Book Review: The Last Son’s Secret by Rafel Nadal Farreras

Among the olive groves and vineyards of southern Italy, a boy and a girl are born, moments apart. Far away in the trenches of World War I, their fathers have just died. Now all the men in Vitantonio’s family have been wiped out – all twenty-one. All except him.

Growing up together, war seems far away for the two children. But Vitantonio’s mother will do anything to protect her son from the curse of death that seems to hang over the family – and so she tells a lie. It is a lie that will bind Vitantonio and Giovanna, the girl who shares his birthday, together over the years. But as the clouds of another war begin to gather on the horizon, it may ultimately drive them apart…

What I Thought:
As part of my personal reading challenge this year, I am trying to read more books in translation – there are so many fantastic books out there in other languages and, sadly I won’t be able to work on the languages, but I certainly intend to seek out more translations to add to my wish list.

The Last Son’s Secret, originally written in Catalan, is beautifully translated into English by Mara Faye Lethem, and retains all the pace, emotion and drama of the original text.

I am a sucker for a wartime, historical novel, and while the lion’s share of the novel takes place between the wars, it serves in some instances as a useful history lesson – for example, I had no real idea that Italy fought with the allies in World War One, before forming a alliance with Germany by the 1930s. There is also a great deal written about the French resistance during the German occupation, but this book also provides an introduction to the Italian resistance and anti-fascists that were also working against the Germans.

While there is a lot of factual information, and real-life events in the novel, it is skillfully interwoven with the fictional characters, and so never seems like a ‘facts overload’. The narrative is very clear and focused, using the real events to add drama and tragedy into the story of Giovanna and Vitantonio. This is particularly evident in the World War 2 sections, where we have seen the two characters grow up from babies, but now follow them as adults, as they make their own decisions and follow their own paths.

In terms of readability, the book starts out at a good pace, then there is a minor lag as we watch the children grow up, but I wonder if this is just the nature of the idyllic lifestyle shown here? The pace picks up again as the threat of war looms and the World War Two sections are packed with action and very quick to read.

This is the first of Rafel Nadal Farreras’ novels to be translated into English, and I would definitely read more, should they become available.

The Last Son’s Secret was published by Black Swan on 29th June. For more information about the author and to read an extract of the novel, you can take a look at the book’s page on the Penguin website.

Note: I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Blog Tour: Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy

When Liv and Nora decide to take their husbands and children on a holiday cruise, everyone is thrilled. The ship’s comforts and possibilities seem infinite. But when they all go ashore in beautiful Central America, a series of minor mishaps lead the families further from the ship’s safety.

One minute the children are there, and the next they’re gone.

What follows is a heart-racing story told from the perspectives of the adults and the children, as the distraught parents – now turning on one another and blaming themselves – try to recover their children and their shattered lives.

What I Thought:
What a nightmare situation to be in! Ask any parent their worst fear regarding their kids, and aside from the usual fears that they’ll get into drugs or never have a job, it’s got to be the kids going missing.

In Do Not Become Alarmed, Maile Meloy captures all the intense feelings that would go along with the disappearance of your children – even the title of the book is perfect, as the families in the book are told this numerous times, all while their world is falling apart!

This book was definitely refreshing to read, as it is a new – and dramatic – take on the domestic drama. There are things afoot in these two families, secrets, inequalities, feelings of inadequacy and all come to a head on what should be a peaceful Christmas cruise.

Looking from the outside it’s easy to see that these are priviledged families, with spoiled children who have never had to lift a finger and it’s compelling to watch the kids try to cope when they are lost, and when they are in real danger of their lives, not really realising that the people they turn to for help could do them actual harm. It’s good too to see Noemi’s story and the contrast of her journey to that of the American children is a real insight.

Told in alternating chapters between the kids and their parents, this book is as close as one would like to come to having children disappear, with real edge-of-your-seat writing and some awful, unimaginable scenes, it is the combination of the big, dangerous experiences of the children and the quiet, nightmarish panic from the parents that really makes this a brilliant read.

Do Not Become Alarmed is published by Penguin on 6th July. To find out more, check out Maile Meloy’s website.

This review is part of a blog tour in advance of the release of Do Not Become Alarmed. There are lots of other great blogs taking part, with reviews, extracts and exclusive content. Please do check them out as below:

Note: I was sent this book to enable participation in the blog tour and for review purposes. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Book Review: You Don’t Belong Here by Tim Major

Daniel Faint is on the run with a stolen time machine.

As the house-sitter of a remote Cumbrian mansion, he hopes to hide and experiment with the machine. But is the Manor being watched by locals, his twin brother or even himself?

Daniel is terrified about what the future may hold but, as he discovers, there can be no going back.

What I Thought:

“The time machine in the back of the van shifted as Daniel pulled off the motorway.”

This line opens You Don’t Belong Here – so far, so intrigued. I think many of us are excited by the idea of time travel – what would we do if we could go back to a certain event, or what would we think if we could visit the future? The answer in this novel is not as simple as all that, and in fact it puts forward a new take on time travel that is expertly examined and revealed only in the last few pages.

Daniel Faint is an intriguing character – almost an anti-hero as he seems throughout the novel to be selfish and arrogant – so arrogant that he steals a time machine, with no knowledge of how such a device would even work. This does not detract from the novel though, as the reader has a vested interest in what will happen to him – perhaps he’ll blow himself up using the machine, or catapult himself into the very far future? Finding out is definitely rewarding!

Although I did enjoy the novel, and the premise, I found the pacing a little slow early on – from a dramatic beginning of Daniel being on the run with a time machine, the parts where he gets settled in Cumbria seem to lag a little, and I felt that he needed to get on and start testing the machine, as that was when the pace began to pick up.

Ultimately, the reveal of what has been going on with the time machine was paced well, and the drama of Daniel’s flight from the Manor met my expectations from the start of the book, so I would definitely recommend it to lovers of Sci-Fi.

You Don’t Belong Here is published by Snowbooks. To find out more about Tim Major, please do check out his website.

Note: I was sent a copy of the book for review purposes. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Blog Tour: Far to Go & Many to Love by Lesley Blanch ed. Georgia de Chamberet

Lesley Blanch, a Londoner by birth, spent the greater part of her life travelling about those remote areas her books record so vividly. She was an astute observer of places and people their quirks, habits and passions. This selection of her early journalism, essays and traveller’s tales forms an irresistible sequel to her posthumous memoirs, On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life.

Savvy, self-possessed, talented and successful, Lesley Blanch was a bold and daring writer; travelling at a time when women were expected to be subservient to the needs of husbands and children. Illustrated with photos and a selection of Blanch’s line drawings and with an insightful introduction by Blanch’s god-daughter, Far to Go and Many to Love: People and Places brings together writings on subjects as various as Vivien Leigh, polygamy and the Orient Express. She remembers life in post-war Bulgaria with her husband, the diplomat-novelist Romain Gary, and Christmas in Mexico with him. Specific places were of particular significance to her: the Sahara, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Afghanistan, Central Asia. Her descriptions make for disturbing reading given the cumulative impact of a century of war on the Middle East.

What I Thought:
To my shame and my cost, I rarely read non-fiction books, but when I do, I tend to enjoy reading about women who kick arse, and in Far to Go & Many to Love, Lesley Blanch confirms her membership of this club with her superb, descriptive writing.

In this new collections of her writings, Blanch’s god-daughter, Georgia de Chamberet lovingly curates a collection of images, illustrations and text creating both a beautiful book, and also a contemporary record of an age that has long since passed.

The first chapter of the book tells some of Lesley’s history – her time at art school, and her career designing sets and costumes for the Ballets Russe, mixing with escaped White Russians, and her tumultuous affair with the Traveller. It then moves on to her married life, and the beginnings of her wanderlust that led her around the globe, but back time and again to the Middle East.

Reading Lesley’s own writings on her time in the Middle East and the people she saw there, it’s clear that among her love affairs, the one she had with the region is just as real. Some of her descriptions of the ancient sites and relics she observed are more poignant, bearing in mind the devastating wars ongoing in that region, and the awful news of the destruction of some of the those sites, such as Palmyra. Through Lesley’s beautiful descriptions, we can get a sense of these monuments that is just not possible now.

Whether writing about people or places, Lesley Blanch’s writing is arresting and has real life to it – her piece about Vivien Leigh is a particular favourite of mine and, as I said, the whole collection is put together with such love and respect, that it is a fantastic introduction to the work of a remarkable woman.

The blog tour for Far to Go & Many to Love is ongoing, with the brilliant blogs below involved, with some fantastic, exclusive content, so please do give them a look if you can.

Please Note: I received a review copy of the book to aid participation in the blog tour. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Book Review: Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh

Stepping off the boat in Mombasa, eighteen-year-old Rachel Fullsmith stands on Kenyan soil for the first time in six years. She has come home.

But when Rachel reaches the family farm at the end of the dusty Rift Valley Road, she finds so much has changed. Her beloved father has moved his new partner and her son into the family home. She hears menacing rumours of Mau Mau violence, and witnesses cruel reprisals by British soldiers. Even Michael, the handsome Kikuyu boy from her childhood, has started to look at her differently.

Isolated and conflicted, Rachel fears for her future. But when home is no longer a place of safety and belonging, where do you go, and who do you turn to?

What I Thought:
I was initially asked to be part of the Leopard at the Door blog tour, so was delighted to host a piece by Jennifer McVeigh about her idyllic African honeymoon. By reading that piece, you’ll begin to get some idea of Jennifer’s writing style which brings the landscape and wildlife of Africa vividly to life, and there’s much more of that in the book.

I love the story of how Jennifer came across the events described in Leopard at the Door, which she writes about on her blog – the idea that an elderly woman has kept photographs, news clippings and propaganda materials from a dark time in Kenyan history and lived through it, hoping that it would find a home and a voice is the sort of thing that keep me reading. In Jennifer McVeigh, that story has found an author that does it justice.

As difficult as it must have been to tease a narrative out of a suitcase of seemingly unconnected items, Jennifer has done this brilliantly, crafting a cast of characters who each have very different views on, and investment in, colonialism and all the things that entails. There are views from the British side, and those who have the most to lose if the Kikuyu succeed in bringing about a change and also the view from the native population who suffer the most under the British foot. Even Rachel’s mother – who has passed away before the events of the book – is described so vividly and longingly by Rachel, that she seems almost a living character within the book.

I was not previously aware of the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya, seeing as my knowledge of African history is shockingly poor, but I found enough historical information in the book to be able to set the scene in my own mind, without it being overwhelmed by facts and figures. It is interesting during further reading to note that, while it must have been a frightening time for white settlers, which comes across well from the book, fewer than 500 settlers were killed. This is in stark contrast to retaliatory attacks, in which thousands of Kikuyu were imprisoned and killed. It’s absolutely true that history depends entirely on perspective!

Although this book was an excellent read, and I do enjoy historical fiction, on some occasions it does make my blood boil. In this instance, Rachel is a young woman who knows her own mind, but events towards the end of the book are a hideous reminder of how far we have come – and how far we still have to go – before women are truly in control of their own fate. I don’t wish to spoil the end of the book, but it is a stark reminder that only half a century ago, a young woman could be completely at the mercy of her own family and have her liberty taken away if she did not toe the line. Thankfully, things have improved in this area!

To find out more about this book, and Jennifer McVeigh’s debut novel, please do take a look at her website. You can also catch up with her on Facebook or Twitter – whichever is your poison!

Leopard at the Door is published by Penguin.

Note: I was sent this book for review purposes. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Review: Abigail’s Party 40th Anniversary Edition by Mike Leigh

Forty years on from its first performance at the Hampstead Theatre and original screening on BBC1 soon after, Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party – telling of two marriages spectacularly unravelling at an awkward neighbourhood drinks party – remains a pinnacle of British theatre.

Here is the original script, complete with a new introduction by Mike Leigh describing the play’s unlikely genesis, how it came to be made and where he believes it fits within his oeuvre as one of the country’s leading writers and directors.

What I Thought:
Since I am (just) too young to remember the 70s, Abigail’s Party has always been a play I have loved from TV repeats, rather than a sense of nostalgia.

I saw the play a few years ago on tour and, while it was a good production, it didn’t even come close to the Play for Today TV film starring Alison Steadman as Beverley – perhaps because this was shot with most of the original cast who workshopped and improvised these characters until they really inhibited their skin – a much different process to learning the lines many years later.

This new, 40th Anniversary edition, of the play script was a real pleasure to read. It’s only a slim volume, but alongside the text, there is a new introduction by Mike Leigh, looking at the origins of the play, its original run and subsequent TV film, plus a short discussion on where the play went on to have a life of its own.

I know it’s always better to see plays in stage, rather than try and read the scripts, but in some cases, that is the only way to access some brilliant works of theatre. Thankfully though, Abigail’s Party is always ripe for a revival and alongside this new edition of the script, the play is about to embark on tour starring Amanda Abbingdon as Beverley – looking at some of the preview photos, it already looks like they have captured the real spirit of the play.

The new edition of Abigail’s Party – with suitably lurid cover – is now available from Penguin.

Note: I was sent a copy of this in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Blog Tour: Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh

Morning folks, we’re blog tour today, and venturing to colonial Kenya with Jennifer McVeigh’s Leopard at the Door. I’ll review at a later date, but I’ll say now that it was a book that I found really engrossing. I like to think of myself as a history buff, but this book touched on a subject I knew nothing about – the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s.

More on that later, but for now, Jennifer has written a beautiful piece for us, about her experiences of camping wild in Africa, and how that influenced Leopard at the Door. I’ll hand over to her now…

Camping in the Wild

I have been on many journeys in Africa – or ‘safaris’ as they say in Swahili – and all of them fostered a deep love of wilderness, but there was one safari which I came back to time and again when I was writing Leopard at the Door. My husband was born in Nairobi, and spent much of his childhood in Kenya, and so on our honeymoon we planned an expedition into the wilderness – a camping trip, just the two of us, with no guides or safari camps to fall back on. I wanted to experience East Africa as it might have been a hundred years ago. We flew into Nairobi, and drove across the Maasai Mara to Lake Victoria, down into Tanzania, through the extraordinary, jaw dropping remoteness of the Western Serengeti and out of the other side. It took us just over two weeks, and it was every bit as extraordinary as we had hoped it would be.

We spent our first night on the bank of the Mara River, a pod of hippo blowing out air a few metres below us. There were trees for shade, and a patch of earth for our fire. In a moment of unwitting joy at finding ourselves in a place of such beauty, I opened the doors of the Land Rover and begun unpacking the stove, chairs and kit that would make up our camp. A second later a huge male baboon appeared, ushering his harem past him, a hundred strong. If you have never seen a male baboon up close it would be hard to imagine the size, bulk and agility of such a creature. We were entirely at his mercy – the troop could have decimated our camp in minutes – but having never had contact with humans they ran straight through, darting quick looks of curiosity in our direction. Later, as the sun slipped behind the dappled leaves of an acacia, we watched two waterbuck amble down to drink on the far side of the river, then a hyena in the fading light, loping along the bank.  The following morning there were leopard prints in the ashes of our fire.

The journey wasn’t always easy. We drove hundreds of miles on juddering, dusty roads, and battled with wet, sucking, wheel-spinning mud. We put up with swarms of tsetse flies, and watched one morning, amazed, as a lion trotted nonchalantly past our camp. There were no showers, and the loo was a spade and a wish that you wouldn’t encounter a lion on the way. We gathered firewood, and dragged thorny acacia branches close to the Land Rover at night to keep off game. A small fridge in the boot provided the only luxury – a cold gin and tonic as we watched the sun slip behind iridescent plains, herds of wildebeest shifting in the gloom, and as darkness fell the eyes of hyenas glittering like fire as they crept closer to where we sat. We cooked every meal on a camp stove; delicious, hot curries, pilafs and stir fries. And at night we climbed onto the roof of the Land Rover, where our tent was erected. Up there we felt safe from pretty much everything.

Toward the end of our trip, we were camping in Tarangire National Park, when I was woken in the night by something moving against the side of our tent. I opened my eyes but it was too dark to make anything out. I didn’t dare nudge my husband awake in case he made a sudden noise. Whatever it was, it was either very large, or it was up on the roof with us. Tarangire was famous for it’s tree-climbing lions, and only two days before a Maasai had been killed walking home through the bush.

I held my breath and listened. There was another scrape along the canvas, and an agile fumbling with the zip of the tent. Could it be a person, trying to get in? The blood beat so heavily in my head that I had to strain to hear anything above its rapid pulse. I recalled my mother asking me whether it was safe, driving on our own through East Africa.

The canvas side of the tent billowed in with the weight of something pushing against it, then I heard a long, rumbling exhalation of breath, signifying the presence of something huge. I rolled over as quietly as I could and peered through a gap in the canvas. There  – in the flat light of the moon – was an elephant. Not just one, I realised, but a whole herd, at least thirty strong, picking their way silently past us, just metres from our car. One of the elephants had paused, and was rubbing its trunk along the side of our tent, playing with the zip. It let out a deep, vibrating hum, loud enough to stir my husband into life. It was a throaty purr of pure contentment. We lay there grinning at each other in the half-dark, until – after a long while – the elephant moved on. It was an unprotected encounter with the wild, as my characters might have experienced, living on a farm in Kenya in the first half of the 20th Century, and this feeling of remoteness – the joy of travelling far from the confines and safety net of the modern world – inspired Leopard at the Door.

Huge thanks to Jennifer for writing that for us – since I have already read the book, I can tell you that Jennifer’s descriptions of the landscapes are equally as evocative as those in this piece.

Leopard at the Door is published on 13th July by Viking books, but the ebook is out now!

The blog tour for Leopard at the Door is ongoing, so please do check out some more exclusive content, written by Jennifer McVeigh, at the blogs below.

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Book Review: Arms Wide Open by Tom Winter

Jack and Meredith are non-identical twins; the only similarity between them is their lives rapidly falling apart. Jack’s high-flying career in advertising has crashed and burned. Meredith’s world is also crumbling – a decomposing yogurt in her fridge now a symbol of her failed marriage. Her children, Jemima and Luke, offer little support, too consumed with the worlds of online dating and amateur taxidermy.

All their lives, Jack and Meredith believed their father to be dead. One day, a throwaway comment leads Jack to question this, but with their mother fading ever-deeper into the grip of dementia, answers are hard to come by. As revelations start to untangle, the twins soon learn that what you seek is not always what you find…

What I Thought:
Arms Wide Open is definitely a book that highlights how much dysfunction can be going on right before our eyes! Jack, a seemingly successful man, with all the trappings a successful life and career can bring, is neither as happy or successful as he seems, while his twin, Meredith’s family seems to be coping well with the break up of her marriage, and yet beneath the surface, things are afoot.

I had read an enjoyed Tom Winter’s first book, Lost and Found, so was excited to read this second book, and I wasn’t disappointed.

It is a very character-driven book, so it was sad that at first Meredith’s daughter Jemima was all that is bad about teenagers (supposedly), but as the book went on, she shed some of her impatience and you realise that for all her bravado, she is still naive and sensitive in some respects.

I thought the story telling was done well, using flashback scenes to slowly unveil the truth behind the twins’ story and why Jack and Meredith’s mother seemed so supportive of Jack, and dismissive of Meredith. I was reminded of a piece I read just recently about the expectation of daughters to provide care for their elderly parents, while sons are more the golden children who are applauded for putting in minimal effort – for an illustration of this, this book is perfect!

Arms Wide Open is published by Corsair. You can connect with Tom Winter either on Twitter or Instagram.

Note: I was sent a copy of this title for review purposes, all opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Blog Tour: Summer at Conwenna Cove by Darcie Boleyn

Morning all! I wish I could say that the novel we’re looking at today matches the weather, but while Summer at Conwenna Cove is a light, bright summer read, the day outside my window is decidedly dark and gloomy!

All the more reason, though to give this latest novel from Darcie Boleyn a read and prep yourself for the warm summer evenings…

Eve has a glittering career, a loving husband and a future. But a terrible twist of fate means she loses it all, and with nowhere left to turn she flees to her Aunt Mary’s home in Cornwall. The last thing on her mind is romance – until she meets Jack.

Jack has seen the worst things people can do to each other and realised he is better off alone. He settles in Conwenna Cove, and saves his affections for the rescue dogs he cares for. But when Eve arrives in the village he can’t deny his attraction to her.

Eve and Jack are both scared to trust, but when they come together it’s impossible for either to ignore their feelings. Can they put their fears aside and learn to love again?

What I Thought:
As I said, this book is a light, summery read evoking what’s best about living ‘Down South’. Cornwall is beautifully described and will make any reader want to make the journey to that rocky coastline and fantastic beaches.

As goes our main couple in the book, Eve and Jack, they are caring, nice people who have had bad times in their lives and now deserve something to go their way – and it definitely does!

What I think marks this book out is the plot points about the greyhound rescue. There are parallels between the rescue dogs and the characters, their reluctance to open up without careful handling being a case in point, but these parts also bring an interesting animal rights issue to the fore, raising awareness without stepping outside the bounds of the story. Cleverly done.

This book is definitely worth putting on your ‘summer read’ list, and Darcie Boleyn has also been kind enough to suggest some of her current favourites to complete it…

Darcie Boleyn’s Top Ten Romance Books

This is always very difficult to do because I’ve read so many fabulous books and there are so many I still want to read. In fact, my TBR pile is out of control because I can’t resist buying every great book I see. So, in no particular order, here are some (but not all) that I’ve read and enjoyed recently:

The Little Cottage on Lovelace Lane by Alice Ross
One Hundred Proposals by Holly Martin
Summer at Oyster Bay by Jenny Hale
The Scandalous Proposal of Lord Bennett by Raven McAllan
Blurring the Line by Kierney Scott
How to Bake the Perfect Pecan Pie by Gina Calanni
Love, Lies and Lemon Cake by Sue Watson
Driving Home for Christmas by A. L. Michael
Game of Scones by Samantha Tonge
The Christmas Project by Maxine Morrey

Summer at Conwenna Cove is out now in Kindle format (and at the time of writing, a snip at just 99p!), published by Canelo. To find out more about Darcie Boleyn, you can catch up with her blog, or you can connect with her on Twitter.

The blog tour is ongoing, so please do check out some of these fantastic blogs for reviews and more exclusive content!

Note: I received a copy of the book from Netgalley for the blog tour and to provide an honest review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Book Review: Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp

High atop a Los Angeles skyscraper, an office Christmas party turns into a deadly cage-match between a lone New York City cop and a gang of international terrorists. Every action fan knows it could only be the explosive big-screen blockbuster Die Hard. But before Bruce Willis blew away audiences as unstoppable hero John McClane, author Roderick Thorp knocked out thriller readers with the bestseller that started it all.

A dozen heavily armed terrorists have taken hostages, issued demands, and promised bloodshed all according to plan. But they haven’t counted on a death-defying, one-man cavalry with no shoes, no backup, and no intention of going down easily. As hot-headed cops swarm outside, and cold-blooded killers wield machine guns and rocket launchers inside, the stage is set for the ultimate showdown between anti-hero and uber-villains. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good fight to the death. Ho ho ho!

What I Thought:
I’ve been meaning to read Nothing Lasts Forever for years, but never got around to it, so when I came across this edition, commemorating 25 years since the first Die Hard movie, I thought I would finally give it a go.

There are – of course – some notable differences between this book and the film (the name of the main character for a start) but, on the whole, the 1979 novel stands up well to the movie, and is also a pretty solid action thriller if you disregard what followed.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know the broad story, but there are elements here that were changed, or left out which add a great deal of extra detail to the plot and show the main character – Joe Leland in the book – as more than just a man willing to kill to liberate the hostages. There is also a great section in this commemorative edition that features Roderick Thorp’s original notes on the book and the character. It’s good to see those both transcribed and in his own handwriting. There is also, at the end of the book, a snippet of Walter Wager’s novel, 58 Minutes, which was the basis for Die Hard 2.

As I said, Nothing Lasts Forever is definitely recommended for fans of the Die Hard franchise, but it is also good introduction to those 1970s action/disaster thrillers that went on to dominate the big screen.

Nothing Lasts Forever is published by Graymalkin Media.

Note: I received a copy of the book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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