Review of The Cliff House by Amanda Jennings

I’m still haunted by the final scenes of this atmospheric novel. I can hear the pool Unknown-1 (1)water ripple at The Cliff House and smell the salty air, as the oppressive heat of the day bends to the will of grief with each step into the darkness.

It’s 1986 and the wealthy Davenports have moved into The Cliff House for the summer. On the surface the family seem to have it all – money, glamorous friends and a luxury lifestyle.

As sixteen-year-old Tamsyn watches them in envy she begins to dream of being a part of their lives. Her father is dead and all her happiest memories of him are tied up in their illicit explorations of the big house on the cliff.

Tamsyn’s family is broke. Her older brother is struggling to find his place in the world and her ailing grandfather has been installed in her parent’s former bedroom, while her mother scrapes a living as a cleaner and makes do with a fold-out bed downstairs in the sitting room. The whole family is trying to deal with their grief in their own way and they can’t talk to each other. 

Tension simmers and builds as illusions are shattered, until Tamsyn’s obsession with the family at The Cliff House forces everyone into an untenable position that threatens to destroy them all.

Jennings excels at evoking the Cornish landscape: the sights, sounds, flavours and smells that create a heady blend of mystery, excitement and peril. Tamsyn’s clumsy friendship with Edie Davenport feels authentic, as Jenning’s revives the teenage trends of the 1980s to add depth and colour to their chatter and characters. It was an era of experimentation, something that Edie embraces to the full as an act of rebellion.

Tamsyn’s desperation to be part of the wealthy set is obvious to Edie, meanwhile Tamsyn is oblivious to the challenges that Edie faces living in that house with her superficial and complex mother and the father who neglects her. Edie grieves for the love she knows she has never had despite the money, while Tamsyn grieves for the life she craves despite the love she has known.

Both teenagers are looking for an escape route and both think they have found it within each other’s families. Reading this novel is like feeling the summer heat build into an unbearable level of humidity that can only end in an almighty thunderstorm. Waves of disruption toss Edie and Tamsyn about, leaving both of them never quite knowing how, when or if they are ever going to find safety in a storm again.

This is a novel about wilful blindness and the destruction that can follow when it is left unchecked. A novel of obsession, disquiet, grief and loss. A novel that explores what it takes to create a family and how easily it can be broken. I absolutely loved the ending, it still gives me chills to this day. If you’re off on holiday this year, I highly recommend downloading The Cliff House to your e-reader or packing a copy to take with you.

With thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.

Published by Harper Collins.

Buy the book.

Follow the author on twitter: @MandaJJennings

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Review of Meet Me At The Museum by Anne Youngson

This is a beautifully written epistolary novel that examines the choices that people Unknown (2)make out of loyalty, love and friendship and those made out of fear and misjudgement. Hope was the overriding feeling that I was left with as I turned the last page.

Tina Hopgood is a farmer’s wife in her sixties, trapped in a life she didn’t choose. Tina has been thinking about the things she regrets and the things she hasn’t done, and one of those things was to visit The Tollund Man in Denmark. 

The novel begins with an extract from the Forward to The Bog People by P. V. Glob, it’s a dedication to the school girls who’ve written to him about recent archeological discoveries, and one of those girls was Tina.

Decades down the line, Tina decides to write again to Professor Glob at the museum in Denmark. She writes about the serenity and dignity that she sees in the image of Tollund Man’s face, the wisdom and sense of resignation, how much it reminds her of her grandmother and how much her own likeness in the mirror resembles her. Loneliness ripples through Tina’s carefully chosen words in the first letter, the kind of loneliness that seeks to be understood. 

Tina writes freely, with no expectation of an answer.

And Anders Larsen, the equally lonely museum curator, hears her and responds.

These two strangers open up to each other through their letters in ways that they have never been able to with any other friend or family member, and each learns to appreciate and accept aspects of their loved ones in ways they had never considered before, whilst also growing into the people they were meant to be. 

This debut novel is wonderful, resonant with quiet contemplation and insight as two people share their losses and their joys, and the simple pleasures of life that give it meaning, not least the love and friendship that can be found in finally being understood.

I didn’t want Meet Me At the Museum to end and yes, I did shed a few tears when it did.

With thanks to Alison Barrow for the review copy.

Published by Penguin.

Buy the book.

Link to The Tollmund Man museum in Denmark

Review of Come and Find Me by Sarah Hilary

The fifth novel in the series featuring DI Marnie Rome begins with one of the most 51vhVU0xb+Lfast-paced and dramatic scenes to date, as a prison holding her foster brother – Stephen – is on lockdown due to an outbreak of extreme violence. Stephen is in hospital along with other casualties and a prisoner has escaped. The whole event is clinically described by an unnamed prisoner from their hospital bed, emphasising the horror within the chaos.

It’s up to DI Marnie Rome and her team to work out what happened and capture the escaped prisoner. As she delves deeper into the case Rome is brought up short by realisations from her own past. Meanwhile, Rome’s sidekick – DS Noah Jake – is struggling with the choices that he has made in relation to his brother, and how these have impacted on his relationship with his parents.

I think this is my favourite novel in the series to date as Hilary is exploring whether or not violence can ever be justified. Hilary examines this question from multiple perspectives, as each character has a tipping point that feeds into the choices that they make in a given moment, either in the present or the past.

This novel asks:

How does each character express or receive love?

Does one expression of love invalidate another’s interpretation of it? 

What happens when people try to do the right thing as an expression of love, while not realising it may be the wrong thing?

 

When trust is broken is it possible to feel empathy for the position someone has found themselves in, despite the violence that erupted as result? 

How aware are any of us of the tipping points within ourselves or others?

It may seem strange initially to contemplate the complexities of love in a novel that on the surface appears to be all about violence, but love and violence can be closely aligned when a character has had no positive examples of love to go by. This is one gripping, thoughtful, clever, twisty novel that asks big questions about how and why people choose behaviours that may or may not be detrimental to themselves and others.

I’m already looking forward to the sixth book in the series because of Hilary’s unique ability to explore humanity in all its guises.

With thanks to Headline for the proof copy.

Buy the book here.

Follow the author on twitter: @sarah_hilary

Author website: sarahhilary.com

Review of Two Steps Forward by Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist

My first introduction to the Camino de Santiago was when I went to watch The Way starring Martin Sheen with my friend Christine. Both of us felt the pull of the walk by the end of that movie and Christine set about making plans to actually do it, but then her life was ended by illness within a short time of announcing her plans.

Christine’s desire to walk the Camino came flooding back the second I withdrew the advanced review copy of Two Steps Forward by Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist from the envelope, and I couldn’t help smiling and thinking about her, while also feeling sad that she never had the chance to fulfil that last ambition. I wish I could share this book with Christine because she would have loved it as much as I do.

 

Only three things are certain on the Camino… The first is blisters. The second is that when you arrive at the Santiago Cathedral, you will cry. The Camino will change you. It changes everyone.

 

The novel is told from two alternate perspectives and each voice is completely unique imagesand compelling. Californian Zoe is a broke artist whose husband has passed away, while Yorkshireman Martin is an engineer who’s feeling bitter after divorce and he’s looking for a way to make money. Both are walking the Camino, the pilgrim’s passage from Cluny in France to the Compostela de Santiago in Spain, where the remains of St. James are said to buried. Along the Way they both begin to untangle a lot of emotional baggage.

Martin is clever, stubborn, determined to do everything on his own terms and has a sarcastic wit which can come across as arrogant and brusque at times, an attitude which can occasionally places stumbling blocks along the road for him.

Zoe is warm, friendly and engaging but has lost her sense of identity in some ways, which can lead her to make assumptions at times that can set her back.

The title ‘Two Steps Forward’ is perfect for this novel as it epitomises the phrase ‘two steps forward and one step back’ as Zoe and Martin are brought together and pulled apart along this journey. At times they don’t feel that they’re moving forward at all on their individual journeys but they are every step of the way despite the occasional set back.

 

As readers follow Martin and Zoe along the Camino they will learn many useful tips and how to avoid the mistakes that these two characters make. The trials and tribulations along with the joy and camaraderie of falling into step with complete strangers at different points along the Way are vividly brought to life, as are the key points of interest and spectacular scenery.

You may find yourself drawn towards walking the Camino by the end of this wonderful life-enhancing reading experience. Which is exactly what authors Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist, who have have walked the Camino, hope you will do:

 

This book was inspired by the people who walked with us, who welcomed us, and who mark and care for the Way. We hope it will inspire others to undertake their own journeys.

 

With thanks to Two Roads publishers for this unexpected treat.

Buy the book here.

Follow the authors on Twitter: @GraemeSimsion @anneebuist

Review of The Earlie King and the Kid in Yellow by Danny Denton

Here’s a novel that explores the origins of myths, legends and faith through a vision of a dystopian Ireland set sometime far in the future. A rain soaked landscape run by gangsters, despair and relentless misery. A place where a little golden flame of hope flickers in the form of young boy in yellow skins who falls in love with T, the daughter of the Earlie King, and who vows that he will protect T’s child after she dies in childbirth.

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The story is told from three perspectives: Word of Ward – Fran Ward, former officer of the law and the last true Irishman, who is the storyteller and recorder of the events that follow, and contact of O’Casey – the journalist who is determined to record every vicious crime and death at the hands of the Earlie King and his Earlie Boys, despite the fact that no one will have the courage to print it. The second perspective is that of Mr Violence – the ever present voice of death that haunts rain slashed pages and the last comes from The Play – a production set in the lounge bar of the Pit & Pendant Pub, which gives voice to the Early King and his leftenants.

A digital downfall is on the way and the whole of society is crumbling, lost in the war between the Earlie King, the vigilante Vincent Depaul (the pyrotechnic champion of the poor) and the uselessness of the police, known as the Heavies. Independent thought is crowded out by the onslaught of technology and insight is lost along with the illumination of the sun. While the continuing environmental disaster escalates the rot, poisons the fish in the seas and deforms the children.

People find escape through drugs or they’re glued to TeleVisio, and when they’re not subjecting themselves to that they’re bombarded by the city intercom or trying to evade the radar of the Early Boys, a group of young men who take great pleasure in executing brutal levels of violence at the behest of the Earlie King for the slightest reason. Mothers of their victims don’t even have the energy to grieve, instead they accept the slaughter of their loved ones as inevitable.

At no point in this novel will you know who speaks the absolute truth, yet the story resonates with many multifaceted truths about life and how it can drag people into a pit of misery and despair but also give them an anchor for hope.

Which is why the heroic efforts of the Kid in Yellow to reclaim the child that he believes is his and T’s stirs the spirits of the community and the likes of O’Casey, who is determined to track the Kid down.

This is a love story, a crime story, a fantastical tale soaked in myth. An origin story, told from multiple perspectives and in an experimental style. The use of slashes instead of speech marks adds a harsh, otherworldly edge to the colloquial dialogue. The writing often has a poetical rhythm that sweeps you deep into the physical and emotional world of The Kid in Yellow, a place where you will be equally moved and horrified by the young teenager’s tentative gestures of friendship towards T, the fury that he feels at being trapped in a downward spiral with no obvious way out and his instinct to protect ‘the babba’, despite not knowing who to trust in world where anything can be bought and sold, and betrayal is the norm.

It’s the complexity of the Kid’s knowledge and innocence that anchors this tale, as all the way through you will hear different impressions of him and his actions from others as the legend builds around the story of The Early King and the Kid in Yellow. I loved how this story was crafted, and I particularly loved how Denton was bold enough to offer no definitive version of the truth, instead he demonstrated how any story can be a variation of the truth, according to the agenda of the teller. Denton is a writer of immense talent and definitely one to watch.

With thanks to Granta for the review copy. Buy a copy here.

Review of The Lost by Mari Hannah

Introducing the first novel in the Stone and Oliver series by Mari Hannah, which is a thrilling piece of sleight of hand that will keep you gripped to the very last page.

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Alex has been away on holiday for a week with her sister, Kat, leaving her 10-year-old son, Daniel, in the care of Tim, her husband. It’s the first time she has been away from the two men in her life that her world revolves around.

Hannah establishes how important Tim is to Alex’s sense of wellbeing right from the first page. However not everyone agrees with Alex’s view of Tim as an ambitious entrepreneur; her sister, Kat, views him as a reckless risk-taker.

Here Hannah delivers the first of many losses, a moving eloquent piece of thoughtful contemplation via Alex that enables the reader to emotionally engage with how the events leading up to this holiday have deeply affected her, and how she feels now the break is nearly over.

Then shortly before Alex’s return to the UK, Daniel goes missing.

As DS Frankie Oliver and DI David Stone investigate Daniel’s disappearance they discover a home full of secrets and deception, and begin to wonder who is telling the truth, especially when possible suspects in the case start to die.

DI David Stone is a Met officer with 15 years experience who has been transferred to Northumberland, and he’s not that keen on being paired with a ‘bolshie’ detective sergeant like DS Frankie Oliver. He can’t see what the fuss is about as in his London patch kids went missing all the time. But DS Oliver is not one for giving up easily, especially when her gut instinct is telling her that something is off about the Daniel’s case.

Oliver is a third-generation copper who’s keen to prove her worth: tenacious, intelligent, challenging and with a depth of empathy that Stone has lost to some degree due to experiences in his own life. However, Oliver can also be impatient and has a tendency to go off and do her own thing without informing anyone, and is willing to bend the rules when she deems it necessary.

Hannah has written a perceptive and insightful story that revolves around how grief can be such an overwhelming emotion it can render the grief stricken blind to any chance of moving past anger to acceptance of the change in their lives.

The novel explores how loss can colour perception, how it can deceive and illuminate at the same time, while playing with the innate sense of bias that comes with a particular set of personal experiences. It also explores how those biases and perceptions can drive someone to behave in ways that are completely out of character, and how they can choose to change course and learn from self-reflection, or suppress them because they are set on a course of action born from unexpressed rage that has no safe place to be heard and defused.

I loved how these contrasting perspectives of loss were explored through the relationships within Daniel’s family and between Oliver and Stone throughout the novel, as Hannah kept the tension tight and the twists coming.

If there’s one thing Hannah excels at it’s leaving a little sense of mystery in the last chapter to keep you coming back for more, so I’ll be amazed if you reach the end of this novel not wanting to know more about DI David Stone and DS Frankie Oliver. The Lost is a cracking start to a new series.

With thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.

The Lost by Mari Hannah is published by Orion on 22 March 2018.

Pre-order your copy here.

Review of Turn A Blind Eye by Vicky Newham

Newham has written a timely and relevant police procedural with a gripping plot that kept me turning the pages from start to finish. The novel features Bangladeshi Detective Inspector Maya Rahman who has just returned home from the burial of her beloved brother, Sabbir, only to be informed that the head teacher of her former secondary school in East London has been murdered. A white card has been left behind with the body featuring one of the five ancient Buddhist precepts:

I shall abstain from taking the ungiven.

This engaging debut explores the challenges of living, working and gaining an education within a multicultural environment. Within the first few pages the reader is introduced to the burial rites of the Bangladeshi faith, which are moving even as it becomes clear that Rahman is incredibly upset about certain aspects of the service due to the treatment of her brother from many quarters.

Meanwhile at the school back in London, new teacher Steven learns on his first day that the lives of the pupils have been disrupted by other forms of violence prior to the murder of their head teacher. Steve’s challenge is how to bond with the pupils in his class and his new colleagues within an atmosphere of escalating distrust and fear.

Maya soon finds she has a complex case on her hands and has to navigate her way through it with the help of her new Australian Detective Sergeant Dan Mcguire, who is being fast-tracked through UK police training system.

Maya experiences sexism and racism from within the force and externally. It’s nothing new to Maya as she and her wider family have had to deal with fear born out of ignorance their whole lives. Dan has also experienced the realities of racism through attitudes to different cultures in Australia, which offer unique insights into the present case. He also feels isolated in some ways living so far away from his family in the hope that he is creating a better life for them all.

The most interesting aspect of Turn a Blind Eye is that almost every key character has experienced being or feeling like an outsider in some form, whether it’s due to an unspoken negative life experience and/or because they’ve moved countries to find a new home or work, which gives Newham an opportunity to explore the subjects of immigration, sexism, abuse of power, cultural differences and race relations from multiple perspectives. How she achieves this is absolutely fascinating and a genuine education in tolerance and how to learn from seeking first to understand rather than turning to prejudice and ignorance from fear of the unknown.

The writing is incredibly perceptive, well researched, balanced and insightful. The use of Buddhist precepts as the killer’s motivation is clever, as it demonstrates that any faith can be bent to the will of the person committing the crime, it is not the faith that’s at fault but the person who is manipulating it to their own ends. There could not be a better time for a novel of this calibre to make its debut, as the call for tolerance and understanding within it is much needed.

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Turn A Blind Eye by Vicky Newham is published by Harper Collins on 5 April 2018, pre-order your copy here.

Psychologist Vicky Newham grew up in West Sussex and taught in East London for many years, before moving to Whitstable in Kent. She studied for an MA in Creative Writing at Kingston University. Turn a Blind Eye is her debut novel. She is currently working on the next book in the series.

Follow the author on twitter: @VickyNewham 

Website: vickynewham.com

With thanks to Harper Collins and NetGalley for the preview copy.