Sunday Times bestseller with quirky, offbeat charm

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

‘My phone doesn’t ring often – it makes me jump when it does – and it’s usually people asking if I’ve been mis-sold Payment Protection Insurance. I whisper I know where you live to them, and hang up the phone very, very gently. No one’s been in my flat this year apart from the service professionals; I’ve not voluntarily invited another human being across the threshold, except to read the meter. You’d think that would be impossible, wouldn’t you? It’s true, though. I do exist, don’t I?’

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend. Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything. Now, one simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself.

This book has received a lot of praise. Not only is it a Sunday Times bestseller but it is also soon to be a made into a film produced by Reese Witherspoon. It’s a strange book, and nothing like what I expected, but the more I think about it the more I enjoyed its quirky, offbeat charm.

For a good portion of the book Eleanor is not a likeable character. She criticises others while remaining unaware of her own flaws and is rude more often than not because she’s unaware of the intricate rules that govern social interactions. It takes a long while to warm to her, but Honeyman is very clever with the way she drops in hints of why Eleanor is the way that she is, so that we start sympathising with her before we even realise it.

At times this book is laugh-out-loud funny, at others it is heart-wrenching. Honeyman’s exploration of loneliness is pin sharp and devastating, showing just how easy it is to go through life telling everyone you are fine; if you repeat it enough times, you even start to believe it yourself. But beneath the surface, Eleanor is not fine, and admitting that is going to be one of the hardest things she’s ever done.

Honeyman is adept at creating characters that feel real. In fictional worlds it’s often frustratingly obvious who’s good and who’s bad, but the vast majority of characters here feel like they exist in the realistic space between the two, including Eleanor. They are capable of profound acts of kindness, and they are capable of being judgemental and cruel.

The twist at the end felt a bit cheap and I didn’t think the story needed it, but it didn’t have too detrimental an effect on the book as a whole and altogether the ending was satisfying. For readers who like their books to explore the relationships between characters, with a plot that is equal parts happy and sad, you need look no further.

Advertisements

New book releases November 2017

Mythos by Stephen Fry

Comedian and actor Stephen Fry turns his hand to retelling Greek myths. From Zeus and Hades to Persephone and Pandora, discover why the Greek gods and goddesses are just like us.

Greek myths are admittedly something I don’t know much about, and I can’t imagine I would be in better hands to learn more about them than Fry’s.

Release date: 2nd November

Artemis by Andy Weir

Welcome to Artemis, the first city on the moon. Jazz Bashara lives in a poor area of Artemis and subsidises her work as a porter with smuggling contraband onto the moon. But it’s not enough. So when she’s offered the chance to make a lot of money, she jumps at it.

From the author of The Martian comes a sci-fi novel that promises a fun adventure in 1/6th gravity.

Release date: 14th November

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang

Orphaned, raised by wolves, and the proud owner of a horned pig named Merlin, Weylyn Grey knew he wasn’t like other people. But when he single-handedly stopped that tornado on a stormy Christmas Day in Oklahoma, he realised just how different he actually was. This is the story of Weylyn’s life from the perspectives of the people who knew him.

This debut novel has been described as ‘Charlotte’s Web for grown-ups’, and sounds bizarre and intriguing in equal measure.

Release date: 14th November

Heather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner

The Breakstone family arrange themselves around their daughter, Heather, and the world seems to follow. But as Heather grows, her radiance attracts more and more dark interest. Meanwhile a very different life, one of poverty and violence, is beginning its own malign orbit around Heather.

This first novel from award-winning Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner is a highly anticipated noir thriller that promises thrills aplenty.

Release date: 7th November

The House by Simon Lelic

Jack and Syd moved into their dream home in London a year ago. It seemed so perfect that, when they made a grisly discovery in the attic, they chose to ignore it. That was a mistake. Because someone has just been murdered outside their back door.

Called ‘taught, tense and terrifying’ by author Sharon Bolton, this psychological thriller is probably not one to read just before bed.

Release date: 2nd November

Artemis by Andy Weir SV

Mother by S.E. Lynes

Christopher grows up so lonely it hurts. Until the day he climbs into his family’s dusty attic, and finds a battered old suitcase. Inside the suitcase is a letter, and inside the letter is a secret about his mother that changes everything.

So many psychological thrillers promise a killer twist that ‘you just won’t see coming’, but this one has an intriguing premise and I’m eager to see whether Lynes pulls it off.

Release date: 22nd November

The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night by Jen Campbell

A girl runs a coffin hotel on a remote island. A boy is worried his sister has two souls. A couple are rewriting the history of the world. And mermaids are on display at the local aquarium.

This is a collection of 12 modern fairy tales brimming with magic, from the author of the Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops series.

Release date: 2nd November

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

Seven years ago the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a mockumentary bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Now a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain.

This sci-fi novel from the bestselling author of the Newsflesh series has already been called ‘a whip-smart thriller overflowing with social commentary’ by Kirkus.

Release date: 14th November

Jade City by Fonda Lee

Jade is the lifeblood of the city of Janloon – a stone that enhances a warrior’s natural strength and speed. When a modern drug emerges that allows anyone to wield jade, simmering tension between two crime families erupts into open violence.

This epic fantasy of family and honour promises plenty of magic and adventure.

Release date: 7th November

Bonfire by Krysten Ritter

It has been 10 years since Abby Williams left home and scrubbed away all evidence of her small town roots. Now working as an environmental lawyer in Chicago, she has a thriving career and her pick of one-night stands. But when a new case takes her back home, the life Abby created begins to crack.

This debut book from Jessica Jones actress Krysten Ritter doesn’t sound particularly original, but has already been called ‘dark and disturbing’, so I might just have to give it a go.

Release date: 9th November

10 ghost stories you can read online for free

What better way to spend Halloween than cosying up with friends or family, lighting candles against the dark and telling ghost stories to scare each other senseless? Here are a few spooky stories you can read online for free – guaranteed to send shivers down your spine.

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

Poe masterfully tells the story of a man driven mad by a crime he has committed. The frantic tone and narrator’s matter-of-fact reassurances to the reader – ‘observe how calmly I can tell you the whole story’ – add to the horrific nature of the tale. The almost unbearable suspense is sure to make your heart pound and your nerves tingle.

‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’ by M.R. James

This story, about the discovery of an old brass whistle in some ruins, is a wonderful mix of humour and terror. The witty exchanges of dialogue – ‘I thought I should do nicely to keep the ghosts off’ – lull the reader into a false sense of security. But the hallmarks of a classic ghost story – a bleak landscape, wind moaning about the casements and things that go bump in the night – leave you in no doubt as to what kind of tale you’re reading.

Cannibalism in the Cars by Mark Twain

Set in the dim interior of a train that has come to a standstill in a snowstorm, the sense of claustrophobia means this story is perfect for reading on a chill autumn night. Days of hunger stranded in the train lead to a discussion – which is somehow both funny and horrifying – about how the passengers are going to survive.

The Open Window by Saki

A brilliantly creepy tale that I can’t say too much about without giving away the ending, this bite-sized short story is perfect for those who don’t have much time on their hands.

The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs

This creepy story begins in the vein of many classic ghost stories: with characters sitting around a fire telling tales on a cold, wet night. A mysterious monkey’s paw, brought back from India by a sergeant, purports to grant three wishes to the holder. The clever twists and turns of the plot keep you reading even as the story fills you with dread, and the ending is brilliantly terrifying.

The Minister’s Black Veil by Nathaniel Hawthorne

This spooky, slightly odd story is worth it if you can muddle through the antiquated language. A minister distresses his puritanical flock when he starts wearing a black veil at all times, for seemingly no reason at all. Although not a traditional ghost story, its eerie atmosphere will still appeal to those searching for something to send a chill down the spine.

John Charrington’s Wedding by E. Nesbit

It’s difficult to convey a sense of character in a short story (particularly in a genre as full of clichés as the ghost story) but Nesbit manages to create three-dimensional characters in a few deft strokes. This story is full of premonition and dread, and you won’t easily forget the horror of the last few paragraphs.

The Lives of the Dead by Tim O’Brien

This is easily one of the most well-written stories on this list, exploring the ways in which we try to keep the dead alive. The matter-of-fact language and moments of humour somehow make the horrors of war all the more upsetting.

The Demon Lover by Elizabeth Bowen

This story’s strength lies in its protagonist’s determination to remain calm and collected despite events pointing to suspicious – and possibly supernatural – elements at play. This only makes the sudden ending all the more shocking.

Death by Landscape by Margaret Atwood

Although the longest story on this list, Atwood manages to create a sense of dread from the first paragraph to the last in this story of a woman looking back on her time at a summer camp. Not a traditional ghost story, it nevertheless retains a ghostly sense of things just on the edge of sight, lurking in the shadows.

Gothic ghost story is perfect reading for Halloween

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

‘The horses’ hooves squelched outside. The windows began to mist. Elsie pulled down her sleeve and rubbed it against the glass. Dreary images lumbered past. Everything was overgrown and shabby. Remnants of a grey brick wall poked up from the grass like tombstones, while clover and bracken swarmed around. Nature was coming into its own, reclaiming the space with brambles and moss.’

1866. Newly married, newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband’s crumbling country estate. With her new servants resentful and the local villagers hostile, Elsie only has her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. For inside her new home is a locked room, and beyond that door lies a 200-year-old diary and a deeply unsettling painted wooden figure.

It seems this book has been everywhere I look recently, teasing me with its beautiful cover, but I was determined to wait until the weather became colder and more autumnal, offering a more atmospheric time to read a ghost story. Then October arrived and I could contain myself no longer. Thankfully, The Silent Companions was worth the wait.

Billed as a ghost story inspired by Shirley Jackson and Susan Hill, Purcell really delivers on the gothic front; this book is full of flickering candlelight, locked rooms in crumbling mansions, superstitious villagers and things that go bump in the night.

Everything here is pitch-perfect for a ghost story. It starts innocently enough, with easily dismissed tales of noises coming from the locked attic, but we know what kind of story we are reading; we know there are darker things lurking beneath the surface. Gradually the dread increases until you find your pulse racing and your heart in your mouth as events become more and more horrifying.

Elsie is the perfect character for such a story. A woman who represses her feelings and her memories, supernatural forces find plenty to tease and torture her with. The psychological effect this has on Elsie – and the characters around her – is just as frightening as the ghostly goings-on.

For this is not just a story of ghosts and curses and deals with the devil. Purcell cleverly uses such gothic themes to explore the question of whether the most terrifying thing of all isn’t the supernatural, but the capability humans have for inflicting pain on each other.

The only thing I didn’t like about the book is the framing narrative, in which Elsie is locked in a mental asylum and is reluctantly beginning to remember the events leading up to her incarceration. This only served to slow down the pace, but thankfully there were only a few of these chapters.

The Silent Companions is the perfect book to pick up as the cold draws in and the evenings get darker. Settle down and prepare to be thoroughly spooked.

Many thanks to Bloomsbury for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Bleak but beautiful historical novel explores Irish folklore beliefs

The Good People by Hannah Kent

Alarm ran through her and she looked down at the child, his hair copper in the firelight. She was grateful that he slept. The boy’s difference did not show so much when he was asleep. The keel of his limbs slackened, and there was no telling the dumb tongue in his head. Martin had always said Micheál looked most like their daughter when asleep. ‘You can almost think him well,’ he had said once. ‘You can see how he will be when the sickness has passed. When we have cured him of it.’’’

Ireland, 1825. Nóra, bereft after the sudden death of her beloved husband, finds herself alone and caring for her young grandson, Micheál, who cannot speak or walk. In her desperation to discover what is wrong with him, Nóra employs the help of her new maid, Mary, and local healer, Nance. Together the three women will walk a dangerous path in which their folkloric beliefs wrap ever more tightly around them.

Last year I read Kent’s debut novel, Burial Rites, and loved its bleak atmosphere and the beauty of the writing. Second novels are famously difficult beasts and I had doubts Kent would be able to write another masterful story. But she has done just that.

I am in awe of Kent’s writing talent. She conjures the bleak and beautiful landscape of the Irish countryside in carefully chosen language that really packs a punch. It’s the kind of writing that makes you stop and take a breath and then re-read the same paragraph over and over because it’s so startling and moving.

Kent has created an immersive world in which folk beliefs control all aspects of everyday life. These beliefs are an attempt to make sense of a world where bad things happen for no reason. Characters hope that by appeasing the fairies, the Good People, that they can prevent such things from happening. It is a world governed by quiet rituals, with malice lurking just beneath the surface.

The Good People has many similar themes to Kent’s first novel. Like Agnes, Nóra is not always an empathetic character. Nevertheless, her grief over the loss of her husband is heart-wrenching and her desire to help her grandson is realistic and understandable. This makes it all the more uncomfortable for the reader as she begins to take her frustration out on Micheál, a helpless boy who cannot walk or talk and screams throughout the night for seemingly no reason at all.

Towards the end it feels as though Kent loses her way a little, but she manages to bring it all together again for a satisfying ending.

Kent succeeds brilliantly at doing just what historical fiction is supposed to do: plunging you into an entirely different world that somehow feels familiar. I did find it a struggle at first to get used to the rhythm of the characters’ dialogue and the frequent use of Irish phrases, but it didn’t take long for me to get past this.

The Good People is a character-driven novel with a fascinating setting, a haunting plot and lots of tension. This is a book you won’t easily forget.

New book releases for October 2017

The Lost Village by Neil Spring

Notorious ghost hunter Harry Price has reluctantly reunited with his former assistant Sarah Grey to unlock the secrets of an abandoned English village called Imber. Each winter, on one night only, Imber’s former residents return to visit loved ones buried in the overgrown churchyard. But this year, something has gone wrong.

Spring returns to the characters of Harry and Sarah following the events of the brilliantly creepy The Ghost Hunters. October is, of course, the perfect time of year for a ghost story, and this one comes out just in time for Halloween.

Release date: 19th October

 

La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman

11-year-old Malcolm Polstead and his dæmon, Asta, live with his parents near Oxford. Across the River Thames is the Godstow Priory where the nuns live. Malcolm learns they have a guest with them, a baby by the name of Lyra Belacqua.

This has got to be one of the most anticipated books of 2017. Pullman returns to the world of His Dark Materials with the first volume in a new series that promises to be just as full of magic and adventure as The Northern Lights.

Release date: 19th October

 

The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris

Historian Lindsey Fitzharris recreates a critical turning point in the history of medicine, when Joseph Lister transformed surgery from a brutal, harrowing practice to the esteemed profession we know today.

I find the history of medicine endlessly fascinating and this new non-fiction book promises blood-soaked Victorian operating theatres and early experimentation with anaesthesia.

Release date: 17th October

 

The Mayflower Generation by Rebecca Fraser

The voyage of the Mayflower is one of the important events in world history. But the group of English Puritans who ventured across the Atlantic in 1620 had no sense they would pass into legend. Rebecca Fraser traces two generations of one ordinary family as they adapt to the challenges of life in America.

Another area of history that fascinates me is the arrival of early settlers in America, and this book sounds as though it will put people at the forefront of the story.

Release date: 19th October

 

Even the Darkest Stars by Heather Fawcett

Kamzin has always dreamed of becoming one of the Emperor’s royal explorers, the elite climbers tasked with mapping the mountainous Empire and spying on its enemies. When the eccentric River Shara, the greatest explorer ever known, hires her for his next expedition, Kamzin is determined to prove herself.

This highly anticipated debut novel is the first in a fantasy duology and promises plenty of adventure and nail-biting action.

Release date: 19th October

HP

Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

Richard Shakespeare is an actor struggling to make his way in a company dominated by his estranged older brother, William. As the growth of theatre blooms, their rivalry – and that of the playhouses, playwrights and actors vying for glory – propels a high-stakes story of conflict and betrayal.

This is a departure from the norm by bestselling author Bernard Cornwell, but I love historical fiction, particularly if it’s set in the Tudor period, and this one sounds particularly intriguing.

 

The Naturalist by Andrew Mayne

As a computational biologist, Theo is more familiar with digital code and microbes than forensics. But a field trip to Montana suddenly lands him in the middle of an investigation into the murder of one of his former students. As more bodies come to light, the local cops determine that the killer is either a grizzly bear gone rogue, or Theo himself.

This new release from well-known author Mayne promises thrills, suspense and violence aplenty.

Release date: 1st October

 

Origin by Dan Brown

Robert Langdon arrives at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao to attend the unveiling of a discovery that “will change the face of science forever”. But Langdon and several hundred other guests are left reeling when the evening is blown apart before the discovery can be revealed. With his life under threat, Langdon flees to Barcelona on a perilous quest to locate a cryptic password that will unlock the secret of the discovery.

We all know Dan Brown isn’t the best writer, but that doesn’t mean his books don’t make for enjoyable reading, particularly those featuring Harvard professor Robert Langdon. This will be Langdon’s fifth outing.

Release date: 3rd October

 

I Am Watching You by Teresa Driscoll

When Ella overhears two men flirting with teenage girls on a train, she thinks nothing of it – until she realises the men are fresh out of prison. But just as she’s decided to call for help, something stops her. The next day, she wakes up to the news that one of the girls has disappeared.

Sometimes you just need to cosy up with a thriller that really grabs you and will make you want to read it in one sitting. This book seems like just that type.

Release date: 1st October

 

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Illustrated Edition)

The third book in the Harry Potter series gets the illustrated treatment from Jim Kay, whose beautiful illustrations have already brought to life The Philosopher’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets. Personally, The Prisoner of Azkaban is my favourite in the series so I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on this one. This time, we’ll get to see the Knight Bus, meet Buckbeak and Sirius Black, and experience the iconic moment Hermione punches Malfoy in the face.

Release date: 3rd October

Ali Land’s debut novel asks: is blood thicker than water?

Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land

‘Forgive me when I tell you it was me. It was me that told. The detective. A kindly man, belly full and round. Disbelief at first. Then, the stained dungarees I pulled from my bag. Tiny. The teddy bear on the front peppered red with blood. I could have brought more, so many to choose from. She never knew I kept them.’

Annie’s mother is a serial killer. The only way she can stop her is to hand her in to the police. As her mother’s trial looms, the secrets of her past won’t let Annie sleep, even with a new foster family to give her a fresh start. Now, surely, she can be whoever she wants to be. But blood is thicker than water.

This book is gripping from the first page to the last, building up suspense until the reader’s every muscle is tensed with dread at what is going to happen next. It’s undeniably very dark, with some troubling subject matter, but it’s perfect for those who like their thrillers to unsettle and make their skin crawl.

The twists and turns aren’t exactly surprising but Land’s writing more than makes up for it. She knows that a few carefully chosen words can be more powerful than paragraphs of description; splashes of blood on a child’s discarded clothing are more disturbing than seeing the body, and peering through the keyhole can be more terrifying than throwing open the door. It’s claustrophobic and so immersive you’ll find your heart racing and your breath catching in your throat.

Annie is an incredible narrator, struggling to forget who she was and focus on who she might be. But her mother’s presence looms over everything she does, every word she speaks, and despite her best efforts she finds herself slipping back into old habits. She is adept at manipulation, knows just what to say and how to act to get what she wants, but her damaged childhood means she isn’t always in control of herself.

All the characters surrounding Annie are also realistically portrayed. Even those who veer towards stereotype have enough flawed edges to mark them out from the crowd and make the reader care about what happens to them.

The plot does require some suspension of disbelief, but if you’re able to let that go you’re sure to find lots to enjoy here. Good Me Bad Me is an incredible debut novel, and I would highly recommend it.