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Amazing YA Debut

Product Details Blackbrooke by Emma Silver

I had seen the marketing for Emma Silver’s Blackbrooke on Twitter and was intrigued by the premise: due to the town of Blackbrooke being harassed by dangerous Crits walking the streets at night, the area has been fenced off from the Outside. Blackbrooke residents must follow a series of rules which include staying inside after curfew and having triple glazed windows. The long nights make winter hard and ‘walk outs’ are inevitable. Seventeen year old Liberty Conner begins to notice some odd behaviour and patterns in Blackbrooke and seeks to find out the truth before time runs out. I had it at the top of my ‘to read’ list on an earlier blog about YA fiction (Dystopian Survival) and started reading it last Friday.

I was gripped from the first page of this novel and became annoyed when I had to take a break from reading it! I often have a YA book on the go that I can dip into every so often when I am busy but I have to say that I read this book in two sittings. I enjoy YA fiction. As an adult I realise I am not the target audience so I am often rather forgiving when plot weaknesses and somewhat predictable characters pop up. Much to my delight, I found none of these flaws in Blackbrooke.

Emma Silver has done a remarkable job of creating three-dimensional characters; each character is unique and believable. The relationships between the characters are also clear and thoughtful. There is an obvious personal history between the characters that has developed over the years as a result of living in such an insulated town. The imaginative plot also seemed believable. The only thing I did wonder about every so often when I took a brief break was, Unless I missed something, why didn’t the residents just vacate the town when the rules were established? However, once I got back to the story I forgot all about this! The author has also created a believable setting. The town of Blackbrooke is somewhere in the mysterious north of England. There are only about 10,000 residents and the feelings of claustrophobia and depression permeate the story, particularly when the dark winter nights close in. For an imaginative story there is a reasonable amount of social realism included.

Due to the more sophisticated writing style, some of the themes and the raunchy elements that are included, this is a book for older teens. It is one of the best books I have read recently and stands heads and shoulders above other YA books. Secondary school libraries should have it on their shelves and adults who are interested in trying YA fiction will probably find themselves pleasantly surprised. I look forward to the second book in the series that is due for release in the summer.

Blackbrooke: 5 Stars

Crooked Cat Publishing are clearly able to identify a great writer. Blackbrooke was the first book I read from this publishing house and I would now like to try a couple more of their books. I have added these three adult fiction books to my ‘to read’ list:

Product DetailsA Guide to Becoming Distinctively Average – Amy Elliott-Smith. Humour / Contemporary Fiction about a 30-something dog groomer questioning life.

Product DetailsDragon Ring – Maggie Secara. First in a Fantasy series about a reality TV host who owes the King of the Faeries a favour.

Product DetailsHow to Look Like You – Rose McClelland. A chick lit story about frenemies.

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Surfacing Memories: How to be a Good Wife

 

How to be a Good WifeHow to be a Good Wife – Emma Chapman

A few years ago I read Little Face, the first crime novel by author Sophie Hannah. As it was a while ago, I don’t remember the fine details of the story but I remember enjoying it and reading it rather quickly. Perhaps I have lovely memories of reading it because I read it while spending an afternoon sitting in the long awaited summer sunshine at the end of a particularly rainy spring.

I remember being intrigued by the main female character who spent much of the novel unsure of her memory and, by the end, questioning her sanity. The villain causing this terror was her husband; he insisted that the child sleeping in the crib was theirs yet instinct and small details made her equivocate between challenging him and doubting herself. Throw in a conniving mother-in-law and it was a rather creepy read!

The reason this book comes to mind now is because there is a current trend for novels that follow a similar plotline: a woman with a hazy memory is kept under tight control by her husband yet glimmers of hope and memory occasionally surface. I read a blog discussing what this may indicate about the female mind and whether these novels challenge or endorse subservience and reliance. Most importantly, is it a concern they are so popular? These debates don’t bother me; if it is a good read I will happily ignore the embedded psychology that some think may underpin a novel!

One of the most engaging books I have read recently is How to be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman. The story is told by Marta. Married to Hector for many years, she begins to feel at a loose end when their son makes a permanent move to the city. She begins to see visions of a young blonde girl but is this evidence of psychosis and her long history of mental illness, or is it indicating something more sinister about her past? The exact setting of this novel is never explicitly revealed but it seems to be in a small Scandinavian village, perhaps in a commuter belt outside a city. The small town makes for a claustrophobic setting, as does Marta’s domestic routine. From the first page I was curious about Marta’s fear of leaving the house and her cleaning obsession. Not really knowing what to expect with this novel, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself completely absorbed in the story, almost to the point where I would force myself to take breaks in order to stretch it out! It is an amazing debut and one of the best books I have read for a while.

How to be a Good Wife is a similar story to the 2011 debut Before I go to Sleep by SJ Watson. However, How to be a Good Wife is a much more sophisticated and gripping read. One of the main reasons for this is length. Chapman keeps her novel short and sharp. With both books having the female characters bound to the house, both Chapman and Watson had limited characters and events to work with. It was wise of Chapman not to make an epic out of rather restricted plot parameters. Before I go to Sleep was a page turner that keep me engaged but it was mostly to see how it ended; I never felt compelled to savour it and linger over the small details as I did with How to be a Good Wife. A few of the plot twists in Before I go to Sleep edged the unbelievable and the ending was too drawn out. One thing that did irk me was the chapters of Christine’s journal – I would have much preferred to have read proper diary entries to hear her voice more distinctly. Despite this, I did recommend Before I go to Sleep to a colleague who ranked it as a favourite book of the year.

My final thought for this blog: Do the husbands in these stories really have nothing better to do with their time than create such elaborate lies in order to fool so few people?

How to be a Good Wife – 5 Stars
Little Face – 4 Stars
Before I go to Sleep – 3 Stars

Orange Pekoe’s Update: When I originally published this post I ended by saying I wanted to read Gone Girl as it was also promoted as having unreliable narrators in a domestic setting. I have since read it and unfortunately I fall far from being in the ‘love it’ category. I thought that it surely couldn’t end as badly as I anticipated it would, but it actually exceeded my fears concerning plausibility.