Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Blog Tour: Burned and Broken

I’ve always liked a good detective novel. I used to power through the Dalziel and Pascoe books like nobody’s business when I was a teenager and OK, maybe I don’t read as much crime fiction these days as I used to, but I still like to get all engrossed in one every now and then. That’s why I jumped at the chance to get involved in this blog tour, actually: Burned and Broken looked like being A Good Read. It was nice to go back to a police procedural, in this world of the psychological thriller.

You’ve got a good detective duo which is always a winner with me. Pearson and Russell are no Dalziel and Pascoe, but I liked them both. There’s two stories running side by side, which I enjoyed – a young and messed up girl just out of care and wanting answers about the death of her best friend, and a detective, currently under investigation himself, found burned to death in his car. You can see where this is going, right? What’s the connection between the two – if indeed there is one.

It’s a pretty good book, all told. It starts off well, with a prologue (who doesn’t love a prologue) full of tension and then jumps back in time four days. I like that. I’ve always liked that – when you (think) you know how it’s going to end up and get the chance to see how it gets there. Backwards storytelling sort of I guess, it’s a thing I’m a fan of. I also liked the ending. The ending had me turning pages and staying up way past my bedtime and it’s always a mark of a good book when it makes me not want to stop reading and go to sleep. I am such a big fan usually of going to sleep.

It’s a little slow in the middle though, which is a shame. It loses its way somewhat and kind of drags and there was a point where I had to have a talk to myself and force myself to persevere and I did struggle a little with Hardie’s writing style. It’s very staccato, lots of full stops everywhere and I found it kind of jarring. It stopped me somehow from fully absorbing myself in the story; there was no flow. & I really wanted to be involved and just kind of wasn’t. Not in the way I expected to be anyway. I think that’s a minor niggle though – on the whole the story started out well, ended well and had enough twists and turns to stop you figuring things out too quickly and as debuts go, it’s a strong one. I’d read more of Hardie’s work for sure: I didn’t love it, but I did like it, and if it’s the first in a series – which rumour has it, it is - I’m pretty sure I’d pick up the ones to follow.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Blog Tour: A Boy Made of Blocks

I also don’t mind telling you that actually I was a tiny bit unsure that I would, at first. I don’t really know why that is, because let’s be real here: look at the blurb. It is entirely up my street. But I was dubious. I think perhaps it was the title? I don’t know. And it doesn’t matter really because I read it and I liked it a whole lot and that’s the best ever isn’t it? When you love something that you kind of really didn’t think you would?

 ‘Daddy, what are you doing?’‘What do you mean?’‘Sometimes I am stuck on a thought and I can’t get off it, not for a long time. It stays and stays. Are you stuck on a thought?’ I stop walking.

It’s OK, don’t mind me, there’s just a branch in my eye. Keep on doing your thing.

It’s just…it’s so damn lovely OK? It’s really kind of special. And it’s a bit of a thing isn’t it, Autism. There’s a lot of people writing a lot of books with a protagonist the places somewhere on the spectrum and it’s important – of course it is – but it’s also important not to get samey, not to write about something just because it’s ‘of the moment’ you know? 
Too much relevance can make a thing irrelevant. Does that make any sense? It makes all the sense in my head. It’s about bandwagons and not jumping on them, about not making something into a trope.

Which this book does not, in case you wondered if that’s where I was going. I’m absolutely not going there. I am going in the other direction entirely. A direction where there is not a bandwagon in sight. A bandwagon free zone, as it were. 

This book is refreshing and honest and all kinds of wonderful, actually. And it left me with ALL THE FEELS. Here I am, feeling all the things and wanting to do it justice and write an intelligent and thought provoking review but unable to come up with much other than THIS BOOK MADE ME MELTY AND I WANNA PLAY MINECRAFT WITH ALEX AND SAM.

OK, let’s back up. Let’s at least try to write a proper review here.

Actually no. Let’s not. I’m just not really that person I'm sorry. I just want to tell you how much I liked it so that’s what I’m going to do, okay?



In a nutshell it’s about this guy called Alex (thirtysomething, like me. High five Alex,) and his relationship with both his wife Jody and his 8 year old son Sam, who is Autistic. 

Alex is estranged from his wife which is super sad times because he loves her and he doesn’t really get Sam, doesn’t know how to relate to him, and actually if we’re going to be blunt here is pretty much shit scared of the kid. Also super sad times because he loves him.

The thing about leaving (or being pushed from) the family home and becoming a ‘weekend Dad’ is that he’s kind of forced to deal with Sam on a deeper level; he has to handle the things that Jody would usually deal with. He has to actually see past the epic meltdowns and work out who Sam actually is and watching him do that, watching him learn about this little boy who lives in a world that is sometimes so overwhelming that he doesn’t know how to do anything other than hide from it,  it’s all kind of tortuous and wonderful.  I swear, watching these two play Minecraft together in separate houses, these two people who love each other so fucking fiercely but have never had the ability to show it, finding a way to actually really communicate is simultaneously the most wonderful and most heart-hurty thing I have read this year. It’s lush writing, absolutely lush.

(& it really makes you want to play Minecraft.)

Heart-hurty. That’s what this book was. It made my chest so tight so many times but in the most wonderful and uplifting of ways. Happysad. Which is totally an actual emotion. This book made me so very happysad. & I loved that it’s based on Keith Stuart’s own experiences with his own children, with Autism (and with Minecraft.) It shone through the pages, that love; that frustration; that whole extreme of feeling, from joy at each milestone to agony when you just can’t reach past the walls. 
It felt honest to me, and whilst I wanted to reach into the pages to hug Sam and Alex SO FREAKING HARD YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW, I also wanted to reach past them to hug Keith. Not out of pity but out of….I dunno. Solidarity? No. That’s not right? Maybe not for any reason other than to say ‘thank-you, for this.’

I have absolutely no expectations that he’ll ever read this review but just in case he does: thank-you Mr Stuart for putting your heart on your proverbial sleeve and sending this book out into the world.

A Boy Made of Blocks is a delight. It’s an absolute delight and I LIKED IT. 

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Blog Tour: Relativity Review

Things I know, both about myself and about book blogging: I should probably never say no to a book.

Which makes it sound like I said no to this book. 

I didn’t. 

When the email landed in my inbox very nicely asking if I was interested in taking part in the blog tour for Antonia Hayes' novel Relativity, I absolutely said yes. That's kind of my (long and convoluted) point: that I should always says yes to all the books even if I know little about them because there's always a chance that doing just exactly that will make me vair happy. This book made me happy. It made me laugh and it made me a tiny bit teary sometimes and it made me angry and sympathetic and all kinds of conflicted and pretty much just a whole spectrum of unexpected emotions. I thing that’s A Good Thing though. I like books that do that to me: feelings.

So. Relativity. Lemme talk at you about it for a little minute.

S’about a boy called Ethan. I love Ethan. I want to put him in my pocket and protect him from All The Bad Things Ever. He’s excellent and he has this insane knowledge of anything to do with physics. He’s pretty special and I defy anybody ever to read this book and not wind up loving his intelligent, naive 12 year old self. What a little gem of a character he is.


He lives with his Mum, because Dad just isn’t around. He’s never been around, not since Ethan was v small and Ethan doesn’t know much about him, really. It’s all perfectly fine, until of course it isn’t. At first you kind of feel like Ethan’s dad is a bit of an asshat. Or, if you’re me then you think that, but that’s the beauty of this book. It doesn’t let you just make up your mind and stick to your guns like a guns sticking to person. It lets you make up your mind and then throws a spanner in the works and says AH YES BUT YOU DIDN’T KNOW THIS DID YOU and then you feel like maybe you should change your mind. Excellent skills there Hayes.  I approve.

It comes at you from the perspective of Ethan and both of  his parents and as none of them are particularly reliable narrators, there’s a lot to question; a lot of seeds of doubt that are planted and send you in one direction only to have you going in another in the very next chapter. Which, well it’s pretty clever, the way one minute you’re sympathetic towards one set of circumstances only to be pissed off at the same thing a few pages later. All three characters have very different, very strong voices, which I liked and they all come across really well actually considering it’s written in third person. I was totally invested in all three of them (so invested, you don’t even know): Ethan, Claire and Mark and I was torn, between wanting them to fix things and feeling like they never should.

The story is complicated enough to not be predictable, ever, but still manages to not tie you up in what is even happening here, which again: I liked a whole lot. 
It’s a shining example too I guess of there always being more than one side to a story, but it gets that message across without becoming preachy. Nobody likes preachy. Do they? Maybe they do and I am doing unfair generalising. The point is that I don’t like preachy and this book isn’t preachy. At all.  It lets you make up your own mind and haunts you a little bit with the things it makes you feel that take you totally by surprise. Explains but doesn’t excuse I suppose is the best way to describe it and trust me when I tell you there are things here that are going to get the hell under your skin. Right the way under.
It doesn’t shy away from its more difficult and more darker side either – another plus - and it absolutely does not paint a picture of good and evil even though it so very easily could.  It’s all about the shades of grey this book, and I mean that in the best possible way – that is so definitely not an EL James reference. I promise (I would never.)

It’s a book about actions and consequences and split second decisions that impact on the rest of your forever and the sometimes painful power of uncertainty.  It’s beautifully written and it’s raw and honest and heart-breaking but never ever too heavy, you know? You don’t feel dragged down by it ever and you get totally caught up in the lives of this fractured family and their struggles with blame and guilt and forgiveness and even the science stuff didn’t make my brain hurt too much. That’s a miracle I think because my brain and science? They do not go hand in hand. At all.

In a nutshell, it’s very good this book. I am grateful that I got the chance to read it and I wouldn’t hesitate for even a second in recommending it to anybody. Except maybe my BFF (but only because I know it would make her cry!)

Monday, 9 January 2017

Book Review: Sirens

Joseph Knox’s debut Sirens is a book  I think everybody should be reading. Unless you are a person who values sleep above all else. If you’re that person then maybe this book isn’t for you because I am telling you now: you will not be able to put it down. You won’t. Actually, even if you are that person, read this book. You’ll be immersed but just trust me on this: sleep is so totally overrated anyhow. I was hooked, and not just because it’s set in Manchester and so has that air of familiarity about it. I do so like a book that’s set in my sort-of neck of the woods. I like when I recognise places and names and landmarks.

I do not like when I am driving through Manchester late at night, with this book not quite finished and as such at the forefront of my mind and the road is closed and I am sent on a diversion through dark and dingy back streets that look like they could have stepped right off the pages of this book with Beetham Tower all imposing in the background and I am slightly freaked out. Not at all. Although it’s a testament maybe to how good this book is, that it got under my skin and lingered there; that even when I wasn’t curled up reading it, I couldn’t leave it alone.

It’s about a disgraced detective working undercover in Manchester’s seedy drug underworld which gets all the high fives from me because I do so love a book that’s a break from the usual formula; I like that Aiden is a sort of anti-hero. That he doesn’t tick the usual detective novel boxes. It’s not so much Aiden’s story that makes this book so special though. It’s the way it’s told. The writing. Oh God, the writing.

The writing is as atmospheric as anything I’ve read in a while, and kind of beautiful too: Knox is good at words, he’s good at making them jump off the page and come to life in front of you, at making you see and hear and feel. Evocative. That’s what his writing is, really really evocative. The setting, the story, the people. All of it, it’s so intriguing.  It never lets up either this book, never lags and it stays with you too: I felt unsettled for a while after I’d finished it and I love that . I mean, sure I read for escapism but I also kind of read to experience you know? To get under the skin of a story; to get under the skin of myself. I like a book that makes me think, that has me still thinking even after I’m done reading it. I feel linked to the characters somehow, that’s how much it’s gotten under my skin, like I lived this story, like it’s real and these things happened and these people are real and I don’t know. I don’t know how to explain. It made me feel all the things I guess, in a way that I was not entirely prepared for.

This is not just a whodunit. This is a powerful story about of politics and corruption, of suffering and hitting rock bottom and wondering how the hell you’ll ever claw your way back up. It’s about trying to escape only to find yourself burrowing ever deeper and it’s about the sometimes self-destructiveness of human nature. It unfolds slowly and cleverly, intense and dark and incredibly detailed. And you should read it.