This collection of short stories is both a puzzle and a totally riveting read. Each story is a keyhole glance into the life of a well-known figure before they were famous – or infamous. Their identity is never explicitly stated – it’s our job to figure it out. Some characters I twigged quickly; others took the help of Google for me to work out. I ended up going down a fair few Wikipedia rabbit holes to find out more!
Simon Van der Velde has a chameleon-like ability to inhabit a range of very distinct voices. Each snapshot of the characters’ lives gives an insight into their inner workings and crackles with a unique energy. Sometimes funny, sometimes chilling, always captivating, this original, interactive collection makes a lasting impression.
Thank you to Simon Van der Velde for the review copy! 30% of profits from the sale of Backstories will be shared between Stop Hate UK, The North East Autism Society and Friends of the Earth. Scroll down for purchase links if you want to grab a copy and start working out who’s who…
In a crumbling old mansion in the English countryside, eleven people gather, each one famous in their field. They have been invited for a three-day house party, to celebrate the launch of a groundbreaking virtual reality game that promises to unite the worlds of technology, politics and the environment.
DCI Maarten Jansen has been summoned to join the house party. His instructions are to offer police protection in case of an outside attack. Instead, he finds simmering tensions, long-buried secrets – and a murderer in their midst…
This book was straight up addictive. Packed across three tense days, it jumps between height of the crisis and the build-up. The chapters are short and suspenseful, divided into the perspectives of Maarten, Filip, Lois, and Iqbal. There is a sense of watching each scene through a smudged magnifying glass. I felt simultaneously imbued with the heightening tension between the characters and kept at arm’s length from the truth simmering beneath them – right up until the last moment.
The secluded countryside mansion setting adds a layer of claustrophobia to the taut atmosphere. The threads binding the guests together wind tighter with each conversation. Each page vibrates with energy. Rachael Blok’s writing has an urgency that keeps the reader almost stumbling in excitement to read the next sentence.
Into the Fire hits that spot between a totally unputdownable mystery and a fascinating delve into human emotion and relationships. It totally engrossed me and gave me a much-needed shake from my lockdown lethargy.
Thank you to Midas PR and Head of Zeus for having me on the blog tour!
Away from the hotels and holiday lets, there is an unseen side of Cornwall, where the shifting uncertainties of the future breed resentment and mistrust.
Melody Janie is hidden. She lives alone in a caravan in Bones Break: a small cliff-top on Cornwall’s north coast. She spends her time roaming her territory, spying on passing tourists and ramblers, and remembering. She sees everything and yet remains unseen.
However, when a stranger enters her life, she is forced to confront not only him but the terrible tragedies of her past.
This story stayed with me long after I finished it. Uncovering the Cornwall behind the picturesque photos and holiday advertisements, The Lip is a raw and powerful read. There’s a distinctive honesty to Charlie Carroll’s writing and the way he paints both his characters and their surroundings with a poignant, unflinching beauty. Melody Janie’s story and her blend of resilience and vulnerability really moved me. There were times where I had to take breaks from reading because of how absorbed I became in both her life and character.
Dealing with themes of grief, mental health, and isolation, the story dips between Melody Janie’s past and present, reaching the roots of her pain. There’s a twist that comes as a shock, but emphasises the heartbreaking, unforgiving reality of mental illness. The book also shines a light on the issue of treating Cornwall as a holiday destination alone, ignoring and compromising the lives of the people who live there.
Atmospheric, harrowing, and unique, The Lip is an important read – and one I recommend.
Thank you to John Murrays and Two Roads Books for having me on this blog tour!
About the author
Charlie Carroll is the author of three non-fiction books: The Friendship Highway (2014), No Fixed Abode (2013) and On the Edge (2010). He has twice won the K Blundell Trust Award for ‘writers under 40 who aim to raise social awareness with their writing’, wrote the voice-over for the TV series Transamazonica (2017), and is one of the Kindness of Strangers storytellers. His debut novel, The Lip, is out in March 2021.
Today I’m part of the blog tour for Nemesis by Anthony Riches, and I’m excited to be sharing an extract below! If you like the sound of it, scroll down for links to where you can grab a copy.
First off, a little about the the book…
They killed his sister. Now he’ll kill them all.
Mickey Bale is an elite close protection officer. That’s why the Met police has given him the toughest job of all: guarding the Minister of Defence at a moment when Chinese-British relations have hit a deadly boiling point. And when Mickey’s life isn’t on the line for his work, he’s taking his chances waging war on a powerful London gang family. Their dealer supplied a lethal ecstasy pill to his sister, and Mickey is determined to take them down, one at a time. But will he get away with it – or will his colleagues in the force realise that the man on an underworld killing spree is one of their own?
The black Loake boots, Mickey decided. A perfect match for black Wrangler Arizonas, and freshly resoled in rubber. A midnight-blue shirt, and that was him ready. Externally, at least. Looked in the mirror and got a quizzical stare back. Michael James Bale. Age forty-three, no distinguishing marks. A nondescript face, nothing to make him stand out. Not the tallest of men at six foot one, but solid. One hundred and eighty-five pounds of gym-toned muscle honed at his local boxing club. Good genes too. Strong, and in good shape. In his prime, pretty much.
Roz met him at the bottom of the stairs. The usual examination, before letting him out for the night. Looking up at him with that expression. The all-knowing, all-commanding, straight-to-the-point woman who’d charmed him over a decade before. And who still had him in the palm of her hand after all that time. With her dark hair that she wished was blonde. The all-seeing brown eyes that she wished were green, like Mickey’s. And a body that she kept very, very well toned. ‘Giving you no excuses, Mickey Bale,’ as she frequently told him. Not that Mickey wanted any excuses. A childhood spent watching his friends struggling through the debris of their parents’ failed relationships had taught him the value of holding on to what worked. And not letting go for anything.
‘Shaved? Sure there’s no-one waiting for you?’
He grinned in the way that always disarmed her.
‘Oh they’ll be waiting all right. Empty glasses and “where you been all this fucking time?” looks.’
She laughed with him. Knowing his friends well enough.
‘You will keep drinking with that lot. What do you expect?’
He let his face assume what she called his chump look. Lips pursed, eyes rolled up. Waited a moment, timing being the secret of comedy. Then face-palmed and shook his head.
‘Now you tell me?’
‘Don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing.’
‘Wait… what? You’ve seen through my plan?’
A swift prod in the breadbasket to reinforce her point.
‘You come it the poor me, but really you love it. Talking shop with the boys, playing up to the image. Flash Mickey. With the guns and the cars and all that.’
He shrugged. ‘Beats the alternative, doesn’t it? Beats actually working. You know how that would have gone.’
‘Yeah.’ She turned him round and pushed him to the door. Slapped his backside for emphasis. ‘Go on. Back by eleven though; you’ve got an early start.’
He grinned at her again, accepting the heavy-lipped kiss. The door closed behind him as he stepped out into the early spring night. Down the Crescent and out onto the High Road. Warm enough in his black Belstaff jacket that had cost a fortune the previous month. Strolling under the streetlamps, he zipped it up to his neck. Clicked the placket pop-studs shut. Checked that the wrist and pocket studs were closed too. Knowing they would clatter if left unfastened. Then fastened the neck strap, not wanting the buckle to flap around.
He paused on the corner with Jervis Road. Looked up at the CCTV camera above his head. Frozen, lifeless on its gimbal mount. Still out of action. Just the way Warren liked it. Mickey quietly slipped into a doorway and squatted down. Affecting to fiddle with a bootlace. Peeped round the corner, looking down the pavement. The club opposite Warren Margetson’s pitch would still be nine-tenths empty. Its drinks too expensive while the pubs were open. But Warren was already on duty. As any good dealer would be. A professional, of a sort, Warren. And there was more than one sort of client in his line of business. Some of them dabbling. Some of them hardened recreational users. Some of them functioning addicts. And some just victims. Like Katie.
About the author Anthony Riches, coming from a family with three generations of army service, has always been fascinated by military history, psychology and weaponry – which led him to write the Empire series set in ancient Rome. The idea for his first contemporary thriller, Nemesis, came to him under the influence of jetlag at two in the morning in a Brisbane hotel room. He lives in rural Suffolk with his wife, two dogs the size of ponies and a bad tempered cat.
Ariadne was on my list of Top 10 Books I Can’t Wait For in 2021, so I was absolutely ecstatic to be approved for an ARC on NetGalley. Lyrical, bittersweet, and thematically rich, it did not disappoint.
Ariadne is the centrepiece of this retelling, but swirled into it are stories of many other women from Greek mythology who have suffered the consequences of men’s misdeeds. The narrative is split between Ariadne and her sister Phaedra, probing into how their traumatic childhood shapes the women they become. I loved the contrast between their very individual voices, and became especially drawn to Phaedra and her stubborn, determined character.
One of my favourite things about this book was the nuanced exploration of both the mortal and divine experience. Mortals may be at the mercy of the deities, but there’s just as much room for human manipulation when people (not naming any names!) evade responsibility for their actions by blaming the gods. I really enjoyed Jennifer Saint’s interpretation of Dionysus and Ariadne’s relationship and how she illustrated the pain that comes with the melding of human and divine.
Ariadne is a retelling you won’t want to miss. Intertwining both ancient and current issues, Jennifer Saint has created a story that reaches the hearts of modern as well as mythological women.
London, 2060: Following a series of deadly pandemics, devastating environmental disasters and a violent surge in cyber terrorism, the UN has made it compulsory for every tax paying citizen to login to the Perspecta Universe: a totally safe, pollution free, environmentally friendly virtual reality world. Eighteen years later, ‘The Upload’ is complete, and billions of people all around the world exist in massive dormitory complexes surrounding the major cities, all totally unconscious of the crumbling world around them. Apart from the renegades, the ‘Offliners’ who live in London’s silent wasteland, making the disused Piccadilly Circus Tube station their home: a fully self-sufficient, subterranean community. When Josh ‘Kid’ Jones, a young Offliner, discovers that an antiquated piece of technology called an ‘iPhone left to him by his father seems able to communicate with the past through social media. He strikes up a friendship with Isabel Parry, a 16-year-old living in 2021, and the two begin communicating through time and space via Instagram. But what Kid and Izzy don’t realise is that by doing so they are not only changing their own fate, but also the fate of the rest of the world…
For a dystopian novel involving time travel and a virtual reality universe, there’s a realism to KID that hits incredibly close to home. The Offliners’ world is a haunting glimpse into what our future could hold should we fail to take action. 2078 London is desolate and deserted, but Josh ‘Kid’ Jones and the other Offliners reject the offer of the ‘Perspecta’ virtual reality universe and refuse to abandon reality.
KID is immersive from its opening pages, filled with vivacious characters, punchy dialogue, and a finely drawn world. Jumping between both Kid and Izzy’s perspectives in 2078 and 2021, the novel is varied and rich with emotion. The pages of DMs between the two main characters add an urgency that makes the book impossible to put down. Cultural references are scattered through the pages, tapping into both the readers’ and characters’ nostalgia. The book has an incredible sense of place, reaching right into London’s heart and drawing out the vibrant details that form its character. Following Kid and his friends through the city’s vestiges is a harrowing reminder of the fragility of our world.
Sebastian de Souza binds the present and future together with poignance, humour, and skill. It’s a book that will carry emotional weight for every age group, but particularly strikes a chord with the issues younger generations are facing today. An original and brilliant debut.
Thank you to much much to Midas PR and Offliner Press for having me on this blog tour!
About the author
Sebastian de Souza is an actor, producer, screenwriter and musician. Sebastian can currently be seen on Channel 4, playing the leading role of Leo in the Hulu Original series The Great, opposite Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult, written by Oscar-nominated and BAFTA award-winning writer Tony MacNamara (The Favourite). Previous roles include Gareth in the BBC/Hulu adaptation of Sally Rooney’s best-selling novel Normal People directed by Oscar-nominated Lenny Abrahamson (Room); in Netflix’s Medici, playing the iconic painter Sandro Botticelli; Alfonso d’Aragona in Showtime’s Emmy award-winning The Borgias, opposite Jeremy Irons and Holliday Grainger; and in the multiple BAFTA award- winning Skins, as lead Matty Levan. Sebastian has also played the lead role of Rafa in Paramount Pictures’ Brit-Crime thriller Plastic, opposite Will Poulter and Alfie Allen, and can currently be seen on Netflix playing Edmund in Ophelia opposite Naomi Watts, DaisyRidley and Clive Owen. As a writer, at the age of 20 Sebastian wrote the feature film Kids In Love, which he also starred in opposite Will Poulter and Cara Delevingne. The film was produced by Ealing Studios, the oldest and most prestigious studio in the UK. He wrote and directed the short ‘Evelyne’s World’, starring Evelyne Brochu at Korda Studios in Budapest. His debut YA novel KID: A History of the Future is published by Offliner Press in Spring 2021.
The passionate, young police officer Sam Shephard returns in a taut, atmospheric and compelling police procedural, which sees her take matters into her own hands when the official investigation into the murder of a local businessman fails to add up… The New Zealand city of Dunedin is rocked when a wealthy and apparently respectable businessman is murdered in his luxurious home while his wife is bound and gagged, and forced to watch. But when Detective Sam Shephard and her team start investigating the case, they discover that the victim had links with some dubious characters. The case seems cut and dried, but Sam has other ideas. Weighed down by her dad’s terminal cancer diagnosis, and by complications in her relationship with Paul, she needs a distraction, and launches her own investigation. And when another murder throws the official case into chaos, it’s up to Sam to prove that the killer is someone no one could ever suspect.
Chopped into short, staccato chapters, Bound reels the reader in with an unnerving opening and a tough, spirited heroine. Set in Dunedin, New Zealand, the story’s backdrop is vivid and atmospheric – just like its characters. Sam Shepard is a brilliant protagonist to follow on this twisting, layered case. The tight plot is made even more fun to unwrap by the splashes of her wry, humorous observations. Despite Sam’s sharp instincts, she doesn’t have an easy run. Both her personal and professional life close in on her as she struggles with a complex case, a toxic work environment, and family and relationship troubles. Almost fuelled by the obstructions surrounding her, she retains the grit and resolve to see the case to its – very unexpected – end.
Bound is evocative and unpredictable, heartbreaking and humorous. If you want the chance to pick it up ASAP, enter my giveaway on Instagram @milasbookshelf.
Thanks so much to Orenda Books and Random Things Tours for having me on the blog tour!
About the author
Vanda Symon is a crime writer, TV presenter and radio host from Dunedin, New Zealand, and the chair of the Otago Southland branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors. The Sam Shephard series has climbed to number one on the New Zealand bestseller list, and has also been shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel and for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger. She currently lives in Dunedin, with her husband and two sons.
In Emma Blas’ ‘Watery Through the Gaps,’ raw emotions intertwine with the crashes and lulls of the natural world, bringing the human experience back in tune with the earth. Sensual and atmospheric, the poems are vivid, intricate miniatures of emotion and nature melding. They skip across the page with the unpredictability of the ocean but are crafted with intent and skill. I read this collection three times, uncovering fresh depths with each read and enjoying Blas’ honest exploration of our world within and without.
Thank you so much to Emma Blas and Random Things Tours for having me on the blog tour!
My three favourite poems from the collection
‘emma blas lives near gijón in spain. her poetry explores transitions, shifts of phase and form in the natural world. you will find her at the beach, walking through the dramatic landscape of asturias, or with her hands in the soil, trying to learn from the earth. it is these crossing points between the physical, psychological and imagined states of life that are painted in her poetry.’
Following Jared as he learns to navigate the world as a bot with emotions was 10/10, a delightful experience. Imbued with humour and pathos, the book made me both frequently laugh out loud and tear up. The split structure of novel and screenplay adds another layer to Jared’s understanding of the world around him, and made for an original and enjoyable read.
Jared’s joy in the most mundane of experiences is infectious; I found myself becoming aware of those small, ever so human moments in life that usually brush by unnoticed. The book is also a love letter to old movies, which are important companions to Jared’s emotional awakening. I loved the emphasis on the incredible role art – in any form – plays in developing empathy. The way it enables us to fall into thousands of different lives and feelings. Sometimes they’re completely removed from our own experiences, but we’re always left with a new perspective, a new understanding of someone’s journey through life. And this book was a powerful reminder of that.
Set My Heart To Five gifts the reader with a fresh appreciation for the unique adventure of being human. It’s funny, it’s heartbreaking, and the storyline is addictive. A breathtaking book I absolutely recommend.
Thank you so much to Midas PR and 4th Estate Books for having me on the blog tour for Set My Heart To Five!
This was a read-in-one-sitting book: urgent, unpredictable, riveting. Joe Goldberg is back, and he’s ready for a new home, a new family – a new love. He might be trying to be a better man, but he’s still Joe. Once again, we’re plugged into his chilling, twisted mind, and Caroline Kepnes makes us enjoy every second of it.
This book kept me guessing the whole way. I was initially worried that another Joe obsession might be too stale or repetitive, but the plot was fresh and surprising. There were plenty of new challenges for Joe to overcome. I found it more tightly constructed than Hidden Bodies, and there were some character additions I really enjoyed. I was completely unable to predict the ending.
As far as I can tell from the available info, the next season of YOU is going to pan out pretty differently to You Love Me. The book has set a high bar, but I’m very curious to see what path the TV series takes Joe (and Love) down.
Thank you NetGalley for the ARC! You Love Me was another book on my list of highly anticipated 2021 reads, so I was ecstatic to get my hands on it!
I’ve been looking forward to reading The Other Black Girl for months. It’s been all over social media and it was on my own can’t-wait-to-read-in-2021 list, so I nearly died of excitement when I got approved for it on NetGalley. It lived up to the hype. It was very topical: a searing, honest look into the issues within the publishing industry. It was also an incredibly unique thriller with a sinister spin on its social commentary.
Zakiya Dalila Harris’ candidly illustrated Nella’s experience of being a Black woman in the very white publishing industry. Both the overarching issues and the details were perfectly executed. The book demonstrated just how difficult it can be for Black employees to voice issues with racism in the workplace for fear of how it might affect their careers. How can a company claim to promote diversity if their Black and marginalised employees face backlash for speaking out? It’s easy to see how someone starting their career might feel they have to stay silent.
The Other Black Girl explored some very relevant themes while pulling the reader through its dark plot at the speed of light. There were so many twists and turns; I stayed up reading late into the night. Without giving too much away, the ending was a shock. This book is going to provoke even more much-needed discussion after its release, and I can’t wait for it!
This book is a wonderful and engaging exploration of how the Bloomsbury Group visually expressed their identity and aesthetic. I was immediately drawn to its arresting cover, which shows the bottom section of Vanessa Bell’s painting Mrs St John Hutchinson. Its texture mimics the roughness of a real painting, yet is still pleasing to the touch. The illustrations inside are also stunning; the book is as much a visual treat as it is a literary one.
The first chapter explores the roots of Virginia and her sister Vanessa’s awareness of their own image. Both women grew up learning to curate their image and identity through photographs – something we are now all too familiar with in the age of social media! Chapter two looks at how the Bloomsbury Group used dress and undress to express their identity. I found Hitchmough’s analysis of the role of nudity in their self-expression particularly interesting. The third chapter covers the Omega Workshops, which exhibited the Group’s aesthetics and values, taking inspiration from Post-Impressionist art.
My favourite part of the book was in the final chapter. There’s an entertaining account of Vanessa Bell going to Maynard Keynes’ house while he was on his honeymoon, unscrewing one of his pictures from the bathroom wall, and taking it. This task was the sole purpose of her trip from Sussex to London; she was apparent terrified of Keynes’ reaction when he found out. It really emphasised the contrast between the Bloomsbury Group’s collective identity and the individual power dynamics within it. As glamorous and iconic as the Group seem, I kept thinking how suffocating being part of it must have been. Hitchmough describes how the ‘back-biting and bitchiness’ within the circle is ‘both entertaining and appalling.’ I feel like Bell’s picture theft illustrates this brilliantly!
My knowledge of the Bloomsbury Group was limited before reading this book, but I found it both riveting and accessible and would totally recommend it. Plus, its visual presence really brightens up my bookshelf!
This was one of my TBRs that I was especially excited for – with good reason!
Simran Mehta, an Indian-American woman, is studying Psychology at grad school. She’s had a book published and she’s engaged to her high school sweetheart Kunal, a future doctor. Her life is in order – until she meets Neil, a successful newspaper columnist.
The book also follows Simran’s mother Nandini and her grandmother Mimi. Although the primary story is Simran’s, I loved that this book was an intergenerational tale. Nandini and Mimi’s voices and journeys really fleshed out the novel and helped paint a cohesive picture of the pressures and issues many Indian women face today.
Saumya Dave explores some great themes: family, love, courage, race, identity. I liked the emphasis on mother-daughter relationships, particularly within Indian culture. Both familial and romantic relationships form the centre of the book, but at its core the focus is on the characters’ personal journeys.
Simran’s family have high expectations and place a lot of pressure on her. It was interesting how multi-layered this was: Nandini’s expectations of Simran damage her, just as Nandini has been damaged by the expectations of her own family and peers. Watching them both fight to realise then follow their own desires and paths really emphasised just how difficult it can be.
As a half-Indian British woman, I found some of the themes surrounding Indian culture familiar. I liked reading about Simran’s experience in the U.S. It made me think about how the experiences of first or second-gen immigrants from the same country might differ, depending on the location they ended up in.
I really enjoyed this wonderful debut by Saumya Dave, and I can’t wait to read more of her work in the future!
I’ve mentioned Artemisia Gentileschi enough on my Bookstagram and blog, so it’s about time this book got a review! To begin with, it’s a gorgeous book: it has some stunning illustrations and the pages are thick and glossy. The cover exhibits a beautiful painting of Artemisia by Simon Vouet.
Artemisia Gentileschi has exploded into fame over the past few years. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, she’s been the subject of plays, TV, and a whole host of other media. The Artemisia exhibition at the National Gallery has contributed to this significantly, bringing together a collection of her best-known work. She’s become an art history celebrity.
However, the focus tends to be on the traumatic events in her personal life: her father’s friend, Agostino Tassi, raping her, and the trial that followed, where she was subjected to torture. While these events would undoubtedly have had a significant influence on her art, they do not define it. This tunnel vision is something Jesse M. Locker warns against, citing the issues with interpreting her work only through the lens of her trauma. He points out that early sources do not mention the rape: it wasn’t the focus when her works were initially received.
The book focuses on Artemisia’s life and art from the 1620s onwards. Artemisia was only semi-literate, but Locker unearths numerous sources referencing poetry by Neapolitan poets who knew Artemisia. The poems were full of praise for her and marked her out as a figure sitting in the heart of political and cultural power in Naples. Locker examines Artemisia’s reception in Venice, Rome, Naples, and Florence through both visual and literary evidence. It seems that she had close relationships with multiple leading cultural figures during her career. While her level of literacy wasn’t advanced, she was still well-educated through other avenues. The time she spent at the academies was most essential to her artistic development. Also much emphasised is the significance of the oral tradition in Baroque culture, which translated to Artemisia’s paintings.
The penultimate chapter observes the line between Artemisia’s true self and her self-portraits, where she dons multiple disguises as various figures and personas. The book ends with a chapter on Artemisia’s 18th century biographers, mainly discussing the artist Averardo de Medici’s biography on her, which seemed to be unaware of her rape and personal background.
This book was a detailed, nuanced, and fascinating exploration and analysis of Artemisia’s life and work. I learnt so much reading it and recommend it 1000%. The book is now out in paperback for those who want to nab it! I’d also highly recommend Jesse M. Locker’s article on ‘Artemisia’s Fame, Present, and Past.’
I adore The Ronettes’ music, but didn’t know anything about Ronnie Spector’s life before reading this book. I couldn’t be more glad I did read it (in one sitting – couldn’t put it down) because my god, this book was a rollercoaster. It was gripping, funny, heartbreaking, and atmospheric. It was also full of gossip! A splash of the tea: Ronnie Spector has slept with David Bowie and kissed John Lennon. This shouldn’t have surprised me considering they moved in similar circles, but as I’m such a Ronettes, Bowie, and Beatles fan, it kind of made my head explode. I read this book while listening to The Ronettes, skipping to each song as she described the stories behind them.
The book had an incredible sense of atmosphere. Ronnie Spector painted a striking picture of every city she described, but especially Spanish Harlem, where she grew up. Every detail was so rich, I felt like I was right there with her. Reading about her experience growing up as a mixed-race girl in 1950s NYC was both fascinating and poignant. Although the time and circumstances are worlds apart, there were aspects I found incredibly relatable as a fellow mixed girl.
One thing I really loved was Ronnie’s unashamed, vibrant sexuality. It sweat from the pages (or in this case the Amazon Kindle screen). The description of her losing her virginity to Phil Spector to the sound of her song ‘Do I Love You?’ was sensual yet chilling, considering how he turned out.
On a darker note, it was heartbreaking to read about the abuse Phil Spector subjected Ronnie to. Her words strikingly illustrate just how twisted and abusive he was. He isn’t the focus of this book or review, so I won’t add much more – but it was a huge relief to read of her escape with her mother from the Beverly Hills mansion he’d imprisoned her in. She was barefoot, because he’d taken her shoes so that she couldn’t leave.
I loved this powerful, vivid, and down-to-earth account of Ronnie’s incredible life. It really demonstrated that your life isn’t necessarily easy just because you’re famous. Ronnie Spector went through the mill, but she came out on the other side with admirable resilience, humour, and determination.
I was tagged to take part in this on Instagram, but my answers ended up exceeding the allowed character count – so I’m putting the full Q&A on here!
A book that changed my life
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I read this at 15 and it totally blew my mind. It was such an intense read; I felt like my mind was breaking down alongside Raskolnikov’s. It was so deeply atmospheric and immersed me so strongly that it left an incredible impression on me. It’s one of my favourite books to this day. I’m also consequently obsessed with the idea of visiting St Petersburg, which I haven’t managed to do yet – but one day!
A book I’m looking forward to reading
The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper. It’s set in Pompeii’s lupanar, focusing on the lives of the women who worked there. It’s such a fascinating topic and I really can’t express just how excited I am for it!
My favourite read of 2020
It’s a tie between The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel and Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. I’d been waiting for The Mirror and the Light for 8 years before finally getting to read it, and it was a strong end to a brilliant series. Girl, Woman, Other was so original and powerful. Even if 2020 was one hell of a year, at least I read some great books!
A book I obsess over
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (My favourite novel of his. I’ve reread it more times than I can count). Turkish Delight by Jan Wolkers and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I’m excited to expand on these in individual reviews! Also Wolf Hall again (sorry to be repetitive!).
My favourite classic
Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, and (as mentioned) Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Goodbye to Berlin and Crime and Punishment both fall into the ‘atmospheric’ categories, with the locations of the books being characters in their own right. This always appeals to me because it makes the whole reading experience more immersive and I’m always left with a feeling of nostalgia for places I haven’t even visited. Which is some pretty powerful writing! Lolita was so masterfully crafted, I couldn’t put it down. The hideous subject is wrapped in the beauty of Nabokov’s writing, leading to a simultaneously repulsive and riveting window into Humbert Humbert’s twisted mind.
A book I didn’t really like
Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James. This isn’t because I have a problem with romance or erotica, because I don’t at all! But I did find this book problematic. Its representation of kink and BDSM was worrying and potentially harmful as it inspired many readers to dip their toes into BDSM, but misinformed them. There was a total lack of consent, communication, and boundaries. Which isn’t presented as a good thing – but it is BDSM that is vilified, rather than Christian Grey’s violation of boundaries. Eventually, Christian abandons the dom/sub style relationship, and he and Ana transfer to vanilla. I think this portrayal of BDSM as something messed up or inherently harmful totally ignores how essential trust and communication is in order for this type of relationship to be healthy and successful – which it absolutely can be. It’s good that people raised this issue and it became a discussion, but considering how much the book exploded in popularity, I do worry about its message.
An enemy is dangerous. A traitor is lethal. They call them the Taskforce. Designed to operate outside the bounds of law, trained to exist on the ragged edge of human capability, their existence is as essential as it is illegal. Recruited from top operators in the intelligence spheres and led by ex-Special Forces Operator Pike Logan, they’re a formidable unit. Prepared for anything. And they need to be. Whilst aiding an ex-Taskforce member on the run from Chinese agents, Logan uncovers a plan to bait Taiwan into all-out war by destabilising their government and manipulating their artificial intelligence-controlled defence system. With the threat of conflict reaching boiling point, Logan alone realises that all is not what it seems. For a man used to confronting his enemy in close-quarters combat, he faces a dilemma: how do you defeat an enemy that you can’t see? Read the latest book in the electrifying Taskforce thrillers from New York Times bestselling author and former Special Forces Officer Brad Taylor
I ventured into new territory with this book since its subject isn’t one I’m well-versed in. However, one of my resolutions this year was to expand my reading repertoire – and I’m so glad I did! American Traitor was exactly what I needed to inject some excitement into a January lockdown filled with grey skies and apathy.
Brad Taylor doesn’t waste any time. He pulls the reader in right away, and the plot is fast paced from the get-go. An action-packed page turner that kept me reading late into the night, it was also very informative. I learnt a lot about China’s relationship with the West. The book deals with complex issues, but the clear explanations make them both easily digestible and interesting.
The book is written from variety of perspectives. There’s an interesting mix of first person for Pike, the protagonist, and third person for surrounding characters. This really fleshes out the novel and allows readers to understand the feelings and motivations of other characters, while keeping the focus on Pike. Reading the opposing POVs of both Pike and the antagonists gives the whole reading experience an edge, particularly during a chase!
Pike Logan is a fascinating hero. Like steel forged in fire, he’s strong and adaptable, converting his emotion and hot temper into cool-headed action. I especially loved his relationship with Amena, the Syrian refugee he rescued then adopted.
American Traitor is unflinching. Taylor is unafraid to show the violence of reality; he doesn’t wrap his readers in cotton wool. Part of what makes the book so absorbing is how close to home it feels, even for those who aren’t that familiar with this particular strand of foreign affairs. Having read this book, I certainly feel encouraged to do more research into them.
I haven’t read the other books in the Taskforce series, but plenty of background was given and I was able to follow the story and understand what was going on. I’m definitely planning to pick up the other books in the series! I absolutely recommend American Traitor – it’s a great read both for a dull winter and every season in-between.
A huge thanks to Aries Fiction for having me on the blog tour!
About the author
Brad Taylor is the New York Times bestselling author of the Taskforce series, with nearly 3 million copies sold. He channels his decades of experience as a Special Forces Commander in the US army into his thrillers. In the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment—Delta, Taylor commanded multiple troops, a squadron and conducted operations in classified locations. Now he lives in Charleston, South Carolina, with his wife and two daughters.
I fell in love with Artemisia and her work when I visited Florence in 2018. Seeing her painting ‘Judith Slaying Holofernes’ in the Uffizi was an incredible experience. The painting is huge and fills up an entire wall. It appears suddenly after exiting another room and its size, vibrancy, and gruesome subject matter makes its abrupt appearance quite a shock to the viewer. I stood looking at it for 20 minutes because there is just so much to take in.
Until the National Gallery exhibition, her ‘Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting’ was tucked away in Hampton Court Palace. She painted a number of self-portraits, all of them draping her in a disguise – as the allegory of painting, or music, or as a lute player, or a female martyr, or as Saint Catherine of Alexandria. Her features therefore differ in every painting, making it hard to know how much they actually resembled her. But the Allegory of Painting self-portrait holds a special place, since Artemisia’s chosen ‘disguise’ in this case is so integral to her identity. I really love this painting. It has a beautiful softness to it. She is totally focused, unaware of the viewer. The lack of background emphasises the look of concentration on her face. No distractions: just her and her craft.
In 2018 I saw the play ‘It’s True, It’s True, It’s True’ at The New Diorama Theatre. Written by Ellice Stevens and Billy Barrett from The Breach Theatre, it depicted Artemisia’s experience of the 1612 rape trial of Agostino Tassi. Tassi, her painting teacher and a friend of her father, had raped her. The play used translated transcripts of the trial, staying as true to history as possible. This made for a harrowing viewing experience as Artemisia was bullied, belittled, and even physically tortured with a device called the sibille. The instrument was made up of cords that were fastened around each of her fingers and pulled tighter and tighter. A traumatic experience for anyone, but especially for a painter whose livelihood relied on the use of her hands. Was Agostino Tassi tortured to prove the validity of his statements? Of course not.
Ellice Stevens gave a poignant and intense performance as Artemisia, asserting the veracity of her account with the words ‘it’s true, it’s true, it’s true.’ The play was originally showcased at Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I tried to get a ticket but it was totally sold out – and it’s easy to see why! The play was then broadcast on BBC 4 and is now available to watch on YouTube.
The books in the photo at the top are fantastic and I will review them all individually! Jesse M. Locker’s Artemisia Gentileschi: The Language of Paintingis an incredible dive into Artemisia’s later work, which was ignored for a long time. Artemisia Gentileschi by Jonathan Jones is a very readable and succinct biography. The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland is a wonderful historical fiction novel delving deep into Artemisia’s thoughts and feelings. Reading it really felt like a window into her soul. Artemisia by Alexandra Lapierre reads like a combination of biography and fiction, and is a comprehensive and fascinating look at her life.
I still haven’t been to the National Gallery ‘Artemisia’ exhibition because I wanted to save it for the new year – and now we’re in lockdown! I so wish I’d gone while I still could. It’s meant to close on 24th January but I’m really really hoping that the National Gallery extends the exhibition dates. Luckily it is available online as a curator-led exhibition film for anyone who wants to see it during lockdown.
Kamala Das is one of my favourite poets of all time. Her writing dives deep into themes of female sexuality and pain, into the haunting Indian landscape, and her identity as an Indian woman. Born in Kerala in 1934, Das was a trailblazer and one of the first Indian women to write with such boldness and honesty about sex.
Her poems on love and sex slide back and forth between the hazy line separating love and lust. They are sensual and evocative but pulse at the core with pain. Her vivid descriptions of India invite the reader to sip from the glass of Calcutta’s April sun and stand under Bombay’s yellow moon.
Reading a Kamala Das poem evokes more than empathy; she makes you climb through each searing word she writes and truly absorb her emotion and experience. Her style is brazen, clear, and uncluttered. If the emotional weight of each poem hadn’t forced me to sit back and allow the intensity to bleed out before I moved on to the next, I would have inhaled the lot in a sitting.
The introduction by Devindra Kohli takes up a good third of the book, and is a fascinating exploration of Kamala Das’ life. I especially recommend the poems Glass, In Love, and Summer in Calcutta.
A Perfect Paris Christmas was the second book I won in @tangentsbb and @ariafiction‘s giveaway! What better setting for an atmospheric Christmas than the streets of Paris?
Keeley has received an offer that most people would kill for: the opportunity to spend two weeks in Paris, all expenses paid. The only thing is, it comes from the mother of the woman who donated her kidney so that Keeley could live. Still grieving from the loss of her sister, Keeley has a choice: to hide from her fears, or face them. When she meets Ethan, a handsome French hotel owner, maybe she’ll discover that facing them isn’t as scary as she anticipated…
Another brilliant Christmas romance from Mandy Baggot, and I enjoyed it just as much as the last one. At a point in time where travel feels like a distant memory, living vicariously through Keeley wandering through all the beautiful areas of Paris was exactly what I needed. Mandy Baggot describes settings so evocatively. I really felt like I was right there rummaging for gorgeous vintage finds at Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen or walking over the cobbles of Rue des Barres. With this book you get a wonderful guide to Paris as well as an enchanting story!
I loved reading from the perspectives of both Keeley and Ethan and delving into their thoughts, feelings, and pasts. Baggot is sensitive and insightful in her exploration of grief, loss and healing.
I really enjoyed this moving and original novel, and would absolutely recommend it to anyone looking for their perfect Christmas read.