Monday, 31 December 2012

Citadel by Kate Mosse

At last, I got my mitts on a copy of the final part of Kate Mosse's Languedoc trilogy.  Citadel was published by Orion in October, it's been a long 5 year wait for this one.   Historical fiction has never been my first love, and I'll admit that the first of the series; Labyrinth, sat on my shelf for a long time before I actually read it.  I was amazed by the writing, by the story and how Mosse manages to captivate the reader with her complex plots and engaging characters.    Labyrinth was followed by Sepulchre in 2007, and again, I loved it and have anticipated the release of Citadel for such a long time.

Citadel is probably best described as a 'time-slip' story, with the main part of the novel set in France during the German occupation in 1942 - 1944.   Also featuring is Arinius, a monk living in 342 AD.  Arininus is desperately trying to find a hiding place for the forbidden 'Codex', which is said to have the power to raise a 'sleeping army of ghosts'.

In Nazi occupied France the Citadel are a group of all-women freedom fighters - part of the Resistance, and determined to outwit both the Germans and the evil French collaborators.  Led by 18 year old Sandrine Vidal, her sister and their friends, these woman show courage and daring, never knowing who is watching them or who will betray them to the authorities.

Citadel is a huge tome of a book, almost 700 pages and although it dragged a tiny bit in the middle, on the whole, it is a fast-paced, if complex story that will grip the reader.  As with the previous two novels of the trilogy, there is an element of the supernatural in the story, with some familiar characters turning up along the way.

Packed with some terrifyingly realistic action scenes, portraying the horrors of war and the evil that men can do to each other, it is also at times, gentle and down-to-earth - portraying the small French town and it's folk with incredible realism.  The day to day struggles of ordinary people during the Occupation, the blossoming romances, the fear, the hardships and sometimes the joys are all captured beautifully here.

After such a long wait for this instalment, I was not disappointed in the least.  A triumphant end to what has been a fabulous series.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Where The Devil Can't Go by Anya Lipska

Where The Devil Can't Go is the debut novel of previously self-published author Anya Lipska and will be published by Harper Collins' The Friday Project on 7 February 2013.

A crime thriller, with a touch of noir, the story is set within London's Polish community, and starts when the body of a naked girl is washed up on the shore of the Thames.  The reader is introduced to Janusz Kiszka who has lived in London since the 80s - he started out as a jobbing builder, but over the years has become something of a 'fixer' within the Polish community.  When local priest Father Piotr Pietruzki asked Janusz if he can track down a missing girl, little does he realise that he is about to get involved with some of the most powerful people in Poland.

DC Natalie Kershaw is also interested in finding out more about the missing girl, and the dead body, and it is not long before she accuses Janusz of murder.  Natalie is a determined young detective, desperate to impress her superiors and to prove herself amongst her peers.   It is clear to her that Janusz knows more than he is telling - it is clear to Janusz that Natalie hasn't got a clue!

Anya Lipska has written a very impressive debut crime novel.  The sense of place, from the building sites of London, amongst the many Polish cafes and churches to the dark and foreboding tension of Gdansk in Poland, where Janusz travels to in search of answers.   There are some wonderfully created characters that star alongside Natalie and Janusz, who appear very authentic.

The plot is fast-moving and complex, with a great deal of reference to Polish politics, especially in the 1980s.  This was very well explained within the plot, and adds an extra dimension to what could have been a pretty ordinary murder crime story.

My thanks to Sabah from The Friday Project for introducing me to this book, I will most certainly look out for more by the author.

To find out more about Anya Lipska and the book, visit the website here.

Anya Lipska is also on Twitter here

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Forgive Me by Lesley Pearse

Eva Patterson's life is forever altered by the devastating discovery of her mother, Flora, dead in the bath leaving only a note: 'Forgive Me'.

Until Flora's suicide, Eva's world had been secure - but overnight everything changes. For when Flora leaves Eva a London artist's studio in her will, she finds her mother had a secret past.
In the studio's attic are Flora's paintings and diaries, and Eva learns her mother was a popular artist in the swinging sixties. Eva's hunt for answers uncovers clues to a shocking crime which led Flora to hide her past.
But will discovering the truth destroy Eva's belief in everything she holds dear? And will this journey lead her and those she loves into danger?

I'm always very excited when a new novel from Lesley Pearse arrives, I've been a fan of hers since her very first book was published back in 1993.

Her latest novel Forgive Me will be published on 14 February 2013 by Michael Joseph (Penguin) - I have spent the last couple of days engrossed in it, and yet again she has produced another epic story that has kept me gripped until the end.

Forgive Me is set in the early 1990s and once again Lesley Pearse has created a strong and gutsy female lead character in Eva Patterson.

The story opens on the day that Eva returns home to find that her beloved mother Flora has committed suicide, from that moment on, everything that Eva believed about herself and her family is proved to have been based on lies.  

Flora's will states that Eva will inherit an artist's studio in London, but Eva didn't know anything about it, she didn't even know that her mother had been a successful artist.    Eva discovers a bundle of old diaries and paintings in the studio which tell her a little about her past and lead her to Scotland to try and discover more.   Along the way, she uncovers some shocking secrets that will change her life forever.

This was a really fast-paced and emotional read.  Although the story centres around Eva and her search for answers about her beginnings, there is a hint of thrill and mystery added to the mix.  The writing is superb as always, the characters are wonderfully drawn, I especially loved Phil the builder who rescued Eva and made her feel special again.

The story moves from leafy Cheltenham, to fast-paced London and up to rural Scotland, and Lesley Pearse's descriptions are wonderful, really evoking a strong sense of place and era.  The story covers some serious issues which are dealt with sensitively, yet realistically.

At the beginning of the story, Eva Patterson is a fairly innocent young girl, living comfortably in a nice house with loving parents.  During her quest to find out the truth about her mother she experiences heartache and let-down, violence and depression, yet at the end of the book, she is a strong woman - no longer a girl, but happier and finally content.

This is another epic story from one of the best storytellers published today who never lets me down with her fabulous characters and her engrossing plots.   I loved it!

Check out Lesley Pearse's website here, or follow her on Twitter here

Friday, 21 December 2012

Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas

Sandra Dallas is a very successful American author and has published 12 novels.  Tallgrass was published by St Martin's Press in 2007.    I haven't read any of Sandra Dallas' books before and was drawn to Tallgrass by the subject; the Japanese interment camps opened in America during World War II.    I knew nothing about these camps until I read the brilliant Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet by Jamie Ford, ever since then, I have been looking out for more novels based on this theme.

In February 1942, just two months after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorising the federal government to relocate all people of Japanese ancestry who were living on the West Coast.  At great financial and emotional sacrifice, more than 100,000 people, many of them native-born Americans, were uprooted and sent to ten desolate inland camps. 

Tallgrass was an old ranch on the outskirts of the small town of Ellis, Colorado which the government turned into a relocation camp to house people of Japanese origin.

The narrator of the story is thirteen-year-old Rennie Stroud, she and her family live on a farm, not far away from Tallgrass.  This is not a story about what happens inside Tallgrass, it is the story of the impact of the camp on this small town and it's inhabitants.   Rennie lives with her Father, Mother and elderly Grandmother.  Her brother Buddy has joined the Army, her sister Marthalice has moved away to Denver.   The war has brought hardship to the townsfolk with rationing and the shortage of farmhand labour.

Most of the townsfolk of Ellis don't want the Japanese people amongst them, they are suspicious, scared and  hostile towards them.   When a local girl is raped and murdered, the finger of suspicion points directly at Tallgrass and it's inhabitants.     Rennie's father is an outspoken man who will not tolerate ignorance and hate and makes the decision to hire some of the Japanese to help out on the farm, there are many people in the town who do not agree with this and are not afraid to speak their minds.  Not least, some of the members of Rennie's mother's quilting circle; The Jolly Stitchers.

Many reviewers have compared Tallgrass to To Kill A Mockingbird, others have commented that this should be classed as a Young Adult read.   Personally, I don't think that the two novels should be compared, yes there are some similarities, but these are two completely different stories, but have a theme of ignorance,hate and ultimately justice.   The story is narrated by a thirteen-year-old, which makes the language simplistic and easy to read, but this does not make it a Young Adult read - it is a story that should be read by all ages.

There are some tough issues raised in Tallgrass; murder, rape, domestic violence, drug abuse and prejudice. Sandra Dallas depicts small-town American life very well, the gossip, the loyality, the underlying menace.  Her characters are well-drawn and come alive from the page - the wicked and evil characters take centre stage alongside the great and the good.

I enjoyed Tallgrass very much and will look forward to reading more books by Sandra Dallas.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

A Winter Flame by Milly Johnson

The past week has not been my best if I'm honest.   My online book community lost a very good friend on Wednesday night, Elaine had been battling breast cancer for as long as she had been a member of our group - over 6 years now.  Throughout that time, she had always been positive and determined, regardless of what she was going through, she was always there with a supportive word for others.  She and I did not always see eye to eye, but the beauty of our relationship was that despite our disagreements, we had a strong friendship, with mutual respect.   Elaine will leave a massive hole in our group, but will be remembered fondly.

With this sadness and then hearing about the terrible events at the school in Connecticut, I was feeling a little blue.  I'd just read a grisly crime novel and needed a story that was going to make me smile and bring back a little seasonal cheer.

Milly Johnson - of course!  My lovely friend Lainy who blogs here gave me a copy of  A Winter Flame for my birthday and I just knew that this was going to be the perfect book to lift my spirits.

Eve hates Christmas.  As a child she spent her Christmas wondering if there would be any food in the house, would she get a present, and which of her Mother's boyfriends would be on the scene.  If it wasn't for her Aunt Susan and cousin Violet, Eve would probably never have received anything.     Christmas did not get any better as an adult, five years ago Eve's fiance was killed in action in Afghanistan on Christmas Day.   Is there any wonder that she would like nothing to do with December at all?
When Eve inherits a Christmas-themed amusement park from her elderly Aunt, she is amazed, she had no idea that Aunt Evelyn had any interests other than Mr Kipling cakes, her two cats and her growing collection of strange Christmas decorations.   She is even more shocked and amazed when she learns that Aunt Evelyn has left half of the park to a mysterious stranger - just who is Jacques Glace and where did he come from?
Milly Johnson 
Milly Johnson has that amazing gift of writing stories that can make you smile through your tears.  She has created an extraordinary world on the outskirts of Barnsley that is full of magic, yet still has her down-to-earth stamp on it.   I sighed as Eve tried her best to ignore the wonderful Jacques, I wanted to grab her and shake her and make her see what was under her nose.   I chuckled as I read about the park's transformation into a winter wonderland - overseen by the wonderful character that is Effin - assisted by his crew of Welsh and Polish workers.      I wanted to boo and hiss when introduced to Eve and Violet's Grandmother - possibly the nastiest piece of work since Snow White's step-mother.
I love the good old Northern humour, the reality alongside the magic and the little snippets from The Daily Trumpet are wonderful. 
A Winter Flame made me smile again, it's like a big huge cuddle in a book, that wrapped me up and sent me on my way feeling as though I'd made some new friends.    

A Winter Flame was published by Simon & Schuster earlier this year.  Milly Johnson has a web site here, and you can follow her on Twitter here.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

The Calling by Alison Bruce

The Calling is the third in the DC Goodhew series, and was published earlier this year by Constable & Robinson.   Although The Calling could be read as a stand-alone story, I would certainly recommend that the first two of the series; Cambridge Blue and The Siren are read first.  The first two books give the reader a little insight into the enigmatic lead character DC Gary Goodhew.

I have been really impressed by this series so far.  Alison Bruce has created a lead detective who is something of a mystery, to the reader and to his colleagues at the station.  Goodhew is a bit of a maverick, with a determination that often rubs people up the wrong way, I also sense a little bit of vulnerability about him, a teensy lack of self-confidence that peeps through when he gets something right and is rewarded by praise from his superiors.

The plot line of The Calling is complex, fast-paced and introduces a host of characters.  There is an air of menace and a touch of madness running throughout the book in the form of the lead female character Marlowe.  The reader is never quite sure whether she can be trusted to tell the truth, and whether her determination to name her ex-boyfriend as a murderer is based on fact, or is a result of her anger and jealousy.  Alison Bruce does not hold back in her writing, there are scenes that are quite explicitly sexual, and others that are impossibly cruel, but this only adds to the tension and build up to the very fine, and unexpected ending.
Alison Bruce

Goodhew's colleagues; WPC Sue Gully and DC Kincade both feature heavily in the story, and both characters have been developed well, with lots of scope for more stories involving these two in the future.

Alison Bruce has proved that she is up there with the finest of crime authors and has created a series and a lead character that is going from strength to strength.

Alison Bruce has a website here, you can also follow her on Twitter here

Monday, 10 December 2012

The View On The Way Down by Rebecca Wait

This novel will open your eyes
and break your heart.
It is the story of Emma’s two brothers:
the one who died five years ago,
and the one who left home on the day of the funeral and never came back.
It is the story of Emma’s parents,
who have been keeping the truth from her, and from each other.
It is the story of Emma herself,
caught in the middle and trying to work out how everything fell apart.
It is a story you will want to talk about
and one you will never forget.

The View On The Way Down by Rebecca Wait will be published by Picador on 11 April 2013.  This is the author's debut novel, she is twenty-four years old and she wrote the novel in the evenings whilst working as a teaching assistant the year after graduating.

I am really struggling to review this novel.  I'm not a writer and I am finding it difficult to find the words to express just how much I loved this story.

A little about the story;  a family; Mum, Dad and teenage Emma, struggling to deal with their lives after the death of eldest son Kit five years ago.  There is one other member of the family; second son Jamie, who is estranged from the rest of them and living in a drab flat in Sheffield.  Hundreds of miles away from his family and slowly descending into a world of his own.   Young Emma has never really known just what happened on the night that Kit died and finds her comfort in eating and in Jesus until one day the bullying and the unhappiness gets too much and she sets out to find Jamie.

The real beauty and genius of The View On The Way Down is in it's simplicity, the ease of Rebecca Wait's writing captures the reader from page one and doesn't let go.  However, don't be fooled by my talk of 'simplicity', this is a deeply moving and powerful story of a family that has been torn apart.  Four people who have been changed by the same tragic circumstance, yet are dealing with it in four very separate ways.

Each character is drawn so beautifully, from Kit's darkest depths of depressive illness, to Emma's child-like naivety.  The parents - Rose and Joe, so distant from each other, yet unable to let each other go.

Rebecca Wait
I could easily have read this novel in one setting, except for the fact that at times I was so moved, and so affected by the writing that I had to put it down, walk away and try to think of other things.  It's been a very long time since a fictional story has resonated so strongly with me.  Although this is at times almost unbearably heartbreaking, the strong feeling of brotherly love and loyalty that flows through also makes it an uplifting story.

Rebecca Wait is an extremely talented young author and I'm delighted to learn that Picador will be publishing her next novel, whenever that may be.

Once again, Picador have found another bright star of the future.  The 2013 publication list for Picador is exciting and much anticipated, Rebecca Wait is a fine addition to their list.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Magnificent Joe by James Wheatley

Magnificent Joe is James Wheatley's first novel and will be published by Oneworld Publications on 7 March 2013.
It is a brave and ambitious publisher that markets a debut novel as; "Of Mice and Men meets Trainspotting" -  that really is an expectation to have to live up too.  I can honestly say though that Magnificent Joe has more than exceeded any expectations I had.  I've really enjoyed my journey with Joe and his friend Jim, at times it's been a difficult and emotional journey, at times I've laughed along with them and at the end my tears were flowing.

Magnificent Joe may be the title of this book, and he's a wonderful character, but for me the most magnificent character is Jim.    Jim is one of those guys who has found himself in the middle of a life that he can't get out of.  His actions as a teenager have shaped the rest of his life, and despite the fact that he's bright, well-read, kind and passionate, he's stuck in a small village in the North East surrounded by mates from years ago, working as a labourer, drinking too much and eating crap food.    Jim's friendship with Joe is one of the things that marks him out as 'different'.  Joe lives with his Mum, is slow-witted and the victim of constant bullying by the local kids but Jim sticks by him, shows him friendship and cares for him.  Joe and his Mum are the only link that Jim has to his long-gone Dad and he can't give that up, nor can he stop feeling guilty that he wasn't around for his Dad when he needed him.

This is a modern, contemporary story about realistic characters who live life day to day.  Set in the North East among working-class people, it is littered with bad language.  Some readers may object to this, but it is not done to shock - it is done because this is the language that the characters speak.  There's no point setting a story in a gritty pub populated by builders and making them speak in polished English - it's got to be real to be credible.

James Wheatley
There is a real sadness to this story too.  Jim had so much potential as a teenager, he was tough enough to put up with the teasing and to do some revision, he was going to go to college and make something of himself.  The sadness starts when he throws all of that away because of one foolish action, the sadness carries on when he returns to the village to find it unchanged.  There is a sadness surrounding Joe, and around Laura - the wife of Jim's mate.

James Wheatley is a talented new author who has produced a novel that is raw and powerful, yet compelling and emotional.  I enjoyed this story very much  - the characters, the writing and the dialogue are perfectly pitched.  I look forward to reading more from this author.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Born Weird by Andrew Kaufman

Born Weird by Andrew Kaufman will be published by The Friday Project (an imprint of Harper Collins) on 3 January 2012.
I discovered Andrw Kaufman's writing back in January of this year when I read and reviewed his wonderful novella The Tiny Wife (read my review here).    I startled myself, and some of my friends by praising a story that could be classed as magical realism - a genre that usually leaves me cold.

I am startled once more!  Born Weird is most certainly magical realism, and is a full-length novel, and I loved every page.  I'm a little perplexed, a little bemused and fairly confused about it all to be honest; it's a case of thinking 'what the hell was that all about?', but I really really enjoyed it.

Born Weird is book weird!     Five brothers and sisters, all with a blursing.  What in God's name is a blursing?  Well, each of the siblings were given a blessing by their Grandmother when they were born, these blessings turned out to be more curse-like.  So, a cross between a blessing and a curse  - a blursing!
Grandmother Weird is going to die, on her birthday, and has decided that she will remove these blessings on her death-bed.   Angie is given the task of making sure that all the brothers and sisters arrive together, on time before Grandmother dies.  

And so the reader is plunged into the weird and wonderful world of the Weird family and travels along with them on their remarkable journey.  Along the way their past history is revealed and each character is introduced, along with their dead (or is he?) father and their totally bonkers mother.

I giggled and spluttered and gasped as this remarkable story unfolded, often wondering where on earth it was heading, but always eager to turn the page to find out a little bit more.

If you enjoy quirky and strange, and of course, weird, you will love this tale of family drama and life journeys.

My thanks to Sabah from The Friday Project for inviting me to read and review an advance copy of Born Weird.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

How To Be A Good Wife by Emma Chapman

Picador have published some of my very favourite books over the past few years, the Picador editors seem to be able to sniff out a winner instinctively; Emma Donoghue, Anna Raverat and Alice Sebold are three of my favourite authors, and if Emma Chapman's debut novel How To Be A Good Wife is anything to go by, then she is definitely going to join that club.

How To Be A Good Wife will be published in January 2013.

Emma Chapman wrote this novel whilst completing her Royal Holloway MA in Creative Writing, incredibly she is only 27 years old.  I find this incredible because this debut novel is one of the most accomplished and clever pieces of writing that I've read for a long, long time.

Marta and Hector have been married for many years, they have a grown up son who recently moved to the city.  Marta has always tried to be a good wife and took her instructions from the book that her mother-in-law gave to her just after she married Hector.

The book is an old-fashioned marriage manual entitled How To Be A Good Wife.   Marta misses her son Kylan so much, the house is empty without him, her days are endless with no son to care for.  Life seems to be unravelling around her and she begins to see visions of a small blonde girl.  Hector is worried about her, she's stopped taking her tablets, she's hallucinating and acting very strangely.   It's clear that Marta has suffered with mental health problems for many years and that Hector has looked after his wife ...... but is the small blonde girl a symptom of her illness, or is she a real memory?

Emma Chapman
Emma Chapman has written a short novel (just over 160 pages), that conveys such a feeling of menace and chill, yet is complex and clever.  Marta is such an isolated character, she has no contact with anyone outside of her immediate family and lives in a desolate spot, away from the town, shops and neighbours.  Most of the time, she lives within her own head - interacting with her visions and her memories far more than with any living human being.

Is Marta an unreliable narrator?  At times I thought so, but there were also times during the story that I believed her wholeheartedly - and that is the beauty of this novel.  Even after reading the last few lines, the reader will sit and contemplate the whole story, and yet you will never be quite sure just what is the truth.  This is a story and these are characters that will stay in the mind for a long time, a little like the characters that  live in Marta's head.