Review: Six Stories, by Matt Wesolowski

1997. Scarclaw Fell. The body of teenager Tom Jeffries is found at an outward bound centre. Verdict? Misadventure. But not everyone is convinced.

2017. Enter elusive investigative journalist Scott King, whose podcast examinations of complicated cases have rivalled the success of Serial, with his concealed identity making him a cult internet figure. 

In a series of six interviews, King attempts to work out how the dynamics of a group of idle teenagers conspired with the sinister legends surrounding the fell to result in Jeffries’ mysterious death. 

A chilling, unpredictable and startling thriller, Six Stories is also a classic murder mystery with a modern twist, and a devastating ending. 

Well…. where to start with this one!

A couple of weeks back, I went to the launch event for Six Stories hosted by Forum Books in Corbridge, and came away with a shiny new (signed!) copy of the book ready to add to my TBR pile. Well, that pile is about as tall as I am; but I just had to sneak this book in at the top – not only has there been a helluva lot of hype about it, Matt is a local lad from Newcastle! Say no more. I poured myself a nice glass of red (it felt appropriate for the genre), wrapped up in a blanket, and cracked open the book.

The format of Six Stories is unique, in that it is told in the form of six podcast episodes, in a style inspired by the true crime podcast Serial. Each of the podcasts features a different character who was some link to the night Tom Jeffries disappeared. The podcasts are broken up with monologues by Harry St. Clement Ramsey; son of the owner of Scarclaw Fell and the person who discovered Tom Jeffries’ body.

I was looking forward to finding out how a book that is predominantly active dialogue and conversation would work in terms of setting the scene and creating suspense – the answer is very, very well. If anything, only ever hearing the stories first-hand added even more suspense. The heavy folklore elements running through the book make you feel at times as though you have wandered into a ghost story – it is charged with atmosphere.

The reader benefits from the summaries that Scott King gives at the end of each podcast, piecing together the elements and links of each interview, adding layers to the story as we build up a picture of each character in our minds, until the final podcast knocks everything we thought we knew out of the water.

Wesolowski is a skilled writer, capable of pulling the strings of the atmosphere and orchestrating tension throughout the book. The descriptions of the wild, dangerous (and thankfully fictional) Scarclaw Fell could not do more to portray the sinister landscape in which Tom Jeffries met his end.

“It’s a dark, freezing night on Scarclaw Fell. The wind wails mournfully through the trees of the old forest and little bundles of sheep huddle together like balls of damp cotton wool. Frost freezes on the edges of the leaves, the trees glisten in the moonlight, and their branches caress the frozen earth like the withered fingers of some long-dead corpse.”

The haunting, chilling narrative draws to a clever and shocking conclusion that will leave your mind racing and have you questioning every detail you’ve read.

I am pretty certain that I will not be able to look at a fell in the same way again!

About The Author 

Matt Wesolowski is an author from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the UK. He is an English tutor and leads Cuckoo Young Writers creative writing workshops for young people in association with New Writing North. Matt started his writing career in horror and his short horror fiction has been published in Ethereal Tales magazine, Midnight Movie Creature Feature anthology, 22 More Quick Shivers anthology and many more. Matt was a winner of the Pitch Perfect competition at Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival in 2015. Six Stories was published by Orenda Books in 2016.

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Review: Slow Boat, by Hideo Furukawa

Boku has an uneasy preoccupation with dreams – and with making and losing lovers. And when he first runs away from Tokyo, his dreams and his reality gradually start to shift and overlap. This is a story of three failed escapes – and the loss of three girlfriends in the process. The first girlfriend is taken away, the second runs away, and the third is sent away by Boku himself.

A startling tale about the anguished battle to escape oneself, this structurally complex and fascinating novella is both a homage to Haruki Murakami and a stunning piece of magical realism.

 

What a lovely, unusual, weird little book this was!

I started the story a little disoriented; it took me a couple of chapters to settle into the fluid motion of the storytelling. Essentially an account of his life from childhood to adulthood by way of nine different ‘boats’ or significant events, out narrator Boku tells the story from his present day in 2002, following three failed attempts to leave Tokyo.

“This is my botched Tokyo Exodus, the chronicle of my failures.”

Furukawa plays with language beautifully throughout the book; highlighting the limitations of Japanese and flitting between ideas and scenes with a smoothly sporadic rhythm. The city of Tokyo and its sprawling boundaries is a character in itself, a constant foe that foils Boku’s plans; and he hates the city in return.

Over the course of his three failed escapes, he loses three girlfriends, all of whom have tried and succeeded in escaping something or somewhere. Boku, as well as never making reference to his own name; doesn’t name a one of them either. They are ‘the girl’ or ‘my girlfriend’, each a memory of something else that Tokyo has taken from him.

Boku’s relationship with dreams and the way they define his life are a significant part of his chronicle. A recurring dream sequence, which he visits several times, each from a slightly different angle; reminded me very strongly of a scene from The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Rafón – fantastical, languid, moving as if through water.

At the end of the book, Furukawa pays homage to Haruki Murakami and his tribute to him through Slow Boat. Fans of Murakami will certainly enjoy this quirky offering!

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Book Tour: Wolves in the Dark, by Gunnar Stalesen

Reeling from the death of his great love, Karin, Varg Veum has descended into a self-destructive spiral of alcohol, lust, grief and blackouts.

When traces of child pornography are found on his computer, he’s accused of being part of a paedophile ring and thrown into a prison cell. There, he struggles to sift through his past to work out who is responsible for planting the material… and who is seeking the ultimate revenge.

When a chance presents itself, Varg finds himself on the run in his hometown of Bergen. With the clock ticking and the police on his tail, Varg takes on his hardest – and most personal – case yet.

This book jumps straight into action in the opening paragraphs, and within pages we are pulled into a dark and disturbing tale of allegations against Varg Veum, private investigator and protagonist in our tale.

Wolves in the Dark deals with a dark, gruesome and violent subject matter – child pornography and paedophilia. Veum is accused of being part of a paedophilia ring and taken into custody for questioning. While in custody he begins going through old, unsolved cases from a dark and destructive part of his life. When he takes his chance and goes on the run, he follows all the leads he can think of to find the person responsible for framing him.

The book jumps between real-time events and Veum’s memories; as he works through potential leads – there are several, which results in a dizzying back-and-forth between historic cases and his life on the run. This is a perfect portrayal of the confusion and panic he feels following his arrest and eventual escape.

Because there was so much back and forth; I did find my attention wandering towards the middle of the book – you really do need to pay attention to keep track of everything that’s going on! At the end, there is a frantic finish as the pieces slot into place and we are able to step back to see the full picture.

I had conflicting feelings towards Varg Veum’s character – while I could understand his frustration, indignation and fear; I did also feel a dislike for him and the way he has lived his life over the last few years (although I don’t have the insight of previous books and what happened to Karin to cause that). I did find it a little unlikely that, at one point, three people were in contact with him while he’s on the run and none of them turn him in.

Wolves in the Dark is a sinister depiction of the criminal underworld and the inherent dangers and risks of internet hacking, but the incredibly heavy subject matter is lightened throughout the book with Veum’s dry sarcasm and witty reflections.

“… a façade of concrete down both sides, built at the end of the 1950s when the council authorities responsible must have been on a study tour of Murmansk to find some architectural inspiration. Here the Russians had definitely won the Cold War.”

Released on 15th June, Wolves in the Dark is an often uncomfortable, gritty read; which will appeal to those who like their crime more complicated than clean-cut.

Granite Noir Fest 2017

 

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Review: Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri

Beginning in America, and spilling back over memories and generations to India, Unaccustomed Earth explores the heart of family life and the immigrant experience. Eight luminous stories – longer and richer than any Jhumpa Lahiri has yet written – take us from America to Europe, India and Thailand as they follow new lives forged in the wake of loss.

For quite a while now, Lahiri has been loitering on my list of authors TBR, fuelled by various recommendations on Instagram by people like Mindy Kaling. (On a separate note, and before we get straight into talking Unaccustomed Earth, this article which pulls together a list of the books which Kaling has recommended on Instagram is worth a glance over).

So, on to Lahiri and Unaccustomed Earth. For those of you who are as unaware of Lahiri as I was, she is an American writer, born in London to Bengali immigrants. Her first collection of short stories, The Interpreter of Maladies, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2000. Unaccustomed Earth, her second book of short stories, shot straight to the number 1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list.

The short stories in Unaccustomed Earth are split into 2 parts. Part 1 is comprised of 5 individual and unrelated tales, while part 2 offers three linked stories dealing with the relationship between Hema and Kaushik, two first-generation Americans born of Indian parents, over the course of decades between America and India.

Throughout the eight stories; Lahiri interweaves the immigrant experience with universally identifiable issues with poignancy and precision. Her protagonists are the children of immigrants to America; finding themselves caught between the culture of their parents and that of their homeland. Themes of fractious relationships between parents and children run throughout; uniquely immigrant experiences intermingled with universal issues – the death of a parent, alcoholism, broken hearts, unrequited love. Characters caught in that period of time after having a child, still adjusting to their new role in life. Our protagonists are trapped between their two cultures, tradition and respect for elders pitted against the American dream and desire for freedom.

The stories of Hema and Kaushik are narrated to each other; opening with Hema’s account of Kaushik’s arrival, departure and return to her life as a teenager, 8 years later. Annoyed at having to give up her room for someone she doesn’t even know when her parents open their home to thir friends; Hema is embarrassed to find herself attracted to Kaushik when they meet again, especially given his apparent disdain at being back in the United States.

“Do you hate it here?” I asked.

“I liked living in India,” you said.

When reluctant to invite him out with her friends; her mother highlights Kaushik’s predicament and the challenges he is going through, pointing out as someone who has gone through it themselves that that Hema cannot really identify with what he is feeling:

“But he doesn’t even like me.” I complained.

“Of course he likes you” my mother said, blind to the full implication of what I’d said. “He’s adjusting, Hema. It’s something you’ve never had to go through.”

Kaushik’s narrative picks up a few years later, during which time his mother has died; and his father has remarried to a widow with two young girls. It illustrates Kaushik’s difficulty in accepting the marriage, arranged by relatives between two people who had only known each other a few weeks. His father’s new wife, Chitra, and her daughters Rupa and Piu relocate to Massachusetts and find themselves going through the same harsh adjustment adjustment as Kaushik once did. He struggles with seeing them in the space that he associates so strongly with his mother – only with the passing of time can he learn to come to terms with this change.

In the final short story of the collection, Hema and Kaushik are united, completely by chance, in Rome. The storytelling reverts to third person this time; bringing in both Hema and Kaushik together and allowing a little distance between the reader and the narrator to observe the culmination of these 3 linked stories.

At once simple and complex, this is a short story collection that will stay with you long after you’ve finished it.

 

Review: The President’s Gardens, by Muhsin Al-Ramli

Today, I am reviewing The President’s Gardens, by Muhsin Al-Ramli (translated by Luke Leafgren). It’s a stunning and moving portrait of 3 friends and their lives through the Iraqi conflicts of the 1980s to early 2000s.

What’s it about?

Here is the publisher’s blurb for the book:

On the third day of Ramadan, the village wakes to find the severed heads of nine of its sons stacked in banana crates by the bus stop. One of them belonged to one of the most wanted men in Iraq, known to his friends as Ibrahim the Fated. How did this good and humble man earn the enmity of so many? What did he do to deserve such a death? 

The answer lies in his lifelong friendship with Abdullah Kafka and Tariq the Befuddled, who each have their own remarkable stories to tell.

It lies on the scarred, irradiated battlefields of the Gulf War and in the ashes of a revolution strangled in its cradle. 

It lies in the steadfast love of his wife and the festering scorn of his daughter. 

And, above all, it lies behind the locked gates of The President’s Gardens, buried alongside the countless victims of a pitiless reign of terror.

The Story                                                                                               

The President’s Gardens follows the lives of three friends from childhood, through conflict and war, up to the Iraq War from 2003. Ibrahim ‘The Fated’, Abdullah ‘Kafka’ and Tariq ‘The Befuddled’ meet as toddlers and become the best of friends, always together; until they are separated by the Iraq-Iran war of 1980. When they are finally all brought together once again, the impact of the years of conflict have changed them forever.

The book opens with an early morning scene in which a shepherd, Isma’il, discovers the heads of 9 of the village men in banana crates in the main street; one of these men being Ibrahim. From that point, the book returns back to the three friends’ childhood, and tracks the story back to that day.

The Review

There is a LOT to love about The President’s Gardens. It is a powerful, powerful book.

Lots of details, characters and events are thrown at the reader over the first few chapters, which are then re-visited and explained over the course of the book. I did find it difficult to keep track for a while – to the point that I wished I had written myself notes on who was who – but after a while the story settles down into an easier to follow narrative.

Al-Ramli’s descriptions and portrayals of Iraqi life are detailed and intricate. The closeness and havoc of village life and relationships are presented in sharp contrast to the opulent, indulgent grandeur of Baghdad and the Presidential palaces of the second half of the book. There is an obvious scorning of the excessive wealth of the President and those in power around him; with a whole pages dedicated to a monologue describing the vast palaces with golden taps and door handles, cars, gardens, swimming pools and portraits.

The overwhelming and all-destroying spectre of war is a constant in this book, and shapes the characters of the 3 protagonists in different ways. Al-Ramli does not shy away from graphic depictions of the treatment of enemy soldiers and prisoners of war, and there were several points where I had to look away from the page for a moment before I could continue reading. However, there are also some truly beautiful moments in the book – Ibrahim’s final day with his wife, for example; is incredibly emotive and reminiscent of a couple in the first throes of love, as opposed to a long-married husband and wife.

The characters of the three protagonists are all very different. The backbone of the story; Ibrahim accepts everything that happens around him – the war, his losses, the turn of events that brings him to his death – as fate, and the way things must be. This is how he gets through his life, and the cruel twists of his fate that it continually throws at him.

Abdullah is given to seeing the worst in every situation, and after his time in the war loses all interest in everyday life, longing only for peace.

Tariq, spared the horrors of battle as a religious leader and teacher, becomes adept at working situations to his own advantage. Although of the three he has the least presence in the book, he is the catalyst for more than one significant event or turning point, which has major implications for his friends.

The book brings itself back to the events of the opening chapter to finish, picking up with Tariq, Abdullah, and Ibrahim’s daughter Quisma; and their actions following Ibrahim’s death. The story ends with a ‘to be continued’ which I was not expecting and not at all ready for – the reader’s investment in the characters becomes absolute, and I was really hoping to know how things ended up for the 2 remaining friends. Here’s hoping that the sequel can follow very very soon.

The President’s Gardens is published on April 20th by Quercus Books, and is available to order on Amazon now.

Many thanks to Quercus Books / MacLehose Press and Net Galley for the ARC.

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About the Author

Muhsin Al-Ramli is an Iraqi writer, poet, academic and translator, born in the village of Sudara in northern Iraq in 1967. He has lived in Madrid since 1995. The President’s Gardens was longlisted for the I.P.A.F. (known as the ‘Arabic Booker’) in 2010. Al-Ramli was a tank commander in the Iraqi army during the Gulf War, a period of life which has greatly informed his writing. His brother, the writer Hassan Mutlak, was hanged in 1990 for an attempted coup d’état.

Blog Tour: Faithless by Kjell Ola Dahl

Hello and welcome to day 4 of the #Faithless blog tour! Today, it’s my turn 🙂

The latest book in the Oslo Detective Series by Kjell Ola Dahl, Faithless is published by Orenda Books, and translated by Don Bartlett.

I’ve never read anything of Dahl’s before, but as a father of Nordic Noir I thought perhaps I had better acquaint myself before I wrote this review! First published in 1993, Dahl has written 11 novels, the most successful being the books of the Oslo Detective Series, of which Faithless is the fifth instalment.

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The Blurb

Here’s the publisher’s blurb on the book:

Oslo Detectives Gunnarstranda and Frølich are back… and this time, it’s personal…

When the body of a woman turns up in a dumpster, scalded and wrapped in plastic, Inspector Frank Frølich is shocked to discover that he knows her… and their recent meetings may hold the clue to her murder. As he begins to look deeper into the tragic events surrounding her death, Frølich’s colleague Gunnarstranda finds another body, and things take a more sinister turn. With a cold case involving the murder of a young girl in northern Norway casting a shadow, and an unsettling number of coincidences clouding the plot, Frølich is forced to look into his own past to find the answers – and the killer – before he strikes again.

Dark, brooding and utterly chilling, Faithless is a breath-taking and atmospheric page-turner that marks the return of an internationally renowned and award-winning series, from one of the fathers of Nordic Noir.

The Story

With this being the fifth book in the series, I was wondering if I would be at a bit of a disadvantage having not read the first four, but I wasn’t at all. Faithless opens with a stake-out that introduces two of the main characters: Frank Frølich, our detective; and Veronika Undset, whose murdered body is shortly to be found wrapped in plastic in a skip. The investigation into Veronika’s murder is just one part of a spider’s web of stories which run alongside each other towards the grand finale.

I did feel that the story was a little slow in parts, but there are tense sections scattered throughout that more than make up for this. In the second half of the book events start to speed up, and all of the loose ends which you’ve been wondering about come together in some truly gripping narrative.

I found the translation for the most part very good; although there were a couple of phrases in there that you don’t often find in written English – the one which stuck out most for me was ‘to the nth degree/for the nth time’.

The Characters

I wasn’t sure what to make of the characters to begin with – they are a bit of an eclectic bunch! Frølich is an individual who is personally involved with the investigation, and often seems morally challenged through the course of the book. His approach to his work is passionate but impatient, often bordering on reckless. A past which he tries so hard to avoid comes out of the shadows to haunt him, brought to life by the reappearance of an old friend.

Gunnarstranda seems to have more of a regard for the rules, but we see even him bend them from time to time. Lena, a younger police officer with a questionable choice of romantic relationships, is full of confidence and belief in her own opinions and abilities – a sound outlook to have, but not if it gets you in above your head and into a tricky situation, like the one Lena finds herself in towards the end of the book. I get the feeling she will come into her own in the next book.

There is a sense of rapport between the characters that you would expect to find in a group of people who’ve worked together for a while; and the book is peppered with humorous moments alongside the drama. Gunnarstranda wondering why on earth people insisted on changing into gym gear in the office was one of my favourite points, as I am guilty of this all the time!

The story is told through the eyes of all three of these characters, which means we get to see lots of different events and viewpoints, but it does mean that you sometimes have to remind yourself where one character’s story ended up last time you saw them…. That’s a standard issue for me though, to be fair 🙂

So what did I think?

Overall, I found this an enjoyable read – there are some serious twists in here, and though it took me a little while to get into it I was gripped by the end (what an end!). The only thing I felt this book lacked was more of a sense of place. Perhaps it’s because I have come to associate Scandi Noir with rolling, detailed descriptions of forest, lake and sea; or perhaps it’s because the last book of this kind I read was very heavy on setting-the-scene descriptions; but Faithless just didn’t have enough of it for my liking. I want more of beautiful Norway! Really though, that’s my only gripe.

Big thanks must go to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books and blog tour maestro Anne Cater for providing me with this review copy and inviting me to my very first blog tour! Faithless is published on 15th April. Keep your eyes peeled for more blog tour reviews coming up:

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About the Author 

One of the fathers of the Nordic Noir genre, Kjell Ola Dahl was born in 1958 in Gjøvik. He made his debut in 1993, and has since published eleven novels, the most prominent of which is a series of police procedurals cum psychological thrillers featuring investigators Gunnarstranda and Frølich. In 2000 he won the Riverton Prize for The Last Fix and he won both the prestigious Brage and Riverton Prizes for The Courier in 2015. His work has been published in 14 countries. He lives near Oslo.

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Review: Me Before You, By Jojo Moyes

I am pretty sure that this is a book that needs little introduction. Despite all the hype around the book and the film – or perhaps because of it – Me Before You was never really on my reading list. When my husband bought me After You (the sequel) as last year’s Jolabokaflod book; I thought I’d better get hold of the original first and see what all the fuss was about.

The Story

Me Before You is the story of Louisa Clark, a 26-year old, recently redundant ex-waitress who accepts the position of carer for a young quadriplegic man, Will Traynor. What starts off as a somewhat rocky relationship gradually develops into something that will change both their lives.

The book opens with a snapshot of Will’s life before the motorbike accident which has left him paralysed, and completely dependent on other people. It is abrupt, over within a few pages; and creates a poignant point of comparison for what follows. Throughout the whole of the book, this is the only piece of narrative which is depicted from his point of view, and adds to the portrayal of his dependence on other people; as well as alluding to his experience of the general public in regards to disability and their attitude towards him in presuming that, because he is in a wheelchair, he no longer has a voice.

“…I had observed a few basic routines, as far as Will was concerned. Most would stare, a few might smile sympathetically, express sympathy, or ask me in a kind of stage whisper what had happened. I was often tempted to respond ‘Unfortunate falling out with MI6,’ just to see their reaction, but I never did.”

The Review

Me Before You elegantly and emotionally portrays the development of Will and Louisa’s relationship; from a state of mutual animosity to a strong and overwhelming love. The relationship presented between Louisa and Will is in sharp relief with the relationship between Louisa and Patrick, her boyfriend: a fitness fanatic who is obsessed with completing the Xtreme Viking, an intense triathlon in Norway. At times, Patrick is portrayed as almost comical; while their relationship gradually reduces to Louisa watching him run in circles around a running track, or listening to him talking about the merits of Japanese balancing trainers.

A favourite scene of mine occurs at Louisa’s birthday party; where Patrick and Will meet for the first time over dinner and, it is fair to say, do not get on so well. Louisa’s muted thanks for Patrick’s gift – jewellery – is thrown out of the water when she opens her gift from Will, a pair of yellow and black striped tights, just like a pair she used to have when she was young. This thoughtful action seems to be a turning point in the book; where we really see Will’s attitude begin to change.

The depiction of the two families – the Traynors and the Clarks – could not have been more different. The Traynors are rich and want for nothing; the Clarks in comparison are financially insecure and very dependent upon Louisa’s income to get by. However, when it comes to family bonds and closeness, the equation is completely reversed; the Traynors’ cold and distant attitudes and home in stark relief to the bubbly, noisy and loving Clark household.

While Louisa cares for Will, anticipating his every physical need as well as encouraging him to leave the house and start to see more of the world; Will in turn draws Louisa slowly out of her shell, encouraging her to read, watch foreign films, and embrace classical music and new foods. We learn that Louisa also carries secrets and scars, which Will helps to heal.

“I just… want to be a man who has been to a concert with a girl in a red dress. Just for a few minutes more.”

Jojo Moyes pulls you into this story so well that, before you know what’s going on, you are completely invested in the lives of these two people and the affect they have on each other. As the book progresses there are revelations on both sides, laughs, sadness and scares; as Louisa and Will fall in love. Because we only ever get to see the story from Louisa’s side, we are completely immersed in her plans, her beliefs and her hopes… and as such, completely floored by the way things unfurl towards the end of the book. I’m sure I was not alone in crying at the last few chapters. This was one of those books that left me hollowed out and a little bit numb once I turned the last page and closed the covers. For a few moments I am pretty sure I just sat staring at the blurb on the back of the book and wondering why on earth it had taken me so long to read it. This beautiful book will remind you, unashamedly and unequivocally, to just live. 

“You are scored on my heart, Clark. You were from the first day you walked in.”

After I’d finished Me Before You I picked up After You, the sequel I had been gifted… and stayed up until 12.30a.m this morning finishing it (it has taken 3 coffees to get me through today. Whoops). But that review, my friends, is a story for another day.

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Review: Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

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Stay With Me is the debut novel from Ayobami Adebayo.

The story is narrated by Yejide, the protagonist; and Akin, her husband. It opens with Yejide looking back on the past she left behind, the story she does not tell behind the simple statement ‘I was barren and my husband took another wife.’

Yejide and Akin are desperate for a child, as are their families. One day, her stepmother turns up with a new wife for her husband, to ‘help draw Yejide’s baby into the world’. This action kick-starts the unravelling of Yejide and Akin’s relationship. Her longing for a baby; the maliciousness of Funmi, the second wife; and the pressure placed on them by Akin’s mother; and the unearthing of many secrets; pushes them both over the edge in different ways.

Stay With Me is a well-written novel. The rhythm of the language used often reflects the mood of the protagonists; be that anger, sorrow, hope, or the languid acceptance characterising Yejide’s opening chapter. It is a gripping story, frequently emotional and raw. I enjoyed the way that the book changes between one narrator to the other – often Adebayo will use a switch in the narrative voice to break a secret to the reader, or introduce a plot twist. We get an insight into Nigerian culture; which is both interesting and, at times, shocking. Although the book is set against a period of political unrest; I didn’t feel like this played a huge part in the story – it was more a background rumbling, aside from a couple of brief points where it is brought to the fore. This is the only element of the book which I feel could have been explored/involved a little further.

Stay With Me is a tale of how the pressures of family and society can push a person to breaking point; as well as a story of betrayal, and the lies we tell each other – and ourselves.

Although Adebayo has had various short stories published previously; this is her first novel. I look forward to reading many more!

Stay With Me is published on 2nd March by Canongate. Thanks to NetGalley and Canongate for the ARC.

Review: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

I’m going to put it out there, straight up: I have never read any of Jodi Picoult’s books before. I have a small collection of them on the bookshelf, hidden among my TBRs and old favourites, and obviously went along and cried to My Sister’s Keeper when the film was released; but nothing more. So, when a friend, a massive Picoult fan, got in touch to say she was holding a reading from her new book at the Sage Gateshead (and that the tickets included a copy of the book!) I jumped at the chance to go along.

Picoult was at the Sage as part of the tour to promote Small Great Things, her latest book. The evening consisted of a reading from the book followed by a Q&A session with the audience.

I knew from the reading that this was going to be a book quite unlike anything I’ve read before, and so I spent a little time mentally preparing myself before picking up Small Great Things towards the end of January.

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The book tells the story of Ruth Jefferson, an African American Maternity nurse with over 20 years’ experience in looking after new mothers and their babies. One day, at the start of her shift, she takes over the care of a newly-born baby boy, Davis Bauer. His parents, two white supremacists, lodge a complaint with the hospital and insist that no African American personnel are to touch their son. The hospital complies with their request and Ruth is taken off the case. However, as a result of a staff shortage, a colleague asks her to keep watch over the baby while she deals with another delivery – and he dies.

What follows is the story of Ruth’s journey through the American justice system, leading up to her trial. The narrative is split between the views of Ruth; Turk, the white supremacist father; and Ruth’s attorney Kennedy. The ever-changing narrative allows us to see into each of our protagonists’ lives, away from the trial – their history, their beliefs, and how they came to be in the position they are in currently. I found this to be a very effective way of telling the story, and thought it added a great amount of depth. This way, nothing the reader sees is clear cut. You cannot help but feel for Turk, as he mourns the loss of his first child; even while at the same time you are filled with disgust and horror at his behaviour and the way he lives his life. Similarly, while you feel shock and horror at Ruth’s tale and the everyday discrimination she experiences purely as a result of her skin colour; you can’t help but be angry with her when she holds back information from Kennedy. Over the course of the book, we see Kennedy assess the way she approaches and deals with racism, and the way this changes, as a result of her relationship with Ruth.

Whilst I may have gotten a flavour of the book at the reading, I was absolutely not prepared for how completely uncomfortable this book would make me feel. All. The. Time. I don’t think I’ve ever read another book which created such an ambience of anticipative tension. It drags out those elements of society that it’s all too easy to look away from and try to ignore; and sits them right in front of you across 494 pages of unapologetic rawness. Picoult is without doubt an accomplished and skillful storyteller, and the tale is made all the more impactful by the fact that both Turk and Ruth are based on real people, with similar stories, who she met with and spoke to over the course of her research. Small Great Things is great indeed, and I certainly look forward to reading more of Picoult in the near future.

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Review: Blackout by Ragnar Jonasson

Once I finished reading Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson, I immediately started on the second book of his Dark Iceland Series – Blackout.

Blackout picks up in Siglufjordur around 1 ½ years after the events of Snowblind, in which we were first introduced to policeman Ari Thor. Still based in Siglufjordur, we are greeted with a different character to the man who graced the pages in book one: he is no longer a rookie, but a more mature, confident and assured member of the police force.

The book opens with the discovery of a body, beaten and unrecognisable; on a building site near Akureyri. The book follows the developments of the case over the space of around 48 hours. As well as following the ‘real time’ investigation, the story is supplemented with flashbacks to months and years prior to the current events.

As the investigation develops, we are drawn into a much darker and more sinister world than that which was inhabited by the characters of Snowblind; and are given a glimpse of a societal undercurrent which echoes modern day’s threats and crises.

We are introduced to Isrún, a journalist with a back story of her own, who plays a large part in the developments of the book. Hlynur, Ari Thor’s colleague who we saw only from the side lines in Snowblind, has his own tale to tell in this book; and this runs parallel to the main story, telling us more about his past and troubling present.

We also get to pick up with Kristin, Ari Thor’s ex-girlfriend who has moved to Akureyri to take up the doctor’s post she accepted before she and Ari Thor separated. We have a window into her life as she tries to move on from their relationship.

Blackout moves at a fast pace, with Jonasson’s skilled writing pulling the reader through the story with ease. The looming darkness of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, coupled with his trademark descriptions of the wild beauty of Iceland creating the perfect backdrop to this murder mystery.

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