TWO EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE. A LOVE THAT DRAWS THEM TOGETHER. A LOSS THAT THREATENS TO TEAR THEM APART.
On a summer’s day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home?
Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that one of the children will not survive the week.
Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. It is also the story of a kestrel and its mistress; flea that boards a ship in Alexandria; and a glovemaker’s son who flouts convention in pursuit of the woman he loves. Above all, it is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.
With thanks to the publisher for the copy received. I have been interested in reading this book for a few months so was thrilled to be asked to support its publication. I am aware of the play, Hamlet, but don’t know what it is about or that it was named after his son who died when he was a child. I have however, visited Stratford Upon Avon a few times and know the streets and the houses that are connected to Shakespeare.
Although the book concerns William Shakespeare and his family he isn’t named. He is known throughout as his son, her husband or their father. All of the other characters are named, even though his wife is known as Agnes not Anne. I liked the way this was done, showing that whilst he was living in London writing, there was another equally important life back in Stratford. And it was because of this life that he was able to do it instead of teaching Latin and selling gloves. And more importantly keeping him away from his father.
I adored Agnes. Her spirit, her strangely modern approach to life and her way of reading people. It is implied that she could see the future but she could also accurately see a person’s true character. Especially concerning her father in law and her stepmother, and I liked how she used that knowledge to help her family. And most of all I liked the way she ignored all who tried to ridicule or insult her. I also liked her brother Bartholomew, large and protective and wise.
I have never read anything like this before. It made me want to find out more about the plays and when I go back to Stratford I will be looking with new eyes.
From the author of the acclaimed novel The Borrowed, a very timely and propulsively plotted tale of cyberbullying and revenge, about a woman on the hunt for the truth about her sister’s death.
Chan Ho-Kei’s The Borrowed was one of the most acclaimed international crime novels of recent years, a vivid and compelling tale of power, corruption, and the law spanning five decades of the history of Hong Kong. Now he delivers Second Sister, an up-to-the-minute tale of a Darwinian digital city where everyone from tech entrepreneurs to teenagers is struggling for the top.
A schoolgirl – Siu-Man – has committed suicide, leaping from her twenty-second floor window to the pavement below. Siu-Man is an orphan and the librarian older sister who’s been raising her refuses to believe there was no foul play – nothing seemed amiss. She contacts a man known only as N. – a hacker, and an expert in cybersecurity and manipulating human behavior. But can Nga-Yee interest him sufficiently to take her case, and can she afford it if he says yes?
What follows is a cat and mouse game through the city of Hong Kong and its digital underground, especially an online gossip platform, where someone has been slandering Siu-Man. The novel is also populated by a man harassing girls on mass transit; high school kids, with their competing agendas and social dramas; a Hong Kong digital company courting an American venture capitalist; and the Triads, market women and noodle shop proprietors who frequent N.’s neighborhood of Sai Wan. In the end it all comes together to tell us who caused Siu-Man’s death and why, and to ask, in a world where online and offline dialogue has increasingly forgotten about the real people on the other end, what the proper punishment is.
When Nga-Yee left her flat at eight that morning, she had no idea her whole life would change that day.
After the nightmare of the last year, she was sure better times were ahead if they just gritted their teeth and clung on. She firmly believed that destiny was fair, and if something bad happened, something good must naturally follow. Unfortunately, the powers that be love playing cruel jokes on us.
A little after six that evening, Nga-Yee dragged her exhausted body homeward. As she walked from the shuttle bus stop, her mind busily calculated whether there was enough food in the fridge to make dinner for two. In just seven or eight years,prices had risen alarmingly while wages stayed the same. Nga-Yee could remember a pound of pork costing twenty-odd dollars, but now that barely got you half a pound.
There was probably a few ounces of pork and some spinach in the fridge, enough for a stir-fry with ginger. A dish of steamed eggs on the side would complete a simple, nutritious dinner. Her sister Siu-Man, who was eight years younger, loved steamed eggs, and Nga-Yee often served this soft, silky dish when the cupboard was almost bare—a fine meal with chopped scallions and a dash of soy sauce. Most important, it was cheap. Back when their finances were even tighter, eggs got them through many a difficult moment.
Although there was enough for that night, Nga-Yee wondered if she should try her luck at the market anyway. She didn’t like leaving the fridge completely bare, her upbringing had left her wanting a backup plan at all times. Besides, quite a few vendors dropped their prices just before closing, and she might pick up some bargains for the next day.
A police car sped past, the siren piercing Nga-Yee’s thoughts of discounted groceries. Only now did she notice the crowd at the foot of her building, Wun Wah House.
What on earth could have happened? Nga-Yee continued walking at the same pace. She wasn’t the sort of person who liked joining in the excitement, which was why many of her secondary school classmates had labeled her a loner, an introvert, a nerd. Not that this bothered her. Everyone has the right to choose how to live their lives. Trying to fit in with other people’s ideas is pure foolishness.
“Nga-Yee! Nga-Yee!” A plump, curly-haired, fiftyish woman waved frantically from among the dozen or so onlookers: Auntie Chan, their neighbor on the twenty-second floor. They knew each other to say hello, but that was about it.
Auntie Chan sprinted the short distance toward Nga-Yee, grabbed her by the arm, and dragged her toward the building. Nga-Yee couldn’t make out a word she was saying, apart from her own name, sheer terror made her voice sound like a foreign language. Nga-Yee finally began to understand when she picked out the word “sister.”
In the light of the setting sun, Nga-Yee walked through the crowd and was finally able to make out the horrifying sight.
People were huddled around a patch of concrete about a dozen yards from the main entrance. A teenage girl in a white school uniform lay there, tangled hair obscuring her face, dark red liquid puddling around her head.
Nga-Yee’s first thought was, Isn’t that someone from Siu- Man’s school?
Two seconds later she realized the still figure on the ground was Siu-Man.
Her little sister was sprawled on the cold concrete. All the family she had in the world. Instantly, everything around her turned upside down. Was this a nightmare? If only she were dreaming. Nga-Yee looked at the faces around her. She recognized them as her neighbors, but they felt like strangers.
“Nga-Yee! Nga-Yee!” Auntie Chan clutched at her arm, shaking her violently.
“ Siu-Man?” Even saying her name out loud, Nga-Yee couldn’t connect the object on the ground with her little sister.
Siu-Man ought to be at home right now, waiting for me to cook dinner.
“Move back, please.” A police officer in a neatly pressed uniform pushed through while two paramedics knelt by Siu-Man with a stretcher.
The older paramedic held his hand beneath her nose, pressed a couple of fingers to her left wrist, then lifted an eyelid and shone a penlight at her pupil. This took just a few seconds, but Nga-Yee experienced every one of these actions as a series of freeze frames.
She could no longer feel the passing of time.
Her subconscious was trying to save her from what would happen next.
The paramedic straightened and shook his head.
“Please step back, clear the way please,” said the policeman. The paramedics walked away from Siu-Man, looking somber. “Siu-Man? Siu-Man! Siu-Man!” Nga-Yee pushed Auntie Chan aside and dashed over.
“Miss!” A tall police officer moved quickly to grab her by the waist.
“Siu-Man!” Nga-Yee struggled futilely, then turned to beseech the officer, “That’s my sister. You have to save her!”
“Miss, please calm down,” said the policeman in a tone that suggested he knew his words would have no effect.
“Please save her! Medics!” Nga-Yee, all color drained from her face, turned to implore the departing ambulance crew. “Why isn’t she on your stretcher? Quick! You have to save her!”
“Miss, are you her sister? Please calm down,” said the police- man, his arm around her waist, trying to sound as sympathetic as possible.
“Siu-Man—” Nga-Yee turned back to look at the broken figure on the ground, but now two other officers were covering her with a dark green tarp. “What are you doing? Stop that! Stop that now!”
“Don’t cover her, she needs to breathe! Her heart is still beat- ing!” Nga-Yee leaned forward, her energy suddenly gone. The policeman was no longer holding her back, but propping her up. “Save her! You have to save her! I’m begging you . . . She’s my sister, my only sister . . .”
And so, on this ordinary Tuesday evening, on the empty ground in front of Wun Wah House, Lok Wah Estate, Kwun Tong District, the normally voluble neighbors fell silent. The only sound among these cold apartment buildings was the heartbro- ken weeping of an older sister, her sobs rushing like the wind into each person’s ears, filling them with a sorrow that could never be wiped away.
Bea and Dan, recently married, rent out their tiny flat to escape London for a few precious months. Driving through France they visit Bea’s dropout brother Alex at the hotel he runs in Burgundy. Disturbingly, they find him all alone and the ramshackle hotel deserted, apart from the nest of snakes in the attic.
When Alex and Bea’s parents make a surprise visit, Dan can’t understand why Bea is so appalled, or why she’s never wanted him to know them; Liv and Griff Adamson are charming, and rich. They are the richest people he has ever met. Maybe Bea’s ashamed of him, or maybe she regrets the secrets she’s been keeping.
Tragedy strikes suddenly, brutally, and in its aftermath the family is stripped back to its rotten core, and now neither Bea nor Alex can escape…
With thanks to the publisher for the copy received. The Snakes was one of those books where I was mesmerised but also horrified by the characters. There wasn’t that many, the five members of the family, the police and the lawyers were the main ones but there was only one who I had any empathy for. That character was Alex, broken and struggling with events from his childhood and addiction. Bea was one I had mixed feelings about. I had sympathy for her but I think she could have done a lot more. She let Alex down and she wasn’t honest about her family life with Dan, her husband. Most of the others made me cringe.
I found this novel difficult to put down but strangely a long time to read. I think it was because the characters were so horrible and I felt I had to absorb every description of them. I struggle to pick out one phrase but every time Griff ‘spoke’ I felt sickened. Rude, a critic and a bully doesn’t even begin to describe him.
I loved the descriptions of the setting, the dilapidated hotel in a remote French village. The peace and quiet that was tarred by the arrival of a family that could only be described as venomous as the snakes in the title. I could understand why Alex would choose to live there rather in the huge mansion with his parents.
The ending wasn’t what I expected and I have read differing opinions on it. It is one that I will be thinking about for a few days.
Alicia Berenson lived a seemingly perfect life until one day six years ago.
When she shot her husband in the head five times.
Since then she hasn’t spoken a single word.
It’s time to find out why.
With thanks to the publisher for the copy received. I had been trying to read this book for months and finally got the chance a few weeks ago. I can honestly say it was well worth the wait, and I now want to read it again. Just to see how well I was duped! The outcome of the original and well written book was one that I definitely didn’t see coming.
The novel consists of a diary written by Alicia, accounts of the consultations between her and her therapist Theo, insight into Theo’s private life and the politics in the increasingly dubious Grove establishment where Alicia spends her life. It was one of those novels where I struggled to work out how I felt about the characters. Everybody who came into contact with Alicia seemed to dislike her, but from her diary I struggled to see why. The more I read, the more inclined I was to disregard their opinions.
Theo was an enigma. Obviously deeply affected by his childhood and facing problems in his marriage I felt I only saw the real character when he opened up to Ruth. In his interactions with his work colleagues and the other patients he seemed cold, aloof and demanding. None of the staff at The Grove seemed like they really cared about their patients. All of them seemed more interested in their own standing or making sure that procedures were being adhered to by the centre manager. It was slightly unsettling at times how uncaring it seemed.
The ending was a complete shock and was very clever. Out of everything I expected to read it wasn’t this. Even better that it all worked and made sense. It will make an excellent movie.
Today, I have an extract for you but also I have three copies for an INTERNATIONAL GIVEAWAY. All you need to do is either share or like the post and I will select the winners by a random number generator on Friday 11th October.
About The Book
Aaron and Stella spend every summer at their grandparents’ house, playing on the beach in the day, and eating sushi at night. One evening, the children try some special sushi which transports them to an alternate universe The Land of the Mind, a place traditionally governed by maths and quantum physics, which is being taken over by evil and chaos.
With the many different areas in the Land of the Mind being ruled over by the Dark Lords of Intolerance, Fear, Pride, Indifference, Betrayal and Despair, the children are tasked with rescuing the Book of Understanding, which contains all the rules on how to live a good life.
Chosen because of their relationship to the Golden Ratio known as Phi (1.618), Aaron and Stella travel on a Phi-Flyer and are guided by a wise raven called Sophie (who is both a particle and a wave). The children must learn how to navigate the infinite dimensions of quantum physics to save the Land of the Mind from falling into the hands of chaos.
“In the world where you live there are four dimensions; length, height, width and time. In the Land of the Mind, however, there are also the infinite dimensions of good and evil. Until you do something bad you are in the dimension of good and the Wasabi warriors have no power over you. As soon as you do one evil deed, however, you immediately fall into the dimension of evil and they will then have full power over you. Servants of the Black Queen can appear and disappear at will. Connections exist in the mental space between the Mushi.”
Both children shook there heads in unison, causing Salmon Mushi to let out a small sigh of frustration before pulling himself together to think of a better way to explain the concept of quantum law.
“We are mentally connected to those we love,” he said, “as well as to our friends and acquaintances, and even some objects. These connections can vary in their power and their levels of activity, but an evil act will always culminate in an explosion and the destruction of positive mental connections.”
“So how do we get to this mountain?” Aaron asked, trying to focus on practical details which he felt he could master.
“You must pass through the zones of the Black Queen’s Leaders, and defeat them. Then you must climb Memory Mountain and open the doors to the cave where the Book is kept. You will travel in a phi-flyer which will be given to you by the Supreme Ruler. While inside it you will be completely protected. It will appear and disappear and move only according to the will of the Supreme Ruler.
“Before you arrive in each of the of Black Queen’s Leaders’ countries, the phi-flyer will give you the weapons and the tools you will need to be victorious. The wise raven, Sophie, will always be at your side. She is the envoy of the three main leaders and will advise you in any difficult situations you encounter.”
“A wise raven?” Aaron rolled his eyes towards his sister.
“Sophie the raven is can be both a particle and a wave, whichever way she decides at the time. She can also appear and disappear at any point in mental space.”
“How can something be a particle and a wave at the same time?” Aaron’s head was beginning to ache from the effort of concentration.
“That is another characteristic of a quantum world. I’ll give you an example. If you take a plate with two slots, place a screen behind it and fire an electron in the direction of the slots, what do you think will happen?”
“The electron will probably pass through one of the slots,” Stella answered for her brother.
“That would seem logical,” Salmon Mushi agreed, “and then you might expect an imprint of the electron, like that of the tennis ball, will appear on the screen behind the slot. But in fact that is not what will happen. A series of dark and light stripes will form on the screen behind the slot.”
“And what does that mean?” Aaron asked.
“It means that the electron behaves like a wave and will pass through both slots at the same time.”
“That’s impossible!” Both children said at once.
“It may be unimaginable to you, but it is a fact. And that is not all. If measuring devices are placed near each slot the behaviour of the electron will change. In that case it will behave like a tennis ball and pass through one slot or the other.”
“But why does that happen?” Aaron asked.
Salmon Mushi was pleased to have finally caught their attention so thoroughly. “There are many possible explanations, but no one knows the precise reason.”
“Why a raven?” Stella asked.
“You remember the first phi-flyer that I told you about and the man who survived the flood with a variety of animals?” They nodded. “Well, when the waters receded he let out a raven, because ravens are highly intelligent. Its task was to return to tell the man what had happened to the world while they were in the phi-flyer. That raven was called Sophie.