Monday, 24 February 2014

Review: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell is the queen of nostalgia - her books are perfect at conjuring up feelings and thoughts and situations from the past.

I adored both Fangirl and Eleanor & Park (I haven't read Attachments) so it was with both excitement and trepidation that I approached Landline, Rowell's forthcoming novel. I wondered how I'd find her writing when the book was aimed at adults, and whether it would hold the magic of her YA books.

Georgie McCool's marriage is in trouble. Her husband has taken their two children to his mum's house for Christmas, while Georgie stays behind to write the sitcom that will make her career. Only, now that Neal and the kids are gone, Georgie knows things are beyond wrong. 

When she uses the old landline in her mum's home to try and call her husband, she finds herself communicating with a Neal from the past. Is this the perfect opportunity to fix her marriage before it breaks? Or is it a chance to never start what is now making her so sad?

Landline is full of great, flawed characters, like the previous Rowell books I've read. Georgie is likeable, but also clueless at times. Neal in the present time, who we barely see, comes across as a great dad, but also as closed off emotionally. Georgie's writing partner Seth is charming, but clearly lonely. Georgie's mum is hilarious, and her sister is sweet and supportive.

But that's just one way of looking at the characters. Rowell takes us back into the pasts of all those we encounter, giving us a glimpse into what made them the people they are in the present time. Georgie's memories show her as even more clueless when she was at university, while Seth is selfish. We see a closed off Neal in the past, who opens up emotionally to Georgie as he learns to love and trust her.

Landline isn't just a doom and gloom serious book though. It's full of lighter, genuinely happy moments (Georgie's sister's budding romance), and funny ones (Georgie's mums, the pugs). Rowell knows that to tug at the heartstrings you sometimes have to give a little reprieve as well. 

And being an adult novel, there is a lot more light and shade within the book, with characters coming to adult solutions about their problems. At times I did feel a little confused, as Rowell's style for her adult novel is similar to that for her YA ones, and I sometimes felt I needed more of an obvious difference. Still, I loved this book, which is as as beautifully written as Fangirl and Eleanor & Park, and will no doubt introduce her to a new audience who haven't yet had the pleasure of her writing.

Landline is released on July 31.

How I got this book: From the publisher, Orion. This did not affect my review.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Review: The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

Beautiful and brutal - two contrasting words that perfectly describe Rene Denfeld's The Enchanted.

In the depths of an American prison, a nameless man waits on death row. His pleasures in life are the books he gets to read, and his imagination, which turns his prison into an "enchanted place".

Another man, York, awaits his turn to die, having given up on life; an unnamed lady does her best to find information that will save York, while she falls in love with the prison priest. Above them all, the life of the prison continues - tortures and corruption abound.

The Enchanted is an exquisitely written book, at odds with the subject matter within. But it is the beauty of the descriptions, and the fairytale elements of the enchanted place, that make the brutality really, really hurt. Denfeld's protagonist is a man who has done terrible things, so terrible he can't talk about them (or about anything at all). Yet he's also a man who has great poetry in him, the flames fed by his love of reading. And that poetry and those words, his imagination, help him to survive in what is a truly horrifying place. The moments where the prisoner uses his imagination to face real life (particularly when the horses run) are strangely beautiful.

Denfeld pulls no punches with portraying the terrible prison in her book. Characters are treated appallingly, and many times I was so horrified by what I read that I thought I might cry, only I was too stunned to do so. In some ways, The Enchanted's prison scenes were televisual, they reminded me of something like Prison Break, or Oz. But worse.

As well as a horrible setting, the prisoners in Denfeld's book are horrible people. Or are they? They've definitely done horrible, terrible, dark things that landed them in jail, but the ones on death row are, even more than the rest, the products of their truly awful lives, which have been filled with pain and suffering. Nothing can justify their actions or the fact that they caused suffering to others, but Denfeld still managed to evoke my sympathy for many of her characters (apart from Risk and Conroy, who are just horrible).

Three of Denfeld's main characters have no names - there is the anonymous prisoner who tells the story, the investigator who is called only the lady, and the priest, who is referred to by his profession. Yet the anonymity offered to them by the fact that the reader doesn't know their names doesn't at all affect how much we get to know about their characters. By the end of The Enchanted, I felt like I knew all three intimately, because their deepest thoughts, misdeeds and wishes had been revealed within the pages of the book.

The Enchanted is emotionally a brutal, tough read, but it's also an incredibly rewarding one. I often felt like my breath had been taken away as I read it, but it was worth every horrified gasp I let out, every wince that crossed my face, and every tear I couldn't shed.

The Enchanted is released on March 13.

How I got this book: From the publisher, Weidenfeld & Nicolson. This did not affect my review.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Review: Knightley and Son by Rohan Gavin

Getting young boys to read is tough, so stories full of adventure and sleuthing are probably your best bet for getting a 10-year-old to sit down with a book.

Rohan Gavin's Knightley and Son is definitely one of those books which will be attractive to young boys - it's got a young boy detective, a mystery and plenty of strange goings-on. Basically, Knightley and Son is the Benedict Cumberbatch version of Sherlock for young readers.

Darkus Knightley's private investigator dad Alan has been in a mysterious narcoleptic trance for years. While Darkus, known as Doc, waits for Alan to wake up, he begins to read all his dad's case files, memorising them in the hopes that when Alan resurfaces, he'll bring his son into the detecting fold.

When Alan does wake up, he wants Doc to stay away in case he finds himself in danger. But Alan's wonky memory means Doc is the one left trying to sort out the mystery of a book - The Code - which can seemingly control people, and an evil group of people known only as The Combination.

Doc's a great protagonist. He's odd and precocious and clever, and just a generally likeable kind of kid. However, he's far from cool, and a young boy reading this might find him a little difficult to relate to, especially because 13-year-old Doc is so much wiser than his years, and that inevitably leads to him using language I'm not sure young readers would be familiar with. At one point Doc uses the word 'incontrovertibly', which I'm not sure your average 10-year-old (the book is aimed at 10+) would understand without a dictionary. Then again, maybe I'm underestimating kids these days.

The plot is packed full of stuff - there's not only the mystery of The Code and The Combination, but also Doc's relationship with his father, his family situation, and his step-sister Tilly, who has a host of issues of her own. For me, Tilly was a slightly more compelling character than Doc, but maybe that's because I'm female. She'd definitely be someone girls who read the book would find fascinating.

Knightley and Son really gets going in its last third, when the action proper kicks off. Before that, there's a lot of thinking and theorising and mapping things out, and some unnecessary sub-plots (I'm not sure we needed to see Doc's step-dad fascination with The Code) and I got a teensy bit frustrated with the book. Once everything starts coming together, though, that's when the book really finds its way.

Gavin's created a novel that will appeal to young readers - boys and girls alike. Knightley and Son is the first in a series. It's a promising start, and if the following books can be tightened up a bit, then I'm sure it will draw more people in.

How I got this book: From the publisher, Bloomsbury. This did not affect my review.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

The Sunday Post (#36) and Showcase Sunday (#22)

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, and Showcase Sunday is hosted by Books, Biscuits and Tea and inspired by Pop Culture Junkie and the Story Siren. They're a chance to share news, a post to recap the past week on your blog, highlight our newest books and see what everyone else received for review, borrowed from libraries, or bought.

On the blog
Review: The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
Review: Friendship by Emily Gould
Review: The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris

Added to my shelves

I'm a huge Parks and Recreation fan, so I was really excited to get this amazing guide to Pawnee by Leslie Knope from Ebury. 

We had a presentation by Transworld at work, and I nabbed a few books from them:
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes
Wake by Anna Hope
The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan
The Thing About December by Donal Ryan (it chucked it down with rain on the way back from our visit, so my copy of this got a little spoilt, boo)

And finally, after attending Orion's women's fiction party, I got a couple of proofs through from the publisher:
Her by Harriet Lane (looks super creepy and very interesting)
The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman (about female fighters in Bristol)

What did you add to your shelves?

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Review: The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris

Shh, whatever you do, don't mention him. You know, him. No, not Lord Voldemort, that other guy. He's real. You know the one.

Now that we've got that out of the way, can I just say that The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris is brilliant?

The story of the trickster god, told through the eyes and voice of Loki, Harris's book takes us from the story of how the worlds were formed to the final battle of the gods and their destruction. In between are tales of Loki's exploits as one of the gods of Asgard, all winding their way slowly to the gripping conclusion.

The stories told in this book may be familiar to some, although I didn't read any Norse myths when I was younger. The scant knowledge I have comes from that person we're not mentioning, who was in those things we're also not going to mention.

As familiar as the stories may be, the way they're told is very, very different, and very distinctive. From the moment I started reading The Gospel of Loki I was hooked, and that was because I could hear the voice of Harris's Loki in my head. In this book, the method of telling is almost as important as the telling itself. Harris combines Norse terms with much more modern language, takes the myths and injects humour and sarcasm into them. Her Loki could come up to you today and have a conversation with you, and you'd think he'd lived in the 21st century all his life (apart from his appearance). The way Harris uses language is utterly compelling - I can't remember the last time I read a character whose voice I so easily heard.

The Gospel of Loki is split into books, with each an insight into a different arc of Loki's life. Within each book are lessons, rather than chapters, with Loki extolling on a particular subject or incident. The approach works well, as each lesson starts with a title and the lesson itself before launching into the narrative i.e. Book One, Lesson Seven: Hair and beauty, never trust a lover. Those titles also hint at the humour within - I was surprised by just how funny The Gospel of Loki was, despite the tragedies it contained. It was fun to read and I found myself chuckling throughout, just because Loki is a very funny character.

Covering as it does the Norse myths, The Gospel of Loki features many, many characters. Helpfully, there is a guide to them at the front of the book, with descriptions by Loki, who hates them nearly all of them. I felt the same. Loki might be mischievous, and heartless, and selfish, but the rest of the gods, from Thor to Sif to Odin are even worse. Of course, we only see them through Loki's eyes, so we're biased, but you can't help but love Loki and dislike everyone he dislikes. It would be disloyal otherwise.

The Gospel of Loki is a brilliant (as mentioned before), clever novel. This novel has been percolating in Harris's mind for almost 40 years, and I'm pleased to say, it was well worth that time.

How I got this book: From the publisher, Gollancz. This did not affect my review.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Review: Friendship by Emily Gould

I don't watch Girls, but I've read and heard enough about it to know that it's very, very popular.

Emily Gould's novel Friendship perfectly fits the current zeitgeist for stories about 30-something females trying to live lives that have it all - money, friendship, love and more.

Bev and Amy have been friends for years, but now that they've hit 30 they both find themselves a little lost. Amy is stuck in a dead-end no-job job, dreaming of the time she held fame in her hands, while Bev is festering in a sea of temp jobs. When Bev falls pregnant, the two friends find themselves at odds with each other, exploring a new world opened to them by Sally, an accomplished woman who seems to have her life together.

Friendship feels very of its time. While it's set in New York, the story could fit any big city in the western world, and its protagonists are women most women could relate to in some way or another. And, like with Sex and the City, I believe most readers will probably find themselves coming down on the side of one of the main characters more than the other, although of course the best would be a mix of the two.

I personally felt more kinship with Bev, who is stuck in a rut she just can't get out of. While I've never had to go through her particular work situation, I do know what it's like to be going through the motions sometimes. Most of us grow or get ourselves out of that sort of a situation, but Bev has been stuck in it for far too long. She's still a sympathetic character though - making her own way, taking on responsibility for herself, hard-working (most of the time). Even when Sally, who comes into her life by chance and has wanted children for ages, offers her a comfortable life on a silver platter Bev decides to only take minimally, and really work to have the rest.

Amy, on the other hand, well, I didn't really like her, perhaps because I felt Bev was a better developed character who Gould showed growing through the book. I found Amy selfish and immature, and some of her actions were deplorable. The worst ones were where she put herself ahead of Bev, and ahead of their friendship.

But that's the central dilemma of the book - what happens when something so big happens it changes a person and their relationship with their friends? While I didn't like Amy, I thought she was pretty realistic, and her feelings and some of her actions were very human. In other words, she's fallible. Gould is to be commended for the honesty of her characters, who aren't pretty in all their guises, just like people aren't in real life.

Friendship was a pretty quick read, although I did put it down half way through and go and read something else. Initially, I was really caught by the book, but I began to dislike Amy quite a lot, so I took a break. When I went back to the book, I finished it off pretty quickly, and enjoyed it again. While I think Amy got off a little lightly, overall I was satisfied with the conclusion.

What I liked best about Gould's novel is that its focus is female friendships - the only love interests there are brief plot points. That examination of female friendships is rare in our culture these days, so if the popularity of Girls means that more books like Friendship are brought into our lives, that's only a good thing.

How I got this book: From the publisher, Virago. This did not affect my review.

Friendship is out on July 3, 2014.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Review: The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

I am going to give you, dear reader, a warning I was not given before I read The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry - it will give you all the feelings, and you may want to have some eye drops and tissues near by to mop up your tears/hide evidence of them.

Widower A.J. Fikry owns a bookshop on Alice Island. He's ornery, his one friend is his cheating brother-in-law, and someone's just stolen his rare first edition of Tamerlane by Edgar Allen Poe. Just when life couldn't get worse, A.J. is a complete monster to the sales rep, Amelia, who comes to visit the shop, and then he arrives home from a run to find a baby has been left in his bookshop.

The events of those few days around Amelia's visit to when Maya is left in Alice Island Books change not just the main characters, but also the island, for good.

Zevin creates a real community of characters in The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry. Although the titular A.J. is pretentious and unfriendly, I couldn't help but like him from the start, even though I thought his treatment of Amelia was despicable. Amelia herself is a bit of a mystery, but only because we don't see her much for the first part of the book. Once we do, she's like an open book (no pun intended) and the kind of person we all wish we could have as a friend. Maya is adorable, at every age we see her, and her influence on all those who surround her is easy to see.

Supporting characters are also well constructed. My favourite by far is Lambiase, the chief of police on Alice. He's an honourable guy, but very down-to-earth, and if I could join any book club in the world it would his Chief's Choice Book Club.

The narrative of the book, which clocks in at around 250 pages, stretches over years. This necessitates that the reader is simply given glimpses into the lives of the characters. However, Zevin's characterisation is so good that even though years pass between some scenes, I still felt connected to Maya and A.J. and the rest.

Zevin's use of structure is refreshing and original. She intersperses each chapter with a brief review of a book written in the character of A.J. (one of the 'collected works' - the other being the community and family A.J. helps create) which takes the reader on a literary journey through A.J.'s life. Zevin also dedicates pages to a story written written by Maya, which she submits for a literary competition. I liked reading Maya's story - it's sad and offers an insight into her mindset, and is an interesting literary tool - taking us out of the narrative of the book but at the same time keeping us there because Maya's story is about something that is pertinent to the events of her life.

Most importantly, the narrative tools Zevin uses all contibute to the thread that runs through The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry - that books can influence and change us as people. The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry is itself one of those books.

How I got this book: From the publisher Little, Brown. This did not influence my review in any way.

The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry is out on March 13, 2014.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

The Sunday Post (#35) and Showcase Sunday (#21)

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, and Showcase Sunday is hosted by Books, Biscuits and Tea and inspired by Pop Culture Junkie and the Story Siren. They're a chance to share news, a post to recap the past week on your blog, highlight our newest books and see what everyone else received for review, borrowed from libraries, or bought.

I missed this last week, so this is two weeks of stuff.

On the blog
Review: The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey
Cover reveal: Misty Falls by Joss Stirling
Review: Secrecy by Rupert Thomson
Review: Who Framed Klaris Cliff? by Nikki Sheehan
Review: The Collector by Nora Roberts
Six reasons why libraries (and librarians) are great

Added to my shelves

I went to the OUP blogger evening for Joss Stirling and Nikki Sheehan a couple of weeks ago, and got finished copies of Storm and Stone by Stirling and Who Framed Klaris Cliff? by Sheehan (which I can't find right now). OUP also gave us two new proofs, Replica by Jack Heath, and The Private Blog of Joe Cowley by Ben Davis. I also got a gorgeous notepad in my goody bag, but I seem to have shelved that somewhere I can't find it as well!

I went to the Headline fiction party, and got a goody bag full of stuff as I left. I'm really excited about reading Someone Else's Skin by Sarah Hilary - I've heard a lot of good things about it. I also got a proof of The String Diaries by Stephen Lloyd Jones and a finished copy of A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. The goody bag also contained an Oyster card holder, a pencil and post-it note stack for the Headline Eternal brand, and a bar of Tasmina Perry-branded chocolate.

I went to the pre-publication launch party for Joanne M. Harris's The Gospel of Loki, and got to meet her. Harris is one of my favourite authors, so it was very exciting. I got a copy of the new book, which Harris signed for me. I'll be storing it away carefully and continuing to read my proof copy!

And finally, I got sent a finished copy of The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. I love this book, look out for my review tomorrow. I also got a copy of The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld, and proofs of Northanger Abbey by Val McDiermud from Borough Press (thanks) and The Son by Jo Nesbo from Harvill Secker (thanks).

What did you add to your shelves?

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Six reasons why libraries (and librarians) are great

I'm a massive advocate of local libraries, so what better time than National Libraries Day to share some of the reasons why I think libraries (and librarians) rock.

1. Libraries make reading accessible to all
It doesn't matter if you're a child just starting out reading, a teenager who hates the classics and just wants to read something fun, an adult whose salary doesn't stretch to buying books or a pensioner who can't get out and about easily - libraries can bring books to all our lives. Libraries don't discriminate - rich, poor, old, young, male, female - everyone can borrow books from the library, and if you can't get to the library, there are often services available to allow books to be brought to you.
2. Libraries are an around-the-world trip, a time machine and much more, all in one room
Without the library there are many, many authors and worlds and times I would not have discovered. I'm not travelling the world anytime soon, or becoming the Doctor's next companion, but the library means I can go from immersing myself in a story set in modern-day Tahiti one day, to one set in Georgian Britain the next.

3. Librarians know stuff
Stuck on a research project for school, university or even work? Ask a librarian for help, and chances are they'll be able to find you the books or reference materials you need, whether that involves research papers, newspapers or something else. Librarians might not know everything, but they can help you find out about just about everything.

4. Libraries are a community hub
My library is full of books, obviously, but it's also a place for many other things. There are parent and toddler groups and craft clubs that meet there. The library displays work by local artists. My library has computers with internet access for people to use for free. The library can really bring people together.

5. Libraries get children reading
I can't stress how important this is. When I was younger my library used to hold a summer reading challenge every year (something which has recently been introduced nationwide), and the reading combined with getting to colour stuff in and win badges really instilled a love for reading in me. Libraries can introduce children to books suitable for them, and that they'll be interested in, and start them on a journey that will last a lifetime.

6. Libraries are about more than just books
My library also has DVDs and CDs for rent, and young people can play a variety of computer games while there. This may not sound like the core business of libraries, but getting people in the door is really important. The books just keep them there.

Let me know in the comments why you think libraries are great.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Review: The Collector by Nora Roberts

Nora Roberts is highly underrated as a writer, perhaps because people mainly classify her as a romance writer.

Hopefully, her next novel The Collector will change those views. The Collector is a thriller through and through - it just happens to have a romantic element to it.

Lila Emerson is a writer and a house-sitter. There's nothing more she likes than exploring new places and meeting new people. While housesitting in a gorgeous New York apartment, Lila is witness to the murder of a beautiful young woman, who was supposedly attacked by her boyfriend. But when it's discovered that boyfriend was unconscious before the woman was pushed out of the window of her flat, Lila finds herself being pursued by a killer.

See, does that sound like a light-hearted novel to you? Perhaps when I add in that Lila teams up with the dead guy's handsome brother Ashton, you start to see where the romance might come in, but trust me when I say that the thriller and crime elements of the novel are what makes it.

As usual, Roberts' protagonists are well-formed and likeable, surrounded by a supporting cast who add breadth and depth to the world of Lila and Ash.

But what I really liked about The Collector was the glimpses Roberts gave the reader of the bad guys. Usually, Roberts' bad guys are largely shadowy figures who show up throughout the book but who we never find out more about until close to the end. This time, Roberts identified her killer early, and gave them a significant part in the proceedings, which made the danger seem that much more real and upped the stakes for Lila and Ash, and for the reader.

At just under 500 pages, The Collector is a long novel, but Roberts doesn't spend chapters babbling. Every word and scene is essential to the story, even those featuring secondary characters, because it all contributes to world-building.

The Collector is a really enjoyable read, and one that people should approach without preconceived notions about what sort of a writer Roberts is.

The Collector is released in hardback on April 15, priced at £16.99.
How I got this book: From the publisher, Little, Brown. This did not affect my review.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Review: Who Framed Klaris Cliff? by Nikki Sheehan

I probably had an imaginary friend when I was younger, and so did you. Yes, you, reading this. I doubt anyone else knew my imaginary friend, and at some point I guess they just left, and life went on. 

But what if that imaginary friend had substance? What if you lived in a world where the government is scared of imaginary friends, and if your imaginary friend starts to go "rogue", the authorities swoop in and get rid of them?

In Who Framed Klaris Cliff? that's the world Joseph lives in. Imaginary friends are seen as a potential threat, and Joseph's unfortunately just got one. Klaris really belongs to Flea, his best friend Rocky's little brother, but for some reason she's migrated and is now talking to Joseph too.

When Flea's dad calls the authorities about Klaris, Joseph and Flea have just days to try and prove Klaris isn't guilty of all she's accused of, otherwise they'll both have to have the Cosh - a brain-zapping surgery that will get rid of Klaris.

Original, brilliant, moving, funny, sad - just the start of the list of words I could use to describe Who Framed Klaris Cliff? I absolutely adored this book, which is Sheehan's debut. From its characters to its pacing, Who Framed Klaris Cliff? is a masterfully written children's novel, which will also appeal to adults.

Firstly, Sheehan's characters are brilliant. Joseph's in that awkward stage of teenagedom where he's "finding" himself. Rocky, his best friend, is really annoying and brash and just such a boy. Flea is one of those kids who's all skin and bones, cute and awkward and very, very young but very, very wise all at the same time. Joseph's dad is that lovely guy who's trying to do his best for his son, trying to be cool, just trying. And there's more, so many more characters that are clearly drawn. The great thing about Sheehan's characters is that I could picture all of them, and more than that, I could picture people just like them that are in my life or that I have encountered.

The concept of imaginary friends having some substance is an intriguing one. It's just close enough to reality to be scary and pretty realistic, but far enough removed that you can read Who Framed Klaris Cliff? without being totally terrified. This isn't dystopian fiction in the way The Hunger Games is, and it's not genre fiction like Twilight. This is a children's story in the tradition of great children's stories from authors like Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton.

Talking of Blyton, there were moments in this book that really reminded me of reading Blyton's books when I was younger. Scenes where Joseph and Flea are doing their investigating thing made me recall the Secret Seven or Famous Five mysteries. The pacing and the thrill was exactly the same.

The novel wasn't just thrilling, it was a real rollercoaster of emotion. There are some really funny parts, especially those involving Rocky, and the camaraderie between Joseph and his dad is sweet and full of love and good humour. But Who Framed Klaris Cliff? does have darker moments, and some very sad ones. It's one of those books that can teach children about life and its myriad emotions.

Who Framed Klaris Cliff? doesn't fit easily into any boxes, apart from the box containing utterly brilliant books. I absolutely adored this novel, and will be pressing it upon friends and relatives. Give it a go, and I hope you're as enamoured as I am.

Who Framed Klaris Cliff? is out on Febraury 6.

How I got this book: From the publisher, Oxford University Press, for review. This did not affect my review.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Review: Secrecy by Rupert Thomson

Florence is famous for its art, and for being a place of romance, but Rupert Thomson's Secrecy explores the dark side of the city.

It is 1691, and Gaetano Zummo has been summoned to Florence to create wax sculptures for the Grand Duke. Harbouring secrets of his own, Zummo finds himself falling for a woman with even bigger things to hide. As Zummo creates a life-size Venus in secret for the Grand Duke, he must also be wary of the poisonous Stufa, who has the power and position to destroy everything.

I don't often read literary fiction, and Secrecy definitely falls into that bracket for me. This is a dark, twisting story which builds to a long-awaited climax, with cleverly crafted characters and a sinister overtone.

The plot is pretty basic - two people with secrets to hide try not to have them found out. But Thomson takes that basic plot and carves something intriguing and surprising. Secrecy's characters, from Zummo to Faustina to the Grand Duke to Stufa, are characters who harbour secrets not just from each other, but also from the reader. Thomson reveals a lot, but also leaves the reader wanting just that bit more, desiring to ask just one more question each time.

What I found most interesting, and loved the most, about Secrecy was the way Thomson played with memory, dreams and fantasy. There were times when I didn't know what had really happened, and what memories had been clouded by time and distance. Truths seemed untrue, while some fantasy-like elements turned out to have substance.

Secrecy is a tense read - you never know when danger is going to strike. It's beautifully written, evoking a world where every step you take can be watched and interpreted in the way that the powers that be can use to their advantage. I wouldn't recommend Secrecy to everyone - it's a tough read if you're used to more mainstream or genre fiction, but it is worth it if you decide to put the effort in.

Cover reveal: Misty Falls by Joss Stirling

I don't usually (read: ever) do cover reveals on my blog, but I couldn't resist with this one. I love Joss Stirling's books and last night at a blogger event, Oxford University Press Children's revealed the cover for her next book, Misty Falls. It's beautiful, check it out:

What do you think?


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