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Book review: That Dark Remembered Day by Tom Vowler

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 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.  Read more

Kim Curran GLAZE Blog Tour

It’s Day Two of the GLAZE Blog Tour and I’m thrilled to be taking part by posting my review of Kim Curran’s latest book, GLAZE.

Set in a slightly future London, GLAZE is a thrilling and thought-provoking read and one I’d recommend, especially if you’re a regular user of any social network. Why?

Because GLAZE is a futuristic social network that everyone wants to be hooked up to, not least the heroine of GLAZE:

Petri Quinn is counting down the days till she turns 16 and can get on GLAZE – the ultimate social network that is bringing the whole world together into one global family. But when a peaceful government protest turns into a full-blown riot with Petri shouldering the blame, she’s handed a ban. Her life is over before it’s even started.

Desperate to be a part of the hooked-up society, Petri finds an underground hacker group and gets a black market chip fitted. But this chip has a problem: it has no filter and no off switch. Petri can see everything happening on GLAZE, all the time. Including things she was never meant to see.

As her life is plunged into danger, Petri is faced with a choice. Join GLAZE… or destroy it.

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Book review: JAM by Jake Wallis Simons

As darkness falls on the M25, the flow of traffic comes to a halt. Time passes. More time passes. Then more. Drivers switch off their engines, then get out of their cars. And so the story begins . . .

In this bold, state-of-the-nation novel, Jake Wallis Simons brings together characters from all walks of life and explores what happens when lives collide on the M25.

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 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. Read more

Liz de Jager’s Banished: Book launch and review

Last Thursday, Squizz and I boarded our trusty steed, megabus, and headed to London for our first book launch of 2014.

It was for Liz de Jager’s debut YA novel, Banished, the first book in The Blackhart Legacy trilogy, and was held at one of our favourite bookshops, Foyles, on Charing Cross Road. I took full advantage of that and had a thorough browse before heading to the cafe to meet up with our favourite launch buddy, JayneFerst.

The launch itself was held in Foyles’ Gallery and by the time we arrived, it was packed full of people and there was a great buzz. We said hi to Liz, who took Squizzey’s photo, which he loved, and then we left the lovely lady author to meet and greet while we sampled the delicious wine on offer and some of the launch booty. And, as you can see from the picture above, there were some terrific Blackhart (the fae-fighting heroine’s family) cookies and different flavours of popcorn to satisfy even the weirdest most discerning of palates.

It was a terrific evening, full of friendly faces and there was a whole lot of warmth and love for Liz in the room. If you follow her on Twitter, you’ll know that she deserved nothing less than every bit of that to see her first novel, Banished, launched out into the book world. I wish it and Liz every success.

And now to the book itself. Here’s what I made of Banished: Read more

Book review: The Gallery of Vanished Husbands by Natasha Solomons

One of the best things about reading novels is how they can take you into new worlds. The world of any book is, of course, always its author’s creation, whether it be rooted in truth, or based on a skewed version of the world we know, or one entirely of the author’s own imagining but what I mean here is that some of the books I enjoy the most are the ones that introduce me to a world I either know nothing or very little about. And so it is with Natasha Solomons’ third novel, The Gallery of Vanished Husbands. 

The Gallery of Vanished Husbands is set in two very different and often conflicting worlds: the conservative Jewish community in which the main character, Juliet Montague, is brought up and the art world of 1960s London which she falls into but then manages to carve out a role for herself. Read more

Book review: Red Room: New Short Stories Inspired by the Brontës

Any poem by Simon Armitage gets my attention (note to publishers?) and one opens this new short story collection. And what a wonderful poem about Emily Brontë it is, right from its opening lines of

Too much rain
in the blood, Too much
cloud in the lungs

to how, after having read Wuthering Heights for the first time, I had always pictured her high up on the moor above Haworth parsonage

pegged to the skyline
green dress in a wild dance
hair flying east

It’s chilling, wild, full of vivid, if uncomfortable imagery, not unlike the Brontës’ work and is a perfect way to open this excellent new collection of writing inspired by the sisters and intended to help raise funds for The Brontë Birthplace Trust and their plans for Thornton, Bradford – the village where all three sisters were born. Read more

Book review: The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler

If books generally are hard to resist for this book squirrel, then you can only begin to imagine how excited I get about books featuring those treasure troves called bookshops (or bookstores, if you’re from across the Atlantic). I mean, what book lover doesn’t spend a lot of their time in them, browsing, and yes, okay, buying, when they’re not wishing they just lived in one or owned one?

So, it’ll come as no great surprise that Deborah Meyler’s The Bookstore caught my eye on my one of my first forays onto NetGalley this summer. (It’s embarrassing to admit how I totally screwed up getting the review copy downloaded from the site before it was archived. But, because I do sometimes learn from my mistakes, I now have it sussed for future downloads!) However, I hadn’t just gone on the site for freebies, I’d wanted to see what titles were coming out and whether the site was something I could use in finding new reads that I might not have found elsewhere. And I knew that I wanted to read The Bookstore, so I ordered a copy. Read more

Book review: Project Darcy by Jane Odiwe

After having enjoyed Jane Odiwe’s Searching for Captain Wentworth, I jumped at the chance to read Project Darcy even before knowing anything more about it other than the title and that the cover promised further Time Travels with Jane Austen.

Happily, Project Darcy isn’t about the search for a present-day Darcy or the transformation of a modern-day man into someone’s romantic ideal of Darcy. Instead, it’s the codename of an archaeological dig that aims to unearth the site of the old rectory at Steventon where Jane Austen lived the first twenty-five years of her life. This dig brings together an interesting mix of people and it’s fun matching up those resembling Jane Austen’s own circle or her characters. For example, there’s our heroine, Ellie, and her university friends, Jess, Martha, Liberty and Cara, five girls with initials matching those of the five Bennet sisters. You’ll have to read the book to discover if that’s all they share in common.

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The dark side of Twitter Towers

One of the most popular blog posts I’ve written to date was a post I wrote in 2010 asking Does Twitter sell books?  I posted a picture of my Twitter Towers (all the books I’d heard about through the social networking site) and categorised them, and generally thought that Twitter was pretty good at selling books. To me, at any rate!

Three years on and I am still getting book recommendations through the social networking site, while also sharing my own favourite reads and joining in conversations about books I’ve read, am reading or want to read. Some of the discussions I enjoy the most are those where Twitter or a book blogger gets excited about a book.

But by its very nature, social networking wouldn’t be social if all I did was scour Twitter for book recommendations and run away to read them. You follow people and they follow you and you chat and connect. Sometimes you even become friends and not just people chatting on virtual coffee-breaks in 140 characters. And because some of those people on Twitter are authors, you may get friendly with one or more of them and want to read one of their books or they might even ask you to read one.

And this is where I run the risk of crossing over to what I see as the dark side of those lovely Twitter Towers and entering Bookish Mordor. Read more

Book review: The Cornish House by Liz Fenwick

When my family moved back to the UK from Germany, shortly before my baby brother was born, my Welsh father and Scottish mother couldn’t agree where to live, so they looked to England as a compromise solution. And (for any English people reading this) a very fine compromise it was, too! Dad had always loved Cornwall and would have loved to have lived there but he didn’t quite make it. He was offered a job in North Devon, which he accepted happily enough because it put us close enough to the Cornish border to make forays over it at weekends and during the school holidays. And so, my childhood was filled with places such as Charles Kingsley’s Westward Ho! and Clovelly, the ‘Lorna Doone’ country of nearby Exmoor and trips over the border to King Arthur’s reputed birthplace at Tintagel and Daphne du Maurier’s Fowey. And growing up in a small fishing village, with cobbled streets and narrow alleys that seemed to echo with the ghosts of smugglers and seafaring men, it’s little wonder that I devoured books filled with the stories and legends inspired by the country around me.

I think that’s why place is still every bit as important to me in books as are the characters. The best books are the ones where the place a story is set is just as much of a character. I want to feel wholly immersed in the world the writer’s created, to the extent where I could be sitting in the same room as the characters or walking along a step or two behind them. So opening a book like Liz Fenwick’s The Cornish House and having not only Cornwall but Trevenen, the house of the title, so effectively realised was wonderful. It felt like coming home. Every time I opened the book, I was sucked in and that, in turn, made me feel more involved with the lives of the main characters Maddie, an artist, and her step-daughter Hannah. Read more

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