Tagged: Reviews

The Silent Companions

The Silent Companions popped up on the proof list for a second time, it had caught my eye the first time but I had just read The Wicked Cometh and didn’t fancy another book set in the 1800s. When it popped up again I knew I had to request a copy, @smokintofu from What Page Podcast had raved about this book and two other booky people had recommended The Silent Companions so I was ready to dive in.

Set in 1865, the recent bride and widow Elsie Bainbridge goes to see out her pregnancy in peace at their country estate, The Bridge. The Bridge is resented by locals and up in the locked garrett Elsie come across the two-hundred year-old hand painted wooden statues – the companions.

The Silent Companions is really REALLY good. It’s eerie from the off, the start of the novel reminded me a little of See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt. Elsie is a wilful character, she’s quite no-nonsense but as the book progresses you see more tragic side to Elsie. The starts going in a bit of a Woman In Black direction quite early on and there’s one part of the book that went a little Final Destination and gave me actual chills.

Purcell’s writing has great pace, she keeps the tensions going with every page. There’s sections of the novel that take place in the 1600s and Purcell keeps the pages turning and  weaves her timelines together perfectly.  The line “Perhaps you don’t belong in an at all.” plays in the back of your mind while your reading Elsie’s story and I found myself trying to constantly guess the outcome of the novel. You’re given hints at the start as to where the story will end but there’s more than a few unexpected dark twists.

I was reading this book on a dark, windy night and credit to Purcell her story was so good it made me question every creak in my house. The Silent Companions took me all of two days to read and it was one of the most enjoyably, twisty books I’ve read in a long time. It’s a gothic delight which will leave you shivering.

Definitely one for the long winter nights.

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell published by Bloomsbury 

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Game On

I reckon about a third of my life is dedicated to books and another third to my toddler but that last third is taken up by gaming. I’ve always had a console, my mum got me a Sega Megadrive when I was tiny and I haven’t been without a console since. I’ve never considered myself a gamer as growing up it was always a mild interest but in the past few years I’ve fallen in love with RPGs. I love the epic sprawling ones that take way too much to complete like the Final Fantasy games, Kingdom Hearts, Bioshock and the Tales series.

This week I finally caved and got Persona 5. I’ve played the others and I avoided getting this one as I knew it’d take over my life. I only started Persona 5 a few days ago and I’m already nine hours deep, it was while I was playing I was mulling over why I got so absorbed in these types of games and it’s obvious: they’re great stories.

The story writing and editing of these types of games parallel the best novels out there. Bioshock Infinite for one left me shook and years on I’ll still go back and watch the ending on Youtube just to fathom it once more (and tbh I’m still trying to get my head round it). More recently I’ve devoted a large portion of my life to Final Fantasy XV. I bloody love everything about this game, I haven’t been as emotionally invested in a FF game since FFX which left me in bits by the time I got to the end. The fact that each part of the game is divided into chapters says that you’re not just playing a game, you’re taking part in a story that a team have put their heart and soul into.

If like me you love a game for it’s story you might find these books right up your street.

Lyonesse by Jack Vance – I read the first book in the Lyonesse trilogy about six years ago. I picked up a copy purely because the Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks edition has a stunning front cover and I wasn’t expecting much from what sounded like a paint-by-numbers fantasy novel. This book is very epic considering it’s the first in a trilogy, it’s a heady mix of fantasy, fairytale, myth and legend. I’ve not made it round to books two and three yet but I managed to get copies with the original 1986 cover.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor – Taylor’s previous series was wonderful escapism so obviously this new novel was going to be just as ace. Strange the Dreamer starts with Lazlo running away from his abusive life and he takes refuge and solace in a library where he becomes to inhabit. Lazlo’s love of books is so beautifully written and as he starts to discover that there’s a strange truth to the books he considered as fairytales you find yourself being sucked into an emotionally deep fantasy. It’s got really brilliant characters and some wicked cool Gods, have a read.

The Dark Tower by Stephen King – OBVIOUSLY THESE BOOKS WOULD BE MENTIONED! I think everyone should read them, not only has King created an epic intricate world that could rival any Final Fantasy game, he also gives readers an amazing journey. Seven books (and Wind Through the Keyhole) which leave you wanting so much more and a cast of characters so rich you can’t help but agonise that you hadn’t read them sooner. This is must for Bioshock fans, the complexity of the story is outstanding. Most of The Dark Tower books read like really cool RPGs and there’s so many chapters and fights that you can’t help but think “this would make an amazing video game”.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami – It’s magical realism at it’s finest. 1Q84 is a book made up of three volumes and from the start you feel your world changing around you as you become so completely involved in Aomame and Tengo’s story. When her taxi becomes stuck in a traffic jam Aomame is warned by the driver that getting out of the cab could change reality the world, not wanting to be late for her meeting Aomame gets out of the car. 1Q84 is one of the greatest novels I’ve ever read. It’s long, it’s complicated but it’s as close to perfect as a novel gets. It’s David Mitchell meets FFXV.

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer – Now this is a bit of a life-ruiner of a book. It’s weird, really weird and mind bending and amazing and just head-shattering. I finished Annihilation about three months ago and I’m still numbed by the ending. I can’t bring myself to even consider book two in the Southern Reach trilogy yet. The story follows a nameless biologist and her companions as they set out to explore Area X. That’s all you need to know about Annihilation, just go and read it.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman – This is one of the best road stories out there. After being released from prison Shadow ends up travelling across the States with a ‘man’ only known as Mr Wednesday. American Gods is beautifully written balance of travel, mystery and mythology. This is a must read and I’m about to re-read this as I first finished it about five years ago. I just finished the television show (which was brilliant) and after watching I had the strangest sense to play Devil May Cry for the billionth time.

Honourable mention – The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

I hope you enjoy these recommends for gamers and give me a shout if you know of a stand out RPG I must play!

Parade

Last week I finished reading Parade by Shuichi Yoshida. Villain had been a novel on my radar for a while but the blurb hadn’t gripped me enough to buy it. That’s when I saw Parade, I read the back cover and figured that this book sounded cool.

It’s a fairly short book that surrounds four people flat sharing in Tokyo. I really loved the way Yoshida nails the mundanity of modern life, especially when you’re in your twenties, you live in a big city but it’s lonely as hell. Parade took almost no time to read but I found myself let down by the ending. It’s something you sort of see coming but the build up didn’t feel good enough. Considering you have such a cast of such complex characters and their situations vary so much it seems insane that they know each other, let alone live together.

Having read a lot of Japanese fiction this book didn’t connect with me the way that Kawakami or Minato did. Or so I thought.

It’s currently 3AM and I’ve sucummed to an awful summer cold. All I can think about at this time of night is Parade. I wasn’t going to review Parade as I concluded that it was just a bit ‘meh’ but this book has gotten more under my skin than I orignally thought.

Maybe it’s the Lemsip induced delirium or maybe it’s Yoshida’s subtle writing style. I dunno.

Any way here’s to an averagely enjoyable book that has stuck with me for no apparent reason. Read it… or don’t.

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!