Posts Tagged With: Fiction

Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult

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Title: Lone Wolf
Author: Jodi Picoult
ISBN: 978-1444729016
Publisher:  Hodder
First Published:  Feb 2012 (hardback) / Oct 2012 (paperback)
No .of pages:  496

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
When Luke Warren is involved in a car accident which leaves him in a coma, his family are gathered together against the odds; they face an impossible dilemma.
His daughter Cara is praying for a miracle: she will fight everything and everyone to save her father’s life.
His son Edward can’t imagine that a man who once ran with wolves could ever be happy with a different life.
But Edward hasn’t spoken to Luke for six years. How can he dare to speak on his father’s behalf?
Somehow, they must choose:
Do they keep Luke alive?
Or do they let him go?

Review:
This wasn’t my favourite Picoult book and at times I found it a bit of a struggle to continue reading, however, towards the end, the pace picked up and overall, I’m glad I persevered.  This book asks those age old questions about life and death and how we cope.  We are also given a new perspective from that of the wolf and how they, as a pack, deal with very similar situations.

Throughout the book, Luke is in a coma.  We follow his story through a series of flashbacks where we learn of his experiences out in the wild, living with the wolves and his struggle to reintegrate himself back into his family.  His time with the wolves and the journey he takes to be accepted by the pack are crazy but touching at the same time.  Luke (and in turn, the reader) is taught a great many lessons from these wild animals and their way of life.  This aspect of the book, sometimes felt at odds to the on-going story, but overall was a fantastic way of giving the man in the coma his own voice.

The remainder of the book is written from the conflicting views of his two children, his ex-wife and her new husband, and a court appointed guardian.  Edward doesn’t want to see his father suffer any longer and wants to exercise his father’s wish to be an organ donor.  Cara wants her father to be given the chance to pull through and perhaps recover from his injuries.  Georgia is pulled back into the life she left a long time ago and is stuck between her two warring children.
I suppose my own personal preferences are quite obvious as, whilst I sympathised with Cara, I thought Edward was in the right.  However, I do appreciate that depending on the reader, this will change.  Picoult has written the book in such a way that both sides of the story are given equal viewing and she never leans one way or another.  This gives the reader the chance to make up their own mind.
Picoult is a master at making us ask ourselves those difficult questions.  Which way would you turn?  How would you react in this situation?  And at the same time, she writes beautifully poignant stories that tie you to the characters and ensure you stay with them every step of the way.

 

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Monster Love by Carol Topolski

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Title: Monster Love
Author: Carol Topolski
ISBN: 978-0141033389
Publisher:  Penguin
First Published:  Jan 2008 (hardback) / Sept 2008 (paperback)
No .of pages:  272

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
No one in the neighbourhood has seen the Gutteridges’ little girl Samantha for months. But Brendan and Sherilyn look happier than ever, so nothing is wrong. Is it?
For the Gutteridges, Samantha was just a thing that threatened to worm its way into their perfect love. For everyone else, her story is the stuff of tabloid headlines. But this time it’s not in a newspaper, it’s happening right next door . . .

Review:
I’ve only rated this average as I found the subject matter difficult to read.  This probably sounds silly and you may well ask “why did you read it then?” but it really is a well written book and once the difficult (but vital) details where over with, I really couldn’t put it down.

The story is about a couple who are so desperately in love that nothing can come between them.  They bond so closely that they feel nothing else is needed in their perfect world.  Along comes an unexpected child and we are thrown into the story of her abuse and eventual murder.  You are given brief glimpses of what she suffered at their hands, and this is more than enough for you to get the idea.  The author doesn’t need to go into details and once you are made aware of what happened, the focus then shifts on to the “why”.  The interesting thing about this book is the story being told in brief statements and recollections of everyone involved, from the neighbours who first alerted the police, to the parents of both of the perpetrators.  The only person who doesn’t get a say is the little girl herself.

As the threads of each story pull together, you build up a picture of how the parents evolved from early childhood and the events that lead to their despicable crime.  The story also continues through their trial and eventual imprisonment.

I read the whole book in one day, hoping to find some reason behind the crime, some sort of explanation to help ease my mind, but I got to the end of the book and there was none.  Personally, I don’t think their childhood or upbringing explains away any of their actions, although it is important to understand where they came from.  I suppose this is more true to life than I was expecting as there is rarely any explanation for these crimes.  Despite the difficult basis of the story, I would still recommend this, as a very well-constructed idea, which the author pulls off very well.

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The Queen’s Vow by C W Gortner

the-queens-vow-by-c-w-gortnerTitle: The Queen’s Vow
Author: C W Gortner
ISBN: 978-1444720808
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
First Published: 12 June 2012 (hardback) / 3 January 2013 (paperback)
No .of pages: 400

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
“No one believed I was destined for greatness.”
 
So begins Isabella’s story, in this evocative, vividly imagined novel about one of history’s most famous and controversial queens—the warrior who united a fractured country, the champion of the faith whose reign gave rise to the Inquisition, and the visionary who sent Columbus to discover a New World. Acclaimed author C. W. Gortner envisages the turbulent early years of a woman whose mythic rise to power would go on to transform a monarchy, a nation, and the world.

Young Isabella is barely a teenager when she and her brother are taken from their mother’s home to live under the watchful eye of their half-brother, King Enrique, and his sultry, conniving queen. There, Isabella is thrust into danger when she becomes an unwitting pawn in a plot to dethrone Enrique. Suspected of treason and held captive, she treads a perilous path, torn between loyalties, until at age seventeen she suddenly finds herself heiress of Castile, the largest kingdom in Spain. Plunged into a deadly conflict to secure her crown, she is determined to wed the one man she loves yet who is forbidden to her—Fernando, prince of Aragon.

Review:
Fans of historical fiction, get ready to jump up and down, shouting with glee, because Gortner has given us a fascinating account of one of history’s strongest women.

In a world where women are largely marginalised and married off to advantage, while the politics are all left to the menfolk, Isabella bucked the trend by choosing her own husband and deciding to rule her country in her own right.

Isabella of Castile is quite possibly one of the most controversial female figures in history, ordering the conversion or exile of Muslims and Jews in Spain, and causing widespread destruction throughout her Reconquista, but she and her husband, Ferdinand II of Aragon, are also credited with creating stability and the unification of Spain, and Gortner’s novel portrays a very real and sympathetic character who faces not only the difficulties of ruling fairly, but also of doing so as a woman in what was still very much a man’s world.

Gortner has woven an exquisite tale, fraught with peril, where a woman who dares to go up against men (and beats them at their own game), is beset on all sides by traitors and untrustworthy advisors who would take control of her country for themselves. There is real edge-of-the-seat stuff here, and even if you are already familiar with this period of history and the major players in it, readers will be biting their nails in excited anticipation.

If you’re looking for a dramatic tale of politics, expertly interwoven with one of romance, then this is the novel you have been waiting for. The writing flows so beautifully you could almost believe you’re seeing it first hand and will be almost completely immersed in a world of deception, deceit, danger, love, passion, power and politics.

See my interview with CW Gortner HERE.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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Miss Felicity Beadle’s The World of Poo by Terry Pratchett

World of PooTitle: Miss Felicity Beadle’s The World of Poo
Author: Terry Pratchett
ISBN: 978-0857521217
Publisher: Doubleday
First Published: June 2012 (hardback/Kindle/audio)
No .of pages: 128

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
From Snuff: ‘Vimes’ prompt arrival got a nod of approval from Sybil, who gingerly handed him a new book to read to Young Sam. Vimes looked at the cover. The title was The World of Poo. When his wife was out of eyeshot he carefully leafed through it. Well, okay, you had to accept that the world had moved on and these days fairy stories were probably not going to be about twinkly little things with wings. As he turned page after page, it dawned on him that whoever had written this book, they certainly knew what would make kids like Young Sam laugh until they were nearly sick. The bit about sailing down the river almost made him smile. But interspersed with the scatology was actually quite interesting stuff about septic tanks and dunnakin divers and gongfermors and how dog muck helped make the very best leather, and other things that you never thought you would need to know, but once heard somehow lodged in your mind.’

Review:
The books that are released to accompany the main Discworld novels are always fun, and this is no exception. This is a delightful little tale of a young boy named Geoffrey who, while visiting his Grand-mama in Ankh-Morpork, develops an interest in all kinds of poo – so much so that he creates a poo museum in the shed – and meets some very interesting people who work with waste of all kinds.

As would  be expected, it’s filled with interesting little footnotes of fascinating facts about faeces, other bodily waste, its uses, and the people who remove it, as well as the industries that flourish because of it.

Adult fans of the Discworld series will chuckle knowingly as they enjoy it, but those who are parents may also find they decide to read it to their young children who must surely appreciate a good story about poo, and will love the little black and white line drawings – just don’t be surprised if you open it one day to find your little darlings have coloured in all the pictures!!

A must-have addition to any Discworld fan’s collection!

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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Replica by Lexi Revellian

Title: Replica
Author: Lexi Revellian
ISBN: 978-0956642240
Publisher: Hoxton Press
First Published: June 2011
No .of pages: 290

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Fantastic Fiction):
Beth Chandler, bright, attractive but unassertive, is accidentally replicated in a flawed experiment at the government research institute where she works. A second Beth comes into being, complete with all her memories. To Sir Peter Ellis, MI5 chief, the replica is an embarrassment that must be hushed up and disposed of. Overhearing him, Beth Two goes on the run. With no official existence, homeless, penniless and pursued by Sir Peter’s agents, she has to find the inner strength and aggression to survive on icy London streets. Meanwhile the original Beth, unaware of what has happened, becomes romantically involved with Nick Cavanagh, the spec op she believes is there to protect her. In fact, he’s hunting her double. Nick refuses to face his moral doubts about Beth Two – as far as he’s concerned, it’s not his problem. As events unfold, and the situation grows more complicated, he has to decide whose side he is on.

Review:
Two years ago, I read and reviewed an earlier novel by Lexi Revellian called Remix. I loved it, so when I was offered the chance to review a second novel, Replica, I jumped at it.

I wasn’t disappointed!

Plunging straight into the action seems to be something of a Revellian trait, as Replica doesn’t hang around. By page 8, major events have already occurred and we’re having to deal with the aftermath of some pretty earth-shattering revelations very soon afterwards. Suspension of disbelief can be a major hang-up of mine if the subject matter isn’t handled well, but Lexi is a real pro – with everyone aware of science’s progress with cloning the notion of replication is an unnervingly real prospect, and the lack of overly scientific jargon to explain everything away (which might have hampered proceedings, making them seem contrived and unrealistic while bogging the reader down in “facts” they do not need) adds to that sense of realism – we just accept it as a matter of fact and run with it.

The writing is ludicrously easy to read – honestly, I have very rarely come across a writer whose words seem so effortless to read and it’s a real joy to get into the story and characters so quickly it feels like one has known them for years. Even with two Beths who start out essentially the same person, but through their very different experiences after the replication, rapidly become completely separate and instantly recognisable, it never becomes even remotely confusing – one is always acutely aware of who is who.

In the hands of a lesser writer, this could have been a real mess, but Revellian takes a nifty idea and writes it so neatly that when we reach the shocking conclusion, there are aspects which one honestly didn’t see coming, but afterwards one realises it couldn’t have happened any other way.

On the back of enjoying this novel (and the previous one) so much, I can hardly wait to read Ice Diaries!

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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Changeling by Philippa Gregory

Title: Changeling (Order of Darkness #1)
Author: Philippa Gregory
ISBN: 978-0857077301
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Childrens Books
First Published: May 2012 (hardback/audio/Kindle) / January 2013 (paperback)
No .of pages: 272

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis (from Fantastic Fiction):
The year is 1453, and all signs point to it being the end of the world. Accused of heresy and expelled from his monastery, handsome seventeen-year-old, Luca Vero, is recruited by a mysterious stranger to record the end of times across Europe. Commanded by sealed orders, Luca is sent to map the fears of Christendom, and travel to the very frontier of good and evil. Seventeen-year-old Isolde, a Lady Abbess, is trapped in a nunnery to prevent her claiming her rich inheritance. As the nuns in her care are driven mad by strange visions, walking in their sleep, and showing bleeding wounds, Luca is sent to investigate and all the evidence points to Isolde’s criminal guilt. Outside in the yard they are building a pyre to burn her for witchcraft. Forced to face the greatest fears of the medieval world – dark magic, werewolves, madness – Luca and Isolde embark on a search for truth, their own destinies, and even love as they take the unknown ways to the real historical figure who defends the boundaries of Christendom and holds the secrets of the Order of Darkness.

Review:
I’ve been a huge fan of Philippa Gregory since I read The Other Boleyn Girl ten years ago, and she rarely disappoints. I’ve only ever read her historical fiction (yes, she writes contemporary novels too!), but her research is impeccable and her style unmistakable.

This is the first time Gregory has woven a tale with the young adult market in mind, and it shows a little, but I get the feeling that subsequent books in this series will showcase her talents as she gets used to writing for a slightly younger audience. This first novel in the new series feels  a little more like two connected short stories than one full-length novel, but that didn’t detract from the enjoyment.

There’s more happening more quickly than in her regular historical novels, in which Gregory usually takes the time to introduce her characters and let them develop fully, while weaving them into an intricately intriguing web of intersecting stories. Here we are presented with our young hero and heroine and they pretty much get straight to work. I get the feeling that the characters will become fuller as the series progresses and I will look forward to reading their adventures.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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The Fall of Charlie Dixon by David Couldrey

Title: The Fall of Charlie Dixon
Author: David Couldrey
ISBN: 978-1780883120
Publisher: Matador
First Published: September 2012
No .of pages: 208

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
The Fall of Charlie Dixon follows the eponymous Charlie and his friends as they react to the turbulent events of the Noughties. From 9/11, via the War on Terror and the 7/7 bombings in London, history looms large in their lives. As terrorist attacks overshadow the decade, more and more of Britain’s youth are pulled into the murky world of anger, violence and Islamophobia. When Charlie falls for the girlfriend of the leader of The Defence of The Realm League, he is inexorably drawn into the chaos that ensues. As the League becomes ever more violent, it becomes clear that some won’t survive the decade. Exploring the various trials of adolescent friendship, betrayal and love against the backdrop of the time, The Fall of Charlie Dixon is both a cautionary tale and a black comedy.

Review:
This novel is billed as a black comedy and it’s rare to see it pulled off this well when the subject matter involves real-life incidences that are still incredibly raw in the minds and hearts of the entire world. That’s not to say this book is hilarious – far from it – it’s more a sardonic smile at how weak the human spirit can be and how cowardice can lead to the downfall not only of the coward, but those around him.

There’s no getting away from the fact that much of the story is pretty grim. There’s a childhood marred by being easily led and too selfish to stand up for right; a youth wasted by boredom; and tragedies on all sides when the world is apparently falling apart in the wake of terrorist attacks, both in America, and here on British soil.

It’s hard read without thinking back to how one felt during the attacks and the aftermath, and each reader is forced to examine how he or she would have reacted in each situation. I can promise you will shake your head at many of the decisions made by Charlie Dixon, but you will keep reading anyway, because, coward as he is, he is still a likable character, and you will probably find, like I did, that you desperately will him to make good before you reach the final pages.

It’s dark. It’s very dark. But Couldrey manages to ensure it’s never depressing, instead making one appreciate what is good in life and resolving to make things better. And that can only be a good thing.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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Huntress by Malinda Lo

Title: Huntress
Author: Malinda Lo
ISBN: 978-1907411090
Publisher: Atom
First Published: April 2011
No .of pages: 384

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis (from Fantastic Fiction):
Nature is out of balance in the human world. The sun hasn’t shone in years, and crops are failing. Worse yet, strange and hostile creatures have begun to appear. The people’s survival hangs in the balance.

To solve the crisis, the oracle stones are cast, and Kaede and Taisin, two seventeen-year-old girls, are picked to go on a dangerous and unheard-of journey to Tanlili, the city of the Fairy Queen. Taisin is a sage, thrumming with magic, and Kaede is of the earth, without a speck of the otherworldly. And yet the two girls’ destinies are drawn together during the mission. As members of their party succumb to unearthly attacks and fairy tricks, the two come to rely on each other and even begin to fall in love. But the Kingdom needs only one huntress to save it, and what it takes could tear Kaede and Taisin apart forever.

Review:
Last year I read Ash and was pretty much blown away by the daring retelling of Cinderella. When I came to the end, I could hardly wait to get my hands on the prequel, but it took till now to get round to reading it. The action takes place in the same world as Ash but is set centuries earlier.

To be honest, although I enjoyed Huntress, I was still a little disappointed, because it fell short of living up to the previous novel. I’m not sure if it’s because Ash had a familiar story and this didn’t, but I just didn’t feel I engaged with the characters or plot quite as well this time round. It felt a bit drawn out and meandering, and didn’t seem to have any real purpose unless to set the scene for another novel. Nothing felt resolved.

That’s not to say Huntress is not an entertaining read – on the contrary, the concept is interesting and the characters neatly packaged – it’s just not as good as the novel that came before. to be fair, though, those were big shoes to fill.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Title: The Hunger Games (Hunger Games 1)
Author: Suzanne Collins
ISBN: 978-1407109084
Publisher: Scholastic
First Published: January 2009
No .of pages: 464

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Fantastic Fiction):Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used be the United States. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games.” The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. When Kat’s sister is chosen by lottery, Kat steps up to go in her place.

Review:
Oh. My. Gods!

How on earth did I manage to wait so long before picking up the first in this trilogy? I mean, the hype was all over the place, and then the film came out (which I rather enjoyed), but perhaps it was the hype that kept me away. Anyway, I finally succumbed and I am SO glad I did!

From the very first page, I was absolutely hooked. Katniss is such a wonderfully flawed character that we can all see a little of ourselves in her, both good and bad; the situation, which is almost like a teenaged version of  The Running Man, is edge-of-the-seat stuff; and the writing is so good it’s incredibly difficult to put the book down. Although there is some quite horrific violence and death involved, the descriptions are not so graphic that it would make it inappropriate for  younger ten readers – it really is handled superbly so that readers of almost any age can enjoy it.

I got so into it that even though I’m enjoying my current book, I find myself wishing I was was still reading The Hunger Games and I look forward to getting hold of the sequels so I can continue following Katniss – I’m just dying to find out what happens next. My favourite character, however, has to be Peeta – I think I fell in love with him just a little bit. Although Katniss is obviously very close to Gale, I just couldn’t warm to him in quite the same way, but that’s possibly because we don’t get to spend as much tie with him. Perhaps that will change as I get further into the trilogy. Either way, I’ll be reading them very soon!

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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Heat Rises by Richard Castle

Title: Heat Rises (Nikki Heat 3)
Author: Richard Castle
ISBN: 978-1401324438
Publisher: Hyperion
First Published: October 2011 (hardback) / October 2012 (paperback/Kindle)
No .of pages: 240

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis (from Fantastic Fiction):
The bizarre murder of a parish priest at a New York bondage club is just thetip of an iceberg that leads Nikki Heat to a dark conspiracy that reachesall the way to the highest level of the NYPD. But when she gets too closeto the truth, Nikki finds herself disgraced, stripped of her badge, and outon her own as a target for killers with nobody she can trust. Except maybethe one man in her life who’s not a cop. Reporter Jameson Rook.

In the midst of New York’s coldest winter in a hundred years, there’s onething Nikki is determined to prove. Heat Rises.

Review:
If you are a fan of the ABC show, Castle, then you will most likely already have picked up on the books that tie in – apparently written by the fictional character of Richard Castle (the author picture on the back cover is of Nathan Fillion, who plays him). Fans will most definitely enjoy the in-jokes and recognise the “real” situations and characters from the show that have inspired the “fictional” counterparts in the novels. They will laugh their socks off when Jameson Rook says things like, “I really am ruggedly handsome, aren’t I?” and get a real kick out of every Castle-ish turn of phrase.

However, even if they’ve never tuned into the programme (currently in its fifth season), crime fans will still be able to enjoy these books. Yes, they use every corny crime trope going, but it’s part of the fun.

Because that’s what these books are all about – having fun with the whole crime genre.

There’s no point in reading Heat Rises unless you have first read Heat Wave and Naked Heat, but once you have finished those, you’ll be champing at the bit to get hold of the next installment.

First and foremost, it’s another very clever tie-in with an increasingly popular crime drama, but Heat Rises (along with the prior novels) holds up in its own right. There’s very real suspense – you’ll be kept guessing till the “big reveal” and will enjoy every twist and turn along the way.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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