Category Archives: family mystery drama

Friday Faceoff – In the bleak midwinter…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is a snowscape, so I’ve chosen Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.

 

This is the cover produced by Reagan Arthur Books in February 2012 and frankly, I don’t know what they were thinking. It is pretty enough – indeed, looks appropriate for a cute childen’s tale. But this book is nothing of the sort – it is a wonderful portrait of survival in a hostile environment, of despair and gritted determination and a miracle. Or is it? So this cover is completely inappropriate.

 

This edition, produced by Headline Review in February 2012 is more like it. I love the simplicity of the deep blue with the outline of the girl and the fox in white. It is eye-catching and gives a far better sense of the book. While it isn’t my favourite, it is certainly a huge improvement on the previous effort.

 

Published in July 2012 by Polirom, this Romanian cover is an unfortunate throwback to the first cover. It looks far too juvenile for this remarkable book which covers very adult themes, even if the prose is at times ethereally beautiful.

 

Thank goodness this cover, produced in September 2014 by Tinder Press, is a much better effort. The snowscape is still beautiful. I love the looping font the footsteps leading away from it towards the smudge in the trees that may or may not be the child. Lovely and entirely in keeping with the content.

 

However my favourite is this Serbian edition by Laguna, published in January 2013. I love the cool blue of the cover and the delicacy and detail of the frosting around the edge of the cover – how beautiful! And it isn’t the snow child portrayed on the cover, it is the heavier figure of the woman, searching for her… As you may have gathered, I’ve become a tad overwrought about these covers – but which is your favourite?

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Sunday Post – 30th April 2017

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

Looking back, I feel glad that I was sympathetic and concerned about poor little Oscar’s cold last week, because I went down with the wretched thing like a sack of spanners and have been absolutely flattened. I’ve spent most of the week in bed reading and sleeping, hence the rather ridiculously long list below… And I’m still feeling like a piece of chewed string.

 

This week I have read:

Snared – Book 16 of the Elemental Assassins series by Jennifer Estep
My search for the girl begins on the mean streets of Ashland, but with all the killers and crooks in this city, I’m not holding out much hope that she’s still alive. A series of clues leads me down an increasingly dark, dangerous path, and I realize that the missing girl is really just the first thread in this web of evil. As an assassin, I’m used to facing down the worst of the worst, but nothing prepares me for this new, terrifying enemy—one who strikes from the shadows and is determined to make me the next victim.
I really enjoyed this slice in the ongoing adventure of Gin Blanco’s life as she battles to find a kidnapped girl and uncover more about the shadowy organisation that were responsible for her mother and sister’s death. An engrossing urban fantasy murder mystery.

Dancing with Death – Book 1 of the Nell Drury series by Amy Myers
1925. The fashionable Bright Young Things from London have descended on Wychbourne Court, the Kentish stately home of Lord and Lady Ansley, for an extravagant fancy dress ball followed by a midnight Ghost Hunt – and Chef Nell Drury knows she’s in for a busy weekend. What she doesn’t expect to encounter is sudden, violent death.
A houseful of likely suspects with plenty of above and below stairs motivations and suspicious behaviour… This 1920’s historical cosy mystery was a cracking read and took me away from my bed of pain.

 

Reaper – Book 1 from the End Game series by Janet Edwards
In the year 2519, people on Earth don’t grow old and die any longer, their bodies are frozen and they start a new life in the virtual reality of the Game. Jex is almost eighteen, working twelve hour shifts, and dreaming of when she’ll be legally adult and begin her long-planned idyllic life in Game. When a bomber attacks a Game server complex, one of the virtual worlds of Game crashes, and eleven thousand immortal players die during emergency defrost. Death has struck Game for the first time in centuries, and Jex is questioned as a suspect in the bombing.
I really enjoyed this depiction of a stripped, monochrome world where all the adults have disappeared into virtual reality, while children’s childhood have also gone. Jex, on the cusp of being able to slough her actual body and become her virtual persona, finds herself a suspect for a bombing. This is a murder mystery with a difference – clever, inventive and enjoyable.

Fool’s Gold – Book 8 of the Liberty Lane series by Caro Peacock
September, 1841. A new arrival has taken London society by storm. Lord Byron’s handsome illegitimate son, George, recently arrived from the exotic island of Cephalonia in the company of his guardian, the mysterious Mr Vickery, has been setting female hearts aflutter. But not all the attention George attracts is welcome. Mr Vickery has been receiving disturbing letters from a woman who calls herself Helena, and he hires Liberty Lane to find out who Helena is and what she wants.
Yes… I know there is something of a theme going on here – yet another murder mystery. But they are all quite different – really. And this one features determined and observant Liberty Lane, trying to work out exactly what is the secret behind George and who he is. Another one that took me right away from my thick-headed misery and into another world.

Scavenger Alliance – Book 1 of the Exodus series by Janet Edwards
In the year 2408, a century after the invention of interstellar portals, seven hundred people scavenge a living in abandoned New York. The respectable citizens have either withdrawn to new settlements in the countryside, or joined the great exodus of humanity to new, unpolluted colony worlds, but eighteen-year-old Blaze is one of the undesirables that neither the citizen settlements nor the new colony worlds will accept.
This adventure is set in the same world as Edwards’ best-selling Earthgirl series, but much earlier. A survivor colony is scratching out a living in the ruins of New York, when they are confronted with a small group from another world. I loved this one, having been a solid fan of the Earthgirl books and couldn’t put it down until I got to the dramatic end.

A Tyranny of Queens – Book 2 of the Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows
Saffron Coulter has returned from the fantasy kingdom of Kena. Threatened with a stay in psychiatric care, Saffron has to make a choice: to forget about Kena and fit back into the life she’s outgrown, or pit herself against everything she’s ever known and everyone she loves. Meanwhile in Kena, Gwen is increasingly troubled by the absence of Leoden, cruel ruler of the kingdom, and his plans for the captive worldwalkers, while Yena, still in Veksh, must confront the deposed Kadeja. What is their endgame? Who can they trust? And what will happen when Leoden returns?
I was thrilled when I saw this sequel to the fantastic An Accident of Stars – see my review here – which was one of my outstanding reads of last year. It was a real treat to catch up on Saffron after her shock return home. This was another engrossing, vivid world full of adventure and excitement that took me away from my hacking cough and aching limbs.

Cold Welcome – Book 1 of Vatta’s Peace by Elizabeth Moon
Summoned to the home planet of her family’s business empire, space-fleet commander Kylara Vatta is told to expect a hero’s welcome. But instead she is thrown into danger unlike any other she has faced and finds herself isolated, unable to communicate with the outside world, commanding a motley group of unfamiliar troops, and struggling day by day to survive in a deadly environment with sabotaged gear. Only her undeniable talent for command can give her ragtag band a fighting chance.
I loved the Vatta’s War series and was delighted when Himself made me a present of this one for Easter. It is Moon at her tense, thrilling best and I found this particular military sci fi adventure impossible to put down until I got to the dramatic end.

The Broken Bridge by Philip Pullman
The Broken Bridge is the tale of Ginny, a sixteen-year-old half-Haitian girl living with her father in a small seaside village in Wales. She’s becoming a brilliant artist, just like her mother, who died when Ginny was a baby. Despite the isolation she sometimes feels, her life is turning out OK. Then her social worker cracks open her files and her world falls apart. Ginny’s father has kept a devastating secret from her all her life. In fact, everything she thought she knew about her family and her identity is a lie. And now, to find out who she really is, Ginny must relive the dark tragedies in her past.
This is a beautiful book – Pullman brilliantly evokes a particular time and place with precise, well-crafted prose that drew me right into the middle of Ginny’s world. This one is all about families – both the best and worst of what they have to offer. Pullman’s perceptive, sympathetic depiction is both engrossing and thought provoking – and a joy to read.

The One by John Marrs
How far would you go to find THE ONE?
One simple mouth swab is all it takes. A quick DNA test to find your perfect partner – the one you’re genetically made for. A decade after scientists discover everyone has a gene they share with just one other person, millions have taken the test, desperate to find true love. Now, five more people meet their Match. But even soul mates have secrets. And some are more shocking – and deadlier – than others…
This ensemble piece, where we follow the fortunes of an unrelated number of protagonists who are looking for love, gradually builds up into a gripping adventure where all is not as it seems. I loved this one – it is definitely a slow-burn read, but by the end, I was blown away by the twisting plot.

Running on the Cracks by Julia Donaldson
Leo’s running from her past. Finlay’s running into trouble. Together, they stumble into a crazy new world of secrets, lies, and Chinese food. But someone is on Leo’s trail . . . Eccentric, unforgettable characters and genuine, heart-pounding suspense make for a stunning combination as celebrated author Julia Donaldson expands her talents in her first novel for young adults.
This is a great read. You realise just how fragile some people’s lives are when it all goes wrong. Unlike many YA reads, although the protagonists are both youngsters, this one also explores what happens to older people who fall through the cracks. A warm-hearted and thoughtful look at our society.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 23rd April 2017

Review of Saven Deception – Book 1 of the Saven series by Siobhan Davis

Friday Face-off – Burning my bridges… featuring The Bridge by Janine Ellen Young

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of Snared – Book 16 of Elemental Assassins series by Jennifer Estep

This week, due to being ill, I haven’t been online long enough to be able to compile a list of interesting articles. Thank you for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

Top Ten Unique Reads…

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Once again those fine folks at The Broke and Bookish came up with a Top Ten Tuesday list I found irresistible, so I put my thinking cap on and came up with these – hopefully you’ll forgive the fact that it isn’t Tuesday…

Snowflake by Paul Gallico
A delightful story of the life of Snowflake, who was “all stars and arrows, squares and triangles of ice and light”. Through Snowflake’s special role in the pattern of creation and life, Paul Gallico has given us a simple allegory on the meaning of life, its oneness and ultimate safety.
A teacher read this one to us when I was in the equivalent of today’s Year Six and I was enchanted. I tracked down a lot more of Paul Gallico’s reads – and to be honest, many of them are unlike anything I’ve ever read, before or since. But they certainly fired up my taste for something different…

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
A carnival rolls in sometime after the midnight hour on a chill Midwestern October eve, ushering in Halloween a week before its time. A calliope’s shrill siren song beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. And two inquisitive boys standing precariously on the brink of adulthood will soon discover the secret of the satanic raree-show’s smoke, mazes, and mirrors, as they learn all too well the heavy cost of wishes – and the stuff of nightmares.
We were on a caravan holiday in France and I’d scooped this one off the shelves to take with us. I read it one heavy, hot summer afternoon while nibbling on chocolate – suddenly very glad for blazing sunshine and comforting presence of family. And as soon as I got to the end, I started reading it all over again, wanting more of that alluring prose and dark ideas.

Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan
Tricia Sullivan has written an extraordinary, genre defining novel that begins with the mystery of a woman who barely knows herself and ends with a discovery that transcends space and time. On the way we follow our heroine as she attempts to track down a killer in the body of another man, and the man who has been taken over, his will trapped inside the mind of the being that has taken him over. And at the centre of it all a briefcase that contains countless possible realities.
There is no one whose imagination works in quite the same way as Tricia Sullivan – and this amazing offering is certainly unique. I loved this quirky story and the directions in which it went, while following the fortunes of all the remarkable characters who seem perfectly reasonable – until you realise the prism through which you are looking at them has refracted into something different…

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway
The Jorgmund Pipe is the backbone of the world, and it’s on fire. Gonzo Lubitsch, professional hero and troubleshooter, is hired to put it out – but there’s more to the fire, and the Pipe itself, than meets the eye. The job will take Gonzo and his best friend, our narrator, back to their own beginnings and into the dark heart of the Jorgmund Company itself.
Another extraordinary tale that swept me up, held me rapt and then – finally – released me with a doozy of a twist ending I certainly didn’t see coming. This roller-coaster read snaps off the page with memorable lines and exuberant characters – see my review here.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
What if you grew up to realise that your father had used your childhood as an experiment? Rosemary doesn’t talk very much, and about certain things she’s silent. She had a sister, Fern, her whirlwind other half, who vanished from her life in circumstances she wishes she could forget. And it’s been ten years since she last saw her beloved older brother, Lowell. Now at college, Rosemary starts to see that she can’t go forward without going back to the time when, aged five, she was sent away from home to her grandparents and returned to find Fern gone.
This is a remarkable book – more so as it is based on a true event. And as we follow Rosemary when she goes on a quest to try and track down what happened to Fern, we discover a heartbreaking story of loss and abandonment that started with the best of intentions and ended up blighting the young lives of all the siblings in the family – see my review here.

Touchstone – Book 1 of the Glass Thorns series by Melanie Rawn
Cayden Silversun is part Elven, part Fae, part human Wizard—and all rebel. His aristocratic mother would have him follow his father to the Royal Court, to make a high society living off the scraps of kings. But Cade lives and breathes for the theater, and he’s good—very, very good. With his company, he’ll enter the highest reaches of society and power, as an honored artist—or die trying.
This remarkable series is a tour de force. I haven’t read anything quite like it and I don’t think I ever will… Cayden is a remarkable, spiky character cursed with genius and flashes of prescience. No one else has ever managed to depict the cost of this type of talent so thoroughly as Rawn in this magnificent series, which deserves to be a lot better known – see my review here.

Among Others by Jo Walton
When Mori discovers that her mother is using black magic, she decides to intervene. The ensuing clash between mother and daughter leaves Mori bereft of her twin sister, crippled for life and unable to return to the Welsh Valleys that were her own kingdom. Mori finds solace and strength in her beloved books. But her mother is bent on revenge, and nothing and no one – not even Tolkien – can save her from the final reckoning.
The writing is extraordinary in the pin-sharp description of the everyday, alongside the remarkable and Mori’s character is so compellingly realistic and nuanced, I’m undecided whether there is a large chunk of autobiographical detail wrapped up in this book. And I don’t really care – other than to fervently hope, for her sake, there isn’t too much that is borrowed from Walton’s own life. Memorable and remarkable art invariably is a fusion of imagination and reality – and this is both a memorable and remarkable book. See my review here.

A Kind of Vanishing by Lesley Thomson
Summer 1968: the day Senator Robert Kennedy is shot, two nine-year-old girls are playing hide and seek in the ruins of a deserted village. When it is Eleanor’s turn to hide, Alice disappears.
Thomson immediately plunges into the world of young girls, depicting first Eleanor’s rich interior landscape and then allowing us to access to Alice’s carefully modulated world, where her doting parents watch her every move. Thomson paints an exquisite picture of each girls’ fragilities, their aspirations and pin-sharp awareness of adult expectations. She beautifully inhabits the terrible, wonderful world of childhood – and the girls’ growing antipathy towards each other as they are forced to play together – until that disastrous game of hide and seek. This thriller/mystery is like nothing else I’ve read – see my review here.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
This is the first of the acclaimed Man Booker prizewinning books about Henry VIII’s bully boy Thomas Cromwell, who oversaw the dissolution of the monasteries. Mantel instantly had me off-balance with her present tense, third person deep POV when we first meet Cromwell being beaten by Walter, his drunken father, and he is lying on the ground trying to summon up the will to move. So Mantel quickly gains our sympathy for her protagonist – but rather than chart his adventures in Europe where he spent time as a mercenary and scholar, we then jump to when he is in Cardinal Wolsey’s employ and establishing himself as a man of substance.
The biggest problem for Mantel in choosing this period of history, is that many of us know the progression of events all too well. But while that is the frame and backdrop in this compelling read – it is Cromwell’s intense presence throughout that had me turning the pages and mourning the fact when there were no more pages… See my review here.

Embassytown by China Miéville
Embassytown, a city of contradictions on the outskirts of the universe. On Arieka, Humans are not the only intelligent life. Only a tiny cadre of unique human Ambassadors can speak Language, and connect the two communities. But an unimaginable new arrival has come to Embassytown. And when this Ambassador speaks, everything changes.
Miéville’s brilliant imagination produces a truly unusual alien species with a Language where emotion and meaning are inextricably linked, requiring human identical twins raised to be able to think and talk in tandem in order to keep the isolated human enclave, Embassytown, supplied with food and resources. Until it all goes horribly wrong… A fabulous examination of what it means to communicate. This book should be required reading for all prospective diplomats, in my opinion… See my review here.

Sunday Post – 10th July

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Sunday Post

This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

I’ve finally settled down with the new computer and am delighted with the speed at which I can get through the work, now I’m not sitting there waiting for it to open… save… restart… This week, as well as continuing with my fitness regime of Fitstep and Pilates classes, I’ve been busy planning. I met up with fellow tutor Paula Glennister and we spent Tuesday morning working out how we are going to deliver our shared course creative writing course Bucket List Books, due to start at Northbrook College in September. It is really exciting working on a new project and I’m looking forward to this one – fingers crossed we get sufficient numbers…

I also had a planning session regarding Tim’s teaching syllabus next year. We have finally worked out that he will be working on a series of mini-projects over the last two years, which will give him final certification commensurate with a GCSE qualification, overseen and marked by an affiliated school. The course is excellent, covering important subjects like personal finance, health and diet, safety and the environment – I only wish that my grandchildren, Frankie and Oscar, could also work on such a common-sense, practical scheme.

On Thursday, Rob came home for a flying visit so I could help him with an audition tape – very intense, but also great fun and it’s always a treat to catch up with him.

I’m now back into editing mode and am hoping to have completed the line edit for Breathing Space during this coming week. And I’ve been chilling by watching Wimbledon – my annual sporting treat – the tennis this week has been superb and I’m rooting for Andy Murry and delighted at Serena Williams’ wonderful win, as well as her moving, shortened rendition of Maya Angelou’s poem ‘And Still I Rise’.

This week I’ve managed to read:

Speak by Louisa Hall
speakA young Puritan woman travels to the New World with her unwanted new husband. Alan Turing, the renowned mathematician and code breaker, writes letters to his best friend’s mother. A Jewish refugee and professor of computer science struggles to reconnect with his increasingly detached wife. An isolated and traumatized young girl exchanges messages with an intelligent software program. A former Silicon Valley Wunderkind is imprisoned for creating illegal lifelike dolls. Each of these characters is attempting to communicate across gaps — to estranged spouses, lost friends, future readers, or a computer program that may or may not understand them. In dazzling and electrifying prose, Louisa Hall explores how the chasm between computer and human — shrinking rapidly with today’s technological advances — echoes the gaps that exist between ordinary people. Though each speaks from a distinct place and moment in time, all five characters share the need to express themselves while simultaneously wondering if they will ever be heard, or understood.
This remarkable novel is an exploration of why we reach out to each other and happens when it goes wrong. I loved the fact the five voices are embedded in a dying android, warehoused for the crime of being too human…

 

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
mebeforeyouLou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick. What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to lose her job or that knowing what’s coming is what keeps her sane. Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that. What Will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time.
I love this author – see my review of The Girl You Left Behind here – but this particular book blew me away. It would have been so easy to have turned this into a sentimental mess – and Moyes doesn’t. Instead, I was laughing out loud a lot of the way through. I will be reviewing this book in due course.

 

Inborn – Book 1 of The Birthright series
InbornRosamund Brandt has had a semi normal life for sixteen years. Well, semi normal for a family descended from aliens. Sure, she could create portals and her family had a secret basement. But she went to school, had a best friend, and got her driving permit like every other teen. However, her definition of “normal” unravels when a killer with multiple powers and an agenda steps into town. When Rosamund herself becomes a target, she has a choice between playing the killer’s game and saving a few, or getting to the core of the murders and stopping them for good. Rosamund’s choice will save everyone she cares about–or unleash a new era for herself and her family, shattering whatever hope for going back to normal she had.
This is a great premise and I enjoyed the idea behind it. Ros, the protagonist, is smart, tough and well trained – a classic YA heroine. I’ll be reviewing this book in due course.

 

After You – Book 2 of Me Before You series by JoJo Moyes
afteryouWhen an extraordinary accident forces Lou to return home to her family, she can’t help but feel she’s right back where she started. Her body heals, but Lou herself knows that she needs to be kick-started back to life. Which is how she ends up in a church basement with the members of the Moving On support group, who share insights, laughter, frustrations, and terrible cookies. They will also lead her to the strong, capable Sam Fielding—the paramedic, whose business is life and death, and the one man who might be able to understand her. Then a figure from Will’s past appears and hijacks all her plans, propelling her into a very different future…

After the amazing reading experience that Me After You provided, I wanted to plunge back into this world and learn about Lou’s subsequent adventures – she’s such a fantastic protagonist.

 

 

My posts last week:
Sunday Post – 3rd July

Shoot for the Moon Challenge 2016 – June roundup

Teaser Tuesday – Speak by Louisa Hall

Review of Demon Road by Derek Landy

Five SFF Books That Made Me Laugh – part 2

Friday Faceoff – Our Four-Legged Friends featuring The Reindeer People by Megan Lindholm

Review of Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

Other interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

This charming selection of short films chosen by Joanna Maciejewska are really worth viewing – http://melfka.com/archives/1863

No one writes about music with more passion than Thom Hickey – this article celebrating Bill Withers’ song ‘Lean on Me’ is wonderful… https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2016/07/05/bill-withers-american-hero-born-on-the-4th-of-july

I love this book spine poetry by Jo Robertson. https://mychestnutreadingtree.wordpress.com/2016/07/06/book-spine-poetry

Juliet McKenna, who has devoted swathes of time to campaign on behalf of authors selling their books from their own websites, updates us on the situation post-Brexit… http://www.julietemckenna.com/?p=2199

This article blew me away – I knew of the guild system and journeymen, but had no idea it still continued… https://inesemjphotography.com/2016/07/02/journeymen-in-ireland-and-much-more/

I’m hoping this week that I can really crack on this the editing and progress with some of my other writing chores stacking up… The weather isn’t looking as if it will tempt me out into the garden, Many thanks for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Titanborn by Rhett C. Bruno

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I’m a sucker for a good sci fi adventure and when I saw the cover for this one, I was on my way to requesting this one from NetGalley before I got halfway through the rather chatty blurb…

titanbornMalcolm Graves lives by two rules: finish the job, and get paid. After thirty years as a collector, chasing bounties and extinguishing rebellions throughout the solar system, Malcolm does what he’s told, takes what he’s earned, and leaves the questions to someone else—especially when it comes to the affairs of offworlders. Heading into hostile territory, Malcolm will have to use everything he’s learned to stay alive. But he soon realizes that the situation on the ground is much more complex than he anticipated . . . and much more personal.

For starters, don’t pay too much attention to the Prologue – written in omniscient pov, it is a dry-as-dust info dump that gives no indication of Bruno’s writing ability and as all the world-building is perfectly adequately explained within the story, I’m not even sure why it’s there. Feel free to skip it. Because once we get to the beginning of the story in Malcolm’s viewpoint, his character pings off the page.

Basically, he’s a bounty hunter that is paid to tidy up the flotsam that runaway capitalism produces and he’s been on the job for the past thirty years. He’s arrogant, greedy, judgemental and selfish – oh and sexist. And I really cared about him. Bruno has written a blinding anti-hero, here. It takes a degree of skill to successfully depict someone with quite so many flaws as a credible protagonist, but Bruno has triumphantly succeeded in this gritty, thought-provoking critique on where our subjection to mega-corporations could lead. Especially if we choose that path to fund our way into space.

Which manages to make this book sound like some long-winded treatise on society’s flaws – and it’s nothing of the sort. It’s a full-on adventure-driven tale, where Malcolm and his new, very unwelcome partner are trying to stop a gang of desperate terrorists from attacking Earth and oust his employers from Titan. There are shoot-outs, chases with plenty of death and mayhem, all filtered through Malcolm’s dry, slightly cynical viewpoint.

I loved it and found I was reading faaar into the early morning to discover what happened at the end – although I reckoned I had a pretty good idea where it was headed… Until I didn’t. Until something else entirely different occurred, leaving me winded and a little shaken. Did it work? Oh yes, it did. I’m not going to forget this one in a hurry. It comes very highly recommended and reminded me all over again why THIS is my favourite genre of all.

I received a NetGalley arc of Titanborn from the publishers in return for an honest review.
10/10

Review of A Kind of Vanishing by Lesley Thomson

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This offering plopped through my letterbox courtesy of my mother, who after reading the book was driven to share the experience so immediately ordered a copy for me. Would I also enjoy it?

kindofvanishingSummer 1968: the day Senator Robert Kennedy is shot, two nine-year-old girls are playing hide and seek in the ruins of a deserted village. When it is Eleanor’s turn to hide, Alice disappears.

That is the blurb. Congratulations to Myriad Editions for not including a single spoiler, while still intriguing us with the snappy backcover blurb and atmospheric cover.

Thomson immediately plunges into the world of young girls, depicting first Eleanor’s rich interior landscape and then allowing us to access to Alice’s carefully modulated world, where her doting parents watch her every move. Thomson paints an exquisite picture of each girls’ fragilities, their aspirations and pin-sharp awareness of adult expectations. She beautifully inhabits the terrible, wonderful world of childhood – and the girls’ growing antipathy towards each other. One a noisy, rebellious tomboy living in a household where the adults only occasionally pay attention to their three children, while the other is the heart of her parents’ aspirations and already knows she needs to be neat and pretty to succeed. Neither girl trusts or like the other as they are forced to play together – until that disastrous game of hide and seek.

Most thrillers focus on the investigation. The terrible and growing fears of the adults frantically searching for a young girl; the policemen and women looking for a victim and perpetrator; the feverish publicity surrounding the event. Let’s face it, if you are looking for narrative tension, that storyline has it in spades. But after setting up the events leading up to the disappearance in cinematic detail – Thomson slides right away from all that drama and instead jumps forward thirty years.  I’ll be honest – this was the point where the book nearly went flying across the room. Without divulging any spoilers, I plain couldn’t believe in the plot twist I was being asked to consider as it was just too unbelievable. However, I needn’t have worried – Thomson is a master storyteller and far too sharp and intelligent to lead the tale up such a cul-de-sac. Several plot twists later, I realised what had happened and that I was in entirely safe hands.

This book forces us to consider the consequences when a small child just disappears. It is poignantly sad, but at no time does Thomson ease up on the forward momentum. She continues pulling us into an examination of two families blighted by Alice’s loss, also managing to write movingly and convincingly from the viewpoint of Alice’s mother, still waiting for some kind of closure thirty years, later. Until the final denouement, which completely ties up this story with a satisfying conclusion.

Her prose is full of acute observations of the main characters in the story, so each one of the protagonists bounces off the page in cinematic detail, as does the setting of the large, rambling house.  While she writes from inside the skin of her main characters, Thomson also pulls right outside the story to drop in details that don’t belong in limited omniscience. The sudden contrast is jarring, but also highlights the sense of other events moving along outside the bubble of this tragedy. So I think she gets away with breaking that particular set of rules. Overall, this is a masterful, disturbing book and engrossed me from the moment I opened the first page and didn’t let go until the end.

Track it down. My hunch is that it is a Marmite book – people will either love or loathe it. But whatever your view, I’m guessing you won’t forget it in a hurry.
10/10

Review of The Man With the Golden Torc – Book 1 of the Secret Histories series by Simon Green

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As soon as you see the title and cover, you know this book is mining a certain spy franchise and will be relying on our knowledge of the conventions surrounding said franchise. It isn’t even subtle. So… does it work? Or is this urban fantasy merely a tired hack job that doesn’t even have the merit of originality?

You know what? It’s all true. Everything that ever scared you, from conspiracy theories to monsters under the bed to ghosties, goldentorcghoulies and long-leggity beasties. The only reason they haven’t taken over the world yet is because my family has always been there to stand in their way. We guard the door, keeping you safe from the big bad wolf, and you never even know our names. Of course, there’s a price to be paid. By us, and by you. The username’s Bond. Shaman Bond. Licensed to kick supernatural arse.

And Bond – real name Eddie Drood – comes from one of the oldest families in England, a family that has been protecting Humanity from the forces of darkness for more centuries than anyone can remember. And Eddie Drood loved his job – until the day it all blew up in his face…

So that’s the cover blurb – no prizes for guessing which spy Green is basing Eddie Drood’s exploits on. The major difference is that Drood has a golden torc that transforms into golden armour that 007 would kill for – it makes him almost invincible. We watch him conduct his latest assignment, while he fills us in on his family history and why he chooses to live apart from the rest of the Drood tribe. And then a series of events kick off and we watch as Eddie’s world implodes.

Green manages to provide us with an enjoyable protagonist – a tad on the arrogant side to be sure, but all in all, we are convinced his heart is mostly in the right place. And non-stop action in a world where behind every apparently normal façade there lurks a series of odd creatures that urban fantasy fans have become accustomed to, along with one or two surprises. The breezy energy that is Green’s trademark is well suited to this book and ricochets through the engrossing narrative, keeping me up far too late to discover exactly who does what to whom.

I didn’t see the denouement coming and thoroughly enjoyed the twists – but did find that old golden armour has given our hero a great deal of power, which at times posed something of a problem. It needs a load of hefty power to overcome the Drood defences – and while it provides a lot of excitement and well written action scenes, I’m not totally convinced by some of the ploys used to even out the odds. Did that wrinkle significantly impact on my enjoyment of the book? Nope. It is a lot of fun – with some laugh-aloud dialogue and I found Eddie a sympathetic protagonist, whose adventures swept me up out of my own life and into somewhere a lot more colourfully exciting. Which is exactly what I want from my Fantasy. So I shall definitely be tracking down more in this entertaining series. If you haven’t already done so, give this book a go – it will certainly add a golden lustre to the glorious summer weather.
8/10

Review of A Half Forgotten Song by Katherine Webb

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half forgotten songI’d read The Legacy a couple of years ago and loved it. And – more to the point – it is among the handful of books that I can vividly recall. So, would I find Webb’s latest offering just as engrossing and memorable?

1937. In a village on the Dorset coast, fourteen-year-old Mitzy Hatcher has endured a wild and lonely upbringing – until the arrival of renowned artist Charles Aubrey, his exotic mistress and their daughters, changes everything. Over the next three summers, Mitzy sees a future she had never thought possible, and a powerful love is kindled in her. A love that grows from innocence to obsession; from childish infatuation to something far more complex. Years later, a young man in an art gallery looks at a hastily-drawn portrait and wonders at the intensity of it. The questions he asks lead him to a Dorset village and to the truth about those fevered summers in the 1930s…

Those of you familiar with The Legacy will recognise that Webb has again revisited the dual narrative, with one story unfolding back in the past and one storyline gradually progressing in the present. The past finally meets the present in an exciting and unexpected denouement – but the engine that drives this story is a lost, unloved soul who anchors all her hopes and affection on a charismatic artist. Webb apparently loosely based Charles on Augustus John, who had a reputation as a womaniser and clearly loved women’s bodies with a strong, sensual appreciation – you only have to look at his sketches and paintings to realise that.

Webb’s depiction of Mitzy’s harsh childhood, where she spends much of time scavenging the surrounding countryside for plants, herbs, fish and small animals to eat or make up potions for her mother to sell, is far from the rural idyll that soft-focused adverts use. Yet, she still manages to evoke the beauty and rhythm of the Dorset countryside – so much so, that I fell asleep with the colours of this book swirling in my head. The initial friendship of Charles’ two girls is a revelation for Mitzy, who is shunned by all the village children, except for Wilf. This particular narrative caught at my heart and as it spirals into a tailspin of obsession and the inevitable darkness, so much so that I found myself reading through the night to discover what happens to forlorn Mitzy.

Zach’s story becomes entwined with Mitzy’s narrative when as an expert on Charles Aubery, he is commissioned to write a book about the artist and decides to investigate his personal life – particularly the events surrounding the tragedy that caused him to unexpectedly join up in the early days of World War II, when he died on the Normandy beaches. Zach has miseries of his own, as his ex-wife is emigrating to America with his only daughter, all set to start a new life with another man – and if he doesn’t complete this book, he’ll have to return the advance and shut down his struggling art gallery. But when Zach visits the village and discovers that one of Aubery’s most famous sitters is still alive as an old woman, he is astonished and realises that if he can get her to talk about those days, he will have a unique angle on the artist.

So, piece by piece, the story is uncovered as Mitzy starts to remember. Or tries to forget…

The themes of remembering, of obsessional love and loyalty are all played out in the small cast of vividly depicted characters, where Mitzy’s tragic story rises above the rest, as she has to continue to live with the consequences of what happened all those years ago.

The book may be called A Half Forgotten Song – but I won’t be forgetting this beautifully told tale for a long, long time.
10/10

Review of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon

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This book was on my ‘To Read’ was a looong time – and finally I got around to it…

Christopher Boone is fifteen and has Asperger’s Syndrome. He knows a very great deal about maths and very little about human curious incidentbeings. He loves lists, patterns and the truth. He hates the colours yellow and brown and being touched. He has never gone further than the end of the road on his own, but when he finds a neighbour’s dog murdered he sets out on a terrifying journey which will turn his whole world upside down.

This short book caused a huge fuss when it first came out in 2003 – and having finally read it, I now know why. Haddon has managed to masterfully inhabit the skin of a teenager who cannot cope with human emotions, suffers from sensory overload and compensates by retreating into mathematical formulae and logical list-making. As a result, when confronted by major events – like being told of the death of his mother, for instance – Christopher tells us what he had to eat that evening and that he went to bed and fell fast asleep.

This doesn’t mean that Christopher is incapable of loving – but that he finds it difficult to understand or relate to his feelings. So when he discovers Wellington, the standard poodle who lives next door, skewered by a garden fork to the lawn, he resolves to find out who murdered it – even when told repeatedly by his father that he mustn’t interfere. He even overcomes his reluctance to engage with strangers in order to ask if anyone has seen anything suspicious – trouble is, he cannot process the heavy hints that a well-meaning neighbour gives him about his own domestic set-up.  His inability to process information that the reader clearly understands gives us greater insights into Christopher’s capacity to engage with the world, while also providing some comedy, albeit the darker, lump-in-your-throat variety. Books that make me both want to weep and laugh hold a special place in my heart – and this one joins that select few.

Haddon not only manages to give us an idea of what it must be like to experience the world while coping with Asperger’s – he also provides us with the daily challenges facing Christopher’s carers. I found myself wondering how you’d survive when the strong-willed, highly intelligent individual in your life retreats into black silence when he encounters a series of the wrong coloured cars on his morning bus ride…

But don’t go away with the notion that this is some worthy, high-mindedly literary attempt to give the rest of us an appreciation of what being born with Asperger’s can entail – the story that powers Christopher’s narration is a mystery. And while we learn who did do it, we also learn what the strains were that led up to the deed and Christopher’s unwitting role in the whole affair. It will be a book that will stay with me for a very long time – and if you want an outstanding example of character-led fiction, then this is a must-read book. Come to think of it – this is a must-read book, anyway.
10/10

Review of Summer of Dreaming by Lyn McConchie

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I’ll be honest – I don’t much enjoy reading books in PDF format. I spend most of my working day at the computer – sitting at the darn thing to read a book seems a bit too much like a busman’s holiday. So when Summer of Dreaming popped up on the computer, I wasn’t exactly rubbing my hands with glee at the prospect of reading it. Deciding just to give the first chapter a go before going off to bed, seemed a sensible option, however…

I was still sitting at the computer screen a couple of hours later, absolutely hooked. No way was I going anywhere until I’d finished summerofdreamingthis delightful YA adventure novel set in New Zealand.

Thirteen-year-old Jo’s best friend is Rangi Jackson, a Maori boy from the neighbouring farm – which is a big problem for her grandmother and Rangi’s great-grandfather, who hate their friendship. When questioned about their hostility, they are both very tight-lipped – but mention a feud stretching back in time. Up to this point, it hasn’t been an issue, but when ill health forces Grandmother to convalesce during the summer at their farm and Jo finds herself sneaking off to meet up with Rangi, the pair decide to get to the bottom of this mysterious incident that has caused such enmity between their families…

Their investigation into their family histories is interspersed with daily events on the isolated sheep farm. McConchie’s fluid prose deftly draws us into this rural corner of New Zealand, giving us a taste of a very different lifestyle, without letting the pace or tension slacken one jot. Told in first person through Jo’s viewpoint, one of the main strengths of this book is the spot-on characterisation of the main protagonist, who jumped off the pages and grabbed my attention from the first chapter and didn’t let go until I’d finished the book. While she ensures that there is nothing too graphic, given the target readership’s age-group, McConchie isn’t afraid to confront her audience with a brutal scenario that didn’t end ‘happily ever after’ for those caught up in it.

Do I have any niggles? Well, I’m not too sure about the title. It makes the book sound less adventurous and action-packed than it is. It would be a crying shame if young readers didn’t pick it up because the title didn’t appeal.
All in all, Summer of Dreaming is a thoroughly accomplished, entertaining read that thoroughly deserves winning the 2011 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Young Adult Novel.
9/10