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

loved-it

Source: Netgalley
Publisher: Chatto & Windus
Publication Date: 14th June, 2016
Format: ebook
Pages: 355
Genre: contemporary fiction
Find on: Amazon UK / Amazon US / Goodreads

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…

25810091.jpg

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

Disclaimer by Renee Knight

imageFinding a mysterious novel at her bedside plunges documentary filmmaker Catherine Ravenscroft into a living nightmare. Though ostensibly fiction, The Perfect Stranger recreates in vivid, unmistakable detail the terrible day Catherine became hostage to a dark secret, a secret that only one other person knew–and that person is dead.

Now that the past is catching up with her, Catherine’s world is falling apart. Her only hope is to confront what really happened on that awful day even if the shocking truth might destroy her.

I had been wanting to read Disclaimer ever since reading some really good reviews last year.  Plus, I loved the concept – it sounded different (well somewhat – there was still a deep, dark, secret to be discovered as in the majority of books I read!).

I am pleased to say I wasn’t disappointed. This is a debut novel and well written and plotted.   The idea of a novel about a novel is  clever and shows how easily fact and fiction can be distorted. I was gripped from the beginning, with Renee Knight getting straight into the action and speeding along to a conclusion I didn’t see coming (well not till it was almost too late to feel any level of smugness for having figured out the secret).

Catherine isn’t he most likeable person and her husband made me mad pretty much from the moment he found out what was happening but that didn’t put me off because my sympathy for the person who is, technically, the bad guy.  I understood his motives, even if I didn’t agree with his actions.  It meant I wanted to know what happened to everyone involved in the end and that – as a result – I loved this book.  Highly recommended!

Emma

 

 

 

 

 

One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis

22206746An apparently happy marriage. A beautiful family. A dream home. So what makes lawyer Emily Coleman—a woman who appears to have everything—get up one morning and walk right out of her life to start again as someone new?

Deliberately losing herself in London, Emily quickly transforms herself into Cat. Along with her new name, she finds a new home in a shared house in North London teeming with an odd assortment of flatmates, and a new job as a receptionist.

Soon Cat has buried any trace of her old self so well, no one knows how to find her. But she can’t bury the past—or her own painful memories. As the days turn to months, thoughts of all she’s left behind begin to consume her. She cannot outrun the ghosts that haunt her, no matter how hard she tries to elude them. And soon, she’ll have to face the truth of what she’s done—a shocking revelation that may push her one step too far.

Tina Seskis is one of those authors I have always meant to read but never have – for no real reason other than there are too many books in this world and too little time. I’m glad I finally found the time for One Step Too Far though, her debut from a few years ago, because it was great.

On a gray Manchester morning, Emily boards a train to London, arriving as Catherine (before becoming Cat) – a woman who has left a not so nice boyfriend and is looking for a new job and a new life. Apart from it isn’t a boyfriend she is running away from – it’s her husband – and the memory of events she can’t quite face (which you, as the reader, start to guess at but don’t know for certain either).

Once in London, her life becomes one she would never have imagined, for better and for worse. She becomes a different person and behaves in ways she would never have thought. The life she left behind though is always there in the background. No matter how hard she tries, she can never quite erase it. And then, through a twist of fate, both the past and the present collide.

Whilst I kind of saw the ending for this coming, I still thought it was cleverly done and the book is well written. Cat is a complex, interesting character – though possibly not the smartest when it comes to decisions – and the supporting cast are nicely drawn.

I was hooked from start to almost finish with this book – the almost being the last few chapters where Cat’s life for the decade or so after the “big reveal” were spelt out.  With these type of books I like a bit of mystery at the end and to plan my own futures for t characters so I could have done without this.  Still, it’s a personal preference and doesn’t take away from a good story that is well worth a read if you haven’t come across it already – liked it a lot!

Emma

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

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A tragic accident. It all happened so quickly. She couldn’t have prevented it. Could she?

In a split second, Jenna Gray’s world is shattered. Her only hope of moving on is to walk away from everything she knows to start afresh. Desperate to escape her past, Jenna moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, but she is haunted by her fears, her grief and her memories of the cruel November night that changed her life for ever.

DI Ray Stevens is tasked with seeking justice for a mother who is living every parent’s worst nightmare. Determined to get to the bottom of the case, it begins to consume him as he puts both his professional and personal life on the line.

As Ray and his team seek to uncover the truth, Jenna, slowly, begins to glimpse the potential for happiness in her future. But her past is about to catch up with her, and the consequences will be devastating .

So I’m sat here trying to write a review for I Let You Go and I don’t quite know where to start. Not because it’s not good (it is) or I didn’t enjoy it (I did) but because as soon as I start typing there are spoilers. There is such a good twist in this book, one I didn’t see coming and I don’t want to risk giving away. What I can say is, for me, it made the book and I understood why I had read so many good reviews last year.

I have to admit, I had been wondering before then what the fuss was about. Yes, it was well written and the characters were developing well but it wasn’t that thrilling for a thriller. Then, with one line, my whole perspective on what I’d been reading changed and I saw everything in a new light, just as the characters did, and my relationship with each of them changed as did how sympathetic I felt.

It felt great and reminded me why I love to read. It also felt nice to be surprised because it doesn’t happen that often. Things are generally signposted and , whilst I can see the path I was taken down in hindsight, I had no idea while it was happening. Making this a very clever book and an impressive debut. I loved it and would recommend to anyone who hasn’t read it yet!

emma x

 

 

The Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

imageOnce upon a time, Ani (pronounced Ahh-nee not Annie) was TifAni, a teenager who desperately wanted to fit into the high school her parents couldn’t really afford to send her too, even after “the event that changed her life”. Now, she could afford to buy the school – or at least her fiancé Luke could – thanks to his old money roots and job in finance.

Ani worked hard to find a man like Luke, and her job at a top women’s magazine (with it’s access to high fashion clothes she could never otherwise afford). She still works hard – dieting, exercising, maxing out her credit cards, and pretending to be someone she’s not. All for a ring on her finger, and a need to escape a past she is too embarrassed to face. That is until a TV crew approach her to make a documentary about.

Despite Luke’s objections she agrees to take part because it will allow her to show everyone what she has become, that she is not the girl they thought her to be. Who that girl is is unclear. I thought she was a mean girl – she is a mean woman so it made sense – but it’s more complicated than that, and darker than I expected.

The cover of this book says for those who liked Gone Girl (yes, another one!) but I can’t see it myself. This isn’t crime fiction and only a little bit of a thriller or suspense. More than anything, it is a book about a woman finding her way back from a series of events no one could have predicted and which changed her whole life, not for the better. I liked this about the book.

I wish I could have liked Ani as much but I just didn’t. I understood why she was the way she was but I could find nothing redeemable about her. She was nasty to everyone, including herself. And, as a smart woman, I couldn’t understand why she hadn’t ever sought help to fight her demons. As the main character and the only voice you hear, this made it hard to read at times, especially as the other characters are under developed.

This means I liked but didn’t love the book. It wouldn’t stop me reading another book by Jessica Knoll though or recommending the book because, as a debut, it’s still pretty good.

Emma