Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Blackwater Lake – Maggie James

Novella
4*s

For someone who has repeatedly stated that shorter fiction is really not my cup of tea, I have had a short burst of reading quite a few examples of this craft lately, not at all in a bid to meet certain challenges, I hasten to add!
Blackwater Lake actually didn’t fit into any challenge but I do have a couple of the author’s books on my TBR and when another blogger reviewed this novella stating that it featured hoarding, I had to learn more and I wasn’t disappointed with what I found.

“It may not have been a lifestyle she chose, remember. Choice and compulsion don’t always go together.”

Matthew Stanyerhad left his Bristolian home as soon as he was able to, although at that time his mother’s hoarding was comparatively low level, he’d never been able to have friends round. As he got older, he visited sporadically but with the onset of his mother’s illness with dementia the visits became more frequent and his concern about the state his parents lived in multiplied. His father is still holding down his job as a groundsman for the Blackwater Estate but managing his wife’s condition is taking its toll. Then the day came when he couldn’t contact either of them and when he finds a note he knows that he will have to call the police. Even now as a grown man he wishes there was another way, he doesn’t want the state of the house to become public knowledge.

Matthew needs to clear the house out and starts sorting through the masses of papers and objects stored in the house, the tins of tuna hoarded for an eventuality only clear to his mother and the seemingly endless piles of clothes, many of which she’d never worn. When enough clutter has been sorted, Matthew uncovers some facts about his family all previously shrouded at best in secrecy or at worst shielded from his view in a veil of lies.

This is one meaty story for a novella, the characters see definite progression and end up as fully rounded people, although Matthew’s girlfriend is a little more of a shadowy being. I found the whole story of Blackwater Lake well and truly gripping all of which goes to show that a good story doesn’t need to be long to be satisfying. The plotting was also complex to fit into what amounts to a little under one hundred pages, and yet nothing felt rushed, the story easy to follow and I was on the roller-coaster ride to find out what happened in the past as well as the truth of what led to the disappearance of Matthew’s parents. I think it is often harder for a writer to give emotional depth to a story, particularly when the subject is male without moving towards the extremes yet although I never doubted the turmoil the chief protagonist was dealing with, the author didn’t allow those feelings to run out of control.

This absolute delight of a novella has confirmed that those books of Maggie James that have sat patiently on the TBR definitely need to be shuffled closer to the top of the mountain.

First Published UK: 27 September 2015
Publisher: Orelia Publishing 
No. of Pages: 93
Genre: Novella – Psychological Suspense
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Truly Madly Guilty – Liane Moriarty

Contemporary Fiction 4*s
Contemporary Fiction
4*s

I have loved in varying degrees the five other books I’ve read by this author with last year’s offering, Little Lies being one of my favourite reads of the year, so I was a little surprised that I didn’t instantly warm to this book but happily I soon became engrossed about this tale of middle-class life in Sydney Australia.

Truly Madly Guilty charts the life of three couples; quiet Erika and Oliver are neighbours to the more flamboyant Vid and Tiffany so when Vid in a party spirit invites them to a barbeque on a day Erika’s best, and childhood friend, Clementine and her husband Sam are visiting they feel they should accept. Part of what makes the opening to this book so slow is the use of Liane Moriaty’s favoured device, we all know something huge happened at the barbeque but what the event was is shrouded in mystery, a very heavily signposted mystery at that.

Having got over the frustration of wanting to know what on earth happened in Vid and Tiffany’s back garden I concentrated on the smaller secrets that are revealed. Sam and Clementine have an enviable lifestyle, especially now that Sam has a new job. Their two daughters Holly and Ruby are beautiful and healthy although come with the associated niggles that children bring with them. Clementine is a cellist and about to audition for her dream job. Erika and Oliver are the besotted god-parents to the two girls and have both come from more troubled backgrounds than their friends. But all is not as it seems, Erika and Clementine don’t have a simply breezy friendship, rather these childhood playmates have a complex relationship. Of course Tiffany and Vid are oblivious to this fact and are enjoying the barbeque with gusto.

So once more we have a novel with a psychological bent concentrated at least in part on female friendship. The author, as always has a sharp eye (and pen) which details the everyday events that reveal something far deeper than is initially expected. Sadly, I didn’t find the humour, which is, for me, part of the pull of this author’s books but you really can’t fault her on her observations. The characters, their squabbles, their passions and their secret fears are all absolutely spot on. I felt I knew them all, I felt their guilt (yes this isn’t a title with no relation to the book!) as well as the more mundane emotions such as ambivalence, the author accurately writing about not only those things that are opposite ends of the spectrum of emotion but those middling ones which adds a real edge of realism which helps bring these people to life. And you should also be prepared for a whole heap of issues to keep you enthralled including IVF, hoarding, alcoholism, lap-dancing to name a few! Liane Moriarty’s dialogue was as sharp as ever, the exchanges between Erika and Clementine particularly really lift the book to another level.

The event when it is revealed is a good one, with all the characters behaving and displaying the whole range of emotions imaginable. So whilst this may not be my favourite book by this author I was left satisfied at the end of the book, with it making far more of an impression on me than I suspected it would.

I’d like to thank the publishers Michael Joseph for allowing me to read an advance copy of this book. This unbiased review is my thank you to them.

Published UK: 28 July 2016
Publisher: Michael Joseph
No of Pages 480
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Other books by Liane Moriarty

Little Lies (2014)
The Husband’s Secret (2013)
The Hypnotist’s Love Story (2011)
What Alice Forgot (2010)
The Last Anniversary (2006)
Three Wishes (2004)

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

The House We Grew Up In – Lisa Jewell

Perfect Storytelling 5 *
Women’s Fiction
5*

I switched on my kindle with eager anticipation to read the latest offering from Lisa Jewell; there is a very special feeling when you just know from reading the very first words that what lies ahead is 400 pages of pure enjoyment.

The book tells the story of the Bird family who lived in a beautiful house in a Cotswold village. The family comprised a mother Lorelei, a father Colin and four children; two girls followed by twin boys, and on Easter Sunday they had an Easter Egg Hunt in the garden. In 1981 the eldest daughter Megan is 10 and along with her cousins celebrates one such idyllic day but as the reader already knows that in April 2011 Megan has turned up at the beautiful house with her eldest daughter who declares `This is the worst house I have ever seen’

The reader finds out what happened in the intervening years with flashbacks to Easter’s between 1981 and 2011, as well as being privy to Lorelei’s emails to her friend which started in November 2010. In short a great deal happens to change everyone; there are many issues covered including bereavement, mental illness, suicide, adultery as well as the big one, relationships. All are sensitively handled, cleverly illustrating the different ways the characters deal with events both at the time and how they feel about them years later. All these events meant that the book was a real page turner where I found myself wondering what else could happen to the lovely family I first read about.

I think the reason why I love Lisa Jewell’s books so much is her characters, always real and just like real people my opinion and allegiance can change as you find out more about them. This has to be my favourite of all time, something I believe I stated after reading her last book, Before I Met You! I would suggest this to anyone who loves a good story. This is the type of story which leaves you bereft that it is finished

Other Books by Lisa Jewell
Before I Met You (19 Jul 2012)
The Making of Us (12 May 2011)
After the Party (15 Dec 2010)
The Truth About Melody Browne (15 Dec 2010)
31 Dream Street (3 Apr 2008)
Vince and Joy: The Love Story of a Lifetime (4 Aug 2005)
A Friend of the Family (4 Aug 2005)
One-hit Wonder (25 Apr 2003)
Thirtynothing (7 Sep 2000)
Ralph’s Party (6 May 1999)

The Making of Us

Before I Met You

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Tarnished – Julia Crouch

Women's Fiction 4*'s
Women’s Fiction
4*’s

I thought Cuckoo, the debut from Julia Crouch was a really good read, although I wasn’t as impressed with the author’s second book Every Vow You Break, so I had reservations before reading this book which I received through Amazon Vine. I’m really glad I gave it a go; an intriguing story backed up by skilful writing meant that this was an enjoyable read.

Peg has no childhood memories of being brought up by her lovely grandmother, Dolly in the same house as her obese aunt Jean. When Dolly starts suffering from dementia Peg decides to track down her father but maybe she should have left the past where it was? Peg is in a relationship with a much stronger partner, Loz who is pushing her to find out what it was that the family are reluctant to reveal to Peg. Events soon take a very dark turn as the two women dig into the past.

Julia Crouch manages to raise the tension in this book with the aid of Peg’s slowly returning , memories, the descriptions of the house where Dolly has hoarded stuff and Jean’s obesity are so well described it made my skin crawl. The reader may need to suspend a certain level of belief, particularly towards the end but it is no less thrilling for that. A book to become absorbed in and to be repulsed by in equal measures, I can’t wait for the next one.

See my reviews for Julia Crouch’s previous books

Every Vow you Break

Every Vow You BreakEvery Vow You Break by Julia Crouch

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m afraid I didn’t enjoy this story as much as Julia Crouch’s debut [[ASIN:B004P8ITIS Cuckoo] which I thought was a great read.

The first half of this book seemed to meander introducing us to Lara, her actor husband Marcus and their 3 children, teenage twins Olly and Bella plus 4 year old Jack. They are moving to Trout Island in New York as Marcus has been asked to play the lead part in MacBeth at the local theatre. There are lots of bemusing happenings in the creepy house, Olly finds some local layabouts and Bella falls in love. Meanwhile Lara decides that she is no longer in love with her husband partly due to her recent abortion which she felt he’d forced her into. It’s fair to say the break isn’t going to plan.

After the very long build up, during which I didn’t warm to any of the characters, an awful lot happens in the last few chapters. As the main revelation had been fairly heavily signposted earlier, it wasn’t as exciting as it could have been. There are still a fair number of loose ends by the end of the book which added to my disappointment.

Hopefully Julia Crouch’s next offering will be more to my taste.

View all my reviews

Cuckoo

CuckooCuckoo by Julia Crouch

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I liked this book and it certainly held my attention, I was eager to find out what happens to Polly and Rose the two best friends from Brighton who’d first met at the age of 7.

The book is set in a rural part of England near Bath and describes the pain and pleasures of renovating a home to bring up the perfect family, then…. Polly’s husband Christos has died and she wants to bring her boys back from Greece and Polly offers to let them stay.

At first I sympathised with Rose but as the book goes on it is slowly revealed how she is no innocent. The relationships between all the characters are well defined, Rose and her husband Gareth have recently gone through a bad patch and he is reluctently persuaded to let Polly stay, then things start to unravel but whose fault is it? I can’t say too much without spoiling the story but no character in this book is a role model.

I have wavered between a 4 and 5 start review mainly because I wasn’t overly convinced by the last section when Rose and Polly visit Brighton but make no mistake this is a great debut book and is not to be missed.

View all my reviews