Review: Peach by Emma Glass

9781408886694Emma Glass’s Peach is an emotionally raw and wrenching debut about a young woman’s struggles in the aftermath of her rape. Lyrically crafted, it’s a book that lures you in with its poetic paragraphs, then steals the breath from your lungs with its gritty portrayal of a shattered human psyche.

When we are introduced to Peach, a college student, she is stumbling home in the dark after an apparent sexual assault. In excruciating detail, using clipped prose, Glass describes Peach stopping to be sick, the blood leaking from between her legs, and the scraping of her knuckles along a wall. Glass controls the pace expertly, lulling readers with her poetry, then viscerally detailing the cold, horrible reality of Peach’s situation. In the pages that follow, we meet the important people in her life largely, oblivious to her anguish; her doting boyfriend, Green; her creepily sex-obsessed parents; her infant brother. Understandably unhinged by her ordeal, struggling to come to terms with her assault, Peach starts to see the people around her as food, her attacker Lincoln in particular, who she envisions as a sausage, greasy and fat. With her stress burgeoning rather than subsiding, Peach decides to take matters into her own hands, before Lincoln can destroy the life she knows. The result is as surreal as it is horrific.

With Peach, Emma Glass has created an unsettling work of fiction. It is utterly mesmerising and bold, and haunting.

ISBN: 9781408886694
Format: Hardback (205mm x 135mm x mm)
Pages: 112
Imprint: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publish Date: 11-Jan-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Twins by Dirk Kurbjuweit

9781925603033Dirk Kurbjuweit’s Twins is about growing up, first love, and friendship. It’s an affecting novella that provides an empathetic look at two boys struggling through the trials and tribulations of adolescence, which proves as brilliantly absorbing as it is, eventually, soul-shatteringly sobering.

Twins is narrated by Johann reflecting back on his friendship with Ludwig, his best friend and rowing partner in his school years, whose relationship crystallises thanks to a shared, zealous love of winning, whatever the cost. Indeed, it’s their desire to win — to work in tandem, like their greatest competitors, twins from a neighbouring town — that inspires the boys to experience everything together, and form an unbreakable bond, which would surely render them unbeatable. But the strain involved in this — in ensuring every moment is shared and no secret kept, of become one — threatens to shatter their friendship, and distort it into something horrible, particularly as they get older, and raging teenage hormones begin to effect their decisions.

The novel is steeped in bleakness. The world is grey and grim, coloured fleetingly by Johann’s first love, and when the friendship between Johann and Ludwig is allowed to genuinely flourish, unconstrained by their mission to become inseparable. Ludwig’s home — which is the centre of the action — is near a bridge often used for suicides, and one of these provides the narrative with a genuinely surreal and disturbing episode. Twins is most potent when Kurbjuweit examines the adolescent psyche. When reflecting on his youth, Johann recalls: “Back then I was in desperate need of friends. Having friends was all we cared about… If you couldn’t tell somebody about something, it wasn’t real. Friends were like mirrors, and we only existed as reflections. The longer your list of telephone numbers, the important you felt… The more often you talked about your experiences, the more real they were. We wanted to multiply ourselves in order to be somebody.”  Kurbjuweit also eloquently describes that moment when children discard their childhoods: “But it was, I think, that summer that we had our first doubts about whether playing was the be-all and end-all of life. They were only fleeting — that flicker of hesitation you feel hanging halfway off a motorbike as you to pretend to lean into a bend, going absolutely nowhere, a shrill screech — the noise of an imaginary engine — emanating from your throat… We abandoned that boisterous, unconsciousness play.” Moments like these are the novel’s most poignant, and make it something very special. They reminded me of my teenage years, when social media was just becoming a thing, and the number of friends you had represented your status quo; and when I was a  little younger, playing with my Action Man in front of the television, and suddenly coming to the conclusion I was too old for this, anybody seeing me with this figurine in my hand would laugh at me. I promptly deposited all such toys in my cupboard; out of sight, out of mind. I never played with them again.

Twins paints a troubling portrait of adolescent friendship. It’s a stimulating one-sitting read, superbly translated by Imogen Taylor.

ISBN: 9781925603033
Format: Paperback (196mm x 129mm x 12mm)
Pages: 240
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 28-Aug-2017
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: London Rules by Mick Herron

9781473657380.jpgLondon Rules — the fifth book in the Jackson Lamb series — epitomises precisely why Mick Herron’s espionage novels are the new hallmarks of the genre. It is a rousing, provocative — and genuinely funny, at times — political thriller with a  labyrinthine plot that, despite its villains remaining little more than sketches, excels thanks to its large, diverse cast of ‘Slow Horses’ whose personal travails and tribulations add depth to protagonists who are often little more than stock cardboard cutouts.

New readers are welcomed into the world of Slough House, where failed (dubbed incompetent) MI-5 agents are deposited to waste their days, twiddling their thumbs, doing mind-numbing busy work, but it’s readers who’ve been with these characters since Slow Horses who’ll get maximum enjoyment from London Rules. By now, the Slow Horses are entangled in a thick continuity soup, and each book in the series serves as an episodic interlude into their lives, the spotlight shared between various characters. This time around the balance is fairly even, which makes the story’s unravelling all the more nerve-wracking, because Herron has displayed a willingness to kill off characters before, and given the vastness of the cast he’s working with, one can’t help but feel it’s only a matter of time before further reductions are made.

London Rules deals with various plot threads that eventually, quite brilliantly, tie together. While Slow Horse Roddy Ho is targeted for assassination, a string of bizarre, seemingly random terrorist attacks rock the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, Regent’s Park’s First Desk, Claude Whelan, is struggling to protect the hapless prime minister from the MP who orchestrated the Brexit vote, who has his sights set on Number Ten; not to mention the MP’s wife, a tabloid columnist, who’s obliterating Whelan in print; then there’s the soon-to-be mayor of London the Prime Minister has allied himsel with, who has a dark, potentially devastating secret. Poor Whelan, dealing with all of this, while his own deputy, Lady Di Taverner, watches on, waiting for him to stumble. And while these machinations are certainly intriguing and propulsive, it’s how River Cartwright, Catherine Standish, JK Coe and all the others are managing the stresses of their personal lives, and the consequences of their previous missions, that prove the ultimate page-turning factor.

Mick Herron’s novels sit comfortably somewhere between le Carré and Bond: meticulously plotted, deliberately paced, fun, and not overly deep. London Rules is a terrific yarn filled with tension and surprises right to the end. Every instalment in this series is a pleasure to read.

ISBN: 9781473657380
Format: Paperback (235mm x 162mm x 26mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: John Murray Publishers Ltd
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
Publish Date: 8-Feb-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

large_9781781258620It’s a weekly struggle explaining to non-book-industry folk exactly what I do for a living. In publishing circles, bookselling is a fine, respected career. It’s a fundamental part of the cycle, after all: we put books in the hands of readers. But there’s more to it than that; a workload people not “in the know” don’t understand.

When I explain I spent the day shelving books, these outsiders picture me lackadaisically wandering the shop, humming a tune, easing books into their rightful slots, not cringing at how tightly packed everything is. When I say the shop was busy, they imagine my reading behind the counter being interrupted by an enquiring customer, when in fact, I don’t know a bookseller who has time to read a single sentence during trading hours. Never mind the need to chase customer orders, dealing with short-supplied deliveries, arranging displays, meeting reps and authors, finding books for the eleven members of a customer’s family, each with a specific interest, all of which need to be gift-wrapped in a specific kind of wrapping paper, with a specific colour of ribbon, with knots that’re bulky, but not obtrusive, and oh, they needed to be wrapped ten minutes ago, because they’re parked illegally, and oh shit, is that the parking inspector?!

Suffice to say, I love my job. But explaining its intricacies and exasperations isn’t easy. Which is why Shaun Bythell’s book is so delightful. It encapsulates many of the daily episodes that make up the sum total of my life, and the challenges faced by booksellers across the world by multinational corporations. But more than that, it’s a portrait of the author’s small town of Wigtown, and its quirky community. The way he describes it, it’s a place I very much want to visit.

The Diary of a Bookseller details a year in the life of Bythell, who is the owner of Scotland’s largest secondhand bookshop. His sharp-tongued, frequently hilarious analysis of his customers had me guffawing on the train, stifling the laugh of a madman. He explains the delights and hardships faced by booksellers, and reminded me why I can’t imagine myself doing anything else, and steeled me for the fight ahead, as the big boys move in and try and take over. Funny, endearing, inspiring; for any book lovers out there, this is is a must.

ISBN: 9781781258620
Publisher: Profile Books Ltd
Imprint: Profile Books Ltd
Publication date: June 2017
Dimensions: 216mm X 135mm
Produced in: United Kingdom
Availability date: October 2017
Bind: Hardback
Pages: 320

Review: Almost Love by Louise O’Neill

9781784298852Louise O’Neill’s raw and powerful Almost Love follows a young woman named Sarah who falls in love fast — and hard — for a man twenty years her senior, and starts sacrificing her career, friendships, and relationships to be with him.

We have all been there, or witnessed it: a relationship destined for failure from the very start. The writing is on the wall; sometimes we’re the friend who knows this, but can’t — for the sake of the friendship — reveal our concern — and most of us have been the protagonist, invested in a romantic relationship going nowhere, certainly not the direction we want it to, but hopeful — so damn hopeful! — that our inner fears won’t be realised, that our gut instinct is wrong. We know from the very start that Sarah’s relationship with Matthew is fated to end badly, but we know what it’s like, to be in love, to think we’ve found the person who gets us, who appreciates us; or been so blinded by our own desires, our fantasy of What Could Be, that we overlook our partner’s failings. Hope overrides reality; the belief that we can change things, set a new path. Sarah is all of us, and bearing witness to her razing of everything meaningful in her life, and the erosion of her confidence, is truly agonising. There is humour throughout, certainly; but it’s the gallows kind, that only exacerbates the splintering of our hearts as Sarah’s journey unfolds.

Wry and devastating in equal measure, Almost Love is a delectable and heartbreaking tale about an all-consuming relationship gone wrong, and demonstrates how treacherous, agonising and addictive love can be; how love can be an exercise in self-sabotage, and falling for the wrong person is often akin to hitting the self-destruct button. O’Neill navigates the jagged edges of love so astutely. I loved it.

ISBN: 9781784298852
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 304
Imprint: riverrun
Publisher: Quercus Publishing
Publish Date: 8-Mar-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Snowbound by Blake Crouch

7722061Blake Crouch writes unapologetic, lean, mean, action-packed novels. Dark Matter was a mind-bending roller-coaster; each instalment in his Wayward Pines trilogy was a pulse-pounding tour-de-force. And Snowbound, one of his earlier books, is a breakneck thriller, chock full of action from page one. I devoured it in a single sitting on a warm spring day, and will reserve reading another for a day at the beach, or on a plane, when all I’m looking for is pure escapism.

Snowbound begins when attorney Will Innis’s wife fails to come home from a late night at work, and her car is found on a notorious strip of Arizona highway. There is no sign of her. She is missing, presumed dead. Will, certain the investigating detective will pin his wife’s disappearance on him, absconds with his 11-year-old daughter Devlin, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, and for five years they move around, never staying too long in a single location. Then one day there’s a knock at his door, and Kalyn Sharp of the FBI storms into Will and Devlin’s lives. Only she believes Will is innocent; and believes his wife might still be alive. Engaging in an off-the-the-books operation, this unlikely trio seek to unravel the mystery, which concludes with an explosive climax at a remote Alaskan resort.

This is a book loaded with contrivances and ethereal characters. Some of the motivations are suspect, and its plot’s has all the hallmarks of a B-Grade 80s action movie. But set against that is the fact that it’s breathlessly exciting. It’s a page-turner, in the truest sense of the word. Snowbound is a book for the Matthew Reilly fan; the reader who wants a focus on action rather than character. It won’t be to every reader’s taste, but Blake Crouch clearly had a game plan with Snowbound, and he executes it perfectly.

ISBN: 9781481814768
Format: Paperback (229mm x 152mm x 18mm)
Imprint: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
Publish Date: 19-Jan-2013
Country of Publication: United States

Review: Need to Know by Karen Cleveland

9780593079607Karen Cleveland’s Need to Know briskly assembles the lives of Vivian and Matt Miller — their happy marriage, their house in the suburbs, their four beautiful children — before eviscerating its veracity with the revelation that Matt is a Russian sleeper agent.

Cleveland’s debut physiological thriller is a whirlwind of  red herrings and reversals, smoothly melded together, whose revelations and consequences intensify to an excruciating level. At a time when bookshop shelves are being proliferated by various iterations of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, Need to Know takes what made those domestic noir thrillers tick and meshes those elements with a dash of espionage. It’s a thriller that will appeal as much to fans of Homeland and 24 as Paula Hawkins’ and Gillian Flynn’s blockbuster novels.

Vivian Miller is a CIA analyst tasked with tracking Russian sleeper agents, but unlike most protagonists that proliferate the genre, she also has a home life; and it’s not falling apart. That is, until Vivian hacks her way into the laptop of a Russian handler the agency has been monitoring, and discovers five photographs that identify the handler’s underlings; one of whom is Viv’s husband. Is the information reliable? Is she being toyed with? Is Matt friend or foe; at all the man she thought she had married? Should she turn him in, or obliterate the data, maintain the status quo? Every decision Vivian makes seems to be the wrong one, and very soon, she’s a puppet on strings, doing somebody’s bidding. The ultimate question: who is the actual puppeteer?

Need to Know rockets along at a great clip, flashing backwards and forwards in time, underling some of Matt’s questionable behaviour at one moment, then reminding the reader how stellar a husband and father he is a few pages later. Cleveland manipulates the reader with aplomb, highlighting the impossibility of knowing those closest to us. Its pace means some characters are a tad underdeveloped — there to propel the story to its next juncture than exist with any depth — and a couple of moments when the narrative shifts from first person to third person feel contrived, particularly the twist at the very end.

Need to Know is a propulsive page-turner, fast, conscientious, and utterly true to its carefully wrought formula. A perfect beach read.

ISBN: 9780593079607
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Bantam Press
Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd
Publish Date: 25-Jan-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom