A mesmerising adult fairy tale. This is easily one of the best novels I've read so far this year. Jessie Burton's debut quickly drew me in to the stor...moreA mesmerising adult fairy tale. This is easily one of the best novels I've read so far this year. Jessie Burton's debut quickly drew me in to the story of Nella (Petronella) Brandt who arrives on the doorstep of her marital home in a wealthy part of Amsterdam, not knowing very much about her new husband whom she only briefly met at a somewhat disappointing wedding ceremony. She doesn't exactly get the reception or start to married life that she expected either and, left to her own devices, she begins to furnish the miniature of her new home that her husband gifts her shortly after her arrival. But this triggers an unusual unravelling of secrets within the house and it's really interesting to see the changes it brings about in Nella herself. The detail and description of the period and Amsterdam at the time is excellent, the characters are wonderfully drawn and the story sucks you in and didn't let this reader go until she reached the final page. I loved this book and would recommend to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and especially to those who enjoyed Deborah Moggach's Tulip Fever or Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring.(less)
Kim Curran's latest book is a clever, yet disturbing, fast-paced chase through not only a dystopian London of the near future but the omnipotent socia...moreKim Curran's latest book is a clever, yet disturbing, fast-paced chase through not only a dystopian London of the near future but the omnipotent social network that is GLAZE. It's her third novel and I think it's her best yet. (It's a stand-alone book and not part of the excellent Shifter series, which currently comprises SHIFT and CONTROL. DELETE, the third book of that series, is out in August.)
GLAZE is Petri Quinn's story: she's 15 years old when we first meet her, which means that she's counting down the days, hours and seconds until she can get hooked up to GLAZE, the social network of the moment. Petri's desperation to get connected is compounded by the fact that she's a bright girl who's been put up a year at school. Which means, everyone she's in class with is already 16 and already 'hooked up'.
Petri's a terrific character: her voice is strong and I took to her from the very first page. She's the only child of a single parent and has had to be relatively self-sufficient because of her mother's work demands. They have a slightly distant relationship with each other, as a result. Petri's a bright girl, but not one who shouts about it. All she wants is what a lot of people want: to fit in, to be a part of things, if not the centre of them, and for the dreamy, cool kid in her year to notice her. And she'd really like to be 'hooked up' to GLAZE. And all credit to the girl, despite her mother working as a high-level Executive for the company behind GLAZE, Petri hasn't tried to use that to get connected early.
Kim Curran cleverly shows both the good and bad in being on a social network in GLAZE, especially one as pervasive as this one is. She shows the uses and benefits of having so much information and so many resources readily available and easily accessible before showing how it all could be open to misuse and abuse by the authorities, by the company responsible for designing and running it, by other interest groups and by its users.
If you're concerned about the way the current media presents (or, depending on your view, moulds and makes) the news before feeding it to us, and how statistics and information are manipulated to suit what 'they' want to tell us, then GLAZE feeds right into those concerns. It might also make you reconsider just what you share and who you connect with when you next use any of our existing social networks.
As well as being a timely look at how connected we all are, GLAZE is also a thrilling and unnerving look at how much of our lives are lived and shared online; how much information we give out about ourselves, our family and our friends, complete with locations and photos, and for some people, even with a running commentary of their day-to-day experiences and routine. It's also an important reminder of what is important: giving your time over to family and real friends and spending quality time with them; making genuine connections with people; looking up and noticing what's going on in your immediate environment and the wider world; questioning what you consume, especially when it comes to information; and, ultimately, being unafraid to forge your own way sometimes, even if that goes against what the majority are doing, because it might just be the better path.
If that all sounds deep, then that's because GLAZE gave me a lot to think about, both while I was reading it and for these past few days since having finished it. But that didn't stop GLAZE from being an exciting, fast-paced read; a technological thriller that I'd recommend anyone, who lives even a little bit online, to read. (less)
Home Fires is a beautifully written novel that tells the story of one family and the devastating impact which two wars have on its members, not only o...moreHome Fires is a beautifully written novel that tells the story of one family and the devastating impact which two wars have on its members, not only on those who serve, but especially those at home, who have to deal with the aftermath of war. It also deals with having to deal with an elderly and failing parent, PTSD, grief, how a marriage copes with all these and the pressures of being an only child. (less)
While a novel set on the M25, the nightmarish orbital motorway that almost encircles London, might sound a little odd, I was immediately hooked. JAM o...moreWhile a novel set on the M25, the nightmarish orbital motorway that almost encircles London, might sound a little odd, I was immediately hooked. JAM opens as Dusk is falling on London and sweeps over the Capital, picking out people and places within it and providing a snippet of information about their lives.
If, like me, you’ve ever been on a train or bus journey and looked out of the window into the backs of people’s houses or gardens and wondered what their lives were like, or caught yourself doing the same thing about people sharing any other public space with you, then Jake Wallis Simons’ latest novel, JAM, is just the book for you.
Being somewhere with a bunch of total strangers is all very well when it’s for a known limited period of time or you’re just passing through, but JAM looks at what happens when you’re forced to spend time together in a traffic jam on a stretch of motorway in a signal blackspot. How will people thrown together by circumstance, rather than through choice or common interests, react to what’s happened? Will they interact with each other and, if so, how?
JAM is a terrific read: a fascinating, well written and beautifully structured look at a cross section of modern society and human beings in general.(less)
Behind every great man...... there are at least four women in the case of charismatic and dashing author, Ernest Hemingway, and this is their story. T...moreBehind every great man...... there are at least four women in the case of charismatic and dashing author, Ernest Hemingway, and this is their story. Told in four parts, one for each Mrs Hemingway, Naomi Wood creates an enthralling novel that is revealing not only when it comes to the women who Hemingway ensnared but also about the author himself. For example, Hemingway's first wife, Hadley, is best friends with Fife, who becomes his mistress and eventually his second wife. The lives of the wives overlap and run parallel for a while until Hemingway is forced to choose between them and temporarily settles for one woman in his life.
The description of the various places Hemingway lived and the people in his life at the time is very well done and for the time I was reading, the characters felt very real to me. It's clear that putting this novel together must have taken a great deal of research but the author weaves this lightly into her work and makes it appear seamless. She clearly also had to put words into the mouths of real-life people when she wasn't privy to their conversations but she does this in a way that fits and feels right, too. I particularly enjoyed the way that each section is told partly in present time for that wife and in flashback, and it's especially satisfying the further you get through the book, as you see how the future Mrs Hemingway viewed the situation compared to how the former Mrs Hemingway saw it. This gave the novel a real sense of being more rounded and complete, as the pieces slotted together. It did make me slightly despair for my sex when I saw how the former mistress now wife believes that she will be enough for Hemingway and might prevent him wanting to fill the position of mistress that she'd just freed up. I suppose it's great that people hope for change in someone but it's also frustrating that they're so hard hit when that change is only fleeting and he goes back to his old ways.
This is a wonderfully written book and one that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.(less)
I have to admit that I'd heard this book discussed a lot on Twitter and succumbed to the hype surrounding it, although I was slightly put off by some...moreI have to admit that I'd heard this book discussed a lot on Twitter and succumbed to the hype surrounding it, although I was slightly put off by some descriptions of it as "a hot beach read". I sometimes think that has a negative connotation and dismisses a book as the kind of thing you'd only read on holiday, when you want to give your brain a rest, and not anything with more depth to it that you might read throughout the rest of the year. (I can understand why this shorthand is used to describe a book like this and that it is supposed to help readers decide if it's for them or not but I think that if a book is good and worth reading, it shouldn't matter where you read it or at what time of year.)
I read The Lemon Grove in February and very far from either a beach or even a swimming pool and it was thoroughly worthwhile reading. While the novel deals with feelings of sexual desire in a middle aged woman for her teenage daughter's new boyfriend, this isn't a book that will titillate you. It is, instead, an extremely well-written and frank look at the dangers of inappropriate desire and the potential damage that can lead to and it will make you feel uncomfortable. It is so much more than just a hot beach read and I enjoyed it all the more for that. It's certainly a quick read at around 200 pages and deceptively simple but that's down to the author's skill at handling such a tricky subject matter. I'll certainly be looking out for future novels by Helen Walsh and reading my way through her back catalogue in the meantime.(less)
A remarkable imagining of the lives of Sarah and Angelina Grimké, two daughters of a Charleston judge, who were to become pioneering voices for the ab...moreA remarkable imagining of the lives of Sarah and Angelina Grimké, two daughters of a Charleston judge, who were to become pioneering voices for the abolition of slavery and women's rights. Sue Monk Kidd tells their story primarily from Sarah's viewpoint and adds in an additional narrator in the form of Hetty 'Handful' Grimké, a slave who is presented to Sarah as her own on Sarah's eleventh birthday. Both narrators are strong female voices that don't shirk from telling you what it was like for women - whether you were supposedly free or enslaved - at that time (the novel covers the period from 1803 to 1838). Compelling storytelling from a wonderful writer who brings alive and gives voice to what is an important story and history. (less)
Tom Vowler’s second novel, That Dark Remembered Day, opens with what could be a recurring nightmare: a boy on the cusp of young adulthood gets off the...moreTom Vowler’s second novel, That Dark Remembered Day, opens with what could be a recurring nightmare: a boy on the cusp of young adulthood gets off the school bus in Spring 1983, full of hope and fuzzy expectations and, on his way home, walks into something that quickly shatters that child’s happy innocence forever.
The book then fast-forwards to Autumn 2012 and Stephen, a grown man with a family of his own and a job that stems from one of his passions. Unfortunately, unresolved anger issues and drinking are jeopardising everything: he’s been suspended from his job and his wife has told him that they can’t go on like this for much longer. Things appear to be quickly unravelling when he gets called back to his home town. He’s avoided going there in the past but now it seems as if he must return, not only to see his mother who’s unwell, but also finally to see if he can deal with what happened there in 1983.
One of the reasons this book works so well is because Tom Vowler manages to sustain the suspense for so long. The reader deliberately isn’t told what the tragic event was until quite late on in the book and so can only guess at what happened, or how, and tweak their ideas each time they’re drip-fed further information. The slow reveal is brilliantly done and left this reader with just enough new information each time before another layer of the story was peeled away to reveal the next one. Even when I thought I knew what had transpired, it turned out that I didn’t have all the details and still needed to adjust how I was looking at things, when more was revealed. I found my attitudes towards the characters and their place in the story continuously shifting, which made for both a compelling and unsettling read.
Suspense is also heightened thanks to the way in which the novel is structured. It’s split into four parts: the first and last are told from Stephen’s perspective in 2012, while the two middle sections go back to the summer of 1982, and are told by Stephen’s mother and father respectively. All the narrators tell their stories in third person, which both helps the reader get into the mind of each different narrator and shift perspective while also maintaining some distance from them. The characterisation and descriptions of place are excellent.
This four-part structure also effectively allows the story to be told in reverse, say, to how most of us would normally hear about it, if it were a real event and reported on the news. Any news report would start with the shock event and subsequent bulletins would then work backwards from that filling in the detail. That the novel builds up to a detailed account of the event, gives it all the more impact. I found the last section absolutely chilling but also extremely moving and it has stayed with me months after finishing the book, which ultimately left me reeling with much to think about.
That Dark Remembered Day explores not only how a tragic event plays out in a small town but also, and perhaps more interestingly, what life is like for some of those closely involved in it, both in the months leading up to it, during the event itself and in the aftermath. It is a taut, brilliantly written novel, with layer upon layer of suspense, dealing with important psychological issues and challenging the reader’s views as they put themselves in the shifting positions of the story’s characters. That Dark Remembered Day is an assured novel by Tom Vowler and a worthy successor to his collection of short stories, The Method, and debut novel, What Lies Within. He’s an exciting writer to read and I have no hesitation whatsoever in recommending him to you.(less)
An excellent take on the effect that depression, grief, guilt and anger can have not only on those directly suffering from any or all of them but also...moreAn excellent take on the effect that depression, grief, guilt and anger can have not only on those directly suffering from any or all of them but also on their family and friends. (less)