Sunday, 22 January 2017

Book Review: The Empathy Problem

The Empathy Problem

By Gavin Extence
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
Available in hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

Following on from The Mirror World of Melody Black, Gavin Extence's latest novel, The Empathy Problem further explores the need for people to change their life when handed one last chance. This time Extence asks the reader to put their trust into an unlikeable character who has distanced himself from society. Can he turn his life around before it's too late?

Extence explores the effects of terminal illness through Gabriel Vaughan, an arrogant, highly successful hedge-funder and millionaire. He is ruthless and cunning, driven by power and money. His competitive nature has isolated him from his family and colleagues, leaving him with an existence which is empty with no personal pleasure. He is a modern day Patrick Bateman from American Psycho but there's not murder, blood or heads in the fridge.

Not even a terminal brain tumour is going to get in his way.

Yet, something does change. He starts feeling emotions and seeing the people around him not as an inconvenience rather than being stuck in a bubble all about him. Emotions start taking over, he starts getting involved and worrying about other people.

Caitlin busks on the steps of St Paul's Cathedral amongst the Occupy protesters, playing her violin, and grabs Gabriel's attention with her music. Not only is he mesmerized by the music but by Caitlin. Yet, she isn't like Gabriel's usual taste in women - he normally has to pay. He can not get this girl out of his head.

He starts to realise that there is more to life than work and money. His uncomplicated life starts becoming complicated, full of lies as he tries to create a dual life to make himself look 'human' For Caitlin - he even goes as far as renting a flat in a different part of London and faking his lifestyle. If anything he becomes more unlikable as instead of using his money for social good or even giving some money to his father he instead sets up a revenge plan on his bosses.

This is a book about finding second chances before time runs out. I liked this central idea of the novel and the way people can make changes before its too late.

However, I felt like I couldnt connect to the protagonist even when he starts to change and connect with society. I'm sure that readers could feel differently but for me. The Empathy Problem is available from your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy by bookbridgr.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Book Review: Fell - Jenn Ashworth

By Jenn Ashworth
Published by Sceptre
Available in hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

Jenn Ashworth's latest novel, Fell, captures the oddities within ordinary families, the ways people will believe anything even if it's supernatural in times of crisis and the way the past tries to bleed into the present. Lines are blurred between reality and the misty, mirky world of the supernatural. Hold on to your butts as this is a fantastic book.

I've been a fan of Jenn's since reading her short stories online and really enjoyed The Friday Gospels but Fell is even better so much so that it was one of my favourite reads of 2016.

Annette Clifford returns to her childhood home, abandoned by her father years ago when her mother died, overlooking Morecambe Bay. Her father has died, leaving behind the crumbling house which needs fixing up and restore to its former glory. Like her parents, when they first moved in, she is short of funds to restore the house yet she can't let out rooms like her parents did as the house is full of mould, plant life and nothing seems to work - the house is a museum of her parents past - wallpaper peeling off showing the layers underneath. The roots of two overgrown sycamores have spread underneath, causing damage to the foundations and pipes. Her arrival has woken the spirits of her parents, Netty and Jack, both reunited in death, and who are desperate to make a amends.

Told from the perspective of a husband and wife who are no longer living this is a story about lingering memories and unnatural presences in ordinary life. The story goes back to the summer of 1963 on the cusp of change for the whole family. Netty has cancer and following many operations and doctor appointments she is now living on borrowed time but she spends most of her time repressing her illness, pretending she is fine in front of her young daughter, Annette. Jack invites a charismatic lodger into their house who claims to heal people in the hope that this stranger can save Netty. Trying to keep the illness is becoming a burden. Annette is left to entertain herself as her mother is kept in her bedroom, knitting projects discarded near her chair, while in pain.

Now, in the present, a stranger must save Annette when she cuts herself when trying to slash down the sycamores. The local tree surgeon is pulled into Annette's world and the magnetic pull of the house. Echoes of the past bleed into the present with events repeating themselves but instead of the isolation felt by Jack and Netty collectively is now on Annette's shoulders - she must work out how to fix the house - alone. The supernatural blurs with the ordinary, many things left unexplained and for the reader to piece together - can this lodger actually heal people, how did he manage to get Netty to choke up sea water?

Fell is an eerie, atmospheric book, beautifully written by capturing the ordinary lives with small details and pulling the reader into the lives of these characters. This is a compelling book, and I'm still thinking about the story weeks after finishing the book.  You can buy Fell from your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy via Bookbridgr.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Goodbye 2016

I’m sure everyone is glad 2016 is out of the way. It was a year where the political landscape changed, terrorism has intensified, actors, artists, musicians have died leaving a gap in many people’s hearts. Even though we don’t know these people some of the things they portray in either film or music can speak to us all on a personal level.

For me, this year was better than 2015. I’ve been making myself busy – keeping up going to the gym, road running, painting my flat, enjoying time with friends. I’ve also had a good year at work. There have been challenges but on the whole I’ve embraced them all, and I’m definitely a stronger person than what I was back at the beginning of the year. Hey, I’m not crying every hour like I was in 2015. Only one or twice a month – progress!

So here are my highlights for writing, reading and cultural events from 2016.

Writing in 2016

  • Continuing with redrafting my novel. My aim was to redraft one chapter per month and on average I’ve managed to keep this going and I even managed to redraft two in December. I’m now only 6 chapters away from the end.
  • I had five stories published. I have linked to the original blog posts so you can click through and have a read - so grab a tea and settle down on the sofa.

A Love Letter to My Slow Cooker – published at Murder and Glut
Ice-cream Van – republished in the Forge Fiction anthology
First Gear Dilemmas – published at Silver Birch Press

Reading in 2016
  • I have read 52 books this year ranging from short story collections, non fiction books about loneliness in the city to accounts of Chernobyl, and of course novels. I’ve read quite a few books published in 2016 but I’ve also tried to read a few things which I’ve been promising myself for years. This included the excellent Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout and the slightly disappointing There But For The by Ali Smith.
  • You can read all of my monthly wrap ups via this link. You can find all of my reviews via this link.
  • Here are my top reads from 2016. I’ve linked to my reviews of these books, and all of these are highly recommended.

Culture in 2016
  • Arrival, High Rise and Lobster are my films of the year.
  • Going to the theatre and seeing 1984 (AMAZING) and Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (AMAZING).
  • Emerald Street Literary festival in London. It was good but ticket holders were only allowed to attend three events, and I wanted to go to more. Hopefully it will run next year.
  • Seeing Neil Gaiman at the Word Factory event at Waterstones. Came away feeling inspired. Must read through my notes for some much needed inspiration.
  • I popped along to the Royal Academy to see ‘Painting the Modern Garden’ and really enjoyed seeing some Monets up close and personal but I really shouldn’t have left it until the penultimate day before it closed as it was very busy.
  • Harry Potter World was amazing. Fans of the films will love walking around the sets and looking at memorabilia. There was lots of insights into how they build the sets and special effects.
  • I’ve always wanted to see a ballet, and this year I got a chance to see Swan Lake at the Royal Albert Hall and it was amazing. I really want to see some more ballet in 2017.
  • I also got the chance to see both Jurassic Park and ET at the Royal Albert Hall. The film is played on the big screen with an accompanying orchestra. A great experience.

So, how was your 2016?

Come back soon for my ‘Hello 2017’ post!

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Books Read in December

I'm not sure how it happened but I have managed to read four books in December even though I've been busy with Christmas. I love buying presents, walking around the shops, picking out something to either make the person laugh or match their personality. I'm not much of an internet shopper at Christmas time. Don't get me started on wrapping presents - I love it!

This year I hosted Boxing Day and all of my family came over, and it was a great day. Christmas was very different from what it was a few years ago so I have been thinking about the past more than I should have over the last few weeks. Missing people who aren't in our lives anymore, thinking about the past year but also thinking about what the future will hold...

Anyway, to the books I've read....

Chernobyl Prayer - Svetlana Alexievich
This fantastic book includes witness accounts of the Chernobyl disaster and the ways lives have changed, the way people have been manipulated and the way some people decided to continue to live near the area. Fascinating book. Highly highly recommended.

Fell - Jenn Ashworth
This is a haunting book about the spirits of the past arising when Annette returns to her childhood home, ready to renovate it and sell. This book is atmospheric and touching. I'll be reviewing Fell later in the month. Fantastic writing.

Olive Kitteridge - Elizabeth Strout
I've head lots of amazing things about this book and I'm not sure why I've put off reading it for so long. After reading My Name is Lucy Barton, I thought it was time that I read this book. This book is a collection of short stories based around the community in which Olive Kitteridge lives. She isn't always the main character in the story but lingers on the sidelines, her presence is always there within the community. Amazing author. Next year, I'm going to read more Elizabeth Strout.

What A Way To Go - Julia Forster
I think I won this back in 2015 and it's another book where I'm not sure why I've waited so long to read. This tells the story of Harper and her life with her divorced parents. I'm not sure if it's a YA novel or adult novel - maybe it's a crossover novel. I enjoyed this book, and fans of Nina Stibbe will like this book.

I hope everybody has had a fantastic holiday. Pop by tomorrow and I'll be posting my 2016 review!