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Saturday 19 June 2010

Road Closed

By Leigh Russell

Having read, and loved, Leigh Russell’s first novel ‘Cut Short’, I was very much looking forward to reading ‘Road Closed’. I wasn’t disappointed.

I found the plot structure very different from that of ‘Cut Short’, but just as satisfying. As expected, the characters were very real and well textured. There are some really great baddies in this one, as well as some heart-breaking cameos of victims.

Sophie Cliff is a particularly interesting character. She appears at the beginning of the novel in explosive circumstances, and events take her on an unexpected and disturbing journey. This isn't just a detective story. It's a story that will make you think about the psychological consequences of life events.

One of the things I found most skilful in the writing was the complexity of the resolution. This novel keeps you guessing until the end and packs some powerful surprises.

Readers of ‘Cut Short’ will be familiar with DI Geraldine Steel who made her debut solving a series of murders in that book. In ‘Road Closed’ we get a deeper insight into Geraldine’s character and find out about some events from her past which are beginning to catch up with her.

I’m thrilled that there is a third novel in the series on the way and look forward to reading it and reviewing it for Bookersatz.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

You can see my review of ‘Cut Short’ here. Leigh Russell blogs here.

Monday 14 June 2010

The Beacon

by Susan Hill

This is short – 150 pages – and if it hadn’t been by a novelist I trust completely, I’d have been much less willing to pay the cover price of £6.99. But you can’t, in my opinion, get much better than Susan Hill.

The deceptively simple story seems initially to be the recent history of a family on a North Country farm. We see it mostly through the eyes of Mary, the eldest daughter who ended up staying at home, eventually looking after her aged mother, even though at one stage she seemed the most likely to leave for good when she went to university in London.

The book starts with her mother dying, and everything is then seen in retrospect, skilfully interspersed with the present, gradually giving away more and more of what has changed over the years, in such a way that we pick up significant details almost without realising it.

One of the things that stands out is that Mary and her brother and sister don’t want to inform their other brother, Frank, of their mother’s death, because of what he has done to them all. It turns out that Frank has written a bestselling book about his childhood, which has lost the family all their friends and their reputation.

There are so many layers to this, even though the style is deceptively simple. How you feel about some of the issues could to a large extent depend on your own life experiences, and even changing attitudes over the years. The only part I felt unsure about was the ending, but that’s down to personal taste and is deliberate on the author’s part.

Even though it seems a simple enough tale, there’s too much depth, too many undercurrents, to be gleaned from one reading, so I’ll be reading it again. Given that, it’s probably just as well the novel is relatively short, after all.

Reviewed by Rebecca Holmes

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Book news - The Orange Prize

The winner of the 15th Orange Prize for fiction is The Lacuna by American author Barbara Kingsolver, which defeated, amongst others, the Booker Prize winner, Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall.

Irene Sabatini won the Orange Award for New Writers 2010 for The Boy Next Door.

Sunday 6 June 2010

Some New Ambush

by Carys Davies

'Some New Ambush' is an extraordinary collection of short stories from award-winning writer Carys Davies.

Ranging in length from two to twelve pages, her stories take us on a tour of the emotions: humour, disappointment, joy, love, resentment, revenge and utter, heart-wrenching sadness.

Featured on the shortlist for several prestigious prizes, this is Davies’ debut collection and it reveals her as an imaginative and playful talent. Sometimes the stories build slowly to their climax and sometimes they turn on a dime, but each is a beautiful depiction of a world – be it real or really fantastic – and the lives, dreams and frailties of the people living within it.

My favourites include a story of marriage and friendship in modern day Chicago, a portrait of a woman’s love for her dog and a beautiful vignette about whalers in the early twentieth century. Each is written in delicious yet sparing prose that encourages the reader to savour the story slowly, like a sweet treat or a savoury canapĂ©. I found myself sitting on station platforms to finish a piece before catching my next train and some of the stories lived with me for days, demanding that I pause before reading on.

It’s been a while since I read any short stories but this collection has really reignited my love for the form and I recommend it highly.

Reviewed by Claire Marriott who blogs as Bucks Writer

'Some New Ambush' is published by Salt. You can find their website here.