Posts Tagged ‘debut novel’

The House at the Edge of Night – Catherine Banner

Posted in Debut Novel, Historical Fiction on March 16th, 2016 by admin – Be the first to comment

Publication Date – 19th May 2016

Publisher – Hutchinson

480 pages

Spanning almost 95 years, The House at the Edge of  Night is a vivid, absorbing family saga with the emphasis on great storytelling. Indeed, one of the main characters is described as a collector of stories and there are frequent references to and extracts from Italo Calvino’s wonderful collection of Italian folktales so you sense the author’s respect for storytelling tradition.

This is the story of four generations of the Esposito family as well as the stories of their friends and neighbours on the remote island of Castellmare, off the coast of Sicily. There is a great warmth to the writing and you feel fully engaged by the characters, from the convivial local priest, Father Ignazio to the supercilious Conte to the blind widow, Gesuina. Even though Castellmare is physically isolated from the mainland it cannot indefinitely prevent the outside world from impinging on their daily lives – war, technology and the banking crisis all take their toll.

I found it very difficult to tear myself away from this compelling story of island life and I read it in a couple of sittings. If you enjoyed Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Island, you will be charmed by this epic tale of stoical folk. Highly recommended.

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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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Ghost Moth – Michele Forbes

Posted in Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, N Ireland, Proofs on August 3rd, 2013 by admin – 1 Comment


Ghost Moth

Publisher – W&N


Ghost Moth

Publisher – Bellevue Literary Press












Amazon Vine

My Rating
4 stars – one to watch


Ghost Moth is the debut novel of Michele Forbes, an Irish actress who has already written several critically acclaimed short stories.

Overall, I  found this a very promising debut novel with flashes of brilliance and a poetic heart at its core.  It’s a deeply moving examination of the minutiae of everyday life parts of which echo the author’s own life experiences.  There are two narrative strands,  both set  in Belfast ; the first  in 1949 where a young woman, Katherine Fallon, finds her pleasant relationship with the sure and steady George Bedford is shaken when she meets the charismatic tailor, Thomas McKinley. In the 1969 story we know that she is married to George and has four children but is it a marriage of convenience?

I loved the 1969 story, with the unsettled nature of the Bedfords’ relationship mirroring the uncertainty of a city on the brink of civil war. George, in his role as a part-time fire fighter, sees the burgeoning violence first-hand.  Elsa, Katherine’s youngest daughter, faces increasing hostility from other local children as the Bedfordshire are Catholics in a predominantly Protestant neighbourhood. Forbes excels at portraying the ebb and flow of family life : a day trip to the seaside, a back garden fair to raise funds for the “black babies”, how to find your role within the family.  In the midst of  all this change Katherine seems stuck in the past, unable to move forward.

The 1949 Katherine is a totally different character, embarking on an affair despite being happily settled with George after a two year relationship. You know it will all end badly but it is difficult to feel sympathy for Katherine and nigh impossible to work out what motivates her to make these life choices besides  just drifting into them.

The Bedfords seem like an ordinary family but within their “ordinariness” you will find extraordinary ripples making you think of the nature of love – between mother and child, between husband and wife, between siblings.  Does love have to be showy and passionate to survive the passing years?  Forbes makes you see under the surface, to what really matters.

I really enjoyed this condidently written debut novel and found some sections extremely moving especially towards the end of the story.   Some parts, especially in the early stages,  seemed overwritten and this had a jarring effect on the flow of the novel but fortunately this was the exception rather than the rule.  I am looking forward to reading more from this very talented author.

PS Which cover do you prefer?  Am I alone in having an extreme dislike of the one on the right??


Michelle Forbes

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The Wedding Gift – Marlen Suyapa Bodden

Posted in American Fiction, Historical Fiction on June 2nd, 2013 by admin – 2 Comments

The Wedding Gift

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Century (9 May 2013
  • Source: Publisher
  • My Rating – 4 stars

I enjoy historical fiction but have a restricted range, preferring British Tudor and Medieval settings or, as in this case, the antebellum Southern States.

The Wedding Gift is set in Alabama and the focus is on two women who come from very different social classes but who share a common bond of powerlessness when faced with domineering men.  Sarah is a half-white slave, the off-spring of Emmeline, a house slave,  and the boorish plantation owner.  Theodora is the plantation owner’s long suffering wife, the target of his alcohol fuelled mood swings and she is expected to toe the line at all times.  Both women are victims of slavery yet they strive to escape their bondage – Sarah with her plans to escape and Theodora with little acts of rebellion such as teaching Sarah to read and write even though it is considered illegal.

Yes, there is a lot of dialogue and it can seem, at times, a little forced but you’re carried along by the compelling storyline.  This is an impressive debut and one for fans of Kathleen Grissom’s The Kitchen House and Gone With the Wind.

You can discover more about the author on her website here.

Marlen Bodden








Dr Marlen Suyapa Bodden



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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


Windmill Books



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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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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Queen’s Gambit – Elizabeth Fremantle

Posted in Historical Fiction, Proofs on February 14th, 2013 by admin – Be the first to comment
Queen's Gambit


Michael Joseph Ltd


My Rating 4 stars

I have read and enjoyed Philippa Gregory’s Tudor series of novels so I was keenly anticipating this debut novel by Elizabeth Fremantle which focuses on Henry VIII’s sixth and last wife, Katherine Parr. My knowledge of Katherine was rather limited given that other queens especially Anne Boleyn tend to hog the Tudor stage!

This is an impressive debut novel with assured, confident writing. We see the many aspects of Katherine’s character – she was so much more than a nursemaid to the ailing king – with her contribution to religious reform, her survival instincts, her desire for love even after two marriages of convenience. Complementing Katherine’s story is the tale of her chamberer, Dot Fownten (Fountain), whose life has been colourfully reimagined by the author. Whilst I enjoyed hearing about Dot’s life, I did find myself wanting to know more about Katherine and what made her tick.

A handy list of the main characters with some extra biographical information is included at the back of the novel along with a basic Tudor timeline – ideal for Tudor novices.

Queen’s Gambit will appeal to fans of romantic historical fiction with moving accounts of Katherine’s love for Thomas Seymour. They say love is blind and this must certainly have been the case for Katherine, an intelligent, perceptive woman, to overlook/remain blissfully ignorant of all of Seymour’s machinations. The novel works well as a light read and is an impressive debut, the first of what should be a popular trilogy of novels set in the Tudor era.

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The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker

Posted in American Fiction, Dystopian Fiction, Proofs, YA Fiction on June 1st, 2012 by admin – 3 Comments

The Age of Miracles


Simon & Schuster Ltd

My Rating – 3 Stars

With apologies to TS Eliot, is this how the world ends then, not with a bang but a whimper, with the slowing of the earth’s rotation?  Karen Thompson Walker’s novel certainly stands out from the glut of post-apocalyptic novels currently crowding bookshop shelves with its quiet, reflective style and gentle tone but does this debut have enough oomph to grab the reader and keep him transfixed until the bitter end?

I don’t require a lot of action in my reading, sometimes the quiet ones are the ones which draw me in the most.  I also don’t need everything tied up neatly at the end but for several reasons this novel didn’t quite work for me and left me feeling rather unsatisfied.  Firstly, I am not sure what type of story it’s trying  to be – Young Adult or perhaps crossover, coming of age tale, stark dystopian drama? 

Told from the perspective of 11 year old,  Julia, we hear a lot about her trials and tribulations as a young adolescent – falling out with friends, exploring first romantic feelings, lack of communication with parents BUT considering the earth has shifted on its axis and days are sometimes 48 hours long we have little in-depth analysis of a global catastrophe.  Divisions are caused when the “Real-Timers” go against government advice and decide to live their lives according  to whatever naturally occurs, sleeping during the dark time and remaining awake during daylight hours – I couldn’t quite fathom how they could do this during “48 hour” days!  Everyone else goes by the clock even if  it means trying to sleep in broad daylight and going to and from school in the dark. 

All in all, this is a promising debut but the intriguing premise was let down by a rather pedestrian story – one of those kitchen-sink books where everything gets thrown in but somehow it doesn’t quite blend to form a palatable whole.   Some beautiful writing but just not in this format…perhaps it would have worked better with an older narrator?

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The Last Summer – Judith Kinghorn

Posted in Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction on March 12th, 2012 by admin – 3 Comments

The Last Summer


Headline Review

My Rating – 4 stars

I must confess to having grown a bit weary of dual-time frame novels so it was a delight to pick up The Last Summer knowing that it would focus on one particular period in history, the Great War and beyond.  Brownie points are awarded for the inclusion of a sumptuous country house, Deyning Park – come Spring, of a weekend, you will find my family and I wandering around the grounds of Mount Stewart, a National Trust property, not unlike Deyning with its own lake and beautifully manicured gardens and grounds.   I find myself often wondering what it was like in its heyday with cocktails and croquet on the lawn….anyway, if you read The Last Summer you are instantly transported back to that world without even having to leave the comfort of your own armchair.

Our story begins in the early summer of 1914 with events narrated by Clarissa, the privileged daughter of the wealthy Granville family.  During a weekend party she meets and falls in love with Tom Cuthbert, the housekeeper’s son, who is “allowed” to socialise with his betters for a short while while on holiday from university.  War interrupts this burgeoning, forbidden romance and ends what Clarissa describes as a “belle epoque”,  turning everything on its head but will attitudes change to such an extent that their partnership will ever be accepted in polite society?

This is an epic yet surprisingly compact story which draws you in from the opening pages.  It does no harm, I guess, that Downton Abbey is currently enjoying such success with the Great British Public and even further afield as Downton devotees will fall equally in love with Deyning Park and its inhabitants.   The characters are vivid and engaging with just the right amount of flaws to make them appear “almost” one of us.  The author does a splendid job of recreating the accepted mores of post-Edwardian society including the seedier side of drug-taking as well as the intense suffering of those returning from the Front.  Yes, there’s a lot packed into just over 400 pages but it remains an immensely readable, compelling story.

Highly recommended for all romantics and an extremely fine debut – looking forward to her next offering for my future romantic fix…

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Signs of Life – Anna Raverat

Posted in Contemporary Fiction on February 24th, 2012 by admin – 4 Comments

Signs of Life



Signs of Life by Anna Raverat is one of Waterstones’ 11 for 2012, their list of highly recommended debut novels.  Last year’s picks included The Tiger’s Wife (Orange Prizewinner) and Pigeon English (Man Booker shortlist) so does this bode well for Ms Raverat’s first novel?

Well, I loved Signs of Life and I think it must be acknowledged that it is an extremely brave debut novel given that its narrator, Rachel, is extremely unlikeable.  It’s not that she’s been involved in war crimes or cruelty  to animals, quite the opposite as she “appears” to be a bit of a flake, self-obsessed, drifting along and letting others carry the can while she continues sitting at her desk navel-gazing.  Not sounding awfully exciting so far…

What I did find fascinating though was the way in which Rachel gradually releases her history to us, strand by strand and what a tangled web she weaves.  Ten years ago she had an affair with disastrous consequences and we won’t get to the crux of the whole “affair” until she has sorted through all the other events in a stream of consciousness style, flitting from past to present, from mundane to deathly serious.

She controls what the reader knows whilst claiming to have been used as a pawn and throughout the novel I found her quite unnerving on a par with Barbara from Notes on a Scandal, another obnoxious yet fascinating character.  She wants to be honest but she frequently alludes to the fact that honesty and truth are impossible to achieve.

If you are enthralled by unlikeable, unreliable narrators and you don’t mind being manipulated and dangled on a string, then you will be captivated by this tense, edgy novel – an excellent debut.

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