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

Friday, 28 August 2015

Blood Axe by Leigh Russell

Blood Axe

DI Ian Peterson investigates a series of gruesome and brutal murders in York. As the body count mounts, the case demands all Ian’s ingenuity, because these are murders seemingly committed at random, and this is a killer who leaves no clues.

‘Blood Axe’ is the third outing for Leigh Russell’s DI Ian Peterson and delivers another complex and gripping plot.

Like the previous book in this series, ‘Race To Death’, ‘Blood Axe’ really makes the most of the York setting. This time it’s the Jorvik museum that takes centre stage, after Ian is led there by the fact that the murderer appears to be using a Viking axe on the victims. Could that mean there is a link to the museum? Or should Ian and his colleagues be looking more closely at the families of the victims? As the body count increases, they can’t afford to ignore any possibilities however outlandish they may seem.

One of the most chilling aspects of this story is that the killer really does seem to be striking randomly and Ian has to accept the possibility that no one is safe. Mysterious sections of narrative from the killer’s perspective add an other-worldly feel to the unfolding events and give the reader some insights from the other side of the chase.

Other highlights of the book include the now traditional appearance of Geraldine Steel, making a cameo visit from Leigh’s other ongoing series, and some dramatic developments in Ian’s personal life. For me it is these little touches that add authenticity to the series, making it feel very realistic and adding to the addictive nature of the ongoing storylines.

This is a great story with some interesting and unexpected twists and turns. It ends with some scenes of high drama and a clever and surprising outcome.

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

You can find out more here.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

A Game For All The Family by Sophie Hannah

A Game For All The Family

‘A Game For All The Family’ is an intriguing novel. In structure, it is a story within a story and a puzzle within a puzzle.

When Justine Merrison and her family move to Devon, Justine decides that, for reasons that will become apparent later in the story, her main purpose in life will be to do absolutely nothing. A wish that, I have to say, I have every sympathy with.

But it doesn’t turn out that way, because pretty soon it becomes apparent that her daughter Ellen is unhappy. And, with Ellen’s father away on an opera singing assignment, Justine is going to have to do something.

Why has Ellen become so withdrawn? Why is she so unhappy that a fellow pupil has been expelled from school? And why on earth are the school insisting that the pupil concerned never even existed? And what on earth is the story that Ellen is obsessively writing all about?

Justine reads the beginning of the story – a tale of a family called Ingrey, and the murder of Malachy Dodd – and wonders where on earth her daughter got the idea from. The reader then gets to see the rest of the story, and is invited to think about who killed, not Malachy Dodd, but Perrine Ingrey.

The puzzle posed by Ellen’s story runs alongside the puzzles in Justine’s own life. Who is making mysterious threatening phone calls to her? Why did she feel such a strong connection to a house glimpsed from the car that has nothing to do with her?

The novel asks many questions of the reader. What is true? Who can you believe? What is the nature of storytelling, and can we rely on narrators? What sort of behaviour is reasonable and what isn’t? And it is at the intersection of those questions that the essence of the story lies.

As always, the story really makes you think - not just about the outcome, but about the intricate problems of life that it explores. I read this one really quickly, devouring it in huge chunks because I was so intrigued by it.

This book is a great read. It has all the Sophie Hannah trademarks, including a complex plot with an unguessable solution, an accomplished structure and a Twitter spat. It also has some lovely additional touches. The fabulous Olwen – a dog breeder who names all her dogs after lines from Christmas carols.  And the gorgeous Figgy Pudding, a Bedlington terrier who definitely wins my ‘literary dog of the year’ award for 2015.

‘A Game For All The Family’ is a fabulous addition to the collection for established Sophie Hannah fans, but as a standalone would be perfect for new readers as well.

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

You can find out more here.

You can read my reviews of other Sophie Hannah books here.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

The Lost Art Of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice

The Lost Art Of Keeping Secrets

By Eva Rice 

10th Anniversary Edition

This anniversary edition, with a foreword from Miranda Hart and a bonus short story, is a delight and I was really pleased to be sent a copy by the publishers.

‘The Lost Art Of Keeping Secrets’ is the story of Penelope Wallace, growing up in the 1950s with her widowed mother and her Elvis-obsessed brother, in their old wreck of a house – Milton Magna.

The story starts when Penelope first meets Charlotte and is drawn into the intrigues of the other girl’s family. What does Charlotte’s cousin Harry want from Penelope, and what is the link between Aunt Clare and Penelope’s own mother?

As the title suggests these secrets and many others run through the book. It’s also full of delightfully memorable moments - a kiss from Johnnie Ray, a guinea pig in a box, a dream dress appearing magically in a wardrobe.

The feel of the fifties is created beautifully; from the music to the café culture and from the cars to the society parties. It is full of rich detail that makes each page sing and gives a wonderful authentic feel to the book.

I loved the quirky characters as well. Penelope’s brother Inigo, her employer Christopher, the mysterious Rocky Dakota and Mary the gloomy cook, all jumped off the page and made for a magical story.

This novel is a beautiful read, enchanting and captivating and I highly recommend it.

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

You can find out more here.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

If You Go Away by Adele Parks

If You Go Away

‘If You Go Away’ is a rich slice of life set during the First World War. Starting just before war breaks out, the story takes us on a journey with Vivian Foster who, faced with disgrace and social oblivion, ends up marrying Aubrey, a man she doesn’t love. In many ways, the outbreak of war and Aubrey’s entry into military service comes as a relief to both of them.

Meanwhile Howard Henderson, a playwright, has already seen war alongside a journalist friend who is covering events from the front. Howard decides that war isn’t for him and becomes a conscientious objector.

Told partly from Vivian’s point of view and partly from Howard’s we follow the story of how their paths cross and, as a consequence, life is changed utterly for both of them.

This is a tale of love and war, but also of honour and guilt. When the beauty and tenderness of love come up against the brutality and confusion of war can there be any winners? And what does it even mean to win?

Vivian is a compelling character. When we first meet her, she is barely more than a child. But, as a debutante, she knows her duty – to bag a husband. She is wilful, rash and reckless and as a result of this ruins her chances. This might have been the end of her story in different circumstances, but it is the coming of war, and becoming a mother herself, that brings about great change in Vivian and turns her into the sort of character that readers won’t be able to help rooting for.

Given the nature of war, some parts of this book are a difficult and painful read, but the love that shines through makes the read captivating and ultimately uplifting.

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

You can find out more here.

Monday, 8 June 2015

If I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful I Never Would Have Let You Go by Judy Chicurel

If I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful I Never Would Have Let You Go By Judy Chicurel 

This is a beautifully atmospheric book. The story of Katie, growing up on Long Island in the 1970s, is sensitively sketched and the use of language is exquisite. There’s a heady mix of youth, adventure, love and tragedy about it.

It tells of the pain of growing up, the pain of not being sure what your place in the world really is, and the loneliness of not being with the person you want to be with. Katie is waiting for something to happen, to change her life and give it meaning. She knows she wants that to involve Luke, but Luke has come back from Vietnam damaged, and she doesn’t know whether she’ll ever be able to get through to him.

Around her, the other inhabitants of the community make and break relationships, get high on drugs and alcohol, get pregnant and get abortions. And slowly they start to move away. First Maggie, then Ginger, then Georgie: moving to new places and new lives. Leaving Katie behind.

The structure of the novel is quite complex. There is a linear thread that follows Katie through the summer while she waits for Luke to notice her, but there are also a number of sections that travel back in time and almost provide separate stories in themselves.

As a result of this there are some lovely character cameos; glimpsed for a short time only and then gone. One of the best is Martha Muldoon. She works with Katie in the A&P store, and everyone hates her until one day she shows her human side by trying to help a customer get away with goods she can’t afford, and gets sacked for her trouble. It is a testament to the writing that these characters are just as real as those we get to spend more time with.

There is a lyrical and dreamlike quality to this novel, and I enjoyed it very much. Now that it’s over, I’ll really miss Katie.

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

You can find out more here.