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Blog Tour: ‘The False Rose’ by Jakob Wegelius (tr. Peter Graves)

As a child and young teen, I read many different kinds of books, but my favourites were always those which described exotic adventures steeped in mystery, with brave characters who embarked on fantastic ventures. So when The False Rose fell into my hands, I was beyond excited to read it and get lost in its pages.

The False Rose, translated from the Swedish by Peter Graves and published by Pushkin Press, is the third instalment in the Sally Jones series (the previous ones being The Legend of Sally Jones and The Murderer’s Ape which are also available by Pushkin Press). You can easily follow and enjoy the story even if you haven’t read the previous books. There are several pages at the beginning of the book introducing the characters with wonderful black and white drawings for each one, and there is a mini recap of sorts every time an event or character from a previous book is referenced. So fear not and dive right in this delightful adventure with lovely Sally Jones and her friends.

The story opens in Lisbon, where we are introduced to the protagonist, Sally Jones, an ‘anthropoid ape’ that works as a ship engineer. Along with the Chief, they discover a rose-shaped necklace on their ship, the Hudson Queen, and they become entangled in the mystery surrounding its previous owner. Sally and the Chief embark on a quest to return the necklace to its rightful owner, a quest that leads them to the gloomy and shady parts of Glasgow.

However, nothing is as easy as it seems and the mystery of the necklace isn’t all that straightforward. Sally and the Chief encounter dangerous street gangs and the intimidating smuggler queen Moira, who will do everything in her power to obtain the necklace for herself.

The story is intriguing and gripping until the very end and I was at the edge of my seat with every twist and turn. I grew very attached to Sally Jones, who is also the narrator of the story, thus letting the reader in on her thoughts and feelings, since she cannot really speak in the book (but she can read and write, skills that come in very handy at times!).

I also really loved reading the descriptions of the places Sally and the Chief travel to or find themselves in. Not having been able to travel myself at all the past two years, it was a true delight to embark on a journey through the pages of this book from Lisbon to Glasgow, where the majority of the plot takes place, and later on to the Scottish Highlands and the French countryside. The mystery was also very interesting, although there were various other sub-plots that had to get resolved before the solution was provided at the end.

All in all, The False Rose is a perfect cosy read for those gloomy autumn and winter afternoons. Although it is targeted towards younger readers, it can be read and enjoyed by people of any age, as it has all the ingredients to keep you turning page after page – great writing (and a great translation, I’m sure), an engaging mystery/adventure plot and wonderful characters that will remain with you long after you’ve turned the last page. Reading this book was a thoroughly enjoyable experience that provided me with some much needed escapism and brought me back to my very early teens, when I was reading such gripping page-turners every chance I had.

The False Rose was published by Pushkin Press on 7th October 2021. A copy of the book was very kindly provided to me by the publisher.

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‘The Ghost of Frédéric Chopin’ by Éric Faye (20 Books of Summer #1)

Written by Éric Faye and translated from the French by Sam Taylor, The Ghost of Frédéric Chopin is the third book in the ‘Walter Presents’ series published by Pushkin Press. Every book in the series is a standalone (so far), so there is no need to have read the others before delving into this one, although I would highly recommend you do if you’re a fan of mysteries from various corners of the world.

The novel is set in Prague in 1995, where Věra Foltýnova, a middle-aged woman claims to be able to see the ghost of Frédéric Chopin, the famed composer, who dictates some new music to her that he didn’t have time to compose himself before his untimely death. What makes Věra’s story even more intriguing is the fact that she has doesn’t have any particular musical education, apart from some piano lessons she used to take as a very young girl, and yet experts claim the music she produces (upon Chopin’s ghost’s dictation) perfectly fits with the rest of the composer’s oeuvre.

This story grabs the attention of everyone in Prague, and so the journalist Ludvík Slaný is commissioned to create a documentary about Věra and her story, although he doesn’t believe her at all. Set to uncover Věra’s purported fraud, the journalist enlists the help of Pavel Černý, a former secret police agent, who secretly follows the middle-aged woman and investigates her and her past. Is this all a very well thought out plot to deceive everyone, or is Věra truly capable of seeing Chopin’s ghost?

The novel is narrated through the point of view of both Ludvík Slaný, the journalist, and Pavel Černý, the police agent, each one of whom recounts their encounters and experience with Věra. Although it sounds completely fantastical, the plot is actually inspired by the true story of Rosemary Brown (1916-2001), an English composer who claimed that the spirits of several composers dictated their new music to her. It is a very atmospheric story, with the author transporting us to picturesque Prague, with its scenic views and mysterious stories, as we learn more about Věra and are led towards the solution of the mystery that surrounds her.

Delving deeper into Věra’s past, the author very eloquently blends her personal story with the history of Czech Republic itself, as the dissolution of the former nation of Czechoslovakia happened only a couple of years prior to the current events of the novel.

“We were all still in shock, I think, caught between euphoria and bafflement, astounded to wake up one fine morning in two countries when we had gone to sleep the night before in one.

Location 905 (Kindle version)

Faye’s prose is beautifully woven and I especially loved his descriptions, as I truly felt like I was strolling down the cobblestoned streets of Prague along with Černý, all while Chopin’s new musical scores resounded in my ears.

Overall, I really enjoyed this atmospheric mystery which transported me to autumnal Prague in a period where I can’t travel there myself. It’s definitely not a fast-paced mystery, but rather a mellower one, in which the journey of investigating takes the reigns and guides the reader through the characters’ lives and secrets.

This book combines a lovely writing style, an intriguing mystery and an encompassing atmosphere, so if you are a fan of any of those in your books, then you should definitely grab a copy as soon as possible.

A copy of this book was very kindly provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley.

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Mini Reviews: ‘Fantastic Night’ and ‘The Lightkeepers’

Fantastic Night by Stefan Zweig ****
9781782271482I purchased Fantastic Night as part of Oxfam’s wonderful 2016 Scorching Summer Reads campaign.  I was already familiar with Zweig’s work, and remember how enraptured I was when reading the excellent The Post Office Girl some years ago.  Fantastic Night provides a mixture of novellas and short stories, many of which I hadn’t come across before.

As with all of the Pushkin Press titles which I have had the pleasure of reading thus far, the translation here is seamless. There were a couple of tales I wasn’t that enamoured with, but those which I loved or very much admired greatly outweighed these. Zweig is a masterfully perceptive author, and there was such a difference to every one of the stories here. ‘Letter from an Unknown Woman’ is stunning. Fantastic Night is a real joy to read.

 

The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni ***** 9781619026001
Before gushing uncontrollably about Abby Geni’s masterful The Lightkeepers, I shall just copy the blurb so that you get some context about the story: ‘In The Lightkeepers, we follow Miranda, a nature photographer who travels to the Farallon Islands, an exotic and dangerous archipelago off the coast of California, for a one-year residency capturing the landscape. Her only companions are the scientists studying there, odd and quirky refugees from the mainland living in rustic conditions; they document the fish populations around the island, the bold trio of sharks called the Sisters that hunt the surrounding waters, and the overwhelming bird population who, at times, create the need to wear hard hats as protection from their attacks. Shortly after her arrival, Miranda is assaulted by one of the inhabitants of the islands. A few days later, her assailant is found dead, perhaps the result of an accident. As the novel unfolds, Miranda gives witness to the natural wonders of this special place as she grapples with what has happened to her and deepens her connection (and her suspicions) to her companions, while falling under the thrall of the legends of the place nicknamed “the Islands of the Dead.” And when more violence occurs, each member of this strange community falls under suspicion. The Lightkeepers upends the traditional structure of a mystery novel –an isolated environment, a limited group of characters who might not be trustworthy, a death that may or may not have been accidental, a balance of discovery and action –while also exploring wider themes of the natural world, the power of loss, and the nature of recovery.’

I very much enjoyed Geni’s short story collection, The Last Animal, and couldn’t wait to read her debut novel.  My parents scoured The Strand for me on a recent trip to New York, and I couldn’t have been happier when they presented me with it (and three other equally wonderful tomes).  Geni’s novel explores similar themes to those in her story collection – nature, humans, and the effects of one upon the other.

Geni’s writing is electric.  Such emphasis has been placed upon every single sense that the whole springs to life immediately.  You can almost smell the salt on the breeze, taste the stale crackers and tuna macaroni, and, despite living on an isolated island with just a few others, feel their eyes on you as you read.  Geni uses both the first and third person perspectives effortlessly, and even the more simplistic or mundane elements of life on the Farallon Islands feel extremely creative due to the way in which she presents them.  Everything here feels original.  The Lightkeepers has been so well researched, particularly with regard to the nature around Miranda, and the photography techniques which she utilises.  The Lightkeepers is exquisite.

 

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