Book Review: Friends and Liars by Kaela Coble

Friends and Liars

It has been ten years since Ruby left her hometown behind. Since then she’s built a life away from her recovering alcoholic mother and her first love, Murphy. But when Danny, one of her estranged friends from childhood, commits suicide, guilt draws Ruby back into the tumultuous world she escaped all those years ago.

She’s dreading the funeral – and with good reason. Danny has left a series of envelopes addressed to his former friends. Inside each envelope is a secret about every person in the group. Ruby’s secret is so explosive, she will fight tooth-and-nail to keep it hidden from those she once loved so deeply, even if that means risking everything..

From Netgalley in exchange for a review.

This is a story about a group of friends who call themselves “The Crew”: Ruby, Ally, Murphy, Emmett, Danny.  The story starts with Danny’s suicide, which proves to be the catalyst to call Ruby back home after 10 years away. Ruby is the only one who has spent time away, living in places like London and New York, basically cutting all of her friends out of her life. After his funeral, it comes to light that Danny has left individual letters for the crew, exposing a secret specific to each person. Continue reading

Advertisements

#BookReview: Oddjobs by Heide Goody and Iain M Grant

Book Review OddJobs by Heide Goode, Iain M GrantIt’s the end of the world as we know it, but someone still needs to do the paperwork.

Incomprehensible horrors from beyond are going to devour our world but that’s no excuse to get all emotional about it. Morag Murray works for the secret government organisation responsible for making sure the apocalypse goes as smoothly and as quietly as possible.

In her first week on the job, Morag has to hunt down a man-eating starfish, solve a supernatural murder and, if she’s got time, prevent her own inevitable death.

The first book in a new comedy series by the creators of ‘Clovenhoof’, Oddjobs is a sideswipe at the world of work and a fantastical adventure featuring amphibian wannabe gangstas, mad old cat ladies, ancient gods, apocalyptic scrabble, fish porn, telepathic curry and, possibly, the end of the world before the weekend.

Published by Pigeon Park Press and provided to me by the authors in exchange for a review.  I’ve read a number of their books before including Beelzebelle (part of the Clovenhoof series), Hellzapoppin and Godsquad. Oddjobs is very similar (but not identical) in terms of the style of humour to Clovenhoof, but because it’s the start of a new series it’s subtly different.

It starts a break-in at the Vault – an underground facility beneath the new Library Of Birmingham that stores artificats aligned with the coming apocalypse. Meanwhile Morag is on her way on the overnight Calendonian Sleeper to Birmingham.  She is being “transferred” to the West Midlands office, officially because they are under-resourced, but unofficially because of killing one of the August Handmaidens of Prein the day before.

The story is split across the week, where very little sleeping gets done, and where sleep is usually replaced by copious drinking of alcohol and eating curries.  It takes place in various parts of Birmingham, some real, some not (and some re-appropriated for different uses).  I started reading the book whilst sitting in an indie sushi restaurant in Grand Central Station – so it did lead to the weird feeling of whether some people I know would appear in the book (they didn’t).  Travel around the city for Morag is usually done with the help of a fleet of wordless taxi drivers, who know where she needs to be, often before she does, because of being mind-controlled by one of the aliens.

The world building is good, with little time spent on exposition – mainly about how the team were set up in order to make the coming apocalypse more acceptable. There are various different teams and I only hope it’s Morag’s sleepiness that she’s not up to speed in taking part in the office “Bullshit Bingo” during the meeting with the marketing department.  Some of the baddies are disgusting enough – the description of Ingrid dealing with the poisoned Yo-Morgantus is suitably unappealing as is the sex life one of the August Handmaidens of Prein.

Have to note that I did spot one red herring perhaps a little early, but I have read a lot of Golden Age crime, as well as watched enough Buffy the vampire slayer to know that these things happen. The execution of the event (if not the event itself) was new and novel enough and in keeping with the rest of the story.  It’s not got the same slapstick humour as the Clovenhoof series, but still has a certain level of surrealness  that will make it appealing to particular readers.

About the Authors

I did an interview with Heide and Iain a few months ago, ahead of their Beezebelle book and it can be found here.

#BookReview: Last Dance in Havana by Rosanna Ley

Last Dance in Havana by Rosanna Ley Book Review

Cuba, 1958. Elisa is only sixteen years old when she meets Duardo and she knows he’s the love of her life from the moment they first dance the rumba together in downtown Havana. But Duardo is a rebel, determined to fight in Castro’s army, and Elisa is forced to leave behind her homeland and rebuild her life in distant England. But how can she stop longing for the warmth of Havana, when the music of the rumba still calls to her?

England, 2012. Grace has a troubled relationship with her father, whom she blames for her beloved mother’s untimely death. And this year more than ever she could do with a shoulder to cry on – Grace’s career is in flux, she isn’t sure she wants the baby her husband is so desperate to have and, worst of all, she’s begun to develop feelings for their best friend Theo. Theo is a

From the publishers, Quercus Books, as part of their #QuercusSummer series, in exchange for a review.  Long time readers of this blog know I am not a huge “beach read book” kinda girl, but I do have a penchant for romance novels. Therefore, this challenge was a bit of a risk take for me (there was a brief “oh what have I done?” whilst looking at my TBR) when I realised I had signed up for another challenge.

Anyway, onto the book:

This is set mainly in two countries and two main time frames:

  • Cuba in the early 1950s, when Castro and revolution are in the air. People are poor, there is not enough food, state oppression is all around them but there is colour and there is family and the possibility of something better

and

  • Bristol 2012 where there is food on the table, space to live and love, people are not poor, but there is no colour and people are still fighting to liberate themselves from some form of oppression at a personal level

There are other time frames as well, such as the 1930s, when Duardo’s mother finds another kind of oppression and dignity, and 1985 when Elisa is forced into making a choice.

A narrative trick that can throw readers who are not paying attention – and not one I see  being used too often – is the narrative changing timeline partway through a paragraph. Here’s it’s used a couple of times, normally to indicate someone coming out of a memory. It did interrupt me once or twice but just showed that I wasn’t paying the attention I probably should have. (Disappointingly there is a review that has knocked a star off simply because of the changes in timeline. Sorry, if you can’t cope with this narrative structure, the problem is yours as the reader, not the author’s).

The story is told from multiple standpoints, but mainly Elisa and Grace – not only how they interact with each other as step-family, but also how they individually interact with the men in their lives, some of whom they share (father/husband; Friend/lover; husband/son-in-law).

For Grace, the oppression she feels is mainly from her husband and his family, who are putting pressure on her to have children and give up whatever she has defined as “freedom”.   For Elisa, it’s the choices she has made over the years, from pressures that generally she has put on herself.

In the last third of the book, the location changes from Bristol to Cuba, and there is a change in focus to be about fathers and grandsons, mothers and sons  and ultimately woman to woman.

It is apparent that the author has done some extensive research – the hope and the desire for freedom that fed the Castro revolution and the disappointment years later when those that were left started coming to terms with the fact that it hadn’t delivered what they thought it would – they were still poor and hungry.

In Summary then: this was not a genre I normally read, but I managed to consume it in a couple of days. Good use was made of the dichotomy between Havana and Bristol whilst bringing their shared history together as well.  The narrative structure makes you pay attention to, so no skimming or slipping allowed!

About this author

Rosanna Ley has worked as a creative writing tutor for over 15 years. Affiliated with several colleges and universities in England, she also runs her own writing courses in the UK and abroad. She has worked with community groups in therapeutic settings and completed an MA in creative writing for personal development in order to support this. Her writing holidays and retreats take place in stunning locations in Italy and Spain and whilst not teaching or writing she mentors and appraises the work of new writers. Rosanna has had numerous articles and short stories published in UK magazines, and 12 novels of contemporary fiction published in the U.K, Germany, Greece and the U.S.A under a pseudonym.

#BookReview: The Hotel on Mulberry Bay by Melissa Hill

The House on Mulberry Bay by Melissa Hill

Mulberry Hotel, perched on a clifftop above a sweeping bay, was once the heart and soul of pretty seaside town Mulberry Bay. Run by the Harte family for years, the place itself is almost as beloved as cheery landlady Anna.

The hotel was also once home to thirty-something sisters Eleanor and Penny, and while youngest sister Penny still lives close by, it’s been some time since Elle has visited. But following a family tragedy, Elle is forced to return from her busy London life and reassess her past.

When it becomes apparent that the hotel is in dire straits, Elle and Penny are unprepared for the reaction of their father, Ned, He steadfastly refuses to give up the family legacy, revealing that he’s given up something equally precious once before. Startled by their father’s surprising revelation, the sisters unite, with the local community behind them, in their efforts to save the hotel – and, in the process, heal the fractures in the Harte family.

Paper copy, won in January 2016 as one of a number of books from the publishers Simon and Schuster.   I don’t normally read “beach read” books (don’t ask me why), but it was heading into June, so what better time to read it eh?  It took me only a couple of days to read it, and there are plenty of subjects to be covered: The death of the mother; recovering from near financial ruin; being true and accepting of yourself; finding the real you, and the mending of the past. There are loves lost and (sometimes) won.

On the whole, the story was fast paced and decent enough. There were a couple of things that disturbed me slightly but didn’t stop me finishing the book, or getting an overall nice feeling from it. Things like: taking a taxi from Dublin airport to the village in Wexford (a two-hour journey at the best of times) – I suspect this is to show Elle was still in shock over the death of her mother, but really?  This seems to be a short lapse in behaviour, as Elle barely dwells on her mother (in life or death) for the rest of the book. Penny, however, is the opposite, in that she finds her mother’s diaries, and it brings her closer to her father, racking up some bills in the process (that never really gets explained as to how she pays for her purchases).

However, like I said, I still finished the book, and my “issues” are minor. I can see why this author is popular and it is a good addition to the “Beach Reads” group of books. If you like this style of book, then I would definately recommend it.

About this author

International #1 bestselling author Melissa Hill lives in Dublin and is one of Ireland’s most popular contemporary fiction authors.

Her page-turning, contemporary romance stories are published worldwide and translated into 25 different languages. Her titles are regular chart-toppers in Ireland and internationally and SOMETHING FROM TIFFANY’S (aka A GIFT FROM TIFFANY’S) became one of Italy’s 2011 Top Ten bestselling books overall. One of her recent titles is currently in development with a major Hollywood movie studio

#BookReview: Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld

Eligible Curtis Sittinfield

This version of the Bennet family—and Mr. Darcy—is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help—and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray.

Youngest sisters Kitty and Lydia are too busy with their CrossFit workouts and Paleo diets to get jobs. Mary, the middle sister, is earning her third online master’s degree and barely leaves her room, except for those mysterious Tuesday-night outings she won’t discuss. And Mrs. Bennet has one thing on her mind: how to marry off her daughters, especially as Jane’s fortieth birthday fast approaches.
Enter Chip Bingley, a handsome new-in-town doctor who recently appeared on the juggernaut reality TV dating show Eligible. At a Fourth of July barbecue, Chip takes an immediate interest in Jane, but Chip’s friend neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy reveals himself to Liz to be much less charming. . . .And yet, first impressions can be deceiving.

From HarperFiction via Netgalley in exchange for a review.

I’ve read Sittenfeld books before, most noticeably her story Sisterland, so when this book came on offer, I jumped at the chance….I love Pride and Prejudice, I’ve read variants before, I’ve read Sittenfeld before, what can go wrong?!

Well, the basic premise of P&P remains the same, though this is very much a modern retelling with modern situations. The “girls” are much older (Jane and Liz are nearing 40, but still, the biological clocks are ticking very loudly), there’s reality TV, IVF, pre-marital sex, casual “hate” sex, adultery, debts and swearing on all sides.  There’s also plenty of other topics covered. It’s probably best not to think of this as a “sequel” or “retelling”, more an “inspired by” – the purists are certainly going to be offended!

There are plenty of nods to the original, but with modern updates, many of which put things from the original in context. Darcy’s income in the original is £10,000 a year, which sounds stupid now, but when I first read P&P, it was put in context at £6million.  In this book, the house alone (thanks to some prudent work by Liz on the internet) is valued at over $55 million, and that doesn’t take into account Darcy’s salary as a Brain Surgeon.

All the major plot points are there: Katherine De Burgh; the dreaded cousin Willie who ends up with BFF Charlotte; the mad mother (with a shopping fetish); the father rapidly running out of money, and refusing to confront the issue; the elopement (yes, it happens and there is a spin).

So: A bold take on a classic, which I think Sittenfeld manages to pull off. It’s modern enough that people who haven’t read the original won’t be put off (did it need some one from the colonies – hahahahahahha  – to cut through all the Regency Manners?). whilst having enough nods to and structure from the original to hopefully placate all but the hardcore obsessives.

About this author

Curtis Sittenfeld is the author of Eligible (out now!) as well as the bestselling novels Sisterland, American Wife, Curtis SittenfeldPrep, and The Man of My Dreams, which have been translated into twenty-five languages. Curtis’s writing has appeared in many publications, including The Atlantic, The New York Times, Vanity Fair,Time, Slate, Glamour, and on public radio’s This American Life. A graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she currently lives in St. Louis, MO.

#BookReview: The Silent Hours by Cesca Major

the silent hours

An epic, sweeping tale of love and loss inspired by heartrending true events in the Unoccupied Zone of wartime France.
The Silent Hours follows three people whose lives are bound together, before war tears them apart:
Adeline, a mute who takes refuge in a convent, haunted by memories of her past;
Sebastian, a young Jewish banker whose love for the beautiful Isabelle will change the course of his life dramatically; Tristin, a nine-year-old boy, whose family moves from Paris to settle in a village that is seemingly untouched by war.
Beautifully wrought, utterly compelling and with a shocking true story at its core, The Silent Hours is an unforgettable portrayal of love and loss.

I received this direct from the Publishers (Corvus Books) in exchange for a review.  This book has multiple voices, spanning approximately 10 years around WWII in German Occupied France.

It ranges from the mute Adeline, mother of Isabelle, who is staying in a convent following the war. She submits to ongoing tests by French and English doctors in an attempt to find out why she does not speak. We get to hear via Adeline’s dreams there was a trauma she witnessed during the war. Her failure to speak, and also a failure to commit to becoming a nun, frustrates the Mother Superior, and there are thinly veiled threats about moving Adeline away.

Isabelle is a teacher, whose brother Paul gets called up then captured. The two write letters to each other, but we’re never quite sure they reach each other. The one where Isabelle confesses to be in love with (and pregnant by) the Jewish banker Sebastian definitely doesn’t reach him. For Isabelle, being unmarried and pregnant to a man her mother doesn’t remember meeting makes life in the small town very difficult.

Sebastian is Jewish, and he and his father are bankers. Sebastian is out one day visiting Isabelle and he returns home to find his parents have disappeared. He spends some time living rough (he is one of the German Spies that Tristin believes is living in the run down shack outside of town), but it becomes too risky for both him and Isabelle for him to stay, so he slowly makes his way to England.

Tristian is a young boy who sees the war through the eyes of the child he is – the uprooting from Paris to this small village, wondering whether the small boy Simon will ever come back to school – and not understanding references to “those people”, whether Pere Noel will find them this Christmas etc.

There’s a mix of letters and narratives in different voices, chapters are short (often a page long, and rarely dated, even letters) and there is a build up of the mystery as to what happened in the town and why Adaline is now mute. It all comes to a tie together at the end, where even the English doctor treating Adaline seems to have a vested interest in what happened in the village. The central mystery is dealt with in a few short chapters, told in present tense, and in retrospect with Adaline finally letting the walls down on her grief.

For a debut novel, I thought this was very well done, and finely executed. It did take me longer to complete than usual for a book of this size which generally tells me that whilst I liked the book, I didn’t love the book enough to not put it down until I finished.

 

#BookReview: At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

at the edge of the orchard

From internationally bestselling author Tracy Chevalier, At the Edge of the Orchard is a riveting drama of a pioneer family on the American frontier

1838: James and Sadie Goodenough have settled where their wagon got stuck – in the muddy, stagnant swamps of northwest Ohio. They and their five children work relentlessly to tame their patch of land, buying saplings from a local tree man known as John Appleseed so they can cultivate the fifty apple trees required to stake their claim on the property. But the orchard they plant sows the seeds of a long battle. James loves the apples, reminders of an easier life back in Connecticut; while Sadie prefers the applejack they make, an alcoholic refuge from brutal frontier life.
 
1853: Their youngest child Robert is wandering through Gold Rush California. Restless and haunted by the broken family he left behind, he has made his way alone across the country. In the redwood and giant sequoia groves he finds some solace, collecting seeds for a naturalist who sells plants from the new world to the gardeners of England. But you can run only so far, even in America, and when Robert’s past makes an unexpected appearance he must decide whether to strike out again or stake his own claim to a home at last.

I received At the Edge of the Orchard from the Publishers (Penguin Random House), via Edelweiss, in exchange for a review.

This is told in multiple voices about the Goodenough family, where we initially find them living in the Black Swamp trying to make a space for themselves. James is trying to grow trees, especially the Pitmaston that he remembers his father and grandfather growing. Sadie, his wife, hates the swamp and frontier life, and it becomes a battleground – Sadie the drunken slut who has lost most of her children, and hates the man she’s with and the trees that he looks after more than his wife.

The story jumps back and forth between 1838 and 1853, when the youngest son, Robert, ends up on the west coast of the US, near San Francisco, having been roaming and doing odd jobs for the previous 18 years. It’s a long time before we get to find out what he’s been running from, and what happened to his family since he left the Black Swamp (much of which is told in the form of his letters to his family and from his sister Martha).

In working his way west, Robert has done many a job, including mining for gold, and doing building work for the railroads, but he always seems to come back to trees – a source of fascination for him as a person, and for the British people specifically, who are going through their mania of collecting the unusual plants from all over the world. It’s only in Martha’s letters to Robert that we find out what happened to the family after he left, and we get an inkling of who the father of Martha’s baby is (and what Really Happened to brother Caleb).

After nearly 20 years of separation, Martha tracks Robert down – no mean feat in a country where there is no internet, phone, telegraph, cars, planes etc and where information can be years out of date. There is no Panama Canal, so it can take months to get from one side of the US to the other, never mind the other side of the Ocean.

Robert gets to be astounded by the strength of character of not only his sister Martha but of his part-time girlfriend Molly, both of whom are willing to travel across country (and internationally) no matter the cost.  In his part time landlady Mrs B., we also get an indication of the strength of character of businesswomen who have taken their own life into their hands and live it on their own terms.

Having spent so much time alone and wondering around the country, it is the arrival of both Martha and Molly to see Robert – each with their own surprise – that makes Robert reconsider what he’s been doing the last few decades and where he wants to go next. Suddenly he realises the whole world is available to him.

With Robert and Martha’s parents, we also get to see how harsh Frontier life can be, especially for women who don’t want to be there, and will do everything – bar actually leaving – to make their life worthwhile, even if it makes them and everyone around them miserable.

The multiple voices and narrative mechanisms were employed well and stopped the book from dropping into a dark despair (the family unit was not a good place to grow up in, and both Robert and Martha did well to get away).

I have read several books by Tracy Chevalier before in particular: The Last RunawayThe Lady and the Unicorn, The Virgin Blue

Additional Reviews of this book from around the web

The Independent Newspaper

The Jewish Chronicle Online

Historical Novel Society

Kirkus Reviews

About this author

Having been born in Washington DC, USA, Chevalier moved to London after graduating from Oberlin in 1984. She’d studied for a semester in London and thought it was a great place, so came over for fun, expecting to go back to the US after 6 months to get serious, but is still in London, and still not entirely serious.