My Brother by Karin Smirnoff

My Brother by Karin Smirnoff

Translated by Anna Paterson

Summary:

Jana is returning to see her twin brother Bror, still living in the family farmhouse in the rural north of Sweden. The house is decrepit and crumbling, and Bror is determindly drinking himself into an early grave. The siblings are both damaged by horrific childhood experiences, buried deep in the past, but Jana cannot keep running.

Alive with the brutality and beauty of the landscape, My Brother is a novel steeped in darkness and violence – about abuse, love, complicity, and coming to terms with the past. It’s the story of a homecoming without a home: a story of forgiveness.

My Review:

I must admit that this could be a difficult read for some readers as there are themes running through this novel that are difficult but also there is hope and that was important. My Brother (Pushkin Press) by Karin Smirnoff deals with family abuse and cruelty and it is challenging but I was determined to finish reading.

Set in the North of Sweden, and Jana Kippo is heading home to the family farmhouse where her brother still lives. The farmhouse is now pretty much run down and that goes for Bror her brother. There are grim memories for both here and that explains why Bror is heading towards an early grave. He is drinking a lot and his health is poor.

As children they were abused in the worst way possible while their mother accepted this and both are struggling in their own to way through life, for Bror drinking, maybe it helps him forget but it is a path of self-destruction and for Jana she likes to clean. The wintery landscape is bleak with the freezing conditions and deep snow. But seasons do change and with that there is hope for the future. The storyline is bleak but there are times when we can have a glimpse of what could be for Jana and Bror.

Karin Smirnoff for her debut novel has created a difficult storyline but also an isolated setting. Smirnoff has also written in a unique style with little punctuation but every now and then the author brings something into the storyline which then hits hard into the plot and the reader, but I liked the authors writing style. A word about the translation. This is by Anna Paterson and she has done an excellent job with the translation.

The rights to My Brother have been sold to nine territories and has been optioned for a major international TV production.

320 Pages.

My thanks to Poppy Stimpson (Pushkin Press) for the review copy of My Brother by Karin Smirnoff  

My Brother by Karin Smirnoff was published by Pushkin Press and was published on 4th March 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

The Field by Robert Seethaler

The Field by Robert Seethaler

Translated by Charlotte Collins

Summary:

From their graves in the field, the oldest part of Paulstadt’s cemetery, the town’s late inhabitants tell stories from their lives. Some recall just a moment, perhaps the one in which they left this world, perhaps the one that they now realize shaped their life forever. Some remember all the people they’ve been with, or the only person they ever loved.

These voices together – young, old, rich poor – build a picture of a community, as viewed from below ground instead of from above. The streets of the small, sleepy provincial town of Paulstadt are given shape and meaning by those who lived, loved, worked, mourned and died there.

From the author of the Booker International-shortlisted A Whole Life, Robert Seethaler’s The Field is about what happens at the end. It is a book of human lives – each one different, yet connected to countless others – that ultimately shows how life, for all its fleetingness, still has meaning.

My Review:

From the author of the 2016 Man Booker Prize shortlisted A Whole Life, Robert Seethaler returns with The Field (Picador) a novel that heads to a fictional small town of Paulstadt and the cemetery. But it is those that are buried here and the stories they tell and the conversations they have. These are their stories.

I loved reading A Whole Life and The Tobacconist and Robert Seeethaler does not disappoint with The Field. With each of his novels there is a real sense of quiet storytelling. In the town of Paulstadt lies a field and this is the oldest part of the cemetery and here lie some of the towns most outspoken residents.

The story begins as an old man sits and contemplates those that are buried here and what if they could talk? What would they say? And so, it begins, those long departed begin the conversations.

Far from resting quietly these are some of the most outspoken of the community, they were the old, the young, poor, or wealthy but now they are recounting their lives, or some recall a moment from their lives as it has just happened or may be happier or sad times. But one that lies here just has one word to say.

I have to say that this is unlike anything I have read before conversations of those departed. Each chapter begins with the name of the departed soul, but that is it, the stories they tell is of different moments in time from early days of the town to how the town grew. Each of the deceased has their own story to tell. Some angry some just quiet reflection from a child’s voice to the oldest of the inhabitants of the field. Not all the conversations are sad, there is some joyful conversations, but this is mixed with great sadness and Seethaler manages to bring not only the conversations to life but the history of the town of Paulstadt and its inhabitants who now lie here. A real mix of characters and their professions.

The Field is Wonderfully crafted by Robert Seethaler and beautifully translated by Charlotte Collins.

#RobertSeethaler #TheField

You can follow Charlotte Collins on Twitter: @cctranslates

240 Pages.

My thanks to Camilla Elworthy for the review copy of The Field by Robert Seethaler.

The Field by Robert Seethaler will be published by Picador on 18th March 2021 and is available to pre-order through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop or through Bookshop.org that supports your local independent bookshop. UK Bookshop.org

David and Ameena by Ami Rao

David and Ameena by Ami Rao

Summary:

Modern-day New York, a subway train. David, an American-Jewish jazz musician, torn between his dreams and his parents’ expectations, sees a woman across the carriage. Ameena, a British-Pakistani artist who left Manchester to escape the pressure from her conservative family, sees David. When a moment of sublime beauty occurs unexpectedly, the two connect, moved by their shared experience. From this flows a love that it appears will triumph above all. But as David and Ameena navigate their relationship, their ambitions, and the city they love, they discover the external world is not so easy to keep at bay. Ami Rao’s masterful debut novel picks apart the lives of two people, stripping them of their collective identities and, in doing so, facing up to the challenge of today: can love to give us the freedom to accept our differences?

My Review:

On a New York subway train eyes meet across the carriage and in that fleeting moment both David and Ameena fell for each other. David and Ameena (Fairlight Books) is the debut novel by Ami Rao and is beautiful modern day love story. Two people from different cultures and backgrounds and their hopes and ambitions and above all can love conquer the challenges that the pair face.

David is Jewish, his day job is an advertising executive but, in the evening, he plays jazz at various locations. Jazz is David’s first love. Ameena is a British Muslim from Manchester. After arriving in New York, she began a career as a journalist for a fashion magazine but there is more to Ameena, as away from her day job Ameena is an artist but there is more than just frustration in her work. Ameena is more than a strong character whereas David has a more relaxed and gentle way through life.

Form the first page until the last this is a beautiful story of just two people trying to find a way through this thing, we call life and everything that goes with it. Life is like the eb and flow of the tide and sometimes life like the sea can be quite rough and through both David and Ameena’s story we see the challenges they face, because of their cultures and their backgrounds.

I loved reading their story and wanted to cheer them on at every level. This is a couple that fell in love from that first fleeting glance across the carriage. But life was going to not make it easy for them. I loved reading about David’s love of jazz, mainly because I have love jazz for many years and Ameena’s struggles at being an artist. Sometimes it takes someone close to you to tell just how good you really are. When Ameena had to return home to Manchester for family reasons, there is a fear she may not return to New York and to David. Is this where their relationship comes to an end?

Settle down with David and Ameena story. I can recommend reading while listening to some jazz in the background.

It is so pleasing to see Ami now having written her first novel and already keen to see what comes next.

You can find out more about Ami Rao by visiting Ami’s website: Ami Rao

400 Pages.

My thanks to Fairlight Books for the review copy of David and Ameena by Ami Rao.  

David and Ameena by Ami Rao published by Fairlight Books and was published on published on 4th February 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

Lightseekers by Femi Kayode

Lightseekers by Femi Kayode

Summary:

When three young students are brutally murdered in a Nigerian university town, their killings – and their killers – are caught on social media. The world knows who murdered them; what no one knows is why.

As the legal trial begins, investigative psychologist Philip Taiwo is contacted by the father of one of the boys, desperate for some answers to his son’s murder. But Philip is an expert in crowd behaviour and violence, not a detective, and after travelling to the sleepy university town that bore witness to the killings, he soon feels dramatically out of his depth.


Will he finally be able to uncover the truth of what happened to the Okiri Three?

My Review:

The start of a new thriller series that stars investigative psychologist Dr Philip Taiwo. Lightseekers (Raven Books) is the gripping debut novel by Femi Kayode that is set in Nigeria. Dr Taiwo has been living and studying in the United States and has returned to Lagos. His country has changed since the time he has been away and Folake, his wife wanted to return to her home with their children. The United States was not for her. On their return to Lagos, he is asked to investigate the death of a young man, one of three that were brutally murdered by a gang. As Philip Taiwo specialises in mob violence and killings, he accepts the case.

The killings were captured on mobile phones and shared across social media platforms. Seven people are now standing trial for the killings of the three university students. But why where they so brutally killed? Now Philip Taiwo must find the answers and quickly. Taiwo may be back in his home country but things have changed, and he is a stranger. Chika Makuochi has now become his driver and he is wise and Taiwo needs him to guide him around they become quite a partnership as Taiwo seeks answers. The story really shifts at a pace and there are more than a few difficult situations that Philip Taiwo and Chika find themselves in.

There are many in the local community that eye Taiwo with suspicion and seem unwilling to help with answers, danger seems to lurk around every corner. But Taiwo is undaunted and pursues the case. He wants the truth, despite having to deal with some corrupt officials and historical tensions but Taiwo despite the danger is determined to get to the truth.

A brilliant and tension filled thriller, that sees the role of social media in our modern-day world that can sow hatred in a heartbeat. A complex but superb character driven debut novel. I am already looking forward to the next instalment staring investigative psychologist Dr Philip Taiwo.

You can follow Femi Kayode on Twitter: @FemiKayode_Author

#Lightseekers

432 Pages.

Thank you Laura Meyer and Raven Books for the review copy of  Lightseekers by Femi Kayode.

Lightseekers by Femi Kayode was published by Raven Books published on 4th February 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

The Ice by John Kare Raake

The Ice by John Kåre Raake

Translated by Adam King

Summary:

A CRY FOR HELP

Anna Aune is on a scientific expedition to the North Pole, when the pitch black of the polar night is lit up by a distress flare.

A VISION FROM A NIGHTMARE

At a nearby research station Anna discovers a massacre – mutilated bodies strewn about the base. Then, a fierce Arctic storm blows in, cutting off any possibility of escape.

A KILLER LOOSE ON THE ICE
Anna races to find the murderer before they get to her, but she discovers a secret lurks under the ice – one that nations will kill for…

My Review:

If like me you like your thriller as cold as ice then The Ice (Pushkin Vertigo) the debut novel by successful screenwriter John Kåre Raake is perfect as it is set in the North Pole and is the first in a series which stars Special Forces Commando Anna Aune. The good news is that this is being developed into a television series.

The Ice

Imagine being at the North Pole and a killer is on the loose, so where do you run to hide? The vast wide-open expanse is at the heart of this bone chilling thriller that is perfect for a winters evening. Anna Aune volunteers to accompany 73-year-old professor Daniel Zakariassen, not a trip that Anna wanted to go on but as a Special Forces Commando she is trained for conditions such as the North Pole. But she is still suffering from PTSD and has survived war torn regions but also suffered the loss of her lover. Together with the professor Anna is at the North Pole to study the effects of Climate Change but soon things take a very sinister twist.

They are heading towards the Chinese research station when they see a flare go up but when they arrive it is a scene of mass murder. Suddenly for Anna she is at the heart of a major crime and the killer are still out there. What makes it worse is that the weather is now deteriorating rapidly and trying to stay alive and hunt the killer before the killer finds them.

Anna will now need all her special forces training to keep her and Daniel alive. Whoever did this knew exactly what they were doing, but who and what is exactly at the heart of the killing spree. There are frozen dead bodies everywhere. But Anna discovers one severely injured man, and he could hold clues to what happened and just what was really going on at the Chinese research station and he could hold a clue as to how many are behind the massacre, but she needs to keep him alive.

At the same time as trying to stay alive in the worsening conditions Anna knows that she needs help and tries to locate a working radio to call for urgent assistance.

The Ice is a fast-paced atmospheric thriller that has a real sense of foreboding and not just the building storm. Raake has combined both the North Pole and a mass killer to build an incredible and compelling read with a new heroine at the heart of the storyline.

400 Pages.

Thank you Poppy Stimpson and Pushkin Press for the review copy of The Ice by John Kåre Raake.

The Ice by John Kåre Raake was published by Pushkin Vertigo and was published on 7th 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

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin

Summary:

Life is short. No-one knows that better than seventeen-year-old Lenni living on the terminal ward. But as she is about to learn, it’s not only what you make of life that matters, but who you share it with.

Dodging doctor’s orders, she joins an art class where she bumps into fellow patient Margot, a rebel-hearted eight-three-year-old from the next ward. Their bond is instant as they realize that together they have lived an astonishing one hundred years.

To celebrate their shared century, they decide to paint their life stories: of growing old and staying young, of giving joy, of receiving kindness, of losing love, of finding the person who is everything.

As their extraordinary friendship deepens, it becomes vividly clear that life is not done with Lenni and Margot yet.

My Review:

A debut novel that will tug at your heartstrings and a story of the gift of life. The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin (Doubleday) is released on 18th February and Marianne’s gorgeous debut took seven years to write but Marianne has written a very beautiful and poignant story.

Life is precious, that is something the last year has really taught us. Grab hold of life and celebrate it and live for each and every day. This is the story of Lenni and Margot. Lenni is 17-years-old and Margot is 83.

A hospital in Glasgow is where Lenni is and the news is not great, she is now living with a terminal illness. But the thing is about Lenni she is young and poking death in the eye and giving it what for and that is not all, at the hospital there is Chaplin, Arthur is his name and Lenni will raise questions about life and death at the tender age of 17 when she has a whole life of adventure just waiting for her. There are no real answers of course because no-one has answers to these questions. Lenni joins an art class as part of a therapy programme.

At the same hospital there is Margot (83) a life lived and a love lost. For Lenni and Margot they meet at the art therapy programme and a special bond is formed and that is not all they discover they combine 100 years. So what a better way to celebrate life than to paint their stories of their lives. For these paintings will tell their stories after they have gone. Happy times, sad times, of love and kindness. Every painting will tell a story.

The story of Lenni and Margot will make you laugh and it will make you cry, take my word for that. I did both. I loved the characters I met in the story and Marianne writes like she has written many a bestseller. I have a feeling we will be hearing more from Marianne Cronin in the years to come. A book to treasure. You will not be disappointed it is just wonderful.

400 Pages.

Thank you Alison Barrow for the review copy of The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin.

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin is published by Doubleday and is released on 18th February 2021 and is available to pre-order through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop or through Bookshop.org that supports your local independent bookshop. UK Bookshop.org

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

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