Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Little Deaths by Emma Flint

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Little Deaths by Emma Flint
Publisher: Pan Mcmillan/Hachette Books (January 2017)
Source: Publisher via NetGalley


Disclaimer: A complimentary copy of Little Deaths by Emma Flint was provided by Hachette Books via Netgalley in exchange for an honest unbiased review.

It's the summer of 1965, and the streets of Queens, New York shimmer in a heatwave. One July morning, Ruth Malone wakes to find a bedroom window wide open and her two young children missing. After a desperate search, the police make a horrifying discovery.

Noting Ruth's perfectly made-up face and provocative clothing, the empty liquor bottles and love letters that litter her apartment, the detectives leap to convenient conclusions, fuelled by neighbourhood gossip and speculation.

Sent to cover the case on his first major assignment, tabloid reporter Pete Wonicke at first can't help but do the same. But the longer he spends watching Ruth, the more he learns about the darker workings of the police and the press. Soon, Pete begins to doubt everything he thought he knew.

Ruth Malone is enthralling, challenging and secretive - is she really capable of murder?

Haunting, intoxicating and heart-poundingly suspenseful, Little Deaths is a gripping novel about love, morality and obsession, exploring the capacity for good and evil within us all.

My Thoughts:
Well, I wasn't expecting that !

I thought I was in for just 'another psychological domestic thriller' in Emma Flint's debut novel 'Little Deaths', but I was pleasantly surprised.  'Little Deaths' is a well written, compelling, literary crime novel with a classic crime noir influence.

Set in Queens, New York during the stifling hot Summer of 1965, Ruth Malone, a single mother wakes one morning to find that both of her children have gone missing.  Ruth is not the conventional mother or wife (of the times) and at her instigation she has been separated from her husband Frank for the past year. Her priorities also appear a little skewed especially her obsession with her appearance purely to make her attractive and desirable to men.

Frankie Jr's and Cindy's bodies are soon found and in light of a conversation with her lawyer ending with, ‘He can’t have the kids. He can’t have them. I’d rather see them dead than with Frank’, Ruth becomes the prime suspect.

Ruth is not an easy character to like and I found myself judging her, (and boy is she easy to judge), for not behaving in a manor deemed appropriate for a caring mother, or for her lack of emotion as a grieving mother.  As a result i wondered if she could indeed be guilty of murder in order to live the glamorous lifestyle she craved.  I did warm to her somewhat during the course of the book as her narrative gives a privileged insight to her thought processes.  I still didn't agree with her choices or actions, but I did gain an understanding of why she behaved as she did.

Emma Flint has written a thought provoking story based on the '60's real case of Alice Cribbins, and she has kept pretty close to the original facts in this reimagined account albeit with a neat resolution which I found a bit contrived, and coming from nowhere. However I do appreciate that for some readers a finality to a plot is preferred, which is more than can be said for the real case.

Gripping, intensely upsetting in parts, 'Little Deaths' is an impressive debut novel and perfect for fans of Megan Abbott.

I absolutely loved it.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Christodora by Tim Murphy

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Christodora  by Tim Murphy
Publisher: Pan Mcmillan (23 February 2017)
Source: Publisher (NetGalley), The NUDGE and New Books Reviewers
Pages: 496


In this vivid and compelling novel, Tim Murphy follows a diverse set of characters whose fates intertwine in an iconic building in Manhattan's East Village, the Christodora. The Christodora is home to Milly and Jared, a privileged young couple with artistic ambitions. Their neighbour, Hector, a Puerto Rican gay man who was once a celebrated AIDS activist but is now a lonely addict, becomes connected to Milly's and Jared's lives in ways none of them can anticipate. Meanwhile, the couple's adopted son, Mateo, grows to appreciate the opportunities for both self-realization and oblivion that New York offers. As the junkies and protestors of the 1980s give way to the hipsters of the 2000s and they, in turn, to the wealthy residents of the crowded, glass-towered city of the 2020s, enormous changes rock the personal lives of Milly and Jared and the constellation of people around them. Moving kaleidoscopically from the Tompkins Square Riots and attempts by activists to galvanize a response to the AIDS epidemic, to the New York City of the future, Christodora recounts the heartbreak wrought by AIDS, illustrates the allure and destructive power of hard drugs, and brings to life the ever-changing city itself.

Disclaimer: A complimentary copy of Christodora was provided by Pan McMillan via Netgalley and a hardcopy via Newbooks Reviewers in exchange for an honest unbiased review.

My Thoughts:
During the late 1920's the 'Christodora', a building situated in Manhattan's East Village was where new immigrants and the poorer members of the community would often find themselves housed. In the 1980's the building was redeveloped and made into luxury apartments where only the affluent could then afford to reside. With the beginnings of gentrification of the area the occupants of these luxurious apartments understandably caused resentment from the less affluent and homeless now unable to afford such accommodation where they'd once had little choice but to reside. Inevitably as tensions grew the infamous riots of New York ensued.

Tim Murphy's masterpiece uses the 'Christodora' as its focal point in the novel and is where its pivotal characters, sculptor Jared Traum and his artist wife Milly, and others live. We also follow a group of interconnected friends, artists, and gay activists over a span of four decades, ranging from the 1980's to 2020.

Being British, I couldn't say that I related much to the drug or gay scene of New York. I did however have gay friends, and some friends who took drugs, but I didn't personally know anyone with HIV. 
What I do remember is the paranoia drummed up by the news media and our 'then' Government about the 'AIDS' plague, that a promiscuous gay community had brought upon themselves, and that it was now a threat to all of us if we were bisexual or had more than one sexual partner.
It had also become a requirement for more than one male applying for a joint mortgage and for gay men applying for health insurance, to take an HIV test before consideration. A positive result meant refusal of application, and a blemish on medical files, forever! Eventually we were better informed about this horrific, unprejudiced virus which would claim people from all walks of life, gender and sexual orientation.

'Christodora' educated me in many ways about the HIV plight of the 1980's and of the role 'gay activists' and scientists in America played in the fight for medical research, better health care, and legal rights for both gay men and lesbian women.  It is because of these dedicated brave individuals that AIDS no longer needs to lead to a premature death or that its sufferers be subjected to discrimination, prejudice and fear.

Tim Murphy writes with real depth and clarity about his characters that it's hard to believe they aren't living and breathing people. One character's narrative had such a powerful impact on me that I felt breathless and giddy reading as she ploughed from one scene to another with a volatile energy gathering in pace and momentum, and with her increasing irrational, embarrassing and inappropriate behaviour. I felt 'manic', my head was in turmoil.  Ava and the symptoms of her bi-polar disorder are so incredibly well written, I felt as if I was in the same headspace...as uncomfortable as this was it was brilliantly done!

Overlong at times, and confusing with time shifts leaping back and forth as characters gave their points of view, it was definitely worth the perseverance as I was rewarded with the 'payoff' as gradually everything made sense and the segments slowly slotted into place.

Hugely encyclopaedic in scope 'Christodora' is also a raw emotive 'coming of age' tale of sorts. I found every character compelling from the aforementioned Ava, struggling with her manic episodes, to one of the most intriguing but equally frustrating, and at times intensely unlikeable characters in the book, Hugo Villanueva.

'Christodora' is intelligently, and compassionately written with complex, flawed individuals, and evokes a real sense of an era full of fun, passion, pace and energy, with a vibe of the creative arts, and excitement of the music industry; then it turns on itself like a rabid dog and relentlessly drives us down into an abyss with descriptions of the devastating catastrophic effects of drug abuse (chiefly meth addiction), and the fear, pain and despair of losing, or leaving behind, friends and loved ones because of an unknown disease.

Utterly compelling and educational in respect of the relationships and interrelationships of the characters before, during, and after the emergence of a devastating disease that cut dead the excitement and euphoria of the gay, drug and disco days of the 80's...Highly recommended.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

WATERSTONES Pompey Recommends: #PompeyBooksLoves

These are the books that staff at WATERSTONES Portsmouth have really loved reading over the last few months and highly recommend giving a read:

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This is the first instalment of #PompeyBooksLoves at #Waterstones #Portsmouth on Facebook and Twitter and there will be more new recommendations, and in depth reviews to come.

πŸ“– https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-witches/stacy-schiff/9781474602266
πŸ“– https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-atomic-weight-of-love/elizabeth-church/elizabeth-j-church/9780008209292
πŸ“– https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-goldfish-boy/lisa-thompson/9781407170992
πŸ“– https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-eye-of-the-world/robert-jordan/9780356503820
πŸ“– https://www.waterstones.com/book/homegoing/yaa-gyasi/9780241242728