Book Review: The Summer of Secrets by Sarah Jasmon

summer of secrets

In the summer of 1983, lonely teenager Helen meets the Dovers, a quirky and sometimes dysfunctional family who move into a house on the bank of the canal near where Helen lives. As Helen becomes drawn into the Dovers’ world, attempting to fill the emotional gaps left by her parents’ split, her life changes forever.

Helen lives with her father, Mick, a reclusive drinker devastated by the loss of his wife. When the Dovers move into a nearby cottage, she is instantly captivated by their seemingly eccentric lifestyle. Young twins Pippa and Will run free without any discipline, teenager Victoria does as she pleases and mother Alice spends much of her time wrapped in her own world. The only authority in the family comes from older brother Seth and part-time uncle Piet. Spending the summer by the canal with her new friends, Helen feels that she has found her niche, never daring to imagine that her life might go back to the way it was before. It won’t, but not all change is good as we find out when we meet Helen thirty years later, the impact of that summer on the now reclusive and vulnerable adult clear.

Much as Helen’s world with the Dovers seems idyllic at first, Sarah Jasmon does an excellent job of making the reader feel uneasy from the off, of hinting at what is to come and of making us feel that all will not end well. As indeed it doesn’t. How exactly, we don’t find out until the end of the book. Along with the reader, even Helen is in the dark about what exactly happened during that summer, her memories as an adult unclear and playing tricks on her. It takes another meeting with the now successful photographer Victoria to reveal all.

The Summer of Secrets is highly atmospheric, Jasmon successfully making the reader feel the intense heat of Helen’s summer with the Dovers and her own experience of living on a canal boat making the novel’s setting highly authentic. The slow-burning plot in this book is like a ticking time bomb, the summer’s events being revealed bit by bit, both to the adult Helen and to us. And, when we find out what happened, we can clearly see why Helen is as she is, the secrets of the books title ones that will possibly stay with her forever.

The Summer of Secrets is available now. To find out more about Sarah Jasmon, visit her website.

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

jerome caminada

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

coulrophobia

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

The Ghost Who Bled_FRONT COVER

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

my sister and other liars

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.