Sunday, 26 April 2015

Review of Disclaimer by Renée Knight

Catherine has been sent a novel with the disclaimer ‘any resemblance to real persons living or dead’ crossed out in red, but as she reads the book she recognises herself and is terrified by the thought of an event that happened 20 years ago coming back to haunt her.

The chapters featuring Catherine’s torment and determination to keep her past a secret are alternated with those of a retired teacher, a lonely widower whose voice seethes with resentment and a desire for revenge.

Everything in Catherine’s world appears to be perfect: she’s an award winning documentary maker, she has a great husband and they’ve just moved into a new home together. They also have a son who has a job in a shop and who has recently left home for the first time to live independently. 

But all is not as it appears. There are undercurrents of tension within the marriage and Catherine’s has a rocky relationship with her son. These are brought to the fore as she tries to discover who wrote the novel and why they are so determined to wreck her carefully constructed life. 

However, the resentful widower is determined that the truth should come out, as he has lost so much while Catherine appears to have everything.

Both characters exhibit dislikable characteristics but for very different reasons, as Knight twists the plot around the perception of the term ‘disclaimer’ in relation to human behaviour. 

A disclaimer is a statement that denies something, especially responsibility, and that’s why this novel is so brilliant. Everyone in it makes a disclaimer: some because they have taken a situation at face value, some because of a need to protect and others because they don’t want to face the truth, because to face the truth would mean they would have to take responsibility for their actions.

Disclaimer is one of those novels that will make you think for days after you’ve turned the last page. This gripping and well conceived novel put me through an emotional wringer. I was in tears by end as every character finally understood what they were and weren’t responsible for, and what it had cost them.

Disclaimer is published by Transworld. With thanks to NetGalley and Transworld for the review copy.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Review of Rise by Karen Campbell

Justine is on the run from her psychotic partner in Glasgow and is drawn to Kilmaccara in the Scottish Highlands when she sees the ancient stones in the landscape and experiences a strong sense of recognition, a sense of something ancient and eternal that has been missing from her life.

The local priest turned councillor, Michael, is also haunted by something he can’t explain. He’s also moved to Kilmaccara with his wife, Hannah, and their two children for a fresh start. 

A series of events leads to Justine working for the couple and looking after their younger son while the elder is in hospital. Tensions rise in the household as Michael confides in Justine while Hannah senses she can’t be fully trusted. Meanwhile Justine is contending with the weight of the lies she has had to tell in order to stay safe.

The colloquial language roots the novel in Scotland, Justine has a dry, sarcastic, quick fire wit that she shares with new friends but tends to suppress around Hannah. A flawed and troubled character, Justine is likely to snap when pushed and it’s due to this tendency that she ends up putting the people she most cares about in danger.

Michael’s mental health struggles are depicted with sensitivity and care. He is a haunted man for many reasons. He’s trying to come to terms with a crisis of faith while being troubled by visions of a Ghost and fighting against plans to build a wind farm in the area. 

Hannah is also fighting her own demons as she tries to come to terms with the guilt of an an affair with another man. She has become increasingly distant towards Michael just when he needs her most to be there for him. 

All this tension is set against the Scottish referendum. The novel asks what does the past say about the true nature of character? Can change really be for the better? How much is assumed and how much is known? Are prejudices so deep rooted that truth of a situation cannot be tolerated and accommodated? Is it possible to rise up and be accepted for who you really are? What are you prepared to sacrifice in return for sanctuary?

Through Justine we learn to appreciate the contrasts between the Scottish landscape and its people, and that its history is deeply rooted and always will be regardless of how many wind farms are built, or referendums fought. There is freedom to be found in fighting for a just cause and in discovering alternative ways to work together for a better future, as Justine discovers when she opens up to others, finds acceptance and lets go of the things she cannot change as she pins herself to the landscape of Kilmacarra.

With thanks to Bloomsbury Circus for the review copy.
Follow the author on twitter: @writercampbell

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Review of Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent

Well, this novel lives up to the hype of being a read-in-one-sitting-page-tuner! I was hooked and horrified from the first line as I was introduced to Oliver who had just finished brutally beating his wife, Alice. 

'I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.'

Oliver takes detachment to a whole new level. He is a calculating, cold, withdrawn, predatory and manipulative character who seems incapable of appreciating the trail of emotional destruction he leaves in his wake.

The novel begins with Oliver's downfall from beings a successful children's writer to a wife beater. In order to unravel Oliver’s complex character the reader is introduced to the lives he’s touched over the years: chapter by chapter each person reveals their shock at his brutal behaviour towards his wife and their impressions of him.

The tone of each voice is unique and distinctive as they talk directly to you, it’s as though they are confiding in you alone, enabling you get a strong sense of each person’s character and motives. Through these shared confidences, which are interspersed with Oliver's interpretation of events, the reader begins to put the jigsaw puzzle of Oliver’s life together and unravel the horrifying and devastating secrets he has locked away from prying eyes.

Oliver is a victim of child neglect that goes unchecked and unchallenged. He enters adulthood with no real understanding of human relationships and a strong sense of shame, with a feeling of never being good enough. Oliver's cold detachment is a form of self-protection that ultimately fails him, as his unspoken desires and fears overwhelm him. Oliver is not the only character to suffer from a perceived prejudice, through their contact with him other characters have to face their own truths and some face unfathomable situations from which they never recover.

Unravelling Oliver is a cleverly constructed novel of psychological suspense: a fast-paced, dark and disturbing yet compulsive read with a thought-provoking conclusion. I’m not remotely surprised that Unravelling Oliver won the 2014 IBA Crime novel of the Year Award.  

With thanks to Catherine Ryan Howard at Penguin for the review copy.

Follow the author on twitter: @lizzienugent and check out the author’s website.

A special delivery

This morning I was disturbed by the sound of something struggling to get through my letter box and decided to go and take a look. A Postman was bent double on the other side of the door, caught up in a tug of war in an effort to deliver my mail. The poor chap had underestimated the thickness of a parcel and it was jammed halfway through the letter box, unable to move forwards or backwards.  

Upon seeing me through the glass my Postman took a quick breather. He then put one foot on my doorstep, wrapped both hands around the parcel, braced himself and started to twist the parcel from side to side, in the faint hope that it would slide back out. He stopped at the sound of tearing, his eyes growing wide with horror at the thought of damaging my delivery. So there I am calling through the front door that it's all okay and trying to push the parcel out towards him from my side. By this point my Postman was sweating and I found myself wondering how many times he's had to put himself through this torture before. 

Finally he falls back, the packaging rips and my Postman is left holding part of the wrapping aloft in one hand and the bit containing a book in the other while looking slightly dazed. Meanwhile I opened the door.

'I'm sorry about the packaging but I think it's okay,' he says. 

I have to admit I was more worried about the flushed state of him than the torn parcel. 

'It's alright, don't worry about it. The packaging's just thicker than you thought.'

As I thank my Postman, he points to where the packaging slopes narrower along one side, too tired from the hard won battle to say that this was why he thought it would go through the letter box. Seeing that I can empathise with his dilemma, my Postman hands me the parcel, puts the broken packaging in the bin, wipes his brow with his sleeve, grins and says: 'I'll not be trying to do that again.' Then readjusts himself and carries on with his round. 

I watch him for a few seconds, just to make sure he's okay while quietly admiring his remarkable recovery, then close the door and go into the lounge to unwrap the rest of my parcel. Behold the completely undamaged beauty that my marvellous Postman fought so hard to deliver this morning!

My fingers tingled as I slid this novel out of the packaging, it feels like a work of art, I suspect I'm in for a great read.

I'd like to say thank you to Bloomsbury's Madeleine Feeny for sending me The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild for review and a big thank you to my determined Postman, and all the Postmen and Postwomen who deliver parcels for book bloggers every day of the week. I have a new appreciation of just how hard that can be at times!

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Review of Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

As an ex-pat living in Switzerland Anna has chosen to disengage rather than engage
with the new environment which was thrust upon her due to her husband Bruno's job. She barely speaks German and can't drive and tends to move around the area by train, whose rocking motion comforts her more than the sex she feels compelled to have with a strangers. When Anna's not screwing strangers she's seeing a psychotherapist, picking her son up from school or trying and failing to please Bruno.

Anna's difficulties due to the language barrier mean she is compelled to turn to Bruno for help to complete simple household tasks. The further we go into the novel the more it becomes obvious that the whole pattern of Anna's life has rested on the support of a man in order to function at a basic level, she doesn't even possess a bank account. Yet Anna craves independence and is dismissive of those who reach out to her simply to offer friendship.

As Anna turns inwards she magnifies a love affair rather than facing the reasons for her passivity. Even as strangers pierce her outer shell Anna knows they'll never really touch her on an emotional level. Each sexual encounter feels soulless and indifferent as she goes through the motions, constantly succumbing to what men want, which reflects the state of Anna's marriage where she feels equally powerless.

A sense of loss and desperation seeps from the pages, Anna is a woman who has settled for 'good enough' and found it wanting. I really felt for this unreachable woman. Anna's melancholia is almost unbearable yet I was compelled to keep reading as she continues to make mistake after mistake: never learning, never growing, never able to help or be kind to herself.

Reading this novel is like watching a life go completely off the rails as unspoken truths come hurtling down the track, smashing through the lies and deceit to leave Anna in a perilous position. The writing is piercingly perceptive, as disturbing as it is enlightening, as an almost forensic spotlight is turned on the self-deception that is practiced by almost everyone within these engrossing pages. Highly recommended.

Published by Mantle
With thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Review of The Spice Box Letters by Eve Makis

I would advise buying a packet of tissues before you start reading this extraordinary novel which depicts the human cost of war. The novel is peppered with vividly evoked scenes of the physical, emotional and mental trauma that many Armenian families went through during the massacre of their people in WWI.

The rhythm of Makis's phrasing delivers a unique sense of authenticity, it feels as though you are listening to a traditional storyteller as they reveal family secrets. The story begins in the present in the UK when a spice box is discovered in Katerina's late grandmother's effects. It contains letters written in Armenian that neither she or her mother can translate, and Katerina turns her journalistic instincts towards uncovering her grandmother's past at the request of her mother.

Despite her initial reluctance, due to wondering if her grandmother would have wanted the family to go prying into her private life, Katerina takes her grandmother's letters on holiday to Larnaca in Cyprus and a series of coincidences lead her to a translator. As her grandmother's painful past is gradually revealed Katerina learns the true meaning of family, love and hope in order to reclaim her Armenian roots.

The chapters alternate between Katerina's voice and her grandmother Mariam's voice. Mariam was only a child when she witnessed the first of many horrifically violent events. She and her family are forced to leave everything behind as they are sent on a death march from Armenia into the Syrian desert. Makis writes the most brutal scenes in deceptively simple and clean prose, embedding shocking images in the memory of the reader without ever being gratuitous. You will feel like you witnessed the horrific treatment the Armenians were subjected to at first hand.

Yet there is humour and light to balance the darkness. Each survivor has happy memories that they hold on to, memories of coming together in times of love and celebration. There are many well observed comical moments in the novel to remind you that these characters are ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. The shadows of the past never fully go away but sometimes the characters can rise above them to appreciate the moments that make life worth living.

The flavours of Cyprus are woven throughout the text making your mouth water, serving to emphasise the depth of the hunger felt by those starved not only of food but of love, care and kindness during the war. The sense of being the last survivor of a generation or race is deeply isolating for many characters, who take comfort in the rhythm and rituals of their culture, a culture that they fear will end with their passing. 

The Spice Box Letters is a life-affirming and unforgettable reading experience. Makis has given the Armenian people a voice that shares the pain of the past and ends on a hopeful note. I was in tears by the end, they were cathartic tears as I grieved for those who were lost and acknowledged the light of a new generation that still burns thanks to those who survived.

With thanks to Eve Makis for the review copy.
Published by Sandstone Press
Follow the author on twitter: @EveMakis

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Review of Ghosting by Jonathan Kemp

It's quite possible to be a ghost in your own life, to exist yet not really feel alive, to become subsumed by another person's expectation of who you are, what you should be until you no longer recognise yourself. In many ways this is 64-year-old Grace's experience, until the day she thinks she's seen the ghost of her long-deceased first husband, Pete.
The trauma of the violence Grace experienced during her first marriage has resonated throughout her life. Memories slide into the narrative quietly, almost as though Grace knows they're there but doesn't want to look too closely in order to avoid feeling anything.
In the present Grace is married to Gordon, her second husband, who sold their home and moved them into a narrowboat when they both retired. Outwardly Grace appears to be happy about the move but inwardly she feels the walls of her current existence closing in on her.
The story moves effortlessly from the present to the past exploring the misplaced guilt, heartbreak and unspoken grief that nearly broke Grace's mind and bound her to Gordon.
The 'ghost' of Grace's first husband turns out to be a young man called Luke who makes a living as a performance artist. Luke bares his pain in public, while Grace's pain is hidden and suppressed. As Grace begins to open up to the world and new experiences through her friendship with Luke, she learns that she is not alone in her suffering and that it's possible to break free of her self-imposed prison.
To say I loved this novel would be an understatement. Reading Ghosting is a heart-breaking yet uplifting experience. The writing is brimming with tenderness, insight and compassion as Grace gradually begins to reclaim herself rather than slip back into old habits and beliefs. As I turned the last page I hoped that the autumn of Grace's life would be as golden as the leaves drifting down the black and white cover of this beautiful novel.
Published by Myriad Editions 12 March 2015. With thanks to the publisher for the review copy.
Find out more about the author.
Follow the author on Twitter: @JonathanMKemp

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Review of The Distance by Helen Giltrow

Welcome to the final stop on the Blog Tour for The Distance by Helen Giltrow. 

The novel is set in the near future and opens with Karla, a woman who has access to information that everyone wants and who can make anyone disappear. Karla left that life behind when she became Charlotte Alston, a discrete, elegant woman with a low profile who has a flat in the Docklands. 

When Karla is contacted by a contract killer called Johanssen she's drawn back into her former life once more. She agrees to help him get into The Program, which is a 'self-regulating society made up of other criminals', where Johanssen needs to find a woman and kill her. Both Karla and Johanssen have a complex history and her new life as Charlotte depends on his ability to keep her identity secret.

The Program is run by a criminal mastermind called Quillan, who gave the the original order for Johanssen to be killed, which adds another layer of tension. Johanssen thinks his true identity is safe as Quillan has never seen him. Johanssen enters The Program and despite the challenges presented by Quillan's sadistic sidekick, Brice, he manages to find the woman he's been sent to eradicate, only the job doesn't prove to be that simple.

Meanwhile, Karla is on the outside wondering if Johanssen will survive in The Program. She decides to investigate the background of the woman he has been sent to eliminate and discovers a web of intrigue and deception, and time begins to run out for all of them.

Who is the prey and who is the hunter constantly changes as Karla and Johanssen desperately try to find the truth behind the circumstances they find themselves in. The concept behind The Program is original and vividly realised. Five thousand inmates have been taken out of prison and dumped in the equivalent of a ghetto, where they are monitored by a private security firm. The environment has that film noir quality: all sharp angles, shady lighting, dark corners and a sense of being watched by shadowy figures, which constantly heightens the tension.

The main characters are well drawn. Each one feels a distinct sense of distance, alienation and fear, and they're all driven by ambiguous motives. The violence is brutal, you may find yourself squirming with empathy for the victims as Brice revels in drawing out the torture. 

Giltrow has created a great, fast paced, hardcore espionage thriller with an intriguing lead character. Taut writing and well placed cliffhangers makes The Distance a compulsive read for thriller fans.

With thanks to the author for the review copy. 
The Distance is published by Orion.
Find out more about the author.
Follow the author on twitter @HelenGiltrow.
And check out the other blogs on the tour for more reviews and interviews.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

The Broadway Book Club is under new management

The Lounge at the Broadway Cinema
where the book club often meets

Due to the unpredictable nature of my health at the moment I've had to give up running the Broadway Book Club. I did think that the club may have to close but book club member Leanne Wain (@leannewain on Twitter) has offered to take it over, much to the relief of everyone as no one wanted it to stop. 

Leanne will be a fabulous host as she is as passionate about books and reading as I am. She is also a fantastic book blogger over at

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has supported the club over the last five years since I started it. 

Thank you to all the authors who have visited and inspired our members to read more widely (see below). It was a wonderful to hear how you achieved your dreams of becoming published authors and to share your joy. A special thank you to Mark Charan Newton who was the first author to give every member an e-copy of his first novel - Nights of Villjamur - to read. 

                                                         Mark Charan Newton 

Thank you to authors Anya Lipska and Damien Seaman who offered every member of the club copies of their self-published e-books Where the Devil Can't Go and The Killing of Emma Gross. Both authors went on to land traditional publishing deals and Anya's series has just been signed by BBC Drama.

Thank you to Stephen L. Holland from Page 45 in Nottingham, who blew everyone away when he gave an inspired talk on graphic novels. I highly recommend booking Stephen for your library, club, school, college or university to appreciate graphic novels from his perspective. Graphic novels are not simply comics, they are works of art that can express the human condition every bit as eloquently as the written word. 

I'd also like to say a huge thank you to the Broadway Cinema in Nottingham and Events Co-ordiantor Laura Cubley, who always made sure we had a room to meet in every month, it's been a real pleasure to work with you all. I think we've held meetings in most of your rooms over the years, which means I'm now in a better position to recommend your facilities! I'll still be coming in for movies, events and book club meetings when I can.

Finally, I'd like to thank my members. You have been amazing, thought provoking, entertaining and extremely vocal in voicing your opinions of every book we've read. You made the whole experience so much fun. Thank you. I hope you continue to enjoy discovering new reads with Leanne!

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Review of Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

1976: Eight-year-old Peggy Hillcoat is spending the summer learning how to be a survivalist, as her father has become obsessed with the idea that the world will soon end. 

Her German mother, Ute, is a successful concert pianist. Occasionally, Ute has to work away from home and it’s during one of these absences that Peggy’s father decides to take his daughter on holiday to a remote hut in Europe. But as the journey progresses it gradually dawns on Peggy that her father has no intention of ever taking them home again. When he tells her Ute has died and that they are the only humans left alive on earth Peggy has no choice other than to go along with him.

Peggy does survive the experience as the novel begins in 1985, shortly after she has returned home to her mother. In the opening chapter the reader learns that Peggy has complex feelings about her father and around being back home with her mother, Ute. As she tries to make sense of her feelings Peggy slowly begins to reveal what happened during those years in the wilderness with her father.

The voice of the younger Peggy resonates with innocence, trust, disappointment and hope. Her father's unstable mentality and the impact his behaviour has on his daughter is revealed during a scene set in the summer of '76, when Peggy is practising her survival skills during a timed drill to impress one of his friends. Her sense of shame at having failed him comes off the page in waves, just as powerfully as her sense of pleasure when she does something well. Fuller's depiction of the father's mood swings and irrational behaviour patterns in the followng chapters are perceptive and emotive. 

In the wilderness Peggy reconnects to her mother when her father makes her a set of soundless piano keys. The memory of her mother's music floods her senses as she learns to 'play' them in the hut. But it's as Peggy moves from childhood to adulthood that her perception of her father begins to change, as the pressures of living in isolation increasingly challenge both his coping mechanisms and hers.

The compelling narrative will put you through an emotional wringer as Peggy and her incredibly unprepared father are given harsh reality checks during the first brutal winter in the remote hut, and during the following years. The writing is rich with imagery, sounds and sensory diversions as Fuller draws you into the wilderness, where nature rather than nurture rules Peggy’s life.

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller is a complex, devastating and completely unforgettable début novel. There is subtle artistry and exceptional skill in how Fuller shows rather than tells the reader what is happening. The final scene is exquisitely drawn and resonates with a raw emotional power. Highly recommended.

Published by Fig Tree Books (Penguin). With thanks to Penguin for the intriguing review package.

Follow the author on Twitter: @ClaireFuller2
Visit the author's website