Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Book Review: Brick Mother by S.J. Bradley

Brick Mother
By S.J. Bradley
Published by Dead Ink Books
Available as a paperback and also as an ebook

'Brick Mother' is a term first used by psychotherapist Henri Rey to describe Victorian hospitals. The walls were like the arms of a mother, keeping the patients within safe. Bradley explores the way that this tenderness can be caring and nurturing but also the way it can suffocate in her debut novel, Brick Mother.

Brick Mother tells the story of two women, Neriste, an art therapist and Donna, a support worker, who both work at a secure psychiatric unit, on the edge of a big fictional town in Yorkshire. The unit is understaffed, missing direction and battling with funding and budgets. Employees and patients are trapped - doors are kept locked, visitors are rare and every day objects like pens are considered weapons. Paranoia seeps in through the cracks.

Both women are disillusioned by their jobs - Neriste is trapped in her port-a-cabin, doing her art therapy with limited resources, and going home exhausted. While Donna is struggling to make enough money to keep the roof over herself and her son. Bradley creates two very different characters who on the surface are poles apart - Neriste has a more middle class upbringing having gone to university, while Donna lives in a council estate, the father of her child is absent from their lives, her money from working at the hospital barely feeds them. However, under the surface they are both struggling to find a place in society - both are powerless in their jobs to influence any management decisions with regards to patients, both are trapped by the needs of the hospital pulling them away from their family life. Both are looking to improve their lives, looking to escape the claustrophobic grip and stagnation of the hospital but are both drawn back to its imposing presence as they need their jobs to enable them to survive.

The way Bradley builds up suspense to run along side the mundane lives of these women and the hospital creates a fantastic build-up of tension. Bradley can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary and almost into the sinister - pens, an innocent piece of stationery is now a weapon. Both Characters will be manipulated either by the system or by the guilt that bothers both of them.

Bradley successfully explores the complexity of themes, considering the issues that surround mental health care in the UK from both a patient and carer perspective with regards to funding, staffing and the boundaries between the appearance of getting better and actually being fit enough to leave the hospital. These themes, full of insight and detail, feed nicely into the plot of Brick Mother - the lives of Neriste and Donna both start to unravel as they both drawn to Nathan, a patient with a dark past. They must make tough decisions - are they the vulnerable ones or is it the patient?

Brick Mother is a thought-provoking social-realism novel and it will stay with you many weeks after finishing the last chapter. Bradley has written a seriously good novel and it deserves to be read by as many people as possible.

Brick Mother is available now from your favourite book retailer.

I was kindly sent a copy by the author.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Bye Bye View From Here

My review of Elizabeth Forbes's novel, Who Are You? is now up at the View From Here Magazine.

This is my last review for the View From Here as the magazine will be shutting down in November. I have really enjoyed reviewing for them over the past three years and I will definitely miss the View From Here. I have read books ranging from teenage werewolves to families in Mexico, and Japanese girls heading to America for a new life. I have short story collections, novels, non fiction and bloody brilliant fiction.

One of my biggest joys of reviewing has been finding new favourite books like The Buddha in the Attic, Entertaining Strangers by Jonathan Taylor and Dead Man's Embers.

I also discovered And Other Stories Publishing, who produce fantastic books, ranging from translation from Mexican to Russian authors. Some of my favourites have been Quesadillas by Juan Pablo Villalobos and All Dogs Are Blue by Rodrigo De Souza Leao. They are a fantastic publisher and I am looking forward to reading more from them.

I have also ready tiny stories like Nik Perring's Beautiful Words.

Plus I read and reviewed Monkeys with Typewriters - this was the book that got me back into writing fiction again after a tough few years.

So bye bye The View From Here!

But don't worry, I haven't given up reviewing that easily! I am going to carry to reviewing on my blog and I have a fantastic to-read pile at the moment. Top of my pile is Victoria Hislop's The Sunshine, followed by Stay Up With Me by Tom Barbash, Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher and All the Days and Nights by Niven Govinden.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Book Review: Of Things Gone Astray

Of Things Gone Astray
By Janina Matthewson
Published by The Friday Project
Published in hardback and ebook.
Paperback will be available in 2015.

There are only a handful of authors who I like so much that I become impatient to read their next book. Janina Matthewson is one of those authors. A couple of years ago I read in one sitting Matthewson's short story, The Understanding of Women and absolutely loved it so much that I read it from the beginning straight away. Last week saw the publication of Matthewson's debut novel, Of Things Gone Astray, published by the fantastic The Friday Project. I loved it.

On a normal morning in London, a group people, not yet connected to each other, awake to find something is lost, something precious. Mrs Featherby, an almost recluse, is missing the front wall of her house - she is exposed to the world. Cassie has lost her girlfriend who has not arrived back in the country. Robert, a life long famous musician, has lost the piano keys to the piano he built with his father. Marcus has lost his place of work, while Delia has lost her sense of direction. But there is one character, Jake, who has lost his mother in an earthquake, and is now living with his father, who is collecting the things people are losing.

Of Things Gone Astray follows the characters as they try to find the things they have lost. This means facing up the the unhappiness in their lives, having to deal with a life that has been put on hold, being pushed into the unknown. All the characters have one thing in common - the need to move on with their lives but they are unwilling to take that leap of faith. These events of losing things is the catalyst that these characters need.

Matthewson has created a fantastic bunch of characters who must face up to grief, the relationships in their lives, the inability to make life changing decisions. For me, the stand out character was Cassie, who gradually turns into a tree as she stands waiting for her girlfriend to arrive at Heathrow. Matthewson blends together the fantastic with reality to create Cassie's story line that is both full of imagery and emotion.

This is a book full of sadness and loss but it is also a book full of hope and determination. The way Matthewson is able to create a book that makes the reader want to cry with sadness and with happiness reminded me of Andrew Kaufman's The Tiny Wife and Aimee Bender's short stories.

I could have easily read this book in one sitting but I didn't want to let go of these characters so I stretched out my time with them. This is a fantastic, magical book that makes you want to hug the characters and makes you appreciate the life you have.

You MUST go and buy this book. NOW.

The Friday Project kindly sent me a copy.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Book Review: The Future for Curious People

The Future for Curious People
By Greg Sherl
Published by Pan Macmillan
Available in paperback and ebook

If you could see your future with someone, would you want to? This is the question that Greg Sherl tackles in his debut novel, The Future for Curious People. This is a intriguing story with quirky, hipster characters worrying about their lives and futures.

Tucked away, down side-streets are clinics, ready to provide any willing customer a glimpse into their future. The 'Envisionist' can tell you, for a fee, whether your partner is the real deal. The two protagonists - Evelyn and Godfrey find themselves strapped in, ready to see a snapshot of their futures. Evelyn, a librarian wants the perfect live - family and kids all in a neat package. But she's not sure if Adrian, her boyfriend, is the one who can deliver her this life. Godfrey, is prompted by his partner, Madge to go and see an Envisionist just to make sure their life is definitely on the right track after he proposes to her.

The Future for Curious People could almost be a sequel to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with the way the whole looks normal on the surface but lurking around the corners is a slightly different version of reality (this almost reminded me of the fictional worlds of Andrew Kaufman and Aimee Bender). You will just need to squint your eyes and ignore the fact that this doesn't have the original characters. Eternal Sunshine looked at the concept of deleting memories of loved ones while The Future for Curious People looks at future.

The Future for Curious People does have a the predictable 'girl meets boy' plot but Sherl puts a twist on this by looking at the way the past and the present can affect the future of Evelyn and Godfrey as they search for perfection.

I have seen this book compared to the television show Girls but I'm not sure if it should be compared to this TV show. If anything, it could be a negative. Yes, at times the characters are so caught up in their own worlds that they are blind to the events in the 'real' world but Girls is such a marmite programme that it could potentially put people off from reading The Future for Curious People. And it shouldn't - this is a warm, witty book full of interesting concepts.

Fans of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind will definitely enjoy this book as well of fans of Andrew Kaufman and Aimee Bender.

The publisher kindly sent me a copy

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Guest Post: Ian Thornton's Imaginary Bookshop

Today's guest is Ian Thornton, the writer of The Great and Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms, which I reviewed the other month. I really enjoyed it and I really think you should buy it.

Ian has kindly agreed to be the next author to take up the Imaginary Bookshop challenge. I'm already liking the sound of Ian's bookshop - it's going to have a fish and chip shop within book throwing distance....


What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop?
Trenches Full of Poets. It's from Spanish Bombs by The Clash. It seems appropriately romantic and subversive.

Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?
Close enough to an English cricket ground to hear, with the front and back doors open, leather on willow, polite umpirical appeals and gentle applause. An old school low ceilinged boozer and a proper fish 'n' chip shop within yards.

Would your bookshop have any special features? E.g. a performing stage, a cocktail bar, etc.
A heavily shaded English garden with gardenia, tuberoses and hammocks, in which readers are encouraged to read and sleep. Oak trees with hidden, 22nd century speakers, turned up for the BBC Proms on Radio Three, the shipping forecast on Radio 4, Wimbledon, Test Match Special and some thumping vintage island reggae. Technics 1210 and massed ranks of vinyl at a late Victorian serving hatch.

What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones?
Liberal marijuana use. I'm not a smoker myself as I'm not constitutionally built for it (I wish I were), but, in general, I firmly believe that almost everyone should be off their chops most of the time. This would also call for a busy kitchen, providing a cash cow to help fund the literary venture in tough times. Buttery low grade THC hash cookies for free, a grand piano and chess sets. All phone and internet coverage would be blocked.

What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch?
First-class cricket, chess and musical libraries would be a must. I would ditch celebrity anything, cookbooks, memoirs of those under 60 and ghost-written guff. As Gore Vidal once said, "That isn't writing. That's typing."

Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why?
Regulars could own this for a week at a time with a "My favourite book" display or whatever they want. Jam tarts or coins; football programmes or Scrabble. Why? I want to see in the deranged minds of my twisted clientele.

If you could run only one author event who would you have? You can pick a living or dead writer. What sort of event would they run?
Edgar Allan Poe with Vincent Price helping with the readings. Or Emeric Pressburger talking about the movies.

A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your novel, The Great and Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say?
They will be welcome to sit in our hammocks under an oak tree for the day, reading, listening to Rachmaninov or Ludwig van, being fed and watered and having to move for urinary and defecatory reasons only.

What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop?
The illegal-in-48-States variety.

You can buy Ian's book via this link > The Great and Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms

Ian tweets from @IanThornton_