Our September Bookshelf

Our September Bookshelf

Nothing Can Hurt You by Nicola Maye Goldberg

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I’ll be honest, I fell in love with the cover of this book first. But then I looked it up and loved the idea of it, too. Young college girl murdered by her boyfriend is about as tired a trope as they come, and yet this novel, which tackles just that subject, is completely fresh and original in every way. Sara was killed by her boyfriend Blake in the woods near her college in upstate New York. Blake confessed but was acquitted on the basis of temporary insanity. These are the bare bones of the story, but this is not quite Sara’s story and nor is it Blake’s. It is the story of the people who loved them, knew them or simply encountered them.

Each chapter offers the perspective of a different person who is connected to this event in some way. Some are more closely connected than others. One is the woman who found Sara’s body. One is Blake’s college roommate. One is a teenager Sara used to babysit for when she was a child. Together, chapter by chapter, these layers build up to reveal not only what happened, but how and to what extent what happened has impacted on people down the years. It’s moving, it’s raw, it’s unsettling and it’s quite beautiful.

I was so completely absorbed while reading this novel that nothing else mattered. I loved this fresh approach, and the way in which the voices each added a layer to my understanding of Sara, or Blake, or the terrible crime that linked them. The atmosphere built and built and the writing was so sharp and precise that I felt every word had been weighed. This is an outstanding novel.

Reviewed by Laura Pearson

The Heatwave by Kate Riordan

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The thing I found most astonishing about this brilliant novel was its sense of atmosphere. Namely, the heat. I felt it. I was there in Provence, uncomfortably hot, with the swimming pool gleaming invitingly all day long. Also, the tension, and the sense of the house being haunted. It’s a rare writer who can use setting so skillfully, and I know I’ll be taking a look at Riordan’s previous books on the strength of this one.

Sylvie is called back to her family’s home in France after a fire. She returns with her teenage daughter, Emma, planning to put the house on the market and prepare it for sale. Bit by bit, Riordan drip feeds information about Sylvie’s past, about her marriage, about her first daughter, Elodie. We move back and forwards in time, from the start of Sylvie’s relationship with her ex-husband to the present, all the time building an uncomfortable picture of just what happened to tear this family apart.

I tore through this book, desperate to uncover the truth. And I wasn’t disappointed at any moment. There’s a sexy love interest, forest fires getting ever closer to the house, and a growing sense of unease around exactly what Elodie did. It invites comparison with We Need To Talk About Kevin, with its theme of a mother who is unable to connect with and love her child, and it stands up well to that comparison. I was captivated from first page to last.

Reviewed by Laura Pearson

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Love Orange by Natasha Randall

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I finished reading this book last night and I’ve been left reeling a bit. It’s quite unlike anything I’ve read recently (or possibly at all) and there’s something thrilling about how well Randall tackles topics as diverse as motherhood, opioid addiction and masculinity. In less skilled hands, this might feel like an attempt to cram too many things into one book, but it just works, somehow.

Hank and Jenny live in a ‘smart’ house with their sons, Jesse and Luke. They’re alarmingly disconnected as a family, each with their own problems and secrets. Their house is programmed to remind them when they’ve run out of milk, to put the coffee on in the morning and to keep them comfortable, and yet all its ‘helpful’ actions infuriate Jenny and seem to make her life more stressful. Hank is worried that their sons are not masculine enough; he takes them on a camping trip and tries to toughen them up, without great success. There’s a wry humour running through these scenes, which offsets the seriousness of some of the issues Randall covers.

Jenny’s biggest secret is that she has a penpal, John, and he’s in prison for manslaughter. When she passes him the phone number given out by her church for the confession of sins and he sends her letters sealed with a mysterious orange glue, all manner of things start to unravel. This is an incredibly assured debut with some fascinating themes, and I’ll be following this author for sure.

Reviewed by Laura Pearson

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Laura Pearson

Laura is a writer who lives in Leicestershire with her husband and their two children. When she’s not writing or reading, she can usually be found trying to get her son to put his shoes on, encouraging her daughter to sleep past 5am or moving small items from one room to another. You can follow her on Twitter and on her blog about getting cancer when she was pregnant.

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