Review: Shatila Stories

August 8, 2018 in Book Reviews, Contemporary, Translated Literature

Review: Shatila Stories Shatila Stories by Various
Published by Peirene Press on 18th June 2018
Genres: Contemporary
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Most novels are written by professional writers using second hand material. Not this one. Peirene commissioned nine refugees to tell their ‘Shatila Stories’. The result is a piece of collaborative fiction unlike any other. If you want to understand the chaos of the Middle East – or you just want to follow the course of a beautiful love story – start here.

Adam and his family flee Syria and arrive at the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut. Conditions in this overcrowded Palestinian camp are tough, and violence defines many of the relationships: a father fights to save his daughter, a gang leader plots to expand his influence, and drugs break up a family. Adam struggles to make sense of his refugee experience, but then he meets Shatha and starts to view the camp through her eyes.

How The Book Came About

I was a bit late in finding Shatila Stories, discovering it on its publication day rather than during the Kickstarter campaign to support the publication of this book.

Commissioned by Peirene Press, Shatila Stories is a work of collaborative fiction created by nine Syrian and Palestinian refugees who reside in the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon.

The Shatila camp was founded in 1949 for 3000 Palestinians but now houses up to 40000 refugees following the Syrian crisis. It’s a camp that was made infamous by the 1982 massacre there.

Meike Ziervogel, Publisher of Peirene Press, together with London-based Syrian editor Suhir Helal, travelled to Shatila in 2017 to run a creative writing workshop. With participants ranging from 18 to 42 years old, some of whom hadn’t completed their formal schooling, and others still had never read a novel before. The Introduction shares how this process worked, how nine refugees came together with Peirene to create this work of collaborative fiction.

My Thoughts

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started reading Shatila Stories, but what I found was a power, insightful story that opened my eyes to life in the camp.

We follow various characters, many of whom are interlinked in some way. Within the overcrowded, harrowing conditions of the camp we see families trying to make ends meet, drug problems driving families apart, violence, people trying to find their place in the camp, and music bringing people together. There are so many interweaving tales that address many issues of life in the camp.

I found this book so easy to read, devouring it in a day. The quote on the cover from one of my favourite authors, Khaled Hosseini, sums up the importance of this book.

this remarkable novel isn’t about refugee voice; it is born from it and told through it

The writing may, at times, be less refined than some may be used to, but surely this can be forgiven for what is a truly inspirational project and a remarkable read.

Charitable Donation

It would be remiss of me not to tell you that Peirene will donate 50p from the sale of this book to charity, specifically Basmeh & Zeitooneh (The Smile and The Olive).

Basmeh & Zeitooneh ‘aims to create opportunities for refugees to move beyond being victims of conflict and help them to become empowered individuals who one day will return to their own country to rebuild their society.’

B&Z are currently managing nine community centres, seven in Lebanon and two in Turkey. By purchasing this book you will be supporting their projects.

The Authors

Omar Khaled Ahmad, Nibal Alalo, Safa Khaled Algharbawi, Omar Abdellatif Alndaf, Rayan Mohamad Sukkar, Safiya Badran, Fatima Omar Ghazawi, Samih Mahmoud and Hiba Mareb. Translated from Arabic by Nashua Gowanlock.

four-half-stars

Review: The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder

May 3, 2018 in Book Reviews, Contemporary, Mystery

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder The Colour of Bee Larkham's Murder by Sarah J. Harris
Published by HarperCollins on 3rd May 2018
Genres: Mystery, Contemporary
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
three-half-stars

Whatever happens, don’t tell anyone what you did to Bee Larkham…

Jasper is not ordinary. In fact, he would say he is extraordinary…

Synaesthesia paints the sounds of his world in a kaleidoscope of colours that no one else can see. But on Friday, he discovered a new colour – the colour of murder.

He’s sure something has happened to his neighbour, Bee Larkham, but no-one else seems to be taking it as seriously as they should be. The knife and the screams are all mixed up in his head and he’s scared that he can’t quite remember anything clearly.

But where is Bee? Why hasn’t she come home yet? Jasper must uncover the truth about that night – including his own role in what happened…

Thirteen-year-old Jasper lives with his ex-Royal Marine father. His mother died several years ago and he misses her. Jasper has synaesthesia. Rather than hearing sounds, Jasper sees them as colour. Every sound has its own colour, every voice its own colour palette. His mother understood this – she had synaesthesia too.

Jasper also experiences prosopagnosia, meaning that he can’t recognise faces, even his father’s. He has developed techniques to help him, the colour of people’s voices, the clothes they wear, accessories they have etc. His Dad helps him by wearing his “uniform” – certain colours that Jasper recognises, as well as calling him “son” and speaking in his ochre tone.

Jasper loves art and records the colours of the world in his paintings. Most people can’t appreciate them, but for Jasper they tell the stories of his life.

When a new neighbour, Bee Larkham, comes to the street he befriends her (her voice is sky blue, not quite the cobalt blue of his mother’s) and becomes obsessed with the parakeets in her garden, and the colours they make in his world.

When Jasper becomes convinced that Bee Larkham has been murdered, he becomes increasingly frustrated that people aren’t taking him seriously.

Told from Jasper’s perspective, we get a fascinating look into how he perceives the world. He doesn’t like change, sticks to routine, takes things literally and, consequently, misunderstands those around him. While not actually saying that Jasper is autistic, it is implied in the pages of this book.

We are taken along with Jasper as he tries to piece together what happened to Bee Larkham, all the while being desperate to protect his new friends, the parakeets.

This is an interesting read, that I certainly found educational. Personally, I wasn’t overly familiar with the conditions in this book prior to reading, so it opened my eyes.

I enjoyed the writing and the description of colours that define Jasper’s world. Also, the way we see the truth behind much of Jasper’s naive observations.

I did find it somewhat repetitive at times, but I guess that’s the point – to capture Jasper’s character.

Although this book is told from the eyes of a teenager, and is being likened by many to The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time, I feel it’s important to note that this isn’t a book for children. There are some issues in it that aren’t suitable for a younger audience.

All in all, I enjoyed this novel. I really liked Jasper and enjoyed seeing the world from his perspective, all the while trying to uncover some mysteries for myself.

three-half-stars

Review: Whistle In The Dark

May 1, 2018 in Book Reviews, Contemporary, Mystery

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Whistle In The Dark Whistle In The Dark by Emma Healey
Published by Viking on 3rd May 2018
Genres: Contemporary, Mystery
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
three-stars

Jen and Hugh Maddox have just survived every parent’s worst nightmare.

Relieved, but still terrified, they sit by the hospital bedside of their fifteen-year-old daughter, Lana, who was found bloodied, bruised, and disoriented after going missing for four days during a mother-daughter vacation in the country. As Lana lies mute in the bed, unwilling or unable to articulate what happened to her during that period, the national media speculates wildly and Jen and Hugh try to answer many questions.

Where was Lana? How did she get hurt? Was the teenage boy who befriended her involved? How did she survive outside for all those days? Even when she returns to the family home and her school routine, Lana only provides the same frustrating answer over and over: “I can’t remember.”

For years, Jen had tried to soothe the depressive demons plaguing her younger child, and had always dreaded the worst. Now she has hope—the family has gone through hell and come out the other side. But Jen cannot let go of her need to find the truth. Without telling Hugh or their pregnant older daughter Meg, Jen sets off to retrace Lana’s steps, a journey that will lead her to a deeper understanding of her youngest daughter, her family, and herself.

Jen Maddox has just been reunited with her 15-year-old daughter, Lana, following Lana’s four-day-long disappearance.

Jen and Lana had gone on a mother-daughter painting holiday when Lana went missing – sparking a huge search and nationwide missing persons campaign. Now that Lana’s back, she won’t tell anyone what happened to her. Seeing her daughter cut, battered and bruised, Jen fears for what Lana has been through. She, husband Hugh, and elder daughter Meg are also concerned for Lana’s mental health – how will this ordeal have impacted upon Lana’s depression?

I thoroughly enjoyed Emma Healey’s debut Elizabeth Is Missing (you can find my review here), so I was so excited to see Whistle In The Dark appear on NetGalley and instantly requested it. The thing is though, when you’ve loved an author’s first book, do you have unfairly high expectations for the next? I fear that was the case with this novel. I enjoyed it but I couldn’t help but compare it.

The mystery surrounding Lana’s disappearance and her unwillingness to share her story is what spurred on my reading with this book. I really did want to learn what had happened to Lana and why she wouldn’t discuss it.

I like the way the story was told from Jen’s perspective – a mother who has long tried to the best for her child, to help her through her mental health difficulties and who finds herself faced with a seemingly changed daughter, with an unknown trauma.

With Jen as narrator, we see the characters through her eyes. Her elder daughter, so together and unlike her mother, her husband who, while supportive, does seem to think she overreacts, and Lana whom she can’t get close to – can’t even tell if she likes her.

I guess I found this book to be overall a bit flat. I kept reading, kept waiting for all to unravel and I was left feeling that I wanted a bit more from this book. I really enjoy Healey’s writing, but as I said at the start, I fear I went into reading this with unfair expectations, and that probably left me feeling the way I did.

I must add though that, like Elizabeth is Missing, this book addresses some important subjects and I’m sure it will help to raise awareness.

three-stars

Review: Dear Martin

April 25, 2018 in Book Reviews, Contemporary, YA

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Dear Martin Dear Martin by Nic Stone
Published by Simon & Schuster UK on 3rd May 2018 (UK)
Genres: Contemporary, YA
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
five-stars

Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League – but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighbourhood behind, he can't escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates.

Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.

Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up – way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty police officer beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it's Justyce who is under attack.

After reading fantastic reviews upon its publication in the US, I was delighted to find Dear Martin due for publication in the UK. Wow, those reviews were right, this is a tremendously powerful book.

Justyce is a 17-year-old high school senior. He’s fourth in his graduating class, captain of the debate team and is on course for an Ivy League education in law. He’s also one of the few black guys in his school – his best friend Manny being another.

Inspired by the heartbreaking stories that we see of racial profiling by the police force in the US, this story explores what it’s like to be judged and prejudiced because of the colour of your skin.

The story begins with Jus being wrongly arrested for trying to help his drunk ex-girlfriend into the back of her car to drive her home. Evidently, the police assumed carjacking.

This sets in motion an experiment whereby Jus decides to take inspiration from the great Martin Luther King Jr – what would Martin do? Jus begins writing to Martin as his eyes are opened wider and wider to the racism that exists in his country.

I don’t want to give you much more detail than that. It’s a book that you need to read for yourself. It tackles so many prevalent issues through the life and interactions of one black teenage boy in Atlanta.

I adored Jus from the outset, his character leaps off the pages. But all of the characters in this book are important – as are the choices that many of them have to make.

This is a stunning, heartbreaking novel that should be read by ALL! I can’t find the words to do it justice. Just read it!

five-stars

Blog Tour: The Lido

April 19, 2018 in Blog Tours, Book Reviews, Contemporary

Every now and then I want to read something that is going to fill my heart, and The Lido most certainly did that. So I’m delighted to be today’s stop on The Lido blog tour – and it’s PUBLICATION DAY! So you can now get your hands on this heartwarming novel.

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Blog Tour: The Lido The Lido by Libby Page
Published by Orion on 19th April 2018
Genres: Contemporary
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
four-stars

Kate is a twenty-six-year-old riddled with anxiety and panic attacks who works for a local paper in Brixton, London, covering forgettably small stories. When she’s assigned to write about the closing of the local lido (an outdoor pool and recreation center), she meets Rosemary, an eighty-six-year-old widow who has swum at the lido daily since it opened its doors when she was a child. It was here Rosemary fell in love with her husband, George; here that she’s found communion during her marriage and since George’s death. The lido has been a cornerstone in nearly every part of Rosemary’s life.

But when a local developer attempts to buy the lido for a posh new apartment complex, Rosemary’s fond memories and sense of community are under threat.

As Kate dives deeper into the lido’s history—with the help of a charming photographer—she pieces together a portrait of the pool, and a portrait of a singular woman, Rosemary. What begins as a simple local interest story for Kate soon blossoms into a beautiful friendship that provides sustenance to both women as they galvanize the community to fight the lido’s closure. Meanwhile, Rosemary slowly, finally, begins to open up to Kate, transforming them both in ways they never knew possible.

My Summary

When the local council threaten to sell the lido in Brixton to a developer, Rosemary is devastated. She has spent over 80 years of her life swimming in that pool. It’s where she got to know her husband, where they spent many hours together, and where she went for solace after he died two years earlier.

Rosemary won’t let the lido go without a fight and so starts distributing leaflets which grab the attention of the local paper who send one of their journalists, Kate, to meet with the 86-year-old.

Kate is 26 and having moved to London, finds that her life there isn’t what she expected. She lives with strangers and faces a constant battle with panic and anxiety. Her job at the newspaper has been dull until she is given the Brockwell Lido story and meets Rosemary.

The two strike up a friendship and Kate finds that the lido is really as special as Rosemary says. Together they take up the fight to save the pool, and in doing so save one another.

My Thoughts

I love stories of friendships across generations, so I really had high hopes for this book and I’m so pleased to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I loved the characters of both Rosemary and Kate. While we join them in their fight to save the lido, we also go back in time with Rosemary and follow the story of her life with her husband George. I really appreciated the way this dual storytelling worked, eventually merging to the current timeline.

This novel looks at the changing world we live in, where cornerstones of local communities are being lost and replaced by new, often inaccessible to most, accommodations and facilities.  I liked the way that we are introduced to the community along with Kate. We uncover the wonders of the lido as she does, and meet the community that she has until now been oblivious to, along with her.

There’s so much to like in this story and it is wonderfully told. It’s the kind of book that feels like a hug. It’s so easy to read and such a joy to read. It’s an uplifting tale and is perfect for filling your heart with warmth.

My Rosemary!

As part of the tour I’ve been asking who my Rosemary is. I am lucky to have had many wonderful relationships with older people over the years. There’s one lady who stands out to me though; she is one of my favourite people in the world. We get on so well despite our 50 year age gap and I just adore being in her company. I’m not joking when I tell you we’ve been separated at the dinner table before so that we’ll behave!

Who is your Rosemary?

four-stars