Pages of a weathered original sonata manuscript - the gift of a Czech immigrant living in Queens - come into the hands of Meta Taverner, a young musicologist whose concert piano career was cut short by an injury. The gift comes with the request that Meta find the manuscript's true owner -a Prague friend the old woman has not heard from since the Second World War forced them apart - and make the three-part Sonata whole again. Leaving New York behind for the land of Dvorak and Kafka, Meta sets out on an unforgettable search to locate the remaining movements of the sonata and uncover a story that has influenced the course of many lives, even as it becomes clear that she isn't the only one seeking the music's secrets.
Bradford Morrow is a novelist, short story writer, essayist, and editor of literary journal Conjunctions. He teaches at Bard College - a private college based in the state of New York. In "The Prague Sonata" he's written an epic, continent spanning book that's as evocative as it is moving - a book that's been years in the making but is absolutely worth your time.
My lack of knowledge regarding the history of the Czech Republic is shamefully limited, and it's not a country I'd ever visited - so had little idea of the events that would form the backdrop of "The Prague Sonata". Morrow not only informs the reader, but brings Prague to life in such vivid fashion that it becomes an important character in the book - as living and breathing as the two women who take most of the plot. As someone with a background that featured music heavily, I loved quite how integral music is to the plot too - and it helps to make this book a sensory experience in terms of time, place and sound. The characters are excellent, and the plot gripping - although slightly meandering at times. My only slight grumble is that it can be hard to initially grasp what time period a chapter is set in, leading to some initial confusion - but once the reader gets to know the characters better it becomes far easier to sense in whose company your spending a chapter. Apparently it took the author over ten years to research and write this - and it really shows, with words carefully chosen and technical terms with what is clearly a high level of expertise. At its heart though, "The Prague Sonata" is a tale about humanity - both the good and the bad, and takes the readers on a journey that's as well written as it is memorable. Here's hoping we don't have to wait a decade for Morrow's next book!
Mysteries. Ideas uncovered. Strange creatures. Forbidden words, used anyway. Ideas that scare us, make us angry, wistful, ashamed. The importance of a tiny, electric moment. All this pulled into the light, revealed by the imagination and bravery of these writers. They bring to life the sound of an act of charity; the delicious strut of a woman the day after taking a new lover; the one person in university halls who notices the stealth details of a cheating couple.
The stories and poetry here - some long and unfolding, others short like heart glugs of vodka - honour these unsung moments. They also showcase the voices of the habitually unseen - writing of fear translated into bigotry; tribalism and the violnce it causes; the patient suffering of a drag queen, watching his mother deny him to her death bed; the racist imprint of a father on a daughter's love life. The importance of finding the right voice and language. The colloquial, the vernacular, the dialect, the accents. The 'bad' language.
Welcome to "The Unseen". We hope it illuminates you
I have an odd relationship with short stories and articles - I've read huge amounts that I've massively enjoyed, but when in a bookshop it's unlikely that I'll pick any up - my mind always more drawn to engrossing myself in a long-form novel, or delving deep into the pages of a weighty history book. However, Fincham Press - the publishing house part of the University of Roehampton were kind enough to send me a copy of "The Unseen" - their latest collection of short stories, flash fiction, poetry and non-fiction, and settling down to read I found myself blown away by the staggering amount of content and talent on display in this collection.
I'd underestimated just how transportive a collection of short writings like this could be - but the volume of content means that the reader is rapidly transported from place to place - be it the American Desert or University Halls. The tone rapidly differs from piece to piece, with stories ranging from dark and macabre through to light and funny - ensuring that the reader is kept on their toes and engaged at every turn of the page. However the main thing I was impressed by was the sheer quality of these stories - the writing is at a level that's consistently high - and impressed me far more than many collections of writing I've read by established authors. It's clear that the University of Roehampton has a remarkable creative writing department, and Fincham Press is well placed to promote and share their work. It's always exciting to read genuinely new and original writing, and I have little doubt that some of the authors featured in this collection of "The Unseen" will go on to remarkable things in the years to come.
This is not a sex book but a book about sex. Isabel Losada brings her unique blend of humour, curiosity and honesty to the still-taboo subject of sexuality and pleasure. This is a brave, funny and often vulnerable quest to find out how we can make our sex lives better. On behalf of all women, a slightly terrified Isabel begins with a women's workshop where she has to get naked; she journeys through the first international conference on clitoral stroking; is informed of eleven different forms of orgasm (ten of which she hasn't had); and endures Kegel exercises and mystical sensations with tantric masters.
So, a book about sex. That, I can manage. But a book about female sexuality? Terrifying. Apart from a very brief encounter as a teenager, my experiences of sexual intimacy with a woman have been non-existent, and as a fully fledged homosexual it's really not something I know all that much about. Mercifully, I couldn't have asked for a better guide than Isabel Losada - and "Sensation" follows Losada on a journey of discovery through varied experiences - some bizarre, some eye opening, but all told with warm humour and a complete lack of judgement - the author is keen to learn and to impart her findings to the reader with an openness and honesty that shatters any potential awkwardness that the reader (well, me) may have initially felt when picking up such a book.
Isabel's journey takes in Tantric Sex, Clitoris Stroking, Yoni Healing, Tantric Massage, Light Beams, Kegels, and Pelvic Floors amongst others, exploring pleasure and the female sex in intimate and intricate detail. Losada's skill as a writer ensures that the reader feels like they're on a journey of discovery right there with her - and her combination of openness and warm wit makes one feel comfortable no matter the situation they're encountering. If you are at all tempted to discover the complicated beast that is female sexual pleasure then this is a great way to dive in - and Losada a marvellous guide. On the other hand, if you have no great interest in female sexual pleasure, but are nonetheless keen to read an involving, warm and hugely funny tale of different people, different cultures and deals with intimacy not only in terms of sex but also in relationships and humans in general. Why are we so afraid to talk about sex? I don't know - but I'm bloody glad that Isabel Losada has and I hope many, many people follow her lead.
Pippa is a writer who longs for success. Celeste tries to convince herself that her feelings for her married lover are reciprocated. Ash makes strategic use of his childhood in Sri Lanka but blots out the memory of a tragedy from that time. The Life to Come reveals how the shadows cast by both the past and the future can transform, distort and undo the present, and takes in a wide range of locales - travelling from Sydney to Paris and Sri Lanka, with the reader being introduced to an intriguing cast of characters along the way
Michelle de Kretser is an Australian novelist, born in Sri Lanka but having lived in Australia since the age of 14. Her first novel was published in 1999, and she's grown in success since then - her second novel winning the Tasmania Pacific Prize, and her third and fourth novels nominated and winning several hugely impressive literary awards. A former editor for travel guide company Lonely Planet, de Kretser clearly loves to learn about different countries and cultures - as "The Life to Come" sends the reader between Australia, France and Sri Lanka, and described them with a startling effectiveness - making it a read that's transportive and immediate.
Pippa is the lead character here, and the one who links the themes and characters of the story together. She's interesting enough, but it's in the smaller characters where de Kretser's writing really shines - glimpses of fascinating people met in wonderfully described places. The book almost reads like a collection of novellas with an overarching theme - and that worked well for me, making it an easy read and enabling Kretser to introduce as many themes and concepts as she likes without them becoming too overbearing, as they perhaps could in one straightforward narrative. In fact, several historical moments touched upon were completely new to me, which added a new layer of interest - but at times I did feel that I perhaps missed moments of humour or satire due to my not being Australian - this is a book that deals with Australian culture and society head on, and as someone whose experience of Australia essentially extends to watching Neighbours as a child, I feel that there were aspects I didn't appreciate as much as I should have done.
However, this is a highly enjoyable read written by a skilled author - compelling, clever, and constantly encouraging the reader to question the decisions of the characters and the society they find themselves in - many thanks to the publishers for the copy.
Suzanne Spaak was born into an affluent Belgian Catholic family and married into the country's leading political dynasty. Her brother-in-law was the prime minister and her husband Claude was a playwright and patron of the painter Rene Magritte. In occupied Paris she mingled with the cultural elite including Colette and Jean Cocteau. But Suzanne was living a double life. Her friendship with a Polish Jewish refugee led her to her life's purpose. When France fell and the Nazis occupied Paris, she joined the Resistance. She used her fortune and social status to enlist allies among wealthy Parisians and Church groups. Under the eyes of the Gestapo, Suzanne and women from the Jewish and Christian resistance groups 'kidnapped' hundreds of Jewish children to save them from the gas chambers.
I love to hear tales about the French Resistance - I find them endlessly fascinating. Whilst here in Britain we were determinedly fighting a war against the Germans, they never landed on our shores in any number - whereas just a few miles away across the channel, parts of France were under occupation from the Nazi soldiers. The fact that a resistance existed shows the sheer bravery of the French people - teaming together to save innocents who the Nazi party had deemed suitable for the death camps. They risked their lives, yes - but also those of their families, friends and societies around them in order to help people and bring an end to the oppression that the war brought.
Suzanne Spaak was part of that Resistance, but she's a woman who's name has, until now, mainly been lost to the depths of history. She's a fascinating subject for a biography - going from a life of glamour and luxury through to entering a life of danger, not only joining a resistance organisation, but personally harboring children in her own home. It's a story that takes a turn to dark routes full of betrayal and danger - and Suzanne is a strong and vital voice at the centre of her own narrative. Anne Nelson bring Suzanne's life and the lives around her to life with a breathtaking vividness - she's clearly done huge amounts of research in order to bring this tale to the page, and it serves as an incredible tribute to the life of a woman who was complicated, intriguing, and utterly inspirational - an it's wonderful to see her life recreated in such a readable and interesting manner as has been done in "Codename Suzette". Many thanks to the publishers for the copy.
Author Jim Harrison was a beloved writer, a muscular, brilliantly economic stylist with a salty wisdom. He also wrote some of the best essays on food around, earning praise as “the poet laureate of appetite” (Dallas Morning News). A Really Big Lunch, published on the one-year anniversary of Harrison’s death, collects many of his food pieces for the first time—and taps into his larger-than-life appetite with wit and verve.
Jim Harrison’s legendary gourmandise is on full display in A Really Big Lunch. From the titular New Yorker piece about a French lunch that went to thirty-seven courses, to pieces from Brick, Playboy, Kermit Lynch Newsletter, and more on the relationship between hunter and prey, or the obscure language of wine reviews.
Jim Harrison is probably best known for his 1979 novella Legends of the Fall. You may not have read it, but you'll probably have seen it - a handsome young Brad Pitt wandering the plains of Montana sticks in the mind somewhat. Aside from this book though, Harrison wrote a range of fiction books, and huge amounts of poetry - but "A Really Big Lunch" focuses on his love for food and his adventures as a roving gourmand. Harrison died in 2016, but this book is a wonderful tribute to the man - it's full of life, humour and an easy intimacy that draws the reader in and thrills them with descriptions of wonderful food and wine, as well as beautifully chosen prose.
I don't think there could be any better epitaph than "He live life to the full" - and it's clear that this was the case with Harrison. "A Really Big Lunch" is full of essays that convey an infectious and almost inspiration desire for fun, food and fine wine through prose that's unbelievably enjoyable - salty and rude and like hearing fantastic tales from a naughty but beloved Uncle. The lunch of the title is the feature of a fantastic essay about a 37 course lunch Harrison once partook in - 11 hours of grazing on dishes that varied from a simple soup through to a a hare cooked in port wine inside a calf's bladder - all accompanied by 19 different types of wine. It rather sets the tone for the rest of the essays - they're packed full of excess and some foods that even a voracious eater like myself wouldn't dream of eating - but Harrison's lust for life and living makes them all wildly exciting and interesting - his wit pushing the reader through even the most horrific of meals.
Of course, a life of excess isn't all that healthy, and Harrison's meditations on his deteriorating body certainly take on a bittersweet quality in the aftermath of his death. However, this collection of wonderful essays serves as a brilliant tribute to a great man - my face ached from grinning at the writing and my stomach hurt from pangs of envious humour. Many thanks to the publishers for the copy.
Of course I want to be like them. They're beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.
And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.
One terrible morning, Jude and her sisters see their parents murdered in front of them. The terrifying assassin abducts all three girls to the world of Faerie, where Jude is installed in the royal court but mocked and tormented by the Faerie royalty for being mortal.
As Jude grows older, she realises that she will need to take part in the dangerous deceptions of the fey to ever truly belong.
But the stairway to power is fraught with shadows and betrayal. And looming over all is the infuriating, arrogant and charismatic Prince Cardan . . .
Holly Black is an American author, probably best known for "The Spiderwick Chronicles" which she writes with author Tony DiTerlizzi. Here she begins a new Young Adult Fantasy trilogy - set to continue with a second book in 2019 and a third in 2020. However, worlds full of faerie's, intrigue and strong female characters are ten a penny at the moment, so does "The Cruel Prince" have the staying power to hook audiences in for the long run?
In short - it's a yes. Holly Black isn't messing around here - she pulls the audience into her story with a brutal attack, before delving into a complicated and cleverly built fantasy world that the reader can't help but be pulled into.
This isn't for young audiences - the plot is violent, adult and impressively complex - leading the reader into directions that are utterly unexpected - not least the fantastic ending that leads things wonderfully open-ended for the sequel.
It's in character that Black excels here - every single one encountered in "The Cruel Prince" is layered and complex - no stereotypes here but three-dimensional characters who breathe life into the pages of this novel. Jude especially is deliciously complex - not always likeable and not always understandable, but always hugely readable and a strong, compelling and driven lead who I'm sure readers everywhere will be loving.
With brave world building, complex characters and an intriguing plot all piled into one novel, this is a huge success - "The Cruel Prince" is sure to fly off the shelves upon its release, and I for one cannot wait for the sequel. Many thanks to the publishers for the copy.
Still tormented by the disappearance of his wife, ex-intelligence agent James Ryker sets out on a personal mission of revenge, prepared to go to any lengths in search of the truth.
The trail takes him from the crystal waters of Mexico’s Caribbean coast, back to a place he thought he would never set foot again - his country of birth, England. But there he discovers more than even he bargained for. Stumbling across a terrorist attack targeted against his old employers - the secretive Joint Intelligence Agency -the faint clues to many events in his recent past are all seemingly linked to one mysterious character; The Silver Wolf.
But just who is the Silver Wolf, and why is he hell-bent on punishing not just Ryker, but his closest allies at the JIA too?
Has Ryker finally met his match?
Rob Sinclair is a West Midlands based author, known for his bestselling "Enemy" and "James Ryker" series of thrillers. He began writing in 2009 and has been producing brilliantly fast paced reads ever since - with "The Silver Wolf" continuing Ryker's story with pace, tension, and skill.
The "Enemy" series followed Carl Logan - and after retiring under the new identity of James Ryker, he swiftly found himself drawn back into the action in both "The Red Cobra" and "The Black Hornet" - and again here in "The Silver Wolf". He's a massively compelling character, and having followed him through the series, it's rather hard not to be attached to him - he has a strength and grit that's immensely readable, and Sinclair isn't afraid to make him a flawed, developed character rather than the one dimensional leads who one often finds cropping up in thrillers.
Sinclair plunges the reader deep into the action in "The Silver Wolf" within a few pages - the reader is transported to exotic climes and into a high stakes plot that, due to the way the reader has got to know Logan/Ryker over these series, feels immensely personal. This in turn leads to a thrilling climax that's almost cinematic in its scope - and ends on what feels like the end of a chapter for Ryker - although I sincerely hope not the end of his story.
Huge fun - "The Silver Wolf" is perhaps my favourite of the Logan/Ryker stories, with a culmination of plot threads, explosive action and a focus on just how Ryker is coping with all that life has thrown at him. These are high quality, superbly written books - give them a read and you'll be sure to have a wild ride with Ryker.
June, 1348: the Black Death enters England through the port of Melcombe in the county of Dorsetshire. Unprepared for the virulence of the disease, and the speed with which it spreads, the people of the county start to die in their thousands.
In the estate of Develish, Lady Anne takes control of her people's future - including the lives of two hundred bonded serfs. Strong, compassionate and resourceful, Lady Anne chooses a bastard slave, Thaddeus Thurkell, to act as her steward. Together, they decide to quarantine Develish by bringing the serfs inside the walls. With this sudden overturning of the accepted social order, where serfs exist only to serve their lords, conflicts soon arise. Ignorant of what is happening in the world outside, they wrestle with themselves, with God and with the terrible uncertainty of their futures.
Lady Anne's people fear starvation but they fear the pestilence more. Who amongst them has the courage to leave the security of the walls?
And how safe is anyone in Develish when a dreadful event threatens the uneasy status quo..?
Minette Walters is best known as a writer of Crime novels - since the publication of "The Ice House" in 1992, she's won the Crime Writer's Association John Creasey award for best first novel, the Mystery Writers of America Edgar award, and the CWA Gold Dagger. Walter's now turns her considerable talents to another genre - moving into the realm of Historical Fiction with "The Last Hours", and sweeping her readers into the deadly, turbulent and terrifying world of a plague ridden middle ages England.
One thing that made Walter's crime books stand out was her grasp of character, and the viewpoints she used to tell her stories - they were never straightforward books packed with gore and violence, but often offered intriguing political and social commentaries alongside thrilling plots. That's something that, you'd think, would be somewhat trickier when plunging almost a millennia into the past and looking at the Black Death - but Walters is able to combine a truly engaging and well researched historical story with characters and threads that remind the reader of contemporary life.
A big part of this, is character - and the characters of Lady Anne, Thaddeus Thurkell and Giles Startout allow Walters to explore class, gender, race and religion in fascinating, compelling fashion whilst always ensuring that these themes are integral parts of the story rather than added on to give the book a contemporary relevance. Written with an urgent prose that pulls the reader through a vividly described landscape of death and destruction, the mix of rather incredibly drawn characters embroiled in a plot that, in its essence is a genuine battle for life and survival against the odds makes this a read that I was unable to put down.
Historical detail, a thrilling, fascinating plot and vivid, relatable characters, made this a read that I'll be recommending to all and sundry. I should warn that several plot strands are left very much open-ended, but that's only served to fill me with excitement for the upcoming sequel. Bravo Minette Walters - a brave change of genre, but one that has paid off in spades!
In the mid seventeenth century, England was divided by war and bloodshed. Torn apart by rival factions, father opposed son and brother met brother on the battlefield. But while civil war raged on cobbled streets and green fields, inside the home domestic life continued as it always had done. For Ann Fanshawe and her children it meant a life of insecurity and constant jeopardy as she and her husband, a Royalist diplomat, dedicated their lives to the restoration of the Stuart monarchy.
In this uncertain world, Ann's 'receipt book' was a treasured and entirely feminine response to the upheavals of war. These books were a feature of women's lives during this period, when there were few doctors to be found, and were full of life-saving medical knowledge that had been gleaned from mothers and friends. Remarkably, Ann's morocco-bound book full of scraps of ink-stained paper has survived to this day.
Lucy Moore is a historian, educated in Britain and the United States, with a degree in history from Edinburgh University. She's got a long and varied bibliography as a writer - including a rather fantastic history of the Roaring Twenties. In "Lady Fanshawe's Receipt Book" she moves onto the fascinating world of Civil War England - with Lady Fanshawe's writings providing a brilliantly insightful glimpse into one of the most turbulent times in British History.
Lady Ann Harrison was born in 1625, and was an intelligent child, loving French, needlework and riding. Born to a Royalist family, she married her second cousin, Richard Fanshawe, in 1644. They were a Royalist family - loyally supporting the King in a period where a Civil War resulted in the execution of a King and a state of Interregnum. Fanshawe is best known for writing a Memoir - full of recollections of life with her husband, and an intriguing record of what I find a particularly fascinating time in British History.
Lucy Moore has chosen not to focus solely on the memoir though, and instead has accessed Lady Fanshawe's Receipt Book for a far more intimate and immediate glimpse into the life of an intelligent, passionate and driven woman. Combining the two sources, Moore brings Fanshawe to startling life - with the personal nature of Fanshawe's writings enabling Moore to broadcast her voice loudly into the 21st Century - with the reader being allowed a glimpse into Fanshawe's friends, family, loves, and losses. I've recently become hugely interested by the English Civil War - a period of time that I often find rather overlooked, despite the way it shaped world history for ever. The fact that Lucy Moore chooses to focus on a woman in this period makes it doubly interesting - the drive of this woman to support her family and husband despite it threatening both her life and those of her children is quite remarkable, and the remarkable lengths that Lady Fanshawe went to in order to maintain a level of normality and domesticity for her family in a time that was both hugely turbulent and incredibly dangerous for the family. A remarkable woman brought to dazzling life by Lucy Moore - "Lady Fanshawe's Receipt Book" is a read that will transport the reader to a very different time indeed - but place them in the company of a woman whose strength, intelligence and drive will provide a very safe pair of hand for the reader indeed. Many thanks to the publisher for the copy.