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Archive for October, 2010

Micka is a 10 year old boy, who has a hard life to say the least.  His mother can’t be bothered with looking after him, and takes no interest in his education, his father is nowhere to be seen, and at least one of his two older brothers is frequently in prison and physically abuses Micka when he’s at home.

He soon becomes friends with Laurie, a new boy at his school.  Laurie may come from a better background, but his parents are splitting up, and while his mother behaves irrationally, his father is emotionally distant.

Laurie has a vivid imagination, and dreams of cruelty and magic, and as Micka is pulled into his world, the lines between fact and fiction become blurred until both boys find themselves on a seemingly inevitable course towards a horrifying conclusion…

This book was amazingly well written.  It is narrated by Micka and Laurie in turn; in the proof copy I read, each narrator is distinguished by a different font.  However, the difference between the language which the two boys used also distinguished them from each other.

It is certainly a disturbing book to read, which was expected as the book was apparently informed by the Mary Bell and Jamie Bulger cases.  Before we even get to the troubling ending of the story, there are descriptions of physical abuse in the home and cruelty to animals.  However, one of the hardest parts to stomach was the reasoning behind the boys’ actions.

I thought the characterisation of the two boys was excellent.  Micka seemed like an innocent child stranded in a violent world, whereas Laurie was by far the colder and more calculating of the two.

Overall, this is a quick read, but certainly one that will linger in the memory.  Highly recommended – but perhaps not for readers of a nervous disposition.

 

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Jane Moore and Alexandra Walsh were best friends, but then Jane got pregnant when she was 17 and as her world became consumed by looking after her child, they drifted apart.

Seventeen years later, Jane learns that Alexandra has suddenly gone missing.  She teams up with her Alexandra’s heartbroken husband Tom, her own sister Elle, and their new friend Leslie in order to try and find her old friend.  Along the way, each of them learns their own lessons about life, love and family…

I enjoyed this book.  I do think that the cover and title give the impression that it might be a light and fluffy ‘chicklit’ read, and while it’s true that this is an easy read definitely aimed at the female market, the subjects of loss, grief and love run through the heart of the story.  Within the first few pages, the reader was introduced to several characters in different time periods, and I did wonder if things might get a bit confusing, but they didn’t at all, and the story then continued in chronological order.

All of the characters are well drawn, as are more peripheral characters such as Jane’s son Kurt, her mother Rose, and Kurt’s father Dominic.  My favourite character was definitely Leslie – a brittle woman who had deliberately isolated herself from others, but found herself letting people into her life.

Jane was by far the most level headed of all characters, although she had her own demons to deal with.  I found it difficult to initially warm to Elle, as she seemed selfish and brazen, but her particular story did develop well.

The story is told in the third person and we see events from the points of view of Jane, Elle, Leslie and Tom in turn.  Although they are brought together by the search for Alexandra, the book focuses on the twists and turns happening in their own lives.

This is very readable, and while it’s not the kind of book I would pick up every day, I did enjoy it.  Recommended to fans of chicklit and women’s fiction.

(I would like to thank British Bookshops and Stationers for sending me this book to review.  British Bookshops and Stationers website can be found here.  Anna McPartlin’s website can be found here.)

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Meet the Battles: Mo, the mother is fast approaching 50 and feels grey inside and out.  The sparkle has gone out of her life and out of herself, and even though she’s a trained child psychologist, she doesn’t seem to understand her own children.

Dora is nearly 18, and is struggling to juggle her friends, her boyfriend woes, her dreams of becoming a pop star and her addiction to Facebook.

Peter is 16 and insists on being called Oscar, after his hero Oscar Wilde.  He is very intelligent, if perhaps slightly delusional and is about to develop a crush on a most unsuitable candidate.

Even the poor dog Poo has landed in a sticky situation – pregnant by an unknown suitor!

The story is narrated by these three characters, who also make references to their husband/father who’s always in the background trying to hold everything together.

The family are all living in their own worlds, and they’re lurching slowly from one crisis to the next one, and at some point things are going to collide…

Earlier this year I read Dawn French’s autobiograph of sorts (‘Dear Fatty’), which I enjoyed but found difficult to initially get into.  I had no such difficulties with this book, which captured my attention from the beginning.  It’s alternated in turn by Mo, Dora and Peter/Oscar, and the three voices are very distinct.  However, I did think that Dora’s character in particular was very much a stereotype (although this did not stop me warming to her as the story progressed).

The book is essentially a comedy, and while it did not make me laugh out loud, it certainly made me giggle and smile a lot.  However, in amongst the comedy, there were some touching moments.  Oscar, who seems so self-obssessed for much of the story, proves that he can be caring and thoughtful.  And it’s not long before the combative and stroppy Dora is soon revealed to be lacking in self confidence and uncertain about her future.  However, I did find some of her segments slightly jarring (because she like, overused like the word ‘like’ constantly), due to the exaggerated teenage language.

The husband, who for the most part is only known to the reader through the words of his family easily comes across as the most sympathetic member of the family, closely followed by Mo’s mother Pamela, who is also only known to the reader through the words of the family.

My favourite parts were those narrated by the fabulously intelligent Oscar, who has clear delusions of grandeur.  While it would have been easy to dismiss him as ego-centric and self absorbed, he showed moments of genuine tenderness and thoughtfulness.  He loves to talk in the style of Oscar Wilde, and his observations and remarks were often acidly funny.

Overall, while some parts of the book were slightly cliched and predictable, there was plenty to enjoy in this book, and I would recommend it to others as a light and easy read, with some moments of genuine poignancy.

(I would like to thank British Bookshops and Stationers for sending me this book to review.  British Bookshops and Stationers website can be found here.)

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This rather lovely book, which weaves fact and fiction, tells the story of the inhabitants of Jersey during World War II, and in particular, the Jewish people living on the island.

As people are forced to register as Jewish and find themselves subjected to all the hatred of the Nazi regime, some people try to flee for their life, many go into hiding (often in the cellars of non-Jewish friends, who risk their own lives by helping them).  Many are deported, and many perish.

The book tells the story of many of the inhabitants, but focuses mainly on Marlene Zimmer, a young girl with a Jewish father, who tries to outrun the authorities.  She is taken in by two of the other main characters, Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore (the aliases of Lucille Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe, step-sisters and lovers.  The three women aid the Resistance, picking up scraps of news on their forbidden wirelesses, passing information to other citizens, and encouraging German soldiers to desert.  Also featuring prominently in the story is Peter, a Polish Jew who finds himself transported from one prison to another.

The official documents in this novel are real, as are the love letters which Suzanne and Lucille write to each other.  This mixture of real life and fiction underlines the horrors of war in Jersey.  The book is told in clean and direct language, but it is very evocative and I found myself feeling very moved.  Some of the measures taken against Jews were difficult to imagine – not being able to have or profit from their own businesses, not being able to go into shops or theatres, and only being allowed to go shopping between 3pm – 4pm.  (Sadly, we know only too well that these were nowhere near the worst atrocities visited upon them.)

As well as the main characters, the stories of more peripheral characters are also told, which made for a fuller picture of life in Jersey as a whole, rather than just a handful of residents.

Overall, this is a book I would highly recommend.  Eloquent writing and a subject that lingers in the mind make this an excellent telling of an important story.

(I would like to thank the author for sending me this book to review.)

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In 1964, 89 year old Winston Churchill wakes up to find a looming presence in his room.  It is the depression from which he has suffered throughout his life, which he famously called the “black dog.”  Across town, Esther Hammerhans opens her front door to find a huge black dog standing outside, wanting to rent her spare room.  The black dog introduces himself as Mr Chartwell, and later comes to be known as Black Pat.  Esther has no idea who or what he is, or why he has sought her out.  So will she find out before she falls under his diabolical spell?

This is such an unusual novel that I find it very difficult to review.  The premise sounds completely absurd – to make the black dog of depression into an actual black dog, who can talk and interact with those whose life he infiltrates – and does not sound as though it should work.  However, as a plot device it works incredibly well, showing how depression can creep up on someone insiduously, how it can affect all areas of life, and how it can be strangely attractive.

The narrative is in the third person, and takes place over a few days during which Churchill retires completely from politics.  The story switches from Churchill to Esther, who do not know each other, and are unaware that they have a mutual companion.  I thought the writing was terrific – descriptive, but without any unnecessary words, subtle, and at times very funny.  However, the humour had a distinct sting in the tail.

Esther is a beautifully drawn character, who was easy to believe in, and Churchill was also described brilliantly (as was his wife, Clementine), and facts from his real life were woven into the story.  Black Pat hovers over every scene ominously and is variously shown as tender, spiteful, witty, selfish, cynical and inviting.  But while he can sometimes be quite likeable (at least in the form which he takes in this story), the reader is never allowed to forget exactly who he is and what he represents.

I’m not sure that my review has done this book justice.  However, I will say that it was one of the most original stories I’ve read in a long time, and despite the unusual premise, it worked on every level for me.  This is Rebecca Hunt’s debut novel – I certainly hope that she will write more!

(I would like to thank British Bookshops & Stationers for sending me a review copy of this book.  British Bookshop & Stationers’ website can be found here.)

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22nd June 1941.  This is the date that life for Tatiana Metanova, a young girl living in Leningrad, will change forever.  First, it is the day that Hitler invades Russia, and second, it is the day that Tatiana meets Alexander Belov, a soldier in the Red Army.  There is an instant and very strong attraction between Tatiana and Alexander, but circumstances conspire to keep them apart.  She quickly finds out that Alexander is the new boyfriend of her sister Dasha, and has to choose between her own happiness and that of her beloved sister.  Meanwhile, as the war continues, the living conditions in Leningrad become dreadful, and Tatiana sees people dying all around her, from starvation, illness and bombing.

And still, she and Alexander cannot let go of each other emotionally.  Will they ever find a way to be together – and will either of them survive the war?

Paullina Simons is one of my very favourite authors, seemingly always able to create books which I can’t put down, filled with very realistic and believable characters.  I felt the same way about this book, although I felt it was very different in style to such books of hers as Tully and The Girl In Times Square.

Tatiana was a great heroine.  Although the book is told in the third person, I think that we got to see things predominantly from her point of view, and therefore she was probably the easiest character to sympathise with.  She was feisty but vulnerable, and showed remarkable reserves of strength and courage.

I felt more ambivalent towards Alexander and at times actually disliked him.  Although he and Tatiana had this incredible love, he sometimes treated her less than gallantly, and came across as a spoilt young man.  However, his basic decency also came through and made me root for him.

The most fascinating and interesting part of the book for me was the description of war torn Leningrad.  To read about the tiny rations people had to live on – just a tiny amount of bread often mixed with sawdust or cardboard to pad it out – was harrowing, and it was all too believable.  Electricity was lost, and there was no clean water.  People would attack each other for their meagre rations, or someone would be blown apart from a bomb while waiting in line for their food.  The depictions of such conditions were vivid and distressing, yet utterly compelling.

The book was not perfect – at times it did lapse into slushy, sugary dialogue and I thought I had accidentally stumbled upon a Mills and Boon novel, and there was much handwringing and agonising between the main two characters.  But despite this, it won me round.  I found the book hard to put down, and was genuinely interested to see how the story wound up.

It is the first book in a trilogy, and I will certainly be reading the following two books.  It’s not my favourite book by this author, but certainly one that I’m glad I read.  Recommended.

(I would like to thank Harper Collins for sending me this book to review.  Harper Collins’ website can be found here.  Paullina Simons’ website can be found here.)

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Click here for my review of Tatiana and Alexander (the second book in this trilogy).

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It’s a shock when Glen Glass suddenly dies for no apparent reason.  But it’s an even bigger one when he is suddenly resurrected – and totally surprises the guests at his funeral. But Glen is suffering from a problem that is rapidly increasing – he has come back from the dead, and while his body continues to decompose, his mind – which has previously been filled with little more than his favourite movies and the best ways to be as lazy as possible – is suddenly filled with purpose.  Glen is determined to find out how and why he died.  But it’s tough old world for the undead – the living fear them, and certain forces want to eliminate them for good.  Now that he’s dead, has Glen to time to overcome his idleness and discover the real meaning of life?  Is it too late for him to get the girl?  And will he ever be able to be a hero like his favourite film character, John Dance?…

I was really disappointed in this book.  The premise is certainly interesting – zombies are increasing in numbers, and rather than wanting to kill the living and turn them into the undead, most of them just want to get on with their (after)lives and go about their business, see their families and have a nice place to live.  But society wants to ostracise them and not have to think about them.

It’s written for laughs, and is not intended to be scary.  Unfortunately, it isn’t very funny either, although there were a couple of good one liners early on.  However, the prose is clunky and disjointed – things suddenly seemed to pop in the story which had no relation to anything that had gone before it, and it almost seemed as if chunks had been missed out.  Characters did things with no rhyme or reason, and it was as if prior knowledge of events which had not even been mentioned, were assumed to be known by the reader.

The story also got very convoluted towards the end, with it not being entirely clear who was in league with who, who was doing what, and what exactly it was that Glen was hoping to achieve.

Characterisation was pretty thin also – everybody in it was either a stereotype, or had no character at all.

So all in all – an interesting idea, but very poorly executed.  Disappointing.

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