Desert Island Books: Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy

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Generous-hearted Benny Hogan and the elfin Eve Malone have been best friends for years, growing up in sleepy Knockglen. Their one thought is to get to Dublin, to university and to freedom…

On their first day at University College, the inseparable pair are thrown together with fellow students: beautiful but selfish Nan Mahon and the handsome Jack Foley.

But trouble is brewing for Benny and Eve’s new circle of friends and, before long, they find passion, tragedy – and the independence they yearned for.

The sixth book I am taking to my desert island to be read endlessly until my sad demise is Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy.

Maeve Binchy is one of my all time favourite authors, and a huge inspiration to me, as she writes in the genre that I am attempting myself, emotional women’s fiction. Not only writes in it, is the doyenne of the genre. I have been a huge fan since I first borrowed a copy of Light A Penny Candle from my mother’s book shelf in my late teens. From that very first reading, I fell in love with her writing. Her gimlet eye for human nature. Her empathetic portrayal of emotion and the intimate frailties of the lives of real people. Her vivid portrayals of daily life in rural Ireland from the 1950s until modern times, and particularly the lives of Catholic women. Her books are a masterclass in how to write women’s fiction, and I am a true disciple, as my Maeve Binchy shelf will attest. I once saw someone dismiss her writing as ‘chicklit.’ Leaving aside the hot debate about the use of this intentionally derogatory term for books that are enjoyed by millions of women – and men – the world over, to label her work as chicklit is to fundamentally misunderstand it.

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Of all of her wonderful books, Circle of Friends has always been my favourite. It had a big impact on me when I first read it, and that impact has not lessened over the dozens of re-readings I have made of this book over the years, including the latest. The story still moves me emotionally, draws me in to its world and holds me in its grasp until the very last page, even though I know what is coming and how it ends. The ability to do this, to include layers of complexity and feeling so that the reader is held in thrall every time is a rare and beautiful skill that she possessed in boatloads and is the reason that her books have been bestsellers for decades, and are still popular many years after her death. Even now, new stage adaptations of her books are being written to delight audiences who can’t get enough of her intimate portrayals of women.

This book tells the story of the friendship of Benny Hogan and Eve Malone as they grow up as children in rural Ireland in the 1950s and eventually leave their small town to go to university in Dublin, and how the contrast between the small, safe childhoods they have known and navigating the expanded world of college, new friends and the city, impacts them individually and as friends.

Ireland, a strict Catholic country in the 1950s, held specific difficulties for women, but also the same challenges that we have faced the world over for centuries and, how the two girls navigate these challenges and support each other at the same time is at the core of the book and what will speak to women reading this book everywhere. Many of the issues that Maeve addresses are universal and will inevitably lead to the reader being able to identify with at least one of the characters in the book or one of the situations they have to face. Female friendship is an enduring topic in women’s literature, and one that is at the centre of many of Maeve’s books, and this one in particular.

Benny Hogan is one of my favourite ever characters in a novel, and one I always have, and still do, identify with strongly. The author does such an amazing job of portraying her insecurity and vulnerability through childhood and into her teenage years that I defy anyone not to be firmly on her side from the beginning of this book, not to see some aspect of themselves and any fear they have ever had about their place in the world reflected back at them. This then makes Benny the perfect character to draw us in to this story of a young, gauche girl trying to navigate the new and intimidating world of university, far away from home and all the security she has known. These are emotions that most of us can relate to in one way or another and, as such, it is impossible not to celebrate her successes in this new world and suffer her heartbreak at the same time she does. This book takes me back to my teenage years, the overwhelming emotions that you feel falling in love for the first time, how one person can come to mean everything to you and that relationship, the tornado of feelings that are unleashed and seem uncontrollable, how the end of the relationship feels like the end of the world; I remember it all and relive it again through the pages of this book.

Maeve’s writing is so tender and knowing, she really understands what makes people tick and is able to portray this in a way that makes us understand it too, but effortlessly, so you can’t even see how she is doing it. The lives of these women, their relationships and the settings of the stories come alive on the page, it is like watching a technicolour movie, and you can’t even see the joins. She writes the way I want to write, and I have spent a lot of time looking at how she does it, in the vain hope I can emulate her to some small degree. There was a discussion in my writing circle only yesterday about describing settings in books, how to do it vividly but discretely. Anyone wanting to see how it is done could do a lot worse than reading this book.

Maeve’s work led me on to reading a lot of other Irish writers who quickly became huge favourites of mine, Marian Keyes and Cathy Kelly to name but two, and on to people such as Veronica Henry and Erica James, who also write this genre similarly beautifully and who are all heroes of mine. But Maeve Binchy is the reason I feel in love with this genre in the beginning and she will always hold a special place in my heart. I miss her still and my desert island would not feel like home without my copy of Circle of Friends.

You can buy a copy of Circle of Friends here.

About the Author

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Maeve Binchy was born in County Dublin and educated at the Holy Child convent in Killiney and at University College, Dublin. After a spell as a teacher she joined the IRISH TIMES.

Her first novel, LIGHT A PENNY CANDLE, was published in 1982 and she went on to write over twenty books, all of them bestsellers. Several have been adapted for cinema and television, including TARA ROAD. Maeve Binchy received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the British Book Awards in 1999 and the Irish PEN/A.T. Cross award in 2007. In 2010 she was presented with the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award at the Bord Gáis Irish Book Awards by the President of Ireland.

She was married to the writer and broadcaster Gordon Snell for 35 years, and died in 2012.

Tempted by… Between The Pages Book Club: Are You Watching? by Vincent Ralph

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Ten years ago, Jess’s mother was murdered by the Magpie Man.

She was the first of his victims, but not the last.

Now Jess is the star of a YouTube reality series and she’s using it to catch the killer once and for all.

The whole world is watching her every move.

And so is the Magpie Man.

Today’s Tempted By… is a book I picked up after reading a review by Gemma on her blog, Between The Pages Book ClubI don’t read huge amounts of Young Adult literature (probably because I’m a middle-aged adult!), but Are You Watching? by Vincent Ralph sounded like a book that would appeal to all ages.

This book was recommended to Gemma by a fellow blogger and, as good books always are, Gemma’s subsequent recommendation appealed to me for a number of reasons. Gemma’s review makes it sound like the kind of book you can’t put down, and I really like the premise of a girl using a reality TV show to hunt down the killer of her mother. It sounds very different to anything I have come across before, and I am intrigued to see how the plot plays out. I think the blurb is really clever at being enticing without giving too much away!

I like the thought of the plot being terrifying, who doesn’t enjoy a good scare from time to time, and Gemma says that she didn’t guess who had done it, so the mystery sounds complex too. When an admired blogger gives a read five stars, calls it one of her books of the year and tells you she read it all in a day, it is definitely something I want to pick up!

Make sure you pop over and check out Gemma’s review of the book and her blog in general. I really love the quote she has at the top of her homepage, it is a sentiment I could not agree with more!

Are You Watching? is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Tempted by … Macsbooks: Scorched Grounds by Debbie Herbert

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In the eighteen years since her father went to prison for killing her mother and brother, Della Stallings has battled a crippling phobia. Her fear only grows when her father’s released. She still believes he killed her family, but the police don’t have enough evidence to arrest him again.

When new grisly murders occur—each bearing the telltale signs that seem to implicate her father—Della begins to wonder if the real murderer is still out there. Could her father have been framed?

To find the truth, Della must face her greatest fears and doubts—not only to find justice for her family but to ensure her own survival.

Today’s Tempted By… involves me being enticed to buy not one, but two books by the same author, after reading this review on the blog, Macsbooks.

I have mentioned repeatedly on the blog before my love of books set in the South of the USA, so the opening lines of the review immediately caught my attention. However, the books I normally pick up set in this region tend to be romances, family sagas or historical fiction, so I was drawn to the fact that Scorched Grounds is a dark, Southern noir thriller, quite unlike other Southern literature I’ve read, so I knew I had to grab a copy. In addition, who wouldn’t want to read a thriller set in a town called Normal, which promises to be anything but. When I saw that this was the second book set in this location, I decided to get them both and read them in order, so you can see my copy of Cold Waters peeping out underneath.

Is it me, or does anyone else really want to go and see what the real Normal, Alabama is like after reading this review, or is that an odd reaction to have after seeing this creepy cover?

I really enjoy following Mac’s blog as, being in the States, she often reviews books that I am not coming across on many of the blogs run by UK bloggers and I really enjoy that diversity. She also has a very approachable reviewing style, and I enjoy catching up with her mini reviews. Her blog always seems fresh and vibrant, make sure you check it out if you haven’t done so before. You can find her at https://macsbooks311.wordpress.com

If you now fancy taking a literary trip to Normal, Alabama yourself via Debbie Herbert’s writing, you can grab your own copy of Scorched Grounds, here.

 

Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel Of The Year 2020: International Shortlist Revealed For Crime Writing’s Premiere Prize

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The shortlist for the 16th Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year has been announced, taking the reader on an international crime spree from New York to Calcutta, London to Lagos via Glasgow and the Australian outback.

Chosen by a public vote and the prize Academy, the titles in contention for this most prestigious of prize’s – which feature five Theakston award alumni and one debut novelist – showcase exceptional variety and originality, including spy espionage, historical crime, gallows humour, outback noir and serial killing siblings.

The news coincides with updated lockdown reading research from Nielsen Book showing that the genre is continuing to soar in popularity, a trend led by younger readers and men. Alongside an increase in the overall number of crime and thriller novels in the bestseller charts, even more people are turning to the genre in lockdown, particularly younger readers (18-44). Of the three quarters saying that their fiction interests have changed, 26% say that crime and thriller has become their genre of choice.

Marking a meteoric rise since being selected by Val McDermid as a spotlight author in the 2019 Festival’s highly respected ‘New Blood’ panel, Oyinkan Braithwaite remains in pursuit of the coveted trophy with the Booker nominated My Sister, the Serial Killer. Based in Nigeria, Braithwaite is the only debut author remaining, and one of the youngest ever to be shortlisted. Inspired by the black widow spider, Braithwaite turns the crime genre on its head with a darkly comic exploration of sibling rivalry, exploring society’s feelings towards beauty and perfection.

The remaining five authors on the shortlist are all previous contenders hoping 2020 is their year to claim the trophy. The legendary Mick Herron, likened to John Le Carré, has picked up a fifth nomination with Joe Country, the latest in his espionage masterclass Slough House. A former legal editor, Herron’s commute from Oxford to London led to the creation of this much-lauded series, which is currently being adapted for television with Gary Oldman taking on the iconic role of Jackson Lamb.

Scottish-Bengali author Abir Mukherjee is vying for the title with Smoke & Ashes, described by The Times as one of the best crime novels since 1945. Accountant turned bestseller, Mukherjee was shortlisted in 2018 for the first book in the Wyndham & Banerjee series set in Raj-era India, The Rising Man. Smoke & Ashes – the third  instalment – is set in 1921 in Calcutta, where Mukherjee’s parents grew up and where he spent six weeks each year during his childhood.

Authors making it through to the shortlist for the first time include Glasgow’s Helen Fitzgerald for Worst Case Scenario, which marks her first appearance on the Theakston list since The Cry, adapted into a major BBC drama starting Jenna Colman, was longlisted in 2013. Packed with gallows humour, Worst Case Scenario takes inspiration from Fitzgerald’s time as a criminal justice social worker in Glasgow’s Barlinnie Prison, alongside her experiences with depression and going through the menopause.

Despite receiving international recognition, before Belfast’s Adrian McKinty started writing The Chain – for which he picks up his second Theakston nod – he had been evicted from his home and was working as an Uber driver to make ends meet. Persuaded to give writing one last go, McKinty started on what would become the terrifying thriller that sees parents forced to kidnap children to save their own, and for which Paramount Pictures has acquired the screen rights in a seven-figure film deal.

The final title on the shortlist is The Lost Man by former journalist Jane Harper, who was previously longlisted for her debut The Dry in 2018, for which the film adaption starring Eric Bana is due to be released this year. Inspired by the beautifully brutal Australian environment, The Lost Man explores how people live – and die – in the unforgiving outback and is a moving – particularly topical – study in the psychological and physical impact of isolation.

The full shortlist for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2020 is:

 

–                 My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Atlantic Books)

–                 Worst Case Scenario by Helen Fitzgerald (Orenda Books)

–                 The Lost Man by Jane Harper (Little, Brown Book Group, Little, Brown)

–                 Joe Country by Mick Herron (John Murray Press)

–                 The Chain by Adrian McKinty (Orion Publishing Group, Orion Fiction)

–                 Smoke and Ashes by Abir Mukherjee (VINTAGE, Harvill Secker)

Executive director of T&R Theakston, Simon Theakston, said: “Seeing the huge variety and originality within this shortlist, it comes as no surprise to hear that crime fiction is dominating our lockdown reading habits. Offering both escapism and resolution, these exceptional titles transport readers around the world and I can’t wait to see where we settle on 23 July when one of these extraordinary authors takes home the 2020 Theakston Old Peculier cask.”

The award is run by Harrogate International Festivals and supported by T&R Theakston Ltd, WHSmith and the Express, and is open to full length crime novels published in paperback from 1 May 2018 to 30 April 2019 by UK and Irish authors.

The shortlist was selected by an academy of crime writing authors, agents, editors, reviewers, members of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Programming Committee, representatives from T&R Theakston Ltd, the Express, and WHSmith, alongside a public vote.

The shortlist will be promoted in a dedicated online campaign from WHSmith, digital promotional materials will be made available for independent bookstores, and the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival’s online community – You’re Booked – features exclusive interviews and interactive content. This forms part of the Harrogate International Festival virtual season of events, HIF at Home, which presents a raft of live music, specially commissioned performances, literary events and interviews to bring a free festival experience to your own digital doorstep.

The public vote for the winner is now open on www.harrogatetheakstoncrimeaward.com, with the champion set to be revealed in a virtual awards ceremony on Thursday 23 July marking what would have been the opening evening of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. The legendary gathering – which formed part of Harrogate International Festival Summer Season – was cancelled, with much sadness, due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The winner will receive £3,000 and an engraved oak beer cask, hand-carved by one of Britain’s last coopers from Theakstons Brewery.

 

Tempted by … Syllables of Swathi: The Dilemma by B.A. Paris

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Knowing the truth will destroy her.

Keeping it secret will destroy him.

It’s Livia’s 40th birthday and she’s having the party of a lifetime to make up for the wedding she never had. Everyone she loves will be there except her daughter Marnie, who’s studying abroad. But although Livia loves Marnie, she’s secretly glad she won’t be at the party. She needs to tell Adam something about their daughter but she’s waiting until the party is over so they can have this last happy time together.

Adam wants everything to be perfect for Livia so he’s secretly arranged for Marnie to come home and surprise her on her birthday. During the day, he hears some terrible news. He needs to tell Livia, because how can the party go on? But she’s so happy, so excited – and the guests are about to arrive.

The Dilemma – how far would you go to give someone you love a last few hours of happiness?

I know the blog has been a little quiet recently, apologies. There is a lot going on to process, isn’t there? Anyway, today I’m back and reviving one of my favourite features on the blog, Tempted by…, where I feature a book I have been encouraged to buy by a review or feature from a fellow blogger. A chance to support authors and bloggers in the same post, what’s not to love about that?

So, here is a copy of The Dilemma by B. A. Paris that I went out and bought after reading this review by the lovely Priya on her blog, Syllables of Swathi.

Aside from the very striking cover (love the juxtaposition of the bright yellow against that gorgeous blue), what tempted me to pick up the book was the tantalising idea of two people keeping big secrets from one another within the confines of an intimate relationship. As soon as I read the review, I was dying to know what these devastating secrets could be and how the couple had managed to conceal them. Plus, Priya’s suggestion that the reader could either love or hate the main characters also really drew me in and made me wonder what side of the divide I might fall. I love a domestic thriller; sometimes the simplest plots are the best, and most filled with tension. I often find that the minimising of distractions from a wider circle of characters and more sprawling experiences ramps the tension right up, and it sounds like this one might be a prime example of this scenario in action.

Priya’s blog is one of my more recent discoveries, I think I have been following her for around a year now, but I am always impressed by the thoughtfulness of her reviews, and her friendly but professional approach. Her reviews are always easy and entertaining to read, and her blog is very attractively set out and easy to navigate, which is always a joy. She has a really nice mix of books and genres on there, and I am always eager to see what she has coming up. If you haven’t come across her blog before, do please go over and take a look. You can find her at http://syllablesofswathi.com, and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

If you would like to get you hands on a copy of The Dilemma after reading Priya’s review, it is out now in hardback, e-book and audiobook formats, and will be published in paperback in September. All formats can be ordered here or via your preferred independent bookseller.

Book Review: The Cactus by Sarah Haywood Narrated by Katherine Manners #AudiobookReview

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It’s never too late to bloom.

People aren’t sure what to make of Susan Green – family and colleagues find her prickly and hard to understand, but Susan makes perfect sense to herself, and that’s all she needs. At 45, she thinks her life is perfect, as long as she avoids her feckless brother, Edward – a safe distance away in Birmingham. She has a London flat which is ideal for one, a job that suits her passion for logic, and a personal arrangement providing cultural and other more intimate benefits.

Yet suddenly faced with the loss of her mother and, implausibly, with the possibility of becoming a mother herself, Susan’s greatest fear is being realised: she is losing control. When she discovers that her mother’s will inexplicably favours her brother, Susan sets out to prove that Edward and his equally feckless friend Rob somehow coerced this dubious outcome. But when problems closer to home become increasingly hard to ignore, she finds help in the most unlikely of places.

I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to get round to reviewing this book, I listening to it ages ago. I think maybe I have been afraid that I wouldn’t do the book justice, I loved it so much.

This book is the story of a very unusual woman, and her character is so perfectly formed and then tested by the author that I defy anyone not to be entranced by the story. Susan is a woman whose life is perfectly ordered. She knows exactly who she is, what she is doing, how she wants things to be, and she has it all arranged perfectly, from her flat, to her job, to her relationship of convenience with Richard, who seems to think exactly as she does. Which is a miracle, because nobody sees the world exactly as Susan does. The best thing about her, for me, is her absolute belief that she is always right, her way of approaching things is obviously correct and pretty much everyone else in the world is an idiot that needs to be tolerated at best. Her disdain for most of humanity as irredeemably stupid drips off the page and it is delightful.

You might think a woman like this would be hard to relate to as a character, but it isn’t so. I think because the author sets her up so early on with problems that we, the reader, can see are going to force her to adjust her view, because when we meet her family we can possibly understand that a great deal of her spiky ways have developed as armour against the tribulations of her early life and her dysfunctional family, and because other characters who are more likeable in the book see her as a redeemable character, so we do too. The writing is so clever in this regard, I have to tip my hat to the author.

This book is incredibly warm and funny. The situation that Sarah puts Susan in, finding herself pregnant in her forties, would be ripe for comedy in any situation but, given how ordered and uptight Susan is, the chaos of pregnancy and childbirth is magnified tenfold. There were parts of the book that had me absolutely howling with laughter. The part where she and Richard meet to discuss how they are going to handle the parenting of this unexpected child was delightful in its naivety for anyone who has children. Then the incident with the Bananagrams towards the end of the book made me laugh so hard I had tears in my eyes. I read someone else’s review of this book that claimed it was not as funny as Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, I would beg to differ, I found this much funnier.

As I have now brought up Eleanor Oliphant, I want to say that anyone who loved that book will really enjoy this one. It is a similar social misfit tale, but a completely different story. Sarah obviously has so much love for the character of Susan, it shines from the page and makes the reader fall in love with her too. I listened to this book as an audiobook in the end, even though I originally got the book via NetGalley, but when I had finished it, I immediately went and bought a hardback copy for my shelves because I know I will want to return to it again and again.

I just wanted to say a word about the audio version of this book. I think listening to it via audio gave Susan a really strong voice for me. She is from the West Midlands, and the narrator has the accent down perfectly throughout. I am not sure about you but, when I read text, even if the author places the cast in a particular location, I never read with an accent in my head. Listening to someone read with the accent really cemented Susan as alive and kicking for me, and her tone and pacing was also perfect for the character. I think this is one of those stories where the audio really enhances the story and I would highly recommend it (although it did take me several days to get the Birmingham accent out of my head after finishing the book!). The narrator was perfect and I don’t have high enough praise for her performance, as the narration makes or breaks an audiobook.

The Cactus is already on the shortlist for being one of my Top Ten books of the year. I cannot express how much I adored it. It is no surprise to me that it was chosen by Reese Witherspoon for her book club and everyone who hasn’t read it should get a copy now. It is the perfect antidote to the dark days we are currently living through and you could do a lot worse that share your isolation with Susan Green.

The Cactus is out now in all formats and you can get yourself a copy here.

About the Author

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Sarah Haywood was born in Birmingham. After studying Law, she worked in London and Birkenhead as a solicitor, in Toxteth as an advice worker, and in Manchester as an investigator of complaints about lawyers. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan University and lives in Liverpool with her husband, two sons and two ginger cats.

Connect with Sarah:

Website: https://www.sarahhaywoodauthor.com

Facebook: Sarah Haywood Author

Twitter: @SarahxHaywood

Instagram: @sarahjhaywood

Tempted by…My Chestnut Reading Tree: The Old You by Louise Voss/Where The Missing Go by Emma Rowley @jocatrobertson @damppebbles @LouiseVoss1 @emma_rowley @OrendaBooks @OrionBooks #TheOldYou #WhereTheMissingGo #bookbloggers #amreading #readingrecommendations

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I’m going to open this week’s post with the disclaimer that I had no intention of including the head of a small cocker spaniel in the photo for this post, but Lola was insistent and, in the end, you have to work with what you’ve got, don’t you?

In fact, this week’s Tempted by… has a number of differences, aside from Lola photo-bombing my book image. Firstly, this week I am featuring not one book recommendation from this blogger, but two. And secondly, the recommendations came indirectly by a popular feature on another blog. So you see, as both bloggers and authors, it is worth taking up all the opportunities for promotion that come your way as you never know how someone will stumble across your book recommendation.

So, where did this week’s recommendations come from? Well, I originally saw them on a feature on Emma Welton’s blog, damp pebbles. Each year, Emma runs an excellent series called R3COMM3ND3D, where she invites book bloggers and authors and other bookish types to recommend three books published that year that other readers should pick up. These two books were both featured on the R3COMM3ND3D2018 post by Jo Robertson of My Chestnut Reading Tree.

The little vignettes that are included with the recommendations, being a pared down version of the full review, often work really well to distill what is great about the book and ensnare the unwary book addict, and this is what happened to me. You can see those by following the link above or go, as I subsequently did, to the full reviews on Jo’s blog by following the links below:

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Lynn Naismith gave up the job she loved when she married Ed, the love of her life, but it was worth it for the happy years they enjoyed together. Now, ten years on, Ed has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, and things start to happen; things more sinister than missing keys and lost words.

As some memories are forgotten, others, long buried, begin to surface … and Lynn’s perfect world begins to crumble.

But is it Ed’s mind playing tricks, or hers…?

Here is the link for Jo’s full review of this book, and you can buy a copy of your very own here.

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MY NAME IS KATE.

I volunteer at a missing persons helpline – young people who have run away from home call me and I pass on messages to their loved ones, no questions asked.

I don’t get many phone calls, and those I do are usually short and vague, or pranks.

But today a girl named Sophie called.

I’m supposed to contact her parents to let them know their child is safe.

The problem is, Sophie isn’t safe.

AND SOPHIE IS MY DAUGHTER.

You can read Jo’s full review of the book here and, if it grabs your fancy, you can buy your own copy here.

Jo’s blog at My Chestnut Reading Tree is one of my absolute favourites and Jo is such a generous and enthusiastic supporter of other book bloggers and authors that her blog deserves all of the success it garners. She has thousands of followers, and you have to believe that all those people must be on to something, so make sure you head over to her blog and have a look around. You don’t want to miss out now, do you?

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C. A. Fletcher #BookReview (@CharlieFletch_r) @orbitbooks @TheFictionCafe @dstackedshelves #FictionCafeBookClub #FictionCafeReadingChallenge2020 #challenges #readingrecommendations #TemptedBy #YoungAdult #ABoyAndHisDogAtTheEndOfTheWorld

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My name’s Griz. I’ve never been to school, I’ve never had friends, in my whole life I’ve not met enough people to play a game of football. My parents told me how crowded the world used to be, before all the people went away, but we were never lonely on our remote island. We had each other, and our dogs.  

Then the thief came.  

He told stories of the deserted towns and cities beyond our horizons. I liked him – until I woke to find he had stolen my dog. So I chased him out into the ruins of the world. 

I just want to get my dog back, but I found more than I ever imagined was possible. More about how the world ended. More about what my family’s real story is. More about what really matters.  

Book four for the 2020 Reading Challenge for my online book club, The Fiction Cafe Book Club is in the category ‘A book with an animal on the cover’ Well, I see a dog so I think this counts!

This post also represents a special edition of my Tempted by … feature, as I bought this book after reading this fabulous review by my friend Jill over at Double Stacked Shelves. Make sure you pop over and check out her blog.

This book lived up to all Jill promised. Although it is a young adult book, readers of all ages will take away something from it, and you’d need to be some kind of curmudgeon not to enjoy it just because the writing style is pitched at a young adult reader. This is a dystopian story, a tale of adventure, an exploration of human nature and frailty, a morality tale, and a treatise on the love than humans have for their pets, all rolled in to one great book.

We meet Griz & his family at the end of days, when the human population has all but died out and the few people who are left are scattered far and wide across a barren landscape. Everyone is living a hand to mouth existence, which makes them suspicious of strangers and protective of the things they have. So when a visitor to their remote home steals Griz’s dog, he sets off in pursuit. The rest of the book then follows Griz’s journey as he travels across an unknown land to find his lost companion.

The story is gripping from the first page as we try to understand what has happened to the world and what kind of devastation humans have wreaked on themselves and the planet. It is fascinating to look through the author’s imagination to see what someone who has never experienced life as we currently live it makes of our world through the decaying remnants left behind. What kind of things are still of value to humans on the edge of existence, and what has become worthless.

The book is full of emotion, as the bonds of family are tested, and the importance of relationships, trust, understanding, empathy and kindness are explored through Griz’s journey and the challenges he meets along the way. The book explores how we can change and grow in the face of adversity, confirming the old adage, ‘That which does not kill us makes us stronger.’

I have been a huge fan of dystopian fiction since my old school librarian introduced me to the books of John Wyndham as a teenager, but I don’t remember there being any books like this specifically aimed at my age group. This book brought back echoes of those books to me, along with a sniff of Treasure Island for some reason. I was thoroughly invested in the story, and found it moving, melancholy and uplifting, all at the same time. I am also happy that I have found a book I can share with my teenage daughters and discuss and enjoy with them. A book to be passed along between generations, which makes it a great find.

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Charlie’s a screenwriter and a novelist and he lives on the edge of Edinburgh. He’s been lots of other things too – temperamentally unsuitable bar staff (grumpy, not talkative), temporary laundry manager in a big London hotel, detail-shop car-wash jockey in Reno, Nevada, despatch runner for a film company in Soho,  food critic (not a very good one, basically never met a meal he didn’t like. Or at least eat too much of), national newspaper columnist (Scotland’s a nation, right?) and a film editor at the BBC. He studied Literature at St Andrews University, and later took a grad degree in Screenwriting at USC.

He swims a lot, keeps thinking of taking up cycling, likes forgotten books, summers on the Outer Hebrides, terriers, his wife and his children – not necessarily in that order.

Connect with Charlie:

Website: http://www.charliefletcher.com

Twitter: @CharlieFletch_r

Tempted by…Chapter in my Life: Bloody January by Alan Parks @sbairden @AlanJParks @canongatebooks #BloodyJanuary #tartannoir #bookbloggers #amreading #readingrecommendations

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When a teenage boy shoots a young woman dead in the middle of a busy Glasgow street and then commits suicide, Detective Harry McCoy is sure of one thing. It wasn’t a random act of violence.

With his new partner in tow, McCoy uses his underworld network to lead the investigation but soon runs up against a secret society led by Glasgow’s wealthiest family, the Dunlops. McCoy’s boss doesn’t want him to investigate. The Dunlops seem untouchable. But McCoy has other ideas . . .

In a helter-skelter tale – winding from moneyed elite to hipster music groupies to the brutal gangs of the urban wasteland – Bloody January brings to life the dark underbelly of 1970s Glasgow and introduces a dark and electrifying new voice in Scottish noir.

Today’s Tempted by… comes courtesy of a long-established and active crime book blogger who dwells north of the border. I am, of course, talking about the marvellous Sharon Bairden of Chapter in my Life  blog and the book she persuaded me to pick up was Bloody January by Alan Parks, as featured in this blog post.

This post is long overdue, as I’ve had the book for almost a year, and Sharon’s review was also overdue when it was posted, so this book is a couple of years old now. In fact, this was the first in the Harry McCoy series, and the third book in the series, Bobby March Will Live Forever is coming out this week, so this may be the first book to feature on both Tempted by… and my new Backlist spot, who knows! Still, better late than never and a good book remains a good book, whenever you get round to reading it.

I was drawn to pick out this book because of Sharon’s description of the authenticity of time and place in the book, and and the intricacy and vividness of the plot. It sounds like a gritty, realistic, hard-hitting thriller with something to say about the place and era in which it is set, and since Sharon describes it as ‘unmissable,’ I thought I had better not miss it!

I love Sharon’s blog because it is full of such variety of content within the context of crime novels, and her reviews are always enthusiastic, detailed and considered. She is also a frequent attendee of bookish events which, as someone who would love to be able to attend but is currently somewhat hampered by single parentdom, I love to live through vicariously through her posts about them. If this sounds like something you would enjoy reading, why not pop over to Chapter in my Life and have a look around.

If you have been similarly tempted to buy a copy of Bloody January after reading Sharon’s review, you can find it here.

Tempted by…The Bookwormery: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow @lelbudge @AlixEHarrow @orbitbooks #TenThousandDoorsofJanuary #bookbloggers #amreading #readingrecommendations

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EVERY STORY OPENS A DOOR

In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored and utterly out of place.

But her quiet existence is shattered when she stumbles across a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page reveals more impossible truths about the world, and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

Today’s Tempted by… comes courtesy of Lesley over at The Bookwormery with this review of The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow.

There was one word from this review that made me buy this book, and I didn’t need any more than that to convince me to pick it up. ‘Mesmerising.’ Any book that Lesley describes as mesmerising is one that I want to read.

Aside from that, this is a book about books, about how books open the door to other worlds, or certainly that is how Lesley describes it in her review, and as a reader who understands tis completely, how could one not want to read it? There isn’t much more to the review than this, but it just goes to show that massively wordy reviews (much like the ones I tend to write!) are unnecessary and succinct reviews, if the words are chosen carefully and wisely, are just as effective, if not more so because people are less likely to get bored and switch off!

If you haven’t come across Lesley’s wonderful blog before now, you must go over and have a look. Lesley is a prolific blogger (and that is coming from someone who reads a lot), some days I can hardly keep up with her reviews but I always make sure I read them because I value her opinion and I don’t want to miss out on anything great. She is one of the reasons my TBR is so huge! If you want to take a look for yourself, you can find her blog here.

And if you would like to pick up a copy of The Ten Thousand Doors of January yourself after reading Lesley’s review, you can buy a copy here.