Book Review: Left Neglected by Lisa Genova

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Still Alice author Lisa Genova tackles another complicated medical condition in her latest offering: Left Neglected.

Left Neglected tells the story of Sarah Nickerson. Married with two young children, Sarah lives a hectic and demanding life, her job involving long hours, little time at home and reliance on a nanny for her children. Even when she is at home, Sarah’s time with her kids and husband is squeezed in between constant emailing and telephone calls, her position as primary wage earner enabling her family to keep up the two-house lifestyle to which they have become accustomed.

When Sarah suffers a devastating car accident, however, her life changes drastically. Waking up in hospital, she feels lucky to be alive and, determined to go back to work as soon as possible, she sets out to do everything she can to get better. What Sarah doesn’t realise immediately, though, is that her accident has left her with a life-changing condition: Left Neglect. Although not paralysed, she now has no awareness of the left side of her body. The left side of the room, anybody standing on her left, the left page of a book, for Sarah, simply don’t exist. Look left, scan left, go left becomes her mantra.

Having once managed her life as if it were a military operation, Sarah now must accept help for the first time: from her husband Bob, the staff of the hospital where she is recuperating and, even, her mother, with whom she has always had a difficult relationship.

What I liked most about this book is its realism. Sarah’s accident doesn’t immediately pull her up short. She continues to want to go back to work, is adamant that she will get her life back on track and, although positive (no spoilers here!), the ending of the book is not miraculous or sickly-sweet. The characters are all 3-dimensional and, like all of us, have their flaws, which makes it much easier to identify with them. Will Sarah get back to the job she so loved? Or will her condition change her life in more ways than she realises?

Left Neglected is available to buy now

 

Book Review: Who Killed Constable Cock? by Angela Buckley

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In the early hours of 1st August 1876, Police Constable Nicholas Cock was shot and killed as he patrolled his usual beat in the quiet area of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester. The fascinating series of events that followed the young constable’s murder form the second in historian Angela Buckley’s Victorian Supersleuth series: Who Killed Constable Cock?

Although only 21-years-old, Constable Cock had made some enemies during his time serving the Manchester community. As a result, Superintendent James Brent, leading the investigation, was convinced that the perpetrators of the crime were a group of Irish immigrant brothers, the Habrons, who had been heard to make threats against the policeman. Soon arrested, the brothers were brought to trial, with various witnesses giving surprisingly different  accounts of what happened in the days leading to the crime and of the shooting itself. Who was the strange man seen lurking nearby? What was the strange noise heard by residents of the area? Why were William Habron’s boots muddy on a dry day? Despite the presence of several witnesses at the time of the shooting, including student John Massey Simpson and Cock’s colleague PC Beanland, witness statements could not have been more varied. After the trial concluded, the mystery of what happened to PC Cock appeared to have been solved but when, many years later, a notorious criminal confessed his involvement, it seemed that this crime was not so clear cut after all. Did Superintendent Brent help convict an innocent man?

This book also gives a fascinating account of the origins of the forensic and investigative methods that are so familiar in policing today. For example, the use of footprints, and the casting of them in plaster of Paris, was pioneered in the early 1800s by French ex-convict and police informer, Eugène Vidocq. The technique was later refined by physician and criminologist Alexandre Lacassagne, who even began to make casts in the snow by using salt. Vidocq was also responsible for the first uses of mugshots to keep records of arrested criminals.

Who Killed Constable Cock? is a fascinating and meticulously detailed account of a Victorian-era crime, the impacts of which spread far and wide and stretched over a period of many years.

The book is available to buy now.

To find out more about Angela Buckley’s work as a Victorian Supersleuth, visit her Facebook page.

Book Review: Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski

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In 1996, 15-year-old Tom Jeffries goes missing while on an outreach expedition to Scarclaw Fell. His mutilated body is found the following year by the son of the land’s owner. Twenty years later, no-one has been brought to account for the seeming crime and Tom’s story becomes the subject of a series of podcasts by renowned journalist Scott King, who likes to investigate so-called ‘cold’ cases. Interviewing the members of the Rangers group with whom Tom visited the fell, King sets out to get a clearer picture of the events that led to the tragic death of the teen.

Wesolowski’s book is no straightforward crime novel; it is a psychological thriller, Gothic novel, series of podcasts and an in-depth exploration of the motives behind human behaviour all rolled into one. Structured as six interviews with Tom Jeffries’ friends and acquaintances, the novel explores their different perspectives on the events leading up to Tom’s disappearance, each ‘story’ giving the plot another subtle twist. While each take on what might have happened to Tom is different, each podcast gives the reader another set of clues. Thus, Wesolowski successfully builds a bigger picture that enables the reader to ‘see around’ the characters’ limited viewpoints. Are Tom’s friends telling the truth? Or is there more to what happened than they are revealing?

With folkloric tales of terrifying creatures on the fell, Wesolowski also dips into the supernatural in this novel. Indeed, his atmospheric and highly detailed descriptions of the novel’s setting carry a strong link to 19th century Gothic literature. The contemporary structure of the book, however, most certainly gives Six Stories a modern twist, ensuring its appeal to the 21st century reader. If you are a fan of podcasts, particularly the seemingly much revered Serial, then this book is for you. If you are not a podcast fanatic (as I’m not) then the traditional murder-mystery aspect of the novel is still very much likely to appeal. In other words, Six Stories has something for everyone.

Six Stories is published by Orenda Books and is available to buy now.

Book Review: The Mask of Sanity by Jacob M Appel

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Dr Jeremy Balint appears to have it all. A successful and highly respected cardiologist, he has a professional reputation envied by many, is a supportive husband, doting father and model son. When his personal life and idyllic family set up are threatened, however, Balint’s Mr Hyde soon comes to the fore, the doctor making it clear that a sociopathic, and murderous, alter-ego is lurking beneath the suburban façade.

In this modern day, middle class version of Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me, the reader joins Balint as he explores the darker side of his own character. Discovering his wife is having an affair with one of his colleagues, Balint sets out to kill his rival. However, in order to do this without detection, the doctor determines that a series of killings are his only option. Thus begins the calm and calculated killing spree of the so-called ‘Emerald Choker’, carried out, mostly, without regret or remorse.

Keeping us closely tied to the mind of his protagonist at all times, Jacob M Appel invites the reader to spectate as Balint attempts to save his family, his personal life, rather ironically, beginning to slowly unravel whilst he is busy killing people. While his behaviour is often unforgiveable, the reader, I suspect, in most cases, is very much on Balint’s side. Although this learn-on-the-job killer seems to, somewhat unrealistically at times, very much pull the wool over the eyes of the authorities, his colleagues and his loved ones, that is exactly what we want him to do. Whilst we know he should be held accountable for these awful crimes, it’s actually the last thing we are hoping will happen.

The title of the novel says it all: Dr Jeremy Balint does indeed wear the Mask of Sanity and he wears it well. Is he discovered? That is for the potential reader to find out, and to hope for or against. There seem to be differing opinions about the ending of this book, with some readers not liking Appel’s decision to leave the interpretation to the reader and other fans hoping the last line might lead to a sequel. For me, however, the unexpected twist that the end of Jeremy Balint’s story brings is perfect just as it stands, even if it did start my mind racing….

The Mask of Sanity is published by Permanent Press and is available to buy now.

Author Interview: Louise Beech

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I recently caught up with Orenda Books writer Louise Beech to ask her about becoming published, current projects and her inspirations.

Tell us about your journey to becoming a published writer.

Oh, it was lo-o-o-o-ng! But I think always believing and never giving up paid off. It took more than eight years, four novels, four plays, fifty short stories, multiple newspaper columns, millions of rejections, the odd competition shortlist, and a few tears to get a book deal, which I finally did in 2015 with Orenda Books. The best thing about all that work is that I already had four complete novels when I got my deal, so I was ahead of myself. And luckily my publisher, Karen Sullivan, is going to publish them all.

Your first novel How To Be Brave was inspired by the life of your grandfather. Why did you feel you had to tell his story?

The phrasing ‘had to tell his story’ is so apt. Because I did. It was bursting out of me. By that I mean that I had always wanted to write Grandad Colin’s story but wasn’t sure how I’d do it. Then, when my daughter Katy, who has Type 1 Diabetes like Rose, refused to have her daily injections, I began telling her his incredible tale of bravery, just as Natalie does with Rose. I knew that was how the story should be told – as a story within a story. I hoped not only to portray his incredible bravery, but to inspire others during dark times, and to educate on how serious a condition Type 1 Diabetes can be.

 Your publishing journey has progressed very quickly with your first novel released in 2015 and your third Maria in the Moon due for release very soon. What has surprised you most since you became a part of the publishing industry?

I always knew – and accepted and was prepared for – that a great deal of hard work would be involved. But it still hits me sometimes how much there is to do. The writing is only one aspect of it. There are edits, proof reading, promoting (often on social media), events, travelling, meeting people, networking, and reading other books. And of course you still have your family, and I still have a day job. I don’t yet earn enough to only write, despite the fact that it takes up 24 hours of my life! This is why you MUST love it. And I do. There is nothing at all like writing. It has saved me, quite literally, at times.

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What are you currently writing?

I have just finished the (possibly) hundredth draft of a book that will be my fourth, called The Lion Tamer Who Lost, which is essentially a dark and tragic love story, with a bit of a twist. Not all hearts and romance, I assure you. And now I’ve just started what I hope to be book five, which is loosely called Star Girl, and involves the brutal murder of a local pregnant woman, and how it affects those around her.

What inspires you to write?

Everything! Music. Dreams. Conversations. Real life. Hardship. Love.

Tell us about your writing routine? Do you write every day?

It isn’t always possible every single day, especially when I work long hours or am away on book tours for days at a time. I do need to get a laptop for those long train journeys so I can do it then also. At the moment, I only write on my home computer. When I’m home, I write anywhere between one hour and five a day. I’m strict. I sit. I ignore social media. Put music on. And go…

What are you reading at the minute?

I just finished Exquisite by Sarah Stovell (wow, what a book!) and started The Last Days of Leda Grey by Essie Fox. I always have a book or two on the go.

Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?

Writing, definitely. I’ll write until my ideas dry up or my eyes fall out, whichever comes first. I see myself having had a huge bestseller by then (a girl can dream!) and maybe, who knows, one of my books will have been made into a film. Whatever I’m doing, it will be with the same passion. I assure you of that.

Maria in the Moon will be out on Kindle on 15th August and can be pre-ordered now from Amazon. The paperback version will be out on 30th September.

Book Review: The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada by Angela Buckley

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In January 1899, the Superintendent of the Manchester Police Force announced his retirement, his police career having spanned an impressive 31 years and The Evening Telegraph describing him as ‘one of the most noted detectives of the country.’ His work in cleaning up the crime-ridden streets of Manchester had also been recognised by the Postmaster General and the Duke of Norfolk.

The superintendent in question was Jerome Caminada, a now legendary ‘Victorian Supersleuth’ who, during his career, became notorious for the tricks he used to catch criminals. Both in his lifetime and after, Caminada was often compared to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.

In The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada, Angela Buckley takes us into the dark and grim streets of Victorian Manchester where she follows Caminada as he climbs the ranks of the city’s police force, joining as a 23-year-old constable in 1868.

The book tells of Caminada’s humble beginnings as the son of an Italian immigrant, in a city where the life expectancy of the working class was a shocking 18. His family life blighted by tragedies such as the premature deaths of various siblings, the alcoholism of his brother and the impact of syphilis on his mother, Caminada used his time in the police force to not only improve the lives of his fellow Manchester residents but also his own.

In such a time of poverty, many individuals turned to crime and, after he joined the police, it was Caminada’s job to ensure the law was upheld and the streets of Manchester kept safe. Cases that Caminada tackled, and solved, during his career included The Manchester Cab Mystery, the case of the infamous Birmingham Forger and many incidents involving so-called Quack Doctors. A master of disguise, the detective also foiled many criminal plots in other areas of the country, including apprehending a gang of pickpockets at the Grand National in a guise ‘so convincing it even deceived his own chief constable.’ His talent for going undercover obviously standing him in good stead, it is also revealed that for many years, Caminada worked for Special Branch, carrying out top secret missions and taking his instructions directly from the Home Office.

Buckley’s descriptions of the Manchester streets – including Deansgate, St Ann’s Square and the then ‘Little Ireland’ (now Oxford Road Station) – are vivid and detailed. Indeed, anyone familiar with the city can walk Caminada’s beat alongside him, as he polices the many illegal drinking dens, gin joints and houses of ill repute that then occupied the city. An experienced historian whose work has featured in The Times and The Telegraph, Angela Buckley brings 19th century Manchester to life in this book and The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada is a must read for all true-crime fans.

The book is available from Pen and Sword and Amazon.

This post was originally published on Humanity Hallows.

Book Review: Coulrophobia and Fata Morgana by Jacob M Appel

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Jacob M Appel is a physician, bio-ethicist, attorney and registered tour guide based in New York City. If that wasn’t enough of an impressive CV, Appel also has a magnificent talent for storytelling and has published over 200 short stories, his novel The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up winning the Dundee International Book Prize in 2012. Seeming to draw from this impressive amount of life experience in his writing, Appel, in his latest release, Coulrophobia and Fata Morgana, has created a magical collection of short stories that stay with the reader long after the reading light is turned off.

In this collection, Appel explores the world of family and friendships, picking apart the daily lives of what, at first, seem to be very ordinary characters with the perception and insight that seem to be this author’s trademark. The recycling of family violence and relationships, the dilemma of companionship over love, power, family hierarchy, sexuality and disability are all subjects explored by this author with an honesty and delicacy that is always very much without judgement.

“There but for the grace of God go I…” the reader might think as we follow the story of two lonely border guards pondering their isolation as they are faced with what seems like certain death. “What would I do?” we might ask, as we enter the life of Rita the butcher, suddenly finding herself sole carer of her dysfunctional sister’s newborn. Wincing as we witness a grandmother’s punishment of her wayward grandson, we wonder what we would truly do if we were in her position, if we were left to raise a grandchild alone, had been raised in a violent household. Indeed, as Appel makes us flies on the walls of his characters’ homes, he also makes us look more closely at our own lives, our own families, our own relationships, if only to stop for a few seconds and reassess them, perhaps value them more highly.

As in Appel’s previous collections, running through these shorts is a sense of magic, the mysterious mime artist, who has a profound effect on those around him, the Mrs Robinson type language teacher and her handsome chimney sweep, the baby prone to swallowing coins, not to mention the ghost of Greta Garbo, all being brilliantly rounded and fully formed without being quite real. Indeed, in each and every one of these stories, Appel’s characters seem to be of our world but, at the same time, not quite, the author seeming to create an other-worldly scenario with which the reader can nonetheless very much identify.

Anyone who thinks that short stories do not have a place in the publishing market should read the stories of Jacob M Appel, an author who actively exercises his gift of drawing the reader in and never letting them go.


Coulrophobia and Fata Morgana is available now. For more information, visit jacobmappel.com.

This review was originally published on Humanity Hallows.

Book Review: The Ghost Who Bled by Gregory Norminton

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Writer and Manchester Writing School Lecturer Gregory Norminton has recently released a new book, The Ghost Who Bled. The book, published by Comma Press, is a witty and often highly moving collection of meticulously detailed short stories that span nearly twenty years of Norminton’s writing career, stories that take the reader on a journey not only across continents but also through time.

What is immediately striking about Norminton’s writing is the author’s ability to adapt his voice to the collection’s settings and characters. Stories in The Ghost Who Bled span the world and its cultures, the author taking us as far afield as Malaya and Japan before bringing us nostalgically back to the green Surrey of his childhood.

In Zero + 30, we meet the American husband of a woman who survived the Pol Pot regime of Cambodia. Returning to the country with his wife, he finds out the real motive behind her decision to marry him many years ago.

In Confessions of a Tyrant’s Double, a commoner’s likeness to a much revered, and perhaps reviled, president leads him to a life that is no longer his own. A prisoner of his own appearance – ‘my good looks did not belong to me’ – his only hope in ensuring his existence is not forgotten is to note down his experiences and hope them to be a read by a suspected snooper: ‘by your aid I have proved that I existed.’

In Bottleneck, a ‘flagrantly pregnant’ musician struggles with the concept of bringing a child into an already overpopulated near-future world. Here, we clearly see the battle between capitalism and creativity – ‘Is  it common for the Small Hall to have so many empty seats?’ – beautifully shown in the fatalist but practical attitude of Clare’s scientist  husband, her tendency to find refuge in music and, ultimately, in the conception of a baby despite strict precautions.

In what is probably the strongest story in the collection, The Ghost Who Bled, a ghostly young Japanese airman reflects on his life, watching from a distance the impact of the horrific nuclear bombing of his country. Unbearably lonely, he is unwilling to leave his life behind, hiding to watch his loved ones and longing to be part of their lives again. Why, we ask ourselves, is he so reluctant to move on?

Gregory Norminton’s writing is beautifully lyrical, yet, at the same time, completely concrete. The author not only describes Cambodia, Japan, Malaya, but picks his readers up and drops them in the very countries, villages, pasts and futures in which his stories are set.

The Ghost Who Bled is available now from Comma Press. To mark the launch of the collection, Gregory Norminton will be talking about his work at a series of events, including an appearance at Waterstones on Deansgate, Manchester on Friday 19th May at 6.30pm. The event is free to attend and refreshments will be available.

This review was originally published on Humanity Hallows.

 

Book Review: My Sister and Other Liars by Ruth Dugdall

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Ruth Dugdall is a former probation officer turned novelist who lives in Suffolk. Her works include the Luke Bitmead Bursary and Debut Dagger Award winner The Woman Before Me, Nowhere Girl and Humber Boy B. Ruth has a BA in English from Warwick University and an MA in Social Work. My Sister and Other Liars is her sixth novel.

The book tells the story of 17-year-old Samantha Hoolihan, who, due to a severe eating disorder, is currently residing in the ‘Ana’ unit of a Suffolk hospital. The subject matter of this book immediately creates a novel that is, by no means, an easy read, Dugdall’s portrayal of the unit and its inhabitants brutally honest and often heart-breaking. The author’s obviously detailed and thorough research into the impact of anorexia is clear on every page; as the girls hide their food, idolise those patients having to be fed with a tube and even ‘water load’ before weigh-ins, the reader is very much drawn into life on the ward, feeling hopeful for the patients we think might get better and extremely sad for the ones we think might not.

Life with an eating disorder, however, is not the only focus of this psychological crime thriller as, using flashback, the author takes us back to the traumatic events in Sam’s life that led to her being hospitalised. With the help of Sam’s therapist, Clive, and a box of treasured family photographs, we learn how, eighteen months before, Sam’s sister Jena was attacked and severely injured, the incident leaving her family broken almost beyond repair. Taking it upon herself to rescue all she holds dear, Sam sets out to discover the identity of her sister’s attacker, her actions subsequently leading her into the darker side of Suffolk and towards a truth which could completely shatter her world.

My Sister and Other Liars is a challenging novel, the details of life on Ana Unit and of Jena and Sam’s often horrific experiences certainly not for someone looking for a light-hearted read. As she successfully drip feeds the plot to up the suspense, however, what Ruth Dugdall creates here is a page-turner, forcing the reader to keep going until the end so that, alongside Sam, we can get to the bottom of this mystery and found out who attacked Jena and, perhaps more crucially, why.

With a string of successful crime novels behind her, it seems that mystery and suspense is what Ruth Dugdall does best.

The Kindle version of My Sister and Other Liars is available now from Amazon and other good retailers. The paperback can be ordered ahead of its release on 1st May.