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)

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A fantastic Q&A with Affinity Konar, author of Mischling

To celebrate the paperback release of of her novel Mischling Affinity Konar agreed to take part in a Q&A and answer some of my questions about her fantastic book. My review might be a tad long, but in my defence, this was such a good read I couldn’t stop talking about it.

About the Author

Affinity Konar was raised in California. While writing Mischling, she worked as a tutor, proofreader, technical writer, and editor of children’s educational workbooks. She studied fiction at SFSU and Columbia. She is of Polish-Jewish descent, and currently lives in Los Angeles.

She dearly misses writing about Pearl and Stasha, and is grateful to any reader who might find the company of the twins.

Visit affinitykonar.com Follow @affinity_konar @leeboudreauxbks @littlebrown

Buy Mischling

About the book

Pearl is in charge of: the sad, the good, the past. Stasha must care for: the funny, the future, the bad.

It’s 1944 when the twin sisters arrive at Auschwitz with their mother and grandfather. In their benighted new world, Pearl and Stasha Zagorski take refuge in their identical natures, comforting themselves with the private language and shared games of their childhood.

As part of the experimental population of twins known as Mengele’s Zoo, the girls experience privileges and horrors unknown to others, and they find themselves changed, stripped of the personalities they once shared, their identities altered by the burdens of guilt and pain.

That winter, at a concert orchestrated by Mengele, Pearl disappears. Stasha grieves for her twin, but clings to the possibility that Pearl remains alive. When the camp is liberated by the Red Army, she and her companion Feliks–a boy bent on vengeance for his own lost twin–travel through Poland’s devastation. Undeterred by injury, starvation, or the chaos around them, motivated by equal parts danger and hope, they encounter hostile villagers, Jewish resistance fighters, and fellow refugees, their quest enabled by the notion that Mengele may be captured and brought to justice within the ruins of the Warsaw Zoo. As the young survivors discover what has become of the world, they must try to imagine a future within it.

Q&A

Before we get started on the Q&A I would just like to say how much I enjoyed Mischling. At times I felt as if I was with those children in the camp and could feel their despair, which is truly the mark of a great storyteller.

It must have been incredibly difficult to immerse yourself into the subject matter of the Holocaust, and perhaps even more difficult, the medical experimentation. Thank you so much Cheryl—it’s always very rewarding to hear such things, but to know that the emotions were very present for you is deeply meaningful to me with respect to this particular book, and its many challenges. So thank you, and thank you for the opportunity to be interviewed, and the lovely, thoughtful questions!—AK

What was it that made you want to write about this particular heinous part of 20th century history? My family was able to leave Poland in 1932,  and one of my grandfathers served in WWII so I always felt naturally drawn to the period as a child. It was a fixation that was unhealthy in many ways, but couldn’t be helped. In the course of touring, I’ve been fortunate to meet many scholars who have devoted their entire lives to the preservation of this history; they often describe this as a choiceless pursuit, one often informed by a personal sense of crisis. While my engagement has been less intense, that description is something I can relate to. All I really know is that when I found the story of the twins in “Children of the Flames” by Lucette Lagnado, I started hearing an imagined echo, a kind of conversation between a pair of twins who were determined to survive. But I didn’t imagine that it would be a book, and I didn’t consciously set out to write it for years.

Do you believe that despite great outcries of ‘We shall never forget, always remember and let’s not make the same mistakes again’ that the world needs books like Mischling to remind people of those sentiments? I very much believe that this is so; I think fiction’s great gift to us is its ability to collapse distance. The testimonies of survivors and witnesses, the art that came from the camps, all the nonfictional accounts—these will always be the most vital warnings. But I like to think that fiction can serve a purpose in this attempt, that it can effectively trail behind history as a kind of shadow, because it can provoke empathy on a level that can force one to imagine this suffering differently, and with a nod to the fact that genocide is not limited to a certain time, people, or place. Such work can remind us to check our language, our actions, and encourage a kind of vigilance; it’s easy for remembrance to become a passive act, even while “never forget” is something that remains a fixture of our consciousness.

You have researched and written extensively in great detail about the Holocaust and Mengele’s atrocities, has it taken its toll on you in any way? I was uncomfortable speaking about this for some time, because I felt that the personal effects of this research had no place in this conversation. But while touring, I’ve been approached by generous people who express concern after hearing me speak. So I guess I don’t hide it very well, especially when Mengele’s crimes are addressed. I suspect that I’ve begun to block certain facts and images, but there are those that will always remain, and should remain. I went into this process with an immense respect for survivors and their descendants–they carry an unimaginable burden–and when my immersion was complete, that respect enlarged to include journalists, social workers, therapists, criminal investigators—anyone whose work requires a relentless attention to trauma, because it forces you to live a double-life, mentally, in order to remain functional.

In a lot of the scenes the reader feels the strange intimacy and bond between the children in the Zoo and the twins. You also described the way each twin dealt with the emotional and physical torture in their own way, which makes their individual status more evident in the story. Was it important to you to show readers the effect on their bonds as twins, and also on the girls as individuals? I love this question, because the portrayal of these bonds, and the individual natures of Pearl and Stasha, was one of the significant challenges of the book. Twins are so symbolic, a built-in cheat—I worried that I might end up fetishizing them in a super-literary way that felt unacceptable within the novel’s aims. My big fear was that one would end up serving as a kind of foil to the other; I was most concerned about Stasha’s very elaborate voice overwhelming Pearl’s. But strangely, this began to fall away as I explored Pearl’s burden to bear witness to these events in a precise fashion. Her personality arose from that need, and met, rather naturally, Stasha’s own posture of lament. I wanted two distinct personalities that joined each other in the need for remembrance, their resistance against Mengele, and their love of family. It’s funny because I often hear from readers that they wished that they had a twin growing up—I always felt that way too. But there’s also a complexity to this bond that we often overlook. So I wanted to allow it all the beauty that such a relationship deserves, while being careful to explore how painful it might be too.

On a lighter note, were and are you surprised by the success of Mischling? I was surprised that I even finished the book at all! It was an intensely private thing for years, so to have it find anyone, much less my agent Jim and my editor Lee—that was hugely disorienting. And I’m disoriented all over whenever I see a translation venture out. “Success” is a hard word for me to relate to, especially with respect to this novel—I tend to think of it just as this object that I started writing when I was really lost and had dropped out of high school. But I find it deeply gratifying to receive letters from people about their families and their histories, and it’s probably the sweetest thing to hear readers refer to Stasha and Pearl with the same affection I’ve had for them for so long. I never expected the book to be real, much less for it to receive such a kind welcome, and I’ll always be shocked by that.  

Review

Mischling is a fictional story based on, or rather Konar took inspiration from, the true experiences of Holocaust survivors.

In particular on those of the twins, who made up the majority of the 3000 children unfortunate enough to end up in the hands of the sadistic Dr. Mengele, also known as the Angel of Death.

He was known to pick twins, triplets and any other people with specific abnormalities, because of his interest in genetics. He shared his findings with his mentor and the Kaiser Wilhelm Society, the predecessor of the Max Planck Institute.

Only a small number of those children survived the experiments and the concentration camp. Many of those have suffered from numerous medical problems, were mutilated and have subsequently succumbed to the repercussions of the experiments inflicted upon them, including eyewitness and survivor Miriam Mozes.

Tragically the medical manipulations have possibly also been passed down to future generations. A few of the very small number of these particular survivors, who are still alive, and their offspring have willingly participated in research to try and understand the future consequences of those experiments and the possible genetic changes caused by the them and the trauma (epigenetics).

The survivors have had to live with the nightmares of being part of Mengele’s sadistic human zoo. They have beaten the odds to survive and tell their tales only to be struck down by the same man at a later date, and the fact his actions may also be making their offspring ill, is truly diabolical. Luckily he isn’t here to pat himself on the back.

Mengele managed to evade any form of punishment for his actions. He lived in comfort with his family for many years in Argentina, as did many war criminals from the Nazi regime.

Mengele used the platform of the concentration camp to live out his cruel, sadistic tendencies all in the hypothetical name of science and research. Fact of the matter is he enjoyed and took pride in the pain he inflicted on others. His victims were nothing more than subjects in his mind. Aside from the horrific and inhumane experimentation, he also often abused, tortured and killed for pleasure, during his reign in Auschwitz.

Pearl and Stasha are the main characters in Mischling. They are Jews with fair hair, hence why Mengele thinks they are Mischlinge (of mixed race). Each twin tells their own story, switching from chapter to chapter. Stasha believes that Mengele views her as special, which is why he makes her immune from death. This belief and her retreat into a world of imagination and denial, is how she deals with the trauma. Whereas Pearl is a realist and remains resourceful throughout her time with Mengele. Stasha seems oblivious to the abuse and experimentation both she, but especially her sister has to endure. The disappearance of Pearl is pivotal in the change in her behaviour. The fact she doesn’t want to accept the death of her twin is ultimately what saves Stasha from giving up. Denial is her coping mechanism.

Stasha connects with a young boy, who has lost his own twin. The loss of the twin was very important to the survival of any the remaining twin in Auschwitz. When one died the other would soon be killed, so Mengele could compare and autopsy the corpses.

survivors

Some of the children who survived the experiments

So, imagine you are faced with death or collaboration. The type of collaboration that kills you inside bit by bit, forced to commit abominations under duress. How guilty does that make you? There is a huge difference between those that collaborated with the regime and helped willingly, and those that had no other choice but death. They tried in their own way to help fellow prisoners. Many children, often not even related, were passed off as twins, in an attempt to give them a greater chance of survival.Pearl finds herself drawn to the Jewish doctor who assists Mengele, albeit unwillingly, and the Czech soldier in charge of the admin. Both of them struggle with the guilt of their actions. One of elements of the Holocaust that Konar alludes to in Mischling is the culpability of those people forced to become part of the systematic extermination. In a life or death situation you make a choice, and in this instance those choices weren’t always about self-preservation. There were family members and fellow victims to consider and the majority wanted to make sure the world knew what the Nazi regime had done.

To be completely frank it isn’t an easy read, if you look at it on a purely emotional level. Even after all these years, having read, watched and listened to many survivor’s relate their stories, I can still can’t fathom the depth and range of the inhumanity of the Holocaust.

Although I loved the read, despite the horrific nature of the topic and the fact it is based on true events, I did feel as if the last few chapters didn’t do the rest justice. I can imagine that even as an author both the writing and the research of not only the Holocaust, but specifically the atrocities committed by Mengele, would take a toll on anyone. Suck the heart and soul right out of you. It felt as if Konar had been weighted down and burdened by all of it towards the end. As a reader and as a Mensch I can completely understand that. Kudos to the author for this powerful, insightful and extremely poignant read.

It is not only a read I highly recommend, it is also one I will be gifting to others.

Buy Mischling at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Remembering the Mengele Twins at the CANDLES Holocaust Museum

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Blog-Tour: Sleeper by J.D. Fennell

Today it is my turn on the Blog-Tour for Sleeper by J.D. Fennell. Along with the About the Author and About the book features, I am also delighted to feature a fantastic Q&A with J.D. Fennell, and hey of course last but not least, my review of Sleeper.

About the Author

J.D. was born in Belfast at the start of the Troubles, and began writing stories at a young age to help understand the madness unfolding around him. A lover of reading, he devoured a diverse range of books – his early influences include Fleming, Tolkien, Shakespeare and the Brontës.

He left Belfast at the age of nineteen and worked as a chef, bartender, waiter and later began a career in writing for the software industry. These days he divides his time between Brighton and London, where he lives with his partner and their two dogs.

Visit sleeperbook.com  or you can follow @jd_fennell or @DomePress on Twitter or on facebook.com/JDFennellAuthor/

Buy Sleeper

About the book

Sixteen-year-old Will Starling is pulled from the sea with no memory of his past. In his blazer is a strange notebook with a bullet lodged inside: a bullet meant for him. As London prepares for the Blitz, Will soon finds himself pursued by vicious agents and a ruthless killer known as the Pastor. All of them want Will’s notebook and will do anything to get it. As Will’s memory starts to return, he realises he is no ordinary sixteen-year old. He has skills that make him a match for any assassin. But there is something else. At his core is a deep-rooted rage that he cannot explain. Where is his family and why has no one reported him missing?Fighting for survival with the help of Mi5 agent-in-training, Anna Wilder, Will follows leads across London in a race against time to find the Stones of Fire before the next air raid makes a direct hit and destroys London forever.

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 love reading and always have a book to hand. Here are my recent three: Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follet; I Let You Go, by Claire Mackintosh and right now I am reading Spellslinger, by Sebastian De Castell. Three wonderful books, all quite different.

Books or authors which have inspired you to put pen to paper? John Irving is amazing. Stephen King. Sarah Waters. Ken Follett. Authors that make me want to be a better writer are Thomas Harris, Ian McGuire and Hanya Yanagihara.

The last movie you watched, which you felt left a mark (in your heart, soul, wallet…you name it) I really enjoyed Allied with Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. It is set during the same time as Sleeper and gave it a resonance for me. It is also gripping with a great twist.

Are you more of a movie night or series-binger kind of guy? (Combinations are possible) Definitely a series-binger, because there is a greater scope to tell a story and develop characters. Game of Thrones is a good example here.

Which famous person (dead, alive, barely kicking) would you most like to meet? I’d like to meet Thomas Harris for lunch or dinner and learn as much as I could from him.

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 Sleeper!

Sleeper is a YA adventure set in the Second World War with flair of fantasy and an essence of a dystopian setting.

What made you pick the WW2 time period for your setting? I’m fascinated by London during the Blitz, a city collapsing under the nightly air attacks. Also, I really wanted to set an action/adventure with fantastical elements during a familiar time in our history. Second World War London just seemed the perfect setting for a thriller. I had to write it.

During the story I think readers may often find the borders between good and bad guy skewed when it comes to VIPER and The Fellowship. Do you agree with that assessment, and if so was this intentional on your part? Yes and No. Yes, the Fellowship are good, however, they turn a blind eye to the Pastor’s methods because they understand what is at stake for the world. VIPER will do whatever it takes to achieve their goals. They may employ regular people, who do not share their ambitions, or are unaware of who they are working for, to help achieve their goals.

Will has been defined, trained and lived as a member of VIPER for many years. Isn’t there some part of him which is subconsciously loyal to VIPER? I’m afraid you will have to wait until the next instalment to find that out. *smiles*

So, you have this incredible weapon with as yet not completely explored powers, doesn’t even a teeny weeny piece of Will think about taking control of the weapon himself? Ha! That would be telling. For now I will refer you to the previous answer.

Sleeper. Liberator. Executioner. Does Will secretly enjoy being each one of these identities? Will is driven by revenge. I would say he does not enjoy being that type of person, however, it does change him and give him purpose.

Will we be seeing more of Will in the near future, and will his sidekick be returning? Will and Anna shall return next year with velocity.

Thank you for answering all of my questions, even the odd ones! Thank you Cheryl. I really enjoyed answering them.

Review

Fennell has chosen an interesting setting for his dystopian young adult series. It takes place in the early 1940s during WW2. So you not only get the general gist and flavour of life during the Blitz, you also feel the intensity of the devastation the war leaves in its wake.

I have to say that although this is pegged as young adult it is also a book I would buy for a younger reader. Readers will be able to identify with the characters, the historical context and also the why of what makes Will tick.

What makes him push forward is the strong desire to fulfil his mission, which is even the case when he suffers from a bout of amnesia. He somehow always manages to find the right way even when the deck is stacked against him.

Will is nothing if not determined, despite all the obstacles and extremely dangerous situations he stumbles in and out of. He has been a part of VIPER since his pre-teens and is well versed in the megalomaniacal manipulations of this organisation. They will do anything to control the world and more importantly to get their hands on the powerful Stones.

What can I say it’s a story with a lot of potential. The author ends the book with the kind of hook that will keep the readers trailing along behind that fishing rod with the wriggly wee plot enticing them to follow along right behind him.

Fennell has created a fast-paced adventure with plenty of scope for future books. Sleeper is a captivating combination of history infused with futuristic and dystopian elements, and let’s not forgot the mystery surrounding Will. Ancient artefacts and puzzles worthy of a young Indiana Jones adventure will keep readers both young and old wanting the next instalment of this series sooner rather than later.

Buy Sleeper at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

To buy Sleeper (hardback)

To buy Sleeper (paperback)

Goldsboro Books are also selling limited edition hardback signed and numbered editions

Publisher website: www.thedomepress.com

Publisher Twitter: https://twitter.com/DomePress

Publisher Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thedomepress/

The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

the orphan's taleI’ve read a lot of books about the Holocaust. Non-fiction, fiction, biographical and eyewitness accounts. I admit to being shocked and saddened when I read a fact about the Holocaust I wasn’t previously aware of.

Unfortunately it is usually something even more inhumane and heartbreaking than the facts I have already read about.

After all these years, and all the accounts, I still find it hard to fathom and comprehend the atrocities committed during the Nazi era. Pam Jenoff discovered the reference to and details of the baby train in the archives of Yad Vashem.

A train carriage full of babies on their way to a concentration camp. No food, no water or milk, no human touch and no saviour in sight. Just helpless infants on the road to certain death. Many of them succumbing to the lack of care before they reached their final destination.

Jenoff combines this horrific fact with the true story of circus families who hid Jews in the midst of their travelling shows, during the Nazi-era.

The baby in this story is pivotal in connecting and binding all the characters. The child is a symbol for Noa and is synonymous with survival. The survival of every Jew, every gypsy and every victim of the regime. It doesn’t matter where he came from or who he really belongs to, all that matters is making sure he lives to tell the tale.

Jenoff tugs on the heartstrings, whilst awakening the moral compass in every one of us. She mixes fact with fiction to create memorable reads. If you want your heart to bleed, your eyes to weep and want to reach inside the book and hug the characters, well that’s what this author does best.

Buy The Orphan’s Tale at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Follow @PamJenoff  @HarlequinBooks on Twitter, on Facebook PamJenoffauthor, or visit pamjenoff.com

Read The Last Embrace or The Winter Guest by Pam Jenoff

Today! Blog-Tour: Cursed by Thomas Enger

Today it’s my turn on the Blog-Tour for Cursed by Thomas Enger. Aside from my review, the all about the author and the book segments, the author was also kind enough to take part in a great Q&A.

About the Author

Thomas Enger (b. 1973) is a former journalist. He made his debut with the crime novel Burned (Skinndød) in 2010, which became an international sensation before publication. Burned is the first in a series of 5 books about the journalist Henning Juul, which delves into the depths of Oslo’s underbelly, skewering the corridors of dirty politics and nailing the fast-moving world of 24-hour news. Rights to the series have been sold to 26 countries to date. In 2013 Enger published his first book for young adults, a dark fantasy thriller called The Evil Legacy, for which he won the U-prize (best book Young Adult). Enger also composes music, and he lives in Oslo.

Connect with Thomas Enger @EngerThomas and @Orendabooks on Twitter, Facebook or at www.thomasenger.net

Buy Cursed

About the Book

When Hedda Hellberg fails to return from a retreat in Italy, her husband discovers that his wife’s life is tangled in mystery. Hedda never left Oslo, the retreat has no record of her and, what’s more, she appears to be connected to the death of an old man, gunned down on the first day of the hunting season in the depths of the Swedish forests. Henning Juul becomes involved in the case when his ex-wife joins in the search for the missing woman, and the estranged pair find themselves enmeshed both in the murky secrets of one of Norway’s wealthiest families, and in the painful truths surrounding the death of their own son. When their lives are threatened, Juul is prepared to risk everything to uncover a sinister maze of secrets that ultimately leads to the dark heart of European history. Chilling, gritty and unputdownable, Cursed marks the return of one of Norway’s finest crime writers.

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) Block 46 by Johana Gustawsson (it was great!)

Books or authors which have inspired you to put pen to paper? Henning Mankell (One Step Behind), Jo Nesbø (The Snowman), Harlan Coben (almost any book) and anything by John Hart.

The last movie you watched, which you felt left a mark (in your heart, soul, wallet…you name it) Untouchables, the French movie about that man in a wheelchair and the relationship he develops with his caregiver. Fantastic movie.

Are you more of a movie night or series-binger kind of guy? (Combinations are possible) I’m a bit of both, actually. Friday or Saturdays are usually movie nights in our house, but the other weekdays are more for binge watching TV series. I don’t know why it is that way, but that’s the way it is.

Which famous person (dead, alive, barely kicking) would you most like to meet? Donald Trump, so I could tell him a few things.

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 Cursed!

Cursed is very turbulent and pulls the reader in a load of directions at the same time. This was my first Enger book and I enjoyed the way you brought together all the loose ends like a masterpiece of fine embroidery.

As I said above this was my first Thomas Enger read, although it certainly won’t be the last. Is the drawn and quartered style, ergo sending the reader off in multiple directions, a style you aim for or is just something that develops with the story? I certainly do like the reader to feel that there are multiple layers and plots in the story I’m telling. That’s the stories I would want to read myself, so that’s why I do it. I always have that in mind when I’m writing: I want to write stories that I would love to read myself.

Without divulging any spoilers I would like to compliment you on the Daniel Schyman sub-plot. A lot of people will still be unaware of the participation of certain countries in the Nazi atrocities and this was a subtle idea of reminding them.  Was it your intention to remind your readers or rather did you always intend for this to be an integral part of Cursed? It was very much my intention to remind the readers, yes, or just to tell them. It was how the idea for Cursed came about, actually, I wanted to tell a story with a sub-plot dating back to the Second World War and how certain people enriched themselves on the behalf of Norwegians Jews. Then I started to think about how that could be an integral part of the Henning Juul saga. I am very pleased with how it turned out in the end.

In this book Henning seems to cross the line between investigation and necessary risks, and veering into unnecessary risk-taking a lot. Has he got a subconscious death wish, due to the guilt he feels about the death of Jonas? I don’t necessarily think he has a death wish, but he certainly doesn’t seem to care, does he, whether he survives or not. But I really think he does care, and that is one of the main themes in this series, how Henning starts from rock bottom and how he gradually rediscovers what life is and how wonderful it can be.

Similarly Nora appears to also make dangerous and frankly often brash decisions, which puts her life at risk. In her case it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with guilt, but is it possible that grief has made her just as neglectful when it comes to her own safety, as her ex Henning? Absolutely. Nora is trying to move on, and one of the ways for her to do that, is to submerge herself in work, so her mind can be otherwise occupied. She doesn’t stop when she finds herself in danger. In my mind there is another aspect to her psychology: she wants to prove herself, too. She wants to be every bit as good as Henning is. Or Iver, for that matter.

I have to ask, will there ever be a way back for Henning and Nora? Despite all the pain they seem to still need each other. There is a fifth instalment in the series you’ll have to read first before I can answer that question…

You hit the nail on the head with your swipe at the almost squeaky clean imagery of Scandinavia. Not only from a historical point of view, also in general.  Is this your way of opening your readers eyes with fictional content laced with home truths? Definitely, but it’s not something that I’m very conscious about. My main goal when I write a book, is that it needs to be entertaining. I don’t have specific issues I want to address, with the possible exception of the Daniel Schyman sub-plot in Cursed.

Your ending made me laugh out loud. Not because it was funny, but because it is the perfect piece of cheese in a bookworm mousetrap. Was it an intentional hook on your part? Oh yes, I had planned that ending for YEARS, and it was so great to finally be able to write it down on an actual piece of paper.

Thank you for answering all my questions even the odd ones!

Review

This was my first Thomas Enger book, although it is the fourth in the Henning Juul series. Enger combines a suave Nordic feel with forgotten sins of the past, buried crimes and strong characters. He doesn’t shy away from awkward topics or history some countries have tried really hard to forget and even tried to change the narrative in retrospect.

Henning and Nora are almost like a well-oiled team, except for the fact they are divorced and they are investigating different issues. Their paths tend to cross in this story in a way they both don’t expect.

It’s interesting to note that each one of them is driven by the guilt and grief they carry around with them. The death of their son has redefined their relationship, their lives and the way they deal with life in general. His death and the mystery surrounding the events of his death are a pivotal part of the story.

Another element of the story I really enjoyed was the Daniel Schyman sub-plot. I won’t go into too many details in case I spoil the story. Let’s just say the Scandinavians like to paint themselves with very white paint. Nothing is allowed to mar the image of perfection. Not now in the present and certainly not when it comes to the past. Dirty little secrets will always out.

Enger brings a riveting read to the table with his character driven plots. The emotional roller-coaster is balanced out by the intricate criminal story and finely woven storyline. The book ends with a wee bit of a bookworm mousetrap by baiting the trap with a lovely morsel. I definitely want to see where Enger takes Henning next, and I want to know the truth about Jonas.

Buy Cursed at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

The Missing Matisse by Pierre H. Matisse

matisseThe author comes from what one would call French royalty of the art world. He has literally hobnobbed with some of the most talented artists of the twentieth century.

Aside from the historical content and context I thought the way Pierre suffers after the loss of his identity was the most intriguing aspect of the story. It’s as if the name change sends him into a complete identity crisis.

As the story unfolds we hear about the unusual circumstances of his birth, and why he legally was never considered a Matisse. I think his parents, the Matisse family and some of the Leroy family did him a great injustice. Pierre was stuck in a legal loophole, and despite the fact it remained that way throughout his life because of his legal father, I do think both of his biological parents should have stood up for him. I do take the emotional and violent events of WW2 into consideration, however I do think they owed him a conversation and clarification within his real family.

His whole life is subconsciously steered by this identity crisis and he doesn’t find any kind of inner peace until he turns around and tells the world who he really is.

I’m not sure it would have been the same for a boy from a lesser known family. The name Matisse is synonymous with creativity, passion, colour and the diverse world of art. I think Pierre wants people to acknowledge his own talent and also the long line of creative people he stems from. Most importantly he wants the same acknowledgement from the Matisse family, albeit subconsciously.

It is an interesting read, especially from an historical point of view.

Buy The Missing Matisse at Amazon UK or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton

dictionayI absolutely loved this book. It has been long-listed for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, and I have to say it not only deserves to be listed, but also to win. I admit the last few pages made me cry. Tends to be my reaction to things or works of art of great beauty. Music, art and yes, even great and beautiful fiction.

Some authors write well and others are just natural storytellers, the combination of the two can make for a spectacular read. Copleton does both really well. In fact if I didn’t know any better I would swear Amaterasu was not a fictional person at all, and wrote this story herself, that’s how realistic it is.

The title doesn’t really do the story any justice, however I do believe it emulates the subtlety of the tale. Within the subtle weaving of emotional turmoil is the fragile spider-web of family dynamics. Those elements are off-set and enhanced by the intricate details of the bombing of Nagasaki.

I also really enjoyed the passages at the beginning of each chapter. The information about Japanese traditions, phrases and etiquette gave an extra level of understanding to the story.

The main focus is on the relationship between Amaterasu and her daughter Yuko. The way Amaterasu interferes to change and determine Yuko’s path in life, how she deals with her guilt, and how her past casts a long shadow over her entire life.

Simultaneously Amaterasu has to deal with the possibility that her grandchild may not have been killed at all. When the alleged grandson turns up at her door after many decades, everything she has resigned herself to for so many years is torn apart by doubt. Her resistance to the possible truth is fascinating. as if the burden of guilt is bigger than the joy at being wrong all those years.

Irrespective of the actual ending or the truth, I think Hideo’s true identity becomes irrelevant at some point. He is merely another victim of an unnecessary tragedy and atrocity. Does it really matter whether he is Hideo or not?

As for Amaterasu, I understand the meddling and the manipulation. She is a mother and only wants what is best for her child. Unlike Yuko she has the full picture and all the information, perhaps if she had been honest Yuko may have made different choices in regards to Sato.

This story is captivating and emotionally moving. It is literary fiction at its finest. Copleton manages to capture the horror and the aftermath of Nagasaki in a way that makes the reader feel as if they are right there. The family dynamics and relationships fit snugly around the pikadon. Family and man-made atrocity go hand in hand to create a truly wonderful read.

Buy A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding at Amazon UK or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.