Former soldier Rob Langdon was working as a security contractor in Afghanistan when he was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death in a case that would have been ruled a clear miscarriage of justice in the British legal system. His sentence was commuted to 20 years in jail, and he served his time in Kabul's most notorious prison, Pul-e-Charkhi, described as the world's worst place to be a westerner.
Rob was there for seven years, the longest sentence served by a westerner since the fall of the Taliban, and every one of those 2,500 days was an act of extraordinary survival in a jail filled with Afghanistan's most dangerous extremists and murderers. In 2016 Robert was pardoned and returned to Australia.
This is a remarkable read - a surprisingly compelling tale that initially grabs the reader by opening with a vivid retelling of how the author killed a man in self-defense. This leads to a tale of prison life that is far stranger than one could ever imagine in fiction - unpredictable, dangerous, wild, and seemingly unescapeable.
Langdon himself is a compelling lead - admirably strong and macho in prison, but open and honest with the reader about his state of mind and the emotions that drove him to survive. His way of writing is straightforward and blunt - no flowery language but a direct style that conveys his tale with a startling immediacy.
A heart stopping story of survival and strength - "The Seventh Circle" transports the reader to Afghanistan's most notorious prison and puts them through a grueling, strenuous ordeal - but one told with skill and humour that makes it absolutely worth the effort. Thanks to Allen & Unwin for the copy.
After a devastating breakup, loser Marty Melon doggedly reassembles his shattered self. Confidence-boosting Ted Talks, muscle-crushing kettlebell swings, and key episodes of "The Golden Girls" transform him from zero to b-list hero. This suicidal reject, turned pickup artist, turned sensitive new age guy, finally has it all: a house, the quirky woman of his dreams, and abs.
F#%k you, world, he thinks with alpha confidence.
“Challenge accepted,” the world replies, and everything goes to zombie crap.
Will Marty make it? He’s no longer an average frustrated chump. He’s in the best mental and physical shape of his life. "Ninja" bro-crush and gay-best-friend Gary is at his side. But to triumph in the end-of-days, Marty must defeat his most dangerous foe of all—the woman who broke him in the first place.
Steven Bereznai is an author, Travel Writer, Wellness practitioner, recreational water polo player and a big fan of science fiction. I've previously read (and loved) his "I Want Superpowers" - a dark dystopian YA tale that blended all the best elements of the X-Men with The Hunger Games into a compellingly plotted story with a fantastically strong lead character.
As a result, I was particularly excited when my copy of "How A Loser Like Me Survived The Zombie Apocalypse" - I read the opening chapters a few months ago, and was rather delighted to see that my comments had made it to the back cover of the book!
It's the mark of a good author that they're able to write in a variety of genres - many successful authors have stumbled trying to enter new markets or take on challenges too big for them. However, Steven Bereznai does so with aplomb - moving from the dark, intense world of "I Want Superpowers" to the slightly lighter world of "How A Loser Like Me Survived The Zombie Apocalypse". Zombie novels are ten a penny these days, but Bereznai makes sure his is at the top of the pile by ensuring that his tale is told with prose that’s immensely readable, leading to a page turning plot filled with compelling characters. Those characters are where Bereznai really gets to shine – following an everyman throughout a Zombie Apocalypse, Bereznai avoids falling into cliché, and instead creates a real heart for his story – you’ll laugh and cry with these characters, and that’s quite an achievement. There’s also a wonderful thread of dark humour running through the book too - it’s knowing and witty –even when things seem bleak for the characters and allows for the reader to be enjoying themselves in spite of the circumstances, carried through on a wave of warmth and goodwill for characters like Marty, Heidi and Gary. They're built up well throughout the book - and whilst there's bleak humour to be found everywhere, Bereznai also explores exactly how people would react in a situation like the Zombie Apocalypse, with remarkable depth - there's a real empathy and humanity at the core of this book. Bereznai is also skilled at throwing in many a pop culture reference, and they’re well targeted – landing accurately and cleverly on target – no misfires here. If you’re a fan of the Zombie genre – then “How A Loser Like Me Survived the Zombie Apocalypse” should go straight to the top of your pile. If you’re not, but enjoy compelling and exciting tales told with intelligent prose and no end of interesting characters – then you should give it a go too. Anyone with a brain, half a brain, or a penchant for eating brains will have a bloody good time with this book - I certainly did, and I'm not undead (yet).
When Anita Naakka jumps in front of an oncoming train, her daughter, Norma, is left alone with the secret they have spent their lives hiding: Norma has supernatural hair, sensitive to the slightest changes in her mood–and the moods of those around her–moving of its own accord, corkscrewing when danger is near. And so it is her hair that alerts her, while she talks with a strange man at her mother’s funeral, that her mother may not have taken her own life. Setting out to reconstruct Anita’s final months–sifting through puzzling cell phone records, bank statements, video files–Norma begins to realize that her mother knew more about her hair’s powers than she let on: a sinister truth beyond Norma’s imagining.
Sofi Oksanen is a Finnish writer and playwright, and has published over five novels - "Purge" and "When the Doves Disappeared" the best known in the English speaking world
Church and Other Dirty Words is a collection of poems by author and poet Brad Cohen. I reviewed it back in 2016, and was hugely impressed by the raw and visceral feel of the words - blunt and honest and directly speaking to my experiences as a Gay man. As a result, I was thrilled to be asked to review "Church and Other Dirty Words: The Film Collection" - a collaboration between Brad Cohen and director Sian Williams.
There's definitely a danger with adapting poems, in that part of the wonder of poetry is the myriad of individual meanings the words can take on in the reader's minds. There's a concern that there'll be less of a connection for the reader in watching another person's view of how the feelings and thoughts of a poem should be conveyed - but it's something that the team behind "Church and Other Dirty Words: The Film Collection" have carefully avoided - these short films are direct, thought provoking and utterly electric.
The films differ in tone and content - but overarching themes unify them as a collection - all of them filled with a searing honesty that's impossible to turn away from. "Church and Other Dirty Words" was already a varied and original body of work, but Cohen and Williams should be applauded for finding dynamic and innovative ways to approach these poems - the words are allowed to take centre stage, but the magnetic performances and inventive, creative cinematography allow for films that stimulate both visually and aurally. Performances from artists such as Danny Polaris, Joseph Connolly, Charlie Knight, Sophie Chittenden, Sian Williams, Victoria Matthews, Luigi Ambrosio, Joe Gilmore and Matthew Williams are accompanied by a score composed by Himuro Mansion - ranging from slow, meditative themes through to pulsing beats. It's cleverly arranged - sympathetic to the performances but excellent in its own right.
In terms of the the range of films, it's hard to pick a favourite - the overarching films with Danny Polaris and Joseph Connolly delve into a relationship full of raw emotions and, in the final film, a tenderness and openness that corresponds to the themes of the poems perfectly. "Masc4Masc" features Joseph Connolly in a blunt, direct and intimate short, and "DJ Pygmalion" is a vivid, sexual and pulsing piece performed by Charlotte Dowell that's almost staggering in its directness. Lingering looks in "Girl Under You" stay with the viewer long after the film has ended, and the sensual, fluid movements of Luigi Ambrosio and Joe Gilmore in "Bedside Surgeon"convey a relationship without a need for words - the phrase "poetry-in-motion" by be an age old cliche, but it's beyond fitting here.
An original, powerful and brilliantly crafted project, "Church and Other Dirty Words: The Film Collection" takes already brilliant poems and carries them through to a new creative level. Combined they're only just over half and hour, but they'll stay with the viewer far, far longer.
Can we resurrect dinosaurs, Jurassic Park-style? Are we living in The Matrix's digital simulation? Do aliens with acid blood exist somewhere in the universe? Will we ever go back and visit 1955? And just why were the original Planet of the Ape movies so terrible?
In Science(ish), Rick Edwards and Dr Michael Brooks confront all the questions that your favourite movies provoke. Inspired by their award-winning podcast, this popular (hopefully) science (definitely) book dedicates each chapter to a different sci-fi classic, and explores the fascinating issues that arise.
Covering movies from 28 Days Later to Ex Machina, this is a ride through astrophysics, neuroscience, psychology, botany, artificial intelligence, evolution, and plenty more subjects you've always wanted to grasp.
Rick Edwards is best known as a TV and Radio presenter, but one who just happens to have a degree from Cambridge in Natural Sciences. Dr Michael Brooks holds a PhD in quantum physics, and has become known as a journalist, broadcaster, and author of a weekly column for the New Statesman. He's also written several books - including the brilliant "13 Things that Don't Make Sense". The two came together to produce the podcast "Science(ish), which discusses the science behind popular films - and it's those conversations that form the backbone of this book.
Starting with recent film "The Martian" and continuing to cover films as different as "Back to the Future" and "28 Days Later", Science(ish) explores and, where possible, explains the concepts at the heart of these films, and explores just how possible the scenarios imagined with in them, are.
Now, I have to be honest – I’m no scientist. So much so in fact, that I received a D in Double Science at School, and that sorry affair fifteen or so years ago was the last time I dared pick up a test tube or attempted to remember the rules of physics.
However, the theories and thoughts contained within “Science(ish) are explained in such a way that a layman like me wasn’t lost – instead I found myself engaged with well explained concepts, intelligent humour and a heap of respect for some of the iconic films that are mentioned here.
Edwards and Brooks appear to have a great rapport together, and it’s conveyed nicely here, letting the reader in on the jokes whilst dazzling them with some popular science.
Don’t go into this expecting a science textbook – but also don’t go into it expecting an extremely light science read, as there are some rather complicated concepts involved which, even with the excellent explanations, still took me a while to get my head around! However, this is an incredibly fun read that pays tribute to some magical moments on the silver screen whilst educating and informing the reader with wit and knowledge.
Many thanks to the publishers for the copy.
It’s 1592. Europe is in chaos. Religious factions have torn the region apart and witch-hunts have become a part of everyday life.
In the Company of Wolves follows three groups of travelers – a fearless female pirate roaming the North Sea, a priest and his wife escaping to England to avoid persecution, and a young thief from the slums of Germany looking for a better life. Each has a different reason for venturing out in such tumultuous times – fear, greed, family secrets.
Is the Werewolf of Bedburg still alive, roaming the countryside and killing innocent citizens? Many believe he’s still out there—that religious and political leaders have forsaken the truth in their cunning quest for power.
As each traveler searches for individual answers, these three seemingly separate stories converge in a place which may hold the key for them all. Based on true events involving one of the deadliest witch trials in European history, this tale of adventure, mystery, and the search for truth reminds us that, ultimately, no one is safe . . . in the company of wolves.
"In the Company of Wolves" is the sequel to "Devil in the Countryside" - a book I reviewed earlier in 2017 (review here). An intriguingly dark true story given the historical fiction treatment, it was a compelling read that blended excellent characterisation with a dark, genre-crossing plot. Cory has returned to that world and those characters in "In the Company of Wolves" - and it's a read that's just as compelling as the first.
In fact, it appears to me that Barclay has really hit his stride in "In the Company of Wolves". The interactions between characters seem more natural, and the pacing is fantastic, with the switching of viewpoints allowing for a huge amount of brilliant cliffhangers to crop up through out the course of the book. The distinct viewpoints are interesting enough that, whilst I was left eager to know what had happened to a character, I wasn't too annoyed when I was torn away from one journey and showed another - especially as, for a lot of the book, the individual chapters are rather short - allowing for a swift and interesting read that keeps the reader moving through this dark and dangerous world at considerable speed. It's a nice touch, and reminded me somewhat of the Victorian Penny Dreadfuls - dark stories told in quick, easily readable snippets.
A real draw of these books is that Barclay shines a light on historical events that have been all but forgotten - and shining a light on the "Trier Witch Trials" makes for immensely fascinating reading. The characters drawn from history are brought to life with considerable skill, joining the already impressive fictional creations of the author in order to guide the reader through dark, dramatic but ultimately incredibly well researched historical events
Things feel a little unfinished towards the end - but I'm sure they'll be resolved well in Book Three, which I'm already looking forward too! Thanks to Cory for the copy - and make sure to pick up "Devil in the Countryside" first in order to make sure you know what's going on!
Novelist Tatiana de Rosnay pays homage to Daphne du Maurier, a writer who has influenced her deeply, in this immersive new biography. A portrait of one writer by another, Manderley Forever recounts a life as mysterious and dramatic as the work it produced, and highlights du Maurier's consuming passion for Cornwall.
De Rosnay recreates Daphne's childhood, rebellious teens and early years as a writer before exploring the complexities of her marriage and, finally, her cantankerous old age. A thrilling, intimate and beautifully written journey into the life of a writers who, despite being hugely loved by her public, remains mainly critically ignored.
Tatiana de Rosnay is a French journalist and author. English, French and Russian of descent, she was born in Paris, living in Boston USA, then Norwich England, before returning to Paris in 1984. She has published twelve novels in French, and three in English, with her most successful, "Sarah's Key" published in 2006, and later made into a film starring the superb Kristin Scott Thomas.
A lifelong fan of Daphne du Maurier, Tatiana de Rosnay clearly did huge amounts of research to write "Manderley Forever", and visited relatives of du Maurier's, as well as her beloved hometown of Fowey. As a result, she's written a biography that is both immediate and intimate and provides the readers with a warm, affectionate and personal recreation of a life that was immensely fascinating.
Daphne du Maurier was born in London in 1907. The daughter of actor-manager Sir Gerald du Maurier, she grew up in a rather fascinating world - spending time with her cousins the Llewelyn Davies boys (the inspirations for Peter Pan) and her Uncle Jim - better known to us as J.M. Barrie. Growing up she attended finishing school in France, where she may well have entered into an affair with one of her female teachers - but soon returned to England where she began to write.
Over the years her works ranged from short stories to novels to plays to biographies, all changing in terms of style and setting. Never one to be scared of experimenting or alienating her audiences, du Maurier allowed her passion and imagination to run wild when it came to writing - which resulted in many of her books being beloved by her readers, but not so much by the critics.
Visiting Cornwall as a young adult, she swiftly fell in love with the place and, apart from short spells abroad due to her husband's military career, Cornwall was where du Maurier remained until her death. An author who rarely gave interviews, she was often perceived by the public to be a cold, isolated hermit - which is a far cry from the fascinating, social and often rather fun life that she's is depicted as having here.
Such a lively life would, I imagine, be rather dulled by a biography that relies on figures, dates and footnotes - so the author chooses to forgo these, instead writing this biography far more like a novel. It's a style that works well - and whilst some readers may initially be a little uncomfortable with it, the effect it has is hugely transporting - and du Maurier such an interesting, intelligent figure, that it's rather impossible not to be swept along. Some moments do feel a little strange - the author perhaps inhabits du Maurier's mind a little too much at times, and conveys thoughts and feelings that she has no way of knowing - but it adds to the "novel" effect and certainly kept me hooked. Additionally, it's a style that du Maurier herself employed in several of her novels - so it's absolutely fitting for de Rosnay to engage the reader with it here.
A beautiful depiction of a woman whose life was endlessly fascinating, "Manderley Forever" breathes new life into an author who was rarely critically acclaimed in life, but remains beloved by her readers - and should pick up a legion of new fans should they choose to read Ms de Rosnay's fantastic work.
Many thanks to the publishers for the copy.
Kate Thompson - glamorous housewife-turned-MP - surprises everyone with her meteoric rise at Westminster. When Kate is sent as a trade minister to India, she hopes it will be her moment to shine. But, embroiled in a personal scandal, she gets drawn into a dangerous world of corruption and political intrigue...
Billionaire Deepak Parrikar - head of an Indian arms technology company - is magnetically drawn to the beautiful British minister. But while their relationship deepens, India's hostilities with Pakistan reach boiling point, causing more than just business and politics to collide. In the race to prevent disaster, can their conflicting loyalties survive being tested to the limit?
Vince Cable (yes, that Vince Cable!) was born in York in 1943. Having worked as a lecturer and an economist, he entered the House of Commons in 1997, and has been a well liked and respected figure in politics ever since - his return as leader of the Liberal Democrats a well awaited one. And now... he's written his first novel. I've never been a huge fan of novels written by politicians - my hometown is the place in Lincolnshire that first elected Jeffrey Archer to power so I've always felt a misplaced sense of guilt for unleashing his constant stream of books on to the world.
Cable has experience as a writer though - both his memoir and his account of the financial crisis are well reviewed. Losing his seat in Parliament in 2015, Cable focused on writing "Open Arms" - and it's clear that this a novel from a man who felt his career in politics was perhaps open - as it's honest, adult, and at times rather scathing of the political system that Cable spent many years in. What's reassuring though, is that dealing with all of the major political parties to an extent (his own, the Liberal Democrats are, much like in current politics, rather sidelined), Cable never veers into caricature - allowing the actions of his characters to speak for themselves, and even making me like a Tory minister - not something I ever thought all that likely!
In terms of plot, it's very much a political thriller, but one with pace, action and intriguing themes at the centre of it - and stakes that only escalate as the plot goes on. The prose isn't particularly elegant, but it certainly isn't clunky either - it does the job and drives the plot along well - a plot that Cable juggles with considerable skill.
A great debut from a legend of politics, "Open Arms" sets the readers pulse racing with a terrific plot drawn straight from the corridors of power. Perfect holiday reading - many thanks to the publishers for the copy.
A young woman moves into a Paris apartment and discovers a storage room filled with the belongings of the previous owner, a certain Madeleine who died in her late nineties, and whose treasured possessions nobody seems to want. In an audacious act of journalism driven by personal curiosity and humane tenderness, Clara Beaudoux embarks on The Madeleine Project, documenting what she finds on Twitter with text and photographs, introducing the world to an unsung 20th century figure. Along the way, she uncovers a Parisian life indelibly marked by European history.
When Clara Beaudoux moved into an apartment in Paris, she was informed that she extra storage available elsewhere in the building. Accessing the storage, she found it full of the previous tenants belongings and, with their loves ones permission, she began to explore the contents, sharing her findings on Twitter and fascinating thousands with the mementos and snapshots of a woman's life in the 20th Century. This book collects those Twitter posts, along with some additional information regarding the author's journey to meet those who knew Madeline.
Telling the story through the Twitter posts is an interesting choice - it makes is a speedy read, and also a modern one - despite Madeline's story taking the reader back to the Second World War. It moved me rather unexpectedly - and the joy of using the Twitter snippets is that both the reader and the author can be genuinely surprised by new discoveries as they come along. Madeleine's life is a fascinating one, and and Beaudoux treats it with immense care and respect - the two seeming to form a friendship through the ages as the discoveries continue. Looking into the life of someone deceased is always tricky - but Beaudoux is careful never to be too intrusive - discoveries instead coming organically and with the blessings of Madeleine's loved ones - turning what could have been a ghoulish intrusion into a read that's uplifting, hopeful, and filled with a fierce kind of joy that left me smiling long after turning the pages. Many thanks to the publishers for the copy.
1792: the blood begins to drip from the guillotine. The French Revolution is entering its most violent phase, and threatens all Europe with chaos. In the age of the mob, no individual is safe.
The spies of England, France and Prussia are fighting their own war for survival and supremacy. Somewhere in Paris is a hidden trove of secrets that will reveal the treacheries of a whole continent.
At the height of the madness a stranger arrives in Paris, to meet a man who has disappeared. Unknown and untrusted, he finds himself the centre of all conspiracy. When the world is changing forever, what must one man become to survive?
Robert Wilton works as an author and, rather surprisingly, an international diplomat. Over the years he's worked in both Kosovo and Albania, and it's clear that his experience in international relations and the internal workings of countries allows him to create books full of fascinating, complex characters and well developed worlds for those characters to live in.
His latest, "Treason's Spring" is a prequel to "Treason's Tide" - a book set during the Napoleonic Wars. Here Wilton takes things back to the French Revolution - a turbulent period evoked remarkably well by the author. Into this world, Wilton throws in mysteries, murders, and characters so vital they draw the reader swiftly into the plot, forming a tight grip on them as they move through the fast paced and often thrilling events that occur. Page turners like this can often be high in plot but rather low in quality - but there's no cause for concern here. Wilton's writing has a rich, slightly old fashioned feel to it, which when combined with his eye for historical accuracy leads to a read that's as informative as it is thrilling and transportive. Set to be the first part of a trilogy, I'm looking forward to book two - many thanks to the publishers for the copy.