Book review: ‘The Book of Mirrors’ by E.O Chirovici

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How would you piece together a murder?

Do you trust other people’s memories?
Do you trust your own?
Should you?

Princeton, 1987: renowned psychologist Professor Joseph Weider is brutally murdered.

New York, twenty-five years later: literary agent Peter Katz receives a manuscript. Or is it a confession?

Today: unearth the secrets of The Book of Mirrors and discover why your memory is the most dangerous weapon of all.

Memories, those fragments from our past which can create happiness, pain and nostalgia, form the basis of Chirovici’s complex new thriller The Book of Mirrors. It’s a fascinating plot tracing the memories of Richard Flynn, who retells his version of the events which lead to the death of Professor Weider 25 years prior. One half of Flynn’s manuscript lands with an intrigued literary agent Peter Katz, who sets out to retrieve its other half with the help of reporter John Keller. Using his investigative journalism skills to piece together the events, Keller becomes embroiled in finding answers. Lastly, it’s retired cop Roy Freeman who is also on the hunt for the truth surrounding Weider’s death, and carries out his own investigation in the hopes of resolving one of his unsolved cases. Every character wishes to know who killed Professor Weider for their own reasons, and the book is thus split into parts that follow what each character deduces from their individual investigations.

Interestingly, Flynn’s memories and manuscript frame the novel and create a multilayered story within a story – Chirovic makes it clear that the ‘mirrors’ the title refers to reveals harsh truths for each character, but also creates a jarring, distorted world that flits between reality and make-believe. The idea that our memories can fade, mutate, tell us false truths or even be 100% accurate is brought to life in the novel, and adds to the uncertainty of the plot.

The Book of Mirrors does not rely as much as on aesthetic description as it does in revealing its characters’ inner monologues. As the story unfolds, it brings to mind distorted mirrors found in a fairground, where one can face many different versions of one truth, but which feels nightmarish too. The Book of Mirrors is very much a psychological conundrum, but I appreciated that Chirovic sticks closely to the narrative, and carefully ties any loose threads together by the end.

The Book of Mirrors is a fascinating read that shatters the bubble each character is living in. Intelligently written, the novel offers a good insight into the depth of our memories, and the stories that shape our lives.

Rating: 7/10

Inspired by false memories from his childhood and written in the author’s second language, remarkably The Book of Mirrors nearly wasn’t published at all.

Having been rejected in the US, E. O. Chirovici took the novel to a small UK publisher who advised him to try just one more time to get it to a wider readership. He did, and The Book of Mirrors was immediately signed by a literary agent, sparking a UK auction and world-wide rights sales.

E. O. Chirovici now lives in Brussels with his wife. He has had a prestigious and varied career in the Romanian media and has also published novels and short stories in his native language. The Book of Mirrors is his first novel in English and is being published in January.

Follow E.O Chirovici on Twitter: @EugenOChirovici

The Book of Mirrors will be published on 26th January 2017. You can pre-order it on Amazon here.

 

Book review: ‘What Alice Knew’ by T.A Cotterell

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Alice has a perfect life – a cool job, great kids, a wonderful husband. Until he goes missing one night; the phone rings and then goes dead; things don’t quite add up.

Alice needs to know what’s going on. But when she uncovers the truth she faces a brutal choice. And how can she be sure it is the truth?

Sometimes it’s better not to know.

As far as thrillers go, it feels like many authors are striving towards reaching Gone Girl perfection. But with T.A Cotterell’s debut thriller What Alice Knew, it feels as though we’ve arrived in a newer, fresher territory from the first chapter. It’s a welcome change for readers, and one that sets it apart almost instantly.

What Alice Knew centres around Alice, a portrait artist with a relatively normal life, her husband Ed, a life-saving obstetrician, and her two kids. The picture perfect family is built up with the intention that it will eventually crumble, and crumble it does. Alice’s world is rocked when she discovers a truth that affects her day-to-day life forever. Unable to cope, she slowly finds herself swallowed by an unavoidable truth – one that Alice wishes she’d never pursued. The shattering of her world is felt acutely by the reader as we discover Alice’s innermost thoughts and begin to get a very real sense of the suffocation she is feeling throughout. Cotterell seems at his best when describing the increasing guilt Alice feels throughout the story, and in fact, her decisions become more and more questionable as the story continues. Ultimately, What Alice Knew begs the question: just how innocent and moral is everyone?

Cotterell’s strength also lies in presenting relationships that have been put to the test, and fractures steadily appear. Alice’s love for Ed is thrown into the spotlight, her past comes back to haunt her in the form of an old friend, and a visit home to her mother further throws her world into disarray. This novel is very much a pressure cooker in which Alice is bubbling away, finding relief in very little places. It is clichéd to label What Alice Knew a ‘voyage of self-discovery’, but by the end, Alice’s character develops vastly and creates the most unexpected of twists. It was a twist that had me scream ‘oh my God!’, slam the book shut and ponder, just for a few minutes, about what had just happened.

What Alice Knew is a fantastically dark thriller from Cotterell, bringing together tension and intrigue into a neatly packaged debut.

Rating: 8/10

T. A. Cotterell read History of Art at Cambridge University. He worked in the City before resigning to become a freelance writer. He is now a writer and editor at the research house Redburn. He is married with three children and lives in Bristol.

Follow T.A Cotterell on Twitter: @TACotterell1

The e-book version of What Alice Knew will be published December 2016, and its paperback in April 2017. Pre-order What Alice Knew on Amazon here.

 

Book review: ‘The Swimming Pool’ by Louise Candlish

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‘I can’t take my eyes off the water. Can you?’

It’s summer when Elm Hill lido opens, having stood empty for years. For Natalie Steele – wife, mother, teacher – it offers freedom from the tightly controlled routines of work and family. Especially when it leads her to Lara Channing, a charismatic former actress with a lavish bohemian lifestyle, who seems all too happy to invite Natalie into her elite circle.

Soon Natalie is spending long days at the pool, socializing with new friends and basking in a popularity she didn’t know she’d been missing. Real life, and the person she used to be, begins to feel very far away.

But is such a change in fortunes too good to be true? Why are dark memories of a summer long ago now threatening to surface? And, without realizing, could Natalie have been swept dangerously out of her depth?

Now more than ever, it feels as though we’re living in the golden age of female writers – especially amongst those authors writing about women in bolder and daring ways.

Last year, I was captivated by Helen Walsh’s The Lemon Grove, and since then I’ve been searching for books focusing on the experience of older women breaking norms. The Swimming Pool is a gripping read which centres on the start of primary school teacher Natalie’s summer break, and her fascination with the opening of a new lido in her village. More than the lido however, it is the allure of Lara Channing that has Natalie fascinated beyond measure.

A novel set in the summer like The Swimming Pool would not be complete without overflowing tension. The way in which the narrative circles around the lido creates a sultry and titillating atmosphere, and one that complements the growing tension between every character in the novel. Natalie’s family begins to drift further apart as a result of Lara’s arrival, and her relationships become far more strained as the story moves on.

Writers can often become carried away in providing too much detail and losing their readers throughout the novel, but Candlish’s writing is perfectly paced. The shifts between past and present give much to think about for the reader, particularly as Natalie’s character is not as perfect as one would expect. Just as the water in the novel drags everyone towards it, so does the past. A particularly good facet of the novel is the mystery surrounding the Channing family, and the insight into Natalie’s psyche as she attempts to understand how her age impacts her outlook on life:

“I must be experiencing the terrible midlife realization they say awaits us all, that the departure of youth is not some temporary wheeze, like when you have flu and look a decade older in the bathroom mirror, but is permanent, gone and never coming back.”

Natalie’s character carries the novel seamlessly from start to finish, and she is fascinating when revealing her induction into a glamorous new social scene. The most important relationship born from the novel is that between Natalie and Lara, with its sexual undertones and intensity. In fact, Lara reminded me very much of the allure that Daisy in The Great Gatsby represents, and her grip on Natalie increases constantly. Natalie’s fixation on Lara becomes the focus of the novel, and the lido adds to the confusion and ambiguity of the characters’ lives. Candlish is an expert at psychological exploration, and regularly blurs the lines between sexual promise and adoration:

“As she [Lara] began to circle me in that smooth way of hers that hardly rippled the surface, I grew freshly aware of our bare skin under the water. If our feet or hands or knees or elbows made contact, would it be different knowing the rest of us was naked?”

As the Channings begin to weave their magic around Natalie and envelope her own family into their lives, the novel begins to take an interesting turn and addresses the various ways in which friendships form and break down, how age and motherhood can affect one’s self-esteem and confidence and inevitably, the intriguing way in which middle-aged women’s lives often become derailed. Throughout the book there is a constant sense of danger and of death, which keeps readers on edge.

The Swimming Pool is dark and unpredictable – a seductive thriller that will keep the reader guessing until the very end, and proof that all that glitters is not gold…

Rating: 9/10

Louise Candlish studied English at University College London and worked as an editor in art publishing and as a copywriter before writing fiction. Though her stories are are about people facing dramatic dilemmas, she tries to live an uncomplicated life in London with her husband and daughter.

Follow Louise Candlish on Twitter: @louise_candlish

The Swimming Pool will be published on 28th July. It can be purchased here.

 

 

Book review: ‘My Map of You’ by Isabelle Broom 

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Holly Wright has had a difficult few years. After her mother’s death, she’s become expert at keeping people at a distance – including her boyfriend, Rupert.

But when Holly receives an unexpected letter explaining that an aunt she never met has left her a house on the Greek island of Zakynthos, the walls she has built begin to crumble. Arriving on the island, Holly meets the handsome Aidan and slowly begins to uncover the truth about the secret which tore her family apart.

But is the island where Holly really belongs? Or will her real life catch up with her first?

There is nothing more I love than a book that whisks you away to another part of the world in an instant. While it’s all well and good reading travel blogs and articles that highlight the best parts of a holiday destination, a book which can take you around the world immerses you in a way that no other piece of writing can. Especially when you’re surrounded by the dreariness of London on your commute to work.

Isabelle Broom’s evocative debut My Map of You does exactly that, simply by littering the story with delightful, sensory descriptions of Zakynthos in Greece. The story is very simple yet heart-warming. It follows the protagonist Holly’s journey to better understanding a fragmented past, which includes coming to terms with the death of her mum and the estrangement of her family. Her life is turned upside down upon discovering that her deceased aunt has left her both a home on Greek island Zakynthos, along with a few eye-opening secrets to unravel. Jetting off determined to sell the house but also satisfy her curiosity and intrigue, the story tracks Holly’s route to discovering the truth about herself, all the while trying to negotiate the present with the past and her future.

Broom has the unique ability of transporting readers to Greece from the comfort of their seats in her gorgeous, compelling descriptions of the captivating Greek landscape. At times, it is almost as though she is presenting us with a blank canvas and very carefully painting us an image using masterful brush strokes. What really wins me over is the emphasis on eating, and how food becomes a sensory treat awakening pleasure and delight in both Holly and the reader: “she loved the way the oozyy honey lifted the sweetness of the plump fruit and the sharp pepper kept the whole combination from becoming too much.”

It’s also very easy to fall in love with Holly as she represents the conflict that many of us have in our lives too: not feeling quite at home, a restlessness that comes with living regular 9-5 lives, unfulfilled careers and relationships and the incessant, burning need to break the monotony and live for one’s self. Holly’s path to becoming a better version of herself is therefore easy to follow and relate to, making the story an emotional yet enjoyable read.

Throw in a complicated romance back home in London with boyfriend Rupert and the alluring Irish vet Aidan in Greece and you’ve got Holly embroiled in a perfect yet messy romance, one which not only complicates the process of discovering the self but adds another exciting layer to an already touching storyline. Broom cleverly introduces Aidan to highlight the constant struggle of Holly, but in a way that highlights him as the perfect romantic counterpart; he is another broken character trying to fix things. Their cheeky yet intense romance offers a buoyancy to the novel that firstly, feels incredibly real but more importantly, compliments the protagonist’s own battle with herself.

My Map of You is due for release on 21st April. If you’re looking for a novel that satisfies your wonderlust but throws in just the right amount of drama, curl up on the sofa (or the tube!) and give Broom’s debut novel a read.

Rating: 8/10

Isabelle Broom was born in Cambridge nine days before the 1980s began and studied Media Arts at the University of West London before starting a career first in local newspapers and then as a junior sub-editor at heat magazine. She travelled through Europe during her gap year and went to live on the Greek island of Zakynthos for an unforgettable and life-shaping six months after completing her degree. Since then, she has travelled to Canada, Sri Lanka, Sicily, New York, LA, the Canary Islands, Spain and lots more of Greece, but her wanderlust was reined in when she met Max, a fluffy little Bolognese puppy desperate for a home. When she’s not writing novels set in far-flung locations, Isabelle spends her time being the Book Reviews Editor at heatmagazine and walking her beloved dog round the parks of north London.

You can follow Isabelle Broom on Twitter @Isabelle_Broom or find her on Facebook under Isabelle Broom Author.

My Map of You is available to pre-order on Amazon now.

Book review: ‘The Lemon Grove’, by Helen Walsh.

Photo credit: Amazon

“He is wearing a pair of plain blue swimming shorts, otherwise, he is naked before her. He is muscular, but graceful with it, balletic. He is shockingly pretty…”

Each summer, Jenn and her husband Greg return to Deià, on Mallorca’s dramatic west coast. This year the arrival of Emma, Jenn’s stepdaughter, and her new boyfriend Nathan threatens to upset their equilibrium. Beautiful and reckless, Nathan stirs something unexpected in Jenn. As she is increasingly seduced by Nathan’s youth and the promise of passion, the line between desire and obsession begins to blur.

I love a thrilling read. I love knowing a book is going to present me with an impossible, frightening situation and place me slap-bang in the middle of characters in sheer turmoil.

This is what attracted me to Helen Walsh’s latest book release, The Lemon Grove. First of all, the cover of the book screams sensuality. Read the blurb, flip to the front cover and you’ll feel the tension instantly. A shapely woman swims, gliding through a gorgeous, blue pool, while a more youthful, colder girl looks on. The distance between them is contradictory; both are near yet far apart from one another. The cover is almost too beautiful to discard. As a reader, you know something will ruin this image, but also, that it’s already in ruins.

The novel is centred around a holiday in Deià, Mallorca. According to Walsh, it’s “a love letter to the West coast of Mallorca and its slowly evolving face”, and a love letter is exactly what you get. The location is perhaps the most important facet of the novel. You never feel too far away from the coastline. The waves of the sea, the rocky stones, the smooth yet uneven pebbles, the hidden caves and pathways in and around the coastal areas are described exquisitely and constantly appear to engulf the characters. I found myself understanding Jenn’s constant need to immerse herself in the water – Walsh paints a simply stunning picture of Deià.

Jenn appears as a fairly rational woman at the beginning of the novel. Seemingly in a happy or at least satisfied relationship with Greg, her husband, there doesn’t seem to be any hints of underlying marital tension between the two. We do see her resist Greg’s attempts at encouraging sex and this suggest there is trouble in paradise, however, Walsh doesn’t give enough information away – none that so explicitly predicts Jenn’s later indiscretions with Nathan anyway.

The introduction and arrival of 15-year-old Emma in Deià suggests a shift in Jenn and Greg’s relationship – Greg is her biological father, while Jenn is her step-mother. Emma is moody, blunt and constantly changing her tune. She becomes the first character that threatens the solace of the holiday Jenn and Greg are undertaking, especially as she brings the sultry, stimulating 17-year-old Nathan to the holiday with her.

 Jenn has an interesting character. She is self-restraining, self-aware and maternal. At the same time, she fails to restrain, fails to be aware, and fails in her maternal devotion to Emma. Her overriding sexual desire for Nathan engulfs her – the sexual beast is awakened, and Walsh eroticizes the passages and words used to describe Jenn’s feelings for Nathan. It is sheer lust and carnality. We become a part of her sexual reinvigoration, and Walsh must be applauded for presenting Jenn as such a conflicted yet daring character. The sexuality in the novel simmers, spills over, then bottles itself up. Walsh does not let her readers linger. We gain flashbacks, fast-paced sentences divulging both as little and as much as possible. There is no room for Fifty Shades of Grey style banal, empty sexual encounters.

However, Walsh digs deeper with Jenn, using her character to highlight family relationships under pressure. Jenn’s relationship with Emma appears fragile throughout The Lemon Grove. Jenn teeters around her, secretly loathing her step-daughter’s behaviour and eventually becoming envious of her – especially in relation to Nathan. The novel is not just one about illicit sexual desire, but about the complexities of Jenn mothering a girl who isn’t her own flesh and blood and watching her blossom into womanhood while she herself descends into middle-age. Because of this, perhaps more important that Jenn’s sexual encounters with Nathan is the relationship between her and Emma.

Nathan adds sexual tension. Whether he lends more to the novel is something for readers to decide. Personally, I feel he was a mere plot device, used to address female sexuality and explore mother-daughter relationships. He seamlessly enters the novel and seamlessly leaves. We need no back-story, we just need him.

The ending was disappointing. I wanted more to go wrong. I wanted Jenn to lose control, and I wanted the family to be torn apart forever. Walsh created a tragedy and left me unfulfilled.

Finally, we must address the lemons. They make important appearances throughout the novel. My favourite image appears towards the end, when Walsh sums up Jenn’s character in one sentence:

“Scattered around her [Jenn’s] head are dozens of lemons, gone to seed”.

Make of this sentence what you will, but I instantly thought of Jenn’s deterioration into a liar and adulterer. Throughout the novel, the lemons reminded me of vibrancy, and of bursting. Cutting a lemon, seeing the juice shooting into the air in small, miniscule bursts and smelling the zingy taste that follows after. It also reminded me of eating or licking a lemon, then tasting the unwanted sourness it brings to your mouth, but oddly, wanting to taste it again. The lemons are a reminder of the decisions we make, and the bitterness that can arise from an otherwise beautiful-looking fruit. Who needs the forbidden fruit of the apple? The lemon grove in the novel is just as desirable, just as bitter and just as dangerous.

The Lemon Grove keeps you on the edge. With Jenn, we become sexual voyeurs too. The novel entices, and just as quickly leaves you pining for more. It is intense and an easy, gripping read.

Rating: 4/5

Stage review: Propeller’s “The Comedy of Errors” at the Rose Theatre, Kingston.

(From left) Dromio of Ephesus (Matthew McPherson), Antipholus of Syracuse (Dan Wheeler), Antipholus of Ephesus (Joseph Chance) and Dromio of Syracuse (Will Featherstone).
(Photo credit: propeller.org.uk)

Propeller’s production of William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors is without a doubt, a memorable one.

For a first time theatre-goer like me (I know I know, I need to get out more) it was an absolute joy to watch a text I’d been studying for my English Literature degree to suddenly come alive – and in such a brilliant way too.

Directed by Edward Hall with a fresh and compelling outlook on the entire play, the chemistry between Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio of Syracuse was instantaneous and so very infectious – the two males as both characters and actors bounced off one another, creating a distinctly Syracusian presence on stage. Later, when Dromio of Ephesus and Antipholus of Ephesus appear on stage, the two sets of twins were easily identifiable. For the audience, there simply was no room for error.

The all-male cast – which admittedly, I was apprehensive about – has done what I feel a balanced female and male cast may not have achieved. With the men so blatantly adopting the female roles and evoking laughter from the onset, the audience is served a farcical comedy on a neatly embellished platter and made to laugh their hearts out. There are no serious or sinister themes underlying this adaptation of the play as Propeller make it clear what they were trying to achieve – a quirky and markedly unique outlook at one of Shakespeare’s funniest works.

Main highlights:

Adrianna
John Tucker as Adrianna.
(Photo credit: propeller.org.uk)

Adrianna’s entrance as she walks on stage with a bright yellow coat, leopard bandanna in her hair and printed leggings to match. Oozing sophistication in his depiction of Adrianna, Tucker is by far the finest actor to grace the stage, depicting her as the shrew and jealous housewife in an exaggerated and absolutely hilarious style and manner. My favourite moment was the portrayal of the line “my blood is mingled with the crime of lust”, where Adrianna is shown kneeling helplessly on the floor and shouting in frankly the most outrageous way. Not to forget the moment when she chases Antipholus of Syracuse in her nightgown, complete with a whip in her hand. Kinky.

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(Left) Matthew Pearson as the Courtesan.
(Photo credit: rosetheatrekingston.org)

The entrance of the courtesan is laugh-out-loud hilarious. Complete with sexy entrance music, a Geordie accent (a brilliant touch!) bunny ears, a complimentary tail and rather prominent breasts, Pearson transforms the role of a courtesan to one that adds a further comic element to the already effective adaptation.  If the courtesan is easily dismissed in the text, then Propeller only heighten her importance in their interpretation.

Dr Pinch.  What an ENTRANCE. Sending jolts of electricity to the cast on-stage, Brockis arrives and adds a completely new and well needed dynamic to the play. Electrifying the cast as well as the audience, Pinch is depicted as an American preacher-type, a large cross hanging from his neck and a booming, gospel-like voice.  With the organ music playing in the background and the on-stage actirs now enacting a gospel sing-a-long and dance, Propeller yet again transform The Comedy of Errors into a laugh-riot. This is a modern adapatation of Dr.Pinch at its finest.

My Mexican friends/extras.
(Photo credit: secure.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk)

…and lastly, creating the music, providing the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ and generally being swell guys – my Mexican, football-shirt wearing, sombrero-rocking friends. You guys were awesome.

Funny, witty and brilliantly original… a truly masterful adaptation. ★★★★★