THIS READER IS LEFT HOME ALONE BY STOVELL’S OVER USE OF ITALICS

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The Home CoverThe Italic typeface is a cursive font used to denote someone speaking or highlight a foreign word or phrase. It takes its name from the fact that calligraphy inspired typefaces were first designed in Italy and were invented to replace the old Chancery style of writing.  Nowadays we all usually use the default of Calibri or san Serif, when writing an email or composing a word document, as I do with the drafts of these reviews. It may look nice for presentation purposes to intersperse a piece with Italics, but you can have too much of a good thing, as it seems in this months second book review, which is The Home by Sarah Stovell and published by Orenda Books (www.orendabooks.co.uk).

When the body of a teenager is found in a churchyard on Christmas morning, the community is shocked, but are not surprised, as the victim was a resident of a nearby home for troubled kids. As the police investigation gets underway, the lives of three of the children, Hope, Lara and Annie, along with the staff become intertwined. Very soon, shocking and disturbing revelations come to light – pointing to this being a murder perpetrated for revenge.

I’m going to be blunt, this book didn’t get me and I didn’t really get into the book. The main reason for this was that from the outset, whole chapters are printed in Italics. Hey I like Italics as much as the next person, but when the story is interrupted by these long soliloquies of Italicized text, it breaks the flow of the story which already had me jumping about trying follow the different chapters told through eyes of each of three main characters.

This is the second book I’ve read in the past month that’s been set around Christmas time in England, but unlike Shamus Dust by Janet Roger, which is also a murder mystery, the Home had none of the same appeal. It is set somewhere in around the wilds of Yorkshire but where Shamus Dust allowed the reader to almost breathe in their surroundings and feel truly immersed in the tale set in dark seedy world of post war London, Stovell’s book left me grappling to find a character to connect with or even get excited about “who dunnit”.

Sarah Stovell

Sarah Stovell

This English author Sarah Stovell’s (@sarahlovescrime) second book, her first was Exquisite published in 2017. Having spent most of her life in the home counties, she spent a season working in a remote North Yorkshire youth hostel, which made her realise she was a northerner at heart. When not writing she’s a lecturer in creative writing at Lincoln university and lives in Northumberland with her partner and two children.

As I often say, this is just my opinion and if you want to find out what it’s really like, then go out and purchase a copy at your local bookshop, download it, or even order a copy from the Library.  Sarah will hopefully write other books and with the good grace of Karen and the team at Orenda, I’ll get the chance review them and you never know, they may blow my little cotton socks off. but unfortunately this time around, The Home didn’t…

Reviewed by Adrian Murphy

 

This review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour, to find out what the others thought visit their sites listed below. Then if you get a copy and read it comeback tell us you thought, we’d really appreciate the feedback.

 

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PINE, NEEDLES INITIALLY, BEFORE SPELLBINDING THIS READER

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Pine CoverIn my twenties and thirties, I spent pretty much every free moment in Scotland. I was a bit of a Scotland-ophile. I think I knew more about the history and folklore of Scotland than of England. I was therefore surprised not to recognise I was in Scotland during the opening pages of this months second book review, but instead thought the book was set in some remote American state.The book is Pine by Francine Toon and is published by Doubleday (https://www.penguin.co.uk/company/publishers/transworld/doubleday.html) on the 23rd January.

In the story we meet Lauren, the main character, whose mother disappeared almost ten years ago. Father and daughter live alone in a remote highland village surrounded by pine forest. Lauren uses her tarot cards to hopefully find the answer to her mum’s disappearance and the secrets in her dads turbulent mind, while the locals know more than they’ll admit.

When a local teenager goes missing, it’s no longer clear who she can trust. She lives in this isolated Scottish community where everyone seems to be hiding something. Strange things seem to be happening, omens and paranormal activity. Are these all part of the loss and day to day struggles Lauren and her father face? Or this there something more sinister at play?

The realisation that I was reading a book set in Scotland dawned on me with a jolt quite a few pages in. The reference to Moray Firth radio had slipped under my radar amidst the references to pick-ups, trick or treating and Aerosmith. The Scottish names didn’t even seem out of context due to the large Scotland to American emigration of previous centuries. So then I wondered is this an American author? No, wrong again! Francine Toon is a Scot. Maybe I should read the backcover blurb occasionally, you might suggest? But its interesting to avoid doing that and just take your impressions from the story itself. Its illuminating to realise how often the blurb misleads or would have occasionally had led me to dismiss a great book altogether. Its not something I practice religiously, especially having been caught out by great “unfinished” novels before.

Anyway, Pine is complete. No worries there. The book its self is a gem of a find. A satisfying ending concludes a long and twisting journey. It’s difficult to know whether to class it as a thriller, murder mystery, supernatural tale or modern fairy-tale as it encompasses all these genres. There were a few modern references which linked it to recent times but I felt it could have been set in previous decades quite easily as the story seems quite timeless in many respects. The father raising his child alone, a small town full of gossip, bullies, a sense on foreboding with the addition of supernatural phenomena and legend.

Francine Toon Author Picture

Francine Toon

I’ve noticed there seems to be a current, Game of Thrones inspired penchant for all things fairy tale, legend and mythology, or my husband should vary his book choices a bit more. I’ve recently reviewed Fox fire and Wolfskin, a collection of modern feminist fairytales by Sharon Blackie and Lancelot by Giles Kristian about the eponymous mythical Knight. Plus scanning the Goodreads top books for this month alone, I find about a quarter of them could be said to have foundations in myths, fantasy and folklore. However, although this is Francine Toon’s first novel, her previous poetical prowess means her writing is assured and atmospheric. The book is intense and absorbing.  Again, if I’d read the blurb before beginning, I might have been agitated that the disappearance of the teenager it mentions doesn’t actually occur until the book is three quarters over but Toon is building empathy with her main characters and immersing you in their world. I could feel the cold, smell the smells and felt my heart sink as the world spun out of control after the disappearance, when suspicion and rumour started to take hold.

This is Scottish born author Francine Toon’s (www.francinetoon.com) Debut novel. She’s used to having poetry published in The Sunday Times and various anthologies, under the name Francine Elena. Her day job is a commissioning editor for Sceptre Books, while working and living in London.

My only reservation was whether Lauren’s mother would have local suspicions of witchcraft with her new age thinking, crystals, massage and tarot cards in this modern age. I suppose she certainly would have been seen as exotic and odd in a remote community. It was the only thing that jarred slightly. As I’ve mentioned on Library Door before, My mum thinks Yoga is ‘out there’ and hippy so maybe I’m putting my own fairly open minded perceptions about the supernatural into that opinion.

A fairy tale start to the year from Francine Toon. Sinister, gothic and a little bit scary, like all the best stories. I note its already been recommended as the read for January by the Irish Independent. I’m sure it will do well. So, get down to your local book shop and snap up a copy or conjure it up online and start reading it before the stretch in the evenings get longer and the ideal atmosphere for this book is then at midnight under your duvet with a torch.

 

Reviewed by: Georgina Murphy

This review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour, to see what the other reviewers thought, visit their blogs listed below. Then if you get a copy ,comeback and tell us what you thought, we’d love to hear your feedback.

 

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ROGER BRINGS IN A NEWMAN TO REVIVE A CLASSIC GENRE

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JRoger_FC(R9iii).inddOver the past few weeks Australians have been praying for rain in their fire ravaged continent, while in the northern hemisphere, we’ve been praying for a white Christmas for the past four weeks or more. Neither party got much of what they wanted.  Although I did find myself wading through snow over Christmas and it was all down to the first book review of the new decade. Its Shamus Dust – Hard Winter, Cold war, Cool Murder by Janet Roger and Published by Matador (https://www.troubador.co.uk/matador/) at the end of October 2019.

On an Early Christmas morning in a snowbound blitz scarred London, insurance fraud investigator Newman is awoken from his slumber by the telephone. The voice on the other end identifies himself as Councillor Drake from the City of London. He needs Newman to go to a church in the city where a body of one of Drake’s tenants has been discovered and from there find the killer. On arrival at the church, along with the body of a young man, he finds the only witness is a nurse on her way to work. Within a matter of hours the suspect list has risen, so to does their occupancy of city morgue over the following couple of days. What initially looks like a vice crime turns into a case of cross and double cross during one of the hardest winters to hit London. Firmly in the midst of it is our American, war veteran hero, who is trying to stay one step ahead of the police and find the killer with help of the curvaceous coroner Dr Elizabeth Swinford. Can they find the killer? Save the Councillors reputation and stop the killing spree in the financial heart of England’s capital?

Another thing we all look forward to around the Christmas period is a large feast and to make it all go smoothly you try to get every ingredient right. Just like writing a book. To produce a well-rounded and satisfying read, one needs all the right ingredients and in Shamus Dust Janet Roger has done that. From the perfect setting, to a memorable and charming central character and the ensemble cast of supporting characters topped off with the right amount of tension and humour, which allow the reader to become thoroughly engrossed in the book.

Janet Roger

Janet Roger

I started reading this book on the Friday before Christmas, it was pre-dawn on a cold crisp morning in a Starbucks near where I work. Yes, the atmosphere was perfect and never before had a book so made me feel more in the moment than this one and its opening pages. The nearest comparison to this is a Christmas Carol by Dickens and Mystery In White by J. Jefferson Farjeon.

What Roger has delivered in Shamus Dust is a truly remarkable seasonal crime thriller, featuring her dry witted detective who is cut from the same cloth as Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe and Mike Hammer. He is a delight to listen to in your head as you read this book and like his contemporaries, is fallible and prone to getting hurt…

The rich and detailed style of Rogers writing gives more life to her main character, the story and its setting, that if I was transported back in time to 1947 now with a copy, I would not feel out of place and could, by the lovingly detailed descriptions of post war London, find my way around the city. The skill in which she has written and described Newman’s surroundings and characters who inhabit it proves, if proof was needed, that this book was written and researched by a storyteller who is one to watch is the future.

This is Janet Roger’s (www.janetroger.com) debut novel and it has already tasted success, having won the 2019Bev hills award Beverly Hills Book Award, as well as Fully Booked’s Book of the Year and made NB magazine’s top ten.  She trained in Archaeology, History and Eng. Lit. and has a special interest in the early Cold War. She currently leads a nomadic existence, admitting to never staying in one place for a minimum of six weeks and at most three months on the rare occasion.

When Raymond Chandler died in 1959 he left an unfinished novel, that book was Poodle Springs. Thirty years later, the well-known crime novelist Robert B. Parker finished the book using Chandlers original notes. In the future we won’t have to wait for more of Chandlers ideas to be discovered, with this original pairing of Roger and Newman.

If there is anything against the book, its that the detailed descriptions that the author has woven into the story, force the reader to almost stop and visually look around, thus taking slightly from the pace its self. It took me well over a week to read this 300 page book, although I’m inclined to put that down to the added distractions of Christmas.

This week my book group chose the rota for the next 12 months and I got November, as a result Shamus Dust is already vying for my pick along with Mystery In White. But to be fair its only January, there’s a lot of reading to be done between now and then.

So dust off your trilby and raincoat and head down to your local book shop and purchase a copy or download it, before the rest of the world latches onto this rising literary star and Mr. Newman.

 

Reviewed by:  Adrian Murphy