Fiction

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The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall

I was unconscious. I’d stopped breathing. – Opening line I have no idea how well this review is going to read, because I’m not sure how I can effectively put into words and convey what The Raw Shark Texts is like. It’s unlike anything I have read before. The only way I can attempt to describe it by saying it reminded me of Alan Wake mixed with a bit of The Matrix – and maybe a dash of Alice in Wonderland. The Raw Shark Texts begins in a somewhat-standard way. A man wakes from unconsciousness with no recollection of where he is, or even who he is. As he walks around a house he doesn’t recognise, he finds a single note that reads: First things first, stay calm. If you are reading this, I’m not around anymore. Take the phone and speed dial 1. Tell the woman who answers that you are Eric Sanderson. The woman is…

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

I often think of what Hendrich said to me, over a century ago, in his New York apartment. – Opening sentence How to Stop Time is Matt Haig’s 12th novel, and having previously read The Humans, Reasons to Stay Alive and Notes on a Nervous Planet, I had high expectations. How to Stop Time is about a man, Tom Hazard, who looks like an ordinary man in his forties. But he has a secret; he is over 400 years old. I know what you’re thinking, but – no – this is not a vampire story. Hazard is an “alba”, one of only a few who are known to age at a rate of 13 to 14 years slower than an average human. Spanning four centuries, Hazard has lived a varied life, including working for Shakespeare, sailing with Cook and drinking with Fitzgerald. But Hazard’s extraordinary life is a dangerous hardship. People get suspicious when someone doesn’t…

The Bees by Laline Paull

The old orchard stood besieged. – Opening sentence Do you ever read a borrowed book, and love it so much that you don’t want to give it back? That’s the dilemma I’m in now. One of my closest friends, Lisa, lent me her copy of The Bees about 6 months ago. Feeling guilty for letting it sit and gather dust over this time, I finally picked it up to read. The book follows the story of Flora 717, a lowest-class worker bee (role; sanitation) just hatched into a totalitarian hive society. It’s such a unique narrative (the only book that comes close to comparison would be Watership Down), that I was instantly gripped with fascination and admiration. We are quickly introduced to the harsh politics of hive life; Flora 717 is born deformed – “excessively large” and “obscenely ugly”, with the ability to speak (unheard of for sanitation workers) – and wouldn’t have survive…

Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One by Raphaelle Giordano

The raindrops crashing against my windscreen grew larger and larger. – Opening sentence The tagline for this book is “fall in love with life again”. After a stressful few months spent worrying about a number of different problems in my own life, this seemed to come at the perfect time. Set in Paris, this book follows a woman named Camille who is having a really bad day when we are first introduced to her; broken down on the side of a country road in the middle of a storm with no phone signal. After wandering down the road, she stumbles across a almost-hidden house, and explains her situation to the owners. Claude and his wife come to Camille’s aid and offer her a warm brew while she waits for the breakdown recovery service. I know – this sounds like the beginning of a crime thriller where something awful happens. But…

Sorry to Disrupt the Peace by Patty Yumi Cottrell

September 30th, the day I received the news of my adoptive brother’s death, I also received a brand-new couch from IKEA. – Opening sentence Sorry to Disrupt the Peace describes itself as a “dark comedy about loss, grief, solitude, and ghosts” – I must have missed the comedy! While it does have some comedic elements to it, the fact that it’s quite clearly suggested that the main character, Helen Moran, has some symptoms of mental illness/disability makes it less comedy, and more tragedy. At the beginning of the book, Helen Moran is told that her adoptive brother has died by suicide. She immediately leaves New York City to travel back to her adopted parent’s home in Wisconsin, a home that doesn’t exactly welcome her back with open arms. Helen and her non-biological brother, both born in Korea, were adopted by wealthy, white, American parents. Helen recounts that they both struggled with their identity as…

The Two Houses by Fran Cooper

The Two Houses sit grey and brooding beneath a pale sky. – Opening sentence The Two Houses begins as a ghost story; the tale of one house forcibly split into two in an effort to rid the supposed ghost of the woman who died there. However, as the novel progresses, you realise that the ‘ghosts’ in The Two Houses are that of the mind; emotional; a collection of dark memories and hushed secrets kept by the living. Jay, an artist, and Simon, an architect, are a successful married couple living in London.  The book begins with Jays breakdown over her inability to have children. She’s not even sure she wanted to have children in the first place, but failure is an unfamiliar feeling to her, and robbed of the option to choose, she finds herself unable to get out of bed in the morning. Simon, at a loss, recommends some space in the…

The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent

Some people are born deaf, mute or blind. – Opening sentence I recently started a new job at an independent publishing company in London. Some of my colleagues there have formed their own book club, meeting monthly in the large meeting room at lunch with cakes and treats, to discuss their latest read. Naturally, I jumped at the chance to be involved. Not only would it be a good opportunity for me to get to know my colleagues better, but it would also be a way to discover new books that I might not otherwise be introduced to. Each month, one person chooses three books, and the remaining members vote for which one they would prefer to read. This month’s winner was The Reader on the 6.27. Set in France, the story follows Guylain Vignolles, a 36-year-old engineer at the TERN recycling facility. Guylain is by all accounts a sad and…

Restless Souls by Dan Sheehan

I haven’t seen Tom in three and a half years. – Opening sentence I was super-excited when this beautiful looking proof was posted through my letter box (thanks Jennifer!). The cover art depicts Restless Souls as 1/3 comedy, 1/3 road trip and 1/3 tragedy. However I must have got the wrong copy, because the majority of what I read was full-on tragedy. Part one had me choking back tears, as it covers some pretty heavy stuff that the majority of media publishers like to pretend don’t exist; modern poverty, male suicide and mental illness through trauma. However,  instead of shying away from these taboo subjects, author Sheehan casts a light on them, using clever humour to soften the blow and place them in a more natural, relatable setting. And that’s where the comedy comes in, and why it’s so important. I wouldn’t say this book has moments of laugh-out-loud comedy, but it does…

The Image of You by Adele Parks

Zoe laughed her head off when she read Anna’s online dating profile. – Opening sentence The Image of You is a clever and gripping book about two identical twins, Anna and Zoe. Despite sharing the same DNA, they are polar opposites; Anna is optimistic, sweet and caring, and dreams of settling down with Mr Right, having children and living happily ever after. Zoe, on the other hand, is daring, sultry and a risk-taker. Anna calls her “an addict”. I got a good grasp of the direction of this novel in the prologue, which includes the following: I’m thirty-one and have been so very, very good all my life; not so much as a flirty text sent to one guy whilst I was with another. I’m faithful first and foremost. I think loyalty is all, it’s the backbone of all relationships – nay, the very oxygen – but that is not the…

Hollow Shores by Gary Budden

My old man was a lorry driver, back in the eighties. – Opening sentence Hollow Shores is the debut collection of intertwined short stories by writer Gary Budden, combining psychogeography, history, nature, punk sub-culture and more. In the acknowledgements, Budden writes, “A massive thanks to Nathan Connolly at Dead Ink for taking a punt on what he described as ‘a really weird book’.” “Really weird” is definitely one way to describe this collection, but I would prefer to choose enchanting, haunting or melancholic instead. Indeed, I’ve never read anything like it (and probably won’t again). All these stories are centred between the stretch of coast between Norfolk and Kent, including the Thames estuaries,  known as the ‘Hollow Shores’. Where fiction mingles with fact, Budden made me nostalgic for a place I’ve never actually visited. As the various characters deal with themes of loss, change, relationships, self-enlightenment, home and family, they all share a…

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