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.
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.
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.
From the moment I saw Uprooted I couldn’t help but think “that looks like my kind of book” but like many other books I see and like the look of I knew it was one I wouldn’t get round to reading any time. Uprooted was going to be one for the ‘tsundoku’ pile. Not too long after its paperback release and number of friends and colleagues kept going on about Uprooted. So another few months past and it got to January 2017 and I was deep in a reading binge, what better time to start Uprooted?
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started Noami Novik’s novel, it’d been ages since I’d read (and enjoyed) a full on fantasy book. I tend to lean towards fantasy that has its roots in reality. I didn’t read the blurb of Uprooted but kept in mind all the people who had recommended it.
I was tired when I started this book, I wasn’t sure if i was in the right mind for to start a book in which I was so unfamiliar with the author. It had been a long day at work, my daughter was poorly and I was read to settle in with an episode of Fleabag. It took me a little while to get into Uprooted. The novel starts with Agnieszka being chosen by a sorcerer called The Dragon to be his servant for ten years. Being taken away from her friends, family and the village that she loves, Agnieszka is distraught especially when everyone thought her best friend Kasia was certain to be taken by the Dragon.
Agineszka is a fantastic leading lady, she’s a bit of a mess, scrappy and but she’s strong willed and you can tell she determined. She’s not necessarily book-smart but makes up with common sense.
Novik’s writing is so enjoyable, its fluid, fairytale-like and way more engaging than I was expecting. I was roaring through this novel and the evening I started this I found myself 100 pages in and fully invested. It was the first proper fantasy novel I’d really sunk my teeth into since Lyonesse.
When I was about half way through Uprooted was bringing back all the memories of the fantasies I’d enjoyed when I was younger like Kyou Kara Maoh, Howl’s Moving Castle and Ink Heart.
The last quarter of the novel includes a dramatic fantasy battle and Novik’s writing is so good, she’s stops it from getting too OTT fantasy. The writing had me thinking of the sort of believable fairytale like The Bloody Chamber in some parts and sometimes felt like I was reading a grown up version of Diana Wynnne Jones’ work.
The ending of Uprooted was ace and left feeling warm and satisfied. I enjoyed Uprooted so much and it’s an amazing bit of escapism. Agineszka reminded me of Lyra from His Dark materials by the end and The Dragon was so mysterious at the start so when the book reaches its conclusion I was captivated.
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.
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
I know… I’ve been gone a fair while. Reading has not been my top priority the past six months and I haven’t been compelled by a novel in a very long time.
A month ago I needed a book that I could really get my teeth into. It was a rainy afternoon and a young lady had asked me to recommend a decent fantasy series, she wanted something long so obviously I gave her The Dark Tower and I had mentioned that I wasn’t reading anything currently and all of a sudden this girl started reeling off all this information about a book called ‘S’. I had heard about and seen copies of S but didn’t know anything about this novel by JJ Abrams & Doug Dorst. I ordered a copy of this £30 hardback and what turned up what as not what I expected at all.
This book is a down-right bloody beautiful. I didn’t want to break the seal but I needed to look inside this book instantly. From the off the amount of artistry and detail that had gone into the creation of this book is stunning and a book lovers dream!
S is strange creation of a book within a book wrapped in a mystery. S is a literary mystery surrounding the identity of the mysterious fictional author of ‘The Ship of Theseus’. The Ship of Theseus is the last novel from the unknown author V.M. Straka. A sailor who only goes by S is abducted and finds himself captive upon a nameless ship of mute shipmates, not knowing his purpose or who he is.
Passed back and forth between two university students who annotate the margins of the novel, leaving the notes, newspaper cuttings and maps throughout the pages. Every sentence of this novel is exciting, you’re essentially getting two great stories. One a literary political fuelled adventure and the other a slow burning mystery.
I won’t lie, S is not the easiest book to read. Each page is full of footnotes from the author’s equally enigmatic translator, in which are hidden codes between author and translator. Not to mention the conversations taking place in the margins but I found myself flying through the pages, every chapter was more intriguing than the next.
You see a friendship form primarily over the love of literature, fuelled by the love of a good mystery and it’s amazing to see that friendship develop over such a small space. There’s so little to say when it comes to the negative aspects of S apart from that sometimes one of the characters writes in a yellow pen which is a little hard to read in dim light. I loved S and the loose references to the Somerton man mystery is super exciting.
Read this book. READ IT!! P.S. There’s a code wheel in this book…. need I say more.
Last year the brilliant promotion Books Are My Bag launched. It’s the only real celebration for books and book shops alike, that highlights the importance of why we should be keeping our bookshops open.
The Booksellers Association teamed up with authors, bookshops and publishers to celebrate the written word in all its glory. Next week Books Are My Bag kicks of it’s second year with a proper savage limited edition bag designed by Tracey Emin.
When a BAMB bag arrived at work for me this week I was thrilled and instantly my thoughts wandered to my favourite bookshop. In the coming weeks take a moment to visit your local bookshop, there’ll be loads of Books Are My Bag events going on up and down the country.