Monday, 17 December 2012

Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley

I was very lucky to receive a proof copy of this book. From the title this may not have been a book I would immediately go for, but it just goes to show that you can find great stories in unexpected places.

Amaranth has run away from her family with her two daughters Amity and Sorrow. After four days of non-stop driving she crashes her car at a gas station. Despite an agitated introduction, the farmer of the surrounding property takes pity on the strange little family and lets them stay on his land.

We learn that they have come from a cult and Amaranth is constantly fearful that her husband – the only adult male and leader of the cult – will come after them. The youngest daughter Amity blossoms outside of the cult and is eager to learn about the unexplored world around her. Her older sister Sorrow is the extreme opposite, clinging fiercely to the rules and religion she knows and opposing all the changes before her. The story slowly unravels the past the girls have run from and weaves together the new relationships and experiences they forge on the farm. But eventually they must face up to what they left behind.

I absolutely adored the character of Amity; her innocence and curiosity about everything which is unfamiliar to her make her exploits truly charming to read about. It seems as though she is constantly torn between her mother and her sister, torn between the old ways and her new world. I remember learning about cults in Sociology and I always found the topic both intriguing and disturbing at the same time. The well-known religious sect from Waco, Texas are briefly mentioned in the book; that case becoming famous after more than 50 people died when it was stormed by police in 1993. The wives from the cult in this tale were interesting to read about as they all had their own reasons for joining the group; reasons of which probably reflect possible real life motivations for wanting to leave an old life behind and join an isolated community.

I thought this book explored the theme gracefully, woven together with notions of religion and farming, and is overall a deeply fascinating and hopeful story.

Out March 2013

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Fuse by Julianna Baggott

I was extremely lucky to get my hands on an advance copy of Fuse. I devoured Pure and my reaction to Fuse was no different.

In the follow up to the amazing Pure, Fuse sees Pressia Belze, a wretch, and Partridge, a Pure, uncover their entwined history in a mission to save the wretches and overthrow the Dome.

 As well as physical dangers outside of the Dome, Pressia contends with feelings for Bradwell, the boy with birds in his back: she’s lost everyone she loves before and it seems dangerous to love someone when the world is a hazard.

Partridge must also face his own demons as he fights for his love Lyda and uncovers nasty truths about his father. Amidst their own personal problems, wretch children start disappearing into the Dome, and when they are released they are cured of all afflictions but are mute, bar one message: that Partridge must come home. Having escaped the Dome once, now he must return and face his father, only now he is armed with facts and support from his new friends, and he hopes to lead a revolt from within the Dome.

I’m trying not to give too much away, but Fuse is even more explosive than Pure. We meet even more unique groups of characters, with their own fusings, skills and habitats, and they all have a role to play in the grand scheme of things. Secret after secret that have been coded and hidden are revealed. Obstacles and dangers are met head on.

Just like Pure, Fuse is full of highly imaginative plotlines, cleverly interlinking sociological themes, science, technology and even mythology. With twists and turns throughout, this is a book you won’t want to put down.

Pure by Julianna Baggott

Many of the books I’ve come to review on this site are the result of social media hype (I follow a lot of bookworms and literary types and sometimes things sink in). Pure and it’s follow up Fuse (Books 1 and 2 of a trilogy) were one of the hypes I had noticed. As in most cases, it wasn’t unfounded. Pure is astoundingly good!

Pure is the post-apocalyptic tale of a world that has been devastated by Detonations and divided the population into two main groups: Pures and Wretches. Pures are a select elite community, unharmed by the Detonations as they reside in a protective Dome. Wretches are everybody else who survived outside the dome, fused to whatever they were closest too at the time; objects, animals, other people. Life outside the Dome is perilous. Threats include Groupies (groups of people fused together), Dusts (people and animals fused to the earth) and Beasts (strange hybrids and animals with fusings).

Pressia Belze, a girl with a doll’s head for a fist, has lived a hard and dangerous life on the outside and dreams of a life inside the Dome, safe and cared for. Whilst inside the Dome, Partridge plans his escape from the strict regime of the Dome, a place that isn’t a perfect as people think. Unknowingly bound together, fate will see to it that Pressia and Partridge are destined to change the world.

As the story unfolds, we start to see the divides that characterise the Wretches and the Pures. All the characters are so well devised and individual, with their unique burns and fusings. I particularly like El Capitan and Helmud, brothers who are fused together; their relationship is comical at times but can also be quite heartbreaking.

Julianna Baggott has created a hauntingly striking world in which she explores themes of identity and society. Unsurprisingly, the film rights for the trilogy have already been sold, and what epic movies these tales will make! This is a truly original story that keeps you gagging for more.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Heart-Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne

My Twitter feed was recently going crazy for this novel, especially as Tanya Byrne has been nominated and shortlisted for a number of literary awards, so I just had to see what the fuss was about.

The story is the writings of young offender Emily Koll recording her troubling thoughts, feelings and memories into a notebook, which is later found at Archway Young Offenders Institution where she was held before it was closed down. She talks about her life there and also the events leading up to her incarceration.

Emily’s father was a notorious criminal (unbeknownst to her) and is sent to prison after he kills a police officer. Emily’s world falls apart when she discovers her father’s true nature, and with the help of her Uncle she plans to exact revenge on the policeman’s daughter, who was responsible for her father’s capture. She infiltrates the girl’s life and poses as her friend under the guise of Rose. But soon the lines between Rose and Emily become blurred and it’s only a matter of time before Emily finishes what she started.

Emily’s narration is believable and honest as she writes exactly what’s in her head, even though she keeps the most important part of her story hidden until the end. We are privy to what she grudgingly discloses to the psychiatric doctor she regularly speaks to at the facility and also the secrets she shares only in the diary. I enjoyed the style of writing, very easy to read and the recollection of memories not in chronological order helps keep the pages turning so you can find out what happened to Emily Koll. There is a fairly small cast of characters so it makes it easy for you to keep up with the plotline. I particularly liked the other girls from the institution; the interaction between teenage females with differing degrees of mental health issues under one roof makes for interesting reading.

I must admit, this wasn’t as dark as I thought it was going to be but it was still a very clever depiction of love, betrayal and revenge, and an overall compulsive read. I’ve heard Tanya Byrne is working on her second novel and that will most definitely be at the top of my reading list.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom

I devoured this book in one day; it was so beautifully written and the set up made for quick reading. The creator of the first clock, Father Time, is banished to a cave for centuries, ageless and sleepless where he must listen to the voices of world asking for more time.

Two voices in particular rise above the others. One is teenager Sarah Lemon, an outcast in school who is hopelessly in love and who has given up on life. The second is Victor Delamonte, a wealthy elderly businessman who is seriously ill and seeking to live forever. Father Time is granted his freedom with the task of saving Sarah and Victor, and in the process try to learn the true meaning of time and thus save himself.

Throughout the book we go backwards and forwards in time. Back in time, we see Father Time as a child and his journey in measuring time and the consequences of his actions. Forwards in time we see Sarah in her everyday life volunteering at a homeless shelter, living with her mother and generally living the life of a normal teenage girl. We also learn about Victor, running his businesses, the relationship he has with his wife and his plans to cheat death.

The latter stages of the book reminded me of scenes from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, when Scrooge is shown how his life plays out differently when he chooses a particular path of living. Sarah and Victor are lucky individuals to be shown how their actions affect both themselves and others, but Father Time is also learning how his actions affected people in not only his lifetime, but throughout time itself.

 This is a magical, inspirational read along similar lines of philosophical author Paulo Coelho. It is so simple in its story but so sublimely written that you’ll race to the end to learn Father Time’s lessons with him. Overall The Time Keeper is a deeply truthful and eye-opening read.

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

I think any serious bookworm must have read a Stephen King novel at some time or another. A hugely popular author and original story maker, I have grown up with Stephen King books on the family bookshelf. So when I saw my mother with a collection of his short stories I jumped at the chance for a read.

This book comprises of four individual tales. “1922” is a compelling murder confession set on a farm. The farmer and his son are forced to cover up and live with a heinous act that they have committed. It is expertly narrated and ghostly at times. There are few characters but the narrator’s voice is simple and honest.

“Big Driver” is a revenge-based tale, similar to the horror flick “I Spit on your Grave”, whereby a woman is raped and left for dead, but returns to find the man responsible for the crimes inflicted on her. I enjoy stories where the victim returns, not neccesarrily to exact a brutal revenge, but when they seek redemption it almost makes them heal a little or get stronger after the torment that has befallen them.

“Fair Extension” tells of a cancer riddled man making a supernatural deal to save his life and the effect this has on himself and those around him. As human beings I think sometimes we do pray for astounding miracles, often to cheat death. But of course nothing is ever for free and there is always a price to pay. 

 And finally, “A Good Marriage” explores the ideas about truly knowing the people we are close to, in this case a wife finds there is more to her husband than she knew possible. The story tells of her horrible discovery and how as a woman, wife and human she deals with this new found information.

 All four are very different stories but murder, secrets, revenge and a smattering of supernatural are themes that flow throughout. My favourite of the tales was 1922 as the confession was eerily detailed, interweaving all the characters stories, and there were some quite gruesome and ghostly elements to it as well. Once again Mr King has crafted some great suspenseful and graphic tales within one book.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy

Now that the hype has died down about the Fifty Shades Trilogy, I’m going to add my opinion to the pile! Fifty Shades of Grey first came to my attention through pub gossip. Friends of friends were clamouring to read it, saying that every female should read it and that it will change your life. The following day my Facebook was alive with Grey; girls unable to put the book down and guys moaning that they’d lost their other halves to a book.

The Fifty Shades Trilogy tells of student Anastasia Steele who starts a love affair with super rich, super handsome businessman Christian Grey, who is hiding a dark past, a rollercoaster temper and some unexpected sexual appetites. He has many good qualities but he is equally balanced by a lot of bad ones. I found Anastasia to be a little on the boring side. She’s quite reluctant and argumentative but I think I disliked her because I would have dealt with the things she was faced with in an almost opposite way. My favourite character was Christian’s sister Mia who is a happy and cheerful character who has a positive effect on everyone around her.

Referred to in the media as “Mummy porn”, I think the popularity of this book centres around two things – Christian Grey and sex. Problems aside, I think the character of Christian Grey is an unrealistic but dream boyfriend. He’s gorgeous, attentive and showers Anastasia with outrageous gifts. As for the numerous sex scenes I think it’s refreshing for a mainstream book to explore taboo subjects, and it is interesting to look through social media at the varying reactions from readers and haters alike.

Despite heated online debates regarding the books, Fifty Shades of Grey is officially the fastest selling book of 2012, with two million women purchasing the book in the UK alone. The popularity of the franchise has also seen an increase in sales of soft rope from DIY stores, sex toys and bondage gear. Whatever opinions exist, the truth is that sex sells!

Personally the novels haven’t changed my life as was whispered over bottles of wine with my girlfriends. But underneath all the sex there was a good basic storyline and is overall easy to read. I found the books got better as they moved along the trilogy. This isn’t the most daring of erotic fiction and Fifty Shades has spawned a number of similar novels with varying degrees of erotica, but if this doesn’t sound like something you would normally read I would suggest giving it a try just to escape your comfort zone. You never know, you might like it.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Black Light by Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan & Stephen Romano

Buck Carlsbad is a supernatural exorcist. He takes hold of an evil spirit, seeing and feeling every heinous act they’ve ever committed, pulls them in and gets rid of them. To do this he uses the Black Light, the cross over between the living world and the dead.

Buck takes on a dangerous new case involving nine bad-ass spirits and a futuristic high speed train, when he discovers that it may help him uncover what happened to his parents, how they met their untimely end and possibly tell him more about his own shady beginnings.

This novel from the writers of the Saw movie franchise and there is plenty of gore for the die-hard horror fans. I was surprised that the tale is actually narrated in quite an eloquent descriptive style rather than in a profusely gruesome way, even when the action gets grisly. Buck is a straightforward voice wrapped in a rugged, messed up shell and is everything you expect from an unadorned a hero.

There is also a host of interesting players; eccentric rich types, beautiful women and celebrities, tossed together in a dark whirlwind of spiritual horror. This is an original read for supernatural lovers, and it brings a whole new meaning to the term Ghost Train!

Friday, 9 November 2012

Rupture by Simon Lelic

In the middle of a heatwave, history teacher Samuel Szajkowski walks into a school assembly with a gun, killing three pupils, a teacher and then himself. Inspector Lucia May is expected to hastily conclude a seemingly clear-cut investigation but she soon becomes entangled in a web of hearsay, school and police politics.

Alternating between Lucia’s life and the monologued statements of witnesses and people linked to the case, Lucia begins to build up a picture of the teacher and his life at the school, in a bid to uncover why an ordinary school teacher would be driven to commit such a crime.

This novel explores bullying and bullying cultures, which is a theme that is particularly prevalent within education. Although Lucia’s life is played out in chronological time, the evidence statements from the other players are mostly in the past, and as they are presented they drip-feed the reader more information to build up the events and possible motives behind the grisly tragedy. After every new voice, you gain a new perspective and it cleverly leaves you wanting more. The characters’ voices are all convincing and the style of writing keeps the reader engaged. I thought this was a fabulous debut and a very gripping read!

Grimm Tales by Philip Pullman

Fairytales, folktales and mythology are my favourite genres within the infinite realm of the written word. I’ve grown up with fairytales and have loved them since as far back I can recall. For instance, I can remember devouring fairytales and cultural folktales from my primary school library, then retelling them to my sister at night at bedtime. For me, fairytales are timeless, often conveying a simple truth or fable in a beautiful elegant way, as they are retold throughout generations.

 I already have a small collection of fairytale books (see below!) and even some fairytale apps on my phone, but I was very excited to get my copy of Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales.

 In this collection are assembled fifty stories collated by the Brothers Grimm and retold by Philip Pullman who stays quite true to the original tales. There are the standard renowned tales including Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, and Cinderella. There are also many lesser known but equally captivating narratives such as Thousandfurs, The Goose Girl and The Nixie of the Millpond.

I couldn’t possibly pick a favourite as I enjoy all tales of this kind. Some are familiar childhood friends. Others are new and enchanting. This book is perfect for young and old readers alike who appreciate classic storytelling at its best.

Monday, 29 October 2012

The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams

I came across this book via a review from For Books Sake on scary sisters in literature. This is a book I might previously have overlooked whilst browsing the library bookshelves, but I’m so glad I have read this now.

The story starts with elderly reclusive Ginny in a decrepit mansion waiting for the return of her younger sister Vivien to their childhood home after nearly fifty years of absence. With Vivien’s return, untold secrets begin to emerge as the sisters rediscover each other. Ginny is the narrator and often recalls the dark past events that shape the sisters as they are today.

The family profession was lepidoptery and the mansion house is a museum of moth collections, scientific equipment and academic papers dedicated to generations of lifetime works all centred around moths. The expansive grounds of the Dorset mansion was also where Ginny and Vivien were taught to observe, hunt and capture moths, which Ginny continues even after Vivien had left. As a prolific moth expert, Ginny goes into great detail about moth classifications, the breeding, care and killing of moths and her studies of them. I thought the scientific details were amazingly researched and surprisingly interesting.

All the characters are well formed and the sisters’ relationship is strangely fascinating. I found this story to be elegantly morose and yet full of heart at the same time. Overall it is a striking read.

Friday, 26 October 2012

666 Charing Cross Road by Paul Magrs

I love books related to London. I love all things supernatural. And I love ancient old books. This novel already had me hooked and I hadn’t even opened it yet.

It tells of museum artist Shelley who unveils a strangely life-like exhibit in the form of Scottish bride effigy Bessie. Meanwhile her book fanati aunt Liza becomes obsessed with an antique bookstore at 666 Charing Cross Road and is sent an old grimoire. Shelley’s selfish boyfriend and boss Daniel gets his hands on said grimoire and releases vampiric evil into New York. Shelley, Liza and Bessie have to work together to save their friends, their cities and quite possibly the world.

 I found the character of Shelley quite pathetic and weak but for all her misgivings I adored her aunt Liza. I love her elderly I-don’t-give-a-sh*t attitude and the fact she had a bit of a supernatural back story. The action plays between New York and London, both individual and unique cities. After reading this I was tempted to go scouting for 666 on Charing Cross Road even though I know it doesn't exist. Anything for an adventure! The story is fast paced with a good balance of Tim Burton-esque occultism, camp characters and engaging story. The end will leave you wanting more.

Snow Hill by Mark Sanderson

“I went to my funeral this morning.”

That is the opening line of the main character’s diary and of the book itself. If that doesn’t prompt you to keep writing I don’t know what will.

 John Steadman, writer of the diary, is a young journalist in 1930s London who receives a tip off about the murder of a police officer. Despite being told that the information is false by his copper best mate Matt, other members of the forces and his colleagues at work, he is determined to solve the mystery. His investigations rattle some dangerous cages but his ambitions to scoop the story of his career and help the people around him force him to go undercover as his life is threatened.

This tale is a great mix of cops and criminals, and the role of the press in between. It’s goodies versus the bad guys, although at times you’re not sure who plays for which side. I liked the setting of 1930s London which for me conjured pictures of smart suited gentlemen and classic feminine women against a smoky, dark London backdrop. There is a great cast of characters and an ever-thickening plot that will leave you satisfied by the last page.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Weirdo by Cathi Unsworth

Just from the title this book grabbed me. Weirdo. Who is this weirdo? Why are they a weirdo? I seem to just like the word weirdo, but I’ll stop now. Once I got past the front cover however, I couldn’t put the book down.

Set in the fictional town of Ernemouth, the story flits between the years of 1983-84 where a teenager is murdered and 2003 when private investigator Sean Ward arrives to re-examine the case. The chapters of the past introduce the convicted girl Corrine Woodrow and her misfit bunch of friends. The mix of teen punks and rockers against their opposing adults in the form of parents and police was interesting to read. I love how the author describes all the 80s styles the characters go through and captures the teen angst of the era beautifully.

Meanwhile in 2003 I also took a shine to Sean Ward. I usually find leading police characters to be a bit samey – slightly depressive and angry with the world, and a bit too clever for their own good. But I find Sean Ward to be realistically sound minded and logical, which I liked.
This novel builds up layers of mystery and reveals them gradually which makes the pages almost turn by themselves. This was a captivating read, and is surely a TV adaptation waiting to happen.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Jemima J by Jane Green

I first read this book in my secondary school years on the recommendation of a friend. Once I had read her copy of it, I went out and bought my own. Since then I have read it countless times; it never fails to inspire and uplift me on dull days.

Jemima J is fat, under-appreciated and unhappy. She hates the way she looks, is jealous of most of the women around her including her best friend Geraldine and has a terrible crush on her journalist colleague Ben. But when Jemima discovers the Internet and strikes up with an online romance with an American hunk, she decides to lose weight and reinvent herself so she can go and meet him.

As you follow Jemima's rollercoaster journey of change you find she is a very easy character to get attached to. The small but snappy cast around her also add to the fun. My favourites include glamourous bestie Geraldine, and Jemima's two Cinderella's-ugly-sisters style housemates. I also enjoyed the style of writing. The book mainly employs Jemima as the narrator, but we also see things from Ben's point of view as he becomes more prominent in the story, and there is also a stand alone narrator who chips in now and again which I quite liked.

Overall, this is an easy to read book to brighten any rainy day.