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The Sleighmaker: A Christmas Story That’s Never Been Told By Ian Shepherd

As warming as a hot minced pie and mulled wine, this unashamedly traditional Christmas story will delight children and adults alike.

Set in the late 1800s, it’s a bitter-sweet tale that harks back to the traditional yuletide tales of the Victorian era.

An impressive debut novel by Ian Shepherd, The Sleighmaker is ostensibly aimed at children aged seven and up, though it will certainly appeal to kids in a higher age bracket. While it might be a little challenging for seven-year-olds to read by themselves, grown-ups are sure to enjoy reading it to younger children.

The main character is Drummond, a master-craftsman once known as the most talented sleighmaker in the land.

After a tragic event, Drummond turns his back on his trade and leads a lonely life, shunning the company of others, before an old friend manages to get him to agree to work on the estate of the local gentry, Lord and Lady Harrington.Here he labours alone, embracing the solitude his new work gives him, until his life is changed by the arrival of a cheerful young boy known only as William, whose way with animals manages to prevent a riding accident involving the Harrington’s young son, Henry.

Wise beyond his years, William comes to work as Drummond’s apprentice and, along with his close companion, kitchen maid Marny, manages slowly but surely to bring a warmth back to the sleighmaker’s life.

William discovers a magnificent sleigh that Drummond had once built, now mothballed in his workshop, and eventually convinces his master to restore it for the coming winter parade.

Filled with a real sense of purpose for the first time since the tragedy, Drummond gets to work on the sleigh, enlisting the help of his friend and artist, Auguste.

It’s not easy for Drummond to continue, given his traumatic experiences, but with the loving support of William and Marny he fashions a sleigh fit for a king.

There’s a magical twist to the tale that I won’t spoil, but it’s enough to say that Drummond’s sleigh gets to serve its purpose with aplomb and is finally rekindled with the Christmas spirit and the promise of a bright future.

The Sleighmaker is an unashamedly traditional Christmas tale a million miles away from the typical modern children’s books, and is all the better for it.

The sad but ultimately uplifting story of Drummond is rich with description and nuance, presents engaging characters with depth, and though dealing with some dark issues, does so in a sensitive way.

Ian Shepherd revels in the sights, sounds and tastes of a Victorian Christmas, with readers almost able to taste the rich cakes and chocolates, fresh-baked bread and hot soups that the author so evocatively describes.

And he is confident to take his time with the narrative, building up to the wonderful and memorable ending without ever rushing and forcing things.

It’s a charming, classic Christmas story that celebrates all that is good and true about this most special time of year and it would no doubt work very well on the big screen.

For anyone who yearns to return to a simpler, less commercial time; when Christmas was still a magical occasion about family and enjoying your time together as opposed to staring zombified into digital devices; this novel will be sure to delight.
The Sleighmaker by Ian Shepherd is out now through Raj Joshi Publishing and priced £11.99 in hardback, £6.99 paperback and £4.60 as a Kindle eBook. Visit Amazon UK.

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Misdefending the Realm by Antony Percy

 

Packed with more double-crossing, deceit and sleight of hand than feature in even the most dramatic works of spy fiction, Misdefending the Realm by historian Antony Percy is a shocking, revelatory account of MI5’s failings during the era of the Nazi-Soviet Pact.

Central to this real-life tale of spies and subterfuge are the events of early 1940, when a key Soviet defector alerted British intelligence to the presence of infiltrators within the country’s institutions.

As this heavily-researched book reveals, the handling of Walter Krvitsky was an egregious exercise in sloppiness that squandered a golden opportunity to rout out the Communist infiltrators within the British government.

The resultant report by MI5, the UK’s domestic counter-intelligence and security agency, was carelessly circulated and intercepted by an undercover Soviet agent working in the UK Home Office.

Here it was passed onto the infamous Guy Burgess, who orchestrated an audacious plan to protect himself and the rest of the ‘Cambridge Spies’ circle, by having Krivitsky eliminated.

Burgess, who later fled to Russia, has become a near-mythical spy figure, but the story of MI5’s mishandling of the affair, and appalling ineptitude in general when it came to the Soviet threat during the Second World War, has remained largely overlooked – until now.

Based on a PhD thesis by the author, Misdefending the Realm gives the untold story of how MI5 woefully failed in its duty, being professionally incapable of defending itself – and the nation – from communist subversion owing to a failure of leadership, haphazard hiring practices, inadequate training, and poor tradecraft.

What’s more, this fascinating study uncovers how MI5 chiefs subsequently attempted to hide their failings to save the department from the axe.

The author turned detective in writing his scholarly and objective account of MI5’s activities, or in some cases inactivities, during the critical years of the Nazi-Soviet Pact from 1939 to 1941 – calling upon a wide range of material from biographies, memoirs and letters to recently declassified documents.

He dramatically exposes the Soviet Union’s ease in infiltrating and influencing the UK’s intelligence agencies and the corridors of power, being able to place sympathisers in strategic positions to sway opinion towards ‘Uncle Joe’, as Josef Stalin was affectionately, and completely inappropriately, named.

For though Stalin was successfully courted by Churchill to join the Allied forces against the Axis Powers of the Nazis, he never stopped being a threat to Britain and his expansionist ambitions would ultimately come to pass with the start of the Cold War.

Leaving no stone unturned in his examination of the events of 1939-41, Percy has a nose for red herrings, and has put together a damning case against MI5.

He outlines clearly how and why MI5 stumbled against the Communist threat, including for the first time the full story of Burgess’s Moscow Mission, and the lasting repercussions of those blunders.

He also details MI5’s comprehensive cover-up of its failures after the end of the war  ̶ especially in the vetting of the German atom-spy Klaus Fuchs  ̶  in order to maintain its independent existence, and to preserve the careers of its leaders.

It’s an intelligently argued book that, while scholarly in tone, is never a dry read. Chapters are lightened with illustrations from publications such as the satirical magazine Punch, and the style is accessible without ever patronising its audience.

Unlike previous accounts of this tumultuous period in history, Misdefending the Realm goes beyond the authorised and wallpapered histories of the Security Service to give a frank overview that pulls no punches.

It will undoubtedly appeal to those interested in modern history, the Second World War and espionage, and the author’s depth of research will deliver new insights to even the most wide-read students of the subject.

Misdefending the Realm: How MI5’s Incompetence Enabled Communist Subversion of Britain’s Institutions During the Nazi-Soviet Pact is out now, published by University of Buckingham Press and priced £20 in softcover. It is available for sale on Amazon UK.

 

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FOREVER AFTER BY DAVID JESTER

Who would have thought being a grim reaper could be… well, so grim? That’s what (un)life is like for Michael Holland, a deceased man who can’t get a moment to rest in peace with his new career as a disgruntled grim reaper, working the worst beat in the worst town.

It’s a deliciously dark comic idea exploited to the maximum in new fantasy horror novel Forever After by David Jester.

Thirty years after he shuffled off this mortal coil, Michael’s daily grind sees him strolling through the streets of Brittleside clearing up the dregs of society and latest winners of the Darwin Award.

Far from enjoying his work for the Angel of Death, where he receives credits in return for souls, he finds it to be the ultimate in soul-destroying dead-end jobs, and his eternal suffering isn’t alleviated one iota by those closest to him.

He lives in squalor with his roommate and de facto best fiend, Chip: a grubby pot-loving tooth fairy; he hangs out with a loose group of bogeymen, demons and clones, and has a psychiatrist who can literally read his mind.

Forever After isn’t a traditional novel in the sense of one big adventure as much as a collection of five loosely interwoven madcap, macabre tales set in a fantasy world that runs parallel to ours and where anything is possible, very little makes sense, and nothing is as it seems.

Over the course of the book, melancholic Michael and his mates must battle confused succubi, tormented psychopaths, and evil henchmen; solve the mystery of multiple werewolf murders and the disappearance of their souls, and track down an escaped demon who thinks he’s Santa Claus.

It all reads like a twisted lovechild of Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman and Kevin Smith’s darkest dreams with its potent mix of fantasy creatures, graphic horror and toilet humour.

Michael is a classically British protagonist: he is down at heel, hoping for salvation but never finding it. Instead, his indignation only grows as he finds himself constantly spinning around in a whirlpool of bureaucratic and celestial confusion.

Anyone who’s read Jester’s previous books, including An Idiot in Love, will know to expect some wickedly biting and near-the-knuckle humour, so this isn’t a book for the faint-hearted.

But for those looking for an action-packed fantasy romp with some morbidly mirthful moments to savour, Forever After will come as a big scythe of relief.

Forever After by David Jester (Skyhorse Publishing) is out now, priced £13.01 in paperback and £12.36 as an eBook. Visit www.david-jester.com

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The Grail Cypher: The Secrets of Arthurian History Revealed, by Ralph Ellis

The latest in the King Jesus series of books from controversial historian Ralph Ellis begins with a blunt warning:

“All who proceed beyond this point must be prepared to have their view of Arthurian and Biblical history challenged. You have been warned.”

It’s a necessary precursor to a fascinating read that digs deep into the records surrounding one of history’s most mythical figures, King Arthur, and arrives at some astonishing yet well-argued conclusions.

The most of startling of all? That King Arthur is actually an alter ego for Jesus.

If it sounds hard to reconcile the familiar images of castles and suits of armour from the age of chivalry with the deserts of ancient Jerusalem then don’t fear as the author presents his exhaustive research in such a way so that the central premise of the book is only reached when all props are in place to support it.

First of all, if there are any doubts, then the reader must accept that King Arthur didn’t actually exist as a living, breathing figure from history. Despite what 12th century British historians Geoffrey of Monmouth and Walter of Oxford say in their chronicles – he is as much a work of folklore as Robin Hood.

In fact, Ralph points out that before these aforementioned historians wrote about King Arthur, there had been no mention of him, his court or the Knights of the Round Table anywhere in the historical record – a tell-tale sign that their claims that Arthur was a 6th century warrior king who defended the British from the Anglo-Saxons and Picts, before setting out to conquest Rome, may not be all that reliable.

So, if Arthur never existed then where did his fantastic story originate? Here in The Grail Cypher things become more conjectural, and all the more intriguing for it.

Ralph believes that it is most likely that Geoffrey and Walter were given the Arthur story by the Knights Templar, an international organisation crusading knights, which they then rounded out with old Welsh folklore.

The Templars, in turn, he says, developed the story after returning from the Holy Land at the end of the First Crusade towards the close of the 11th century, and did so as a cover, or cypher, for something much more profound – and dangerous to know.

Those familiar with Ellis’s Jesus, King of Edessa will be aware of his arguments for the case that Jesus Christ was actually none other than a wealthy warrior king of Judaea and Edessa who led a Jewish revolt against the Romans.

The reason this story is not shared in every pulpit, he says, is because it was actively supressed at the time as an act of political propaganda which quickly became orthodox religion.

This latest book calls upon that line of reasoning to show how this ‘cover up’ may have has much wider historical implication.

According to Ellis’ painstaking research, the Templar Crusaders discovered a now-lost manuscript while in Syria detailing the ‘true’ story of Jesus but, realising that their discovery was heretical and therefore potentially fatal to share, were swift to create a symbolic surface narrative within which to hide it.

The clues are there to find if you know where to look, says Ellis, and he painstakingly draws these out. For instance, the celebrated 12 Knights of the Round Table are actually an allusion to the 12 Disciples of Jesus and the table of the Last Supper.

Biblical figures, meanwhile, suspiciously abound in the Arthurian legends, such as Joseph of Arimathea, and the prime motif of the Holy Grail is most likely based on the Elagabal, a sacred rock from ancient Edessa that was once owned by the Roman emperor Elagabalus before vanishing from the historical record.

As always, the author draws upon multiple sources, including the plethora of medieval Arthurian texts such as the Vulgate Cycle, painstakingly cross-references all his research, and includes photographs of historical artefacts to further enhance his case.

As with all of Ellis’s books, the dramatic revisionist approach may not be everyone’s holy grail to unlocking the mystery of King Arthur but nevertheless his expansive exploration of Arthurian history provides much to enjoy and plenty of food for thought.

The Grail Cypher: The Secrets of Arthurian History Revealed by Ralph Ellis is available now, priced £18.19 in paperback. Visit www.edfu-books.uk

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Dog, Yogi, Banyan Tree by Dr Rajan Sankaran

In the modern fast-paced, pressure-filled world, it’s hard to pause and focus on the moment at hand, but as Dog, Yogi, Banyan Tree shows, it is only by slowing down and paying attention that we can truly develop as human beings.

Indeed, when we become better attuned to the world around us we can discover that anything – a person or animal, place or even object – can teach us important life lessons.

That’s the take-home message of this inspirational and insightful book, written by one of the world’s most noted homeopaths, spiritual thinkers and practitioners of holistic healing: Dr Rajan Sankaran.

He is already the author of over 20 instructional books on homeopathy but with Dog, Yogi, Banyan Tree, Dr Sankaran makes his entry into the popular genre of mind, body and spirit with a unique guide that chronicles his personal and spiritual journey of discovery thus far.

Calling upon the Indian tradition of teaching through story-telling, Dr Sankaran shares his lessons through short and colourful anecdotes and recollections.

The early chapters centre on his childhood and the deep impact of his father’s death at a young age. An only child, he was driven by his loss to seek guidance and instruction from those around him, learning from these substitute father figures as he grew up and set about becoming a homeopath.

That openness to new teachers and experiences has been a core element of Dr Sankaran’s life philosophy ever since and has enabled him to navigate through times of crisis without losing himself or his direction.

For instance, in the discussions of his celebrated career as a homeopath he talks openly about having had to deal with professional attacks from his peers, incensed by his radical new theories that they claimed were causing harm to their profession.

These attacks caused him much agitation and self-doubt, but rather than let his critics win, he ultimately drew strength from an Indian song sang to him by his close personal friend and mentor Dr Roheet Mehta, that states the “elephant walks at its own pace, not bothered about the dogs that bark.”

And in another section, he describes the sage-like qualities of a stray dog he calls Blackie; a content animal who enjoys interaction but remains completely independent: “Blackie is a free dog,” he says with admiration, “for he does not belong to anyone.”
Dr Sankaran’s counsel will undoubtedly be of benefit to those searching to find themselves, but it is made all the more impactful through the way it is all packaged.

For he writes with humility, with warmth and with a fine sense of wit, even citing American comedian Louis CK while imparting his teachings. You get the real sense that the author is not some lofty guru looking down on the reader from some higher plane of existence but is simply a fellow traveller, further along the same road and kindly offering directions to those walking behind.

I came away from this book with a powerful new viewpoint and appreciation for the minutiae of life, which we often ignore but which can reveal so much.

This is well illustrated in a conversation Dr Sankaran has with a taxi driver. He asks the driver to recommend ‘the best’ places to see, to which the taxi driver responds: “Look at that tree, that is the most beautiful thing.” Although the taxi driver says no more, Dr Sankaran draws this out as a timely homily on the fruitless yet habitual tendency to search constantly for “something more, something better” and asks, “are we not losing touch with the wonder around us?”

It’s only one of many probing and profound question we should ask ourselves if we want to firmly grasp the opportunities for personal growth that we might otherwise miss.

Dog, Yogi, Banyan tree will appeal to anybody with an interest in mindfulness, meditation and personal growth, and who are keen to invest the time to fully develop their emotional and spiritual outlooks.

Dog, Yogi, Banyan Tree (Homeopathic Medical Publishers) is out now in paperback, priced £21. For more information visit www.dogyogibanyantree.com.

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The Jack Newton Radio by Jon Lawrence

 

The Jack Newton Radio is a moving and ultimately uplifting novel that deals with the twin themes of love and loss.

It tells the story of eccentric pensioner Anwyn Jones, who returns to her coastal hometown of St David’s in Pembrokeshire, Wales, after the death of her husband, Michael.

The couple had been devoted to each other to the point that they had kept themselves removed from the world outside. They had never raised a family nor cultivated friendships, and had never owned a TV or surfed the internet. Instead, they passed their time conversing and reading poetry, with Michael being a noted lecturer on the subject.

So the loss of her soulmate, understandably, leaves Anwyn adrift, and the shock of finding herself suddenly alone has a physical as well as emotional impact.

She notices that her memory is beginning to fail her and dreads that it could be the first stage of dementia. Having avoided virtually all forms of technology when married, losing her memories would steal away the only memento she has left of her beloved husband.

Upon moving into the tiny dilapidated cottage overlooking the sea, she finds among the cobwebs and dusty floorboards a battered old radio. Anwyn turns it on and discovers a local poetry programme featuring the work of mysterious poet Jack Newton.

Quickly, she begins to find solace in his simple yet poignant poetry, tuning in every night at 9pm to hear him read his work, which deals predominantly with the theme grief.

Jack’s soothing verse support her as she adjusts to life on her own, but a search for more information about the poet draws a total blank.

After a visit to the surgery following an injury caused by her declining memory, Anwyn strikes up an unlikely friendship with a fractured family coming to terms with their own issues.

 

 

 

 

Maggie, a kindly nurse who had tended to her wounds, opens up her home to Anwyn and the cantankerous old lady bonds with her as she tries to repair the damage of her husband Huw’s unfaithful intentions – something that he, himself, feels deep remorse for.

She also spends time with their sensitive son Peter, who in his way is as isolated as Anwyn, being bullied at school and only finding solace in nature.

Together, they form a support network which allows the widow to move beyond, if not forget, her own grief.

But it is a crisis involving Peter, the open sea and the lighthouse shining out each night into the darkness that allows Anwyn to fully reconnect and move on with her life.

The Jack Newton Radio is the third novel by Norfolk-based author and poet Jon Lawrence, who was inspired to write it as a way of dealing with losses in his own life, including the death of a close friend in the 9/11 terrorist attack and the passing of his mother.

Through the characters, he explores the idea that grief and love are two sides of the same emotion and cannot be divided. Grief, like love, never really fades, but it can be handled by building new connections.

His thoughtful and symbolic story includes a special section at the close of the book featuring a selection of poems by the fictional Jack Newton, which is a nice bonus.

The story of Anwyn’s recovery also has an unexpected twist in the tale to watch out for towards the end, and all in all will touch readers with its affirmation of the enduing power of companionship.

The Jack Newton Radio, by Jon Lawrence, is available now priced £6.99 in paperback and £2.50 in Kindle Edition. Visit Amazon UK

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Book Review: Solomon, Pharaoh of Egypt by Ralph Ellis

Why are King David and King Solomon, the most celebrated kings of Judaic history, missing from the historical record? Among cultural and historical mysteries, this has always been among the most perplexing.   

 

This is a problem for both historians and Judaeo-Christian theologians, as the lack of any archaeological remains of the ‘United Monarchy’ of kings David and Solomon can only lead to the awkward conclusion that the Old Testament accounts are fictional.

 

The biblical King Solomon was famed both for his wisdom and extraordinary wealth, and adventurers have long hunted for his legendary mines – popularised through Victorian adventure writer H. Rider Haggard’s novel of the same name.

 

However, biblical historian Ralph Ellis believes that he has discovered the ‘intact’ tombs of kings David and Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, and also discovered the true location of King Solomon’s mines.

 

In his new 360-page book ‘Solomon, Pharaoh of Egypt’, Ellis argues that archaeologists and adventurers have been looking in the wrong location. He reveals that there are significant similarities that suggest the Egyptian and Israelite royal lines in this era were one and the same. So kings David and Solomon were, in fact, Egyptian pharaohs who also ruled over Judaea and Israel.

 

This may seem like an outlandish suggestion – no less controversial than the author’s claims in Jesus, King of Edessa that Jesus Christ was a first-century warrior king – but Ellis puts forward a strong case that makes a lot of sense.

 

Ellis starts his enquiry by considering King David’s well known symbology:  the ‘Star of David’ and the ‘City of David’. His meticulous research then finds an Egyptian pharaoh — Pa-Seba-Khaen-nuit or Psusennes — who lived during the same era as David and whose name means “My Star Rises in my City”. The similarity is both striking and compelling.

 

Ellis then demonstrates that the ancestors, officials and children of Pharaoh Psusennes, share uncanny similarities with the equivalent members of King David’s royal court. Based upon this equivalence, Ellis believes that Psusennes is actually the biblical King David, while King Solomon was Shoshenq.

 

Psusennes and Shoshenq ruled Lower Egypt and Israel from their capital city at Tanis in the Nile Delta, so the primary capital city of David and Solomon was at Zoan (Tanis) rather than Zion (Jerusalem). And the Temple of Solomon would also have been at Zoan, rather than Zion.

 

Ellis also believes that this reassessment of history can explain the location of King Solomon’s Mines. At this time Egypt was divided between the kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt, with Upper Egypt paying tribute to Psusennes and Shoshenq to stop them invading.

 

After many decades, Upper Egypt was running out of resources to pay this tribute. According to Ellis, in desperation they turned to the buried wealth within the Valley of the Kings – the tombs of 18th dynasty pharaohs. This was the source of Solomon’s wealth.

 

He points out that the historical record shows the Valley tombs were looted at this time, and the mummies relocated. And many tomb treasures did indeed end up in Tanis, and are now proudly displayed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

 

That King Solomon’s Mines were merely the tombs in the Valley of the Kings may seem like an anti-climax, but Ellis says it is the most probable explanation. This is the reason why no archaeological excavations have ever uncovered an actual mine.

  

According to Ellis, the kings of the United Monarchy were pharaohs of the 21st and 22nd dynasties of Egypt. But by the time the Old Testament came to be written down, this Egyptian ancestry had been airbrushed out of the story, for political and cultural reasons.

 

The Israelites were now completely divorced from their true Egyptian history. But if the truth were known, then the mummies of King David, King Solomon, and the Queen of Sheba were discovered in Tanis, and they now reside in the Cairo museum.

 

Originally released some years ago, ‘Solomon, Pharaoh of Egypt’ has been fully updated and expanded to take into account recent discoveries.

 

This book is the fourth in the ‘Egyptian Testament’ series. It is well-written and easy to follow, with Ellis taking readers step by step through his thought-process and providing supporting evidence throughout. As with Ellis’ previous titles, while readers may or may not agree with his controversial conclusions, it is clear that a lot of original research and logical analysis has gone into this thesis.

 

Ellis’s theory is definitely quite a leap, and if proven it would rewrite history books and contemporary politics alike. But it certainly provides logical and plausible answers to some of the big, unresolved questions associated with this poorly understood biblical era.

 

Solomon, Pharaoh of Egypt by Ralph Ellis (Edfu Books ISBN- 13: 978-1508498834) is available now, priced £4.78 as a Kindle eBook and £12.18 in paperback. Visit edfu-books.uk

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Mid-June Summer Reading

A mid-month reminder that as we stroll into summer, there is no better time to look for your next fantastic read. Outside in a tranquil spot, or by an open window, these are the days to kick back and get lost in the stories of others. But what to choose? Pop into our newly launched Summer Reading category, a lovingly hand-picked picnic of perfect summer books.

Start planning your Summer Reading

Have a look at the shelf below for some of our favourites, scroll down to see more or visit the special category on the site to see them all.

Deserved Debut – Desmond Elliott Prize Winner Announced








Possibly the most coveted prize for UK first novelists, The Desmond Elliott Prize was founded in 2007 to celebrate the best 1st novel by a new author and to support writers just starting what will be long and glittering careers. Ten years on it has succeeded in its mission in a manner that would make Elliott proud.

This year’s winner has just been announced and it is Golden Hill by Francis Spufford. Chair of the judges Sam Leith, Literary Editor at the Spectator, described the novel as, “miraculously constructed… at once so fabulously entertaining, so exquisitely wrought and so moving that it stands among not just the best first novels of the year, but the best novels of this or any year.” Find out more.

One for the Mantel-piece? The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction








Founded to honour the legacy of historical novelist Sir Walter Scott, this is the largest prize, outside London, to reward the best in historical fiction. The first winner was Hilary Mantel who remains an avid supporter of the Prize, describing it as ‘much the best thing that has happened for fans of historical fiction‘.

The winner was announced on 17 June at the Borders Book Festival and was awarded to the big-hearted, beautiful and splendidly sweeping tale of war, survival and love in the American West, Days Without End by Sebastian Barry.

Start choosing your July reads today!

Our gift to you! A chance to read extracts of excellent books before they’re published. You’re welcome!

Don’t Close Your Eyes by Holly Seddon – A brilliantly conceived, jaw-dropping, incredibly realistic psychological thriller. From the author of Try Not to Breathe. The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce – From the author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry comes a heartrending, gloriously life-affirming, ode to vinyl, love story. The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter – A dramatic, powerful, and so incredibly addictive, breathtaking whammy of a read, pure escapism at its best.
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You liked that? Try this! – If You Like You’ll Love

This is our no-brainer category for people looking for new authors with the talent to match their favourites. You tell us authors you like and we introduce you to others you’ll love. Simple!

If you Like Victoria Hislop or Rosie Thomas you’ll love The Invitation by Lucy Foley, a captivating story of dark secrets and forbidden love. If you like Erica James you’ll love The Forever House by Veronica Henry, a gorgeously affectionate, loving, and generous read.
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The Cream! – Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction





With a widely varied judging panel from the top of their professions, the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction is the most prestigious award to honour fiction written by a woman. Previous winners include: Zadie Smith, Lionel Shriver, Rose Tremain and Ali Smith.

This year’s gong went to The Power by Naomi Alderman. Chair of the judges Tessa Ross said that while her judging panel debated the shortlist “for many hours“, they “kept returning to Naomi Alderman’s brilliantly imagined dystopia – her big ideas and her fantastic imagination.

     

Mid-June Highlights

Take a moment to discover the top titles that may have passed you by this month. Books like:

Borne by Jeff VanderMeer – A dark, harrowing and weirdly uplifting future vision from the celebrated author of the creepily brilliant, post-apocalyptic Southern Reach Trilogy.

The Floating Theatre by Martha Conway – Brimming with stunning writing and historical illuminations. Perfect for fans of Gone with the Wind and Tracy Chevalier’s The Last Runaway.

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Mid-June ‘New Gen’ Highlights

Younger (or young at heart) readers take note of three cracking novels out this month:

After the Fire by Will Hill – Inspired by the Waco siege in Texas in 1993. The tension rarely abates and we think it is one of the most gripping and suspenseful books you’ll read all year. A Small Free Kiss in the Dark by Glenda Millard – Be prepared to be moved, enthralled, heartbroken and inspired by this moving tale of hope and survival, set in a bleak, war-torn world. The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord – A moving story of a teenage girl coping when her world turns upside down. A thoughtful and well-written book that tugs at the heartstrings. The Scattering by Kimberly McCreight – The nail-bitingly tense sequel to the original and incredible The Outliers.  ‘Action packed and gripping – I flew through the pages’ Amy, 15.

Dear (e)Reader! – eBooks of the Month

For all you digi-book doyens out there, a perfect selection of terrific tales to take away whatever your taste. Here’s what’s up for download (or is it ‘down for upload’? – Ed) this month.

The Girl Who Ran by Nikki Owen – The final book in the ‘Project Trilogy’ and it’s an absolute belter as the story surges to a fittingly dramatic conclusion. The River at Night by Erica Ferencik – Fast-paced, suspenseful and travels the gamut of life experiences as the narrative races towards a splendid climax. The Boy Who Saw by Simon Toyne – Hugely compelling and highly recommended. Second adventure for a Jack Reacher/Superman cross with shades of Jason Bourne called Solomon Creed.

The Big Jakubowski – Maxim’s Top Tips for June

Crime aficionado Maxim Jakubowski has been delving deep into the underworld of wonderful writing again this month to bring you the best books about for lovers of thrill, suspense and edge-of-your-seat reading. It’s a labour of love, he says. 








This month his top tips take you on a whirlwind tour of the world from Bosnia to Mount Everest, without ever needing to leave your favourite chair! See the whole lot here, or check out the top two titles:

His Book of the Month is Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang by Mike Ripley – Witty, entertaining and meticulously researched exploration of British thrillers that will have you scouring the second-hand shelves for classics of a bygone era.

And Highly Recommended is The Fourth Monkey by J. D. Barker – A humdinger of a serial killer thriller in sheer overdrive, it is a winner from the get go.

Read, Loved and Highly Recommended! – Reader Highlights

We take the views of our Consumer Reader Reviewers (many of them bloggers) very seriously and we’ve collected the books they loved the most into one handy section of superstars. Click here for more.

The Bureau of Second Chances by Sheena Kalayil – A wonderfully atmospheric picture of life in India ‘A gem of a novel! A delight to read!’ (Reader Review). Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman – ‘I feel deeply privileged to have read such an exceedingly exceptional book….heart wrenching and yet light-hearted and funny.‘ (Reader Review).
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Barnett Fare – The Books of Laura Barnett





Author, journalist and theatre critic Laura Barnett is a versatile and powerful writer whose understanding and deep affection for her characters practically drips off every page.

Versions of Us is a heartbreaking and beautiful love story about the ‘what if’ moments in our lives and Greatest Hits, her brand new novel is ‘ … a lyrically soulful novel, full of warmth, passion … that rocked to the core of my heart.’ (Reader Review). Find out more.

The Queen of Social Commentary

2017 marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death. Her novels continue to delight and there have been numerous TV and film adaptations of them (who can forget Colin Firth after the swim in the lake?). So, we have created a special category where you will find some of her classic novels along with modern re-workings of them and also a selection of non-fiction titles that explore her life and work and the continuing fascination it exerts upon readers. Discover more today.

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Don’t forget to visit the site to see more Summer Reading Selections.

P.S. Find out more about a unique event, REBUSFEST, in Edinburgh at the end of the month. And don’t miss the chance of winning some exclusive Rebus books and other exclusive book goodies in our free prize draw category.

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Book Review. Might Make You Smile, by Brenda Burling

It’s unusual for the terms ‘cancer’ and ‘light hearted’ to be connected, but as Might Make You Smile – a heart-warming new collection of true-life stories – shows, even the Big C benefits from a healthy dose of humour.

 

Written by author Brenda Burling and based on genuine anecdotes from people living with or recovering from cancer, Might Make You Smile is a far cry from the typical books about the disease, not only in its subject matter but also its focus.

 

As far as this reviewer is aware, it is the first title to cover the lighter side of cancer. It’s an excellent angle to explore as it gives the disease a human face by concentrating on real experiences.

 

Importantly, it also sends out a clear message that being diagnosed with cancer does not mean the end of the world.

 

The Essex-based author says she was inspired to write the book after listening to her friends’ own accounts of dealing with cancer.

 

Attending a local support group, Brafternoon, from among whose members many of the stories were sourced, she saw first-hand how beneficial it was for people to be able to share their experiences with others going through a similar situation.

 

Her hope in writing Might Make You Smile is that it will help others whose lives have been touched in one way or another by the disease, connecting them to a wider support network while putting a big grin on their faces in the process.

 

As Burling says herself of the positive impact of funny stories, “humour can be a weapon against disease” and, therefore, “shared humour is twice as strong”

 

The collection features nearly 50 true tales across 170 pages that inspire and amuse in equal proportion, ranging from embarrassing wig slips and make-up disasters, to errant nipples and even a stray prosthetic that results in a shark alert.

 

Each story is self-contained and is attributed, with only the subject’s first name given to spare additional blushes.

 

The first story – Nerf Attack – gets things started with a wincingly funny tale of a long-awaited, painstakingly-applied prosthetic nipple and a young boy with a rubber darts gun and a nifty aim. No spoilers, but the story ends with a very bemused surgeon.

 

The wry, sideways look at cancer and the more surprising potential side-effects of treatment and recovery continue throughout the book.

 

Some personal highlights include ‘A Night Out With Kylie’ – one of several stories about wig mishaps, with this one involving a particularly glam faux-thatch, nicknamed Kylie, ending up tangled in a friend’s bracelet; and ‘Green With Envy, Not So Much’, in which one particular lady accidentally goes out after painting on eyebrows using a shiny green eye-liner instead of the usual brown shade.

 

Another favourite is ‘Sherry, Love, Sherry’, about an attempt to soften the blow of a cancer diagnosis with a glass of Tio Pepe, thwarted by a barmaid’s lack of familiarity with fortified wines, while ‘Help, Shark!’ wouldn’t be out of place in a TV sitcom, with a woman going to extreme measures to cover up the fact that one of her prosthetic breast implants had freed itself from her swimwear while she was enjoying a seaside dip.

 

I must also mention ‘Pammies’, which brought a warm smile of shared joy with the grandmother who was keen to show off brand new prosthetics, aka ‘Pammies’, in a Baywatch-style red swimsuit.

Having seen close friends affected by cancer, the disease is a subject close to author Brenda Burling’s heart, and 10 per cent of net sales from the book will be donated by publisher Matthew James Publishing Ltd to the Helen Rollason Cancer Charity.

 

Might Make You Smile certainly delivers and would make a perfect gift for anyone who’s encountered the Big C or is looking for a little light relief in their life.

 

It’s the sort of book that you will dip in and out of for years to come, packed with lots of laugh-out-loud and feel-good moments, and it is positively crying out for a sequel.

 

Might Make You Smile by Brenda Burling (Matthew James Publishing Ltd) is out now, priced £7.99 in paperback.

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Book Blog Review. Refuting ISIS – Rebutting ISIS and Its ideological Foundations by Shaykh Muhammad Al-Yaqoub

At a time of shocking violence and confusion the likes of which is unprecedented in the West, this timely book is essential reading for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

 

Written by one of the world’s most influential and respected Muslim academics, Refuting ISIS is the first book to defy ISIS intellectually and offers a frank and unequivocal rebuttal of the so-called ‘Islamic State’.

 

It is also a formal fatwā – an Islamic legal pronouncement made by an expert in Islamic law – that calls on Muslims to unite against the evils being perpetrated by extremists in the name of their religion.

 

Among other things, the fatwā forbids Muslims to join ISIS and to consider the terrorist group’s declarations null and void; declares that their self-declared caliphate is illegal, and entreats those within its ranks to defect.

 

It also states that it is the duty of every Muslim to fight ISIS, though it is important to clarify here that the author means doing so by supporting national anti-terrorism policy, not by literally taking up arms, as Islamic texts say in no uncertain terms that it is the duty of governments, not the individual, to wage wars.

 

Shaykh Muhammad, a descendent of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad and ranked among the 500 most influential Muslims by Georgetown University, is a spiritual leader to many thousands of Muslims across the world.

 

He is, therefore, in a strong position to tackle the spread of religious extremism and is deeply concerned with the rise of ISIS, which he describes as “the most serious threat Islam has ever known”.

 

He is also worried about a growing “takfīr mentality” among young Muslims — declaring other, more moderate Muslims as non-believers — and what he sees as an increasing ignorance among Muslims regards the tenets and values of their faith.

 

This, he says, is not being helped by what he identifies as a scarcity of scholars who defend Islam “with wisdom and moderation” and the replacement of scholars with internet propaganda as the primary source of knowledge.

 

His book is a scholarly yet eminently easy-to-understand deconstruction of ISIS’s ideology, with the central argument that followers of ISIS cannot be considered Muslim.

 

Instead, according to the author, they are a gang of bloodthirsty thugs deliberately spreading fallacies and twisting religious scripture for their own sick ends. He labels them as ‘Khawārij’, or deviators, and outside the fold of Islam.

 

As the author explains in his preface, the majority of readers will not have the deep understanding of classical Islamic scripture required to categorically demonstrate why this should be the case, nor see how ISIS distorts the Holy Quran and Sharia Law to support their agenda.

 

His aim, then, is three-fold. Firstly, to stem the tide of Islamophobia by setting out the stance of Islam as a religion of peace, mercy and kindness. Secondly, to help inform Muslims who may be unsure of the true teachings of Sunni Islam with regard to the ideology of ISIS and its crimes. Thirdly, to help contribute to the downfall of ISIS by exposing it for what it is and reducing its membership.

 

Refuting ISIS proceeds through a series of carefully constructed arguments, proving step by step that “Islamic State” is neither Islamic nor a state, but rather a deviant group driven by “anger, hatred, and a thirst for power”.

 

Among the many things it clarifies, the book lays out why it is strictly forbidden to kill any non-Muslim within a Muslim country; why Muslims living in any non-Muslim country must abide by its laws and regulations; and why Islam’s teaching are in complete contradiction to the killing or torturing of women, children and civilians.

 

Originally published in 2015 to wide acclaim, this fully expanded second edition includes further elaboration on many important topics, such as the prohibition of burning human beings, the abolition of slavery, and Islam’s position towards minorities.

 

It also tackles new subjects such as the invalidity of excommunicating Muslim rulers for not applying certain aspects of Sharia Law, Islam’s position towards democracy, and the prohibition of destroying pre-Islamic monuments and sacred sites.

 

The author also outlines ways in which Western countries can play their part in the fight against extremism – for example, by entreating people to fully consider the repercussions of insulting Muslim belief under the banner of ‘freedom of speech’.

 

For Muslims, Refuting ISIS will provide the arguments they need to challenge extremist propaganda when encountered. It will also be of interest to Muslim parents whose children, Shaykh Muhammad believes, are especially vulnerable to extremist grooming.

 

For non-Muslims, this book will help educate them about Islamic law, highlight the common enemy, and reconnect the gulf between communities.

 

In light of recent horrific attacks, and the anti-Islamic backlash that spreads in the wake of such deplorable acts, it is impossible to overstate the importance of this book, which serves as the definitive word against ISIS and all it stands for.

 

Refuting ISIS by Shaykh Muhammad Al-Yaqoub (Sacred Texts) is out now in paperback (£10.45) and Kindle (£7.21) editions.

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