How To Stop Time

So Penance properly got to me. That book was a different level of twisty darkness so I needed to read whatever was the opposite of that book.

We received a proof of the new Matt Haig book a couple of weeks ago and like a greedy troll I snapped this book up.

So you’ve heard of Matt Haig right?…. RIGHT?! If you haven’t I urge you to read Reasons To Stay Alive, it’s a life changing book and really is the sort of thing everyone should read.

Now, his new novel How To Stop Time had been on my periphery for quite a while. There’s a lot of twitter buzz about this book, it’s already being turned into a film starring Benedict Cumberbatch so I wanted to get on the hype train and find out why everyone was banging on about this book.

Tom Hazard looks like a seemingly average 41 year old man, but he isn’t. Tom Hazard has been alive for centuries, he suffers from a rare condition that means he ages slower than average humans.

From the start, How To Stop Time, is such a breath of fresh air. Tom Hazard has an overwhelming sense of pity about himself but as you get your teeth into the story you suddenly realise that it’s not just his body that is afflicted by this slow process of ageing but also his emotions, joy is quick but grief is so much slower. As I was reading I found myself putting myself in Hazard’s shoes and just fathoming how you’d take the mental toll of loss if it lasts hundreds of years. This isn’t a bleak book, it’s massively uplifting and How To Stop Time thrusts the reader through the peaks and troughs of life.

The charm of Matt Haig’s writing whisks you through the story, jumping between present day and various points of Tom Hazard’s life. The characters that Hazard engages with in his long and varied life are so fun, plus you can’t fault a book that has a decent dog.

I love this book, it was utterly breathing and it just makes you stop and think “we all need to stop being such massive dicks to each other”. This is a humane novel that is a proper book lovers book. Haig’s writing reminded me a little of David Mitchell and it spent most of time as I was reading, hoping that one day I’d be able to write as magnificently as Haig.

How To Stop Time by Matt Haig published by Canongate Books – 6th July 2017

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Strange Magic

The past few months I’ve been super lazy with the proofs I’ve been reading, I have a monumental stack of books from autumn, winter and spring which I haven’t touched… Not to mention all the other books I have bought in the meantime.

One of these books was Strange magic by Syd Moore.

Syd used to be my tutor, so when OneWorld sent me an advance copy of Strange Magic it went to the top of my pile…then I moved house, then Christmas happened and I still hadn’t gotten round to reading Strange Magic.

When it rolled round to April I got an invitation to the launch of Strange Magic, so the overwhelming guilt I felt when I realised I hadn’t read the book yet was ridiculous. I started Strange magic ASAP.

When Rosie Strange becomes the inheritor of the Essex Witch Museum she soon finds herself deep in the mystery of locating the bones of Ursula Candence, a witch put to death many years ago. With curator Sam Stone, Rosie’s thrust out of her day-to-day and is wrapped up in the secrets of the past and an all too present danger.

You know when you just ‘get’ a character? After a couple of chapters I thought ‘If Lyra from His Dark Materials had grown up and gone into benefit fraud, she’d be Rosie Strange”. Syd Moore totally nails the concept of making a character feisty without making her annoying and Sam Stone, well your cold dead heart will beat a little beat for him. Even if you’re not into paranormal fiction this is one to read just for the characters.

I was lucky enough to sit in on a talk Syd gave on Saturday and there’s so much research that’s gone into her novels. Her comparisons between witch hunts and feminism are eye opening. Plus she’s unbelievably captivating, she talks the talks and writes the… book.

Having recently gone through a couple of books I thought were dark, it was so refreshing so read something that was FUN. Yeah, it goes into some of the outrageously horrendous crimes committed against women thought to be witches, but you’ll find yourself getting to a point in the book where you won’t want to put it down.

Strange Magic has been compared to Ben Aaronovitch and that’s so true. The River’s of London books are fab, so Strange Magic is the perfect wine to go with that cheese.

Strange Magic is the first in the Essex Witch Museum series and Strange Sight will be published in October 2017. Read this book! ***And if you get a chance try and attend a talk by Syd Moore, it was one of the best events I’ve been to in years***

Penance

I’ve just finished a book called Penance by Kanae Minato and I need to tell everyone about it.

A colleague first alerted me to Penance a few weeks ago. I didn’t think I’d heard of Kanae Minato before, to was only after googling I realised that she had written the novel Confessions, which was adapted into the most darkly upsetting films ever.

My spawn woke me up at 5AM the other morning for no reason, unable to go back to sleep I started reading Penance. By 7AM I was over half way through.

In a tiny Japanese village with the cleanest air, a factory is built bringing in new residents to this little community. Five young girls are playing volleyball when a stranger approaches the group. Within hours one of the girls is dead and the fallout from discovering their friend’s body haunts the girls for the rest of their lives.

Penance is the sort of book I would have finished in one sitting (if I hadn’t have had to go to work and look after a small child). I did manage to read it in a day even though I was interrupted too many times to count. When I finished this book I was shocked, numb and chilled. When I went to sleep I couldn’t help but think that a twee little Japanese housewife wrote this novel.

Penance is a story that will really chill you. I want to read everything Kanae Minato has written, reading her gave me the same rush I had when I first read Ryu Murakami. She’s utterly fantastic, brutal and manages to tap in a special kind of female darkness. I need to read Confessions. Minato’s writing is sensational and there’s something quite brutal about a Japanese housewife sitting down and writing this book.

This is a must read for crime fiction fans and even more so for Japanese fiction fans.

Penance is published by Mulholland Books and translated by Philip Gabriel.

Can You Hear Me?

The past couple of month have been a total reading struggle for me. I struggled to get into anything after reading In Every Moment We Are Still Alive, I spend most of my evenings reading pictures books with my daughter and sometimes after reading The Bear Who Stared for the 15th time I’m too exhausted to read anything else.

A while back one of my best friends gave me a copy of The Power by Noami Alderman and it was so bloody outstanding. I was sorted and was out of my reading rut.

Just before the Easter bank holiday I got sent a big bag of Italian biscuits and a book called ‘Can You Hear Me?’ by Elena Varvello. This proof had a plethora of quotes on the front and back cover, singing it’s praises so this book had me hyped.

Set in the hazy Italian summer of 1978, the small town of Ponte is shaken by the murder of a young boy. Sixteen year old Elia Furenti is living in his secluded home with his mother and newly jobless father.

From the start this novel is heady and you can feel the Italian heat in every sentence. Considering how dark and intense this novel gets it’s passionate and you find yourself relishing every chapter. Varvello’s writing is like a shadowy mix of King and Du Maurier, it’s part compelling noir and elegant coming -of-age story. Elia’s proof that the modern teenage experience is pretty much the same regardless of location. I was so rooted in the story, Elia’s confused emotional state and his father’s mental decline was fascinating. Also I must mention the translation of this novel is brilliant, when reading translated fiction is often noticable when a translator loses the flow of the story but this doesn’t happen at all in this book… it just feel like Italy.This is going to be my book of the summer and potentially the year.

Can You Hear Me? by Elena Varvello will be published by Two Roads on 13th July 2017.

This year has been so outstanding for publishing, currently I have a few different titles on the go; Strange Magic by Syd Moore, The Book of Luce by L.R. Fredericks and When Marnie Was There by Joan G Robinson.

In Every Moment We Are Still Alive

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In January the wonderful fellows at Sceptre Books sent me a proof called ‘In Every Moment We’re Still Alive’ by Tom Malmquist. The press release that accompanied this book stated that Malmquist had ‘taken the Swedish literary world by storm’ and you know what… I think book is going to take the English literary world by storm as well.

In Every Moment We Are Still Alive, it begins with Tom who is at hospital with his girlfriend Karen, 33 weeks pregnant and fighting for her life. Tom is bombarded with medical jargon while he sits helplessly while his wife and daughter’s lives hang in the balance. There’s a sense of numbing shock that Malmquist purveys with his writing that is like nothing I’ve ever read.

Being told that your child is going to be delivered by emergency c-section, 6 weeks early was one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve had to read. Having experienced it first hand, the blunt realisation that today you will become a parent is terrifying. Tom is robbed of any preparation time but also has to compartmentalise with the fact that his wife isn’t there to go through it with him.

Parts of this book I found too hard to read. I sat on the beach, reading and sobbing as this beautiful story of love and loss captured my heart.

Powerful, stark and tender. I can’t find enough words to describe this outstanding novel, all I can do is urge anyone who has experienced loss to embrace this novel.

In Every Moment We Are Still Alive by Tom Malmquist published by Sceptre Books 9781473640009

 

 

 

The Roanoke Girls

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The first book of 2017 I read was a novel by Amy Engel called The Roanoke Girls. A mystery with deep dark roots, The Roanoke Girls left me rattled, thrilled and moved. Last week I was lucky enough to ask author Amy Engel a few questions about The Roanoke Girls.

This is your first novel for adults, how was it transitioning from YA to adult fiction?

The transition was actually pretty painless. For me, the crux of any story is the characters and that doesn’t change whether I’m writing YA or adult. I was, of course, able to go to some darker places with the adult book, but the actual writing process wasn’t all that different.

The Roanoke Girl is so dark and provocative. What was it like to write something so emotive, was it difficult? Did you have any special processes to help you write?

The book wasn’t actually that difficult to write, although at times I did find myself having to shake it off after a day of being immersed in the world of Roanoke. I didn’t really have any special processes unique to The Roanoke Girls that helped me write it. I tend to write all my books in a certain spot in my house (a big comfy chair in my living room) and that didn’t change with The Roanoke Girls. I definitely think this is a story that wanted to be told, because I never had much trouble getting it to flow.

I loved the setting of The Roanoke Girls, the hot Kansas landscape really transported me. What sort of research did you have to do for the book?

Very little research when it came to the setting, actually. I was born in Kansas, my mom grew up in a small town there, and I spent many, many summer in rural Kansas. So I know the rhythms of small time life well, along with the stifling, oppressive heat and the relentless boredom. I pretty much just plucked from my own past for those parts without having to do any research.

What was your favourite thing about writing The Roanoke Girls?

Honestly, all of it. For such a dark book, it was a tremendous joy to write. I especially loved writing Lane, who I know can be awful and difficult at times, but I always felt such sympathy for her. She’s doing the very best she can, and I admire her strength. 

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Were there any writers or stories that inspired you when writing The Roanoke Girls?

My love for gothic novels definitely inspired The Roanoke Girls. In fact, the first line of the book is my own little homage to Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Gillian Flynn is always an inspiration when it comes to diving into very dark places. And Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell inspired me with its strong evocation of place, which I really wanted to achieve with The Roanoke Girls. There’s also a little nod within the novel to the story of the lost colony of Roanoke, Virginia, but so far only a couple of people have made the connection.

Finally, what’s next for you?

I’m working on a new adult novel, psychological suspense again. I’m hoping to have the first draft done soon!

The Roanoke Girls is published 9th March by Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN: 9781473660311

With thanks to Trish Brown for author images.

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Worth a thousand words

Most of my reading time is taken up by reading picture books to my toddler. 2016 and 2017 so far has seen some outstanding releases already. Compared to when I was growing up the standard of pictures books and titles aimed at younger readers is os much better!

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Here’s a few of the books we’ve been reading on rotation.

The Unexpected Visitor by J. Courtny-Tickle published by Egmont Books.

This is a beautiful little story about friendship and fishing, the illustrations are soothing and delicate. We read this one chilly night and by the end I was genuinely warmed.

Life is Magic by Meg McLaren published by Andersen Press

This book is cheeky, fun and magical! A magician’s rabbit who’s bored of being a sidekick causes all kinds of chaos. The illustrations are Ghibli-esque and had my daughter laughing and shouting “bunny!” all night.

The Bear Who Stared by Duncan Beedie published by Templar Publishing.

This earned its place amongst my daughter’s favourite books straight away. We’ve read this every night for about a month so far. It’s got everything, a shy weirdo bear, a rude badger and a cheeky frog, The Bear Who Stared puts across a message about shyness and friendship which is delightful.

The Lumberjack’s Beard by Duncan Beedie published by Templar Publishing.

Judging by The Bear Who Stared I knew we were in for a treat when this book arrived. Straight away it was a hit in my household. Ridiculous and brilliant, The Lumberjack’s Beard is a sweet story about home and every page has enchanting illustrations. If you’ve enjoyed Jon Klassen then Duncan Beedie will be right up your street!

Sunk! by Rob Biddulph published by Harper Collins Children’s Books.

Blown Away was the one of the best books I’ve had the pleasure to read with my daughter, Odd Dog Out almost drove me to insanity, it was so wonderful but I know it off by heart, it was read atlas three times a day so when I saw that Sunk! was due to be released I skipped with joy. It’s just a refreshing to get a children’s book with fantastic rhyming, fun illustrations and great adventure story. Get on board with Penguin Blue!

Also an Octopus by Maggie Tokuda-Hall and Benji Davies published by Walker Books.

A great story about imagination and storytelling which has a ukulele playing octopus, a little girl, a bunny and a spaceship. What more could you want!? This was delightful to read and the illustrations are so lovely.

I just hope 2017 carries on with this high standard of publishing!