Friday, 30 September 2016

To the Bright edge of the World - Eowyn Ivey - Ethereal Alaskan adventure



My Review - To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey.

I adore Alaskan and Arctic settings for books, perhaps it's because its such a scary and alien environment for me, one I'd never really feel at home in - I'm a sun worshipper from the top of my sun scorched head to the tips of my sandal clad toes.

The late 19th century Alaska of Eowyn Ivey's new novel is mystical and haunting and set in an era when few white men has set food beyond the snow line.

Newly wed couple, army colonel Allen Forrester and his recent bride Sophie are just beginning to emerge from their loved up honeymoon stage when he receives an exciting commission he just can't refuse, to head an expedition along the remote and myterious Wolverine River in Alaska to explore and discover a route that can be used to gain access to this remote and hostile land where previous attempts to communicate with the natives have met with disaster.

Reluctant to be parted, the couple plan for Sophie to accompany her husband at least for part of the journey, this excites her and appeals to her sense of adventure which is unusual for a woman in this time and sets her apart from her peers, she is lucky that she's wedded a man, who despite being older than her has enough foresight to support her in her love of nature and wildlife and desire to go places and see things.

The sudden discovery which is to prevent Sophie embarking on the biggest adventure of her life is not without its compensations - she is pregnant and must wait patiently in their home in army barracks whiling away the days waiting for news of her beloved Allen whilst suffering the bewilderment of being swept up into a bitchy little clique of army wives she has little in common with and no desire to emulate.

The narrative alternates between Sophie's life of enforced waiting and the diaries of her husband. Years later in the present day an old man and a younger one correspond regularly their only common interest the artefacts of this expedition which are Allens diaries, photographs and press clippings which intersperse the pages of the book.

Allen and his companions, Pruitt, the photographer whose brief encounter with his leaders wife sparks in Sophie an interest in the new fangled photography, which is to become an interest she can cling to when life is at its most trying. The hot headed and hasty Sergeant Tillmann makes up the small group and soon they begin to encounter natives and superstition and as their journey progresses the line between pragmatism and myth blurs and the journey becomes fraught and dangerous as well as magical and awe inspiring.

Things happen which can't be explained by a rational mind, but are the men suffering deprivations causing hallucinations or witnessing something other wordly?

The book seems to be a little ponderous at first but I soon began to appreciate that this is part of its charm. It seems gentle and leisurely but there is actually a whole lot going on and diverse dual time storylines entwine.

I loved Sophie and felt huge empathy for her. When tragedy strikes which is to affect Allen and Sophie deeply my heart darned near snapped in two.

The location is larger than life, colder than ice cream and twice as delicious. I adored The Snow child by this author and am delighted to have enjoyed this one just as much, although it's very different the same magic runs between the pages and melted into my heart. Wonderful and captivating from start to finish although I admit to feeling a certain wistfulness at the end its wholly satisfying and I feel very nostalgic about leaving the settings already!.

This is such a deeply immersive novel the dual timelines provide almost a touch of light relief and the details about exploration, expeditions, photography and wildlife watching are never dull but engrossed me and the characters including some native characters completely bewitched me.

I received my copy through the publisher Little Brown and Company via Netgalley and here is the description from there:

From the bestselling author of The Snow Child, a thrilling tale of historical adventure set in the Alaskan wilderness.

In the winter of 1885, Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester sets out with his men on an expedition into the newly acquired territory of Alaska. Their objective: to travel up the ferocious Wolverine River, mapping the interior and gathering information on the region's potentially dangerous native tribes. With a young and newly pregnant wife at home, Forrester is anxious to complete the journey with all possible speed and return to her. But once the crew passes beyond the edge of the known world, there's no telling what awaits them. 

With gorgeous descriptions of the Alaskan wilds and a vivid cast of characters -- including Forrester, his wife Sophie, a mysterious Eyak guide, and a Native American woman who joins the expedition - TO THE BRIGHT EDGE OF THE WORLD is an epic tale of one of America's last frontiers, combining myth, history, romance, and adventure.


Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The Trees - Ali Shaw - weirdly wondrous



My thoughts

It's taken me a while to fully digest this book between finishing reading it and writing down my thoughts. I loved the previous book by Ali Shaw, The Girl with Glass feet which was unique and imaginative, this novel is almost as difficult to categorize as this writer has a fearsomely vivid imagination. The cover too, is mind blowingly gorgeous.

Firstly let me say I thoroughly loved reading The Trees from start to finish, it proved to be a real page turner, imaginative and well written, yet I found it really difficult to accept, imagine and even picture the concept of trees bursting forth overnight and completely destroying the world in a matter of minutes, turning it into a post-apocalyptic wasteland peopled by random survivors. At no point was there any kind of explanation, or people asking how and why? They just accepted it and that's what I also had to do, I had to put aside my preconceptions of even science fiction being based on the possible and just go along for the ride, because I REALLY didn't get the concept.

I'd definitely say that it's much more post-apocalyptic fantasy than sci-fi, even though it reminded me in many ways of The Day of the Triffids, where killer plants take over the world leaving it a mere shadow of the world we know.

OK let’s get to the story. Our main protagonist is Adrien, he's kind of an anti-hero, he lives in English suburbia with his Irish wife Michelle, who has always supported him despite his self-acknowledged failing as a husband. His self esteem is at rock bottom, he is a coward, he is constantly fearful of life, quite frankly the guys a wimp, he hates his career as teacher and is bullied by the older pupils and he likes an easy life, preferring to sit and watch tv and eat takeaway’s rather than actually doing anything.

All that’s about to change, whilst his wife’s away on business and after an evening with a six pack slobbing around on the sofa he goes to bed and wakes to a changed world. Vast trees have burst densely out of the ground, growing to immense proportions instantly and destroyed everything in their path! Houses, buildings, roads are all gone, broken and damaged beyond repair. Adriens home is in pieces and by some miracle he has survived where all around him people have not been so lucky. From the branches of the trees hang belongings and bodies of the not so fortunate.

Oh, I did struggle with this idea! How on earth could so many trees all grow at the same sudden pace so large so quickly?? But they have and Adrien sets off leaving his shattered home with the vague notion of making his way Westwards, towards Michelle.

He soon bumps into another survivor Hannah who at first sees the arrival of the trees as a wonderful gift and her teenage son Seb, more at home in front of a pc screen than outdoors surviving.

They join forces reckoning there’s safety in numbers and despite their many differences manage to rub along quite well. Hannah is heading for her beloved brother a forester who she is sure will have insight on how to cope in a world of trees, the forest being his second home.

Soon the trio are joined by a Japanese girl Hiroko who adopts an orphaned fox cub naming him Yasuo and carrying him around in the hood of her sweatshirt – Oh Yasuo, adorable little creature found his way into my heart and left a fox shaped hole.

The story is so unusual, it’s very gripping and I kept turning page after page. There is a supernatural element with the stick like creatures who emerge from the trees and can only be seen by some,who call them Whisperers, there are the strange animals Kirin and an other-wordly hallucinatory aspect to everything. But the real story is about people, how some people grow and adapt when faced with adversity and others revert to true type and their savage side takes over.

I loved the story telling aspect, I adored Yasuo and the characters are all larger than life and deeply real. Highly recommended especially if you love fantasy, based in the world we know turned to a world we hope never to see.

The Blurb:

There came an elastic aftershock of creaks and groans and then, softly softly, a chinking shower of rubbled cement. Leaves calmed and trunks stood serene. Where, not a minute before, there had been a suburb, there was now only woodland standing amid ruins…

There is no warning. No chance to prepare.

They arrive in the night: thundering up through the ground, transforming streets and towns into shadowy forest. Buildings are destroyed. Broken bodies, still wrapped in tattered bed linen, hang among the twitching leaves.

Adrien Thomas has never been much of a hero. But when he realises that no help is coming, he ventures out into this unrecognisable world. Michelle, his wife, is across the sea in Ireland and he has no way of knowing whether the trees have come for her too. 

Then Adrien meets green-fingered Hannah and her teenage son Seb. Together, they set out to find Hannah’s forester brother, to reunite Adrien with his wife – and to discover just how deep the forest goes.

Their journey will take them to a place of terrible beauty and violence, to the dark heart of nature and the darkness inside themselves



Thursday, 22 September 2016

The Wonder - Emma Donoghue - stark and compelling



My thoughts

The Wonder – Emma Donoghue:

Nurse Libby has served under the great Florence Nightingale and experienced all the dreadful horrors that caring for injured soldiers under terrible conditions in the Crimea entailed.

Now working in a boring and unchallenging role as a nurse in a hospital, when she is offered a two week stint working in a family home in Ireland observing a young girl who will not eat and is reputed to have not eaten for 4 months, it seems like a cushy little number by comparison.

Employed to watch over the girl and ascertain whether she is hiding food and eating secretly, or discover if she is truly a wonder, a genuine miracle child. Lib is convinced the girl must be deceiving everyone somehow and feels she’ll uncover the fraud quickly and expects to find a deceitful and cunning child, but soon she grows to like her charge 11 year old Anna who nevertheless is harbouring a secret or two.

She gets to know a newspaper journalist staying in the small Irish town to cover the story and though they clash at first, they discover they both want the same outcome – to protect and help this child. As a protestant she is unable to accept the girls families unshakeable religious fervour and catholic beliefs which border on maniacal to an outsider.

The story is slow and insidious and got under my skin gradually. I really liked Lib and was rooting for her all the way. What I love about this author, is her huge diversity and versatility, she never writes the same kind of book twice and you never know quite what to expect, apart from being pretty certain you’re in for a rare old treat.

Several of her books are historical and I’m certain I’m not the only one who is waiting with bated breath for her to pen another Slammerkin. 

This new novel draws on the same historical research skills and ability to take you to another time and place and make you feel you live there. At first I felt a touch aggrieved that this lacked the bawdy lustiness of Slammerkin and the horrifying tension of Room, until I realised I was enjoying every word just as much as both these past titles and in Anna was a juvenile voice just as compelling as that of young Jack the narrator of Room.

How dreadful it must be to be as accomplished and revered an author as Emma Donoghue – bearing the load of responsibility and anticipation of your loyal readers. Well she has no need to worry, yet again she has created a masterpiece from a stark setting and peopled this world with wonderful characters and left me in awe of her talent and sobbing quietly in the corner.


Masterful and compelling this story bears its feet in historical facts, fasting girls who survived without eating, martyring themselves for the sake of a religion that has done them no favours in their short lives.


The Blurb

In Emma Donoghue's latest masterpiece, an English nurse brought to a small Irish village to observe what appears to be a miracle-a girl said to have survived without food for months-soon finds herself fighting to save the child's life.

Tourists flock to the cabin of eleven-year-old Anna O'Donnell, who believes herself to be living off manna from heaven, and a journalist is sent to cover the sensation. Lib Wright, a veteran of Florence Nightingale's Crimean campaign, is hired to keep watch over the girl.

Written with all the propulsive tension that made Room a huge bestseller, THE WONDER works beautifully on many levels--a tale of two strangers who transform each other's lives, a powerful psychological thriller, and a story of love pitted against evil.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

The Trysting Tree - Linda Gillard - dual time mystery romance



My Review

The Trysting tree – Linda Gillard

The Trysting tree is a very emotional dual time romance combined with an intriguing family mystery which spans 100 years.

Modern day – divorcee Ann moves into her parents old house to care for her ailing, infirm and seemingly uncaring, artist mother Phoebe, and begins to restore the ancient garden with the help of aspiring landscape enthusiast and amateur genealogist Connor. This modern day story explores the difficulty of strained relationships between mother and daughter, and how the past can never really be put behind us. Ann and Connor find an affinity and share similar pasts, and the irascible Phoebes interest is sparked by the story of Connors family history, linked to the womens home and which he is keen to unravel especially since his grandma Ivy died trying to conceal something, there are hints at the nature of the mystery but not at all the heartache and tragedy which we watch unfold.

When an ancient tree is felled and releases a cache of hidden seed packets each holding a hidden secret the past begins to catch up with the present in a series of parallels and coincidences.

Last century - Hester is betrothed to the dull Walter but her interest in nature and gardens ignites an unlikely and forbidden friendship with the gardener at her family home.

I loved the parts of this story set in the past, even more than the present day events. I found Ann a rather difficult character to warm to at first, whereas as soon as Hester was introduced the book livened up and I felt an affinity with this young woman struggling to be what society expects of her yet follow her own instincts too. Her story becomes more poignant with the outbreak of world war one and the painful legacy this dreadful war bequeaths this family. Ann grew on me gradually like a seed germinating in the murky soil of secrets and concealment.

The author has her own unique style which I first discovered in the wonderful Star Gazing, she creates an unlikely heroine of mature years with a pretty ordinary life and a few flaws and weaves a fascinating and gripping story around her. She undoubtedly draws on her own life experiences, I’m not telling tales out of school if I mention the authors own experiences, fighting and winning, then recovering from cancer, which are skilfully woven into the fabric of this book.

This is just one of several dark and deep themes this novel explores, Linda Gillard isn’t frightened to write about difficult subjects with ease and authority, yet a thread of humour and lightness lifts the mood. A lovely read for new and existing fans of Ms Gillard and afficionados of the dual time romance.

It's the perfect balance of light and dark, romance and mystery to enthrall even the most demanding reader and you will need a little supply of tissues tucked up your sleeve when you settle down beneath The Trysting tree.


The Blurb (from Goodreads)

THE TRYSTING TREE - a heartbreaking story of love and loss by Linda Gillard, author of HOUSE OF SILENCE.

A century of secrets...
Four women live in the shadow of the Trysting Tree.
All have something to hide.

1916
A man without a memory walks away from the Somme battlefield, while a young woman grieves beneath the tree that will guard her secret for a hundred years.

2015
Ann de Freitas doesn’t remember what she witnessed when she was five. The truth lies buried in the beech wood, forgotten for forty years. Can love unlock Ann’s heart and mind?

Connor Grenville is restoring the walled garden where his grandmother, Ivy used to play. Before her death, she tried to destroy the family archive. Who was Ivy trying to protect? And why?

When a storm fells the Trysting Tree, revealing a century-old love hidden in its hollow heart, Ann and Connor begin to sift through the past in search of answers. What they discover changes everything.

“The story doesn’t start here. I need to go back. Back to a time when the beech tree still stood, when I didn’t know the truth about my family and Connor didn’t know the truth about his. Right back to a time when the twentieth century was young and the beech still kept its secrets…”

Friday, 16 September 2016

Blog Tour - The Devil's Work - Mark Edwards - chilling

BLOG TOUR and my Review



The Devil’s Work – Mark Edwards



My Review:

Having read and loved books by this author before I was excited to be asked to take part in the blog tour for his latest psychological thriller The Devils Work, not least because it meant I got to read a copy in advance of publication, Yayyy.

If you read to the end of my review you’ll find there’s a chance to win your very own copy of The Devils work, in fact one of 2 copies being kindly provided by the publisher.

The Devils Work reminded me what a very clever writer this guy is: Firstly he blows away my usual personal preference of reading books written by women – he writes from a female perspective intensely believably. Secondly he can write red herrings and twists into a story like nobody’s business, and in this book he ramps up the tension and pace so I was gnawing my nails down to the skin.

This book hooked me in instantly with the main protagonist young Mum Sophie getting her dream job with a major publishing house (Err my dream job, almost any avid readers job, so this is going to hook in a lot of readers) But it turns out to be the stuff nightmares are made of.

To begin with it’s difficult for Sophie juggling home life with a demanding job but it’s what she’s always wanted so she’s prepared to make a few sacrifices, but little does she realise quite how much is at stake.

Firstly things begin to go wrong which put the pressure on her, her husband becomes unwittingly involved in a scandal which threatens his job, the office politics at her new firm are difficult to get to grips with, someone seems to be causing trouble but who and why? We are treated to a series of flashbacks to Sophie’s days at university and as her past is revealed things begin to make sense, then they don’t as we are led along false pathways only to trip unwittingly over a sheer drop at the end into yet another nightmarish scenario.

Is someone deliberately targeting Sophie? Are the dead mice pinned to her front door left there to warn her or aimed at her husband? Is someone following her?

It’s a wonderfully tense read, which builds to manic proportions. Every time you think things can’t get any worse they do. There are scares and surprises galore and there are a couple of real OMG moments where everything is turned on its head and you have to re-think everything you thought you’d worked out.

Terrifically entertaining and immensely terrifying The Devils work is a thriller you don’t want to miss by talented author Mark Edwards.



PRIZE DRAW:



Don’t miss your chance to sup with the Devil and WIN a lovely brand new paperback copy of this tantalising new book.

To be in with a chance to win just add a reply to this post, telling me what your dream job would be, there must be a way for me to contact the winner, so please sign in to Blogger, or add your Twitter handle or Google plus id so I can message the 2 lucky winners when the prize is drawn on the 27th September.