First a quick explanation!
Due to some severe health issues over the last few years, and a lingering chronic condition, my planned review schedule went right out of the window and I have been scrabbling ever since to get it back on track.
In my latest attempt to try to regain some lost ground, I plan to scrunch some of my (overdue) NetGalley reviews together into one or two posts each week: shorter reviews, but still covering all of the points I intended to.
That’s the plan anyway; let’s see how it goes…!
Title: The Forgers
Author: Bradford Morrow
Publisher: Atlantic Books, Grove Press UK
Blurb: The rare book world is stunned when a reclusive collector, Adam Diehl, is found on the floor of his Montauk home: hands severed, surrounded by valuable inscribed books and original manuscripts that have been vandalised beyond repair. Adam’s sister, Meghan, and her lover, Will – a convicted if unrepentant literary forger – struggle to come to terms with the seemingly incomprehensible murder. But when Will begins receiving threatening handwritten letters, seemingly penned by long-dead authors, but really from someone who knows secrets about Adam’s death and Will’s past, he understands his own life is also on the line – and attempts to forge a new beginning for himself and Meg.
In The Forgers, Bradford Morrow reveals the passion that drives collectors to the razor-sharp edge of morality, brilliantly confronting the hubris and mortal danger of rewriting history with a fraudulent pen.
Review: I really wanted to love this book, based on the blurb and cover, but unfortunately I just didn’t manage to ‘click’ with it.
The story is told by a mostly unnamed, unreliable and pretty unlikable, first-person narrator (we find out his name is Will about halfway through) and is written in the style of an old-fashioned written memoir novel – think The Woman in Black, or Watson and Hastings’ accounts of Holmes and Poirot’s cases respectively.
There is a lot of book-mentioning, which is usually something that warms my little book-loving heart, but for the main character, books are only items to be embellished and sold, rather than relished for their content. I found this more difficult to forgive than the various blackmails, forgeries and murders, to be honest!
The murder mystery isn’t really very mysterious, nor is it the real focus of the plot. The murderer can be identified almost immediately and then the reader meanders through a wealth of detailed information about the art of forgery and of selling said forgeries, and the moral qualms of a man who loves forgery and an honest woman almost equally, before briefly revisiting the murder to reveal that the obvious person was indeed the culprit.
I did enjoy the style of writing but found that the plot, pacing and characters left me colder than the narrator’s conscience. However, if you want to know more about forgery in written and typed documents, then this book is an excellent resource for your studies.
Purchase Link: The Forgers on Amazon
Title: Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops
Author: Shaun Bythell
Publisher: Serpent’s Tail / Profile Books
Blurb: In twenty years behind the till in The Bookshop, Wigtown, Shaun Bythell has met pretty much every kind of customer there is – from the charming, erudite and deep-pocketed to the eccentric, flatulent and possibly larcenous.
In Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops he distils the essence of his experience into a warm, witty and quirky taxonomy of the book-loving public. So, step inside to meet the crafty Antiquarian, the shy and retiring Erotica Browser and gormless yet strangely likeable shop assistant Student Hugo – along with much loved bookseller favourites like the passionate Sci-Fi Fan, the voracious Railway Collector and the ever-elusive Perfect Customer.
Review: I have read one of Shaun Bythell’s previous books, so already knew what to expect from the tone and content here, and he didn’t disappoint.
Filling the Bernard Black stereotype of the bookseller who despises his customers, but with a sneaky warm softness beneath the spiky words, Bythell cleverly categorises and wittily describes some of the common types of bookshop frequenters, eviscerating them with a genuine fondness that couldn’t fail to be amusing.
Peppered with personal customer and staff anecdotes, this book (and his others: The Diary of a Bookseller and Confessions of a Bookseller) make ideal short reads – or gifts – for booklovers who don’t take themselves too seriously.
Purchase Link: Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops on Amazon
Title: The Thief on the Winged Horse
Author: Kate Mascarenhas
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Blurb: The Kendricks have been making world-famous dolls for over 200 years. But their dolls aren’t coveted for the craftmanship alone. Each has an emotion laid on it; a magic that can provoke bucolic bliss or consuming paranoia at a single touch.
Persephone Kendrick longs to learn her ancestors’ craft, but only men may know the secrets of the workshop. So when a handsome stranger arrives claiming doll-making talent and blood ties to the family she sees a chance to grasp all she desires.
But then, one night, the firm’s most valuable doll is stolen. Only someone with knowledge of magic could have taken her. Only a Kendrick could have committed this crime…
Review: My reaction to this book was a mixed one, and I found it a little hard to pinpoint why, because on paper it was everything I hoped it would be.
The world of Paxton’s Eyot and the Kendrick’s enchanted doll-making business was instantly compelling and felt perfectly plausible – an everyday kind of magic that was never fully explained, but didn’t really need to be. The legend-within-a-fairytale of the Thief, was perfectly balanced between the rational and fanciful, with the conclusion left to the reader’s judgment, and the ebb and flow of the relationship between the two main characters, Larkin and Persephone, was natural, realistic and hooked my emotional response.
I think the disconnect came with my expectations of the themes versus their execution. I expected Larkin’s to be a story about an outsider perspective on an enclosed community, but we didn’t really get enough of his thoughts and feelings to identify or empathise with him (for very good reasons, but it still created an ‘arms-length’ effect). Similarly, Persephone’s story is set-up as one of feminist empowerment, as she fights doggedly for her right to be an enchanter, but somehow this aspect never quite feels realised, as she submits, compromises and is supressed into a new slot, but still in the same old family mould. The ending therefore falls a little flat, as there is no expected ‘aha!’ moment, just a dawning realisation and then some neat tidying up of loose ends.
This is a well-written, realistic fantasy about secrets, lies and manipulated emotions, with excellent worldbuilding, but the emotional deceptions carry through a little too far for full immersion.
Purchase Link: The Thief on the Winged Horse on Amazon
Title: The Betrayals
Author: Bridget Collins
Publisher: HarperCollins UK, HarperFiction, The Borough Press
Blurb: It begins with a game.
It ends with betrayal.
This is not a love story.
Two young men, close friends and fierce rivals.
A family ripped apart by madness and tragedy.
One woman, with a mysterious connection to them all…
Review: I absolutely LOVED The Binding and so snapped this book up immediately!
This is a completely different kind of story, but equally well-written – the dusty, ivory tower of Monteverre is utterly believable, as is the horrific oppression of The Party, with its persecution of Christians and its shady methods of disappearing its detractors.
I struggled to fully engage with the story at first. We are introduced to Party politician Léo Martin at the moment of his downfall; the Rat, scurrying behind the walls of Monteverre, avoiding notice and disowning humanity; and Claire Dryden, who holds the coveted post of Magister Ludi at Monteverre, despite her sex, and burns with barely-contained anger and grief. These three main characters are quite difficult to engage with initially, as all have their tightly-held secrets and push away scrutiny of their feelings and motivations.
Once the story-within-a-story begins, revealed through the pages of Léo’s diary of his student years, the characters begin to evolve and develop and I became thoroughly hooked on the beautiful, complex relationship developing between Martin and his arch-frenemy, Carfax. I gradually began to understand the essence of the ‘grand jeu’ game that the characters are obsessed with, and gave myself over to the brew of love, madness, terror and rage simmering beneath the sedate, academic surface.
As you can expect from the title, there are many betrayals as the plot unfolds, although frustratingly for the reader, most are unwitting and caused by poor communication or misunderstandings, rather than deliberate malice. The biggest and most unforgiveable betrayal here though, is the one perpetrated on the reader who falls in love with Carfax and Martin as students – two very different boys, struggling to navigate their way amid bullying, peer pressure, pride, fear and jealousy, and finding common ground against all the obstacles of society and their own personalities. The treatment of this relationship by the author in the ‘present day’ of the novel just didn’t feel right – it felt like an undermining of much of the growth that Léo had achieved to that point.
I’d have to sum this up as a slow-starter that took my breath away with its beauty and complexity once it got underway, but then winded me with a low blow at the end. I would still read more from this author though, as I love the way she explores themes and ideas, and the worlds she creates for them.
Purchase Link: The Betrayals on Amazon
Title: The Extraordinary Hope of Dawn Brightside
Author: Jessica Ryn
Blurb: She’s not lost. She’s just waiting to be found…
Dawn Elisabeth Brightside has been running from her past for twenty-two years and two months, precisely.
So when she is offered a bed in St Jude’s Hostel for the Homeless, it means so much more than just a roof over her head.
But with St Jude’s threatened with closure, Dawn worries that everything is about to crumble around her all over again.
Perhaps, with a little help from her new friends, she can find a way to save this light in the darkness?
And maybe, just maybe, Dawn will finally have a place to call home….
Review: A story about homelessness and mental health that grabs you right in the feels and doesn’t let go!
Dawn Brightside, the main and titular character, is homeless and has issues with mental illness, but her outlook remains relentlessly optimistic regardless of her circumstances. Luckily, her circumstances begin to improve as she finds a place, not only at St Jude’s Hostel for the Homeless, but also in the patchwork family of ‘misfits’ who live there. As she constantly tries to save everyone around her from themselves, we see her grow in strength and confidence, as they help her in return.
This story tackles sensitive issues of substance addiction, rape, mental illness and homelessness with gritty realism, but also with a warmth and constant hope that is incredibly moving – I cried real tears more than once.
The old ‘fundraising to save our home/business’, bringing disparate characters together in a common cause, is a bit of a tired trope, but it works perfectly here and the characters are fantastic (and this book made me feel EVERYTHING!), so I can easily forgive a bit of cliché and coincidence in a very good cause!
Dawn’s story is tragic, but also funny and heartwarming – a real ray of light in a dark, hard world.
Purchase Link: The Extraordinary Hope of Dawn Brightside on Amazon
Oops! Some of those weren’t so short – I guess I had a lot to say about this batch! I wonder whether these ‘quickies’ will eventually end up being longer than just doing standalone reviews for each one? Time and my TBR pile will tell…