Wednesday, 29 March 2017
It's very easy to give you a reason to read Six Stories - in fact I could give you six - no, sixty reasons why you should read it! But here's three: the cover, the author and the blurb. Any reader who loves crime, thrillers or original and fresh fiction must read this book!
It's very easy to sum up the premise of Six Stories. In 1996 Tom Jeffries went missing. A year later his body was found. Twenty years later, investigative journalist Scott King decides to interview six people close to this unsolved, cold case; six interviews giving the reader six stories about what really happened.......
It is not so easy to convey the brilliance of the book. It would be easier if you just read it!
This is a relatively short, extremely readable, unputdownable novel. It is split into six sections with an extra narrative from one of the characters, which links the sections together, filling in a little bit more of the gaps - or possibly adding a bit more tension, suspense and mystery!
The thing I enjoyed the most about this book was its completely unique narrative structure. Wesolowski has written a crime novel - a traditional whodunnit - that follows the conventions of the crime genre, but the way in which he tells the story is nothing but traditional - it is completely unconventional! It is completely contemporary, fresh, original and bold. Crime readers are used to watching the police interview suspects, they are used to gathering clues and piecing the story together but Wesolowski takes this to a whole new level. He has almost invented a brand new way of telling a story which reflects the increasing interest in investigative journalism and our fixation with social media in today's society.
Six Stories is not actually six stories but six podcasts. What struck me most was the experience of reading something that is meant to be heard. It is quite a strange sensation as I actually could 'hear' it; it really made me tune in and listen to the voices. I paid attention to every word, hesitation and statement they made. I liked that you were given the stories one at a time and left to try and determine who you could trust, who was reliable and who was telling you the truth. I do have a soft spot for a crime that takes one event and looks at it from different perspectives and I think Wesolowski takes this concept a step further and really plays with it. Hugely effective!
There are lots of unnerving ingredients in this novel - all of which will send shivers down your spine. There is a deep, dark forest. There is a man wearing a mask. There is a local figure who has autism and is easily manipulated by teenagers. There is the Marsh Hag and the Beast of Belkeld. This is a story which merges the local legends and urban myths with the known facts about the murder investigation to tell a compelling tale. This is a story where six characters are able to look back at an event that happened twenty years ago and seek the truth one final time.
Ultimately this is an author who knows exactly how to create a chilling atmosphere and who is able to tell a chilling story in a most imaginative and yes, chilling, way!
Six Stories was published by Orenda Books on 15th March 2017. I bought my copy via their website orendabooks.co.uk - careful though, chances are you won't be able to stop at one book once you look at the titles they have........sooooo many good books - all sooooooo tempting!
For more recommendations and reviews you can follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)
Before Salem, there was Manningtree. . . .
"This summer, my brother Matthew set himself to killing women, but without ever once breaking the law."
The book opens by establishing we are in 1645, the forth year of the Civil War, which prepares us for a setting of unease and death. And then we read the chilling words:
"Before this, women have seldom been hanged for witchcraft- one or two, every five years or ten. But now the country is falling apart at the seams. Now, all England is looking the other way: so there is nothing to stop Matthew Hopkins stepping forward. Starting to make a list of names."
There is something about topic of witchcraft which is massively appealing to me! I think it is fascinating. Witches are the stuff of great fairy tales, myths, legends and Shakespeare's plays. And then they are the stuff of history - they are the women hounded by vengeful husbands, nervous Kings and communities looking for a scapegoat. It's fascinating to read about the trials against these women, the brutality and injustice that was done to them, the lack of understanding towards mental illness, emotional behaviour and psychology - and the cruelty of men who abused people's fear of witchcraft to disguise their own flaws.
What better setting for a novel? What better moment in history for Underdown place her hugely compelling, exciting and unputdownable read?
I was immediately engaged with the story.
Despite it being set in 1645 and the author ensuring that the prose remains faithful to this era, Underdown's skill at evoking the historical context with such an accomplished subtlety means that this novel reads as well as any contemporary thriller. The detail to setting, clothes and dialogue show a huge amount of understand and research of the era but Underdown does not flaunt her extensive knowledge, merely uses it to enhance the atmosphere and characterisation. The writing is fast paced; the plot moves swiftly along with a perfect balance between suspense, tension, dramatic plot events and detailed characterisation.
Alice is a very engaging protagonist and it is easy to establish a relationship with her. She has suffered her own heartache and traumas, she has a sad history and has been away from her family for some time. When she returns home to her brother Matthew it is with "heavy heart". She has been gone 5 years and she knows he has changed.
When he was a baby, Matthew was burned in a kitchen fire which has left him with scars that run up his arm, neck, chin and across the left side of his face. He also has an "unsteady" heartbeat and dreams that make him shout out. He has never fitted in that well. Matthew and Alice are their father's "spare" children. Their father already had three older heirs so is left with Matthew and his "strangeness", and Alice, a girl. Therefore Alice and Matthew were very close as children but as she realises:
Returning home she finds Matthew changed; he is wealthy, his fortunes have changed and he is respected, holding much influence within the community. But there is more than that. Something darker and more threatening. Alice soon realises that Matthew has become a hunter of suspected witches. As the story continues, Alice tries to stop her brother even if it jeopardises her own safety. As she continues to seek out what it is that fuels her brother's hatred, she finds herself delving further into the family's past and dredging up dark secrets..... Does she have the strength to put her own liberty at risk in order to defeat the evil and prevent any more innocent women from facing the gallows?
This is a haunting novel. It's inspiration from real-life events makes it even more so. Matthew's character is chilling, unnerving and deeply troubling. His behaviour is so callous and reveals such a disturbed and troubled mind that he becomes quite frightening and oppressive. Alice is an equally strong character who I felt very drawn to and very involved with. She has her own demons to confront, her own past to atone and her own heartache to nurse and as events culminate she begins to realise only too late how complicated and dangerous her situation is.
The story line is easy to follow. Although there are layers and revelations, complications and twists, the plot is gripping and taut. I read this book quickly but there are some passages that are shocking. The scenes describing the treatment of women suspected of witchcraft are at times harrowing -more so because they are historically authentic and it is always hard for any reader to acknowledge people's mistreatment of others.
Alice's insights and observations are thought provoking and Underdown definitely explores attitudes towards madness, depression and mental illness at the time. I think perhaps Alice's ideas and comments would without doubt make her a woman ahead of her time but as a reader I grabbed on to them and held fast as I willed her to be able to stop Matthew and curtail his mission to send these innocent women to the gallows.
"For a woman is brought up to believe that children are her life's work - to make them and feed them and kiss their hurts. But what happens if you cannot have children? If you have too many? If you have them, and they cannot protect you? If you have them, and they die? If you weep for their loss too much, or not enough - that is when folk begin to wonder if it is your fault, your misfortune. They begin to wonder how you can have offended God, and their wonderings turn to ripe for a man like my brother to exploit."
Underdown's writing is subtle. There are some statements and comments that actually resonate beyond the page and are relevant for today's society. There are some poignant and profound statements that reflect insight into her exploration of madness, grief, abandonment and revenge.
I found myself thinking of how as a child I had always wanted to read the books that Father said were too hard for me, not realising yet that understanding a book is not the same as being able to spell out all the words.
This was an excellent read. It was literally spell binding. Underdown is a talented writer who managed to charm me with her captivating prose as well as grip me with a great story and strong characters. The final lines were outstanding.
The Witchfinder's Sister was published by Penguin on 2nd March 2017.
Follow Beth on Twitter or check out her website:
Beth Underdown was born in Rochdale in 1987. She studied at the University of York and then the University of Manchester, where she is now a Lecturer in Creative Writing.
The Witchfinder’s Sister is her first novel, and is out with Viking in the UK and Ballantine in the US in Spring 2017. The book is based on the life of the 1640s witch finder Matthew Hopkins, whom she first came across while reading a book about seventeenth-century midwifery. As you do.
And don't just take my word for how good this book is - just look at these quotes!
"Vivid and terrifying."--Paula Hawkins, #1 New York Timesbestselling author of The Girl on the Train
"Beth Underdown conjures a mesmerizing tale. The Witchfinder's Sister will draw you into the terrifying world of England's witch hunts. Read it late into the night, but don't expect to sleep afterward!"--Paula Brackston, New York Times bestselling author of The Witch's Daughter
"Gripping . . . The Witchfinder's Sister gives a long-forgotten historical tragedy a fresh, feminist spin. Beth Underdown, by providing us with this intelligent, sympathetic protagonist, allows us to see inside the hearts of both monster and victims while never letting us forget that throughout history women's stories have too often been told by men."--Melanie Benjamin, New York Times bestselling author of The Swans of Fifth Avenue
"A richly told and utterly compelling tale, with shades of Hilary Mantel."--Kate Hamer, author of The Girl in the Red Coat
For more recommendations and reviews you can follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk) or subscribe to this blog!
Tuesday, 28 March 2017
I have had the absolute privilege of interviewing Andree A Michaud today about her latest novel "Boundary" - her first to be translated into English - which was published by No Exit Press on the 23rd March 2017.
Michaud is touring the UK for a fortnight promoting the publication of her book and will be appearing at the Tottenham Court Road Waterstones this evening (28th March) alongside 3 other international authors to talk further about her writing so if you can, do pop along and see her there!
(Waterstones Events: International Indies Evening)
Here's the blurb about Boundary......
Where deep woods cover the Maine border, blending together two countries and two languages, the summer of 1967 is a time of fear. Teenage beauties Sissy Morgan and Zaza Mulligan wander among the vacation cottages in the community of Boundary, attracting the attention of boys and men, before they're found gruesomely murdered — felled by long-dead woodsman's bear traps. Andrée, the little girl whose name nobody can pronounce, watches the police investigate, unaware of how profoundly these events will impact her passage into womanhood.
Reminiscent of Scandinavian thrillers by Asa Larsson, Henning Mankell, and others, Boundary was a crossover hit when first published in the French, winning both the Governor General's Award for literature and the Arthur Ellis Prize for mystery novels. By weaving a tale of unbearable suspense and meticulously evoked atmosphere, Michaud transforms endless forests, haunted people, and primal terror into an irresistibly gripping summer read.
But without further digression, let me get on and share with you my interview with the charming Andree who was so kind to meet with me despite still reeling from the summer clock change in Quebec, jet lag and then the clock change here!
Andree, welcome along to Bibliomaniac's Blog and thank you for joining me today!
First can I just ask you about the stunning front cover for Boundary. Was this something you were involved with?
It's all the clever work of the publishers No Exit Press! They produced it all and I just loved it! We went through about 16 versions but funnily enough this was the very first design we had looked at and it was the one that we felt worked best for the book. Some of the covers had been bolder colours and had images of girls on them, or a more summery scene but this cover seemed to capture the atmosphere and style of the book the best. I am thrilled with it.
And the book has been translated - was that something you were involved in at all?
No! I'm not clever enough for that! I was lucky enough that the translator the publishers chose had a very good reputation and had won prizes for their translated work. To be honest, you just have to 'let go' a bit; trust and have confidence in them, My translator was very open to changes and it was a real partnership so I was lucky.
The book is set in1967. Is there a particular reason why you chose 1967?
It's the time of my own childhood - my beautiful childhood- so it is a time I can easily recall and is very vivid to me. It didn't feel like I had to research any historical details or check too many things because even though 1967 is in the past, it's my past and my history - well, to me it's just my life, not history at all! The end of the 60s is also a time where society was beginning to change from being very traditional to more free and this echoes some of the themes about frontiers and boundaries which the novel explores.
The location of the novel is the most impressive bit of the novel - and the biggest character. Is it a real place?
Yes, it is a real place. I used to go there with my father when I was a child. In those days there were only 2 or 3 cabins so it hadn't grown into such a big holiday destination and was mainly for hunters - my father never hunted there while I was with him, but we went to stay there a lot. A while ago I was staying in a cabin somewhere else and suddenly I caught a scent of something in the air - something that took me right back to Boundary. The smell had triggered my memories of the place and I knew I wanted to write about it.
To me, it is always the location that inspires the story. I spend a long time thinking, watching, looking, listening at a place. Then gradually I begin to put characters in to the scenery and begin to shape the story but it is always the place first - location and nature are incredibly important to me and the natural world in particular is an incredible inspiration.
Once you've chosen your location, how do you then plan your novel? In Boundary the story is organised into five or six sections each named after characters, and then within those sections it is split into days. There is a real mix of long chapters and short chapters. Did you plan this from the beginning?
No, I did it all at the end! I wrote my story first; wrote, wrote and wrote. Then I took my first draft and looked at the sections and chapter length then. I often go through 2, 3, 4 or maybe 5 drafts so there is time to reshape the narrative then - the first thing is just to get the story out. Once I have my location, I write. I don't often know the shape or where the novel might take me until I am writing.
I noticed that you use both your names "Andree" and "Michaud" in the novel. This was obviously deliberate!
Yes, I do like doing that - and I am by no means the first and only author to do this! It's me playing a little; reminding the reader that the writer is behind every character. It's a little game.
How would you define the genre of Boundary?
It's a crime novel but not in the classic sense. I wanted to write a book that used some of the framework and devices of the crime genre, but adapt it to make it something more universal. I wanted to write something that was larger than a crime story. I wanted to write a book that showed us nature always wins. We can't own nature and it will always win.
There is quite a lot of brutal language in the book and some violent scenes. How did you find writing those passages?
They were difficult obviously, particularly as I was writing about young girls. But as an author, you have to distance yourself from what you are writing. You have to remind yourself it's in the book, not in your life. And I walk. Walk, walk and walk- and think about everything except for the book!
Can you tell me a bit about your writing day?
I like to write in the morning and then I can spend the rest of the day with other things - including my 'real' job. In the afternoon I like to redraft, reshape, reread or leave things for the next day. I don't have a set word limit to get through each day, I sit down and write and see how I get on.
And I have to ask, who are your literary inspirations? Which writers have influenced your writing?
Marguerite Duras - the french writer (1914-1996) (wikipedia Marguerite_Duras) and Virginia Woolf (1882-194) - Woolf is a genius. I would love to reread and reread and reread her novels but I never have enough time. (wikipedia- Virginia_Woolf)
Are you reading anything at the moment?
I have brought 10 books in my suitcase and not opened one yet! I just never seem to have the time to read!
And finally, what questions might you put to a book group who were reading Boundary?
Oh, I might need to think about that a bit! I think I would ask them to think about the relationships between the characters - or how they related to the characters. I would also want them to talk about themes like nature, the role nature in the story and location. I guess another theme to discuss could be madness.
Thank you so much Andree, it has been such a pleasure to meet with you and hear more about Boundary and your writing. It's given me more insight into the novel and I can hear your authorial voice as you answered my questions! Thank you so much and good luck with the rest of your book tour!
My enormous thanks to Ion, Maddy, Flossie and Claire at No Exit Press for offering me this opportunity to interview Andree. I have really enjoyed meeting with the author of such a unique novel!
You can read my review of Boundary here
For more reviews and recommendations follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3
The Summer of 1967. The sun shines brightly over Boundary Lake, a holiday haven on the US-Canadian border. Families relax in the heat, happy and carefree. Hours tick away to the sound of radios playing "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "A Whiter Shade of Pale". Children run along the beach as the heady smell of barbecues fills the air. Zaza Mulligan and Sissy Morgan, with their long, tanned legs and silky hair, relish their growing reputation as the red and blonde Lolitas. Life seems idyllic.
But then Zaza disappears and the skies begin to cloud over.
If you are looking for something different to read this summer then you should try Boundary. It is a great work of literary fiction; hugely evocative of summer and the lives of those in a small town during the holiday season.
Welcome to Bondree, a town on the border between Quebec and Maine.
"Bondree is a place where shadows defeat the harshest light, an enclave whose lush vegetation recalls the virgin forests that covered the North American continent three of four centuries ago. Its name derives from a deformation of the word "boundary" or frontier."
What better setting for a mystery, for a crime, for a place full of legends and myths, for a place of ghosts who haunt the forest than somewhere with a deep forest and a lake? What better setting in which to explore themes of belonging, outsiders, coming of age and the dynamics operating in a small community than a town which hovers between two places, representing both a barrier and a frontier? Bondree is a "stateless domain, a no-man's land" and Michaud captures this fluidity between countries not just in her lyrical, flowing prose but also in her use of both French and English names and words.
We begin with a dramatic opening that suggests danger but then the story begins again with a new heading - Pierre Landry. The novel is written in several sections named after characters in the book and this helps create more intrigue and an interesting way in which to shape this story which unravels slowly and carefully.
I was immediately hooked by the story of Pierre Landry; a man who since his death had become a figure of fear. Stories of Landry revolve around words like savagery, madness, violence and grief. He is almost mythologised by the locals and the story of his unrequited love for Tanager is known by everyone- her haunting feared by all as they walk through the dense wilderness and lake's shoreline. The early introduction of the story of Landry is effective in establishing the atmosphere for the novel and creating a sense of malevolence, uncertainty, fear and perhaps most strikingly, dark fairy tales. I liked the etherial feel of the first pages and the poetic language which I felt myself becoming immersed in very quickly and very easily.
School's out, the summer has begun. Zaza Mulligan and Sissy Morgan, who have been friends "since always and for evermore, for life and 'til death do us part, for now and forever" are ready to spend the nights painting their faces and turning boy's heads. Young Andree Duchamp is fascinated - infatuated even - by them but the rest of the town is divided. Some say spoilt, some say obnoxious, some say heading towards a fall. But to Andree they are not "bad seeds, just wild plants." I loved the way Michaud writes about them at the beginning of the book; girls that "snigger", "seduce", girls that tease and girls that seem reckless and provocative. I also liked the fact that the fate of the girls is not hidden from the reader. This is a murder investigation but what makes this crime novel interesting is that it is as much about the impact the events have on the local community. Zaza and Sissy are missing - young, teenage girls that disappear yet the reactions from the other characters is that they are neither shocked nor surprised. They are all moved but mainly because of the brutality of the girls' fates. Or they "resent" them because of the "soul searching" it forces them to do as they consider their judgemental behaviour and pettiness.
I think I enjoyed the young voice of Andree the most. Written in first person it is very easy to feel empathy with her and her world perspective is full of insight and poignant observations. It's understated but weighted with meaning. I enjoyed her relationship with her mother and I also enjoyed the way she talked about her brother and the journey he finds himself on. Michaud's capturing of the tone, expression, thoughts and observations of this girl are extremely well conveyed and the balance between capturing a young voice and imparting more subtle information and characterisation to the reader are exquisitely managed. The use of the first person narrative is also a contrast with the third person narrative of the other characters.
I also enjoyed the passages about the investigation and the different characters involved in carrying out the police work. The medical examiner knows that dead bodies "talk" and leaves the detective alone with Sissy before he then begins his work and "she will reveal her secrets to him." Michaud's writing is contrary - it is beautiful, metaphorical, poetic and lyrical but also graphic, violent and brutal. Often there are lines which are complete juxtapositions. The writing does not shy away from words like "fetish", "carcass" and shocking descriptions of the bodies. Michaud's prose mimics the contrast of the clinical findings of the police investigation against the reality of the emotional horror of this crime.There is also much description of the violence Landry, Little Hawk and Tanager have either suffered themselves or are accused of causing to others.
This is quite a unique novel and one that is about so much more than just a terrible crime in a small town. It is a difficult novel to sum up in a few words and a difficult to novel to define or restrict to one genre. Michaud is clearly an incredibly talented and gifted writer and the most mesmerising thing about this book was the prose. I particularly enjoyed this sentence that plays with language:
"the insults she tried to hurl at there assailant turned into gurglings, arg, argil, gargul...."
And the following quote which describes the town after the discovery of Zaza's body was also one of my favourites:
"Boundary was cloaked in the kind of calm that follows on a drama, a numbness of days of mourning, when everyone feels compelled to whisper, to lower the radio's volume, to keep the children inside. That silence would last a day or two at the most, and then the noise would reassert itself. ........There was no role in this game for those who were no longer there."
The reviews have been mixed for this book as it's literary prose will not be for everyone but I would recommend it. I was swept along by it. I did reread sections and I would like to reread it again in the future to fully acknowledge the skill and language that has created something so atmospheric and evocative. It is not an overly long read and the storyline is gripping but the language is intense and requires time to absorb and appreciate it.
Boundary has been awarded several literary prizes and I am not at all surprised.
Boundary was published by No Exit Press on 23rd March 2017
Tina's sister Meg died in a childhood accident, but for almost forty years Tina has secretly blamed herself for her twin's death. During a visit to her Uncle Edward and his sister Lucia, who both harbour dark secrets of their own, Tina makes a discovery that forces her to question her memories of the day Meg died.
As Tina finds the courage to face the past, she unravels the mysteries of her estranged parents, her beautiful Aunt Simone, the fading, compassionate Uncle Edward, and above all, the cold, bitter Aunt Lucia, whose spectral presence casts a long shadow over them all.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was a mixture of all my favourite kinds of novels. It is a family saga, a domestic noir, a story about marriage and parenting, a story about siblings, a story about lies, deception, truth and revelations. It is part psychological thriller and part drama, partly the character's emotional journey towards realisation and acceptance and partly a chilling and gripping page turner. It felt like a long read but in the most delightful way because I didn't really want it to end. It was a treat to really immerse myself in the world of the characters and watch the stories unravel, twist themselves around each other into knots and then eventually weave themselves together into a very satisfying conclusion.
The story is told by two different narrators and two different time lines. We meet Tina whose story takes place in the present and then we have Lucia whose story takes place in the past. Interspersed between these chapters are letters written by a young Tina. The changing narratives are very easy to follow and to keep track of as not only are the voices very distinctive and clear, but the chapters are labelled with the dates and characters speaking. Although there are lots of characters in the novel who appear throughout both story lines, it is not at all confusing and actually hugely engaging as the reader sees how the two story lines begin to impact on each other and how they are all intrinsically linked.
I would describe this book as a thriller but Walters does not set out to shock, deceive or surprise us. The relationships and situations are clearly laid out at the beginning so the reader begins with a very firm understanding of the premise. But, even though this is not a book about hidden twists and shocks, it kind of still is! Walters still catches us unawares and still manages to create dramatic climaxes and maintain a great level of tension and suspense throughout the whole novel. At times it is a chilling read.
I really loved the characters of both Tina and Lucia. They are very different yet both flawed. They are believable. They are easy to feel sympathy and empathy towards but also sometimes fear, frustration and pity. Their journeys are dramatic and traumatic but it is not sensationalism or soap operatic in style, more a quiet build up, a steady accumulation of events and situations which push them to breaking point.
Walters is able to explore some universal themes like grief, love, isolation, deception, redemption, and forgiveness. Her representation of families under pressure, marriages under pressure, friendships under pressure is compelling and well expressed. I liked the dialogue between the characters, the dynamics and interaction between them all and I really liked the subtle suggestion of malevolence or threatening behaviour in some of the people.
The ending was unexpected and challenged my perception of the genre of this novel. I liked it a lot!
I think the thing I enjoyed the most (apart from the wonderful character of Lucia!) was the fact that even though the main twists were not hidden from the reader, there was still lots I was unsure about (in terms of plot and which characters to trust) and I still felt an immense amount of tension as I was reading. Tina is very open with the reader but it still feels like she is keeping a lot from us. She is reliable but she isn't. There are still secrets that need to be uncovered and revelations waiting to be made. This is a page turner because you want to hear more from the characters and see more of their story.
This is Louise Walters' second book but it is the first book of hers I have read. I was really impressed by it. I was impressed by the well managed plot which was multilayered and complicated but always controlled. Nothing was superfluous and nothing was distracting. It had a slightly epic feel to it in the way an engrossing family drama novel that spans decades should and I could happily have kept reading about Tina and Lucia for longer. They will stay with me as will their story and I am going to try to make sure I read Walters' first novel, Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase as soon as I can. It has been on my TBR pile for a long time when I first saw other bloggers recommending it. I'm sure it will be as enjoyable and satisfying as A Life Between Us.
I would recommend this book. It will make the perfect holiday read this Easter! I really enjoyed it a lot. If you liked "The Thirteenth Tale", "The Roanoke Girls" or any of Kate Roidan's novels, I think this will be the perfect read for you.
A Life Between Us is published on 28th March by Troubador.
Louise Walters has also written Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase.
Click on the link below to find some reading group questions written by Louise on her website:
Reading Group Questions: A Life Between Us
You can follow Louise on Twitter or Facebook or via her website:
Facebook - LouiseWaltersWriter/
Louise also has a blog and at the moment she is interviewing Book Bloggers to find out more about their reading and their life as bloggers. You can click on the link below to visit her blogsite:
You can follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk) for more recommendations and reviews.
Friday, 24 March 2017
With her fortieth birthday approaching, Lucy Carpenter dares to hope that she finally has it all: a wonderful new husband, Jonah, a successful career and the chance of a precious baby of her own. Life couldn’t be more perfect.
But the reality of becoming parents proves much harder than Lucy and Jonah imagined. Jonah’s love and support is unquestioning, but as Lucy struggles with work and her own failing dreams, the strain on their marriage increases. Suddenly it feels like Lucy is close to losing everything…I have only read a couple of Amanda Prowse's books but she is clearly a writer who has won the hearts of thousands of readers so when I was offered the chance to read "The Idea of You" I took it. I hadn't read the reviews of this book but it was impossible to avoid the words like heart wrenching, heart breaking, emotional and overwhelming which have sprung up all over Facebook and Twitter.
Prowse writes about domestic drama, about issues that affect real women and about women that have to find a huge inner strength they never knew they had in order to overcome their situations. This has got to be why so many women find her books so engaging and moving; she explores issues that have affected them or their friends.
"The Idea of You" is no different. For this novel Prowse has focussed on pregnancy and miscarriage. Miscarriage affects a huge proportion of women and the statistics available don't even include those that happen at home and are not recorded in hospital or GP notes. Despite the high numbers of women who suffer such loss, miscarriage still seems to be a subject that is not always easy to discuss openly or seek emotional support for. This sets Prowse a real challenge. She has chosen a subject that is incredibly personal, emotive, complicated and traumatic. Each and every experience will be different and each and every woman will find their own route through their grief. How do you create a story that can convey this journey sensitively, sympathetically and convincingly without over sentimentalising or without being too detached?
Well, I couldn't even begin to do it, but Prowse really can.
It was no surprise to me when I read in the acknowledgements that this novel was based on Prowse's own experiences - which in my opinion actually makes this novel even more brave.
Most of the novel focusses on Lucy and her desperation as each pregnancy ends in with an early miscarriage. Lucy's grief and despair is very well conveyed and it does make for hard reading at times. The chapters are broken up with letters written by Lucy in the first person which help to break some of the emotional tension as well as adding more depth to her character. The main chapters are written in third person; a few times I wondered if it might have worked better in first person but perhaps this would have made the writing too raw and too oppressive for the reader - or possibly the author as they try and maintain that line between memoir and fiction.
About a third or so in to the story we meet Camille, Lucy's husband's teenage daughter from a previous marriage. This is a welcomed character as although she in turn brings with her a different kind of emotional tension, it does allow the story to open up and explore parenting and marriage in a wider context. For the reader it also distracts us from the enormous sadness of Lucy's situation with the potential promise of a happy ending. Well, perhaps anyway - Camille is also a character on a journey and with her own issues and heartbreak. I was grateful for the introduction of more characters, relationships, dynamics, drama and insight into the domestic set up of the family. I also found the revelations from Lucy's childhood added a further complication to the novel and a further level of characterisation.
If I am being honest there were several moments when I thought I would have to put the book down and let the publisher know I was not in a position to review this title. But I didn't. And I'm glad I didn't. There were some sentences in Prowse's novel that literally knocked my breath out and threw me straight back into hospital rooms. Prowse has not fictionalised or over dramatised the brutally medical and factual language used by hospital staff and Lucy's reaction to this is vividly conveyed and upsettingly familiar.
I admire Prowse for writing this novel. I think it is a novel that offers hope and it is ultimately about love and finding your way home. It's not a book I found easy to read or review but it has not deterred me from recommending it or from reading something else by this author. It might be a book that could be used by midwives and hospital staff, health visitors and friends. It is a book that offers solace and in some ways is reassuring to see how characters play out, resolve and guide themselves through their experiences. Have your tissues ready before you begin though, you'll need them.
"The Idea of You" was published on 21st March 2017.
For more recommendations and reviews please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)
Wednesday, 22 March 2017
Bibliomaniac's Book Club: Dazzling Debuts:
An Evening with Alex Caan, GJ Minett, Chris Whitaker and Simon Booker
Thank you so much to everyone who came along last night to my book event! It was such a lovely evening and again, a real dream for me to interview four fabulous authors who I have read, admired and stalked shamelessly on social media.
An absolutely enormous thanks to the four debuts themselves, Simon, Chris, Graham and Alex. Thank you all for travelling - some from a very long way away! - after a day's work to come Harpenden and chat to us all about your novels and your journey to becoming a published author.
There was a fantastic atmosphere and the authors certainly dazzled us with their stories about how they started writing, completing their first draft and that tricky second novel. There was a lot of light-hearted banter between the four authors and their friendship is not only clear, but obviously very strong. Alex, Graham, Chris and Simon are all published with Bonnier Zaffre and have got to know each other really well since beginning their novel writing careers there. Not only did this make it a really easy panel to interview but also created a very relaxed, informal and friendly atmosphere. It was a great evening!
A big shout out to The Harpenden Arms for providing such a perfect venue. The Pullman room (upstairs) is such an ideal setting - with views of Harpenden from all the windows, it is big enough to hold a room full of bibliomaniacs but small enough to feel informal and convivial. Essentially, there is a bar at the back of the room - it is thirsty work listening to people talk about books! I would like to give the staff at The Harpenden Arms a huge thanks for all their help with arranging the evening - especially Nick and Rob. The staff are so friendly, helpful, attentive and nothing is too much trouble. They take all the stress out of arranging an event like this and I would highly recommend that next time you're passing you pop in for a drink or a delicious meal!
I would also like to thank Ines and Steph from Harpenden Books who so kindly gave up their evening to come along and sell the authors' books. There is nothing better than being able to buy a copy of the book you have just heard the author talking about - and then get it signed by the real live author themselves! If you weren't able to get hold of the title you were after, then please pop into the shop this week or order online - they can usually get hold of books within a day or two. We are exceptionally lucky to have such a gorgeous, well stocked bookshop on our high street and even if it is responsible for the huge hole in my bank balance every month (ok, week....) it is a lovely to have a bookshop with such informed, well read, helpful and dedicated staff. Thanks so much ladies for all your help and support!
But really the evening could not have happened without all you fabulous people who came along. I hope you enjoyed the evening as much as I did and please tweet / Facebook / email me with any feedback you might have or let me know your thoughts on the novels once you've read them all!
It was great to see so many of you chatting to the authors after the main interview and don't forget to look them up on social media and stalk, I mean follow, them. And remember - ratings and reviews are always always so appreciated and valued by writers - not only do they love to hear that you've read their book, but if you can leave a review (one or two words is fine!) on Goodreads or Amazon then it makes a huge difference to all those tricky algorithm thingys.
I hope you all enjoyed your goodie bag packed full of flyers about the next Bibliomaniac events and various other bookish events, bookmarks from various authors - including Helen Cox who is coming along in April, your very own Bibliomaniac pen so you always have something to jot down the title of that book someone's just mentioned or that you want to read or buy next, a packet of jelly bookworms and a criminal cupcake!
Finally thank you to my 'tribe' who helped out on the night - thank you, you're fab! Not only did they help with the smooth running of last night's event, they have been a huge support in the lead up to the event. And to my husband too for, well, for everything!
I really hoped everyone had a great time and hope to see lots of you at Bibliomaniac's June event - Summer Scorchers. Tickets are now on sale! Details below:
Tickets: Summer Scorchers
Bibliomaniac Presents: Summer Scorchers
And if you have been inspired to have a go at writing your own book or fancy getting some top tips from two fabulous authors, then come along to Write Away in April - details below:
Bibliomaniac Presents: Write Away
Tickets: Write Away
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Happy Reading and thanks again to everyone who made this event such a successful and enjoyable evening! It really is appreciated! Can't wait for the next one!