Book Review: Brother by David Chariandy

BrotherAbout the Book

Michael and Francis are the bright, ambitious sons of Trinidadian immigrants. Coming of age in The Park, a cluster of houses and towers in the disparaged outskirts of a sprawling city, the brothers battle against the careless prejudices and low expectations that confront them on a daily basis.  While Francis dreams of a future in music, Michael’s dreams are of Aisha, the smartest girl in their school, whose eyes are firmly set on a life elsewhere. But the bright hopes of all three are violently, irrevocably thwarted by a tragic event.

Beautifully written and extraordinarily powerful, Brother is a novel of deep humanity which provides a profound insight into love, family, opportunity and grief.

Format: ebook, hardcover (192 pp.)        Publisher:  Bloomsbury Publishing
Published in the UK: 8th March 2018      Genre: Literary Fiction

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My Review

Brother is an emotional read, not least because, from the outset, the reader has a sense of inevitability that promising lives will be unfulfilled or end tragically.  Danger seems always close at hand in the area where the family live. ‘Always, there were stories on TV and in the papers of gangs, killings in bad neighbourhoods, predators roaming close.’    The relationship between the two brothers is beautifully rendered, with Francis acting as protector and guide to his younger brother.  There is also a strong sense of the bonds of loyalty to your family, your friends – your ‘group’, as it were.  Ultimately the latter will lead to tragedy.

The book evokes a believable picture of the immigrant experience in Canada (and I suspect many other places).  It’s a world of poor housing and low level, insecure jobs where multiple jobs may be needed to make ends meet.   However, there is comfort to be found in cultural reminders (food, music, etc.) and in community support in times of crisis.  ‘To this very day, trays of food will sometimes appear at our front door.  A pilau with okra, a stew chicken unmistakably Caribbean.’

Like many others, Michael’s and Francis’s mother dreams of a better future for her children, fighting prejudice, social inequality and low expectations.  ‘All around us in the Park were mothers who had journeyed far beyond what they knew, who took day courses and worked nights, who dreamed of raising children who might just have a little more than they did, children who might reward sacrifice and redeem a past….Fears were banished by the scents from simmering pots, denigration countered by a freshly laundered tablecloth.  History beaten back by the provision of clothes and yearly school supplies.  “Examples” were raised.’

Brother – sadly – tells a story that is probably being played out in many of our communities right now.   It’s a relatively short book but one that packs an emotional punch.

I received an advance reader copy courtesy of NetGalley and publishers, Bloomsbury, in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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In three words: Gritty, insightful, compelling

Try something similar…Cuz by Danielle Allen (click here to read my review)

David ChariandyAbout the Author

David Chariandy is a Canadian writer and one of the co-founders of Commodore Books.

His debut novel Soucouyant was nominated for ten literary prizes and awards, including the 2009 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (longlisted), the 2007 Scotiabank Giller Prize (longlisted), the 2007 Governor General’s Award for Fiction (finalist), the 2007 ForeWord Book of the Year Award for literary fiction from an independent press (“gold” winner), the 2008 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book of Canada and the Caribbean (shortlisted), the 2008 Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize of the British Columbia Book Prizes (shortlisted), the 2008 City of Toronto Book Award (shortlisted), the 2008 “One Book, One Vancouver” of the Vancouver Public Library (shortlisted), the 2008 Relit Award for best novel from a Canadian independent press (shortlisted), and the 2007 in Canada First Novel Award (shortlisted).

Chariandy has a MA from Carleton and a PhD from York University. He lives in Vancouver and teaches in the department of English at Simon Fraser University.

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Book Review: The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin

The Wicked ComethAbout the Book

The year is 1831. Down the murky alleyways of London, acts of unspeakable wickedness are taking place and no one is willing to speak out on behalf of the city’s vulnerable poor as they disappear from the streets.  Out of these shadows comes Hester White, a bright young woman who is desperate to escape the slums by any means possible.  When Hester is thrust into the world of the aristocratic Brock family, she leaps at the chance to improve her station in life under the tutelage of the fiercely intelligent and mysterious Rebekah Brock. But whispers from her past slowly begin to poison her new life and both she and Rebekah are lured into the most sinister of investigations.

Hester and Rebekah find themselves crossing every boundary they’ve ever known in pursuit of truth, redemption and passion. But their trust in each other will be tested as a web of deceit begins to unspool, dragging them into the blackest heart of a city where something more depraved than either of them could ever imagine is lurking . . .

Format: ebook, hardcover(352 pp.)  Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Published: 1st February 2018             Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

Following a narrow escape from under the wheels of a carriage, Hester is taken under the wing of a handsome young surgeon, Calder Brock, who, in an echo of Pygmalion, sets out to prove that the poor are capable of education.  Hester finds herself drawn to Calder’s sister, Rebekah, who is charged with her tuition.  Soon Hester becomes eager for any excuse to be in Rebekah’s presence, daring to hope that her own feelings might be returned.   ‘Then something changes – the meeting of a kindred spirit, the potency of mutual trust – and the tender graces of self-belief once more visit themselves upon us and we are as complete as ever we may be.’

The author concentrates on building up the atmosphere of the period and the various locations in the first half of the book.   The writing conjures up the sights, sounds and smells of the seedier parts of London: dank cellars, dark alleyways, mire-strewn streets, secret thoroughfares used for illicit purposes.

The pace of the story really picks up in the second half as Rebekah and Hester embark on their investigation into the disappearances, risking everything as they enter the realm of individuals who have few scruples in dealing with those who get in their way.  Soon they are in parts of London without light both literally and metaphorically. ‘Dark with the business of the people who live here.  Dark with the deeds that are done.’  With the benefit of historical hindsight, I had a pretty good idea of what was going on so the interest was mainly in watching Hester and Rebekah feel their way slowly towards the shocking truth.

I enjoyed The Wicked Cometh and thought it was an assured debut.  I admired the writing and the way the author skilfully evoked the atmosphere of the dark underbelly of London.  There were also some intriguing plot elements revealed at the end.  I’ll confess I was left with the slight sense at the end that I’d read it all before in other books (admittedly a bit of an occupational hazard if, like me, you read a lot of historical fiction).  However, I would definitely look out for further books from this author.

I received an advance reader copy courtesy of NetGalley and publishers Hodder & Stoughton in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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In three words: Atmospheric, Gothic, mystery

Try something similar…The Wages of Sin by Kaite Welsh (click here to read my review)

Laura CarlinAbout the Author

Laura Carlin left school at 16 to work in retail banking and it was only after leaving her job to write full-time that she discovered her passion for storytelling and exploring pockets of history through fiction. She lives in a book-filled house in beautiful rural Derbyshire with her family and a Siamese cat called Antigone. When she’s not writing she enjoys walking in the surrounding Peak District. The Wicked Cometh is Laura Carlin’s first novel.

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Throwback Thursday: The Signal Flame by Andrew Krivak


Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by Renee at It’s Book Talk.  It’s designed as an opportunity to share old favourites as well as books that we’ve finally got around to reading that were published over a year ago.  If you decide to take part, please link back to It’s Book Talk.

Today I’m revisiting a book that I reviewed in the early days of my blog: the evocative and moving, The Signal Flame by Andrew Krivak, published in January 2017.  (This was in the days when my reviews were rather shorter than they are now.  Not sure if this is good or bad…)

signalAbout the Book

In a small town in Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains, Hannah and her son Bo mourn the loss of the family patriarch, Jozef Vinich. They were three generations under one roof. Three generations, but only one branch of a scraggy tree; they are a war-haunted family in a war-torn century. Having survived the trenches of World War I as an Austro-Hungarian conscript, Vinich journeyed to America and built a life for his family. His daughter married the Hungarian-born Bexhet Konar, who enlisted to fight with the Americans in the Second World War but brought disgrace on the family when he was imprisoned for desertion. He returned home to Pennsylvania a hollow man, only to be killed in a hunting accident on the family’s land. Finally, in 1971, Hannah’s prodigal younger son, Sam, was reported MIA in Vietnam.

And so there is only Bo, a quiet man full of conviction, a proud work ethic, and a firstborn’s sense of duty. He is left to grieve but also to hope for reunion, to create a new life, to embrace the land and work its soil through the seasons. The Signal Flame is a stirring novel about generations of men and women and the events that define them, brothers who take different paths, the old European values yielding to new world ways, and the convalescence of memory and war.

Format: Hardcover, ebook, paperback (272 pp.)   Publisher: Scribner
Published: 24th January 2017              Genre: Literary Fiction

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My Review

Covering a period of a few months, we learn, mainly from the point of view of Bo, something of the tragic history of the family and the impact of his brother’s absence on the family and others. There is some gorgeous writing: “The air smelled of the same candle smoke and slight perfume of frankincense and gardenia that she remembered, and it still sounded even in its silence like every voice uttered was a whisper and that whisper would echo forever if she just sat and listened long enough.”

The book is incredibly sad in parts as tragedies – natural and manmade – come one after another; the toll of grief on some of the characters is sympathetically conveyed: “No, she had come to believe that the only thing one could be certain of was loss. The loss of others as one lived on. Loss as the last thing one left behind.”

What prevents the book becoming too overwhelmingly depressing is the theme of reconciliation.   There are some particularly moving and touching scenes between characters in which longstanding differences are set aside which, I’m not ashamed to say, moved me to tears.   I loved the descriptions of the routine of daily domestic tasks which never become mundane but gave a sense of the rhythm of life in a small, isolated community. The author explores ideas of duty, obligation and continuity through Bo’s sense of connection to the land acquired by and handed down by his grandfather and there is a sense of a real regard for skill and craftsmanship.

The one slight negative is that the absence of speech marks sometimes made it difficult to distinguish conversation between characters from internal monologue.  I received an advance review copy courtesy of NetGalley and publishers, Scribner, in return for an honest review.

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In three words: Evocative, moving, haunting

Try something similar: The Fortunate Brother by Donna Morrissey (click here to read my review)

Andrew KrivakAbout the Author

Andrew Krivak is the author of The Sojourn, a novel set during WWI; A Long Retreat: In Search of a Religious Life, a memoir about his eight years in the Jesuit Order; and the editor of The Letters of William Carlos Williams to Edgar Irving Williams, 1902-1912. The grandson of Slovak immigrants, he grew up in Pennsylvania, has lived in London, and has taught at Harvard, Boston College, and the College of the Holy Cross. Krivak currently lives with his wife and three children in Massachusetts.

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WWW Wednesdays – 21st February ’18


Hosted by Taking on a World of Words, this meme is all about the three Ws:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

Why not join in too?  Leave a comment with your link at Taking on a World of Words and then go blog hopping!

Currently reading

TheFragileThreadofHopeThe Fragile Thread of Hope by Pankaj Giri (ebook, review copy courtesy of the author)

In the autumn of 2012, destiny wreaks havoc on two unsuspecting people – Soham and Fiona.

Although his devastating past involving his brother still haunted him, Soham had established a promising career for himself in Bangalore.  After a difficult childhood, Fiona’s fortunes had finally taken a turn for the better. She had married her beloved, and her life was as perfect as she had ever imagined it to be.  But when tragedy strikes them yet again, their fundamentally fragile lives threaten to fall apart.

Can Fiona and Soham overcome their grief? Will the overwhelming pain destroy their lives?

John MacnabJohn Macnab by John Buchan (hardback)

Three high-flying men – a barrister, a cabinet minister and a banker – are suffering from boredom. They concoct a plan to cure it. They inform three Scottish estates that they will poach from each two stags and a salmon in a given time. They sign collectively as ‘John Macnab’ and await the responses.

Recently finished

The Bell by Iris Murdoch (paperback)

A lay community of thoroughly mixed-up people is encamped outside Imber Abbey, home of an enclosed order of nuns. A new bell, legendary symbol of religion and magic, is rediscovered. Dora Greenfield, erring wife, returns to her husband. Michael Mead, leader of the community, is confronted by Nick Fawley, with whom he had disastrous homosexual relations, while the wise old Abbess watches and prays and exercises discreet authority. And everyone, or almost everyone, hopes to be saved, whatever that may mean…Iris Murdoch’s funny and sad novel is about religion, the fight between good and evil, and the terrible accidents of human frailty. (Review to follow)

BrewingUpMurderBrewing Up Murder by Neila Young (ebook, review copy courtesy of the author)

As the owner of Mystery Cup Café in Wilton, Missouri, a town made famous by a string of long-ago murders, Blake Harper is used to the mysterious. When her barista is found strangled in a mound of coffee beans, Blake vows to find the killer, even though her sister, the town’s lead police detective, tells her to stay out of it. Blake finds plenty of suspects, like the owners of a rival coffee shop and the handsome new bookstore owner. But when new threats are made, she soon realizes the danger is centered around Mystery Cup and someone is targeting her personally. Will Blake be able to solve the murder, find a new barista, and perfect her recipe for espresso brownies before she becomes the next victim? (Review to follow)

CaligulaCaligula by Simon Turney (eARC, NetGalley)

Caligula: loving brother, reluctant ruler and tortured soul.

The five children of Germanicus are cursed from birth. Father: believed poisoned by the Emperor Tiberius over the imperial succession. Mother and two brothers arrested and starved to death by Tiberius. One sister married off to an abusive husband. Only two are left: Caligula, in line for the imperial throne, and his youngest sister, Livilla, who tells us this story.

The ascent of their family into the imperial dynasty forces Caligula to change from the fun-loving boy Livilla knew into a shrewd, wary and calculating young man. Tiberius’s sudden death allows Caligula to manhandle his way to power. With the bloodthirsty tyrant dead, it should be a golden age in Rome and, for a while, it is. But Caligula suffers emotional blow after emotional blow as political allies, friends, and finally family betray him and attempt to overthrow him, by poison, by the knife, by any means possible.

Little by little, Caligula becomes a bitter, resentful and vengeful Emperor, every shred of the boy he used to be eroded. As Caligula loses touch with reality, there is only one thing to be done before Rome is changed irrevocably…(Review to follow)

What Cathy (will) Read Next

The Secret Life of Mrs LondonThe Secret Life of Mrs. London by Rebecca Rosenberg (e-book, review copy courtesy if Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours)

San Francisco, 1915. As America teeters on the brink of world war, Charmian and her husband, famed novelist Jack London, wrestle with genius and desire, politics and marital competitiveness. Charmian longs to be viewed as an equal partner who put her own career on hold to support her husband, but Jack doesn’t see it that way…until Charmian is pulled from the audience during a magic show by escape artist Harry Houdini, a man enmeshed in his own complicated marriage. Suddenly, charmed by the attention Houdini pays her and entranced by his sexual magnetism, Charmian’s eyes open to a world of possibilities that could be her escape.

As Charmian grapples with her urge to explore the forbidden, Jack’s increasingly reckless behavior threatens her dedication. Now torn between two of history’s most mysterious and charismatic figures, she must find the courage to forge her own path, even as she fears the loss of everything she holds dear.








Whippoorwill by R. L. Bartram

When an author contacts you about reviewing their book, it’s disappointing to have to decline the opportunity because of your already huge review pile.  Such is the case when R. L. Bartram contacted me about his new historical romance, Whippoorwill.    However, just because my review pile is approaching mountainous proportions, doesn’t mean I should hide interesting sounding books from followers of my blog.

You can read an excerpt from Whippoorwill further down this post and, if it sparks your interest, you can find the relevant purchase links below.  For those unfamiliar with the word (like me), the whip-poor-will is a North American bird whose singing, according to some folklore, is believed to be an omen of death.

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WhippoorwillAbout the Book

Barely fourteen, Ceci Prejean is a tomboy running wild in the hot Louisiana summer. After breaking the nose of a local boy, her father decides to enlist the aid of Hecubah, a beautiful Creole woman, with a secret past, who takes Ceci in hand and turns her into a lady.

Now, eighteen-year-old Ceci meets and falls passionately in love with a handsome young northerner, Trent Sinclaire. Trent is a cadet at the West Point military academy. He acts as if he knows Ceci. They begin a torrid affair, even as the southern states begin to secede from the Union. Only weeks before their wedding, the Confederate army attacks Fort Sumter and the civil war begins. Trent is called to active service in the north, leaving Ceci heartbroken in the south. Swearing vengeance on the union, after the untimely death of her family at the fall of New Orleans, Ceci meets with infamous spy master, Henry Doucet. He initiates her into the shadowy world of espionage. After her failure to avert the catastrophe at Gettysburg, Ceci infiltrates the White House.

There, she comes face to face with Abraham Lincoln, a man she’s sworn to kill. Forming a reckless alliance with the actor, John Wilkes Booth, she is drawn deeper into the plot to assassinate the President of the United States. A Confederate spy in love with a Union officer, her next decision will determine whether she lives or dies…

Format: eBook, paperback (310 pp.)     Publisher: Troubador Publishing
Published: 28th November 2017            Genre: Historical Romance

Purchase Links* ǀ  Barnes and Noble
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find Whippoorwill on Goodreads

Extract from Whippoorwill by R. L. Bartram

Trent was lucky. The Confederate musket ball that was intended to kill him merely grazed his brow. He lurched violently back in his saddle. His horse reared wildly, throwing him, unconscious to the ground, directly into the path of his own cavalry advancing only yards behind him.

At the far end of the field, Sergeant Nathanial Pike and his men, engaged in the hasty formation of a skirmish line, watched helplessly as the scene unfolded. As Trent hit the ground, a Confederate soldier appeared out of the shadows. Small and slight, little more than a boy, he lunged forwards, grabbed the officer by the lapels of his coat and dragged him out of the path of the galloping horses. Throwing himself across the man’s prone body, he shielded him from the pounding hooves. The cavalry thundered past oblivious, in the half-light, to the fate of their captain.

As the danger passed, the rebel rose to his knees and appeared to search the unconscious man.

“God damn thieving rebs,” Pike snatched his pistol from its holster, his thumb wrenching back the hammer. Before he could take aim, the rebel stopped searching. He leaned forwards and, cradling the officer’s face in his hands, bent down and kissed him, full on the lips, long and hard. Pike’s pistol, arm and jaw dropped simultaneously.

Something, some noise, some movement, made the rebel look up and glance furtively around. He jumped to his feet and, with a final backwards glance at the fallen man, melted into the shadows, like a wraith.

It was some moments before Pike’s jaw snapped shut, his teeth meeting with an audible click. He rounded on his men. “Did you see what I just saw?” he demanded.

His question was answered with shrugs and scowls. Not one man there could swear he hadn’t dreamed it. Then suddenly, they heard it, far off, plaintive and eerie, the cry of a whippoorwill.

R L BartramAbout the Author

With historical romance as his preferred genre, Robert has continued to write for several years. Many of his short stories have appeared in various national periodicals and magazines.

His debut novel, Dance the Moon Down, a story of love against adversity during the First World War, gained him considerable critical praise, being voted book of the month by “Wall to Wall books”.

His second novel, Whippoorwill, tells of a passionate affair between a young southern woman and a northern man at the beginning of the American Civil War.

He is single and lives and works in Hertfordshire.

Connect with Robert

Website   ǀ  Goodreads