Bone by Bone by Sanjida Kay.

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Laura loves her daughter more than anything in the world.

But nine-year-old daughter Autumn is being bullied. Laura feels helpless.

When Autumn fails to return home from school one day, Laura goes looking for her. She finds a crowd of older children taunting her little girl.

In the heat of the moment, Laura makes a terrible choice. A choice that will have devastating consequences for her and her daughter…

My review:
It is a long time since I read a full book in one day but this novel was impossible to put down for long. I think the reason was due to the subject matter, bullying.
It is told by both mother and daughters point of view. Autumn was trying her hardest to keep things from Laura but was understandably struggling. She didn’t agree with the way that Laura was dealing with it, feeling that it made it worse for her. Laura knew that she had made a big mistake but guilt and fear made it difficult for her to ask anybody close to her for help. Levi did have his problems, these became more evident towards the end but it wasn’t just him doing the bullying. Other children and their parents were just as cruel. Laura was also being bullied although in a different way to Autumn. Her bully was ensuring that she would be isolated and helpless in every way.
I found it at times to be really intimidating. Laura and Autumn shouldn’t have had to go through what they did, but sadly it happens and the author has done a fantastic job of highlighting the situation that some families must be going through.

With thanks to the Corvus for the copy received.

Jihadi: A Love Story by Yusuf Toropov

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A former intelligence agent stands accused of terrorism, held without charge in a secret overseas prison. His memoir is in the hands of a brilliant but erratic psychologist who has an agenda of her own, and her annotations paint a much darker picture. As the story unravels, we are forced to assess the truth for ourselves, and decide not only what really happened on one fateful overseas assignment but who is the real terrorist. Peopled by a diverse and unforgettable cast of characters, whose reliability as narrators is always questioned, and with a multi-layered plot heaving with unexpected and often shocking developments, Jihadi: A Love Story is an intelligent thriller that asks big questions. Complex, intriguing and intricately woven, this is an astonishing debut that explores the nature of good and evil alongside notions of nationalism, terrorism and fidelity, and, above all, the fragility of the human mind.

My review:

Jihadi will probably be one of those novels that I will be thinking about long after I finished it. I will say that it’s not the easiest novel that I’ve read, it was much easier to read with no background noise, that way I didn’t miss anything.
The book is mainly about Thelonius, Fatima and Mike, how they connected and the consequences on their lives. And throughout the whole novel is a second narrator. At first you don’t realise who this person is, just somebody a little annoying who places a few notes. These contradict the accounts from other people and there are constant references to The White Album by The Beatles. I found this quite confusing, I don’t know the album so didn’t really understand the connection. When I realised who the narrator was I was flicking back the pages to see what I had missed. The same happened with The Raisin. The scenes featuring Thelonius and The Raisin were one of the most fascinating, and at times, upsetting in the book.
Fatima was completely out of her depth and trying to do the best for her mother and younger sister but didn’t realise the danger that she was in until it was far too late. I loved her strength of character and how she refused to change her story to match that of the heavyset woman, one of the more dangerous characters to feature in the novel. I found both her and her husband very intimidating.
I like to think that there would only ever be one Mike but I suspect that I might be disappointed. He was the complete opposite to his brother who had a conscience and tried to do the right thing. Thelonius and Fatima came from different countries and different cultures but they shared the same belief about their countries leaders. The author doesn’t take sides at all, instead he shows that there are good and bad people on both sides of the conflict.
The most heartbreaking parts of this novel I was reading whilst sat on a train, that was thankfully very quiet.

Thanks to Orenda Books for the copy received. The detail of the blog tour are below.

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The Girls in the High-Heeled Shoes by Michael Kurland

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Fine and Dandy chorine Lydia Laurent’s strangled, nude body, accompanied by two complete suits of clothing, has been found in Central Park, and now Two-Headed Mary and Billie Trask are missing too. Since the police are as helpless as they always are in 1935, it falls to New York World columnist Alexander Brass and his cheerfully wide-eyed sidekick Morgan DeWitt to dig up the truth

My thoughts:

The Girls in the High-Heeled Shoes is the second stand alone novel to feature Brass, Morgan and Gloria. I hadn’t read the first book or any of the series featuring Professor Moriarty but I plan to do so very soon.
Morgan is a trusted employee of Brass alongside Gloria and Garrett. He is a struggling novelist who relies on his tact and wit to stay in employment. He isn’t a New Yorker and doesn’t understand the Broadway slang. So he is initially very confused when the team are asked to look into the disappearance of ‘Two Headed Mary’ and whether it is linked to the disappearance of Billie Trask and the murder of Lydia Laurant. Luckily Brass understood, and offered to help. They found that people were more willing to talk to them rather than the police.
I loved the humour throughout the novel, there are some cracking one liners, mainly from Morgan when he is describing the people of New York. The names of the characters as well, ‘Pearly’ Gates is just one of many. It’s also very descriptive, I could imagine New York in the 1930s, recovering from the depression and prohibition. The theatre district and the bars/diners all feature strongly along with the people connected to both.
I loved this book, the author combines crime and humour very well.

I am very grateful to Titan Books for sending me this book to review, and for  the introduction to an author I had never read before.

Jonathan Dark or The Evidence of Ghosts by A.K.Benedict

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Today, I am delighted to welcome to my blog A. K. Benedict author of  Jonathan Dark or The Evidence of Ghosts. It will be published on 25th February by Orion. My review for the novel follows the feature.

1/ One part of this novel involved Jonathan, as a sighted-person, going on a journey blindfolded – I would feel very uncomfortable doing that. I wondered if you tried this yourself, or it was just an author’s feeling for how it may/ must be?
You’re right – I did try this myself! Not quite in the same way as Jonathan, though. I first imagined how that whole experience would be for him, then went mudlarking blindfolded. I went to exactly the same spot and sat on the foreshore and slowly swept my fingers across the stones. I had to be careful as there are many sharp objects hidden in the shingle. It added an extra dimension to my search rather than taking away. I became lost in the act, remembering what London Mudlark, a brilliant mudlark on Facebook, told me: look out for straight edges and true curves as nature does not make things perfect. I touched something round which thinned out into a tube. I’d found my first clay pipe, something I hadn’t managed up till that point. I’ve seen many others since but it took the concentration involved in being blindfolded to start me off.
​I didn’t have the blindfold with me the first time I went round Borough Market so I closed my eyes. Without Maria to guide me, I was a bit clumsy but it helped me to focus on the sounds and smells, the taste of the samples and, of course, to imagine the ghosts. . .

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2/I felt that the Jonathan was more at ease when he was with Maria, but when she left him he felt vulnerable. Can you talk about your feeling for that part of the narrative a little and how you went about getting the sense of it across?
Jonathan feels very much at ease with Maria, more so than with anyone else for a long time. Opening up to her means he is more vulnerable when she leaves. That side of friendship and, after a while, love is both beautiful and unnerving. We relax and unfold when we connect with people, but feel the loss so greatly when they leave, whether it’s for half an hour or permanently. Jonathan is accessing parts of himself that have gone unnourished for some time, and I accessed the part of me that knows that feeling well.

3/ I had never thought of smells compensating for sight. An example in the book was herbs in bouquets of flowers. When Jonathan was blindfolded he seemed more aware of scent and sound, than he was when seeing. Do you feel that a certain smell would signify danger (eg) to a blind person and whether there are ones that can give comfort?
I think smells are an important way that we gather information but that it’s mostly done unconsciously. We smell each other all the time – pheromones are doing their stuff while we pretend to be professional. Smells signalling danger is a fascinating idea. I think there have been studies showing that on some level, we can smell when people are frightened – one indicated that people subconsciously know whether sweat has been brought on by panic or by exercise. I may be remembering that wrongly but I wonder whether fear-based sweat smells like danger on a deep level or to anyone with a developed sense of smell. The semantics of smell are utterly fascinating – do smells have any signification other than association? I think that everyone, blind or otherwise, links emotion and events with smell in an incredibly powerful way. The same aftershave could provoke joy in one person, dread in another, depending on who is wearing it and the memories attached. I can’t wear certain perfumes that I wore at times of grief or trauma, for example. I sometimes burst into tears if I smell lily-of-the-valley.
While I‘ve had some, brief experience of not being able to see – my earliest memories are of becoming blind from meningitis and then, after a while, slowly beginning to see again – I can’t claim any knowledge of what being blind must be like. I read research papers and talked with people who were born blind, became blind after time or regained their sight and there was a very wide range of experiences, as you’d expect. I thought the best way to approach writing from Maria’s point-of-view would be to really get to know her and try to represent her feelings about the world as best I could, given my limitations. She is comforted by the smell of hot towels from Indian restaurants and, after the events in the book, is now repulsed by the smell of roses, lavender and rosemary.

4/ I feel that Maria feels safer blind than seeing. My thoughts regarding this is that she feels like she knows who she can trust while blind and can somehow sense who isn’t being honest but if she is seeing she has to interpret everything else that goes with it. I also thought that she felt that having sight ‘tarnished’ her world and being able to see her London would destroy the way that she can see / smell and sense it. How did you approach this?
Yes, I think that’s exactly it – having sight would mean an entirely new, untested set of data to process, all the time. That is a huge ordeal for her. She has been able to paint a mental picture, a smellscape, a sound skyline of London, one that is beautiful, entirely hers and under threat. I approached this by focusing on my own synaesthetic tendencies. When I hear or play music, I often experience synaesthesia and see colours and/or smell scents. The chord A Minor, for example, is a rich Mahogany brown. This helped me to get into another mode of processing the senses and, hopefully, get somewhere near to describing Maria’s London.

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Maria King knows a secret London. Born blind, she knows the city by sound and touch and smell. But surgery has restored her sight – only for her to find she doesn’t want it. Jonathan Dark sees the shadowy side of the city. A DI with the Metropolitan Police, he is haunted by his failure to save a woman from the hands of a stalker. Now it seems the killer has set his sights on Maria, and is leaving her messages in the most gruesome of ways.

My review:

There are a few different storylines running throughout this unusual novel. There is Maria, she was born blind and had recently had an operation to enable her to see. However she was much happier blind and wears a blindfold. Her life is at risk from a stalker. Then there is a case that appears to be connected to the Underworld, individuals have to be prepared to do their worst to be successful in business. And then there is the ghostly element, that for me was the most fascinating part. It took me a while to work out everything that was happening but there was a big surprise ( shock) that connected all three storylines.
Jonathan Dark, the lead detective is similar to other detectives that feature in other novels where their personal life is a bit of a mess. However, there is one thing about him though that makes him different to the rest.
Part of me understood the frustration that the police felt towards Maria for insisting on staying blindfolded but I also understood that she felt safer with what she knew. I never correctly solved any of the cases, there were some very clever twists. The most intriguing character for me was the cabbie, I could read a novel just about her and her passengers. I hope that if there are future Jonathan Dark novels she features in them.
Highly recommended if you fancy a crime novel that is a little different.

Viral by Helen Fitzgerald

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So far, twenty-three thousand and ninety six people have seen me online. They include my mother, my father, my little sister, my grandmother, my other grandmother, my grandfather, my boss, my sixth year Biology teacher and my boyfriend James.
When Leah and her adopted sister Su go on holiday together to Magaluf to celebrate their A-levels, only Leah returns home. Her successful, swotty sister remains abroad, humiliated and afraid: there is an online video of her, drunkenly performing a sex act in a nightclub. And everyone has seen it.

Ruth Oliphant Brotheridge,mother of the girls, successful court judge, is furious. How could this have happened? How can she bring justice to these men who took advantage of her dutiful, virginal daughter? What role has Leah played in all this? And can Ruth find Su and bring her back home when Su doesn’t want to be found?

My thoughts:
I first became aware of Viral when the opening line went ‘viral’ on social media. Reminiscent of headlines in the UK press a few years ago it tells a tale of how an all girls holiday to Magaluf was ruined by alcohol and drugs. And other people.
Su had never wanted to go on the holiday but was forced into it. She was the sensible one who would be able to make Leah behave. She gave in hoping that that the holiday would help repair the relationship, they had been very close when they were younger but now she felt that Leah resented her. At first she quite enjoyed it, amazed by the length of time it took to get ready for the pool and getting to know Leah’s friends.
Su’s life changed completely after the video was released on the Internet. She went into hiding and tried to accept what has happened and the consequences on her life. She decided to try and make contact with her birth mother, something she had thought about doing before. Meanwhile Leah was trying to repair the damage and find her, along with their monster of a mother Ruth.
Whilst I liked and a had a lot of sympathy for Su, I found Leah easier to like. I loved her humour and the way that she handled Ruth, a woman it is impossible to say anything nice about.
I found it to be quite a refreshing read. It was sad at times but there was also humour. It’s a horrifying storyline, but it felt very real. It’s one that seems to rear its ugly head every summer, watching how a handful of teenagers behave on holiday and it ends up being headline news.