Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

days without end

My grateful thanks to Niriksha Bharadia at Faber for a copy of Days Without End by Sebastian Barry in return for an honest review.

Days Without End is available for purchase in e-book, hardback and paperback here.

Days Without End

days without end

‘I am thinking of the days without end of my life…’

After signing up for the US army in the 1850s, aged barely seventeen, Thomas McNulty and his brother-in-arms, John Cole, go on to fight in the Indian wars and, ultimately, the Civil War.

Having fled terrible hardships they find these days to be vivid and filled with wonder, despite the horrors they both see and are complicit in. Their lives are further enriched and imperilled when a young Indian girl crosses their path, and the possibility of lasting happiness emerges, if only they can survive.

Moving from the plains of the West to Tennessee, Sebastian Barry’s latest work is a masterpiece of atmosphere and language. Both an intensely poignant story of two men and the lives they are dealt, and a fresh look at some of the most fateful years in America’s past, Days Without End is a novel never to be forgotten.

My Review of Days Without End

Meeting John Cole under a hedge will have an impact on the life of young Thomas McNulty beyond his imaginings.

I am stunned by Days Without End. This is a book that will stay with me as a reader for a very long time and I don’t think I’ve read anything quite like it. I was completely immersed in the narrative and it felt much more like listening to an authentic voice and natural raconteur than reading. I genuinely forgot that Thomas was simply a character in a book as I became spellbound by his words.

I loved everything about Days Without End. It provided such a vivid picture in my mind of America in the middle 1800s because the quality of writing is so evocative. There’s such variety of sentence structure and innovative style with variable punctuation. The lack of direct speech meant it felt like I was listening to real conversation which appealed to my ear as well as my eye. There’s dry humour so that I laughed aloud and real emotion so that I was close to tears. There’s lyrical presentation of the prosaic, whereas the extraordinary is frequently presented in a matter of fact tone so that the impact is all the more resounding. I adored the imaginative similes and metaphors which lent poetry to harshness. I truly feel Sebastian Barry is a tour de force in writing.

The quality of detail meant that I have a vivid and disurbing understanding of America at the time. The treatment of Native Americans, the civil war, the weather, farming, shanty towns and poverty were all laid out before me in a raw, brutal and affecting read.

However, it is the characterisation that really had a grip on me. The relationship between the giant John Cole and the diminutive Thomas McNulty is just beautifully presented. Their love for one another as friends and lovers is sensitively and realistically portrayed. I could feel the emotion of longing leaping off the page when they were parted. I got to the point where I would have done almost anything to keep them together and had to remind myself I was actually reading a fictional story!

Days Without End is sheer genius. I feel my life has been enhanced by reading it and I won’t ever be the same as a reader again.

About Sebastian Barry

Barry-sebastian

Sebastian Barry was born in Dublin in 1955. His novels and plays have won, among other awards, the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Prize, the Costa Book of the Year award, the Irish Book Awards Best Novel, the Independent Booksellers Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. He also had two consecutive novels, A Long Long Way (2005) and The Secret Scripture (2008), shortlisted for the MAN Booker Prize. He lives in Wicklow with his wife and three children.

The Red Cobra by Rob Sinclair

the red cobra

My grateful thanks to the author, Rob Sinclair, for a copy of The Red Cobra in return for an honest review.

I’m lucky enough to have met Rob Sinclair and he’s lovely so I’m delighted that in my AWOL month of April when I’m avoiding blog tours I actually have had time to read Rob’s latest book The Red Cobra, especially as I also have three more of Rob’s books on my TBR awaiting review. Rob has previously appeared on the blog with a great guest post that you can read here.

The Red Cobra is the first in a new series from Rob and is published today, 4th April 2017, by Bloodhound. The Red Cobra is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here.

The Red Cobra

the red cobra

Carl Logan dedicated nearly twenty years of his life to the Joint Intelligence Agency. Now living in a secret location, under the new identify of James Ryker, he wants nothing more than to be left alone, the chance to start a new life away from chaos, violence, destruction and deceit.

It’s not long, however, before Ryker’s short-lived idyll is destroyed when he is tracked down by Peter Winter, his ex-boss at the JIA. Winter brings with him news of the murder of a woman in Spain, Kim Walker, whose fingerprints match those of one of Ryker’s former adversaries who’s been missing presumed dead for years – an infamous female assassin known as the Red Cobra.

A cyberattack at the JIA led to the Red Cobra’s profile being compromised, and Winter believes JIA agents may now be at risk too, Ryker included.

But Ryker knew the elusive Red Cobra better than anyone, and when he sees the grisly pictures of Kim Walker’s corpse, he has news for Winter – she isn’t the assassin at all …

So just who is the mystery dead woman? And where is the real Red Cobra?

My Review of The Red Cobra

James Ryker thinks he just wants to put his past behind him and live a peaceful life. The trouble is, we don’t always get, or know, what we want.

Crikey The Red Cobra opens with an action packed scene and it pretty well doesn’t let up for the rest of the novel. Short chapters with cliffhanger endings add a breathless pace so that The Red Cobra is a really exciting read. I genuinely found it heart-thumpingly exciting and the events even pervaded my dreams at night! There’s quite a bit of violence but Rob Sinclair also knows less is more so he is a master of suggestion as well as description making for an elevated pulse rate in his readers.

Speaking of description, I thought the details given were perfectly balanced so that I had a clear picture of people and places in my head without a single word of unnecessary padding so that I felt totally immersed in the narrative. I truly did exclaim aloud as I read as the imagery felt very visual, almost like watching a film, and I could easily envisage The Red Cobra as an exciting television series.

What I enjoyed so much was that this is not just a police procedural novel. Ryker has a past and he’s certainly not a policeman. There’s a psychological element that I found tightly plotted and intelligently written. There’s action, violence, pace and drama, but there’s relationships and reasoning too. I understood the motivations of the characters and loved the way Rob Sinclair uncovered the details as a drip feed so that I found out aspects at the same time as those in the book. This made me feel I was part of the action.

As I read the last paragraph I felt devastated that I didn’t have the next book in the series to leap into straight away. This is my first Rob Sinclair read, but what a book to begin with. The Red Cobra is exciting, well written and absorbing – definitely a ‘can’t put it down thriller’. I loved it.

About Rob Sinclair

rob-sinclair

Rob is the author of the critically acclaimed and bestselling Enemy series of espionage thrillers featuring embattled agent Carl Logan.

His explosive debut, Dance with the Enemy, was published in 2014 and introduced the world to the enigmatic Carl Logan. The second novel in the series, Rise of the Enemy, was released in April 2015, with the third, Hunt for the Enemy, being released in February 2016. The Enemy series has received widespread critical acclaim with many reviewers and readers having likened Rob’s work to authors at the very top of the genre, including Lee Child and Vince Flynn.

Rob’s pulsating psychological thriller Dark Fragments, released by Bloodhound Books in November 2016, has been described as ‘clever’ and ‘chilling’ and an ‘expertly crafted’ story.

Rob began writing in 2009 following a promise to his wife, an avid reader, that he could pen a ‘can’t put down’ thriller. He worked for nearly 13 years for a global accounting firm after graduating from The University of Nottingham in 2002, specialising in forensic fraud investigations at both national and international levels. Rob now writes full time.

Originally from the North East of England, Rob has lived and worked in a number of fast paced cities, including New York, and is now settled in the West Midlands with his wife and young sons.

You can follow Rob on Twitter, visit his website and find him on Facebook.

The Little Breton Bistro by Nina George

Little Breton Bistro

My grateful thanks to Hayley Camis at Little Brown for a copy of The Little Breton Bistro by Nina George in return for an honest review.

The Little Breton Bistro was published by Abacus, an imprint of Little Brown, on 2nd March 2017 and is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here.

The Little Breton Bistro

Little Breton Bistro

Marianne Messman, a housewife, wants to escape her loveless marriage and an uncaring and unfeeling husband of 35 years. Marianne and her husband (army sergeant major Lothar) take a trip to Paris, during which Marianne leaps off the Pont Neuf into the Seine, but she is saved from drowning by a homeless man. Angered by her behaviour, major Lothar takes a coach trip back home to Germany, expecting that a psychologist will escort Marianne home a few days later.

However, Marianne comes across a hand-painted scene of the tiny port of Kerdruc in Brittany, and becomes fixated with the place. Marianne decides to make her way to Kerdruc, and once there meets a host of colourful characters who all gravitate around the small restaurant of Ar Mor (The Sea).

It is this cast of true Bretons who become Marianne’s new family. She finds love and passion with Yann, an artist who becomes her guide to the secrets of Brittany. Before long, Marianne’s husband is back to retrieve her and Marianne feels pulled towards her old life by way of duty and guilt. She leaves Kerdruc and gets as far as Paris before she realises it’s now or never when it comes to building the life she really wants.

My Review of The Little Breton Bistro

When Marianne’s attempts at suicide are thwarted, a whole new life of possibility is revealed to her.

Never having read anything by Nina George and being slightly irritated by the use of the adjective ‘little’ in so many book titles of late I wasn’t particularly looking forward to reading The Little Breton Bistro as I thought it would be another lightweight formulaic read. I was completely wrong. If I’m honest, I didn’t really think that the title did justice to the book.

The Little Breton Bistro is an absorbing tale of what it means to live life to the full and not live down to others’ expectations. The marriage between Marianne and Lothar is, I suspect, typical of so many marriages and The Little Breton Bistro actually gives hope and life to those in similar circumstances. It is a salutary tale of making the most of life.

The plotting is extremely good with every character in Kerdruc earning their place in the story and weaving a colourful tapestry of life, love and relationships. I really enjoyed the fact that Marianne and Yann, for example, are in their 60s and presented as warm human beings with real needs, insecurities and desires, rather than the 30 somethings of so many novels.

But it was the overall quality of writing I really enjoyed. There’s a wry humour that balances perfectly the deeper aspects. All the senses are perfectly catered for from the crackle of stockings to the ozone taste of oysters so that the prose sizzles with life. Some of the phrasing was quite beautiful and made me think of Dylan Thomas, especially the descriptions of Kerdruc. I also loved the underlying mythology and art that came through the superstitions of the Breton community so that this is strong storytelling.

The themes that underpin the characterisation are apposite and satisfying. Life threatening illness, dementia, love, bitterness and so on all feature but in a way that doesn’t expect readers to respond like thoughtless puppets. Nina George says what she has to say and leaves the reader to make up their own mind. I found The Little Breton Bistro quite a feminist read in lots of ways.

So, quite differently from expectations, I really enjoyed reading The Little Breton Bistro. I could identify with the characters and themes and having read it felt my life had been enhanced. I highly recommend this uplifting tale of optimism, hope and love.

About Nina George

Nina George

Born in 1973, Nina George is a journalist and the author of numerous bestselling novels, which have been translated into several languages. The Little Paris Bookshop was a phenomenal top five bestseller in Germany and is set to be published around the world. She is married to the writer Jens J. Kramer and lives in Hamburg.

You can follow Nina George on Twitter and visit her website. You’ll also find her on Facebook.

The Cows by Dawn O’Porter

cows

My enormous thanks to Emilie Chambreyon for a copy of The Cows by Dawn O’Porter in return for an honest review and my apologies for declining the blog tour as I try to reduce my TBR in April (you can read more about that attempt here)!

The Cows will be published by Harper Collins on 6th April 2017 and is available for purchase through the publisher links here.

The Cows

cows

COW [n.]
/kaʊ/

A piece of meat; born to breed; past its sell-by-date; one of the herd.

Women don’t have to fall into a stereotype.

Tara, Cam and Stella are strangers living their own lives as best they can – though when society’s screaming you should live life one way, it can be hard to like what you see in the mirror.

When an extraordinary event ties invisible bonds of friendship between them, one woman’s catastrophe becomes another’s inspiration, and a life lesson to all.

Sometimes it’s ok not to follow the herd.

The Cows is a powerful novel about three women – judging each other, but also themselves. In all the noise of modern life, they need to find their own voice.

My Review of The Cows

Three very different women, Tara, Cam and Stella, all find life isn’t always under your own control!

The Cows is brilliant. I enjoyed every word. Dawn O’Porter’s writing is vibrant, sassy, sparky, sexy and funny as she explores what it means to be a woman in modern society where men still seem to have the upper hand and modern technology and social media can affect our lives devastatingly.

The plot is very entertaining but also quite disturbing. When Tara behaves in a way I found quite shocking, I thought the responses of the media and social media were even more disturbing because they are so plausible and true to life. There’s a definite suggestion of ‘there but for the grace of God…’ and I think we can all learn a considerable amount about how we present ourselves to society and how we respond to others.

The Cows is a feminist text in many ways, advocating that women can make their own lives, but cleverly, Dawn O’Porter presents men as having their own issues too. Jason and Mark in particular as as used by women as women are used by men. The Cows gives intelligent food for thought whilst it entertains and is actually about people, not just the three women of the narrative. Themes of grief and identity, family and friendship underpin much of the action that I found interesting as they challenged my own perceptions at times.

I am not a great fan of multiple narratives but in The Cows I found the different voices of Cam, Stella and Tara were totally distinct and worked very effectively. I thought it was a clever technique to present Cam more remotely in the third person, given that she is the most willingly public figure. I didn’t like Stella at all and found her actions, whilst the most understandable, the most reprehensible.

I know others have not enjoyed The Cows but I cannot recommend it highly enough. I think the themes are challenging and that some will find the sexual content unacceptable or unpalatable but I think they are missing the point of the book. Dawn O’Porter wants to challenge how we think and I feel she has been highly successful. Let’s just say that I will be scrutinising carefully the person sitting in the same carriage as me next time I take the train!

About Dawn O’Porter

Dawn o

Dawn O’Porter is a broadcaster, novelist and print journalist who lives with her husband Chris, cat Lilu and dog Potato. She has made numerous documentaries about all sorts of things including polygamy, childbirth, geishas, body image, breast cancer and even the movie Dirty Dancing.

Dawn founded Help Refugees in 2015 which is a charity that sends urgent care to refugees across Europe.

Dawn has written for various UK newspapers and magazines including Grazia and Stylist.

You can follow Dawn on Twitter or visit her website. You’ll also find her on Facebook.

Foxes Unearthed by Lucy Jones

Foxes unearthed

My grateful thanks to Alison at Elliott and Thompson for a copy of Foxes Unearthed by Lucy Jones in return for an honest review.

Published in paperback on 16th March 2017 Foxes Unearthed is available for purchase by following the publisher links here.

I was lucky enough to interview Lucy Jones about Foxes Unearthed before I’d had time to finish reading it and you can see that interview here.

Foxes Unearthed

Foxes unearthed

As one of the largest predators left in Britain, the fox is captivating: a comfortably familiar figure in our country landscapes; an intriguing flash of bright-eyed wildness in our towns.

Yet no other animal attracts such controversy, has provoked more column inches or been so ambiguously woven into our culture over centuries, perceived variously as a beautiful animal, a cunning rogue, a vicious pest and a worthy foe. As well as being the most ubiquitous of wild animals, it is also the least understood.

In Foxes Unearthed Lucy Jones investigates the truth about foxes in a media landscape that often carries complex agendas. Delving into fact, fiction, folklore and her own family history, Lucy travels the length of Britain to find out first-hand why these animals incite such passionate emotions, revealing our rich and complex relationship with one of our most loved – and most vilified – wild animals. This compelling narrative adds much-needed depth to the debate on foxes, asking what our attitudes towards the red fox say about us and, ultimately, about our relationship with the natural world.

My Review of Foxes Unearthed

Foxes Unearthed explores in detail the relationships we humans have with these fascinating creatures.

Let me say at the outset that Foxes Unearthed will not appeal to all readers. I will confess that I didn’t read the book all in one go, but returned to it over a couple of weeks. Those with a particular passion for or interest in foxes will, I think, devour it more rapidly. It is not a cosy celebration of the fox, but rather an erudite essay exploring our perceptions and responses so that it says as much about the human condition as it does about the fox. I thought the passage about the Alconbury incident was an apposite example and I’m not sure I always liked the truth about humanity I was forced to confront reading Foxes Unearthed; it wasn’t always a comfortable experience.

The writing is intricately researched and I appreciated the notes, bibliography and index so that Foxes Unearthed felt like a perfect lesson in presenting material in an accessible form to an audience. I must also just say a word about the chapter illustrations by Tim Oakenfull. They are just stunning.

There was so much to learn about the fox, from its Latin vulpes vulpes through its biblical references to our modern day attitudes. I thought that Lucy Jones presented her material in a very balanced way, often providing thought-provoking examples and comments and making sure the reader has a full picture. So often, as she herself says, attitudes to foxes and their control ‘does depend on who you ask’.

I definitely preferred the passages where Lucy Jones writes more personally and lyrically than factually, but that is personal preference as I’m not a great non-fiction reader. I’m honestly not sure if I enjoyed reading Foxes Unearthed or not but it is most definitely an important book. It made me question my own thought processes, it showed me how to reconsider my own very pro-fox stance and be more authoritative in my opinions and it taught me a very great deal about life in Britain, about foxes and about humans especially. I really recommend reading Foxes Unearthed whatever your usual genre preference.

About Lucy Jones

Lucy Jones

Lucy Jones is a writer and journalist based in Hampshire, England. She previously worked at NME and The Daily Telegraph. Her writing on culture, science and nature has been published in BBC Earth, BBC Wildlife, the Guardian,TIME, Newsweek and the New Statesman. She runs the Wildlife Daily blog and is the recipient of the Society of Authors’ Roger Deakin Award for Foxes Unearthed.

You can follow Lucy on Twitter and visit her website.