Review: Salt to the Sea

I already knew I was going to love Salt to the Sea. I also already knew it was going to make me feel all the things. That it was going to hurt. I was right. 

I mean it didn’t hurt as much as Between Shades of Gray - which FYI I am still not over, will likely never be over – but still, it kind of got me right in the chest because Ruta Sepetys has this way of making you feel like you’re actually living the words on the page and the words on the page whilst utterly beautiful do not depict the happiest of times. I mean I won’t lie; I went into this book with an actual sense of dread. At the very best this would be bittersweet; it very likely wouldn’t even be that and yet, I wanted to read it so badly.

Salt to the Sea is set in 1945. The second World War is drawing to a close and thousands upon thousands of refugees are desperately making their way to what they can only hope will be freedom; a second chance; a new start. Our story for the main part is that of a Lithuanian nurse, a Prussian soldier, a young Polish girl (and a young strangely desperate and completely sociopathic Nazi.)
They first three, and the people they’re travelling with are desperate to board a ship (the Wilhelm Gustloff, which, please please Google it. It makes the Titanic look like a storm in a teacup. 1053 lives were lost when the Titanic sank; around 9400 lives were lost when the Wilhelm Gustloff went down) which will take them to some kind of promised land – any place will be better probably than what they’re walking away from. & they are walking, they’re walking miles.

Sepetys picks you up, and she unceremoniously sets you down in that abandoned barn, on that dusty road, on that harbour where people are fighting to be allowed passage; your feet hurt and your hearts hurts and your stomach rumbles and you’re lonely and terrified and still somehow kind of hopeful and you feel like you know Joana who has left so much behind and is carrying around all this guilt and yet still puts everyone else before herself; the Poet who you just want to love and protect because he’s this old man and he’s seen so much; Florian who pretends he’s tough but you know really isn’t and who has secrets of his own; Emilia who, well, hers is a story that you need to read really, but be prepared for your heart to fracture. You know them and you love them and you ache for them more so because whilst you know that they perhaps didn’t exist, thousands like them did, that those things happened to very real people and there’s no hiding from it.
There’s this one scene where a woman throws her baby at the ship so desperate is she to make sure that her child gets away from what has become a living hell and I swear I made this weird sort of keening noise. It’s two sentences at most and it still hurts like a sucker punch. It hurts because it might not be true but yet it still really is. This shit happened, Jesus look at the world right now. This shit is still happening and I don’t know perhaps that’s what makes this book so powerful and so poignant. What happened here, 70 years ago and that seems so atrocious and so unbelievable is a thing we’re seeing every time we turn on the television (and don’t get me started on how my stomach dropped when I drove through Calais a couple of weeks ago) It’s unreal but it’s so real. It’s unreal that it happened then, but it did. It’s unreal that it’s still happening, and yet. And yet.

Sepetys has a talent. Not many people could write a novel with 4 very different, equally strong voices and not have you feeling lost of overpowered. Sepetys does, each character is important, each story matters and despite the switch from one point of view to another the story doesn’t lose pace for a second. & God but it’s well researched. SO well researched.

Has it gotten under my skin like Between Shades of Gray? No, but I think perhaps that’s because I was prepared for it . I went into BSoG not knowing what I was about to read; I went into this with my heart protected in a layer of bubble wrap. However, this, like Between Shades of Gray is a story of survival, of hope when everything seems hopeless and the sheer strength of the human spirit. It’s a difficult book, but it’s one that is so worth reading because it’s important and it’s beautiful. And there’s a nod to Between Shades of Gray in there too which made my fangirl heart flutter.

Review: Exposure

I am a fan of Helen Dunmore. I’ll say that first. Her novel The Siege is one of my faves. It’s also one of those novels that broke my actual heart. So, I was obviously super excited to read her latest book, Exposure. I did a small happy dance when I saw it on NetGalley. It’s kind of excellent too, I mean think Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy but with less of the oh- so-confusing espionage stuff and the pages of words that made me sleepy and more excellent characterisation and beautiful narrative.

It’s set in 1960’s Cold War London and it’s part thriller, part love story, part character study. It’s got desire and it’s got secrets and it’s got betrayal and it’s such a good read. An ‘I don’t want to put this down’ kind of read actually.

It’s about this guy, Simon, who quite by accident ends up in possession of a file he should never have had and finds himself in prison, accused of selling information to the Soviets. Which, well that’s not A Good Thing, at all. This is the COLD WAR after all. His wife, Lily (who is excellent FYI and was also once upon a time a German Jew, forced to flee her home as a child just before the war) is certain he’s innocent and that there’s this big cover up and that all that’s being said is horribly wrong. She’s so certain that she’s prepared to take risks to protect him and you kind of wonder whether that blind faith is a flaw or a virtue. It’s definitely kind of misguided. She also knows that she, and her children, are in danger, that it lurks round every corner and that probably nobody is to be trusted, and Lily is desperate to be safe – who can blame her. She’s built this home, this haven for herself and her family and now it’s all about to crumble around her. She believes utterly in Simon and who he is and what he tells her and she has no idea of the secrets he’s keeping from her, secrets about his past, about former lives and loves and things that should they ever be revealed could have an impact far worse than any conviction of spying. So you’ve got Simon, stuck in prison, you’ve got Lily, so faithful and so freaking strong and determined to do whatever it takes to protect herself and her children and her husband and you’ve got Simon’s friend Giles, stuck in hospital with a septic wound that’s being treated by leeches and more scared probably than everyone else put together – he’s the one after all that took the file that landed Simon in prison home from the office when obviously that was a thing he should not have done and whereas Lily is portrayed as strong and loyal and good, you kind of know inherently that Giles will trample on anyone just to save himself, regardless of who they might have been to him once upon a time. Simon’s in prison and Giles is in hospital and it’s up to Lily to love and honour and defend against this utter bastard that tracks her down and knocks on her front door and that’s what it’s about really at it’s heart ,this book- not about espionage at all really but about what it means to love and about how the choices we make colour who we are and who we end up being.

It kind of feels like the kind of book you want to read in winter. Does that even make sense? You know when a book is cold and at the same time warm and feels like blankets and apple crumble and mugs of tea. That’s what Exposure feels like to me, like blankets and apple crumble and mugs of tea.  It’s so well crafted and it’s engrossing and somehow both heart-warming and chilling and it goes in one direction and then sneaks off in another and you remain engaged with every single character and every single thread to the story even as the book switches from one point of view to another. It’s good, it’s really really good and honestly, I am so pleased I read it.

Exposure is out now. Go forth and read.

New Things to Read in 2016

Hello pals!

I had wondered about posting today all about snow covered mountains and vin chaud and cold fingers on hipbones and kisses because that’s what my life looks like right now and frankly, it’s marvellous but I decided that really probably nobody will be anywhere near as interested in my snowy adventures as they are in the books I’m waiting for this year. So, let’s talk about that instead. Grab yourself a cuppa because this is a list

2016 books are a coming, some, because it’s already February are even here. There’s probably hundreds (thousands?) but obviously (obviously) I’m not going to list them all, that would be ridic; imma just talk at you a little about the things that are on my radar right now, like, (and I think I talked about it’s general existence last year) Steve Toltz’s Quicksand which is due for paperback release in April. I love a paperback. I love a hardback from a purely aesthetic point of view because pretty, but paperbacks are just so much more manageable aren’t they? When you read in bed, which I do all of the time, holding a hardback is far too much like a workout.

So. What’ve we got?

Chris Cleve (who wrote The Other Hand which I loved) has a new book out in April called Everyone Brave is Forgotten and it sounds awesome. It’s set during the Second World War and is about, I think, how the every day can change us as much as the unexpected can, about how war is perhaps just a backdrop for the ordinary. It sounds excellent. I think you all should read it. Actually I think you all should read all of the books in this post because that’s kind of the point…


The sequel to A Court of Thorns and Roses is out later in the spring I think, mebbes May. It’s called A Court of Mist and Fury and I am ridiculously excited about it. I WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. And, all the characters are stupidly attractive in my head so you know, there’s that. 

Speaking of sequels, anyone remember how much I liked The Fire Sermon last year? Well book two (The Map of Bones) is also published at the start of May (again, I think!) and again, ridic excited. I cannot wait to see where that story goes next. The Fire Sermon is the dystopia where everyone is born a twin and each twin is either an Alpha (is physically ‘perfect’) or an Omega (is not) and all the Omegas are branded and cast out and the world is riled by Alphas BUT in a cruel(?) twist of fate, when one twin dies so does the other. It centres around Cass who is an Omega with a dream of Alphas and Omegas being equal and a twin in a position of power. S’really worth a read if you haven’t already and I cannot wait to see what happens in book 2. So excited.

Ruta Sepetys – her of Between Shades of Gray aka the book that broke my fragile little heart - also has a new book out. It’s called Salt to the Sea, and it’s out on Feb 4th which is TOMORROW PEEPS. It’s a WWII true story and I have so many feelings – I’ll review this next week so won’t say much now but be warned, it will make you feel. Ruta does that so well.

Helen Simonson who wrote the lovely Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand has a new book out next month. I know. Marvellous. It’s called The Summer Before the War and again, sounds lovely. I don’t know a person who wasn’t enchanted by the Major so I have high hopes for this. It’s set in East Sussex in 1914 and it’s about Hugh who has come to visit his Aunt and Beatrice the new female (gasp!) Latin teacher and the last perfect summer before the unimaginable happens.

The Lubetkin Legacy by Marina Lewycka is out in May. I expect it to make me laugh out loud. I still giggle when I think about We Are All Made of Glue.

Shtum by Ben Lester about the family of a ten year old boy with sever autism is getting a lot of hype right now. I’m hearing all the good things. That one’s out in April.

Anthony Quinn’s Freya is out in the spring. It promises the unpredictable course of a woman’s life and loves against a backdrop of Soho pornographers, theatrical peacocks, willowy models, priapic painters, homophobic blackmailers, political careerists.

STOP THE PRESSES: Claire King, who wrote the GORGEOUS The Night Rainbow has a new book out now. It’s called Everything Love Is and I AM EXCITED. So excited. GO FORTH AND READ.

The first in Michael Grant’s new series Front Lines was published last week I think. Should be good although I’m still only part way through the Gone books, not because I don’t like them – I do – but because so many books; so little time. You know how it goes. Anyway, this will likely be A Good Read. Apparently s’perfect for fans of The Book Thief and Code Name Verity and it reimagines WWII with girls fighting on the front lines…

There’s a new David Leviathan collab out in the summer (with Nina LaCour who I don’t know) which I want because David Leviathan. S’called You Know Me Well.

In June Kit de Waal’s My Name is Leon is published and again, this is one that I’ve been seeing a fair amount of hype about. It’s set in the 80’s and it sounds like it might be that special kind of heartbreaking. Have a blurb: A brother chosen. A brother left behind. And a family where you'd least expect to find one. Leon is nine, and has a perfect baby brother called Jake. They have gone to live with Maureen, who has fuzzy red hair like a halo, and a belly like Father Christmas. But the adults are speaking in low voices, and wearing Pretend faces. They are threatening to give Jake to strangers. Since Jake is white and Leon is not. As Leon struggles to cope with his anger, certain things can still make him smile - like Curly Wurlys, riding his bike fast downhill, burying his hands deep in the soil, hanging out with Tufty (who reminds him of his dad), and stealing enough coins so that one day he can rescue Jake and his mum. Evoking a Britain of the early eighties, My Name is Leon is a heart-breaking story of love, identity and learning to overcome unbearable loss. Of the fierce bond between siblings. And how - just when we least expect it - we manage to find our way home.

Yann Martel’s new book The High Mountains of Portugal was released this week and it sounds incredible, a road trip across 2 continents and 4 centuries and the uncovering of a secret found in an old journal. There’s been a fair amount of buzz about this book, obviously and I’m totally caught up in it. I loved The Life of Pi and this feels like it could measure up to that. Fingers crossed hey!

There’s a short story collection out in March by Helen Oyeyemi which I’ve heard described as insprired by fairy tales with all the stories being centred around the idea of a key: to the heart, to a house, to a secret. Obviously I am all over that. I’m really excited about it actually and I have a copy on pre-order. Woop woop.

I’m also excited about another short story collection – The Pier Falls by Mark Haddon, mostly because I love his novels and I love his poetry and I expect I’ll love this too. Roll on May! 

 M.R Carey who wrote the amazingly amazing The Girl With All the Gifts has a new book out in April called Fellside and I actually can not wait. Actually.  It's set in a max security prison on the Yorkshire moors and it sounds terrifying and that's totally not usually my thing at all but I loved  The Girl With All the Gifts so much that how can I not read this?

Fairyland's Catherynne M Valente has a novel out in March - Radiance - which I want to read for Fairyland reasons and also because it sounds incredible, with lawless saloons on Mars and disappearing diving colonies on Venus and Hollywood being on the moon. It sounds SO GOOD. 

Deborah Levy (who wrote the excellent Swimming Home) has a new novel out in March – Hot Milk. It’s about a mother and daughter seeking salvation in a Spanish village and it sounds excellent. I thought Swimming Home was stunning so I really can’t wait for this.

May sees a new book from Aravind Adiga – Selection Day, I enjoyed his other two so I’ll be giving this one a read for sure for sure

There’s a new Anne Tyler in June. So much for A Spool of Blue Thread being your last Anne! It’s a reworking of The Taming of the Shrew and I bet it’s glorious. Why would I not want to read an Anne Tyler version of The Taming of the Shrew?

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue who wrote Room is out I think in September, so it’s a while off but I reckon it’ll be worth the wait. It’s set in the 1850’s and is about a girl who has stopped eating.

Bookworm by Lucy Mangan is basically a love letter to books and childhood reading and it sounds like it could be right up my street. Got to wait to October though which is AGES.

As well as getting my hands on that one in October I’ll also be all over Gary Oldman’s vampire novel. Because it’s Gary Oldman’s vampire novel. It’s called Blood Riders and it’s a vampire novel. By Gary Oldman. I don’t know what else to say to you about this. Dracula has written a vampire novel. Gary Oldman who I love has written a vampire novel. Not just any vampire novel though, these are vampire cowboys and it’s set in the Gold Rush and yep, I want it. (I should probably point out that it’s co-authored actually; Gary wrote it with his manager Douglas Urbanksi. Apparently they’ve been planning it for ages; I love that.)



& a vampire novel by Gary Oldman (still not over it) seems like a good place to stop because long list is long but still, there’s some exciting stuff coming, is there not? You should talk to me about what’s tickled your fancy – and what you’re excited about that I’ve neglected.