The Literary Bar Crawl: NYC Edition

New York has a great literary heritage and there are so many places you can go to soak up some of the liquid inspiration of great writers. In this list you can find places where poets drank, famous bar settings and places where you can just curl up with a manhattan cocktail in front of a crackling fire surrounded by library shelves. Perfect for warming up on a cold and soggy February weekend.

White_Horse_Tavern_(New_York_City)_2007

The White Horse Tavern

White Horse Tavern

567 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014

This is best described as an ‘old man pub’ – or as close to one as you’re going to get in NYC. It’s been around since the 1880s, is a certified Poetry Landmark and is famed as the bar where Dylan Thomas sank 18 shots of whisky before collapsing outside then dying of alcohol poisoning several days later. But it’s not just Thomas who has been a regular here – Bob Dylan, Anaïs Nin, Norman Mailer, Hunter S. Thompson, and Jack Kerouac all spent plenty of time propping up the bar. Kerouac was such firm fixture that legend has it ‘Go home Kerouac’ was written over the urinals.

The Shakespeare (inside the William Hotel)

24 E 39th St, New York, NY 10016

What was formerly The Peacock and is now The Shakespeare is a British restaurant / gastropub that sits inside the William Hotel and has a great library bar modelled on a Stratford pub called The White Swan. The hotel also houses speakeasy style joint The Raines Law Room where you can quaff beautifully made cocktails surrounded by opulent, cosy bookshelves.

Housing Works Bookstore Café

126 Crosby St, New York, NY 10012

This NYC book institution has a lovely cafe inside it where you can sip a wine or one of their monthly themed cocktails whilst also browsing the shelves. The whole place is staffed by volunteers and the stock is donated so 100% of the profits go to Housing Works’ projects. And if you’re looking for a quirky venue, you can even get married here…

Bookmarks
Bookmarks Bar (photo womeninetfs.com)

Bookmarks Bar at the Library Hotel

This upmarket cocktail lounge will float your boat if you decide you don’t want to slum it with the Beat Poets anymore. The romantic rooftop setting plays the perfect host to  the literary themed cocktails on the menu. Why not try The Pulitzer (Nolet’s Gin, Elderflower, Fernet Branca and agave nectar) or F.Scotch Fitzgerald (Brown buttered Glenmorangie, Campari and Carpano Antica).

Cafe Wah?

115 Macdougal St, New York, NY 10012

Cafe Wah is still a thriving music venue nearly 70 years after it first opened. Allen Ginsberg could often be found here and the likes of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendricks and Bruce Springsteen all played here whilst launching their careers. This is definitely the place to go if you want to liven things up at the end of your night and with a really eclectic mix of performers there is something for everyone on offer here.

Pete’s Tavern

129 E 18th St, New York, NY 10003

This couldn’t be a literary list of NYC drinking holes without mentioning Pete’s Tavern. In continuous operation since 1864, Pete’s is synonymous with NYC’s writer crowd. The most famous of Pete’s customers was William Sydney Porter – aka O. Henry, the short story writer and in his honour, Pete’s have even kept his booth, where he supposedly wrote The Gift Of The Magi. Legend also has it that Ludwig Bemelmans wrote the first of his wildly popular children’s books – Madeline, on the back of one of the menus…

Minetta Tavern

113 Macdougal St, New York, NY 10012
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Photo revelinnewyork.com

If you need some food to line your stomach after all those delicious cocktails, then hop over to the newly revived Minetta Tavern. A mainstay of the 1930s Greenwich Village writer crowd including Ernest Hemingway, this wonderful restaurant has been taken over by Keith McNally and is now serving perfectly cooked côte de boeuf and french inspired food in sumptuous surroundings. People rave about this steakhouse – why not pop in before heading next door to Cafe Wah?

Rose Club Bar at the Plaza Hotel

768 5th Ave, New York, NY 10019

The Plaza Hotel should be on a literary tour of NYC for any bibliophile – just make sure you don’t dance in the fountain like F.Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald! The Rose Club Bar is the hotel’s in-house jazz club and the perfect place to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city for a spot of luxury. Craft cocktails with their own mixologist mean that drinking here is a totally unique (and wallet punching) experience. On a side note – if you’re a fan of Home Alone 2  and want to live like Kevin, The Plaza are offering experiences based on the movie and they look AWESOME.

 

 

Where would you recommend people go to get a literary drink in NYC? The next edition will be London so get your suggestions in for places for bibliophiles to get a swift one…

Feature photo: goodlifereport.com

Tennessee Williams: No Refuge But Writing

February is all about Mardi Gras on Book And A View and there is no one I would rather sip a sazerac on a Bourbon St balcony with than the King of Southern Gothic, Tennessee Williams.

My life changed when my English teacher handed us a copy of his collected works in the sixth year and I met Laura, Blanche and Maggie the Cat. It was one of those rare moments when you feel like the vibrations of the world all magically align and play beautiful music. I was obsessed. Here was a playwright that, on the surface, I had nothing in common with and yet what he wrote resonated deeply with me. My love affair with Williams’ plays has endured far beyond any other. I know that I will love them until my dying day.

Tennessee Williams Writing

Williams was born in 1911 and produced some of the world’s most acclaimed drama in the 40s and 50s, pioneering a new, poetic style of theatre. A homosexual with alcohol and drug dependency issues, Williams poured his unhappiness, loneliness and response to a dysfunctional, violent early family life into his writing.

Everything in his life is in his plays, and everything in his plays is in his life

– Elia Kazan

His close relationship with his sister Rose, who was the inspiration behind The Glass Menagerie‘s Laura, further fuelled his tendency towards depression, especially when Rose’s life long battle with schizophrenia culminated in a frontal lobotomy. It is no coincidence that his characters are often tortured by their struggles with mental health issues and the sensitivity and poignancy with which he addresses these issues makes his writing as relevant today as it was groundbreaking when it was first published.

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His plays deal with loneliness, ageing, the desperation to connect, sex and addiction. All things that he struggled with himself and that no one else was writing about. The poetry of his writing gives these difficult themes a fragile, decaying beauty – much like the Southern settings his characters inhabit.

I try to work every day because you have no refuge but writing.

– Tennessee Williams

Starting this month, New York’s Morgan Library has a new Williams exhibition – No Refuge But Writing, exploring Williams’ writing process and offering unprecedented access to his drafts, notebooks and letters. They are also showing several of the many film adaptations of his work including A Streetcar Named Desire, the Elia Kazan directed film that launched the stars of Marlon Brando and Vivian Leigh into the stratosphere, and Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. The exhibition runs through until 13th May.

And whilst I’m in New Orleans later this month, I will be sure to raise a glass to my favourite playwright, after all, as Williams said…

“America has three cities – New York, San Francisco and New Orleans… Everywhere else is Cleveland.”

 

 

Photo credits: LIFE magazine and The Morgan Library.

 

 

 

Review: “The Half-Drowned King” by Linnea Hartsuyker

TheHalfDrownedKing

Hardcover: 448 pages

Publisher: Harper Collins

Release Date: 1st August 2017

5 STARS

SET IN NORWAY (9th Century)

 

Linnea Hartsuyker’s epic debut perfectly captures Viking Norway in a way that is exciting, uncompromising and elegantly written.  This is a book of heroes and whilst it draws on the Icelandic Sagas retelling of the making of kings, it’s refreshing to find a historical narrative that focuses as much on the female experience as the male without reducing the woman to the role of voiceless lover or pawn. In Svanhild Eysteinsson, Hartsuyker has created a complex and intelligent heroine that seeks to make her own way in a world dominated by men. This novel doesn’t shy away from the gory violent culture of the Vikings but also paints a picture of a society that values cunning and honour in addition to bravery and strength.

The Blurb: Centuries ago, in a blood-soaked land ruled by legendary gods and warring men, a prophecy foretold of a high king who would come to reign over all of the north. . . .

Ragnvald Eysteinsson, the son and grandson of kings, grew up believing that he would one day take his dead father’s place as chief of his family’s lands. But, sailing home from a raiding trip to Ireland, the young warrior is betrayed and left for dead by men in the pay of his greedy stepfather, Olaf. Rescued by a fisherman, Ragnvald is determined to have revenge for his stepfather’s betrayal, claim his birthright and the woman he loves, and rescue his beloved sister Svanhild. Opportunity may lie with Harald of Vestfold, the strong young Norse warrior rumored to be the prophesied king. Ragnvald pledges his sword to King Harald, a choice that will hold enormous consequence in the years to come.

While Ragnvald’s duty is to fight—and even die—for his honor, Svanhild must make an advantageous marriage, though her adventurous spirit yearns to see the world. Her stepfather, Olaf, has arranged a husband for her—a hard old man she neither loves nor desires. When the chance to escape Olaf’s cruelty comes at the hands of her brother’s arch rival, the shrewd young woman is forced to make a heartbreaking choice: family or freedom.

Set in a mystical and violent world defined by honor, loyalty, deceit, passion, and courage, The Half-Drowned King is an electrifying adventure that breathtakingly illuminates the Viking world and the birth of Scandinavia.

longship

I was really excited to read this novel after seeing its gorgeous golden cover winking at me from the new release shelves at my local Barnes and Noble. I’d just come off the back of binging the last of Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Chronicles and fancied giving this a go whilst my head was still in a marauding and pillaging kind of space. But would it live up to King Cornwell? Well yes. Yes it would.

What I particularly loved about this book are the wonderfully complex characters. Hartsuyker takes the time to develop them and casts a critical eye over each and every one. All have their flaws, are weak at times and selfish but she takes care to ensure that your loyalties as a reader are always torn. There are no stereotypical warrior thugs here, you understand what drives these characters and how they strive to achieve their ambitions in often difficult circumstances.

Hartsuyker is in total control of her research and the setting throughout the novel. You feel like you are getting a guided tour of Viking life, but without the annoying educational voiceover explaining what everything means. She is a master of ‘show don’t tell’ and the descriptions throughout are often surprising and very evocative which ensures that whilst this is not the first Viking historical novel, you never feel like you’ve read it somewhere else before.

Many comparisons have been made between The Half-Drowned King and Game of Thrones and Outlander, but I feel that this does it a disservice. Yes it has the feel of an epic saga, but this one is rooted in a tangible setting and quite frankly kicks Outlander out of the park in terms of quality of writing (and I love Outlander…). That said, if you enjoy those series you will love this – and the best part is it’s but the first in a planned trilogy… The Sea Queen is released 14th August 2018 and I for one can’t wait.

www.linneahartsuyker.com

@linneaharts

 

 

Taking Control Of Your Creative Clutter

Every three months or so I find myself overtaken by an almost uncontrollable sense of claustrophobia and clutter rage. I’m naturally quite a messy person and whilst I definitely find creativity in the organised chaos of my house, there is a tipping point where suddenly all I can think about is pulling out all of my books, reorganising my shelves and cupboards and having a good old throw out.

Imagine what it would be like to have a bookshelf filled only with books that you really love. Isn’t that image spellbinding? For someone who loves books, what greater happiness could there be?

– Marie Kondō

But is my seasonal desire to clean up and make many piles of things really helping me to hone my creative focus or is it just another (relatively productive) form of procrastination?

Princeton University have recently published some research through their neuroscience department that suggests that physical clutter does in fact affect your ability to focus on tasks, to process information and be effective. Essentially, too much visual stimuli will begin to distract you. It can, therefore, be argued that taking the time to clear your workspace and organise yourself is a worthwhile use of your time.

workspace

But what about all those people who believe that a bit of creative clutter is what they need to spark that next great idea?

As well as needing a clear workspace, I’m also a big believer in being able to access things that I will suddenly, randomly need – an obscure textbook that I haven’t picked up since university, that old set of glasses inherited from Grandma that will be awesome in an bookstagram shoot… How do I reconcile these two seemingly opposite needs without having some form of Room of Requirement that pops up whenever I need to get a hold of something?

To make matters worse, a study by Yale University confirms what I could already have told you from witnessing my mother trying to throw out some of our old baby things that she had hoarded for 30 years, that we form strong emotional attachments to objects. So much so that it is actually painful to let them go – the same area of the brain is activated when we’re about to chuck that old teddy bear or journal as lights up as when smokers who are trying to quit crave a cigarette.

tidy desk

So why do it? Why put ourselves through all this unnecessary pain and suffering for the sake of a tidy desk or a few minutes avoiding the real task at hand?

Well clutter can become paralysing. Not only are you able to clear an actual physical space to do your writing or reading or crafting but the sense of accomplishment that comes with neatening everything up can actually motivate you to keep going with the next task. It also gives you thinking time. So much of developing creativity happens when we’re not actually ‘being creative’. Having time and space to ponder that difficult narrative problem or paragraph that’s been bugging you is a good thing. I often find that I’ve been mulling over a problem with my writing without really realising it and then when I come to sit down in the evening and thrash the words out, they start to flow much better.

creative mess

However, before you get carried away spending hours lining up your pens, it’s also important to remember that merely organising your space will not automatically bring about creative genius, but it will set you up to succeed if you follow through with the actual work…

5 THINGS THAT WORK FOR ME TO KEEP MY CREATIVE CLUTTER UNDER CONTROL

  1. Write a list and prioritise – I’ve been using my Passion Planner to help me do this and to help me focus on what will enable me to reach my goals most effectively. I can schedule in my chores and prep time but make sure they don’t take over my day.
  2. Set a timer – This can be either on my phone as a physical countdown or something like the duration of a particular podcast. I’ve been loving this one by Sara Tasker of Me and Orla, she’s a creative coach with plenty of brilliant advice.
  3. Set social media limits – Time spent and the number of people that I follow / interact with. That way I don’t feel overwhelmed by what can seem to be a never ending task…
  4. Limit storage space and schedule a clear out at the start of each season – This forces me to think about what I really need and what can go in the bin or to charity. If I’m unsure I will box stuff and put it up out of the way in an inaccessible cupboard and if I don’t use it for the rest of year then it goes.
  5. Meditate – I’m a firm believer in uncluttering your life as well as your workspace. Apps such as Headspace are a quick and effective way to bring a bit of calm into a busy day. Trying to do too much all the time leads to difficulties with filtering information, switching quickly between tasks, poor working memory and an inability to effectively prioritise.

 

How do you like to organise (or not..) your workspace? Have you got any tips for keeping creative clutter under control?

Review: “Fools And Mortals” by Bernard Cornwell

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Hardcover: 384 pages

Publisher: Harper

Release Date: 9th January 2018

3 STARS

SET IN LONDON (1597)

 

 

The King of the historical fiction genre has returned with a stand-alone novel re-telling the first staging of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and I practically ran to the bookstore to buy it. How could I resist? I’m a massive Cornwell fan, he’s one of the few authors where I will actively go out and buy the hardback rather than wait for the paperback and this looked like it ticked all my boxes – Cornwell’s usual eye for detail with setting and description, theatre and adventure all rolled up together.

The Blurb: In the heart of Elizabethan England, Richard Shakespeare dreams of a glittering career in one of the London playhouses, a world dominated by his older brother, William. But he is a penniless actor, making ends meet through a combination of a beautiful face, petty theft and a silver tongue. As William’s star rises, Richard’s onetime gratitude is souring and he is sorely tempted to abandon family loyalty.

So when a priceless manuscript goes missing, suspicion falls upon Richard, forcing him onto a perilous path through a bawdy and frequently brutal London. Entangled in a high-stakes game of duplicity and betrayal which threatens not only his career and potential fortune, but also the lives of his fellow players, Richard has to call on all he has now learned from the brightest stages and the darkest alleyways of the city. To avoid the gallows, he must play the part of a lifetime . . . .

It hurts me to say this but… I didn’t love this book. I liked it. It was an enjoyable read but no fires were lit and I’m not sure I will remember anything about the characters in three months time.

Lord, what fools these mortals be…

This is Cornwell’s first foray into Elizabethan England and rather than his usual confident ease with the periods he explores, he’s succumbed to the author’s trap of trying to explain and describe every detail for a modern audience. It surprised me that he did this as it’s not a feature of this other novels – he never explains what Saxon terms are in The Saxon Chronicles and it feels a little heavy handed here, like he doesn’t trust us to be able to work out from context what things are.

His use of language and dialogue remains excellent though. Cornwell really goes to town with the rich bawdy insults that Shakespeare was famous for. In fact, these hilarious turns of phrase are probably the most entertaining part of the book. The characters never feel stilted in their dialogue and it flows well with plenty of witty to and fro. The problem is that you never really get past this to characters that you really care about.

Richard Shakespeare is William’s younger more annoying brother. This wouldn’t be an issue except that he narrates the entire story. It’s an interesting angle to present Shakespeare (the older) as a violent, difficult man but much of it is tainted by the petulant, bitter observations of the younger Shakespeare, although this does definitely improve as the narrative unfolds – the main action of the book takes off half way through and everything is on the up from there on out.

Overall, this is a good romp through a new era for Cornwell but doesn’t really hold a torch to his longer series. You won’t come away loving the characters or feeling particularly invested, which is a shame.

If you want classic Cornwell you’re better off sticking with The Saxon Chronicles or the Sharpe series.

The Power of a Fresh Start: Books That Require No Eating, Praying or Loving…

January is always such a weird month. On one hand it is full of eager optimism and well meaning resolutions to not wear active wear. every. day. and follow a grown up skincare regime and to make this year OUR YEAR and yet it is also so bleak, so dreich, so… well frankly depressing.

There is a reason it’s home to Blue Monday, that hideous slump post Christmas where you don’t fit into any of your clothes, summer is too far away to make holiday planning motivating and you’ve stuck the first couple of weeks back at work and realised that you still have the mother of all hangovers and are totally broke.

For what it’s worth, it’s never too late to be whoever you want to be. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start over.

– F. Scott Fitzgerald

And despite this, or because of it, every year there is something about opening that new journal, throwing out those old clothes, picking up a new book that draws us in. Literature itself is obsessed with this trope of newness, of uprooting characters and dumping them somewhere else, exploring what happens when one is forced to alter, to start again, to survive elsewhere or as someone else.

It’s not just the classics,  Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde spring to mind and although they are brilliant and deal very literally with transformation and the creation of self, there is an abundance of modern novels that explore this same intoxicating idea in a new, subtle, global way.

From Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah to Elizabeth Spencer’s Starting Over, there are so many wonderful novels to dive into if you want inspiration or consolation through the stories of those making another go of it and starting again, without reaching for the self help books…

  • Heroes Of The Frontier – Dave Eggers
  • Cascade – Maryanne O’Hara
  • A Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion
  • Wild – Cheryl Strayed
  • The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead
  • What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – Haruki Murakami
  • Maya’s Notebook – Isabelle Allende
  • The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
  • How I Live Now – Meg Rosoff
  • The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce
  • The Life Changing Magic Of Not Giving A F*ck – Sarah Knight

Read some of these already? Let me know your thoughts… Got something that should be on the list? Share it!

The Madness Of Setting A GoodReads Reading Goal

Right off the bat – I’ve got a nine month old daughter. This is reason enough to steer clear of the GoodReads Challenge 2018, but like a weary glutton for punishment I stumble onto the website on January 3rd in a fog of wine, chocolate orange and stuffing and before I know what’s happening…. 100 books by the end of the year. This is complete insanity.

I have, however, bought myself a lovely new notebook with which to record my efforts (that was part of the problem last year, I stopped updating my profile for a few months and then, quite frankly, couldn’t be bothered catching up). I have also purchased a Passion Planner, within whose gorgeous folds I shall be planning my passions and scheduling my reading time.

It’s like school all over again. I can’t decide if this is good or a bad thing.

Even my mother comments on this.

I like the idea of completing the challenge – it’s the literary equivalent of doing a half marathon, only no one will sponsor you, tough, as books are expensive, but you also have zero chance of developing shin splints…

The issue is that I am a very competitive but essentially very lazy person. I will start with great gusto and then peter out as I realise that these ‘other people’ (you know who you are Tweeps) who are constantly crowing  about demolishing their yearly total by March (URGH) have left me for dust, by which point I just sort of slow down gradually until I grind to a complete halt.

But this year will be different! I have a notebook!

And I’m four books down already…

 

Review: “Notes On My Family” by Emily Critchley

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Paperback: 263 pages

Publisher: Everything With Words

Release Date: 20th November 2017

5 STARS

 

“Notes On My Family” is a wonderful, funny, heart breaking YA novel published at the end of last year by the very talented Emily Critchley. Portraying an autistic narrator has a very specific set of challenges for an author, not only do you need to tread the line between being candid and being sensitive, but you also need to avoid the massive pot hole of ‘basically Curious Incident’.

The Blurb: Enter the world of Louise Coulson through her notes on her family, school and friends. Lou is thirteen years old, a perceptive and observant outsider, somewhere on the autism spectrum. She takes notes as if she were holding a film camera silently fixed on a world that tends to ignore her. Meet her dad who is in a relationship with a sixth former, Sarah her moody sister, Mikey her gay brother, her mum who has a ‘brief psychotic episode’, her nan who goes to séances, her friend Faith who has six ‘parents’ (all gay) and Lou’s family (and dog) in her alternative universe. Told in the present tense so that you feel that you are right there and sprinkled with Lou’s inimitable asides.

Lou is taking notes as everything happens, interweaving comments and dialogue to create a narrative that’s fast, subtle and convincing.

This novel tackles a wide range of issues that are relevant to the target readers – younger teens. The fact that Lou is autistic is never explicitly stated, nor does it need to be. Her autism is not the issue at hand for the majority of the book and its portrayal never gets in the way of you understanding the delightfully funny and caring person that Lou is. What it does give us is a hilariously upfront and unsweetened view of Lou’s world and the chaos that often seems like it’ll engulf her.

There is nothing like fresh pyjamas to cheer one up and to help one face the world.

There are moments that are truly awful – the incident in the girls’ changing room for one, and Critchley does a fabulous job of pulling every one of your heart strings, but ultimately the story is an uplifting one. The characters are wonderfully drawn, flaws and all, but it is Lou that you just want to scoop up and protect (although she’d hate that, so probably just a fist bump instead…)

This is exactly the sort of book young readers should be accessing. It has a strong sense of embracing difference, without ever being worthy or patronising and it never ‘tries to be cool’ – the death knell of adult written teen dialogue…

Overall, this is a compassionate and witty look at family life through the eyes of a very unique and observant narrator. Definitely one for your kids’ bookshelves.

As a side note, Emily is also a wonderful photographer… check out her Instagram – emily.critchley

@EmilyMCritchley

www.emilycritchley.com

Review: “The Snowman” by Jo Nesbø

TheSnowman

Paperback: 576 pages

Publisher: Vintage

Release Date: 5th October 2017 (film tie in re-release)

5 STARS

SET IN OSLO AND BERGEN, NORWAY

 

It seems impossible to turn around in a book store or on Twitter without coming face to face with another Nordic Noir crime thriller. The genre seems to have taken on a rather sinister, life of its own. Since Stieg Larsson burst onto the wider literary scene and the BBC started showing “The Killing” and everyone lost their minds about Scandi woolly jumpers, there has been a veritable deluge of work from Scandinavia and Iceland evoking harsh landscapes, dark deeds and terrible weather, normally with a heavy dose of alcoholism thrown in for good measure.

Jo Nesbo used to be footballer. A very good one apparently, he played in the Norwegian national league. I don’t hold this against him, but he makes a better author.

“The Snowman,” whilst being the first Harry Hole novel I’ve read, is actually the seventh in the series. I don’t usually skip about in a series if I can help it – I don’t like spoilers – but this was a Christmas present from my mother-in-law (which made the detailed sex scene at the start rather excruciating to read…) and I’d seen plenty of Jo Nesbo being reviewed on one of my favourite blogs – Crime By The Book so I couldn’t wait to get started. It also seemed vitally important to read this before the new Michael Fassbender movie version came out and inevitably ruined all the characterisation in my head…

Harry Hole is our obligatory lone wolf hero. A man haunted by lost love and the ever present bottle. When a woman goes missing and there is nothing left behind to guide him but the remains of a sinister snowman in the garden, we are drawn into a dark world of affairs, paternity, revenge and a sadistic killer who seems intent on terrifying children everywhere by commandeering one of the most wonderful things about snow and turning it into a modern day boogeyman.

Whilst much of this novel indulges the familiar tropes of Nordic Noir writing, it doesn’t ever feel hackneyed. I even sat there and congratulated myself on ‘correctly’ guessing the murderer (not once, but twice… what a fool!) only to be flipped around and pointed in the other direction again. Nesbo is a master craftsman when it comes to weaving a gripping plot. The settings might be gloomy and the characters flawed and closed off, but this only adds to the atmosphere.

This is a brilliant piece of crime writing – pacey, dark and full of twists and turns. An absolute must for anyone who is a fan of thrillers, dime bars and hard liquor.

www.jonesbo.com

 

 

Blog Tour: “Disturbing Works Vol.1” by Jon Richter

 

Disturbing Works SMALL promo

 

Kindle: 144 pages

Release Date: 12th August 2017

5 STARS

 

Thanks to Jon Richter and Jenny of Neverland Blog Tours for the review copy.

 

Jon Richter’s fabulous collection of unsettling and engrossing short stories sits squarely somewhere between Roald Dahl’s “Tales of the Unexpected” and Charlie Brooker’s “Black Mirror”. Neatly crafted and without exception skin crawlingly compulsive to read they whip through epic fantasy to sci-fi to horror without any chance to draw breath, and yet you never feel that you’ve been cheated on detail or that the characters and settings are anything other than deeply drawn.

The Blurb: The first volume of my Disturbing Works is a collection of twelve twisted tales perfect for people who like their stories dark, despicable, and deeply unsettling.  Containing fantasy, sci-fi, dark humour and a lot of deliciously nasty horror, it should have something for every reader that has a sinister side and nerves of steel…

I have a love hate relationship with short stories – particularly anthologies. Too often they are patchy in quality, or a series of interesting ideas that are never quite brought to fruition. It’s not the case with these.

Richter’s use of language is wonderful, verging on poetic at times, which just makes the cruel juxtaposition with the content all the more dark and delicious. Bizarre and gruesome at every turn, Richter is able to immerse us in a wide variety of places – including Japan, North London and Outer Space…(!) seamlessly. Right from the opening with “Vengeance” you realise what you’re in for – Richter pulls no punches. This is full of well crafted cliffhangers that don’t feel contrived but leave you wanting more and clever structures and humour that stop the stories from ever falling into repetition. I really want him to develop “Something Waits” into a full blown feudal fantasy novel!

Many of the stories deal with suitably dark themes – possession, the dark side of relationships, fear of the unknown, rage, violence and revenge, but often the most engaging stories focus on the characters and their choices. To shoot or not. To act or not. To open that door or not. And it’s the fall out of these choices that Richter delights in  – this man loves to torture his characters! If you love Netflix’s “Black Mirror” there is plenty for you here. In several stories we see the collision between modern technology and the darkness it could bring into our lives in the near future… terrifying.

This collection really does have something for everyone. There are diverse characters and settings, a range of exciting genres and each is just long enough to keep you happy on your tube commute.

You can buy “Disturbing Works Vol.1” now on Amazon for the ridiculously bargainous price of 99p.

 

@richterwrites

www.jon-richter.com

 

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Jon Richter lives in London and spends most of his time hiding in the guise of his sinister alter ego, an accountant called Dave.  When he isn’t counting beans, he is a self-confessed nerd who loves books, films and video games – basically any way to tell a good story.  Jon writes whenever he can and hopes to bring you more disturbing stories in the very near future.

 

 

 

 

 

Review: “The Silent Companions” by Laura Purcell

SilentCompanions

Hardcover: 384 pages

Publisher: Raven Books

Release Date: 5th October 2017

5 STARS

SET IN ENGLAND (fictional Fayford)

 

So I’ve made a sneaky side step from the magical to the mysterious with this chilling Gothic tale that perfectly blends Henry James’s “The Turn Of The Screw” with Susan Hill’s “The Woman In Black”. If you like to give yourself the heebie-jeebies then this is the tale for you. Just make sure you keep the lights on…

The Blurb: Newly married, newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband’s crumbling country estate, The Bridge.

With her new servants resentful and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie only has her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. For inside her new home lies a locked room, and beyond that door lies a two-hundred-year-old diary and a deeply unsettling painted wooden figure – a Silent Companion – that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself.

I should admit here that I am terrible with scary. I have a wildly overactive imagination. Quelle surprise. So why on earth would I pick this up? The Twitter storm surrounding its release went some way to explain it… and then, to be honest… I was completely suckered by the beautiful, beautiful cover. How bad could it be? I thought. You’ve sat through The Woman In Black in the West End at least five times you complete wuss! Get a grip! Look at that gorgeous frontage – nothing bad could be contained within such a delightful facade… (Note to self: you’ve read Dorian Grey you complete chump – have you learnt nothing about the evil within) Yeah well I managed to spook myself out admirably. In fact, I had to send my husband upstairs to switch on all the lights before I went to bed, which is quite honestly pathetic and embarrassing for a grown woman. And yet I still LOVED it.

Laura Purcell’s novel taps into many of the Gothic genre’s requisite themes – the unreliable narrator, female power and hysteria, a suitably decrepit country pile on a lonely, muddy moor… but it always feels fresh and engrossing. Focusing on terror rather than horror, the book is a slow burner (the irony of this will be apparent when you read it…) in the first few chapters but my God does she pick up the pace. It was almost impossible to put down.

Purcell’s narrative moves effortlessly between 1865 and 1635. She deploys a clever change of voice between these sections and it immerses you fully in each era. The characters are perfect foils for each other, quirky without ever being caricatures and you grow to really invest in them which of course makes the unfolding plot all the more unnerving.

This novel is perfect for winter nights and for fans of classic, claustrophobic Gothic fiction. The whole thing is cleverly put together, never lags and never feels contrived – which for this genre is really saying something. I can’t wait for Purcell’s next offering – “The Corset”.

@spookypurcell

http://www.laurapurcell.com

 

Review: “The Rules Of Magic” by Alice Hoffman

 

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Hardcover: 369 pages

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Release Date: 10th October 2017

4 STARS

SET IN NEW YORK CITY AND MASSACHUSETTS

 

I’m struggling to remember the last time I read a book that didn’t have magic in it…. This hasn’t been an intentional decision – maybe it’s just the autumnal weather kicking in, but it has had the beneficial side effect of immersing me in literary depictions of otherworldliness and getting me to think about what I do, and definitely do not, like about how the extraordinary is dealt with by authors.

The Blurb: For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man.

Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk.

From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.

The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy.

Alice Hoffman’s writing is really lovely and I mean that in every sense of the word. There is a softness and lyricism to the way she describes scenes, a focus on the senses and how they mix with emotions for the characters. She’s able to deal with difficult situations for the characters in a way that touches you but doesn’t have the brutal edge that lots of authors seek in an attempt to make their writing ‘hard-hitting’ or ‘gritty’. Hoffman weaves her words around you like a spell and draws you in gently.

I wasn’t massively enamoured of the characters in the beginning and it took me a little while to settle into this novel. It is a prequel to Hoffman’s wildly successful “Practical Magic” and I must confess that whilst I’ve seen the 90s movie adaptation with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman (and that took me until last month…) I have never read the original. Perhaps this was why I found the connections a little tricky – I wasn’t already invested in these characters. In the end didn’t even really notice being sucked in. I suddenly realised that I was half way through. And it was dark outside.

Hoffman deals with the supernatural elements superbly. There are plenty of magical shenanigans but it never seems to tip over into the absurd. The fact that the three siblings each go on a journey with their discoveries and that their relationships with magic are heavily influenced by their different approaches to life keeps it grounded and stops it becoming boring. There is no ‘magical fix’ for the obstacles they need to overcome and Hoffman grows the characters throughout the story really effectively as they realise this themselves.

Overall this is a really gorgeously descriptive novel that transports you to 1960s New York. There’s no need to have read “Practical Magic” to enjoy it and if you’re new to Hoffman’s writing this is a great place to start.

 

@ahoffmanwriter

www.alicehoffman.com