Very excited to share my review of Murielle Cyr’s latest book. Murielle has been a friend and an author I admire for many years now but she really surprised me with her latest novel, a move into my favourite genre: Historical fiction.
“The Daughter’s Story” is a powerful story of female oppression in the 20th century.
In French speaking Canada of 1970 a young woman called Lisette is trying to find her biological mother. She’s pregnant by a terrorist and only seeks her mother to take advantage of her, not to find a happily ever after she doesn’t believe in.
Lisette is damaged, but as we get to know her mother’s story and family background – why had she given up the daughter for adoption in the first place – we peel an onion of family secrets and lies, spiced with (to this reader) a much lesser known historical background about the conflicts in Canada at that particular time.
As some of the family background goes way back to 1918 we get glimpses of other parts of Canadian history and how it affected said family.
This is a gripping and deep story about the far-reaching and life-altering consequences of selfish or even seemingly selfless decisions, brought dominantly on women by men. Cyr shows a multitude of female perspectives and engaging characters which culminates in an unexpected coming of age.
Those characters dug their way into my heart fast, I was moved and heartbroken, felt for the damage done and the opportunities lost, but also rejoiced at some of the strength and power the characters showed.
Knowing Cyr as writer in other genres I was amazed at her versatility (shocked to see her use some authentic foul language) and ability to address such harsh issues as if she had done so all of her life. I must say she did the topic great justice.
A voice to remember.
It should be released May 1st, but it’s available for pre-orders which will arrive at the end of March.
The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted by Robert Hillman
Book Review: 5 out of 5 star rating
Hannah has come to town and wants to open a bookshop though no one believes it will succeed. She hires Tom Hope to help her build some shelves. Tom recognizes a heart-broken person in Hannah as Tom is one himself. His wife Trudy left him and took her son, Peter, with her. Tom loved Peter like a son and he misses him dreadfully. Hannah, well, Hannah has met with more grief than most when she was taken to Auschwitz. Both of these broken-hearted souls will learn whether they can be healed or be haunted by their losses forever.
I was completely mesmerized by this beautifully written book. I can see why this was compared to “The Light Between Oceans” because it had that same tragic, soul-wrenching quality to it. This book just wouldn’t…
The novel unfolds slowly as we follow what appears to be a harmless historic find of dead bodies. Characters in the investigative team become familiar to us readers while we are in an early and almost unsuspicious stage of the investigation. The interplay of the present day detectives and their chemistry with each other were my favourite part and I hope this may turn into a series.
When the find of the dead bodies arouses unexpected interest and some suspicious events hint at something bigger being hidden the tension heats up dramatically and this turns into a gripping thriller.
Interspersed with the present day investigation is a separate narrative strand from the perspective of what we assume is one of the five victims. I found this very intriguing.
Well written and with a great dramatic curve this novel flows nicely and never drops your attention. In my copy of the book were no historical notes to explain how much of the plot were fiction or fact, so I assume this is more of a crime fiction with a historical twist rather than serious WWII theory.
This will please crime fiction readers more than historians but there is something winning in the formula of solving crimes from the past. Very enjoyable.
Allan Martin will be talking about his book in the Lit Fest session
I’m delighted to present my review of Richard Zimler’s latest book today and share a little insight from a conversation with him about the book. The book is already on pre-order on Amazon and a great accomplishment.
“The Gospel According to Lazarus” is an accomplished and ambitious novel. In this re-telling of Jesus’s last week from the perspective of a child hoodfriend whom Jesus resurrected from the dead, we’re looking at Jesus, faith, religion and history with new and challenging eyes. Whatever religion – if any – you follow there will be something in the teachings of Jesus that can touch your heart. While I personally would not describe him as the son of god, a lot of what he said was an important message and I’m glad it found itself into humanity.
It’s a credit to Zimler’s writing that I devoured a book about a biblical theme (as I feel that I have been exposed to too much of it in my youth). Historically and biblically well researched this novel is based on the traditional gospel while braving to deal with some missing gaps, logical questions arising from the story and the much appreciated human factor that religion all too easy denies those idols it intends to praise. Why was Lazarus resurrected – how did people respond to him and Jesus because of it and what is the point of this in the context of the bible? While we all believe different things about the afterlife, why was Lazarus not given a chance to tell us about that?
Seeing what has become a Christian story from a more contemporary Jewish angle helps us understand events in a way that cannot be achieved when reading scriptures exposed to millennia of intended and unintended bias. To me, what Zimler has written makes the people and miracles far more believable than the way they have found themselves into the Bible. I remember a hugely inspiring and thought-provoking conversation I once had about Jesus as a Jewish rebel rather than a virgin-born King and this book makes many similar cases, without being as controversial or provocative as my review may make it sound. To me, the point being made here is not to discredit religion but to see the actual story and person of Jesus with some of the gold and glitter removed; and to see the beautiful message from Jesus, untarnished from the dos and don’ts of the preachers.
“The idea for the novel came Richard after a repetitive dream in which his brother – who died of Aids in 1989 – came back to life but was greatly diminished and profoundly mournful. This dream reminded him of the story of Lazarus from the Gospel of John. After he re-read the Gospels, he started researching daily life in the Holy Land at the time of the New Testament and paid special attention to the tradition of Jewish mysticism that Jesus would have likely followed. He became fascinated with the idea of writing the book from the point of view of Lazarus himself and of characterizing Jesus as a Jewish mystic (of giving him back his Judaism, so to speak). To try to free readers from their previous assumptions about these two important men – and to free them from Christian iconography – he uses their Hebrew names in the novel: Eliezer ben Natan and Yeshua ben Yosef”.
Cath Barton approached us with a pitch for the Llandeilo LitFest and her collection of accolades speaks for itself.
Her novella “the Plankton Collector” won the New Welsh Writing Award.
It is a cleverly plotted and well written novella, a short read that is compelling as it is intelligent, using exquisite prose and imagery.
Jumping somewhat between her characters, all of which at some stage meet the ominous Plankton Collector and benefit from their encounters with him, this somehow never gets confusing or feels hard work.
The flow is natural and smooth, the writing style engaging and I am excited to see Cath at the lineup of our festival.
Take a seashore, let us say one on the leeward coast of an island, where the twice-daily coming in and going out of the sea is, in the main, a calming. There are cliffs of old rock, gneisses and schists, born of a time of greater drama. On the tops is a green sward, pockmarked by holes where rabbits burrow. They emerge at dawn and dusk and nibble the grass back into tidiness. On the cliffs is a congregation of gannets, kittiwakes and puffins. They sing songs from the hymnal of the birds. They are raucous and out of time with one another. On the shoreline a few of them land and strut about, self-important but awkward because they are out of their element.
Here the morning light is pearlescent. There is a shimmer to it. Water laps gently around rocks tumbled long ago on the shore, making the little curtains of green algae move back and forth as if they were opening and closing on the scenes of a play. Which indeed they are. It is the daily play of the creatures of the rocky shore, the sand bubbler crabs which emerge from their sandy nests and scuttle in sideways motion, the cushion stars which scavenge on them after death, and the pink polyps of hydroids which feed on plankton. Much of this, and especially the plankton, is invisible to the man we see who passes by and remarks on his disappointment that the rocky pools are not as they were in his childhood. He is thinking about those long-ago summers of (we remember erroneously) unremitting sunshine when boys wearing long shorts or short longs lifted strands of jellified seaweeds aloft triumphantly, for Mother to take a picture with the Box Brownie. That picture which will be amongst the snaps which she keeps all her life in the old chocolate box, the captured iconic moments of seaside holidays, made happy by a trick of memory.
Cath Barton was born in the English Midlands and now lives in Abergavenny. Her short stories have been published in anthologies in Australia, the USA and the UK, while her flash fiction has appeared online in Fictive Dream, Firefly and Long Exposure, amongst other places. Cath was literature editor of California-based Celtic Family Magazine (2013–2016). ‘The Plankton Collector’, from which this is an extract, won the New Welsh Writing Awards 2017: AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella this summer, and will be published in full on our New Welsh Rarebyte imprint during 2018. Our animated trailer for the novella, made by Emily Roberts, can be viewed here Author website: cathbarton.com
“This powerful, thought-provoking debut explores the author’s experiences of her eating disorder in a narrative that is emotionally and intellectually complex yet unflinchingly accessible. Her honest, crafted words are alive with meaning both in what they say and in the spaces they create for the reader’s imagination.” Frank Egerton, author of The Lock and Invisible
“Catherine has written a precise and gripping memoir that illuminates anorexia in a way I have never encountered. Eloquent and thoughtful, there is so much here for anybody who has wrestled with themselves.” Bridie Jabour, author of The Way Things Should Be
“Searingly honest, sparing, taut, tightly controlled, provocative in the best way, considered and beautifully written.” Cathryn Summerhayes, literary agent at Curtis Brown.
“Circumstantial Enemy” is a classic war drama of the “caught-between-the-devil-and-the-blue-sea”-type: Political convictions, ideology, love and loyalty bringing heartache and forcing inner turmoil.
20-year old Tony Babic already has two years’ experience as pilot under his belt. After previously fighting the Nazi’s under Serbian command, in 1941 Croatia becomes an independent state under Germany’s influence and Tony’s being interviewed to join the Croatian air force and fight against the Communist thread.
His training takes place in Germany, subsequent hospitalisation in Italy and eventual imprisonment in Illinois. All the while he corresponds with the woman who owns his heart: Katarina, whose political convictions are strongly against the Nazis.
The book offers plenty of perspective and reflection on choices, options and the course of history. Knowing that this is based on true events makes the story more poignant. An interesting insight into lesser known parts of WW2 history and a very enjoyable read.
Before becoming an author of business books and historical fiction, John Bell was a CEO, global strategy consultant, and a director of several private, public, and not-for-profit organizations. A prolific blogger, John’s musings on strategy, leadership, and branding have appeared in various journals such as Fortune, Forbes and ceoafterlife.com.
John’s novel, ‘The Circumstantial Enemy’ chronicles the trials and capers of Tony Babic, a young pilot who finds himself forcibly aligned with Hitler’s Luftwaffe in 1941. Unbeknownst to Tony, his sweetheart Katarina and best friend Goran have taken the side of the opposing communist partisans. The threesome soon discover that love and friendship can not circumvent this ideals of this war. Like many of the adventure novels of Wilbur Smith and Bryce Courtenay, ‘The Circumstantial Enemy’ is an energetic journey to freedom through minefields of hatred, betrayal, lust, and revenge. Rich in incident and rollicking humor, it’s a story about the strength of the human spirit, and the power of friendship, love, and forgiveness.
John’s business book, ‘Do Less Better – The Power of Strategic Sacrifice in a Complex World’, was released by Palgrave Macmillan USA in 2015. This book helps leaders recognize the complexity within their businesses and suggests how they can simplify and streamline through specialization and sacrifice. For leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs who need help embracing the practices that foster agility, foresight, and resilience, ‘Do Less Better’ provides a tool-kit of road-tested strategies.
I’m delighted to welcome back another much respected writing colleague of mine: Yael Politis.
I had the pleasure of reading her latest book in advance and here’s my review:
“The Summer of 1974” is a rich and rewarding read, the beginning of a new series by one of my favourite authors, Yel Politis. The novel is on the surface the attempt by a young Jewish woman to discover the identity of her father. Her mother only knew him briefly, died in child birth and left no name. Gavrielle’s search for her roots in a country younger than her often is poignant and stirs the emotions. But there is much more to this: while this search demands reflection and bravery proceedings get complicated by her romantic involvements as much as by the military conflicts of the time.
So in a way this is also the story of Israel and the six day war as experienced by our heroine Gavrielle, her friends and family.
Due to the fact that Gabrielle works for the Israeli Intelligence Service we find a lot of fascinating information and lesser known facts about the complexities and the historical and political background of the military conflicts with many minor and major details I never had.
I look forward to the sequel and the next chapter in Gavrielle’s story. An insightful and very enjoyable read.
I grew up in Dearborn, Michigan and attended the Universities of Michigan and Wisconsin. (Back then I was Janet Lewis.) When I was a student I spent two summers in Israel and ended up coming back after I graduated. I still spend a lot of time in Michigan, but have lived all my adult life in Israel. I have worked as an agricultural worker, waitress, secretary, librarian, kitchen worker, Administrative Systems Analyst, English teacher, Hebrew–English translator, English editor, and Technical/Marketing Writer. My last (and longest-held) job was as a Proposal Writer for Israel Aerospace Industries.
Decades ago I began writing on my old Smith-Corona typewriter, but, fantasies aside, I considered it no more than a hobby. Until the day I received an email from Holland Park Press of London. “We want to publish your book,” it said. I had been participating in a writers’ workshop run by the London Arts Council where they spotted The Lonely Tree. So that’s how I came to have a debut novel. By the time I retired from IAI, self-publishing was really taking off and I decided to have a go at it for the three books of The Olivia Series.
In the Full Light of the Sun by Clare Clark A beautiful story about art, history, and what is truly important.
In the Full Light of the Sun follows the fortunes of three Berliners caught up in a devastating scandal of 1930s’ Germany. It tells the story of Emmeline, a wayward, young art student; Julius, an anxious, middle-aged art expert; and a mysterious art dealer named Rachmann who are at the heart of Weimar Berlin at its hedonistic, politically turbulent apogee and are whipped up into excitement over the surprising discovery of thirty-two previously unknown paintings by Vincent van Gogh.
Based on a true story, unfolding through the subsequent rise of Hitler and the Nazis, this gripping tale is about beauty and justice, and the truth that may be found when our most treasured beliefs are revealed as illusions.
Brilliant on authenticity, vanity, and self-delusion, it is a novel for our times.
CLARE CLARK read History at Trinity College, Cambridge, and is the author of The Great Stink, a Washington Post Best Book of the Year, and The Nature of Monsters. She lives in London, and regularly reviews books for the Guardian and other newspapers, and has taught Creative Writing.
Thanks to NetGalley and to Virago for providing me an ARC copy of this novel and allowing me to participate in the blog tour for its launch. I freely chose to review it, and I’m very happy I did.
I am sure you will have noticed the beautiful cover and it might give you a hint of what the book is about. Yes, the book is about Vincent Van Gogh; well, about his art and his paintings, and the controversy that followed the sale in Germany in the 1920s of some of his paintings, which later were identified as fakes (well, perhaps, although the controversy about some of Van Gogh’s paintings, even some of the best-known ones, has carried on until the present). But that is not all.
The story is divided into three parts, all set in Berlin, each one narrated from one character’s points of view, and covering different historical periods, although all of them in the interwar era and told in chronological order. The more I thought about it, the more I felt that the author had chosen the characters as symbols and stand-ins for each particular part of that period of the history of Germany they represented. By setting the story in the 1920s and 30s, in the post-WWI Germany, we get immersed in a rapidly changing society, and one whose political developments and social unrest share more than a passing similarity with some of the things we are experiencing internationally nowadays.
The first part, set in Berlin in 1923, is told in the third-person from the point of view of Julius Köhler-Schultz. He is an art expert, collector, has written a book about Van-Gogh, and is going through a difficult divorce. But he is much more obsessed with art and preoccupied about his artworks than he is about his family. This is a time of extreme inflation, where German money is so devaluated that it is worth nothing, and the comments about it reminded me of a photograph of the period I had seen not long ago where children were playing in the streets with piles of banknotes, using them to build walls, as if they were Lego bricks. As the novel says:
“The prices were meaningless —a single match for nine hundred million marks — and they changed six times a day; no one ever had enough. At the cinema near Böhm’s office, the sign in the window of the ticket booth read: Admission –two lumps of coal.”
This section of the book establishes the story, and introduces many of the main players, not only Julius, but also Matthias, a young man Julius takes under his wing, who wants to learn about art and ends up opening his own gallery; and Emmeline, a young girl who refuses to be just a proper young lady and wants to become an artist. Julius is an intelligent man, very sharp and good at analysing what is going on around him, but blind to his emotions and those of others, and he is more of an observer than an active player. His most endearing characteristic is his love and devotion for art and artists, but he is not the most sympathetic and engaging of characters. He is self-centred and egotistical, although he becomes more humanised and humane as the story moves on.
The second part of the novel is set in Berlin in 1927, and it is told, again in the third-person, from Emmeline Eberhardt’s point of view. Although we had met her in the first part, she has now grown up and seems to be a stand-in for the Weimar Republic, for the freedom of the era, where everything seemed possible, where Berlin was full of excitement, night clubs, parties, Russian émigrés, new art movements, social change, and everything went. She is a bit lost. She wants to be an artist, but does not have confidence in herself; she manages to get a job as an illustrator in a new magazine but gets quickly bored drawing always the same; she loves women, but sometimes looks for men to fill a gap. She can’t settle and wants to do everything and live to the limit as if she knew something was around the corner, and she might not have a chance otherwise. Although she gets involved, somehow, in the mess of the fake paintings (we won’t know exactly how until much later on), this part of the story felt much more personal and immediate, at least for me. She is in turmoil, especially due to her friendship with a neighbour, Dora, who becomes obsessed with the story of the fake Van Goghs, but there are also lovely moments when Emmeline reflects on what she sees, and she truly has the eye of an artist, and she also shares very insightful observations. I loved Dora’s grandmother as well. She cannot move, but she has a zest for life and plenty of stories.
“When Dora was very little her governess put a pile of books on her chair so she could reach the table but Dora refused to sit on them,’ Oma said. ‘Remember, Dodo? You thought you would squash all the people who lived inside.’”
The third part is set in Berlin in 1933 and is written in the first person, from the point of view of Frank Berszacki. He is a Jewish lawyer living in Berlin and experiences first-hand the rise to power of the Nazis. He becomes the lawyer of Emmeline’s husband, Anton, and that seems to be his link to the story, but later we discover that he was the lawyer for Matthias Rachman, the man who, supposedly, sold the fake Van Goghs, the friend of Julius. As most people who are familiar with any of the books or movies of the period know, at first most people did not believe things would get as bad as they did in Germany with Hitler’s rise to power. But things keep getting worse and worse.
“I want to know how it is possible that this is happening. It cannot go on, we have all been saying it for months, someone will stop it, and yet no one stops it and it goes on. It gets worse. April 1 and who exactly are the fools?”
His licence to practice is revoked, and although it is returned to him because he had fought for Germany in the previous war; he struggles to find any clients, and the German ones can simply choose not to settle their bills. He and his wife have experienced a terrible loss and life is already strained before the world around them becomes increasingly mad and threatening. When his brother decides to leave the country and asks him to house his daughter, Mina, for a short while, while he gets everything ready, the girl manages to shake their comfortable but numb existence and has a profound impact in their lives.
Although I loved the story from the beginning, I became more and more involved with the characters as it progressed, and I felt particularly close to the characters in part 3, partly because of the first-person narration, partly because of the evident grieving and sense of loss they were already experiencing, and partly because of their care for each other and the way the married couple kept trying to protect each other from the worst of the situation. I agree that not all the characters are sympathetic and easy to connect with, but the beauty of the writing more than makes up for that, as does the fascinating story, which as the author explains in her note at the end, although fictionalised, is based on real events. I also loved the snippets from Van Gogh’s letters, so inspiring, and the well-described atmosphere of the Berlin of the period, which gets more and more oppressive as it goes along. I found the ending satisfying and hopeful, and I think most readers will feel the same way about it.
This is not a novel for everybody. It is literary fiction, and although it has elements of historical fiction, and also of the thriller, its rhythm is contemplative, its language is descriptive and precious, and it is not a book where every single word moves the plot forward. This is not a quick-paced page-turner. Readers who love books that move fast and are heavy on plot, rather than characters and atmosphere, might find it slow and decide nothing much happens in it. There is plenty that happens though, and I could not help but feel that the book also sounds a note of caution and warning, because it is impossible to read about some of the events, the politics, and the reactions of the populations and not make comparisons with current times. As I sometimes do, although I have shared some quotes from it already, I’d advise possible readers to check a sample of the book before making a decision about it. This is not a book for everybody. If you enjoy reading as a sensual experience, appreciate the texture and lyricism of words, and love books about art that manage to capture the feeling of it, I cannot recommend it enough. It is beautiful. This is the first book by this author I’ve read, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
This is a wonderfully warm, witty, cosy and gripping mystery. Three sisters fight for the survival of their equine farm. Just as the equine conference is about to start, which the sisters have high hopes for, an accident occurs that the ladies don’t think was just that, but murder.
The banter between the sisters, the fragile and strong sides to their characters makes the amateur sleuths lovable, relatable and very entertaining.
They encounter a lot of quirly characters at the equine symposium as you can imagine, making this an often hilarious and hugely entertaining read. There’s horses, secrets, romance, murder and weight loss devices. Fisher’s humour is brilliant and if you like a good laugh then this murder mystery is for you.
Abby, Dodie, and Clara Foster, three 60-something sisters, are astonished to learn they’ve inherited Grizzly Gulch, a dude ranch in the Alberta Foothills. Facing financial ruin, they host a week-long horse breeding symposium to attract more guests.
Hours into the symposium, a cowboy’s sudden death appears accidental. When the Mounties dismiss Abby’s notion of murder, she convinces Dodie and Zeke, their hot barn manager, to conduct a covert investigation without alerting their guests. Problem is, the quirky guests are their main suspects.
Chaos ensues when the senior sleuths tangle with one seriously amorous gelding (yes, it happens), a runaway stud, dwarf goats and their guard llama, a cranky stallion, drug abuse, deceit, and more danger. It doesn’t help that late-life romance ups the ante.
Warning: This book may contain inappropriate boomer humor.
“Great fun to read! I love it! Laughed out loud and enjoyed all the characters.”
“The physical comedy infused throughout gave me several actual laugh-out-loud moments – the mark for me of a great read.”
is the remarkable story of Renata, a Jewish woman managing to flee Germany in 1938 and her subsequent journey via Italy and Greece to Egypt. It seems one of the lesser known events of the WW2 era how many people escaped to Syria and Egypt once Palestine was closed to immigrants and this novel describes one of these journeys in well researched detail. While the description of the prosecution of Jews in the book adds not much new for regular readers of the genre, Renata is a fascinating character with many conflicts and her epic journey moves to and ends in unexpected places.
There are minor issues, such as creating a sense of location via inserted German and French phrases while people of the same Nationality speak with each other, but they shouldn’t interfere too much with the enjoyment of an otherwise rather unusual story.