Monthly Archives: February 2015

THE THREE – Sarah Lotz

The Three 5 star

Available 5th March 2015 from Hodder & Stoughton

Source: Bookbridgr

Black Thursday. The day that will never be forgotten. The day that four passenger planes crash, at almost exactly the same moment, at four different points around the globe.

There are only four survivors. Three are children, who emerge from the wreckage seemingly unhurt. But they are not unchanged. And the fourth is Pamela May Donald, who lives just long enough to record a voice message on her phone. A message that will change the world.

The message is a warning.

I was so excited when I received THE THREE, I mean, that synopsis… it promises big things! And I was immediately plunged into all-consuming terror – now you have to understand that this book is not merely unsettling, its downright disturbing! And I was absolutely lapping it up!

THE THREE is written as a book within a book; and that book is a documentary novel based on the aftermath of the four plane crashes on ‘Black Thursday’. Our fictional author, Elspeth Martins, collects official records, media samples, and the accounts of various people affected by the events of that day.

The crashes left only 3 known survivors between them; 3 children who are now acting very strangely – and this sets off a course of conspiracy theories from alien interference to the biblical ‘End of Days’.

As you are slowly drip-fed more details of what happened to all concerned following the crashes, you are left chilled to the bone, and with only more questions about what really happened and why.

The character development is absolute gold. With such a diverse collection of people, all given fantastic depth; and whilst they recount their experiences, you can’t help but be consumed by the intensity of their fear and emotion. All of them repeatedly and intriguingly refer to ‘what happened later’, and you just knew that something terrible was coming… thing is, I was already completely terrified by the details I was being given! I mean, seriously, this was the scariest book I’ve read since Stephen King, and we all know that is saying something!

There was a brief moment towards the end where I thought I could see where this was all going, and I was really worried that the ending was going to be a right cop out – and I would have been devastated seeing as how much I’d loved the whole thing so far. Then it was as if Lotz said “Haha, kidding Storm, here’s your ending…” – and this was just pure genius.

Overall, this was clever, addictive, and brilliantly terrifying. It most certainly earns a place in ‘Storm’s Favourites’, and I am just itching to read the follow-up; DAY FOUR.

Many thanks to the publisher for providing this book for review.

Happy reading x 

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NEAR ENEMY – Adam Sternbergh

Near Enemy

Available now from Headline.

Source: Bookbridgr

‘Anyone who still lives in Manhattan and has anything of real value to protect does it with a shotgun, not a deadbolt. So the problem isn’t getting in, it’s getting out.’
When New York was hit by a dirty bomb, the city became a burnt-out shell and only the wealthy were able to escape, to a virtual reality quite different from the world around them. Former garbage man, Spademan, lost his wife and his livelihood – in a city comprised entirely of garbage, there’s little one man can do. So he became a hit man, clearing up in a whole new way.
But now the virtual world is under threat from elite terrorists operating from somewhere in New York and Spademan is tasked with tracking them down. He’s not used to having enemies – his foes usually end up dead pretty quickly – but he’s about to find out just how close they are, and how dangerous they can be…

Ok, so firstly, I’m a little late on the Sternbergh train,  I didn’t realise that this was a sequel but it works very well as a stand-alone.

So our hero, Spademan, is a hitman in a post-(almost)-apocalyptic New York; where real-life is one big suck, so most people ‘tap-in’ to the ‘limn’ – a kind of Matrix-like scenario where you can safely and limitlessly live out your dreams in virtual reality. Only, Spademan’s current target has uncovered a serious glitch in the limn, one that means it really isn’t as safe as everyone believes. Spademan is recruited – nay given an ultimatum – into investigating, and is set off on a dangerous path uncovering murder, terrorism, corruption, and conspiracy along the way.

The big award for this book goes to Sternbergh’s fantastic creation; Spademan. I LOVED this guy! His tough, no-nonsense narrative is very dry, witty and often absolutely hilarious. I’m still going through my Jack Bauer fan-girl phase, so the lovable tough guys really win me over. On page 1 of this book I knew it was a ‘nothing-else-is-getting-done-today’ kind of read. And I didn’t even care whether the story would be up to par or not – I could have ‘listened’ to Spademan all day. For instance;

So I pull out the lock-picking tools I keep hidden in my hair –

Kidding.

Heft a twelve-pound sledge from my duffel bag.

The prose is hard-hitting, no-nonsense, abrupt. It forces you to pay attention, and much like the characters, it doesn’t have time for niceties.

Luckily the story was also thoroughly enjoyable; with a good few twists, a bucket-load of intrigue, and non-stop action at every turn. And all characters were very cleverly created – you just don’t know which side anyone is on. I do think though that when you want to shock reader’s with a ‘who is the real bad guy’ plot twist, then you really need to get those characters to win the hearts of the readers completely in order to get that twist to pack an extra punch. As it turned out I couldn’t trust any of the characters, (apart from my beloved Spademan, obviously!) so a couple of these reveals got a ‘Ah. Ok. Cool.’ from me rather than an ‘Oh my bloody God. Wow!’ But I’m being fussy now.

Overall, this is an excellent read. Intriguing, action-packed, multiple twists… Oh, and did I mention I love Spademan?!

Many thanks to the publisher for providing this book for review.

Happy reading x

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LILLIAN ON LIFE – Alison Jean Lester

lillian on life

Available now from John Murray

Source: Bookbridgr

Lillian, a single, well-travelled woman of a certain age, wakes up next to her married lover and looks back at her life. It’s not at all the life she expected.

Walking the unpaved road between traditional and modern options for women, Lillian has grappled with parental disappointment, society’s expectations and the vagaries of love and sex. As a narrator she’s bold and witty, and her reflections – from ‘On Getting to Sex’ to ‘On the Importance of Big Pockets’ or ‘On Leaving in Order to Stay’ – reverberate originally and unpredictably.

In Lillian on Life, Alison Jean Lester has created a brutally honest portrait of a woman living through the post-war decades of change in Munich, Paris, London and New York. Her story resonates with the glamour and energy of those cities. Charming, sometimes heartbreaking, never a stereotype, Lillian is completely herself; her view of the world is unique. You won’t soon forget her.

I decided to read this book as I fancied a change from all the nail-biting, heart-thumping stuff I usually go for. And I must confess that I only entered in half-heartedly – hoping, of course, that I would enjoy the change of pace, yet not fully believing that it would be my cup of tea.

Well thank goodness for variety! I soon found that I was enthralled with the wonderful Lillian and her views on life. Written as the memoirs of a woman on the wrong side of middle-age; Lillian talks about all manner of subjects from her relationship with her parents, to college, to working abroad – and with highlights of her many sexual conquests peppered throughout – this was a touching account of an unremarkable yet extraordinary life.

Lester has created a real gem of a character here. Lillian is wise, warm, frank, funny; and is often incapable of hitting that switch that controls what is appropriate to say out loud – and I so love that! But it’s not all sassy snaps and mockery; Lillian has felt heartache, and fear, and regret; and this is relayed honestly, starkly, and elegantly. I could very easily imagine that I was sitting having coffee with Lillian (she would have preferred wine…mind you so would I!) whilst she regaled all of these fantastic anecdotes; the emotion was certainly conveyed as if she was right here with me, and it stuck around long after I turned the final page.

Lillian on Life is most definitely going on my ‘Chicken Soup’ shelf. I have come away from it feeling so desperately sad for Lillian and indignant about the unfairness of life, and also completely inspired and determined to ensure that when it comes to looking back on my own life, I will do so in the knowledge that every possible potential was fulfilled. For as Lillian says: “Actions are whispers compared to dreams”.

A poignant, charming, and emotional read that will make you instantly re-evaluate life.

Many thanks to the publisher for providing this book for review.

Happy reading x

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VANISHING GIRLS – Lauren Oliver

vanishing girls

Available 12th March 2015 from Hodder & Stoughton

Source: Bookbridgr

Dara and Nick used to be inseparable, but that was before the accident that left Dara’s beautiful face scarred and the two sisters totally estranged. When Dara vanishes on her birthday, Nick thinks Dara is just playing around. But another girl, nine-year-old Madeline Snow, has vanished, too, and Nick becomes increasingly convinced that the two disappearances are linked. Now Nick has to find her sister, before it’s too late.

In this edgy and compelling novel, Lauren Oliver creates a world of intrigue, loss, and suspicion as two sisters search to find themselves, and each other.

Vanishing Girls is marketed as a Young Adult novel – a genre that, as I have said before, I always feel too old to be reading. So sit down for this one… but I really, really liked it!

Telling the story of 17 year old Nick and her 16 year old sister Dara; who were once inseparable but since Dara started up a romance with Nick’s lifelong best friend Parker, and since the sisters were both in a car accident a couple of months back, their sisterly bond has become strained to say the least. Now, their parents have divorced, mum is severely depressed, Dara and her best friend Ari barely know eachother anymore, Parker can barely look at Nick, both girls feel the stares and whispers of the town and neither can bare to be in the same room as the other.

I was immediately drawn into Oliver’s storytelling; flitting between Nick and Dara’s views, and between before and after the car accident, I found myself being drawn into all the complexities of this sibling relationship, and enticed by the mysteries surrounding the girls. What actually happened the night of the accident? Nick cannot remember. What happened the night of the founders ball? Nick wont tell us. Where does Dara keep disappearing to? And what can any of it possibly have to do with the disappearance of 9-year-old local girl, Madeline Snow?

Now, there was a great twist to this story. Of course I saw it coming before the reveal, because I think it is a plot twist that I have come across a good few times now. However, I didn’t see it coming too early on, and in hindsight it was glaringly obvious, but I think I was just so absorbed in the relationship of the sisters, and Parker’s place in the triangle, and the whereabouts of young Madeline, that I didn’t give it too much thought. There was no specific clue that clinched it for me, it just sort of came to me out of the blue, and as soon as it did I knew that that was the twist to expect. And yes, that was a bit of a dampener for me, but it didn’t in any way detract from the brilliant depiction of the love-hate relationship between sisters and how striving for individuality can often only further highlight similarities.

So I have found a Young Adult novel that I really enjoyed. A fact much more shocking than the plot twist itself! And I can only put this down to Oliver’s talents for delving into human relationships – no matter at what age. I have a sister myself, and when we were younger she was just as often my worst enemy as she was my best friend – and it really is a lot more complex than ‘oh that’s just how sisters are’, and Oliver captures this beautifully.

Also, I really liked both Nick and Dara, and they actually came across as a lot more emotionally mature than the protagonists I’ve read of in other YA works – whilst still being very true to their age (and not your 30-something Dawson Creek style uber-mature ‘teenager’). So I think it is a case of either being able to imagine the characters as closer to my age because of that maturity, or being able to relate so much to the authenticity of the relationship that it takes me back to my own teenage years. Either way I didn’t feel ancient reading this, and that’s always a huge bonus!

Overall this was a very compelling and emotionally loaded read, and those that aren’t familiar with this particular kind of plot twist are in for a real treat.

My thanks to the publisher for providing this book for review.

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CANARY – Duane Swierczynski

canary

Available 26th February 2015 from Mulholland Books

Source: Bookbridgr

Every student needs a part-time job.

Hers is hunting criminals.

Sarie Holland is a good kid. An Honors student. She doesn’t even drink.

So when a narcotics cop busts her while she’s doing a favour for a friend, she has a lot to lose.

Desperate to avoid destroying her future, Sarie agrees to become a CI – a confidential informant. Armed only with a notebook, she turns out to be as good at catching criminals as she is at passing tests.

But it’s going to take more than one nineteen-year-old to clean up Philadelphia. Soon Sarie is caught in the middle of a power struggle between corrupt cops and warring gangs, with nothing on her side but stubbornness and smarts.

Which is bad news for both the police and the underworld. Because when it comes to payback, CI #137 turns out to be a very fast learner…

Although marketed as a crime mystery, I’m going to pop this one under New Adult – which is not really my favourite genre, I’m only 32 but feel depressingly too old for this sort of thing!

So Canary tells us the story of 19 year old Sarie. She is having a pretty rough time right now (New Adult 1st world problems!) – she is stressed about her final exams, mourning the death of her mother last year (OK, I’ll give her that one), has a strained relationship with her alcoholic/alcohol counsellor father, and has now found herself arrested on a narcotics charge… so as things are going pretty swimmingly, why not add a stint of being a confidential informant to the mix?

I kept dipping in and out of this one to begin with. There was nothing early on to reel me into the storytelling, nothing to hold my interest, and everything seemed a bit haphazard in the writing. I did like how our protagonist’s perspective was given in the form of journal entries addressed to her deceased mother, and the justifications for this – however, there was an awful lot of jumping about between other people’s perspectives, sometimes just a random paragraph chucked in there, and without sounding terribly slow, it was difficult to keep up and was a tad annoying.

I did like Sarie as a character though. She was a plucky, headstrong, and intelligent young woman – for one so intelligent though she did seem to make some ridiculously stupid decisions, but that kind of added to the authenticity of the 19 year old psyche. I also really liked Detective Wildey, Sarie’s arresting officer and ‘handler’. He depicted well the whole ‘good guy in a bad world’ role. I was never too sure about his relationship with Sarie, was it paternal or romantic? There were a few titbits in there to allude to his attraction to her, but nothing came of it.

Sarie’s main mission was to help Wildey bust elusive drug-lord ‘Chucky Morphine’ – Chucky is extremely mysterious, moves around a lot, and nobody really knows who he is. Then, da da daaaaaa, Sarie finally discovers ‘Chucky Morphine’s’ real identity and I gasped a huge…….’So What?!!’ I felt that maybe that was supposed to be a bit more of a shock revelation than it came across, and the drama just passed me by.

Unfortunately it wasn’t until I was at least three quarters of the way into the book that I started getting interested in what was going on – this was about more than just a naïve young girl and her small-time drug dealer not-quite-boyfriend and his notorious-yet-a-bit-lame supplier. Sarie found herself a small fish in a big old dirty pond and things started getting very dangerous for her. When the gangland stuff, hired hits, corrupt cops, and all that jazz got going, I did get stuck in. Unfortunately, it was all a bit late in the coming for me to rate this book too highly.

I will say though that if you are a fan of New Adult, and you like the crime thrillers, then as long as you can stick with the slow start you will really enjoy this story.

My thanks to the publisher for providing this book for review.

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THE CHIMES – Anna Smaill

CHIMES

Published by Sceptre

Source: Bookbridgr

A boy stands by the roadside on his way to London, alone in the rain.

No memories, beyond what he can hold in his hands at any given moment.

No directions, as written words have long since been forbidden.

No parents – just a melody that tugs at him, a thread to follow. A song that says if he can just get to the capital, he may find some answers about what happened to them.

The world around Simon sings, each movement a pulse of rhythm, each object weaving its own melody, music ringing in every drop of air.

Welcome to the world of The Chimes. Here, life is orchestrated by a vast musical instrument that renders people unable to form new memories. The past is a mystery, each new day feels the same as the last, and before is blasphony.

But slowly, inexplicably, Simon is beginning to remember. He emerges from sleep each morning with a pricking feeling, a sense there is something he urgently has to do. In the city Simon meets Lucien, who has a gift for hearing, some secrets of his own, and a theory about the danger lurking in Simon’s past

Well I can honestly say I have never read anything quite like this before. Set in a dystopian world that exceeds my imagination, where memory no longer exists and the written word is referred to as ancient code, and everything, I mean everything is music. Music is not just the language, it is thought, it is emotion, it is life. This is initially quite difficult to grasp, and even more difficult to explain – not least because of the language in the book that is kind of brand new, and yet not – in fact it is almost an absence of language altogether. And it is simply captivating, and instils an urgent desire to find out just what the hell is going on?!!

We follow Simon, a boy who ventures into London following the death of his mother. Simon has nothing but a bag of objectmemories, items that an individual can attach their own memories to as they cannot be kept in the mind; and a song from his mother, a song that he has to find and follow in order to uncover a mystery that he does not yet know exists.

In London, Simon joins a gang of pactrunners, and is taken under the wing of the mysterious and intriguing Lucien, who tries to help Simon to do the most prohibited of all things; remember – and when this happens, they are both set on a path that will forever change the world.

THE CHIMES is simply gorgeous. Anna Smaill uses prose that is just exquisite, lyrical, and aptly melodic. There are just not enough eloquent superlatives to do this writing justice. It will draw you in and shake your core ideas of the world and spit you out again. And it really does spit you out; without giving too much away, I found myself furiously turning blank pages at the end of the book, looking to see if the final pages had somehow fallen out. It was over! And I’m still not quite sure if I was disappointed with the ending, or disappointed that it ended! I am most certainly mourning the words.

This is somewhat of a Marmite read – I think you really will either love it or hate it. It is not an easy-read. You cant read this on the train, or whilst cooking dinner, or whilst everyone else is watching TV. To fully appreciate this story and the beauty of its words the children must be in bed, the husband must be off doing something elsewhere. You must have silence, and calm. Only then can the full magic of THE CHIMES envelope you.

A captivating, ingenious, and awe-inspiring work of pure beauty. Let the music play!

My thanks to the publisher for providing this book for review.

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AWAY FROM YOU – Kay Langdale

away from you

Published by Hodder

Source: Bookbridgr

The heartbreaking novel from the author of CHOOSE ME, about the sacrifices parents must make and the anguish that can befall them. When Monica is offered a three-month placement in LA, she knows that for the sake of her career she must accept it – even though it means leaving behind nine-year-old Ruby, toddler Luca and her husband Daniel. She hires Ursula as a housekeeper and nanny during her absence, although the older woman is oddly reluctant to agree to a childcare position. What is the dark secret in Ursula’s past, which has left her so closed-off and reserved? Will her growing attachment to Ruby bring it to the surface? And will Monica regret leaving the children in her care?

Away From You is definitely one for the ‘Chicken Soup’ pile. It begins with the contentious subject of a mother leaving her young children for 3 months in order to further her career.. This left me a bit at odds with myself, having put my career completely aside whilst my children are young.

I remember recently being sent an invitation to apply for a role that included some time overseas for training. It was for my dream role and the prospect of travel was so exciting. Of course, the idea was swiftly dismissed and the email deleted. My children are 9 and 4 – far too young for me to go swanning off and leaving them! But I was still left with an ‘Oh wouldn’t that have been fantastic?’ sort of feeling. Now, reading about Monica and her situation, I couldn’t decide if I admired her bravery or if I was disgusted by her selfishness.

The book is written in a way that is endearing and refreshing. Focussing in the main on the perspectives of Monica; her 9 year old daughter Ruby; and Ursula, the hired home help for whilst Monica is away.

I was particularly enthralled with the chapters dedicated to Ruby’s perspective. She is an extremely insightful young girl, yet still exhibits the innocence and naivety appropriate for her age. She is just the most darling little girl; and say what you want about Monica’s decision to leave, she had obviously done a stellar job with her children thus far.

Initially, I was led to believe that Monica was the main protagonist of this story, but strangely enough I found myself kind of forgetting about her. She was out of sight, out of mind; and this reflected in the other characters’ failure to mention her quite as often as they used to.

My focus swiftly turned to Ursula. Ursula was prim, professional, exact… cold even. And I instinctively knew there was a story behind her detachedness, a reason for her cool behaviour and lack of emotion. But it wasn’t until Ursula’s armour started slipping – in the main due to the endearing Ruby – that I discovered just what had left Ursula so devoid of tenderness. And it turned out to be something so utterly devastating, so totally inconceivable, that it is a wonder she was still functioning at all.

Kay Langdale does a fantastic job of delving into the deeper aspects of parenthood and all it means. With beautiful, gentle, and quite poetic prose; genuine characters that you will fall in love with, and a story that will emotionally ruin you, Away From You will break your heart then renew your faith in the healing power of friendship.

Many thanks to the publisher for providing this book for review.

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