Sunday, 11 September 2016

August In Review

Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Global PoliticsAugust has been a really lovely bookish month, with plenty of reading and a nice mixture of bookish events and exciting acquisitions.It's not done the TBR pile any good whatsoever however and I remain convinced that the books underneath my bed are breeding.

A Deadly ThawThe month kicked off with a very chilled long weekend away. Curled up in a caravan on the West Wales coast, I had plenty of time to chill out, drink wine and read books. Because of the glorious weather I didn't spend quite as much time curled up indoors with a book as I'd intended but I still managed a respectable two books in four days, polishing off Sarah Ward's excellent crime novel 'A Deadly Thaw' (which I reviewed as part of her blog tour earlier this week) as well as the fascinating 'Prisoners of Geography' by Tim Marshall. 'Prisoners' was a random pick, chosen because it had a map on the cover (I love maps and am a sucker for a good map in a book) and was the Waterstones non-fiction book choice for August. However it proved to be a really excellent introduction to political geography and, as a result, I finally have a basic understanding of why Britain insists on retaining the Falkland Islands (apparently it's not just for strategic sheep purposes), why no one wants to tango with the problems on the Korean Peninsula and just why India and Pakistan don't see eye to eye! More experienced readers might find the book a little light but, for a lay reader like myself, I thought it perfectly balanced knowledge with readability and humour. 

The Little Red ChairsMy book club pick of the month was Edna O'Brien's 'The Little Red Chairs', which I had been looking forward to having never read an O'Brien before. The plot, which centres around a Bosnian war criminal in hiding in a small Irish coastal village and his affair with a local woman, also intrigued. Sadly, whilst O'Brien's writing style is undoubtedly accomplished, I completely failed to connect with this novel on any level at all.The plot meanders, the characters are insubstantial and I fail to see how it says anything about the Bosnian-Serb war or its aftermath. Fidelma, the 'main' character in as much as the novel has one, has little by way of personality and even less of agency. Even an (in my mind unnecessarily brutal) act of violence at the novel's mid-point fails to provoke anything by way of momentum or change - there's just nothing that provides impetus or direction for any of the characters. Intolerably dull - it would have been a DNF were it not a book club choice. 

Another Day in the Death of AmericaMuch better, although that may not be the correct choice of wording given the subject of the book, was Gary Younge's 'Another Day in the Death of America' which I was lucky enough to get a proof copy of. Due for publication at the end of September, the book is an examination of the lives of ten young people who were shot dead over a 24 hour period in November 2013. The youngest was nine; the oldest nineteen, they lived in hamlets, suburbs and inner city ghettos. None of them made national news. Over the course of interviews with their friends and families, combined with examinations of the wider issues surrounding gun control in America, Younge paints a blistering portrait of another day in a country that sees seven children and teens die daily in gun violence.  I don't want to say too much at this stage as this is definitely a book that deserves - almost demands - a full review, however it was heartbreakingly brilliant and really does deserve to be read by everyone. I would urge anyone who cares about youth and humanity to get this on their pre-order or library hold list ASAP. 

To the Bright Edge of the WorldThe end of the month saw me enjoying the delights of the wonderful Booka Bookshop and an excellent evening in the company of author Eowyn Ivey and blogger Simon Savidge as they discussed Eowyn's new novel 'To The Bright Edge of the World'. I've been able to restrain myself from starting the book as I want to savour it over my upcoming holiday in the Lake District however, based on the contents of Eowyn's talk and Q&A, it promises to be an excellent read!

The Catalyst Killing (K2, #3)I wrapped up the month by treating myself to a bit of crime, with 'The Catalyst Killing', the third in Hans Olav Lahlum's throughly enjoyable K2 & Patricia series. Once again this was a compelling and engaging mystery, this time set around the murder of a young political activist whose boyfriend vanished in mysterious circumstances some years before. Before long K2 and Patricia are drawn into a conspiracy involving young communists, old Nazis and long-buried secrets and it becomes clear that the first death may be a mere catalyst for more extreme events to follow. A great addition to a really excellent series, this is the perfect combination of Agatha Christie style plotting and Nordic noir, although I would suggest that those new to the series begin with the first book - 'The Human Flies' -and work through them in order to get the most from each one. 

In a Dark, Dark WoodAs for current reading, I'm taking a short weekend McEwan's much vaunted novella 'Nutshell'. How I've not read 'Dark Dark Wood', a psychological thriller about a hen party that goes horribly wrong, I have absolutely no idea as it is the sort of thriller I usually devour. So far it's proving to be brilliantly twisty and I'm looking forward to diving into her second novel 'The Woman in Cabin 10' on my upcoming holiday. 'Nutshell' is a more considered read - one that requires constant attention but can be read over a relatively short span - so I've taken the weekend to really focus on it and give it the attention it deserves. As with McEwan's other novellas, it's tightly plotted, astutely observant and a little bit brilliant. I'm also meant to be reading Hannah Rothschild's 'The Improbability of Love' for book club but I bailed a few days ago to start the Ruth Ware and I fear I'm unlikely to return to it. To me it was a book that just doesn't know what it wants to be - sometimes literary, sometimes a romance, sometimes a satire. I'm just not feeling it and, with plenty of other books demanding my attention, life sometimes really is too short to read something you're not enjoying!

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on any of these books so leave me a comment below, come say hi on Twitter @amyinstaffs or find me on Litsy @ShelfofUnreadBooks. And, until next time...

Happy Reading! x

Thursday, 8 September 2016

BLOG TOUR!! A Deadly Thaw by Sarah Ward

A Deadly ThawAs a long-time fan of the British crime novel, I thoroughly enjoyed Sarah Ward’s debut novel ‘In Bitter Chill’, which I reviewed on the blog last year alongside a Q&A with Sarah herself. Sarah’s was an exciting new voice in British crime fiction, having used her experiences as a crime reader and blogger to shape a cleverly plotted, well-realised debut that bridged the gap between psychological thriller and police procedural and provided realism without too much gore – basically, the perfect formula for the sort of crime novel I enjoy!

When I did the Q&A I was excited to learn that Sarah planned to continue her series, set in the fictional Derbyshire town of Bampton, and to bring back her trio of detectives; DCI Francis Sadler, DS Damian Palmer and DC Connie Childs for a further novel, with the possibility of extending the series beyond this. I was therefore thrilled to receive an advance copy of her second novel, ‘A Deadly Thaw’, which takes place in the early spring, following on from the events of ‘In Bitter Chill’ by a couple of months. I really like the idea of using the seasons as a way of advancing the series and, in ‘A Deadly Thaw,’ Sarah continues to ensure that the weather and the overall sense of the season adds to the overall tone and atmosphere of the novel.

‘A Deadly Thaw’ opens with the discovery of Andrew Fisher in the long abandoned Hale’s End Mortuary with a bullet through his chest. Unfortunately for DS Sadler and his team, Fisher was supposedly killed back in 2004, when his wife Lena was arrested, tried and convicted for suffocating him with a pillow. So who exactly did Lena kill and why would she lie about his identity? When Lena disappears, it’s up to the team, along with Lena’s sister Kat, to follow a trail of clues that leads back into the past but has dangerous implications for the present day.

As with ‘In Bitter Chill’, the novel is narrated in alternating chapters from the viewpoint of the police investigative team and the amateur investigation; in this case that of Kat, Lena’s sister. This works well as it allows the reader to get clues from both sides of the investigation, which heightens the tension as each strand discovers new information that isn’t always privy to the other side. It also results in a lot of cliff-hangers; which Sarah is an absolute master of – there were times I could have screamed at her for leaving off a chapter where she did!

The plot is also very cleverly weaved together, with multiple strands and plenty of red herrings thrown into the mix to distract the characters – and the reader – and keep you guessing right until the very end. It wasn’t until the closing stages that I began to get a sense of whodunit and why, which is how I like my crime books to be – there’s nothing worse than a thriller where you guess the twist halfway through! The plot is denser than in Sarah’s debut however and I have to admit to getting a little lost a couple of times – the pace is so fast that I occasionally missed key information and had to double back to check who someone was or what they’d revealed when last interviewed but, for the most part, Sarah handles the multiple story threads very well and keeps them from getting too tangled whilst maintaining the mystery and tension.

Sarah also does a great job of fleshing out her detectives, adding meat to the bones of the characters she created in ‘In Bitter Chill’, and throwing in some further complications to their personal lives – which has left me waiting with anticipation for the next book! The great thing with this series however is that you can read each novel as a standalone. ‘A Deadly Thaw’ works equally well in isolation, with the case wrapped up fully at the end of the novel and the characters fully introduced at the start for new readers. And, for those crime fans who don’t like detectives that come with more baggage than the average airport (like me!), Sarah keeps the focus on the crime and crime-solving, with the personal stories ticking away in the background and only occasionally coming to the fore.

Overall, I really enjoyed ‘A Deadly Thaw’ and it is a worthy successor to ‘In Bitter Chill’ and marks Sarah out as an author to watch on the British crime scene. The dual structure, clever central mystery and tightly woven plot gives the book real pace and dynamism making this a fast, thrilling read which ratchets up the tension without resorting to brutal violence or overt amounts of blood and gore. Definitely one for crime fans to put on their autumn TBR pile or their Christmas list - my only problem now is that I have to wait for Sarah to write book three!

A Deadly Thaw’, published by Faber & Faber, is available now in hardback and ebook from all good book retailers. My thanks go to the author and the publisher for providing an advance copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.