Reviews

A THOUSAND SHIPS by Natalie Haynes

A Thousand Ships begins with the voice of Calliope, the muse of epic poetry but this is not to be the expected tale of the fall of Troy through the eyes of the men, warriors, kings and gods of Ancient Greece and Troy. Natalie Haynes gives a much-needed voice to the “silenced women of the Trojan War”, that history has more or less ignored. As she moves us through the wonderful stories of these mothers, daughters, wives, sisters, queens and goddesses we feel their despair anger and sorrow but there is also humour.
The women’s individual stories interact with each other as we watch Troy burn. Ancient Greek history is brought to life as we move between the characters. I found myself particularly looking forward to the letters from Penelope to her husband Odysseus as she sits weaving, running a kingdom and fending off young suitors for 20 years! Her slightly tongue in cheek comments, coupled with growing despair and frustration, made me laugh out loud in places. I loved A Thousand Ships and am really pleased that Natalie Haynes has “sung of the women, the women in the shadows” as we all know, “ war does not ignore half the people whose lives it touches”.  CUSTOMER REVIEW BY Katrina Webb

£16.99 Hardback Mantle

 THE CITADEL by A.J Cronin

Written in 1937, it helped shape the foundation of the NHS, as it follows a newly qualified GP through the inequalities of private health care. Although it slightly loses its power when he leaves the Welsh Valley, his pursuit of money and success exposes a corrupt system, until he realises, in a shocking and brilliant finale, how he, and the system needs to change. This book has never been so relevant, get it from Red Lion Books! CUSTOMER REVIEW BY Paul T Davies

OUTLINE by Rachel Cusk

Depicting ten conversations had by our esteemed narrator, the name of which we only find out at the end of the novel, OUTLINE is a novel without a plot, or rather without a start and an end. The novel begins with a woman on a plane travelling to Athens to teach creative writing and follows her lucid thought process and conversations with various people in her path – neighbours on planes, fellow teachers, friends from previous trips – leading us to see her reality of family, loss and love through her dialogues in classes and dinners and times swimming and sailing during a beautifully hot summer in Athens. And it ends, well does it end or does Cusk just set us up for the next two in the trilogy – TRANSIT and KUDOS – I for one am ready to find out. Customer Review by LOUISE BARNES

£9.99 Paperback FABER & FABER

We asked Liz Trenow, author of UNDER A WARTIME SKY, to review what she has been reading during isolation

OUT OF DARKNESS, SHINING LIGHT by Petina Gappah

I love reading (and writing) historical fiction because it can bring history alive in ways that non-fiction can never achieve. It is not slavishly bound to the historical record – usually the record of educated, powerful and usually male characters – and leaving the author free to explore lesser-known aspects of history through fictional or sometimes real but minor characters.

Out of Darkness, Shining Light relates the strange and intriguing story of how the corpse of the Victorian missionary explorer David Livingstone, having died from malaria before finding the source of the Nile, was carried 1,500 miles to the coast ready for transporting back to Britain. It is told through two first-person voices: Livingstone’s loquacious cook Halima and his pompous servant Jacob Wainwright. Through their eyes, we learn so much untold history of colonial Africa, the slave trade and the “Nile madness” that led Livingstone to blunder through the continent propelled by the conviction of his own white superiority.

If this sounds bleak, there’s plenty of humour here too – Halima’s observations of the way women were treated as concubines is pithy and entirely without self-pity. Jacob Wainwright, a Christian convert, is so pompous and self-deluding that you immediately sense the contempt of his fellow travellers. There’s not much plot but this hardly matters because the characters are so lively and powerful they remain with you long afterwards, along with a heightened understanding of a heart of darkness very different from but just as dark as Joseph Conrad’s. An extraordinary, and rewarding read.” REVIEWED BY LIZ TRENOW

£16.99 Hardback Faber & Faber

UNDER A WARTIME SKY by Liz Trenow

My latest novel, published by Pan Macmillan just before the lockdown was also inspired by a real but little known story: how in 1936 a small team of scientists were locked away in top-secret in a Gothic mansion on the Suffolk coast, charged by Churchill with inventing a ‘death ray’ that would stop the German airforce overwhelming Britain.

I too chose to tell it through the eyes of two contrasting individuals: a shy but brilliant, part-Indian boffin and a young local girl employed as a kitchen assistant at the Manor. As always, the narrative is driven by real people and real events – I was helped enormously by the Bawdsey Radar Trust which has an oral history library of people involved at the time. Bawdsey is a very special place with an intriguing history, and I hope you enjoy reading this novel as much as I loved researching and writing it.

Liz Trenow is a former journalist and now a best-selling historical novelist. Her work has been translated into eleven languages and is published all over the world. She lives in Colchester and her 300 year silk weaving heritage has inspired several of her novels. You can find out more about her books at www.liztrenow.com, at facebook.com/liztrenow, or on Twitter @liztrenow

We asked Sarah Armstrong, author of ‘Wolves of Leninsky Prospekt’, to review what she has been reading during isolation

ENGLISH MONSTERS by James Scudamore

English Monsters is one of those novels that sweeps through the decades. Max’s idyllic time spent with his grandfather contrasts with the austere brutality of boarding school – so far, so familiar, you may think, but Scudamore’s interest is in the grey areas and this is where questions are formed which draw us in. Even in the openhearted love of his family, there is recklessness, as Max falls into icy lakes and is pulled behind a van on his sledge around fields. Childhood, wherever it takes place, is dangerous. And adulthood is where memories can become unreadable over time:
‘I stayed to watch the ash settle and flurry, the material finding its place in the world. Then the rain set in and thumped it all to sludge.’
In one of the cover quotations, Alex Preston compares this novel to both The Secret History and Edward St Aubyn, and these are exactly the names I had in mind as I read. Its scope and clarity felt reminiscent of Donna Tartt, transferred to the awkward affection and absurdity of English private schools. It also touches on the brutality of Patrick Melrose’s world, but without the cruelty which underpins those novels. 
This is a wonderful and generous novel about love, forgiveness and living. I rarely re-read books (there are just too many out there), but this deserves a second reading.
REVIEWED BY SARAH ARMSTRONG

£16.99 Hardback, fiction, Vintage

WOLVES OF LENINSKY PROSPECT by Sarah Armstrong

This thriller brilliantly evokes 1973 Moscow and a world of diplomacy and counter-espionage. Escaping failure as an undergraduate and a daughter, not to mention bleak 1970s England, Martha marries Kit – who is gay. Having a wife could keep him safe in Moscow in his diplomatic post. As Martha tries to understand her new life and makes the wrong friends, she walks straight into an underground world of counter-espionage. Out of her depth, Martha no longer knows who can be trusted.

£7.99 Paperback, fiction, Sandstone Press

LEONARD AND HUNGRY PAUL by Ronan Hession

Leonard and Hungry Paul takes you on a gentle stroll through the lives of two quiet, unassuming but far from insignificant individuals. The main characters are mid-thirties, living with their parents and their idea of a good social evening is to play a board game or two. These placid, “nice” outsiders are often overlooked by society and disregarded to the point of insignificance.  But, to dismiss Leonard and Hungry Paul is to miss out on their refreshing, if not popular, 21st-century philosophy. As the book unfolds we experience Leonard’s tentative steps into the world of love and Hungry Paul’s organic journey towards the culmination of his unique ideology. Along the way, we experience their many acts of small kindnesses, honest revelations and, at times, frankly stark observations. Their delightful interaction and relationships with parents, siblings, work and friends drive the novel’s storyline.  With an exquisitely light touch, the author unfolds their lives, allowing us to admire their selflessness and individuality. As Leonard says he doesn’t really understand the “rules” and “anyone can deliver the right line. But that’s not real. That doesn’t prove anything. What matters is what a person is really like.” In our current world of succinct sound bites, rapid social media likes and Instagram hits, this is a refreshing approach amidst the maelstrom of our modern world.  This is a book to linger over, to savour and enjoy in a quiet corner, the outside world forgotten. As you near the end you may wish you could dwell a little longer in the thoughtful, humble, “quiet” lives of Leonard and Hungry Paul, rather than re-join the loud, didactic society outside your door and ask yourself who can really change the world?  CUSTOMER REVIEW BY Katharine Mahoney

In the midst of our noise and alarms, this book comes as a joyous celebration of quiet. It takes us into the lives of two friends who find it impossible to meet the expectation the world has of them. And though it may seem that little happens, the events that befall them – for one a romance, for the other a role which brings new status – are, for all their everyday nature, transformational. Leonard, feeling that his world is shrinking, wants to make it larger; for Hungry Paul, the world has always
been too big and he prefers to stand back, doing no harm. Each of them makes their case, Leonard revealing to his new-found love his bafflement at how to be with her; Hungry Paul explaining to his sister that she need not rescue him from himself; while at the core of the book is the friends’ acceptance of each other. All this could easily fall into sentimentality but throughout the writing has a precision and humour that captures brilliantly the paradox of not being able to connect with others while being able to look at them and yourself with the sharpest of lenses. In a world that can be
very cruel to people like Leonard and Paul, this is a book full of light and kindness. CUSTOMER REVIEW BY Ken Smith

£8.99 Paperback, Fiction, Bluemoose Books