Friday, 31 December 2021

The Girl With No Name by Reine Andrieu

The Girl With No Name by Reine Andrieu
First published in French as L'Hiver de Solveig by Librairie Générale Française in February 2021. English language translation by Deniz Gulan published by Hodder and Stoughton on the 29th July 2021.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

She may not remember her name, but her body knows.

1940. When a French family is forced to house a German soldier in their spare room, young Noemie finds herself drawn to the enemy living under the family roof. A forbidden romance unfolds with life-changing consequences.

1946. In the aftermath of the war, a little girl is found sitting on a bench with no memory of who she is - not even her own name. Justin, a young gendarme, takes her under his wing. He is desperate to unravel the mystery surrounding her sudden appearance.

Who is the little girl?

And what happened to her family?

The truth he discovers is spine-chilling.

The Girl With No name has a wonderful premise which caught my attention when I saw the book for review on NetGalley. It is a shame that the English language publication didn't share the novel's French language title - Solveig's Winter being more enigmatic and tempting for me than yet another 'The Girl ...' title. Aren't publishers weary of that gimmick yet? Titles aside, I did enjoy reading Solveig's story, discovering what becomes of her and her family as well as what had already happened to leave this ten-year-old child with amnesia.

The Girl With No Name switches between three timelines and several narrators so I found I had to concentrate on each chapter heading in order to remember whose voice was currently speaking. Some characters do have distinctive voices, but others are less easily recognisable. The mystery element of who did what and why is satisfyingly complex and nicely dripfed to readers so I was kept pretty much glued to this book over the two days in which I read it. I could not help but feel for Solveig through her story and especially when she realises the full extent of the 'if only' denouement towards the end.

I did sometimes feel though as if The Girl With No Name could have benefited from fewer narrating voices in order to make space for greater depth in the storytelling. As a young adult Second World War novel it is more aligned with the works of Ella Zeiss than, say, Ruta Sepetys, but was an enjoyable and rewarding read all the same.

Etsy Find!
by Fat Cat Post Stamps

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Books by Reine Andrieu / Historical fiction / Books from Tunisia

Thursday, 30 December 2021

The Christmas Blanket by Ed Damiano + Giveaway

Join Us for This Tour from  November 26 to December 26
Book Details:
Book Title:  The Christmas Blanket by Ed Damiano
Category:  Children's Book (ages 3-7), 38 pages
Genre Picture Book
Publisher:  Mascot Books
Release date:  December 2018
Content Rating:  G suitable for all readers

Mom's Choice Award Winner!

Book Description:

What is the meaning of Christmas? That's what eight-year-old EJ wants to know. The other kids say it's about getting toys‚ but is it, really?

​One evening, EJ's mother takes him to the Rockefeller Center to see the lighting of the most magical tree in the world, and EJ meets someone who teaches him what Christmas is truly all about.
Buy the Book
Mascot Books
Meet the Author:
Born in Newark, New Jersey, Damiano has a passion for creativity, and his stories always contain a positive message. He also wrote The Christmas Blanket, which earned him a Mom’s Choice Award. In The Christmas Blanket, his character EJ realizes the true meaning of Christmas, which is not about getting presents, but about giving back to others.

Connect with the Author: ​goodreads
Tour Schedule:

Nov 26 -
Cover Lover Book Review – book review / giveaway
Nov 26 - Kam's Place – book review
Nov 29 – Chit Chat with Charity – book review / giveaway
Nov 29 - Gina Rae Mitchell – book review / giveaway
Nov 29 - Splashes of Joy – book review / giveaway
Nov 29 - Lisa's Reading – book review
Nov 29 - FUONLYKNEW - book spotlight / giveaway
Nov 30 – The Momma Spot – book review / giveaway
Nov 30 - Rockin' Book Reviews – book review / giveaway
Dec 1 – fundinmental – book spotlight / giveaway
Dec 1 - @jayme_reads - book review
Dec 2 – Deborah-Zenha Adams – book spotlight / giveaway
Dec 2 - Character Madness and Musing – book spotlight / giveaway
Dec 3 – @booking.with.janelle – book review
Dec 3 - Nighttime Reading Center – book review / giveaway
Dec 7 – Cheryl's Book Nook – book review / giveaway
Dec 8 – Older & Smarter? – book review / giveaway
Dec 9 – Westveil Publishing – book review / giveaway
Dec 10 – Pause for Tales – book review / giveaway
Dec 13 – Locks, Hooks and Books – book review / giveaway
Dec 14 – Bound 4 Escape – book review / giveaway
Dec 15 – icefairy's Treasure Chest – book review / giveaway
Dec 16 – Jazzy Book Reviews – book review / giveaway
Dec 20 – ajbookreads – book spotlight
Dec 20 - Writer with Wanderlust - book review / giveaway
Dec 21 – She Just Loves Books – book review / giveaway
Dec 22 – I'm Into Books – book review / giveaway
Dec 23 – Bigreadersite – book review / giveaway
Dec 26 - @twilight_reader – book review
Dec 28 – The Phantom Paragrapher – book review
Dec 29 – Sefina Hawke's Books – book spotlight
Dec 30 – Literary Flits – book spotlight / giveaway

Enter the Giveaway:
Win a signed copy of THE CHRISTMAS BLANKET! (one winner/USA only) (ends Jan 6)

THE CHRISTMAS BLANKET by Ed Damiano Book Tour Giveaway




Etsy Find!
by Little Babi

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Books by Ed Damiano / Christmas stories / Books from America

Wednesday, 29 December 2021

The Original Dream by Nukila Amal

The Original Dream by Nukila Amal
First published in Bahasa Indonesia as Cala Ibi by Pena Gaia Klasik in Indonesia in 2003. English language translation by Linda Owens published by AmazonCrossing in January 2017.

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For Maya, history is like a dream, and her dreams are like a history of her life and how it relates to others. Effortlessly defying and calling into question time and space, Maya inhabits fantastical realities filled with shamans, romantic longing, a daughter's struggles, and a flying dragon.

Lyrically flowing between Maya's multiple realities, The Original Dream is the story of a young independent Indonesian woman trying to break free from cultural and social conventions while also searching for her place among family and friends. With guidance from her parents, coworkers, and sister, along with a newborn filled with the wisdom of elders, Maya navigates her perceptions, looking for answers to unknown questions. Whether soaring through the nighttime sky, caring for her nephew, or tending to guests at the hotel where she works, she tries to delineate the difference between dreams and reality and if such a difference even matters.

I loved this novel so much! Reading it was such an incredible, immersive experience for which I feel a lot of credit must go not only to Nukila Amal for her vivid flights of fancy and imagination, but also to Linda Owens for creating such a sympathetic translation for English language readers. The Original Dream does read like trying to follow someone's dream so I think rendering that into another tongue must have been a daunting prospect. The novel has several different narrative threads and I was frequently unsure whether the one I was reading at that time was a depicting a dream, magical realism, or actual reality for Maya (or Maia, depending which was the real girl). I felt The Original Dream was a coming of age story, but it also delves back in aspects of Indonesian folklore and explores themes of social and cultural heritage.

I admit to having absolutely no idea what was going on for much of the time! I mean, I understood individual scenes, but where and how they fitted into the whole story was beyond me and yet it didn't seem to matter. In other novels that sense of bewilderment would have been extremely frustrating, but within the context of The Original Dream it worked beautifully for me. I let go and allowed myself to be carried along by Amal's gorgeously evocative prose, much as if I myself were flying with Cala Ibi in Maia's place. As the stories unfolded around me I could picture their detailed locations and imagine being right there alongside the characters. Reading The Original Dream, with its stream of consciousness ideas and imagery was enchanting and also a little exhausting, but I am delighted to have discovered Amal's work - albeit nearly twenty years after the book was first published. I would definitely read more of her writing in the future and would just hope that next time I might even understand it all. Not, probably, that it would really matter if I didn't!

Etsy Find!
by Allisons Wig Box

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Books by Nukila Amal / Magical Realism / Books from Indonesia

Tuesday, 28 December 2021

Imperfect by Holly Carr + Giveaway + Excerpt

Holly Carr
Publication date: August 2nd 2021
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance, Suspense

She isn’t looking for love. He’s running from it.

A workplace crush is supposed to be light-hearted. Frivolous, even. Just some daydream inspiration to make the hours go faster, or to fill in twenty boring minutes.

Sam isn’t ready to develop actual feelings for someone. Not with Logan still looming so large in her heart, and especially not when the subject of her infatuation is her new employer.

Alex doesn’t plan to fall in love ever again. Not after what happened with Victoria.

But fate seems determined to begin an unwanted love story, and a tentative romance blossoms as Alex and Sam battle the malicious sabotage of a rival company.

That is, until Alex’s evil ex-wife re-enters his life, threatening to take custody of their daughter.

Sam’s determination to help the desperate man stand up for himself brings the two would-be lovers closer, but Victoria’s antics only highlight to Alex the dangers of leaving himself vulnerable.

Can Sam convince him to set aside eleven years of stanch celibacy and give into his feelings?

And just how did he get that mysterious scar on his face?

This contemporary romantic suspense novel is perfect for readers with a soft spot for a hesitant love story, a single dad, and a relatable heroine. 


Sam stood just inside the door to Dimitri’s office, leaving it ajar so she could see though the gap. She peered down the hallway so she could warn Alex if their unauthorised presence were pending discovery. Unable to relax, she repeatedly lamented her decision to accompany him. All that stopped her from abandoning her post and returning to the party was her fear she’d be caught on the way, thus making it more likely Alex would also be busted.

She’d uselessly checked the clock on her phone twice already. It made no difference, as Alex hadn’t specified a time limit. He wasn’t going to suddenly give up just because their breaking and entering had totalled ten whole minutes. But it gave her something to do, and she sorely needed a distraction to take the edge off her panic.

She periodically turned to watch Alex, hoping he would either find something soon or give up. He was going through Dimitri’s desk, skimming papers, and meticulously putting them back in the same order. So far, nothing out of the ordinary had shown up.

She’d already voiced her opinion it was unlikely anything so important would be written down on paper, and Alex had admitted she was probably right. Short of hacking his desktop, this was almost certainly a futile exercise. He’d confided that he was holding out hope because Dimitri was somewhat ‘old school’. There was potentially an interesting hardcopy stashed somewhere.

Finishing with the drawers, Alex started on the single tray of documents on top of the desk. Dimitri’s workspace was unencumbered by the clutter littering Alex’s. Being well past retirement age, Sam suspected he didn’t have as much to do with the day to day running of his company as Alex did.

I wonder how much work it would take to make Alex’s desk look like that, she thought. Probably more than she’d care to contemplate. Even if she managed it, the lack of visible tasks would only serve to make him anxious anyway. He was too used to having three people’s work to do.

Her head whipped back to the door when she heard a bell ring in the distance. ‘Someone’s getting out of the lift,’ she whispered urgently.

Alex looked up, startled. He was only about halfway through the tray, and she saw his eyes dart back to the pile, eager to keep looking. He spoke distractedly, more engrossed in his task than their conversation. ‘I’ll just finish looking at this and we’ll …’ A sick pallor washed over his face as he looked up at Sam again, who was frozen in shock.

They had both realised their predicament at the same time. Her self-appointed position as ‘lookout’ was completely useless. The only way out was the lift or the stairs beside the lift. If someone was coming this way, they were going to be caught red-handed.

Sam couldn’t believe they had both been that stupid. Alex’s eagerness combined with her discomfort had blinded them to the obvious. They’d trapped themselves. Their only hope was that whoever it was didn’t plan on coming in this direction.

Watching the hall nervously, she saw shadows coming from around the distant corner, and her heart sank as she realised the voices were getting closer. There was no doubt about it, they were coming this way.

Swiftly closing the door, she confirmed this fact to Alex. He uselessly put the papers back into the tray. No one would ever know he’d been through them if they could just somehow not be caught.

Their mere presence made his intentions obvious though. Even without the physical evidence of disorder, what other reason could they have for being here?

Sam answered her own question as she watched Alex stride around the desk looking grim. He appeared to be mentally preparing himself to face the music, but maybe they didn’t have to.

It’s crazy, she thought. Too crazy, but I can’t think of anything else.

It was a risk on a lot of levels. They’d still be ‘busted’ in a way, and she was sure Alex wasn’t going to like it, but it was all she could come up with on short notice. ‘Take off your jacket and undo your tie,’ she whispered.

Alex’s look of bleak determination turned to confusion. The request certainly didn’t fit the situation, but she didn’t have time to ease him into it gently.

‘If we can’t get out before they come in, we need a different reason to be here. Take off your jacket, and undo your tie and some buttons,’ she whispered again, more urgently this time, beginning to untie her skirt.

Author Bio:

Holly Carr was born in Victoria, Australia, where she still lives today with her husband and a cat with no sense of personal space. She graduated from Deakin University in 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts (Public Relations), majoring in Literary Studies.

Holly first began writing creatively while she was at university, only setting aside her incomplete manuscript due to time constraints. It took ten years before she finally sat down to write again, and her first completed novel ‘IMPERFECT’ practically wrote itself. She enjoyed the experience so much she has already begun work on another.

When she takes a break from writing, she enjoys occasional visits from her grown-up son, pole dancing, eating far too much Mexican food, and pretending to know a lot about wine.

You can get the first two chapters of her forthcoming novel ‘UNLUCKY’ for free at her website, or follow her on Facebook @hollycarrauthor and Instagram @holly_ylloh_holly.

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Etsy Find!
by Leo And Co Gifts

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Books by Holly Carr / Romance fiction / Books from Australia

Monday, 27 December 2021

The Comfortable Vegan by Michele Hartsoe

The Comfortable Vegan by Michele Hartsoe
Self published in February 2015.

Featured on my vegan book blog, HirlGrend

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook from Etsy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Comfortable Vegan is an Illustrated cookbook: familiar comforting veganized Recipes with Easy Tips and Information.

It is an Illustrated introduction to being Vegan. It is a 73 page Color Vegan recipe, tips and information book. There are more than 40 recipes with easy to follow, fun, colorful layouts. A lot of information pages talking about easy VEGAN substitutes, B-12, Protein, Omega, and Calcium sources, information on resources and websites that Help make being vegan easy. I want it to be fun and cute so I decided to do some colorful animal Watercolors for those pages. Who doesn't love cute animals?

This was originally a successful Kickstarter Project. I thank everyone for all the beautiful support. I have a passion to deliver delicious vegan food to the world!

I think that The Comfortable Vegan has to be the prettiest vegan cookbook I've yet seen! I love Michele Hartsoe's colourful illustrations which grace pretty much every page and make flipping through the book a joy - even before I start trying to decide which of the tempting recipes to make next. I've already had success with the 'Meaty'loaf recipe and the Chia-Cocoa Pudding. Next up I am planning to try Hartsoe's takes on both a Vegan Chili and a Mushroom Stroganoff. They look like perfect warming recipes for this time of year. I am tempted to give her Sauerkraut recipe a try too. I don't think I've ever eaten this before, but making it could be fun, if a little weird.

The Comfortable Vegan also includes advice pages for dilemmas common to new vegans such as which foods will contain enough protein and brief guidance on vitamin groups. I like that Hartsoe also discusses different carbohydrate groups such how to choose the right type of potato for your recipe. All in all, there's a good range of recipes and advice for people who are just starting out on their vegan journey or those who are considering adding a few vegan days to their weekly menus. Hartsoe has an engaging, enthusiastic writing style and the cute illustrations mean that The Comfortable Vegan doesn't make veganism feel at all intimidating.

Etsy Find!
by Memories And Gifts Ltd

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Books by Michele Hartsoe / Food and Cookery Books / Books from America

Sunday, 26 December 2021

The Winning Note by Milan Krajnc + Free Book

The Winning Note by Milan Krajnc
Self published on the 28th February 2021.

How I got this book:
Downloaded a free copy in the Smashwords year end sale

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Smashwords (free)

On this Monday morning, in the middle of summer, it is difficult to take a nap.

It will be another one of those days when I cannot wake up and the feelings have completely disappeared, it will be another lost day where I will only check off the activities I have to do and I cannot wait for the end to go to sleep… and so there’ll be one less day in my life, one day closer to the end. A lost day.

I spotted this fun little flash fiction story when browsing the Smashwords year end sale. The Winning Note will be free until the end of December so pick up your copy soon! It is obviously written with English as a second language, but I think I could always understand what Krajnc was trying to put across. At just three pages long, this is a refresher read and I felt its theme of trying to find an energiser was perfect for Boxing Day sloth!

Etsy Find!
by Whispering Wood Gifts

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Books by Milan Krajnc / Short stories / Books from Slovenia

Saturday, 25 December 2021

The Cricket On The Hearth by Charles Dickens + Free Book

The Cricket On The Hearth by Charles Dickens
First published by Bradbury and Evans on the 20th December 1845.

How I got this book:
Downloaded a free copy from Project Gutenberg

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amazon UK (free) / (free)

John Peerybingle, a carrier, lives with his young wife Dot, their baby boy and their nanny Tilly Slowboy. A cricket chirps on the hearth and acts as a guardian angel to the family. One day a mysterious elderly stranger comes to visit and takes up lodging at Peerybingle's house for a few days.

I learned from The Cricket On The Hearth's Wikipedia page that Dickens apparently began writing the novella in the middle of October 1845 and had it finished on the 1st of December. Is this the original NaNoWriMo? Unfortunately I would say that rush job does show in the published story, but because it is Christmas and because it is Dickens I still enjoyed reading this overly schmaltzy tale! As I mentioned in my Starlight At Moonglow review, there's something I can't quite put my finger on about my traditional Christmas reading that gives it an enhanced emotional pull and, despite the events of The Cricket On The Hearth actually taking place at the end of January, the story falls into that grand tradition.

There's plenty of typical Dickens-isms in this fairytale although it isn't as strong on social commentary as many of his other works. Young women are preternaturally kind and beautiful with the blind young woman being such a paragon of goodness that I wouldn't have been surprised to learn she had already been marked for sainthood. The lonely rich man is an ogre and working class people are all true salts of the earth, happy in their poverty. And everyone is prone to overblown melodramatic speechifying at the drop of a hat. I did love Dickens portrayals of his characters though. He had an amazing ability to capture and caricature people's foibles and the Peerybingle household is a wonderful example of this. Even the kettle, which ably steals the opening scene, has its own character and I'm surprised that The Cricket On The Hearth hasn't been staple pantomime fodder over the years as I could certainly see plenty of scope for performance.

I did feel somewhat let down by the ending which, although suitably joyous and heartwarming, hinged too much on Tackleton's abrupt volte-face to be plausible. I couldn't imagine that his new found bonhomie would last much longer than the wedding cake. Perhaps I'm just too cynical!

Etsy Find!
by Carters Of Suffolk

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Books by Charles Dickens / Novellas / Books from England

Friday, 24 December 2021

The Old Nurse's Story by Elizabeth Gaskell + Free Book

The Old Nurse's Story by Elizabeth Gaskell
First published in the magazine A Round of Stories by the Christmas Fire in December 1852.

How I got this book:
Read for free on the University of Pennsylvania website

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After her parents pass away, young Rosamond is raised by her nurse in the ancestral home of her aunt, Miss Furnivall. One day the two uncover an exceptionally beautiful old portrait? A relative, distant or close? And is that the strange sound of a distant organ, or simply the wind?

I've picked out a Victorian classic for this year's Christmas Eve ghost story book review. The Old Nurse's Story by Elizabeth Gaskell is narrated by a now-elderly nurse recalling suitably ghostly and gothic happenings that took place over one Christmas in her youth. The story was first published in a collection of tales for reading aloud by a winter fire and I think The Old Nurse's Story lends itself perfectly to a performance as well as to solitary reading. All the ingredients are here from rugged, isolated moors to long-lost relations, a huge stately home (with a closed-off wing) and a violent storm to rattle the windowpanes. Despite its fairly short thirty-page length, Gaskell manages to create the feel of a fully-fledged novel with rounded and believable characters, and lots of unsettling atmosphere. I was actually reminded of moments in several other novels as I read - including Rebecca and The Woman In Black - most of which were written decades after The Old Nurse's Story. If you've already got all your present wrapping done, I recommend curling up with this tale for a chilling Christmas Eve read!

Etsy Find!
by itslauracrow

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Books by Elizabeth Gaskell / Short stories / Books from England

Thursday, 23 December 2021

At Night to Die by Henrietta Hamilton

At Night to Die by Henrietta Hamilton
First published in 1959. Republished by Agora Books on the 18th November 2021.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When the Laird Charles Buchanan dies suspiciously in his remote mansion-house in rural Scotland, the Heldars step in to help investigate. But as they explore the House of Affray, Sally and Johnny uncover more mysteries and family secrets than they anticipated.

Can the crime-solving duo determine if this was a burglary gone wrong, or might they discover something far more sinister is going on at Affray?

Back up to the standard of The Two Hundred Ghost I think for classic crime author Henrietta Hamilton in this novel, At Night To Die, the fourth (yes, I've missed one) of her Johnny and Sally Heldar mystery series. In this story, a phone call from a friend sees the detecting duo make their way to a remote Highlands manor house where the elderly Laird may, or may not, recently have been murdered. Of course if there hadn't been any crime committed then At Night To Die would be a much shorter book!

I particularly liked Hamilton's portraits of the Highlands around the village of Affray, and the way in which she contrasts that rural environment with Edinburgh's city streets. The characters are fun too. Sally, again, has a less active role than Johnny, but I didn't get the sense of her being sidelined in the same way as in The Man Who Wasn't There. Instead, while always behaving appropriately for a 1950s married woman, she often drives discussions and prompts Johnny to consider alternative angles. Interestingly, although the story is set fifteen years after the end of the Second World War, there are indications that several of the male characters are still very much influenced by their wartime roles and also that, looking further back in time, that Charles Stuart's defeat at Culloden is still keenly felt. Having read a number of twenty-first century Balkan and African novels set in the aftermath of wars, I recognised a similar trauma undercurrent.

The mystery itself was fun to unravel and, I thought, fairly easy because even I managed to guess most of it correctly before we readers were told. I hope Agora keeps uncovering and republishing Henrietta Hamilton's novels because I am happy to have the opportunity to enjoy the series.

Etsy Find!
by Georgina The Librarian

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Books by Henrietta Hamilton / Crime fiction / Books from Scotland

Wednesday, 22 December 2021

The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht

The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht
Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in March 2011.

How I got this book:
Swapped for at a book exchange

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A tiger escapes from the local zoo, padding through the ruined streets and onwards, to a ridge above the Balkan village of Galina. His nocturnal visits hold the villagers in a terrified thrall - but for one boy, the tiger is a thing of magic.

Natalia is the granddaughter of that boy. Now a doctor, she is visiting orphanages in the war-torn Balkans when she receives word of her beloved grandfather's death, far from their home, in circumstances shrouded in mystery.

Compelled to unravel the truth, Natalia stumbles upon a clue that will lead her to a tattered copy of The Jungle Book, and then to the most extraordinary story her grandfather never told her - the legend of the tiger's wife.

If, like me, you are a fan of Latin American magical realism novels then I think that Téa Obreht's Balkan addition to the genre will be right up your street. I had high hopes for The Tiger's Wife, having already been blown away by Obreht's more recent work, Inland, and I'm delighted that The Tiger's Wife didn't disappoint me at all. The epic storyline encompasses three generations of a family in the former Yugoslavia, crossing the newly instigated border between countries separated by the civil war. It also occasionally looks back as far as the Second World War and beyond reminding us that this part of Europe is regularly subject to violent upheavals and mistrust between its peoples. Deftly woven in to this narrative are two folklore fairytales, each told as if they are equally true, yet with aspects that (almost definitely) could not have really happened. Or, perhaps, in the case of the eponymous Tiger's Wife at least, there is a strong thread of truth.

I was completely captivated by this ambitious, meandering novel. The Tiger's Wife is not an easy read, but I found it to be a compelling one. I could recognise why it was an award-winning work on its publication a decade ago and its themes of alienation, isolation and communities turning a blind eye to intolerance are sadly still just as relevant everywhere. Téa Obreht writes with incredible grace and poise, a natural storyteller who pitched and paced her tales in such a way as to keep me gripped from the first page to the last.

Etsy Find!
by Craft Loving House

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Books by Tea Obreht / Magical Realism / Books from Serbia

Tuesday, 21 December 2021

The Selfless Act of Breathing by JJ Bola

The Selfless Act of Breathing by JJ Bola
Published by Dialogue Books on the 4th November 2021.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A heartbreaking, lyrical story for all of those who have fantasised about escaping their daily lives and starting over.

Michael Kabongo is a British-Congolese teacher living in London on the cusp of two identities. On paper, he seems to have it all - he's loved by his students, popular with his colleagues, and enjoys the pride of his mother who emigrated from the Congo. But behind closed doors, he's been struggling with the overwhelming sense that he can't improve the injustices he sees - from his efforts to change the lives of his students, to his attempts to transcend the violence that marginalises young Black men around the world.

Then Michael suffers a devastating loss, and his life is thrown into a tailspin. As he struggles to find a way forward, memories of his father's violent death, the weight of being a refugee, and an increasing sense of dread threaten everything he's worked so hard to achieve.

Longing to escape the shadows in his mind and start anew, Michael decides to spontaneously pack up and go to America, the mythical 'land of the free,' where he imagines everything will be better, easier - a place where he can become someone new, someone without a past filled with pain. On this transformative journey, Michael travels from New York City to San Francisco, partying with new friends, sparking fleeting romances, and splurging on big adventures.

In the back of his mind, Michael has a plan: follow his dreams until the money in his bank account runs out, and then he will decide if his life is truly worth living...

Written in spellbinding prose, with Bola's trademark, magnetic storytelling, The Selfless Act of Breathing is a heart-wrenching and deeply emotional novel about mental health, masculinity and the power of love.

I found The Selfless Act of Breathing to be such a profound read. The novel is an insightful and compassionate portrayal of chronic depression which I actually found quite upsetting to read at times. I loved JJ Bola's prose style which I felt perfectly suited this subject although I can understand - and see from other reviews - that it doesn't appeal to every reader. This is a novel that takes its time and that delves deeply into one character's psychology. There is also a strong storyline, but the book is not a fast-paced read and the dual timeline approach means, as readers, that we know early on where Michael will end up, but unravelling the events that motivate him is what drives The Selfless Act of Breathing forwards.

This is an intense, yet rewarding novel to read and I highly recommend it, yet I'm finding it incredibly difficult to review without inadvertently giving away plot points, especially as these points, in isolation and without the rich context of the novel, just won't have the same impact as they did for me as I engrossed myself in Michael's tale. From enjoying the early pages, but not being particularly gripped, I found myself utterly compelled by this novel as it progressed. Although very different books in themselves, I wonder if perhaps The Selfless Act of Breathing would appeal to readers who enjoyed Just to the Right of the Stove by Elisabeth Horan or The Boy Between by Amanda Prowse and Josiah Hartley, both of which are also powerfully memorable accounts of mental health breakdowns. 

Etsy Find!
by A Tree Of Us

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Books by JJ Bola / Contemporary fiction / Books from Democratic Republic of the Congo

Monday, 20 December 2021

Foreshadow: Trapped In Her Own Mind by Leena Althekair

Foreshadow: Trapped In Her Own Mind by Leena Althekair
Self published on the 29th March 2018.

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Meghan is about to take on her first year of high school. Like all freshmen out there, she’s looking forward to a year full of fun, best friends, and “movie perfect” days. Well, nearly perfect. Sprinkle in a sour teacher and new-student diva, and you have the full experience!

But while she’s helping her brother in his physics lab, a nearly lethal experiment malfunction leaves its permanent mark on her.

And the new school year doesn’t look so bright to her after all.

I was amazed on finishing Foreshadow: Trapped In Her Own Mind to discover that Leena Althekair was only fourteen years old when she published this novel. Fourteen! I admit to being rather envious of her talent! Foreshadow is a well paced young adult science fiction story which does require a certain suspension of disbelief, but it is written so plausibly that, once I accepted the reality of Meghan's brother's attic laboratory, the rest of the tale was wonderfully engrossing.

At its heart, I think Foreshadow is a story about friendships and family relationships with our young, overthinking heroine, Meghan, learning to appreciate those people being there for her, despite her increasingly erratic behaviour. I loved how Althekair portrays interactions between characters, especially within Meghan's friend group and between her family members. I think this book would appeal to fans of authors such as Adiba Jaigirdar and Sally-Anne Lomas. Conversations always felt natural to me, even when they encompassed some seriously bizarre happenings, and the typical traumas of being a teenager are as disorienting as the aftermath of the disastrous experiment.

On the negative side, I was disappointed to see animal experimentation treated with such casual disregard especially by a character who had such an affinity with a cat. Also, there were a couple of early storylines which seemed to fizzle out without resolution, but I did like the open-ended final moments which leave the possibility for a sequel, but without me feeling short changed by a cliffhanger. All in all, Foreshadow is a fun novel with a worthwhile message and I think it's a great addition to the YA canon.

Etsy Find!
by Sol Pixie Dust

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Sunday, 19 December 2021

The Gurkha And The Lord Of Tuesday by Saad Z Hossain

The Gurkha And The Lord Of Tuesday by Saad Z Hossain
Published by Tor on the 13th August 2019.

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When the djinn king Melek Ahmar wakes up after millennia of imprisoned slumber, he finds a world vastly different from what he remembers. Arrogant and bombastic, he comes down the mountain expecting an easy conquest: the wealthy, spectacular city state of Kathmandu, ruled by the all-knowing, all-seeing tyrant AI Karma. To his surprise, he finds that Kathmandu is a cut-price paradise, where citizens want for nothing and even the dregs of society are distinctly unwilling to revolt.

Everyone seems happy, except for the old Gurkha soldier Bhan Gurung. Knife saint, recidivist, and mass murderer, he is an exile from Kathmandu, pursuing a forty-year-old vendetta that leads to the very heart of Karma. Pushed and prodded by Gurung, Melek Ahmer finds himself in ever deeper conflicts, until they finally face off against Karma and her forces. In the upheaval that follows, old crimes will come to light and the city itself will be forced to change.

I first heard about Saad Z Hossain's writing through several other book bloggers reviewing his novel Djinn City - which I still haven't read. Feeling in the mood for shorter books over the Christmas season I decided instead to try Hossain's acclaimed novella, The Gurkha And The Lord Of Tuesday, and I'm delighted to be able to say that I loved it! Almost impossible to categorise into a single genre, this novella blends together fantasy fiction, science fiction and climate fiction elements together with brilliantly portrayed characters and a strong, plausible narrative. It's also very funny with lots of humorous moments.

My favourite characters were the djinn, especially ReGi but also Melek Ahmar himself who is very much a stranger in a strange land although, in this case, he's a stranger in a very strange time. I was intrigued by Hossain's take on our planet's climatic future and particularly the role that climate migrants will play. We're already seeing the start of this potentially vast migration in our own time so it didn't take too great a leap of faith to envisage Hossain's ideas as a callous reality. The Gurkha And The Lord Of Tuesday is a rewarding novella that can be read lightly as an entertaining adventure or mulled over as a satire of very human motivations and behavours. Either way I found it to be an excellent read and a great introduction to Hossain's amazing imagination.

Etsy Find!
by Anatolian Authentic

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Saturday, 18 December 2021

Reality Check by Carol Browne

Reality Check by Carol Browne
Published by Dilliebooks in 2019.

Featured on my vegan book blog, HirlGrend

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gillian Roth finds herself in middle age, living alone, working in a dull job, with few friends and little excitement in her life. So far, so ordinary. 
But Gillian has one extraordinary problem.
Her house is full of other people… people who don’t exist. Or do they?
As her surreal home life spirals out of control, Gillian determines to find out the truth and undertakes an investigation into the nature of reality itself.
Will this provide an answer to her dilemma, or will the escalating situation push her over the edge before she has worked out what is really going on?

Reality Check is a wonderfully surreal novella with which I identified rather more strongly than is comfortable! It did take me several pages to settle into the story as I didn't really have any idea what to expect. The main character, Gillian, is also struggling at this point with how to tell her story and how much to reveal - just in case anyone does ever read her diary, the entries from which are what makes up Reality Check. As I learned more about Gillian's life and her strange housemates, I became greatly intrigued by her predicament and loved the way Carol Browne gradually reveals the elements of her situation.

It's difficult to say to much here without inadvertently giving away spoilers, but I think that Reality Check is an ideal story for people who enjoy grappling with philosophical ideas around existence, reality and perception. At one point I attempted to unravel my own ideas around one of Gillian's conversations with her professor and almost completely blew my mind! There's deft humorous touches to offset too much existential angst though and I particularly appreciated that Browne never makes Gillian a figure of fun, however bizarre her life appears. Moments where we were suddenly encouraged to see Gillian from outside herself reminded me of the mantra about being kind because we cannot tell by sight what another person might be going through. While Reality Check is a fictional tale, it contains a lot of truth.

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by Bethany Fortner Art

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Friday, 17 December 2021

The Colonel and I: My Life with Gaddafi by Daad Sharab

The Colonel and I: My Life with Gaddafi by Daad Sharab
Published by Pen And Sword on the 18th October 2021.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Colonel and I: My Life with Gaddafi is the inside story of the extraordinary world of Libya’s fallen dictator, Muammar Gaddafi. 

For almost half his 42-year reign Daad Sharab was his trusted trouble shooter and confidante – the only outsider to be admitted to his inner circle. Down the years many have written about Gaddafi, but none has been so close. 

Now, a decade after the violent death of ‘The Colonel’, she gives a unique insight into the character of a man of many contradictions: tyrant, hero, terrorist, freedom fighter, womaniser, father figure. Her account is packed with fascinating anecdotes and revelations which show Gaddafi in a surprising new light. 

Daad witnessed the ruthlessness of a flawed leader who is blamed for ordering the Lockerbie bombing, and she became the go-between for the only man convicted of the atrocity. She does not seek to sugar-coat Gaddafi’s legacy, preferring readers to judge for themselves, but also observed a hidden, more humane side. The leader was a troubled father and compassionate statesman who kept sight of his humble Bedouin roots, and was capable of great acts of generosity. 

The author also pulls no punches about how Western politicians, such as Tony Blair, George Bush and Hillary Clinton, shamelessly wooed his oil-rich regime. 

Despite her warnings the dictator was ultimately consumed by megalomania and Daad was caught up in his dramatic fall. Falsely accused by Gaddafi’s notorious secret service of being both The Colonel’s mistress and a spy, her story ends in betrayal and imprisonment. Caught up in the Arab Spring uprising, she faced a fight for life as bombs rained down on Libya.

I was not familiar with Daad Sharab name prior to spotting her memoir, The Colonel And I, for review on NetGalley. I chose to read this book both to find out more about Libya and Colonel Gaddafi himself, and to learn about Daad Sharab's mould-breaking career as a highly successful businesswoman in the Arab world. I was delighted to find that it delivers on all counts allowing readers an insiders' view into a super-rich way of life that often left almost me openmouthed at its decadence - and at Sharab's blithe acceptance of such luxury as 'normal'. Sharab comes across as a strong, dedicated woman whose ability to see and grasp opportunity set her in good stead to have a high-flying career and to succeed within it. She is such an interesting person to spend time with and I fully appreciated her perceptive anecdotes.

While the media fed Western audiences an oversimplified view of Libya and Gaddafi for years, Sharab's experiences go some way towards refuting that two-dimensional 'Gaddafi = bad' narrative. Sharab focuses on his work for women's rights within Libya. I didn't know that he championed education for girls and women, for example. She also, however, discusses his increasing meglomania, especially as his attempts to position Libya on a pan-African and global stage are thwarted. I wouldn't say that Gaddafi comes out of this book well, but Sharab's rounded portrait of the man as she saw him felt a lot more real than the impression of him I had previously held. The Colonel And I makes no pretences to excuse or justify the negative aspects of Gaddafi's reign, but it does make him human and demonstrates that, in lots of ways, he was remarkably similar to other leaders who villainised him.

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by ParisaKaramiShop

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