Monday, 24 April 2017
Here's an author who needs no introduction and probably just this cover alone will send you rushing out to the shops to buy her latest novel! I will buy any Anita Shreve without even reading the blurb as I know I'm guaranteed a great read and that I will enjoy every single page! I'm pretty sure I've read most of her books - there are many! - and I envy anyone who has them all to discover for the first time!
The Stars are Fire is once again, a guaranteed great read! Set in 1947 in Maine, Shreve quickly settles into her forte of establishing a strong sense of time and place, with an assured and confident use of description. We meet our protagonist Grace who is married to Gene and thinks that in many ways, her family is perfect. She has "two beautiful children, a boy and a girl; a husband who works hard at his job and doesn't resist chores at home." But although on paper, and to others, life might seem perfect, they are not a happy couple. There is a tension and atmosphere between them and the reader does not warm to Gene. He may be affable but his considerateness is do with practicalities and economics rather than love.
"Can a wringer washer save a marriage?"
Shreve is able to establish a very convincing, authentic and always understated, picture of the family and the relationship between Grace and Gene. Everything appears to be something but in fact Shreve hints at something very different - something very subtle that simmers away underneath what is vocalised which makes this story compelling. This is a novel about a woman who faces the catastrophic event of an enormous, out of control fire but in surviving, finds an inner courage, bravery and strength that she did not know she had. The "hook" for the reader in this novel is Grace herself. The Stars Are Fire is a character led story in which we follow the many twists and turns in Grace's life, from harrowing, desperate, happy, successful, fulfilling- and always with plenty of heartache. As always, Shreve's characterisation is compelling, engaging and astute.
The opening pages establish a very clear picture of Grace and the household in which she lives. I learnt a new word - "Grace's house is a testament to containerisation". I loved "containerisation"! It immediately captures the sense of organisation, neatness, order yet also implies something deeper like a compartmentalism of emotions, feelings, opportunities. I also liked the way the personalities of rest of the people in the story were shown. Through her effective, efficient and evocative use of language, Shreve effortlessly creates an intriguing and believable cast of characters. A couple of sentences really stood out for me like when she talks about when her two year old daughter started to talk:
"....short sentences emerging like radio bulletins through static ...."
And although not strictly about character, I loved this sentence:
"Grace senses a question on the table next to the cake plate and its crumbs."
The description of the actual fire is quite overwhelming. The use of colour, heat, fear and shock is incredibly gripping and you can almost hear the fire raging as you read through the pages.
"The splendid maple next to Grace's own house turns orange in an instant, as if someone had switched on a light."
Gene goes off to help fight the fire with the other men in the town and Grace is left to defend her home and then her family. Her quick thinking and knowledge of what to do in this frightening situation was fascinating and this was a very impressive section of scenes. Apparently the book is based on a true story of the largest fire ever to break out in Maine which makes it even more captivating.
Her family survive but their home does not. Grace has no documents, no belongings, no clothes, no anything. She has to start again, awaiting news of her husband who has not returned from his night of fire fighting. From this point on we see the determination, intelligence and quiet resolve of a woman who is intuitive, sensitive, hardworking and sharp. I really enjoyed the passages when she was working at the Doctor's surgery and all she was able to achieve in a mere few hours.
This is also a story about love. Shreve looks at the love between Grace and Gene and then the relationship between Grace and Aidan Berne - a man Grace finds living in her mother in law's empty house and is immediately intrigued by. They are very different and explore so many different facets of the characters and love itself. Throughout the story line, Grace and the prose remains controlled, taut, sparing and multilayered which makes some of the scenes even more tender, heartbreaking and moving.
And just when Grace has discovered ways to utilise her skills, ways to mend her family, mend herself, another disaster strikes. Once again Grace is tested to the limits. The reader is desperate to know whether she can find a way through this traumatic situation and still retain the things she has won for herself, or whether her new future is now fated.
I seriously enjoyed this book. Shreve can tell a good story. She can pick a time, place, situation and character and pull the strings with such precision and deftness that the reader is totally absorbed in a story that explores human nature. I enjoy reading books which place people in difficult situations and use it to examine universal themes like quality, family, motherhood and marriage. But, issues aside, ultimately Shreve writes a story that is engaging, enjoyable, accessible and perfect for curling up on the sofa, reading on holiday, indulging in over the weekend or saving for a rainy day. She is a guaranteed great read.
"The Stars are Fire" is published on the 2nd May 2017 by Little, Brown.
It's impossible to pick my favourite Anita Shreve book but here are some I highly recommend:
For more recommendations and reviews you can follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or my website bibliomaniacuk.co.uk
Wednesday, 19 April 2017
Rhiannon is your average girl next door, settled with her boyfriend and little dog…but she’s got a killer secret.
Although her childhood was haunted by a famous crime, Rhinannon’s life is normal now that her celebrity has dwindled. By day her job as an editorial assistant is demeaning and unsatisfying. By evening she dutifully listens to her friend’s plans for marriage and babies whilst secretly making a list.
A kill list.
From the man on the Lidl checkout who always mishandles her apples, to the driver who cuts her off on her way to work, to the people who have got it coming, Rhiannon’s ready to get her revenge.
Because the girl everyone overlooks might be able to get away with murder…
Ok, so this is not just a good book, but a very good book.
A while ago I read The Deviants, CJ Skuse's YA novel, gave it 5 stars and downloaded another of her titles straight away. Sweetpea is her first adult novel and I really enjoyed it.
But, before you choose whether to read this book or not, I do need to warn you that this is not for the fainthearted or easily offended. Skuse's writing is raw and unrestrained. Rhiannon is a fascinating creation and a character who you will either love or hate. She is damaged, cold, dysfunctional dangerous and not afraid to use the c word.
I think Skuse's choice to use this word is considered and deliberate, and definitely fits with her character. It is used carefully and effectively. It is not used to cause sensationalism or make Skuse seem more 'edgy' or to generate headlines, but I know that some people will find this difficult to get past and so I think it is only fair to mention it in this review.
The event described in the opening is also is shocking and I wasn't quite prepared for the graphic detail. The crime we witness Rhiannon carry out is exceptionally violent. Again, Skuse is using it to show the psychopathic nature of the character; her cold, dead pan way of justifying her actions and her plain speaking way of reporting events rather than trying to deliberately shock us with something sensationalist. But perhaps those of a sensitive disposition may need to be cautious when they start the book!
This aside, the narrative voice absolutely hooked me in and held me throughout the novel. Rhiannon has one of the strongest, most memorable voices I've come across for a while. I did not like her, feel much sympathy for her, or relate to her but I could not stop reading about her. She made me laugh, she made me think, scarily sometimes I agreed with her! She made me squirm and she made me turn cold. A character does not have to be likeable for me to read to the end of a book but they have to fascinate and intrigue me, they have to have a journey that I want to be part of - and Rhiannon has all of this. A hundred times over.
Sweetpea was not a one sitting read, in fact this book took me a few days to read which is unusual. I think that Rhiannon's voice is quite intense and the unpleasant nature of the topics, crimes and characters made it a book I felt I had to have a break from every now and again rather than being able to completely lose myself in the pages for hours. That said, the last quarter of the novel was quite unputdownable. As Rhiannon suddenly finds her life taking a path she did not plan, prepare for or consider, everything starts to change. This not only pulled the rug out from beneath Rhiannon but also beneath me. Suddenly I was unsure where the story line was heading. I had not expected the twists and turns of the last section of the book and was delighted as Skuse continued to shock me, thrill me and surprise me right up until the very last word.
This book truly delivers on all fronts. Engaging characters, compelling plot, an original and fresh narrative voice. Skuse is also a writer whose descriptions show excellent observations and insight about people and society. She is an intelligent writer who has a deep understanding of human nature and human relationships which she conveys with subtlety.
We are reading Rhiannon's diary which is a great structure for the novel. First of all, it is obviously all from Rhiannon's point of view so she can not only control what she reveals about herself, she also controls what we see of the other people in her life. She has a wide range of friends, colleagues and acquaintances but all are brought to life through her scathing, sarcastic tongue. The diary structure also keeps the narrative a little bit more relaxed, often lapsing into less formal prose. Giving dates at the beginning of each entry means there is a sense of counting down towards something which adds more tension.
I also liked that each chapter began with a list. It's a list of who she is going to kill and some of the victims are serious contenders - really evil or dangerous people -but some of the people on the list are added for the hell of it. Rhiannon is not a tolerant person but to be honest, some of the people on her list have no doubt provoked a certain reaction from all of us! Obviously we are sane enough not to take our frustrations any further and rational enough to show respect for the law but clearly Rhiannon is completely insane! I think the lists also helped to create a little bit more lightheartedness. They are people that we've all come across in shops, Facebook and trains so Rhiannon's wry observations and complaints are relatable and will raise a nod of agreement from the reader which cleverly aligns us with this violent character. Rhiannon's ever sarcastic voice is also sharp, witty and funny and this contradiction helps the reader to cope with the more harrowing aspects of the novel. Skuse has struck a clever balance and it works perfectly.
I think this book might get mixed reactions from readers but I highly recommend it. I think it's memorable, original and chilling. I think the main protagonist is an imaginative and well conceived character who is very well handled across a well managed plot that packs a punch with its revelations, twists and monologue of internal wonderings.
I will look forward to Skuse's next adult novel. She is one to watch out for.
Sweetpea is published on 20th April 2017 by HQ.
For more recommendations and reviews you can follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or via my website bibliomaniacuk.co.uk
For once in her life, can't Hannah just have one perfect summer, free of any drama?
Oh dear, no, it doesn't look she can! But she can have a summer full of adventure, romance, excitement and sunshine - as can you if you slip this in your suitcase and treat yourself to a book which is a pleasing mixture of Bridget Jones, Miranda and Anne Hathaway!
If you are looking for a book to pack in your suitcase this summer, then this is the book you want! Admittedly this is not a genre I read a lot of but I do like a story that offers escapism, great descriptions of beautiful, hot places and fun characters who find themselves facing tricky situations. This is the perfect holiday read.
Imagine, you are working away in a firm alongside your best friend from University, slowly building a career as a TV journalist, desperate to be acknowledged for your efforts by your boss - who you also happen to be in love with. And then he invites you to join him (and two other colleagues but that's by the by!) on their next filming trip. And, the location is the very place you and your childhood best friend spent numerous summers. It is a very special place where you feel you belong and only good things happen. Well, things couldn't look better! The sea, the sun, the good food - and plenty of time to show your boss exactly what you have to offer ....professionally as well as romantically! For 28 year old Hannah, this is a dream come true!
The storyline, and all it's various different threads, is handled flawlessly by Broom. She weaves her story together effortlessly and carries the reader along in way that is as gentle as the lapping waves on the sea shore. Her description of the setting and location had me relaxing and unwinding as I could almost feel the heat of the Mediterranean sun beating down on me. I certainly wanted to reach for a cocktail or two! The depiction of the Spanish villages on the hillside is so beautifully evoked it was very easy to imagine and visualise. Broom is so talented at creating a very real sense of place.
Hannah, our protagonist, is also very well created. She is humorous, self deprecating, a little slapstick at times, flawed but also well meaning, kind and loving. Her reflections about her love life, friendships and family are amusing without being vacuous or too superficial. I enjoyed Hannah's frustration when her sister turned up and thought Broom captured the dynamics between the half sisters very well. There is nothing like a bit of sibling rivalry to bring out the very worst in people and threaten the revelation of secrets from the past in front of the very people you are trying to impress.
The two men, Theo - Hannah's boss who she is in love with, and Tom, her friend who feels more like a sibling, are well depicted. Although we see everything from Hannah's point of view, the reader is able to infer much more about the men and their true feelings for Hannah. The reader is able to infer more about what is happening around her and although this can be a little cringe worthy or embarrassing at times, it makes for a good book! Ultimately, we're on Hannah's side and happy to stay there as she navigates her way through the short yet complicated time they are all away together.
Although the premise for the novel may seem quite lightweight, there is more emotional depth to it shown not just through the relationships with between Hannah, Theo and Tom but also through the sisters and the interviews Hannah sets up with Elaine. For Hannah, this is a significant holiday where she is able to grown as a person - as a journalist, a sister and a friend. On the odd occasion she struck me as a little petulant, but this slightly self involved attitude is one we all have but might just hide better. It also suits Hannah's age and social circle as well as reminding us of her naivety and the emotional growing she needs to do over the course of the trip. I also felt that Hannah was gently mocked by Broom for her flaws and bad temper; her telephone conversations with Rachel reflected this well. Broom is obviously very fond of her heroine and writes about her kindly. She uses Tom to tease Hannah when her displays of behaviour are perhaps not so flattering and this works really well, ensuring that we stay sympathetic towards Hannah.
In short, this book gives you exactly what it promises on the front cover. A beautiful setting, plenty of drama, adventure and romance. There is heart break, there is heartache but there is also plenty of heartwarming moments. This is a book to enjoy on the sun lounger, the picnic rug or the armchair. It's a good, reliable, light read. The colours from the cover capture the atmosphere and mood of the story and Broom has once again written a book that is a perfect read for anyone looking for something similar to that of Katie Fforde, Adele Parks, Jane Green or Lucy Diamond. Put it on your summer 'to read' pile and you will not be disappointed.
Then, Now, Always is published on the 20th April 2017 by Penguin.
I first discovered Isabelle Broom very recently when I read A Year And A Day which is set in Prague and since then I have decided to look out for her novels. I think she is fast becoming my go to for an easy, engaging and light read that is still satisfying and still raises a few interesting themes.
For more on Isabelle Broom you can follow her on Twitter Isabelle_Broom
For more recommendations and reviews you can follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or via my website bibliomaniacuk.co.uk
For more recommendations and reviews you can follow me on Twitter
I'm a big fan of Erin Kelly. It's been a while since I read The Poison Tree, which was also made into a compelling TV drama, and of course, who doesn't love the TV series of Broadchurch which Kelly has adapted into accompanying novels. But the real reason I'm such a fan is because I have seen her speak at a few live panel events and was impressed with both the interesting content of her contributions, but also her vivaciousness, articulation and lively presence. Kelly is also a member of Killer Women; a group of not only criminally good writers, but also of totally awesome women!
So I did not hesitate to request her new novel He Said She Said as soon as I saw it was available and was delighted to be approved for a copy!
The cover and the title are immediately very intriguing, suggesting division, that the reader may be pulled between two different characters and told different versions of the same events. Classic components for a compelling thriller.
And that's exactly what this novel is. It is absolutely compelling and it is absolutely thrilling. Kelly has absolutely mastered how to create suspense, tension and intrigue and how to exploit all the classic components of a psychological thriller to full effect.
The reason why her novel is such a success as a TV drama, and why she understands TV dramas well enough to transfer them into novels, must be because Kelly completely understands what makes a story work, what makes it come alive and what makes it a page turner. She knows how to structure a story. She can build pace and characters which ensure the reader is captivated until the final page- when they will suddenly realise they have bitten their nails down to their finger tips!
This novel is about Laura and Kit who travel the world to watch eclipses - the moment when the moon passes the sun and the world is momentarily plunged into darkness. Kit is fascinated by them and owns a huge wall map that has all the future paths of the eclipses marked out for the rest of his days - he literally has mapped out his life through the future eclipses.
At one festival, after having watched one eclipse, Laura stumbles across a violent scene between a man and a woman. She reports the scene. In doing so changes the course of each of the lives of the persons involved; the man who is later arrested, the female victim, but also her and Kit's life. Fifteen years later and they are still living in fear. So much so that they have done everything they can to ensure they are untraceable. That they can never be found.
The use of an eclipse as the central focus for the novel is very imaginative. An eclipse is a thing governed by physics, laws, proven facts but still a wonder and still a phenomena. It is a clever metaphor for a psychological thriller where things are hidden, not always fully revealed and where things often operate against the rules or in a mysterious way. Just as the eclipse plunges the world into darkness, so too can the actions of one person against another. Just as there can be a moment of clarity when the sun returns from behind the moon, so too can there be for there reader once they have witnessed something dramatic. Once the eclipse is over, there might be a sense of a new perspective once the wonder has passed. Just like in life after key moments, surviving dangerous situations, when secrets are discovered or friendships tested. Or conversely for some of the characters, there is a sense of bleakness as the world returns to normal and they are left empty, waiting for the next eclipse. This is like me when I closed the book; bereft and not wanting to return to the real world where there are no more new Kelly books to devour!
And failing all of that, the theme of the eclipse gives Kelly an interesting hobby for her protagonists and an interesting excuse for them to be out of the country!
The novel is structured into five sections, cleverly named after the five stages of an eclipse which again perfectly mirrors the tension of the physical astronomical event with the tension of the storyline. The first section is set in the past at the trial following the brutal scene Laura witnessed between the characters Beth and Jamie.
The court scenes were very powerful. They felt so authentic and realistic I felt as if I was sat there in the room with the judge, jury, the victim, the villain, the prosecution and the defence. The scenes are so well written that I felt the emotion of the characters involved, as pulled and pushed and as frustrated as they were during their intense questioning and cross examining. It is a rape trial and Kelly is brave to tackle a subject which is so highly emotive and highly charged but I have to say this is one of the best court scenes I have ever read. The character of the journalist which hovers in the background was a effective touch too:
"Yeah, it's a rape this morning," she said, with all the detachment of someone describing a routine dental appointment.
The court scenes in He Said She Said did remind me a little of Apple Tree Yard but I found Kelly's writing completely page turning and so well constructed that they were very powerful.
The difference in Laura's perception of the trial and Kit's is also very interesting. Kit needs to see things through evidence and in a "way he can trust; observed through a microscope and coded as data". While Laura's reactions are much more intuitive and emotional. When Laura watches Jamie take the stand the suspense is incredible; the way she watches Jamie manipulate the court room is brilliantly observed.
.........the irony struck me that a man on trial for rape could be so seductive .........as if it pained him to be so unchivalrous......God, he was good.
The novel continues, switching between the present and the past. The present is also split into two narratives; Laura in London and Kit on his next trip to watch an eclipse. I love split narratives, I like time switches and I love trying to piece together a story. I'm not always very good at catching all the clues but I loved being caught up in the nail biting, breath taking, jaw dropping journey as the plot spun and turned unexpectedly like a planet losing it's orbit until finally the dramatic, chilling ending was as stunning as the stars on a clear night sky.
I really identified with Laura. She was so convincing and so well depicted that I was totally sympathetic towards her. She had flaws, she made mistakes and she was tortured by some of the decisions she'd made in the past. She was also scared, anxious and ruined from that one event all those years ago. Kit too was well created. Equally likeable and relatable. Beth was one complex, jumbled mess that kept me guessing, kept me confused, kept me alert and watchful. Kelly's characterisation was brilliant. The dynamics between them all was so intense, so palpable, so real and so evocative that I couldn't help but become embroiled in their situations.
I liked that all the characters had secrets, all were hiding things, all were vulnerable and all were so tangled up in such a complex constellation they would blind any onlooker.
There was great writing throughout this novel. Some of the sentences I really liked were those which captured the theme of stars, astronomy, darkness and light.
...the fear of a few seconds ago seem unfounded, as nightmares always do when the light comes back on....
I also liked the lines which showed how vulnerable people are and how easy it is for a situation to escalate out of control; how sometimes you end up complicating something until it becomes something bigger than you. How easy it is to cross the line....
I learned a long time ago that the moment you start to think about the logistics of an act - even if you're only daydreaming ways you might go about it - you've already crossed a line.
And there are so many lines that the characters cross - boundaries between countries, between time, between friends, between man and woman, between right and wrong, truth and lies.... As I said, Kelly has exploited every ingredient of a classic physcological thriller to write a really gripping page turner.
The ending was chilling. I love an ending that makes you re-evaluate characters and think back on what they said; what he said, what she said...... A final twist to leave you reeling.
For me, this book was as mesmerising as the eclipses it describes. There was the same anticipation before the event, the same build up, tension and excitement before the actual moment of revelation. Then followed the moment of clarity when everything suddenly became clear and finally, the emptiness afterwards; the lingering feeling as you try and process everything you've just witnessed. It was all over so quickly I was left reeling trying to recapture every detail. Hungry for the next Erin Kelly novel!
He Said She Said is published on 20th April by Hodder Stoughton.
To find out more about Erin Kelly you can follow her on Twitter @mserinkelly or check out her website erinkelly.co.uk or her page on Killer Women Killer Women
For more recommendations and reviews you can follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or via my website bibliomaniacuk.co.uk
Sunday, 16 April 2017
Sparkling cocktails, poisonous secrets ...
1939, Europe on the brink of war. Lily Shepherd leaves England on an ocean liner for Australia, escaping her life of drudgery for new horizons. She is instantly seduced by the world onboard: cocktails, black-tie balls and beautiful sunsets. Suddenly, Lily finds herself mingling with people who would otherwise never give her the time of day.
But soon she realizes her glamorous new friends are not what they seem. The rich and hedonistic Max and Eliza Campbell, mysterious and flirtatious Edward, and fascist George are all running away from tragedy and scandal even greater than her own.
By the time the ship docks, two passengers are dead, war has been declared, and life will never be the same again.
So, I loved this book.
I loved the setting. It's July 1939. Rhys starts her story at a point in history where everything is on the cusp of change. Everything that the characters know is about to be disrupted. The world is overshadowed by the threat of war and as the passengers climb on board the Orontes, bound for Australia, they are about to embark on a five week journey that will also change their lives for ever and force them to question everything they know. At the harbour, the threat of war lingers like a dark cloud over the passengers but as the ship sets off into the bright horizon, it out sails the clouds and slips away to an open sea that cannot be touched by the newspapers and the worsening headlines. For five weeks the passengers are almost completely cut off from the real world and the real news. They pick up some updates when they land at various ports but back on board, cocooned on the ship, it feels unreal and untrue.
The setting of a ship is the perfect location in which to gather a selection of very different people from very different backgrounds with very different world views. The ship becomes a place where the lines between class are blurred, where people can create their own lines to introduce themselves by and a place where people can spend five weeks suspended in a kind of limbo between their past and their future. The ship is a place that does not know the truth behind the characters and each one hopes to have left their dark secrets behind on the shoreline. The ship is a new, free space. A place for adventure. An exciting place. A dangerous place.
There is a large cast of characters but there is no danger of losing track of people or getting confused. Each character is so well depicted that they are vivid and alive, distinctive and unforgettable. I loved Rhys' ability to define her characters which such deft and taut descriptions that they were immediately easy to visualise and react to. I loved the range of characters and how each one could provoke an emotional reaction from me. Somehow Rhys is able to create a huge cast of characters many of which are complicated, irrational, unpredictable and inconsistent yet at the same time believable, relatable and for whom we feel empathy. They all have a unique role in the novel and they all have an important message, theme or idea to convey to the reader. No one is wasted. Her characterisation is exceptional. I feel I could talk at length about each and every person who has a role in the story and that alone reflects how outstanding and memorable Rhys' writing is.
My favourite character was Lily, the protagonist. She is complex. She is a girl swept off her feet with the romance, freedom and drama of the ship. She undergoes a huge emotional journey; she has to make difficult decisions, face uncomfortable dilemmas, learn hard lessons about people, society and class, as well as finally confronting some life changing truths. She is sensitive, kind, caring, brave and naive at the same time. She is haunted and she is caught between wanting a new life and yet being restricted by her old one. I thought she was captivating and convincing. I enjoyed her reflections on love, friendship and her social position. I could share her confusion, frustration and pain.
I also liked some of the more 'unlikeable' characters. Eliza was quite fabulous. So loud, colourful, dominating and yet so damaged. And Ida, what a bitter, hurt and misguided soul. The men were also captivating. There was the handsome, the rich, the sensitive and the insightful - none were cliches and each had their faults and flaws which were often very openly on view. The dynamics between the characters was captured so incredibly well. The dialogue, looks and actions between them all revealed - both explicitly and through implication- the many issues tangling up this group of random passengers.
The atmosphere of this novel is totally delicious. Rhys successfully captures the tone and mood of the 1930s. Her historical detail is perfect and the language and writing style of the novel is exquisite. I smiled at the references to Du Maurier and Christie because it reminded me I was reading Rhys and not one of their books. This could easily have been penned by either of these queens of crime and suspense writing.
A Dangerous Crossing is so absorbing, immersive and all consuming. It is a great story that has so much fantastic characterisation as well as a gripping plot. I thoroughly enjoyed how the novel begins as a story about the people on board and the journey through the various ports and countries but then very slowly and gradually, seeds are sown, clues are dropped and complications are alluded to. As the ship gathers distance from England, so also gathers the mysteries, secrets and lies of the passengers. Finally as the ship nears its final destination, there is a crescendo of suspense, tension, emotion and action that is utterly compelling. I was torn between being desperate to read on to the end and yet never wanting the book to end. Although I had slightly suspected the twist at the end, I found that as it started to unveil itself I was torn between wanting to see the whole picture and never wanting the pieces of the jigsaw to fit together. I was on the edge of my seat- albeit a cushion covered, velvet, high backed one because this book is gripping, dramatic, shocking as well as charming, delicious and worth savouring every single word.
A Dangerous Crossing is written by Rachel Rhys who also has penned many psychological thrillers under another name. I have read a couple of her thrillers and enjoyed them very much. But this book, well, it totally blew me away. I am bereft now it has ended and I would do anything to stop the ship from docking in Sydney so I could stay on board with the characters for longer.
This novel is truly stunning. It has the richness, exquisiteness, deliciousness and totally absorbs you in the way a crime classic from Christie and Du Maurier only can but it is also gripping, compelling and chilling in the way only a modern, contemporary fiction novel can hold you to ransom until you've turned the last page.
Yes. I loved this book. Yes, I recommend this book. Yes, I could keep talking about this book. Just be glad I did not copy out every single line, paragraph and scene that I marked as exceptional writing. Then this review would have taken you as long to read as it did the passengers on the Orontes to get to Australia.
A Dangerous Crossing was published on 23rd March 2017 by Doubleday.
Rachel Rhys is a pen name of a successful suspense author. This debut novel under this new name is inspired by a real diary which the author discovered by accident in her mother's home. I also enjoyed the real extracts, letters and telegrams included at the back of the book which show the characters on which this story is based.
A Dangerous Crossing will be Bibliomaniac's Book Club choice for May so do check back here on the 1st May for book club questions and much more! Or keep up to date by following me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or by subscribing to my website bibliomaniacuk.co.uk
Friday, 14 April 2017
All her life she thought she'd been given away because her family didn't want her.
What if the truth was something far worse?
"My Sister" tells the story of Irini, who was given away by her parents at the age of three, whilst her volatile, destructive sister was kept within the family. Twenty years later Irini receives a phone call from her estranged sister to say that their mother has died, compelling her to return for the first time to the family home, and to uncover the shocking truth that has defined both their lives.
As soon as I started to hear about this book, I knew I had to read it so please let me give a big shout out and enormous thank you to Millie Seaward (@millieseaward @headlinepg)! She heard the desperate pleas of this bibliomaniac and generously granted my wish issuing me with a proof! I am so grateful!
The cover for the proof copy (see above) is just about the most intriguing cover I have ever seen and it immediately sent a shiver up my spine. A shiver that continued surging through me for every single page of this novel.
This is one absolutely cracking, chilling, captivating and compelling novel.
I do love a dysfunctional family. And an unreliable narrator. And a character that fascinates and unnerves me. And all in one book? Oh my word. Yes please.
I knew from the first sentence that I was going to love this book. I knew by the end of the first paragraph I was going to have to read My Sister in as close to one sitting as I could. I knew by the end of the first page I had discovered a very talented author.
I mean, look at the opening sentence:
The buzzing of my telephone is like the scuttling of a cockroach underneath the bed.
The beauty of Adam's writing is that in a book that is plot driven, fast paced, complicated and multilayered, Adams also has the ability to take your breath away with stunning description. Amongst the very contemporary and authentic first person voice of the protagonist Irini, Adams can evoke images through carefully inserted phrases which reveal more depth to the characters, the situation and her skill as a writer.
Irini is our main character, our narrator and the sister who we are led to care about. With a few deft strokes, Adams establishes that Irini is a troubled soul. She is physically scarred and physically suffering from a curved spine and a disfigured hip and this pervades her narrative. The impact of her physical issues is significant as Irini assumes this is why her parents decided to give her up when she was three. It also explains Irini's issues with self esteem, how she is sometimes perceived to be a victim and how Elle, her older, estranged sister, is able to use it as her achilles heel. It is well handled by Adams and arouses sympathy and empathy from the reader rather than pity.
Irini is also emotionally scarred and emotionally troubled. She is obviously still suffering from the fact that her parents rejected her when she was only three but kept Elle. Over the years, Elle has made contact with Irini but even when Elle does something to 'save' Irini, any interaction between them always results in devastating consequences. Irini has spent the last few years trying to escape Elle, hide from her, move away and erase her from her life. But she is clearly torn. She doesn't want a relationship with her sister yet she knows she cannot really deny it either. That's how it is when you are family. Isn't it?
Irini does have a partner, but the relationship does not feel stable. It feels as if her whole life is fragile, fraught and complicated.
Ah, yes, complicated. Adams does love a bit of complication. Every one of the characters in the book is complicated and the relationships between the characters is equally complicated. I liked this. I liked that I was constantly being challenged about what I thought and who I was going to listen to. I was intrigued to see where the story was going and what would happen to the characters. I liked that I was never entirely sure what to think of the characters and as the novel continued began to question what they told me or what they proposed was going on or had happened. I liked how the sub plots, revelations and frantic search for the truth became so tightly knitted together that it was impossible to stop reading. Adams' control of the complex threads which pull you along to the stunning conclusion is masterful.
Elle, the older sister, kept by Irini's parents despite her violent outbursts is a very cleverly depicted character. She is unnerving, fascinating, unpleasant and sad. She intrigued me and confused me. I was often thrown by the stories Irini related from their childhood. She seemed to be a good big sister, often coming to Irini's rescue but yet could turn and could sting with her erratic, cruel words and actions. Psychologically thrilling doesn't even come close to describing Elle. Or perhaps even Irini?
The exploration of the relationships between the siblings is fascinating. It is convincing, it is chilling and it is compulsive reading. And there are other themes explored here too; family, love, relationships, death, grief, secrets, physical disability and mental disability.
I enjoyed this book because although it is multilayered, although we switch between the past and present, although we are forever trying to assimilate all the cryptic clues, it is a fluent, engaging and gripping novel.
If you like psychological thrillers then you absolutely have to read this book. It screams psychological and it screams thrilling. It will stay with you, it will haunt you, it may challenge you but above all else, it will shock, disturb and grip you.
My Sister has been compared to I Let You Go and The Fire Child. It deserves this accolade as it is as stunning. Hopefully will go on to win over as many fans as Mackintosh and Tremayne have done - it deserve to.
Totally recommend. Very highly.
My Sister is published by Headline Books on the 20th April 2017.
Michelle Adams grew up in the UK and now lives in Cyprus, where she works as a part-time scientist. She read her first Stephen King novel at the tender age of nine, and has been addicted to suspense fiction ever since. MY SISTER is her first novel.
For more recommendations and reviews you can follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or via my website bibliomaniacuk.co.uk
Struggling to bear the legacy of her grandparents' experience of the Holocaust and her mother's desperate fragility, Sally seeks to reconnect with her brother Steven. Once close, the siblings have become distant since Steven left London, separating himself from their shared history.
"Starlings" reaches back through three generations of inherited trauma, exploring how the impact of untold stories ricochets down the years, threatening to destabilize a coherent sense of self. Having always looked through the eyes of ghosts she cannot appease, Sally comes to accept that -Before- may be somewhere we can never truly leave behind and -After- simply the place we must try to make our home.
Starlings is published by Karnac books in 2016.
Today it is my great pleasure to welcome author Miranda Gold to my blog with a guest post. Miranda has very kindly written about the fictional landscapes in novels and her writing. I hope you enjoy the article.
The Life of a Book: Navigating Fictional Landscapes in a ‘Post-Truth’ World
A writer is always coming up against the limits of language; seeking, stretching, condensing meaning, trying to retain the plasticity of words even as they are set on a page. Print gives the illusion of fixity but words are porous, meaning can shift, mutate, disappear – a writer’s material is living, organic and on the move. For better or worse, words can speak far beyond the page. The landscape in which a writer begins may have changed by the time of publication and the resonances will change with it. This seemed to be the case with Starlings: even when it became clear to me that Sally’s family history of the Holocaust would become much more central to the book than I had previously intended, it was some time before the refugee crisis would come to dominate our headlines. Interviewers and readers commented on the parallels, but I felt cautious. Certainly history seems to be flashing before us and we ignore this at our peril, but no two moments in time are ever quite the same – today’s refugees have their own context and stories that no amount of comparison or hindsight should flatten.
What I did become acutely conscious of as Starlings developed was that I wanted to find and give voice to the individual beyond what they had come to represent – who and what might they have been before they became a number, short hand for those blinding symbols of victim or survivor? Who would they become? The point of crisis strips identity, an injustice that is only entrenched by mapping the past on to the present. And yet a theme key to Starlings is how the past is present, living on inside the characters, inhabiting them with a trauma that could not be heard or processed. This was why I didn’t just want to interweave time frames, I wanted them to cross paths. But my sense was that we must disentangle past from present in order to see the connections – or rather this was something I began to understand through Sally: the past is both inescapable and irretrievable. But for today’s refugees another journey and another legacy begins, one with distinct needs and challenges and comparison with the past runs the risk of cementing symbols and losing the individual all over again.
What does the future look like if we are ever only ever equipped for what has already happened? Is it possible that fiction can imagine another landscape? Could it be part of making that shift from despair to hope? If we can’t imagine another landscape we can’t create one. Start small. Start with recognising individual voices, seeing individual faces, seeking individual words. To quote Tom Stoppard: ‘If you get the right words in the right order you might just nudge the world a little bit.’
Perhaps it is precisely because meaning will never quite stay still that these simple black marks have the potential to translate the complexity and fluidity of experience, catching without destroying its flickering vitality. The beauty and power of language can work suddenly or quietly and its fragility is a part of both: flawed and vulnerable as the lives and characters it hopes to bring off the page. Writing that is allowed to move and breathe gives lie to the impression of permanence. Do we net the butterfly or watch it flutter? If we insist on pinning meaning to the page it loses immediacy, but if it is hinted at with nothing more than a cluster of impressions and fleeting sensations, it may be too easily lost. The writer has to find that point between and hinge there. This precarious balancing act seems appropriate though, a reflection of that deeply human, paradoxical desire to be both safely held yet free. Fiction is to me the most honest of illusions, one that can both admit and transcend its limitations as it invites readers to enter into a world to continue the process the writer has begun – a book does not end when the writer writes the last word, rather it evolves as a reader’s senses are touched, as they engage at visceral and emotional level, not just a cognitive one. For fiction to do this it has to compress meaning – a sentence throbbing with possibility might be the most unsettling but it is the most generous type of writing there is. Meaning doesn’t have to be grasped, unpicked, solved – this is not a puzzle but a door left ajar.
Absolutes can have a beauty of their own – but only when they are truthful, not when they are a distortion that conceals multiplicity. If there is a simple answer surely we must take it, but what fiction can offer is that rare space outside the frenetic rush to free fall into questions where there may be just possibilities, perhaps even no answer at all. We can risk leaving certainty, facts – we don’t have to speed along to the next page. We can engage with the unanswerable rather than run from it, we can do it alongside the characters, against them, through them. We can look into the seemingly impenetrable and tangled ways thought and memory, past and present, collide.
Identification is only part of the reading experience and I think there is a danger in valuing it as highly as we do, compelling us to hold it up against our own template and measure it – where does it fit? How far does it slip? Surely one of the richest characteristics of fiction is that it can take abstractions such as fear or grief or love and shows how they bear their own fingerprints. Compassion – to suffer with. This, surely, along with relating, is just as important as empathy and identification. Yes it can feel both a relief and a wonder when we hear a voice that echoes our own or see a reflection that we never knew might exist. But when Narcissus fell in love with the boy on the surface of the pool he didn’t know it was his own beauty that had transfixed him. If something is too close, how can we recognise it, even just a fraction of distance lends clarity. And how powerful it can be when this supposed ‘other’ is, in a more fundamental way, someone we recognise. Hold the mirror at an angle and the senses are tipped just enough to wake us up, to make us see, as Proust said, with ‘new eyes.’ That is the adventure.
Wednesday, 12 April 2017
This book just looked so deliciously intriguing and atmospheric I couldn't help requesting it.
Maine's first book, The House Between Tides is now on my TBR (currently £1.89 bargain from Amazon amazon link here ) but I had it marked to read since I had first read reviews about it last year, so there was no way I could ignore Beyond The Wild River on NetGalley!
Just as the cover promises, this is a lovely, historical story full of drama, romance and adventure. The characters are interesting, well drawn, well developed and definitely worth investing in. The social and historical context is very well evoked with plenty of attention to detail without detracting from the plot.
This is the story of 19 year old Evelyn Ballantyre who has grown up on her family's estate in the Scottish borders.
"Buried in the rural fastness of a Borders estate, miles from Edinburgh, she was left for weeks on end with only the dullest of companions, an occasional drawing master and an enfeebled tutor who taught her classics."
Her father is a respected magistrate and travels frequently to Edinburgh.
"The world thought well of Charles Ballantyre, seeing in him a man of unshakeable integrity, a champion of penal reform, a generous benefactor who used his money and his influence to further just causes."
But there is more to this man - things are not as straight forward or as clear cut as he projects through his public image. Just as Evelyn works hard to disguise her terror at the thought of marriage and a lifetime of boredom tied to a Border estate, Ballantyre disguises his influence over and manipulation of other people to hide darker events he wants kept out of the public eye.
The relationship between the father and daughter is really interesting. Maine investigates how it changes and develops throughout the novel as events affect both characters which in turn affects how they feel towards each other. It is a beautifully explored relationship and looks at the complexities, choices and dilemmas faced by both father and daughter as they learn more about the world and each other.
At the beginning of the novel, Evelyn fears that her father doesn't consider her feelings or her future, assuming that "she would marry some neighbour's son....and live out her days on a similar estate, while the world passed her by." She has always done her duty as a daughter and hides her resentments and frustrations which are growing underneath. Then one day, an innocent friendship with a servant is misinterpreted by her father as an illicit union. She is mortified and appalled but the consequences of this event are one that she welcomes - the chance to accompany her father to America.
However, initially all this trip seems to do is remind her of her father's dedication to business. As soon as she arrives she is passed over to the care of the wife of one of her father's associates while he goes into the city on business.
"He had remained quite oblivious to her, as he was to anything beyond his own world. A world of business. A man's world."
Evelyn is a fiery character who is refreshing in her attempts to seek adventure in a new and rapidly changing world. But she is also an emotional and thoughtful character. She is reflective and considers all she learns as she tries to work out how she feels about her father and James the more she discovers about them and the more she grows to understand about the complexities and relationships between people. I liked her character a lot. This is an historical novel but her character will appeal to today's readers and is also relevant.
Alongside the story of Evelyn and Ballantyre runs the story of James and Jacko. James Douglas is a servant who disappeared from the Ballantyre estate after the shootings of a poacher and gamekeeper. James was believed responsible although Evelyn had never believed it. When Ballantyre takes his daughter (and their friends) on a fishing expedition to the Nipigon River in Canada, they are greeted by their guide - James Douglas. Now, away from the constraints of polite society the truth about what happened with the poacher and the gamekeeper are set to be revealed- along with the truth about James and Ballantyre .....
I enjoyed the contrasting story line of James and Jacko against that of the Ballantyre family. There is a time shift to get used to but I liked reading more about the relationship was between James and Jacko, more about James' past and character as well as getting another point of view towards Charles Ballantyre. I really enjoyed Jacko's metaphor of the oak tree (Ballantyre) and the willow tree (Jacko). Too long to quote here, but as well as effectively establishing character, it was also a very effective and insightful observation about social boundaries and attitudes to class.
The pleasing thing about this novel is that it has all the charming, interesting and atmospheric elements of a story set in this historical era. It has all the elements of a good commercial fiction novel - but with something extra. This novel is about coming of age, of forbidden relationships, about class and society's expectations but also there is an exploration of integrity, conscience, motivation and self interest. Ballantyne is a complex character and the reader is often challenged about how they should respond to him - as is his daughter. Maine is using the social and historical context to enhance the dynamics and relationships between the main characters and this adds a very gratifying angle and depth to the plot and the writing.
The location of Nipigon is fascinating - as is the description of America and the exhibition the characters visit before their fishing trip. The physical and geographical description is very vivid and atmospheric. I liked that the story took place in a slightly less predictable location and setting which enhanced the themes in the novel.
Maine has placed her characters in unfamiliar situations where the rules and social barriers are more blurred and then watches how they adapt, behave and what they reveal about themselves as well as the social and historical context. They are a long way from home but still haunted by events that happened there.
"How was it that one could feel exposed while at the same time claustrophobic and confused? In this wide, expansive land, she felt trapped."
There are several jumps forward and backwards in the narrative which did take a while to get used to but as I said, I enjoyed the split narrative between both Evelyn and James. I thought this was a charming, intriguing, well written story. There is a great balance of adventure, mystery and tension as well as plenty of character development and emotional relationships.
Beyond the Wild River is published on the 18th April.
Sarah Maine was born in England and emigrated to Canada with her family at the age of ten. A small northern Ontario community was home for the next two years before the family moved south, and Sarah went to high school in Toronto. She returned to England to study archaeology, stayed on to do research and work, married there and has two sons.
Books were always important. She grew up on a diet of Arthur Ransome and Robert Louis Stevenson but also the classics, Jane Austen and the Brontés and, of course, Daphne du Maurier - but now enjoys a wide range of contemporary fiction.
The House between Tides was published in 2016, and Beyond the Wild River in 2017. A third book, Ullaness, is work in progress.
For more recommendations from me, you can follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or via my website bibliomaniacuk.co.uk
I am thrilled to welcome Helen Cox to my blog today. Helen is the author of two fiction books (The Starlight Diner series) and has a lot of experience writing for TV, online magazines & blogs as well as teaching writing. I am so excited that she is coming along to my Write Away event with Leigh Russell for an evening of creative writing! Tickets are available and the link is below if you are interested in joining us!
And so I shall hand you over to Helen who is going to talk to us about "Ideas & Inspirations"!
As an author, one of the most frequent questions I get asked is: where do you get your ideas?
I know people are always hoping for a map to the holy grail of inspiration, from which they can blithely sip and kiss the scourge of writer’s block goodbye. Or perhaps some magic inspiration beans they can grow in their garden and bake into a pie. But even someone superstitious as I would have to concede that the coin I threw into the wishing well at Knaresbrough a couple of years back is probably only 19 per cent responsible for my novel being a hit with readers.
19 per cent tops.
I do think however, there is some magic at work when it comes to inspiration. It’s just not a fairy godmother standing over us and waving a wand. The magic is in the very unique experiences you have as a person, how you perceive them in a way nobody else would or can, and what you bring to the process of transforming those experiences into a work of art.
In short, the truth is often enchanting unto itself.
I was lucky that the first novel I wrote was picked up by a publisher. Many people write upwards of three novels before penning a manuscript that sells. That wasn’t my experience, but it doesn’t mean I’m an overnight success story either.
I’ve written stories and poems and articles and essays ever since I was taught how to write. Never knowing if any of it would lead anywhere. Only knowing that writing was like breathing to me: if I didn’t do it, I would die.
I practised and practised, but guess what? You don’t get paid to practise your writing. Consequently, over the years, I took any job I could find to make rent. I’ve mopped floors. Washed dishes. Cashed cheques. Organised the changing room rail. Waited tables. Pulled pints. Taught children soccer.
My only red line was becoming an estate agent.
I didn’t believe my teeth were shiny enough to sell property.
I’ll admit that a lot of the time I was doing these things with resentment in my heart. Because every minute I spent on these other tasks, I could have been writing.
I didn’t know that the ten years or so I spent waitressing would in another decade inspire two novels. That all the varying, and quirky, personalities I came into contact with in the jobs I’d completed would inspire elements of the characters I wrote about in my stories. I wrongly assumed that everything that wasn’t writing was simply getting in the way of writing. When in fact, it was the fuel for it.
This, I realised, meant it was impossible for a writer to waste time.
You may not use an idea tomorrow or next week but it’s worth trusting that at some point what you’re seeing, touching and feeling today will one day help you tell a story.
***TICKETS AVAILABLE VIA THIS LINK***
For more information about the event click here
To read my Q&A with Leigh Russell please click here
MORE ABOUT HELEN COX
Helen Cox is a book-devouring, photo-taking, film-obsessed novelist. If forced to choose one, Helen’s Mastermind specialism would be Grease 2. To this day, she still adheres to the Pink Lady pledge and when somebody asks her if she is a god she says ‘yes.’
After completing her MA in creative writing at the University of York St. John Helen found work writing for a range of magazines, websites and blogs as well as writing news and features for TV and radio. She has written three non-fiction books and founded independent film publication: New Empress Magazine. She has just moved to London from York and started a new job at City Lit in the Creative Writing Department.
More information about Helen can be found on her website: helencoxauthor or Twitter @Helenography
Follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or my website bibliomaniacuk.co.uk