Archive | November, 2015

Van has finished reading…Only We Know by Karen Perry

27 Nov

The set-up for Karen Perry’s Only We Know is fine: The game has no name; the game is the game; the game is pulling and pushing and laughing; but the game ends in silence; then the screaming starts. A shocking secret forged one summer. A lifetime spent running from it. There’s a child’s kite in red set against a sky bleached grey – a suggestion of blood spilled. Something happens when Luke, Nick and Katie are children that will stay with them always.
Exciting!
So why didn’t I feel it? It must be something about thrillers that just doesn’t sit with me. Is it all about the big reveal? If it’s a whodunit then you’re waiting for that point where you discover you’re right, or you’re stunned at how wrong you are. It must be the same when it’s a whathappened – when characters pick apart the threads or put together the pieces of the past until finally the picture is clear. With this book I almost wish I could go back and read it without the prologue. Such a big part of the wondering what happened, for me at least, was taken out right there. The possibilities are limited and that seems like an opportunity lost.
One of the real joys of being in a book group is that you’re going to read books you would not have discovered through your own habits. Sometimes it’s a real surprise, sometimes not. But that’s why you have the group. Someone else will love it. Someone else will tell you why they love it and you can talk about how you enjoyed the landscape the story moved through; how the setting worked; how the plotting appeared quite meticulous; how when those little twists came you could appreciate their effect on the whole.
I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with the book, it just didn’t work for me. Sorry, Karen.

Only We Know was published on 2nd July 2015 by Penguin ISBN:9780718179601

You can find Karen Perry on Twitter @KarenPerryBooks

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Van has finished reading…The Silent Tide by Rachel Hore

25 Nov

There was much talk of Rachel Hore’s The Silent Tide at the Curtis Brown Book Group when we discussed The Glass Painter’s Daughter recently so it was nice to have a reason to shift it up the TBR pile. There are distinct similarities between the two: the dual timeline; the uncovering of documentation from the earlier era; the modern day protagonist trying to forge her path both emotionally and professionally. Following one so hot on the heels of the other I half expected this to clang but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Indeed, to suggest some overriding pattern would be like boiling down a library into seven identifiable plots. It would also be to miss Rachel’s adeptness in weaving her threads together; her skill in placing what is revealed precisely when it’s revealed; the depth of and interplay between her characters.
This last point is for me what I enjoyed most about The Silent Tide. The opening chapter is atmospheric and melancholic, casting a long and tantalising shadow over the rest of the book. We are as a result on side with Isabel from early on. I found it very interesting that my sympathies for the other characters wavered quite as much as they did, and all this without my feeling manipulated into it. There are no becloaked villains nor white-hatted heroes. Instead we have a finely drawn cast of humans, all damaged to some extent. Even at his most infuriating I had to remind myself that while I could allow a little rant at Hugh every now and then his behaviour, his demeanour is well within the norms of his time.
The earlier timeline would easily have stood on its own without the present-day element but what this addition gives us the lens through which we can look back and gauge what’s changed. And of course how much has not changed at all. There are some wry asides regarding the tastes of the public both then and now (how many of us groaned together at Mermaids and Zombies?) but also how much of a gamble it is to publish any book, no matter how good. Recognisable too are the cast of hopefuls and their delicate nursing of their work.

The Silent Tide is a really engaging read, easy to lose yourself in and increasingly harder to put down towards the end. Despite that first chapter foreshadowing the end, and thus a deal of the story heading where you’d expect it to, it’s the investment in the characters that truly carries the tale. Not that there isn’t a surprise or two thrown in to boot! This is one to save for those moments when you can squeeze in some good, uninterrupted reading time.

The Silent Tide was originally published by Simon & Schuster in 2013. ISBN:9781849832908
You can find Rachel Hore on Twitter @RachelHore or at her website: rachelhore.co.uk

Van has finished reading…A Song For Issy Bradley by Carys Bray

11 Nov

Isn’t it funny how in general we find it easy to sneer at believers, at the absurdity of their belief and how manipulated they are by the organisation that herds them – and yet every Christmas it seems a harmless, almost tongue-in-cheek kindness of a deception we lay on our children. Like it or not we are all believers. Even the scientists. As soon as a theory is posited, as soon as you see that word conjecture, for all the mountain of evidence that suggests the conclusion must be true its author has taken a leap of faith.
The Bradley family are about to be tested. When you stop believing in Father Christmas the presents keep coming but when you lose your faith – for a time at least – you wonder how it is your body keeps on breathing. The world isn’t shiny and new, it’s dark and lonely and terrifying. Dad Ian is a Mormon Bishop. Seeing God’s goodness in the everyday is second nature to him, having grown up in the Church. His wife, Claire, though now part of the fold was an outsider before they met. It seems a particular level of cruelty (one that made me swear at him under my breath on the train) when Ian asks a Blessing of The Lord and makes it conditional on the strength of Claire’s faith.
Crucially, this isn’t a book about or against The Church, either generally or specifically. What Carys Bray does, as every great storyteller does, is show us the lives of her characters and how events shape them, as well as how their belief interprets events, and allows us to make up our own minds. The cast is vivid and tangible (even the more outlandish ones; anyone who’s spent time in a church will confirm that) and the family rings true as a well-cast bell. Jacob is my favourite, a character to put on the shelf alongside Pea from Claire King’s The Night Rainbow. The way he applies his understanding to events is funny, heart-breaking and perfectly measured. Dad Ian, on the other hand, goes next to Michael Paul from Antonia Honeywell’s The Ship for infuriating fathers – at least up until the crescendo. And what a crescendo it is.
Zipporah wrestles with her Church’s views on women and I have to say this is a particularly difficult pill to swallow. As ever, Carys Bray weights it perfectly, neither preaching nor condemning but allowing her characters to live through the facts of her narrative. I couldn’t help feeling a flicker of hope when she admitted she probably wouldn’t after being asked if she’d join the Church if she hadn’t been born into it.

It’s a wonderfully woven, keenly observed story. The family move and sound and feel like just that throughout. The final shifting, or cracking or perhaps coalescing of those characters is timed to perfection and in one case, frankly, comes as a blessed relief. And those last twenty-odd pages can’t fail to raise a smile beneath the tears. I love the cover too (the one with the bird).

A Song For Issy Bradley was published by Hutchinson on 19th June 2014 ISBN:9780091954376
You can find Carys Bray on Twitter @CarysBray and at her website carysbray.co.uk

Van has finished reading…The Last Of The Wine by Mary Renault

6 Nov

‘I saw death reach out for you; and I had no philosophy.’

Fixing the voice of a character is something that any strives to do. Getting it right is a tricky business indeed but as reader you just know when it’s right. It goes beyond the words chosen and the way they’re delivered. Instead you’re left almost feeling that you could’ve felt in that character the very thought that brought them to the lips. In a book of many good lines the one above stopped me in my tracks (though not in a bad way). Lovers Alexias and Lysis, having lately quarrelled, like petulant children fall to rashness. On seeing Alexias nearly lose his life, Lysis delivers the line above. So much more than ‘I thought you were going to die’, it frames their lives, couches the very core of all they strive to be as modern Athenians, and so stamps indelibly the depth of their relationship. This is a writer inhabiting the world on her page by inhabiting her cast.

This is historical fiction, both in a grand sense and in small scale. It’s possible to date the period quite specifically (the plague during which Alexias was born around 429BC; Alkibiades at Phrygia around 404BC) and I’m sure many a classical scholar would have picked over the bones of this novel to either confirm or deny the detail it contains (I’ve seen no evidence of denial anywhere). I’m no classical scholar but a lack of knowledge around the period didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story. Indeed, I suspect that any knowledge of the period would only have served to heighten the enjoyment of reading. Mary Renault’s knack, it seems to me, lies in mapping the grand sweep of history through the minutiae of the lives she portrays. I can well imagine that classical scholars, excited as they are by the cold hard facts they study, can only feel the blood quicken at how vivid these lives are.
No wonder there’s a phalanx of writers ready to praise the stories Mary Renault has left with us. Thanks to The Curtis Brown Book Group, I’ll be seeking out more of her books in the future.

The Last Of The Wine was reissued by Virago Modern Classic on 6th August 2015 ISBN: 9781844089611