Book Review: The Jealousy Man by Jo Nesbo; Translated by Robert Ferguson

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Murder. Assassination. Revenge.

Discover the first short story collection from the King of Scandi Crime.

Meet a detective on the trail of a man suspected of murdering his twin; a hired assassin facing his greatest adversary; and two passengers meeting by chance on a plane, spelling romance or something far more sinister.

In his first ever collection of short stories, this master of crime delivers a gripping, edge-of-your seat read that you won’t be able to put down.

The first short story collection by Jo Nesbo and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but this collection really blew me away with the range and depths of the ideas the author explores in these stories. He really mines the darkest and most base instincts of human kind here, and delves into some very dystopian ideas that are all the more disturbing for not being entirely incredible.

Normally I race through a book of short stories quite quickly, because they are consumed in easily digestible chunks – like grazing on snacks rather than consuming a three course meal. This book didn’t unfold that way for me. Firstly, many of the stories are not short, a couple are more like short novellas. Secondly, every one of them is dense and complex, in characterisation, theme and development so, for me, it was just impossible to race through them quickly. Each of them needed slow and careful reading to unpack and appreciate all the nuance contained within. This is a book which has to be read in a considered and thoughtful fashion. A pause after the end of each was necessary to fully absorb what the author have revealed in the story, and I even broke off halfway through and read something a little lighter to break up the experience because of the effect the book was having on me.

Because I found this book quite bleak in general in the issues it explores and the conclusions that are drawn in the stories. These are not tales of uplifting experiences and positive affirmations of human nature. They are all dark, even fatalistic, in tone and paint quite a negative view of humanity. They feel quite appropriate for the way things are developing at the moment, maybe even prophetic, so if you are looking for a book to cheer you up when the current news gets too heavy, this isn’t it. It is, however, brilliantly written, thought-provoking and a masterclass in how to write a complete and satisfying short story. I am more impressed than ever by Nesbo’s writing, and his fans will love it.

The Jealousy Man is available in all formats here.

About the Author

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Jo Nesbo is one of the world’s bestselling crime writers, with The Leopard, Phantom, Police, The Son and his latest Harry Hole novel, The Thirst, all topping the Sunday Times bestseller charts. He’s an international number one bestseller and his books are published in 50 languages, selling over 33 million copies around the world.

Before becoming a crime writer, Nesbo played football for Norway’s premier league team Molde, but his dream of playing professionally for Spurs was dashed when he tore ligaments in his knee at the age of eighteen. After three years military service he attended business school and formed the band Di derre (‘Them There’). They topped the charts in Norway, but Nesbo continued working as a financial analyst, crunching numbers during the day and gigging at night. When commissioned by a publisher to write a memoir about life on the road with his band, he instead came up with the plot for his first Harry Hole crime novel, The Bat.

Connect with Jo:

Website: https://jonesbo.com

Facebook: Jo Nesbo

Instagram: @jonesbo_author

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Book Review: The Party Crasher by Sophie Kinsella #BookReview

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The Talbots are having one last party at their family home.
But Effie hasn’t been invited . . .

Effie’s still not over her parents splitting up a year ago. Her dad and his new girlfriend are posting their PDAs all over Instagram (complete with super-gross hashtags #viagraworks and #sexinyoursixties) and as if that wasn’t bad enough, they’re now selling the beloved family home. So when Effie receives a last-minute anti-invitation to their ‘house-cooling’ party, she decides to give it a miss.

Then she remembers her precious Russian dolls, safely tucked away up a chimney. She’ll have to go back for them – but not as a guest. She’ll just creep in, grab the dolls and make a swift exit. No one will know she was ever there.

But Effie can’t find the dolls. And as she secretly clambers around dusty attics, hides under tables and tries to avoid bumping into her ex-boyfriend (who she’s very much not over), she discovers unexpected truths about her family – and even about herself.

With time (and hiding places) running out, Effie starts to wonder if the only way to find out what’s really going on with her family is to simply crash the party . . .

You know you can rely on a Sophie Kinsella book for uplifting, humorous writing, and The Party Crashers is up there with the best of her work. Starting off with the enticing premise of the book – a young girl has to secretly crash a party at her own father’s house without being seen – I loved everything about this book from beginning to end.

This author has a genius for writing hapless characters that are charmingly madcap who you can’t help falling in love with and rooting for, and Effie is no exception. Who can blame her for not being enamoured of her father’s antics with his much-younger, gold-digging new girlfriend who has invaded the family home and begun to wipe out all traces of his previous family life? Anyone could sympathise, even if she does take things to the extreme. This is the real skill in Sophie’s writing, taking a believable premise but then pushing the envelope to wring every comedic nuance from the plot without losing the reader in the ludicrousness of the situation.

This book has many genuinely laugh out loud moments. I particularly loved the section when they are all sitting down to dinner in the dining room. This is a perfect example of a scene where actually you can’t understand how anyone could get themselves in the predicament Effie finds herself in, but Sophie’s writing is so charming that she carries you along in the mayhem.

As well as the comedic moments, the book does explore the issue of family dynamics and how, no matter how old we get, it is difficult to come to terms with divorce and learning that your parents and their relationship may not be the fairytale you always assumed it was. How we hide difficult truths from the people we love and, in some aspects, we never really grow up. I found the book very heartwarming as well as funny. I think it may be my favourite Sophie Kinsella novel to date. Fans should definitely not miss this one.

You can buy The Party Crasher in all formats here.

About the Author

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Sophie Kinsella is a writer and former financial journalist. She is the number one bestselling author of Can You Keep a Secret?, The Undomestic Goddess, Remember Me?, Twenties Girl, I’ve Got Your Number, Wedding Night, My Not So Perfect Life, Surprise Me, the hugely popular Shopaholic novels and the Young Adult novel Finding Audrey. She lives in the UK with her husband and family. She is also the author of the children’s series Mummy Fairy and Me / Fairy Mom and Me, and several bestselling novels under the name of Madeleine Wickham.

Connect with Sophie:

Website: https://www.sophiekinsella.co.uk

Facebook: Sophie Kinsella

Twitter: @KinsellaSophie

Instagram: @sophiekinsellawriter

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Book Review: A Convenient Marriage by Jeevani Charika #BookReview

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It was the perfect marriage… until they fell in love.

Chaya is a young woman torn between her duty to family and her life in the UK. While her traditional Sri Lankan parents want her to settle down into marriage, what they don’t know is that Chaya has turned away the one true love of her life, Noah, terrified of their disapproval.

Gimhana is hiding his sexuality from his family. It’s easy enough to pretend he’s straight when he lives half a world away in the UK. But it’s getting harder and harder to turn down the potential brides his parents keep finding for him.

When Chaya and Gimhana meet, a marriage of convenience seems like the perfect solution to their problems. Together they have everything – friendship, stability and their parents’ approval. But when both Chaya and Gimhana find themselves falling in love outside of their marriage, they’re left with an impossible decision – risk everything they’ve built together, or finally follow their heart?

Will they choose love, or carry on living a lie?

This is a really engrossing and moving story about the many different kinds of love that exist outside of romantic love and how, despite ourselves, many of us make choices which are more about pleasing other people and deciding not to rock the boat, than being true to ourselves, but whichever path we take, pitfalls lie ahead.

Both Chaya and Gimhana are Sri Lankans living in the UK. They come from traditional families and are torn between loyalty to their parents back in Sri Lanka and alternative futures that they are building for themselves in the West. Both Chaya and Gimhana are hiding parts of themselves from their families and find they cannot be truly themselves until they meet each other. Because they are both keeping secrets, and being torn between loyalty and love, they find in each other the only other person who really understands them.

I felt very deeply for both Gimhana and Chaya and the necessity they felt in being what people expected of them, rather than just being themselves. To a lesser degree, this is something many of us can relate to because many of us are subject of family pressures and expectations. However, this is heightened when it comes to the demands of very strict traditional families and the society in which they live in Sri Lanka, which can be extremely judgmental.

Jeevani builds the image of the Sri Lankan family in great detail and extremely vividly and I completely understood where Chaya and Gimhana were coming from and why they were so torn. Their love and respect for their families forces them to deny the other loves that come into their lives, but it is impossible to maintain a facade indefinitely. I could feel the pain and the yearning coming from both of them, and it was incredibly affecting.

There are some beautiful characters and relationships in this book, as well as intimate portrayals of struggles with mental health and homosexuality in a society which is not accepting of this identity. Parts of the books were very painful to read, and the author really takes the reader under the characters’ skins and lets us live their experiences with them. The book had a slow beginning but it go more engrossing as it went along and by the end I could not put it down.

The book really moved me and made me think deeply about how much some of us take for granted and how little we know of the struggles other people face but how, if we look closely enough, we have enough shared experience to allow us to empathise with and support those who may seem different initially. In the end, all of these experiences are human experiences. A really fantastic love story with a difference. I highly recommend it.

A Convenient Marriage is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Jeevani Charika writes women’s fiction and contemporary romances with a hint of British cynicism.  (In case you were wondering, it’s pronounced Jeev-uh-nee.)

There’s a whole lot of other stuff she could tell you – but mainly: she’s a former scientist, an adult fan of Lego, an embarrassing mum, a part time geek (see ’embarrassing mum’) and a Very Short Person.

She also writes romantic comedy under the pen name Rhoda Baxter. So why the two names? Well… Jeevani writes about British-Sri Lankan main characters. Rhoda, not so much.

Connect with Jeevani:

Website: https://jeevanicharika.com/home/

Facebook: Jeevani Charika

Twitter: @RhodaBaxter

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Book Review: The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper #BookReview

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Sold by her mother. Enslaved in Pompeii’s brothel. Determined to survive. Her name is Amara. Welcome to the Wolf Den…

Amara was once a beloved daughter, until her father’s death plunged her family into penury. Now, she is owned by a man she despises and lives as a slave in Pompeii’s infamous brothel, her only value the desire she can stir in others.

But Amara’s spirit is far from broken. Sharp, resourceful and surrounded by women whose humour and dreams she shares, Amara comes to realise that everything in this city has its price. But how much will her freedom cost?

I had heard marvellous things about this book, but hadn’t really grasped what to expect before I picked it up. Whatever it was I thought I was going to read, it wasn’t this but, wow, what an incredible, accomplished and entertaining piece of work this is, I absolutely adored every page of it.

Set in the brothels of Pompeii, this book explores in colourful, vivid and violent detail the day to day realities of life in these establishments for the women forced to work and live there. The brutality of what they were subjected to on a daily basis, the degradations suffered, the indignities they had to go through to survive… but also the bravery, the friendship, the humour and the hope that kept them going, held them together and made those lives a little less bleak.

Elodie Harper endows these characters that are so distant in history from ourselves with a humanity to which we can all relate and makes them come to brilliant life. Every sense is awakened by her writing, until the reader is living and breathing life in Pompeii along with the characters. I was absolutely blown away with how vital her writing about the period is; if you didn’t know better, you might assume she had been there at the time.

I was mesmerised by this book. Once I picked it up, I could not put it down. It was one of the most compelling novels I have picked up these year. It made me wince, it made me outraged, it moved me, it made me laugh, it made me cry and it gave me hope. This book is the first of a trilogy, with the new book due next year and, as soon as I had finished, I went out and bought a copy in hardback in anticipation of collecting the full set. I absolutely cannot wait for Amara’s story to continue and The Wolf Den is undoubtedly going to be one of my top books of the year.

The Wolf Den is available now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Elodie Harper is a journalist and prize winning short story writer. Her story ‘Wild Swimming’ won the 2016 Bazaar of Bad Dreams short story competition, run by The Guardian and Hodder & Stoughton and judged by Stephen King. She is currently a reporter and presenter at ITV News Anglia, and before that worked as a producer for Channel 4 News.

Connect with Elodie:

Website: https://www.elodieharper.com/

Twitter: @ElodieITV

Instagram: @elodielharper

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Book Review: Trust Me by T. M. Logan #BookReview

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TWO STRANGERS. A CHILD. AND A SPLIT SECOND CHOICE THAT WILL CHANGE EVERYTHING.

The chance encounter

Ellen was just trying to help a stranger. Giving a few minutes respite to a flustered young mother sitting opposite her on the train. A few minutes holding her baby while the woman makes an urgent call.

Five minutes pass.

Ten.

The twist

As the train pulls into a station, Ellen is stunned to see the woman step off the train and rush away down the platform, leaving her baby behind.

Then she discovers a note in the baby’s bag, three desperate lines scrawled hastily on a piece of paper:

Please protect Mia
Don’t trust the police
Don’t trust anyone

WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

Anyone who has read any of T. M. Logan’s previous novels will know what to expect when they come to his latest book, which is the unexpected. King of the unreliable narrator, prince of the unexpected twist, the only thing you can be sure of in a T. M Logan is that you can’t be sure of anything until you have turned the final page.

So, the title of his latest book, Trust Me, is very apt, because you never know who you can trust in this story including the main protagonist, Ellen. Everyone has hidden motives and deep-seated desires driving them on in certain directions, not all of which are obvious from the beginning. Good luck weaving your way through the maze of this novel.

The book starts off with a fascinating premise right from the beginning. A distraught mother asks you to hold her baby for a moment while she takes a call. Then she never comes back. What would you do? Would you do what Ellen does? Chances are you wouldn’t, because Ellen isn’t like you or I, and she has her own particular set of circumstances that are driving her on. The situation she finds herself in with the baby is the culmination of a perfect storm in her life, and puts her in a dangerous situation that she could never have anticipated. There were times when I was shouting at the book, open-mouthed at the decisions she was making, but still understanding why she did it. The author has created a character that is out of the ordinary but very sympathetic at the same time, I really enjoyed reading her.

Like all of this authors books, there is intrigue and secrets and double-dealing. What I found different from his previous books was the pacing. This book is absolutely full of action from start to finish which was very refreshing and made me turn the pages at double speed. Don’t get me wrong, I have thoroughly enjoyed the more internal, personality-based thrills of his previous stories, but it was really great to see something different from this writer, showcasing his versatility. Definitely not the case of resting on his laurels and repeating what had proved successful before. I love authors who are willing to take risks and chances in their work.

This is a thriller with a great premise and interesting protagonist which really delivers on its promise and kept me glued to it from start to finish. Perfect for devouring in a single sitting on a sunny afternoon, on a sun lounger or garden chair, it will whisk you away from the every day and take you on a rollercoaster ride.

A really great read that might be my favourite yet from T. M. Logan and has definitely cemented him as one of my favourite psychological thriller writers.

Trust Me is out now in hardback, audiobook and ebook formats and will be published in paperback on 5 August and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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TM Logan’s thrillers have sold more than a million copies in the UK and are published in 19 countries around the world including the USA, South Korea, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Hungary, Serbia, Romania, Greece and the Netherlands.

Tim’s brand new thriller, TRUST ME, begins when a woman is asked to look after a stranger’s baby on a train – only for the mother to vanish. When she looks in the baby’s things, she finds a note that says: ‘Please protect Mia. Don’t trust the police. Don’t trust anyone.’ TRUST ME is out now in hardback, e-book and audiobook.

His previous novel, THE CATCH, is about a father who becomes convinced his daughter is about to marry a man with terrible secrets. Terrified that his cherished only child is about to marry a man who is not what he seems, Ed sets out to uncover the truth – before it’s too late…

His thriller THE HOLIDAY was a Richard & Judy Book Club pick and spent ten weeks in the Sunday Times paperback top ten. THE HOLIDAY takes place over a sweltering summer week in the south of France, as four best friends see the holiday of a lifetime turn into a nightmare of suspicion, betrayal and murder. Tim’s debut LIES was one of Amazon’s biggest selling e-books of 2017 and was followed by 29 SECONDS in 2018.

Tim was a national newspaper journalist before turning to novel-writing full time. He lives in Nottinghamshire with his wife and two children, and writes in a cabin at the bottom of his garden.

Connect with T. M. Logan:

Website: https://www.tmlogan.com

Facebook: T M Logan Author

Twitter: @TMLoganAuthor

Instagram: @tmloganauthor

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Book Review: The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin #BookReview

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An extraordinary friendship. A lifetime of stories. Their last one begins here.

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.

Every so often a book comes along that affects you so powerfully that you can’t stop thinking about it, and it lives on in your mind and your heart long after you have turned the last page. The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot is one such book. It’s a really surprising thing to say about a book that deals with terminal illness in a young person, but this book is warm, uplifting, powerful and even joyous in places and it is definitely going to be one of my books of the year.

Lenni is an absolutely extraordinary character. Seventeen-years-old and living in hospital, in the end stages of a terminal disease, you would think she would be a person for whom your main emotion would be pity. However, Lenni is not someone who allows that. She doesn’t feel any for herself, and she is so fierce, forthright, determined, sparky, generous and full of life, that you simply can’t feel it either. I absolutely adored her right from the beginning of the book, until the end; fell so deeply in love with her that the book broke me apart as her story unfolded. But pity, no, that was not one of the things I was left feeling. She is probably now one of my favourite ever characters from a novel.

Add then to this scenario, Margot, a fellow hospital resident. Margot is 83 and has lived a full, rich, long and surprising life. Her friendship with Lenni may seem odd at first but, as the story develops, you realise these two have a lot in common and have come into each others’ lives at a time when it is just what the other person needs most. The relationship between them is so honest and genuine and absolutely beautiful that even thinking back on it now it makes my heart swell with love and joy. For these two people to have found each other at this moment… I completely believed it and revelled in the pure truthfulness of it.

As well as Lenni and Margot, there are a host of other wonderful characters in the book that aid the two of them, who are also full of life and personality and fantastic to read. Lenni’s relationship in particular with the hospital chaplain who is close to retirement is a highlight of the book and gorgeously developed. This author has a sharp eye for personality and a real skill in getting it on to the page and I have real admiration for her writing.

As well as Lenni and Margot’s relationship in the present, the book also revisits events from the pasts of both characters, so we really get to know them and understand why they have ended up where they are, needing to make friends in each other. Obviously Margot’s past is longer and more detailed that Lenni’s, and it is really wonderful thing to follow, exploring a genuinely believable life, and full of human emotion – all the pain, joy, grief, loss, excitement and confusion that pepper every life. I thought the concept of the paintings was a unique and clever way to explore these aspects of the book, the whole thing hung together perfectly.

If I had a small niggle about the book, it would be in the behaviour of Lenni’s parents. As a mother, I can honestly say that, of either if my children were in the same position, there is not a cat in hell’s chance that I would do as they do, and I don’t know anyone who would. I understand the motivations that the author gave them for behaving the way they do, but I just could not buy into it. Maybe there are people who would behave this way, but I think it is outside the norm and took a greater suspension of disbelief to accept than I am capable of. However, this did not detract in the slightest from my enjoyment of the book and no one should let it put them off because it is fairly insignificant to the course of the story.

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot is an absolute gem of a book that I think everyone should read. It delighted my soul, I’m sure it will do the same for you. Uplifting, moving and full of hope, I absolutely adored it.

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot is out now in hardback, ebook and audio formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Lenni and Margot took me seven years to write and I’m very excited that their story is now reaching readers here on Amazon.

Before I started working on writing fiction full-time, I spent my days in academia, writing things that nobody wanted to read (not even my mum!). I have a PhD in Applied Linguistics but I don’t use the title ‘Dr’ on official documents because I’m scared of being asked to help in a medical emergency and having only a thesis on linguistics to help.

I like to write at night and I like to be alone when I do. When I’m not writing, I can be found trying to be funny in various improv groups or watching my recently-adopted cat sleeping under my desk.

Connect with Marianne:

Twitter: @itsmcronin

Instagram: itsmariannecronin

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Book Review: The Castaways by Lucy Clarke #BookReview

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A SECRET BEACH.
A HOLIDAY OF A LIFETIME.
WISH YOU WERE HERE?

THINK AGAIN…

It should be like any other holiday.

Beautiful beaches.
Golden sunsets.
Nothing for miles.

You’ll never want to leave.
Until you can’t…

This is one of those books you want to pick up when you have a delicious stretch of uninterrupted reading time ahead and you want to really lose yourself in a book that is going to transport you to another time and place and keep you glued to the page. Don’t pick this book up if you only have little snippets of reading time because, believe me, once you get into this book, you won’t want to put it down.

The book is told from the alternating viewpoints of two sisters, Lori and Erin, and two timelines. Lori, in the then, and Erin, in the now. The main driver of the book is the mystery of what happened to the plane and the people who were on it, but it also explores family dynamics, survivor guilt and what priorities in life drive us to do the things we do. This elevates it beyond a simple thriller to a much more interesting and thought-provoking read.

The author’s imagining of how it would be to be involved in a terrifying accident that leaves you stranded in a remote place with people who are strangers, the descent into barbarism and self-interest, how suspicion and paranoia develop, and what the removal of the comforts and trappings of society reveals about our basest needs and desires, feels real and frightening. You will find yourself stranded on that isolated island with them, going through all the things they are feeling. It really is an immersive read in this respect and it felt like the author had taken herself to that place while she was writing, it came across as authentic (as far as someone who has never been marooned can judge anyway!)

On the other hand, being inside the mind of family, back home in safety and a ‘normal’ life is not much more comfortable. The grappling with not knowing what has happened to your loved one, feelings of guilt at not having been with them and constantly tortured by the last things you said to each other before they disappeared. How the lives of survivors can be destroyed as much as the missing, despite the fact that they seems to be carrying on as normal on the surface. It is a fascinating delve into how the ripples of disasters spread far beyond the people involved and echo down the years, especially where there are no answers as to what happened.

The way the author slowly reveals the details of what happened to both the reader and the family members left behind keeps the tension elevated and the reader eager to turn the pages. The book did not end at all how I expected, and I was fully satisfied with how the book panned out by the time I closed the back cover on the story. I feel like the author has crafted a very taut, well-plotted, fully imagined thriller with characters that remain true to themselves to the end. An extremely rewarding read.

The Castaways is out now in hardback, ebook and audiobook formats and will be published in paperback on 8 July. You can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Lucy Clarke is the bestselling author of six psychological thrillers – THE SEA SISTERS, A SINGLE BREATH, THE BLUE/NO ESCAPE, LAST SEEN, YOU LET ME IN and THE CASTAWAYS. Her debut novel was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick, and her books have been sold in over 20 territories.

Lucy is a passionate traveller and fresh air enthusiast. She’s married to a professional windsurfer and, together with their two young children, they spend their winters travelling and their summers at home on the south coast of England. Lucy writes from a beach hut.

Connect with Lucy:

Website: http://www.lucy-clarke.com/

Facebook: Lucy Clarke Author

Twitter: @lucyclarkebooks

Instagram: @lucyclarke_author

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The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett #BookReview

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The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Ten years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ story lines intersect?

Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.

I am so behind with the reading and reviews for this challenge but I am determined to catch up! So today I am reviewing the book I chose for the eighth category in the challenge, ‘Read a book by a BAME author’ and the book I have chosen is one of the top books from 2020, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett.

(For those with very eagle eyes, I have missed out category seven, I know. I had to stop reading the book I chose for that category part way through because of the demands of blog tour books and haven’t had chance to go back to it yet. It’s coming soon, I promise!)

This book is an eye-opening exploration of what it meant to grow up in the segregated south of the US in the 1950s and the practice of ‘passing,’ where light-skinned people of colour would pass themselves off as white to avoid the stigma and hardship inflicted on their community. The lengths that people would go to, the sacrifices they were prepared to make, and the consequences of these decisions that echo down the generations are all addressed in this novel with tenderness, understanding and compassion in a book that is beautiful and illuminating but deeply melancholy to read.

Desiree and Stella Vignes are identical twins growing up in the small Southern town of Mallard, where being a light-skinned person of colour is revered and those with darker-skin are shunned. Both sisters leave the town for New Orleans, but then their paths diverge. Desiree later returns to Mallard with her daughter, who has very dark skin, whilst Stella lives as a white woman, having to hide her real self from everyone around her, including her own daughter. However, order is disrupted and secrets come to light when the cousins unexpectedly meet.

This book examines in detail the idea of transformation. Aside from Stella, there are other characters in the book who start off as one thing and, through determination and force of will, morph and mould themselves into something different, all for different reasons. The author looks at how these metamorphoses are viewed by the people around them, and how being true to yourself, your identity, ambitions and desires, can alienate you from the people you love. Are these sacrifices worth it? Which course has made the person happiest in the end? What does it mean to really be true to oneself? How does it feel to hate the body you were born in? To be persecuted for merely being who you are?

The author’s writing is absolutely stunning, and I thought she explored every facet of the story and the themes with real care and deep thought, which provoked the same reaction in me, as the reader. The book is s slow, gentle but demanding read, not one which is full of action and startling event. It is entirely character-focused, which I loved but I know does not appeal to everyone. The themes addressed are complex, sometime controversial and make for an uneasy emotional reaction. It was a book that left me examining my thoughts and feelings on the issues for a long while afterwards, and I know it is a book that will linger in the back of my mind for a long while, and one I will probably return to soon. I listened to it as an audiobook – the narrator did a great job – and I fully intend to return to it again in physical format to see if there is more I can get from it.

I understand fully why this book has been the hit it has and why it was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize For Fiction. A memorable and accomplished novel that really rewards and provoked the reader.

The Vanishing Half is out now in all formats and you can find your copy here or at all good book shops.

About the Author

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Born and raised in Southern California, Brit Bennett graduated from Stanford University and later earned her MFA in fiction at the University of Michigan. Her debut novel The Mothers was a New York Times bestseller, and her second novel The Vanishing Half was an instant #1 New York Times bestseller. She is a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree and in 2021, she was chosen as one of Time’s Next 100 Influential People. Her essays have been featured in The New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, and Jezebel.

Connect with Brit:

Website: https://britbennett.com/

Facebook: Brit Bennett Writes

Twitter: @britrbennett

Instagram: @britrbennett

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The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: All American Boys by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely #BookReview

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Two teens–one black, one white–grapple with the repercussions of a single violent act that leaves their school, their community, and, ultimately, the country bitterly divided by racial tension.

A bag of chips. That’s all sixteen-year-old Rashad is looking for at the corner bodega. What he finds instead is a fist-happy cop, Paul Galluzzo, who mistakes Rashad for a shoplifter, mistakes Rashad’s pleadings that he’s stolen nothing for belligerence, mistakes Rashad’s resistance to leave the bodega as resisting arrest, mistakes Rashad’s every flinch at every punch the cop throws as further resistance and refusal to STAY STILL as ordered. But how can you stay still when someone is pounding your face into the concrete pavement?

There were witnesses: Quinn Collins–a varsity basketball player and Rashad’s classmate who has been raised by Paul since his own father died in Afghanistan–and a video camera. Soon the beating is all over the news and Paul is getting threatened with accusations of prejudice and racial brutality. Quinn refuses to believe that the man who has basically been his savior could possibly be guilty. But then Rashad is absent. And absent again. And again. And the basketball team–half of whom are Rashad’s best friends–start to take sides. As does the school. And the town. Simmering tensions threaten to explode as Rashad and Quinn are forced to face decisions and consequences they had never considered before.

It’s category five in the Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge, ‘Read a book by two authors.’ For this category I have chosen the award-winning YA novel, All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely.

Dealing with a subject matter that has been at the forefront of media attention over the last twelve months due to the killing of George Floyd, this would be a great book to give a teen who wanted to read something that grapples with issues that they see in the news in a way that is approachable but also makes them think and try and understand the tensions that arise after such incidents.

The book is told from the dual viewpoints of Rashad, the victim of the violent act, and Quinn, his classmate and friend of the brother of the policeman involved in the arrest. Quinn is very torn between loyalty, and the tensions that arise in his school as everyone begins to take sides. It is a very effective way to present the different perspectives on the events of the book and to see how people are pressured to taking a stand for one side or another, and how the tension spreads quickly through a community. The subject is dealt with very sensitively, and it really brought the reality of the fallout from these events home in a way that we can all relate to.

The book is emotional and difficult to read in parts, but these are issues that need to be brought into the open and discussed in the light, even if that makes us uncomfortable, so I would highly recommend this as a book you can give to young people in your life as a way of introducing them to the topic and giving you a jumping off point for discussion. I am certainly going to be encouraging my teenage daughters to read it as another step in the conversations I have already had with them following the events of the last twelve months.

The writing between the two authors is seamless, you wouldn’t know it was co-authored if you hadn’t been told, but I am sure the input of both made this book the balanced and considered telling of the story that it is. A great and important read, especially for the young adults it is aimed at.

All American Boys is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Authors

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Jason Reynolds is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, a Newbery Award Honoree, a Printz Award Honoree, a two-time National Book Award finalist, a Kirkus Award winner, a two-time Walter Dean Myers Award winner, an NAACP Image Award Winner, and the recipient of multiple Coretta Scott King honors. He’s also the 2020-2021 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. His many books include StampedWhen I Was the GreatestThe Boy in the Black SuitAll American Boys (cowritten with Brendan Kiely), As Brave as YouFor Every One, the Track series (GhostPatinaSunny, and Lu), Look Both Ways, and Long Way Down, which received a Newbery Honor, a Printz Honor, and a Coretta Scott King Honor. He lives in Washington, DC.

Website: https://www.jasonwritesbooks.com/

Facebook: Jason Reynolds

Twitter: @JasonReynolds83

Instagram: @jasonreynolds83

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Brendan Kiely is the New York Times bestselling author of All American Boys (with Jason Reynolds), The Last True Love StoryThe Gospel of WinterTradition, and The Other Talk. His work has been published in ten languages; received a Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award, the Walter Dean Myers Award, and the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award; has twice been awarded Best Fiction for Young Adults by the American Library Association; and has been a Kirkus Reviews Best Book. Originally from the Boston area, he now lives in New York City.

Connect with Brendan:

Website: https://www.brendankiely.com/

Twitter: @KielyBrendan

Instagram: @brendankiely

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Book Review: A Favor for a Favor by Nat Chelloni

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“Forget favors given; remember those received.” – John Wooden

A time for love can’t be more deadly…

Julia Leonardi thought she put her past behind her. The widow of a mobster, all she wants is to steer clear of the criminal elements. Then she meets Domenico Bonacci…

Dom is handsome, charming, and intense. The world knows him as a prominent businessman, but Julia sees him as everything she fought to escape.

Once the scion of a powerful Mafia family Dom left the world of organized crime after his father’s death. And he swore he would never go back.

No matter how hard she tries, Julia can’t seem to ignore the powerful spark of attraction between them and her growing feelings for him. But when Dom’s shady past catches up with him, the two forbidden lovers find themselves trapped in a deadly game.

Will Dom renege on his vow and lose the woman he loves, or he will manage to break free of his past for once and for all?

This wouldn’t be the kind of book I would normally read, romantic suspense is not a genre I read much, but it is good to go out of your comfort zone every now and again and I do like to support debut authors, so I thought I would give it a try.

The main protagonist is Julia, the daughter of a Mafia boss who was married and widowed young due to a feud between underworld gangs and has since turned her back on that world, determined never to suffer that heartbreak again. However, when all your family are connected, it is hard to escape that world completely. Then she meets Dom, the son of a murdered don who also claims to have left that world, but Julia isn’t sure and is resisting her undeniable attraction to him.

The book starts off in dramatic form with their first meeting, and the initial impressions I formed of Dom weren’t great. In fact, if I hadn’t been mindful of the genre I was reading and determined to keep an open mind, I might have walked away quite early because he is everything I hate in a man and the thought of him being a love interest to anyone was off-putting. The author does include a trigger warning for this part, and I can see why it is needed, but I ploughed on and it turned out that first impressions can be deceptive. Dom did grow on me, although I’m not sure I ever got completely past his initial behaviour.

There are lots of great characters in this book, and lots of action. It was interesting to read a book set in an alien world, and see all the tensions and relationships that are involved, see how matters are negotiated and resolved. I could sympathise with Julia’s dilemma of being attracted to a man but resisting because she isn’t sure of his lifestyle, and I think this played out well. There is a lot of sexual heat in the book between the two main characters, which is well written and believable. If you enjoy this type of book, and this type of relationship, I think this book will work well for you.

The book has a few problems. Some of the pacing was a little uneven, and it did plough some of the same issues repeatedly, but overall I enjoyed it as a step outside my comfort zone. After my initial baulking at Dom, I was gripped by the story and wanted to know how it ended. I can’t tell you it has been the book that converted me to a romantic suspense groupie, but then I’m not sure that book exists, because it is just not my bag. However, it is a really excellent debut, I would not have known this was a first book if I hadn’t been told, and I’m sure fans of the genre would be delighted with it.

A Favor for a Favor is out now and you can buy it in paperbook or ebook here.

About the Author

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Nat Chelloni is a TV personality, a screenwriter, a film critic, an avid book reader across all genres, and now a published author of a debut novel A Favor For a Favor. Nat’s overactive imagination and a passion for storytelling have finally found an outlet.

Connect with Nat:

Facebook: Nat Chelloni

Twitter: @natchelloni

Instagram: @nat.chelloni

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