Who needs friends when you can have followers? – Book Review

The shiny brightly coloured cover of Followers  by Megan Angelo hides beneath it a dark tale of corruption and the skewing of reality in a neat representation of the social and moral questions the book asks with regard to Social Media.

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Reading Followers next to the River Ness in Inverness, Scotland

Followers juxtaposes two different timelines: one in 2015 where two young ambitious women, Orla and Floss, find common ground in the creation of a social media personality and become intoxicated with the power and notoriety it brings; the second is much further in the future, in 2051 after a mysterious world-changing event known as the Spill. Marlow has grown up in the public eye, in the media city of Constellation; a place reminiscent of the Truman Show but with full awareness by the participants. Here volunteers have stepped up to be watched and commented on by the American public in a fully pervasive government run form of reality TV. The media world has broken into extremes since the events of the Spill – professional content makers and those that avoid it completely. The general public no longer trusts the internet and is generally much more tech averse causing a desperate Government to go to extremes to encourage them to make use of the state run services.

Marlow entered Constellation as a child with her parents and has only faint memories of life before. But a new “story line” she is presented by her network starts her asking questions about what constitutes her life, what she wants from it and what the past, that her mother has worked so hard to run from, is, setting her on a quest to find answers.

Harper Collins is describing Followers as 1984 for the Instagram generation. It’s not a bad analogy, though like the social media followers its’ heroines have to navigate, it remains to be seen if Followers will stick around long enough to warrant the comparison.

What seems a more fitting comparison is an episode of Black Mirror; very well written, unsettling and horrifying; a stark demonstration of the dystopian paths we risk with our reliance on different forms of technology and obsessions with social media.

It’s a complex plot which is neatly laid out so that you know there is a link between the two timelines, but you’re never entirely sure of what that link is until the book wants you to know.

None of the characters should be likeable. Floss is narcissistic, manipulative and shallow; Orla is at times insipid, always desperate and fairly selfish and Marlow, as a result of her upbringing, struggles to demonstrate any sense of agency or opinion. They have all done bad things, from the carelessly uncaring to the downright unforgiveable, and yet these women are compelling in their flaws and complexity. We all know hundreds of people like Floss and Orla (although the combination of the two women is clearly toxic), we may even have acted like them from time to time, and so even in the depths of their mistakes they are identifiable. Marlow is less recognisable as her storyline is a warning of possible consequences – but one which many children growing up now may face (albeit in a milder form) as they encounter their parents’ social media presence.

It’s an engaging and thought –provoking read but also highly entertaining.

Followers by Megan Angelou is released today: 9 February 2020

My 20 To Be Read Books for 2020

2019 was an ace year for me with regards to books; I began my job as a librarian and began working towards my accreditation; I really committed to my book blogging (athough my commitment took the form of reading during every spare moment, and not perhaps writing about it as much as I should have – think I’m missing a trick here!); and some of the books I read were so phenomenal that they blew past everything I’d read before and completely rearranged my overall top 10. By all accounts it seems to have been a phenomenal year for publishing.20200106_232133.jpg

But now here we are: a new decade. Who the hell knows where we’ll be in another 10 years, or even a year. One thing I do know – Books are going to help me get through whatever comes, both personally and globally. Below are some of the books I’m most looking forward to reading in 2020. Some of these I’ve been lucky enough to get an advanced reading of (and so I’ve included the star rating). Some of them I’m just giddily excited about based on and then there’s a section at the end of stuff I’m looking forward to reading which has been around forever but I have added to my 2020 TBR.

What are you desperate to read this year? (Cause I clearly need to add it to my ever-expanding list and groaning shelves!)

Have read; would recommend:

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano (5 stars)

Dear Edward12 year old Edward is the sole survivor of a horrific plane crash that took his whole world with it. Dear Edward is a look at both the 6 hours leading up to the plane crashing and the lives aboard it, and the months and years following it as Edward tries to come to terms with what has happened and begin to heal. On him rest the hopes and prayers and desperate grief of the relatives of those killed. It is an emotional read, offering glimpses of the complexity of human lives and optimism in the ability to turn tragedy into hope and the human capacity to overcome horrific events.

Publication Date: 20 February 2020

 

The Stray Cats of Homs by Eva Nour (5 stars)

The Stray cats of HomsNothing, NOTHING has brought the realities of the Syrian Civil War home to me like this novel, a mostly true, occasionally fictionalised, account of the life and experiences of the author’s partner, ‘Sami’.

Sami is the second youngest son of a loving family. There are a few chapters to begin with which demonstrate the idyllic childhood Sami and his siblings had, infused with the usual family conflicts and jealousies and the occasional formative experience but always with an foreshadowing awareness of “walls having ears”. So the harrowing slide from hopeful revolution to soul-sapping war is especially painful. Sami bears witness to the destruction and errosion of his friends, family, culture, hopes and dreams and the humanity and empathy with which the story is told truly highlights the lack of options that ordinary civilians faced as they were trapped between a rock and a hard place.

There were numerous times during and after reading this where I wept with frustration and pain at the cost this war exacted and continues to do so, and even with glimmers of hope and empathy and Sami’s seemingly nine lives (there are no cats here), the horrors will stay with you long after you finish this. The book takes moments I remember seeing on the news and not fully understanding at the time, and fleshes them out fully with context. An absolute must read.

Publication date: 7 May 2020

 

The Sky is MineThe Sky is Mine by Amy Beashel  (4 stars)

Izzy and her mum have been living a life of trauma. Her mum’s husband of 9 years, Daniel, was supposed to be their prince charming, and he certainly comes across that way to everyone else. But behind closed doors there’s another story. After years of insidious gaslighting and abuse Izzy and Steph have reached a crossroads; Do they stay and succumb to the numb acceptance of the misogynistic abuse they are subject to from all areas or do they take tentative steps back to themselves and each other.

This is a powerful and emotive tale where the fear and confusion is claustrophobic and leaves you breathless. But it’s balanced out with a healthy dose of optimism. Izzy’s hope is jarred up and shut away, literally, but eventually comes to fill the sky and offer a way forward.

Publication Date: 6 February 2020

What Unbreakable Looks Like by Kate McLaughlin (5 stars)

What Unbreakable Looks LikeAfter a neglectful childhood results in 17 year old Alexa being trafficked by a man she trusted, she grows accustomed to the dark and horrific side of humanity. Then she’s suddenly rescued and has to figure out how to reintegrate back into society and begin the process of healing.
What follows is a heartbreaking, emotional and at times harrowing account of Alexa trying to find a way of living with what she has been through, and had me close to tears at numerous times. But strung though out is a strong sense of hope and positivity for the future. Lex has an incredible support system, which doesn’t soften the trauma she has to come to terms with, but does provide hope for the future.

What Unbreakable Looks Like explores in depth the feelings of a trauma victim, including the numbness, fear and cognitive dissonance as well as touching on different experiences of trauma without ever scaling them against each other – everyone has their demons – and rather than making that a competition between people it leads to greater empathy and understanding of each other.

It was an amazingly compelling read which I devoured in one sitting. A fantastic but emotionally difficult read.

Publication Date: 2 June 2020

 

 

Haven’t read but very excited to get hold of them:

False Value (Rivers of London #8) by Ben Aaronovitch Publication Date: 20 February 2020

False Value

I have yet to read a Rivers of London book that I haven’t enjoyed (though some do leave me confused with the intricacy of the magical world that has been created.) Very much looking forward to this new one – and the cover is startingly beautiful!

 

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi Publication Date: 15 September 2020

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Yaa Gyasi wrote one of my favourite books that I read last year (although it was published in 2017) Homegoing which was a stunningly accomplished and confident debut so I am almost giddy with excitement to see what she has planned next.

 

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig Publication Date: September 2020

Matt Haig writes some of the most heartwarming philosophical novels I have ever read; concerned with the warmth of the human condition. His newest will be about someone exploring alternate paths their life could have taken which are laid out in books contained within the Midnight Library. It sounds fantastic and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

 

The Foundling by Stacey Halls Publication Date: February 2020

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In London in 1754 Clara return’s to London’s Foundling Hospital to claim her illegitimate daughter who she left behind 6 years earlier. But her daughter has already been claimed – by her. Who has claimed Clara’s daughter and can she find her? This looks like a wonderful historical mystery that promises atmosphere and intrigue.

 

The Sight of You by Holly Miller Publication Date: June 2020

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If you could see how a relationship would end would you still embark on it? That’s the concept of Holly Miller’s latest novel about a man who has visions of the end of his relationship even as he meets his partner.

 

Miss Austen by Gill Hornby Publication Date: 23 January 2020

Miss Austen

The question of why Cassandra Austen burned a treasure trove of family letters – mostly ones written by her deceased sister Jane – has puzzled academics for centuries. This novel, set in 1840, attempts to unlock some of those secrets and will be a must-read for Austen fans

 

Plan for the Worst by Jodi Taylor Publication Date: 16 April 2020

Plan for the Worst

More Time Travelling goodness from the historians of St Mary’s. Shenanigans will ensue. This series is an easy read (with some surprisingly emotional moments) and I devour them faster than Jodi Taylor can produce them.

 

Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel

Darling Rose Gold

Rose Gold Watts has lived her life convinced by her mother Patty that she is ill. Now she is finally free from her mother’s hold, and of the lies she told about her health. After Rose testifies against Patty for her wrongdoing, she goes to prison for five years. When she is released with nowhere to go, Rose invites her mother into her home as a sign of forgiveness. But secretly, Rose has not forgiven her mother and is ready to seek revenge.

 

Daisy on the Outer Line by Ross Sayer Publication Date: November 2020

DOTOL

I don’t have a full summary of what this is about, except that is a young adult novel about time travelling scot called Daisy; it’s written in Scots; and it’s written by one of the funniest authors I’ve come across. If you enjoy terrible groan worthy puns; hilarious confusion over turns of phrase and heartwarming characters I’m pretty sure this is going to fulfil your brief!

 

Previously published; but only just getting to them:

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

Godsgrave by Jay Kristoff

Runaways by Fatima Bhutto

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

 

 

Spooktober Roundup

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I don’t know what happened this month. I feel like I must have walked into a timewarp at some point, but I keep checking my list and it IS accurate. Somehow or other I managed to read 21 books (Hands up this is a total humble brag, but I AM genuinely shocked). Given I read FOUR last month and thought that was good going I actually don’t know how I managed this. The only thing I can think is that SO MANY of them were just fantastic that I just couldn’t stop. Anyway, apologies for the length of this – it won’t happen again. Honestly, if you make it through this more power to you! (I might even send you one of the mythical Orange Twirls as a reward!)

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff (5 stars)

Mia was born into privilege, and enjoyed the high life until she was 10. Content with her parents, baby brother and beloved cat (who is relevant in the story, I promise!). Then a misplaced coup results in everything being torn from her and her running for her life. 6 years later she is looking to enter the secretive and elite assassins training school to become a Blade and get justice for the wrongs done to her family by the corrupt power structures of ????. The guild is comprised of zealots who excel at what they do, but competition is fierce, and each and every one of the acolytes is a murderer already. Added to that: their training consists of surviving the masters’ multiple attempts to murder them, and this becomes Hogwarts for adults – with swearing, sex and bloody gory murder a plenty.

This book grabbed me from the first line, and I’d ordered the rest of the trilogy before I was halfway through. It’s compelling, brutal and wonderfully written. I cannot express how much I loved it. But it is absolutely definitely NOT for children or young adults. I’ve seen a lot of reviewers really struggle with this and try to fit it into that box, I’m assuming because the protagonist is a teenage girl?

The Lost Ones by Anita Frank (5 stars)

In 1917 Stella Marchem returns from nursing in the Great War, traumatised and having to come to terms with the horrific loss of her childhood sweetheart and fiancé. Steeped in a deep depression, Stella is given the mission of attending to her lonely and newly the Lost ones backpregnant sister, Madeline, who currently lives with her mother-in-law and a handful of servants in an oppressive and chilling country manor. And so off she sets with her maid, Annie Burrows; a young girl who makes everyone around her nervous and who seems to on the knife edge of madness. But Madeline is facing more than simple loneliness; from running footsteps to sudden chills; misplaced items and sobbing in the night. Is it hormonal hysteria, or is there something more sinister at work?

Anita Frank has woven together a terrifying and nerve wracking tale which warrants becoming an instant classic of the genre. The first half ratchets up the tension unbearably; I genuinely found myself with goosebumps and nervous to go into unlit rooms, before unravelling its macabre revelations. It creates a tangibly unsettling atmosphere which, even with a satisfying ending, stays with you long after the book closes. This had me gripped from the start to the end and I’ll be recommending it to everyone for some time to come.

Things in Jars by Jess Kidd (5 stars)

So having 4 5 star reviews in one month makes it look like I hand them out Willy Nilly, but I promise I don’t! I just read a lot of good stuff this month! But also somehow or other I’ve read 3 mermaid or “people of the sea” stories this year. It’s not a genre I specifically seek out, but I guess coincidences happen. After the first two: The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock and Pisces, I decided that maybe I just didn’t like mermaid stories, cause I HATED those two. (To be fair they both contained some pretty atrocious sex scenes and a lot of very unlikeable characters.) Then along came Things in Jars to prove me wrong.

Bridie Devine is a Victorian era detective, interested in figuring out how things work and

Things in Jars
Things in Jars atop a Piano in Lews Castle

helping people that most would overlook. Having risen from an Irish Street rat to a doctor’s apprentice and now an independent woman who advocates for the less privileged, Bridie’s reputation is still recovering from her last case. Which is why a Baron with something…fishy to hide feels confident that she’ll keep his case confidential. So Bridie and her 7 foot tall ferocious maid, Cora get drafted in to find Christabel Berwick; a missing child that no one was supposed to know even existed, and who has a little something of Kirstin Dunst’s “butter wouldn’t melt/oh so vicious” character from Interview with a Vampire about her. Oh and Bridie absolutely doesn’t believe in anything inexplainable or supernatural. She DEFINITELY doesn’t believe in ghosts, and definitely isn’t developing feelings for the really handsome half dressed spectre from her past who just so happens to be following her everywhere.

What Jess Kidd has produced here is a book full of warmth, heart and genuinely hilarious quirks. It’s a Victorian detective story, but with a folklore twist and loveable characters. So loveable that I found myself digging my heels in as I neared the ending (which fair warning, is inevitably bittersweet) and desperate for the ability to spend more time with Bridie and Cora. The fact that these characters aren’t in a series is a travesty and if I’m ever fortunate enough to meet Kidd I’ll be on my knees begging for more of them.

Fleabag by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (4 stars)

I, along with every other millennial out there, am utterly obsessed with Fleabag. It’s captured a zeitgeist that is hard to explain. It is whip-smart, dark and oh so identifiable. So I loved reading the original version which has most of the elements of Season 1 and demonstrates one of the earlier evolutions of the show that stole everyone’s heart. This edition also collated memories of the stage show from the cast and crew.

The Institute by Stephen King (4 stars)

12 year old Luke has displayed minor skills in Telekinesis. Not even powerful to alert himself to his skills, he has been spotted by the Institute, a shady organisation in Maine who captures children with special talents and puts them to nefarious use. Meanwhile in Small town South Carolina, an ex-cop from Florida is starting a new life with the Sheriff’s department.

It’s very hard to go into the intricacies of this book without giving too much away, but as always King is a master story weaver, walking that fine line of compelling and making the unbelievable believable. If you’re a King fan I think you’ll enjoy this one. If not, start with Carrie and you will be!

Rivers of London: Black mould by Ben Aaronovitch (4 stars)

The Rivers of London book series is one of my Go To fantasy series’. Full confession, I don’t always fully understand what’s going on, particularly with whatever mystical revelation happens towards the end, and I’m totally lost from one book to the next about where things stand with Lesley May (not sure why this flummoxes me, it’s usually stated pretty clearly.) But this confusion is where I found the Graphic Novel really came into its own. Black Mould is a standalone orginal graphic novel story that sees Peter and Guleed have to fight both sentient fungus and slum landlords as Peter continues his training with The Folly, the super secret supernatural branch of the Met Police.

It’s a simple enough story, but seeing the characters and humour that I love in illustration really expanded my understanding of the series as a whole. I’ll definitely be seeking out the other graphic novels.

Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon by James Lovegrove (4 stars)

20191022_175948.jpgHaving been approached in a coffee shop by Eve Allerthorpe, eldest daughter of a wealthy and entirely batshit crazy Yorkshire family who live in a gothic black castle in the middle of a lake, Holmes and Watson are engaged to investigate the mysterious myth of the Black Thurrick; an evil side kick to Father Christmas who likes to leave bunches of birch sticks around and snack on naughty children.

Eve’s sudden interest in the myth is, in large, thanks to some weird goings on and supernatural sightings around her creepy and not at all cosy home. Of course she’s due a substantial inheritance on her 21st birthday on Christmas Eve, on one condition; that she has managed to retain control of her mental faculties by then. But while investigating out of curiosity a far more serious crime occurs almost in front of Holmes and Watson. So has local folklore come to life or is someone trying to drive Eve mad? Who would dare try and pull the wool over Holmes and Watson’s eyes? And can the grumpiest and most eccentric family in England make it through a holiday season in one piece?

This is a highly entertaining and enjoyably ludicrous tale. Holme’s eccentricity and Watson’s sarcasm are set off perfectly by being surrounded by like-minded and similarly oddball members of the upper classes. There a moments of slapstick and exquisite arguments of the absurd where Holmes again proves his ability to always be right is pure luck, but is nothing compared to his unparalleled confidence in himself. And beneath it all the story is beautifully written and imagined. A truly enjoyable festive mystery.

Safe House by Jo Jakeman (4 stars)

Charlie Miller is a woman on the run from her past. She’s just been released from prison for perverting the course of justice, but is also having to come to terms with her own guilt and abuse at the hands of ex-boyfriend and serial killer Lee. With few ties to her old life and hankering after a new start, she flees to Cornwall, intending to keep her head down and try and acclimatise to her new freedom and self-awareness, but she’s being hunted by multiple people. Can she really just start anew?

Thrillers are brain popcorn for me, I read them as a palate cleanser; a mini puzzle where I try and figure out the twists and turns as soon as possible. Usually the foreshadowing is pretty obvious but not with Safe House. This genuinely kept me second guessing myself until the end, and even when I did just about figure it out (About a chapter and a half before the reveal, but I wasn’t certain) it still managed to throw a twist at me that I REALLY didn’t see coming. (It’s fairly minor, but I appreciated the surprise).

Charlie is a likeable character who made catastrophic mistakes.. She was a victim herself, but is having to find the balance of accepting her own vulnerabilities, complicity and abuse. There was the odd scene, particularly towards the end which felt like it was written with cinematic dreams in mind and ignore the prologue which feels much clumsier than the rest of the book, this is a well drawn, subtle character driven story with edge of the seat tension and jeopardy.

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Tam O Shanter by Robert Burns, adapted by Richmond Clements (4 Stars)

From Cranachan Books comes this new vibrant Manga rendering of the classic Burns poem Tam O’Shanter. I always struggled with the depth of the Scots Language in Tam O Shanter, but this rendition really does bring it too life and is chock full of atmosphere. A good Scottish Autumnal tale for a creepy Halloween. Highly recommended.

My Name is Monster by Katie Hale (3 stars)

Monster has survived the apocalypse deep in the Arctic Seed vault, miles from home. Emerging weeks later, she must make her world through a totally changed and deserted world and find a new home, but she’s not entirely alone. In an unnamed city she discovers a child who she takes under her wing, naming her Monster and renaming herself Mother.

This is a strange slow burner of a book, showing the fears and hopes of motherhood spliced alongside a child’s need to become their own person and make their own way in the world. It is beautiful but dark.

Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry (3 Stars)

Two ageing Irish gangsters have staked out the Gibraltar ferry port, searching for Dilly, a daughter that hasn’t been seen in 3 years. What follows reads in part like an atmospheric one act play and in part like a painful flashback to the drug glory days of the 90s when Charlie and Maurice were making names for themselves.

It’s an interesting book that is absolutely not for everyone – it’s written very stylistically – but contains lifetimes of pain and love while two Irish fuckups try to figure out what the hell life is about. Their conversations are hilarious, but spin on a dime and turn dangerous with breathtaking speed. Their entire beings are wrought through with violence and pathos as they reflect back on the mistakes they’ve made and the hurt they’ve caused over the decades. Drugs and uncontrollable urges abound, and yet despite the fact that they have been horrible people who have committed unforgiveable crimes, Maurice and Charlie are pretty likeable; in part because they own up to their mistakes (even if it is too late), and in part because of the fondness with which Dilly views them. Safely. From a distance.

Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire by G.M Nair (3 stars)

Michael Duckett and Stephanie Dyer are chalk and cheese but have been friends forever. She’s chaotic and he’s Type A. But just as their friendship if falling apart they mysteriously get dragged into a manic adventure to save the multiverse.

This is the first book in a new series which relies a little too heavily on stereotypes but offers a tantalising glimpse of a promising new sci-fi/humour series. I’ll definitely be checking out the sequel when it arrives.

The Aunt who Wouldn’t Die by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay (3 stars)

Lyrical prose succinctly captures three very different women in a Bengali family struggling to navigate the social conventions expected of them: a young modern woman who wants nothing to do with marriage and feels she has to duck, dive and lie to retain her independence, a shrewd young bride who carefully “manages” her new husband and family towards success from a position of supposedly happy meekness (although there is burning passion present too, which eventually takes over), and a righteously furious ghost of an elderly aunt who taunts and goads her family with scathing rants, pushing them via sneering insults and death threats to achieve more than she was allowed too. A quick read but containing massive riches (and some hidden treasure).

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss (3 stars)

This was a brutal read. Written as a lilting stream of consciousness from the point of view of Sylvie, an abused and brainwashed 17 year old girl on a summer “study” retreat with her psychopathic father who is obsessed with the Iron age; her institutionalised mother and an archaeological study group. Sylvie knows not to enrage her father, and knows to hide his physical abuse from prying eyes, but also takes it as normal that she is whipped black and blue based on his whims. The Horror that unfolds as her father and the professor explore their obsessions with the past and the Britishness of the Iron Age feels like sliding uncontrollably and inevitably towards a cliff edge, but the tension is built with poetical intensity.

The Guardians by John Grisham (3 stars)

John Grisham deserves his reputation as a crime writer. Normally I loathe present tense writing as it often smacks of immaturity, so my heart sank when I saw that’s what this was, but within the first few pages I was gripped as Grisham wove his typically tight, tense and compelling narrative.

The Guardians of the title are pro bono legal sharks who pursue exonerations for the wrongfully convicted, and this novel, some of which is sadly based on true cases, looks at two particularly intricate cases. The characters are interesting and sympathetic, the plot is believable yet also insane and the tension is palable . Indubitably readable.

Captain America Dark Designs by Stefan Petrucha (3 stars)

It’s 2005 and Captain America has finally gotten some semblance of a life back, but following routine tests after a mission, it’s discovered that within his body Cap carries an extinction level virus. Why it’s not currently active, and what might trigger it is anyone’s guess, but to protect humanity Rogers has to head back to the deep freeze until a cure can be found.Captain America

However, old nemesis Red Skull is back, in a body cloned from Captain America himself, so he also carries the virus, except that he has become symptomatic. Knowing the end is insight, and without the selfless gene that is sending Rogers into cryogenic sleep, Red Skull sets about fulfilling his bucket list; specifically ending Captain America, with the aid of some hidden old Nazi Tech. Can Rogers fight off giant killer Nazi robots and a psychopathic enemy with a bug that makes Ebola look like a cold all while he’s technically in quarantine?

What follows is a rollicking good adventure which explores the extremes of Steve’s moral code, and what sets him apart from other heroes. Philosophical questions are thrown into the mix like challenges which Steve side steps with ease.

The Silent House by Nell Pattison (3 stars)

Waking up to their worst nightmare, the Hunter Family discover one of their children was murdered in the night. But they are deaf and heard nothing. Paige Northwood is called in as an interpreter, but being part of the Deaf Community herself her interest quickly becomes much more personal and her investigations lead her to a dark place.

Despite the promising concept this is a pretty run of the mill thriller, with red herrings a plenty and a so so conclusion. Worth a read, but doesn’t fulfil the promise it makes.

The Extinction trials by SM Wilson (The Extinction Trials: 3 stars Exile, 2 Stars,  Rebel 2 Stars)

Stormchaser Knux accidentally finds herself taking part in trials to become a finalist to go to Piloria in search of food, resources and a way of survival. Piloria, as opposed to Earthasia, Storm’s home continent which is struggling to sustain its population, is the dinosaur continent across the sea. Thus Storm and a hodge podge band of comrades and a cardboard cut-out villain find themselves shipped off to face the living fossils.

I’m not totally sure why I kept reading these, honestly I’m exhausted just writing the summary, remembering how they were executed. Maybe it’s cause I grabbed them at the Library and they were easy reads, but good grief they were not good. The blurby bit describes them as The Hunger Games meets Jurassic World. Maybe in Ambition; it’s a good summation of what the series tries to do, but absolutely not in execution. It’s one dimensional, predictable, tries to be gory and edgy but really isn’t and the exposition; oh god the exposition is endless, clumsy and repetitive. Yet I read them all. And Quickly. I’m not sure why.

Of course I’m not the target audience for these. It says 13 + (Nope) but I try and put myself in my 7 year old’s shoes and I think he’d just have got bored, especially compared to the quality of some of the stuff he’s been reading. However, given that I tore through them I don’t feel I can warn you off despite not wanting to recommend them. (Look at my expert level of fence sitting!). Make your own minds up, but good luck!

Everything you Ever Wanted By Luiza Sauma (2 stars)

Oh Boy was this a disappointment.

Stuck in an overpopulated rat race Iris is struggling with depression and feeling her life is meaningless, when she gets the opportunity to be part of a lead colony on Nyx, a new planet on the other side of the galaxy which offers a new start and open space. The catch is it’s a one way ticket. The concept had so much promise but was a massive disappointment. It raises questions about Depression and the society we’re living in. Is the grass really greener on the other side? The answer will be obvious from the start, but it felt like a mystery was set up that never really paid off, the characters were one dimensional and their motivation never particularly compelling. Definitely NOT everything that I wanted.

Pick of the Month: Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

Dud of the Month: Everything you Ever Wanted by Luiza Sauma

A Halloween Treat – Safe House by Jo Jakeman, Book Review

20191030_121401Charlie Miller is a woman on the run from her past. She’s just been released from prison for perverting the course of justice, but is also having to come to terms with her own guilt and the abuse she suffered at the hands of ex-boyfriend and serial killer Lee. With few ties to her old life and hankering after a new start, she flees to Cornwall, intending to keep her head down and try and acclimatise to her new freedom and self-awareness. But her new start is haunted by her past mistakes and it quickly becomes apparent that Charlie is being hunted by multiple people. Can she really just start anew?

I grew up obsessively watching Columbo films at weekends. I used to play a game where I would switch on the film 20 minutes in so that I missed the murder and then see how many seconds it took me to go “They did it”. As an adult, obviously this is hardly a challenge – it’s whoever Columbo insists on sharing the screen with in every scene – but as a kid I loved playing detective and that feeling has never really gone away. I love trying to solve the puzzle.

But thrillers are brain popcorn for me. I read them as a palate cleanser; a mini puzzle where I try and figure out the twists and turns as soon as possible. Usually the foreshadowing is pretty obvious but not with Safe House and I loved it for that. This genuinely kept me second guessing myself until the last page, and even when I did just about figure it out (about a chapter before the reveal, but I was never 100% certain) Jakeman still managed to throw a twist at me that I REALLY didn’t see coming. (It’s fairly minor, but I appreciated the surprise).

Charlie is an identifiable character who made catastrophic mistakes. She was a victim herself, but is having to find the balance of accepting her own vulnerabilities, complicity and abuse ensuring a complex and well-rounded heroine. I enjoyed that as she re-built her new run down home she began to recover herself and a semblance of a life, but more than that I loved the empathy and kindness she showed to the people around her who she initially had no intention of engaging with. Her relationship with the elderly man next door was one of the highlights for me.

There was the odd scene, particularly towards the end, which felt like it was written with cinematic rendering in mind (It strongly reminded me of Julia Robert’s ‘Sleeping with the Enemy’ which is no bad thing!) and I stumbled with the prologue which is driven by a character who is nowhere near as likeable as Charlie but he’s quickly relegated to the background.

But these are quibbles; this is a well-drawn, subtle, character-driven story with edge of the seat tension and jeopardy. The thriller elements; the paranoia of the prey and the twisted view point of the hunter, are ratcheted up so expertly and in such clever increments that the you can feel the tightening claustrophobia make your heart race.

A really top-notch thriller, and one that I’d definitely recommend.

I received a preview copy of Safe House in exchange for an honest review, but it’s out today (31st October) and the Publisher has confirmed that it is going to be available on Amazon Kindle for 99p throughout November – definitely one to add to your TBR pile.

Things in Jars by Jess Kidd

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Things in Jars atop a Piano in Lews Castle

Somehow or other I’ve read 3 mermaid or “people of the sea” stories this year. It’s not a genre I specifically seek out, but I guess coincidences happen. After the first two: The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock and Pisces, I decided that maybe I just didn’t like mermaid stories, cause I HATED those two. (To be fair they both contained some pretty atrocious sex scenes and a lot of very unlikeable characters.)

Then along came Things in Jars to prove me wrong.

Bridie Devine is a Victorian era detective, interested in figuring out how things work and helping people that most would overlook. Having risen from an Irish Street rat to a doctor’s apprentice and now an independent woman who advocates for the less privileged, Bridie’s reputation is still recovering from her last case. Which is why a Baron with something…fishy to hide feels confident that she’ll keep his case confidential. So Bridie and her 7 foot tall ferocious maid, Cora get drafted in to find Christabel Berwick; a missing child that no one was supposed to know even existed, and who has a little something of Kirstin Dunst’s “butter wouldn’t melt/oh so vicious” character from Interview with a Vampire about her. Oh and Bridie absolutely doesn’t believe in anything inexplainable or supernatural. She DEFINITELY doesn’t believe in ghosts, and definitely isn’t developing feelings for the really handsome half dressed spectre from her past who just so happens to be following her everywhere.

What Jess Kidd has produced here is a book full of warmth, heart and genuinely hilarious quirks. It’s a Victorian detective story, but with a folklore twist and loveable characters. So loveable that I found myself digging my heels in as I neared the ending (which fair warning, is inevitably bittersweet) and desperate for the ability to spend more time with Bridie and Cora. The fact that these characters aren’t in a series is a travesty and if I’m ever fortunate enough to meet Kidd I’ll be on my knees begging for more of them.

The plot is mesmerising while you try and fit all the inricate pieces together. There is a little violence and some gore but it’s generally treated very sensitively, what’s more likely to leave you shaken is the emotional resonance and implications of past events on present (in book timeline) events.

An absolute must read: this is how a historical folklore mystery should be done!

Things in Jars by Jess Kidd is out now and is published by Canongate Books.

A Spooky story for Spooktober

The Lost Ones by Anita Frank – Book Review

“Behind the crass grandeur and tasteless opulence, the walls of Greyswick were infused with so many secrets and lies that the very fabric of the building breathed deceit.”

The Lost OnesIn 1917 Stella Marchem returns from nursing in the Great War, traumatised and having to come to terms with the horrific loss of her childhood sweetheart and fiancé. Steeped in a deep depression, Stella is given the mission of attending to her lonely and newly pregnant sister, Madeline, who currently lives with her mother-in-law and a handful of servants in an oppressive and chilling country manor. And so off she sets with her maid, Annie Burrows; a young girl who makes everyone around her nervous and who seems to on the knife edge of madness. But Madeline is facing more than simple loneliness; from running footsteps to sudden chills; misplaced items and sobbing in the night. Is it hormonal hysteria, or is there something more sinister at work?

Written with a similar depth to classic gothic fiction and horror such as Rebecca, the Haunting of Hill House and The Woman in Black, Anita Frank has woven together a terrifying and nerve wracking tale which warrants becoming an instant classic of the genre.

The first half ratchets up the tension unbearably; I genuinely found myself with goosebumps and nervous to go into unlit rooms, before unravelling its macabre revelations. It creates a tangibly unsettling atmosphere which, even with a satisfying ending, stays with you long after the book closes.the-lost-ones-back.jpg

Stella is a capable and defiant heroine, driven by her love of her sister and those that she’s lost, and despite her misgivings and fear she never once succumbs to damselhood. Annie is intriguing and engaging as she awakens to her gifts and begins to accept who she is. In fact the entire story is driven by strong female characters, be they overbearing, hopeful, cynical or psychopathic.

The male characters are generally misogynistic as they sneeringly try to force the women back into their societally approved boxes, and inevitably fail.

Chilling and terrifying this had me gripped from the start to the end and I’ll be recommending it to everyone for some time to come.

Appropriately enough The Lost Ones is out on 31st October.

Dark Designs – Book Review

Dark Designs by Stefan Petrucha

It’s 2005 and Captain America has finally gotten some semblance of a life back, but following routine tests after a mission, it’s discovered that within his body Cap carries an extinction level virus. Why it’s not currently active, and what might trigger it is anyone’s guess, but to protect humanity Rogers has to head back to the deep freeze until a cure can be found.

captain-america.jpgHowever, old nemesis Red Skull is back, in a body cloned from Captain America himself, so he also carries the virus, except that he has become symptomatic. Knowing the end is insight, and without the selfless gene that is sending Rogers into cryogenic sleep, Red Skull sets about fulfilling his bucket list; specifically ending Captain America, with the aid of some hidden old Nazi Tech. Can Rogers fight off giant killer Nazi robots and a psychopathic enemy with a bug that makes Ebola look like a cold all while he’s technically in quarantine?

What follows is a rollicking good adventure which explores the extremes of Steve’s moral code, and what sets him apart from other heroes. Philosophical questions are thrown into the mix like challenges which Steve side steps with ease.

What’s really interesting however is that aside from Steve and red skull there is a second good/evil battle going on that you won’t even spot. The real villain of the piece is signposted quite early on, and you’ll see them coming, as you’re meant to, but the real hero of the piece is a genuine surprise which you won’t realise until the epilogue, and in true hero form it’s one which you’ve been underestimating all along.

A good addition to the Marvel novel universe. Not quite as intriguing as the stand alone Thanos title which was released earlier this year, but definitely worth a read.

Thanks to @titanbooks for the review copy in exchange for an honest review. Dark Designs is out tomorrow (15 October 2019)