The Man I Became by Peter Verhelst – Review

Published by Peirene Press

Publication date – 9 February 2016

Source – review copy

Translated by David Colmer

man_i_became_web_0

“Huxley’s Brave New World meets Orwell’s Animal Farm.

An impressively entertaining tale about the frailty of our civilization by the leading Flemish writer Peter Verhelst, now for the first time in English.

Warning: this story is narrated by a gorilla. He is plucked from the jungle. He learns to chat and passes the ultimate test: a cocktail party. Eventually he is moved to an amusement park, where he acts in a show about the history of civilization. But as the gorilla becomes increasingly aware of human weaknesses, he must choose between his instincts and his training, between principles and self-preservation.”

I received a copy of this book from the publishers and this is my honest opinion of the book.

This is heart-wrenching and anger inducing from its opening pages. The family of gorillas, happy in their mountain home are dragged violently from all they have known. They are taken overseas to a facility that teaches them how to be human. They learn to walk upright without using their hands to balance. They are taught to talk, to wash and shave and eat and drink like a human. They are tested by attending a cocktail party where they have to mingle with other guests. Guests who, in a previous existence, it would have been more instinctive to flee from than drink with. Our narrator is then moved to Dreamland, an amusement park of epic proportions. He is part of the show, there to entertain the human masses who come to wonder at the abilities of these ‘nearly’ humans.

There is, however, nothing cartoonish or sweet about the anthropomorphism of the animals in this book. I read it with a sense of nagging sorrow and anger. Yes it is an exaggerated tale of the whims and follies of the human ego but it has the underlying message of the unconscionable actions of some humans to control everything else that shares the planet with us.

There is of course a danger to imposing our human traits on other animals. We know that animals can feel fear so it is easy to imagine that other species can love, can feel anger, regret and other human emotions. There is also the possibility of passing on the human ability to destroy, both ourselves and the world around us. As this tale shows.

There is little more I can say about the plot of this story without giving it away; at 120 pages you may think it could be lacking on story. It is not. Though it may be short on word count, the words that are used are used to great effect.

The translation is well done. It may sound a tad unfair to the translator but I believe that a good translation is one that is not obvious. If it feels like the words have come from the author then in my opinion the translator has done their job well. This was the case with this book.

The Man I Became is published under Peirene’s Fairy Tale theme. There is indeed a fairy tale like quality to this novella, but with a darker Grimm like edge to it. Peirene only publish books that are less than 200 pages long and that can be read in less than 2 hours. 2 hours that won’t be wasted.

This is a thought-provoking tale of the dangers of the human ego and the desire to control everything we can, and of the frailty that can lead to. Well worth a read.

 

 

9 Comments

Filed under Reviews

Under the Reader’s Radar – celebrating the quiet novel

There are thousands upon thousands of books published each year. Only a small percentage of those make it to the best-seller list. That doesn’t mean that the rest aren’t worthy of reading. It may be that they are written by self-published authors who don’t have the marketing knowledge or a small independent publisher who doesn’t have the marketing budget to spread the word. Even the larger publishing houses have a limited marketing and publicity budget so can’t promote all the novels they publish to an equal degree.

I’m part of a wonderful online community called Book Connectors where bloggers, reviewers and authors can discuss all things book related. During one of the threads there was mention of ‘quiet’ books, the ones that miss out on the big publicity push. It was agreed that it was such a shame that certain books weren’t as widely read, as the reading public were missing out on hidden gems. So that sparked a germ of an idea and I decided to do a series of posts highlight titles that myself and other bloggers and authors feel may have gone under the reader’s radar. (That’s was the working title for this series of posts and as inspiration hasn’t struck me with anything better, its the one I’m going with for now).

So in each post I’ll aim to highlight a couple of titles that may have been missed from your reading awareness. Hopefully you’ll discover a treat or two. And please do let me know if you have any books you’d like to suggest.

Today’s choices are both from blogger Anne Cater. Anne blogs at Random Things Through my Letterbox and is the type of blogger I aspire to be. Please do check out her blog to see more of her great reviews.

Anne’s first choice is The Girl In The Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold ~ Published in 2008 by Tindal Street Press.

51-1FP4hwRL._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_

“Beloved writer Alfred Gibson’s funeral is taking place at Westminster Abbey, and Dorothea, his wife of twenty years has not been invited. Gibson’s will favours his many children and secret mistress over Dorothea – who was sent away from the family home when their youngest was still an infant. Dorothea has not left her apartment in years, but when she receives a surprise invitation to a private audience with Queen Victoria, she is shocked to find she has much in common with Her Highness. With renewed confidence Dorothea is spurred to examine her past and confront not only her family but the pretty young actress Miss Ricketts.”

Here’s what she has to say:

“I really enjoyed every page of this first novel by Gaynor Arnold, this was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and it should have won!

Dorothea, widow of Alfred Gibson narrates the story. Alfred was the most famous novelist of Victorian times and much loved by the British public. The story opens on the day of his funeral – to which Dorothea was not invited. They have lived apart for many years and Dorothea has been banished to a small London house. Whilst the rest of the country mourns Alfred’s passing, she reflects on her life with him.

Alfred is based on Charles Dickens and as far as I know, the author has stuck quite closely to his actual life and family story. He was a lively, high spirited young man who spent his life writing for his adoring public. Not only did he produce many books, but he and Dorothea had a very large family.

Gaynor Arnold writes in her acknowledgments that she has fictionalised many scenes, added some characters and removed some of them. Dorothea thinks back to when Alfred was a young man in love, a doting father and a friend to many.

After Alfred’s death Dorothea encounters many problems with her family, with money and her layabout no-good son-in-law, she also goes off to meet with another new widow – Queen Victoria. Eventually Dorothea plucks up the courage to meet with her estranged sister, the woman who stayed with Alfred until his death, and also the young actress who was Alfred’s mistress – or was she?

This is an exceptionally well written novel, I knew nothing about Charles Dickens private life and it probably works best that way. It is full of detail about Victorian life, yet never stuffy or old-fashioned. A really easy read – I loved it”.

Anne’s second book she would champion as one which hasn’t received the attention it deserves is Carry Me Home by Terri Wiltshire ~ Published in 2010 by Pan MacMillan.

9780230755789Carry%20Me%20Home_4

“Lander, Alabama, 1904. When young Emma Scott claims she has been raped by a ‘black hobo’, a chain of events is triggered that will affect generations to come.

In modern-day Lander, Canaan Phillips has fled her abusive husband and returned to Lander and her fierce Southern Baptist grandmother, who brought her up after her mother’s suicide. Canaan’s one friend during her childhood was her grandmother’s simple brother, Luke. Now frail and elderly, Luke is still living in the corncrib shack that has been his home for thirty years.

In early-twentieth-century Lander, Emma Scott has taken an instant and violent dislike to her new child – a white-skinned boy named Luke. Abused and neglected, Luke eventually befriends Squeaky, a black boy whose family farms nearby. When tragedy strikes, Luke takes to the railroad, and as he enters manhood on the rails, we begin to discover the truth behind the events that led to his birth.

In the twentieth century, Canaan, too, is slowly coming to terms with her painful past. And, with the help of her adored Uncle Luke, she is learning to love again.

This is a heart-rending and luminous story about loyalty, hardship, love and friendship. It is also a reminder that goodness can prevail even through the cruellest hardships.”

Anne has this to say about Carry Me Home.

“There are some books that evoke the strongest of emotions in a reader, for me, this was not just a story to read, but a bit of a roller-coaster of an emotional trip too. It’s only February, but I may have already found my ‘book of the year’. It really is a wonderful, wonderful novel and I’d happily recommend it to everyone.

This really is a stunning piece of work, full of characters who will remain in my mind for quite a while yet, alongside a complex and involved plot line that flows beautifully back and forth from modern day to the past”.

You can read Anne’s full review here.

So two books that I was not familiar with but which sound intriguing. I hope you’ve discovered some new hidden literary gems lately. Do share them if you have:-)

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

The Missing Hours by Emma Kavanagh – Review

Published by Century

Publication date -21 April 2016

Source – Net Galley

cover_jpg_rendition_460_707

“A woman disappears
One moment, Selena Cole is in the playground with her children and the next, she has vanished without a trace.

A woman returns

Twenty hours later, Selena is found safe and well, but with no memory of where she has been.

What took place in those missing hours, and are they linked to the discovery of a nearby murder?

‘Is it a forgetting or a deception?’ “
Read more on the Penguin website.

I received a copy of this book from the publishers via Net Galley and this is my honest opinion of the book.

Selena Cole vanishes from a playground, leaving her two young children alone. DC Leah Mackay is looking into her disappearance but time is against her. A murder has just taken place and she’s be called in to investigate, leaving her no time to look for Selena, even though there is no clue to her whereabouts. Meanwhile Leah’s brother DS Finn Hale is the lead detective on the murder case; the victim a local criminal solicitor. Selena returns unhurt 20 hours after she has disappeared, claiming no recollection of the intervening hours. Is there any connection between her disappearance and the murder that occurred during those missing hours?

This is the third novel by Emma Kavanagh and after reading and loving the first two I couldn’t wait to read this intriguing sounding story.

I was familiar with the kidnap and ransom industry, the kidnapping of people for profit, the insurance that can be obtained to cover it and of the companies who are called in to negotiate release, for the right price. (Not, I hasten to add through any nefarious means, simply because I watch too many crime dramas and read too many crime novels). It was fascinating to see the K&R industry dealt with in this novel, it is in general a little known area of criminal activity and makes for an interesting story angle.

I had figured out early on in the novel one of the story arcs. I spent many a happy moment metaphorically shouting at Leah and Finn, muttering ‘it’s obvious that … has happened, why can’t they see it…’ In fact I spent so much time merrily berating the police and enjoying seeing the story unravel as I had smugly predicted that I forgot about the other story arc and was completely surprised by the reveal. Don’t take this to mean that the story was obvious however. It’s just I enjoy hurriedly going through all the potential permutations of what could have happened in a story and like to challenge myself to work it out as quickly as possible. I have enormous fun figuring out ‘whodunit’ in a novel, as was the case with this story.

As with her previous novels, Falling and Hidden, Emma Kavanagh shows her talent in creating three dimensional characters, that feel real. As a reader I was easily able to conjure up images of each of the main characters, each one there to add substance to the story. I liked the dynamic between Leah and Finn. I don’t recall coming across a brother and sister detective team before and the relationship between the two worked extremely well. Both were flawed characters, having their own private issues to deal with, but both were also kind and engaging, and the sibling interaction brought sprinkles of light relief. It would be great to see these characters return and develop.

Another character who I found deeply fascinating was Selena Cole. Her coolness whilst negotiating the release of hostages, recalled through the case files, is placed in high relief compared to her out of character disappearance that opens the novel. She is a very interesting character and a novel featuring her and the rest of the Cole Group would be high on my reading list.

The only trouble with having an ensemble cast and a story that flits between them is that sometimes there is the feeling that you haven’t quite seen as much from a character as was possible. There were times when there were glimpses into Leah or Finn that I would have liked to learn more about. But it’s a sign of skilled characterisation that I wanted to know more and didn’t just let them wash over me.

There have been some reviews I’ve read which have commented on the abruptness of the ending. For me the ending was a fitting way to finish the story. I’m one of those reader’s that thinks they prefer everything sewn up at the end but in actual fact I realise I don’t mind when a little ambiguity is left. It is for the reader to fill in the blanks. It is often the sign of a good story when you imagine what the characters get up to after the novel closes. That is the case with this novel. It also reveals what kind of reader you are to some extent, will you imagine a happy ending, or predict a darker outcome?

Another gripping, truly fascinating novel from Emma Kavanagh, full of interesting characters and based on a unique premise. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

4 Comments

Filed under Reviews

Alison Ripley Cubitt – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Alison Ripley Cubitt to the blog. Alison is an author and screenwriter and her novels include Revolution Earth and Fractured which she co-wrote with Sean Cubitt as Lambert Nagle. Her new book, Castles in the Air is a memoir of her mother’s life and was published on 12 February 2016. Alison kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about Castles in the Air.

Castles in the Air, my fourth book, is the story of my mother’s expat life in wartime Singapore and Ceylon, and then after the war and her challenging middle age. It is my mother’s life seen through my eyes. It’s about mothers and daughters, secrets, love and longing in an era when women couldn’t have it all.

2. Castles in the Air is a memoir. You also co-write fiction with Sean Cubitt (as Lambert Nagle) How did you find the switch from writing a factual novel? 

Memoir is a form of creative non-fiction, but veers towards the fiction side for me. I use all the techniques of my storytelling skills, honed as a screenwriter.  The book has a three-act structure, complete with an inciting incident and I use flashback. It’s partly told in my mother’s own voice as a teenage girl, because she’s the main character in my story. 

3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel?

I started out as a writer letting the words flow on the page, but I found that only worked for shorter pieces, such as short stories and short film screenplays. Now I work from a one page outline and I keep that nearby, when I’m working, in case I’m tempted to go off on a tangent! That’s the only way I can keep a handle on a work of 90,000 plus words.  My two latest books took two years from first line to completed novel. I wish I could write faster, but I can’t, as I do endless drafts after feedback from a structural editor, beta readers and finally a copy editor. I used to be in far more of a hurry to get my work out there, but I’ve learned the hard way. Now I go back and proofread so many times, that I get to the stage where I can’t stand the sight of my own work. 

4. Having been through the creative process of writing and publishing a novel what have you learnt that you wish you’d known before you started?

I wish I had taken a course in book marketing, instead of having to learn by trial and error. My first two books (travel and lifestyle non-fiction) were promoted by my publisher, and I sold 900 copies of my first book without even trying. Publishing has undergone a revolution in those intervening ten years!  

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?

I’m a walker, horse rider and cyclist, lucky enough to live in the Hampshire countryside where I can indulge in my favourite pastimes. I love travelling, especially back to New Zealand, which is where I mainly grew up.  I’m an avid reader and a consumer of films, tv (especially Scandi-noir thrillers on BBC4). If I could afford it, I’d go to the cinema and theatre more often. 

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?

I’m cheating bit here as the book would have to be To Kill a Mocking Bird, but that would mean I could still read the early draft, Go Set a Watchman.

7. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

If you could choose an alternative profession to being a writer, what would it be? And the answer in my case, is to train to be a pilot!. Nothing beats that moment when you’re haring down a runway at top speed, and from the pilot’s seat, it must look incredible. And then of course, there are all the opportunities to travel. 

thumbnail_Alison%20Profile%20Pic

About the book:

thumbnail_dfw-ln-cita-cover-mid

“An eight-year-old child witnesses her mother’s secret and knows that from that moment life will never be the same. After Molly, her mother dies, Alison uses her legacy to make a film about Molly’s relationship with a man she had known since she was a teenager. What hold did this man have over her mother? And what other secrets was her mother hiding? Castles in the Air follows the life of Molly Ripley through the eyes of her daughter Alison. From Molly’s childhood in colonial Hong Kong and Malaya; wartime adventures as a rookie office girl in the far east outpost of Bletchley Park then as a young nurse in the city; tangled romance and marriage… to her challenging middle-age when demons from the past seem set to overwhelm her. The writer in Alison can’t stop until she reveals the story of Molly’s past. But as a daughter, does she have the courage to face up to the uncomfortable truths of Molly’s seemingly ordinary life? As she unravels the private self that Molly kept secret, Alison realises that she is trying to find herself through her mother’s story. By trying to make sense of the past, can she move on with her future? Honest yet unsentimental and told with abundant love and compassion, this is a profoundly moving portrait of a woman’s life, hopes and dreams. We learn not only about Molly, but about mothers and daughters, secrets and love. A story for readers struggling to come to terms with the trauma of losing loved ones.”

1 Comment

Filed under Spotlight on Authors

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren – Review

Published by Fleet

Publication date – 21 April 2016

Source – review copy

isbn9780349006192-detail

“A frank, illuminating and incandescent memoir by a trailblazing scientist; a moving portrait of a longtime collaboration in work and life; and a book that casts a whole new light on the natural world.

Lab Girl is a book about work and about love, and the mountains that can be moved when those two things come together. It is told through Jahren’s remarkable stories: about the discoveries she has made in her lab, as well as her struggle to get there; about her childhood playing in her father’s laboratory; about how lab work became a sanctuary for both her heart and her hands; about Bill, the brilliant, wounded man who became her loyal colleague and best friend; about their field trips – sometimes authorised, sometimes very much not – that took them from the Midwest across the USA, to Norway and to Ireland, from the pale skies of North Pole to tropical Hawaii; and about her constant striving to do and be her best, and her unswerving dedication to her life’s work.

Visceral, intimate, gloriously candid and sometimes extremely funny, Jahren’s descriptions of her work, her intense relationship with the plants, seeds and soil she studies, and her insights on nature enliven every page of this thrilling book. In Lab Girl, we see anew the complicated power of the natural world, and the power that can come from facing with bravery and conviction the challenge of discovering who you are.”

I received a copy of this book from the publisher and this is my honest opinion of the book.

Lab Girl explores the career of Hope Jahren, Professor of Geobiology at the University of Hawaii, following her life from childhood to her current role. Professor Jahren and her colleagues work includes research into the effects of global warming upon plant and crop growth, endeavouring to predict the repercussions of climate change in the coming centuries.  It is a moving, funny, candid book that looks into a fascinating area of science and a fascinating woman who leads the way in the field.

This is a intriguing insight into not only the life of a scientist but also about botany in general. I’ll admit I knew little about plant life, save what I can vaguely remember from my school biology lessons and I had no knowledge of Hope Jahren and her work before I picked up her book.

What I really liked about the book was that the chapters alternated between the growth cycle of a plant or tree and the story of Hope Jahren’s life and career progression. The metaphorical seed of her interest in science was planted at a young age when she accompanied her father to his work. We see her career begin to sprout buds whilst she is at college and take root in her early career and the metaphor continues throughout.

Whilst I had little knowledge about the life cycle of plants I did find this aspect of the book fascinating. If the thought of reading a book about leaves and roots puts you off please don’t let it. The struggle a plant or tree goes through to grow to maturity is very interesting to read and you’ll come away looking at the grass and the elm at the bottom of your garden in a different light.

This is not just a book about plants. The majority of it is about Hope herself and she writes in such a  modest, engaging way, with oftentimes such beautiful prose you’ll forget you are reading a work of non-fiction.

There are some touching moments throughout the book. Hope Jahren is modestly open about her strained relationship with her mother and how her childhood was affected as a result, open in how this may have impacted upon her life, and her own approach to motherhood in particular. She is also very open about her manic depression, giving a fascinating and moving insight into how the illness manifested itself in her and how she balances this with her career and family life.

There is of course reference to the sexism faced throughout her career, and which she still faces despite of, or indeed as a result of her success and accolades. Hope Jahren is quite open about the issues she has faced because of her gender, that she and her work have not always been taken seriously and that there is the continuing battle of being a woman in a man’s field. However, she does not make this novel a militant crusade, she is matter of fact in the face of the sexism she meets, understands it to a point, and yes, is somewhat resigned to it. What shines through is that she has not let these attitudes stop her or embittered her and the fact that she has recieved so many awards and is considered so highly in her field is testament to this.

I adored reading about the relationship between Hope and Bill, her lab partner for the past 20 years or so. The development of their working relationship and the anecdotes recalled were a joy to read, genuinely touching and funny. The banter recollected between the two was heart-warming and it was lovely to see the friendship grow as the book progressed.

I’ll admit there were times that the scientific references went over my head. The complex world of botany and its processes sometimes required a re-read or two to sink in and I wasn’t always sure I understood things correctly but I didn’t let that spoil my enjoyment of the book.

This is the true story of the power of the drive to succeed, that you can battle inner demons and outside obstructions and win. It’s also a shining example that it is ok to follow your passion and that the bumps in the road of life can be overcome.

A fascinating, funny and thought-provoking read.

You can read more about Hope Jahren’s work on her website and more about her writing at #HOPEJAHRENSURECANWRITE.

 

 

 

5 Comments

Filed under Reviews

Why be a fiction writer by Laurie Ellingham – Guest Post

Today I’m pleased to welcome Laurie Ellingham to the blog. Laurie is the author of The Reluctant Celebrity and her new novel, How to Throw Your Life Away was published on 14 April 2016. Laurie has written this fantastic post about being a fiction writer.

Why be a fiction writer?

My first paid job in writing was for a recruitment agent, writing job descriptions for PR roles in London. All day long I spouted out words like ‘high-calibre’ and ‘go-getter’. Every description started with a catchy question or statement – Are you looking for a thrilling career that really makes a difference? YOUR NEXT JOB IS HERE!

This skill, however cheesy, has stuck with me over the years, so when I got to thinking about why anyone in their right mind would choose to become a novelist, I had to knock up a job description…

‘Job Title: Fiction Writer  Starting salary: £0 Job Description: Have you got what it takes to write a novel? READERS NEED YOU! We are looking for one highly imaginative person to become a fiction writer, producing high-quality novels in any genre. First and foremost, you will need exceptional writing skills, a unique writing voice, and the ability to create multiple character and novel ideas. Dedication is absolutely key as you must be able to work alone for months at a time, and expect no understanding or recognition from those around you.  Successful candidates will need a thick skin as countless rejections are expected. In addition, the successful candidate can expect self-doubt to be a regular, if not, constant occurrence throughout the process.   A comfortable chair, and a love of coffee and chocolate are advised. Your salary will depend on your writing skills, but we believe our starting salary is both generous and the industry standard for this role. Please be aware that writing a well-written and enjoyable novel is no guarantee of global recognition or an increase in your earnings. Travel costs, optician appointments, posture related ailments, proof readers, editors, computer equipment, and any other costs incurred through the creation of your novels will be taken from your starting salary.’

It doesn’t sound particularly appealing, does it? And yet, I love it. I love the fizzing excitement as an idea grows in my head and takes over my life. I love waking up on my writing days with the knowledge that I have a full day of writing ahead of me. I love my characters, and how they interact in ways that I didn’t expect when I set out to write about them. I love reading through a first draft, and finding sections of writing that I’d forgotten about. I love walking into a library or a book shop and seeing my book on display.

That’s not to say that there haven’t been, and still aren’t, tears along the way – lots of tears. The agonising self-doubt that can eat away at me. Is that chapter any good? Is the concept of my novel going to work? Will anyone like it, or read it? Am I ever going to get where I want to be? And that’s before I launch myself into the submissions process and open myself up to weeks of waiting and rejections. Then it’s out there, my book in the big wide world competing with thousands of others.

Book chart rankings, and the heart pumping moment when I wait for the webpage to load so I can see what someone thinks about my book, are among just a few of the things I agonise over on a daily basis after publication.

I often wish I could bottle the zinging excited feeling of being a writer on good days, so I can take whopping great slugs of it on the bad days. Instead, I grit my teeth, wipe the tears away, receive a supportive pep talk from my husband, and pull back my shoulders, ready to do it all again another day. Why be a writer? Because taking a world and a story that exists only in your head, and sharing with others, is the best feeling and the best job in the world.

Thank you for stopping by on my final blog tour spot. If you’re having a good writer day then don’t forget to enjoy it, and write yourself a supportive post-it ready to read on the next bad day.

So what’s next for me? Well I’m knee deep in second edits for my next novel – Three Months to Live, which I hope to see released in spring 2017. Here’s a sneak peak at the opening blurb:

Twenty-four year old Lizzie Appleton has a brain tumour. With only three months to live she is offered the chance to fulfil her dream to backpack around the world with her best friends, Samantha and Jaddi, if she agrees to be part of a TV documentary covering her final months, but all is not as it seems through the camera lens.

Three Friends…Three Secrets…Three Months to Live.

About the book:

121f20_cdb641f9f7924bf980e219d6f33306a2

“Have you ever wondered how much it would take to make you snap?

For thirty-two year old Katy Davenport it was the littlest thing…

All her boyfriend of five years had to do was answer her question about dinner.

Not ignore her.

Not continue to watch the football like she didn’t exist.

In that moment Katy snaps. One moment of insanity and Katy throws her life away.

The policeman who arrests her laughs. Her best friend cheers. And her anger management counsellor insists on embarrassing her in front of the entire class. 

For Katy this is just the beginning as she struggles to find her place in a whole new world where her ex-boyfriend refuses to move out of her house, and Katy finds herself snapping again and again.

Will Katy be able to control her anger for long enough to pick up the pieces of her life?”

You can find out more about Laurie and her novels on her website here.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Spotlight on Authors

Under the Reader’s Radar – Celebrating the quiet novel

There are thousands upon thousands of books published each year. Only a small percentage of those make it to the best-seller list. That doesn’t mean that the rest aren’t worthy of reading. It may be that they are written by self-published authors who don’t have the marketing knowledge or a small independent publisher who doesn’t have the marketing budget to spread the word. Even the larger publishing houses have a limited marketing and publicity budget so can’t promote all the novels they publish to an equal degree.

I’m part of a wonderful online community called Book Connectors where bloggers, reviewers and authors can discuss all things book related. During one of the threads there was mention of ‘quiet’ books, the ones that miss out on the big publicity push. It was agreed that it was such a shame that certain books weren’t as widely read, as the reading public were missing out on hidden gems. So that sparked a germ of an idea and I decided to do a series of posts highlight titles that myself and other bloggers and authors feel may have gone under the reader’s radar. (That’s was the working title for this series of posts and as inspiration hasn’t struck me with anything better, its the one I’m going with for now).

So in each post I’ll aim to highlight a couple of titles that may have been missed from your reading awareness. Hopefully you’ll discover a treat or two. And please do let me know if you have any books you’d like to suggest.

Today’s two novels are suggestions from fellow bloggers.

The first book to be championed is Ideal Girl by Jenny O’Brien which is self-published.

51jVXYseTEL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_

‘Set in Dublin an Irish romance to pull at your heart strings’

Advanced praise for Ideal Girl
A nice modern romance which does not rely on the ‘sexfactor’.
Writing that’s fresh and sparkling

Ideal Girl
A recent poll by dating APP Lovoo has revealed The Ideal Girlfriend – She’s a 5ft 5″ dark haired Irish nurse!’ Daily Mail, February 2014.

Irish Nurse Liddy Murphy is meant to be this Ideal Girl, but up until now all the men she’s met have been frog types. Will Doctor Mitch Merrien change her view or turn into another damp amphibian? It takes two countries and two men for her to find true love and heal her broken heart.
Ideal girl is the first in a series of romantic novels, which find old fashioned girls thrown into modern day settings. The sequel ‘Girl Descending’ is also available.

All set in the fictitious Dublin hospital of St Justin’s staff not only have to cope with their stressful jobs, they also have to cope with the mire that is ‘pre- relationship hell!’” (image and synopsis from Amazon)

Ideal Girl was suggested by Adele at KraftiReader. Here’s what she had to say:

“I absolutely adored this story.  It was fun, flirty, romantic, tragic, emotionally heartbreaking at times but also very heartwarming….A brilliant book I would thoroughly recommend 5/5*.”

You can read Adele’s full review here.

If that isn’t enough to sway you, Ideal Girl has only 5 star reviews on Amazon. It is published in ebook format and is currently 99p.

 

The next book to be suggested is A Model Partner by Daniel Seery, published by Liberties Press.

A+Model+Partner

“Tom Stacey has moved into his neighbour’s bedsit. He wasn’t asked. It was just that the door was open and his neighbours have gone on holiday. And it is so much bigger than his own bedsit. Plus, he has a lot to think about these days. The bees for one. He hasn’t seen any but he keeps hearing them, buzzing in the fridge at work, in the overhead lights, in the test equipment in the factory where he has spent the last fifteen years of his working life. They seem to be getting louder and more insistent, and they are beginning to affect the way he goes about his business. 

Then there is his search for Sarah McCarthy to worry about. Sarah was his first love when, as a teenager, he travelled around the country in the back of a horsebox with his grieving grandfather. But perhaps it is not the bees or the past which is the problem. Perhaps it is his ongoing loneliness. Twenty-two dates with Happy Couples dating agency and nothing to show – bar a dent in his bank balance and several complaints about ‘eccentric behavior’. Relationships are all about the details and there are just not enough boxes to tick in the Agency’s personal profile form.

Armed with a wax model and a list of criteria, Tom sets out on a quest to create a personal profile to find his ideal match. On his journey, he meets people just like him, warm but unable to show it, lonely and unable to remedy it, the lost, the misplaced and the damaged.”

A Model Partner was picked by Margaret Madden who blogs at Bleach House Library. Here’s what she had to say.

“Tom is a wonderful protagonist.  The reader can see how he operates from the get-go and the instinct to cheer him on is overpowering…I thought the book contained some of the best characters written in modern fiction, for a long time.”

You can read Margaret’s full review here. A Model Partner also has 8 5 star reviews out of 9 total reviews.

 

So there we have it, two more treats that had gone under my reader’s radar. I hope you liked the choices for today. Do let me know if you have read either of them. And don’t forget to let me know if you have a book you’d like to champion.

 

5 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

When She Was Bad by Tammy Cohen – Review

Published by Black Swan

Publication date – 21 April 2016

Source – review copy

cover_jpg_rendition_460_707

“YOU SEE THE PEOPLE YOU WORK WITH EVERY DAY.

BUT WHAT CAN’T YOU SEE?

Amira, Sarah, Paula, Ewan and Charlie have worked together for years – they know how each one likes their coffee, whose love life is a mess, whose children keep them up at night. But their comfortable routine life is suddenly shattered when an aggressive new boss walks in ….

Now, there’s something chilling in the air.

Who secretly hates everyone?

Who is tortured by their past?

Who is capable of murder?”
Read more on the Penguin website.

 

I received a copy of this book from the publishers and this is my honest opinion of the book.

We spend 35 hours a week with them, see them more sometimes more than family, definitely spend more time with them than friends. Some we get on with, others we secretly can’t stand. But how well do we really know the people we work with? A group of executives at a London recruitment consultants are thrown into disarray when their manager is replaced by Rachel. Known for her tough stance, she intentionally begins to drive a wedge between the group, causing friendships to fracture and personal conflicts to take place. But things go from being unfriendly to downright deadly. Meanwhile in the U.S. Dr Anne Cater recalls a child abuse case from many years ago, reminded of it by an event in London involving a group of executives from a recruitment firm…

I’d had this book a short while and picked it up meaning to read a page or two to gauge if it was to be my next read. When I reluctantly had to stop reading I was 116 pages in and hooked.

When She Was Bad is the true definition of a psychological thriller. The book starts out revealing that something terrible has happened. We know that a group of people who work together are involved. What we don’t know is what has happened. But we need to know. That desire to find out what has happened drives the reader on. The level of menace builds throughout, Rachel’s apparent mind games effecting the others in a variety of ways, each one becoming a different person to the one the reader is initially introduced to.

All the while the parallel story of Anne Cater and her involvement in a horrific child abuse case she was asked to consult on years earlier adds another layer of tension. We know that this case is directly involved with one of the office workers over in London. What we don’t know is who, or why. As the story progresses the two narratives draw together fluidly, playing off each other perfectly.

The setting of an office environment is perfect. The majority of readers can associate themselves with the work environment, familiar with office politics, friendships and romances, petty jealously and rivalry. We may be lucky enough to work in a friendly environment where work is fun, or may unfortunately work in a place where the bad outweighs the good. It is the fact that we can draw on our own experiences, or easily imagine a terrible work environment that makes the story all the more effective. The reader can put themselves in the position of the characters, feel the dread of having to return day after day to a place they have come to hate, the stress of working with people you realise you don’t really know.

Each chapter is dedicated to a character, easy to differentiate as their name entitles that chapter. Each one is just the right length to lead you to justify to yourself ‘just one more chapter’. The great thing with this format of writing is that the information revealed about the characters is cleverly controlled. Facts are drip fed, character flaws and traits revealed but always tinged with the unreliability of the reader not quite being able to trust the character the chapter is focussed on, the belief that they may not be giving a true portrayal of the situation ever present.

The book is full of twists and turned and I had enormous fun trying to work out who would be the victim and who would be the perpetrator. There were some things that surprised me, others I had guessed before the reveal, leaving me with that smug ‘ I knew it’ feeling that comes with successfully pitting the few wits I have with a skilled storyteller. The strands of the story weave together perfectly, the undercurrent of menace and knowledge that something horrendous was going to happen is ever present throughout and draws the reader along.

This is a story of how we don’t really know the people we work along side every day. We only ever really see one facet of a person. We are all different things to different people. Some see us only as a mother or father, husband or wife, son, daughter, sister or brother. To others we are friends or colleagues. To each of them we reveal only certain sides to our characters, showing only those facets of us that are relevant to the person we are interacting with. We don’t know what horrors or traumas others may have faced, can’t try to take that into account when dealing with someone and so we have to be guided by our own moral compass, be kind, considerate and respectful to all, and hope that those good intentions are felt.

It is also a story of the long term ramifications of child abuse. How the external scars may heal but the psychological effects of mistreatment by the ones who are supposed to love us, protect us and keep us safe can be long-lasting and far-reaching.

This is the first book by Tammy Cohen that I have read. I now know what I have been missing out on. Luckily I have her other books to read whilst I wait for her next book.

6 Comments

Filed under Reviews

Lesley Thomson – Q&A

Today I am pleased to welcome Lesley Thomson to the blog. Lesley is author of A Kind of Vanishing, The Detective’s Daughter, Ghost Girl and The Detective’s Secret. Her latest novel in The Detective’s Daughter series, The House With No Rooms is published by Head of Zeus on 21 April 2016. Lesley kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about The House With No Rooms.

It’s a murder story set in Kew Gardens which features Stella Darnell and her side-kick, Jack. It’s set in the chilly autumn of 2014 and during the blistering drought of 1976. The brilliant sunshine and heat creates an eerie, unsettling backdrop in which children play. In 2014 Stella is asked to solve a murder by a dying friend and as she and Jack delve deeper into the case they uncover the events of 1976. The novel has a strong botanical theme, it centres on the art of botanical illustration – artists who work with botanists creating drawings that help them identify species – and the paintings of Victorian artist and explorer Marianne North. Her strange gallery – the house with no rooms – is situated in the depths of the gardens. It is a crime scene.

2. What inspired the book? 

I have visited the Botanical Gardens at Kew since I was a child and it cost a penny to enter.  It holds happy memories. It is unchanging, yet paradoxically in constant flux as species are discovered, named, or renamed, their order – the taxonomy – altered. The high wall around it was built in the nineteenth century by the Director, Joseph Hooker to keep out the public. He intended as a place of study and experiment and didn’t want what he perceived as drunken visitors stomping about! For a crime writer, Kew is the perfect setting. It’s an enclosed, delineated space with lots of things to scare a person – starting with the Queen’s Beasts by the Palm House. As with any profession, many botanists have ambition as well as a passion to discover more. They accumulate and hold knowledge which gives them power, however benignly they use it. A potential cauldron of thwarted dreams, failure and disappointment! 

(Lesley often takes photographs for research purposes and shares the images for readers on her website. This image is of one of the aforementioned Queen’s Beasts.)

thumbnail_10.3.3%20The%20House%20WIth%20No%20Rooms%20(The%20White%20Greyhound%20of%20Richmond,%20Kew%20Gar...

3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel?

I do plan. The novel arises out of an image – in this case the Marianne North Gallery at Kew – and a single plot idea, the murder and I know the ending. For the novel I am currently writing, I have created a detailed chapter plan which is a road map. For me, this is a new modus operandi. It’s not how I have written so far. 

In the past I have come across problems when a lot of the story has been written. I have inched my way towards the ending, then done several drafts to get it ‘right’. I created a chapter plan in retrospect that gave me a map of what I’d done rather than what I would do. This method has worked, but this time I wanted to push myself. By doing a chapter plan in advance, I can move episodes around, add in chapters and generally shift the shape of the thing to solve the problem. I encountered the conundrums that inevitably pop up sooner in the process. 

The point about this is that every writer has to find what works for them, and that might change over time as they develop. I think it’s important to stay fresh, to challenge myself. I appreciate that in other writers’ books. 

I write a novel a year so the process cannot take longer than that!  However, I’d say it was about the same time as human gestation, nine months. That includes idea development, research, planning and several drafts. Oh and a couple of sleepless nights…

4. The House With No Rooms is the fourth in The Detective’s Daughter series. What do you think are the perks and downsides to writing a recurring character?

Personally, I think the downsides are minor. The only one I can think of is that many facts of the character are set in stone early on. They can’t be changed. Stella has to be born in August 1966 because that’s in the first novel. Should I wish to have made her older or younger for some reason, tough! However, I enjoy these challenges and as I say they are relatively unimportant.

The advantage of writing a series – and this is something I actively love about it – is that I have time and space to develop characters over the course of the stories. Recently I was a guest at a book group who had read The Detective’s Daughter. I was struck by how the Jack and Stella that the group were discussing were different to how they are in The House with no Rooms. As the stories have progressed, they got to know each other better –indeed I’ve got to know them better – and they have taken on the experiences they’ve had in the ensuring stories. I enjoy charting their lives. 

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?

I tend to ‘get away from it all’ to write. I frequently sequester myself alone in a cottage in the country to get large chunks of the novel written. My idea of relaxing is reading, this goes in tandem with being a writer for me. I love to read other people’s stories. I’m a big fan of Victorian writers, Wilkie Collins, Dickens and Mrs Gaskell. And of course the Bronte’s. I read a lot of crime fiction, classic and contemporary. I aim to write the novels I like to read, stories that utterly absorb the reader into the fictional world.

I go on long walks with our dog, to relax and as part of the writing day. Emerging from my solitude, I welcome time with my family and friends. But there’s no true ‘getting away from it all’, Stella and Jack are with me at all times!

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?

It’s a novel I reread regularly, Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. The scenes by the river – and it has a great opening – are vivid and alluring. He manages his intricate storyline with ease and as with all his writing, creates rich and varied characters who engage. I always find something new in the book each time I return to it.

7. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

I never come away from interviews with a ‘burning answer’ that I never got the chance to give. This Q and A is no exception. It’s always such a privilege to be asked about my writing and to reflect on the process. Thank you for inviting me to do it this time. 

 

thumbnail_Lesley%20Thomson.%20(2)%20Credit%20Emily%20Andersen%20

Lesley Thomson’s novel A Kind of Vanishing won The People’s Book Prize in 2010. The Detective’s Daughter, (2013) sold over 300,000 copies. It was Sainsbury’s Ebook 2013 and Amazon number one. Ghost Girl, the second in The Detective’s Daughter series was published in 2014. The Detective’s Secret (2015), was Sainsbury’s Book of the Week. The House with No Rooms is out in April 2016. Lesley teaches creative writing on the MA at West Dean College, at the South Bank Centre in London and will be conducting a masterclass at Bloody Scotland later this year.

www.lesleythomson.co.uk

About the book:

Thomson_04_THE%20HOUSE%20WITH%20NO%20ROOMS

“The summer of1976 was the hottest in living memory. In the Botanical Gardens at Kew, a lost little girl, dizzied by the heat, thought she saw a woman lying dead on the ground. But when she opened her eyes, the woman had gone.

Forty years later, Stella Darnell, the detective’s daughter, is investigating a chilling new case. What she uncovers will draw her into the obsessive world of botany, and towards an unsolved murder that has lain dormant for decades…”

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Spotlight on Authors

Under the Reader’s Radar – Celebrating the quiet novel

There are thousands upon thousands of books published each year. Only a small percentage of those make it to the best-seller list. That doesn’t mean that the rest aren’t worthy of reading. It may be that they are written by self-published authors who don’t have the marketing knowledge or a small independent publisher who doesn’t have the marketing budget to spread the word. Even the larger publishing houses have a limited marketing and publicity budget so can’t promote all the novels they publish to an equal degree.

I’m part of a wonderful online community called Book Connectors where bloggers, reviewers and authors can discuss all things book related. During one of the threads there was mention of ‘quiet’ books, the ones that miss out on the big publicity push. It was agreed that it was such a shame that certain books weren’t as widely read, as the reading public were missing out on hidden gems. So that sparked a germ of an idea and I decided to do a series of posts highlight titles that myself and other bloggers and authors feel may have gone under the reader’s radar. (That’s was the working title for this series of posts and as inspiration hasn’t struck me with anything better, its the one I’m going with for now).

So in each post I’ll aim to highlight a couple of titles that may have been missed from your reading awareness. Hopefully you’ll discover a treat or two. And please do let me know if you have any books you’d like to suggest.

This week’s first title is recommended by Catherine Hokin, author of Blood and Roses. She chose If No One Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor, published by Bloomsbury.

9781408834428

”This novel owes as much to poetry as it does to prose. Its opening, an invocation of the life of the city, is strongly reminiscent of Auden’s Night Mail in its hypnotic portrait of industrialised society… An assured debut’ Erica Wagner, The Times.

On a street in a town in the North of England, ordinary people are going through the motions of their everyday existence – street cricket, barbecues, painting windows… A young man is in love with a neighbour who does not even know his name. An old couple make their way up to the nearby bus stop. But then a terrible event shatters the quiet of the early summer evening. That this remarkable and horrific event is only poignant to those who saw it, not even meriting a mention on the local news, means that those who witness it will be altered for ever.

Jon McGregor’s first novel brilliantly evokes the histories and lives of the people in the street to build up an unforgettable human panorama.

‘Breathtakingly original, humane and moving, IF NOBODY SPEAKS OF REMARKABLE THINGS is an astonishing debut. ‘The work of a burning new talent … Jon MacGregor writes like a lyrical angel’ Daily Mail ‘”

See more on the Bloomsbury website.

This is what she had to say about it,

“It is simply the most poetic book I have ever read. The opening is lyrical in the way it evokes life in a Northern city and the structure moves between two characters in a way that is challenging and thought-provoking – you get to care deeply about people you only know in a very light touch way which is fascinating. It is about memories – almost heartbreakingly – and ordinary people and it is a book you hear almost more than you read. Wonderful.”

Blood and Roses, the story of Margaret of Anjou and her pivotal role in the Wars of the Roses 
 
“an absorbing, accomplished tale” Antonia Senior, The Times
You can find out more about Catherine and her novel Blood and Roses on her website.
The next book to be suggested is Life Class by Gilli Allan, published by Accent Press, and was suggested by blogger Anne Williams, who blogs at Being Anne.
life-class-new-112416-180x250

“Four people hide secrets from the world and themselves. Dory is disillusioned by men and relationships, having seen the damage sex can do.  Fran deals with her mid-life crisis by pursuing an online flirtation which turns threatening. Stefan feels he is a failure and searches for self-validation through his art. Dominic is a lost boy, heading for self-destruction. 

They meet regularly at a life-drawing class, led by sculptor Stefan. They all want a life different from the one they have, but all have made mistakes they know they cannot escape. They must uncover the past – and the truths that come with it – before they can make sense of the present and navigate a new path into the future.”

Anne said
“(Life Class is) a satisfying feel-good book I really wanted to read, that spoke to me directly and that I thoroughly enjoyed…It’s a story about people and their relationships, character driven fiction at its best, the grown up love story I’d hoped for.”
You can read Anne’s review in full here.
So there we have it, two more books other readers thought deserved more attention from the book loving world. I admit I’ve not read either but both sound great.
I do hope you find this series of posts helpful. Let me know if you have any suggestions of readable treats more people should know about, or if you read any of the suggestions throughout the series of posts.

15 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized