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A(nother) Review – The Dark by Emma Haughton

This is a (rough) transcript of Bert’s review on The Bert’s Books Podcast. You can find The Bert’s Books Podcast wherever you get your podcasts from or online here

 

The Blurb

 

In the most inhospitable environment – cut off from the rest of the world – there’s a killer on the loose.

A&E doctor Kate North has been knocked out of her orbit by a personal tragedy. So when she’s offered the opportunity to be an emergency replacement at the UN research station in Antarctica, she jumps at the chance. The previous doctor, Jean-Luc, died in a tragic accident while out on the ice.

The move seems an ideal solution for Kate: no one knows about her past; no one is checking up on her. But as total darkness descends for the winter, she begins to suspect that Jean-Luc’s death wasn’t accidental at all. And the more questions she asks, the more dangerous it becomes …

 

Bert’s Thoughts

Kate heads out to the Antarctic to become a replacement doctor at the UN station. Winter is coming and this is a point where the Antarctic doesn’t receive any light for several months.

 

It’s a horrible place to be, but they need a doctor and Kate is parachuted in just at the last possible minute.

 

Some of the other bases shut down over winter and the staff leave – this means there’s just thirteen of them at this base.

 

Kate is immediately struck by the death of Jean-Luc – she becomes obsessed by it. And I think that’s fair. It happened a few weeks previously – so it’s not just happened.

 

I really enjoyed it – it’s a very claustrophohic thriller, very filmic. I can see it all unfolding in my mind.

 

There are a lot of characters in this book, some of them are important, some of them not. This is the problem with lots of who-dun-it type books.

 

The blurb says one dead body twelve suspects, right at the top so you know someone is going to die, and this is in the back of your mind as you’re getting to know these characters.

 

Some of them are just in the periphery, some of them move in and out of the main thrust of the narrative, and then one of them suddenly dies.

 

I always find it a little tricky to keep track of – so in books like this, a character precis at the front would have been helpful.

 

But, if you go in with Kate as your main window into this world, it’s fine, although as the days and weeks go on, Kate becomes more familiar with the characters and leaves you behind a little.

 

The environment and setting is a huge part of this book, and Haughton does a brilliant job of making you feel as if you’re there in this cold and lonely place.

 

I can’t say too much without giving much away – that’s the problem with mystery novels!

The Verdict

I enjoyed it a lot, very claustrophobic – I found it a bit odd that it’s released over the summer, as it would be perfect for an early January read.

 

Order your copy of The Dark now or leave your own review

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A(nother) Review: The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris

This is a (rough) transcript of Bert’s review on The Bert’s Books Podcast – first published Thursday 12th August. You can find The Bert’s Books Podcast wherever you get your podcasts from or online here

 

Is your pile of books that you’re waiting to read that sometimes you lose track of what’s on it? Guilty.

I was looking at it to see what to read next when I suddenly spotted two books on the Booker longlist that I’ve not read yet – and I’m not sure why – especially considering one of them was one I’d specifically requested.

That was the Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris.

Blurb

In the dying days of the American Civil War, newly freed brothers Landry and Prentiss find themselves cast into the world without a penny to their names. Forced to hide out in the woods near their former Georgia plantation, they’re soon discovered by the land’s owner, George Walker, a man still reeling from the loss of his son in the war. When the brothers begin to live and work on George’s farm, the tentative bonds of trust and union begin to blossom between the strangers.

But this sanctuary survives on a knife’s edge, and it isn’t long before the inhabitants of the nearby town of Old Ox react with fury at the alliances being formed only a few miles away . . .

 

Bert’s Thoughts

This is set at the end of the American Civil War – and slaves were being freed, becoming known as Freedmen.

At the time, whilst they were being freed, many of them stayed on to work where they’d been slaves because they didn’t know anything more. And if they were paid, they were paid nothing compared to a white man.

So, while there was this end to slavery, there wasn’t an end to the inequality.

I’ve read a few books set during the slave trade – perhaps the most recent being The Prophets – and this almost feels like a sequel, despite it being by a different writer.

The Prophets was about slavery and two young enslaved men, while The Sweetness of Water is about two young men who have been ‘freed’.

George Walker lives on a farm, which is nothing more than scraps of land, he’s not really farming it. It’s all been inherited and he occasionally sells parts of it to Ezra in the town of Old Ox.

His and Isabelle’s son has been drafted into the war, so they’re now living alone – until one day, Caleb’s childhood best friend August comes to their home to tell them that Caleb has died.

August has been injured, though George notices that it doesn’t seem to be that pronounced, and we’re led to believe that August’s rich father was able to pay for him to be kept in a place of safety during the fighting.

George and Isabelle go into mourning, in different ways. George wanders the woodlands and he meets Prentice and Landry – who have recently left a neighbouring farm, some of the only freedmen who have left.

They’re distrustful of George, but he suggest that they come and work for him, because he’s suddenly had this idea to turn some of his fields into turning some of his land into a peanut farm. He’s ploughing his grief energy into something else.

Prentice is initially wary of working for another white man, but George reassures him that they’ll be working together and lets them stay in his barn. He promises them that when they want to heard north for their new life, they can.

Landry, on the other hand, is very silent. He doesn’t speak after some quite barbaric treatment.

This is a story of grief, of working out how to move on from one part of your life to another.

I liked that we saw it from various points of view – Caleb, Isabelle, George, Prentice and Landry all get their own section. I liked that it reminded me that when slavery ended, it didn’t just end and there was this wonderful happy ending.

It wasn’t like that. There was suspicion and there was resistance and there was violence as well. People weren’t happy.

People aren’t happy that George is paying these two black men as much as he is, because they’re worried others will get the same idea. Because while they might not be slaves, they’re certainly paid a lot less than other workers.

Paranoia starts going around the town of Old Ox – the description of which made me think of the frontier town of Dr Quinn Medicine Woman. Everything seems to be fairly relaxed and everyone does their own thing – particularly the sheriff who is more interested in people’s wallets than justice.

Considering this is a Booker longlisted title, there’s a lot going on. A lot of the books in the Booker longlists are usually well written and about important subjects, but there’s not always a lot going on.

A LOT happens in Sweetness of Water – too much for me to reveal. It takes on a lot of characters, a lot of subjects and is still incredibly well written.

The lasting thought that I had from this book was about people’s descendants. A family’s legacy is an important theme, and it’s really obvious in George and Isabelle as they remember and mourn Caleb, as they think about what they’ve inherited from their own parents.

Also Prentice and Landry are thinking about their own futures, but their primary goal is to try and find their mother. Then there’s August and his father and what becomes of them throughout the story.

This talk about the generational shift made me think about how some people were able to just move on from this period and within a generation the atrocities that were done by white people – by their grandparents – were forgotten.

And yet the stuff done to these slaves reverberates through the generations, because even if things are getting better there is still that pain there.

After the likes of Prentice and Landry were freed, they still weren’t equal in law for another hundred years or so, so any children they might have had were still born into some kind of bondage.

This isn’t very long ago, embarrassingly, only four or five generations ago. My grandparents’ grandparents would have been around the time of the American Civil war. They were alive when this was happening.

It makes you think about people we know now – their grandparents’ grandparents were slaves, perhaps even their grandparents parents.

This book made me remember it, gave me more of an insight into what’s happening and really begin to understand how those people feel.

It’s important for us to remember. When one side of history has lived with this pain for generations and other sides have just forgotten about it there will never be reparation.

 

Bert’s Verdict

It was nice to see Prentice and Landry become part of George and Isabelle’s family as their lives move on and to see the Walker family’s standing within their town change as they did was truly enlightening.

It’s an important book – but perhaps more importantly, it’s a great read.

 

Order your copy of The Sweetness of Water now or leave your own review

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is an FAQ?

It’s a frequently asked question. As in a question that gets asked a lot. If you’ve got a question and think you’re probably not the first person to ask it, then the answer to it might be here.

 

How much does delivery cost?

If you’re in the UK, delivery is absolutely free! Hurrah!

 

What about if I’m not in the UK?

It’s a flat rate for sending books abroad depending on the service used (starting at £9) but, unfortunately, I’m not able to send books to the EU because of complicated tax rules.

 

When are books dispatched?

I currently dispatch books every Tuesday and Thursday, and ideally your book will be dispatched within five days of being ordered. I’ll let you know if it’s going to be longer than that.

 

If you need your book by a certain day for a birthday, etc, just let me know and I’ll do my best to move it up the queue.

 

What are the subscription bundles?

They contain the best new releases on the website. Whether your tastes are for non-fiction, crime or young adult fiction, we can provide you with the very best books that are hot off the printing press.

 

When do I get the books I’ve subscribed to?

Standard monthly subscriptions are sent out at the end of each month, with the aim that you’ll get them on the 1st of the month. Orenda books, however, are dispatched by the 15th of each month. All other subscriptions are dispatched within five working days of their renewal.

 

What do I do if I get a book I’ve already read or don’t want in a subscription?

All the books in the subscriptions will have been released in the previous four weeks (although paperbacks may have previously been hardbacks) but anything that doesn’t tickle your fancy can be returned via the returns policy. You should never get a duplicate of a book you’ve bought from Bert’s previously – and If you let me know on Twitter or via email of the stuff you might have bought from another retailer (?!) , I’ll try my best to remember that too.

And what exactly is that returns policy?

If you want to return something, let me know within 14 days of receiving it, then post it back. You’ll have to cover the costs of postage, but it’s up to you whether you choose a tracked delivery. As soon as the book is back with me, your money will be refunded.

 

What happens if my book arrives damaged?

That’s no problem. Just let me know, and I’ll replace it!

 

When do you take payment for the subscriptions?

Payment is automatically taken in the month before you receive the books, so if you sign up on the 30th April, you’ll receive your first bundle in May, but if you sign up on 1st May, your first bundle will be with you in June.

 

How do I cancel my subscription?

I can’t imagine why you’d want to, but you can manage all your subscriptions within your account, or contact us directly to have it sorted for you.

 

What’s all this about Bert Points?

For every penny you spend on the website, you get one Bert Point. Ten points and you’ll get a penny off your next purchase. One £20 book, for example, will accrue you 2000 points, which is £2 off your next order. Bargain! You’ll be reminded at the purchase point that you’ve got points to spend.

 

Is there an upper limit of Bert Points I can have?

You can spend as many as you can accrue, but they expire after six months.

 

Why can’t I find the book I want?

Everything on the website is there because Bert has read it and loved it, or because a customer has requested it. This ensures a high quality of stock available – these are all good books. If you would like a book added, contact bert@bertsbooks.co.uk. You can also find me us on Twitter at @bertsbooks, but an email means you’re less likely to get missed.

 

Why haven’t you replied to my email?

I try and email you back as soon as possible. I’m the only one here though, so please excuse any delays. Double check your junk mail folder too – just in case!

 

Will you put the book I wrote on the website?

If I’ve read it and think it’s good, or if a customer requests it, certainly.

 

Will you read my book?

Ask your publisher to send me a proof and I’ll take a look. If you don’t have a publisher, then email me the details of your book and if I want to read it, I’ll ask you to send a copy over. I can’t read digital books, I’m afraid, and I can’t respond to every author request. As above, I’m just one person.

 

What is your favourite flavour of crisps?

Salt and vinegar, best served in a sandwich with a Dairylea cheese triangle. (Other cheeses are available.)

 

What is your favourite book?

There is not enough time to get into this…

 

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Bert’s January 2021 Reads

I’ve decided I need to actually keep track of the number of books I read each month – and what better way to do that than blogging about them?

In January I read 12 books – and I enjoyed them all, but for those that care about that sort of thing, I’ve ranked them!

They’re all available to purchase – or pre-order. If it sounds like your thing, or if you’d just like to find out more, then just click on the links

13. Acts of Kindness by Heather Barnett

Bella Black starts a new job at Acorn consultancy, and soon finds herself working for the mysterious OAK Institute.

This a high-camp, adventure – if you’re thinking a female James Bond (one of the later Roger Moore ones) you wouldn’t be far off.

This suffers a little bit from not really knowing what genre it wants to be – but if you go in knowing that you’ll get a fun story about a woman who doesn’t quite know who she is or even who she works for, you’ll not be disappointed.

12. The Spiral by Iain Ryan

Erma wakes up in bed to find one of her colleagues standing at the foot of her bed. Her colleague points a gun, fires at Erma, then shoots themselves. Erma then tries to understand just what was going on.

Erma herself isn’t that likeable, she’s not really trying to find out why her colleague did what she did – instead, she’s just trying to track down her work so she can complete her own work. She’s been studying the Choose Your Adventure type of books from her childhood and as she gets closer to tracking down her missing research, she finds out some truths about herself.

There’s a clever – and fun! – Choose Your Own Adventure-style section in this book, which really fits the jumbled moment it appears in and helps both us and Erma uncover the truth.

11. The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom

When Eddie dies, he goes to heaven and here he meets five people he previously knew in his long life. Some of them he knew very well, some barely at all – but they all marked key points his life and they help him realise just what his life was worth.

This year, as I clear out my bookcase, I’m re-reading some of my favourite books. This one was one that I looked at a lot in a bookshop, before finally getting around to buying it. I loved the moral of this story as well as the writing.

Now, looking back on it, I can see how this story has helped shape my outlook on life – but also, how simple a story it is. I didn’t love it as much this time around, but it’s still a great book.

10. The Shelf by Helly Acton

Amy and Jamie have been together for two years, and she’s pretty sure that as she careens into her mid-thirties, he is her last chance of happiness. So, when he announces a mystery trip away – she’s convinced this is it. This is when he’s going to propose.

Instead, he takes her to a TV studio, dumps her and leaves her there – one of six women taking part in a new reality show ‘A Keeper’ – where each of the contestants stand to win themselves £1,000,000 if they can prove they would make the perfect wife.

At first, this book made me angry – at Jamie, at the producers of the TV show, at the audience, but as time goes on, I started to really enjoy Amy’s personal discovery of just who exactly she is.

9. Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow by Benjamin Dean

Archie Albright just wants everything to go back to normal. He wants his parents to stop arguing, he wants his dad to move back in and he wants to be able to just enjoy his life like any other normal 12 year old would.

So, when he overhears his parents arguing and learns something surprising about his dad, he and his best friends  decide that the only way to fix things is to travel to London.

This is a lovely book about a young child coming to terms with the fact that his father is gay – and finding a whole new family along the way. In fact, Archie handles everything remarkably well – it’s the adults who don’t in this charming book.

8. The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton – Published 20th April 2021

Opal & Nev are two of the most iconic rock stars of the 70’s – they only had one album together, but one iconic photograph taken on the night of a riot at a musical showcase has catapulted their fame.

Now, nearly 50 years later, they’re getting back together for a one-off show, and music journalist S Sunny Shelton is pulling together interviews for a book to chart their rise to fame. Only Shelton has a personal connection and agenda to wanting to learn more about them.

Like Daisy Jones and the Six this is a book told in transcript form, and it’s about the rise and fall of a rock duo. If you liked Daisy, you’ll like this – it’s different in places as it tells, perhaps a more personal story, and has a wonderful, cinematic ending.

7. The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn

Nat Davy is the smallest man in England. Nobody really knows why he’s stopped growing, but he has and his parents are struggling to know what to do with him. His father, eventually sells him to a local Duke for eleven shillings, who, in turn presents him to the Queen of England.

The Queen and Nat become firm friends and as the English start to uprise against her and her husband, he helps her escape to safety.

This is a sweet tale told around the famous story of Charles I and Oliver Cromwell, but it’s the personal story of one of the courtiers, so the drama isn’t around the political nature, but about how Nat can learn to live in a world that isn’t designed for him.

6. The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr

Samuel and Isaiah live together in a barn on The Halifax Plantation – but they’re not free men. They’re slaves, along with many other people. But they’re also in love – and as the rest of the slaves are slowly converted over to Christianity, this is a dangerous place to find themselves in.

This isn’t just a story about Samual and Isaiah, this is the story of a whole community of people. The slaves and the plantation owners. How they work and live together, but how they remain forever different, no matter how much some of them pretend they might not be.

5. Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

Three separate cases in Jackson Brodie’s first appearance all come together to reveal that perhaps we’re all more connected than we previously thought.

This was another book from Bert’s Bookshelf that I re-read this month – and it’s as good as I remembered. Jackson is a brilliant central character, but so are all the characters around him.

It’s a great book, one that suckers you into it and guides you effortlessly through what are some quite traumatic stories. Definitely not cosy crime, but it makes you feel safe, warm and comforted all the way through.

4. The Last Thing to Burn by Will Dean

He’s her husband, but she’s not his wife. She’s his captive. He calls her Jane, but that’s not her name. She’s trapped in a farmhouse in the UK with no idea of how she got there. Lennie records her every move and if he doesn’t like what he sees, she gets punished.

But something has changed. Now, she has a reason to live and to fight. And now, she’s watching him.

This is a claustrophobic and desolate read, you’re urging ‘Jane’ on throughout to rescue herself, but you can totally understand her motivations, why she holds back. Go to bed early with this one, because you won’t be able to put it down.

3. The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin

Lenni is just 17 years old, but she’s destined to die. She’s living on the terminal ward of a hospital. She meets Margot, an 83 year old woman who is in the hospital as well and convinced she’s going to die.

Between them, they’re a hundred years old and in their art class together, they start painting scenes from their lives.

Along with Lenni, we learn all about Margot’s life, a life that could easily be similar to the one Lenni lived had she not fallen ill. This is a sad, yet uplifting story, perfect for fans of Joanna Cannon.

2. True Crime Story by Joseph Knox

This might be a tricky one to explain. Like Daisy Jones and Opal & Nev it’s another transcript based book, but in between the chapters we get  redacted email exchanges between Joseph Knox himself and Evelyn Mitchell.

Evelyn is researching the story of Zoe Nolan who disappeared just before Christmas and no trace of her was ever found. It’s told in the form of transcripts of interviews with the people who knew Zoe best – and along the way, these interviews are annotated by Knox.

So what happened to Zoe? And what happened to Evelyn so she couldn’t publish her own book?

The transcript style really suits this ‘true crime’ story and will appeal to fans of the Six Stories series by Matt Wesolowski.

1. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Perhaps no surprise to anyone that this was the best book I read this month. You can find out more about just why I loved it so much by looking at my previous blog post, but in summary…

A Little Life is the story of JB, Malcolm, Willem and Jude. But mostly it’s the story of Jude, a man whose life has been touched and defined by trauma. As he grows, he learns to trust those around him, even when some of them throw it back at him.

This is the sort of book that will stay with you forever once you’ve read it. A must for… everyone.

 

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Upcoming Books

Do you find it hard to keep up with all the exciting new books due to be published? Do you wish there was one handy list that had all the best ones in one place, arranged by date?

 

Then you’re in luck! I’ve listed below everything that is currently available to pre-order on Bert’s Books – I’ll update it regularly too, so keep this page bookmarked and come back regularly! AND finally, if there’s anything you’re desperate to get your hands on, that you can’t find below, then let me know!

 

21st October 2021

26th October 2021

28th October 2021

4th November 2021

9th November 2021

11th November 2021

25th November 2021

2nd December 2021

11th January 2022

13th January 2022

20th January 2022

3rd February 2022

17th February 2022

22nd February 2022

24th February 2022

1st March 2022

3rd March 2022

17th March 2022

24th March 2022

5th April 2022

28th April 2022

1st September 2022

13th October 2022