Thursday, 20 July 2017

#SummerReading #Recommendations


Summer Reading Suggestions

So what books are you taking away with you this summer? Which books will you indulge in and enjoy while relaxing at the beach? Here's a few that I would recommend! 

Click on the links to see my reviews! 

A Room with a View: Beautiful Books

The Summer of Impossible Things
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
The Expatriates
The Night Rainbow
The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde

The Summer of Impossible ThingsThe Vanishing of Audrey WildeEleanor Oliphant is Completely FineThe Expatriates

The Night Rainbow

Time Out: Stories you will not be able to put down until you've finished them!

Last Seen Alive
Don't Close Your Eyes
The Roanoke Girls
The Girls
Sometimes I Lie

Last Seen AliveDon't Close Your EyesThe GirlsThe Roanoke GirlsSometimes I Lie

Early Bird Bonus: A few more suggestions .....
Exquisite
Fierce Kingdom
A dangerous crossing
Seal Skin
Unravelling Oliver

ExquisiteFierce KingdomA Dangerous CrossingUnravelling OliverSealskin

Luggage Allowance: What will I be reading on my holiday?

All The Wicked GirlsFriend RequestThe Susan EffectMidwinter BreakYesterdayTry Not to BreatheThe Other Sister

Look forward to hearing all about your summer reading! Wishing you all a very lovely summer break and fingers crossed you're all able to enjoy a book or two along the way!



For more recommendations and reviews follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or via my website bibliomaniacuk.co.uk

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

#TheSummerofImpossibleThings #RowanColeman #Review

The Summer of Impossible Things

"The only thing that is impossible is the thing that no one imagines." Einstein

If you could change the past, would you?

Thirty years ago, something terrible happened to Luna’s mother. Now, on a trip back to Brooklyn to settle her mother's affairs following her death, Luna realises she has the chance to change things and save her mother's life. 


But just how much will she have to sacrifice in order to change the course of time? 

This book has the most stunning cover I have seen in a long time and if it doesn't beg to be picked up and read with love, care and attention then just what kind of reader are you?!! 

And not only does it have the most stunning cover, it has the most stunning story recounted throughout it's pages. Coleman's writing is beautiful, It is pretty, dreamlike, poetic, simple and poignant. This is a book to be revelled in. The reader needs to savour the clever combination of themes of imagination, belief and love with rational explanation and science. Together Coleman weaves all of this into a tale that is not only magical but also feels real and not beyond the realms of possibility. 

This book, as the title suggests, is about embracing the impossible, putting your rational scientific thoughts to the side and prioritising love, happiness and family. But it is not a light, fluffy, romanticised, unrealistic novel that requires you to suspend belief and relish in a sentimental ending - no, this book tackles rape, abuse, dysfunctional families and unhappiness. The story is not just about saving what you love but also about justice for those who have suffered and punishment for those who hurt, abuse and take advantage of others. 

In some ways this story is also about solving a mystery. Luna and her sister return to their mother's house to discover a past they never knew of and one that changes all that Luna knew about her life. Interestingly the key facts about the past and what has happened are shared very early on so the reader is not so much trying to solve the clues and watch for the hints but there is still a level of tension and there are still missing pieces to the jigsaw which are not revealed until the end through some very well executed twists. 

I loved the writing and I loved the inclusion of quotes from scientists, authors and philosophers. I noted down lots of aspirational lines about the impossible, the importance of imagination, belief and hope. I loved the contrast of this more lyrical writing with the scientific language and the inclusion of physics. Luna regularly uses her scientific background to try and grapple with what is happening to her as she seems to be able to slip forward and back through time and appears to be able to change the course of her mother's life. This works really well because it illustrates the real dilemma that Luna faces about having the chance to change something and the disbelief that what is happening to her is impossible and yet possible at the same time. By incorporating discussion of physics and neuroscience, Coleman gets her readers on board and makes them more than willing to accept Luna's unique situation. 

"That's not possible. And yet it's true all the same." 

The book is divided up into "days" running from the 7th July to the 13th July which I found effective  - particularly in a novel where the concept of time is shown to be less linear and more fluid, something we force ourselves to conform to without really considering other possibilities about how our histories, stories, moments and memories echo and overlap each other. Each section has a quote which reflect the deeper messages and ideas that Coleman has subtly woven into her book. It also reminds the reader that this novel has a darker aspect to it, which again is physically reflected in the blackout that envelops Brooklyn. The blackout is used by Coleman to emphasise a sense of threat, trouble and danger which is also chasing the key characters. She also uses it to create an almost unearthly atmosphere of stillness, a sense of losing our bearings and losing sight of the things which root us, guide us and centre us - a fascinating idea in a novel exploring time travel! 

I thoroughly enjoyed the ending. I may have dabbed away a tear or two. Without giving any spoilers away, The Summer of Impossible Things is a story of fate, alignment, bravery, courage and something everyone wishes they had - the chance to fight for extra time with those we love. For me, The Summer of Impossible Things has a unique mix of cliffhangers, moments of drama, tension, passion and real imagination and creativity. Just remember:

"Impossible things happen all the time." 

The Summer of Impossible Things published on June 29th by Ebury Press. 

I was lucky enough to meet Rowan at Harpenden Books and hear her chat about the inspiration behind this book - including the role of disco and Saturday Night Fever which I have managed to completely leave out of review somehow!! I could have listened to her chat all night, it was so interesting to hear about Brooklyn in 1977 and then more about Rowan's writing life and her passion for the Brontes. I loved this book but to be honest, I am hugely excited by the novel she is currently writing! In my humble opinion, The Summer of Impossible Things shows us that Coleman is a hugely talented writer whose novels reflect not only her impressive command of language and imagery, but also of complex plots and fascinating characters. I cannot wait. 





Oh, and while your here, what about buying a ticket for this!! Yes, Rowan will be back in Harpenden in September for this absolutely dream author panel! Come along and hear these fab ladies talking about their books. 




For more recommendations and reviews follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or via my website bibliomaniacuk.co.uk

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

#TheUpstairsRoom #KateMurrayBrowne #Review #BlogTour


The Upstairs Room


Eleanor, Richard and their two young daughters recently stretched themselves to the limit to buy their dream home, a four-bedroom Victorian townhouse in East London. But the cracks are already starting to show - not in the walls of the house but between Richard and Eleanor....

As they attempt to settle into their new home, Eleanor becomes ill and convinces herself it is the house that is making her suffer so violently with progressively crippling headaches and sickness. 

But Richard is dismissive, wrapped up in budgets, building plans and the 27 year old female lodger renting their basement rooms. 

Determined to prove to Richard that the house has a dark past, Eleanor investigates the previous owners and tries to find out just who Emily was and why her name is written hundreds of times on the walls of the upstairs room. ......

Yes, this is one creeptastic read. If you are faint hearted, susceptible to tension headaches and easily frightened when you have to go upstairs to bed at night, then beware of this book! And if you have just moved house....double beware!!! 

But whatever your disposition, I still recommend you read it! There are so many ideas and themes in this novel that although it is dominated by the eerie atmosphere of the house, it is also a novel that examines marriage, parenting, mental health and relationships. There is an intriguing cast of characters - not always likeable and most definitely fallible - and all with issues to confront, decisions to make and behaviour to consider. But before I talk about the actual characters, I want to talk about the real central character in this novel - the house. 

I love gothic novels and I love novels about houses. Nothing captures my imagination more than a hidden room, a mysterious piece of furniture left behind by a previous owner or the ghostly presence of something haunting in the hallways. The Upstairs Room has all of this. It also has echoes of The Woman in Black, The Others, The Birds and The Omen. I think it is fair to say that perhaps the premise of the novel is not completely original but what is impressive is the creation of main character Eleanor, and then a plot that uses such compelling language and so well executed that it feels fresh and new. And I must say that if this book becomes a film (yes it should and I'm sure it will!!) like some of the other titles I just mentioned, I don't think I would be able to watch it simply because the novel was so unsettling and so frightening I don't think my nerves could stand it!

This house, with it's strange, unnervingly preserved upstairs room, is so well evoked that it is quite claustrophobic and intense at times. The suggestion of malevolence in the building is overwhelmingly well handled and well crafted. The writing on the wall is especially terrifying:

"......the scrawls were like vermin: Eleanor became alert, vigilant, every smug leaping out at her. When she saw the familiar faded pencil, it made her jump, even though she had been looking for it. Soon, they were swarming at her and she couldn't understand how she hadn't seen them before."

I loved Eleanor's "compulsion to leave the house" as if the home were a real live thing with a real live intention to harm - which it certainly appears to be. The description of Eleanor's dizziness, sickness and sluggishness is evoked so intensely that I myself shared her feelings nausea and also felt like I needed to run outside and get some fresh air. It is hard to maintain prolonged tension with one character and one location and to write so repetitively about illness but in this book, Browne achieves this; she maintains the intensity, stress, oppressiveness and accumulating sense of threat and dread. 

Eleanor is a very well crafted character. She is thoughtful, sensitive, intuitive and despite a tendency to over analyse, the reader is on board and also convinced she is not wrong to have these fears and anxieties. I felt her frustration as she was repetitively judged and her illness dismissed as tiredness or an inability to cope with the demands of parenting. The repetition of the phrase "You just need to rest" becomes grating and starts to symbolise more about the crumbing relationship between Richard and Eleanor than a well meaning platitude. 

An equally fascinating character is Zoe, the young lodger. Her observations and insight about the couple's life and family provides a bit of objectivity. She has a very different world view, she has her own complicated secrets and own issues with relationships to work through. It's an interesting dynamic to introduce into the novel and the pressure that Eleanor and Richard are under is further exacerbated by the physical presence of Zoe who is part of their house yet not part of their house.  Zoe's reaction to the strange happenings also helps to compound the tension and show the reader that what is going on is not an invention of Eleanor's tired and confused mind. 

Initially I did find the final section of the novel a little overlong but it wasn't until the last few paragraphs that I realised that it was in fact necessary and valid. There is a certain satisfaction in having all the strands pulled together and although at first I thought everything was too neatly sown up or too much exposition, I was rewarded with a delicious hint of ambiguity at the end which meant I ended the book with a little gasp and wry smile. Good work! 

This is a good read. There are complex characters to grapple with and back stories which not only give you a break from the intensity of the scenes inside the house but also add depth and further layers to the book. This books is a great example of well written description and how to present passages describing inner turmoil and inexplicable illness. Recommend! 

The Upstairs Room is published on July 27th by Picador.

Don't miss out on the Blog Tour and all the other reviews and posts about this chilling novel.



BIBLIOMANIAC'S BOOK CLUB: BOOK CLUB QUESTIONS

How did you respond to the author's presentation of the work of the spiritualist?

Which character did you feel most empathy for and why?

Which character did you feel least empathy for and why?

Do you think things would have been different for Eleanor, Richard and Zoe had they lived somewhere else and not bought this victorian house in London?

Can you give a rational explanation for what is going on in the house? What is your explanation of what happened?

Can the lives of previous owners live on in a house long after they have moved out?

How did you respond to the ending? Was it satisfying? How else could the novel have ended?

For more recommendations and reviews follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or via my website bibliomaniacuk.co.uk

Saturday, 15 July 2017

#BibliomaniacsBookShelf 10-14th July


Bibliomaniac's Book Shelf: 
A Round Up of the Books I've Reviewed This Week!

It's been a busy week this week with some outstanding novels hitting my shelves! The real challenge has been to try to find new ways to say "gripping" and "outstanding" as I have been thoroughly spoilt with some exceptionally chilling and beautifully written reads! It has genuinely been an amazing week of 5* books!


MY BOOK OF THE WEEK:
Last Seen Alive by Claire Douglas 


I am a huge Claire Douglas fan and was thrilled to be offered an advance copy of her third novel. In my opinion this is her best book yet and really proves how talented she is as an author as Douglas weaves a complex tale of friendship, identity and past secrets. Douglas's execution of such a well crafted novel is impressive and the number of jaw dropping, chilling and rug pulling moments is just brilliant. This is a book that is full of twists and revelations but more importantly, it is a great story that will have you gripped until the very last page. It is about friendship, betrayal, love, revenge, anxiety and paranoia. An absolute must read this summer and an absolutely stunning psychological thriller.


Other books to add to your shelves......


The Good Girl was one of my favourite Book Club reads and so I was very excited about Neill's new novel, The Betrayals. Once more Neill has created a story that is multilayered and full of complex characters and interesting dilemmas. It's ambitiously told from four different narrative viewpoints but not once do you lose your grip on what is happening. It is a very cleverly managed jigsaw where the pieces don't always end up fitting where you think! I really enjoyed the discussions about the mind, rational explanations and the irrational realities, memories and relationships. Clever, entertaining and thought provoking. 



This novel has a dual narrative which slips between the past (1950s) and the present. Both storylines are compelling and linked with the mysterious, unsolved disappearance of Audrey Wilde. Both story lines are about women, families, mothers and daughters. Both story lines use the beautiful and evocative setting of the rambling Applecote House - once a place of happiness, then tragedy and now it the present day, a place where a new family try to leave their past behind and build a new life together. The writing is bewitching, lyrical and chilling and the characters are well crafted. A great read with two plots that gradually collide and intertwine in a very satisfying ending. 



This novel is a perfect summer read - relatively short and set in Italy in a heatwave. It tells the story of a sixteen year boy on the cusp of adulthood as he gradually confronts some difficult truths about his father. This novel is set in a small, isolated village community and focuses on the impact of a missing child on this community. The language is beautiful, the setting is stunning and the story is gently compelling and full of great observations about people under pressure. Recommend! 

Full Review of Can You Hear Me


If you are a fan of historical fiction or travel fiction then this will be the read for you this summer! McVeigh has written a novel that is fluent, well paced, interesting and thoroughly researched with a good cast of strong characters. There are some harrowing scenes and some difficult sections to read due to the historical time the novel recounts but well worth adding to that reading pile.


BLOG TOURS

Death Plays a Part by Vivian Conroy


I was on the Blog Tour for Vivian Conroy's new cosy crime series set in Cornwall. You can read my full post here and don't forget to check out some of the other stops with the other bloggers too!


Author Events 
Bibliomaniac's Book Club: Real Life, Real Books



On Wednesday 5th July I was lucky enough to host an author panel event with Jennie Ensor (Blind Side), Kerensa Jennings (Seas of Snow) and Jessica Duchen (Ghost Variations) at The Harpenden Arms with the support of Harpenden Books. It was a great evening and a fascinating discussion of the whole process of getting an idea, researching an idea, writing and then getting published. There was also a lot of discussion about handling taboo subjects and tricky issues and themes in novels. Read my reviews of all three books via the link below. 


Rowan Coleman: The Summer of Impossible Things
Harpenden Bookshop 13th July



On Thursday I got to meet the lovely Rowan Coleman who came to Harpenden Books to launch her latest novel The Summer of Impossible Things. Rowan read us an extract which was tantalising and then chatted a little bit about the inspiration for this novel and her research in America for the setting and events the book revolves around. She also answered questions from the audience about where she found inspiration for her other books, her writing life and her love for the Brontes. It was a relaxing, enjoyable and interesting evening and such an honour to meet such a lovely, humorous lady whose personality was a bright and captivating as her latest book cover.


 

Rowan Coleman will be appearing at my author event in September and after this week, I cannot wait to meet her again! If you live near Harpenden (very accessible from St Albans or North London) then why not book a ticket and come along! 




Phew! What a week!! Hope you all have a fantastic weekend and find a good book to spend it with! 


For more recommendations and reviews follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or via my website bibliomaniacuk.co.uk

Round Up: #BlindSide #GhostVariations #SeasofSnow #Unbound

Blind SideGhost VariationsSeas of Snow

Recently I ran an author panel with these three lovely ladies talking about the real events and real news stories that inspired the ideas and themes for their novels. Here's a round up of my mini reviews  and a couple of book club questions for each of their books.

Blind Side

BLIND SIDE by JENNIE ENSOR

Blind Side by Jennie Ensor is set five months before the 7/7 attacks in London. The main character is Georgie, a few months away from turning 30, single and living in London. She has a fear of falling in love or growing to close to someone because of her past and is shocked when her oldest friend Julian reveals his true feelings for her. Pushing him away, she then falls for Nikolai, a Russian with a deeply traumatic past relating to his experiences from the war torn Chechnya. Despite her friends concern and disapproval - particularly from Julian whose behaviour rapidly becomes more obsessive and more concerning, Georgie finds that she is becoming very attracted to Nikolai and more compelled to help him or to try and understand his past.

As events escalate in London, this novel explores love, friendship, prejudice, guilt and betrayal in a tumultuous time. For Georgie this novel is a kind of coming of age journey as she begins to face up to the realities in the world around her and begins to see sides of people to which she was once more oblivious.  With the dramatic and intense backdrop of the 7/7 attacks, Ensor is able to use this as an opportunity to explore how people behave towards each other, how actually, those we suspect, fear or conversely trust for a sound judgement and objectivity, are not always the ones we assume. Through her relationship with Nikolai, Georgie is exposed to some terrible truths and forced to make some decisions about what she believes and what she is going to fight for.

For me, I thought this novel was as much about characters, the relationships between them and the effect they have on each other as people as a novel about contemporary political and social issues. The novel is hugely grounded in modern day London and reflects the key issues and concerns affecting everyone but very specifically Londoners, with many social and cultural references. It conveys the atmosphere of the city following the terrorist attacks and uses them as a way of exploring questions about human nature and the human condition. But the universal themes of post traumatic stress, immigration, love, betrayal, people under pressure and motivation and consequence means this novel will appeal to anyone and have resonance for many, many years.

Despite it's themes and harrowing references to Nikolai's past, this is a very readable, accessible novel with fascinating characters. Ensor discusses and explores complex issues and evokes a menacing sense of threat as Georgie navigates her way through her confusion and period of awakening but ultimately I felt this was also a novel about understanding, hope and love. The characters of Nikolai and Georgie are powerfully evoked and stay with you once the book is finished.

BOOK CLUB QUESTIONS: BLIND SIDE

 - What purpose does Julian play in the novel? How did your feelings for him change throughout the novel?
 - How did you respond to the author's portrayal of asylum seekers and immigration? Was there anything that challenged your preconceptions or affected your opinions?
 - How did you respond to Georgie and the decisions and actions she takes? Did you find her behaviour convincing and believable?
 - "A well off career girl hooked up with an illegal immigrant - how could that ever have worked?" What do you think of this statement made by one of the characters? How does it capture some of the key themes in the novel? What do you think happens next to Georgie and Nikolai?
 - What do you think might have been some of the challenges for this author when writing about 7/7 and terrorism?


Ghost Variations

GHOST VARIATIONS by JESSICA DUCHEN 

This is a fascinating work of fiction that makes such an interesting story it is difficult to remember it's based on very real events! Set in London in 1933, this novel opens with a Ouija board game which reveals to the Hugarian violinist, Jelly d'Aranyi, a message from the composer Schumann asking her to find a missing violin concerto. This search for the concerto then takes us to Germany as it is discovered that the Nazi's are also intrigued by the power of this piece of music and how they might use it for future propaganda.

Duchen's novel has clearly been extensively researched and the historical setting, level of detail and over all convincing evocation of time, place and society is very impressive. It is a complex storyline, travelling across Europe and including many real figures from music and history. This novel will appeal to any musician or fans of historical fiction but there are also many universal themes explored through the emotional and physical journey of the main character. Duchen looks at the prejudices of the time, the role of women, mental health and the role of music in society. It is also a mystery story - it is about a quest to find the forgotten manuscript and the compulsion to perform it. There is intrigue, suspense and tension and there is threat, danger and excitement as Jelly delves deeper into the history of Schumann's piece and it's significance in a time of increasing social unrest.

There is a huge list of characters in this novel and many of them are complex individuals who existed in the real world. Duchen shows skill in creating characters that feel authentic and is also able to recreate not only relatable and believable characters but also reflect how their feelings, emotions and behaviour is influenced by the social and historical context in which they live. There are some very interesting observations about madness and delusion and the role of women. I thought the idea that Schumann believed the melody of this concerto was dictated to him in his sleep by spirits very interesting and a great premise for an ambitious but original story.

Duchen shows herself to be an accomplished writer as she manages all these characters, concepts and themes and weaves them together in an intriguing plot. Not only is the storyline flawless and tightly constructed, she also manages to ensure her presentation of the 1930s and Europe is flawless, and used as a compelling backdrop to an unknown but fascinating story.

BOOK CLUB QUESTIONS: GHOST VARIATIONS

- What did you think about the role of spirituality and the holdings of seances in the book?

- What do you think are the challenges about including 'real' people from history in a novel and how well did the author handle these challenges in Ghost Variations?

- Which characters did you relate to most and why?

- What did you think about the portrayal of women in this novel?

Seas of Snow

SEAS OF SNOW by KERENSA JENNINGS

Jenning's novel is something rather unique. It is a story of 5 year old Gracie who lives with her mum but then Uncle Joe comes to live with them. Uncle Joe is a sinister and disturbing character and it isn't long before he is abusing both the women. The only thing that saves Gracie from despair is her discovery of poetry.

What makes this book so interesting is that the author combines a storyline dealing with harrowing, emotional and difficult subject matter with that of poetry. Jennings' own writing is very lyrical and poetic and the influence of the poets she quotes in the story on her own work is clear. For Gracie poetry becomes a key - a secret key, that enables her to escape her terrible life and attempt to process what is happening to her. For the readers the inclusion of poetry also prevents the book becoming too oppressive and just as poetry allows Gracie to find ways to cope with her life, it also gives the reader a way of being able to cope with the themes explored. It's an interesting contrast and an interesting way of combining domestic noir and literary fiction.

Jennings shows herself to be an intelligent, thoughtful, clever and exceptionally talented writer through this novel and her use of language. It is very hard to categorise the genre of this novel or to prepare readers expectations but it is a story that is worth reading. It is haunting, poetic, psychologically intriguing and also full of domestic drama and complicated characters.

BOOK CLUB QUESTIONS: SEAS OF SNOW 

 - Jennings uses the metaphor of a black bird throughout the novel. How effective did you find this?
 - How well do you think the author captured the voice of a 5 year old?
 - Did you enjoy the inclusion of poetry in the novel?
 - "Why were the dragons of real life so much more terrifying then the monsters of storybooks?" Discuss!!
 - How did you respond to Billy?




GENERAL BOOK CLUB QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSING ALL THREE BOOKS:

- All three writers tackle complex issues and very involved themes and story lines. Some of the events referred to will be very real to readers. What problems might this pose to the writers and how did you respond to this as a reader?

 - Each of the authors has clearly carried out extensive research in order to present such compelling narratives. How did you find reading about real events, real people and real problems? Did the references to such specific moments in time or place affect your reading at all?

 - What key points do you think the authors want you to take away from their novels? What do you think they want to say to you through their stories?

 - All three books include references to poetry, music and literature. What effect did this have on your reading and understanding of the characters, theme and ideas portrayed in the novels?

 - "In Art alone we find salvation" (Ghost Variations) "All works of art are consequences of having been in danger, of having gone to the very end in an experience, to where man can go to further." (Seas of Snow) Discuss! Have these author's used their art to find salvation? What about their characters?

 - In Ghost Variations (set in 1933), a character states "I'm living in some kind of nightmare, some dystopian film". What makes these novels so relevant to audiences today and in the future?

Blind Side, Ghost Variations and Seas of Snow are all available to buy now and area published by Unbound. 

For more recommendations and reviews follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or via my website bibliomaniacuk.co.uk