#BlogTour The Very White of Love by S.C. Worrall

It’s my pleasure to take part in the BlogTour for The Very White of Love by Simon Worrall. It is a nostalgic ode to Nancy and Martin, and of course to their love and a relationship that took place across many miles through the medium of pen and paper.

About the Author

S.C. Worrall was born in Wellington, England and spent his childhood in Eritrea, Paris an Singapore. Since 1984, he has been a full-time, freelance journalist and book author. He has written for National Geographic, GQ, The London Times and The Guardian. He has also made frequent appearances on Radio and TV, including the BBC’s From Our Own Correspondent: NPR and PBS. He speaks six languages and has lived in or visited more than 70 countries. The Very White of Love is his debut novel.

Follow @simonworrall @HQStories

Visit simonworrallauthor.com

Buy The Very White of Love

About the book

Torn apart by war, their letters mean everything…

‘My love. I am writing to you without knowing where you are but I will find you after all these long months…’

3rd September September 1938. Martin Preston is in his second year of Oxford when his world is split in two by a beautiful redhead, Nancy Whelan. A whirlwind romance blossoms in the Buckinghamshire countryside as dark clouds begin to gather in Europe.

3rd September 1939. Britain declares war on Germany. Martin is sent to the battlefields of France, but as their letters cross the channel, he tells Nancy their love will keep him safe. Then, one day, his letters stop.

3rd September 1940. It’s four months since Nancy last heard from Martin. She knows he is still alive. And she’ll do anything to find him. But what she discovers will change her life forever.

Review

This story of romance, first love and the tragedy of war is based on the correspondence between Martin Preston and Nancy Whelan. Her son found the letters and a picture of Martin after the death of his mother, and decided to tell the world about this forgotten blip in time instead of letting it fall into the deep hole of unknown stories.

Unfortunately none or not many of her letters exist, but the author has been able to give the reader a good idea what they would have looked like based on Martin’s emotional and honest letters to Nancy.

Aside from the romantic element of the story, the author also highlights the tragedy of war. In this case both World Wars, during which whole generations of young men were annihilated, and damaged both mentally and physically. Even the men lucky enough to return home were never the same again. You don’t just bury trauma like that without it leaving some kind of mark.

One of the things I think is important to note when discussing the events of both the Great War and World War 2, is the military hierarchy and how it influenced the process of decision-making and number of fatalities. In fact it is probably also the case in other war conflicts and so-called skirmishes. There is this automatic assumption that academic learning and higher socio-economic status in life equates to good leadership skills in the military hierarchy.

This meant that inexperienced, and often very young men were made officers and therefore put in charge of the lives of all men beneath them in the hierarchy. The irony of the fact these boys had lower ranking men with prior war and military experience working beneath them and giving them advice, and yet not in charge, is just tragic in every sense of the word.

Men who have no clue what the situation is on the ground are making decisions that will ultimately kill many innocent men, because they are playing games of strategy in their office. Officers not suited to their positions are leading hundreds of men into traps. Is it any wonder the majority of lower ranking soldiers speak of the same frustration when it comes to the reality of war.

Anyway I digress, although in a way it is pertinent to how Martin ended up where he was and perhaps ultimately decided his fate and that of many others. Although the information was hard to gather, put together and the exact truth will never be known, it is fair to say he was a brave man.

I believe Simon Worrall has made the best of a double-edged sword. He found a secret that determined the inner emotional stability and/or turmoil of his mother and her marriage to his father. She kept the torch burning for Martin throughout her life. Their love was romanticised in her head, especially because it was never physical, and the dreams of a wedding and children were never fulfilled.

It’s the not knowing that makes the brutally interrupted first love something she dwells on in moments of unhappiness or frustration. The trauma of not knowing the truth, and perhaps never quite believing it, stayed with her forever.

It’s a beautiful story, probably one of very many during that particular era, but this one provided the author with enough physical evidence to be able to replicate the events. Obviously he has filled in certain scenes with fictional dialogues and descriptions, but he does so with the greatest respect towards his own family and the family of Martin Preston.

It is a nostalgic ode to Nancy and Martin, and of course to their love and a relationship that took place across many miles through the medium of pen and paper.

Buy The Very White of Love at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Published by HQ 14th June 2018 Hardback  ebook  Audio

Advertisements

#BlogTour The Silent Woman by Terry Lynn Thomas

Today is my turn on the BlogTour for The Silent Woman y Terry Lynn Thomas. It is more than just a story about an innocent woman, who accidentally becomes caught up in the pre second World War games of deception, it is about all women and the daily fights they have to endure to survive.

About the Author

Terry Lynn Thomas grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, which explains her love of foggy beaches, windy dunes, and Gothic mysteries. When her husband promised to buy Terry a horse and the time to write if she moved to Mississippi with him, she jumped at the chance. Although she had written several novels and screenplays prior to 2006, after she relocated to the South she set out to write in earnest and has never looked back.

Now Terry Lynn writes the Sarah Bennett Mysteries, set on the California coast during the 1940s, which feature a misunderstood medium in love with a spy. Neptune’s Daughter is a recipient of the IndieBRAG Medallion.

She also writes the Cat Carlisle Mysteries, set in Britain during World War II. The first book in this series, The Silent Woman, was released in April 2018. When she’s not writing, you can find Terry Lynn riding her horse, walking in the woods with her dogs, or visiting old cemeteries in search of story ideas.

Follow @TLThomasBooks @HQDigitalUK

Or follow Terry Lynn Thomas on Facebook

Visit terrylynnthomas.com

Buy The Silent Woman

About the book

Would you sell your secrets?

Catherine Carlisle is trapped in a loveless marriage and the threat of World War Two is looming. She sees no way out… that is until a trusted friend asks her to switch her husband’s papers in a desperate bid to confuse the Germans.

Soon Catherine finds herself caught up in a deadly mixture of espionage and murder. Someone is selling secrets to the other side, and the evidence seems to point right at her.

Can she clear her name before it’s too late?

Review

You could say that Catherine is naive and perhaps not completely aware of the implications of her actions. She is most definitely being used by the secret government groups, who decide the outcomes and often the narrative of history. Her simple tasks as a secret courier aren’t doing any harm, it’s just a bit of fun and a way to make money.

Not that she should technically have to make money, because her husband is a rich and powerful man, but he keeps her on a tight financial leash. There you have it, the status quo of the majority of women both then and now, controlled by the sexism in society. Then the fact Catherine is deemed useless by her husband because she can’t fulfil her ‘role’ as a woman.

The story was also about the empowerment of women. I’m not sure it was intentional, but kudos to the author if it was. The message could get lost within the crime element of The Silent Woman. The moments when the women protect each other, save each other and make a stand against the sexual harassment, and sexists in general.

The Silent Woman is a combination of spy thriller, crime, women’s empowerment and emancipation. It is also about the greatest opposition women encounter, aside from men and gender inequality. When women try to undermine other women, keep them submissive and fail to protect them, it is far worse than being oppressed by the opposite gender. In a way Thomas shows us how the silent woman starts to find her own voice, and stand up for herself and others.

If you are looking for a spy infused crime set in the late 1930s, you might get more than you bargained for. You don’t just get a body and a murder mystery, you get a miniature protest and a discovery of self. Thomas delivers more than just a Foyle’s War scenario, or in this case Catherine’s War. The author delivers a dose of reality with a touch of rebellion.

Buy The Silent Woman at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

A Summer of Witches by M. Ganendran

About the Author

M. Ganendran is the author of three books; The Song of the Mermaid, The Guardians of Rainbow Tower and A Summer of Witches. She enjoys writing stories that are suitable for children and young adults, yet which could captivate anyone.

Work is in progress for a new novel to be released in 2018. Sim’s Magic Windmill will tell the story of a twelve year old girl who finds herself a reluctant heroine in a quest to save Scotland from evil forces intent on destruction. Throughout her journey, Sim must contend with her own personal struggles with Crohn’s Disease, and comes to terms with her condition.

Follow @m_ganendran

Buy A Summer of Witches

About the book

Wartime witches, ghosts and smugglers abound in this dual-time supernatural mystery story.

In the summer of 1940, twelve year olds Lawrence and Rachel are evacuated to the village of Burley in the New Forest. One night, they witness a group of people dressed in strange clothing creeping into the woods. Before long, they find themselves drawn into an adventure while the very future of their country is at stake.

In 1990, teenagers Nick and Molly uncover a diary in the attic which belonged to Molly’s grandmother who was evacuated to Burley 50 years before. The diary hints at extraordinary events but creates more questions than answers before coming to an abrupt end. As they are drawn further into danger, can Nick and Molly find out what really happened in 1940?

Review

The story is split into past and present, the reader follows Lawrence and Rachel in the 1940’s, as war refugees evacuated to the countryside, and Nick and Molly in 1990 in the same village. Nick and Molly discover her grandmother’s diary she wrote as a child evacuee. It hints at a mystery, so the two them start snooping around to discover the truth.

Lawrence and Rachel experience the trauma of being separated from their parents, friends and family members. They are thrown together due to a mix-up, but eventually learn to support and depend on each other. The constant fear of being left an orphan is balanced out by the almost mundane problems they experience in their new home and school. The village children and the evacuees are at odds with each other, and not everyone is happy about having to take strangers into their homes. The children not only have to deal with the difficulties of dealing with their peers, growing up and family secrets, they also discover their own hidden potential.

The four children find themselves drawn into a world of vengeance and witchcraft. A world of supernatural power that has been hiding in the depths of the forests waiting to make a move. A secret coven is the only thing standing between the lurking evil and a viable threat against the country. What can they do to curtail the evil that is waiting to pounce and destroy anyone in its path?

This is suitable for middle-grade, YA and of course older readers. The author wants readers of all ages to be able to read and enjoy her work. What seems like an emotional read turns into a wild adventure, the kind of exciting adventure that will thrill young minds. Wild powers, secret gatherings, mysterious forests and the fact two twelve-year-old children have to try and save the world, are what make A Summer of Witches an entertaining read.

Buy A Summer of Witches  (Kindle- also available on Kindle Unlimited) at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Buy A Summer of Witches (Paperback)

Buy The Guardians of Rainbow Tower

Buy The Song of the Mermaid

My Dear Ones: One Family and the Final Solution by Jonathan Wittenberg

my dear onesWittenberg presents the fate of his family members and friends through a series of written correspondence throughout the Nazi regime, the war and the years after WW2.

I can imagine it must have been incredibly painful and frustrating to read such loving, but often mundane letters, knowing that they were being prevented from writing the truth. Their letters were censored and towards the end more or less dictated to them by others, to give the impression they were being cared for by their captors.

At times it seems as if the author would rather accept the frivolity and pretence of the content of the letters, despite being aware of and relating the historical facts and truth. I believe this is his attempt to maintain a scholars neutrality. Never presume, and if you can, always back your facts up with evidence, which he has done in every instance. He has narrowed down the possible scenarios to the nearest provable possibility, and does not venture into what might have happened. His conclusions are based on written testimony and eyewitness reports.

The factor of the unknown is what plagued, and still plagues, the majority of the survivors and their descendants. The Nazi regime and their collaborators were meticulous record-keepers and when the time came experts at destroying said records and evidence.

You can’t erase years of well-planned mass murder. You can however change the narrative of history, which is why Holocaust deniers are so dangerous.

Wittenberg reads between the lines, as his family members have done before him, so the narrative becomes one between stark reality and wishful thinking. It is obvious that Jonathan Wittenberg has spent a lot of time searching for some wisp of memory, a physical residue or a sense of being in the locations his ancestors once walked, lived and died in.

In trying to find understanding and peace, he has also tried to find an imprint they may have made on their journey through life. Something more than just restricted handwritten letters, and although these are a priceless family heirloom, one can feel he wanted to connect with them on a more spiritual level. I feel you, I feel your pain. We are family, my blood is your blood, and we will never forget you.

Which is of course the essence of any biographical or autobiographical story about the Holocaust. To tell the world, remind the new generations of those who live on only in the memories of their loved ones, so they will be less inclined to repeat the past.

In his own way Jonathan Wittenberg, Rabbi Wittenberg has created a written testimony to keep the memories alive. To keep the truth from being extinguished, much like every inch of their existence and their lives were eradicated in an attempt to act as if they had never even existed at all.

Buy My Dear Ones at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Follow @RabbiWittenberg

Visit jonathanwittenberg.org

#BlogTour The Evacuee Christmas by Katie King

The Evacuee Christmas Blog Tour[6]

It’s my turn on the Blog-Tour for The Evacuee Christmas by Katie King and I’m delighted to be able to offer you the chance to read Chapter One of this tearjerker of a read. Enjoy! Oh, and at the bottom of this post is my review.

About the Author

Katie King is a new voice to the saga market. She lives in Kent, and has worked in publishing. She has a keen interest in twentieth-century history and was inspired by a period spent living in South East London.

Follow @KatieKingWrite @HQDigitalUK @HQstories on Twitter

Follow @KatieKingSagaAuthor on Facebook

Buy The Evacuee Christmas

About the book

Autumn 1939 and London prepares to evacuate its young. In No 5 Jubilee Street, Bermondsey, ten-year-old Connie is determined to show her parents that she’s a brave girl and can look after her twin brother, Jessie. She won’t cry, not while anyone’s watching.

In the crisp Yorkshire Dales, Connie and Jessie are billeted to a rambling vicarage. Kindly but chaotic, Reverend Braithwaite is determined to keep his London charges on the straight and narrow, but the twins soon find adventures of their own.

As autumn turns to winter, Connie’s dearest wish is that war will end and they will be home for Christmas. But this Christmas Eve there will be an unexpected arrival…

Extract – Chapter One of The Evacuee Christmas

The shadows were starting to lengthen as twins Connie and Jessie made their way back home. They felt quite grown up these days as a week earlier it had been their tenth birthday, and their mother Barbara had iced a cake and there’d been a raucous tea party at home for family and their close friends, with party games and paper hats. The party had ended in the parlour with Barbara bashing out songs on the old piano and everyone having a good old sing-song.

What a lot of fun it had been, even though by bedtime Connie felt queasy from eating too much cake, and Jessie had a sore throat the following morning from yelling out the words to ‘The Lambeth Walk’ with far too much vigour.

On the twins’ iced Victoria sponge Barbara had carefully piped Connie’s name in cerise icing with loopy lettering and delicately traced small yellow and baby-pink flowers above it. Then Barbara had thoroughly washed out her metal icing gun and got to work writing Jessie’s name below his sister’s on the lower half of the cake.

This time Barbara chose to work in boxy dark blue capitals, with a sailboat on some choppy turquoise and deep-blue waves carefully worked in contrasting-coloured icing as the decoration below his name, Jessie being very sensitive about his name and the all-too-common assumption, for people who hadn’t met him but only knew him by the name ‘Jessie’, that he was a girl.

If she cared to think about it, which she tried not to, Barbara heartily regretted that Ted had talked her into giving their only son as his Christian name the Ross family name of Jessie which, as tradition would have it, was passed down to the firstborn male in each new generation of Rosses.

It wasn’t even spelt Jesse, as it usually was if naming a boy, because – Ross family tradition again – Jessie was on the earlier birth certificates of those other Jessies and in the family Bible that lay on the sideboard in the parlour at Ted’s elder brother’s house, and so Jessie was how it had to be for all the future Ross generations to come.

Ted had told Barbara what an honour it was to be called Jessie, and Barbara, still weak from the exertions of the birth, had allowed herself to be talked into believing her husband. She must have still looked a little dubious, though, as then Ted pointed out that his own elder brother Jessie was a gruff-looking giant with huge arms and legs, and nobody had ever dared tease him about his name. It was going to be just the same for their newborn son, Ted promised.

Big Jessie (as Ted’s brother had become known since the birth of his nephew) was in charge of the maintenance of several riverboats on the River Thames, Ted working alongside him, and Big Jessie, with his massive bulk, could single-handedly fill virtually all of the kitchen hearth in his and his wife Val’s modest terraced house that backed on to the Bermondsey street where Ted and Barbara raised their children in their own, almost identical red-brick house.

Barbara could see why nobody in their right mind would mess with Big Jessie, even though those who knew him soon discovered that his bruiser looks belied his gentle nature as he was always mild of manner and slow to anger, with a surprisingly soft voice.

Sadly, it had proved to be a whole different story for young Jessie, who had turned out exactly as Barbara had suspected he would all those years ago when she lovingly gazed down at her newborn twins, with the hale and hearty Connie (named after Barbara’s mother Constance) dwarfing her more delicate-framed brother as they lay length to length with their toes almost touching and their heads away from each other in the beautifully crafted wooden crib Ted had made for the babies to sleep in.

These days, Barbara could hardly bear to see how cruelly it all played out on the grubby streets on which the Ross family lived. To say it fair broke Barbara’s heart was no exaggeration. While Connie was tall, tomboyish and could easily pass for twelve, and very possibly older, Jessie was smaller and more introverted, often looking a lot younger than he was.

Barbara hated the way Jessie would shrink away from the bigger south-east London lads when they tussled him to the ground in their rough-house games. All the boys had their faces rubbed in the dirt by the other lads at one time or another – Barbara knew and readily accepted that that was part and parcel of a child’s life in the tangle of narrow and dingy streets they knew so well – but very few people had to endure quite the punishing that Jessie did with such depressing regularity.

Connie would confront the vindictive lads on her brother’s behalf, her chin stuck out defiantly as she dared them to take her on instead. If the boys didn’t immediately back away from Jessie, she blasted in their direction an impressive slew of swear words that she’d learnt by dint of hanging around on the docks when she took Ted his lunch in the school holidays. (It was universally agreed amongst all the local boys that when Connie was in a strop, it was wisest to do what she wanted, or else it was simply asking for trouble.)

Meanwhile, as Connie berated all and sundry, Jessie would freeze with a cowed expression on his face, and look as if he wished he were anywhere else but there. Needless to say, it was with a ferocious regularity that he found himself at the mercy of these bigger, stronger rowdies.

Usually this duffing-up happened out of sight of any grown-ups and, ideally, Connie. But the times Barbara spied what was going on all she wanted to do was to run over and take Jessie in her arms to comfort him and promise him it would be all right, and then keep him close to her as she led him back inside their home at number five Jubilee Street. However, she knew that if she even once gave into this impulse, then kind and placid Jessie would never live it down, and he would remain the butt of everyone’s poor behaviour for the rest of his childhood.

Barbara loved Connie, of course, as what mother wouldn’t be proud of such a lively, proud, strong-minded daughter, with her distinctive and lustrous tawny hair, clear blue eyes and strawberry-coloured lips, and her constant stream of chatter? (Connie was well known in the Ross family for being rarely, if ever, caught short of something to say.)

Nevertheless, it was Jessie who seemed connected to the essence of Barbara’s inner being, right to the very centre of her. If Barbara felt tired or anxious, it wouldn’t be long before Jessie was at her side, shyly smiling up to comfort his mother with his warm, endearingly lopsided grin.

Barbara never really worried about Connie, who seemed pretty much to have been born with a slightly defiant jib to her chin, as if she already knew how to look after herself or how to get the best from just about any situation. But right from the start Jessie had been much slower to thrive and to walk, although he’d always been good with his sums and with reading, and he was very quick to pick up card games and puzzles.

If Barbara had to describe the twins, she would say that Connie was smart as a whip, but that Jessie was the real thinker of the family, with a curious mind underneath which still waters almost certainly ran very deep.

Unfortunately in Bermondsey during that dog-end of summer in 1939, the characteristics the other local children rated in one another were all to do with strength and cunning and stamina. For the boys, being able to run faster than the girls when playing kiss chase was A Very Good Thing. Jessie had never beaten any of the boys at running, and most of the girls could hare about faster than him too.

It was no surprise therefore, thought Barbara, that Jessie had these days to be more or less pushed out of the front door to go and play with the other children, while Connie would race to be the first of the gang outside and then she’d be amongst the last to return home in the evening.

Although only born five minutes apart, they were chalk and cheese, with Connie by far and away the best of any of the children at kiss chase, whether it be the hunting down of a likely target or the hurtling away from anyone brave enough to risk her wrath. Connie was also brilliant at two-ball, skipping, knock down ginger and hopscotch, and in fact just about any playground game anyone could suggest they play.

Jessie was better than Connie in one area – he excelled at conkers, he and Connie getting theirs from a special tree in Burgess Park that they had sworn each other to secrecy over and sealed with a blood pact, with the glossy brown conkers then being seasoned over a whole winter and spring above the kitchen range. Sadly, quite often Jessie would have to yield to bigger children who would demand with menace that his conkers be simply handed over to them, with or without the benefit of any sham game.

Ted never tried to stop Barbara being especially kind to Jessie within the privacy of their own home, provided the rest of the world had been firmly shut outside. But if – and this didn’t happen very often, as Barbara already knew what would be said – she wanted to talk to her husband about Jessie and his woes, and how difficult it was for him to make proper friends, Ted would reply that he felt differently about their son than she.

‘Barbara, love, it’s doing ’im no favours if yer try to fight ’is battles for ’im. I was little at ’is age, an’ yer jus’ look a’ me now’ – Ted was well over six foot with tightly corded muscles on his arms and torso, and Barbara never tired of running her hands over his well-sculpted body when they were tucked up in their bed at night with the curtains drawn tight and the twins asleep – ‘an’ our Jessie’ll be fine if we jus’ ’elp ’im deal with the bullies. Connie’s got the right idea, and in time ’e’ll learn from ’er too. An’ there’ll be a time when our Jessie’ll come into his own, jus’ yer see if I’m not proved correct, love.’

Barbara really hoped that her husband was right. But she doubted it was going to happen any time soon. And until then she knew that inevitably sweet and open-hearted Jessie would be enduring a pretty torrid time of it.

Review

I think there is a general misconception about the evacuations during the war, and King does go into that in the book. There seems to be this overall consensus that the majority of people or people in general were happy to accommodate complete strangers for there country. A sense of community spirit throughout the entire country, when in fact the opposite was the truth. Evacuation was forced upon both those being evacuated and those taking them in, obviously there were exceptions to the rule.

The government had been planning a mass evacuation since the early 1920s and the process, or first round of evacuations was started during 1939. This period is often referred to as the Phoney War, because the expected destruction and loss of life didn’t take place till later and not to the extent they expected. The man in charge of the evacuation, Sir John Anderson, had little foresight about the potential emotional distress and trauma the upheavals would cause, especially in the case of the evacuated children.

Many of the children ended up in the wrong place with insufficient rations and no homes to go to. The children were often lined up like cattle at a market place and people were asked to select them, hence the infamous phrase ‘I’ll take that one’ which already implies a lack of organisation.

Jesse and Connie are evacuated with their fellow school mates, the evacuation of whole schools was quite common, which meant any pre-existing problems automatically went with them. In this case the school bully, who has to deal with his own difficult issues at home, ends up on the receiving end of some of his own medicine. On a more serious note, Larry’s situation was a common fault of the operation. He ends up being neglected and mistreated, and although there is an adult to oversee and rectify the situation in this fictional scenario, that wasn’t the case for the majority of children.

The Evacuee Christmas is about family and friendship, and about sticking together and supporting each other in times of difficulty. Strangers and enemies can become friends in the direst of situations. When push comes to shove we are all capable of showing each other kindness.

Buy The Evacuee Christmas at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

#BlogTour East of Hounslow by Khurrum Rahman

east3

Today is my stop on the Blog-Tour for East of Hounslow by Khurrum Rahman. It is a contemporary novel, a sign of the times, and an attempt to understand the complex thought process of men and women who choose to view their own society and fellow humans as the enemy. Of course there is an amusing story wrapped around the more serious twist.

About the Author

Born in Karachi, Pakistan in 1975 Khurrum moved to England when he was one. He is a west London boy and now lives in Wraysbury with his wife and two children. Khurrum graduated with BSc Honours and has been working in IT for a Local Authority for over 18 years.

His keen interest in fiction initially drove him to write screenplays and write for an independent film maker. However, his true passion lies in reading crime thrillers which have inspired his current work. He has employed his unique perspective and careful study of great writers to develop a fresh voice that crackles with originality.

Follow @KhurrumRahman @HQStories

Buy East of Hounslow

About the book

East of Hounslow (HQ), is Khurrum Rahman’s debut novel, it is part one of a gripping spy thriller trilogy that centres on Javid Qasim, a happy-go-lucky small scale dope dealer in West London. When the Security Service identifies him as a potential recruit and the hardliners at his Mosque start thinking he may be useful to them his happy quiet life begins to implode. To complicate matters further, his best friend is now a Detective Inspector in the local police and, rather carelessly, Javid has also managed to lose his new BMW and £10k he owes his psychopathic drug supplier…

Review

It is gritty, witty and a breath of fresh air. It is relevant to our day and age, and the problems we face in our society. Javid is the boy next door, the last person you would suspect of planning a terror attack, and of course that is the actual problem. The reality is that the world is filled with vulnerable young men and women, who are easy to persuade and lead towards the dark side of life.

Javid Qasim accidentally falls into the role of double-agent, when he is forced to pretend to become a jihadi. If he actually had a choice in the matter he certainly wouldn’t even be entertaining the idea, but when you’re a small time drug dealer with a price on your head you just have to go with the flow, even if it means putting yourself in the middle of a dangerous situation.

Javid can either face his supplier, to whom he owes quite a lot of money and drugs, or infiltrate an terrorist cell supposedly operating out of his local mosque. Seems like a double-edged sword, which of course it is because it’s a lose-lose situation. His decision is swayed by the fact his neighbour and friend Parvez appears to be caught up in the group.

Throughout the book there is this sense of uncertainty when it comes to Javid. Will he be sucked in and enjoy the brotherhood? Is it possible that he believes the mantra of the jihadi and has finally found a way to vent his frustrations against society?

Rahman does a fantastic job of introducing readers to a basic understanding of the religious setting. It is done in an explanatory way, as opposed to a ‘come hither and partake of this field of gold’ way. I found that particular element of the story quite informative. The most important point Rahman makes is that just because Muslims pray at the local mosque and adhere to the rules of their religion, it does not mean they are also planning to wipe out every infidel they can find.

He also portrays the antipathy of the general public towards the Muslim population. Open hostility and a large helping of side-eye has become a daily occurrence. Unfortunately the terrorists, and right-wing groups, use this imbalance between the two groups to incite more hatred, recruit more members and create more chaos.

Although the topic of the plot is a serious one, Rahman still manages to evoke a sense of empathy for his characters, especially the crooked yet charming Javid. Camaraderie and friendship play a pivotal role in this contemporary novel which also has a subtle layer of humour. It’s a read you won’t want to miss.

Buy East of Hounslow at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Blog-Tour: Let Us Be True by Alex Christofi

Today I have the pleasure to host the Blog-Tour for Let Us Be True by Alex Christofi. Featuring a fantastic Q&A with Alex Christofi and my review. The answers to the Q&A are just as captivating as the novel itself. The last four questions contain some spoilers, so for anyone who hasn’t read it yet and wants to read it without any extra info I will be adding a fair warning before and after those particular questions.

About the Author

Alex Christofi was born and grew up in Dorset. After reading English at the University of Oxford, he moved to London to work in publishing. He has written a number of short pieces for theatre, and blogs about arts and culture for Prospect magazine. Glass is his first novel. His second novel, Let Us Be True, is published by Serpent’s Tail.

Follow @alex_christofi @serpentstail Visit alexchristofi.com

Buy Let Us Be True

About the book

Paris, 1958. After a chance encounter, Ralf and Elsa begin a love affair that will mark their lives. Both already bear scars from their continent’s violent upheavals. The end of the war brought Ralf to Paris, where he feels he can hide from the past. Elsa meanwhile tries to hide not just her past from Ralf, but her present too. As they fall more deeply in love they face a dilemma: can you really love someone without giving yourself away?In a Paris recovering from the Second World War but riven by protests and discontent as the old world order falls away, Ralf tries desperately to hold on to the only person he has ever felt he belongs with, while facing the prospect of a reality where love might not be enough. Deeply moving and sweeping in scope, Alex Christofi’s second novel is an unforgettable love story as well as a profoundly affecting study of the personal cost of Europe’s bloody twentieth century.

Q&A

Before we get down to business (i.e. talking about your book) I would like to ask a set of questions I call ‘Breaking the Ice.’ (readers love to get to know all about their favourite and new authors)

The last book you read? (Inquisitive bookworms would like to know) I tend to consume books like tapas, so this is actually quite hard to answer. Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis, or a selected volume of Voltaire, or Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari, or Stories of Your Life by Ted Chiang.

Books or authors who have inspired you to put pen to paper? Mikhail Bulgakov, Emmanuel Carrere, George Orwell, George Saunders, Michel Faber, David Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith, Gustave Flaubert, Joseph Roth, Albert Camus. I love writers who can fuse beauty and cleverness with social purpose.

The last book you read, which you felt left a mark (in your heart, soul, wallet…you name it) The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante. Everyone has been talking about her for years so it’s not exactly a hot tip, but that’s the honest answer.

Are you more of a movie night or series-binger kind of guy? (Combinations are possible) Movie night. There are enough hanging plot threads in my actual life – I want to be able to sit back and look at the whole story. I don’t need Scheherezade feeding me cliffhangers every night forever. It’s like asking if you’d rather have limbo or a quick death.

Which famous person (dead, alive, barely kicking) would you most like to meet? Not probably any of the people I most admire. Marcus Aurelius was objectively a top guy, but would be a terrible date – after two drinks he would leave citing moderation in all things. You’d want someone with a wicked sense of humour who knew how to live. Hunter S Thompson would probably kill me, but maybe Angela Carter or Ernest Hemingway. Or Obama. Everyone wants to meet Obama.

All of the above questions are actually a pretty elaborate pysch evaluation disguised as random questions. Have no fear here come the real ones. Let’s talk about Let Us Be True.

Where did you get the inspiration for Let Us Be True? Probably a question you have been asked before, but I am genuinely interested in the inspiration for the story of Ralf and Elsa. It’s strange, because what I have ended up with is really a character novel – one that devotes a lot of space to investigating the particular psychology of two particular people – but I first conceived it as a novel about the moment after the Second World War that is rarely written about, after the initial reconstruction efforts but before the individualistic, consumer-driven sixties was in full swing. I wanted to write about what it was like to find yourself on the very cusp of the modern era.

Why Paris? Did you pick this particular setting because you know it well or because it made sense logistically, culturally and from an historical point of view? I wanted to write about a place very like our own, but different enough that people could judge it for what it was – a bit like the way Shakespeare tore into society by setting everything in Italy. But Paris in 1958 was also a fascinating place in its own right: the Fourth Republic was collapsing; the communists were still one of the biggest parties, but there was a fascist fifth column in the police; French Resistance hero Charles de Gaulle was returned to power in a military coup and suspended the constitution; France was effectively at war with its own Muslim population; there were peaceful protests, but people were still being guillotined. Parts of Paris were already petrifying into an eerily timeless postcard city, and at the same time some of its residential neighbourhoods were ‘îlots insalubres’, dirty islands of slum housing, where no one owned a fridge and tenants shared a squat toilet. I can’t think of a better (or more intense) analogue for the conflicts we are worrying about here and now.

Although you don’t play on the underlying theme too much, do you think Ralf and Elsa connect in such a monumental way because they share a common denominator in their home country and war-trauma? Absolutely – it is a part of why they connect and also one of the reasons why they clash. But the war itself can’t be spoken about directly, because it simply wasn’t done. It could be referred to, or implied obliquely, but very few people who were involved had any desire (or perhaps even ability) to talk about what they had been through. It is an elephant in the room – the clearest metaphor in the book is of Ralf and his mother sitting at the dining table, painfully aware of the father that isn’t present. Ralf eventually opens up about some of his childhood experiences, but Elsa doesn’t reciprocate, and we implicitly understand why.

Does Elsa accept the negative aspects of her marriage, because she feels guilty and believes she deserves to be punished? Is her separation from Ralf a form of penance? I don’t know if I could be that specific, but sadly it wasn’t uncommon for women to accept physical abuse as a fact of life at that time (which is not to say we have resolved the problem now). Whenever we make choices, we weigh them up relative to our life experience. Elsa’s life with Theo isn’t the worst thing that has happened to her, and its great virtue is that it’s secure and predictable. She has never had that before – for me at least it becomes hard to judge her choice, even if we wish she could make the leap.

Unbeknownst to Ralf Elsa represents the root cause of why his life changed in such a drastic way. Does Elsa make a choice against Ralf because she believes the truth about her past would be an insurmountable hurdle between them? Yes, I think so. But more than that, in order to reveal her past to him, she would have to give him access to parts of herself that she hasn’t shared with anyone, including her husband and family, and it would make her vulnerable in a way she hasn’t been since she was a young girl hiding in a forest, muddy, shivering, terrified and alone. The war didn’t end when the last shots were fired. There was a whole generation of survivors whose lives were irrevocably scarred by what they saw and did, and they were out there, walking in the world, for the best part of the twentieth century. We’ll never know whether so many of them remained silent to protect themselves or to protect the rest of us.

One could argue that Elsa presents a certain coldness, a lack of emotion even, and one could suggest that her experiences in childhood, and as a very young woman, have defined her personality and the choices she makes. However that specific sense of survival and ability to detach herself from emotions was already evident at an early age. This information in combination with the actions of many Germans during the Nazi era begs the question whether Elsa really is the lovable enigma who has managed to enchant Ralf like a personal Mata Hari or is she a woman who is a ruthless survivor? In some sense Elsa is, if not the Nazi ideal, at least a Nietzschean ideal, a forceful, self-directed character. She can’t or won’t be absorbed into a group mentality, which exposes a fundamental contradiction in Nazi ideology: they simultaneously exult exceptional individuals and demand people subsume themselves to the herd. Are some people more valuable than others, or are we all interchangeable members of a group?

I did also really want this to be a story about love, and I don’t think it’s a huge spoiler to say that love is one of the best answers to some of the questions posed in the book. But I wanted to resist this idea that’s very common in romance, that the underlying purpose of women’s behaviour can always be explained with reference to sex. Perhaps she is not stringing him along; perhaps it has nothing to do with him.

Thank you for answering all of my questions, even the odd ones! It was a pleasure – thank you for reading it with such care and attention. I think all writers dream of having careful readers!

Review

This read brings a sense of nostalgia with it and an aura of hidden emotions and unfulfilled desires. It is so much more than just a love story. It is about fractured identities and the trauma of war.

It is often hard for non-nomads or people who stay in one place their entire lives to understand what it is like to not feel as if you have a home or a country that feels like home. Being uprooted and becoming a displaced person can rock the very foundation of your existence.

I believe Elsa and Ralf share this feeling of not belonging and loss. Their home country and country of birth is their common denominator, despite their completely different paths in life.

Ralf doesn’t even feel at home in his surrogate country, and he also refuses to maintain a relationship with his mother. His landlord has become his family, a port of call in dire situations and France has become his safe haven.

Elsa is a survivor, albeit one from the other side of the battlefield. Her experiences have made her emotionally unresponsive, which is why she finds it hard to connect with her child and why she struggles to find a sense of peace in her life. It is also the reason she accepts certain negative aspects of her marriage including the occasional  bouts of violence.

I wonder if Elsa believes her guilt is something that would eventually come between them. A secret she can never reveal and perhaps never completely move on from.

Overall Elsa gives off a sense of detachment, a cold and hard face she presents to the world. It’s easy to forget her age at the time of her crimes and her complicity. Her trauma is no more than a footnote in history, although it is ultimately what steers and directs her sense of unhappiness.

In that sense the two of them share another bond in the form of very specific trauma. One could argue that his will always be greater because of the historical implications, however I would argue that trauma cannot be measured by what outsiders think.

France, like many other countries are often guilty of revisionism, especially when it comes to history. They like to forget and hide their guilt and crimes, and the part they played in some of the bloodiest and politically disruptive times in the twentieth century. They like to sweep a lot of uncomfortable truths under the carpet of national charm.

This is a love story taking place during some of those periods in time, so it isn’t just about two broken people finding a safe haven in each other, it is also about shining a light on the past. A past that is in danger of being repeated as we speak.

The author brings a maturity, insight and wisdom to the pages. He writes as if he has experienced decades of longing, pain and heartbreak. He is an author I will be revisiting. Oh and kudos to him for the Vélodrome d’Hiver part of the story. It’s a very significant and poignant part of history. A small moment in the book, but those are the ones that count.

Buy Let Us Be True at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Let Us Be True blog tour (1)