Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Book Review: The Art Teacher by Paul Read

The Blurb: 
Patrick Owen managed seven years at Highfields Secondary School without punching a pupil in the face.
Unknowingly drawn into a war against his own pupils, Patrick's patience finally snaps as he finds himself the number one target with the boy the school just can't seem to expel.
When one of his Art students needs his help, she unwittingly pulls Patrick further into the line of fire, altering their lives forever.
With the media circling and rumours of his involvement reaching new highs, Patrick must escape the world he lives in, or face the consequences.
My Review:

Thank you to Legend Press for the advanced copy of this unbelievably good book.

Poor Patrick. Things are pretty crappy for him - and they are about to get a whole lot worse.

Once a semi-successful rock-star, Patrick is now an Art teacher at rough inner city school and lives on his own in a flat nearby. The kids are fearsome, the teachers weak, and Patrick feels helpless as he gets no support from his peers. It's a place full of people who lack respect for anyone.

It's a frightening but highly compelling read - I read it in two sessions, terrified at what was surely going to happen. The fear of walking alone in the dark in a dodgy area is brought to life on the pages, causing your heartbeat to increase and sweat to appear on your brow as if you were there under threat yourself.

The menace of the gang culture, of the lack of authority - it's all there in bucket-loads of visceral prose, so well written it's hard to believe this is Paul Read's debut. It's an intelligent thriller, a work of literary fiction but not to the exclusion of people like me!

Marks out of 5: 5. Well done, Paul. Keep up the good work!

You can buy The Art Teacher here (other retailers are available).

The Author:

After gaining a first in Fine Art at the Kent Institute of Art and Design at Canterbury, Paul Read moved to London, finding employment at Foyles bookshop before becoming a teacher. He has worked in several inner-city schools as an Art, English and supply teacher, both in England and Italy. He received a distinction from City University London for his creative writing MA.

A few years ago, Paul was involved in a hit-and-run incident which put him in a wheelchair for several months and was where he wrote the first draft of The Art Teacher. He lives with Patricia and their two children.

Follow him on Twitter: @paulreadauthor

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Book Review: Second Time Around by Colette Caddle

After a freak accident and eight weeks in a coma, Suzie Connors’ family are elated when their adored mother finally wakes up absolutely fine. Except she’s not.
Blissfully unaware of her children’s shock at having to deal with the changes in their mum, Suzie has had a wake-up call and intends to live life to the full, with or without their approval. Then her youngest daughter, Sharon, is faced with some major issues of her own and the one person she would have turned to – her mother – is no longer there for her.
An emotional story about family, second chances and what happens when, in the blink of an eye, life changes forever …

Thank you to Simon and Schuster for my copy of this book.

It's quite a well-known fact that head injury can result in personality changes, and this affects not only the injured person but also those closest to them. The effect of the change in Suzie's behaviour causes shock and upset to her family and friends in different ways. 

Colette describes the horror and torment suffered by a family when a loved one is in hospital very well. That feeling of being in limbo, of not knowing if your loved one will die, or to what extent they will be affected. It is exhausting, both physically and mentally. Then when Suzie does wake up, the torment isn't over by any means as they all have to learn to adjust to the 'new' Suzie.

The story is told from multiple points of view, which shows how each person is affected by Suzie's injury to great effect. 

Suzie has lost her ability to filter her thoughts and what comes out of her mouth, often to quite humorous effect. She is struggling with her memory - who should she trust to tell her the truth about her past? 

Jess feels she has to carry the responsibility of looking after her mother; but she has problems of her own when her love life and work life collide. 

Jess's sister, Sharon, has it tough - her husband cannot connect with their son, Bobby, and now Suzie, who always adored her grandson, makes her thoughts on Sharon's mollycoddling perfectly clear. So clear that Bobby thinks his granny doesn't like him - a heartbreaking thing for any child. But deep down Sharon knows there's more to Bobby's behaviour than naughtiness - she just needs to admit it. Caddle's writing deals with this with a great deal of empathy.

Suzie's son, Noel, has the struggle of uni exams to cope with as well as his mother's erratic behaviour. He can't even confide in his best friend Cal, who is bewildered by Noel's distance.

Cal is my favourite character - he brings a lot of sense to everyone around him, not least Jess and Bobby.

As for the worst character - it has to be a toss-up between Suzie's sister Mandy, a conniving, jealous woman - no one else can believe it when she claims to be a loving sister, helping Suzie; and Jess's lover/boss Louis, who just makes my skin crawl!

Second Time Around is a heart-warming read about second chances, family and friendship. I loved it.

You can buy Second Time Around here (other retailers are available...).

Book Review: Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriaty

Despite their differences, Erika and Clementine have been best friends since they were children. So when Erika needs help, Clementine should be the obvious person to turn to. Or so you'd think.
For Clementine, as a mother of a two desperately trying to practise for the audition of a lifetime, the last thing she needs is Erika asking for something, again.
But the barbecue should be the perfect way to forget their problems for a while. Especially when their hosts, Vid and Tiffany, are only too happy to distract them.
Which is how it all spirals out of control...

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher, Michael Joseph, for the ARC.

I was looking forward to reading this after The Husband's Secret, but I have to say I didn't enjoy it as much. I don't like leaving negative reviews, but I found the characters self-absorbed and, frankly, annoying. However, the relationships between the characters - marriage, friendships old and new, and mere acquaintances are interesting if a little over-thought.

The hook of the story - what actually did happen at the BBQ - is drawn out for far too long. In it's favour, the reveal was not what I expected, and it was heartbreaking and edge of the seat stuff. It's just a shame that the effect of this was diluted by taking so long to get there. The story was very slow in parts - I think it's the pace that lets it down.

That all said, I would still read another of this author's books.

You can buy Truly Madly Guilty (and Liane's better books) here (other retailers are available) 

Book Review: Untouchable Things by Tara Guha

For the third time this week he is watching her scream. Watching, not listening.
Rebecca Laurence is centre stage and shining in her role as Ophelia. She pivots, rotating like a ballerina impaled in a musical box, red hair cascading down her back.
Consumed by loss and surrounded by secrets, Rebecca must escape the grip of the Folly to have any chance of saving herself. Meanwhile, one man continues to watch.
Amidst the thundering applause, one man is watching. Rebecca meets the charismatic Seth Gardner, and as attraction grows between them, he invites her to join his Friday Folly, a group of artistic friends. But as Rebecca is drawn into the web of tangled relationships all is not as it appears. The scene is set for the night that will rip the group apart.

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC - I'm only a year out *ahem*.

What a strange, captivating book. At first I found it hard to follow, but I persevered and found myself utterly compelled. The story is set in scenes and acts and told in multiple points of view, interspersed with brief questions from police interviews. 

The mysterious Seth is at the centre of the story; an enigmatic, charming man who seemingly collects creative misfits and brings them together in an uneasy mishmash of friendship. Tension pulls throughout the book. I read this with a sense of disquiet. The characters are very well drawn and each one is integral to the plot, having multiple sides that aren't quite so pleasant once we get to know them.

As the story goes on, it becomes more and more sinister, but it is impossible to stop reading. Like some of the group of friends, I was suspicious of Seth, but was still drawn to him, despite not knowing anything about him. It's an intriguing, absorbing read of manipulation and human weakness.

You can buy Untouchable Things here (other retailers are available - I should get paid for advertising Amazon!)

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Book Review: The Blackbird Singularity by Matt Wilven

Vince stops taking his lithium when he finds out about his partner's pregnancy. As withdrawal kicks in, he can barely hold his life together.
Somewhere between making friends with a blackbird in the back garden and hearing his dead son's footsteps in the attic, he finds himself lost and alone, journeying through a world of chaos and darkness, completely unaware of the miracle that lies ahead.
Thank you to Lucy at Legend Press for the ARC of this fabulous, thought provoking novel.

The story is divided into the three trimesters of Lyd's new pregnancy. Vince had been diagnosed with Bipolar after the devastating loss of his and partner Lyd's first child. Vince had suffered an intense breakdown, and is held together by both Lyd and lithium.

The Blackbird Singularity is an intense but very readable story. I was drawn into Vince's mind from the very beginning, and his determination to escape the numbing of his drugs, Unmonitored withdrawal from medication is not advised as the effects can be traumatic in themselves. Vince is terrified Lyd will find out - her condition for staying in the relationship was that Vince continues with his medication.

Vince builds a 'relationship' with a visiting blackbird, and becomes obsessed with it. His mind 'clears' as the comfort of the lithium wears off, though to others around him his behaviour is more erratic. We get a colourful insight into the mind of an ordinary man trying to make some sense of the insanity he is going through.

There's some rather mind-blowing scientific paragraphs at the beginning of each chapter; some are beautiful descriptions of nature but some lost me, with my non-scientific brain. I'm still no wiser as to what an event horizon is, or even what singularity means. But Vince's story is compelling as we watch him deal with Lyd's new pregnancy. It's heartbreaking in parts; the scratching in the attic had me holding my breath.

The Blackbird Singularity was published on 1st August - this review is a little late due to my own foray into a depressive episode, which has perhaps made this book resonate with me. I think anyone who has suffered loss or depression or has known someone who has - and lets face it, most of us have experienced both in some form - will find this book utterly compelling.

You can buy the book here (other retailers are available!), and you can find out more about the author here