Welcome to First Lines Friday: Flashback, where on the first Friday of the month I share the first lines from one of the older books on my shelves and try to tempt you to add it to yours.
“It’s that time of year again. The time the glacier gives up the bodies.”
Those eerie first lines are taken from Shiver, the sensational debut novel by Allie Reynolds that was published in January. I read this one in December last year and it featured on my favourite reads of 2020. You can read my review here.
About a month ago, I was excited to learn that a quote from my review had been used on the Norwegian copy of the book and today I received a copy in the post. I can’t describe how amazing and unreal it feels to see my name in print on an actual book. Thank you so much to Allie Reynolds for arranging this gifted copy. I will treasure it forever.
They don’t know what I did. And I intend to keep it that way.
How far would you go to win? Hyper-competitive people, mind games and a dangerous natural environment combine to make the must-read thriller of the year. Fans of Lucy Foley and Lisa Jewell will be gripped by spectacular debut novel Shiver.
When Milla is invited to a reunion in the French Alps resort that saw the peak of her snowboarding career, she drops everything to go. While she would rather forget the events of that winter, the invitation comes from Curtis, the one person she can’t seem to let go.
The five friends haven’t seen each other for ten years, since the disappearance of the beautiful and enigmatic Saskia. But when an icebreaker game turns menacing, they realise they don’t know who has really gathered them there and how far they will go to find the truth.
In a deserted lodge high up a mountain, the secrets of the past are about to come to light.
Thank you to the wonderful Miranda at Viper Books for sending me a gorgeous gifted ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
THE MUST-READ GOTHIC THRILLER OF 2021
‘I haven’t read anything this exciting since Gone Girl’ STEPHEN KING
‘Believe the hype… a masterclass’ KIRAN MILLWOOD HARGRAVE
‘Books like this don’t come around too often’ JOANNE HARRIS
This is the story of a murderer. A stolen child. Revenge. This is the story of Ted, who lives with his daughter Lauren and his cat Olivia in an ordinary house at the end of an ordinary street.
All these things are true. And yet some of them are lies.
You think you know what’s inside the last house on Needless Street. You think you’ve read this story before. In the dark forest at the end of Needless Street, something lies buried. But it’s not what you think…
“Don’t let anyone find out what you are.”
The Last House On Needless Street is a gothic masterpiece. It’s a few months since I read it and yet it still lingers vividly in my mind. Mysterious, unsettling and original, I was mesmerised from the start and completely enrapt by the eerie world the author had created. And the creepier it became, the deeper I fell; lured against my every instinct into the dark and twisted world of a murderer, his cat and the mystery of a missing child.
The story is told from multiple points of view: Ted, Dee, Lauren and Olivia the cat. Yes, the cat is a narrator in this book. Each is vividly drawn, fascinating and memorable, but they may or may not be reliable, adding to the mysterious atmosphere and leaving the reader never quite sure what is and isn’t real in this bizarretale.
It takes a talented author to write a story that is both horrifying and funny, something Ward has achieved with flourish with this book. She has crafted a tale unlike anything I’ve read before. One full of beautiful imagery and prose that belies the dark, murky, spine-chilling story it tells. She plays with your mind, cleverlylullingyou into a false sense of security where you accept what you’re reading, while using it to mask an entirely different narrative that only becomes visible as you approach the finale. And when you see it, it changes every word you just read. It is a masterclass in storytelling, twists and plotting that blows my mind every time I think about it.
“… if you wait long enough, evil always shows up.”
One of the things I loved most is how deeply Ward delves into the mind of the killer. I need more books like this! Don’t miss the Afterward for the full, fascinating insight into Ted’s mind. The amount of research that has gone into it is phenomenal and sent me down a fascinating and frightening rabbit hole.
Striking, inventive and gloriously unhinged, this jaw-dropping thriller is one that doesn’t come around often. It is a truly spectacular and original novel that you won’t be able to shake. One that will haunt you, horrify you and surprise you. Someone needs to call Spielberg or Howard because this is a story that belongs on the big screen.
MEET THE AUTHOR:
Catriona Ward was born in Washington, DC and grew up in the United States, Kenya, Madagascar, Yemen, and Morocco. She read English at St Edmund Hall, Oxford and is a graduate of the Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia. Her next gothic thriller, The Last House on Needless Street, will be published March 2021 by Viper (Serpents Tail).
Ward’s second novel, Little Eve (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2018) won the 2019 Shirley Jackson Award and the August Derleth Prize for Best Horror Novel at the 2019 British Fantasy Awards, making her the only woman to have won the prize twice, and was a Guardian best book of 2018. Her debut Rawblood (W&N, 2015) won Best Horror Novel at the 2016 British Fantasy Awards, was shortlisted for the Author’s Club Best First Novel Award and a WHSmith Fresh Talent title. Her short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies. She lives in London and Devon.
I can’t quite believe that 2020 is over! It’s been a strange year and I think we’re all hoping that 2021 brings better things and that we can soon get back to a new normal.
It was my second full year of blogging and once again I read more than I had even hoped to. I had set my Goodreads challenge at 120 and managed to read 177. That’s 27 more than in 2019.
As you can probably imagine, reading so many books made putting together my favourite twenty books of the year a difficult task. That last spot in particular had four other books that I really wanted to include and it was a real struggle to know which should make the final spot.
Here is my list in the order that I read the books:
The Last House On Needless Street by Catriona Ward
Out of the final twenty, sixteen are by new to me authors, nine of them debuts. I found that 2020 was a strong year in terms of fantastic debuts, with others such as The Phone Box at the Edge of the World, Pine, The Memory Wood, The Wreckage, The Holdout, If I Can’t Have You, Dear Child, The Missing Pieces of Nancy Moon, Shiver, The Push and The Thursday Murder Club standing out in particular.
So what almost made it? Contenders for this list included Three Hours, Pine, The Memory Wood, In Five Years, The Phone Box at the Edge of the World, If I Could Say Goodbye, The Push, Strangers, Dear Child, The Ice Cream Girls, All My Lies Are True and The Thursday Murder Club.
My favourite book of the year was not a difficult choice. Though there were many that were good enough to take the title, What’s Left Of Me Is Yours is the standout book of the year for me. I can honestly say that I’ve thought about this stunning debut every day since I read it in April. Do yourself a favour and read it if you haven’t already. I’m just hoping it’s not too long before I can read another book by the talented Stephanie Scott.
Did we have any of the same favourites? What was your book of the year? Let me know in the comments.
Keep an eye out for a post tomorrow with the top 20 lists of some other bloggers and which 2020 book we recommend most of all.
*Thank you to the tagged publishers for my #gifted ARCs.
Published: July 23rd, 2020 Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio Genre: General Fiction, Pensioners in the Pages
SYNOPSIS: ‘A heartwarming story about the power of community and human connection. Hubert Bird stole my heart’ Beth O’Leary, author of The Flat-Share and The Split
Hubert Bird is not alone in being alone. He just needs to realise it.
In weekly phone calls to his daughter in Australia, widower Hubert Bird paints a picture of the perfect retirement, packed with fun, friendship and fulfilment.
But Hubert Bird is lying.
The truth is day after day drags by without him seeing a single soul.
Until, that is, he receives some good news – good news that in one way turns out to be the worst news ever, news that will force him out again, into a world he has long since turned his back on.
Now Hubert faces a seemingly impossible task: to make his real life resemble his fake life before the truth comes out. Along the way Hubert stumbles across a second chance at love, renews a cherished friendship and finds himself roped into an audacious community scheme that seeks to end loneliness once and for all . . .
Life is certainly beginning to happen to Hubert Bird. But with the origin of his earlier isolation always lurking in the shadows will he ever get to live the life he’s pretended to have for so long?
From bestselling author Mike Gayle, All the Lonely People is by turns a funny and moving meditation on love, race, old age and friendship that will not only charm and uplift, but also remind you of the power of ordinary people to make an extraordinary difference.
“But what about all the lonely people?“
I read this charming, funny and moving story back in the summer but have never got around to reviewing it. I’m trying to finish reviews for all the books I’ve read this year and this is the first backlist review I’m posting.
This is a story about loneliness, about how you can find friendship even in the most unlikely places with people totally unlike yourself. It is also a story about giving yourself permission to live again after loss.
“And in that moment, as he attempted to stem his tears, Hubert realised something he hadn’t quite understood before now: he was lonely, really lonely and most likely had been for a very long time.”
I fell in love with Hubert Bird, the eighty-four-year-old man at the heart of the story. I challenge anyone not to. In dual timeliness we are taken through the events of his life – the struggles, heartache, love and joy – and learn how he ended up living alone, isolated, with only his cat, Puss, for company. I particularly enjoyed his sweet love story with his late wife, Joyce. Theirs was a true love that survived despite the challenges and opposition of a mixed race relationship in Sixties Britain.
His friendship with his neighbour Ashleigh and her daughter Layla in the present day was also really moving. I love these cross generational relationships and seeing what each person learns from someone so different to themselves. I loved how they slowly broke down his walls and showed him he doesn’t need to be the same age as someone to be their friend.
“Apparently loneliness is a bigger killer than cancer. Can you imagine that? There’s a bigger killer than cancer in the world and no one’s doing anything about it.”
One of my first thoughts upon reading this book was why on earth I’ve waited so long to read a book by Mike Gayle. Reading this I fell in love with his writing and the way he weaves such serious and important topics into the story without it ever feeling heavy. I was also fortunate to take part in a chat with the man himself as part of the Tasting Notes Book Club, where he charmed every one of us with his wit and intelligence. I will definitely be reading more of his stories in 2021 and have been buying them in anticipation.
All The Lonely People is a truly special book that will capture your heart and make you think. One of my favourite books of this year, this is one not to be missed.
READ. THIS. BOOK!
MEET THE AUTHOR:
Mike Gayle was born and raised in Birmingham. After graduating from Salford University with a degree in Sociology Mike moved to London with ambitions of becoming a music journalist. This didn’t happen however and following a slight detour in his five-year plan he ended up as an agony uncle for teenage girls’ magazine Bliss before becoming Features Editor on the now much missed Just Seventeen. Since those early days Mike has written for a variety of publications including The Sunday Times, The Guardian and Cosmopolitan.
Mike became a full time novelist in 1997 following the publication of his Sunday Times top ten bestseller My Legendary Girlfriend, which was hailed by The Independent as ‘Full of belly laughs and painfully acute observations,’ and by The Times as ‘A funny, frank account of a hopeless romantic.’
To date Mike is the author of twelve novels including Mr Commitment, Turning Thirty and Wish You Were Here. His books have been translated into over thirty languages.
Today is my spot on the blog tour for this sensational debut. Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part and to Bantam Press for the gifted copy of this book.
Elijah has lived in the Memory Wood for as long as he can remember. It’s the only home he’s ever known.
Elissa has only just arrived. And she’ll do everything she can to escape.
When Elijah stumbles across thirteen-year-old Elissa, in the woods where her abductor is hiding her, he refuses to alert the police. Because in his twelve years, Elijah has never had a proper friend. And he doesn’t want Elissa to leave.
Not only that, Elijah knows how this can end. After all, Elissa isn’t the first girl he’s found inside the Memory Wood.
As her abductor’s behaviour grows more erratic, Elissa realises that outwitting strange, lonely Elijah is her only hope of survival. Their cat-and-mouse game of deception and betrayal will determine both their fates, and whether either of them will ever leave the Memory Wood . . .
This exciting, compelling, daring and clever debut is without a doubt my book of the month. Atmospheric and creepy, it reads like a modern-day Grimm’s fairytale; full of jaw-dropping twists and keeping you on tenterhooks from start to finish.
13-year-old chess prodigy Elissa is abducted from a tournament in Bournemouth, waking to find herself imprisoned in a cellar in the “Memory Wood.” She is soon visited by Elijah, a strange 12-year-old boy who claims to want to help but won’t go to the police or help her escape. He just wants a friend, and though he unnerves her, Elissa recognises that he could be her only means of escape. Will she be able to convince Elijah to help her return to her family? Or will she suffer the fate of his other friends that once lived below the Memory Wood?
Utterly mind-blowing and brilliant, it seems impossible that this is the author’s first novel. The exquisite, immersive prose and tangled web of intricate twists and turns had me transfixed. Not a single word was wasted and I devoured this book, desperate for answers and to learn the fate of our young narrators.
Elissa and Elijah couldn’t be more different: Elissa is a warrior; the young prodigy uses her high intelligence, knowledge of the game, love of puzzles and trivia and tremendous courage to try and escape her captors. Though he says he is on her side, she realises she must tread carefully with Elijah and use his innocence and isolated upbringing against him, while also appearing to trust him as her friend. Elijah is a tragic but menacing soul. There’s something off about him from the start, and it’s not just that he doesn’t want to help an abducted girl escape. It’s the little clues he gives to his past, how he hides in the shadows, and how he can change from one moment to the next. I had my suspicions about him that were ultimately proven right, but with an almighty twist that shook me to the core. Running throughout the book is a captivating power struggle between the pair, where each is playing their own game in a bid to win and survive.
The Memory Wood is an astonishing debut that crackles with tension from start to finish. Addictive, eerie and jaw-dropping, you won’t be able to put this book down. If you pick up just one book I’ve read this month then make sure it’s this one.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sam Lloyd grew up in Hampshire, making up stories and building secret hideaways in his local woods.
These days he lives in Surrey with his wife, three young sons and a dog that likes to howl. He enjoys craft
beer, strong coffee and (rarely) a little silence. The Memory Wood is his debut thriller.