Tuesday, 25 October 2016

This Secret We're Keeping by Rebecca Done

A pupil and a teacher. Is it ever right to break the rules?

Jessica Hart has never forgotten Matthew Landley. After all, he was her first love when she was fifteen years old. But he was also her school maths teacher, and their forbidden affair ended in scandal with his arrest and imprisonment.

Now, seventeen years later, Matthew returns to Norfolk, with a new identity, a long-term girlfriend and a young daughter, who know nothing of what happened before. Yet when he runs into Jessica, neither of them can ignore the emotional ties that bind them together. With so many secrets to keep hidden, how long can Jessica and Matthew avoid the dark mistakes of their past imploding in the present?

From debut author Rebecca Done, This Secret We're Keeping is a powerful and provocative novel about the ties which can keep us together - or tear us apart.

I liked this book very much in that it made me question myself on several occasions and I think it is a skilled fiction author that can make me, as a reader, deliberate over my feelings several days after I have finished the book. I suppose what I mean by this is that I was very engaged by the story of Jess and Matthew. I was very caught up in their relationship and hoping they would find a way. However, I had to continually keep reminding myself of the illegality and non appropriateness of their relationship and therefore, I should not be rooting for them. It is a very thought provoking read and one that I would recommend you read for yourself.

It was very well written and I enjoyed the dual narration. We hear Matthew's version of how their relationship developed in 1993 when he was still her teacher. Then we also have Jess' contemporary point of view. It flows seamlessly between the two periods and each enhanced the alternate narrative.

For a debut novelist this is a marvelous accomplishment. Ms Done has taken a taboo topic and built a really interesting story around it. I am looking forward to future work by this author.

ISBN:  9781405923941

Publisher :  Michael Joseph

About the Author:

Rebecca Done lives in Norwich. After studying Creative Writing at the Norwich School of Art & Design, she worked for several years as a magazine editor. Currently a copywriter, Rebecca is also a keen runner, fair-weather surfer and one-time marathon canoeist. This Secret We're Keeping is her first novel.

Her new novel, My Husband the Stranger, is due to be published in April 2017.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths

In the next Ruth Galloway mystery, a vision of the Virgin Mary foreshadows a string of cold-blooded murders, revealing a dark current of religious fanaticism in an old medieval town.

Known as England’s Nazareth, the medieval town of Little Walsingham is famous for religious apparitions. So when Ruth Galloway’s druid friend, Cathbad, sees a woman in a white dress and a dark blue cloak standing alone in the local cemetery one night, he takes her as a vision of the Virgin Mary. But then a woman wrapped in blue cloth is found dead the next day, and Ruth’s old friend Hilary, an Anglican priest, receives a series of hateful, threatening letters. Could these crimes be connected? When one of Hilary’s fellow female priests is murdered just before Little Walsingham’s annual Good Friday Passion Play, Ruth, Cathbad, and DCI Harry Nelson must team up to find the killer before he strikes again.

Elly Griffiths is fast becoming one of my favourite writers and I am loving her Ruth Galloway series. This is number eight in the series and I have hitherto read the previous seven. For those of you that have not already become acquainted with the series I thought I would let you know which order they come in (including a charming Christmas novella) along with links to those books that I have previously reviewed:

1.    The Crossing Places
2.    The Janus Stone
3.    The House at Sea's End
4.    A Room Full of Bones
4.5  Ruth's First Christmas Tree
5.    A Dying Fall
6.    The Outcast Dead
7.    The Ghost Fields
8.    The Woman in Blue
9.    The Chalk Pit

Personally, I like to read a series in order but these would standalone. However, the chronology of the devolpment of the relationships between the characters really comes to life when they are read it order.

What else can I say other than that I am thrilled that there is one more book in this series, The Chalk Pit, that I am still to read and I am fervently hoping that Ms Griffiths has many more of these books up her sleeve.

I highly recommend you giving this series a read if you enjoy a good thriller or have an interest in archaeology.

ISBN: 978-1848663371

Publisher: Quercus

About the author:

Elly Griffiths' Ruth Galloway novels take for their inspiration Elly's husband, who gave up a city job to train as an archaeologist, and her aunt who lives on the Norfolk coast and who filled her niece's head with the myths and legends of that area.

She has two children and lives near Brighton.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is the long-awaited new novel - a book that sold more than a million copies the first week it went on sale in Japan - from the award-winning, internationally best-selling author Haruki Murakami.

Here he gives us the remarkable story of Tsukuru Tazaki, a young man haunted by a great loss; of dreams and nightmares that have unintended consequences for the world around us; and of a journey into the past that is necessary to mend the present. It is a story of love, friendship, and heartbreak for the ages.

I find Murakami to be an intriguing author. He first came to my intention when I read the first volume of his trilogy, 1Q84, and this was very quickly followed with volume two and three. I had never read anything quite like it before and if you haven't read it then I highly recommend it.

I found this story equally fascinating. I love the way he uses language to create an aura around his characters. The language has a formality about it. The author clearly chooses his words very carefully and uses them to full effect. The novel has been translated from Japanese by Philip Gabriel who seems to have done an excellent job.

Tsukuru is a reserved and detached figure stemming from the deliberate isolation inflicted upon him when his group of very close friends unexpectedly isolate him from the group. No explanation is given him and reading his story I could feel his pain and loneliness.

I am fast becoming a fan of this very skilled and intelligent author and I am very keen to sample more of his excellent writing. I highly recommend this book as it makes for an interesting and impressive read.

ISBN:  978-0099590378

Publisher: Vintage

About the Author:

Since childhood, Murakami has been heavily influenced by Western culture, particularly Western music and literature. He grew up reading a range of works by American writers, such as Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Brautigan, and he is often distinguished from other Japanese writers by his Western influences.

Murakami studied drama at Waseda University in Tokyo, where he met his wife, Yoko. His first job was at a record store, which is where one of his main characters, Toru Watanabe in Norwegian Wood, works. Shortly before finishing his studies, Murakami opened the coffeehouse 'Peter Cat' which was a jazz bar in the evening in Kokubunji, Tokyo with his wife.

Many of his novels have themes and titles that invoke classical music, such as the three books making up The Wind-Up Bird ChronicleThe Thieving Magpie (after Rossini's opera),Bird as Prophet (after a piano piece by Robert Schumann usually known in English as The Prophet Bird), and The Bird-Catcher (a character in Mozart's opera The Magic Flute). Some of his novels take their titles from songs: Dance, Dance, Dance (after The Dells' song, although it is widely thought it was titled after the Beach Boys tune), Norwegian Wood(after The Beatles' song) and South of the Border, West of the Sun (the first part being the title of a song by Nat King Cole).

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

After the Last Dance by Sarra Manning

Two women. Two love affairs. One unforgettable story. 

Kings Cross station, 1943. Rose arrives in London hoping to swap the drudgery of wartime for romance, glamour and jiving with GIs at Rainbow Corner, the famous dance hall in Piccadilly Circus. As the bombs fall, Rose loses her heart to a pilot but will lose so much more before the war has done its worst. 

Las Vegas, present day. A beautiful woman in a wedding dress walks into a seedy bar and asks the first man she sees to marry her. When Leo slips the ring onto Jane's finger, he has no idea that his new wife will stop at nothing to get what she wants. So when Jane meets Rose, now a formidable older lady, there's no love lost between them. But with time running out, can Rose and Jane come together to make peace with the tragic secrets that have always haunted their lives? After the Last Dance is an extraordinary story of two women, separated by time but connected by fate, that will make you believe in the redemptive power of unexpected love.

This is the first of Sarra Manning's novels that I have read and it was very enjoyable.

Written with a dual narrative it follows the present day story of Jane, alongside the wartime escapades of Rose, with a crossover as the book progresses. Both characters were excellently drawn and I was engaged with both narratives equally.

There are many novels out there set during World War Two but this had a slightly different perspective as through the character of Rose we see some of the experiences of the GI's in wartime London. The descriptions of Rainbow Corner are very evocative and I was drawn into the atmosphere the author created.

Jane's narrative is equally engaging. She is certainly not the innocent that Rose is portrayed as but her character is equally compelling. Whereas Rose was easy to like from the beginning, the character of Jane was not instantly likable but as the author gradually develops her character she becomes much more engaging and I found I liked her character very much.

I think this book is well worth a read. Combining the past and the present with some romance thrown in this novel will appeal to many readers.

ISBN:  978 0751561159

Publisher: Sphere

About the Author:

Sarra Manning is a teen queen extraordinaire. She spent five years working on the now sadly defunct J17, first as a writer and then as Entertainment Editor. She then joined the launch team of teen fashion bible Ellegirl, which she later went on to edit and has consulted on a wide range of youth titles including Bliss, The Face and More. 

Sarra is now editor of What To Wear magazine. She's also been a regular contributor to ELLE, The Guardian, ES Magazine, Seventeen, Details and Heat and wrote the Shop Bitch column for Time Out. Sarra lives in North London with her dog Miss Betsy.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray

The Bradley's see the world as a place where miracles are possible, and where nothing is more important than family. This is their story.
It is the story of Ian Bradley—husband, father, maths teacher, and Mormon bishop—and his unshakable belief that everything will turn out all right if he can only endure to the end, like the pioneers did. It is the story of his wife, Claire, her lonely wait for a sign from God, and her desperate need for life to pause while she comes to terms with tragedy.
And it is the story of their children: sixteen-year-old Zippy, experiencing the throes of first love; cynical fourteen-year-old Al, who would rather play football than read the Book of Mormon; and seven-year-old Jacob, whose faith is bigger than a mustard seed—probably bigger than a toffee candy, he thinks—and which he’s planning to use to mend his broken family with a miracle.
Intensely moving, unexpectedly funny, and deeply observed, A Song for Issy Bradley explores the outer reaches of doubt and faith, and of a family trying to figure out how to carry on when the innermost workings of their world have broken apart.

I would challenge anyone to read this book and not  to be deeply moved by it. It is a heart searing evocation of the grief felt by a family whilst trying to maintain an equilibrium with their faith.

I knew very little about the Mormon church prior to reading this book and it was very informative. It came as no surprise to me to learn that the author grew up in a Mormon  family as she writes with real insight and it shows that she has first hand knowledge.

Every character in this novel is expertly drawn and easy to engage with.  I went through a tumult of emotions with them experiencing the grief felt in its individual way by all of them. I felt moments of frustration and anger with Ian's character, pain for Claire's and my heart bled for little Jacob and his brother and sister. I think an author who can create such feelings in her reader is very skilled and as a debut novelist is one to watch out for.

This is a fantastic read written with insight and intelligence. I do not think I am being preemptive by saying that I will be surprised if this book does not make into into my Top Ten reads of 2016 as it will need to be quite some book to knock this one down the list. Do let me know what you think of this book and whether you enjoyed it as much as I did.

ISBN:  978-0099591870

Publisher: Windmill Books

About the Author: 

Carys Bray was brought up in a devout Mormon family. In her early thirties she left the church and replaced religion with writing. She was awarded the Scott prize for her d├ębut short story collection Sweet Home. A Song for Issy Bradley is her first novel. She lives in Southport with her husband and four children.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Can Anybody Help Me? by Sinead Crowley

It was crazy really, she had never met the woman, had no idea of her real name but she thought of her as a friend. Or, at least, the closest thing she had to a friend in Dublin.

Struggling with a new baby, Yvonne turns to netmammy, an online forum for mothers, for support. Drawn into a world of new friends, she spends increasing amounts of time online and volunteers more and more information about herself.

When one of her new friends goes offline, Yvonne thinks something is wrong, but dismisses her fears. After all, does she really know this woman?

But when the body of a young woman with striking similarities to Yvonne’s missing friend is found, Yvonne realises that they’re all in terrifying danger. Can she persuade Sergeant Claire Boyle, herself about to go on maternity leave, to take her fears seriously?

This is a book about living in the modern world. I think the vast majority of us talk to people who we have met online and this book explores just how well we really know these people and considers whether we should volunteer so much information about ourselves.

The characters in this book are well rounded and believable. I particularly liked Sergeant Claire Boyle who I found to be a very realistic character.  The author was clearly setting her up for future novels of which I will be very happy to read.

The prose is interspersed with extracts from the Netmammy online forum all of which are vital to the plot so it is worth paying close attention when reading these postings.

This book kept me guessing throughout and the ending came  as a real surprise to me.

All in all, a really good read and I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Are You Watching Me?

About the Author:

Can Anybody Help Me? was an Irish bestseller and shortlisted for Crime Book of the Year at the BGE Irish Book Awards in 2014. Her second thriller, which also features Sergeant Claire Boyle was published in 2015.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

The Messenger of Athens by Anne Zouroudi

Idyllic but remote, the Greek island of Thiminos seems untouched by the modern world. So when the battered body of a young woman is discovered at the foot of a cliff, the local police--governed more by archaic rules of honor than by the law--are quick to close the case, dismissing her death as an accident.

Then a stranger arrives, uninvited, from Athens, announcing his intention to investigate further. Hermes's methods of investigation are unorthodox, and his message to the islanders is plain--tell the truth or face the consequences. But Hermes brings his own mystery into the web of dark secrets and lies. Who has sent him to Thiminos, and on whose authority is he acting? 

Rich in images of Greece's beautiful islands and evoking a life unknown to most outsiders, this compelling novel leads the reader into a world where the myths of the past are not forgotten, and forbidden passion still has dangerous consequences.

Don't you just love it when you read the first book in a series and find that you really liked it? That is exactly what happened to me with this lovely book by Anne Zouroudi.

The descriptions of the fictional Greek island are wonderful and it is easy to get sucked into the beautiful atmosphere of this book.

I also really liked the character of Hermes Diaktoros (although he is consistently referred to as the Fat Man throughout the book) with his white shoes which he is constantly cleaning. He is an enigmatic character who appears to have materialised from thin air to investigate the apparent suicide of a young woman. The mystery surrounding Hermes continues throughout the book and really adds something.

There were many twists and turns as this book ambled along and as most of the characters appeared to have something to hide I was kept guessing right until the end.

I enjoyed this book very much and already have the next book in the series on my shelf and I am looking forward to getting to know Hermes Diaktoros better.

About the Author:  

Anne Zouroudi was born in England and has lived in the Greek islands. Her attachment to Greece remains strong and the country is the inspiration for much of her writing. She now lives in the Derbyshire Peak District with her son. She is the author of four other Mysteries of the Greek Detective: The Taint of Midas, The Doctor of Thessaly, The Lady of Sorrows and The Whispers of Nemesis.