Montepelier Parade by Karl Geary @karlgeary @HarvilSecker

Image result

Montpelier Parade by Karl Geary  Harvil Secker  January 2107

When Sonny and his dad do a job at the very select Montpelier Gardens Sonny falls in love.    Vera is fragile, broken and ill although we are never quite sure what is wrong with her. When Sonny returns to do further jobs for Vera he saves her from succeeding in her attempt to commit suicide   What follows is a novel that beautifully depicts a forbidden relationship between Sonny and the older Vera.

Sonny is brilliantly portrayed and you cannot help but feel for this young man, unsure of his place in the world but slowly awakened to what it feels like to love and feel so deeply for someone.

Whilst Vera has her secrets and is extremely fragile you would like to think that Sonny brought some happiness into her troubled life.

Their relationship is so beautifully depicted that I find it difficult to describe and I was totally immersed in the emotion and tenderness of the writing. I found it extremely moving and I will admit to having a few tears in my eyes as I read.

It is an enthralling, evocative, stunning and deeply affecting debut that lingered and with me for a long time.

An astounding piece of work that deserves its place on The Costa First Novel Shortlist

About the author

Image result for karl geary

 

Karl Geary was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1972. At the age of 16 Geary moved to New York where he has worked as a script editor and an actor, appearing in Michael Almereyda’s Hamlet and Ken Loach’s Jimmy Hall.. He also co -founded two music venues, Sin-e and Scratcher. Geary currently lives in Glasgow with his wife, the actress Laura Fraser and their daughter.

Montepelier Parade is his first novel.

 

Advertisements

Winter by Ali Smith #AliSmith #HamishHamilton

Image result for winter ali smith

Winter by Ali Smith  Hamish Hamilton  November 2nd 2017

Winter is the second of Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet. Autumn was hugely successful and I loved it so I was expecting to read a novel of the same quality.

The novel is the story of Sophie, Iris and Arthur as they gather at Sophie’s house in Cornwall for Christmas. They are a somewhat fragmented family thrown together by circumstances rather than choice, all with different politics, different ideas. Just how well will that all get on?

So who are the three main protagonists.

Firstly there is Sophie.  Sophie seemed quite detached, stuck in her ways, unwilling to conform, stubbornly refusing to enter the modern world.

Sister Iris is her complete opposite. Easy going, liberal, broadminded, not averse to texting and using the internet.

Then there is Arthur, Sophie’s son. Arthur is weathering the storm of a breakup with girlfriend Charlotte, who has taken over his Twitter account, posting ridiculous and nonsensical text. In the absence of a girlfriend to take home he approaches a young woman, Lux, at a bus stop and offers her £1000 to accompany him and pretend to be Charlotte.

On arrival at home, Arthur is distressed to find his mother in a bit of a state, and Lux phones Iris, who arrives to take charge of Christmas.

Sophie and Iris have a fraught relationship and have not seen each for many years. and each begins to remember their past. Smith uses this to highlight the huge chasm that exists between the two sisters. Their outlook on life, their politics, are so far apart there is little wonder they have not conversed in the intervening years.

To me they represented modern day. Sophie, unwilling to change, a successful business woman and by all accounts conventional. Iris, has flung herself into the modern world, a strident force of political activism, one of the original women to protest at Greenham Common. Their lives took vastly different directions and it is only now as they attempt to reconcile that they slowly begin to understand one another.

Lux’s role, other than being the stand in girlfriend, is the one thing that unites them all. She seems to understand each of them, particularly Sophie, pointing out how Art might reach out to his mother and perhaps improve their fractured relationship. Lux also represents modern immigration, the transiency of it, and the difficulties they face.

What I love about Smith is her ability to reflect on modern society and politics without actually ramming it down our throats. There are references to Grenfell Tower, Donald Trump and Brexit. It certainly makes the reader think about how we all fit in  and what it means for us.

Yet, Winter is not a novel solely based on politics, for me it was more a story of a fractured family who have to learn to live with their individual differences, that often become more exaggerated over Christmas. The characters are wonderfully realised and the imagery of winter brilliantly done, yet it did not captivate me as much as Autumn. I was particularly enamoured with Sophie, and I found the whole head imagery a little too much. It was good, very good but not as good as Autumn.

I await Spring with huge anticipation!!

Thank you to Hamish Hamilton and Netgalley for the opportunity to read and review.

About the author

Image result for ali smith

Born in Inverness in 1962, gained a joint degree in English Language and Literature at Aberdeen University. Smith embarked on a PHD at Cambridge University but that was soon anbandoned as she began writing plays that were staged at Cambridge Footlights and Edingburgh Fetsival Fringe.

Her first book Free Love and Other Stories was published in 1995.

This was soon followed by numerous other novels and short stories including, Hotle World, The Accidental and Public Library.

Hotel World and The Accidental were shortlisted for The Booker and The Orange Prize. How To be Both won the Bailey’s prize, The Costa Novel Award and shortlisted for the ManBooker and The Folio Prize.

Her 2016 novel, Autumn, the first part of a seasonal quartet was nominated for the Booker.

Smith lives in Cambridge with her partner Sarah Wood

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward @jesmimi @ScribnerUK

Image result for sing unburied sing

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward  September 5th 2017

This is the story of JoJo.   Jojo is 13, of mixed race and lives in Mississippi, with his little sister Micheala, Grandad Pop, Grandma Mama and Mum Leonie.  The family are poor, Mum Leonie is a drug addict, father Michael is in prison and Grandma is dying of cancer.

What Jojo likes best is listening to Pop’s stories of his friend Richie when they were both in Parchment prison, the same prison as his father Michael now resides.  Jojo lives with the hope that one day Pops will tell him what happened to Richie.

When Leonie decides to take Jojo and Michaela on a road trip to Parchment to collect their father, the ghosts of the past swirl and weave around them. For Leonie it is her brother Given, shot when he was a teenager, for Jojo, Richie, begging him to take him back to Pops.

The oppressive steamy heat of Mississippi rises from the pages and perfectly sets the tone of the novel.

The tension between the characters is palpable as Leanne tries and fails to be a mother, preferring drugs and Michael, attempting to block out the abject poverty and the slow demise of her mother.

Jojo is brilliantly portrayed. This young boy, forced so early into adulthood, full of adoration for  his Grandfather, yet totally lost with no obvious direction to his life.  Your heart goes out to him as you know the rest of his life will never be simple, will always be a struggle.

Ward is adept at dealing with the issues of race, poverty, of the difficulties multi racial families cope with on a day to day basis in the deep south. There is always the hint of the South’s past slavery and treatment of blacks lurking just below the surface.

Ward has written a multi-layered novel that is just wonderful.

Thank you to Scribner and Netgalley for the opportunity to read and review

About the author

Image result for jesmyn ward

Jesmyn Ward was born in 1977 in Delisle, Mississippi. She earned a BA at Stanford University in 1999 and a Masters degree in 2000.

In 2011 she won the National Book Award for Fiction and the 2012 Alex Award for her novel Salvage The Bones.

Currently Jesmyn teaches at Tulane University.

Sing, Unburied Sing has been shortlisted for the 2017  National Book Award, is a Kirkus Prize finalist and a 2017 Carnegie Prize finalist.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng @pronounced_ing @GraceEVincent @LittleBrownUK

Image result for little fires everywhere

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng   Little Brown 9th November 2017

This is the story of small town, Shaker Heights, Cleveland. A town with a picture perfect image. The lawns are all beautifully manicured, the houses aesthetically pleasing, the citizens regimented in their conformity, a place and a role for everything.

The Richardson family conform, headed up by mother Elena Richardson, born and raised in Shaker Heights, now a local journalist with three children, and a lawyer husband.

Their life is an ordered one, lived by the rules of Shaker Heights and their parents but all that changes with the arrival of Mia and her daughter Pearl.  Mia, an artist, and her daughter Pearl have lived a nomadic life, until Mia decides that Pearl needs friends and stability, and rents out the Richardson’s apartment.

As the families lives become intertwined, the order of their lives changes. There are no longer clear demarcations between what is right and wrong, and when family friends of the Richardson’s attempt to adopt an abandoned Chinese baby, a custody battle ensues, that divides the families and the community of Shaker Heights.

Add in a past that Mia would love to leave behind and hide from her daughter and Elena Richardson’s persistent pursuit to discover the truth, and you have one hell of a novel.

The characters are just brilliant.

Elena Richardson is the perfect mother, and wife, her life ordered, and contained. I found her to be quite irritating, with her holier than though attitude, and her own self importance. As the story unravels then so does Elena as she is forced to accept that perhaps not everything can be planned or worked out as we want or expect.

Mia, is a free spirit, hugely protective of her daughter, yet easy going and broad minded.  I loved the hint of mystery surrounding Mia’s past as well as her determination to succeed not only as an artist but also as a mother.

Izzy is the rebellious one, the odd one out, hated by her siblings and treated harshly by her mother.  You couldn’t help but feel sorry for Izzy, and her unwillingness to conform and follow the clearly defined rules in the family. The easy going free spirited Mia is a magnet to which Izzy becomes attracted, someone who accepts her for who she is, and encourages her to be whom she wants to be.

Tripp is your typical high school jock, well liked and popular with the girls. He appears as a slightly superficial character at first until you discover that there is more to him both emotionally and intellectually.

Moody is the quiet intellectual one, besotted with Pearl and desperate for more than friendship.

Lexi, is the all American high school teenager a popular grade A student, destined for Yale with a steady boyfriend. Life has always been easy for Lexie, until confronted with a problem that will challenge and make her question her life and those around her.

Lastly is Pearl, delighted to finally have a permanent home and friends. After the chaos  of her nomadic life the Richardson house provides her with the ordered family life she has never experienced.

Ng’s handling of all the complexities of the story are brilliant, each revelation, each drama laid out before the reader. I liken it to a present with multiple layers of wrapping, the suspense and drama increasing as each layer is pulled away. You want to savour each layer, but cannot stop yourself reading more quickly, fully immersing yourself in the unfolding story.

The custody battle was the perfect tool to show the clear divides in the community, but more importantly what it means to be a mother. What makes a good mother? Just because you abandon your baby as you do not have the financial means to look after your baby does that automatically make you a bad mother?  Can we still be a good mother even if we did  not give birth to the child and how does the differing ways we bring our children affect them in the future? All thought provoking questions that Ng’s story poses for the reader.

The small town setting only serves to exaggerate the differences between the families, exposing the narrow mindedness, hypocrisy and racism that never seems to diminish, no matter how hard we try to eradicate it.

When secrets are finally exposed, and the lives of the families are shattered, we learn that no matter what is expected of us or what we suppress, it can all be uprooted. Ng makes us question our emotions, why we do things, why our lives are as they are, what it could have been and what it can be.

Little Fires Everywhere has been huge in America and having read and loved Everything I Never Told You my expectations were high and I was not disappointed. From the opening page as the Richardson family home burns to the ground I was hooked and if life had not got in the way would have devoured in one sitting.

The writing is truly wonderful, the story utterly and totally compelling.

This is definitely my book of the year.

Thank you To Grace Vincent and Little Brown for a proof copy to read and review.

About the author

Image result for celeste ng

Celeste grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Shaker Heights Ohio. She graduated from Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of Michigan. Celeste’s fiction and essays have appeared in the New Yorker, The Times and The Guardian.

Celeste’s debut novel Everything I never Told You was a New York Times bestseller. It was also the winner of the Massachusetts Book award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, The ALA’s Alex Award and the Medici Book Club award,

Celeste currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman @ahoffmanwriter @ScribnerUK

Image result for the rules of magic

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman Scribner UK November 2nd 2017

1960’s New York, a time of greater freedom,flower power and protest. Against this backdrop live Franny, Vinnie and Bridget, otherwise known as Jet. Their’s is a seemingly normal childhood, but there is something distinctly different about them, a difference that mother Susanna is keen to hold at bay. Susanna herself hails from a long line of witches where love is a curse. Determined to protect them Susanna bans red shoes, the wearing of black clothing, walking in moonlight and most importantly they must never fall in love for fear of the family curse hurting the one they love.

A visit to their aunt Isabel in a small Massachusetts town where all the wrongs are blamed on the family, changes everything for Franny, Vinnie and Jet. As they slowly realise who they are, each are forced to make decisions to try and escape the family curse, and to learn to live with just who they are.

The Rules of Magic is a prequel to Practical Magic, which I have not read, and luckily no knowledge is required to be able to enjoy The Rules of Magic.

Now I am not a huge fan of books about witches and magic, and this is perhaps one of the reasons why I have not read Practical Magic, but I am an Alice Hoffman fan.  I am not sure what I was expecting regarding content but I knew the writing would be very good.

I was also pleased that whilst magic has a place in the novel it is not the major theme, indeed it is more about the curse and the characters ability to deal with the small matter of falling in love and hoping that nothing awful befall their loved one.

The characters themselves are rich and diverse. Franny, the eldest, is the most responsible, the most headstrong, with her huge mop of bright red hair, and ability to talk to birds. Vinnie is handsome, rebellious, a charmer, dabbling with the darker side of magic. Jet, the youngest, with an ability to read the minds of others and perhaps the most affected by heritage.

The relationship between them is strong, each trying to protect the other but nothing can protect them when they fall in love. As the 60’s roll on so do the choices the siblings need to make and Hoffman really wrangles with our emotions as tragedy and separation threaten the bond between them.

The characters may be wrestling with their heritage but they still have to deal with real life and Hoffman creates a great sense of time and place. With the Vietnam War raging, their magical abilities does nothing to protect them from the protests and the devastating consequences of the draft. In fact it does nothing to protect them from the full range of human emotion, of the loss and grief we must all at some time face.

Life may not have been as Franny, Vinnie and Jet would have wanted but I think maybe they found some happiness and as the novel nears its end matters turn to the future. The future is sisters Gillian and Sally, whose story is told in Practical Magic, which I will now be reading!

I thoroughly enjoyed The Rules of Magic and am grateful to Netgalley and Scribner for the opportunity to read and review.

About the author

Alice Hoffman was born in New York in March 1952. She attended Adelphi University where she received the Merrellees Fellowship to Stanford University Creative Writing Centre. Hoffman graduated with an MA in Creative Writing in 1974.

Hoffman’s first novel Property Of was when when she was 21. Since then Hoffman has published both adult and children’s fiction.  Her novel Practical Magic was made into a film starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman.

Hoffman most recent novels are The Marriage of Opposites, The Museum of Extraordinary Things and Faithful.

Reese Witherspoon chose The Rules of Magic as her October 2017 bookclub choice.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa #HiroArikawa @PoppyStimpson @DoubledayUK

Image result for the travelling cat chronicles

The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa Philip Gabriel (Translator)  November 3rd 2017

I don’t generally do animal stories, especially ones told from the animals point of view, but after reading the book blurb and the words’International Bestseller’ across the front cover, I thought, ok, lets see if I am missing anything!

Told mainly from the cat, Nana’s point of view it tells the story of Saturo and his search to finds Nana a new home.

Nana has no idea whys he needs a new home but tags along as Saturo packs up his van and off they go on a road trip around Japan. They visit Saturo’s old friends in the hope that one of them is good enough to rehome Nana, and slowly the reasons for Saturo’s actions begin to emerge.

Nana is the perfect narrator, full of attitude, slightly selfish, yet hugely protective of Saturo and as they visit each of the friends, Saturo’s past is revealed It is a past that was not always happy, but full of valued friendships and compassion. Arikawa is excellent at dropping little clues as they travel and slowly the reader begins to put the pieces together guessing some time before the end what is going to happen.

I cannot say that this spoilt my enjoyment of the novel as I was intrigued to know more of Saturo’s past and the often funny perceptive viewpoint of Nana.

Arikawa’s narrative is beautifully emotive and your a hard person if this novel does not touch you in some way. It depicts so cleverly the loneliness we sometimes feel with other humans and the complications it can cause. The relationship we have with our pets is simpler, and comforting for both sides yet the bond is stronger, more heartfelt

Yes, the novel is a little sentimental and I don’t tend to do sentimental, but I was surprised by how much I was drawn into Nana’s world. It was easy to read, yet totally captivating and I will admit to having a little cry.

A lovely, touching heartfelt story that is a must read.

Thank you to Poppy Stimpson and Doubleday for a proof copy to read and review.

About the author.

Image result for hiro arikawa cat

Hiro is a renowed author from Tokyo. The Travelling Cat Chronicles has been a publishing sensation in Japan and is due to be published in ten languages.

The translator Philip Gabriel is a highly respected Japaneses translator notable for his work with Haruki Murakami.

The Boy Made of Snow by Chloe Mayer @ThatChloeMayer @JenKerslake @orionbooks

Image result for the boy made of snow

The Boy Made Of Snow by Chloe Mayer  Orion Books November 3rd 2017

1944 and war is raging across Europe.In the sleepy Kent village of Bambury, nine year old Daniel lives with his mother, Annabelle, his father Reggie away fighting the war. Theirs is a quiet existence,Annabelle living in her own world, increasingly isolated, never having recovered from the birth of Daniel. Daniel is a reflective child, lost in a world of fairy tales, the one thing that brings him close to his mother. Then life changes when the first batch of German POW’s arrive in the village.

When they meet Hans, the woodcutter, he becomes the love Annabelle has been looking for and for Daniel he is the real life fairytale wood cutter. Hans has other ideas, ideas that will have devastating consequences for all.

I always love to discover new authors and in particular debut authors, so was especially pleased to receive a copy from Jennifer Kerslake to read and review. The title is certainly intriguing and the cover quite beautiful, but the real star is the novel that Chloe Mayer has written.

Chapters features one or two quotes from a fairytale each  pertinent to the direction of the story. I particularly loved the links between The Snow Queen and the novel as Gerda seeks to free Kai and unfreeze his heart much as Daniel tries to reach out to his distant mother. It was certainly a clever device that worked wonderfully.

The characters are beautifully drawn, their emotion and feelings leaping from the page. Annabelle, obviously suffered postnatal depression after the birth of Daniel, a condition not recognised at the time. Fearful of being sent to an asylum, she pretends to be okay, going through the motions of what she believes is being a good mother. yet, she cannot show Daniel any emotion or love. The fairytale stories they share every night are the only link that brings them together. It would be so easy to dislike Annabelle, to want to shake her with frustration, tell her to hug and love this little boy, but you don’t. I felt huge empathy and sorrow, for this young woman so obviously struggling with depression.

Daniel, is a loner, often bullied at school, losing himself in fairytales, yet finds it difficult to distinguish between his imagination and reality.  He is a boy who only wants the love and attention of his mother and my heart silently broke as he tried and failed to rid the village, and to save his mother from the dangers of the local tramp,or in his imagination the Troll. It is his relationship with the POW Hans that is the most dangerous and the most interesting, both using the other for their own needs. Neither can forsee the consequences of their actions and for Daniel it will be something he will have to live with for the rest of his life. His resilience and strength shone through but deep down all you wanted to do was grab hold of this little boy, hug him and shower him with all the love he so desperately wants and needs.

On the periphery is Reggie, husband to Annabelle and father to Daniel. When he returns home from leave he is obviously suffering from PTSD, again not recognised at this time. It was so poignant to read the descriptions of his shaking hands, the ringing in his ears and the embarrassment of his father as he broke down and cried in a restaurant. The ignorance of those left at home, the need for the stiff upper British lip , so sad to read.

I loved Mayer’s imagery. I imagined myself running through the woods with Daniel, feeling his fear as he entered the dark railway tunnel, hunting down the troll. The snowstorm, was for me, brilliant and I will leave it at that for fear of spoiling the story.

Most prominent and indeed the most accomplished aspect of Mayer’s novel is her ability to portray the emotions of the characters. The desperation of Annabelle, her inability to drag herself from the depth of depression and the need for Daniel to please her, to make her notice him and love him. It is something that will linger with the reader long after that last page has been turned and the book closed.

The only very minor criticism I have is that the latter part of the novel was little too drawn out.

It is so hard to believe that this is a debut novel, so confident and assured is Mayer’s writing. I cannot wait for her next novel and I would recommend you borrow from your local library now!

Thank you to Jennifer Kerslake and Orion Books for a copy to read and review.

About the author

Chloe Mayer works as a journalist and has won several awards, including newcomer of the year and reporter of the year. In her spare time she enjoys reading and writing. Chloe has lived in Tokyo and Los Angeles and whilst in America wrote her first award wining short story. Chloe now lives in East London and The Boy Made of Snow is her first novel.