book reviews

‘Fever Dream’ by Samanta Schweblin #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

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A young woman named Amanda lies dying in a rural hospital clinic. A boy named David sits beside her. She’s not his mother. He’s not her child.

The two seem anxious and, at David’s ever more insistent prompting, Amanda recounts a series of events from the apparently recent past. As David pushes her to recall whatever trauma has landed her in her terminal state, he unwittingly opens a chest of horrors, and suddenly the terrifying nature of their reality is brought into shocking focus.

One of the freshest new voices to come out of the Spanish language, Samanta Schweblin creates an aura of strange and deeply unsettling psychological menace in this cautionary tale of maternal love, broken souls and the power and desperation of family.

This is a very unusual novella, structured as questions and answers between a dying woman, Amanda, and a child, David, who is not hers. Amanda has been on holiday with her daughter, Nina, and has befriended Carla, David’s mother. Carla is frightened of David, calls him a monster, and tells Amanda that her son has been ‘transmigrated’ into another body after being poisoned.

This ‘new’ David is certainly strange, but is Carla telling the truth? Is she deluded? How has Amanda ended up dying in a hospital bed? And where is Nina?

The writing here (translated by Megan McDowell) is just excellent. There is a sense of foreboding, of menace, a real strangeness to the tale that is executed beautifully. It’s unlike anything I’ve read before, and it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, I’m sure, but I found it completely absorbing. In an age of disappointing, box-ticking, formulaic books, it was a genuine pleasure to read. There are no answers here, no satisfying resolution. It’s creepy, uncanny and weird, really, if I’m honest. But it’s brilliant.

5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing a copy for review.

 

 

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‘He Said/She Said’ by Erin Kelly #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

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In the hushed aftermath of a total eclipse, Laura witnesses a brutal attack.

She and her boyfriend Kit call the police, and in that moment, four lives change forever.

Fifteen years on, Laura and Kit live in fear.

And while Laura knows she was right to speak out, she also knows that you can never see the whole picture: something is always hidden… something she never could have guessed.

Kit is an eclipse chaser, something he’s been doing since he was a child. In 1999, he attends a festival in Cornwall with new girlfriend Laura to see an eclipse, which they watch together. Returning to the campsite, they see what Laura assumes is a rape. This incident impacts the rest of their lives together, and they become embroiled in a situation where no one really knows who’s telling the truth. And Beth, the alleged victim, won’t leave them alone.

The story flips between what happens at the festival and its aftermath and the present day – 2015. Laura and Kit are living under assumed names, terrified of their past catching up with them. Laura is pregnant with twins and Kit is about to set off to the Faroe Islands to see a last eclipse before fatherhood. We hear the story from both Laura and Kit, which works really well to set up the tension and to create an atmosphere where the reader doesn’t really know what, or who, to believe.

I did really enjoy reading this book. It’s a clever plot with a twist that is genuinely surprising. The characters are well-drawn and, unlike some other reviewers, I did warm to them, particularly Laura, and could definitely understand her motivations. It was a real page-turner.

However, there were a couple of things that didn’t really work for me. Laura and Kit keep referring to an incident in Zambia, after the alleged assault. It is hinted that something major happened. When this was revealed it was a real let down. And they also refer to a video online that is terribly upsetting for Laura. Again, it isn’t, and this is another let down. If things are built up like this, then the reader deserves something worthy of all that tension.

That said, this is a really good read. The author understands how to build tension and how to keep a reader engaged. I’d definitely recommend it.

4 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing a copy for review.

My Books of 2016 #FridayReads #IAmReading

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When I started writing this post I wanted to list every book I’ve read this year that I would recommend but it soon became obvious that the post would be far too long and no one would read it all. So I’ve whittled it down and here are the books that really were the standouts. Funnily enough, they’re mostly non-fiction.

‘Farmageddon’ by Philip Lymbery

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Farm animals have been disappearing from our fields as the production of food has become a global industry. We no longer know for certain what is entering the food chain and what we are eating, as the UK horsemeat scandal demonstrated. We are reaching a tipping point as the farming revolution threatens our countryside, health and the quality of our food wherever we live in the world.
Farmageddon is a fascinating and terrifying investigative journey behind the closed doors of a runaway industry across the world, from the UK, Europe and the USA, to China, Argentina, Peru and Mexico. It is both a wake-up call to change our current food production and eating practices and an attempt to find a way to a better farming future.

This isn’t preachy at all, just factual and fantastically well-written. Everyone needs to read this book.

‘Chasing the Scream’ by Johann Hari

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Drugs are not what we think they are. Addiction is not what we think it is. And the war on drugs is not what we see on our TV screens. In Chasing the Scream, Johann Hari shares his discoveries through the riveting true stories he uncovered on a 30,000-mile journey – from the founder of the war on drugs who stalked and killed Billie Holiday, to a transgender crack dealer in Brooklyn, to the only country that has ever decriminalised all drugs, with remarkable results. You will never look at addiction – or our society – in the same way again.

This is such an eye-opener. It is genuinely life-changing.

Two by the fabulous Jenny Lawson:

‘Let’s Pretend This Never Happened’

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Have you ever embarrassed yourself so badly you thought you’d never get over it? Have you ever wished your family could be just like everyone else’s? Have you ever been followed to school by your father’s herd of turkeys, mistaken a marriage proposal for an attempted murder or got your arm stuck inside a cow? OK, maybe that’s just Jenny Lawson . . . The bestselling memoir from one of America’s most outlandishly hilarious writers.

and ‘Furiously Happy’

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In Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny Lawson regaled readers with uproarious stories of her bizarre childhood. In her new book, Furiously Happy, she explores her lifelong battle with mental illness. A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea. And terrible ideas are what Jenny does best. As Jenny says: ‘You can’t experience pain without also experiencing the baffling and ridiculous moments of being fiercely, unapologetically, intensely and (above all) furiously happy.’ It’s a philosophy that has – quite literally – saved her life.

I discovered Jenny Lawson through a review I read on another blog (see, reviews really work). She is a truly fabulous writer, a warm, funny and genuine person and her insight and humour have helped me with some of the issues that have and do affect my own family. Just wonderful.

‘Nights at the Circus’ by Angela Carter

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Is Sophie Fevvers, toast of Europe’s capitals, part swan…or all fake?
Courted by the Prince of Wales and painted by Toulouse-Lautrec, she is an aerialiste extraordinaire and star of Colonel Kearney’s circus. She is also part woman, part swan. Jack Walser, an American journalist, is on a quest to discover the truth behind her identity. Dazzled by his love for her, and desperate for the scoop of a lifetime, Walser has no choice but to join the circus on its magical tour through turn-of-the-nineteenth-century London, St Petersburg and Siberia.

I don’t know why I’ve waited so long to read this. The writing is assured, clever without being pretentious, lyrical in places. It’s a book I’ll remember for a long time – unforgettable, colourful, and chaotic. A masterpiece.

‘The Devil You Know’ by Terry Tyler

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Every serial killer is someone’s friend, spouse, lover or child….
Young women are being murdered in the Lincolnshire town of Lyndford, where five people fear someone close to them might be the monster the police are searching for.
One of them is right.
Juliet sees an expert’s profile of the average serial killer and realises that her abusive husband, Paul, ticks all the boxes.
Maisie thinks her mum’s new boyfriend seems too good to be true. Is she the only person who can see through Gary’s friendly, sensitive façade?
Tamsin is besotted with her office crush, Jake. Then love turns to suspicion…
Steve is used to his childhood friend, Dan, being a loud mouthed Lothario with little respect for the truth. But is a new influence in his life leading him down a more sinister path?
Dorothy’s beloved son, Orlando, is keeping a secret from her—a chilling discovery forces her to confront her worst fears.
THE DEVIL YOU KNOW is a character-driven psychological drama that will keep you guessing until the very end.

Terry Tyler is an independent author who always comes in handy when you’re having an argument with someone who thinks self-publishing is a last resort. Read any of Terry’s books and you’ll realise that independent authors can be just as entertaining and accomplished as any of the authors published by the Big Five (or however many it is). An intriguing storyline, fabulous characterisation, technically excellent, what more could you ask for?

‘Dear Thief’ by Samantha Harvey

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In the middle of a winter’s night, a woman wraps herself in a blanket, picks up a pen and starts writing to an estranged friend. In answer to a question you asked a long time ago, she writes, and so begins a letter that calls up a shared past both women have preferred to forget. 
Without knowing if her friend, Butterfly, is even alive or dead, she writes night after night – a letter of friendship that turns into something more revealing and recriminating. By turns a belated outlet of rage, an act of self-defence, and an offering of forgiveness, the letter revisits a betrayal that happened a decade and a half before, and dissects what is left of a friendship caught between the forces of hatred and love.

This book was an absolute joy to read. The quiet but stunningly beautiful narrative tells the story of a woman who has been betrayed, who is now addressing that betrayal, confronting, if only in words, in a letter, the friend who let her down. A powerful book from an incredibly talented writer.

Honourable mentions – in no particular order

Stiff’ by Mary Roach

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A book about death and what happens to you afterwards! Weirdly uplifting and life-affirming, this book is hilarious and sobering in equal measures.

‘The Woman Who Thought Too Much’ by Joanne Limburg

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Joanne’s experiences and her insightful, clever prose do a lot to explode the misconceptions and myths around OCD. A must read for those with OCD or those who are supporting an OCD sufferer.

‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’ by Azar Nafisi

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Revolutionary Iran seen through the lens of a group of women who come together over books. Beautiful, intelligent and fascinating.

‘No More Mulberries’ by Mary Smith

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The story of a Scottish midwife living in Afghanistan, the author’s skill at creating an authentic sense of time and place makes this an absolute joy to read. And Miriam is one of the warmest, most likeable characters I’ve read this year.

‘Flesh’ by Dylan J. Morgan

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I haven’t read a good horror story in ages, and this took me back to Stephen King and all those books I’d loved. Satisfyingly scary.

‘The Brazilian Husband’ by Rebecca Powell

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Judith and her step-daughter Rosa travel to Brazil with Judith’s husbands ashes. What they find out about his past makes them question their own relationship. Intelligent, thoughtful, engaging. A really competent debut.

‘Fallow’ by Daniel Shand

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Another scary one. Dark, disturbing but difficult to put down, Fallow tells the story of Paul and Mikey, two brothers who are on the run from someone or something. Clever and compelling, there are shades of Iain Banks’ Wasp Factory here, but Shand restrains himself somewhat, avoiding some of the more gratuitous detail of Banks’ novel. A gripping read.

‘Never Coming Back’ by Deidre Palmer

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The topic of guilt and grief and how different people deal with loss and tragedy is at the heart of this extremely thoughtful and well-written novel. The characters are beautifully drawn and three-dimensional. Layla, in particular, is compelling; her mixed emotions, her grief, her guilt, vividly and realistically portrayed. I thoroughly enjoyed this lovely book

I also read/re-read quite a few classics this year as I’m trying to complete the David Bowie Reading Challenge. ‘Nights at the Circus’ was part of this. Other books that I read for the challenge that I recommend are:

‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ by Muriel Spark

‘Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy’ by Rumer Godden

‘Billy Liar’ by Keith Waterhouse

‘1984’ by George Orwell (and in the light of the events of 2016, this is a really scary read!)

‘Fingersmith’ by Sarah Waters (a re-read)

‘Madame Bovary’ by Gustave Flaubert (another re-read)

Well, still an incredibly long post. Hope you got to the end!

Happy reading in 2017! And a very happy New Year.

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‘Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy’ by Rumer Godden #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

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The Sisters of Béthanie, a French order of Dominican nuns, dedicate themselves to caring for the outcasts of society – criminals, prostitutes and drug addicts. Lise, an English girl who after the liberation of Paris was employed in one of the city’s smartest brothels and rose to become a successful madame, finds herself joining the Sisters. Master storyteller Rumer Godden weaves a deeply moving tale of Lise’s prison sentence, her conversion and the agonising work among women whose traumatic experiences often outstrip even her own.

I’ve always loved Virago – when I was younger and discovering lots of women writers, the Virago stand in my local bookshop was the go-to place for me on a Saturday morning (what a nerd I was), but I have never read anything by Rumer Godden. So when this was recommended to me, I was very curious. I have to admit though, that the subject matter really didn’t appeal. I’m an atheist and I have little time at all for religion. I’d far rather sit down and read some Christopher Hitchens than a book about nuns, but I decided to give this one a try.

I’m very glad I did, although I did have some difficulty with the subject matter. Lise is a Sister of Bethanie, dedicated to caring for the outcasts, for prisoners, drug addicts, prostitutes, the lowest of the low. Through extremely clever structuring, we move back and forth through her life and learn how she became a nun, her past as a prostitute,  and why that happened to her.

We also learn a great deal about the life of a nun, of the daily, weekly and monthly routines. This was very interesting and insightful and not at all dull to read, because Godden’s prose is absolutely stunning. And this is why I can set aside any misgivings about the subject matter – the book is a joy to read because of the sheer beauty of the writing. I felt as though I truly knew Lise. The portrayals of other characters, particularly Vivi, are striking and compelling to read. There is no judgement here, and no judgement from the nuns either and this felt more like a book about people, than about religion.

This is one of those books that you can’t wait to get back to. I’ll definitely be reading more by this author.

5 stars

‘Fallow’ by Daniel Shand #fridayreads #BookReview @danshand @SandstonePress

I’m thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for Daniel Shand’s debut novel ‘Fallow’.

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***Now only 99p!***

At the heart of this tense and at times times darkly comic novel is the relationship between two brothers bound by a terrible crime. Paul and Mikey are on the run, apparently from the press surrounding their house after Mikey’s release from prison. His crime child murder, committed when he was a boy. As they travel, they move from one disturbing scenario to the next, eventually involving themselves with a bizarre religious cult. The power between the brothers begins to shift, and we realise there is more to their history than Paul has allowed us to know.

Dark, disturbing but difficult to put down, Fallow tells the story of Paul and Mikey, two brothers who are on the run from someone or something.

We first meet them both camping out in woods. As the narrative unfolds, we follow them as they travel around Scotland, from one disturbing incident to another, working on an archaeology site, travelling with a tramp in a camper van, visiting the island of Arran with two American tourists and finally ending up staying on a campsite with a strange mix of activists and a religious cult.

Throughout their journey, we learn more about their past, and discover that Mikey has just been released from prison after being convicted of the murder of a child. Paul was with him that day, and the past is revealed from his point of view. In fact, everything that has happened in the past and everything that happens on their journey together is only shown from Paul’s perspective so we only see the truth when Paul allows us to; everything we know is distorted and manipulated by Paul, to fit his idea of the world. Paul’s influence on Mikey also raises questions about their relationship – is Paul really protecting Mikey from the press who are harassing him, or is there more to it?

With such dark subject matter, and with some very disturbing moments, it would have been easy for the author to rely on shocking the reader with graphic detail, but there is a good, strong story here and the things that happen have a horrible inevitability to them; that is the reality of what would happen if these two brothers were actually in the situations depicted.

Characterisation is excellent – Paul’s true nature is revealed slowly and carefully, and the reader feels manipulated too. The relationship between the brothers is skilfully drawn and believable and the little details added about the trials of their everyday existence add an authenticity to the narrative.

Clever and compelling, there are shades of Iain Banks’ Wasp Factory here, but Shand restrains himself somewhat, avoiding some of the more gratuitous detail of Banks’ novel. There is also more motivation here – unsettling as it is, there is a warped reasoning behind what happens.

A gripping read, and recommended.

Thank you to the publisher for providing a review copy.

5 stars

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‘Dear Thief’ by Samantha Harvey #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

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In the middle of a winter’s night, a woman wraps herself in a blanket, picks up a pen and starts writing to an estranged friend. In answer to a question you asked a long time ago, she writes, and so begins a letter that calls up a shared past both women have preferred to forget. 

Without knowing if her friend, Butterfly, is even alive or dead, she writes night after night – a letter of friendship that turns into something more revealing and recriminating. By turns a belated outlet of rage, an act of self-defence, and an offering of forgiveness, the letter revisits a betrayal that happened a decade and a half before, and dissects what is left of a friendship caught between the forces of hatred and love.

This book was an absolute joy to read. The quiet but stunningly beautiful narrative tells the story of a woman who has been betrayed, who is now addressing that betrayal, confronting, if only in words, in a letter, the friend who let her down.

But there isn’t bitterness, or spite, and the novel is much more than the premise suggests. Through the letter, the narrator weaves two tales – the story of her own past and its links to her friend, known as Butterfly, and also the present, that she imagines for Butterfly, a woman she hasn’t seen for years. She doesn’t know where she is, or what she is doing, or even if she is still alive, so she creates a life, and in doing so exacts something like revenge.

The writing seems effortless, flowing and lyrical at times. The characterisation is spot on- the narrator is middle-aged, separated from her husband, has a difficult job, and she has all the insecurities and the regrets that come with that. She is hard on herself at times, and too easily forgiving of herself at others. Her pain, her sense of betrayal, but also her love are vividly shown through her words.

A powerful book from an incredibly talented writer.

5 stars

 

 

‘Furiously Happy’ by Jenny Lawson #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

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For fans of David Sedaris, Tina Fey and Caitlin Moran comes the new book from Jenny Lawson, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Let’s Pretend This Never Happened…

In Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny Lawson regaled readers with uproarious stories of her bizarre childhood. In her new book, Furiously Happy, she explores her lifelong battle with mental illness. A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea. And terrible ideas are what Jenny does best.

As Jenny says: ‘You can’t experience pain without also experiencing the baffling and ridiculous moments of being fiercely, unapologetically, intensely and (above all) furiously happy.’ It’s a philosophy that has – quite literally – saved her life.

Jenny’s first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, was ostensibly about family, but deep down it was about celebrating your own weirdness. Furiously Happy is a book about mental illness, but under the surface it’s about embracing joy in fantastic and outrageous ways. And who doesn’t need a bit more of that?

I’m a huge fan of Jenny Lawson’s blog ‘The Bloggess’ which has had me laughing and crying on many occasions. I also adored her first book ‘Let’s Pretend This Never Happened’, so I was so excited to read her second book.

Jenny is breathtakingly and beautifully honest about her mental health issues. She has crippling depression and anxiety, and , on top of this, also has to contend with problems with her physical health. As someone with OCD and as the mother of a (now adult) son with generalised anxiety disorder and OCD, I’ve read a lot of books about these issues, but never have I read an author as inspiring, as honest and open and as terribly, horribly funny as Jenny Lawson.

This book focuses more on mental illness than the first book, but is no less hilarious for that. Jenny writes about her struggles with disarming honesty, the effects it has had on her life, her career and her family. She clearly adores her family,  but they don’t escape her unusual sense of humour. The arguments she has with husband Victor are a highlight of the book, as Jenny often goes off on a tangent that Victor finds increasingly difficult and frustrating to follow. But her love for him and his for her is touchingly shown when she tells him his life would be easier without her.

“It might be easier,” he replies. “But it wouldn’t be better.”

A brief run through of some of the chapter titles tells you most of what you need to know about this book:

‘George Washington’s Dildo’

‘LOOK AT THIS GIRAFFE’

‘Death by Swans Is Not as Glamorous as You’d Expect’

and

‘Cat Lamination’

are a few of my particular favourites.

While the book is very, very funny, it’s also very, very emotional to read, at least it was for me. Jenny’s mental health issues mean that she often can’t function, that she hides in hotel rooms when she’s supposed to be promoting her work, that she often feels like a failure because she can’t cope with the things other mothers seem to excel at, like PTA meetings. But she’s determined that when she feels fine, that when she can face life, that she will really live, that she will be ‘furiously happy’. She understands that there’s a flip side to the extreme emotions that depression brings – that she has the ability to also experience extreme joy, and she’s determined that she will have a storeroom of memories for those dark times, filled with moments

‘of tightrope walking, snorkelling in long-forgotten caves, and running barefoot through cemeteries with a red ball gown trailing behind me.’

As she says, it’s not just about saving her life, it’s about making her life.

Despite great breakthroughs in recent years, mental illness still carries a stigma. But sufferers are no more to blame for their illness than people with cancer, or MS or anything. Jenny’s writing humanises mental illness. She isn’t ashamed, and neither should anyone else be. The epilogue, ‘Deep in the Trenches’ made me cry. It’s the most touching, insightful, compassionate and beautiful piece of writing I’ve ever read about living with mental illness, or helping someone you love to live and to live fully.

And I’ll always be grateful for the very clever, but characteristically quirky, ‘spoons’ analogy. I read this part of the book at exactly the right time, and it really helped with a situation where someone I love really didn’t have enough spoons. Read it – you’ll get it, and it might help you too.

I love this book, and if I could give it more stars I would. Yes, it’s incredibly funny, but it also says something extremely important. If you have mental health issues, or care for someone who does, please, please read this.

5 stars

‘Last Exit to Brooklyn’ by Hubert Selby Jr. #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview #DBowieBooks

I’m trying very hard to complete the David Bowie reading challenge that I discovered on the fabulous Scatterbooker blog. Many of the books on the list are classics that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. ‘Last Exit to Brooklyn’ is one of those.

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Described by various reviewers as hellish and obscene, Last Exit to Brooklyn tells the stories of New Yorkers who at every turn confront the worst excesses in human nature. Yet there are moments of exquisite tenderness in these troubled lives. Georgette, the transvestite who falls in love with a callous hoodlum; Tralala, the conniving prostitute who plumbs the depths of sexual degradation; and Harry, the strike leader who hides his true desires behind a boorish masculinity, are unforgettable creations. Last Exit to Brooklyn was banned by British courts in 1967, a decision that was reversed the following year with the help of a number of writers and critics including Anthony Burgess and Frank Kermode.

This is an incredibly difficult book to read. The writing style in itself is very difficult to get to grips with. No speech marks, no commas, no apostrophes. But once you get used to that, there is a great depth and a great skill to Selby’s writing. It becomes a bit of a rollercoaster, or perhaps a car crash. It’s gruesome and nasty and unsettling in turns, but the narrative is written in such a way that it’s impossible to look away.

The narrative doesn’t follow the conventions of a novel. There’s no one story arc but rather a series of narratives concerning different characters, some connected, all set in the streets of Brooklyn in the 1950s. The book was released in 1964, and it shows. The depictions of racism, misogyny and homophobia and the language used are certainly shocking, at least to this modern reader. But this is the epitome of gritty realism. Unfortunately, you can well imagine these events happening, these attitudes being real.

It’s hard to like the characters, any of them. But you do feel a certain amount of sympathy; they’re trapped in their grim lives, lives that are diminished through violence and hate. You can see how these characters become who they are, how they are capable of what they do.

There are some truly horrifying moments in this book; I have to admit that there are some things I wish I hadn’t read. But am I glad I read it? Definitely. Selby has achieved something rare here. Would I recommend it? I’m not sure. You’ll need a strong stomach. There are no happy endings, no escapism, absolutely no joy.

4.5 out of 5

‘Silent Water’ by @JanRuthAuthor #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

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Part Three of the Wild Water Series 
The tragedy and comedy that is Jack’s life; a dangerous web of lies concludes a bitter-sweet end.
Jack Redman, estate agent to the Cheshire set and someone who’s broken all the rules. An unlikely hero or a misguided fool?
In this sequel to Dark Water, Jack and Anna must face the consequences of their actions. As the police close in and Patsy’s manipulative ways hamper the investigations, will Jack escape unscathed?
With her career in tatters and an uncertain future, Anna has serious decisions to make. Her silence could mean freedom for Jack, but an emotional prison for herself. Is remaining silent the ultimate test of faith, or is it end of the line for Jack and Anna?

This is the third in Jan Ruth’s ‘Wild Water’ series and Jack is back and in more trouble than ever. You do need to have read the first two books to really get the most out of this, but they are such lovely books to read that it’s really no hardship!

Set mainly in the beautiful Welsh countryside, the author does a fantastic job of making the reader feel that they are there in the mountains. The settings are beautifully drawn and show the love that Jan Ruth obviously has for the places she describes. But it’s not all picturesque mountains and beautiful scenery. Ruth can capture the essence of a wet, pre-Christmas weekend in a small town equally well.

The characters are realistic, warm (for the most part!) and definitely drawn from real life. Jack and Anna want nothing more than to forget the incident with Simon Banks and to move on with their lives, but as suspicions mount (fuelled by the fabulously portrayed bitter ex-wife Patsy) tensions between them fester and grow. And this time it’s serious, as not only is their relationship at stake, but Jack is facing the very real threat of being accused of murder. Added to this are the everyday trials and tribulations of coping with the inevitable problems children (of all ages) bring with them, and the stresses of dealing with an ex-wife who is still pulling all the strings.

Jack is such a likeable character, the real star of the books. His best intentions are often doomed to failure, and his frustration comes across really well. You desperately want him to succeed; to find the happiness he deserves, and it’s the mark of a talented writer for a reader to feel so strongly about a character.

As with the previous books, Lottie, Jack’s pre-teen daughter, is a joy.Funny, entertaining, outrageous at times, her fragility is evident behind the showing–off, and that mix of emotions is another strength of the writing.

This is a perfect book for a quiet day with your feet up – in fact I recommend the whole series.

4 stars

 

‘Flesh’ by @dylanjmorgan #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT

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I reviewed’Flesh’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

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It feeds. It grows. 

The small town of Vacant harbors a secret so terrifying that the local lawmen will do anything to keep it hidden—including murder. Something sinister stalks the surrounding woods, a horrifying creature thought to be only a mystical legend. It hunts at night, killing with ravenous voracity. Deputies Carson Manning and Kyle Brady are the harvesters: they find the victims, tie them to the baiting post. Sheriff Andrew Keller and Deputy Matthew Nielsen are the cleaners: they dispose of the corpses. But when Vacant’s townsfolk take matters into their own hands, nothing can contain the slaughter.

The deadly entity isn’t the only menace Sheriff Keller has to face. He has his own dark secret, a past he tries to hide behind frequent alcohol binges. Now that past has come back to haunt him and will throw him headlong into a traumatic situation that could mean life or death for him and those he holds dear.

I love a good horror story. I grew up devouring Stephen King books and I’ve never found another author that does small town spooky oppressive atmosphere, flawed but sympathetic characters and downright ‘bump in the night’ scares so well. So Dylan J. Morgan had a lot to live up to.

He has the small town atmosphere down perfectly. Vacant and its flawed inhabitants are compellingly drawn and easy to picture. I was torn between sympathy and frustration at Sheriff Keller and despised the deputies and the town mayor. Keller in particular was a complex character – beautifully done, he is the epitome of a man struggling to come to terms with his past, a man who knows his life has been a waste, who knows that he is weak, and yet still has that shred of humanity that has you rooting for him and wanting things to be alright.

The threat that the town faces is well -portrayed and satisfyingly scary, and the opening of the book is a real hook, paving the way for the gruesome secret at the heart of Vacant. The writing itself is technically flawless. The pacing is perfect, the dialogue authentic and the amount of gore pitched perfectly.

The only sticking point for me is the motivation of the ordinary townspeople. I didn’t quite buy that they would agree so whole-heartedly with how the police, preacher and major choose to deal with the threat to their town. These are nice, normal people. I’m not saying they can’t agree to it, only that I wanted to know more clearly why they had – why they were so convinced that this was the only option. There is scope perhaps for the religious element to be played up a bit more here. What Stephen King always does so well is make you believe that ordinary people can do dreadful things. And while this book was a compelling, competent and really enjoyable read, I didn’t completely believe it.

4 stars