Book Review: Shelter, by Sarah Franklin

Publisher:  Bonnier Zaffe

Publication date:  27th July 2017

From the rustic window of this rather exquisite cover lies a magnificent view of the purity of nature, its shifting seasons mirroring the struggles of life, as the shadow of a brutal foe falls upon our shores.

Shelter. A simple one word title captures the underlying theme perfectly: the canopy of trees where apprentice Lumberjills are schooled, the welcome the foresters extend to an outsider or the protection offered by the woodland itself, no matter where your own roots may lie.

Narrated throughout the final year of conflict, with fleeting periods of reflection, the ravages of World War II compel the characters to confront the consequences of their actions, stretching their resilience until they rediscover the true meaning of home.

The ancient forest has witnessed significant changes over time yet it perseveres, regenerates and passes no judgement, much like its dependants. The existing species proudly stand guard but they are rivalled by new specimens in the form of the dynamic and determined, Connie, a grounded but troubled POW and closet woodcarver, Seppe, not to mention the unexpected gifts the uncertainty of war can deliver.

It’s a beautifully composed story, almost a forestry guide of challenging reluctant happiness. The locals have a wonderful way of speaking, especially contemplative Amos whose spare room was commandeered for the tornado of the timber corps, Connie! The author has serenely animated the forest and its inhabitants, showering an otherwise two-dimensional page with an energy that leaves its impression on all five senses.

Even though patience, sacrifice and love offer their own rewards, finding Shelter in the most unlikely places proves to be unfamiliar territory for some as there are times when they just can’t see the wood for the trees.

I loved it, and I’m more than happy to recommend.

Rating: 4/5

(I was lucky enough to win a gorgeous hardback copy of this title via the publisher’s website – ‘Reader’s First’ – and it’s my absolute pleasure to provide this unbiased review.)

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Perfect for fans of Early One Morning by Virginia Baily and the novels of Maggie O’Farrell.

Led here by necessity, she knows she cannot stay. Brought against his will, he never wants to leave.

Early spring 1944.  Connie Granger has escaped her bombed-out city home, finding refuge in the Women’s Timber Corps. For her, this remote community must now serve a secret purpose.

Seppe, an Italian prisoner of war, is haunted by his memories. In the forest camp, he finds a strange kind of freedom.

Their meeting signals new beginnings. But as they are drawn together, the world outside their forest haven is being torn apart. Old certainties are crumbling, and both must now make a life-defining choice.

What price will they pay for freedom? What will they fight to protect? 

The world was alive out here, the scent of bud and blossom in every breath a stark contrast to the thud of bombs into sandbanks, or worse, the iron tang of blood.’

‘This was a place where you could hide, where you could start again . . .

Shelter is a captivating and tender novel about love, hope and how we find solace in the most troubled times. 

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(Courtesy of Reader’s First Website)

Sarah lectures in publishing at Oxford Brookes, is the host of Short Stories Aloud and a judge for the Costa Short Story Award. She has written for the Guardian, Psychologies magazine, The Pool, the Sunday Express and the Seattle Times. In 2014, Sarah was awarded a Jerwood/Arvon Mentorship on the strength of her opening pages of Shelter, and worked on the novel for a year with Jenn Ashworth, amongst others.

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Book Review: The Keeper of Lost Things, by Ruth Hogan

Publisher:  Two Roads

Publication date:  26th January 2017

Source: Kindle [Own purchased copy]

I flocked to The Keeper of Lost Things like a ravenous magpie as the cover and synopsis projected instant, heartwarming appeal. Who can resist a curious story where discarded, random objects find a foster home with an author who collects ‘lost things’ while he walks each day? 

I just adored the care he took to label them with a description of the ‘find’ together with the date and its location before neatly storing it in its own drawer, with the hope that one day they may be reunited with their owner, of course.

But just how crucial is it that a hair bobble, jigsaw piece, or button is reunited with the person it once belonged to?

These unlikely treasures have their own unique story to tell, some with both positive and negative attachments. It offered me a new dimension to the things I take for granted when I’m on my own travels, making me consider how many hundreds of mundane items I have stepped over and never given a second thought to…

What if those inoffensive hair bobbles had fallen from someone’s ponytail if they were running, and was it toward something or away? Was it a significant day that would change their life, or perhaps it was just one like any other? What’s its story, and more importantly that of its owner?

The reason for the collection obsession is this: once upon a time the ‘keeper of lost things’ mislaid something of his own and despite sharing his life with Laura his assistant, Freddy his gardener, and Sunshine, who beautifully refers to herself as a Dancing Drome instead of having Downs Syndrome, he has never been able to find that ‘missing something’ and his heart aches dreadfully.

It’s part love story, part reminiscence and is balanced with sadness and hope. With underlying hints of an unusual clairvoyant perspective it shows how the little connections we make in life can leave behind a legacy of memories that are reawakened at the most unexpected moments.

Overall this book delighted me as it had a curious story-line that is both uplifting and thought-provoking. And yet, like The Keeper of Lost Things, I found myself looking for something; as threads from the past are spun with the present the fascinating and unique stories behind each abandoned object created a very pleasing fabric, just not the luxurious one I had been expecting.

Rating:  3/5

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Meet the ‘Keeper of Lost Things’…
Once a celebrated author of short stories now in his twilight years, Anthony Peardew has spent half his life collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a promise broken many years before.

Realising he is running out of time, he leaves his house and all its lost treasures to his assistant Laura, the one person he can trust to fulfil his legacy and reunite the thousands of objects with their rightful owners.

But the final wishes of the ‘Keeper of Lost Things’ have unforeseen repercussions which trigger a most serendipitous series of encounters…

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Hello dear readers, please allow me to introduce myself…

I was born in the house where my parents still live in Bedford. My sister was so pleased to have a sibling that she threw a thrupenny bit at me.

As a child I read everything I could lay my hands on. Luckily, my mum worked in a bookshop. My favourite reads were THE MOOMINTROLLS, A HUNDRED MILLION FRANCS, THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, and the back of cereal packets, and gravestones.

I passed enough A levels to get a place at Goldsmiths College, University of London, to study English and Drama. It was brilliant and I loved it.  And then I got a proper job. I worked for ten years in a senior local government position: a square peg in round hole, but it paid the bills and mortgage. In my early thirties I had a car accident which left me unable to work full-time and convinced me to start writing seriously.

It was all going well, but then in 2012 I got Cancer, which was bloody inconvenient but precipitated an exciting hair journey from bald to a peroxide blonde Annie Lennox crop. When chemo kept me up all night I passed the time writing and the eventual result was THE KEEPER OF LOST THINGS, my first novel, which was published in hardback and ebook in January 2017 and is coming in paperback in September 2017.

Next year I will publish my second novel, A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO DROWNING and you can pre-order the book now.

I live in a chaotic Victorian house with an assortment of rescue dogs and my long-suffering husband. I am a magpie; always collecting treasures (or ‘junk’ depending on your point of view) and a huge John Betjeman fan. My favourite word is ‘antimacassar’ and I still like reading gravestones.

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Book Review: Lucky Ghost 👻 (The Martingale Cycle #2), by Matthew Blakstad

Publisher:  Hodder & Stoughton

Publication date:  27th July 2017 [Kindle & HB]

Source:  Goodreads giveaway

In The Martingale Cycle the spectre of the past, present and future fictionally predicts the rise of a new brand of economic and social manipulation that is lurking right around the corner. While I don’t object to cyber pioneering I can’t say I’m entirely comfortable with its potential consequences either…

This next instalment (Book 2) sees a generation of technology where ‘feelings’ become a commodity that can be traded online. The philosophy may not allow us to quite sell our souls yet, but Lucky Ghost comes pretty close. 

The author has imaginatively offered the population’s changeable mood a safe haven, a place where users can take a time out to heal or feel empowered while earning virtual monetary rewards in a simulated place called “The Strange”.

This initiative of interactive emotional roleplay for “Strangers” was coded by Dani Farr, the original creator of the Parley App (an advanced form of Twitter) in Sockpuppet. As her previous venture proved that even the most fortified system may have an Achilles heel, you’d think any idea for a new online platform would scream “expect the unexpected”. [Cue evil laughter]

Farr’s brainchild encourages the virtual to seamlessly overlap with reality. Psychologically speaking it’s difficult to determine whether the adverse side effects of this game makes it worth playing – forget how enticing taking an emotional holiday may sound for a moment and consider how extortion, greed, and human fatality can be a bit of a downer when you’re just trying to give yourself a break.

Lucky Ghost is way more visionary than its predecessor, Sockpuppet, yet its thought-provoking prophesy remains both powerful and effective. Tablets are upgraded to hands-free ‘Crablets’ that hug your limbs, delivery drones provide a solution to the increasing demands of online ordering, and extreme retro cosplay is a deathly serious business. Events are as varied as its cast with a vlogging newshound, a teenage hacker with an animatronic pet, and the elusive counsel of a curious online identity taking one step closer toward the inevitable abyss.

What was that? A tad fanciful, you say? Well no, not really. Take a moment to consider the possibilities that are already within our reach: the evolution of the internet – a search tool to locate your nearest takeaway now presides over our security, finances, knowledge and communication. All aspects of our life can be converted to a data exchange on demand, but at what cost?  Sinister stuff – and not an Amityville post code in sight…

Rating:   4/5

(I’m hugely grateful to have won an early copy of this title via a Goodreads giveaway – a copy of this review was posted there on 27th June 2017. My thanks to the publishers for selecting my name as one of the Lucky [Ghost] Winners.)

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

The extraordinary new novel from the incredible author of SOCKPUPPET. Perfect for fans of BLACK MIRROR.

Early one morning, blogger Alex Kubelick walks up to a total stranger and slaps him across the face. Hard.

He smiles.

They’ve both just earned Emoticoin, in a new, all-consuming game that trades real-life emotions for digital currency. Emoticoin is changing the face of the economy – but someone or something is controlling it for their own, dangerous ends.

As Alex picks apart the tangled threads that hold the virtual game together she finds herself on the run from very real enemies. It seems only one person has the answers she seeks. Someone who hides behind the name ‘Lucky Ghost’.

But Lucky Ghost will only talk to a young hacker called Thimblerig – the online troll who’s been harassing Alex for months.

Will Lucky Ghost lead Alex and Thimblerig to the answers they seek – or to their deaths?

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Matthew writes pacy, character-driven fiction that explores the impact of technology on how we live and who we are. His first novel, Sockpuppet, is out in May 2016. Sockpuppet is book one of the Martingale Cycle, a series of interconnected novels exploring the life of computing pioneer and political radical Elyse Martingale – and her strange afterlife in the 21st century. Matthew’s first career was as a professional child actor. From the age of ten, he had roles in TV dramas on the BBC and ITV, in films and at theatres including London’s Royal Court. After graduating from Oxford with a degree in Mathematics and Philosophy, he began a career in online communications. He now works in the public sector, helping people understand and manage money. 

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Book Review: The Ascent of Rum Doodle, by W. E. Bowman

Publisher:  Vintage Classics

Publication date:  1st April 2010

Source:  Paperback [My own purchased copy]

The Ascent of Rum Doodle is a jaunty parody of inept mountaineers, who couldn’t organise a raffle at a village fete let alone master the 40,000 (and a half) ft climb to the peak of ‘Rum Doodle’.

These ‘professionals’ have the most ironic surnames like Burley, who was was anything but as he was out of sorts after failing to acclimatise to any step of their journey, the team’s medical assistance was provided by a Dr Prone who contracted everything from mumps to malaria, while Constant unintentionally offended the local porters at every available opportunity with his professed linguistic skill, and their navigator, Jungle, aptly couldn’t find the wood for the trees.

The ‘Rum Doodle’ campaign reaches farcical proportions as their specially selected liabilities hamper progress at every possible turn. The team leader, Binder (his radio code name), is a naïve shepherd with a flock that regularly outwits him. He is blissfully unaware of the reverse psychology they apply in order to avoid sharing a tent with his inexhaustible counsel.

The greatest threat to their party wasn’t in fact Binder, the altitude, or mutiny every time Constant opened his mouth, but Pong, a cook with the most frightful culinary ability to ‘demoralise’ all grown men. Strategies were developed to minimise exposure of his contribution to their endeavour but his presence was ludicrously unshakeable.

And with the exception of Binder’s incessant obsession for dredging up every team member’s fiancée status (regardless of how curious their replies are) this story is completely dominated by men. I can honestly say I hadn’t noticed the omission of female characters until the end as I was busy being carried away by their absurd behaviour and the futility of meticulous planning!

There were  memorable gems of recklessness and ridicule throughout, but my absolute favourites were when the team had diagnosed the doctor as having hopes of a recovery on the basis that he hadn’t expired yet, and the moment Binder’s tears secured his face to the ice during a momentary lapse of emotional composure. Plus this one, where the leader is once again trying to raise morale …

Poor Prone seemed quite low, and to cheer him up I encouraged him to talk about his home. Had he a fiancée? I asked. He said, no, his wife was the unsympathetic kind and his children considered one mother quite enough.

Binder’s valiant efforts to provide his calamitous conquerors with the necessary encouragement turned into an ascent of endurance rather than an expedition. I mean, exactly how many people can you lose in a crevasse before something twigs?! Loved it! 😀

Rating:  5/5

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

An outrageously funny spoof about the ascent of a 40,000-and-a-half-foot peak, The Ascent of Rum Doodle has been a cult favourite since its publication in 1956. Led by the reliably under-insightful Binder, a team of seven British men including Dr Prone (constantly ill); Jungle the route finder (constantly lost), Constant the diplomat (constantly arguing) and 3,000 Yogistani porters, set out to conquer the highest peak in the Himalayas.

http://www.rumdoodle.org.uk/

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

W. E. Bowman (1912-1985) was a civil engineer who spent his free time hill-walking, painting and writing (unpublished) books on the Theory of Relativity. He was married with two children.

RUM DOODLE WEBSITE

Book Review: We All Begin as Strangers, by Harriet Cummings

Publisher: Orion

Publication date: 20th April 2017

We All Begin as Strangers reveals the deeply disguised strengths and vulnerabilities of neighbours in a 1980’s English Village.  Their hospitality and habits largely escape scrutiny until “the Fox” breaks through the frontier of their doorstep to intrude on their closely guarded private time.

Some consider their home a sanctuary, a place to feel relieved that the reality of their life is no longer on public display. Any hint of intrusion is understandably unsettling causing people to become fiercely protective of their little spaces, and when the going gets tough the odd mask starts to slip.

This story of “the Fox” is told in four parts where a different neighbour effectively becomes an unreliable witness to the bizarre antics of an intruder whose motives remain uncertain until the end. Their passion for justice is further ignited when a young, church-going woman goes missing from her own home and their main suspect the elusive character they have yet to identify.

How this unknown presence affects each of them and how their reactions manoeuvre in and out of each other’s stories is very interesting. The opinion they hold of each other alters as their lives are put under the microscope: the ‘Dallas’ / Sue-Ellen wannabe, a troubled lay preacher, an unexpected guardian of the vulnerable, and she who wears her dressing gown in public with pride.

Reading this made me consider just how well I really know the people living on my street, and I mean know. Yes, I see them coming and going on occasion and I’m free to make as many assumptions about them as I’d care to, but I’d most likely be wrong. Imagine how many people are walking around with a smile plastered on their face as they battle to control the isolation or misery they suffer from someone else’s ego in a silent, daily ritual. All of us try not to alert people to our problems to some degree or other, but if we disappeared without a trace while a predator stalked the neighbourhood our secrets would undoubtedly creep into the public domain, whether we wanted them to or not.

If you’re looking to be blown away by something wild and reckless with a breakneck pace then We All Begin as Strangers is not the book for you.  It is, however, a thought-provoking human mystery where people respond to their diverse crises in completely different ways. The actual news story that relates to this fictional take on the dreadful activities of the real-life “Fox” and the 80’s nostalgia makes for intriguing reading too.

Rating:  3.5/5

(I was lucky enough to win a signed proof copy of this title in a Twitter giveaway run by the publisher, Orion – it will have a special place on my shelf, so thank you.)

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

If you loved THE TROUBLE WITH GOATS AND SHEEP by Joanna Cannon, ELIZABETH IS MISSING by Emma Healey and THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY by Rachel Joyce, you’ll adore this wonderful British debut novel.

It’s 1984, and a heatwave is scorching the ordinary English village of Heathcote.

What’s more, a mysterious figure is slipping into homes through back doors and open windows. Dubbed ‘The Fox’, he knows everything about everyone – leaving curious objects in their homes, or taking things from them.

When beloved Anna goes missing, the whole community believes The Fox is responsible.

But as the residents scramble to solve the mystery of Anna’s disappearance, little do they know it’s their darkest secrets The Fox is really after…

Inspired by real events, and with a brilliant cast of characters, WE ALL BEGIN AS STRANGERS is a beautiful debut novel you’ll want to recommend to everyone.

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(Courtesy of Author’s Website)

Represented by Janklow and Nesbit, Harriet is a debut novelist with a background in history of art and gender studies. As a script writer, she’s had work performed at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, as well as independent venues around London.

While studying at Faber Academy, Harriet threw herself into her first novel and hasn’t looked back since. She is currently working on her second novel – another dark drama, set in Whitby.

She lives in Leamington Spa with her husband and Springer Spaniel.

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Book Review: The Red Notebook, by Antoine Laurain

Publisher:  Gallic Books

Publication date:  2nd March 2015

Source:  Kindle [My own purchased copy]

I purchased The Red Notebook after seeing it showcased on Jill’s Book Cafe in one of her lovely blog posts, otherwise I’m pretty sure I would have passed this one by – huge thanks, Jill!

I’m clueless as to how the contents of a stolen handbag could provide such a mesmerising focus for the duration of an entire book, but it did!

The distinctive purple leather bag could almost be classed a character as every item contained within breathed life into its journey: from the moment it was separated from its owner in the first chapter to await discovery by a curious bookseller, Laurent Letellier. It was in plain sight so anyone could have seen it but it was the bookseller that stumbled across it and it would change the direction of his life.

I loved how a single serendipitous moment is threaded through the pages with the most charming effect. Laurent is drawn to the haphazard jottings in a little red notebook he found in the discarded bag and his growing fascination with the unknown scribbler motivates him to reunite the random private thoughts with their owner.

Analysing aspects of her personality with only a handful of personal effects as clues is the most wonderful process. ‘Things’ can appear quite ordinary by themselves but combined they create the rare fingerprint of a lady’s life as no two handbags are ever the same.

It goes without saying that being the custodian of this peculiar lost property will have its memorable moments, as invading a stranger’s privacy sparks the jealousy of Laurent’s partner and offers a surprise introduction to a cat belonging to the owner of The Red Notebook, which eventually makes him wonder if anything positive can be achieved as a result of his covert endeavours!

As a reader I knew the identity and whereabouts of the enigmatic lady in question as is was shared with me but not with Laurent. It’s the most enchanting mystery where the paths of two people crossover without them ever having met. The ending was literally a perfectly placed punctuation mark, which will become clear if you read this story for yourself.

The Red Notebook is a thoroughly delightful and uplifting book and I could have happily have spent more time in its company. Wonderful!

Rating:  5/5

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Bookseller Laurent Letellier comes across an abandoned handbag on a Parisian street and feels impelled to return it to its owner. The bag contains no money, phone or contact information. But a small red notebook with handwritten thoughts and jottings reveals a person that Laurent would very much like to meet. Without even a name to go on, and only a few of her possessions to help him, how is he to find one woman in a city of millions?

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Novelist, journalist, screenwriter and collector of antique keys Antoine Laurain was born in Paris in the early 1970s. After studying cinema, he began his career directing short films and writing screenplays. His passion for art led him to take a job assisting an antiques dealer in Paris, an experience which provided the inspiration for his prize-winning debut novel.

Published on the eve of the French presidential elections of 2012, Antoine Laurain’s novel The President’s Hat is a Kindle top 5 bestseller and a Waterstones Book Club choice. In the USA, Antoine Laurain was selected for the ABA’s ‘Indies Introduce Debut Authors’ for Fall 13.

The Red Notebook was published in spring 2015. Antoine’s latest novel, French Rhapsody, was published in autumn 2016.

Sign up for Antoine Laurain’s newsletter and keep up to date with his upcoming novels, book signings and events near you. 

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Book Review: Did You See Melody? by Sophie Hannah

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Publication date:  August 2017

After observing to the trickling tap of evidence and following the flow of the accidental intervention, I’m afraid to say I wasn’t entirely swept away by the torrent of intrigue I had been expecting.

The theme for this book IS a terrific idea. I can’t deny the mystery surrounding Melody and her distinctive toy called Poggy (half pig, half dog) captivated my attention because it did, very much so. I craved the answers, but I’m thoroughly ashamed to say I began skim reading to find them – which is something I never, ever do.

Whether that’s due to the pure combo of unfortunate coincidences from day one of Cara Burrows arrival at the five star Arizona resort, the punishingly long excerpts from TV reports, and the particularly annoying guest who morphed into an excitable amateur detective in the unofficial ‘Did You See Melody?’ investigation, I genuinely couldn’t say.

Let’s put such trifling details into perspective though, as this story has all the juicy ingredients of a compelling story line and the ending itself offers yet another intriguing puzzle to ponder – yep, I had to read the last couple of pages twice just so I could process it!

And yet this review is one of the more difficult I’ve ever tried to write. To be completely honest I’ve been in two minds whether to publish my thoughts on the blog after struggling to convey this book’s positive / negative balance. On reflection I can only conclude it’s more a case of the reader (myself) clashing with the writing style rather than anything to do with the plot, as I’m more than happy to rate it a solid 3/5 well deserved stars for that alone.

What I’d really like to know is: have YOU seen Melody yet? I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has… #ISawMelody

Rating:  3/5

(My thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of this title via Netgalley. I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity to read it and provide this unbiased review.)

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Pushed to breaking point, Cara Burrows abandons her home and family and escapes to a five-star spa resort she can’t afford. Late at night, exhausted and desperate, she lets herself into her hotel room and is shocked to find it already occupied – by a man and a teenage girl.

A simple mistake on the part of the hotel receptionist – but Cara’s fear intensifies when she works out that the girl she saw alive and well in the hotel room is someone she can’t possibly have seen: the most famous murder victim in the country, Melody Chapa, whose parents are serving life sentences for her murder.

Cara doesn’t know what to trust: everything she’s read and heard about the case, or the evidence of her own eyes. Did she really see Melody? And is she prepared to ask herself that question and answer it honestly if it means risking her own life?

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(Courtesy of Author’s website)

Sophie Hannah is an internationally bestselling writer of psychological crime fiction, published in 32 languages and 51 territories.  In 2014, with the blessing of Agatha Christie’s family and estate, Sophie published a new Hercule Poirot novel, The Monogram Murders, which was a bestseller in more than fifteen countries.  In September 2016, her second Poirot novel, Closed Casket, was published and became an instant Sunday Times top ten bestseller.

In 2013, Sophie’s novel The Carrier won the Crime Thriller of the Year Award at the Specsavers National Book Awards.  Two of her crime novels, The Point of Rescue and The Other Half Lives, have been adapted for television and appeared on ITV1 under the series title Case Sensitive in 2011 and 2012.

Sophie has also published two short story collections and five collections of poetry – the fifth of which, Pessimism for Beginners, was shortlisted for the 2007 T S Eliot Award. Her poetry is studied at GCSE, A-level and degree level across the UK. From 1997 to 1999 she was Fellow Commoner in Creative Arts at Trinity College, Cambridge, and between 1999 and 2001 she was a fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford. She is forty-five and lives with her husband, children and dog in Cambridge, where she is a Fellow Commoner at Lucy Cavendish College.

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Book Review: My Name is Nobody (A Wilde and Vine Thriller), by Matthew Richardson

Publisher: Penguin

Publication date: 13th July 2017

We don’t deal in right or wrong. We deal in advantage and disadvantage.

The intrigue of the old-school cipher trumps 21st century cyber in My Name is Nobody, which offers a timely, wholly relevant peek behind the scenes of security challenges affecting the world at large, and events much closer to home. Complex action thrillers are all well and good but it was refreshing to see a strong storyline combining classic methods to confront a contemporary menace.

Government operators are caught up in the covert Parliamentary machine acquiring intelligence, reacting to impossible situations, and fending off early indications that something in the machine is very, very wrong. It’s just a matter of identifying exactly what that something or someone is.

It’s Solomon Vine who is unofficially recruited to carry out this impossible task. Although currently suspended from duty, this talented spy has to root out the truth of an old friend’s disappearance after learning of a violent struggle at his home. And yet it’s not just Gabriel Wilde’s whereabouts he has to contend with, but also the circumstances surrounding the last time they met when a prisoner in Istanbul offered cryptic information yet became a target right under their nose.

The investigation is unauthorised which increases its complication factor and ease of denial, and what little evidence does taunt him only nurtures suspicions about his friend’s ulterior motives. And if Vine’s involvement is discovered any previous loyalty will not be taken into account as he’s already skating on thin ice after the Istanbul incident, a cruel souvenir of his many years of service.

What I like about Vine is that his outward appearance is one of relative normality when in reality he’s a codebreaking, number-crunching security analyst able to identify the severity of a terrorist threat by analysing the data he’s presented with. He’s not afraid to harness every ploy imaginable to fly under the radar. The problem being so does the elusive truth he is unsuccessfully chasing.

This story is a masterful performance of one man’s defiance to continue with his distinctive pursuit, despite the obstacles and warning signs – everything is connected, but those unruly dots refuse to line up without Solomon Vine’s unwavering perseverance.

My Name is Nobody is a solid British spy thriller with a very surprising outcome. 

Rating:   4/5

(I received a copy of this title from the publisher – complete with a cryptic challenge to solve! – and it’s my pleasure to provide an unbiased review.)

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

‘I know a secret. A secret that changes everything…’

Solomon Vine was the best of his generation, a spy on a fast track to the top. But when a prisoner is shot in unexplained circumstances on his watch, only suspension and exile beckon.

Three months later, MI6’s Head of Station in Istanbul is abducted from his home. There are signs of a violent struggle. With the Service in lockdown, uncertain of who can be trusted, thoughts turn to the missing man’s oldest friend: Solomon Vine.

Officially suspended, Vine can operate outside the chain of command to uncover the truth. But his investigation soon reveals that the disappearance heralds something much darker. And that there’s much more at stake than the life of a single spy…

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(Courtesy of A M Heath Literary Agent website)

Matthew Richardson was born in 1990 and graduated with a First in English from Durham University in 2011, where he was a Vice-Chancellor’s academic scholar and edited the student newspaper Palatinate. He then went on to postgraduate research at Merton College, Oxford, followed by a spell as a freelance journalist. Since then, Matthew has worked as a speechwriter and researcher in Westminster, writing pieces for a wide variety of publications, including the Times, Sunday Times, Daily Telegraph and New Statesman.

His debut novel, My Name is Nobody, is the first in the Solomon Vine thriller series and will be published by Penguin.

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Book Review: Sockpuppet 🐷 (The Martingale Cycle), by Matthew Blakstad

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Publication date: 19th May 2016 [Paperback Jan 2017]

Source: My own purchased copy [Kindle]

Sockpuppet introduces us to the computing icon, Elyse Martingale, and a digital world where her ideas attract a cult following that will shock the unsettling theme of online integrity to life, until it crackles with startling realism.

We often adopt a questionable nonchalance to how our online presence is stockpiled leaving behind a imprint of our life as we volunteer a little more of ourselves with every browsing session, online conversation or purchase, however private we think it is.

Here, hostility erupts between the government’s launch of a program called DigiCitz (Digital Citizen) which promotes the ideology that a secure online record of every person can exist, and those working to expose the flaws of its so-called unhackable system in order to protect the public by exposing its vulnerabilities with maximum impact.

The attack starts with virtual mudslinging at the minister responsible for the DigiCitz implementation. It originated on server running a social networking program called “Parley”, which hosts artificial personalities coded to auto-interact with real-life users with responses influenced by sourcing data via the internet.

This interaction is known as “proffering” and one particular “proffer” planted the seed of doubt that the system was not infallible. The problem being is this information came from sic_girl, a handle of one of the artificial personalities and no one can trace where “she” retrieved the cringingly confidential information which has been made very, very public.

There’s so much ingenuity to this story, it’s actually scary: why are selected personal attacks being belched into the ether now? And exactly how have the “Giggly Pigglies” invaded everyone’s home page with their familiar little dance, and is it to amuse or distract?  

No doubt our reliance on technology makes it impossible for us to function without a presence on the internet in some capacity or other. But behind every wicked life-changing app is a Wizard of Oz who has the power to influence our lives with their creations.

If I’d thought I would be alienated by the obscure talk of hackers’ encryption and the snorefest of parliamentary humdrum, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The terminology is easily relatable, told through both credible and relevant narration, and its tension is snap-worthy – I consumed this addictive book in one deliriously awesome sitting, it was that good.

Rating:  5/5

(Courtesy of Amazon)

Twitter. Facebook. Whatsapp. Google Maps. Every day you share everything about yourself – where you go, what you eat, what you buy, what you think – online. Sometimes you do it on purpose. Usually you do it without even realizing it. At the end of the day, everything from your shoe-size to your credit limit is out there. Your greatest joys, your darkest moments. Your deepest secrets.

If someone wants to know everything about you, all they have to do is look.

But what happens when someone starts spilling state secrets? For politician Bethany Leherer and programmer Danielle Farr, that’s not just an interesting thought-experiment. An online celebrity called sic_girl has started telling the world too much about Bethany and Dani, from their jobs and lives to their most intimate secrets. There’s just one problem: sic_girl doesn’t exist. She’s an construct, a program used to test code. Now Dani and Bethany must race against the clock to find out who’s controlling sic_girl and why… before she destroys the privacy of everyone in the UK.

SOCKPUPPET is part of the Martingale cycle, a series of interconnected novels exploring the life of computing pioneer and political radical Elyse Martingale – and her strange afterlife in the 21st century.

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Matthew writes pacy, character-driven fiction that explores the impact of technology on how we live and who we are. His first novel, Sockpuppet, is out in May 2016. Sockpuppet is book one of the Martingale Cycle, a series of interconnected novels exploring the life of computing pioneer and political radical Elyse Martingale – and her strange afterlife in the 21st century. Matthew’s first career was as a professional child actor. From the age of ten, he had roles in TV dramas on the BBC and ITV, in films and at theatres including London’s Royal Court. After graduating from Oxford with a degree in Mathematics and Philosophy, he began a career in online communications. He now works in the public sector, helping people understand and manage money. 

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Since reading this book I am delighted to hear I’ve won a copy of Lucky Ghost  by this same author in a recent Goodreads giveaway! A very, very, VERY happy reader here!

 

Book Review: Broken Branches, by M. Jonathan Lee #brokenbranches

Publisher: Hideaway Fall

Publication date: 27th July 2017

Told through an alternating succession of earth-shattering circumstances this perceptive story has a mournfulness that leaves a lasting impression.

A forbidding legacy has swept through generations of the Perkin’s family. The very knowledge of its existence is an unsettling presence, like spotting the grim reaper boarding the same flight as you.

The idyllic, isolated Cobweb Cottage is all yours along with “a curse” and a sinister looking Sycamore tree intimidating everyone in it shadow with an accusatory branch. A wedge has come between the most recent occupiers causing them to sleep in separate rooms, barely exchanging words, so Ian Perkins, throws everything he can at uncovering the origin of his family’s torment, hopeful that his discoveries will heal what has broken.

Through atmospheric and eerie scenes the inescapable blight that affected his ancestors left an unsettling feeling in the pit of my stomach. So much suffering has occurred, so much misery, so many loved ones pushed away; the circumstances may differ greatly, yet the bleakness that descends is the same on every occasion.

As a burdening obstacle impedes reality, inexplicable events occur to hinder Ian’s progress, forcing his melancholic wife to confront his relentless obsession for an inconsequential truth.

Broken Branches is a lament of psychological well-being, where the blueprint of grief is etched deep on the heart. This is now the second book I have read by this author and I’m certain it won’t be my last.

Rating:  4/5

(I received a copy of this title from the publisher, Hideaway Fall, and it is my pleasure to provide an unbiased review.)

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

‘Family curses don’t exist. Sure, some families seem to suffer more pain than others, but a curse? An actual curse? I don’t think so.’

A family tragedy was the catalyst for Ian Perkins to return to the isolated cottage with his wife and young son. But now they are back, it seems yet more grief might befall the family.

There is still time to act, but that means Ian must face the uncomfortable truth about his past. And in doing so, he must uncover the truth behind the supposed family curse.

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(Courtesy of Author’s own website)

M. Jonathan Lee is an award winning English author. His debut novel, “The Radio” was nationally shortlisted in The Novel Prize 2012. His second novel, “The Page” went on to become the Amazon #5 most downloaded thriller. His third novel, the critically acclaimed “A Tiny Feeling of Fear” was released in September 2015. “Broken Branches”, his fourth novel, will be released by Hideaway Fall in Spring 2017.

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