Category Archives: Orion Publishing

The Grownup – Gillian Flynn

Those of you who have been following the blog for sometime will know that I was one of the many, many people who were completely gripped and somewhat infatuated with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. I liked its spikiness, I liked its darkness and I loved the extremely unlikeable and manipulative hearts of its characters. I like to read a nasty book occasionally, one that exorcises all those thoughts we don’t like to admit to in the safety of our own brains/homes. So naturally I was very excited to learn that a new novella from Gillian, The Grownup, was out – whilst also being rather shocked at how long ago I read Gone Girl and how long I have left Dark Places and Sharp Objects – and so the other night I sat and gobbled it up in a single sitting. Be warned, this post contains adult themes, very ‘grownup’ ones if you will.

9781474603041

Orion Books, 2015, paperback, fiction, 79 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I didn’t stop giving hand jobs because I wasn’t good at it. I stopped giving hand jobs because I was the best at it.

So starts the tale of our nameless narrator in Gillian Flynn’s novella The Grownup, which started life as the short story What Do You Do? in an anthology for George R. R. Martin. Many of us have often had to make a career change, be it for better prospects, getting away from an awful boss who you hated and wished the ground would swallow up or because your circumstances or skill sets have changed. For our protagonist she has recently had to change jobs for health reasons, so good and skilled is she at giving men hand jobs she has only gone and got carpal tunnel syndrome.

However, whilst her employers don’t have a good occupational health assessment or system, they do have a have a facade out front that hides the secret deeds out front as the shop frontage is that of a fortune teller and psychic. So rather than be penniless she turns her hand (as it were) to reading peoples body languages in a different way and telling them their futures, or in some cases simply what they want to hear. One day Susan Burke turns up, a woman new to the city who has moved into a house with her husband, step son and son, yet the house it seems doesn’t want them there and is seemingly channelling its energy through one of the members of the family. Initially our heroine (of sorts) doesn’t believe her, until she goes to the house itself.

It lurked. It was the only remaining Victorian house in a long row of boxy new construction, and maybe that’s why it seemed alive, calculating…

I really, really enjoyed The Grownup. From the off I was initially dragged in by the fact that it is a bit saucy and rude which we all like from time to time. As it goes on though the depths and layers of the story grab you all the more. Within the matter of a few pages, as with Gone Girl, you are instantly drawn into the world of someone you aren’t sure if you really like or really don’t. What you do very quickly know is that either way you want to know how this person’s story will unfold and enjoy guessing (often wrongly) as to what the outcome will be along the way. I think Flynn’s ability to get into these complex and multi-faceted characters, good or bad, was superb in Gone Girl. I think the fact she does it in mere pages here is marvellous and she should be given a huge amount of credit for that and not just her twisting plots, especially as this is all done in less than 80 pages from start to finish.

The other thing I really like about Gillian Flynn’s writing is her sense of humour and her snarkiness. I am quite a fan of snark, if it is handled correctly and people know you’re being snarky and not just a bit of an arsehole, for there is a thin line. I think Flynn has a way of giving that wry dark humour and wit that treads the path very finely and made me giggle, sometimes inappropriately, as I read on. I also loved the fact that The Grownup is also a story about stories and some of those brilliant stories that walk the line between supernatural thriller and suspenseful mystery.

The only thing I really knew about Mike was he loved books. He recommended books with the fervour I’ve always craved as an aspiring nerd: with urgency and camaraderie. You have to read this! Pretty soon we have our own private (occasionally sticky) book club. He was big into “Classic Stories of the Supernatural” and he wanted me to be too (“You are a psychic after all,” he said with a smile). So that way we discussed the themes of loneliness and need in The Haunting of Hill House, he came, I sani-wiped myself and grabbed his loaner for next time: The Woman in White. (“You have to read this! It’s one of the all-time best.”)

What makes The Grownup so wonderfully twisty, as I was hoping it would be, is not just the brilliant and rather warped plot but also the fact that this story often sits in that no man’s land between supernatural thriller and amateur sleuthing. In parts you are wondering if this is a ghost story, at other moments you feel like this could be the tale of a murderous blood bath waiting to happen. What you get might end up being neither, it could be something much trickier and darker. I don’t want to give anything away so I will stop right there thank you very much.

I will simply end by saying that if you like a book with a gothic sensibility, a hint of the supernatural, a murderous intent and a questionable narrator at its heart then you need to grab a copy of this. The Grownup is a perfect short burst of escapism pitch perfect for the darker nights as they draw in. I really, really enjoyed it.

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Filed under Gillian Flynn, Orion Publishing, Review, Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Shame – Melanie Finn

Whilst people are off reading the Man Booker longlist, I have decided to be slightly different and give both the Gordon Burn Prize shortlist and Not The Booker shortlist a whirl as the variety that they both provide really interests me. Shame is up for the latter, where it could win the author’s Holy Grail that is The Guardian Mug, and if it is a sign of all the reading ahead then I am in for some unusual and thought provoking treats over the next month or so.

Orion Publishing, 2015, hardback, fiction, 308 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Pilgrim Jones is having a pretty horrendous time of it. The first of the awful things to happen to her, we learn, is that her husband has left her for a younger woman they met on a social weekend all together with mutual friends. She is, as the book opens, now in Tanzania after picking the first flight she could to leave the broken home they had created in the Swiss village of Arnau before ditching her fellow safari goers half way through a trip in Magulu. However, it soon becomes clear that this is no holiday of respite; Pilgrim is running away from something far worse, an accident that left three children dead. Yet as Pilgrim seeks escape the past and try to deal with it, it seems her past is coming looking for her.

But they are without shame. Like animals. Do you see? You maybe feel shame for them, but they do not feel shame for themselves.

For the first third of the book Shame reads like a compelling thriller. We move forward with Pilgrim as she gets to know the people of Magulu, such as Dr Dorothea and PC Kessy as well as the mysterious and pretty skin crawling inducing Martin Martins. We also begin to learn of the people of Africa’s superstitions which come to the fore when a box of albino body parts, deemed to be a curse, are left in the village not long after Pilgrim and Martin’s arrivals. Whilst all this is going on we are also going backwards to Switzerland and learning of the ripples immediately after Pilgrim’s divorce and the accident that labels her kindermörderin, child killer and the detective who investigates it, Strebel. Then about 100 pages in Pilgrim suddenly decides to leave, on a whim, and head elsewhere. Fate seemingly intervenes and suddenly she is in Tanga where she meets fellow ex-Americans Gloria and Harry and things take a surreal turn before just after half way Finn turns the book completely on its head, and I mean completely.

It is a huge gamble that Finn takes here as, without giving anything away, she shifts the book completely out of Pilgrim’s perspective and narrative and then takes it into some of the characters that she has met along the way. We are dropped by one character and then suddenly scooped up by another. It also gives the book a huge plot twist/reveal that I did not see coming from any direction. Readers will be completely intrigued; completely enraged by it or like me somewhere in the middle, as it both baffled me and completely thrilled me. I just couldn’t not read on.

I think, again without any spoilers, that the reason Finn does this is to highlight the two biggest themes of the book and no I am not talking about shame. I am talking about redemption vs. revenge and the stories we tell others vs. the stories we tell ourselves. Whilst shame is a huge theme in the book, as the title would suggest and as pretty much every single character feels shame (for what they have done, didn’t do, can’t do or won’t do) in some way I actually think it is the other topics that have their roots the deepest in this novel. Each character has an image they put forward that is very different to the one underneath their skin whatever their colour or whatever their background. They have secrets or problems they are shamed by in some way which they tell little lies and stories to cover up. Can they redeem themselves? Can they live with themselves? Can they even scores? All these things are looked at in Shame.

I do have to admit I had a few wobbles with Shame on and off which I think are worth highlighting before I recommend you all to read it, which I do. Occasionally there seems to be a lot of sudden reaction without motivation. For example Pilgrim’s sudden decision to leave Magulu and how she suddenly ends up in Tanga, which whilst I got it at the end seemed very confusing and broke the pace for the novel with me for a while before I was hooked again. I also felt that this happened with the sudden arrival of the albino body parts. Whilst I found the African magical elements/beliefs really interesting and occasionally grimly fascinating sometimes I felt it both strengthened and weakened the plot. Instead of adding darkness or a threatening presence, which I think was the intention, it added occasional confusion or diverted your eye away from its intent. These were by no means fatal flaws and I should add. Africa is described wonderfully in this book, with its mystery, oppressive heat, cultural ways and brooding landscape it becomes a character and presence all of its own.

Kessy smiles. ‘Imagine someone hates you this much? What have you done to him? Perhaps in your heart you know you are guilty. And this magic speaks to your heart.’
A sensation comes over me, as if something is moving underneath my skin, one of those terrible worms that beds down in your flesh.

Shame is a compulsive, fascinating, perplexing and disorientating one which keeps you in its thrall. It is a book that plays with storytelling, genre and expectations. It also looks at the way we perceive ourselves and others as well as how they perceive us, which changes from person to person, emotion to emotion. It is brilliantly written, quirky and plays with the reader as it goes along. Most interestingly it is a book that is about revenge vs. redemption, right up until the very last line. You’ll be left pondering what should be the most fitting outcome for all the characters, potentially feeling some shame yourself as to what fate you decide to leave them too.

Who else has read Shame and what did you make of it? It is one of those books I am desperate to talk about now I have finished it, so do let me know if you have. I am going to have to hunt down her debut novel Away From You at some point which is another novel about Africa too and was longlisted for both the Orange and IMPAC prizes. I am certainly looking forward to what she writes next. Next up from the Not The Booker shortlist I will be reading The Anatomy of Parks by Kat Gordon, which keeps making me think of my new (belated, last to the party – I know, I know) favourite show Parks and Recreation.

Note – I have just gone off to read some other reviews of Shame, as I do only after I review, and it seems that myself and the lovely Naomi of The Writes of Woman have blog snap as she has written about Shame today too.

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Filed under Melanie Finn, Not The Booker Prize, Orion Publishing, Review, Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Sophie’s World – Jostein Gaarder

There are many, many books out there that are on my periphery ‘to read one day’ yet that often need a nudge to actually get them into my hands. Sophie’s World, has been one such book – as is Sophie’s Choice which I often confuse one for the other. Not now though, as after the lovely Rita chose Sophie’s World for book club and so, after initially having been very excited and run to the bookshop to buy it, I have read it. All I can say initially was that it was definitely a reading experience unlike any other I have had.

Phoenix Books, 1991 (1996 edition), paperback, 448 pages, bought by myself for book group

Fourteen year old Sophie Amundsen never gets any post. However one day on the way back from school she finds something for her when she collects the latest items from the mail box. She has two notes, one which asks her ‘Who are you?’ and another which asks ‘Where does the world come from?’ This creates several puzzles for Sophie, firstly who on earth is suddenly sending her post and secondly what on earth are the answers to all of these questions which in turn create even more questions. Soon enough more parcels arrive and it seems someone wants to teach Sophie all about philosophy and its history. Yet why suddenly is she also receiving postcards addresses to Hilde care of her? Who is this Hilde girl and how are all these mysteries linked?

There are a lot of questions there before we even really come to any of the actually philosophy that is intertwined within the book. I have been known, on a good day, to be sat looking at the sky and suddenly realising/remembering that I am on a big spinning piece of rock that is spinning through space and time and really we have no idea why it does this or what the point of it all is. I will think about it, possibly contemplating what it might be like to visit the moon, see the earth from space or if there may be aliens out there, and then my head hurts or feels it may implode and so I have a nice cup of tea and a biscuit and pick up a book. This book was making my head hurt a little bit by page eight…

Where does the world come from?
She hadn’t the faintest idea. Sophie knew that the world was only a small planet in space. But where did space come from?
It was possible that space had always existed, in which case she would not need to figure out where it came from. But could something have always existed? Something deep down inside her protested the idea. Surely everything that exists must have a beginning? So space must sometime have been created out of something else.
But if space had come from something else, then that something else must also have come from something. Sophie felt she was only deferring the problem. At some point, something must have come from nothing. But was that possible? Wasn’t that just as impossible as the idea that the world has always existed?

I have no issue with a book making me think hard, or about things I have never thought about before. Indeed this is what I often really like about books. Nor do I have issues with books informing me of things that I might not have known before. From the premise of the book I thought I was going to find a really clever twisting and turning mystery, a sort of tale of adventure that would also teach/inform me of philosophy, its ideas and the philosophers behind it at the same time. Instead, overall, I got a book which was a rather clumsily and clunkily (is that a word?) written text book of the history of philosophy which was padded out by an initially rather repetitive and thinly constructed story. A very thinly veiled text book too.

You see for the first hundred or so pages all we get is Sophie walking to and from the letterbox to her house, or two and from the letterbox to some bushes where she has her hide out. In between this riveting (yes, that’s sarcasm) storyline we get chunks of text book like quotes (I actually thought these were either from a very dry text book or that Gaarder had written a text book which was turned away from publishers so added a sprinkling of story and kerching) about philosophers since the beginning of time. Here, had it not been a book club choice, I would have easily given up. Bad prose, dull academic non-fiction, no thank you very much.

Interestingly the book did then take on a very strange and unexpected twist which did in fact save it for me, albeit briefly. I can’t say what the twist is as there may be many of you mad people out there who want to give Sophie’s World a try. What I can say is that it made me think about fiction, writing, books and characters plus the boundaries between the real and the imaginary that was for a while rather fascinating and diverting. Then the book goes all out bonkers, seriously the comparison to Alice in Wonderland is slightly understandable as Gaarder seems to suddenly go off on some ‘trip’ into the utterly bizarre. Ruining the good, if short lived, high point of the book. Well for me at least, though most of the people at book group (who actually managed to finish it, several didn’t) agreed.

Odd then that by the end of it, though I had pretty much loathed or been bored to tears by 80% of it, I was quite pleased I had conquered Sophie’s World, even if only because it was over and I could say I had indeed managed to survive it. It did also do what I guess all philosophical books aim for, it made me ask lots of questions. Sadly these were; how on earth was this a classic, how can people say it is a novel, how would I ever get that time spent reading it back again, how on earth was it a book for teenagers and young adults and could I ever believe anyone who said they ‘loved it when I was 12/13’, how did they even understand it or not get bored out their minds? Food for thought though, ha – and at least I can laugh about it now.

Note – I am joking about people who loved it when they were younger. You are just cleverer than me and I am bitter! Ha!

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Filed under Book Group, Jostein Gaarder, Orion Publishing, Review

Speaking From Among The Bones – Alan Bradley

Any long time readers of this blog will know that I am a huge fan of Alan Bradley’s series of Flavia De Luce mysteries. They have become one of the highlights of every reading year (as they roughly come out once a year) as they nicely sit in the very middle of the crime genre, somewhere between the diehard crime, as it were, and the cosier mysteries. There is a wonderful mix of genuine mystery, intrigue and chills along with laughs, jokes and a lovely 1930’s domestic setting in a manor house. All in all a joy, so I was thrilled when ‘Speaking From Among The Bones’ arrived and instantly devoured it a few weeks ago when it arrived.

***** Orion Books, hardback, 2013, fiction, 380 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

For those of you who have yet to read a Flavia De Luce story yet – and who clearly haven’t been listening to me begging you to do so which is, frankly, a little rude – then you have an absolute treat in store for you. For those of you who have I am preaching to the converted who have already roamed the corridors of Buckshaw Manor, especially Flavia’s chemistry lab in the disused wing, and spent time following precocious 11 year old Flavia, on her trusty bicycle Gladys, around the village of Bishop’s Lacey in the countryside of 1950’s England. This idyllic setting is also a place of many a murder, the latest of which Flavia witnesses the uncovering of at her local church.

“A cold shiver shook me. A goose had waddled over my grave.”

It is the five-hundredth anniversary of St. Tancred’s death in Bishop’s Lacey and so to mark the occasion, much to the horror of some, it has been decided that his crypt will be opened and his body exhumed. This is just Flavia’s cup of tea, dead bodies and putrification are her ideal table talk and should you wish to befriend her these (along with poisons and chemicals) would make you friends for life, and so she has to watch it all unfold. Yet when the crypt is opened a much fresher body is found in the form of the church organist, Mr Collicut. Who would want to kill the local church organist and why? Whilst the police are on the case Flavia feels that as she found the body, once again, the mystery is very much owned by her and so should be solved by her and so her hunt to solve the case and catch the killers is on…

For me the main thing that I love about these books is, firstly, the fact that I never guess who the killer is and, secondly, simply spending time with Flavia herself. As I have said, possibly many times, before she is completely precocious and has a certain rather high self regard and yet it is nigh on impossible not to love her. She can be spiky and vile with her sisters, which makes for much laughter, and yet vulnerable and a little lost when it comes to the difficult relationship she has with her father, and the fact she wants his approval so much, and the loss of her missing mother Harriet. Overall though she is plucky, passionate about chemicals and gives a lot of sauce to the adults all around her which we admire her and love her all the more for. She is one of my very favourite heroines of fiction, unlikely as she maybe.

“Where was I going to find decent lubricating oil in the bottom of a reeking tomb at two-thirty in the morning?
The answer came to me almost as quickly as the question.
There is an unsaturated hydrocarbon with the molecular formula C30H50 and the lovely name of “squalene”, which is found in yeast, olive oil, fresh eggs, the liver of certain sharks and the skin of the human nose.
Because of its extremely high viscosity, it has been used by clockmakers to oil cogs, by butlers to polish ebony, by burglars to lubricate revolvers, and by smokers to baby the bowls of their favourite pipes.
Good old, jolly old everyday nose oil to unstuck a good old, jolly old everyday mortise lock.”

Whilst this is the fifth in the series of books, and I actually think ‘Speaking From Among The Bones’ is one of the strongest yet, Bradley is a master of giving new readers enough hints at what has gone before without repeating it for pages and pages for firm fans. We still have the mystery of Flavia’s mother and what really happened there which thrills and compels those of us who have been pondering it for all the books and yet I imagine would make new readers want to go back, and so you should.

Bradley also keeps things fresh too, each novel has made Flavia step a little further out of the grounds of Buckshaw and Bishop’s Lacey and so more and more of her world is revealed. In this latest instalment we visit Nether-Wolsey and the gothic delights of Bogmore Hall. We also get to meet many new characters, even if one is a chicken called Esmeralda – I did a small whoop of delight at this as, as a young child I had seven hens and a duck called Rapunzel, Flavia and I would have been best friends I feel, though I am not sure she would like a human sidekick much, a chicken and a bicycle seem to do.

“I glanced up at Esmeralda, who was perched on a cast-iron laboratory stand, cocking her head to keep an eye on the two eggs she had laid on my bed: two eggs which I was now steaming in a covered glass flask. If she was saddened by the sight of her offspring being boiled alive, Esmeralda did not show it.”

As you can tell, and it should be no surprise really, I utterly adored ‘Speaking From Among The Bones’ and I think it might be one of my favourite Flavia De Luce mysteries yet. I have to say though, Alan Bradley how could you do it to us? The cliff hanger that you are left with is just too much! (Whatever you do, do not read the last line in the book until, erm, the last line.) How are we meant to wait until next year for a new book? How?

If you are a fan of the series, and its author, then you might like to listen to the latest episode of You Wrote The Book (and hear me being a complete fan boy) which you can find here. Who else has read ‘Speaking From Among The Bones’ and what did you make of it? Who else is a big fan of the Flavia books, how do you feel about them coming to a screen near us soon? Who has yet to read her, again shame on you, but might give her a whirl now?

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Filed under Alan Bradley, Books of 2013, Flavia de Luce, Orion Publishing, Review

Hollow Pike – James Dawson

I have always been a little wary of young adult fiction, well since I was a young adult, and reading it as a grown up. I admit I loved Harry Potter but I did start that series when it came out in my late teens and so of course I carried on with the series, how could I not. I have dabbled in ‘Twilight’ to mixed results (I like the films more) and just didn’t get ‘The Hunger Games’. Odd then that I thought James Dawson’s debut novel ‘Hollow Pike’ was a bit of a corker, yet I think it’s because it is everything I would have liked in a young adult novel when I was one (and my sister, who is fourteen, love it – more on that later) and never got. I will explain…

Indigo Books, paperback, 2012, young adult fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

Lis London (brilliant lead name for a YA character) leaves her home in Wales for the small Yorkshire town of Hollow Pike after the bullying that she has endured at school simply becomes too much and hopes for a new start. However new starts are always tricky, will you make any new friends, will you end up in the right crowd, could history repeat itself? Prior to moving Lis has been having nightmares of someone trying to kill her each night, before she arrives at Hollow Pike she believes that this could be due to stress yet why is it when she goes through the local woods (which have a history of witchcraft) everything looks so familiar? Throw in the murder of one of her fellow school mates and soon it looks like Lis is set to be the killer’s next target.

I will admit that on paper the idea of ‘Hollow Pike’ as a story does look slightly like your average supernatural teen thriller fare, yet there is so much more to it when you read it. First of all there is Lis, she literally (cliché alert) walks off the page. The story of how she was bullied at school and then tries so hard to fit in with the right, and then the delightfully wrong, crowd will without a doubt have you looking back at your own school days. I remember having a Laura Rigg (popular, beautiful but ultimately a complete bullying power controlling bitch) or three in my school, I also remember the slightly kooky, or some people might say odd, group which you kind of wanted to be a part of and where also rather scared by and so all these characters came vividly to life. I thought that fact that he made three of the lead characters gay and lesbian was also a very brave thing to do and something I don’t think is really written about for that age group, brilliantly its very much part of who the characters are yet it isn’t the only thing that defines them – like life.

Secondly there is the style and nature of the book. From the outside (cover and blurb) this book looks set to be a witch-fest, it is far more clever than that. I actually think at its heart ‘Hollow Pike’ is a crime novel, with hints of witchcraft thrown in for good measure, where the moral of the story is friendship. The book has the fast paced thrilling nature of a good crime though never at the expense of the writing or the atmosphere, which I really liked. Oh and I couldn’t guess who the killer or killers were and was second guessing all the way to the denouement.

Thirdly, as an adult reading this, I loved the sense of nostalgia it had. I am of the generation (as is James Dawson it would seem) that had the Spice Girls blasting on the radio, watched ‘The Craft’, ‘Mean Girls’ and ‘Scream’ at the cinema and devoured Point Horror novels all weekend (I didn’t even care that they regurgitated the same plot over and over). This combines all those things, except switches regurgitated ideas for originality, and creates a book and a world in young adult fiction that is familiar yet new. I was charmed by it.

I did have the odd wobble or two with ‘Hollow Pike’ I will admit. Occasionally bits of it felt overly familiar and I think I was expecting something with more witchcraft. But I am a thirty year old critiquing a book that isn’t for me, and I really enjoyed it overall, so I will leave you with the thoughts of my little sister Miriam (who joined me and Gavin on The Readers Book Club to discuss it – and do listen as she is brilliant on it) who said, to paraphrase, that…

‘Hollow Pike’ was actually all the more clever for what James Dawson does with the witchcraft elements and  that I shouldn’t expect the obvious – which told me frankly. She found it scary (I did a few times but didn’t want to admit it – oops), thrilling, realistic, original and different from other books in its field.. At fourteen she is the idea reader for this book and she LOVED it. I am not its target market and I thoroughly enjoyed it, so rave reviews from both of us really.

Who else had read ‘Hollow Pike’ and what did you think of it? What are your thoughts on adults reading young adult fiction? If you like them yourself then which would you recommend, apart from ‘Twilight’ and ‘The Hunger Games’?

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Filed under James Dawson, Orion Publishing, Review, Young Adult Fiction

The Somnambulist – Essie Fox

Some books catch your eye with the covers and ‘The Somnambulist’, Essie Fox’s debut novel, certainly did that when it came out in hardback because it was a rather vivid pink. My instant reaction was ‘possibly chick lit’ but I picked it up had a nosey and realised it was a modern take on the sensation novel. I love sensation novels, partly because I adore the Victorian period but also because invariably they are filled with mystery, gothic old mansions, illicit affairs and some melodrama. What a treat to read. The cover though would I read it on the train? What was I going to do about that? Well I left it however it was sent to me a few months ago, by the kind people at Cactus Productions along with all the other TV Book Club choices, with a new redder cover (and one a little less heavy) and so I decided it was time to settle down and get lost in it.

Orion Books, paperback, 2012, fiction, 400 pages, kindly sent by the TV Book Club

‘The Somnambulist’ is one of those really tricky books to review as you fear you will give lots away. Like all good sensational tales there are mysteries to solve and unexpected twists and turns in store and I wouldn’t want to spoil them for anyone else. Interesting then that as I started to read the tale of Phoebe Turner I guessed what was coming about fifty pages in.

At this point I briefly considered stopping, so many books to read and all that, but the writing and characters kept me going and I am so glad they did because the author has many more unexpected twists and turns in the narrative along with murky mysteries and spooky gothic moments to come which wrong foot the reader. Or do they? As with this book you sometimes think (or hope) another twist is coming and occasionally they don’t or sometimes they do and keep on twisting. I am aware I am being rather cloak and dagger but with books like this you have to be.

Phoebe Turner is a young woman growing up in Victorian London’s East End. She is a girl living with two very polar influences over her life in the forms of her mother Maud and her Aunt Cissy. Her mother is god fearing and restrictive, her Aunt is former stage star who makes occasional appearances at Wilton’s Music Hall and Phoebe finds herself being ruled by one and yet tantalised by the other. Things change in Phoebe’s life , though what of course I am not going to say, and she soon finds herself living in the sparse countryside of Hereford at Dinwood Court, where she becomes a companion for Mrs Samuels, a rather mysterious woman who has become somewhat of a recluse. Here in the old country house strange things begin to happen, some very creepy, and there are mysteries lying in wait which might have more to do with Phoebe than she could ever believe.

My initial criticism, and one which I actually thought might mean I left the book unfinished, was as I mentioned the feeling I knew what was coming. Yes there were some twists I didn’t see coming but the main one I predicted from the start. I should mention here that I was in the very lucky position of interviewing Essie Fox on the latest episode of The Readers with Gav and having talked to her I discovered she wanted you to know more while Phoebe didn’t so you had the feeling of watching something awful coming from the sidelines, and then being surprised further. Obviously I read the book before that and so didn’t have that knowledge at the time, so what was it that made me read on?

I hate to use the cliché of ‘page turner’ because some people seem to think this is a dirty word (why I am not sure, the point of a book is surely that you want to turn the pages and read on) but ‘The Somnambulist’ is definitely such a book. I read the first 120 odd pages, which makes up the first of the books three parts, in one evening simply seeing if this might all be leading the way I thought it would. I found myself really enjoying the company of the main characters, though Phoebe does remain somewhat of a mystery throughout, and the supporting cast of characters such as Old Riley who is Cissy’s right hand woman and becomes a marvellous fraudulent spiritualist medium (I find spiritualism, especially in the late 1800’s fascinating) and Mr Peter Faulkner who is wonderfully lecherous and stole any scene on any page he turned up on. Oh, how could I forget Mrs Samuels’ butler, Stephens, who came across most Danver-esque.

‘The Somnambulist’ was simply a pleasure to read all in all. I enjoyed getting drawn into it and the fact that I knew what was coming gave me a rather comfortable feeling weirdly. It was a perfect read for several very cold windy nights; I felt a certain safety with it despite the books overall darkness. Yes things surprised me too, which was an added bonus, but there was a familiar side to the book which I found immensely readable along with a bunch of characters I wanted to spend my evenings with. It’s a rather promising start to Essie Fox’s writing career and from what I have heard I will be enjoying her darker more twisted second novel when it comes out in the autumn. Mermaid’s, madness and brothels in the Victorian era, oh yes please.

Has anyone else read this book and if so what did you think? I will be watching the TV Book Club with interest this Sunday when they discuss it. I wonder what they will make of it. Oh and I should say that if, like me, you love all things Victorian do pop and read Essie’s blog on the era, it’s great. I have a feeling that you will be seeing a lot more Victorian based reads over the next few weeks and months on Savidge Reads as it’s given me the appetite for them again.

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Filed under Essie Fox, Orion Publishing, Review

I Am Half Sick of Shadows – Alan Bradley

I know I have made it official, well sort of, that I have given up putting books to one side for ‘a rainy day’ or ‘just the right time’ but in the case of ‘I Am Half Sick of Shadows’ by Alan Bradley leaving it until Christmas seemed the most fitting thing to do for that is when his latest Flavia de Luce is set at just this time of year.

Orion Books, hardback, 2011, fiction, 304 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

‘I Am Half Sick of Shadows’ is a wonderful fourth instalment in the Flavia de Luce series. I was shocked that this came out so quickly after ‘A Red Herring Without Mustard’ and it being rather slighter than its predecessor, along with it having a Christmas theme, was slightly concerned that it would simply be a bit of a filler to cash in on Christmas (cynical, me, never) yet that wasn’t the case at all as like the series so far there was murder, mayhem and wonderful characters as ever.

We join the inhabitants of the grand, if slightly ramshackle, Buckshaw abode near the village of Bishops Lacey in the lead up to Christmas. Buckshaw is not feeling the full effects of Christmas, much to Flavia’s, the youngest of the family de Luce, distress as hard times mean that it is being used as a set for a movie starring icons Phyllis Wyvern and Desmond Duncan who, along with the rest of the cast and crew will be staying with the de Luce family for the duration. Of course this being a Flavia de Luce novel you know that someone is going to come a cropper and fall of their mortal coil, or have a serious nudge off the edge of it, but who will it be? Bradley plays his first trump card here as I honestly didn’t think it was the person it was, I actually thought they were going to be the murderer. Shows what I know doesn’t it?

I should actually change that to Bradley’s second trump card as really with all these novels it is Flavia who is the highlight of the novel. She is an utterly precocious child, one which would normally drive you mad in the real world yet as ever while she narrates this murderous tale you are smitten with her company and her blunt yet spot on descriptions of all those older than her and the way that they act. I also loved that, with her love of chemistry, she is devising a way of catching Santa Claus with glue though this did add a predictable element which if you have read the book you will know what I mean, I shall say no more for those who haven’t.

I don’t know about any of you but books set on a movie set always have a certain something about them. I want to say buzz yet that probably sounds a cliché. I love the fact there are always big dramatic characters, even if it is a cliché in a way that one is always a complete movie diva, and that there are always the underdogs behind the scenes. This is great in any mystery (and I did think of Paul Magrs ‘Hell’s Belles’ which I read earlier this year though that was more Hammer Horror than 30’s Hollywood, both genres which I like I hasten to add) as there are always a whole host of characters and again here Bradley creates a whole host of new faces to be suspicious of and for Flavia to dig the dirt on.

I also, sorry the praise goes on, liked the fact that as this series goes on we are getting to know more and more about the de Luce family, and slowly but surely finding more out about Flavia’s mother Harriet and her mysterious death – I wonder if we will ever learn the truth (I personally don’t think she is dead but that could just be me) about that? We also get much more insight into their servant Dogger, who is as we go on becoming a sidekick to Flavia. There are also her wonderful, and utterly venomous, sisters Feely (who seems to have the whole world wanting to woe her) and the bookish Daphne who is becoming one of my favourite characters as the series develops.

Daffy, as always, was draped over a chair in the library, with Bleak House open on her knees.
“Don’t you ever get tired of that book?” I asked.
“Certainly not!” she snapped.
“It’s so like my own dismal life that I can’t tell the difference between reading and not reading.”
“Then why bother?” I asked.
“Bug off,” she said. “Go and haunt someone else.”

That does lead to my only slight criticism actually. I don’t know if you would be able to start this wonderful series with this book, or if you did I wonder if you would be as hooked as you might if you stared from the beginning with ‘The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie’? I love the series and so this shorter, yet just a punchy and character driven, instalment was a welcome addition but if I didn’t know it so well would it have had enough punch or seemed a little light. I am probably not making sense there, oops.

I thoroughly enjoyed ‘I Am Half Sick of Shadows’ (I should mention the title comes from Tennyson, and these books do embrace literature and the written word in many ways) and it was a treat to curl up in a quiet corner by the fire with over the festive period. I am looking forward to the next one whenever it may appear.

Have you read any Flavia yet? If you haven’t you really should consider it? Which books with a movie set involved have you enjoyed, I would like to read some more of them.

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Filed under Alan Bradley, Flavia de Luce, Orion Publishing, Review