The Curious Rise of Alex Lazarus is a very witty story of Alex, father of two, and his desire to tap into his creativity and take the world by storm with his idea for a novel business! Alex has a pretty good life – he has a young family, a decent job and a reasonably good relationship with his parents and sister (although they can snip at each other with ease)! He has always felt that he could do more and achieve more so when he meets Julian, another young father with similar ambitions, the two bounce off each other and develop an idea for a sure fire winner of a business – PrimaParent.com. As they thrash out this project and devote more and more time to it, the initial good feeling and energy slowly begins to turn a little sour and there are lots of red flags that wave merrily but are ignored or overlooked. In the prologue, Alex is about to be grilled by the House of Commons Communications Committee about the business, so we know from the off that something has gone badly wrong but it is highly entertaining reading about how that point is reached.
I think the story works so well because of the eclectic mix of characters within the business. Perhaps slightly stereotyped in places but they work very nicely together, on paper more so than in the business world, and provide opportunity for funny anecdotes and amusing mishaps. There are many nods to the less savoury parts of running a business – the unpaid but hard worked interns, the PR schmoozing and the focus on social media clicks. Although a lot of the story is around the work aspect, it definitely makes for entertaining reading! My opinions on certain characters changed back and forth as I read and there were times I wanted to yell – stop, think about this more carefully!
I think this is a well written story which will amuse whilst providing some slightly darker observations on the business world and pursuit of more and more when perhaps what you have is enough.
About Adam Leigh: Adam Leigh graduated with an English degree from Cambridge and joined Ogilvy & Mather, rising to become their youngest Board Director. During a successful thirty year advertising career, he ran a number of agencies, eventually becoming a partner in an independent agency which was sold in 2014. He now owns an Executive Search consultancy working with some of the world’s leading creative and media businesses.
The Curious Rise of Alex Lazarus is his first book. A partly autobiographical story based on his own start-up aspirations, author Leigh was initially inclined to write a non-fiction work on the nature of ambition before realising that his own resource of near disaster and parenting woes were too good to be ignored: this novel of accidental ambition, accidental luck and questionable morals was born.
He is well versed in the challenges of balancing an entrepreneurial business with family life. Available for comment and interview, he lives in North London with his wife and three children.
Reckless tells the story of Kirsten, a middle-aged woman who is married with a near grown up daughter and a husband who she is gently drifting apart from. Her daughter is preparing to go to university – the years have gone in the blink of an eye and this is making Kisten feel quite emotional; her little girl is no longer little. Kirsten enjoys her work as an OT but keeps thinking back to what might have been when she was finishing school and choosing a career path. Her relationship with her husband has moved from passionate and exciting to a more sedate and almost friend-like status. She longs to get back some of the chemistry of earlier years but it seems that ship may have sailed. A chance encounter at a high school reunion sets off a chain of events that spiral way beyond what Kirsten could ever have imagined. Infidelity sets off a ripple effect which cannot be contained.
Reckless was an exciting and thrilling read. We know from early on that something very serious has happened but don’t get many details. Every so often there is a police report included between chapters which adds a little more to helping understand but the information is drip fed which keeps the reader wondering and guessing as to what this might be. Kirsten is relatable in some ways – she has a loving family but they don’t always find each other easy to get along with. Her older sister has had some difficult times and has become quite bitter and unhappy over the years. Her relationship with her mother has some difficulties, many stemming from Kirsten’s feeling that she isn’t good enough no matter what. Her husband seems to be a fairly nice human but he is quite wrapped up in his own issues and their marriage is sliding into a comfortable friendship with no real sparkle. The domestic set up is quite believable and I could see why she felt she needed more, although I suspect there are easier ways to improve a lacklustre relationship.
I liked the pace of this story – there was always a sense of ‘uh oh’ and knowing that something big was coming but not quite sure what it was. There is definitely a gradual increase in the tension as the story continues and it becomes almost unbearable towards the end. I could very easily imagine this story as a televised drama – I think the ideas behind the storyline are quite fascinating and reading how one decision forces another and another until things become out of control made for excellent reading.
About R.J. McBrien: after spinning out his university career as long as possible, (York, Sorbonne, SUNY, Yale and a stint teaching at Beijing University), RJ McBrien returned to London to try and make it as a writer. Like many people, he owes his TV break to The Bill. He progressed to working on other people’s shows (Red Caps, Soldier Solider, Merlin, Atlantis, Wallander, Spooksand Britannia) as well as writing original pieces (Trust for ITV and TheDebt for the BBC). After a brief foray into Hollywood script doctoring, he enrolled on the Faber Novel Writing course in 2018 and Reckless, his first novel, is the result.
The inspiration behind Reckless – by R.J. McBrien “I became interested in an agency offering ‘discreet’ affairs for the happily married, an embarrassing number of years ago. In the early 2000s, I was sent an article about men who used such an agency with the view it might make the basis for a film. I worked on it for a few months but, as is the way with many film projects, it came to nothing.
However, the idea stuck with me and ten years later I revisited it with the intention of developing a TV series. It was around then – in 2017 – that I heard of the Faber Novel Writing Course and it occurred to me that I could take this idea as the basis for a potential novel which is what it turned into.
There was, however, a major difference between the film/TV version and the novel: the narrator. Originally, I thought of telling the story from the man’s point of view, although as with most screenplays, not exclusively so. In the novel, I thought it might be interesting to tell it from one view only, in the first person, and to make that person a woman.
The single point of view appealed because it allowed me to play with the idea of an unreliable narrator. I have always been fascinated by characters who tell their own story and gradually the reader begins to question their veracity. Everyone has versions of themselves which they project to the outside world, as well as ones they persuade themselves is true. I was interested in the gaps between these versions, where the ‘truth’ might lie. As a reader- and viewer – I have always enjoyed finding my way through such unreliable narratives, from Wuthering Heights through We Need to Talk About Kevin, to The Usual Suspects and, of course, Rashomon.
I wanted to have a female protagonist as I thought it would be a more interesting exploration of modern sexuality than having a bloke wanting a shag on the side. However, as a man, choosing a woman as my narrator was obviously problematic. I had written a number of screenplays where a main character was female, but trying to write a novel in the voice of a woman was very different. I was nervous I would get it wrong and that she would end up sounding like a man with a woman’s name.
I was very lucky that my tutor on the Faber Course was not only an experienced novelist, but also a woman who was insightful, helpful and robust in her guidance. I was also fortunate that out of my 15 fellow students, 12 were women. I can’t count the times I would submit a passage only to be told that a woman would never say this, feel that or do the other. Their criticism was invaluable and, with their help, the voice did gradually, I hope, being to sound more genuine.”
The Painting is a really engaging and enjoyable novel which mixes the darkness of 1980’s Hungary with the lighter and brighter Sydney, Australia. Anika is the main character in the novel and she has been pushed to leave Hungary to make a new life for herself with her aunt. She brings with her a painting which she has always loved which was gifted to her. She has no notions of it being a valuable item but is very fond of it for sentimental reasons as well as simply enjoying the artwork. When she is given the opportunity to have it reviewed by experts in the art world to identify the artist and whether it is an original or a copy, she takes it and is surprised to find it is potentially fairly valuable. During this review, she meets a few interesting characters who make it their business to get to know Anika. She is polite where others may not be and we find out a little more about each of them. Unfortunately, not long after this, there is a break in and the picture is stolen. Living under surveillance whilst in Europe has led Anika to be perhaps more suspicious than others might be about the motivations of those around her and she is forced to question her recent contacts.
I really liked The Painting, it is quite like a mystery but yet I wouldn’t put it within the mystery genre. I really liked Anika and Aunt Tabilla as characters. The secrecy within the family was fascinating and kept me guessing and wondering. On the surface I couldn’t immediately see how the two locations could be linked together as they seemed so incredibly different but as the story was told it worked really well. There were lots of little details from Anika and Tabilla’s old lives which made their current situation seem like they’d had a lucky break. There is such a contrast between the two countries which makes for a very interesting read and I found it to be stand out positively as a book which is a little bit different from anything else that I had read before. It covers a fascinating yet harrowing period of history and weaves this into a compelling storyline. I was unable to make my mind up about what I thought might have happened to the painting once it disappeared but also to why and how it ended up in Anika’s family. There’s plenty to keep you turning the pages whilst your brain ponders how each element might link together.
About Alison Booth: Alison Booth was born in Melbourne and brought up in Sydney. She trained and qualified as an architect before transferring to Economics. She is Professor Emeritus of Economics with a PhD from the LSE andspent over two decades studying, living and working in the UK before returning to Australia some fifteen years ago. Alison is the author of five previous novels and has contributed short stories to a number of collections. Her debut novel, Stillwater Creek, was Highly Commended in the 2011 ACT Book of the Year Award. Her subsequent novels are The Indigo Sky (2011),A Distant Land (2012), A Perfect Marriage (2018) and The Philosopher’s Daughters (2020).
For more information visit: https://www.alisonbooth.net/about
Girls Who Lie is the second instalment in the Forbidden Iceland series of books and what a story it is! Iceland is a fabulous country to set a series and I was eagerly anticipating the release of this book! As with The Creak on the Stairs, the writing is wonderfully descriptive and makes the story an immersive experience! There is a small town and almost claustrophobic feel at points. It is quite a dark and tense read with some difficult and emotive topics featured. The story starts with a flashback to a difficult birth and the beginnings of an unhappy relationship between mother and child then moves quickly to the discovery of a body in peculiar circumstances! Between chapters we gain more insight into this difficult relationship and see how it has evolved with time. These can be hard hitting and very emotional to read but they help to understand why the relationship was not the “normal.”
I think one of the best bits about this story is that it gives an initial impression of being quite simple but actually there is a lot going on so it lulls you into feeling you’ve pieced it all together when actually you may well not have. It is pleasingly complex without being inaccessible. I certainly hadn’t worked it out but enjoyed finding out where and how I had gone off piste! I like how the story was paced – it never felt rushed but I found myself reading quite quickly because I was engaged and very keen to see what would happen next. Elma is a great lead and I quite liked how there were elements within her personal life which dovetailed into the investigation. It made her more human than other leads from other books.
Girls Who Lie is easily enjoyable as a stand alone book but I would highly recommend getting The Creak on the Stairs and fully immersing yourself in Forbidden Iceland. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!
About Eva Björg Ægisdóttir: Born in Akranes in 1988, Eva Björg Ægisdóttir studied for an MSc in Globalisation in Norway before returning to Iceland and deciding to write a novel – something she had wanted to do since she won a short-story competition at the age of fifteen. After nine months combining her writing with work as a stewardess and caring for her children, Eva finished The Creak on the Stairs. It was published in 2018, and became a bestseller in Iceland. It also went on to win the Blackbird Award, a prize set up by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and Ragnar Jónasson to encourage new Icelandic crime writers. It was published in English by Orenda Books in 2020. Eva lives in Reykjavík with her husband and three children and is currently working on the third book in the Forbidden Iceland series.
White Spines is a book that will appeal to anyone who has a love for books, not just the stories within, but the pleasure that comes with visiting a bookshop, perusing them, selecting them and bringing them home! I am very envious of Nicholas and his stunning collection of books. We go on a journey with Nicholas and look back at different points in his life and find out more about him as he travels, visits bookshops and friends and builds his collection. It is a book about books but not only books! (I should try harder here and get books in a few more times in a single sentence). I enjoyed finding out more about Nicholas alongside discovering more about the books he has collected over the years. I particularly enjoyed how the books were not all new, much of the joy of the collection lies within the lost of forgotten items found within the pages; old letters, tickets, cards and notes. The beauty lies within the history each book has, rather than simply going to a shop and buying a collection of newly printed editions.
I suspect many who read my blog posts will find an affinity with this book. There is something intoxicating about roaming bookshops, overhearing other book lovers chatting about their favourites authors and books and the many many conversations which start with a book. My family half joke, half despair at my inability to pass a bookshop of any kind without at least a look, more commonly a purchase (or several) and it is lovely to read the musings of another booklover. Alas I shall never be able to curate such a beautiful collection as Nicholas but I very much enjoyed reading of his adventuring, thoughts and experiences. This is definitely a book for booklovers!
About Nicholas Royle: Nicholas Royle is the author of four short story collections–Mortality, Ornithology, The Dummy and Other Uncanny Storiesand London Gothic–and seven novels, including Counterparts, Antwerpand First Novel. He has edited more than twenty anthologies andis series editor of Best British Short Stories.He runs Nightjar Press, which publishes original short stories as signed, numbered chapbooks, and is head judge of the Manchester Fiction Prize. His English translation of Vincent de Swarte’s 1998 novel Pharricideis published by Confingo Publishing. He lives between London and Manchester and teaches creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. For more information visit: Twitter: @NicholasRoyle or http://www.nicholasroyle.com/
Eternity Leave is a fabulous read which looks at family life with “traditional” role reversal. The dad in the story is a stay at home dad and has a crash course in childcare before his wife returns to work and he is in change of his daughter! Not too long after, Brigit finds herself pregnant with twins so the ante is upped to three young children! We get to see life from the present with flashbacks to key points from their relationship before children and getting to grips with having a young family.
I loved this book because it was so funny in parts that I was in danger of waking the sleeping child with my chortling, but did not try to gloss over or hide the tough parts of parenting. There are plenty of occasions where you get a sense of the frustrations that come with having one partner working and another at home. The story perfectly mixes the joys and stresses of parenting and I suspect most parents will relate to many many aspects! It’s really nice to have a change in shift and have a dad taking the lead carer role and all the challenges and triumphs which come with this. I think Simon writes really well and has a great way with words (handy for an author I suppose). I could easily have read double the length and still wanted more as I loved the family- a double thumbs up from me!
About Simon Kettlewell: Like the narrator of this story, Simon Kettlewell has also looked after four children for a very long time. For the purpose of authenticity this book is inevitably shaped to some extent by this experience. Some bits have been extracted from the author’s twisted imagination, but he is still too exhausted to remember which ones.
Simon lives in Devon with a variety of animals in a multi-coloured house where people come and go like passengers at Crewe station. You can find him at …
Everyone Is Still Alive is a clever look at family life and touches upon many relatable issues from parental guilt, bereavement, illness and relationship issues. I think it is a book which will have something that most readers will connect with be they parents or otherwise. The story is told from the perspectives of a number of different residents on Magnolia Road. We start by meeting Juliet, Liam and Charlie as they move into Juliet’s late mother’s house. Juliet is recently bereaved and processing her grief. Her husband Liam is an author and does a lot of the childcare as Juliet works full time. He is struggling to come up with a good idea for his second novel and wonders if perhaps he might be inspired by the new environment and the the lives of the residents of Magnolia Road.
Although I don’t live in a street like Magnolia Road and my social circumstances are not as affluent as the other residents, I found myself nodding along to many of their concerns. I realise this might make sound a bit self indulgent but I really do feel like Cathy has managed to capture the absolute minefield that is trying to be an adult; have a successful relationship, parent well, excel at and enjoy your career and carve out some space to keep for yourself. Then as well as keeping your own house in order, there are all the social obligations and expectations to meet. It is exhausting and I think that Cathy has given us a good look into several families and how they are wading through these, thriving or just surviving.
I would highly recommend Everyone Is Still Alive to anyone who wants a smart read that will entertain and provide a degree escapism but one that is grounded in reality so feels very relatable. Definitely on my list for top reads of 2021!
About Cathy Rentzenbrink: Cathy Rentzenbrink grew up in Yorkshire, spent many years in London, and now lives in Cornwall. She is the SUNDAY TIMES bestselling author of THE LAST ACT OF LOVE, which was shortlisted for the Wellcome Prize, and the acclaimed memoirs A MANUAL FOR HEARTACHE and DEAR READER. EVERYONE IS STILL ALIVE is her first novel.
I first heard about Meet Me In Another Life when it was reviewed on BertsBooks podcast. It sounded right up my street so I immediately pre-ordered a copy then was lucky enough to be approved for an audio version on NetGalley and also be invited on the tour – it was totally meant to be! The stories of Thora and Santi are captivating and beautifully written. Each could have been a standalone tale but alas life moves on and each draws to a close in a variety of ways. I loved how their dynamic changed throughout the book and with each setting. Sometimes they are equals, other times one is in a position of power over the other in ever changing ways. There are core elements to each one that isn’t always immediately obvious but runs like a little thread through the book.
The story is quite unlike any other books I have read. It is a love story which looks at all aspects of love and what it is and can be. I was actually a little surprised by how quickly I fell into the rhythm of the changes in role and circumstance and how interesting and well considered each one was. There were definitely chapters where I preferred the circumstances over others but none that I didn’t like. Even when their relationship to each other is not plain sailing, their interactions and plot lines are very enjoyable to read.
I really liked listening to the audio version of Meet Me In Another Life. The narrator is pleasant to listen to and I looked forward to getting some time to myself to play another few chapters (even when that meant in the car commuting to work)! I was never someone who thought audiobooks would be for me, particularly fiction. I always thought it would be too hard to keep tabs on what was going on. So you might imagine that this particular book would be a challenge but I didn’t find it so. It was easy to stick with the story and know where I was and which roles Thora and Santi were in. I am pleased to have my hardback copy too as I will be going back to read some of my favourite parts again. A very clever and beautiful book!
About Catriona Silvey: Catriona Silvey was born in Glasgow and grew up in Perthshire and Derbyshire, which left her with a strange accent and a distrust of flat places. She overcame the latter to do a BA in English at Cambridge, and spent the next few years there working in scientific publishing. After that she did a PhD in language evolution, in the hope of finding out where all these words came from in the first place.
Following stints in Edinburgh and Chicago, she returned to Cambridge, where she lives with her husband and a very peculiar cat. When she’s not working as a researcher studying meaning in language, she writes. Her short stories have been performed at the Edinburgh Literary Festival and shortlisted for the Bridport Prize.
Wow! I should start by saying that I am a very big fan of Will’s work – I love his dark, twisted and straight talking writing. The Beresford is an apartment building run by Mrs May. There are only a few rooms under her command but they are attractive to people looking for a clean break or a change. She charges a reasonable rent so she never has any problems getting new tenants which is lucky because there are often vacancies to be advertised…
I really don’t want to give away the storyline so this is a little vague but we get to know some of the residents a lot more than others. There’s a routine to their arrivals and departures that quickly becomes apparent. I find it quite impressive how quickly I felt like I was getting to know the central characters despite their descriptions not being overly long; you just get a sense of what they are about and why they are renting a room. Mrs May jokes about her age but she is clued in and switched on, more so than you might guess by looking at her. I thought she was excellent!
The writing has a lot of black humour that really appeals and the short snappy chapters mean you are sucked in immediately then struggle to let go. The setting is genius, on the surface it sounds the Beresford is just a standard issue set of apartments and there’s nothing interesting but you only need to read a few paragraphs before you realise your mistake.
Will is a definite go to author when you need something dark and quirky that takes you out of your comfort zone and into a new scenario. His writing is surprising, I suppose shocking at times, and it is addictive. There is often social observations that are absolutely spot on. I defy you to read the Beresford and not immediately add his others to your TBR. A 10/10 and I cannot wait to read what he comes up with next!
About Will Carver: Will Carver is the international bestselling author of the January David series. He spent his early years in Germany, but returned to the UK at age eleven, when his sporting career took off. He turned down a professional rugby contract to study theatre and television at King Alfred’s, Winchester, where he set up a successful theatre company. He currently runs his own fitness and nutrition company, and lives in Reading with his two children. Will’s previous title published by Orenda Books, Hinton Hollow Death Trip was longlisted for the Not the Booker Prize, while Nothing Important Happened Today was longlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year and for the Goldsboro Books Glass Bell. Good Samaritans was a book of the year in Guardian, Telegraph and Daily Express, and hit number one on the eBook charts.
Small is a really beautiful book that tells Claire and Beth’s story about motherhood from conception, delivery, early weeks on NICU then coming home and adjusting to life as parents. Claire writes in a very engaging way and gives us an insight into many of the sides of motherhood that are not often seen. I was drawn to the book because of recent rotations through paediatric anaesthesia and paediatric intensive care and I am always keen to expand my horizons and see things from the perspectives of other parents.
Reading small made me really think about how unique each parenting experience is and how much happens under the surface. Claire and Beth had so many hurdles to overcome and so many bumps on their journeys and they rose to each challenge.
Small is a very moving read and one which will stay with me. The writing is gorgeous and I think each reader will take different things from the story be they parents or otherwise. Many of my circumstances and parenting journey differ from Claire’s but there were so many relatable aspects. There is plenty to think about and reflect upon – I loved it!
About Claire Lynch: Claire Lynch works as a university lecturer and is author of two academic books and numerous scholarly articles and chapters. Small is her first book for a general audience.
Claire’s Four Thought talk ‘The Other Mother’ was first broadcast on BBC Radio Four in 2020 and her first piece of narrative non-fiction took second place in the Spread the Word Life Writing Prize in 2017. She was a shortlisted writer for the Penguin Random House WriteNow scheme in 2018 and a longlisted writer for the Hinterland non-fiction Prize in 2019. small is her first book for a general audience.