Posts Tagged ‘Contemporary Fiction’

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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600 Hours of Edward – Craig Lancaster

Posted in American Fiction, Contemporary Fiction on August 8th, 2012 by admin – 9 Comments
600 Hours of Edward
Paperback, 334 pages
Expected publication: August 14th 2012 by Amazon Encore
 
Source – Amazon Vine
My Rating – 5 stars
I was initially attracted to this novel as Edward, the narrator, has Aspergers (like my son). Maybe I’m a sucker for punishment but I like to know how ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) is presented in fiction – sometimes authors hit the nail on the head e.g. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time which was equally enjoyed by my son and I, whilst others really miss the mark and one can’t help suspecting they’re using it in an effort to make their novel quirky, to give it a twist. Edward passed our stringent authenticity test and I think he will endear himself to many, many readers.

Aspergers does not define Edward but it’s part of who he is and it explains his love of facts and avoidance of ambiguity. Yes, he can be blunt, lacking diplomacy but it’s his OCD which dominates his life. He lives apart from his family and communicates with his father through a solicitor – he’d love to have a better relationship with his father but it takes two to tango. His days are structured around various “data collection” – recording his waking time, the daily weather statistics, compelled to watch old videos of the 50s/60s US police drama, Dragnet, at 10.00pm each evening without fail. He has a vast collection of letters of complaint, letters which he composes to various individuals who have slighted/offended him in some way but which remain unsent, on the advice of his therapist!

However, life is about to change for Edward who, at 39, has led a reclusive existence with very little human contact. His first experience of internet dating is an education. A new neighbour brings new opportunities for interaction. It’s not an easy transition but Edward starts to emerge from his cocoon and stamp his personality on the world.

600 Hours of Edward is an excellent debut novel with a narrator whose personality will immediately engage the reader. It made me laugh out loud at times and even sniffle a little but ultimately it left me feeling positive and optimistic.  I felt I got to know Edward and his hometown, Billings, Montana which exists in real life, including Edward’s local convenience store, Albertsons and his actual street!  If you enjoyed Heft by Liz Moore I think you will be equally enthralled by 600 Hours of Edward.

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Heft – Liz Moore

Posted in American Fiction, Contemporary Fiction on June 18th, 2012 by admin – 8 Comments

Heft

Published
03/05/2012

Publisher
Hutchinson

ISBN
9780091944209

Heft is Liz Moore’s debut novel and what a promising start to a writing career!   Told by two very different narrators, their stories meander with the reader desperately hoping that their narratives will eventually converge and reach a common goal.  In Brooklyn we have former academic, the reclusve Arthur Opp, weighing 550 pounds and confined to his home for ten years.  Not too far away, in Yonkers, 17 year old Kel Keller has similar difficulties fitting in with his peers, the odd one out in a school for rich kids.  Kel’s mother, Charlene, is the catalyst connecting their stories, hoping that Arthur (or the Arthur she remembers from long ago) can help Kel where she has failed.

Heft is a heartwarming tale which steers a clear path through an emotional minefield, never veering into over-sentimentality.  Arthur is quite matter-of-fact about his obesity and his candour is mirrored in the clear, unpretentious prose in which his tale unfolds.  There is sadness, life is never seen through rose coloured glasses yet the overall tone is one of quiet optimism, a hope that all will turn out well in the end.  Reading this novel made me think about what family means to different people, how friends and even acquaintances can make you feel much better about yourself than your blood relations.  It’s definitely a book which will provoke a wide variety of emotions and will appeal to a wide range of readers – definitely one to pass on.

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Gold – Chris Cleave

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Literary Prizes, Proofs on April 5th, 2012 by admin – 4 Comments

Published
07/06/2012

Publisher
Sceptre

My Rating – 5 gold stars!

I am not particularly interested in sport, neither as participant nor spectator so if I hadn’t been swept away by Chris Cleave’s previous writing, it is doubtful that I’d have picked up a novel with 3 Olympic cyclists as key characters.  Anyone who passes over Gold for this reason is passing up on the chance of a whirlwind of a reading experience so don’t let those miserable memories of despotic PE teachers put you off and give your brain a gentle work out in the process.

So, let’s set the (Olympic..) record straight, this is not a novel about sporting superhumans, even though they are pretty impressive…we dig deep and discover what makes real people tick when faced with adversary, when illness of a loved one brings you to your knees and you’re powerless to do anything but hope that your child is one of the 9 in 10 who survive.

Gold focuses on the experiences of five main characters – 8 year old Sophie who is fighting leukaemia, her parents Jack and Kate, Olympic cyclists preparing for the London games alongside their friend/rival Zoe and trainer Tom.  All of the adults are nearing the end of their current careers and have one last shot at Olympic Gold whilst Sophie has the hardest fight of all, the battle to stay alive whilst undergoing aggressive treatment which lowers your defences even further.  She uses her imagination and love of Star Wars to harness the Jedi force – anything which encourages a fighting spirit and a positive attitude is going to aid her in the ultimate battle – to stay alive.

From the opening pages, I was fully engaged and committed to this story.  Cleave doesn’t pull on our heartstrings by thrusting sugary-sweet, put upon characters on the reader, they’re all flawed, fully fleshed and make the same mistakes as the rest of us mere mortals.  Sophie’s story is presented in gritty technicolour – there’s no soft focus when she experiences the side effects of chemo or as her last hair falls out.  Kate and Zoe have diametrically opposed public personas when it comes to the media – Kate is the people’s princess,  Zoe, the wicked witch with a touch of glam.  I loved how we are drip-fed snippets of their back stories to explain how they are what they are in the present day.  Tom the trainer has made these cyclists his focus and his family for so many years but now he has to acknowledge the ravages of time and take another path, one which will put less stress on his dodgy knees. Jack seems to be slightly at a loss, a bit piggy in the middle at times.

I was most pleasantly surprised by Gold – my only criticism is to do with the marketing of the novel rather than the novel itself.  The whole device in the blurb about how this is where we normally tell you what the book is about  but we’re not going to tell you because you don’t really need to know.  For goodness sake, tell them what it’s about and stop the superior self-importance. 

Gold is probably the closest I’m going to get to the Olympics but, more importantly, if we all had an ounce of the fighting spirit displayed by young cancer patients like Sophie, we’d all be winners.  Thank you Mr Cleave for a story well told.

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Signs of Life – Anna Raverat

Posted in Contemporary Fiction on February 24th, 2012 by admin – 4 Comments

Signs of Life

Published
12/04/2012

Publisher
Picador

Signs of Life by Anna Raverat is one of Waterstones’ 11 for 2012, their list of highly recommended debut novels.  Last year’s picks included The Tiger’s Wife (Orange Prizewinner) and Pigeon English (Man Booker shortlist) so does this bode well for Ms Raverat’s first novel?

Well, I loved Signs of Life and I think it must be acknowledged that it is an extremely brave debut novel given that its narrator, Rachel, is extremely unlikeable.  It’s not that she’s been involved in war crimes or cruelty  to animals, quite the opposite as she “appears” to be a bit of a flake, self-obsessed, drifting along and letting others carry the can while she continues sitting at her desk navel-gazing.  Not sounding awfully exciting so far…

What I did find fascinating though was the way in which Rachel gradually releases her history to us, strand by strand and what a tangled web she weaves.  Ten years ago she had an affair with disastrous consequences and we won’t get to the crux of the whole “affair” until she has sorted through all the other events in a stream of consciousness style, flitting from past to present, from mundane to deathly serious.

She controls what the reader knows whilst claiming to have been used as a pawn and throughout the novel I found her quite unnerving on a par with Barbara from Notes on a Scandal, another obnoxious yet fascinating character.  She wants to be honest but she frequently alludes to the fact that honesty and truth are impossible to achieve.

If you are enthralled by unlikeable, unreliable narrators and you don’t mind being manipulated and dangled on a string, then you will be captivated by this tense, edgy novel – an excellent debut.

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The Bellwether Revivals – Benjamin Wood

Posted in Contemporary Fiction on January 21st, 2012 by admin – 6 Comments

The Bellwether Revivals

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd (2 Feb 2012)
  • I was drawn to this like a moth to the light – I can’t resist novels set in academic environments with quirky, over-privileged characters who I’d be tempted to throttle in real life.  It’s always a bonus if this elite group assimilates someone from a lower class, hoping to mould him in their own image.  Brideshead Revisited and The Secret History rank amongst my all-time favourite reads so The Bellwether Revivals should be a shoo-in….but is it strong enough to forge its own path or is it just a readable homage?

    I’m delighted to report that The Bellwether Revivals is a very distinctive, debut novel with its own identity and power.  Oscar Lowe, a young Care Assistant, finds himself drawn into another world when he meets and becomes romantically involved with Iris Bellwether, an undergraduate at Cambridge.  It is the hypnotic organ playing of Iris’s enigmatic brother Eden which draws Oscar into a church and acts as the catalyst for a series of disturbing events.

    The characterisation is superb – you feel like you’re right beside Oscar, meeting Eden for the first time, being magnetically drawn to this rangy, curly haired, eccentric/mad creature who thinks he can heal via the medium of music.   Eden’s friends and family feel compelled to protect him but is he merely a tad idiosyncratic or a real danger to himself and others?  Iris is torn between loyalty to her brother and her burgeoning romance with Oscar.  Mater and Pater live in splendid isolation, with only a vague interest in their children, as long as their grades are good.

    From the very first page I was drawn into the compelling and, at times, unnerving world of the Bellwethers.  The opening will hook you as we begin with an ending and you really have to find out how we get there.  An excellent debut novel which will appeal to fans of Brideshead, The Secret History and The Lessons by Naomi Alderman.  I can’t wait to see what this talented author comes out with next.

    My thanks to Net Galley for sending me this ARC.

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    Lone Wolf – Jodi Picoult

    Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Proofs on December 31st, 2011 by admin – 2 Comments
  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (28 Feb 2012)
  • Jodi Picoult applies her tried and trusted formula again in “Lone Wolf” and I think most of her fans will be satisfied with the result. As in her previous novels, multiple narrators become embroiled in a moral dilemma with a bit of courtroom action thrown in for good measure. However, this time there’s a slight twist to the formula.

    Luke Warren, more at home in a wolf pack than with his own family, is comatose following a road accident. His fate will be decided by one of his children – either Cara who hopes he’ll make a miraculous recovery or Edward who is more in favour of pulling the plug, literally… Whilst various characters take turns in this dance of ethics, we also hear Luke’s voice through his recollections of his experiences with wolves. It soon becomes clear that Luke’s priorities lie very firmly with his lupine pals. For me, it was like watching a movie in split screen where you face constant distractions – just as you feel you are getting to know one character, another one pops up or you’re back with the wolves again.

    I found the wolf sections much more compelling than the human interactions even though I felt no empathy whatsoever for Luke, a man who wants to have his cake and eat it. It’s clear that Jodi has done meticulous research and she paints a fascinating portrait of the hierarchy and idiosyncrasies of a wolf pack whilst comparing them to those of a human family.

    I have really enjoyed most of Jodi Picoult’s books but this one slightly missed the mark for me. It was bound to happen sometime! All in all, an enjoyable enough read but not the strongest contender in the Picoult stable – a 3.5 star read for me.

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    The Land of Decoration – Grace McCleen

    Posted in Literary Fiction, Proofs on December 29th, 2011 by admin – 6 Comments

    The Land of Decoration

    Published
    01/03/2012

    Publisher
    Chatto & Windus

    I jumped at the chance of reading and reviewing this when it showed up on a recent Amazon Vine newsletter.   It’s a story of many parts encompassing the frequently fraught relationship between a father and his daughter set against a backdrop of manic religious fervour and the stress of  strike action with a pinch of fantasy thrown in for good measure – a heady mix indeed!

    Ten year old Judith McPherson leads a rather isolated life with her widowed father.  Their routine revolves around their strong religious conviction that the End Times are approaching fast but such faith won’t be a match for the bullies at Judith’s school – or will it?  Could  Judith’s model of the Promised Land, the Land of Decoration save her from the brutality of the real world?  Whilst Judith focuses on her own daily struggles, her father is facing his demons too as he defies the union and joins the much hated scabs.  Previously held beliefs and certainties are shaken and torn apart as the McPhersons’ lives hurtle out of control.

    There’s no doubt about it, this is an unusual novel.  At first it seems almost childlike in tone, with our young narrator Judith concoting her imaginary Promised Land out of old sweetie wrappers and cotton wool.   However, as the narrative develops, the atmosphere becomes darker and more sinister as Judith becomes more and more convinced of her miraculous powers.  It does get slightly confusing at times, spoiling the reading experience somewhat but I guess this serves to mirror Judith’s own distress and confusion of fantasy and reality

    With hints of Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges are Not the Only Fruit (the religious extremism bits!),  I found this a challenging, strangely enjoyable read and a promising debut but not quite the miraculous masterpiece the blurb would have you believe.

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    Me Before You – Jojo Moyes

    Posted in Contemporary Fiction on November 16th, 2011 by admin – Be the first to comment

     

    Me Before You

    Jojo Moyes’ latest novel (to be published January 2012) tackles some very difficult issues yet makes them more approachable in this extremely readable love story.  Lou Clark, still in her mid twenties, is stuck in a rut, submerged in small-town life.  Will Traynor, after a high-flying life in the City, is confined to his wheelchair, feeling left without choices…. except, perhaps,  the choice to take his own life.  These two engaging characters are thrown together and what follows is the story of their 6 eventful months together.

    What could have been a maudlin story is instead an uplifting hymn to life and the choices we make.  I felt drawn into the lives of all the characters, Lou with her madcap, eclectic style, her family, her sport-addict boyfriend, even the dysfunctional neighbours!  Will’s family have a much more privileged life but no amount of money can ease their trauma after Will’s accident.  Yet, there is lots of humour here too and you get the feeling the author really likes and understands her characters.

    No judgements are made and the result is a compulsive, thought-provoking read, a really believable love story with vivid characters.  Jojo Moyes is clearly one of our most diverse authors, I can’t wait to see what she has in store for us next.

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    Don’t Let Me Go – Catherine Ryan Hyde

    Posted in American Fiction, Contemporary Fiction on October 12th, 2011 by admin – 1 Comment

    Don’t Let Me Go is set in LA, where 10 year old Grace lives with her drug addict mum in a run down area.  The inhabitants of her appartment block are folk who keep themselves to themselves, not wishing to engage in a neighbourly way (par for the course these days!).  When Grace is in danger of being taken into care, she decides to enlist the help of this motley crew to get her mum clean but how can she break down emotional barriers which her neighbours have taken a lifetime to build?

    This book really surprised me as I initially thought I’d find it too saccharine – lilac coloured covers tend to influence me, in a negative way!   I also thought that Grace would be an overbearing, irritating character who would drive me mad.  So much for first impressions….within a few pages, I was hooked and dragged headfirst into the story.  Each and every character is fully fleshed and each one has their own foibles and flaws, just like the rest of us.  It’s more than the story of Grace and her crusade, it’s about their own personal battles.  Billy Shine, reclusive on a par with Howard Hughes, gradually emerges from his shell.   Rayleen, who has had her own history with child protection, knows that she and her neighbours are Grace’s last hope but it won’t be an easy ride.

    Don’t Let Me Go is an extremely readable, colourful, feel-good tale which will give you a warm, fuzzy feeling inside without overdosing on the twee factor.  A perfect antidote to the dark Autumn evenings!

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