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Soul-searching conflicts and tattered loyalties abound in this evocative 12th-century page-turner. Sequel to The Sugar Merchant, James Hutson-Wiley’s The Travels of Ibn Thomas picks up in the early 12th-century, some ten years after the events of the series opener. Following the tense and twisting tale of Thoma, son of the Thomas who featured in The Sugar Merchant, the scene is set by Thoma’s involving first-person account of the discrimination endured during his Christian education in England (Thomas had vowed to raise his son in the Islamic faith): “Not only was my appearance strange, with my darker skin and black hair, I was ignorant of scripture and did not know the words of the chants we sang at mass. Worse, I spoke Latin with an unusual accent. The others spoke either Norman or Saxon. In my early years, I was not proficient in either language. Thus, my fellow students rarely spoke to me.” No wonder, then, that Thoma welcomes being sent to an esteemed medical school in Sicily. Thoma’s journey comes at a time of great change, which is finely evoked with a tremendous sense of place, and fascinating details of political and religious conflict. These wider conflicts are lived-out by Thoma himself, not least when he’s asked to take up his father’s role as a spy. Teeming with vividly-drawn characters, among them pirates, assassins and crusaders, and driven by Thoma’s desire to discover what became of his father, and by his identity struggles, this is alive with intrigue and pacey adventure. Joanne Owen, A LoveReading Ambassador
Cassidy is running away from his past on Alabama Chrome, but his ghosts never leave. With little other than his campervan, he doesn’t seem to settle anywhere. But a snowstorm changes all that, bringing Cassidy into contact with Lark, and a community he might be able to feel at home in. With more complications on the way, from an inscrutable new waitress and the arrival of a reality TV host with a full crew in tow to shoot a new TV show, will Cassidy be able to share his truth, or will he return to the road? A story that will bring your emotions to the front but in an enjoyable way. Alabama Chrome is written from the first person perspective of Cassidy; he shares the life of a small, close-knit community, featuring family bonds, the looming presence of domestic violence as well as a critique on reality TV. I was intrigued by the story throughout and I found the characters to be very well-rounded, with each past event revealed adding nuance and believability to the story. The author definitely has a detailed knowledge of people, their quirks, traits and behaviours and is good at crafting believable characters that evoke sympathy and empathy.
'The Woman of Stencils' is the title of the tenth story in Marianne Price's book of 22 short stories. As a West End actor and singer brought up in North London, the author draws on her very varied life experiences as well as her prolific imagination to enrich her writing of these exceptionally wry and moving tales. The common theme to all is that of loss, or perceived loss, of something or someone, and the very profound and lasting effect that can have. A few of the stories, such as 'Remember, Remember' and 'The All Too Perfect Teddy Bear' deal with the loss of a child in a very dark and ghostly way, so that they read like horror stories, guaranteed to have the hairs on the back of the reader's head up on end. Far more laid back are the stories dealing with the fragility of romantic attachments, whilst the saddest and most poignant are those dealing with lost youth and time. All the stories have a surrealism about them, are thought provoking and compelling. Perhaps the most memorable in the collection are the stories with a theatrical backdrop, where the characters and scene setting are particularly realistic and well drawn, since performing has been the natural environment of the author for so much of her life but every story will resonate with and be appreciated by the reader. We look forward to more soon. Drena Irish, A LoveReading Ambassador
Crossed-Dressed to Kill is an incredibly interesting book filled with instances from the 17th century onwards of women who dressed as men in order to go to war. Some of the names of these women were known to me, Anne Bonny the 18th century Pirate for one, however this book gave me more insight into their history, and there were many other women who I was introduced to for the first time. This is a fascinating side of history with the author’s detailed research shining a spotlight on the women who defied their gender roles in order to participate in military action. The account of each woman is detailed, although brief, this means you could happily flick through the pages, reading about a couple of brave women at a time, or read cover to cover. At the end of each account there is a concluding summary, which not only rounds our each story but highlights some of the patriarchal views of the time. Some of these stories are more sad than others, but all are incredibly interesting with plenty of references included at the end of the book to allow for personal research and further reading. I never enjoyed History at school, but as an adult I love learning about the past and I think that stories like these should be shared in schools, at the very least to demonstrate that the old-fashioned notion of the “traditional” role of women, didn’t work even at the height of it’s popularity.
Secret to Sultan follows on from Gordon Lewis’ first book, the Secret Child. Although I don’t think you necessarily need to have read about the first part of Lewis’ life in order to enjoy this book, it does start without preamble, so I would recommend you do. Born and raised in a hostel for Single mothers in 1950s Dublin, Gordon has ambitions of a much better life for his family and when he moves with his family to London, he works hard to achieve it. From his interest in pop culture to a Beatles concert, Gordon is inspired to pursue a career in show business. This book focuses on Gordon’s career, how he worked hard to develop a very successful Production business before taking on a new challenge of creating a London gay village as a part of the Soho nightclub scene, this lead to his favourite nickname and inspiration for the title “The Sultan of Soho”. This book covers such a wide range of modern history. Through Gordon’s life experience we learn more about growing up in both Dublin and London, including the discrimination the Irish experienced in England. We find out about the development of a video production company as well as getting behind the scenes access to the running of bars and clubs in Soho. Gordon introduces us to interesting people and colourful anecdotes throughout and I think that this is a witty and wonderful book for all non-fiction fans.
Euphoric Recall is inspired and based on the author’s life. This is an honest portrayal of a number of traumatic events including sexual abuse and addiction as well as his recovery. You are drawn into Aiden’s world in the first pages, his writing style is familiar and open, helping to form an immediate connection to the reader. This makes the book enticing, and I was keen to keep reading right to the very end. I think that this is a brilliantly written debut. The details of the trauma that Aiden experienced are dark and heart wrenching, however there is an element of hope - this book has been written and Aiden is in a position to reflect and tell his story. I admire the strength it’s taken to reflect and share dark moments. I also think that Euphoric Recall includes many moments that any reader would find relatable. As I was reading the title did confuse me slightly, but upon reflection I think that the ‘euphoria’ comes from the ability to look back, to have come back from trauma and share the whole story. I really enjoyed this book and I think that it would be a good memoir for those who are interested in more gritty life stories.
Soul Seeker is a complex thriller packed full of tension, drama and the supernatural. I liked that this book starts off with a poem, almost like an old shakespearean narrator introducing the plotline and what’s about to happen. We are first introduced to the story of Benjamin Poe, A death row inmate finally sharing the twisted events that led to a shocking murder. After reading the synopsis for the book I was eager to start reading and I soon became engrossed in Benjamin’s story. I like the small town that the author creates and the variety of characters that live in Lochton. I also liked that it wasn’t stereotypical quaint and peaceful, with a brief shoplifting incident early on. I think that this added an underlying realism and grittiness and was a solid foundation to build the darker aspects of the story. Even early on in Soul Seeker we are aware of evil events and non-moral actions which I think set the tone for later on in the novel and provide an interesting environment to introduce the supernatural characters. I found the characters interesting and I enjoyed how the characters are developed alongside plot twists. These plot twists kept me guessing throughout the book, with more questions than answers and a need to find out more. I liked the supernatural element of this story, I think it really helps to ramp up the suspense that builds throughout the novel while also maintaining a sense of realism and moral complexity - even Crighton, a high ranking demon, is made up of more than pure evil. I liked seeing his relationship develop with Ariel towards the end of the book. Soul Seeker is the first book in a series and I look forward to reading more. I think Soul Seeker would be enjoyed by fans of the supernatural, darker relationship stories and thrillers.
No Place to Hide has an excellent plot that kept me hooked and unsure of who did what right to the very end. The start of a trilogy featuring the surgeon, Daniel Kendrick. In this first book Daniel’s life is far from perfect, trying to come to terms with his daughter’s murder, with his marriage and his career both on the verge of collapse. Then his wife disappears, and Daniel is a suspect. As the tension builds he needs to start his own investigation to find her before time runs out. I found this book to be exceptionally well written and researched with very believable characters and storyline. It gave me goose bumps and I couldn’t put it down. I would describe No Place to Hide as a proper page-turner. I think it’s one of the best books I have read in a long time. I can’t wait for the next book in the trilogy.
Fake is the intriguing story of James Cowper, an art dealer grappling to recover his work and married life after misdemeanors including theft and gambling which take place before the start of the book. I found James quite endearing throughout, his dry humour and quite optimistic outlook despite his circumstances made me quite fond of him. The plot, without going into too much detail reminded me of a Harold Pinter play, the author does very well at creating a tense and uncertain atmosphere in Delancey Street, a home that’s supposed to be a space of refuge. This unease builds and, even though you can feel where it’s going you don’t quite know how bad the fallout would be. The general unlikeability of Bruce demonstrated how good the author is at developing characters, and I felt differently towards each of them.As more of the plot is revealed those feelings towards all of the characters changed too. I wouldn’t say any of the characters are likeable, they all have their flaws, but you get to know them in a great amount of detail. This is a book that I think readers could find farcical, as one comically bad situation develops into another. I actually found Fake to be quite tension-filled, with the uncertainty and uncomfortable feeling of the living situation at Delancey Street leaching out of the pages and giving me slight anxiety about how everything was going to turn out in the end. This was an absorbing read and I’ll look out for more books from this author in the future.
Crooked Creek: A Comedy about Writer's Block and a Neurotic Home Owners Association is a short, fun novella by Fredrick Robertson. The humour is very dry, with witty and often sarcastic dialogue taking place between the larger than life characters and the entertaining plot is hilarious. Billy Olin's first novel catapults him to fame, which immediately goes to his head in the high life of New York. His agent soon demands a follow up book to cash in on the first's success but the distractions of the Big Apple prove to be an insurmountable stumbling block. To try to remove this block, Billy moves back to his home town in South Carolina and buys a condo in Crooked Creek. His life then becomes a constant battle against the nit-picking management and maintenance team, who are always on the lookout for transgressions against their manipulative rules and regulations. With his agent still on his back but having secured an advance on his first novel's sales in France, he pays a life-changing visit to a second-hand car dealer. He finally realises that he is living his next novel and rapidly gets it down on paper. His agent loves it but how will those depicted in the book react when he holds a reading at a local hotel? This story is laugh out loud funny, just what we all need after the year we've all experienced. Definitely worth a read! Drena Irish, A LoveReading Ambassador
Author Nathan Pettijohn has just broken up with his girlfriend. He rents an RV and takes to the road with his dog, Hafa, to explore the Pacific Northwest for the month of October. He describes the people he meets and the places he stays beautifully. He also shares his views on many aspects of life in America, up to and including their reaction to the current pandemic and the tragic murder of George Floyd. As a fellow motorhomer (as we call RVs in the UK) I read this book with great interest. It is wonderfully written and evokes the excitement and anticipation of going to a different place every day and staying in a different campsite every night. I’ve always found that a very addictive thing to do and clearly, so does the author. I feel that I now want to go to the US and explore the same area that he did, especially as, due to the pandemic, I haven’t had any trips in my motorhome this year and I’m getting very itchy feet. Like the author, I wouldn’t dream of going on a road trip without at least one dog. He brilliantly evokes the camaraderie that occurs when dog people meet and talk dog talk. His descriptions of the places he visits are excellent and I could empathise with some of the issues he faced in getting used to his RV. This is a thoroughly enjoyable book, very well written and extremely readable. Highly recommended. Susan Wallace, A LoveReading Ambassador
Rats in a Maze may begin as a police procedural but as the story develops the reader understands there’s so much more going on. When Detective Ray Fisher and his partner work on an open and shut case they discover evidence of something more sinister, and when an interview with a witness leads to questions and scenarios that seem impossible Ray and Brad end up in over their heads. This book is gritty and can be quite graphic in places. We are introduced in the middle of the action and left with questions that had to keep reading to find the answers to. The plot is full of twists and turns and I would never have guessed the revelations beforehand. The character development takes place slowly, and I think that the author has done incredibly well to so much depth within the book. This really is a gripping read and would be a great recommendation for anyone wanting to be surprised by the plot. As well as the police procedural elements, Rats in a Maze also embarks into the realm of the supernatural. I really enjoyed the way these two genres are merged together as well as how the supernatural elements are incorporated into the “real” world. In summary, I think that this book is brilliant for fans of crime fiction as well as those looking for a supernatural mystery.