Whispering Shadows by Jan-Philipp Sendker

Whispering shadows

My very great thanks to http://www.lovereading.co.uk/ https://www.facebook.com/books.literarycontemporary?ref=ts&fref=ts @lovereadinguk for providing a reader panel copy of ‘Whispering Shadows’.

I absolutely adored ‘The Art of Hearing Heartbeats’ by Jan-Philipp Sendker and as I began reading ‘Whispering Shadows’ the emotion of the prologue as Paul contemplates the death of his son, Justin, made me think I would enjoy this book just as much. However, I was slightly disappointed. I don’t know if there was a different translator, but the writing didn’t seem to flow as fluidly and I didn’t get the same emotional pull.

However, the story is a strong and intriguing one and the book is well worth reading. The murky world of corrupt officialdom and business is very effectively described and I found the practices very distasteful as Paul Leibovich and Zhang try to discover who really murdered Michael Owen.

Descriptions of the food and the setting make this a very vivid read. There are themes of love and trust that resonate with us all so that Paul’s rehabilitation into the world becomes important to the reader. Having read ‘Whispering Shadows’ I want to know what will become of Paul and Christine in the future.

I think that readers of John Grisham would enjoy ‘Whispering Shadows’ very much indeed.

The Mountain Can Wait by Sarah Leipciger

The Mountain Can Wait

I am incredibly grateful to Lizzie Masters at Headline, Tinder Press and Bookbridgr for my review copy of Sarah Leipciger’s ‘The Mountain Can Wait’ which was published in hardback on 7th May 2015.

Tom Berry is a fixer. From a dripping tap to a bicycle, Tom can turn his hand to mending anything. However, he isn’t as talented at running his relationships with his grown up children, Curtis and Erin, whom he had been left to bring up alone when his wife Elka disappeared. When Curtis kills a girl in a hit and run accident, Tom’s life running tree planting is seriously affected. Always used to hunting, Tom finds it is his son he is now chasing.

I absolutely loved ‘The Mountain Can Wait’. I’m not sure what I was expecting from this debut novel, but it exceeded my expectations in every way.

The plot is relatively simple, opening with the hit and run accident and in a sense, very little happens after this. Sarah Leipciger turns this simplicity to profound effect. The underlying emotions in the narrative are heart wrenching. I even had to stop reading at about the halfway point to stop myself being overwhelmed. The writing is taut with feeling.

The characterisation is exquisite. At the start of the novel I didn’t particularly warm to Curtis. By the end I felt I needed to take him in my arms and hold him as I felt desperately sorry for him. I was devastated at the sacrifices Tom had to make on Curtis’ behalf too. Tom has to learn that the mountain can wait, but his children can’t. However, I think the most convincing character of all is nature. Sarah Leipciger’s writing is poetic, lyrical and beautiful. Her descriptions are cinematic and evocative without being intrusive. I can see this novel being made into a film.

The themes explored – of parent/child relationships, loyalty, trust and love are woven so intricately that I feel ‘The Mountain Can Wait’ will become a classic returned to by readers time and time again. I was so enthralled by the writing that I read the novel in one day and I’m sure I have missed some of the subtleties and nuances.

‘The Mountain Can Wait’ is fantastic. I defy anyone who reads it not to be moved by it.

What Happens to Men When They Move to Manhattan? by Jill Knapp

What happens to men

I was very pleased to be asked by Jill Knapp to read ‘What Happens to Men When They Move to Manhattan?’ in return for an honest review.

Amalia Hastings is a very fortunate girl. She has a boyfriend, Nicholas, a high quality apartment in New York and is receiving a first class education at NYU. She meets regularly with her acerbic best friend Cassandra and their other friend Olivia in a variety of bars. What could possibly go wrong?

Unfortunately for Amalia, her university friend Michael, is beginning to feel like more than a friend and when she fights with Nicholas, life is going to get complicated.

‘What Happens to Men When They Move to Manhattan?’ is high quality chick lit. It is well written and erudite. I especially liked the descriptions of New York as they reminded me of the time I worked there and I could easily picture the bars and apartments. They felt highly realistic. What also makes this extremely good writing is the variety of paragraph and sentence length to keep the narrative flowing smoothly. There were a couple of typos in this proof copy, but they did not spoil my enjoyment of the story.

Whilst the plot is quite low key, it fits well around the major events like Christmas, Valentine’s Day and St Patrick’s Day and Jill Knapp illustrates very effectively how emotions can be affected by dates and our expectations of them.

The characters are well rounded and believable. It is the female characters who take the lead in this novel and I thought Cassandra in particular was a triumph. All the women have their secrets, their strengths and their vulnerabilities so that the reader gets to know them as individuals and cares about what happens to them. What happens to the men when they move to Manhattan is that they become in need of sorting out! I also found the dialogue natural and effective.

One element I found awkward was the seemingly American tendency to describe what characters are wearing, often coupled with the phrase ‘to pull it all together’ and frequently matched with what feels a bit like product placement (mentions of Chanel, La Perla, Armani and so on), but this may just be a British reader’s perspective. I did thoroughly enjoy the descriptions of food – indeed they made me hungry!

The novel ends very satisfactorily, but with the reader still wanting more.Will Amalia ever really find true happiness? I think those who enjoy well written romantic fiction will thoroughly enjoy reading Jill Knapp’s ‘What Happens to Men When They Move to Manhattan?

Disclaimer by Renee Knight


My enormous thanks to Alison Barrow at Transworld Publishers for providing a review copy of ‘Disclaimer’ by Renee Knight.

When their adult son Nicholas moves out of the family home, Robert and Catherine downsize their house. In the melee of moving, a book ‘The Perfect Stranger’ appears next to the bed and Catherine begins to read. To her horror, the book is about her and reveals a secret she thought she’d buried years before.

There has been so much praise for Renee Knight’s debut novel, ‘Diclaimer’ that I thought much of it must just be publisher hype and I was prepared to be hugely disappointed. How wrong can you be? I am worried about writing this review as I don’t think I have sufficient vocabulary to describe how brilliant ‘Disclaimer’ is without using cliches. it is impossible to believe this is a debut novel.

There is a reduced palette of characters so that the reader is entirely absorbed into their world and the events that surround them. The events themselves add layer upon layer of detail and perspective with one twist and shock following another. I found my heart racing as I read. Renee Knight so manipulated my opinions of the characters that my head was reeling by the time I’d finished reading.

The structure switches between Catherine’s story told in the present tense third person and Stephen’s story told from his first person point of view. The changes of perspective are utterly convincing.

Another feature that makes ‘Disclaimer’ such an incredible read is the quality of Renee Knight’s prose. She paints such a convincing picture that I felt I was witnessing events with my own eyes. I was spellbound.

I can honestly say that if you don’t read ‘Disclaimer’ you will genuinely have missed out.

The Way Back Home by Freya North

The way back home

I originally posted this review on http://www.lovereading.co.uk who kindly provided a review copy of ‘The Way Back Home’. It’s out now!

The story of finding what home really means – people, places, emotions and memory. ‘The Way Back Home’ follows the return of Oriana Taylor from San Francisco to the huge Windward House and all the intricate feelings and memories involving the characters who once lived there.

Having read several of Freya North’s books, initially this one felt more challenging and somehow spiky. However, within a few pages, North’s ability to define character so fully that the reader can picture, believe in and have an emotional reaction to each one, means that this is a totally absorbing read. Both male and female characters are strongly represented so that the writing would appeal to both sexes.

Throughout the text there is a gradual revealing of the past providing a real sense of mystery with a perfect balance of the third person present tense and italicised first person past tense which also helps to build the character of Oriana even further.

I also loved the sense of place and what ‘home’ actually means which is so skilfully achieved.

‘The Way Back Home’ would appeal to lovers of literary modern fiction who want to finish a book with a real sense of satisfaction (and maybe even a few tears).

At The Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

At the waters edge

Huge thanks go to @Bookbridgr @TwoRoadsBooks and Yassine Belkacemi @johnmurrays for providing a review copy of ‘At The Water’s Edge’

Maddie, her husband Ellis, and their closest friend Hank, live a spoiled high society life. On New Year’s Eve 1944 they make utter fools of themselves at a society party and are disowned by Ellis’s family. Utterly rashly, Ellis decides to cross the Atlantic during its most dangerous times during World War II to search for the Loch Ness monster – a feat in which his father failed some years before. This decision changes their lives for ever.

I thoroughly enjoyed ‘At The Water’s Edge’. So skilful was Sara Gruen’s writing that I completely agreed with society that Maddie, Ellis and Hank should be ostracised. Their behaviour at the initial party and when they arrive in Scotland is dreadful. However, what is so clever is the way in which the relationship between Maddie and Ellis changes, how we realise Ellis is struggling with his sexuality and how Maddie develops so that her first person viewpoint leads us through the narrative as if we are there with her. I hated all three main characters at the start of the novel, grew to care deeply about Maddie and forgave Hank but, although I sympathised with Ellis, he retained my loathing throughout. It became clear as I read that Sara Gruen has more than one monster in mind for her reader.

The secondary characters are equally well depicted, even the dog Conall and especially Ann, Meg and Angus. I wish I knew them personally.

Based around the themes of deception and what it is to be monstrous and set in the final months of the Second World War, ‘At The Water’s Edge’ is thoroughly researched, captivatingly written and a thoroughly satisfying read. The blend of factual detail woven into the daily lives of the community gives an authenticity and depth so that the reader is transported to the Scottish Highlands with Maddie.

I’d really recommend ‘At The Water’s Edge’ if you want a completely absorbing and powerful read.

I was lucky enough to be able to give away special edition copies of Sara Gruen’s ‘Water For Elephants’ for World Book Night. It has been sitting on my shelf to read. Now it’s moving to the top of the pile. Can’t wait!

Liesel Schmidt – Guest Author Interview


I recently read and enjoyed Liesel Schmidt’s novel ‘The Secret of Us’ so I was delighted when she agreed to be interviewed for my blog. Let’s begin by finding out a bit about her:

Liesel Schmidt lives in Pensacola, Florida, where she spends her time writing, drawing, and reading everything she can possibly get her hands on. She’s currently working on her next novel in between doing the job that keeps the bills paid, busily freelance writing for a list of local magazines that sometimes keeps her head spinning in a dizzy attempt to keep all the deadlines straight! When she has a few free moments, Liesel plunks away at her blog, Finding Words (http://fyoword.blogspot.com/) where she posts product reviews and offers her readers a peek at the inner-musings of a writer slogging her way through the challenges of a creative career.

Having harboured a passionate dread of writing assignments when she was in school, Liesel never imagined that she would make a living at putting words on paper, but life sometimes has a funny way of working out… When she’s not writing, reading or drawing, Liesel likes to indulge her guilty pleasure of watching competition television shows like Top Chef, Chopped, and Project Runway.

Follow her on Twitter at @laswrites or pick up a copy of her novels, ‘Coming Home to You’ and ‘The Secret of Us’, available at amazon.co.uk, amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com

So, let’s see what Liesel told me:

What is your first memory of wanting to be a writer?

I think the idea has been in my head, in some form or another, since I was in high school; but back then I just kind of played around with writing stories. I never thought it would actually lead anywhere. Mostly, it was just a hobby; and I had a horrible habit of never finishing a story once I’d started writing it!

What is your writing routine? Do you have a particular time when you write?

My writing routine is the same everyday, so I guess you could say I’m the most boring person on the planet! I officially start my workday at around 9:00 a.m., after I do my devotions, and I write according to whatever assignments are on my calendar, whether that means web content for the website development company I work with or an article for a magazine. Unfortunately at this stage of the game, my name isn’t well known enough in the book world that I can focus all of my attention on a manuscript, so right now that writing falls to the back burner to be picked up when I have a little bit of free space in the day! Not much of that exists, though; I keep at it until 6:00 p,m., usually. I guess you could say I’m a bit of a workaholic.

What comes first for you, character or plot?

I’m not really sure…the characters develop as the story unfolds, but I start with a general idea of both.

Do your characters ever behave in ways that surprise you?

All the time! It’s funny, because sometimes they do something that completely makes me frustrated, sometimes that do things that make me feel like crying. And there are, of course, many times that reaffirm just why I love them and why I want so badly for others to love them.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?

How much time do you have? I love to read novels that have deep, emotional plot lines and well developed characters like the ones written by Jane Green and Fannie Flagg; but I also love the more fun stories that authors like Janet Evanovich, Emily Giffin, Beth Harbison, and Claire Cook write. A love a good book centered around a sassy Southern woman, and I can’t even begin to name all of the British authors I adore. If I’m reading non-fiction, I’m a huge fan of humorous memoirs, so Jen Lancaster is one of my favorites.

If you had a speed date of 1 minute with a reader, what would you tell them about your books?

That they might want to have a few tissues closeby, and that nothing in my books runs to the cliched plot. They’ll think they know what’s going to happen, only to be surprised by what actually does.

What was it like completing your first novel ‘Coming Home to You?’ How did you feel?

Like I’d crossed a major finish line or had a baby! In a way, I did, because each of my books really is my baby.

Both ‘Coming Home to You’ and ‘The Secret of Us’ have references to the military and loss. How much did you need to research these themes and how much are they part of your own experiences?

I didn’t really have to research either one, actually. My father is retired from the Air Force, and the area where I live is greatly centered around the military culture; with that being so much a part of my own life and the way I grew up, it lent itself well to developing my story lines. When it came to the emotional roller coaster of loss, well…I hadn’t actually been through the death of a lover or a husband at that point, but I’m a very imaginative person, and I emulate well with others. When I started writing Coming Home to You, I’d never been in a serious relationship…I’d been through the emotional wringer of loving someone who didn’t love me back and having to deal with the death of a dream in regards to that, but I had to take that pain and put it into the realm of actually losing a lover to death. By the time I finished writing the manuscript, I had had to deal with the unexpected loss of a dear friend, so I built on that as I wrote on. It was kind of therapeutic. In writing ‘The Secret of Us’, I had to draw much more on my imagination, but I still had the foundational emotions and military-life experiences to use. There are definitely many ways that the emotional struggles in the books mirror what was going on in my own head and heart as I wrote, so all of my work is deeply personal.

In ‘The Secret of Us’ Eira has a very close relationship with her mother and sister. Do you think family support is essential for a happy life?

Beyond a shadow of a doubt. There are so many things in my life that I would have never been able to deal with on my own, had I not had their support and strength.

Would people who know you recognize themselves in your writing?

Perhaps, if they looked deep enough…but that’s all I’m going to say on that one!

What are you working on now?

A third manuscript, that I’m dedicating to my grandmother. She was such a special woman, and I don’t think she ever really knew just how special she was. To find out more, you’ll just have to wait and read it when it’s finished!

If you could cast people in a film of your work, who would you choose?

I’d love to have Diane Keaton or Meryl Streep play the role of the mother in either one of my books; Emma Stone would be so perfect as Zoe, but I also think she’d bring Eira to life and make everyone fall in love with her…Unfortunately, most of my favorite actors are too old to play the main characters, so I’d have to do a bit more hunting to know just who to cast for each role.

I’d really like to thank Liesel for spending the time in giving such fantastic responses to my questions. Please check out her links:





The Secret of UsComing home

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

Our souls at Night

My great thanks to Kate Green at Macmillan for providing a review copy of ‘Our Souls at Night’ which will be released in hardback by Picador on 4th June 2015.

On the back of my copy Peter Carey is quoted as saying ‘If you have never entered his beautiful singing sentences, I envy you your first time’. I completely agree. ‘Our Souls at Night’ arrived this morning and I thought I would just read the opening paragraph to get a feel for it. I was completely mesmerised by Kent Haruf’s style and just a few hours later I’ve finished what is a beautiful, poignant and moving book.

There is little real plot to ‘Our Souls at Night’. Two lonely neighbours, Addie Moore and Louis Waters, live in the small town of Holt, Colorado. Both find solace in one another’s company as they spend their nights together chatting. Their lives are further enhanced when Jamie, Addie’s grandson, comes to stay.

The book is a series of unpunctuated conversations between Addie and Louis through which, in just a few short chapters, the whole panoply of human emotion is revealed. It is like eavesdropping on the intimate conversations of two people about whom we care deeply.We get a real feel for small town America with its nosy gossip about others’ lives. We understand the complex relationships within marriage, family and friendship and we abhor the behaviour of Gene and Holly as they try to destroy Addie and Louis’ new found happiness through their own prejudices. ‘Our Souls at Night’ restates for us what it means to have humanity through its gentle prose.

I have not read any of Kent Haruf’s work before but will ensure I read every one of them so that I can re-encounter the economical eloquence of this haunting writer who appears to touch the souls of readers as well as those of Addie and Louis. I usually pass on books I’ve read. I’ll be keeping this one.

Book Signing – Kathryn Joyce Author of Thicker Than Soup

P1030592Thicker than soup

It was my great pleasure on Saturday 16th May 2015 to meet Kathryn Joyce at Walkers Bookshop in Stamford. Firstly, because I like to support independent book shops where I can, but also because I’d seen the reviews of ‘Thicker Than Soup’ and was eager to read it. What I hadn’t factored in to the encounter was what a lovely person the author of ‘Thicker Than Soup’, Kathy Joyce, actually is. It was a delight to meet her.

Kathy incredibly kindly gave me a signed copy of her book and agreed to be interviewed for my blog in advance of the official release date of ‘Thicker Than Soup’ on 28th June 2015. However, if, like me, this looks just your kind of book, then you’ll want to know that if you can’t make it to Walkers in Stamford, you can get a copy from the publishers at http://www.troubador.co.uk/book_info.asp?bookid=3206

I’ll be posting a review of ‘Thicker Than Soup’ just as soon as I can!

Ruby by Cynthia Bond

Ruby 1

I am indebted to Bookbridgr, Two Roads Books and Yassine Belkacemi for providing a review copy of ‘Ruby’ by Cynthia Bond.

As an adult, Ruby Bell returns to the small East Texan town of Liberty where she lived as a child, having endured an incredible life of violence and sexual abuse. She has never been forgotten by Ephram Jennings who has loved her all his life. The novel outlines their love story against a powerful and disturbing background.

I would not say that ‘Ruby’ is an easy read. I found some of the descriptions so vivid as to be disturbing and shocking and I think some readers would perhaps find a few concepts too unsavoury. However, the themes of child abuse, domestic violence, religious hypocrisy, racism, madness, witchcraft, superstition and sexuality are woven into a mesmerising text. Reading ‘Ruby’ is a bit like looking at an intricate tapestry and the more you look, the more there is to see and understand. What is so impressive is that there is also humour and pragmatic realism alongside the more mystical elements within the story, especially when Cynthia Bond describes the towns people.

The prose is beautiful and savage so that the reader experiences a range of emotions almost against their will. Characters are so well depicted it is difficult, for example, not to hate Ephram’s sister Celia, even if she has had to devote her life to bringing him up.

It took me a while to adjust to the dialects of the townspeople and to accept the Dybou elements, but once I’d adjusted as a reader I found ‘Ruby’ completely enthralling. If I say that I gave up trying to sleep because I was thinking about the book and so continued reading at four in the morning, you’ll get an idea of the hold the narrative obtains over the reader. ‘Ruby’ is an extraordinary book.