Wednesday, 31 May 2017

#BibliomaniacsBookClub #June #WhatAliceKnew

What Alice Knew



Alice has a perfect life – a great job, happy kids, a wonderful husband. Until he goes missing one night; she receives a suspicious phone call; things don’t quite add up.

Alice needs to know what’s going on. But when she uncovers the truth she faces a brutal choice. And how can she be sure it is the truth?

Sometimes it’s better not to know.

What Alice Knew was published by Black Swan on May 4th 2017.

Read my review of What Alice Knew here.

Book Group Questions about What Alice Knew:

I had also painted subterfuge. ......I had painted the fragile interplay of power and trust, money and fear, love and mobility. I had painted the portrait of a second marriage. What does the book say about artists? Did you enjoy the role of art, painting an artists in this book?

The novel is written from the point of the view of a woman but the author is male. How convincing do you find the female voice in this novel?

Uneasy lies the head that wears that crown.” Can you have it all? Does success and happiness make you more miserable? What about for the characters in the book?

Part of the reason this book resonates is because it is so relatable. It’s about ordinary people in ordinary situations. It’s very believable and probably captures our deepest fears of what could happen to any of us. Do you agree? Did you find the story, the characters and their relationships believable?

"Lies compound like a debt until you can no longer pay the interest.” What points or ideas does the novel explore about lies and lying?

What do you think of the phrase “difficult truths and infinite lies” and the harm of a “little white lie”?

Is there an easy way to ‘confront’ someone?  How would you confront someone? What advice might you have given Alice at various different stages of the novel?

What was the most powerful theme to you? Truth, marriage, friendship? Loyalty?
Honesty? Perception / expectations? Class / parenting / stealing  / apologizing

What questions do you have at the end of the book – can the book group help you answer them?

What do you think about the ending? What do you think made the author write this ending? How else could it have ended?

Would you ever pick truth over a friendship or over a husband? How hard is it to tell the truth sometimes? Are there lines we should never cross not even to protect those we love?

What do you think about the statement: ‘A mother must give up everything for the happiness of their child’?

What do you think the novel has to say about resilience?

How did you feel towards the other characters in the book? How convincing do you find Marnie?

**BONUS MATERIAL** Questions that TA Cotterell would like to put to a Book Group:

Marnie: “The Alice I knew at school always believed in some larger truth.” To what extent is Alice a victim of/martyr to her beliefs?

‘Instinct is more powerful than knowledge’. How does this idea inform Alice’s actions? An alternative quote to illustrate the same point might be: ‘Don’t paint what you see, paint how you feel’.

And, I suppose the obvious one: What did Alice know?

Quotes from the book which might be a good starting point for a discussion:

Because once you start something, is there ever any way to go back? Once you know something, can you ever 'unknown' it again?

"Life doesn't just 'go on' as the cliche has it. The clocks are reset, relationships recalibrated."

"Life isn't only what you see in front of you. It takes place in the margins, in the lines between the squares." 

“Too often beautiful boys make unhappy men.”

Props to start to a discussion about What Alice Knew:
  • Bring along your favourite painting / portrait 
  • Postcards of paintings from Hopper /Rembrandt /Caravaggio/Picasso /Pollock /Turner
  • Mirror 
  • National Portrait Gallery leaflet  / guide book 
  • Painting equipment 
Venue for the book group:
  • painting class 
  • gallery 
  • café at gallery
What Alice Knew is about art and painting so why not include this in your book club session? Here's a few fun ideas!
  • Think of some famous portraits. What do they reveal about the character? What aspects of the sitter’s character do they reveal that the sitter might not have wanted revealed?
Here's a few to get you started! 

  • What is your favourite painting and why?
  • Take one of the paintings above, or one of your own and write a short story / jot down some ideas / talk about what the story behind the painting might be.
Novels about paintings or portraits: 

RebeccaThe Picture of Dorian GrayMy Last DuchessThe Goldfinch

Novels by male authors with female protagonists

The Pursuit of HappinessON GREEN DOLPHIN STREETRestless

If you enjoyed What Alice Knew then try: 

The WidowIn Her WakeLying in WaitMy Husband's Son

For more book recommendations, reviews and Book Club questions and suggestions, follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or on the Bibliomaniac's Book Club pages on my website

#BibliomaniacsBookClub EXTRA #WhatAliceKnew #AuthorQ&A

What Alice Knew

Alice has a perfect life – a great job, happy kids, a wonderful husband. Until he goes missing one night; she receives a suspicious phone call; things don’t quite add up.

Alice needs to know what’s going on. But when she uncovers the truth she faces a brutal choice. And how can she be sure it is the truth?

Sometimes it’s better not to know.

What Alice Knew is published by Black Swan on 4th May 2017.

What Alice Knew is Bibliomaniac's Book Club choice for June. You can find my review of What Alice Knew here and everything you need to run a book group session on What Alice Knew here.

But this post is a Bibliomaniac Book Club EXTRA! Questions for TA Cotterell himself! Read on for some fascinating insights into the novel, the author TA Cotterell and his favourite painting. Thanks so so much to TA Cotterell for answering my questions and taking part in this special blog post as part of my June Book Club feature. I am very grateful! I hope you all enjoy reading his answers as much as I did!

Can you sum up the book in one line?

What Alice Knew is a psychological thriller that turns on a character and an idea rather than a set of fingerprints and a smoking gun.

What is your most favourite portrait painting? Why?

Edward Hopper’s ‘A Woman in the Sun’ (1961). Hopper captures the solitariness of existence better than any other painter. His people, whether standing naked or playing the piano or sitting at a bar, are always alone, whether they are depicted in company or otherwise, whether it is his wife (as in this case) or a stranger. I hope I caught something of that quality in Alice. In Hopper’s art there is no possibility of communication or interaction, no sense of togetherness. Yet the paradox is that through this separateness his work communicates something to us about the mystery of existence far more powerfully than if there were jovial figures socialising. Often one sees a lonely house or service station, or near-empty bar or café, particularly at night, and a Hopper image leaps to mind. In such a way he creates some sort of communion where there is none.

"What is a portrait if not the opening up of a character, the physical manifestation of the story of a life." [What Alice Knew]

If you could write a story behind the face in one painting (portrait or scene) which painting might you choose?

‘Bonaparte on the Bridge at Arcole’ (1801) by Jean-Antoine Gros

This painting really is ‘the physical manifestation of the story of a life’, and portraiture, as Alice knows, “spares no one”.

Classicism and Romanticism are the twin poles of art history. The former venerates order, reason, drawing, the study of the ancients; the latter energy, emotion, colour, innovation. They are mutually exclusive.

Gros trained under a stern Classicist, Jacques-Louis David, but his sensibility was Romantic. Unable to restrain his impulses he painted a series of paintings, such as this, noted for their dazzling brushstrokes, bold colours, rejection of Classical ideals of composition, near abstract backgrounds, sacrifice of clarity to effect, and rejection of the conventions of portraiture. In such works, Gros became the founding father of Romanticism and looked forward to, and hugely influenced, Romantic masters such as Delacroix and Géricault. A direct line can be drawn (or painted) between Napoleon on the Bridge and Liberty on the Barricades.

David was horrified. From post-revolutionary exile, he poured scorn on his former pupil and exhorted him to return to classical ideals. The sensitive Gros wilted under his glare and, betraying his nature, retreated into a sterile Classicism.

But the world had moved on. Delacroix and his Romantic followers dominated the Salon; Gros (and David) had nothing to offer. That is why this portrait resonates: Napoleon, marching forwards, looking backwards, becomes a metaphor for his creator. Gros had turned his back on his destiny, leaving suicide as the only rational, if Romantic, option.

I would like to write this story because although we are familiar with the external events – David’s entreaties, Gros’ reluctant retreat to Classicism, his suicide – it would be fascinating to try to get inside Gros’ mind and understand the conflict as he slid towards his suicide. The psychological conflict between what someone must do and yet cannot lies at the heart of every story.

This book is written in the voice of a female character. In my opinion it is completely convincing. Can you tell me a bit about how you found writing from a female point of view and if it was more challenging than writing in the voice of a man?

I was not intending to write in the voice of Alice. The novel was originally written in its entirety in the third person. I sent it to agents but the message came back that the story had possibilities but that Ed was too dull. This was a reasonable response to a page or so and a synopsis, because it was reasonable, if wrong, to assume Ed was the protagonist. For the same reason everyone can remember Michael Douglas in Fatal Attraction but not the name of the actress who played his wife.

Of course, I knew Alice was the protagonist rather than Ed because Ed is, for most of the novel, simply a ‘dangling man’ unable to shape events. I tried to raise Alice in the mix but eventually realised the optimal solution was to re-write the story entirely from her perspective.

The re-write was far more challenging as I was forced to confront male received wisdom about womanhood. I was unable to rely on instinctive responses to situations but had to question those responses. I had to reject stereotypes and be permanently alive to the danger of slipping into generic characterisation. This was a good thing as it allowed no writing on ‘autopilot’.

Ultimately, I tried to circumvent the imaginative leap required by writing less as a ‘female’ than as a ‘human being’. Although I hope Alice feels fundamentally ‘feminine’, she is ultimately a human being struggling with forces beyond her control. It is the conflict between what she believes (or thought she ‘knew’) and harsh reality, which undermines her belief, drains her self-confidence and sets in train the denouement.  

Have you ever known something you wish you hadn’t? Have you ever told a white lie that grew into something much bigger?

I know a secret about unhappiness and betrayal in a friend’s marriage that I wish I didn’t.

When I was a child I stole from the village sweetshop. I was caught and banned but was too ashamed to tell my parents. There was a second sweetshop that was further away, which I had to pretend I preferred. Although the lie never became bigger, it became ever more contorted as I attempted to justify why I “preferred” walking further to a less good shop. It was an early and salutary lesson in where lying can take you.

Generally, people are unwise to confide in me. Unless a secret is very important (as defined by me!), I’m not good at keeping it. For a while after university I was a stockbroker salesman. One day I rang a client and told him something and he responded: “Not only did I tell you that… but I told you not to tell anyone.” I realised I needed a new career.

I wonder now if one shouldn’t expect novelists to be good secret-keepers, or if it would be contradictory for them to be so. Their job, after all, is to take secrets and inner lives and expose them to the public gaze. It is the exposure, the breach of trust, that makes a novel interesting.

There are several big themes in this novel for example, truth, marriage, friendship and parenting. Was there one theme in particular you were interested in writing about?

All those themes you’ve picked up were of interest to me but if I had to pick one it would be truth. The lack of truth and the need to keep a secret is both the fount and engine of the novel. Around the time I was starting What Alice Knew I learnt a secret about my parents that made me question how far the basis of trust in a family is eroded if there are secrets. However, I was also conscious that children do not necessarily have a right to know everything about their parents, who are individuals struggling to live their own lives just as the children are or will. It is the conflict between these two conflicting but eminently justifiable positions that pulls Alice and Ed apart.

What question would you like to put to a book group about “What Alice Knew”?

I would like to ask how they found the ending. I believe (I would!) that Alice is a red-blooded, admirable and compelling if not necessarily always likeable character. Clearly the ending loses its power if the reader doesn’t share that view. Yet some readers who are engaged by Alice feel the ending is too open-ended. Obviously(!) I disagree. It is hard to go into detail without spoiling it, but I’d love if I reader could reach the critical moment and shake their head in disbelief, thinking ‘hold on, that can’t have happened’. But then, as they consider the trajectory of the book and the characters, they begin to think ‘yes, that could have happened’ and finally ‘not only could it have happened, it had to happen.’      

Can you tell us anything about your next writing project?

I have started a novel with the working title ‘Prospect Row’, which is the name of a street in Cambridge. The idea was sparked by a line in ‘What Alice Knew’. It occurs when she is trying to extricate herself from having to paint three portraits. The second man she calls, Alex Quoyle, is a property dealer ‘who preyed on old ladies with short leases’. There was something pregnant about that line. It begged questions. Although the book I have started has moved a long way from that character and idea, it is still about a property dealer whose life is going wrong and whose wife (in)advertently makes things worse. There will be a dead body, and a set of fingerprints and smoking gun, but again the focus will be on character and motive, and that little grey area we can all get lost in between right and wrong.

Thank you so much for such interesting and detailed answers. I really appreciate your time and really enjoyed hearing your thoughts. I am intrigued by your new novel and can't wait to read it!

What Alice Knew is available via Amazon and all good bookshops.

Don't forget to check out my blog posts, Twitter feed and website to find all you need to run a book club session on What Alice Knew.

For more book recommendations, reviews and Book Club questions and suggestions, follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or on the Bibliomaniac's Book Club pages on my website

#BibliomaniacsBookClub #June #TheWonder #EmmaDonoghue



Publsihed by Picador Sept 2016 

The Wonder

What is it about?

An eleven-year-old girl stops eating, but remains miraculously alive and well. A nurse, sent to investigate whether she is a fraud, meets a journalist hungry for a story.

Set in the Irish Midlands in the 1850s, The Wonder—inspired by numerous European and North American cases of “fasting girls” between the sixteenth century and the twentieth—is a psychological thriller about a child’s murder threatening to happen in slow motion before our eyes. Pitting all the seductions of fundamentalism against sense and love, it is a searing examination of what nourishes us, body and soul.

Read my review here: Bibliomaniac's Review of The Wonder

What props could you use to start a conversation about The Wonder?

  • a Bible
  • a Religious Icon 
  • a medical dictionary 
  • a diary 
  • a book about Florence Nightingale 
  • pictures and photos of Florence Nightingale and early nursing 
  • a map of Ireland 
Questions about The Wonder:

What are your reactions towards Lib's character? Is she likeable? Did your feelings change during the novel?

What do you think is the most important lesson Lib has learned through her nursing of Anna?

What impression do you get about Florence Nightingale from this novel?

List the motives behind each character in this novel.

There are many who could be held responsible for Anna's life threatening situation. Who do you think is most guilty?

What did you make of the ending?

The novel is about using stories to help children understand the world around them or discuss things which are upsetting or complicated. Were you ever told a story to explain something? What happened when you discovered the truth?

How did you react to Byrne as a character?

What does the novel say about the importance of ritual, religion and parenting?

This is an historical novel, rooted very firmly in a particular time and place. Does it have any messages for today's society? Are there any issues in this novel that will still resonate with readers now?

Which event, character or moment in the book is the real 'Wonder'?

There is a lot in the novel about repetition and interpretation of words and phrases. There is often a deliberate ambiguity or euphemism with some of the words used. Find some examples.

Why are riddles used in the novel?

What is the significance of the reference to the fairy tale Rumplestilskin?

Quotes to start a conversation with about The Wonder:

"Saving lives often came down to getting a latrine pipe unplugged." (page 21) 

"Was there a single aspect of life that this creature didn't see through the dark lens of superstition?" (page 103) 

"Could children ever be considered quite of sound mind?" (page 118) 

"Lib was revolted by this mathematical mumbo jumbo. Was it Anna who was suffering from religious mania of her whole nation?" (page 149) 

"Famileies all had their peculiar ways that couldn't be discerned by outsiders" (page 220) 

"Lib saw the point of superstition now. If there was a ritual she could perform that offered a chance of saving Anna, wouldn't she try it?" (page 260) 

"For the first time Lib understood the wolfishness of mothers." (page 281) 

"Neither the Creator nor Nature should be blamed for what human hands have wrought." (page 288)

"On the whole, we'd rather our days be unwritten." (Lib page 291) 

Where to hold your book group for The Wonder:

  • a bedroom 
  • a country lane / a walk in the country side (somewhere bleak and isolated) 
What snacks and drinks could you serve?

  • Porridge
  • Soup - of a broth like nature 
  • Oatcakes  / Bread
  • Water
  • Tea

If you liked this book and want to read similar novels try:

RoomWe Need to Talk About KevinThe Red TentEve GreenThe Rest of Us Just Live HereA Spell of WinterTiny Sunbirds, Far AwayA Swift Pure CrySolace of the RoadKnowledge of Angels

For more book recommendations, reviews and Book Club questions and suggestions, follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or on the Bibliomaniac's Book Club pages on my website

#RightHereWaitingForYou #RebeccaPugh #Review

Right Here Waiting for You

We used to be best friends… 
Magda used to be the girl everyone wanted to be – most likely to achieve her every wish. That is until suddenly her perfect life seems to be anything but!
Sophia has never regretted her life, sure it isn’t perfect, but being a single mum to a daughter she loves is pretty great. Perhaps she never moved away from home, or got to live out her dreams, but what she has right now isn’t so bad.
That is until an invitation to their school reunion arrives, throwing both their lives into a spin – because these two used to be friends and it might finally be time to face up to that one big mistake that happened all those years ago…
I know Rebecca Pugh through Instagram, her book reviews and blog. I had no idea she was also an author of several novels as well so I was intrigued to read her book out of curiosity as much as from the blurb and front cover!

I confess this is not my usual genre and not a book I might have otherwise picked up but I am pleased I did. It does exactly what it says on the cover - it is laugh out loud and it is a feel good comedy. And let's face it, sometimes we could all do with just that! I read it on a long train journey the other weekend and it was the perfect way to pass the time. This is a great lazy afternoon or holiday read!

I wasn't quite prepared for the opening chapter! It is entertaining and relevant to the story, but also quite graphic and explicit! All I will say is that Pugh writes in detail for several pages about this rather intimate encounter her protagonist is currently embroiled in! It leaves little to the imagination but I guess it's an original and engaging way to open a novel - it works in Bridesmaids and it works here!

Pugh's writing is fluent, well paced, well judged and her characters feel relatable. I think the premise of a school reunion is immediately compelling and also allows her to force her characters into uncomfortable situations which mean they have to confront things they've tried to run away from. It's also a great way to force characters to reveal more about their past to people that they have just met or have only seen one side of them. Above all it is also a story about friendship and I think this is really well captured and written about with the perfect balance of drama, emotion, tension and humour. It is a heartwarming and happy story.

Pugh has a light turn of phrase, knows what she is doing, structures the plot very well and delivers all that she promises from her delightful front cover and inciting blurb. It's a quick read and perfect to slip into your suitcase or overnight bag this summer. One reviewer on Goodreads said the book was "full of sass" and I really like this description!

I don't want to write too much in this review - not because I can't or that I'll give anything away, but more because I think the book can speak for itself. I would recommend it to anyone who loves this genre and loves reading about the dynamics between young women and the dilemmas and problems that face them.

Right Here Waiting For You will be published by HQ Digital on 31st May 2017.

Rebecca Pugh

Rebecca has a high profile on social media and I follow her blog (previously Hummingbird Reviews). I would recommend you check out her book reviews if you get a chance as well as following her on Instagram and Twitter @RebeccaPAuthor

You can follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3

#Review #TheWonder #EmmaDonoghue

The Wonder

An eleven-year-old girl stops eating, but remains miraculously alive and well. A nurse, sent to investigate whether she is a fraud, meets a journalist hungry for a story. 

Set in the Irish Midlands in the 1850s, Emma Donoghue's The Wonder - inspired by numerous European and North American cases of 'fasting girls' between the sixteenth century and the twentieth - is a psychological thriller about a child's murder threatening to happen in slow motion before our eyes.

I was very curious to see what Emma Donoghue would do next after the incredible success of "Room". In "The Wonder" she has returned to the past and to another country but still exploring the emotive and powerful issue of parenting, motherhood, the vulnerability of children and the lengths people will go to for the love of a child. The location, era and premise may be worlds away from that of "Room", but this book is as haunting, psychologically thrilling and unforgettable. I loved it. 

Donoghue's writing is powerful, taut and clever. She uses language masterfully and this novel allows her to play with repetition, misinterpretation, literal and metaphorical interpretation, euphemism and ambiguity. I loved the play on words, the double meanings, the difference between what the characters thought they heard and what was said and the sage reminder of how manipulative language can be. Donoghue also celebrates how powerful language can be - not just through its usage by the characters but also through her imagery and skilful prose. This is a book to savour. 

The historical and social context of this novel is fascinating and allows Donoghue to write about rationality and science versus myths and faith. Lib and Anna's family are direct contrasts representing the medical world view versus the spiritual. There are constant contrasts between what is obvious and clear and the different ways in which it is explained through a mythical angle. Lib, our plain speaking, no nonsense nurse and protagonist, is quick to dismiss the religion, prayer and wonder of the family and community although this is attitude is tested and challenged as the novel progresses. 

I liked Lib a lot. At first she seems hard, too clinical, a little arrogant but as the story unfolds and we learn more about her and more about the world in which she operates, the more I liked her strength, perseverance and dedication. It is her thoroughness, her persistence and her diligence while caring for Anna which leads to the dramatic climax. Lib's emotional journey is immense - it is a real awakening and perhaps even a kind of epiphany. I liked this. Obviously the story is about Anna and the mystery surrounding her "wonder" but actually it is much about Lib and the journey she finds herself on. I liked her wry comments, her disparaging responses to the family, her flaws, her angst and her deep hidden secrets. 

There are so many fascinating comments from the characters that reveal attitudes to religion, prayer, women, nursing and mental health that there is almost too much to talk about in this review. On the one hand this is a gripping, powerful, mesmerising read about a young girl and a nurse, on the other hand it is a complex novel about duty, negligence, stories, parenting, manipulation and guilt. On the one hand the reader is absorbed in trying to solve the puzzle as to how Anna has survived with no food for four months; it is a crime story, a mystery, a thriller. On the other hand it is a novel about the stories we tell each other and how easily these stories, warnings, rituals and scripture can be misunderstood or abused. 

I enjoyed the shadow of Florence Nightingale whose ominous presence was felt on some of the pages. I thought her characterisation was original and intriguing. Lib's own character was so formed by the opinions and teachings of Nightingale it made a dynamic contrast with the local Doctor of the tiny town in which Lib finds herself attempting to carry out medical duties. I think Lib was a great choice of protagonist as she is so different from what I expected. She is fierce and "blasphemous". She emphasises the differences in culture between Ireland and England at this time and captures the tensions that existed politically and socially between the two countries through her character and interaction with the Irish characters. 

Donoghue's evocation of 1850s Ireland was excellent and it was impossible not to feel the dampness of the peat, the darkness of the earth and the hold of superstition, prayer and liturgy over the community. 

I liked that every character had a motive - and not always a very worthy one. Even Lib has a questionable motive at the beginning. Each character appears to want to help Anna but actually their search for the truth behind her 'wonder' is avoiding their own personal search for truth, answers and acceptance. In their attempts to uncover the truth behind what is happening in the O'Donnell household, Lib, Byrne, the O'Donnells and Anna have to confront their own hidden secrets and fears and face some painful truths.  

Just as with "Room" when my eyes could barely read the words fast enough and I kept forgetting to breathe, "The Wonder" is equally breathtaking. It is thought provoking, multilayered and gripping. It is a fantastic psychological thriller and quite frankly, a real wonder. 

The Wonder is published by Picador in September 2016.


Emma Donoghue

Emma is the youngest of eight children of Frances and Denis Donoghue. She attended Catholic convent schools in Dublin, apart from one year in New York at the age of ten. In 1990 she earned a first-class honours BA in English and French from University College Dublin, and in 1997 a PhD (on the concept of friendship between men and women in eighteenth-century English fiction) from the University of Cambridge. Since the age of 23, Donoghue has earned her living as a full-time writer. After years of commuting between England, Ireland, and Canada, in 1998 she settled in London, Ontario, where she lives with her partner and their son and daughter.

RoomSlammerkinThe Sealed LetterFrog MusicAstray

For more recommendations and reviews follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

#FierceKingdom #GinPhillips #Review

"The rules are different today. The rules are that we hide and do not let the man with the gun find us."

Fierce Kingdom is an incredible novel. It's set in a zoo, near closing time. As Joan persuades her four year old son, Lincoln, to leave and they rush towards the exit, she hears something. Gunshots.

They run. They hide. In the next three hours Joan has to use all her ingenuity and instinct to keep them safe. This novel is a exploration of just what we will do to protect those we love.

I knew I would like this book. I was intrigued by the words zoo, child, run and hiding. I've spent a lot of time at our local zoo with my young children so my imagination was already running away with me before I'd even started reading.

What I didn't know was how this book would totally take over my life for the time it took me to read. And how stunned I would feel at the end.

This book is outstanding.

The chapters are headed with a time. We start at 4.55pm and move forward, each section only a few minutes on. The last chapter is 8.05pm. Three hours and ten minutes over 273 pages. That's almost real time isn't it? You are almost reading Joan's story in real time. You are literally there with her, for very minute, for every ticking second that passes and that was the one thing that I found really striking about this novel.

I generally read quite quickly, but this book took me a long time - well, at least as long as 3 hours and ten minutes. I couldn't read it quickly. I couldn't rush through what was happening. I couldn't skim on to see what decision Joan made next. I couldn't and I didn't want to. I had to be there with Joan; listening out for every creak, every breath, deliberating with her as she weighed up her options, waiting with her as watched in the hope for a text message to come, holding my breath for as long as she did in case her son made a noise.

This novel is powerful and it is intense. But it is also gripping and compelling in a way I did not expect. The story is told in third person which helps give the reader some distance from Joan and perhaps prevent it from becoming too overwhelming. Despite the set up of the story, the writing is calm, measured, reflective and deliberate. There is nothing gratuitous in this novel and even though it happens over a very short, specific period of time, it is not a page turner in the traditional sense. Just as Joan's dilemma's weigh heavy on her mind, the words weigh heavy on the page. I could not turn away from it. I couldn't put it down.

Joan is a great protagonist. She is a very good mother. The bond between her son Lincoln and herself are incredibly strong - perhaps only in this desperate situation do we really appreciate how well a mother can read her child, manipulate her child to cooperate and to what lengths she'll go to to protect her child. But she is flawed. She has thoughts that she is ashamed of and that she is confused by. She makes choices that don't sit well and that in normal circumstances may lose her sympathy from the reader but her maternal instinct is so palpable, so strong and so consuming that the reader is totally with her for every minute that ticks by.

This is an incredibly well judged novel. The characters are convincing and behave in a believable way as they deal with the horrific situation they find themselves in. The setting of the zoo is so unusual and gives so much scope for the author. It's a setting everyone can relate to and where even taking refuge and finding hiding places runs further risks because of the animals that share this space with the characters.

Ultimately Fierce Kingdom is a fantastic thriller. A book that will leave you breathless and which continually makes the reader wonder what they might have done if they were Joan. It is a very readable, compelling story that will grab you and hook you in quickly. It is also a novel that asks some difficult questions; that explores a deeper, more hidden level of themes which include motherhood, nurture, responsibility, choices, heroism and gun crime.

Fierce Kingdom is beautifully written. Phillips captures Joan's half formed thoughts, her flashbacks and glimpses of memory that haunt her as she contemplates her situation. Phillips captures Lincoln effectively and his dialogue works. She introduces a few more characters to diffuse the claustrophobic tension and change the point of view, allowing us to leave Joan for a few moments and see what else is going on.

I didn't find this book traumatic to read. I didn't feel it was sensationalised or predictable. I was more moved by the relationship I formed with Joan and with her maternal instincts. I was more moved by the prose and writers use of language.

My proof copy is riddled with underlined phrases, notes, asterisks and comments. I want to reread it all over again. It's an outstanding book. It is a thriller but perhaps not in the way you are expecting. It is emotional. It will stay with you.

I want to end with a quote from Gin Phillips as I think I'd rather use her words than attempt using my own inadequate ones.

"As a mother of a five year old, I realised that every story I considered writing seemed to lead back to motherhood. No other subject seemed quite so compelling or complex. No other subject had the power to move me, terrify me, or make me laugh quite as much. For me, the novel is ultimately about what it means to be a parent. More than that, it's a look at the ways we are bound together, whether we are strangers or family."

The PR material that accompanied my proof copy compares this novel with Room and We Need To Talk About Kevin. I would agree.

Fierce Kingdom is published on 15th June 2017 by Doubleday


Gin Phillips grew up in Montgomery, Alabama. After earning a degree in political journalism, gin worked as a freelance magazine writer for nearly a decade. She's lived in Ireland, Thailand, New York and Washington, D.C. 
Fierce Kingdom is her debut thriller. 

I am going to write a more detailed post about this book in the summer as it will make a fantastic book group read so look out for this. Keep up to date with my posts by signing up to receive my post via email, following me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or via my website


Monday, 29 May 2017

#OneOfUsIsLying #KarenMcManus #Review

One Of Us Is Lying

Pay close attention and you might solve this.

On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.

Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.

Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.

Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.

Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.

And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.

Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. 

Before the end of detention Simon's dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?

Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

I thoroughly enjoyed this excellent read! With overtones of Gossip Girl, The Breakfast Club and We Were Liars, this is an engaging and gripping read that really captures the essence of being a teenager and life at High School. I know I am not the target audience for this Young Adult novel (although in my head I am only 17 and my guilty pleasures are binge watching "Pretty Little Liars" and "Gossip Girl"), I think we can all relate to stories set in school that involve the complex dynamics and invisible rules that govern the playground.

This book has a great premise. Someone dies from drinking a glass of water. It's that simple and that complicated. How can someone die from drinking water? No weapons, no natural disasters, no illness, nothing supernatural or untoward. Just water.

And then, the next day, tweets appear with a confession to murder........and the threat of revealing more hidden secrets about the other students that were in the room - the only people that can be responsible for the death.......

How could you not want to read on?!

McManus's novel embraces the current issues of social media and teenagers as well as exploring how much more complicated - or thrilling!- a murder investigation can become with the runaway power of Twitter and Facebook. The immediacy, anonymity, the speed and uncontrollable far reaching-ness of social media is captured in the novel and used effectively to create tension, suspense and pace for each of the characters. It's a modern novel for modern teenagers but it also explores more universal themes of peer pressure, fitting in, what is real and what is an illusion, secrets and blackmail. Despite its simple and direct language there is much that wrestles beneath the surface in this story which is why it is so much more compelling and so much more intriguing than just a melodramatic extended episode of a teen drama.

I must confess I also enjoyed the dry voice of the teacher at the beginning. The teacher's punishment to remove the students' devices from them is seen as the most unreasonable request and their horror at using pen and paper is entertaining. I liked the teacher's comment about “exploring the  magic of longhand writing. It’s a lost art.” Perhaps that shows my age and perhaps my alienation from this age group! 

There are overtones of films and books that have come before this but to be honest I don't see that as negative. In my opinion to be compared to films as iconic as Breakfast Club can only be a compliment and I'm sure this book will attract as much fandom and success as that film did in its time. The teenage voices are as astute and as candid and the random selection of characters is immediately intriguing. As is the role of Simon who immediately appears to have an ulterior motive or some kind of hidden knowledge that will have repercussions fro the group. 

“She’s a princess and you’re a jock….you’re a brain. And you’re a criminal. Youre all walking teen-movie stereotypes”
"Who are you?"
“I’m the omniscient narrator,” says Simon

Simon is unlikeable, isolated and he doesn’t fit in. He doesn't he want to fit in. He causes problems,- deliberately - and enjoys stirring up trouble with his social media app that reveals gossip to the whole school. He feels like he is a kind of puppet master and a bit untouchable, and yet he is the one who ends up dead........

"It’s eight-fifty am on Tuesday, and twenty-four hours ago Simon was going to homeroom for the last time. Six hours and five minutes from then we were heading to detention. An hour later, he died."

The novel then follows the four characters in the subsequent days as the investigation into Simon's death continues. It is clear that they all have secrets and they all have motives. The writing is taut and I liked the way McManus dangled hints and insinuations that kept me turning the page.

"There’s only one thing Simon might have written about me, but it would have been almost impossible to find out."

As the blurb says, pay attention and you may solve this riddle! The reader is invited to try and piece the jigsaw together, invited to try and peel back the layers and work out who is hiding what and who is a reliable narrator. And then to further complicate matters, anonymous tweets appear which send ripples through the entire school community. 

"I got the idea for killing Simon while watching Dateline." 

"Let’s face it: everyone at Bayview High hated Simon. I was just the only one with enough guts to do something about it. You’re welcome."

McManus has tapped it to some great classic themes in this novel. The most obvious being secrets and the fear of being exposed, how everyone has them and how far people will go to protect them. There is also the fact that the narratives are first person and therefore we are never quite sure who to believe. It's a great High School novel and would make a great film!

Perhaps the only small thing I found a little tricky was the fact that all the four narratives were in first person. Each section is clearly headed with who is narrating that section and although the voices are different, it did require me to pay full attention!

That said, I would like to congratulate McManus on the authenticity of her voices. I appreciate I’m not a teenager or perhaps the target audience for this book so my idea of authentic might not be quite right, but the importance of getting the voice right in a novel is imperative - and difficult! I think the challenges of finding authenticity in a young voice is often underestimated. To write convincingly as a teenage voice - or five!- which will resonate with its audience, feel fresh, original and realistic is a real challenge. It is incredibly well done here and everything felt very believable and relatable.

This novel will appeal to teenagers or anyone who loves a story about enemies, secrets, popularity contests, negotiating friendships and relationships and that time when you are caught between the adult and child world. It has huge appeal and it's a succinct, quick, well paced read that you should defiantly make time for! 

All in it's a good jigsaw, a good puzzle, all the characters have to come to terms with something and confront something in their lives. The variety of characters and their problems is well judged and the short chapters help to maintain tension and suspense throughout the novel. 

One Of Us Is Lying is published by Penguin on 1st June 2017.


Karen M. McManus


For more recommendations and reviews you can follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or via my website

#GuestPost #SueMoorcroft #JustForTheHolidays #ResearchingYourStory

Just for the Holidays

In theory, nothing could be better than a summer spent basking in the French sun. That is, until you add in three teenagers, two love interests, one divorcing couple, and a very unexpected pregnancy.

Admittedly, this isn’t exactly the relaxing holiday Leah Beaumont was hoping for – but it’s the one she’s got. With her sister Michele’s family falling apart at the seams, it’s up to Leah to pick up the pieces and try to hold them all together.

But with a handsome helicopter pilot staying next door, Leah can’t help but think she might have a few distractions of her own to deal with…

Today I am delighted to welcome Sue Moorcroft to my blog. Sue is coming along to my Summer Scorchers Author Event in June where she will be chatting about her new book Just for the Holidays and forthcoming novel Just for Fun which will be out in August. 
Just For The Holidays features a rather handsome Helicopter pilot who has had an unfortunate crash. How did Sue research for this character? She got in a helicopter and crashed it. No, really. She did. That is taking research for writing very seriously! I needed to know more! So here is Sue, telling us just what lengths she will go to for her novels and her characters!

The lengths a novelist will go to …
When I posted on Facebook that I was beyond excited because a pilot was going to take me up in a helicopter and pretend to crash it, I received around 70 comments.
The majority of them said, ‘You’re mad!’
But they were all wrong. I was thrilled.
My hero Ronan Shea in Just for the Holidays is a helicopter pilot recovering from a shoulder injury after a forced landing. During my research, I was lucky enough to be introduced to Martin Lovell who owns a helicopter maintenance company, SkyTech Helicopters, and is also the company’s test pilot.
If the engine begins to fail in a single-engine helicopter the pilot has to take prompt action because he can’t park in mid-air. When Martin offered to take me up and demonstrate how the pilot retains full control via the art of ‘autorotation’, bringing the aircraft down at such an angle that the air passing over the rotor keeps it going, I could not believe my luck. I love helicopters and had always wanted to be flown in one. That my first flight was a pretend-crash deterred me not one whit.
I arrived at the airfield on a beautiful day. We walked through the hangar to the black Hughes 500 helicopter in need of a test flight. Martin performed the pre-flight checks and suddenly the door was opened and I was invited inside . . .
Martin strapped me into my seat and gave me a set of headphones and began a running commentary on the instrumentation and which switches he was flicking and why. The engine started and the whump whump whump as the rotor began to turn became faster and faster until the blades were a blur above us. A little hover, then we were turning, tip-toeing across the grass to the runway.
I don’t fully remember the take off. We just whooshed along and up and somehow we were above a village, above a reservoir, above the fields. The Hughes has great visibility, including what’s passing below your feet. Apart from this all-round vision and the fact that we were whizzing along at altitude, the cockpit felt a bit like a car – comfortable leather seats, a heater and a sat nav – but with a lot more banking and swooping.
Once up at 2000 feet Martin told me he would begin the autorotation. He wouldn’t actually switch off the engine (prudent of him) but would proceed as if he had. The RPM died, there was a fast initial drop then we swooped down on a diagonal flight path towards the ground.
It came up to meet us VERY quickly!
At the point where coming down to earth with a bump seemed almost inevitable, Martin ‘flared’ the aircraft and halted the momentum as surely as if he’d been able to apply brakes. In a real autorotation, he would then have performed a run-on landing and the helicopter should have sat down nicely on its skids (unless, as in Ronan’s case, a hidden land hazard was there to trip the helicopter up).
‘All right?’ Martin asked.
I gibbered something like, ‘Yes! That was fantastic! Amazing! Wow! That was fantastic-amazing-wow. That was really fantastic-amazing-wow.’
He turned us around again. ‘Now we’ll do it a bit more realistically, as if the engine’s cut without warning and the pilot has to act fast. That was just a gentle mock up.’
Up we went again. And wheeeeeee! We swooped down to Earth a lot more rapidly this time. Someone in the cockpit went ‘WHOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!’ and I don’t think it was Martin.
He pulled up at about ten feet and recreated the run-on landing this time. His accuracy was amazing because when we turned and flew back I could see the parallel lines where the skids had parted the longish grass but not touched hard ground.
Pretending to crash in a helicopter was truly awesome. I was exhilarated but never scared. I felt totally secure in the skill of the pilot.
I assumed that we’d pootle back to the hangar but instead we circled up again and flew on (ground speed about 100 knots, so not so much of a pootle) over the town where I went to senior school and over a supermarket my mum had texted me from an hour before, picking out churches and a golf course, ticking off the villages as we flew over them to the town where I now live. We circled over my house and then headed back to base.
I think it took about three minutes to get back to the airfield, a trip that had taken me twenty by car. We flew low-level along the runway so I could get an idea of what speed really feels like in a helicopter (rushy), then came back around and landed tidily outside the hangar.
Everything went quiet . . . apart from my heart, which was still whirring at full knots.
Pretend-crashing in a helicopter? Awesome.

JUST FOR THE HOLIDAYS by Sue Moorcroft was published on May 18th 2017 by Avon

You can buy a copy here

You can read my review for Just for the Holidays here

Sue Moorcroft

Tickets for Summer Scorchers have sold out but check my blog for reviews and write ups of the evening. You can follow my blog, visit my website or follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3

See below for my future events for which tickets are still on sale!

If you missed out on tickets for Summer Scorchers - don't miss out on tickets to my next events! Real Life Real Books in in July - link for tickets below and more details on website:

And this event in June is free, but due to limited spaces you need to reserve your space using the link below the poster: