#BookReview: Skin Deep by Liz Nugent

skin deep“I could probably have been an actress. It is not difficult to pretend to be somebody else. Isn’t that what I’ve been doing for most of my life?”

Liz Nugent’s latest offering Skin Deep is the story of Cordelia Russell –  beautiful, charismatic, living as a socialite on the French Riveria. It’s also the story of who Cordelia really is – her real identity; her real circumstances; and most importantly her real, distinctly unbeautiful personality. Cordelia is some piece of work –one of the best female psychopaths ever written, she is up there with Cersei Lannister and Lady Macbeth for me. Occasional chapters told from other characters point-of-view really bring home the level of devastation Cordelia causes to others without a moment’s consideration. The word that continually comes to mind thinking about Skin Deep is ‘warped’ – there is something fundamentally twisted about Cordelia, and yet her beauty and charisma wins over so many people who are warped by her in turn. This is psychological thriller writing at its best – even when situations become extreme, the characters are totally believable and carry the story.

Most of you know I am a huge Liz Nugent fan – not least because in a genre that can become predictable and formulaic her focus on whydunnit rather than whodunnit keeps the stories gripping throughout the narrative rather than relying on a twist at the end that may or may not deliver. This is my favourite of her books to date. I was gripped by every page of Skin Deep, and yet somehow there was still a kicker of an ending that caused me to wake up my significant other by exclaiming “holy shit!” at 2am. I’m terrified of ruining this for anyone by giving away plot points – just trust me and read this one, ok?!

HUGE thanks to Penguin Ireland for sending me an advanced copy of this in exchange for an honest review. Skin Deep is available from bookshops on 5th April.

Enter to win a copy of Skin Deep here.

#BlogTour #GuestPost Ill Will by Michael Stewart

ill willI’m so excited about Ill Will, hot off the presses from Harper Collins, and even more so about hosting a guest post by author Michael Stewart!

Ill Will tells the untold story of Heathcliff, unquestionably one of the most viscerally well drawn characters in English literature. I was named after Wuthering Heights, and was obsessed with Bronte’s masterpiece from the first time I read it – it is a volcano of a book which erupts off the page.  Yet I have always been left to wonder what happens in the 3.5 years between abused and degraded Heathcliff fleeing Wuthering Heights, after overhearing his beloved Cathy saying it would degrade her to marry him, and his triumphant return as a wealthy gentleman. Ill Will resolves that mystery… and although this is a stand-alone story that doesn’t require any previous knowledge of Heathcliff, I am sure Wuthering Heights enthusiasts will find this book doubly enjoyable.

‘I am William Lee: brute; liar, and graveside thief. But you will know me by another name’

I don’t want to give too much away, so I will only tell you what the blurb does – Heathcliff has left Wuthering Heights, and is travelling across the moors to Liverpool in search of his past. Along the way, he saves Emily, the foul-mouthed daughter of a Highwayman, from a whipping, and the pair journey on together. Roaming from graveyard to graveyard, making a living from Emily’s apparent ability to commune with the dead, the pair lie, cheat and scheme their way across the North of England. And towards the terrible misdeeds and untold riches that will one day send Heathcliff home to Wuthering Heights…

Michael-Stewart-e1511351217390Ill Will author Michael Stewart is a multi-award winning writer who has written several full length stage plays. His debut novel, King Crow, won the Guardian’s Not-the-Booker Award and has been selected as a recommended read for World Book Night. I’m delighted he agreed to write a blog post for us to tell us more about Heathcliff and his inspiration for Ill Will. Over to Michael!

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Emily Brontë, like her famous sisters, Charlotte and Anne, was a product of a home education. Her father, Patrick, made the decision to take Emily (and Charlotte) out of school after the death of her two older siblings, Maria and Elizabeth, who both died of tuberculosis within a few months of each other, after suffering hunger, cold and privation at Cowan Bridge School. Patrick was a progressive thinker. Born in poverty in Ireland, but gaining a scholarship to Cambridge, his was a rags to riches story. But his social conscience never left him. Perhaps because of this, he allowed Emily (and her sisters) access to reading that was deemed inappropriate for girls at the time. Writers such as Shelley, Walter Scott and Lord Byron. Continue reading “#BlogTour #GuestPost Ill Will by Michael Stewart”

#BlogTour #BookReview: Twice the Speed of Dark – Lulu Allison

TTSOD_FINALToday I am delighted to be part of the blog tour for Lulu Allison’s debut novel Twice the Speed of Dark, which was published last week. I primarily read for my own enjoyment and receive many review requests that I turn down as they just do not grab me – however after I read one small excerpt of Twice the Speed of Dark I was hooked, and had to read the rest. This thoughtful, lyrical novel, in which a mother and daughter separated by fatal violence circle each other, still bound by love, will stay with you long after you have closed the pages.

The story follows Caitlin, killed by a violent boyfriend, who slowly unfurls her story from beyond the grave. As Caitlin pieces together what happened to her, and the slow erosion of herself in an abusive relationship that culminated in her death, she pieces herself back together. Meanwhile her mother, Anna, is tormented by visceral grief. As she experiences the intensity of her individual loss, Anna could not believe how little interest the world took in the death of her only child. She becomes dismayed by the indifference she sees in news reports of victims of distant wars and acts of terror, seeing echoes of her daughter in all of the unnamed dead. In notebook after notebook, Anna begins to write portraits of these victims, creating lives and loves and identities for them and siphoning to them some of her personal grief. Through these acts of love for strangers, Anna slowly begins to build a connection to the world once more.

There had been a bomb in a distant market place. One of many bombs, the deaths caused by this event barely noticeable amongst the dreadful losses that filled the news every day. But a filament snagged and slowed the story down. Somehow that detail caught her; a market place, perhaps the most domestic public space there is. People shopping for food, plastic buckets, scarves, aluminium pans. Markets all over the world selling plastic buckets and aluminium pans. A place providing easy acquisition of the humbler tools of life; domestic wares, phone parts and gaudy cases, vinyl handbags, potatoes, eggs, cabbages. Mothers buying an evening meal, teenagers shopping for the excitingly new and obligingly affordable. A man buying a bucket so that he could clean his house. These ordinary people doing ordinary things, they would be the dead.

Allison’s background is as a visual artist, and it creeps through in her writing. For me the best passages occur when she is embracing her flair for the visual, and not just in the creation of a multitude of pen portraits of the victims. Consider the evocative imagery of how she introduces Anna: “She recognises her body – the dry of winter sits on her; her tall shape clings forlornly to long bones. She is mad, a scream frozen, sharpening the air around her as the frost has sharpened the ground under her feet”. Twice the Speed of Dark deals with difficult subject matter, and if you are not a fan of literary fiction you might not want to join Allison on this journey. I for one am glad I did, and I look forward to reading more from her in the future.

I received a copy of Twice the Speed of Dark from the author in exchange for an honest review. Find out more here. The blog tour continues…

blog tour poster

#Book Review: Himself, by Jess Kidd

himselfI absolutely loved this genre bending, darkly humorous book. Opening with the brutal murder of a very young woman in the fictional village of Mulderrig on the west coast of Ireland in the 1950s, Himself initially reads as a crime novel. As the novel jumps forward 20 odd years, to the arrival of handsome Dublin orphan Mahony – armed only with a tip his mother had been taken from him in Mulderrig, and that he shouldn’t trust anyone in the village – we move from a crime genre to something  harder to define. We journey with Mahony into an unravelling of the dark heart of what happened to his mother, and what secrets the village – haunted in many ways – holds. There’s a surrealism that is at times David Lynchian – but with the humour of Flann O’Brien. Jess Kidd had me at “Just look at her, she’s a sex-mad culchie”.

Mahony takes up residence in a B&B with a long-term occupant – the aging actress Mrs Cauley – who shares Mahony’s affinity with the supernatural and a love of mysteries. Their relationship leads to the hatching of an improbable plot involving staging a riotous village production of The Playboy of the Western World as a method of uncovering the truth about what happened to Mahony’s mother. There are some plot threads that aren’t resolved, partly as there are as many ghosts in the novel as there are the living – particularly haunting is the constant appearance of Ida, a little girl without the back of her head who wants Mahony to play with her. While some balls are dropped, for this reader it didn’t really matter – I enjoyed going along for the ride. Frankly I would love to see a Mrs Cauley spin-off – she’s a brilliant character. I totally forgave any of the elements of the book that didn’t knit together, and look forward to reading more from Jess Kidd.

Himself is published by Canongate Books. I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

#Book Review: Reservoir 13 – Jon McGregor

reservoir 13The missing girl’s name was Rebecca, or Becky, or Bex. In the photo her face was half turned away from the camera as though she didn’t want to be seen, as though she wanted to be somewhere else. She would be twenty years old by now but she was always spoken of as a girl”.

This short, tender, masterpiece tells the simple story of a village in the aftermath of a devastating tragedy that’s a weirdly familiar story. A 13-year-old slight blonde girl in a white hoodie vanishes while on holiday with her family in the Peak district over New Years. A media frenzy ensues, and then slowly drains away. But life must continue for the residents of the small town now synonymous with her disappearance. And so Reservoir 13 checks in regularly with a host of characters throughout the town, as weeks become seasons, become years. The slow unfurling of their lives against this backdrop simultaneously brings us a deeper knowledge of the individual characters and of the patterns of human life regardless of any one individual. This is a moving, hypnotic work well deserving of its place on the Man Booker longlist.

Reservoir 13 is published by 4th Estate. I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

#Book Review: Days Without End – Sebastian Barry

days without end“A man’s memory might have only a hundred clear days in it and he has lived thousands. Can’t do much about that. We have our store of days and we spend them like forgetful drunkards.”

After fleeing the ravages of The Famine in Ireland, Thomas McNulty and his similarly pre-pubescent best friend John Cole, find themselves employment in a remote prairie tavern, dressing as women to dance with men who haven’t seen a real woman in years. As they grow older this illusion is harder to keep up, and McNulty and Cole sign up for the US army in the 1850s. The young men go on to fight in the ‘Indian wars’ and ultimately the American Civil War, at a time in history where they must keep the sexual side of their relationship secret.

I have mixed feelings about this book. It is undeniably beautifully written, and the use of the unreliable narrator creates an ambiguous space that gives a voice to those in history whose stories were cut short. The scenes of genocide are absolutely harrowing, and the evocation of the sprawling American landscapes are incredibly vivid. There is a feverish, dreamlike quality to much of the writing, familiar to fans of Barry’s The Secret Scripture (of which I am one). However, I felt like I was there more for the writing than the story, which never felt cohesive to me. The marriage and raising of Sioux baby Winona strained credibility too far. I know the intention is to say if horrendous genocide could happen, why not this? The sprawling nature of these days without end means that I never found proper resolution – while this is undoubtedly a beautiful literary novel, it is one without a satisfying conclusion.

Days Without End is published by Faber & Faber. I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

#Book Review: Peach by Emma Glass

peachSomething terrible has happened to Peach, but she just wants life to go back to normal.

Something terrible has happened to Peach, but her parents are too wrapped up in themselves and their new baby to notice it.

Something terrible has happened to Peach, so she cleans herself up and self-administers stitches, tries to ignore the stench of meat and oil that follows her everywhere, tries to ignore flashbacks of a strangers gaping mouth and sausage fingers.

This short powerful book is visceral. Several of the passages are painful to read, they are so harrowingly descriptive. Peach starts off in shades of Eimear McBride and ends up in shades of Beckett, while always holding its own distinctive style. It is utterly absorbing – the reader is sucked into the impressionistic world (Peach is soft and easily bruised, sweet baby leaves powdered sugar on the lips that kiss him…) without question. A heart-breaking examination of the traumatic aftermath of sexual assault, it is astounding that this is a debut novel. Not an easy read, but a hugely important one.

Peach will be published by Bloomsbury in January 2018. I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.