reviews

REVIEW: Flying Tips For Flightless Birds

IMG_1777 (2)

God, I enjoyed this book. From the first page, I was thrown right into this world and into these characters, and the entire way through, I found it incredibly charming and well-written.

First of all, let’s talk about the circus aspect of the book. Not only did I love the details about how the circus lifestyle works, I really enjoyed reading about the mindset that living a performer’s lifestyle gives people. That dedication and singlemindedness was completely delicious to witness in Finch and later Hector, and as someone who loves the performing arts and who loves a great circus from time to time, the details were really wonderful. It was also a completely unique setting for a YA book, and I loved reading something that was entirely different.

The characters were warm, flawed, and extremely likeable. The relationship between Hector and Finch was beautifully drawn, and although I felt a little sorry for Hector at times, I liked seeing him through Finch’s eyes. I liked the fact that a gay relationship was written in a matter of fact way – there was no self-hatred, just the awkwardness of two young people falling for each other. It didn’t feel like an after school special kind of a book and I liked that their plotline wasn’t focused around ‘omg two boys’ and it was more about the ways they complemented each other. Hector was such a sweet treat of a character and Finch was cynical, hopeful, occasionally frustrating, and completely charming. I liked that he experienced complex and sometimes unpleasant emotions but they were written extremely clearly yet subtly.

All the supporting characters were also extremely well-drawn – Lou, and the parents, and Py, and of course Birdie. (Note: I enjoyed that the siblings were named after birds! Sometimes that kind of thing seems twee but here it did not.) The way that the relationship between Birdie and Finch changed through the book felt natural and realistic, as did the way that he felt after she was injured.

Short review, but honestly: I just really enjoyed this damn book, and I’m looking forward to recommending it to people at work. It was a great read and I’m really excited to see what this author writes next.

(This book was sent to me at Waterstones by Walker Books – thank you!)

reviews

BOOK REVIEW: The Haunting Of Henry Twist by Rebecca F John

IMG_1767 (2).JPG

First of all: yes, I did put this book on my sofa to photograph it. Yes, I know that everyone else in the world manages to do beautiful pictures of the books they’ve read, with things like sprigs of flowers, and cups of tea. But Abraham, I’m not that man, and as such here: there is a sofa photo of The Haunting of Henry Twist by Rebecca F John. It was one of the shortlisted books for the Costa First Novel Award, which Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine ultimately won (justified, in my opinion – it is an extremely special book).

But this, also, is an extremely charming read. The first thing that happens is that Ruby Twist dies suddenly, leaving her husband Henry a widower and single father of their baby daughter Libby. Henry meets Jack Turner, a man who has lost his memory and who, Henry thinks, possesses some spark of who Ruby was. The way that Henry is written is wonderful, and it’s good to see him through other characters’ eyes as well. Although his grief for Ruby is all-encompassing, his personality still shines through, and Jack is an incredibly charming character. The memories of Ruby are beautiful, although there was part of me that wanted less past and more present – Henry’s relationship with Ruby was much more written out than his relationship with Jack, which left me feeling slightly cheated.

The descriptions of London are beautiful – in general it’s a beautifully written book although sometimes I felt that three descriptions/similes/metaphors were used when one would have easily sufficed. I liked the specificity of place in it, as well – it was easy to imagine the characters in place in London, which I loved. I had some frustrations with the novel – I felt that too many things and sentences were given too much weight, and that there could have been a lighter touch, as if there were too many lines that were somehow designed to be quotable. And I had trouble with Henry and Jack’s relationship, especially at the end – why was Jack all right with settling for so little? What was it about Henry that made people fall in love with him? It didn’t quite come through in the text. I found it frustrating that even at the end, Henry didn’t see Jack clearly or fully accept him, or his own sexuality, for what it was. Jack deserved more t b h (or do I just think that because he was a hottie? FRANKLY WHO KNOWS). I wasn’t fond of the Matilda/Grayson plotline but I think that was just personal preference – I would have chosen to spend more time with Henry and Jack to get a feel of their relationship.

Adult Libby was a joy, and I absolutely ADORED no nonsense, sensible, lovely Ida. She was a treat of a character, and I loved reading her. This book is generally incredibly immersive and beautifully described, and I’m looking forward to recommending it to people at work. I would love to read a more haunting ghost story by this author because I think she would do a really wonderful job of it.

monthly round-up, reviews

Long time, no blog. The reason for that is essentially that I read too many books last year to review – I think it was 121 in total, and frankly if anyone can write about that many books while also doing things like leaving the house and actually reading other books, props to them. Instead, I have decided to do a book round-up at the end of every month, and here is January’s.

IMG_1506 (2)

IT – So, this novel is obviously a classic, and the first Stephen King book I’ve read. I decided to read it after watching a trailer for the recent movie (which I preferred in trailer/youtube videos titled ‘Richie Funny Moments’ form, if I’m totally honest). The actual monster was ultimately a huge disappointment and not remotely scary. I felt as though it was a very self-indulgent book. As ever with a lot of male writers, the female characters’ tits were described much more frequently than they needed to be. I am puzzled as to why three of the main characters were called Bill and Bev and Ben. But largely there were huge swathes of this book that I really enjoyed – the friendships were obviously the absolute best part, and the idea of this underlying malevolence of a town was fantastic and evocative. It was just a shame for me personally that the underlying malevolence turned out to be basically Aragog off Harry Potter.

LOCAL GIRL MISSING – I read a lot of psychological thrillers and crime novels and if I am absolutely deadass honest, this one didn’t stand out from the others. I didn’t think that the voices were particularly strong or engaging and there wasn’t a huge spark in the writing for me. I would definitely read her other novels and I wanted to read to the end to find out what had happened, but there was a level of engagement that was missing for me.

THE BREAKDOWN – This was the first book that my friends and I chose for our book group and we weren’t disappointed – we all enjoyed it, and although I guessed a few of the twists it was interesting to see how they were played out and how all the clues clicked into place. I thought that it was tightly plotted but that the characterisation of any character other than the main one wasn’t particularly strong. However, that’s a criticism I have of a lot of thrillers, so it wasn’t out of the ordinary. I thought that the main character was great and that the thread of dementia/forgetting/memory was an interesting one. I also enjoyed BA Paris’s first novel BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, and this morning I started to read the new one, BRING ME BACK which is set for release March 8th. So far it feels clunkier than the others but I’m definitely going to persevere.

MIDWINTER BREAK – See, I totally read literary fiction too. I read this partly because it’s the book of the month at Waterstones and I like to be able to recommend them with some honesty, and also because I love short, quiet literary novels that focus on the ins and outs of relationships and on a short period of time. Gerry and Stella were characters who rang true to me – they were written lovingly and carefully and with a great deal of truth and sincerity. It felt as though they could be real people existing out there in the world and we were seeing a slice of their life. It didn’t stay with me to the same extent that some other literary novels along similar veins have, but I still enjoyed it and thought that it was beautiful in many ways.

IT ONLY HAPPENS IN THE MOVIES – I saw Holly Bourne at an event last year and let’s face it, lads: she is awesome. Funny and so intelligent. This book, the first I’ve read of hers, absolutely reflected that. It was a piece of absolutely pitch perfect YA that took in romance, friendship and families. The relationship between Harry and Audrey was gorgeously drawn and felt a lot more real than a lot of YA novels. All of the characters were great and well-rounded, and the ending made me very, very happy. Also, the focus on friendship between girls was perfect. One thing that a lot of relationship-focused novels seems to lack is an arc for the central character outside the romance, and that often leaves me feeling a little meh about them. I liked that this was the story of Audrey, rather than Audrey-and-Harry. It made the ending all the more satisfying. I’m absolutely going to make my way through Holly Bourne’s other books.

ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL – I don’t know what genre this novel was. It wasn’t quite a thriller and it wasn’t quite literary fiction. Whatever it was, I liked it a lot. It reminded me a little of Erin Kelly’s He Said/She Said, which was one of my absolute favourite books of 2017. The story was drawn in shades of grey, there was suspense, there were twists and turns (not all of which were obvious), the voices were all great and different. It was a real pageturner – I think I read it in a day and felt irritated when I had to get off the train and stop reading. Absolutely going to recommend this to customers but I think it’ll do better in paperback.

THE WICKED COMETH – I totally understand what the author was trying to do with this book but for me it didn’t completely succeed. It had so many elements of things that I really enjoy in novels (London being grotty! A slightly mysterious country house! Lesbians! Gross medical stuff!) but in the end it felt a little false and forced, particularly the voice. I think that at the end of the day, Sarah Waters is the only person who can write like Sarah Waters, and this felt as though it was trying to be her and not completely succeeding. I also felt as though the movement of the novel was awkward – lots of shuffling around London. Also, the central relationship didn’t quite work for me: I didn’t see anything between the characters that would have drawn them so deeply towards each other. It annoyed me a little because I felt as though there was the kernel of a really great novel at the heart of this book but for me it missed the mark: I didn’t find it as emotionally engaging as I wanted to, and at times it felt like a slog to get through. (I also think that past tense would have worked better.)

THE CHALK MAN – I thought this was a really excellent novel. It was wonderful to read a book like this with such a strong voice and cast of characters. A lot of the time, suspense/thriller novels read as though the author has carefully drawn out a map of a plot and attached half-hearted characters to it, but the joy of THE CHALK MAN was that all the action stemmed from the characters themselves, which made it feel much more spooky and authentic. I felt as though there were two sort-of endings: one of them was pretty standard but effective but the second one packed a real punch and absolutely delighted me. It also felt as though it was the natural conclusion of what had happened – and the combination of a real surprise twist and something that felt incredibly right is so, so satisfying. Sometimes twists feel sort of glued on, but this was great. The characters were wonderful. The voice was great. Highly recommend.

THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW – I was ready to complain about this book not being worth all the hype but unfortunately I must reveal that it absolutely is. I think that in the hands of a lesser writer, it could have been clunky and boring and written by numbers, agoraphobic woman shut in her house spies on neighbours etc, but it was just an extremely solid novel that anyone who enjoys domestic suspense/thrillers will like. I don’t think it had the same depth as Gone Girl – aside from the plot, there was something completely joyful about the way that Gillian Flynn described the ‘cool girl’ phenomenon – so those comparisons aren’t totally accurate. But it was a great book that was tinged with real sadness and emotion and, at times, humour. The ending was also extremely satisfying. Looking forward to telling customers to buy it at work.

As for February? As I already said, I’ve just started BRING ME BACK by BA Paris. I also want to read CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS by Sally Rooney, along with THIS IS HOW IT ENDS by Eva Dolan. Hopefully it’s going to be another month of fun reading.

reviews

REVIEW: The Trophy Child by Paula Daly

41TaxiQPi9L._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_

Released May 18 with Transworld, available here.

I have only read one Paula Daly book before, Just What Kind Of Mother Are You?, and although I enjoyed it, I felt as though the writing was a little stilted and not particularly vivid. However, I thought The Trophy Child was fab and very much improved (which makes sense as it’s her fourth as opposed to her first novel). It’s an example of the grip lit/domestic noir genre, which is something I’ve delightedly fallen face first into and have been wallowing in for years now. (The phrase ‘like a pig in shit’ comes to mind but obviously I am far too elegant for that! Obviously! OBVIOUSLY!!) There is honestly no better feeling than sitting down with a great domestic noir book – and something that I really enjoyed about The Trophy Child is that it was also extended a little into police procedural (although I would add that it’s less procedural and more character-driven).

I really liked Joanne Aspinall. I found that she was an incredibly engaging and warm character to read. I enjoyed her presence in the other Daly book I read and came to like her even more in this one. I liked her dark humour – which is a theme of the whole book, actually, and something that I really welcomed because frankly grip lit can get a little exhausting and self obsessed if it isn’t shot through with at least a little humour. (This is also true of human beings in general.) I liked that she fucks up and is still professional – she’s competent and intelligent and imperfect, and the way that she was seen through Noel’s eyes gelled well with the way that she sees herself. I liked that she’d had a breast reduction – which sounds like a small thing to like about a character but I honestly don’t think it’s something I’ve ever read about before and it made her all the more human and interesting.

I thought that the plot itself was good. I saw – on goodreads, maybe? – that Daly was described as one of the more cosy grip lit writers and I can see that – maybe because of that extremely welcome humour. Despite occasionally having very dark themes, this book was very easy to enjoy. I sort of vaguely guessed that the end perpetrator (sort of) would have something to do with what went on but I didn’t at all guess how exactly it would work, so that was a nice surprise and also something that felt very satisfying and like the right ending – it was a very well-formed plot. I liked Noel and his family – although I wanted to know more about Karen. Why was she the way that she was? I am maybe too sensitive about Evil Cow Women in a way that I am not about Evil Bastard Men, but I felt as though she was a vicious villain who didn’t have enough backstory for me. Her father was unpleasant but not enough to make her into the person that she was – and Noel wanting to make his marriage work for his children didn’t feel like enough to excuse his staying with her for so long, especially as the children weren’t happy. In a way, I did not feel as though he was remotely good enough for Joanne – he felt weak (if funny and interesting) and overly passive. (Another random point: I liked the mentions of his vitiligo. It’s just nice to have things like that in books that the characters aren’t obsessed by and that don’t remotely impact on the crimes, but that add a little representation in there.)

Verity was a fab character and so was poor little Bronte. Although appalling, Karen was charismatic and entertaining and the sort of person who is ghastly but a very welcome character to read about because she was unpredictable and interesting. I felt as though the book was less about ‘tiger mom’ parenting as it was about Karen specifically – I would have maybe liked to see the way that the other kids at Bronte’s school were affected by their multiple tutors and lessons and so on so that the theme was spread out more widely in the book.

In all, this was a good and really solid book with a satisfying ending and engaging characters. I’m looking forward to reading Daly’s next book – hopefully about Joanne Aspinall again – and I’m definitely going to purchase her other two books as well.

reviews

REVIEW: The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

32054096

This evening I was in a no good very bad mood, so I knew I had to read something that was engrossing, not too challenging, and able to hold my interest – which meant that Ruth Ware’s new novel, The Lying Game, was the perfect choice. I ploughed through the entire thing and now I feel a lot better, which means this book was basically excellent and has done the exact thing that all books should do: to take the reader out of their skin and to put them back in it at the end feeling a lot more whole and happy.

I really enjoyed Ruth Ware’s first two books, which I read in similar fashion last summer: while feeling rotten in the head and while being very sweaty in the middle of a heatwave. They did the same as The Lying Game in that they pulled me out of myself and took me away for a few blissful hours – except I think that The Lying Game is a much better written book than either of those two. It’s a very different sort of book too, I think – slower and knottier and more character driven. Ware is great at atmosphere and setting, but The Lying Game was the best of the three – the seaside town it’s set in is extremely real, as is the boarding school, as is Kate’s old rickety house, surrounded by an ever more encroaching moat. The setting contributed huge amounts to the story and to the atmosphere of it and was conveyed really successfully. I love that hazy dream world that some authors are able to conjure up that was popularised by the haziness of The Secret History. It’s like Erin Kelly’s The Poison Tree, Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects, Louise Candlish’s The Swimming Pool, of course The Virgin Suicides – there’s something dangerous and slightly malevolent about that slow, lazy, sticky heat, which I thought was conveyed really beautifully through the first part of this book. The way that Luc was described, for example – the gold and brown of him, it felt somewhat familiar but that didn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it. It all felt languorous and dangerous.

The story itself was great. I also love that tightly knit and almost hypnotic group of friends thing – it has been done before in fiction, again The Secret History and Tana French’s The Secret Place, also The Poison Tree, but it’s something that I personally love to read. That being suckered into a group and terrible things happening because of it thing is exactly My Kind Of Thing, that found family going terribly wrong vibe. The only thing was that I didn’t feel that the lying game went far enough, and I also didn’t know if I felt like it applied strongly enough to the actual plot. I wanted the internal story to be more connected to something that the protagonist, Isa, had done – it felt sometimes as though it was someone else’s story and she was just the person who was telling it, as though we were set up for something more terrible than what had actually happened. I felt as though I wanted the eventual conclusion to be more linked to their thoughtless lies, if that makes sense. But the conclusion that we got was still really excellent and there were some great and unforgettable images at the end, along with a twist that worked well. I liked all four women – Isa was a great protagonist even though I felt that her identity might have been tied too strongly to her role as a mother for me. Thea was fragile and less dangerous than she initially appeared, Kate was tough and vulnerable and full of secrets, and Fatima was probably my favourite – I loved the fact that she had her shit together but she was still under the spell of her old friends. I also liked the fact that she’s a Muslim and the way that her faith is described through the book – it’s the kind of thing that you don’t see much in fiction so I was really delighted to see it here.

I don’t know if I think this was great literature – it might not stick in my head forever and I don’t think it was the most original thing in the whole world. But it really, solidly did its job, it totally gripped me for the whole evening and made me want to read on and on. The descriptions of Freya were gorgeous, and I liked the way that each woman(/girl) was differentiated carefully from each other. There’s nothing I love to read about more than friendship between women, how fucked up it can be and how it can be the most important thing in the world when you’re younger and how the ties of it will stay with you forever, and how that sort of teenage loyalty can make you do really terrible things and keep its hold over you way into adulthood. This book was a great example of that and I think that was its main strength – the relationship between the four central characters was thoroughly believable to me. This book did exactly what it should have done – it made me forget the rest of my life for the evening and totally immersed me in its story. I’m definitely going to be buying Ruth Ware’s next book as soon as it comes out.

reviews

REVIEW: The Death House by Sarah Pinborough

9781473222847

 

FIRST OF ALL: Thank you so much to Stevie at Gollancz for sending this book to me! Sarah Pinborough is an awesome writer and I was really excited about reading this book. It’s YA and a kind of dystopian romance, following the story of Toby, who lives in the Death House, which is on an uninhabited island and is where children who’ve tested positive as Defectives are sent before they start to show symptoms of a mysterious disease and are sent to a sanatorium, never to be seen again.

First and foremost: I liked this book a lot. I thought that Toby’s voice was warm and well-written, and I liked all the other characters. The whole concept of the story was well introduced and I thought the flashbacks were great. I’ve seen reviews that were slightly critical about how much the reader’s told about the world that the characters are in, but I enjoyed that slight vagueness. One thing that a lot of dystopian novels get wrong is that the characters ruminate too much on their world and tell the readers more than they naturally would – these characters just lived in their world and took it for granted and I thought that worked well. I liked the small glimpses that we got of the outside world – the Black Suits and the lack of snow, for example. I would have liked to know more about it but at the same time it wasn’t necessary to the story and would possibly have felt clumsy if it had been shoehorned in. There are things that I wanted more of, though: why didn’t Toby try to explore the sanatorium? That could have been fantastic.

I liked Toby’s relationship with his dorm mates and I thought that Louis and Will’s friendship was extremely adorable. I also liked the way that Toby and Josh found a sort of tentative truce through the book – character development, what’s upppppp. I had a lot of affection for Tom and wanted better for him. I also liked the way that faith was brought into the book – in dire circumstances, people do find these things to hold onto. Another thing that I really enjoyed was the ambiguity of to what extent Matron was straight up murdering them all – were the pills making them worse? Was she meant to be evil? Did she actually kill The Nice Nurse? Who knows what the fuck was up but I liked that we didn’t have to know – it felt as though I as a reader was fully in this world, which meant that not everything was tied up neatly. I liked Will’s plot arc a lot – the way that he and Louis were written was really charming and lovely, and it definitely made me pretty emotional.

My only real problem was with the central romance, and I’m absolutely willing to accept that it’s because I’m a hundred years old and extremely cranky, as opposed to any defects in the book. I felt as though Clara wasn’t the best of characters – I could see why Toby would fall in love with her but she definitely seemed like a bit of a manic pixie dream girl. She sometimes felt like more of a character than a person, and in a novel full of well drawn people, she stuck out like a sore thumb. Still, it was sweet to watch the love story play out until – UNTIL!! – the end, which frustrated the crap out of me. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but Toby made the World’s Most Stupid Decision and it pissed me off hugely. I get that for teenagers Love Rules All but I am an adult woman and even looking at it through the lens of ‘ahh well, maybe it’s supposed to be clear to adult readers that he’s making a dumbass decision’, I was not okay with it. The deep infatuation that he finds with Clara (I’m not going to say ‘love’, because in a word: nah), was sweet but it was also supposed to be a healthy relationship until he made the Most Unhealthy Decision Of All Time. I liked what happened to Louis at the end, but God. GOD. FUCK. IT COULD HAVE BEEN SO MUCH BETTER. And another plot decision could have been ten times more emotional and heartbreaking! It would have been like “Toby is strong and Clara is sacrificing the last minutes of their togetherness and Toby is striking out to make the world a better place” and instead it was just full of poor decisions and frustrating shit.

I MEAN! WHATEVER! I’M SURE THAT TONS OF PEOPLE LOVED THE ENDING! I’M NOT AT ALL EMBITTERED! But the story that came before this ending was wonderful and deserved so much more. I really enjoyed this book up until my irritation at the last page. The lives that these characters led were interesting and sad and the world felt very whole and well-created. I liked the mermaid imagery throughout the book, I liked the coldness and emptiness and the friendships that were formed between the characters. If the ending hadn’t left a sour taste in my mouth, this would be a solid four star book instead of three.

reviews

REVIEW: The Last Piece Of My Heart by Paige Toon

the-last-piece-of-my-heart-9781471162558_hr (1)

It is with a heavy heart that I must announce I have underestimated Paige Toon.

Before I went to an event at Waterstones Piccadilly a few weeks ago with her, Holly Bourne, Rachael Lucas and Tamsyn Murray, I’d – obviously! – heard of her books, but I hadn’t bought or read any of them. I got copies of books by all of those authors that day and this was the first out of the four that I picked up. And God, I loved it. I was expecting to like it but somehow I didn’t know that I would love it. I thought it would be a relatively generic romance (although I don’t know why I thought that!! Stupidity, I guess?), but it was a lot more than that. It was a sunshine-ray of a book, and completely charming.

There is something to be said about a book that is intensely enjoyable the whole way through. I thought it was an incredibly successful novel. Some of the time I barely noticed I was reading – the writing was simple and lovely, and it was paced absolutely perfectly. If anyone ever needs to pick apart a novel to somehow calculate an algorithm for how to pace a book exactly correctly, this would be a great choice. I was never bored, I always looked forward to picking up this book again when I wasn’t reading it, and there were points when I was reading it in public that I almost had to shove my fist in my mouth to stop myself shrieking loudly about the romantic tension between Charlie and Bridget (page 198 was the point at which I had to shove it back in my bag because it made my heart Actually Lurch and my face started to do strange things). It was just so delicious to read. The last few weeks have been a strange combination of really great and staggeringly shit for me and my mind has been totally full of crap most of the time, so this book was exactly what I needed to read.

Anyway! The plot. Everyone has a few plotlines that twang on their specific heartstrings, and I think this was the sort of plot that’s pretty much tailor made for me. (You know, we all have the tropes we love. For me: pretending to be dating and then actually falling in love! Suddenly having to take care of a kid! That sort of thing.) Anyway, dishy widower, travel writer, cute kid, falling into a family and finding your place in it (does that count as found family?) – God. Paige Toon knew what I, me, I specifically, wanted to read, and bless her, she wrote it. There was warmth and love and people treating each other well because they were decent kind human beings, and genuine pain at times that people worked their way through in a relatively healthy way, and no drama for the sake of drama. Bridget was recognisable as someone you would want to be friends with, or at least someone who all of us has met once upon a time. Nicole felt like a real person and the glimpses we got of her were great – she wasn’t the perfect angel dead wife, she was just human, and loved and missed. And I liked the way that April was written. Some children in fiction are obnoxious, but April was adorable. All the side characters were fab and well drawn too.

Was it formulaic? I mean, maybe. Kind of. It followed that incredibly reassuring plot structure that a lot of romance novels have – the slight frostiness to start with, the slow burn, the frisson, the crush, the sex, the spanner in the works, the happy ending. But no one reads a book like this for a plot twist – you read it because you want to feel happy. The key to a successful romance is falling in love with the characters as they fall in love with each other, and I absolutely did that here. Bridget was so bright and lively and engaging, and Charlie was such a great hero. A little broken but not completely, and vulnerable but strong, and also kind of sulky? Which I liked, because it made him more imperfect, yet it wasn’t the sort of personality trait that seems very red flag-ish, which has been the case with some heroes I’ve read about. Instead he disappeared into his head sometimes and Bridget was fine with it. These two characters treated each other well, and when they didn’t, they apologised for it. There’s something joyful about reading about two well-drawn characters with missing pieces who find what they needed in each other. It was sweet and lovely to read about how happy they made each other. I’m looking forward to buying and reading the rest of Paige Toon’s books.

reviews

REVIEW: He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly

410nroICVLL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_

Released April 20th with Hodder and Stoughton, available here.

I’ve seen Erin Kelly speak at a couple of events – firstly at a Valentine’s Day killer women talk earlier this year and then again at one of Goldsboro Books’s Monday crime nights (speaking of: I went to another one on Monday night with Jane Casey, Chris Brookmyre, Michelle Adams and Mark Hill, and it was excellent but I was tired and a bit squashed so I was a big flop and did not take notes). My point here is that she’s fantastic and I have been looking forward to reading this book since February.

It follows the story of Kit and Laura. Kit is an eclipse chaser and has drawn his wife Laura into that life too. The book moves between their life together in the present day – Laura is pregnant with much longed for twins, while Kit is off chasing an eclipse – and their past, which starts in 1999 when they go to a festival in Cornwall to watch an eclipse and Laura interrupts a rape that’s taking place. The repercussions of that day affect pretty much their entire life together.

So, that’s the premise, and it’s so much better than I’ve made it sound. I think that what makes this book work so well for me was the sheer quality of Kelly’s writing. Since reading He Said/She Said on Sunday, I’ve also read her novel The Burning Air, which absolutely hooked me even though I would argue that the plot isn’t quite as fantastic as He Said/She Said. The reason for that is that her character creation is so great. There’s something really incredible about the way that she seems to let us fully inside her characters and keeps things hidden at the same time. Doing that with such ease is really skilful. Both these books had huge twists that genuinely stunned me and made me flip back through the book to reread the parts leading up to them.

Kelly is clearly an absolute master at writing a novel with a twist. I think twists can sometimes be overrated – they feel cheap or they’re not that interesting or you feel as though they’ve been shoved in there to make you gasp and tell everyone about the twist in your novel. But these ones made total, total sense in retrospect – and I think the novels could definitely be reread and seen through fresh eyes with this new perspective, especially as they were such page-turners that made me read extremely quickly and probably, tbh, miss a few clues.

There’s something else that I really like about these books and I’m not completely sure how to phrase it without being spoilery and awful. Basically, in both of these novels, for a while things go in the direction of Women Being Awful Because They’re Crazy. And that is a plotline that is obviously more than a little tired and that has been done a thousand times before – and I’m really glad that it was steered away from in both of these books. I felt as though they were written in a really clear-eyed and intelligent way, and none of the humanity of the characters was sacrificed for the sake of the plot. Both of the endings of these books were incredibly satisfying, particularly He Said/She Said. Sometimes books have fantastic premises but as you read through them, part of you is saying ‘No. No, that isn’t how this should be done. No. Oh God’, but with these books it felt as though the story was formed and the endings were the only way they could have been resolved – despite me not guessing at all what was going to happen.

Back to the point of this review/ramble, which is He Said/She Said: I think it may be my favourite thriller that I’ve read so far this year, and I don’t know how it’s going to be topped. I loved that the characters were shits but recognisably human, I loved how deeply satisfying it was, I loved the relationship between Kit and Laura and of course the relationship between Beth and the pair of them. I love that Erin Kelly writes in shades of grey in which women are allowed to be unapologetically human. I’m looking forward to reading all her books – The Poison Tree is next, and frankly I can’t wait.

reviews

REVIEW: The Night Visitor by Lucy Atkins

51oKUDB0M5L

Released May 4th, with Quercus Books.

The Night Visitor is one of this month’s hottest new releases, and with good reason. Lucy Atkins is already a pretty well known author thanks to her previous novels The Missing One and The Other Child but it looks like The Night Visitor is the one that’s really going to add her name to the ranks of today’s must-read thriller writers. I’ve been seeing buzz about it on Twitter for months – I think I remember seeing Clare Mackintosh mentioning how good it was ages ago – and I’ve been super excited to read it ever since then. And hooray – thanks to Hannah at Quercus I’ve got my grubby little paws on a copy.

First and foremost: this is a Good Book. It is a very high quality piece of writing and I think that the incredible characterisation of the two central characters is what makes it stand out from other similarly themed titles. I suppose this is part of the ‘grip lit’ genre but im-not-so-ho this book stands head and shoulders above a lot of the others. It’s firmly literary as well as thrilling – very solidly written. I felt thoroughly as though the action was driven by the realistic wants of the characters instead of the needs of a thriller plot – which is, of course, the best sort of thriller.

Vivian in particular was a triumph of a character. She was creepy and insidious and alarmingly believable. I understood that she could exist in the world at her current level of Odd. Sometimes in books like this, the villain (is Vivian a villain or just extremely damaged?) is a bit of a cardboard cut out and it’s hard to see why they are the way they are, but Vivian made a lot of sense and seemed as though she could be a person who manages to function in the world while seeming a bit off. In some other books it can be hard to understand why no one’s pointed out that the villain is a psychopathic monster before. I also thought that Olivia was a great character – again, she felt extremely real, as did all of her friends and family members. This may sound ridiculous but all the characters were well-drawn in just a few words – it was easy to tell them all apart (this sounds like damning praise but it’s not! Sometimes background characters are hard to distinguish but it felt as though all these characters were distinct people with their own lives).

The settings were great and extremely evocative. I enjoyed the way the book moved between them – Vivian’s inability to deal with the heat in the south of France, the tower that the children slept in, the woods in the countryside in Sussex, the old house – I felt very much as though I was there. I liked how green and leafy and wet-smelling the woods were – does that make sense? They were described really excellently and were incredibly familiar and atmospheric. I also thought that the pacing of the novel was fantastic – the action unfolded perfectly in a way that meant I didn’t particularly notice the plotting – which is a compliment. I didn’t notice any dragging, I wasn’t bored for a single paragraph, I wasn’t confused and I didn’t feel that any of it was rushed. I was carried along on the story very comfortably – it felt effortless to read and to get lost in.

My one criticism of this novel was that I didn’t love the ending. It was a little too open-ended for me – although I’m completely aware that’s a totally subjective feeling and a lot of people will probably respond very well to it. To me there were two open-ended bits at the end (let’s describe them as Olivia’s personal life and Olivia’s Vivian life…) and although they were both resolved to some extent, I think my slightly anally retentive brain would have enjoyed a little more certainty at the end. Having said that, it probably isn’t really a criticism because I don’t think it lessened the quality of the book at all – and it has certainly made me think about future possibilities for the characters more than the ending of most thrillers.

In conclusion, this is a clever, clever book. It kept me hooked, it was deliciously creepy, and it’s absolutely worth reading. Thank you again to  Hannah at Quercus for sending me a copy.

reviews

REVIEW: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

images

Released May 18th, with HarperCollins.

This book was spectacular. I read it in a day, even though I was at work for most of that day. Over my lunch break, and when I got home and then late into the night – too late, probably, but it was absolutely worth it. It was without a doubt one of the best books I’ve read this year and one of the best debuts too. Although nothing’s going to topple The Hate U Give for me, this is probably my favourite non-YA debut I’ve read this year.

I saw a Goodreads reviewer say that this novel reminded them of Otessa Moshfegh’s Eileen, which I can understand. Both protagonists are prickly and difficult and faintly pathetic and sometimes disgusting, and the writers let us see them as the world sees them through clever throwaway lines. But Eleanor is much less revolting than Eileen, and considerably more sympathetic too. She feels more and more like a lost soul as the book moves on, even as she’s unpleasant and completely fails to understand the normal rules of interaction. What really impressed me about this book was the way that I as a reader was thoroughly taken on Eleanor’s journey with her. I wanted the best for her; every time her plans for her future with Johnny were mentioned I was anxious and desperately hoping that she wouldn’t humiliate herself too badly.

Another thing I really enjoyed about this novel was the way that Eleanor changed throughout it and how she developed. I thought that her arc was interesting and extremely satisfying – and the way that the details were revealed about her life was cleverly done. There was one twist that really sincerely surprised me, which I really enjoyed as I felt as though it would all turn itself out as I was expecting it to.

My only slight issue with this book – and it is slight – was that I felt as though the ending had something missing, as though it was all tied up too neatly or quickly. But perhaps that was just because I wanted more of Eleanor and of Raymond too, and of their relationship which was so much fun to read. Speaking of Raymond, he was such a brilliant character. I feel as though I have met him several times, and probably not paid enough attention to him. What I liked the most about him was his sheer ordinariness and the clever way that he was described and how the reader knows the truth about him and understands him far before Eleanor does. Writing a character who’s as un-self aware as Eleanor is and doing it so successfully is a really big triumph – not least because Eleanor was so likeable despite the way that she was.

This book was easy to read – in a great way – and compelling both in its plot and in the emotional arcs of the characters. I’m really excited about recommending it to everyone who comes into my branch of Waterstones. It’s a really great debut and, specifically, the sort of book that I absolutely love – the sort that proves that no matter what your plot is (although this plot was good), a novel is pretty much nothing without a great central character. I’m going to remember this book, and Eleanor, for a long time.

 

The proof of book was sent to me earlier in the year (thank you!). This is a completely honest review.