Waterstone’s Book of the Year

Last years winner was the stunning, The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford Smith. I have a little tradition of reading the old year out and the new one in and this was the book I choose for the ending of 2015 and the start of 2016.

This year the selection of titles up for book of the year was again picked by their booksellers and its a varied and rich selection including a script and a memoir.

The first was Harry Potter and the Cursed Child part’s 1 & 2 and is again set in J K Rawlings wizarding world. Having seen the fabulous film I need to own this book and fully intend to buy it.

The second nomination was November’s non-fiction book of the month, The Optician of Lampedusa by Emma Jane Kirby. A highly emotional read about those caught up in the Mediterranean refugee crisis. Having read the book myself, I know its a hard and very emotional read, but I feel its a book everyone should read.

A new Beatrix Potter book was the third choice. It is a fusing of Potter’s magical words with illustrations by the very talented Quentin Blake.

The fourth selection was Meetings With Remarkable Manuscripts by Christopher De Hamel. Having myself seen some of the beautiful manuscripts housed in the British Library, I’m sure this part history, memoir and travelogue will be a delight to read.

When Breath Becomes Air is Paul Kalanithi’s memoir and has long been on my to read list. I’m just not sure I am brave enough to read it!

The last book on the long list was The Essex Serpent and the winner,  is again a book on my to read list. It has come highly recommended by a few book bloggers I admire and I intend to make sure I read it. It was the only novel on the short list and contains a murder, monster and a love story. What more does a novel need? Congratulations to all those that made it onto the list and Sarah Perry for becoming the writer of Waterstone’s book of the year 2016.

New Release -The Ashes of Berlin by Luke Mccallin

9781843448327I have been very lucky to be asked help with the publicity for a fantastic new book in the Gregor Reinhardt series and will be reviewing the book soon.


From the author of The Man from Berlin,

shortlisted for the CWA Historical Dagger Award

Published in Hardback | No Exit Press

5 December 2016 | £16.99

Praise for Luke McCallin

‘One of the best historical thrillers I’ve read. Superlative.’

– CJ Carver, award-winning author of Spare me the Truth

‘Tough, gritty and atmospheric – a new Luke McCallin novel is a cause for celebration’

– William Ryan, author of The Constant Soldier

‘Ashes of Berlin is his best yet’Publishers Weekly

‘Bold, brutal, bloody and brilliant’Crime Review

‘Extraordinarily nuanced and compelling’NY Journal of Books

‘A wonderfully accomplished war-time thriller’Crime Time


World War II is over, and former German intelligence officer Captain Gregor Reinhardt has returned to Berlin. He’s about to find that the bloodshed has not ended — and that for some, death is better than defeat. 1947 and Reinhardt has been hired back onto Berlin’s civilian police force. The city is divided among the victorious allied powers, tensions are growing, and the police are riven by internal rivalries as factions within it jockey for power and influence with Berlin’s new masters. When a man is found slain in a broken-down tenement, Reinhardt embarks on a gruesome investigation. It seems a serial killer is on the loose, and matters only escalate when it’s discovered that one of the victims was the brother of a Nazi scientist. Reinhardt’s search for the truth takes him across the divided city and soon embroils him in a plot involving the Western Allies and the Soviets. And as he comes under the scrutiny of a group of Germans who want to continue the war — and faces an unwanted reminder from his own past — Reinhardt realizes that this investigation could cost him everything as he pursues a killer who believes that all wrongs must be avenged…


About the author –Luke McCallin was born in 1972 in Oxford, grew up in Africa, went to school around the world and has worked with the United Nations as a humanitarian relief worker and peacekeeper in the Caucasus, the Sahel, and the Balkans. His experiences have driven his writing, in which he explores what happens to normal people – thosestricken by conflict, by disaster – put under abnormal pressures. He lives with his wife and two children in an old farmhouse in France in the Jura Mountains. He has a MA in political science, speaks French, and can just get by in Russian. When he’s not working or writing, he enjoys reading history, playing the drums, and heading into the mountains for a run.

noexit.co.uk/ashesofberlin | @noexitpress

For interviews and for more information, please contact Francis Teehan on 01582 766348 or francesoldcastle@gmail.com

Guest review of The Offering by Grace McCleen by Linda.

I would like to welcome the lovely Linda to my book blog. Thank you for writing the review Linda.

Hello I’m Linda and I’m very grateful to Susan for allowing me to be a guest on her page. I’ve always loved books & reading since a small child! Some of my favourite writers are Paul Auster (experimental and very strange) Iris Murdoch (one of the greatest novelists of plot & dialogue ever) Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan.

I love going to the theatre too, everything from musicals and plays to more experimental fringe show

The Offering by Grace McCleen

McCleeovel tells the story of Madelaine, a woman in her early 30’s who is confined to a mental institution, and the attempts by a doctor to regress her via hypnosis to uncover the true events of a traumatic night some 20 years ago.

The narrative switches back and forth between daily life in the asylum (it is described as such by Madelaine) and her memories of her childhood while under hypnosis.  The reader only experiences the story from Madelaine’ s point of view, a very effective choice by the author as this builds the intense, interior world of her mind for the reader. 

Madelaine is an only child and lives with her parents. Her father is a lay preacher and a religious zealot, yet seemingly also an inadequate man who is unable to hold down a steady job. He is mean spirited, dictatorial and the family drift from place to place with no friends, leading a rootless existence as outcasts and misfits. Her mother is a haunting figure, a gentle, detached other-worldly woman, whom Madelaine adores. She is home schooled by her mother and has no contact with other children.

The reader inhabits Madelaine’s world completely, following the family as they move to an island (location unspecified) and attempt to fit into a rural, atheistic community. They buy a farm, and encounter a variety of endless set-backs and difficulties which begin to seem linked in a sinister way.

These descriptions of Madelaine’s childhood, recalled under hypnosis, contrast sharply with the monotonous painful existence of the current day reality in the asylum. The various inmates are vivid characters and their small triumphs and despairs within the institution were sometimes reminiscent to me of ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’.

The writer builds the suspense toward the culmination of events that lead to Madelaine being incarcerated in a very skilful way. There is a religious intensity to Madelaine’s adoration of nature, and her descriptions of her wild childlike freedom, where she roams about the countryside alone, use extraordinarily vivid language, almost reaching moments of hysteria.

The final events unfold in a shocking and heart-breaking way. This is an emotionally draining read, very compelling and intense, and in the final pages, unbearably sad. It made me question deeply how the nature of reality is such an individual experience. It made me wonder how monstrous people are made, in this case almost accidentally, and it left me with many haunting questions about the characters and reasons behind why they did what they did. Intense and powerful, this story will stay in my mind for a long time to come.

Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain by Barney Norris.

For a book to be a success it needs to speak to you or me as an individual. No one has ever been able to explain to me why one book can cause a positive reaction in one reader and yet another is left numbed with incomprehension. One theory being that a story in some way connects to a readers personal experiences so that they can relate to the characters and events. This worries me a little and makes me think I should steer clear of fans of psychological thrillers, where twisted psychopaths draw pleasure from mentally and physically torturing their victims. I am just going to assume that it is the hero or heroine of the tale they are drawn to, who is equally as driven and sometimes as flawed as those they chase, but who is determined to bring an end to suffering!

Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain is written by playwright Barney Norris, who without doubt has an assured understanding of characterisation and motivation.  In his tale he discusses the parallel of five rivers meeting, with the story of five individuals who all flowing together end up at the same point in time and then apart again, but always affected and forever changed by the event they witness.  As history and events brought Salisbury into being as a centre of civilization because of the meeting of the rivers of the title, so a shared history of some sort brought the five characters together for one climatic moment. It all sounds very dramatic! Does the book live up to this weighty notion?

It’s a beautifully written tale of five people who are all connected in some way, prior to the event or after it.  Very character driven rather than fast paced or dramatic. You get to know the characters thoughts, flaws, strengths and insecurities and how life has led them to this moment in time.  Its quite a contained tale that for me doesn’t match up tot he grand assertion of being a “deeply knowing portrait of millennium Britain!”

But that is not a comment made by the writer, its just one critics view of the book and a positive one, but it doesn’t for me describe the strengths of what is a beautifully crafted story and a very assured debut.  He draws you into the lives of his five characters and makes you care. You may see aspects of yourself in them, or people you know.  It is his innate understanding of emotion and  how life experiences shape who we are, that makes this book special.  He writes a narrative in which the characters and how they feel are more important than any dramatic event. You can tell he is a playwright and he brings those skills to a quietly spoken tale of human life in the spired city of Salisbury.

I would certainly read his next book and look forward to reading his work in the future.