Friday, 16 January 2015
I was sent a review copy of In Bloom a long time ago. Probably over a year ago, in fact. And although many bloggers who have similar taste in fiction to myself said they'd really loved Matthew Crow's novel, it had remained languishing on my bookcase waiting to be read. Over the Christmas period I started boxing up my books ready to move house, and In Bloom caught my eye. I started skimming the first few pages and before I knew it I'd finished the whole book!
So here are my thoughts on In Bloom...
A poignant and unexpectedly funny novel about Francis - one of the best and bravest teenage boy narrators since Adrian Mole. This is an emotionally honest story about wanting the very best from life, even when life shows you how very bad things can be.
Francis Wootton's first memory is of Kurt Cobain's death, and there have been other hardships closer to home since then. At fifteen years old he already knows all about loss and rejection - and to top it all off he has a permanently broke big brother, a grandma with selective memory (and very selective social graces) and a mum who's at best an acquired taste. Would-be poet, possible intellectual and definitely wasted in Tyne and Wear, Francis has grown used to figuring life out on his own.Lower Fifth is supposed to be his time, the start of an endless horizon towards whatever-comes-next. But when he is diagnosed with leukaemia that wide-open future suddenly narrows, and a whole new world of worry presents itself.There's the horror of being held back a year at school, the threat of imminent baldness, having to locate his best shirt in case a visiting princess or pop-star fancies him for a photo-op . . . But he hadn't reckoned on meeting Amber - fierce, tough, one-of-a-kind Amber - and finding a reason to tackle it all - the good, the bad and everything in between - head on.
In Bloom is a bright, funny, painful and refreshing novel about wanting the very best from life, even when life shows you how very bad it can be. It is a novel about how to live.
When I first heard about In Bloom, I was attracted to it's title. I'm in my thirties (however much I try to deny it, I really am) and I loved Nirvana as a teen. They were part of the soundtrack of my not-so-misspent youth. On a personal level, I had an affinity to this one right away because it took me back to that fragile adolescent period. Weirdly, I love books that remind me of the pain and trauma of puberty. They remind me I can survive ANYTHING.
Plus the edition I have has the most sumptuous black, silver and blue cover. Honestly, it's divine.
Francis, the protagonist, is dealing with everything all teenagers have to cope with- love, lust, self-confidence (or lack of)- but also has a diagnosis of leukaemia. In Bloom follows Francis as he undergoes treatment.
There's a lot of potential for this sort of plot to be depressing, because let's face it, life-threatening illnesses aren't exactly cheery reading. So it says a lot about the author (and their writing ability) when they manage to get the balance between humour, sensitivity and storytelling bang on. Matthew Crow wasn't an author I was familiar with before-I'd never read anything else by him and wasn't sure what to expect- but he portrays the mother/son and sibling relationships in the most exquisite way. As a mother myself, there were moments where the thumping pain deep within my chest threatened to break right through in empathy for both Francis and Amber's Mums.
And that's another thing. The relationship between Francis and Amber will break your heart. Just so you know.
There have been comparisons between this and John Green's The Fault in our Stars, and having read both I can see why. But to bundle all books which share a genre together would be wrong, and if people are put off reading this by the cancer/teen romance aspect similarities then they're missing out on some wonderfully intuitive and touching British fiction.
By the time I reached the final page, I felt like I'd been through a mangle, but kind of in a good way. If you read it, you'll know what I mean.
Thursday, 15 January 2015
Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough.
Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar.
Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train…
Well, this book was so much more than I expected! There's been a lot of buzz surrounding this book on twitter and in the blogging community, and I have enjoyed psychological thrillers more and more over the past few years, but I hadn't expected to be reeled in hook, line and sinker by Paula Hawkins' debut novel.
The novel is told through a tri-narrative- examining events in a suburban neighbourhood through the eyes of Rachel, Anna and Megan. Rachel (the 'girl on the train') is a fascinating character, the alcohol-dependant unreliable witness who leaves you doubting. I couldn't tell if I empathised with her situation or whether she was harbouring dark secrets, and that was what appealed to me about her. As a reader I felt as voyeuristic as Rachel herself, peering into parts of life which should remain private. Anna (the new wife to Rachel's ex husband) I found harder to warm to. Although I felt pity for her and the situation she found herself in, she came across as a bit of a mopey old grump. Megan is perhaps the most elusive of the three, and as the plot unfolds her past unravels.
Community, technology, trust and relationships are all examined in this novel laden in mystery, and my heart was pounding in my chest at certain points throughout. The book cleverly leaves you doubting yourself and the first two-thirds of the book in particular were superb at creating a tense atmosphere.
The Girl on the Train is a thoroughly unsettling read which leaves you wondering how well you really know your community, your friends and your family. A gripping, well-executed debut, I can't wait to see what Paula Hawkins comes up with next.
The Girl on the Train is out today, published by Transworld.
With thanks to the publisher who provided me with a galley copy in return for an honest review.
Monday, 12 January 2015
I am delighted to finally be able to share the cover for Kris Humphrey's A Whisper of Wolves! I received a copy of this one a while back and it certainly sounds an intriguing read. Aimed at children aged 8-12, A Whisper of Wolves has been described as a book with a 'fast paced narrative' and is the first in the Guardians of the Wild series.
And doesn't it have a beautiful cover?
To find out more prior to release on March 2nd, search the hashtag #wildguardians or tweet @stripesbooks or @KrisDHumphrey .
Sunday, 11 January 2015
There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed . . .
On an autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman knocks at the door of a grand house in the wealthiest quarter of Amsterdam. She has come from the country to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt, but instead she is met by his sharp-tongued sister, Marin. Only later does Johannes appear and present her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in unexpected ways . . .
Nella is at first mystified by the closed world of the Brandt household, but as she uncovers its secrets she realizes the escalating dangers that await them all. Does the miniaturist hold their fate in her hands? And will she be the key to their salvation or the architect of their downfall?
Beautiful, intoxicating and filled with heart-pounding suspense, The Miniaturist is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth.
The Miniaturist was everywhere throughout the second half of 2014, and now it's available in paperback it's sure to go to another level entirely. The Miniaturist was chosen as the Waterstone's book of the year and also named in many of the 'Book of the Year' lists for 2014, so I decided to kick off a new year of reading with this historical fiction novel.
Being honest, I found it quite difficult to get into this one- I think because there were quite a lot of characters introduced in quick succession, and that along with a setting and time frame that I know very little about pushed me outside my comfort zone. That's not a negative, because I'm a firm believer that sometimes it's good to try something different, but there were times I considered putting it to one side and picking up something else to read instead.to
The writing itself totally grabbed me- it was vivid and dramatic and completely swept me away to Amsterdam in the late 17th Century. I could feel Nella's vulnerable yet somehow stubborn nature ebbing off the page and couldn't help but have empathy for her as she struggled to adapt to life as a wife part of a well-known, established family. As the tale unfolded, like layer upon layer of an onion being peeled back to reveal the small yet necessary heart at the centre, I became more and more enthralled by the hidden world of the Brandt family. The elusive and abrupt sister- in- law Marin, the doting and compliant housemaid Cornelia, the black servant Otto, and even Johannes precious dogs have a role to play in this unsettling tale- but the enigmatic miniaturist who appears to be all seeing and all knowing, even of what goes on behind closed doors, is the central cog, giving clues to the young Mrs Brandt about what the future holds.
Jessie Burton cleverly drops a plot twist when the pace starts to slow, and I'm sure that's what makes The Miniaturist appeal to so many. Whilst I wasn't blown away, I'm sure it's a book that's going to stay with me. It has the haunting, unsettling feel of a du Maurier book (which is a triumph in itself- anyone who can get close to Daphne is winning in my eyes!) and the ability to transport to an unfamiliar bygone era.
If you're a fan of historical fiction, The Miniaturist is a must. Even if you're not, it's well worth a whirl. Part mystery, part romance, part family saga- Jessie Burton's debut ticks a lot of boxes.
The Miniaturist is out now in paperback, published by Picador.