Blind Side by Jennie Ensor

imageLondon, five months before 7/7: Georgie, a young woman wary of relationships after previous heartbreak, gives in and agrees to sleep with close friend Julian. She’s shocked when Julian reveals he’s loved her for a long time but felt unable to tell her.

Despite some misgivings, Georgie can’t resist her attraction to Nikolai, a Russian former soldier she meets in a pub. While Julian struggles to deal with her rejection, Georgie realises how deeply war-time incidents in Chechnya have affected Nikolai. She begins to suspect that the Russian is hiding something terrible from her.

Then London is attacked…

When I received my copy of Blind Side, on the face of it I was expecting a fairly standard suspense / thriller – right up my street, don’t get me wrong, but likely similar to a lot of books I have read before and probably will again.  I am pleased to say I was pleasantly surprised because the book is much more complex that I expected or than it first seemed.

It opens with Georgie and her best friend Julian sharing one too many glasses of wine that see them ending up in bed together.  Waking up and hungover Georgie knows it’s not the best idea she has ever had but the situation is made worse when Julian tells her that he loves her, has always loved her, and wants a relationship.  This is the last thing Georgie wants.  Julian, though, doesn’t and won’t take no for an answer, becoming increasingly possessive the more Georgie moves away from him.

Then Georgie meets Nikolai, a Russian in London illegally and with a dark past, one he is either hiding because he is up to no good or because he is too ashamed to tell the truth.  For a long time, almost to the end, it isn’t clear what his motives are.  A career-minded woman, normally Georgie wouldn’t look at someone like Nikki but she finds herself drawn to him despite the secrets he is keeping.  As their relationship develops, Julian’s obsession becomes worse and he will – it seems – stop at nothing to stop them falling in love.

What sets this book apart is the setting – the story takes place in London in 2005 in the run up too and aftermath of 7/7.  Tensions are high and distrust is in the air.  Nikolai has links to Chechnya which are hard for Georgia to ignore.  Whilst I wasn’t in London during this time, the descriptions of how people felt, their anxiety and constant looking over their shoulder and suspecting people felt very real to me.

I think the setting also helped develop the characters.  Not so much Julian, but Georgia was well-rounded and relatable whilst Nikolai’s discomfort at being a stranger in a strange land came across well.  It helped explain a lot of their misunderstandings, which meant plenty of twists and turns in the plot and a constant second-guessing of motives.  If I had any criticisms it would be the length – always a personal thing – but for me it was a little too long.  However, this is minor and didn’t stop me liking the book a lot.

Emma

Note: I received a copy of this book from the author Jennie Ensor in return for a fair and honest review.  All thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own.  Many thanks for my copy Jennie.

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The End of the World Running Club by Adrian J Walker

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When the world ends and you find yourself stranded on the wrong side of the country, every second counts.

No one knows this more than Edgar Hill. 550 miles away from his family, he must push himself to the very limit to get back to them, or risk losing them forever…

His best option is to run.

But what if your best isn’t good enough?

I picked up this book because I felt like I was seeing it everywhere as I was walking around London the other week.  Then I found out it had been featured on radio 2 and raved about in various quarters. It had, however, apparently passed me by completely.  The power of advertising is a marvellous (or dangerous) thing though and I ended up picking this book up without a second thought when I then saw it in the library a few days later.

I have to say I wasn’t sure what to expect even though I felt I had to read it. A book about a man running across the country – I worried it might be monotonous or plain old boring.  Thankfully it was neither, in large part because of Ed who is more complex than he originally seems.  This isn’t just about a journey across the country, it is about his personal journey.

I enjoyed watching him going from a bit of a selfish oaf who didn’t do much in the way of taking care of his family to being someone who realises how important they are to him.  As the story progressed he became a stronger, nicer, person – one who stuck by his friends and took risks. And there were a lot of  risks that needed taking.

This is a post-apocalyptic world and a scary one at times, not so much the people (though there are a few I wouldn’t want to cross) but because the environment is so inhospitable.  There are no cars or roads to speak of (which is what makes running the only option).  The sun does not shine so day and night don’t seem much different.  In the end it is about endurance and determination.  It takes a lot for Ed to attempt what he does and I was rooting him and his friends on the whole way.

This is a well written book with a good pace for the most part (it does flag a little in the middle but only for a couple of chapters).  The characters are well developed and the story an interesting one I haven’t read in quite this way before (though there are many post-apocalyptic novels out there).  It made it an enjoyable read, even for someone who – like Ed – doesn’t really like running and left me liking this one a lot.  A recommended read.

Emma

The Trap by Melanie Raabe

imageI know who killed my sister.

I wrote this novel for him.

Twelve years ago, Linda’s sister Anna was murdered. Her killer was never caught, but Linda saw him. Now, all these years on, she’s just seen him again. On TV.

He has since become a well-known reporter, and Linda – a famous novelist and infamous recluse – knows no one will believe her if she accuses him, so she does the only thing she can think of: she writes a thriller about a woman who is murdered, her killer never caught. When the book is published, she agrees to give just one media interview. At home. To the one person who knows more about the case than she does.

He knows what happened that night and she wrote a book about it but, when the doorbell rings, neither of them can be sure how the story will end.

After her sister Anna is brutally murdered and the police are unable to find her killer, Linda retreats from life. Twelve years later, she is as famous for being a recluse as she is for being an author. She hasn’t left the house in all this time. And she hasn’t stopped being haunted by her sisters death and the face of the killer she saw fleeing the scene. Then, one day, there he is staring at her from a TV screen.

Determined he is not going to get away this time, she does what she does best – writes a novel to lure him out.  This is a great idea for a novel, though picking up the book I did worry it was one I might have seen before in Renee Knight’s Disclaimer. Thankfully beyond the basic idea of a crime being exposed in a work of fiction, the stories are very different and The Trap a very good book and an excellent debut.

Linda’s reclusiveness gives the story a real claustrophobic feel. Setting the majority of the book in one house could have made it boring or repetitive. Instead, Raabe makes you wonder whether Linda is right, whether she has finally seen the killer after all these years, or whether she is mentally ill and completely detached from reality. It feels like you are watching a woman completely lose the plot…or are you?  To add to the questions, interspersed throughout, are chapters from the book Linda is writing which add to and contradict the story she is telling in real time.

As a character Linda is interesting if not necessarily that likeable. I struggled at times with her being an intelligent woman with the resources to help herself but who didn’t. Then again, it also made it easier for me to wonder if she maybe was the guilty party, not the mystery man on the television. And I did wonder that a lot. Her complexity was probably a good thing too because for the most part she was the only character in the book, and the only one whose viewpoint you saw. It’s hard to do this and keep a reader interested I think.

My do I, don’t I like Linda feelings didn’t stop me liking the book. The fact that it was well written, a clever idea, and had a good pace made up for it. My feelings probably did stop me loving it though as did a few times when I thought the translation (the book was originally published in German) let it down; sentences felt jarring and didn’t flow with the rest of the book.  Still, these were few and far between and meant I still liked this book a lot…an impressive debut and a recommended read.

Emma

note: I received this book from mumsnet in return for a fair and honest review. All thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own.

Deliver Her by Patricia Perry Donovan

imageWhen Meg comes home to find her house trashed, the result of a house party hosted by teenage daughter Alex, she has finally had enough. The bag of pills hid in a cushion seals the deal and, fuelled by a mix of anger, frustration and worry, she makes a decision. Alex needs more help than she or her husband can provide but help a boarding school for troubled teens can.

It’s not a decision she makes easily, but she feels lost and helpless. A year earlier, Alex had been involved in a car accident and lost her best friend Cass. Meg knows it’s hit Alex hard, affecting her school work (when she goes to school) and leading her into bad company and way too many parties. When challenged she lashes out at her parents. When asked what’s wrong, she shuts down. Despite getting her help, Alex just can’t be reached. Neither can Meg’s soon to be ex-husband Jacob, who doesn’t agree with Meg at all.

Knowing that attempting to take Alex to the school herself will be difficult, if not impossible, without a major fight, Meg makes a second decision, to hire a “transportation” company, who will do the job for her.  It’s owner, Carl, is the one who takes on the job, arriving at Meg’s house in the early hours of the morning to take Alex away. He will not, he promises, let Meg or Alex down. Unfortunately, things don’t go as planned and, despite Carl’s best efforts Alex goes missing and the search to find her begins, leading to secrets being revealed and Meg, Alex, Carl and Jacob having to face some hard truths.

Told through the eyes of Meg, Carl and Alex, more than anything is is Meg and Alex’s story – one borne of misunderstanding and perfectly believable if I think back to my teenage years. I may not have pushed my parents to try to ship me off but I know I gave them a hard time. Being a teenager is hard. It’s especially hard when you have been through what Alex has been through, losing a best friend but also dealing with her parents divorce and failing at school. Once the secrets around Cass’ death are revealed, it makes Alex’s behaviour even more understandable. The fact that Alex never talks about it also explains Meg’s response. She makes a lot of mistakes but they do come from a good place.

As characters I liked Meg and Alex a lot. I thought they were well written and well rounded, as was Carl. I wanted a happy ending for all of them. Jacob, who didn’t get his own voice, I didn’t think was as solid and some of behaviours felt like they were more to drive the plot forward than what I might have expected. If that was the intention though it worked because after a slow start, the pace picked up and kept going till the end. I found myself turning pages and needing to know what was going to happen next. What I got wasn’t what I had expected when I bought the book – I think I was expecting more of a standard thriller / suspense and got quite an emotional roller coaster- but that is no bad thing as I really liked it a lot. A recommended read!

Emma

The Girls by Emma Cline

So I know they say you should never judge a book by it’s cover but I have to admit that’s what I did when I requested a review copy of The Girls by Emma Cline. Well almost, I also read the blurb, which intrigued me just as much…

26210512 California. The summer of 1969. In the dying days of a floundering counter-culture a young girl is unwittingly caught up in unthinkable violence, and a decision made at this moment, on the cusp of adulthood, will shape her life…

Evie Boyd is desperate to be noticed. In the summer of 1969, empty days stretch out under the California sun. The smell of honeysuckle thickens the air and the sidewalks radiate heat.

Until she sees them. The snatch of cold laughter. Hair, long and uncombed. Dirty dresses skimming the tops of thighs. Cheap rings like a second set of knuckles. The girls.

And at the centre, Russell. Russell and the ranch, down a long dirt track and deep in the hills. Incense and clumsily strummed chords. Rumours of sex, frenzied gatherings, teen runaways.

Was there a warning, a sign of things to come? Or is Evie already too enthralled by the girls to see that her life is about to be changed forever?

Set at the end of the sixties, when flower power was starting to lose it’s bloom, The Girls is based on the story of Charles Manson and his killing of Sharon Tate. It’s narrated by Evie, now a grown woman but 14 at the time she became involved with Russell and his followers during a long, heat-filled, summer. A summer where she had fallen out with her best friend and her family was falling apart, where she felt unloved and alone and , as well, like a typical awkward teenage girl – unsure of her looks, her personality and her place in the world.

Evie was looking for something to fill the loneliness and she found it in Suzanne, a few years older and one of a number of girls in their late teens who lived with Russell on a nearby ranch. Girls who lived freely and gave themselves freely, in love with and enthralled by Russell.  Evie longs to be part of this and does everything she can to fit in, to become one of them and – to a degree – she does. In the wings, though, is he normal life which she can’t quite escape either.

Told in four parts which span the course of the summer but also the present as well as the past, Evie looks back at what happened, how she became involved with the group and how her life changed as a result. As an adult, she has the benefit of hindsight, can see the needy teenager she was, can see she had a lucky escape, but there is also a sadness to her, a sense of regret – a feeling that the rest of her life has never lived up to the summer of 1969.

“I didn’t tell him that I wished I’d never met Suzanne. That I wished I’d stayed safely in my bedroom in the dry hills near Petaluma, the bookshelves packed tight with the gold-foil spines of my childhood favorites. And I did wish that. But some nights, unable to sleep, I peeled an apple slowly at the sink, letting the curl lengthen under the glint of the knife. The house dark around me. Sometimes it didn’t feel like regret. It felt like a missing.”

In the beginning I can see why she was so drawn to the girls. They were different, exciting, lived by their own rules which must have been appealing for a young girl who felt so bound by the rules of others. As the book progresses though, the story gets much darker, the girls much meaner. You start to see how they exploit Evie’s neediness – but also how they have been exploited too, meaning nothing about the ending to this story is clear cut. There is a question about just how much they were in control of their own lives after all despite their claims of freedom. In a way, it’s tragic.

Emma Cline doesn’t make any judgements. Other than Russell there are no good or bad guys; though  there is right and wrong, she shows how the line can so easily be crossed when people are lost and desperate to believe in something, anything. She also lets the story unfold slowly, taking time to develop Evie as a character who is more complex than I originally thought she would be.

The book itself is beautifully written, evoking the period, and drawing me in completely with the way it described the people and the places. It felt well researched and, whilst I don’t remember being quite as lost as Evie at 14, I do remember how hard those teenage years are and I feel Cline did a really good job capturing this. It all meant that, once I started the book, I really didn’t want to put it down. I loved it – and, with the exception of The Vegetarian, this might be my favourite book of the year. Highly recommended!

Emma

Note: I received a copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review. All thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own.

Tuesday Intro: The Girls by Emma Cline

imageThis week, I’m linking up again with Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea who hosts a post every Tuesday for people to share the first chapter / paragraph of the book they are reading, or thinking of reading soon. I really enjoy these tasters when I read them on other blogs so wanted to join in.

Right now I’m reading The Girls by Emma Cline which is due out next month and caught my eye on Net Galley.  Apparently there is a “buzz” about it which always worries me as I end up with high expectations but so far, it is living up to it’s positive reputation I must say.

Here’s what it’s about…

26210512Evie Boyd is desperate to be noticed. In the summer of 1969, empty days stretch out under the California sun. The smell of honeysuckle thickens the air and the sidewalks radiate heat.

Until she sees them. The snatch of cold laughter. Hair, long and uncombed. Dirty dresses skimming the tops of thighs. Cheap rings like a second set of knuckles. The girls.

And at the centre, Russell. Russell and the ranch, down a long dirt track and deep in the hills. Incense and clumsily strummed chords. Rumours of sex, frenzied gatherings, teen runaways.

Was there a warning, a sign of things to come? Or is Evie already too enthralled by the girls to see that her life is about to be changed forever?

Here’s how it starts…

I LOOKED UP because of the laughter, and kept looking because of the girls. I noticed their hair first, long and uncombed.

Then their jewellery catching the sun. The three of them were far enough away that I saw only the periphery of their features, but it didn’t matter—I knew they were different from everyone else in the park. Families milling in a vague line, waiting for sausages and burgers from the open grill. Women in checked blouses scooting into their boyfriends’ sides, kids tossing eucalyptus buttons at the feral-looking chickens that overran the strip. These long-haired girls seemed to glide above all that was happening around them, tragic and separate. Like royalty in exile.

What do you think – would you keep reading?

Emma

Note: this is from a proof copy

The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson

Never-Open-Desert Diner3Ben spends his days driving route 117, delivering packages to people time and the rest of the world seem to have forgotten.  He is their lifeline to the “real” world and they help him eke out a living in a town that is on the edge of nowhere and the desert.

There is a reason that people live off 117 – they want to be left alone or are leaving something behind.  For Ben, it’s being without family and with few friends; he was abandoned as a baby and is a loner by nature.  For Walt, it’s the diner he never opens – or hasn’t for a long time, ever since his wife died.  And for Claire, well – at least at first – Claire is a mystery, one Ben can’t help being drawn to.

He thinks he knows every nook, cranny and turn-off on route 117 until a random stop one day leads him to a house in the middle of the desert and Claire.  She is newly arrived and definitely not wanting to be found.  An ex-husband is in the wings – and might be the one following Ben as he makes his deliveries. It’s all very complicated but also very simple and his and Claire’s lives begin to intersect and then seek each other out as they fall in love.

As they do, life goes on in the desert.  People live, they die, they help each other when they need to.  Anderson’s characterisation of these secondary characters is wonderful.  I felt I knew every single one of them and liked every one of them.  I liked Ben, Claire and Walt too, the central characters.  All are completely dysfunctional but not in a bad way.

Ben, especially, is the type of character I like and, whilst this isn’t a piece of crime fiction, I was reminded in a way of James Sallis’ characters.  He is a man of few words who has made mistakes.  He tries to live his life the best way he can and accepts people for who and what they are.  He doesn’t conform – and doesn’t intend too.    I wanted to be Ben’s friend, or at the very least, have him on my side in a fight.

I also liked the way the novel was written in general, the descriptions of the desert.  I felt how lonely and isolating and harsh it could be but also it’s beauty.  There are moments when I felt I was there and there are moments when I was glad I wasn’t because I’m not sure I would survive.  I was completely drawn in from the beginning.

If I had any criticism it would be that I, personally, didn’t need the ex-husband story line.  I wanted more of Ben and Claire falling in love, more of their relationship developing.  It was the heart of the story and could, for me, have been the story.  That said, it wouldn’t stop me recommending the book at all – I liked it a lot.

Emma

Note: I received this book from blogging for books in return for a fair and honest review.  All thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own. 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday Intro: The Never-Open Desert Diner

imageThis week, I’m linking up again with Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea who hosts a post every Tuesday for people to share the first chapter / paragraph of the book they are reading, or thinking of reading soon. I really enjoy these tasters when I read them on other blogs so wanted to join in.

Today, I am going for a bit of a change of pace (I think), with The Never-Open Desert Diner, a review copy on Blogging for Books that caught my eye. Here’s what it’s about…

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Ben Jones lives a quiet, hardscrabble life, working as a trucker on Route 117, a little-traveled road in a remote region of the Utah desert which serves as a haven for fugitives and others looking to hide from the world. For many of the desert’s inhabitants, Ben’s visits are their only contact with the outside world, and the only landmark worth noting is a once-famous roadside diner that hasn’t opened in years.

Ben’s routine is turned upside down when he stumbles across a beautiful woman named Claire playing a cello in an abandoned housing development. He can tell that she’s fleeing something in her past — a dark secret that pushed her to the end of the earth — but despite his better judgment he is inexorably drawn to her.

As Ben and Claire fall in love, specters from her past begin to resurface, with serious and life-threatening consequences not only for them both, but for others who have made this desert their sanctuary. Dangerous men come looking for her, and as they turn Route 117 upside down in their search, the long-buried secrets of those who’ve laid claim to this desert come to light, bringing Ben and the other locals into deadly conflict with Claire’s pursuers. Ultimately, the answers they all seek are connected to the desert’s greatest mystery — what really happened all those years ago at the never-open desert diner?

And here’s how it starts…

A red sun was balanced on the horizon when I arrived at The Well-Known Desert Diner. Sunrise shadows were draped around its corners. A full white moon was still visible in the dawn sky. I parked my tractor-trailer rig along the outer perimeter of the gravel parking lot. The “Closed” sign hung on the front door. To the left of the door, as if in mourning for Superman, stood a black metal and glass phone booth. Inside was a real phone with a rotary dial that clicked out the ten white numbers. Unlike the phones in the movies, this one worked—if you had enough nickels.

What do you think, would you keep reading?

Emma

The Well by Catherine Chanter

Iimagen the not so distant future, the world is falling apart. In the UK there has been years of drought, impacting the economy and the way people treat each other. Religious worship is on the rise as people search for answers and government policy is becoming dictatorial. Into the chaos step Ruth and Mark, a middle-aged couple who move to the countryside in search of a new life.

Living and working on a farm has always been Mark’s dream and Ruth goes along with it, hoping it will save them and their marriage. Arriving at The Well, though, she realises is isn’t just for Mark, it is for her. It couldn’t be more perfect. And it couldn’t be more fertile. Whilst the rain refuses to fall in the rest of the country, at The Well it falls most nights. When it doesn’t the land draws nourishment from the natural streams that runs through it’s property.

Lost in their own private oasis, the couple are slow to realise just how much their good fortune is rubbing their neighbours up the wrong way, and drawing attention they don’t need from the wider world. As government agencies start to become interested and worshippers appear at their gate, Ruth and Mark begin to fall apart, each responding differently but each pretty badly to the situation and neither seems to realise the other is struggling. When the sisters arrive things go from bad to worse and death follows.

All this is told from Ruth’s perspective with a sense of doom for things that have already happened, tragedies lived through and decisions made that cannot be undone. It’s a mix of past and present, with Ruth gradually piecing things together. It is all just a bit depressing, a vision of a world where things have gone wrong and nobody knows quite how to make them right again. The world of The Well is a microcosm of what is going on everywhere and you know it can’t end well. Which it doesn’t.

Given that Ruth was under house arrest when the story starts this isn’t a surprise. How the story unfolds is – the slow deterioration of her marriage and her mind before the final rush towards disaster, the lack of understanding of just what is happening and unwillingness to face facts. And the kindness of strangers, showing the world isn’t always all bad.

My library has this book categorised as crime and there is a murder but it feels like more than that. It is about how a lot of people are hanging on by a thread and how it doesn’t take much for that thread to snap. And it is a warning about how easy it is for the world to fall apart thanks to the vagaries of nature, especially if we keep destroying the planet the way we are.

Given the subject matter, I can’t say that this is a book everyone will enjoy, though I did. It’s well written, with great characterisation (even if I didn’t completely like anyone, I did feel for the most) and I would think would be something any fan of dystopian fiction should give a go.  An excellent debut – liked it a lot!

Emma x

In A Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

imageIn A Dark, Dark, Wood is one of those books I have been dying to read.  Towards the end of last year, I felt like I was reading nothing but good reviews.  Plus, it sounded like my type of book.  A bit of murder, a bit of mystery, a deep dark secret.  What is there not to like?

The answer with this book is very little.  It’s a great debut – well written and compelling.  It starts with Nora (once known as Lee) receiving an email, an invite to her once upon a time best friend Clare’s hen weekend.  It’s come from Flo, someone Nora has never met and who seems determined to make this the best hen party ever.

Despite misgivings and the nagging question “why now?” Nora agrees to go to and heads off to deepest, darkest Northumberland and a house in the middle of the woods where nothing feels quite right, including the guest list.   Then, as if it couldn’t get much worse, Clare tells Nora the reason why she’s been invited.  To let her know that she (Clare) is about to marry her (Nora’s) first love.

For Nora, it feels like things couldn’t get any worse until a gun goes off in the middle of the night and she wakes up in hospital unable to remember how she got there and whether she was the one who pulled the trigger.  The hospital scenes alternate with chapters telling the actual story, helping the tension build.  It was obvious from the beginning this wouldn’t be a normal hen weekend – the question is who decided to use it to settle scores.

There are plenty of suspects here, all well drawn and a little off the wall.  Any of them could be “the one” and I decided each was guilty at one point or other.  I did guess right in the end but not before a few wrong turns – and I wasn’t disappointed in the ending (as I often am with these books).  The only criticism I have is that it was slightly dragged out a bit, with a final scene I didn’t think was needed.  This is slight though and wouldn’t stop me recommending the book – loved it!

Emma

Find on: Amazon UK / Amazon US