Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Book Review: Alice and the Fly by James Rice

Alice and the Fly
By James Rice
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
Available in hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

Jame Rice's debut novel, Alice and the Fly, is a haunting, and sometimes uncomfortable read about overwhelming fears, and the way we let them consume us.

Greg, a young teenage boy doesn't have many friends, and at home his family are too wrapped up in their troubles. Mum is obsessed with interior design and trying to maintain the exterior of a fun, happy family, while Dad likes to stay late at work and employ young secretaries. And his sister, who tries to avoid Greg, stays in her bedroom practicing her dance moves for a school show. His family life is disconnected, and full of secrets which need to be kept hidden - there are problems simmering on the surface of all of the family members but nobody wants to tackle any of the tension or fear. They are all pretending that life is fine, and are unwilling to accept that Greg is nearly ready to crack. I found I wanted to shake the shoulders of Greg's family and tell them to stop being so self-obsessed - their son needs them.

Greg's obsession, and isolation expands his phobia of spiders or 'them' as Greg likes to call the spiders - his bedroom has tape across any potential gaps, he has seizures if a spider is too close. Not even the medication can stop the overwhelming fear. At times, Rice's novel reminded me of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time but if I'm honest, I found this to be the better novel. 

Greg's mind isn't a nice place to be but things start to change, and Greg's obsession with 'them' starts to develop into something new. Alice, a popular girl at school smiles at him on the bus and Greg finds himself in love. An obsession, more consuming than his fear of spiders, takes hold and won't let him go. This is a novel about going to the brink, and toppling over the edge. 

This really is a powerful book which doesn't slip into sentimentality but maintains a tense hold over the reader right up to the last page, and even beyond. This is chilling read but Alice and the Fly is beautifully written and this book will make you think about the way we treat each other, and it will make you think about what we do to give the appearance that we are normal. 

This is an intriguing read, which will draw you into the complicated world of Greg and his obsessions. Alice and the Fly is available to buy from your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy by Bookbridgr

Monday, 26 January 2015

Short Story Acceptance & Finally Tackling Chapter 15

This has been a productive week, writing wise. I have finished putting together a pamphlet of all of the story stories for a competition (cross your fingers for me), submit a non-fiction piece and carry on redrawing my novel but the biggest bit of writing news is...

I got an acceptance for a flash fiction piece! I'll post some more details once I know them.

Plus I have finally finished re-writing chapter fifteen from scratch. I have been struggling for months (and that's no exaggeration) to make this chapter work - I thought a simple edit would do but then I went away, over thinking it as I normally do and realised that the chapter wasn't definitely working - most of it wasn't necessary but I tried for another month to try and fit it all of the details but still it didn't work. I even thought about scrapping the chapter and pretending it didn't exist. But I think I have written a chapter that makes sense, and I also feel like I can move on to chapter sixteen.

I think the problem with this chapter is that it was written very fast during Novel Writing Month, back in 2013. At the time I wasn't bothered about the plot making sense or having unnecessary characters fixing bolts to doors - I just needed the words. So now I'm left with unpicking the pieces! I'm not sure how people can write a novel for Novel Writing Month and then pack it off to agents and publishers the next month - I'm still redrafting mine over a year later. I know I'm a member of the slow-redrabfters-club but a novel written fast needs editing. First drafts are never perfect!

Chapter 15 will definitely need some more editing but I am going to tackle it in the next round of edits. I want to make it to the end before I make anymore drastic changes.

I have had a sneak peek at chapter sixteen, and it doesn't look too bad... but you never know. It could be worse!

I'll be reviewing some great books over the next few months.
I have also been working on reviews for this blog as well as organising interviews for The Imaginary Bookshop series.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Book Review: The Life I Left Behind

The Life I Left Behind
By Colette McBeth
Published by Headline Books
Format: Trade Paperback

Colette McBeth's latest novel, The Life I Left Behind, takes the reader on a roller coaster journey with red herrings, plot lines that morph and change in a couple of pages and characters who are not what they appear on the surface. McBeth chops up the standard thriller genre, and adds in new twists and turns.

The Life I Left Behind tells the story of Melody Pieterson who was attacked several years ago and was left for dead in Richmond Park. The man who attacked her, a former friend and neighbour, is finally out of prison, and is still saying he is innocent. Melody over the years has built a wall around her life - she has become like a Stepford Wife - reclusive, calculated, smiling on the outside.

Her life, on the surface, is back on track - she has a nice home in the country, and she is planning her wedding but something is nagging away at her especially after the death of Eve, an investigative journalist, who was looking into Melody's case. Her attack and death echo that of Melody's attack. Something strange is going on, and the attacker must be found before another body is found.

The great thing about this book is the way it whisks you up in the story and does not let you go. McBeth does this by creating a novel that isn't just a simple bog-standard thriller. There are flash backs to Melody's life before her attack, there are extracts from emails from Eve's investigation and we see insights from the Police investigation from DI Elizabeth Rutter, who is running the case. All three woman take it in turns to tell the story from their perspective, which I enjoyed as I think the plot would have been a bit flat if it was just from one perspective.

Melody's perspective shows she is still paranoid about her attack, and we see this in the way she has surrendered herself to her boyfriend - he controls everything, and she has also given up her career to stay at home. McBeth shows us a character who has created an artificial reality to make sure that she is protected from her past. Around her secrets and lies bubble and erupt.

DI Rutter must solve the case but also try to get the balance with work and home right. She is distance from her children and her husband plus she's making herself some enemies once she starts digging through Melody's case - some of the investigation doesn't add up. Maybe the wrong man was sent to prison?

Eve's perspective, reminded me of The Lovely Bones, as her viewpoint adds a supernatural element to the novel. Her perspective is told after she has died as she watches down on both DI Rutter and Melody as they both try to piece together Eve's investigation.

The characters are not perfect and at times are not likable but this is what makes this an interesting book. I like reading novels which have characters with problems and struggles. McBeth has created characters that appear on the surface to have it all but once you start scratching away at that seemingly perfect facade you realise that these characters are full of dread, fears, and secrets. McBeth is able to go to the darkest depths of her character's minds.

There are twists. There are shocks. There are great characters. The Life I Left Behind is a chilling, intriguing novel.

You can buy The Life I Left Behind from your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy by Bookbridgr

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Book Review: The Balloonist by James Long

The Balloonist
By James Long
Published by Simon & Schuster
Available in paperbook and ebook

James Long's fascinating novel, The Balloonist tells the story of balloon observers and their role during World War I but this is not simply a historical novel but a book about loyalty, hope and love. This is a book about the things we must do to protect the ones we love the most.

I was always under the impression that WWI pilots had the most dangerous missions but it turns out the balloon observer is just as dangerous - not just from enemy bombs from planes or even snipers but from the hot air balloon itself, filled with explosive hydrogen, four thousand feet above the ground with only a cable to pull the observer back to the ground. Long does a great job of exploring this part of WWI and making the reader appreciate the efforts of these unsung heroes.

The Balloonist follows a troubled Lieutenant Willy Fraser, formerly of the Royal Flying Crops, who is in Europe for adventure, trying to escape his life and castle back in Scotland, but gets caught up in the outbreak of war with Germany advancing towards Belgium. Fraser must conquer the enemy and also his fellow comrades when he realises that he must protect the woman he loves, the wife of his former colleague, Claude. Up until this moment his motto has been to only think about himself. But having listened to Claude, before his death, talking about his amazing wife makes Fraser realise that there is something missing in his life. There is a life beyond simply looking after himself and he must get to that new life no matter the consequence.

High above the tops of trees, in a hot air balloon, Fraser must watch out for the advancing enemy and their attacking forces. During these times, he plots and maneuvers himself through the ranks and companies to end up just the other side of the field from where Claude's wife lives, on the edge of the Western Front.

Long has created a book with lots of intriguing, vivid details about an aspect of WWI which I didn't really know about before reading The Balloonist. This is a well researched novel, and makes me want to go away and read more about WWI and the balloon observers. The research adds to the fast pace action of the plot as Fraser dodges the enemy with his survivalist mentality - this is a character who will not give up. Fraser is a likable character who the reader wants to succeed in his quest to find Claude's wife and hand over a letter to her even if it means risking his life.

This is an enjoyable novel full of authentic deal which doesn't bog down the plot. The end reads like there could be a sequel in the making...

You can buy or order this book from your favourite bookshop.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy.

Friday, 2 January 2015

My Top Reads of 2014

Happy New Year!

2014 wasn't the most productive year for me writing wise as redrafting a novel is a slower task especially if you work full time and move twice in the same year! But I'm going to make sure that this novel really takes shape this year.

2014 Reading
I don't like doing my top reads of the year post in December (or even November) as there could a chance that the best book you read may be a Christmas present or sneak up on you so I always wait until January. This year I have read many great books, lots of good books by great authors, a few average ones and I have also learnt to give up books which do not grab me. I have been following the principle an English teacher taught back when I was at school. If you're not enjoying the book then skip at least five pages and try again. If its still no good then move on to the next book. There are too many other books that need reading!

Here are my top five reads of 2014 in no particular order:

The Circle - Dave Eggers
Eggers explores society's obsession with the internet. I could not literally put this book down - I needed to know what happens in the 'circle' - the ultimate social networking company and its plans to conquer the internet.

We Are Completely Besides Ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler

This book has a big twist on page 77 (I already knew the twist before reading this book as I had seen it reviewed on TV), which I won't give away. This is a great book about love and rivalry between siblings and families.

Of Things Gone Astray - Janina Matthewson
This fabulous novel follows the characters as they try to find the things they have lost. You can read my review here.

With A Zero At Its Heart - Charles Lambert
Lambert's thought provoking novel 
explores the way memories fragment and form a life story within 24 themed chapters, each with 10 numbered paragraphs, each paragraph 120 words long. You can read my review here.

A Tale For The Time Being - Ruth Ozeki
Ruth finds a diary of a Japanese girl washed up, in a Hello Kitty lunchbox on the beach. Inside, the diary chronicles the girl's life before the tsunami. Ruth's obsession with the diary echoes my obsession with this book. I found the story gripping.

Here's a link to the other books I have read in 2014.

Reading and Writing in 2015
I got some great books for Christmas so I'm looking forward to reading these over the next year. Here's a little picture of my books lounging on the sofa after eating too many chocolates and binge watching box sets. 
I have already finished Lena Dunham's Not That Kind of Girl and it's really good. I like the honesty and energy of Dunham's essays. I know that she's a marmite kind of person but that shouldn't hold you back from reading her essays. I have also finished reading Robert McGuire's Here and I have a very strong feeling that it could be in 2015's list of great books...

My plans for my writing over the next year:

  • Carry on editing my novel. I am currently battling with a horrid chapter 15. I couldn't find the right opening and I thought I could find a quick way to fix it but there is no quick win! I am re-writing this chapter from the beginning and its a very slow process.
  • Maybe start thinking about writing a new novel once I'm over the hump with the redrafting for my current one.