Archive | Literary fiction RSS feed for this section

Reading round up 17th January 2016

17 Jan

We’re just over halfway through the month and so far I’m keeping up with my resolution to blog every day in January. In fact it’s going so well I might challenge myself to do it again in February (watch this space).

I’m also doing well at posting more to Facebook and Instagram but I’ve realised that I don’t always publish the same pics/thoughts to each account and often, I don’t post my own photos to this blog so I’ve decided to try to do a weekly (might be fortnightly or even monthly!) round up on Sundays.

our songSince the start of the year I’ve read 5 books. This week I read Our Song (28th January) by Dani Atkins a book that has set the bar high already for this reading year. I was completely swept up in the story  and sobbed my way through the final chapters but absolutely loved it. It’s out at the end of the month and I highly recommend adding it to your shopping list (along with a box of tissues!) Look out for my full review soon.

After Our Song I found myself with a bit of a book hangover for a couple of days but on Thursday I started reading Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (14th January) and finished it this morning. There’s nothing like a complete genre change to keep the reading excitement high and this book is quite different to anything I’ve read before but I loved the mythology and beautiful descriptions as well as the action and adventure of the story.

I took part in two blog tours last week and had a bit of an 1980s theme going on. Firstly, What A Way To Go set in 1988 and then Holding Out for a HeroThis week Erica Image-1Hayes’ Scarred blog tour will be stopping off here on Tuesday.

Finally, I received some exciting book post this week which included an advance proof of Katherine Webb’s next novel, The English Girl (24 March 2016); a copy of The Faithful Couple (4th February) by A. D. Miller and a beautiful hardback of When Everything Feels Like the Movies (14th February) by Raziel Reid. I’m looking forward to reading all of these very soon!

 

Book review: What A Way to Go by Julia Forster

9 Jan

what a way to go1988. 12-year-old Harper Richardson’s parents are divorced. Her mum got custody of her, the Mini, and five hundred tins of baked beans. Her dad got a mouldering cottage in a Midlands backwater village and default membership of the Lone Rangers single parents’ club. Harper got questionable dress sense, a zest for life, two gerbils, and her Chambers dictionary, and the responsibility of fixing her parents’ broken hearts…

Set against a backdrop of high hairdos and higher interest rates, pop music and puberty, divorce and death, What a Way to Go is a warm, wise and witty tale of one girl tackling the business of growing up while those around her try not to fall apart.

What a Way to Go is a charming and nostalgic reflection on growing up in England in the 1980s that will make you smile. It is also the bittersweet story of  twelve year old Harper Richardson as she tries to get to grips with growing up and make sense of the world and the adults around her. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip down memory lane that this book provided and think Hraper is a great leading lady.

In many ways, Harper reminded me of another great 80s fictional commentator; Adrian Mole. Harper is equal parts wise beyond her years and slightly mystified child. I loved the way that she tried to look after the adults around her. By making her lead character a 12 year old, Julia Forster gives us an unique view on decidedly serious topics such as divorce, mental illness and death.

Harper’s parents are recently divorced and she spends her weekends shuttling between them and trying to make them both happy. Family dramas are played out against Harper’s desire to become a business entrepreneur, get along at school and maybe find her first boyfriend. I loved the way very normal activities like watching Blind Date on Saturday night sat alongside the serious issues and there’s a wonderful dark sense of humour to What A Way to Go that keeps the story just the right side of upbeat even in its most painful moments.

I’m revealing all about my age here but I was just a year younger than Harper in 1988 when this story is set so many of the things she talked about are also my memories. The nostalgia I felt whilst reading certainly added to my enjoyment (I loved the bit about the importance if the Top 40 especially!) and I found myself ringing my mum and saying ‘do you remember …’ I think being the same age at the same time certainly helped me relate and connect to Harper and I took her to my heart as I read.

Harper’s philosophies often made me smile as did those of the supporting characters. My particular favourites were Mrs Curtis, an old lady in the village where Harper’s Dad lives and Kit, Harper’s Mum’s husband to be for a large part of the book. As with all good family dramas there are secrets to be revealed and surprises in store. I loved that the big reveals when they came weren’t huge and life shattering for Harper though they certainly changed the perspectives on the story.

As Harper begins to learn the ups and downs that life can throw at us, I found What A Way To Go a beautiful and sensitive story of growing up and finding your place in the world. An excellent debut from Julia Forster and I look forward to reading more from her in future.

What A Way To Go is out now in paperback and ebook formats.

Find out more about Julia and her writing at: http://www.julia-forster.com/o

I’d like to thank the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.

Book Club Picks 2016

7 Jan

The Richard and Judy Bookclub Reads for Spring were announced last week as were Waterstones eight 2016 book club reads. I’ve read five of the books listed and have a couple of the others on my shelves so I thought I’d do a round up of my recommendations from the lists!

the versions of usThe Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

This is the only book to appear on both lists and if you read my review last week you’ll know that I completely agree – I thought this book was brilliant and can’t recommend it highly enough!

What if you had said yes . . . ?

Eva and Jim are nineteen, and students at Cambridge, when their paths first cross in 1958. Jim is walking along a lane when a woman approaching him on a bicycle swerves to avoid a dog. What happens next will determine the rest of their lives. We follow three different versions of their future – together, and apart – as their love story takes on different incarnations and twists and turns to the conclusion in the present day.

The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Luptonquality of silence paperback

I read this book when it came out in hardback and was absolutely gripped by it – it’s a tense, thrilling read that pitches a mother and daughter against the elements.

The cold was shocking in its violence. She’d thought the colour of cold was white, like snow, or blue perhaps, like on a cold tap, but cold like this was conceived in a place without daylight and was black, the absence of all light and colour.

Somewhere out there was Matt.

She yelled his name into the dark as loudly as she could. But although her mouth formed the shapes to make the sound and her lungs forced his name into a scream, the sound was obliterated by the wind so that she didn’t know if she’d made any sound at all.

paris bookshop newThe Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

A beautiful novel that examines the power of books and reading to change lives. I loved Jean Perdu’s ‘literary apothecary’ and wished I could pay it a visit! With a quirky cast and a love story with a difference, this is a must read for book lovers.

On a beautifully restored barge on the Seine, Jean Perdu runs a bookshop; or rather a ‘literary apothecary’, for this bookseller possesses a rare gift for sensing which books will soothe the troubled souls of his customers.

The only person he is unable to cure, it seems, is himself. He has nursed a broken heart ever since the night, twenty-one years ago, when the love of his life fled Paris, leaving behind a handwritten letter that he has never dared read. His memories and his love have been gathering dust – until now. The arrival of an enigmatic new neighbour in his eccentric apartment building on Rue Montagnard inspires Jean to unlock his heart, unmoor the floating bookshop and set off for Provence, in search of the past and his beloved.

 

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evanscrooked

An excellent, funny and poignant novel with characters who will stay in your heart long after you close the pages. Read my interview with Lissa to find out more!

When Noel Bostock – aged ten, no family – is evacuated from London to escape the Blitz, he winds up in St Albans with Vera Sedge – thiry-six, drowning in debts. Always desperate for money, she’s unscrupulous about how she gets it.

The war’s thrown up all manner of new opportunities but what Vee needs is a cool head and the ability to make a plan. On her own, she’s a disaster. With Noel, she’s a team.

Together they cook up an idea. But there are plenty of other people making money out of the war and some of them are dangerous. Noel may have been moved to safety, but he isn’t actually safe at all . . .

sophie starkThe Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North

A clever book that gives tantalising glimpses of a lead character that we never actually meet! One of my favourite books of 2015. I can’t wait for more people to read this so that I can discuss it with them!

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark is the story of an enigmatic film director, told by the six people who loved her most. Brilliant, infuriating, all-seeing and unknowable, Sophie Stark makes films said to be ‘more like life than life itself’. But her genius comes at a terrible cost: to her husband, to the brother she left behind, and to the actress she can’t quite forget.

A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winmanmarvellous ways

I treated myself to the gorgeous hardback of this but haven’t got round to reading it yet – hopefully soon!

Marvellous Ways is eighty-nine years old and has lived alone in a remote Cornish creek for nearly all her life. Lately she’s taken to spending her days sitting on a mooring stone by the river with a telescope. She’s waiting for something – she’s not sure what, but she’ll know it when she sees it.

Drake is a young soldier left reeling by the Second World War. When his promise to fulfil a dying man’s last wish sees him wash up in Marvellous’ creek, broken in body and spirit, the old woman comes to his aid.

Have you read any of the other books on the lists? Which would you recommend?

Review round up 2015

20 Dec

As 2015 comes to a close, I’ve been trying to catch up on books I read but didn’t get round to reviewing. Here are some mini reviews of the ones that got away earlier in the year!

dandelion yearsThe Dandelion Years by Erica James

The Dandelion Years is the first of Erica James’ books that I’ve read. I was drawn to this book initially by the references to Bletchly Park. The code breakers of World War Two have always held a fascination for me. Coupled with the fact that this is a book where the lead character is a book restorer, I had to know more!

This is a lovely story of family, history and love and I found it a gently compelling read. Starting in the present we meet Saskia and her unconventional housemates. This is three men and a little lady grown up as Saskia lives with her dad and two grandfathers which is a set up that I’ve never come across before but made for a refreshingly different family group in the book.

Saskia is given a book to restore and finds a manuscript hidden inside. Titled The Dandelion Years, the handwritten pages tell a tale of wartime love and Saskia is soon hooked. While I enjoyed the main story it was the chapters that took me back in time that I enjoyed most and caught my imagination and curiosity.

James sets a number of mysteries out for the reader and as the story progressed I enjoyed beginning to piece the picture together but I still couldn’t predict what had happened to the Katsura that the historical element of the book focussed icon. With romance, history and an intriguing mystery, this is a lovely novel about seizing the moment and moving forward despite heartbreak loss and uncertainty.

the sistersThe Sisters by Claire Douglas

The story focuses on Abi – a grieving twin whose identical sister has recently died. The questions and cliffhangers come thick and fast starting with a high impact opening chapter and its soon clear that Abi has a lot to deal with. I loved the way that Claire drip fed details about what happened to Abi’s twin Lucy to us and I thought she struck a tantalisingly perfect balance between moving the story forward and deepening the mysteries in it.

Just about everyone in the story feels unreliable as narrators and this was one of the key reasons I enjoyed this book so much – just when I thought I’d worked out who was manipulating who a new detail or event would make me question everything again.

Abi is a complex character and her thought processes and motivations equally complex against a background of grief, self blame and concerns for her mental health. Seemingly minor and plausible events like the misplacement of a letter or medication escalate into more sinister occurrences and throughout as a reader I was as unsure as Abi as to who was responsible. This lent an uncertain quality to the story and made it all the more gripping.

Abi moves in with Bea And her brother Ben and this is where the story really takes off. The relationships between the siblings is intriguing and adds further to the drama and mystery of the book. A fab psychological thriller –  I thoroughly enjoyed Claire Douglas’s gripping debut.

The New Woman by Charity Norman the new woman

Charity Norman has written some of my favourite books of recent years and I was delighted to be chosen to give out one of her books for World Book Night earlier in the year.  I can always rely on Charity to provide a thought-provoking read that will make me look at an issue from many different angles and The New Woman is no exception.

Luke Livingstone is a highly respected solicitor; a family man with a lovely home, wife, children and grandchildren. But Luke has been living with a huge secret; a secret that defines the very core of who he is and as the novel opens, it is a secret that has driven him to take a heartbreaking decision. I have little experience of transgender issues personally but with her characteristic sensitivity, Charity shines a light on what it’s like to feel you have to hide your true identity from those you love.

Charity captures the nuances and intricacies of family life so well. Seeing Kate, Elish and Luke’s perspectives was fascinating and made me think about my own parents and what they really think about my choices as opposed to what they’d like me to think they think! Norman cleverly illustrates the point that as much as we may think we know what our nearest and dearest are thinking only that person can ever really know what’s going on in their heads. For Luke this is a huge identity issue but I could see echoes of the theme throughout the book as key characters were forced in turn to address their own hidden secrets.

I hope that transgender children today would find more acceptance than Luke did when he was young; the story made me concerned and sad as I read but ultimately was a tale of strength and transformation for all.

the ice twinsThe Ice Twins by S.K. Tremayne

I read more psychological thrillers in 2015 than I ever had before and The Ice Twins is one that stands out as being particularly and chillingly memorable. Angus and Sarah Moorcraft are trying to piece their lives back together following the tragic death of their daughter Lydia. What is already a devastating subject is made more intense by the fact that Lydia has an identical twin, Kirstie. Everything Kirstie does is a reminder of Lydia and when Kirstie begins to act strangely, Sarah and Angus don’t know how to react.

This is a novel of complex psychology, isolation, the unique relationship between twins and the effects of devastating grief on a family. As Angus, Sarah and Kirstie decide to move to a remote and tiny Scottish Island to a house that Angus inherited from his grandmother, they add an extra dimension to their problems.

But it is Kirstie’s insistence that a mistake has been made and that she is actually Lydia that gives this book such a chilling and memorable edge. I was on the edge of my seat as I read The Ice Twins and the imagery of the isolating Scottish landscape added wonderfully to the otherworldly and spooky events of the novel. With the mystery of what really happened to the twins tantalisingly waiting to be revealed, this is a gripping page turner and will stay with you long after you’ve read the final page.

 

 

Audiobook Review: Brooklyn by Colm Toibin, narrated by Niamh Cussack

18 Dec

Brooklyn audio_It is Ireland in the early 1950s and for Eilis Lacey, as for so many young Irish girls, opportunities are scarce. So when her sister arranges for her to emigrate to New York, Eilis knows she must go, leaving behind her family and her home for the first time.

Arriving in a crowded lodging house in Brooklyn, Eilis can only be reminded of what she has sacrificed. She is far from home – and homesick. And just as she takes tentative steps towards friendship, and perhaps something more, Eilis receives news which sends her back to Ireland. There she will be confronted by a terrible dilemma – a devastating choice between duty and one great love.

I’ve been meaning to read Brooklyn for a number of years; in fact I’ve had a copy sat on my bookshelf for a long time. With the release of the film recently I really wanted to read the book before I saw the movie so when I was offered the chance to review the audiobook, I jumped at it! Having had such a good experience with the audio version of Go Set A Watchman earlier this year, I was keen to try another audio book.

The Brooklyn audiobook is unabridged and narrated by the actress Niamh Cusack. One of the key things I’ve found that can make or break an audiobook for me is the narrator – being familiar with Niamh, I felt confident that I’d like her narration and I wasn’t disappointed.

Brooklyn tells the story of Eilis Lacey who lives in Ireland with her mother and sister. Despite being bright and eager, job opportunities in early 1950s Ireland are severely limited for Eilis. Her brothers have already left the family home for jobs in England and when Eilis is offered a job in America she decides she should take it. Toibin captures the enormity of leaving a small home town for a new life beautifully. In an age before quick, cheap travel and mobile communications, Eilis makes a commitment that cannot be reversed easily. I enjoyed listening to the details of the voyage and my heart was very much with Eilis as she left the familiarity of home.

As the story developed I enjoyed the way that Eilis’s character developed too. The freedoms, opportunities and new ways and fashions that she finds in America are a stark contrast to life back in Ireland. The impact of this change on Eilis really struck home and made me think about how our experiences form us and that we are forever changed by them. It’s the mark of a strong character and a clever author that a character can do things that you don’t agree with or necessarily like and yet you forgive them. I was disappointed in Eilis’s actions in the second half of the book but I understood fully how she made (or didn’t make) her choices and they highlighted starkly the two very different worlds that she has a foot in. This aspect is particularly clear in the love story/romance angle to the book which is well woven into the story and I didn’t envy Eilis the choice she has to make at the end of the novel.

Niamh Cusack does an excellent job of narrating the book and really brought the story to life for me. I loved the voices that she did for the different characters and I could have listened to her all day. I’m probably one of the last people to read/listen to this book but if you haven’t I thoroughly recommend it. Despite an ending that was a little to open for my liking (I need to know what happened next!), I enjoyed the story and I can’t wait to see the film version which has had excellent reviews too.

The Brooklyn audiobook is available now from Audible.

I’d like to thank Audible for providing a review copy of this audiobook.

Find out more about Colm Toibin and his writing at: http://www.colmtoibin.com/

Book news: New Audio Adaption of Pride and Prejudice performed by Rosamund Pike

9 Dec

PridePrejudice_LDNBAN.v2._CB286514609_

I’ve developed a new love for audiobooks in recent months so I was very excited to see that a new version of one of my all time favorite books has just been released by Audible.

Who doesn’t love Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice?! And now you can listen to a fab performance of it narrated by Rosamund Pike. I started listening to this yesterday and I’m finding it so lovely to listen to the story. I’ve read the book many times and watched several film and TV versions but I’d never listened to the original being read by someone else. I’d highly recommend it as a treat to cosy up with on a winters night.

Audible Studios, announced the release yesterday and the audiobook is now available to download at: audible.co.uk/prideandprejudice.

Pride and Prejudice will always resonate with people because Austen is dealing with a theme that is so universal: falling in love for the first time,” said Pike, whose artistic relationship with the novel dates back to the 2005 film adaptation, in which she played Jane Bennet. “I hope people enjoy what I’ve done with it, and find my characterizations convincing. While narrating this, I was constantly listening, and making recordings of people’s voices which I thought might have some qualities useful for a character – whether it be the person’s tone, intonation, pitch, or cadence of speech. Performing this audiobook has been extremely rewarding for me. It’s made me think afresh about familiar things, and made me again appreciate what a great heroine Austen has given us in Elizabeth Bennet.”

pride and prejudicePride and Prejudice still captivates modern readers and listeners, and this new recording, makes it easy to see why,” said Audible UK Content Director Laurence Howell. “Austen’s timeless story of romance, family and social dynamics combined with Rosamund Pike’s beautiful performance make this a must-have for devotees of Austen’s novel, and it is a wonderful introduction to the book for a new generation of Austen fans.”

Book review: Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier

13 Aug

image005After the death of her mother, Mary Yellan crosses the windswept Cornish moors to Jamaica Inn, the home of her Aunt Patience. There she finds Patience a changed woman, downtrodden by her domineering, vicious husband Joss Merlyn. The inn is a front for a lawless gang of criminals, and Mary is unwillingly dragged into their dangerous world of smuggling and murder. Before long she will be forced to cross her own moral line to save herself.

Despite reading a lot of books and enjoying classic literature,  up until recently I’d not read anything by Daphne Du Maurier so when lovely Clara from Little Brown Books contacted me to say that they were releasing new covers for three of Du Maurier’s classic works, I jumped at the chance to take part in the blog tour and give myself an excuse to read one of her books!

The new covers are lovely – really eye catching and I now plan to add them all to my collection. I was sent Jamaica Inn to review and I really enjoyed it. It appealed to me on a number of levels; as a fan of historical fiction I loved the plot set in the early 1800s; as a fan of Cornwall I enjoyed the descriptions and setting and as a fan of novels that err on the Gothic side I loved the dark suspense and mystery of the story.

Du Maurier’s heroine in Jamaica Inn is Mary Yellen who at the start of the novel has lived a hard yet contented life with her Mother on a farm in the village of Helston. Mary is bright and intelligent and recognises the lengths her Mother has gone to to provide a life for them both since her Father’s death but sadly, she loses her remaining parent and sets out to uphold her promise to her Mother to seek out her Aunt Patience and sanctuary with her only surviving family member. Mary’s strength and resilience shines through the book and I liked that she wasn’t afraid to stand up to for herself.

I loved the depth and beauty of Du Maurier’s descriptions of rain-lashed Cornish Moors and Mary’s tortuous journey towards Jamaica Inn; a stark contrast to the warm and bright village life of Mary’s memories. The tension begins to build from the opening pages and Du Maurier keeps raising it little by little until my heart was in my mouth wondering what would come next.

The Aunt Patience now living at Jamaica Inn and the figure that Mary remembers from a childhood visit could not be more different and it soon becomes clear that she has been changed dramatically by her bullying and overpowering husband Joss Merlyn. Joss really is a despicable character and I spent most of the novel hoping he would meet his end soon! The mystery of Joss’s clandestine activities and what is really happening late at night behind the doors of Jamaica Inn kept me turning the pages and I enjoyed the twists and turns of the story.

As Mary explores her new home with walks around the Moor she encounters two men who are destined to have a deep impact on her life. Du Maurier sets up the contrasts between light and dark beautifully with the wild and dangerous Jem Merlyn and Francis Daavey, the clergyman who rescues her when she is lost. Jem in particular will appeal to readers who like their male protagonists with a dangerous edge!

With shipwrecks, smuggling and danger, Jamaica Inn is a gripping Gothic romance and I look forward to reading more of Daphne Du Maurier’s works soon. Please do check out the other stops on the blog tour for review’s of Daphne’s other books.

4/5

I’d like to thank the publisher for providing me with a review copy of this book.

You can find out more about Daphne Du Maurier and her writing at: http://www.dumaurier.org

Find out more about the real Jamaica Inn at: http://www.jamaicainn.co.uk/

Book reviews: To Kill A Mockingbird and Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

1 Aug

mockingbirdWith the imminent release of Go Set A Watchman – possibly THE most highly anticipated book since I started blogging I thought it was time to finally read To Kill A Mockingbird in preparation. I ended up reading it and following straight away with the audiobook version of Go Set A Watchman and because the books are so intrinsically linked I’ve decided to review them together here.

Firstly, To Kill A Mockingbird. I’m not sure there is much I can add to all of the wonderful and well-deserved praise this book has received in the fifty five years since it was published. It’s a classic for a reason and I’m only sorry I didn’t find the time to read it sooner! Following my love of books set by the sea, books set in the American South are a particular favourite of mine and I now recognise  Scout Finch as the wonderful predecessor of some of the characters that I’ve loved in recent years (Swan Lake in Jenny Wingfield’s The Homecoming of Samuel Lake would have been a great ally for Scout!).

For those, like me who haven’t yet read Mockingbird, it’s the story of two children and their father who live in the town of Maycomb, Alabama. This town in the deep South has it’s own wonderful cast of loveable (and a few not so loveable) characters. I think what brings the magic to this novel is young Scout’s narration. Looking through the eyes of a child, Harper Lee is able to take a stark view of the prejudices of the towns inhabitants. As Scout and Jem’s lawyer father Atticus fights to do what’s right, I loved Scout’s sharp questions and wry observations. I also loved her determination to keep up with the boys and not to be forced into girlyness  – much to the horror of her Aunt and neighbours.

I was surprised by the humour in the book. Knowing that the key storyline was one of the trial of a black man accused of raping a white woman I certainly didn’t expect a book that made me chuckle. To Kill A Mockingbird is written with a light touch but makes a deep and resounding point about what is fair and how we should treat our fellow men and women. Like many, I’ve now added it to my list of favourites and I’m sure it won’t be long before I read it again.

With the above in mind it was with some trepidation that I approached Go Set A Watchman. Although she has grown up (she’s now 26),  I was pleased to see that Scout hasn’t really changed. The Scout that we meet in Watchman is still as feisty as she once was and despite having given in to some of the conventions required of a lady in the 1950s, she’s still as determined to be independent and stand by her convictions as she ever was. I liked the grown up Jean Louise just as much as her younger ‘Scout’ iteration and it was her character that held the two books together for me bridging any gaps and inconsistencies.

In Watchman Jean Louise returns to Maycomb for a two week holiday from New York where she now lives. During this return visit to her hometown she faces some truths that she and many readers who have loved Mockingbird for a long time find incredibly difficult. I found it fascinating to jump from the Mockingbird Maycomb of the 1930s to the same town in the 1950s. There are many familiar faces in the second book and I enjoyed catching up with them at a later stage in life.

I’ve read quite a lot of the debate on Go Set A Watchman and it is a very different book. I felt that it wasn’t as ‘joined up’ as Mockingbird  but I go set a watchmandisagree with those who think it’s just a poor earlier draft of To Kill A Mockingbird. Having read both books close together I could pick out some descriptive passages that were almost word for word the same but the rest of the book is set in an entirely different time and it does update on key characters and fill in the gaps. Go Set A Watchman makes a clear political point about race and racism and I found it a fascinating snapshot of the debates of the time that it was written.

Thanks to the lovely people at Audible.com, I listened to the audiobook version of Go Set A Watchman. Reese Witherspoon is a perfect choice to narrate and gives the grown up Jean Louise a wonderful and powerful voice. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the ‘new’ novel and particularly liked the flash backs to Jem and Scout’s high school days. Their adventures after the end of Mockingbird made me smile and these parts of the book in particular are written with the same humour and wry observances as the much loved classic.

I wonder if Go Set A Watchman had been written today would it have been classified as New Adult? It deals with a 26 year old woman returning to her home town and realising that not only do things not stay the same but people change and your perception of them does too. This is a theme I thought Lee captured really well. I had a lot of sympathy for grown up ‘Scout’ and her heartbreak. Go Set A Watchman made me wish there were more novels from Harper Lee. Having enjoyed the audiobook of Go Set A Watchman so much, I’m now looking to listen to the audio of To Kill A Mockingbird which has been highly recommended by fellow readers on Twitter and to follow up by reading Watchman.

5/5

Find out more about Harper Lee and her novels at: http://www.harpercollins.com/cr-103537/harper-lee

Go Set A Watchman is out now in hardback, ebook and audio formats.

Find out more about the Audiobook narrated by Reese Witherspoon at Audible.com

Book review: The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

24 Jul

SwylerE-BookOfSpeculationUKSimon Watson lives alone on the Long Island Sound in his family home, a house perched on the edge of a cliff that is slowly crumbling into the sea. His parents are long dead, his mother having drowned in the water his house overlooks. His younger sister, Enola, works for a travelling carnival and seldom calls.

On a day in late June, Simon receives a mysterious book from an antiquarian bookseller; it has been sent to him because it is inscribed with the name Verona Bonn, Simon’s grandmother. The book tells the story of two doomed lovers who were part of a travelling circus more than two hundred years ago. The paper crackles with age as Simon turns the yellowed pages filled with notes and sketches. He is fascinated, yet as he reads Simon becomes increasingly unnerved. Why do so many women in his family drown on 24th July? And could Enola, who has suddenly turned up at home for the first time in years, risk the same terrible fate?

As 24th July draws ever closer, Simon must unlock the mysteries of the book, and decode his family history, before it’s too late.

I love it when a publisher contacts me about a book that piques my interest and I love it even more when that book turns out to be just as good as I’d hoped! The Book of Speculation is one of my surprise favourites of the year so far and has jumped straight into my ‘top books of the year’ list. Erika Swyler’s debut is a wonderful combination of magical realism, mystery, myth and the power of words and books.

Simon is sent an old and rare handwritten and illustrated manuscript by an antiquarian bookseller because it features the name of his maternal grandmother at the back and so begins an intriguing mystery that threads through generations of showmen and women and links to Simon and his sister in the present day.

Moving back and forth between past and present, The Book of Speculation charts the history of a travelling show in the 1800’s and it’s key characters in the past. With characters such as The Wild Boy, The Fortune Teller and The Mermaid, The Book of Speculation is filled with vividly descriptive language and I found the imagery used mesmerising – particularly the detailed descriptions of tarot cards and their meanings.  This novel is only available as an ebook in the UK at present but I can’t wait to get my hands on a paper copy!

In the past, the characters are a wonderful mix of practical and otherworldly fighting for survival whilst weaving an almost fairytale like existance. In the present the story focuses on Simon, his attachment to the book and his desire to uncover the mysteries held in it making it a family saga with a difference.  Simon is a librarian working with a local library and worrying about his wayward sister, the tumbledown house he has inherited and living in the shadow of his parents’ deaths. The mysterious book gives Simon something to fix onto amidst the tumult but there’s also a hint of romance in the story and I found events in the present almost as interesting as those recounted in the past.

As Simon begins to research more into the names in the book, and the past narrative moves forward to meet the present there were numerous twists and turns to the story to keep me guessing and speeding through the pages. That the twists came in both the past and present gave the book great pace and as the pieces of the mystery began to slot together the plot builds to a fantastic and dramatic finale.

As with many of the novels I read, I was drawn to the theme of the sea and water in this book. Simon lives in a house teetering on a cliff. The house isn’t the only thing teetering on the edge throughout the story and I thought the theme of impending danger or disaster throughout added a real edge to the narrative!

5/5

The Book of Speculation is out now in ebook formats from Corvus.

I’d like to thank the publisher for sending me a review copy of this book.

Find out more about Erika and her writing at: http://erikaswyler.tumblr.com/

 

Ten Books to Travel With – Summer 2015

22 Jun

Whether you are jetting off to somewhere exotic or enjoying a staycation this summer there are lots of lovely books to take you on adventures around the World. Here are my top ten books to travel with this summer. I’ve listed them in release date order and highlighted the locations so you can easily decide where to visit next!

the sunriseThe Sunrise by Victoria Hislop (Cyprus) Out now from Headline

I really enjoyed this excellent new novel from Victoria Hislop and it’s my favourite of her books since The Island. Victoria expertly mixes love, ambition and family drama against a backdrop of violence and unrest based on true events – the result is a novel that you won’t forget!

In the summer of 1972, Famagusta in Cyprus is the most desirable resort in the Mediterranean, a city bathed in the glow of good fortune. An ambitious couple open the island’s most spectacular hotel, where Greek and Turkish Cypriots work in harmony. Two neighbouring families, the Georgious and the Özkans, are among many who moved to Famagusta to escape the years of unrest and ethnic violence elsewhere on the island. But beneath the city’s façade of glamour and success, tension is building.

When a Greek coup plunges the island into chaos, Cyprus faces a disastrous conflict. Turkey invades to protect the Turkish Cypriot minority, and Famagusta is shelled. Forty thousand people seize their most precious possessions and flee from the advancing soldiers. In the deserted city, just two families remain. This is their story.

 

The Little Paris Book Shop by Nina George (Paris and Provence, France) Out now LITTLE PARIS BOOK SHOPfrom Abacus

This is a must read for book lovers  – a beautiful novel that examines the power of books and reading to change lives. I loved Jean Perdu’s ‘literary apothecary’ and wished I could pay it a visit! With a quirky cast and a love story with a difference, this is an excellent book to escape with this summer.

On a beautifully restored barge on the Seine, Jean Perdu runs a bookshop; or rather a ‘literary apothecary’, for this bookseller possesses a rare gift for sensing which books will soothe the troubled souls of his customers.

The only person he is unable to cure, it seems, is himself. He has nursed a broken heart ever since the night, twenty-one years ago, when the love of his life fled Paris, leaving behind a handwritten letter that he has never dared read. His memories and his love have been gathering dust – until now. The arrival of an enigmatic new neighbour in his eccentric apartment building on Rue Montagnard inspires Jean to unlock his heart, unmoor the floating bookshop and set off for Provence, in search of the past and his beloved.

 

summertimeSummertime by Vanessa La Faye (Florida, USA) Out now from Orion

A gripping historical fiction debut that swept me up from the first pages and didn’t let go. No surprise that this novel is one of Richard and Judy’s Summer Book Club picks. Read my interview with Vanessa to find out more!

In the small town of Heron Key, where the relationships are as tangled as the mangrove roots in the swamp, everyone is preparing for the 4th of July barbecue, unaware that their world is about to change for ever. Missy, maid to the Kincaid family, feels she has wasted her life pining for Henry, who went to fight on the battlefields of France. Now he has returned with a group of other desperate, destitute veterans, unsure of his future, ashamed of his past.

When a white woman is found beaten nearly to death, suspicion falls on Henry. As the tensions rise, the barometer starts to plummet. But nothing can prepare them for what is coming. For far out over the Atlantic, the greatest storm ever to strike North America is heading their way…

 

The Umbrian Thursday Night Supper Club by Marlena de Blasi (Umbria, Italy) Out umbrian thursdaynow from Hutchinson

I was constantly hungry whilst reading this lovely book – it is packed full of mouthwatering descriptions of food and also includes wonderful recipes. This is a true story and I enjoyed getting to know each of the women as they cooked and ate and discussed their lives. With beautiful descriptions of both food and scenery, I really did feel transported to Italy as I read.

Pull up a chair for the true story of the Umbrian Thursday night supper club.

Every week on a Thursday evening, a group of four Italian rural women gather in a derelict stone house in the hills above Italy’s Orvieto. There – along with their friend, Marlena – they cook together, sit down to a beautiful supper, drink their beloved local wines, and talk.

Here, surrounded by candle light, good food and friendship, Miranda, Ninucia, Paolina and Gilda tell their life stories of loves lost and found, of ageing and abandonment, of mafia grudges and family feuds, and of cherished ingredients and recipes whose secrets have been passed down through the generations. Around this table, these five friends share their food and all that life has offered them – the good and the bad.

sunlit nightThe Sunlit Night by Rebecca Dinerstein (Norway) Out now from Bloomsbury)

A quirky and very enjoyable fiction debut from Rebecca Dinerstein. As well as being beautifully described, this novel is a captivating look at the nature of families and love.

Shortly after her college graduation, Frances flees a painful breakup and her claustrophobic childhood home in Manhattan, which has become more airless in the aftermath of two family announcements: her parents’ divorce and her younger sister’s engagement. She seeks refuge at a Norwegian artist colony that’s offered her a painting apprenticeship. Unfortunately, she finds only one artist living there: Alf, an enigmatic middle-aged descendant of the Sami reindeer hunters who specialises in the colour yellow.

Yasha, an eighteen-year-old Russian immigrant raised in a bakery in Brighton Beach, is kneading bread in the shop’s window when he sees his mother for the first time in a decade. As he gains a selfish and unreliable parent, he loses his beloved father. He must carry out his father’s last wish to be buried ‘at the top of the world’ and reconcile with the charismatic woman who abandoned them both.

And so Frances’s and Yasha’s paths intersect in Lofoten, a string of five islands ninety-five miles above the Arctic Circle. Their unlikely connection and growing romance fortifies them against the turmoil of their distant homes, and teaches them that to be alone is not always to be lonely, and that love and independence are not mutually exclusive.

heavenly italien ice creamThe Heavenly Italian Ice Cream Shop by Abby Clements (Amalfi Coast, Italy) Released on 2nd July by Simon and Schuster

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of Abby Clements’ previous novels so am really looking forward to reading this one!

Anna and her husband Matteo are ready to embark a delicious Italian adventure. After a year and a half running their ice cream shop on Brighton beach and raising their baby Isabella, Matteo is starting to miss Italy. A shared passion for ices means it’s easy to settle on a new business idea – they’ll open a shop in the town’s cobbled square, a short walk from the sparkling blue sea. For a while, life is sweet; but then Matteo’s overbearing family get involved…

Anna’s younger sister Imogen feels like things are finally coming together – she’s living with boyfriend Finn in a beach house in Brighton, and her photography is taking off. Then her career stalls, and the lure of Capri – and a man from her past – prove difficult to resist.

Join Anna and Imogen and share a summer on the Amalfi Coast that you’ll never forget.

 

Enchanted August by Brenda Bowen (Maine, New England, USA) Released on 2nd enchanted augustJuly by Vintage)

I saw the cover for this book on Twitter earlier in the week and had to find out more. Once I’d read the blurb this book went straight on my summer reading wish list – it sounds like a great read.

Everyone needs a place like Hopewell Cottage – a romantic holiday rental on a small, sunny island.

For Rose and Lottie, it’s a refuge from the frenzy of the school gates.

For Beverly, it’s a chance to say goodbye to two lost loves.

And for disgraced movie star Caroline, it offers the anonymity she craves.

But on tiny Little Lost Island, with its cocktail parties, tennis matches and Ladies’ Association for Beautification, will they really find the answers to their very modern problems?


the blueThe Blue by Lucy Clarke (The Philippines) Released on 30th July by HarperCollins 

I’m such a big fan of Lucy Clarke’s books! Having loved The Sea Sisters and A Single Breath I can’t wait to read The Blue!

They had found paradise.
What would they do to keep it?

With a quick spin of the globe, Kitty and Lana escape their grey reality and journey to the Philippines. There they discover The Blue – a beautiful yacht, with a wandering crew.

They spend day after languorous day exploring the pristine white beaches and swimming beneath the stars, and Lanadrifts further away from the long-buried secrets of home.

But the tide turns when death creeps quietly on deck.

A dangerous swell of mistrust and lies threatens to bring the crew’s adventures to an end – but some won’t let paradise go…whatever the price.

The Sea Between Us – Emylia Hall (Cornwall and beyond!) Released on 27th Augustsea between us by Headline

Having recently been on a brilliant holiday to Cornwall, I stumbled upon this book while I was looking for novels set there. I’ve not read any of Emylia’s books before but this sounds like an excellent place to start and I love the gorgeous cover!

In a remote Cornish cove, on one of the last days of summer, Robyn Swinton is drowning. She is saved – just – by local boy Jago Winters, and it is a moment that will change both of them forever.

Over the next seven years, Robyn and Jago’s paths lead them in different directions, to city streets and foreign shores. Will the bond forged that day Jago dragged Robyn in from the sea be strong enough to bring them back to one another, or has life already pulled them too far apart?

tea planters wifeThe Tea Planters Wife by Dinah Jeffries (Ceylon – now Sri Lanka) Released on 3rd September by Penguin

Another beautiful cover and intriguing premise from Dinah Jeffries whose excellent debut The Separation came out last year. I can’t wait to escape with it!

Nineteen-year-old Gwendolyn Hooper steps off a steamer in Ceylon full of optimism, eager to join her new husband. But the man who greets her at the tea plantation is not the same one she fell in love with in London.

Distant and brooding, Laurence spends long days wrapped up in his work, leaving his young bride to explore the plantation alone. It’s a place filled with clues to the past – locked doors, a yellowed wedding dress in a dusty trunk, an overgrown grave hidden in the grounds, far too small for an adult…

Gwen soon falls pregnant and her husband is overjoyed, but she has little time to celebrate. In the delivery room the new mother is faced with a terrible choice, one she knows no one in her upper class set will understand – least of all Laurence. Forced to bury a secret at the heart of her marriage, Gwen is more isolated than ever. When the time comes, how will her husband ever understand what she has done?

The Tea Planter’s Wife is a story of guilt, betrayal and untold secrets vividly and entrancingly set in colonial era Ceylon.

Where are your literary travels going to take you this summer? I’d love to hear your recommendations.