Friday, 9 August 2013

Killing Daniel by Sarah Dobbs

My vote is for Killing Daniel by Sarah Dobbs

This is a fabulous debut novel – telling the original and intriguing story of the parallel lives of two women – one English (Fleur) and the other Japanese (Chinatsu) who established a close bond when they briefly met at school in the North of England.

In Salford, Fleur lives unhappily with her abusive partner, Marcus while haunted by memories of Daniel, a deaf teenager who was obsessed with her until he was murdered and the unwanted attentions of her mother's predatory boyfriend, Derek. She manages to escape from Marcus when she ends up in hospital.

In Tokyo, Chinatsu is married to a successful but oppressive Japanese businessman. A chance discovery prompts her to question his activities while away on business and leads her to seek a new life.

Dobb's has proved to be a masterful at stitching together the strands of this complicated and culturally diverse story. Her two lead characters are convincing and compelling – and their thoughts and actions are central to contextualising and progressing the plot. There are no long descriptions and the reliance on dialogue is reminiscent of a movie.

The opening chapter hooks the reader with its graphic description of the killing of Daniel and the narrative continues at such a fast pace that it is almost impossible to stop reading. At times, the use of language is poetic and the short sentences make for easy reading. I found the ending very satisfying and on finishing, reflected on how cleverly Dobbs has used it to bring together her many strands and close the circle of events.

I don't regard this as a feminist novel – even though its two central characters are women – rather, it is about relationships and the human condition – showing the power of social conditioning and negative family patterns and the strength of the human spirit to find a way through and survive. For me, it raises many important questions about the status and role of women (and men) in British and Japanese cultures – which seem to be very different and yet surprisingly similar.

Adventures in an adventure!

I discovered Hilda Sheehan during a poetry adventure to Swindon. I admit, Swindon seems an unlikely place for poetry. But as I discovered, it has hidden depths and Hilda is a driving force behind its exciting and thriving poetry community. As well as being cheekily beautiful and extremely kind, she is a funny, off-the-wall and talented poet.

Her first collection, The Night My Sister Went To Hollywood sparkles with movie glamour, extraordinary tales of the ordinary and touches the reader with the depths of its emotion and wisdom. In its own way, each poem is an adventure which transports the reader from familiar, often domestic, territory into unknown lands where beds speak, seals live in bath tubs and mermaids wash up on the sheets. Her Towering Inferno and Planet of the Apes poems are a godsend for anyone wanting to pass themselves off as movie buff without bothering to watch the films.

Hilda is a masterful performer and the only thing better than reading her poetry is hearing her perform. Afterwards, you will forever hear her voice in your head as you return again and again to read her inspirational and original collection. Hers is a voice like no other

Thursday, 10 January 2013









Guises of Desire by Hilda Reilly

Vienna 1880. A wealthy young Jewish woman, Bertha Pappenheim, falls ill, manifesting a series of bizarre symptoms. Diagnosis hysteria.

Her doctor, Josef Breuer, treats her with hypnosis and a new form of therapy called the 'talking cure'.
Some of her symptoms abate. At the same time the treatment arouses in Bertha a turmoil of primal emotions which spiral out of control and ultimately lead to the breakdown of her relationship with her doctor.

A vividly imagined account of the case of Bertha Pappenheim – the ‘Anna O’ whose treatment formed the basis of Freudian psychoanalysis – Guises of Desire presents the story of a young woman’s struggle to survive a repressive upbringing, neurological disorders, drug addiction and a pathological attachment to the doctor who misdiagnosed her.

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Review by Kathy Greethurst

If you want to escape from the mainstream, this could be the book for you.

Hilda Reilly tells the extraordinary tale of Bertha, a young Jewish woman living in late nineteenth century Austria who became ill with a nervous disorder and how her doctor, believing her illness to be psychological, treated her with hypnosis, drugs and a new 'talking cure' - which provided the foundation for psychoanalysis. Although this is a fictional account, it is based on a true story, thoroughly researched by the author.

Reilly depicts Bertha very much as her central character and proves to be a master at describing her descent into the chaotic and nightmarish world of her illness, such that the reader lives the experience with her. Reilly is also adept at re-creating the atmosphere of Austrian bourgeois society and detailing the family's Jewish lifestyle, two added bonuses.

The fascinating thing about this story is that Bertha made a sufficient recovery to become involved in charitable work and subsequently became a leading feminist, social pioneer and published writer.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Bloody Flies by Andrew J Keir - Review by Helena Frith Powell

Here is another great review of  Andrew J Keir's Bloody Flies. This time from Helena Frith Powell, Abu Dhabi-based Chic Lit Novelist and Journalist.


Bloody Flies is the first novel by a young Abu Dhabi based writer called Andrew J Keir. It doesn't feel like a first novel, the narrative and structure are too sophisticated for that, and the various chapters intertwined too cleverly. It is not a jolly read, Keir is clearly in touch with his dark side. Life in Abu Dhabi is portrayed as so morally degenerative that society affects the protagonists either literally (such as the child camel riders) or metaphorically as is the case with pretty much everyone else in the novel. Our hero, Leo, is affected to the extent that he sells his soul for a job no one can really condone. His wife, in part driven by grief and in part a desire to get back at him, has an affair. Basically the place brings out the worst in everyone touched by it. This is not only a hugely interesting take on life here, but a brave one, considering Keir still lives in the city and criticism is not welcome. 
Bloody Flies is a really good read. It keeps you hooked, you long to know what is going to happen to the characters. In such a short book it is hard to get to know them really well, but Keir engenders enough sympathy to make you care. There are times when Keir uses a long and complicated word when a simpler one will do, but other than that I had no complaints. It is not the kind of book I would normally read, but I'm glad I did. 

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Bloody Flies by Andrew J Keir

Bloody Flies is Andrew J Keir's first novel. Intriguing and innovative, it reveals the disturbing and complicated world of Leo and Diana Hunter via a series of compelling short stories, which work equally as well on their own and as part of the whole.

After the death of Leo's father, the Hunters make the reluctant decision to leave Warrington and return to their expatriate life in Abu Dhabi. But it is not all 'gin and tonics' by the pool. Against an exotic backdrop of camel races, silk jockey shirts, desert treks and luxury hotels, family tragedy strikes. The Hunters' lives spin out of control, uncovering the darker side of the story - child slavery, police corruption, sexual harassment, labour camps, infidelity and death.

I love this book. Andrew J Keir is a master of character and atmosphere. His characters are credible in the best possible way - because they are ordinary and face the same dilemmas as the rest of us - even though they don't always behave as expected. His pithy descriptions create a sensory 'fly on the wall' experience. I was there with Leo and Diana in the searing heat of Abu Dhabi. The book is deliberately not overtly political and Andrew J Keir's direct and unassuming writing style leaves readers to make up their own minds about the book's key themes.

Andrew J Keir could not publish this book in Abu Dhabi because of its sensitive content. For that reason and because this is a great read, it is worth getting to know this brave writer.

Thursday, 29 September 2011