I first met Amit Dhand last year at Swnawick Writers’ Summer School and was delighted to see him return in August to run a short course there. He also took part in an evening event with fellow crime writers, Simon Hall, Sophie Hannah and poet Alison Chisholm. Last year, I read, and reviewed on this site, his debut novel The Streets of Darkness. So I was looking forward to his second novel, Girl Zero.
The story starts with a most distressing scene and is relentless in its manipulation of the readers emotions. I do not like to give away spoilers, and have no intention of doing so here, suffice to say, Dhand’s hero, Harry Virdee, comes close to breaking point on several occasions. I must say that, although I enjoyed Streets of Darkness if anything, I enjoyed Girl Zero even more. It was a beautifully contructed novel with many satisfying twists as required by a satisfying thriller.
A.A. Dhand was raised in Bradford and spent his youth observing the city from behind the counter of a small convenience store. After qualifying as a pharmacist, he worked in London and travelled extensively before returning to Bradford to start his own business and begin writing. The history, diversity and darkness of the city have inspired his Harry Virdee novels.
Thae author continues to work as a fulltime pharmacist, in case his writing success is just a flash in the pan. I don’t think he needs to worry too much about that!
I am delighted that the young, British author Holly Bidgood has agreed to join me today. Holly is celebrating her second novel with Wild Pressed Books, The Seagull’s Laughter, with a book tour with Love Book Tours.
Born in 1973 to a Greenlandic mother and an English-Explorer father, Malik has always been something of a misfit. He has one black eye and one blue. As a child his mother’s people refused to touch him and now his own baby daughter’s family feel the same way.
On his own now, Malik’s only companion is a guiding spirit no-one else can see, but one day a white man with a nose like a beak and a shadow like a seagull appears on his doorstep and invites him to England.
Martha has had enough of living with domestic abuse. She compares bruises with her friend Neil, who regularly suffers homophobic attacks. With Martha’s baby, they go on the run to Shetland, where Martha has happy childhood memories of summers spent with her aunt.
On their way up north in a camper van, they come across a dejected Malik, alone again after a brief reconciliation with his father’s family.
They arrive safely together in the Shetland Isles, but Malik still needs answers to the identity of the beak-nosed man who casts a shadow over his life, and must now embark on a further journey of his own.
The Seagull’s Laughter is an immersive read, intertwined with nature and the magic of Greenlandic folk tales.
Holly is 24 years old. She moved to Hull after graduating from UCL with a degree in Scandinavian languages. She has been writing since a very young age and as well as her novel, she regularly writes folk and fairytale-like short stories. Holly considers landscape, wilderness and interaction with the elements to be the driving force behind her writing, a passion which has taken her to Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Conceived during a visit to the Faroe Islands, her debut literary novel looks at friendship, loss and social change. It is set in the bleak wilderness of those islands during the second world war.
Excerpt from The Seagull’s Laughter
From the corner of my eye I noticed a tiny hand reaching for the basket of coals, and gently I moved the baby’s fingers away before she could blacken them with soot. I spoke to her soothingly in my own language, for a moment not realising that she would not understand. She seemed to enjoy the sounds I was making, watching the movement of my lips in fascination with round, bright eyes. I said the same thing again, and then she looked up at me, serious for a moment, before a wide smile spread across her cheeks and she waved the spoon above her head as though applauding my efforts. I could not help but laugh. She looked over to her mother – busy at the cooker – to share her enjoyment. The young woman laughed too, caught my eyes, and for one long second I felt as though the world had stopped in its tracks and the weight of it had been lifted from my shoulders. Her eyes were blue, the deep blue of the ocean, creased at the edges above cheekbones dotted with freckles and lips that seemed to wear the perpetual shape of a smile. Was it the spreading warmth of the fire that had brought a new pink to her cheeks?
I heard the slamming of a door opening with too much force – breaking the spell. Neil blundered into the room, clutching a jumper in one hand, his eyes turned towards the floor as though in search of something.
‘Martha, have you seen my socks?’ In the same breath he caught sight of me, as I knelt still on the floor surrounded by cushions. ‘Oh, morning, Malik. Sleep well?’ He smiled encouragingly, perhaps to show that he did not mind my having fallen to sleep in the midst of the hospitality he had shown me the previous evening.
I nodded mutely.
‘Cat still got your tongue, eh? Good, good. Martha! My socks?’ He strode over to the young woman, who was rolling her eyes at him, spoon in hand by the cooker.
‘I don’t know, Neil, why don’t you just keep them on your feet?’
I noticed the toe of a woollen sock peeping out from beneath a flower-patterned cushion, which I moved to the side and discovered the other one. I stood up, and clutching the socks in one hand I lifted the baby up into my arms, away from the stove.
‘Thanks, man,’ said Neil, grinning as I handed him his socks. The baby reached out her arms towards her mother, standing beside Neil, who took her from me almost apologetically. I mumbled something about the fire, eyes averted, then turned and ducked through the doorway and out into the fresh air.
The rain fell lightly, skittered across the water in thin curtains driven by the mounting wind. I took off my jumper and rolled my shirt sleeves up to my elbows, seeking the coolness of air on my bare skin, a call back to life from the drowsiness of the night and the numbness of my wearied soul. I gulped down the clear air, trying to swallow the lump in my throat: the longing for Eqingaleq and his guidance. I was truly lost now, captured within an infinite moment, unable to move forwards, cut off from everything that I had known before.
I stepped onto the bank of the canal. Felt the reassurance of solid earth beneath my bare feet. I sank to the ground where Neil and I had sat the evening before. I kept myself still, listening. I imagined I could feel the vibrations of the rain upon the earth, the relentless, rhythmical pounding of the shaman’s drum as he journeyed to the Spirit world. But it was so distant now, I could not discern the beat. I had journeyed too far.
I am always thrilled to find an author new to me whose work I enjoy. It is a real treat. Mason Bushell is an English author from Norwich who writes The Workhouse Mysteries. As those of you who read my blog will know, my favourite genre is crime thrillers and mystery novels so I recently treated myself to the first novel in the series, The Tale of the Depressed Man.
The main protagonist is Holly Ward who works as waitress and manageress of her mother’s restaurant The Workhouse. However, Holly’s grandfather is a police detective and his interest in solving mysteries and putting things right has clearly passed to Holly too. This book had a really interesting storyline that used the backdrop of a restaurant as the location for the story: this really works.
The opening chapter of The Tale of The Depressed Man was very entertaining and a brilliant way to start the book. The story goes straight into a bank robbery that goes wrong and a high speed car chase where the getaway driver gets more than he bargained for. Shortly after this Holly notices a man sitting at the bar in the restaurant looking really miserable. She tries to cheer him up and find out the reason for his sadness and the next thing she knows, she and her friends and family are involved in the search for the loot from the bank robbery and then a hostage situation.
There are some really strong characters in The Tale of The Depressed Man. I particularly liked Holly and her grandfather. I was kept entertained from start to finish – with a race against time to save a hostage situation, this was a clean, easy to follow plot that I’m sure crime readers young and old will enjoy. The Tale of The Depressed Man is an excellent crossover novel: it would benefit from additional editing but that did not spoil my enjoyement of the book and I look forward to the next story in the series.
I had A Man Called Ove by the Swedish author, Fredrik Backman, in my TBR (to be read) list for too long. However, when it became book of the month for my book group, the book suddenly became top of my list.
Ove is a quiet, practical, grumpy man who married a vivacious, outgoing woman who appreciated his qualities. Ove comes off at first as such an officious, stubborn busybody, you want to laugh at him and not with him. He is such a miserly haggler. The words “batteries not included” can put him in a rage. Anyone who doesn’t drive a Saab is an idiot. He is certainly not afraid of expressing his views on any subject, particularly people who break rules.
As the book progresses, the reader comes to see his bark has no bite, and his hunger to be needed is the grace in his core. His wife, Sonya, liked to talk, about books she loved or the delinquent kids she taught, and he liked to listen to her. He got sustenance from building her things, like bookshelves, or, when she became wheelchair bound after a tragic accident, constructing her an accessible kitchen or a ramp at her school.
Ove’s long grief over losing Sonja has recently been compounded by the feeling of uselessness he has after being forced into an early retirement. He is suicidally depressed, but life keeps intruding. He may snarl at a homeless cat ora young person or even at interruptions from his irritating neighbors, but he doesn’t resist much taking the cat in or helping these neighbours with their problems. Ove thinks he just wants to say goodbye to life, but beginning to care about one thing leads to more and more threads that bind. I have a special place in my heart for writers who can make you laugh one moment and make you cry the next and Backman does just that. A Man Called Ove reads more like a series of short stories than a novel. I found A Man Called Ove most enjoyable and easy to read.
About the Author
Fredrik Backman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove (to be a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks), My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Britt-Marie Was Here, Beartown, Us Against You, and two novellas, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer and The Deal of a Lifetime. Things My Son Needs to Know About the World, his first work of non-fiction, will be released in the US in May 2019. His books are published in more than forty countries. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with his wife and two children. Connect with him on Twitter @BackmanLand or on Instagram @backmansk.
Shopping Cart Annie was given to me by a dear friend who knows the author personally, so I very much hoped I would enjoy the novel by Cordy Fitzgerald. The book is set partly in Colorado and partly in Afghanistan. It is a complex mystery which crosses continents and decades and deserves concentration and consideration.
The main protagonist is a retired schoolteacher and amateur sleuth, Dr. Inez Buchanan. This character is particularly well drawn so the reader knows her strengths and weaknesses and understands why she reacts as she does.
Inez receives a visit from her neighbor, Dolly David, which she considers strange as they do not know each other, however, Dolly goes to Inez because she needs her help. Years ago, Dolly’s granddaughter, Kadija Campbell, went missing from her college campus in Fort Collins, Colorado. The police believed that Kadija was dead, but Dolly has always held out hope that she is alive. A mysterious phone call reinforces her belief that Kadija is alive and hints that she is being held in Afghanistan.
Inez has great sympathy for Dolly but doubts she can do anything to help. Then, Dolly dies in a mysterious accident and leaves Inez as the executor of her estate. Dolly was worth billions of dollars, and Inez knows that her last wish would be for Inez to find Kadija at any cost.
Inez’s friend and FBI contact, Trace Mitchell, believes Kadija may be working as a spy in a terrorist cell. In the adventure that follows, Inez connects Kadija’s disappearance with strange happenings in the Middle East. There are powerful people who know more about the young woman than they are letting on, and Inez must discover the truth.
If you enjoy an interesting mystery with lively characters and complicated twists, Shopping Cart Annie is the book for you. Iyt would be an excellent book group novel as it would generate active discussion.
About the Author by the Author
I live in Colorado and feel fortunate to have both my grown sons live nearby. My first thirty years were spent in Washington, D.C. where relatives and family friends customarily had their own conspiracy theory about what really happens in government. As an only child, I read a lot and by high school, wanted to become a spy for CIA. I never applied, but instead read loads of book on the topic. With a Ph.D. in Education Administration, I’ve gained another set of tools to address my passion for investigative research and espionage.
Admittedly, Cordy Fitzgerald is a pen name. It belonged to my grandmother who died a few days after giving birth to my mother. I can’t tell from my mother’s birth certificate whether she was married at the time of the birth or not. But what is evident through the testimony of relatives now dead is that they were all dirt poor people in Culpepper, Virginia. I use the name now in a feeble but a most reverent attempt to add a few years of life to hers, albeit on the Internet.
The Rose of Sebastopol by Katharine McMahon is one of those books that had been on my radar for some time, so when it was book of the month at my book group recently, I was delighted.
The Rose of Sebastopol is a story set in the mid nineteenth century at the time of the Crimean War. It tells the story of Mariella and Rosa who are cousins and friends from childhood.
In 1855 Rosa Barr who is a headstrong young woman, travels to the Crimea, against the wishes of her family. She is determined to work as a nurse bit she does not return.
Three people have been intimately connected with her. One, her step- brother, Max Stupeley, a soldier and adventurer; the second a Doctor Henry Thelwell, who is Mariella’s fiance. Henry is traumatized by the war, and harbour a secret passion for Rosa, and the third is Mariella herself. Mariella must now uncover the truth about what has happened to the missing nurse.
Mariella’s journey takes her from the domestic quiet of London to the foothills of Italy where she finds Henry seriously ill and she is devastated when she finds out about his infatuation with Rosa. She then travels on to the ravaged Russian landscape of the Crimea, where she struggles to discover what has happened to her captivating cousin and uncover the secrets of those who loved her.