Category Archives: contemporary fiction

Bring Me Back by B.A.Paris

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My review:

“Bring Me Back” by B.A.Paris is a psychological thriller that I really wanted to like! The blurb had intrigued me – a happy couple on their way back from a holiday; stopping for a break; the young woman has disappeared when her boyfriend returns to the car.

This is how the novel begins and it did draw me in. Finn, the young man, is devastated at the loss of his lovely Layla. After searches had been made, it’s decided that Layla has died. Twelve years pass and Finn’s life improves no end when he meets Ellen, Layla’s sister. Eventually, they fall in love and Finn proposes to her. However, the future which they envision is badly ruffled when it appears that Layla may, in fact, be alive.

Up until this point, I was enjoying the novel, but for me, the middle section dragged and was repetitious. About two thirds of the way through, I had guessed how it would end. I’ve read quite a number of crime novels and prefer more intricate plots than is offered in “Bring Me Back.” The pace picked up again in the final section which helped redeem it for me.

I liked the fact that the story was told through the eyes of both Finn and Layla and although the pace was uneven, the writing flowed. I think this is ideal as a quick, uncomplicated read for the beach or a cold winter’s day.

Thank you to Netgalley for allowing me to access this novel, in return for an honest review.

Meet the Author:

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B A Paris grew up in England but has spent most of her adult life in France. She has worked both in finance and as a teacher and has five daughters. Behind Closed Doors is her first novel.

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The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-time by Mark Haddon

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The Blurb:

Fifteen-year-old Christopher has a photographic memory. He understands maths. He understands science. What he can’t understand are other human beings. When he finds his neighbour’s dog lying dead on the lawn, he decides to track down the killer and write a murder mystery about it. But what other mysteries will he end up uncovering.

My Review:

This is another book that I’ve had on my book shelf for years – just like “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “In Cold Blood.” When I eventually thought I should read them, I was delighted to have unearthed such amazing books from my rather large collection of un-read books. I have to admit that I feel much the same about “The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-time”!

The narrator of this well-known tale is Christopher Boone, a fifteen year old, who is on the autistic spectrum. He has Asperger’s Syndrome. His mathematical skills are way ahead of his chronological age and in many spheres of learning, he succeeds despite his disability. As with many people who fall within the spectrum, Christopher has enormous difficulties with social interaction and has developed strategies to help him to cope with overwhelming situations. These include covering his ears and groaning, working out complicated mathematical problems and looking for patterns.

Christopher is also keen on the truth and when a neighbour’s dog is murdered, he is determined to find out the truth behind Wellington’s death. Unfortunately, Christopher’s pursuit of the truth uncovers more than he imagined and leads to all sorts of problems for the boy, his family and neighbours.

This book gives an interesting insight into the mind of a person with Asperger’s Syndrome. We feel his pain when his brain overloads with information and the confusion of his meltdowns. I have taught children with this condition and also have an autistic granddaughter, so I can say that Mark Haddon has done an amazing job in his portrayal of Christopher.

The book is funny, but also tragic. A whole range of emotions are to be found within the pages, but it is such a worthwhile read. I would recommend it to anyone who wants something a little different – I think it is a book that one will remember for a long time.

Meet the Author:

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Mark Haddon is a British novelist and poet, best known for his 2003 novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. He was educated at Uppingham School and Merton College, Oxford, where he studied English.

In 2003, Haddon won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award and in 2004, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Overall Best First Book for his novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, a book which is written from the perspective of a boy with Aspergers syndrome. Haddon’s knowledge of Aspergers syndrome, a type of autism, comes from his work with autistic people as a young man. In an interview at Powells.com, Haddon claimed that this was the first book that he wrote intentionally for an adult audience; he was surprised when his publisher suggested marketing it to both adult and child audiences. His second adult-novel, A Spot of Bother, was published in September 2006.

Mark Haddon is also known for his series of Agent Z books, one of which, Agent Z and the Penguin from Mars, was made into a 1996 Children’s BBC sitcom. He also wrote the screenplay for the BBC television adaptation of Raymond Briggs’s story Fungus the Bogeyman, screened on BBC1 in 2004. He also wrote the 2007 BBC television drama Coming Down the Mountain.

Haddon is a vegetarian, and enjoys vegetarian cookery. He describes himself as a ‘hard-line atheist’. In an interview with The Observer, Haddon said “I am atheist in a very religious mould”. His atheism might be inferred from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time in which the main character declares that those who believe in God are stupid.

Mark Haddon lives in Oxford with his wife Dr. Sos Eltis, a Fellow of Brasenose College, Oxford, and their two young sons.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

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My review:
The Vegetarian by Han Kang is one of the most unusual books that I’ve read for a long time. Set in Korea, it tells the story of a young woman’s decision to become a vegetarian and the consequences of that decision for her and her family.
Yeong-hye decides to turn from eating meat following a horrific dream and the reawakening of memories from her childhood. Her husband, who narrates the first part of the book, cannot understand what has come over his ordinary little wife; Yeong-hye distances herself from him and her family as lack of empathy and antagonism grow.
The second part of the book is told from the point of view of Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law. He is an artist, whose obsession with an idea and with a mark on his sister-in-law’s body lead to catastrophic outcomes for the whole family.
Yeong-hye’s sister plays a major role in the final section of the book. She questions herself about her reactions to the past and how she could have protected her sister.
However, the book was so much more than the above synopsis.I think it describe the chaos which lurks under the surface of many of our lives, waiting for a trigger to set it free from the constraints that society and we ourselves put upon it. It deals with abuse, obsession and guilt and the effects that these can have on the mind. Unless the ensuing turmoil is dealt with, with understanding, love and acceptance, catastrophe is never far away.
This is a book which will linger long in my mind.The writing is beautifully poetic in places, in contrast with much of the subject matter.

After the Fire by Jane Casey

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The Blurb:

After a fire rips through a North London tower block, two bodies are found locked in an 11th floor flat. But is the third victim that ensures the presence of detective Maeve Kerrigan and the murder squad. It appears that controversial MP Geoff Armstrong, trapped by the fire, chose to jump to his death rather than wait for rescue. But what was such a right wing politician doing in the deprived, culturally diverse Maudling Estate?

As Maeve and her senior colleague, Derwent, pick through the wreckage, they uncover the secret world of the 11th floor, where everyone seems to have something to hide…

My review:

“After the Fire” is the fourth Jane Casey novel, featuring D.C Maeve Kerrigan, that I have read and I enjoyed this one as much as the others. Unfortunately, I haven’t read them in order, but that has not detracted from my enjoyment in the least.

This book, the 6th in the series, is sadly topical. It deals with the aftermath of a fire in a tower block of flats, but unlike the awful reality of the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower, the death toll is less and the novel deals with the distinct possibility of arson and murder.

The police are quickly involved in the aftermath of the fire, when it is discovered that a politician has died, seemingly by throwing himself out of a window to escape the flames and two more bodies are found in a locked room. There are enough pointers here that police involvement is needed and the ensuing tale unfolds many secrets. One of the early surprises is that the politician, Geoff Armstrong, was strangled before being thrown out of the window. The painstaking murder investigation, alongside the search for an arsonist, kept my interest throughout.

As before, one of the reasons I liked this book so much is the relationship between the characters, especially Maeve Kerrigan and her boss, Josh Derwent. These are not two dimensional; there is real depth to their characters which adds so much to this crime fiction. Jane Casey writes in a style which flows, holding interest. For me, this was a real page turner!

Meet the author:

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Jane Casey is an Irish author of crime fiction novels. She writes the Maeve Kerrigan series. Jane is married to a criminal barrister, which gives her insight into the criminal underworld. Her novels have been shortlisted for the Irish Crime Novel of the Year Award and the Mary Higgins Clark Award and longlisted for the CWA Dagger in the Library Award. She lives in London with her husband, James Norman, and their son.

Jane Casey made her debut as a published novelist in 2010 with the standalone novel The Missing. She followed it up later that very same year with the novel The Burning, which began her Maeve Kerrigan series. Below is a list of Jane Casey’s books in order of when they were originally released:

“The Real Liddy James” by Anne-Marie Casey…..Blog Tour!

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Today, I am delighted to be host to Anne-Marie Casey‘s latest novel, “The Real Liddy James”

In my opinion, “The Real Liddy James” is a book about life and the tricks it can play on you.

In some respects, Liddy James is a highly successful woman: she’s a sort-after divorce lawyer, she’s a writer, she has two sons, and she’s good looking, intelligent and lives in New York. My goodness, she has it all……or so, some might say.

Then, we look a little closer and we see that Liddy is herself divorced. On the surface, she and her ex-husband, Peter, appear to be on fairly amicable terms, but is this a true picture of the situation? Liddy is such a successful lawyer and writer, that she is in demand most of her waking hours. Her life is spreadsheet-organised. It has to be if she is to fit in all her appointments, have time for herself (what is that?) and time for her boys. Matty, a teenager, and Cal, at six years old, have very different needs that have to be accommodated. She has help with this in the form of Lucia, but Lucia has a life outside of the James’ household which may need attention too. It also seems that Peter has a new life ahead with Rose, living in the same house he once occupied with Liddy and Matty.

One may ask why Liddy is so driven. Partly, this is to leave behind her upbringing. Her parents are Irish, from fairly humble roots, who immigrated to America to find a better life. However, their idea of “a better life” didn’t coincide with Liddy’s, who became driven by the ambition to lead her own version of betterment. Success is also addictive; the more successful Liddy became, the more her personal life became squeezed. This is definitely one of the tricks that life can play, thinking that the more money one earns, the happier and easier life will become.

This whirlwind of a life finally unravels during a T.V. interview, when Liddy completely “loses the plot”. In the aftermath of embarrassment, puzzlement and utter weariness, Liddy is offered the chance to recover her equilibrium, with her children, in a remote house in Ireland. We wonder at this point, if the peace and quiet away from New York and all the demands of that life will help the real Liddy James emerge…..or have we met her already? You must read the book to find out!

I enjoyed “The Real Liddy James”; not my usual genre, but it made a pleasant change from some of the “murder and mayhem” novels that I read. Although Liddy’s lifestyle is a million miles from mine, I could identify to a certain extent with the juggling of work commitments, while providing a young family with the time, love and care that they need. I was surprised by some of the feelings evoked by several characters in this novel as it unfolded. Anne-Marie Casey’s writing has an easy flow to it and I was able to zip through this book with great enjoyment.

I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys reading about how women juggle the dreaded work/life balance. There are romance, humour and relationship issues within the pages – plenty to keep you interested in meeting “The Real Liddy James.”
Thank you to the publishers for providing me with the book to read and review.

Question and Answer with Anne-Marie Casey

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It’s a pleasure to welcome you to my blog today, Anne – Marie.
First of all, I have to say that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading “The Real Liddy James.” She’s certainly a driven character! Is she based on anyone you know?

While Liddy is certainly based on aspects of people I know (including me!) she had a very precise genesis as a character. I read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s now famous article, Why women still can’t have it all, several years ago. In personal, thoughtful and analytical prose, Slaughter articulated the challenges facing women who want a career and a family. She described how the demands of her life had become overwhelming, and in doing so she voiced the feelings of innumerable other women. Women who had come to the conclusion they didn’t want to live that way. And, more likely, they didn’t think they could.

The following year Lean In arrived. Sheryl Sandberg’s book is a powerful and challenging piece of work. I recognise its importance for women, perhaps particularly for younger women. But being in my forties at the time I read it, having a career and a family myself, having seen several of my brilliant friends have to adapt to (and their careers suffer because of) the demands of divorce, or children with problems, not enough money, or simply not enough sleep, I felt uncomfortable with, and a bit scared by, the emphasis on self-confidence and ambition rather than institutional change. I found myself to be Team Anne-Marie Slaughter all the way.

I had thought about the issues debated by Slaughter and Sandberg a great deal so, when I met my editor to talk about a new book, I said, spontaneously as I recall, that I wanted to write something about a woman “who leaned in so far she fell over”. We laughed. She loved the line and, before I could point out that I didn’t have any more than that, she told me to get started. And that’s how Liddy began.

Why did you choose New York as the setting for this novel?
From the moment I first saw the iconic skyline I have had a love/love relationship with New York City. I’ve spent a lot of time there for work and pleasure, and I guess I just thought it would be fun to inhabit it in my imagination. Also, in the process of feeling free enough to write prose I found it liberating to be so far geographically away from my real life.

Do you personally think that it is possible to create an ideal work/life balance?
NO!!!

I know that you are also a screen writer and a playwright, as well as a novelist. Do you have any preference? What has been your most satisfying work to date?
I am not one of those people who always knew they would be novelists or, like the Brontes, spent endless hours of their childhoods writing miniature books in tiny script to satisfy their relentless urge to tell stories. In fact, writing fiction was never an ambition of mine.

Through my twenties, I worked in Film and TV in London as a producer, but then I fell in love, got married and, with our first baby in tow, my husband and I moved to Ireland where I became a TV writer. (Fortunately I could do it, it was a life that suited me, AND I earned a living from it.) For several years I sat at my desk happily writing scripts that mostly never got made, but then the recession came and bit hard and the two shows I had been working on were cancelled abruptly. What was I to do? I didn’t want to go back into production, and I suspected that production would not want me – by this time I was a working writer, too used to wearing pyjamas all day and mostly talking to myself, and occasionally the dog, to return to all day human interaction. After a couple of days under the duvet, I decided there was nothing for it. I would have to try and write (and sell!) a novel.

When I began writing my first book, I tried to apply the same tools I used when writing a screenplay. There is a rigorous purity in the process of development from storyline, to scene breakdown to script that comes naturally to me. And I love deadlines! I love them so much I give them to myself! (Occasionally I give them to my teenage sons with dispiriting results.) However, to my dismay, I found this didn’t allow me to explore the characters and situations in the way I needed to. In fact, it turned out that the only way I could write a novel was to throw all that planning out, sit down, start writing and see what happened.

Actually I don’t recommend it as an approach, aside from the unoriginal resulting stress dreams, it means I almost always over write and have to self-edit rigorously, but the great surprise to me in becoming a novelist (and two books in I feel okay about calling myself one) is that it has been the most satisfying work I’ve ever done.

Are there any authors or books that have influenced your work?
I’ve been an avid reader my whole life, and I studied English at University, so it’s almost impossible for me to be specific on this – however here are four books that influenced this novel.

The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank.
This is a very important book for me as it was the novel that inspired me to try and be a writer of fiction. The memory of how I felt when I read it, (the sense of emotional connection to the main character, Jane) and my admiration for the simplicity yet boldness of the structure gave me a model of what I sought to achieve.

Little Women and Good Wives by Louisa M Alcott
I came back to these books, which I adored as a child, in 2011, when I adapted them for the theatre and, of course, re-reading them as an adult, I felt an even stronger sense of why they have endured as iconic classics for so many generations of women. As an adult, and a working writer, I find Jo March’s struggle to provide for her family through her work inspirational, as well as her burning desire to marry for love and retain her independence of spirit, most unusual in the context of 19th century literature.

Heartburn by Nora Ephron
I always assume that everyone has read something by Nora Ephron, but if you’ve only seen the movies, get this book. It’s got everything; laugh out loud humour, intense emotional punch and recipes. I read a piece by Lena Dunham in which she said that Ephron “called bullshit on a whole host of things including…the idea that one’s writing isn’t fiction if it borrows from one’s life.” I couldn’t have put that better.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.
I was thinking about late 19th century novels when I was writing certain sections of my new novel and it was pleasure to go back and re-read several of Wharton’s. If you haven’t read any, I think this is the one to start with (although I have a huge affection for The House of Mirth). I was struck once again by two things about this novel; the emotional complexity of the characters and plot, and yet the readability. That is extremely hard to achieve, yet Wharton makes it seem effortless.

Do you follow a strict routine when you write?
I try to. Without self-discipline nothing gets written, and I have a busy life, so as I am starting a new novel at the moment I have imposed the 1000 words a day rule on myself. As I haven’t written a book for well over a year it is like pulling teeth at the moment so I’m trying a tip a writer friend gave me and I tie my leg to the chair with a belt until the work for that day is done!

What about the future? Do you have anything in the pipe-line that you can tell us about?
I have just finished a screenplay adapted from the novel ‘The Master’ by Jolien Janzing about Charlotte Bronte’s time in Brussels and her doomed affair with her Professor, Constantin Heger. It is the secret love story that inspired Jane Eyre and I’ve really enjoyed writing it. I am also working on a touring version of my stage adaptation of Little Women for the Everyman Theatre in Cork. And I’m tying my leg to a chair most days!

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions, Anne-Marie. It has been a real pleasure to read your novel and also your interesting answers to my questions.

You can buy this book on Amazon:

You can also follow the author on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AnneMarieCaseyAuthor/
and on her website:
http://www.annemariecasey.com/

Let the Dead Speak by Jane Casey

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My review:

 

Although “Let the Dead Speak” is the seventh in a series of crime novels featuring Police Officer Maeve Kerrigan, this is the first that I have read……..and it certainly will not be the last!

Jane Casey’s superb crime novel is so full of intrigue and suspense, that it is difficult to describe the plot in great detail without spoiling the book for others. What appears at first to be a classic case of a bloody and vicious murder turns into much more. Child abuse, fraud, blackmail – all appear as the plot unfolds.

The maze of intrigue and investigation begins when young Chloe Emery returns home unexpectedly, to find her mother is missing and her home looking like an abattoir. The murder squad team, which includes newly promoted D.S. Maeve Kerrigan and D.I. Derwent, are called in and the investigation begins. What appears at first to be a fairly straightforward case becomes anything but when Kate Emery’s body cannot be found and neighbours act suspiciously when questioned.

With each new piece of evidence, with each apparent dead end, the suspense and intrigue grows, making this an unputdownable crime novel. As I said earlier, I have not read the previous six books in this series, but it worked well as a standalone. It has piqued my interest and curiosity to find out more about Kerrigan and Derwent and other cases they have been involved in.

I enjoyed Jane Casey’s writing style. Without being too wordy, she portrays characters and scenes in such a way as to make them live in my imagination.  The characters all have depth and are “real”, to the extent that I cared about what happened to them – or I detested them! I am particularly interested in the past relationship of Kerrigan and Derwent and look forward to back-tracking.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good crime novel     and would like to thank NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review it.

Find out more about Jane Casey and her work on her Amazon page:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jane-Casey/e/B003VNABHU/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1490280613&sr=1-2-ent