In October one of the fanciest proofs came my way. It was beautiful, intriguing and I couldn’t wait to get stuck into The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel… Then I moved house and lost my copy of The Roanoke Girls.
Flash forward three months to when I final get round to unpacking one of the six boxes of books I refuse to make eye contact with, you know the old saying “Don’t unpack your stuff, just buy new stuff.” and I find my copy of The Roanoke Girls.
I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I started Engel’s novel but within a few pages I was completely hooked.
Lane finds herself uprooted when her mother commits suicide. From the busy, loud landscape of New York she’s taken in by her estranged grandparents who live in the dusty, middle-America town of Osage Flats, Kansas. Upon arrive at the Roanoke estate Lane finds the Roanoke’s to be nothing but welcoming, her grandmother, grandfather and her cousin, Allegra. For the first time in her life Lane has a family and begins to find out about the old Roanoke family.
The novel then jumps forward to present day. Lane receives a phone call from her grandfather, Allegra is missing and Lane must return to the Roanoke household.
When I started The Roanoke Girls it was obvious that this is a beautifully written novel yet every sentence hints towards something dark and nasty. As you start to find out about fifteen year old Lane and present day Lane, Engel’s writing makes you feel a little awkward and uncomfortable so when you hit the first real “OH!” moment it makes you shudder. It’s an isolated story and Osage Flats reminded me of something out of a Steinbeck novel, I haven’t read a huge amount set in small-town America so I was completely captivated.
Engel’s writing really does keep you wanting more and the novel doesn’t lose pace at any point. It took me all of a couple of days to finish The Roanoke Girls and as soon as I put this book down I couldn’t wait to tell everyone about it.
I’m so glad I started 2017 with this dark little gem of a book.
The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel will be published 7th March 2017 by Hodder &Stoughton.
A couple of weeks ago a proof copy of a new novel by Sarah Pinborough arrived. I’d never read any of Pinborough’s work before but on the back cover of the book was a whole bunch of praise from Joe Hill, Sarah Lotz and Neil Gaiman so I couldn’t help but be interested. I went to put the proof in my bag, knowing it would sit on my ‘to-read’ pile for a good few weeks when a colleague had said “that looks interesting” so I gave it to her.
Two days later my colleague shoved Behind Her Eyes into my hands and said “I need you to read this! I need to talk to somebody about the ending. I can’t stop thinking about the ending of this book!”
That night I started reading Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough and by the time I reached chapter ten I could not put this book down.
Behind Her Eyes is set in present day and switches point of view from Louise, a single mother who smokes, drinks, has night terrors and is holding it all together for her seven year old son. Whilst at a bar she ends up drinking with David, a psychiatrist who admits that he’s married before things go too far. Ending their brief romantic encounter with nothing but a kiss they go their separate ways only to meet each other again at work the next day. (My first thought was “OMG this is going to be just like Grey’s Anatomy!”)
After avoiding each other at work, Louise literally runs into Adele, David’s pretty but suppressed and lonely wife. Trying to do the right thing Louise tries to hurry off but ends up feeling sorry for this kind, shy woman and befriends her over a cup of coffee.
From the start of their friendship Adele shows some some subtle obsessive behaviour, buying Louise a gym membership, getting her to quit smoking. She turns Louise into her project.
The novel is interjected with flashbacks of Adele’s past, the early years of her relationship with David and her only real friendship with a boy named Rob.
Pin borough does an amazing job of making the reader care about the characters and be interested in the relationships enough to put the characters on equal footing. It’s really hard to over sympathise with one particular character and by the second half of Behind Her Eyes it’s very unclear who the victim is.
In the last quarter of the novel it’s clear where the story is heading, Pinborough has placed all the pieces of the puzzle perfectly and I was ready for the pay off.
On the back of the book, underneath the praise and quotes, in bright orange text was #WTFTHATENDING and oh my goodness, never has a sentence been so true! I’ve never been so wrong about ending of a book before. I read it once and thought “no way”. I went back a few pages to re-read the end and out loud I exclaimed “WHAT THE FUCK?!”
This book completely knocked me sideways.
I worry that people will try to compare this to Gone Girl because of the toxic marriage in the main plot by Behind Her Eyes is so much better. The characters are real, down to earth and actually likeable. The writing is fast paced and there’s pages where the writing makes you feel like you’re on a knife edge. Behind Her Eyes is so much fun to read and you’ll be thinking about the ending for days!
Behind Her Eyes is out in January 2017 and it’s going to be huge! Pre-order a copy from your local bookshop ASAP and make sure you read it the moment it’s released… You really won’t want anyone spoiling the ending for you.
I just finished a book. When I finished my book I sat for a while and had a think. Then I went to the fridge and had another think. Then I got a beer from the fridge and thought some more.
I’ve just finished reading Infinite Ground by Martin MacInnes and I genuinely have no idea what I’ve just read. On the cover of the book is quote by Jeff Vandermeer saying “I doubt you’ve read anything quite like it” and he’s right. I’m a bit blown away by this book. It’s a proper what-the-fuck read. The first chapter already has you second guessing what you’ve just read and it only gets better!
What starts out as a semi-retired inspector investigating the disappearance of a young gentleman, Carlos, soon turns into a surreal exploration that takes the inspector and readers on an incredible journey.
I had never heard of the book Infinite Ground until the end of July. I came across the odd mention here and there through colleagues then one night my colleague Emma tweeted “Got to the part about the guy wanting to remove his mouth by dislocating his jaw” and I was instantly sold. I demanded to know what this book was and literally got my hands on a copy the next morning.
The less you know about Infinite Ground the better but trust me when I say that this is a phenomenal debut novel and by the time you finish this book you’ll wonder how on earth MacInnes has the talent to make this his first! I was so enthralled by this book. The writing style flits between a literary noir, to eye witness reports and scientific style publication. There are parts of Infinite Ground that I found so visceral and intense, I felt like this was a novel that I’ll go back to again and again. There’s literally pages in which I had no idea what I was reading (but in a good way).
It’s been a while since I’ve finished a book and really had to digest what I had just read. I’ve got such a large to-read pile and I can’t thank my bookseller pals enough for highlighting this outstanding story.
Please get yourself a copy of this as soon as you can. Infinite Ground is profound, marvellous, mysterious and humane. It’s up there with my books of 2016 and I will be waiting with baited breath to see what Machines has to offer next.
I’ve just finished an amazing debut novel. Last week a fancy looking proof arrived called The Countenance Divine by Michael Hughes. I didn’t request this book, I knew nothing of the plot and I hadn’t heard of the author before. Obviously judging the book completely by it’s cover I thought that this would be pretty on the outside and bland on the inside.
I was very, very wrong.
We start in 1999 with Chris, computer programmer working for a small company preparing for the imminent Millennium Bug. Chris is robotic and slightly sociopathic which was a great change of pace after recently finishing two novels with very emotive characters. After focusing on Chris we are then thrown into an account from Jack the Ripper in 1888. This chapter drags you by the hair out of the modern day and into the past and takes the reader by surprise. The writing style becomes harsh and makes a massive juxtaposition to what we then go on to read in the third chapter. After 1888 we then find ourselves in 1777 with William Blake suffering from strange spiritual delusions. The writing style is obviously poetic and continues in that vein when we reach 1666 where we pursue Allgood and John Milton as he embarks on the completion of Paradise Lost.
After being introduced to each time period we flit amongst the stories. Some having obvious parallels with each other and others hidden away, not to be revealed until the latter chapters. With the alternating writing styles and characters that will have readers engaged to no end I felt like I was reading a potential Booker or Costa nomination.
The writing is particularly breathtaking when it comes to the 1888 and 1777 eras and it was the Blake storyline that had me tearing through this book.
This novel is not without fault however. I found the Milton chapters hard to follow as even though it follows that same style as the 1777 chapters it lagged with the constant religious comments and references but that’s probably more to do with myself not being a huge reader of historical fiction.
Having already been compared to the work of David Mitchell and Hilary Mantel, there were parts of Hughes’ book that made me feel like I was reading a Murakami novel. The Countenance Divine is surreal, beautiful and sometimes leaves you with a hollow bleakness but this is a book that must be read.
Sometimes when you read a novel you have a film playing in your imagination of what you’re reading but The Countenance Divine reads like a play. The sort of exquisite and boundary pushing story that you’d expect to see at the National Theatre.
I finished The Countenance Divine in a day. This is an amazing debut which I could not put down. This is a book for lovers of the written word and must be devoured by every reader.
The Countenance Divine by Michael Hughes is published by John Murray (Publishers) on 11th August 2016
Months ago when Joseph Fink announced that there would be a Night Vale novel I knew I’d be doing everything in my power to get hold of an advance copy. Last year I was lucky enough to get tickets to Welcome to Night Vale at the Union Chapel in Islington and it was easily one of the best events I’d ever been to, so when the release date of the novel was announced I was ready to drop everything and start badgering Orbit for a proof copy. Then I had a baby and completely forgot, so I was over the moon when @BooksellerEmma contacted me saying she had a proof of Welcome to Night Vale, I knew what I had to do….
A wonderful woman at Little Brown made sure there was a copy of Welcome to Night Vale in my hands within a couple of days of asking and I can not thank them enough for making sleepless nights bearable. So, with my copy of Night Vale in hand I managed to read the first chapter about 4 times before my daughter finally gave me a full hour to get into this book.
I had chills as I read the introduction page. I knew this was going to be the most anticipated book I’d read all year.
From the number one podcast, Welcome to Night Vale opens up this ‘friendly desert town, where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while everyone pretends to sleep.’ And Night Vale fans need not worry as this novel is every bit as creepy, contradictory and down right weird as you’d expect it to be.
The main story revolves around Jacky Fierro, the nineteen year old owner of Night Vale’s only pawnshop and her encounter with the elusive ‘man-in-the-tanned-jacket’ and Diane Crayton, treasurer of the Night Vale PTA, who is trying to track down her ex-husband/father to her teenage son.
If you’re anything like me you will end up reading the entire novel with Cecil’s voice in your head. Welcome to Night is a really interesting read and was not what I was expecting but still entertaining, nevertheless. I’d gone weeks without having any real reading time but I was so hooked with Welcome to Night I sacrificed my own rest to read as much as I could whilst my spawn slept. Once reaching the end of this long awaited novel I knew I’d gone in over excited and I had high expectations that were definitely met, so other Night Valeans will be very pleased. There is so many references to characters, storylines and pivotal plot points that you end up going back and listening to certain episodes just to catch the snippet of story you may have just read.
The one problem I did have with the novel was some of the dialogue. Every now and then the story veers into one of Cecil’s broadcasts and these just don’t read particularly well compared to the main story involving Diane and Jackie. It jars with the other chapters and takes you out of the moment sometimes. But it does feel like these chapters are more a benefit to the forthcoming audiobook as the podcasts aren’t just about the story but about Cecil’s voice, the audio effects and the soundscapes created by the Fink and Cranor that are woven into the Night Vale experience.
I didn’t dislike the broadcasts but by the end of the novel it’s really obvious that the writing style in the rest of the novel is much better.
This novel is a great achievement for Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor and I hope it’s the first of many in the Night Vale canon. They haven’t just created a strange fictional town, they’ve created a real community that accepts everyone, however weird or wonderful of five headed you (unless you’re an interloper, in that case you can get out). But I urge every Night Vale fan to pre-order a copy of the novel because Fink and Cranor have really done the podcast justice.
Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
published by Orbit – UK Hardback 9780356504834
Maternity leave can be exhausting and there’s days when get absolutely nothing done so it’s always a delight when you get sent a book you’re not expecting.
The wonderful guys at Hodder and Stoughton surprised me with a copy of The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley. With a small note saying Stephen King said “The Loney is not just good, it’s great. It’s an amazing piece of fiction” and printed on the front of the book was a quote from the Sunday Telegraph saying “Modern classics in this genre are rare, and instant ones even rarer; The Loney, however, looks as though it may be both.” it’s hard to ignore that kind of praise.
The Loney is a strange book and it completely took me by surprise. Starting in 1970s London, a small congregation from St Jude’s church decide to take a pilgrimage to ‘The Loney’ for holy week. The pilgrimage headed up by their new priest, Father Bernard and he takes his little congregation consisting of an elderly couple, Mr & Mrs Belderboss, young Miss Bunce, her fiancee David and finally the Smith family with their disabled, mute son Hanny. Convinced that this trip will encourage God to heal Hanny, the congregation debark upon the isolated English countryside.
I was quite cautious when it came to the first few chapters of The Loney, I thought the heavy Christian overtones of the story would bother me as I try to steer clear of religion but Hurley writes in a manner that doesn’t alienate his non-religious readers. It’s the sort of book that gives you the insight into the hold and hope religion can have over people. The Loney is a very dark and stark novel that explores the mysteries that surround an isolated community and pushes the faith of the outsiders visiting. The Loney is described as a landscape that’s very untouched by man and Hurley’s writing makes the more lonely than ever.
The further you read into The Loney the darker the story gets. Sometimes a small throw-away sentence can leave you feeling totally haunted and will give the reader shivers. The Loney reminded me of three novels in particular; The Woman in Black, Rebecca and The Wasp Factory and the word eerie doesn’t do this book justice.
The last 50 pages of his book are completely un-put-down-able. Hurley gives a death rattle of breath to old English lore and tradition that leads readers into some uneasy twists and by the time you finish this outstanding debt novel you’ll rethink everything you’ve just read.
Published on 27th August by John Murray
It’s not since Harry Potter that I’ve gotten silly about a book but the forthcoming publication of the Welcome to Night Vale book has got me sick with excitement.
Coming from the minds that brought us one of the world’s most popular podcasts, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor let us delve deeper into this eery desert town. Due to be published on 20th October 2015 by Little Brown Book Group, this will be a must read for fans of Stephen King, Sarah Lotz and for anyone thats watched Twin Peaks.
This months podcast is the first chapter read brilliantly by Cecil himself and it’ll leave you itching to pre-order this book. (Waterstones are doing an exclusive edition and a chance to win one of 10 Night Vale prints.)
Two years ago I stumbled across the Welcome to Night Vale podcast and upon my first listen I thought I was listening to some X-Files-esque radio show that crossed the border between entertainment and horror. Episodes of the podcast freaked me out to no avail so when they finally announced that they were bringing their live tour to London I snapped up tickets. Taking place in the Union Chapel this was the perfect setting for one of Night Vales creepiest stories yet.
If you see something, say nothing and drink to forget.