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ARC Book Review: ‘Swimming In The Dark’ by Tomasz Jedrowski

Title: Swimming In The Dark

Author: Tomasz Jedrowski

Length: 256 pages

Publisher: Bloomsbury

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

This is one of my most anticipated reads of the year. I was lucky enough to be sent a finished copy and I started it that night.

Synopsis: Poland, 1980. Anxious, disillusioned Ludwik Glowacki, soon to graduate university, has been sent along with the rest of his class to agricultural camp. Here he meets Janusz, and together they spend a dreamlike summer swimming in secluded lakes, reading forbidden books – and falling in love. But with summer over, the two are sent back to Warsaw, and to the harsh realities of life under the Party. Exiled from paradise, Ludwik and Janusz must decide how they will survive, but their different choice risk tearing them apart.

I adored this book. It’s a beautiful, tender love story set against a political background, what more can you ask for?

The book starts with Ludwik in America, writing a letter to his ex-lover, reminiscing their time together, and explaining his side of the story.

When I say the love story was beautiful and tender, I mean it. It starts of with Ludwik noticing Janusz across the room, then bumping into each other by the lake, slowly getting to know each other, to then going on their own camping trip where their relationship takes the next step. Jedrowski really does capture a passionate, caring connection between the two characters and it makes for a fantastic story and love story.

I’m so glad the relationship continued as they went back to the city. This is where the political element really comes in and adds a whole new dynamic to the relationship and book. It shows how the two characters are on different sides in the political situation. Janusz wants to use the situation to his advantage and Ludwik wants to get away from it all. It almost comes down to choosing love or self-love.

With this book being written by a gay man, he perfectly captures what it’s like to be gay. With all the shame, freedom, first love, hiding relationships and the mental toll it can take. Jedrowski writes in all these subtle nuances, that give both characters such depth.

The ending of this book, and Ludwik and Janusz relationships was so beautiful yet subtle and heartbreaking. There was such beauty in its sadness. It perfectly captures the moment of not being able to say goodbye and all the things left unsaid. While it wasn’t the ending I wanted, I can’t deny it’s brilliance.

Swimming In The Dark is beautifully written, filled with poignancy and tenderness. It made me cry on page 25! Wonderful and heartbreaking, it will capture your heart. A wonderful historical fiction LGBTQ+ novel. I can’t recommend it enough. This is Tomasz Jedrowski’s debut novel and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Thanks to Bloomsbury for gifting me with a copy of this book in return for an honest, unbiased review. It’s out now in the Uk. April in US.

Until the next review

JTH

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ARC Book Review: ‘Dear Edward’ by Ann Napolitano

Title: Dear Edward

Author: Ann Napolitano

Length: 352 pages

Publisher: Viking Books

I’d heard so many wonderful things about this book, I couldn’t wait to get started.

Synopsis: One summer morning, a flight takes off from New York to Los Angeles. There are 192 passengers onboard: among them is a young woman taking a pregnancy test in the airplane toilet, a Wall Street millionaire flirting with the air hostess; an injured solider returning from Afghanistan; and two beleaguered parents moving across country with their two adolescents sons, bickering over who gets the window seat. When the plane suddenly crashes in a field in Colorado, the younger of these boys, 12-year-old Edward Adler, is the sole survivor. Dear Edward depicts Edwards life in the crash’s aftermath as he struggles to make sense of the meaning of his survival, the strangeness of his sudden fame, and find his place in the world without his family. In his new home with his aunt and uncle, the only solace comes from his friendship with the girl next door, Shay. Together Edward and Shay make a startling discovery: hidden in his uncle’s garage are stacks of letters from the relatives of other passengers, all addresses to Edward. As Edward comes of age against the backdrop of sudden tragedy, he must confront some of life’s most profound questions: how do we make the most of the time we are given? And what does it mean not to survive, but to truly live?

I absolutely adored this book. It was my last read of 2019 (I’ve saved the review for publication date) but it was the perfect way to finishing the year. It was emotional yet ultimately uplifting.

The book begins with Edward and his family queuing to go through airport security, to board a flight taking them from New York to Los Angeles. Whilst in the waiting room Edward notices other passengers waiting to bored the flight. The story then splits into Edwards life after the plane crash where he’s the only survivor and all the passengers on the plane perspectives leading up to the crash.

Edward is a fascinating main character. His story after the crash was incredibly emotional as he learns to cope with his injuries, his new life and the loss of his family. The way grief is described in this book is so heartbreaking and honest. It gave me shivers. I was desperate for Edward to be able really begin living his life again and it was beautiful to read his journey. The effect Edwards new life has on Aunt and Uncle who took him in was fascinating too. Also his friendship with Shay, the girl who lived across the street was beautiful to read. You could tell she was saving his life just by being there for him. I was wondering if it would turn into a romance, but I won’t spoil and I’ll let you read it to find out. But it was a wonderful ending.

The bit that really shone for me though was all the sections of this novel that take place on the plane leading up to the crash. You meet a variety of different character’s, I think it’s like 8. It was intriguing to see them all interacting. Oh, I’m really not doing this justice, but it’s just got a charm and a realness to it. As the plane begins to crash, and the characters all start to realise what’s happening, there’s beautiful section from Edwards mum that is absolutely heartbreaking. It was so touching. I had to stop and have a little tear, as always.

This book has obviously been well researched, as the details of the place crashing, and the pilots trying to stop is brilliant. Also to be able to get all those stories of the plane characters in the book, but not overwhelm it was great. And the complexity of Edwards characters was handled so well. Ann Napolitano is a terrific writer.

I recommend this book completely. I enjoyed it immensely. Heartbreaking yet beautiful, it was wonderful. However I’m not sure I’ll ever get in a plane again.

Thanks to Viking Books UK for gifting me with a copy of this book in return for an honest, unbiased review. It’s out February 20th.

Until the next review

JTH

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ARC Book Review: ‘The Guest List’ by Lucy Foley

Title: The Guest List

Author: Lucy Foley

Length: 384 pages

Publisher: HarperCollins

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

Synopsis: It starts with a party.On a remote island, the guest gather for the wedding of the year- the marriage of Jules Keegan and Will Slater. Old friends. Past grudges. Happy families. Hidden jealousies. Thirteen guests. One body. The wedding cake has barely been cut when one of the guests is found dead. And as storm unleashes it’s fury upon the island, everyone is trapped. All have a secret. All have a motive. It’ll end in murder.

Now, I have to be honest and say this type of genre isn’t my favourite. I don’t read them very often at all, but I devoured this one. It was so good.

I’m sure a lot of you have read ‘The Hunting Party’ by Lucy and she’s back with this new book, and I think you’ll all love this one just as much.

The story starts on the wedding night, at the reception, when all the lights go out and a scream is heard. The story then goes back to guests arriving on a small island to attend the glamorous wedding of their friend June and her tv star husband. They are all staying together in a rundown castle before the big day.

The story is told through the perspective of five characters. Normally, I don’t like this many and this book even adds more towards the end, but I really enjoyed it this novel. Each character is different and has its own story that really adds to the overall story. This led to a twist I didn’t see coming! It was nice to have so many layers to this story.

Also, with the story being set on a island, and the wedding taking place on a stormy night, it really sets up the perfect atmosphere. It’s sort of got this gothic, derelict feel to it and it was great for the story telling. Lucy really uses it to her advantage. It’s another aspect of this book that’s fantastic.

Now let’s talk about that ending. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to find out who was killed and who killed them. I’m surprised the pages didn’t start to smoke! The mystery and the tension had been built up so perfectly. I couldn’t figure it out and when it was revealed I was little disappointed. I thought it was cliched. But then BOOM, another twist happened and I was incredibly shocked! I didn’t see it coming. I was so surprised. I loved it. That’s what an excellent thriller is all about.

I hope this isn’t a spoiler, I didn’t think it is.

Lucy really has crafted the perfect thriller. It’s got interesting dynamic characters, so many layers to the book. With the story building and building till it reaches a climax that doesn’t disappoint. And Lucy does extremely well, and is clever is it’s not just a twist of the sake of it. It all made perfect sense. There was some foreshadowing that after the ending is revealed makes perfect sense. I love that.

I can’t recommend this book enough, it was thrilling. I even stayed up late to read it, mainly because I couldn’t put it down and had to know what happened, but I never stay up late. Make sure you pick up this book. Now you’ll have to excuse, I’m off to pick up a copy of ‘The Hunting Party’.

Thanks to Jen Harlow and Harper Collins UK for gifting me with a copy of this book in return for an honest, unbiased review. It’s out February 20th.

Until the next review

JTH

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ARC Book Review: ‘Kingdomtide’ by Rye Curtis

Title: Kingdomtide

Author: Rye Curtis

Length: 336 pages

Publisher: 4th Estate Books

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of this from 4th Estate Books and I couldn’t wait to get started.

Synopsis: When seventy-two-year old Cloris Waldrip finds herself lost and alone in the unforgiving wildness of the Montana mountains, with only a bible, a sturdy pair of boots, and a couple of candies to keep her alive, it seems her chances of ever getting home to Texas are slim. Debra Lewis, a park ranger, who is drinking her way out of a messy divorce is the only one who believes the old lady may still be alive. Galvanised by her newfound mission to find her, Lewis leads a motley group of rescuers to follow the trail of clues Cloris has left behind. But as days stretch into weeks, and Clovis’s situation grows ever more precarious, help arrives from the unlikeliest of places, causing her to question all the certainties on which she has built her life.

There’s a part of me that thinks this book got off to a little bit of a slow start, but I think actually at the beginning I was just more into Cloris’a story than Ranger Lewis’s but it didn’t stay that way for long. I was soon loving both of the characters stories.

This book had fantastic characters. Cloris was so likeable and accessible. Full of heart. I loved that she was looking back on her time lost in the wilderness, it gave her such a great perspective. Like I said, I wasn’t that into Ranger Lewis’s chapters at first because she simply wasn’t likeable, but I really think that was intentional from the author and as the book progressed she opened up and became a great character also.

When I started this book, I thought I knew what the plot was going to be, everyone gives up on finding the survivor of the crash and only one person carries on and eventually finds her. But I can happily say I was wrong. This book takes it further and it works. A masked man helps Cloris survive in the woods. It’s sounds crazy right? But trust me it works!

This whole novel really was building towards its ending and it didn’t disappoint. Cloris and her rescuers friendship was something special, it had such a tenderness to it, yet when you find out something about him, it makes you question the whole thing. It was fantastic. It was the highlight of the book for me. I didn’t expect Ranger Lewis’s ending either, it was the total opposite of what I thought was going to happen.

The writing in this book was sharp, brutal and, intense (you can really see this in Ranger Lewis’s personality) and as the plot begins to open and grow, so does the writing. It’s got a real beauty and honesty to it.

Also, sometimes during books certain sentences or passages that really hit me in the feels, they speak to your heart and these always, always make me cry instantly and ‘Kingdomtide’ had one. ‘Perhaps we are all our own lonely bedrooms’. This is so beautiful and poignant. I wept as soon as I read it.

I highly recommend this book. It’s a sharp, intense book that’s full of heart. I read this book at the beginning of January and I still think about it now. I loved it, it’s a book I don’t think I’ll forget anytime soon. It’s out February 6th.

Thank you to 4th Estate Books for gifting me with a copy of this book in return for an honest, unbiased review.

Until the next review

JTH

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ARC Book Review: ‘We Steal The Stars’ by Alexa Donne

Title: We Steal The Stars

Author: Alexa Doone

Length 379 pages

Publisher: Titan Books

⭐️⭐️⭐️

I was thrilled to be sent this book. Look how gorgeous that cover is! I couldn’t wait to start it.

Synopsis: Engagement season is in the air, Eighteen-year-old Princess Leonie “Leo” Kolburg, heir time a faded European spaceship, has only one thing on her mind: which lucky bachelor can save her family from finical ruin? But when Leo’s childhood friend and first love, Elliot, returns as the captain of a successful whiskey ship, everything changes. Elliot was the one who got away, the boy Leo’s family deemed to be unsuitable for marriage. Now he’s the biggest catch of the season and he seems determined to make Leo’s life miserable. But old habits die hard, and as Leo navigates the glittering balls of the Valg Season, she finds herself falling for her first love in a game of love, lies and past regrets.

In ‘The Stars We Steal’ we follow Princess Leonie ‘Leo’ as she enters the Valg Season, where she’s trying to find love to save her family from finically failing, whilst also not giving up on her first love and her own idea that could save her family. Doesn’t this sound like a good YA Book?

I liked this book. I did. I love the idea of the fading royals, and it being set in space but I just needed a bit more from this book.

‘The Stars We Steal’ was very predictable. You knew what was going to happen as soon as the book started. I feel like it tried to have a few plot twists to keep it interesting, but for me they didn’t really work. They weren’t surprising and I can’t even say they added anything to the story.

I have to say that none of the characters particularly stood out for me. I didn’t feel any attachment to them. The love story between Leo and Elliot was predictable, which isn’t always a bad thing when it comes to a romance if it feels passionate and true. For me, this one didn’t. It felt contrived and I didn’t even feel a connection between the two.

As I said before, I loved the idea of the fading royals and it being set in space, but neither aspect was really mentioned in detail. I would’ve loved to have known more. It such an original idea, that somehow ended up lacking originality. The ending also felt a bit rushed, it just suddenly reached a conclusion without much depth. In fact, this whole book needed more depth. Everything from the setting, characters, love story needed to be more fleshed out.

There were some positives to this book, I liked its inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters. And it was a quick read, it didn’t take me very long at all.

You know, I don’t think this story was for me. But I’m sure lots of you will love this book.

Thank you to Titan Books for gifting me with a copy of this book in return for an honest, unbiased review. It’s out February 4th.

Until the next review

JTH

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Interview with Marina Kemp author of ‘Nightingale’- Part 2

This is my first Author little Q+A and I am very excited and weirdly a tad nervous. First of all, I have to say a massive thank you to Marina Kemp for agreeing to take part in this. It’s been a fantastic experience for me and she’s been so kind. I really appreciate it.

I was lucky enough to get given a copy of ‘Nightingale’ when I attended the 4th Estate Live event in November (you can read all about that here). I got to listen to Marina talk about her debut novel, and it just made me want to read it even more.

‘Nightingale’ was my first 5⭐️ read of 2020, well I guess technically the new decade (you can check out that review here). I had a lot of questions to ask Marina, but I narrowed it down to 10 and the answers she’s given are brilliant. We talk about the novel, her next book and some advice for writers.

I hope you enjoy it.

1) Where did the inspiration come from for this book?

I wrote a short story when I was seventeen or eighteen, a relatively simple story about a young woman living with and nursing a cruel old man. I lost the story – it got stuck on a laptop that broke down and I never had fixed, and it may well have been very bad, anyway – but something about that premise, the central relationship between the young nurse and old man, never left me. When I was twenty-nine I tried to write the story again, but with over a decade of life in between it came out as something a) much longer and b) very different, with very different concerns and emphasises.

2) Why did you choose to set it in France? In this small town?

I wrote that original short story in France, in a small village much like Saint-Sulpice where my mother lives a large part of the year. When I came to rewrite the story, it never occurred to me to set it anywhere else. The remoteness of the setting but also its smallness turned out to be instrumental to many elements of the story: the isolation and the silence as well as the claustrophobia, gossip and watchfulness.

3) Did the characters story change as you wrote?

Absolutely. When I started writing, I didn’t know why Marguerite was running from – only that she was running. Similarly, Henri was in hiding from something in himself but at first I wasn’t sure exactly what that was. Their personal histories emerged with gathering clarity as the story progressed.

4) Henri’s character is so complex, can you tell me how you managed to get into that headspace as you wrote Henri’s character?

I love hearing you say that, because in many ways Henri was the character I felt closest to when I was writing the novel. His life is very different from my own, but I think his struggles are universal. He strives to live with nobility, and is crushed by shame in his own perceived failure to do so.

5) The relationship between Marguerite and Jereome was so sincere, can you talk about that? Was it always going to be Nurse and Patient?

Yes, it always was. There can be such gentleness, intimacy and tenderness in a relationship of care – but there can also be cruelty and discomfort in both directions because of the inherent imbalance of power. The balance is disorientating and painful for a once-powerful man like Jerome. I wanted their relationship to unfold in a way that was true to their characters; it became clear to me that very early on that it couldn’t be straightforwardly redemptive.

6) Death is obviously a big theme throughout the novel, why is that? Was it a deliberate choice or as the characters developed did it happen?

Because of Jerome’s age and illness death, casts a shadow over the novel from the outset. But that’s true of all life – it always exists hand in hand with death, something that Marguerite learns at an early age. As the novel unfolded I was particularly interested in the choices we make around death – particularly because death itself is seldom a choice.

7) What was your writing process like? Especially for your debut?

I’m not much good at achieving balance in my writing, or trying to fit it round work and other priorities. I write best when I can take a whole week or month away from everything else and immerse myself in it completely. The most important thing for me when writing Nightingale was walking. I went on long, meandering walks and they ended up being a crucial time for everything to percolate.

8) Do you have any advice for other writers?

General writing advice is so hard because everyone’s writing practice is so different. But I think the main thing would be: find a central premise or relationship you find sufficiently compelling that it will sustain you, and go from there.

9) Any plans for book two?

Yes – I am writing a second novel at the moment. It’s been hard to find opportunities for total immersion, particularly now I’m a parent, but I’m getting there.

10) What’s your favourite book?

I studied Classics at University, and the work I always come back to when I want to feel totally literary awe is the Iliad. It’s the most powerful recollection I can think of on what it means to be human and mortal, but it’s also a brilliant piece of storytelling.

Marina Kemp was born in London, where she lives now with her husband and daughter. She studied Classics at Oxford University, and Creative Writing at Goldsmiths. Nightingale is her first novel.

So that’s it. That’s the Q+A. Again, a huge thank you to Marina for taking part, I really appreciate it. I only wish I’d been brave enough to ask her to sign my copy of ‘Nightingale’ at the event.

I hope you all enjoyed this and I hope I get to do it again. Thanks for reading.

Until the next review

JTH

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ARC Book Review: ‘Nightingale’ by Marina Kemp Part 1

Title: Nightingale

Author: Marina Kemp

Length: 432 pages

Publisher: 4th Estate

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I was lucky enough to receive a copy of this book at the 4th Estate Live event, with a beautiful cover and an intriguing synopsis, I couldn’t wait to read it.

Synopsis: Marguerite Demers is twenty-four when she leaves Paris for the sleepy southern village of Saint-Sulpice, to take up a job as a live-in nurse. Her charge is Jerome Lanvier , once one of the most powerful men in the village and now dying alone in his large and secluded house, surrounded by rambling gardens. Manipulative and tyrannical, Jerome has scared away all his previous nurses. It’s not long before the villagers have formed opinions of Marguerite. Brigitte Brochon, pillar of the community and local busybody, finds her arrogant and mysterious and is desperate to find a reason to have her fired. Glamorous outsider Suki Lacourse see Marguerite as an ally in a sea of small-minded provincialism. Local farmer Henri Brochon, husband of Brigitte, feels concern for her and wants to protect her from the villagers’ intrusive gossip and speculation- but Henri has a secret of his own that would intrigue and disturb his neighbours just as much as the truth about Marguerite, if only they knew…

‘Marguerite’ is my first 5 star read of the year. I absolutely loved this book. It was the perfect book to loose yourself in, it was full of great characters, beautiful descriptions and such intrigue.

The story begins with Marguerite arriving at the house to begin her new job, working for Jerome. She goes onto meet the villagers, one of them being Henri and the two characters intertwine.

What really shines for me in this book is it’s characters. Marguerite is a character, full of secrets and sadness and she’s a great character to follow. Then there’s Henri, I can honestly say he has become one of my favourite characters. One of the best I’ve read in a long time. Kemp manages to perfectly execute Henri’s confusion and shame over his true self, yet still he’s likeable and an anchor in the book. My heart just broke for him. He’s honestly one of the best and most complex characters I’ve read in a long time.

While being full of great characters, the supporting ones are just as brilliant. It’s also full of such dynamic relationships. This is going to be hard to talk about without giving any spoilers, but the connection Henri and Marguerite form is so surprising and yet makes total sense. Marguerite and Jerome’s relationship becomes so organic and sincere, it’s truly a pleasure to read. The nurse/patient relationship is brilliantly done, with them going on to gain respect for each other is wonderful to read.

This is novel is so full of intrigue, I was desperate to find out why Marguerite had moved to this small, rural town. I loved reading about what led her to Saint-Sulpice and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. The ending did not disappoint, though it definitely left me wanting more and that’s the sign of a great book.

It’s hard to believe this is Marina Kemps debut novel. This book is beautifully written, with Kemp creating a perfect atmosphere for the story to be set in. It’s got a fantastic plot filled with love, death, prejudice and sorrow. The whole novel is rich and lush. A real treat for any reader to read.

I can’t recommend this book enough. Thank you to 4th Estate Books for gifting me with a copy of this book in return for an honest, unbiased review. It’s out February 6th.

Also, this part 1 of 2 of these blog posts. I have a little Q+A coming up with the Author Marina Kemp, where she talks more about this novel, it’s characters and her writing process. So make sure you check that out.

Until the next review

JTH