Wednesday, 29 April 2015

The String Diaries

The String Diaries by Stephen Lloyd Jones
Published by Headline
17th July 2014
Paperback Edition

He has a face you love. A voice you trust. To survive you must kill him.

The rules of survival are handed from mother to daughter. Inherited, like the curse that has stalked Hannah and her family across centuries.

He changes his appearance at will, speaks with a stolen voice and hides behind the face of a beloved, waiting to strike.

Generation after generation, he has destroyed them. And all they could do was to run.

Until now.

Now, it is time for Hannah to turn and fight.

I feel it will be hard to write too much about The String Diaries without giving away too much of the plot, but I will endeavour to do my best to explain some of story.

This book is written in three parts - firstly set in the present day, again in Oxford in the 1970s and finally in Hungary in the 1870s.  In Oxford we meet the eccentric Charles who comes across a mysterious woman when working in the university library.  She refuses to succumb to his ocd nature and he is baffled by her; so much so that he cannot help but want to see her again.  All is not as it initially seems though, and this meeting takes them on a journey that will change both of their lives. 

In the present day, we meet Hannah and her husband Nate.  He has been badly injured and she is driving through the night, with their daughter asleep in the back of the car, to the only place of safety that she can think of, far away from their pursuer. 

Stepping back in time, in Hungary we are introduced to society's elite and their customs and traditions, but one of their set is not like any other, for he has the ability to change his shape and take on the appearance of anyone he so chooses.

All three stories are ultimately linked, and Hannah is on the run from an age-old enemy that cannot be stopped.  The question is, can she stop him before he destroys her life as he has done for many others in her family before her?

I have to say, this had me hooked.  I loved the stories in themselves as they have very different characters, as well as the obvious time and place settings.  I felt that Stephen Lloyd Jones captured the atmosphere brilliantly, and you could feel the tension building.  The concept of a creature that can take on the persona of someone else, to the extent that you don't realise this is happening, is very frightening and it came across so well in the book.  There is a sequel, Written in the Blood, and just as soon as my heart has stopped racing, I'll be diving in.

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Friday, 24 April 2015

Letters to the Lost

Letters to the Lost by Iona Grey
Published by Simon & Schuster
23rd April 2015
Paperback Edition
1943, in the ruins of Blitzed London…

Stella Thorne and Dan Rosinski meet by chance and fall in love by accident. Theirs is a reluctant, unstoppable affair in which all the odds are stacked against them: she is newly married, and he is an American bomber pilot whose chance of survival is just one in five.

He promised to love her forever

Seventy years later Dan makes one final attempt to find the girl he has never forgotten, and sends a letter to the house where they shared a brief yet perfect happiness. But Stella has gone, and the letter is opened by Jess, a young girl hiding from problems of her own. And as Jess reads Dan's words, she is captivated by the story of a love affair that burned so bright and dimmed too soon. Can she help Dan find Stella before it is too late?

Now forever is finally running out.

This is the second title that I've been sent as part of the Curtis Brown book group.  I have to say that, initially though, I wasn't sold on the book: it sounded a bit too flowery and romancey for my tastes.  However, the blurb did say that if you liked The Guernsey Literacy and Potato Peel Pie Society then you would like this too.  I did enjoy that book, so decided that I'd give the 500+ pages a go...

The story is written in two different timelines, that of the present day, and the other beginning in 1943.  As we know, 1943 is right in the middle of the Second World War, and here we meet Stella Thorne, masquerading as a single girl about town, who fortuitously bumps into American soldier Dan Rosinski one day whilst looking for her missing watch in a church.  When Dan finds her watch he returns it to her in person and a spark is ignited.  Stella is in a loveless marriage to Charles, a vicar, and she finds it hard to resist Dan.  Soon an affair develops that neither one of them wants to end and as Charles is mostly absent during this period, it is much easier for it to continue undetected.  As fate would have it though, just as Stella is planning on leaving Charles for Dan, an ultimatum is issued that makes her choose one over the other....

Alongside this, we met Jess, alone and homeless on the streets of London.  Looking for a safe place to hide from her violent boyfriend, she stumbles upon an empty house that she hides out in.  When a letter arrives from America she is intrigued as to its contents and opens it.  Inside she finds a letter from Dan, now in his 90s and desperate to track down the love of his life.  Jess then discovers the rest of Dan's letters that he wrote to Stella during the war, telling of their fated romance.  Where is Stella now, as it is apparent that the house Jess is in has been empty for some time?  Can Jess find her and let Dan know of her whereabouts before his time runs out?

Iona Grey manages to weave the past and the present together in this story and both strands merge together well.  Jess is a latter-day version of Stella; the girl I imagine she would be if she was growing up in the 21st century.  All through the book you are rooting for Jess to find Stella, or at least what has happened to her, so that Dan can find out the truth.  I'm not a book crier but I know a lot of people have needed tissues at the end of this one - it's a weepy to be sure but well worth the journey.

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

The Miniaturist

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
Published by Picador
1st January 2015
Paperback Edition

There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed . . .

On an autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman knocks at the door of a grand house in the wealthiest quarter of Amsterdam. She has come from the country to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt, but instead she is met by his sharp-tongued sister, Marin. Only later does Johannes appear and present her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in unexpected ways . . .

Nella is at first mystified by the closed world of the Brandt household, but as she uncovers its secrets she realizes the escalating dangers that await them all. Does the miniaturist hold their fate in her hands? And will she be the key to their salvation or the architect of their downfall?

Beautiful, intoxicating and filled with heart-pounding suspense, The Miniaturist is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth.

The Miniaturist intriguied me before it was even published due to the Twitter publicity that it was receiving.  If my feed goes bonkers over a book, you can usually guarantee it's going to be a huge bestseller - and as usual, this has been the case with this book.  I got a copy initially via NetGalley but it was so badly formatted that my kindle did not like it at all so I bought myself a copy in hardback at the end of December and finally started reading it last week.

The premise is this: Nella Oortman, eighteen years old, arrives at the Brandt household as the wife of trader Johannes Brandt.  They have met only twice, and she has not spent any time with him since their wedding earlier that year.  When she arrives, she is met with disdain by her sister-in-law Maria, and the two servants Cordelia and Otto, but of her husband, there is no welcome, warm or otherwise.

Nella tries to find her feet in this exclusive part of the city, and when her husband finally returns home, she believes that her dreams of marriage and of her role as a wife will soon be fulfilled.  Alas, for Nella that is not the case, and Johannes remains as aloof as ever.  However, to welcome her and to give her something to do, he has purchased a dolls house, as a wedding gift, for Nella to fill - an exact replica of the house that they live in.

Nella finds the name of a miniaturist in Amsterdam, and commissions him to make some pieces for her house.  When they arrive, she is shocked and surprised to see that other items have been included in the parcel that she did not ask for.  Who is this man, and how does he know so much about the  Brandt household?

This is a fascinating piece of history as well as being a great story.  The dolls house in question is real and having read The Miniaturist I would love to go and visit it in all it's glory.  The social history aspect of the book was excellent and I really felt that Jessie Burton captured the atmosphere of Amsterdam with all it's sights and smells wonderfully.  The book has many mysteries attached to it, and of how society sometimes forces us to choose the way in which we portray ourselves to others, in order to survive.  An excellent debut and I look forward to Jessie's next novel.

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Friday, 17 April 2015

The Haunting of Sunshine Girl

The Haunting of Sunshine Girl by Paige McKenzie
Published by Macmillan Childrens
26th March 2015
Paperback Edition
In that place where you're more asleep than awake any more, I hear something else. A phrase uttered in a child's voice, no more than a whisper: Night Night.

Something freaky's going on with Sunshine's new house . . . there's the chill that wraps itself around her bones, the giggling she can hear in the dead of night, and then the strange shadows that lurk in her photographs. But the more weird stuff that happens, the less her mum believes her. Sunshine's always had a quirky affiliation with the past, but this time, history is getting much too close for comfort . . .

If there is something, or someone, haunting her house, what do they want? And what will they do if Sunshine can't help them?

As things become more frightening and dangerous, and the giggles she hears turn to sobs and screams, Sunshine has no choice but to accept what she is, face the test before her and save her mother from a fate worse than death.

I'm not a great fan of the horror genre, I scare quite easily but having read some earlier reviews of this book, and lured by the cover, I decided that I'd give it a try - a nothing ventured, nothing gained attitude.

The Haunting of Sunshine Girl is a YA book by Paige McKenzie that began life as a web series initially broadcast on You Tube.  It follows teenager Sunshine as she moves house across state in America with her nurse mother Kat.  From the first time Sunshine sees the house, the only word she can find to describe it is 'creepy' - and as it turns out, she's more than right about that.

From footsteps she hears running about the landing, to voices and giggling at night, Sunshine is convinced that there is more to the house than meets the eye.  The only problem is that her sceptical mum is less keen to believe what Sunshine not only hears but begins to see too. 

Sunshine can't convince her mum that anything is happening in the house, and their once tight relationship seems to be weakening, with Kat spending more and more time at work and less at home with her daughter.  Sunshine makes friends with Nolan, a boy in her art class, and confides in him about what is happening at home.  He is instantly interested and, at last, Sunshine has found someone who believes in her.

As with all horror stories, there's a ghost here who wants to be heard, and they are not planning on leaving quietly.  The story progresses with more twists, turns and tensions than I am usually comfortable with until the dramatic climax.  There is a sequel, I believe.

I really did enjoy this book, but I have to admit, if it was on the big screen, I'd have been watching from behind a cushion!  I'll give the next book a go though...

Happy Reading

 Miss Chapter x

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Life after Life

Life after Life by Kate Atkinson
Published by Black Swan
30th January 2014
Paperback Edition

What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath.

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale.

What if there were second chances? And third chances? In fact an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?

Life After Life follows Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. With wit and compassion, Kate Atkinson finds warmth even in life’s bleakest moments, and shows an extraordinary ability to evoke the past. Here she is at her most profound and inventive, in a novel that celebrates the best and worst of ourselves.

It's taken me a long time to read the latest Kate Atkinson, but with the imminent arrival of A God in Ruins, I felt that I had little choice but to finally grasp it from the shelf and dive in.  I actually have this book twice, one in kindle format and again in paperback so I must have been keen to read it having purchased it twice! 

It's an interesting synopsis - what if you could live your life again and again until the right decisions were made?  Life after Life follows the Todd family from the end of 1910 beginning with the birth of baby Ursula.  In our first scenario, Ursula dies before even taking her first breath.  In our second scenario, she lives.  This concept reoccurs throughout the book, with Ursula growing to be able to predict the scenarios in front of her but without knowing why.  Spanning the first and second world wars, Life after Life is a commendable novel that looks at the 'what if' dilemma and shows how simple decision making can, in many cases, save lives.

I don't think this review can do any justice to just how good I think Life after Life is.  I usually hate prize winning novels - they are usually too high-brow for me and I struggle to read them, but this prize, in my opinion, is certainly justified.  I can only recommend that you pick it up and give it a go.  For me, it reminded me of reading the fabulous Cazalet books by Elizabeth Jane Howard and I loved the Todd family and all their eccentricities.  Now I'm eagerly awaiting the publication of A God in Ruins.

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Disclaimer: A Novel

Disclaimer: A Novel by Renee Knight
Published by Doubleday
9th April 2015
Hardback Edition

What if you realized the book you were reading was all about you?

When an intriguing novel appears on Catherine’s bedside table, she curls up in bed and begins to read.

But as she turns the pages she is sickened to realize the story will reveal her darkest secret.

A secret she thought no one else knew…

Okay, so here we go again, yet another novel tagged as being the next Gone Girl book.  I have to admit, I'm getting a little tired of this.  I've said it before on here, but it seems at the moment that if a thriller by a woman is published, then it is given this comparison.  I've read Gone Girl, don't get me wrong, it's okay but the ending was what I can only describe as being pfff and for that reason, I don't understand why it has been built up the way it has.  Apologies to Gillian Flynn but that's my honest opinion.  However, read it for yourself and see if you agree or disagree with me.
Anyway, after that digression, let's get back to the book in question, Disclaimer is getting more tweets than any other book on my timeline at the moment.  It certainly appears to be a book that everyone seems to be reading and the comments are all very positive.  The premise is this: Catherine finds a book on her bedside table that she doesn't initially recognise, but settles down to read anyway.  It begins with the standard disclaimer “any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental”, only this time it has a neat red line drawn in hand through it. 

Catherine begins to read and, drawn into the plot, soon begins to realise that this book, is infact, about herself.  It is also about a time in her past that neither her husband Robert or son Nicholas know about, one which she has been so careful to hide.  Googling the author brings her no success, so she needs to think back to her past, to discover who could have written such a book, and to what purpose.  Then Nicholas receives a copy of the book, and Catherine starts to worry that 'The Pefect Stranger' might reach more people than just herself.  What can she do to protect herself?

Disclaimer is the story of a tortured woman, but also of a family seeking revenge.  As the book continues I think that you can sympathise with both parties and of the lengths that they are prepared to go to.  There are lots of twists and turns, and as the book progresses we watch Catherine's demise from serious tv producer to a crumbling wreck.  I don't want to reveal too much of the plot here but it's safe to say that this is a good thriller and one that keeps you going back to it.  I read it in about two days, and I can guarantee it'll probably be the book most seen on the beach this summer.  The ending is better than Gone Girl so please, stop the comparisons.

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

The Weight of Souls

The Weight of Souls by Bryony Pearce
Published by Strange Chemistry
1st August 2013
Paperback Edition
Sixteen year old Taylor Oh is cursed: if she is touched by the ghost of a murder victim then they pass a mark beneath her skin. She has three weeks to find their murderer and pass the mark to them letting justice take place and sending them into the Darkness. And if she doesn t make it in time? The Darkness will come for her...

She spends her life trying to avoid ghosts, make it through school where she s bullied by popular Justin and his cronies, keep her one remaining friend, and persuade her father that this is real and that she s not going crazy. But then Justin is murdered and everything gets a whole lot worse. Justin doesn t know who killed him, so there s no obvious person for Taylor to go after. The clues she has lead her to the V Club, a vicious secret society at her school where no one is allowed to leave... and where Justin was dared to do the stunt which led to his death.

Can she find out who was responsible for his murder before the Darkness comes for her? Can she put aside her hatred for her former bully to truly help him? And what happens if she starts to fall for him?

Bryony Pearce was one of the writers that I met at the UKYA extravaganza earlier this year, and when she described The Weight of Souls I knew that I wanted to read it.  Taylor Oh carries a curse, not only does she see dead people (very The Sixth Sense) but if they are murder victims, then they are capable of passing a 'mark' onto Taylor that she then must pass onto their murderer, or face being taken by the Darkness herself.

This in itself poses a problem for Taylor because it isn't apparent to anyone else that she can see the dead, so she spends her life constantly on guard, in a permanent state of alert, trying to run away from the dead who haunt her every waking moment.  The effects of this are that Taylor is something of a social outcast, and even her best friend Hannah is getting a little tired of Taylor's constant excuses.

When Justin, one of the popular kids at her school disappears, only Taylor can see him - only he doesn't actually know he is dead, and on reaching out to Taylor, passes the 'mark' onto her.  Now she has three weeks to find his killer, except that on this occasion, Justin doesn't know who it is.

Taylor is now not only trying to find an unidentified killer, but her father is also increasingly concerned by her behaviour.  Despite inheriting this curse from her mother, he refuses to acknowledge that what Taylor sees is true and is desperately seeking a cure for her odd visions.  Soon the only person Taylor is able to talk to is Justin, her one-time arch enemy.  Can they bury their rivalries to find out who killed Justin or will the Darkness take Taylor before she has a chance to avenge him?

This is a good read for young adults.  It mixes a curse from ancient Egypt into a modern family tale, and the everyday life of a teenage girl.  The 'in crowd' at the school are vicious at best and I hated every one of them.  I loved that Taylor is never sure as to who is real in her life, and who is actually dead; it made the book so much more realistic, and even though Justin is dead, as Taylor can see him, he becomes much more real and closer to her in the afterlife than he ever did when they were in a classroom together.  I'm looking forward to Bryony's next book dropping through my letterbox shortly!

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

In Conversation With Christopher Fowler

Today I am in conversation with Christopher Fowler, author, of among other things, the fabulous Bryant and May series.  My review of The Burning Man can be found here.

The Burning Man in the twelfth in the Bryant and May series.  How many more are yet to follow?
Oh good, a nice awkward question first! I guess the real answer is that I’d like to continue writing them while they’re still fun. If they start to bore me, they’ll bore you too so I’d have to stop. But I have a few more good ideas yet…

You started off as a horror writer, but are now writing crime novels.  What prompted the change and why?
I lacked confidence. Short stories were a way in for many now famous writers, and there was once a market for them (sadly gone now). As my confidence grew I began writing novels that were unclassifiable. My first, ‘Roofworld’, has been described as SF, fantasy, a London novel and/or a thriller! I tend to cross genres a lot. As I continued I tried many other genres from satire (‘Soho Black’) to non-fiction (‘Paperboy’).

Any advice to anyone dreaming of becoming an author?
Write for the sheer joy of it. That way, even if you don’t find a readership you’ll still have achieved something good for yourself.

Where do you get your writing inspiration from?
People, mainly. I talk to people a lot. You can’t shut yourself away in a tower, otherwise you end up writing about a writer who writes. Boring.

What are you working on next?
Coming up is ‘The Sand Men’, a Dubai-set thriller that’s my homage to JG Ballard, a great hero of mine. After that comes ‘Bryant & May: London’s Glory’, in time for Christmas.

If, heaven forbid, there was a fire, what possession would you grab first to save?
My copy of ‘The Gormeghast Trilogy’. I value books over objects – actually Apart from books I don’t own much stuff, so I could shove it all in a box and nip out!

What five people, living or dead, would you choose to invite to a dinner party?
JG Ballard, Virginia Woolf, Tony Hancock, Margery Allingham, Steve Jobs. Blimey, they’re all dead!

Also if you think there is any other information that you would like to submit, then please do!  Blatant self publicity allowed!
I don’t tend to do much self-publicity. My blog was meant to be about books but as I answer most commenters it turns into a sort of literary free-for-all. You can visit it, though, at

Thank you very much Christopher for your time.  I'm looking forward to catching up on all of the previous Bryant and May books now!

Miss Chapter x