Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Book Review- Let the Dead Speak by Jane Casey


In the chilling new crime novel from award-winning author Jane Casey, Detective Maeve Kerrigan and the murder squad must navigate a web of lies to discover the truth…

A murder without a body
Eighteen-year-old Chloe Emery returns to her West London home one day to find the house covered in blood and Kate, her mother, gone. There may not be a body, but everything else points to murder.

A girl too scared to talk
Maeve Kerrigan is young, ambitious and determined to prove she’s up to her new role as detective sergeant. She suspects Chloe is holding something back, but best friend Bethany Norris won’t let Maeve get close. What exactly is Bethany protecting Chloe from?

A detective with everything to prove
As the team dig deeper into the residents of Valerian Road, no one is above suspicion. All Maeve needs is one person to talk, but that’s not going to happen. Because even in a case of murder, some secrets are too terrible to share.

Let the Dead Speak is actually the seventh Maeve Kerrigan book, and true to form the first I have read. Thankfully it mostly works well as a stand alone book but I did feel I would have benefitted from knowing more about the history of Maeve and her fellow officers, particularly Josh Derwent, so if possible I would recommend reading the books in order if you can. However, this is still a fantastically gripping novel and has persuaded me to read the rest of the series.
The mystery itself rests on the copious amount of blood discovered by Chloe Emery in her home. The police quickly determine that this much blood loss has to mean a murder, and yet there is no body. Chloe's mum, Kate is missing so is she the victim and how are the police going to investigate when it seems that everybody they speak to is holding something back? Let the Dead Speak is a terrific police procedural for anybody who enjoys a thriller with a compelling mystery. It combines a strong plot with complex and well-drawn characters - the investigators and those under suspicion. Although the story has an intriguing premise it is this sharp characterisation that for me really made the story. The intricacies of the various relationships in the book give it a real heart. Some of the characters are immensely unlikeable but nevertheless still interesting, and even those who are more sympathetic are still flawed and  multidimensional. Some of my suspicions were realised but part of the fun of reading a thriller is being proven right and there were still plenty of twists I was surprised by. I'm delighted to have been introduced to Maeve Kerrigan and knowing I now have six more books featuring her is an extra treat.
Many thanks to the publishers, Harper Collins UK for my advance copy received from Netgalley in return for this review.

Let the Dead Speak will be on sale in the UK from 9th March 2017.


Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Book Review - The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden



'Frost-demons have no interest in mortal girls wed to mortal men. In the stories, they only come for the wild maiden.'
In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, an elderly servant tells stories of sorcery, folklore and the Winter King to the children of the family, tales of old magic frowned upon by the church.
But for the young, wild Vasya these are far more than just stories. She alone can see the house spirits that guard her home, and sense the growing forces of dark magic in the woods...
Atmospheric and enchanting, with an engrossing adventure at its core, The Bear and the Nightingale is perfect for readers of Naomi Novik's Uprooted, Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, and Neil Gaiman.

The Bear and the Nightingale begins with an old lady sat by an oven, telling a fairy tale to four children. And that's what this book is, a fairy tale set in old Russia and the sort of book that begs to be read curled up by the fire with the wind howling outside. The four children are the offspring of Pyotr Vladimirovich, boyar of lands in the wilderness of the country. He is married to Marina, daughter of Ivan I and his mysterious wife said to be able to tame animals, dream the future, and summon rain. Pyotr and Marina's fifth child, Vasilisa (Vasya) is born during the screaming winds of November and her mother dies shortly afterwards. She grows to be, 'an ugly little girl:skinny as a reed-stem with long-fingered hands and enormous feet'.' but with 'eyes the colour of the forest during a summer thunderstorm,'. She is a wild, headstrong girl at a time when young women were supposed to become obedient wives or join the convent. Vasya, though sees house and forest spirits and learns to talk with horses. Life changes irrevocably for Vasya with the arrival of her stepmother and an impossibly handsome and ambitious young priest. Although Russia has converted to Christianity the old beliefs still persist and families leave offerings for their domovoi (house spirit) but Father Konstantin convinces them they are demons and stokes the fear of the villagers causing them to renounce their old ways and mistrust those who don't. As crops fail, death comes more often to a village that already struggles with its long, harsh winters. Evil is at large, Vasya knows it but what can she do when people believe she is a witch?
There is so much to love about The Bear and the Nightingale, old Russia with its realities of a life shaped by the seasons in a harsh environment is evocatively brought to life. Katherine Arden has a magical way with words, 
'But the wind remained. Harder and harder it blew, wordless, flinging clouds across the moon, and the wind smelled blessedly of snow.'
Vasya's family may live in a time and place very different from our own but their relationship to each other is still somehow deeply familiar. They tease, fight, love and worry and just their ordinary domestic lives, their unrelenting struggle to survive another year is a completely immersive story even before the fantasy element is added. It is the fantasy though that lies at the heart of this book, from the spirits Vasya communicates with - the domovoi, vodianoy, vazila and rusalka - to Morozko, the frost-demon, to something or someone even more terrifying, The Bear and The Nightingale is a rich folkloric fairy tale that wove its magic around me. I just wish then that the final part of the book didn't feel quite so rushed. I had been gently drawn in by the story, the pace of the first two thirds of the book feel quite slow and the darkness that threatens Vasya and her community is more hinted at than expressed. As the truth is revealed I was initially enthralled but then it just felt as if it petered out. Storylines were unfinished and the ending itself while intriguing didn't feel right. If a sequel is planned then it all makes much more sense but as a standalone book I felt that although not everything needs to be said, some of what was missed out meant for a less satisfying conclusion than ideally I'd have liked. However, despite these reservations and minor disappointment I did really enjoy the book and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys fantasy and fancies a change from elves and dragons.
Many thanks to the publishers for my copy, received through Netgalley in return for my review.

The Bear and the Nightingale is published in the UK by Del Rey, a Penguin UK imprint.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Book Review - Sealskin by Su Bristow




Donald is a young fisherman, eking out a lonely living on the west coast of Scotland. One night he witnesses something miraculous … and makes a terrible mistake. His action changes lives – not only his own, but those of his family and the entire tightly knit community in which they live. Can he ever atone for the wrong he has done, and can love grow when its foundation is violence?

Based on the legend of the selkies – seals who can transform into people – Sealskin is a magical story, evoking the harsh beauty of the landscape, the resilience of its people, both human and animal, and the triumph of hope over fear and prejudice. With exquisite grace, Exeter Novel Prize-winner Su Bristow transports us to a different world, subtly and beautifully exploring what it means to be an outsider, and our innate capacity for forgiveness and acceptance. Rich with myth and magic, Sealskin is, nonetheless, a very human story, as relevant to our world as to the timeless place in which it is set. And it is, quite simply, unforgettable.


I first read about Sealskin a few months ago and have been quietly stalking it ever since, I do love magical realism books and this one sounded exactly my cup of tea. The very first line of the book immediately drew me in,
"You can't trust moonlight."
Yet within a few pages I felt a little uneasy, Donald's actions made me feel very uncomfortable and while I have no issue with violence in books I wasn't expecting it here and it did make me question whether it was the book I expected. The answer is no, it probably isn't but what I took from the story was so much more profound and unforgettable. I'm glad I decided to read on because what follows is a masterclass in evocative storytelling. The characterisation, the scene setting, the plot, all combine into a truly wonderful story. Yes, there is that dreadful act at the start but it's worth remembering that traditional fairy tales were often violent and the myth that inspired Sealskin is no different and while inexcusable it was the moment that necessarily determines what follows.
Donald's actions that night shape not just his life but the lives of his entire community, and it's a community that although necessarily tight-knit - these are people living tough lives, dictated to by the land, weather and frequently cruel sea - has a darker side. Mhairi's introduction changes them all irrevocably, secrets are uncovered, truths told and lessons, sometimes reluctantly, learnt. What I loved was seeing all the characters grow, even those who initially seem unlikeable are touched in some way by a remarkable woman who may not have the power of human speech but is somehow still able to  to transform their lives.
If I lived alone I would have forgotten to eat, so immersed was I in this little village on the west coast of Scotland. It is so beautifully crafted, so richly described and, despite it's mythic inspiration actually a book that reveals an enduring truth about human frailties and strengths, about love, forgiveness, acceptance and loss. It will be a book I will be recommending for years to come, certain books come along that touch something inside of you, and Sealskin is one of those books.


Many thanks to Orenda for my review copy. And some more good news from Orenda, they now have an ebook store, check it out for exciting and original fiction from across the world!

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Book Review - The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell


Feodora and her mother live in the snowbound woods of Russia, in a house full of food and fireplaces. Ten minutes away, in a ruined chapel, lives a pack of wolves. Feodora's mother is a wolf wilder, and Feo is a wolf wilder in training. A wolf wilder is the opposite of an animal tamer: it is a person who teaches tamed animals to fend for themselves, and to fight and to run, and to be wary of humans.

When the murderous hostility of the Russian Army threatens her very existence, Feo is left with no option but to go on the run. What follows is a story of revolution and adventure, about standing up for the things you love and fighting back. And, of course, wolves.

My 9yo daughter is now a fluent reader but we still enjoying sharing a good book together at bedtime and with her favourite animal being a wolf we were both looking forward to The Wolf Wilder. We weren't disappointed, this is a book that deserves to become a classic. It is exciting, beautifully descriptive, witty and never patronises its young audience. Feo is a wonderful protagonist, socially awkward, self deprecating yet honourable, brave and able to inspire revolution. The villain, General Rakov isn't a pantomime baddie, he is a sadistic and a genuinely chilling character. Katherine Rundell doesn't shy away from describing brutality nor death but never becomes gratuitous instead creating a tense, often dark but ultimately a very hopeful tale. The wolves themselves are of course the real heart of the story, they are neither the fairytale big bad wolves nor anthropomorphic pets. Although they have a strong relationship with Feo, and to a lesser extent with her friend, Ilya, the reader is left in no doubt that she is a part of their pack rather than their owner.
 Towards the end of the book Feo makes a stirring speech that in these troubled times feels more vital than ever, perhaps particularly so for children;
"But he's always been blind: he doesn't see the facts. The fact that there are more of us than there are of him. The fact that fire in your soul beats fire on the ground. The fact that love always beats fear."
I loved The Wolf Wilder but more importantly so did my daughter, in fact she has elevated it to the heady heights of her "best book ever!" I asked her what she particularly liked about it,
"I liked that the main character was a girl who was strong and brave, and even though she needed help from friends she wasn't weak. Her friends were amazed by what she could do. I don't want to read stories with girls always having to be the ones rescued but I don't want the boys being weak either. I like adventures where they work together. I also liked that the wolves were loyal but couldn't be controlled and were still wild. Also even though Rakov was really evil and did terrible things he inspired bravery in others. I think that's a really good message."

The Wolf Wilder is published in the UK by Bloomsbury


Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Book Review - Holding by Graham Norton



The remote Irish village of Duneen has known little drama; and yet its inhabitants are troubled. Sergeant PJ Collins hasn't always been this overweight; mother of­ two Brid Riordan hasn't always been an alcoholic; and elegant Evelyn Ross hasn't always felt that her life was a total waste.

So when human remains are discovered on an old farm, suspected to be that of Tommy Burke - a former­ love of both Brid and Evelyn - the village's dark past begins to unravel. As the frustrated PJ struggles to solve a genuine case for the first time in his life, he unearths a community's worth of anger and resentments, secrets and regret.

Darkly comic, touching and at times profoundly sad. Graham Norton employs his acerbic wit to breathe life into a host of loveable characters, and explore - with searing honesty - the complexities and contradictions that make us human. 

Graham Norton's masterful debut is an intelligently crafted story of love, secrets and loss.

First things first, yes this is the Graham Norton, host of Eurovision and his eponymous chat show and bringer of life to Father Noel Furlong. Now I'm not generally drawn to celebrity penned novels but the description of Holding sounded exactly the sort of book I enjoy and eschewing a book because its writer is a celebrity is as ridiculous as choosing it for that reason.
And I'm very glad I did! Holding isn't a game changer but it is a well written, observant and warm novel. It does feel a little anachronistic, despite being set in the present it isn't a gritty, modern thriller, it's more gently paced and brought to mind the sort of Sunday night crime dramas that families can sit down to together - Midsomer Murders Irish style perhaps...? However, it doesn't shy away from the darker side of life despite not being brutally realistic. The characters, perhaps unsurprisingly, are what drive the novel. PJ Collins, in particular is the heart of the story, an outsider but not in the exciting, dangerous sense. PJ is overweight, dissatisfied in his career and often socially awkward. However, he is also immensely likeable, a warm and empathetic character who serves as our eyes into this seemingly quiet community that actually hides dark secrets and regrets. A sense of dissatisfaction and disappointment runs through the book, this is a very human story, although a murder may have occurred it's really more about life and the decisions people make, rightly or wrongly. It is occasionally over descriptive and as I say isn't a game changer but it is a warm and enjoyable slice of small town life with a satisfying mystery that kept me guessing for the most part. An assured debut then and I hope Norton writes more, particularly if it means we have more Sergeant Collins.

Holding is published in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton. Thank you for my copy received through NetGalley in return for my review.