Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Fatal Inheritance – Rachel Rhys

Historical Fiction
5*s

If there is ever a book to transport you to a different time and place, Fatal Inheritance is the one, you just have to look at that stunning cover!

Eve Forrester is living a somewhat unfulfilling life as a housewife in post war Britain. Her husband Clifford has his own business, he comes home to their small house in Sutton, reads the paper and to finish the day more often than not he turns his back on her in bed. Eve is one of those unfortunate women who have jumped out of the frying pan into the fire as she is trying to escape her hypercritical mother.

One day the postman delivers a letter, it’s from a solicitor who summons her to London to discuss a mysterious inheritance from a man she has never heard of, Guy Lester. Clifford of course is less than impressed to have to take a day off work to accompany his wife for this very important meeting, and he is positively aggrieved when it is proposed that his wife goes to Cannes to find out more. Eve however is up for an adventure…

This is a story that can be read on a number of levels. It explores the lives of women who have lived through the worst of times. They were the generation that had to mourn the loss of so many men, in Eve’s case there is a lost love and a lack of suitable men to fill his place which is why she settled on Clifford. The book brilliantly contrasts the lack of colour in England at this time with rationing still in force with the brilliance of the Riviera but doesn’t neglect to bring in the more shadowy side of the region’s recent history including the influence of the Nazis. It is also a story about inheritance and memories, of secrets and lies but most of all the spreading of one woman’s wings. All the individual elements are excellently and realistically portrayed which in turn makes the sum so much richer than expected.

Through her story we get to experience the opening up of Eve’s world. The book is full of glamour with film stars, writers and artists all making up the population of Cannes. Rachel Rhys gracefully documents the clothes worn by Eve’s more glamorous friends while seamlessly illustrating that fine clothes and fancy houses don’t necessarily make for a more fulfilled life. And, although there are of course some characters who may not qualify for the nicest on the planet, this story has some who seem genuinely lovely and manage to impart some lessons in how to get the most out of life, neatly balancing out the others.

At the heart though there is a solid mystery to drive the narrative forward and so as taken as I was with the characters, the descriptions of places, people and relationships, it was this that kept my mind busy as every possible solution was ruled out by a new piece of information. I’m pleased to say the actual answer was not only satisfying, it was perfectly revealed and I’m so glad the author allowed us to catch up with many of the characters at a point in the future, rounding the book off brilliantly.

I want to say a huge thank you to Tammy Cohen (aka Rachel Rhys) and Alison Barrow, on behalf of Doubleday who arranged for me to read a copy of Fatal Inheritance ahead of publication today, 26 July 2018. I am loath to say it since I won an auction dear to my heart which meant that my name appeared in Rachel Rhys’s first historical novel A Dangerous Crossing, but this book is equally as good, if not better…

First Published UK: 26 July 2018
Publisher: Doubleday UK
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Historical Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Three Days and a Life – Pierre Lemaitre

Crime Fiction
5*s

I was thrilled to see Pierre Lemaitre had written another standalone novel having vowed to read all of his back catalogue after being wowed by Blood Wedding, needless to say, that hasn’t come to fruition… yet, although all his books are on the wishlist after being even more wowed by Three Days and a Life.

The feel of this book is very different to Blood Wedding, for starters the main protagonist is a child, just twelve years old, and we go back to 1999 to discover the events that led up to the day Antoine accidentally kills his six-year-old neighbour, Rémi. A shocking event, in itself, made no less so by the brutal description of Rémi ’s pet dog which precedes the cold days just before Christmas. The scene is set beautifully in the small town of Beauval in France where Antoine lives with his mother. His father decamped to Germany and consequently he has a distant relationship with him. The crux of the story is that Antoine hides Rémi’s body and returns home to his loving mother and hides as much as possible from reality. He has a child’s view of the world, realistically depicted, and alternately buries his head in the sand and suffers the awful anxiety about his crime being discovered.

Pierre Lemaitre absolutely nails the small town view of the wider world. The people of Beauval collectively hope that Rémi was taken by someone out-of-town, it being far too awful to think that the act was one of their own. Although the pace is slower than some crime thrillers, the tension felt is built very quickly to fever-pitch with this reader see-sawing in hoping that poor Rémi’s mother would find out the truth about what happened and equally hoping that Antoine’s mother would be spared the self-same truth, this emotional push and pull is very hard to pull off, particularly when we have a child who is not displaying much in the way of guilt, although his the fear of discovery is acute.

After following the inhabitants of Beauval through the days following the death of Rémi we next meet Antoine twelve years later and see how the man views that day in hindsight. An interesting concept and one that again the author nailed. Where some of Antoine’s emotions and actions mirrored those he had aged just twelve, the author hadn’t just given the same voice and adult body we see something more of Antoine, not all of it particularly nice. In fact, I felt less sympathetic to him in this part than I had the younger version.

Three Days and a Life ends with a twist that has played on a loop inside my mind since I finished the book. I’m not one to usually draw on this aspect of a book in my review but I have this time because the twist doesn’t change anything read before but adds a whole other layer that made me want to pick the book straight up and start at the beginning again.

If you fancy some French Noir I offer up a fulsome recommendation for Three Days and a Life. Even more so because this book has been exceptionally well translated by Frank Wynne, so much so that I forgot at times that this wasn’t originally written in English allowing the nuance of the tale coming across as expertly as I’m sure it was in its native language.

I’d like to thank the publishers Quercus who allowed me to read Three Days and a Life which was published on 7 November 2017. This review is my unbiased thanks to them, Pierre Lemaitre for the fantastic storytelling and Frank Wynne who brilliantly translated this book into English.

First Published UK: 13 July 2017
Publisher: MacLehose Press 
No of Pages: 256
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Adversary – Emmanuel Carrère

Non-Fiction
4*s

In line with my exploration of the various forms that true-crime books are served up for consumption I was delighted to receive a copy of this book from fellow blogger damppebbles, especially as I found it to be one of the most disturbing books I’ve read for a long time. Not because the crimes are any more or less horrific than some of the others I’ve explored but because the story is so well told by Emmanuel Carrère that I kept forgetting this wasn’t fiction and so found myself horrified all over again when I remembered, this really did happen.

Jean-Claude Romand was convicted for killing his wife, two children and his parents in separate and seemingly well thought-out attacks, he then set fire to his house after taking some pills. Jean-Claude was soon rescued by the local fire service and questioned by the police. The murders took place in January 1993 and Emmaunel Jean-Claude Romand started corresponding with the murderer after his conviction in 1996, the results are the Adversary.

Not only is this a chilling crime, the root of it is bizarre as the need to kill his family stems from a lie Jean-Claude told when he was still a teenager, engaged in a medical degree and a second year exam which he never sat. From that moment on, he acted to friends and family as if he had passed his degree and was therefore a qualified doctor, so sought after that by the time of the murders he was purportedly a researcher for the World Health Organisation (the WHO), but it was all lies. Obviously, since his days were spent pretending to work, visiting libraries and walking, he needed some hard cash and the second strand of his deception was to encourage his friends and family to invest in hedge funds and foreign ventures. This supplemented his wife’s salary and the pair had the kind of lifestyle others would envy.

The construct of this true-crime book is as if it were a novel which makes it incredibly readable, it starts with the killer sentence that can’t help but grab your attention:

On the Saturday morning of January 9, 1993, while Jean-Claude Romand was killing his wife and children, I was with mine in a parent-teacher meeting…’

From here the back story of Jean-Claude is painstakingly built up and the author illustrates his struggle to stay objective which works for the reader as you get a feel of the pull of the lies this criminal can tell whilst being seemingly plausible and the more worthy outcome of our author not giving him the kudos he so obviously craves. It’s fascinating to see the various change in presentation the author uses, earlier in the book there are some explanations about the character, some attempts to understand his actions until later more of the points which the author presents starkly on the page and then stands back and lets the reader join the dots themselves.

This is a short book but it certainly doesn’t feel rushed, in fact I felt that if we had heard much more about the subject, a killer and a con man, it would have felt that we were feeding his narcissism even more than the book’s publication has probably already done. A fascinating exploration of this French criminal that I’d never heard of, and a story that sounds more unbelievable than much of the crime fiction I read.

First Published UK: 6 July 2017
Publisher: Vintage
No of Pages: 208
Genre: Non-Fiction – True Crime
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Blood Wedding – Pierre Lemaitre

Psychological Thriller 5*s
Psychological Thriller
5*s

In what is becoming a theme, I was really unsure about this book for a good while, but another blogger warned me to hang in there, they hadn’t been convinced by the opening both… so I took their advice, and do you know what? By the end you couldn’t prise this book from my hands!

We first meet Sophie Duguet when she is working as a nanny. She has problems with her memory which include lack of concentration and a complete absence of memory at times combined with problems sleeping she has to write things down to remember them. She loses things constantly and spends her free time blankly watching the television. One night when Madame Gervais, the mother of her charge returns home late, Sophie sleeps over and in the morning on going to wake Léo, she, finds him dead. Not a natural death either. Sophie remembers nothing but an item belonging to her is there on the body and she flees.

Yes, I hear you. I’ve read other books that feature memory loss, and it seems like an easy device to create tension when really none exists. This was part of my issue with this part of the book, that and seemingly random violence and a young woman whose actions I didn’t understand at all, however much the author tried to make me sympathise with her, I struggled.

However we know a little about Sophie; although only young, she has been recently widowed, her ever-patient husband dying in a car accident. This combined with her memory problems and her guilt over the increasingly annoying incidents that this provoked has worn her down further. She is clearly a vulnerable young woman, but… she killed a child, whether she remembers it or not!

Sophie’s face is plastered across the papers – she is wanted for murder and she knows that the police will be seeing if she contacts her dear father or her best friend. Sophie is resourceful and decides to move far away, to a place where she has no connection. She assumes new identities, works cash in hand and after many low-paid jobs and moving neighbourhoods decides that she will start again by getting married. She has three months to do the deal, and so she goes on the internet to find a man.

Despite me being extremely wary of the underlying premise and being slightly sickened by some of the violent scenes and not overly fond of imagining life on the run, Pierre Lemaitre’s writing is stunning. I felt Sophie’s panic and could picture her at the train station with her newly dyed hair trying to buy a ticket, while desperate not to do anything that would mean she stood out from the crowd. The author had me there at Sophie’s side, witnessing her as the third person who narrates the novel, so convincing was his portrayal, I believed in Sophie, she was real.

In part two we meet Franz through his diary written before Sophie’s descent into hell. He also documents Sophie’s problems and it as it this point that Pierre Lemaitre’s incontrovertible skill as a creator of one of the best psychological thrillers I’ve ever read becomes clear. It was one of those books where I felt the author really had got one over on me. He constructed his central characters knowing that he was making even this fairly suspicious reader, look in every direction, except the right one, and he keeps it up right until the bitter end.

I am not going to say anymore except if you pick up this book, stay with it and enjoy the ride, I’m off to see what other books by this author are going on my Christmas list!

Blood Wedding was published on 7 July 2016 by Quercus who kindly gave me a copy. This review is my unbiased thanks to them. I can’t leave this review without stating what a fantastic job the translator, Frank Wynne, did. Although the book ‘felt’ French, the translation to English was flawless with none of the stiltedness that can occur during translation.

First Published UK: 7 July 2016
Publisher: Quercus
No of Pages: 320
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Silent Hours – Cesca Major

Historical Fiction 4*s
Historical Fiction
4*s

Told in the main by three distinct voices; Adeline who is mute, living in a convent in France in 1952, she’s been there for eight years, never speaking out aloud in all that time. Sebastian is a Jew working in his father’s bank in France, unable to fight in the war due to his limp. One day in the market square he meets Isabelle or perhaps Isabelle in her Olive coat notices the young man dancing with a younger girl, left out by her friends. We get to hear from Isabelle through her letters to her brother Paul who is away fighting in the War, the household a quieter more anxious home without him there. Lastly we have the voice of Tristan, a nine-year old boy whose family have relocated from Paris and reside in the same small village.

This small village is not yet occupied by the Germans and the anxiety about if and when that might happen pervades the book illustrating the uncertainty that coloured everything. With few young men left behind the older generation fret and try to plan, particularly those who are ordered to wear the yellow stars on their sleeves.

All of the narrators speak in the first person present tense which doesn’t normally present any problems for me, but I did feel that perhaps the early part of the book would have felt a little smoother if at least one of the narrators had been in a different tense. As it was, the reader is in the dark for quite some time about the links between the characters, which of course the author intended, as this meant that the revelation was all the more potent.

This was a powerful story, made all the more poignant because it has its heart in a real-life event that took place during World War II and I can absolutely see why the author felt it was only right to put that story at the centre of a tale which is part love story but more a reflection of what life in wartime was really like. I have now read a couple of books set in France during the war as well as a huge amount set in England, throughout them all there is the human spirit which keeps the characters putting one foot in front of the other coupled with a huge amount of uncertainty on how to keep themselves and their loved ones safe, whether that be at home, in a temporary home or fighting for freedom. It is impossible not to be moved by stories set during this time period, all the more so when those stories are told by characters who you can not only picture but imagine them living their lives in such terrible times.

This book’s real power is in its ending, when all the links between the lives reveal themselves in their entirety and any pretence at cosiness is completely banished. So while I may have struggled at first with the seemingly disparate pieces of information while in between the lines the foundation to the story was being laid, the finale more than made up for the earlier confusion. I’d got to know the main characters, had some sympathy for them all, although I have to confess Tristan was a particularly irritating child in a way only a nine-year old can be. As different events occur during the book it amazed me how each one found courage, and even though with the hindsight of time you could see those on the periphery to the story working to their own agenda, The Silent Hours appeared to accurately create a time and place that I am thankful I did not live through.

First Published UK: 5 November 2015
Publisher: Corvus
No of Pages: 320
Genre: Historical Fiction – WWII
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2016, Book Review, Books I have read

Testament of Youth – Vera Brittain #20Booksofsummer

Book 15

Non-Fiction 3*s
Non-Fiction
3*s

An alternately moving and exasperating memoir written by a woman who moved from childhood to adulthood during the lead up to World War I, this book published in 1933 uses her diaries and letters from that time to give us a picture of what the realities of war meant for a young woman of her generation.

The book opens with Vera’s desperation to go to Oxford despite her family’s, particularly her father’s objection to this course at odds with the opportunity to study being freely offered to her brother, Edward. It is exceptionally hard to picture a life of the fairly privileged, intelligent and inquisitive Edwardian young lady whose life was still mapped out by the strictures of the Victorian Era. Funny also to read her comparison to the young people of the day when she was writing this memoir who she viewed with envy for the freedom offered to them. Of course from my perspective the generation she envied for the easiness of their lives; the freedom to court without chaperones, to receive degrees even as women and to be employed despite being married, appears to be wildly exaggerated compared to the freedoms we have nowadays. This is just one example of why I’m glad I finally made time to read this book as it demonstrates how feminism wasn’t one wild gallop to get the vote, the struggle was long and incremental and yet women like Vera appreciated the progress made towards a better future.

The book covers Vera’s coming down from Oxford to join the VADs nursing in England, Malta and France throughout the war whilst she simultaneously worried about her brother and her friends fighting in the conflict which as the war progressed she began to hate with a vengeance for its waste of life at the behest of political masters. She saw through the treaties for the young to become heroes to give up their futures for egos. She also records one of the rarely recorded views of the older generation, those who had to live without servants for the first time in their lives, the men and women who had given their children to the fight both on the battlefields and to other war-work thereby forgoing the previous right to call on their unmarried daughters when required.

Following the end of the War Vera retakes her position at Oxford this time to study History rather than English becoming ever more interested in international politics which I’m regretful to report I found in the main a struggle to read as they referenced matters that my knowledge simply wasn’t great enough for me to fully appreciate. With my interest far more keen on the politics relating to women’s lives, this section wasn’t a complete right-off as the considerations proposed for women during the War were under attack following the conclusion of it – to have these put into wider context was enlightening.

My exasperation with the book was in part with her condescending tone which covered whole swaths of the population; the locals from her teens, those women who wanted to seize life rather than study or grieve, those who hadn’t worked through the war because they were too young, men, in general who weren’t her brother or her friend etc. etc. and whilst some of the earlier sections can be considered a faithful recording of her younger self, this continual holding herself up as a paragon of one whose life has been more meaningful than those that didn’t share her experiences, her political ambitions or her daily preoccupation with being taken seriously by everyone got a little wearing.

This is a huge book at over 600 wordy pages with parts, such as the experiences of nursing during the war that I found exceptionally interesting and poignant and those latter pages which detail her work with the League of Nations that frankly I found less so. That said, with a book full of detailed accounts of life before, during and after the war I felt that I truly put flesh on the bones of what I understood life to be like in the UK during this time and even more when right at the end of the book Vera and her friend Winifred take a tour of Europe to have a taste of what those nations lives looked like a decade after the war started compelling reading.

A worthwhile book to read and one that although this short review merely highlights a small proportion of its content, has broadened my knowledge of the time period, albeit for one section of society in particular. At times desperately sad and a reminder of quite what an entire generation went through in the hopes of forging a better future at others I was cheering Vera on with her ambition to make the world a better place. Sadly my overall feeling when I reached the end was discomfort as I couldn’t help but consider Vera’s hopes for peace were to be dashed with the Second World War already looming on the horizon at the time of publication.

First Published UK: August 1933
Publisher: Virago
No of Pages 640
Genre: Non-Fiction (Memoir)
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Moon in a Dead Eye – Pascal Garnier

Contemporary Fiction 5*s
Contemporary Fiction
5*s

If you like your humour dark and fuelled by a savage turn of phrase, this short book will most likely suit your needs perfectly.

In this short novel Pascal Garnier turns his attentions to the elderly and those who are acquainted with his style realise that nothing good can come of Martial and Odette Sudre move to a gated retirement village.
Odette is keen on the idea of living a life-like being on holiday each day of the year whereas Martial is a little more circumspect

All those years spent doggedly accumulating a thousand little habits from which to spin a cosy cocoon of existence on first-name terms with the newsagent, butcher and baker, going to the market on Saturday morning and taking the Sunday stroll up to Mont Valerien… Then one by one, their neighbours had retired to the Loire valley, Brittany, Cannnes… or the cemetery.

But as Odette becomes seduced by talk of a clubhouse and a pool the pair move in. The pair were the first of the residents to move into the village and the winter months was a bit of a lonely one as well as a time to acclimatise.

For the moment, it was closed, and they had not yet met nor even caught sight of the social secretary. Not that Martial was overly concerned. In fact, he was somewhat dreading the opening of the clubhouse. He had no desire to take part in pancake-tossing competitions with people he did not know.

I liked Martial!

After a long winter with Odette buying items for the new house and cooking culinary surprises they are keen to form a welcoming committee when a new couple move in; Maxime and Marlene Node, finally instead of imagining the new neighbours they could meet them for real! Perhaps mindful of the dreary winter they soon share food, drink and outings together. And then a new single woman is rumoured to be moving into the complex and Maxime for one is keen to impress.

Maxime was striking toreador poses. Chest puffed out, belly sucked in, fists clenched beside his hips, he held his breath for long enough to tell himself he still looked pretty good for a man his age. As his muscles relaxed, the skin sagged on his hunched skeleton like an oversized garment. He shrugged his shoulders and began to shave.

Léa moves in, and her new inquisitive neighbours show up on her doorstep as soon as the removal men left keen to see how their new neighbour would fit into the community. With savage humour Garnier exposes each of the characters for the shallow beings they are, have always been, the difference being, in real life there are distractions from yourself, in a gated community with a scarcity of people, the owners of these shallow characteristics become more aware of them, as well as being irritated by those of others.

A thoroughly enjoyable look at snobbery and aging while you can’t fail to miss the underlying suspense, the feeling that something awful is about to befall these poor misguided folk. To find out what that is, you’ll have to read the book for yourself!

I am very grateful to the publishers Gallic Books who gave me a copy of this book which I exchange for this, my honest opinion and have to praise the skill of the translator,  Emily Boyce, who made me forget that it wasn’t originally written in English.

Other Books I’ve Read by Pascal Garnier

Boxes
The A26

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

24 Hours – Claire Seeber

Psychological Thriller 5*s
Psychological Thriller
5*s

I love beautiful language and a thoughtful complex plot as much as anyone but I had been thinking recently that it has been a long time since I have been quite so engrossed in a book, turning the pages (well clicking the clicker) to find out what on earth is going to happen next, and reading in the moment. While that thought breezed through my brain little did I know that I had just such a book, sitting on my kindle ready to read and review; that book was 24 Hours.

I discovered Claire Seeber many years ago when I read her debut novel Bad Friends, a title I will never forget because having enjoyed this so much I packed it up and posted it to my friend with nary more than a post it note saying ‘Enjoy, Cleo xx’. Once the postal service had shipped it across the water, I received a phone call from said friend asking if I was trying to tell her something? Anyway I digress, suffice to say when I saw that Claire Seeber had been signed up by Bookouture I was eager to read her latest offering.

24 Hours is as you might expect. set over just that time period, and we follow Laurie in the present time, and tense, who is racing against time to get to her daughter Polly. To complicate matters Laurie’s best friend Emily has just been killed in a fire, a fire which Laurie believes was meant to result in her own demise.

Each alternate chapter is set in the past, although the ‘then’ chapters aren’t in chronological order they give us an insight into what led to Laurie’s predicament. In a nutshell Laurie thinks that her ex-husband Sid, a feted artist, now ensconced with his model girlfriend wants her out of the way following her insistence that he shouldn’t see their daughter Polly for a while. Polly is returning from Disneyland Paris with Laurie’s mother while Laurie has been spending the days in Devon relaxing with her oldest and dearest friend Emily. Terrified by the events during the night and convinced that Sid wants her dead Laurie feels compelled to reach Polly as she arrives back from France before Sid does, even if that means hiding from the police who are investigating the fire at the hotel.

This book was structured really well, despite the change in time periods between the chapters it was easy to keep track, the headings clearly signpost both the time period and the number of hours into the chase counting upwards from hour dot to 24 hours. The change in tense between the chapters really helped keep track of the time period, I do enjoy book that look back as well as forward but it is incredibly easy to get confused if this isn’t handled carefully.

This is one of those books to be enjoyed, to go with the flow and get wrapped up in the tension because to be honest Laurie makes some pretty stupid decisions. This is an action led rather than a character led book, and because of that close examination may leave them a little lacking in substance, but I truly believe that in this type of book, as long as there are enough hooks for the reader to paint the picture, this isn’t really terribly important.

This psychological thriller, actually lives up to the thriller part of the moniker, something that many books in this genre lack, giving this reader enough heart-racing moments that were a measure of how involved I felt in this desperate race against time novel.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Bookouture for allowing me to read a copy of this book, ahead of the publication date of 9 October 2015 in return for this, my honest opinion.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Boxes – Pascal Garnier

Contemporary Fiction 4*s
Contemporary Fiction
4*s

I chose this book principally because this author came to my attention through Guy Savage’s fascinating blog where he has reviewed a number of this author’s books. As they sounded dark and different I was delighted when Boxes appeared on NetGalley.

From what I’ve gathered Pascal Garnier’s book Boxes was published posthumously following his death in 2010, also little birds have indicated that this probably isn’t the best example of his work, but I found plenty to enjoy, if enjoy is indeed the right word for such a grim and gloomy book.

Brice is moving to the country from the apartment he shared with his wife Emma in Lyon to the countryside, hence the title, all their lives are packed into labelled boxes ready for the removal men to arrive:

Perhaps it was an occupational hazard, but they were all reminiscent of a piece of furniture: the one called Jean-Jean, a Louis-Phillippe chest of drawers; Ludo, a Normandy wardrobe; and the tall, shifty looking one affectionately known as The Eel, a grandfather clock. This outfit of rascals with bulging muscles and smiles baring wolf-like teeth made short work of surveying the flat.

But despite the efficient way his life is hauled from Lyon to a small village there is something missing, Emma. At first Brice makes a stab at unpacking his boxes but not for long, he wants it to be right for Emma, his younger wife, a woman he isn’t entirely sure he deserves.

But women’s hearts are unfathomable and full of oddities as the bottom of their handbags.

And then we learn that she isn’t just away, she’s missing presumed dead in a terrorist attack in Egypt, while working as a journalist. Brice knows no-one in the small village although he gets adopted by a cat but his isolation from other humans aids his descent into depression, and worse, as he fails to accept the loss of his wife or to carry on with his illustration work for a children’s book. Illustrating Mabel Hirsch’s books about Sabine had been his bread and butter but Brice dislikes Mabel, Sabine and children.

The little brat, whose face he riddled with freckles for sport, was seriously taking over his life. As for her creator, he must have killed her at least a hundred times in the course of troubled dreams. He would throttle her until her big frogspawn eyes burst out of their sockets and then tear off all her jewellery. She could no longer move her poor arthritic fingers, they were so weighed down with gold and diamonds. Strings of pearls disappeared into the soft fleshy folds of her double chin. Old, ugly and nasty with it! Al that emerged from her scar of a mouth, slathered in bloodred honey, were barbed compliments which would themselves around your neck, the better to jab you in the back.

With Emma’s parents concern is spurned and it looks like Brice’s life can’t get any worse he meets Blanche, who is at best a little eccentric and constantly impresses on Brice how much he looks like her father who was also an artists. Let’s just say the story becomes even more weird!

This is a short book, easily read with wonderful language, especially considering that it is a work of translation which evokes many feelings, most of which are, admittedly at the grimmer end of the scale. I am absolutely sure I will be seeking out more of Pascal Garnier’s books as this evoked memories of the dark short stories written by the late Roald Dahl, that I loved in my teens.

I’d like to thank the publishers Gallic Books for my copy of this book in return for this honest review. Boxes was published in English in May 2015.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Disappearance of Emily Marr – Louise Candlish

20 books of summer logo

Contemporary Fiction 5*s
Contemporary Fiction
5*s

Having thoroughly enjoyed The Sudden Departure of the Frasers which was published by this author earlier this year, I was thrilled to find that there was a back-catalogue to explore with high-praise being bestowed on this book. Like Lisa Jewell’s books, it is easy to be thrown by the pretty, girly cover and assume this is a light and fluffy story, it isn’t, there are disturbing and dark issues but it does share that readable quality which easily has you rooting for a character.

In a small French town Tabby has become desperate, she has a broken heart and is pondering on some home truths and now she’s travelled from Paris to this unknown, quiet town with no money on a whim. She needs to go home, but is reluctant, she needs to earn money but her French is weak at best, but most of all she needs somewhere to sleep.

Emmie is virtually a hermit venturing out only to work so was it fate that bought Tabby to her door. Although Emmie is reluctant to speak of her own troubles, she is inquisitive about Tabby’s life. She listens to her woes and even fixes her up with a temporary job. Emmie’s spare time is spent working on her story, and what a story it is.

So far so chick-lit? We need the inclusion of a hunky man and we’re set to go. Well there are some men, one falls into the hunky category and is unavailable but that isn’t the point of the story. The story is about Emily Marr a woman who was in every paper, on every internet site, a woman hounded for her actions! Her picture was on the top-ten lists of worst women and the news articles always garnered plenty of spiteful comments. This is the age we live in, no longer do we put people in the stocks to humiliate them, instead campaigns are run to pressurise their employers to sack them for their perceived or real transgressions. If the object of our fury is a woman it is likely that their bodies are discussed in horrifying detail while we call up the sound-bites, attention-seeking, narcissistic, bullying, selfish…. And once it has started there doesn’t seem much that the object of our disgust can do except lay low and wait for the public to move onto a new target. I am as guilty as the next person as I read (although never add my voice to the throng) the latest ‘news’ which is often pulled from social networking sites as a warning that should you warrant it, the past will come back to haunt you!! Anyway I digress… I do like books that reflect the changes in our lives and technology is a big part of those changes, whereas in years gone past only those closest to someone vilified in the press were likely to add their voices to the tidal wave of condemnation, now people can comment from the other side of the word all day long. How does Emily Marr cope? What should she do?

With Emmie’s narration being told in her own words in the past and Tabby’s the story is also one of a different kind of friendship than normally portrayed in women’s fiction, here Emmie is far more secretive about her past, only giving Tabby the barest of details about her life before France despite Tabby wanting to support her friend but Tabby has a secret too and it may just cause both their lives to unravel.

An entertaining book with some really well-drawn characters from the major to the minor, recognisable, three-dimensional personalities are a must in a book where the root of the book is in their actions and Louise Candlish has proved herself extremely accomplished in creating them for our enjoyment.

I chose this out of all Louise Candlish’s previous books on the authors own kind advice following my review of The Sudden Departure of the Frasers. She was right, I loved it so I’m delighted that I chose it as one of my 20 Books of Summer 2015! Challenge.