Friday, 6 March 2015

The Girl In The Red Coat by Kate Hamer

review by Maryom

8 year old Carmel and her divorced mother Beth form a tiny insular family; contact with Carmel's father is infrequent and erratic, and her mother and grandparents quarrelled long ago so Carmel never sees them. Being only the two of them makes Beth more watchful and careful than other mothers might be but Carmel is getting a little tired of this; she thinks she's old enough to be able to do things on her own with no need to constantly be holding her mum's hand like a small child. So in the crowds at a children's story-telling festival she takes the opportunity to slip away and hide under a table......  Engrossed in books and her imagination, Carmel loses track of time and when she eventually crawls back out her mum is nowhere to be seen. Then she's approached by an elderly man who claims to be her grandfather, come with the awful news that her mum has had an accident and been taken to hospital, and that for now Carmel should could home with him. Carmel is confused and upset, but something in the man's appearance makes her trust him, so she goes along without any fuss.....
 Meanwhile Beth is beside herself with worry. People are leaving, the festival grounds emptying and there is still no sign of Carmel. Panic rising, the organisers call in the police and Beth has to admit the dreadful fact that despite all her best efforts, Carmel has disappeared.

The Girl In The Red Coat taps into every parent's nightmare that one day their child will go missing. Unusually it doesn't follow the police investigation, with either the following up of a tenuous thread of clues that lead to a happy resolution, or the more chilling story-line that ends tragically in the hands of a serial-killer. Instead, the reader follows Carmel and Beth as in very different circumstances they try to adapt to their new lives. Told as it is in the first person from their alternating perspectives, the reader is there sharing the emotions of Beth and Carmel - the guilt and frantic searching of one, the bewilderment of the other.
Carmel of course is unaware that she's been abducted - she firmly believes that this man is her grandfather and that what she's been told about her mother's accident is true. So Carmel tries to adjust, to fit in with her new family and their plans for her. It was hinted at earlier but it now becomes apparent that Carmel is believed to have a special gift, and this is why she was taken. Her 'grandfather' has great plans for her, mainly of the sort that will involve his financial gain, and Carmel is bullied and manipulated into going along with them.
Meanwhile back home in Norfolk, her mum Beth tries to put her life back together. Never losing track of the number of days since Carmel went missing, never giving up hope, she searches frantically anywhere and everywhere, but gradually as the years pass, she makes peace with herself and starts to move on.

Although a crime has been committed this isn't so much the story of that crime but more one of how those involved cope afterwards, rather in the way that Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You or Carys Bray's A Song for Issy Bradley show families coping with tragedy. Here though there's still the hope that somehow, maybe, just maybe, Carmel and Beth can be re-united - and it's that flicker of hope that pulled me in, desperately wanting to know that all would turn out right in the end. Does it? well, read it and find out.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Faber and Faber

Genre -adult fiction, debut, crime,

Thursday, 5 March 2015

The Faithful Couple by AD Miller

review by Maryom

In 1993 two young British men meet at a hostel in California. Adam is fresh from university, seeing the world while hoping in a laid back way that something will 'turn up' for him in television; Neil is slightly older, has been out in the post-uni real world long enough to know it doesn't live up to expectations, taking time out from a dead-end job; they bond instantly. Driving north up the California coastline, an unpleasant incident occurs - one that, although quickly put behind them at the time, will haunt them throughout the years but bind them in shared guilt.

I started The Faithful Couple expecting something like a mates version of David Nicholls' One Day, and in many ways that what it is - but also darker and grittier. It follows the relationship between two young men who accidentally meet in San Diego, bond on a road trip and become friends for life - like the entwined tree from which the novel takes it title, they may try to go their separate ways but fate has joined them together.

Their story encompasses a wide change of issues that form the backdrop to almost all our lives - class, wealth, children, family, death, guilt, betrayal, love - and explores the complex emotions that feed our relationships - envy and competitiveness having as much place in them as shared interests or companionship.

 I seem to have been one of the few people who were left a bit unimpressed by the author's previous book Snowdrops but this one is a different matter. I loved it - raced through it in almost a single sitting, found myself caught up the lives of these two young men, wanting to know if they'd find the things they were searching for in life, whether money or love, if they could allow the past to be just that and not destroy their relationship.  

If I had any criticism it would be that occasionally I thought the author tried just a little too hard - the turning of a phrase, an obscure word, the re-iteration of a point - but on the whole, it's an excellent read and unusual in portraying a male friendship surviving the ups and downs of the years.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher -
Little, Brown
Genre -

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Mind Games by Teri Terry

review by Maryom

In a future dystopian world, everyone spends most of their time hooked up to Realtime - a virtual world created by PareCo. A special implant allows them 24/7 instant access, and it's not used just for game or role playing but for everyday life - everything from school lessons to hanging out with friends takes place there. Luna is one of the very few who react badly to the implant and, as such, she's excluded from a lot of things that her friends consider 'normal'. It's more than a little odd then that Luna is one of an elite group picked to join PareCo's think tank. What is so special about her that she'd be selected? Surely PareCo cannot see her as a threat?
At their top secret island base, Luna discovers the evil hiding behind the public face of PareCo - but can she, with her unusual abilities, expose the truth?

We've all heard of the dangers of spending too much time on games consoles or the internet - well, Teri Terry takes this a step further. The virtual Realtime world has almost replaced the physical world - certainly there are restrictions, with limited use for young children, and advised amount of 'downtime' - but, with life-support to take care of bodily functions, for most there's no need or desire to unplug; people make friends in Realtime, go on dates there, even have virtual sex rather than physical. Luna, as an outsider, notices the problems of such dependency - for instance, her dad's job means he spends more time away in the virtual world than present with his family - and there's a lot of food for thought among her observations, but it doesn't detract from the story-line.
The story falls into two sections - at first in the everyday world of home and school, setting the scene and building this dystopian society, then moving on to the behind-the-scenes insiders' view of PareCo's activities, discovering their shocking manipulation of both users and developers of the virtual world. The things Luna uncovers are chilling in the extreme!
 In Mind Games, Teri Terry has created another thought-provoking but gripping thriller - the world-building lured me in, the mystery surrounding PareCo's activities hooked me, and the threat from them to Luna and her friends kept me reading till late at night. Luna herself is a courageous young heroine, facing dangers in both the real and virtual worlds, but determined to set things right and expose evil; someone to sympathise with and root for.
It's very much a book that once started, you won't want to put down - a bit like the virtual world of Realtime!

Oh, and I loved how among PareCo's virtual gaming worlds the author built in a 'plug' for her previous series Slated!

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Orchard Books
Genre -
teen, dystopian thriller

If you're looking for more thrillers built around the world of gaming try, for teens, Erebos by Ursula Poznanski or, for adults, Game by Anders de la Motte

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

White Hunger by Aki Ollikainen

 review by Maryom

In 1867 after several years of failed harvests, a great famine descended on Finland, threatening the lives of all but the wealthiest. As winter takes hold, Marja's husband lies dying of hunger. Realising that if they remain on the farm, both her and the two children will die too, Marja leaves him and heads south towards St Petersburg where, rumours say, there's bread for all. Others are on the road too, a rag-tag hoard of beggars desperately seeking aid, and not all places are welcoming to starving travellers. Moved on from one place to another, Marja refuses to give up hope but keeps doggedly plodding on.
Meanwhile in the city, life goes on much as it always did - senators squabble over whose plan is the best to deal with the crisis, the rich refuse to help out, and Teo, a doctor, continues his work among the taverns and brothels of the seedier districts.
A chance meeting of Teo and Marja on the road leads to the first signs of hope....

White Hunger is a tale of endurance and hope. Marja's determination to continue despite the odds stacked against her, her constant belief that one day they will reach their goal and it will welcome them with open arms and full baskets of bread, is inspiring but heart-rending as her quest seems doomed from the start. Living hand to mouth, relying entirely on the kindness of strangers, her spirit seems indomitable even though starvation causes her mind to wander and her body to collapse. The reactions of the people she meets en route are understandable - everyone is suffering from the famine and, unless you're among the cosseted wealthy classes, to give even the smallest amount of bread or gruel to a beggar, may mean your own death.
Teo's experiences are different. Living in the city, he's comparatively sheltered from the dire effects of the famine, but he comes to realise that the problem of beggars roaming the countryside in search of food can't be solved by those like himself who have little real understanding of the plight of the people - a situation seen today in the attitudes of governments towards the poor and refugees.

It's a story that takes the reader to unknown places - with our centrally-heated houses and shop-bought food we're hardly likely to encounter such conditions, but the unrelenting frozen landscape slowly seeps into even the well-fed, armchair-snuggled reader's mind. I could easily imagine the frozen feet and hands, the soggy clothing, the tedium of taking to the road each day, the exhaustion at the end of it.
The story does end on a happier note with the return of warmer days in Spring and the natural hopefulness that comes with it, but there's a feeling of a nation waking from a long nightmare and still being haunted by it.

As a slight aside - Although circumstances are very different I found a lot of similarity between Marja and Izolda, the heroine of Hanna Krall's Chasing the King of Hearts published by Peirene a couple of years ago. Both women show a determination to cling on to every last scrap of hope and persevere through adversities, even though their goal seems to move further and further away.

 Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Peirene Press

Genre - Adult Literary Fiction, translated fiction 

translated from the Finnish by Fleur Jeremiah and Emily Jeremiah

Monday, 2 March 2015

The Beneath by SC Ransom

review by Maryom
One minute Lily is idly waiting for her Tube train to arrive, the next she's rescuing a girl from its path and being drawn into a hidden world that lies literally beneath her feet - for the rescued girl, Aria, is part of a community that lives concealed in the maze of tunnels and caverns beneath London. She's visiting the world Above seeking out one special person who can help to stop the evil plans of her community's leader - and that person is Lily.

The Beneath is the latest teen thriller from SC Ransom, author of the Small Blue Thing trilogy; a tense, compelling read, set in and below London, with an intriguing story-line centring on a community that for hundreds of years has been living underground. With the vast amount of tunnels, underground rivers and disused Tube tunnels burrowing underneath the city, who knows what may lurk beneath our feet? Lily isn't at first sure if she believes Aria's story of living underground in a society where there's very little free will and choice, and girls are seen as just 'breeders' of the next generation. But Lily soon moves from disbelief to a determination to help her new friend, which takes her, her friend Will and his faithful not-to-be-left-behind dog, Foggy, on a dangerous journey underground to confront the leader of this strange community and the 'crop' he grows to both protect and intimidate them.

Aimed at the eleven+/early teen age range, the story delivers a fast paced read to keep the reader gripped from start to finish. There's a little romance but the emphasis is firmly on mystery and action,with some really nail-biting moments.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Nosy Crow
Genre - 11+, fantasy adventure

Friday, 27 February 2015

Seed by DB Nielsen

Review by The Mole

The story is billed as "Twilight meets A Discovery of Witches" - neither of which I have read. The synopsis however had me interested:

Seventeen-year-old twins Sage and Saffron Woods who become embroiled in a thrilling quest when an artefact, long sought after, suddenly reappears in present day southern Iraq – a land long considered the cradle of civilization, ancient Mesopotamia. With its unearthing, a centuries-old conflict is reignited; a conflict that takes the sisters from the British Museum to Paris to the Vatican Secret Archives and the catacombs in Rome. In a race against time the twins discover not only deeply hidden secrets of the ancient world but embark on a journey of self-discovery and coming of age that uncovers their own passionate feelings for unearthly immortals.

With no "magic" and no vampires I was curious where the comparison came from.

The story is not truly about the twins, but about Sage, with Saffie sort of helping, supporting, defending and goading Sage onwards. The plot has huge potential in my opinion but sadly lacks an editor.

When Sage first meets Gabriel she becomes like a gushy, silly teenager - but one that is worse than I have ever seen, heard of or read of before. I started to get the opinion that this was not meant to be a normal very naive reaction by a teenage girl to a very attractive man - but that the author was trying to add another layer and an editor could have helped with that.

At other times we are rewarded with historical facts (I assume they are facts but I haven't checked them) and this kind of thing tends to happen frequently in modern "quest" thrillers - but here it felt like they were coming like machine gun bullets with little time for the reader to assimilate them in to order or relevance. Relevance? Yes,at times it felt like the author was showing off her knowledge - although this is probably unfair comment. Once again a good editor should have been able to assist.

RANT OVER! Putting those issues to one side, I did keep reading. Why? Because overall the book was entertaining, intriguing and had that something that holds the reader's attention.

By the end of the 400+ pages it seems that relatively little has happened except the development of the characters, Sage becoming more aware of her own role, and the development of the relationship - both personal and quest-wise - between Sage and Gabriel. But what of Saffie? And her parents? You can feel that there is something more going on with all of them. We don't end on a cliffhanger and we have made no real discoveries about artefacts or what to do with them - but still I read on.

This is a very good story that YA readers will enjoy - despite the complete absence of sex. (I hope that's not a spoiler.)

Publisher - LBLA Digital
Genre - YA fantasy

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Touch by Claire North

review by Maryom

Imagine that by taking hold of someone's hand, you could become them, could jump from body to body as you wished, and stay there for as long as you liked, from seconds to years. This is what 'Kepler' and others like him can do. Now someone has decided that it's time to stop him - but its easier to evade an assassin if you've some idea of who sent them and why. So begins a game of cat and mouse as Kepler tries to track down the person behind it, while trying to avoid those pursuing him.

This latest novel from Claire North is a mind-stretcher in the way that The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August was. The author takes one of those throwaway 'just imagine' or 'what if' scenarios that we all have from time to time and weaves a compelling thriller around it - with Harry August, it was re-living the same life several times; with Touch it's being able to move from body to body.
The thriller aspect is fast-paced, action-packed, full of twists, turns and deviousness. It starts with the 'bang' of a murder and Kepler running for his life, and carries on at this breathless pace; as a game of hunter and hunted it's up there with the best of spy thrillers.
The sci-fi 'just imagine' aspect is well thought through, and gives the reader plenty to think about - the morality of being able to take over another person's body, with or without their consent; the impact such action has on both host and 'guest' - maybe it explains those minutes of forgetfulness that we all experience from time to time, maybe it accounts for long-term memory loss, but for the 'guest' there's the choice of taking over another person's life completely - almost cradle to grave - or of drifting from one host to another, never putting down roots, or having family and long-term friends. It has its advantages though - for a few short minutes, Kepler can be anyone he wants - football player, actress, president....

I loved Harry August but there's something just a bit more satisfying about Touch, making it a 'must read' whether you're a sci-fi lover or not.

Maryom's review - 5 stars

Publisher - Orbit
Genre - Adult, sci-fi, thriller