#ARC #Review: The Leaden Heart by Chris Nickson @ChrisNickson2 @severnhouse #HistoricalFiction

Today I am delighted to be sharing a review for Chris Nickson’s latest instalment in the Tom Harper Mystery series, The Leaden Heart. There is simply not enough space to cover all the good that I have to say about this baby. It’s the perfect blend of a period police procedural, subtle feminist undertones, and intricate character dynamics. It’s punchy, quick paced, and the perfect read for when that quintessentially Canadian spring snow storm leaves you trapped inside for the evening.


leaden heart.jpg

Title: The Leaden Heart

Author: Chris Nickson

Publisher: Severn House

Expected Publication Date: July 1, 2019 (USA)

Genre: Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Police Procedural

Themes: Murder, Crime, White Collar Crime, Family, Women’s Suffrage

Features: N/A


My Rating: 5/5


Synopsis

Leeds, England. July, 1899. The hot summer has been fairly quiet for Detective Superintendent Tom Harper and his squad, until a daring burglary occurs at an expensive Leeds address. Then his friend and former colleague, Inspector Billy Reed, asks for his help. Billy’s brother, Charlie, a shopkeeper, has committed suicide. Going through Charlie’s papers, Billy discovers crippling rent rises demanded by his new landlord. Could these have driven him to his death? As Harper investigates, he uncovers a web of intimidation and corruption that leads back to the mysterious North Leeds Company. Who is pulling the strings behind the scenes and bringing a new kind of misery and violence to the people of Leeds? Harper is determined to unmask the culprits, but how much blood will be shed as he tries?


Review 

Okay. I’ve been in love with Chris Nickson’s writing ever since I had the pleasure of participating in the blog tour for The Tin God, so I will give you the head’s up now that I am very, very biased in writing this review! I mean, you (or maybe just I) gotta love when strong, feminist fiction features the kind of swoon-worthy and supportive male leads seen in Tom Harper and Billy Reed. There’s nothing steamier than a strong man who dotes on their child, is active in their upbringing, and says to their wife not only are you a successful business owner but I’mma gonna support you in all your endeavours even when society wants nothing more than to hold you down. It seriously makes my ovaries hurt.

Give me more.

Now that I’ve got the mushy-gushy swooning aside, let’s talk about the action. The crimes in Harper’s latest mystery are a departure from what we’ve seen before, with an introduction to white collar crime and political corruption. I loved the mental challenge of following the paper trail, and the frustration of knowing the criminal without having the evidence to pursue them. The addition of the wealthy elite and the legal loopholes throwing up roadblocks at every opportunity had me cursing in frustration, my hackles up every time the councillors tried to pressure Tom at work, and drove me over the edge when those political manipulations bled over into Annabelle’s work with the Guardians.

But this baby isn’t all paper trails and clandestine meetings in smoky pubs, there’s a juicy sub-plot filled with murders, robberies, and good old-fashioned police work. Deeply immersed in gangland brutality and aided by a quirky coroner, these gritty crimes added a health dose of action to an otherwise heady case. Although it broke my heart that these murders revolved around Billy Reed’s family, taking the lives of both his brother and sister-in-law, further straining the tenuous start to a repaired relationship between Harper and Reed.

I loved the dynamic in Millgarth as well. With everyone working together as a team, officers having each other’s backs regardless of their ranks, and a willingness to acknowledge and play to each man’s individual strengths and aptitudes. I appreciated Ash’s quick mind, Sission’s geeky love of Latin, and Crossley’s running interference to protect everyone from the town councillors. I felt Tom’s pain as a Superintendent as the Boer War approached, and the reality of having to replace his men with volunteers while the city’s at it’s most vulnerable.

And Annabelle’s arc can’t go unmentioned either. It was fun to follow her word as a Poor Law Guardian after her landmark election, and simultaneously disheartening to witness her struggle as a woman making waves in man’s world. It’s always heartbreaking to see someone wanting to make a difference, but not knowing how, and even more so when those that are meant to be engaged in fixing the problem aren’t even willing to have the conversation. And it was timely too, as even though Annabelle’s story highlights the still persistent disparity between policy and practice when it comes to aiding those in need.

Beautifully written and packed with period details, Nickson will draw you in and leave you wanting more. Full of twists, turns, and bumps in the road The Leaden Heart is a carefully crafted balance between thrilling crime and interpersonal drama. I’m excited to see what comes next for the Harper, the team at Millgarth, and especially for Annabelle and her fight to change world.

Read it book lovers, this baby is fantastic!


Author Information 

cn021Chris Nickson has written since he was a boy growing up in Leeds, starting with a three-paragraph school essay telling a tale of bomb disposal when he was 11. That brought the revelation that he enjoyed telling stories, and then more stories, teenage poetry, and music, as both a bassist and then a singer-songwriter-guitarist.

Chris spent 30 years living in the US, playing in bands and writing. He’s made a living as a writer since 1994. Much of his work has been music journalism, combining the twin passions of music and writing, specialising in world and roots music. His reviews and features are published in print and online, notably with fRoots, Sing Out!, emusic.com, and allmusic.com. He’s also the author of The NPR Casual Listener’s Guide to World Music.

Chris has also published 28 other non-fiction books, most of them quickie biographies, and has had a pair of one act plays staged in Seattle. His short fiction has appeared in several small magazines, and in the anthology Criminal Tendencies. A collection of his short Leeds fiction appeared under the title, Leeds, The Biography.

He moved back to the UK in 2005. The Broken Token was published by Creme de la Crime in 2010. The second of the Leeds novels featuring Richard Nottingham appeared in hardback in May 2011 with the third and fourth (The Constant Lovers and Come the Fear) appearing in 2012. The fifth and six in the series (At the Dying of the Year and Fair and Tender Ladies) arrived in 2013. The seventh novel, Free From All Danger, will appear in October 2017, Cold Cruel Winter was named one of the Best Mysteries of the Year in 2011 by Library Journal, and the audio book of The Broken Token was one of the Independent on Sunday’s Audiobooks of 2012.

Emerald City and West City Blues, two books featuring Seattle music journalist Laura Benton, are available on ebook and audiobook.

The Crooked Spire is set in Chesterfield in 1361 and can be found in paperback and ebook, as can the sequel, The Saltergate Psalter. The final volume in the trilogy, The Holywell Dead, will appear in 2017.

A series set in Leeds in the 1890s features Detective Inspector Tom Harper. Gods of Gold is the first volume, followed by Two Bronze Pennies, Skin Like Silver, The Iron Water, and On Copper Street. The Tin God is scheduled for publication in May 2017.

Dark Briggate Blues is a 1950s noir, with enquiry agent Dan Markham and also taking place in Leeds, as does The New Eastgate Swing, the second volume to feature Markham.

Lottie Armstrong, one of the first policewomen in Leeds, was the heroine of Modern Crimes, set in 1924. She reappears 20 years later in The Year of the Gun.

Chris is also the author of Solid Air – The Life of John Martyn. This appeared as an ebook and print on demand in June 2011, along with John’s posthumous album and a tribute CD that features many major names.

Authors Links:

Web site: https://chrisnickson.co.uk/

Twitter: @ChrisNickson2

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/12044.Chris_Nickson

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chrisnicksonwriter/

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#Review: Conspiracy of Lies by Kathryn Gauci #WWIIFiction #HistoricalFiction

Today I’m over the moon to share my 5 star review for Conspiracy of Lies by Katheryn Gauci. Part saucy romance part gripping WWII fiction, I simply couldn’t tear my eyes away from the pages – it was absolutely amazing!


conspiracyTitle: Conspiracy of Lies

Author: Kathryn Gauci

Publisher: Kathryn Gauci

Expected Publication Date: July 12, 2017

Genre: WWII Fiction, Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction

Themes: WWII, SOE, Romance, the French Resistance

Features: Book Club reading guide and questions.


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

From the author of The Embroiderer comes a powerful account of one woman’s struggle to balance her duty to her country and a love she knows will ultimately end in tragedy.

1940. With the Germans about to enter Paris, Claire Bouchard flees France for England. Two years later she is recruited by the Special Operations Executive and sent back into occupied France to work alongside the Resistance.

Working undercover as a teacher in Brittany, Claire accidentally befriends the wife of the German Commandant of Rennes and the blossoming friendship is about to become a dangerous mission.

Knowing that thousands of lives depended on her actions, Claire begins a double life as a Gestapo Commandant’s mistress in order to retrieve vital information for the Allied invasion of France, but ghosts from her past make the deception more painful than she could have imagined.

Part historical, part romance and part thriller, Conspiracy of Lies takes us on a journey through occupied France, from the picturesque villages of rural Brittany to the glittering dinner parties of the Nazi elite, in a story of courage, heartbreak and secrecy.


My Review

I’ve given up on thinking that I don’t like romance, because clearly I have been loving it lately – and Conspiracy of Lies was no exception. It starts of with a whirlwind romance in Paris (um hello, beautiful daydream much?) and is followed dramatically by a complete immersion in the SOE and a deployment to occupied France. I mean, oooft! Does it get any better?

I loved the tenacity of Claire Bouchard, and especially the retrospective introduction to the story. We see Claire at the end of her journey sharing moments with her daughter, so we know that she survives. Yet despite this, the events that Claire endures in 1943 had me on the edge of my seat wondering how she makes it through. I seriously doubted that Claire was going to survive her landing in Brittany, ad certainly not her unexpected infiltration of the Nazi elite as she fell into the bed of a Gestapo Commandant.

I enjoyed too, how Claire’s past and present were interspersed throughout the book. Her return to Brittany and reconnection with her daughter cut the tension of Claire’s mission at the best possible moment. Not only did they provided glimpses of insight into Claire’s character, but they also dolled out key clues into the history of the geography in which the story takes place. I found that it really helped to root the narrative in reality, and to make it feel like the past isn’t so far away.

And the scenario with the Gestapo Commandant was an absolute trip as well. It really brought to light the degree of subterfuge and infiltration undertaken by members of the SOE and the complicated situations that had to be navigated in the aftermath of the war. And keeping in mind the secrecy to which SOE agents were sworn, I can only imagine how shocking discovering the truth of a parent or grandparent’s real past might have been.

Yet, the magnitude of this drama was subtly balanced by the opulence of the Nazi elite. The dresses, the hotels, the parties and the food in the face of such drastic austerity was almost overwhelming. And once Claire was embedded in this world, I couldn’t shake the feeling of Stockholm Syndrome despite Claire’s obvious commitment to the SOE. The depth of detail provided a sense a grounding and realism that made every scenario believable, and solid foundation on which some extreme events can take place. And the best part was that despite having some knowledge of the French Resistance and the events leading up to the liberation of France, I never once felt that I could guess what was coming around the corner or that I knew an outcome before it came to pass.

This baby is truly the best of both worlds with enough pulling at the heartstrings to give you a flutter, and a riveting game of SOE cat-and-mouse espionage to keep those pages turing. It’s detailed, dramatic, and incredibly well written.

Read it book lovers, you won’t be disappointed!


Many thanks to NetGalley for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.

#Review: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff #WWIIFiction #HistoricalFiction @PamJenoff

I first fell in love with Pam Jenoff’s writing almost two years ago, when I read and reviewed The Orphan’s Tale. So today I am absolutely over the moon to be offering a 5* review for The Lost Girls of Paris. An intricate braid of three riveting stories, Jenoff transports you back to WWII in Paris, London, and New York and to a time of immeasurable sacrifice, incalculable strength, and determination in the face of overwhelming odds. This book is an absolute beauty and a must read for lovers of historical and WWII fiction.


lost girlsTitle: The Lost Girls of Paris

Author: Pam Jenoff

Publisher: Park Row

Expected Publication Date: January 29, 2019

Genre: WWII Fiction, Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction

Themes: WWII, SOE, Romance, the French Resistance

Features: Book Club reading guide and questions.


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

From the author of the runaway bestseller The Orphan’s Talecomes a remarkable story of friendship and courage centered around three women and a ring of female spies during World War II.

1946, Manhattan

Grace Healey is rebuilding her life after losing her husband during the war. One morning while passing through Grand Central Terminal on her way to work, she finds an abandoned suitcase tucked beneath a bench. Unable to resist her own curiosity, Grace opens the suitcase, where she discovers a dozen photographs—each of a different woman. In a moment of impulse, Grace takes the photographs and quickly leaves the station.

Grace soon learns that the suitcase belonged to a woman named Eleanor Trigg, leader of a ring of female secret agents who were deployed out of London during the war. Twelve of these women were sent to Occupied Europe as couriers and radio operators to aid the resistance, but they never returned home, their fates a mystery. Setting out to learn the truth behind the women in the photographs, Grace finds herself drawn to a young mother turned agent named Marie, whose daring mission overseas reveals a remarkable story of friendship, valor and betrayal.

Vividly rendered and inspired by true events, New York Times bestselling author Pam Jenoff shines a light on the incredible heroics of the brave women of the war, and weaves a mesmerizing tale of courage, sisterhood and the great strength of women to survive in the hardest of circumstances.


My Review

I’m biased, I know, but I love Jenoff’s writing. So I simply couldn’t resist when The Lost Girls of Paris are out, bought a copy on publication day, and then made myself wait until we went on holidays to read it. I’m seriously mad that I didn’t cave and let myself read it sooner, but it was absolutely worth the wait, and one of the best rides I’ve ever been on!

Let’s start with my favourite thing apparent in Jenoff’s writing – the obvious presence of research! It’s clear that no detail is haphazard or half-assed, and that no stone has been left unturned. Everything from the locales to the clothing breathes authenticity and and make the characters and their lives feel ever-so real. But what I appreciated more than the reliance on fact to craft the tales of Marie, Eleanor, and Grace was that all of the characters and events were entirely fictional. As a lover of WWII fiction I have read enough fictional versions of Himmler to last a lifetime, so having new and exciting characters in this setting was a breath of fresh air. It gave the freedom for an immersive read without inspiring an irrational need to fact check, and for that I am eternally grateful.

The split storylines of our ladies were beautiful complements to one another. I think in some cases that if the book had been about just one or the others of the women, that the sadness of their stories would have been overwhelming. However, the balance of Grace rebuilding her life after the loss of her husband served as the perfect complement to the hopelessness of Marie & Eleanor’s positions.

Of all the girls, I found Eleanor’s lot the most precarious and nerve wracking to read. Sure, she was our of the action and running things from the SOE, as it was clear early on that her superiors were setting her up to take the fall if her F Section agents failed and the credit if they succeeded. And because the women of F Section were never given official ranks or any sort of recognition, they too became easy to sweep under the rug when things got difficult. I can only imagine how painfully aware of this situation Eleanor was, which is why she was so invested in the recruiting, training deployment, and monitoring of her agents.

Garce was hard to read too, but in the best possible way. She bucked against the expectations of both her family and society in order to find herself doling her husband’s death, and in that had to grapple with an almost overwhelming amount of grief and guilt. Finding Eleanor’s suitcase was the perfect act of deflection to find closure for both the victim on the car crash and herself. I found her romance with Mark both sweet and timely, and adored how Mark pursued Grace through kindness and assistance rather than machismo and pressure. It was nice to see his empathy and understanding of Grace’s grief and other needs, as well as his respect and appreciation for her choice in having a career.

Marie was an absolute breath of fresh air. As much as I pitied her back story with such a users husband who ran off her fortune after their daughter was born I liked her grit, tenacity, and determination to maintain her home, even with Tess living safely in the country. I loved how she stuck it out against the odds when everyone expected her to fail in her training, and even when she expected failure from herself. I found her easy to relate to and exciting to read – especially after she was dropped for her mission in France.

The interplay between the three plots was perfectly balanced and made for an absolutely outstanding read. The push and pull between hope and grief, loss and love, war and recovery made for a dynamic and enjoyable experience. Like I said, I know I’m biased, being a Jenoff groupie and all, but I would recommend this baby to anyone. It’s the perfect blend of history and fiction, and it hits you in the heartstrings over and over again. It’s absolute perfection.


I purchased and reviewed this title independently, all opinions are my own.

#BlogTour #Review: The Tin God by Chris Nickson @Annebonnybook @ChrisNickson2 #HistoricalFiction

I might be sitting on a beach in Mexico, but today I have the pleasure in taking part in the blog tour for Chris Nickson’s latest novel The Tin God. Pulling together a good old-fashion police procedural and a heavy dose of women’s suffrage this baby is sure to please lover’s of historical fiction and women’s fiction alike!

For those that read and share this post, please accept my thanks in advance – I will be sure to share the book love when I return to the land of snow and unpredictable weather. ❤

BANNER


Synopsis

2018 marks the centenary of women receiving the Parliamentary vote. Some women, at least. But well before that time, many women of all classes could take part in local elections. Not only casting their vote, but standing for office as members of the School Board or Poor Law Guardians.

In The Tin God, the seventh Tom Harper novel, that’s exactly what Annabelle Harper does. Already a speaker for the Leeds Women’s Suffrage Society, she’s one of seven females selected to run for election as a Poor Law Guardian.

It’s progress, but not always well received. Several of the Leeds newspapers keep running editorials, urging their readers to support the male candidates. But one man goes even further. He believes that women have no place in politics, and he’ll do everything to stop them. His campaign begins with anonymous letters, and quickly escalates to threats, bombs, and murder. The only clues are fragments of folk songs that he leaves at the scene.

For Detective Superintendent Tom Harper, the political has become terrifyingly personal.

‘It all began when a friend suggested that Annabelle should run for office,’ Nickson says. ‘With that, a lightbulb seemed to click on. In an age where female politicians are regularly abused online, where an MP can be shot in broad daylight, where the harassment of women by men stands as an everyday occurrence, this felt like a book that I needed to write. What’s happening now is nothing new. The march towards votes for women really began in 1832. We need to celebrate every victory they fought to have.’

The Tin God will be published by Severn House on March 29, 2018. It will be launched on May 5, as part of The Vote Before The Vote exhibition at Leeds Central Library.


Review 

I absolutely adored this book, right from the very first chapter. I loved the setting, I loved the characters, and I loved the gritty feel of Victorian police work. But more than anything, I was in love with the plucky and persistent Annabelle Harper, and with all the women like her who moved mountains with regards to women’s rights today.

I mean sure, Tom Harper was working a pretty intense bombing/ murder case with a seriously twisted unsub that kept leaving these strange little clues. And sure, there was this whole sub-story wrapped up in traditional folk songs that had me listening to hours and hours of music online. And sure, there was this whole other story about smuggling and booze-running, but the show was definitely stollen by one, little, pub-owning woman who had the nerve to run in an election. That’s all I can say without dropping too many spoilers, but seriously, The Tin God was absolutely amazing!

And let’s not forget to talk about the fashion my friends. So much of period fiction is driven by the details, and Nickson did not disappoint. So much detail was paid to the clothing, especially Annabelle’s dresses, that I could close my eyes and envision every scene without effort. From the thickness of the wool to the cut of one’s lace, the details were absolutely complete. And this attention to detail extended to all areas of the book, including the landscape and architecture of the communities in which the narrative took place. I could almost breathe the heavy industrial air and feel the grit on the bricks, and for that I loved it even more.

I really enjoyed Nickson’s decision to incorporate the suffrage movement into the Harper’s lives, rather than just the victims. What was even better, was that Nickson portrayed not only a woman seeking to create a better life for her daughter, but also the men who actively supported these women and their fight. I did question, a little, whether or not this was a realistic element of Tom’s character, but it really did make for enjoyable reading so I was happy to see it! It was also refreshing to the number of businesses owned and run by women, and how vital they were to society in a time when most sought to sweep their agency under the rug.

What I found disturbingly interesting though, was that even though this novel was set in 1897, so much of the commentary on social attitudes still rings true today. It’s frightening how one resistor to change can cause so much fear in a community, even when that community is openly change. The fear mongering, the panic, and the social atmosphere all rang true to current events, and I think that really helped to maker this feel real.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! I loved the Leeds and the Whitby storylines, both of which were clearly well researched, and I really enjoyed the diversity found within the characters. This might be a quick read, but it certainly packs a punch, and it is sure to please lovers of historical fiction, police procedurals, and those interested in the history of women’s suffrage alike.


Author Information 

cn021Chris Nickson has written since he was a boy growing up in Leeds, starting with a three-paragraph school essay telling a tale of bomb disposal when he was 11. That brought the revelation that he enjoyed telling stories, and then more stories, teenage poetry, and music, as both a bassist and then a singer-songwriter-guitarist.

Chris spent 30 years living in the US, playing in bands and writing. He’s made a living as a writer since 1994. Much of his work has been music journalism, combining the twin passions of music and writing, specialising in world and roots music. His reviews and features are published in print and online, notably with fRoots, Sing Out!, emusic.com, and allmusic.com. He’s also the author of The NPR Casual Listener’s Guide to World Music.

Chris has also published 28 other non-fiction books, most of them quickie biographies, and has had a pair of one act plays staged in Seattle. His short fiction has appeared in several small magazines, and in the anthology Criminal Tendencies. A collection of his short Leeds fiction appeared under the title, Leeds, The Biography.

He moved back to the UK in 2005. The Broken Token was published by Creme de la Crime in 2010. The second of the Leeds novels featuring Richard Nottingham appeared in hardback in May 2011 with the third and fourth (The Constant Lovers and Come the Fear) appearing in 2012. The fifth and six in the series (At the Dying of the Year and Fair and Tender Ladies) arrived in 2013. The seventh novel, Free From All Danger, will appear in October 2017, Cold Cruel Winter was named one of the Best Mysteries of the Year in 2011 by Library Journal, and the audio book of The Broken Token was one of the Independent on Sunday’s Audiobooks of 2012.

Emerald City and West City Blues, two books featuring Seattle music journalist Laura Benton, are available on ebook and audiobook.

The Crooked Spire is set in Chesterfield in 1361 and can be found in paperback and ebook, as can the sequel, The Saltergate Psalter. The final volume in the trilogy, The Holywell Dead, will appear in 2017.

A series set in Leeds in the 1890s features Detective Inspector Tom Harper. Gods of Gold is the first volume, followed by Two Bronze Pennies, Skin Like Silver, The Iron Water, and On Copper Street. The Tin God is scheduled for publication in May 2017.

Dark Briggate Blues is a 1950s noir, with enquiry agent Dan Markham and also taking place in Leeds, as does The New Eastgate Swing, the second volume to feature Markham.

Lottie Armstrong, one of the first policewomen in Leeds, was the heroine of Modern Crimes, set in 1924. She reappears 20 years later in The Year of the Gun.

Chris is also the author of Solid Air – The Life of John Martyn. This appeared as an ebook and print on demand in June 2011, along with John’s posthumous album and a tribute CD that features many major names.

Authors Links:

Web site: https://chrisnickson.co.uk/

Twitter: @ChrisNickson2

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/12044.Chris_Nickson

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chrisnicksonwriter/


Many thanks to Abby at Anne Bonny Books for organizing this tour, and to Tim Hicks for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

#BlogTour #GuestPost #Review: The Future Can’t Wait by Angelena Boden

1-1200

Today I am delighted to be hosting a stop on the blog tour for Angelena Boden’s The Future Can’t Wait. This tragically gripping emotional roller coaster ride will have you cursing, grieving, and grasping at straws but it’s themes are so timely and hard hitting that it’s an absolute must read. In addition to my regular review, today I also have the pleasure of sharing a guest post by the lovely Angelena Boden focusing on location and context – which is particularly fitting as being a Canadian blogger I only know of Birmingham what is presented through skewed, filtered, and highly biased news.


futureTitle: The Future Can’t Wait

Author: Angelena Boden

Publisher: Urbane Publications

Publication Date: November 2, 2017

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction

Themes: Families, Racism, Grief, Social Dynamics


Synopsis

The Future Can’t Wait is a contemporary novel set in multicultural Birmingham against a background of growing radicalisation of young people sympathetic to Islamic State.   Kendra Blackmore’s half Iranian daughter Ariana (Rani) undergoes an identity crisis which results in her cutting off all contact with her family. Sick with worry and desperate to understand why her home loving daughter would do this, Kendra becomes increasingly desperate for answers – and to bring her estranged daughter home….


Guest Post 

SETTING FOR MY NOVEL – BIRMINGHAM? WHY NOT BALI?

GP8- Bham-Canal

Going back to my teens, I remember hiding under my bedcovers to gorge on Mills and Boon romances. Oh the mystical settings of Paris and Rome and the exotic islands of Mauritius and Madagascar would fill my head with travels to come. The future was bright. The future was…. Not BIRMINGHAM!

This is the second novel I have set against the background of England’s second largest city mainly because I lived in Bournville, chocolate-land, for almost thirty years and am in tune with the city’s pulse. In addition I am a passionate defender of a city I feel is misunderstood. Rather than give you a history lesson, here are a few quirky facts about a city I once called home.

GP8- 1C

 

  • Birmingham means home (ham) of the people (ing) of the tribal leader, Beorma.
  • It has more miles of canals than Venice. Birmingham 35, Venice 26. So you know where to have your next holiday.
  • Tolkien, author of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, spent his childhood in the tiny village of Sarehole, South Birmingham. The Shire, home of Bilbo in the Hobbit is said to have been modelled on this place.
  • James Watt, (who gave his name to our measurement of light output) lived in Birmingham 1775-1819 and developed the steam engine. He and Matthew Boulton, engineer, manufacturer and Watt’s business partner, “sold” the industrial revolution to the world. Watt also invented the letter copying machine, forerunner of the photocopier.
  • John Baskerville gave his name to a typeface in the 1750s. He started out as a teacher of calligraphy but his greatest ambition was to print books of the utmost quality.
  • Tony Hancock, Jasper Carrot and Benjamin Zephaniah all hail from Brum (among others).
  • Birmingham is home to many past and present rock bands including Ocean Colour Scene, Duran Duran, ELO, UB40 and Black Sabbath.
  • Be green with envy when you know that the city has more parks than any other European city, six million trees and a dozen or more gold medals from Britain in Bloom and the Chelsea Flower Show.
  • Birmingham was known as the city of a 1,000 trades and of course everybody knows the story of Cadbury and the Longbridge car plant which produced the Mini.
  • I can’t end this hot list without mentioning some other famous writers connected to Birmingham. From the same part of the city as me came The Reverend Wilbert Vere Awdry, creator of Thomas the Tank Engine, curate in Kings Norton. Lee Child grew up in Brum and Arthur Conan Doyle spent several months a year in Aston from 1879-1882.

GP8- 1E

Several scenes in The Future Can’t Wait are set in The Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield, seven miles north of Birmingham, locally known as Sutton. It’s a wealthy part of the city and was historically part of Warwickshire until 1974 when it got absorbed into the West Midlands. Like the rest of Birmingham it has a long and interesting history and continually attracts people who are looking to move into a more rural area without losing the amenities of a large city.

An old-fashioned romance in the book develops in Sutton Park, a 2,400 Natural Nature reserve boasting woodland, seven lakes, wetland and marches bursting with a rich variety of wildlife. Cattle and ponies graze on the land and the park attracts model plane enthusiasts, cyclists, walkers and families. No doubt many a romantic tryst is carried out in the woodlands.

I chose this part of the city for the book because it presents a stereotype to the world of predominantly white, middle-class, well to do Britain. Take a walk through neighbouring Four Oaks to see what I mean. We live in a time when assumptions are made about all sorts of people and in my own humble way, I wanted to show that we can be very much mistaken.

I lived in a smart (read white) part of multi-cultural Birmingham with an Iranian husband and two olive skinned children. Any comments directed towards us were couched in patronising tones at dinner parties. Here’s one example from 1989. “Your daughter speaks very good English.”  There’s no answer to that is there?


My Review

This was, in all honesty, one of the hardest books I’ve had the pleasure of reading this year. It was not hard because of the writing style or length, but because it was so raw and gritty that I had to take breaks in order to digest everything that was going on. 

Kendra was such a vulnerable and fragile lead, and she showcased perfectly how anyone can be blindsided by loss and grief. I enjoyed the irony of her professional background and subject matter in class in relation to her own personal traumas, and marvelled at her willingness to engage with psychics despite her better judgement. I constantly found myself thinking that for a psychologist Kendra wasn’t exactly the best with people, but that doesn’t alway mean we’re capable of practicing what we preach! I really enjoyed that the story was told from her point of view however,  and I appreciated the depths of her emotions. Kendra’s grief process felt all to real, and I certainly don’t think she would have made it trough without that one good friend (and a good cuppa tea) to keep her on track.

I don’t think that I could have been more angry with Ariana for her decisions, regardless of whether or not she felt smothered or felt like David had interfered in her life. And I say this from that standpoint of someone who actually and legitimately moved to the other side of the world as soon as I was legally able in order to gain some space and figure out who the heck I was. But at the same time, my parents always knew that I was safe, how to get in touch with me (phone, email, address or itinerary), and that my choice wasn’t one made to spite them. That ending though! I would have screamed… and maybe slapped someone. But I do suppose that it truly embodies the selfishness that has come to epitomize an entire generation. Regardless, I was delighted by the fact that Kendra finally had something to look forward to in becoming a grandmother, and that she had finally moved through her grief process into seeing a future that was a little brighter.

My only complaint is that we never got to hear David’s decision from his time in Pembrokeshire. This is one loose end that I really would have liked to have seen wrapped up. But, at the same time, sometimes we don’t have the chance to say all the things we want to before life gets in the way. I really loved David’s character though, as he made this novel diverse on more than just one level. His quirk, routines, and what I read as innocence served to break the tension that otherwise would have made this read overwhelming.

As for location, I think that the choice of Birmingham was absolutely perfect. Having lived in the UK twice now, I have heard a great deal about the stigma and tensions surrounding the city. Even though Kendra’s family is removed slightly in their wealthy suburb, the impact of fear mongering and radicalized racial tensions truly are inescapable. And with the contemporary detail of the Brexit referendum and I can only imagine what the tension on the pages would have read as for someone who actually experience the run up to that vote. It’s those little, grounding details that really hit home for me and made me feel as though I was right there as well.

Would I recommend this book? In a heartbeat! It is the kind of poignant, relevant contemporary literature that we need to engage with. The Future Can’t Wait is beautifully written and encapsulates all off the ups and downs of the grieving process in the most realistic way. Powerful and heavy-hitting, you don’t need to know a thing about Birmingham to appreciate the context as this is the type of tale that is truly universal.


Author Information 

Angelena-BodenAngelena Boden (M.Soc.Sc PGDE) has spent thirty five years as an international training consultant, specialising in interpersonal skills and conflict resolution. She trained in Transactional Analysis, the psychology of communication and behaviour, her preferred tool for counselling and coaching.

Since retiring from training, she runs a coaching practice in Malvern for people who are going through transition periods in their life; divorce, empty nesting, redundancy or coping with difficult situations at work, home and within the wider family.

Angelena has two half Iranian daughters and has extensive experience of helping mixed nationality couples navigate problems in their marriages.

She is the author of The Cruelty of Lambs, a novel about psychological domestic abuse. Her new book, The Future Can’t Wait tackles the breakdown of a mother and daughter relationship within a cross cultural context. It is published by Urbane Publications and is out in November 2017.

Author Links:

Web: http://www.angelenaboden.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AngelenaBoden @AngelenaBoden

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bodenangelena/


Many thanks to Angelena Boden and Urbane Publications for providing an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review, and to Abby Fairbrother-Slater @annebonnybooks for arranging this fabulous blog tour.