Review of Turn A Blind Eye by Vicky Newham

Newham has written a timely and relevant police procedural with a gripping plot that kept me turning the pages from start to finish. The novel features Bangladeshi Detective Inspector Maya Rahman who has just returned home from the burial of her beloved brother, Sabbir, only to be informed that the head teacher of her former secondary school in East London has been murdered. A white card has been left behind with the body featuring one of the five ancient Buddhist precepts:

I shall abstain from taking the ungiven.

This engaging debut explores the challenges of living, working and gaining an education within a multicultural environment. Within the first few pages the reader is introduced to the burial rites of the Bangladeshi faith, which are moving even as it becomes clear that Rahman is incredibly upset about certain aspects of the service due to the treatment of her brother from many quarters.

Meanwhile at the school back in London, new teacher Steven learns on his first day that the lives of the pupils have been disrupted by other forms of violence prior to the murder of their head teacher. Steve’s challenge is how to bond with the pupils in his class and his new colleagues within an atmosphere of escalating distrust and fear.

Maya soon finds she has a complex case on her hands and has to navigate her way through it with the help of her new Australian Detective Sergeant Dan Mcguire, who is being fast-tracked through UK police training system.

Maya experiences sexism and racism from within the force and externally. It’s nothing new to Maya as she and her wider family have had to deal with fear born out of ignorance their whole lives. Dan has also experienced the realities of racism through attitudes to different cultures in Australia, which offer unique insights into the present case. He also feels isolated in some ways living so far away from his family in the hope that he is creating a better life for them all.

The most interesting aspect of Turn a Blind Eye is that almost every key character has experienced being or feeling like an outsider in some form, whether it’s due to an unspoken negative life experience and/or because they’ve moved countries to find a new home or work, which gives Newham an opportunity to explore the subjects of immigration, sexism, abuse of power, cultural differences and race relations from multiple perspectives. How she achieves this is absolutely fascinating and a genuine education in tolerance and how to learn from seeking first to understand rather than turning to prejudice and ignorance from fear of the unknown.

The writing is incredibly perceptive, well researched, balanced and insightful. The use of Buddhist precepts as the killer’s motivation is clever, as it demonstrates that any faith can be bent to the will of the person committing the crime, it is not the faith that’s at fault but the person who is manipulating it to their own ends. There could not be a better time for a novel of this calibre to make its debut, as the call for tolerance and understanding within it is much needed.

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Turn A Blind Eye by Vicky Newham is published by Harper Collins on 5 April 2018, pre-order your copy here.

Psychologist Vicky Newham grew up in West Sussex and taught in East London for many years, before moving to Whitstable in Kent. She studied for an MA in Creative Writing at Kingston University. Turn a Blind Eye is her debut novel. She is currently working on the next book in the series.

Follow the author on twitter: @VickyNewham 

Website: vickynewham.com

With thanks to Harper Collins and NetGalley for the preview copy.

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Review of The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Some stories should be told and never forgotten, especially those where there is a 36468473stark choice of do or die, which can be mistaken for collaboration. Such is the case for Lale Sokolov and his friends in The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.

As you approach this fictionalised account of the Lale’s true story of how he met the love of his life – Gita – at one of the most brutal Nazi prison camps during World War II – Auschwitz-Birkenau, it’s worth bearing in mind the difference between someone who willingly collaborates with another person and someone who is forced to work for them because to do otherwise equals certain death.

The phrase ‘work will make you free’ is emblazoned above the gates to Auschwitz and for many inmates ‘freedom’ arrived through being worked to death, if they weren’t shot, tortured or sent straight to the gas chambers on the whim of those running the camp.

Lale is a 24 year-old Jew who has volunteered to be the token child taken from his family to work for the Germans, and until the moment he arrives at Auschwitz he’s under the illusion that his choice would keep them safe.

Within minutes of arriving in Auschwitz, Lale is no longer under any illusions about what will keep anyone safe and commits his first small act of rebellion on the way to the showers.

Continue reading “Review of The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris”

Review of The Alarming Palsy of James Orr by Tom Lee

When James Orr wakes up one morning he senses that there’s been a shift in his carefully ordered world, one where he has a good job, the respect of his family and the wider community.

The shift becomes visible as he looks in the mirror and realises that the left side of his face has slid out of place due to Bell’s Palsy. After a brief trip to the doctors in the company of his wife, James finds himself signed off work and without structure to his daily life.

As he tries to come to terms with his new reality, James realises that all the relationship rules have changed due to his medical condition. People don’t know how to be with him now that he has a visible disability and he doesn’t know how to respond to these evident changes in attitude towards him. This leads James to behave in ways he would never have contemplated before.

For example, he becomes obsessed, paranoid and insecure in double-quick time, particularly around a new neighbour called Kit, who is prone to going shirtless in March while fixing the roof. This act brings out James perfectionist streak to be seen doing and saying the right thing, which he miserably fails at because his facial deformity leaves him unable to smile normally or to speak well, making him feel even more depressed as scuttles back indoors.

James’s situation goes from bad to worse as he proceeds to misjudge every encounter with his wife, their friends, neighbours and the local resident’s committee as the thin veneer of respectability he thought he had slips away.

Continue reading “Review of The Alarming Palsy of James Orr by Tom Lee”

Review of Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

Reservoir 13 is definitely one of my standout reads of 2017. It’s one of those beautifully written novels that quietly implants scenes in your memory that you can recall at will. There is a gorgeous fluidity to the writing that makes you forget that you are reading, as you’re drawn into the lives of the people impacted by the disappearance of a 13 year-old girl – known as Rebecca, Becky or Bex.

I loved how McGregor captures the slight sense of disconnection that people feel when they’re trying to make sense of something disturbing, in the short, punchy sentence structure of the opening chapter. There’s a quiet resonance to the chapters that follow, as McGregor delves into the shadow life of each villager, never staying with one for long but giving each enough time so that you have a sense of who they are, how they think and how the unresolved disappearance of the girl has infiltrated aspects of their lives and how it hasn’t. Continue reading “Review of Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor”

Changing lives… with author of Our Altered Life – Charlene Beswick

Today I am welcoming author Charlene Beswick to the blog. Anyone following CharleneCharlene’s online account of her life with her children will know how much she loves them. What they may not know though, is the internal struggle Charlene initially experienced when she first learned that one of her beautiful twins – Harry – was born with Goldenhar syndrome, which meant only half of his face had developed in the womb. Later the family would discover that Harry had autism too. Charlene’s book – Our Altered Life – is an honest and often humourous account of the deeply emotional journey she and her family went on as they learned to create a different way of life together to the one they had been expecting. 

Welcome to the blog Charlene, please introduce yourself to the readers…

I’m Charlene from Staffordshire, I’m 39 years old and mum to twelve year old twins Oliver and Harry. I was a primary school teacher for eight years, which I adored, but the workload and impact on my health (coupled with the fact the Harry is autistic and thinks that sleep is massively overrated) made me quite ill in 2014.

I replaced my teaching income with network marketing. You only get out what you put in with that industry and as the spare time I had allowed me to immerse myself in my writing, my focus and income (eeeeek) dropped. I now focus on writing my blogs and supply teach when I am needed. Occasionally I consider selling a kidney on eBay but hang on to it, just in case.

I am a sarcastic realist and a self-confessed cheese addict who absolutely adores all food! My favourite quote is ‘In the end we only regret the chances we didn’t take’ as I feel that’s completely true. I’m not religious but I am spiritual and I think my experiences over the last decade or so have reaffirmed to me the importance of trusting your gut instinct.

I am engaged to Andrew and he has two children too, so we are a merry band of seven (including Sherlock the dog).

What’s the most significant change you’ve experienced to date?

Becoming a mother.

I understand now why my own mum was so completely incapable of making me understand the sheer intensity and depth of the love she had for me and my siblings. It really isn’t a feeling that you can encapsulate in a sentence and I was excited to experience a love that would transcend any description. I always knew that motherhood would change me to a degree and I eagerly awaited the arrival of my babies through my pregnancy, but having a baby born with only half a face formed and complex health needs changed me in a way I could never have imagined and I was totally unprepared.

What were your initial feelings as you processed what this change would mean to you?

Wow, that’s a huge question.

Initially, if I am honest, I fought it. I didn’t want to be a ‘special needs parent’. That’s not the life I had been dreaming of. I felt that I had failed Harry massively and that I didn’t deserve to be a mother. I doubted my ability to love and nurture him, and Oliver – his twin, and I struggled to connect with the intense and unconditional love that I had expected would flood over me. Parents offered me tales of hope and groups to join but I just couldn’t bring myself to access any of it. It was as if I was admitting my life was never going to be the one I expected and I wrestled with the fact that I couldn’t do anything about it. It was a very dark time for me. I wasn’t offered counselling and have always been perceived as a very positive and strong person, so I painted the biggest smile on my face and slowly imploded.

That is completely understandable and a natural reaction considering your new reality. How did you approach managing the change once you had accepted it?

Accepting our new life was a very gradual process. My boys were born by emergency c-section at 32 weeks and weighed only 3lbs 9oz so they were in special care for six weeks which made it harder to bond I think. But as I got to know the boys I simply fell in love with them both. I confided my feelings in my mum (not my husband, which was fatal for our marriage) and I sought private counselling to deal with my own feelings of failure. I threw myself into knowing as much as I could about Harry’s syndrome and prognosis as well as the intense care that he needed as an infant. In no time at all I ‘felt’ like a mum and as soon as I was at peace with the life we had now, I almost evolved as a person. Sounds very dramatic but I really do believe my boys created a mum from the broken wreck I was and without doubt I am a better person now.

What did you learn from the experience?

I don’t believe that I am a perfectionist in the sense that the end result of everything I do has to be perfect, but I do always give 110% of myself and believe that I should apply everything I’ve got (plus some more) to a situation knowing that whatever the outcome, I gave it everything. Having Harry really challenged my self-perception and I think now, I accept that your best is good enough and you don’t always have to push that extra mile to prove yourself to anyone. I also trust that if you run off course it’s not always a bad thing and that often the scenic route teaches us so much more than the easier route ever would have done. I don’t beat myself up when things go wrong (like losing my business) and I think I have a better perspective on problems. I always ask myself ‘Will this matter in two years time?’, if the answer is no then I give myself permission to let it go, if it’s a yes then I have to think about the ways I can make tiny changes in the here and now to help in the long run. Being so logical can be tricky for me as I do follow my heart over my head, but so far it’s helping to keep my blood pressure stable at least!

How do you feel about change now?

Strangely I have always chased change, even as a teenager. I love new beginnings; new jobs, new friendships. The idea of walking into a room full of strangers excites me as I just don’t know who I will meet and how we may affect each other’s lives. I thrive on change and see it as a challenge and adventure. Certainly, raising my boys has been the biggest adventure of my life. Change is inevitable. For me, fighting it is pointless and so it’s better to just roll with it and see where life takes you. I’m getting ridiculously philosophical in my older years!

What would your top tip be for someone going through a similar experience?

Don’t feel that you have to be brave all the time. It’s okay to have a pity party, just don’t live there. Try to keep some perspective on exactly how significant the challenge is rather than panicking straight away and don’t be too hard on yourself. You ARE enough. And make sure you are talking to people and being honest about your feelings.

Finally, if you could change one thing what would it be?

I would go back in time and tell myself exactly what I have said above. I thought that being brave meant never crumbling. Ironically, the bravest thing I did was to go onto antidepressants when I realised that my mental health was suffering. The only time you fail is when you give up on yourself.

Oh, and I would make all cheeses fat-free but taste-full (sorry, I know that’s two things!)

Wise words, Charlene. Real courage does lie in accepting that you might need help for a little while, and that it’s okay to be kind to yourself as well as others. I also think a lot of people would agree with your plea for fat-free and taste-full cheese! Thank you so much for taking part in ‘changing lives’.

Our Altered Life by Charlene Beswick

Our Altered Life

Synopsis: After a healthy twin pregnancy, Charlene and Mark were shocked to be told that one of their boys had been born with half of his face undeveloped. In seconds, the happy family future they had been planning disintegrated into turmoil and uncertainty.

Laugh out loud funny in places, heart-wrenchingly sad in others, and refreshingly honest at all times, Our Altered Life is Charlene’s wonderful account of how she struggled to forgive herself and bond with a baby she didn’t expect. Follow her transition through grief and anger, challenges and triumphs, loss and acceptance, to love for the life she has now with two children she wouldn’t change for the world.

Charlene has given anyone affected by facial differences, a glimpse into the innermost feelings of what it is like to travel this journey. Our Altered Life, with its adorable anecdotes and thoughtful considerations on life, makes for a compelling read. You’ll laugh and cry through this refreshingly honest memoir and when you finish, you’ll feel empowered by this relatable story of fierce love.

Erica Mossholder, MBA, Executive Director, Children’s Craniofacial Association

Buy the book

Social Media Links

Facebook: Our Altered Life

Instagram: Our Altered Life

Twitter: @ouralteredlife

Find out more about Goldenhar syndrome.


Don’t feel that you have to be brave all the time. It’s okay to have a pity party, just don’t live there. Try to keep some perspective on exactly how significant the challenge is rather than panicking straight away and don’t be too hard on yourself. You ARE enough. And make sure you are talking to people and being honest about your feelings.

Author Charlene Beswick


If you enjoyed reading this interview and would like to take part in the changing lives series, please use the ‘contact me’ form on the blog.

Review of My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

Fourteen-year-old Turtle has been brainwashed by her father, Martin, to hate my-absolute-darling-by-gabriel-tallent (1)herself and the rest of the female sex while he conducts an incestuous relationship with her. To say that love and violence are closely aligned in Turtle’s mind would be an understatement. Yet Turtle has absolute faith in the idea that her father loves her, even as he forces her to do chin-ups by positioning the sharp end of a knife between her thighs as part of his ‘survivalist’ training regime.

Martin has trained Turtle to fire a gun from the age of six, she’s more at home in nature than in the house, and has been struggling at school. Their home is on a hill in northern California but they are not entirely isolated, as Turtle’s grandfather lives nearby. He often tries to intervene to protect Turtle but he has a fractious relationship with his son. A teacher also offers support but Turtle automatically rejects it and many people, both male and female, are reluctant to view Martin as anything other than a ‘charmer’ or a ‘good guy’.

The first indicator of Martin’s skewed perspective of the world comes early on in the first chapter, as he walks Turtle down to the school bus. It’s part of their morning ritual and as Martin looks out over Buckhorn Bay he explains to Turtle how looking at the ocean view before them is meant to ‘be good for the soul’, and then goes on to explain how one day it failed to move him at all, and how that revelation shattered his ability to hold back the darkness that descended on him.

… One day you don’t know what the hell you’re looking at. It’s irreducibly strange and its unlike anything anything except itself and all that brooding was nothing but vanity, every thought you ever had missed the inexplicableness of the thing, the vastness and its uncaring. You’ve been looking at the ocean for years and thought it meant something, and it meant nothing.

The entire novel builds the tension towards the moment that Turtle has a similar revelation about the relationship she has with her father. The turning point for Turtle begins when she stumbles across two teenage boys – Jacob and Brett – who have got lost in the wilderness beyond her home. Through her friendship with these two bantering boys, Turtle discovers that there are other ways to live, other ways to survive, other ways to love as they tease her and welcome her into their lives.

When Martin senses that his daughter is pulling away from his control he goes on the attack to reinforce his sense of ownership over her. She is his ‘whole world’, his ‘absolute darling’, made by him, moulded by him, owned by him. His nickname for her is ‘kibble’, which is a dry feed for animals, so even a term that on the surface appears affectionate is in fact derogatory. One of Martin’s favourite punishments is to make Turtle kneel on a bed of kibble when he feels she has stepped out of line.

Turtle is frequently deemed a ‘bitch’ by Martin and by herself but for different reasons. For Martin the word creates a sense of detachment so he can abuse his daughter and defer the guilt of his actions onto her, for Turtle it’s a method of self-talk that helps her withstand Martin’s onslaught.

The idea of his daughter becoming independent and unpredictable makes Martin lash out viciously with devastating consequences. He bolts, leaving Turtle to deal with strong feelings of misplaced guilt, grief and relief, as she wonders if or when he’ll return.

Even though the pacing and scene setting moves the story along swiftly, I did find myself having to close the book occasionally just to give my visual cortex a break. Tallent does not hold back during scenes of violence and he’s good at building tension through the repetitive rhythm of the family’s rituals, so that the reader’s senses are stretched thin while waiting for the next outburst. Turtle’s resilience despite the physical and emotional battering her body and mind takes often put me in mind of Lisbeth Salander from the Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson.

Tallent’s descriptive powers are particularly strong when he writes about nature, especially when Turtle and her new friend, Jacob, have to fight for their lives when they are swept away by a strong tidal surge and she learns first-hand just how uncaring the ocean can be. The scenes that follow explore whether or not Turtle is product of her genes or her life experience to date.

To have a chance of survival Turtle has to fight the mental conditioning she has been subjected to all her life from her father. As awareness of her true reality rises, Turtle experiences both love and loathing for Martin, craving his touch while also feeling repelled by it, which is a challenging dynamic of an abusive relationship to depict with authenticity in a novel. I think Tallent conveys the complexity of Turtle’s fight with the self fairly well, particularly in the final chapters.

I wouldn’t class My Absolute Darling as a masterpiece, as there are many other real-life and fictional accounts of abusive relationships that are equal to this novel, and some that explore the emotional impact on a deeper level. The two non-fiction books that I’d recommend reading are Strong at the Broken Places: Overcoming the Trauma of Childhood Abuse by Linda T. Stanford and Breaking Free: Help for survivors of child sexual abuse by Carolyn Ainscough.

That said I do think My Absolute Darling is a great début novel. Tallent is definitely a writer to watch as he has a good sense of pace, a perceptive eye for describing the natural world and relating it to the human experience, and he has created a truly memorable character in Turtle. I think Tallent’s real masterpiece is yet to come.

I bought my copy from Waterstones.

Published by Fourth Estate.

Changing lives… with author Sue Johnson: ‘I focused on what I could do – and what helped me.’

Today I’m welcoming author Sue Johnson to the blog. Sue has a fascinating and rare medical condition that can add flavour to the words she uses and has overcome negativity from a former ex-husband to create a career from writing. Read on to find out more… 

Welcome to the blog Sue, please tell the readers a little more about yourself…

I am published as a poet, short story writer and novelist. I also create books aimed at helping other writers. I run my own brand of writing workshops and am a Writing Magazine Home Study tutor. I am fortunate to have lexical gustatory synaesthesia – certain words and names flood my mouth with a specific taste. (‘Robert’ tastes of strawberry jam, ‘feather’ tastes of whipped cream.

What’s the most significant change you’ve experienced to date?

The most significant change in my life to date was the ending of my twenty-four year marriage in April 1998. The person I was married to used to say: “Don’t tell people you write – they’ll think you’re weird.” I wrote in secret – sometimes working in five minute snatches. I got work published which led to me being ridiculed by my now ex-husband.

What were your initial feelings as you processed what this change would mean to you?

When we separated, I can remember looking outside the window and noticing how bright the colours were. I felt positive, despite the difficulties I was facing (no money, no job, no home, no contact with my children).

How did you approach managing the change once you had accepted it?

I focused on what I could do – and what helped me. I wrote …and wrote… and wrote. The words that poured out formed the first draft of my novel ‘Fable’s Fortune.’ I went back to college to study creative writing.  I submitted a short story for my first assessment  – inspired by the situation I was going through. The lecturer tossed it back at me telling me to ‘rip it up and start again – I was writing about something I knew nothing about.’

The stubborn part of me (Aries birth sign) wouldn’t let me do that. I looked in Writing Magazine, found a competition and sent the story with no revisions. It didn’t win the competition but I was taken on by short story agency Midland Exposure and the story sold to ‘Woman.’ It was the first of many stories to be sold to women’s magazines.

I have been a Writing Magazine Home Study Tutor for the last twelve years and also run my own brand of writing workshops. I would never tell anyone to rip a story up! There is always something to be salvaged.

What did you learn from the experience?

I look on my divorce as one of the most positive experiences of my life. If I’d remained stuck in a bad situation I would never have achieved all that I have in the last nineteen years. Although some of it was difficult and upsetting it has taught me to count my blessings.

What would your top tip be for someone going through a similar experience?

I would say to anyone in the same situation:

  1. Never lose sight of your dreams.
  2. Write every day – even if you only manage five minutes.
  3. Constructive criticism is good – ignore the other sort!
  4. However bad things seem at the moment, they will get better.
  5. Reward yourself regularly – you deserve it.

My fourth novel will be published by Endeavour Press in December. I am also awaiting the publication of my first My Weekly Pocket Novel. My novel Fortune’s Promise is out now and available from Amazon.

Follow me on Twitter @SueJohnson9

I look on my divorce as one of the most positive experiences of my life. If I’d remained stuck in a bad situation I would never have achieved all that I have in the last nineteen years. Although some of it was difficult and upsetting it has taught me to count my blessings.

Author Sue Johnson


Thanks for taking part in ‘Changing lives’, Sue! I suspect some of your experiences will definitely resonate with readers. If you enjoyed reading this interview and would like to take part in the changing lives series, please use the ‘contact me’ form on the blog.