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Meet Me In Another Life by Catriona Silver

Many years ago in another life, I used to do weekly book reviews – back when I averaged about one book every week.

 

When I started Bert’s Books, the idea was simply to monetise the blog by offering the books I reviewed for sale. Of course, as many of you will know, Bert’s grew to be something much bigger than I’d ever anticipated and instead of merely a diversion while I looked for a ‘real job’ it became my ACTUAL job.

 

Ironically, the reviews were one of the first things I ended up stopping because I didn’t have the time.

 

I’m not sure if I still don’t have the time but I wanted to try – because I’m reading so many great books that I want to share them with as many people as I can.

 

Meet Me In Another Life by Catriona Silvey is one such book.

 

It starts with Thora escaping a club in Cologne – a get-to-know-you night for students at the university. It’s too noisy and crowded for her, so she heads to her private space in the cemetery for some peace and quiet.

 

But there’s someone there. Santi is lying on his back in front of the broken clock tower looking up at the stars.

 

The two of them talk and though not exactly friendly there is clearly a spark of something between them. They egg each other on and encourage themselves to climb to the top of the tower for a better look at the stars.

 

They spend a wonderful evening together and Thora’s convinced that they may well become best friends – until a short time later when she discovers that Santi died, falling from the tower.

 

It seems the story is over before it can really begin. But then…

 

Santi is a teacher, a class of eight-year-olds, amongst whom is young Thora who wants to be an astronaut when she grows up…

 

We alternate from Santi to Thora as they live their many lives – sometimes they’re friends, other times teacher and student, or lovers. Or siblings. Whatever they are, wherever they start, they are destined to meet each other again and again and again.

 

This is the sort of book where it didn’t take much of a pitch for me to want to read it. I love quirky fiction where reality is as it should be, but distorted by something unexplainable.

 

Like The Time Traveler’s Wife or The First Time Lauren Pailing Died– this book is firmly grounded in reality, but with an added twist of something unexplainable. The characters don’t realise that anything weird is going on – at least at first – and so the beginning third of the book is more like a collection of short stories.

 

But, whatever they are, whatever age they are when we meet them, the characters are the same and so we learn more about them, in all their guises as the book goes on, so with each ‘short story’ we become more and more invested.

 

That’s the over-arching question the book asks. Is it possible to know everything about a person? Even if we spend all our time with someone, share every waking thought, can we really know their true self if we don’t experience them as a teacher, brother, mother, lover?

 

It’s branded as science fiction – a mistake to my way of thinking – but it’s about as traditionally sci-fi as the Time Traveler’s Wife is fantasy.

 

I always try not to give spoilers in my reviews – and there’ll be no change to that policy here – but, I do want to talk about the ending, if only to tell you that it works.

 

Some books with a ‘gimmick’ like this don’t always end in a satisfactory manner, not quite answering all the questions – or worse trying to explain why and how everything happened and managing to take the magic out of it as they do.

 

This is the opposite. I thought the explanation that we got,  that the characters got worked really well and tied up Thora and Santi’s story(/stories) in a perfect way.

 

This is Silvey’s debut novel and not since The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle has a debut novel felt so ambitious and accomplished – I can’t wait to see what she does next.

 

In the meantime, I may just have to revisit Meet Me In Another Life because it’s a book that definitely invites an immediate re-read. And you may just want to read it again. And again. And again…

 

Meet Me In Another Life is published in Hardback on 8th July 2021 – you can pre-order it here.

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Bert’s February 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 February I read 9 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

 

9. The Sunshine Kid by Harry Baker

This is book of collected poems – and I’m not normally a poetry fan, but these are very modern, very funny poems.

I saw Harry Baker live at the Edinburgh fringe and I was blown away.

I since watched all his stuff on YouTube. You should definitely check him out – seeing him perform the poems is better than reading them yourself!

 

8. What’s the T? by Juno Dawson

This is a book aimed at young adults who are confused (or perhaps even certain) about their gender. It explains everything they might expect from starting their trans journey as well as sensitive advice that being trans isn’t a one size fits all situation.

This is a perfect book for the target audience, but I read it wanting to learn more about what it means to be transgender and it also helped me understand what other people might be going through and just how I can help. This is the kind of book we should all read, because you never known when a young person in your life might need your help.

 

7. Final Cut by SJ Watson

Final Cut features Blackwood Bay – an ordinary place. It’s a seaside destinatin where tourism has dwindled thanks to the economic downturn.

Alex decides it’s the perfect place to shoot her documentary, but she faces suspicion when she arrives from the locals. Why is she there? Nothing exciting ever happens in Blackwood Bay. Does it?

I thought I was so clever when I worked out a twist early on – but when it was revealed just a few short pages later, I realised I had an exciting ride on my hands. This is a great read!

 

6. Beast by Matt Wesolowski

Beast is the fourth book in Wesolowski’s Scott King series in which the investigative journalist looks into complicated cases and broadcasts his findings in a podcast.

Three people have been convicted of Elizabeth Barton’s murder, but through six interviews King begins to dig deeper into the case for the truth.

This one is set during 2018 when the Beast from the East descended on Britain leaving a blanket of snow behind and even though it’s told after the event, it feels incredibly realistic. You can really feel the cold wind blowing through – and it’s almost as chilling as the story itself.

 

5. Deity by Matt Wesolowski

Zach Crystal is a cultural phenomenon, rock star, enigma, Deity. Or at least he was.

Now, he’s dead, burned in a fire and the world is mourning. But among the mourners there is an ever-increasing number of dissenters, people claiming that the truth behind his charitable work may be darker than it appears.

Scott King is out to investigate in the latest series of Six Stories.

This explores our relationship with popular culture, how we blindly worship people we don’t really know… and how we continue to do so, despite the truth suggesting we really shouldn’t. This is such a great series and I can’t wait to read more.

 

4. Jigsaw Man by Nadine Matheson

Anjelica Henley is taken from desk duty and put back on a live case when body parts are found along the Thames. They bear the hallmarks of notorious serial killer Peter Olivier, but he’s safely locked up in jail. So is this a copycat killer?

Henley heads to the prison to seek Olivier’s help in catching this new killer, but seeing as she was the one who put him inside in the first place, helping her is the last thing on his mind…

Like all detective stories, this one works really well, not because of the crime story, but because of the detective investigating it. I loved getting to know Henley as she battled to save future victims – as well as her own personal life. Definitely a character I’m looking forward to seeing more of in the future.

 

3. Common Ground by Naomi Ishiguro

Stan is being bullied at his new school and it’s making him miserable. Each day after school he spends time on the common, away from the boys at his school and his mum at home.

It’s on the common where he meets Charlie, a charismatic boy a few years older than him and they become instant friends. Charlie is a traveller and while Stan has no problems with that, there are plenty of people do and their friendship is cut short… until years later when they meet up again in London.

This is a great book and Charlie is an instantly likeable character in the first part, so that by the time you meet him in the second you are really drawn into what’s changed for him to make him so downbeat.

 

2. The Secret life of Albert Entwistle by Matt Cain

When Albert Entwistle is told he must retire, he starts to reflect on his lonely life and realises how alone he truly is.

He starts to look back on his life, how his father’s negative reaction to gay men forced him into a closet he never left, and he realises that in order to move on and finally start living, he needs to track down George, the boy he fell in love with nearly fifty years ago.

I really enjoyed this gentle, uplifting story about a man who has let his secret dominate his entire life. Ultimately, it’s a story about community and finding people around us who we can let in and enhance our lives.

And reminding us, it’s never too late!

 

1. The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex

In 1972, three lighthouse keepers vanish from the tower in the days between Christmas and New Year. They’ve been living there on their own for weeks, waiting for the next relief to arrive, but when he does, there’s no sign of them.

The clocks are stopped at 9.15 and the door is locked. So where are they?

Twenty years later, a writer approaches the women left behind to try and help them settle the mystery. But do they know more than they’re letting on. And why aren’t they speaking anymore?

This is a brilliant, atmospheric read. I could feel the wind and the waves around me as I tore through the pages, desperate to get to the end and solve the mystery. I think this will be one of my favourite books of the year.

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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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A Little Life – A Big Review

This post was originally published back in 2015 in a previous life, on a previous blog. I thought I’d share it for you now so you can see just why I love A Little Life so much 

 

It’s not often that I’m wrong, it’s an even more infrequent occurrence that I admit that I’m wrong. But I was.

Earlier this year, I read A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale and I wouldn’t stop raving about it. I even, what now seems a touch prematurely, considering it was January, billed it as my book of 2015.

I was wrong.

And that’s not to do down A Place Called Winter, it’s still within my top five books of all time, and most other years, would easily win the book of the year title.

But, a few months ago, a book by Hanya Yanagihara landed on my desk at work. It’s a big brick of a book, over seven hundred pages, and I knew nothing about it. I hadn’t even read the blurb, but I was told by a colleague that I would enjoy it. Mostly because he knew I enjoyed The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

So what was I expecting? The great American novel. A bit of a saga. Not much else.

The blurb tells us it is the tale of four friends, JB, Malcolm, Willem and Jude. But really, it is the story of Willem and Jude. But REALLY, it is the story of Jude.

We meet them when they’ve first moved to New York and Willem and Jude are looking for a place to live together. It is made clear at the very beginning, they are not a couple, nor are they brothers. They are simply friends. Best friends.

And that is what the story is about; the importance of friendship, how it effects our lives and how it can be bigger, yet more uncategorised than romantic love, than sexual love.

A Little Life is the story of love between men. It explores all aspects of it, and it does so beautifully, and yet so tragically.

It’s very difficult to talk about this novel without giving anything away, or indeed without going on for pages about the tiny point that you want to talk about, so perhaps the best thing to do is to tell you about the structure of the book.

The titular little life in question is that of Jude St Francis, and it is through a non-linear construction that we learn about it. He is mysterious, and reluctant to talk about his past, to the point that his friends, his closest friends know nothing of him, except not to ask.

It is over seven hundred pages long, but each section, each chapter, feels like its own book. We learn in them the stories of all four characters to varying degrees, and though some of the chapters are as long as eighty pages, the prose and the characters are so elegantly drawn, it is impossible not to get swept away.

Cathy Rentzenbrink wrote in the Bookseller that she read the book in one night. This is unbelievable, believable, and unbelievable again all at once.

Initially, the size of the book is off-putting. It certainly doesn’t strike you as a quick read and the first thirty to forty pages are confusing. There are so many male twenty-something characters that it is difficult to tell them apart.

But then, something clicks and you’re not just able to tell the characters apart, but they have started to become part of you. The book starts to become part of you and although you kind of broadly know what’s going to happen, you have to read on. And that’s when you understand how it’s possible to have read it one night.

The desire to read on is strong, but what I can’t understand, is how anyone can be emotionally stable enough to read it in one sitting. There is a point about a third of the way through – and I don’t think this spoils anything – where the tragic background of Jude starts to become clear, and you realise that this is a book that’s going to break your heart.

That’s not to say it is filled with unrelenting misery. I read A Little Life at the same time that I downloaded Will Young’s latest album 85% Proof. It’s a typical Will Young album, cracking vocals, a little bit dance-y but quite melancholy, but I had it playing in the background as I read parts of the book, and every song on it seemed to fit the plot.

Three songs stand out:

Thank You – a song from Jude to Caleb

Blue – a song from Willem to Jude, that actually contains the line “We live a little life”

And Joy – a song that is melodically upbeat and happy, but is lyrically about hope. “Nothing really matters, we’ve got everything we need, take a big leap and we will feel joy.”

It’s a song about daring to hope that things are going to work out, and that is the pervading feeling that you get from this book. Life is miserable, bad things happen, but the characters in this book are not just living little lives, they’re living great ones, because of the relationships and friendships that they form with each other.

There’s a whole section of the book in the last third called “The Happy Years” and by the time you get there and you see the heading, your heart sinks, because you know that nothing is going to stay happy, by this point, you know it’s a book that’s not only going to break your heart, it’s going to shatter it and use the bits to create itself a home.

And there are moments during The Happy Years where you’re screaming at the characters, urging them to just… well, I shan’t say. But you are. They’re making themselves miserable and it’s unbearable.

Then, at the end of The Happy Years, at their happiest, something happens, in the last three to four paragraphs. I had to put the book down and walk away.

It was a Sunday afternoon, and there were maybe a hundred pages or so left. I had time to finish it before going for dinner at my mum’s, but by this point, I knew that I would not be in any state come the end of the book, where I would be able to be around people, let alone make small talk with my granddad and mum.

I came back in the evening, curled up on the sofa with a glass of wine and began to read.

I started with Will Young playing in the background, but it became clear after just one page that the music wasn’t suitable. Not because it didn’t match, but because I was being sucked into this world. Into Jude’s world.

It doesn’t spoil anything to say that first part of the last section is told from Jude’s point of view – as I’ve already said, the book is told in a non-linear structure – and I started to cry.

I’m not a big crier. I’m not emotional. But sometimes when watching a film, or a TV program, a small tear will escape. It happens more often with books, where one or two tears will trickle down my face. It last happened with A Place Called Winter, and previously to that it happened with the book that I won’t name (I’ve mentioned this book before, but it’s becoming less and less important to me that I don’t share it, perhaps one day, I will).

In the space of 98 pages, I cried four times. A trickle or two of a tear. Maybe on one occasion three tears, because I really screwed up my face and squeezed that third one out. This was surprising enough to me, to know that A Little Life had truly affected me, but then…

The last section of the book is a letter from Harold – Jude’s adoptive father, and it had made a tear escape already once. And then there is the payoff to a moment three or four hundred pages earlier and I immediately started to sob.

Big, unmanly, tears misting my eyes, properly crying.

I had to put the book down, two pages from the end, because I couldn’t see to read. I had to compose myself before I could bring myself to carry on any further.

To people who want more than plot from their books, the kind of person who might enjoy The Goldfinch, then I would ask you to please read this book, to stick with it past that first confusing section (which by the way, I think is intentional, because it seems ridiculous now, that one could confuse any of these characters).

I was wrong when I said A Place Called Winter was my book of the year. It’s still a very good book, one of the best. But, if there’s a book better than A Little Life, I don’t have the emotional strength to read it for at least six months, and so I am crowning A Little Life my book of 2015.

It’s probably the book of my life.

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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!

6th May 2021

13th May 2021

18th May 20201

20th May 2021

27th May 2021

1st June 2021

3rd June 2021

10th June 2021

22nd June 2021

24th June 2021

29th June 2021

1st July 2021

8th July 2021

22nd July 2021

29th July 2021

5th August 2021

19th August 2021

2nd September 2021

7th September 2021

16th September 2021

7th October 2021

14th October 2021

28th October 2021

9th November 2021

11th January 2022

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Bert’s Books of 2019

This year has been a mixture of more books read than ever before and a lack of noting them down – so compiling my list of my favourite books of 2019 has been a bit difficult.

Each time I think I’ve got the list complete, I remember something else – so my Top 10 this year is a top 11, and it’s been the hardest year to pull it together. And there are definitely many other books I could have put in here.

Read on to find out if you agree with my list!

11 The Long Call by Ann Cleeves

The Blurb

In North Devon, where the rivers Taw and Torridge converge and run into the sea, The Long CallDetective Matthew Venn stands outside the church as his father’s funeral takes place. The day Matthew turned his back on the strict evangelical community in which he grew up, he lost his family too.

Now he’s back, not just to mourn his father at a distance, but to take charge of his first major case in the Two Rivers region; a complex place not quite as idyllic as tourists suppose. A body has been found on the beach near to Matthew’s new home: a man with the tattoo of an albatross on his neck, stabbed to death. Finding the killer is Venn’s only focus, and his team’s investigation will take him straight back into the community he left behind, and the deadly secrets that lurk there.

My Verdict

This is exactly the book I’ve been waited a long time for. It’s a well-written traditional crime novel where the lead character just happens to be a gay man.

What’s more, it’s not important to the plot – which might make you wonder why it matters – but that’s exactly why it does. It’s representation in mainstream fiction like this that really matters. But, better than that representation – it’s a great book!

Buy Now

 

10. The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton by Anstey Harris

 The Blurb

Grace Atherton, a talented cellist, is in love with David. Together in their apartment in 9781471173820Paris, Grace and David are happy until an unexpected event changes everything. Nadia is seventeen and furious.

She knows that love will only let her down: if she is going to succeed it will be on her own terms. At eighty-six Maurice Williams has discovered a lot about love in his long life, and even more about people. And yet he keeps secrets.

When Grace’s life falls apart in the most shocking of ways Maurice and Nadia come to her rescue, helping her to find happiness and hope through the healing power of friendship

My Verdict

Harris has created a very real character in Grace, but it’s her love of music and the cello that really stands out for me in this book.

In Patrick Gale’s most recent novel Take Nothing With You his character Eustace plays the cello and it’s some of his best writing – it’s like a gateway drug for this novel where there is more music playing, so vividly described that you can almost hear it.

Buy Now

 

9. The Two Lives of Louis and Louise by Julie Cohen

The Blurb

One chance to see the same world differently. Louis and Louise are the same person born in 9781409179849two different lives. One was born female, and one male.

They have the same best friends, the same red hair, the same dream of being a writer, the same excellent whistle. They both suffer one catastrophic night, with life-changing consequences. Thirteen years later, they are both coming home .

My Verdict

This is a brilliant concept and I love the way Julie explores it, allowing the changes in their lives to be brought about because of influences from the outer world.

Just one small physical difference between them has not only an impact on their lives, but the lives of those around them. It’s the ultimate what-if story!

This book was voted Book of the Year by customers of Bert’s Books!

Buy a signed copy now – while stocks last

 

8. Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

The Blurb

Queenie Jenkins can’t cut a break. Well, apart from the one from her long term boyfriend, 9781409180050Tom.

That’s definitely just a break though. Definitely not a break up. Then there’s her boss who doesn’t seem to see her and her Caribbean family who don’t seem to listen (if it’s not Jesus or water rates, they’re not interested).

She’s trying to fit in two worlds that don’t really understand her. It’s no wonder she’s struggling. She was named to be queen of everything.

So why is she finding it so hard to rule her own life?

My Verdict

Queenie is one of those novels that has stayed with me, long after I finished reading it

It’s funny, but feels heartbreakingly real. Queenie is a young black woman trying to navigate her way through a mini-crisis of self. Who is she? Where does she belong in this world? Does she even like herself?

In short, she’s suffering from all the things we all suffer from, but for me it was the insights into her views on race that really made this book. It’s not the big moments, but the small ones, ones where we, the reader, offended on her behalf but Queenie simply shrugs them off as normal.

It might help you see society in a new way – or it will feel horribly familiar. Either way, it will make Queenie feel so vivid and real – you’ll be rooting for her all the way through.

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7. Past Life by Dominic Nolan

The Blurb

Detective Abigail Boone has been missing for four days when she is finally found. Suffering 9781472254658retrograde amnesia, she is a stranger to her despairing husband and bewildered son. Hopelessly lost in her own life, with no leads on her abduction, Boone’s only instinct is to revisit the case she was investigating when she vanished: the baffling disappearance of a young woman, Sarah Still.

Defying her family and the police, Boone obsessively follows a deadly trail to uncover the shocking truth. But even if she finds Sarah, will Boone ever be the same again?

My Verdict

I thought this was a great start to a new crime series, Boone is a compelling but flawed lead character and it featured a good mystery to be solved.

I can’t wait to read the next one in the series. If you feel the same After Dark is published in March 2020, and you can pre-order it now.

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Pre-Order After Dark Now

 

6. The First Time Lauren Pailing Died by Alyson Rudd

The Blurb

Lauren Pailing is born in the sixties, and a child of the seventies. She is thirteen years old The First Time Lauren Pailing Diedthe first time she dies. Lauren Pailing is a teenager in the eighties, becomes a Londoner in the nineties.

And each time she dies, new lives begin for the people who loved her – while Lauren enters a brand new life, too. But in each of Lauren’s lives, a man called Peter Stanning disappears. And, in each of her lives, Lauren sets out to find him.

And so it is that every ending is also a beginning. And so it is that, with each new beginning, Peter Stanning inches closer to finally being found…

My Verdict

A bit like Louis & Louise, this is Sliding Doors style concept where we play witness to several different universes concurrently, each of them dealing with grief.

It had the potential to be messy but Rudd’s writing is skilful enough that the reader can stay with the different worlds easily enough. What it results in is a moving exploration of grief that will stay with you long after the final page.

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5. The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis

The Blurb

Yorkshire, 1845, and dark rumours are spreading across the moors. Everything indicates The Vanished Bridethat Mrs Elizabeth Chester of Chester Grange has been brutally murdered in her home – but nobody can find her body. As the dark murmurs reach Emily, Anne and Charlotte Bronte, the sisters are horrified, yet intrigued.

Before they know it, the siblings become embroiled in the quest to find the vanished bride, sparking their imaginations but placing their lives at great peril . . .

My Verdict

I’ve never read any of the Brontës before, but the three sisters are written completely in period style, as if a classic Victorian writer had written the book themselves. The dialogue and their thoughts immediately take you straight into nineteenth century life, such that you simply cease to notice it’s a historical novel at all.

The plot itself is a satisfying mystery which is resolved without resorting to hiding anything from the audience, and definitely left me wanting more from the sisters – each of whom have distinct personalities.

Buy a signed copy now – While stocks last

 

4. Proximity by Jem Tugwell

The Blurb

You can’t get away with anything. Least of all murder.
Proximity
DI Clive Lussac has forgotten how to do his job. Ten years of embedded technology – `iMe’ – has led to complete control and the eradication of crime. Then the impossible happens.

A body is found, and the killer is untraceable. With new partner Zoe Jordan, Clive must re-sharpen his detective skills and find the killer without technology, before time runs out for the next victim…

My Verdict

I loved this book – despite its futuristic setting it still felt very grounded in current reality, preferring to show us the seedier side of a world being consumed by its own technology.

Lussac is considered a dinosaur in this story, but it is his humanity that sets him apart from the iMe technology. I can’t wait to explore this world further and find out what other advances have been made and how they have helped or hindered society.

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3. Nothing More Dangerous by Allen Eskens

The Blurb

At fifteen, Boady Sanden dreams of being anywhere other than Jessup, Missouri.
Nothing More Dangerous
Then the Elgins move in across the road. Getting to know his new neighbours – a black family in a community where notions of “us” and “them” still carry weight – Boady is forced to rethink the world he took for granted. Secrets hidden in plain sight begin to unfold.

There’s the mother consumed by loss of her husband, the neighbour who carries the wounds of a mysterious past, the quiet boss fighting a hidden battle. But the biggest secret of all is the disappearance of Lida Poe, the African-American woman who keeps the books at the local factory. Although Boady has never met the missing woman, he discovers that the threads of her life are woven into the deepest fabric of his world.

As the mystery of Lida’s fate plays out, Boady begins to see the stark lines of race and class that both bind and divide this small town – and he will be forced to choose sides.

My Verdict

I really liked the atmosphere of this novel, I felt drawn into Boady’s world, and as a young man he displays an ignorance of racism that we can all be guilty of, maybe not of race, but of other things.

With little exposure to the other side of the story, he doesn’t realise how offensive his words can be – and I think that can be a lesson to all of us. A) to be more considerate of others but also B) to try and educate rather than berate.

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2. The Warehouse by Rob Hart

The Blurb

In a world ravaged by bankruptcy and unemployment, Cloud is the only company left worth The Warehouseworking for. But what will it cost you?A midst the wreckage of America, Cloud reigns supreme.

Cloud brands itself not just as an online storefront, but as a global saviour. Yet, beneath the sunny exterior, lurks something far more sinister. Paxton never thought he’d be working Security for the company that ruined his life, much less that he’d be moving into one of their sprawling live-work facilities.

But compared to what’s left outside, perhaps Cloud isn’t so bad. Better still, through his work he meets Zinnia, who fills him with hope for their shared future. Except that Zinnia is not what she seems.

And Paxton, with his all-access security credentials, might just be her meal ticket. As Paxton and Zinnia’s agendas place them on a collision course, they’re about to learn just how far the Cloud will go to make the world a better place. To beat the system, you have to be inside it.

My Verdict

The scariest thing about this book is you can totally see it happening. The road to hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions, and no one set out to create an evil corporation, but that seems to be what Cloud has become.

Like Proximity this presents a vision of a sleek future that may not be as good as it all seems. For a while there has been a trend of dystopian novels, but the only way I can describe this is as pre-dystopian. Hart presents a world on the edge of destruction, everything monopolised by one big homogenous organisation.

I’d love to see a sequel to this book to see what happens should The Cloud ever dissipate…

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1. Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Blurb

They were the new icons of rock and roll, fated to burn bright and not fade away. But on 12 Daisy Jones and the Six PBJuly 1979, it all came crashing down. There was Daisy, rock and roll force of nature, brilliant songwriter and unapologetic drug addict, the half-feral child who rose to superstardom.

There was Camila, the frontman’s wife, too strong-willed to let the band implode – and all too aware of the electric connection between her husband and Daisy. There was Karen, ice-cool keyboardist, a ferociously independent woman in a world that wasn’t ready for her. And there were the men surrounding them: the feuding, egotistical Dunne brothers, the angry guitarist chafing on the sidelines, the drummer binge-drinking on his boat, the bassist trying to start a family amid a hedonistic world tour.

They were creative minds striking sparks from each other, ready to go up in flames. It’s never just about the music… 

My Verdict

Anyone who’s been paying attention for – ooh, the last 12 months – could have guessed that this would be my favourite book of 2019.

It’s told in transcript form, and at first glance that shouldn’t work, but this does. You instantly have a vision of what these characters look like and it becomes really easy to differentiate them from each other. It’s almost as if the whole thing is playing as a video in your head and you’re just reading subtitles.

The music they talk about becomes as real as the characters and despite never having heard a note of it, I’m willing to put Daisy Jones in my Top 10 artists of all time.

Pre-Order the paperback now

 

 

 

 

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Review: The First Time Lauren Pailing Died by Alyson Rudd

Sometimes a publisher will hit on a winning formula for a book and suddenly we’ll see the publishing slate with similar titles. Similar jackets. Similar titles.

One of these mini-trends recently has seen the full name of the protagonist appears in the title with reference to an unlikely quantity of their death.

I avoid picking up these books, because I’ve read one of them and though I liked it, I don’t want to read it again. I want something new. It’s not necessarily an approach of book selection I recommend – it’s often just a marketing ploy and the book itself is very much its own story.

The latest book to prove me wrong is The First Time Lauren Pailing Died by Alyson Rudd.

Lauren Pailing is a young girl when she first discovers there is something different about her. Occasionally, she can get glimpses into other worlds where things are different to hers. Sometimes they’re only small differences, other times they’re big ones.

She thinks this is normal, but when she starts to receive funny looks from her parents, her teachers, her friends she starts to self-censor about what she reveals.

Then she dies.

Except she doesn’t. In the moment before her death, Lauren gets a glimpse at another life, one where she doesn’t die in the accident, and she travels through to it.

The timeline splinters and – much like Sliding Doors with Gwyneth Paltrow – we follow the different worlds as the same characters traverse different events, and each of them deal with grief.

In one world, her parents deal with the grief of losing their child. In another, Lauren deals with the grief of losing her old life and having to adjust to this new one where things are ever so slightly different.

Later in life, Lauren shifts again and in her latest world, she starts trying to investigate what has happened to her. We end up following a few different worlds, which sounds like it could be confusing, but Rudd cleverly ensures we follow a different character in each one.

The concept of parallel worlds is explored, but only obliquely. The bizarreness of the worlds is only lightly touched upon by Lauren who can sense that things are different, but isn’t quite sure what.

There’s only one jarring moment when discussing the differences which makes the reader realise just how different the world is, but I sense this is purposeful from Rudd. The point of this book isn’t the things that change between the worlds – it’s the things that stay the same.

The characters are all grieving, all of them going through the same thing and you root for them all, even though, they can’t all possibly be happy in all worlds.

I’m giving The First Time Lauren Pailing Died 7.9 out of 10. You can order your copy now for just £8.99

 

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Review: Proximity by Jem Tugwell

Proximity by Jem Tugwell  

 

ProximityOne of my goals when I started Bert’s Books was to find good books that you might not normally find.

 

That’s either because they don’t have big marketing budgets, or they simply get lost among one of the other hundreds of books that get published every week.

 

From indie publisher Serpentine Books, Proximity by Jem Tugwell is exactly that.

 

It’s the first in a new series ‘iMe’ and follows DI Clive Lussac as he struggles in an underfunded homicide department to investigate a murder. At the same time, he must contend with a marriage that’s broken down.

 

So far, so very like many other police procedurals. What sets Proximity apart from the rest?

 

It’s set in the very near future and through the eyes of Lussac, it appears to be quite a bleak one.

 

Technology has evolved to the point where every citizen is microchipped meaning that when a crime occurs, the police can find out exactly who was in the vicinity at the time.

 

It means that any ‘proximity’ crimes such as violent assaults, murder, kidnap have been all but eliminated. They do still exist, but for Lussac in the homicide department, all he needs to do is press a few buttons and – bam! – crime solved.

 

He almost longs for the old days when solving crimes actually meant doing some real police work.

 

So, when a body is found with no proximity data, he must rely on his long-forgotten detective skills to track the murderer the old-fashioned way – before they strike again.

 

What I liked about this book was that the world it inhabits feels very real. Sometimes you can read books set in the future that don’t feel relatable, but this definitely feels like it could be something we’re headed towards.

 

It feels like we only get a glimpse of the changes – and most of them are presented in a negative light by the curmudgeonly Lussac, so I’m looking forward to finding out more about this world in the next book in the series.

 

One thing it does reveal to us – if we didn’t already know it – is that crime will always find a way and that there will always be those who believe themselves to be above the law.

 

I’m giving Proximity 7.6 out of 10 – and if you like Proximity check out The Warehouse

 

Buy Proximity by Jem Tugwell

 

Pre-order the sequel No Signal now

 

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Review: Bone China by Laura Purcell

In a past life, I was responsible for shortlisting books for a prize, and I read some books I wouldn’t normally read.

9781526602534One of those – and eventual winner of the prize – was the gothic horror novel The Silent Companions. Before reading this, I wasn’t really a fan of historical fiction, but it really seems to have converted me into the genre.

Bone China is the latest from author Laura Purcell.

It features Hester Why, a nurse who has moved to a remote part of the Cornish coast to avoid her own past. There she meets the strange inhabitants of Morvoren House, including the frail lady of the house Louise Pinecroft.

Hester is trying to keep a low profile, but also, she knows that something strange is going on and she starts trying to get to the bottom of it.

We alternate between Hester’s story and forty years previously when Louise first moves to the house with her father, a doctor who is trying to cure consumption.

The character that links the two stories is the creepy Creeda, a young maid that starts at the house when Louise and her father first move in. She comes from a family that produces Bone China and it’s this crockery that forms part of the gothic mystery.

I think I enjoyed this more than Silent Companions – it really pulls you into the world that you can almost feel the wind whistling around you as Louise walks across the cliffs.

Like Silent Companions it presents a gothic mystery, one that it doesn’t fully explain as well, so it leaves open the possibility that the fairies are real.

I gave Bone China 7.8/10

You can buy a signed hardback edition of Bone China while stocks last

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Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I read Daisy Jones & The Six right at the beginning of 2019 and declared then that I thought it was going to be one of my favourite books of the year.

I haven’t stopped banging on about it since then, so it seemed the right time to finally get around to doing my review of it.

It’s also part of Bert’s Books of the Year on twitter – check it out. #BBOTY

Set in the 1970’s, it’s the story of an average rock band who release the defining record of the era when they collaborate with Daisy Jones.

It has a unique way of telling the story – it’s a transcript of a Talking Heads TV documentary. The unseen interviewer speaks to various members of the band as well as people who were around the band as they rose to fame.

There are some members who don’t get spoken to, though it’s not clear why – is there a rift? Have they died? All options are quite possible as we learn about the bonds that formed amongst the band members – and the bonds that broke down over time.

It’s fascinating to see the relationships change, plus the different perceptions of different events. You almost forget that these aren’t real people – in fact, I had to google just to check.

Though it’s a book, you can almost hear the album sound-tracking the story, so it becomes a bit of a disappointment once you get to the end that the album doesn’t actually exist.

I was a bit put off at the beginning because the style is so different, however you very quickly get into the rhythm of it and the characters – particularly Billy and Daisy – end up staying with you longer after the final page.

It’s being made into a mini-series set to air on Amazon Video, and with Reese Witherspoon set to executive produce it looks like it will be a big hit, so make sure you’ve caught up on the book beforehand.

I’m giving Daisy Jones & The Six 8.6 / 10

 

You can buy Daisy Jones & The Six in hardback now

Or pre-order the paperback edition now