Adult Fiction, Bookish Post, Coming Soon, Crime, Debut, Fiction, Review, Suspense, Thriller

Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech

A Tales Before Bedtime Sunday Review

Sometimes you discover an author and there is an instant connection.  You soak up their words and disappear into their worlds.  Whenever you hear there is a new offering on the horizon your ears prick up, damn it your whole damn head up – somewhat like a meerkat – and wait eagerly for it to arrive.  It’s a truly wonderful feeling.  One such author that holds that magic over me is Louise Beech. Her writing never fails to leave me entranced.  Her novels are all so different and yet all so wonderful.  I can’t tell you how happy I was to receive a proof copy of her latest novel, Call Me Star Girl.  

There were three things that sold this novel to me.  

The author. The publisher. The synopsis.  

Although the fact that it was quoted as being ‘reminiscent of Play Misty For Me, surely one of Clint Eastwood finest and most chilling of films, did catch my attention too.  I watched the film again not too long ago and there is still so much I love about it, not least the 70’s music, style and cinematography, but it gives you the feeling that you’re watching a series of events spiralling helplessly out of control. All these factors put together had me feeling this novel was going to be GOOOOD.  And Oh my, I wasn’t wrong.

Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech

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Tonight is Stella McKeever’s final radio show.

The theme is secrets.  You tell her yours, and she’ll share some of hers.  Stella might tell you about Tom, a boyfriend who likes to play games, about the mother who abandoned her, now back after fourteen years.  She might tell you about the perfume bottle with the star-shaped stopper, or about her father…

What Stella really wants to know is more about the mysterious man calling the station, who says he knows who killed the pregnant Victoria Valbon, found brutally murdered in an alley three weeks ago. 

Tonight is the night for secrets, and Stella wants to know everything.

In her writing Louise delves deep into the mind. She looks at cause and effect, how events and trauma shape our personalities and actions. We can never really know what goes on in another’s mind and she shows the dark maze winding deep within each of us; holding endless fears, desires, doubts and secrets. It is truly powerful. Call Me Star Girl also looks at the darker side of love. The all-consuming love that can rarely end well. The story is dark, creepy and utterly engrossing as Stella’s past and present collide with shattering consequences.

Louise’s characters have this wonderful ability to get inside your head, leading you on with the story, sharing their story, so you are standing right beside them in that dark, god forsaken alley. Atmospheric to say the least, the setting of a radio station through the night provides the perfect backdrop for events to unfold.

Her plotting is superb, the twists and turns leaving you fearful for the outcome but unable to tear yourself away. This is one story that will stay with you; like a whisper it will creep into your thoughts long after you turn the final page.

Absolutely brilliant and thoroughly recommended.

Here is a wee snippet taken from the first few pages…

‘The lights buzzed and flickered. I held my breath. Exhaled when they settled. I would not be spooked by a trickster.

Stella, this will tell you everything.

How did they know what I wanted to know?

What was everything?

I opened the main door, book held tight to my hammering chest. The car park was empty, a weed-logged expanse edged with dying trees. It’s always quiet at this hour of the night. I waited, not sure what I expected to happen – maybe some stranger loitering, hunched over and menacing. They would not scare me.

“I’m not afraid,’ I said it aloud.

Who was I trying to convince?

I set off for home. I usually walk, enjoying the night air after a stuffy studio. I’m not sure why – though now it seems profound – but I paused at the alley that separates the allotment from the Fortune Bingo hall. Bramble bushes tangle there like sweet barbed wire. It’s a long but narrow cut-through that kids ride their bikes too fast along and drunks stagger down when the pub shuts. I rarely walk down there, even though it would make my journey home quicker. The place disturbs me, so I always hurry past, take the long way around, without glancing into the shadows.

I did that night too.

But I looked back. Just once, the strange book pressed against my chest.

It was two weeks before they found the girl there.

Two weeks before I started getting phone calls.

I didn’t know any of that then. If I had, I might have walked a little faster.’

About the Author

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Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015.  the follow-up, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize.  Both of her previous books Maria in the Moon and The Lion Tamer Who Lost were widely reviewed and critically acclaimed.  All four have been #1 kindle bestsellers.  Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetics Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice.  Louise lives with her husband and children on the outskirts of Hull, and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012.

You can follow Louise on Twitter: @LouiseWriter and visit her website here.

Call Me Star Girl is published by Orenda Books on April 18th 2019 which still gives you plenty of time to discover Louise’s previous work if you haven’t yet done so.

Thank you so much to the lovely team at Orenda Books for sending me the proof copy to read and review for an honest opinion.

 

 

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Fiction, Middle Grade Fiction, Review

A Far Away Magic by Amy Wilson

Haunting prose that feeds the magical story as monsters are battled, fears are faced and grief is overcome. There is something quite beautiful in Bavar and Angel’s relationship. A special connection that makes them gentler, braver and more compassionate.

Angel doesn’t fit. Not in her new school or in her foster home in the vanilla house with nice Mary. The day her parents died was the day everything changed for her. A burglary gone wrong they said but Angel knows different. Angel knows that monsters really exist but when they don’t believe her she tries to forget the memories that haunt her dreams…that is until she meets Bavar.

He too is different except that he doesn’t draw attention to himself and seems to shrink back into the shadows even though he is seven feet tall. But Angel can see him, and she sees the magic that surrounds him. The two are drawn together by their differences, by the way they stand out and by the sadness that surrounds them. Soon they discover that they have an even deeper connection and Angel believes she’s found a way to stop the monsters but she needs Bavar’s help. He’s reluctant but if there is one thing she’s sure of it’s that she wants to stop the monsters once and for all and make sure that no one else suffers the loss she has.

Bavar, sees the light in Angel, in his world of shadows and darkness she is sunshine and starlight and his need to protect her draws him into her plan to fight the monsters. But are two young teens enough to defeat the Raksasa, the strange, winged creatures you’d only expect to find in a nightmare. Everyday they are growing stronger and it’s only a matter of time until before they break through the gate and kill again.

Beautifully written, filled with magic, love and grief, this is a powerful novel with wonderful characters – I was left feeling a little of the magic had stayed behind with me.

Suitable for aged 9-11yrs+

Discover more about Amy Wilson here.

Published by Pan Macmillan

Published on 25th January 2018

Christmas 2017, Young Adult Fiction

Christmas 2017 – Book Advent – Day Ten

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

I first read this book three years ago now and it’s stayed with me ever since. Haunting and well crafted, this is a pretty special piece of YA fiction. It brought E.Lockhart to my attention and she is now one of my favourite YA authors. Edgy, gripping and at times shocking, this is one YA title that’s too good to miss.

We are the Liars. We are beautiful, privileged and live a life of carefree luxury. We are cracked and broken. It is a story of love and romance. It is a tale of tragedy. Which are lies? Which is truth?

This book actually made me gasp at the end, I just didn’t see it coming. Thoroughly recommended.

We Were Liars was published in 2014 by Hot Key Books

Adult Fiction

The Last Days of Leda Grey by Essie Fox

I originally reviewed this title last year for Lovereading. I’ve been a fan of Essie’s since first reading the wonderful Elijah’s Mermaid in 2013. Her writing is haunting and incredibly atmospheric and I’ve loved each one of her memorable novels. Essie also writes an absolutely fascinating blog as The Virtual Victorian. I thoroughly recommend checking her out if you haven’t already discoverer her. Read on for my Lovereading review or click on the link above to go direct to their website.

Ed Peters, a young Fleet Street journalist, lives a hedonistic 1970’s lifestyle of which he’s grown weary. Whilst the country is in the grip of a stifling heatwave, Ed returns to his mother’s hometown of Brightland in an effort to make his peace with both her and his past. However, an encounter in a junk shop leaves him bewitched by the story of the young silent movie actress, Leda Grey. As he sets out to meet the reclusive actress both life and sanity are at risk as he enters Leda’s world and the secrets hidden away for over 60 years in her decaying cliff-top house.

The oppressiveness of the heatwave together with the trickery and magic of the silent films is incredibly atmospheric throughout the book; causing us to question what is real and what is a mirage, blurring fact and fiction. Essie’s writing is beautiful and sensuous, capturing the very essence of time, place and character perfectly. Even days after finishing this story I can still see Leda Grey sweeping through the house, both in her young innocence and later as the weary, tormented ghost of the girl she used to be. Yet there is more to this faded movie star than meets the eye. What secrets surround her and what horrors haunt both woman and house? Ed is soon drawn into her story and the curse that surrounds her. Haunting, sad and beautifully written, this is yet another stunning novel from the wonderful Essie Fox.

Published by Orion.
Published in paperback: 14th November 2017

Reviewed originally for Lovereading.

 

Middle Grade Fiction

The Boy With One Name by J.R. Wallis

It’s Saturday and it’s Autumn – a great time to buy books.

I absolutely love Middle Grade fiction. It’s exciting and there is such an amazing choice for kids (and those of us still kids at heart). Unfortunately although there are many amazingly well stocked and managed school libraries out there not all of them have the funds or space to keep a stock of fresh, new titles. If you are lucky enough to have a local library then I urge you to use it if you don’t already and of course a bookshop of any shape or size is always a great place to visit. So, if you are looking for a weekend reading treat here’s my recommendation for this week.

The Boy With One Name by J.R.Wallis

I absolutely adore a little magic and mystery. Throw in some mortal danger, monsters and things that go bump in the night and I’m in heaven. 😄

This summer the rather lovely people over at Simon & Schuster kids sent me a copy of The Boy With One Name. The cover alone grabbed my interest as soon as it slipped out from it’s Jiffy bag.

WELCOME TO THE BADLANDS … a hidden part of our world populated by creatures which most people think exist only in fairytales and nightmares.

The story features two young protagonists – Jones desperately wants to be a normal boy but since he was a baby fate has had other plans, because Jones is an apprentice Badlander. Badlanders hunt witches, ogres, shapeshifters and other monsters that ordinary people only see in their nightmares.

Ruby is also desperate for a different life. Running away from her latest foster carer and a difficult home life, Ruby  is searching for a world she can fit into. A world where she has some purpose and meaning.

Things go terribly wrong on the night that Jones is making his first kill as part of his commencement to become a Badlander and suddenly he is left without his master Maitland, the one man who taught him everything he knows and who’s been there for him since he was a baby. Now he is alone with only a talking gun (which he can’t touch) for guidance.

Looking for a safe place to hide, runaway Ruby finds herself caught up in Jones life and the monsters that she thought only belonged in fairytales and nightmares. Before long circumstances force them to work together as each tries to not only stay alive but to find the lives they’ve both dreamed of.

What follows is an adventure story that grips from the very first page as you tumble into the Badlands. Adrenaline filled and full of danger, Wallis will have you cheering for more.

This is a great book about friendship, self discovery, learning who you are and finding courage in even the most desparate of situations. I absolutely loved Jones and fiesty Ruby. They each had their own problems but discovered that working together they could achieve anything.

An exciting start to what I hope will become a series. This will make a fantastic, fun and exciting read.

Published by Simon and Schuster
Published in paperback in August 2017
Review copy supplied by the lovely people at Simon and Schuster (thanks so much:)

Find out more about author J.R.Wallis by visiting his website: here.

Here’s a small taster that I’ve taken from the opening page.

     Jones stopped. He’d felt safe enough creeping down the path in front of the cottage, in the dark.  But now the moon had reappeared from behind the clouds, the world was relit with a softer silver light meaning he was much more likely to be seen.

He kept trying to focus on what Maitland had promised, that he wouldn’t come to any harm. But that was less easy to believe now they were actually here. Scared to go on, Jones looked behind him, to where his Master was hiding, hoping to be beckoned back.

Maitland stepped out from the granite porch concealing the front door of the cottage and stood on the path, big as a bolder in his greatcoat. He said nothing. His craggy face remained hidden below the peak of his baseball cap. And Jones knew right away Maitland wanted him to go on, however bright the moon, because this was his big night. This was his big test.

 

Adult Fiction, Musings and Wonderment

A blast from the past… because sometimes a novel becomes so much more.

Two years ago I published an article on Kate Kerrigan’s novel The Dress. It’s one of those novels that I enjoyed so much I know I’ll revisit whenever I fancy curling up with an old friend. This novel in particular came to mind when I recently spent some time at the Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion Exhibition at the V&A, it was absolutely fascinating and as I wondered around the stunning creations and enjoyed an insight into how they were created my thoughts returned to Kate’s novel. As I learned a little more about Balenciaga’s story it reminded me that behind each garment there is a story of a person, not just of the person who would own it but those who worked in it’s creation. Everything has a story. So as it holds such lovely memories I thought I’d share my article again now. It is after all a rather fabulous novel.

The Dress by Kate Kerrigan

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One of the many highlights for me in a day at Lovereading.co.uk is when a proof lands on my desk for a novel which we feel will meet the high expectations of our fabulous reader review panel. Quite often the cover gives very little away and it can be particularly thrilling when you are presented with few clues as to what lies on the pages within. However, publisher’s will at times make the proofs (almost) as beautiful as the finished copies and as soon as I saw the cover of Kate Kerrigan’s The Dress, I just wanted to pick it up and start reading. And read it I did, along with a selection of members from the Lovereading Reader Review Panel.

How delighted I was to then discover that Kate Kerrigan herself was coming to our local indie bookshop (yes, we’re lucky enough to still have one) in East Grinstead. So on a bright and beautiful Saturday afternoon I found myself amongst some rather lovely, beautifully dressed ladies listening to Kate as she chatted about her inspiration for the book and her life as a writer.

An extremely warm and friendly woman, she made us all feel welcome, as though meeting an old friend for coffee. Instantly everyone was at ease in the comfortable surroundings of the small cafe within the bookshop. As I had read the novel it was a delight to hear her read a familiar chapter and those discovering the story for the first time were inspired enough to purchase one of the beautiful hard backed copies available to buy on the day.

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Ladies in dresses with Kate (2nd from the right) – (Image provided courtesy of Kate Kerrigan)

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Lovely Kate & I – (Image provided courtesy of Kate Kerrigan)

As Kate spoke about her inspiration for the novel she questioned the power a dress has. This question has since been floating around my head. Personally, I’m a big fan of dresses. They are feminine, smart, sexy, beautiful and they come in so many shapes, sizes and styles. Whatever the season, whatever the occasion there is a dress to suit and I just love that. A favoured garment can make us feel confident, attractive, dare I say beautiful? It can pull us out of the dumps and even reignite precious memories. But can a dress really make someone fall in love? Could it even save a marriage?

These questions are all touched on within the story but there is also so much more within the pages of this delightful novel. I loved the dressmaking details throughout, the dual time setting, glamourous locations and the engaging characters brought to life by Kate. Her characterisation is excellent, as is her attention to detail. During her time with us at The Bookshop, Kate also shared some of her experiences as a writer and divulged the often unrecognised hard work that writing a novel requires. As an (aspiring) writer myself it’s good to know that a book is not just written but nurtured. It takes time, attention and love (and a tough but great editor:) For me The Dress was an engrossing, easy read and a delight from start to finish.

Just a few days after meeting Kate I found myself visiting Killerton House, a National Trust property in Devon. Killerton is home to a fashion collection of over 10,000 items of men’s, women’s and children’s clothing dating from 1690 to the 1970’s (Source – National Trust). Each year the house displays a selection from the collection in an exhibition. This years exhibition, The F-Word: the changing language of fashion, celebrates innovations within the fashion industry and the advances they have brought throughout history. The exhibition features pieces from the past, along with new work created by students from Exeter College.

A selection of dresses from the historic collection at Killerton.

A selection of dresses from the historic collection at Killerton.

Shoes, glorious shoes!

Shoes, glorious shoes!

A knitted wedding dress from the 1970's.

A knitted wedding dress from the 1970’s.

One of the impressive new creations whose story is just beginning.

One of the impressive new creations (a story is just beginning).

As I wandered around the exhibition my thoughts returned to The Dress, Joy, Lily, Honor and Frank. It made me wonder about the stories within each of these historic pieces and if a little of the people who had worn them over the years had been left behind. Maybe some of their energy remained within the folds of fabric, the swish of a skirt or the sparkle of a sequin. Quite often memories are locked into the garments we wear; a wedding dress is treasured, just as a favorite jumper can be. The sorting of clothes after the loss of a loved one can be traumatic and painful. Clothes become part of who we are. This is one thing that most can relate to and why the choice of subject in Kate’s book is so interesting. The Dress feels like a character in itself and I read on intrigued to know it’s fate. It was, after all, the image on the front cover that first drew me to the novel before I had even read the synopsis.

The cover image design was based on descriptions of the dress within the story. It is stunning and inspired me to indulge myself by drawing a version with slight alterations made to fit just me. What decoration would your dress be adorned with? As you may see from the picture below my dress includes images of flowers rather than fairy-tales. Of course the absolute perfect dress for me might well be covered in the titles of my favourite novels.

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Do you have a dress that is special to you? Please share in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you.

You can find further information about The Dress by Kate Kerrigan at Lovereading.co.uk or at www.katekerrigan.ie.

Finally thank you so much to Olivia D’Silva for organising the event and to The Bookshop in East Grinstead for hosting and finally to Kate for coming to visit. I wish her every success with her novel and very much look forward to the next.

Picture Books

Poppy and the Blooms by Fiona Woodcock

Firstly, before I go any further, I just have to say that Fiona is a beautiful illustrator. She uses a variety of both medium and techniques that result in some visually stunning images. This is evident in her second picture book, Poppy and the Blooms, an eyecatching book that will demand your attention as it stands proudly on display in any bookshop, library or bookshelf. The images seem to call out to you and I can almost hear Poppy and her friends inviting me to pick them up and have a look. ( I imagine their voices to be fairly high pitched, a little giggly and very friendly.)

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Fiona has created within a book the same effect I experience when I see real flowers when I’m out and about. They grab my attention, make me stop and something about them draws me to gently touch their petals and smell their scent. They’re very evocative. Her illustrations capture this perfectly and I think this is one of the key things that will draw both adults and children to pick up the book. Of course once you’ve began to read you’ll also find that the story is absolutely delightful.

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Today, as our towns and cities continue to expand, we are becoming more and more aware of the need to retain (and add) as much natural landscape as possible. Poppy and her friends are on a mission to save the last park in the city. The stark contrast between the flora and the grey colourless world of a city without green space is clever at highlighting how lost and bleak things would be without our natural surroundings.

When Poppy awakes one morning,

‘with a strange tingling feeling. It fluttered in her tummy… and shivered the tips of her petals.’

she knew that something wasn’t quite right and so with enormous courage for someone so small she hops on her skateboard (LOVE the skateboards!) and sets off with her friends – Dandy, Bluebell and Buttercup – to try and save the last park in the city. And with a little courage, sunshine, magic, and a big dose of determination the four friends make a BIG difference.

‘Hey, Blooms, we did that,’ she smiled.

‘We did it together’, said Dandy and Bluebell and bright little Buttercup.’

A wonderful story to share, this lovely picture book will show your little ones just how little things can make a big difference.

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Published by Simon and Schuster

Published on the 10th August 2017

Visit Fiona’s website here.

Follow Fiona on Twitter: @FionaWoodcock

Or on Instagram: @FionaWoodcock

Visit the Publisher website here.

Follow Simon and Schuster on Twitter: @simonkids_uk

Or on Instagram: @simonkidsuk