Posts Tagged ‘debut’

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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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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A Burnable Book – Bruce Holsinger

Posted in Historical Fiction on February 3rd, 2014 by admin – 4 Comments

A Burnable Book

Published
30/01/2014

Publisher
HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

Source
Lovereading

My Rating
3.5 stars

 

Bruce Holsinger’s fiction debut, A Burnable Book, is the first in a proposed series of historical thrillers set in 14th century London.  This is Chaucer’s London, it is 1385, a time of flux especially for the young king, Richard II, whose life may be in danger before he gets the opportunity to rule independently.  Rumour has it there is “a burnable book”, a treasonous tract the contents of which could overthrow the monarchy and threaten the stability of the whole country.

Enter John Gower, part-time poet and friend of Geoffrey Chaucer who has requested Gower’s help in tracking down this dangerous tome.  What follows is a well paced but complex story with many twists and  turns.  Equally complex is the vast range of characters, both real-life and fictional, and I was grateful for the list of characters at the front of the novel in order to frequently remind myself who was who.   Holsinger is well respected in the area of medieval research, as attested by his back catalogue of 6 non-fiction works in this field.  Such expertise is evident in the ease with which he brings alive the sights, sounds and smells of medieval London.

This is an accomplished debut novel reminiscent of the sprawling narratives of Ken Follett and C J Sansom.  It is slightly too detailed and convoluted for my liking but I think that Bruce Holsinger’s first foray into fiction will win him lots of new fans.

 

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Mother, Mother – Koren Zailckas

Posted in American Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Thriller on January 29th, 2014 by admin – Be the first to comment

Mother, Mother

Published
16/01/2014

Publisher
HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

Source
Amazon Vine
My Rating
4 stars

” They f___ you up your Mum and Dad,  They may not mean to but they do. “  Harsh words from Philip Larkin but he has a point…except here it’s Mommie Dearest who is most at fault in the shape of Josephine Hurst, narcissistic mother of 3 vulnerable children with  a rather needy husband too.

It might seem quite trite to state that a book was “unputdownable” but in this case I was so engrossed that everything else had to be put on hold.  I just had to keep  on reading – this was car crash tv, the subject matter was disturbing but fascinating and it’s been a while since a book had such an immediate  hold on me.

From the early stages we know that Josephine Hurst is the manipulative matriarch at the heart of  all her family’s woes.  Eldest daughter Rose ran away, middle child Violet tried to escape through drugs and the youngest, 12 year old Will is so wrapped up in his mom’s web of lies he worships the ground she walks on.  The dad, Douglas, is distracted by his own demons – he is an alcoholic and completely unaware of the danger his children face.

Josephine has psychological abuse down to a fine art.  She knows her family’s pressure points and boy does she exploit any weakness with the seemingly innocuous remark, the pouring out a glass of wine for Douglas, the downright disturbing babying of her son.

It is Violet (Viola) who decides to fight back but as a 15 year drug user with no support from her ineffectual father, it’s not going to be an easy battle to win – especially not against Manipulative Mom.   I loved her gutsiness and determination.

The story is told from the point of view of  Violet and Will in short alternating chapters. It quickly becomes clear that Violet has more of a mind of her own than Will who has a questionable diagnosis of autism and epilepsy – a diagnosis actively encouraged by Mom.

Whilst many of the plot twists are predictable and a tad theatrical, this is still a fascinating read and I think it will have huge commercial success and will also be a favourite for book groups.  I can already see folk entering the nature versus nurture debate re Will Hurst.  It doesn’t have the depth of We Need to Talk about Kevin but it will raise age-old issues which we never tire of debating.

A great debut, this psychological thriller will have you on tenterhooks.

 

 

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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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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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The Book of Summers – Emylia Hall

Posted in Dual Time Frame, Literary Prizes, Proofs on April 27th, 2012 by admin – 6 Comments

 

Title:   The Book of Summers
 
Publisher:   Harlequin
 
Imprint:   HarlequinMIRA
 
Pub Date:   May 29, 2012
 
ISBN:   9780778314110

My Rating = 4 stars

I seem to have had a few Proustian moments with this novel  as different smells and sounds brought me back to my youth just as the protagonist explores her past via her own book, The Book of Summers.  Admittedly my own past was somewhat less eventful and less traumatic than that of Beth Lowe but I really enjoyed the atmosphere of nostalgia, the memories of summers past and, I think, despite the sadness, a certain optimism about the future all of which added up to an enjoyable read for me.

The “summers” of the title are the seven vacations which Beth spent with her mother, Marika, in Hungary.  In the present-day narrative, thirty year old Beth is leading a very quiet, almost reclusive life, working in an art gallery in London, but the tranquillity is fractured when her father makes an impromptu visit bringing with him a parcel which, once opened, lets loose all the memories Beth has tried so hard to suppress.  The Book of Summers is the scrapbook memoir which Marika had compiled over the seven summers Beth enjoyed with her in Hungary – memories of hot dry summers, bathing in ponds, first love, wandering in the wilds – all of which form a sharp contrast with home, a rather dreary Devon with a quite depressed Dad who can’t really compete with the exotic wild whirlwind created by Marika.

Of course, such idyllic days were bound to be disrupted and you really feel for the young Beth/Erzi.  Her only hope of closure as an adult is to relive those days via the Book of Summers.

Once, when she was trying to explain why she’d returned to Hungary, Marika said, Sometimes if you don’t go backward, you can’t move forward.

This is an impressive, evocative debut which will transport the reader to another time, another place.  I’m looking forward to reading more from this talented young writer.

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