Tag Archives: novel

Book review: Allegiant

Allegiant by Veronica Roth 12-2-14This tone of this book, the third in the story about Tris Prior, is different. Influential in this, I think, is the point-of-view which is split for the first time: between Tris and Tobias [Four]. Getting a male perspective is interesting, and I guess Veronica Roth took this approach to add more tension to the storytelling. It certainly highlights the lack of communication between the two. But at times, I lost track of whose thoughts I was reading: not a good sign.

The book is full of strong female characters, but not strong in a good way. Evelyn, head of the factionless; Edith Prior, Tris’s ancestor, whose mystery hangs over this third book. The world Tris knew in Divergent and Insurgent has been shattered by violence so she and Tobias set out, beyond the fence to find a new world. Except this is a book, so the new world is not going to be green fields. It is going to be violent and unequal too.

Unfortunately this reads to me like an author struggling to string her story idea out across three books, because publishers like publishing YA trilogies and Hollywood likes making film trilogies for teens. Allegiant could have done with some serious editing and sharpening-up. A disappointing book.

The first in the trilogy is Divergent, click here to read my review
… and the second is Insurgent, click here to read my review
Listen to an excerpt from the audio book of Allegiant here
Watch Veronica Roth interviewed by The Guardian here about Allegiant
‘Allegiant’ by Veronica Roth

Book review: Eeny Meeny

Eeny Meeny by MJ Arlidge 23-2-14.jpgMJ Arlidge has worked in television, most recently producing crime serials for ITV, and so it is no surprise that this is an accomplished debut crime novel. I found it disturbing from chapter one which takes you straight into the head of one person, looking at another person sleeping, wondering how to kill him. For one to escape their prison, the other must die. They have been imprisoned with a loaded gun and a message on a mobile phone: ‘when one of you kills the other, the survivor will walk free’.

For Detective Inspector Helen Grace, this first case of murder is quickly followed by another kidnapping/murder, and another. Hiding her own demons beneath a veneer of efficiency and emotional self-sufficiency, Grace is out-stepped again and again by a killer who seems a master of disguise as well as being that most rare of things: a female serial killer. Grace fits the profile of a modern literary detective: a loner, with a troubled past and full of guilt. The investigation seems to twist and turn in on itself, turning attention on the police, and on Grace herself. I found myself rooting for her, until finally at the end we understand her guilt. I look forward to reading another novel about DI Helen Grace.
‘Eeny Meeny’ by MJ Arlidge [published May 8th, 2014 by Penguin UK]

Book review: The Accident

the accident by CL Taylor - book cover 9-4-14This is the story of an abusive relationship, an accident and a mental breakdown. The action takes place in 1990-1992 and the present day. The tension winds up in both strands so you don’t want to put down the book. I found myself picking up my Kindle every spare five minutes, just to read a few more pages. There is a sense of expectant horror, ‘surely that’s not going to happen’, ‘surely she’s not going to do this, or that’.

Charlotte, the fifteen year old daughter of Sue and Brian Jackson, is in a coma. Apparently she stepped off the pavement in front of a bus. As Sue and Brian sit by their daughter’s hospital bed, they disagree about what happened. Brian thinks it’s an accident, Sue worries Charlotte had some sort of problem she couldn’t discuss with her parents. And so begins the re-telling of Sue’s dark past, about the demons she struggles with, and the determination she has to fight the past interfering with her present life. The unravelling of the truth puts pressure on the Jacksons’ marriage and Sue’s sanity. The two parents deal with the tragedy in their own way and Sue, emotionally vulnerable, starts to imagine all sorts of scenarios.

From the first page, the pace is fast. “Coma. There’s something innocuous about the word, soothing almost in the way it conjures up the image of a dreamless sleep. Only Charlotte doesn’t look as though she’s sleeping to me.” It is every parent’s nightmare: an accident, a coma. But Sue must unravel the mystery without any help from Charlotte.
‘The Accident’ by CL Taylor [published April 10 by Avon]

To watch the book trailer for The Accident at You Tube, click here
Click here to visit CL Taylor’s website

[photo: cltaylorauthor.com]

[photo: cltaylorauthor.com]

Book review: Holes

holes by louis sachar 12-12-13This book has been sitting on my shelf forever but I picked it up this week when I exhausted my Kindle’s battery. How lovely to hold an actual book again. I know this is a book for tweens, but I’d heard such good things about it that I wanted to see for myself. I loved the premise: that Stanley is wrongly found guilty of stealing a pair of trainers and is sent to a juvenile correction camp where the punishment is to dig a hole a day. Five feet deep and five feet wide. Every day. It is supposed to be character-building, but Stanley thinks there is another agenda.

“There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. There once was a very large lake here, the largest lake in Texas. That was over a hundred years ago. Now it is just a dry, flat wasteland.”

It is a story about finding out who you are, standing up to bullies and finding your bravery.

“Out on the lake, rattlesnakes and scorpions find shade under rocks and in the holes dug by the campers.”

Woven in with the day-to-day tale of hole-digging is the background to Stanley’s unlucky family; unluckiness blamed on his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather. Stanley is a kind of every-boy, who helps a boy worse off than himself and ends up challenging the system.  And Sachar ties up the loose-ends brilliantly.

Not just for kids.

Click here to hear Louis Sachar talk about the book and how he chose the characters’ names.
Click here to watch the movie trailer, starring Shia LaBeouf as Stanley.
‘Holes’ by Louis Sachar

Book review: All the Birds, Singing

This is a story about secrets, now, in the past, in Australia, in England. The opening is shocking, a mutilated sheep, no description spared. Jack Whyte, a man’s name but a female character, feels threatened, fears the attack on the sheep is meant as a message for her.

And from here the rollercoaster starts, as we follow Jack’s current grey existence with her sheep, somewhere anonymous in England, and a dog called Dog. This story is told in alternating chapters, switching between England now, and Australia then. The story in the present goes forward, in linear time, normal time. Jack’s back story in Australia, the reasons she is where she is, is told backwards. This seemed strange to start with, but the author handles this structure elegantly and it suits the sinister tone. I didn’t guess Jack’s secret, didn’t know how it would all end.

There is a deep sense of foreboding throughout this book. Something happened: Jack is running from something, from someone, but what?  Are local children in England attacking her sheep, or is there a huge animal which roams at night? Why does she shun the locals? Why is she in England, so far from home? And is it all in her head? Should we believe her fears?

She has come from a hard world in Australia, a man’s world of sheep stations, sheep shearing, where she is the only woman, she does press-ups and has biceps to rival the men she works alongside. It feels as if she is trapped by her situation, by her life, by the sinister men which she seems to attract. At one point in Australia she moves the animals’ pen onto some thin grass so the pathetic sheep can eat “but they just stand there, a silent little group, I try to move them about, but they’re not scared of me. Resigned is what they are, and I tell them, ‘You can move around if you want to,’ waving my arms and jumping about, but they just sway a little in the hot fly air.” For a while, Jake acts like these sheep; staying where she is, swaying in the heat. But the reader knows she is in England now, so she must have run: when, where, why?

In England a neighbour advises her to go to the pub once in a while, get to know the other farmers. Don says:  “Some things you just can’t do on your own… That’s why farmers need to know each other, you help them, they help you, that’s just how it goes… because sooner or later I’m going to hit the post and be dead and then what’ll you do? Starve to death I suppose.” Yes, I believed she would rather starve.
all the birds, singing by evie wyld 21-1-14

‘All the Birds, Singing’ by Evie Wyld

Book review: Divergent

Divergent by veronica roth - photo veronicarothbooks.blogspot.co.uk 3-12-13I wonder what percentage of Young Adult [YA] fiction currently published features a dystopian world. Are our teens so disenchanted with their own real world that they only want to read fantasy? Certainly Suzanne Collins and Stephanie Meyer have a lot of responsibility for this, their two series have dominated the bookshelves and cinema screens for the last six years. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the feistiness of Katniss, though I was not so keen on Bella who was a bit too sulky for me.

So to Divergent, a book that had passed me by until I read online reviews, reviews which prompted my Kindle purchase of the trilogy. The story is set in a city which was once Chicago where every citizen belongs to one of five factions. Each faction represents a human virtue: Candor [honesty], Amity [kindness], Dauntless [fearlessness], Abnegation [selflessness], Erudite [searching for knowledge]. At 16, teenagers are assessed for their affinity to the factions and can choose the faction they will be for the rest of their life. Anyone whose test results are inconclusive is labelled ‘divergent’. Tris, the protagonist, is divergent. This is her story and is the first of a trilogy. The film of Divergent is due out in the UK in April 2014 starring Kate Winslet as the leader of the Erudite faction. The film of book two, Insurgent, will follow in 2015.

The key thing I did like about Divergent:-

… Tris embraces her non-conformity. She is brave enough to be true to herself even though at times she is not sure what that is. She learns to be suspicious of labels, not to pre-judge people.

But there were quite a few things I didn’t like about Divergent:-

… the factions are cliches;

… the fearlessness of the Dauntless verges on stupidity, danger for the sake of it. It is that particular computer-game type of violence that doesn’t hurt on the page but would seriously damage/kill you if you tried it in real life;

… the characters are under-developed, none of the depth here of The Hunger Games.

… the story is predictable, I’d worked out the ending before I got there.

That said, I bought the trilogy so will read books two and three. Don’t mis-understand me, it’s not that I didn’t enjoy these books but just that they seem superficial in comparison with The Hunger Games, every page of which gives you the sense of the deep back story.
‘Divergent’ by Veronica Roth

Great opening paragraph…33

julian barnes - the sense of an ending 30-4-13“I remember, in no particular order:
– a shiny inner wrist;
– steam rising from a wet sink as a hot frying pan is laughingly tossed into it;
– gouts of sperm circling a plughole before being sluiced own the full length of a tall house;
– a river rushing nonsensically upstream, its wave and wash lit by half a dozen chasing torchbeams;
– another river, broad and grey, the direction of its flow disguised by a stiff wind exciting the surface;
– bathwater long gone cold behind a locked door.
This last isn’t something I actually saw, but what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.”
‘The Sense of an Ending’ by Julian Barnes

Book Review: ‘The Little House’

philippa gregory - the little house 23-7-13Ruth’s story starts with Sunday lunch at the in-laws and builds slowly, pulling you in relentlessly until you can’t put the book down. It is deceptive in its simplicity, at various points in the story I found myself thinking ‘but they couldn’t do that’ or ‘that would never happen.’ But it does and you believe it. The denouement is startling. This is very different from Gregory’s historical novels but shares the same aspects of a pageturner: you simply want to know what happens next.
‘The Little House’ by Philippa Gregory

Great opening paragraph…32

john McGahern - that they may face the rising sun 10-6-13“The morning was clear. There was no wind on the lake. There was also a great stillness. When the bells rang out for Mass, the strokes trembling on the water, they had the entire world to themselves.”
‘That They May Face the Rising Sun’ by John McGahern

Book Review: ‘The Man Who Disappeared’

clare morrall - the man who disappeared 30-7-13Felix Kendall longs for a family, as a boy he lost his own. From the first page where Felix stands in a dark street watching a family illuminated in their dining room, curtains open, you know Felix must be the ‘man who disappeared’ but you don’t know why. The characters are believable and the pages turn quickly as we follow the stories of Felix, his wife Kate, son Rory and daughter Millie as they come to terms with what has happened. I expected this to be a slow indulgent read, lyrical, beautifully written, which it is, but I raced through it in the way I am accustomed to do with thrillers. Clare Morrall is one of my favourite authors, I’ve been a fan since her first book Astonishing Splashes of Colour was shortlisted for the Booker.
‘The Man Who Disappeared’ by Clare Morrall