Flash fiction on Paragraph Planet: Ruby Wedding

Paragraph Planet published my flash fiction piece titled Ruby Wedding on Wednesday 27 January. I’m really enjoying the challenge of writing a story in 75 words, it’s a great way to sharpen your writing skills and Paragraph Planet publish a new story every day. I hope you enjoy reading Ruby Wedding below and that it inspires you to enter a 75 word story to Paragraph Planet.

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Review of But You Did Not Come Back by Marceline Loridan-Ivens

There is a void in Loridan-Ivens’s life where her father should have been. During Unknown (6)World War II, fifteen year-old Loridan-Iven’s and her father were deported, she to the death-camp at Birkenau and her father to Auschwitz. Just three kilometres separated them but it may as well have been 3000. 

The memoir is a beautifully written yet harrowing meditation on loss. Loridan-Ivens writes to her father, describing the few memories she has of him, memories that both sharpen and fade with age and absence. Once an electrician from Aucshwitz risked his life to pass Loridan-Ivens a note from her father and once her work detail passed her father’s, and they broke ranks to hug each other before being severely beaten for doing so. Her sense of longing and grief is palpable on every page, as she recalls how her father predicted that she would survive while he wouldn’t. His prediction proved to be accurate and haunted his daughter for the rest of her life.

Loridan-Ivens’s quietly reveals the horrors of surviving in a concentration camp, the terrible things she witnessed and survived, her encounters with SS Officer and physician Josef Mengele and the tremendous survivor’s guilt that she feels. At times she berates herself for the choices she made at the time, but to chose differently meant certain death. When she is liberated from the camps and returns home Loridan-Ivens feels even more isolated as her family try to persuade her to forget about the past and move forward. She has no one to talk to about her feelings or to work through her grief and she feels her father’s absence even more keenly.

“But there would have been two of us who knew. Maybe we wouldn’t have talked about it often, but the stench, what we saw, the foul smells and the intensity of our emotions would have washed over us like waves, even in silence, and we could have divided our memories in two.”

The desire to die dogs Loridan-Ivens’s freedom in the way the desire to live compelled her to survive in the camps. She is not the only member of the family to have mental health issues after the war, the death-camps left their mark on everyone in her family, whether they had been there or not.

“It took many experiences with other people to get used to living, get used to myself. And a lot of time to be able to love.”

During her second marriage to documentary filmmaker Joris Ivens, Loridan-Ivens finds a measure of peace, as they both begin to fight for other disenfranchised groups and cover major wars and uprisings across the world. As she grows older Loridan-Ivens is horrified by the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001 and the rise in anti-semitism, and questions whether surviving the camps was worthwhile. But You Did Not Come back is a bleak yet profoundly moving history of one woman’s survival despite being broken by grief.

With thanks to Faber and Faber and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review of Dead Pretty by David Mark

27157064This is the fifth outing for Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy and while his personal life continues to go from strength to strength his working life has become a lot more complicated. 

There are several different storylines running in this complex thriller and parenting is a key theme throughout. Each parent makes choices that can affect their offspring in positive or negative ways, as they all strive to protect those they love.

McAvoy is haunted by thoughts of a missing teenager called Hannah Kelly, meanwhile his boss, Detective Superintendent Trisha Pharaoh, has developed a bit of a drink problem, is letting herself go and her eldest daughter, Sophia, is rebelling. Two thugs called Foley and Teddy are keen to get their boss’s money back and they aren’t adverse to using torture to get it. A sculptor called Hollow has just been released from prison after being put away for beating up the lads who hurt his daughter. Hollow is proving to be an elusive nightmare for both McAvoy and Pharaoh, as the press champions him as a hero and Pharaoh comes under scrutiny for having arrested Hollow in the first place. Then a girl called Ava Delaney is found murdered and the pressure is on to find out who killed her and why.

The highlight for me when reading a David Mark thriller is the sense of authenticity in the relationships between McAvoy, his wife Roisin and his colleagues. Each character is fully rounded, realistic and emotionally engaging. Mark invites you into the heads of of McAvoy and Pharaoh, and he does it so well their problems become yours and you care about the outcome for both parties, especially when circumstances beyond their control are pulling them apart as they navigate the politics of modern policing. A sickening level of tension builds steadily as the jigsaw pieces of each puzzle slip in and out of place, not quite fitting perfectly until Mark is ready to reveal the whole horrifying picture. If you’ve never read a McAvoy novel before you can start with Dead Pretty and work backwards, because you will want to know the back stories of all the core characters once you’ve devoured this chilling and thought-provoking thriller.

Published by Mulholland books. I received an exclusive proof copy at the Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival in 2015.

Dead Pretty by David Mark is published on 28 January, you can listen to a preview here.

Follow the author on Twitter: @davidmarkwriter

Review of The British Lion by Tony Schumacher

The-British-Lion-by-Tony-Schumacher

Schumacher has created an alternate reality where Germany won World War II and occupied Britain. This is the second novel featuring Detective John Rossett, known as the British Lion, and Nazi Ernst Koehler, his former boss. During the war they were both responsible for loading the transports with Jews.

Rossett feels a tremendous amount of guilt about his role in the war, while Koehler, his former boss and friend, sees their part in it as cogs in machine, with no responsibility for what happened to anyone they sent away on a transport.

The opening  chapter is written in whip sharp dialogue that sets the scene and increases the tension as Koehler clashes with Schmitt, a Gestapo subordinate who’s having real problems with Koehler’s preference for bending or breaking rules. Rossett is recovering from gunshot wounds in a London hospital after working against the machine and Koehler is keen to cover up the incident and bring the Führer’s favourite Brit back into the fold.

Rossett has nothing to lose, Koehler has a family. When Koehler’s wife and daughter are kidnapped he turns to the one man who can save them – Rossett. His task is to find a Jewish scientist called Ruth Hartz, who is being forced to build an atomic bomb. This is no easy task in a Britain that has been transformed by Nazi insignia and rules, where paranoia, fear and power plays mean it’s hard to know who can be trusted. Rossett has to deal with the Nazi SS, the violent British Resistance and Americans with dodgy loyalties.

The balance of power constantly shifts in this complex and engaging thriller. Rossett feels his life holds no value and is trying to redeem himself. He believes that helping his friend will chip away at his self-hatred. Hartz is trying to save the world but holds the power to destroy it, which makes her a party of interest to all sides. Koehler comes under suspicion when his wife and child disappear and because of his relationship with Rossett. And then there’s Ma, a ruthless gangland predator who will manipulate anyone and anything to her own ends. Almost everyone is placed in a position where someone suffers due to a decision they’ve made, and they have to choose how to live with that knowledge.

This novel is full of the grey areas of human existence and nothing is as simple as it first appears. It was such a gripping page turner I resented having to stop reading to get off the tram!

Published by Harper Collins, with thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

Find out more about the author: tonyshoey.com

Follow the author on Twitter: @tonyshoey

Review of The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle

The minute Roy tells Betty that the one thing he hates is lies on their Unknown (5)first date you know he’s a massive liar.

As a retired conman, Roy trawls the internet looking for likely victims. He’s the kind of man whose internal monologue contains a creepy degree of malevolence and a sense of superiority as he ruthlessly evaluates and then dismisses women’s profiles. Roy exhibits all the classic traits of a manipulator.

Betty, meanwhile, appears to have the tolerance levels of a saint for Roy’s rather more unsavoury habits and soon has him installed in her home, much to her family’s disgust. It seems she would rather put up with Roy for the companionship than be alone.

Roy gradually reveals his intriguing past as he sets in motion each stage of the scam he’s about to pull on Betty, revealing his connection to major events throughout the last few decades. Including a brief mention of football legend Brian Clough, which Nottingham based readers will appreciate.

Meanwhile, Betty observes Roy quietly and calmly as the trap is set, gradually revealing her true feelings about the man as tensions in the house begin to rise. Both have secrets and both lie, and Roy isn’t as sharp as he thinks.

This is a cracking psychological thriller with a clever, thought-provoking twist which highlights where the true power lies in this game of deception and misdirection. I could not put it down and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

With thanks to Penguin for the NetGalley copy for review.

Follow the author on Twitter: @searlegoodliar

When did reading become a competitive sport?

I’m seeing lots of posts for sign ups to reading challenges. Some people have signed up to read one book a week, some have signed up to read a lot more and others to read fewer. Some people are already bragging that they’ve ticked off the first book from their reading challenge.

I must have missed the memo that said reading was now a competitive sport. 

I thought reading was about other things. I thought it was about taking the time to fully immerse yourself in the world that the author has created. I thought it was about walking in someone else’s shoes for a while so you can understand the world from a new perspective. I thought it was about developing insights, empathy and knowledge, the useful tools that you can hold on to when great change tears through your life or the lives of others.  

 
What I didn’t think reading was about was whipping through the pages at a rate of knots so you can toss a book to one side and tick it off a challenge list.

I vote for a year of slower reading. Set a reading challenge if you must but one that allows you to to sink into the pages and savour a book, one that allows the words reach into your soul and change you in some way. Fact and fiction books can do that if you give them the time to work their magic.

Review of How To Be Brave by Louise Beech

The tears were running down my face as I read the final few Unknown (4)paragraphs of this wonderful, mesmerising novel that celebrates the fragility and strength of the human condition. 

Rose is just nine years old when she is diagnosed with a life threatening illness and she is having trouble accepting the lifestyle changes she’s going to have to make. Her mother, Natalie, is understandably terrified of losing her wilful daughter and struggles to find a way to reconnect with her. Both Rose and Natalie are set adrift in a sea of unknowns, learning how to survive each minute, hour and day as they come to terms with the huge changes the diagnosis requires.

Both are also haunted by the sight of a man in brown suit, who feels familiar, a man who has something for them.

It’s through the magic of storytelling that Natalie and Rose find a way to come together, as they are transported to the atlantic Ocean in 1943, to a lifeboat where one of their ancestors survived for 50 days. The true story of one relative’s courage during the second World War transforms their relationship, giving both Rose and Natalie the emotional, mental and physical strength to cope with Rose’s diagnosis, which demands everything they have to give.

The writing is incredibly evocative, I felt like I was sitting along side Rose and Natalie’s relative. I could feel the the boat rising and falling on the waves, taste the thick flesh of the all too rare raw fish on my thickened thirsty tongue and feel the intense heat of the sun as I lay exposed to the elements with the other crew members, as they grew weaker with each passing day.

I also felt Natalie’s fears as though they were my own, my heart was banging for her when Rose announced her rebellious intentions. Beech is brilliant at taking you into the world of a furious, frightened nine-year old girl, who uses adult terms, detachment and rejection as a defence mechanism.

Beech has written a novel that will reach out to anyone who feels cast adrift by a medical condition. Through these duel story lines, How to Be Brave will show you that it’s okay to be angry about the limitations of a long term medical diagnosis, that it’s okay to feel scared and that it’s okay to feel depressed for a while while you grieve for the life that you had before. Then this marvellous novel will show you how to live and find joy despite your challenging new circumstances.

This is beautifully written transformative storytelling that will reach into your heart, change your perspective and bring you safely back to land. Highly recommended, especially for anyone coping with a long term health condition, plus carers, friends and family.

Follow the author on Twitter: @LouiseWriter

Publisher: Orenda Books

I bought my copy from Waterstones, Nottingham.