debut novel

All posts tagged debut novel

Heart-Shaped Box – Joe Hill

Published August 20, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Sooner or later the dead catch up.

When Judas Coyne heard someone was selling a ghost on the internet, there was no question. It was perfect for his collection of the macabre: the cannibal’s cookbook, the witch’s confession, the authentic snuff movie. As an ageing death-metal rock-god, buying a poltergeist almost qualifies as a business expense.

Besides, Jude thinks he knows all about ghosts. Jude has been haunted for years… by the spirits of bandmates dead and gone, the spectre of the abusive father he fled as a child, and the memory of the suicidal girl he abandoned. But this ghost, delivered to his doorstep in a black heart-shaped box, is different. It makes the house feel cold. It makes the dogs bark. And it means to chase Jude from his home and make him run for his life.

What did I think?:

Regular visitors might be aware of a teeny weeny love (obsession?) I have with Stephen King. Well, Joe Hill happens to be one of his children and I have had his debut novel on my shelves for the longest time, putting it off and then putting it off some more. Why did I do this? I have no idea when this book is just so damn GOOD! All I can think is that I had huge expectations and that’s really not fair to him as an author, his novels stand on their own as brilliant (occasionally terrifying) works of fiction. He shouldn’t be compared to his father in any way, shape or form and I’m not going to even go there. I’m just going to talk about how fantastic HE is.

Heart-Shaped Box is a dark, twisted little tale about a middle-aged rock star, Judas Coyne who has a fancy for the quirky, more unusual items out there on the web and his head is turned by someone selling a ghost in a heart-shaped box. However, purchasing it has to be one of the biggest mistakes in his life. Within the box is an old suit that contains the spirit of a very vengeful, very nasty man called Craddock McDermott that has a bone to pick with Judas. His step-daughter committed suicide after being in a relationship with Judas, a relationship that ended quite acrimoniously and obviously led her to taking her own life. Now Craddock is back from the dead, apoplectic with rage, determined to avenge his step-daughter and for Jude and anyone who stands in his way there’s going to be hell to pay.

Great premise right? With a synopsis like that, I was expecting great things and Joe Hill delivered on every single level. The plot was fast, exciting and ever so gritty and at points, the twists and turns that this narrative took and the things Craddock subjected Jude and his girlfriend Georgia to were truly hideous and terrifying in equal measure. I also loved the creation of the characters who weren’t necessarily the easiest people to like – frankly, I despised Jude at the start and found Georgia irritating and a bit of a brat… but Joe Hill completely changed my mind round and I found myself championing both of them until the bitter end. Craddock was also an amazing villain – insane, petrifying, disgusting, all these things but utterly, completely brilliant. Some reviewers are not so keen on this book as I am and praise Joe Hill’s later books – Horns, NOS4R2 and The Fireman more than this, his debut novel. Well, all I can say is if this isn’t his best, boy am I in for a treat when I read his next book! (P.S. I have already read his second novel, Horns – review coming soon and spoiler alert, it’s completely fantastic!!)

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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The Wages Of Sin – Kaite Welsh

Published August 14, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Sarah Gilchrist has fled London and a troubled past to join the University of Edinburgh’s medical school in 1882, the first year it admits women. She is determined to become a doctor despite the misgivings of her family and society, but Sarah quickly finds plenty of barriers at school itself: professors who refuse to teach their new pupils, male students determined to force out their female counterparts, and—perhaps worst of all—her female peers who will do anything to avoid being associated with a fallen woman.

Desperate for a proper education, Sarah turns to one of the city’s ramshackle charitable hospitals for additional training. The St Giles’ Infirmary for Women ministers to the downtrodden and drunk, the thieves and whores with nowhere else to go. In this environment, alongside a group of smart and tough teachers, Sarah gets quite an education. But when Lucy, one of Sarah’s patients, turns up in the university dissecting room as a battered corpse, Sarah finds herself drawn into a murky underworld of bribery, brothels, and body snatchers.

Painfully aware of just how little separates her own life from that of her former patient’s, Sarah is determined to find out what happened to Lucy and bring those responsible for her death to justice. But as she searches for answers in Edinburgh’s dank alleyways, bawdy houses and fight clubs, Sarah comes closer and closer to uncovering one of Edinburgh’s most lucrative trades, and, in doing so, puts her own life at risk…

An irresistible read with a fantastic heroine, beautifully drawn setting, fascinating insights into what it was like to study medicine as a woman at that time, The Wages of Sin is a stunning debut that heralds a striking new voice in historical fiction.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Tinder Press for approving my request on NetGalley to read this extraordinary novel in exchange for an honest review. I saw Wages of Sin initially on Twitter and it ticked all the boxes for me as a reader. It’s a work of historical fiction (tick), set in Edinburgh (tick) in the Victorian era (tick) that involves a strong female lead character (tick) dealing with a mysterious murder (tick). With so much going for it, there is always the anticipation that it might not be as great as it sounds but luckily I had no worries at all on that account. This book was a fantastic and thrilling debut novel and a truly fascinating look into women in science at a time when it was slightly frowned upon in an arrogantly patriarchal society.

Our main character is Sarah Gilchrist, a highly intelligent woman who dreams of being a doctor but has to leave London after a scandal threatens her standing in the world. She becomes a medical student in Edinburgh and has to struggle on a daily basis with not only the derision of the male students but also the attitudes of her fellow women scholars who become suspicious of her past. Sarah works her fingers to the bone – studying, completing practical and written assessments for her training and then (if that wasn’t hard work enough) assisting a friend at her medical clinic, helping the poor, needy and often “women of ill repute.”

This is where she comes across Lucy, a prostitute who comes in begging for help with an unwanted pregnancy, of course completely illegal in these times. She is turned away only to turn up dead on the anatomy table the next time Sarah sees her. Sarah feels devastated at what has happened but also determined to unearth the secrets of her death, especially when she suspects foul play and discovers tenuous links between Lucy and a professor at the medical school. However, she is treading on very dangerous grounds as some people may desire the secrets that died with Lucy to remain buried and may not necessarily welcome Sarah’s interference.

The Wages Of Sin was an exciting, roller-coaster ride of a novel that had me hooked from page one. Kaite Welsh writes with such a canny eye for detail that you can sense everything in the narrative – the smells, the sounds, the sights and it is brilliantly gritty and difficult to put down once started. Sarah was a fantastic character who was flawed but inherently such a good person and I loved her dogged determination in getting at the truth behind an obviously grisly murder. One of my favourite things about this novel though had to be learning about what female medical students had to suffer when studying to become doctors. They went through abominable treatment being mocked on a daily basis for their choice of career and the lack of confidence in what they could achieve was quite honestly, disgusting. Thank goodness times have changed! For a debut novel, this is an amazing piece of work and so beautifully written. I thoroughly enjoyed every page and cannot wait to see what Kaite Welsh does next.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

The Arrangement – Sonya Lalli

Published August 10, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

You can’t choose who you fall for…but it helps if there’s a list

Raina, twenty-nine, is still unmarried much to the dismay of her family who think that by now she should have been married in a dream Indian wedding. The pressure to settle down reaches new heights when her grandmother, Nani, decides to play matchmaker in order to find her the perfect man.

Eager not to disappoint her family, Raina goes along with the plan but when the love of her life returns – ex-boyfriend Dev – she’s forced to confront her true feelings and decide what she really wants.

Funny, feelgood and heart-warming, The Arrangement shines a light on being single in your twenties, societal and cultural expectation of women, and modern day arranged marriages. Perfect summer read for fans of Ayisha Malik’s Sofia Khan is Not Obliged and Aziz Ansari’s Master of None.

What did I think?:

Happy publication day to Sonya Lalli and her wonderful novel, The Arrangement – a story about love, the “arrangement” of love and the importance of family and friendships that I thoroughly enjoyed. Thank you so much to Lauren Woosey at Orion Books for sending me a copy of this incredibly touching read in exchange for an honest review. I have to be perfectly honest, I’m not usually the biggest fan of romance novels as I think I’ve mentioned before in my blog so I did approach this book with a slight wariness and trepidation about what I might find. Would it be too cheesy and sickly sweet? Well, I had no need to worry. Sonya Lalli has a wonderful sense of humour which she uses throughout the novel to tell a moving story where I instantly fell in love with the characters and cared about their lives.

Our main character is Raina, a young woman living in Toronto, Canada with a high powered career but as yet, no husband on the horizon at the age of twenty-nine, much to the despair of her beloved grandmother, Nani. Raina is of Indian heritage and the pressure is on to find a suitor and have that perfect wedding by the time she is thirty. To mollify her Nani, Raina gives her permission to come up with some potential husbands that she agrees to date and see where things go. Of course, Nani comes up with a whole list and encourages Raina to go on multiple dates to try and find her Mr Right. However, Nani isn’t aware that Raina is still holding a torch for her last boyfriend, Dev who she dated when living in London and the relationship ended quite acrimoniously when Dev had his doubts about moving to Toronto for her. Now Dev is back in Raina’s life and saying all the right things, leaving Raina torn and confused about what her heart really wants.

This novel is contemporary romance with such a humorous twist and I absolutely loved it. Not only did I fall completely in love with Raina and her adorable Nani as characters but I also appreciated the nods that Sonya Lalli gave to traditional Indian culture which I found fascinating and felt like I learned a lot about their customs and beliefs. Raina goes through such an emotional journey in this novel – we see her past relationship with Dev, her present situation when he returns and a different side of Raina as she goes on dates with potential suitors. We also get to see her more vulnerable side where not only are her strongest friendships tested to the limit but she has a heart-breaking struggle with close family members that really moved me. My favourite relationship in the novel had to be Raina and her Nani, who practically raised her from a young girl and is her staunchest and most enthusiastic supporter, no matter what Raina does or says. For anyone looking for a funny and heart-warming read I would certainly suggest The Arrangement – it was a beautiful story that made me feel all fuzzy inside and put a big smile on my face to boot.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertalli

Published August 6, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

What did I think?:

I was super nervous about reading this book. It was one of my sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads’ favourite book last year and although I’m always confident that if she tells me I’ll like a book I will really like it, she hyped this one up good and proper. I’m sure you’ve had it before – that dreaded hype monster, where you feel the pressure to like a particular book that has been praised to the skies? Yep, that was Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda for me. So, you can imagine my relief when by about halfway through this novel, I declared myself in love. With the book, with the story, with the characters…. it’s a wonderfully diverse yet inclusive story and I still find myself thinking about the characters today and wondering what they’re up to.

Our main protagonist of the novel is Simon Spier, recently come to terms with the fact that he’s homosexual but not that willing to shout it from the rooftops just yet, so is remaining firmly in the closet until he can be sure of his family and friends reactions. However, he has been recently emailing this one guy, Blue and their correspondence has turned a little on the flirty side. Blue goes to the same school as him but like Simon, is not comfortable about being out and proud and both boys have no idea whom the other is.  However, their secret could soon be out and their relationship compromised when one of their emails falls into the wrong hands, hands that threaten blackmail and revealing the two boys for whom they really are. This could ruin everything for both Simon and Blue but is Simon brave enough to take a stand against the threats? Or is it just too much to risk when he is unsure of the reactions from his nearest and dearest?

As I mentioned before, I fell head over heels for this story and the characters within it. I loved both Simon and Blue and the emails that flipped between them – believe me, I’m not a fan of sickly sweet and conventional romance but their relationship was just too damn cute not to fall for and also incredibly convincing to read about. Also, it’s so refreshing to see more diverse, different ethnic groups and sexuality in young adult fiction nowadays, the more the better I say and please keep it coming! The humour, authenticity of the characters and all round good feelings I got from this novel was second to none and I applaud Becky Albertalli for writing such a touching piece of fiction that I think a lot of teenagers are going to be able to relate to. There’s no point in saying any more – just go read it!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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The End We Start From – Megan Hunter

Published August 2, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

In the midst of a mysterious environmental crisis, as London is submerged below flood waters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, the family are forced to leave their home in search of safety. As they move from place to place, shelter to shelter, their journey traces both fear and wonder as Z’s small fists grasp at the things he sees, as he grows and stretches, thriving and content against all the odds.

This is a story of new motherhood in a terrifying setting: a familiar world made dangerous and unstable, its people forced to become refugees. Startlingly beautiful, Megan Hunter’s The End We Start From is a gripping novel that paints an imagined future as realistic as it is frightening. And yet, though the country is falling apart around them, this family’s world – of new life and new hope – sings with love.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Picador for approving me to read this short but powerful novel on NetGalley in return for an honest review. The End We Start From was subject to a ferocious bidding war following the London Book Fair and I first came across it on Twitter where it seemed to be everywhere. There were even some that thought it might be long-listed for the Man Booker Prize this year. This is why I’m a bit concerned that my review might fall firmly into the realm of the “unpopular opinions.” Don’t get me wrong, the writing is absolutely incredible, so lyrical and beautiful and I was so excited by the synopsis of the book but something just fell a little flat for me. I’m a little relieved to find that I’m not the only one that felt this way (from looking at reviews on GoodReads) but I can’t help but feel that I was missing something and that it’s the sort of book I should have just loved.

We don’t know when the story is set, we are never told. We can assume it’s a dystopian future where (possibly climate change?) has precipitated catastrophic weather changes in the United Kingdom, leading to extreme flooding and the majority of the population having to flee London for dryer areas, many ending up in refugee camps until the waters subside. This is the situation that our narrator, her husband and their newborn son find themselves in. After the chaos of the floods lead to the disappearance/deaths of her husband’s parents, our narrator finds herself then separated from her husband and stuck in a camp where she must form new alliances and find a way of living. Her sole focus is obviously the survival and upbringing of her infant son.

It’s hard to describe this novel in more detailed terms. When I first began, I was very intrigued, especially when our narrator is left on her own with her son. Then, it almost became a meditation on motherhood and the stages that her son goes through as he starts to develop in a strange new world where food and shelter is not guaranteed and the future is uncertain. The characters are referred to just by an initial, so our narrator’s husband is R, her son is Z, etc. I was never quite sure whether this worked for me. It stripped the characters of all their individuality (which may have been the point!) but I never felt like I could connect with them or learn much about them as a result. The author uses quite short, snappy sentences to tell the story which are nothing short of stunning and so poetic and gorgeous but everything was just too vague and detached for me to fully invest with the narrative.

We never know what exactly has happened to the world to cause these  disastrous events, there is no dialogue between any of the characters and at no time did I ever feel really involved with our narrator and her situation. After all the hype this book has got, I have to say I’m a bit disappointed, it really wasn’t for me. The rating I have given it is purely for the beauty of the writing alone, plot wise I was expecting so much more. I’m sure there are people out there that will absolutely lap this novel up and perhaps I need to read it again and just appreciate the language used and the structure of the sentences which the author definitely does have a huge talent for – who knows? If you’ve read it, I’d love to know what you thought!

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe.

Star rating (out of 5):

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Gather The Daughters – Jennie Melamed

Published July 25, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

For fans of Emma Cline’s THE GIRLS and Emily St John Mandel’s STATION 11, this dark, unsettling and hugely compelling story of an isolated island cult will get under your skin.

GATHER THE DAUGHTERS tells the story of an end-of-the-world cult founded years ago when ten men colonised an island. It’s a society in which men reign supreme, breeding is controlled, and knowledge of the outside world is kept to a minimum. Girls are wives-in-training: at the first sign of puberty, they must marry and have children. But until that point, every summer, island tradition dictates that the children live wildly: running free, making camps, sleeping on the beach. And it is at the end of one such summer that one of the youngest girls sees something so horrifying that life on the island can never be the same again.

What did I think?:

Tinder Press are fast becoming one of my favourite publishers, they are bringing out some outstanding books this year so thank you so much to them and to Caitlin Raynor for sending me an advance copy of this unbelievable dystopian story in exchange for an honest review. Gather The Daughters is released today and believe me, you simply must get your hands on it because the narrative and indeed, the world that Jennie Melamed has created is truly stunning and you won’t regret a second you spend reading it.

The story is set on an island which is quite isolated from the rest of the world both physically, separated by a band of water and literally as the way of life experienced by the islanders is not exactly conventional. The society is patriarchal and there are very clear rules about what women can and cannot do, say, be exposed to etc according to “the ancestors,” whose strange rules are law and should never be questioned or disobeyed. There are strict guidelines about not touching daughters in the families until they have entered their summer of fruition i.e. got their first period. It is after then that they are married off and treated as little more than breeding machines with the sole purpose of increasing the population of the colony. However, every summer, the children are let loose on the island to run wild, play, have fun, fend for themselves and enjoy the small freedom that they have before entering a life of drudgery. It is during this one summer that one small girl, Caitlin witnesses something shocking happening on the island and from then on, nothing will ever be the same again.

Wow. Just wow. I could already tell when I read the synopsis that this was a book I simply had to get my hands on and I was over the moon when it surpassed my already very high expectations. The writing is wonderfully sublime, the world-building one of a kind and the characters – like a dream come true. We hear from multiple daughters of the island including Caitlin herself, and the brilliant Janey whose actions when she hears what Caitlin has seen have huge consequences for everyone on the island. Some of the things that happen in this novel are truly horrific, others are nail-biting and it makes for the most amazing debut piece of fiction that I have read in a long, long time. Jennie Melamed has created such a frightening dystopian society that makes you think, gets deep under your skin and has a unique style and voice all of its own. This is an author to watch out for I’m certain and I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next – I’ll be first in the queue to read it although I might have to fight for my place when everyone else reads this too!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Living The Dream – Lauren Berry

Published July 6, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

A funny, satirical, sharp and honest look at modern British life from the perspective of two young women. The launch of an exciting new voice from Virago Press.

Emma Derringer is an assistant at a branding agency in London. Each morning she arrives at the office, types in her password (Fresh_He11) and shoves her jacket under her desk (DEAR ALL, Please keep your coats and bags out of sight and NOT on your chairs as they are unsightly. Thx). Most days Emma wears a mask of indifference that disguises either her boredom, her hangover or both. When her overbearing boss isn’t looking she pursues her career as a writer, sending articles, posting blogs and trying to get noticed for her talent, instead of mistakes on her PowerPoint presentations.

Clementine Twist arrives home from a stint in New York with a hefty overdraft, a crushed heart and a waning confidence in her budding career as a screenwriter. She moves in with her mum, gets a job in bar and spends her days composing emails to agents, producers and anyone who might help her onto the slippery ladder of the film industry.

As their 30s loom and the freedom and fun of their 20s gives way to the adult pressures of job satisfaction and perceived success, Emma and Clem realise it’s time to ramp up their efforts, and think about quitting the day job.

Amid life’s larger questions Emma and Clem have to answer to the daily challenges of big city life on a little budget, as well as inane questions about getting their nails did from their mutual frenemy Yasmin, the phone to increasingly technophobic parents and emails to ever more rejection letters.

Living the Dream is a razor-sharp comic novel of office life, friendship and the search for meaning.

What did I think?:

First of all happy publication day to author Lauren Berry with her debut novel, Living The Dream! Secondly, a huge thank you to Grace Vincent and Little, Brown publishers for allowing me to read a copy in exchange for an honest review. To be perfectly honest, I don’t normally read books within this genre. However, when Grace contacted me and I read the synopsis I was in the mood for something light-hearted and funny so I was happy to give it a shot and was intrigued to read a story about a group of twenty-somethings living the hectic, London life attempting to balance work, friendship, having fun and falling in love.

Our story focuses on two girls of a similar age and personality, best friends Emma and Clem (the latter of whom just happens to have a fantastic name – Clementine Twist). They both appear to have what the other one desires, Emma has the stable job in advertising with a steady, decent wage that enables her to pay her rent on the flat she shares with a friend, go out occasionally and treat herself from time to time if she wanted. Clem on the other hand has just come back from New York where she was studying film, getting involved and then breaking up with an idiot actor boyfriend and trying her hand at writing her own script, still to be commissioned as she touches back down on Earth (aka London).

Both girls are miserable. Emma is desperately unhappy at her job and wants to jack it all in to pursue her real dream – writing, but is terrified of making that big jump and losing that guaranteed wage that she has become accustomed to. Clem is attempting to set up meetings with directors and people interested in her script with varying degrees of success but is having to live with her mum and stepfather and is completely broke, forced to take up bar work just to get some money coming in. Living The Dream looks at both girls lives as they attempt to navigate the scary adult world of budgeting and chasing your dream whilst realising the grown up experience might not be everything it’s cracked up to be.

As I mentioned before, this isn’t the genre I would normally go for and, as a result, I didn’t fall head over heels in love with this novel. However, it does have some terrific things going for it and in the right pair of hands would be highly enjoyable I’m sure. I did sympathise with the plight of both characters and enjoyed the strong friendship between the two although also appreciated that the author wasn’t afraid to take the story to darker places on occasion, something I wasn’t expecting. I also liked that this novel didn’t harp on about “finding the right man,” which was a breath of fresh air in this genre and focused more on the interactions between friends than the dynamics of male-female relationships. I don’t really want to criticise the novel as I believe it’s purely a personal preference why I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped to and there are no stand out writing flaws or character quirks that I out and out disliked. So even though I may have not been the perfect reader for this story, I can still appreciate the positive aspects of the narrative and am certain there is a strong readership out there who will love it.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

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