Book Review: Night Train by David Quantick

A woman wakes up, frightened and alone – with no idea where she is. She’s in a room but it’s shaking and jumping like it’s alive. Stumbling through a door, she realizes she is in a train carriage. A carriage full of the dead.

This is the Night Train. A bizarre ride on a terrifying locomotive, heading somewhere into the endless night. How did the woman get here? Who is she? And who are the dead? As she struggles to reach the front of the train, through strange and horrifying creatures with stranger stories, each step takes her closer to finding out the train’s hideous secret. Next stop: unknown.

What I Thought:

In a world that seems increasingly like dystopian fiction, it’s quite a relief to read some honest-to-goodness dystopian fiction that is quite removed from our present reality. David Quantick’s Night Train certainly fits the bill.

A woman wakes up on a train with no memory and no idea how she got there, and we follow her quest to find answers to her questions where she picks up allies and enemies as she goes. It’s impossible to tell you much more about the plot without giving away spoilers, but it was a weird and darkly comic adventure that I thoroughly enjoyed.

The train was a great setting for the novel, as it provided a claustrophobic backdrop where the only way was forward – no matter what might be waiting. There is a devastating reason for the train, which you find out near the end of the book, and it really packs a punch given the fact that you have begun to root for these characters as you share their challenges.

Be under no illusion – this book is dark. In places it is incredibly dark, but it is always intelligent and has a seam of humour running through it that balances some of the more eye-popping plot points.

I know that there is a real fashion for books being part of a series these days, but I genuinely wanted to read more about this world, this train and these people but, having said that, the end of the book ties up well and there are no glaring loose ends!

This is the first David Quantick novel I’ve read, but I loved his writing style, and will definitely be reading more.

Night Train is published by Titan Books.

David Quantick is an author, a TV writer and a radio broadcaster. To find out more about him and his work, you can check out his website, where he will spoil you with a large number of short stories you can download for free. You can also follow him on Twitter.

Please note: I received a copy of this book for review via Netgalley. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Blog Tour: Orfeia by Joanne M. Harris – Guest Post

Today I’m absolutely delighted to introduce you to Orfeia by Joanne M. Harris. I will be reviewing this beautiful book next week but now I would like to turn the blog over to Joanne as she writes about her unique relationship with Bonnie Helen Hawkins, the illustrator of three of Joanne’s novels, including Orfeia.

I read Orfeia as an ebook, but will be buying a physical copy as the illustrations are just beautiful and, more than a good book, it is also a lovely thing.

Over to Joanne…

I first encountered Bonnie when I was looking for an illustrator for A POCKETFUL OF CROWS (the first of my three illustrated novellas). My publisher had shown me some samples of work from a number of illustrators, but I had something special in mind, and none of the ones I’d seen seemed quite right. Then, out of the blue, I received a piece of artwork in the mail from a woman who had come to me via one of my TED talks, and who wanted to give me a piece of her work in thanks for some of the things I’d said. 

That woman was Bonnie, and the picture – which was extraordinary – was in the exact style I’d been looking for. Detailed, feminine, naturalistic, but with a hint of darkness, too, it reminded me of the classic illustrators and fairy painters I’d loved as a child; Rackham, and Clarke, and Burne-Jones, and Dulac. I asked Bonnie if she would consider illustrating my new book, and after a great deal of hesitation – she had never been involved in illustrating a book before, and clearly had no idea of just how talented she was – she accepted. Three years later, we’re just about to celebrate our third collaboration together (though not our last), and if anything, her work has grown even more impressive. 

Many authors don’t have much contact with the illustrators of their work. Bonnie and I were different, partly because we were both new to this kind of project, and partly because it was I, and not my publisher, who had talked Bonnie into illustrating CROWS. As a result, we stayed in constant touch throughout my writing process, bouncing ideas off each other and giving each other encouragement. Bonnie works quite slowly, as her work is very detailed, and she likes to have as much time to plan and complete her work as possible; so in the case of ORFEIA and THE BLUE SALT ROAD I gave her access to early drafts to give her the time she needed. We talked a lot about the racial characteristics of some of my BAME characters, but I deliberately didn’t impose on her which scenes I wanted her to illustrate; I needed her to feel free to explore and develop her own ideas. I even wrote in certain details of ORFEIA with her in mind – I drew inspiration for the Oracle from a piece that Bonnie had already drawn, and knowing how much she loved tigers, I wrote in a tiger, just for her. In turn, she was very sensitive and alert to some of the things I’d tried to convey: her picture of Daisy in the bluebells which makes up the end-pages of ORFEIA was inspired by pictures of my own daughter.

To me, illustration is very much like the process of translation. A good illustrator, like a good translator, can really bring a text to life, and the closer the relationship between writer and illustrator, the more likely that is to happen. Bonnie and I have become friends: we understand each other, I think, and we share a lot of influences. Both of us have a strong sense of connection with the natural world; we both have a love of classic fairytales and their illustrators; we both really love what we do, and enjoy sharing our process. 

Bonnie is incredibly generous; last year, she gifted me a lovely pencil drawing based on my work with the Storytime Band; and this year, she created a set of beautiful bookplates especially for ORFEIA. Her art has contributed so much to mine; these stories would be only half-complete without her beautiful drawings. The tradition of illustrated books began with adult fiction; just as the fairytales we loved as children were originally all meant for adults. I like to think that together, Bonnie and I are helping to reclaim them – because art grows with us, if we let it, and adults need their dose of magic just as much as children do. 

I’m hugely grateful to Joanne for letting me share this – I loved Bonnie’s illustrations as there was so much in them to take in. I’ve had another look at some of them online since I read the book and found many more details that I missed first time round.

Orfeia is published by Gollancz.

To find out more about Joanne M. Harris and her work, you can check out her website. You can also follow Joanne on Twitter, which I would highly recommend as, not only does she tweet about her work, she also offers some incredibly valuable advice for authors, reviewers and readers.

This post is part of a blog tour celebrating the publication of Orfeia. Please do check out some of the blogs below for more exclusive content and reviews of the book.

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Blog Tour: The Search Party by Simon Lelic

16-year-old Sadie Saunders is missing.

Five friends set out into the woods to find her.

But they’re not just friends…

THEY’RE SUSPECTS.

You see, this was never a search party.

It’s a witch hunt.

And not everyone will make it home alive…

What I Thought:

If you’ve not read anything by Simon Lelic, then you’re really missing a trick. I think The Search Party is the third book of his that I’ve read and, as with the others, this book is really excellent.

Straight off the bat, there is a mysterious and dramatic prologue with someone calling for help – is this the missing girl? It starts to build a level of tension that never really lets up, even in the passages where no ‘action’ is taking place. I put action in inverted commas as there is always something simmering under the surface in the most mundane of scenes, so definitely pay attention to everything!

Robin Fleet was an interesting character as a jaded police detective (my favourite kind) who seems ripe for a series of books of his own. His connection to the location is slowly revealed as the book goes along, and it becomes clear that there are ghosts here that he needs to lay to rest.

The search party themselves are not all they seem. half-truths and old resentments bubble to the surface as they go further into the woods in search of Sadie, but who exactly is in control of the situation, and are their motives as pure as they seem? Their interactions with each other are written really well and they don’t fall into the trap of sounding like an adult writing what they think a teenager speaks like!

I liked the format of the book, where you hear directly from the members of the search party – we really don’t know who to believe, and then they contradict each other as they are interviewed. It’s a clever way of referring to the days in the woods while keeping you fully invested – I feel like a narrator would pull you too far outside the story.

As I said, the tension absolutely sizzles in this book, until everything is laid bare and Simon Lelic is really clever in conclusion he provides – you might guess if you pay really close attention, but you’d have to be Poirot!

Another fantastic book from this author – you can be certain if you pick up one of his books that it will be very much worth your time.

The Search Party is published by Penguin.

To find out more about Simon Lelic and his other books, including The Haven series for YA readers, you can check out his website. You can also connect with him on Twitter.

This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate the publication of The Search party – for more reviews and exclusive content, why not take a look at some of the other participating blogs, below?

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Blog Tour: The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

Hà Nội, 1972. Hương and her grandmother, Trần Diệu Lan, cling to one another in their improvised shelter as American bombs fall around them. Her father and mother have already left to fight in a war that is tearing not just her country but her family apart. For Trần Diệu Lan, forced to flee the family farm with her six children decades earlier as the Communist government rose to power in the North, this experience is horribly familiar. Seen through the eyes of these two unforgettable women, The Mountains Sing captures their defiance and determination, hope and unexpected joy.

Vivid, gripping, and steeped in the language and traditions of Việt Nam, celebrated Vietnamese poet Nguyễn’s richly lyrical debut weaves between the lives of grandmother and granddaughter to paint a unique picture of the country’s turbulent twentieth-century history. This is the story of a people pushed to breaking point, and a family who refuse to give in.

What I Thought:

I’m thrilled today to be closing out the blog tour for The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai.

While reading this book, I thought to myself that this is the first time I’ve read a book set in Vietnam from the perspective of the people of Vietnam. There are plenty of books that deal with the Vietnam war but they seem to be of the American experience of that war – they say that history is written by the victors, but seemingly not in this case.

Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai has written the stunning saga of a Vietnamese family, starting before World War 2, and leading through the communist Land Reform in Vietnam into, and after the war. Many of the situations described were previously unknown to me, and have helped me add context to my historical knowledge of Vietnam.

The book jumps back and forth in time as Trần Diệu Lan passes on the stories of her life to her granddaughter recalling the members of her family she has lost and her struggle to keep her children together under unforgiving circumstances. Many of the historical details are vividly portrayed, and the author never shies away from the traumatic and graphic situations that ordinary Vietnamese people were subjected to in a time of great societal change.

You can see Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s background in writing poetry in many of the passages as she describes the beauty of Vietnam and portrays the raw emotions of her characters. This is especially well done in Hương’s mother’s case – she returns from the war severely affected by her experiences which we read about in her journal in shocking and tragic detail.

As I have already mentioned, this book is an excellent starting point to learn more about the experience of ordinary Vietnamese people during the war. As an alternative perspective to the many books written from the western viewpoint, I would recommend it.

The Mountains Sing is published by Oneworld.

To find out more about Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai you can check out her website or, alternatively, you can connect with her on Twitter.

This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate The Mountains Sing – for more reviews, extracts and exclusive content, why not check out some of the blogs below?

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Blog Blitz: Under a Siena Sun by T. A. Williams

Lucy needed a change of scene. She didn’t expect the change of a lifetime.

Doctors Without Borders has been Lucy Young’s life for the past four years. After being rescued from a conflict zone, she’s making a change from saving lives under gunfire to practising medicine in safe, serene Siena.

Now treating wealthy patients at a private clinic, she’s never felt less comfortable. She’s used to helping those in dire need – not those in need of a nip and tuck. Her turmoil grows when she encounters injured tennis star David Lorenzo, whose smiles make Lucy forget her aversion to the rich.

She’s soon falling for the sportsman but is she losing herself in this world of excess? All she’s ever wanted was to help the underprivileged, so can her future lie in Siena at the clinic – with David?

What I Thought:

Happy publication day to the first book in T. A. Williams’ latest sun-drenched series, Under a Siena Sun!

Despite my sorrow that the lovely ‘Dreaming of…’ series is now complete, I was thrilled to pick up this equally heart-warming story, which is a positive start to the ‘Escape to Tuscany’ series of romantic adventures which are all to be set in that area.

T. A. Williams obviously has a great love of Italy, as the settings and people are described in beautiful detail, making you feel as though you’re walking the village streets with the main characters.

Although this is very firmly a romance novel, it does touch upon quite a thorny subject – that of financial inequality and global poverty. Placing Lucy as an ordinary girl working with Médecins Sans Frontières and giving her strong ethics is a great move as it gives the novel another layer in which it is acknowledged that the world of privilege that Lucy finds herself in is neither inevitable nor the only lifestyle in seemingly magical Italy. It’s rare in romantic fiction to find a heroine with a social conscience, and it was very welcome here.

What would a romance novel be without a dashing hero? In Under the Siena Sun, David Lorenzo is all you would wish him to be as a reader, and reading about Lucy and David finding their way nervously towards love is very sweet.

As ever with a T. A. Williams book, you’ll find a mix of stunning scenery, well-researched historical detail and a certain loveable breed of dog – all the ingredients I have come to love from his other work, and I can’t wait to read more in what promises to be an unmissable series.

Under a Siena Sun is published by Canelo.

To find out more about T. A. Williams and his full range of books, you can check out his website. Alternatively, why not connect with him on Twitter?

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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