The Darkest Hour by Barbara Erskine

I love Barbara Erskine books and on a recent holiday found ‘The Darkest Hour’ hardback in a cruise ship library. One I hadn’t read, but I started it with trepidation. It’s always a bit nerve wracking when a favourite author has a new book in case it doesn’t quite live up to expectations – a bit like seeing an old boyfriend! No need to have worried with this story though.

I don’t want to give away the plot, but from the Prologue to final Epilogue and Postscript, Barbara Erskine writes such engaging prose that she entangles the reader in the narrative almost unwittingly, somewhat like the way she blurs the lines between the supernatural and the real world so that reading her works is more of an experience than an activity. I have become jaded by dual plots that switch back and forth in time, but here both Lucy and Evie are such well defined characters and the wartime and present day settings are so easy to picture that it is impossible not to be totally entranced by the writing. As the two strands twist together and the plot surprises and entertains the book is totally absorbing.

What really resonates throughout ‘The Darkest Hour’ is the meticulous way in which the novel has been researched and it is obvious that the personal link with her father’s experience has enabled Erskine to write with genuine passion.

I’d recommend reading ‘The Darkest Hour’ an a rainy afternoon or, as I did, as a lovely holiday treat.

Short story ‘The Scrapbook’ by Erin Kelly

Just read this super short story (available free as a PDF at http://www.erinkelly.co.uk/) by Erin Kelly, co-author of ‘Broadchurch’ with Chris Chibnall.

Despite its brevity at a mere seven pages, Kelly builds character and suspense quickly and effectively. There is a credibility to her writing that increases the pace of the reader’s heartbeat as the writing progresses. Seemingly a typical middle aged divorcee looking online for a new relationship, Amanda seems nothing out of the ordinary, but by the end of the story, the reader is let wondering just what Edward – or -Teddy_1964 has let himself in for.

Grab yourself a copy and spend a worthwhile 15 minutes getting a great read.

From Bear to Bare!

There’s an interesting comparison to be made in the different experiences of reading a book and seeing a film. Earlier this year I went to see the film ‘Paddington’. The Paddington books have been an integral part of my life since childhood. As an adult I even got asked to leave a teachers’ centre library for laughing too loudly when reading about Paddington taking his driving test and I reread them all every year. Seeing the film took me a while to adjust to the image of Paddington on screen compared with the one I held in my head. I really enjoyed the film, but still felt it was a pale imitation of the written narratives.

Last evening I went to ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ at the local cinema. Given that I thought the book was not well written I didn’t hold out much hope for the film. However, it was a reasonable portrayal of the text – a two to three star experience. What I did find interesting was that I found the book far more erotic, despite its clunky construction and poor grammar and style.

So, does this mean that the written word is always better? I’m not sure. I certainly found the stage and film versions of ‘Les Miserables’ far more enjoyable than reading the book – but maybe that was because I read it in translation so it lost some of the beauty of the original language. And, to my embarrassment, I far prefer television or film versions of Dickens whose prose I find too detailed and slow of pace whereas, for me, no adaptation can beat reading Hardy.

I suppose I’ll just have to read more and see more films!

No Other Darkness by Sarah Hilary

‘No Other Darkness’ concerns the finding of the bodies of two small boys in a bunker under the garden of a housing estate and the events that ensue when DI Marnie Rose attempts to discover their identity and how they met their deaths.

Although one or two of the plot devices feel slightly contrived, this is still a crackingly good read and the plot races along. I’m not a great reader of crime fiction, but I definitely will be reading Sarah Hilary’s first novel in the Marnie Rose series, ‘Someone Else’s Skin’ so that I can appreciate fully the cross references in this book. However, you don’t need to have read the first novel to thoroughly enjoy and be gripped by ‘No Other Darkness’.

Sarah Hilary creates really well rounded characters with whom the reader can identify and her dialogue is convincing and realistic. I found some of the setting writing really beautiful and effective with sentences like ‘The house was holding its breath, silence packed solidly up the stairs’ adding to the atmosphere.

‘No Other Darkness’ reminded me of a firework. It began relatively slowly and then fizzed and crackled until its finale when there is peace and silence.

Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson

My book group this morning were universal in their praise for S J Watson’s debut novel ‘Before I Go To Sleep’.

Christine has suffered a head trauma so that every morning when she wakes up she has no idea who she is or who the man sleeping next to her is. Her memory has completely disappeared.

In this tautly written and thoroughly engaging psychological novel the reader becomes as desperate as Christine to unearth the truth behind what happened to her. Like Christine, we are not sure who to trust and it becomes increasingly clear that all is not as it seems.

In a thrilling end, the truth is finally revealed – though it won’t be here as I don’t want to spoil the enjoyment of reading this narrative – and the reader is left wondering what the next morning might bring.

Themes of identity, trust, family and friendship weave into this intricate story so that it is hard to stop reading when real life intervenes. If you’ve seen the film (I haven’t but I’ve seen awful reviews), I’d say don’t judge a book by its movie!