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Book reviews ... Author interviews ... and anything else I think might be of interest to writers and readers.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Black’s Creek by Sam Millar

Black’s Creek

Black’s Creek starts with the narrator, as an adult, looking back on an event that shaped his childhood; ‘the murder of a suspected paedophile and child murderer, over twenty years ago’. Reading that the case is to be re-opened plunges Tommy, and the reader, back into his childhood.

We read about the shocking events that happened one summer in early teenage when Tommy and his friends Horseshoe and Brent witness another young boy, Joey, drown himself in the local lake near the small town of Black’s Creek in upstate New York.

Tommy and the others decide that justice must be done for Joey, and this takes them on a journey where they, as blood brothers, decide to seek revenge. For the three young teenagers, this becomes partly a coming-of-age tale, partly a mystery thriller.

The story is quite visceral, and in many places not a comfortable read. Tommy is confronted with violence, sexual abuse and the secrets that adults keep. He tries to find his way through this whilst having his friendships tested and his heart broken.

The novel explores some important themes, but in the end I felt it was the nature of justice that came through as the strongest. There are some revelations for Tommy towards the end of the book that turn his ideas upside down, and this, alongside a plot that keeps you guessing what has really happened, make for a tense read.

Finally the novel has an ending that is more poignant that you would usually expect in a crime novel. This for me added an extra touch to a well-written and gripping novel.

Thanks very much to the publishers for a review copy of this book.

You can find out more here.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

The Longest Fight by Emily Bullock

The Longest Fight

I'm not sure I would have picked up a novel on boxing left to my own devices, so I'm really glad that Myriad Editions sent me a copy of The Longest Fight to review, otherwise I would have missed a real gem. And, of course, it’s not just about boxing. It’s about love, and family, and desire. Ultimately it is also about courage – a recurring theme – not only the physical courage of a boxer in the ring, but the emotional courage necessary to face everything life can throw at you.

One of the most notable things about this book is the quality of the writing. Reading Emily bullock's prose is like taking a master class in how to write. Every word is well considered and precisely chosen, and resonates perfectly. The boxing world, and the setting of 1950s London are both brought to vibrant life.

The beautiful language used is accentuated by its juxtaposition with the brutality of some of the subject matter. This book is about boxing and it's about pain and that is obvious from the first few pages. Pain is inflicted inside the boxing ring, but also outside it.  And it’s not just physical pain, but raw emotional pain.

We meet Jack Munday as his life ends in the most brutal way imaginable, and then go back in time to meet Jack, and the rest of the cast of characters. Young Pearl who, due to a physiological disorder, feels no physical pain. Frank, a promising young boxer. Georgie who catches Jack’s eye, but may not be enough to heal the pain of the past. From there we go even further back to Jack’s childhood where we find the roots of what he is to become in his own father.

The fact that we meet Jack at the end of his life, and the height of its tragedy, means that the tension of the narrative is all about how he got there. Along the way a number of mysteries are revealed, each another piece in the jigsaw of what made Jack what he is, and what he is to become.

The interesting technique of telling the present parts of the narrative in past tense, and the past sections in present tense adds to the tension and creates a good balance between the two strands as they both lead inexorably to the pre-ordained end.

This is a skilfully written and intelligent novel with multiple layers. For its vivid portrayal of another world, and its recounting of a story to break your heart, I highly recommend it.

Thanks very much to the publishers for a review copy of this book.

You can find out more here.

Monday, 26 January 2015

A French Pirouette by Jennifer Bohnet

A French Pirouette

This is a delightful romantic story which follows three women as they embark on new chapters in their lives.

Libby is a widow and finds herself hankering for a new start in France, where she has memories of happy times with her late husband. But has she got the courage to go it alone?

Suzette is a top ballerina, but she's been brought low by injury and she now doesn't know what the future will hold for her.

Libby and Suzette both find themselves at the Auberge du Canal in Brittany, Libby as the new owner and Suzette as a guest. The third woman whose story we follow is Brigitte - outgoing owner of the auberge - who with her husband Bruno is moving on to a new, and hopefully more relaxed, way of life.

We see the three women as they find their feet in their new lives and try to cope with everything life has to throw at them whilst carving out their future paths.

Libby has to come to terms with the reality and responsibility of running the auberge single-handed. Suzette has to nurse her injury and make some huge decisions about her future. And Brigitte has to cope with the changing circumstances of her family.

I loved the French setting of the book - vibrant and authentic feeling. It really added to the story, and the auberge itself played an important part in the action. The love of food and its centrality to the world of the auberge shines through, and the book closes with a charming postscript in the form of some of Libby's recipes.

As the story plays out there is the possibility of romance for both Libby and Suzette. But is Libby ready? And can Suzette trust a man with her biggest secret?

This is a really enjoyable romance with great characters and plenty going on. You'll find yourself rooting for all three women as the story unfolds and as they get closer to fulfilling their dreams. A book to lose yourself in for a few hours!

Thanks very much to the author for a review copy of this book.

Friday, 2 January 2015

A look at Pixel Hall Press ...

I was recently contacted by Pixel Hall Press to see if I'd like to review any of their publications. I was quite intrigued as they seem to be publishing some interesting things.

This is what they have to say about themselves:

Pixel Hall Press is a relatively new, old-fashioned small publishing house whose focus is on discovering literary gems and great stories that might have otherwise been overlooked.

Our mission is to publish books and short stories that energize the imagination and intrigue the mind, and to be a conduit between readers and provocative, stimulating, talented authors.

You can find out more at their website http://www.pixelhallpress.com

They kindly sent me one of their short stories to review, La Belle Femme by 
Áine Greaney.

Told in the present tense, the story is that of Moira Walsh and Alan Power. Moira and Alan are having an affair, but neither of them are really sure they want to any more.

The story was immediate and well-painted, full of vivid descriptive detail. The story is in many ways an anti-romance and this gave it an interesting edge and bite. It invites you deep into two people's lives and for a brief time shows you all  that is most important about them.

It creates a diverting little picture of human relationships in the raw, and feels very authentic for that. And it leaves some questions open at the end, which again felt very real.

It was a great short read and it's good to see publishers getting behind short stories like this.

If you want to find out more about Pixel Hall Press do have a look at their website.  You'll find individual short stories, collections of stories, and novels.

You can find out more about Áine Greaney here.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Being Brooke Simmons by Karen Clarke

Being Brooke Simmons

This novel has a great, unusual premise which is also executed really well.

Brooke Simmons is in a coma, but somehow due to her sheer strength of will she manages to inhabit Abby Archer's body. It turns out that Brooke has lots of unfinished business and she doesn't want the mere fact that she's in a coma to stop her from resolving it.

At Brooke's insistence, Abby keeps an eye on Nick - the man Brooke is hoping to marry. What secrets was he keeping from Brooke just before the accident that caused her coma? Was he being unfaithful to her, or was there a deeper and darker secret to hide?

Along the way, the irrepressible Brooke encourages Abby to face up to her own problems. Abby has a dysfunctional family who all rely on her far too much and her love life is going nowhere. Brooke's interventions in Abby's love life give the book some of its greatest comic moments.

This is a romantic comedy that positively zings along, but it's also a bit more than that. The device of having Brooke inhabit Abby's body gives a unique twist to the story, but the other thing that lifted it out of the ordinary is the relationship between Brooke and Abby. Both women have a romantic interest to pursue in the course of the story, but it is the development of their relationship with each other which is, in the end, the most touching.

I loved this book and would recommend it to all lovers of romantic comedy. 

Friday, 19 December 2014

Love and Fallout by Kathryn Simmonds

Love and Fallout

This book has a great premise. We first meet Tessa in the present. She's struggling with her life on a number of fronts. Things aren't going well in her marriage, her relationship with her daughter is distant and she's not sure that she can keep the charity she works for afloat.

A combination of events, starting with a chance meeting in a swimming pool, start Tessa off on a trip down memory lane to  a very different time in her life. Because, when Tessa was a young woman she lived as part of a very different family - a group of women at one of the camps at Greenham Common.

The story alternates between the two times and we follow Tessa in the present as she tries to save her marriage and her job, and in the past as she tries to save the world.

I didn't know a huge amount about Greenham Common when I started to read this book, but I found the story very vivid and informative. Kathryn Simmonds has obviously done her research, but it is written with a gentle touch and never feels like the historical facts are being forced into the story in any way.

The story is beautifully written in both strands with believable characters and events. The fact that the reader can see the young Tessa reflected in the older one adds to the richness of the story.

Eventually the two strands collide when present day Tessa is contacted by a face from the past. Angela was the person at the camp who she got on with the least well, so does she really want to meet up with her again? In the end, Angela's reappearance in her life affects Tessa in more ways than she could possibly have expected.

I really enjoyed this book, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys women's fiction with an additional dimension to it. So skilful is the recreation of the Greenham Common experience that towards the end of the book I found myself thinking that next time I saw footage of Greenham Common on the television I'd have to look out and see if I could spot Tessa, or Angela, or Jean or one of the other residents of Amber gate.

I think this book will stay with me, not least because the final paragraph is so poignant it made me catch my breath and hold back tears.

Thanks very much to the author for a review copy of this book.

You can find out more here.