having an affair? The case leads her to an intriguing series of mysteries and encounters, and not all are quite of this world.

Because, for Penny, seeing the dead is a fact of life, and when a teenage ghost wants justice, who else can the girl turn to for help?

There’s one big problem – the dead don’t talk. 

Penny’s first job is to work out exactly why she’s being haunted. 

Her second is to solve the case that should pay her bills, but will she find answers to either question?

Sleeping Dogs is full of brilliantly drawn characters, quirky humour and gripping plot twists.

Hunted (A Jane Haven Thriller book 1) by Antony Dunford

Release Date: 5th January 2021

Summary:

The brilliant debut action adventure thriller by Antony Dunford

Once a member of the world’s first all-female special forces unit, the Norwegian Hunter Troop, 

Jane Haven is now helping her brother Kennet protect some of the world’s most endangered animals at his Kenyan Wildlife Conservancy.

Heavily armed poachers pose a deadly threat to humans and animals alike, and when her brother dies suddenly, Jane vows to protect his legacy against the threats circling the Bandari reservation.

With rhino horn worth more than diamonds – those threats keep on coming – until Jane finds she’s the one being hunted … 

Hunted is a thrilling adventure that transports the reader into the savage beauty of the African bush. Antony Dunford captures the majesty of Kenya’s wildlife, and in Jane Haven, he’s created a modern kick-ass heroine for the Extinction Rebellion generation.

The Rock: 1 by Robert Daws

Release Date: 1st July 2020

Summary:

DS Tamara Sullivan is a British Police officer fighting to save her career. Exiled to Gibraltar from London’s Metropolitan Police after a lapse of judgement, Sullivan feels she’s being punished – no matter how sun-kissed the Rock is.  

But this is no sleepy siesta of a posting on the Mediterranean. Paired with her new boss, DCI Gus Broderick, Sullivan will need all her skills to survive the most dangerous case of her career.

A young constable is found hanging in his apartment. With no time for introductions, Sullivan and Broderick, unravel a dark and sinister secret that has remained buried for decades. 

Are they prepared to face the fury of what they are about to uncover?

The Rock is a riveting crime thriller packed with twists.

For further information on the publications from Hobeck Books please visit their website: Hobeck Books

You can also find them on Twitter: @HobeckBooks and also their Instagram feed @hobeckbooks and also Facebook: @hobeckbooks10

If you have enjoyed this week’s showcase, please look out for my next Independent Publishers Showcase next week. If you are an indie publisher and would like to add your name to the showcase, you can contact me via Twitter: @TheLastWord1962