The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

the-twelve-lives-of-samuel-hawley

There are some novels that you hear a lot about months before they are due to be published.  The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, which will be published next month, is, for me, one such novel.  Needless to say, I was thrilled when I was approved to read this title via Netgalley.

Samuel Hawley and his daughter, Louise (Loo), have spent years travelling from place to place, never settling anywhere for too long.  But as Loo gets older, Samuel thinks that it would be good for her if they settled somewhere – somewhere she can make friends and focus on school – and on the cusp of Loo becoming a teenager, they settle in Olympus, Massachusetts – Loo’s mother’s hometown.

Samuel finds work and Loo attends the local school, but they are haunted by Samuel’s past, which he has spent a long time running from.  Loo knows little about it, but her father has twelve scars on his body, caused by bullets from various points in his criminal past – a past that might not be done with them yet.

The novel alternates between the present day and Sam’s past, and the reader experiences both Loo’s experiences as an outsider trying to settle in at a new school and gradually becoming a woman as well as learning about Sam’s past, one bullet at a time.  Because of this, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley contains two quite different narratives, and the reader gets to experience both a coming of age tale, although Loo’s coming of age is quite different to the norm, as well as something of a thriller as we learn more about Samuel and his background.  I really enjoyed both narratives, and I thought the way the two stories came together was brilliantly done.

Sam’s tale is dark, violent and occasionally humorous.  And yet while his past is somewhat unwholesome and anything but typical, I found him to be a likeable character, and I did sympathise with him.  This was for two reasons – his love for his wife, Lily (Loo’s mother), and daughter comes through very clearly in the novel:

For the first time he had something to lose, and it was funny how that changed things.

The second reason is that he doesn’t come across as being a violent man, unless a situation calls for it.  He will (and can) defend himself, but only uses violence when it’s necessary.  Sadly for him, this proved to be more often than not.

Loo, on the other hand, should be quite a different character, and yet you don’t live alone with a man like Samuel Hawley without picking up a few tips and tricks (which he is more than happy to share with her).  Eleven years old at the start of the novel, her life has been one of constantly moving around as Sam tries to prevent his past catching up with him, and this sets Loo apart from others of her own age, even when they settle in Massachusetts.  Becoming a victim of the school bullies, she reacts.  Violently.  And I have to admit that I loved her for it.

Over the course of the novel, the reader sees Loo develop into a young woman, with all the usual steps and phases that such a path takes, and it’s difficult not to pity her a little for living alone with a father, with whom a daughter might not always want to discuss certain things.  That said, I really liked the father / daughter relationship portrayed here, which, now that I think about it, isn’t all that common in fiction.  Despite his past, Sam is clearly trying to do his best for her, and will do whatever it takes to keep her safe, and I enjoyed the exploration of what it means to be a parent, but also the acknowledgement that we don’t always know people as much as we think – even those closest to us:

Even in the shadows she could see his scars.  The skin was different there.  Puckered and ghostly.  And now she knew the story behind one of those ghosts.

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is a brilliantly entertaining novel that reads a little like a Quentin Tarantino film, with a bit of family drama thrown in for good measure.  It will be published on 6 April 2017 by Tinder Press.  Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing a copy for review.

Rating: ★★★★☆

After Me Comes the Flood by Sarah Perry

after-me-comes-the-flood

One hot summer’s day, John Cole decides to leave his life behind.

He shuts up the bookshop no one ever comes to and drives out of London.  When his car breaks down and he becomes lost on an isolated road, he goes looking for help, and stumbles into the grounds of a grand but dilapidated house.

Its residents welcome him with open arms – but there’s more to this strange community than meets the eye.  They all know him by name, they’ve prepared a room for him, and claim to have been waiting for him all along.

As nights and days pass John finds himself drawn into a baffling menagerie.  There is Hester, their matriarchal, controlling host; Alex and Claire, siblings full of child-like wonder and delusions; the mercurial Eve; Elijah – a faithless former preacher haunted by the Bible; and chain-smoking Walker, wreathed in smoke and hostility.  Who are these people?  And what do they intend for John?

I prefer to write my own synopsis as part of my reviews, but I’ve used the blurb from the book here, as I think it sounds fascinating.  A strange community who are waiting for a man who has never met them before?  Colour me intrigued.  And yet, this element of the mystery is solved relatively early on in the novel and, to me, was a little anticlimactic.  I think that this is completely my own fault, as I expected something quite different, but I did find the answer to be a little disappointing.

That said, there is a fair amount of ambiguity in this novel, so it might be that my interpretation of events is too literal.  For instance, it’s not at all clear in what time period it’s set.  There are cars and telephones (although no mention of mobiles that I picked up on) so this does limit how early it could be.  But the drought and the heatwave could indicate a near-future in which global warming and climate change have become more noticeable.  I chose to interpret it as current day, but that was a choice, and there were points at which I questioned this decision.

I was also struck by the distinct lack of other people in the novel.   There is John and the small commune, but hardly anyone else.  This did lead me to a couple of theories which I’m not sure that I should comment on in this review.  However, there are a couple of other individuals later in the novel, which put paid to my theories.  Even so, I don’t want to give others pre-conceived ideas about the novel, so I’ll say no more on this, but if you have read After Me Comes the Flood, please let me know – I’d love the chance to talk about this and compare ideas!

I do think that I would have got a little more from this novel had I have understood more of the biblical references.  Such things often pass me by, and whilst some were obvious, I do feel that I was missing the bigger picture or the underlying message that Perry was trying to make.  That’s not to put anyone off – I don’t think you have to be an expert in such matters to understand these references, it’s just that I’ve had very little exposure to such things, and am therefore largely ignorant in this regard.

Perry’s writing is, of course, absolutely gorgeous – she’s an incredibly talented writer.  I loved the subtle foreshadowing throughout the novel of what was to come.  I have to admit that I did prefer The Essex Serpent, which I found to be more accessible, but I did enjoy the ethereal quality of After Me Comes the Flood.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Beat the Backlist Challenge Update

beat-the-backlist-2017

It’s that time again!  Time to assess look at how I’ve progressed (or not!) with Novel Knight’s Beat the Backlist Challenge, and take a look at the state of my (seemingly ever increasing) TBR pile.

As I’d expected, February was largely taken up with reading review copies, but I did manage to sneak in 2 books from my backlist:

  • The Sellout by Paul Beatty – I was looking forward to reading this as it ticked three boxes for me – it was my book group’s choice for February, I bought it last year, so it was eligible for the BTB challenge, and it’s won the Booker Prize, meaning it fits in with my challenge to read all the Booker Prize winners. Unfortunately, I didn’t finish it – I couldn’t get into it, and whilst it was amusing in places, I think it’s a very American sense of humour, and some references were lost on me
  • After Me Comes the Flood by Sarah Perry – my review will be posted soon, but this is a slightly strange novel that I enjoyed, although not as much as Perry’s follow up, The Essex Serpent.  It was my oldest (in terms of purchase date) unread book, though, so it felt like quite an achievement to read this one

I now have 40 backlist titles to read by the end of the year – 4 a month for the next 10 months doesn’t seem too unreasonable…

TBR Watch

Once again, I’ve failed miserably at not buying / requesting new books, and my TBR now stands at 68 books.  That said, I am going to blame the wonderful Headline Blogger Night for a fair chunk of my new acquisitions!

tbr-1-mar-17

I’m hoping to make better progress this month (yeah, I know – you’ve heard it all before!) as Novel Knight is hosting a three day readathon from 10th to 12th March to help tackle the backlist, and I’m hoping to read one book on each of these three days.

Wish me luck!

Dead Over Heels by Theresa Braun

dead-over-heels

Unlucky in love Veronica has had enough of online dating, but decides to make one last attempt with Sebastian who seems a little different from the kind of guy that she’s encountered previously.

Having seen on Veronica’s profile that she has an interest in the paranormal, Sebastian take her to a reportedly haunted restaurant for their first date.  Things go well, and a month into the relationship, they return to the same restaurant, but get more than they bargained for when they have a paranormal encounter.

Determined to understand what they’ve seen, Veronica begins to dig, but the truth might be worse than she had feared.

I went into Dead Over Heels not entirely sure what to expect.  From the description, I had assumed that this was a romantic tale with horror / paranormal undertones.  Now, romance isn’t really my genre, but when Theresa offered me the chance to read and review her novella for my blog, I decided that it would be a nice change from my usual kind of read.  And I’m so glad I did!  This is a wonderful little tale that is more focused on the paranormal elements than the romance side of things, and which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Dead Over Heels is 38 pages long, and is an extremely quick read.  Short stories can be a little hit and miss, as the author doesn’t have the luxury of fully developing either the character or the plot, but Braun has done admirably in this tale.  I thought that both Veronica and Sebastian were well developed and their backstories fitted into the novel seamlessly.  Similarly, the plot, although quick, does build tension from the first date when there are hints that there is something a little unusual going on.  The ending is brilliant, and I certainly didn’t see it coming.

As I was reading, I was reminded of Kate Mosse’s short story collection, The Mistletoe Bride.  Whilst Mosse tends to focus on more historical settings, I felt that this was similar in tone, and I think that if you enjoy that kind of tale then you would enjoy Dead Over Heels.  Recommended if you’re looking for something a little different.

Many thanks to Theresa for providing a copy for review.

Rating: ★★★★☆

The Book of Bera by Suzie Wilde

the-book-of-bera

Born and raised in a stark, coastal village, Bera is the daughter of a Valla, the Vikings’ most powerful seers.  But her mother died when she was young, leaving Bera alone with her gift, unable to control her feckless twin-spirit or understand her visions of the future.

Beset by starvation, sickness and the walking dead, the brave and defiant Bera leads her village in a perilous hunt for the Narwhal; a magical beast whose tusk is said to cure illness.  But disaster strikes and her childhood friend Bjorn is slaughtered in cold blood by a rival clan.  Returning with his body and no magic tusk, Bera finds she has been sold in marriage to the chieftain of the murderous clan by her disgusted father.

Shipped off to a strange new world of health and prosperity, Bera nurses her wounds and vows revenge.  But there are more pressing matters at hand – not only must she learn to be a good wife, she must also gain the trust of her hostile young stepson and her new clan.  And as her powers grow stronger, her visions of looming disaster become more and more ominous until she has to make the ultimate choice: Will she choose revenge? Or can she lead her people to safety before it’s too late?

The setting of The Book of Bera is beautifully evoked.  I thought that Wilde successfully brought to life the settlement of Seabost that Bera is sent to, as well as the surrounding wilderness.  Similarly, the harsh lifestyle that these people endure was easy to picture, and I enjoyed discovering about their way of life which is heavily influenced by Viking culture and beliefs.  It’s a brutal setting – raids from rival clans are commonplace, and there is little mercy for anyone.  As a result, warriors are admired above all others, and it takes a strong individual to lead the people.  Even Thorvald, the most trusted advisor of Bera’s husband, who is responsible for the murder of her childhood friend.

Part of the focus of the novel surrounds what happens to the dead if they are not given proper rites, which at it’s most simplistic level involved burning the body.  Those who aren’t burnt may come back as undead “Drorghers” to haunt the living (presumably this is an alternative spelling or name for Draugrs – a term which I’m more familiar with, and which seems to mean the same thing, as far as I can tell).  As a Valla, it’s Bera’s role to deal with these creatures and to ensure that no harm comes to the settlement and those living there.  I found that this, amongst other things, added some wonderfully dark moments to the novel, and I really enjoyed these sections which I found to be creepy and tense.

Whilst I liked the setting and the evocation of the culture, I did struggle a little with the characters, and Bera in particular.  I wanted to sympathise with her situation – she lost her mother when she was young, and was left with a gift (occasionally a curse in her mind) that she can’t control or use to full effect, she loses her closest friend, and is then given away like chattel to the leader of the clan that is responsible.  I found her to be rather infuriating, however – she wants to be trusted and respected, yet does nothing to earn either, and what I think was meant to come across as spirit sometimes came across to me as childish petulance.  There is development and growth by the end of the novel, but the change came a little too late for me to actually want to get behind her unfortunately.

Part fantasy, part coming of age story, The Book of Bera is an inventive take on Viking culture and mythology.  It will be published by Unbound on 23 March.  Many thanks to Joelle Owusu at Unbound for the review copy.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Blog Tour: One Little Mistake by Emma Curtis

Today I’m absolutely delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for One Little Mistake by Emma Curtis which will be published as an eBook on 23 February, and in paperback on 29 June by Black Swan.

one-little-mistake

You trusted your best friend… you shouldn’t have.

Vicky Seagrave is blessed: three beautiful children, a successful, doting husband, great friends and a job she loves.  She should be perfectly happy.

But what she is about to learn is that one mistake is all it takes; that if you’re careless with those you love, you don’t deserve to keep them.

When Vicky risks everything she holds dear on a whim, there’s only one person she trusts enough to turn to, her best friend Amber.

One little lie.  One little secret.  One little mistake could destroy her world.


One Little Mistake is one of those novels that it’s difficult to talk about without giving too much away, so I won’t focus on the plot too much in my review.

It focuses on Vicky who makes a spur of the moment decision.  Nine times out of ten, such a decision would probably have no significant impact and you’d think little more of it.  Unfortunately for Vicky, her decision proves to have disastrous consequences in this instance, and she turns to her best friend, Amber, for advice.  What follows shows how Vicky deals with the aftermath of this mistake, which proves to be much further reaching than she could ever have guessed.

Curtis successfully weaves together two narratives throughout One Little Mistake – the first following Vicky’s plight in the present day, and the second set 18 years earlier.  Whilst the flashback scenes are few and far between, I really enjoyed these little snippets and this second story very quickly built up in tension.  I don’t want to say too much about it, but I really enjoyed the second story and the way that the two narratives eventually converged.

I thought that Curtis handled the relationship between Vicky and Amber really well, and the gradual deterioration of this relationship as Amber begins to show her true colours made this an absolutely fascinating read.  Vicky is pitched as one of those people for whom good things just happen.  What is very apparent to the reader is that Vicky has worked hard to get where she is, and I think that it’s very easy to forget the elbow grease that people have often put in to get where they are.  Amber, on the other hand, hasn’t had quite the same level of success that Vicky has experienced, and whilst they are friends, it’s clear from the outset that she is envious of many aspects of Vicky’s life and it doesn’t take much for the reader to see another side to Amber, a side that Vicky isn’t aware of.

Curtis has done a brilliant job of making Vicky easy to sympathise with.  She has made mistakes, but she’s hardly alone in this, and it feels as though the punishment far outweighs the crime.  I did perhaps find her to be too forgiving and perhaps a little gullible, although in this instance it made her endearing rather than frustratingly naive, as can sometimes be the case in a novel such as this.

One Little Mistake is a gripping read and builds up to a tense conclusion which, whilst not entirely unexpected in some respects, was nevertheless a dramatic, if slightly rushed, finale.

Many thanks to Rosie Margesson for providing a copy for review.

Rating: ★★★★☆


Make sure you check out the other stops on the blog tour:

one-little-mistake-tour-banner

The Bishop’s Girl by Rebecca Burns

the-bishops-girl

Jess works as a researcher at the Shacklock Library in Jedthorpe, Yorkshire.  The library is named after a prominent bishop from the area – Anthony Shacklock – who died in 1917 in France whilst assisting at a hospital looking after injured soldiers.

For the past six years, Jess has supported Professor Waller, who has dedicated much of his career to identifying a young woman, estimated to be around 17 years of age at the time of her death, who was found in Shacklock’s grave when his remains were removed from France to Jedthorpe.  She has no name, although DNA testing indicates a familial relationship to the bishop.

Jess is forced to balance her demanding job with an even more demanding home life, looking after her two children and worrying over the ever-increasing distance between her and her husband, Alec.

When a new snippet of information comes to light, it sends Jess on a journey that will have much more of an impact on her life than she ever expected.

I really liked Jess, and felt a great deal of sympathy for her.  At work, Waller takes advantage of her, often asking her to make the long journey to London to look in various archives at short notice and with no consideration of the impact on Jess and her family.  She gets no thanks for the work she undertakes and Waller takes all the credit, having done none of the leg work himself.  It’s infuriating, and I really enjoyed Jess’s gradual progression from resigned acceptance to open rebellion as she becomes utterly fed up with the situation.

Having accepted the situation for the last 6 years, the reader might wonder what has prompted the sudden change in character.  Jess’s home life is little better than her work life – she and her husband have been drifting apart, and are no longer able to talk to each other without arguing.  He resents any time she is away from home – especially the late evenings and weekends, at least partly because it means he has to look after the children.  But Jess finds a new lease of life when her best friend, Marie, suggests that she meets up with her grown up son, Hayden, who at 28 is 13 years younger than Jess, on one of her visits to London, never expecting that the two would end up in bed following a few drinks!  Jess goes through various feelings of guilt and excitement at her actions, but it does give her some spark as she becomes increasingly drawn to Hayden.  It’s as though she’s woken from a long sleep, and I loved the new spirit this gave her.

Whilst being something of a love story, there is also an historical element as the reader follows Jess’s investigations into the identity of the unknown girl buried with Shacklock.  This was my favourite part of the novel – the slow gathering of clues, the peaks and troughs as new lines of enquiry lead to something or nothing, and I thought that this was particularly well done.  Initially told from the perspective of Jess, part two of the novel moves back in time, and the reader sees what happened (which I won’t share!) as it happened.  I really liked this change in perspectives, and I thought it worked really well in the novel.

There are a couple of little twists here, although I did guess them before the end of the novel.  That said, I think that this is a novel where the journey is more important than the destination, and so this didn’t reduce my enjoyment at all.  If anything, I quite liked getting to the end and being able to say “Yes!  I knew it!”.  I did have a few outstanding questions at the end of the novel, although these were along the lines of “but I want to know what happens next” rather than relating to elements within the story that didn’t make sense or that I felt needed additional clarification.

The Bishop’s Girl is a highly enjoyable read, and one that I would recommend to those looking for something a little different, combining as it does the historical and the romance elements.

The Bishop’s Girl is available as an eBook and in paperback.  Many thanks to Rebecca Burns for providing a copy for review.

Rating: ★★★★☆