Sunday 31 July 2011

Before I Go To Sleep ~ S J Watson

Before I Go To Sleep is the debut novel from S J Watson, published by Doubleday; an imprint of Transworld Publishing.

It's not very often that a debut novel get so many rave reviews, both from newspaper reviewers and other authors.

I read somewhere that Tess Gerritsen has said that she wishes she had written this book - from such a successful author, that really is praise indeed.

S J Watson has come a long way in the last couple of years, the novel was written between his shifts at an NHS hospital and the subject matter was inspired in part by the lives of several amnesiac patients, including Henry Gustav Molaison and Clive Wearing.

I'd read and enjoyed Deborah Wearing's account of her husband Forever Today - A Memoir of Love and Amnesia, some years ago, so I was really interested to find out just how Watson had tackled this subject.

I don't think that I've ever come across such a cleverly plotted and scripted thriller before, this really is page-turning writing that keeps the reader up well past bed-time.
Christine wakes up every morning in a strange room, beside a strange man.   
She sees a face in mirror that is 20 years older than it should be and gradually each day she realises that she is no longer that 20 something, happy girl, but a woman in her mid-forties - who wears 'old ladies' clothes and is married to a man with a paunch and receding hair. 

Every day for Christine is like a re-birth, she remembers nothing at all prior to waking each morning.   
S J Watson
Then enters the mysterious Dr Nash, a man who claims to want to help her but asks her not to tell her husband.  Dr Nash encourages Christine to keep a memory journal and it is with the help of this diary that Christine begins to piece together the truth about her past life.  Or is it the truth?  Can she trust her husband Ben? Why is he lying to her?   Who is Dr Nash and what has happened to Adam?   All questions that Christine has to deal with and which I desperately wanted answers to as I frantically turned the pages. 
I believe the film rights have been sold to Ridley Scott's company, I really hope that the book is handled well - I can see something along the lines of Memento or Shutter Island, both excellent films with a similar theme. 
Before I Go To Sleep is incredibly well structured, the subject matter is terrifying, yet compelling.  The characters jump from the page, the mystery and intrigue are at times relentless. 
I have no doubt that this is just the start of a fantastic writing career for S J Watson.

Friday 22 July 2011

The Beach Cafe by Lucy Diamond

I've spent the last few days with Evie at The Beach Cafe, and I've enjoyed every minute of it.   The Beach Cafe is the latest novel from Lucy Diamond, published by Pan MacMillan who kindly sent me a proof copy for review.

I'm really not sure how I've missed Lucy Diamond before now, this is the first of her books that I've read and I will definitely now be looking out for her back catalogue and her next novel.

Set in Cornwall, the heroine of the story is Evie - a thirty-something woman whose life is in a bit of a rut.  She's the black sheep of the family, her sisters are both successful, gorgeous, well-groomed, married with children and have great careers.

Evie goes from one temp job to another, not really knowing what she wants to do, her long-term relationship with geeky Matthew has gone a bit stale - the only great thing in her life is Saul, Matthew's young son who Evie adores.

Evie is devastated when her aunt Jo is killed in a car accident.  Jo always believed in Evie, never criticised her and allowed her to be herself.  Evie spent many happy holidays at Jo's beach cafe in Cornwall.   The whole family are shocked and surprised to learn that Jo has left the cafe to Evie.    Everyone expects Evie to sell up - after all when has she ever made a success of anything?   Evie is determined to prove them wrong.
Lucy Diamond

This is a fabulous read.  Evie is one of those really likeable characters that you soon grow to love, she reminded me a little of Bridget Jones - daft, funny but very caring.  Sometimes she makes huge mistakes, sometimes she does things that are incredibly annoying, but you can't help but love her!

Lucy Diamond is very good at creating some great characters, really human and believable and her descriptions of the Cornwall village and beach were fabulous.

Ok, there may be a smidgeon of predictability along the way, but I'm not complaining - everyone needs a little romance in their lives and Evie deserves it more than most.

I enjoyed every page of The Beach Cafe, it has all the ingredients for the perfect summer read and I can't wait to read more of Lucy Diamond's novels.

Lucy Diamond also writes books for children under her real name Sue Mongredien, you can follow her on Twitter @SueMongredien 

Saturday 16 July 2011

Star Gazing by Linda Gillard

My bookish friends on have been raving about Linda Gillard's writing for some time now, in fact Linda has joined our online community and takes part in discussions about her writing, the publishing industry and her home in the Scottish Isles.  

I decided it was high time that I read one of her books and decided to start with Star Gazing which was published by Piatkus in 2008.  

I'd been fascinated by the online debates about the lead character Kier and who should play him in a film version.

Star Gazing is a fairly short novel, but I didn't find it a quick read by any means. The writing is so vivid and descriptive and the style of narration is especially clever.   
At first I found the third person narration, coupled with first person quite strange, but as the story progressed it struck me at just how clever it was.
Marianne Fraser, the lead character has been blind from birth - she's mid-forties, a widow and lives with her rather quirky, eccentric author sister in a flat in Edinburgh.   
Marianne is obstinate, stubborn, sometimes a bit cold but also passionate and deep.  She is independent, she is organised and what really stands out is that she is lonely.   Meeting Keir changes Marianne's life.  He's not patronising,  nor does he treat her differently because of her blindness.   He describes things to her in terms of music, he sends her audio postcards and he takes her to his beloved Skye.  
This is a wonderful love story.   It's not sentimental, nor is it sweet - it's real and has fabulous characters.  It will make you cry, it will make you laugh and it will most definitely make you wish that you will meet a Keir very soon.

Linda Gillard
Linda Gillard is certainly a very talented author, it's not often that a book that is labelled as 'romance' will appeal to me quite so much, but Linda hit every spot with this one.  

The crying shame is that Linda is now struggling to get a publishing deal as publishers don't think that her books fit in any particular genre.

All I can say to publishers is to take a look at Linda's fan base, the reviews online and her award nominations and re-think your strategy.

These are the sort of books that we want to read, not C List Celebrity Memoirs or indeed, dubious novels 'written' by the same C Listers.  

We are fed up of vampires and the such like - give us what we want!

Star Gazing by Linda Gillard

My bookish friends on have been raving about Linda Gillard's writing for some time now, in fact Linda joined our online community and often pops by to talk about her work.  I thought it was high time that I actually read one of her books, rather than reading about what the others thought of them.
I decided to start with Star Gazing, published by Piatkus in 2008, I chose this book as I'd been fascinated by the discussions regarding one of the lead characters; Keir - and debates about which actor would be perfect to play him in a film.

Wednesday 13 July 2011

What's Tha Up To? Memories of a Yorkshire Bobby by Martyn Johnson

My latest review book from New Books Magazine was What's Tha Up To? - Memories of a Yorkshire Bobby by Martyn Johnson.  

This one is due for publication on 15 September by Sphere Books.

I live about 40 minutes drive away from Sheffield and visit the city regularly.  We often go to the theatre and concerts in the city centre and of course I love to shop at Meadowhall.  I was really pleased to have a copy of this book for review - I love to read about places that I'm familiar with.

Since leaving the police force, Martyn Johnson has become quite famous in South Yorkshire.  He does talks and tours about the history of the area and was a regular on Radio Sheffield with Tony Capstick.

My thoughts on the book:

Martyn Johnson joined the Sheffield Police force when he was 19.  In this book Martyn tells the tale of a real-life 'bobby on the beat'.  Before the days of radio, cars or computers, Martyn patrolled the streets of the Attercliffe district of Sheffield night and day.
We hear about his first dead body, chasing robbers - on front and later on his bike - his bike being 'stolen' - in fact it was painted pink and yellow by his colleague's daughters!   There are family disputes, there are tragedies and there is laughter.   
Martyn Johnson
It is clear from the writing that Martyn Johnson is a compassionate man, a man who joined the force because he cared about people and about the city of Sheffield.  That's not to say that he let people get away with things though - he could hold his own and had many injuries to show for it - as did the criminals who crossed his path.   There are times when the book is incredibly sad, Martyn had to deal with some awful tragedy during his career, but there are also times when the reader will laugh out loud.  The incident with the mangle had me chuckling for a good couple of hours after I'd read it!
For those of us who are familiar with modern day Sheffield, this is a great way of finding out some of the history of the city - pre-Meadowhall and the Arena - the days of local cafes and grocer shops on each corner.   The days when the local bobby would be offered a bacon butty in every cafe and a pint of beer in every pub on his beat.  
This is a heart-warming read, well written with compassion and humour.

Thursday 7 July 2011

Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington

Laura Harrington is from New York and a well established writer for the theatre, her work has been performed across the US, as well as in Canada and Europe.

Her first novel ~ Alice Bliss, will be published by Picador (part of the Pan MacMillan group) in the UK and released for general sale on July 15 2011.

Alice Bliss is fifteen. She's smart, funny, and clever. Not afraid to stand up for the things she believes in. She also idolises her father and, when he leaves home to fight a war she doesn't believe in, Alice is distraught. She and her mother negotiate his absence as best they can -- waiting impatiently for his letters, throwing themselves into school and work respectively, bickering intermittently and, in Alice's case, falling for the boy next door -- but then they're told that he's missing in action and have to face up to the fact that he may never return.

Claire from Pan Macmillan was kind enough to send me a pre-publication of Alice Bliss for review.

I've been online and read some of the existing reviews of the book and these range from 'outstanding, wonderful, life-changing' to 'boring and uninspiring', although, to be fair, the majority of reviewers have really raved about the story.

I'm finding myself in the middle of these reviews, I neither loved it, or hated it.
Alice herself is a great character; a teenage girl whose beloved father has gone off to fight in the Middle East.  

Alice has her feelings of loss and fear to deal with, alongside the usual teenage problems that any girl has to face.  Alice's relationship with her mother Angie is not the best, she's a Daddy's girl and wants to blame Angie for everything that she thinks is wrong with her life.  Alice also takes on a lot of responsibility for her younger sister Ellie - a quirky little girl who deals with family life in her own unique way

This is an adult novel, and there lies my main problem, I feel that the story, with Alice as the main character would be better enjoyed by Young Adult readers.  I felt more in tune with Angie, the mother, than with Alice herself.  As an adult, I can understand, if not condone, Angie's reaction to her husband going to war more than I can relate to Alice.

There is no doubt that Laura Harrington is a skilled writer and has some real insight into the lives of military families, but there is something about the narration of the story, with quite sparse diaglogue that did not work so well for me.

I'm sure that Alice Bliss will be a great success, it's relevant and topical and many readers will relate wholly to the story

Monday 4 July 2011

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield

My copy of The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield, published by HarperPress arrived via the Amazon Vine programme last week.

Jenny Wingfield's writing has been compared to Fannie Flagg and Sue Monk Kidd, and although I'm not a huge fan of either of these writers, I was really looking forward to 'Samuel' as the synopsis sounds great.

I'll admit that it took me quite some time to gel with this story, I found the first half of the book quite difficult to get into. 

There is no doubt that the author is a very talented storyteller, but I found the beginning to be quite slow. I also struggled with so many characters being introduced.

However, once past the half-way mark, I was well and truly hooked by the story. The characters began to take on a life of their own and the story line upped the pace quite considerably.

I've read quite a few reviews, mainly by American reviewers that have criticised the story for containing animal and child abuse. Some have even said that they put the book down in disgust. I'm fairly shocked by their reactions. Yes, the story involves some animal cruelty and some awful things are done to a couple of the younger main characters, but these incidents are the main point of the whole story, without them, the story wouldn't exist. The incidents are not glamourised, nor are they trivialised - they are well written and go a long way to show just how evil one of the characters is.

Despite the slow start, overall I really enjoyed this book - it is writing at a very high level and I'm happy to give it 4 stars

Saturday 2 July 2011

The First Reader's Day

I've been a member of for around six years now, it's a great website.  You list the books that you've read and don't want to keep, have a look at other people's book lists and request a swap. It's simple!  I've discovered some fabulous new authors, investigated genres that I would never have thought of reading and also accumulated an enormous TBR (to be read) pile - I'll never be short of something to read.  I know that some authors are not in favour of swapping sites, but I can assure them that most of us don't just swap books, often we will read a new author and then go out and buy their complete catalogue of books.
Just a few of the books!
The best part of the site, for me, is the community forum.  I've been an active member since I joined the site and it is a great community - it's a bookaholic's dream!  
Some forum members occasionally meet up, there have been meets all over England, and in Scotland and Northern Ireland.   Late last year, someone suggested a big official meet, and I, in my wisdom, offered to organise it.
Guy Pringle
Ian Carpenter

After months of work, contacting authors, publishers, venues and participants, the big day finally arrived last Saturday - and what a day it was!  We travelled to Birmingham, to a wonderful venue in the city centre, The Old Joint Stock Theatre - once a branch of Lloyds Bank, and now a pub and theatre.   I was thrilled by how successful it was, there were around 40 attendees and we had guest speakers: Guy Pringle, the publisher of New Books Magazine, Ian Carpenter - the author of Guardianwork and Emily Woof, the author of Whole Wide Beauty.
Emily Woof
The speakers were so entertaining, at times the laughter was uncontrollable!  
Simon from Bookswarm was incredibly supportive and helpful during the organisation of the day, helping with author contacts and sending freebies for the day.  Publishers including Constable and Robinson, Allison and Busby and Random House had all donated prizes and goodies to give away.
It really was a wonderful day, I was totally exhausted by the end of it all, but really buzzing from the success.