Review: Jar of Hearts

August 14, 2018 in Book Reviews, Thriller

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

Review: Jar of Hearts Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier
Published by Corvus on 2nd August 2018
Genres: thriller
Format: Paperback
Source: Readers First
Goodreads
four-stars

Georgina, known as Geo, is a 30-year-old rising executive when her world comes crashing down. Her high school boyfriend has been identified and arrested for a series of serial murders, including Angela, Geo's best friend in high school. Angela disappeared without a trace at 16 and her body has just been found. Now Geo is under arrest for helping her then-boyfriend cover it up. And it's one of her other close friends from high school, Kaiser Brody, who arrests her.

While Geo is sent to prison for her part, Calvin escapes from custody and is on the run. Geo, now thirty-five, is about to be released from prison to try and start over. But someone has started killing people and dumping their bodies in her old neighbourhood, with some of the markers of the missing Sweetbay Strangler—her old boyfriend Calvin. Is these killings some kind of message from Calvin? Are they some of revenge? Is she herself now in danger?

Everything turns on what really happened that tragic night back when Geo and Angela were high schoolers. Everyone thinks they know the truth, but there are dark secrets buried deep within other secrets, and it may be too late for anyone to survive the truth.

A Wee Summary

Jar of Hearts opens in the midst of a trial; executive Georgina Shaw, Geo, is giving evidence relating to the death of her childhood best friend, Angela Wong, 14 years ago, when they were just 16 years old.

Angela’s remains had been hidden all these years. Now Geo’s teenage boyfriend, Calvin James, is on trial for her murder, with Georgina herself facing a prison term.

Over the course of the book, we uncover what happened the night of Angela’s death – traversing from the current time to Geo’s high school days.

Five years on from the trial and Geo has finished her time in the Hazelwood Correctional Institute and is facing the challenge of rebuilding her life as an ex-con. Upon getting out, she finds out that, having escaped from prison, Calvin James (aka the Sweetbay Strangler) is being hunted by the police for new, horrendous murders, each of which appear to contain a message for Geo.

My Thoughts

Jar of Hearts is impossible to put down! It’s actually really hard to describe this book without spoilers. It’s a clever novel that is packed with suspense. Hillier toys with her readers’ emotions when it comes to Geo – at times I hated her and then suddenly I wanted to give her a hug; she’s such a well written character.

It’s a gritty novel and I should warn you that its contents may prove distressing to some (View Spoiler »). It doesn’t shy away from detail and yet at no point does it feel gratuitous – it’s essential to the story.

There’s quite a cast of character in this novel, Hillier has a gift for bringing them all to life, no matter how brief their appearance.

This is a well written novel that will keep you thinking and desperate to read on. It’s a twisty, gritty thriller that will capture your attention from the first page, holding it until the very last.

four-stars

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: Wonderbook: An Illustrated Guide To Creating Imaginative Fiction

July 3, 2018 in Book Reviews, Non-Fiction

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.

Review: Wonderbook: An Illustrated Guide To Creating Imaginative Fiction Wonderbook: An Illustrated Guide To Creating Imaginative Fiction Published by Abrams on 3rd July 2018 (revised edition)
Genres: Non-Fiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Since its release in 2013, Wonderbook has become the definitive guide to writing imaginative fiction by offering an accessible, example-rich approach that emphasises the importance of playfulness as well as pragmatism. It also exploits the visual nature of genre culture and employs bold, full-colour drawings, maps, renderings and visualisations by Jeremy Zerfoss to stimulate creative thinking. On top of that, the book features sidebars and essays from some of the biggest names working in the field today, including George R. R. Martin, Lev Grossman, Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock and Karen Joy Fowler.

Writers such as the wonderful V.E. Schwab have ignited in me an interest in the craft of writing (Schwab’s YouTube and Instagram accounts are definitely worth watching).

With this new flame of interest, I came across the revised and expanded, 5th-anniversary edition of Wonderbook: An Illustrated Guide To Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer that is published today by Abrams.

It truly is a Wonderbook – packed full of advice, stunning illustrations and easy to digest chapters.

Let me first say that I haven’t read many books about writing, so I can’t compare Wonderbook to other books on the market. However, I can share my thoughts and experience with the book.

Content

Jeff VanderMeer has incorporated so much into the pages of this book (including an additional 50 pages of diagrams, illustrations and writing exercises in this anniversary edition), with chapters on:

  • Inspiration and the Creative Life
  • The Ecosystem of Story
  • Beginnings and Endings
  • Narrative Design
  • Characterisation
  • World Building
  • Revision

Wonderbook has an interactive feel with ‘guides’ Myster Odd, the Little Aliens, the Devil’s Advocate, the All-Seeing Pen-Eye and the Webinator popping up throughout its pages. These guides expand upon the text, highlight important sections, suggesting counterpoint views, challenging you to a writing exercise, or referring you to the Wonderbook website for further information.

For me, I loved this quirky, informal style. I’m all about having fun while learning so this was right up my street.

A book describing how to create imaginative fiction may seem intimidating, but VanderMeer breaks everything down for us. It’s a book that is possible to dip into for fifteen minutes a day, or lose yourself in for several hours.

Illustrations

The illustrations in this book are stunning as well as thought-provoking. For me, they helped to reaffirm that which I’d read in the text. I’m quite a visual person so the colourful diagrams and illustrations are a much-appreciated addition.

I can’t tell you how much this book has taught me. As a reader, I find myself paying far more attention to writers’ styles, choices, and structures now. Wonderbook has provided me with the tools to identify these aspects of craft and start to analyse why and how they have been used.

Contributions & Appendices

I must mention the sidebar essays that have been contributed by such authors as Neil Gaiman, Ursula K. Le Guin, and George R. R. Martin (his interview on the craft of writing is very interesting). These are fascinating interludes offering different perspectives and some insight into the writing of such accomplished authors.

Finally, I must mention the Workshop Appendix, which has a plethora of resources and challenges.

It just so happened that I have been reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie while simultaneously working my way through Wonderbook. So, the appendix analysing Americanah and Adichie’s creative decisions such as Point of View switched in the novel has been fascinating to me. I’m still working through this appendix, but this is just an example of the gems that are included within Wonderbook.

Conclusions

This book is not only educational and enlightening, but it’s entertaining too. VanderMeer has packed SO much into this book. He’s evidently spent considerable time and thought on not only the content itself, but its delivery and structure. It’s a beautifully produced book.

This is an incredibly useful and insightful book that you don’t need to be a writer to enjoy. As a reader, I’ve learned so much and will take it with me into every piece of fiction that I read.

four-half-stars

Review: A Thousand Perfect Notes

June 6, 2018 in Book Reviews, YA

Review: A Thousand Perfect Notes A Thousand Perfect Notes by C.G. Drews
Published by Orchard Books on 7th June 2018
Genres: YA, Contemporary
Format: Paperback
Source: Subscription Box
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Beck hates his life. He hates his violent mother. He hates his home. Most of all, he hates the piano that his mother forces him to play hour after hour, day after day. He will never play as she did before illness ended her career and left her bitter and broken. But Beck is too scared to stand up to his mother, and tell her his true passion, which is composing his own music - because the least suggestion of rebellion on his part ends in violence.

When Beck meets August, a girl full of life, energy and laughter, love begins to awaken within him and he glimpses a way to escape his painful existence. But dare he reach for it?

Ever since I came across Cait’s (the author’s) blog, Paper Fury, several years ago, I’ve been waiting for the day that I’d get to hold her book in my hands and savour more of her writing. That day has finally arrived with A Thousand Perfect Notes gracing the shelves TOMORROW (7th June 2018), and it was definitely worth waiting for!

A Tiny Summary

Beck Keverich, 15, lives with his 5-year-old sister, Joey and his mother, whom he calls The Maestro. In her earlier years his mother had been a famous pianist. Now, The Maestro pins all of her hopes and dreams on Beck’s shoulders as she forces him to practice the piano constantly, to the detriment of the other aspects of his life.

His mother left Germany with him when he was young, but his uncle still lives there – a world-famous pianist and composer who continues to promote the Keverich name. The Maestro is determined that Beck will live up to that famous name.

Beck and Joey live in poverty – going hungry and lacking in clothes as their mother has spent all of her savings on the piano that she insists Beck plays at all hours of the day and night. She wants Beck to emulate her, but what does Beck what? It isn’t until August enters his life that he starts to wonder this for himself.

My Thoughts

This book was an emotional rollercoaster. Beck’s mother abuses him, dictates his life, destroys his confidence and beats him. All the while, Beck tries to protect Joey and allow her some semblance of childhood.

The characters in this book are marvellous. I adored Beck, Joey and August and the interactions between them are simply fantastic. Drews had me snorting with laughter one minute (which is rare for me when reading), and had my heart breaking the next.

I don’t tend to read many YA contemporaries but this book drew me in from the first page. If you read Cait’s blog, you’ll feel her style leaping off the page. Her characters are so real, her writing is stunning and, as one would expect from Cait, this book is laced with delicious food!

Truly, this is an incredible debut that managed to tackle such important and difficult issues, while still entertaining the reader. I devoured this book and I’m sure you will too!

Apparently, this wonderful book hasn’t been picked up by US publishers yet, so if you’re in the US remember you can still get your hands on this gem via Book Depository (not an affiliate link).

I can’t wait for Drews’ next book, The Boy Who Steals Houses, which is out in 2019. In the meantime, I’ll continue to get my fix of Cait’s writing over on her blog Paper Fury.  If for some strange reason you aren’t already a visitor to her blog, I suggest you do the same. Oh and read A Thousand Perfect Notes – it’s not to be missed!

four-half-stars

Blog Tour: The Goose Road Review & Giveaway

April 5, 2018 in Blog Tours, Book Reviews, Closed Giveaways, Historical Fiction, YA

I’m delighted to be today’s stop on the blog tour for The Goose Road. The book is out today, so you can now get your hands on a copy! Or, be sure to check out the giveaway at the end of this post.

The Goose Road is the debut novel by Rowena House and is being published by Walker to coincide with the centenary of the end of the First World War.

I’m delighted to bring to you an extract from The Goose Road. But before that, I thought I’d share a bit of the synopsis and my own thoughts on the book.

Blog Tour: The Goose Road Review & Giveaway The Goose Road by Rowena House
Published by Walker on 5th April 2018
Genres: YA, Historical Fiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
three-half-stars

France 1916. Angélique Lacroix is haymaking when the postman delivers the news: her father is dead, killed on a distant battlefield. She makes herself a promise: the farm will remain exactly the same until her beloved older brother comes home from the Front. "I think of it like a magical spell. If I can stop time, if nothing ever changes, then maybe he won’t change either." But a storm ruins the harvest, her mother falls ill and then the requisition appears... In a last-ditch attempt to save the farm from bankruptcy, Angélique embarks on a journey across France with her brother's flock of magnificent Toulouse geese.

 

 

My Thoughts

Living in the French countryside, Angélique and her mother are working hard to keep their family farm running while Angélique’s father and brother, Pascal, are away, fighting for France.

Upon hearing of her father’s death in combat, Angélique finds that she must raise funds in order to keep their beloved farm afloat for her brother’s much-anticipated return home.

Having lost most of their livestock to the Requisition, all that remains are her brother’s prized Toulouse Geese. With her mother grief-stricken, it falls to Angélique to find the funds to save what is now her brother’s farm.  Fuelled by sibling love and determination, she decides to sell the geese. But in order to attain the kind of money she needs, she is going to have to risk her life and take her geese closer to the front lines.

So, accompanied by her Uncle, she sets off to cross wartorn France with her magnificent geese.

Blending fact with fiction, House has created a beautiful, memorable tale. Through the character of 14-year-old Angélique Lacroix we embark on a journey into the terrifying unknown, driven by the love of a sister for her brother.

It’s a story that, although written for ages 12 and up, can be enjoyed by all. Angélique is a loveable character, a strong heroine who sets out to do what is right. Through her eyes we see the horrors of war, the toll it takes on survivors and the lives of the civilians struggling to survive. Personally, I appreciated the way the facts of the war were conveyed. I felt that it didn’t shy away from any truths but was conveyed through the eyes of an innocent 14-year-old, thus making it perhaps more manageable for the target audience.

Angélique’s love of animals stole my heart. I grew up helping on my father’s croft, so I could absolutely appreciate Angélique’s love for her livestock. I think House successfully portrays the importance of their animals, their livelihood and the impact that the Requisition had on small communities.

All in all, this is a powerful, beautifully written story. It’ll simultaneously hurt and warm your heart, and I challenge you not to fall in love with Napolean Bonaparte the gander!

That’s enough of my thoughts though. Walker Books have kindly provided me with an extract to share with you.

If you missed the first extract on the blog tour, be sure to check out Drinking Books to catch up.

Extract

My mourning dress is stiff and tight, a laced-up hand-me- down. Mother is almost invisible behind her long black veil. As we walk down the lane to the village through the warm, rosy dusk, I half expect a bat to blunder into her or a fox to stop and sniff the air as we pass.

Outside the church, the village widows flock around Mother like crows. There are Madame Villiard and Madame Arnauld, and poor young Madame Besançon, whose husband was just nineteen when both his legs were blown off at Verdun.

Old Madame Malpas draws me aside, wringing her bony hands and crying, “What’s to become of you, Angélique? You’ll very likely starve! La Mordue will go to rack and ruin without Monsieur Lacroix!”

“Pascal will be home soon,” I say. “Maman and I can manage till then.”

“Manage, child? When your corn’s still in the ground in August?”

“The farm men have been promised leave.” “And you expect the generals to keep their promises?” She sniffs loudly, then stumps off, calling to Mother,

“Madame Lacroix! What terrible news! Tell me, did he suffer?”

My best friend, Béatrice Lamy, hurries over to me.

“That woman!” she says, rolling her eyes. Then she kisses me on both cheeks and hugs me tightly. “This is unbearable, Angie. I can’t begin to imagine how you feel.”

Guilt prickles me because, just then, I’d been think- ing how much I hate wearing black and having to pretend to be sad. I wish I’d told her the truth before, but Mother always said the beatings would get worse if Father suspected we talked about him behind his back. And now it’s too late. I can’t speak ill of the dead, condemn a brave soldier Mort pour la France. What would

Madame Malpas say? “I’m fine, Bee,” I say. “Really, I am.” She cups my cheek in her hand. “You’re so brave,

Angie. I’d be in pieces if I’d lost Papa. How did you hear the news?”

I lean forward, hiding a smile, and whisper, “Pascal wrote.”

“Pascal!”

“Shhh, Bee. Not so loud.” I glance around, but the village women are too busy comforting Mother to take any notice of us. “Come on. Let’s talk inside.”

The cold stone church is empty. We sit in the front pew, the one allotted to the newly bereaved. Béatrice takes both my hands.

“Is Pascal safe?” she asks. “Is he hurt?” “I don’t know. Mother wouldn’t let me see his letter.” “Why not?” “Oh, you know. She’s upset.” “Of course. Silly question. I’m sorry.” Her eyes brim again with sympathy. Quickly I say, “Do you want to hear the good news?” “Good news?” Her eyes widen. I smile conspiratorially. “The farm belongs to Pascal now – the house, the land. Everything! It’s his.” “Oh.”

“Bee! Don’t you see what this means?” She shakes her head. “He can get married whenever he wants!” “Oh!” Her eyes widen further. “But … Papa won’t let me. I’m too young.” “Pascal will wait, I know he will. And when you’re both ready you’ll live with us, and we’ll be sisters, a real family. Won’t that be wonderful?”

Her eyes shine, then she blushes. “I do love him so much.”

We start to hug, but just then the door opens and the village widows seep inside like shadows, a horde of veiled and silent wraiths.

“I should go,” Béatrice says. “No. Please stay.” “But your mother…”

“She won’t mind.”

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely.”

I slip my arm through hers while we wait, each looking up at the brightly painted statue of Saint Joan of Arc, high on her pedestal. She’s wearing a full suit of armour, and spearing the devil through his blackened heart.

“I hate that statue,” Béatrice whispers.

“I don’t know,” I reply. “I rather like it.”

 

Giveaway

Thanks to Walker Books, I have two copies of this wonderful debut to give away to Strupag readers. To be in with a chance of winning simply enter via the rafflecopter entry form below. This giveaway is open to the UK only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

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.
three-half-stars