The Shut Eye – Belinda Bauer

Posted in Crime Thriller on April 11th, 2015 by admin – 2 Comments

Pub Date March 12th 2015

Five footprints are the only sign that Daniel Buck was ever here.

 And now they are all his mother has left.

 Every day, Anna Buck guards the little prints in the cement. Polishing them to a shine. Keeping them safe. Spiralling towards insanity.

 When a psychic offers hope, Anna grasps it. Who wouldn’t? Maybe he can tell her what happened to her son…

 But is this man what he claims to be? Is he a visionary? A shut eye? Or a cruel fake, preying on the vulnerable?

 Or is he something far, far worse?

 

“So I write crime, but really I just write people” writes Belinda Bauer on her website and this sums up her novels perfectly and explains why I enjoy her novels so much.

Set in suburban London in 2000, The Shut Eye focuses on the disappearances of two young children and we re-encounter DCI John Marvel, the detective who featured in Darkside set in 2011. In this earlier incarnation we see Marvel as the same, sullen, thoroughly disagreeable character who treats his colleagues with derision and disrespect but his one saving grace is his determination not to give up on young Edie Evans who vanished a year before. There might be a connection with the recent disappearance of two year old Daniel Buck but his mother Anna is quite literally mad with grief and is seen as more hindrance than help.

The Shut Eye of the title refers to a term used by psychics to describe those who firmly believe they have psychic powers. Enter Richard Latham, local psychic who failed to help in the Edie Evans investigation but might still be of use to Anna Buck. This psychic element might prove unpalatable for some readers but it isn’t the main crux of the novel – the key is in the varied and fascinating line up of characters provided by Bauer. She is simply brilliant at creating credible, complex characters from the distraught mother to the dodgy garage proprietor, from the quietly confident policewoman to Marvel’s saint of a girlfriend. Added to the mix, is a layer of dark humour cleverly woven through the plot so it’s not all doom and gloom.

A compelling read which kept me gripped from start to finish. Highly recommended.

My thanks to NetGalley and Transworld for allowing me a digital copy for review purposes.

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We Are All Made of Molecules – Susin Nielsen

Posted in American Fiction, Children's Books, Proofs, YA Fiction on July 21st, 2015 by admin – Be the first to comment

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Jacqueline Wilson’s novels about “jigsaw” families were extremely popular with young teens but she has recently moved from contemporary to more historical settings. Susin Nielsen’s novel fills that gap very nicely with its lighthearted look at serious issues.
Narrated by nerdy, socially challenged Stewart and academically challenged, Queen Bee Ashley in short and snappy alternate chapters this story will appeal to young teens.Thirteen year old Stewart and fourteen year old Ashley are thrown together in a “blended” step family which Stewart imagines will be akin to paradise whereas Ashley expects the worst. It’s a predictable enough story with an unlikely hero saving the day but it has lots of humour and real heart which draws the reader in very quickly. I still giggle when I remember Ashley’s fervent desire to be “unconstipated” – an in-joke, you have to read the book to get it!An easy read which touches on some fairly heavy issues, We are all Made of Molecules will appeal to boys and girls aged 12 and over, especially those who enjoyed Wonder by R J Palacio.

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Alma Books Giveaway – The Little Prince

Posted in Children's Books, Giveaway on July 18th, 2015 by admin – 36 Comments

The Little Prince

Giveaway now closed et voici les résultats!  Douze points pour Rhi P and Angi Holden.  Félicitations!  Alma Books will send the books directly to you within the next few weeks…at which stage I will hopefully be gazing over the rooftops of Paris.

This year Alma Books has branched out by venturing into the realm of Children’s and YA Fiction.  Soon you will have the “pleasure”  of reading my review of  Madame Tussaud’s Apprentice, one of the frontrunners in the YA stable but, to keep you going in the meantime, I am delighted to give my UK readers the opportunity to win a copy of a new translation of The Little Prince.  Targeted at ages 7-11, this edition will appeal to dreamers of all ages…if I could I would enter!

So allons-y with le nitty gritty ( I can actually speak French, as some of you know..)

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Having crash-landed in the Sahara desert, a pilot comes across a young boy who introduces himself as the “Little Prince” and tells him the story of how he grew up on a tiny asteroid before travelling across the galaxies and coming to Earth. His encounters and discoveries, seen through childlike, innocent eyes, give rise to candid reflections on life and human nature.First published in 1943 and featuring the author’s own watercolour illustrations, The Little Prince has since become a classic philosophical fable for young and old, as well as a global publishing phenomenon, selling tens of millions of copies worldwide and being translated into dozens of languages.

________

“A saint in short, true to his name, flying up here at the right hand of God… And he was not the only one. He was merely the one who put it into words most beautifully and anointed himself before the altar of the right stuff.” Tom Wolfe

________

 

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900–44) was a French writer and aviator, who disappeared on a reconnaissance mission during the Second World War. The author of several memoirs about flying, he is best remembered today for the novella The Little Prince.

 

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The Truth According to Us – Annie Barrows

Posted in American Fiction on June 29th, 2015 by admin – Be the first to comment

West Virginia, Summer 1938.  Senator’s daughter, Layla Beck, has been tasked with compiling a short history of the small town of Macedonia which is celebrating its 150th anniversary.  It’s not exactly a labour of  love but rather a punishment meted out by her father for her failure to toe the family line.  Designed to support struggling, impoverished writers, teachers and historians during the Great Depression, the Federal Writers Project is not a good fit for Layla who finds herself flung into an alien world, lodging with the Romeyn family.

With a variety of narrative styles, from 12 year old Willa Romeyn, her maiden aunt Jottie and correspondence between Layla and her family, the scene is set for a mystery to unfold and small town secrets to spill.

I’m an avowed fan of well written fiction set in smalltown America as it usually serves up a delightful array of local characters with distinctive quirks and traits.  Macedonia is no exception, with its pretentious local gentility keen to influence Layla and rewrite history.  By contrast, the Romeyns seem more down to earth but there seems to have been some editing re their past also.

Never fear, young Willa is on the case and she is determined to grow closer to her errant father, Felix, by discovering what he actually does during his long absences from home.  She is a really likeable, feisty, intelligent girl, fiercely protective of her unconventional family.  Her aunt Jottie is the cornerstone of the family – indeed most of the female characters out-shadow their hapless menfolk!

The sweltering summer heat echoes the oppressive nature of this small  town where everyone knows, or thinks they know, your business.   The storytelling, the characterisation, the ambiance are exceptional and reminiscent of another of my favourite authors, Fannie Flagg.   It’s a coming of age story, a story about family ties, secrets and lies and how they come back to haunt you.

This is Annie Barrow flying solo and I think most readers will be very pleasantly surprised by the experience.

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The Killing Lessons – Saul Black

Posted in Crime Thriller, Proofs on May 16th, 2015 by admin – 3 Comments

Pub Date – 21st May 2015 Paperback – already available on Kindle

 

I haven’t read a decent serial killer novel in such a long time – mostly because I grew rather weary of the genre since there was a dearth of original specimens out there.  Saul Black has succeeded in luring me back with this accomplished piece of writing which I devoured in one sitting.

The chapters are short and succinct with lots of twists and turns to make this a really addictive read.  The characters are true to life and the author takes care and time to let the reader know more about both the “goodies” and the “baddies” making them more than a means to an end.

There’s a lot going on in this fast paced thriller with the main detective being victimised by someone unknown, a child witness to a murder unable to get to safety, a serial killer tiring of his sidekick.

It’s a dark and disturbing tale but extremely entertaining at that…. strange but true!

 

Saul Black is the pen name of the acclaimed novelist Glen Duncan. He was born in Bolton in 1965 and studied philosophy and literature at Lancaster University. His first novel, Hope, was published in 1997, and has been followed by seven further novels: Love Remains; I, Lucifer, shortlisted for the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize; Weathercock; Death of an Ordinary Man; The Bloodstone Papers; and A Day and A Night

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We are All Made of Stars – Rowan Coleman

Posted in Proofs on May 12th, 2015 by admin – Be the first to comment

Pub Date – 21st May 2015

If I had to sum up this novel in one word, that word would be “heart”.  Then of  course, you would have all the words stemming from”heart” like “love”, “empathy”, “passion”, “family”, “friendship”, “connection”.  I guess I’d better put those words all together in some acceptable, legible form now!

I have to confess, I’d never read a Rowan Coleman novel before We Are All Made of Stars.  Then, I sort of got to “know” Rowan on Facebook and the penny dropped that here was an intelligent, witty, intuitive writer so I took the plunge.

This isn’t a fluffy book, it confronts big themes head on.  Stella Carey cares for others including the terminally ill patients she watches over at the hospice where she does night shifts.  She cares for them beyond the usual nursing duties by writing their final letters to  their loved ones – some filled with love, some with regret and some with a good dose of bitterness- so no, not fluffy.  Stella cares about her partner Vincent, recently returned from war and emotionally traumatised.  Like so many members of the caring profession, Stella has little time or energy to care for herself.

Rowan Coleman skillfully treads the tightrope between indifference and mawkishness to create a sensible and sensitive story about how we relate to life and death.  Not something we like to think of on a daily basis but lets face it, death and taxes, the only guarantees in life!   She has a genial style which draws you in and keeps you engaged.

A really good read and now  I have the delights of investigating her back-list.

My thanks to Ebury Publishing and Net Galley for providing me with a review copy.

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Villa America – Liza Klaussmann

Posted in Proofs on April 23rd, 2015 by admin – Be the first to comment

Pub Date 23rd April 2015

 

Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, Cole and Linda Porter, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos – all are summer guests of Gerald and Sara Murphy. Visionary, misunderstood, and from vastly different backgrounds, the Murphys met and married young, and set forth to create a beautiful world. They alight on Villa America: their coastal oasis of artistic genius, debauched parties, impeccable style and flamboyant imagination. But before long, a stranger enters into their relationship, and their marriage must accommodate an intensity that neither had forseen. When tragedy strikes, their friends reach out to them, but the golden bowl is shattered, and neither Gerald nor Sara will ever be the same.

 

I have read and enjoyed a variety of fiction and non-fiction about the Fitzgeralds, the Murphys and Ernest Hemmingway and his various wives so I was keen to investigate Liza Klaussmann’s fictional treatment of Sara and Gerald Murphy.

It took a while for the story to grab my attention, there was a lot of waffle to wade through before we got to those lazy, hazy days at Villa America on the French Riviera. Although I learned nothing new re this hedonistic bunch of American socialites the author does capture the lazy, lotus-eating ambiance. Best read in large chunks, this would be a good holiday read and a easy introduction to the lives of the Fitzgeralds and their ilk.

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Inside the O’Briens – Lisa Genova

Posted in American Fiction, Contemporary Fiction on April 20th, 2015 by admin – Be the first to comment

Published – 7th April 2015

Publisher – Gallery Books

Inside the O’Briens is the fourth novel from the extremely talented Lisa Genova,  an American neuroscientist and author with the critically acclaimed Still Alice and Left Neglected in her back catalogue.  Having already tackled early onset dementia, hemispatial neglect and autism in previous novels, Genova turns the spotlight on Huntington’s Disease, an incurable genetic disorder with obvious physical symptoms such as chorea (an involuntary movement disorder) and the hidden but emotionally devastating symptoms of  depression and anxiety.

We learn about this cruel disease through the eyes of the O’Brien family, ordinary Boston folk whose lives are turned upside down when Joe O’Brien, a 44 year old cop,  is diagnosed with Huntingtons.  We see the savage effect Huntingtons has on his immediate family, his wife Rosie and four children in their twenties who have a 50/50 chance of inheriting the faulty gene.  As well as dealing with an uncertain future, Joe has to come to terms with the knowledge that his mother died, not from alcoholism but Huntingtons and the extent to which this rare genetic disorder is still misunderstood.

The fact that Lisa Genova has raised awareness of Huntingtons by writing this novel is unquestionably laudable and it certainly enlightened me as to the plight of those with HD but this enlightenment came at the expense of well-rounded, believable characters.  Character is key in dictating whether I will like a novel or not.  I don’t have to like the characters, I just need to believe in them.  I found the O’Briens too flat, too cliched with the plethora of religious objects and booze…just in case you forgot they were of Irish descent.

Overall this was an interesting and edifying read.

Lisa Genova’s next novel is to revolve around ALS which was highlighted last year by online ice bucket challenges.

My thanks to NetGalley and Galley Books for providing an e-copy in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

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The A to Z of You and Me – James Hannah

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Debut Novel on April 15th, 2015 by admin – Be the first to comment

Pub Date March 15th 2015

Ivo fell for her.

He fell for a girl he can’t get back.

Now he’s hoping for something.

While he waits he plays a game:

He chooses a body part and tells us its link to the past he threw away.

He tells us the story of how she found him, and how he lost her.

But he doesn’t have long.

And he still has one thing left to do …

 

My initial reaction to this debut was one of indifference, imagining it would be similar to the many other deathbed novels flooding the book charts. About 50 pages in and I was hooked by the story of 40 year old Ivo, passing his last days in St Leonard’s Hospice, reflecting on his past life by way of an A to Z game where he focuses on a different part of the body for each letter.

It soon becomes clear that Ivo has a lot of regrets about his misspent youth as he has next to no visitors, no obvious family ties but he has to come to terms with his past before he dies. His story has the potential to veer into mawkish sentimentality but debut novelist James Hannah keeps the tone direct and straightforward. Having said that, I spent the last portion of the novel as a blubbering wreck barely able to see the words for tears…

The characters are realistically flawed, there are no winners when death beckons. A very impressive debut novel.

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A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Proofs on July 1st, 2014 by admin – Be the first to comment

A Man Called OveThere seems to have been a spate of Scandi-Lite in Swedish fiction recently, an antidote perhaps to the harshness of Scandi-Noir.  Elderly folk are running amok with 100 year old men escaping from nursing homes and little old ladies openly flouting all the rules.

In Fredrik Backman’s first novel, Ove is not that old at 59 but he certainly fulfils the grouchiness credentials for grumpy old man status.  Backman originally introduced Ove on his blog where readers encouraged him to create a novel about  this irascible Swede.  In 39 relatively short chapters we gain gradual insight into Ove’s life – what makes him tick and the events that have made him the grouchy man he is today.   It’s an easy read, quite matter of fact but it did pull on my heartstrings….occasionally….

I think Ove will appeal to a lot of readers.  He calls a spade a spade and says out loud the things most of us are too polite/repressed to voice.  He reminds me of my dad who shared Ove’s thriftiness and pragmatism although not  to the same extremes!  There is homespun wisdom, lots of lessons to be learned about tolerance, frequent references to Saabs, a community coming together.

Yes, sometimes it gets a bit too saccharine-sweet and strays into Mitch Albom territory but for the most part I enjoyed reading about Ove and his neighbours.  I see similarities with Harold Fry but Rachel Joyce’s novel is more nuanced and a more fluid narrative.

Destined to be a worldwide bestseller, the movie version of A Man Called Ove is currently being filmed in Sweden.  I anticipate an American version in the not too distant future.

A Man Called Ove is published by Sceptre on 3rd July 2014.

Fredrik Backman

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