Contemporary Fiction

Indiscretion – Charles Dubow

Posted in American Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Literary Fiction on June 12th, 2013 by admin – 9 Comments

Indiscretion by Charles Dubow

 

Published
04/07/2013

Publisher
Blue Door

Source
www.lovereading.co.uk

My Rating
5 stars, I was gripped throughout!

 

When I saw this novel billed as The Great Gatsby meets The Secret History, I was immediately on the offensive;  surely the publisher is laying this innocent little debut out in the open for the vultures/critics to swoop and attack.   Fortunately I was proven wrong.  This is no timid, halting debut, this is a meaty, powerful read rightfully brimful of confidence and swagger with characters striding off the page and almost taking over your life.

Yes, it’s an age-old tale – long married couple positively aglow with happiness meet their match in the shape of a young, lithe maiden who adores the charismatic author husband.   As in The Great Gatsby, the story is related by a longstanding friend of the glittering couple.   At first I wondered if this would work as how could Walter possibly know all the subtleties of an emerging affair, the clandestine meetings but it works very well as Charles Dubow is in constant control of the characters and plot.  The result is an outstanding read, so compelling you will hesitate to put the book down.

It’s an easy read in terms of the language used but  the simplicity of idiom belies the complexity and emotional turmoil of     these characters.  Sometimes privileged characters irk me with their sense of entitlement but the Wilmslows are likeable, flawed folk and their story will engross you.  My favourite read so far this year and a very strong contender for my book of the year – highly recommended!

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Beneath an Irish Sky – Isabella Connor

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Proofs on June 7th, 2013 by admin – 3 Comments

Beneath an Irish Sky

Publisher: Choc Lit Limited

Publication Date: 07-Aug-2013

Paperback

Source – www.newbooksmag.com

My Rating – 5 stars

 

This is my first taste of Choc Lit and I will certainly be back for more.  Isabella Connor is the pen name for Liv Thomas and Val Oltenau.  I’m not a big fan of collaborations and I don’t usually like contemporary romantic fiction but this novel stood out for me with its intelligence and wit along with a certain Irish sparkle.

Young Irish Traveller, Luke Kiernan is thrust into an unknown world following a tragic accident.  Plucked from the tranquillity of the Irish countryside he has to forge a new life amongst folk who don’t approve of his Traveller background.  With the threat of violence from his Irish uncles, the future doesn’t look bright for Luke.

This is an extremely readable, touching story which will appeal to fans of romantic fiction with a bit of a kick.   The characters are extremely well drawn, from the mysterious and sometimes brutal world of Irish Travellers to the supposedly more sophisticated, urbane setting of Middle England.  An ideal holiday read and also a rewarding book group read as it will encourage discussion about society’s attitudes towards and misunderstandings about minority groups.

You can discover more of Choc Lit’s enticing titles here.

 

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The Shadow Year – Hannah Richell

Posted in Contemporary Fiction on May 13th, 2013 by admin – 4 Comments

The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell

 

Published
20/06/2013

Publisher
Orion (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd )

ISBN
9781409142980

Sourcewww.lovereading.co.uk

My Rating
4 stars

With two gradually converging storylines, one set in the 80s, the other in the mid-noughties, Hannah Richell weaves an intriguing tale of secrets and lies, of family and friendship, which captivates the reader from the opening lines.

The principal setting is a dilapidated, isolated cottage in the Peak District.  Five friends from university stumble upon this remote idyll in the summer of 1980.  Their education is over, they need space to breathe so they decide to go on a gap year with a difference.  Instead of travelling the world they embark on a journey of self-discovery, holed up together in splendid isolation.  But are they truly self-sufficient or are they merely playing house?

In 2006, Lila discovers the same derelict cottage at a time when she needs time alone to recover from a personal tragedy.  It looks as if the previous occupants left in a hurry and she wonders who they were and what became of them.

The author cleverly teases out the narratives, scattering little crumbs of clues for the reader.  You think you have all the pieces and the jigsaw is complete but you can never be completely sure of who is being truthful and who is witholding vital information.

I can’t say I was particularly fond of any of the characters but this made them and the story all the more compelling.  A cleverly  constructed story which will keep you reading until the wee small hours.  Think  The Good Life crossed with The Secret History!

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Choose Me – Kay Langdale

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Proofs on May 8th, 2013 by admin – 2 Comments

Choose Me

Published
09/05/2013

Publisher
Hodder & Stoughton Ltd

ISBN
9781444766820

Source - New Books Magazine

My Rating – 4.5 stars

Kay Langdale’s latest novel tackles the issue of adoption and, in particular, what the adoption process really means for the potential adoptee.  Nine year old Billy is wise beyond his years and he knows time is running out for him as far as getting the perfect adoptive parents is concerned.  His social worker, Miriam, decides to bend the rules a little and attempts the adoption equivalent of speed-dating, quickly selecting three possible families for Billy but in the rush Billy’s viewpoint seems to be overlooked.

Billy’s  matter-of-fact attitude is mirrored by the author’s sparse, objective prose which is free from embellishment and flowery descriptions and his tale is all the more poignant as a result.  Through Billy’s eyes we see that children can be extremely insightful and able to see past all the facades we adults create to hide the cracks.  Kay Langdale is equally insightful in her ability to capture the moods and motivations of the various characters involved from the overworked social worker to the enthusiastic would-be adoptive parents, digging that bit deeper to see beneath the facade.  A touching read which is sure to provoke lots of discussion at book group.

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The Drowning of Arthur Braxton – Caroline Smailes

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Literary Fiction, Proofs on April 19th, 2013 by admin – 2 Comments

Cover Matt-quote

Published
11/04/2013

Publisher
The Friday Project Limited

ISBN
9780007479092

Source
Publisher

My Rating
5 stars

The only predictable thing about Caroline Smailes’ writing is that it’s unpredictable.  She has such a wonderful wealth of imagination and this is evidenced by the diversity of her novels.  I have already read and enjoyed Black Boxes and Like Bees to Honey (reviewed here ) but I think Arthur Braxton might be the one which brings her to a much wider audience.

Why?  Well, the story of Arthur B can be read on so many different levels.  On the surface it’s an urban fairytale – young teenager, alienated by his peers, falls for a mythical creature only he doesn’t see any problem in their living happily after after.  Dive a little deeper…and you’ll see all the complexities of human relationships, the tragedy of everyday life alongside the joy of feeling loved and wanted.  A little deeper and you appreciate the splashes of Greek mythology which infuse this boy meets girl story – the stories of Daphne, Medea, Castor and Pollux amongst others.

Even though the characters seem very out of the ordinary and not of this world, they come across as real-life, flesh and blood people and the reader is invested in their fate.  Young Laurel was the character who captivated me the most – forever child-like, spelling out words with her Smartie lids, deserving of a much brighter future.  Then there are the ageless twins, Kester and Pollock, heckling from the viewing gallery of the pool, reminding me a lot of those curmudgeonly old hecklers from the Muppet Show, Statler and Waldorf….I told you it was different from your usual comfort read!

Whereas some of Caroline Smailes’ other novels have “challenged” readers with their unconventional formats, here she retains the variety of text without overwhelming the reader and it all seems more controlled and lets you settle into the novel with less distractions.  It’s one of  those books you will want to stay up into the wee small hours reading and yet it will seem time as passed as quickly as an episode of Waterloo Road….read the book and you’ll understand.

I have a strong feeling this novel will bring Caroline Smailes much success and mark her out as one of our most promising writers…ahem, Granta…

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The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion

Posted in Contemporary Fiction on March 15th, 2013 by admin – 2 Comments

The Rosie Project

Published
11/04/2013

Publisher
Michael Joseph Ltd

ISBN
9780718178123

Source
Amazon Vine

My Rating
3 stars

Don Tillman, Professor of Genetics, has a specific task to undertake – that of finding a suitable wife as previous romantic endeavours have ended disastrously.  It is never openly stated but it would appear from his problems with social interaction and his unrelenting adherence to routine that Don has Aspergers and thus his “Wife Project” is fraught with difficulty.  He devises a questionnaire for potential wife candidates and typically he has very precise requirements as to what qualities a good wife should possess.  Enter Rosie Jarman who seems the anthithesis of the Don’s ideal wife but somehow a spark develops between them although it takes Don quite a while to figure this out.   Rosie has another project in mind as she is trying to work out who her real father is and hopefully Don’s expertise in genetics will aid her in her quest.   What follows is a comedy of errors as Dan and Rosie dance around each other not quite confronting their emerging feelings for each other.

Romantic comedies are not my usual genre of choice but the inclusion of a protagonist with Aspergers appealed to me as my son has Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD, another term for Aspergers).  Maybe I am too close to the subject matter but I found the novel lacking and the characters at times two dimensional.  Yes, the behaviour of Aspies can be funny to others but there’s much more to them than social inadequacy if one cares to do more than scratch the surface.  Perhaps it’s the limitations of the genre which prevent an in-depth portrayal of Gene but The Rosie Project reads more like a screenplay for a quirky, screwball rom-com than an insightful novel.

I realise I am probably in the minority here but for me, The Rosie Project lacks light and shade both in its plot and characters – a shame as it could have been a much more convincing portrait of what life is like for those with ASD.  No, it’s not all doom and gloom but it’s not a laugh a minute, stand-up  routine either.

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The Death of Bees – Lisa O’Donnell

Posted in Contemporary Fiction on March 13th, 2013 by admin – 8 Comments

The Death of Bees

Published
07/03/2013

Publisher
Windmill Books

ISBN
9780099558422

Source
Publisher

My Rating
5 stars

Today is Christmas Eve.  Today is my birthday.  Today I am fifteen.  Today I buried my parents in the backyard.  Neither of them were beloved.

With opening lines like these I was immediately hooked and drawn into the story of fifteen year old Marnie, her twelve year old sister Nelly and their neighbour Lennie all of whom take turns to narrate this quirky, original tale.   Marnie and Nelly’s parents were never really there for them anyway, they were more concerned with drugs than childcare, so their sudden deaths could be some sort of release for the girls.  However, the burden of keeping their deaths secret weighs heavily on their young shoulders and you wonder how long they can keep the truth buried…

Not for the faint-hearted this is a short, snappy narrative set in Maryhill, Glasgow in 1980.  It would be an understatement to state that Marnie and Nelly have had a tough life so far – they epitomise dysfunctionality to such an extent that suspension of disbelief is, at times, a prerequisite.  Marnie is the street-wise one, sexually active, drinking, doing drugs whilst Nelly lives in her own little world (a lot more pleasant than the real one!), playing Bach on her violin, eating cornflakes with Coke and employing a distinctly archaic turn of phrase,

Marnie has taken up with a boy. He must be a very humorous chap for she giggles and gasps at everything he has to say.  She is positively smitten with the fellow.  I have no interest in boys.  They smell of socks and  oil.  I wish they’d look to their books.

Nelly seems very much on the autistic spectrum but that’s just part of her personality and I find it hard to turn off my Aspie Radar!

With the use of three different narrators, it is easy to differentiate between the characters and hear each individual voice.  Amidst the darkness there is a dry humour which makes Marnie and Nelly all the more likeable and you are rooting for them to forge a better life for themselves hoping that the  bonds of sisterhood will overcome their diametrically opposed temperaments.  This is an unusual, earthy coming of age tale with characters which will engage and stay with you long after you  turn the final page.

An excellent debut novel, highly recommended.

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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce

Posted in Contemporary Fiction on February 18th, 2013 by admin – 3 Comments

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Published
02/01/2013

Publisher
Black Swan

ISBN
9780552778091

My Rating - 4 stars

Source – NetGalley

Rachel Joyce has written over twenty original plays for BBC Radio 4 and her debut novel stems from one of those plays, written in 2007, a play written for her father who was dying of cancer.  Her protagonist, recently retired Harold Fry has somehow embarked on a pilgrimage for his former colleague, Queenie, who is terminally ill.  One morning, whilst walking to the post box to post a letter of condolence to Queenie, he just keeps on going and decides to walk 600 miles from Devon to Berwick on Tweed hoping that she will hang on in there until he arrives.

In this modern-day Pilgrim’s Progress, the  author manages to prevent the story slipping into a saccharine stupor which could alienate many readers.  Whilst it hardly seems feasible that a pensioner would undertake such a daunting expedition with no preparation and just a pair of old yacht shoes,  I was charmed by this unassuming gentleman and equally intrigued by his past, present and future.  It’s a gentle story but it has powerful themes – love, family relationships, marital breakdown, bereavement, attitudes to the elderly, faith,  materialism.

I laughed, I wept, but most importantly, Harold made me stop, catch  my breath and take stock of what’s important in life.  A beautifully written novel ideal for those who enjoy gentle-paced narratives which make you think.

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Lynnwood – Thomas Brown

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Proofs on February 15th, 2013 by admin – 1 Comment

Publication date 17th June 2013 Sparkling Books Ltd

Paperback  £7.99  €9.95   US$12.95

ISBN: 978-1-907230-38-7

Ebook  £4.99  €5.49  US$6.99

Source – NetGalley

My Rating – 3.5 stars

Thomas Brown’s debut novel is a distinctly chilling read with elegant touches of gothic horror.  Lynnwood looks like any other quaint, picturesque village set on the edges of the New Forest in the South of England.  However, under the pretty exterior lurks dark intrigue as the villagers are at the mercy of ancient traditions and urges.

The writing has a cinematic feel which helps stack up the menacing images and the pervading sense of doom which permeates the novel.  I was reminded of darker episodes of Torchwood, of films like The Village, The Wicker Man and even The Blair Witch Project – all good in my case as I love a bit of rural horror. My one criticism would be that I felt a bit confused at times but then again the plot deals with the inexplicable!

A promising debut from a talented writer.

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The Night Rainbow – Claire King

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Proofs on January 30th, 2013 by admin – 6 Comments

The Night Rainbow

Published
14/02/2013

Publisher
Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

ISBN
9781408824672

My Rating – 4 stars

Source - Amazon Vine

Claire King’s debut novel is an absolute delight with a narrator who will grab your heartstrings and never let go. Set in Southern France, during a blistering hot summer, this is the story of five year old Pea aka Peony aka Pivoine and her younger sister Margot. Their mother has retreated into herself following a miscarriage and the later death of their Papa. Maman is heavily pregnant again but Pea and Margot are left to their own devices, wandering the countryside where they meet up with Claude, a middle aged man with whom they strike up a friendship. Not everyone approves of their friendship but Maman’s absence, both physical and emotional, means that the girls have to fend for themselves.

Narrated by Pea, this is a beautifully written story with equal amounts of joy and sadness. Pea and Margot’s interactions will make you smile as they strive to make a plan to cheer up Maman but the smiles quickly vanish when their efforts fall flat. Yes, there is sadness here but the overall mood is one of optimism as Pea just bounces back and looks for another remedy for her mother’s despair.

The author has captured Pea’s five year old voice perfectly, that eternal optimism, the desire to live in the moment, the clarity of vision which can see when grown-ups are just overthinking and making things more complicated than what they really are. One could learn a lot from a child like Pea. This is a sparkling, quirky, captivating debut, highly recommended.

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