Proofs

This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell

Posted in Proofs on May 22nd, 2016 by admin – Be the first to comment

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Maggie O’Farrell is not one to sit on her laurels nor is she one of those authors who stick to tried and tested formulas because they worked in the past. Open a new Maggie O’Farrell and you will only be assured of one thing, this lady can write beautifully and engagingly but she’s full of surprises.

One of my all-time favourite songs is This Must Be the Place, that absolute gem of a love song by Talking Heads with searingly simple lyrics,
“Out of all those kinds of people
You got a face with a view
I’m just an animal looking for a home and,
Share the same space for a minute or two
And you love me till my heart stops
Love me till I’m dead”

It’s about love and finding home with another person and maybe it’s right in front of you and you can’t see it. I don’t even know if this novel has any connection with David Byrne’s lyrics but Maggie O’Farrell’s prose just reaches inside my chest and reproduces the same heartrending effect.

Daniel O’Sullivan is an expert linguist, working with language every day, but he just can’t find the right words to communicate his feelings to those he loves. The author takes us on a journey across oceans and through the experiences of many different characters before Daniel reaches any kind of conclusion…if he ever does! If you don’t have the energy or inclination to focus on multiple characters and time frames then this might not be for you. The narrative requires quite a bit of focus and concentration but if you get on board you’ll have the ride of your life!

A few years ago, I introduced my book group members to Maggie O’Farrell’s writing. Suffice to say, they’re chomping at the bit to get their teeth into this one. Highly recommended.

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Twenty Questions for Gloria – Martyn Bedford

Posted in Proofs, YA Fiction on February 23rd, 2016 by admin – Be the first to comment

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Publisher – Walker Books

UK Publication Date – 4th February 2016

Aimed at young readers aged 14 and over, this new novel from Martyn Bedford is less high-octane thriller and more a sensitively written, contemplative account of the trials and tribulations of teenage life.

Gloria is sick and tired of her mundane life, each day blending into the other but along comes Uman, this exotic creature whose clothes, vocabulary and general demeanour are unlike anything she’s experienced before.  He’s a breath of fresh air, no, make that a hurricane and Gloria lets herself get swept away without any thought of the consequences.

This novel makes a refreshing change from all the “noisier” YA  fiction currently on the market.   It is a clever, compelling story with fully realised characters who don’t have to wield a weapon or possess super powers in order to engage the reader.  The author skilfully recreates the uncertainties and angst of teenage years, that limbo between childhood and adulthood.

Yes, it’s a slow burner but stick with it and you’ll appreciate its warmth and emotional intelligence.

My thanks to Helen at Walker Books for providing me with a review copy of this novel.

 

About the Author

Martyn Bedford has written three YA novels, the first of which, Flip, was shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award.  He has also written five novels for adult.  Read more about the author at – www.martynbedford.com

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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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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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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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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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Beautiful Day – Kate Anthony

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Proofs on April 7th, 2014 by admin – 2 Comments

Book Cover:  Beautiful DayAt first glance I thought this must be a light, fluffy book, probably more “hen” than “chick” lit and probably not to my taste…but I was so wrong as I read/devoured it in two sittings – would have been one sitting but children need fed etc!  It’s hard to believe this is a debut novel as it is so self-assured and engaging but Kate Anthony has expertly drawn on her experience as a residential social worker in this tale of domestic adjustments and new beginnings.

Our narrator is Rachel Bidewell, single mother of three, whose feckless husband Dom has absconded with the younger, childless Deborah.  Rachel has been out of the workplace for a long time but now she is starting a new job as a Residential Care Assistant at Clifton Avenue, a care home for adults with special needs.  She is assigned as a key worker for Philip, a new resident who is virtually non-verbal and lacking any social skills.  The novel examines Rachel’s struggles at both home and work as she strives to keep her head above water.  The divorce has shaken the foundations of her family and the details of childcare, finance, custody arrangements, schooling just wear her down.

Somehow, the author creates a realistic picture of a family in turmoil whilst maintaining a lightness and sense of humour.  It’s probably a case of “if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry”.   Rachel is only human and loses her temper when stressed.  Who could blame her when Dom is buying his way into the children’s affections and the children don’t want to hurt either parent.   Alongside this portrayal of a changing family dynamics is the depiction of Philip who has to adjust to a much noisier, busier environment in the care home.  He is such a fragile soul, you really hope for the best for him.  Rob, the Deputy Manager of the home, seems to be on Rachel’s wavelength and she needs all the support she can get at the moment.

Certainly the themes here are challenging – the effects of divorce on parents and children, the relationship between carer and those you care for, identity and how we all need care.  I really enjoyed the insights into residential care and Rachel and her family’s struggles seem very similar to those being experienced by one of my friends at the moment.

A warm, down-to-earth story about ordinary folk coping with extraordinary experiences.  I will certainly look out for more of Kate Anthony’s writing based on this impressive debut.

My thanks to Real Readers for sending me this novel to review.

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