Tag Archives: contemporary family drama

Favourite Completed Series of 2016

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For a variety of reasons, 2016 has been my best reading year for a long time, and as the year is drawing to a close, it’s time to share my favourite series. I’m going to split these into two groups – series I completed during the year and series I look forward to reading more of in 2017. Today, I’m featuring those series I completed during the year.

DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE TRILOGY BY LAINI TAYLOR

daughterofsmokeandboneIn general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she’s a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in ‘Elsewhere’, she has never understoodaysofbloodandstarlightd Brimstone’s dark work – buying teeth from hunters and murderers – nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn’t whole. Now the doors to Elsewhere are closing, and Karou must choose between the safety of her human life and the dangers of a war-ravaged world that may hold the answers she has always sought.

This one started the year with a bang – Taylor’s lush prose and emotional intendreamsofgodsandmonsterssity, along with her very gritty approach blew me away. I read this series during January and February and now, over a 100 books later, I still regularly find myself thinking of Karou and this savage, beautiful world. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend this series.

 

 

 

THE RED RISING TRILOGY BY PIERCE BROWNredrising

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations. Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood golden sonand sweat will one day result in a better world for his children. But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed.

This dystopian science fiction adventure, charting the progress of Darrow, a lowly Red, who determines to bring about change in a very rigid society was another roller-coaster ride. There are elements that put me in minmorning stard of The Hunger Games series – but Darrow’s exploits encompass both triumph and disaster and Brown’s pacey, action-packed prose had wrung me out by the end. An unforgettable reading experience I highly recommend.

 

 

 

THE THESSALY TRILOGY BY JO WALTON

thejustcityCreated as an experiment by the time-traveling goddess Pallas Athene, the Just City is a planned community, populated by over ten thousand children and a few hundred adult teachers from all eras of history, along with some handy robots from the far human future–all set down together on a Mediterranean island in the distant past.

The student Simmea, born an Egyptian farmer’s daughter sometime between 500 and thephilosopherkings1000 A.D, is a brilliant child, eager for knowledge, ready to strive to be her best self. The teacher Maia was once Ethel, a young Victorian lady of much learning and few prospects, who prayed to Pallas Athene in an unguarded moment during a trip to Rome–and, in an instant, found herself in the Just City with grey-eyed Athene standing unmistakably before her.

Meanwhile, Apollo–stunned by the realization that there are things mortals understand better than he does–has arranged to live a human life, and has come to the City as one of necessitythe children. He knows his true identity, and conceals it from his peers. For this lifetime, he is prone to all the troubles of being human.

Then, a few years in, Sokrates arrives–the same Sokrates recorded by Plato himself–to ask all the troublesome questions you would expect. What happens next is a tale only the brilliant Jo Walton could tell.

Unusually, I’ve included the whole blurb, because the big challenge is to couch this beguiling, unusual series in terms that make people want to track it down. And saying that Walton has written a tale where Pallas Athene decides to found a society based on the precepts of Plato’s Republic doesn’t guarantee you’ll all go rushing off to read it in your hordes. And of all the series I’ve read this year, this is the one that has lodged in the back of my brain like a burr and won’t leave me alone. Walton throws in all sorts of interesting, gnarly ideas along with an engrossing story such that I’m left with lots to ponder. I finished Necessity enormously moved and uplifted and if I had to recommend only one of these series – it would be this one.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS…

ME BEFORE YOU DUOLOGY BY JOJO MOYESmebeforeyou

They had nothing in common until love gave them everything to lose . . . Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master afteryouof the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.

Me Before You is an extraordinary read, with a funny, offbeat heroine, who needs a job in austerity Britain and ends up looking after Will… It’s also heart-rending and beautiful. The sequel takes the story on after the shocking, climactic ending of the first book and although it doesn’t quite achieve the same heights (which is an almighty ask, anyhow) it nevertheless continues to amuse, shock and engross. My favourite contemporary series of the year.

THE COPPER CAT SERIES BY JEN WILLIAMSthecopperpromise

There are some far-fetched rumours about the caverns beneath the Citadel…
Some say the mages left their most dangerous secrets hidden there; others, that great riches are hidden there; even that gods have been imprisoned in its darkest depths.
theironghostFor Lord Frith, the caverns hold the key to his vengeance. Against all the odds, he has survived torture and lived to see his home and his family taken from him … and now someone is going to pay. For Wydrin of Crosshaven and her faithful companion, Sir Sebastian Caverson, a quest to the Citadel looks like just another job. There’s the promise of gold and adventure. Who knows, they might even have a decent tale or two once they’re done.thesilvertide

If you like your swords and sorcery with plenty of gung-ho attitude, foot-to-the-floor action and lots of mayhem with some really hardcore antagonists, then this is the series for you. Even the final book doesn’t lose the chirpy humour that often disappears as events and backstory stack up sufficiently to wipe the grin off the face of the most hardened protagonist – but then they aren’t madcap adrenaline junkie Wydrin of Crosshaven, known as Cat…

And these are the series I completed and loved during 2016. What about you – which are your favourite series you completed this year?

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.

Five SFF Books That Made Me Laugh – Part 2

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As promised back here, I’ve now trawled through my lists and added another science fiction or fantasy five books that at least made me grin or laugh aloud. Here they are in no particular order…

Insatiable – Book 1 of the Insatiable series by Meg Cabot

insatiableSick of hearing about vampires? So is Meena Harper. But her bosses are making her write about them anyway, even though Meena doesn’t believe in them. Not that Meena isn’t familiar with the supernatural. See, Meena Harper knows how you’re going to die. (Not that you’re going to believe her; no one ever does.) But not even Meena’s precognition can prepare her for what happens when she meets—then makes the mistake of falling in love with—Lucien Antonescu, a modern-day prince with a bit of a dark side. It’s a dark side a lot of people, like an ancient society of vampire-hunters, would prefer to see him dead for.

Another vampire adventure filled with incident and a large dollop of humour to help it all along. I loved both this offering – see my review here – and its sequel, Overbite.

 

How To Train Your Dragon – Book 1 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell

And no… I am not talking about the rather vanilla version portrayed in the films, which is very how to train your dragonentertaining, but nothing like as vivid, anarchic and funny as the books. Hiccup is far less charismatic and far more worried; while Toothless is far less rare, a whole lot naughtier and less obedient than the film – see my review here.

Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III is a truly extraordinary Viking hero known throughout Vikingdom as “the Dragon Whisperer”…but it wasn’t always so. Travel back to the days when the mighty warrior was just a boy, the quiet and thoughtful son of the Chief of the Hairy Hooligans. Can Hiccup capture a dragon and train it without being torn limb from limb? Join the adventure as the small boy finds a better way to train his dragon and become a hero!

Again, this is has been a joy to share with the grandchildren – and I have been known to dip in and out of these books if I need cheering up.

 

The Radleys by Matt Haig

theradleysThe Radleys are an everyday family who juggle dysfunctional lives. Except, as Peter and Helen Radley know, but their children have yet to find out, the Radleys happen to be a family of abstaining vampires. When one night Clara finds herself driven to commit a bloodthirsty act, her parents decide to explain a few things.

This is another vampire book, but unlike any other you’ll have read see my review here. This is the story of a middle-class couple desperately trying to blend into suburban England with their children – to the extent that they haven’t even got around to explaining to their hapless offspring the cause of their garlic allergy and extreme photosensitivity. It is hilarious and shocking by turns – and I’ll guarantee if you read it, you won’t forget this one.

 

Stray Souls – Book 1 of the Magicals Anonymous series by Kate Griffin

straysoulsThis book sort of follows on from the previous offering – what do you do in our modern world if you are cursed with a special power? How do you blend in? What if you can’t blend in?

London’s soul has gone missing. Lost? Kidnapped? Murdered? Nobody knows – but when Sharon Li unexpectedly discovers she’s a shaman, she is immediately called upon to use her newfound powers of oneness with the City to rescue it from a slow but inevitable demise.

Sharon Li tries to provide an answer with her Magicals Anonymous support group. In addition to getting together and discussing their issues together, they also find themselves caught up in Matthew Swift’s latest problem. Unlike the Midnight Mayor series, this one is laugh-aloud funny, in amongst the chaos and drama – see my review here.

 

The Martian by Andy Weir

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.themartian
Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars’ surface, completely alone, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive. And even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, Mark won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark’s not ready to quit. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity and his engineering skills—and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength–he embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive, using his botany expertise to grow food and even hatching a mad plan to contact NASA back on Earth.

I – finally – got to see the film of this 21st century version of the Robinson Crusoe adventure over the Easter break. And was sort of glad that I didn’t spend a lot of money going to watch it at the cinema. Oh, the film was okay – in fact, better than okay. But it only hinted at the humour that runs right through this story, humanising Mark and preventing him from coming across as either a lantern-jawed NASA clone, or a whiny victim. The book was not only a thoroughly enjoyable science fiction adventure, it was also very funny – see my review here.

So what funny or amusing science fiction and fantasy books have I missed off my list? Have you read any of these and also found they made you smile?

2016 Discovery Challenge – May Roundup

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After reading Joanne Hall’s thought-provoking post, I decided to read and review at least two women authors unknown to me each month. How have I done in May?

theoutliersThe Outliers – Book 1 of The Outliers trilogy by Kimberley McCreight
It all starts with a text: Please, Wylie, I need your help.
This time it’s different, though. Instead of telling Wylie where she is, Cassie sends cryptic clues. And instead of having Wylie come by herself, Jasper shows up saying Cassie sent him to help. Trusting the guy who sent Cassie off the rails doesn’t feel right, but Wylie has no choice: she has to ignore her gut instinct and go with him. But figuring out where Cassie is goes from difficult to dangerous, fast. As Wylie and Jasper head farther and farther north into the dense woods of Maine, Wylie struggles to control her growing sense that something is really wrong. What isn’t Cassie telling them? And could finding her be only the beginning?

This twisting thriller cracks along at a fair pace and delivers plenty of surprises along the way. Read the full review here.

 

thelonelinessofdistantbeingsThe Loneliness of Distant Beings by Kate Ling
Even though she knows it’s impossible, Seren longs to have the sunshine on her skin. It’s something she feels she needs to stay sane. But when you’re floating through space at thousands of kilometres an hour, sometimes you have to accept there are things you cannot change. Except that the arrival of Dom in her life changes everything in ways she can barely comprehend. For a while he becomes the Sun for her; and she can’t help but stay in his orbit. Being with him flaunts every rule designed to keep their home in order, but to lose him would be like losing herself. In the end they must decide what is most important: loyalty to the only home they’ve ever known, or to each other?

This a romantic science fiction tale set on a generational ship – with heavy emphasis on the romance bit. Despite the fact that isn’t my go-to genre, the scene setting and shipboard environment is well depicted – read my full review here.

 

Banished – Book 1 of The Blackhart Legacy by Liz de JagerBanished
Sworn to protect, honour and slay. Because chaos won’t banish itself… Kit is proud to be a Blackhart, now she’s encountered her unorthodox cousins and their strange lives. And her home-schooling now includes spells, fighting enemy fae and using ancient weapons. But it’s not until she rescues a rather handsome fae prince, fighting for his life on the edge of Blackhart Manor, that her training really kicks in. With her family away on various missions, Kit must protect Prince Thorn, rely on new friends and use her own unfamiliar magic to stay ahead of Thorn’s enemies. As things go from bad to apocalyptic, fae battle fae in a war that threatens to spill into the human world. Then Kit pits herself against the Elder Gods themselves – it’s that or lose everyone she’s learnt to love.

This Fae story is well written and engrossing – I really enjoyed the fight scenes, which were vividly depicted and the real nastiness of the foes. I’ll be reviewing this in due course.

 

thenothinggirlThe Nothing Girl by Jodi Taylor
Known as “The Nothing Girl” because of her severe stutter and chronically low self-confidence, Jenny Dove is only just prevented from ending it all by the sudden appearance of Thomas, a mystical golden horse only she can see. Under his guidance, Jenny unexpectedly acquires a husband – the charming and chaotic Russell Checkland – and for her, nothing will ever be the same again. With over-protective relatives on one hand and the world’s most erratic spouse on the other, Jenny needs to become Someone. And fast!

This book made my husband laugh and cry and he forcefully recommended it – so I read it… This contemporary/family/crime/mystery/romance is something of a genre mash-up, with a hefty dollop of humour and sadness thrown in. Have a go – you won’t have read anything else quite like it. My review is here.

 

Change of Life – Book 2 of A Menopausal Superhero by Samantha Bryantchangeoflife
With great power comes…great frustration. Several months after the events of Going Through the Change, retired corporate vice president (and occasional lizard-woman) Patricia O’Neill is embroiled in a search for the mad scientist who brought the “change” upon them all. Meanwhile, Flygirl Jessica Roark and gender-bending strongman Linda/Leonel Alvarez have joined a mysterious covert agency known only as The Department. They’re training hard, in hopes of using their newfound powers for the greater good. Patricia thinks they’re being used. Cut off from the other menopausal heroes, she’s alone. And her search has hit a serious dead end. Then Patricia disappears, and all the clues point to a dead man. It’s up to her friends and The Department to find her and bring her home

I expected this to be a parody of the superhero genre, but it follows most of the genre conventions – except the protagonists are women of a certain age… There are some amusing touches and I love Bryant’s original take on what superpowers can endow. See my review here

This month, I more than doubled my original target with five books by women authors I hadn’t previously encountered and of the 66 books I’ve read so far this year, 30 are by authors new to me. Once more, I have to thank the NetGalley arcs for introducing me to many of these writers. While I cannot see myself able to sustain this throughout the year – I’ve too many other things on my plate – I’m delighted I’ve managed to make such a strong start to my 2016 Discovery Challenge.

Review of The Nothing Girl by Jodi Taylor

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This book came with a highly recommended by Himself who was completely caught up in the story, both laughing aloud and weeping while reading it.

thenothinggirlKnown as “The Nothing Girl” because of her severe stutter and chronically low self-confidence, Jenny Dove is only just prevented from ending it all by the sudden appearance of Thomas, a mystical golden horse only she can see. Under his guidance, Jenny unexpectedly acquires a husband – the charming and chaotic Russell Checkland – and for her, nothing will ever be the same again. With over-protective relatives on one hand and the world’s most erratic spouse on the other, Jenny needs to become Someone. And fast!

Jenny has the harshest of starts and the beginning of the story yanked me in. I loved the dry humour of the first person narration in Jenny’s voice and initially thought the golden horse meant a paranormal adventure, but this tale is more Cecelia Ahern than Kelley Armstrong. Thomas, who only she can see, is her constant companion and accompanies her after her thwarted suicide attempt throughout her very isolated and boring life. She is still living in her aunt and uncle’s attic, largely ignored, until aged twenty-eight, when the world crashes into her humdrum existence.

I’m not saying more, as I’ll be venturing into Spoiler territory, but this accomplished, unusual book manages to successfully produce a tongue-tied, stuttering heroine who isn’t boring or victimised. There is also the charismatic, charming Russel who is selfish, unreliable and headstrong – whom I really enjoyed. Taylor is very adept as using humour throughout, including the various arguments, which meant I read chunks of this book with a grin on my face. And then near the end, I also had a big lump in my throat… There are only a handful of books that are able to evoke that spectrum of emotions.

It is something of a genre mash-up as in amongst all the general chaos that becomes Jenny’s life, a crime mystery gradually emerges. It is neatly done with an enjoyably satisfying and unexpected denouement. This is a real roller-coaster of a book and if you are feeling a tad jaded, or have emerged a little shaken from the full-on shocking thriller/horror/wrenching non-fiction disclosure – then give yourself a treat and have a go at this one.
9/10

Teaser Tuesday – 17th May 2016

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Teaser

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Books and a Beat.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:
The Nothing Girl – by Jodi Taylorthenothinggirl
1% I think I was more angry than scared. I’d worked my way up to this – this was the most important and probably the last act of my life and someone was telling me two paracetamol were sufficient, as if I just had a mild headache, instead of a life so unbearable that I didn’t want to be in it any longer.

BLURB: Known as “The Nothing Girl” because of her severe stutter and chronically low self-confidence, Jenny Dove is only just prevented from ending it all by the sudden appearance of Thomas, a mystical golden horse only she can see. Under his guidance, Jenny unexpectedly acquires a husband – the charming and chaotic Russell Checkland – and for her, nothing will ever be the same again. With over-protective relatives on one hand and the world’s most erratic spouse on the other, Jenny needs to become Someone. And fast!

I’ve just trudged through the opening pages of an shocker, so felt I needed something special – and this is my choice. Himself giggled through this – and at 2 am a couple of nights ago, woke me up while weeping over it… He reads A LOT and I can’t remember him doing that before. So I thought I’d give this one a go…

2016 Discovery Challenge – March Roundup

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After reading Joanne Hall’s thought-provoking post, I decided to read and review at least two women authors unknown to me each month. How have I done in March?

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman
I have to thank NetGalley for this book, as I would never have considered it otherwise. But I’m so glad I read it.

radiosilenceWhat if everything you set yourself up to be was wrong? Frances has always been a study machine with one goal, elite university. Nothing will stand in her way; not friends, not a guilty secret – not even the person she is on the inside. But when Frances meets Aled, the shy genius behind her favourite podcast, she discovers a new freedom. He unlocks the door to Real Frances and for the first time she experiences true friendship, unafraid to be herself. Then the podcast goes viral. Caught between who she was and who she longs to be, Frances’ dreams come crashing down and she will need every bit of courage she possesses to help herself, and her friend.

I really like this book’s examination of growing up in the modern world and the struggle for teenagers to find their own identities, amidst the peer pressure, demands of school, parental expectations and hopes as well as the pull-push that is social media. Oseman demonstrates both the opportunities the internet can provide for isolated people to express themselves – and the bear trap it can become when online attention turns carnivorous. It helps that Oseman is only twenty-one and therefore, of the generation who has been through this process. Read my full review here.

The Sector – Book 1 of the Non-Compliance series by Paige Daniels
Shea Kelly had a brilliant career in technology, but after refusing to implant and invasive government device in her body she was sent to a modern-day reservation: a Non-Compliance sector, a lawless the sectorcommunity run by thugs and organised crime. She’s made a life for herself as a resourceful barkeep, and hacks for goods on the black market with her best friend Wynne, a computer genius and part-time stripper. Life is pretty quiet under the reigning Boss, apart from run-ins with his right hand man, the mighty Quinn: until Danny Rose threatens to take over the sector. Pushed to the edge, Shea decides to fight back…

Set in a dystopian near-future, where a series of environmental disasters and illness have swept through the population, an increasingly controlling government decides to chip everyone. The story is unrolled with the punch and pace normally reserved for urban fantasy, right down to the first person viewpoint and feisty, kickass character. I really enjoyed this one and tore through it far too fast – although that won’t be a problem, as we do have the other two books in the series. Read the full review here.

Brink’s Unfortunate Escape from Hell – a prequel to the Skycastle series by Andy Mulberry
Make no mistake, the Underworld is not a cheerful place. Brinkloven Crowley the Third is a Prince of brinksunfortunateescapeHell and he does NOT like living among his kind. He searches tirelessly for a way to escape. Then an escape finds HIM, and it is most unfortunate… Brink’s Unfortunate Escape from Hell is the prequel to the middle grade series Skycastle, the Demon, and Me.

Brink is a protagonist I found it easy to sympathise with in this chirpy Children’s Fantasy offering. It is easy to understand why he’d hide away and read, given the unpleasant characters wandering around Hell – not least his large, loud-mouthed brother. I found the latter scenes in the book easier to visualise than the earlier ones where he is scurrying through Hell and the grey demon Torque was one of my favourite characters. And the final interchange between Jack and Brink suddenly brought the story to life in a way that made me want to check out the first book in the Skycastle series. Read the full review here.

 

The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen
Kit has been projecting into other species for seven years. Longer than anyone else at ShenCorp. Longer than any of the scientists thought possible. But lately she has the feeling that when she jumps she isn’t alone…manyselvesofkatherine

Since she was twelve, Kit has been a phenomenaut, her consciousness projected into the bodies of lab-grown animals for the purpose of research. Kit experiences a multitude of other lives – fighting and fleeing, predator and prey – always hoping, but never quite believing, that her work will help humans better understand the other species living alongside them. But after a jump as an urban fox ends in disaster, Kit begins to suspect that those she has trusted for her entire working life may be out to cause her harm. And, as she delves deeper into the events of that night, her world begins to shift in ways she had never thought possible.

Geen’s writing is amazing as she immerses us in Kit’s projections into a variety of animals in the beautifully depicted first person viewpoint. This is firmly in the realm of science fiction, so we have a ringside seat as Kit struggles to acclimatise to the new body – there is even a plausible-sounding name for the sensation overload – Sperlman’s syndrome – as her human sensibilities have to adapt to the new sensory input produced by different bodies. Geen’s prose gives us a masterclass in sensory writing at its best. I will be posting this review in early June, when this book is released, but I featured it in the Teaser Tuesday here.

Once more, I managed to exceed my target – in fact, I doubled it by reading four books by women authors I hadn’t previously encountered. So far, 2016 has been a remarkable reading year – and this Discovery Challenge has been a major factor in ensuring I continue to read more enjoyable, well-written books by talented women authors.

* NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

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This interesting YA offering was published a couple of weeks ago, exploring the pain of growing up and self- discovery under the lens of social media.

radiosilenceWhat if everything you set yourself up to be was wrong? Frances has always been a study machine with one goal, elite university. Nothing will stand in her way; not friends, not a guilty secret – not even the person she is on the inside. But when Frances meets Aled, the shy genius behind her favourite podcast, she discovers a new freedom. He unlocks the door to Real Frances and for the first time she experiences true friendship, unafraid to be herself. Then the podcast goes viral. Caught between who she was and who she longs to be, Frances’ dreams come crashing down and she will need every bit of courage she possesses to help herself, and her friend.

That is part of the rather chatty blurb, but provides an insight into the themes of a book where the main protagonist has bought into the propaganda churned out by schools, these days. That if you are clever, then you must focus on getting great exam results, then go on to the best university you can aim for, in order to get that high-flying job. Frances has focused onto this ambition and, as an only child brought up by her mother, is uncomfortable with her peers, so hides behind the treadmill of study and constant tests to keep her social interaction to a minimum.

But when in her room, she listens to music and podcasts and has decided tastes in clothes and films. The portrayal of a deeply private, socially inept girl is a well depicted and I found myself caring for her – crucial if this story is to work. But the character who is the real star in this tale is the tortured Aled, whose withdrawn exterior also is a veneer. For Aled is the creator of Frances’ favourite podcast, Universe City and as she gradually gets to know him better, she discovers this fact. Though Aled is desperate for it to stay a secret…

I really like this book’s examination of growing up in the modern world and the struggle for teenagers to find their own identities, amidst the peer pressure, demands of school, parental expectations and hopes as well as the pull-push that is social media. Oseman demonstrates both the opportunities the internet can provide for isolated people to express themselves – and the bear trap it can become when online attention turns carnivorous. It helps that Oseman is only twenty-one and therefore, of the generation who has been through this process.

Any niggles? I was increasingly uncomfortable with the pantomime villain depiction of Carol, Aled’s controlling mother. I feel a more intelligent, nuanced characterisation could have added to the story – that of a woman desperately trying to relive her own lost opportunities through her children. It is a common parental trait that can be every bit as lethally damaging as anything Carol offers up. Whereas Carol’s behaviour would immediately have every parent reading this book realising their own parenting is far better than the unhinged portrayal demonstrated. It is a shame, because I think Oseman missed a trick, here. However, given the amount she manages to get right – including her characters’ negotiation through their own sexuality – it isn’t a dealbreaker.

The story gripped me throughout, and as I am not anywhere near the target age group, that is a testament to the writing, strong characters and narrative structure and the ending satisfactorily provides a conclusion. All in all, a worthwhile, enjoyable read.

The ebook arc copy of Radio Silence was provided by NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

Review of Bay of Secrets by Rosanna Ley

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I have to declare an interest – Rosanna Ley is my former Creative Writing tutor at Northbook College and I’m delighted at her success with her last three books. That said, if I didn’t enjoy reading her work, I wouldn’t be reviewing her books. I really enjoyed The Villa – see my review here. Would Bay of Secrets be as much fun? bayofsecrets

Spain, 1939. Following the wishes of her parents to keep her safe during the war, a young girl, Julia, enters a convent in Barcelona. Looking for a way to maintain her links to the outside world, she volunteers to help in a maternity clinic. But worrying adoption practices in the clinic force Sister Julia to decide how far she will go to help those placed in her care.

England, 2011. Six months after her parents’ shocking death, 34-year-old journalist and jazz enthusiast Ruby Rae has finally found the strength to pack away their possessions and sell the family home. But as she does so, she unearths a devastating secret her parents, Vivien and Tom, had kept from her all her life.

This book has three protagonists, two are women and one is a man. Ley followed the lives and fortunes of three women from the same family in The Villa – but there the resemblance ends. These three storylines initially seem quite disparate. I could see fairly early on where two of them were going, but the story of the nun seemed to stand alone. Not that was a hardship, as I found her story compelling.

I found myself really caring for each of these people, and hoping they would somehow prevail. Ruby, in particular, tugged at my heartstrings. Losing parents suddenly in an accident, at any age, must be a terrible body blow. I like the fact that Ley doesn’t assume that after a couple of months, Ruby will simply ‘bounce back’. And of course it is complicated by the fact that when clearing out their house, Ruby makes a momentous discovery, which means that her anger at having been shut out from this terrific secret all her life is now entangled with her grief. Ley effectively depicts Ruby’s sense of betrayal and hurt without dropping the pace or narrative drive, by setting Ruby’s story alongside that of Julia. It’s a neat trick to pull off and works very well.

Ley is a very sensual writer, who immerses her readers in her surroundingss by vivid descriptions of the smells, sounds and haptic experiences of her characters. This aspect of her writing came to the fore when Andrés becomes a part of the story. He is a painter and Ley’s prose kicks up a notch when we see the world through his eyes. Her descriptions are lyrically beautiful, without losing the pace and immediacy of the story. It’s one thing to embark on a story with several apparently unconnected characters, but in order to succeed, the story needs to come to a satisfactory climax that affects or involves everyone. Ley triumphantly succeeds in producing a moving, shocking conclusion that I simply didn’t see coming – which is why I’ve been so very careful not to lurch into spoiler territory.

If you enjoy contemporary fiction that leaps off the page, shines a light on a terrible episode of Spanish history, and provides an engrossing story then go looking for Bay of Secrets. It’s an accomplished, cracking read. 10/10

Review of The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

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As sometimes happens, I was lent this book by one of my students who thought it an interesting, intriguing read – and a few days later, the novelist Jane Rusbridge, who gave a fantastic talk at West Sussex Writers, mentioned the strong, individual voice in the book.

shock of the fallI’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that. Yep. That’s the blurb.

The book is Matthew Home’s account of his life before and after the tragic accident of his big brother, Simon – complicated by the fact that Simon had Downs Syndrome. A further complication is that Matthew was involved in Simon’s death – and when he gets older, slides into mental illness when Simon revisits him. Have to say, I didn’t open this book with joy in my heart – being a craven escapist, I generally hold the gnarly edges of real life at arm’s length and reading an account of a teenager coping with a psychiatric disorder, while trying to come to terms with his brother’s death wasn’t my idea of a fun evening.

It wasn’t. But neither was it the miserypit I was dreading. Filer gave Matthew a sharp, edgy voice without a scrap of self-pity – and although some of details make grim reading, the tone and flashes of razored humour that illuminate the desperate situation make this book highly readable. In addition to having a charismatic protagonist, there are a cast of memorable characters who are also thrashing around in Hell alongside Matthew. It would have been only too easy for Filer to depict Matthew as being victimised and abandoned by his family. Instead, we see his grief-stricken, kindly parents grappling to come to terms with Simon’s death, while attempting to keep things going for Matthew with varying degrees of success.

There is also is wonderful Nanny Noo, who despite her dodgy knees, doggedly visits Matthew in his dingy flat every fortnight and provides him with food, comfort and unconditional love. Filer manages to weave a compelling story, jumping around the narrative timeline with some of the very short chapters written when he was a boy, others when he and his parents were coming to terms with the loss of Simon, others when he is older and struggling with ‘an illness, a disease with the shape and sound of a snake.’ He even jumps about inside chapters. There are episodes that he repeats, or discusses and revisits in a slightly different way. It should be a jumbled mess, but it isn’t. Filer helps us out by using a number of typefaces, but his ability to take the reader with him in all his jumps – even in the passages where he is battling with his illness or the effects of the medication – is impressively adroit.

The writing is extraordinary – pared right down, with every word and every sentence bouncing off the page. I wasn’t surprised to learn Filer is a performance poet, or there was a bidding war involving 11 publishers and that it has won the 2013 Costa Prize. This is one of those special books that takes its readers on a difficult, testing journey without dropping them on the way and I’m very grateful to Lyn for lending it to me. Give it a shot, even if you, too, would really rather not confront the grittier side of Life – like all great books, this one will leave you richer for having read it.
10/10