Tuesday, 28 July 2015

In a Dark Dark Wood

In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
Published by Harvill Secker
30th July 2015
Hardback Edition

Someone's getting married. Someone's getting murdered.

In a dark, dark wood

Nora hasn't seen Clare for ten years. Not since Nora walked out of school one day and never went back.

There was a dark, dark house

Until, out of the blue, an invitation to Clare’s hen do arrives. Is this a chance for Nora to finally put her past behind her?

And in the dark, dark house there was a dark, dark room

But something goes wrong. Very wrong.

And in the dark, dark room....

Some things can’t stay secret for ever.

Ruth Ware's debut novel has had some mixed reviews out there on the internet but don't let that put you off reading it.  Okay, so it's not hard-hitting literature but it's not billing itself as the next Booker winner, and as anyone who knows me knows, I don't do pretentious writing, and more often than not, prize winning fiction, so for me this is sounding more and more my cup of tea, or crime novel, I should say!

Leonora hasn't seen her former best friend Clare in ten years.  They didn't part on good terms and Leonora has more or less forgotten about her.  One day she receives an email from a friend of Clare's who is organising her hen weekend - would Leonora please accept this invitation as it would mean the world to Clare?

As there is another friend going who she hasn't seen for ages either, Leonora, or Nora as she now goes by, agrees to turn up, and her and Nina go together to a remote house in the middle of nowhere, owned by Clare's friend Flo's aunt. 

The weekend doesn't start off quite as either of the girls anticipate.  Flo seems a little obsessed with both Clare and the whole concept of organising this hen weekend, and with the arrival of a gay thespian and a first-time mum, the party is ready and awaiting the arrival of Clare.

Things begin to go from bad to worse however, and I don't want to give away any of the plot here, but you know from the outset that things aren't going to go well for Leonora at the house, especially as the book is written from two periods of time - that of the hen weekend, and afterwards when Leonora is in hospital following a car accident where it appears that someone has died.

I did enjoy this book and kept turning the pages trying to work out which of the characters was really someone else instead - which of the guests could indeed be trusted?

If you enjoy crime novels,  and don't want to have to think too hard about what you are reading then you could do far worse than pick up a copy of In a Dark Dark Wood this summer.  Perfect for reading around the pool in my humble opinion.

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Crow Moon

Crow Moon by Anna McKerrow
Published by Quercus Children's Books
Paperback Edition
15th March 2015

Danny is a fun-loving 16-year-old looking for a father figure and falling in love with a different girl every day. He certainly doesn't want to follow in his mum's witchy footsteps.

Just as his community is being threatened by gangs intent on finding a lucrative power source to sell to the world, Danny discovers he is stunningly powerful. And when he falls for Saba, a gorgeous but capricious girl sorceress, he thinks maybe the witch thing might not be such a bad idea...

But what cost will Danny pay as, with his community on the brink of war, he finds that love and sorcery are more dangerous than he ever imagined?

Wickedness and passion combine in this coming-of-age adventure.

I've been waiting to get my hands on a copy of Crow Moon since my trip to Birmingham for the UKYA day back in February.  Unfortunately I couldn't get my hands on a copy then, but I have now!  This is a witch based story with a difference, as the main character, and witch, is male which actually not only makes a refreshing change but works well too. 

Crow Moon is set in a future where the country is divided into two parts - the Redworld and the Greenworld, which is principally along the coast of Devon and Cornwall.  The world in which Anna McKerrow creates is all part of the story, and she incorporates the real magical elements of places such as Tintagel into the novel.  Whilst life in the Greenworld is a struggle, the elements of ritual and paganism are drawn out and I think were captured very well throughout the story.

Danny doesn't know he is a witch, but his mother is.  She rules one of the villages of the Greenworld, a world removed from the capitalist Redworld by boundaries put in place by the witches who oversee the daily lives of the rest of the community.  There is no electricity in Greenworld, but a much more harmonious lifestyle based on self-sufficiency and group support, and being environmentally friendly, unlike those who live in the Redworld who are insistent on polluting and making money.  There are those on the outside who want the power of those on the inside, and they won't play fair in order to get what they want.  Danny is the key to all of this, especially as Roach (gang leader in the Redworld) aims to make him part of his group.

There is a great mix of characters in the book, and they are a equal combination of young and old, male and female so I think the book balances itself out in this way. There are also the paganists and those who aren't so sure about this way of life, so the book would equally work for those who maybe aren't so much believers themselves, and there is also an element of both white and dark magic involved.  Of course there has to be some romance here too; Danny is 16 after all, and he does get around a bit in the book, if you get my meaning.  Shallow at times, well yes maybe, but then some teenagers are this way, and whilst he does appear to have true feelings for Saba throughout the book, he isn't going to sit around and wait for her to feel the same way.  There are lots of twists and turns within the story, of choosing which path is the right one to follow, and of consequences as a result of not always doing what is necessarily right. 

Crow Moon is the first part of a trilogy in the Greenworld series, and I'm definitely planning on reading the rest of the books once Anna has written them!  Hopefully I'll also be in conversation with Anna McKerrow on the blog soon too which I'm looking forward to.

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Only Ever Yours

Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill
Published by Quercus
2nd July 2015
Paperback Edition

eves are designed, not made.

The School trains them to be pretty.
The School trains them to be good.
The School trains them to Always be Willing.

All their lives, the eves have been waiting.
Now, they are ready for the outside world.

companion . . . concubine . . . chastity.

Only the best will be chosen.

And only the Men decide.

I'm sure I've said this before, but sci-fi and dystopian books are really not my thing at all.  Having said that, I've now read, and enjoyed, The ShipStation 11 and now I can add Only Ever Yours to that list too.  It was another outburst on how great this was via Twitter that even prompted me to read this, or it would easily have slipped by my radar.  I raced through it on a train journey the other day and I think I had it read within 24 hours.

The basics of the story, set in the future are this, girls are made - to order, and they aren't called girls but eves (and names are all lower case too).  They can be sent back for errors and fixed to perfection because they are all destined for one of three roles: that of the companion - a mate for a man to choose, a concubine - an eve to satisfy a man, or a chastity - a celibate eve who prepares other eves for their future destinations.

Each eve has a name and a number and every day they compete against each other to be the best, the most prettiest eve in order to get their ranking up high enough to they can compete for the heart of the ten most eligible males in existence.  The book mainly follows frieda and isabel through their final year at school.  The daily updates on social media, the constant weight battles, the dilemma of what outfit to wear to be number one is intense and for frieda and isabel it begins to take it's toll on their health, their friendship and their place within society.

This is marketed as a ya novel but I think it will also appeal to a much older audience.  I, for one, am certainly glad that a society such as the one created by Louise O'Neill won't exist in my lifetime, for I would never want to be a part of it.  This is a really readable book, if only for the voyeuristic view we have of the girls and their daily lives.  Why would you want to live your life that way, and what would you do if it was actually your only choice?  It's a good book, that tackles a very difficult subject, of body consciousness, eating disorders, the constant obsession with technology and social media in all formats, and in some ways, the distorted media projection of today's celebrity culture on our children.  Read it and wince.

Happy reading

Miss Chapter x

Friday, 17 July 2015

The Secret Place

The Secret Place by Tana French
Published by Hodder Books
9th April 2015
Paperback Edition

The photo shows a boy who was murdered a year ago.

The caption says, 'I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM'.

Detective Stephen Moran hasn't seen Holly Mackey since she was a nine-year-old witness to the events of Faithful Place. Now she's sixteen and she's shown up outside his squad room, with a photograph and a story.

Even in her exclusive boarding school, in the graceful golden world that Stephen has always longed for, bad things happen and people have secrets. The previous year, Christopher Harper, from the neighbouring boys' school, was found murdered on the grounds. And today, in the Secret Place - the school noticeboard where girls can pin up their secrets anonymously - Holly found the card.

Solving this case could take Stephen onto the Murder squad. But to get it solved, he will have to work with Detective Antoinette Conway - tough, prickly, an outsider, everything Stephen doesn't want in a partner. And he will have to find a way into the strange, charged, mysterious world that Holly and her three closest friends inhabit and disentangle the truth from their knot of secrets, even as he starts to suspect that the truth might be something he doesn't want to hear.

This is the first Tana French novel I have read, and I don't imagine that it will be my last.  This book reminded me in some ways of Donna Tartt's magnificent debut The Secret History but they are very different novels.  The book begins when Detective Stephen Moran is given a photo from a child that he met some years before on another murder inquiry.  The photo she hands him is of a schoolboy, Christopher Harper, who was found dead in the gardens of the boarding school where Holly is a pupil.  The photo has the words 'I know who killed him' stuck onto it, and that's all that Stephen needs to get him curious about reopening the investigation into Christopher's death.

Partnering up with the unpopular Detective Antoinette Conway from the murder squad, this could be Stephen's chance of promotion as he enters the world of St Kilda's - a Catholic girls school where the very elite of Irish society are taught.  The detectives need to tread very carefully or the whole investigation could come tumbling down around them.

The Secret Place in fact is a pin board within the school where the girls can pin messages anonymously.  The aim of the game here is to find out just which one of them pinned up this particular message, and to find out who their murderer is.  Only this batch of students isn't particularly forthcoming.  Some of the characters are 'like' so annoying.  They sound like the twins Whitney and Britney on my daughter's favourite show The Littlest Pet Shop - every sentence is prefaced with 'like' and they are all preened to within an inch of their lives whilst living on their mobile phones.  Oh the youth of today!

Tana French's The Secret Place is a good read though.  You don't know who the killer is, or why Christopher Harper was actually killed until the very end, and it's a great look into female cliques and of just how entwined teenage relationships with each other can actually be.  If you like crime novels, then I'd recommend giving this one a read.

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

The Sudden Departure of the Frasers

The Sudden Departure of the Frasers by Louise Candlish
Published by Penguin
21st May 2015
Paperback Edition

My name is Amber Fraser. I've just moved in at Number 40, Lime Park Road. You'll come to think of me as a loving wife, a thoughtful neighbour and a trusted friend.

This is a lie.

When Christy and Joe Davenport are handed the keys to Number 40 on picture-perfect Lime Park Road, Christy knows it should be a dream come true. How strange though that the house was on the market for such a low price. That the previous owners, the Frasers, had renovated the entire property yet moved out within a year. That none of the neighbours will talk to Christy.

As her curiosity begins to give way to obsession, Christy finds herself drawn deeper into the mystery of the house's previous occupants - and the dark and shocking secret that tore the street apart . . .

This book was one of the Curtis Brown book group reads, but not one that I was sent.  It's had a lot of positive press over on the Twitter-sphere so I decided to give it a go.  The synopsis is that young couple Christy and Joe find a house for sale on Lime Park Road in London.  It's the house of their dreams, and  available at such a reduced price that they would never be able to afford it otherwise.  They snap it up, despite the debt it will leave them in, because, after all, who wouldn't want to live here?  Pretty much as soon as they move in though, Christy finds that her neighbours are not as friendly or as welcoming as she imagined they would be.  There seems to be a lot of tension on Lime Park Road, particularly where her next-door neighbour is concerned.  The only problem is, no one will tell her or Joe what's been going on.

Our other narrator is Amber, former resident of 40 Lime Park Road.  She exudes glamour and is clearly the most popular member of the street on which she lives.  Having had a dodgy past, she has married well, and now lives a life others can only dream of.  But as we come to find out, this is only a facade, and the real Amber is not at all how her neighbours imagine her to be.

I really did enjoy this book, and was gripped into finding out why the Frasers suddenly left their fantastic designer home without a word to anyone else.  Clearly there is something dodgy going on, or why would you leave this amazing property and sell it for a fraction of it's worth?  I too though would be like Christy, and twitch the curtains, trying to ascertain what is going on outside my very front door - us Brits are such nosey neighbours!  In fact, I stayed up until well past midnight in order to finish it!  My only gripe was the ending.  It seemed too easy to me and wasn't quite the dramatic close I had been anticipating, or even wanted which was a pity because this is a really good book and I would recommend it.  But then, I am one of the few who thought Gone Girl finished with a pfff ending too, and that hasn't stopped it from being one of the most talked of books in the past few years, so there's hope here too.  I predict many a copy being read around the pool this summer!

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Monday, 13 July 2015

84 Charing Cross Road

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
Published by Virago
1st September 1982
Paperback Edition

This book is the very simple story of the love affair between Miss Helene Hanff of New York and Messrs Marks and Co, sellers of rare and secondhand books, at 84 Charing Cross Road, London.

Told in a series of letters in 84 Charing Cross Road and then in diary form in the second part The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, this true story has touched the hearts of thousands.

I love it when a book leads you down a path to discover new titles and reads that you had never heard of before.  That is what happened here, I discovered 84 Charing Cross Road through reading The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend as it is one of the books featured in that story.  I have to admit, I'd never heard of the book before, and when I mentioned it on instagram, I was amazed how many people already loved it.  I ordered it promptly!

Set in 1949, 84 Charing Cross Road is a series of letters between American Helene Hanff and Frank Doel who works in Marks and Co, a second hand bookshop in London.  Having discovered the bookshop via an advert in the Saturday Review for Literature, she decided to write to them as she was having trouble finding the somewhat obscure English Literature titles she was after in New York city.  The book is the continuing correspondence between Helene and the staff at the bookshop, beginning with Frank Doel and growing to include the rest of the bookshop, plus Frank's family.

It's a witty and warm book that draws you in from the very first letter to it's ultimately sad conclusion.  I'm all set to read the next book now, and if you haven't already discovered this brilliant read, then I heartily recommend it to you now.

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Friday, 10 July 2015

The Quality of Silence

The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton
Published by Little, Brown
2nd July 2015
Hardback Edition

On 24th November Yasmin and her deaf daughter Ruby arrive in Alaska.

Within hours they are driving alone across a frozen wilderness

Where nothing grows

Where no one lives

Where tears freeze

And night will last for another fifty-four days.

They are looking for Ruby's father.

Travelling deeper into a silent land.

They still cannot find him.

And someone is watching them in the dark.

I am so happy to be part of the blog tour for The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton.  It feels like forever since I read anything by her, especially after the massive impact that Sister had when it was published five years ago.  This has a slightly darker feel to it, no pun intended, as it is set in Alaska where the dark surrounds you for most of the day.  It was slightly ironic to be reading it on a hot summer's day, but actually it's so well written that you do become immersed in the setting.

Having had an argument with her husband Matt, Yasmin and her daughter Ruby, set out to Alaska to issue an ultimatum to him where he is working on a project as a wildlife photographer.  When they arrive however, he is not there to greet them, and instead they are met by the local police force.  It appears that there has been a massive explosion where he was based, and whilst they haven't been able to identify any of the bodies yet, his wedding ring has been found amongst the remains.  Yasmin refuses to believe what she is told though, and decides that as no one else will take her insistence that he is still alive seriously, the only thing she can do is try and find him herself.  She takes Ruby, who is deaf, and attempts to cross Alaska to find him.

This may sound extreme but actually in that exact situation, many people would probably do the same thing.  What they may not do though is to borrow a huge trucker lorry and attempt to drive it across the icy roads of Alaska by themselves!  It was like a non-visual episode of Ice Road Truckers and you could feel every twist and turn of these highly dangerous roads as Yasmin attempts to navigate her way across the country, persued by an unidentified trucker that seems to be scarily following them every step of the way.  You can actually follow their journey via this interactive map

There is a lot of tension in this book that runs right through to the end of the novel, but there is a lot of camaraderie too - especially between the other truckers on the roads and in their support of Yasmin as she drives perilously across this remote part of America.  Her bond with Ruby grows as they attempt to find Matt.  The story is written from both Yasmin and Ruby's perpectives, and I though that the concept of Ruby's deafness added to the story because it highlighted just what she was and wasn't aware of due to her lack of hearing.  Rosamund Lupton also highlights the serious issue of fracking in the book, and whilst it isn't a political novel per se, it does bring to the forefront of your mind just how serious an issue this it.

It's another winner from the author of Sister and Afterwards for me.

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Church of Marvels

Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry
Published by Two Roads
4th June 2015
Hardback Edition

New York, 1895. It's late on a warm city night when Sylvan Threadgill, a young night soiler who cleans out the privies behind the tenement houses, pulls a terrible secret out from the filthy hollows: an abandoned newborn baby. An orphan himself, Sylvan was raised by a kindly Italian family and can't bring himself to leave the baby in the slop. He tucks her into his chest, resolving to find out where she belongs.

Odile Church is the girl-on-the-wheel, a second-fiddle act in a show that has long since lost its magic. Odile and her sister Belle were raised in the curtained halls of their mother's spectacular Coney Island sideshow: The Church of Marvels. Belle was always the star-the sword swallower-light, nimble, a true human marvel. But now the sideshow has burnt to the ground, their mother dead in the ashes, and Belle has escaped to the city.

Alphie wakes up groggy and confused in Blackwell's Lunatic Asylum. The last thing she remembers is a dark stain on the floor, her mother-in-law screaming. She had once walked the streets as an escort and a penny-Rembrandt, cleaning up men after their drunken brawls. Now she is married; a lady in a reputable home. She is sure that her imprisonment is a ruse by her husband's vile mother. But then a young woman is committed alongside her, and when she coughs up a pair of scissors from the depths of her agile throat, Alphie knows she harbors a dangerous secret that will alter the course of both of their lives...

On a single night, these strangers' lives will become irrevocably entwined, as secrets come to light and outsiders struggle for acceptance. From the Coney Island seashore to the tenement-studded streets of the Lower East Side, a spectacular sideshow to a desolate asylum, Leslie Parry makes turn-of-the-century New York feel alive, vivid, and magical in this luminous debut. In prose as magnetic and lucid as it is detailed, she offers a richly atmospheric vision of the past marked by astonishing feats of narrative that will leave you breathless.

This is a circus themed novel set in America at the end of the nineteenth century and the debut novel of Leslie Parry.  I have to admit though, for me it conjured up Victorian England, and I had a hard time remembering that the book was meant to actually have been set in New York.  It follows a whole host of eccentric characters - sisters Odile and Belle, kindly Sylvan who we are introduced to at the start of the book, and Alphie who has no idea how she has ended up in a lunatic asylum.

There are many twists and turns in this book, and it does bounce from character to character.  At times I wasn't sure if I wanted to continue reading this as it felt a little too disjointed at the beginning but as I had heard good reviews about it I did continue, and actually I'm glad that I did as by it's conclusion I felt that the separate tales had been woven well together and it had been an overall enjoyable experience. 

Church of Marvels is a visual novel, sort of similar in parts to writing by Sarah Walters in my opinion, and I could certainly see it appearing on television screens.

 Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Little Black Lies

Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton
Published by Bantam Press
2nd July 2015
Hardback Edition
What's the worst thing your best friend could do to you?

Admitedly, it wasn't murder. A moment's carelessness, a tragic accident - and two children are dead. Yours.

Living in a small island community, you can't escape the woman who destroyed your life. Each chance encounter is an agonizing reminder of what you've lost - your family, your future, your sanity.

How long before revenge becomes irresistible?

With no reason to go on living, why shouldn't you turn your darkest thoughts into deeds?

So now, what's the worst thing you can do to your best friend?

I'm so pleased to have been asked to take part in the official blog tour for Little Black Lies, the newest novel from the fabulous Sharon Bolton.  This is a stand-alone novel, set in the Falkland Islands in 1994.  As a bit of a coincidence, in 1994, my then boyfriend was a serving member of the RAF based in the Falkland Islands!  So...back to the plot.  In 1991, Catrin's two children died in a tragic car accident having been left in the car by her then best friend Rachel and ever since then she has been planning her revenge.  Set over five days in November, Little Black Lies follows Catrin, Rachel, and ex-paratrooper Callum as they live, work and breathe their daily lives on the island of East Falkland.

At the start of the book, a child goes missing.  This isn't as unusual as it seems though, as he is not the first child to disappear without a trace on the islands; he is in fact the third such child.  There are no tangible links to anyone on the island and the police are at a loose end as to whom to pinpoint the abduction on.  Could they possibly even consider that it could be down to a local?  Catrin, and her ex-lover Callum begin to work together to see if they can find any evidence of the missing boy.  However, people begin to question Catrin's sanity, especially as the events tie-in around the anniversary of her children's deaths, and Callum, who found Catrin's own boys, suffers from PTSD as a result of his time serving on the islands during the conflict in the 1980s.

Little Black Lies follows each character during these five days, looking at their past and present lives and interweaving them fantastically.  The island descriptions are very well written and it is definitely an atmospheric novel.  The beach scene where Catrin has to work with the beached pilot whales is both moving and intrinsically detailed, and whilst I've never visited the Falklands, I sort-of feel like I have now.  None of our narrators is wholly reliable however, and whilst you are reading each of the three parts, you are never totally sure whether to believe them or not.  Catrin clearly has a grudge that she is building up to avenging, Callum has terrible flashbacks that leave him unable to function properly, and Rachel is a mother who is clearly struggling to cope behind the facade of her everyday life.

In the final chapters, the book takes you on first one journey and then another before ending with a dramatic climax.  Sharon Bolton has done it again - Little Black Lies is definitely another best seller in my opinion.

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x