June 2009 Archives

Breathing Underwater

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Julia Green
Bloomsbury
0747595461
May 2009
My thoughts drift. I think about the world beneath us, down,down, down. Water washing stone, grinding it slowly into sand. There are stretches of sea-bed between the islands which used to be valleys with village settlements, thousands of years ago. The sea level has slowly risen, covering it all up. Deep down, a whole flooded life is metamorphosing into something else.

In protagonist, Freya, Julia Green combines the contradiction of binding a palpable zeal for life together with the grief of losing her brother, Joe. The result is that an affinity between the reader and Freya is instantly wrought and it is upon this special relationship that its subtlety and, at times, jagged, raw, emotional truths depend.

Visiting her grandparents on the island where they live and where Joe's tragic accident at sea occurred forces a confrontation with a past that Freya remains deeply affected by. The death of Joe is downplayed meaning that it is Freya's grappling with what this means and how the events came about that take centre stage within the novel.

In spare prose, a sense of community is built up around the island and gradually, through immersion into the ebb and flow of her emotions, Freya is able to reach a level of understanding as to the continuing breadth of feeling she has for her brother, the expectation she retains that he will still be there for her and the yearning that is bestowed upon her because of this.

Julia Green makes a welcome return with this tender, affecting tale.




Banb, Bang, You're Dead!

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Narinder Dhami
Corgi
055256043X
May 2009
I snatched the gun from him. It felt cool and smooth to the touch, and the weight and shape of it in my hands was completely alien and therefore completely fascinating.

Mia shares a highly unusual relationship with her brother Jamie, one that is dominated by obsessive fascination. The reasonsfor this appear to be apparent from the outset, their mother suffers depressives phases, the severity of which has increased since the death of her father.

The childhood that Mia and Jamie share in this gritty, urban novel is one that is foregrounded constantly by the state of their mother's mental health. A crisis point is reached when Jamie's tolerance finally wears thin and he resolves to push his mother 'to the edge', forcing her to 'sit up and take notice'.

Having set the familial thrust for the novel, the novel turns into a relentless thriller set amidst a suitably chilling evacuated school building within whose realms lies a gunman. Conscious of her brother's resolve to force his mother's hand, Mia believes her brother to be the gunman. She sets off determined to find him and dissuade him from continuing his scheme.

This is a fast-paced, race of a read with twists and turns that keep you guessing and gulping throughout. It represents a departure from Dhami's writing style and is a highly contemporaneous story exploring bereavement and familial uncertainty. The shock ending certainly comes as a surprise and draws question to the weight of significance our individual backgrounds exert upon our present. It leaves readers with a lasting sense of the desperation and desolation Mia has faced. An accomplished novel.




The Soul Trade

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E. E. Richardson
Corgi
0552553891
Mar 2009

"Nick didn't answer. The ring ofmetal around his arm burned like a radiator, getting progressively harder to bear as it stayed pressed against his skin. Where the hell was the heat coming from?

Looking for a gift for his mother, Nick Spencer calls in at a shop intrigugingly named BARGAINS. Inside the shop his curiousity is raised by the strange glass orbs that are displayed there. They are like paperweights and each contains a captivating image and a sense of knowledge or sense of skill related to their subject accompanies their being held. The shop owner, a malign Mr Grey, brokers a deal with Nick whereby he will trade a drawing for one of the orbs. The deal, however, involves rather more than one of his drawings and Nick is horrified on realising the extent of the bargain he has undertaken with Mr Grey.


In an attempt to regain what has been lost, Nick brokers another deal with Mr Grey and becomeshis assistant. He quickly finds himself embroiled in situations that are increasingly uncomfortable and that draw more and more fully upon his time and emotions.

E. E. Richardson writes the dark arts credibly, she has a full understanding as to the lasting effects neurosis plays upon the psyche and the means this has to cripple its subjects. A memorable and strongly written novel.




Season of Secrets

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Sally Nicholls
Marion Lloyd Books
1407105132
Apr 2009

It is the subtext of Sally Nicholls second novel that makes it so powerful. There is a sense of pain and of grief that permeates through the novel and nowhere is this more poignantly felt than in the absence of Molly and Hannah's cripplingly bereaved father, a gap that gains a weight of significance every bit as heavy as the sudden, unexpected death of their mother.

Solace and resolve is found for the bookish Molly - whose favourite reads include the ouevre of Enid Blyton and Jacqueline Wilson - when the myth of the Green Man manifests itself in fully realised formbefore her. Choice of this analogy feels apt in as much as there is a cyclical quality to where death and life are found with each counter-balancing the other.

There is a quiet, subtleness about the message of regrowth and of what it is to be alive that permeates the novel building to a head of steam that invigorates and inspires readers. Unlike in Nicholls' first novel, 'Ways to Live Forever', where the writing is pinioned constantly by the emotional response that is wrought solely by its subject, here the style is lighter and more balanced and it benefits from this.

Myth, nature and magic combine to create an enlivening story of individual and ultimately environmental growth in this moving work.



Blood Water

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Dean Vincent Carter
Corgi
0552555738
June 2009
Dark tendrilsof water streaked across the floor like tentacles seeking something to grab hold of. They all stopped to watch in shock as the wide, slow-moving water saturated the carpet and spread round the corner out of sight.


After taking part in a race and succumbing to severe dehydration, Sean finds himself embroiled in a nightmare scenario whereby a newly discovered creature has unleashed a deadly threat upon humanity in its quest not only for survival, but for complete dominance.


Surrounding this central storyline, the town concerned is subject to severe flooding, a fact that notches tension levels to dizzying new heights, introducing a sense of isolation into the plight of brothers Sean and James who endeavour to avert the catastrophe facing their hometown.

Underpinning the action, adenture and the brooding malevolence that saturates each page, seeping its way into readers' imaginations, there is a real sense of urgency and danger. Dean Vincent Carter has a tangible awareness as to the way fear manifests itself upon us and the loss of control that affects the afflicted in the novel is genuinely chilling.

A frightening expose of the role abnormal psychology plays in determining survival and evolution, and one whose reach can easily be transposed upon parts of humanity's history, this represents another fine offering to the young adult horror genre.

Stolen

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Lucy Christopher
Penguin
978-1-906427-13-9
April 2009

This is a jaw-droppingly impressive debut novel. It brought to mind two other extraordinarilly good novels - The Collector by John Fowles and Z for Zacchariah by Robert O'Brien - as it will for other readers familiar with those books, and it says much for Lucy Christopher's promise as an author that her first novel can stand proudly side by side with those two titles.

The bare narrative outline: a teenage girl is 'stolen', in other words abducted, from a foreign airport while on holiday with her family, by a young man who, it transpires, has been stalking her for years. He imprisons her in a very remote region of the Australian desert. The girl makes some efforts to run away until it becomes apparent that all attempt at escape is futile.

To begin with the girl despises her captor. In time she comes to have feelings both of admiration and affection for him and it is to Lucy Christopher's credit as an author that she manages to take her readers on this same journey so that by the end of the book we also feel sympathetic towards the abductor despite his crime.

Subtitled 'A letter to my captor', Stolen is an intense first-person voice narrative, which never falters. It has the page-turning propulsion of a thriller and many a time I needed to put the book down to get on with something else, but had to read four or five more pages before it was possible to do so.

If the right lead actors could be found it would make a superb movie. The narrative features a feral camel and there are several 'action' scenes that would make great cinema. Although the author now lives in Wales, it is no surprise to discover that she spent much of her childhood in Australia. The sense of place, of remote desert wilderness, is really well evoked.

I don't have anything else to say about this book, other than, "Buy it, read it, tell someone else about it."


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