The Shut Eye – Belinda Bauer

Posted in Crime Thriller on April 11th, 2015 by admin – 2 Comments

Pub Date March 12th 2015

Five footprints are the only sign that Daniel Buck was ever here.

 And now they are all his mother has left.

 Every day, Anna Buck guards the little prints in the cement. Polishing them to a shine. Keeping them safe. Spiralling towards insanity.

 When a psychic offers hope, Anna grasps it. Who wouldn’t? Maybe he can tell her what happened to her son…

 But is this man what he claims to be? Is he a visionary? A shut eye? Or a cruel fake, preying on the vulnerable?

 Or is he something far, far worse?

 

“So I write crime, but really I just write people” writes Belinda Bauer on her website and this sums up her novels perfectly and explains why I enjoy her novels so much.

Set in suburban London in 2000, The Shut Eye focuses on the disappearances of two young children and we re-encounter DCI John Marvel, the detective who featured in Darkside set in 2011. In this earlier incarnation we see Marvel as the same, sullen, thoroughly disagreeable character who treats his colleagues with derision and disrespect but his one saving grace is his determination not to give up on young Edie Evans who vanished a year before. There might be a connection with the recent disappearance of two year old Daniel Buck but his mother Anna is quite literally mad with grief and is seen as more hindrance than help.

The Shut Eye of the title refers to a term used by psychics to describe those who firmly believe they have psychic powers. Enter Richard Latham, local psychic who failed to help in the Edie Evans investigation but might still be of use to Anna Buck. This psychic element might prove unpalatable for some readers but it isn’t the main crux of the novel – the key is in the varied and fascinating line up of characters provided by Bauer. She is simply brilliant at creating credible, complex characters from the distraught mother to the dodgy garage proprietor, from the quietly confident policewoman to Marvel’s saint of a girlfriend. Added to the mix, is a layer of dark humour cleverly woven through the plot so it’s not all doom and gloom.

A compelling read which kept me gripped from start to finish. Highly recommended.

My thanks to NetGalley and Transworld for allowing me a digital copy for review purposes.

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Front Lines (Soldier Girl #1) – Michael Grant

Posted in American Fiction, WWII, YA Fiction on April 9th, 2016 by admin – Be the first to comment

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Michael Grant has written over 150 books, most of them co-authored with his wife Katherine Applegate but Front Lines is my first experience of his writing – I now can’t wait to investigate his other novels, I might be gone some time! His latest novel is set in the mid 1940s and it is an alternate history of America’s involvement in World War 2, with females being sent to the front lines for the first time.

An anonymous narrator relates the stories of three American recruits who hail from very different backgrounds – Rio Richlin, a farmer’s daughter from California, Frangie Marr from Tulsa who faces a double dose of discrimination as a result of her gender and skin colour and Rainy Schulterman, intellectual Jewish New Yorker. I was pleased that there wasn’t too much romance and more of a focus on the realities of life in the army and how these teenagers, both male and female, struggle to adjust to life at the front. It was also refreshing to hear the stories of soldiers involved in North African operations, a location often overlooked in YA novels about World War II.

Michael Grant doesn’t hold back in his presentation of the brutality of warfare so those of a nervous disposition might be traumatised by the graphic detail. I can’t wait for the next in the series to see how army life continues to mould the characters’ personalities, for better and for worse.

An intelligent, fast paced opening to an exciting new series with extremely engaging characters. Highly recommended for older teens and even young at heart adults!

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Tastes Like Fear (DI Marnie Rome #3) – Sarah Hilary

Posted in Crime Thriller, Police Procedural, Thriller on April 7th, 2016 by admin – Be the first to comment

 

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Tastes Like Fear is the third book in the excellent DI Marnie Rome series and it held me in its vice like grip from start to finish. Sarah Hilary goes from strength to strength in this series with realistic gritty storylines and complex, engaging characters.

 

In her latest book she takes on the topic of the homeless, specifically homeless young teens striving to survive in the harsh and grimy underbelly of London. These kids are missing, both literally and metaphorically as most of society manage to ignore their plight. However, it’s hard to ignore them when they are forced into the public eye, but when it is too late, when they’ve been murdered.

 

Although this works as a standalone novel, I would recommend reading the previous two books in the series beforehand as you will have a greater appreciation of the development of the main characters and their back stories especially Marnie’s relationship with her stepbrother Stephen and also the background of her sidekick DS Noah Tate and his brother Sol.

 

This is a pacy, compelling thriller with equal focus on complex characterisation and a plot line which will keep you guessing until the bitter end. Highly recommended.

Tastes Like Fear is published by Headline in the UK and the US on 7th April 2016.

My thanks to Netgalley, Headline and Sarah Hilary for allowing me to read and review an ARC.

 

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The House at the Edge of Night – Catherine Banner

Posted in Debut Novel, Historical Fiction on March 16th, 2016 by admin – Be the first to comment

Publication Date – 19th May 2016

Publisher – Hutchinson

480 pages

Spanning almost 95 years, The House at the Edge of  Night is a vivid, absorbing family saga with the emphasis on great storytelling. Indeed, one of the main characters is described as a collector of stories and there are frequent references to and extracts from Italo Calvino’s wonderful collection of Italian folktales so you sense the author’s respect for storytelling tradition.

This is the story of four generations of the Esposito family as well as the stories of their friends and neighbours on the remote island of Castellmare, off the coast of Sicily. There is a great warmth to the writing and you feel fully engaged by the characters, from the convivial local priest, Father Ignazio to the supercilious Conte to the blind widow, Gesuina. Even though Castellmare is physically isolated from the mainland it cannot indefinitely prevent the outside world from impinging on their daily lives – war, technology and the banking crisis all take their toll.

I found it very difficult to tear myself away from this compelling story of island life and I read it in a couple of sittings. If you enjoyed Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Island, you will be charmed by this epic tale of stoical folk. Highly recommended.

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The Finding of Martha Lost – Caroline Wallace

Posted in Books about Books, Literary Prizes on March 10th, 2016 by admin – Be the first to comment

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Publication Date – 10th March 2016

Publisher – Doubleday

The Finding of Martha Lost is a glorious, glittering kaleidoscope of a novel with vivid, magical characters popping into view with each turn of the page. In this tale of objects, feelings and relationships lost and found, there is the most beautiful backdrop of characters who wouldn’t look out of place in the Commedia dell’Arte with Martha Lost making an excellent Columbine/Pierrette or perhaps, in more modern times a scatty Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday.

So, where is the exotic setting for all this magical mayhem – why, Lime Street Station, Liverpool of course! Under the grime and the soot, there’s a world of humour and whimsy but not without its undercurrent of sadness. Martha’s Mother with a most definite capital M, ensures that Martha remains tied to the station, like the Liver Birds chained to the Royal Liver Building.

Caroline Wallace’s novel is a veritable smorgasbord with lots to delight the reader – The Beatles, a Roman Soldier on the 17.37 from Chester, lemon drizzle cake, the Heatwave of 1976 and last but not least Kevin Keegan who may have tugged on my heartstrings in the mid 70s with his curly locks…

I like to conclude reviews by stating similarities between the book in question and others but Caroline Wallace’s novels defy categorisation. In the immortal words of Dana, this really is “all kinds of everything”.

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At the Edge of the Orchard – Tracy Chevalier

Posted in American Fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction on March 3rd, 2016 by admin – Be the first to comment

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Publisher – Penguin Group – Viking

Publication Date – 15th March 2016

In her latest novel, Tracy Chevalier returns to Ohio, the setting of The Last Runaway, except this story is not about quilts but trees,  from the humble apple tree to the majestic sequoia.

The story begins in 1838, with Sadie and James Goodenough literally stuck in the mud in the Black Swamp, Ohio where they hope to stake their claim by growing an apple orchard.  It is a truly bleak, inhospitable environment with bitter winters and the summer swamp fever ruthlessly claiming so many lives year in year out.  James and Sadie are passionate pioneers but unfortunately their passions collide with devastating consequences – James with his devotion to his beloved sweet apples and Sadie with her lust for applejack, the strong liquor made from the inedible “spitter” apples.

As well as this desolate Ohioan setting, we experience the excitement and wonder of Gold Rush California when, Robert, the Goodenoughs’ youngest son heads West but don’t expect a sudden reversal of fortune for the Goodenough offspring!

This is a story about family, sacrifice, determination and the need to set down roots.  There aren’t a lot of laughs but then the pioneers didn’t have an easy time of it.   As in other Chevalier novels, there’s an impressive amount of research with the inclusion of real-life historical figures and wonderful attention to detail. The characters are flawed and not very likeable but all the more compelling as a result.

Yes, this is a grim tale but amid the doom and gloom there is the tiniest glimmer of hope – a sense that those sequoia seedlings might take root and begin anew.

My thanks to Penguin Viking and Net Galley for providing a digital copy of this novel for review purposes.

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Twenty Questions for Gloria – Martyn Bedford

Posted in Proofs, YA Fiction on February 23rd, 2016 by admin – Be the first to comment

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Publisher – Walker Books

UK Publication Date – 4th February 2016

Aimed at young readers aged 14 and over, this new novel from Martyn Bedford is less high-octane thriller and more a sensitively written, contemplative account of the trials and tribulations of teenage life.

Gloria is sick and tired of her mundane life, each day blending into the other but along comes Uman, this exotic creature whose clothes, vocabulary and general demeanour are unlike anything she’s experienced before.  He’s a breath of fresh air, no, make that a hurricane and Gloria lets herself get swept away without any thought of the consequences.

This novel makes a refreshing change from all the “noisier” YA  fiction currently on the market.   It is a clever, compelling story with fully realised characters who don’t have to wield a weapon or possess super powers in order to engage the reader.  The author skilfully recreates the uncertainties and angst of teenage years, that limbo between childhood and adulthood.

Yes, it’s a slow burner but stick with it and you’ll appreciate its warmth and emotional intelligence.

My thanks to Helen at Walker Books for providing me with a review copy of this novel.

 

About the Author

Martyn Bedford has written three YA novels, the first of which, Flip, was shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award.  He has also written five novels for adult.  Read more about the author at – www.martynbedford.com

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The Dementia Diaries – Matthew Snyman

Posted in non-fiction on February 17th, 2016 by admin – Be the first to comment

 

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Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Publication Date – 21st April 2016

Whilst this book is aimed at young folk (7-14) with its Wimpy Kid/graphic novel style, I think it would be extremely useful for people of all ages as it contains easily accessible information about the effects of all types of dementia. You don’t even have to have a relative with dementia as there will be someone in your neighbourhood with the condition and this book has a wealth of tips and advice which could really enhance the lives of those affected by dementia.

Brie, Fred, Sarah and Sam give honest accounts of what life is like for their grandparents, anecdotes which are sometimes humorous, sometimes heartbreaking. There seems to be a lot of stigma attached to dementia, just like there was/still is with cancer and depression. Any book which acts as a springboard for discussion can only be a positive move forward and it is often the case that young people are more open and less inhibited in their views than adults.

The Dementia Diaries should be in every school library. With life expectancy increasing, more and more children will experience dementia within their family circle and it really is about time we stopped considering it as something shameful to be swept under the carpet, “out of the mouth of babes” etc…. Highly recommended.

My thanks to NetGalley for providing a free digital copy for review purposes.

 

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We Are All Made of Molecules – Susin Nielsen

Posted in American Fiction, Children's Books, Proofs, YA Fiction on July 21st, 2015 by admin – Be the first to comment

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Jacqueline Wilson’s novels about “jigsaw” families were extremely popular with young teens but she has recently moved from contemporary to more historical settings. Susin Nielsen’s novel fills that gap very nicely with its lighthearted look at serious issues.
Narrated by nerdy, socially challenged Stewart and academically challenged, Queen Bee Ashley in short and snappy alternate chapters this story will appeal to young teens.Thirteen year old Stewart and fourteen year old Ashley are thrown together in a “blended” step family which Stewart imagines will be akin to paradise whereas Ashley expects the worst. It’s a predictable enough story with an unlikely hero saving the day but it has lots of humour and real heart which draws the reader in very quickly. I still giggle when I remember Ashley’s fervent desire to be “unconstipated” – an in-joke, you have to read the book to get it!An easy read which touches on some fairly heavy issues, We are all Made of Molecules will appeal to boys and girls aged 12 and over, especially those who enjoyed Wonder by R J Palacio.

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Alma Books Giveaway – The Little Prince

Posted in Children's Books, Giveaway on July 18th, 2015 by admin – 31 Comments

The Little Prince

Giveaway now closed et voici les résultats!  Douze points pour Rhi P and Angi Holden.  Félicitations!  Alma Books will send the books directly to you within the next few weeks…at which stage I will hopefully be gazing over the rooftops of Paris.

This year Alma Books has branched out by venturing into the realm of Children’s and YA Fiction.  Soon you will have the “pleasure”  of reading my review of  Madame Tussaud’s Apprentice, one of the frontrunners in the YA stable but, to keep you going in the meantime, I am delighted to give my UK readers the opportunity to win a copy of a new translation of The Little Prince.  Targeted at ages 7-11, this edition will appeal to dreamers of all ages…if I could I would enter!

So allons-y with le nitty gritty ( I can actually speak French, as some of you know..)

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Having crash-landed in the Sahara desert, a pilot comes across a young boy who introduces himself as the “Little Prince” and tells him the story of how he grew up on a tiny asteroid before travelling across the galaxies and coming to Earth. His encounters and discoveries, seen through childlike, innocent eyes, give rise to candid reflections on life and human nature.First published in 1943 and featuring the author’s own watercolour illustrations, The Little Prince has since become a classic philosophical fable for young and old, as well as a global publishing phenomenon, selling tens of millions of copies worldwide and being translated into dozens of languages.

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“A saint in short, true to his name, flying up here at the right hand of God… And he was not the only one. He was merely the one who put it into words most beautifully and anointed himself before the altar of the right stuff.” Tom Wolfe

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Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900–44) was a French writer and aviator, who disappeared on a reconnaissance mission during the Second World War. The author of several memoirs about flying, he is best remembered today for the novella The Little Prince.

 

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The Truth According to Us – Annie Barrows

Posted in American Fiction on June 29th, 2015 by admin – 1 Comment

West Virginia, Summer 1938.  Senator’s daughter, Layla Beck, has been tasked with compiling a short history of the small town of Macedonia which is celebrating its 150th anniversary.  It’s not exactly a labour of  love but rather a punishment meted out by her father for her failure to toe the family line.  Designed to support struggling, impoverished writers, teachers and historians during the Great Depression, the Federal Writers Project is not a good fit for Layla who finds herself flung into an alien world, lodging with the Romeyn family.

With a variety of narrative styles, from 12 year old Willa Romeyn, her maiden aunt Jottie and correspondence between Layla and her family, the scene is set for a mystery to unfold and small town secrets to spill.

I’m an avowed fan of well written fiction set in smalltown America as it usually serves up a delightful array of local characters with distinctive quirks and traits.  Macedonia is no exception, with its pretentious local gentility keen to influence Layla and rewrite history.  By contrast, the Romeyns seem more down to earth but there seems to have been some editing re their past also.

Never fear, young Willa is on the case and she is determined to grow closer to her errant father, Felix, by discovering what he actually does during his long absences from home.  She is a really likeable, feisty, intelligent girl, fiercely protective of her unconventional family.  Her aunt Jottie is the cornerstone of the family – indeed most of the female characters out-shadow their hapless menfolk!

The sweltering summer heat echoes the oppressive nature of this small  town where everyone knows, or thinks they know, your business.   The storytelling, the characterisation, the ambiance are exceptional and reminiscent of another of my favourite authors, Fannie Flagg.   It’s a coming of age story, a story about family ties, secrets and lies and how they come back to haunt you.

This is Annie Barrow flying solo and I think most readers will be very pleasantly surprised by the experience.

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