It’s Here..! My Booktime Brunch with Antonia Honeywell on Chiltern Voice

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Thank you so much to Antonia for sending me a copy of the Booktime Brunch Show!

Feel free to have a listen, hear how much #Booklove (I know!), there was in this show, and let me know what you think!

To all the people I tagged in my previous post, have a listen to see what we said about you … (all lovely I promise..!).

Thank you for all the wonderful feedback already, and now you can hear the whole thing..

 

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did doing it, and let me know if you have any suggestions of books we should be talking about for our Autumn and Christmas Special.

Lots of love,

Clare

xxx

The House Swap by Rebecca Fleet

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Rebecca Fleet: The House Swap

Published By: Doubleday 3rd May 2018

Buy It : here

What The Blurb Says:

‘No one lives this way unless they want to hide something.’

When Caroline and Francis receive an offer to house swap, they jump at the chance for a week away from home. After the difficulties of the past few years, they’ve worked hard to rebuild their marriage for their son’s sake; now they want to reconnect as a couple.

On arrival, they find a house that is stark and sinister in its emptiness – it’s hard to imagine what kind of person lives here. Then, gradually, Caroline begins to uncover some signs of life – signs of her life. The flowers in the bathroom or the music in the CD player might seem innocent to her husband but to her they are anything but. It seems the person they have swapped with is someone she used to know; someone she’s desperate to leave in her past.

But that person is now in her home – and they want to make sure she’ll never forget . . .

What I Say:

The House Swap is a novel that I had heard a lot about – Psychological thrillers are everywhere at the moment, each with a unique twist or new take on a genre that is highly popular and always looking for the next new angle or theme.

I have to admit that when I was sent a copy, I did have some preconceived notions about what I would be reading. I also have to say that I wasn’t sure how there was anything different to be said, and was ready to be underwhelmed.

I was absolutely wrong!

The House Swap tells the story of Caroline and Francis, who swap their flat in Leeds for holiday in a house in Chiswick. They are not at a good place in their marriage, Caroline has had an affair with a work colleague, and Francis has been battling an addiction. With Caroline’s mother offering to look after their son, Eddie, the house swap offers them the chance to finally spend some time alone, to work on their marriage.

So far, so normal..until they open the door. The house is exactly that – not a home, but a sparsely furnished house, with little signs of someone living there day to day. The sense of unease that Caroline instinctively feels is played out brilliantly in the understated and calm narrative.

The tension is subtly increased through the novel, and the cleverness of Rebecca’s writing is that you are completely disorientated from the start. Like Caroline and Francis, you know that things aren’t quite right, but also things are not so obviously wrong that you can’t put your finger on it…and that is one of the many reasons why I really enjoyed this story.

As the novel progresses, we go backwards and forwards in time to understand how Caroline and Francis ended up at this fractured point in their marriage. We learn how the choices they made and the secrets they hid from each other means that they are now at a critical point in their relationship, where neither completely trusts the other. I thought that this was also a clever plot device, because I have to admit, I wondered if one of the couple was attempting to get revenge on the other – but I was very wrong..!

With this sense of estrangement, the house now starts to reveal its own secrets; music that means something to Caroline is heard, a bouquet of familiar flowers unsettles her.

From this point on, Caroline and Francis’ world quickly starts to unravel, the couple are increasingly at war with each other, every thought and word between them is examined and evaluated, gestures and reactions are interpreted and misconstrued. As they attempt to work through their issues, any chance of tenderness is destroyed as Caroline realises that the woman across the road she befriends is living with her ex-lover, Carl.

Coupled with this awful coincidence, we are also party to the thoughts and actions of the person who has swapped houses with Caroline and Francis. The truly staggering ease with which that person exacts their revenge is plausible, because they do it in a quiet and controlled way that doesn’t ever seem too extreme or unrealistic. They tap into the things they know will cause the most damage for the couple, such as hijacking their social media, and cutting up family photographs to physically remove Caroline from their gaze. They even attempt to strike up a friendship with Caroline’s mother and son to get closer to Caroline and Francis- the most possibly chilling and calculated move possible, to destroy the most precious thing they have.

However, the difficulty in reviewing a brilliant novel like The House Swap, is that to tell you too much will spoil it for you. Do you need to read this novel? Yes, absolutely! Will you guess who has moved into Caroline and Francis’ flat and is their tormentor? Absolutely Not! I genuinely had no clue, and for me, that it the brilliance of The House Swap and what I want from a novel. I don’t want it to be safe, or for me to work out in the first few chapters what has happened, I want to be thinking about it afterwards too.

As the novel races towards its conclusion, Francis finally meets the person who has made it their lifelong mission to destroy him and Caroline. For me, this was one of the most poignant scenes in the novel. Why? Because you finally understand why this has all happened – and interestingly, that I didn’t hate the person for doing it. It also makes you realise that all actions have consequences, and the far reaching effects of them go way beyond what we can often comprehend at the time.

If you are looking for a very different type of psychological thriller, a novel which cleverly plays with the genre and portrays characters who are flawed, but who are all looking for a sense of peace and resolution, then this is the novel for you. I loved The House Swap, and hope that you do too.

I was given a proof copy of The House Swap, in exchange for an honest review of the book.

Thank you to @PoppyStimpson at Transworld Books for my proof copy and a chance to take part in the brilliant book blog tour.

You can follow Rebecca Fleet here

#TheHouseSwap Blog Tour continues with these brilliant bloggers below:

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A New Year’s Eve Thank You…

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I know at this time of year, many people, newspapers and magazines put together their lists:

The Best Books of 2017, Books I loved, Books I Hated, Books You Should Have Read, Books You Shouldn’t Have Read and Books that Everyone Pretends They Have Read when They Couldn’t Get Past the First Page – you know what I mean.

2017 was the year where I finally plucked up the courage to start to blog about how much I love reading and books.

More importantly, it was the year I finally fell in love with reading again.

Quite simply, life had got in the way, and the draw of my mobile phone was too much.

I had forgotten how much I love reading.  I also decided that instead of trying to bravely battle through a book I wasn’t enjoying, I would put it down and move on to the next one- and that is how this blog, My Years of Reading Selfishly came about.

Too often today, we see people pulling each other down, looking down on them for the choices they make or the opinions they voice.

My final blog post of 2017 is my Thank You to all the people who have inspired me, supported me and helped me love books again.

The Authors

This list is in no particular order, other than from the start of my reading in 2017 to the end.

Each of these books stood out in 2017 as they were simply fantastic reads.

They challenged me, often pushed me out of my reading comfort zone, and more importantly were books I fell in love with and told everyone else about.

These authors helped me realise that there was still a whole new world of literature waiting for me to explore, and that there were so many amazing new genres and styles for me to discover as I began to read again.

Often when I tweeted how much I had enjoyed reading the books, the author in question replied, always kindly, and I absolutely believe that it is so important to let people know when you have enjoyed their book, so they know that all their stresses, deadlines and edits are not in vain!

To each and every one of you below, thank you for your amazing books this year – please don’t ever underestimate how appreciated you are by your readers.  More importantly, please don’t stop writing!

So, thank you to:

Kate Eberlen (@KateEberlen) – Miss You

Ali Land (@byAliLand) – Good Me, Bad Me

Gail Honeyman (@GailHoneyman) – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Susie Steiner (@SusieSteiner1) – Missing, Presumed

Julie Buntin (@juliebuntin) – Marlena

Sam Hepburn (@Sam_Osman_Books) – Her Perfect Life

Flynn Berry (@flynnberry_) – Under The Harrow

Clare Mackintosh (@claremackint0sh) – I See You

Rowan Coleman (@rowancoleman)  – The Summer of Impossible Things

Julie Cohen (@julie_cohen) – Together

Laura Barnett (@laura_jbarnett) – Greatest Hits

Katherine Heiny (@katherine_heiny) – Standard Deviation

Maggie O’Farrell – I Am, I Am, I Am

Sarah Hilary (@sarah_hilary) – Someone Else’s Skin

Laura Purcell (@spookypurcell) – The Silent Companions

Fiona Barton (@figbarton) – The Child

Jon McGregor (@jon_mcgregor) – Reservoir 13

Laura Wilson (@LWilsonCrime) – The Other Woman

Sarah Stovell (@Sarahlovescrime) – Exquisite

John Boyne (@john_boyne) – The Heart’s Invisible Furies

Alice Hoffman (@ahoffmanwriter) – The Rules of Magic

Elizabeth Day (@elizabday) – The Party

Rebecca F John (@RebeccaWriter) – The Haunting of Henry Twist

Fiona Mozley (@FJMoz) – Elmet

 

My Instagram and Twitter Friends

It’s a truly scary thing when you decide to take the plunge and start talking about your love of books on social media.  Initially I worried whether I was smart enough, funny enough or even coherent enough to communicate what I loved about reading.

However, as soon I started blogging, posting on Twitter and Instagram, I realised that there were so many other people who felt the same.

When I posted, people talked to me and started conversations – a whole new world opened up for me, and as a 47-year-old stay at home mum, I felt that my opinions finally counted for something!

I had found a way of connecting with other like-minded people who offered nothing except support, laughter and a thousand other reading suggestions – Heaven!

I have been really lucky to connect with lots of fantastic people – so thank you to all you amazing book lovers on Twitter and Instagram.

I am really honoured to know you and here’s to even more reading and book chatting in 2018!

Friends and Family

They know me best, and those who absolutely know me understand how much reading and my blog means to me.

From a ‘what if’ chat with some of my best friends over coffee, cake and maybe a little wine, the idea of Years of Reading Selfishly grew, and they have been my biggest supporters – especially when I didn’t think anyone would be bothered what I thought about books!  Thank you for all your advice and for pushing me to do it – you were right!

Finally, to my Husband and two boys, who have always completely supported me as I started out on this new chapter, and not said anything as yet another pile of books makes its way into our home, or as I swore because I couldn’t understand my blog scribbles -thank you!

You mean the world to me, and I would be lost without you.

 

I wish you all a very Happy 2018, and here’s to even more Years of Reading Selfishly!

Love,

Clare

xxxx

 

 

 

Elmet by Fiona Mozley

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Fiona Mozley: Elmet

Published by: J M Originals

Buy It: Here

 

What The Blurb Says:

Daniel is heading north. He is looking for someone. The simplicity of his early life with Daddy and Cathy has turned menacing and fearful. They lived apart in the house that Daddy built for them in the woods with his bare hands. They foraged and hunted.

Cathy was more like their father: fierce and full of simmering anger. Daniel was more like their mother: gentle and kind. Sometimes, their father disappeared, and would return with a rage in his eyes. But when he was at home, he was at peace. He told them that the little copse in Elmet was theirs alone. But that wasn’t true. Local men, greedy and watchful, began to circle like vultures. All the while, the terrible violence in Daddy grew.

Brutal and beautiful in equal measure, Elmet is a compelling portrayal of a family living on the fringes of contemporary society, as well as a gripping exploration of the disturbing actions people are capable of when pushed to their limits.

What I Say:

“I still smell embers.  The charred outline of a sinuous wreck.  I hear those voices again..”

Elmet had been on my ‘Must Read’ Pile for a long time.  I was entranced by the premise, of a family living outside society, whilst living within their own rural idyll.  After having read it in a weekend, I am asking myself why it took me so long to pick it up and read it!

Quite simply, Elmet is one of those books that once you start reading, you start bargaining with yourself – ‘Just one more chapter, one more page, five more minutes’, because it is absolutely impossible to put down.

Beautifully written,  it has the juxtaposition of the family  – Daddy, Cathy and Daniel, living contentedly in a house they have built, pitched against the underlying menace of the brutality their father can inflict on others when pushed to protect those he loves, and a world that doesn’t understand the choices they have made.

The family spend their days looking after the land where they live, farming and maintaining their property and generally existing in peace.  Daddy makes money for the family by taking part in fights, a violent side of him they are aware of but do not see, as he attempts to keep the two sides of his life separate.

Cathy is not constrained by what society expects of her – she lives her life as she wishes, free from the ties of school life, choosing her own path at a pace that suits her and always has that element of unpredictability and wildness at her core.

Danny on the other hand, quieter and more reticent than Cathy, takes on the majority of the domestic tasks, and seems to find his happiness in providing for and caring for his sister and Daddy.

Fiona’s detailed description of the rural idyll that the family find themselves in, almost lulls the reader into a sense of calm and peace.  Although it is a hard life, it seems a simple, uncomplicated one, and I have to admit I was at times jealous of them, and their ability to live without the constant need to be part of the overwhelming society we live in.

This false sense of security is testament to Fiona’s talent as a writer, as the arrival of the Price family into the landscape immediately creates a sense of unease and foreboding.  You know that things are never going to be the same again, and with that, comes the realisation that the Prices will be the catalyst to destroy the life the family have so carefully created.

Mr Price arrives with his two sons, claiming that he is the landlord and that they are his tenants. Daddy is aware that Price has the police and the council in his pocket, and that he is facing a huge battle against this powerful family to maintain the status quo he has fought so hard to create.

Cathy and Danny are now faced with people intruding on their landscape, but instead of fearing them, they find them intriguing, a side of life from which they have been shielded.

..though I loved watching birds and beetles, watching human beings was the thing

I loved the best.”

Realising that their peace is threatened, Daddy comes up with a plan to exact revenge on Price, and persuades Cathy and Danny to infiltrate the teams that Price uses to farm the lands, and to get the workers to come forward and tell their stories.  In doing so, there is a new community that forms, a group of people who have been treated badly by Price, and Cathy, Danny and Daddy find themselves part of that.

What I also found really interesting was the way in which Danny explores his sexuality.  He is free from the confines of a narrow-minded world, where he can truly express himself.  He has no knowledge or constraints on how he should behave and I thought that was really liberating and a clever way to make us realise how defined we are by what society expects.

As Danny says,

Nor did I have any understanding that there were parts of the body

that held a different worth”.

The tension in the novel starts to build as Price realises that his hold on his world is being threatened.  The final chapters are unflinchingly brutal and are at times difficult to read, but this is never gratuitous violence.  The actions of the characters caught in this world are reactions to the fact that their existences are being threatened, that what they thought they knew will be forever changed.

Fiona Mozley has written a quietly brilliant masterpiece which deserves every piece of praise which has rightly been heaped on it.

Elmet is a superb, thought provoking novel, filled with both the beauty and unrelenting harshness of the natural world. It shows us if we are determined, how easily we can live contentedly outside the confines of society, and that it is those that wish us to conform who are the biggest threat to our happiness.

I loved it.

 

 

The Other Woman by Laura Wilson

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Laura Wilson: The Other Woman

Published By: Quercus

Buy It Here: here

 

What The Blurb Says:

Shortly after Christmas, a message arrives at Sophie’s house, scrawled across her own round robin newsletter: HE’S GOING TO LEAVE YOU. LET’S SEE HOW SMUG YOU ARE THEN, YOU STUPID BITCH. Perhaps she should ignore it, but she ignored the last one. And the one before that. Now it’s time to take action.

But when a simple plan to identify and confront the other woman goes drastically and violently wrong, Sophie must go to extreme lengths to keep her life and her family together – while never letting on her devastating secret.

What I Say:

Trying to decide what to read next can sometimes be overwhelming.  Should you read a book you have had on your shelves for ages, or maybe look online to find out what everyone else is reading.  Sometimes, it is just as simple that your next read jumps off the shelf and into your hands.

The Other Woman was one of those books.

Sophie Hamilton, and her husband Leo, live the lives that most of us can only dream about.  They have a gorgeous house, wonderfully perfect children, a yacht and successful careers.

Sophie sends out an annual Round Robin family newsletter, only this time one is returned with the message:

He’s going to leave you. Let’s see how smug you are then, you stupid bitch.”

I have to say, initially I didn’t warm to Sophie – her life seemed just a little too perfect and she was one of those Instaperfect People who annoy you, but you can’t help but scroll through all their photos!

The very fact that she had a round robin newsletter was enough to make me wonder whether I could warm to her and read this book!  However, this makes Laura’s novel even more beguiling, as in a strange sort of way, I revelled in the fact that Sophie found herself in a situation that was so out of her comfort zone.

What also confused me was that Sophie hid the letter from her husband, Leo.  Why didn’t she show him straight away?  Why not be upfront about it?  Sophie knows that if she shows him, she opens up a whole Pandora’s box of ‘What If’s?”.

If she is right, he could choose to leave her to be with the Other Woman and the comfortable and enviable lifestyle she leads will come crashing down around her ears.  If she is wrong, Leo could be so upset with her that he could leave her anyway and she will be in the same predicament.

Plagued by doubts, Sophie sets out to search Leo’s office to try to find some trace of evidence.  She finds a tissue with some lipstick on it, but the lipstick is not hers…

To add further suspicion, Sophie’s cleaning lady finds a camisole in the family’s washing that doesn’t belong to anyone.  Leo has a flat in London, so Sophie heads there to see if she can find anything else, and is unable to get in as the locks have been changed.

This is why Laura’s novel is so good, because the evidence starts to stack up against Leo so early on.  You are convinced that the Other Woman exists, and that Sophie’s desire to uncover Leo’s betrayal is something that we all would do when faced with the prospect of losing the comfort and safety of our home life. Sophie’s dilemma is also more acute because we learn about her unsettled childhood and perhaps her desire to maintain the status quo is a consequence of an unstable upbringing.

As a reader, you really feel Sophie’s sense of bewilderment and sense of disbelief that something like this could possibly happen to her.  However, don’t think for one minute that Sophie is to be pitied.  She continues living her life as normally as possible, all the time wondering what the hell her husband has been up to.  As she says;

“A perfectly ordinary Saturday morning.  Except it wasn’t”.

When Sophie makes a second visit to Leo’s flat, a woman emerges, but it is someone who she knows.  Her worst fears have been realised, threatening the life she holds dear and the social standing she desperately wants to cling onto.

“Pain, like a block of ice, lodged in her chest.  The world slowed, stopped.”

Faced with the prospect of losing everything, Sophie cleverly manipulates the woman she believes to be guilty into coming to meet her.  Sophie is clearly the woman with everything to lose, but with a sense of power over her rival, she aims to overwhelm her with her staunch belief in her right to continue to hold onto her husband.

What happens next?  As a blogger loyal to her authors, as always, I will simply say, you need to read this book!

I guarantee that you will never be able to guess the chain of events that spiral away from Sophie.  She desperately attempts to protect the hilariously awful secret she now has to keep to ensure that everything she holds dear stays the same.

The utter brilliance of this novel is that we see Sophie go into auto pilot, navigating her way through the mundane trivialities of every day life, cooking dinners, dealing with the children and the husband and the dog, all the time knowing exactly what has happened.

As the novel progresses, we watch in horror as Sophie’s life starts to unfurl in front of her, but there was also a part of me that recognised myself!  Faced with the dilemmas that Sophie has, I think I would have reacted in much the same way!

The awful truth is that irrespective of what has happened,  daily life still goes on, and Sophie has to keep up the facade of fabulousness she has so carefully crafted to ensure that no one suspects anything, even though she might have fallen apart inside.

However, just when you think that you understand everything, Laura plants a massive twist that will knock you sideways and adds a whole other layer to The Other Woman.  It at once makes lots of events click into place, but at the same time, like Sophie, realise how many catastrophic choices have been made because of it.

The Other Woman is a fast-paced, clever and refreshingly different novel.  It is also at times hilarious, as Sophie struggles to cope to maintain her precious facade.  The brilliant twists and turns keeps you on your toes and the genuine horror of the situation pushes you out of your reading comfort zone and you are with Sophie every step of the way.  Her nightmare becomes yours, as you do not know what life is going to throw at her next!

I loved it.

 

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

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Laura Purcell: The Silent Companions

Published By: Raven Books

Buy It: here

What the Blurb Says:

Newly married, newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband’s crumbling country estate, The Bridge.

With her new servants resentful and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie only has her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. For inside her new home lies a locked room, and beyond that door lies a two-hundred-year-old diary and a deeply unsettling painted wooden figure – a Silent Companion – that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself…

What I Say:

The first thing I have to say is, can we all take a few minutes to admire this gorgeous cover?

I have to admit, that it stopped me in my tracks when I saw it, and the keyhole you see on the front, opens to reveal the full portrait of a young woman, who simply stares back at you which is immediately slightly unnerving and sets the tone for the whole novel.

I have not read any type of gothic novel since my days at University, (a long time ago thank you!), however the premise of the novel, added to the numerous positive reviews I had heard of meant that it just had to be read.

I am going to say from the outset, that I really did love this novel.  It also scared the hell out of me and made me sleep with the lights on for a week afterwards, but that is all credit to Laura’s incredible writing, and the way in which she weaves a genuinely unsettling story that is not sensationalist or a mindless gory tale.

The novel works so well because everything is told in such an understated way, the genuine shocks and ‘What the hell?’ moments (of which there are many, believe me), work so well because there is no ten page build up.  It is as simple as a single line, such as

“The companion no longer looked out across the grounds.  She stared, dead and unblinking, right into Elsie’s soul”.

The Silent Companions is the story of Elsie Bainbridge, who we first meet in a mental asylum.  Obviously traumatised by what she has gone through, she is unable to effectively communicate.  With the help of her doctor, Dr. Shepherd, she starts to tell her story in series of flashbacks.  The story alternates between Elsie’s time at The Bridge, which is her late husband’s estate and St Joseph’s Hospital.  Anne Bainbridge, married to Joseph, and an ancestor of Elsie’s husband,  provides another narrative, as we learn about her experiences at The Bridge in 1635, as well as through her diary.

Elsie, is the young widow who has to go back to her late husband’s estate, accompanied by Sarah, a cousin of her husband.  We learn that Elsie has risen through the social ranks as a former match girl, and inherited everything on her husband’s death. She does not fit in with her former friends, and is viewed with suspicion by the class she has married in to, as they regard her as a gold digger.  Added to this is the fact she is pregnant, and is facing the prospect of raising their child alone in a remote and unwelcoming home.  Her only comfort seems to come from the fact that her brother Jolyon is able to stay with her for a while, reassuring and looking after her.

The unsettling events at The Bridge happen almost as soon as Elsie has crossed the threshold.  At night she hears a strange hissing sound, but is unable to get into the garret where the noise seems to be coming from.  When she does get in, she finds a beautiful nursery, which she mentions to Mrs Holt, the housekeeper, who takes her back to reveal a dust-covered and decrepit room, at the same time telling Elsie that no one has been to the house to open the garret door.  We also see the wooden silent companions for the first time – a boy and a girl, made even more realistic as they have life-like faces painted on them.

This event is typical of the novel, and one that makes it genuinely scary  – all the small incidents start to build to an unnerving crescendo which constantly unsettles and disorient you as a reader and serves to show you how scared and alone Elsie must feel.

Elsie’s ancestor Anne, bought the wooden silent companions from a mysterious shop, in order to impress the King and Queen who are coming to The Bridge.  She finds herself inexplicably drawn to them and says;

They were calling to me, watching me, baiting me to take them”

As Anne prepares for the visit, we learn that she has a daughter called Hetta, who was born with a deformed tongue, and is mute.  This inability to communicate, adds an unsettling air, as Anne and Joseph sense that Hetta is something much more than an innocent child.  Hetta seems to find solace in gardening and Anne arranges her for her to have some space in the garden which brings her some joy.

Not wanting to upset their potential social standing in front of the King and Queen, Joseph forbids Hetta to be presented to them.  Feeling guilty, Anne hires Hetta’s gypsy friend Merripen to help with the stables, only for the Queen’s horse to be found slaughtered and Merripen nowhere to be seen.  The Bainbridges are in disgrace, exiled from court and Merripen is on the run.  In a shocking turn of events, Anne eventually realises that the evil in the house is her own daughter, and that she is powerless to stop her.

Elsie and her staff are now seeing lots of different wooden companions all around the house, including one of her late husband, Rupert.  From reading Anne’s diaries, she and Sarah have deduced that the boy silent companion is Merripen, and the girl is Hetta.  Elsie is more and more convinced of the evil powers of the companions and decides to burn all of them, but Sarah rushes down to save Hetta from the fire.

Suffice it to say, that from then on, The Bridge becomes a living hell for Elsie and Sarah, as the companions have no intention of going quietly, and they will not rest until they have The Bridge back to themselves for good.  A series of horrific events leads to Elsie losing her baby, and she is trapped in a grotesque world she cannot escape from.  As the novel moves forwards and twists and turns to its conclusion. Elsie and everyone she is in contact suffers unspeakable horrors at the hands of the companions.   In a final bid for some sort of resolution, Elsie begs Sarah to get help from the police, and as she leaves, the silent companions move in to overpower Elsie.  A final devastating fire leaves Elsie alone, implicated in numerous murders and with no sign of Sarah.

Dr Shepherd tells Elsie she is to be sent to a prison for the clinically insane and that her only hope is for Sarah to come and corroborate her story of the silent companions and the events at The Bridge.

At the eleventh hour, Sarah comes forward.

If you want to know what happens next, as always, I am not going to tell you.

The stark isolation, both social and geographical that Elsie faces, coupled with the unnerving sense of foreboding and the bleak gothic landscape, creates a narrative where anything can happen, as indeed it does.

The Silent Companions deserves to be read and savoured, and believe me, in one of the best final scenes in a novel,  you will understand why I want you to read it too.

My review really doesn’t do Laura’s novel justice.  It is a genuinely original, scary and unique piece of writing, that will stay with you for a long time after you  have closed the book.

The Silent Companions is like nothing I have ever read, and I loved it.

 

 

 

Exquisite by Sarah Stovell

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Sarah Stovell: Exquisite

Published By: Orenda Books

Buy it: here

 

What the Blurb Says: 

Bo Luxton has it all – a loving family, a beautiful home in the Lake District, and a clutch of bestselling books to her name. Enter Alice Dark, an aspiring writer who is drifting through life, with a series of dead-end jobs and a freeloading boyfriend. When they meet at a writers’ retreat, the chemistry is instant, and a sinister relationship develops … Or does it? Breathlessly pacey, taut and terrifying, Exquisite is a startlingly original and unbalancing psychological thriller that will keep you guessing until the very last page.

What I Say:

“It wasn’t my heart, I knew that.  It was everything I was.  It was all of me, derelict.”

I read Exquisite in just a few sittings.  Sarah Stovell has written a brilliantly clever, tightly plotted and thoroughly menacing book.  I have to say that it was not what I was expecting, and like many of the books I have read this year, it captivated me and pushed me to read a genre that last year I would never have considered.

Exquisite tells the story of Bo and Alice, two women who love writing and apparently love each other. The action switches between Bo and Alice’s telling of their story and is interspersed with correspondence from a Yorkshire Women’s prison.

Bo is a novelist and also runs a course for new authors.  Alice is an aspiring writer, who stuck in a dead-end job with a harmless but useless boyfriend, and decides to enrol on one of Bo’s courses.

When Alice arrives, she is entranced by her, and they quickly bond over the difficult relationships they have with their mothers.  It is undeniable that they are drawn to each other from the start.  Alice seems to hero-worship Bo, and Bo recognises herself in Alice.  She says,

“She was like no one I had ever met before. Except perhaps myself when I was that age.”

Bo and Alice realise they have an intense attraction, but already as a reader you are aware that Bo is not as innocent as she seems.  She wants Alice to fall under her spell, she is manipulating Alice from the start and seems to thrive on it.

After the course ends, Alice and Bo correspond via email and Bo, recognising Alice’s talent asks her to come and stay with her in Grasmere so they can work together on her writing.  When Bo emails Alice to tell her she loves her, Alice is completely overwhelmed but admits she feels the same way.  Then Bo suddenly severs their contact, leaving Alice confused and hurt, waiting for any emotional morsel that Bo will throw her.

“It was all so easy in the end.”

It becomes evident that Bo has Alice exactly where she wants her which she does with a chilling lack of compassion  As the women’s lives become intertwined, you feel that their dependence on each other gives their relationship a claustrophobic and intensely inward looking view.  Nothing else matters apart from them being together.

To keep Alice close to her, Bo gives her some short stories which she claims she has written solely for her.  They shockingly reveal that Bo was prostituted by her mother to earn money for her impoverished family.  Bo, Alice discovers, also gave birth to a baby.  Unsurprisingly when Bo is unable to cope with the motherhood that has been forced on her, Bo’s mother arranges for a woman to take away and raise the baby.  Alice feels that Bo loves and trusts her by telling her such intimate details, and again draws her closer to her.

Then Bo simply stops contacting Alice. Not surprisingly, cut off from Bo, Alice feels numb and barely functions, getting through her days on automatic pilot.  It is really powerful to see how Bo is able to control Alice even when she is not geographically close to her – she does it slowly and stealthily, all the while making Alice feel that she is the one with the issues, and that Bo is the stable one in the relationship.

When Alice hears from Bo, she persuades her to give up her flat and life down south and move to Grasmere to be with her.  Alice does exactly that, and catches a train, ready to read a pack of Bo’s writing she requested from Bo’s agent.  As Alice reads through them, she finds the exact same piece of writing that Bo had claimed she had written only for her.  Slowly, the reality of what is happening starts to dawn on Alice, just as she gets a call from Bo telling her it has all been a huge mistake and she shouldn’t come, and that she must delete all the emails they have exchanged…

When she arrives. Bo has left a message at Alice’s flat in Grasmere asking to meet in the local cafe.  On going to the cafe, Alice sees Bo is with her husband and children, and Bo starts screaming at Alice to leave her alone and stop stalking her.  Alice has given up everything for Bo and now she is alone, humiliated and berated by the woman she loves.

So, is this the end of the story? Far from it, Sarah twists the action to show us Bo’s point of view.  Is Bo the victim after all? Is Alice the one who has been taking advantage of her?  This shift in narrative is a brilliant piece of writing – have we as readers been played all along and our view of the story has been the wrong one?

Bo’s version of events seem to show us in fact she is well aware of what she is doing and the effect she has on Alice. She attempts to portray Alice as the guilty party who has made Bo’s life hell.  I did wonder whether Alice was Bo’s long-lost daughter,  but that would have been a far too neat and nice conclusion to Exquisite.

Instead, Bo realises she does love Alice, but that at the same time she cannot allow herself to be with her as it will destroy everything she has.  To make sure that she maintains the status quo in the home, she has to ensure that Alice is seen to be the deranged, possessive lover, whilst she is the victim of someone else’s unrequited love.

From then on, Bo makes it her mission to get rid of Alice from her life.  One of the most revealing parts of the book for me, is as Bo realises her novel sales are falling, she sees that she can use her experience with Alice as material for her next book to attempt to crawl back into the spotlight.

The only problem is that Alice is refusing to conveniently disappear from Bo’s carefully crafted existence, and starts to collate information about what Bo has really been up to, ready to expose her for the liar she is. Like Bo, she too decides to write about what has happened to her, at the same time Alice’s determination to clear her name and expose Bo comes to a dramatic and shocking confrontation.  It is brutal, unexpected and will leave you stunned at how far Bo will go to ensure that she maintains in control of the facade she has worked so hard to construct.

I could tell you how this novel ends, but as a good blogger, I won’t and I will instead tell you to buy the book to see what happens next.  I guarantee you won’t work it out, and when you have recovered from the first twist, the final scenes will make your jaw drop!

Exquisite is a brilliant, fast paced and compulsive novel. Right from the start you are drawn into Bo and Alice’s world, and the sublime plotting and devilish twists and turns will keep you turning the pages faster and faster until you reach the breathtaking conclusion.  I really can’t wait to see what Sarah Stovell writes next, and I hope I don’t have to wait too long.

I loved it.