The Shut Eye – Belinda Bauer

Posted in Crime Thriller on April 11th, 2015 by admin – Be the first to comment

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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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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Poppy – Mary Hooper

Posted in Historical Fiction, Proofs, YA Fiction on May 8th, 2014 by admin – 2 Comments

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Blurb from Good Reads

1914. Poppy is fifteen, beautiful and clever, but society has already carved out her destiny. There’s no question of her attending the grammar school – it’s too expensive and unsuitable for a girl. Instead, Poppy will become a servant at the big house. And she’ll ‘keep out of trouble’. But Poppy’s life is about to be thrown dramatically off course. The first reason is love – with someone forbidden, who could never, ever marry a girl like her. The second reason is war. Nothing could have prepared her for that. As she experiences what people are capable of – the best of humanity and the very worst – Poppy will find an unexpected freedom and discover how to be truly her own person.

Mary Hooper is one of my favourite writers of YA Historical Fiction.  She has the knack of combining strong young female characters and realistic historical settings which give readers a strong sense of time and place, whatever their age!  Quite a few novels are being released this year to tie in with the centenary of the outbreak of WWI but Poppy would be my standout choice for any young female teens wishing to acquaint themselves with the role of their early 20th century counterparts.

In a relatively short novel, 288 pages, we are shown the dramatic changes war brings about in everyone’s lives, from upper to lower classes, amongst men and women, and particularly for  young women like Poppy who find themselves in a position to alter previously rigid, mapped out destinies.  Poppy is no longer restricted to a life of servitude as she can forge her own path in life, working as a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse but she will be tested both emotionally and physically in her new career.

The author doesn’t hold back in describing the brutal effects of war, especially the horrendous injuries of Poppy’s patients, some of them young boys bedazzled by the glory of war.  We see the early days of plastic surgery as doctors strive to improve the lives of young Tommies stricken by horrific facial injuries.  Likewise we see the deep psychological stress placed on these young men – PTSD is unheard of and those who can’t face the horrors of the trenches are swiftly court-martialled and executed.

If I have one tiny quibble about this novel, it’s that it ends on such a cliff-hanger and cannot be read as a stand-alone novel.  Poppy’s adventures will resume in the sequel, Poppy in the  Field, to be published in May 2015.  If you’re looking for an introduction to the role of young women in WWI, a sensitive read which treads the middle path between sentimentality and gore, then Poppy is the ideal place to  start.  For slightly older readers interested in this period, I would highly recommend Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain’s extremely powerful war memoir.

Poppy by Mary Hooper is published on 8th May 2014 by Bloomsbury Childrens.

You can follow Mary Hooper on Facebook here and on Twitter here.

My thanks to Net Galley and Bloomsbury for providing a review copy.

 



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Last Bus to Coffeeville – J. Paul Henderson

Posted in Contemporary Fiction on April 20th, 2014 by admin – 1 Comment

Last Bus to Coffeeville

Published
23/04/2014

Publisher
No Exit Press

Source
www.realreaders.com

My Rating

Rating: ★★★★☆

Nancy Skidmore has a plan and she needs Doc Eugene Chaney to fulfil his side of the bargain if she is to achieve her goal – to be free of the relentless Alzheimers Disease which has plagued several generations of her family.  Doesn’t sound like a bundle of laughs, does it?  Somehow J. Paul Henderson manages to wrap the narrative of his debut novel with a cosy, heartwarming vibe which makes for an enjoyable and engaging read.  Fans of existentialism and angst should turn away now.

The small, unimposing town of  Coffeeville, Mississippi is Nancy’s final destination, the location of a wooden lodge owned by her family.  However her journey there is far from straightforward as it involves many diversions, both historical and geographical, as well as a large cast of varied and somewhat eccentric characters.  I can see how the meandering narrative might irritate some readers but I loved it : relaxing into it was like floating on a lazy river absorbing bits of trivia en route.  The style is reminiscent of Forest Gump and Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe with that laid-back, warm and inviting southern voice.  Indeed I could see this transferring very easily to the big screen.

It’s by no means a perfect book with some sections of dialogue a bit on the clunky, heavy-handed side but it is a very promising debut.  Not bad at all for a former foundry worker from Bradford, West Yorkshire.  ;-)

 

 

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Mrs Hemingway – Naomi Wood

Posted in Literary Fiction on April 19th, 2014 by admin – Be the first to comment

21131232Ernest Hemingway was “a man of many wives”, four, to be precise. Over the 40 years between his first wedding and his untimely death in 1961 he also accumulated a fair number of mistresses, such was his irresistible magnetism to both men and women. In this work of fiction, we meet his four dutiful wives, each one thinking she would last forever….until the next one came along.

I love reading about characters like Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds with their bohemian lifestyles and devil-may-care attitudes. Naomi Wood opens another window onto this avant-garde world where Hemingway’s women compete with each other for his affections. They are intelligent, modern women but when it comes to Ernest/Nesto they seem to fall into a Svengali-like trance and just roll over.

The novel is divided into four sections with each one devoted to a different wife, Hadley, Fife, Martha and Mary. The characters are well defined and realistic with their one major flaw being devotion to Ernest which allows them to overlook his personality defects. There is no villain of the piece – it would appear that Ernest is like a child in a sweet shop and unable to limit himself to one treat at a time.

The writing is beautiful, elegant and sparse. It’s very easy to visualise the different exotic settings as Ernest flits from the Antibes to Paris to Cuba to Key West. This is a gem of a story which I found very hard to put down – it will remain on the “keepers” shelf, a rare occurrence these days! Highly recommended.

Mrs Hemingway is published by Picador Books on 13th February 2014.

Hemingway’s Wives with Hadley top left

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Black Lake – Johanna Lane

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Proofs on April 14th, 2014 by admin – 4 Comments

Black Lake: A NovelDulough is the mysterious house at the heart of this debut novel from Johanna Lane.  The house is fictional but the setting reminds me of one of my favourite locations in Donegal, Dunlewey Lough at the foot of Mt Errigal overlooking the Poisoned Glen.  In Black Lake this already wild landscape is battered by the winds coming off the Atlantic.  There is a savage aspect to the environment, a primitive, ancient ambience dating back to the Ice Age.

The Campbells are relative newcomers, the first of their tribe arriving in the early 1850s.  Scottish landowner, Philip Campbell who built the house/castle, Dulough, in 1854, cruelly evicting any tenant families who stood in his way.  Now, the roles are reversed as John Campbell, the current owner, can’t afford the upkeep of the house and enters into a contract with the Irish government whereby the house is shown to visitors as  a tourist attraction and he and his family relocate to a cottage in the grounds.

There is  a simmering resentment between the Campbells (landed gentry) and the locals (peasants…not really!).  John’s young son, Philip, feels particularly affected by the downsizing and is loathe to abide by the new rules and regulations.  The mother, Dublin born Marianne, seems out of place in this desolate setting no matter what size of house she’s in.  The daughter Kate tends to go with the flow and tries to keep the peace.  You just know that something bad is lurking round the corner.

This is a solid debut from a talented writer.  It’s a gentle, slow-moving story dominated by the austere, sombre landscape.  You wonder how anyone can thrive in such harsh surroundings at the mercy of the elements…and the recession.  I found echoes of William Trevor’s The Story of Lucy Gault in this ethereal tale of displaced gentry.

Looking forward to seeing how Johanna Lane’s writing evolves in the future.

My thanks to Little Brown and Company for providing a review copy.

Black Lake is published by Little Brown and Company on 20th May 2014.

Dunlewey Church

Dunlewey Lough

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North of Nowhere – Liz Kessler

Posted in Children's Books on April 11th, 2014 by admin – 2 Comments

My 10 year old daughter is a big fan of Liz Kessler’s previous  novels, including the fantasy series, Philippa Fisher and Emily Windsnap, so I was keen to read her latest novel and see what all the fuss was about.

Targeted at children aged nine and above, this is the second of three stand-alone novels all of which have a connection with time-travel.  Whilst being more grounded in the “real” world than the fantasy novels, there is still that subtle element of the supernatural suffusing the story.

Our narrator is thirteen year old Mia (Amelia).  Her plans for a chilled out Spring half-term, hanging out with her friends, are dashed when her Grandad goes missing and she and her Mum have to join her Gran in the sleepy fishing village of Porthaven – with no mobile phone signal, no satellite tv, no internet – a teen’s worst nightmare!   Fortunately Mia makes a new friend in Dee, a local girl, although their friendship is somewhat unconventional given that they communicate via letters and diary entries.

This is a cleverly constructed, gripping tale blending time travel, mystery, family relationships and friendships and introducing realistic, very relatable characters.  The conversations between Mia and her family and her  peers hit exactly the right note.  The setting is perfect for a mystery with its windswept coast and taciturn locals – I found it reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier’s gothic haunts.

An intelligent, fast-paced adventure story which, I’m pleased to report, was enjoyed equally by my daughter and me.  We’re both looking forward to the next stand-alone novel, Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins,which is due out on 14th August 2014 published by Orion Childrens.

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