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The Other Twin
The Other Twin
by L. V. Hay
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Families and the dark secrets they keep, 23 July 2017
This review is from: The Other Twin (Paperback)
The Other Twin, by LV Hay, is a thriller set in Brighton about families and the dark secrets they keep from each other and their friends. The protagonist, Poppy, is living in a rundown flat in London when she receives a phone call informing her that her estranged sister, India, is dead. Still reeling from shock, Poppy abandons her chaotic city lifestyle and returns to the family home. Her step-father is trying to hold the threads of their lives together while her mum falls apart. India fell to her death from a nearby bridge, into the path of a moving train. A post on her blog could be a suicide note, but Poppy cannot believe that the sister she once knew well would have chosen to die.

Childhood friends attend the funeral including Matthew, a boyfriend Poppy left behind when she moved away. Matthew’s twin sister, Ana, treats Poppy with disdain. Ana is in a struggling relationship with Jayden, the playboy son of wealthy hotel owners. Their two families are well known in the area, valuing the image they project alongside their reputations.

Poppy determines to find out more about her sister’s death and soon comes across a name on line, Jenny, of whom everyone she asks denies knowledge. Through India’s blog she tracks the girl down but learns only that there is a secret Jenny will not share. She is wary and elusive but had obviously been close to India. Poppy begins to suspect each of her old friends in turn, that they know more about her sister’s death than they are willing to tell.

As Poppy persists in her somewhat haphazard investigations, Matthew and she feel a rekindling of desire. Poppy also realises that since they were last together, the Matthew she thought she knew so well has changed.

This is a competently put together thriller but I struggled to engage with the plot progression or to empathise with Poppy’s singular mission. Clues are dropped in plain site and not pursued with the determination she grants nebulous suspicions. Her mother is struggling yet Poppy appears largely unsupportive, concentrating on what happened to the sister she had not been in touch with for many years.

An enjoyable enough tale but not one that resonated with me as it has for others. With the work required to create, it is a shame that we cannot adore every book we read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher.

Ornithology: Sixteen Short Stories
Ornithology: Sixteen Short Stories
by Nicholas Royle
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Uncanny, mesmerising read, 21 July 2017
Ornithology, by Nicholas Royle, is a collection of sixteen short stories interwoven with recurring references to birds. Within each plot these avian creatures provide interest, distraction, disturbance. They, along with the human protagonists, are transformed into both predator and prey.

The stories explore ordinary situations and events, places and people. The characters go on holiday, form and break relationships, observe their surroundings from inside homes, rural locations, cities and at work. The locations are as much characters in the tales as the people. The prose radiates quiet menace.

The collection opens with Unfollow. Written in the first person it chronicles an obsession with a woman known only through Twitter and with whom there is little interaction. The narrator and their cat form a deadly pact to gain her attention.

In Murder a group of academics take a holiday together. Their relationship is tenuous having developed mainly through correspondence. The shadow of a couple who do not attend casts an eerie darkness over what should be straightforward diversions.

It is the recurring darkness that makes these stories so delicious to read. It is subtle, creeping through the cracks like an icy breeze.

Several of the stories veer into the surreal. There is violence, transformation, a stretching of possibilities and belief.

In The Nightingale the boundary between people and computers becomes blurred and a hacker takes advantage.

In The Lure, which is set in Paris, a young teacher struggles to translate more than simply spoken language. His minimal contact with others in the city leads him to pursue ill advised interactions, but is he stalker or victim?

Several stories use books to provide a theme that then spills out into action. A knowledge of the many bird species referenced may add further depth. I know little of such things which did not detract from my enjoyment. Throughout I remained engaged.

The writing is fluid and precise with a haunting undercurrent that at times manifests as horror but is more often suggestion. An uncanny, mesmerising read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Cōnfingō.

Legacy: A DiMarchese Case File
Legacy: A DiMarchese Case File
by Bill Mesce
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Proficiently written, enjoyable read, 19 July 2017
Legacy, by Bill Mesce Jr, opens with the brutal killing of a man at a minor league ball game. The incident is caught on camera and replayed on multiple media outlets. The perpetrator, a decorated veteran, appears as stunned as anyone about what he has done.

New York based forensic psychologist Dante DiMarchese is called in as a consultant. This is not his only case. He is also working with lawyers on an inheritance dispute between siblings contesting their father’s will. The old man is still alive but his son claims he did not have the mental capacity to make the pertinent changes.

Alongside this DiMarchese is under pressure from his publisher to pitch a book idea and then create the work by the end of the year. DiMarchese made his name, and a great deal of money, from his first publication, about a serial killer. Now the killer is threatening an exposure that could bring down the man widely credited with putting him away.

DiMarchese is not a likeable guy. He is vain, arrogant and contemptuous of those who do not emulate his affectations. He surrounds himself with carefully selected, expensive accoutrements, congratulating himself on his impeccable taste. He judges others on what they wear, where they eat and the decor in their homes. He is diligent in ensuring he cannot be found wanting in any of these areas.

DiMarchese’s determination to be cultured and stylish – never plebian – comes at a cost. He has few friends. Nevertheless he is good at his job for which he garners grudging respect.

As the cases he is working on progress chinks in the personal armour DiMarchese has built appear. He recognises something of himself in a woman he derides. He starts to question the human cost of his ambition.

This is not a morality tale but rather a peeling back of layers in a life carefully constructed. DiMarchese enjoys the fruits of his labours. In distancing himself from his background he has achieved his aspirations, but left behind those who would care for him. It is a sterile success.

The author has created an interesting protagonist. The cases are deftly presented and progressed with a supporting cast that add colour and depth. I felt expertly manipulated as my views on DiMarchese evolved, each freshly exposed layer of his character inviting increasing empathy. A proficient, enjoyable read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Impress.

The Gallows Pole
The Gallows Pole
by Benjamin Myers
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Prodigious, beguiling, utterly compelling, 17 July 2017
This review is from: The Gallows Pole (Paperback)
The Gallows Pole, by Benjamin Myers, is a fictionalised story based on surviving accounts of true events from eighteenth century northern England. In a remote Yorkshire hamlet, on the cusp of the industrial revolution, a local man named David Hartley pronounces himself King. He leads a gang of weavers and land workers in an illegal enterprise that puts food on the tables and clothes on the backs of the poorest in his area at the expense of those who have sufficient. Hartley and his brothers talk of becoming Lords of the woods and moors which they believe belong to the likes of them. Unlike those who more regularly bear such titles, Hartley shares his ill gotten gains. Those who live in abject poverty have little regard for the aristocracy who treat them with disdain.

“Landowners who rarely walked the land […] who spent their days away paving turnpikes and building mills. Sinking canals and striking deals. Buying and selling. Traders. Sons of the empire, the aristocratic archtects of England’s new future. Men for whom too much was never enough.”

Hartley recognises that changes are ahead. He worked for a time in the Black Country and knows of the huge mills that will replace the hand looms still operating in basic homes such as his.

“soon this valley is to be invaded. He spoke of chimneys and waterways and told of work for those that wanted it, but work that pays a pittance and keeps you enslaved to those that make the money.”

An illegal practise had existed in the area for many years, the clipping and forging of coins. Through persuasion and coercion the Hartleys centralise and expand the scale of this operation, thereby disrupting the local economy. With many benefiting, loyalty is assured, until one man grows dissatisfied with his share. Jealous of Hartley’s growing comfort and power he approaches an excise officer, William Deighton, who is determined to bring down those now known widely as the Cragg Vale Coiners and their leader, King David.

Deighton and his friend, a successful young solicitor named Robert Parker, are unused to the base manners and smell of this turncoat, pondering if he deserves any better than the harsh life he leads. As well fed, regularly paid servants of the Crown they do not appreciate how the Coiners value their freedom, and know the land on which they and their forebears were raised. The Coiners are family men, even if they do treat their women as chattels, existing to satisfy men’s needs and provide children. The wealthy may be fatuous and condescending but they have the law on their side, and it exists to protect the lawmakers.

The writing is fluvial, reflecting the stark beauty of the land and the depths of the characters portrayed. The audacity of Hartley’s operation, the cunning with which it was perpetuated, is presented alongside acknowledgement that some suffered from his success. Yet he fed the hungry, cared for the needy, while the wealthy brought industry in the name of progress, costing forgotten lives and keeping the many in poverty. Had Hartley’s criminal activity continued, I wonder would his willingness to share.

A multi-layered account presenting the north and its people with vivid, brutal realism. Although historical, it is a tale for our own changing times. A prodigious, beguiling, utterly compelling literary achievement.

My Shitty Twenties: A Memoir
My Shitty Twenties: A Memoir
by Emily Morris
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Searingly honest memoir that many will relate to, 15 July 2017
A memoir focusing on the author’s pregnancy and early years of motherhood. At twenty-two years of age, having just completed her second year of a three year degree course at Manchester University, the author was horrified to discover that she was pregnant. Nevertheless she decided to keep the baby. The father had no interest in either her or his child.

The book recounts how this party loving, messy living student had to defer the university life she loved and work full time whilst continuing to live in shared digs with students. Her mother offered her a room in her childhood home but Emily was reluctant to leave Manchester. Friends and family were supportive but she felt guilty at the prospect of single motherhood instead of a degree.

The account is searingly honest. There is none of the rose tinted, sugar coated wonder prevalent in typical tales of growing a child. This is the reality of a cessation of activities most regard as fun. Emily gave up cigarettes and alcohol. She discovered the long list of banned foods for mothers-to-be, and strangers all too eager to share with her their toxic views on a young, single woman bringing a child into the world alone. Whilst her friends continued to party, Emily grew fat and joined the on line forums frequented by opinionated women, where she learned the passive aggressive language of well-meaning advice.

When the baby was due Emily realised that she would have to move in with her mother. After the euphoria of escape to university this was difficult for all concerned. She would not bow to the popular notion that women should give birth as naturally as possible. She stayed in hospital for as long as they would keep her, eager for the medical professionals’ support.

Once home with her baby Emily endured the loneliness of early motherhood, the difficulties in simply leaving the house with a young child. Health Visitors pressured her into joining mother and baby groups; her experiences of these are painfully recounted. She now had little in common with many of her old friends.

Reluctant to conform to the widely derided stereotype of single mother on benefits, Emily was determined to find a job and fund her own place to live. She learned that employers regard mothers of young children as unreliable, especially when they have no partner to share the burden of the inevitable childhood sicknesses.

When her baby became a toddler Emily decided to use a small inheritance to prove to herself she could still enjoy life despite having a child. She started to find ways to take pride in what she could achieve.

This is not a book about a baby but rather a young woman becoming a mother, who would have preferred not to be single but just about coped anyway. The open and honest style of writing is refreshing and a welcome addition to the often infuriatingly upbeat accounts of parenting, a task that may be rewarding but is rarely easy. Emily’s treatment by the smug mums, signaling their virtues in the guise of advice or minor complaints, reminded me of my own experiences. Guilt and pressure to conform are ever present demons.

Around half of the book recounts the author’s pregnancy with the remainder focusing on the eighteen months after. Although I just occasionally lost engagement, and felt minor irritation when a recollection did not follow the mainly linear construction, this remained an empathetic read that many will relate to.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Salt.

Ten Dead Comedians: A Murder Mystery
Ten Dead Comedians: A Murder Mystery
by Fred van Lente
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A competent murder mystery, 11 July 2017
Ten Dead Comedians, by Fred Van Lente, is a contemporary Agatha Christie style murder mystery set on a celebrity owned island in the Caribbean. Hollywood funnyman Dustin Walker invites nine fellow comedians to collaborate with him on an unspecified project, details to be explained during a luxury, weekend retreat. All are excited at this potential injection of energy into their mutable careers and accept. When they arrive it is to discover that they are cut off from the mainland with no access to mobile reception or wifi. Their host then informs them that they are all here to die, including himself.

Lives may be at stake but so are fragile egos. These people have experienced the adrenaline rush of applause, of popular attention, and become addicted. Those who have touched the heady heights of fame may be aware of its disappointments but they still long for its return. They are disdainful of their fellow artistes, especially when compared to themselves.

The deaths begin immediately. At first some believe it is an elaborate hoax, a gig in which they are all being played. As the body count increases and the meagre food supplies get eaten everyone falls under suspicion.

The writing is a satire on the modern performers of comedic repartee where offence and insults pass as humour. Each character found a niche that got them noticed by agents, some even believe themselves to be funny.

The action is offbeat in places, the characters unlikable and at times pitiable, but this is a competent murder mystery. The means of death are imaginative, the reveal of the perpetrator clever even if all is understandably far fetched.

As someone who prefers intelligent humour to the more widespread unsavoury crudeness this garnered an unusual degree of sympathy for modern comedians. I may not have found the transcripts from the standup routines amusing, but the pathos portrayed gave the applause hungry entertainers more humanity than their words suggest they deserve.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Quirk.

My Best Friend's Exorcism: A Novel
My Best Friend's Exorcism: A Novel
by Grady Hendrix
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.18

2.0 out of 5 stars Teenage angst with a somewhat opaque plot, 11 July 2017
My Best Friend’s Exorcism, by Grady Hendrix, is an all American story of teenage angst with a somewhat opaque plot. It charts the friendship of Abby and Gretchen, from Abby’s disastrous tenth birthday party which Gretchen just about saves, through their years together at high school and, briefly, beyond. Much of the action takes place when the girls are sixteen.

Abby’s parents struggle financially. With the help of a scholarship she attends a fee paying school where she befriends the children of the area’s wealthy patrons. She blames her parents for the life they lead.

Gretchen enjoys material privilege but must submit to her controlling parents’ staunch Republican beliefs. They welcome Abby into their home where she feels happier than with her own parents. As teenagers, both girls regard adults with disdain.

On a night out at a mutual friend’s rambling riverside home the group experiment with drugs. Gretchen wanders into woodland naked and is not found until the following day. She does not, perhaps cannot, explain what happened during her missing hours but the experience changes her. The reader is left to decide if this is the effect of the drug, anger at her friends for not looking after her better, or demonic possession.

Gretchen falls apart but, as far as Abby is concerned, her parents are more concerned with how their daughter’s behaviour makes them look than with her well-being. When Abby tries to seek help she is faced with friends who are angry and hurt by Gretchen’s change in behaviour, or adults who blame Abby for the experience that triggered Gretchen’s distress.

Determined not to give up on her friend, Abby continues to seek her company in an attempt to recover what she considers to be the real Gretchen. Meanwhile, Gretchen sets out to bring down the three girls who peer pressured her into taking the drugs. Minor punishment is not enough, she seeks their complete annihilation.

Intense friendships and alienation from adults seem to be a staple of American high school dramas. Into this mix is thrown the possibility of some darker force, fuelled by the local horror stories the young people delight in sharing. Gretchen’s actions are undoubtedly evil. The root cause and Abby’s dogged determination to help her erstwhile friend add a degree of distinction.

Chapters are headed by lyrics from eighties music, the time period during which the action is set. The book is bound to resemble a high school yearbook, not something I am familiar with. The protagonists are the clever and cool kids of the class; there is little mention of those who do not fit in.

I had expected to enjoy this story more than I did. In making the trigger to events drugs and the most likeable adults poor it felt moralistic. The casual cruelties and jealousies of the young people along with misunderstandings between generations were well enough presented. Overall though it felt extreme with too much left unexplained. I struggled to engage.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Quirk.

Seeking Eden
Seeking Eden
by Beverley Harvey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Effortless entertainment, and there is nothing wrong with that, 6 July 2017
This review is from: Seeking Eden (Paperback)
Seeking Eden, by Beverley Harvey, is not the sort of book I would normally read. I suspect it may fall under the genre of women’s fiction – although I consider the descriptor soap opera fiction to be more fitting, women liking a broader range of books than some seem to believe. The story centres around a middle aged married couple, Kate and Neil, who move out of London to a new build housing estate in suburban Kent. Kate is a copy-writer and Neil works in advertising. Naturally they are both beautiful people.

After the move Kate works from home, although she has plenty of time for other pursuits. Neil finds the lengthy commute to the city exhausting so takes a room in a friend’s flat, coming back to their new home for weekends. Kate is lonely without him and misses the bustle of their previous life, her old friends showing little interest now that she is less readily available. She gets a dog for company and joins a gym. Slowly she starts to make new friends.

Ben is a one hit musician and an old flame of Kate’s. When he gets in touch after many years, in an attempt to win her back despite her marriage, she is tempted. With Neil away during the week it is easy for her to meet up with Ben, something she comes to regret.

Kate befriends Lisa, another siren, and ex-wife of a successful footballer. Lisa is scornful when she becomes the object of a local shopkeeper’s mid-life fantasies. His wife suffers from depression and he is struggling to cope with her moods. Their daughter has recently moved out of the family home leaving it bereft.

Alongside this cast of characters are Kate’s sister and confidant, Alice, and a bevy of well groomed acquaintances. Over the course of a couple of years there are affairs, misunderstandings and a death. Jobs evolve effortlessly, although behaviours ensure personal lives do not run smooth. The action is played out against the backdrop of a quietly affluent housing estate that the cool London crowd regard with disdain – I found this particular prejudice illuminating.

The writing is polished and the plot as tangled as people have a tendency to be. Much is made of personal presentation, including of partners, regarded as desirable accessories.

For those who enjoy gossip, about acquaintances and others, this was like a catch-up with a distant friend. It is effortless entertainment, and there is nothing wrong with that.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Urbane.

by Sophie Jonas-Hill
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars An intense, compelling read, 6 July 2017
This review is from: Nemesister (Paperback)
Nemesister, by Sophie Jonas-Hill, is the first book in a proposed series of American Gothic thrillers. The story opens in a remote and run-down lodge hidden within the swamps of Louisiana. The protagonist is a young woman who arrives at this place badly injured, with no recollection of who she is or why she is here. In her hand is a gun, in her pocket a leaflet. She can find no other clues to her identity.

As she stumbles into the damp-ridden shack a man appears who introduces himself to her as Red. She is terrified of him but has no idea why. Red offers her water and then a bed on the couch. When she wakes from exhausted sleep he has tended to her wounds. Despite these efforts the woman remains wary. With injured feet and no means of transport she has little choice but to stay. Red tells her that his truck requires attention, that once mended he will take her to the nearest town as she has requested.

Over the course of the following twenty-four hours Red tells the woman about himself. He was a soldier, had a wife, and is at the shack to meet his brother for a spot of fishing. He is not always consistent in what he says. The woman feels a strong urge to escape but when unknown assailants fire shots at the house, the doors are locked and the key pocketed by Red.

The woman’s memory returns gradually with brief flashbacks to scenes that as yet make little sense. It is unclear if she is remembering what happened to her or to others, and who those others are to her. Within the shack are clues, but the more she uncovers the less she understands. Then what happened to her sister returns.

From the first page the tale unsettles. Despite the unremitting tension it takes some time before the flashbacks coalesce and characters gain form and context, enabling greater reader engagement. From here the pace picks up as backstories are presented and woven together. The drip-fed details now make disturbing sense.

The writing is taut and polished. Each of the cast’s true motives keep the reader guessing to the end. Dark and disquieting throughout, this is an intense, compelling read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Urbane.

Extravagant Stranger By Daniel Roy Connelly
Extravagant Stranger By Daniel Roy Connelly
by Daniel Roy Connelly
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.08

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reflective, subtly powerful, rewarding read, 3 July 2017
Extravagant Stranger, by Daniel Roy Connelly, is a memoir told in the form of prose poetry. It offers the reader a collection of personal snapshots to peruse covering several decades of the author’s life. The depictions are grungy in places but searingly candid. Cultural references are made which I did not always recognise, resulting in certain pictures remaining opaque. The majority however are presented with razor sharp clarity, the subjects dissected with wit and precision.

The collection opens with musings on conception, birth, memories from childhood and then coming of age. On Getting Laid For The Third Time offers a droll account of inexperienced sex.

The author recounts moments in his life from various countries where he has travelled, worked and resided. His ongoing battle with depression adds poignancy, a shadow that never quite disappears.

Look Left, 2001 packs a powerful punch from New York City. Five People And One Animal I’ve Sat Next To On Planes is exactly what the title says, the entertaining list capturing a depth of meaning from the simplest of observations.

Poetry requires a degree of focused concentration but with a collection that resonates like this the endeavour is more than repaid. Each work is flavoursome, bold and substantial yet never cloying or heavy. There is a strong sense of place alongside reactions to being there.

The later poems suggest greater mordancy but are also drenched in fatherly love. No matter how tired from the effort of living, time spent with the author’s young son is relished. There is sadness when the child grows old enough to be constricted by timetabled living. Mardi Gras, 2014 – father and son on the set of a Marvel movie – offers relief after more serious contemplation.

The book concludes with an imagining of the author’s death and the reflections wished for. Thoughts are with cushioning the son from lasting sadness, a request that the child believe in his father still.

This is an accessible, unpretentious collection despite its impressive reach and intensity. A reflective, subtly powerful, rewarding read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Little Island Press.

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