Sunday, 31 July 2016

"The Joyce Girl" Annabel Abbs


The Joyce Girl 

Lucia, the talented and ambitious daughter of James Joyce, is making a name for herself as a dancer, training with many famous dancers of her day and moving in social circles which throw her into contact with Samuel Beckett. Convinced she has clairvoyant powers, she believes her destiny is to marry Beckett, but the overbearing shadow of her father threatens this vision. Caught between her own ambitions and desires, and her parents’ demands, Lucia faces both emotional and psychological struggles that attract the attention of pioneer psychoanalyst Dr Jung.

This is a really interesting story - Abbs has chosen a more hidden story and focused on the lesser known character amongst all the legendary names who play roles in her novel which makes it a really intriguing read. 

The era is well evoked and the characters are all deftly created. Quiet, often referenced or in the background, but fiercely powerful and influential, the men are described cleverly and with subtle phrases as soft as the sweep of an artist's paintbrush. 

I think Beckett and Joyce are fascinating writers to read about in this fictionalised story of real events. Although the star of the show really is Lucia. It is an eye opener and a moving story about Lucia's life as she tries to develop her own talent and creativity alongside the struggle of living in the shadow of a genius. The reader definitely shares Abbs' affection for her!

It is quite mesmerising and I enjoyed it. I found it a real insight and appreciate how much research the author must have done in order to complete such a convincing piece of writing. It doesn't feel "academic" at all considering its about Joyce and Beckett and the writing is fluent and easy. I would recommend this book, particularly for fans of Paula McCain. 

I have had this book on my TBR pile for ages as I bought it following a flurry of good reviews on Twitter when it was published. I'm glad I finally got around to reading it - it didn't disappoint and I can understand why so many other reviewers enjoyed it so thoroughly. 

"Five Go Glamping" Liz Tipping

Five Go Glamping
Glamping Check list

Festival tickets
Double check best Instagram filter
Avoid thinking about work/Connor/five year plan!!

A four day break from her hectic life to relax in the countryside and hang out at a local festival (for free!) is just what Fiona Delaney needs. With her best friends, great tunes and a cool looking hat her Instagram shots are going to look A-Mazing!

Until suddenly glamping starts to feel a lot more like camping and Fiona’s in desperate search of a comfy chair, wi-fi and a chilled glass of wine. But when she finally makes it to the local pub she discovers this trip could be more than just a holiday, it might just change her life forever…
 

I saw this recommended on Twitter; it was ridiculously cheap on kindle and I was just about to go on holiday so I took a gamble on it- it looked like the perfect light read to while a way the boredom of hanging around in airports.

I liked the cover, the design is immediately appealing and eye-catching. The title also attracted me, it made me smile - I think it sets the perfect tone for this enjoyable light chick lit read and gives the reader a very fair idea of the sort of story lying between the pages.

I liked Fiona. I liked her attempt to stick to her five year plan and Tipping's description of Fiona's office job and colleagues was amusing and brought a wry smile to my face. I liked the group of friends - it was reminiscent of Bridget Jones and her crew on a night out but ultimately, you felt enough interest and affection towards them to care about reading on ahead to find out where the story might take them.

Tipping's writing captures the lifestyle of a young group of friends well and I think readers will find them authentic and convincing, even if a little cliched. But, let's face it, sometimes we all want a bit of cliche - isn't that what a holiday read is all about?

I think I saw that Tipping has a background in film and photography and I think the general pace and dialogue in the novel reflects this influence on her writing. This enhances the book and suits the genre and style.

This is for fans of chick lit; for people who like a fast, warm hearted read that is comfortably predictable and soothingly entertaining. It doesn't want to leave you with a bundle of shredded tissues or terrifying nightmares, instead it sets out to leave you smiling, cheerful and in the perfect mood to start your holiday. What more could you ask for this summer?

Currently it's only 99p on Kindle (30/07/16) so it is definitely worth making room for in your suitcase this summer!


YA "Looking at the Stars" Jo Cotterill

Looking at the Stars
Amina’s homeland has been ravaged by war for many months, but so far she and her family are safe, together. When a so-called liberating force arrives in the country, the family think their prayers for peace will soon be answered, but they are horribly wrong . . . The country is thrown into yet further turmoil and Amina’s family is devastated . . .
Through it all, Amina has her imagination to fall back on – of a better place and time. But can her stories get her through this?
This is a really interesting novel about survival and what it is like to flee your own country and end up as a refugee. Cotterill has written a bold and important story which tells us the plight of Amina who lives in a developing country under an oppressive ruling “Kwana”. It appears to be a fictional place and remains non specific which I did find a little confusing to start with but appreciate that Cotterill really wants to explore the human story behind the family’s struggle rather than make a political statement or stick to factual events.
The story begins with the aggressive intervention of the Kwana as the girls are unsuspectingly just walking home. Their mother is immediately suspicious: “Why did they pick on you?” “I was smiling….I looked too happy.” The Kwana don’t need an excuse and Amina’s response is almost flippant in her acceptance that this is just how it is. “Nobody cares what I think,” she continues, “The Kwana have taken away everything women had had- jobs, rights, freedom – when they came to power”. Amina and her sister have to stop going to school and her mother has to give up her job.

Cotterill doesn’t shy away from the more shocking aspects of a controlling, militant dictatorship and the story of Amina’s brother, Ruman, is distressing and upsetting even though it is a powerful and necessary part of the plot.

The fear and hopelessness of the characters is palpable, their need to escape but with nowhere to escape to is well captured. The description of the refugee camps is convincing and clearly well researched and despite the sense of location throughout the novel generally remaining (deliberately) a little hazy, the scenes within the camp are very easy to visualise.

Amina remains a positive and optimistic character as much as she can and turns to the power of storytelling to help the people survive the atrocities. As in her other novel “The Library of Lemons”, Cotterill shows us the power of stories, imagination and sharing in books to heal, unite, reassure and calm.

This is a moving story. It is one which will remain with you. It is poignant and definitely an important read for the now. It would be a good book to use in the classroom or with a young adult reading group because of the issues raised and also because of the characters and their fortitude.
I would rate this book 3.5/5 stars and would highly recommend that you check out “Library of Lemons” as well.
More about Jo Cotterill (taken from biography on Amazon) 
I like variety, which is why I’ve had three careers so far: acting (and music), teaching (English GCSE, eep!) and writing children’s books. Writing is my favourite job so far because it enables me to create all the variety myself! I write the Sweet Hearts series for girls aged 9-13 and also lots of short books for reluctant readers (Love Bites, Take Two etc). My standalone novel Looking at the Stars came out in January 2014 and is the book I’m most proud of. It’s about a girl called Amina who’s a natural storyteller but her society has never valued her imagination. When civil war brings in a foreign army, Amina’s family is torn apart and she and her sister are forced to walk to a refugee camp to seek help. To keep their spirits up, Amina tells her sister stories – and soon, both of them discover that storytelling is possibly the most valuable skill a person can have when all around is horror and grief.
I live in Oxfordshire with my husband and two young daughters. I like sewing, making cards and writing songs – and I read a lot of fiction for 9 upwards. You can find my reviews and my general musings on my blog at jocotterill.com – and the Sweet Hearts series has its own website at http://www.ilovesweethearts.co.uk
I have also published several books under my maiden name Joanna Kenrick.

Q&A with Cass Green author of "The Woman Next Door"




The Woman Next Door: A dark and twisty psychological thriller
A dark and twisty psychological thriller, perfect for fans of HER by Harriet Lane and IN A DARK DARK WOOD by Ruth Ware.
Two suburban women. Two dark secrets. The almost perfect murder.
Everybody needs good neighbours…
Melissa and Hester have lived next door to each other for years. When Melissa’s daughter was younger, Hester was almost like a grandmother to her. But recently they haven’t been so close.
Hester has plans to change all that. It’s obvious to her that despite Melissa’s outwardly glamorous and successful life, she needs Hester’s help.
But taking help from Hester might not be such a good idea for a woman with as many secrets as Melissa…
I loved this book and have rated it 5 Stars! I would highly recommend it and was thrilled to bits when Cass agreed to come on my blog and answer some questions about her book and her writing! So without any further delay, here's a huge welcome to Cass! 



“The Woman Next Door” is your first novel for adults following a successful number of Young Adult titles. What made you decide to write a story for adults? 

I have a really short attention span and I get bored easily! So even with my YA books I enjoyed mixing up genres a little. I decided to have a go at writing this type of book because I read so many of them in my spare time and I fancied a change. I think I will write more YA books in the future but have so enjoyed taking this sideways step into a different part of the book market. I think it’s important to keep adapting and changing as a writer, so you don’t get stale. I read so many different types of books that I think, well, why not try and write them too?



Was there any part of the process in writing for adults which was different from writing for children in any way?
I don’t think there was actually. But I do think writing YA helped me with the process of crafting an adult thriller. There is an emphasis on having a tight plot in younger people’s fiction and I think (hope!) that I took those lessons learned and used them in writing THE WOMAN NEXT DOOR.



How has marketing this novel been different? Have you been more anxious about the reviews or hearing what your friends thought? 
I confess I did worry more about what friends and family would think than I have with my other books! Because this one is quite dark in tone, it feels a bit like I have shown the world a glimpse of the shadowy workings of my mind! I kept that better hidden before, perhaps! So yes, I have found this quite nerve wracking. 


 The characters of Hester and Melissa are very convincing but both have strong voices. What challenges did you find writing from the perspectives of the two women and which character did you find easier to write?

 Thank you! I started with Hester and she sort of strolled into my mind, fully formed (yes, I know…worrying!) But as I continued writing, Melissa began to become very real to me too. I think you have to love your characters a bit – the good and the bad in them – to make them real to the reader. I do love both of them, for all their flaws!


Do you have any favourite female characters in literature? Or any favourite female authors?

 Gosh, too many characters to name but I was blown away by Amy in GONE GIRL when I first read the book. What a character! I read it very early on because I came across it on an American book podcast and then raved about it to everyone I met for about six months! I also loved the main character in WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES by Karen Joy Fowler.
I think my two favourite authors in the world would have to be Donna Tartt and Sarah Waters. I don’t think either have ever struck a bad note in their writing.


Parts of the book reminded me of “An Inspector Calls “ and “A Casual Vacancy” when everyone’s actions have some direct impact on the outcome – a complex web of secrets and responsibilities. Can you tell me a bit about what you wanted to achieve with the story line and what thoughts you wanted the reader to come away with?

Wow, thank you. I love both those works. I am fascinated by the boundaries of people’s morality and how they can convince themselves that they are doing the right thing, even when it is something terrible. I also love stories with unreliable narrators. I wanted readers to keep shifting their sympathies between the characters more than anything. I hope I managed to pull that off.


 For me, this was a highly unsettling thriller where ordinary people find themselves in an extraordinary situations and the one person who seems unthreatening and innocent is the one person you need to be wary of. This is the kind of thing that really “creeps me out”! What’s the best thriller you’ve ever read? What “creeps you out” in a story?

 I’m wondering whether A SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt can be considered a thriller? Because for me, that combination of page-turning addictiveness and great writing is perfection. I like to be unsettled. I recently read THINGS WE HAVE IN COMMON by Tasha Kavanagh and it really captured the deliciously uncomfortable feeling. The idea of outsiders always grips me because I think all of us have felt that way at some point. We just (hopefully) don’t have such dark impulses as some of these characters!


Are you planning another novel? Can you tell me anything about it?

 I’m almost finished the first draft of another thriller. It’s about a young woman who meets a strange woman on a bridge at 3am one night just before Christmas and what happens there changes her life forever.


You have a really interesting CV and are involved in lots of exciting projects. Can you tell me a little bit about your life as an author?

 I think you have to be adaptable to survive in the book world and as I mentioned above, this appeals to the bored child still trapped inside me! I do try to do lots of different things and the teaching side is something I enjoy very much, both at City University, where I teach adults, and in schools.


I notice that you are a Writer in Residence at a Secondary School in London. Could you explain a bit more about this role and how it has supported your writing? 

It is the highlight of my week. I have the best group of young people in my creative writing club and every week they surprise me, impress me and make me laugh!


What advice to you give to aspiring young (or old!!) writers? 

Read. Read all the time. Read in the genre you are trying to write most of all. And don’t wait for the perfect afternoon, the perfect notebook and the arrival of the Muse to get started. Write all the time. Allow yourself to write bad stuff you can throw away. It’s only by having the freedom to write badly that the good stuff will start to emerge.


What are you currently reading or looking forward to reading soon?
I’m reading and very much enjoying WATCHING EDIE by Camilla Wray and listening to YOU WILL KNOW ME by Megan Abbott on audiobook. Also excellent!

Thanks so much Cass for a fantastic interview - your answers are so interesting and there is a whole ton of reading suggestions in there to look up too! I love Donna Tartt SECRET HISTORY too and will be checking out Tasha Kavanagh! Thanks so much for your time and great answers! Good luck with THE WOMAN NEXT DOOR and keep us posted with the progress of your next thriller - I can't wait!! 
Thanks for having me over to the blog, Katherine!

MY REVIEW OF "THE WOMAN NEXT DOOR"

This is the story of two women and how their neighbourly friendship develops into a much more sinister relationship as they become entangled in each other's lives.

Glamorous and seemingly successful Melissa is married to Mark with a teenage daughter Tilly who Hester, the neighbour, had often looked after when she was much younger. Things have drifted recently and Hester is desperate to become part of Melissa's life again. When she sees an opportunity to come to Melissa's rescue, she grabs it. And from then on, things begin to lead the two women on a much more sinister and dangerous path revealing deep secrets and cracks in their carefully staged outward images.

We meet Hester first; a prickly character. Neither warm nor particularly friendly, she complains about the other women on the computer course she is currently attending, criticising them as the sort of "women entirely defined by the workings of their womb". But Hester's offence at the "intrusive" question about whether she has children or not immediately indicates an issue and offers some explanation for her bitterness and reserve. She is a proud woman. When invited to join the group for a drink afterwards her reaction is "I'd rather stare at my uneaten cake and find out what's on Radio 4", yet she is annoyed that the invitation is offered as an after thought. She knows she is not popular and already alienated from most women her age through her childlessness. She's a really interesting character as I did not really take to her, but did enjoy her wry asides, comments and observations. I think it's a bold decision of Green's to open the novel with someone who is not that likeable as it may alienate some readers but you must continue! Hester is intriguing, and her lively narrative moves along full of dry wit, eye rolling judgements and also with some sadness and sympathy. Green's characterisation is fluent, flawless and convincing.

Hester's chapters are narrated in first person which allows the reader to hear her caustic internal monologue and fully appreciate her judgmental attitude and sense of superiority. As the novel progresses it becomes clear that Hester is not always a reliable narrator as her perception of people is tainted and always negative. Green certainly knows how to use her unreliable narrator to create tension and plenty of opportunities for revelations and twists.

Hester is actually quite loathsome and unlikable but there is something captivating about her unpleasantness. Her observations and comments are so acidic and cutting that Hester becomes the character you love to hate. She constantly refers to her dead husband's physiological cruelty towards her which makes the reader prone to feeling sympathy towards her (his continual mocking of her must have eroded her self confidence) and this cleverly misleads us and makes the subsequent events even more shocking. Her lines "it is fair to say I am not a woman with many skills. But I can bake. I am very good with small children. And I have an excellent memory" are so chilling...... Be afraid!

Melissa is not that likeable at first either! Fixated with her appearance, she herself confesses that she can no longer remember "what % of her is now artificial". She also seems full of resentment - particularly towards her husband as she happily runs up a huge bill at the hairdressers justifying it with the comment, "if he's going to behave like on of those husbands, then she will behave like one of those wives." However there is something else going on here; something foreboding and a hint of something more sinister chasing Melissa. She comments on the "uneasy ripple in atmosphere .....the tiny fizzy charge deep in the primeval part of her brain.." She repeats the statements "no one is looking at her. .....no one is following her......no one knows." I liked the description that when she walks out of the salon it is like "everything on the contrast button on the TV is too high". Melissa is haunted by something, hiding something and the brilliant simile of her world being like a snow globe that could shatter at the "slightest push of a finger tip into a million lethal pieces" is so effective in building suspense and incredibly suggestive that I was completely gripped.

When Melissa's foster brother turns up on unannounced on her doorstep, events start to spiral out of control. Melissa has a past she has worked hard to eradicate and there is no way she wants to be reminded of it now. The viciousness that Jamie's arrival provokes within her hints of a deep, dark past- something more than just wanting to forget her humble beginnings now that she is a woman of wealth and comfort with a privately educated daughter living in a huge, immaculate house. What happens next will affect everyone and change their lives so dramatically that none of them can possibly foresee the devastating road of self destruction on which they are now firmly set.

The second part of the novel shows the increasing power and control Hester feels as she helps Melissa deal with Jamie. Her "euphoria" at "saving" Melissa and her calm, rational manner are unnerving, creepy and eerie. Melissa is caught between needing some help and despite hating herself for letting Hester see her vulnerability and for getting so involved, she needs someone to guide her out of the mess she has created. It is a fascinating psychological study of the two characters and a really interesting dynamic. I was hooked.

This book is quietly unsettling. The characters are ordinary people and could be describing any of our neighbours. The situations are not so far fetched that they couldn't happen to any of us - what makes them more interesting is the decision made in the heat of the moment and how this triggers behaviour that had so far been suppressed. It is an unsuspectingly gripping novel and very dark. It's not a page turner in the most obvious way but I certainly didn't want to put it down and read in almost one sitting. I was really quite captivated by Hester and also Melissa was a very complex character. Green effectively manipulated my sympathy and empathy, catching me out with twists, revelations and a sudden reassessment of who was really the most dangerous character.

It has definitely stayed with me.

There have been very mixed reviews about this book. Some readers claim it is too far fetched and that several things push the realms of reality and believability but for me, the story worked and the behaviour of the characters did feel authentic enough not to distract me or stop me from getting caught up in the plot. After all, this is a work of fiction and to be honest, I'm happy to excuse some slightly contrived events if they create a gripping and exciting climax which is definitely the case in "The Woman Next Door". I still think it's worth reading as there is some excellent writing and clever characterisation. This is Green's debut adult novel (she has published several YA titles) and I think she is a writer to watch out for in the future.

I liked the title - it seems as if "woman" is replacing "girl" in the latest psychological thrillers! This would definitely be enjoyed by fans of "Grip Lit". It also echoes Heller's "Notes on a Scandal". And today I will be looking at my neighbours in a rather different light!

My thanks to NetGalley for the advanced copy of this novel in return for a fair review.

BLOG TOUR "The Santiago Sisters" Victoria Fox

The Santiago Sisters
They should have stayed as one. They couldn’t survive apart.
It was fate, forever destined to come to this: from birth to death, two halves of the same whole.
Twins Calida and Teresita Santiago have never known a world without each other…until Teresita is wrenched from their Argentinian home to be adopted by world-famous actress Simone Geddes.
Now, while Teresita is provided with all that money can buy, Calida must fight her way to the top – her only chance of reuniting with her twin.

But no one can predict the explosive events which will finally bring the Santiago sisters into the spotlight together…


This is a melodrama of a read! Bursting with scandal, deception and sex this racy novel is full of rivalling sisters, two very different mothers who both believe they are doing the best for their children and a world of fame, fortune and money - lots of money! 

The story starts on a ranch in Patagonia where we first meet the twins Calida and Terisita. Calida is introverted and satisfied with her simple, out door life amongst the horses, whereas Terisita dreams of a world of fame and fortune. 

Meanwhile, world-famous actress Simone Geddes suddenly falls in love with the idea of adopting a child - mainly because it would be a great PR boost. She is such a monstrous character and her conversations with her long suffering assistant about how to go about adopting are incredulous. 

"Where do you get them from?.....The Internet? .....Are they in a catalogue or something?"

Her motivation is wholly selfish and establishes just how self involved she is. Her imagination runs away with the idea of "plucking a child from poverty to riches....from nothing to having it all....What little girl wouldn't want that?" Indeed! It's the Cinderella happy ending Terisita has fantasised about. So it seems like fate when a wrong turn on a dirt track takes Simone to the Santiago ranch where she is immediately captivated by the beauty of Terisita and conspires with their mother Julia, struggling since the death of her husband, to whist her away to a new life. Terisita leaves thinking it is only for a short holiday, and the abhorrent Simone then ensures that contact between the family is severed by lying to both twins and sowing the dangerous seeds of hatred between them.  

The story then continues to explore this unique bond between the sisters as their lives continue so differently. Their love for each other is now replaced by hatred and each is set on revenge. The novel hurtles along until the storyline reaches a dramatic climax. Fox writes convincingly about the world of fame and fortune that Terisita is suddenly thrown into and shows that such an opportunity to be special and different can in fact become a treacherous path of betrayal and manipulation, cruelty and lies. Simone reveals herself to be selfish with a real sense of entitlement just because of her excessive wealth. She thinks she can be protected by her wealth and fame...........But can the bonds between twin sisters really ever be broken? 

Simone's character is larger than life. I would enjoy watching this film on the big screen! There is quite a lot of explicit and graphic sex scenes in this book - Fox does refer to herself as a huge fan of Jackie Collins and started writing out of curiosity about what it might be like to write her own "bonkbuster"! It's also all part of the hedonistic kind of lifestyle of the rich and famous. Although I did find the story a little predictable in places, it was an easy, undemanding read and would be well placed in your suitcase this summer! It is a vivid story with characters that the reader will love to love and love to hate! A good romantic drama and a must read for any Jackie Collins' fans! 

My thanks to Mira Uk for the advanced copy in return for an honest review and also for allowing me to participate in the Blog Tour! 

Victoria Fox divides her time between
Bristol and London.
She used to work in publishing and is

now the author of 6 novels.

@Mira_BooksUK   @VFoxWrites   #TheSantiagoSisters


For more recommendations and reviews please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacUK) or sign up to receive future posts via email.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

"Today will be Different" Maria Semple

Today Will Be Different

"Today will be different. Today I will be present. Today, anyone I'm speaking to, I will look them in the eye and listen deeply. Today I'll play a board game with Timby. Today I'll take pride in my appearance. I'll shower, get dressed in proper clothes and only change into yoga clothes for yoga, which today I will actually attend. Today I won't swear. Today there will be an ease about me. Today I will radiate calm. Today I will buy local. Today I will be my best self, the person I'm capable of being. Today will be different."

And so opens Semple's second novel. Meet Eleanor. Desperate to keep control over her life as she feels it slipping away from her as she shuffles into middle age and looses her identity (and sex drive) in parenthood. But, try as she might to change her ways, the day has other things in store for her and soon we are caught up in the chaotic yet heartwarming life of Eleanor Flood as she tries to come to terms with her traumatic childhood and estranged relationship with her sister.

I loved the opening of the book. Eleanor's litany of how today will be different was hilarious but also masking a deeper sadness. Semple's writing is good and her use of metaphor really effective. I liked the description of Eleanor feeling like she is "ghost walking" in a "hurried fog"; "the blindness of destruction in my wake." Her depiction of motherhood is wry, astute and highly amusing. I loved her turn of phrase and I loved Eleanor's frank and blunt observations like "Left to their own devices, women would stop having sex after they have children. There's no evolutionary need for it. Who feels sexy during the slog of motherhood, the middle-aged fat roll and flattening butt?" I also related to her comments about "me and my pregnancy brain"and in fact how that continues forever:

"Your good brain is never coming back. You've traded vocabulary, lucidity and memory for motherhood. You're in the middle of a sentence and you know where it's headed, and at the end you're going to need to call up a certain word and you're worried you won't be able to, but you're already committed so you hurtle along and then you pause because you've arrived at the end but the word hasn't." 

As with her previous female protagonist in "Where'd you go Bernadette?", Semple has once again successfully created the voice of an endearing and entertaining character. This time, she is a chaotic, slapstick, neurotic woman juggling a flailing career, comfortable marriage and young child. And as with her first book, I frequently found myself smiling and many comments resonated with me.

I liked the relationship between Eleanor and her husband and felt it captured parenthood with authenticity and insight. Her husbands request that she "climbed down off her cross and made breakfast without the constant sighing" really amused me! I also liked Eleanor's summarising of the days events: "I had to pick up Timby from school. It's a long story involving cheaply made clothing, Chinese slaves and an antagonist with the last name Veal." I also thought the son, Timby, was well constructed and used thoughtfully to illustrate Semple's points about Eleanor's struggle with her career, relationship and motherhood.

Semple writes with perception. It is entertaining and it is funny, it is witty, sharp and fast paced. But there is also a deeper level to Eleanor's ramblings. The second half of the novel focuses on Eleanor's traumatic and sad childhood and her complicated relationship with her sister. The more that is revealed about Eleanor's past, the more the reader understands about her fragile emotional and mental state and the complexities that can exist in families as a result of deeply buried secrets. She also uses the second half to look at the marriage between Joe and Eleanor and all the underlying tensions and anxieties haunting it.

I enjoyed the parts about Eleanor and Timby and enjoyed some of the sections featuring Ivy, Eleanor's sister. Eleanor is a very likeable character but I was less sure about Ivy - which I'm sure is deliberate. Ivy has had a much more complicated upbringing and Eleanor's sense of responsibility for this alongside with her almost obsessive need for Ivy adds a more psychological or philosophical depth to the story.

I enjoyed the parts about Ivy and Eleanor's childhood despite it's sadness. However, there were a few sections in between where I felt the structure lost it's way a bit and I often wasn't entirely sure where it was heading; I found myself getting a bit lost in some of it at times but I think this is due to the deliberately meandering style of the narrative structure which possibly represents Eleanor's cluttered mind. At times Semple seemed to get lost in details that I felt distracted from the main plot a little. There were a few occasions where for me, I felt we were given too much backstory about minor characters rather than the ones we were learning to care about but I think this was Semple's purpose. The book is more a contemplation of themes like siblings and life at 40 rather than a "story". I guess this is where "Today will be Different" differs from "Where'd you go Bernadette?" Perhaps the sense of "lost and found" is more important in this novel than the comic behaviour of both protagonists.

This novel deals with siblings, motherhood, parenting, relationships and life. There are deeper psychological issues lurking beneath the layer of more superficial fun. Semple's use of language proves she is capable of exploring a range concepts under the guise of humour.

All in all this is a readable, interesting book which will definitely leave you smiling. It reminded me of some great comic actresses or stand up comics and has echoes of some other contemporary writers although I do think Semple is more unique and original.

I think I probably still prefer "Where'd you go Bernadette" as I feel it had a slightly stronger plot and was slightly more controlled. But I really would recommend that you do read "Today will be different" as Semple's characterisation is always so well done and in fact they're quite a lot of connections between the two novels. I will still look out for any other titles from this author as I do find her style engaging and I do relate to her female characters a lot.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for an advanced copy of the book in return for a fair and honest review. I have been waiting for this next tile from Semple and I am thrilled I got to read a copy so far ahead of publication - it was a treat!

For more recommendations and reviews you can follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk) or sign up to receive future blog posts via email.

 

Saturday, 23 July 2016

"Thin Air" Michelle Paver

Thin Air

This relatively shorter novel of 288 pages is subtitled "A Ghost Story" and that is exactly what it is! A clever, chilling, compelling read that is short enough to enjoy in a couple of sittings thus ensuring that the tension is taught and beautifully controlled throughout the whole length of the book.

Paver has set her novel in 1935 where we meet brothers Stephen and Kit. They have travelled to India to climb the world's third highest mountain, Kangchenjunga, which no one has scaled before. The brothers are following in the footsteps of an expedition in 1907 when 5 men lost their lives. One of the survivors, Lyell, published his memoir depicting his heroism throughout the expedition as the men battled atrocious weather, misfortune and mountain sickness. Stephen still has his copy of the book with him as a motivational guide and is the reason behind the brother's decision to climb such a dangerous and precarious mountain.

Before they set off to fulfil their dream, Stephen meets Charles Tennant who warns him against going. But he is determined, and it is only as they climb higher and higher and the oxygen levels drop, Stephen begins to fear that Lyell's account of the trip is by no means a true account of what passed between the explorers.

I wanted to read this as soon as I heard about it. "Dark Matter", Paver's previous adult ghost story, had both impressed me and stayed with me - in fact I am easily able to recall images from it right now four and a half years after finishing it. I think this book will have the same lasting impact.

Paver's writing easily captures the style of the 1930s, placing you firmly in that era; her ability to narrate so convincingly in the believable voice of a male protagonist is commendable. I liked the tone and it reminded me of several other very established authors - particularly Susan Hill.

Stephen's excitement and determination to succeed in his challenging climb is palpable. "We are going to conquer that mountain. We are going to be the first men in the world to ever stand on top," he states boldly and as they continue to prepare the enormity of their journey begins to hit the reader. The foreboding atmosphere is cast across the page as dark as the shadow of the mountain on the men. Tennant's recoiling and convulsive shuddering alerts some sense of trepidation within Stephen as he knows Tennant to be the "toughest mountain climber who ever lived." Tennant's almost mad rantings and repetition of "it'll kill you if it can" personifies the malignant nature of the mountain - compounded by the rites of the Indian natives accompanying the trip as they pray for protection from the evil force they believe it to have. From this point the mountain competes to become the most important character in the novel and the more supernatural feel of the book begins to creep its way across the pages.

There is a lot about dreaming in the book. Tennant and Stephen are both haunted by nightmares - again another great technique to enhance the ghostly nature of the story and to blur the boundaries between reality and imagination. It also makes the characters seem as if they are indeed falling under some kind of spell or magical, invisible, malevolent force.

The men's journey begins in the jungle. It is "oppressive ....steamy with the smell of decay". Everything from the foliage to the animals and wildlife is unusual, different, bizarre as well as immense. Again, Paver uses her setting to evoke a sense of suffocation, apprehension and premonition. The men are "like ants,we pick our way around gigantic boulders and over thunderous torrents whose roars follow us up deserted valleys. We all feel our insignificance." We would expect a description of the jungle to be filled with colour, excitement, beauty and admiration but here, it is the opposite. There is nothing friendly or recognisable about this environment. The mountain is remote and you can almost sense it's desire to stay impregnable.

As well as a fantastic description of the setting and environment, Paver also develops the relationship between the climbers. The exploration of the brother's relationship is very well handled and adds further depth and tension to the story.

I can't say any more about the plot or structure without spoiling the book for other readers but it was gripping. I am a big fan of novels where the unease and fear is created through subtle imagery. Paver ensures that her description works a bit like dominoes, layering and layering themselves higher and higher until they completely suffocate the reader in a fog of fear and horror.

There are similarities between this novel and "Dark Materials" but as Paver's writing excels in both and I enjoyed both, this is not a concern for me. It is different enough not to feel in any way repetitive and I think Paver's use of language and atmosphere is engaging enough to capture the reader's imagination and sweep them along however well you remember the previous book.

I would recommend this book to people who like ghostly stories, who like novels featuring male protagonists and books set in extreme locations about extreme challenges. It will also appeal to readers of more classical texts and fans of "The Woman in Black".

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advanced copy in return for a fair and honest review.

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***BLOG TOUR*** "The Deviants" CJ Skuse (YA)

The Deviants

The Fearless Five - Ella, Max, Corey, Fallon and Zane -spent their teenage years exploring and playing together on nearby islands just off the coast line - always inseparable. Years later, Max and Ella are still a couple (from when they were 13) and best friends. When Corey is bullied, the group reunite to seek revenge on the perpetrators but their coming together also leads to a succession of revelations and suddenly the secrets some of them have tried to hide can no longer be hidden......

This is a Young Adult novel but I would also recommend to adults. It is original and fresh and bravely tackles a number of dark, complex issues in an engaging and bewitching narrative which I found enthralling. Within a few pages I could tell this book had a kind of magnetic power and I was entranced by Ella's voice. Skuse's use of simile, imagery and description is quite unique and impressive - highly original and so accurate I found my fingers desperately highlighting line after line while my eyes rushed on with the story!

Ella describes her relationship with Max as "like those really old paintings you see in art galleries....If you look at them from a distance, they're beautiful. A quick glance, it's a masterpiece but as you get closer you see the cracks." They have a very complicated relationship - getting together at 13 after practically growing up as siblings, they are incredibly close; true best friends. Now they are stumbling to negotiate their way through the next phase of their relationship as their physical needs and emotions are becoming more pressing. But there seems to be something deeper holding Ella back - something more than just nerves or self consciousness.

From the outset there is a sense of secrecy and Ella talks about going back to before "things went wrong"; Corey also claims to know Zane's secret. Ella's comment at one point that "I was enjoying myself..It felt odd...It was an emotion I always tried to shut out because something bad always happens when I'm happy," heightens the tension and sense of foreboding that Skuse astutely creates within each line and maintains until the end of the novel.

The use of italics at the end of most chapters was very effective - whose voice is it? In what context are they responding? What have they to do with the story? Where is Ella as this recount takes place? My guesses merely compounded my sense of trepidation and intrigue.

When we meet Fallon, we realise that the group of friends are quite a haphazard, quirky and rather dysfunctional group of young people. Fallon's mother is an Animal Rescue Specialist which also includes euthanasia and cremation and Fallon explains in a very down to earth manner - "we burn 'em....it's good business." They are quite a ramshackle group of characters, full of issues and complications but very loyal to each other and prepared to help each other come to terms with past events.

I have to talk about Skuse's use of language because this was just so impressive and what made me completely devour the pages. For example, Ella's description of her friend Corey is very imaginative. He's already a troubled child before the bullying as Ella tells us his grandparents took him in and "wrapped in him home knits and crisply ironed school uniform." When Ella finds him under attack she describes him as being "curled up like one of those little cellophane fish you get in Xmas crackers" which I thought was incredibly clever. I was also left cowering from Zane (the bully) who had a "scowl that could shatter glass." Later I really enjoyed Ella's caustic words when she said "he gave me a look as if I'd given him a bunch of barbed wire to cuddle." I have never come across metaphors quite like them before; each one shows how intelligent and gifted Skuse is a writer.

The references are contemporary and appealing for a teenage audience. How about when one particular bombshell is dropped and "it was like in Scooby Doo when they see the monster for the first time only we didn't yell zoinks or drop our sandwiches." Original huh?

And I really could go on and on.......the description of "memories dangling before my eyes like gold stars I can't reach" capture the emotional complexity and psychological difficulties they are trying to process. Then towards the end of the novel Skuse's detail of flickering lights and rickety staircases create such fear that reading these passages was worse than watching "The Silence of the Lambs" for the first time!

The ending is just fantastic.

This is a dark, dark novel. It is macabre in places. It is harrowing and it is painful. It is most obviously about cruelty and revenge but there are also plenty of other themes like families, relationships, bullying, intimidation, secrets, love and friendship. However, this is most prominently a highly engaging and compelling novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it and am keen to find out more about this author who seems to have quite an extensive back catalogue - how exciting! Lots more to discover!

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for approving me an advanced copy of the novel in return for a fair and honest review.

Author bio

C.J. Skuse was born in 1980 in Westonsuper-Mare, England. She has First Class degrees in Creative Writing and Writing for Children and, aside from writing novels, works as a freelance children’s fiction consultant and lectures in Writing for Children at Bath Spa University. 

C.J. loves Masterchef, Gummy Bears and murder sites. Before she dies, she would like to go to Japan, try clay-pigeon shooting and have Ryan Gosling present her with the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Find CJ on Twitter at twitter.com/CeejaytheAuthor
Amazon buy link:
http://amzn.to/2cC9rD1 

Don't miss the rest of the tour or check out the previous posts if you haven't already seen them! 


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