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Blog Tours book reviews

Blog Tour: One Last Time by Helga Flatland

Published: June 24th, 2021
Publisher: Orenda Books
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Translated Fiction
Format: Paperback, Kindle, Audiobook

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this beautiful novel. Thank you to Anne at Random Things for the invitation to take part and Karen at Orenda for the gifted eBook ARC.

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SYNOPSIS:

Anne’s diagnosis of terminal cancer shines a spotlight onto fractured relationships with her daughter and granddaughter, with surprising, heartwarming results. A moving, warmly funny novel by the Norwegian Anne Tyler.

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Anne’s life is rushing to an unexpected and untimely end. But her diagnosis of terminal cancer isn’t just a shock for her and for her daughter Sigrid and granddaughter Mia it shines a spotlight onto their fractured and uncomfortable relationships.

On a spur-of-the moment trip to France the three generations of women reveal harboured secrets, long-held frustrations and suppressed desires, and learn humbling and heart-warming lessons about how life should be lived when death is so close.

With all of Helga Flatland’s trademark humour, razor-sharp wit and deep empathy, One Last Time examines the great dramas that can be found in ordinary lives, asks the questions that matter to us all and ultimately celebrates the resilience of the human spirit, in an exquisite, enchantingly beautiful novel that urges us to treasure and rethink … everything.

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MY REVIEW:

Beautiful, moving and heartfelt, One Last Time is a portrait of an ordinary family, their fractured relationships and terminal illness. 

This was my first foray into Helga Flatland’s books and, as when I pick up any Orenda publication, I had high hopes. I was rewarded with a stylish and atmospheric novel full of heart, warmth and humour. 

The characters are achingly real and draw you in, making you care about them and their splintered relationships. They could be any family. Your family even. That familiarity makes it all the more potent when you read as their lives are turned upside down after Anne’s diagnosis. You can feel Anne’s struggle as she grapples with being sick for the first time in her life, her frustration as her health declines, and her pain as she comes face to face with her own mortality. We see the complexities that can exist in familial relationships, both sides of the story being shown as both Anne and Sigrid tell their story and recollect their difficult past. The author never takes sides, giving voice to both women’s pain, frustration and regret. 

It takes skill to make a book centered around terminal illness something beautiful, elegant and funny, but Flatland pulls it off with aplomb. She avoids it feeling morose, instead making the story poignant and emotionally resonant. One Last Time is a truly absorbing and thought-provoking novel that I highly recommend.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

Helga Flatland is one of Norway’s most awarded and widely read authors. Born in Telemark, Norway, in 1984, she made her literary debut in 2010 with the novel Stay If You Can, Leave If You Must, for which she was awarded the Tarjei Vesaas’ First Book Prize. She has written four novels and a children’s book and has won several other literary awards. Her fifth novel, A Modern Family, was published to wide acclaim in Norway in August 2017, and was a number-one bestseller. The rights have subsequently been sold across Europe and the novel has sold more than 100,000 copies. A Modern Family marked Helga’s first English publication when it was released in 2019, achieving exceptional critical acclaim and sales, and leading to Helga being dubbed the ‘Norwegian Anne Tyler’. One Last Time is her second book to be translated into English (by Rosie Hedger), and published in 2021.

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Please check out the reviews from other bloggers taking part in the tour.

Thanks for reading Bibliophiles😊 Emma xxx

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Emma's Anticipated Treasures First Lines Friday

First Lines Friday: The Mad Women’s Ball by Victoria Mas

3 March 1885

Louise. It is time.’
With one hand, Genevieve pulls back the blanket that hides the sleeping figure of the girl. Curled up in a foetal position on the narrow mattress, her mass of thick, dark hair covers the pillow and part of her face. Lips parted, Louise is snoring softly. She cannot hear the other women, who are already awake and bustling about the dormitory. Between the rows of iron bedsteads, the women stretch, pin the hair up into chignons, button their ebony gowns over their translucent nightshifts, then trudge wearily towards the refectory under the watchful eye of the nurses. Timorous rays of sunshine steal through the misted windows.

Today’s first lines are taken from The Mad Women’s Ball by Victoria Mas, a bestseller in France which is published in the UK by Doubleday on June 17th. As soon as I saw the stunning cover and read the synopsis I knew this was a book for me. Thank you to Doubleday for sending me a copy to review.

SYNOPSIS:

‘Enter the danse of this little masterpiece and let yourself be dazzled. Assured of hitting the bestseller lists’ The Parisian; ‘Essential reading’ Cosmopolitan ‘A lovely, moving first novel, a cri de Coeur against the condition of women in this world’ Marie France

The Salpêtrière asylum,1885. All of Paris is in thrall to Doctor Charcot and his displays of hypnotism on women who have been deemed mad or hysterical, outcasts from society. But the truth is much more complicated – for these women are often simply inconvenient, unwanted wives or strong-willed daughters. Once a year a grand ball is held at the hospital. For the Parisian elite, the Mad Women’s Ball is the highlight of the social season; for the women themselves, it is a rare moment of hope.
Geneviève is a senior nurse. After the childhood death of her sister, she has shunned religion and placed her faith in Doctor Charcot and his new science. But everything begins to change when she meets Eugénie, the 19-year-old daughter of a bourgeois family. Because Eugénie has a secret, and she needs Genevieve’s help. Their fates will collide on the night of the Mad Women’s Ball…

You can pre-order the book here*

Happy reading Bibliophiles. Until next time, Emma xx

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Blog Tours book reviews

Betrayal by Lilja Sigurdardottir

Published: October 1st, 2020
Publisher: Orenda
Format: Paperback, Kindle
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime Fiction, Psychological Fiction, Political Fiction, Lesbian Literature, Translated Fiction

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this outstanding piece of Icelandic Noir. Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part in and Orenda for the eBook ARC.

SYNOPSIS:

When aid worker Úrsula returns to Iceland for a new job, she’s drawn into the dangerous worlds of politics, corruption and misogyny … a powerful, relevant, fast-paced standalone thriller.
 
Burned out and traumatised by her horrifying experiences around the world, aid worker Úrsula has returned to Iceland. Unable to settle, she accepts a high-profile government role in which she hopes to make a difference again.
 
But on her first day in the post, Úrsula promises to help a mother seeking justice for her daughter, who had been raped by a policeman, and life in high office soon becomes much more harrowing than Úrsula could ever have imagined. A homeless man is stalking her – but is he hounding her, or warning her of some danger? And why has the death of her father in police custody so many years earlier reared its head again?
 
As Úrsula is drawn into dirty politics, facing increasingly deadly threats, the lives of her stalker, her bodyguard and even a witch-like cleaning lady intertwine. Small betrayals become large ones, and the stakes are raised ever higher…

MY REVIEW:

Oops, they did it again. With this exciting new thriller Orenda once again prove they only publish the best and most original fiction. This is why they’re one of my top publishers and I’m always eager to read an Orenda book.

Ursula, a former aid worker, has returned to her native Iceland after being traumatised and burned out by the horrors she has seen. When she starts a new job as a minister, she hopes it will finally help her to find her place at home and that she’ll be able to continue to help others without having to leave her family or experience further trauma.

On her first day she promises to help a mother who begs for her help in getting justice for her daughter, saying the fifteen-year-old was raped by a police officer the year before but the investigation has stalled. But she finds she’s met with resistance at every turn and can’t help but wonder if there is something more going on. Why does no one seem to want to investigate the accusations? And is Ursula’s sense that she’s a pawn in a game that she’s not privy to just her imagination, or really happening?

This gripping thriller was a roller-coaster ride, full of so many twists and turns I got book whiplash. I loved the short, sharply written chapters, multiple points of view and the intricate, tangled web the author wove. I was on the edge of my seat from beginning to end. But every time I thought I’d untangled the clues the story would take another turn and I’d have to try and figure it out all over again.

Though this was an easy and quick read for me, it is far from an easy plot. Complex and richly drawn, our protagonists must navigate the sexist halls of politics while trying to figure out what game they are playing, dealing with threatening messages, and being stalked by a homeless man who says he knows her and claims to be trying to warn her of some danger only he can see. It’s unclear how it all fits together, but I loved how the author slowly unveiled the truth, taking the reader on a journey that examines topics such as the dark side of politics, misogyny, police corruption, mental health and betrayal.

Like the story, the characters are all well written and readable, but it is Ursula who is the star of this story. She’s a strong, determined and fiesty who is also flawed. Over the course of the book we follow her journey to accept and come to terms with some of those flaws, including PTSD from her time doing charity work and the deep, dark trauma from her childhood: her father’s murder. She is a gutsy and fascinating character who I loved reading, even if I didn’t always agree with her actions.

Atmospheric, harrowing and very real, Betrayal is an immersive page-turner. This is Icelandic Noir at its best. I highly recommend this book to any thriller lover and can’t wait to read more by this talented author.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Lilja Sigurðardóttir is an Icelandic crime-writer born in 1972. She is the author of novels, stage plays and screenplays.

Her novels have been published in Norwegian, Danish, Czech, Macedonian, Polish, French and English and film rights to the Reykjavík Noir Trilogy (Snare, Trap and Cage) have been sold to Palomar Pictures.

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Blog Tours book reviews

To Cook A Bear by Mikael Niemi

Published: September 3rd, 2020
Publisher: MacLehose Press
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Translated Fiction

I’m delighted to be sharing my review today as part of the blog tour. Thank you to Corinna at MacLehose for the invitation to take part and for the gifted copy of the book.

SYNOPSIS:

The legendary Læstadius becomes a kind of Sherlock Holmes in this exceptional historical crime novel.

It is 1852, and in Sweden’s far north, deep in the Arctic Circle, charismatic preacher and Revivalist Lars Levi Læstadius impassions a poverty-stricken congregation with visions of salvation. But local leaders have reason to resist a shift to temperance over alcohol.

Jussi, the young Sami boy Læstadius has rescued from destitution and abuse, becomes the preacher’s faithful disciple on long botanical treks to explore the flora and fauna. Læstadius also teaches him to read and write – and to love and fear God.

When a milkmaid goes missing deep in the forest, the locals suspect a predatory bear is at large. A second girl is attacked, and the sheriff is quick to offer a reward for the bear’s capture. Using early forensics and daguerreotype, Læstadius and Jussi find clues that point to a far worse killer on the loose, even as they are unaware of the evil closing in around them.

To Cook a Bear explores how communities turn inwards, how superstition can turn to violence, and how the power of language can be transformative in a richly fascinating mystery.

MY REVIEW:

“A man of violence walks free. A killer bear in human form.”

This English translation of a Swedish mystery is like no other mystery I’ve read before. Set in Sweden in 1852, it follows Jussi, a runaway Sami boy who has been taken in by the revivalist preacher, Laestadius, and his family.

When a young woman goes missing and is later found dead, it appears that a killer bear is at large and a reward is offered for its capture. But Laestadius sees clues that point to a much more sinister suspect. So, with Jussi assisting him, he begins his own investigation.

But when another young woman is taken and it seems they have identified their killer, the pair find themselves in danger. For this is a killer who will do whatever it takes to remain hidden.

“People are greatly in fear of the devil. Especially when he comes in the guise of a wolf or a snake. But he is far more dangerous in human form. And most dangerous of all in the form of an angel. For when Satan himself transforms into an angel of light, it is hard to escape him.”

A sweeping Swedish historical fiction, based in fact, with elements of mystery and Scandi-noir, this is a beautifully written novel. It is a little strange at times, and took me a little while to get into, but I loved the richly drawn world the author brings to life, transporting you back to 1850s Sweden. It is a time I knew nothing about and I enjoyed learning more about that era. And just because it’s beautifully written, don’t think that means it doesn’t touch on more brutal aspects— it is a historical murder mystery after all. There were some gruesome scenes, including one involving the bear mentioned in the title that I’ll not soon forget. I also enjoyed historical elements such as the beginnings of forensics that Laestadius uses in his investigations. But, for me, it was the characters that I found most fascinating and compelling.

“By itself, each letter was frail. But when the pastor taught the young Sami boy to place them next to one another, something happened. It was like lighting a fire ; one single piece of wood was of little use, but if you added another, it instantly grew hotter. The letters derived life from each other ; in the company of others they began to speak.”

Our narrator, Jussi, is a Sami boy who was found by the preacher after fleeing his abusive home. And it was his journey I was drawn to most of all. Shy, unsure and longing for acceptance, Jussi pulled on my heartstrings. I loved his journey of self-discovery and learning. His descriptions of learning to read and exploring books brought to life the wonder, joy and transformative power of words; how they open up the world to you and change your perception of life. It was a magical thing to witness him as he discovered these things. What was harder to bear were the injustices he suffered at the hands of locals, who judge him as the weird Sami boy. There was one particular point where I shed a tear for how savagely treated and despaired at the cruelty with which some treat their fellow man.

Laestadius is a diversive figure, loved and loathed in his community depending on their views on the Lutheran revival that he is spearheading. I was ambivalent towards him myself, but liked that he saw details others didn’t and persued his quest for the truth even in the face of great opposition.

To Cook A Bear is a captivating and touching story that is unlike anything you will have read before. It kept me guessing from start to finish and the with characters are ones that will stay with me.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Mikael Niemi was born in 1959 and grew up in Pajala in the northernmost part of Sweden, near the Finnish border, where he still lives. Before the publication of To Cook A Bear, his breakthrough novel was Popular Music From Vittula (2000), selling more than one million copies. It won the Swedish August Prize and has been translated into more than thirty languages. To Cook A Bear has now been sold for translation to fifteen territories.

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The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Published: January 16th, 2020
Publisher: Bitter Lemon Press
Format: Paperback, Kindle
Genre: Mystery, Psychological Thriller

Today is my stop on the blog tour for this fresh and enticing novel. Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part and to Bitter Lemon Press for the gifted copy of this book.

SYNOPSIS:

On a stormy summer day the Aosawas, owners of a prominent local hospital, host a large birthday party. The occasion turns into tragedy when 17 people die from cyanide in their drinks. The only surviving links to what might have happened are a cryptic verse that could be the killer’s, and the physician’s bewitching blind daughter, Hisako, the only person spared injury. But the youth who emerges as the prime suspect commits suicide that October, effectively sealing his guilt while consigning his motives to mystery.

The police are convinced that Hisako had a role in the crime, as are many in the town, including the author of a bestselling book about the murders written a decade after the incident, who was herself a childhood friend of Hisako and witness to the discovery of the murders. The truth is revealed through a skillful juggling of testimony by different voices: family members, witnesses and neighbours, police investigators and of course the mesmerising Hisako herself.

The Aosawa Murders takes the classic elements of the mystery genre but steers away from putting them together in the usual way, instead providing a multi-voiced insight into the psychology of contemporary Japan, with its rituals, pervasive envy and ever so polite hypocrisy. But it’s also about the nature of evil and the resonance and unreliability of memory.

Part Kurasawa’s Rashomon, part Capote’s In Cold Blood.

MY REVIEW:

On a stormy summer’s day in 1973 the house of the prominent Aosawa family is buzzing with auspicious birthday celebrations of three generations. Friends and family fill the rooms and local residents are coming and going throughout the day. But before the day is over the house becomes a grotesque crime scene – bodies contorted into strange positions and the stench of vomit and excrement permeating the air after seventeen people are poisoned by suicide. But the police have no real clues and the two survivors aren’t of much help: the housekeeper is unconscious and Hisako, the only surviving member of the Aosawa family, is blind. 

The Aosawa Murders is an exploration of the seemingly motiveless crime, the impact it had on those who survived and the local community. It also delves into the impact of a bestselling book that was written by one of the witnesses a decade later, and tries to finally get to the truth of what happened that dreadful day. 

The complex story is told over three decades using various styles and literary devices, each chapter told by a different witness in a very different and distinctive voice. The interviews in particular add to the mysterious atmosphere as we only ever read the responses. This singular novel is written like a work of non-fiction and reads so authentically that I had to keep reminding myself that I was reading fiction rather than a true crime novel.  

Though there are an array of characters in the book the primary focus is on two female characters: Hisako Aosawa, the twelve year old who was the only surviving family member, and Makiko Saiga, her friend and later the author of the book about the murders. Rumours have always swirled around Hisako as she was the only person in the house that didn’t take a sip of poison, even after a mentally ill young man committed suicide and left behind a confession and evidence that he committed the crime. Both women are enigmatic characters that stay away from the limelight and have left lasting impressions as a result of the crime that are examined throughout the book. 

The Aosawa Murders is a unique, fascinating and riveting novel. The author’s hypnotic imagery and prose made it impossible to put down, even managing to add an element of beauty in the grim, heart-rending torture of the victim’s final moments. Nothing is black and white, but full of shades of grey, the author keeping things ambiguous and cryptic so the reader is always questioning the truth and unsure what to think. Part of the brilliance of this book was that I never managed to quite make up my mind about what had really happened and am still questioning the truth about that fateful day. 

I would highly recommend this book, especially if you enjoy true crime novels such as In Cold Blood. It is the author’s first book to be translated into English and I’m hoping her others are translated soon so I can see if they’re as addictive as this one. 

Riku Onda Author Pic

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Riku Onda, born in 1964, is the professional name of Nanae Kumagai. She has been writing fiction since 1991 and has won the Yoshikawa Eiji Prize for New Writers, the Japan Booksellers’ Award, the Mystery Writers of Japan Award for Best Novel for The Aosawa Murders, the Yamamoto Shūgorō Prize, and the Naoki Prize. Her work has been adapted for film and television. This is her first crime novel and the first time she is translated into English.

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Blog Tours book reviews

Real Life by Adeline Dieudonné ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Publisher: World Editions
Published: February 13th, 2020
Format: Paperback, Kindle
Genre: Coming-of-Age Fiction
Trigger Warning: Domestic Abuse.

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this fantastic debut novel. Thank you to Anne at Random Things tours for the invitation to take part, and World Editions for the gifted copy of the book.

SYNOPSIS:

Translated from the French by Roland Glasser.

At home there are four bedrooms: one for her, one for her little brother Sam, one for her parents, and one for the carcasses. Her father is a big-game hunter, a powerful predator, and her mother is submissive to her violent husband’s demands. The young narrator spends her day s with Sam playing in the shells of cars dumped for scrap and listening out for the melody of the ice-cream truck, until a brutal accident shatters their world.

The uncompromising pen of Adeline Dieudonné wields flashes of brilliance as she brings her characters to life in a world that is both dark and sensual. This breathtaking debut is a sharp and funny coming-of-age tale in which fantasy and reality collide.

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MY REVIEW:

“There are things you can’t accept. Otherwise you die.”

A powerful and affecting coming-of-age journey with elements of fantasy, Real Life explores the dark truths of growing up within a home laden with violence and fear, and the results of a life lived without love or guidance from those who should protect you. 

Our unnamed protagonist is a jaded young girl who lives at home with her parents and younger brother Sam, who she adores.  Their home is a malignant place, filled with the constant threat of her father’s wrath and their attempts to avoid it. She is indifferent towards her mother, who she refers to as an amoeba, seeing her as weak for living this life and not protecting or comforting her children. It is just her and Sam against the world. So when a tragic accident rips them apart and her brother becomes unreachable, a mute ‘robot’ who then slowly morphs into a sadistic young boy who seems to feel nothing unless he’s terrorising others, she feels like she’s lost everything and becomes obsessed with finding a way to go back in time and save her brother from this dark fate.

“Nothing made sense anymore. My reality had dissolved until a vertiginous void from which I saw no way out. A void so palpable I could feel its walls, its floor, and its ceiling tightening around me.”

The story takes place over five years, beginning the summer of the accident. During this time the protagonist goes from a girl of ten to a young woman of fifteen who has seen more than anyone her age should ever have to see. She’s scarred by the toxic life she’s been forced to live and the horror she witnessed that first summer, and is fighting to find a way back to when she felt happy and she and Sam were everything to each other. Along the way she discovered a talent and passion for science and is trying to both understand and hide the changes brought to her body through puberty. She slowly sees a shift in her father as he notices these changes and begins to see her as a target for his rage just like her mother, while the changes in Sam bring the pair closer together and our protagonist learns to fear her brother too. From the start of the book there are distressing scenes of domestic abuse. The fear and terror jumps from the page as they talk about having to tip-toe around him and feeling like they can only breathe when he’s not there.

There is a mythical element to the story that is provided by how the protagonist sees the change in Sam; she believes that an evil being has taken up residence inside him and that his sadistic behaviour is at its bidding. This adds a mythical element to the story as well as highlighting how young she is at the time the story starts. She truly believes she will one day succeed in travelling back in time to save her brother and it becomes her only focus. Despite my rational mind knowing this isn’t possible, I was willing her to succeed and have some much- deserved joy and happiness in her life. 

Real Life is a superb and wonderfully written debut. The punchy, offbeat prose is compelling, insightful and raw. It makes it impossible to pull yourself away. I needed to know where this was heading, if she would save Sam and what would become of her. Unflinching and uncompromising, Harrowing and heart-rending, but with an indomitable hope running through its veins, this is a story that will stay with me.

Adeline Dieudonne Author Pic

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Adeline Dieudonné was born in 1982 and lives in Brussels. A playwright and short-story writer, her first novella, Amarula, was awarded the Grand Prix of the Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles. Two further booklets were published by Editions Lamiory in 2017: Saule dans le noir and Bonobo Moussaka. Real Life was recently awarded the prestigious Prix du Roman FNAC, the Prix Rossel, the Prix Renaudot des Lycéens, and the Prix Filigrane, a French prize for a work of high literary quality with wide appeal. Dieudonné also performs as a stand-up comedian.

Ronald Glasser is an award-winning translator of French literature, based in London.

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