Blog tour | Review: Quicksand by Steve Toltz

 

 

Today I’m thrilled to be on the blog tour for Quicksand by Steve Toltz!

Quicksand PB

 

Wildly funny and unceasingly surprising, Quicksand is both a satirical masterpiece and an unforgettable story of fate, family and friendship.

Aldo Benjamin may be the unluckiest soul in human history, but that isn’t going to stop his friend Liam writing about him. For what more could an aspiring novelist want from his muse than a thousand get-rich-quick schemes, a life-long love affair, an eloquently named brothel, the most sexually confusing evening imaginable and a brief conversation with God?

Quicksand is quite the meta-novel. It’s about Liam, a failed writer turned police officer who decides to write a book about his best friend, Aldo. The novel flits from being from Liam’s point of view, to being from Aldo’s viewpoint as written by Liam, to what appears to be Aldo from his own point of view but the reader can never be sure if it is genuinely Aldo or whether it’s more of Aldo seen through Liam’s eyes. It’s never clear what is real and what is imagined, and it becomes increasingly blurred for the reader. The fact that we don’t know the real Aldo, only the one Liam tells us about, makes it all the more interesting because although the book is about Aldo, we learn so much about Liam and the cracks in their friendship. The first chapter of this novel is entitled ‘Two Friends, Two Agendas (one hidden)’ and that sums up the novel. It pays to remember this title as you progress through the book to the end as it gives much to ponder over regarding what Liam’s purpose was in writing this book about his friend, but also why Aldo wanted the book written – assuming he really knew about it, and also assuming that Liam hadn’t just made Aldo up to deflect his own anxieties and failures in life.

The opening chapter contains a whole section of Aldo spewing out one-liners that Liam is frantically trying to write down. I found it quite amusing and wondered whether Steve Toltz himself was making a point about great novels and how a one-liner can often be at the expense of plot and structure. I actually loved that it felt like an aside to camera, as if Toltz had briefly placed himself inside his own novel.

Some of the observations and ideas that Aldo has are truly hilarious, I honestly found myself laughing at times whilst reading about his ideas for businesses and reflections on life. His self-diagnosis of ‘clinical frustration’ is so brilliant as is his pondering over why clinical depression gets to be a disease but clinical frustration doesn’t. It’s amusing to read given what we know about Aldo but I couldn’t help thinking at the same time that there is a serious point in there about how people become so tied up in their frustrations about their life that it affects their ability to function.

I love the parts of the book that became self-referential particularly Aldo’s obsession with Mimi’s book The Fussy Corpse and how it has echoes of how Aldo’s own life would become. Some of the situations he got himself into were really quite mortifying but then his having to be carried whilst often shouting or demanding he be put down somewhere became quite cringe-worthy and led him to almost become the fussy corpse himself. Aldo’s increasingly frequent ideas about death and his requests for help mirror the little boy in the book too. 

I didn’t know too much about this book before I started reading but I was expecting a darkly comedic novel, which this is, but what I didn’t expect was how much of an impact this book would have on me. There are aspects to this novel that are similar to my own life (I would imagine everyone who reads this book will recognise something of their own life in some of the observations Liam and Aldo make) and I have to admit that I found some of it quite difficult to read for this reason but I still couldn’t stop reading. It’s so utterly refreshing to read a book that is at times absurd, bordering on the ridiculous; it’s laugh out loud funny, and yet so utterly true to life at the same time!

On a personal note for me, having recently been told that my paralysis is permanent a couple of paragraphs really stood out to me and actually gave me a wry smile about my situation. It’s remarkable writing when you can feel the depths a character’s despair at his situation and recognise something of yourself in it, but still see the humour and laugh!

Aldo ‘caught phrases from the doctors such as ‘incomplete paraplegia’ and ‘crushed T5 and 6’ and ‘the absence of motor and sensory function’… while my own thoughts were actual… The blind get great hearing, the deaf a super sense of smell. What do the paralysed get again? And, does paraplegia every just, you know, blow over?’

 

‘Everybody weighed in. Everyone looks on the bright side for you. They’re really positive about your situation. Nobody feels under qualified to offer medical advice. The preposterous suggestions they’re not ashamed to make! Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, to torture someone with an incurable illness or a permanent disability is easy. Name the most ludicrous, disreputable remedy imaginable – eg. bamboo under the fingernail therapy – and swear it fixed a friend of yours. The dying or disabled patient, sick in heart and soul with desperate feeling that he hasn’t tried everything to restore himself, will quick smart reach for the bamboo. They will also tell you about exceptional individuals who did exceptional things even with exceptional limitations. This is in no way relevant to my case’.

There is so much sadness and loss throughout this novel, but so much humour too. I’d expected this book would be very surreal, and it is at times, but actually it’s a very honest exploration of friendship, and of life in general. This is such a unique novel; it was one of those reading experiences where I didn’t want to put the book down for a second because it was so good, but then I didn’t want to get to the end too soon for the same reason! It’s an incredible book.

This is the first novel I’ve read by Steve Toltz but I loved it so much that I’m definitely going to buy his previous novel, A Fraction of the Whole, and I can’t wait to read it.

I rated this book 4.5 out of 5 and highly recommend it!

Quicksand is out now.

I received a copy of this book from Sceptre in exchange for an honest review.

My review is part of the Quicksand blog tour, please visit the other stops on the tour.

 

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Review: Time to say Goodbye by S. D. Robertson

Time To Say Goodbye

Is there ever a right time to let go?

HOW DO YOU LEAVE THE PERSON YOU LOVE THE MOST?

Will Curtis’s six-year-old daughter, Ella, knows her father will never leave her. After all, he promised her so when her mother died. And he’s going to do everything he can to keep his word.

What Will doesn’t know is that the promise he made to his little girl might be harder to keep than he imagined. When he’s faced with an impossible decision, Will finds that the most obvious choice might not be the right one.

But the future is full of unexpected surprises. And father and daughter are about to embark on an unforgettable journey together . . . 

The synopsis for Time to Say Goodbye doesn’t give much away about the plot at all but from tweets that I’d seen I had my suspicions about what the book might be about and I was right. In a nutshell this is a novel about a man who has promised his young daughter that he will never leave her. Ella has already lost her mum and so this promise is incredibly important but sadly promises are sometimes broken despite our best efforts.

Will has no choice in the end about leaving Ella because he is killed in a road accident. He finds himself outside of his body and he knows he simply has to find a way to get through to his little girl, to comfort her. The problem is whether this is going to be a good thing for Ella in the long run, or should she be left to adjust to life without her dad.

I love the premise of this book, I seem to be quite drawn to novels like this and have read a few now that are in a similar vein. I really wanted to fall in love with these characters and their stories but it just lacked a little something for me. I was expecting this book to be a real tear-jerker but, while there are moments that are incredibly emotional, it didn’t quite get there for me. I did love Ella and Will but I wanted to be focused on them and it felt like there were just a few too many elements to the sub-plots that kept me away from the main story for too long, and this stopped the emotional connection that I wanted to have with Ella and Will.

Having said that, there are some very moving moments throughout the novel. I adored the moment when Will finds Ella in a dream, it was such a special scene and really did get to me. I treasure the dreams I have of my late mum as they are the only times when I can hear her voice, in real life I can’t remember it anymore so the days when I wake up and just for a fleeting second I can hear her are wonderful. I felt such a fluttery, happy feeling when Ella finds Will on that beach, it’s an incredible moment and it seemed so real and believable.

Some of the scenes with Will and his father were beautiful and very emotional too. I’m sure so many people wish they could have just one more minute, or wish they had the chance to tell someone they loved them just one more time but in real life once someone is gone, they’re gone and there are no do overs.

Will’s anguish and distress about whether he should stay as a spirit with his daughter was heart-renching to read. To know that leaving Ella all over again could likely cause real emotional damage to her but to stay having seen the potential future she would have left Will with such a terrible dilemma. I could feel Will’s pain radiating off the page and was so hoping that he’d find a way to have peace and for his daughter to be ok.

My issue with this book is purely down to the fact that I wish there hadn’t been so much going on alongside the main story with Will and Ella. I know sub-plots are there to move the main story along and to maybe add in the odd twist but in a book that relies so much on the emotional dilemma of the main character, too many distractions away from that just watered down the experience a little bit for me. The moments that I loved in the book were absolutely wonderful, and so believable – I just wanted more of them.

On the whole this is a good debut novel, and I’m looking forward to reading S. D. Robertson’s next book! I rated this 3.5 stars.

I received this book from Avon via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Time to Say Goodbye is out now.

Review: Sisters and Lies by Bernice Barrington

Sisters and Lies by Bernice Barrington

One hot August night, Rachel Power gets the call everyone fears. It’s the police. Her younger sister Evie’s had a car crash, she’s in a coma. Can Rachel fly to London right away? With Evie injured and comatose, Rachel is left to pick up the pieces of her sister’s life. But it’s hard fitting them together, especially when she really doesn’t like what she sees. Why was Evie driving when she doesn’t even own a licence? Who is the man living in her flat and claiming Evie is his girlfriend? How come she has never heard of him? The more mysteries Rachel uncovers the more she starts asking herself how well she ever really knew her sister. And then she begins to wonder if the crash was really the accident everybody says it is. Back in hospital, Evie, trapped inside an unresponsive body, is desperately trying to wake up. Because she’s got an urgent message for Rachel – a warning which could just save both their lives . . .

As soon as I read the synopsis for Sisters and Lies I was keen to read it, and it did not disappoint. Evie has been in a car crash and is in a coma; her sister Rachel is just back from an overseas book tour when she gets the call about Evie. Due to Rachel having been away for a while she isn’t fully up to speed about what has been happening in Evie’s life of late and so when she arrives at Evie’s flat, having visited her at the hospital, she doesn’t know what to make of finding a man there claiming to be her sister’s boyfriend. Immediately I was hooked because there is suspicion straight away over this man and I wanted to know more. 

The novel is told alternately by Rachel, in the present day, and through Evie’s thoughts, who whilst in a coma is finding her memories are beginning to come back to her from a few months previously and she’s trying to piece together to work out what happened to her. 

I felt drawn both to Rachel and Evie and really empathised with the way they behaved because they had recently lost their mother. In the face of such pain it can make siblings close off from each other if they have different ways of coping so it was entirely plausible to me that Rachel would have no idea about her sister’s life while she was off on a book tour on the other side of the world. There were some small aspects of this book that didn’t feel completely plausible but often with thrillers you do need to be prepared to suspend disbelief to a degree – all I want to get swept up in a great story when I’m reading and this book does just that!

Sisters and Lies starts off as more of a mystery novel but the tension builds so fast that by the second half I found myself racing through the pages wanting to know what was going to happen and to find out if I was trusting the right people! The red herrings along the way did cause me to doubt myself on more than one occasion about who they bad guy might be.

Sisters and Lies is a brilliant debut novel – it’s thrilling, it’s twisty and it doesn’t disappoint! I rated it a solid 4 stars and I highly recommend it. I can’t wait to see what Bernice Barrington writes next!

Sisters and Lies is due to be published on 24th March and can be pre-ordered now.

I received this book from Penguin Books via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Blog Tour | Q&A with Janet Ellis, author of The Butcher’s Hook

 

 

Today I am thrilled to welcome Janet Ellis to my blog for a chat about her debut novel, The Butcher’s Hook.

How did you come to be a novelist and how long have you been writing for?

I’ve wanted to write for as long as I can remember. My desk drawer (and more besides) is full of jottings, poems, beginnings of stories  and snatches of prose. But The Butcher’s Hook is the first book I finished. So the answer is really :- for ever and quite recently!

What is your writing process?

I try and write daily, but not always at the same time or with the same word count. I often write  scenes that I know I want to include somewhere, then store them – it’s like having  a mood board of episodes and characters waiting to be placed in the narrative.  I read everything aloud, too, as I think it’s a great way of discovering if the tone is consistent- and avoiding repetition. Of course, that includes dialogue (my poor neighbours). 

The Butcher’s Hook is historical fiction but seems modern too, not least due to the way that Anne Jaccob’s sexual awakening is described. It reminded me a little of Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White in the sense of it being historical mixed with more modern elements. What inspired you to write this novel, and in this particular way?

Thank you for the comparison, that book’s a favourite. I’m driven  by the idea that, although they wore different clothes, saw different sights and were influenced by different things, people of any past time, however distant,  experienced emotions as we do. We feel everything from love and  hate, or envy,  greed and sorrow just as our forbears did. Reading diaries- which illustrate this perfectly- was a big source of inspiration. Confirmation, too, of the fact that no matter what is happening around us in historical terms, we’re all mostly concerned with ourselves. My teenage diaries certainly bear this out.

I found Anne fascinating – at times I really liked her and wanted her to find love and happiness and then at other times she had quite a selfish, self-absorbed streak which made her harder to like. I really enjoyed this about her though, she was in my head all the time when I wasn’t reading as I tried to weigh her up and I miss her now I’ve finished reading the novel. How did her character and personality come about, and did you enjoy creating her?

How lovely to hear that.  I loved creating her. She really is a character apart, she isn’t me! And I often felt the same ambivalence  about her behaviour.  I toyed with a different , rather happier , ending but realised she’s her own worst enemy, and enjoyably so. There’s a kind of twisted logic in how she behaves, everything happens for a reason as far as she’s concerned. I hope she’s funny, too, as my favourite people have a sideways take on life that I enjoy. I’ve got friends whose behaviour is sometimes exasperating -but I love them. I know that  -apart from her often terrible actions- I feel the same about Anne.

Finally, is there a question that you wish an interviewer would ask that you’ve never been asked and how would you answer said question?

Do you mean apart from ‘How did you get to be so fabulous? (Answer: I have NO idea!)? This is a great question… I haven’t ever met a question that I thought was too awful to be answered, and nothing’s off limits, but maybe there’s something about what my parents would have thought  – they’re both dead now- that I’d like to mull over.  But I can’t come up with the question myself , as it makes me weepy to even think about it. 

 


 

Synopsis of The Butcher’s Hook

Do you know what this is?’ 

He holds a short twist of thick metal, in the shape of the letter ‘S’, sharpened at both ends. I shake my head.

‘A butcher’s hook,’ he says, testing the tip of his finger against each point. ‘A perfect design. Whichever way up you use it, it’s always ready. One end to hook, the other to hang. It has only one simple purpose.’ He stands on a stool and fixes it over the bar above him. It waits there, empty.

He climbs down. ‘Pleasing, isn’t it?’

GEORGIAN LONDON, IN THE SUMMER OF 1763.

At nineteen, Anne Jaccob is awakened to the possibility of joy when she meets Fub, the butcher’s apprentice, and begins to imagine a life of passion with him.

The only daughter of well-to-do parents, Anne lives a sheltered life. Her home is a miserable place. Though her family want for nothing, her father is uncaring, her mother is ailing, and the baby brother who taught her to love is dead. Unfortunately her parents have already chosen a more suitable husband for her than Fub.

But Anne is a determined young woman, with an idiosyncratic moral compass. In the matter of pursuing her own happiness, she shows no fear or hesitation. Even if it means getting a little blood on her hands.

A vivid and surprising tale, The Butcher’s Hook brims with the colour and atmosphere of Georgian London, as seen through the eyes of a strange and memorable young woman.


 

About the Author

Janet Ellis trained as an actress at the Central School of Speech and Drama. She is best known for presenting Blue Peter and contributes to numerous radio and TV programmes. 
She recently graduated from the Curtis Brown creative writing school. The Butcher’s Hook is her first novel.

You can find Janet Ellis at:

janetellis.com

twitter.com/missjanetellis

instagram.com/missjanetellis

The Butcher’s Hook is published by Two Roads; it is out now and available from all good book shops.


 

I’ll be sharing my review of The Butcher’s Hook on my blog very soon so please look out for that. In the meantime, you can follow the rest of the blog tour here:

The Butchers Hook Tour Poster

Review: Viral by Helen Fitzgerald

 

Viral by Helen Fitzgerald

 

So far, twenty-three thousand and ninety six people have seen me online. They include my mother, my father, my little sister, my grandmother, my other grandmother, my grandfather, my boss, my sixth year Biology teacher and my boyfriend James.

When Leah Oliphant Brotheridge and her adopted sister Su go on holiday together to Magaluf to celebrate their A-levels, only Leah returns home. Her successful, swotty sister remains abroad, humiliated and afraid: there is an online video of her, drunkenly performing a sex act in a nightclub. And everyone has seen it.

Ruth Oliphant Brotheridge, mother of the girls, successful court judge, is furious. How could this have happened? How can she bring justice to these men who took advantage of her dutiful, virginal daughter? What role has Leah played in all this? And can Ruth find Su and bring her back home when Su doesn’t want to be found?

Viral is a very modern thriller, and a cautionary tale for the social media age we now live in. I think that for teenagers and young adults today it must be so tough growing up in the social media age, where everything that you do and everything that happens is posted online instantly. This novel is an extreme example of what can happen to young women when they let their guard down and someone takes advantage in more way than one by filming the situation.

Su-Jin is the adopted daughter of Ruth and Bernie; she is the apple of her mother’s eye as she is very academic, and has recently been accepted to a top university to study medicine. Su’s sister Leah has always been jealous of Su seemingly due to all the attention that she gets from their mother. However, when Su and Leah go on holiday to Magaluf life begins to unravel for Su.

The opening line of this book is shocking; it actually made me pause for a second to wonder what kind of book I was reading! The shock factor really works though because it gets the reader into the mindset of the shock that Su feels on not only what happened to her, but how it’s gone viral so quickly. It seems like the whole world is watching the distressing video of Su in the nightclub.

Over the course of the book we get to see things from different points of view and the picture is gradually filled in about what happened leading up the video being filmed. I was quite sure from the beginning that Leah had had a huge part to play in the horrible incident but actually my views on her changed as the book went on because we get to understand more about why she is the way she is.

The way Ruth behaves is possibly the most shocking thing in the book because it is as if she has lost her mind in the way she decides to avenge what happened to her daughter. There is an element of black humour running through some of her sections of the novel, which simultaneously lighten the book, and make what she’s doing seem so much worse.

As the book neared its end, I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see how it would all end but I never figured out how it was going to turn out. I love that it kept me in the dark until I actually read the final scenes. It all gets tied up so brilliantly.

I did find some of the things that happened in this book a little hard to believe at times but once I suspended my disbelief I raced through the book. It’s very fast-paced and hard to put down.

The novel is such a brilliant mix of seediness, black humour and revenge. I rated it 4 out of 5.

Viral is out now and available from Amazon.

Many thanks to Sophie at Faber and Faber who sent me a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Darkest Secret by Alex Marwood

The Darkest Secret by Alex Marwood

I loved Alex Marwood’s previous novels, particularly The Wicked Girls, so I was thrilled to win a copy of The Darkest Secret last month. This is the first novel I’ve read in 2016 and what a way to start a new year… all the other books I read this year now have a lot to live up to!

The Darkest Secret is a dark and, at times, very claustrophobic novel about the secrets a group of friends keep. The novel is told over two weekends – one in 2004 and one in the present day. Over the course of a summer bank holiday weekend in 2004, a group of friends gather for Sean Jackson’s 50th birthday and by the end of the weekend his daughter is dead. In the present day, Sean has been found dead and some of his remaining children and all of his old friends from that holiday weekend gather together for his funeral.

This novel is brilliant; it’s a real character-led novel, with multiple narrators – all of whom seem very unreliable and most of them are deeply unlikeable. The way these adults behave and the things they do is vile and selfish, but it’s such a compelling novel that although you at times want to look away, you just can’t. I enjoy novels where I don’t like the characters because it takes you completely away from anything you know as in real life as you would never associate with people you hate; I also love unreliable narrators as they add to the unsettling atmosphere in a novel.

This novel isn’t so much about trying to work out whodunit, it’s more a novel of how people behave and why they did the things they did. For me, it was refreshing because this novel wasn’t trying to be an edge-of-your-seat thriller; it is, as Alex Marwood’s novels tend to be, a very disturbing look at the levels people will go to in order to get what they want or to cover up what they’ve done, and it’s brilliantly written.

Maria Gavilla was the most unnerving character for me. The way she coldly and calmly stage-managed all of her friends throughout the novel; she was always at the centre almost conducting events to suit her own ends. Maria appears friendly and caring but everything she does is in her own interest. I found it strange how she worried about her step-daughter Simone attracting the attention of the leery member of their group of friends and yet everyone else, including Simone’s peers, knew that she had a crush on Sean and yet Maria never said a word about that. There was something monstrous about her; I felt very disturbed by her.

Sean’s daughter, Mila, from his first marriage, and Ruby, from his second (twin to the missing Coco) are the only likeable characters in the book, but the damage done to them is telling. Mila doesn’t get close to people, and Ruby is kept a virtual prisoner by her overprotective mother. The redeeming aspect of this novel, although in no way due to the adults, who remain despicable, is that it felt like these two half-sisters had begun to form a relationship with each other that would last, I like to think that they would begin to heal from the damage together over time.

The Darkest Secret is incredibly intense, and the level of horror at the way these people behave just keeps being ramped up as the novel goes on. I couldn’t put this book down and I highly recommend it.

I rated this novel 5 out of 5.

I received a copy of this book from Little Brown via Net Galley and also won a proof print book from Sphere.

The Darkest Secret is out now in ebook, and is out in print on 7th January. Available from Amazon.