Sunday, 11 February 2018

The Boy On The Bridge by M.R. Carey

I began this book with a little nervousness. The prequel aspect was intriguing but I had loved The Girl With All The Gifts  so much I did not want to taint the memory of discovering Melanie and watching her story unfold.

This book is much the same again but yet so different, a plucky band of scientists and military protectors are sent to gather research evidence from pods dotted about the British Isles in a seemingly vain attempt to find a way to cure the Cordyceps fungal infection that has decimated the population. 

Here the central battles are less physical, but a between duty, honour and maintaining humanity in the face of what seems a lost cause.

Genius Savant Teenager Greaves, An autistic youth with an eidetic memory and superlative analytical skills provides the emotional centre with another kindly woman acting as his moral compass and object of innocent affection, much like Melanie’s narrative herself . 

Each have an ally in each other as government and Millitary machinations roil around them like ever more ominous rain clouds about to release a catastrophic deluge. The individual grudges, self servicing and personal preservation of some of the characters paints them as the real beings to fear.

Here as in the first book, the Feral Children pose the highest risk to life and limb. Their particular existence is  scarier than any zombie Horde. The best and worst hope for humanity packed into tiny bodies with lethal ferocity.

It was nice to see the origins of Rosie, almost a character in herself, sanctuary and battle-bus and the  saviour of the day in The Girl, and pretty heroic in this story too.  She alway puts me in mind of the  Thunderchild in HG Wells The War Of The Worlds.  

Greaves takes a moral stand for all living creatures, finding empathy for the monstrous and revealing that the theory of  “victim” in any situation is as fluid as the life’s blood that all survival hangs on. 

The Epilogue here is a work of utter genius and a reward that makes all the angst and moral vacillation throughout the rest of the book totally worthwhile. For that alone I suggest you read this accomplished prequel after The Girl With All The Gifts  for a fully rounded and satisfying reading experience.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

The Power by Naomi Alderman

Recommended by President Barack Obama himself ,I can safely say I would be a member of any book club he cares to set up!

This book certainly packs a punch, literally shocking in places if you’ll pardon the pun. This borrows heavily from the dystopian themes of many other books but turns them on their heads.

Women have suddenly developed the ability to inflict pain via a self-generated charge. Activating in puberty and like circuits connected on a board; activating older women and literally passing the gift from hand to hand.

Suddenly women have the ways and means to live outside the control of men, who had always used force to cajole, control and repress.

This is a searing tale of how The Power affects the world, people seeking answers in the spiritual, leaders rise and the downtrodden become brave. However as is ever the way with new regimes, over confidence in the Power starts to turn the good intentioned into seekers of more power beyond that gifted and begin to take. A truth universal. 

Power corrupts, whoever wields it.

Juxtaposed against a modern world where women are fighting for autonomy over their own bodies in the USA, where women are sold as sex slaves in 
Eastern Europe, where women are unable to gain an education, drive a car or even go about their business without a male chaperone, the mirror image in the book left me torn and questioning.

I found myself rejoicing in the reversal of fortune and laughing at the claims of frightened men, the macho wielders of brute force suddenly left vulnerable.Wild stories that women had planned and orchestrated this, railing against schemes that seek to take away their freedoms and choices. It is now men being treated like objects rather than humans. 

However it is not long before the frailty not of gender but of the humanity as a species catalyses a new battle of the sexes, where Men feel subjugated and women are the entitled, cocksure in their superiority purely because they hold the power to inflict pain and to humiliate. The men’s movement rises.

Irony Irony Irony, my head sings.

This clever plot interweaves the archeological and anthropological studies of a far future time with the individual stories of women and men at the turning point in history. Their narratives coalesce as things start to unravel - as they must and always do. The centre never holds.

I liked the way the book ratchets up to what was to be a crescendo of action but left it to my (rather overactive) imagination to conjure the very pinnacle of “the cataclysm event”

I particularly enjoyed the bookends of the story, the anthropological study by a scholarly and learned but unrespected man in the time after...  the truth of the story has fallen into the annals of History. He is trying to make his way in a female centric world , trying to tell the Story of the time before.  

Contempories (wo)man-Splaining  what is empirical fact and artefact and the final most telling sentence were masterful strokes-  so reminiscent of the most seminal of dystopian works (and obviously a inspiration for this one) The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood who incidentally mentored Naomi Alderman.

A word about this Audible version. Adjoa Andoh has a real challenge with this one, London Chavs, cocky Africans, crazy Eastern Europeans and the southern drawl and Washington Burr Of American dialects. She does it with style and panache. 

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Blog Tour - We Own the Sky by Luke Allnutt

“We own the Sky”  is one of those books that you know is going to affect you before you even begin and because I am an exceptionally chicken hearted type of girl, I try not to inflict self- induced weeping on myself so despite being graciously invited to participate in the Blog Tour for the book I approached the prospect with some trepidation.

I need not have worried. That is not to say that this book does not grab you by the throat and drag you to some very dark emotional corners, with grief induced alcoholism being a pervasive theme throughout, some of it is very grim and the story of any young life being  laid low by cancer, let alone  brain cancer is not going to be jolly by any stretch of the imagination, but there is much to love about this simple story of the Before and the After of this, possibly the most catastrophic event  to happen in any parent’s life, the prospect of losing a child.

Luke Allnutt has a particular deftness with images and imagery, this is utilised cleverly by the fact that…  is a photographer. This is a story filled with stark images and a vividness of description without  seeming forced. In fact the style is sparse and lean which means that the ferocity of the emotion  being barely contained  by two personalities so different in their coping mechanisms.  Unable to share their grief and the burden of their own questions about the futility and desperation and projected blame for this tragedy, both parents draw into their own worlds informed by their own formative years.

The book’s  symbolism of the child’s near obsessive love of high places and the juxtaposition of  the ideas of Heaven, of  raising a child  in prayer are cleverly mined and exposed for our perusal. The idea of peace coming with the acceptance  that  suffering is ended  seems ludicrous  as the aftershocks of the loss ricochet into the future for both parents.

It is here the book rises head and shoulders above what could easily have fallen into the trap  of being  mawkish  and overly provocative. There is some searing and seething examination of  the  way technology can be a curse as well as a boon in times of trouble, again cleverly placed against the fact that… is very at home with computers, code and  the internet. Personal  Research causes pain and consternation, reaching out to “Others who know” creating hope and supportive connections but also opening  hearts wishing for miracles up to the risks of  exploitation and frustration, zapping strength and stealing time perhaps better placed living in the now.

Consider the plethora of platitudes  banded about when a child falls ill , the “thoughts and prayers “stock responses we are all guilty of  and public expressions  of  gratitude for what we, the luckily unscathed  have; that did 
make me sit and think about my own social media footprint when tragedy strikes those just outside my most precious inner circle. 

I  felt this book keenly and I cried copious tears.  I will never be able to look at a bouncy castle without a pang, but  it is so much more than a tear jerker, it has strong messages about how we meet tragedy in our lives and how we respond both internally and publically. I strongly urge you to seek it out. I do not think you will be disappointed.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

The Hazel Wood By Melissa Albert

The Hazel Wood - YA Fantasy

This really is a book after my own heart.  This is a fairy tale for the world weary, a fantasy for realists and children’s book suitable for any adult. Angry Teen Alice and her Mother are on a never ending quest to outrun their bad luck and the legacy of being the family of the infamous author of an extremely rare but near mythic tome of Fairy Tales. Soon the characters begin to cross boundaries into our world and we into theirs and that’s just the start.

This is a tremendously well crafted dark fairy tale, I thoroughly enjoyed this macabre story. There is plenty for readers to get their teeth into, creepy kids, shadowy figures in the periphery of consciousness , Grandmothers, Kings Queens and Princes both Royal and commoner both.

It reminds me of a darker modern amalgam of the Neverending Story and the InkHeart books but there is enough freshness and dark vivacity to the narrative that you are swept along with Alice as she embarks on the journey of her life, quite literally.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Home by Amanda Berriman

 Home by Amanda Berriman
This is the kind of book book I dread, a story so compelling and gripping and yet filled with growing dread, as the truths of the tale begin to make themselves clear. I needed to read on but I really didn’t want to. It made me angry and made me incredibly sad. It so affecting because it is based so firmly in the unfortunate realities of today’s society.
Cleverly told from a very young child’s perspective, this book is a brilliantly drawn description of the unseen struggle some families face in poverty; nightmare landlords, horrendous housing conditions. Then there are other horrors, those taboos that we shiver to think of let alone speak of.
The misspellings and misheard words really reinforce that everything is being seen and heard from a position of  complete innocence, from a different perspective born of a much reduced experience. The adults try to shield her from things  and in one case deliberately manipulate what little Jesika sees and believes. 
It is not all doom and gloom, there are friends amongst those that in the majority that  turn a blind eye to the wilful neglect for the welfare of this young family,  bureaucrats and jobsworths who create obstacles where there should be none. There are also lovely folk doing their very best to assist the proud  young mum as she tries to keep her young family afloat.
This story is a cautionary tale, a searing exposé of the situation for far too many poor families in Britain and I highly recommend it for any parent of young children however “squirmy” it makes your tummy. If they were to take away only one message, let it be to keep channels of communication open between child and parent so they feel safe in telling their truths however they need to express them.
Not a pleasant read, but a valuable one and  I applaud Amanda Barrowman for writing such a skilful story with such a delicate hand. It could have been been more graphic, but the more considered approach is true to her narrator and is the better for it.

The NSPCC Pants campaign is very important and all parents should make sure they are aware of it and teach it to their little ones.

For further info:

Saturday, 20 January 2018

The Toy Makers by Robert Dinsdale

There is very little in life that makes me happier than a book that whisks me away from myself and plonks me right into the midst of a whimsical world of Magic with a Eastern European slant. Admittedly there are not many of those to the Pound.
The Toymakers is a sparkling example of the type though. It is utterly charming. The opening passages quite literally draw you in, down alleys and conduits into the most magical place I have been since my visit to Diagon Alley and a certain bespectacled Wizard.
This is not a book for children, there are some very dark notes in the overall symphony of this plot, but it is, at its very heart a book for the children in all of us. It awakens parts of us that delight in the toys of our youth, the pure uninhibited joy of seeing those simple things that engendered imagination and play in us all.
Set in the time of the gradual fall of the Tsars, beginning in the sharp cold of a London at First Frost, we are thrust into the Emporium, a Toy Shop like no other in the capital, where the toys themselves are imbued with a kind of magic that animates and enlivens them.
Wrapped up in whimsy and wonder, this is a family saga, the tale of a father and his two sons. Siblings in constant rivalry for the approval of their talented,wise and wondrous Father, a man with magic learned not from a school for magic, but that of hard knocks. The story of travels across the steppes of Russia to a Prison work camp where the only joy is in the little scraps of twig and leaf that Jecob conjures to raise a smile in the harshness.  Here men are cruel and vicious using each other as punch bags and worse. Where a truth universal , that we are all children wanting the joy of the innocence of play, brings him to England with no money, grasp of the language or prospects. Yet that skill from inciting fond memory and warm thoughts, brings people flocking to the Emporium in droves.
Into his shadow step the two sons left behind as infants during that period of incarceration, caught in a interminable battle, both figurative and literally as they wage war with the legions of toy soldiers  that younger brother Emil fashions from wood and paint and lacquer and a smidge of his own magical power, one born of envy ,of self doubt and love.
Brought into conflict more violently when a young girl in a delicate state finds the Emporium the perfect place to hide from disapproving parents, Society and the impending birth. Both siblings take a shine to the lovely young lady. The innocence of childhood soon turns horribly sour and that is only the start.
This is one of the most brilliantly complex and hauntingly beautiful books I have read in an age. It is angry and brutal and then tender and achingly innocent.  It was a searing endictment on War and the battles rage on the fields of Flanders, the carpets of a hundred boyhood homes and in the hearts and minds of two brilliantly talented men, whose rivalry drives them further and further into a maelstrom that could destroy everything they were battling to control, on the brink of tainting the purity of the gifts they possess within their hearts and bringing the Emporium crashing into disaster that would destroy forever the joy of play which is the strongest balm for every wounded soldier be they young or old.


Bound to be one of my Top reads of 2018.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Children’s Classics : War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

This is an exceptional book. A simple story told very well can be a delight. The story of a farm horse seconded into the Cavalry during WW1 is a marvellous mix of fly on the wall commentary on the futility of war and the bonds between humans and their Horses.

Really a story of four parts. We follow Joey the frightened Foal from being separated from his mother at a horse sale, to a rural farm life with the loving boy who trains him to pull and plough. Into Service Of King and Country he is sold by a desperate man trying to save his livelihood and leave a legacy.

The rigours and futility of a mounted attack on an artillery escarpment is described with enough horror to captures the terror of Joey, but is still suitable for a younger audience and it is in the relationships that this rather special horse forms with young people that the book excels. A sickly Girl, an idealistic German Soldier and at it’s heart the constancy of the true friendship minted between two youngsters in the halcyon day’s of carefree rides before war taints and touches everything.

The hopefulness of Youth allows for the cyclical nature of the narrative. It is a strong story about the beauty that can grow out of the evils of armed combat. The gifts of bonding with and because of, the innocence of animals are beautifully presented. The truce in No-Man’s land was very moving and formed the intellectual core of the story Morpurgo has woven around Joey’s epic journey.

I read this via Audible and yet again I was blown away by the breadth of Dan Steven’s ability to evoke so many widely different voices , Young and Old, Male and female with a myriad of regional accents tossed into the mix. I cannot be more complimentary about the value it added to the telling of this lovely story.