Sunday, January 17, 2021

We Are All Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan

Paperback: 371 pages

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Merky Books, Penguin, Random House.

Source: LoveReading Consumer Reader Review Panel Member

First Sentence: It is six minutes to four in the morning.

Review Quote: 'Rightfully tipped for greatness' SUNDAY TIMES

Prizes:  In 2019 Zayyan won Stormzy’s inaugural Merky Books new writers’ prize. The Independent's January Book of the Month.

My Opinion:

It was a pleasure to read this sensitively written debut novel which concentrates on racial prejudices. Especially the way it raised my awareness of events in the history of Uganda, of which I knew about but not in any depth.

The protagonists have all been affected by British Colonialism and the political history of Uganda, during Idi Amin's regime and the expulsion of the Ugandan Asians is told through letters written by Hasan. In present day London Sameer is not happy despite supposedly living a dream lifestyle. 

The following quote from the novel puts the entire story, for me anyway, into perspective. 'If you don't understand where you've come from, you'll never really understand who you are or where you're going.'

Highly recommended to anyone interested in a very readable explanation of what living in a world full of prejudice and generation differences is really like.


Précis Courtesy of Goodreads:

1960's UGANDA. Hasan is struggling to run his family business following the sudden death of his wife. Just as he begins to see a way forward, a new regime seizes power, and a wave of rising prejudice threatens to sweep away everything he has built.

Present-day LONDON. Sameer, a young high-flying lawyer, senses an emptiness in what he thought was the life of his dreams. Called back to his family home by an unexpected tragedy, Sameer begins to find the missing pieces of himself not in his future plans, but in a past he never knew.

Author Profile:

                                                 Photo by FARZANAH MAMOOJEE

Hafsa Zayyan is a writer and dispute resolution lawyer based in London,  currently working for Quinn Emmanuel as an international arbitration and litigation lawyer. We Are All Birds of Uganda is her debut novel, inspired by her own mixed parentage, Nigerian and Pakistani. She studied Law at the University of Cambridge and holds a masters' degree from the University of Oxford.

Photograph and Biographical Information courtesy of the following sites.

Instagram Page     Hafsa Zayyan - Penguin Books    Amazon Book Page  Goodreads Profile

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Crushed by Kate Hamer

Paperback: 395 pages

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Publisher: Faber and Faber, First published in paperback 2020

Source: Tywyn Public Library

First Sentence: It was a book full of hate.

Review Quote:  As Hamer's eerie, atmospheric novel unfolds, she skillfully recasts Shakespeare's witches as her three teenage leads in a novel that is as much about family dysfunction, burgeoning sexuality and abuse of power as it is about teenage mysticism...Hamer writes beautifully about the complex and shifting dynamics between adolescent female friends. As Phoebe, believing herself to be as powerful as one of the witches in Macbeth, entices her friends into ever more perilous territory, Hamer brings the novel to a startling and powerful conclusion. Crushed is a richly imagined novel about the fine line between teenage friendship, passion and obsession. ― The Observer

My Opinion: Kate Hamer has a very particular style of writing and I must be honest and say it has grown on me. As when I read her debut novel in 2017, 'The Girl in the Red Coat' for my Book Club and I found the writing to be of a high standard but rather dark for my taste. Later that year I attended a Literary Dinner where Kate Hamer was one of the speakers. She gave an interesting talk and I began to understand more her writing. When she writes she obviously enjoys immersing herself in haunting, dark psychological tales, not my favourite genre but I enjoy her novels due to the atmosphere she creates allowing one to become captivated.

If you are a fan of this genre, this creepy story will enthrall you. Three teenage girls, Grace, Orla and Phoebe, the latter is obsessed with Macbeth, to the conclusion of labelling herself a witch. Their intense relationship certainly pushes their friendship to the limit.   

Précis Courtesy of Goodreads:

Phoebe stands on Pulteney Bridge, tights gashed from toe to thigh. The shock of mangled metal and blood-stained walls flashes through her mind as she tries to cover her face so she won't be recognised. It wouldn't do to be spotted looking like this. She's missing a shoe. She feels sick.

Phoebe thought murder and murder happened. Thoughts are just thoughts, they said. Now she knows they were wrong.

At home, Phoebe arranges the scissors and knives so they point toward her mother's room. She is exhausted, making sure there's no trace of herself - not a single hair, not even her scent - left anywhere in the house. She must not let her thoughts unravel, because if they do, there's no telling who might be caught in the crossfire, and Phoebe will have to live with the consequences. 

Author Profile:

Kate Hamer's third novel CRUSHED was published in May 2019 (Faber & Faber). She is the author of THE DOLL FUNERAL (Faber & Faber 2017) which was a Bookseller book of the month and an editor's pick for Radio 4's Open Book. Her first novel THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT has been translated into 18 different languages. It was shortlisted for The Costa First Novel Prize, the British Book Industry Awards Debut Fiction Book of the Year, The John Creasy (New Blood) Dagger and the Wales Book of the Year. It was a Sunday Times bestseller. She grew up in the west country and rural Pembrokeshire and now lives with her husband in Cardiff.

Photograph and Biographical Information courtesy of the following sites.

Amazon Author Page     Twitter - Kate Hamer   Kate Hamer - Author's Official Website

Goodreads Author Profile

Friday, October 9, 2020

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel



Hardback: 882 pages
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Harper Collins 2020
Source: Tywyn Public Library
First Sentence:  Once the queen's head is severed, he walks away. 
Favourite Quote: “We are all dying, just at different speeds.”
Review Quote: ‘It is a book not read, but lived’ Telegraph
Setting: England
Literary Awards: Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020 and Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2020

My Opinion: 

The much awaited finale to Hilary Mantel's trilogy about the life of Thomas Cromwell. The final years of his life, find his rise to power reaching its peak, but how long can he survive as there are plots of rebellion building at home and abroad as his enemies gather.

This final volume, takes us with the author's great enthusiasm for her subject, obvious on every page, from the death of Anne Boleyn right up to Cromwell's own demise. A brilliantly told engrossing tale as in the earlier volumes. The descriptive style of writing brings the period to life not only with wit but also a tremendous feeling of despair. Maybe this is because having studied this period at school one knows the ending. Despite the fact that Thomas Cromwell was not the most pleasant of men, he was still human and trying to carry out the wishes of the King as well as following his own dreams!

The few hundred pages at either end of the novel were certainly for me the most interesting as I found the parts in the middle where Cromwell was reminiscing distracting. Though not enough to stop this being a five star read I do wonder if it was necessary to include so much about the ghosts of his past. Maybe the idea was so this volume can be read alone, though I urge those that are considering reading to read the earlier volumes in the trilogy first. 

My Reviews For Parts 1 and 2 of Trilogy :  Wolf Hall   Bring Up the Bodies   

Précis Courtesy of Goodreads:

England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen, before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves.

Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?

With The Mirror and the Light, Hilary Mantel brings to a triumphant close the trilogy she began with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. She traces the final years of Thomas Cromwell, the boy from nowhere who climbs to the heights of power, offering a defining portrait of predator and prey, of a ferocious contest between present and past, between royal will and a common man’s vision: of a modern nation making itself through conflict, passion and courage.

Author Profile:

Hilary Mantel is the bestselling author of many novels including Wolf Hall, which won the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. Bring Up the Bodies, Book Two of the Wolf Hall Trilogy, was also awarded the Man Booker Prize and the Costa Book Award. She is also the author of A Change of Climate, A Place of Greater Safety, Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, An Experiment in Love, The Giant, O'Brien, Fludd, Beyond Black, Every Day Is Mother's Day, and Vacant Possession. She has also written a memoir, Giving Up the Ghost. Mantel was the winner of the Hawthornden Prize, and her reviews and essays have appeared in The New York Times,The New York Review of Books, and the London Review of Books. She lives in England with her husband. 

Photograph and Biographical Information courtesy of the following sites.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

The Familiars


Paperback: 418 pages                                                                                        
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Zaffre - Bonnier Books UK
Source: Library
First Sentence: I left the house with the letter because I did not know what else to do.
Favourite Quote: “- 'I bet you are not afraid of anything', I said.
'Of course I am,' she said, and she pulled at a loose thread in her apron. 'I am afraid of lies.'-”
Review Quote: Set against the furor leading up to the Pendle Witch Trials, Halls's winning novel is a quietly powerful and richly evocative tale.-- Publishers Weekly
Main Characters: Fleetwood Shuttleworth and Alice Gray

Setting: Lancashire, England in 1612.

My Opinion:  Witchcraft not being a subject I am overly interested in, I was not sure how much I was going to enjoy this recent selection for our Book Club. For example until reading this novel I had never even heard of the Pendle Witchcraft Trials. Probably a surprise to some, but I did say it was outside my realm of interest.

Set in 1612 in Lancashire, England the novel relates the friendship between the seventeen year old mistress of a local Manor House, Fleetwood Shuttleworth and Alice Gray a young midwife, after the latter promises to help Fleetwood to a successful full term pregnancy. Fleetwood has already suffered a series of miscarriages and Alice gives hope to her, as the pregnancy progresses so does their friendship.

Whilst the story is fictional, it follows the true historical timeline and most of the characters were real people. Shocking to be reminded just how cruelly men treated and controlled their womenfolk in the fifteenth century. The power of healing by women seemed to be immediately assumed as Witchcraft, certainly at these times in this region. To say anymore is saying too much and a spoiler. Apart from the story being woven around witchcraft I found it to be a well woven tale about these authentic characters. Enjoyed from an historical viewpoint but in all honesty at times I did find the witchcraft aspect tedious.

A great debut that I recommend to fans of Historical Fiction and possibly tales of Witchcraft, though I am no fan or expert on the latter. Will definitely be adding Stacey Halls new novel The Foundling to my Wishlist straight away.

 Precis Courtesy of  Goodreads:

Young Fleetwood Shuttleworth, a noblewoman, is with child again. None of her previous pregnancies have borne fruit, and her husband, Richard, is anxious for an heir. Then Fleetwood discovers a hidden doctor’s letter that carries a dire prediction: she will not survive another birth. By chance she meets a midwife named Alice Grey, who promises to help her deliver a healthy baby. But Alice soon stands accused of witchcraft.

Is there more to Alice than meets the eye? Fleetwood must risk everything to prove her innocence. As the two women’s lives become intertwined, the Witch Trials of 1612 loom. Time is running out; both their lives are at stake. Only they know the truth. Only they can save each other.

Rich and compelling, set against the frenzy of the real Pendle Hill Witch Trials, this novel explores the rights of 17th-century women and raises the question: Was witch-hunting really women-hunting? Fleetwood Shuttleworth, Alice Grey and the other characters are actual historical figures. King James I was obsessed with asserting power over the lawless countryside (even woodland creatures, or “familiars,” were suspected of dark magic) by capturing “witches”—in reality mostly poor and illiterate women.

Author Profile 

Stacey Halls

Stacey Halls was born in 1989, she grew up in Rossendale, Lancashire, as the daughter of market traders. She has always been fascinated by the Pendle witches. She studied journalism at the University of Central Lancashire and moved to London aged 21. She was media editor at The Bookseller and books editor at, and has also written for Psychologies, the Independent and Fabulous magazine, where she now works as Deputy Chief Sub Editor. The Familiars is her first novel.

Photographs and Biographical Information courtesy of the following sites: