Book Review

Book Review: Far From You by Tess Sharpe.

FarFromYouNine months. Two weeks. Six days.

That’s how long recovering addict Sophie’s been drug-free. Four months ago her best friend, Mina, died in what everyone believes was a drug deal gone wrong – a deal they think Sophie set up. Only Sophie knows the truth. She and Mina shared a secret, but there was no drug deal. Mina was deliberately murdered.

Forced into rehab for an addiction she’d already beaten, Sophie’s finally out and on the trail of the killer – but can she track them down before they come for her?

I was drawn to this book first by that gorgeous cover and then by the blurb. When it first came out the reviews were glowing, and in the months since I’ve seen it brought up in many conversations about publishing, diversity in publishing and just really good YA releases of 2014. I must admit that I was a little apprehensive when I started to read, I always am when I’m picking up a much loved book, what if I was the one person who didn’t like it? I think I got about 2 or 3 chapters in to the book and realised I was already hooked, I took a brief pause to sigh with relief and then carried on reading. I only stopped reading twice, both times to refill my coffee mug!

The book has two narrative threads told in alternating chapters. There is the current timeline, beginning with Sophie’s release from rehab, and there is a flashback timeline that dances forwards and backwards over the previous few years adding detail and necessary history to all of the current goings on. This structure worked really well, both aspects of the story were equally strong. The thriller aspect of Sophie trying to investigate Mina’s murder plays out well, I didn’t suspect the eventual culprit but it felt like a believable outcome to me.

I liked Sophie from the outset. I found that I had an unwavering belief in what she was saying, and a real frustration with her parents who didn’t seem able to see past what others had told them. The fact they had sent her to rehab when she had not relapsed made me really sad, both for Sophie getting the lack of support she wanted and needed, and for her parents who must be in some state to be incapable of hearing the truth their daughter is telling them. I really appreciated the presence of Aunt Macy in Sophie’s life – she deserved an awesome adult who was in her corner unconditionally.

Sophie’s a well developed character, like all of the characters in the book she’s complex and messy with jagged edges and personal demons. Whilst I want to see all sorts of characters represented in fiction I have a personal investment in seeing characters who are dealing with disabilities and/or ongoing health issues. Sophie was in a car crash that nearly killed her (the first of two near death experiences in her fairly short life, the other being the catalysing event that results in Mina’s death) – she escaped with injuries affecting her leg and back, along with huge amounts of scarring. Her injuries are going to be with her for the rest of the life, she is in pain and has weakness that compromises her walking. She’s angry and bitter, and her former drug addiction is directly linked to the pain she’s in. I really appreciated how honestly Sophie’s experiences are dealt with, and the way that whilst they make up a significant part of her they aren’t the only thing about her. I also liked the way she used gardening as a therapeutic tool – this again felt very true to the character and her situation.

Whilst the book begins with Mina’s death we get to see the hole her absence has left in the lives of those closest to her, particularly her brother Trev and Sophie. She also plays a really prominent role in the flashback chapters – she was Sophie’s closest, dearest friend and played a significant part in her life. Through the strength of her presence I felt like I really got to know her, whilst not as well as I got to know Sophie still significantly more than I had expected to.

Relationships play a significant role in all aspects of this book, both romantic and platonic ones. There is an LGBT plot thread that is well executed, I don’t want to say to much about it as its brilliance is at least partly in how it plays out throughout the book. It’s not something I’ve seen played out often in YA fiction and it’s done in a really well thought out manner. There are a couple of sexual encounters – these are handled deftly, they don’t quite fade to black but are written in a careful and sensitive manner.

I love it when a book like Far From You comes along and reminds me just how brilliant realistic fiction can be. This is the kind of book that leaves you both wanting more and not wanting to go near another book for a while, instead just letting everything you’ve read sink in. I can’t recommend this book strongly enough.

Far From You is published by Indigo in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a copy of the book by the publisher all opinions expressed are my own.

Book News · Book Review

Not a Review: The Child by Sebastian Fitzek.

Every now and then a book comes along that I get really excited about, and then when I come to read it something just doesn’t click and I have to give up part way through. Sadly this is exactly what happened when it came to The Child. Rather than not cover it I thought I’d still write about it – just because it wasn’t for me doesn’t me it won’t be for you.

For starters this is no ordinary book. It’s an audiobook, produced by Audible Studios as a multi-cast recording. This appealed a lot to me, I’ve found audiobooks don’t always keep my attention but radio plays do so I thought this would be something I’d get on well with. The audio cast has some great names – Rupert Penry-Jones, Emilia Fox and Andy Serkis to name a few.

childFINAL

The synopsis:
Defence attorney Robert Stern can scarcely believe his eyes when he meets with the mysterious client who has summoned him to a godforsaken industrial park. To his astonishment, the defendant is a ten-year-old boy, a fragile child with a chronic illness who insists that he was a murderer in a former life. Robert Stern’s surprise turns into horror when he searches the cellar described by Simon and finds a human skeleton whose skull has been split by an axe.

Mystifying, thrilling and often terrifying, German author Sebastian Fitzek’s international bestseller finds a perfect medium in this multi-cast audio dramatization, featuring an all-star cast.

The trailer:
In addition to that synopsis Audible have produced a trailer to whet your appetite for the book

My experience:
My attention was grabbed immediately by this audiobook, and for the first thirty minutes or so I was hooked. Then unfortunately I started to become increasingly disturbed by the subject material and before the first hour was up I had to make the decision to stop listening. I’m usually pretty unflappable when it comes to content but this was just too strong for me. It’s hard to talk about what I didn’t like because I don’t know how spoilery it would be (if you’d like to know more specifically do please feel free to email me.)

Other experiences:
For balance I thought I’d find a couple of alternative reviews from bloggers who did listen to the whole book, it gets good write ups at both Crime Thriller Girl and Jack Croxall’s blog.

The link:
If you are interested in The Child it is available from Audible here.

Book Review

Book Review: The 100 Society by Carla Spradbery.

The100SocietyFor sixth-form student Grace Becker, The 100 Society is more than just a game; it’s an obsession. Having convinced her five friends at Clifton Academy to see it through to the end, Grace will stop at nothing to carry out the rules of the game: tagging 100 locations around the city. With each step closer to the 100-mark they get, the higher the stakes become. But when the group catches the attention of a menacing stalker – the Reaper – he seems intent on exposing their illegal game, tormenting Grace with anonymous threats and branding their dormitory doors with his ominous tag.

As the once tight-knit group slowly unravels, torn apart by doubt and the death of a student, they no longer know who to trust.

With time running out, Grace must unmask the Reaper before he destroys everything she cares about for ever…

The striking cover art for this book grabbed my attention, when I then read the blurb I thought it sounded like exactly the sort of thing I’d have picked up as a teenager. I started reading expecting a tense, twisty read – that’s exactly what I got.

This book definitely has a strong feel of the Point Horror titles I devoured as a teenager, the sinister creepiness starts early on in the book and just keeps growing. It is a fast paced read, diving into the action from the very beginning and keeping it up over the course of the book. I liked that there were some quieter, more character driven, moments – they were a good pause from the driving plot. These moments also reinforced the fact that whilst the teens in this book are dealing with this terrifying threat they’re doing it at the same time as they’re trying to navigate being teenagers and the difficulties this brings to life in general.

Grace, the lead, is a really interesting character. She’s highly driven and motivated, particularly in her bid to join The 100 Society and achieve something her highly successful older brother didn’t manage. I would have liked to get to understand Grace a little more than I did, whilst I could see how driven she was I didn’t feel like I entirely understand what was behind this. As I’m typing this I’m realising that actually I feel like this about most of the main characters, I did get to know them but would have loved to get to know them a little more deeply.

The plot twists and turns throughout the book. Very quickly I realised that everything was pointing towards one person being behind the reaper tags and unpleasantness, this made me think that it was perhaps all a little too convenient for it to fall at their feet. This meant I was then increasingly suspicious of everyone, looking at the notes I made whilst reading I managed to have almost all of the core characters in the frame at one point or another! The reveal when it comes is satisfyingly explained, it was entirely believable and the explanation behind it worked for me.

This is Carla Spradbery’s debut novel. It’s an accomplished start, I look forward to seeing her grow with each subsequent book she writes.

The 100 Society will be published by Hodder Children’s Books on 4th September. Whilst I was provided with a copy of the book by the publisher all opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Recent Reads: This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith & Little White Lies by Katie Dale.

This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith. Headline.
HappyIf fate sent you an email, would you answer?

When teenage movie star Graham Larkin accidentally sends small town girl Ellie O’Neill an email about his pet pig, the two seventeen-year-olds strike up a witty and unforgettable correspondence, discussing everything under the sun, except for their names or backgrounds.

Then Graham finds out that Ellie’s Maine hometown is the perfect location for his latest film, and he decides to take their relationship from online to in-person. But can a star as famous as Graham really start a relationship with an ordinary girl like Ellie? And why does Ellie want to avoid the media’s spotlight at all costs?

I loved Jennifer E. Smith’s previous novel The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight (see my review here) so was really excited to pick this book up to read. The prologue sets up the story beautifully, an email sent accidentally to the wrong address initiates a conversation between two strangers. The spark between the two jumps off the page and you find yourself instantly invested in what’s going to happen between the two of them. I actually paused when I reached the end of the prologue so I could hug the book – I loved it that dearly already.

The rest of the book lives beautifully up to the joy of the prologue. Reading the book gave me lovely warm, happy feelings – the blend of humour, romance and fun makes for a delightful read. There is a quest aspect to the book, this is something I love when it’s done well and as you’ve probably already guessed it’s done well in this book.

I loved both Ellie and Graham they were the sort of characters I’d have like to have hung around with as a teenager. My only sadness came from the fact that the book had to end, I could have read about them for far longer. That said, I was highly satisfied by the ending and was left with an entirely content feeling.

Little White Lies by Katie Dale. Simon & Schuster.
imageThe first time Lou meets tall, dark, and handsome Christian, she knows he’s hiding something. Why does he clam up every time she asks about his past? Why doesn’t he have any family photos and why does he dye his blond hair black?

Then suddenly his terrible secret is unveiled to the world – and it seems everything he’s ever told Lou is a lie. Can what the media are saying about him really be true? Should Lou trust him? Or is she in terrible danger? But Christian isn’t the only one keeping secrets. For what if their chance meeting was no accident at all …?

As lie follows lie, nothing is as it seems, and soon Lou finds herself ensnared in a web of deceit, her loyalties torn, her emotions in tatters as she faces a heart-wrenching dilemma: should she shatter the lives of those she holds dearest, or betray the guy who, against all odds, she’s fallen in love with?

This is another book I had high hopes for, having loved Katie’s debut novel Someone Else’s Life (see my review here). The blurb grabbed my attention, I couldn’t wait to dive in and find out what on earth it all meant.

By and large I really enjoyed the book. The university setting is always one I want to see used more (despite it being set at university with slightly older teens this book is definitely young adult rather than new adult) and the mystery builds nicely within the book.

Partway through the book something happened that I found hard to swallow. I’m fine with twists and turns, and I love having the rug swept from under me by a plot but unfortunately in this instance there was a twist that just didn’t work for me and it took me a while to settle back into the book.

The characters are vivid creations, you really feel like you’re surrounded by them. The situations that they find themselves in are big and challenging, the way they deal with them is always understandable even if it doesn’t always seem like the best choice – this helps the characters to feel believable.

My quibble with a plot twist was not enough to stop me enjoying the book. It’s a tense read and one that left me thinking for sometime after I’d finished reading.

Book Review

Book Review: Black Irish by Stephan Talty

Another guest review from my Dad today, this time a book that took him a little outside of his usual reading comfort zone.

BlackIrishIt was only the first lie…

As the snow drives down and the full force of a Buffalo winter makes itself felt, a man’s body is found. Barely recognisable, the only clues the police have are the ‘1’ carved into the victim’s face and the killer’s sinister calling card, a plastic toy monkey.

This is ‘The County’ – the 27th county of Ireland – a city cocooned in secrets, suspicion and blood feuds, where the residents will do anything to protect their own. And for Detective Absalom Kearney, this case is her one chance to prove to a community more fiercely secretive than ever, that even the most heinous of murderers can be stopped.

But as her investigation develops and the killer starts sending her cryptic messages, Absalom finds herself in a race not only to halt them but also to stop The County’s residents exacting their own form of justice.

Because at the heart of this community there is the darkness peculiar to those forgotten by society, and this darkness will affect Absalom’s life in ways she could never have imagined..

So, having previously said that I don’t care so much for non-UK based crime books, what am I doing reviewing this?

I agreed reluctantly to ‘give it a go’. This on the promise from my daughter that it would broaden my reading horizon. Well she was right, but it did not cure my prejudices completely.

The book is set in Buffalo, but within an Irish community, which presumably is factually accurate, although I did not check. It links back to Ireland so partly qualifies my UK only preference, and touches on some uncomfortable connections and topics around the troubles during the 1970/80s.

The book was enjoyably quick paced, which was curiously in line with the text in places, with a lot of fast car journeys over treacherous ice covered roads. This had me feeling fearful for the main character Absalom Kearney, a female detective returning to the ‘County’ after years away.

Absalom was strangely vulnerable at times, entering dangerous situations alone when any sane person would have taken back-up. She narrowly avoided serious injury or death. This however was all integral to the plot, so her maverick approach could be overlooked even though I was led to worry for her at times.

The sub characters were believable and sufficiently interesting and the relationship between Absalom and her father was a major factor in the whole story. There were some interesting plot points which helped to keep you guessing until revealed and the whole lot was wrapped up in some pretty gory deaths.These had to be described in great, and sometimes stomach churning detail, in order to support the overall significance of the links between the murders.

In summary, I read it and I found the psychological and crime aspects very enjoyable, but as I don’t do blood and guts in real life, was not entirely happy about that aspect of the story. That is more about me than the book, and if you like a deep thriller, and can deal with that, this is for you.

Black Irish is published by Headline. Whilst he was provided with a copy of the book for review all opinions expressed are my Dad’s.

Book Review

My Week In Books. [4]

Each Monday I review the books I’ve read in the previous week in mini reviews.

Brotherhood of Shades by Dawn Finch. Authonomy.
This book has a really strong plot pulling lots of historical fact into a fantasy plot filled with great tension and intrigue. Within a few pages I realised that this was the sort of book you could really sink your teeth into, it’s intelligent and densely plotted with lots of detail and lots to make you think – I found a couple of times I had to put it down for a while so I could ponder some of the more philosophical discussion. There were times where predictions I’d made about what would happen came true, but the ending of the book took me completely by surprise.

Finch has created a really intriguing cast of characters, I felt particularly drawn to D’Scover, the “Keeper of the Texts” who plays a central role in the book. The whole time that I was reading I felt that information, and knowledge were held in very high esteem within the book, it was a delight to discover when I reached the end, and Finch’s biography to discover she was as I hoped a librarian. This shone through in the book and only added to my enjoyment.

The Falcon Chronicles: Tiger Wars by Steve Backshall. Orion Children’s.
This was a thrilling read from start to finish, I had to stop reading at one point to answer the phone and spent the whole time wondering what was happening whilst I wasn’t reading! Backshall has used knowledge that he’s gained on his travels as a naturalist to create the world of these books making it jump vividly off the page. There’s a clear conservation message running through the book but it never feels preachy or shoehorned it, instead it’s fully part of the plot and will be all the more effective.

I loved the two lead characters, Saker and Sinter, and the way their relationship develops over the course of the book. I really loved that there was no hint of any romantic link between them, this felt very refreshing. As I was reading the book I found myself imagining reading it out loud, I think it would work really well as a class book for most year 5-7 classes – it would certainly keep the children wanting the next chapter, and there’s lots of potential for really good discussions of plot points. I’m really pleased that this is the start of a series, I’ll certainly be picking up the next book.

Tales From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan. Templar Publishing.
Whilst I’d known of Shaun Tan’s work for a few years now I’d never got round to actually reading any of it. After being introduced to The Arrival at a conference I attended (I’m still sad that only the first 20 pages or so were read, I wanted to listen to the whole story being told) I knew I needed to start catching up with his work and Tales From Outer Suburbia became my first port of call. As soon as I started reading I realised there’s something very special and magical about Shaun Tan, and then realised that in my new review everything approach I was going to have to find a way to talk about this book.

It’s hard to explain why this book is so lovely, and such a magical read. It’s a collection of short stories, they cross genres, they vary in length but they all captivate the imagination. The illustrations that go with the stories are beautiful, I spent ages poring over the detail in some of them. I liked each and every story, though there were of course stories I loved more than others, my favourites included Eric, No Other Country and Alert But Not Alarmed. This is a really lovely book, I know I’ll be recommending it far and wide.

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The eagle eyed amongst you may have noticed that it’s Tuesday rather than Monday, the weekend was rather hectic and I just didn’t have time to finish this post yesterday. Also I’ve switched to mini reviews as I felt sticking to 100 words was just too constrictive and I was having to leave things out that I really wanted to say.

Book Review

My Week In Books. [3]

Each Monday I review the books I’ve read in the previous week in drabble form – exactly 100 words excluding title and publishing details.

Shift by Kim Curran. Strange Chemistry.
Shift opens in a way that makes you think you need to cancel all plans, sit down and read until you get to the final page. Quickly you find yourself pulled into the book, the idea of being able to change a decision you’ve made and have reality alter as a result is an intriguing one and the idea that these changes could be disastrous as well as beneficial is well explored and left me thinking long after I’d finished reading. I already can’t wait for the follow up book, this is a world I want to visit for longer.

Daughter of the Flames by Zoë Marriott. Walker Books.
This book was a great read, it’s one of those books that has some of everything I look for in a book. There’s a strong female lead character, a loveable male character to swoon over, a thoroughly creepy and dreadful villain, a gripping plot filled with politics and warring societies all topped off with a cast of intriguing supporting characters and a generous sprinkling of well-choreographed fight sequences. I loved the world Zoe has created for this book, it’s described so beautifully that I felt as if I was transported to it rather than being on a long train journey!