Thursday, 7 July 2016

Book Review: Valentina by S.E. Lynes


Title: Valentina
Author: S E Lynes
Publisher: Blackbird Digital Books
Publication Date: 1 July 2016

Twitter: @SELynesAuthor
Facebook: S E Lynes Author

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Blurb

When Glasgow journalist Shona McGilvery moves with her partner Mikey and their baby to an idyllic cottage in rural Scotland, they believe that all that lies ahead of them is happiness.

But with Mikey working offshore, the frightening isolation of the Aberdeenshire countryside begins to drive her insane...

That is, until she is rescued by a new friendship with the enchanting Valentina. 

She has the perfect home, the perfect man, and a charismatic new best friend – or does she?

As her fairytale life begins to unravel, the deep dark wood becomes the least of her fears...

Review

Thank you to Blackbird Digital Books for providing me with a copy of Valentina by S E Lynes in exchange for an honest review.
 
Valentina is the first novel from S E Lynes and it certainly is a fantastic debut!
 
The book is set in the wilds of Aberdeenshire, a remote and secluded place with rugged coastlines and sandy beaches. There is a wonderful descriptiveness to S E Lynes tale. I particularly loved the impression given of Foot Dee (Fittie), a former fishing village/dwelling with narrow streets with traditional cottages and the quirky feel of a village stuck in the past - a real taste of life-gone-by. Having since checked Google and found it to be a real village, this is now a place I would be very interested to visit.
 
Shona and baby Isla find themselves living in a beautiful cottage in the Aberdeenshire countryside, a trek from the nearest town or indeed any civilisation, whilst her partner Mikey is working offshore on the oil rigs. It is not long before city-girl Shona begins to feel terribly lonely, wore down from living such an isolated life. This leads Shona to meet and befriend the charismatic and enigmatic Valentina.
 
The plot is very well developed and engaging, with the tale woven in such a way that I struggled to put the book down. It really is an absorbing tale. There is a heavy and onerous feeling to the book from the very start, a sense of foreboding that I just couldn’t shake off.
 
I have to be careful what I tell you about Valentina without accidentally revealing any spoilers. However, I can say that this book really does make you question how well you know your friends and family Do you ever get a feeling that something just isn’t quite right….?
 
Structurally the book is interesting, in effect it is a play of 3 parts: the first from Shona’s point of view, the second from Valentina’s point of view and the third part tying up the loose ends and bringing the tale to its conclusion. Interestingly, both Shona and Valentina address the reader directly during their narratives. For me, this was a very effective way of giving each character the chance to jump from the page and tell their story. Specifically, it moves Valentina from a two to three-dimensional character and allows the reader sufficient insight to determine whether or not they feel some sympathy/empathy towards Valentina.
 
In my opinion, the characterisation in the book is also cleverly crafted with each character initially coming across as the very best versions of themselves. As the tale deepens so do the characters, gradually becoming more complex and darker. Shona is feisty, strong and funny, however she has been muted by motherhood, sleep-deprivation and loneliness. Initially feeling as though all the pieces in life have fallen into place, Shona gradually starts to realise that she is becoming a shadow of her former self, only coming back to life when Mikey is home from the rigs. Mikey is Shona’s partner and co-parent. She adores him and would follow him to the end of the earth. He is a wonderful father and partner – loving, caring and fun. Yet there is something subtly domineering in his manner and this gives rise to a few little niggles that sometimes pop uninvited into her mind... When Shona meets Valentia, it seems like the answer to her lonely existence during Mikey’s absences. Valentina is the life and sole of the party. She is bouncy, witty, daring and just what Shona needs in a friend. Yet we gradually realise how little Shona seems to know about Valentina and how manipulative Valentina can be.
 
The tale is largely about friendship and the early stages of such, where each person is finding their footing and learning to read the other person’s moods and mannerisms. In this case, Shona relishes Valentina’s colourful and energetic entrance into her life. She is no longer bored and lonely but, at the same time, she now has those niggling feelings of uncertainty that seem to accompany the start of any relationship. Is Valentina trying to take advantage of Shona’s good nature? How should she react to this without risking that burgeoning friendship, after all a good friend is there to help and not to judge… right?
 
The tale is also one of the importance of trust, both within a relationship and in your own instincts. Shona seems to unthinkingly put all of her trust into Mikey and Valentina, to the detriment of her own instincts, and accepts what they say virtually without question. It is important to be able to trust your partner and close friends implicitly, but not above trusting yourself. As a reader, we see Shona failing to put any trust in her own instincts. On numerous occasions she instinctively feels that something is amiss and yet she makes excuses and refuses to accept that anything might be wrong. Shona seems to back away from standing up to either Mikey or Valentina. She knows what she wants to say but then paranoia sets in and she has become so dependent upon these characters/relationships that she feels she cannot risk losing them by saying the wrong thing or by coming across as overly critical. However, holding her true self back and failing to question those irregularities, perpetuates her habit of over-thinking and her feelings of paranoia.
 
In my opinion, Valentina is a fantastic debut from S E Lynes. It is absolutely gripping, with an overall sense of foreboding that wriggles deep into the reader’s subconscious. I was gripped by the complexity of the characters and the intricately woven story, concluding with a twist and in a manner slightly different to what I had anticipated. I thought I had guessed the twist from an early point but, in actual fact, I was only part of the way there. S E Lynes certainly knows how to tell a story and this is one that will really get under your skin. Highly recommended!
 
I very much hope to hear more from S E Lynes in the near future.
 
About the Author

After graduating from Leeds University, S E Lynes lived in London for a couple of years before moving to Aberdeen to be with her husband.  In Aberdeen, she worked as a Radio Producer at the BBC before moving with her husband and two young children to Rome. There, she began to write while her children attended nursery. After the birth of her third child and upon her return to the UK,  she gained an MA in Creative Writing from Kingston University. She now combines writing with teaching at Richmond Adult Community College and bringing up her three children.  She lives in Teddington.
 
 
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